Pipeline Trial Sets Precedent

Dear Friends,

The trial for pipeline-fighter Kriss Wells just wrapped up this afternoon. Kriss (pictured below) is a long-time resident of the Quad Cities and a retired social worker. Despite a strong presentation that focused on the climate justifcation for his nonviolent direct action, Kriss received a verdict of “guilty” in a jury trial today at the Boone County Courthouse. He was one of thirty pipeline opponents charged with trespass on August 31, 2016 while blocking vehicles from leaving or entering a staging area along Highway 30 east of Boone, and the only one of the group to plead “not guilty” and to request a jury trial.

Here’s the press release sent out earlier this afternoon as a cooperative effort between the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition and Bold Iowa. Please share and let’s get the word out! Thanks, and read on below the release for information about the Fallon Forum. – Ed

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 7, 2017
Contact:
Kriss Wells: 563-343-3295, kriss444@aol.com
Carolyn Raffensperger: 515-450-2320, raffensperger@cs.com
Ed Fallon: 515-238-6404, ed@fallonforum.com

Pipeline opponent “guilty,” but trial sets precedent for justification defense

Boone, Iowa — Kriss Wells (pictured below), a long-time resident of the Quad Cities and a retired social worker, received a verdict of “guilty” in a jury trial today at the Boone County Courthouse. Wells was one of thirty pipeline opponents charged with trespass on August 31, 2016 while blocking vehicles from leaving or entering a staging area along Highway 30 east of Boone. Wells was the only one of the group to plead “not guilty” and to request a jury trial. The August 31 action was organized by Bold Iowa and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and drew over 100 participants.

“I’m certainly disappointed in the jury’s decision,” said Wells. “Court rulings have been all over the board in this pipeline fight, and I hope for a different outcome with my trial in Calhoun County on June 28. I did this in part for my grandkids and their future, and I’ll continue to speak out and take action.”

The plaintiffs see this case as setting a new precedent in Iowa. The defense explained its justification for trespassing by raising concerns about the urgency to address climate change, water quality and the misuse of eminent domain.

“Today climate change was on trial,” said Carolyn Raffensperger with the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition. “Kriss Wells was justified in challenging the Iowa Utilities Board’s permit allowing Dakota Access to build this crude oil pipeline, which will do irreparable harm to our climate and planet.”

“That action last summer marked a key point in the escalation of opposition to the pipeline,” said Ed Fallon, director of Bold Iowa. “It garnered national attention to our struggle. Kriss’ act of nonviolent civil disobedience and his decision to take his arrest to trial are statements of commitment and courage that continue to inspire others.”

Despite the oil beginning to flow last week, efforts to resist the pipeline continue, with a rally planned this Saturday in Des Moines, a flotilla on the Des Moines River in Boone County on June 17, and a protest against the Iowa Utilities Board on July 1.

# # #

Spies Validate Our Success

Dear Friends,

If you spend 20 minutes reading anything this week, let it be this incredible story by The Intercept. In an age when independent investigative journalism is rare and threats against our liberty are growing, this is a must read.

The story reveals how a “shadowy international mercenary and security firm known as TigerSwan targeted the movement opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline with military-style counterterrorism measures”.

Spying and infiltration focused on pipeline opponents mostly in North Dakota and Iowa. The story exposes how “TigerSwan spearheaded a multifaceted private security operation characterized by sweeping and invasive surveillance of protesters”.

Christine, Ed and Cyndy Coppola approach construction equipment at first BAT action on September 20, 2016.

When The Intercept contacted me I readily agreed to allow my name to be unredacted. Every freedom-loving, pipeline-fighting, land-defending patriot caught in TigerSwan’s web should be proud to be a threat to Big Oil.

Even though Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) says oil will begin to flow on June 1st, there’s no doubt our efforts have been impactful. Here’s an excerpt from one of TigerSwan’s reports describing our mobile Bold Action Teams (BATs):

Christine Sheller and Arlo blocking construction equipment at first BAT action on September 20, 2016.

“Bold Iowa’s BAT tactic was unfortunately successful today. Work was stopped at several sites and used up a lot of our resources…If the lockdown tactics of Mississippi Stand and the BAT tactics of Bold Iowa were to join forces it would severely impact our mission.”

And TigerSwan is still monitoring our activities! Here’s an anonymous tip I received yesterday:

“TigerSwan is definitely deeply imbedded in Iowa. They have upped all of their men between Fort Dodge and Sioux Falls. Hotels in the areas in between are filled with their crews.”

ETP is concerned what we, the People, still might do to resist their illegal pipeline trampling our Constitutional rights and threatening our land, water and climate.

Let’s give ’em something to worry about. Here’s a few upcoming events that I hope you’ll attend:

(Note: Regarding trials, always check the day before to confirm they’re still happening, as the Court often postpones a trial at the last minute.)

TigerSwan, we understand why you lurk in the shadows. But we have nothing to hide. Truth and history are on our side. The selfish motives of greedy men like ETP’s Kelcy Warren will be exposed. Our rights will be restored. Our sacred land and water will be protected. It may take time, but we’re in it for the long haul — persistently, prayerfully, nonviolently and respectfully.

Thanks for watching, TigerSwan. And now you know: We’re watching you, too.

Climate Emergency justification in Pearson’s trial

Dear Friends,

Here’s the release Bold Iowa sent out on Friday about this Wednesday’s press conference, organized jointly with the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition. Heather Pearson’s jury trial for her arrest last fall as part of Bold Iowa’s “Farmers Defense Camp” is significant. Read the details below, and join us on Wednesday in Rockwell City for the trial and press conference.

Heather Pearson

Please share this release with your local news outlets and circulate it through your online networks. And since a Judge sometimes postpones a trial with short notice, check this Facebook Page on Tuesday to make sure the Wednesday trial and press conference are still on.

Heather’s trial has the potential to impact pipeline fights, eminent domain law and climate change in a big way. Let’s support her and the other fighters who have taken brave stands against this unprecedented attack on our land, water and property rights!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 19, 2017

Contact:
Ed Fallon, Bold Iowa: 515-238-6404ed@boldiowa.org
Jessica Fears, Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition, 515-450-9627fearsj@gmail.com

Iowa Woman Arrested Stopping Dakota Access Construction on Iowa Landowner’s Property Taken by Eminent Domain to Plead “Not Guilty,” Citing “Climate Emergency” Justification for Trespassing

Bold Iowa’s “Farmer Defense Camp” was established with permission on eminent domain holdout landowner Shirley Gerjets’ property, a first of its kind in Dakota Access pipeline fight

Rockwell City, IA — Heather Pearson, a resident of Logan, Iowa and Water Protector who was arrested in October 2016 during a nonviolent direct action to stop construction on the Dakota Access pipeline on Iowa farmer Shirley Gerjets’ property, will plead “not guilty” to charges of trespassing in Calhoun County court on May 24.

Pearson will argue in court that a “climate emergency,” outlined in a document signed by 188 Iowa climate science faculty from 39 institutions from all over the state, justified her action to stop construction on the pipeline that is abusing eminent domain for private gain and threatening our land, water and climate.

• WHAT: Trial of Dakota Access Direct Action Participant Pleading “Not Guilty”
• WHERE: Calhoun County Courthouse, 400 Main St., Rockwell City, IA
• WHEN: Wednesday, May 24
◦ 9:00 a.m: Trial start time
◦ 12:00 p.m. / lunch break: Press conference (Note: If the trial ends before noon, participants will also be immediately available for comment.)

(Check out the video of the action where Heather was arrested, and scroll down on that page to view the “Climate Emergency” document and affidavit signinghttp://boldiowa.org/2016/11/07/climateemergency)

Under Iowa state law, “justification” is a valid defense to charges of trespassing.

All of the Water Protectors arrested on Oct. 29 were invited on Shirley Gerjets’ property with express permission, in the form of a written affidavit from Shirley. In addition to Pearson, two other Water Protectors intend to plead “not guilty” to trespassing charges stemming from the Oct. 29 action and have pending court dates in Calhoun County (Emma Stewart, of Rockwell City, IA and Mahmud Fitil, of Omaha, NE).

Meanwhile, the Dakota Access pipeline workers and private security personnel were on Shirley’s property only by power of eminent domain, which Shirley strongly opposed. Shirley also had “No Trespassing” signs posted on her property that expressly forbade Dakota Access on her land.

The court will be tasked with determining who is the victim of “trespassing,” when a landowner is actively challenging eminent domain authority granted for a pipeline easement, and yet her expressly invited guests are arrested and charged with “trespassing” on the same land where eminent domain authority is still under judicial review.

Several of those who were arrested appeared to have been physically detained not by Iowa State Patrol, Calhoun County sheriff’s deputies, or other law enforcement, but rather by men wearing yellow jackets believed to be private security hired by Dakota Access Pipeline.

Were these private security “deputized” by Calhoun County law enforcement, the state of Iowa, or some other authority to detain citizens? The court must determine on what authority these security personnel were acting, and whether their actions constituted false imprisonment.

“In Iowa, eminent domain has always been intended strictly for public purposes,” said Bold Iowa director Ed Fallon. “And in 2006, during my last session as a state lawmaker, House and Senate members voted overwhelmingly to further strengthen eminent domain law in response to the ‘Kelo’ U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Given that amended law, this lawsuit makes a powerful case that Dakota Access violated the law. Those of us invited onto the land by the property owner had every right to be there.”

# # #

New IUB conflict revealed as DAPL request denied!

To those who say, “The fight against the Dakota Access pipeline is over, so just move on,” we pipeline fighters and water protectors say, “Not so fast!”

Lawsuit plaintiffs at a 2016 press conference

Tuesday, the Iowa Supreme Court sided with nine Iowa landowners and the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter, rejecting Dakota Access’ request to have the landowners’ lawsuit dismissed!

The Court’s order reads: “Dakota Access contends this appeal should be dismissed because the appellant, Sierra Club Iowa Chapter, has failed to establish proper standing in this matter and the remaining appellants’ claims are moot. Upon consideration, the motion to dismiss is denied. Dakota Access may raise the issues regarding standing and mootness in its appellate brief.”

The march after the landowners’ hearing at the Polk County Courthouse in December

Click here to read the complete order: 17. Order – Motion to Dismiss Denied

This is a really big deal. It means the case against the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) and Dakota Access will move forward, with a schedule for court filings being established and a trial likely later this year or early in 2018.

The Court’s order revealed another important and disturbing development. Richard W. Lozier, Jr. requested permission to withdraw as counsel for the MAIN Coalition — a front group for Dakota Access. The Court rightfully granted that request. What’s incredible is that Governor Branstad recently appointed Lozier to the IUB, filling the seat vacated by Libby Jacobs, despite this clear conflict of interest!

Richard W. Lozier, Jr.

If Branstad wanted to inflame pipeline opponents and encourage further criticism of the rampant corruption within his administration, putting Lozier on the IUB was the perfect way to do that.

Now the burden of defending this wolf-guards-hen-house appointment falls to Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds. It’ll be interesting to see how Reynolds responds. If she kowtows to Big Oil and keeps Lozier on the IUB, don’t be surprised if her Republican opponent(s) make hay with it leading up to next June’s gubernatorial primary.

Climate Justice Unity March: Day 8

Saturday, April 29, 2017 – Pleasant Hill to Iowa State Capitol (7 miles)

It’s just under a seven-mile march from our church lodging in Pleasant Hill to the Iowa State Capitol for the People’s Climate Movement Rally. We set out on schedule and arrive at Sleepy Hollow for our break, just as it’s starting to rain.

Marching to the Capitol

We know we won’t stay dry for long, but take this opportunity to sit under the facility’s patio roof for our half-hour break. There’s a car out front, suggesting staff is present, so figure I’ll let them know we’re here. I try the door, and it’s unlocked, so I enter, to be greeted by a blaring security alarm.

I quickly exit the way I came in, apologize to other marchers as I make a lame joke about setting off the alarm about the climate crisis. I call the Des Moines Police Department, and the matter is soon resolved.

Donnielle Wanatee and Shelley Buffalo are the opening speakers, and Heather Pearson wraps up the rally. As with Donnielle and Shelley, Heather has been a solid leader on the March, and her speech is a powerful closing statement for both the march and the rally. Here’s what she had to say:

“I am an air breathing, water drinking, Iowa pipeline fighter. For the last seven days we have marched 85 miles across Iowa to discuss climate justice and unity with rural communities along the way. It was definitely outside of my comfort zone to agree to march 85 miles, but it’s not the first time that this fight has taken me outside of that comfort zone.

“Most Iowans have been opposed to the Dakota Access pipeline since it was first proposed three years ago. Last year, I was asked to give testimony in front of the Iowa Utilities Board at their meeting in Boone. I’d never been to Boone before and didn’t know a single person there. That experience forced me to step outside of my comfort zone.

“I told the Board that I find it appalling that they were so willing to trample Iowans’ private property rights while putting our air, our farmland, our water and our climate at risk just so that a private corporation can fatten its bottom line with an export pipeline.

Heather Pearson addresses rally. Photo by Jack Schuler

“In August, I got a call from Ed Fallon asking if I would be willing to risk arrest while participating in peaceful civil disobedience. I’d never been arrested before, or even had any interaction with law enforcement. In the days leading up to direct action I was anxious, and again had to step out of my comfort zone because I felt that it was my duty. I’d signed the ‘No Bakken Pledge of Resistance’ and the movement needed people power. I was handcuffed and taken away.

“Fast forward a couple of months. I met a farmer named Shirley Gerjets. Dakota Access had already begun construction on her property against her will even though she hadn’t had her day in court to fight eminent domain. As I stepped onto Shirley’s property, with her permission, I handed the Sheriff the 2015 Iowa Climate Statement signed by 188 climate scientists. I stated that it was my justification for being on that property.

“Of course, I was arrested yet again. I have pled not guilty and am now preparing to take my case to court since climate change is indeed justification for stepping onto a fossi-fuel easement.

“Again and again, I find myself stepping out of my comfort zone. You see, we must all step out of our comfort zones. We must all come together and raise our voices to hold our elected officials accountable for the decisions they’re making about our water, our air, our soil and our climate. Climate justice is a human rights issue. We must unite for climate justice. We must all step out of our comfort zones because that’s where real change occurs.”

 

Climate Justice Unity March: Day 7

Friday, April 28, 2017 – Prairie City to Pleasant Hill (14 miles)

Mike Shapiro and Sylvana Flute. Photo by Kelly Boon

Today promises to be the most difficult of the March: 14 miles in cold, rainy weather along a busy four-lane highway. We’re soaked both from above and below, as trucks barreling along spray us when they pass. It’s a testament to the commitment and perseverance of our group that ten marchers make it every step of the way in such conditions.

At our rest stop at the 5.2 mile mark, we decide to break into two groups — one fast, one slow. We’ve stuck together as one marching column the entire week. But now, we face the reality that some of our group have to go slowly to be able to make the distance, while some of us have to move quicker if we’re to stay warm enough to avoid hypothermia.

Isidra Borjas

Isidra Borjas is one of our younger, faster marchers. She’s from Ft. Madison and says she appreciates the age and cultural diversity of the March. She’s Mexican-American. Her Dad is from Mexico. On her Mom’s side, she’s fourth generation American.

“You’ve got me beat by two generations,” I tell her. “My Dad’s parents came over from Ireland in the 1920s.”

Isidra felt inspired to join the March because “we all have to take care of our home. Yet I was surprised that some people we met along the way weren’t kind at first. I was under the impression that everyone in rural Iowa was nice.”

Isidra is one of four women who took turns carrying the flag when the weather allowed. “I always associated the flag with rednecks who drove big trucks. Now, after seeing how the flag was carried during our March, I see it as our flag. I’m an American as much as anyone else. For me, it was really empowering as a minority and a female.”

Annie Casey. Photo by Kelly Boon

Another impressive young marcher is Annie Casey. “Seeing the creative energies and common cause that came out of Standing Rock inspired me to get involved with the March,” she says. “I was drawn to the possibility of listening to and talking with people who speak a very different language on climate.”

As a native of Colorado, Annie was caught off guard by the weather. “I was surprised at how tough Midwesterners are. But it was amazing to be part of something with such good intentions and so well organized, and yet incredible to see how it was spun against us. That often happens when a volatile issue enters the cybersphere. But when we met with people along the way, the experiences were powerfully positive. You can never make that connection online.”

Shelley Buffalo and Chuck Hurley. Photo by Kelly Boon

That truth was again realized at our overnight stop in Pleasant Hill, at Rising Sun Church of Christ. The Church had originally said we wouldn’t be able to camp there. But through the kindness of one of the church elders, Chuck Hurley, who I served with at the Iowa Statehouse, marchers were allowed to cook, sleep and meet inside the church.

Cynthia Hunafa, State Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad and Jessica Fears. Photo by Kelly Boon

Chuck and Pastor Steve Rowland took time to talk with us during our evening forum. We were also joined by Cynthia Hunafa and State Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad. Steve is a hunter and very concerned about the environment. Chuck’s policy focus is kids. He admits he hasn’t thought much about climate change. But I sensed that as we talked, he understood how climate, too, is an issue of great importance to our children and their future.

Pastor Steve Rowland and Ed

Our visit opened the door to continued dialogue. If climate environmentalists and conservative Christians can meet and find common ground, I see hope for the future of our country and our planet.

Climate Justice Unity March: Day 6

Thursday, April 27, 2017 – Reasnor to Prairie City (11 miles)

Shelley Buffalo and Zach Ide lead the March.

The weather has gone cold and damp, with temperatures 20 degrees below average. Days like this give fodder to the handful of people who completely deny climate change, with comments like, “Gee, we could sure use some global warming now.”

Yet the vast majority of Iowans know the climate is changing, although there remains disagreement over the cause. My entirely unscientific estimate is that about half the people we’ve met on the March accept that it’s caused by human activity while the other half believe it’s cyclical.

The common denominator is that nearly everyone agrees it’s changing, and on this point of agreement we find support for renewable energy, improving water quality and limiting the scope of eminent domain. That’s a solid starting point for crafting an agenda for policy change that our local, state and federal officials need to get behind.

Darrin Ehret writes me again with more encouraging news: “I found it interesting that one of the people that opposed your group the most has had a change of heart. She encountered one of your group (Chap Myers) at a gas station. She was short on cash while at the cash register and needed to go back to her car to get more. A gentleman paid the difference for her. On their way back to her car to get the money it turned out to be one of your folks. So I think things are softening up. I did see the changes. Thanks.”

Little acts of kindness matter. Even though there was no conversation about climate change between Chap and the woman, there was a transformation of heart based on Chap’s simple gesture of generosity.

The group that’s been attacking the March and Little Creek Camp online has softened its stance, too. Here’s their latest video, which is full of inaccuracies (I address those below), but shows how the March’s approach to civility and dialogue is having a positive effect. Click here to see the video.

Here’s my response, which I shared with the video’s author who has since invited me to do an interview with him:

“While I appreciate some of this, I offer a few corrections and clarifications:
1. I am not the defacto leader of the camp.
2. Christine Nobiss has not stepped down.
3. The red cape in the photo of me joking around pretending to bend a pipe (actually carrying water) is photo-shopped.
4. We did not fly the flag reluctantly (any patriotic American who heard the discussion we had about carrying the flag would have been impressed with our conversation and reasons for flying it).
5. We did go door-to-the-door on the march but to my knowledge never asked for donations.”

Craig Stafford’s dog, Penny, pretends to drive the gear truck that Craig and Joe Henry drove.

After a solid day of cloud cover, the sun shines this evening on our camp at the Community Center in Prairie City. The City Administrator, Lori Martin, stops by to welcome us, and the school across the street provides showers. The amazing, talented Natalie Lowe performs for us (really, check out her music here: https://natalielowe.bandcamp.com) and we again enjoy Chap’s cooking and Donnielle’s fry bread.

Marchers pose with “United for Climate Justice” signs before dinner at the Prairie City Community Center.

An evening of fun, food and fellowship is followed by a difficult two-hour meeting to discuss internal concerns within our March family. It’s an emotional meeting — painful but productive — and there’s a collective sense of accomplishment at the meeting’s conclusion.

Our work is not always with those who disagree with us. Maintaining harmony and understanding within any group of fellow travelers is a challenge and requires time, effort and patience. Tonight’s meeting was a reminder of that, and of the positive dividends that such an investment can bring.

Climate Justice Unity March: Day 5

Wednesday, April 26, 2017 – Sully to Reasnor (10 miles)

Chap Myers

We scramble out of our tents early today for the ride to Des Moines for Donnielle Wanatee’s trial. She was arrested for trespass at Governor Branstad’s office during the February 22 Day of Action Against DAPL. Donnielle pled “not guilty” and asked for a jury trial. The judge denied her request. Nevertheless, she persists.

It’s a miserable morning. The wind and rain make it impossible for our cook, Chap Myers, to keep the stove lit. Some marchers opt for a cold breakfast. Most of us end up at the Coffee Cup Cafe across the street, grateful that it opens at 6:00. With the cumulative exertion of four days of marching, my caloric output has surged to that of a college athlete. I order the menu’s largest breakfast, which finds its way into my fuel tank faster than civilized dining standards allow.

Jon Neiderbach and Donnielle Wanatee

Today, we’re an organized, efficient group and arrive on schedule at the Polk County Justice Center. When I enter the court room, Donnielle is already testifying. She comports herself with clarity and dignity. Jon Neiderbach, an attorney who marched with us for two days, represents Donnielle pro bono.

The trial is quick and predictable. The judge praises Donnielle’s commitment to clean water but finds her guilty of trespass. She wants a jury trial, but the judge had previously cited a procedural nuance that denies her this right. With Jonathan’s help, she appeals the judge’s ruling, insisting on her right to a jury trial. I’m proud of both her and Jon. It’s a great start to the day, and we haven’t even marched a step.

By early afternoon, we’re back in Sully to begin the day’s 10-mile trek. The rain’s stopped, and we again carry the American flag at the front of the march column. Isidra and Annie lead the way, taking turns as flag-bearer.

Marchers gather in front of Lois and Irving Vander Leest’s piano lawn art

Three miles from Reasnor, we meet Lois and Irving Vander Leest. Their farm is on the path of the pipeline, and it’s here that construction equipment was torched by an arsonist last August.

The Vander Leests strongly support the pipeline. Lois assures me she’s had no trouble with either the pipeline company or the workers. I’m candid with her about my opposition, based on concerns about climate, water and the abuse of eminent domain. We concur that arson is inexcusable, and she and Irving agree to join us for dinner tonight at the United Methodist Church in Reasnor. Before we set out from the Vander Leests’ farm, we pose for a picture in front of a piano cleverly repurposed as a lawn ornament.

Marchers pause for prayer as they cross the path of the Dakota access pipeline

Two miles from Reasnor we cross the pipeline. The scar from last year’s construction is still visible. We pray. Donnielle offers tobacco. It’s a solemn moment. I think of the 570,000 barrels of oil a day that will soon move through the ground under our feet. I remind other marchers that, despite the imminent flow of oil, if the lawsuit by nine Iowa landowners prevails, it could require that the pipe be removed, forcing Dakota Access to attempt a lengthy and complicated reroute.

Reasnor is a town of 153 people, and everyone we meet is friendly and helpful. The Methodist Church, with a congregation of eight parishioners, opens its doors to us for food and lodging. After dinner, some of us wander down to the D & T Tap, where Zach Ide, Heather Pearson and I break out our guitars. I play The Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 miles) and solicit a rousing response from the locals. Perhaps they appreciate the challenge of walking a long distance for an urgent cause. Perhaps I’m just making that up.

But one thing I know for certain: This march is connecting us in ways that we — marchers and locals alike — rarely experience. It’s easy to stay in one’s own social, cultural and online bubble. This march pushes us beyond that bubble and out of our comfort zone. It pushes us to confront the truth that their is no us vs. them. There is only we.

Climate Justice Unity March: Day 4

Tuesday, April 25, 2017 – Searsboro to Sully (8.5 miles)

As I pack up my tent this morning, Sarah informs me that she woke with a pit in her stomach, an odd sense of foreboding. She’s spoken with Shelley Buffalo and Fernando Manakaja as well, and they also have the same sense of unease — an intuition that someone or something may try to harm us today.

I take their intuition seriously. Our marching column is tight, and we walk two-by-two on the gravel shoulder — where it exists. Sometimes there is no shoulder, and we walk single file along the white line marking the edge of the pavement.

I stay up front to the right of my walking companion and employ my broad, sweeping, sustained wave with every vehicle that passes. Most drivers are respectful, slow down if necessary, and move partially or completely into the left lane. Some wave back.

Less than a half mile outside Lynnville, the driver of an over-sized white pick up truck floors his engine as he passes. He turns around a short ways beyond us, makes another sweep and again floors his engine. His intent is clearly to frighten and intimidate.

During our break in Lynnville, I discuss the incident with Sarah and Shelley. I suggest we carry the American flag at the front of our column. “We have an American flag with us?” asks Sarah, a bit surprised that, as the logistics director, I hadn’t told her.

I apologize, and tell her I’d thought to suggest we carry the flag while we march, but was concerned that some of our marchers would be opposed.

Sarah finds the flag and fastens it to a pole with zip ties and duct tape. Shelley insists that the Native people on the March be the ones to carry it. She and Donnielle take turns at the front of the column while I walk behind them and wave to passing vehicles. The response from drivers is noticeably different. They are more respectful, wave back. Some smile. We feel distinctly safer, and I’m relieved that we’ve found a way to connect immediately and powerfully with our vehicular audience.

Yet as suspected, two marchers are upset. That night after dinner, we discuss the decision to carry the flag. One marcher who is upset describes the flag as the quintessential symbol of American imperialism. He says he was embarrassed to walk behind it.

The Native people on the March speak strongly in defense of our decision. “As Native women carrying this flag, we’re commandeering the narrative about what it symbolizes,” says Shelley. “Native Americans have served disproportionately in the armed forces under this flag. To me, it represents liberty, self-governance, personal autonomy and freedom — all values taught to the colonists by the Natives of the East coast in whose social and governmental constructs, these values were institutionalized.”

We resolve the flag dispute after much conversation, some of it heated. Already, in just four days, other conflicts have arisen on the Climate Justice Unity March, and I am reminded that unity begins at home. Even among a small group of committed activists passionately dedicated to a common cause, striving for and maintaining unity is an ongoing challenge.

Climate Justice Unity March: Day 3

Monday, April 24, 2017 – Montezuma to Searsboro (9.5 miles)

Marchers setting out from Diamond Lake Park

Searsboro is one of those small, forgotten Iowa towns bypassed by the main highway. It’s a sprawling community of 142 people, built on hillocks tucked away in a valley along English Creek. I’ve driven by Searsboro dozens of times, wondering what it was like but never bothering to stop.

From the highway you see only a few of Searsboro’s houses. Today, as our march winds its final mile over and around several steep, rolling hills, I feel like I’m walking into a town cloaked in a touch of mystery.

Our tent site in downtown Searsboro

Our campsite for the night is in the very center of town, on Main Street where The Little Bear Inn once stood. It’s now a grassy field, and though I’m sad to think that this was once a bustling center of commerce, the site is perfect for our tents.

Mayor Kim Shutts is a gregarious, dynamic community leader passionate about the well being and future of Searsboro. She’s an Independent who leans Republican, but has an open mind and knows something needs to be done about climate change.

Mayor Kim Shutts, Kelly Boon, Marley, Sarah Spain, Jeannie Hunter (city Council member), Shirley Tremmel (city clerk) and Dave Phipps

She reserves the Community Center for our evening program, and 15 people turn out for all or part of it. “That’s ten percent of the population,” I tell Kim. “If ten percent of Des Moines turned out for a meeting there, that’d be 20,000 people.”

A half dozen kids show up for Wendy and Mike’s puppet show. Chap makes pasta and several people bring side dishes and desserts. Before the meal, Searsboro resident Mike Moore offers a Christian prayer. One of our marchers, Fernando Manakaja of the Havasupai nation, prays in his Native tradition. It’s a powerful moment of unity.

The kids of Searsboro made for an even more lively evening

The evening is a wonderful exchange of dialogue and fellowship, with lots of conversation about climate and the environment. Kim is intrigued by the wind turbines being built east of here, and is going to look into whether a turbine might be built on one of Searsboro’s hills. We also discuss with her the possibility of solar panels on some of the town’s rooftops.

It’s a beautiful evening, with the sun setting across the hills framing the western bank of English Creek. After dinner, a smaller group of town folk and marchers reconvene outside the Community Center. We joke around and play music. Kim’s got a nice voice and harmonizes well with Heather on “The Rose.”

I crawl into my tent later than I’d like. The day has been deeply satisfying. If more of this can happen — if each of us can go the extra mile and step out of comfort zone to break down the barriers that segregate us across geographic, cultural and political divides — surely there’s a pathway forward to a more sustainable future.