Grandmothers Against Pipelines — The New Political

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in The New Political’s winter magazine: “Moving Forward.”

Three grandmothers sat in chairs outside the Enbridge Line 3 construction gates, their arms tied together and chained to the gate. They tied a banner to the door that said “Grandmas Stop Line 3”.

“We will rise like water. We’re going to shut down that pipeline. I hear my great-granddaughter’s voice saying, “Keep it in the ground,” sang.

Judy Smucker, Anne Sparks and Claudia Sheehan, all from the Athens area, traveled to Minnesota in July 2021 to take direct action against the construction of Line 3 by obstructing one of the roads for the construction of the pipeline.

Their efforts granted them all felony theft charges. As of December 2021, the women were still out on bail and awaiting trial.

“It’s my time, it’s my generation that made the mess… We want to take care of our children and our grandchildren, but we’ve done such a bad job of not cleaning up the mess,” said Smucker. “I can do it now. There is nothing to stop me. We are a force –– grandmothers are a force, a real force. We can be if we unite.

Smucker, Sparks and Sheehan are all environmental activists who have worked with the Athens County Future Action Network (ACFAN). Originally, ACFAN stood for Athens County Fracking Action Network. The group has been fighting fracking and injection wells in Athens County since 2011.

In the summer of 2021, ACFAN asked volunteers to travel to Minnesota to fight against Enbridge Line 3, a replacement pipeline for the Canadian oil and gas company. The line stretches from Alberta, Canada, to Wisconsin, with the replacement adding 330 miles to the line, according to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

Environmental and Indigenous rights activists have prioritized Line 3 because of the line crossing the lands of several Indigenous tribes, including Anishinaabe territory, and through lakes and wild rice beds. Line 3 violates the sovereignty of tribal nations over the territory and violates the treaty rights to hunt, gather and fish in the territory, Stop Line 3. The line carries heavy oil sands that must be pushed through the pipes. This takes a heavy toll on the environment in terms of carbon and fossil fuels and poses a threat to communities and the surrounding environment from potential spills.

Manoomin, or wild rice, is a sacred food for the Chippew, Ojibwe and Anishinaabe people, according to High Country News. The construction of the Line 3 replacement involves the drainage of bodies of water, according to Enbridge, which could harm wild rice lakes. In August 2021, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe exercised Manoomin Rights, a tribal law that gives legal status to plant species and what is known as a Law of Nature, to stop construction of Line 3 ahead of a tribal court.

“Tribal communities have been putting their bodies at risk for more than seven years to stop the construction of pipelines and the transport of oil sands through their lands…Science tells us that our land is at a tipping point. Yet our politicians are subsidizing fossil fuels and blocking clean energy, refusing to act responsibly and demanding the use of cleaner, safer sources of energy,” Sheehan, Sparks and Smucker wrote in a released statement. on ACFAN on their actions.

In June 2021, the three Athenian grandmothers went to an Earth First! camp in Minnesota with activists planning direct action against the pipeline. While there, the women used aliases and were told that there were probably undercover agents in the camp. During the week, a nearby camp run by Indigenous peoples was “besieged” by the Hubbard County Sheriff’s Department.

The media unicorn riot and anti-pipeline organization Giniw Collective documented on video the Hubbard County Sheriff’s Department preventing vehicles from bringing supplies into the Native camp, despite it being on private property and being used with landowner approval.

According to The interception, at the time of the barricade, Enbridge reimbursed Hubbard County $2,660 for riot helmets, face shields, chest protectors and other equipment to suppress pipeline protests.

The women were sent to the camp to provide support and upon arrival heard a loud, piercing sound. Sheehan described it “like people screaming and torturing each other, it sounded so loud and weird.”

“I realized that they were using the sound, these huge sound devices, in the middle of the night just to torment the people in this camp. Just for no reason. If they say it’s a road problem, why do they use that loud sound?” Sheehan said.

The Giniw Collective has documented law enforcement’s use of long-range acoustic devices – sound cannons – against pipeline protests. The devices are known to cause nausea, fatigue, sweating, hearing loss, memory loss, and difficulty thinking.

The women were initially turned away from the camp but were able to return and help. They were the sentries of the native camp and negotiated permission to bring in food and water with the sheriff’s department, as being three older white women wouldn’t cause the situation.

“The way they were treated is fair, there is no justice in this. I know they wouldn’t get away with it if it was anything other than a Native American camp. I know they were targeted because they were Native American,” Sheehan said. None of the other camps, according to the women, were treated in this way.

Members around the camps called the women grandmothers. The women were chained to the door and to each other for three hours until they were arrested. Currently, they are on bail and advised “not to even cross the street”.

Cusi Ballew, a member of the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Nation and a resident of Millfield, is also a longtime activist. When you search for his name, you find articles published by fossil fuel companies decrying Ballew’s direct action.

He traveled across the country to fight against pipelines and for the environment with his wife Madeline Ffitch, author of “Stay and Fight” and “Valparaiso, Round the Horn”, and their children.

Ballew is part of the Athens community fighting against pipelines and spoke at the March 29, 2021 protest outside Chase Bank on Court Street. Chase Bank is one of the biggest monetary proponents of fossil fuels, contributing more than $196 billion since 2016, according to Stop the Money Pipeline.

“We can’t wait for presidents, bankers or governors to change their minds about fossil fuels. Anishinaabe water protectors are calling on people everywhere to join the fight, step out of their comfort zones, and take mass action to stop this and all pipelines on stolen land,” Ballew said during demonstrations.

Outside the Village Bakery, customers are greeted by signs reading “Stop line 3” and “The sea is rising and so are we”.

The Village Bakery is an integral part of the activist community in Athens. In an Instagram post of a customer review, a customer said that the Boulangerie du Village was “For liberal, don’t mix business and politics, I won’t go back (sic)”. The Village Bakery account captioned the post ‘We’ll be mixing business with politics 8am-3pm today’

Christine Hughes, owner of the Village Bakery, said the Village Bakery wants to have an overall positive impact on the environment. The bakery buys ingredients from local farms, uses solar panels and uses more energy-efficient appliances. The bakery raised $1,500 for various organizations fighting pipelines, including the Giniw Collective.

The Village Bakery isn’t about profit, Hughes explained. “We want to make the world a better, happier and healthier place for everyone,” she said.

And on the way to Strouds Run Park, visitors will also see signs against Line 3.

Oil began flowing through the Line 3 pipeline on October 1. Smucker, Sparks and Sheehan are treading carefully in their activism on the advice of legal experts. But activists in Athens continue to work against pipelines, for the environment and for the rights of indigenous peoples.

“It’s a huge thing to know that the decisions we make now are going to affect the rest of civilization, the future of our planet. The decisions our government people are making now, it’s going to affect all of life. For always,” Smucker said.

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