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OPINION: The Other Day at State And Main

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by Jules Rabin

What have any of us got to do with the people of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, who have been struggling for months, in all kinds of weather, to protect the source of their drinking water from the oil pipeline burrowing its way across their ancestral lands, where it is stopped now, at the river that supplies their water?

A lot.

It’s a quiet fact that the TD Bank (“TD” stands for “Toronto Dominion” after the name of the parent organization), which occupies the granite-and-brick building at the corner of State and Main streets in the city of Montpelier, is a major investor in the Dakota Access Pipeline. The small-townish look of the Montpelier branch of TD Bank belies the fact that it’s the tenth largest bank in the United States, with assets of a quarter trillion dollars.

With a zeal for investment that comes naturally to such an entity, the overall TD Bank corporation has invested $365 million of its quarter trillion dollar worth in the Dakota Access pipeline … seemingly without a thought for how that pipeline affects the native people of that portion of North Dakota, through whose lands and under whose drinking water the oil pipeline will run.

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(In early December) I looked up the weather forecast for Standing Rock, North Dakota, and saw that the temperature there would vary between the single digits above and below zero. While in Montpelier, the high 20s and low 30s would prevail. Not balmy, as some of us discovered on the day of our protest, but not fierce, either, like the weather in North Dakota.

I discussed with my wife, and then, with friends, the idea of joining the local protest I had caught wind of, against the Montpelier branch of the great TD Bank conglomerate that, business-as-usual, was helping to finance the construction of the soulless Dakota Access Pipeline. We couldn’t appear ourselves at the Standing Rock grounds, although thousands have traveled there to do just that. But we could tug at a nearby strand of the great web of finance woven by TD Bank in its corporate majesty, by making our feelings known at the local TD branch, right here at the corner of State and Main.

That morning, more than 200 prospective protesters crammed ourselves into the big parish room of the Christ Church. I think I saw wonder and gladness on the faces of people, as we took in HOW MANY WE WERE!

A second fine experience was to see and hear a quiet worthiness in the faces and words of the main organizers who stood up to speak to us before we left. All of them were young people, around 30, who had worked selflessly, planning the demonstration.

Multiply those six in that room by a few million other such young people across America, I thought, and there lies America’s hope for years to come. The 200 that we were — grayheads and toddlers and others in between — felt we were being led and guided by men and women of a certain steady virtue. Just so.

My own party (four) was an un-average bunch. I’m 92, hale and nimble, but awfully deaf. My wife, younger than me, is lame. Our two companions were a blind man and his daughter, who is also blind. They were accompanied by seeing eye dogs.

I mention our disabilities for the novelty and variety of it, and for identification.

Snow was falling and slush had formed on the ground when, around 10 a.m., with police permission, we walked six or eight abreast down State Street, from Christ Church to the corner of Main Street, and proceeded to cram ourselves against the walls of the bank, and, crucially, block the bank’s main entrance. No business would be transacted on that day. And we knew that the bank’s shame at Standing Rock would be published abroad, because of what we were doing.

We got cold, then damned cold, as time passed. We listened to speeches and witnessed a peace pipe ritual performed by a Dakota Sioux woman. We pitied our two dogs standing barefoot in the slush.

So we left, leaving the ground to younger people. Of the number who held their ground till bank-closing time, eight were arrested for refusing to leave.

Editor’s note: This has been cut for length.