Very early in the morning of May 24th, about 20 water protectors converged on the small rural Louisiana parish of St. James. We had our eye on a particular worksite where the Bayou Bridge pipeline was being busily (and hastily) constructed. We were carrying a copy of a recent court decision that a permit once issued to Bayou Bridge, LLC by the state Department of Natural Resources had been granted without properly following certain state guidelines and without adequately addressing the potential impact of pollution on the community of St. James near the pipeline’s terminus. The permit was now remanded back to the Department until its conditions had been truly met. Accordingly, the pipeline construction currently underway along the final 18 miles of the route through a fragile area known as the “coastal zone” was operating without a legal permit.
The workmen were not surprised to see us—for months now, members of the Rayne-based L’Eau Est La Vie resistance camp have been risking their safety and freedom by occupying worksites and forcing construction to halt. Their actions sometimes but not always lead to arrests, both planned and unplanned. Other individuals and organizations have joined them when able, including two schoolteachers from 350 New Orleans who dressed as crawfish and chained themselves to the entrance of a worksite, blocking construction for hours.
Unsurprisingly, law enforcement seemed unconvinced by the judge’s order. While they agreed in a vague sense to consider its contents, they informed us we were trespassing on private land (“well, actually this is indigenous land,” said the always-sharp Cherri Foytlin) and that the order would not be enforced that day—construction would continue. Ordered to leave, our friends left the worksite. Two of us stayed behind in protest, were swiftly arrested, and taken to the jail where we were released later that day.
To have this happen in St. James, a community where I have made many friends over the past year or so, was meaningful for me. This is a place dotted with chemical plants, pipelines, and refineries in the infamous corridor of Louisiana known as “Cancer Alley” where residents report unusual smells, regular health problems, and the all-too-frequent death of loved ones. At 350 New Orleans, we had been meeting with folks for over a year to help out in any way that we could. I was frustrated—over everything from the government’s continued failure to protect the health and safety of St. James residents to our own failure to stop construction for more than an hour or so that morning. And yet, during the booking process, a moment for my own reflection and gratitude occurred.
“It seems wrong,” murmured one of the booking officers as he maneuvered my fingers on an ink pad, “to be doing this to people who are just trying to protect St. James. Thank you. Thank you for trying to help us.”