On Tuesday, Boulder county commissioners temporarily walked away from a fracking hearing due to a boisterous protest by attending activists. The next day, the officials issued a statement included here that decried the disruption using terms like "mob harassment." But the director of a youth-oriented environmental organization who attended with kids from the group saw much of what took place as tremendously positive. See videos below. Here's the description of what went down at the start of the meeting from a video posted by the aforementioned organization, Earth Guardians:
Earth Guardian Youth signed up to speak to demand a ban on fracking at the county commissioners meeting, when some adults stopped the meeting with a mic check. The commissioners tried to stop it, but the crowd refused, so the commissioners left the room. The Earth Guardians, thinking the meeting was going to be shut down, decided to do a mic check of their own. "We are standing up for the survival of our generation," they chanted. The crowd went wild with support for these young leaders fighting for their future. After their mic check, an adult shouted out, "Who is going to run the meeting?," and Xiuthezcatl [Martinez], a twelve-year-old Earth Guardian, said, "We are going to run the meeting," and all the kids went and sat in the commissioners' chairs. Someone shouted to them, "So, commissioner, what are you going to do about fracking in our Community?" and the kids began to shout, "We are going to ban it."
Earth Guardians executive director Tamara Roske confirms this account, but adds detail. In her view, the adults who took part in the initial mic check appeared to have decided in advance that they wanted to shut down the meeting, and they accomplished their goal. Afterward, though, the kids took the floor, sharing a poem and a rap about fracking that delighted those in the room.
In her view, "it was such a spirited event, with everyone being allied and saying, 'We don't want fracking in our community.'"
A bit later, the commissioners returned and the meeting resumed -- and because the hour was getting late ("It was five or six, and the kids were getting hungry," Roske explains), the Earth Guardians took off. For that reason, Roske wasn't around for the rest of the meeting, so she didn't personally witness what was described by the Boulder Daily Camera as a series of verbal jabs by some attendees at Wendy Wiedenbeck, a spokeswoman for Denver's Encana Oil and Gas USA. Neither did she see a number of people follow Wiedenbeck out of the building and continue to hector her after the meeting -- an exchange captured in footage shared by 9News.
In the aforementioned statement, signed jointly by commissioners Cindy Domenico, Deb Gardner and Will Toor, this behavior is castigated. "Efforts by a small segment of attendees to threaten and intimidate a speaker walking to her car was nothing short of shameful," the open letter reads.
With that in mind, the commissioners note that "we will be creating a security plan for future hearings to ensure that everyone is made to feel welcome for taking the time to let his or her voice be heard. In the interest of helping to create this safe environment, the plan will entail the removal of individuals who elect not to participate in civil discourse and the prosecution of individuals who threaten the safety of other individuals."
The statement supplements the claim of "mob harassment" by asserting that Wiedenbeck was the target of cursing and intimidation. However, Roske points out that during the mic check that caused the meeting's initial closure, she heard no profanities -- and the folks with whom she's spoken afterward say the speeches during the remainder of the meeting didn't cross the line.
She stops well short of endorsing the actions seen in the 9News clip and admits that she was surprised the police weren't called at some point. But she leaps to support the other grown-ups at the meeting. "I know so many of them," she says. "They're all wonderful people who we've worked with for many years -- and this is the first time I've seen them involved in anything like this. They must have felt a desperate calling: 'We've got to do something or we're going to be in trouble.'"
At the same time, she doesn't want the moment when the young Earth Guardians stepped to the fore to get lost amid the criticism of other events. "The whole audience participated in what happened," she says. "It wasn't just a few people who stood out. Everyone was chanting that they don't want fracking in their community. Everyone celebrated a moment of the community coming together to say, 'We don't want this.'"
Continue see a video featuring the Earth Guardians taking over for the absent commissioners' seats and sharing their thoughts about fracking, a more extended Vimeo clip, footage of activists giving Wiedenbeck an earful, and the commissioners' statement. Footage of the Earth Guardians at the hearing:
A video of the hearing from 23rd Studios:
Footage of activists following Wendy Wiedenbeck, a spokeswoman for Denver's Encana Oil and Gas USA, out of the meeting:
Boulder County Commissioners statement:
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The Boulder County Board of Commissioners deeply disapproves of the conduct of certain individuals who came to disrupt the public hearing on proposed Land Use Code regulations for oil and gas development in unincorporated Boulder County [Tuesday].
As a county, we have a long history of respecting the First Amendment rights of all, and as a Board we greatly respect and appreciate the opinions and information which was brought forth at the hearing and for the respect and conduct of the majority of attendees once the hearing was underway.
The troubling activities last night included the disruption at the beginning of the hearing by a group of individuals intent on overpowering anyone in the room with an opinion different than their own; the jeering of a spokesperson from the oil and gas industry during her testimony -- and mob harassment, cursing at and intimidation of the same representative and her colleagues as they left the building and walked several blocks to their cars; a bullying atmosphere in and around the hearing room; and outbursts of cheering for threatening rhetoric aimed at quashing opposing opinions.
Suppressing alternative comments and shutting out voices through intimidation and fear is not part of the democratic process we hold dear. As your publicly elected officials, we strive to create a safe environment for people of all opinions to come forward and provide input and feedback in our public hearings.
As we mentioned repeatedly during the hearing last night, we call upon residents to be considerate of all by allowing everyone's voice to be heard in a respectful manner.
Last night's efforts by a small segment of attendees to threaten and intimidate a speaker walking to her car was nothing short of shameful. Public hearings should create a space for everyone to feel comfortable to participate. Furthermore, any speaker should be able to attend and leave a public hearing free of threatening harassment.
As much as it pains us to do so, we will be creating a security plan for future hearings to ensure that everyone is made to feel welcome for taking the time to let his or her voice be heard. In the interest of helping to create this safe environment, the plan will entail the removal of individuals who elect not to participate in civil discourse and the prosecution of individuals who threaten the safety of other individuals.
We are saddened to have to make this statement and disappointed by the actions of a few. It is our intent, however, to take corrective actions to avoid a repeat of the events that took place at last night's public hearing and to continue to ensure a safe and democratic process for everyone.
Board of County Commissioners of Boulder County
Cindy Domenico, Deb Gardner, Will Toor