We are witnessing a critical moment of resistance in Standing Rock. Over 200 tribes have coalesced, uniting in peaceful protest. Thousands of people have come together to ask only for what is theirs ― land and water, yes, but also basic human rights. They demonstrate because their sacred home has been routinely and callously violated by a profit-hungry, colonial machine.
Colonization still thrives in America. It simply cleverly hides behind the glossy PR of opaque, faceless corporations. The Dakota Access Pipeline is a literal tentacle that reaches deep into the pristine, but untapped natural resources of the vast Bakken Formation, leeching oil to the unquenchable refineries of south Texas. Death to the colonized happens more slowly than 200 years ago, but just as inevitably, as communities relegated to the surrounding reservations are excluded from access to quality health care, non-toxic surroundings, and economic opportunity.
Be cautioned that the media will inevitably condemn and vilify the violence that has escalated and assign blame to the protesters for disturbing the status quo. We saw the same reaction in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting of Michael Brown in 2014 and in Baltimore after Freddie Gray’s death in 2015. This escalation comes not from protesters, but from our heavily militarized police force’s arrival. In all three instances, the dystopian images of men in riot gear facing unarmed men, women and children is deeply troubling. This is state violence against the poor and powerless, plain and simple. In Standing Rock, we see cool steel pointed at supple feathers. The metaphor is clear and powerful.
We must connect these acts of defiance and resistance in our minds and in the current American narrative. Our distorted and unchecked capitalism allows for the destruction of sacred land, the violation of black bodies and the cannibalizing of our own citizens. This event does not occur in isolation, but joins the recent string of attempts by the poor and politically disenfranchised to bravely stand up to a faceless, powerful, and ever-hungry capitalism. One that lumbers forward seeking only profit and leaves in its wake total destruction. The politically neglected, yet savvy and noble, are using their number, which has been proven time and time again to be a powerful and singular tool against exploitation.
We still hesitate to invoke race in these cases, choosing instead any other specious reason for state violence. Standing Rock exposes, yet again, systematic oppression and state sanctioned violence against black and brown folks in the U.S. So, for contrast, I will urge you to revisit the armed occupation by white militants of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year. A “peaceful resolution” was given highest priority by the FBI, for the safety of the armed terrorists and for the police involved. Leader Ammon Bundy was not arrested until after provocation from the public, following lengthy negotiations with FBI. Arrests were eventually made, but the seven primary defendants in the case were all acquitted of primary charges.
The protest in Standing Rock is critical and pivotal in our national fight for greater justice. It shows that all lives do not matter in the United States. It shows that capitalism can rape our natural resources and cannibalize our own citizens unchecked for profit. It shows that political dissent is met with state violence. And as a result, we should deeply interrogate and resist our democracy that allows for these perversions of justice.