We drove into Cannon Ball, North Dakota and were greeted by a Military blockade at 1806 going south. A man in fatigues and gun drawn gave us directions to turn around to and take highway 6 to 24 to get to the casino where we were staying; an hour and a half detour. We counted at least 45 Sheriff vehicles that sped past us on the pitch black two lane road.
Due to our delayed arrival, the casino gave away our room. The wait list was 45 people deep. A friend had told us that the rooms were being bought up by the company that owns the NDPL.
When we arrived at the camp, we found out the blockade we had encountered the day before was literally a few hundred feet from the camp.
When people ask me if it was what I had expected, I tell them I was not surprised by the militarized police or the helicopters and planes circling the camp. What had surprised me was the sheer scope of the thing. There are easily over thousand people there cycling in and out. More before it got cold. A man on a P.A. calls out constant announcements. "Who ever needs a ride an hour North we have a driver." "Volunteers are needed to unload hay" "today's meeting will be at"¦" It is all very organized. The medical bay has a chiropractor, herbalist, midwife, acupuncturist, therapist, and chemical weapons decom.
The media tent sits on top of the only hill that gets cell phone reception, next to that is the legal tent. Here, you can go and fill out a form so they'll know who to contact if you get arrested while peacefully protesting and legal console if you already have been. There are daily trainings on codes of conduct, and what will be happening that day in camp. I've definitely seen people with more resources do less. Next to the visitor information center there is a supply tent where you can get whatever you didn't bring enough of: Tent stakes, sanitary napkins, whatever you might need. Down the road from that a coat share where you can get winter clothes. "We get people from Texas and California show up in bare feet" I had a delicious meal at the mess hall that put the casinos buffet to shame. I was never asked for anything. Someone literally said to me, "Take what you need, give what you can." The north hills are scorched black. A fire was set just right so it would catch the wind and spread. Flood lights just to the right of that. Men on top of hills just outside of camp. "They're snipers. They can definitely hit you from here." There are groups of men that act as security for the camp, others that ride horses and patrol the area. I walked pass them breaking a horse in camp. They've said that helicopters have buzzed them mere feet away, assaults, people going missing. I noticed one of the security guys was wearing a camera tucked in his vest.
I got back to the hotel room, and put on the local news. In the opening segment there were the headlines "protesters are being bussed in, paid protesters, violent protesters, the price of oil is going to go up" that was the first time I saw anything on TV about it.
The next day we followed an action into Bismarck. The helicopter and plane followed the convoy the whole way there. Police had pulled over a car with "NO DAPL" painted on it. We drove very carefully not to give the police any excuse to pull us over.
Once we arrived and parked, a man in a suit yelled at us "go home, no one wants you here" we weren't even close to the protest.
There was a line of police in riot gear in front of the Wells Fargo bank. The march was up the street. They were preemptively protecting the bank. A group of anti-protesters had gathered across the street holding flags and signs that said "Back the blue". A young man was singled out and arrested. He was screaming "they're arresting me for picking a flower" "you've dislocated my shoulder!"
They put a bag over his head, an officer on scene said it was a spit guard.
The protest moved to the federal building. The anti protesters followed. Another police line, and people shouting from cars "GO TRUMP!"
The demonstration ended. I witnessed no protestor disobeying the law.
The next morning the temperature dropped. The scramble to winterize expedited. More tee-pees and permanent structures were going up all over camp. There was a march toward the blockade. An action to "free Red Fawn". Many people dressed in red and sat in formation to spell out her name on the river bank. The camps security wouldn't let me get closer to the burnt out military vehicles on the bridge. There was some stirring across the bridge. An officer with an MRAD and a riot patrol truck came and left. Two days later there was massive violence against the protesters. At camp, I heard a story about a young man who was building stone stoves to heat the structures there. He was being asked why we wasn't at the Actions. His response was, he was the only person that knew how to install them and that if they wanted to last the winter, he needed to be there.