Tar Sands Resistance March – What democracy looks like

The Indigenous Bloc Leads the March - Photo by Tom Thompson

The Indigenous Bloc Leads the March – Photo by Tom Thompson

By Danette Knickmeier

On June 6, I spent the day with 5,000 of my brothers and sisters. They were young. They were old. Some came from as far away as Texas. Some came from my hometown of Madison, WI. Many came from my current home of Minnesota. Each had their own reason for being there, but all came for one purpose – to keep toxic tar sands out of the Midwest.

I didn’t know what to expect as I pedaled on my bike along the Mississippi River from Minneapolis toward downtown St. Paul. I couldn’t see much when I arrived – just a small group of people enjoying a dance performed by the Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli dancers. As I moved past this group, I saw what had to be at least a quarter mile of people lined up on the sidewalk, all holding signs representing their group and their cause, all buzzing with excitement while they waited to start their march. I felt proud to be a part of this. I couldn’t wait to start marching.

I’m not a person who likes conflict, so when our massive group started crossing Shepard Road to head toward the capitol and motorists were forced to wait until everyone passed, their honking horns and visible annoyance made me uncomfortable. I thought we should hurry so they could be on their way. But then I remembered why I was there – to instill change – and change doesn’t come without conflict or inconvenience.

As we walked to the capitol, I watched the people watching us. Some with cameras, some cheering, some probably wondering what tar sands are, and one woman on the 8th floor of an apartment building holding a sign she had clearly written in haste as she saw the group go by. The sign simply said “Thank you,” and it made me smile.

What also made me smile were the volunteers who manned the bullhorns. They kept the energy going by leading a creative collection of chants. My favorite was a young, lanky, fully bearded guy, dressed in black from head to toe, wearing oversized aviator glasses. He was a total badass, and worked that bullhorn like a soldier heading into combat. Part of his chant was “they say SHUT UP and we say RISE UP.” It doesn’t get much better than that.

IEN Executive Director Tom Goldtooth & Sierra Club President Aaron Mair - Photo by David Howd

Tom Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network Executive Director, and Aaron Mair, Sierra Club President – Photo by David Howd

I’ve attended various environmental rallies in the past, but this was by far the biggest one. The roster of speakers and entertainers was impressive and energizing.

Yet the speakers who struck me most were those who told personal stories – like the story of a Michigan kid fighting liver cancer after swimming in water that Enbridge said was safe not long after the largest onshore oil spill in history, the devastating tar sands spill in the Kalamazoo River in July 2010, or the First Nations in northern Alberta whose treaties are being ignored and rights are being violated so oil can be extracted from their land. These stories will stick with me for a long time.

Minnesotans and our neighbors and friends stood more than 5,000 strong against the expansion of tar sands, including the Alberta Clipper pipeline and the illegal scheme that is circumventing the Obama Administration’s permit process. This scheme is giving Enbridge a free pass and allowing an increase of tar sands across the border in the Great Lakes region. We need our elected leaders to call for a full environmental review of the tar sands pipeline expansion in order to protect land, water, climate and tribal rights.

Before today, I was against tar sands because of what it does to our environment—and I still am. But now I have even more reasons to be against it. The lives of innocent people are certainly not worth the price of feeding our oil addiction and lining the pockets of executives. Our elected officials need to stop this nonsense by siding with clean energy providers instead of companies who want to keep digging for tar sands – the dirtiest oil on the planet.

I’m lucky to have been part of such an incredible event. I look forward to continuing the pressure against the expansion of tar sands coming through our state, and live the message of another of my favorite chants, “Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like!”

Get involved! The North Star Chapter’s Beyond Oil & Tar Sands Committee advocates for a clean energy future that is free of oil pipelines, trains and fossil fuel transportation through the state of Minnesota. Contact Co-Chair terry.houle@northstar.sierraclub.org for more info.

Danette Knickmeier is a volunteer with the North Star Chapter Communications Team.

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