Standing Rock: Catalyst or Footnote?
Sunday was a great day at Standing Rock. A great day for the protectors, the protesters, and their supporters. It was a great day for Indigenous peoples, and for anyone anywhere who values the lives and rights of individuals over the advancement of oligarchical corporatism.
It was a great day that will be remembered in history. It will be, if we don’t fuck it up.
In another December, 243 years ago, there was another protest. It triggered a course of events that changed the world forever, and its name is still taught to school children throughout the world. We call it the Boston Tea Party and we remember it as the day American started on the path to liberty.
To be fair, there are huge differences between that protest and what’s been happening at Standing Rock. The world is vastly different now. There are methods for communicating and refuting ideas that no one could have imagined on that day. Still, there are elements that resonate the same. Stripped of the propaganda and the centuries of legend, that “tea party” bears striking resemblance to how we might one day come to view the events at Standing Rock.
The pipeline is by no means dead. There are powerful political and economic forces driving it, and it could remerge along a new route in the not so distant future. This will not be the last the world hears of DAPL, but for now those who stood against it are rightly proud of this victory.
Underneath that pride however is a current of gratitude, one that is badly misplaced. Yes, in this case the state did bow to the will of the people: the necessary permits were denied and the land and water were saved. The government did the right thing and all seems to be right with the world, but this ignores a very important and (for some) uncomfortable fact.
None of this would have happened if the government hadn’t been so wrong in the first place.
This is a battle which never should have happened. This is more than just a protest about water or land or the rights of Native peoples. It’s a battle about how much power we should allow the state to have, and failing to recognize that now risks undermining all that’s been achieved to date.
Standing Rock is a great triumph and no one should dispute this. Whatever happens next the world will remember this. People who have long been ignored stood together against forces everyone considered beyond them.
Make no mistake, Standing Rock is not a case of the state stepping in to prevent an injustice. It is a case of the state being caught, bold faced, in its own antipathy and having to step back. It is a case of a government which has operated too long without limits or accountability being forced to confront, at least temporarily, its own lack of omnipotence.
Already there is a narrative forming that this victory belongs to the state, not the people. That the government rescued civilization from the great horned dragon of capitalism. That this would never have happened under the flag of a different party, or under the guidance of a different figurehead. This is a lie, and it will kill the legacy of Standing Rock in the way water cannons and attack dogs could not.
It is far to easy to forget who the enemy was here. It was not the men and women in uniform manning barricades and spraying protesters. Neither is it the faceless corporations whose investments drove the pipeline and paid for the private security which tried so hard to crush those who resisted. These are merely symptoms of a larger and more virulent disease.
There is but one enemy here, and that is the State. If the victors of Standing Rock cannot see that then they have missed their moment. If they can perhaps we have reached the watershed many have long hoped for. The cure for State power cannot be yet more state power. Today peace triumphed; tomorrow the world may not be so lucky. We must not allow ourselves to see one victory as the end, but rather a beginning. Power that has been allowed to accumulate for so long must be reclaimed and the rights of individuals and communities must once again be asserted on the national stage.
The Dragon never sleeps, and it will not lose it’s fangs. A more powerful state cannot protect you from the abuses of a state gone insane. More laws merely create more potential for corruption, more corruption merely creates more potential for violence. The future of the world lies in either people or institutions. I hope that those celebrating tonight will remember this tomorrow, otherwise victory will be nothing but a footnote in the chronicle of our destruction.