When Kalamazoo activist Chris Wahmhoff walked up to the fourth floor of the Calhoun County Circuit Court on Monday and checked the docket, he found his case sandwiched between three other cases also involving Enbridge — a telling sign of the times.
When Judge James Kingsley started speaking in the courtroom, Wahmhoff thought all was lost. He hung his head and waited, as the five minutes the judge spoke dragged on.
“Then there was just thing magical moment of him saying ‘but,’ ” Wahmhoff says. He lifted his head to hear the judge say he would quash the motion. Wahmhoff immediately jumped from his seat and cheered, accompanied by a room full of supporters.
“Then we were very heavily scolded by the judge, who said they were going to arrest every one of us,” he said with a laugh.
After spending 10 hours inside Enbridge's 6B pipeline last spring, Wahmhoff was charged with resisting police and trespassing. Prosecutor David Gilbert said his office will reissue the charges and bring new testimony. Wahmhoff will continue to fight a trespassing misdemeanor which still stands.
Four other members of the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands, dubbed the Felonious Four — a group comprised of a single mother, a grandmother and two college students — will also be presenting a motion to quash today, and Wahmhoff hopes they will fare as well as he did.
On the same day the charges were dismissed, Wahmhoff officially announced his intention to run for senator as an independent.
He has a goal to contribute as much money to local communities as one of his rival candidates takes in. That won’t be easy, particularly in light of new regulations that have increased the amount of money candidates can raise, but Wahmhoff said he has already reached out to several organizations, including the Colbert Report in hopes of securing the support of the Colbert Super PAC.
He said he hopes his case is evidence of turning tides of opinion about Enbridge and other energy and pipeline companies in circles of power. At that very least, Wahmhoff wants to serve as inspiration to others looking to stand up against political and corporate power.
Detroit-based lawyer John Royal represented Wahmhoff, and presented the motion on the grounds that Wahmhoff could not have been resisting arrest because the police officer who spoke to him never issued an official command to get out of the pipe, or notified him that he was immediately under arrest.
While Wahmhoff's lawyer John Royal doesn’t believe the decision is any comment by the courts on the validity of the protests, he says it does highlight the growing distaste for Enbridge’s actions.
“This case arose in a very conservative part of Michigan,” he said. “On the other hand we believe there’s a considerable amount of animosity toward Enbridge.”
Royal is a member of the National Lawyers Guild, an organization founded in the 1930s whose members have been involved in advocating for some of the most important social justice causes in American history, from the Attica prison uprisings in New York to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The organization is well versed in defending activists arrested for civil disobedience.
Guild lawyers are also currently working on a case that bears some similarity to Wahmhoff’s case, though the punishment being put forward by the prosecution is significantly more severe.
In Oklahoma, two members of Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance are facing up to 10 years in prison after been charged with staging a terrorist hoax. The pair dropped banners covered in glitter at the headquarters of energy company Devon. Police described the glitter as “an unknown substance” and declared the protesters suspect because they were dressed “covertly.”
Royal says the guild is eager to step up on behalf of those fighting for climate justice.
“We want to get the message out to people who are concerned about Keystone XL that we are here and we are mobilizing nationally.”
Photo credit: Chris Wahmhoff