Category Archives: Energy Transfer Partners

Support Jessica Reznicek and Navigating Conflict in Movement

Support Jessica Reznicek and Navigating Conflict in Movement

This week on the show, we’re airing two portions.

Support Jessica Reznicek

[00:02:06 – 00:36:33]

Photo by Cristina Yurena Zerr of Jessica Reznicek sitting among green plants and purple flowers next to a banner reading “We Are Here To Protect | Water Is Life”, other text reading “Support Jessica Reznicek & Navigating Conflict In Movement | TFSR 22-06-11”
Download This Episode

First up, Charlotte speaks about their friend, political prisoner and water defender Jessica Reznicek who just had an appeal denied of an 8 year sentence and terrorism enhancement for sabotaging the Dakota Access Pipeline with another Catholic Worker prior to DAPL. carrying oil. It’s estimated that the two cost $6 million in lost profits to Energy Transfer Partners and stopped the flow of 30 million barrels of oil. For the hour we talk about #NoDAPL, the movements that Jessica was involved in, including Occupy and the Catholic Workers, the increased criminalization of dissent as the climate heats up and how to support Jessica and spread the good work. You can learn more about Jess and her case at SupportJessicaReznicek.com and you can purchase benefit t-shirts here: https://www.eaglescreenprint.com/shop/p/free-jessica-reznicek-tee

Navigating Conflict In Movement

[00:37:52 – end]

Then, we do something a little experimental. We present a conversation with a member of an anti-authoritarian movement in Europe. We don’t say what movement. We talk about conflict internal to their movement, but we don’t name the parties involved. The conversation was conducted from an anti-authoritarian perspective, in the interest of creating heterogeneous communities of struggle. The purpose of this recording is to promote a mental exercise on the part of the listener to plug in their own experiences in movements with many different trajectories inside of it. The anonymous nature of the conversation was in part to not contribute to internal conflict to the movement, conflict is better addressed between parties involved than with an outside party (our radio show) who’s interest may not be the same as the movement. I hope that this conversation is helpful, for all of it’s purposeful vagueness. This originally aired in 2017.

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Jess Reznicek Transcription

TFSR: Could you please introduce yourself with any name, preferred pronouns, affiliations, or anything that you want to share?

Charlotte: Sure, I’m Charlotte, I use she/they pronouns and I am a member of the Free Jess team.

TFSR: We’re gonna be talking about Jessica Reznicek Catholic Worker, and land and water defender facing eight years in prison for sabotaging the Dakota Access Pipeline without causing a drop of spillage and succeeding in losing Energy Transfer Partners a good amount of money, which is pretty awesome. In the first step, I wanted to ask if you’d mind sharing how you became a supporter of Jessica, if you come from the prisoner support world or eco-defense support, how you came to this?

C: I met Jess in Iowa, I had spent time at Standing Rock, and then things were getting so militarized and crazy, and I heard that they needed extra hands, there’s a small scrappy group in Iowa, so I went down there. That’s where I met her. We were part of the same direct-action caravan called Mississippi Stand. Jess had really started the resistance movement to the Dakota Access Pipeline DAPL. In Iowa, most people think of DAPL with Standing Rock, but the pipeline also went through North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and then there is the end in Illinois. She really galvanized the Iowa base to care about this pipeline and its pollution into the waters there. Personally, I’ve been doing climate justice work pretty much since Standing Rock. That was a big moment for me personally, I do direct action, do prison support of different kinds. I’m an abolitionist. So for me with Jess, there’s a lot of things that intersect and at the end of the day, just being her friend and not wanting her to be locked up and wanting to support her and share the pieces of this fight and legal situation that we’re all really terrified about.

TFSR: Can you tell us a bit about Jessica’s story, who she is, and how she approaches political engagement? Just a quick aside. Before we talked, one of the things that I just very basically did was to look at the Wikipedia about Jessica, and there’s just so much stuff in there. She has been so active, I’m sure she keeps it up even from behind bars. Could you tell us a bit about your friend?

C: Jess grew up in Iowa, and has a really deep connection to the waters there. And I think her actions were definitely motivated from that place of just holding those waters really sacred to her. The very formative political moment for her was being involved in Occupy about 10 years ago, she was really involved with that, she’s really involved with the anti-nuclear movement and doing a lot of actions against the proliferation of nuclear missiles. She is an active member of the Catholic Workers Movement, which is a really big part of who she is. And within that, the Plowshares Movement, and that flavor of direct action. She is also really place-based. I was really struck by her connection of place to Iowa and connection to the rivers and really forming these relationships with everyday farmers and residents and people on the street. This was very much not an echo-chamber vibe. I think different political movements like Occupy, a lot of people there were already radicalized, or we’re talking within circles, but what I saw was always her reaching across and finding ways to bring people in and educate them on these really oppressive systems.

TFSR: So we featured the voice of folks involved in Catholic Worker struggles in the past on the show a few times, actually had Martha Hennessy of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, comrade [4:36] had passed us audio of an interview with Martha before Martha went inside. But I must admit the movement is marginal, a lot of people have not heard of them. I grew up Roman Catholic and had Catholic parents, but I only learned about the Catholic Worker Movement because of things the SF Bay Area Book Fair having its pre-Book Fair Cafe funded either at a Catholic Worker space in San Francisco in the late 90s, or early 2000s, or from stories from Utah Phillips, the musician, the storyteller of his teacher, Ammon Hennacy. Now I know the Plowshares Movement has had a long direct action history connected to the Catholic Workers. Would it be possible for you to give a little intro to the milieu that Jessica came out of and would you say some words about the Catholic Worker Movement?

C: Sure. The Catholic Worker Movement was created in the 1930s. Dorothy Day and Peter Martin are the two – I don’t know if officially – founders but those are really big figures in the early days. And a lot of their tactics and approaches to injustice are focused on non-violence service, and redistributing wealth and resources. This was started with people feeling really disenfranchised from the industrialization of Europe, and especially a lot of young workers seeing those inequalities rise really drastically during that time and serving those on the margins of society. They’re also very anti-war. A lot of their actions are focused around service, I don’t know if they use the words mutual aid, but it’s very mutual aid in orientation, about just supplying basic needs to people and making sure those resources get to folks. So in a lot of the different regional houses, they have kitchens, which was definitely a part of Jesse’s life for years in Iowa, in Des Moines in the Catholic Workers house there, they feed a lot of houseless folks and whoever just wants some free food. A lot of distribution of wealth, a lot of service, sacrifice, and worship are also pretty big parts of that.

I guess that sort of strain connects to the Plowshare Movement, and that’s a little bit more specific. That’s part of the Christian pacifist movement. They’re very anti-nukes, and they really came about in the 80s. There was, as you mentioned, the Plowshare 7, there’s the Berrigan Brothers and some other folks that they got their name, they beat swords into plowshares, and trespass, allegedly, into this place where missiles were made, and they poured blood on the documents and offered prayers for peace – those kinds of actions of sacrificing themselves to highlight this injustice in this issue is very much what they’re known for. A lot of times, it’s also oriented around prayer. That is also something that Jessica really related to, and she joined the Dakota Access Pipeline struggle and Standing Rock, I think, the overlap was prayer. She was really standing in solidarity with a lot of indigenous communities where their resistance was rooted in prayer and this deep connection to the earth and integrity and a sense of what’s right and being on the right side of history. So I think, for Jess, the indigenous sovereignty and Catholic Worker Movement had that overlap. And then obviously, the direct action piece is a really big part of the Plowshare and Catholic Workers Movement as well.

TFSR: As a reminder for folks, especially younger folks, the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline was huge. It was a moment of bringing together indigenous sovereignty, climate justice, direct action, and land and water defense, as well as an anti-capitalist activity against a lot of the banks investing in this mega project. And it was eventually completed. And oil is flowing through it. But I’m wondering if you, as someone who was involved in that struggle, could give listeners a sense of what was going on at that time and your experience of it a bit.

C: That Dakota Access Pipeline is about a 1200 mile-pipeline from North Dakota that ends in Illinois. It has the name Standing Rock because it was next to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation but it also went through a lot of other lands. It just became an enormous movement and big flashpoint, as you mentioned, for climate justice, anti-fossil fuel work, indigenous rights, sovereignty, decolonization, the land back movement – a lot of seeds were really planted for that there. It’s hard to predict when these moments will happen. But a lot of people really resonated with the injustices that were happening. And one of the main things was that the pipeline was originally supposed to go through a more populous white town, and it was rerouted in the permitting process because they realized it was so dangerous to go through the reservation, and then it ended up going through very sacred burial grounds. And that very clear environmental racism really struck a chord with a lot of people. And then a few people showed up, and it grew to about 15,000 people. Lots of direct action, there was a ton of skill-sharing, there were a lot of different camps there and, of course, politics and different vibes with different camps, but there’s definitely a strain of self-sufficiency and autonomy and skill-sharing in a lot of ways that I don’t think a lot of people had experienced before, that was really empowering. It was this incredible moment for movement building and relationship building. And really having a firm indigenous-led decolonize really rare resistance movement. Then you add the climate change piece on top of that. And it really became this lightning-in-a-bottle moment for land defense and people banding together and doing these really enormous direct actions of hundreds of people occupying sites, where different construction equipment was doing at different stages of constructing a pipeline, welding equipment together, boring under rivers, stringing pipe along, digging underground – people were interrupting that process.

There was a range of how that was happening and sometimes people were occupying it and planting native seeds, and there was song and prayer. Other times, people were locking down to equipment to physically stop the construction from happening. From that, it led to enormous costs for Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline company that owns the Dakota Access Pipeline. They had to increase their private security costs. We saw this huge increase in surveillance of resistance. I would encourage folks to read the Intercept’s articles on Tiger Swan, their whole oil and water series covers this super in-depth. So it was this brilliant moment of coming together and movement building. And then it also led to this whole private security surveillance apparatus being exposed. And the increase in the expenses for Energy Transfer Partners led to a lot of banks divesting. So it also sparked the divestment movement. And investors realized that these are actually really risky financial operations or investments at this point. We also saw, in terms of suppression of protests, these critical infrastructure bills that came out of Standing Rock, so the oil and gas industry was really scared. And that’s evidenced by the fact that they lobbied and put together a whole series of critical infrastructure bills after this that is now active in 15 states. That was a direct response to Standing Rock. It really elevates a lot of the charges associated with tampering with fossil fuel infrastructure. And so simple trespassing, which would otherwise be a misdemeanor, is now a felony in a lot of states and really upped the ante on those charges. A lot of things came out of that movement – a lot of power and a lot of suppression as well. And I think what we’re seeing with Jessica is a result of that fear from the oil and gas industry and this real desire to deter people from trying to stop them.

TFSR: I think another set of laws that came out of the state’s reaction to Standing Rock, were these ones that decriminalized driving into crowds of people because there were such large marches or blockades of streets, that they basically wanted to make sure that pipeline workers weren’t going to get any charges for just forcing their way violently through a crowd of people in this huge metal object. Really scary.

C: Yeah, totally. You think of the Charlottesville attack of Heather Heyer, and it’s not out of the question to think of someone plowing through a crowd with a car and killing someone. It happens, and exactly what you’re saying, bills like that that decriminalize that activity are directly connected to this apparatus to deter people from any resistance and fighting these systems of power.

TFSR: Could you say a bit about what Jessica pled to, how she ended up getting caught, what she was convicted of, and just nuts and bolts of the case that the US government brought against her, and how she came to be labeled as a terrorist?

C: Jessica acted in 2016 with another woman to disable pipeline equipment. Nobody was harmed. In 2017, they publicly admitted to this. Three months later, Jess’s home was raided by the FBI. There was this waiting period of two years before she was indicted by a federal grand jury on multiple charges and placed on house arrest. So there’s this spooky two-year period, that was really stressful, of course. This led to her sentencing hearing in June of 2021. And that’s when she received the domestic terrorism enhancement. She pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to damage an energy facility. That was the only charge without a mandatory minimum. She also has to pay 3.2 million to Energy Transfer Partners in restitution. She will also be on supervised probation for three years.

TFSR: You talked about the increased penalties for things that would be considered necessary infrastructure or attacks on that, which, when I hear that at first, that makes me think of foreign powers or a terrorist organization that might try to take down the electrical grid that could harm a lot of people. But how did terrorism charges come into this? I guess it wouldn’t be a byproduct of those enhancements that you were talking about after the last question because that was a state decision to talk about the infrastructure. But it seems to be directly in the lineage of stuff that happened during the Green Scare from the mid-90s up through the early 2000s, where terrorism enhancements for Marius Mason were applied to nonviolent sabotage actions, for instance, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act put in an enhancement at a federal level, if anyone were to interfere or call for a boycott even of animal-related industries, this feels it’s in that vein, is that a fair way to look at it? Can you go into a little detail about that?

C: Yeah, definitely. We know exactly where the label of domestic terrorists for something like this started in 2017, 80 Republicans and four Democratic members of Congress pressed the Justice Department, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to treat all people who tampered with fossil fuel infrastructure to label them as domestic terrorists. And they wrote this letter. That’s exactly where this started. This is a direct answer to that call. And that was in 2017. That was in response to the Dakota Access Pipeline and the fear that the fossil fuel industry was failing. And those Congress members together received a total combined 36 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. So this is being led by the oil and gas industry as a way to protect their assets. That’s one of the reasons why we’re really scared about this we’re seeing this collapse of the government and an oil and gas company. And then specifically the domestic terrorist label is really a sentencing guideline and so it has to do with harming an individual, harming human life, like people like Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people. He’s charged as a domestic terrorist. And then the specific clause that Jesse’s label rests on is whether or not she influenced the government. And it was the prosecutor back in her sentencing hearing that suggested that she was labeled as a terrorist. Her guideline for the charge that she admitted to, originally the sentencing guidelines range from 37 to 46 months, and then when Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger responded to the prosecutor and applied this domestic terrorism label to Jess, that automatically increased her sentencing guidelines from the range of 37 to 46 months to 210 to 240 months. That five-fold increase obviously has led to Jess being in jail now for eight years. Judge Ebinger claimed that the lengthy sentence that she gave to Jessica was necessary to deter others. That is all on the record.

TFSR: Well, that leads me to this question. So Jessica just lost a recent challenge in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to the terrorism enhancement. Can you talk about this and what the next legal steps are for her?

C: We were arguing in the appeal that the terrorism enhancement should be dropped. That would lead to a re-sentencing of her. That definition of being a domestic terrorist, that legal language hinges on whether the actions must be “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of a government by intimidation, or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct.” So we were arguing that her actions targeted a private company, not the government, and therefore this label was misapplied. In the appeal decision that came out a few days ago on Monday, they basically didn’t go into the merits of whether the domestic terrorism label was accurate or not. They said it’s irrelevant and any error was harmless. This harmless error is something that’s used in courts a lot. They’re basically saying that being labeled a domestic terrorist is irrelevant, she would have received the same sentencing either way, which isn’t true, her sentencing guidelines went from 37 to 46 months to 210 to 240, when she received that label. We’re really worried about this for a lot of reasons. Number one is that those who critique the government in a regulatory process can be labeled domestic terrorists for critiquing the regulatory process. That is the prosecutor’s justification, that Jess read her statement in front of the Iowa Utilities Board. And in critiquing the regulatory process – which later was found by a federal judge to be illegal – it’s an illegally operated pipeline at this point. So Jess was right. Number one, the fact that people who critique the regulatory process can be found as domestic terrorists is terrifying.

Number two is that judges can label a land defender a domestic terrorist and then go back and say it was a harmless error, that it was irrelevant to apply that label. So it’s a pretty terrifying precedent that’s being set. We’re being supported and talking a lot to different civil liberties groups who are really worried that this is not random. This is part of a much broader, politically orchestrated set of decisions and bills – the critical infrastructure bills, the letter to Jeff Sessions, the funding of these Congress members, and then even the judges or Trump appointees. They have a lot of ties to different big industries, pharmaceuticals, and Big Ag. We’re just really worried about this precedent this sets for a lot of activists, and this is part of a much broader movement to suppress protests, not just in the US, but internationally as well.

TFSR: To the question of what the next legal steps are, you said that Jess’s support has been talking to various civil liberties groups. But is there a next legal step? Maybe I missed that in the answer?

C: No, you didn’t. The next legal step would be asking for a rehearing by the entire Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, appealing to the US Supreme Court, and/or seeking presidential clemency. So we’re figuring out what is next.

TFSR: How can listeners help Jessica out at this point? And do you have any suggestions on how they can support the movements and activities that she put herself on the line for in moving forward? How can people continue to support indigenous sovereignty land back, stopping the destruction of the earth, and water defense?

C: Great question. In the big picture, I would urge people to examine their privilege, and how high the stakes are. In part, why just did such a bold action like this was her connection to the waters, but it was also trying to highlight how high do the stakes have to be where we act outside of the sanctioned forms of protests or resistance to the state, to capitalism, to the fossil fuel industry. The appeal came out the same day that NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, announced that carbon dioxide levels are now 50% higher than during the pre-industrial era, and carbon dioxide has not been this high in 4 million years, and it’s not dropping fast enough to avert catastrophe. We all see wildfires, sea-level rise, and all kinds of stuff from climate change. We know, at this point, it’s real. This state wants us to submit our comments to an environmental impact statement and then go back to our lives. And that’s our only avenue, or maybe stand with the sign outside. Now we can’t even trespass, according to their rules. I would encourage people to act outside of what the state allows us to do. And the stakes are really high right now. The climate is burning. I would encourage people to take bold action, whatever that means for you, to get engaged, to examine your privilege, to get to know where you are and what native land you’re on, and get involved in different solidarity with Native communities where you are. Also, learn skills and don’t be afraid to ask questions, if you want to do something more than holding a protest sign. Connect with groups, there’s lots of direct action trainings all the time, and people can find ways to plug in and skillshare. There’s no stupid question, show up as a student.

More specifically, to plug into the campaign, people can follow us on social media. Our website is SupportJessicaReznicek.Com. It’s a pretty simple website run by a few volunteers but it has all the details there. There’s all the legal details, there’s tabs to get involved, and there is also information to contact Jess and write her a letter. You can also sign the petition. There’s over 100 organizations that have signed on the organization petition and there’s also individuals, over 15,000 people have signed on. Especially now after the appeal was denied, we’re definitely in a new stage of the campaign, we’re going to be leveling up. So we definitely need the support of folks. You can sign up for our email lists. You can also follow us on the socials, we’re on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook @FreeJessRez. We definitely don’t want anyone to do an action outside of the facility that she’s in, but I’d really encourage people to take whatever actions they feel inspired to, if that’s a banner drop, or a kitchen or getting together to write letters to her, that is great. We’re going to be doing an international day of action at some point coming up. We also had a webinar about a month ago, and we had some really bad-ass speakers – Cherri Foytlin, and Cindy Spoon from the L’eau Est La Vie resistance camp from the Bayou Bridge pipeline. We had folks from the Water Protectors Legal Collective, who were awesome folks from the Climate Defense Project. That was a really comprehensive look at Jesse’s case with some friends who are on the support team just speaking more personally about Jess’s personality. There’s a lot of material with Jess’s words that we have on this site. So I would encourage people to watch them and become more familiar with the case because what happens to Jess could happen to all of us. Protecting the water should never be terrorism.

TFSR: I was just looking at the really neat T-shirts by Kat Eng that are on the website for sale, which is pretty cool.

C: Yeah! Buy a T-shirt. Kat has been awesome. They’re really cool T-shirts, it’s Eagle and the Condor myth. Buy a t-shirt and support Jess, the money will go to her and her education in prison.

TFSR: Are people invited to send books or write letters to Jessica? If so, what are some things that Jess likes receiving or talking about?

C: I love that question. On our website, you can click on the Contact tab, which has the details to write to Jessica. Prisons are horrible. You can’t have any stickers, there’s just a lot of details about what is allowed and what’s not. So those details are there. Definitely make sure to follow those details. Talk about whatever you want. But I think her feeling solidarity, not feeling this was for nothing, hearing about dogs, she’s taking care of a puppy in there. Any puppy training techniques or tips. Just hearing about people’s connection to place and maybe how they inspired her, or she inspired them. I think all of that would be super welcome. Just telling her she’s not alone and people are really thinking about her and keeping her in their hearts.

TFSR: Cool. That’s super helpful. Charlotte, was there anything that I didn’t ask about that you wanted to touch on?

C: I think I would just encourage people to get involved in some way. There’s so many ways to get involved. If direct action feels too much for you, show up to a support camp and help in the kitchen doing dishes, provide research or legal support to folks, or organize a letter-writing party. I’m a firm believer in a diversity of tactics. We need it all, we need everyone, I think the worst thing people can do is just sit back as the world burns. So I would just encourage folks to push their comfort zone and find a new group, find a new friend if they’re not in the circles already. And just find some ways to plug in in a way that feels exciting and nourishing for you, too, because we need to sustain ourselves, sustain others, and stand together in this fight against the fossil fuel industry and the state.

TFSR: That’s really awesomely put, thank you for that. Thanks a lot for having this chat and for supporting Jess. Share our love with Jess.

C: Thanks for having me, I am really glad that you all are interested in her case.

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Conflict In Movement Transcript

TFSR: And now an uncomplicated conversation about conflict in movement.

So I was hoping that you could speak a bit about experiences that you have inside the movement that you’re involved in, or in a political space, difficulties coming up or stoppages in communication between yourself and others or in processes, whether it be individuals or groups that you think make working together difficult.

Anonymous: One thing that pops in my mind is the question of time. Here, I see a big difference between people in terms of efficiency and the time we take to make a decision or make a project. Often people use the excuse of emergency to go quick, to take a decision only by a few people. And then other people that were not involved in the decision-making process are asked to be part of the project, but after everything has been decided. And I feel people always reproduce the same thing because of an emergency.

TFSR: So is that like making a decision before people get together sometimes, and just go into the meeting with a conclusion, rather than a proposal?

Anon: They see the big assembly not as a place where you discuss, but a place where some groups arrive with a decision or project they discuss only among them. And you as an individual don’t have the time to think about it, about other ideas. So at the end of the meeting, they ask if there is any idea at this moment to make something different, but you didn’t have the time to think about it or to feel confident enough to expose your own idea. So in the end it’s the project of the people that talked about it before in their groups that gets implemented.

TFSR: Is that the dynamic that could be changed if someone wanted to come up with a general agenda beforehand, give space and time, a few days before and say, “Hey, we’re going to formulate things to talk about proposals, the meeting, we’re gonna give 15 minutes to talk about this, bring your proposals, 15 minutes to talk about this problem or this project, bring your proposals.” Does that sort of thing happen in the assembly? Or is it less organized than that?

Anon: It’s less organized than this. You know that there’s gonna be an assembly every two weeks or every month, but the subject of the assembly is sometimes set in advance, sometimes not. If you know the subject in advance, maybe you can organize to think about what you want to do. But it’s not that easy to put people together and find what you want to do.

TFSR: Do you think that when you experience that that’s because people are trying to push something through the process, or because they literally just thought about it beforehand, so it’s a weakness in their communication strategy? Maybe a mix?

Anon: Sure, it’s a mix. But I often see people who want to push something. They have an idea or a common view of what should be the trigger here and what is strategic or not, what is good or not for this trigger. On a bigger scale, it often responds to the way of imagining what is strategic and what is good.

TFSR: Do you imagine that the people that push through things don’t trust the thinking of the other people in the assembly or just view themselves as having a different political perspective and so in competition, and that’s why they push it through, or is it simply may be for, in terms of efficiency, we have a really good idea, no one’s going to disagree with this, so we just need to make a quick decision?

Anon:I feel it’s a bit paternalistic. Here, it’s really difficult to have a common decision because of so many different ways of thinking. So at some point, if we want to do things here, we assume that some people need to take the power, it’s too complicated here to do with everyone involved. We agree on the same strategy as a group and we push for our decisions. If you want to do the same, you can do it. Actually, it’s not really the case. If you want to do it as they do and if you are anti-authoritarian, you can’t compete, because you don’t want to make a closed group that nobody knows about, a closed group with many people with lots of privileges, like class privilege, people that went to a prestigious school, people that have no problem was money, no problem was alcohol. So actually, if you want to do the same in a more horizontal, anti-authoritarian way, it’s not possible.

TFSR: Can you talk about other dynamics that make it easier for people to take advantage of a stage or a platform during discussion/debate? Like education and access to money or things. Coming from a different society, but also a patriarchal society, I understand, that gender often has to do- Being male-assigned, being cis-gendered, you identifying as you were assigned at birth. Is that something that you experience like a level of comfort with taking space because of that?

Anon: Yeah, in the group I’m thinking of, the majority of people are male-assigned people, able-bodied people, people with the capacity to go to many meetings, write texts. Sometimes it’s one person writing text and then saying this is collective, while it’s not. It is not the same when this person is quite confident, and we are used to listening to them, because of their gender and their role in the community. Their voice is much more heard or taken into account than someone who is not in this category. If you want to be here the same way, as a woman, you have to speak loudly, and people think you’re aggressive or stuff like this. It’s much more difficult to give your voice the same importance.

TFSR: Does ethnicity or nation of origin have any play in the dynamics too? Or language access? Ease of speaking a language?

Anon: For sure. The question of ethnicity plays a role here. The majority of people are white European people. And I think it’s not that easy for people seen as not white. But in the groups that are having much power in their hands, no, I don’t know. It’s complicated. And the question of language is really important. The words you can use. Sometimes texts are written by this group of people. The vocabulary is a really high-level language. And if you don’t understand, you don’t feel that this text is for you, it makes a barrier between people who are concerned by this text or proposal and who are not part of this.

TFSR: Have these criticisms been brought up to the group of people you’re talking about? Have they been willing to hear feminist critiques, for instance, or class critiques of how they take space, or how they engage with the rest?

Anon: About feminism, there has been criticism and an important moment where this group of people wrote a text about women saying that women just have to take the power as well. And they just have to be as strong as men. There was a big event and after this, people realized how authoritarian this group can be. I think they’re able to hear the criticism and change before it’s too big. But often, if you criticize this organization, they would say that you are against everything, this is only in your imagination. And you want to just be critical for the sake of it. As radicals and anarchists in the real world, we have to fight and be strong, and we don’t have the choice. Sometimes we have to be strategic and go quick. So at the moment, there has been a lot of criticism. Some people try to make visible this organization and the power they have in their hands. There is more and more discussion about it. And maybe there will be a change. But until now, they would deny, the people are taking power and domination, people try not to see it or don’t see it really.

TFSR: Do you think that group is being strategic? Is approaching these critiques methodically, looking at them and saying, “Okay, somebody has proposed this critique, how do I step around it?” I know that, for instance, for me to hear feminist critiques has taken time because society teaches me to think in a certain way. And so I need to have conversations to be like, “Oh, I see. I didn’t realize I was doing that.” That takes a lot of patience from people. But do you think that this is a part of a strategy?

Anon: In this group, I see that people are quite different. It’s not a heterogeneous group. Some people really think they want to do things here and this is the way, but they don’t see how this means that many people are out of the way, it’s not so easy for other people to join this group. If they are not able-bodied, if they’re not middle class, if they don’t have to do something in this in this group, if they slow the process, things like this. And other people – not the majority – really think in terms of strategy, of party style of politics, and sometimes I see that they come and just listen to our critiques. If you talk with some people for one or two hours, they will not change their way of thinking at all. But they will listen to have all the information they need to see what the opposition to their way of doing is.

TFSR: Do you see any options moving forward to address this dynamic and change it or block them from doing this sort of thing?

Anon: I think to make it visible, visible that this group exists, what it means in terms of poor concentration, and to talk with people that are close to this group or inside this group, person to person, as you said before about feminists, talk about anti-authoritarianism and think together. This is possible, too. I don’t want to talk with some people, I don’t feel confident enough. I don’t know what else to do. But I think if more and more people are aware, we can change something in the structure of the community so that few people may not have so much power in their hands about communication, relation with media, and money. So it’s something we need to discuss with many people, but the first step is to make it visible and talk with people about this.

TFSR: Are there other points that I didn’t ask about that you’d to get out or that have been on your mind?

Anon: Something special here is that we all live in the same place, maybe 200-300 people, and there is a big focus on the relationship between people. This is what makes us really strong. Because we do many things together, even if I don’t agree with you during the meeting, the day after, we will make some agriculture together. But the other thing is that the conflict is something we are afraid of, we are afraid that we’re not gonna get along if we talk about conflict. And it’s like social peace when you need to keep a good relationship. We are afraid to go too far into the conflict and prefer to look aside and go on like this. I don’t know if it’s special here, but I see it as a barrier to talking about conflict.

TFSR: Someone else that I talked to had brought up that same point, that it’s difficult. It’s difficult conflicting with people who you share space and struggle with. Because you don’t want it to become war, because then it’s easy to escalate. And then not only because of the toll that it has on the individuals involved, but also because if factions go to war with each other within a movement, the movement collapses. And then people are damaged for the rest of their life. Do you see that there’s a non-lethal way of engaging, just the one-on-one conversations about “When you do this, it makes me feel this way. And here’s what I think about how you’re doing this”? Would that be the solution?

Anon: People here are really egocentric, not thinking collectively and not being self-conscious about their privilege and what place they take in the violence they cause for other people. We need a lot of capacity to listen to people and take as much time as they need. The conflict can be something really interesting, and we see it as something terrible. This is imagination around conflict, that it is terrible and this is war. Well, people don’t agree, and this is political and interesting.

TFSR: That seems really important, too. If things are going to move forward because the project, the struggle that you’re in right now isn’t in a state of war immediately, like it has been in the past. It’s not that the idea of peace at all costs internally is a good idea. People are going to disagree, like you said, because it’s heterogeneous and people need space for that, for conversations, and for disagreement. But if the state comes in and tries to evict again or if something big happens since elections are coming up, for instance, and people that are conflicted internally, it seems it’s easier for everyone to be broken.

Anon: Yeah.

TFSR: Thank you very much.

Steve Martinez Still Resists Grand Jury Related To Dakota Access Pipeline Struggle

Steve Martinez Still Resists Grand Jury Related To Dakota Access Pipeline Struggle

Steve Martinez giving a fist up salute in front of Federal Courthouse in Bismark, ND
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It’s been nearly half a decade since thousands of indigenous water and land defenders and their accomplices and allies weathered a difficult winter and attacks by law enforcement and private security attempting to push through the Dakota Access Pipeline through so-called North Dakota. The DAPL was eventually built and has already, unsurprisingly damaged the lands, waters and sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux and other people native to the area. Resistance has also continued to this and other extractions and pipeline projects across Turtle Island and the defense against DAPL surely inspired and fed many other points of opposition in defense of the earth and native sovereignty.

On one night in November, 2016, as government goons leveled fire hoses and “less-lethal” armaments at water defenders in freezing temperatures, Sophia Wilansky suffered an injury from an explosion that nearly took her arm. An Indigenous and Chicano former employee of another pipeline project named Steve Martinez volunteered to drive Sophia to the hospital in Bismark. For this, he was subpoenaed to a Federal Grand Jury, which he refused to participate in. Now, almost 4 and a half years later, Steve is being imprisoned for resisting another FGJ in Bismark. For the hour, we hear from Chava Shapiro with the Tucson Anti-Repression Committee and James Clark, a lawyer who works with the National Lawyers Guild, talk about Steve’s case, the dangers of Grand Juries, and why it’s imperative for movements to support their incarcerated comrades.

More info on the case and ways you can support Steve, plus more info on Grand Juries can be found at SupportSteveMartinez.com and you can also follow the campaign on Twitter via @SupportSteveNow, Instagram via @SupportSteveMartinez and donate at his GoFundMe.

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Featured Track:

  • Deep Cover (instrumental) by Dr Dre

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Transcription

The Final Straw Radio: Would you please introduce yourselves to the audience with any names, preferred pronouns, affiliations or other information that pertain to this chat?

Chava: My name is Chava I work with Tuscon Anti-Repression Committee in Tohono O’odham territories, also known as Tucson. And I have done anti-repression and movement defense work for around 13 years, and grand jury support work for the last four or five years. And I use they/them pronouns.

James: My name is James, I use he/him pronouns. I’m a lawyer with the National Lawyers Guild based out of Austin, Texas. And I’ve also been doing anti-repression and activists legal support for about 13 years now, including a number of grand jury support situations.

TFSR: So would you please tell us who’s Steve Martinez and how did he come to be called before a federal grand jury after a brutal night in November of 2016. And what happened with that grand jury back then?

C: Steve started out coming to Standing Rock, really thinking that he was just going to drop off water. And he actually had been working in the oil fields, the Bakken oil fields in western North Dakota prior to that, heard about what was happening at Standing Rock, and was really inspired by what he had seen and heard about happening, even though he was also working for the oil fields and the oil company.

He’s Indigenous from Pueblo community in northern New Mexico and also Chicano and grew up in southern Colorado, and just inspired by the Indigenous land resistance and movement happening. And so he loaded up his vehicle with water to come and take it to the camps, and then he never left. And he became really involved in what was going on there. From the point of the summer, all the way up to that night that you mentioned in November. Which a lot of people remember that there were fire hoses used – and, you know, sub freezing temperatures – by law enforcement on water protectors that night in a conflict that lasted, you know, 12 to 14 hours on the bridge in those cold temperatures. And a young woman named Sophia Wilansky was really gravely injured that night, presumably due to law enforcement’s use of so called “less lethal munitions”. She nearly lost her arm.

When she was injured, getting emergency services was almost impossible for emergency vehicles and services to get to that point on this highway that had been blockaded by law enforcement at that point for around a month or more. And in order for her to get to emergency services, she would have to be driven by someone who was on the other side of that blockade. And that person who volunteered to do that was Steve, who was acting as a Good Samaritan doing the right thing in that moment. And then just really, a handful of days later was subpoenaed before a grand jury. And his presence was requested to provide information – they said they were asking for information – related to Sofia Wilansky’s injuries. So any testimony he could provide, or any images he might have taken on a cell phone or anything like that.

Steve didn’t know what that subpoena was when he received it. And so he reached out to a relative that stayed in the same camp that I did at the time – I had gone up there to do legal support for people – and his relative then came to me and said “Hey, can you speak with my uncle? He’s received some kind of subpoena we don’t really know what it is.” And at that time, just pulled his uncle into a tent and that uncle turned out to be Steve, and immediately from that moment that he received that paperwork, he asked for support, and then happened to have one of the best, most knowledgeable movement attorneys on grand juries in camp that day, which is Lauren Regan from the Civil Liberties Defense Center.

You know, maybe it’s just pure luck. Maybe it’s, you know, serendipitous, or that Lauren happened to be there that day. But we were able to immediately get Steve talking with an attorney who could explain to him the process. And then also from that exact day, moving forward, it also began a massive outreach with the thousands of people who were staying in camp at that point, about grand jury occurring subpoenas going out, at least one known subpoena at that point. And then also initiated the nationwide education campaign, because many tens of thousands of people had come and gone from the camps. And so that is where Steve was four years ago. But almost exactly four years later, he was subpoenaed to this new grand jury. And he, again, has refused to comply, because he’s acting in immense solidarity with a movement that he believes in, which is a movement for Indigenous sovereignty over lands and waters, and to protect those things, and a deep love and care for his comrades. And so that’s where we are now. And how we got there.

TFSR: Do people feel like they have an understanding of what this grand jury is specifically about? And does that matter?

J: We’re quite confident that it’s about the situation regarding Sofia Wilansky. One sort of important development between Steve’s grand jury subpoena in 2016, and when he got subpoenaed again in 2020, was that Miss Wilansky has sued Morton County over their use of, you know, these “less lethal munitions” that caused her injury. And in, I can’t remember if it was October or November of 2020, the judge in that Civil Lawsuit made a ruling that she could seek to compel the government to disclose evidence, specifically the fragments that were taken from her arm during surgery. And it was just a matter of days after that court’s ruling in the civil lawsuit that Steve was, again, subpoena to this grand jury. So it’s kind of you know, the timing is is convenient, as they say.

C: Yeah, I think you spoke well, to that, James, the timing is is suspect. And I think it’s also interesting to note that throughout the whole course of legal battles related to Standing Rock – both criminal and civil legal battles – there has been some signs of real collusion between civil court and criminal court. There’s been a number of attempts at SLAPP suits and civil suits by ETP (Energy Transfer Partners) that continue even now. And this timing of, you know, this win in Sofia’s case with that judge to compel the government to turn over this evidence – which I’ll just note there were FBI agents lurking outside of her surgery room outside of the OR, waiting to confiscate those items, while her family is like crying in a hallway. I just think it’s important to remember the cruelty of the state in the course of this entire situation. Because I don’t think that’s most people’s experience when they’re in a really scary, dangerous situation that involves possibly losing a limb or use of that limb.

And so the way that it looks like, the government has been able to make sure Sophie’s attorneys cannot get that evidence back from the federal government is by saying it’s part of an ongoing investigation. And so if there’s a new grand jury looking into these facts from, who knows, what, four years ago? Then they can’t turn that evidence over to the civil court, because there’s this ongoing criminal investigation. So it seems pretty well timed and convenient on their part, and really just a continued leverage of cruelty against Sofia, and against other water protectors who were injured and harmed at the hands of law enforcement. And also unbelievable amount of cruelty leveraged against Steve, who, all he did on that night was the right thing. And now, four years later, he’s dragged back before a grand jury in what seems like just using him as if he’s upon, but he’s a real person with a family and a life. And now he’s separated from them while he’s incarcerated.

J: I think the other key portion of this story, and the cruelty the Chava is talking about, is how Morton County has tried to basically twist the narrative, while all the evidence that we know about points to Morton County law enforcement being responsible for Sofia’s injuries and for the use of these “less lethal munitions”, they’ve always tried to either directly say or insinuate that this was actually caused by other water protectors, or potentially even by Sofia herself. And so the sort of victim blaming narrative that they’ve tried to use to tar the movement, kind of like what, you know, what the government did with environmentalist Judi Bari, you know, when her car got bombed, and they tried to blame her for that. And so it’s kind of a continuation of that, bad actors will inflict horrible violence on activists and then try and twist the narrative to blame the activist for that violence that they’re inflicted.

TFSR: So this is a beginning of a long conversation, but can you tell us a little bit about grand juries? They’re a pretty complicated legal tool that is shrouded in mystery. And yeah, just kind of remind us about what they are, how they operate, and sort of their range and uses, from the mundane to political repression?

J: Yeah, absolutely. Most of the uses of grand jury are pretty mundane, you know, speaking here, specifically about federal grand juries, because it can vary a lot from state to state, whether there are grand juries or how they work. But in the federal system, pretty much every felony case goes before a grand jury. And the purpose of the grand jury is to decide whether or not the government has enough evidence to even bring charges against somebody. It’s supposed to be a sort of screening or gate-keeping kind of function, to make sure that people aren’t brought to trial on serious charges without, you know, at least some amount of evidence. That’s sort of the ideological idea behind fair use.

In practicality, it tends to be much more of a rubber stamp. But there’s a famous quote from a judge in New York that “a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich if that’s what a prosecutor wanted”, because the prosecutor controls the entire process. And so, in most grand jury proceedings, what happens is that a federal law enforcement, federal agent of some type, will go to the grand jury, maybe summarize a police report, give some facts, some details, and the grand jurors will decide if that’s enough evidence to constitute probable cause to bring charges against somebody. And it, you know, typically, pretty quick proceeding, you know, the cop says, “Oh, we did this raid, and we found these drugs, and these people were there and we know that this was their apartment.” And so in that way, a lot of the grand jury uses are kind of unexceptional, even if it is a still problematic in regards to how much power and control it gives to the prosecutors in this system.

In a more political context, what we see though, is actually using the grand jury as an investigative tool. As a way to compel witnesses to appear and give testimony, or compel people to turn over evidence of some type. And this is where we see, you know, analogies to grand juries is like a fishing expedition or a witch hunt, or something. Where people are sort of dragged before these legal proceedings and forced to, you know, name names or give evidence, or something of that sort.

And so, the way the grand jury works is that there’s typically, I believe, 24 jurors – so it’s twice as big as what you think of as a typical jury in a trial. There’s 24 jurors, and the only people in the grand jury room at the time are the grand jurors themselves, the United States Attorney, the prosecutor, the court reporter, maybe some clerical staff and the witness who’s giving evidence. There’s no defense attorneys, there’s no judges, there’s no audience. It all happens very much in secrecy.

And the other aspect is that, you know, sometimes we think about how in a jury trial you have the lone holdout juror that prevents somebody from getting convicted. In a grand jury proceeding they only have to decide by a simple majority. So you can’t have a single lone holdout grand juror, because as long as 13 people still vote to charge somebody or to indict somebody, the other 11 people, their votes don’t really matter.

Grand jurors, again, in opposition to what we normally think of in terms of a jury, grand jurors are not screened for bias. There were situations during grand juries that were investigating alleged acts of Animal Liberation, Earth Liberation groups, where people that basically worked in the industries that were being targeted by these Animal Liberation groups, other people in those industries, were actually sitting on the grand juries that were reviewing the cases that were, you know, allegedly targeting those industries. So there’s no screening for bias. It’s, you know, supposed to be a cross section of the community, but it’s kind of random. And there is a long history of discrimination in who gets selected to sit on a grand jury, who gets selected as the foreperson of the grand jury.

And so, you know, what turns into is this, you know, secret of proceeding with almost no oversight or accountability, where the prosecutor has total control over what evidence they present, they don’t have to present contradictory evidence, they don’t have to present exculpatory evidence, they don’t have to present anything that would be unfavorable to the outcome that they seek. They can present the evidence in whatever light they want. And they can also present evidence that, you know, is illegally gathered, or that wouldn’t be admissible in a normal trial. So things like hearsay, rumor, gossip, evidence that was collected as from illegal search or seizure, statements that were maybe coerced or compelled in a way that wasn’t constitutional, all this all this evidence can be presented to the grand jury, in furtherance of what the prosecutor wants to see happen.

Considering the scope of this, another thing that we see in some of these political cases, is, you know, people getting called to grand juries, to testify about things that are sort of far afield of what they directly experienced. There’s one case where somebody was being asked to testify about something that he allegedly overheard two other people saying, at a bar or coffee shop. Not something that he was directly involved in or directly participating in, but sort of this third or fourth hand rumor that he had overhear.

TFSR: As you mentioned, James, the witness that’s being called before the grand jury, is seated before grand jurors, the prosecutors, stenographers, the, you know, court officials, doesn’t have a lawyer present, right? And a lawyer could hypothetically, if they had a role there, challenge some of those things that might be inadmissible normal court setting. But they also can’t really warn someone about safe approaches towards answering the questions or not answering the questions. Are there safe approaches?

J: So, I mean, this is getting into, you know, sort of the difference between political advice and legal advice. I’m obviously not here to give anybody legal advice, and if anybody’s ever called before grand jury, they really need to have a good lawyer that shares their values and their goals to represent them and inform them of all the nuances and implications here. Politically, I would argue that there is no safe way to answer questions at a grand jury. And this is for a variety of reasons. I think one reason is that you don’t know what they’re looking for. People have an idea that like, “I didn’t do anything wrong”, or “I don’t have anything to hide” and I think that’s generally mistaken. I think part of it is the broad expanse of federal law that things that you wouldn’t even imagine are illegal and felonious under federal law, so you don’t know what’s going to incriminate you or incriminate somebody else. You also don’t know what somebody else might be exposed to. Maybe you have a reasonably good idea of what actions you’ve taken and what things might put you at risk, but you don’t know what your best friend or your family member, your comrade, or your neighbor, your fellow organizer, what they might be subject to. Things that might seem supposedly innocuous or harmless can easily cause significant problems for people.

The other thing that we see is, you know, we have this idea of like, back in the Red Scare McCarthyism, people getting dragged before hearings and being forced to name names, and then everybody that they name then also gets dragged before the hearing in kind of this dragnet approach to investigations. And that’s entirely possible with grand juries too, that the mere fact of you identifying somebody else, even if it’s not in a way that criminally incriminates them, could be grounds for them to get dragged in front of this grand jury also. And then they’re faced with this sort of impossible situation where they have to either decide to testify or face imprisonment for contempt.

And I think, you know, again, speaking politically, I think the idea of solidarity and building trust and cohesion and our movements is really fractured when somebody that’s involved in those movements goes before a secret grand jury and gives testimony that there’s no accountability or transparency for. It’s often hard for people to trust one another in that situation. So that’s how grand juries can serve to sort of, sow this distrust and paranoia and discord within movements and really fracture the solidarity that’s necessary for effective organizing.

C: Bursts, you said in the beginning of your question “Is there any safe way to answer questions before the grand jury?” And, James, you spoke really well about all of the reasons they’re not. That question you asked Bursts is sort of a gateway into strategy that we’ve seen be effective in recent years for resisting a grand jury.

There’s essentially four ways somebody can resist a grand jury: you can avoid being subpoenaed, which means you need to know that there’s a grand jury happening, and that’s actually a lot harder to avoid a subpoena than it sounds. But a subpoena for a grand jury does have to be served to you in person by a federal agent, by a federal law enforcement agent. Doesn’t have to be an FBI agent, it could be an ATF agent, or a CIA officer or whatever. But you’d have to avoid that person. And know that they were coming for you.

You could also receive a subpoena and you could just disappear. Some people have used that strategy to varied success, but it’s very difficult. Because it means you have to basically go on the run, you’re avoiding complying with that subpoena. And it means that you would have to leave the place where you normally live, stop talking to people you normally speak to. And that’s a really difficult way for somebody to exist.

The other thing is that you could receive a subpoena and you can publicly refuse to enter the courtroom. And some people have done that very successfully. Because even entering the courtroom, like James said, we don’t know for sure what’s happened in there, right? So all of your comrades, and the larger movement on the outside of this secretive process, we don’t know what’s going on in there. So you run a risk when you enter the courtroom that potentially could leave some room for mistrust amongst the movement.

But we have also seen this last option where you receive the subpoena, you publicly refused to cooperate, but you enter the courtroom and then you invoke your constitutional rights that apply in the situation and your refusal to testify. Which is the tactic that Steve has used and other recent grand jury resistors have used successfully, is that it sets up a great legal precedent for getting you out of the legal consequence that occurs when you refuse to comply with the grand jury. Which is if you refuse to comply, you could be held in civil contempt for up to the length of the grand jury, and that could be 18 months. And that’s a long time, but we’ve seen the use of this legal maneuver, called a “grumbles motion”, which basically appeals to the judge who’s holding you in a civil contempt of court for your refusal to testify and says, “this person has stated publicly that they’re never going to comply, they’re never going to testify, they have continued to not comply or testify. And you holding them in jail or prison, during this grand jury for their refusal to testify, has gone from this civil form of contempt, to something that’s now illegal, because you’re actually holding them in jail knowing that that’s not going to be the coercive tool that you hope it will be, to get them to comply, and to testify before the grand jury.” And it’s not legal to hold someone in prison in that way, because they’ve never committed a crime, and then the state, the government, has crossed the line, right? They’ve crossed their own legal line.

That’s a strategy that’s worked well, but it does require that somebody sets up the infrastructure along with their comrades in the larger movement to support them. And that means being very, very public from the beginning of your situation, which is what happened with Steve the first time that he was subpoenaed to grand jury and what has happened with him the second time that he’s been subpoenaed.

TFSR: So just to belabor the point, because nobody actually said thisI don’t think. You both have mentioned going into the grand jury, and then refusing to speak and getting held in contempt. What happens if somebody invokes their fifth amendment? And why does that make this sort of proceeding so scary?

C: So when somebody goes in, and they’re asked a question by the prosecutor, the prosecutor is going to say something like, “Hey, what’s your name, state it for the record?” So I would say “My name is Chava so-and-so.” And then the prosecutor would ask me, “okay, tell me about what James had for lunch yesterday” and I would say, “you know, what, I’m gonna actually invoke my first, my fourth, my fifth, and any other applicable Amendment rights that I might have?” A prosecutor is gonna be like, “Oh, great. Okay, well, what did James have for lunch day before yesterday?”, I’d say “I’m going to invoke my first, my fourth, my fifth, and any other applicable Amendment rights”, and then eventually, the prosecutor is going to be very clear that that’s my entire plan, while I’m present in their grand jury room, and then they’re going to take me before judge, because they’re going to ask for me to be held in contempt. And then they’re likely to request from a judge that I be given immunity. And that immunity means that anything I say can’t necessarily be used against me. And that’s what the Fifth Amendment provides to us, is like protection from testifying things that would incriminate ourselves.

But what we don’t know is how our words then can be used against someone else, or how someone else’s words could be used against us. So it doesn’t protect us entirely, it just protects us in this very narrow way. And the court and the government call it being “granted” immunity, like there’s some fucking fairy godmother that’s coming and waving a wand and giving us this great gift. But it’s not a great gift. They’re actually imposing and forcing something on us, that strips us of our rights in that courtroom – are very limited rights – and takes them away from us. Because that’s the like beauty of the rights that the state has given us, right? They can give them they can take, and that’s all at their discretion.

So they impose immunity on you and you no longer – when you were taken in before the grand jury – can refuse to answer questions based off of your fifth amendment rights, right? And so then at that point, when you continue to refuse, you’d be taken back before a judge, who then would likely decide, “okay, well, we’re going to put you into coercive incarceration. So we’re going to try and compel this testimony out of you by incarcerating you”, and then things move from there. And that’s where we are right now with Steve, is at that point: immunity has been imposed upon him, he’s being held in contempt, and his contempt will be reviewed on a monthly basis by the judge in North Dakota.

TFSR: So you’ll have mentioned that Steve went before the grand jury in 2016. Steve was again called this year, I believe, before a grand jury and then released, is that correct? Like, where does Steve stand at the moment?

J: Right, so when Steve was subpoenaed in 2016 – his appearance date was actually in early 2017 – and he went and refused to testify. And the prosecutor never pursued contempt proceedings against him, they ended up withdrawing the subpoena, before he had to be found in contempt or be incarcerated or anything. When he appeared, when he first appeared in February, just about a month and a half ago, he again refused to cooperate and very quickly was taken before a federal magistrate judge, found in contempt and ordered into coercive custody for contempt. His legal team filed some motions and objections on the grounds that the magistrate judge actually did not have legal authority to find him in contempt or order him into custody. There’s some, you know, complicated and nuanced laws around that. Basically, he was ordered into jail by a judge that didn’t have authority to order him into jail.

And so his legal team filed some motions and objections and they were granted, and he was released from jail after 19 days of being unlawfully incarcerated. But before they released him from jail, they subpoenaed him again, to the same grand jury to appear on March 3. And when he appeared on March 3, and again refuse to cooperate, this time they brought in front of a federal district judge who did have authority to conduct contempt proceedings. And so at that point, he was again, found in contempt and ordered back into custody.

So I think this is a pretty salient example of just how ripe for abuse Grand Jury proceedings can be. That they can illegally incarcerate you for, you know, almost three weeks, and then the remedy for that is that you get released, but then you just get re-subpoenaed and taken back, and the whole thing starts again. And so, you know, the prosecution really gets…in some ways they get unlimited bites at the apple. I think we mentioned earlier that he can be incarcerated up to the length that this grand jury is impaneled, which is, you know, typically 18 months, but can be longer in some circumstances. But if that grand jury expires, there’s nothing that prevents the prosecutor from subpoena him to a subsequent grand jury. In this way, you know, we’ve seen, throughout history, that grand juries, there’s not a whole lot of check on this. And so they can really be used to harass and incapacitate activists and, you know, entire movement communities.

TFSR: So, how about earlier you had brought up the idea of SLAPP suits. Could you define that for the audience? And also, maybe, I don’t want to take this too far off a focus on Steve, but I’d like to recontextualize this, again, to be within not only supporting someone who has proven himself to be brave and an amazing supporter of other people involved in movement, but besides Morton County law enforcement trying to avoid or state officials trying to avoid possible lawsuits for the damages that they’ve caused to people. How does it relate to the timing right now the operation of DAPL

J: Well to speak to SLAPP suits and what they are, “SLAPP” is an acronym for “strategic lawsuit against public participation”. And it basically refers to lawsuits that…typically it’s large entities like corporations, sometimes governments, you know, powerful people filing against activists or journalists or sort of the little guy, for the purpose of basically retaliating against or silencing their damaging statement. So a lot of times this takes the form of defamation lawsuits, libel or slander. And so maybe a corporation sues this small activist group, and says these statements about us clubbing baby seals are defamatory, and they have to stop saying it and pay us damages. And, you know, a lot of the purpose of these lawsuits isn’t necessarily to win the lawsuit. Because of the power disparity, it’s often intended just to tie up the organization of the people in litigation. That if you’re a big corporation with, you know, billions and revenue and expenditures every year, it’s no big deal for you to spend a million dollars on, you know, a lawsuit. But if you’re a small, scrappy activist group, or citizen journalist or a whistleblower or something, you know, defending this humongous lawsuit can be can be totally debilitating.

And so there are statutes and a number of states that allow procedures to quickly dismiss these types of lawsuits. And that’s, I mean, kind of a whole other conversation. But I would, you know, if people are interested in this topic, the Civil Liberties Defense Center website has a number of resources about SLAPP suits, and defending against SLAPP suits, and things of that nature.

I can’t speak to the situation with DAPL, specifically, maybe Chava can, but I will say that we’re kind of in this moment where a lot of pipeline resistance efforts have seen some success. Recently, there was the pipeline that was supposed to run through Appalachia, they got cancelled. Resistance against line 3, in Minnesota has really been taking off. And so I think there is this sort of moment where, you know, people that are invested in these pipeline projects are seeing the success that resistance movements are having, and are looking for new ways to subvert those movements, undermine those movements and push back against those movements. And so I think, you know, it’s impossible to say like, if there’s a direct correlation between that and what’s going on with Steve’s case, but I do think it is sort of a reminder of what tools the state has against some of these movements, and how those movements should sort of think about making anti-repression and legal support and movement defense an integral part of their organizing throughout their campaigns.

C: I think one of the strategies that Energy Transfer Partners – which is like the larger company that was pursuing the Dakota Access Pipeline, along with many other pipeline related projects across North America – but Energy Transfer Partners goal with SLAPP suits, is not even necessarily to win. It’s a way of industry leveraging the law – in particular laws around RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act), which a lot of people are have heard at least that term related to, like, “organized crime” type cases – but leveraging those laws as a way for industry to have a chilling effect on movements that are successful against them. And so Energy Transfer Partners kind of famously filed this outrageous SLAPP suit, including Greenpeace as one of the named parties that they were suing, and asking for, like, almost a billion dollars, I think in damages. Which, they knew they were never going to win that award of money in civil court. That wasn’t the point. The point was to make movements and NGOs, or nonprofit organizations that were supporting social movements against ETPs various pipeline projects, to make them have to scramble and exhaust their resources, both financially and as far as people power, real like human labor, to exhaust them to a point where you’re so focused on fighting the SLAPP suit, that you can’t be focused anymore on fighting the people who are suing you.

And that was dismissed in court because it was outrageous, right? But it doesn’t mean that it didn’t have some of its intended impact, which was to distract people’s energies towards this other thing. And ETP continues to do this. But we also know that pipelines are failing as financial projects. And it was known that the Dakota Access Pipeline was only ever going to be financially beneficial in the short term. It’s basically like a big scam to make a bunch of money at the at the beginning, and that it was going to be a financial failure in the long run. But their goal isn’t to make better energy for anybody if they were they would be pursuing other things. Their goal is to make money and at any cost possible, including the costs of human lives and the earth.

TFSR: So bringing it back to support for Steve, how can listeners support him? What are some good places that they can find out more information about his case? Does he need people to write to him? Are there any campaigns on going besides informing people about the resistance to the grand jury that people could join in on?

J: Absolutely. There’s a website supportstevemartinez.com, there’s an Instagram account @SupportSteveMartinez, and there’s a Twitter account SupportSteveNow. All of these are excellent ways to stay informed about what’s going on with Steve’s case, find out more information about grand juries about you know, anti-repression strategies, and to, you know, connect with what’s going on. Another really vital way to support Steve is to write to him. He really appreciates getting letters. And we know that regardless of what the government says about the nature of incarceration, we know that incarceration is always punitive. It’s always extremely damaging, and difficult, and writing letters and staying in contact with people in prison is an incredibly important and incredibly effective way of keeping them connected to their community, connected to their movement, keeping their time and their spirits occupied and lifted while they’re incarcerated. And so yeah, we definitely encourage people to write to Steve. You can find information – the address and sort of guidelines about what what kind of materials you can send – at his website, or on any of the social media accounts.

And also donations. Donations are being used to put in his commissary so that he can get snacks and food and, you know, hygiene items and things like that while he’s in jail. Also to be used for phone calls, so he can stay in contact with his partner, and other family. We know that calls from jail can be extraordinarily expensive. And then also supporting his partner and his family while he’s incarcerated. You know, they’ve lost Steve’s income since he’s now incarcerated. Bills don’t stop, expenses don’t stop, things like that. And so money to support the people around Steve while he’s standing up for his principles, and standing up for the movement, is incredibly important. Because, you know, grand jury resistance is a community effort, and it takes all of us to support the resistor and the resistor’s supporting all of us. And, yeah, it really takes a community in that way.

C: Yeah, I can’t really stress enough how vital people’s community support is. I think there are a lot of people who listen to this podcast that came and went from the camps at Standing Rock and the occupation there. And tens of thousands of people from all over the world did. And Steve is in prison to protect all of those people, at the end of the day. That’s the reality of the choice that he’s making. And so he’s showing some real solidarity to all of us who were present there and who fought against that pipeline, and for Indigenous sovereignty over the land and the water. But it’s our role to support him so that he can support us. And you know, James did mention that his partner is bearing a lot of the brunt. And that’s the reality of what’s happening, you know, anytime anyone is incarcerated: they are separated from their family and removed from their communities and are unable to fulfill the many obligations that they have to people that they love and they care about. There’s a GoFundMe page that’s gofundme.com/SupportSteveMartinez and that GoFundMe is going directly to support Steve, like James was saying, but also really to support his partner. They have a grandson, who is pretty little and I know that it’s really hard on Steve to be separated from his grandson. And that is something that brings a lot of joy to him, to even be able to talk to him on the phone and on a video chat. And so by people donating to that, it also enables Steve to video chat with his grandson and with his wife. And that’s a real lifeline for him right now.

The other thing that I would just say that people can do to support is be really public about your support. Even your banner drop that says, like, you know, “FREE STEVE MARTINEZ”, and “FUCK A GRAND JURY”, or like whatever you want to put on a banner, that’s actually proof, it’s evidence that can go into a motion to compel the court to release Steve. That there is a wide network of humans across the world, of comrades who support him and are enabling him to continue to stand against this grand jury. So if we show that he has that support, that’s also something that can be utilized in like a legal maneuver to get him released from court to compel the judge to do that. So even if you think your banner jobs are silly and they don’t matter, they do matter! And it shows the federal government that that we have Steve’s back, and he is going to be able to continue to maintain his silence.

TFSR: I’d like to ask you all, if you have anything else that I didn’t ask about, that you want to mention while we’re on the phone?

J: I’ll just add that, you know, we’ve sort of tried to emphasize this again and again, but movement support means all of us. It takes all of us to take action, but it also takes all of us to support each other, and care for each other when things get difficult. And so, again, putting that at the forefront of our minds: when we’re organizing it’s not just about the day of action and the days leading up to it. It’s about the days and weeks and years after that, that we have to continue to support each other, continue to help people navigate these legal processes that drag on and on. And the more that we can anticipate that and prepare for that and account for that in our organizing, the more resilient we are when these things occur. And I know Chava and I are both extremely indebted to all of our elders and all the people who have come before us that have helped teach us these lessons and teach us this information and allowed us to share it with other people. And so everybody that’s that’s sort of tread this path before us we’re extremely grateful for.

C: Yeah, I think if people want to learn more about grand jury resistance there’s a lot of great resources online, but I would really encourage people to check out the Freedom Archives, and anything in there related to Puerto Rican independentista resistance to grand juries. Those movement elders really built the model that we see used today successfully against grand juries. And we really just wouldn’t be where we are now, in our ability to resist this particularly nefarious and fucked up tool of the state, if it hadn’t been for many movement elders from a lot of different communities, particularly in the 1970’s and into the early 80’s and their resistance in national liberation struggles.

And I think the last thing I want to say is just that people went up to Standing Rock to, well people went up there for a lot of different reasons, right? But at the heart of it was to protect land and water and to engage in either, like, your own Indigenous resistance or to support those who are Indigenous and their resistance. But ultimately it was about a movement for liberation, which is what social movements are about. And at the heart of those movements for liberation is a lot of like deep care and love for each other. And having lived in those camps for months and lived in a field in the middle of the winter in so-called North Dakota, I can tell you the only thing that keeps you up at night really is like the deep blue loving care of your comrades. And Steve is really continuing to exemplify that deep love and care for his comrades, and for the reasons that he he stayed at camp after he thought he was just dropping something off.

TFSR: James and Chava thank you so much for this conversation and for all the work that you do. We really appreciate it.

J: Thank you.

C: Thank you, for all the work you do.

TFSR: You do work. Shucks. *laughs*

C: *playful scolding tone* You do work!

*everyone laughs*

No Bayou Bridge Pipeline! An interview from L’eu Est La Vie camp

Download This EpisodeAnti-Pipeline Organizing in Louisiana

This week, Bursts had a change to speak with two participants in the L’eu Est La Vie camp (Water is Life in French) organizing against the Bayou Bridge pipeline that Energy Transfer Partners is trying to push through the swamps of Louisiana at the tail end of the Dakota Access Pipeline.  For the hour, they speak about the pipeline, the lifeways of people living in the bayou, potential impacts on the environment and the impact on our guests of increased indigenous forefronting to struggles to defend the environment in recent years around Turtle Island. More on their work can be found at http://nobbp.org/

Resist the TWP in Knoxville! January 21st at 12 Noon

The Traditionalist Worker Party is a neo-Nazi, white nationalist group which is headquartered right here in North Carolina. This group promotes white separatism and a white supremacists view of Christianity. Begun in 2013 by the now infamous Matthew Heimbach as the official face of the similarly neo-Nazi group the Traditionalist Youth Network, the TWP’s main focus seems to be promoting their agenda by making attempts on public office in local elections while maintaining something that could be called a street presence.

There is much more to be said about this group, from its formal designation by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group to its yearning to establish Turtle Island as something called a “white ethnostate”, seemingly a mythological and highly revisionist creation of the alt right and its philosophical forebears.

What is more relevant right now is that this group is seeking to descend on Knoxville, TN on January 21st at 12 noon to protest the second annual Women’s March and support the anti-choice group Right to Life. The exact TWP rallying point is still unknown but may coincide with the Women’s March rallying point in Market Square at 12pm and then join the Right to Life rallying point at World’s Fair Park at 2pm. Details will be shared as they get received, so keep eyes on your favorite news sources for updates.

From the Holler Network and Nashville ARA:

“The TWP and other white supremacist groups view Southeast Appalachia as an ideal region for a white separatist movement, and they prey upon rural and semi-rural areas to build their base. But their claims to Appalachia fly in the face of centuries of resistance to white supremacy and settler colonialism that are woven into these hills and rivers. From indigenous resistance to militant maroon communities, to multiracial labor strikes and prisoner uprisings, to the very existence of tight-knit black and brown communities across these hills, we know Appalachia has never been and will never be their all-white vision- as long as we continue to resist.”

For questions and additional info you can contact the email address  ETresist@protonmail.com , and you can see the full call with some more contextual information by going to the It’s Going Down article here.

Show playlist here.