In Bizarro World, Water Protectors Are Scary, Climate Change Is Not

Photo: Ginew Collective Facebook Page

This morning, one person was arrested at Enbridge’s headquarters in Superior, Wisc., an action timed to protest Enbridge’s annual shareholder meeting in Calgary where the company no doubt was praising its proposed new Line 3 project. The water protector was suspended from a tripod and hung there until the local Fire Department came and brought him down.

It was part of an ongoing protest against the Line 3 tar sands crude oil pipeline. It would cross 340 miles of northern Minnesota, ultimately connecting to a terminal in Superior. Line 3 would cross more than 200 Minnesota water bodies (including the Mississippi headwaters), threaten treaty rights and create as much climate damage as approving 50 new coal-fired energy plants.

Today’s action offers a small metaphor for how distorted the public thinking has become on these issues. Somehow Anthony Graham (Chumash), the person suspended from the tripod, was seen as the threat requiring a heavy police response instead of the much more dangerous pipeline.

“I stand in solidarity with my relatives up north and across Turtle Island,” Graham said in a media release from the Ginew Collective. “This is for the future. We have to be brave and fight. The oil industry is trying to grow when we know climate change is killing us. No more tar sands.”

Here’s an update on today’s actions and reflections on what is and is not a threat.

Police responded to informal gathering of water protectors in the plaza (across the street).

People from MN350 and other groups opposing Line 3 drove to Duluth/Superior this morning to stand in solidarity with members of the Ginew Collective, an indigenous women led group opposing the pipeline. Approximately 30 of us met Ginew members in a plaza in downtown Duluth.

Three police cars and six officers already were there when we arrived.

We were mingling and talking to each other. No chants. No bull horns. Several of the indigenous water protectors wore face coverings, scarves and masks.

Several officers approached. One, who identified himself as Mike, informed the indigenous people that face coverings were illegal and must be removed for their own safety. Mike cited Minnesota Statute 609.735 which reads:

Police ordered water protectors to remove any face coverings.

A person whose identity is concealed by the person in a public place by means of a robe, mask, or other disguise, unless based on religious beliefs, or incidental to amusement, entertainment, protection from weather, or medical treatment, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Comment: We were near Enbridge’s Duluth office, and perhaps the police thought we were going to walk over and lock ourselves to its front door. But honestly, it didn’t feel like our safety was their primary concern. There was no polite chit chat that I heard. They were letting us know who was in charge.

We held a brief protest on highway right of way near where Enbridge is doing some pipeline work.
Law enforcement showed up in force to watch us.

Our group left the plaza, went briefly to Superior, then drove to part of the pipeline corridor south of Cloquet where Enbridge was working on its Line 4 pipeline. It was right next to where the new Line 3 would get built.

Our group had grown to 40 or 50 people. We stood on the highway right of way with our signs, letting passing motorists know our opposition.

We held a brief ceremony. Jim Northrup, a Fond du Lac member, said “All we are trying to do is live …. saying our prayers and trying to survive.”

Tara Houska of the Ginew Collective said: “We are looking at something shameful — the expansion of the tar sands industry.”

During the action, a string of trucks hauling pipelines drove past.

Police showed up again. I counted eight squad cars, one from the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office, a State Trooper’s car and at least six unmarked vehicles that had police lights. The officers did not approach us or ask questions. They took pictures of us. We took pictures of them.

It’s worth noting that the Minnesota Senate passed legislation April 29 that — if signed into law — would create a new felony for those who trespass on property where a pipeline is being built. The language was attached as an amendment to the Omnibus Jobs and Economic Development Bill.

Current law makes it a gross misdemeanor for people who trespass on pipeline property and refuse to leave when asked. The amendment makes it a felony for someone who trespasses on pipeline property — or property where a new pipeline is being built — with the intent to disrupt operations. The proposed penalties for such trespass are imprisonment for up to five years, a fine up to $10,000, or both.

Were that law in effect, we would have been standing a few feet away from a felony trespass charge.

Comment: This is an absurd punishment, truly out of balance with fairness.

Consider this. In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline spilled more than 1 million gallons of crude oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. The leak wasn’t stopped for 17 hours. Clean up costs exceeded $1.2 billion. Anyone imprisoned? No. In 2017, Enbridge acknowledged it withheld information from regulators for three years about damage to the protective coating of a pipeline that runs along the floor of the Great Lakes. Anyone imprisoned? No.

Yet Enbridge and its political supporters think its fitting to lock people up for up to five years for trespassing on pipeline property.

Graham, the water protector who was suspended from a tripod in front of Enbridge’s offices in Superior, will end up doing more jail time than any Enbridge official, when Enbridge is responsible for far more damage.

This kind of thinking is only possible by demonizing water protectors and creating the belief that they are dangerous. This spin serves a double purpose for industry; it diverts people’s attention from the real danger: The pipelines themselves.

Here’s a classic example from the Detroit Free Press, which ran a March 9 story with the headline: Pipeline companies say activist ‘valve turners’ a public danger. (Valve turners are people who shut off pipelines temporarily in an effort to draw attention to the climate threats they pose.) Valve turners are not a public danger. Quite the opposite. They are putting their freedom on the line to try to save the world.

One thought on “In Bizarro World, Water Protectors Are Scary, Climate Change Is Not

  1. Thank you for putting it so starkly and clearly – how distorted our current system is when people can be incarcerated for simply being on pipeline property, when no incarceration results from incalculable damage to our environment. Let’s be clear that “clean up” never reverses the damage to our waters, especially with tar sands oil which sinks. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We want our clean, pristine waters, so all can thrive. When do we want it – forever.


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