Day 1 of Frac Sand Trial in Winona: When law becomes an idol


“I don’t have an opinion about it (frac sand mining)”

“I’ve remained neutral”

“It is ok to speak out – but you must do it within the law.”

“You have a right to speak out as long as you follow the rules.”

“I know nothing about frac sand … But I’m a mother and [I know] anyone can lie to me.”

“You have the right to speak out if you have something to say. … I don’t know much about the frac sand issue.”

“I have no opinion on frac sand one way or another. … There is a time and place to speak out – it must be controlled – but with breaking the law, something must be done.”

“People have a right to speak their minds but [you must] stay within the law.”

“I don’t know a thing about frac sand. … A lot of people across the river [in Wisconsin] are upset about frac sand. … It is OK to speak if you do it by the law and don’t cause a lot of trouble.”

“I don’t know the truth about frac sand … It does give people jobs … I am disturbed about what it is doing to the landscape – what is removed will never grow back. I don’t know about health issues.”

“I don’t read newspapers. … I know very little about frac sand. … I have never spoken out [in protest against anything] … If there was a law broken ….

“I have spoken out about prevention of child abuse. … I am interested in the legal process.”

“We need to become more independent regarding energy. It would give us jobs. … [Whatever is done must be] within the boundaries of the law.”

“I have no knowledge about frac sand, I don’t understand any of it. … I did go to a Women’s Rights protest in 1981 but I’d never do something like that now! … It made a difference.”

” I’ve seen the headlines in the newspaper but never read much about the issue.”

There were 17 Winona County citizens called forth for the jury panel from which we would help select the six jurors (and two alternates) who would hear our testimony and decide our fates. Of the 35 arrested last April for nonviolently blocking frac sand trucks, 3 had the charges dropped, 2 asked to be tried in absentia, and several did not show up for court (no reason given but I know at least two of them are out of the country after our original court date in December was cancelled after a Judge recused herself). This leaves 21-23 defendants who now face the possibility of up to 3 months in jail and/or a $1000 fine and possible restitution for misdemeanor criminal trespass.

Time after time, prospective jurors were asked by Mr. McClure what opinions they had formed about the frac sand industry and whether they had ever engaged in public advocacy or public protest of any kind. Most of the panelists felt it was “OK” for others to give their opinion/protest but quickly added the qualifier: as long as you don’t break the law. It was as if the Martin Luther King holiday two weeks prior to our trial was completely out of mind. Dr. King, notorious for being arrested for civil disobedience, used his law-breaking as a way to expose the cancers of racism, materialism, and violence as a way to change both hearts (public opinion) as well as laws. His willingness to suffer the indignities of jail, derision, and violence provided a moral credibility to his campaigns for social change and justice.

We merely hope to follow in the path that he, Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, Dan Berrigan, and many others have blazed. How will our jury and Judge respond?