Only Communism Will Protect Our Waters

Photo source Jeffrey Putney | CC BY 2.0

PolyMet is trying the Donald Trump approach to mining here in Minnesota. Their philosophy: I’ve never mined before, I must be better than the other guys. PolyMet passed the longest environment review in Minnesota’s history, according to their own website. Which begs two worrisome questions. 1. If the mining was safe, why did the review take so long? 2. If it wasn’t, why was it approved? But we know mining isn’t safe. The rocks PolyMet want to mine have sulfide, which will create sulfuric acid when exposed to air or water. PolyMet is playing with fire here, as all snow and rain that falls near will need to be treated to avoid being polluted.

The 4.7 square mile area that will be drilled upon will have water that leads to Lake Superior. A mess-up, which seems inevitable, is going to significantly damage the drinking water of Minnesotans who rely on Lake Superior for water. And this is a body of water we have to protect, if the species is going to survive for much longer. 2,900 cubic miles of water live here, and Lake Superior remains one of earth’s greatest treasures. On top of the health concerns for humans, a diverse community of fish and birds are in danger. A guarantee of the project will be the destruction of 1,000 acres of Wetlands. Mining has been the number one pollutant every year since they were forced to report (1997). Even more frightening is the precedent that this project will set, as 11 other similar projects reportedly have similar ideas.

So, how did this happen? Well, to mine on the land you have to own the land. The U.S. Forest Service gave 6,650 acres to PolyMet. Who did this? Probably the Orange Cheeto right? Actually, a good guess. The energy industry has been getting free passes left and right from the most foul barbarian on the planet. But he has plenty of help across the aisle. 137 Democrats just approved the 675 billion dollar military spending bill. Their resistance is skin deep. I’m not even sure if it breaks Drumpf’s spray tan.

The betrayal gets worse. The land swap amendment was proposed by Minnesota’s own Senator Tina Smith (202-224-5641). This is the senator who was hailed as sexual harasser Al Franken’s feminist replacement. Women are the primary victim of the water wars raging through Africa and the Middle East at the moment, but perhaps after years of enduring Garrison Keillor’s pontifications, Minnesotans will be wise enough to take the men out first. For the record, Franken endorsed the project as well. We do have two senators here though, enough for Presidential hopeful Amy Klobachar (202-224-3244) to cosponsor the bill. It is amazing that Minnesota’s own senators are selling off our land. If the Democrats ever achieved any of their goals, I would argue that self-sabotage would be their primary one.

Speaking of self-sabotage, it was only a couple of weeks ago that Bernie Sanders came to the Twin Cities to woo support for Keith Ellison’s campaign for attorney general. Ellison did not have the backbone to stay in congress, where he could have won reelection every year for the rest of his life. Instead, he is running for attorney general—and running to the right of DFL endorsed Matt Pelikan. Ellison is consistently skewered by Black Agenda Report for his imperialist misadventures, which includes a desire for a no-fly zone in Syria. This duo was joined by Senator Smith, whose reelection campaign was praised as ‘part of the revolution’ by Sanders.  Bernie, for better or worse, hasn’t changed much since the last time I saw him, and it is likely that whatever magic sauce he planted in the millennial’s ramen noodles will still work out pretty good for him if he runs in 2020. And he should run. Dwight Eisenhower (what Noam Chomsky labeled Bernie) sure beats Cory Booker, Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg.

If we are going to save our drinking water, or anyone else’s for that matter, Bernie is not the man to do it. Bernie is not a socialist, or a communist. Political purity is for chumps, and I don’t really care if Bernie ever read Marx, let alone if my neighbor did. But we should all be interested in keeping our water clean. No matter one’s political ideology, this is a point we can agree upon. The right often favors polluting projects and deregulation because it means more jobs supposedly. It’s nonsense, sure. But in the state of our economy, an understandable way of thinking.

Now what is really going on when Democrats are selling off public lands? The left knows we must abandon the Democratic Party. This is true, I guess. But the issue is far larger. The rich have so much power and the poor have so little that public lands can be sold off without much, if any, consequence. What is to stop this to happening to all our land? What is to save us from keeping our water save to drink and our ecosystems alive?

The only solution is to get rid of private property. Bernie, Jacobin and the rest of the overqualified/underpaid college grads don’t seem very focused on this point. Yes, I’m sure race has a lot to do with it. It’s Africa, it’s Flint, it’s the Middle East and it’s Native reservations that are being hit now. But just like musical trends, the white communities will be hit eventually. Including the primarily white state millions of us call home, Minnesota.

15$ an hour. Great. Free college tuition. Great. Universal health care. Great. And these things are catching on. I’ll give the Sandernistas a lot of credit for that. However, these are reforms to private institutions. I don’t think one can really reform polluted water. There is a point of no return, and it is coming to us quickly. The principle of publicly owned land is being given away in droves by the Trump administration, and by many administrations preceding it.

Surely it is not a radical idea that water, the way we all sustain life on this magnificent planet named earth, should not be in the hands of a few rich people. There is no obligation to keep the water clean under this system. The rich have consistently opted for dangerous methods to make a profit off of what was once federal lands. When they break the law and poison us, who is there to hold them accountable? No one. Any system that is not publicly run will function in the interests of a few people.

Bernie Sanders and others may be fine with this arrangement when it comes to employers (as long as they pay a living wage), hospitals (as long as they provide health care) or even land (as long as they don’t pollute it). It is far past time to declare that no goods and services in the hands of the rich can be trusted. Attempts to negotiate the scraps they give us is helpful, but ultimately inconsequential. Until we control the means of production, expect the rich to continue their abuses. The longer they control such a system, the widen they can make inequality, and the more bleak resistance becomes. As trendy socialist mags embrace “socialist’s hour in the sun”, we should use this momentum to go much farther than paying off college debt and curbing Wall St. profits. As encouraging as winning a battle like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s election may be, there is no sign that such an anomaly can be replicated nor that the rich will be willing to negotiate with the handful of actors who pull off miracles. The war will have far higher stakes. Will we own the rights to our land and our drinking water or will it continue to be given away willy nilly? Seeing that there are so many of us and so few of them, winning the war is possible.

Dismantling massive global corporations who decide such things will indeed require some sort of global revolution unconcerned with state or other divisions of the public. It will require not changing the laws of corporations, but stealing back the land they have stolen. Democrats may accuse Donald Trump of treason, but when MAGA hats are made in China, what form of a state is there to betray? In a society increasingly isolated, automated and delocalized, water may be the last thing we share with our neighbors. If this last precious aspect of the commons is killed off, there will be no one left to share anything with.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at