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.

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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.

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