July 31, 2013

Frac Sand Protest 2013

The division of labor can be a scary thing. In the instance of KC’s nuclear weapons manufacturing, workers are assigned to small, repetitive tasks - like turning a couple of bolts or installing a circuit board - and then it goes on to the next person. Nobody knows where the object came from or where its heading, they just know how they are to interact with it when it is before them. Because everyone works with these parts for nuclear weapons in such small ways, it allows one to go into work day after day unaware of what it is they are actually constructing. It also allows workers to distance themselves from the work they do when confronted with ethical questioning. It isn’t uncommon to hear someone say, “I don’t build nuclear weapons...I just work with circuit boards,” and know they mean well. It is all too easy for us to look the other way when we are a few steps removed from the completion of what it is we work on.

At our recent Faith and Resistance Retreat, over a hundred Catholic Workers gathered in Winona, MN to raise awareness about how Winona’s silica sand mining operations enable a much larger, controversial practice to take place: fracking. Fracking is a method used to extract natural gas and oil from deep underground by “fracturing” shale rock that contains small pockets of gas and oil. This practice requires millions of gallons of water a day, many unknown chemicals, and silica sand. Because the rock being fractured is located below many aquifers, there is concern about how this practice will pollute our water supplies. There is also concern about how this practice contributes to earthquake activity, carbon dioxide emissions, and aquifer depletion.

Winona is a major port city that also has lots of ideal silica sand needed for fracking. Silica sand serves as a “proppant” in fracking, meaning it props the fractured shale rock open so the gas and oil can be released. This sand also comes with a certain level of health risks. The sand, when airborne, can cause asthmatic symptoms as well as silicosis if inhaled regularly. We had a peaceful direct action at the conclusion of our retreat and we focused on shutting down operations at two main fracking related sites - both of which dealt with silica sand. The reasoning behind this particular focus was simple enough: if you shut down access to silica sand, you shut down access to an essential component needed for fracking, which would limit the ability to frack. The actions on Monday were an effective and faithful witness, with lots of media and 35 arrests, but I left that day troubled.

While at one of the sites I had the opportunity to chat with one of the truckers hauling silica sand to be processed. He was initially upset at having to wait because of our action, which made complete sense. He got paid by the truckload and we were hurting his ability to make money. From his perspective, he was just hauling sand and did not understand why we would be doing what we were doing.

There it was though: the disconnect. Fracking is the controversial issue, not silica sand mining. This person just wanted to do his job - like many of us - but didn’t feel connected to this issue because it wasn’t affecting him directly. Not only was he not experiencing life near a place where fracking occurs, he didn’t even live near where the sand was being excavated. This man was concerned about his family and didn’t have room for much else.

This is where our hard work needs to begin. This is where community building needs to take shape. These harmful, destructive actions of nuclear weapons manufacturing or fracking are very large and involve resources that are extracted or processed in many different towns. If one town says “no” to silica sand mining or “no” to fracking, they will move to the next town until someone says “yes.” This is why we gather together around large issues like fracking, silica sand mining, and nuclear weapons manufacturing. We gather together to say we don’t want this in anyone’s backyard, not just our own. We gather together to broaden our definition of neighbor. We gather together to plant seeds of connectedness and community, knowing that faith and community are the only remedy to what presently ails us - because when one part of the body is hurting, we all hurt. Even if nothing is happening in my backyard.

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