Woody Guthrie never made it up to the Boundary Waters, but his spirit flows through a new song and video released today by an all-star cast of Minnesota musicians protesting a proposed copper mine on the edge of the state’s great national wilderness area.
Members of Semisonic, Lucy Michelle, Jillian Rae, Hippo Campus’s Whistler Allen, Noah Levy, Leslie Ball, Barbara McAfee, Bobby Vee's children, Timothy Frantzich and many of their family members took part in the making of “There Is Only Us,” a Guthrie-style communal singalong made public today ahead of a rally Saturay at 10:30 a.m. in the State Capitol rotunda against the PolyMet copper-nickel sulfide mine.
The proposed mine near Hoyt Lakes – which Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources is currently “determining the adequacy of” -- would be a welcome economic boost to northern Minnesota, but environmentalists and even financial consultants recently hired by the state worry it could cause costly damage not only to the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area, but also Lake Superior and the Mississippi River.
The song was written by folk vet Frantzich with John Munson and Dan Wilson of Semisonic to highlight those environmental risks, and it was inspired by Miguel Rivera, a Lakota teacher who gave them the motto, “There is no 'us' and 'them.’ There is only 'us.'” The lyrics include, “One seed, one tree / There is only us / One stream, one sea / There is only us.”
Backed by international mining conglomerate Glencore in the project, the PolyMet Mining Company says the new mine will “comply with all applicable state and federal standards to protect Minnesota’s water, air and other natural resources. These are some of the strictest standards in the country.”
Denying those claims, Franzich said via email, “These environmental challenges can only be solved when we all understand, get involved and move.” An avid BWCA paddler, Munson said in a Facebook post about the song, “To experience nature that is not ruined is something unique and special, and it is something that we have in our state in that little spur that points off to the east. There are forces that would happily jeopardize those waters in order to use a very polluting mining procedure.”
Wherever you stand on the issue, you have to admit it’s a catchy ditty.