It takes a strong, steady hand and seven long minutes to burn a nickel-sized hole into the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) with an oxy-acetylene welding torch. And yet, water protector Jessica Reznicek accomplished this feat on multiple occasions, up and down the pipeline, in Iowa and South Dakota during the spring of 2017. These punctures comprised just some of her deliberate acts of sabotage meant to delay DAPL’s completion and forestall the flow of oil under crucial, endangered Midwestern waterways. Drinking water for millions of North Americans has been put at risk by a pipeline that has still never received the proper permits and that, completely unrelated to Reznicek’s direct action efforts to disable the pipeline, leaked at least five times in the first six months of 2017. 

For water protectors who live with the acute daily awareness that pipeline leaks are a known and common risk, a burning question persists: When will the masses of people move out of their comfort zones to protect clean drinking water and stand up for protectors like Reznicek who are fighting an asymmetrical battle against powerful oil oligarchs? When DAPL operator Energy Transfer spills a couple million gallons of thick black ooze (known as “drilling mud”) on a pristine wetland and is fined $40 million by the Federal Energy Regulation Commission, none of the corporate executives lose their liberty in a federal prison for a single day, though the environmental impacts of their reckless practices will linger for generations. Five years after taking action to prevent such long-lasting destruction, however, Jessica Reznicek is serving out an excessively long prison sentence. It takes a stout, steadfast constitution to contend with the consequences that Reznicek has faced for her nonviolent civil disobedience—consequences meted out by a federal judicial system that, to put it mildly, doesn’t always play or adjudicate fairly.

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