The Rebellion Will Not Be Televised

Rogue One and the Dakota Access Water Protectors

Rogue one demonstrated how revolutions work better than any other Star Wars film, and the DAPL protests are a case study.

It was devastating news to everyone when Carrie Fisher died at the tail end of a year inundated with deaths of well-respected celebrities, especially to me when it apparently happened as I was watching Rogue One the first time (I saw it twice is what I’m saying, I liked it a lot). But this Orwellian coincidence (the word ‘Orwellian’ is so meaningless as this point that I’ve decided to use it when it makes literally no sense at all — just like everyone else does) didn’t strike me as quite as poetic as when the Young Turks also decided on their ‘Turk of the Year’, meant to award the person who challenged power, authority and the establishment most that year (playing on the phrase Young Turk meaning a rebellious youth and host Cenk Uygur’s Turkish identity). See, for the first time ever they decided to let the viewers vote on it (I suppose tying in to their ‘power for the people’ values) and the people decided. They picked Bernie Sanders. This seemed obvious, as it was difficult to claim Bernie had not done everything he could to earn that position. But, contradicting the audience, Cenk either officially or unofficially awarded it to the Standing Rock protesters. This is not the first time they’ve awarded Turk of the Year (singular) to an entire group (plural). Despite the broad support the protests have received, I never found the affinity with them that I have for Black Lives Matter or Occupy. Sure, the pipeline will be disastrous for environmental reasons but I never got why the act of building it in Native American land constituted a Special Kind of Evil where other pipelines like Keystone XL (which was also widely protested) did not. I also never got the emphasis on protecting water from potential (but historically highly likely) leaks of toxic oil (calling back to the Flint water crisis) rather than on oil and other fossil fuels as catalysts for greenhouse gas emissions which are far more of a threat. But Cenk set out in clear terms exactly why it matters even if you don’t get it. The protests demonstrate one thing above all, ‘hope’. And as ‘Rogue One’ states, “Rebellions are built on hope”. DAPL might seem like a classic case of protestors being harassed by a highly militarised police for peaceful dissent. But actually it’s a story of a group of powerless people — Native Americans, among the least powerful people in the country with their disproportionately high deaths at the hands of police underreported to no end and their genocide only a few hundred years ago almost unheard of — going up against the most powerful — Big Oil and its heavily funded, highly murderous and well-armed security arm otherwise known as the police force. Sound familiar? Try imagining it in pop-culture terms. It’s like a group of rebels with tiny blasters going up against a moon-sized space station with the power to destroy planets. The protesters have endured harsh weather conditions, unnecessary arrests by the police, derision by the corporate media, tear-gas, water cannons and now Trump’s “populist” administration’s attempt to fast-track the construction by executive order. It’s like a literal rural uprising against a comically evil empire run by the actual Emperor. But they haven’t backed down and they’ve stopped the construction so far for all their efforts. Martin Luther King said change isn’t inevitable; it’s never given voluntarily but always taken by activists and collectives demanding for change. But that’s precisely why it is inevitable, because the natural reaction to oppression like this is to push for change and to resist, it’s embedded in the human spirit even when the odds seem bleakest. It’s easy to see why Bernie was the obvious choice for Turk of the Year. Many on the Left might have argued Green Party candidate Jill Stein had the better platform and policy issues but Bernie was able to inspire people and speak in a clear way that spoke to Trump supporters and the downtrodden working class that other progressives never could. It also doesn’t hurt that old, white men like Jeremy Corbyn and Gerry Adams have an incredible propensity for inspiring memes (Jill’s will never be quite as dank). Bernie built a progressive coalition and they are quite possibly ready to take over the Democratic Party. But mainly it’s because it’s easy to get behind a public figure, a personality like a bespectacled, old-school-Brooklyn-Jewish, perpetual bedhead like Bernie than a group of faceless protesters. Sort of like why Harrison Ford is more loved than an army of identical men in white armour (faces covered). But that’s the point; rebellions aren’t won by single people but by the unknowns working behind the scene. That’s why Bernie’s campaign emphasised “us” and not him. He knew he couldn’t change the entire system by himself, he needed the people to hold the government to account because that’s the only way to make them serve the people. Look at Star Wars. It would appear that Luke Skywalker was the hero of the story. It’s a classic tale, a random relatable protagonist who nobody appreciates is found and told that they are secretly a highly-skilled and special person destined to change the world and be idolised. They don’t have to train, the force will do all the work of aiming their proton torpedoes for them and all they have to do is wait for some mentor to show up and tell them. It’s the perfect, idealistic lazy-person’s fantasy (I know, I am one). The villains are so obviously evil that nobody would question your use of violence against them (compare this to if a group of Muslim rebels bombed a massive US military installation housing thousands of soldiers) and the weakness in the Death Star is so glaring that one well-placed shot and the whole rebellion is over within what must be days of you joining. No blood, no tears and only a little sweat and instead of a little progress on a slow road to change, the problem is solved overnight. Out of the dozens of pilots flying this mission who is it that gets the shot off? The new guy with the magic powers. And who is it that saves him from Vader at the end? Han Solo, his buddy. The nameless do nothing of importance. But then there’s that one line, “A lot of rebels died to get this information”. It was a cynical cash-grab to make a spin-off about some people mentioned off hand in dialogue but then you see Rogue One. That raises the question, where would Luke and the gang be without them? I’ll tell you. Up a very specific type of creek completely devoid of any rowing mechanisms. That’s what Rogue One is about, the unknowns behind the scenes who made all the real sacrifices and gave their lives to save the day. What was it they did? They got some plans. That’s all. You see, the villain Director Crennic wanted the credit for building the Death Star since he did but he died at the hands of his own creation, his final thought being that Grand Moff Tarkin would be the one credited with its success (a really lovely retcon since viewers of A New Hope probably assumed that he did). And the heroes? They got to die knowing that they had made a difference. But it’s actually rather bleak. They all died and nobody remembered them. They had no idea that they saved the day in A New Hope. The title of that film is actually made more apt by the last line. When Leia receives the plans at the end, she gets asked what they are. She says, “Hope”. That little ray of optimism that suggests that a poorly funded network of antagonistic misfits have a chance against crushing odds. I disliked Cassian’s (Diego Luna) fake-out death since the ‘previously-thought-to-be-dead-sidekick-saves-the-day-from-off-screen’ is one of the laziest ways out of a standoff in cinema and also because it seemed purely as a set-up for a final declaration of love between him and the lead female, Jyn (Felicity Jones). Instead, it was rather poetic (the entire ending to the film is almost pitch-perfect even if the middle act never blows you away). I’m sure everyone expected a final “I love you” moment followed by a kiss but that didn’t happen. The writers knew what the film was trying to say and they stayed on course. The last line he tells her is “Your father would be proud”. That little reassurance that she had done the right thing. Even if she never got remembered as the hero like the Crennic wanted for himself, she had done everything that she could. There was no guarantee they’d win and they didn’t get the luxury of knowing that they’d actually made a difference. It’s a lot like Attack on Titan that way, where the majority of soldiers that die in a war never know if they helped, if their friends and family that they tried to protect survived or if they were on the right side of history or would be remembered. But that was all they could hope for. It wasn’t an Aryan farm boy, a handsome smuggler and a privileged princess that saved the day, it was every single person involved. It was a woman (with a French father), a Hispanic, an Arab, a blind Asian man, another Asian man, a black amputee of some kind (Forrest Whitaker) and a robot (not a minority race in our world but who knows about Star Wars) as well as the countless others who believed in Jyn’s plan and gave their lives just on the off-chance that it would work (including a random Scottish man, so shout out to my country). It’s not a white man becoming president that saves the day as Trump would like to have you believe. He made promises of fixing the place he could never keep (not that he wanted to make the country better for anyone except himself and other ruling-class billionaires but still) while Bernie insisted he couldn’t change the system without his supporters demanding for it. Every single person who gave a little and cumulatively toppled the selfish people at the top whether it be the blind man who simply pushed a button that needed to be pressed or the pilot who rigged an explosive and carried a message from one place to another it’s the people who are inspired to act that get the work done and not the celebrities who inspire them. Bernie wasn’t an unknown when he first ran as some would have you believe, I knew who he was and I trusted his record and even I was surprised at how well he used his campaign to mobilise the disgruntled and the dissatisfied and got people like me and people not-at-all like me to flock to his rallies. He was a long-serving senator with a stellar record and a history of Leftist activism going all the way back to recording folk songs and marching with MLK himself to protest segregated housing. Just like how he marched with the Women’s March, two protests that are not worlds apart as you might think but part-and-parcel of the same spirit. My point being, not everyone can be Bernie. Not everyone can do what Bernie did. A minimum wage worker can’t just up and run for president. But call your senator? Organise a protest? Start a hashtag? Hold up some signs? Sure, some might be too busy supporting themselves to do that but it’s far more achievable. Bernie didn’t stop the pipeline being built, it was a group of Native Americans, some determined others, a few actors, a few former soldiers (Bernie was there as well but he was lost in the crowd, no more an obstacle to the oil companies than anyone else, an equal) holding up signs and occupying the land. Bernie ran against Trump and Clinton but he had a voter base behind him. The Standing Rock protesters? They were up against the most powerful lobby in the country, the fossil fuels lobby. To cap it off they were up against their own government’s police force. The people who enforce the laws of the institution meant to represent them betraying that flagrantly and cracking skulls with the best of them. But they stayed. They haven’t won yet, sure. So why hold them up as an example of hope in the goodness of mankind and the rebellious spirit of the American people? Well look at it this way. Just over a week ago, Obama did something many never expected. He freed Chelsea Manning. The whistle-blower and former soldier who leaked the documents that informed many citizens of the actions of their government that they had an absolute right to know. A Trans woman who attempted suicide twice from inhumane treatment and illegitimate detainment and just as Trump’s inauguration loomed, it seemed like hope had run out. Then he commuted her sentence. Out of the goodness of his heart? No, because people from the ACLU to the true believers in the public demanded him forcefully. The same reason we got the Civil Rights Act, net neutrality, Keystone XL shut down and universal gay marriage in every state. The people demanded it and change happens no other way. The Standing Rock Water Protectors might not win. Just as Jyn said, you try your chances and hope you succeed and then you try again at the next point in the battle and then again until your chances are spent. You have no other option but you only win by trying until you either succeed or fail. But they have signs and determination and they ARE making a difference, even if it never works out.

They might pave the way for the next group of people, but only if we make it so. They don’t have access to private files of positions at the NSA like Snowden did and they don’t have access to millions in campaign contributions like Bernie did. You won’t hear about them on the news but change is happening and the establishment only pushes back when it’s scared. The far-right-wing may be emboldened and the worst politicians may be rising but then why are the rights of Americans getting better? Because some may try to tell you otherwise but we’re winning. And it’s because of the little people. Rebellions aren’t built by individuals, they only work when people try despite the odds and have hope and they won’t be televised, but they’re still there. That’s why the Standing Rock Protestors are the real heroes.

Originally published at on May 19, 2017.

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