Pipeline Protest Report


The big question of the past 3 or so months is “what will you do now that you’re vaccinated?”  Well, I protested a pipeline.  And yes, this was a UU (among others) thing. 

The first weekend of June, I drove to northern Minnesota.  First, I met up with UU’s (the acronym is MUUSJA, for Minnesota UU Social Justice Alliance) and others at an interfaith camp on a lovely lake in Park Rapids.  We had meals together, and in the evening had an amazing service led by a wide variety of clergy, including Wynona LaDuke, who, after speaking to us, waded into the lake with tobacco for blessing.  Immediately following her was a Black minister with a deep voice who was moved to lead us in singing “Wade in the Water”.  There were Hindus and Buddhists and Muslims and Jews. 

The issues at hand were intersecting between environment and race.  While President Biden has stopped the Keystone XL pipeline, there are other pipelines.  Line 3 is owned by Enbridge, a Canadian oil company.  It is actually at the stage of being laid now, so it is a new threat.  It crosses Treaty Lands of the Anishinaabeg people.  When their lands were being stolen, they managed to include in their treaties that they had, in perpetuity, the rights to hunt, plant, harvest, gather and traverse those lands.  Thus “treaty lands” and “treaty people”.  The Anishinaabeg people depended on “wild” rice for sustenance.  This rice grows in marshy areas, and if a pipeline were to rupture, the toxic material would destroy the ecosystem and with it the culture of these treaty people.  As a side note, even some engineers who have been involved in surveying for this pipeline say that it is a very poor place to route it, and other routes would be more cost-effective and advantageous.  Further down the route, the pipeline goes under the Sault Ste Marie, and even though the governor of Michigan objected, this pipeline was not stopped, and if it ruptured there, it could contaminate everything downstream – including our Lake Erie, where Cleveland water comes from.  So we have a stake in this.  Line 3 is to be used to transport tar sands sludge, one of the most toxic and least efficient forms of fossil fuel.  And not for our use, but to sell to other countries.  So yes, it needs to be stopped. 

On Sunday, we had training along with others; there were about 2000 of us there.  We self-selected into red, yellow and green groups.  The reds had pretty much come with the intent to be arrested.  The greens, for a variety of reasons, did not want to be arrested.  The yellows, which I joined, didn’t particularly want to be arrested, but were in this and if arrested, well, so be it.  We had a full day of training, including legal rights and the support structure already in place.  These people know what they are doing!  As yellows, we had drill in supporting the reds and protecting the greens.  We turned in forms listing contacts, and wrote the phone number for jail support on our bodies.  And there were songs.  What’s a good protest without songs?

So the “action” was on Monday, and really amounted to chalk art on a bridge over the Mississippi River at a point where it is about 3 feet wide (some folks went down and waded).  There was a lot of walking in the hot sun, a lot of dust, and great energy.  Jane Fonda showed up.  First, the Native folks led off into the marsh and planted rice.  A bunch of reds followed them.  But there were 2 cop cars, and we did more chanting and chalk art, and none of us got arrested.

However…. there was a group of other reds who went to a different site and messed around with some equipment, and got arrested.  As the day wore on, some of the reds from our group went over there to take the places of people who were arrested.  At the point where the day wound down, about 300 people were arrested, and some were going back to the ranch to get their tents so they could stay until they could get arrested.  Yeah, some of these were UU’s. 

This is an ongoing conflict.  President Biden could stop the pipeline, but this hasn’t happened yet.  The legal support could use financial support.  Trust me, this is very well organized, and values-based.  One of the things that drew me to this action was the invitation by indigenous folks, and the emphasis on following their lead.  We allies were not there to come to the rescue.  We were there to engage as co-conspirators, and to follow the lead of those who rightfully were defending their treaty rights.  This felt authentic to me.  And aw, shucks, I didn’t get arrested.

Mary Schatzman