Some of the most vocal out-of-state support for the American Indians fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota has come from the Seattle area. Back in August 2016, when the battle pitting “water protectors” from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and other native nations against Energy Transfer Partners’ $3.8 billion project was mostly ignored by mainstream press, a group of a few hundred people reportedly rallied at a park in Seattle to show their solidarity with the protest.
In January of this year, hundreds more people gathered outside a Wells Fargo in downtown Seattle to protest the bank's investing in the project. The group’s efforts worked, at least locally. In February, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved an ordinance to end its relationship with Wells Fargo. The bank was previously in charge of $3 billion of the city's finances before Seattle voted to end the contract.
Seattle's vote marked the first time that a major United States city had cut financial ties with a bank funding the Dakota Access Pipeline in protest.
Bellingham activists block freeway
Ninety miles away from Seattle, in the city of Bellingham, Washington, activists are now lobbying their City Council to take similar actions. A group calling themselves the Bellingham #NoDAPL Coalition last month organized a rally outside US Bank, another bank helping fund the project, and called on the City of Bellingham to divest from the project.
The group also organized a blockade on the highway. About 100 protesters, some linking hands, reportedly blocked off the I-5 for about an hour on a Saturday last month, causing a back-up spanning four miles. They agreed to disperse after Washington State Patrol troopers came on the scene.
After the protesters left, the troopers accused the activists of criminal trespassing, causing a car crash at the back of the traffic jam and straining state patrol resources. Despite the accusations, the troopers did not arrest any protesters that day. “We had fairly limited resources at the time and we were waiting to make sure we had more police officers on scene,” a spokesman told the local newspaper.
Now authorities appear to be attempting to make arrests after-the-fact.
Facebook page served with warrant
On February 16, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Department obtained a search warrant from the county to search the Bellingham NoDAPL Coalition’s Facebook page. In particular, the department wants “messages, photos, Videos, wall posts and Location information (IP address login)” connected to the account.
The move is being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union, which on Tuesday filed a motion to quash the warrant.
“The warrant at issue here is deeply problematic and runs afoul of constitutional protections,”ACLU staff attorney La Rond Baker said in a press release. “Political speech and the freedom to engage in political activity without being subjected to undue government scrutiny are at the heart of the First Amendment…. And seizing information from Facebook accounts simply because they are associated with protests of the government violates these core constitutional principles.”
A hearing on the ACLU's motion is scheduled for next week.
New York next?
While no other major United States city besides Seattle has divested in the project, New York’s leaders have shown similar interest in challenging the Dakota Access Pipeline. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio last month sent a letter to all 17 banks funding the Dakota Access Pipeline, urging them to withdraw their financial support for the project.
“The threat this project poses to Standing Rock, our environment, your bank and your shareholders is not worth the return it might generate,” de Blasio wrote to Wells Fargo in one letter.