Tuesday, June 10th 9:50p.m.
I ask the lady at the post office if she is serious. Is there really no food in this town? No gas station, no restaurant, no grocery store? She nods again, and offers me a water bottle.
I have just walked ten miles through cornfields under the hot Nebraska sun, my skin boiling and my stomach grumbling just to reach Bradshaw, Nebraska. And now they tell me they have no food.
I spent last night in a beautiful farmhouse surrounded by GMO seed corn. I went out to visit the Energy Barn, a self-sustaining solar barn built in the way of the Keystone XL pipeline, and got to meet one of the major landowners opposing pipeline construction in Nebraska. He invited me to stay in his mother-in-law’s house, a giant place with shag carpeting on the floors and walls, a swinging couch, a swimming pool, a fully stocked fridge, and a swimming pool. There was no internet or cell service so it was essentially forced relaxation. I slept for twelve hours! But yes, fighting the Keystone pipeline and staying on a GMO farm did feel pretty ironic.
Anyway, this morning I set off toward another small Nebraska town on foot, expecting to get a ride. I walked nearly ten miles, and only saw a couple cars on my way. No one stopped. To keep from going crazy I strummed on my banjo, screamed into the open fields, played with bugs. Unfortunately the horse flies were thick, and I was slightly sure I’d be eaten alive.
By the time I reached the highway my back was aching, my skin was raw, and my feet felt like they were splitting open. But off in the distance I could see a little collection of trees and buildings with a train running through it.
Town! I thought to myself.
I drug myself down the highway only to turn up in Bradshaw, Nebraska, a town without food.
Incredibly, it was just around that time that my phone rang. The call was from a girl I had met briefly the day before as I toured the farms. She had found herself thinking about me and was calling to ask me over for dinner. When I explained my situation, she offered to come pick me up and drive me to the next big town toward the west and buy me dinner there.
I waited a couple hours in Bradshaw, and while I was there the town superintendent came over to introduce himself to me. At first I thought he was going to ask me to leave, but instead he gave me his phone number and told me to give him a call if I wound up needing a place to stay, offering me a spare bedroom and a water bottle. He came back several times to make sure I was okay, and actually killed a wasp that had been pestering me.
Finally my savior and her cousin arrived. They drove me an hour west to Grand Island, Nebraska, and over dinner we talked politics and religion. I told them about anarchism, and they told me about their conservative republican ideology. I talked about the semi-spiritual ignostic awakening this trip has been for me, and they talked about their Christianity. We all gorged ourselves on waffle fries and pizza. It was nourishing in many ways!
They were enthusiastic about the idea of local governance, small business, autonomy. It’s always amazing to me how much I have in common with such insanely different people. It seemed to me like these strangers and I had a lot of shared values, but had a very different idea of how to achieve the ends we all were seeking.
So now here I am, red as a tomato, sitting in a coffee shop waiting for another stranger to drive me to his home in Hastings, Nebraska.
It’s starting to get old, how bottomless the hearts of strangers seem to be.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the framing of the environmental movement against the Keystone pipeline. It really was such a trip to talk to someone who is fighting TransCanada, traveled all over the world, volunteered for the Peace Corps, is a feminist, and yet farms GMO corn on hundreds of acres. This farmer is a wonderful person, very generous, intelligent, and engaged. And yet he is engaged in an industrialized farm industry that poisons insects, soil and water, that intensifies climate change, that increases corporate power.
So much of the fight around the pipeline has focused on people who are privileged enough to own land, and on their right to privately determine what happens on that land. And yet if we’re really looking for a solution to climate change, it seems building alliances between those fighting tar sands and those fighting other kinds of social and ecological exploitation is necessary. It’s hard to imagine that many anti-GMO activists will readily ally with a group that advocates landowners’ rights to use pesticides and corporate seeds.
In the short term, promoting the land owner angle is great because it appeals to the conservatives in Nebraska and engages a group of people that otherwise wouldn’t care to fight. But a number of landowners I’ve talked to are in this fight to keep KXL out of their own backyards. When this particular fight is settled, they likely won’t be on the frontlines defending the climate. They probably won’t even keep fighting the tar sands.
I wonder if what we really need is a longterm approach that emphasizes the needs of those who are most immediately suffering from climate. Anyone have thoughts on this? How does this dynamic manifest in other struggles? I’d love to talk about it.