Climate Activists Supported by Mass Defense Committee

by Jeff Feuer

            The past eight years were the warmest on record globally, fueled by ever-rising greenhouse gas concentrations and accumulated heat, according to the World Meteorological Organization, and 2023 will be the Earth’s hottest year on record, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA.  We are right now on the verge of extinction level events due to man-made climate change.  Massachusetts climate activists have been at the forefront of campaigns to force our state and local governments and corporations to take action to address this crisis and the Guild’s Mass Defense Committee (MDC) has been right there with them, providing critical legal support and representation.

            Over the past several years, Extinction Rebellion Boston (XR), with the aid and assistance of like-minded Massachusetts community groups, including Climate Defiance, Scientist Rebellion, 350 Mass., the Sunrise Movement, Green Roots Chelsea, Fridays for Future, Third Act, Climate Courage, Poor People’s Campaign, Boston May Day Coalition, Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station (FRRACS), Red Rebel Brigade of Boston, Our Revolution Mass Climate Working Group, Elders Climate Action, and community members from communities including East Boston, Dudley, Weymouth, Chelsea West Roxbury, and Cambridge (among others) have engaged in numerous Direct Action events designed to raise the consciousness of government policymakers, corporate executives and the general public about the climate crisis. 

            The Guild has provided Direct Action training and trained Legal Observers™ for many of these non-violent actions, and when the police have arrested demonstrators, the Guild’s Mass Defense Committee has been there to provide pro bono legal representation for the activists every single time.  

            Extinction Rebellion Boston has been particularly active in the last 2 years. On May 10th, 9 climate activists from Extinction Rebellion Boston (XR) and Scientist Rebellion SR were arrested in the House Chamber of the Massachusetts State House. A group of non-violent activists disrupted a joint session of the House and Senate by reading from a list of demands, chanting, and preventing the legislators from proceeding with their planned session. The activists were arrested for holding up a cloth banner reading “No New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure”.

            Extinction Rebellion had previously staged a sit-in at the Governor’s office this past February, calling on Governor Healey and Climate Chief Hoffer to publicly commit to not building or completing any new fossil fuel infrastructure in Massachusetts. As a result of this action, Hoffer met with the activists and agreed to consider their demands. Last September, 15 XR rebels were arrested while disrupting traffic across the city in an effort to draw attention to their “No New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure” demand.  In December, 10 XR activists were arrested after blocking access to a private jet company at Hanscom Airfield, while publicizing the fact the private aircraft of the rich and powerful are one of the biggest polluters in the country. XR activists also helped organize last year’s Global Climate Strike March.

            In March, XR held a “Die-In” held near Fenway Park that blocked streets for 20 minutes to demonstrate against Earth’s rapid biodiversity loss due to man-made climate change (over 1,600,000 species of animals and plants have become extinct since 1990). At that demonstration, one XR rebel delivered a moving speech:

“We are taking action on behalf of all the species endangered by extinction. We are taking action on behalf of humanity — also threatened by extinction. We are taking action on behalf of women and non-binary individuals. Existing vulnerabilities and injustices are worsened by the climate crisis. We are taking action in solidarity with the people of the global South who are producing the least harm and yet suffer the worst impacts.”

            In June, climate activists from the local community and XR Boston continued their ongoing protests concerning the Eversource East Boston electrical substation, being built in a flood plain and residential neighborhood   Four activists trespassed onto the construction site, climbing over the site’s chain link fence, and set up a picnic with picnic blankets spray-painted with “No Eastie Substation.” Activists disrupted construction while demonstrating what the site was originally supposed to be, a green space for the community.

            In  July 2023, 10 climate activists took over the stage in front of over 150 attendees at the Harvard University Climate Forum. Immediately following this disruption of the Climate Forum, another group of climate activists from XR Boston and Climate Defiance staged a “Die-In” at the entrance to the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Complex. Climate Defiance and Extinction Rebellion demanded that Harvard reject all fossil fuel industry-funded research and programming and reinvest its material and social capital in renewable energy and environmental justice communities.

            Other demonstrations have targeted the construction of the Peabody Peaker electrical plant, the Danversport Yacht Club (playground of the executives of Enbridge Power and National Grid), and Hanscom Airfield’s expansion in Bedford, and the hanging of a Climate Justice sign over the Citgo sign in Kenmore Square..

            Whenever the authorities have reacted to these non-violent, non-destructive demonstrations by arresting the activists (which is often), Mass Defense Committee members, including Makis Antzoulatos, Kylah Clay, Jeff Feuer, Andy Fischer, Lee Goldstein, and Josh Raisler-Cohn, have been there to represent them.  As a result of both the MDC trainings and the aggressive legal defense of more than 40 of these activists by the MDC, not one of them has been convicted of any criminal activity.  The MDC has been successful in getting all of these cases dismissed, (even sometimes before arraignment), usually with only the payment of a small fine or some hours of community service.  We have consistently heard from these activists that they know the Guild has their back and will always be there to provide legal support for their efforts.  This, in turn, has helped them to be bold in their actions and feel comfortable that they will not have to fight the legal system on their own.

            As the importance of supporting activists who are fighting to save our planet cannot be overstated, the MDC is proud of the work that we have done with Extinction Rebellion and similar groups.  We hope that other members of the Guild community will be energized to join us in this work, as we need more lawyers to engage in this struggle.