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This past Thursday was Thanksgiving. A time when we remember a feast, the first Thanksgiving, on Plymouth plantation in the autumn of 1621. The tales of pilgrims from the Mayflower who celebrated the harvest, shared and broke bread with the first Americans, are still used as inspiration and shared with children, teaching them the beauty of gratitude.
Standing Rock.©Lori Panico
But it is now widely understood this Thanksgiving story is a fictional history. It was invented to whitewash the vicious genocide wrought upon the native inhabitants of this magnificent continent. Not only did the Europeans try to eradicate native populations, but they made every effort to eviscerate their culture, their language and eliminate them from these coveted lands.
From Plymouth Rock to Standing Rock, this lie has made our Thanksgiving Day a day of mourning for the First Nations, all the tribes big and small, those who came before us.
A few weeks ago we traveled to visit the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota. We arrived at this unprecedented historical gathering of more than 500 tribes and thousands of others standing on the frontlines to protect water, to state the most basic human truth, to say water is life. Despite the painful history, today they fight peacefully for us all.
The camp grows as winter comes. Standing in protection of our most vital life support systems, but also for the rightful preservation of Native American cultural ways and their sovereignty. Everyone we talk with is committed to peaceful resistance. Weapons, alcohol and drugs are forbidden there.
Standing together in prayer to protect water displays a deeply rooted awareness of life's interconnected nature, and of the intrinsic value and import of traditional ways. This growing movement stems from love, it is the most human instinct to protect that which we love. An eager and engaged youth are at the core of this pipeline route resistance, learning from a population of elders who pass down unforgotten knowledge.
It is an awakening. All here together, with their non-native relatives, standing strong in the face of outrageous, unnecessary and violent aggression, on the part of militarized local and state law enforcement agencies and national guard, who are seemingly acting to protect the interests of the Dakota Access pipeline profiteers, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, above all other expressed concerns. They stand against corporate security forces, the county sheriff and the national guard. Standing while being hit with water cannons, mace, teargas, rubber bullets. Standing without weapons and praying, the water protectors endure human rights abuses in freezing temperatures. Supplies arrive from all over as the social media universe shares the heartbreaking news to the world, that an American corporate media is not free to report. Thus, it is the ugliness of corporate America, seen around the world.
But they stand, their hair frozen from water cannons. They stand for all that is good and they stay strong.
We are calling upon you, President Barack Obama, to step in and end the violence against the peaceful water protectors at Standing Rock immediately.
We will be going back to support the water protectors again.
Let us all stand with them in thanks, in appreciation for the ancient wisdom they carry, in thanks for this opportunity for true gratitude. For giving us a path forward. For trying to show us a road to survival.
We offer our support and our respect. We hear the call to protect the water protectors to listen, learn and get engaged. They are brave. We thank them. And we can give thanks for the bounty.
Like water on the garden of activism, America's surprise president brings a bounty of opportunity. The great issues of our time are now brightly illuminated and people are becoming more aware of them than ever, from sea to shining sea, from Standing Rock to Wall Street.
The surprise president-elect was not the winner of the popular vote, does not have a mandate for the change of ideals envisioned. Keep in mind, close to over two million more people voted for another candidate. Nor is the surprise president the leader of the free world. Two hundred of the world's nations believe in science, above the profits of the oil, gas and coal industries, and are committed to working together to protect the future from an unchecked climate crisis. The surprise president claims he does not believe in climate science nor the threats it presents and his actions and words reflect that claim in tangible and dangerous ways.
Do not be intimidated by the surprise president's cabinet appointees as they descend the golden escalator. Those who behave in racist ways are not your leaders. The golden tower is not yours. The White House is your house.Your growing activism in support of freedom over repression, addressing climate change, swiftly replacing a destructive old industries with safe, regenerative energy, encouraging holistic thinking in balance with the future of our planet; that activism will strengthen and shed continued light on us all. These worthy goals must be met for all the world's children and theirs after them.
This is our moment for truth.
Unintimidated, stand, speak up and show up. Be counted. Be like our brothers and sisters at Standing Rock. Be there if you can. The progress we have made over 240 years as a nation, has always come first from the people.
Neil Young and Daryl Hannah are standing with the water protectors at Standing Rock and urging President Barack Obama to step in and end the violence over the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).
Environmental activist and rocker Neil Young asks President Obama to stop the violence at Dakota pipeline protest.Flickr
"The camp grows as winter comes," Young and Hannah wrote in a lengthy open letter posted onto their respective Facebook pages. "Standing in protection of our most vital life support systems, but also for the rightful preservation of Native American cultural ways and their sovereignty."
The couple explain how the DAPL demonstrators are "standing strong in the face of outrageous, unnecessary and violent aggression, on the part of militarized local and state law enforcement agencies and National Guard, who are seemingly acting to protect the interests of the Dakota Access Pipeline profiteers, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of tax-payer dollars, above all other expressed concerns."
Watch footage of Young playing guitar at the DAPL protest site:
The protest, ongoing since April, has been marked by the presence of heavily militarized law enforcement who have used tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and water cannons to blast away pipeline protestors in freezing temperatures. Last week, the Standing Rock Medic & Healer Council reported 300 injuries and more than 20 people sent to the hospital, with many patients needing treatment for hypothermia.
One water protector, 21-year-old Sophia Wilansky, might lose her arm following the police standoff.
The environmentally conscious musician and actress are urging President Obama to immediately take action in light of the recent eviction notice issued by the Army Corps as well as the presidential election of Donald Trump, who lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.
"The surprise president elect was not the winner of the popular vote [and] does not have a mandate for the change of ideals envisioned. Keep in mind, close to over two million more people voted for another candidate," Young and Hannah wrote. "Nor is the surprise president the leader of the free world. Two hundred of the world's nations believe in science, above the profits of the oil, gas and coal industries, and are committed to working together to protect the future from an unchecked climate crisis."
"The surprise president claims he does not believe in climate science nor the threats it presents and his actions and words reflect that claim in tangible and dangerous ways," the letter states. "Do not be intimidated by the surprise presidents' cabinet appointees as they descend the golden escalator. Those who behave in racist ways are not your leaders. The golden tower is not yours. The White House is your house."
Young and Hannah promise in their letter, "We will be going back to support the water protectors again."
The two traveled to the protest site earlier this month to celebrate Young's 71st birthday on Nov. 12.
"Got my birthday wish today, my girl took me to #StandWithStandingRock #WaterIsLife," Young wrote on social media. "Those who damage Mother Earth, damage us all, forgive them, they don't yet see."
Young, a passionate environmentalist who has spoken against fossil fuels and pipelines before, released a protest song and video in September called "Indian Givers" which features footage of the DAPL protests.
"There's a battle raging on the sacred land / Our brothers and sisters have to take a stand," Young sings. "Against us now for what we all been doing / On the sacred land there's a battle brewing."
Young and Hannah call on on President Obama to protect his environmental legacy as well as future generations.
"Your growing activism in support of freedom over repression, addressing climate change, swiftly replacing a destructive old industries with safe, regenerative energy, encouraging wholistic thinking in balance with the future of our planet; that activism will strengthen and shed continued light on us all. These worthy goals must be met for the all the world's children and theirs after them," they stated. "This is our moment for truth."
"Unintimidated, stand, speak up and show up. Be counted. Be like our brothers and sisters at Standing Rock. Be there if you can. The progress we have made over two hundred and forty years as a nation, has always come first from the people," they concluded.
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Sometime last year I had the great fortune to be swimming in an extremely remote part of the southern Pacific Ocean. I was floating over one of the last coral reefs to still have some pops of otherworldly, shocking, neon bright color left here and there.
Between the green grey algae coating and the bleached white bones you could still find a mesmerizing hot pink or a blinding chartreuse. Gliding along, looking for some of these colorful signs of life, I spot what looks like a miniature pair of slender legs sticking up from the coral skeletons.
It was as if a very tiny person was diving into another worlds portal.
And sure enough she was ...
I pulled at a tiny foot, and out of the branches of dead coral came a thing from another era.
A coral encrusted body emerged, her long blond hair now twisted with a pale green seaweed. She was a 1970s Barbie stuck for decades, like so much plastic and styrofoam in the ocean, never to biodegrade. Because her head was buried, the last time she had seen this reef was several decades ago, when it was still a veritable rainbow teeming with fish, sea mammals and color.
She'd been transformed not into a Barbie mermaid, but Barbie sea hag, and the reef transformed into a ghostly abandoned shell of its former self.
What a shock.
What has happened.
These last few days I've been swimming again in the clear warm waters of the Pacific.
A part of the world where I first learned to scuba dive when I was a preteen. It was here I first realized that under the sea was another entire parallel world. One that was exploding with amazing, intricate shapes, outrageous colors and filled with all kinds of life forms, striped, spotted, illuminated, transparent, miraculous. It's when I first wanted to be a mermaid.
My heart is breaking now, as I see these corals smothered in slime and find only a few lonely fish dotting what was once a glorious wonder.
Tragically, this is not endemic to one part of the world.
It is a global crisis.
Just recently, reports shocked the world, as news of a massive bleaching event killed off a third of Earth's Great Barrier Reef.
Healthy coral is essential to a healthy planet. Coral provides a home to more than a million diverse species, they give protection to coastal cities and communities, and are a source of medicines that treat dangerous illnesses and diseases. Reefs create food, jobs and income for millions.
In a short time we have collectively exacerbated the death spiral of these fragile life forms and since most humans don't spend much time under water, most are not aware of its dire state.
It is decimated.
It is an emergency.
It is dying, and fast.
But, we know what needs to be done to reverse the destruction of coral reefs. They are big changes, but not impossible and we could save an entire ecosystem from collapse and possibly help save ourselves. Interestingly, many of the solutions to help our ocean and coral reefs are the same required for the revitalization and climate crisis mitigation on land.
To prevent ocean acidification and warming, we need to:
- create more "hope spots," marine sanctuaries, places where fish have the opportunity to repopulate and corals can grow
- reforest and build soil, which helps to secure soil stability and helps prevent runoff, it brings fertility and sequesters carbon
- shift away from industrial agriculture models to sustainable, small scale, non chemical, permaculture agriculture
- create a stringent plan for the runoff from new and existing coastal developments or golf courses which lead to lethal algae blooms
- reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and swiftly shift to clean regenerative energy
- create and enforce more stringent laws that prevent overfishing, including poaching of tropical, algae eating reef fish for the aquarium and pet industry
- ban destructive fishing practices like trawling
- reject or ban non-biodegradable disposable pollution like plastics and styrofoam
- require warning labels on coral killing sunblock
I understand there will soon be a remake of the film Splash. I'm afraid they could search the world for locations to match the corals we swam through in 1984 making the original Splash, and never find them. Ultimately, I'm afraid they will have to simulate them with special effects or computer-generated imagery, just like we will have to make real changes in the way we live on this Earth to reestablish a healthy ocean. I deeply wish, from the bottom of my heart and from the bottom of this suffering ocean, that all those involved might have the opportunity to witness some of its glory, that they may make a film which in some way helps to preserve the life of the ocean that this fairy tale celebrates.
May they fall in love with the ocean, and the magnificence of this underwater world, and may their love for this crucial life support system inspire and galvanize them to help us do whatever is necessary to abate its untimely death.
“Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” – Winston Churchill
It is time to acknowledge what has long been obvious: President Obama wants Keystone XL built. He won’t tell us this until after Election Day, for fear of alienating his Democratic base, but his actions speak for themselves. The President’s high profile visit to Cushing, OK a week ago today to expedite construction of the pipeline’s southern leg (“Keystone Lite”) only further exposes his true intentions, which are as transparent as the Obama camp’s attempt to change the channel by renaming it the “Cushing pipeline.” Governor Romney, who mistakenly assumes Republican voters don’t care, at least tells us he would approve the toxic tar sands pipeline on “day one” of his presidency.
Both candidates fail to grasp the depth of revulsion this un-American, gas price raising, job threatening, land grabbing, water polluting, export pipeline has generated in the six Great Plains states it would cross. For many of the front line farmers, ranchers and tribal community members I had the honor of meeting on my 2,150-mile “Tour of Resistance” last fall, Keystone XL is not an abstract game of political football, but a matter of deathly importance. More than a few are ready to lay in front of the bulldozers to keep this toxic pipeline off their land. In Pine Ridge, South Dakota, home of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the peaceful resistance has already begun.
How did we get to this point and what have we learned to strengthen us for the fight to come? Recent history provides the lessons.
My personal involvement began last winter and spring, when after first learning about Keystone XL, I shared my plans to ride the pipeline route with environmental groups leading the fight against it. That summer, a group of prominent climate activists led by Bill McKibben invited people to Washington, DC for a mass show of civil resistance against Keystone XL. There were 1,253 people that responded by getting arrested in front of the White House, but it was actor/activist Daryl Hannah's high-profile arrest that turned Keystone into a household word. The following day, Al Gore endorsed the protest and Nebraska’s Republican Governor went on record opposing the proposed route through Nebraska. Nine Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including the Dalai Lama, soon followed suit by weighing in against Keystone XL. Activists began hounding Obama at public appearances around the country, with Vice President of Oglala Lakota Nation Tom Poor Bear the first person to spur the President to address Keystone XL publicly. A subsequent call to action by Bill’s group resulted in 12,000 people encircling the White House in early November.
Under excruciating pressure to deny TransCanada’s presidential permit, Obama pulled a fast one by announcing he was delaying a decision on Keystone XL until after the 2012 election. My reaction was to label it an act of political cowardice. Others similarly saw through the political ploy, including eco-visionary, Paul Hawken, who called the move “dangerous.” But most of the well-intentioned environmental movement embraced the false victory, showering the President with praise for his “courage” and “leadership.” Keystone XL was prematurely declared dead and actions planned at Obama campaign offices in 50 states were called off. Front line pipeline fighters felt like the rug had been pulled out from under them.
Lesson #1: When you have your opponent staggered and against the ropes, you don’t back off, you keep on coming until you’ve landed the knock out punch.
Then in January, backed into a corner by congressional Republicans, the President announced he was denying TransCanada’s permit, which sounded pretty good until you got to paragraph two of the White House Statement, where he offered to partner with TransCanada on the southern (OK-TX) leg of Keystone XL. Calls for Obama to be taken to task for this subterfuge were largely ignored, while most of the environmental movement did another victory dance, again declaring Keystone XL dead. This despite the President’s own written words to the contrary and an administration that never stopped publicly telegraphing its support for the tar sands project. Their ploy to break the project up into bite-sized pieces had worked like a charm. This time, it was landowners in Texas and Oklahoma feeling like collateral damage for Obama’s reelection campaign.
Lesson #2: When the President of the United States tells you he supports building a leg of Keystone XL, take him at his word, and respond accordingly.
Since then, Republicans in Congress have been scheming to revive Keystone in a way that will damage President Obama politically. At the same time, congressional Democratic leaders like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Democratic Whip, Steny Hoyer (D-MD), inch closer to supporting Keystone XL, while others like U.S. Senator Clair McCaskill (D-MO) and former president Bill Clinton embrace it outright. The congressional tar sands bandwagon recently grew larger when 11 Democratic Senators backed a GOP provision to fast-track construction of Keystone XL. To their credit, the environmental movement has rallied valiantly to beat back each new legislative assault, but they keep losing ground to Democrats. A movement that rarely misses an opportunity to criticize Republicans for fronting for Big Oil fails to treat well-oiled Democrats, including President Obama, the same at it’s own peril.
Lesson #3: Partisanship, whether real or perceived, is toxic to building winning social movements.
We are not winning. TransCanada is. Obama, ever the quintessential politician, has played the environmental movement masterfully. But this time, he may have gone too far. By making such a public spectacle of backing “Keystone Lite,” Obama betrayed his lack of respect for the movement. Maybe he doesn’t believe large numbers of patriotic Americans will lay their bodies on the line to nonviolently repel this foreign pipeline invasion, but he is about to find out.
The 2012 election demands an honest national conversation not only about Keystone XL, but about how we’re going to keep the planet habitable for future generations. Climate-destabilizing emissions have already exceeded safe levels, and continue to rise, yet there is no serious response from government. To the contrary, leaders of both major political parties seem hell bent on accelerating the cycle of destruction by pushing for the development of even more fossil fuels. The refusal of Obama and Romney, in particular, to fight for the future of their children should alarm every parent in America. Instead of championing obvious solutions—like a U.S.-led green industrial revolution that will reenergize our economy and put millions of unemployed Americans back to work—both men compliantly do the bidding of Big Oil, while clinging to the dinosaur economy.
Early last year, an unprecedented coalition of environmental, religious and renewable energy leaders called for a “wartime-like mobilization” to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020. We urged the President to declare a “global climate emergency” by publicly acknowledging the need to reduce carbon emissions to 350 parts per million in the atmosphere, the level top climate scientists say is safe for humanity. Along with nixing Keystone XL, I can think of no better demand to be made of whoever wants to occupy the Oval Office for the next four years.
Renewable energy advocate Tom Weis ended his 2,150-mile Keystone XL “Tour of Resistance” at the fence line community of West Port Arthur, Texas, in the shadow of giant oil refineries spewing toxic air emissions. Weis launched the tour 10 weeks ago at the U.S./Canada border and has pedaled the entire U.S. length of the proposed tar sands pipeline in his “rocket trike” in support of landowners and communities in six states fighting Keystone XL. Pipeline opponents joined him in demanding that President Obama reject TransCanada’s presidential permit without delay.
Ride endorser Paul Hawken, author of The Ecology of Commerce and Blessed Unrest, joined Weis in characterizing Obama’s November announcement to delay a decision on Keystone XL until after the 2012 election as “dangerous.” Hawken joined the call for Obama to immediately reject TransCanada’s permit, or be challenged on the campaign trail until he does. “If America does not draw the carbon line in the Athabasca tar sands, then the question is: who are we, and why are we here? Of all the environmental follies that have occurred in time, surely this is the greatest."
“President Obama has shown zero leadership on Keystone XL,” said Weis, president of Climate Crisis Solutions. Calling for Americans to relentlessly challenge the president on the campaign trail until he rejects TransCanada’s presidential permit, Weis said, “Keystone XL is not only un-American, it is a direct threat to our nation. Every day the president fails to deny this pipeline permit, he is failing to protect America and her people. He must be called out on this.”
Texas landowner and founder of Stop Tarsands Oil Pipelines, David Daniel, who has been fighting TransCanada for more than three years, called the pipeline project “illegal, unregulated, untested and a gross human rights violation with no public use justification." "My message to every politician, from President Obama on down, is if you plan to put my family’s life and water at risk by supporting this pipeline, you need to be the first one to step foot on my property to try to take it,” said Daniel.
Nebraska fourth generation rancher, Teri Taylor, who met with Weis during the ride to share how the fight against TransCanada has totally consumed their lives, said, “Keystone XL is not right for America. It puts America in danger.” She appealed to President Obama as a mother and a grandmother, “Deny this permit for your daughters and my grandchildren.”
Port Arthur resident Hilton Kelley, who received the 2011 Goldman Prize for fighting to protect his fence line community from the dangers of surrounding oil refineries, said, “The people of West Port Arthur have suffered enough. We cannot tolerate the additional toxic emissions Keystone XL would rain down on our community. Poor people also have a right to clean air and water.” The U.S. EPA has openly criticized the U.S. State Department for not fully assessing the potential impacts of increased refinery emissions on the community of Port Arthur and its air and groundwater. TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline could transport up to 830,000 barrels a day of toxic tar sands slurry to be processed in Gulf Coast oil refineries.
"President Obama faces a truly historical moment,” said Oglala Lakota matriarch and 2011 Indigenous Woman of the Year award winner Debra White Plume. “The world will soon see if he caves in to the tyranny of big oil, or if he is a sensible human being with a heart on fire for life, for the future generations. I hope he denies the permit right away, as game over for big oil, and the first stroke of painting a beautiful path for our generations to walk on."
Endorsers of the Ride for Renewables: No Tar Soil On American Soil! include Daryl Hannah, Lester Brown, Ed Begley, Jr., Paul Hawken, Patagonia and others. Principal sponsors include AllEarth Renewables, Inc. and EcoWatch.
For more information, click here.