More than 15,000 miles of pipelines snake through the state of Louisiana, so many that if you didn't know where to look you wouldn't be able to spot it in the above diagram. Daily, pipelines push millions of gallons of crude oil, petrochemicals, and other shit through an underground network that connects refineries, terminals, and plants all over the country. Refineries process crude oil and some break it down into petrochemicals. Terminals store them along the route. Chemical plants transform them into other things like vinyl chloride and the like.
Throughout this process, refineries and plants dump the byproducts into adjacent waterways and release all kindsa toxins into the air. They erase the often black land-owning communities that surround them by slow violence and/or eventually buying their land at prices that do not reflect the pre-pollution value or the cost of resettlement.
Even when the displaced are able to relocate somewhat comfortably, dioxins produced by industrial sites (at which they used to and next to which they lived) resist metabolism, storing themselves inside fat cells for years. They can move to 1492 and still end up developing chemical diabetes or giving birth to a child without a brain.
No branch of our checked and balanced government is about to lift a finger.
The Environmental Protection Agency, which supposedly works "for a cleaner, healthier environment for the American people," actually does close to nothing. The EPA requires that refineries and plants self-report pollution and frequently sides with them when communities present research-backed complaints. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees interstate pipelines, requires that pipeline operators notify the commission of the location of the pipeline within (for Louisiana) a 500 foot margin of error that they do not verify. For some pipelines, FERC doesn't even have records of who the operator is. This is a huge issue for emergency responders looking to repair any pipeline accidents.
Cases for environmental justice that have reached the Supreme Court on the basis of Civil Rights legislation (that historical fools gold that makes people think we're progressing) have been lost because, regardless of the harm caused, it cannot be proven that it was the intention of the corporation to cause harm specifically to a "minority" community.
Meanwhile, the white-dominated environmental movement willfully overlooks the ways in which communities of color are disproportionately impacted by the presence of the petrochemical industry, choosing instead to focus on wetlands and wildlife. Oil-covered pelicans and dying trees. Not because environmental racism isn't real but because it doesn't get you much funding (and therefore, doesn't keep those invested in the non-profit industrial complex employed).
Regardless of the urgency and proximity of environmental racism, it doesn't seem to have become fashionable to discuss it among young black activists in New Orleans yet. Which I hypothesize is because, for the vast majority of them, their connection to the Gulf Coast is about as shallow as a three foot-deep pipeline (which is very shallow, and yes, pipelines do be as little as three feet under, son). They did, however, have a protest in solidarity with Standing Rock. Which I mean... would be cool if, you know, given Louisiana's significance in the pipeline narrative, it was grounded in the material realities of the place where they live.
As a woman of both African and indigenous descent whose people been on this coast since been, whose ancestors is them fossils we use for fuel, I air my grievances.
Whether the indigenous occupants of any portion of U.S.-colonized land signed a treaty for tribal sovereignty or not, this here whole Turtle Island is sacred land. To prioritize the impact that industrial infrastructure has on people in a distant region without connecting their resistance to the place in which you breathe, eat, and drink water - that, in the case of Louisiana, happens to also be the source of and much more greatly impacted by the issue - is not solidarity. It's evidence that you don't know or care about where you live. Or you think a white man's signature on a piece of paper makes their claim to the right to preserve the health of and to live on the portion of their ancestral land to which the government has confined them more valid than ours. Or you really just want visibility by association with a popular issue. Or some combination of the three.
It's evidence that your activism is as entrenched in a fragmented understanding of ecology as the capitalism of the pipeline supporters.
There isn't an item at a protest aside from the bodies themselves (and, really, even that depends on what topical body products, medications, and foods the protesters consume) that doesn't require pipelines and petrochemicals for production - not to mention the transportation of manufactured goods by some combination of plane, ship, or cargo truck, which run on gas and pollute air and waterways.
The aesthetics of the modern protest are deeply rooted in imperialism and the domestic colonization of peoples of African and indigenous descent. Until organizers understand their complicity in the ecological violence perpetrated against black and indigenous populations among whom they live and strategize ways of organizing that minimize damage to the land that grows our food, to the water we consume, and to the air we breathe, "solidarity with Standing Rock" ain't nothing but a catch phrase.
Fun facts and petty statements that I couldn't fit in the essay:
(1) A certain facebook page by New Orleans organizers about Standing Rock erroneously claims that the origin of the term "maroon" (as seen in the name of this here blog) is the mixing of black (African) and red (Native American). But... African and indigenous American relationships predate the European colonization of the New World through which "black" and "red" identifiers became a thing. Blackness and redness weren't widespread concepts when Africans and the indigenous peoples of the Americas began entering into clandestine relationships to subvert captivity and labor exploitation. Just... no.
(2) Can we stop playing like our word-is-bond, indigenous asses ever really believed in a written treaty or expected the American government to honor one?
(3) I'm really looking forward to the day when folks stop trying to impose northern organizing strategies on a community that clearly doesn't respond to them.
(4) Supply and demand. It really is that simple. Before you start that GoFundMe campaign to finance your road trip to North Dakota, ask yourself: Am I doing more for the cause and/or the earth by seeking to be on the ground even though, to get there, I will be creating demand for the products that necessitate pipelines both in the place I'm going and the place from which I come?
Thank you for joining me on this journey. Now let's massage our sixth chakra together and envision a world in which we are unified by deeper analysis. Woosah, my nigga. Woosah.