On January 2nd, a few writers for the Shotgun travelled to the home base of L’eau Est La Vie (LELV) – a pipeline resistance camp in Indian Bayou, Louisiana. Founded in November 2017, LELV is collectively owned by an indigenous women’s council that has guided the principles and strategy for the fight against the construction of Bayou Bridge Pipeline (BBP). Owned by Energy Transfer Partners, BBP is the final 163-mile stretch of the transcontinental pipeline which includes the well-known Bakken/Dakota Access Pipeline. This past summer heated up with months of direct action in defense of people and waterways affected by BBP including the Atchafalaya Basin, the largest remaining wetland and swamp in the United States. The new “Critical Infrastructure Law,” passed in July, has already resulted in over a dozen felony arrests. While still maintaining the goal of stopping the pipeline, the campaign has shifted its focus to long term engagement with communities most affected, as well as transforming a pipeline resistance camp into a land project and community space. This interview (which has been edited for length) primarily focuses on the last five months of the campaign against BBP. The following conversation is between Cherri, an indigenous water protector and co-founder of LELV and Alex, a Texas based anarchist who has been present at LELV for much of the last two years.
Shotgun (SG): What are some of the major milestones that have happened since the end of the occupations in the swamps? Were there turning points when y’all’s strategy changed or shifted in the swamps?
Alex (A): The amount of resources we are able to muster pale in comparison to our targets. It was working really well through the spring and the summer, having small groups in different camps all over the place slowing them down in the ways we were doing. But that became less effective when police repression gets to a certain point – where all you are doing is jail support – it shifts the entire focus of the campaign into a battle with the state and the police. But if we want to continue to do the most, it seemed more strategic to look where they weren’t the heaviest policed. And as we have now learned, the pipeline company had at least 60 police officers on their private security payroll. So, not only do you have the entire Parish sheriff department that is out to get us, but the pipeline company just has dozen of cops moonlighting for them.
Cherri (C): It’s like the day that I was arrested, the one that most people have seen on the video. On that exact same day, we know, we have proof that the St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office was working directly for ETP at that time. So now I feel almost foolish trying to get them to follow the letter of the law. Why would they give a shit about that? They didn’t care, they weren’t working for the public at that point.
There’s always this goal of stopping this thing and changing this thing. But there’s these side goals that are just as important to me. One of them was to lift up the Atchafalaya Basin, the needs of the Basin, to show what the oil companies have done to the basin, and the needs of the fisherfolk and the people there, and we did that. And another one of them was that we wanted to get an evacuation route for the community in St James. Just within the past month a study has been approved that’s gonna help them figure out where’s the best place for that evacuation route. And the third thing was to build a movement of people in south Louisiana who are devoted to direct action principles, devoted to putting their bodies on the line to create power and change in this, again, very oil soaked place. I always say that examples of courage multiply courage and that’s what we’re seeing, that was one of our goals. But at the same time, it’s silly to think that even if we did stop this one pipeline that other pipelines that’re going in or the L&G plants, or the Formosa plants, or the open-air toxic pits in Grandbois, or Cancer Alley… that all of these injustices can just continue because we’ve beat this one project.
SG: Do you feel like there are particular lessons that you’ve learned here that are applicable in pipeline resistance camps other places such as the folks in Lumberton [Lumbee indigenous land, Eastern North Carolina] that are gonna be fighting the Atlantic Coast pipeline?
C: I would just say: be fierce, be brave, because it’s not gonna be easy. You’re gonna lose people who you thought cared and you’re gonna gain people who you thought didn’t and that’s okay. And just be good to yourself too because it’s not easy work you know, it’s difficult. Wouldacouldashoulda will kill ya, just go with the day and do your best. We come to the end of our life each of us and you come in alone–or with a twin maybe– but you go out alone for sure and that’s between you and infinity. Did I do the best that I could do? Did I use all the skills that I was given? For the betterment in the time that I had? That’s between you and whoever you’re talking to. What I’m trying to say is don’t let other people tell you how to fight your fight. Just fight your damn fight and be tough about it and reach out for support and help if you need it because there are people out there who will help you and if they don’t, keep talking, keep asking, because there’s somebody who will. I was lucky that I had a lot of connections and networking done before we got to this point, before this thing ran through seven miles from my house. I had that opportunity, but I realize not everybody does.
At LELV we have done everything from like have musicals, to play games… we have brought joy into everything that we’ve done. Even in those times that they had us on the ground choking us out, when we got up, we got up with a joke. So, I’m just saying if it’s not joyful it’s not worth doing, so have a little fun with it.
A: If we think of these camps as revolutionary spaces that we’re creating and holding together, then hopefully they can continue to grow and flourish and take on lives of their own, so they can continue to have projects of their own in struggle, that aren’t bound and pegged to one particular decisive victory against perhaps an infrastructure project like this one. And then we can grow together, our camps can unite, and it can be a network instead of resource drains.
SG: Are there things your experience over the past two years have taught you about what environmental struggle can look like in Louisiana?
C: I guess on the basis of justice struggles, and the tactics that are used to quell dissent or to stop people, whether they’re truth-tellers or protectors or whatever you wanna call them, that shit hasn’t changed since 1964. It’s very different than protecting Redwoods in California; it’s much more like the Civil Rights era as far as the blowback here that people receive. I think sometimes it’s hard to talk to people who aren’t in these kinds of areas or in these kinds of spaces and haven’t had to deal with that. They don’t really get it. This is KKK country. We actually had people drive up and down the road here in front of camp and yelling “white power” and things like that.
I think that’s why we have this bigger, maybe more holistic idea of the struggle itself, because we had to. Even fighting this pipeline we had to deal with racial justice issues and when we are out in Cancer Alley we have to deal with economic issues. You don’t get to step away from these other things. I mean it’s hard for people to fight the fight when they’re working 80 hour weeks and still not making rent. So you have to talk about that. How can we help resource these people? How can we help lighten their load? How can we take their kids for a day or two so they can go out and talk to the community? We have to think outside of, “I’m just gonna climb the crane and throw myself in front of the bulldozer.” You have to do those things too, but if we’re gonna build beyond this one pipeline or even this one action on a pipeline fight we’re gonna have to do much better at supporting the humans that are moving that ball.
A: You know, roughly three-quarters of all oil and gas that moves through pipelines in the U.S. ends up in Louisiana and Texas. So, if we consider these major energy players and monopolies amongst the biggest targets for the survival of humanity or for our different movements for justice in different ways, they cannot be just seated in a stronghold where they control Louisiana and Texas. There has to be pushback and there has to be resistance in this spot where they have all their offices, the majority of their big assets, their big petrochemical refining capacity and pipeline hubs. Even though it seems like such a hard thing to take on when there’s so much collusion between the state and the oil industry, if the alternative is just not fighting them here because it’s too hard, then hey just always have this safe-house, this stronghold, and they’ll never lose. They’ll just do whatever they want until all the oil is combusted.
SG: Do y’all wanna say anything about where the pending cases are at right now, or any predictions you have around how repression might play out?
A: In the civil case of the condemnation of the property where the majority of the felony cases took place, the pipeline admitted in open court that they did not have 100% ownership of the property when construction happened. So, with that information, it’s seemingly pretty difficult for the District Attorney to turn around and prosecute people for felony trespassing. Of course, over the history of the campaign there were different locations where people were arrested. But regarding this big one, where we had more than a dozen arrests overall, I would imagine that a large percent of those won’t be brought forward. The other prediction is that at one point or another at least one of the permits they have allowing this pipeline to exist will be revoked or found “illegal.” It’s just battling its way through the courts, but our side has won every court battle. Eventually it’ll get to the top or there won’t be any more appeals left for them. What will that actually mean in practice? Will they actually have to shut off the pipeline or go through another parish? Who knows how these corrupt systems will work, but that’s in the future.
C: We’re gonna keep holding people accountable who allowed these fuckers to come into our state and put our water in jeopardy, and now caused felonies upon our people. We’re not just gonna let them walk away; there have to be consequences. They talk about checks and balances. We’re the fucking checks and balances, you understand? That’s our job. And that’s what the recent action in Dallas was about. Kelci Warren has caused all this pain to all these different places–Rover pipeline, Mariner East, DAPL–you name it. Everywhere he’s put a pipeline into the ground, he’s caused ecological damage, human rights violations, and circumvented our so-called democratic process. But when we went to Dallas and we confronted him at that special shareholders meeting, I saw fear in that man’s eyes. For the first time ever he was on the frontline in this fucking battle. For the first time ever he felt just a little sliver of what those people felt when those fucking cannons were coming at ‘em or when the dogs were biting em. And the first time I ever saw him be more than anything but an arrogant son-of-a-bitch was that day, when he was just a little bit embarrassed in front of his friends. Well let’s keep embarrassing the motherfucker then because if that’s what he worries about, if that’s what it’s gonna take for him to stop being the goddamn devil, then that’s what we’re gonna have to do. That’s what I’m gonna keep doing. They may think the fight’s over, but the fight’s never gonna be over.
For further listening: itsgoingdown.org/war-in-the-swamps-a-conversation-with-leau-est-la-vie-camp