Civil rights activist William Barber II, of the Poor People’s Campaign, and environmental activist Al Gore, along with his daughter Karenna, visited Buckingham on February 19, 2019, for meetings with Union Hill residents and anti-pipeline activists (closed to the press), followed by an evening meeting at Buckingham Middle School, where 700-1000 people heard speakers call for justice and tell their stories.
Over and over, both speakers and the wide press coverage surrounding the day’s events, pointed out Governor Ralph Northam’s failure to protect citizens from Dominion’s corporate interests, his interventions on behalf of Dominion, and his blatant failure to fulfill his recent promises for racial reconciliation by opposing the pipeline project and supporting Union Hill.
Northam’s response (tone deaf as usual) sided again (as usual) with Dominion, ignoring all evidence of environmental devastation and environmental injustice: in a statement to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Northam said “it is clear community concerns remain and that Dominion/ACP’s outreach has thus far been lacking. I hope that Dominion/ACP will listen and respond to the concerns of this important historic community and act as a good neighbor.”
Press coverage before and after the event included the following:
2-20-19 Washington Post. Al Gore, civil rights leader William Barber call on Northam to seek forgiveness through action. “The little front porch seemed like a pulpit as the Rev. William Barber II outlined a path to redemption for Virginia’s troubled governor, Ralph Northam. ‘What he should do more than resign is he should get the resolve to be serious and take on this project,’ Barber said, looking toward the nearby stand of pine trees where Dominion Energy plans to build a major natural gas pipeline pumping station in the middle of a historic African American community. ‘He could lead the nation. He could lead the South.’ Beside the civil rights leader stood another high-profile activist, former vice president Al Gore, who nodded in agreement. The pair was touring the rural community of Union Hill on Tuesday afternoon to draw attention to the case against the pumping station, which is part of the $7.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Northam’s shame over a racist photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook page could be put to positive use, said Gore, a fellow Democrat. ‘If it resulted in Governor Northam saying, ‘I’ve seen the light, I’m going to change the policy,’ then God intends it for good,’ he said. This is Northam’s place now in the national dialogue. As long as he responds to calls to resign with promises to seek racial reconciliation, pressure will mount for him to act and prove he means it.”
2-20-19 WVTF. Gore Lambasts Dominion’s Plans for Union Hill. “It was a combination protest, spiritual revival and celebration as about 800 people packed the gym at a middle school in Buckingham County last night to hear from environmental activist Al Gore and political activist William Barber. They had come to oppose the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and construction of a massive compressor station in the historic black community called Union Hill. If Al Gore was the evening’s big star, the Reverend William Barber was quite a warm up act. He attacked Dominion – the company planning a massive compressor station in a poor, rural community founded by freed Virginia slaves, and said companies often refer to places like Union Hill as LULUs – short for Local Unwanted Land Use.”
2-20-19 Virginia Mercury. Civil rights leader, former vice president take aim at Northam, Dominion during visit to Buckingham County. “‘It is an outrageous proposal environmentally in terms of environmental injustice; in terms of it being an economic rip-off to the energy ratepayers of Virginia and in terms of global warming, of course,’ Gore said in an interview before the event. Barber took more direct shots at Dominion, asking at one point during a meeting at Union Grove Baptist Church if there were any Dominion employees present. ‘In Hebrew, dominion does not mean destruction,’ Barber said later in the evening. ‘In Hebrew, dominion means responsibility. Dominion is God’s instruction for community and taking care of the land and all that is in it.’ …. ‘I did take note of (Northam’s) statement that he was going to dedicate the rest of his term to racial reconciliation,’ Gore said. ‘This community is a wonderful opportunity for him to give meaning to those words and actually show that he’s intent on doing it even if it makes one his largest financial supporters unhappy. That’s where the rubber meets the road.’ Barber had a similar message for Northam, who was not at the event. ‘The real racism you must prove you’re against is systemic racism,’ Barber said. ‘Gov. Northam, if you want to be a great governor, if you want to help lead the nation, the first thing you got to do is stop by Union Hill.’”
2-19-19 US News. Al Gore Meets With Residents Fighting Gas Pipeline Station. “Former Vice President Al Gore urged residents of a historic African-American community in Virginia on Tuesday to continue their fight against a plan to build a natural gas pipeline compressor station in their neighborhood. Gore and social justice advocate the Rev. William Barber II met with residents of Union Hill, a rural community about 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Richmond that was founded by emancipated slaves after the Civil War. The visit by Gore and Barber — part of an environmental justice tour — came weeks after a racial scandal rocked state government when both Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring acknowledged wearing blackface in the 1980s. Gore told residents that the proposal to build the compressor station in the African-American community is a ‘vivid example of environmental racism.’ ‘This proposed pipeline is a reckless, racist rip-off,’ Gore said. He said Northam should fulfill his promise for racial reconciliation by opposing the pipeline project. ‘This is an ideal opportunity for him to say, “I’ve seen the light,”; Gore said. During a raucous meeting before more than 700 people at Buckingham Middle School, Barber said Dominion Energy — the lead developer of the pipeline — is “practicing sin” by proposing to build the compressor station in Union Hill. ‘I want to say tonight that any governor or legislator, Democrat or Republican … that has chosen Dominion over this community is scandalous,’ Barber said.”
2-19-19 Washington Post. Al Gore meets with residents fighting gas pipeline station. “Former Vice President Al Gore urged residents of a historic African-American community in Virginia on Tuesday to continue their fight against a plan to build a natural gas pipeline compressor station in their neighborhood. Gore and social justice advocate the Rev. William Barber II met with residents of Union Hill, a rural community about 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Richmond that was founded by emancipated slaves after the Civil War. The visit by Gore and Barber — part of an environmental justice tour — came weeks after a racial scandal rocked state government when both Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring acknowledged wearing blackface in the 1980s. Gore told residents that the proposal to build the compressor station in the African-American community is a ‘vivid example of environmental racism.’ ‘This proposed pipeline is a reckless, racist rip-off,’ Gore said. He said Northam should fulfill his promise for racial reconciliation by opposing the pipeline project. ‘This is an ideal opportunity for him to say, “I’ve seen the light,”‘ Gore said.”
2-19-18 WTVR6. Al Gore warns that Dominion compressor station will bring ‘single largest increase in global warming pollution’ “Former Vice President Al Gore stopped in Central Virginia Tuesday night as part of what he calls an ‘Environmental Justice Tour.’ Gore visited Union Hill in Buckingham County to highlight what he calls the connection between poverty, racism and ecological devastation. Union Hill is a historically black community, and is the proposed site of a controversial compressor station for Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Gore says the compressor will be harmful to the environment. ‘This compressor station and this pipeline would be the single largest increase in global warming pollution from the state of Virginia ever,’ Gore said.”
2-19-19 NBC29. Al Gore Among Guest Speakers Opposing Pipeline Construction in Buckingham County. “Rev. Barber II says Governor Ralph Northam should change his views on the pipeline and stop accepting money from Dominion Energy. ‘He could stop this tomorrow, but it would require him to say, “I choose the people of Virginia over a corporation,”‘ Barber said. Gore also stated that if Northam wanted to make up for all of the controversy surrounding the blackface scandal, Buckingham County would be a good place to start. ‘In the aftermath of those pictures – of that picture being shown – the governor said he wants to dedicate his remaining time as governor to racial reconciliation,’ Gore said. ‘Well, here is the premiere place to do that.’”
2-19-19 Daily Progress. Union Hill visit by Gore, Barber seeks to put Northam on spot. “Gov. Ralph Northam can’t escape the spotlight as former Vice President Al Gore and the Rev. William J. Barber II bring a racial and environmental crusade Tuesday to a little community in Buckingham County with a big natural gas pipeline planned at its doorstep. Barber, a national civil rights leader from North Carolina, said Monday that Northam’s challenge is about more than overcoming a racist photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page or his admission that he once blackened his face to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest. It’s about changing public policy in Virginia, he said, beginning with state permits granted for construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and a natural gas compressor station in Union Hill, a community founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. ‘The governor has turned his back on this community,’ Barber, former president of the North Carolina NAACP, said in an interview. ‘If he wants to do a reconciliation tour, he should first go to Union Hill.’ The message is the same from Gore, a Nobel laureate who has made the fight against fossil fuels and climate change the focus of his political work since narrowly losing the presidential election in 2000. ‘It’s such a great opportunity for the governor to really show he means what he says and is re-examining the racial impacts of Virginia’s policies,’ the former vice president said in an interview Monday.”
2-19-19 Bloomberg. Ralph Northam’s Racial Reckoning Could Spell Trouble for Pipe Project. “Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s racial reckoning could spell more trouble for Dominion Energy Inc.’s $7 billion-plus Atlantic Coast gas pipeline, with one of its facilities sited in an historically African American community. While the 600-mile (966-kilometer) project is facing several setbacks, one element, a planned compressor station, is drawing particularly heated backlash for its proposed location in Union Hill, a community west of Richmond that was founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. Environmental groups and social activists are hoping to capitalize on the attention generated by the state’s political turmoil to further their efforts to block the project. And now former U.S. Vice President and outspoken fossil fuel critic Al Gore is slated to attend an event on Tuesday meant to draw attention to environmental justice issues surrounding the project. …. No one could be reached at Northam’s office for comment. Dominion didn’t respond to a request for comment.”
Press Conference: Moral Call For Ecological Justice Buckingham