Protest Against the Pipes


Ryan Jurik

Protesters walk down College Avenue while the Fayetteville police escort them.

Ryan Jurik

The shouting chants of protesters sounded the surrounding area as they marched down West Mountain Street in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Holding signs that read, “PEOPLE OVER PROFIT”,  “WATER PROVIDES, OIL POLLUTES”, “WE STAND WITH STANDING ROCK”, the large crowd projected their stance regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline which has received recognition among the Indigenous community as well as many others who opposes the construction.

The development over the issue started back in December of 2014, when the Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners first proposed the plans for constructing the pipeline. Over the course of the build, States have approved the traversing route of the Dakota Access until a group of peaceful protesters gathered at the Standing Rock reservation. As the protests started drawing attention, more and more people joined the demonstration to voice out against the construction. This caused for police intervention to arise, creating tension between protesters and authorities. The presence of both parties have lead to violent displays resulting in arrests, injuries, and hospitalizations. The Obama Administration did not take any action in settling these affairs, however the Energy Transfer Partners decided to put a halt on the construction until Donald Trump was elected into office. This was to alleviate any tensions that generated from the ordeal.  

“I feel that there are definitely issues within our government. There’s a lot of regressive policies going on. People are really just focusing back on the greed, the one percent, and what’s best for those who are already in a good position in life. They don’t really care about the people who were here first, before any of the white men came,” Adrienne Day said with a giggle.

The Trump Administration signed legislation to recommence the Keystone and Dakota building projects on Tuesday 24th. Demonstrators at the Standing Rock site, where the pipeline route would cut through part of the reservation, have held out in harsh elements and under police supervision. However with the executive orders passed by President Donald Trump, the assembly of the underground pipeline begun once again. In many cases, authorities, although easing back on the use of rubber bullets and pepper spray, have made several arrests and evictions of protesters on the site.

“As an indigenous woman, the government has failed to honor treaties that they themselves have bestowed”, Alicia Dukes Phongsavath, an indigenous woman and mother, said. “I lived on the reservation and I know what it’s like. I know the alcoholism, I know the drug addiction, and for our government to stand by and allow this to happen, no, it’s not right. The Government works for us, we do not work for the government. They want to see how far they can pollute and drain the riches from the land we were inherited, what we were given from our elders and ancestors.”

Alicia Dukes Phongsavath and her mother hold up the sign ‘This Cherokee Indian Stands’.

This has been deemed as a considerable blow to No DAPL demonstrators all around who have been fighting for the discontinuation of the pipeline. However, it has not stopped protesters from speaking out against the legislation and sharing their thoughts on the issue. Those who are still at the Standing Rock reservation are maintaining their presence regardless of the resumed construction. At around 1:00 P.M. in downtown Fayetteville, Arkansas, the organization NWA Stand with Standing Rock, hosted a peaceful rally for protesters to gather and draw more attention to the issue. There was a small presence of mostly teenagers and young adults who arrived to the scene at first, however a crowd of about 200 people emerged later on as more of the organization’s protesters and other supporters joined the demonstration. People with signs and flags stood on different sides of College Avenue so that drivers could be aware of the Dakota Access issue as they passed by. Many drivers honked their horns in affirmation which excited protesters and encourage them to proceed on with their demonstration.

“I’m hoping that what’s going down with the attacks on the media that investigative journalism will come back but it takes a long time to find good alternatives to good media.” Matt Henriksen, an activist in the prison system and Core Organizer of the Stand with Standing Rock Rally, said. “There’s not one good place to find the whole truth. You gotta look at the other side and it takes time, even I can’t keep up with it and it’s grilling because there’s so much bad news in the world, and I can’t blame people for putting their head under the pillows.”

The composition of protesters included people from all walks of life. Elderly, children, and ethnic groups of all types resided in the crowd, shouting chants and standing in solidarity. Many who were involved, such as Tiffany Holcomb, founder of NWA Stand with Standing Rock, allowed their children to be apart of the demonstration by leading the chants over a megaphone or hoisting the signs up into the air.

“I have my two girls out here that I think are really involved and I don’t think it would happen unless I help lead them, but they inspire me than I ever thought could be possible.” Holcomb said. “I try not to sugar coat anything for them because they need to know. When I was growing up and I finally opened my eyes, that’s when I felt the need to act and fight for change. I’m hoping that by other families doing the same thing, we can create a new generation of children that will take over when we are gone because they are who we’re out here fighting for.”

The group of protesters marched down towards the Fayetteville Public Library, located on West Mountain Street, where they would bring everyone together to listen to different speakers. Many representatives appeared at this rally, stretching from indigenous tribe members who are directly affected by the issue and head officials from different organizations. Not only was the purpose to draw attention to the Dakota Access build, but to all forms of injustices and controversies that affects the American Society as a whole. Their goal was to have the protest be one of many representations of Americans utilizing their rights to protest and have their voices be heard.

“The Executive Orders that have been coming though this week were crushing blows day after day. We felt obligated to put this thing together.” Henriksen said. “However when we were at standing rock we learned that our conflicts are intersectional, It’s about racial justice, it’s about ecological justice, it’s about LGTB rights, it’s about allowing people to live a quality life with the freedoms we are all told that we have here in this country. The Trump administration probably isn’t going to affect my life all too much, but I have friends who are going to be devastated by it, who already have been. I have friends who are afraid, I have friends whose spouses can’t come back from the Middle East. Everyone who is being oppressed in some way affect us because this is where we live and we are responsible for the things that are happening.”

Other speakers included Vicente Yépez, a Fayetteville poet who is favored among the community, Alicia Dukes Phongsavath, Dr. Ahmed, a man of muslim decent who impressed everyone with hisintelligence and compassion over the issue, Troy Schremmer, an actor, musician, and a theater director for the Prison Story Project who played songs during the protest, Melissa Renee Long-Adams from Arkansas Water Guardians (Diamond Pipeline Resistance), Leilani Law from Arkansas Rising (Diamond Pipeline Resistance), Stephen Boss, Willi Goehring, another singer who recently released his first album “Too Nice to Mean Much,” Mireya Reith, Founding Executive Director of Arkansas United Community Coalition, Gwyneth Gertz, who is a teacher with meritable reputation with NWA Stand with Standing Rock members, Raven Cook from Foundations of Black History Education Programming, and Irvin Camacho, who is a political activist.

Sunny Steakley said, “I think the speakers were really good. They spoke a lot about intersectionality which I find important because when you talk about any issue you look at how it not only affects one group but how it affects everyone. In my life that’s something that affects me. It’s emotional because when you’re a part of the LGBT community you don’t hear that a lot.”

As the protest concluded with a round of applause, everyone who was apart of the demonstration began to disperse. They all expressed their comradery with one another by shaking hands, exchanging conversation, or hanging around the Fayetteville area. The Stand with Standing Rock organization will arrange other protests that many of the same demonstrators can be apart of.