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Dr Lisa Barr

Lisa Barr is a freelance journalist, media educator, and organic farmer in Upstate New York.

January 19th, 2012 2:13 PM

Fasting Against Fracking

It shouldn't be this hard.

Patrick McElligott phoned and wrote his Senator, Tom Libous, an ardent hydrofracking proponent. He wanted a meeting. He wasn’t going to try to get Libous to change his mind. He just wanted to sit down ‘like gentlemen’, and he was persistent. He was told ‘no meeting’ on the phone and in writing. And found this inappropriate.

So, McElligott decided to use the time-honored tradition associated chiefly with Indian and Irish activists (think Ghandi, think Bobby Sands) who wished to embarrass public officials into proper behavior. He would fast until a meeting was scheduled. He had the backing of about 30 friends who drove many miles to meet with him outside Libous’ office, in the cold, on Martin Luther King, Jr. day.

And yet, the local newspaper began its coverage of McElligott's start of the fast with the skeptical verb "Claiming"--here's the 'lede' used: "Claiming to be following in the footsteps of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, anti-fracking activist Patrick McElligott launched a hunger strike Monday in an effort to pressure a pro-drilling state lawmaker to speak to him about his concerns."

I left a comment on the Daily Star online 'peanut gallery section, defending McElligott's stalwart public service re:

*activism of years past when town officials allowed an ANCIENT Native People's burial mound to be reduced to gravel for 'capping' a local superfund site created by a polluting arms factory.

*activism defending Muslims from a threatened disinterment from a local cemetery;

*scholarship and advocacy as to proper practice for archaeological digs/reburials of antiquities including bodies;

*innovative social work getting troubled kids out on mountain tops and stream beds for archaeological digs--an environment McElligott said was a better place to get a troubled kid to open up.

You get the picture. Here's what I said (with links):

“Patrick McElligott has been quoted by the Daily Star many times over the years. I believe an examination of the Star’s morgue would show a lot of interesting articles. Maybe not. It’s clear to me that we are in the presence of greatness. And that greatness is being ignored--even trivialized. After his accident, his children wrote a book about his life. I recommend buying it and reading it. It’s clear to me that Mr. McElligott knows his stuff about archeological site preservation and surveying. And he knows how to peacefully stand up to an industry that engages in bullying, that gets public servants to ignore their obligation to the commons.

I particularly liked William Pitt's Truthout piece. I also liked Patrick's own writing for Democratic Underground (much of which I read in a book by his children). ‘Mac’ as Pitt refers to him, is an unassuming, yet no doubt very talented and innovative social worker--on disability now due to job related injuries.

You can read the locals (are they locals? Are they gas company PR types writing that stuff?) disparaging him for being disabled and retired. McElligott says his role of ‘wallet’ and ‘chauffeur’ must not be harmed by this fast. He's the proud father of teenaged athletes. He coaches JV Girls Basketball. He is not about to jeopardize his health. 'Mac' consulted with a physician first. He's having a cup of juice each day. Along with his water.

But, it's day three. And still no word from Senator Libous' office.

It shouldn't be this hard.

Here's what it sounded like to those of us trying to reach Senator Libous on Patrick's behalf on January 18. I put this together with my MacBook Pro and my iPhone and Garage Band. Be the media. Michael Moore is right: Apple is, basically, “a force for good.”

I posted this audio criticism of my government on my Facebook page. A New York FB friend suggested I contact the NY State Senate Majority leader to complain about Libous' behavior.

I'm glad we still have a relatively unfettered internet, despite the threat of SOPA.

I am well aware that the NDAA and a new proposed bill could mean trouble for me in the future for doing exactly what I am doing here--holding my government officials accountable. Here's what I said in an email entitled: “Libous Office: Voice Mail Abuse/Failure to Respond to Constituents” that I sent to Dean Skelos:

"Please listen to this. I think it is a huge embarrassment to any public servant that there is no one to answer the phone, and that his office voice mail refers us to a fundraising office. Thank you.

Dr. Lisa J. Barr"

Most of my sources (artists, farmers, lawyers, union reps, truckers, business owners, students) for my documentary, "MUTUAL AID: A Fracked Society" are angry that so much of their time is being consumed fighting what should be a no-brainer: Hydrofracking must be stopped. Sometimes we get on one another's nerves. It's nothing personal. We're a bunch of Davids fighting a well-funded Goliath.

The other day a fellow videographer said to me, in front of sources, "Your energy is heavy. You should watch that." I called him a "whacko." I joked later that I regretted that because I felt I should have called him a chauvanist pig.

After 2 and a half years of videotaping abuse in Bradford County and up and down the Susquehanna River with an eye toward the fractured social fabric, I am angry, too. I have other things I'd rather research and write about. But, none of our representatives and senators seem able to fight this. Even if they are willing to do so.

It shouldn't be this hard.

And so the anti-frack movement looks at one another with suspicion--which is entirely what the dirty energy corporations want. Remember the admission that those criticizing frack operations in Bradford County had been treated as insurgents by an industry employing ‘military psyops’ domestically. Propaganda, torture, war is all on the same coercion spectrum, right? Of course it would come home. ( .

And so, facing criticisms for being too ‘radical’ myself because of who I interview and the force of my arguments against fracking at public hearings, I signed “Occupy Well Street’s pledge ( today. It includes this key paragraph--something which would make the deeply green resistant Derrick Jensen smile, I believe:

“IV...I will refrain from public condemnations of others' employment of effective tactics and strategies. Any effective movement must include a broad spectrum of activities, and the movement against fracking should include all who wish to resist this destructive industrial process....”

I signed this just as other sources are organizing training in civil disobedience (CD) for the weekend in Binghamton. I don’t think it’s coincidental that the city council just banned overnight tents in public parks, thus making it more difficult to recreate OCCUPY Binghamton--one of the longer-running OCCUPY encampments. OCCUPY Binghamton was never OCCUPY Wall Street, but it did have anti-fracking signs posted. It did, like the other OCCUPY sites I visited this Fall, have drums from time to time that evoked the First Peoples--the people who had a much better relationship to the land.

Patrick McElligott is trying to save that land from fracking.

It shouldn’t be this hard.

It would be a lot easier if New York City anti-frackers would come visit us Southern Tier anti-frackers. (The place isn’t as backward as it was when Pete Seeger was nearly killed by an angry mob. C’mon down!) If Gotham has been hypnotized by Governor Cuomo’s SGEIS sleight of hand--then Gotham needs to wake up. Over a ridge from Patrick McElligott’s hometown of Sidney lies Delaware County and the NYC reservoirs. And, contrary to what the SGEIS implies--these are NOT safe due to the partial ban on fracking in Delaware County.

This fall, at the Tribeca Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) hearings, people testified about evidence available online concerning many thousands of old abandoned ‘ghost’ wells the DEC knows are out there. Approximately 70,000, by some estimates. DEC caps the ones they learn about from telltale leakage. Fifty percent of these caps need repair in five years. All these wells--ghost or discovered--go down vertically to the same level as the new ones proposed. Once the horizontal ‘frack’ is chemically induced--they will likely ‘speak’ to one another. Gasses, the secret-metal-dissolving-frack-sauce (courtesy of Dick Cheney’s 2001 energy meeting), and radioactivity could spew all over.

And who would know?

But already the industry’s representatives or sycophants are prowling around New York state’s small town board meetings disputing this point. At my own town board meeting last week, a landowner said “Lisa Barr’s wrong--its (just) hundreds” of abandoned wells not yet discovered. The local paper covered the meeting as a ‘he said/she said’ debate without going into details.

Then there is the problem with anti-frack attorneys and witnesses being threatened at town board meetings here in the hinterland. It’s sometimes hard to take this seriously, or maybe we’re just punch drunk. Josh Fox jokes that when he visits near his hometown in PA, it’s not uncommon for him to be addresed thusly: “(Are you) Josh Fox? (Well, then) FUCK YOU!” And still he laughs.

But, back to solutions. If New York City residents could hold their own Occupy Well Street style civil disobedience (or CD) training and plan on joining those doing these actions--even if nothing is ever really done--it could be persuasive. (I don’t say ‘non-violent’ civil disobedience training because it’s redundant, okay?). It wouldn’t hurt if all those retirement funds like T. Rowe Price, Vanguard, etc.. would stop investing in the shell-game that funds the frackers, as documented in “Drilling for Money: A look at the investors behind the Marcellus Shale gas boom” available at this link: (

Imagine hordes of people huddling in OCCUPY like meetings. Even a potluck can be an OCCUPY, folks--tents are optional. People possibly ready to do CD beneath the presently clean air on behalf of the presently (relatively) clean water would send a message. It could tell Governor “Exxon Frack” Cuomo that Gotham will not let him become President “Exxon Frack” Cuomo in 2016.

Lots of Gotham residents trained in OCCUPY Well Street-style CD would also feed those of us trying to battle the PR disinformation and distrust the frackers are spewing daily here in the Southern Tier.

They might also persuade Senator Libous to meet with Patrick McElligott. They might persuade Governor Cuomo to return those dirty Exxon campaign dollars.

It could happen. A gal’s gotta dream--and apologize for calling someone a ‘whacko’--and a man needs to eat.

Say a prayer for Patrick McElligott.

Say a prayer for us all.

It shouldn’t be this hard.

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