In Response to Standing Rock Victory

Sunday marked a dramatic development in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline or DAPL. Since 2015, the Sioux Nation and allies have protested the DAPL because its proposed construction path threatens to damage heritage sites and contaminate drinking water. Standing tall in the face of big money, military-style police tactics, and a mainstream media blackout, the stakes could not be higher for the demonstrators. And yet, what the Standing Rock Sioux defend is fundamental. Fittingly, the Sioux and their allies refer to themselves as “water protectors,” rather than protesters. Their fight is for the protection of one of our most basic needs. But for the Standing Rock Sioux, there is a much deeper spiritual connection to the water.

Following months of demonstrations, victory came on December 4th, when the US Army Corps of Engineers denied easement for the DAPL and put the project on hold. Furthermore, additional environmental studies will need to be conducted before any further progress on the project can take place.

Originally planned to run closer to Bismarck, North Dakota’s capital, no demonstrations were needed to divert the pipeline away from the predominantly white city’s water sources. The second proposed route took the pipeline under Lake Oahe. This lake is highly significant to Sioux Nation, not only because of cultural and spiritual ties, but also because it is the source of the Standing Rock Sioux water supply. In contrast with the residents of Bismarck, the Sioux lodged multiple protests. Unsurprisingly, their protests went largely unanswered — as the concerns of America’s Native populations so often are — even after their voices were joined by other Native American Nations such as the Osage and Iowa. Their cries went unheeded through the better half of 2016 until July 25th, when the DAPL was “fast-tracked” by the Army Corps. At that point, the Sioux began seeking outside help. And, with the aid of the Earthjustice legal team, an injunction was filed against the pipeline in early August.

By mid August, notoriety around the DAPL had grown, causing outside protesters to head to Standing Rock in support of the Native American demonstrators. The mounting pressure and attention surrounding the back and forth lawsuits eventually pushed District Judge James Boasberg to temporarily halt the pipeline’s construction. The momentary victory brought much-needed national attention to an issue that had been largely ignored by the mainstream media.

What didn’t halt was law enforcement’s use of excessive force against the water protectors. LEOs deployed K-9 units and used water cannons against the peaceful demonstrators in sub-freezing temperatures. Reports indicate that demonstrators were shot in the head with rubber bullets and tear gas canisters. What’s worse, these weapons were used without giving the water protectors any prior notice to disperse. These are just some of the dangerous tactics peaceful demonstrators face in our nation as police militarization continues to intensify. Lawsuits are pending and multiple demonstrators are seeking damages from police actions.

But regardless of law enforcement’s suppression tactics, that late-August spotlight was further magnified by progressive leaders in Congress, specifically Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep.Tulsi Gabbard. They alerted the nation to the gross excesses of force being used by the law enforcement officers against the demonstrators as well as the dangers of the pipeline itself. Rep. Gabbard coordinated with a group of US veterans organized by Michael Wood Jr., a former Marine and Baltimore police officer, to form a “peaceful and unarmed militia” to further support the Standing Rock protesters. Mr. Wood’s movement raised over $1,100,000 in 23 days and may very well have been the difference that ultimately tipped the scales. On December 4th, 2016, the Army Corps of Engineers stated that the pipeline would no longer be permitted to pass under or near Lake Oahe.

The Standing Rock protest proves that change can be achieved when people unite together for the common good. This was not purely a Native American issue, or an environmentalist’s issue, or an issue strictly about law enforcement’s use of force. This was an American issue, and Americans from all walks of life came together in solidarity to protest the pipeline. If the progressive movement can draw any lessons from this example, it’s that strength lies in building coalitions, alliances, and friendships with as diverse a population as we can. Because, at some point, it may be our water that needs protecting.

In Solidarity, The Political Revolution

Authors: Daniel Kauder & Robert Zappa Jr.

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