Joseph Ryan of St. Louis, MO, caravanned with about ten people to demonstrate at the site in Lee County, IA, where the Dakota Access crude oil pipeline is supposed to cross the Mississippi River. He said he was prepared to do whatever it took to defend the planet and save its water.
“What it took for me is to get past this survival instinct mode that I was so afraid of losing,” said Ryan, who quit his job two weeks ago at what he described as a major telecommunications company.
“I thought that if I quit my job, I would not be able to put food and water in my body. What I learned from coming out here is that you can show up absolutely naked and we will clothe you, we will put food in your stomach, and we will water you. We will make sure you are able to be the person you are.”
Ryan said when he told his friends and family that he quit to fight full-time against the pipeline, their initial reaction was that he needed to get a new job as soon as possible.
“The reaction was that I needed to get a new job and get back into the capitalistic, money-making lifestyle that we live,” said Ryan. “The reaction, it was primarily positive in regards to, ‘Yes, this world needs to change,’ but people are exactly where I was before I took this journey, really saying ‘Screw it’ to my personal survival and putting our survival on the line.”
Ryan was one of more than 40 people who volunteered to be arrested Saturday afternoon to show the world that the construction of the roughly $4 billion pipeline must stop. He said it was quite easy to accept that he was about to be arrested for the first time.
“My body has to be on the line to stop a pipeline that could destroy all of us, so there are really no thought processes involved for me personally. It’s just a matter of life.”
The pipeline would stretch nearly 1,200 miles from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to a facility in Patoka, IL. The company has said it is about 60% complete, but it is not expected to meet the initial completion deadline of late 2016 due to permit delays.
The organizers of Saturday’s act of civil disobedience believe they are making progress in stopping the pipeline.
At 2:00 p.m., several dozen pipeline opponents started hiking up a private path through some thick timber to get to the construction site near Sandusky, IA. A majority of the remaining crowd went to a driveway leading up to the site.
The volunteers who were arrested ignored calls from the pipeline company to stop and proceeded onto land controlled by Dakota Access. Soon after, Lee County Sheriff’s Deputies and Iowa State Patrolmen were placing the volunteers in flex-cuffs and searching them before loading them into vans and other vehicles.
The vast majority, 38 adults and two juveniles, were taken to the Lee County jail after they were arrested. They were processed for trespassing, given a court date in October, and released.
Chief Deputy Scott Bonar said one man was booked on an additional count of interference with official acts because he repeatedly jumped on a pipe after being told to stop. Bonar said other than that, the demonstrators were polite and he felt things went smoothly.
Frank Cordaro of Des Moines, IA, agreed. Cordaro helped organize Saturday’s event, serving as a sort of base commander, choosing not to be arrested so he could keep tabs on those who were.
About halfway through the demonstration, he admitted he was quite pleased.
“It seems at this end, it looks like it is going as planned,” said Cordaro. “We are sending people there to risk their personal freedom, risk some form of financial accountability, to speak the truth. That’s our power and the more people we have here, the better. And as long as we stay non-violent and we have the cooperation of the police, this can be a very doable thing. We can shut this down.”
Cordaro stayed with the larger group who “took” the driveway. The roughly 15 in that group who were arrested walked past an employee of the pipeline and proceeded up the hill before they were stopped by law enforcement.
The first was Steve Jacobs of Columbia, MO, who made it about 10 feet before being placed in flex-cuffs. As he was walked down the hill, the remainder of the crowd chanted his name, “Stop the Pipeline,” and “Water is Life.”
Cordaro could clearly see who was arrested in the larger group, but admitted it was difficult to track how the smaller group was doing. Every so often, he’d get a report, but they were contradictory: “They have been arrested, or they are still protesting, or they are not on site yet.”
Soon, though, he received a message that was quite clear.
“WE SHUT IT DOWN,” said Cordaro, telling the crowd that the company had to halt construction because the smaller group of protestors made it inside the fence surrounding the site. He said the key was that people stayed focused and remained non-violent, adding that more people are needed.
“If we don’t have a major act of civil disobedience underway in the next three weeks, while the pipes are still exposed, then we are not doing our jobs,” said Cordaro.
By 3:30 or so Saturday afternoon, almost everyone who had been arrested was at the jail being processed, giving Cordaro a chance to regroup and take stock. A caravan of vehicles left for the jail and those remaining organized the food and restocked the water.
Suddenly, a Lee County Sheriff’s pick-up truck stopped at the bottom of the hill. Inside were three teenagers who were arrested for getting onto the construction site via the private path.
Daniel Rubio, 16, Nolan Logsdon, 16, and Lucas Masterson, 16, all juniors at Keokuk High School, proudly posed with their light blue summons for trespassing.
They were the final three to leave the site, ending for the time being the civil disobedience that Cordaro helped plan.
He told the boys he was proud of them and that he hoped the juvenile court judge would give them a medal for standing up against the pipeline.