As some of you knew, I participated in a direct action in downtown Bemidji on August 29 this past summer. We blocked an intersection for several hours and ended up being cited for disorderly conduct after refusing to disperse. The event was only the third civil disobedience direct action that Sierra Club has supported in its 120+ year history. The first two civil disobedience actions were in Washington, D.C., one in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and a second regarding voting rights. This third action was requested by local SC Ex Comm member, Marty Cobenais, and, after much deliberation and planning, Sierra Club agreed to support it. Bemidji would be the first trial of a civil disobedience outside D.C.
One of the main reasons we got a “Yes” from Sierra Club is because of the tremendous strength of the local Line 3 opposition movement. While most Minnesotans may have heard of Enbridge’s Line 3 Replacement project, via articles in the news or coverage on FB, it still amazes me how little many know about this project and the devastating effects it would have on our state, our people, our environment, and our wildlife. In this area, there are many of us who have been protecting the water for some time and watching closely as this Enbridge proposal processes through our legal and political systems. The sad part is how many of our neighbors we know would oppose it if the facts about this line were clearly presented. And the most difficult thing for me of late is how few have answered the call for support in light of the grave danger this line poses, not just for Minnesota, but for the entire planet. I don’t know if Governor Dayton will realize the enormity of the problem if there are only a couple dozen of us holding signs and banners telling him to stop the project.
- Did you know that the Alberta Tar Sands are the largest source of air pollution in North America?
- Did you know that Enbridge’s preferred route will require their new Line 3 pipeline to cross under the Mississippi not once, but twice?
- Did you know their corridor easement for this new pipeline is not 50-70’ as for most new pipelines, but 220’? [This is because it’s not just planned as a “replacement” pipeline but is in fact where they plan to move all their pipelines once the leases run out on their pipelines running through Reservation lands.]
So on August 29th, about 100 people joined forces to chant and speak and hold an intersection while we livestreamed into Governor Dayton’s office asking him to stop this Tar Sands pipeline project. Loren Blackburn, President of Sierra Club wrote a nice piece after participating in this event.
There were people in the Governor’s office, assuring the live stream was being seen. There were people holding signs and banners around the intersection in Bemidji. There were police liaisons and marshalls and support people assuring that we could hold the intersection with our presence. And there were 26 of us who ended up being cited and had to appear in court to plead our case last Friday.
The FB Event MN Neighbors Protecting MN Waters was meant to bring out supporters for the Resistance to Line 3. This 11/2 event consisted of an update on where we are in the fight to Stop Line 3, lunch and socializing, a press conference on why we took direct action, and our first appearance in court defending ourselves on the charges from 8/29/18. Optimist I am, I hoped for a couple hundred people standing alongside us showing Governor Dayton that we have big numbers supporting the StopLine3 effort. I was very happy for those who did come out, even if it was less than 10% of my anticipated presence.
We had local friends Ron and Dawn Sjostrand. Even though she has difficulty leaving the house for long these days, he pushed her in a wheelchair all the way to the courthouse! And they both were on stage behind our press conference speakers as they expressed why they’d done the direct action. Nerd got there after we finished court but we were excited to have her join us for the celebration at Rail River Folk School. Sharon from Bemidji, Sarah and Finn, family members, and a handful of others cheered us on as we headed to court. We even got some cars honking support as we walked with our banners and signs.
At the press conference, Margaret Levin, Sierra Club North Star Chapter Director, gave the welcome and reviewed the goals we had in taking our direct action: highlighting risks; calling on Governor Dayton to act; assuring the stories of what motivated us are heard. She introduced Dawn Goodwin, Anishinaabe from White Earth and expert witness at the PUC hearings on Line 3, who was granted permission to speak on behalf of her people. She explained how the Treaty Rights were not given to the Indigenous by the colonists, they were allowed by the Natives to the settlers. In order for these rights to be honored we must assure clean water and a healthy ecosystem. She explained the serious danger the Tar Sands would bring. Akilah Sanders-Reed, Youth Climate Intervenor, was the next speaker. She focused on how the system failed them as they presented data, scientific experts, elders, and more but were simply dismissed by the Public Utility Commissioners. The PUC failed the public but young people will not abide this failure. They are taking the PUC to court!
My fried, Doug Rasch of Horsehill Gardens in Clearbrook explained the diversity of our group. While claims were made by politicians that the protesters were out of state elements and Natives, he confirmed that there were 2 of 26 from out of state (I believe one of them was a Native Minnesotan), 12 were from the Cities, and 12 were local. Of our group, only 8 were Native. And then he explained how a pipeline is built. Specifically the process of clearing the land to be able to dig a pipeline. He explained how Enbridge’s easement of 220’ is far in excess of what was needed to run another pipeline 10 years ago in this area. In wetlands, all the brush is stripped from the surface and ground into the dirt to freeze the ground hard. All the Black Ash, all the White Ash, all the Willows, all the Red-stemmed Dogwoods, all the Cattails. And for all the wildlife in the area, the frogs, the turtles, all the wildlife, this terminates their hibernation. In the uplands, forests of Spruce, Balsam Fir, Sugar Maples, and Basswood are ground to nothing as Enbridge prepares to install their pipeline. Doug explained how the way people feed themselves, how they earn and spend money, and how they obtain energy has resulted in the loss of 60% of our wildlife. And he stressed that all Enbridge can say about their pipeline is that it is “safe” and they have to say this because it’s implicitly dangerous. Scott Russell, Co-Chair, Beyond Oil and Tar Sands Committee, Sierra Club North Star Chapter shared about how we have played by the PUC rules and have been disappointed. Enbridge could not prove a need for Line 3 but the PUC ignored the Department of Commerce. Science experts were ignored by the PUC in making their decisions. They ignored the Administrative Law Judge and Treaty Law and Indigenous Rights. He stands today with his MN Neighbors standing together against a PUC decision that ignored our input to the process. [You should check out his blog Healing Minnesota Stories…] And Tom Schmidt, Bemidji area Interfaith Minister, wrapped us up with a message on how Faith Looks Forward. He spoke of how Line 3 serves the past and gives no benefit to Minnesota. Investment in the future that our youth deserve must happen now. Faith calls us forward to renewables, which are already the second largest form of our energy at 25%. Climate change requires mitigation and that means we need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground and build an energy infrastructure that supports the future of Minnesotans.
We enjoyed a few more rays of sunshine as we made our way into the courthouse for our appearance. There was an extremely high population of deputies at the entrance. We each filed through the metal detector at the entrance, squeezing more people into the entry as we could, and eventually made our way to the courtroom lobby. When they opened the doors for the 2 o’clock appearances, we filed in and filled the rows.
I was late in the group coming into the courtroom and found most of the first and second rows full. Andy Pearson was sitting on the open end in row 2 and I went to sit next to him. As I was sitting, I realized I was sitting next to him as the Valve Turners were acquitted and I said, “Well, the last time I sat by you in court turned out pretty good…”
Judge John Melbye came in and quickly got to work. He confirmed that Frank Bibeau was representing 17 of our group (we had 22 of 26 present ~ several took a Rule 15 to make a plea without appearance via the attorney.) He would deal with Frank’s clients first and then the remaining half dozen of us. I hadn’t resolved to be represented by Bibeau. In fact, I was still arguing in my head as to whether I was going to plead guilty or not guilty.
You see, the county attorney was currently prosecuting City of Bemidji cases on their behalf, including this one, but the contract for that work will end 12/31/18. SO… this would push any “not guilty” cases today to the City docket and, with all the other cases that may be coming their way as this contract ends, they could decide to simply dismiss it. That’s what I wanted to try to accomplish – a dismissal.
So our appearances started with Chelsea DeArmond who plead guilty and made a short statement about being proud to stand in civil disobedience with this group of people today. The punishment for the charge against her was read by the county prosecutor as, “$150 fine and a 1-month stay of adjudication”. When Frank asked him to clarify if he’d heard correctly, the prosecutor said, “One year, not one month”. Frank and the judge both assured him that he had said one “month” and then the judge told him that, in this case, he felt a 6-month stay would be more appropriate. Whoo-hoo! It’s getting better already!! That’s a big reduction in our sentence! One of my fears with pleading guilty was that I’d have to not support protests for a whole year! I was really hoping for a not guilty plea resulting in the dismissal by the City, leaving me free of punishment and restriction.
The next defendant was Dawn Goodwin who pleaded not guilty. She was given a new court date of 1/25/19 – but all I heard was the judge offering 11/30/18 as he thought he would schedule any second appearances 4 weeks out from today… which would kill my strategy in pleading not guilty. I’d still be on the County docket. So I basically decided at that point that I’d plead guilty. Even though Doug was sitting right next to me teasing that a real activist response would be to plead not guilty – just to fuck with the system. 🙂
A few more people plead guilty and made statements. The judge had already acknowledged that what we were doing was civil disobedience and that he appreciated our efforts being respectful and controlled during our day of action. But after Brian PaStarr gave his statement to the judge for why he’d joined the action that day, the judge asked the room, “Is everybody still here? Is everyone who has been charged today still in the courtroom?” The room assured him we all were still present. He then agreed that our group was so socially active in our communities that, in lieu of payment for our fines today, he would accept community service hours as payment. The response from our crowd was appreciative disbelief. This was making a guilty plea look even better.
Once Frank’s clients were completed, Nancy Beaulieu was up. She too pleaded not guilty and when I heard the judge say her next court date would be 1/25/19, I was like, “I COULD plead not guilty too! There’s still a possibility for dismissal!” But I was up next so I had to decide quickly. I struggled with this plea decision until the point at which the judge asked me how I would plead. I literally said, “I’m not sure how I should plead but think I want to plead guilty.” And he said (smiling), “Well, you need to be sure.” 🙂 He was really lovely. He’d just admonished me for nodding in answer to his question on knowing my rights noting that the record can’t hear that kind of answer. 🙂
So I took the deal. And I did so in part because I really admired this judge for his leniency and his appreciation of us. I told him I didn’t think I could ever hope for a better day in court. In fact, I don’t know that any other group has ever had such a lovely day in court!!
I then read this statement, struggling with tears as I did:
I stood in that intersection to defend the water, the plants, the animals, my grandchildren yet to be born – all those who cannot speak for themselves.
I stood as an act of civil disobedience, an idea which has allowed protection for the weak from the strong and powerful throughout our country’s history from the Boston Tea Party to Women’s Suffrage to Civil Rights.
I knew there would be little risk for public harm as the police knew we were coming.
I knew we were representing tens of thousands of our fellow citizens who wrote in opposition to Line 3. Anti-Line 3 comments outnumbered pro-pipeline comments 17:1. The Department of Commerce, Department of Natural Resources, and Pollution Control Agency have all opposed the project. Yet just last week, the PUC gave approval for the Route Permit, even with conditions around the Certificate of Need not yet being resolved. It is clear that our system of governance is not working to protect Minnesota’s people and environment.
I watched the PUC hearings as the Youth Climate Intervenors were given patronizing treatment in their very serious pursuit of justice for their generation. I watched as the Tribes were teased with questions about which route they would prefer and then tortured with a decision by the PUC selecting the absolute worst, Enbridge’s preferred route that would create a new 200’ wide scar, hundreds of miles long, through our state.
It is clear we are running out of time to address climate change. Our stand in Bemidji was a small piece in the larger puzzle of what we need to do as a society to fight for our very continued existence. I am hopeful that the court will show mercy in its verdict of my behavior. It would seem the fair thing, the just thing, in light of all we are facing as a civilization.
I believe it was at this moment that the judge turned to the room and explained that he wanted to thank us for making this such a pleasant day. He said that the courtroom is not typically a fun place to be. He deals with divorce and criminals and people who find themselves in hard circumstances. The only happy days are the Adoption Days. But this day was really enjoyable for him and he thanked us for making it so.
We wrapped up the last few defendants and the judge prepared to end our day together. He’d earlier mentioned that they were concerned they would be faced with an angry mob. So as he closed court for the day, I reminded him to spread the word about who we are. I’m pretty sure he’ll be sharing about how “Minnesota Nice” we Water Protectors are. [Especially if all those us who pledged to get a card in the mail to him…]
Our press conference was important for us as participants and I hope it brings recognition to the dangers of a Tar Sands pipeline, the importance of Treaty Rights, the injustice of the PUC process, and the solidarity of this diverse group. However, I believe that the best part of our November 2nd day in that Bemidji courtroom was in our respectful treatment of the officers, the court, the judge, and the process. We made clear that we are citizens who are standing for our children, our environment, our clean water, our treaties, our faith. We showed that Water Protectors are good people, kind people, civic minded people. Thanks much to Ellen Hadley for her Livestreaming of our success that day (and for her coverage of so many of the Water Protector events statewide).
I’m grateful for the judge’s leniency and happy to report that, as of this morning, I already have 2 hours of community service under my belt for entering some tabling data for Bimi’ji 350 from the BSU Pow Wow event (my first!!). Only 15 more hours to go!
My only disappointment for the day was in not having more support. I try to comfort myself with an understanding that all who were supposed to be there were. I know a Friday afternoon isn’t great timing. I’m sure most had better things to do that hang out to watch a press conference or witness to our day in court. But I have to wonder to myself… if the Governor doesn’t see a large crowd supporting him in opposing Line 3, why would we think he’d have a reason to heed our request to stop it? If you’d like to tell Governor Dayton you don’t want Line 3, you can do so right here.
And I thank you for your support.