Note: The text from this post was published in the News-Leader on 2/27/20.
I Was In Line All Night, Here’s What Really Happened
It was an event of a lifetime—sitting in the courtroom of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) hearing arguments in the U.S. Forest Service v. Cowpasture River case on Monday, February 24—the case that will determine if a dirt path, known as the Appalachian Trail, is actually “land” or not. For me, the most uplifting part of the whole event was the people standing in line for hours outside the courthouse, in near-freezing temperatures, waiting to hear the case that will weigh heavily on the lives of thousands forever. Maury Johnson, pipeline fighter and farmer from Monroe County, West Virginia, was first in line arriving at 6:30 Sunday night. The determination and leadership of these folks inspire me and so many others. The true grit of these people and thousands more like them is the reason the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will never be built.
They Only Allow 50 People In
I was asleep in bed at a friend’s house in Arlington, Virginia. I received a group text at 10:30 p.m. from my friend Carolyn who was in line. She wrote that we had better come if we wanted to get in to hear the case. She was 36 in line. They only let 50 people in.
“I’m en route,” I texted back.
My friend Roni drove me to the Supreme Court building, and we arrived at 11 p.m. As soon as I saw the people in line, I knew I was not prepared for an all-nighter in the cold. They had chairs, sleeping bags, blankets, and tarps. I had the knee pad I use in the garden, an overcoat, my gloves, and a wool cap. Folks from the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley, Friends of Buckingham, and the Sierra Club welcomed me with open arms. I immediately went to the end of the line, put my knee pad down on the sidewalk and declared to the group that this was my spot. Counting from the beginning of the line and if no one butted in, I would be the 45th person.
“Equal Justice Under the Law.” Yeah, Right.
There were two kinds of people in line that frigid night: the pipeline fighters and the homeless folks of D.C. hired by a professional “line-standing” company to stand in line for the pro-pipeline people. Pro-pipeline people from Dominion Energy and their allies didn’t start arriving until the next morning at 5:30. They rolled in curbside in their high-dollar suits, freshly brushed teeth, clean-shaven faces, and pretty hair.
They coordinated with a woman who had a clipboard standing on the corner of First Street and East Capitol. She escorted them to the homeless people line-standing for them all through the frigid night. The corporate rich people handed money to the homeless people and then took their place in line. I looked up at the words on the Supreme Court building, “Equal Justice Under the Law,” and felt betrayed.
People trickled in all through the night, and the line grew to well over 100 people. By my estimate, 60 percent of the people in line appeared to be homeless people hired by the line-standing company. Most of them reclined in their chair and covered their whole body with a tarp.
This behavior—of beating the system any way possible, buying people off, and flaunting their power and money in the faces of the common people, whom they walk over and whose dreams they steal—is why people are standing up to them, resisting, and fighting. This is why the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will never be built.
Upbeat and Positive
The anti-pipeline people were in clusters of three to four scattered through the line. They were cold yet upbeat, positive, talkative, and very helpful. There are no bathrooms on the premises. Union Station is about five blocks away, but we learned they lock their toilets until 5 a.m. There is a 7-Eleven five blocks away that stays open all night. Oh, thank heaven.
We all guarded each other’s place in line as some left for the 7-Eleven or simply walked around to keep warm. I walked around a lot. I’ll never forget the image of Maury Johnson sitting in his chair at position number one. He’s a big guy. He was in his farmer clothes, and the only coat he had was a lightweight Carhartt jacket. He wore a red plastic poncho over his body and chair.
I’ll also never forget the kindness of my line-mate Julie Reynolds-Engle. She gave me a couple of hand warmers that I put in my boots to keep my feet from getting numb.
The Golden Tickets
The police started walking the sidewalk around us at about 7:00 in the morning. Our line tightened up, and I watched for people butting in line. A policeman started handing out the coveted golden tickets with your number on it. I braced for disappointment. He finally arrived and handed me a ticket—49. Four people had butted in line.
The lucky 50 moved to the next level, closer to the building. A young lady I met during the night, Laura LaFleur (ticket 36), asked me if I would switch with her so she could be with her friend, Julie (48). I agreed and we switched tickets. We took some pictures then moved to the entrance to the left of the tall columns. There we received our first lecture and then proceeded into the building and through the first security checkpoint.
Once through security, we put our personal items in lockers and waited in the cafeteria for instructions to proceed upstairs. At about 9:10 we were instructed to line up against a wall outside the cafeteria in numerical order. After about a half-hour, we proceeded up the stairs to the courtroom level. There we received another lecture and then proceeded into the foyer through another security checkpoint.
“The Trail Is Not Land”
We were escorted into the courtroom and seated. “Oyez, oyez, oyez,” the marshal of the court called out, and the proceeding began. It was an hourlong event. Each justice was engaged and asked questions, with the exception of Justice Clarence Thomas who didn’t say a single word. I didn’t think there was a clear winner or loser but the strangest claim was the Forest Service lawyer’s argument that the dirt path of the Appalachian Trail was not land. “The trail is not land,” he said over and over.
“Nobody makes that distinction in real life,” Justice Elena Kagan stated.
Read the entire transcript of the argument U.S. Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association.
I did not know until after the argument that my friends Julie (48) and Laura (49) did not get in. For some reason, the court stopped letting people in after 47. My heart sank. They stood in the cold the whole night to no avail.
“Equal Justice Under the Law?” I don’t think so.
Contact your legislators and demand that they stop the exchange of money for line-standing at the Supreme Court. Buying your way into court is not right.
And that’s not the only thing wrong with the system. People should have designated places in line so there is no guesswork, restroom facilities should be provided, smoking should not be permitted in line, and police should patrol the sidewalk. Why only 50 people? Why not televise it?
The Fate of the ACP
As for the fate of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, there are seven other permits that have been vacated or withdrawn for the un-needed, over-budget, an ill-planned pipeline. In addition, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of people joining the ranks of pipeline fighters.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will never be built.
For the latest update on the ACP visit the Allegheny Blue Ridge Alliance website.
Words cannot express the gratitude I feel for your efforts in stopping the pipeline.
The Valley is a better place because of you. Thank you, thank you.
Thanks for stopping in, Ann, and for your kind words.
Bobby, thank you for your dedication and enlightenment in this matter!
Thank you, Ann!
You are my hero!
Bobby, you continue to be an inspiration and a guiding light. Thank you. Your work matters to many. Craig
Thank you Bobby for all your work and spreading the word. You are an inspiration to many. Your work matters. Craig
Sad shenanigans at the Supreme Court. Thanks for highlighting even more underhanded antics of the greedy gas company.
Thank you Bobby for representing all the extraordinary Shenandoah Valley residents (and elsewhere in Virginia and West Virginia) battling the destructive, unnecessary pipeline. Thank you to Sarah Francisco, Greg Buppert and the other outstanding attorneys and communications staff at the Southern Environmental Law Center, which successfully challenged the permit to cross the Appalachian Trail (and five others!). And a special shout out to Carolyn Long for her time on the sidewalk that night. You all are my heroes.
Bobby thanks for this blow by blow description of your experience attending the hearing and for reporting the recent updates of the pipeline’s status! You and the other pipeline fighters are doing amazing work, keep strong. I’ve been urban farming in DC and teaching people about regenerative food production and environmental conservation so I’ll keep holding it down here spreading the good word.
Standing, milling, walking, sharing our food and resources among we minority of anti-pipeline fighters overnighting in the SCOTUS line along with Bobby facing up to yet another example of how our rate-payer money to Dominion is being spent to harm us — exemplifies why we have come this far! Our hats off to the champions along each and every pipeline fight whose story never got this far. We are in this together!
Lakshmi, it was a pleasure sharing the journey with you. Thank you, my dear, for all you do to fight the pipelines.
This is so well-written and honest! Thank you Bobby. You and the other 46 who got in win the lifetime good citizenship award!
Thank you mighty heroes!!
Keep shining that bright light of truth and hope!!
Wow, Bobby, that was interesting! I really got the picture of what that night was like. I wonder how much the homeless people were paid. Did you talk with any of them? I, too, thank you and everyone for their service to fight this whole big messed up affair.
Kate, thanks for your comment. We heard they got $40/hr. There are many line-standing companies in D.C. and they range in price from $17/hr to $45/hr.
Bobby, you, Nancy, and your new friends Laura & Julie, among other anti-pipeliners, are all heroes for our environment and all we deem precious here in Virginia. True hard-core environmental advocates! I wholeheartedly thank you and the SELC team for your dedication. And thank you, Bobby, for sharing the events of the night and following morning with us!
Barbara, thank you so much for your kind words.
Bobbie, your account was uplifting and depressing at the same time. It is a disgrace that you all even had to be there. Thank you for all you do to save our lands.
Bobby – Thank you for all your efforts, and for sharing this experience with us! I’m teaching an environmental science class right now at JMU – this is a great article to go along with discussion of the SCOTUS case.
Excellent piece here, Bobby. The fact that Dominion pays homeless people to stand in line to make up for their total lack of support speaks volumes. Very proud of you and Nancy braving the cold to show your committed opposition to this vulgarly unneeded industrial imposition.
I’m so grateful to you and your brave fellow line-standers!! Do you know how much money was paid to the homeless subs?
Christine, thanks for your comment and question. We heard $40/hr. There are many “line-standing” companies in D.C. Fees range from about $17/hr to $45/hr. I actually saw the exchange of money between a homeless-looking line stander and a well-dressed lawyer looking person.
Bobby, you are a community leader and pipeline fighter of courage. Your words inspire. Thank you for your noble and stellar effort, and thank you for documenting it for us. Let there be a medal be struck,
HERO of COMMUNITY, with oak leaf cluster for those who stood in the line of battle and gave Proof Through The Night. You are right, this pipeline will not be built and its defeat will be a measure of your personal valor and that of your companions.
Michael, you are too kind. Thank you.
Wow, thanks so much for writing about this, and for you and the 49 others who stood in line all night. I feel like such a wimp in comparison! My contribution was to sit in meditation during the court proceeding itself, from 10-11 am Monday morning, visualizing protection for the land itself, the mountains, the trees, and the people. But I could hardly focus my meditation, as I had hardly slept from Sunday to Monday!
You and your companions, sleeping (or not) all night on a cold cement sidewalk in DC are evidence to me of the power of the mountains–which gives you the strength and spirit to do this.
Here’s my version of a traditional metta practice that I attempted:
May you and the mountains be safe. May you be protected. May you be filled with loving kindness. May you know peace.
May all who are connected to the land they live on and are fighting to protect it be guided to continue until we win!
Diana, you are too kind! Thank you for your uplifting words. And, for sending powerful energy our way.
Reminds me of the party for line-standers in the principal’s office at Stuarts Draft HS, early on! Thank you for enduring the cold and unfairness, and for your eloquent advocacy – in both word and deed.
My grandchildren will know your name, thanks for ALL you do.
I think one of them already does, Walter.
Bobby – Your dedication is inspiring to so many of us! Thanks for all you do!!
I admire the tenacity of everyone who braved the cold to get in the door. It says a lot about the character and commitment of folks from Dominion that they were not willing to brave the cold and were willing to pay line standers instead. They are really committed aren’t they? That’s the difference between the two sides in this battle.
Thanks, Bobby, for sharing this experience and for being there to WITNESS. Although I Fear that televising would make the Court a showroom, all of your other suggestions are on point! I recommend instead that they could get rid of the number of seats they reserve for lawyers in the Supreme Court bar. Give the law to everyone.
Spot on, Carey. Thank you for your comments. I agree.
Your comments completely mirrored the thoughts I had during that long, cold night. You are so involved and knowledgeable and I consider it a great privilege to serve with you on the Alliance board. Thank you for all you do. (Whitescarver, I know you were cold, but you were definitely the best dressed man in line last Monday!)
Carolyn, thanks for your kind words and for being in line with me. It is my privilege to serve with you. Thank you, for helping us fight these un-needed pipelines.
Hugs, hugs, and warm hugs! Thank you so much for all you’ve done to defeat the ACP, and especially for adding and sharing this experience with and for all of us! We don’t seem to have enough true heroes these days, but you are one of the few! Thanks again!
Fred, thank you! You are too kind, my friend.