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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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