Pipe­line protest prom­ises to gal­va­nize ac­tivism

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

US vet­er­ans, thou­sands of whom last week helped stop a con­tested oil pipe­line run­ning through North Dakota, could be­come im­por­tant part­ners of ac­tivists on the en­vi­ron­ment, the econ­omy, race and other is­sues that di­vide Amer­i­cans. Sev­eral aca­demics said the ef­fort to sup­port the Stand­ing Rock Sioux tribe and others op­posed to the pipe­line project was likely the big­gest gath­er­ing of its kind of for­mer mil­i­tary per­son­nel since the early 1970s when US vet­er­ans marched against the Viet­nam War.

That so many vet­er­ans mo­bi­lized in less than two weeks to ru­ral North Dakota speaks to the power they may have on pub­lic opin­ion, be­cause of their sta­tus as hav­ing put their lives on the line for their coun­try, vet­er­ans and aca­demics said. “The sense that vets are dis­tinc­tively Amer­i­can fig­ures, re­gard­less of po­lit­i­cal be­liefs, al­ways seems to have cur­rency, even when they are work­ing on dif­fer­ent sides of an issue,” said Stephen Or­tiz, a his­tory pro­fes­sor at the State Univer­sity of Bing­ham­ton in New York.

Many vet­er­ans who went to Can­non Ball, North Dakota, to join the months-long protests by Na­tive Amer­i­cans and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists against the 1,885-km Dakota Ac­cess Pipe­line, said they were al­ready look­ing for their next issue to sup­port. “Mil­i­tar­ily-trained sol­diers have now dis­cerned, on their own, a gen­uine, just cause for which to pro­mote and de­fend, and this time without be­ing un­der or­ders to do so,” said Brian Will­son, whose 2011 mem­oir “Blood on the Tracks: The Life and Times of S Brian Will­son”, de­scribed how af­ter serv­ing in the Viet­nam War, he be­came a non-vi­o­lent pro­tester for so­cial change in the United States.

Law en­force­ment tac­tics, par­tic­u­larly the use of water cannons, against the pro­test­ers had been con­sid­ered ex­treme by some. Vet­er­ans said in in­ter­views they felt gal­va­nized to act as a hu­man shield, pro­vid­ing a respite for those who had been at the protest camp for months. The pipe­line owned by Texas-based En­ergy Trans­fer Part­ners LP, is routed ad­ja­cent to the Stand­ing Rock Sioux’s reser­va­tion. Pro­test­ers have said the $3.8 bil­lion project could con­tam­i­nate the water sup­ply and dam­age sa­cred tribal lands. The vet­er­ans at Stand­ing Rock were led by for­mer Marine Michael Wood Jr and Army vet­eran Wes Clark Jr, son of re­tired US gen­eral Wes­ley Clark, for­mer com­man­der of NATO. The group raised $1.1 mil­lion through on­line crowd­fund­ing to help trans­port, house and feed vet­er­ans at the camp. Bat­tle re­sumes with Trump pres­i­dency On Sunday, the US Army Corps of En­gi­neers said it turned down a per­mit for the pipe­line’s com­ple­tion, hand­ing a vic­tory to the pro­test­ers. But the saga will not end there. Repub­li­can Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump has said he wants the pipe­line built; his team said he would re­view the de­ci­sion when he takes of­fice. Even though the fight is not over in North Dakota, some see this as a way for­ward on other is­sues.

“There’s a lot of these pipe­lines be­ing built around the county. Flint (Michi­gan) has a water cri­sis. So we’re go­ing to see if we can keep this move­ment go­ing and re­ally change some things in Amer­ica,” said Matthew Crane, 32, from Buf­falo, New York, who served in the US Navy from 2002 to 2006. Clark’s group, called Vet­er­ans Stand With Stand­ing Rock (VSSR), asked for 2,000 vol­un­teers but said twice as many ar­rived. Com­ments on the VSSR Face­book page crit­i­cized Clark for a lack of plan­ning and for not hav­ing con­tin­gen­cies in place for North Dakota’s harsh win­ters.

As a bliz­zard blew in on Mon­day, many hun­kered down at the main protest camp. Hun­dreds more slept in the pavil­ion of the Prairie Knights Casino in Fort Yates, roughly 10 miles away on the Stand­ing Rock reser­va­tion. Clark, who him­self was snowed-in at the casino, said in a Face­book video posted Wed­nes­day night that the re­sponse meant “a huge tax on the sup­ply chain and on ac­com­mo­da­tions.”

Ask­ing for­give­ness

As part of their jour­ney to North Dakota, many vet­er­ans asked for­give­ness in two cer­e­monies for what they con­sid­ered crimes and mis­treat­ment of Na­tive Amer­i­cans by the US gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary over the past 150 years. One cer­e­mony took place Mon­day on Back­wa­ter Bridge near the camp, the site of two heated con­fronta­tions with law en­force­ment ear­lier this fall. Thou­sands of vet­er­ans and tribal mem­bers prayed, emot­ing war cries on the bridge’s south­ern cusp.

One vet­eran, wear­ing a flak jacket and a Vet­er­ans for Peace flag, yelled to the crowd from atop a horse. “We didn’t serve this coun­try to see our broth­ers and sis­ters here per­se­cuted,” said the man, whose name was in­audi­ble in the fury of the ar­riv­ing bliz­zard. “Are we not all hu­man?” Some vet­er­ans said they planned to re­main in North Dakota, un­will­ing to trust that En­ergy Trans­fer Part­ners would abide by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion. Most had left by Wed­nes­day, how­ever, said Heather O’Malley, a US Army vet­eran who mon­i­tored news for the group. She said it was un­clear if they would re­turn to the area in Jan­uary if needed.

Clark and others said this was a way for vet­er­ans to ad­dress other ef­forts around the coun­try. “This is a small bat­tle­ground in a larger war that is de­vel­op­ing in our coun­try that has to do with race, the econ­omy and the pow­ers that be tak­ing ad­van­tage of those who re­ally don’t have a voice,” said An­thony Murtha, 29, from Detroit, who served in the US Navy from 2009 to 2013. — Reuters

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