Climate choir goes to Richmond to protest pipeline

Oct 20, 2021

The group of protesters from the Harrisonburg area hold up a banner in front of the Capitol in Richmond.
Credit Randi B. Hagi

A "climate emergency choir" performed in Richmond on Monday to ask Governor Northam to put an end to the Mountain Valley Pipeline and demand solutions to climate change. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

About 60 people joined the effort to call for a climate emergency declaration from Governor Northam.
Credit Randi B. Hagi

More than 60 people from the Harrisonburg area marched through downtown Richmond on Monday, singing hymns and protest songs. As they went, they delivered letters to Governor Ralph Northam's office and other public officials, asking for the declaration of a climate emergency and a stop to construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

(Group walking and singing)

The singers' march culminated on the plaza outside the state capitol building, where organizer Earl Martin, flanked by several small children, read out their letter to the governor.

Harrisonburg resident and organizer Earl Martin reads the letter to the governor.
Credit Randi B. Hagi

EARL MARTIN: We come this morning as tillers of the Earth, as carpenters, students, teachers, homemakers, engineers, pastors, parents, and children. Many of us are Mennonites and are friends of Mennonites. Many of us are from Harrisonburg. But we come from diverse places. We come with the deepest convictions and yearnings for our human family. As is our tradition, we come singing hymns of hope, singing songs of the sacredness of the Earth. Singing songs of courage and faith. Indeed, we believe we are singing for our very lives.

The pipeline has aroused criticism and opposition for years. If completed, it'll carry natural gas from northern West Virginia to a compressor station in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. According to an April press release from the project, approximately 80% of the actual pipeline work is done, and about half of its path has been 'fully restored.'

The singers' march culminated on the plaza outside the state capitol building.
Credit Randi B. Hagi

Activists who spoke on Monday honed in on the pollution caused by the pipeline's construction, potential leaks, and the burning of the fossil fuel it would transport.

ACTIVIST 1: The Mountain Valley Pipeline seeks to not only worsen the climate emergency on a global scale, but also to perpetuate the injustice and exploitation of the land that was never ours to begin with.

ACTIVIST 2: In truth we are not here to protect nature, because we are nature. We are nature protecting itself … we're living in a story where it's okay for the human species to take all the space, to use the resources, to not think as much about the future generations.

Organizer Brian Bolton is the pastor of Shalom Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg.
Credit Randi B. Hagi

One of the choir's organizers, Brian Bolton, is the pastor of Shalom Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg. He and others in his congregation were inspired to direct action after visiting a Mountain Valley Pipeline construction site earlier this year --

BRIAN BOLTON: … and just had this vision of people from our tradition, from the Mennonite tradition who love singing and who come from a tradition of singing as a form of resistance.

The Shalom delegation was joined by Eastern Mennonite University students, Harrisonburg Unitarian Universalists, and other climate activists. Bolton described their letter to Northam.

EMU student Mariana Acosta (r) was one of five students who delivered the letter to the governor's staff. She was joined by her friend Iris Anderson.

BOLTON: Just an earnest, honest admission of how much we love and care for the land that sustains us, and the mountains where we live near Harrisonburg, and that we want to see an end to, not just this pipeline, but any of these fossil fuel projects.

EMU student Mariana Acosta was one of five students who delivered the letter to the governor's staff.

MARIANA ACOSTA: When I heard about this opportunity, I felt called to do it because I feel like I do have a voice, and it's my responsibility to speak up for this issue that we know is so pressing, and yet nothing is being done.

But she and her friend, Iris Anderson, felt like their pleas fell on deaf ears.

Credit Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC

IRIS ANDERSON: It was really scary! I was a little nervous … I was a little nervous about what I was going to say, like I wanted to make an impact, and I didn't feel particularly heard by the constituent. Yeah it felt a little dismissive, which was disappointing.

Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC did not respond to a request for comment. Last month the Virginia Mercury reported the pipeline is currently waiting on the State Water Control Board's ruling on a key permit they need to complete water crossings -- a verdict that's scheduled to come in December.

(Singing fades out)