Pipeline Protesters Arrested in Building Occupation
MONTPELIER – Dozens of protesters entered the Pavilion Building in Montpelier on Monday afternoon with demands for Gov. Peterto reverse his support for expanding a Vermont Gas pipeline in the state. They were part of a larger rally — many hundreds of people — who convened at 3 p.m. Monday on the Statehouse lawn.
More than 80 demonstrators intent on civil disobedience remained in the Pavilion Building past its 5 p.m. closing time and beyond an extra protest window, vowing to be arrested Monday night. They were on the building's first floor and outside the governor's office on the fifth floor. The first arrest for trespassing occurred at 7:55.
The "Time's Up, Rise Up" demonstration came in response to the Public Service Board's renewed support for a new Vermont Gas pipeline between Colchester and Middlebury — despite cost overruns.
Vermont Gas officials, the administration and much of the state's business community contend that natural gas, which burns cleaner than heating oil, is an ideal "bridge" fuel to a renewable-energy future.
Monday's activists had two demands, said Maeve McBride, director of 350Vermont, one of the groups who organized a much larger sit-in earlier in the afternoon:
— Shumlin should withdraw his support of the "fracked fuel" pipeline – a reference to the controversial process by which some natural gas is extracted; and
— The governor should support a ban on any new fossil fuel infrastructure in Vermont.
"Some of us are willing to stay here until our demands are met," McBride said.
Shumlin, whose offices are on the fifth floor of the building, was not on the premises during the protest.
Demonstrators and the police agreed on the following procedure: Protesters who didn't leave after the police issued a "dispersal order" would be escorted from the building and ticketed at a nearby van.
The process was for the most part orderly and cordial.
Supporters outside cheered as state police led protesters out of the building into a nearby parking lot. Sixty four people were issued citations for misdemeanor trespassing, according to Vermont State Police.
State police began one-on-one escorts and arrests about 4 1/2 hours after marchers walked from the Statehouse lawn to the building where Gov. Peter Shas his fifth floor office. Protesters took up positions — mostly sitting — on two floors of the building,
In a statement related to Monday's protest, Vermont Gas called its fuel safer, cleaner and less expensive than fuel oil and propane.
"Thousands of Vermonters support the Addison Rutland Natural Gas Project because it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly two million tons while saving the typical homeowner up to $2,000 every year," Vermont Gas spokesman Stephen Wark said in a statement.
"The project offers huge environmental and economic advantages – more than $150 million in energy savings for homes and businesses in just Addison County in the next 20 years – while playing a significant role in transitioning Vermont to a cleaner and more affordable energy future."
A sit-in at Vermont Gas' pipe yard in Williston is planned for Saturday, according to Rising Tide Vermont.
Thomas Grace of Burlington was among the protesters arrested Monday night.
"I came down here because the policies of theadministration and the Democrats are sending the planet on the road to ruin," said Grace, a pizza delivery man.
The demonstration and sit-in were organized by 350Vermont, the Vermont Workers' Center, Rising Tide Vermont and Just Power organized the sit-in and demonstration. As the events unfolded Monday evening and night, decisions were made by participants and through consensus.
About 30 participants entered the Pavilion Building and set up on the first floor at about 3:30 p.m. A brass band and other protesters joined them about 90 minutes later for music and dancing.
Several Vermont state troopers and a police dog observed the early action. More law-enforcement officers arrived as the protesters' numbers grew.
Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding spoke with protesters on the first floor. He said they could stay until 6:30 p.m., 90 minutes after the Pavilion Building is closed to the public.
"We've been flexible giving people plenty of time to exercise their points of view, and I expect they will peaceably leave the building" at 6:30 p.m., Spaulding said. "We're trying to go as light as we can."
Ignoring the 6:30 deadline would result in legal action, he added.
Montpelier Monday, offered to communicate with protesters by telephone — an offer the occupiers declined, according to .
McBride elaborated on the governor's offer:
"We were offered an opportunity to speak with Governor Shumlin by phone if we agreed to disperse," she wrote in an email Tuesday morning. "Protesters collectively decided to stay in the Pavilion building until either our two demands were met or we were escorted out."
As closing time at the building approached Monday, Spaulding asked organizers to treat state employees in their midst with "respect."
McBride answered: "We are conducting a civil disobedience here. I can't promise that we won't be loud at times."
As state employees left the building in the minutes before 5 p.m., dozens of people in the lobby sang: "We shall not give up the fight. We have only started."
The horn section then played an elegiac version of "We Shall Overcome."
Protesters on both floors, in the Pavilion Building after its 5 pm closing time, introduced themselves to one another and talked about why they participated in Monday's demonstration.
They were participating for their children and grandchildren, for wildlife and maple trees, for community and capitalism, for "hate of hypocrisy and love of people."
The Shumlin administration ordered pizza for the indoor protesters shortly before 6 p.m. The group had prepared its own food too, borscht and salad.
Sitting directly outside the governor's office, Isaiah Quittner, a sophomore at Twinfield Union High School, explained his participation.
"I don't want to see the environment get worse than it is," Quittner said. "The problem is right in our face."
His original plans hadn't included demonstrating inside the building and participating in an act of civil disobedience.
"I just went with the crowd," Quittner said, adding that he had to leave before the possibility of arrest because he had to be home in Plainfield at 7:30 p.m.
The governor issued a statement shortly before 9:40. Monday, saying: "Peaceful protest is a right deeply embedded in our democracy. I support the right of all sides to be heard, and appreciate the protester's decision to act respectfully with state staff and law enforcement tonight. While I agree that climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing our state, nation, and world, I disagree with the protester's position on the natural gas pipeline, which I believe will help hasten our state's transition away from dirtier fuel oil and help our economy. My thanks go out to the Vermont State Police, Montpelier Police Department, and all other law enforcement officers who assisted for handling the protests in a peaceful manner."