Climate Necessity Defense by Bold Iowa

Yesterday’s article, Climate Defenders Five Trial, gives the background for the case that was heard at the Polk County Justice Center yesterday.

The trial was about the simple misdemeanor trespass charges against Todd Steichen, Martin Monroe, Miriam Kashia, Kathy Byrnes, and Ed Fallon, who deliberately moved onto the property (Hy-Vee) where Donald Trump was going to be speaking at a fund raiser. Thirty Bold Iowa supporters called out the president’s climate denial to him and attendees. Initially, protesters blocked one of the entrances to the facility’s parking lot. Later, five carrying a banner approached the building, hoping to enter and bring their urgent message to the attention of the president and the audience. At that point, they were arrested by West Des Moines police for simple misdemeanor trespass.

Earlier this summer, President Trump visited West Des Moines for a GOP fundraiser. Bold Iowa was there to expose the president’s climate denial to the donors who came to support him. Five of us — Todd Steichen, Kathy Byrnes, Miriam Kashia, Martin Monroe, and Ed Fallon — blocked an entrance to the facility’s parking lot. We then carried our banner toward the building and were arrested by West Des Moines police. We were charged with simple misdemeanor trespass.

We risked arrest because it’s urgent that we capture the attention of politicians, the press, and the public. Our message is that climate change threatens our very survival, and a president who denies the problem — whose policies in fact greatly exacerbate the threat — must be called out and challenged.

We knew we had to do something creative. So we held a sign reading “Climate denier in the White House scare the S#*T outta you? IT DOES US!” To further bring home the urgency, we dressed in black and wore adult diapers.

Climate Justification Trial on Facebook

“This was a difficult action to plan and implement, and yes, it was a little embarrassing, too, to wear a diaper in public,” said Kathy Byrnes, a grandmother of three who lived on the route of the Dakota Access Pipeline. “While we would have preferred to share our message with the president’s audience and not be arrested, our upcoming trial is an important opportunity to prove that non-violent action in defense of our very survival is justified.”.

Because of the worsening climate emergency, the Iowa Climate Defenders Five felt called to act in the interest of present and future generations and the planet.

Similar cases across the country have seen courts responding more sympathetically to the climate necessity defense:

— On March 13, 2018, a district court in Washington allowed a defendant who participated in a protest blocking a freight train transporting coal and oil to present a necessity defense.
— On March 27, 2018, a Massachusetts district court judge acquitted 13 defendants who protested the West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline.
— On October 9, 2018, a Minnesota trial court dismissed felony and misdemeanor charges against three activists in connection with their participation in a “valve turner” pipeline protest.

Ed Fallon,Miriam Kashia, Martin Monroe, Kathy Byrnes and Todd Steichen

The urgency of climate change is also shared by Iowa scientists in the Iowa Climate Statement and in a report by the Iowa DNR. Both warn about the harm being done because of our dependence on fossil fuels.

One of the authors of the Iowa Climate Statement, David Courard-Hauri of Drake University, testified to the increasing severity of climate change and its impacts in Iowa.

The two documents mentioned above were an important part of the trial, because they were given to the arresting officers to explain the justification for trespassing. A video of the arrest was played. That showed the attempts to give the documents to the police. In court, the arresting officer said he had not read the statements, and indicated it was not unusual to refuse to accept documents during arrest. The lawyer for the defendants spent a lot of time on this point, suggesting the police should have taken the statements because he felt they were relevant to the justification for the trespass.

The prosecutor repeatedly said a justification was not relevant to the case. He also said, many times, he respected the urgency of climate change and the defendants’ efforts to call attention to that.

A lot of time was spent asking several of the defendants if it was not possible to use other, legal, alternatives to spread their message, like writing letters to Congress. Each of the responses were about the years of frustration of trying to use those options, with total lack of any effective response. Thus the justification for nonviolent direct action.

The prosecutor also asked several of the defendants to tell how many people died from climate events today. Or how many were injured today. No one could give specific numbers, or course, but annual statistics for injury and death from environmental damage are increasing dramatically. I thought the defendants attorney should have talked about the long time response between when greenhouse gases enter the atmosphere, and the years before the results of those effects are seen.

I found the trial fascinating to watch. It went on for a full three hours. The judge did not make a ruling the day of the trial.

Do you think Bold Iowa’s actions were warranted, and/or effective? Isn’t it time for all of us to consider what more we can do?

This entry was posted in #NDAPL, Arts, civil disobedience, climate change, integral nonviolence, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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