activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Category: lawsuits filed against activists

human rights day: celebrating the determination of eco-warriors in east texas

Over the past several months, activists have put their bodies on the line in East Texas in an attempt to prevent Canadian oil corporation TransCanada from constructing the southern section of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. TransCanada has responded by hiring off-duty police officers, filing civil suits against protesters, and calling on-duty officers to remove protesters by using, at times, pepper spray, pain compliance, and Tasers. According to a November 23 New York Times article,

Since September, when construction began on the Keystone, the Tar Sands Blockade, a grass-roots coalition of East Texas landowners and environmental advocates from across the country, has been waging a nonviolent guerrilla campaign against the pipeline. About every week since construction began, blockade volunteers have locked themselves to construction equipment in protest. So far, 43 have been arrested.

Human Rights Day honors the December 10, 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As inclusive as the Declaration is, it doesn’t mention that people need clean air and water, in addition to a climate conducive to human life, all of which are threatened by tar sands mining. On November 20, the Unis’tot’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation issued a statement of solidarity with the Tar Sands Blockade that expounds on our duty to protect the natural world:

Every parent and grandparent has the responsibility to ensure a healthy planet for future generations. We implore the parents of Texas and the world to heed this call and to be accountable to the future of the children and grandchildren. We must defend the water, the air, and the land against the ravages of industry.  Let us act with bravery and take action, and let us take freedom into our own hands.

The eco-warriors in East Texas are embodying freedom by shattering any sense of inevitability regarding the pipeline. Even if you can’t physically join them, please call Cherokee County Sheriff James Campbell (903-683-2271) and Wood County Sheriff Billy Wansley (903-763-2201) to demand that officers who abuse activists face discipline. All power to the blockade!


homophobic church persuades appellate court to overrule protest-related sanctions award

In November 2008, a subdivision of the activist group Bash Back! disrupted a Sunday service at Mount Hope Church in Lansing, Michigan. Some of the protesters chanted and threw pamphlets, glitter, and condoms in the air. According to a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion filed yesterday,

The record is not entirely illuminating on the explicit motivations of Bash Back! against Mount Hope Church. However, the Church promoted anti-gay beliefs, and so Bash Back! was retaliating by “bashing back” at the church.

Mount Hope subsequently sued Bash Back!, Bash Back! Lansing, and 14 activists, but those sued all refused to name others who participated in the protest. As part of a settlement, the 14 activists agreed to a permanent injunction preventing them from disrupting any religious services in the U.S. They also agreed to pay the church $2,750 in damages. The district court entered a default judgment against Bash Back! and Bash Back! Lansing, and closed the case.

Yesterday’s Ninth Circuit opinion dealt with a subpoena Mount Hope had issued to Riseup Networks, in an attempt to obtain the names of 7 email account holders who the church believed either participated in the action or knew who did. Initially the district court imposed more than $28,000 in sanctions against the church for subpoenaing First Amendment protected information. But yesterday the Ninth Circuit overruled the district court, stating that even though the subpoena was ultimately deemed unwarranted, Mount Hope “could reasonably assert” at the time it was issued that the First Amendment privilege didn’t invalidate it.