Report back from the Resist Cricket Valley action last December
By Monica Hunken
After a night of last minute preparations and not a wink of sleep, we loaded ourselves up with backpacks full of rope, zip ties, banners and hand warmers and walked silently under the moonlight into enemy territory; Cricket Valley Energy power plant in Dover, NY.
Meanwhile, our friends were deploying at the entrance, a vintage tractor spray painted neon green and yellow that ten people locked themselves to with chains and steel lock boxes, and radiating out from that; a team of soft blockers, whirling around and stretching out to halt the next barrage of workers lining up along Route 22 at 6am. After a few unsuccessful attempts, we finally discovered the path to the ladder on the stacks, squeezing our packs into the caged cover and painstakingly pulling ourselves up rung by rung almost 300 feet up to the top.
The sun began to rise and we could spot our friends below like a radioactive swarm, drums and singing carried across Harlem Valley over the Great Swamp.
We were no longer hidden by the cover of night and workers spotted us- high alert spread across the plant, a flurry of movement with workers running, pointing and shouting, We saw the plant get shut down piece by piece, the hum of the smokestack ceased. We watched a stream of cars exit as 600 workers were sent home for the day.
But there was still shouting below us, three workers were chasing us up the stacks, yelling at us to come down. I heard them calling to each other- “There’s four men going up!”
At first I panicked and kept climbing and then Creek, a farmer from Seed Song, and I decided to stop and greet them. What did they really think they were going to do? Drag us down? I didnt know.
But they paused on the platform below us. I smiled down at them. I saw his name on his hard hat, Tony, “Hi Tony, how you doing?” and I explained the situation, that we weren’t going to damage any property and would come down when we were ready. They told us they could not run tests or carry on construction of the plant with us being up there for safety reasons. I felt my spine rattle with excitement. The workers were disappointed we weren’t coming down but explained the dangers to look out for up there and headed back, but not without confiscating our toilet bucket first.
At the top, Ben, a farmer from White Pine, 2 miles from the plant, was ecstatic, dancing, hooting and hollering. We began tying up yellow and purple flags along the edge of the platform, a crown of flare, and set to deploy a banner but, having organized this whole thing with practically no budget, the material we got was inadequate for the strong winds up on the smokestacks. We set up a sort of workshop up there in the space between the three stacks, trying out different methods for hanging the banner as safely as we could. In the end, after maybe eight hours of brainstorming and attempts, we decided against it. Workers and police were below us tracking our every move, probably dumbfounded by all our activity. We were delirious from exhaustion and were holding off on drinking much water or food so we could maintain our presence as long as possible, but happy as hell that we made it up and our friends were down below making a ruckus.
The plant, furiously trying to get back on construction deadlines, seems to be working 24 hours a day now in order to be in operation by 2020.
We watched the rally build in ferocity down below, The Stop Shopping Choir arrived in prom dresses like a thread of flowers shaking and swirling their skirts, the Tin Horn Brass Band showed up blasting trumpets with choruses of Bella Ciao. The police were overwhelmed and it took hours for them to call in State police from as far as Albany to arrive on the scene.
From our birds eye view, only being able to see shapes and color, the shift in power was clear. The police moved in militant stiff lines, controlled and sparce. The tractor blockade moved like the earth, flowing rivers, sun rays stretching out in circles and spores, undefinable, mysterious and radiant, sometimes quiet and reverent, sometimes bursting in song and chant.
We witnessed the land around the plant, the winding Great Swamp that Cricket Valley is siphoning for cooling treatments, every now and again a train would pass, directly behind the plant, nothing but a line of trees in between, nothing to protect the land or people from this monolith, this ticking time bomb.
The last of our friends were being ripped out of the lockboxes, the sun rays laid out around the little tractor, defiant and delightful. I could hear echoes of their names- Jeanne! Jeanne! Jim! Jim! Margaret! Iris! as the crowd erupted into cheers while the heroes were being taken away. And then they were all gone off to be processed and we were left alone with the setting sun, the cold getting sharper. We managed to rest for a moment, Creek even fell dead asleep on the platform. George watched in wonder as he was able to move the stack across from us with a gentle push of his foot, it swayed in the wind and we tried not to worry. Sitting on top of a dying industry that is spitting and clawing to stay alive to profit the few. So proud to be there with some of the most humble, non-patriarchical, committed and gentle men I’ve ever known.
We reassessed our situation. We had planned to stay until 6pm but by 4:30pm, people needed to pee and eat something warm. Temperatures were dropping and we had successfully shut down the plant for the duration we had planned. We began to dismantle and prep to leave.
Just then a helicopter began to fly circles around us. The smokestack started revving up again and they were banging on it down below yelling garbled rants at us, waves of reverberation shooting up the stacks. The cavalcade arrived, about 15 SUV cop cars, a cherry picker, a group of men in army fatigues and climbing gear. One man on a loud speaker began calling up to us. “You’ve made your point. The protest is over. Come down now!”
We slowly began our dissent with the officer on the loud speaker continually demanding- be careful!. and a drone camera taking video of us.
When we got to the cat walk, they took our belongings and brought us all the way down the ground. The military crew went racing up scouting around the top platform to see if we had left anything dangerous I suppose. The zip tie cuffs were cutting off my circulation in the van as I waited for the all the vehicles to clear out and take us to the precinct.
Now it begins, I thought. We’ll be here til Monday at least. I prepared myself for the long weekend alone. But when we pulled into the cutest little precinct I’d ever seen, the arresting officers were complaining about their Saturday night dinner plans and were trying to get us out as quickly as possible. It dawned on me that we were getting DATs- Desk Appearance Tickets and would be released that night. I had never fathomed this outcome. I would see my friends tonight, I would sleep in a bed, I would see the stars that we had grown so close to in our brief stay in the sky. I was the first of the four to be released. Kim leapt out of a car, bright and electric as always and embraced me, followed by a crew of beautiful organizers who had been caring for each other, tending to the action and the post-action driving people out of jail to trains and homes all day long. And still they came to pick us up with love and spirit to share.
It wasnt until I was driving back to Brooklyn the next night, after a day of cleaning up our safe house, I pulled over at a rest stop and hung my head and sobbed in relief and tiredness. We kept our people safe. No one died. We shut down the plant with a rowdy neon burst of life. Power to the people.