To the editor:

At 10:05 on a freezing December night, a deep, resonating horn blasted again and again as powerful lights from a locomotive bore down on us. We stood on the tracks, about 25 protesters, facing that light. The approaching train was a mile-worth-of-cars long, piled high with coal for the Merrimack Station power plant in Bow, New Hampshire, the last coal-burning energy plant in New England with no plans to close. We stood there in the cold for three hours, prepared to stop that train and camp on the tracks so that it could not proceed.

We stood on those tracks so that the coal would not release toxic pollutants and more greenhouse gases to choke and warm our planet. We stood on those tracks because every legal and every civil avenue have been exhausted, and all that was left to us was civil disobedience. We stood on those tracks because our national leadership has failed to address the most pressing question of our era: Can homo sapiens survive, given the rate at which we are consuming our planet’s resources, dangerously warming its climate, and poisoning our water, air, and land. I stood on those tracks because I have a grandchild.

Following railroad protocol, not one, but two calls had been made to the emergency dispatcher, telling him there were protesters on the tracks at Post 7 on the Worcester line, and the train should be stopped. In addition, two sets of flaggers signaled the train that something was on the tracks and it should stop. While we waited, we formed a circle with a flashlight at its center and spoke of who we were and why we were there. The people I met on that icy night were a diverse lot. At 68, I was far from the oldest person who had trudged over a quarter-mile in the freezing dark in order to place their body before a moving train. Many held masters and Ph.Ds in fields related to the climate, and they expressed frustration and sorrow, grieving for the decades they’d spent trying to change energy policies from within the system. Some were professional climate activists who had given their lives to this struggle. Some were young folks looking forward, with fear and trepidation, to a global cataclysm due to this crisis.

Most of us believe deeply in climate justice and were concerned with the dismal role the conductor was forced to play. We considered positive ways to use these tracks. Perhaps better commuter rail and more rail trails could be in our near future. Five minutes before the train arrived, I met a mom from Beverly who remembered bringing her now 31-year old son to my storytelling concerts. We took a picture on the railroad tracks.

A group of us stood on those tracks and watched the train approach. Surely, after the warnings, we’d called in and the official flagging, the train would stop. It didn’t. It kept coming. We stood our ground. The horn grew louder and the headlight brighter every second. It kept coming. We stood our ground. We waved our lights and jumped up and down. It kept coming. When it was about 50 feet away, it became clear to us that it wasn’t going to stop. We stood our ground. As the train came within 30 feet of us, people started jumping off the tracks. At eight feet, a friend pulled me to temporary safety. I may not have been hit by that train, but it was ultimately going to deliver its planet-suffocating fuel into the air we breathe.

Our leadership, state, national, and global, has failed miserably to respond, by cutting carbon or coming up with any collective strategy. Our reliance on fossil fuels has already resulted in extreme floods, deadly hurricanes, the ocean’s rise, coral reefs dying, oceans acidifying, destructive fires, and serious droughts, all of which contribute to major migrations from West Africa, the Middle East, and Central America. If we want our children and grandchildren to flourish on a livable planet, we must immediately shift to renewable energies, cut deeply into our destruction of natural resources, and detoxify our world.

I can imagine people reading this and shaking their heads, “Well, they were on private property. I’d have no sympathy for them if they were run over.” Actually, when Fox News reported the action, that was the response of many commentators.

But, what do you do when all the traditional paths to change are blocked, and you have a grandchild whose future depends on stopping the burning of fossil fuels? Tell me.

Judith Black


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