Update on the Sabal Trail resistance

by Panagioti Tsolkas

It’s been a tumultuous time in the lives of pipeline resistors.

In the previous weeks the world watched as the No DAPL camps at Standing Rock came to a close in massive ceremonial fires and attention was re-directed towards a mass mobilization for March 10 in Washington D.C.

Locally we’ve also seen a re-escalation of activity along the Sabal Trail pipeline route. After a successful swell of actions in January, including a demonstration over the MLK weekend with hundreds blocking the entrance to the Suwannee River drill site and a march of over 150 people through the small town of Dunnellon,  February felt like a lull to some.

In reality, energy was spent re-adjusting and re-focusing efforts further south down the line. By the end of February, action had once again escalated.

February 17 indicated a new wave of energy was afoot, as the Red Warrior Society’s east coast tour packed the house at the Civic Media Center, and then again at a newly established campaign house in downtown Dunnellon.

Early on the morning of February 22, Sabal Trail Resistance (STR) organizers received word that there are two people, Karrie Kay Ford and Niko Segal-Wright, inside a stretch of pipeline along FL-200 near the Halpata Tastanaki preserve in southwest Marion County, near Dunnellon. They refused to come out until the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Sabal Trail (and the whole Southeast Market Pipelines project) was revisited to fully include an assessment of impacts on environmental justice communities and school children along the route and in the blast zone for accidents.

From their statement: “We are taking action against the Sabal Trail Pipeline because we don’t need more energy infrastructure poisoning this land. The world and our future generations are at risk, so we are demanding the immediate halt to this toxic project.”

Days prior to this action, Karrie and Niko were interviewed on a national activist radion show, The Final Straw <https://archive.org/details/afm-final-straw-02192017exp> and they elaborated
eloquently on their position about the pipeline.

Their action spurred much news coverage <https://www.google.com/search?q=Sabal+Trail+protest+dunnellon&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8> and social media buzz <https://www.facebook.com/Sabal-Trail-Resistance-STR-289056501495880/>, as well as inspiring a renewed pressure campaign on Senator Bill Nelson’s office <https://www.facebook.com/events/592333610965448/> (where word has it the phone lines were tied up all day).

Instead of meeting their reasonable demand for an adequate EIS, they met with threats of tear gas and K-9 dog attacks, and ultimately were dragged out from 250 feet deep into the pipe, where they were locked to each other and to a concrete box.

Two days later, activists from across the state would reconvene further south, in the Green Swamp, for a weekend action camp that would culminate in a solidarity action with American Indian Movement (AIM) prisoner Leonard Peltier.

While Peltier has been locked up since 1975, as the result of a stand-off with law enforcement on the Pine Ridge Reservation, he was moved in 2011 to a maximum security unit of Florida’s Coleman federal prison, Sumter County … less than two miles from where the Sabal Trail pipeline was just laid in the ground.

On Sunday, February 26, native activists from across the southeast joined STR organizers in a sprited rally, which included a speaker, Eryn Wise, from the International Indigenous Youth Council, which was a leading force behind the Standing Rock camps.

The rally also featured amplified drumming and singing, including the Honor Song for Leonard Peltier. An AIM activist from the Klamath Tribe read Peltier’s powerful statement to the Standing Rock No DAPL camps.

The significance of this weekend was the start of the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee led by AIM members on the Pine Ridge Reservation, which resulted in a 71 day stand-off with the U.S. Government. Peltier was arrested two years later after a shoot out with the FBI spiraling from tensions on the reservation between AIM and U.S. law enforcement.

While many of us anticipated a granting of clemency for Peltier by Obama, our rally was aimed to show that he will not be forgotten and that his voice is still a source of inspiration.

STR joins Leonard’s official defense committee in demanding that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons relocate him to a lower-security prison closer to his community, where he can access needed medical treatment and regular visitation from friends and family.

The day of action commemorating Wounded Knee ‘73 ended in a tragic twist. As we were singing and drumming to the riot squad of Coleman prison for an end to the colonial oppression at the root of prisons and pipelines, law enforcement agents in nearby Citrus County were initiating a high-speed chase against a suspected pipeline sabotuer that would end in the use of deadly force against him.
The man who was killed was confirmed to be James Leroy Marker, 66, of Chokoloskee, Florida. His actions disabled several heavy machines and sections of pipeline with a high-powered rifle.

The story is still unfolding and we know that there will be more to say in the coming days or weeks, as family and friends come forward with stories of James’ life.

But we felt a need to acknowledge what has happened while the incident is fresh on peoples’ minds and questions are surfacing around his motivations, the value of the actions he took and the response of law enforcement.

It must be noted that his action effectively disabled recent construction activity in a highly controversial area, mere miles from the crossing of preserves including Pruitt, Halpata Tastanaki and the Marjorie Carr Greenway, with sensitive wetlands and endangered species being impacted. This includes land which survived the decades-long Cross Barge Canal battle, only to be torn up for this pipeline.

Pipeline representatives indicated they anticipated getting this section in the ground early this week, but will not be able to do so as a result of the damage.
Second, the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office released an updated statement confirming that in the interaction with Marker, “no law enforcement officer was injured or fired at.”

But we have not heard any statement from the Sheriff regarding plans to  release dash-cam video footage that would justify their use of deadly force against Marker. While his act may have been destructive to property, there is no evidence of it being physically violent. At this point, the primary element of danger in the situation appears to be in the police decision to initiate a high-speed chase.

And lastly, while few details of Markers life are available publicly, we have learned that he was known by friends as a lover of the Earth and humanity, that he was a military veteran, that he participated in environmental/social advocacy, and that he was a father.

We understand that there are complex feelings among those who have been part of fighting this pipeline, and while we don’t wish to dismiss difficult conversations, we feel that focusing on honoring the sacrifice Marker made to take a stand against this pipeline is of a greater immediate importance than debating the strategy, tactics or morality of his action.

We send our sincere condolences to friends and family of Marker. If there is a public memorial site or event in the future, we will do our best to let folks know about it. 

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