A family pipeline intervention

Margaret Breen, left, and her mother Mary, right, have both been active in the fight against Enbidge Energy's Line 3 pipeline plan. Photo by Mira Klein
Margaret Breen, left, and her mother Mary, right, have both been active in the fight against Enbidge Energy's Line 3 pipeline plan. Photo by Mira Klein

Activism is emotionally intense, sometimes fraught and often exhausting — much like family.

So it isn’t often these two worlds overlap. But for Mary and Margaret Breen, fighting pipelines is something that they take on together.

On Dec. 13, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission unanimously rejected petitions filed by environmental and tribal groups asking the commission to reconsider its approval of Enbridge Energy’s proposed Line 3 pipeline route.

Mary, a south Minneapolis resident and environmental organizer with MN350, was at the meeting to witness this latest setback for anti-pipeline activists. Now they will make their case in the court of appeals.

The legal challenge will be led in part by Mary’s daughter Margaret, a junior at Macalester College and member of the Youth Climate Intervenors, a group of 13 people in their teens and 20s granted legal standing in the court case. But Mary and Margaret’s activist lives weren’t always so tightly linked.

It was on the heels of Standing Rock that Margaret first got connected with MN350 and the Youth Climate Intervenors. Mary wanted to get involved, too, but she said she “felt that MN350 was (Margaret’s) space.” So she waited for her daughter to invite her in.

Mary started out by just attending events. Margaret would pass on information from MN350 meetings and Mary would show up. By the time Mary started attending meetings herself, she was already well known in the organization.

Now the duo regularly attends meetings and actions together.

“Sometimes we go to different breakout sections,” Margaret added wryly.

The pipeline has become a constant presence in their relationship; somehow, Mary pointed out, “Line 3 always finds its way into the conversation.”

The Breens take on different roles in their anti-pipeline activism. Margaret’s work filing legal briefs as a Youth Climate Intervenor, for example, is very different from Mary’s work organizing banner drops with MN350.

As Mary put it, it is the difference between “inside and outside” work. While “inside” and “outside” activists are often framed in tension with one another, Margaret and Mary believe that these approaches are deeply complimentary. And they have the personal experiences with Line 3 to prove it.

“Margaret is my resource,” Mary said.

When Mary is mulling messaging for an event or tactics for an action, she turns to Margaret.

“Plus,” Mary added proudly, “(Margaret) is an exceptionally good student. She knows this stuff.”

And for Margaret, she and her intervening team relied on grassroots power to help them present their case in an institutional setting. When the Youth Climate Intervenors wanted to cite public comments, it was Mary and MN350 who combed through the more than 60,000 comments that had been submitted.

While they offer mutual support in their different organizing roles, Margaret and Mary lean on each other as family as well. As mother-daughter anti-pipeline activists, these layers of support inevitably intersect.

About a year ago, the Youth Climate Intervenors were presenting at a PUC evidentiary hearing when they realized they needed an appendix to one of the expert witness testimonies. Margaret had access to free printing as a student, but without a car had no way to get from campus to the hearing in time.

So she called her mom. As Mary recalled, when she walked into the meeting to deliver the documents, “The judge said ‘Oh, this must be the mother,’ and everyone cheered.”

Those months of courtroom proceedings were something the Breens survived together: Margaret pulling late nights pouring over documents and Mary spending countless hours staunchly bearing witness. Mary was there even when her daughter wasn’t. (School was still in session, after all). And at the end of the day they would call to debrief everything that had happened.

Despite recent setbacks at the PUC, for Mary and Margaret the fight against Line 3 is far from over. The Youth Climate Intervenors have already announced an appeal of the recent decision.  And Mary is preparing to show up whenever and wherever she can to make her voice heard.

Even though this inevitably means more tough days, late nights and printing mishaps, Mary and Margaret are prepared to support one another.

Said Margaret to her mom: “We are in this for the long haul, you and me.”

More in Green Digest