Donald Zepeda of Constitution Two Serving Twenty Days

   I recently had a chance to interview Donald Zepeda, an organizer for Declare Emergency, just before he started his sentence for twenty days - which he's currently serving. Here's what he said. 

   Donald: 35, Donald Zepeda. I live in Maryland, currently. Grew up and spent most of my life in Michigan. Currently I'm just a shift manager at a sandwich shop.

   Will: So you just finished a hearing where you were sentenced to 20 days. Is that what you were expecting or no?

   Donald: If I had just taken the plea right away, It would have been 10 days jail and I was like well I can do better than that. So we didn't take the plea. We waited for a lawyer because we didn't have a lawyer yet. So we talked to the public defender who talks about

the possibilities and the routes we could take. The lawyer is pretty much saying, “You're probably not going to win this. Who's your audience going to be if you try and take it to trial or even if you say something fancy at sentencing.” 

   So we ultimately took a plea for that one, thinking, okay they're asking for 10 days. We're going to ask for a day and we'll get somewhere in between, maybe. Then later on after we made that decision, the prosecution came up with a document asking for 30 days. So when my lawyer shared it with me, I was like, I might not want to take a plea anymore. 

   However, my lawyer doesn't have much time to prepare for a trial anymore at that point. I was asking if we could maybe postpone, given these things, but they're like, “No you're probably not going to be able to postpone.” She advised against going pro se. 

   I think a lot of times public defenders are good at defending traditional criminal defendants but not really well versed with climate defendants. Also I think a lot of the times you know they have a heavy workload. 

  I think a lot of the time, they just don't want to have to do extra work. She would have less time to prepare for trial if I went to trial. So, all right, fine, I'll stick with the plea deal and we'll do the best we can. I think the extra days they asked for came from looking more into me and finding that I had a history of these types of actions. So they asked for more and I was sentenced to 20 days, ultimately. The judge heard the prosecution ask for 30. We didn't really officially wind up asking for anything less, just kind of generally less, so somewhere between. 

   After the prosecution closed their statement in court on the day I was sentenced, my lawyer was like, “Maybe we should ask for like three weeks.” 

  I said, “Okay well if you think that's where we are now.” 

  When she spoke she didn't ask for three weeks, but that's what we wound up with - 20 days. So I guess that's good given that's where she thought our best shot might be with what was offered.

  Will: What was the date of the action?

  Donald: February 13th was the roadblock action.

  Will:  So you also took action with Kroegeor and may soon be facing a much larger sentence for what happened at The Archives. Kroegeor recently spent three months in jail, just on pre-trial detention. Do you think that’s due to the federal court system? Why do you think things are suddenly getting much more strict all of a sudden?

  Donald: The federal court system? It's a felony charge. Also, there was alleged property damage involved. They might have inflated the numbers in terms of how much they needed to spend to fix the case of the Constitution. Or if they had to fix it at all. They could have just left it as is - as a reminder of what we're facing from the climate emergency. So there's all those things. There's also maybe the symbolic thing of, it was the Constitution even though it was the case of the Constitution. And the document is very well sealed. It could be those things. The judge maybe wants to not seem biased. 

   They had to come down on January 6 people and so now they're saying, “well I will have to come down on other people, too, if they do something.” They don't want to seem like it's a anti-conservative court. It's a fair and balanced court, so they're going to come down hard on us, too. These are thoughts that I've had about why it might be that bad. 

   Maybe they think they can get away with it, too. There could be a mass outcry, mass popular revolt, over the crisis and how much they knew in advance. If they knew about a possible uprising, they might not give as much time to me. Right now they probably don't know what’s coming.

  Will: How long have you been concerned about the climate?

  Donald:  I think I started taking action, joining groups, forming groups, doing that sort of thing in 2015. I've looked at old social media post back in the day before, and I think I had stuff about around 2013 2014. In my teenage years I was getting more concerned about driving, but I didn't really have a clear reason why. I just kind of had a feeling, like, “this isn't good.” I (still) try not to do it that much or incur it unnecessarily.

  Will: Leading into the summer, we're going to see record temperatures again, likely, and it's an election year. How important is it now that  Biden declares a climate emergency?

  Donald: I think it's really important. Supposedly, climate's an issue that independents, who could vote either way, might find that climate drives a wedge between the two parties. These folks could potentially vote either way - however, Democrats are always going to be better on climate of the two parties thus far.

   If Biden does declare an emergency, that can send a clear message - that we are in a climate emergency. It will also get us prepared for the work and things that need to be done. There's a risk, potentially, in that if he does it, there are still of course people who will be angry

and might raise their voice and come down hard against him. It's an unfortunate balance that politicians have to walk. I think the role of climate organizations is to make it so the public becomes angered and/or emboldened enough to be able to fight back against fossil fuel influences that politicians feel.

   If they were to start doing climate, and addressing climate properly, as they need to, then we general public, we need to be as motivated as well. We need to be as motivated as the special interests are, as the fossil fuel industry is. We need to feel like our lives are on the line, along with our livelihoods and all we've been working for.  That's very very very viscerally felt by people working directly in the fossil fuel industry but we need to feel that and then some, for anyone working in any industry, when it comes to how climate's coming to affect us.

   Will: I just finished a documentary where Roger hallum was kicked out of XR. I don't know if you saw it or not. It's called rebellion.

   Donald: Was that back during the Holocaust (German interview gone wrong) thing?

 

   Will: No, they didn't bring up the Holocaust interview thing. They did vote to throw him out. It looked like they threw him out because of the Drone action at the airport. 

   Donald: The Heathrow Pause drone action? Was that even an XR action? 

   Will: No, he did it outside of XR. He wanted it be be an XR action, though. It's all in the documentary. It's very emotional. His daughter gets up at one time and gets all upset at him. It's really kind of weird. It's called Rebellion. It's on Amazon, in the US. 

     This is a lead in for this next question. So have you been heavily influenced by Roger Hallam in your actions? How big of an influence has Roger Hallam been for you? 

   Donald: He's been at least a pretty big influence. At least that, and there's some people who I've worked with, I've been a bit nervous about how much there seems to be almost a cultish following, in terms of how much they follow Roger. They're devoted to him and everything he says. That sort of thing makes me nervous. I'm not that far. But I also don't want to work in a movement where he's not a voice and a contributor. He's very useful and good in a lot of regards.

   Will: So you guys are on a first name basis?

   Donald: I guess so, but yeah I try not to make a big deal about it. You know, stress over the fact that he's become a celebrity or whatever. He knows a lot that a lot of people don't know. He has a unique role and contribution that he brings that others don't. So there's definitely validity for a lot of the respect that he gets, for sure. I'm not a fan of the disrespect that he gets. I think he could do better on Twitter. I think he's good in person for speeches but on Twitter often not as good. He doesn't come through the same.

   Will: So flipping back to the big trial coming up, the Constitutional trial, you and Kroegeor are facing a major legal battle ahead. Have you guys thought about legal strategy at all?

   Donald: I think Kroegeor has probably thought about it more than me. The way I used to act, and I haven't fully gotten out of this, is that the actions are the ‘stars’ and legal stuff is kind of just what you do because you have to after the action. But the Tim and Joanna case, with the Degas statue, a lot of their news coverage and virality came from the legal stuff and the potential consequences and the sentencing itself etc etc. So I probably shouldn't ignore that. I also feel like I could have maybe done better with the roadblock case in Virginia. I had a good strategy for that one, I feel. I feel like it's easier to make the case there, I think. I might need to check with Just Stop Oil, to see what they usually do for their paint actions,  because this is different from blocking a road in terms of how and why. We're going to defend that it was justified. I think (Just Stop Oil) usually goes pro se. 

   If they bring it back to the climate, the jury often finds them not guilty. But I need to talk with them.

   Will: There's been a lot of examples of Civil Disobedience like the suffragettes. It reminds me how the  Liberty Bell's been rung from time to time. I was looking at the Wikipedia for it. People rung that Liberty Bell multiple times. But we're just not in a situation where just ringing a bell is going to do it. Have any major lawyers reached out to you or scientists like legal experts to help bolster your case? 

   Donald: Did they for Kroegeor, do you know? Well he was in jail, a lot, so I don't know.

   Will: It didn't sound like he'd heard anything from Steve Donziger or Peter Kalmus. Those guys, they not only have a large social media following, they're also experts in their field and respected in their field. I'm interested to know if you know if they're gonna join in? This seems like the type of action where they're going to need to step up.

   Donald: I would appreciate it if they did.

   Will: So what would you say to future protesters and people of your generation?

   Donald: Well we know that during the suffragettes era, during the Civil Rights era, and the movement to desegregate, that a lot more people we're risking what I'm risking here. Climate is at least as big as those things. We need to be just as concerned about it. We need to have a lot more people running the kind of risks that I'm taking here. That's how we convey how important the issue is. That's how we help move things along. You can argue there might be other things that need need to be done, too, but this is a part of the movement that is being very heavily neglected and very sorely neglected, right now. If we want our other things to work, we need to make sure that this part is also bigger and more active and doing more as well. So it can't just be me and a few other people. We got to keep building and then doing more. And we need to do it even if it’s just a few people, by few more people, a little at a time. That’s not as good as if it's more people, but that can still build and that can finally balloon into something.

In Solidarity, Will Regan

The Situation is Beyond Fucked. Billions of Refugees, Economic Collapse & Mass Extinction. I've led 100,000s in the world's most influential movements against this death project. Join me in resistance, while you still can.

Paul Severance, see Paul on Twitter at @pwilsev1
Leia Perreira, visit Leia on Twitter at @ENTR0PY4NGEL
Jon Tijerina, visit Jon on Twitter at @optimismofwill_

 

 

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Will Regan has been a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion in the US and Declare Emergency. He's editor in chief for the Daily Rebellion and has been arrested 4 times since taking that role.