Florida farmers robbed through eminent domain

Dear Friends,

[Read the original article here: BOLD IOWA WEBSITE LINK HERE]

Banner welcoming visitors to the Sacred Water Camp near Live Oak, Florida and the path of the proposed Sabal Trail pipeline.

Banner welcoming visitors to the Sacred Water Camp near Live Oak, Florida and the path of the proposed Sabal Trail pipeline.

“Water is Life!” A cry started in the fight against the Dakota Access pipeline has become a national rallying cry in the growing movement to beat-back Big Oil. Pipeline fights across the country have brought the reality of the importance of water home to millions of Americans. More and more are jumping on board, working to protect water, land, property rights and our climate from the largest build-out of fossil-fuel infrastructure in America’s history.

Between Christmas and New Year’s, I had the honor of spending two days working with tireless water protectors in northern Florida, battling the Sabal Trail Pipeline. At one of two camps set-up to help organize water-protection efforts, I met a woman who shared this story with me:

About 50 people stay at the Sacred Water Camp opposing the Sabal Trail pipeline.

About 50 people stay at the Sacred Water Camp opposing the Sabal Trail pipeline.

“I headed out recently to get produce for our camp, which has grown to fifty water protectors. We stopped at a farm stand about 30 miles from here at the Georgia-Florida line. We were buying a lot of food, and haggling a bit with the farmers, trying to stretch our donation dollars as far as possible.

“The family running the stand wasn’t very friendly at first. They asked me why we were buying such a large quantity of produce. I was a little hesitant to tell them, since I thought they might be for the pipeline. I said we were from the Sacred Water Camp, and we had a bunch of new people showing up that we had to feed. Then I took a chance, and told them that the whole purpose of our camp was to stop the Sabal Trail Pipeline.

One of the Sacred Water Camp’s organizers: Debra Johnson, nearby landowner and long-time local resident.

One of the Sacred Water Camp’s organizers: Debra Johnson, nearby landowner and long-time local resident.

“Well, one of the people working the farm stand, a young woman around 23, lit up, saying that the pipeline was wreaking havoc in Florida. Her father and brother, also working the stand, started going on about how strongly they opposed the pipeline and the abuse of eminent domain.

“They told us they grow oranges. They didn’t want a pipeline running through their grove, so the pipeline company took their land by force, through eminent domain. The company gave them $6,000 for destroying land that produces $1 million a year in orange sales! They were outraged, and couldn’t believe their government could let this happen. The father point-blank told me there was nothing in the eminent domain negotiations about giving them fair market value for crop loss. They felt robbed. Their land was gone, part of their family-farm business was gone. This is a fifth-generation orange grove, dating back to 1900, and their family had never seen anything like this.”

Pipeline fighters Connie Byra, Adam Dubbin (holding camera), Lisa Kay, Anita Stewart and Janet Barrow (not pictured) monitor the Sabal Trail pipeline company extracting water from the Withlacoochee River.

Pipeline fighters Connie Byra, Adam Dubbin (holding camera), Lisa Kay, Anita Stewart and Janet Barrow (not pictured) monitor the Sabal Trail pipeline company extracting water from the Withlacoochee River.

True story, and frightening. This fight cuts deeper than water, climate and individual property rights. If a bought-and-paid-for government can hand over the power of eminent domain to a powerful private business that can give a fifth-generation family farm a pittance in compensation for a $1 million loss, is there anything still sacred in America?

This fight is only going to get more challenging with Donald Trump as President. Not only does President-elect Trump deny climate change and disparage the importance of protecting water and land, but he has personally used eminent domain for his own private gain.

Action is the antidote to despair. And building a strong, broad, outspoken, well-organized coalition of farmers, landowners, Native communities, environmentalists and defenders of liberty is how we push back and win against the escalation of Big Oil’s war on America.

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Standing with Standing Rock: Day 6

Friday, December 2, 2016. Every morning, my wake-up call comes not from the alarm on my phone but from the voices of water protectors 200 yards away, across the Cannonball River chanting, “Mni Wiconi! Water is Life!”

View across the Cannonball River

View across the Cannonball River

The words drift across the frozen river, where over 100 people gather at sunrise each day for a water ceremony. Campers on our side of the river stand in silent reverence, watching the ceremony, participating in their own quiet way.

This prayerful start to the day is a reminder that, more than anything, Oceti Sakowin is a spiritual encampment. Especially at the morning water ceremony, but throughout the day, prayers continually circle back to the truth that without water, we are nothing.

Water is so much more important than oil, money or power. Yet face it. Most of us take water for granted, especially if we live in water-rich regions. We turn on the faucet or hose, and voila! We immediately have access to as much water as we want — for pennies.

day-6-water-is-life-12-2-16Yet people who draw their water directly from the source have a deeper appreciation of its value. Last year when I walked the pipeline route, one of the issues most frequently raised by Iowa farmers was concern over how an oil spill would poison their wells.

I think about this as I listen to “Mni Wiconi, Water is Life” inside the cold, clammy comfort of our tent. I reflect on my own experience with well water as a youth in Ireland. In the 1960s and 70s, every drop of water my Irish uncles and their neighbors used came from a nearby well. No one had running water. Drinking, cooking, bathing, cleaning. All water came from this one well, carried home in buckets.

My Irish well

My Irish well

As a kid, I found our community well a beautiful, magical place. It sat on the side of a small “boreen” — a narrow, grass-covered road used only by cows, sheep and walkers. Centuries ago, someone had built a covered, three-sided stone enclosure to protect the well from the branches and leaves that fell from trees arching above the well.

Every year, someone would clean the well. The water would be drained out, one bucket at a time, until the bottom of the well was exposed. Whatever debris had settled would be removed. Aquatic plants that had taken root were evicted. Limestone would be thrown into the well and the stones white-washed.

Maybe it was my imagination, or maybe it was because harvesting this water required effort, but I always thought that water tasted better than any I’d ever sipped. One of my uncles’ neighbors, Maura Sampey, insisted that it made the best tea. Years later, when piped water was brought in to all the homes in our hamlet, Maura continued to haul buckets of water from the well to make tea.

Sunset at Oceti Sakowin

Sunset at Oceti Sakowin

Water is Life. Water is Sacred. The Oceti Sakowin water ceremony challenges me to reconnect with the spiritual power of water. For me, the life experience that brings that spiritual power home is the well that sustained my uncles, grandparents, great grandparents, and generations of poor farmers before them.

We all have a water story, a magical encounter with the most important substance on Earth. Those stories can help remind us why this fight against an oil pipeline is so profoundly important. What’s your water story? I’d like to hear it.

Mni Wiconi! Water is Life!

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Standing with Standing Rock: Day 3

Tuesday, November 29, 2016.

View of the camp after the blizzard. Our tent is the green one at the 2:25 mark, in the lower left hand corner. Facebook Live Video by Myron Dewey / Indigenous Rising Media.

View of the camp after the blizzard. Our tent is the green one at the 2:25 mark, in the lower left hand corner. Facebook Live Video by Myron Dewey / Indigenous Rising Media.

On any given day, an estimated 10,000 people live at the Oceti Sakowin camps at Standing Rock. To put the enormity of this community into perspective, if this were a city in Iowa, Oceti Sakowin would rank 39th out of 950 — bigger than Fairfield, Grinnell or Mount Pleasant.

The fact that so many passionate people have come together so quickly under such adverse conditions is almost hard to imagine. Even more impressive is that the infrastructure essential to a functioning city— housing, transportation, security, food, water, sanitation, public health, power — have been built, borrowed or jerry-rigged in less than four months.

Whether or not we stop the Dakota Access pipeline — and I believe we can and will — this miracle on the northern Great Plains is unparalleled. And it happened without city planners or zoning laws, under the guidance of a council of Native elders, with the tremendous energy and talent of thousands of people.

I’ll walk you through a few of these features.

Tipi under construction during the storm.

Tipi under construction during the storm.

Housing. The diversity of housing is as diverse as the people. Many stay in three-season tents. A lot of folks who are here for the entire winter have hunkered down with warmer, more spacious structures. Appropriately, the most common home here is a tipi.

Flags line Oceti Sakowin’s “Main Street.” Photo by Lyssa Wade.

Flags line Oceti Sakowin’s “Main Street.” Photo by Lyssa Wade.

Transportation. Oceti Sakowin’s “Main Street” is not quite the width of a two-lane highway. It is lined with the flags of many Native nations. Other roads cut a random pattern criss-crossing the community. They are either dirt, mud or now hard-packed ice and snow. Like all the roads here, there are far more pedestrians than vehicles. Cars know their place, move slowly and often wait for foot traffic to pass.

As if to further emphasize the pedestrian focus of the roads, the recent blizzard just installed speed bumps in the form of snow drifts.

Security. So far the only security I’ve seen are the teams of 2-3 people who stop vehicles entering the camp. Think TSA. What exists here is the opposite. The routine is basically this: we roll down our window, the security guy asks where we’re going and if we’ve been here before, we smile and we’re on our way.

Ed assisting with dinner on a camp stove, peeling potatoes from his garden in Des Moines as Lyssa boils brussels sprouts and prepares vegetarian meatloaf. Photo by Lyssa Wade.

Ed assisting with dinner on a camp stove, peeling potatoes from his garden in Des Moines as Lyssa boils brussels sprouts and prepares vegetarian meatloaf. Photo by Lyssa Wade.

Food. There are now 8 or 9 kitchens at Oceti Sakowin. Lyssa and I volunteer at one today: Grandma’s Kitchen. We help prepare and serve supper for an estimated 400 people. The facility is divided into three areas, each in a separate tent. The smallest tent is the actual kitchen, equipped with four propane-fired stoves. Next to that is a larger space with a serving area, dish washing station and shelves for storing dry and canned goods. Finally, there’s the dining room, which has seating capacity for 50 — and yet somehow feeds 400.

Lyssa and I continue to cook most of our own food. This is tough in a blizzard. Enough said.

Water. Mini Wiconi. Water is Life. Oceti Sakowin takes the issue of water very seriously, so much so that I’m going to save that conversation for another blog.

Sanitation. Standard, chemically-based porta-potties are the backbone of Oceti Sakowin’s sanitation system. To say that they’re unpleasant places to visit is an understatement. As I stop in at one today, I think about the EcoCommodes we hauled along the length of the Climate March. The March’s mobile outhouses used sawdust instead of chemicals. When the “toilet” was full, instead of toxic waste, we had a byproduct that was compostable. As Oceti Sakowin continues to build systems that are more sustainable and eco-friendly, EcoCommodes would be worth looking into.

Public Health. We’ve paid two visits to the medic center, once to drop off supplies, once to volunteer. The center is made up of several separate tents that can handle 10-20 people at most. It includes one tent for western medicine, another for herbal treatments, another for massage, another for acupuncture. Lyssa volunteers to sort through a pile of snow-covered “stuff,” saving what she can and tossing the rest. Most stuff is salvageable, and Lyssa later delivers two bottles of hand sanitizer to the kitchen and a vial of eucalyptus oil to the herbal tent. My task is to light a fire in one of the tents, in a stove that had a stubborn streak and needed some coaxing.

Solar panels are everywhere at Oceti Sakowin. Photo by Lyssa Wade.

Solar panels are everywhere at Oceti Sakowin. Photo by Lyssa Wade.

Power. Wood is in high demand. Everywhere, there are piles of logs being converted into firewood. Even more impressive is the many solar panels that are popping up everywhere. Now that the three-day blizzard is passed, we’ll help construct solar barns donated by the Bold Alliance. As Manape LaMere told me yesterday, the buzz word for future of power at Oceti Sakowin is sustainability.

The incredible speed at which the water protectors have assembled such systems to meet the most basic human needs is a testimony to their passion for the cause. It’s also a testimony to the resilience and ingenuity of our species. More than anything, it’s a testimony to the wisdom and nature of the Native people who are rising again, at a time when we need what they have to teach us more than ever before.

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