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Activist Walks Hundreds of Miles and Risks Arrest to Focus Attention on Climate Change

Posted March 4, 2015

MP3 Interview with Charles Chandler, climate activist, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

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Ithaca, New York resident Charles Chandler took up long-distance hiking after retiring from his profession as a mechanical engineer. He first began hiking as an athletic hobby, but when he learned about 398 students being arrested during a 2013 protest against the Keystone XL pipeline at the White House, he then began walking with a purpose. His concern about climate change led to his participation in the Great March for Climate Change last year, walking part way from Ohio to Washington, D.C. He also rode his bike from Fort Bragg, California to Richmond Virginia, raising funds for the climate action group 350.org.

Chandler’s most recent walk began in central New York state, where he had joined locals trying to stop a natural gas storage facility from being constructed under Seneca Lake. He then walked 360 miles to southern Maryland, where he went on trial in late February for his involvement in a civil disobedience action last December at the construction site of a liquefied natural gas export terminal at Cove Point, Maryland. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Chandler as they walked in the town of Lusby, near the LNG terminal site. Here, he recounts his experiences as a climate activist, and explains how he stays hopeful despite the threat of climate chaos.

CHARLES CHANDLER: On the Pacific Crest Trail in fall 2013, I heard about college students getting arrested in Washington over the KXL pipeline, and I said I darn well want to join up with them. It's really my generation that's really caused most of the problems and just gotten carried away with denial and carbon polluting,and not taking responsibility. So I really feel a responsibility to help the younger people and future generations. Hopefully we'll solve this problem.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, tell us more about some of the specific things you've done. The most recent one, I know you just walked several hundred miles from Ithaca, I think, or from where you were working with folks trying to stop a project in Seneca Lake. Is that right?

CHARLES CHANDLER: Yeah. In Seneca Lake I took part in a blockade at the Crestwood facility and as it turned out, I wanted to go to jail, but the judge up there wouldn't let me, and he ordered me to come back to court four weeks later. And for something to do I decided to walk around the Finger Lakes area. I started at Ithaca and I walked around Cayuga Lake and then I walked around Seneca Lake and I ended my walk at the courthouse for my hearing on Jan. 21.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And what happened at that point?

CHARLES CHANDLER: It was obvious that no one was going to jail anymore, and I just pled guilty and paid the fine. I fundraised on my walk up there. I called it my Silent Winter Hike, because I maintained a pledge of silence for 22 days, and I camped out every night.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, tell me about this silence. I actually maintained silence for one day - not even a full day, but into the evening awhile ago – and it actually was a really good experience. It really changes how you relate to the world outside yourself, I found, and I definitely want to do it again. But how was it for you, and did you have occasion to interact with people on the walk, and you were silent then, or you just didn't see people?

CHARLES CHANDLER: Oh, no, I saw people. I even made up cards with common things I wanted to tell them, and I'd point to the sentence or the paragraph.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, talk about a little bit of the exchanges you had with people. We're talking about mid-winter here, and this has been the toughest winter in New England that I've seen in my lifetime, which is a lot of years. So were you camping out every night? Did you get hospitality anywhere?

CHARLES CHANDLER: I made a pledge to camp out every night. It was like a challenge kind of walk. But I was looking for people who would let me camp out in their yard. And I discovered that about one of five people would let me do that.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Wow! So now you've walked down to Lusby, Maryland, where you're going on trial with 19 other people. Just fill listeners in on exactly what you were protesting.

CHARLES CHANDLER: We're trying to stop the construction of Dominion Resources, it's an LNG liquifaction plant, and it uses huge amounts of energy; it uses the amount of energy of a middle-sized town power plant just to do the liquification of the fracked gas. And they'll load it on ships and sell it overseas where the price of gas is higher.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And people are saying that it will actually send the price of gas up in the U.S. as well, so it's hard to find justification that it's in the U.S. public interest to be doing this. Nevertheless, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission did approve it last fall, and they are actually under construction now. A lot of people are saying it's a done deal, and I've talked to some local folks here who are opposed, and they're saying most of the people around here are saying it's a done deal and there's nothing they can do even if they don't want it, but now with people coming in from the outside – supporters who are carrying out these actions and going to trial who are willing to go to jail, now they feel like there's some hope to stop it. Do you feel that way too?

CHARLES CHANDLER: Yeah, I think so. I have to be hopeful. There are certain segment of people that have given in to despair, and they think this disruption, this ecological disaster is just the way it needs to be. I don't think that's a good way to live, and I try to be positive and try to do whatever I can to help the situation. I think that's good for my mental health, and that's the way I want to be and I want to be remembered that way. I have grandchildren. It's not just for my grandchildren. It's for their generation and future generations. This is what I want to do and I'm really fortunate to be able to do it.

Charles Chandler goes by the name Peace Walker. He and 19 others went on trial Feb. 23 in Maryland where they were convicted of one count of trespass. Chandler and most others were given a 20-day suspended sentence, three years of probation and a $157 fine. Chandler says he expected to be arrested again before the three years are up, increasing his chances of going to jail. Read Charlie Chandler's blog at greenrider.org/tag/charles-chandler.

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