Swarthmore Mountain Justice took to the streets of Philadelphia on Saturday to join the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). With a turnout of 84 Swatties, spanning across all class years, the student organization joined over 800 people marching in solidarity to denounce the project, which the Sioux say is an imminent threat to the wellbeing of their tribe.
The DAPL is a proposed 1,172 mile pipeline that will span across North Dakota, South Dakota and Illinois to transport over 470,000 barrels of crude oil per day to the Gulf of Mexico. Already, 300 oil spills have occurred over the past two years in North Dakota alone, and this serves as an indicator of the possible further environmental degradation and warrants necessary scrutiny due to the scale and nature of this endeavor. Because the pipeline runs under both the Missouri River at Lake Oahe and the Ogallala Aquifer, even the slightest spill would be environmentally and economically catastrophic. Such a threat would not only affect the Sioux, but over 18 million Americans who depend on the waters from both sources. On top of this, the pipeline passes through burial grounds and other sacred areas of cultural and spiritual significance to the Sioux. The tribe maintains, then, that the construction of the DAPL is another violation of the Treaty of Fort Laramie, which the Tribe signed with the U.S. government in 1868.
Jason Coppola, a journalist who has been covering the protests since well before August 2016, explained the importance of the treaty.
“The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 guaranteed complete and total access, undisturbed access, [of the land] to the Great Sioux Nation of the Oceti Sakowin [Seven Council Fires]. But that treaty has not been respected…[t]o this day, ownership of the Black Hills remains the subject of a legal dispute between the U.S. government and the Sioux.”
Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault II spoke on the behalf of his people to the United Nations in Geneva and mentioned this injustice.
“The oil companies and government of the United States have failed to respect our sovereign rights,” he said. “ [The] Dakota Access wants to build an oil pipeline under the river that is the source of our nation’s drinking water. This pipeline threatens our communities, the river and the earth. Our nation is working to protect our waters and our sacred places for the benefit of our children not yet born.”
The concerns surrounding this project range from feasibility to issues of morality. Overall, protesters are in agreement of the injustices being done and some Swarthmore students shared many of the same sentiments, including Mountain Justice.
The campus climate justice group, whose main focus is to push the college to divest their endowment from fossil fuel companies, lent their numerous voices to the cause. In supporting the protest of the DAPL, the group uses it as an example as to why they believe Swarthmore, an institution with a huge emphasis on social responsibility and champions against collusion, should end their support both politically and financially.
Swarthmore students spanning across all class years participated in the march, all of them expressing interest in the subjects of environmental justice and human rights.
Shayla Smith ’20 assisted in tabling for the event and spoke on the necessity for transparency in the realm of environmental justice.
“We need to start seeing the bigger picture here. There should be no tolerance for environmental racism, no tolerance for supporting the big companies profiting off the suffering of others … water is a human right. This?” she said referencing the DAPL, “This isn’t right.”
The protest focused on stopping at TD Banks throughout the city, as the company is one of the major funders of the DAPL. Protesters shouted such phrases as ‘People over pipelines, people over profits’ and ‘Water is life’ during the protest. Pedestrians and drivers alike were all in spectacle of the movement, a few of them actually joining the protest after watching from the sidelines.
“Oil and water don’t mix,” one man explained, when asked why he spontaneously joined the march.
Mountain Justice was born with the divestment movement in 2011. In fact, the first iteration of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign was on Swarthmore’s campus, whence the movement spread nationwide. The group was most active in the fall of 2014, during which they held a 32 day sit-in protest in Parrish calling for the college board of directors to support divestment and boasted a 200 student participation. At the height of the movement, the organization garnered over 2,400 signatures from students and alumni on a petition supporting divestment.
Protests against the DAPL are still ongoing throughout the country. The Sioux are still pushing for a complete shutdown of construction. As for Mountain Justice and its next actions on campus, they will be having an event tomorrow, September 23rd, to discuss further plans of actions.