Early Friday, Jan. 13, the second “Bunk Bus” was scheduled to leave Portland for Standing Rock, N.D.
Outfitted with insulated walls, a 35,000 BTU heater, eight beds and a medical area, it is designed to keep people warm and healthy during a harsh winter at the Oceti Sakowin camp, where thousands of people remain camped in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The idea for the bus originated in October after two Portlanders, Mike Horner and Harlan Shober, traveled to Standing Rock and saw a lack of adequate shelter for people committed to enduring the brutal winter, and the hardly less brutal tactics of Morton County police.
Horner and Shober needed to develop a cheap but effective form of shelter. So when they returned to Portland, they purchased an old school bus, replaced the seats with bunk beds, covered the outside with artwork, and sent it back to Standing Rock loaded with supplies. They called their creation the Bunk Bus, and as it traveled across the country, it became a magnet for conversation, with many surprise visits at rest areas, and even personal donations to support the Standing Rock Sioux.
Retired Portland area teacher Ted Dreier rode the first Bunk Bus to Standing Rock for his first visit on Nov. 18. Since then he’s spent weeks modifying the second Bunk Bus – working with hundreds of volunteers’ feedback from the first design.
Dreier said the lessons of Standing Rock are relevant for all social movements.
“Standing Rock right now is like the spiritual center of the universe,” Dreier said. “One of the things the elders say every morning in the prayer ceremony is: ‘This is a prayer ceremony, but everything here is a prayer. If you’re going out for an action, you need to think of it as a ceremony and a prayer. Conduct yourself in that way.' And it’s occurred to me that Mike and Harlan are really acting on that same principle the elders were telling us about. Literally thousands of donated hours have come in from carpenters, mechanics, electricians, metalworkers and artists. And nobody here has a lot of money. They’re donating their time.”
Dreier said the success of the team in Portland is just one example of how a good idea leads to self-organization. He points to the growth of the encampments at Standing Rock, and the nationwide support flowing to those camps, as their major inspiration.
“People were drawn to the idea,” he said. “This is just one part of that flow.”
After word spread in Bozeman, Mont., that the bus was coming through town on its way to Standing Rock, locals activists held a march in support of the Standing Rock Sioux – one that quickly turned into the a large rally.
“The bus became the star of a demonstration to support diversity and defend groups experiencing oppression,” said Dreier.
“The fact that can happen is a really hopeful thing,” Dreier said.
“It seems really clear to me that what Standing Rock is standing up for is not just getting this pipeline rerouted. The elders see the pipeline as a very concrete symbol of a way of relating with nature, a way of treating other people, and it’s one they completely reject. The pipeline is a symbol of an economic system that’s happy to throw out the environment and throw people out of work if there’s a dollar to be made on it. The other view is summarized in that phrase 'water is life,' and it has camps forming in many other places – Iowa, Florida, Quebec. ... It’s very, very powerful.”