March 16, 2017

Dear Enbridge: Your Tar Sands Pipelines Aren't Welcome Here

On Saturday, March 4, more than 200 people—mostly youth under the age of 30—took to the streets of small-town Whitewater, Wisconsin, in a March Against Pipeline Expansion.


Members of the Indigenous Youth Ceremonial Mentoring Society—who had traveled all the way from St. Paul, Minnesota, to participate—led the march. Starting from the University of Wisconsin Whitewater campus, marchers made their way through town, down Main Street, and eventually to the scenic Cravath Lakefront Park.


There, as the afternoon sun broke through the clouds, the megaphone was passed around the crowd as students, landowners, tribal members, and local residents spoke about their inspiration for joining the march.


The March Against Pipeline Expansion focused on Enbridge Energy’s plans to expand their already enormous and decrepit oil pipeline network in the Great Lakes region, making three basic demands:

  1. A public commitment from Enbridge not to construct any new tar sands oil infrastructure in Wisconsin, including the proposed Line 66 pipeline;

  2. The decommissioning of Line 5 - which runs through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and along the floor of Lake Michigan beneath the Straits of Mackinac - as soon as possible; and

  3. Improved pipeline management, oversight, and technology from Enbridge in order to safely operate and eventually decommission existing pipelines as the nation and the world transition to clean fuel sources.

Especially as water protectors disperse from the camps at Standing Rock to strengthen and connect other fights across the country, the March Against Pipeline Resistance was a powerful reminder that resistance is everywhere. Signs throughout the march held messages about #NoDAPL, stopping Enbridge, protecting water, respecting treaty rights, defending future generations, halting the climate crisis, preventing oil spills—and about many, many of the other reasons why young people are inspired to unite in the streets in opposition to destructive fossil fuel projects.


Enbridge’s pipeline network stretches from Alberta, Canada, and the Bakken fields of North Dakota, through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan, and then fans out across the country to deliver fracked and tar sands oil to other cities and coastal ports. The concentration of pipeline capacity in the Great Lakes region is matched only by the concentration of bold, courageous, and beautiful resistance.

Lorenzo Backhaus, one of the lead organizers of the march and a senior at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater, spoke during the press conference that took place at the waterfront following the march.  “Lake Michigan is a very vital resource to people, so if a pipeline leaks and tar sands get in it, it’s ruining a lot of people’s fresh water source,” he explained. “With President Trump signing through the Dakota Access Pipeline, having people standing and having their voices heard is very important.” The entire action was planned by the members of the Wisconsin Youth Network from campuses across the state, and was attended by young people from across Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois.


The day after the summit, I was honored to help facilitate a Youth Strategy Summit on pipeline resistance, charting the course for the next chapter of fighting Line 3 in Minnesota, and Line 66 in Wisconsin. Rooted in a combination of regional and statewide conversations, the 25 youth leaders who attended mapped out the opportunities and challenges these fights will face over the next few months.

For me, the weekend was a powerful reminder that there are already inspirational communities of young people building—and winning—the campaigns that will stop Enbridge, their pipelines, and the rest of the dirty energy industry for good.

892 Photo credit: Andy Pearson

Indeed, just two days later,  I saw many of the same faces in Bemidji, Minnesota, where more than 300 people came together first for a Solutions Summit, with leaders from the solar industry, Standing Rock, and northern Minnesota tribes (including the incredible Winona LaDuke, founder of Honor the Earth), and then filled the State Department’s only public meeting on the proposed expansion of Enbridge’s tar sands pipelines across the U.S./Canada border.


Despite freezing blizzard conditions, most of the community marched two miles from the Solutions Summit to the State Department meeting through the town of Bemidji.

893 Photo credit: Brent Murcia

When our march ended at  the conference center where the State Department meeting was to take place, young Indigenous women led a traditional jingle dress dance outside to warm us up and ground us for the meeting ahead. When it was time to begin, it took the crowd more than 45 minutes to get through the high-security check to enter the building—not even purses were allowed, forcing participants to find willing friends with vehicles to safeguard their possessions; enter the meeting without their notes, sacred items, and other personal belongings; and endure more time in the freezing cold and gusty winds.

Once inside, the State Department officials made no effort to engage the crowd. They simply stood quietly around the periphery of the room beside posters that informed the public there would be no “significant” environmental impact to increasing Enbridge’s pipeline capacity by nearly 400,000 barrels per day.

Despite the unwelcoming atmosphere, the jingle dress dancers began another dance in the conference room—and then held the floor to tell their stories to the crowd. Young water protectors spoke about their calling to defend their land and rights, and led chants like “We won’t run! We won’t hide! Enbridge, stop your genocide!”. You can see the full livestreamed video of their beautiful testimonies here.


This is only the beginning of the fight against Enbridge’s Line 3. The young people of Minnesota will continue to call on Governor Mark Dayton and his Public Utilities Commission to engage and listen to public opinion throughout the process, deny the expansion, and require Enbridge to clean up their mess.

We will continue to show up at public meetings and hearings, and we will continue to show up in the streets to tell Enbridge that their exploitative oil pipelines will not be allowed through the Great Lakes region.

Our waters, our lands, our climate, and our communities are more important than their corporate profits. We stand to protect the livelihoods of those who depend on the land and lakes for their living, and we stand in solidarity with those who are fighting these same extreme and oppressive corporations across the country.

Want to join the fight against tar sands pipelines? Here are three important ways you can take action today:

  1. Submit a public comment opposing Enbridge's Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline today.
  2. If you live in Minnesota, add your name to call on Governor Mark Dayton to oppose Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline expansion.
  3. Join the Power Shift Network Slack, our online organizing community. Once you’re there, look for the #pipeline-resistance channel to connect with youth activists who are leading the resistance to Enbridge—and to destructive fossil fuel projects in every corner of the continent!