Minnehaha's Last Stand?
The Minnehaha Free State lasted 16 months in total, making it the longest-running urban occupation in American history. NC has been covering it since its inception (see issues #12 and #13). The last months continued the campaign's tradition of constant action.
The shit hit the fan on September 27th. A tripod was erected in the middle of Highway 55. Seven activists in an old cottonwood tree watched from above as over 200 people threw a huge "Reclaim the Highway" party, shutting it down entirely. 250 cops came to break the party up about 12 hours later, evicting the tripod with a cherry picker and then going for the cottonwood, chainsawing branches just inches away from activists. 16 people were arrested, including three pulled from the tree. Cops stayed under the tree 24 hours a day from then on, denying food and water to the four remaining sitters and threatening to arrest anyone who came near them. One woman remained in the tree for 10 days. She was finally evicted when another activist scaled an adjacent telephone pole in an attempt to deliver food and water to her. Over 300 people watched as a fire truck pulled him down and then moved on to the activist in the tree and forced her down.
During the siege and afterward, the levels of police harassment and brutality in the area escalated from the sublime to the ridiculous. Local and state police entered camp and tried to run protesters over with their cars, pulled sitters out of trees and beat them, arrested Native Americans for praying, and arrested pedestrians walking down the street for jaywalking or just "being suspicious." Neighborhood residents regularly got their cars impounded for such "offenses" as honking in support of the tree-sitters. An anti-police brutality demo ended when known Free Staters were picked out of the crowd, pepper-sprayed, beaten bloody, and arrested.
The atmosphere grew more intense. A local student group locked down and took over MN/DoT's offices. 13 were arrested. Hours later, 13 trees were cut in retaliation. We set up a press conference about it, and all the trees on the conference site were cut down. Men with chainsaws would run through the area, randomly cut trees, and leave when people arrived. We built more tree-sits and staffed them 24 hours a day. The tree-clearers were as brutal as the police much of the time, ramming occupied trees with heavy equipment and cutting trees with people in them. When an activist locked down to one of their machines, the driver took off down the highway at 35 miles an hour, with the man still attached, hanging on for dear life. A bystander who tried to videotape the incident was also arrested. But the tree-sits and the camp still stood.
We always lived with the knowledge that our community could be invaded and destroyed at any time. On Nov. 18th, representatives from MN/DoT and state and local police departments showed up at camp to warn us that the raid would be "soon" and to talk to us about how it was going to happen. They left with a promise that we would meet once more before the raid. On December 9th, that meeting came. A State Patrol officer came to serve us our eviction papers, which were either refused or promptly burned. We knew the raid had to be right around the corner.
In the morning of December 11th, we were proven right. At 7am, 200 squad cars, a few ambulances, a cherry picker, a fire truck, and lots of construction workers and heavy equipment came rolling in. They cut all the unoccupied trees and set about evicting people from the occupied ones. They arrested the people remaining on site, and destroyed all our structures. The police, shamed after 16 months of bad press and community backlash, were under orders to treat us as gingerly as possible, and they generally did. People were given a chance to finish a ceremony and leave the site before arrests were made. They were less tolerant of the tree sitters, again chainsawing branches inches from the activists. However, no pepper spray or pain compliance was used, and they offered everyone medical attention. The media was authorized on-site and Native elders were allowed to walk with the stormtroopers and document the handling of sacred items. The four sacred trees were cut down, and the encampment was completely destroyed by nightfall. All 33 arrested were released within three days. They have regrouped to lick their wounds and make new plans.
So what comes next? Stay tuned! The trees may be gone, but the 10,000-year-old spring still remains and needs to be defended by any non-violent means necessary.
For updates, more information, or whatever your little heart desires, contact 612-879-8929 or visit one of our websites at http://members.aol.com/noreroute/Highway_55_occupation.html.