Sandra Steingraber Is Good at Going to Jail

Sep 1, 2016

Sandra Steingraber is proud of her PhD in biology, her position as Scholar in Residence at Ithaca College and her two arrests. Not necessarily in that order.

While Steingraber, an author, biologist, and activist, has studied science in a lab for decades, she knew she had to do more to effect the change she wanted to see in the environment. So she got herself arrested. Twice.

“There’s no one right answer. There’s a lot of arrows in our quiver. Whenever possible, science should prevail and that should be enough. But social movements can open the door for science to speak. No one is listening and it gets people to listen,” she says.

She was protesting a planned gas storage expansion in salt caverns along Seneca Lake in her home state of New York. When she was arrested for peaceful civil disobedience in November of 2014, she wasn’t angry with the result.

“Because I had respect for the law, I cheerfully went off to jail. And what I discovered there is that actually I’m really good at going to jail. I found it peaceful. I had time to read and really do some deep thinking.”

She will be giving the talk “Be Arrested if Necessary” next Wednesday, September 7th, in the auditorium of Lang Hall at the University of Northern Iowa. Considering the recent protests at the Bakken pipeline construction site, Steingraber says there’s hardly a better time or place for this conversation.

“[The talk] is going to be focusing on climate issues and the ongoing project to move us off of fossil fuels. Iowa is front and center in that battle, because of the pipeline. The fossil fuel industry is this zombie industry that keeps going because the infrastructure is in place. We’re seeing that in pipeline and in frack sand mining in Northeast mining. The past is at war with the future in Iowa.”

In this hour of Talk of Iowa, Charity Nebbe talks with Steingraber and with Kamyar Enshayan, director of the University of Northern Iowa's Center for Energy and Environmental Education.