The Police State Has Come Home to Roost

As the massive uprisings have shocked a (white) nation, centering the injustices and abuses that black people face at the hands of the police, a disturbing trend is emerging from the Trump administration: bringing in federal agents to literally kidnap protestors off the streets and “arrest” them for protesting. 

Later announced as Operation LeGend, these squads of Gestapo militarized jocks have eschewed whatever Constitutional Oath they were probably sworn to take, have tear gassed peaceful protestors, Moms, Dads, and an army Vet who came to the streets of Portland to call them out on their hypocrisy—and are making their way to Albuquerque, Kansas City, and Chicago. The (mostly white) American people are shocked by the fascist tactics of Trump and his last desperate re-election bid as a tough on crimes president. 

Where is the crime? I don’t rightfully know, honestly. Is destroying federal property and taking down racist monuments violence in the face of the constant murder of black and brown people? Is setting fire to police stations violence when those same police have beaten and tortured those protestors? Is destroying buildings violence when it was the ancestors of those black people, laboring as less-than-human and enslaved, that built those buildings to begin with? 

“Crime” aside, these tactics are not new, and they should not be surprising. Activists, organizers, black and brown communities have been raising this alarm for years. This is not simply the symptom of a Trump candidacy in a spiral as he desperately attempts to hold on to the last shred of power in the final months of a cataclysmic re-election campaign. This is not simply his desire to reallocate attention and energies away from the rising cases of Covid-19 and the preventable deaths that are on his hands (will he care? No. Probably not, but it might hurt his bottom line once he leaves office). This is not merely his want to push the story away from the millions of people laid off, unable to access unemployment benefits in a spiraling economic downturn the likes of which none of us have lived through. 

And this did not start with Trump. 

We are reckoning with the consequences of allowing Trump free reign of a terrorist organization that has been steadily developed and trained, militarized and weaponized during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administration. Yes, a bipartisan expansion of the police state that has diverted funds away from our education, our public transportation, our healthcare and so much more into the hands of the Pentagon and weapons contracts and military equipment. 

We’ve perfected a machine that a monster like Trump will use with absolute glee.  

For years, we’ve watched ICE and DHS officials sweep men, women and children into immigrant detention centers, deny them their rights and deport them back to countries they might not have lived in for decades; Trump’s deportation policies are a continuation of the Obama Administration’s own. We’ve listened to stories of constant monitoring of our Muslim brothers and sisters post-9/11 by the FBI and CIA, with the blessings of Democratic and Republican Representatives-the Patriot Act is supported in Congress with little blowback while it increases constant military surveillance of ourselves, our neighbors, and black and brown communities.

During the Obama Administration, police in military garb clashed with Indigenous protestors at Standing Rock, who were fighting against the contamination of their water source, resulting in indigenous people being pelted with tear-gas, rubber bullets, arbitrary arrests and trumped up charges. All protestors faced the same violence that Portland is facing now. Nearly four years later. 

We’ve watched the budget for our Defense Department balloon into a money guzzling force of chaos, and little remorse for whatever constitutional barometers it was meant to hold. Whatever the Pentagon couldn’t use anymore was bankrolled into the police; we’ve decked out our men and women in uniforms with tanks, machine guns, and weapons like long range acoustic devices that is capable of causing hearing loss. 

And if people weren’t affected by the violence faced at the hands of poor communities, of black communities, of undocumented communities, they didn’t care. What use was there? The police were still there to protect them! 

We were white! 

As more federal agents are deployed around the country, as more Moms and Dads speak out—and this is not negating the black mothers who have always been there, at the front of the protests—as veterans come out of retirement to put their bodies on the line, we must come to the conclusion that the full force of our ignorance, our purposeful blinders will lead the police to turn on us. 

To put it simply, it has come home to roost. Are we prepared to meet it? 

(Photo Credit 1: Noah Berger / AP / Star Tribune) (Photo Credit 2: AP / WUSA9) (Photo Credit 3: Reveal)

What can we learn from the recent win of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe?

There are various pandemics, some are viral, some are neoliberal, sometimes meeting with deadly results, and sometimes defeated by consistent grassroots efforts, and sometimes life prevails. Recently, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe won against the Dakota Access Pipeline, DAPL, in Federal Court. The court validated everything that the Tribe has argued against DAPL.

First, came the oil industry, then the pipelines, then the Dakota Access Pipeline, DAPL, was conceived to move fracked oil from North Dakota to Illinois, with a plan of 450 000 barrels (71 544 282,7 liters) flowing through every day. In 2016, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USAGE) approved the project using a Nationwide Permit 12 that allows examining such projects without a full evaluation and without a thorough environmental impact evaluation. The route of the pipeline crossed many sacred lands of Native American Sioux. It also crossed under the Missouri River, the main source of water for the local population. The oil companies have honed their skills at profit-making at all costs. They are also known for their disastrous safety record with millions of dollars spent on fines and reparation. For instance, DAPL’s leading company Sunoco Logistics, spent over $53 million for property damage between 2006 and 2016. Meanwhile, land and water has been polluted, sickening the local population. 

For the Sioux Nation situated in North Dakota, DAPL’s environmental damage and disregard for Native rights were unacceptable. They opposed the latest life-threatening actions of the oil industries and their financial investors, pointing to the imminent water pollution with its resulting impact on the land. 

Lakota women were fast to organize in the defense of life against the pipeline, the black snake as they called it. Several sites of resistance were established such as the Sacred Spirit and the Oceti Sakowin camps near Standing Rock reservation. These sites saw the largest gathering of the Sioux Nation since little Big Horn in 1876. Many non-native American supporters assembled with Native Americans in resisting the construction of the pipeline. This struggle attracted international attention, with indigenous peoples from other countries showing their solidarity. 

Lakota women, men and children and national and international protesters showed the world what an inspired coalition building meant. They opposed the oil industry and its financial supporters’ oafish strategies by articulating their veneration of their environment with the strength of their spiritual invocations and prayers in defense of “mother Earth.”  The words Mni Wiconi, water is life, roared from the camps, sacred words which transformed people into water protectors. The beat of their drums were in rhythm with the heartbeat of mother Earth. The water protectors stoically faced the uniformed seemingly unconcerned police and militias who were fully equipped with weapons to hurt the defenders of life. 

The Sioux Nation also fought USAGE’s decision in court, demanding the Nationwide Permit 12 be revoked. They wrote to President Obama who first abandoned another deadly project, the Keystone pipeline project, and then before leaving office, hastily, denied the permit for DAPL.   

After the inauguration, Donald Trump signed a memorandum to forcibly evacuate the camps to clear the way for the construction of the pipeline. The ultimatum said that total evacuation of the camps would have to be effective on February 22, 2017. The menace was dire. Donald Trump resembled more a predator than a president. 

Before leaving the sites, on February 18 to 19, the ceremony “Honoring our grandmothers” was organized. This ceremony was echoed in many indigenous sites around the Americas. 

The invitation to Honoring our Grandmothers was clear:

“As Women of Sovereign Nations, Lands, and Waters, we have been given the honor of caring for the earth, the water and all living beings on it.” “We welcome women of all Nations and ages to come together for this special time of prayer, teachings and unity here in Standing Rock, as a powerful movement to acknowledge the sacredness of Unci Maka, Mni Wiconi and the living grandmothers of the Oceti Sakowin.”

 “Location has nothing to do with how we pray, we are going to keep fighting these big oil companies even if we have to fight for the rest of our life,” declared one of the participants, a grandmother committed to defending life and children’s future.

And continue fighting they did. 

The victory of the Sioux in the Federal court should be an inspiration for many who are fighting for justice. No `pragmatic compromises’ were accepted. The native message is loud and clear: if life is sacred, then the sacred should prevail. A sense of solidarity expanding beyond tribes brought victory on many fronts. Before this decision, Native lawyers lobbied foreign banks that invested in the pipeline to withdraw their support. 

In this moment of a global viral crisis, born from the recklessness of neoliberal globalization, maybe it is time to learn some lessons from this fight for the preservation of water as water is life.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith declared, “It’s humbling to see how actions we took four years ago to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet. Perhaps in the wake of this court ruling the federal government will begin to catch on, too, starting by actually listening to us when we voice our concerns.”

Contrast this hopeful message with other decisions taken by the heartless in power. In mid-March, the governors of Kentucky, South Dakota, and West Virginia signed laws to give more power to the states to protect the oil industry and repress protest against oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructures labeled “key” or “critical.”

We are at the crossroads of two visions of the same crisis. In one vision, the heartless system – with its destructive projects generated devastating impacts such as deforestation, extinction of 60% of species, climate change, elimination of public services for the common good, resurgence of authoritarian regimes serving vested interests – will finally come to a change of paradigm. The other vision keeps the delusional neoliberal short-term view in place. The latter may work until climate change and/or another virus or spill of crude oil challenges neoliberal non-sense. 

Maybe this is the time to learn from the unrelenting, uncompromising fight of the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies for the source of life. 

(Photo Credit: Taylor Ruecker, Janine Robinson

The Empire strikes back

The U.S. government in collusion with the Honduran government killed Berta Cáceres on March 3, 2016. Cáceres, Coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations, was awarded the 2015 Goldman Prize for her efforts in organizing indigenous resistance in Lenca, Honduras, against the Agua Zarca Dam. In 2009, a U.S. backed military coup in Honduras paved the way for massive deregulation, furthering opening the country’s resources to exploitation from multinational corporations. The flow of capital out of the country coincided with a massive expansion in environmentally destructive megaprojects, including the Agua Zarca Dam, that were forced through with assistance from militarized private security firms and the Honduran military. According to SOA Watch, “The Associated Press has repeatedly exposed ties between the Honduran police and death squads, while U.S. military training and aid for the Honduran security forces continues.” In a 2015 interview, ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zalaya remarked, “Recall the human trafficking, trafficking of children, trafficking of women who go to the United States and pressure the U.S. borders, indeed bringing pressure to bear on the stability of the United States, precisely because of the failure of the policies here in Honduras. I could say the same of the new initiative of President Obama, who is talking about $1 billion in financing for the northern triangle, for Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. In this regard, measures of repression have been adopted—that is, closing the borders, militarizing the borders, preventing persons from exercising their right to migrate. Because migrating is a right. It is a human right. All of our countries emerged from migration, the United States itself from European migration.” Millions are fleeing the violence stoked by the United States acting on behalf of the interests of capital. To understand the rise of the far right reaction in the era of neoliberal globalization, we must understand the violence abroad and at home within our own borders.

In North Dakota, as the U.S. lays the infrastructure for its role in consuming and shipping evermore toxic fossil fuels, a war between indigenous peoples and the state, in cahoots with capital, is being waged. Thousands of indigenous Water Protectors have congregated at the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to demand the immediate end of all construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would carry hydrofracked crude oil over 1,100 miles, endangering the environment and access to clean drinking water every step of the way. Since April of 2016, with the establishment of the Sacred Stone Camp, indigenous peoples have been engaged in peaceful protection of their lands and their water, protection for the generations with us now and those yet to come. While the people of Flint, Michigan are dying from the toxic water they drink, Water Protectors are being shot with rubber bullets, blasted with water cannons, attacked by tanks and grenades. Waves of resistance emanating out from the Sacred Stone Camp have followed – protestors shutting down local and national branches of many of the banks funding the $3.7 billion project, marching in the streets – which in addition to the numerous other mass movements for dignity and respect in the United States confronting injustices with direct action have led to the created perception of lawlessness and disorder. The same “law and order rhetoric” spanning generations has been deployed in the U.S. and abroad to legitimize the right’s rise by pointing to symptoms, while diverting attention from the structural diseases. As Howard Zinn wrote, “There is some truth, however, to the notion that acts of civil disobedience have a proliferating effect. Such acts, aimed at certain laws or conditions, may encourage others to similar acts, aimed at other evils. For instance, the sit-ins of 1960 probably helped lead to the Freedom Rides of the spring of 1961, and these in turn may have helped stimulate the civil rights demonstrations of late 1961, 1962, and 1963. And all the civil disobedience in the civil rights campaigns may well have had a stimulating effect on the tactics of the movement against the war in Vietnam. But that is not a general breakdown of law and order; that is a spread of organized protest against wrong. And such an effect is to be welcomed by a country seeking improvement.”

In Syria and beyond, the millions of nameless faces that would sooner drown in the Mediterranean than continue living in a state of perpetual trauma and violence pour into the heartlands of the great European democracies, built on the resources and wealth stolen from centuries of empire. In Poland, a far right government has risen to power riding a wave of xenophobia. In Britain, lawmakers make plans for Brexit as the European Union crumbles at the edges. In France, the leader of the French National Front party Marine Le Pen surges to the top of the polls running on a platform of law and order, opposition to immigration, and white nationalism. These phenomena are as global as the world financial order, and to understand them our analyses must re-center the global. In order to understand the success of Brexit and the recent election of Donald Trump, we must return our attention to the global to understand the role of empire, exploitation, and capitalism in leading us to where we find ourselves today.

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian /Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty) (Photo Credit 2: Bill Moyers /Robyn Beck/ AFP/Getty)

Standing Rock: Women began Sacred Stones Camp as a prayer that the waters remain pure

This spring, in April, to protest an oil mega-pipeline running through their waters and a general politics of disrespect for both the Earth and for Indigenous peoples, a group of Lakota Sioux women from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe established the Sacred Stones Camp as a prayer that the waters remain pure. That began as a small group, which now numbers in the thousands, with solidarity actions across the country, from other Native Tribes as well as other supporters. When it looked like the construction of the pipeline might not be stopped, Lakota women jumped over the barriers and put their bodies in the way and on the line. This summer, Lakota Sioux women are making sure Spring doesn’t end early this year.

In January, with no consultation with the residents of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, North Dakota approved the Dakota Access Pipeline. Residents of the Reservation immediately petitioned the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny a final permit. In April, the women set up the camp, as a monitor, because, despite lack of formal approval, construction on the pipeline had begun. In July, a group of Lakota youth ran from North Dakota to Washington to deliver a petition to stop the pipeline … to no avail. The Corps approved the permit … or so everyone thought. This week, it turns out that the pipeline developer actually does not have a written easement to build on corps property.

Nevertheless, construction began in earnest in August, and Native protector protesters launched the next phase of their campaign, which included peaceful road blockades. Then, on Monday, August 15, Native women stormed the pipeline and stopped construction. Since then, the numbers of water protectors on site and of solidarity actions around the world have grown.

From the beginning, the Lakota women, men and children have said they are not so much protesters as water protectors. As Iyuskin American Horse explained, “ From all across the country, tribes are bringing us shelter, food and most importantly, prayers. To have all this unity of tribes standing together in solidarity before my eyes is a beautiful sight. Our tribes now live together, eat together, and pray together on the front lines. We are not protesters. We are protectors. We are peacefully defending our land and our ways of life. We are standing together in prayer, and fighting for what is right. We are making history here. We invite you to stand with us in defiance of the black snake.”

Sarah Sunshine Manning added, “When I close my eyes, I can still see the mist in the camp in the morning and feel the power in the shaking voices of the women who stormed in front of moving machinery to stop the pipeline construction as they told their stories late into the night. Standing Rock has changed us forever. Our hearts are with the water, the land, and with each other. Today, we stand armed with the medicine of unity and prayer, and the strength of our ancestors. Still standing for water. Still standing for life. In so many ways, we have already won.”

Joye Braun has been in the Sacred Stones Camp since April 1 “when there was still snow on the ground. Now we’re getting ready for winter again. We’re not going anywhere.” While the women of Sacred Stones Camp, and the women who are coming from Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and those coming in support, prepare for winter, they are also preparing us for Spring. Still standing for water. Still standing for life. In so many ways, we have already won.

If interested, you can donate to the Sacred Stone Camp fund at https://www.gofundme.com/sacredstonecamp. There’s a petition to stop the pipeline here www.change.org/RezpectOurWater

#RezpectOurWater #StandWithStandingRock #NODAPL

(Photo Credit: Unicorn Riot)