Resistance Spreading Like Water Across The Great Plains

Jacob Swenson-Lengyel

(Rae Breaux also contributed to reporting to this article.)

The Wisconsin Uprising. Occupy Wall Street. Keystone XL. Black Lives Matter. Add Standing Rock to the list of social movements spreading across the country and reshaping the political landscape.

Since April, the Lakota/Dakota Standing Rock Sioux have been holding a spirit camp outside of Cannonball, North Dakota, to oppose the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. When the Army Corps of Engineers gave final approval to the project in July — without doing an environmental impact study — resistance ramped up, with thousands of American Indians from hundreds of tribes across the country gathering at Camp of the Sacred Stones to voice their opposition to the pipeline they say will poison their water and destroy their land.

Now, the resistance is spreading. The pipeline is slated to run more than 1,100 miles, across four states, including Iowa. So, on Wednesday, 150 members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI), an affiliate of People’s Action, held their own blockade of a work-site for the pipeline outside of Boone, Iowa. Responding to a call for solidarity actions from the indigenous leaders in North Dakota, more than 28 member of Iowa CCI and their allies at Bold Iowa were arrested attempting to stop construction of the $3.8 billion project.

Our Future caught up with Adam Mason, State Policy Organizing Director for Iowa CCI, who was arrested on Wednesday as part of the blockade. Here’s what he had to say about the action, solidarity, civil disobedience, and where the fight in Iowa is going next. (We’ve edited lightly for length and clarity.)

Iowa CCI has a long history of protecting access to clean water and has been fighting construction of this pipeline for more than two years. Why are these issues so important to you and your members?

Protecting Access to clean water has been a bread and butter issue for Iowa CCI members for over 20 years. It originated out of our work with everyday family farmers and grassroots rural Iowans who were being abused by corporate agriculture. They were being squeezed out of livestock farming by corporate concentration and suffering from the air and water pollution that corporate agriculture creates. Our members fought back by organizing local factory farm fights, advocating for tougher regulatory enforcement, and leading campaigns to put in place policies that crack down on water pollution and other issues created by corporate agriculture.

So in August 2014, when our folks found out the proposed Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) would span the entire state of Iowa from the North Dakota Bakken Oil fields, they were just as fired up to fight big oil. Our members — and thousands of new activists concerned about water quality, climate change, and property rights — came together to organize the resistance in Iowa. As we dug into the fight, the abuse and struggle of our Native American Brothers and Sisters was brought to light and our pipeline fighters have felt even more urgency to stop the pipeline.

You’ve said your action yesterday was in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux and described it as part of a global movement to end our reliance on fossil fuels. How have you and your members been inspired by what’s happening at Camp of the Sacred Stones in North Dakota?

While we know our land, water, and climate are put at risk by the Dakota Access pipeline, we also know that this is a greater assault against the Standing Rock Sioux. Our members and coalition partners in Iowa have taken inspiration from their fight – first by some of our folks driving the hours north to stand in solidarity and support the Spirit Camp, but now also by hearing the call to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience. We knew from day one that it would come to risking arrest and that is why we recently launched our Pledge of Resistance with our partner Bold Iowa. The escalation in recent weeks at Camp of the Sacred Stones has emboldened our folks to take action now.

We think it also demonstrates our growing global struggle to take on catastrophic climate change and fight for 100% renewable energies for our communities, especially for those most impacted and typically left behind. The inspiring actions such as the Lakota/Dakota youth running to Washington DC and the dozens of activists risking arrest in North Dakota are occurring more frequently and in more communities across the world. This is the kind of bold action we need to make meaningful change on this critical issue.

This was only the second time in Iowa CCI’s 40-year history that you and your members have engaged in civil disobedience. Why do you think it was important for you and your members to use that tactic in this fight?

Iowa CCI has a 40 year history of engaging in direct action — it is central to our theory of change. We believe that those most impacted by the issues they face should be in the driver’s seat when it comes to making the decisions to address those issues and that when power is used to oppress everyday folks we need to build and wield people power to achieve the changes we seek. Building a base of impacted frontline communities and moving them to direct action protests have always been central to this theory throughout our history.

But it was in the spring of 2012 when we first used mass arrest and civil disobedience. In the wake of the 2008 financial crash, with Wall St. Banks and giant corporations recovering from the economic crisis they created while leaving us behind, our base of members decided the time to escalate and use a new tactic (for us) had arrived. We believe that as organizers, we need to use all of the tools available to us in our toolkit. Nonviolent civil disobedience is a powerful action to expose the status quo of corporate power and engage more people into our movement.

Dakota Access has taken legal action against Iowa CCI to stop your peaceful protests. On September 13th, you have your day in court. You’ve pledged to continue the fight no matter what happens. What can you tell us about what you have planned going forward?

In attempts to silence us, Dakota Access uses a tactic familiar in the corporate power playbook – bullying us in courts in an attempt to restrain our speech. Their playbook also calls for attempts to discredit us with misinformation, division, and distraction. But we will not be distracted, we will not be divided, and we will not be deterred.

In the coming weeks we have our day in court, and we are optimistic that a federal judge will agree with us that our peaceful exercise of free speech and civil disobedience is legal and cannot be restrained. We are planning more direct actions, some of which will feature more folks – grandmas and grandpas, teachers, students, farmers, and workers – who choose to risk arrest to draw more attention to our fight and force decision-makers like President Obama to intervene. This may have been our first act of peaceful civil disobedience on the Bakken pipeline, but it won’t be our last.

In the coming weeks, more grassroots organizations and everyday people, including other members of People’s Action, are planning solidarity actions to stand up and say #NoDAPL. Visit to learn more about how you can get involved.

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