Eight arrested after two hours of blockading construction traffic to stop new Pratt & Whitney plant

Photo by Pamela Mumby

Reject Raytheon AVL shuts down Pratt & Whitney

by Ken Jones
It was an Earth Day to remember. On a beautiful sunny spring day, our local citizen coalition Reject Raytheon in Asheville, North Carolina pulled off a three-part demonstration for the protection of the earth and earthlings and against the U.S. military-industrial complex. We rallied, we paraded, and we took direct action.
The event on Friday, April 22, began at 10 a.m. in the Bent Creek River Park, on the banks of the French Broad River. The park sits exactly next to the new bridge being built for the 1.2 million square foot Pratt & Whitney plant and in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Parkway bridge over the river. Across the river from the park is a dirt road, called Old River Road, that provides access to the many trucks coming and going from the plant every day. On this morning, it was busy, full of power and commerce.

In the park, over 50 of us came together to call for conversion from the war economy to one that addresses the climate emergency. The theme of the gathering was Windmills Not War Machines. We had a number of speakers describe the dangers of the Pratt & Whitney plant and also what a better economic development plan for the Asheville area could look like.
Pratt & Whitney is wholly owned by Raytheon Technologies, the second largest war corporation in the world. Its new plant here will be making airfoil turbines for jet engines that will be used by both military and commercial aircraft. The military engines are for notorious fighter jets like the F-35 and F-16, which are sold for wars all over the world, including in Yemen and Palestine. Sales of these weapons have soared with the onset of the war in Ukraine. This is a war profiteer coming to our community.
Our rally not only emphasized the war machine production of Pratt & Whitney, but also called attention to its effect on the climate emergency. What we don’t need in this urgent time is more fossil fuel intensive jet engines, even if they are for commercial use, and even if they are supposedly more efficient.
At the end of our rally, the Brass Your Heart social justice marching band led the group on a parade. With music, chants, banners, and signs, we moved from the park up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, where we crossed the bridge to the other side of the river. It was festive as well as pointed.

Photo by Pamela Mumby

While the parade was in process, eight of us took a position on the Old River Road and blockaded the oncoming construction traffic from both directions. Five of us spanned the entire road with a 20 foot banner that said “Make Wind Turbines, Not War Machines.” Another held a smaller banner that said, “Pratt & Whitney Fans the Flames of Climate Emergency.” And two of us stood in front and behind the blockade with the stop-sign shaped message: “No War Industry.”

As our parading friends came to the end of the bridge, they stood above us waving, cheering, and singing along with the band. Construction traffic came to a halt and backed up for as far as the eye could see.
Amazingly, this stoppage lasted a full two hours. Biltmore Farms, which owns all the surrounding land and donated 100 acres to Pratt & Whitney for its plant, sent its security guards very quickly. They said we were on private property and threatened to have us arrested. Truck drivers walked up to us with a range of emotions from anger to sympathy to amusement. Soon the site was swarming with confused workers and authority figures. Eventually, the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) came and asked us to leave. When we didn’t, a prolonged series of phone calls ensued.
As we found out later, there was an uncertainty about jurisdiction. We were actually on the National Park Service (NPS) easement for the Blue Ridge Parkway, not on Biltmore Farms private property. Technically, this meant that NPS was the proper authority to remove us. It apparently was decided that they would ask BCSO to take charge. 
It was probably also the case that executives from both Biltmore Farms and Pratt & Whitney were discussing how to handle this situation in a way that would get them the least amount of negative publicity. 
What this amounted to was a 2-hour shut down of business-as-usual for the corporations bringing a war industry to our county. It was just a small victory for us earth protectors, but still a moment to savor on Earth Day.
The decision the police finally made was to give us a choice. We could just walk away with no charges, we could walk away with a citation for misdemeanor trespass, or we could get arrested and taken to jail. We huddled up and decided on door #2: we took citations and walked away. We are hoping for our day in court where we can tell why we did this direct action and what is at stake with this war industry plant getting built. A trial will be a means of continuing to raise public awareness about it.
And it’s not just this one plant. What we also know is that Jack Cecil, owner of Biltmore Farms, is working with the local Chamber of Commerce to bring more businesses like Pratt & Whitney into this area. Some 1,000 acres have been set aside for an industrial park that will likely be centered on the toxic aerospace industry. The gas pipeline just put in by Dominion Energy will service not just Pratt and Whitney, but also the companies now being actively recruited to come here. The new interstate exchange on I-26 will likewise serve this future development. 
Say goodbye to a lot more trees and worry about the health of the French Broad River. Pratt and Whitney is just the beginning of this Biltmore Farms project. It is like the anchor store in a mall. It is being used to attract others of the same ilk.
This is why Reject Raytheon is calling not just for conversion of this plant that is now nearing completion, but for a moratorium on any more approvals for industries that are connected to the military-industrial-fossil fuel monster that is devouring our earth and making life untenable for us and our children and grandchildren. 
We who stood in the road are not the criminals here. The criminals are those who are making profits from the destruction of life on this planet. It is they who should be on trial and that is what we intend to do if we get our day in court. We, the Earth Day 8, hope you will follow us in solidarity.
We will also keep on showing up in the streets to raise the alarm. Ever since we found out in October, 2020 that the Buncombe County commissioners voted to give $27 million in tax incentives to Pratt & Whitney, we have been crying foul. But it’s even worse than that. If you take into account all the subsidies provided to this huge multinational corporation – state, local, and private – it comes to over $100 million. Think about how much we need that money for the many human needs of our community. 
And don’t be deceived about the jobs being promised. Yes, there will be jobs, but there is no actual guarantee about how many nor who will get them. And we know very well that we would have many more jobs than the 800 they tout (counted cumulatively, over 10 years) if we put that same $100M into clean energy, education, health, housing – literally anything other than the military-industrial complex. Why would anyone think that a huge corporation like Raytheon cares about anything other than its own profits, notwithstanding all of its local greenwashing and public relations efforts?
It is this prioritizing of profits over people that we need to change. Visit Reject Raytheon’s website for more information: http://rejectraytheonavl.com/ 
Forward together for Mother Earth and for us, her children. 
The Earth Day 8, who all live in and around Asheville, North Carolina, are:
  • Rachael Bliss, 76, writer and founder of WNC4Peace
  • Claire Clark, 40, labor organizer and LGBTQ activist
  • Padma Dyvine, 72, retired nurse, healthcare and climate activist
  • Ken Jones, 73, retired professor of teacher education and VFP member
  • Steve Norris, 78, grandfather, carpenter, teacher, activist
  • Lyle Peterson, 73, blacksmith and founding member of VFP chapter
  • Gerry Werhan, 68, retired Medical Service Corps officer and VFP chapter president
  • Greg Yost, 55, former high school teacher and zip line guide

This Asheville action was one of 30+ events around the country carried out in a week of mobilization sponsored by the War Industry Resisters Network. (https://www.veteransforpeace.org/take-action/war-industry-resisters-network)

  • Photo by Melody Shank

    from Common Dreams

    Earth Day 8 Walk Away With a Win

    We are raising local awareness of the murderous devil in our midst and helping to generate a national movement against war corporations like Raytheon.
    by Ken Jones
    August 26, 2022

    We planned for the direct action, then we planned for the trial. The first came off great, the second didn’t come off at all. Which was also great—all charges were dismissed. We won, twice. 

    We had four expert witnesses lined up who were going to testify as to the illegality of Raytheon’s war profiteering and ecocidal business plan, according to international law.

    Back on Earth Day, eight of us from Reject Raytheon had stopped traffic on a dirt construction entrance to the Pratt & Whitney plant. We were mostly elders, 65 or older. The plan was to shut  down the steamrolling operation to get the new military-industrial factory up and running, if only momentarily and symbolically. But we ended up blocking the way for two whole hours! It  was a moment to savor, standing there with trucks backed up for as far as the eye could see, in both directions. 

    We had done our nonviolent direct action preparations and it was a good thing because quickly confronting us were some mighty irritated truckers, private security officers, and management types from Biltmore Farms and Pratt & Whitney. Mostly, we just stood silently with our banner and signs through it all. Oddly, the Buncombe County police officers were fairly chill, chatting us up and asking if we really wanted to get arrested (not especially) or if we intended to resist arrest (not at all). 

    Our friends, 20 to 30 of them, were accompanying us from the bridge above, waving, taking pictures, and singing along with the band up there. It felt like being in an extended, slow  motion time-out in a field contest of David vs. Goliath. It got hot out there in the sun, but we  couldn’t have been more delighted to be left standing there, surrounded by the stalled forces of  a land baron, war corporation, and associated security and police groups. 

    Why didn’t they just immediately arrest and take us away? We didn’t fully realize it at the time,  but we had chosen to stand in the very spot in the road that was not owned by Biltmore Farms  or deeded over to Pratt & Whitney. We were in the National Park Service buffer zone that exists  on both sides of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The road into the plant went under the Parkway  bridge that spans the French Broad River and we were right in the shadow of that bridge. We  had chosen that spot because it was easy to get to unobserved and it provided a good photo  op from above. 

    As it happened, none of the authorities converging on us seemed to know who had jurisdiction  there. It took them a while to figure it out, with lots of comings and goings and phone calls.  (Protestors in the road, who “owns” this piece of Mother Earth? Who’s in charge? Talk amongst yourselves). It was kind of fun to watch. 

    Eventually the National Park Service, not having the capacity for multiple arrests, asked the  Buncombe County police to take charge, or so we were told later. A Buncombe County police  captain arrived and very politely offered the eight of us options: we could just walk away with  no charge, walk away with a citation for criminal trespass, or get cuffed and go to jail and get  the same charge. We decided to take the citation, not the free pass, because we hoped to get  a trial. We were prepared to go to jail, but when offered the option, we thought, nah, we don’t  need that kind of abuse. 

    And so we hung around with the friendly police officers, while three of them wrote out our tickets. It was a little surreal, this all being treated so lightly, as if it were a scene out of the movie Alice’s Restaurant. Soon, we happily walked away, escorted by the captain, through  some pretty sullen truck drivers, to the welcoming arms and water of our friends and  supporters up on the bridge.

    We had gone into this action agreeing, as many activists do, to see this through to a trial. The point was to extend the action as much as possible in order to shed more light on the issue  through the added publicity of a trial. In the trial we would plead not guilty on the grounds of what is called a necessity defense. This defense argues that, when faced with a greater evil, people have a responsibility to take action, even if that action violates some lesser law. It’s like breaking into a neighbor’s burning house to save the people inside. Indeed, with wars and  fossil fuels burning up people and planet, this is exactly how we felt. The Pratt & Whitney plant  would be one more profit-making enterprise pushing us all over an existential cliff. 

    We were prepared to mount such a necessity defense. We sincerely felt that we had no other  recourse than to commit this act of civil resistance because of the secrecy and complicity of  elected officials and the business community in making this deal. It was done deal before we  ever knew it was happening. The system is corrupt, there is no process for meaningful public  engagement that resembles democracy. 

    In particular, we planned to explain the two-fold greater evil of this Pratt & Whitney plant to a  judge and jury: (1) likely half of the engine components produced at this plant will go into  fighter jets used in illegal and immoral US-supported wars; (2) all of the engine components  produced will contribute greatly to the climate emergency we are facing, despite company  claims that these engines will be more energy efficient. 

    The messaging on our signs, banner and even the shirts we were wearing was to stop the war  industry and to build wind turbines, not war machines. This was in synch with that of a national  movement led by the War Industry Resisters Network to convert the war economy through a  peaceful, just, and green transition. 

    It was this prophetic call that we wanted to bring to the judicial system. While the prosecution  would undoubtedly be focused on the immediate question of whether we trespassed, we  wanted to defend ourselves by saying our violation was trivial compared to the crimes of  Raytheon. We would flip the script, putting Raytheon on trial. But alas, we didn’t get to do that  when our charges were dismissed. 

    Still, we count this as a victory. 

    The system didn’t want to have the trial and that in itself is telling. Who knows why? Maybe the district attorney’s office looked at the jurisdictional issue and decided it was too messy to deal  with. 

    Or maybe they looked at our preparations for a real trial and decided it wasn’t worth it. We had four expert witnesses lined up who were going to testify as to the illegality of Raytheon’s war profiteering and ecocidal business plan, according to international law. And two of us were also going to take the stand to testify as to the necessity, in fact the moral imperative, to intervene. 

    Or maybe Jack Cecil and Biltmore Farms didn’t want the bad publicity for its ongoing plan to  replace another 1000 acres of trees with an aerospace industrial park. As we know, Pratt &  Whitney is just the start, the anchor for further development devoted to military-industrial  businesses. The Chamber of Commerce and Buncombe County commissioners are pushing  this agenda too, so there is a lot of power invested in keeping the news positive, all about jobs  and such. 

    Or maybe we just got a “lucky” draw of the cards in an overcrowded and under-resourced  court system.

    Whatever the case, we look at all the positives that have come from this action and our move to have a trial, including raising local awareness of the murderous devil in our midst and helping to generate a national movement against war corporations like Raytheon. We may not  have gotten all we wanted in this action, but we do feel successful and even blessed to walk  away unscathed. 

    Nice win this time. It’s almost enough to want to do it again.