A letter to Barack Obama

It’s Thanksgiving week in America, and while schoolchildren are being told the old stories about Pilgrims fleeing persecution and friendly Indians teaching them how to grow their harvest, there is a mighty battle raging in North Dakota. At Standing Rock reservation, militarised police are attacking peaceful protesters – protectors, they call themselves – in service to a private corporation that wants to rip up land that belongs by treaty to the Sioux Nation. A it happens, this is land that is sacred, land that has the people’s relatives buried in it. But it is also protected by a treaty which is being ignored by both the business consortium and the government. The pipeline will carry natural gas that has been fracked out of the ground. On the evidence of other pipelines and other fracking sites, it is likely to cause massive problems for everyone who lives anywhere near it. It will compromise the water supply of something like 18m people, via the Missouri River. It will compromise the water supply to America’s grain belt.

There’s an essay to be written about this seismic event that’s taking place, but it’s not my essay. There are lots of people reporting back from North Dakota and a lot is happening on the ground. But from here, so far away, all I can do is watch and read and try to get a sense of what’s happening. the stories coming out are alarming and upsetting: dogs set on protesters, people arrested and strip-searched, thrown into solitary confinement, given bail so high that they can’t afford it – and all for peacefully protesting, a right that’s enshrined in the Constitution.

Yesterday I got up and turned my computer on, and the first thing I saw as I sat here with my cup of tea was a ‘Facebook Live’ recording – shown in real time, as someone stood on the hill and filmed – of the water cannon attacking the people, in the dark, in below-freezing temperatures. Up to 300 were injured, one of whom is a 21-year-old girl who looks likely to lose an arm. The police are saying that the missile that struck her was ‘probably thrown by the protestors’, because ‘they were getting a bit aggressive’.

This protest, the standoff, this episode in American history (that is what it will be) is a crux – a nexus – so many things converge here.

  • It’s about the Native American nations and the genocide that apparently continues even now.
  • It’s about a naked and militarised fight of big business interests against unarmed citizens.
  • It’s about the citizen’s right of peaceful assembly and nonviolent protest.
  • It’s about the energy supply, in general – what are we prepared to do for energy, what can and cannot be supported – in the same month that’s seen the release of solar panels that look like high-quality ordinary roof tiles, and a higher-capacity domestic storage battery.
  • It’s about fracking in particular, which is in simple, straightforward terms a real evil. Fracking is everywhere. The UK government loves it. It will hollow out the ground beneath us and release methane and other greenhouse gases, causing fires and sinkholes and disease and polluted water…
  • It’s about what the American [people really want from their government, on a macro level, which if course is what this year’s election was really about. This is a global thing in one sense.but America is the country where it’s all writ large…
  • And now, of course, because the clock is ticking, it’s also about a president-elect who has $1m invested in that pipeline, whose conflicts of interest are both huge and unknowable, and who shows every sign of using America as his raw materials for some profitable deals. Whose interests will he really serve?

We are (as of yesterday) in the last two months of the presidency of Barack Obama. Now, I believe – and I really do believe this –  that Obama desperately wants to find a solution. My view of the presidency itself is jaded enough to believe that there is all kinds of skullduggery he can’t do anything much about; in his position he knows the things we can’t know – about contracts, deals, realpolitik and the monsters that can only be slain by other monsters.  I give him the benefit of the doubt because I fundamentally trust him to be a good person. And he has given me a lot of happiness over the last eight years!

So I wrote him a letter.

To be honest, I’d have preferred to write to him with a more cheerful message. But this will be added to the hundreds and thousands of emails he receives on this issue (this is the way they prefer to get correspondence, and indeed a letter sent from the UK would take at least a week to arrive) and, with luck, it will end up on a pile getting counted and maybe even – who knows – read. It won’t on its own make any difference at all, but as one of thousands it might. It might. You can write to the president by going to this web page with a submit form. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear President Obama,

You’ve been a once-in-a-lifetime, a once-in-a-century, president and I am overjoyed that I was able to live through this time. So much that you’ve done has been so inspirational, game-changing, joyous, far-seeing. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that.

I’m writing now, at this crucial moment, to express my intense upset over what is happening in Standing Rock. No one understands why you are so silent.

I know you will be finding the situation very painful. You of all people realise the gravity of the situation – and at such a perilous moment in time. You HAVE to do something to protect both the people – the Americans, the NATIVE Americans, who are protecting the actual land that IS America – and the land itself. You cannot allow this to happen to the country, the great river, the people. Fracking is one of the main threats facing the world today and this pipeline will compromise both the drinking water of 18m people and the agriculture of the grain belt. You have it in your power here to influence – to safeguard – the future of the country, the Sioux nation, and the planet. We all NEED YOU now.

I’m urging you to remember and respect the Fort Laramie Treaty.

I’m urging you to forbid the use of violence against the protectors.

I’m urging you to call off the pipeline before the handover in January.

And I’m urging you to make a statement. Your voice has to be heard.

With love, gratitude and sadness,

Katy Evans-Bush x


It strikes me now that I forgot to say Happy Thanksgiving…


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