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Ways of Seeing: Seeing evil, good in pipeline battle

Why do we love stories of epic battles, good versus evil, Harry Potter and Dumbledore’s Army against Lord Voldemort? Is it because, in the realm of fiction and fantasy, things seem more clear cut, simpler, and it’s easier to tell which ones are the “good guys?”
Out here in the real world, everything seems much murkier. Sure, we know that the pipeline bringing fracked gas into Vermont is probably bad for the environment, but many of our friends and neighbors, small business owners and local job creators, want natural gas because it will cut their operating expenses.
You can count me as one of millions who, in the recent election, was seriously confused. An ardent Bernie supporter, I had a hard time getting over Hillary Clinton’s support for the Iraq war, and her support for military endeavors in general. I hated the way she had referred to Black youth as “super predators,” and the explosion of the prison industrial complex under the Clinton administration.
And yet, after reading scores of articles by journalists, friends, activists, professors and other people much smarter than I am, by November I had become an enthusiastic Hillary supporter, eager beyond words to welcome our first woman president. But what about that hawkishness, those Goldman-Sachs speeches, that silence on the Keystone XL pipeline? Well, in a word, “It’s complicated.” This system of American democracy is seriously flawed, but it’s the system we have, and one of two people was going to be president. And one of those people has a lot of supporters who are Death Eaters, if you’ll forgive my return to the world of Harry Potter.
But in spite of the muddiness of this complicated modern geopolitical system we all inhabit, sometimes it is really clear what is good and what is evil. One of these epic battles is happening in the heartland of our country right now, and I cannot stop thinking about it.
Evil: a multibillion dollar corporation is building a pipeline to transport crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to the oil tank farm in Patoka, Ill. The pipeline, over a thousand miles in length, was originally planned to carry oil through Bismarck, N.D. That plan was scrapped when the 90 percent white population of Bismarck objected to the threat the pipeline posed to their water supply.
At that point the pipeline was re-routed to travel through land belonging to the Standing Rock Sioux, and to pipe oil beneath the Missouri River. This not only threatens the water supply of the Reservation, but that of millions of people downstream. Only one tiny section of the pipeline remains unbuilt, the part that will go under the river.
Good: A gathering of unarmed Water Protectors have been resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) since last April. Through freezing weather and powerful wind, they have locked themselves to machinery, conducted prayer ceremonies by the sacred water and stood strong in the face of intense police brutality. Heavily militarized police forces from neighboring states have been striking these brave Water Protectors with rubber bullets, high powered water hoses, attack dogs, tear gas and pepper spray.
Ironically, although the city of Bismarck rejected the pipeline out of concern for their water supply, arrested Water Protectors are brought to Bismarck, where they’ve been brutalized while in police custody, pushed into dog kennels, and even have had numbers written on their arms by police, a terrifying reminder of how genocidal practices seem to keep cycling forward into the present time.
The history of the founding of the U.S. is one of tragedy and torment for the Indigenous people of this land. Yet even after centuries of brutality, their cultural traditions are strong. On the windswept Sacred Stone Camp in North Dakota, teepees stand, food is offered to strangers, songs of resistance resound. Thousands of Water Protectors, from 300 federally recognized Native American tribes, from Vermont to Washington state are there in camp, along with non-native supporters of all ages.
Around the world, people who understand that “Water is Life” are working in ways large and small to stand in solidarity with Indigenous people and to resist this pipeline. I mean really, what is more important, profits for a multinational corporation or the water that gives us all life?
Here in Middlebury, on Saturday, Dec. 10 (Human Rights Day), we’ll gather on the corner of Main Street and Merchant’s Row from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., to declare our support for the Standing Rock Sioux. We’ll read the names of the Water Protectors who have been arrested for their resistance to greed and destruction. We’ll collect donations to send to North Dakota. We’ll challenge ourselves to do more to right the wrongs of our American history. Will you join us? Which side are you on?
Update: On Sunday evening, cheers and drumbeats sounded throughout the camp, as thousands of Water Protectors received news that the Army Corps of Engineers denied the permit for the pipeline to go under the Missouri River, and ordered an environmental review of the project. Our vigil in downtown Middlebury on Saturday will go forward as planned. It is now a celebration of gratitude to the courageous Water Protectors and their allies around the world!
Joanna Colwell is the founder and director of Otter Creek Yoga in Middlebury’s Marble Works district. She lives in East Middlebury with her family. Joanna is an organizer with the Middlebury chapter of the group Showing Up for Racial Justice.

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