Summary: A powerful effort to prevent the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline has mobilized large sections of the Native American communities and supporters. Now is the time to make your voice heard in solidarity with this important movement — Editors
People around the country have been organizing across issues, race, and class in solidarity actions in support of the Water Protectors. Chicago held two events last week, which were organized by Native, Black organizers and supported by a diverse group of allies. One was held on Thursday, organized by Lifted Voices (LV) and Black Lives Matter (BLM), on the Michigan Avenue bridge over the Chicago river. Here is a short video from the event and an educational zine that BLM and LV created.
Another solidarity event was held on Friday, September 9, with many indigenous activists and community members speaking from the Picasso sculpture outside the Daley Plaza. Several hundred people had gathered, chanting “Water is Life”. There were many people in regalia, dancing on State Street along the route of the march as they protested outside Daley Plaza and then marched down to the local offices of companies financing the pipeline.
While the struggle against #NoDAPL is gaining momentum, winning allies, and manifesting grassroots solidarity through support and action across the country, it is also proving that environmental racism is something we, as working people, are much more complicit in than we care to acknowledge. The struggle of the Standing Rock Water Protectors against the allied corporate and state powers has brought the stance and role of organized labor in strong relief against their own best interests. As Steve Zeltzer reports, the unions representing the construction workers at Standing Rock were calling for ‘protection’ for their members against the protestors, asking Governor Jack Dalrymple to send the National Guard to the site or they would have to get private security. The construction company did get private security, which used dogs and pepper spray to injure at least a dozen Protectors, including a pregnant woman and a child.
At the same time that workers at the pipeline construction site are demolishing sacred sites and burial grounds at Standing Rock the leadership of their unions, LIUNA and IUOE, is appealing to the need for well paying jobs that support families. The racist view that some families are worth supporting and others should be demolished and displaced is what enables their stance in opposition to the people who live where they are building. What they are building is a toxic pathway for highly dangerous pollutants in the service of capital. The pipeline has been depicted in protest art, using Native imagery, as a poisonous snake that must be killed. (See for instance the images created by Culture Strike here.)
Of course the pipeline must go on because it is giving their union members well paying jobs. That may be defensible if you do not count the cost of irreparable damage to Native lands and the environment. In contrast, President Hanley of the Amalgamated Transit Union says in his brief statement of support, “Union members understand that today the greatest threat to jobs, health and decent living standards is climate change. We support the National Day of Action on September 13th, and we urge President Obama to stop construction of this destructive pipeline and keep dangerous fossil fuels in the ground.” The New York State Nurses Association has also issued a progressive statement of support, highlighting what the Native organizers have been saying about the importance of fighting environmental threats on a global, not parochial, scale. They even state that “Energy systems must be publicly owned and controlled”.
While the IMHO is supporting the solidarity statement linked below, there have been new developments since it was written. On September 9, a federal judge denied the request of the Standing Rock Sioux to halt the construction of the pipeline until their lawsuit against the overseeing body for the construction, the Army Corps of Engineers, is settled. Quick on the heels of that decision, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior issued a joint statement, requesting the pipeline company to voluntarily halt the construction of the pipeline on and around 20 miles east and west of Lake Oahu.
Contrary to the chorus of victory from some quarters, this is far from a victory or a product of President Obama’s justice wielding executive powers. There are more than 3,000 Native Water Protectors gathered at Standing Rock. Their numbers have been steadily growing to become the largest gathering of Native resistance in living memory, while support for their cause has been gaining momentum in spite of a media blackout.Â Kelly Hayes, a Native organizer with LV, states, “And with more than 3,000 Natives gathered in an unprecedented act of collective resistance, an unpredictable and possibly transformational force was menacing a whole lot of powerful agendas. So what did the federal government do? Probably the smartest thing they could have: They gave us the illusion of victory.”
The Standing Rock Sioux Nation issued a press release on September 13 in the wake of renewed violence and construction, as well as the publicly expressed intent of the Energy Transfer Partners to continue to build the pipeline. It starts with: “The Standing Rock Sioux tribe will continue to explore all legal, legislative, and administrative options to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.”
As the march of capital plays out a heavy handed attack on our brothers and sisters at Standing Rock, with the state playing the tired old good cop routine with some dashing new actors, we must continue to bear witness and commit to figuring out what allyship means in this moment. It means that we must not allow censorship and the escalation of violence from state and corporate actors erase the brave and farsighted struggle of the Native people. It means actively supporting them as they resiliently carry on fighting against environmental racism and the degradation of water sources such as the Mississippi. We must commit to continue to amplify their voices and demands, respond to calls for mobilization, donate for their legal defense fund, camp supplies, organizing solidarity events, and staying abreast of the situation as it develops further.
But it also means for us on the left that we must support the struggles of indigenous, black, brown, trans, queer, and LGBTQI people as our bodies continue to be on the frontlines of the environmental, social, economic, and political crisis of our times.
Lifted Voices Statement of Solidarity With the Water Protectors ofÂ #NoDAPL
By Kelly Hayes
Today, Water Protectors on the frontlines of #NoDAPL in Standing Rock, North Dakota, are once again employing blockade tactics to stop the corporate assault on their community’s water supply. This action is part of an ongoing movement of protest, that has involved months of encampment, countless community prayers, and a series of radical direct actions. â€¨â€¨The path of the North Dakota Access pipeline was intentionally rerouted to cross the Missouri River in treaty lands, so as not to endanger the drinking water of the state’s capital. This blatant act of environmental racism should be squarely denounced and opposed by all who value Native lives, sacred waters and justice itself.
In keeping with our continued solidarity with Indigenous peoples who are fighting state violence, environmental racism and other harms of colonialism, Lifted Voices extends our unyielding support to the Water Protectors of the #NoDAPL protests. As a collective, we are Brown and Black, femme and non-binary, and we believe that Brown and Black solidarity is essential to the overthrow of oppressive systems.
Having formed relationships with some of Standing Rock’s local resistors in the spring, when the Sacred Stone encampment began, we were asked to send trainers and other resources to the camp. In June, we visited the Sacred Stone camp, and conducted a blockades training. Working in concert with arts and media trainers from The Indian Problem – a collective that’s membership overlaps with our own – we provided every resource we could manage, as these Water Protectors are not only fighting for Indigenous self determination, but for the source of all life itself: water. â€¨â€¨In late August, one of our trainers returned to assist with another nonviolent direct action training, and to provide any other assistance that our skill sets and resources might lend to the moment. â€¨â€¨Like state violence, environmental racism is a harm experienced in epic proportions by both Indigenous and Black communities. As a Brown and Black collective, working in an urban environment, we are honored that our curriculum – informed by the creativity of both Brown and Black femmes and non-binary people, resisting state violence in Chicago – was welcomed in a sacred space of Indigenous struggle.
We appreciate our local community for helping us to remain ready to deliver in such crucial moments, and we will do our best to continue to do so. â€¨â€¨Our work happens at the intersections, and as Black Lives Matters organizers recently demonstrated, by sending a delegation to visitÂ Standing Rock, we are living in a moment of historic possibilities. Bridges that the oppressors don’t want built are being envisioned, and we will do all we can to help construct them in real time, as each of us sorts through the work of survival, solidarity and action. â€¨â€¨We ask that you join us in assisting our Indigenous family at Standing Rock by contributing funds, travelling to Standing Rock to hold space (all are welcome) and joining us as we gather with Black Lives Matter and other #NoDAPL supporters to hold vigil on Thursday (9/8) for the powerful resistors on the frontline of this struggle. We will gather beside the Chicago River, on Michigan Avenue, to show our solidarity with the Standing Rock struggle to preserve Native waters and Native life.
Native peoples have historically experienced white supremacy in the form of erasure and annihilation. To counteract that invisibility, we must do everything we can to make this stand seen and heard. Talk about #NoDAPL. Share news stories. Engage with your community about how you can support. Demand that the mainstream media cover these events. â€¨â€¨Solidarity must be more than a declaration. As a mere political position, it contributes little to anyone’s liberation. Native freedom fighters on the frontlines are determined to do whatever it takes, and we owe it to them to do whatever we can. â€¨â€¨So help them. â€¨â€¨Help them hold back the violence of the state, and halt a pattern of environmental violence that has brought our climate to the point of catastrophe.
We ask that you join us, in whatever ways you can, by not simply declaring solidarity, but by taking whatever action you can to support the Water Protectors. Attend rallies, donate, travel there if you can and continue to share and reshare their stories on social media. History is shaped and reshaped by the power of storytelling, and this is a story that needs to be told – for the sake of Standing Rock, the Lakota, all Native peoples, and for the sake of the earth itself. â€¨â€¨To our friends on the frontlines: In our hearts, we are still hand-in-hand with you, saying these words: â€¨â€¨We are built from the ashes of the extinguished.
From the blood of what couldn’t be killed
The fire that will consume empires
Born as clenched fists
Survival made material
And our dreams will empty cages
Co-signed in solidarity:
Black Lives Matter Chicago
The Chicago Light Brigade
Chicago League of Abolitionist Whites (CLAW)
The Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands (MICATS)
The Detroit Light Brigade
Groundwork for Praxis
Ithaca to Standing Rock Solidarity Collective
International Marxist-Humanist Organization