The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

Eight arrested in Extinction Rebellion anti-fossil fuel protest at Massachusetts State House

Eleanor Goudie
Protestors from Extinction Rebellion pose for a group photo in the Massachusetts State House. Activists hoped that their protest would help stop Governor Maura Healy from committing to building new fossil fuel infrastructure in the state.

Over 30 environmental activists gathered at the Massachusetts State House Sept. 18 for an Extinction Rebellion protest pressuring Governor Maura Healey to publicly commit to building no new fossil fuel infrastructure, with eight demonstrators being arrested, according to Extinction Rebellion. The protest was organized by the Boston chapter of Extinction Rebellion, an environmental activist group dedicated to persuading governments to act against climate change. 

The protest served as the kickoff for Extinction Rebellion Boston’s “Week of Rebellion.” The group has also held a daily demonstration in front of the State House since June 5. 

“It’s part of a larger campaign that we’ve been doing to target Governor Healey and other leadership, such as Senate Leader Spilka and House leader Mariano … our demand is no new fossil fuel infrastructure,” said Brian Okum, a member of Extinction Rebellion’s planning team for the protest at the State House. 

The demands come from a place of desperation, as the state is not on track to meet its goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, Okum said. 

“We want [Healey] to publicly commit to no new fossil fuel infrastructure, which we want to lead to legislation or executive action to place a ban on all new fossil fuel infrastructure and expansions of existing infrastructure,” Okum said. 

Demonstrators entered the State House around 1:30 p.m. They filled out postcards to Healey detailing their demands in emotional pleas and gave them to a representative of her office. 

“We met with climate chief Melissa Hoffer, who was appointed by Governor Healey,” Okum said. “Hoffer admitted that Massachusetts will not be meeting its 2030 target to get halfway to its carbon reduction targets by 2050.” 

Protesters then moved downstairs and staged a mock basketball game as a means of memorable disruption. Organizers donned jerseys with names of representatives and energy companies on the back and acted as if they were dribbling as they passed a balled up sweatshirt between them. Other demonstrators chanted basketball-themed slogans for their representatives to prioritize climate change during the “game” including, “Let’s go Maura, give the climate your best shot,” “Go home, fossil fuels, you’re playing like a bunch of fools” and “Fossil fuels are you ashamed, it’s our future, not a game.” Healy was a basketball player in college, and often used that fact in her promotional material, so protestors touched on this to better get their message across to her. 

Throughout the demonstration, protesters held banners and signs bearing more basketball-themed slogans, in accordance with the disruption, including “Jump ball for a liveable future,” “Half time is over! Declare a climate emergency” and “Slam dunk: no new fossil fuel infrastructure.” The game was then moved back upstairs to outside Healey’s office before the demonstrators took a lap through the building and moved to the Office of Constituent Services to air their grievances, making impassioned speeches about the urgency with which climate action is needed from the government.

“We’re at the point now where we can make a decision. But once that ball starts rolling down the hill, the earth will emit more CO2 than we’ve ever emitted,” said Northeastern fourth-year ecology and evolutionary biology major Liam Brister in a speech in the office. “It’s going to emit in 20 years what we emit in 150, then it will keep going and the more that it emits, the more it will continue to emit. I want to have children, I just want to have a family and I can’t do that.’”

Protesters filled the office and went into the staff only area, where they remained in an act of civil disobedience until state house security and Massachusetts State Police forced them out. Eight protesters were arrested

The arrests were planned by the demonstrators, and are a key part of Extinction Rebellion’s strategy of civil disobedience. Bargaining with politicians and working within the system has not been found to be effective for the group, so they turn to direct action. Jana Pickard-Richardson, a member of Extinction Rebellion who works on outreach, has been arrested before at a sit-in at Healey’s office in February. 

“It’s something that I planned to do. It is an action commensurate with the rage I feel at the slow pace of action,” Pickard-Richardson said. “It is an emergency, every day counts and business as usual is not getting us to where we need to be, and so people like me … we need to put our bodies on the line. I’m willing to get arrested if it helps our leaders to understand the urgency of the situation.”

According to the group, individual green practices like recycling, voting and reducing one’s personal carbon footprint will not do much to curb environmental destruction. Individuals participating in direct action targeting governments to make large changes and regulate mass corporate polluters is the most effective means for people to make a difference. 

“The [public relations] campaigns by fossil fuels and plastic industries over the past 50 years have basically told us that those are the effective ways to make change and they’ve done that to shift the blame to the individual and divert blame away from themselves,” Okum said.  “We need to go way beyond…and start organizing ourselves in a mass movement, and Extinction Rebellion believes that at this point it’s time to perform civil disobedience in order to shake things up.”

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