The Subversive Power of Gratitude
The train engine moved toward us, a transparent attempt on the part of the rail workers to intimidate the group of us sitting on the tracks. They blew the horn loudly, while the group chanted and waved signs protesting the recent explosion and fire that had happened during a train derailment in Mosier, Oregon a couple of weeks ago. Police were amassing, preparing for arrests in the din.
It was June 2016. I was among a group of 21 activists sitting on the tracks in an act of civil disobedience in protest of the ongoing destruction of the climate, ecosystems, and communities by the fossil fuel industry. The fire in Mosier, a small scenic town in the Columbia River Gorge, was only the most recent in a litany of train derailments, pipeline breaks, and gas explosions that left a trail of destruction and ongoing devastation in their wake. The derailment wreaked havoc in the town, risking immolation of the houses, affecting water and sewer services, and creating lung-scorching smoke for days. As an arts organizer, my job was to supply art to bring beauty and messaging to the action. While I have been arrested previously in civil disobedience actions, I hadn’t planned to do so that day.
Here’s what changed my mind.
People were coming together in solidarity with a community that was still suffering needlessly as a result of unsafe practices from the railroad and oil company. The beauty and care of these people were inspiring and filled me with gratitude for the strong community of activists willing to witness, and, yes, risk arrest for a common cause.
After the first order of dispersal from the police, I saw my dear friend sitting alone on the train tracks, crying. I knew this was the first time she was risking arrest. She had quit her job in order to devote her whole being to climate justice, spurred on by concern for her children in particular. Her partner and children were watching. I was moved by the devotion which brought her to this moment, and grateful to her. I wasn’t about to let her sit there alone.
We were soon joined by 19 other souls. We sang and supported each other through the ordeal. After we were released from jail, caring folks were there…