Oscar-nominated actor James Cromwell speaks out before jail time for peaceful anti-fracking protest

Oscar-nominated actor James Cromwell and Pramilla Malick are going to jail today for their nonviolent protest against a natural gas-fired power plant that uses fracked gas in Orange County, New York.

SOURCEDemocracy Now!

Oscar-nominated actor James Cromwell is reporting to jail at 4 p.m. today in upstate New York after he was sentenced to a week behind bars for taking part in a nonviolent protest against a natural gas-fired power plant. Cromwell says he’ll also launch a hunger strike. He was one of six activists arrested for blocking traffic at the sit-in outside the construction site of the 650-megawatt plant in Wawayanda, New York, in December of 2015. The activists say the plant would promote natural gas fracking in neighboring states and contribute to climate change.

James Cromwell is known for his roles in some 50 Hollywood films, including “Babe,” “The Artist,” “The Green Mile” and “L.A. Confidential,” as well as many television series, including “Six Feet Under.” Democracy Now! spoke to him Thursday along with one of his co-defendants, Pramilla Malick. She is the founder of Protect Orange County, a community organization leading the opposition of the fracked gas power plant. She ran in 2016 for the New York state Senate.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Oscar-nominated actor James Cromwell is reporting to jail at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time today in upstate New York, after he was sentenced to a week behind bars for taking part in a nonviolent protest against a natural gas-fired power plant. Cromwell says he’ll also launch a hunger strike. He’s one of six activists arrested for blocking traffic at the sit-in outside the construction site of the 650-megawatt plant in Wawayanda, New York, upstate, December 2015. The activists say the plant would promote natural gas fracking in neighboring states and contribute to climate change.

James Cromwell is well known for his roles in some 50 Hollywood films, nominated for an Oscar in Babe, as well as a number of TV series, including Six Feet Under. I spoke to him Thursday along with one of his co-defendants who’s going to jail today, as well, Pramilla Malick, founder of Protect Orange County, a community group leading the opposition to the fracked gas power plant. She ran in 2016 for New York state Senate. I began by asking James Cromwell about why he’s going to jail today.

JAMES CROMWELL: We are, all of us, engaged in a struggle, not to protect a way of life, but to protect life itself. Our institutions are bankrupt. Our leaders are complicit. And the public is basically disillusioned and disenchanted with the entire process. There is a direct connection between the plant in Minisink—

AMY GOODMAN: Where is Minisink?

JAMES CROMWELL: In Wawayanda. It’s in upstate New York. They call it upstate. It’s not too far above the New Jersey border. Between that plant and the Middle East. We’re at war not only with Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan and Yemen. We’re at war with Dimock, Pennsylvania, where the gas comes from, with Wawayanda, that uses the gas, with Seneca Lake, where it was to be stored, and with Standing Rock.

And it is time, actually, to name the disease. Most people can’t put their finger on the cause of it, but everybody perceives the threat. Capitalism is a cancer. And the only way to defeat this cancer is to completely, radically transform our way of living and our way of thinking about ourselves. And I call that radical transformation revolutionary. So this is the revolution.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, explain what the link is. Capitalism, you say, is the cause of what’s happening, the U.S. is doing, in the Middle East, and what is happening in upstate New York and Standing Rock and so on.

JAMES CROMWELL: This plant is built by a company whose only interest is to create profit. There is no need for the electricity, and the way the energy is produced is inimicable to life in the community. And now, that is a far-reaching community, because it will have an effect even on the people of New York. All the ultrafine particulate matter that comes out of these smokestacks ultimately winds up in New York City. So everybody is affected.

Now, that is done because we are trying to have energy independence. That energy we’re trying to be independent from was the gas and oil that came from the Middle East. When the Middle East began to move towards more democratic governments, the United states government and other governments, Britain, France, all the colonial powers, said, “No, no, no. You’re not moving toward democracy, because if you move towards democracy, you threaten our access to your energy.” And so, they corrupted, in their own nefarious ways.

And ultimately, that led to the – we created ISIS. We, the Americans, created ISIS, in order to battle something else – the same mistake we made with the mujahideen in Afghanistan. And that is to protect our vested interests. If you look at Mr. Tillerson, Mr. Tillerson is sitting on half a trillion dollars’ worth of deals with the Russians. And so, he has—

AMY GOODMAN: When he was CEO of ExxonMobil.

JAMES CROMWELL: When he was CEO, which is still pending. It can still affect his company. He can affect his company, as soon as the ban is lifted. So, I’m saying there is connection, when you talk about energy. Energy is needed all over the world and is produced in only certain places. We now produce energy by blowing up the earth and getting trapped methane gas, which is inimicable to health. And we ship that through pipes. The main purpose of it, however, is not to power the power plant. It is to send to Canada to liquefy, where they can make six times more profit from the sale of that gas than they can in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let me ask you what happened almost exactly two years ago. I mean, you’re going to jail now, but the action you engaged in was June 2015. Tell us where you went and what you did.

JAMES CROMWELL: We have been having a protest to picket in front of this plant that has been – is being built for the last two-and-a-half years. And it got to the point – a lot of people who pass honk their horns in support, but nothing happened. We tried—

AMY GOODMAN: And this is a plant—

JAMES CROMWELL: It is a plant, a fracked gas-powered power plant, which means they import the gas from Pennsylvania.

AMY GOODMAN: And they are?

JAMES CROMWELL: Well, that’s – this is the—

AMY GOODMAN: The company is?

JAMES CROMWELL: Competitive Power Ventures is building the plant.


JAMES CROMWELL: But there is Millennium Pipeline, which Pramilla knows a great deal more about, who owns this. It is actually owned by three large corporations: Mitsubishi, GE and Credit Suisse. Now, what would those three large multinationals be interested in this plant, medium-sized plant, although devastating? What they’re basically interested, it is the precursor of 300 similar plants. If this plant is built and gets online, there is no justification for not building more of these plants. We believe this one needs to be stopped, if you want to stop the entire the buildout of the hydrofracking infrastructure and its effect on our environment.

AMY GOODMAN: So what did you do?

JAMES CROMWELL: We basically came up with an idea to chain ourselves together. We chained ourselves together with bicycle locks, and we blocked the entrance to the plant for about – according to the prosecution, about 27 minutes. And the judge and the prosecution seemed to imply that it made absolutely no difference to what happened with this plant. But it does make a difference. What we’re trying to get out is the message that this is one instance, but it is happening all around this country and all around the world. They’re fighting it in England. They’re fighting it all over the world.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Pramilla, can you talk about what this plant is, how you were involved in the protests, what this plant is designed to do and what you think the public health impacts would be, if it is built?

PRAMILLA MALICK: So, this is a 650-megawatt fracked gas power plant. It will depend on a hundred to 150 fracking wells per year. So we know that, in Pennsylvania, there’s – infant mortality rates are increasing. Cancer rates are increasing. Aquifers are getting contaminated. But along with that, the health impacts travel all along the infrastructure network. So I live near a compressor station, and we have already documented health impacts in my community, in Minisink, of nosebleeds, headaches, rashes, neurological symptoms.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is as a result of?

PRAMILLA MALICK: Exposure to a fracked gas compressor station, the Minisink compressor station. And this was documented by a team of scientists. So, you know, the technology is relatively new, and people are just beginning – scientists are racing to try to understand what’s happening. But front-line communities, like ours, we feel it. We see it. We know that there’s a health impact. And—

AMY GOODMAN: And so, how did you get involved with this June 2015 protest, and what exactly did you do?

PRAMILLA MALICK: Well, I also locked myself down, with James Cromwell and with Madeline Shaw.

AMY GOODMAN: And Madeline Shaw is?

PRAMILLA MALICK: She is an elderly person who lives in the community. She’s very worried because she feels she’s going to have to leave the home that she lived in since 1949, if this plant is built.

AMY GOODMAN: James mentioned Seneca Lake. Now, wasn’t there a recent victory of environmentalists who stopped the storage facility there?


AMY GOODMAN: And how does this relate to what you’re trying to stop?

PRAMILLA MALICK: Well, they were in a very similar position as we were, in the sense that they engaged the regulatory process, lobbied, litigated, appealed to all of their elected officials, and they didn’t get anywhere. And so they began engaging in civil disobedience. And I think that created enough pressure on the company that the company eventually withdrew their application for that storage facility. But when you approve a 650-megawatt fracked gas power plant – and I remind people that this is – this was approved by the state of New York, by our own Governor Cuomo, who banned fracking, citing adverse health impacts, yet approved this plant that will induce and depend on thousands of new fracking wells over its lifetime. We do not need this power plant at all. But it’s being built anyway.

And, you know, it’s a billion-dollar project. But it will cost us, according to the scientists – and this is why we engaged in civil disobedience, and we had a trial in which we were able to bring scientists to testify. It will cost society $940 million per year in healthcare costs and infrastructure costs and other economic costs. And it will increase our state’s greenhouse gas emissions by in excess of 10 percent for the entire power sector of the state of New York.

AMY GOODMAN: James Cromwell, you could have just paid a fine, but you’re choosing to go to jail. How long will you go to jail for? And why are you doing this?

JAMES CROMWELL: We were sentenced for seven days. It’s up to the discretion of the facility as to how long we serve. Sometimes you get off for good behavior. I have no idea. I’m preparing for seven days. The reason I did it was, I can’t justify the injustice of what I think was a completely wrongheaded and simplistic judgment. And so, I think going to jail is a statement about how we have to lift our game. It’s no more good enough just to picket and to petition, because nobody is listening. The way people get the message out is you do an act of civil disobedience. It’s what Tim DeChristopher did, many – all the people in Standing Rock. That was the purpose of Standing Rock. The clarity of Standing Rock was the elders – because I was there – the elders saying, “This is a prayer camp.” In other words, it comes from our inner spirit. We have to change this inner spirit. We have to change our relationship both to the planet and to the people who live on this planet, including the people who are opposing us. So, I believe that, in our small way, that’s the statement that we are making. This is the time to up the game. This is the time to address the basic cause of our disease.

AMY GOODMAN: I also wanted to ask you about your comment about people having trouble naming capitalism as a cancer.


AMY GOODMAN: It sounds like an Edward Abbey quote: “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell.”


AMY GOODMAN: Through your environmentalism, you’re taking on capitalism.


AMY GOODMAN: Not all environmentalists do. Can you comment on that?

JAMES CROMWELL: I can’t speak for all environmentalists. I think all issues – all the things that bedevil us basically start it. We are a death-oriented culture, by “death” meaning that what is put – what is primary – what is the language with which we speak is the language of the market. Everything is for sale. Everything is commodified. And what that does is – and then, of course, you have to create the greatest amount of profit, which means you have to suppress labor. You have to suppress the cost of your natural materials. You have to control your areas of influence, so that China doesn’t wind up with all Iran’s or Iraq’s oil. And so, right away, this kind of thinking leads to the kind of confrontations that we experience everywhere.

If we look at a more – if we accept that we are – our addiction to this energy, our addiction to our way of life, what we take for granted in this country, is in some way – we are responsible. If we accept that responsibility, which is not the same as blame – if we accept that responsibility, then we can change this by recognizing what we have to change is the way we relate to the natural world, to other sentient beings, to the planet. We look at it now as a trough that we can – we can rape and accumulate. And it is not so. There is a balance to nature, and we have violated that balance. And that’s what shows in Antarctica today. It shows all over the world. The planet is re-establishing the balance at our cost.

AMY GOODMAN: Oscar-nominated actor James Cromwell and Pramilla Malick are going to jail today for their nonviolent protest against a natural gas-fired power plant that uses fracked gas in Orange County, New York. I interviewed them Thursday with Nermeen Shaikh. The activists will first hold a rally at the plant construction site, then turn themselves in to jail.


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