- Protest: a statement or action expressing disapproval of or objection to something.
- Demonstrate: take part in a public demonstration. synonyms: protest · rally · march · parade · sit in · vigil
- Vigil: a stationary, peaceful demonstration in support of a particular cause, typically without speeches
- Protect: keep safe from harm or injury.
- Water protectors: activists, organizers, and cultural workers focused on the defense of the world’s water and water systems.
There are a number of stories related to protests and demonstrations in the news lately, although the mainstream media tends to suppress coverage of them.
My first experiences with demonstrations or protests (as the definitions above indicate, demonstrations and protests can be synonymous) were during my high school years. The summer before my Senior year (1969) at Scattergood Friends School I worked in Don Laughlin’s medical electronics lab at the University of Iowa. I went with him to the weekly peace vigil in front of the old Capitol building in downtown Iowa City.
I didn’t know how the public would react and was a bit apprehensive at first. But there was little outward response, as you have probably experienced if you have done this yourself. Which might lead to the question of why do this? While there is rarely an outward response from passersby, people do notice you, which might lead to some reflection on their part. One day I was passing through the public library on my way to the weekly peace vigil, carrying my sign. A librarian beckoned me over, and said she appreciated seeing us at our vigil each week.
The other public demonstration I was blessed to be part of was when the entire student body and many faculty of Scattergood walked in silence from the School to Iowa City (about 14 miles) during the Oct. 15, 1969, Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam.
The School had another peace walk in 2012.
Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) held a Climate Conference at Scattergood in 2013. Part of that conference was an Earth Walk, from the School into Iowa City. I was very glad to be able to be part of that Walk because of having walked in 1969. The following video is of photos I took, and interviews during the Earth Walk.
Keystone XL Pipeline
The next time I was involved in demonstrations began in 2013 when the Keystone Pledge of Resistance was organized. CREDO mobile and the Rainforest Action Network created an Internet base campaign to try to stop the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. People could become involved by signing the pledge:
“I pledge, if necessary, to join others in my community, and engage in acts of dignified, peaceful civil disobedience that could result in my arrest in order to send the message to President Obama and his administration that they must reject the Keystone XL pipeline.”Keystone Pledge of Resistance
Over 97,000 people signed the pledge. What is remarkable about this campaign is that a movement was created from the database that grew from those who signed the pledge. There was also an opportunity to become trained as an Action Lead, in order to teach nonviolence and organize direct action campaigns in you city, which I did. Nationally around 400 Action Leads were trained, who in turn trained around 4,000 people in their local communities.
My friend Derek Glass and Andrew Burger created the following video to teach people in our community about the Keystone Pledge of Resistance.
The struggle against the Keystone Pipeline continues to this day:
Also today is the first day of hearings in Pierre, SD – DENR Water Permit hearing in the matter of Water Permit Application for the TransCanada Keystone Pipeline LP.
Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL)
Then the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) was going to be built through North and South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. When residents of Bismarck, ND found that the pipeline would pass under the Missouri River north of the city, they feared their water would be contaminated, and forced the route to be changed. The new route was near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
That sparked the amazing gathering of Native Nations to come to Standing Rock, beginning in early 2016. Rather than being a protest, though, the people took on the name of water protector:
The water protector name, analysis and style of activism arose from Indigenous communities in North America, during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, that began in April, 2016, in North Dakota. However, the concept of protecting the water as a sacred duty is much older. Water protectors are distinguished from other forms of environmental activists by this philosophy and approach that is rooted in an Indigenous cultural perspective that sees water and the land as sacred.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_protectors
From this perspective, the reasons for protection of water are older, more holistic, and integrated into a larger cultural and spiritual whole than in most modern forms of environmental activism which may be more based in seeing water and other extractive resources as commodities.
This video by Nahko Bear gives us a feeling of what happened at Standing Rock. Nahko and Medicine for the People: Tribe! We present to you our music video for “Love Letters to God” from our album HOKA.
I was so blessed to be part of the #NoDAPL (no Dakota Access Pipeline) gatherings in Indianapolis. A number of Native people came to our gatherings with burning sage and drumming. One day we went through downtown Indianapolis, and stood in silence in front of two of the banks that were funding the pipeline, while those who had accounts in those banks went in an closed their accounts. $110,000 was withdrawn that day. Divestment of funds is another way to protest.
The concept of Water Protector changed the way I feel about public demonstrations. One of our gatherings in Indianapolis was just to come together in a prayer circle (one photo above shows that).
More recently I was so glad to have been able to participate in the First Nation-Climate Unity March. A group of about 40 Native and nonnative people walked along the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline, from Des Moines to Fort Dodge, Iowa. It took 8 days of walking and camping to cover the 94 mile journey.
The March had two goals. One was to bring attention to the abuse of public domain to seize the land to build the pipeline. A case related to this was going to be heard in the Iowa Supreme Court the week after the March. Many of the Marchers attend the court hearing.
The other purpose of the March was to provide the opportunity for Native and nonnative people to get to know each other, so we could work on matters of common cause. That succeeded far beyond what I expected. I am so glad to have a number of Native friends now. I keep trying to think of a way these friendships could be created with other groups (without having to walk 94 miles together).
There have been a number of occasions when groups of us from the March have been able to work together. The November after the March several of us were able to talk with Senator Grassley’s Des Moines office staff about two bills related to Native people.
When the Sunrise Movement’s Green New Deal Tour came to Des Moines this spring, Trisha and Lakasha were on the program and I was glad to see them there.
Christine Nobiss suggested I attend the first National Network Assembly, August 22-25, 2019, at the Des Moines YMCA Camp near Boone, Iowa. It was a great gathering of community organizers from across the country. Besides Christine I saw Fintan, Donnielle, Regina, Ed and Kathy, all who had been on the March. Each meeting is a chance to deepen our friendships.
Several of my friends from the March are part of Bold Iowa, which has been doing amazing work in birddogging all the Presidential candidates coming to Iowa, asking them about climate change. Several were arrested when holding the sign below and dressed in “diapers” at a Trump Rally.
Globally there have been large numbers of people demonstrating, like the School Climate Strikes, the Extinction Rebellion and people in Hong Kong. Just today the Prime Minister of Lebanon resigned after tens of thousands of people went into the streets.
Protesters across Lebanon joined hands on Sunday to form a human chain that connected the country’s north and south, a symbolic display of national unity during a period of political turmoil.Lebanon: Protestors formed a human chain across the entire country By Alaa Elassar, CNN, October 29, 2019
Lebanese men, women and children link arms to form a 105-mile human chain.
The human chain formed on Sunday was inspired by similar chains Lebanese women have formed throughout the revolution to prevent clashes between protesters and armed forces.
There continue to be attempts to suppress and criminalize dissent. https://kislingjeff.wordpress.com/2019/10/24/attempts-to-silence-pipeline-protestors/ It is important to work to preserve ways for people to protest and protect, since there will be increasing conflicts related to migration of climate refugees and for water, oil and other resources.