Members of the Ohio Community Rights Network gathered outside the Ohio Statehouse on September 12 to demand the right to ban fracking wastewater injection wells and shale natural gas pipelines in their local communities. They compared the impact of the proposed Nexus Pipeline on Ohio communities to the threat posed by the Dakota Access Pipeline to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
Actors impersonating Ohio Governor John Kasich, Secretary of State John Husted, and the oil and gas industry performed a street theater piece that was both entertaining and deadly serious.
The U.S. government is willing to break treaties with Native Americans by allowing the Dakota Access Pipeline to be built, “putting corporate profits and greed above the rights of the people and nature on the reservation,” said Tish O’Dell, organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. “We fully support and applaud the efforts of all the residents at Standing Rock,” she said.
“The people of Ohio share much in common with the Native Americans at Standing Rock,” O’Dell said. “The difference is that the people in North Dakota know they live on a reservation, and the people in Ohio are just realizing it now.”
Is it a stretch to compare the struggle for clean water in indigenous sacred land and Ohio counties? Sandy KillsRight, a member of the Oglala Lakota nation who lives in Columbus, doesn’t think so. “Water is life,” she said. “Last time I checked, white people need to drink water, too.”
On September 13, the day after the protest, the Ohio Supreme Court refused to place county charter measures on the ballot in Athens, Meigs, and Portage Counties in a 6:1 decision. The measures included bans on fracking activities.
“The secretary of state does not have the power to veto charter petitions on behalf of the oil and gas industry simply because the citizens did not pick exclusively from the two forms of county government delineated” in the Ohio Revised Code, Justice J. O’Neill wrote in a dissenting opinion. “This is a usurpation of power from the people that we should not indulge.”
The proposed charters were blocked by each county’s board of elections, who claimed that the measures did not properly specify how the form of government would be structured. “We drafted new charters this year, using the ambiguous direction given by the Supreme Court,” said Dick McGinn of Athens. “The secretary of state and our judiciary can interpret vague guidelines as they wish, leaving the people chasing a moving target and unable to vote on their own county initiative, year after year.”
“It comes as no surprise that the court has found on behalf of the oil and gas industry,” said Gwen Fischer of Portage County. “Any illusion that we live in a democracy is obliterated with this decision. Will we go home and just accept the toxins in our communities? No. We will fight for our rights. As the Standing Rock indigenous fight for water, we do as well. This is a fight to safeguard our air, our water, our health, and our communities, today and for future generations.”