Walking The Line: On the Frontlines Against the Pipelines
from It’s Going Down
In the Jefferson National Forest a line is being drawn.
If you turn North from highway 460 on the border of Virginia and West Virginia onto US 641, stay right at the fork, and stop with Pocahontas Rd on your left, you will run right into it. It’s a little gravel road that winds back into the mountain all the way to the AT. On it, a garrison of Forest Service trucks, state police, and private security idle their engines, enforcing the line.
On December 28, 2017 a line was drawn when Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC obtained authorization to construct a 42 inch pipeline through the forest. The proposed channel would conduct fracked natural gas and disturb many communities opposed to the project and to natural gas infrastructure. The tree sits began on February 26th when activists climbed up to put their bodies in the way of construction. In response, the line strengthened on March 19th and MVP’s right of way was closed to the public. Following the launch of the Monopod on Pocahontas Rd on March 28th, directly obstructing construction in open defiance of the closure order, the line was extended again.
On March 30th authorities closed Pocahontas Rd to the public hoping to cut off support. It was not enough. So, on April 7th, the line was pushed again when the Forest Service extended the area of the closure to 125 feet on either side of the center of Pocahontas Rd. Still, the woods at the Monopod stir as the support camp chirps “Still here” to one another.
Off of the AT that intersects the closure, visitors are ordered to stay outside of the line. We walk through the forest, out of site, brushing up to it, but maintaining the boundary.
At the edge of the line armed guards stand across from a community of resistance. On one side a force has assembled to protect Peter’s Mountain; on the other side a force has assembled to protect the pipeline. On one side the land is public; on the other side the land is private. On one side efforts are made to contribute to the land and strengthen the systems of life there; on the other side the land is consumed, drained, and polluted. On one side individual people have a voice; on the other side the State has a voice. On one side people are empowered by their voice; on the other side a voice tells them what to do from a position of authority. On one side people are free to act according to their voice; on the other side people are arrested.
This imposed line shows us something. It shows a declaration of ownership. It says you have ownership over yourself up to a point and beyond that point another entity has ownership over you. And it shows us who decides where that point is. It suggests to us that our feeling of independence and idea of self-governance is a façade.
“The people on the other side of that crossing,” said one protester indicating the police, “are legitimized to either throw me in a cage or inflict violence on me and that’s what the police function as is the only legitimized form of violence… and corporations use that.”
It certainly seems like MVP has been using it. Now supporters of the sits are being charged as intruders where a short time ago they were at home. It is only because that line has recently been drawn to legitimize MVP’s intrusion onto rural counties that resolutely oppose it. Groups like Preserve Montgomery County have been resisting the project for several years. Their website begins, “Here’s what you can do to preserve your right to your land and water.” Further down, pipeline workers were asked not to return to a local restaurant.
Commenting on the feeling of intrusion, a protester said, “When an institution puts itself in the way of people being able to take care of each other that’s pretty shitty, and it highlights the fact that it doesn’t work for people… I would like to have autonomy over my body and exercise self-determination with the folks that I have shared interests with which MVP is clearly allowed to do and we are not.”
There is a line on Peter’s Mountain, but it didn’t begin there and it doesn’t end there. It’s a line made for control, to coerce obedience. You will find that the line expects your obedience, feels entitled to it. You will find that this seemingly passive line exists to control behavior, as at the Monopod where it is effectively being used to starve protesters. And you will find that contradicting the line admits the kind of abuse that adds bruises and “resisting arrest” to top off your charges.
The same line extends over coal fields, highways, factory farms, and offices. It’s the same line that separated black and white schools in the 1950’s. It’s the same line that evicted families from their homes during the coal wars in the 1880’s. It separates us from our resources, it separates us from our agency, and it quietly shapes the world around us. The lines are still tightening, limiting our space to be human as it limits external space. We find ourselves penned in, looking across the line at a world we object to but a world that is taking us with it.
As one protester expressed, “We talked to our representatives. We tried running our own candidates. We wrote letters to the editor. We had people sign petitions. Didn’t work, didn’t work, didn’t work. This is the only thing I feel like I have left.”
The people fighting today are fighting a grip that has been taking hold for a long time. They are fighting for our voice. We are the disempowered; we are distressed; we are the shoved aside; we are told there is nothing to see here. But we know there is.
We know that trees are being cut illegally. We know that people’s property is being stripped from them and used against their will. We know that resistors are being intimidated and protests muted. We know that law is working to further these interests while ignoring our own.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline is only one part of a process that continues pushing destructive industries and infrastructure while the earth deteriorates. The resistance against this pipeline is a resistance against giving more ground to that system and it is important to see that no matter how local or particular this one issue seems the tide it represents is a carrying us all. The line, in whatever form it takes, its pattern of destruction, ownership of people and of land, is facing us all. But the lines have been so drawn in favor of this process that to stand up we have to cross them.
The tree sitters have done that. Now officials are pointing to the authority of the line and using it to smother objection, to justify force, and to employ starvation against them. Implicit in the tree sits is a denial to comply to this line. To step over the line is not an act of violence, it is not a crime, it is an objection to it, and if there are those who insist on the line then let them be the ones to bring out violence for it, let them be the ones who need to advocate for its existence, let them be the ones who require our consent rather than us requiring their permission. For the rest of us, every time we cross it we deny that it has the power to hold us at bay, we force its passive violence to become active, and we reclaim ownership of ourselves. For the rest of us who stand on the line and feel it getting tighter, we, with the tree sitters, feel the pressure to step over it.