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.

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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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