A NYC Collective Uses Social Media to Educate on Standing Rock

Rally for Standing Rock at Washington Square Park, NYC.

I” want to explain to people that this is not new,” said Simon Moya-Smith, the culture editor at Indian Country Today. Moya-Smith is part of a Facebook group that educates people about the Standing Rock Sioux’s continued assertion of sovereignty over their traditional territory and water rights in North Dakota. “Now, people get to see that Native Americans have control of their own narrative,” he said.

The NYC Stands with Standing Rock committee, a working group of indigenous students and professors, is using social media as a solidarity tool against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Shailene Woodley photo via Just Jared

Currently mainstream news organizations have started to cover the action happening amongst the Standing Rock Sioux water protectors in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. With the arrests of famous actress, Shailene Woodley, and Democracy Now!’s anchor, Amy Goodman, the public is now aware of the current indigenous struggle thanks to social media.

The NYC Stands with Standing Rock committee started as a Facebook group and grew into a working collective that produced the #StandingRockSyllabus. They also host university teach-ins promoted via Facebook as a method of academic solidarity with the Standing Rock water protectors.

The committee organized the first rally in NYC to stand in solidarity with the resistance at Standing Rock on September 9, 2016. Nearly 2,000 people gathered at Washington Square Park where banners and burning sage filled the air as speakers rallied in support of the water protectors against the DAPL.

Anne Spice with Julian Brave Noisecat — photo via Farhad Ebrahimi

“My ally role was to organize the donations. Get donation bins, collect those, store them and organize getting those shipped out.” said Jamey Jesperson, a member of the collective.

Jesperson (on right) — photo by Tricia Vuong

Jesperson, 22, is a graduating senior at Eugene Lang The New School for Liberal Arts focusing on settler colonialism and queer theory. They are one of the fifteen main organizers in the NYC Stands with Standing Rock committee with 100+ members on their Facebook group. Jesperson was brought into the committee by The New School assistant professor of Global Studies, Jaskiran Dhillon, but the rest of the members include indigenous students, professors, and activists. Anne Spice, a Tlingit woman, and Matthew Chrisler are both CUNY PHD students that started the committee in August 2016.

Maya Lazarro, 20, is a senior at Eugene Lang The New School for Liberal Arts and also played an active role with Jesperson in organizing participation from other New School students.

“We gathered an immense amount of donations, all of the social justice hub rooms were filled. We had to make 3 trips back and forth to the park and school with four large bins” said Lazarro.

The students created a Facebook event for a poster making session in the university’s social justice hub before the rally. Jesperson and Lazarro collected the donations and coordinated with Native house organizations in the city leaving to North Dakota.

All donations were sent on a large school bus with a painted corn cob on the side that makes routine trips out to Standing Rock. Lazarro reached out to a mutual friend named Amelio who was part of these routine trips on the corn bus and organized with Lazarro and Jesperson to collect donations at the university.

The “Corn Bus” — photo via their GoFundMe page

The corn bus belongs to a man named Bill Hill, a residing Bronx activist who drives the bus for different causes. The bus has caravanned New Yorkers to Cuba, Chiapas, and post-Katrina New Orleans. The trips are all a grassroots effort and routine trips are made via their Facebook group.

The committee found their most productive way to assist the Standing Rock protectors is through education. On October 22, 2016 they released a syllabus online that they hope will be a better way to understand the structures of violence brought on by settler colonialism and the resistance on ground at Standing Rock.

Similarly to the syllabus released by the Black Lives Matter movement in 2015, the #StandingRockSyllabus is broken into sections that better explain the “historical, political, economic, and social context going back over 500 years to the first expeditions of Columbus, the founding of the United States on institutionalized slavery, private property, and dispossession, and the rise of global carbon supply and demand.”

Following the virtual release of the syllabus, the committee organized a teach-in at Columbia University on October 28, 2016. The teach-in was held in Schermerhorn Hall with nearly 200 people in attendance. Several chapters of the syllabus were taught starting with a report back from Standing Rock by Samantha K’_alaag’aa Jaat (Haida-Tlingit-Iñupiaq) and ending with Environmental Racism & Dispossession taught by Teresa Montoya (Diné).

Another NoDAPL teach in was held at The New School University on December 2, 2016 with nearly 400 people in attendance. This event focused on the relationship between art and activism using Standing Rock as a case study. The lineup included Jarrett Martineau the Cree/Dene co-founder of Revolutions Per Minute, an indigenous music platform amongst other artists and scholars.

Artwork by Jaque Fragua (speaker at the teach-in)

Stories about the indigenous community are typically ignored in the media. There was a media blackout on coverage of the DAPL until September 4, 2016 when Democracy Now! reported there were police dogs released on the water protectors. Prior to that video being released, no media outlets covered the movement.

Native Americans are statistically at the top of the bottom of social statistics. Indigenous women are two times more likely to be assaulted than any demographic and in general Natives are more likely to be killed by the police. For centuries, their history has been told incorrectly and there has been a generational struggle to survive in a country that originated from their genocide. The Native voice can not be ignored now due to social media.

Simon Moya-Smith speaking at the WSP rally. photo by Oscar Diaz

Moya-Smith was told by other reporters “news organizations don’t write about Native Americans because there’s only 5.2 million within the population, and it is not worth the investment,” in comparison to the 320 million Americans. He is an Oglala Sioux man and takes an active role in promoting the indigenous struggle and retelling the narrative of his people starting in the news room.

The syllabus has grown as a teaching and solidarity tool to keep people informed and educated about the movement. By using a hashtag for the syllabus, the committee has been able to get traffic from Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms.

Images from the teach ins, art and photos from the camps, and research articles have utilized the #StandingRockSyllabus and created an online network of educators. The committee made a collective effort to produce a tangible method of solidarity in line with their work in the academia here in NYC.

On December 4, 2016 the Army Corps of Engineers announced they will not issue an easement for the DAPL to continue construction across the Missouri River. This is a victory for the Standing Rock Sioux and all of Indian Country.

Water protector blocking highway 1806 in November — photo by Stephanie Keith

“These moments don’t happen often, and even though the fight isn’t over, this is a victory of people over militarized violence and extractive corporations,” said Matt Howard, the co-director of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Howard was at Standing Rock practicing nonviolent resistance as reported by Salon.

“I feel both hopeful, relieved, and a bit curious about what comes next.” said Howard.