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Women Who Stop Oil: Female Leadership Crucial At Dakota Pipeline Protests

Women are leading the battle against the Black Snake, the latest in fast-tracked fossil fuel pipeline projects attempting to carry crude oil across the U.S.

Described as a great serpent that will run through the land and bring destruction to the earth and its people in a Lakota tribal prophecy, the Dakota Access Pipeline is facing fierce opposition from tribes, landowners and ranchers. Citizens rightfully fear a crack or leak that would leach oil into water and land. It’s the great unifying power of this shared crisis that may be bringing historically divided communities into the fight together against the Canadian oil company Enbridge and various firms they have hired for the pipeline's construction.

And it is in this spirit of cooperation and protection of health that camps like Standing Rock are spontaneously appearing along the route. Communities are rallying together to protect their water after witnessing countless spills and exploding fuel trains in their news feeds. DAPL is planned to carry nearly 500,000 gallons per day of crude from North Dakota to Illinois.

Having spent time reporting at Sacred Stone camp on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, as a well as water protection encampments in Iowa, I can’t help but notice the presence of mothers protesting with their children at their sides.


Families that perhaps have never protested are finally feeling a threat to their neighborhoods. Part of it could be social media and mobile web technology that have allowed anyone to create and share news instantly with their personal networks in ways never before possible, helping enlarge this movement. The safety of numbers could be the social catalyst that many people need before speaking out about something they have until recently only spoken about at home. Or it could be the widespread knowledge that renewable energy now appears close to out-competing coal and gas.

Regardless of the cause, I am now witnessing protest camps that look more like family reunions than hordes of protesters. People are starting to understand that fossil fuels do harm, and women in particular are peacefully demanding the end to pipeline construction projects like the infamous Dakota Access.

In November 2015, President Barack Obama vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline, which was going to carry 800,000 gallons of tar sands oil daily from Alberta to Texas. In a speech, Obama said he believed Keystone played an "over-inflated role in our political discourse." But it was activists like Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska who were able to make Keystone a significant part of the Democratic Party agenda and helped get the project scrapped.

All of these successes are providing real hope to grassroots resistance efforts. Andra Rose, of Mothers Out Front, is battling pipelines in Massachusetts and getting mothers engaged in the battle against fossil fuels in the much the same way that Bill McKibben has mobilized college students through – by addressing health and climate impacts in the near future.

It’s well known that Sacred Stone camp at Standing Rock was initiated by female tribal members. The Standing Rock phenomenon started with Winona LaDuke and Shailene Woodley. It continues with the mothers who are standing on top of pipeline equipment and teen women like Takota Iron Eyes. These woman have lit a flame that is catching fire across North America.


Now, 100 Grannies in Iowa City and activists like Jessica Reznicek of the Des Moines Catholic Workers are focusing their attention on growing a protest movement located where the DAPL crosses the Mississippi River. Reznicek has formed a 24/7 encampment called Mississippi Stand, close to Keokuk, Iowa, right next door to the location where crews are boring a hole for the 47-inch pipeline.

“I did make a barricade across the entrance, not allowing any trucks in or out and was pretty quickly arrested,” Reznicek recently told “I stated to the officials that I came here in the spirit of love and compassion and respect and that I would go to jail for this. Personal sacrifice is definitely one component of what I’m willing to risk to save our water supplies.”

On Sept 24, Reznicek and other protesters made the decision to chain their bodies to heavy drilling machinery at the pipeline work site. Reznicek, like so many others, adds to the growing list of powerful women who are helping keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Aaron Murphy produces media for and lives at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in northeastern Missouri, downstream from the Dakota Access Pipeline.

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