“Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.” – Thoreau
My friend, biologist Beth Duman is probably relieved that she didn’t get involved in this one.
She had orchestrated Clifford’s participation in other Christmas endeavors, like visiting Pathway School to deliver horsey good will to kids with disabilities.
Beth also had him ringing the bell for the Salvation Army outside the Howell Walmart. (Clifford ran into the store several times. I’m not sure, but I think he was heading for the produce section.)
In 2015, Beth, being an avid dog trainer, introduced Clifford to Victoria Stillwell at the Novi Pet Expo. “I’m in love,” Victoria cooed, cuddling up to him. Clifford posed unabashedly like a fellow celebrity.
This year, Clifford visited the Senior center in Charlotte and upstaged Santa by painting ornaments for the kids. Let’s face it — you can go sit on Santa’s lap and try to articulate your wishes, or you can go put glitter glue on sticky ornaments with a slobbering horse. What kid is gonna go with the cleaner option? Besides, you can catch Santa on the flip side. He’s everywhere.
That was fun. But for Christmas 2017, Clean Water Action contacted me with an opportunity for Clifford to help make a difference: He could participate in a Christmas march to Governor Snyder’s office. The idea was to deliver wrapped gifts to the reluctant governor, filled with thousands of written requests to shut down Line Five.
Line Five is a 64-year-old pipe full of oil, threading — of all places — under the water through the Straits of Mackinac.
Even typing that out feels weird and ominous.
Anyway, Clifford had participated in a 2015 march for the same purpose. CWA was hoping to attract some media to the current endeavor.
I was happy to be invited. I can’t think of too many more crucial things to speak out about. After all, it’s only a matter of time before the thing springs a leak. The time to ask is now.
I packed up all Clifford’s Christmas gear: His Santa Claus hat. His name-inscribed purple halter. His purple blanket. His peppermint babushka by Doggone Bandannas. Some tinsel and a bunch of treats.
Clifford was more than glad to load up into ol’ Wheelzebub and go on a new adventure. The State Capitol is only a half hour drive for us. I parked along the street near the capitol building. As I pulled up, I got a call from Sean McBrearty who had organized the march, asking if I needed any help.
“Well, they can come and help decorate him if they want!”
I have to say the CWA people are great. They showed up in minutes, gathering around Clifford and helping me hang the tinsel on him. Clifford walks pretty fast, so they fell in behind him as we clip-clopped up the sidewalk toward the Capitol building. Along the way, Clifford looked around at every building as if wondering which one was hosting this event. We got to the corner and we joined a waiting crowd of clean water enthusiasts, including Santa, some elves and a giant (presumably paper machete) Bill Schuette.
There was no waiting around. We crossed the street, en masse. The protesters held up signs that read, “NO OIL UNDER THE LAKES” and “OIL AND WATER DON’T MIX”.
We reached Governor Snyder’s office and swarmed into the small pavilion on the corner, through the glass door and inside. Clifford was in the center of a wave of people, so we just went through the door as well. We gathered around the reception desk. The guy behind the desk was all smiles, until he looked over and saw Clifford, and then his mouth made a big round circle and his eyes bulged out.
“SHUT DOWN LINE FIVE!” SHUT DOWN LINE FIVE!” the protesters shouted.
Clifford just stood there in the swarm, and he is used to being swarmed, so he doesn’t move his feet. But the room was small and the yelling was loud. His head started to rise, so I put a hand on his neck and soothed him, asking him to drop his head and stay calm and offering him a treat when he complied. He crunched it down. Just then, a state police officer stepped in front of us.
“That horse can’t be in here!”
“Oh. It’s okay. He’s a therapy horse. He visits schools and libraries. He’s not going to do anything.”
“I need him out of this building, now!”
I held up my phone. “Can I take a picture first?”
Clifford and I made a tight turn and the wave of protesters parted to allow us through the door. “Thank you Clifford!” they shouted. “Thanks Clifford!”
We walked back out of the building and waited under the roof by the door. The police officer followed. He was much more low-key outside, apparently realizing that it wasn’t going to be a fight or a problem getting Clifford out. Besides, how mad can you be at a horse in a Santa hat?
Two or more State police showed up and then I had to answer all the questions. But nobody took any information down, or asked about me. They all wanted to know about Clifford! There’s a book about him? Really? What’s it called? How old is he? What breed? Where else has he been? How did I teach him to do that? What kind of treats does he like?
“He likes peppermints!” I took one out and handed it to the officer who had evicted us. “Do you want to feed him one?”
He took the mint and unwrapped it.
“Now he knows you have that, so you will have to hold your hand out flat, like this. Make like a table with your hand, because he might hit it kind of hard, and most people get alarmed and drop the treat.”
Clifford’s soft muzzle whisked across the guy’s hand and he smiled. “Thank you! I’ve never done that!”
“That’s his jackpot treat. So now you’re his best friend.”
Shortly afterward, our group of protesters came out of Governor Snyder’s building and headed across the street to Bill Schuette’s office.
Schuette’s office is in a complex that required a flight of stairs. As we reached the bottom, the peppermint-feeding cop rolled up on a bicycle. “He’s not going up there.”
I nodded. “We’ll have to wait here then.”
Another State Police officer approached. He was wearing a big black hat that I could only compare to a Canadian Mountie, but he wasn’t too familiar with horses. He had whipped out a notepad. Finally someone was taking a report. He took down my name and address.
“Is he a therapy animal?”
“Is he licensed?”
“Yes. He is registered with our nonprofit, the Foundation for Animals in Therapy and Education, otherwise known as FATE.”
He wrote it down.
I answered all the questions from the Detroit News and Michigan Radio. I was not aware, because probably I wasn’t paying enough attention, but apparently I was being broadcast on the radio. I still don’t know what I said, other than making a lot of quips, like how Clifford is an abstract artist but his work sucks. But I did manage to steer the conversation back to Line 5, which, after all, is the whole point.
“The straits of Mackinac is the artery to the Great Lakes. Just because you can’t see the other side of a body of water doesn’t mean the resource is infinite.”
When our gaggle of protesters started coming down the steps, the cops left, apparently finished with monitoring Clifford and me.
A lady with a big camera came up to me. She didn’t introduce herself . “You should have asked permission to go in there,” she snapped.
“Well, that would have risked the whole effort,” I said.
She stormed away.
I turned to Sean. “I sure hope I didn’t get CWA in any trouble.”
“No! No worries. Thanks so much for coming,” Sean said. “We are glad to have you! Some of us are starting to call Clifford ‘Michigan’s Lil’ Sebastian’.”
“Oh, from ‘Parks and Rec’! I get it. Hopefully the results won’t be the same.”
Cheyna Roth from MPR asked me if Clifford would do any more demonstrations to shut down Line 5.
“I hope not! It’s disappointing that we are having to even revisit this matter. But we will continue to do what it takes to help shut this pipeline down.”
For more information about Line 5, visit Michigan Clean Water Action.