by John Duffy
At dawn, the temperature inside my tent began to steadily rise. After forty-eight hours on virtually no sleep, twelve of which were spent trudging through the hundred plus degree Texas afternoon, brambles snagging at my legs while mosquitos feasted on every drop of my simmering blood, even this sweltering tent has been a welcome respite. Lumpy ground and all. Clambering out into the morning, I look down to the pond where under the cover of last night’s darkness bats swooped and glided across the murky shimmer, expertly snaring their dinner. I quickly remember the howl of the coyotes that had filled the evening. It must have been a whole pack of them, I think to myself, recalling the density of sound that had filled the darkness and surrounded me with its primacy; its mystery.
People were already gathering under the meeting tent, eating oatmeal and waiting for the morning briefing. Most are from some region of Texas, others from Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kentucky. There is an excitement permeating the inescapable discomfort. How often are activists granted such access? The morning briefing is led by an organizer with a straw cowboy hat, and he informs us that in West Virginia, hundreds have marched on a strip mine. Ultimately, fifty crossed the boundary line, and twenty were arrested. It wouldn’t be until I returned to Austin that I learned one of the people who locked themselves to the heavy machinery is a good friend. It would be another day still until I was made aware that his bail was set at twenty-five thousand dollars. The government is escalating its war against activists, as the fossil fuel industry escalates its war against life. I wonder when activists will escalate their tactics. When will they see that they need a new playbook? As glad as I am to be in a camp of fifty or so people gearing up to halt the construction of a pipeline that will transport tar-sand derived bitumen from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, I cannot help but remember that we are losing. We have not been able to even slow the rate at which the planet is being killed, yet many want to only focus on our meager successes. Temporary battles won, stays of execution hard earned before the inevitable defeat at the hands of the machine of the dominant culture.
When will we stop asking nicely? What are we willing to sacrifice for an actual win?
Maybe it’s too late. Maybe the critical tipping points have already been reached and breached. Maybe all that methane now spewing up from beneath the Arctic really is the nail in the coffin that some proclaim it is. I guess I don’t really give a damn. It’s always easier to find a reason not to act than it is to act. If I am going to commit to this project, I have to steel myself against the inevitable criticisms that will barrel down upon us like a dust storm. I guess I’m just too damn tired of all the talk. That’s why I’m covered in a glaze of red clay, powder turned to paste as it met the layer of sweat I have worn all weekend. There is value in standing up, in fighting back against the insatiable bully. There is value in rebellion, in allowing the actions of the body to align with the nag of the conscience and the howl of the soul.
As the day draws on, I find myself standing with the property owners, sketching maps in the dirt. I drop my usual pretense and ask point blank how badly this family wants to protect their land. They are steadfast in their answers. There isn’t a hint of hesitation when I make specific suggestions as to how to fortify their boundaries. My chest tugs when I look into the eyes of the woman who made this land her home so many decades ago. I feel my agency drain from me. Choice is no longer a factor. Only duty remains. I am bound to this woman and hope she feels it when I hug her, promising my return, promising that I will do everything I can to help her win this fight.
On the drive back to Austin, the core of this conflict resonates, and all of us packed into the tiny car can feel its vibrations in our bones. The blue and red map no longer applies. It never was but a construct, propaganda disseminated as pompous fact in an effort to divide a people. This fight is about home. Not just the home of one family, bullied into submission by a foreign corporation who brandishes threats of eminent domain, but of all families. Human, bat, coyote, catfish, mosquito, sassafras, poison ivy. We have no place else. Here we were made, and here we shall remain. We aren’t asking nicely anymore.
John Duffy is an activist based out of Austin, Texas. He is currently working to blockade the construction of the southern leg of the Keystone XL tar-sand pipeline. If you would like to find out more about how you can support this effort, he can be contacted at Duffy.Contact@gmail.com.