Inside the No Bakken 30
By Crystal Defatte
Most people don’t wake up in the morning thinking they’re going to be arrested that day, but on August 31st I was not most people. I, along with three others, left the Quad Cities in the wee hours of that morning to head up to Pilot Mound in order to take part in the Dakota Access Pipeline (AKA Bakken Pipeline) protest planned for the day.
When I walked into the building in Pilot Mound I was taken aback by the number of people in the room. There seemed to be around sixty people there, and I remembered hearing they weren’t really expecting half that, but that may have just been rumor. We were led by members of Bold Iowa and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and started the day in a nonviolence training which included exercises to make sure we all had the same definition of nonviolence. It was stressed how important it was to keep the civil in civil disobedience, but looking around the room I had very little doubt that it wouldn’t be an issue, as the room was mostly filled with the resolute faces of senior citizens and excited millennials; none of which seemed aching for anarchy. We were told about the different roles we would collectively need to fill; de-escalation support in case tensions did run high, those willing to risk arrest by blocking the driveways to the construction site and refusing to allow equipment to enter the premises, and the support members who would protest alongside us until asked to move as well as contact family, hold onto belongings, and post bail for all of those who were to be arrested. Having a support person hadn’t crossed my mind, and I began to wonder if risking arrest was a good idea. Of the four of us that rode up together and knew each other, three had planned on being arrested, meaning at least two of us wouldn’t have our own support person. Apparently I wasn’t the only one to overlook this necessity because the group was then asked for people to volunteer to be support people for those who hadn’t brought one. In the end another person in my group decided against risking arrest after all and I suddenly had a support person I knew. When they asked how many of us were considering risking arresting, thirty six hands shot into the air, three times what they had originally anticipated.
Then attorney Sally Frank spoke to us about the possible charges. She told us the most likely was trespassing for which the potential consequences were a fine of anywhere from $65 to $650 on top of the court costs that would be assessed as well as up to thirty days in jail. Thankfully a defense fund was in place to cover fines if necessary, but I began to rethink my intended role once I realized I may have to sit in jail for much longer than the hour or two I had anticipated.
Even more people began to pour in as we broke for lunch, which was thoughtfully catered in for us. By this time our numbers had swelled to at least 100 it seemed. We sat together getting to know one another and the reasons why this protest was so important. For some it was the egregious way the natives and their land was being treated that was the main concern, for others it was the environmental impact a pipeline spill would have on our soil and water , and for others still it was the issue of forcing farmers to allow the pipeline to be built on their land through the potentially unconstitutional use of eminent domain for the gain of a private company (instead of the public good eminent domain was intended for). We all agreed that all of these issues were important and that most importantly, this pipeline needed to be stopped.
Next we met in the parking lot of Farm Progress Days and were spoken to by one of their representatives. He said he thought it was awesome that we were exercising our first amendment rights and that we were more than welcome to meet there before marching to the construction site, as long as we made way for traffic to come in and out. The press began to show up as we held our little pep rally in the parking lot, and that’s when I realized this was actually going to get the kind of attention it needed to get in order to be the least bit effective. We were led in a prayer to the earth by a Native American man; this, in addition to the lack of sleep from getting up early, my nervousness, and my passion for the cause ended up leaving me in tears. I wish I could remember that prayer that so moved me, but the sentiment of it, the idea that we are one with nature, that we must fight for it to survive, and that we and nature are of one spirit, has stayed with me.
A member of the police force then spoke to us about also supporting our right to protest but reminding us to stay out of the roads, no to go into the site past the no trespassing sign, and to let vehicles through or we would face arrest. I was impressed by the matter of fact way it was presented to us, without any condescending tone or lack of respect. I admit, I hadn’t come into this with very high hopes of how we’d be treated.
We then marched to the construction site, swarmed by the press weaving in and out interviewing my fellow protestors. I felt awkward as I realized a television camera was pointed right in front of me and the people beside me. I tried to keep my voice steady as I was interviewed by Iowa Public Radio. I was simultaneously happy to help get the message out and unnerved by the amount of attention that had suddenly fallen upon me during the interview.
When we got to the site we split into four groups of nine blocking each entranceway and a larger group protesting in solidarity on the side of the entrances. I was in the third entranceway, holding a sign alongside and talking with my fellow water warriors. Then the truck pulled up. I thought, “This is the moment of truth; do I have the guts to stick with the plan and not move, surely ending up in a jail cell? Or do I chicken out and be ashamed of myself later, comfortable at home?”. I did not move. A few police officers, who were standing behind us at every entranceway, walked in front of us asking us collectively to move while another spoke to the driver. Surprisingly the police didn’t arrest any of us then and instead redirected the truck to the first entrance. A few minutes later Jess Mazour of ICCI came and asked a few of us to move to the second entranceway and that some of the second would move to the first. This is when I realized that for whatever reason the focus would be on keeping the first entrance open and making all the arrests there.
I made my way to the second entrance where there was a lot of chanting, so much so that I thought I was going to lose my voice. We proudly held our signs and the traffic on the road heavily increased due to people leaving Farm Progress. We got a few honks and a lot of stares; I still wonder if we got through to any of the people who passed us.
By the time Jess came back it was almost three, meaning we’d been out there just shy of two hours. She explained there was another wave of arrests and more people were needed at entrance one. I knew what it meant to go down to that entrance, and this time there was no question of whether or not I was willing to risk it. I held my head high as I made my way down to entrance one. I wasn’t there for very long.
Once I was at entrance one I was once again met with the press. Someone from the Des Moines Register interviewed me about why I was willing to risk arrest. I gave the first answer that popped into my head: “Every year you hear about oil spills. I don’t want oil in the water my children drink. This is a moral responsibility for me.” I figured it wasn’t too embarrassing. Then the girl from IPR came and asked a few more questions and commented on how much more confident I seemed. I was more confident. Between all the people protesting alongside me, the chanting, and the feeling of unity they brought, I had found a confidence I didn’t know I had in me. That confidence came in handy a little after 3:30 pm when another vehicle was trying to make its way through. Not a single person moved as the guy in the truck started shouting something about just doing his job. The police moved in front of a few of us, not enough of them to speak to all of us individually. One came up to me and asked me to move. I told him I couldn’t do that. He again asked me to move, and I again told him I couldn’t. That was when he asked me, “So what you’re saying is that you are going to be arrested today for trespassing?” I wish I had in that moment come up with some stirring speech about why it was important I stay and try to impede the pipeline’s construction. I wish I had found the words to convert him to our cause, instantly causing him to join us instead of arresting us. All I could come up with though was, “I guess, if that’s what you have to do.”. He asked me to turn around with my hands behind my back, cuffed me, kindly asked if they were too tight, and led me away.
My fellow menaces to society and I were taken to jail in a hot and stuffy paddy wagon. When we got there we were asked to remove our shoes, belts, and any other personal belongings we still had on us. Nine of the seventeen females were in one holding cell, the other eight in another, and the men were housed in a third. In the thralls of an annoying nicotine fit, I asked an officer when we should expect to be released. I was horrified when he said five or six hours but as the night grew longer I realized I would have been thankful had that been the case.
During the next few hours we were fed a lovely meal of bologna sandwiches, chips, a cookie, and an apple; given sheets to fill out about our medical history and met with an officer individually to get it catalogued in the computer; and had our finger prints and mug shots taken. All of the officers were jovial and joking along with us at best and simply polite and straightforward at worst. To fill the time in between the other women and I told stories, joked, and laughed amongst ourselves. Most of the women with me were older, and I was inspired by their passion for the cause and their easy going nature otherwise. They are some of the finest women I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, and I am proud to have been arrested with them.
Finally around 11:00 pm the officers began to release us from our cells; our bonds had been paid. We were let out and left waiting for the officers to retrieve our stuff and get us processed out. By a little after 11:30, eight hours after my arrest, I was breathing that delightful mix of fresh air and toxic chemicals that come from lighting up my long awaited cigarette.
My support person, the support person of the other arrestee I drove up with, and I waited for the other arrestee to also be released. He unfortunately was released much later around 1:30 am. We had a long three hour drive ahead of us so we headed home right away, but I was later told the last arrestee to be released was out around 2:00 am.
This experience brought the No Bakken 30, as we later began calling ourselves, together in a way only protesting and being arrested together can. We’ve become like family. We kicked off a movement of civil disobedience against the DAPL here in Iowa, and I will forever be proud to have been a part of that. I cannot wait to tell my children about the other water warriors I’ve encountered and the time we all stood together to make sure they had access to clean water.