Environmental Panel Discusses Civil Disobedience

JMU Alumna One Of 12 Arrested In Protest

Posted: April 26, 2013

Lara Mack, 26, of Harrisonburg speaks with regard to climate change at a public forum on civil disobedience Monday in Court Square Theater. (Photo by Candace Sipos)
HARRISONBURG — A mere two months after Lara Mack graduated from James Madison University in 2008, she found herself in a far different situation than many of her fellow alumni.

That is, she was tied to a concrete-filled barrel in downtown Richmond during rush hour, blocking the entrance to Dominion Resources Inc.’s corporate headquarters.

Mack, 26, of Harrisonburg, was joined by four other women — two of whom were JMU students — during the four-hour lockdown. Another Madison student hung over the women in a climber’s harness from a pedestrian bridge.

The group was part of an unsuccessful effort to stop the construction of a coal-fired power plant in Wise County.

A dozen people were arrested that day, including Mack, who was sentenced to 225 hours of community service to be completed in Richmond.

“We decided to plan our own direct action,” she said during a forum discussion on civil disobedience Monday evening.

The forum, co-sponsored by the Shenandoah Group of the Sierra Club, the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley and iMatter: Kids vs. Global Warming, was held at Court Square Theater.

A showing of the film “Bidder 70” followed the panel discussion, as well as a nationwide Skype linkup with the film’s subject, Tim DeChristopher. DeChristopher, then a University of Utah student, was convicted in federal court for making false bids on more than 22,000 acres of public land in 2008.

Even though the coal-fired power plant in Wise County — the source of Mack’s Richmond protest — was ultimately given the green light by state regulators, she doesn’t regret her action.

“It was well worth it,” she said. “We have been a part of a greater movement.”

Allison Chin, the outgoing director of the board of directors for the national Sierra Club, has been arrested twice for protesting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that’s proposed to run from Canada through the Great Plains and Midwest to oil refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Chin was arrested during a Feb. 13 pipeline protest in which environmental leaders and celebrities tied themselves to the White House gates.

“We’re telling [President Barack Obama] that our plan can’t wait for the political dust to settle,” she said. “For President Obama, the tar sands are his climate legacy.”

Mack and Chin agreed that acts of civil disobedience should be thoroughly planned and shouldn’t be used too often.

In an interview after the forum, Mack explained how the situation really determines the action that should be taken, whether it be legal or illegal. For example, she said, “You could do a tree-sit on a mountaintop removal site so [the company] couldn’t blast it.”

But the thousands who protested against the pipeline four days later at the White House — including more than 100 local residents — were aiming for a more symbolic action that would garner media attention.

Grant and Garrett Serrels, 17-year-old Eastern Mennonite High School students with Kids vs. Global Warming, were also on the panel. While they haven’t participated in any civil disobedience yet, they said they plan to once they turn 18.

“I’m looking forward to getting arrested,” Grant Serrels joked.

Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or csipos@dnronline.com

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