From: Matthew Francis Byrnes
Last week I was among the thirty-five protesters arrested in Winona at a nonviolent direct action against frac sand and fracking. The protest was the culmination of the Midwest Catholic Worker Faith and Resistance retreat.
As Catholic Workers, we live in solidarity with the poor, care for the earth, and perform the Works of Mercy. I am part of the Winona Catholic Worker community; we host community meals five days a week and house people experiencing homelessness. Most of those arrested do similar work in their communities.
The frac sand boom affects our entire region. Hydraulic fracture mining — which currently depends on our sand — poisons groundwater in regions throughout the nation. For this reason, we invited other Catholic Worker communities from our region to join us in our call to end frac sand mining and fracking.
One letter writer disparaged our concerns by noting that only four of the thirty-five arrested have current Winona addresses. While this may be true, many of the nearly one hundred protesters not arrested were Winonans. Also, of the thirty-five arrested, thirteen have lived in Winona in the past. Of those thirteen, twelve have been live-in volunteers at the Winona Catholic Worker, living with the homeless and providing food and shelter to those in need.
As we provide for the needs of the castaway and forgotten of society, we also seek to defend a castaway and forgotten earth. Our community seeks to reduce its fossil fuel footprint by biking and walking wherever feasible, keeping the house cool in winter and warm in the summer, composting our food scraps, reusing and buying used, living below the poverty line, and growing some of our own food. Two former Winona Catholic Workers present at the protest recently left our community to live on an off-the-grid farm. The arrests included people who live on an electricity-free farm, organic farmers, cyclists who biked hundreds of miles to the protest, vegetarians/vegans and people who only eat local food, and farmers raising horses for farming and transportation. As Catholic Workers, we believe in personal responsibility and do what we can to live sustainably.
But we are not disciples of Al Gore. We know that most pollution is generated by industry, not personal consumption. Turning off lights when we leave the room, while the right thing to do, is simply not enough. Transforming our personal habits is also not enough. We need to confront industries that are actively destroying our earth. We challenge the notion that money is more important than life. We are against any industry that will make life on our planet more difficult one hundred generations from now. Our economic system cannot factor in such long-term planning, but we owe it to our grandchildren, their grandchildren, and the earth itself to consider the long-term effects of a boom industry.
We are told that we only have two options: coal or natural gas. We reject this false dichotomy. Humans have lived without coal or natural gas for most of our existence as a species. We can live without cheap fossil fuels; we cannot live without clean water and air. The glut of cheap natural gas from fracking destroys the economic incentive for more renewable energy production. New “green” technologies are emerging, but they cannot compete with the newly lowered price of natural gas. So, we are faced with a choice: use every drop of fossil fuels available and destroy our groundwater and landscape in the process, or seek to live more responsibly to ensure a future for our species. As Wendell Berry said in his letter to our protest: “We did not create the world, we do not own it, and we have no right to destroy any part of it.”
There are many ways to work towards justice. We have tried appealing to our local and state governments to limit frac sand mining. We have tried appealing to the sense of humanity and decency in mining profiteers. Now that both of those routes have failed, we must use our bodies to stop frac sand mining. This route is more dangerous — I was standing near a woman who was nearly hit by a truck going 20-30 mph on a dirt road — but blocking trucks seems like the only option we have left. According to the Gospel, Jesus kicked the money changers out of the Temple. If there was a frac sand and fracking boom in Palestine in the first century, it’s likely that he would have stood in front of trucks, too.