On Protests And Line 3

By Rachel MacFarland and Roxanne Aubrey

In our north country, there has been a long-standing fight between Indigenous-led water protectors and the Canadian corporation, Enbridge, but like any fight over basic rights and principles, the story is bigger and deeper than any one company. It is the ideology of war and empire made manifest, and it is long past its expiration date. 

I should say now that there are two of us here—Roxanne and Rachel. It seems that by forming a small publishing press, we’ve become Siamese twins; our two heads are together all the time, trying to tap into the pulse of our community and our Midwestern view of the world. We argue all the time, and we agree all the time, because while we are of similar mind, we are of entirely different stock. We thought it would be interesting to play this piece something like a piano duet, because of our joint experience of a recent protest against Enbridge’s Line 3. We drove up to Minneapolis to walk across the Stone Arch Bridge that crosses the Mississippi River just south of St. Anthony Falls; the area is a sacred space of the Dakota People, and while the main fight for the protection of the Mississippi River is currently happening further north, near Palisade, Minnesota, the protest organizers are trying to get word out. Mainstream media, amongst other things, is failing them entirely. We believe part of the problem—the greater problem, the ideological problem—is how individually isolating our society has become. By showcasing our very different voices, here, we hope to illustrate the need for disparate voices to come together. We need to change our minds.  

First is Rachel’s part, then Roxanne’s, and then we’ll regroup.      

*

If you’ve not heard of Winona LaDuke, she’s an Ojibwe woman who lives on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota; a Harvard-educated economist, a writer, a farmer, an activist, a water-protector. I’ve seen her speak a few times, but my quintessential vision of her comes from the documentary film First Daughter and the Black Snake, which chronicles her pursuit to kill the oil pipelines coming down from the tar sands of Canada via the work of Enbridge, a multinational energy corporation based in Alberta, Canada. During the film, you learn but don’t see that she’s been thrown from a horse, breaking at least one hip, maybe two. She’s laid up in the hospital, knowing there’s an upcoming court date to face off with the Enbridge representatives, set for her birthday, of all days. LaDuke, right around 60-years-old, manages to attend the meeting, leaning heavy on her walker while hurling fire with her impassioned words. For me, then, she became legend, living mythology. And she has my attention. 

She recently started posting on Facebook about the need to Stop Line 3. This particular pipeline is proposed to run through the White Earth, Red Lake, and Leech Lake Reservations of northern Minnesota, under the Mississippi River (pfft, under), ending in Superior, Wisconsin. And while I am on the side of all opposition to any of these pipelines, this one hits bone. The Mississippi River is the beloved central monster of my own living mythology; already a polluted, dammed beast of Army Corps taming, and now this. 

“Stop Line 3” is polite

Palisade, Minnesota is protest headquarters, and a five-hour drive north from La Crosse. I don’t trust my car that far, which is a stupid truth stymieing the forceful urge to drop everything and go. But a few days ago, there was an “action” posted on Facebook: people would be gathering in Minneapolis to walk across the Stone Arch Bridge. They planned to walk every day, December 15 through the 19, from 2 to 3 pm. I plotted to convince Roxanne to go with me, using her car. She agreed, easy—a pleasant bonus. 

December 16 was a beautiful day—cold, but clear. On the drive, we talked about Icelandic horses and science-fiction plots. It felt good to be taking action, real action, as opposed to the nothingness of social media. I had never been to Stone Arch Bridge, and the idea of a sacred site, even one buried under colonialism, felt good. When we got to Minneapolis, I recognized the neighborhood from the towering Gold Medal Flour sign, and then Open Book, a personal mecca of lit-culture and letterpress machines. Because of the pandemic, we found parking easily, and walked to the bridge. 

No one was there. 

Jarred but undeterred, we realized we had the wrong side of the bridge, so we started walking, crossing the river above the stone ruins of the old mill, taking in the manmade cascade of St. Anthony Falls. I kept my eyes peeled, thinking we’d meet the walkers on the bridge, but no one was coming. Just your average bridge-crossers, joggers, bicyclists. I didn’t expect a massive crowd—even social media couldn’t mask the slow momentum of the Stop Line 3 protests, but I did expect a crowd. We got all the way to the bridge’s opposite side, and there stood a single woman clad all in black, holding the leash on her dog, also black. She held a cardboard sign that read, in blue bulky letters, WATER. 

This was it. This was the protest. 

Fuck. 

We approached her, and as we talked, a few more people showed up, one by one by one. We did informal introductions, learned that none of us were affiliated with any organization, just a ragtag group of people who wanted to Stop Line 3. Eventually, a petite pushy woman with green eyes over her facemask said we should walk. So we set off, our group of about 10, a few with small signs. It was a cold, Minnesota-nice blend of embarrassing and empowering, and the chanting (I couldn’t bring myself to chant), was weak at best. We stopped and talked with a few people, particularly one enthusiastic young hipster with an expensive camera and a bicycle, but mostly, we were ignored. You know that feeling of being looked through, instead of at? It was that, mostly; we were ghosts, crossing a bridge, the towering city skyline looming before us, the icy river rushing over iron, far below. 

I took a few pictures, and my camera lied to me sweetly, showing images where each of us was big as a skyscraper; it was the simultaneous necessity and trapping of Hope. I went to the protest high on momentum, and left the protest entrenched in its lag. It’s a staggering reality—how do you enact real change?   

*

I’ve been “taking it to the streets” since before the Iraq war. I stood outside the UN on a frigid February day while Colin Powell shook a vial of “anthrax” at the General Assembly. I marched with so many thousands to shut down the island of Manhattan and clog the streets of D.C. I yelled “FOX News Sucks” so loud they had to cut off their live feed. After I moved to the Midwest, I’ve had to resort to writing letters, calling congress-critters, and storming into their local offices. Hell, I even went to Standing Rock. But did any of it work? No.

We still bombed the hell out of Iraq, the pipeline still happened, and even though Trump was impeached in the house, it was absolutely pointless and little more than kabuki theater. 

Clearly, protesting does nothing. So why did I agree to drive two hours to walk over a bridge in Minneapolis in the freezing cold to protest Line 3? Because I’m outraged about Enbridge STILL being able to continue its destruction of native lands and putting our water at risk. I had to exorcise my anger somehow. But I’m still angry. Only now, not only am I angry about Line 3, I’m angry about the lack of public knowledge or interest in the issue to even show up for a one-hour walk in a city with a population of over 3 million. Ten people showed up. Maybe 12. Not a lot. And while I admire and appreciate every person who did show up, I can only shake my weary, middle-aged head.

I’ll say it again only louder this time: PROTESTING DOESN’T WORK. It merely makes you, personally, feel good for doing something. It’s one step above arm-chair activism, which is basically just signing an online petition.  

What would work? The only thing I can figure is somehow, protests need to hit them in their wallets. Collectively, we need to pull our money out of the banks that finance this crap and, more importantly, encourage/force institutional investors to withdraw funding and support from those banks as well, because just pulling our money out of the banks might be little more than pebbles in an ocean. We also need to shame the insurance companies that back these projects or make it very uncomfortable for them to continue to do so. CONCURRENTLY, we have to demand our representatives stop accepting money from corporations and lobbying groups so that when we speak, they listen to us. MOREOVER, we, as a society, need to start supporting each other, and we need to work together to create a system where we find alternatives for whatever it is corporations are trying to shove down our throats, in this case, shale oil. 

The only problem is getting any of that organized. We’re all out here struggling to make ends meet right now. Who has time to boycott Wells Fargo when food, rent, and medical care is a priority? And now you know why Congress has been sitting on their thumbs, not passing any substantial relief for Americans: Keep the proles panicked and struggling to stay alive, that way they’re too preoccupied to cause any problems. 

It’s working.

*

We’ve read these separate parts a few times now, and it becomes harder to differentiate the distinction in voices, which is interesting. Lines do blur. Roxanne’s argument that protests don’t work is only partially correct. It may not change the empire’s mind, but it has the power to change the people in attendance, because it’s a meeting space. The fact that we met ten strangers who, like us, just showed up because water protection matters to them. Good change is painfully slow, but we have to show up for it. Every. Time.  

What can you do? Well, first of all, get yourself educated. Visit stopline3.org. Get informed. Then get outraged. If you bank with any of the banks in the graphic below, stop. Pull your money out and find a bank that invests responsibly. Call your representatives and if you live in Minnesota, call your Governor. Donate to the cause if you have the means to do so. Tell all your friends and family. Upset everybody’s applecart this holiday season. 

Beyond that, we can only suggest you get yourself woke. And not just a little “I’m from Madison and I’m a liberal” woke either. We’re talking getting educated about how collectives work and how propaganda is used against, not just in foreign countries, but against us, here at home. Read about anti-colonialism, oligarchies, resource wars, and economic hit-men. Then, armed with some knowledge, start looking around your community and figure out where and how you can make a difference. Because whether you believe it or not, you can make a difference. Snowballs always start small, but if you can keep one rolling, the avalanche it turns into will alter the landscape.

Roxanne Aubrey and Rachel MacFarland are co-publishers at Ope! Publishing in La Crosse. Image credit: stopline3.org.

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