Iakaonne´tha ne oneka (A rough translation of “Water is Life” offered by members of the Seneca tribe.)
Yesterday at the Liberty Pole, several hundred Rochesterians gathered at the to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The oil pipeline would stretch 1,200 miles underground through the Missouri River, carrying a half million barrels of crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois daily. Part of the river is the primary source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in central North and South Dakota.
The rally drew progressive activists, environmentalists, and concerned citizens of all stripes worried about drinking water and rail safety and how the pipeline will increase energy dependence on fossil fuels and worsen global climate change.
Representative Louise Slaughter spoke about her letter sent to President Obama expressing grave concerns about the Army Corp of Engineer’ approval of the pipeline (at end). We heard and gave speeches, chanted, sang and bonded. The mood was buoyant and life-affirming as many a car honked horns in support.
A large contingent of indigenous people came in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux and to raise awareness of Native American issues.
Dalton Labarge, Rohsennase tribal member and University of Rochester medical student, explained that the rally was both about environmental and climate protection and defending Native American rights. Dalton says the construction of the pipeline is another iteration of U.S. government actions favoring companies that extract minerals over the treaty rights of indigenous peoples.
Ruth Dan Yup´ik, indigenous Alaskan and student at the University of Rochester, came to support her villagers back home. Ruth says rising temperatures and melting ice have forced villagers off their seacoast land, making them the first climate refugees in the United States.
By coincidence, yesterday was Guy Fawkes Day, the day of the global Million Mask March. A couple of dozen masked men and women lent their anonymous support.
While Athesia Benjamin was, of course, just one of many, she lit the spark, organizing the rally by setting up a facebook event page and reserving the Liberty Pole way.
From the facebook page came an interview with WXXI, Rochester Protesters Plan Demonstration against Dakota Access Pipeline, and from there the digital and real word spread.
At the rally, Athesia was a firebrand and a spitfire, revving up and inspiring the crowd.
Athesia is modest in saying she lolls around behind her computer. See Athesia, Video Celeb turned Paparazzi, at the rally
EXCERPT FROM ATHESIA’S SPEECH
Rochester City Council candidate Mary Lupien spoke at the rally, and also discussed the local implications of the pipeline. Hear Mary Lupien, 11/6/16:
Tom and his daughter, Desirae are Mohawk tribe. Tom says he hasn’t seen a rally this energized and supportive since the Red Power movement of the 1960s.
I asked the Masked Marchers why people need to be reminded of, or shown, their common humanity. The Marchers tend to blame corporate powers able “to use people’s minds against themselves.” Motivated by greed, corporations and complicit governments allow, encourage and take advantage of the reality that people watch too much tv, are given shoddy educations and taught materialistic values.
The Mask Movement, or Anonymous, is generally seen as anti-capitalist, most opposed to corruption in politics and police violence; while favoring demilitarization and self-governance.