'This Is What Love Looks Like': Why I'm Going to DC to Stop Dirty Oil

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Tar Sands Action

'This Is What Love Looks Like': Why I'm Going to DC to Stop Dirty Oil

I decided to join the action against the tar sands after realizing that my friends weren’t. I found out about this action through Facebook, or maybe email, but eventually it was surrounding me on the internet and I didn’t know anyone who was actually doing anything about it. I started wondering how feasible it would be for me to go out to DC and do this myself. Not very, I figured, especially considering the cost of a ticket, and the lodging, and the fact that I work in a very busy park.

But standing up for something greater than myself is never easy. I’m more comfortable, at least superficially, letting it be someone else’s battle, someone else’s jail time, someone else’s neck on the line. But underneath that desire to hide from action lies a great sea of discontent, and anger, and fear. And that’s what reminds me that no matter how uncomfortable I might get when I tell my boss that I’ll be going to get arrested, I’m going to be very, very disappointed in myself if I don’t do everything I can to stop the takeover of Earth’s atmosphere by fuels I don’t support.

I want a family one day, I want to raise kids who will find a place in this world. Already though, there are families out there who can’t find food, or water, or dry land to make sure that those they love are protected, and that breaks my heart. So instead of letting the sadness overwhelm me, I decided to act.

Tim DeChristopher was absolutely right, when he said “this is what love looks like”  I don’t know the farmers whose land will host this proposed pipeline, or every family in Minot who lost their house due to the rising Souris river, nor the Somali parents who are trying and failing to keep their families alive in the worst drought in 60 years. But I love them, in some real and heartbreaking way, and this action is what I can do to stand with them in this crucial moment.

With our community under siege from the oil and gas industry, I’ve found that when I tell people that I’m heading out to DC to be arrested, people usually respect me for it. Even those that don’t understand the climate science understand the devastating impact of oil on a community. Williston is currently the headquarters of the fracking and drilling in North Dakota. There is no housing available, no work force for the businesses in town that have lost their employees to the oil fields, no feeling of safety on roads shared with oil truckers rushing to drop off their salt water, or oil, or well equipment.

Our ancient horizon is now dominated by drill sites, and they destroy prairie ecosystems that have been in place for thousands of years. The heavy rains result in the flooding of poorly-managed oil sites, and the contamination of farm lands. Each drill site is allowed to frack up to 14 times, and nobody in the community even realizes what this process is, or what it entails. When I say I’m going to DC to stand up against an environmentally damaging oil pipeline, people know where I’m coming from.

Our park (Lewis and Clark State Park) is downhill from a drill site that is expected to be built in the upcoming months. At night, already, the park can see methane flares from drill sites in all directions. We have a population of burrowing owls in the hills around the parks, as well as teepee rings from those who came before us. All of this is inconsequential to big oil, who will bulldoze, drill, frack and eventually abandon this space of prairie that is precious to us. When the oil rigs move out, the giant oil tanks are often left behind, to rust and decay in the middle of a dead zone on the prairie. This park is currently a haven for everyone that flees Williston in the summer and weekends to get away from the oil that is dominating their town and their lives. This drill site is just another encroachment on the lives of people who don’t feel they can stand up to demand anything different.

The oil issue here is the same as the oil issue anywhere. Big oil, big coal and big energy fight with dollar signs and zeroes, and the little people are left trying to save a planet run by people who only listen to money. Our fight for our park is a small version of the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline. Our park can’t buy the mineral rights from the oil companies anymore than Americans can find enough money to pay congress to protect them. So it’s not money we need to use now. It’s voices, and empathy, and anger and frustration and a willingness to be where we’re needed to do what’s required. We’re all fighting for a livable future, but until now our voices have been muted by the other side’s money. It’s time to change that, both in DC and in Williston ND.

I hope that President Obama responds to our protest and denies the permit for the pipeline. I hope that he remembers the surge of youth voters who elected him, myself being one, and remembers his promise to protect the environment. It is, after all, his planet too. His young daughters are the same age as my little brother, and this is a battle for them as much as it is a battle for me.

I hope that this flood of people, every one of them willing to go to jail for the environment, changes the tide of environmental legislation on Capital Hill. I hope it reminds the Congresspeople whose wages we pay that we do, in fact, pay attention to what they do with our planet. It’s a lofty goal, I know. It’s not just some symbolic gesture we’re asking for, and a van filled with college kids and Bill McKibben certainly won’t be enough to make him say no to that pipeline. But I’m not flying out to DC to talk. I’m going to DC to get arrested, along with more than a thousand other people. That’s the kind of public outcry even the president can’t overlook.

Jean Altomare

Jean Altomare is a State Park Ranger in North Dakota. A recent graduate of Unity College in Maine, she was on the 350.org Solar Road Trip last fall, and is now ready to fight full-time for a livable future. Her community is already under seige from the gas industry, but she’s still taking the time to come to DC to join the action against Keystone XL. To join Jean in the largest act of civil disobedience in the history of the climate movement, click here.

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