The fight against multinational corporation Enbridge and its Line 3 pipeline is too critical to take place only in northern Minnesota. As the climate crisis deepens, many in Chicago have brought the fight home, refusing to allow safe haven for those who want to destroy the planet and profit off of the destruction of Indigenous cultures, communities, and land.
It was an early morning in June, and the sun stretched out across the sky, its rays shimmering down across an expansive, beautiful landscape in northern Minnesota. There was, however, a violent presence disrupting the serene beauty of the trees, hills, and lakes. The Line 3 easement shredded through the earth like a hacksaw, leaving wounds in the soil and piles of fallen trees in its wake.
“Line 3” is the name Enbridge, a multinational corporation, uses to refer to a spill-prone pipeline they currently hope to expand. If the Line 3 expansion project is completed, the pipeline will become operational again, transporting tar sands from Alberta, Canada, to Wisconsin, poisoning the water and numerous ecosystems every inch of the way.
The crowd assembled that summer morning was part of a community of water protectors determined to ensure that Line 3 never turns back on.
The mood was one of courageous solidarity as water protectors—activists committed to stopping pipeline construction by putting their bodies in the pipeline’s path—built barricades and chained themselves to construction equipment. Some of us had driven ten long hours from Chicago to fight this monstrous project. Others hailed from places as far flung as Austin, Texas, and New York City. For the Chicagoans present that day, the drive up through the nighttime, wind, and rain was marked by nervous chatter about what would happen next, jokes, and long-winded analysis of the climate crisis and Indigenous solidarity.
The urgency and necessity of earth’s impending destruction can be felt around the campfires that dot activist resistance camps and between the pulsating murmurs of Department of Homeland Security and police helicopters invading the starry night sky. Fighting for liberation tastes like the freshly cooked meals that comrades prepare for each other.
Since June, over 700 water protectors have been arrested protesting the Line 3 expansion; many of them have suffered bruises and scrapes after being dragged away and locked up by cops, and more recently, welts from rubber bullets and even facial paralysis from police torture strategies they call “pain compliance techniques.” Over eighty water protectors have faced unfounded felony charges as the Minnesota courts contribute to the corporate state’s intimidation tactics. But the movement refuses to be intimidated.
Veins of Poison
As described in Rampant last week, Enbridge is billing the current Line 3 project as a “replacement” of old sections of the pipeline. In reality, however, Enbridge is planning to leave old, defunct pieces of pipe in the ground to continue poisoning precious ecosystems, while expanding the notoriously destructive pipeline 364 more miles through Anishinaabe treaty land.
The pipeline carries tar sands—one of the dirtiest forms of fuel on earth. Tar sands is a solid, heavy form of crude oil that must be transported using hazardous, carcinogenic chemicals because it is not naturally a liquid. Given the high density of toxic tar sands, more pollution is required to refine them, and there is no known way to fully clean tar sand from bodies of water it spills into.
If fully operationalized, the expanded Line 3 would match the carbon emissions of fifty new coal plants, threatening more than 200 bodies of water and over 3,400 acres of wild rice water across its path. This threatened ecosystem is one of the few in the world where wild rice—sacred to Anishinaabe peoples—grows.
It’s hard to overstate the damage tar sands pipelines like Line 3 do to water systems. The current Line 3 structure has already caused the largest inland oil spill in North America, when it leaked 1.7 million gallons of crude oil across northern Minnesota after a rupture in 1991. Further, refining tar sands into usable fuel requires a disturbing volume of water—the process takes more than three barrels of fresh water for every barrel of oil it produces. Thus, water protectors are not only defending the access to clean water in their community, they are also protecting against the massive misuse of one of our most important resources at the hands of polluting industries. Finally, the “dewatering” process, whereby water is removed from bodies of water to enable pipeline construction to continue, is a significant part of Line 3’s expansion. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has allowed Enbridge to deplete local water levels by 500 billion gallons during a historic drought in the region, for an administrative fee of a mere $150. This kind of drastic measure actively disrupts the growth of wild rice, in addition to exacerbating drought conditions.
In the thirty years since the devastating Line 3 spill of 1991, Enbridge has been responsible for hundreds of ruptures that have spilled more than three million gallons of crude oil. For example, in 2010, Enbridge was behind a massive spill that caused $1.2 billion worth of damage to the Kalamazoo River. And that same year, a leak in the Enbridge Line 6A pipeline discharged over 250,000 gallons of oil in Romeoville, Illinois, a southwest Chicago suburb. Since construction on the Line 3 expansion began, there have been at least twenty-eight spills of drilling fluid, which contains hazardous chemicals, into numerous bodies of water. Worse yet, Enbridge has a profit-driven incentive to hide the full extent of the damage it causes. Thus, some of the examples above only came to light because of the work water protectors.
A Path Leading to Chicago
The expansion of these kinds of pipelines is in large part due to the increased processing of tar sands in oil refineries across the Midwest. This includes the BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana, responsible for producing petroleum coke, also known as petcoke, a powder-like toxic byproduct. At one point, massive piles of petcoke were being stored on the banks of the Calumet River on the Southeast Side of Chicago. These “Mountains of the Southeast,” as they were called, were so huge they could be seen all the way from the interstate. In the “Windy City,” this powder would get blown around easily and infect everything and everyone in the vicinity with toxic pollutants.
After years of struggle to ban the mounds of petcoke, Southeast Side residents—the majority of whom are Black and brown—were eventually able to win restrictions to rid their community of the harmful piles. But the Koch Brothers, who owned the facilities housing the petcoke, fought the community all along the way.
There is thus a connection between what’s going on in northern Minnesota and the South Side of Chicago. Indeed, the prioritization of dirty industry directly links the plight of Indigenous communities, whose resources and land are extracted and poisoned for profit, with the struggles of working-class communities of color fighting off polluters in their backyards, as they are treated as dumping grounds by cities like Chicago.
Resistance Stretching to Chicago
As Line 3 nears completion, many local groups in Chicago have stepped forward in solidarity with those on the front lines, through trips north to Minnesota and local fundraisers and solidarity actions. The movement on the ground in Chicago consists of a diverse array of organizations and individuals. In addition to groups fighting for Indigenous sovereignty like Chi Nations Youth Council, there are groups focused on the fight against climate change, including Rising Tide Chicago, Extinction Rebellion, Sunrise Movement, and those involved in local fights against environmental racism, like the fight to stop General Iron.
Further, the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America has stepped up in solidarity with the Stop the Money Pipeline campaign, which has focused on mobilizing groups in cities across the US to protest on the role of banks in funding and profiting from the construction of murderous pipelines. At one solidarity action in the occupied homelands of the Odawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi known as the city of Chicago, activists marched through the Loop carrying a large black snake symbolizing Line 3. The march concluded at the Chase Bank headquarters to make the connection between the financial institutions that fund and invest in destructive projects like oil pipelines and profit off of the mass displacement of Black and brown families through violent evictions.
Members of the Defund CPD campaign have pointed out the role of northern Minnesota sheriffs offices and police agencies in brutalizing protestors on Enbridge’s behalf, funded directly by the corporation through an escrow account, to use potentially lethal munitions and torture techniques. Without cops to physically move courageous water protectors out of the pipeline’s path, construction of Line 3 literally could not continue.
Finally, groups of organizers fighting for queer liberation, against colonial norms of gender and sexuality, and against white-supremacist, patriarchal violence have stepped up, with Femme Defensa and a group of queer abolitionists planning two separate fundraisers to support the front lines. The connection of pipelines to gendered violence, whereby “man camps” of out-of-state pipeline workers perpetuating the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives (MMIWR) represent yet another form of colonial violence spurred by Line 3’s expansion.
Earlier this summer, many of these organizations sent delegations to northern Minnesota for the Treaty People’s Gathering (TPG). During TPG and throughout the spring and summer, hundreds of people from different Chicago organizing communities have traveled to the front lines to stand with Indigenous-led resistance to Line 3, putting their bodies on the line. Their courageous actions demonstrate the understanding that Line 3 represents the ongoing genocide of Anishinaabe peoples and that no one will be safe from climate destruction if we don’t follow the leadership of Indigenous folks, Black and brown communities, and others most impacted by environmental violence today.
This loving resistance, rooted in solidarity and the fierce desire for a future where humans and other-than-human relatives can thrive, stretches from Chicago to Minnesota and beyond, deeper than any pipeline and infinitely more resilient than the forces that hope to profit from imperialist climate violence.
Chicago Takes Action on August 26th
On August 25th, water protectors will gather at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul to call out governor Tim Waltz and lieutenant governor Peggy Flanagan for their complicity in the expansion of Line 3, to demand that President Biden step in to direct the US Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) to revoke the pipeline’s permits, and appeal to Jaime Pinkham, the acting assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works who oversees the ACE, as Pinkham has been an ally to pipeline resistors in the past.
In solidarity with this demonstration, Chicago organizers will gather the next day, Thursday August 26th, to uplift the same demands.
The ACE is a branch of the US military—the largest polluter in the world and a notorious perpetrator of other forms of imperialist violence—that is responsible for issuing permits in accordance with the Clean Water Act to allow infrastructure projects to proceed. The St. Paul, Minnesota, District of ACE issued permits to Enbridge even though the state’s environmental impact statement ignored alternatives to expanding Line 3. They issued the permits despite the appeals of Indigneous people in the area, who have relentlessly reminded them that Line 3 poses an existential threat to ecosystems and bodies of water on Anishinaabe treaty lands.
It’s no surprise that a massive polluter like the US military would ignore these environmental impacts in the interest of profit, and would ignore the sovereignty of Indigenous nations, which is why water protectors must take direct action to force their hands. In Chicago, the ACE office is nestled among banks and financial institutions in the Loop’s financial district, with views of Lake Michigan, the very waters they enable their banking neighbors to pollute. Join us there on Thursday at 6 PM to tell President Biden and Jaime Pinkham to revoke the permits and halt the expansion of Line 3. It’s past time they reverse their complicity in putting profits over treaty rights, people, and the planet.