Bringing the Fight for Climate Change Home, Minnesota Style

Shreveport   There’s no real debate about whether climate change is huge threat. You don’t have to believe the science, but you can’t deny what Richard Pryor famously called the evidence available to your “lying eyes.” We see it everywhere around us from the diminishing coastline to earlier Springs and more violent storms. The problem for many people is figuring out what they can do to be effective besides turning down the thermometer, putting out their recycling, sending the occasional donation, and answering the call to march when it’s made. So much of the problem seems global past our reach, so how do we have impact on such a huge crisis locally?

One answer to this question was provided by Kevin Whelan when I was talking to him recently on Wade’s World. Kevin after years as a community organizer and communications specialist with ACORN and others, is now executive director of Minnesota 350, and in our conversation it became clear that he and his associates there are trying to develop an organization and action model that translates the horror of global climate change into local action. is a well-known campaign and advocacy formation focusing on climate change, started as Whelan described it, by a professor, in this case Bill McKibben, and “seven students.” 350 refers to the level at which carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere passes the critical point at 350 parts per million. It is now over 400.

As Kevin described it, Minnesota 350 is a rarity though. It is not an affiliate of nor was it organized by Rather, there were some activists in Minnesota who saw climate change as a critical issue and wanted to figure out a way to respond to the crisis, and decided to organize and reached out to and essentially asked if they would mind if they used 350 as part of the name of the organization they wanted to build. So, yes, the website says, but that’s more of a website thing than anything else. They are certainly federated and allied with, but an independent and autonomous operation in Minnesota.

This has translated in recent years to a lot of involvement and organizational action in pipeline fights. They played a key role in opposing a pipeline from the controversial and dangerous Tar Sands area of Alberta, Canada that would have run to Lake Superior, that is stopped for now. They were also heavily involved in supporting the Standing Rock fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which galvanized a movement, though thus far has a less happy ending. Kevin movingly described four visits to Standing Rock and how much it meant.

Minnesota 350 has learned many lessons in how to bring this global catastrophe to the level of local action but in talking to Kevin, they believe they need to bring-the-fight-home by figuring out a way to inject the issue into local and state politics, which would also mean holding representatives elected to represent Minnesota in Congress accountable on this issue. It’s hard to argue with that conclusion, and it is worth keeping an eye on Minnesota 350, because we might all need to follow their lead.


Logistical and Strategic Challenges at Standing Rock

Casey Camp with her two sons (Mekasi Camp-Horinek on the left) at the Reject and Protect event in Washington, DC. (Photo by Garth Lenz for Bold Nebraska and iLCP)

Casey Camp with her two sons (Mekasi Camp Horinek on the left) at the Reject and Protect event in Washington, DC. (Photo by Garth Lenz for Bold Nebraska and iLCP)

New Orleans   The election is over, but there is still a tremendous struggle being waged by the Standing Rock Sioux and a host of allies from tribes all over the country and supporters in a face-off with the pipeline constructors coming ever closer to the embattled and sacred areas. I talked to Mekasi Camp Horinek of Bold Alliance on Wade’s World on KABF, and got a closer understanding of where this fight stands today, both imperiled and a rally cry for many around the country, from his perspective after the last three months he has been part of the occupation.

North Dakota in November can be harsh country on its vast plains and hillsides. My first question to Mekasi had been about the weather. In order to get good enough cellphone coverage for radio, he had climbed to the top of the ridge to call me. He reported there was a dense fog that morning with visibility no more than fifty feet and, worse, there were ice crystals in the fog with the temperature dropping. It goes without saying that adds up to rough weather for an encampment. Having seen news reports of recent standoffs where more than one-hundred were arrested, I asked him how many people were in the encampment at Standing Rock. I was shocked when he responded that 2300 people were staying in the camp. In North Dakota, that’s a small city, even if they are sixty miles south of Bismark. I can’t even imagine the logistical challenges of housing and feeding that number, but Mekasi shrugged off the question, saying that they were getting support from everywhere, people were staying in tents and teepees with wood stoves.

Mekasi’s organization, Bold Alliance, has refitted one of those barn-shed structures you see for sale at Lowe’s and Home Depots across the country with insulation, solar panels, and a wood stove so that it will sleep six. Willie Nelson funded the first one, and they have twenty being delivered the first of December so that more people can winter at the site, but they are still raising the money for those. Talking over the weekend to Chapman Clark in New Orleans organizing a supply truck to go to Standing Rock at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse this week and one of many around the country doing the same, when I asked him about the huge logistical challenges of this kind of action, he also shrugged in his own way, saying this is now just something that people know how to do in the aftermath of Occupy. Good skills to have!

Mekasi and Bold Alliance have been fighting pipelines from Keystone to Standing Rock. They want the pipeline stopped. In Keystone, a victory securing an environmental impact statement made a huge difference. There has been none at Standing Rock. The big hope is that President Obama’s promise that the Corp of Engineers is looking for another route to avoid sacred areas will be delivered, but construction continues every day, and the Corp report has been postponed, forcing more nonviolent protests. The reaction has been fierce and brutal. Mekasi and his mother were part of the more than one-hundred arrested. They were held for eight hours, even having the bail money available. Many others are still being held without bail. They were put in dog cages in the basement of the courthouse in miserable, inhuman conditions.

This is a fight that deserves more attention and needs huge support. Time to stop with our worry beads and make sure we’re still doing the work.


Please enjoy Flipside by Norah Jones. Thanks to KABF.