Through smudgy clouds of dust and smoke from burning sage, a crowd of hundreds softly chants under the watchful eyes of police.
"The people gonna rise like water, we're gonna face this crisis now," they sing at increasing volumes. "I hear the voice of my great-granddaughter, we're gonna shut this pipeline down!"
Stationed in the middle of the throng, a smaller circle of 20 people with their arms linked and locked inside PVC pipes sits on a dirt path close to the crystal-clear waters of the Suwannee River. If the energy companies get their way, beneath that same dirt will be a 36-inch pipe – a small piece of the $3.2 billion Sabal Trail pipeline snaking 515 miles through Alabama, Georgia and Florida that's meant to transport more than 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas every day from the Marcellus Shale. Plans call for the Sabal Trail pipeline to tunnel under forests, wetlands, ranches and several bodies of water, including the Withlacoochee, Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers. The pipeline will also sit above the Floridan aquifer, the primary drinking water source for people living in the upper half of Florida and southern Georgia.
Representatives from the energy companies say the pipeline will bring affordable natural gas to Florida and provide an economic stimulus in the form of increased tax revenue and local jobs. But environmental advocates and "water protectors," inspired by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's indigenous-led resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline, say Sabal Trail could potentially jeopardize the source of clean water for millions and threaten Florida's natural environment.
Because of Standing Rock, interest in the Sabal Trail pipeline has peaked, especially among young people, though the fight against the pipeline began several years ago. The crowd demonstrating in January close to the Suwannee near Live Oak was a youthful, scruffy bunch ready to be arrested for halting construction.
Toward the back, Beverly Soulshine holds her 7-month-old baby, Atom, as tears stream down her cheeks. They traveled four hours to get here from an area near Pensacola. Soulshine says she cries because she knows despite the protests, the arrests and the settlement camps, there's no stopping the Sabal Trail pipeline.
"On the day that this pipeline is built – because it's gonna be built – I want to be able to say that I was here to say I don't stand for it," she says. "They will literally cut us out to build this pipeline. I don't know why I'm here other than to say, 'I care,' and connect with people who also care."
Atom grabs onto her with his tiny fists as they look at the demonstrators.
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