The Ira brothers – who pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct by obstruction for their role in blocking trucks carrying wind turbine parts to the Lowell wind project site – say they made their point through civil disobedience and had no reason to bring their cases to trial.
Jacob Powsner, 21, was ordered to pay a $300 fine, while his brother Ira Powsner, 26, decided to spend two days in jail rather than pay a fine during their hearings in Orleans Superior Court-Criminal Division Tuesday.
Both spoke with the Orleans County Record by phone Wednesday morning.
“We pled no contest because we believe what we did was right in blocking the traffic,” Ira Powsner said.
To plead not guilty or take the case to trial would be dishonest, he said. “Yes, we know we are guilty of blocking traffic,” he said.
“We believe we made our point,” he said, which was empowering people to take a stand against the wind project.
“I pled no contest because I was exercising my right of civil disobedience for something I believe in,” Jacob Powsner said.
Jacob Powsner said taking the case to trial wasn’t the best way to get their message out. “I don’t think that would have particularly served the message better,” he said.
They knew the outcome of the case would be a conviction and there was no point in dragging it out, which would have only served to dig deeper into their wallets, he said. “Mission accomplished.”
Ira Powsner is studying conservation ecology at Sterling College in Craftsbury Common. With Anne Morse – a professor and member of Mountain Occupiers – he offers civil disobedience training, which he said teaches nonviolent methods of direct action protest. He said the trainings attract a wide variety of people who are protesting for many causes, not just against industrial wind.
Jacob Powsner is majoring in political science at Bard College in Hudson, New York.
This case differs from that of the Lowell Six, Ira Powsner said. Those protesters were on land that they believe is owned by Don and Shirley Nelson, and because they don’t believe they are guilty of trespassing, it was necessary to take the case to trial, Powsner said.
The Lowell Six were found guilty by a jury in mid-August, but their attorney, Kristina Michelsen, who also represented the Powsners, filed a motion asking the court to set aside the conviction and acquit the protesters accused of blocking a crane path in December at the site leased from Trip Wileman by Green Mountain Power.
Ira Powsner offered an explanation of why he decided to take jail time instead of a fine. “I don’t feel I need to give the district court system $300 because I don’t feel what I did was wrong.”
Frankly, he said, it will cost the state more than $300 to incarcerate him for two days.
As for Jacob Powsner’s decision to pay the fine rather than do jail time, Ira Powsner said it came down to logistics.
“He had to go back to college,” Ira Powsner said. It was not feasible for Jacob Powsner to travel back to Vermont to spend two days in jail, he said.
If it had been a possibility, Ira Powsner said his brother most likely would have joined him in the St. Johnsbury facility when he reports Sept. 28.
“I’m really proud of my brother,” Ira Powsner said.
In response to Green Mountain Power’s claims that protesters’ actions caused an undue use of public resources, like law enforcement, Ira Powsner said the power company has used far more public resources by demanding law enforcement presence at the site throughout the construction process. He said this is particularly obvious when law enforcement is on site when the Mountain Occupiers hold open houses “on our side of the mountain.”
“The charge against Ira and Jacob is disorderly conduct – in fact the demonstration was well coordinated but spontaneous and full of emotion,” Anne Morse of Mountain Occupiers wrote in an e-mail.
“Depending on one’s perspective the decision to block the trucks carrying turbine parts was either disorderly or beautiful. There were well over 100 people in the road blocking the turbine parts, and Ira and Jacob were the only ones arrested, presumably because they were taking leadership in the situation,” Morse continued.
Morse said the group will “pass the hat” to help Jacob Powsner pay his fine.
Ira Powsner said that on Oct. 12 at 11 a.m., there will be a rally on the State House lawn to deliver a “certificate of public harm” regarding industrial wind development to Gov. Peter Shumlin and the Public Service Board.
Green Mountain Power spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said the company had no comment on the proceedings.