(This is an excerpt from Rivera Sun’s novel, The Dandelion Insurrection, which you can find here.)
Charlie and Zadie drove down the main street of the rural Pennsylvanian town. The locals stood in the doorways, frowns carving their faces as they stared at the teeming soldiers. The waitresses at the diner peered through the windows with their arms folded tightly over their aproned bosoms. Behind the backs of the passing soldiers, men spat onto the asphalt. Surveillance drones hovered overhead. Tanks idled in front of the small town’s post office. Gas drilling equipment rolled down the street. Soldiers barked out orders. Military law had superseded local and state regulation and was escorting the extractive energy industry right into people’s backyards.
Charlie swallowed hard and sent a silent apology to Zadie’s father for doubting him all this time. Operation American Extraction was definitely not a conspiracy theory. The continent was being raped for fossil fuel export. In his mind, Charlie heard Bill’s humorless laugh.
“Conspiracy theory is a neat little label that the government uses to fool people into discounting the truth,” Bill had once argued, “but pipelines don’t lie. Twenty new coal shipping terminals on the west coast, refinery upgrades, permits, licenses . . . the evidence is all part of the public record for those that have the persistence to track it down and put the pieces together.”
The once-peaceful streets of the town seethed with infuriation. Tension twanged metallic on the air. Animosity fumed from the people like churning smokestacks. Everyone knew fossil fuels were a death sentence for the entire planet. The carbon emissions, global warming, climate change, even the extraction processes for oil, natural gas, and coal destroyed the earth and poisoned the water . . . but as long as export to China, India, and global industry remained an option, the Butcher, the Banker, and the Candlestick Maker continued to move full-steam ahead toward destruction.
For a long time, everyone thought the threat of climate change would stop this madness, but the corporate-controlled media created a complete obstruction of common sense and scientific truth. The United States was playing a sinister blend of make-believe and monopoly at the cost of human extinction. The landscape of the immediate future was choked with oily rivers, cracked deserts instead of fertile farmland, toxins leaching through watersheds, mountains blown apart, and radiation left to blow on the wind.
“People won’t stand for it,” Charlie had once argued with Bill, “they’ll revolt.”
“You think those in power don’t know this?” Bill had replied. “They’ve got the laws in place for mass arrests, civilian murder, indefinite detention, military tribunals, and martial law. The people, for the most part, are clueless.” He swept a gesture to the nation. “Lambs at the slaughterhouse! Jews on the way to the Holocaust!”
The people just didn’t want to believe it was happening. They would sit around chewing on the cud of rumors for endless hours while the machinery of extraction crept closer to their doorsteps. They would bicker and argue themselves to death, not wanting to believe the horror of the truth. Charlie’s heart turned sad as he pictured his cousins sickened with toxins, his mother weary and rundown. He pictured his grand-père’s eyes, so often laced with mischief. He heard the old man’s words, life, liberty, and love? Who will stand up for it?
I will, Charlie thought as he drove past a row of soldiers.
“This is insanity!” Zadie protested. “They’re using martial law to march the corporations right in and poison the watersheds! How can they destroy all of life for the greed of a few?”
“Why should they care?” Charlie questioned bitterly. “They’ve got enough money to buy the last pristine places, purify their private homes, and live out the remainder of their days in relative comfort while the rest of the world dies in agony.”
“But how can they? They have no right!” Zadie argued.
“They had no right to enslave Africans,” Charlie mentioned, “or to take this land from the native tribes, but that didn’t stop the powerful from insisting on their right to profit from their property.”
Zadie’s expressive eyes glowed like burnt embers.
“This is it, Charlie. This is the final showdown between the force of greed and the power of love. Either we’re going to stop this extraction, or we are going to perish.”
They swung into the parking lot behind the public library. Bill had heard the news of the gas company’s military escort from a local man named Rudy and had arranged for Charlie and Zadie to drive down from New York and meet with him. The stocky fellow was found leaning on the circulation desk talking in hushed tones with the head librarian. She caught sight of the two newcomers and nudged his shoulder. Rudy turned, shook Charlie’s hand, and doffed his baseball cap to Zadie.
“Glad you could make it. We’re in a real sight of trouble, oh Lord, let me tell you.” His eyes flicked outside to where the soldiers idled in the street. Rudy led them down into the partially renovated basement of the library, between some rolling bookcases, and into a small musty side room made of stone. There were no windows. Water ran down the old granite walls. The lamp overhead struggled vainly to shove out a dim patch of light. Zadie shivered at the chill, pulling her sweater coat tightly around her torso and wishing she’d worn thick pants instead of thin leggings under a skirt. She ran her fingers up and down the goose bumps on her arms. She had been uneasy about driving down, but Rudy was desperate for advice, and Charlie wanted to see the situation firsthand. Rudy pulled out three folding chairs from a stack against the wall.
“This old storage room dates back to the Revolutionary War. I’d have taken you to my place,” he explained apologetically, “but they’re watching it ’cause I told those soldiers to get the hell out of my town.”
Rudy looked unrepentant. There was a time and a place for soldiers . . . and his rural little town in Pennsylvania wasn’t it! He tolerated their shenanigans on the Fourth of July, but that’s as far as his patience went. He was a God-fearing, flag-waving American citizen, but soldiers were for defending this country – not for protecting a bunch of greedy corporations as they extracted fossil fuels against the will of the people.
Rudy whipped off his baseball cap and smacked it across his knee.
“The army rolled the tanks right down Main Street with the gas company machines in the middle and soldiers marching behind! I couldn’t believe my eyes. I asked ’em what the hell they were doing. They told me they were enforcing the Constitution.”
“Uh-huh,” Rudy nodded, “they said the gas company’s got mineral rights, and they’re here to make sure those rights get upheld. Told me that we passed some unconstitutional laws, so they’re here to make justice. Well, I have to confess to losing my temper.”
Rudy had plunked himself down smack in front of the tanks and let loose a spew of outrage that gathered half the town as he ranted about crooked politicians over in D.C. who passed unconstitutional laws faster than beans passed gas! And speaking of gas, the military had no right to escort the gas company in here. Ain’t nowhere in the law book did it say the military got to decide on justice! That’s what the justice department was for – at which point the soldiers informed him of the nuances of justice in times of martial law – to which he roared out, martial law my ass! Get your thievin’ conniving tank-wielding hides out of my town!
“See,” Rudy informed Charlie and Zadie, “a long time back, this town passed a Community Rights Ordinance to ban fracking for natural gas and to protect the rights of nature. We all risked sounding like tree huggers ’cause we had to do something to keep the gas company from poisoning our wells. The scumbags up at the state and federal levels will allow nuclear testing at your dinner table if someone pays ’em enough. So, we passed the darn thing ’cause we didn’t have much other choice. There was talk of lawsuits, but I dunno, it just stopped all of a sudden. I thought we were off scott-free . . . until now.”
Rudy shuddered and rubbed his rough palm across his two-day stubble.
“Anybody with two bits of common sense to rub together can see that what’s going on is just plain wrong,” Rudy said. “Those soldiers out there should be protecting the people from being poisoned, not escorting the corporations right into our backyards!”
He snorted in outrage.
“The troops got real nasty about my li’l sermon. They threatened to court-martial me, but settled for simply reading the town the riot act.”
The commanding officer had told the people in no uncertain terms that he expected compliance with orders and obedience of curfews at dusk. He wanted no backtalk, and demanded full cooperation with the troops as they settled this matter with the gas company.
“Essentially, we were supposed to lie down like a bunch of cowering dogs! We broke curfew right off – no sense in obeying that – and held a meeting that night. Folks were all up in arms, crying foul and reaching for their guns, but I said, you’re all a bunch of damn fools. What’s your shotgun gonna do to a tank?”
“That was quick thinking, Rudy,” Charlie sighed in relief.
“Just common sense,” the man shrugged. “I told ’em, if we wage war, we’re just gonna get butchered. We gotta wage peace until we send ’em all packing! So, I got folks cooled down, but I can’t claim to be no Gandhi, you know? I need advice ’cause there ain’t no way in hell we can let ’em frack this town. We only got one watershed and if that’s poisoned, that’s it.” He made a choking sound in his throat. “The whole town’ll go. I’ve seen it in other places.”
“Have you been in touch with the other towns in the area?”
“Yeah, they got soldiers, too, same as us and every other place that passed laws to keep the extractive energy industry out. They expect resistance.”
“Well, they’re going to get it,” Charlie promised. “First of all, where do the local police stand?”
“They’re pissed off and squirming under the thumb of the army. So far as they’re concerned, they swore an oath to protect the people. We passed a law banning fracking, fair and square. Their job is to enforce the laws.”
“Wow. You’ve got some good cops here.”
“Yep. We do,” Rudy said proudly.
“And how about the people? Are they just blowing hot air and waving shotguns, or are they ready to act?”
Rudy gave him a look. He knew his people. They’d bluster and procrastinate to high heaven, but dammit, when something had to be done, it got done. They were working folks. They drove trucks, dug ditches, poured asphalt, hammered steel, cut lumber, baled hay, loaded freight . . . they weren’t afraid of hard work and you couldn’t call any one of them a coward. He nodded.
“Alright,” Charlie said, running his fingers through his hair. “If we weren’t in martial law, there’d be a lot of ways to slow the gas industry down and make this hard on them. Even as it is, they may still need certain permits, road clearances, and licenses. If you insist on those things, you’ve at least got a place to dig your heels in and resist to the fullest extent of the law. Just because they’ve got an army guarding them doesn’t mean the town clerk can’t make their life miserable. Can he or she misplace some files for a while?”
“Cathy?” Rudy snorted. “That’s her specialty.”
“Perfect, try to slow them down with paperwork. If the military waives it all, well, then there are other options. Have they got their rigs completely in yet?”
“No. That’s what they’re trying to do now, but the mud’s too soft.”
“Good. Slow them down, maybe dig some large ditches for culvert replacements on the roads that go out to the wells.”
“But we don’t need any culvert – ” Rudy truncated his words as he suddenly got what Charlie was driving at. “Mmm-hmm, I know the guy who owns the backhoe. He’d be happy to dig some deep, wide ditches in those back roads.”
“Exactly. It takes a long time for culverts to come in, especially if they never got ordered. Where are they getting their water from?”
“John Payton’s cow pond.”
“Can you get him to drain it?”
“Sure. He’s been fuming ’bout breaking the dam since they marched in with the army. He said he ain’t never given them no permit to take his water. They got his family’s mineral rights back in the Depression . . . but this whole nonsense about building a road smack on top of his wife’s petunia garden and suckin’ his cow pond dry is just plain too much! A man has got to draw a line.”
“Great,” Charlie encouraged him. “Also, those soldiers and the gas company workers are going to need services while they’re here – ”
“Well, I’ll be damned if they get it!” Rudy cried. “My sister’s got the best diner in town and she says she just plain won’t serve them. If they make her at gunpoint, she swears that she’ll piss in the soup.”
“Good for her,” Charlie chuckled. “Talk with the other shop owners and especially the gas stations. Some folks will be too scared to resist, but let’s get the others on board. They can close down for a while, maybe put up a sign; closed for death in the family.”
“Gone fishin’,” Rudy wisecracked.
“Okay, you get it,” Charlie said. “Be creative about it, but be careful, too. Get the other towns around here to follow suit. Hunker down and hold on. Keep your ear to the ground for friends or neighbors who are getting too pissed off and simmer them down. Don’t monkey wrench or destroy gas company property, either. It’s grounds for arrest and makes the company men feel like they have a right to beat people up. You’ve got to make it clear to everybody that the government is out of line to send in troops when they ought to be fighting laws in court.”
“The community rights ordinances have held up in court more than once,” Rudy mentioned.
“Yeah, that’s why this is all happening. The rights of nature are one and the same as human rights, and the oil, gas, and coal industry has been tromping on them both for far too long. Now that we’re facing major environmental crisis, the handwriting is on the wall for fossil fuels, but they just don’t want to lay down and die.”
“Hell,” Rudy snorted, “neither do we.”
“We won’t,” Charlie assured him firmly. He paused and thought for a moment. “There’s only so long the President can continue martial law . . . the people are already blowing steam out their ears because of it, and the morale of the troops in the city is sinking lower every day. If you can hold out and resist long enough, we can work on ending martial law and getting the military out of the equation.”
“We’re gonna need some support with basic things,” Rudy pointed out. “If our stores close down, we still need groceries and the like.”
“Yeah,” Charlie sighed, “and it’s not just you guys. Every town that has a pipeline, coal mine, a shipping port, or an oil refinery is probably also looking at soldiers and tanks right now. We need to get some infrastructure in place for basic necessities for all the resistors. Zadie? Do you know anybody who likes to be a switchboard operator?”
“Yeah, Charlie, but – ”
“Good. Let’s get ahold of them and start planning some resource strategy.”
“My wife runs the local branch of thrift stores,” Rudy offered.
“Really?!” Charlie’s eyes lit up.
“Yeah, they got trucks and delivery routes into two other states, too. They’re a real regular thing. Folks drop off their junk, and my wife’s team sorts it and sends it out. They got networks with other chains, too. I’ll talk to her ’bout it.” Rudy promised.
“That could make all the difference in the world. You’re going to have to try to outlast this martial law.”
“Charlie,” Zadie interrupted anxiously, “we gotta go. I have a feeling – ”
Charlie glanced at her. She was already on her feet, eyes flicking around in alarm, worry written all over her face. They heard a rustle coming through the basement. The head librarian rushed through the narrow passageway of the rolling stacks.
“Rudy,” she hissed, “there’s a cop upstairs! He says he’s looking for a terrorist. Some guy known as the Man From the North and he’s got a photo of – ” she broke off. Her eyes widened in recognition as she pointed at Charlie.
” . . . him!”
Author/Activist Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection, Billionaire Buddha and Steam Drills, Treadmills, and Shooting Stars, the cohost of Love (and Revolution) Radio, and the co-initiator of Live Share Grow: A Movement for the 100%. She is a trainer and social media coordinator for Campaign Nonviolence and Pace e Bene. Sun attended the James Lawson Institute on Strategic Nonviolent Resistance in 2014 and her essays on social justice movements appear in Counterpunch, Truthout and Popular Resistance. www.riverasun.com