On June 24th around 7am, Chris Wahmhoff, InterOccupy organizer, MICATS (Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands) organizer skated into the Enbridge oil pipeline on his birthday as a conscious objector against the company that was responsible for the largest inland oil spill in US history. A spill that released 1 million gallons of oil into Talmadge Creek, and subsequently the Kalamazoo River. The place of Chris’ childhood. A place that filled him with memories, and sadly, a place where the children of today will never enjoy the same experiences. He emerged 10 hours later at 5pm, as promised to local law enforcement. He was taken to the hospital for medical evaluation before being taken into custody for resisting and obstructing police.
His case went to trial last year in Calhoun County, where Judge James Kingsley dismissed it in January. However, the decision was reversed by Michigan Court of Appeals Judge, Joel Hoekstra. Hoekstra stated, “The defendant knew he was trespassing, and thus he knew he was failing to comply with a lawful command.”
Before sentencing, Chris elicits Thoreau, “When the laws are unjust, we are compelled to break them.” He recounted to the court the day he went into the Kalamazoo River and pulled up a leg full of tar sands. “I threw up for 3 days’ he said, ‘and have a chronic hemorrhaging ulcer until now.” He tells the judge he is the 9th person on the river to suffer from this incurable affliction, a disease that is only supposed to effect 2% of the entire population. Wahmhoff continues on, stating the residents are told it is safe to fish, but on the Kalamazoo website it states there are no fish safe to eat that are caught in the river. Under trade secret agreements, Enbridge is not required to disclose the 100’s or possibly 1000’s of chemicals used in the river spill, and is in clear violation of the EPA.
The judge tells Wahmhoff, “I was touched by all of the letters [from far reaching places around the country]in support and asking for leniency.” Chris replied to the judge that he won’t ask for leniency, because that would not be true civil disobedience. He added, “When do laws become more important than the people they serve? In the Enbridge class action law suit, $750 will be offered to residents in a gift card wrapped in a legal gag order…” Kingsley interrupts and reminds Wahmhoff to focus allocution on the case at hand, his sentencing, then adds his own literary reference, quoting Frost and urging Chris to remember these words, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.”
After Chris wrapped up his statement, his lawyer, Denise Heberle proclaimed emphatically, “This is a man we need,’ then gestures to the court full of environmental activists and supporters, ‘we need, free. We need him to be free to continue his urgent work.” Judge Kingsley interrupted and responded, “He’s going to remain free.” A hushed excitement within the courtroom was palpable. Chris’ wife rushed passed the hinged half doors that separated the defendant from the audience, swiftly kissed her husband, and returned to her seat. With a chuckle, Heberle asked, “Can I just finish what I was going to say?” There wasn’t a face without a smile in the entire courtroom, including the bailiff.
The prosecutor was given the final say, “We are not here to judge the law [and decide which laws are just or unjust], we are here to enforce it.” The monetary values of restitution were enumerated and cited as, “The cost for keeping him alive while he was in the pipeline.” At the end of the extensive expense review, Heberle responded with the notion that when she goes to work, some days are more involved than others, but she doesn’t get paid more if she has a rough day. And while these civil servants were doing their jobs, it was nothing beyond their job description or line of duty.
The final judgment was delivered. “The keys to the jail are in your hand” said the judge. A 60 day suspended jail sentence was determined, so long as Chris Wahmhoff would not commit any further violations and was ordered to stay 500ft away from Enbridge property or operations. He was given a year probation with drug testing, yet would be continued to have permissible use of medical marijuana, so long as a doctor would document its necessity. He was ordered to pay restitution, fines and court fees totaling between $10,000 and $12,000. The defense council has plans to contest the amount.
Upon leaving the courtroom but still within the courthouse, Chris completed his prepared statement and a list of demands that he was not able to be read in front of the judge for the record. Chris provided Revolution News with that written statement which concluded:
“…My trial date was also the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. This country would not exist without this moment. A moment of Civil Disobedience.
Civil Disobedience is what happens when the letter of the law does not represent the principles for which they are created. Civil Disobedience is open and bold resistance to unjust law. Because of my faith as a Christian, and because of all who died for freedom, I have a responsibility to not ask for leniency but to make demands. I openly and proudly accept accountability. But if only Enbridge and our cowardly leaders are to be held accountable also.
I do not make a demand of the court but of the People. We have always been the only change for good in our dark history.
–From Revolution it began with the Tea Party, and the Death of Crispus Attacks.
–The end of slavery was not with Lincoln, it was the Underground Railroad and the Abolition Movement.
–The labor laws were unions, boycotts, and strikes, not from FDR.
–Women’s rights were mothers, daughters, and not from white, male congressmen.
–Civil Rights were MLK, Malcom X, and the Panthers, not Parliament.
We have power when we organize, when we boycott, strike, when we work within the system replacing our leaders, and out of it through civil unrest. We have to make this happen and we have many times before.
To the community along the river
This class action is a quick fix to save money because they know what’s coming. Do not allow Enbridge to control water testing and do not settle until there are impact studies and testing of the [tar sands]formations. They are offering you $750 or less to save themselves 10s of 100s of thousands instead. If your leaders do not comply with informing you of the rise of Disease and research, it is a local election. Replace them and demand action.
At once demand seizure of Enbridge Line 5 by means of imminent domain by necessity of National Security to be decommissioned
By their own response plan they acknowledge this pipeline on the bed of 20%-30% of the ENTIRE WORLD’S FRESH WATER SUPPLY can spill 1.5 million of “product” by the time the necessary 8 minute shut off is reached.
The National Guard has confirmed they cannot handle the heavy spill. Enbridge does not show competence or preparedness to allow the use of this now 61 year old, severely under maintained line.
Demand divestment of the US from the carbon bubble
The new extraction methods of tar sands and natural gas fracking are a financial bubble that is going to burst as a result of agreed carbon emissions, and the ongoing fossil fuel economic battle between the western and the eastern hemispheres. We are being sold an economic collapse by the same model as 2008 by the same people as Timothy Geitner and the majority of Wall Street. Their goal is for the tax payer to own the Keystone XL and line 67 projects when they financially crumble.
Our sacrifice in Kalamazoo and the coming Line 5 is little more than a gamble on Wall Street. Right now our dying first responders, our miscarriages, our lost friends, and our children who face cancer do so in the vein of making crooked rich people richer.
I close by asking all the police and court officials who thank me under their breath, “At what point does the letter of the law become less valuable then the conscience we sacrifice?”
To the people I say, “If you have but faith of a mustard seed, you can move mountains.”
The executives at Enbridge knew long before the spill there was a fracture in the pipeline, yet, made a disgraceful board decision to wait until it ruptured so Enbridge’s insurance company would cover the costs of repairs. The residents in the surrounding areas were instructed to stay indoors for three days while Enbridge’s contractors were allegedly cleaning up the spill. It wasn’t until whistleblower, John Bolenbaugh, who worked for 6 weeks for SET Environmental of Chicago, the company hired to clean up, (or according to Bolenbaugh,” cover up” the spill) went to the Media to expose the truth. In an interview I did with John in 2012, he stated, “The Company set out to fire me because I was exposing efforts to hide the oil rather than remove it.” Bolenbaugh recounted stories of how the workers would lay down layers of sod over the spill, rather than cleaning up the toxic chemicals. John soon after founded HELLPA (Honor Environment Love People Protect All) and created of a series of interviews with Kalamazoo residents, children, women, and men, who had become severely ill with seizures, respiratory illnesses, and even several who eventually died because of their now toxic environment. These were all efforts Chris Whahmhoff supported and assisted.
Jarah Maan is an independent journalist with Revolution News and can be reached at: email@example.com