First, I’d like to start with this:
I, Holley Free, admit to complete guilt for being born after 1983 yet before 1996, thus sealing my fate as a millennial.
That’s right folks. I love beards, expensive IPA’s, hashtags, Bernie Sanders (okay, well actually I love Bernie), words like “bae” and “fleek,” and my cell phone is used mostly for putting my political views on social media. My music is too loud, my hair color is out of the realm of possible natural tones, “nerd” is a compliment, and yes, I have been to one of those “protest things.” I am the product of my generation. Now that I have that out of the way, I will not be accepting any criticism involving my age or generation after you read this post. You can disagree with me, I welcome that so long as you disagree because I may have made a mistake in my research and not in a “I’m butthurt, so you’re wrong,” sort of way. There were many people involved in these stories. I was one of the only millennials. Most millennials wouldn’t have the money to pick up, take leave, and join the fight for what they believe.
As much as I would love to explain to you all of the awesome things that come with my generation because I promise your dried up prejudiced uncle probably has it wrong, I’d like to just keep to one topic. This post is about the last of the clichés I listed, protests. Recently in this country we’ve seen all kinds of different protests. And despite any of your various views on any of them, I don’t think anyone can say that they haven’t made a difference, either in positive or negative way.
The first protest I experienced was one of the infamous President Elect Trump protests. I had watched them on the news and in my already heart broken state could not take the anxious energy bouncing off of all of those I saw in attendance on my TV screen. It was terrifying, but when I witnessed it in person.. I saw something completely different. It was beautiful. It can best be described in what I wrote the next day on Facebook, “…Yesterday I witnessed something magical. I watched a group of broken, sad, loving people holding up signs; not those “dump Trump” signs you see on TV, (though there were plenty at other protests, and I’ll get to that later) but these signs said “love trumps hate,” “I choose love,” there were LGBTQ flags, and so on. I’ve been asked many times how I feel about the protests going on around the nation by many people and I hadn’t made a decision until that point. I LOVE watching people stand up for their passion. I LOVE watching people standing together. I don’t condone violence. It breaks my heart, in truth. But I will defend their voices, the ones who come from a place of love, passion, fear, and the inability to allow injustice. At the end of the day, their fear either for themselves and their families or for strangers, as mine is, is from love. In that book that most people have in their house but don’t read as often as they should, you know, the Bible it says the greatest is love. And with that all being said, and to address those telling others to sit down and shut up (as I’ve been told) or to just conform to the new administration.. Well, to quote President Elect Trump, “Stop it.” Our fight just began. We will not and should not sit down and shut up. We won’t be silenced. We will stand up when, not if, ANYONE comes for our rights. We will reach out to each other. We will volunteer. We will talk to everyone. We will show love and a passion for equality. Don’t try to shut anyone down. And my friends, DO NOT BE SHUT DOWN. Love passionately and fearlessly. Love wins.”
Love wins, y’all. Every time, but only if you choose it and fight for it fearlessly. I decided while watching that protest, grinning like an idiot through my stream of tears that I would begin fighting even harder. More than taking double class load, more than writing politicians (most of whom won’t even open the letter let alone care), more than annoying all of my friends on social media. I wanted in that moment more than anything to get my hands dirty. I decided that if you believe in something, truly and completely, you show up.
Which leads me to the most “showing up” I’ve ever done. In early November I stumbled upon a page on Facebook with an application to attend the Dakota Access Pipeline protest (or #NoDAPL as you’ve probably seen it.) Now if you haven’t heard or paid attention to what’s been going on in North Dakota, here’s a short version recap:
A company by the name of Energy Transfer Partners decides to build a pipeline through an upper middle class “white” neighborhood, but realized that manmade equipment is just about as perfect as the person who built it so the pipeline can leak. They decide to reroute the pipeline. The Army Corps of Engineers alert the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of their plans in accordance to the National Historic Preservation Act (Section 106.) The tribe requested three times to have tests done to assess the safety of their drinking water and to make sure that the pipeline would not be on sacred ground, but were never responded to. So they conclude, as it states in their public lawsuit, that it was “clear that the Corps is trying to circumvent the Section 106 process.” In December of 2015 the Army Corps of Engineers finally releases a statement both to the company building the pipeline and to the Tribal Historic Preservation Office on the reservation. The statement claims that, “the Standing Rock THPO had indicated to DAPL that the Lake Oahu site avoided impacts to tribally significant sites.” The problem there is, no, it doesn’t. And they leave out the assessment of the Lake Oahu, which is a main source for their drinking water. So they release an other in April after the Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Interior, and the ACHP (American Council on Historical Preservation) send critical letters asking for an other look (you can click the links if you’d like to read the letters that were sent). The statement in April claims that despite registering major concerns in the Section 106 evaluation process and stated misgivings from the ACHP, the Corps concludes the investigation, finding that no historic properties are affected. So to make a much longer story so incredibly short, in July the Corps issues the final fast-track permit needed to continue pipeline construction in the 200-odd sites across four states in question. By late August the company claimed in one of their hearings that the construction was already 48% complete. Both the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Energy Transfer Partners sue each other and the protesting grows to the hundreds, involving politicians like my main man, Bernie Sanders, and celebrities like Shailene Woodley, but then finally, the protest involved me too.
In November I’m doing my usual for one of my classes and scrolling through different news sources trying to find something to write 300 words about. That day the source I was using to find a story to write about was UnicornRiot (if you haven’t heard of them before please check it out. They are awesome for unbias information and live feeds) when I see a group called “Veterans for Standing Rock” comment on something. So I go to their page and see an application to North Dakota. I didn’t even think, I just fill it out. Two weeks go by and I haven’t heard a thing, so I assume I’m not going until I get an email that I’ve been accepted and that I leave in 9 days. So at 2 am as I’m reading this email I leap into action I text my boss that I need to come over and talk to her and I start making lists of all the medical supplies and winter gear I’ll need. I was completely shocked and humbled by all of the people that gave money, medical supplies, blankets, coats, etc to me and the volunteers going with me. It was unreal. If you’re reading this and you helped make it possible for me to travel to North Dakota with any kind of donation or resource, I will never not be thankful for you. From the bottom of my heart thank you all so very much.
So on the Friday morning of the 2nd of December I hopped in a car with strangers (#sorrymom?) and drove to Cannon Ball North Dakota. Before I dive too far into the rest of this trip, everyone I talk about tried their best and I still highly respect them. Do I think that all of them had business going to the reservation or any clue what they were facing? Absolutely not. No one really knew what to expect, and some people roll with the punches better than others. When my team and I arrived in Cannon Ball on the 3rd it was the middle of the night. We ate some luke warm stew (that was still delicious. Those Natives know how to cook!) and went to sleep in a gym with close to if not more (just a guess) 200 vets. There were several moments during this trip where I was overwhelmed by human kindness. This was one of them. As I was laying there on the freezing gym floor listening to the snoring and groaning and the tremors of the vets with PTSD I was completely overwhelmed by the idea that we were all there for one reason. Every single one of us put our lives on hold, ignored the naysayers, and came together to protect what we knew in our hearts was basic human rights of people our country, the country everyone in this room signed up to die for, had already taken too much from. We came to defend, foreign and domestic. That first beautiful moment made being so scared worth it. The next morning I woke up and changed into the clothes I’d be wearing for the next 4 days. I wish I would have known that then, I would have chosen better. I had breakfast with everyone I had driven with, my team, and then loaded everything we had brought with us onto a charter bus with the group of vets coming from LA. Until this point we had all had set backs as a result to a lack of organization of the “Veterans for Standing Rock” group. All the set backs had just been small, simple fix issues. Until we got on this bus. We left Cannon ball around 10, then after the long drive to and close to 2 hours for all of our “leaders” to argue about which building we were supposed to be going to we found our way to Fort Yates Community Center for a briefing. This brief was exactly what I needed to stay above water for the trip to camp; a nice smudging and I was on my way. (Hashtag Hippy Millennial, right?)
Going into Oceti Sakowin there was miles of traffic, everyone coming from there held their fists high in support of our arrival. Finally a group of us from the bus decided to get out and march in. I had an other moment of beautify as I was marching in, probably grinning like an idiot. Just a little while down the road I could start to see teepees and tents, trailers, busses, and military tents, horses, and a huge campfire, the sacred fire, in the middle. It was beautiful. I just soaked it in. Kids like me, the ones who feel ten times more than normal people, we don’t get this often. We don’t get to not the only one standing up very often. There were thousands. Not only was I not the only one being passionate enough to take a stand, but there were thousand right there, freezing with me, to show that we would not ignore injustice. I can’t say that I can describe what that was like for me. But I can tell by the fact that everyone got kind of quiet and by the look on all of their faces that I was the only one feeling this, probably many like me, for the first time.
That night we did so much. I sat at a fire and ate a lot (honestly 4 servings..) of amazing Bison stew with fry bread and laughed at some jokes and stories the elders were telling. I unloaded two huge sections of the charter bus because I was the littlest one and could fit in there to dig things out and helped sort through to the different sites. I helped get cardboard for our tent and water for our camp site, walked around and talked to so many people with so many stories. I was in frozen heaven. We set plans, first thing the next day we were going to go get one of our team’s vehicles then we were going to march to the front lines. So we took our plans, God got a good laugh, and we fit five people into a four man tent with arguably too many little hand warmer packets and went to sleep. The next morning we set out on our first task in our plans: Find a ride to Eagle Butte to get the vehicle. So made the short trek to the Sacred Fire and found a ride with a group of people and made it half way, to Fort Yates, to help them sort through donations before we were going to find an other ride the other half of the way. Past tense, were, because that night myself and an other member were snowed in at a tiny warehouse there for nearly two nights. In that time a lot happened, we sorted through every donation. That took all of the first day. A beautiful moment all in itself because it took 25 people a whole day of WORK to get through all of the donations that were sent and there was an overwhelming amount of “love notes” explaining that they, who ever had sent the package, couldn’t be there but they support the mission. It was truly humbling to see how much was sent in. I can’t even explain it. I had patients, both of the human and the canine variety, and made friends, and had some struggles, but it was nothing compared to the time the rest of my team had back at camp.
When we were finally able to get in touch with our team they had been forced to evacuate. I’m unclear of the order in which any of these things happened, so I will try to sum up what I can remember them saying while their stories are still pending. (I will update when they send me their stories.) I know that they got to march to the front lines, that the tent and the surrounding camps were destroyed, the med tent was destroyed, and they were all in some other medical tent with too many other people (I can’t remember how many they told me.) My clothes and some of my belongings were lost (even after John went back to camp later and stayed to help for a month.) I think all of us came back with half the stuff we packed for the trip. They were cold and exhausted when we finally reunited, and I can’t say that I was any different.
We ate the best meal I think I have ever had in my life. That roast and mashed potatoes was the best thing I’ve ever eaten. Like OMG good. Then me and some others of my team went out, drank some Jack from the bottle, and came in a past out on the gym floor once again, the trip had come full circle.
After that there was just a long journey home. There were many pieces of this trip that were omitted just for the sake of the people involved, either me or other members of my team. A huge shout out to John and Sheena who left everything they touched better than they found it, myself included. I am so blessed to have you both as my friends, and I am truly sorry for your living room floor. 😉
In conclusion, I want to leave you with something that can regularly be heard from my friend mentioned just a second ago, John. Trust none of which you hear and only half of which you see. I have left you links and resources for information concerning the pipeline, (that by the way is still being illegally built) but I’m begging you read them and also read your own. Find Facebook groups with information coming straight out of the camps. If you need help finding them please just reach out. Go, bring everything you need to completely support yourself (shelter, firewood, tools, axes, knives, flashlights, medical supplies, etc) and see for yourself. If you go right now, they need people to help clean the abandoned camp sites out of the flood lands. Go and do good if you have the ability. See for yourself and make your own stories. Be well, loves.