Return from Standing Rock

posted Dec 24, 2016, 8:21 AM by Geoffrey Smith   [ updated Dec 24, 2016, 8:23 AM ]
Our Qualified Vendor member, Barry Cogbill, recently delivered ten off-grid solar/battery power systems to the water protectors at Standing Rock. This is his story.
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I want to say thank you for all of the support you gave me, helping me get to and from Standing Rock, and accomplish some good things while I was there.  With your help, over a 2 week period, we built 10 off-grid solar arrays to support Oceti Sakowin camp, the prayerful camp located closest to the front lines where the DAPL pipeline is being constructed.  

While no one knows how this will ultimately play out, one this is now certain:  the world is now watching.

Standing Rock solar
There’s so much processing to do after coming back from Standing Rock. I’m still waiting for my toes to feel normal again, here’s hoping they do. This trip was the hairiest, most difficult endeavor I’ve ever done. Getting there was hard, being and working there was hard, and returning home was hard. No one ever said that answering a calling would be anything but. I’ve never felt called before, but I most certainly did in this circumstance.

Once I started paying attention to what was really happening at Standing Rock, the more I learned about the human rights abuses, and the utter lack of media reporting on it, I knew I had to go. I couldn’t not go. I started asking around, not knowing who I would travel with, or if my idea of bringing solar would be well received. But once I set a travel date of November 21st, magic and serendipity started occurring in profound ways.

I attended a training in Oakland (who knew I’d ever hear a lecture on what to do if tear gassed), and met 3 of my 5 travel mates. One has solar experience. With another, sitting on a cob bench in Oakland which was made by an unbeknownst mutual friend sealed the deal. 6 of us left from my house on the 21st, having placed tremendous faith in one another.

A solar colleague’s wife contacted me. She had spent summers as a youth near Standing Rock. She brought a friend in to the conversation, and between the two of them, they ensured us a welcome entrance in to camp. We also got to meet the spiritual leader of the Sioux peoples, Arvol Looking Horse, as a result of this connection. Thank you both so much.

When my van broke down in Buffalo, WY, we had the good fortune of renting the last box truck in town, a
Standing Rock solar
truck that wasn’t supposed to be available. With a lot of trepidation, we arrived at Oceti Sakowin camp on Thanksgiving day. It was clear, but cold. We’d heard of all kinds of trouble people were running in to on the way to camp. Vehicles being searched, rerouted and/or denied access to the camp. Somehow, even with a big ‘ol box truck, we managed to avoid all of this. We even randomly parked right next to friends, who we had hoped to find at some point during our stay. And guess who came with a cob pizza oven the very next day? Sir Cobalot himself, maker of benches and cementer of friendships, catching us completely by surprise!

Only 4 days before our arrival, hundreds of water protectors were trapped on a bridge and sprayed with high volume water cannons. A women’s arm was decimated by a concussion grenade (still not sure if her arm was saved). I have aging parents who count on me. I had to remain safe, but what guarantee was there? We learned that airplanes not only crop dusted people at the front line, but also over the camp. This singular possibility was my greatest fear. Followed close behind by susceptibility to injury, either at camp or traveling to get there and back.

We offered tobacco prayers and smudged ourselves and vehicles with sage. I felt like our prayers were answered. Even with the van troubles and extra costs, I knew something bigger than ourselves was protecting us.

Standing Rock solar
I feel quite fortunate that no ugly confrontations with the “law” occurred during our time there. No pepper spraying, tear gassing, rubber bullets, dog attacks, crop dusts, baton beatings, etc. Most of these things were happening at the “front lines”, where the water protectors would gather to pray and sing and try to engage with the militarized force that was there. Some cops actually deciding they could not participate in the harming of innocent people and resigned their posts. Airplanes and helicopters constantly flew over the camp (with no identifying FAA registration numbers). It was clear they were “just” doing surveillance. I always gave them a big smile.

I decided that I could not risk going to the front lines. But I could play a supporting role around camp, build and deploy some welcome solar, and I could shine a spotlight in a way that was not being done to much degree. It turns out the latter was the most important thing I accomplished. So many people let me know how valuable they found the information I reported. So many others started to pay attention and learn about the standoff because it now had a familiar face attached to it.

The media finally came. Where were they before? Paid off? Scared? I can’t say. Maybe it was the Veterans announcing their support and expected arrival that got the media to pay attention and show up. Regardless, bless the Vets. What a huge statement their presence made.

Long about day 10, I had a long conversation with a camp neighbor, Mike. He’s my age, works in energy, and is full Native American. It took a while for Mike to lower his guard. It was clear he’d been taken advantage of before by, well, white folks. Over about 90 minutes of talking, he started to warm up. We both wound up better people as a result of our time together. He talked about how we need to find love for the DAPL folks, even though they work to harm the land, the water, and the people. I have some work to do in this regard.

By the time we left camp, I felt good about accomplishing what I set out to do. We built 10 solar arrays and deployed 9 of them (we gave one to Arvol but were not able to set it up yet). The whole world now knows about Standing Rock and the struggle there. I know I had a small piece in delivering this message.

More serendipity found us as we left camp and started on the long drive home. A blizzard cut our driving day to 2 hours. We took refuge in a nearby casino, as thousands of others decided to do. We were able to deliver Arvol’s solar panels to him there, and bear witness to an amazing congregation of Native Americans and US Veterans. Conversations, ceremonies and healing ensued. I am so grateful for what I experienced there.

We spent two nights at the casino, which was completely overrun by the sheer number of people there. With very little organization, people just figured it out. We all took care of one another and I think most folks felt blessed to experience the energy and power that was on full display in the middle of a blizzard.

Finally the weather broke and we headed south to pick up my van in Rapid City. 24 hours after that, we arrived in Santa Rosa, where my housemate (and brother from another mother) had hot coconut chocolate waiting for us, along with a shot of whiskey. I was never happier to be home! My folks were never happier either.

I’m flat broke as a result of this trip, but mostly don’t care. I’m sure I’ll care more next month. The van repair and box truck rental costs overran my fundraising efforts by nearly $5000. I am humbly still accepting donations (www.generosity.com/community-fundra…/solar-for-standing-rock).

I want to give a sincere thank you to all who have supported me along the way. Besides the monetary and equipment contributions, so many of you made me feel loved and connected. I felt your prayers for my safe return. Thank you for reaching out to me. I have never felt such gratitude for the people in my life. Thank you all.

As I reflect back on all that happened, all that I witnessed, all I pondered, I am left with some messages I’d like to share with you. The first is that cars can now run on sunshine. The combination of solar and electric vehicles is the way of the future, and the technology is here now. We do not need yet another pipeline. Buy an electric vehicle next time around. I sure will.

Next is that the Standing Rock movement is about social and environmental justice versus greed and
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contempt. I will fight for the rest of my life for the former and against the latter. How can I not? How can any of us not? We are up against well capitalized companies who can defy Presidential orders, ignore permit denials, bring their own military with them, and really do not care what or who they injure. They are powerful and rich and hard to stand up to. But stand we will.

This brings me to my last message: an old friend texted me while I was at camp. He said this struggle, this movement, is the awakening of a sleeping giant. That giant is us, we the people, with liberty and justice for ALL. The fight is far from over. No one said it would be easy. Please join me.

#NODAPL Water is Life Mni Wiconi

See more photos of the mission here.
 
Barry Cogbill
Pathways Energy
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m 707.479.2344
o  707.696.2344
www.pathwaysenergy.com