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Truthdigger of the Week: Vera Scroggins

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Posted on Feb 2, 2014

The Guardian's ClimateDesk

By Alexander Reed Kelly

Every week the Truthdig editorial staff selects a Truthdigger of the Week, a group or person worthy of recognition for speaking truth to power, breaking the story or blowing the whistle. It is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, we’re looking for newsmakers whose actions in a given week are worth celebrating.

Now without a doubt, the physical mobility of Americans can be limited by corporations via the power of the state. Pennsylvania resident Vera Scroggins has been barred via a court injunction from 312.5 square miles of Pennsylvania land owned or leased by Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation—including hospitals, grocery stores and restaurants—for refusing to quit protesting the tracking of the Marcellus Shale, a rich deposit of oil beneath the northeastern part of the state, where she has lived for more than 20 years.

The Guardian reports that “court filings did not accuse Scroggins of violence or of causing harm to property, and she has never been arrested or charged with trespass. She has not chained herself to machinery, or staged sit-ins.” Nonetheless, Cabot’s managers, security contractors and lawyers have successfully pushed her off the land where they operate. For five years in those places Scroggins has shot more than 500 videos uploaded to YouTube, alerted health and environmental regulators to potential violations, and organized bus tours for the likes of celebrities Yoko Ono and Susan Sarandon and Canadian elected officials.

“None of that activity by Scroggins or other activists was illegal, or presented a public danger, according to Jason Legg, the district attorney for Susquehana County,” The Guardian reports. “Even by Cabot’s own admission, in court testimony last October, Scroggins seems to have been more nuisance than danger. Her biggest and most repeated offence, according to court testimony, appears to have been parking her car on access roads—and at times even on the narrow public county roads—at angles that required the big water tankers to swerve around her.

“Scroggins, who does not appear adverse to confrontation, was also insistent on talking to personnel on site. But in every instance cited by Cabot witnesses, she left the area within 5 or 10 minutes—sometimes after they threatened to call police.”

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To ensure she avoids fines and arrest, Scroggins was forced to determine at a local courthouse what land she could and couldn’t travel on; Cabot refused to provide her with the information. Her willingness to confront the officials who oppose her have earned her a reputation for pugnacity. But she rejects the idea that she should be “nice.”

Scroggins is quoted as saying in The Guardian: “I am doing this as nicely as I feel is warranted. I have other concerned citizen friends who play passive and they don’t get anything done more than I do. They are just in the background. … They are playing passive and nobody even hears about them. Those who want to play that womanly role, they can play it. I don’t have to.” As for Cabot and her critics in the community, Scroggins said: “They can just get used to it.”

The consequences to civil disobedience imposed by those at which it is aimed are almost always costly. For Vera Scroggins, it’s made her an open-air prisoner in her hometown. For sacrificing her physical freedom in a country that claims to venerate it, we honor her as our Truthdigger of the Week.


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