BRENNA CUSSEN ANGLADA
Growing up Catholic instilled in me a sense of awe and reverence for the natural world. I was taught to genuflect (kneel) before the Eucharist, to be grateful to the bees who made our candles, and to bask in the clouds of incense that enveloped us during particularly holy celebrations. I was raised near the ocean in New England; I remember my mother often declaring when we looked out at the shimmering, infinite body of water, “There is the proof that God exists!”
Shortly after college, I joined the Catholic Worker, a movement of intentional communities that works for justice and peace while caring for the poor. For several years, while living in communities offering hospitality to those facing homelessness, I tended to backyard gardens, composted, shopped using cloth bags, biked, dressed in donated clothing – all to do my part to care for this beautiful Earth God had given us.
About ten years ago, I married and began living on a communal, organic farm. I now live at St. Isidore Catholic Worker Farm in Southwest Wisconsin (Ho Chunk and Meskwaki territory) with my husband, another family of four, and whatever guests and interns happen to be staying with us at any moment. We raise much of our own food, compost everything we can, heat and cook with wood, and use solar panels for the rest of our electricity needs – all as an attempt to do what we can to respect Creation. When Pope Francis wrote his 2015 encyclical (letter), On Care for Our Common Home, I felt affirmed in the life I had chosen to live, trying to encourage others who come from similar backgrounds of privilege to live a simpler life, to consume less, to grow more. The encyclical rightly puts the responsibility for damage to our Earth and for climate change on the wealthy. I am part of the society that has created this problem; I realize that I must take responsibility for that.
As a white person descended from Irish immigrants to this land, it was not until several years ago that I began to learn about the history and present realities of my neighbors indigenous to this land. When representatives of indigenous nations from around the continent and world began to gather at Standing Rock to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline – both to protect the water and to say no to the absurdity of continuing to burn fossil fuels in the face of catastrophic climate change – I felt both inspired and convicted. Here were the people who had been bearing the brunt of white society’s madness for 500 years, willing to face abuse yet again in order to protect our Earth, and all of us, from impending disaster. Their witness strengthened in me the desire to take stronger action, to do my part.
When I learned of Enbridge’s plan to build a new Line 3 across Minnesota and Wisconsin – my home, and the treaty land of many Anishinaabe communities – I knew I had to act. I joined with about 75 other Catholic Workers in a spiritual ceremony inside an illegal Enbridge pipeline yard, risking arrest, to pray that the empty pipelines be used for good, rather than evil. Neither our action, nor the multitude of other actions taken by local people, nor the overwhelming opposition to the pipeline by Minnesotans polled during the Public Utilities Commission hearings (94%), did anything to stop the company from going ahead with its plans to dig up more oil, destroy wild rice beds, and pump more carbon into the air.
As report after report comes out detailing loss of habitat, loss of species, rising oceans, loss of fresh water, rampant wild fires – and as I myself experience unprecedented torrential rain every summer – I know that there is no time to act but the present. I only wish I could have acted sooner. This pipeline, as all pipelines, need to be shut down.
I realize that this action may bring with it serious consequences. Though I pray that the judge and jury who try us are willing to act on the side of justice and the side of Creation, I am willing to accept the consequences if they are not. Though I do not look forward to jail, I realize that there are so many – particularly people of color, and particularly indigenous people – who have been imprisoned unjustly, and that my suffering, though real, will not compare to theirs. If I do indeed get sentenced to any amount of time, I take comfort in knowing that I join a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before me.