On Sunday afternoon, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that they will not grant an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline to run under Lake Oahe and will explore "alternate routes" for the pipeline's construction. This is a major and unprecedented victory for the Standing Rock Sioux who have routinely been the victims of genocide, broken treaties, and racial discrimination ever since their first interaction with those who called themselves "settlers" and "children of God." Not only will this decision help solidify the Sioux's sovereignty over their sacred burial sites and precious water supplies, but it reaffirms the power of direct action and the importance of refusing authority in the face of unjust actions.
This pipeline was more than unjust. Energy Transfer Partners, the main company responsible for the construction and operation of the pipeline, has spilled over 800,000 gallons of oil into the environment since 2005 representing 315 individual oil spills. Combine their track records with their partners for the pipeline and they have spilled a total of 5,000,000 gallons of oil into the environment, averaging a spill once every 5 days. Those in the Sioux nation were not just accepting a risk of an oil spill, but a promise.
The only thing more unjust than poisoning their water supply was the police's reprehensible reactions to the Water Protectors' efforts to stop the pipeline's construction. One week ago, I travelled to camp Oceti Sakowin, the front-line of the Water Protectors' resistance, and witnessed some of the atrocities committed by the police myself.
As we pulled up to our camp site on the day after Thanksgiving, we quickly realized we did not need to use our head lamps because of the massive flood lights the police had placed around the proximity of the camp, representing something closer to a prison than a field in North Dakota. Military Humvees, concrete barriers, and razor wire protected the police from anyone crossing the bridge and getting closer to the pipeline's construction site. The police had also taken over Turtle Island, a sacred burial site where ancestors of those in the camp have been buried for thousands of years, in order to gain the high ground in the protection of this oil pipeline.
Even though we arrived at 11:00 P.M. on Friday night, the camp was busy with activity as Native people all around the camp joined in prayer and sacred songs. This worked to join the protectors together and let the police know that although they were the ones with the massive infrastructure, we were the ones who were in it for the long hall.
The police tried everything to unseat the protectors from their camp even if it meant violating the constitution. This included violations to the first amendment's right to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. Violations to the 6th amendment's right to consul as protectors were denied contact with the legal fund setup by the water protectors. Violation's to the 8th amendment's limits on excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment as protectors were placed in dog kennels for temporary holding and given felonies for holding a prayer circle on Highway 1806. Violations of 4th amendment's right to property as police invaded camp Oceti Sakowin to seize the water protector's canoes and proceeded to drill holes in them only to bring them back to their side of Turtle Island and protect the broken canoes with razor wire.
As early as Tuesday of last week, the Sheriff's Department was still trying to thwart the protectors' efforts. They threatened to fine and potentially jail anyone who entered the camp after December 5th citing fears of a harsh North Dakota winter and not being able to guarantee that they would be able to send ambulances and other emergency services. Native Elders taunted Dakota authorities stating "the Governor of North Dakota and Sheriff of Morton County are relative newcomers to the land and it is understandable they would be concern about winter weather" and further adding that " the Great Sioux Nation has survived in this region for millennia without the concerns of state or county governments."
This stead fast resistance and commitment to direct action is what stopped this pipeline and gave the Water Protectors a well-deserved victory in this fight. Despite police officers' unconstitutional actions, despite the threaten of being starved and their supply chain cut off, despite all the human rights abuses inflicted upon them, Native Americans and their allies stood strong and showed to the world what the power a small group of dedicated people can do.
The victory at Standing Rock is a lesson that we have learned throughout history and one that should not be forgotten in the face of a Trump Presidency. Simple acts of Civil Disobedience can be powerful and disruptive if we hold onto our principles. Those who preformed sit-ins during the era of American segregation gave way to the Civil Rights Act and delivered a powerful blow to dismantling white supremacy. Those who marched with Gandhi to make salt in the Indian Ocean showed that they did not need the British Empire for their sustainability and gave way to India's independence and position as the world's largest democracy.
America is still worth fighting for and it is a fight that requires more ammunition than ballots. Voting for elected representatives is no longer sufficient to change the world. Direct Action and Civil Disobedience has the power to show those in power that it is the people who are in charge of the future. That our government officials only have power with the consent of the governed and we alone have the power to rebuke that consent.
Do not doubt the power a small group of people to change the world because it is the only thing that ever has.