In October, Dave Matthews visited the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in rural North Dakota to meet with children and play a concert as part of an Obama-administration program that teams artists with schools in economically deprived areas. When he was assigned to visit the school, he was surprised to find that people on the reservation, joined by environmental activists from around the country, were locked in a bitter battle with the Texas-based company Energy Transfer Partners and the Army Corps of Engineers over the construction of an oil pipeline near their land. "I was just somebody who wanted to use some of my strength as an artist to inspire some kids," Matthews says. "That proximity [to the pipeline] was completely coincidental."
In recent months, the protests at Standing Rock have become a flashpoint for the climate-justice movement. Matthews witnessed peaceful demonstrators, who have set up an encampment near Standing Rock, being met with fierce resistance from law enforcement and private security, including the use of rubber bullets, attack dogs and mass arrests. He quickly decided to get involved. "I wasn't connected by a news story," he says. "If people are voiceless and have a legitimate gripe, it's our responsibility to try and give them a voice."
In response, Matthews has organized a benefit concert to take place on November 27th in Washington, D.C., the same day that Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and Jason Mraz are staging the Stand in Solidarity With Standing Rock show in Fort Yates, North Dakota, near the pipeline protests. The proceeds will go toward winterizing the protesters' camp and providing legal aid for the dozens of people who've been thrown into crude, makeshift jails by local authorities. "I've been surprised by the dogs and the rubber bullets," says Raitt. "I don't think the people will stand for it."
The proposed 1,172-mile crude-oil pipeline was originally supposed to go near the suburbs of Bismarck, the state capital, but it was moved to within a half-mile of Standing Rock, where residents lacked the political clout to stop it. Opponents of the pipeline argue that the Army Corps of Engineers broke the law by not preparing a full Environmental Impact Statement before allowing the project to go ahead. "Big surprise that the Army is in collusion with big business," says Browne. "This echoes Wounded Knee and the massacres of the last century. It's a continuation of the Indian Wars, and I think that it's everybody's fight."
The movement's main goal is to get President Obama to issue an order directing the Army to reroute the pipeline, if not cancel it outright. "But we've woken up to a world where Donald Trump will be taking the helm," says Browne. "So how long do we really have?" Despite the odds working against them, Raitt is determined to keep up the fight. "I'm never going to give up," she says. "We don't have a choice. I mean, I like to breathe, drink water and live safely. Right now, the fight is on the ground."