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November 21, 2014
Ithaca, NY 25°F | Snow

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America the Beautiful

Our protest of a tar sands company and our journey through a grim industrial wasteland just outside of Denver

Yesterday, I caught a glimpse of what it takes to power the American way of life. I think, judging by this sign we encountered, you can tell it wasn’t pretty. nocameraWe did a poor job of following the sign’s instructions. Sorry not sorry.

During our first day out of Denver, a 15.5 mile trip to Prairie View High School, we passed through Suncor Energy and the industrial park in which it is housed. Suncor’s name is deceiving; it actually has nothing to do with sunlight. Suncor is a tar sands oil refining company, the same stuff that would be pumped through the KXL Pipeline if built, and the same stuff that is destroying Alberta, Canada via the extraction process.

When we arrived at Suncor’s main office building, 4.8 miles into our walk, we staged a small performance. We were all wearing surgical masks over our faces, and my fellow marcher, Berenice, started to cough. Saying that she couldn’t breathe, she went to take her mask off, and everyone yelled:

“No, Berenice, no! The air is polluted! Keep your mask on!”

But she took it off and coughed harder, and then collapsed to the ground and “died.” Someone held a sign over her that said “Suncor-pse,” and we all grieved around her. This all took place on the lawn in front of Suncor’s company sign.

We carried Berenice to the cemetery across the street and laid her to rest in front of a tombstone, and I gave eulogy for her.

“Here lies Berenice Tompkins, dead from pollution from tar sands oil refineries like Suncor. She breathed the air and it killed her. What world are we living in where we have no clean air? Let Berenice’s death be a reminder to all of us of those who have been silenced, sickened, and killed by air pollution, and other forms of pollution that come from the oil and gas industry. Rest in peace, Berenice, you beautiful martyr.”

While we were in the cemetery, Suncor security arrived to shoo us off their lawn. After we were done with our performance, we proceeded to walk down the road into the belly of the industrial park, with Suncor security trailing us the entire way.

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This is about where security stopped following us. I was able to get a good selfie in without them hounding us.

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This picture does not capture the sheer size of the industrial park.

At one point, I found a crack in the Suncor fence and stuck my Go Pro camera through it. A few moments later, the Suncor security announced over a loudspeaker:

“Step away from the fence, step away from the fence.”

It was a very tense, somewhat frightening situation to be in, and the air quality was horrific. Every breath brought unwanted, rancid fumes from the factory emissions into our lungs. I was encouraged, however, by the Suncor employees who drove by us honking their horns, waving excitedly, their big smiles showing they were happy to see us.

The whole time we marched through the industrial wasteland with somber faces, all I could think was “this is America.” This is how we support our privileged way of life – by decimating the land and filling the air with smog. One of the images of the day that will forever be burned into my mind is a skinny fox with a limp meandering through the park, looking lost and confused.

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Note the American flag flying high over the industrial wasteland.

Whenever you plug something into your wall at home, how often do you think about where the energy from that socket is coming from? Now that I have been using a solar charger for several weeks, I am extremely aware of my energy sources. When I stay with local families, I consciously think about that when I use the sockets in their houses.

And to take that a step further, how often when you go to the grocery store do you think about where your products came from and how they were made? Is it not frightening that some kids nowadays believe that apples come from stores, not trees? We have reached a point now where we rely on stores to meet our needs. It’s an automatic, mindless process. You run out of something, you go to the store, you buy more, you consume it, rinse and repeat. Everything is disposable and sentimental value is rare. We are losing our personal connection with our possessions. It’s hard to care for something we see as replaceable.

Being on the march has strengthened my relationship with my possessions and helped me to realize which ones are essential and which ones are luxury. Hand-washing your clothes may not sound like a fun way to spend your time, but I have a greater appreciation for my clothes now, as well as a stronger desire to preserve them. I have spent hours with my clothes, scrubbing out the dirt from days of walking and hanging them one by one on a line to dry, only to return a couple hours later to take them down and fold them. What was an hour and a half process with washing and drying machines is now a four to five hour process that requires my care and attention.

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 Hand-washing in Fort Garland, CO

As someone who used to constantly lose track of her things, I am now hyper aware of my items and where they are located, and if something is amiss I notice it almost immediately. This is because I need each of the things I have on an almost daily basis and I have few opportunities to replace them. And some things I have simply can’t be replaced — such as the walking stick my father gifted me before leaving and my stuffed dog I’ve had since I was eight. If I lose them, they’re gone forever.

I am happier now living in a tent and having one duffel bag full of things than I have ever been. I have less stuff to stress out about and I care more deeply for the things I have.

Take time to understand where your possessions and resources have come from and what they mean to you. I have a feeling if every American saw what my fellow marchers and I saw yesterday, the movement to install more renewable energy would be overwhelming.

As soon as I have sufficient internet connection, I will be uploading the footage I captured of our journey through Suncor’s property. The world needs to see these industries from the inside.

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