The Robin Podcast: Anger & Courage: Valve Turning with Michele Naar-Obed
“Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”
This conversation with Michele fleshes out (more!) of what sustains and drives the Four Necessity Valve Turners in taking action. It can be listened to here on The Robin podcast. There is so much great content in this hour-long podcast, set aside some time to read through the quotes or listen deeply to the wisdom and decades-long commitment that Michele brings to this movement.
“I learned that (the 2016 Valve Turners) were able to get the necessity defense. Their bench judge accepted it, the prosecutor appealed that, and then they took it to the appeals court and the appeals court granted them the necessity defense, which was quite remarkable. That is a remarkable win, because it means that you can get expert witnesses into your trial. That the jury will hear what your intention was, and what your motivation was, and why it was necessary: why the threats are imminent, why it was necessary, why all other legal avenues have been exhausted … Even previously there was a valveturning action up in Canada by an indigenous group, I think women, who did maybe the first valve turning aciton, so it has an inspiring history.” (5:30)
“(Line 3) violates treaty law, and a portion of it runs through the Fond du Lac, and they have leased out the area for the expansion of the old Line 3, but our issue is not necessarily against a particular pipeline. That’s not our issue. Our issue is with the whole fossil fuel industry. What made sense here on the Line 3/Line 4 pipeline to make our point, to drive home that it was necessary to do this is because 68,000 people here have said that they don’t want the Line 3 expansion project, nor do they want Line 3 to stay on even at its reduced level. We want fossil fuel out of here. And we recognize that the fossil fuel industry is largely responsible for the increase in carbon dioxide which has caused such havoc already on our climate and on our environment and how it is effecting all of us in terms of what is happening on the coasts and in other countries.” (11:45)
“They gave [Enbridge] everything they wanted. They gave them the expansion, they gave them the corridor, they gave them the route that they wanted. It violates so much of our indigenous neighbors lands and treaty rights and their whole way of life. Which also is a violation against the rest of us. What is done to one is done to all.” (13:55)
“We didn’t even really intend to have Line 3 turned off, we intended to have Line 4 turned off, because we didn’t want to make it appear that we were making a beef against one particular pipeline; it’s against the entire industry. Maybe even against is the wrong word. It is for the elimination of this fossil fuel industry. We see that when that one door is closed, there are so many doors that are ready to be opened. The people are there, the technology is there, the spirit is there, the popular opinion is there, we have everything there except the political will and the corporations.“ (14:33)
“Fifty, sixty years ago they knew that this was a danger to the environment and the oil companies lied through their teeth and the politicians covered it up and the media covered that up. And it’s still going on today! So we would have been off of fossil fuels thirty or forty years ago had the science been allowed to come out, had politicians not been bought off, there would have been many ways, many avenues we could have been well on our way out of fossil fuels and into a sustainable, green energy industry, production. I don’t want to use the word industry because it implies a profit-making industry.” (18:22)
“Most of these things, there’s no public discussion, there’s not even transparency! There can’t be public discussion. The next thing we know these things have been passed and we didn’t even know it happened!” (20:40)
“This was a very humble action … to say ok, we are going to start this process. We are going to make that first turn. We are going to call you, which we did, and we are going to ask you to turn it off in the safest manner possible, we’ll start the process for you. Accept it, it’s a gift. This is what we want to give you: the beginning of a healthy relationship with our world. They turned it off because they had to. If anything had happened, and we had called them, and they knew that was what we were doing and they didn’t turn it off, they would of course have been liable for that. So, they did, they answered that call, they turned it off, and we pleaded with them and we continue to plead with them to keep it off.“ (23:00)
“I don’t believe that God gave us a world so that we can destroy it … our hope was that we would be the hands, the feet and the mouthpiece for a God that wants us to live in harmony with each other and all that we have been given in creation.” (25:12)
“It’s not an organization, it’s a movement. We’ve never been organized! [The Catholic Worker] was started in 1933 by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. We’re not part of the Catholic Church as we’re not under the auspices of any diocese, or a part of the Vatican. It’s catholic with a small 'c' meaning universal, but we are faith based and we do act according to the social justice teachings. For most of us those are the social justice teachings found in the Christian tradition, but I have spent a lot of time with people of faiths and great spiritual backgrounds and those social justice teachings are not unique to Christianity, they are universal. And so those are the kinds of things that animate us. We are animated by those principles and that is what moves us to do what we do.
So in 1933 … it started as a newspaper. Eventually Peter Muarin, who was a French philosopher, basically had an idea that the movement would include three different platforms. One was clarification of thought: we couldn’t move forward unless we were clear on what we were doing. So there was a way of talking to each other and not being fed information that we are in school where we are just given this stuff to memorize and spit out and regurgitate, but we actually need to communicate with each other, we need to talk to each other, and we need to clarify our thinking through each other. So there’s clarification of thought, houses of hospitality and agro[nomic] universities, where people would come together on the land and the land was an equalizer. Intellectuals and the workers would come together and work and learn about our relationship with the land and it’s relationship with us.
So there are over 200 houses of hospitality or Catholic Worker houses throughout the country. There are some in Europe, and I don’t know how many countries. There are some in Australia and New Zealand. And we have certain principles that we stand on.
One is that we are animated by the works of mercy, which is that when somebody is hungry, we feed them, when they need clothing, we give them clothing. We don’t rely on the government or social services to do that. And, we remember that when we do these things, when we visit people in prison, when we house people who are homeless when we feed people who are hungry, what we do to the least of them we do for Jesus. We recognize the sacredness of every person.
Another principle that we stand by is we are nonviolent; we are pacifists. Pacifists doesn’t mean that we just sit by passively and let things happen or let someone harm you or somebody else. There are many active ways to be pacifist or non-violent, and they are a lot harder than fighting or picking up a gun or using lethal threats. And we have learned through different examples, like Gandhi who said you make your enemy your friend. Somehow Gandhi was able to get the whole of England out of India without picking up a gun. Without fighting, without an armed revolution. So we learned from people like that and we try to act accordingly. So one of the things that Catholic Workers try to stand by is we resist violence in all its forms. That can be the violence of poverty, the violence of sexism, the violence of militarism, nuclearism, we have a lot of isms! And so we make an active attempt to stand against that violence. Especially now, there are already the beginnings of societal collapse as a result of climate change. It will get worse as people are forced to migrate out of their homes because their land is being burnt up, or because their land is being flooded out, or because their land has been turned into a desert and it can no longer supply food or water. People are forced into smaller and smaller spaces and there is a violence that comes with that. And we are preparing for how to stand in between that violence and alleviate that kind of violence as we are forced to live with less and less space, land, our homelands, that kind of thing, we are all going to experience that. We are looking at that now and we are preparing for it. Hopefully we won’t have to prepare for a total catastrophe.
But I will say that this industry has accused us of being the reckless and endangering individuals to turn off the oil, but for me the real endangering entities are these industries that are responsible, partially responsible, for putting the word extinction on the table. I mean, that is a pretty big thing. The word extinction is on the table and they are partially responsible for it. So somehow or another we need to hold them accountable to that, we need to stop it before it gets to the point of extinction, and we need to figure out how we’re going to live with each other as we suffer the consequences which are still coming at us.” (31:20)
“This isn’t the first empire that has been around in civilization. There have been many empires and all of them have fallen. I don’t know, I think we are probably living in an empire that is capable of doing a lot more damage, and a lot faster, than the previous empires have. But they have all fallen, and this one will too. The question is how much damage are we going to let happen. We can end this right now. They could, they are probably not going to, but they could just give it up. They could just say, yeah, you know, this is killing all of us, it is killing my grandchildren too.
I remember during the Cuban Missile Crisis we came really close to being annihilated by nuclear weapons. Kennedy was president then and Kruschev in Russia was the authoritarian and they were surrounded by hawkish advisors and the military. Kennedy was lied to by his security commission and by the CIA, but somehow or another Kennedy and Kruschev both realized that their children and their grandchildren might not ever get a chance to reach their full potential as living human beings and they wrote letters to each other. “How can we get out of this?” Something inside of them knew, something was speaking to them, both of them, both of their hearts. Kennedy was a Catholic, he the first Catholic president we ever had, I think the last Catholic president we ever had. Kruschev obviously was not a religious person, but there was something in him. Religion is not really the answer, religion has sold out to the state a long, long time ago. But there is a spiritual nature that exists in all of us, our hearts, all of us, even Trump, God love him, has the ability to have that heart of stone taken out and a heart of flesh put in and live right. There is a long tradition of miracles like that happening that have kept us afloat as a species, and I’m banking on that!
And so, even if it doesn’t, do I want to live, do I want to be a part of the problem or a part of the solution. Maybe there won’t be a solution that will happen before we do enough damage that we won’t exist anymore. Something will exist, because I know enough from physics to know that energy is neither created nor destroyed, that is the second law of thermodynamics. So I know that energy, our energy, our spirit energy, will carry on in some other dimension, so what kind of energy do I want to put out into the world? That keeps me going. Otherwise I can fall into despair, and I can just think I won’t do any damage but I won’t work for a solution, but I don’t want to live like that.” (42:53)
“I don’t know if I’ll have grandkids. A lot of young people now are saying that they don’t want kids because they don’t want to take the chance with bringing new life into this kind of chaos. They feel it, they feel something is wrong, and they are afraid, you know, of bringing new life into the world. You can’t blame them.” (47:09)
“What can they take away? … They can put my body somewhere, but they can’t take my mind, they can’t take my spirit, unless I give it to them, and I’m not going to do that. What am I going to lose, really?” (48:18)
“We know that we have months and months of these preliminary hurdles to get through … they set the next hearing for next month, when the state will have to begin to present their … case for why they are charging us with these. After that I’m not sure where it goes. There are motion hearings, there are status hearings, there are all kinds of hearings. We are months and months from a jury trial … I am the elder of our little group and the others are remarkable. They’re young, they are not in despair. They are not held by the system, trying to figure out how to work their way into living in a secure society because they know the society is not secure at all. They’re there embracing their faith, their spirituality in this fight, and that is a remarkable thing. There are so many young people right now who feel trapped in this system.” (50:59)
“[Those in power] are watching and they are threatened by these voices. They are threatened by it. So keep the voices up, keep it going, don’t be intimidated by it.” (56:17)