Labor Day, September 2, 2019
I spent Labor Day weekend with people in northern Michigan who are fighting to shut down Enbridge Line 5. This oil pipeline runs 645 miles from Superior WI to Sarnia ON across over 100 tributaries and 400 bodies of water, including the Straits of Mackinaw between lakes Michigan and Huron. It carries oil from the Alberta Tar Sands and fracking fields of the Bakken Formation centered in North Dakota. That oil should stay in the ground.
The protests took place at the foot of the Mackinaw Bridge in Mackinaw City on the northern tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula that crosses the Straits of Mackinaw to St. Ignace in the upper peninsula. I was invited by Andrea Pierce, a member of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians, one of 11 federally-recognized indigenous nations in Michigan. Members of many of these nations participated weekend’s events and were the lead organizers. I met Andrea at the climate action demonstration outside the Democratic presidential debate in Detroit on July 30. Andrea is also the co-founder and chair of the Anishinaabek Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party, which organizes Native Americans to get involved and advocate for treaty rights, sovereignty, equal opportunities, and environmental protection. She wanted a Green at the weekend’s protests because the Democrats are divided on the demand to shut down Enbridge Line 5.
We started out with a potluck dinner on Friday night at the Government Center Building of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians. I spoke about the Green Party’s version of the Green New Deal with its demand for a federal ban on fracking and all new fossil fuel infrastructure, which means shutting down Enbridge Line 5.
After the dinner, we moved to the foot of the Mackinaw Bridge across the Strait of Mackinaw where people demonstrated with a light show that said “Shut Down Line 5,” “Stop Enbridge,” “Water Is Life,” and “Green New Deal.” Then we took the light show to Enbridge’s pumping station for another demonstration.
Line 5 is operating 15 years beyond its original expected life expectancy. Now Enbridge wants to expand Line 5, including building a tunnel under the Mackinaw Straits for a new pipeline. The activists are demanding no pipeline expansion and a shut down of the whole line.
Line 5 has had least 33 spills since 1970 that released 1.1 million gallons of oil, including the devastating 2010 oil spill into the Kalamazoo River – one of the nation’s largest-ever land-based oil spills. A pipeline break under the Straits of Mackinaw, with its strong currents, would soil 800 miles of shoreline along the lakes Michigan and Huron. It would ruin the drinking water source for 70% of shoreline communities who draw their drinking water directly from the lakes or from groundwater wells whose aquifers are fed by Great Lakes water flow. The Great Lakes are home to 20 percent of the fresh surface water on Earth.
Saturday morning started out with a flotilla of canoes and kayaks at the foot of the Mackinaw Bridge. Then we listened to speeches and songs by an Indian drum circle.
In my talk, I told the gathering that as a retired construction worker and Teamster, I could have been at any number of Labor Day parades and picnics this weekend. I prioritized getting to these demonstrations because what they were talking about – shutting down Enbridge Line 5, halting all new fossil fuel infrastructure, and building clean energy systems in a Green New Deal – was a better program for creating good jobs than what was being said at most Labor Day events.
At noon, after the flotilla and the songs and speeches, we marched through Mackinaw City to another park for a Water Is Life Festival where there were more songs, speeches, and tabling by environmental and political groups.
In the spirit of the united front against Enbrige Line 5, the Bernie Sanders tablers let me share their table for our palm cards and buttons. It helped that two of those tablers were Lauren Sargent and Brian Chambers, who old time Greens will remember as stalwarts of the Ann Arbor-based Huron Vally Greens of the 1980s and 1990s. Lauren and Brian introduced me to many of the 300 or so people at these events.
We ended up Saturday night at a campfire on the land of some Odawa Indians on Lake Michigan, where longtime anti-nuclear and environmental activist Victor McManemy, who is also a folk singer who has performed with Pete Seeger, continued to lead singing with his guitar and harmonica with songs he did not have time to get to in his afternoon performance at the Water Is Life Festival.
I am finding as I go around the country that the fights against fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure have the most energy and people involved of any grassroots movement. These people are fighting to defend their land – from Indian nation water protectors resisting the XL Keystone and Enbridge Line 5 pipelines to New Yorkers fighting fracked- gas pipelines, compressor stations, and power plants as well as “bomb trains” and barges moving fracked-oil from the Bakken field across the state.
These movements to ban fracking and all new fossil fuel infrastructure are the cutting edge of the climate movement. If we don’t stop this new fossil fuel infrastructure, we will be locked into another 40 or more years of fossil fuel burning that will result in a climate holocaust that leads to mass species extinctions, the collapse of ecosystems, and with that, the collapse of agriculture and human civilization. Indeed, current fossil fuel infrastructure must be shut down before its normal operating life is complete. A study published in the scientific journal Nature last month found that no new CO2-emitting infrastructure can be built, and that existing infrastructure needs to be retired early, in order to meet the Paris Agreement climate goals.
I want to thank Andrea Pierce for inviting me to participate and thank all the people who clearly put in a lot of hard work to pull off all of these well-organized events to protest the pipeline. They are an inspiration to keep fighting for environmental sanity and social justice. Shut Down Enbridge Line 5!