Q&A with S.A.G.E President Lorenzo Backhaus

Students in S.A.G.E camped out at a cite at Standing Rock while helping unload supplies to the people

Carlie Herrick

Students in S.A.G.E camped out at a cite at Standing Rock while helping unload supplies to the people

Nicole Aimone, Assistant News Editor

The Royal Purple recently sat down with Students Allied for a Green Earth (S.A.G.E) president Lorenzo Backhaus to talk about their trip to North Dakota’s Standing Rock.  

Royal Purple: What was SAGE’s motivation for going out to Standing Rock?

Lorenzo: It comes from, climate change is a global crisis we’re facing right now. And I think a lot of people don’t realize what it is or even believe in it. SAGE as an organization for like the past four years has been fighting a pipeline that’s three miles outside of Delavan. Embridge is the company that’s putting this tar sands oil through the pipelines at high pressure. Embridge is a company that’s known for spills. So we have this pipeline three miles out that’s pumping 1.2 million barrels a day, and no one has any idea on campus. Every time I ask people, it’s minimal knowledge on it, and no one seems to care. That’s kind of like the human ideology, like until it spills nobody cares. But that’s the point of what we’re trying to do, is stop these pipelines from being created so we don’t have wait until a spill. What Embridge is doing is trying to expand this pipeline to build a twin pipeline, line 66, that will pump the same amount. And we’re just trying to raise awareness. Embridge invested money into the Dakota access pipeline along with other corporations, that are trying to pump this oil from the backend, fracked oil through and up the Dakotas which will pass the Missouri River. Which is where these natives get their fresh water. So SAGE being an environmental org that’s fighting local pipelines, we understand what the natives are going through. I myself have participated in some standings before this. Their treaty rights are always being abused, so they’re being oppressed they have minimal land, they’re rights are always abused, it’s just kind of like we understand what they’re going through. I mean not fully obviously because we’re part of America, we’re kinda privileged compared to them, so we wanted to go there and show that we understand what’s going on, and that we support them and we support clean water. And we’ll do everything we can to bring supplies and stand in solidarity with them.

RP: How did you guys get to North Dakota?

LB: It’s kind of funny, most of the time when you say you’re going to protest oil companies, the first thing people say, well you’re using oil to get there, and you know that’s like the main thing you hear, being an activist and protesting. Oh how are you getting there, you’re using fossil fuels. But the idea is to stop building pipelines, so we’re not relying on it anymore. Obviously we are right now, but moving forward to clean energy we have to stop building pipelines, stop furthering our fossil fuel usage, to slow it down and we can make a just transition to cleaner energy. So that being said, I’m a state organizer through the sierra club, which is a non profit, so what we’re doing, we’ve connected all the campus’s, all the four year campus’s statewide, to stay correlated on actions, we do statewide. So this pipeline petition we have statewide, we’re doing an action between tuesday and thursday this week, statewide, just to show the state is working together on campuses. This weekend four schools went, Whitewater, Stout, Point and Madison. We all carpooled did like a caravan, there was 10 of that went from this campus. We all took supplies, we brought them like tarps, food, fresh produce, medicine, anything they would need to last over the winter.

RP: While you were there did you see any violence?

LB: We got there Friday night, and the next morning there was an action, none of us took part in it we went to an orientation to get familiar with the camp but during that non violent, peaceful protest there was shots fired, and people arrested from the police as a scare tactic. But while being there you could see the lights where the pipeline was being built, so then there was a bridge connecting our campsite to where the pipeline was, there was a little valley. Across the bridge the police had crashed these two trucks and burned them. It was so surreal, it look like a movie scene, but there was these two burnt trucks head on to each other. And the Natives took their horses up to the trucks and you know, just kind of showing that they weren’t afraid, they were going to stand their for their rights. The police, just kind of said, get back on the other side of the bridge or we will pretty much take action. The Natives stood ground, but eventually went back. The police didn’t take any action, because it wasn’t necessary. Other then that we didn’t see any action type stuff. There were four site that people could stay on, and just kind of campus, helping build for the winter. Then there was other camps closer to the pipeline, and that’s where people were taking action, actually stayed, and do actions daily, and resist pipelines. We didn’t actually see anything, but we were the more building and volunteering, just kind of helping out with the nuts and bolts of the whole thing.

RP: Did you meet any people that shared stories with you?

LB: All the cars split up to avoid the police heckling us. We were at the wrong site before, we were actually at standing rock campground and we were supposed to be at another campground. That’s where everyone else was. I went up to a Native, and asked if he could direct me there, and he actually got in the car with us and directed us there while we were driving. He was kind of just like, we appreciate you guys coming and supplying us with food, and gear, and just having your presence is awesome. But you guys have to think of the bigger picture, we’re living this, this is our daily lives, you guys get to go home after this and back to your reality. But this is our reality, so what we’re asking is for you guys to kind of being understanding of what you’re taking home. Like what are you going to tell people? How are you going to get the word out, and not spread the wrong message, but spread the right message, and help us not just here, but after you go home, and stand in solidarity back there. I thought that was pretty profound. Also, this is the first, there was seven nations there, that haven’t been together in over 100 years, and their together standing in solidarity. The chiefs were all there, and there were all these flags from all these other nations, it was like 100s of nations there, but it was like these seven showing solidarity together. That was something they made apparent, which is awesome because this is a fight for not just their water but the world’s water. Another point they made, in the amendments in the United States constitution, it says like all rights and all treaties need to be honored. The united states is currently going against all these treaties with these nations. The police officers, the police force that’s supposed to be protecting these people, the amendments and these rights are actually supporting this corporation that’s breaking the law to build this pipeline. The police are supporting this corporation that is breaking federal law to build a pipeline, versus trying to help people. Kind of ironic, we’re paying our taxes for these police, five different states are putting their police into this, we’re paying our taxes into police that are supporting federal crimes. It’s crazy to hear, like wow, this is actually way bigger than you can imagine.

RP: What will you personally take away from this?

LB: I think just the last thing I was speaking, how corrupt this government is, and how they try to cover it and seem like oh it’s right because we need this oil, when we actually don’t. We can produce clean energy, very much so for the entire United States, we just don’t want to, because there’s so much money in this system and so much funding and these corporations are making so much profit. That’s the reason these pipelines are being built, because we’re so fossil fuel reliant, and also that these nations people, and people of color are being oppressed through environmental racism nation wide, it’s crazy that no one sees the bigger picture of that. People are just going on with their everyday lives like it’s okay, out of sight out of mind. I think that’s what I’ll take away. Just being there, and sleeping in a tent when it was freezing and it’s not even as cold as it gets in North Dakota, because that’s where they’re going to stay, fighting. It’s surreal, to be there and be part of something that’s so impactful. I’m hoping that people will hear of us students going and fund it or go there, and take something away from us traveling for a weekend.

RP: Do you think you’d ever go back?

L: Yeah, we were talking about going back winter break. Just to give them more supplies and to volunteer more. Because we were only there for like 30 hours, so we all feel like we didn’t do enough, we didn’t help enough. We should go and put days of work in so we can make sure their winter is actually sustained. If we don’t go as Whitewater, as SAGE, we might just go with other students or people from Wisconsin, in my free time. Anything I’m doing right now is not as important as clean water, and making sure people’s rights are honored.

RP: Is there anything else you want people to know?

LB: Climate Change is real, if you don’t believe in it, I guess the only thing you need to know is you can believe in science, it’s going to happen whether or not you support it, but it’s good to be educate yourself, and look at what we’re doing for the planet, as a contributor to fossil fuel. I think if you look at the bigger picture and look at icecaps melting, islands going underwater, sea levels rising. All of those kind of speak for themselves.