CANNON BALL, N.D. — Some of the last remnants of the Dakota Access pipeline protest camp went up in flames Wednesday as opponents of the project set fire to makeshift wooden housing as part of a departure ceremony ahead of a government deadline to get off the federal land where they have been trying to thwart construction for six months.
The camp has been home to demonstrators for six months as they tried to thwart construction of the pipeline. Many planned to go peacefully, but authorities were prepared to arrest others who said they would defy the deadline in a final show of dissent.
About 150 people marched arm-in-arm out of the camp, singing and playing drums as they walked down a highway. It was not clear where they were headed. One man carried an American flag hung upside-down.
Others departed the soggy camp earlier in the day. Authorities sent buses to take protesters to North Dakota’s capital of Bismarck, where they were offered fresh clothing, bus fare home and food and hotel vouchers.
They won – the government listened – until an old rich white conservative man took their victory from them, because of course he would.
Benjamin Banneker & The First American Protest Letter
Born in 1731 to freed slaves on a farm in Baltimore, Maryland, Benjamin Banneker was obsessed with math and science. And his appetite for knowledge only grew as he taught himself astronomy, mathematics, engineering, and the study of the natural world. As an adult, he used astronomy to accurately predict lunar and solar events, like the solar eclipse of 1789, and used his scientific expertise to pioneer new agricultural methods on his family’s tobacco farm.
In 1792, Banneker began publishing almanacs. He was among the first Americans, and the first African-American, to publish almanacs. These provided detailed annual information on moon and sun cycles, weather forecasts, and planting and tidal time tables.
Banneker sent a handwritten copy of his first almanac to Virginia’s Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. This was a decade before Jefferson became president. Jefferson read the almanac and wrote back in praise of Banneker’s work.
Banneker included a letter imploring Jefferson to “embrace every opportunity to eradicate that train of absurd and false ideas and opinions” that caused prejudice against black people. The letter also denounced the Bill of Rights as disingenuous. Banneker questioned the rationale of the imperialistic position taken by the Founding Fathers, especially in light of their rebellion against the tyranny imposed on them by England as settlers seeking a better life in America.
Banneker’s correspondence with the future president is now considered to be one of the first documented examples of a civil rights protest letter in America. For the rest of his life, Banneker fought for this cause, sharing his opposition to slavery through his writing.
Banneker, in his debut almanac of 1792 , was the first to recommend the establishment of a U.S. Department of Peace. It wasn’t until nearly two hundred years later that the U.S. Institute of Peace was established by Congressional authorization in 1984. The organization acknowledges Banneker for his role as the pioneering agent of this idea and states:
The first formal proposal for the establishment of an official U.S. government peace institution dates to 1792. The product of efforts by architect and publisher Benjamin Banneker and physician and educator Dr. Benjamin Rush. The proposal called for establishing a “Peace Office” on equal footing with the War Department – noting the importance to the welfare of the United States of “an office for promoting and preserving perpetual peace in our country.