Frontline Communities Lead the Way at D.C. Peoples Climate March

On Trump’s 100th day in office more than 300,000 people took over the streets of Washington D.C. to tell ameriKKKa that we will not sit idly by and watch the Earth and our most marginalized community members be harmed by greed fueled global climate chaos.

The Peoples Climate March was a mass mobilization that brought together stakeholders from diverse communities to end global climate chaos. There were over 375 sister marches on all continents except Antarctica.

Organizing for the march began in 2014 before the election as a way to hold elected leaders, regardless of political party, accountable to create family sustaining green jobs that protect workers and to invest in the well being of “frontline” communities and Indigenous People who are the most heavily impacted by environmental degradation.

Leading up to the 29th through May Day was a week of action that included numerous panel discussions, art making activities, social events, and community solidarity actions.

The It Takes Roots to Grow the Resistance collective held a Red Lines action in front of the U.S. Capitol on the 28th, one day before the march. The action included blocs made up of people from the Indigenous, Gender and LGBTQIA, Food Sovereignty, Black Lives Matter, Immigration, Appalachian, Housing and Land, Youth, and Veterans for Peace justice communities.

Charlyn Griffith, a self-identified Queer mother, artist, farmer, and scientist, brought the youth from Soil Generation, a Black led food sovereignty group in Philadelphia, to organize with the Gender Justice bloc. The youngest member of their delegation was 6 years old. When I queried Charlyn on the importance of the youth participation, they replied “At age 14, 15 is pivotal, you begin working. You’ve got money to spend. You can begin to decide where you’re putting your resources and what behaviors you want to crystallize.” Griffith also spoke of how the youth are full of compassion and how their teen angst can be used to further the well being of the Earth and our people.

When I asked Charlyn what connection they saw in breaking the gender binary with the climate movement I was in awe of their response: “When we look at marginalized groups, particularly Women of Color and Gender Non-Binary, have been dealing with being marginalized and put into the corners and silenced and abused. That’s a very cloudy day for a long time. That’s acid rain… I think that mother earth is being very gentle with us…every sunny day is an opportunity to dismantle oppressive dynamics.”

Queer Appalachian, Bek Hughes, with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and the Gender Justice bloc, explained to me the many reasons they traveled to D.C. to take over the streets. “We’re lucky (in Kentucky) we’re surrounded by fresh water and beautiful landscapes, trees, and mountains, but we’ve also for a very long time seen people not caring for our land…Mountaintop removal is a huge issue in Kentucky..We’re at a point where if we go any further we can’t return.”

While marching through the streets violence almost ensued with angry motorists. I watched as drivers attempted to run over people who were keeping the street clear for us we crossed an intersection. This was the second time in less than 24 hours that I worried blood shed may occur.

The previous night, the Indigenous community held a round dance in front of the International Trump Hotel in D.C. to send a clear message that we will not continue to have our land and women raped and pillaged for dead, dirty fossil fuels. It was such an awe inspiring sight to behold Indigenous People from many nations, and our accomplices, take over Pennsylvania Ave with a round dance.

I was live streaming during the event, but I spotted a cab veering towards our people. I immediately put my phone away and joined the human blockade to help protect our people as they danced. I happened to be wearing my “I heart Pro-Choice Girls” t-shirt that day. I would have made a different clothing choice that morning if I had known I’d be standing in the road blocking cars that night. When law enforcement arrived I began to live stream again in case they became violent towards any of us.

During both actions I remembered all too vividly watching the videos of our people being ran over by white supremacists at the Indigenous People’s Day rally in Reno, NV in October 2016. I met and had dinner with one of our relatives that was present during this heinous act. Neither men involved in that hate crime were given field sobriety tests nor even faced charges. Every day is both a good day and a dangerous day to be Indigenous.

Saturday’s march was sectioned into blocs of stakeholders with the frontline and Indigenous People leading the way. After leaving the pre-march press conference I arrived to find non-Native accomplices forming a human barrier around the front of the march lineup. Even as Indigenous press I wasn’t allowed to break the human barricade. It was a welcome change from the D.C. Women’s March which was like running a maze of white racists and colonizers that only left me even angrier and more resentful towards the feminist movement. I snapped a few photos and then lined up to march with my people and capture interviews along the way.

Saturday had a record high of 91 degrees tying with April 29, 1974 which only furthered my resolve to stay on the streets as long as I could. I needed to be there to stand with my people and represent our communities. I needed to be there to cover the news that mainstream media won’t deign to touch. Eventually though I succumbed to the heat and spent part of my time with the medics. I can honestly say that in my many years of participating in mass actions I have never seen a march that was as Disability accessible as this one. The minute I told a march volunteer that I was ill and needed help they immediately led me to the medical tent where I was then driven to a cooling bus.

Despite this though ableism was still present. The Disabled community was not given any events in the week of action, a bloc in the march lineup, nor were present in the It Takes Roots coalition’s events. As a Disabled Person I am much more heavily impacted by the destruction of our Earth than the able bodied. Disability justice must not ever be left behind in our struggle to protect the Earth and our most vulnerable people.

For all of the cross community and coalition building that occurred there were still issues with the most privileged white settlers taking up space. There were numerous signs stating that one couldn’t be an environmentalist if they weren’t a vegan or vegetarian.

I live in a poor neighborhood that’s a food desert. Healthy foods simply aren’t available and, as a result, eating a vegan or even vegetarian diet isn’t an option. I also have health issues that make that diet impossible. Furthermore, Indigenous People are the caretakers of this land. Before the government restricted our access to our traditional foods via genocide, our diets had always consisted of animals that we hunted and fished for. Our sovereign rights to continue our cultural ways and diets that sustained us and the Earth for thousands of years is not what’s harming the planet. To claim that the Poor, People of Color, Disabled, and Indigenous are not environmentalists for not keeping a white, bourgeois vegetarian or vegan diet is to be consumed by white, able bodied, financial, and settler privilege.

The words of Faith Spotted Eagle, Yankton Sioux in the Ihanktonwan territory, rang especially true at this moment. I had the honor of interviewing her that morning. She spoke of how the government has racialized us and by doing so they have separated us women. “We have forgotten how to speak to women from other cultures because of the internalized lateral violence they taught us… Because we are the caretakers of water we have traditions that are thousands of years old that are to be learned from and stories to share.”

As Spotted Eagle described, “My battle for the water began before I was born.” The Army Corps of Engineers condemned her community along the water by the time she was 1½ years old. Faith explained that the Sioux prophecies foresee a “water war” and that the Missouri River “will be no more by 2040.”

The world’s largest uranium deposits lie in South Dakota. Joye Braun of the Cheyenne River Sioux spoke of how her nation has four current water fights on their land. They’re still fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline, the recently resurrected Keystone XL pipeline, uranium bore mining, and the Dewey-Burdock mine.

These battles for water and survival for Indigenous People and all who reside upon Turtle Island have only become more onerous since Trump signed HJ Resolution 44 into law on March 27th.. By giving control of federal lands to the states this will further the destruction of Native Nations’ sovereignty and fuel the widespread use of resource extraction in Indian Country. This resource extraction also brings man camps near our land that creates devastatingly high rates of sexual assault, trafficking, kidnapping, and murder of our women. The man camps also increase the rates of drugs on our lands and diverts life saving resources, such as healthcare, from our people to the primarily white resource extraction workers.

Increasing the Native morbidity and mortality rates due to environmental racism is the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). On May 4th the House of the Representatives voted to repeal and replace the ACA. By doing this they have placed the continual renewal of the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act at risk and have defined issues such as sexual assault, domestic violence, and diabetes as “pre-exisiting conditions.” Under the American Health Care Act $800 billion will be cut from Medicaid. Both the IHIA and Medicaid expansions under the ACA have brought more widespread coverage to Native People on reservations and in urban areas. While the ACA doesn’t come close to providing the full care that Native People require, the potential repeal and replacement with the AHCA will be detrimental to our very existence. Lives will undoubtedly be lost. To be Native is to live every day on the frontlines.

Update:

Since this piece was written oil has been pumped in the Dakota Access Pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois and has leaked 84 gallons of oil in South Dakota.