by Max Wilbert / Deep Green Resistance
“One person died and another was badly burned when a gas well exploded here last year,” my friend Adam says, pointing to an oil well set back a hundred yards from the road. We’re on the plains beneath the Front Range in Colorado, where the Rockies meet the flatlands. Oil country. Wells and fracking rigs are everywhere, scattered among the rural homes and inside city limits.
I’m on my way home from volunteering with Buffalo Field Campaign outside Yellowstone National Park, and I’ve stopped in Colorado to see friends and learn more about the fight against fracking that’s going on here.
Adam explains to me that there are thousands of wells in the area, despite widespread opposition. Cities have passed laws against fracking, been sued by industry groups in response, and lost the lawsuits. Democracy is clearly less important than profits in the United States—but that’s no surprise to anyone who is paying attention.
A few days earlier, Buffalo Field Campaign held the first annual Rosalie Little Thunder memorial walk through Yellowstone National Park.
We walked 8 miles past “the trap” where Yellowstone National Park uses tax money to trap and send to slaughter wild buffalo, past APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services) facilities where buffalo are captured, confined and subjected to invasive medical testing and sterilization, and past Beattie Gulch where hunters line up at Yellowstone’s boundary to shoot family groups of buffalo en masse as they walk over the Park’s border. As we walked, I watched two of Rosalie’s sisters holding hands as they walked together in honor of their sister.
Cresting a small rise, we came upon a group of more than a hundred buffalo, grazing and snorting softly to one another. As we approached the herd, indigenous organizer and musician Mignon Geli began to play her flute, accompanied by drums. As if they could sense the whispers from our hearts and the prayers carried in the music, the buffalo began to move south, further into the park and towards safety.
Safe for the moment. But by late March, that entire group may be dead. Yellowstone National Park workers—including biologists—will lure the buffalo into the trap, confine them in the “squeeze chute” for medical testing, and then ship them to slaughter. As I write this, there are about three hundred buffalo who have now been trapped, very likely including the one pictured above.
I’ve never seen a wild buffalo confined in a livestock trailer, but I’m told it’s a horrible thing. Some describe it as a metal coffin on wheels.
Earlier today, I gave an interview to a radio show. The host asked me about why Deep Green Resistance focuses on social justice issues in addition to saving the planet. My response was to quote my friend, who explained it more concisely than I ever could when she said, “all oppression is tied to resource extraction.”
In other words, racism doesn’t exist just for the hell of it. It was created (and is maintained) to justify the theft of land, the theft of bodies, the theft of lives. Patriarchy isn’t a system set up for fun. It’s designed to extract value from women: free and cheap labor, sexual gratification, and children (the more, the better).
I wrote earlier that protecting the buffalo requires dismantling global systems in addition to local fights. That’s because the destruction of the buffalo today is tied into the same system of “resource” extraction. Buffalo can’t be controlled like cattle, and they eat grass, which makes ranchers angry. The ranching industry exists to extract wealth and food from the land. It does this by stealing grass and land from humans and non-humans, and privatizing it for the benefit of a few.
The story is the same with fracking. The people of the front range are dealing with atrocious air quality and poisoned water. Cancers and birth defects on one hand, and big fat paychecks on the other hand, will be the legacy of the short-lived fracking boom. That, and the destruction of the last open spaces that have been preserved from urban sprawl. No vote or political party can make a difference, both because the two major parties are thoroughly capitalist and fully invested in resource extraction, and because the U.S. constitution is set up to privilege business interests above all other considerations.
There are differences of opinion at camp. These divides emerge during late night conversations around the woodstove and during long car rides. But looking at the rampant oppression and resource extraction we’re facing, it strikes me that we must remember to stick together. One of my friends says that we must practice radical forgiveness. Another often says that we must learn from how the buffalo take turns breaking trail in deep snow, the strongest taking the longer turns.
On the Rosalie Little Thunder memorial walk, indigenous activist Cheryl Angel spoke about how Rosalie’s fighting spirit lives on in each of us. She made a material change in the world that those of us who live have a duty to carry on.
At BFC, there is a quote from Rosalie that is often mentioned. She said, “Remind yourself every morning, every morning, every morning: ‘I’m going to do something, I’ve made a commitment.’ Not for yourself, but beyond yourself. You belong to the collective. Don’t go wandering off, or you will perish.”
Permaculture and resistance, restoration and direct action, working inside the system and revolutionary action, aboveground and underground—we all must work together to tear down the brutal empire we live within, and to build a new world from the ashes.
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