In a Surprising Victory, Criminal Charges from Direct Action Confronting Climate Change Are Dropped

Posted Sept. 17, 2014

MP3 Interview with Jay O'Hara, Quaker climate activist, conducted by Scott Harris

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On the morning of May 15, 2013 Ken Ward, a veteran environmental organizer and Boston carpenter, and Jay O’Hara, a Quaker activist from Cape Cod, set out on a 32-foot lobster boat with the intention of blocking the path of a giant freighter that was on its way to deliver 40,000 tons of coal to the Brayton Point power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts. The small boat, which flew an American flag along with a banner which read, ”#CoalIsStupid,” was moved into position and then dropped a 200-pound anchor, preventing the 689-foot ship “Energy Enterprise” from off-loading its cargo, one of the primary sources of climate change.

The activists then called the local police to inform them of their civil disobedience action. Notified of the protest, the Coast Guard accompanied the freighter in two fast boats and then boarded and commandeered the lobster boat. The two activists faced four criminal charges: conspiracy, disturbing the peace, failure to act to avoid a collision, and negligent operation of a motor vessel, which carries up to two years in jail. The pair had planned to employ what’s called a necessity defense in court, calling a number of well-known environmental experts to testify on their behalf, including NASA climate scientist Jim Hansen and climate change activist and author Bill McKibben.

But just as the trial was about to begin in the Fall River Court House on Sept. 8, Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter announced his decision to drop all criminal charges against the activists, reducing them to civil infractions and fines. His statement that he believed that Ken and Jay were acting to reduce harm to the planet amazed the activists, their supporters and the assembled press. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with activist Jay O’Hara, who talks about why he felt moved by the climate crisis to risk arrest and imprisonment in his act of civil disobedience and the circumstances which led the prosecutor to drop all criminal charges and announce that he, too, would be a participant in the historic Sept. 21 People's Climate March in New York City.

Learn more about O’Hara’s and Ken Ward’s direct action protest at the Brayton Point power plant in Massachusetts and other campaigns to address climate change by visiting .

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