I am one voice among a sea of dedicated hearts. In all of us, there’s a yearning that we rarely discuss. That yearning, for me, was to be at Standing Rock and stop a single pipeline from violating indigenous rights and contributing to the destruction of our beautiful world.
The crude that is pulled from the Bakken, per gallon, requires ten gallons of fresh water from the aquifer to be contaminated with chemicals before being injected beneath the shale from which it came. Ocean water must be desalinated, rivers and streams must be filtered, but this water comes out ready to drink – and we poison it, sending it back into the earth, destroying that resource for generations to come, causing earthquakes, polluting rivers, and filling the atmosphere with hydrocarbons.
The stock market is beginning to invest in water. When our scientists look to the frontier of space – they look for liquid water.
I arrived at Standing Rock in early November. A little whisper told me to come here.
Connecting to the internet in Standing Rock is a difficult task. Most people have been using cellular data from a single hill, named “Facebook Hill”, in the west of camp. Unfortunately, the signal has been weak and is suspected of being interfered with by unknown parties. If there is a real need for wifi, people head to the casino 10 minutes south by car.
Not being a technologist myself, I spoke to Lisha Sterling from Geeks Without Bounds in order to understand what is happening and who is responsible. GWB works to support humanitarian causes with open-source technology, hackathons and accelerator programs that deploy solutions (“hacks”) into conflict situations. Sterling has a background in technology reaching back to 1993 and has degrees in Latin American Studies and Migration Studies. GWB is a merger of her humanitarian work and technology background. Upon arrival to Standing Rock, her phone crashed. I asked Sterling to help me understand what might be causing our cell phones to be acting up.
“There is another kind of evil which we must fear most … and that is the indifference of good men.” –Boondock Saints
On November 24th, in Mandan, I saw something of the Standing Rock movement that bothered me.
We drove into Mandan in a caravan of cars. Our destination, like always, was unknown until we arrived. And like before, a strong police presence greeted us.
Our target: The intersection of East Main Street and Mandan Avenue in Mandan, right by Burger King.
We piled out of the vehicles and unpacked the cargo from the trailer. There were five long banquet tables and boxes of carrots, radishes and beats. Then came badly made life-size effigies hung on wooden crosses, and banners. The banners read with the same slogans; Oil is Genocide, ‘Respect’ beneath the visage of Sitting Bull, and a new one that read…
“Kill the Pilgrims”
This is not what I came to Standing Rock to say.
There are two ways to advocate for a political aim: PRO and ANTI. This slogan was neither anti-DAPL or pro-water. This hateful declaration depicted the ethnocentrism that pervades both Standing Rock and the United States.
“Let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution…”
All photos accredited to Elizabeth George.
It was after dark on the evening of November 20th when someone cried out, “All Water Protectors to the barricade!” I turned to the camp cook and said, “I’ll clean my bowl when I get back.” This was the best food in camp. The chef was a former computer programmer who had gone luddite. He wore a scuffed red cowboy shirt with pearl snaps. He didn’t use Federal Reserve currency and he wore blue blockers to stop the floodlights in the north, set up over the Dakota Access Pipeline, from affecting his pineal gland and serotonin levels. But the soup – amazing. It could have anything in it. Venison, bison, elk, and every vegetable if it made sense. He only used good, pink salt, and too much coriander. But the spice was perfect.
I jumped in a random car and headed to the barricade.
The road veered left towards the bridge passing over the Cannon Ball River. Cars were haphazardly parked along the shoulders. People were walking to the front. I rounded the bend and saw the soft blue floodlights shining down onto a mob of water protectors standing on the bridge. The barricade was two army troop carriers left in place on the far side of the bridge. I pulled out my camera and started capturing.
Yesterday’s action in Bismarck, North Dakota, reaffirmed to the world that the movement is rooted in our better selves.
The caravan rode bumper to bumper along the one hour route into Bismarck. We pulled into a staging area to organize the cars into four groups that would go in different directions. As we left, the police singled out one vehicle that had a significant native organizer in it. She was arrested on the spot and taken.
The cars all left for their respective destinations, parked, and everyone walked to the four corners of the capitol grounds. Once assembled, they marched to the front of the capitol building from the four directions. Pickets and flags rose into the air and the drumming and singing began in the front. The demonstration took form with a line of the four groups, symbolizing the four directions of the medicine wheel, marching into the street, south toward the federal building and toward the noonday sun.
We met at the south gate at 8am to organize for the action. Most of us didn’t know where we were heading, but we were told to bring masks, goggles, and earplugs. Legal came around to the respective groups with clipboards ensuring we had filled out paperwork should we be arrested. Under our sleeves was the phone number for Standing Rock Legal. We needed $20 for a calling card and our photo ID only.
I hopped into a pickup truck with a group of unassuming Water Protectors: a young quiet girl, an old woman, two young men, and myself. As the truck pulled out of the dirt lot another woman jumped backwards into the truck and we began the caravan towards our destination.
My journey to Standing Rock began in Martinez, California. The train station was tucked behind Shell refineries and wetlands of inland Bay Area. Petroleum crude is boiled here, creating a strata of different products, such as jelly, gas, jet fuel, fertilizer, plastics, rubber, and roof tar to keep out the rain.
The train roars east passing abandoned cars and decayed merchant vessels noosed to anchors in the shallows. There’s a kind of release watching the tensile industrial infrastructure dissipate, revealing rolling open hills and morning sunlight bathing the marshes in gold. Birds lift out of the water away from the train. We pass open pastures of cows with electrical towers planted in them, carrying the load over the grid. There’s a palm tree in Davis, California, reminding me of the equatorial region’s annual expansion. With the icecaps in an accelerated melting process (resulting in a greater absorption of solar heat), I’ve been asking myself:
What is more important than addressing this condition?