Thoughts on environmental racism for Earth Day 2023

Water Protectors Shell River 7 arrest in 2021d


The ongoing fight against fracking, pipelines and all extractive industries

We lost the battle if not the war on Line 3. It’s done, it’s dusted and it’s leaking into groundwater even as you read this. (See for reporting on the 153 cases of pollution control violations in the latter half of 2022.) But there were tiny victories along the way. The Line 3 battle brought the global reality of environmental racism home to Minnesota, although some Minnesotans were already only too aware, as the paragraphs below indicate.
In 2021 the construction of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline took place, despite all the legal means that seemed sure to stop it. Arrests accompanied the construction from start to finish, first dozens, then hundreds. In September 2021, as the pipeline neared completion, MPR reported that “nearly 900 people have been arrested during protests against the Line 3 oil pipeline, which is being built in northern Minnesota. Most were cited with misdemeanors. But many … have been charged with gross misdemeanors, and some face felony charges.”

Shanai Matteson WP after dismissed charges 2022

Unlike in the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in North Dakota, most of these charges did not hold up. But they managed to ruin a lot of lives even if just for a year or so. In July of 2022, two cases were heard and dismissed. In one, for defendants Nancy Beaulieu, Justin Keezer and Todd Thompson, the case was heard by the White Earth Tribal Court after their attorney successfully argued that only that court had jurisdiction and got the case transferred. Since their defense was that they could not be trespassing on treaty lands of their own tribe, charges against all three were dismissed. In another case a single defendant, Shanai Matteson, had her charges dismissed when her attorney successfully argued that the state had not made a case. In November of 2022, five of the Shell River Seven had their cases dismissed in Wadena County, leaving only Winona LaDuke and photojournalist K. Flo Razowsky. Razowsky’s case was later also dismissed. LaDuke’s case was heard in February of 2023 but apparently is still pending a decision. (Incredibly, LaDuke was appointed by the state as guardian ad litem of the Shell River before the arrest of the seven for trying to defend the river from the pipeline.)

The fight against Cop City and defending the forest in Atlanta

A blogger named Daniel Peisner, in an online publication called Bitter Southerner, wrote a long, detailed account of the Forest Defenders fighting against a massive police training facility being built on publicly owned forest land outside of Atlanta, Georgia. In his article, “The Forest for the Trees,” Peisner summed up the fight against the

Manuel Teran, a forest defender, was murdered in January.

so-called Cop City (officially, the PSTC) thus: “For progressive activists, Atlanta’s PSTC represents something of a perfect storm: a single project that catalyzes fears of ecological degradation, state-sponsored violence, police militarization, environmental racism, opaque governance, and the long legacy of white supremacy.“
You can read that piece and Peisner’s follow-up, “Little Turtle’s War,” which covered the killing and the legacy of Manuel Teran, forest name Tortuguita, who was murdered by Atlanta police inside the forest in January of 2023, at I wrote a shorter summary of the two pieces with some other background here:
You would think (or hope) that the death of Manuel Teran would cause the police and developer forces in Atlanta to scale back their attack, but

instead they have escalated. Although no one else has died yet, at least 23

Jackie Echols of South River Watershed Alliance opposing Cop City

Forest Defenders or urban protesters have been charged with domestic terrorism, a felony (, March 9, 2023).
There is a clear line between forest defenders and water protectors, a clear link between these two struggles. Both are glaring cases of environmental racism, aimed at Native Americans in some of the poorest reservations and rural areas in the nation, or at African Americans in the working-class parts of the “City Too Busy To Hate,” Atlanta.

Close to home, fighting to decommission HERC

Here in River City, an organization called the Minnesota Environmental Justice Table (MEJT) is working in coalition with other groups to shut down garbage incinerators, including Minneapolis’s own HERC.

MEJT wants county to close HERC as part of zero waste

Hennepin County, which owns the incinerator, has launched a zero-waste plan, which MEJT is using to leverage pressure against HERC. HERC is another clear example of environmental racism and classism, as it burns everyone’s garbage, but mostly only the low-income, mostly BIPOC residents of near north Minneapolis suffer the health effects of its toxic gaseous output. Nazir Khan, an organizer with MEJT, said “This is a big opportunity for the county to put in place a careful, detailed plan.” Go to their Facebook page, mnejtable, to see how you can get involved.

Right in our backyard, No Demo! for the Roof Depot building

And then there is the Roof Depot struggle, which is also as close as can be to home, in the East Phillips and Seward neighborhoods of Minneapolis. As the battle heated up, there have been several articles by others covering this in 2023 in Southside Pride, so I won’t go into the details. Currently at an impasse thanks to a ruling imposing a stay on the planned demolition of the Roof Depot building, this struggle has been going on for nearly a decade.

No Demo of Roof Depot Rally at Cedar Field

Our friendly neighborhood competitor paper, Longfellow Messenger, had a forthright attack on the majority pro-Hiawatha Expansion city council members. Daniel Schmidt’s piece in the March issue is headlined, “Lacking rationale for Hiawatha Expansion Project, council members foment fear to rouse base.” This is similar to the counties of northern Minnesota charging offenses they ought to know are bogus, and the charges are essentially the same as those Atlanta police are bringing against forest defenders there – inflating peaceful protest and dubious trespass into a felony called “domestic terrorism.”
Here we had a young white woman claiming to be in fear for her life because a Native American grandmother, who is literally fighting for her life and the lives of her loved ones, raised her voice at City Hall. If you made this up in a dystopian fantasy, readers would find it implausible. This is why my daily meditation on Earth Day will focus on this horror – environmental racism.

Comments are closed.