01/22/2014 11:13 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Grassroots: Why the Startup of Keystone XL South Makes Us Stronger

The sun feels good on my shoulders. The skin on my knees tingles from kneeling. My hands are stained orange by red dirt and my fingertips will be cracked and sore tonight.

In front of me is a tiny clump of grass. As I pull at it, blades come off in my hand but roots buried deep in the soil refuse to let go. The grass is rhizomatic. It has deep roots and if you cut them apart they multiply. This farm will be pulling grass out of garden rows for years and someday, when this farm is gone, the grass will take back over. Roots that were never fully dormant will shoot up and grass will cover all this ground again.

As a writer there is a tension between what I feel I should write and what I need to write. Keystone XL South is beginning full operation. The story I should write is about the hundreds of known anomalies along the pipeline, the landowners who had their homes wrongfully taken, the indigenous communities already devastated by tar sands extraction, the people who live near the pipeline and don't know they are at risk, the rivers and streams that stand to be changed forever.

There are times, however, that I must write for myself. Keystone XL South cuts through my community and puts my home and family in danger. The things I should write feel too painful and don't offer comfort or encouragement. The story I need to write therefore centers on this tiny clump of grass and the roots I cannot see.

When rhizomatic plants are pulled apart they separate into new life. They hold nutrients in their roots and spread out laterally, shooting up far from their origins. In many ways adversity makes them stronger. Although it hurts and is hard, there are ways the startup of Keystone XL South is making a grassroots movement stronger.

In the last two months, in the time since TransCanada announced the startup, new life has shot up and reserves of energy and wisdom have offered strength. Frontline communities along the route of Keystone XL South have come together to voice perseverance and tenacity, offering solidarity in a shared struggle. Landowners have gotten media attention and made progress with legal action. Community groups have found new energy and motivation to continue working for the safety and health of their homes. Grassroots resistance is growing.

Although frequently used and broadly understood, the origins of the term "grassroots" are unclear. It seems likely, however, that this idea came from a farmer. Only someone who has spent hours pulling at blades of grass and never fully getting the roots could offer this prayer for social change -- that those who wish to create the world do so by being stubborn like the grass. Within this tiny, often unarticulated metaphor lies all the encouragement, grit, and dedication a movement could wish for its participants.

The clump of grass in front of me tells the story of a movement made up of people stubbornly fighting for life. As grassroots organizers, activists, and community groups our commitment is to the things we hold most precious -- children, fragile wetland ecosystems, trees planted years ago, the elderly, and the morning air. We love the things we are fighting for and so we dig our hands deeply into the soil of our work. We send out roots in all directions and we allow the things that threaten to pull us apart to give us new life. Our belief that someday our vision will cover everything in a carpet that is lush and green allows us to dedicate ourselves for the long haul.

I imagine a day that the roots of plants and trees and the dreams of people reach down into the soil to pull out pipelines that threaten us. The tiny metaphor of the roots of grass is offered as a wish for grit, encouragement, and dedication to all of those who are impacted by tar sands extraction and transportation. May we be like the grass and may days like the startup of Keystone XL South encourage us to cultivate our roots.