From November 10th to the 12th 2012 nearly 100 people came to the Shalefield Justice Action Camp at Maggie’s farm in Bessemer, PA to network, attend richly informative workshops, learn about the mechanics of direct action and picket the drilling site.
The camp has been lauded as being refreshingly diverse. There were people from multiple generations and not everyone was a hardened iconoclast. Many regions and many facets of the movement were represented, and it was exciting to meet so many people who were curious about including direct action in their campaigns. In addition to introducing new tactics, the camp focused on education, movement building and establishing links between urban and rural communities. The atmosphere of the camp was warm and open, allowing many new connections to be made. It was also very business-like, mostly keeping to a tight schedule in order to squeeze in the maximal amount of work and play the weekend.
The quality of the workshops earned much praise. Campers were able to follow a direct action track, a series of workshops that brought them from What is Direct Action? all the way through the fundamentals of scouting, media and communicating effectively with police and workers. Other workshops and panel discussions gave participants a chance to learn more about fracking, coal, abandoned wells, community organizing, media and other amazing stuff..
Find the full workshop schedule here.
The weather couldn’t have been more perfect and we were treated to gorgeous sunrises, sunsets and a smiling moon present both night and day. An inviting old farmhouse provided workshop locations by day and sleeping space by night. Tents popped up around the house and in the field next door. Across the drive, a large greenhouse housed another workshop space, the all important kitchen and a place for dining and socializing. The greenhouse was particularly enchanting at night. Luminaries burned on the path outside and long chains of Christmas lights glowed within. This cozy feeling was further enhanced by the stick-to-your-ribs cooking provided by certain members of Shadbush, some folks from Food Not Bombs and kind volunteers.
On Saturday night we were treated to a sneak preview of Triple Divide, a groundbreaking new documentary covering personal stories of those affected by fracking, which will debut this January. Sunday brought us a truly magical visual story-telling session with the Beehive Design Collective’s True Cost of Coal poster, the musical stylings of Stoney and Company and one of Maggie’s pigs..roasted–a ritual that allowed activists to mingle with the Henrys and their friends.
Those who have been following the story of Maggie’s farm will know that her land was leased to the gas company without her knowledge by a relative for about $3 an acre. When she found out that the lease existed, she went to court and was advised to accept a settlement that she now regrets. She now fears, among other things, that waste water from the extraction process will find one of the many abandoned gas wells on her property and contaminate her water source. Maggie also faces scorn from her neighbors in Bessemer, many of whom have leased their land to the gas company and resent her opposition to the drilling.
The camp culminated in an action involving about 35 campers, a picket on the entrance to the drill pad an an attempt to blockade the trucks leaving the pad. This was the first taste of direct action for many of the participants and utilized skills and a banner from the workshops. There was quite a heavy police and private security presence, even a helicopter, but no incidents. The picket also attracted the attention of locals and passers-by, some confused, some supportive, others yelling oppositional remarks from their moving cars. One family stopped to share their own story of water contamination and suggested that many other local families are experiencing this.. This encouraged the activists, providing a tangible sign that awareness of the issues was growing as a result of the picket, and it seemed to be a valuable conversation for the family too.
The big question is ‘What now’ What now for Shadbush? What now for Maggie? A debrief after the action and the camp provided lots of suggestions for improvement along with much praise for the effectiveness of the camp. It seemed that most people got what they came for. Additionally, those who attended the camp were asked to fill out a survey concerning what they would like to see happen next in the fight to save Maggie’s farm and how they are able to participate. The Shadbush Collective made a lot of new friends, earned some increased visibility and has never been more committed to the long haul fight against fracking on Maggie’s farm and everywhere else.