Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

There are only a few days left in our critical Mid-Year Campaign and we truly might not make it without your help.
Please join us. If you rely on independent media, support Common Dreams today. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

The so-called "Zenith Five" in court. "Zenith Energy Corporation, and the city's inability to shut it down, is the poster child for what is wrong with our system," defendant Margaret Butler said in a statement Thursday. (Photo: @RickRappaport2020)

Landmark Win in 'Fight for Habitable Future' as Jury Refuses to Convict Climate Activists Who Presented Necessity Defense

"When citizens are told the truth about the climate crisis—which is the first of Extinction Rebellion's demands—they take appropriate and responsible action, as our jury did, and we thank them."

Jake Johnson

Environmentalists celebrated a landmark victory in the "fight for a habitable future" after a Portland, Oregon jury on Thursday refused to convict five Extinction Rebellion activists—including valve turner Ken Ward—who presented the climate necessity defense at their trial for blockading a train track used by Zenith Energy to transport crude oil.

The activists emphasized that the win was only partial because the criminal trespassing case ended in a mistrial rather than a full acquittal. Just one of six jurors voted to convict the activists while the five others voted to acquit.

"We need to take note of the lessons learned by the labor movement—mass civil disobedience works. The climate crisis is a workers issue, we need to unite to shut down business as usual. Right now."
—Margaret Butler

But Ward said the jury's refusal to convict even when presented with video evidence of the trespassing "is a vindication of our call for climate activists to use a climate necessity defense," which states that it is at times justified to break the law to combat the planetary crisis.

"When citizens are told the truth about the climate crisis—which is the first of Extinction Rebellion’s demands—they take appropriate and responsible action, as our jury did, and we thank them," said Ward.

The five activists were arrested last April for building a garden on the tracks of Houston-based Zenith Energy's railroad terminal in Portland to protest expansion of the fossil fuel infrastructure.

"The activists had been protesting the expansion of the oil terminal at a time when they say we should be dismantling fossil fuel infrastructure, not creating more," the local radio station KOPB-FM reported at the time. "A few small mounds of soil extend onto the rail line—not much, but apparently enough to make it unusable. Activists also sat on the tracks."

"Zenith Energy Corporation, and the city's inability to shut it down, is the poster child for what is wrong with our system," defendant Margaret Butler said in a statement Thursday. "We need to take note of the lessons learned by the labor movement—mass civil disobedience works. The climate crisis is a workers issue, we need to unite to shut down business as usual. Right now."

Lauren Regan, lead attorney for the group of activists, said it is now up to the Multnomah County district attorney's office to decide whether to re-prosecute the climate campaigners.

"The jury's inability to convict the activists," said Regan, "reflects the prevailing community consciousness which is unlikely to punish climate defenders for acts of nonviolent resistance."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Just a few days left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Watching US With Horror, European Groups Push Leaders to Strengthen Abortion Rights

"This is an important moment for leaders across Europe who are committed to reproductive rights to lead by example and galvanize action in their own countries," said one campaigner.

Jake Johnson ·


'Flies in the Face of Science': Biden Sued for Restarting Oil Leasing on Public Lands

"Overwhelming scientific evidence shows us that burning fossil fuels from existing leases on federal lands is incompatible with a livable climate," said one environmental lawyer.

Kenny Stancil ·


Progressive Delia Ramirez Defeats Billionaire PAC Money to Win Illinois Primary

"Billionaires and their super PACs are spending millions to defeat progressive candidates," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, who endorsed Ramirez. "They have the money, but we've got the people."

Jake Johnson ·


'Witness Intimidation. Clear as Day': Jan. 6 Panel Teases Evidence of Cover-Up Effort

"Add witness tampering to the laundry list of crimes Trump and his allies must be charged with," said professor Robert Reich.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Bombshell After Bombshell' Dropped as Jan. 6 Testimony Homes In On Trump Guilt

"Hutchinson's testimony of the deeply detailed plans of January 6 and the inaction of those in the White House in response to the violence show just how close we came to a coup," said one pro-democracy organizer.

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo