This week, TC Energy (formerly TransCanada) announced that they were finally terminating the Keystone XL Pipeline (KXL) project after over a decade of resistance from the Alberta tar sands to Wall Street to the White House to the Gulf Coast.
It stirs a lot of feelings and memories for me. I’ve devoted myself to climate direct action for over two decades. Half of it, I spent fighting the Keystone XL pipeline. Through my KXL journey, I was arrested sitting-in the White House, recruited tens of thousands to pledge to take action, trained thousands in direct action to disrupt Obama’s approval of the pipeline (hell, I even trained the trainers), supported the environmentalists and landowners that disrupted the construction of the southern leg of the pipeline in Texas (which got built anyway) and generally made elite politicos and Wall Street bankers miserable over it. In 2013, I discovered that TransCanada had compiled a file on me and my friends and traveled to law enforcement along the pipeline route with a PowerPoint telling them that we were terrorists. We also declared victory on KXL more than once.
But, now, it seems it’s finally over. They gave up. We know that organizing, direct action, and resistance work. This win is due to the hard work of Indigenous people up, down and around the route, Nebraska ranchers, Texas landowners, environmentalists, and crusty trouble-makers sitting in trees and chaining themselves to bank branches.
As Dallas Goldtooth from the Indigenous Environmental Network said, “the truest heroes in the victory against KXL are everyday people. Teachers, students, secretaries, singers, historians, bull riders and corn huskers.” None of this is because Obama or Biden did the right thing, it’s because we made them do it.
But even with KXL out of the way, the struggle against oil companies and Wall Street is never truly over, so we enter the fight against another tar sands pipeline-Line 3.
Line 3 will be a 337-mile pipeline that will go from the Alberta tar sands through Minnesota to Superior, WI on Lake Superior. It will carry 700,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day with a carbon footprint equal to 50 new coal-fired power plants. It’ll cross over 200 waterways including the Mississippi River at two different locations. Importantly, it violates treaties that U.S. government has made with Native Nations going back to the 1850s. In Northern Minnesota, the pipeline crosses traditional Anishinaabe and Ojibwe land and wild rice fields.
Enbridge has other pipeline troubles with the Line 5 pipeline. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered Enbridge to stop work over concerns of the impact on the Great Lakes. Enbridge has acted with impunity and, thus far, ignored the governor’s order.
Beyond the climate, environmental and treaty rights ramifications, pipeline construction also brings violence against Indigenous women, girls and relatives. Pipeline workers living in our domestic oil landscape has led to a 22% national increase against Indigenous women, girls and relatives. For example, when oil and gas operations grew in the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota so did massive violence against women, especially Indigenous women.
Governor Walz claims to have outlawed long-time centers of the problem called “man camps.” But Truthout senior editor Candice Berndt recently reported on the shocking trend of sexual violence connected to Line 3 pipeline:
“The devastating trend has long plagued U.S. fossil fuel and extraction projects, especially those adjacent to tribal reservations, and helps fuel a much larger human rights crisis in which thousands of Indigenous women and girls are killed or disappeared at shocking rates each year, often after having been trafficked, sexually assaulted or harassed.”
In the seven years since Line 3 has reared its ugly head, a large-scale grassroots movement, led by Indigenous women, including Winona LaDuke, Tara Houska, Tayshia Martineau, Nancy Beaulieu and Dawn Goodwin, has erupted to combat its construction. Like all pipeline and fossil fuel infrastructure struggles, this one has played out in the courts, the regulatory agencies, politician’s offices, the governor’s mansion, Wall Street and the airwaves of local and national media. It has been hard-fought in the streets and at the point of literal destruction in rural Minnesota for years.
In November, after the 2020 election concluded, Democratic Governor of Minnesota Tim Walz approved the permits for Line 3. Enbridge moved quickly to start construction by early December. Thousands of workers had been stationed in nearby hotels to start their work. They moved rapidly in fear of the incoming Biden administration reversing course from the Trump administration’s supportive actions.
But that’s also when disruption along the Enbridge’s route began. Since early December, we’ve seen waves of protests and direct actions regularly stopping work throughout Northern Minnesota. There are at least half a dozen active camps where actions are being staged. In December, water protectors put up a tree-sit on a construction easement near Palisade, MN to stop work for two weeks in the freezing winter. Indigenous prayer ceremonies have walked on and occupied work sites on the regular around the state. Dozens have actions have taken place and delayed and disrupted Enbridge’s rapid work schedules.
Outside of the sacrifice zone, the climate justice movement has taken the fight to the financiers of Enbridge. Groups like Stop the Money Pipeline and Rainforest Action network have tapped into the “currency of moods” with street murals, bird-dogging bank executives, flooding their homes with Stop Line 3 postcards, jamming their office phones and protests outside banks like JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citibank across the world.
There has also been the predictable violent corrupt backlash. The “Northern Lights Task Force” was formed from federal, state and local agencies to surveil, harass and stop the Stop Line 3 movement. These agencies are funded by a giant slush fund for officer overtime and new equipment by Enbridge. Police and local district attorneys consult with Enbridge executives regularly on everything from dispersal of funds, government appointments and prosecutions of activists. The task force also adopted the dehumanizing practice from Standing Rock of locking Indigenous water protectors up in dog kennels.
As the winter and spring freezes of Minnesota have ended, resistance has grown in frequency and militancy. In May, a coalition of Indigenous, local and national groups called for the “Treaty People Gathering” to bring the matter to the attention of the Biden Administration. Thousands of water protectors from around the continent traveled to the headwaters of the Mississippi River to take part in actions to stop Line 3 over this past week (June 5-8).
The gathering camped on a 40-acre property on the White Earth Reservation. Over two thousand people RSVP’d to attend, but many more than that showed up. The program was simple. We spent Saturday getting reacquainted with being around lots of people post-pandemic. Leadership held prayer ceremonies and taught us about the history of the region.
Then, we spent Sunday prepping for two mass direct actions called “peanut butter” and “jelly.” Through the training day, we had over 2000 peoples’ assess their own arrest risk levels, opt-in to either peanut butter or jelly, prepare for it and then organized our actions around those risk levels.
One was a mass public action in Clearwater County, MN at the headwaters of the Mississippi that we called “Jelly”. Enbridge is planning to drill and lay pipe under numerous bodies of water (including the Mississippi in two different locations!) The goal of Jelly was to have a public mass action led by Indigenous leaders and then enter Enbridge’s property to peacefully stop the drilling under the Mississippi. Through the training for jelly, we asked people to join green (no-low risk), yellow (medium risk) and red (high risk) blocs for the march.
Monday morning, we also organized a car caravan to go to the site from camp. Not an easy feat. But, it worked and over a thousand people ended up at the gates of Enbridge’s drill site in a militant, loud and beautiful march. Soon after, hundreds of us crossed onto Enbridge’s property. It was surrounded by an electric fence. So instead of jumping the fence, we found a path around it and moved single file through a marsh on the shores of Mississippi.
Once we occupied it, a five-day prayer ceremony began. But so did an occupation that resembled the early days of Zucotti Park. Tents went up and people dug in to stay for the long haul. Our occupation transformed this quarter-mile-long wooden boardwalk that had been built by a Canadian oil company to drill under America’s most iconic river into “Camp Firelight.” The encampment led by Ojibwe and Anishinaabe members has declared that they are staying indefinitely and have put out a call for Native and non-Native friends alike to join them.
The other action was called peanut butter. It was organized by the Giniw Collective who has been leading with the direct action strategy that disrupts Enbridge’s company business. Peanut butter put 500 people into an action swarm that overtook Enbridge’s Two Inlets pump station in Hubbard County, MN.
It was organized in the tradition of the Clamshell Alliance at the Seabrook Nuclear Plant, Earth First! during the forest wars and, more recently, the Tar Sand Blockade that fought KXL in Texas and the Red Warrior Camp at Standing Rock. It included people jumping metal fences, locking themselves to heavy equipment, taking over offices and blocking the access road with a motorboat.
At the Mississippi, Enbridge knew we were coming and cleared out all workers and equipment to avoid bad press. At the pump station, they were caught by surprise and forty workers were sent home while Enbridge security called the police.
Peanut butter was a fierce action. The police mobilized dozens of state and county riot cops to remove our friends. It lasted literally 29 hours. It shut down the pump station. The Hubbard County Sheriff and the Northern Lights task force responded with coercive force, violence and a LRAD sound machine. On the first morning, a Dept. of Homeland Security helicopter used tactics employed against migrants on the southern border to disperse protestors with low-flying dustups blasting debris and rotor fluid.
After a day of resistance, almost 200 water protectors were arrested and sent to four different county jails. Their release has been slow amid reports of police abuse and denial of basic human rights such as access to medication and legal representation.
Grassroots movements best tell our stories through relentless action. Early in the Keystone XL fight, the National Journal polled “Beltway insiders” and 90% of them said that KXL was a done deal. 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said early in the process that she was “inclined to approve” KXL if elected president.
We responded to this conventional wisdom with relentless action. We undermined the power of Big Oil and moved Obama to reject the permit based on his climate test. Through the KXL campaign, we’ve built a framework for new waves of organizing, direct action and on-the-ground resistance that has placed the climate crisis to the front doors of political and corporate leaders from the Green New Deal to climate strikes to fighting every proposed bit of fossil fuel infrastructure.
At the Treaty People Gathering, and at jelly and peanut butter, I saw many people that I had organized with, met, and trained over a decade of fighting KXL. Many of them had stepped in the way of the bulldozers, pipelines, politicians and bankers wanting the Keystone XL pipeline and said “no more.” While we had the final blow delivered this week on Keystone XL, it warmed my heart to see many of them on those lines stepping forward to stop Line 3.