There’s a way to express yourself, and there’s a way not to.
The recent arson fires at Dakota Access Pipeline construction areas accomplish nothing, except to unfairly blemish the efforts of thoughtful people who are peacefully protesting.
People doing this are vandals, not activists, and they deserve to be caught and prosecuted, hopefully before they wind up hurting someone.
The groups leading real protests, with concern to protect water sources, natural resources and native American cultural sites, do not resort to being thugs, vandals and arsonists. They appeal with words, and classic civil disobedience. They know that destructive behavior only hurts their causes.
It is important to remember here too that pipeline laborers are not the corporation they work for. They are not the decision makers, they are just people doing a job to make a living and support their families. Most of us can relate. Many of us work in fields where we may not agree with everything that is happening, but we punch the clock, because it’s our job.
The beef is not with hourly working people.
They are guests in our communities, and should be treated as such. Not because they are spending some money in our motels and restaurants and bars, but because that is how we treat people.
I am not a believer in this project, or in the way eminent domain policy is being corrupted to allow a private for-profit, out-of-state corporation to seize access to people’s land against their will. Nor am I a fan of our state government’s weak-kneed handling of this issue, cow-towing to big business on a project that does not benefit Iowa or Iowans, for the sake of a tiny slice of the financial pie into their state coffers.
You and I have the right to speak out. We can carry signs and march public property if we want to. We don’t have the right to riot, or sneak around in the night setting other people’s property on fire.
My heart here is with the protesters, who put themselves on the line and give of their time and passion. It has a bit of that 1960s Haight Ashbury peace sign feel to it, and that stuff changed the world once.
They are fighting a losing battle and they know it, but that makes the battle no less important. They have appealed to the court system, and pleaded with President Obama to reject the pipeline plan as he did in the Keystone XL controversy, to no avail. It should be no surprise that some are becoming frustrated and things seem to be moving closer to a dangerous edge.
None of this is going to make the pipeline go away. Some chants, beating drums, ragged attempts to block access roads, and even a few famous actresses making token appearances, are not going to change a $3.7 billion project once it is in the ground.
The protesters will continue, because their beliefs will not let them quit. If outrageous capitalism is American spirit, so is this concept of people fighting for what they believe is right, no matter the odds.
And if there is a strategy now, it is not to prevent the pipeline, but delay it - a week, a day, an hour at a time.
They know that every work stoppage to haul sit-in protesters to jail, every court hearing, every route work-around, is causing the Texas corporation building the pipeline to bleed out money at an alarming rate.
The pipeline was to have been moving oil by the latter part of this year. It’s not going to happen. In fact, if the route is forced to be changed in enough spots, and getting new land access agreements and regulatory approvals for new areas results, delays could stretch into months. Years.
Enough delay would affect producers who had counted on demand for their oil moved rapidly to the U.S. Gulf, and shippers who could find themselves stuck with crude they have to unload at a loss. That’s the only play the protesters have left now - make the pipeline unprofitable.
It’s not hard to see this strategy at work. A recent legal decision halting work temporarily took an immediate toll on stock prices for Energy Transfer Partners, the corporation set up to own the pipeline. Even Texas oil magnates and Wall Street investors don’t have bottomless pockets.
Meanwhile, the Bakken oil fields aren’t looking so rosy, either. In 2012, workers pouring into the South Dakota fields like a modern day gold rush were soon wearing diamond belt buckles. They are mostly gone now, and dorm-like worker housing is half-empty. Where 218 rigs were drilling at the peak of the boom, there were just 26 as of last April.
There is still oil in the rocky ground, but its not easy to get. Environmentalist pressure against fracking grows, and the oil industry itself blames the Bakken for glutting the energy market and causing radical cuts in gas prices.
The time will inevitably come when the fields are no longer profitable to operate, and the pipeline through Iowa ground will run dry. It may change hands, likely be eventually abandoned with the corporations behind it dissipated with their vast profits. Iowa will be left with a rusting pipeline, just like Storm Lake was left with an ugly hole where a spectacular condo project was promised, after the housing bubble burst. All we will be left with is a precedent that anyone’s land can be taken, any time, for any purpose - even sites of cultural and historical significance - for the sake of short-term profit for the state government.
I fear we will someday look back upon the protesters that tried to tell us this, and regret that we had not listened closer.
This will not be the last pipeline or controversy. History will judge our response. Let it be passion and intelligent dissent, not arson and vandalism.