… except to perhaps say that environmentalist applied enough pressure on President Obama to send the project back to the drawing board. A few folks might be able to add that the scheme is to extract oil from Canadian tar sands and ship it via pipeline to refineries in America’s lower tier of states. The pipeline is the dream of a company called TransCanada and the plan remains to pump hydrocarbons down the length of the American Great Plains – including our state of South Dakota – and eventually into the atmosphere. In the end it will produce more climate change in a place already known for difficult weather. Of course what got the project sent back for review was that mining tar sands and piping all that oil, all that way, is inherently dangerous for all of us. Still, everyone thought it was a done deal – lots of construction jobs and a chance to lower US dependence on “foreign oil”. Of course Canada too is a foreign country, but it’s … well, not AS foreign as SOME.
I’m familiar with this idea that Canada is not really a different country and I know that notion is, while expedient and handy for American business, not true. I went to college with a bunch of Canadians in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan during the Viet Nam War and I can tell you that when you suggest that Canada is really just the northern part of the US, they tend to spill their Molson’s down the fronts of their shirt – just before they throw the bottle at you. We all know that there is something to the concept of a special linkage between Canada and the US, and we also know that it manifests itself mostly as a business arrangement. For instance: you might think that it would be impossible for a Canadian corporation to claim the right of eminent domain and be allowed to take the land and livelihoods of Americans who want nothing to do with them. That seems as self-evident as the truths that begin the US constitution. But, not so. The Canadian Pacific Railroad has been given the right to seize a sizable strip of land out of the middle of scores of ranches to build a railroad that will haul Wyoming coal to electricity generating plants in the Eastern US. One of the ranches is ours and it upsets me because we are not talking about a choo choo train chugging along bucolically at precisely 3:42 every afternoon. We’re talking at least a train an hour – long trains – a mile long – moving continuously at breakneck speeds. And we’re not talking about overpasses on our country roads or underpasses big enough to get a herd of buffalo under. We’re talking, again, about getting those hydrocarbons out of the ground and into the air we breathe. Some of us are beginning to sense a pattern here.
It is, of course, interesting that the corporations that are pushing these projects are Canadian, but I don’t think that the mailing addresses has nearly as much to do with their special treatment as does the fact that Trans-Canada and Canadian Pacific are special creatures with special rights and goals, with different responsibilities and investments in the future than the rest of us. While corporations seem to be gaining rights, the rest of us seem to be loosing them.
That notion came home to me last week as Jill and I walked around and through the encampment of Occupy Wall Street. Immediately I had flashbacks to the early and mid-sixties. What a jumble of misfits: unemployed, homeless, insane, dirty, multi-ethnic, union-belonging, sincere, articulate, determined, inspired, and American. There were the predictable angry signs, the protest songs, the soapboxes, the homespun order, and the chaotic moments. I swear, the same homeless, wild man I watched storm the stage in 1964, was there again – with his hair still in a red afro. His fellow protesters had him by the arms and he was again being urged to give up the stage. All in all it was like I thought it might be, complete with lines of NYPD cordoning off the area and, beyond the police, the grumbling kibitzers circling like nervous sharks reminded me of Spiro Agnew. I heard the same rhetoric that I had heard as a high schooler – get a job, get a hair cut. One man held forth with the complaint that the whole protest was unfocused, “What do these guys really want?” he asked anyone who would listen.
When one pinstriped banker accidently stepped on a tent a voice from within called out, “Don’t step on my home.” The plea was misinterpreted and the banker spit back defensively, “My taxes paid for your shitty home.”
As Jill and I walked away from the encampment we noticed another gathering of policemen on horseback and, since I am a sucker for horses – especially when their dressage lessons were not just for fun – we walked that way. We were suddenly on Wall Street and, though I had been there several times before, the light never seemed that defused. The street was dark with a tiny spot of light far at the end. It had to be the East River and instinctually we walked that direction. We walked past the New York Stock Exchange where the NYPD stood in lonely lines, down caste and shabby. Were they troubled by their diminished duty since 9/11? There were no demonstrators in front of the Exchange and the horses stood hipshot and sleepy eyed. Had they been less aristocratic and military, they could have been cow ponies tide to a corral rails. The ubiquitous pinstripe suits hurried in and out of the elegant Exchange doors between larger men with watchdog eyes and dressed in cheaper suits. An Orwellian chill crawled down my spine. Jill took my arm and began to guide me toward the distant smudge of blue at the end of the street.
Now, I wonder if they were trading TransCanada or Canadian Pacific stock as we stood anonymous on Wall Street. I wonder if anyone in that building has ever considered what our buffalo pasture has been like for the last 10,000 years – hundreds of buffalo moving freely and grazing in the lush quiet of the Great Plains. Have they imagined the same buffalo cordoned off by roaring and rumbling coal trains? I wonder if the banker who believes that his taxes paid for the protesters tent ever considered that the protester would love the privilege of paying those taxes. I consider the accurate criticism of the protester’s scattered and garbled message and recall that the energy of 1964 also lacked focus, but matured to enough precision to topple a president and change America forever. I wonder how TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline was stopped – if only temporarily – and my heart-beat quickens to dream that there might still be a chance for our buffalo to roam in quiet pastures for another 10,000 years.