On August 23, a DC protest against construction of the Line 3 pipeline rallied against Joe Biden and his Chief of Staff, Ron Klain, calling on the administration to cancel the pipeline. Two days later, on August 25, Indigenous leaders led more than 2,000 to the Minnesota state capitol to make the same demand of Governor Tim Walz. As construction on the pipeline nears completion, it feels necessary to recount the history of Line 3’s development in order to consider how socialists might commit to the fight against its completion.
In 2014, Enbridge Inc. — a multinational oil and gas pipeline company headquartered in Calgary, Alberta — proposed an expansion to its existing Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline. The pipeline begins in Alberta and is set to end in Superior, Wisconsin — cutting across greater areas of Canada, North Dakota, Wisconsin and (pending construction completion) northern Minnesota; that includes three different Indigenous reservations in Minnesota and land that, according to the Treaty of 1855, Ojibwe people have the right to use for hunting, fishing and gathering wild rice.
Ever since Enbridge submitted its proposal, Indigenous organizers and activists like Winona LaDuke, along with tribal governments, climate justice activists and Minnesota DSA chapters, have fought furiously to stop the additional construction of a pipeline that, in 1991, was the culprit of the worst inland oil spill in American history. More than 600 people have been arrested or received citations related to protests against Line 3 according to a recent Guardian report, with Native water protectors leading the charge. Protesters have blocked key roads on Enbridge’s pipeline route, chained themselves to construction equipment and stood up to Minnesota law enforcement which received $750,000 in order to police Line 3 protesters back in April.
Throughout the last nine months, activists have persistently called on Governor Walz and President Biden to cancel the pipeline. Importantly, this is within their powers and not without precedent: Biden took similar action against the Keystone XL pipeline early in his term, and in May, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a plan to revoke the easement granted to Enbridge for another pipeline, Line 5. But in a too-predictable concession to the fossil fuel industry, both Walz and Biden have allowed Enbridge’s permits to stand. The Biden White House has supported the Trump administration’s federal approval of the project, and despite once tweeting that “any line that goes through treaty lands is a nonstarter for me,” Walz, too, has approved the pipeline’s construction.
Proponents of Line 3, including Walz, argue that replacing an aging pipeline is an environmentally responsible move. To make that argument during the same month that the IPCC released its climate report — which states, not with any subtlety, that we needed to move away from fossil fuel energy yesterday — is laughable. If completed, Line 3 will carry enough oil to produce approximately 170 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to around 50 coal power plants. Pipeline development also indicates a broader state commitment to fossil fuel dependency: a devastating policy decision with ramifications for our planet and the generations to come. We don’t need a new pipeline; we need there to be no pipelines.
But wait, there's more:
Line 3 strikes at the core of the socialist struggle. Importantly, even as the project approaches completion, it’s a struggle that is ongoing — and one that DSA members in the DMV should incorporate into the rest of our movement. Why?
First, the disastrous consequences of Line 3 will not be limited to the states that the pipeline runs through. We will all suffer — though the communities who rely on the land directly impacted will suffer the most. This is a fight that involves all of us.
Second, the commodification and exploitation of Native land in service of Western capital and settler-colonialism is a foundational pillar of American capitalism. We are witnessing the capitulation of democratic politicians to transnational capital; as socialists, we need to reject this completely and name it — we must support our Indigenous comrades. This is a struggle against racist, anti-Indigenous policy.
It’s also a class struggle that demands our staunch and continued commitment to the rights of the working class. Socialists need to treat a threat to Indigenous rights and land, no matter where in the country or world, as an attack on our stated values of clean energy, climate justice and civil rights. We need to reintroduce, to the general public, the idea that land doesn’t belong to corporations like Enbridge, even (maybe especially) if they purchase it from the state. We need to reinforce that it belongs to the Indigenous working class.
Thirdly, this fits into the need for our socialism to be internationalist. This a global struggle, and we need to build the solidarity to match. As water protectors fight against Enbridge, there is a parallel Indigenous movement against Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. This is a moment of solidarity that cannot slip away.
Fourthly, we must seize this moment to fight against an idea that has been trotted out in defense of Line 3 and other pipelines time and again: that jobs make pollution worthwhile. In 2020, Minnesota state Rep. Kurt Daudt responded to Walz’s supposed opposition to Line 3 by stating that “instead of helping the one in four Minnesotans unemployed along the Line 3 route, the Governor has once again chosen to obstruct and delay this critical project and the thousands of jobs it would bring to Northern Minnesota.” At the same time, Enbridge touted the 4,200 union construction jobs that the company said the project would bring to Minnesota. As socialists, we need to combat this age-old rhetorical trick — jobs versus the environment — clearly and concretely. We know that the workers who will supposedly benefit from Enbridge’s short-term construction will suffer in the long run; it’s those workers and their families, not the profit-makers of Enbridge, whose water will be poisoned, whose food supply will be endangered, whose air quality will deteriorate. These are people who love where they live — the land of the Boundary Waters, Lake Superior, Superior National Forest. How can we make clear to workers who contract with Enbridge that when Native people lose, they lose too? How can we work to present an alternative? How do we transform this moment into a mass movement that connects Indigenous rights with a push for stronger, green labor?
The DSA, through its Green New Deal, electoral, and ecosocialist projects, is one of the organizations helping to build a stronger connection between environmental activism and the working class. In a recent interview on A World to Win podcast, Thea Riofrancos, an author, scholar and leader of the DSA Ecosocialist Working Group steering committee, noted that we can likely only achieve our climate goals, namely the Green New Deal and the Green New Deal for Public Schools, if we’re able to inspire a mass movement: protests, strikes and social disruption that force politicians into drastic, necessary action.
Ultimately, that’s what Line 3 needed and needs. So far, despite the extraordinary bravery of the water protectors who put themselves in harm’s way on a daily basis, that just hasn’t happened. How can we strategically mobilize across the country to support our comrades in Minnesota while devoting necessary energy to urgent local campaigns?
Such questions require time and organization to answer and act on, and time is what we’re short of right now. At time of writing, construction on the Minnesota section of the pipeline is projected to be complete within weeks. At a rally against Line 3 that took place at the National Museum for the American Indian on August 21, that fact was candidly acknowledged — it felt like it hung in the air, even as protestors marched to deliver printed petitions, signed by thousands, to the White House.
But at the end of the protest, the loudest, most vigorous shout was the one that said this fight isn’t over. That’s a call we need to rally around, from Minnesota and DC to Brazil and beyond.