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Mar 07
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Taking Action with the Delta 5

An interview with Shambhalian and Delta 5 environmental activist Liz Spoerri

by Carol Henderson

xDelta_5_Trial-1-of-1600x400.jpg.pagespeed.ic.zZJbN6AhYcMembers of environmental activist group Delta 5 have been in the news recently, for the groundbreaking legal defense allowed at their trial. In court on charges of trespassing and obstructing a train, following an action they mounted to call attention to fossil fuel transportation and its contribution to global warming, the group experienced a touchingly warm reception from their many supporters, even within the legal system and from the jurors themselves. One of these bold protesters is Shambhala’s own Liz Spoerri, a member of the Portland Shambhala Center in Oregon, and Liz was kind enough to grant an interview to the Shambhala Times.

ST: How did you get involved with Delta 5?

Liz: I met the Delta 5 through a direct action climate group called Rising Tide. Throughout the year prior to our blockade, I was super impressed by their work to create platforms for positive, multigenerational resistance to the expansion of our fossil fuel economy.


Liz outside the courthouse with fellow members of the Delta 5

ST: How does your activism relate to spiritual practice?

Liz: Shambhala has definitely helped me deal with discouragement. When I get concerned that not enough people are taking action, the Heart Sutra seems to help me focus not on results but on doing things for their own sake. Also, Joanna Macy has a prayer about being an ancestor that has been helpful for picturing “big time,” and seeing things in from very long term view. Meditating and thinking about the Buddha made getting arrested seem less crazy and not such a big deal. And finally, when realizing that the whole world is full of injustice, the Shambhala ideal seems more logical than ever: creating an enlightened society that is hopefully sensitive, nimble and self sacrificing enough to deal with problems as they arise.

ST: How was the trial? How did you respond to it?

Liz: The trial was great! So many people came in support of our activism, it really was a community action. I was more nervous about explaining myself in court and to reporters than I had been about anything else. It came to a head when I recognized that although I wanted to speak like a scientist or journalist, I really couldn’t contribute in that way — and finally I realized that nobody else would expect me to. As things progressed, it became clearer that the power of our testimony really came from being individual citizens, and that the Delta 5 was better for being as diverse as it was, including non-scientists like me.

The Delta 5 on trial

The Delta 5 on trial

ST: How do you feel about the verdict?

Liz: The jury found us guilty of trespassing and not guilty of obstructing a train. The decision was fair. We all testified that we knew we were trespassing and the jurors who met us afterwards said they felt the prosecution had not proved we blocked the train. We were also given a great opportunity by the judge to present expert testimony, showing that we face imminent danger and have no other choice but civil disobedience. It is heartening that the judge changed his mind and allowed us to present these experts when he thought we could make a very tight case about that railyard. In the end, however, we didn’t qualify for the civil disobedience defense. I was disappointed that the jury was not able to use that testimony to justify our actions and in effect comment on the danger to our climate, community and workers posed by oil trains and the deadlock of our government and business practices.

ST: What can others do now to contribute to positive change?

Liz: I hope more people feel encouraged to participate however they can. It seems clearer that people as citizens may have a better chance pointing out a new path than experts or insiders. Ultimately, I think we need more direct, creative action. That being said, support and media attention was what made this action significant. For each of the five of us actually on the tripod, there were many more people helping us set up, keeping us company, filming, protesting on the bridge, arranging media, helping us in jail, attending trial, donating to pay fines, donating legal work, thanking us. That kind of support is really important.

Editor’s note: Readers interested in deeper engagement may want to know about the resistance events (hopefully in 6 continents) that are currently being planned for May. To find out more, you can sign up for updates at http://breakfree2016.org/ .

Photos by permission of Liz Spoerri

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1 response to “ Taking Action with the Delta 5 ”
  1. Craig Adams
    Mar 8, 2016

    Thank you Liz for your nonviolent civil disobedience. I especially like your mental attitude of not expecting results and the creativity of your group’s action….and that you were not making an enemy of anyone. From the relative point of view, we certainly need more creative actions such as yours. Ki Ki, So So!!

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