On September 28, under a nearly cloudless sky, hundreds of protestors led by the No Coal, No Gas Coalition and the Southern New Hampshire Branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation descended on the Merrimack Generation in Bow, New Hampshire — the last coal plant in New England without a shut-down date. This gathering was part of a larger campaign which started on August 17 when “diggers” with the coalition marched onto the plant site and expropriated nearly 500 lbs of coal. The September 28 action was the largest to date in the campaign to shut the plant down for good, and was the largest environmental action in New Hampshire since the Clamshell Alliance occupations of the Seabrook Nuclear plant in the 1970s.
The Merrimack Generating Station is currently owned by Granite Shore Power LLC which receives $50 million in subsidies each year to assist the New England power grid during peak usage times. The plant provides on average less than one percent of total energy to the grid when operational, only runs for about one week per month, and could be easily replaced if the subsidies were used to increase solar or wind power generation. Coal is the dirtiest and least efficient fossil fuel. The plant has been linked to heart and respiratory diseases in the area, and creates more Co2 emissions in one hour when operational than the average person creates in 25 years.
The coalition split into two teams, one to manage the rally and an incursion team hoping to expropriate coal from the plant.
Around 10am, demonstrators began assembling on baseball fields down the street from the plant. There, Bow residents and supporters rallied in solidarity with the volunteers who were attempting to enter the plant. Members of the Cawsuck Band of the Abnaki people began the proceedings with a song and a condemnation of the occupation and poisoning of their native lands. Many speakers from the coalition and other organizations spoke on the need to shut the plant down, and transition to 100 percent renewable energy. Sophonie Pierre-Michel of 350NH told Liberation News, “Climate fueled storms hit the Caribbean a lot harder… [climate change] is hitting them the most, it’s hurting people of color, communities of color the most because people aren’t fighting for them, and were not hearing from them, and it’s easier to just dump all of this pollution and these waste factories into these communities… we need a just transition to renewable energy by 2030.”
Meanwhile, the incursion team, which had scouted and planned multiple points of entry, split into teams to try and enter the plant, but were blocked at all of them by a highly coordinated security effort of federal, state, county and local law enforcement who were mobilized to “keep order” at the plant. State police in riot gear, plain clothes units monitoring parking lots, mobile units in ATVs and a helicopter were brought in to help repel the team’s efforts to remove coal from the pile.
Upon being blocked, the incursion team made the decision to make their way to the rally site and regroup. Emma Schenburg of the Climate Disobedience Center, a central organization to the coalition, gave a short speech to rally the team and called out each group of the incursion team saying, “It’s time to do what must be done.” After her speech, the incursion team, clad in Tyvek suits marched on the gate of the plant. While many were promptly arrested, others split and attempted to enter through other routes. Soon after, the rally-goers marched towards the gate while chanting and singing songs to continue the demonstration in front of the plant.
PSL member Chris Marion was the first to speak after arriving at the gate, and discussed the intersection of grief and fear regarding the climate crisis, connections between past mass movements and the current actions and the need for revolution.
“As we have seen, over the last week, as we see by the numbers of people that are here today, that the movement for a new world is growing. People from all over the world, especially from oppressed countries are fighting back! People are fighting to stop the exploitation, the destruction of the air, the soil, the water. People are fighting against the forces of imperialism, and extraction.
“We know now that asking business and politicians to address the crisis that they so recklessly created, that we will never, ever see justice. If we ask these people to give us our freedom, to save our planet, we will never succeed. This fight, is one that we, the people, must win for ourselves… We, the people, with one united voice, will forge our own future, a people’s future!”
During the rally, live updates from the incursion team were announced by members of the coalition. It was eventually announced that everyone that got into the plant and some who made it past police blockades had been arrested. In total, 69 arrests were made and people were driven out of the plant in SUVs and Sheriff’s vans while rally goers cheered in solidarity. Everyone was bailed out and released the same day; all face misdemeanor charges.
Reflecting on the experience, Dana Dwinell-Yardley said, “Getting arrested is good for news headlines and Facebook statuses. But getting arrested wasn’t the point….The point was to build power, to build unity, to build a sense of what is possible. To deepen our bonds with each other as friends and community. To increase our ability to take risks. To act from our hearts and conviction. To take one more step together in a strategic campaign to shut this plant down for good and save what we can of our futures and our burning planet.
“We definitely did all those things, and we did them with an extraordinary quantity of bravery, care, and love. That combination creates a magical kind of power. It’s the kind of power that can build the world beyond the horizon.”