Avram Friedman, executive director of the Canary Coalition, is not afraid to put his money (whatever fine he may have to pay for trespassing) and time (eight hours in Mecklenburg County jail) where his mouth is. According to Associated Press accounts, Avram was the first person arrested at an April 20 Charlotte protest at Duke Energy headquarters.

Protesters were there in opposition to Cliffside, Duke’s newest and grandest monument dedicated to King Coal, proposed (actually 30 percent completed) in Rutherford County.

Forty-three other brave souls joined Avram in this much-needed exhibition of civil disobedience. From AP reports, it looks like Avram’s relatively young legs – he’s 59 – allowed him to nose out 86-year-old Betty Robinson (you go granny!) at the arrest-me line.

Regular readers of this column may know that Avram and I have, at this point in time, differing opinions about the efficacy and environmental tradeoffs associated with large-scale wind farms on the ridges of Southern Appalachia. But I have never, and will never, question Avram’s integrity and motivation as he fights for clean air. I consider Avram a friend and colleague in the struggle for a cleaner environment.

Avram and I are contemporaries and were “coming of age” in the 60s when the power of public opinion and civil disobedience was showing its muscle. The hero of the day was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The hero of the past was Mahatma Gandhi. And the counter-culture hero was Abbie Hoffman. There were some fringe groups, but the mainstream movement was huge and it was civil. What is needed today is a real public wake up call. The public — loud and large and civil — is the only “body politic” with the power and moral authority to change the status quo, to implement a paradigm that says public health and well being and the fate of the planet are more important than the bottom line.

Sure, Duke and other corporate polluters — and there are many across the country, Duke is just the big dog on our home court — will try to play the “jobs” card. They will shout that the mean “environmental whackos” want to take away the “average man’s” paycheck. Well, I am the average man and I work shoulder to shoulder for 12 hours a night with other average men and women, and if you asked any one of them what’s more important — this job or the health and well being of your children — you will find out fast where you can put “this job.”

As long as the powers that be at Duke and its corporate brethren think they can paint a line on the ground and sit in their corporate towers and be shielded from taking the responsibility of explaining to you and me how emitting six million tons of carbon dioxide into the environment every year for the next 50 years is in the best interest of my daughters and your sons, well, they’ve got a lot to learn about the average man.

I want to thank Avram and his 43 courageous, convicted compatriots for reminding us that spray paint on the ground is simply spray paint on the ground, and if anyone should be in control of the best interest of our children it is their parents.

Maybe next protest there will be 444 arrests and 4,444 after that ….