We are here to support Susan Walker, age 53, who was arrested on September 6. Her crime was trespassing on the property of Inergy Midstream, a company that is repurposing the abandoned salt caverns on the west bank of Seneca Lake for the storage of fracked gas and other petroleum gases liberated by fracking. On September 19, Susan pled guilty and was fined $275 by Town of Reading Justice, Raymond H. Barry.
When she refused to pay, Susan was sentenced to 15 days in jail and was brought here to the Chemung County Jail from the Reading courthouse in Schuyler County, which has no jail for women.
Susan is a quiet and humble person, and we bring different ideas on how to offer our support. Some people here today carry signs that say, FREE SUSAN. They believe that Susan’s sentence—the maximum allowed for the simple violation of trespassing— represents a miscarriage of justice, and they denounce her incarceration.
Other signs say THANK YOU, SUSAN. This message reflects a belief that Susan’s acceptance of the maximum penalty follows a proud tradition of civil disobedience extending all the way back to Henry David Thoreau, who, out of disgust for slavery and the Mexican-American War, went to jail rather than pay a poll tax.
However diverse our messages, we are united by three beliefs.
The first is agreement with Susan’s words. We agree with Susan, who said in the courtroom, “If I were a corporation and refused to pay a fine, I would not be going to jail.” Corporations like Inergy have been granted all the privileges of being human but none of the responsibilities.
Secondly, we are here to testify to Inergy’s crimes. Inergy is trespassing into our ecosystem. Formaldehyde and smog from its compressor stations and flare stacks trespass into our air and therefore into our lungs. Inergy’s discharges of chemical wastes into Seneca Lake trespass into our sources of drinking water and therefore into our blood (Seneca Lake is largest lake solely within the state of New York and the source of drinking water for 100,000 people.) Inergy’s relentless industrial noise trespasses into our sleep and into our peace of mind.
We are here to declare Inergy guilty of toxic trespass and economic trespass into the vibrant agricultural and tourist-based economy of the Finger Lakes, our beloved home.
Lastly, we are here to say that if the state does not stop the ongoing violations of Inergy and intervene in the reckless expansion of their operations, we will continue these acts of peaceful protest. We will defend our home and our children from senseless danger. It is our responsibility to do so.
To end on a personal note: I was with Susan in the courtroom when she was sentenced. Her last act as a free woman was to remove a strand of pearls and hand them to someone in the courtroom audience before she was driven to jail by the sheriff. Thus, I will be wearing pearls until Susan Walker is released from jail. I encourage you all to join me— men and women both. Wear pearls. Wear pearls when you sleep. Wear pearls with your T-shirts. Take them off in the shower and then put them back on. Let the weight of them around your neck remind you, all day long, of Susan’s sacrifice of freedom to stop the desecration of our water and air, on which life itself depends.
And when someone asks you, “What’s with the pearls?” say that you stand with Susan Walker. Thank you.