Below is a monthly update from UUYACJ member Lee Stewart about his recent organizing work, which he sends to those contributing to his Community Supported Organizer program. Lee is a member of Beyond Extreme Energy. Read his bio here. Support Lee and his organizing work at his CSO donation page.

Jimmy Betts, another member of UU Young Adults for Climate Justice, at Standing Rock. Courtesy of Lee Stewart’s facebook page.
Trip To Standing Rock

This month, I  went on a two week trip to Standing Rock in North Dakota. Thanks to  communities in Harrisonburg, VA and Loudoun County, VA, I was able to deliver a Tahoe full of winter supplies to the Oceti Sacowin camp, including boots, warm outerwear, gloves, goggles, hand warmers, feet warmers, pans, and a 10 person arctic tent, which I had to strap to the roof for the four day drive out there. I spent most of my time at the camp in a purely support role. I was able to help with minor unskilled tasks as a part of a larger winterization effort that was in full swing when I arrived on November 30th, at the tail end of the first of two blizzards that would hit the camp during my visit. This included helping set up a yurt at the camp’s school, clearing snow for veteran housing, and putting up the Arctic tent. Having a good vehicle for icy conditions, I was also able drive people to and from the nearby casino for showers or internet access, and run errands for folks in Bismarck, which was an hour drive from camp.  

Mostly, I was in aw of various BXE friends at the camp who had been there longer and were able to offer their skills in more sustaining ways, be it through food preparation, construction, medical support, or productive networking. One of the greatest lessons I take away from my visit is the importance of practical skills in such a “create a new world” setting. Oceti Sacowin was like a small town in development. Community members were called upon to take care of each other. Without folks who could offer construction, cooking, medical and other critical forms of support, the camp may not have been able to survive.

One of the most moving moments I witnessed at the camp wasn’t a prayer march or dramatic confrontation, but rather the successful construction of a yurt. When the roof was finally set, I almost cried.  The joy of that moment caught me off guard. It was a beautiful thing to see people come together to accomplish the creation of shelter.

If the movement to stop the fossil fuel empire and the type of exploitation it sits at the helm of is to be successful, not only will we have to deal with continual societal break-down in the face of inevitable climate change, but we will also face established institutions that are hostile to our success–just as the police force in Morton County has been to the water protectors. We need to equip ourselves for this new world. Indigenous people on this continent have endured 500 years of genocide, and today provide galvanizing leadership and water protecting skills that the survival of the planet depends on. It is a message humbly and seriously received.

Being at Standing Rock has inspired me to sign-up for a five month EMT course at a local community college. The course will give me some of the skills I’d need to be a medic during inevitable upcoming actions, confrontations, and conflicts.

In terms of what was happening at camp when I was there — things seemed to be in a period of transition. When I arrived, the camp was bustling with activity and gearing up for a continuing influx of water protectors, including a contingent of veterans. Within a matter of days, however, the temperatures dropped below zero, the Army Corps of Engineers announced its rejection of the easement permit, and the hugely anticipated arrival of veterans culminated in a few extremely powerful but somewhat uncoordinated and confusingly orchestrated events. When only days before I was oriented to a camp expecting a continual flux of people and continued actions, the word soon spread that camp visitors were asked to leave unless they could be self-sustaining and/or stay through the winter. Elders, it was said, were also requesting that confrontational actions not continue in the way they had before. The blizzards had resulted in several cases of frost bite and hypothermia, and some folks were evacuated to warmer housing at a nearby community center. For several days, the dome at Oceti Sacowin, which housed many camp meetings, was used as home base for an evacuation. Folks were told to go there if they needed help leaving camp.

About 1000 people remain at camp to weather the winter. The camp holds ground on occupied treaty land in anticipation of further action by the Dakota Access Pipeline once Trump is sworn in. Firewood for warmth is a great need at the camp, so please consider supporting in that capacity if you can. And everyone’s help is always needed to pressure the banks to withdraw their financial support for the pipeline.

100 Services Project for UU Young Adults for Climate Justice

A little over a year ago, I got involved with a group called UU Young Adults for Climate Justice. The “UU” in this case stands for Unitarian Universalist. One thing that’s appealing to me about this group is that it seeks to be a place where young adults with a radical analysis of the climate crisis can find and build community together. One of the group’s projects is called “100 Services for Climate Justice.” The goal of the project is “to support and encourage young adults to share their stories and passions with congregations by delivering one hundred services about climate justice, as a part of the Commit2Respond campaign.” More information on the 100 Services project can be found here.

Thanks to the encouragement of members of this group, as well as my own goal as an organizer  to build community as an antidote to exploitation and systems of oppression, of which the climate crisis is one manifestation of, I recently sent around an e-mail to folks in the DC area to see if anyone was interested in putting together a special climate justice focused, young adult led event for the spring. I received a great amount of interest and feedback. Five or six people even wrote with interest in helping put the event on.

I hope this will be a way for radical folks in the DC area to build a stronger community together, and therefore build greater capacity to take action for climate justice, be it at FERC through Beyond Extreme Energy, traveling to a frontline community in the fracking fight, or locally in DC.

Next month, I will work with those who are interested to schedule and set up an in-person meeting to begin planning the spring event. I look forward to reporting back on how things go.

Looking Ahead

And here is a quick run-through of various projects and tasks that have been somewhat on the back-burner but which should start moving forward in more significant ways through January. Some are things that BXE is going forward with as a group, and some are things I’m going forward with as an individual BXE organizer.

  • Building a long-term calendar to help plan the monthly disruptions of FERC’s Commission Meeting which BXE coordinates.
  • Putting together a presentation on BXE, FERC, and the organizing we do. This will be something that can be put on in various venues and be used as a base-building, mobilizing, fundraising, and educational tool.
  • Figuring out how to contact FERC employees and communicating with them the recent, condemning reporting DeSmog Blog has done on the agency they work for.
  • Working with 350 Loudoun in Virginia on fighting Dominion’s plans to expand a compressor station in Loudoun County.
  • Building a campaign with BXE and BXE coalition partners to expose FERC through upcoming commissioner vacancy appointments.
  • Continue #NoDAPL solidarity efforts by planning actions around banks that fund the pipeline

Please contact me by phone or e-mail if you have questions, if you’d like to chat, or if you want to connect on other matters pertinent to our collective work.

Sending much love, gratitude, and appreciation to you in the new year!