Just days after they arrived at the Standing Rock Sioux protest camp to join the activists protesting against the Dakota Access oil pipeline, a group of U.S. military veterans have a new mission, and a new destination—Flint, MI, where the crisis over the city's contaminated water is still raging.
"We don't know when we are going to be there but we will be heading to Flint," Wes Clark Jr., who helped organize the thousands of veterans who flooded into Standing Rock in recent days, told MLive.com. "This problem is all over the county. It's got to be more than veterans. People have been treated wrong in this county for a long time."
Clark was on hand at Standing Rock this weekend when protesters received news that the Army Corps of Engineers had denied an easement necessary for the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline along its current route—effectively, albeit temporarily, halting the project. Joining him there were thousands of vets who had traveled to Standing Rock, including several from Flint, who saw their participation in the NoDAPL protests as part of the larger struggle they have experienced in their hometown over the past year.
"I am going because my veteran brothers and sisters called out and asked for the veterans to come and help support the native Indians for their land," Arthur Woodson, who served in the Army for seven years, explained before leaving for North Dakota. "It's the same thing with Flint. The people need to start standing up together in unity instead of worrying about what color they are and what (political) party they are. We are driving 17 hours to stand in unity."
In a statement celebrating the Army Corps of Engineers' decision, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) also linked the struggles at Standing Rock with those faced by the residents of Flint:
"Water is life; we cannot survive without it. Whether it’s the threat to essential water sources in this region, lead contamination in Flint, Michigan, the potential threat posed to our water by the Red Hill fuel storage facility on Oʻahu, or the many other threats to our water across our nation, we must act now to protect our precious water for current and future generations to come.
While media attention given to Flint's ongoing water crisis has waned over time, the city is still far from recovering from the catastrophic lead contamination which has resulted in millions of dollars in damages, and countless illnesses. For some activists, the victory at Standing Rock may help refocus those attentions back to the community in need.
"These are people who have been just as oppressed and in some other forms more oppressed than black folks and to hear these people speak the name of Flint and know that Flint is in duress too and say that we are in their prayers that just does a lot to me," veteran George F. Grundy II, who joined Woodson on the trek from Michigan to North Dakota, told MLive. "It just shows me that the human spirit is larger than any corporate entity and you can believe in your fellow person because it's worth it."
In Lansing, MI, on Monday, a group of demonstrators celebrated the Army Corps' of Engineers' decision at the steps of the state capital. There, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indian tribe member Nichole Biber shared a sense of cautious optimism with the Detroit Free Press.
"I think there is certainly relief because of the threat (posed by the Dakota Access pipeline),” Biber told the Freep. “But no one’s naive. We know it’s not over. And it doesn’t mean that no water is under threat … Particularly, we can realize that here in Michigan, our water is under threat."
It is currently unclear when, and how, the veterans organized by Clark will make the trip to Flint.