On Saturday, May 13, from 5 to 9 p.m., at Harmony Stables, 3500 Duncan Drive in Missoula, 350 Montana will introduce Leonard Higgins, an ordinary hero, at an educational fundraiser to support Leonard’s legal defense through the Climate Disobedience Action Fund. Please join us for a barbecue, good local brews, music by “Ellie Nuno and the Tynellies,” and the story of good people taking action to avert the climate crisis.
There are many kinds of heroes. We know the swashbuckler, the Hollywood alpha who bests his adversaries. We know the anti-hero, the Don Quixotes, who manage their quest in spite of their misbegotten selves. Our favorite at 350 Montana, given the current state of the climate and our Deniers-in-Chief, is the everyman, the average American who steps forward with great moral courage.
“Missoulians have an opportunity to meet one of these brave souls,” says 350 Montana leadership team member Jim Parker. “Leonard and the other valve-turners took personal risks to defend our planet, our environment, our quality of life … and, if you read the scientific literature, maybe all life as we know it.”
The background is that, on October 11, 2016, five ordinary citizens chose to act commensurate with the science of the climate crisis. In the face of the abject failure of elected officials and public policy to deal with climate change, they closed valves on the five pipelines carrying Alberta tar sands crude oil into the United States.
Higgins, Jay O’Hara, Ken Ward, Emily Johnston, and Annette Klapstein shut five major cross-border pipelines in four states carrying millions of barrels of tar sands crude. The valve turners simultaneously entered valve stations in remote locations 1,600 miles across four northern U.S. states.
They were supporting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which was trying to protect its water and land from the $3.7 billion Dakota Access pipeline carrying oil to the Gulf Coast. Consistent with the climate movement, their actions were completely nonviolent.
Fifteen minutes before shutting the valves, the valve turners called operating companies and emergency services. The firms shut off the oil. There were no injuries to others nor, except for the cutting of some chains, to property. The simple plan highlighted the vulnerability of energy infrastructure and stunned policy makers and energy executives.
Higgins must have drawn the short straw because he turned off a pipeline in Chouteau County, Montana, near Coal Banks Landing. He awaits trial on July 18 in Fort Benton and faces up to 10 years in prison. After his December 6, 2016 arraignment he said the possibility of incarceration paled in comparison to the prospect of climate change. “Bottom line: we’re facing a far greater threat than prison,” he said.
Retired after a 30-year career as an IT specialist for the State of Oregon, Higgins’ Montana speaking tour will take him to Missoula, Bozeman, and Whitefish.
“Montana is as good a place as any to have this conversation,” Jay O’Hara says. “It’s a conversation we need to have in the heart of America with average, everyday citizens.”
Dave Harmon, host of the event up the Rattlesnake and a member of 350 Montana’s leadership team, says, “The five ordinary activists laid their personal welfare and freedom on the line for the rest of us, and we’re going to have their back. They are our ordinary heroes, and they deserve our support.”
350 Montana wants to bring folks together to learn about the moral grounds for climate actions, pay tribute to their bravery, and raise money for their legal defense. Because . . .
Every once in a while—not often enough, mind you—some very brave souls put themselves in harm’s way to right the wrongs of our time. They are our ordinary heroes. Sometimes their bravery is rewarded by arrest, trial, and threats of jail.