By Joergen Ostensen
Photo by Dave Stucke, Dakotas Conference
Environmental activist, Erin Schrode, spoke to me on Tuesday in an interview for The Anchor. Previously, she had been the subject of an Anchor editorial which condemned the actions of police at Standing Rock, North Dakota. The police shot her with a rubber bullet while she was overtly acting as a journalist. The editorial also discussed that the lack of coverage of this event was a disservice to democracy. This is the second part of a four part series of articles resulting from my conversation.
Standing Rock brought together activists form many movements in what Erin Schrode describes as, “The fight of our lives.” As a result there is the potential for a new and more powerful movement to emerge.
When Erin Schrode made the decision to travel to Standing Rock, North Dakota, to help resist the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, it was evident that there was an associated risk. There was no way for her to know that would translate into a blatant attack on her person, however she did know there were dangers resulting from her presence there. Yet she felt obligated to go anyway. “I’m an environmentalist, first and foremost…fighting fossil fuels, standing up against climate change, working to protect and defend a livable planet has been a critical element of my life for the last decade plus.” Schrode, who is only 25, cofounded a non profit called Turning Green in 2005.
Schrode has been a supporter and a contributor to many similar pipeline protests but found the issue at Standing Rock to be particularly compelling. “What I saw with Standing Rock,” she said. “…wasn’t just an environmental fight, this was the convergence of so many movements…around climate change, around human rights, around peace and justice. It’s about native sovereignty, it’s about police brutality, it’s about illegal land seizure. There’s so many factors playing a role in this.”
Schrode said that she answered a call from the Standing Rock Nation for people to come to North Dakota in person to show their solidarity. She was far from alone in this as she pointed to estimates indicating that as many as 10,000 people came to show their support. Schrode believes that was because of the richness of this issue. “[Standing Rock] really is the fight of our lives. There is a piece of what is happening at Standing Rock that is relevant and matters to everyone. It’s not about one pipeline or one reservation.” She stressed that the pipeline had the potential to contaminate the watershed for 17,000,000 people.
Schrode described the effect the unifying of the myriad of tribes that flocked to Standing Rock to show support. “There were over 300 Native American tribes that came, which were marked by the beautiful flags as you walked in…a really powerful visual.” Native American societies are fragmented in the modern age, and yet Standing Rock brought many together. Including a delegation from Indian Island here in Maine. This was the largest gathering of tribes in at least several hundred years.
However, Schrode saw more than the unification of Native peoples. “It’s also the bridging of tribes with the environmental groups…with organizations like 350.org.” Standing Roack even transcended an environmental fight. “People from Black Lives Matter, men coming up from Ferguson saying this is our fight too. This is around civil rights.” She also mentioned that Standing brought in veterans of war, spiritual and religious leaders, and the activists on the financial side in regard to the Divest/Invest movement. “You had so many people showing up…It was unbelievable to see…the people who descended upon North Dakota…who shared the vision of stopping…this pipeline. But it wasn’t just about [a pipeline]…it was about a movement, it was about so much more. And that is so beautiful.”
Schrode believes that this movement was validated by Barak Obama, whom she credits for the, at least temporary, halting of the pipeline’s construction. She thinks that this victory may be the catalyst for something far greater. “It’s the type of morale boost that our movement collectively needs at this precipitous moment in history.” She is hopeful that Standing Rock is only the beginning. “…I hope that those bridges stay strong, that we realize we are all tied together in the common fabric of destiny…and all of our movements need to unite rather than divide…particularly given the incoming administration.”
Schrode pointed out that the pipeline was halted by the Army Corps of Engineers which falls under the executive branch, thus she gives Obama credit for its temporary stoppage. She also recognized the work of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, New Jersey’s Cory Booker, and the tireless efforts of activists who pressured Obama into this decision. She cautioned that the pipeline will only be rerouted and not stopped altogether which still leaves the potential for the environmental destruction. A temporary victory has been reached but the fight is far from over.
The next article will look at the reaction of the media to Erin Schrode being shot as well as their coverage of the Standing Rock issue as a whole.