Thoughts on Environmental Racism for Earth Day 2023




The ongoing fight against fracking, pipelines and all extractive industries

We lost the battle if not the war on Line 3. It’s done, it’s dusted and it’s leaking into groundwater even as you read this. (See KSTP Eyewitness News for reporting on the 153 cases of pollution control violations in the latter half of 2022.) But there were tiny victories along the way. The Line 3 battle brought the global reality of environmental racism home to Minnesota, although some Minnesotans were already only too aware, as the paragraphs below indicate. 

In 2021 the construction of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline took place, despite all the legal means that seemed sure to stop it. Arrests accompanied the construction from start to finish, first “dozens,” then “hundreds.” In September 2021 as the pipeline neared completion, MPR reported “Nearly 900 people have been arrested during protests against the Line 3 oil pipeline, which is being built in northern Minnesota. Most were cited with misdemeanors. But many … have been charged with gross misdemeanors, and some face felony charges.”

Unlike in the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in North Dakota, most of these charges did not stand up. But they managed to ruin a lot of lives, even if just for a year or so. In July of 2022, two cases were heard and dismissed. In one, for defendants Nancy Beaulieu, Justin Keezer, and Todd Thompson, the case was heard by the White Earth Tribal Court after their attorney successfully argued that only that court had jurisdiction and got the case transferred. Since their defense was that they could not be trespassing on treaty lands of their own tribe, charges against all three were dismissed. In another case, a single defendant, Shanai Matteson, had her charges dismissed when Twin Cities-based private civil rights attorney Jordan Kushner, who was representing her, successfully argued that the state had not made a case. In November of 2022, five of the Shell River Seven had their cases dismissed in Wadena County, leaving only Winona LaDuke and photojournalist K. Flo Razowsky. Razowsky’s case was later also dismissed. LaDuke’s case was heard in February of 2023 but apparently is still pending a decision (see this rally outside the courthouse in her support.) Incredibly, LaDuke was appointed by the state as guardian ad litem of the Shell River before the arrest of the seven for trying to defend the river from the pipeline. 

The fight against Cop City and defending the forest in Atlanta

A blogger named Daniel Peisner, in an online publication linked to magazine Bitter Southerner, wrote a long, detailed account of the Forest Defenders fighting against a massive police training facility being built on publicly owned forest land outside of Atlanta, Georgia. In this article, “The Forest for the Trees,” he summed up the fight against the so-called Cop City, officially, the Public Safety Training Center (PSTC) thus: “For progressive activists, Atlanta’s PSTC represents something of a perfect storm: a single project that catalyzes fears of ecological degradation, state-sponsored violence, police militarization, environmental racism, opaque governance, and the long legacy of white supremacy.“

You can read that piece and his follow-up, “Little Turtle’s War,” which covered the killing and the legacy of Manuel Teran, forest name Tortuguita, murdered by Atlanta police inside the forest in January of 2023, at (We published a shorter summary of the two pieces with some other background in The Little Red Letter #98 in January.) 

You would think (or hope) that the death of Manuel Teran would cause the police and developer forces in Atlanta to scale back their attack, but instead they have escalated. Although no one else has died yet, at least 23 Forest Defenders or urban protesters have been charged with “domestic terrorism,” a felony. There is a clear line between forest defenders and water protectors, a clear link between these two struggles. Both are glaring cases of environmental racism, aimed at Native Americans in some of the poorest reservations and rural areas in the nation, or at African-Americans in the working-class parts of the “City Too Busy To Hate,” Atlanta. 

Close to home, fighting to decommission HERC

Here in River City, an organization called the Minnesota Environmental Justice Table (MEJT) is working in coalition with other groups to shut down garbage incinerators, including Minneapolis’s own HERC. Hennepin County, which owns the incinerator, has launched a zero waste plan, MEJT is using that to leverage pressure against HERC. HERC is another clear example of environmental racism and classism, as it burns everyone’s garbage, but mostly only the low-income, mostly BIPOC residents of near north Minneapolis suffer the health effects of its toxic gaseous output. For more depth, see this piece in Sahan Journal, quoting our comrade Nazir K, an organizer with MEJT. 

Right in our backyard, No Demo! for the Roof Depot building 

And then, there is the Roof Depot struggle, which is also as close as can be to home, in the East Phillips and Seward neighborhoods of Minneapolis. There have been several articles by others covering this in 2023 in Southside Pride,The Alley, and The Circle, and even more in The Little Red Letter, as the battle has heated up, so I won’t go into the details. Currently at an impasse thanks to a ruling imposing a stay on the planned demolition of the Roof Depot building, this struggle has been going on for nearly a decade. 

Another excellent neighborhood paper, Longfellow Messenger, had a very forthright attack on the majority pro-Hiawatha Expansion city council members with the headline “Lacking rationale for Hiawatha Expansion Project, council members foment fear to rouse base.” This is very similar to the counties of northern Minnesota charging offenses they ought to know are bogus, and the charges are essentially the same as those Atlanta police are bringing against forest defenders there – inflating peaceful protest and dubious trespass into a felony called “domestic terrorism.” 

Here we had a young white woman claiming to be in fear for her life because a Native American grandmother, who is literally fighting for her life and the lives of her loved ones, raised her voice at City Hall. If you made this up in a dystopian fantasy, readers would find it implausible. This is why my daily meditation on Earth Day will focus on this horror – environmental racism.

By Deb K R