Montrose, Iowa—As dozens of protesters looked on, twelve activists were arrested Saturday, September 24, for civil disobedience at a Dakota Access construction site along the Mississippi River, between Sandusky and Montrose, Iowa, where they ultimately shut down construction for nearly six hours.
Of the twelve arrested, three sneaked onto Dakota Access property in the early morning hours Saturday and chained themselves to equipment before the pipeline workers arrived for the day to turn on the drill boring underneath the river.
All twelve were arrested for criminal trespass, a simple misdemeanor, and processed at the Lee County jail, according to county officials.
“We need more front line water protectors now,” said Alex Cohen, of St. Louis, one of the demonstrators taken into custody Saturday. “They are moving quick, we need to move faster.”
The protest was organized by the grassroots collective Mississippi Stand and their solidarity network across Eastern Iowa. Mississippi Stand is an intentional community of everyday people occupying a camp across from the Mississippi River construction site. It was started by a Des Moines woman who blockaded the entrance with over a dozen tires Dakota Access had stacked nearby.
On September 24, 44 people were arrested at the same location while over a hundred and fifty others picketed on the highway shoulder. Half of those arrested walked through neighboring farmland and hopped a security fence to get onto the construction site.
At least 116 people have been arrested in Iowa at anti-pipeline protests since August 31, when 30 were arrested for blockading a company staging area in Boone, halfway across the state from Montrose. Eighteen more were arrested on September 10 during a similar blockade. Last week, 11 Iowa CCI members were cited for using their cars to block entrance and exit points in the same area, during a demonstration attended by nearly two hundred people.
The mass arrests in two separate hotspots across the Iowa portion of the pipeline route are now a flashpoint in the pipeline fight, and have attracted significant attention while becoming a real headache for county, state, and company officials alike.
Lee County has begun racking up overtime costs, while Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, who has several personal ties to the project, has authorized the Iowa State Patrol to assist county law enforcement in protest containment. Dakota Access responded to the lockdown at the Mississippi River drilling location Saturday by installing floodlights and organizing around the clock security. A restraining order filed in court by Dakota Access against Central Iowa organizational leaders Bold Iowa and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement was delayed and then voluntarily withdrawn.
The lockdowns last Saturday by Iowa water protectors, who sneaked onto company property and chained themselves to the equipment, rather than choosing to symbolically cross a line and immediately take an arrest, disrupted construction for over half the day. They mark an important tactical escalation in the Iowa-based movement against the Dakota Access Bakken oil pipeline, and one that was copied directly from some of the most successful indigenous protests in North Dakota.
Iowa protest leaders might also look to the First Nation people for another successful direct action protest tactic. On several occasions in North Dakota, mass assemblies of American Indians have broken through police and company lines and shut down construction for the day simply by having hundreds of people collectively walk forward together without stopping, rather than artificially dividing their power into smaller groups of those willing to risk arrest and those who are not.
This form of nonviolent protest, if deployed in Iowa, could cause a legitimate crisis for state law enforcement, who may be cornered into choosing between either accepting periodic shutdowns without causing an even bigger scene, or dispersing the peaceful crowds with tear gas or some other kind of excessive force. Either reaction will heighten the sense of civil unrest, increase public sympathy for the movement cause, increase the financial costs for Dakota Access, and put additional pressure on President Obama to step in and kill the project once and for all.
Without any further delays, most of the Iowa portion of the Dakota Access Bakken oil pipeline is scheduled to be completed by October 31, according to company sources.
Dakota Access spokesperson Vicki Granado declined to comment on this story.