Veterans at Standing Rock Ready to Take Clean Water Fight to Flint
'Our people are suffering. They are suffering in Standing Rock. They are suffering in Flint.'
The veterans who deployed to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation in North Dakota to support the water protectors in their battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline are now looking to take their successful mobilization to another community fighting for clean water: Flint, Michigan.
"We don't know when we are going to be there but we will be heading to Flint," U.S. Army veteran Wes Clark Jr., one of the organizers of the veteran action in Standing Rock, told MLive earlier this week. "This problem is all over the county. It's got to be more than veterans. People have been treated wrong in this county for a long time."
Since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Sunday that it would not allow the Dakota Access Pipeline an easement to tunnel under the Missouri River, many have speculated that the arrival of the thousands of veterans that weekend may have spurred the government agency into action.
Activists hope that veterans—who also played a role in several 20th century leftist protest movements—will bring similar success to the embattled community of Flint, which still does not have access to clean drinking water.
"We must act now to protect our precious water for current and future generations to come."
—Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii)"I feel that by the veterans coming out and leading up to it all the media attention," said Flint resident Arthur Woodson, a veteran who traveled to Standing Rock, to MLive. "All the media attention that was there brought more attention to Standing Rock. The government had a change of heart."
Flint-based community activist and Revhub.org founder Jay Ponti told MLive that he hoped the veterans would bring that same media attention to Flint, which has seen waning coverage as the national media has focused on the presidential election. "Our people are suffering. They are suffering in Standing Rock. They are suffering in Flint. They are suffering in Louisiana," Ponti said.
ABC News reported on Woodson's and fellow Flint resident and veteran George Grundy II's journey to Standing Rock, and the parallels they saw to their own struggle for water:
Arthur Woodson and George Grundy II journeyed more than 18 hours from their home in Flint, Michigan, to the protests at Standing Rock in North Dakota by car, hoping to help protect the water on the reservation where the the Sioux Native American tribe lives. When they returned, crossing six states to get there, they brought with them a renewed focus on the battle to protect their own water supply in Flint, as well as a commitment from other veterans to join the fight.
"I had a beautiful experience and met beautiful people out there," Grundy, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Afghanistan, told ABC News about his experience joining the protests at Standing Rock.
Woodson and Grundy said that Veterans for Standing Rock, the group of at least 2,000 U.S. military veterans who arrived in North Dakota amid frigid cold temperatures last weekend to demonstrate against the controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline, immediately saw parallels to the experience of the Native Americans at Standing Rock to the community of Flint, where elevated lead levels were found in the municipal water system last year, creating a health crisis.
The two veterans found widespread support and awareness of Flint's struggle while at Standing Rock.
"These are people who have been just as oppressed and in some other forms more oppressed than black folks and to hear these people speak the name of Flint and know that Flint is in duress too and say that we are in their prayers that just does a lot to me," Grundy told MLive. "It just shows me that the human spirit is larger than any corporate entity and you can believe in your fellow person because it's worth it."
The Flint residents "said that a surplus of bottled water that was donated to Standing Rock protesters could not be used, and will be rerouted to Flint," ABC News wrote. "Moreover, a meeting in Flint is being planned to decide how to incorporate the veterans to help spur action in Flint, Woodson and Grundy noted." That meeting will take place Saturday, the outlet reports.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who is also a military veteran and also traveled to Standing Rock to support the fight against DAPL, drew the connection between Flint and Standing Rock as well in her statement after the Army Corps' decision Sunday.
"Whether it's the threat to essential water sources in this region, lead contamination in Flint, Michigan, the potential threat posed to our water by the Red Hill fuel storage facility on Oʻahu, or the many other threats to our water across our nation," Gabbard said, "we must act now to protect our precious water for current and future generations to come."
Non-veterans, too, are looking to Standing Rock for inspiration in the ongoing fight for Flint's water.
At a Monday rally for Flint in Lansing, Michigan, organizers held a ceremony with water taken from the Missouri River near Standing Rock, acknowledging the link between the two communities. "What I hope to accomplish today is to spread the message of what I learned at Standing Rock," one organizer told the Detroit Free Press.
Meanwhile, the water crisis in Flint is ongoing. While the House on Thursday finally passed a long-sought bill that would provide emergency aid to Flint—which hasn't had access to clean water since April 2014—language was added to the bill at the last minute that would weaken environmental protections in drought-stricken California, and it is unclear if the legislation will pass the Senate.
Many in Flint still feel ignored by the larger public.
"You have to have money to have respect, and if you don't have respect in America now, you're a nobody. People will step on you," Woodson told ABC News, speaking to the need for a nationwide protest movement to fight for access to clean water.