Jennifer Murnan and Max Wilbert interviewed Ruby Montoya and Jessica Reznicek following their press release claiming responsibility for multiple incidents of sabotage of the Dakota Access Pipeline and construction equipment. Listen to the audio, or read the transcript.
Jennifer: First, thank you so much, Jessica and Ruby, for having this conversation today. Could you talk a little bit about who you are?
Ruby: My name’s Ruby. I’m 27 years old. I found out about DAPL when I was a pre-school teacher in Boulder, Colorado, and that motivated me to quit my job and go to Standing Rock. I was following the issue very closely. When I arrived at Standing Rock, I was really relieved and comforted to see so many people there willing to do whatever kind of work was needed.
I saw that Standing Rock was really taken care of, and I noticed that there were 1200 other miles of pipeline that had to be stopped. I saw a news article in a local Iowa paper about Jessica Reznicek starting an encampment by herself down at the Mississippi River, the largest waterway here in the United States in the northern continent. I went down there, to Mississippi Stand. I plugged in immediately, willing to do whatever.
I worked on media and participated in boycotts and marches and the whole traditional model of civil disobedience, and here I am today talking today to you.
Jessica: My name’s Jessica Reznicek, 36 years old. I really started delving into activism about six years ago during the Occupy Wall Street movement. I joined the Zuccotti movement in New York. When I learned that back in my home city of Des Moines, Iowa, there was a local Occupy movement occurring, I returned home and plugged in there. I began working tirelessly on the Occupy campaigns on a local level in Iowa, in the Iowa state capital, and around the caucuses.
Through that movement, I met Catholic Workers who were at the forefront here in the local struggle. For about six years I’ve been plugging in and working on resistance via the Des Moines Catholic Worker house, and have been engaged non-stop in various campaigns, everything from anti-war to saving the planet and trying to save the human race!
I met Ruby here in Iowa last summer. It’s been an incredible journey with the two of us together, and I’m eager to share that journey at this point.
Jennifer: When you met each other, did you find common ground in motivation and inspiration?
Jessica: I think that’s how Ruby and I ended up pairing off. The bottom line for both Ruby and me was to stop this pipeline and to do it peacefully and nonviolently, and to explore and exhaust what you might call traditional avenues. Hundreds of thousands of people resisted this pipeline, so by no means did only Ruby and I care so deeply about these issuesbut we really hit it off. Our personalities hit it off.
We did a hunger strike at the Iowa Utilities Board over the winter, boycotts, marches, lockdowns. Mississippi Stand was notorious for lockdowns, and they were effective. I think that’s where we got a taste of it.
One of the lockdowns I did with another close friend of mine was on a construction site, the boring site under the Mississippi River on the Iowa side. We locked onto a backhoe, and stopped the construction at the boring site for about four hours.
Ruby and I had some great conversations after that ― it was great to shut down a construction site for four hours, but ultimately we need more. We need to delay construction not just for days, but for weeks and months for the ultimate purpose of shutting this pipeline down and having investors pull out. Ruby and I were in that vein together.
Jennifer: You’ve been very courageous. Where do you pull that well of courage?
Ruby: Directly from my heart. I’ve tried to stop caring about this, honestly, and I can’t. I’ve been involved with other campaigns since DAPL, and those are also courageous, but I just can’t let this go. All of this destruction needs to be stopped, absolutely. But I saw with Standing Rock that DAPL in particular was a turning point for a lot of things, and we have yet to win a victory.
For me and for a lot of people, the bottom line was to stop the pipeline. That is what motivated me to act the way I have, having exhausted every other tactic.
I was a preschool teacher and I love kids. [chokes up with grief] We’re not leaving them anything. It’s scary, it’s scary what everyone is going through, and I see a lot of fear preventing people from acting. I was afraid as well, but it had to be done. That’s why I’m here talking to you now, because these are the conversations that we need to be having, as a collective, as a whole. How do we effectively stop this desecration that continues day in and day out?
Jennifer: Those are the questions that we all have to ask ourselves, and I’m really glad that you’re raising those questions. Thank you.
Max: The question of how we actually stop them is critical. So is recognizing that when what we’re doing isn’t working, we have to do something else. What was your psychology as you moved toward taking the actions that you did, and what did you actually end up doing?
Ruby: Our lockdowns gave us a teaser for stopping construction. One day, after another pullback had occurred at the Skunk River, Jessica and I got together and had this idea to mess with the engines of these heavy machines.
We brainstormed back and forth all day . . . you know, what if we take the oil out of the thing . . . we really don’t know how to do that. So why don’t we just burn it? Okay, I know how to light a fire. You strike a match. Going and doing that action was really liberating and empowering and at the same time scary. Oh my gosh, I just committed arson. But it had to be done. That was the first night that I really felt empowered as an individual. I did actually make a difference and a concrete contribution by my standards as a person.
So the psychology of it is you’re battling with fear, because we’re all living in this oppressive system. That’s something we have to overcome. Otherwise we continue to allow this to go on, and we continue to be oppressed. We have to liberate ourselves through our own actions.
Jennifer: I appreciate that your statement distinguishes living beings from objects when discussing violence. You point out that destroying infrastructure isn’t violence.
Jessica: I’ve been trying to get this message out to the activist community here in Iowa and elsewhere. Our culture and our society and we as people put so much emphasis on property, but we have to start understanding that these machines are desecrating the earth and the people and all of the earth’s inhabitants. We need to get out of that paradigm where we place property on such a high pedestal, especially when that property is destroying every natural resource available to us and not leaving a future for the generations to come.
It’s really difficult for people to understand that Ruby and I were actually preventing destruction. I like to focus on the property improvement that we’ve made versus property destruction. At every turn, we were acting from our hearts and from our spirits and with all life on this planet in mind. Absolutely no life was in jeopardy while we were acting, and in fact our goal was to save lives.
Max: The methods that we’re taught are acceptable for changing the world usually aren’t very threatening to those in power. I don’t think it’s a mistake, for example, that we get taught the history of Martin Luther King in school but we don’t get taught about the Black Panthers and Malcolm X. We learn about the struggle against apartheid, but we don’t get taught that Nelson Mandela organized and committed sabotage and engaged in actions that caused him to be labeled as a terrorist by the U. S. and South African governments.
You have a history and a background as activists trying to do the right thing and make the world a better place. What’s your understanding of how your actions fit into the history of social movements and people who are called to do what’s right even though it may be illegal?
Ruby: I know a little bit about the Black Panthers. I know that narrative that the government hijacked everything, but I didn’t know that Nelson Mandela organized sabotage. That’s awesome.
It was a very personal thing for me. It’s the right thing to do. I live here, in the United States, in a country that perpetuates violence everywhere, including here. I saw that I had the opportunity to act in this way, and that’s what motivated me.
Jessica: We’re not taught these things, so Ruby and I feel isolated or alienated from the wider movement when we decide to take these actions. That’s really unfortunate, not to feel in solidarity with a historical narrative. A lot of our energy is expended, unfortunately, on defending ourselves to the movement, and you just wonder . . . it’s disheartening when I don’t know whether I’m going to be supported by anti-pipeline activists.
We do go back over these stories. Fortunately, I’ve been intimately engaged for six years in the Catholic Worker Movement, which has a rich history and tradition of property destruction via a Biblical narrative. I’ve embraced this tradition and found my little niche.
I live in a small intentional community here in Des Moines, and when when we released our press statement a few days ago, we were immediately supported by our close friends and family. Thank goodness. That’s basically due to an ongoing historical struggle created in the 1930s with Dorothy Day. It gives us something to which we can attach ourselves and find legitimacy, which we’re having a really hard time finding in other circles. That’s due to lack of information and lack of being taught these histories as children.
Jennifer: I’m part of the Political Prisoner Support Group in Deep Green Resistance. What do you need right now? What do you need into the future, and how can we be part of that?
Ruby and Jessica: First of all, thank you.
Jessica: Thank you so much. We love you. Thank you for asking. It’s been kind of a blur for the last couple of days. Ruby and I got out of jail yesterday morning on pre-trial release. We’re scrambling now to do a couple of things before . . . who knows? The feds could come knocking at our door at any moment.
One thing is to get a website set up where we can have postings such as joint statements that Ruby and I release, and also future hearings, court dates, solidarity actions, and support network information.
We’re representing ourselves, but do have a fantastic federal attorney, Bill Quigley, out of Loyola Law School down in New Orleans, as a stand-by counsel. He’s a great guy and available, but we’d really like to find someone here in the Midwest who would be more accessible and willing to at least assist us in filing motions or communicating with a prosecutor, and serve as a stand-by counsel here locally in the case that Ruby and I are incarcerated and facing serious charges. It’s really difficult to work from inside the oppressive prison system, so it’d be valuable to have a legal advocate here locally that we can work with.
Ruby: Yeah, just the offer of support is amazing. Thank you for doing what you’re doing. I’m sure I’ll have a request or two once I’m inside. As Jessica said, if you know anyone for defense in Iowa, that would be really helpful. We’re having a hard time trying to find a lawyer in Iowa, I think because this stuff doesn’t go on in Iowa.
Max: I don’t know anyone off the top of my head, but we do have some friends in the legal community, activist lawyers, who we can talk to. We’ll definitely be in touch with you two.
Oftentimes speaking out can be dangerous. They try to discourage people from building solidarity and speaking about what they did. They want to keep people isolated in the legal system and afraid. Why did you feel called to speak out about what you did, even to the point of saying that you hope other people consider these kinds of similar actions as a way to effectively defend the planet?
Ruby: Because really we’ve tried everything, hot dog under the sun, man. I’ve exhausted my creative possibilities. The No DAPL campaign fragmented pretty quickly, and we lost focus on stopping the pipeline. We were called by The Intercept about two weeks ago for interviews, so I had hope that the No DAPL issues could stay alive in the media. But The Intercept focused instead on the illegal surveillance of activists.
So after we got off the phone, we talked together, and it was like, “Fuck it, man, let’s claim it.” Because we didn’t stop the pipeline. We both feel personally responsible for that, and this is the last thing we can do. And you know what? People need to talk about it.
I remember trying to talk about it with people that I trusted. I’m pretty fresh on the activist scene and security culture, but it felt like I was encountering a fear-based immediate shut-down, do not talk. That sucks because we need to be doing these things. Apparently this is the only way they’re going to actually listen.
We anticipated the repercussions of every action that we took. Although I view these repercussions as unjust, we were fully prepared going into it, in that mental mind game of “I’m driving myself to jail right now.” So we’ve been prepared for jail for several months, and we still feel passionate about this I still can’t let this go because this is still really flipping important and we both have the mental fortitude to step forward. Well, let’s step forward then.
People need to have these conversations. It’s important for our own evolution as a people, as a whole, to take a step back, look at what’s going on, look at what we’re doing and whether it’s effective. We want to stop the pipeline, or we want to save the old-growth forests. We have so many battles. So let’s do it. If the methods that we’re using aren’t working, let’s change the methods. Let’s not get stuck in some ego, celebrity, whatever.
Max: Reading your press release, I was struck with, frankly, how easy it seemed to be to pull off some of the actions. I went to an event recently with the Valve Turners, the people who shut down the tar sands pipelines. They talked about how they actually had pretty bad security culture in planning of their action. They didn’t know how to use the encryption technology well. They didn’t do a super-secretive job, and they expected that maybe the cops would be there waiting for them when they showed up to carry out their action.
But the cops weren’t. The action was a total surprise to the authorities. Could you speak to how easy some of this stuff is and how maybe most of the barriers we actually face toward shutting this earth destruction down is more in our minds and our hearts than in actual danger?
Jessica: Absolutely. I could not agree with you more. I think we created this whole narrative in our minds that this oppressive state and industry were listening to everything we were doing, following us everywhere we went, and that we would inevitably be caught.
Ruby and I did a sloppy job so much of the time at many points. I mean you hate admitting it, but it’s just the truth. We went to these places with knowledge self-garnered within a matter of weeks and were effectively halting construction for weeks on end just via one fire or one valve piercing.
We built our confidence up each time. Like wow, this is really doable. It’s insulting on some level, but it needs to be cleared up. Ruby and I acted solely alone. Nobody else was involved in any of these actions. I think it’s hard for people to believe ― “How could these two women pull this off so easily?”
It’s a matter of determination. It’s a matter of breaking through your own fears and doubts and perceptions of this undefeatable empire. Really this is doable for lots of people. That’s one of the main reasons we wanted to come out and tell people ― because this is easy stuff to do. If Ruby and I had had a crew that had doubled or tripled or quadrupled our numbers, we really could have stopped this thing, I truly believe at the bottom of my heart, just via actions like we did.
Ruby: I think that narrative that’s in our head that they’re always watching us and blah blah blah, it’s oppression, dude. They come out with the NSA and blah blah blah and their television shows with forensic evidence and this is how they catch a criminal. It’s all crap. It’s all crap. They are incompetent.
Have you ever talked to a cop? They are instructed to just follow orders. They do not know how to think critically. And that continues to worsen.
If you’re acting with integrity and utilizing your own critical intelligence, you can do a lot of good. Recognize that fear as oppression. Liberate yourself!
Max: Inspiring words. Thank you so much.
Jennifer: Yeah, thank you so much. It has been really great to be here with you today.
Ruby: We really appreciate talking to you. It seems that you all have a strong network of solidarity. That is super-hopeful; we need that kind of communal infrastructure. So thank you all.
Originally published by DGR News Service