Thursday, February 19, 2009

Open letter to people of the Everglades (and those who care about it)

from the Palm Beach County Stockade, February, 8, 2009, 5:30am

To have a home is to know your surroundings--where the water comes, where it goes, what the earth is like, what it can grow, who else lives around you... Most importantly, how you can defend it. To not know these things is to have been displaced from our home and in a foreign place. Many of us here in south Florida today fall into that category. Some of us try to find a way home by escaping; others find home by re-rooting themselves where they are.

I chose to be rooted, and for that i have found my current home to be a detention center on Southern Boulevard, Palm Beach County. Incarcerated. Sentenced to 60 days for defending my home from Florida Power and Light. The details are available elsewhere; this letter is to people who know enough--who are ready to fight, or are fighting already.

In 1963, Dr. M.L. King Jr. wrote a letter from Birmingham jail explaining his arrest: "the purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation." This is a crucial component of our movement also. We need space to have our positions presented. But more importantly, we need physical space protected; we need immediate destruction stopped, and we need true, uncompromising ecological restoration now.

Our life-support system is being stripped before our eyes and our failure to act effectively makes us culprits. In legal terms, we either plead guilty to criminal negligence or prepare to use the necessity defense. In our case, neither judge nor jury seemed honest or courageous enough to accept that defense. But that doesn't change the reality that it was the most responsible option available through the system of corporate rule that we live under. History has proven numerous times that the rule of law is trumped by the demands of justice, and in the current environmental context it rings truer than ever.

Our mandate doesn't come to us from law books, but from the combined voices of our future generations and our ancestors--those who know what has been lost, and those who would have to live with that loss. The Earth is in unprecedented urgency of which the ever popular climate change issue is only a factor. Despite Florida's vast coastline, inland hydrology changes pose an even more pressing threat to our peninsula. The circumstances are dire, but the visible response is nothing short of pathetic, in relation to the danger we face. If you think the declining economy is a problem, you are skimming the surface of the metaphoric iceberg below our sub-tropical titanic... "No, Governor Charlie, re-arranging the chairs on deck won't help this off-course cruise liner."

So what are available options before us? How do we become an unstoppable force that can change the course we are on? Over the last year it seemed we had a formula: one small group blockades a power plant, goes to trial, shows the legal necessity to defend our home and then invite people to flood the streets and take similar actions until we win our planet out from the hands of greed and corruption. Today, from this cold steel bench in the county jail, it seems that the strategy may take a bit longer than hoped for. We now find ourselves in the process of learning to turn short term losses into long term victories.

While it is a disappointment that our case did not succeed in court, it is no surprise (it, of course, succeeded immeasurably in gathering public support and awareness.) This system we live in thrives on two primary factors: high-level corruption and ground-level complicity. We have a very limited ability to expose the high level corruption, and while the current trend of incarcerated County Commissioners may be encouraging, it is a mere scratch at the surface of the problem. But our collective complicity, on the other hand, is within our realm of control. Our disobedience--or refusal to cooperate--can, and has, defended land and liberty (or whats left of it) throughout history.

There is little doubt in my mind that corporate interests like FPL can create immense pressure in courtrooms, just as they do in the legislature, commission chambers and halls of congress. They are the second largest power company in the U.S. They pay the firms who write the laws for power plant siting, the same firms who train the judges that screw environmental and community health interests regularly at the administrative level (Hopping Green and Sam and the Wetherell family in Tallahassee come to mind.)

I saw the same shiftiness and twitch of discomfort in Judge Laura Johnson (who sentenced me to twice the days suggested by State Attorney Danielle Croke) as i have seen in DEP employees testifying in administrative hearings in favor of FPL. Whether it reflects an intentional deviousness or a subconscious discomfort, i can't say. I only know the impression that was left on me and hope that someday the truth with surface.

In the meantime, i consider it a responsibility to take this case through appeals and to take similar actions until an honest judge and/or a courageous jury recognize the urgency we are facing [keep an eye on the Battle for Barley Barber brewing at the Martin County FPL plant] . Our adversaries thought this sentence would silence us--instead it will be a call to action. They are forcing us into an escalation of our resistance. And they know this too.

It is not a time for reckless bravery, but a time to let the green-fire in our hearts burn deeply and nurture a subtle, fierce courage that will glow, contagious to all those around us--all who have been longing, some for generations, to find their way home. And to defend it. It's time to move from abstract rhetoric to on-the-ground plans. Now is the time to keep pressure on our local battles, as our local victories (especially here in the belly of the beast) can stoke the flames around the world.

People following the WCEC fight should remember that it's far from over. The PBC Environmental Coalition is still awaiting federal trial for faulted permitting under NEPA (Natural Environment Protection Act) and Everglades Earth First! is just now beginning to look at the 500+ miles of new FGT gas pipeline across Florida and multiple LNG facilities needed to support the giant plant, which were not taken into consideration by permitting process that is supposed to review secondary and cumulative impacts.

So let's keep it up on all fronts--on the streets, through the courts and even in the jails. When i came to this facility i found that most everyone i met, convicts and deputies, had heard of the WCEC through our fight with FPL (some who had been following the story since last year) and so many have openly expressed support and sympathy for our efforts. And outrage over the sentence.. even those serving a much longer time incarcerated.

If i may tangent briefly, i want to also express that the captivity, rage and displacement i've witnessed behind these walls is terrifyingly reflective of the world outside it--a microcosm of what is happening to the planet and the people who live with it. But don't take my word for it; write a letter to any prisoner and ask what its like. I suggest starting with one of the political eco-prisoners listed in the back of the Earth First! Journal. I've only been down a week, and i am hoping to get out on an appellate bond for now. But we have people around the world doing hard time for defending their home. Just this Thursday, activist Marie Mason was sentenced to near 22 years for following her heart. She deserves all the love and support we can send her way... [see details below]

...For a brief moment, i can look out at the sun rising over the few Palm Trees i can see from this window, and i imagine the snores of fellow inmates are distant pig frogs and 'gators snorts and i envision a day when cypress domes and pine flatwoods and prairie marshes cover this concrete and over grow the razor wire fences... Gopher tortoises, eagles, indigo snakes, otters.. returning to their home. And i sit in a shady oak hammock, here in the Loxahatchee slough, around a campfire listening to Marie's sweet voice in song, laughing with friends from across these islands that span the hemisphere.. feeling in-place, connected, home.

Then i hear keys jingle. Door opens, pig frogs go silent: "You guys got rec in 15 minutes." I see the sun shining out there. Soon i'll get to feel it on my skin, for about an hour, if the clouds clear.

panagioti tsolkas, #0273636


[author's notes and updates: Since writing this letter, above, i have been released on an $5000 appellate bond (thanks to my mother, Lynne's mother and a friend Sister Rachel, who testified to my reliability and commitment to the community i live in; also thanks to my partner Cara Jennings and Public Defender Erich Taylor who worked their asses off to pull it off). This means i was able to get out of jail until our case for an appeal of the circuit court verdict and sentence is heard by a higher court, which could take up to another year to be completed. My co-defendant, Lynne Purvis, made a tough decision to stay and get her 30 day sentence out of the way. I served 13 days of my 60 day sentence awaiting the bond hearing and processing, and received an incredible amount of support and solidarity, in the form of: dozens of letters, money in my commissary, covering my home responsibilities and most importantly, people picking up my slack in continuing the fight against FPL. I may still have to serve another 30-35 days if the appeal is unsuccessful, or i may serve out that time earlier if my bond becomes a financial burden.

In the meantime, Everglades Earth First! has called for a Week of Action in Solidarity with jailed activists, see details at:

For those of you who were inspired to write a letter through the bars, but didn't get to me in time.. Lynne will be in until Feb 24, and would love your letters:

Lynne Purvis, #0353397
L Dorm, Stockade
PO Box 24716
West Palm Beach, FL 33416

Also, please consider corresponding with a friend and comrade, Marie Mason, who was just sentenced this week to 22 years in prison for ecological direct actions; despite the fact that no one was injured by her actions. The news is tragic and has filled me with anger, sadness and humility. For updates, or to read her sentencing statement:
The below address may only be good until the end of February; please check the website, as she is awaiting relocation:
Marie Jeanette Mason
Clinton County Jail
1347 E Townsend Rd.
Saint Johns, MI 48879

If you wrote me a letter and/or donated to EEF! on my behalf and i haven't thanked you personally, please allow me to express my total appreciation. Direct action is a community effort that goes far beyond the moment of confrontation. Those who offer continual, reliable solidarity are the roots of stability in our movement. Keep fighting, keep loving.. -panagioti tsolkas


Looking for some background info about the ongoing fight against FPL and the Energy Empire in south Florida?

Some articles, videos and photos:

1 comment:

Dave said...

Glad to see you released, and thank you for informing us about the others. But I looked up Marie Mason, and while 22 years is an incredibly harsh semtemce, anyone who intentionally causes a fire and explosion in a building (if that's what she did)is going to end up in jail and with little public sympathy, regardless of the cause. What you were accused of stops well short of that.