From The Guardian
The oil industry is building yet another pipeline -- but Native American groups and progressive activists are fighting back
American democracy appears to have had at least a little success this week: steadily mounting pressure -- including everything from marches to tweets to phone calls to Congress -- seems to have convinced President Trump that his approval ratings were in danger unless he back-pedaled on his administration's abusive immigration policies on the US-Mexican border. So now we have an executive order allowing children to be stored in cages alongside their parents -- an admittedly mixed victory, but at least Trump was forced to retreat. And now we have a motivated army of progressive Americans ready to keep on fighting.
We'll need them, because another fierce political battle is about to boil over - this time on the US's northern border, with Canada. Local citizens there are mobilizing against another controversial project to pump oil from the Canadian "tar sands" to the US. Like the infamous Keystone pipeline through Nebraska or the Kinder Morgan pipeline through British Columbia, this pipeline -- known by the innocuous name "Line 3" -- has roused grassroots resistance from local citizens concerned about the project's environmental and cultural impact.
The coalition of citizen groups opposed to the massive pipeline has done its homework. Activists have studied the issue closely, producing evidence that, as usual with such a project, it will create next to no permanent jobs in the Minnesota area where the pipeline will run. They've detailed the enormous financial cost that an oil spill will exact. And they've calculated how much climate-wrecking carbon Line 3 will carry: the equivalent of about 50 coal-fired power plants.
But the beauty of the fight goes beyond this picture of citizens in action. Because indigenous groups along the pipeline route -- the very people on whose backs the American republic was unwillingly planted, and who have had essentially no voice in the country's decisions -- are playing a key role in the leadership of the anti-pipeline movement.
Not only have several tribal nations officially intervened in the case, sending lawyers to battle the pipeline, but tribal members have shown up by the hundreds to public hearings. Winona LaDuke, a veteran Native American activist and remarkable orator, has led a series of horseback rides along the pipeline route. Last year a group of Native youth organized a 250-mile "Paddle to Protect" canoe protest along the Mississippi River, which will be crossed twice by Line 3.
If you want to hear what the resistance sounds like, "No Line 3" by Native rapper Thomas X is a good place to start; if you want to get a literal taste of it, Native women have routinely brought traditional breakfasts like frybread with blueberry sauce to the various public hearings over the project, sharing the food with everyone right down to the pipeline lawyers. (If you'd like you can also order some wild rice from LaDuke's Honor the Earth, one of the premier indigenous environmental organizations on the continent.)
If you thought the earlier Standing Rock pipeline protests were a one-time demonstration of indigenous power, you were mistaken. On both sides of the border, North America's First Nations are standing up to remind the rest of us how badly we've abused the land we took.
All of this organizing and activism seems to be working; this winter an administrative law judge recommended against granting the Enbridge corporation the route it wanted for the pipeline. Minnesota's Department of Commerce, after a long analysis, found that the state had no need of another pipeline. 68,000 Minnesotans have presented the Public Utilities Commission with arguments against the pipeline, compared with 3,000 in favor.
But in a nation where corporate power usually holds sway, all that may not be enough. Oil companies play rough, from high-level politics down to the silliest street level: on the first day of a recent series of public hearings, mysterious youth in "Minnesotans for Line 3" t-shirts flooded the line for seats in the hearing -- only to disappear with their tickets, reducing the number of citizens who could get inside to voice opposition to the pipeline.
In a rational world, anti-pipeline activism wouldn't be necessary. Any leader would take a look at a proposal to build a pipeline to carry dirty oil for the next half century and say, "On what planet? Not this one, because it's overheating."
But on a rational planet no leader would look at a toddler and say, "Put him in a chain-link cage." In the long run, the forces of reason usually win the argument -- but they have to win the fight as well. Fortunately, the activists in Minnesota show every sign of having what it takes.
Bill McKibben is the author of a dozen books, including The End of Nature and Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. A former staff writer for The New Yorker, he writes regularly for Harper's, The Atlantic Monthly, and The (more...