Praying with our Legs, Part 2: Facing the Frackers in Philadelphia

Click photo to expand. Reb Arthur conversing with a policeman at the anti-fracking rally

Yesterday I wrote you about our prayerful picketing of an oppressive global bank in Berkeley, on the first day of Rosh Hashanah.  (See right-hand column.) Today, I want to report on our prayers and picketing at the other end of our country and the other end of last week.

On Thursday and Friday, Rabbi Mordechai Liebling (a member of The Shalom Center’s Board) and I took part in two days of action in Philadelphia to oppose fracking – the hydrofracture of shale rock to force out of it burnable gas, a new form of dirty fossil fuel. Be sure to check out the video of these actions, below.

The protest was aimed at a major convention of the corporate executives of the nationwide fracking industry and their political allies.

The first protest day, last Thursday, began with a rally of about 2,000 people from the entire Eastern fracking region (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia), outside the fracking convention.  [For the URL of a video with brief excerpts from the rally, see the end of this report.]

Then the crowd marched to the office of the Governor of Pennsylvania, who had pushed through the legislature a pro-fracking law so extreme law it forbade counties, towns, and villages to put any restrictions at all on the number or placement of poison-generating fracking wells.  (That part of the law was later ruled a violation of the Pennsylvania constitution by a state court.)

Later Thursday, The Shalom Center was one of the major sponsors of a “Blessing of the Waters,” a multireligious ceremony to invoke the Holy One of Being, the Interbreathing of all life, in protection of Earth’s land, air, and especially waters from the fracking dangers.

Rabbi Liebling emceed the ceremony, and spoke eloquently of the relationship between fracking, corporate power, and the need for economic justice and greater equality. I chanted from Tamara Cohen’s English version of Lamentations for the Earth, which draws on the words and the wailing chant from the ancient biblical Lamentations; and I invoked the YHWH that can be understood as the Interbreathing of all life --  as a metaphor for the planetary atmosphere that is being poisoned by fracking.  The service leaders included a wide swathe of Christian, Jewish, Sikh, and Wiccan teachers.

Then early Friday morning, about fifty protesters took part in a more intense “Sunrise Intervention” at the entrances to the frackers’convention:

It was loud – drums, pots and pans beaten with spoons and forks, shouted chants – in order to reach and perturb the corporation bosses inside.

It was quasi-conversational, as some protesters walked alongside fracking execs just approaching the doors: “You don’t really want to poison your grandchildren, do you?”

And truly conversational: I talked with several of the officers patrolling the crowd, saying that I understood they were enforcing the law as they understood it, but I hoped they understood the much worse crime was what the folks in the convention were doing to poison their children’s water.  (The photo above shows my conversation with one policeman. Notice that like most of the others, he was in civvies, except for his removable armband. To expand the photo, click it.)

Several of the officers muttered in an undertone that they understood what we were saying and were worried too, but anyone who opposed fracking should do it according to the rules.  

So I asked them to write their legislators when they got home tonight. Two policemen said they would, but .....  How many of us are doing that, as well as picketing? And if many of us don’t, how high are the chances the police will?

And it was confrontational: Rabbi Liebling and I sat on the sidewalk wearing yarmulkes and tallitot, to block incoming attendees. We expected to be arrested. But instead, police manhandled us, roughly swung us away and dumped us on the sidewalk outside police barricades.

One protester was arrested. Because a legal observer was videotaping the arrest, she was put in a choke-hold by a police officer. The arrested protester has bronchitis, but the police refused to give him his nebulizer throughout his 18-hour ordeal in jail.

As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, coming home from marching alongside Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 to win the vote for African-Americans: “I felt as if my legs were praying!”  So did we, in Berkeley and Philadelphia.

As I’ve pointed out, The Shalom Center had an important role in shaping both those actions, and then in taking vigorous part.  We could not have done that without the support you give us  -- intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and financial.

To keep doing this work, we need your help  -- in all four of those Four Worlds. Please donate (it’s tax-deductible) by clicking on the Donate banner to the left.

For a video of the “No More Fracking” rally, click here:

Many thanks for your help. It really is crucial.


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