LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Judge’s understanding in disobedience case was appreciated
In August, 26 people held a non-violent civil disobedience in the intersection of Third Street and Beltrami Avenue here in Bemidji. This action was titled "Minnesota Neighbors Protecting MN Waters.” While people had many different reasons for being there, I felt it was necessary due to the fact all legal means had been exhausted and our concerns fell on deaf ears as the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved Enbridge’s Line 3 preferred route despite the testimonies and evidence. People from all walks of life were among the 26 people charged with disorderly conduct. A small fine and stay of adjudication were the consequences. No arrests were made that day; we stood in peace and prayer.
In November, we went to court, humble and law abiding. We filled the courtroom with good energy and vibes which impressed the judge. Judge Melby admitted he was told to expect an “angry mob” and extra security was provided for that purpose. As the court personnel witnessed, we demonstrated we were not an “angry mob,” instead we’re concerned, frustrated and very passionate people.
Twenty-four water protectors pled guilty with heartfelt explanations. The judge was moved with our intentions to protect the water, so he offered us the option to do community service to cover the cost of fines. The judge used no bias, erased the stigma, and treated us very kind. It was even agreed the community service can be done at non-profit climate justice organizations such as MN350, the Sierra Club and Honor the Earth. Basically, the water protectors were sentenced to continue the work to protect the environment and build a beautiful climate justice movement.
The two of us who pled not guilty are indigenous, and we felt it was necessary to defend the sacred water, ceded land and treaties. We want our story heard, validated and addressed. We’re still here and treaties do matter.
Regardless of the outcome of my case, I have come to respect Judge Melby’s ability to set aside stereotypes of water protectors and understand why we carried out the civil disobedience in August. His understanding and passion serve to inspire trust in our justice system so that we can continue to protect the water and air for future generations.
We stand for environmental and racial justice. Water is life.
Leave the oil in the soil.
Nancy Beaulieu, Bemidji, is northern Minnesota organizer for MN350.org.