Massachusetts Quaker Jay O’Hara felt led to blockade a 40,000-ton coal shipment with a tiny lobster boat. What happened next might surprise you.
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- “The world doesn’t actually believe we can do what needs to happen, but our hearts know what’s possible,” says Jay O’Hara. Are there other examples of needed advances that seem beyond the world’s belief?
- Sometimes when Quakers listen to our guide, we are instructed to do things we never would have imagined. Jay says, “in my giving over my life, I’m trusting and hoping that I’ll be used for the highest good, but under no illusion that I know what that is.” What does it look like for us to give over our lives this way?
We had no idea we were supposed to get a lobster boat, until we ended up with a lobster boat, and then that became the symbol: this little white lobster boat in front of this big, hulking black ship of coal.
We opened ourselves to a place of love and humility, knowing that we were supposed to be there but not having any sense of anger or opposition.
Why I Blockaded 40,000 Tons of Coal With a Lobster Boat
Hi, this is Ken Ward. I’m on board the boat, the Henry David T., off the pier at Brayton Point, and I wanted to let you know that we’re conducting a nonviolent, completely peaceful protest against the use of coal, and we’ll be completely cooperative.
On May 15th, 2013, I and my friend Ken motored our 32-foot white lobster boat, named the Henry David T., into Brayton Point, which is the largest single source of climate changing carbon emissions in all of New England.
We’ve got the red, white, and blue flying up there, and Brayton Point station in back of us with a giant pile of coal.
…and we dropped anchor—a rather large anchor—in a place that would prevent the incoming shipment of West Virginia coal from being docked and unloaded.
Captain of the Energy Enterprise
Ok, this is the captain of the vessel. You’re impeding the safe passage of my vessel. I’ve contacted the United States Coast Guard and I’ll let you deal with them.
Roger, Captain. Thank you.
Captain of the Energy Enterprise
And if we are attacked, we will defend ourselves.
Uh, Roger Captain. This is Jay of the Henry David T. Just to let you know, this is a peaceful and nonviolent protest, and we’re here to witness that coal should not be being burned here in Massachusetts and New England. This is Henry David T. standing by, 16.
For six hours, the Energy Enterprise was prevented from unloading its shipment of 40,000 tons of Appalachian coal.
There was this clarity that we need to start being really bold in what we do, and we need to start making visible the tragedy that we’re perpetuating on ourselves and be bold in disclosing our role in that when we flip on the lightswitch.
For Jay, the protest was an act of faith.
My journey into faithfulness started through activism. In order to be effective you have to be not striving for effectiveness, because the measures that we have for effectiveness rely on the world’s measurement of what is effective. The world doesn’t actually believe we can do what needs to happen, but our hearts know what’s possible. I have faith that God has some plans, or some ability, or that the Great Big Spirit Mama of the Universe can move us in the right direction if we pay attention and if we listen.
The whole story of going to block this coal ship is a cascade of doors opening that we had no control over, at almost every turn being guided: “Oh no, this is the way. This is the way.”
Ken and Jay were charged with conspiracy, disturbing the peace, failure to avoid collision, and negligent operation of a motor vessel.
They faced the potential of several years in prison.
I am in a place where I can’t pretend to know what should happen or what the most effective outcome would be. I don’t know. And in my giving over my life, I’m trusting and hoping that I’ll be used for the highest good, but under no illusion that I know what that is. But I know that if I stay low and stay open and keep my focus on my faithfulness in every moment that’s opened to me, I’m gonna end up in the right place.
In September of 2014, the Bristol County D.A. decided to drop the conspiracy charges and reduce the other charges to civil infractions.
Climate change is one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced. In my humble opinion, the political leadership in this area has been extremely lacking. I am also extremely pleased that we were able to reach an agreement that symbolizes our commitment at the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office to take a leadership office on this issue.
Ken and Jay’s blockade sparked a summer of action at the Brayton Point Power Plant, including the arrest of 44 people at the gates of the plant in July 2013.
Last fall, the owners announced the closure of Brayton Point in 2017.
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.