Category Archives: Issue #122 Fall 2016

50 years and still 10 points: 1966 Black Panther Party Platform and Program

While we’ve been making this issue of Slingshot, it’s seemed like every day there has been a new video of the police killing an unarmed black man. Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte and Alfred Olango in El Cajon — just this week. The institutional racism that disregards the lives of black people and puts them at risk merely for being in public, for driving, for walking down the street — which sees every black person as a violent threat — has reached a boiling point. This is not about rogue police — this is about a rogue society that permits this to continue. Resistance is possible: now is the time for us to stand up.

In Oakland, we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense (BPP) in 1966 which was initially a response to out-of-control police violence against the black community. Things haven’t changed much in 50 years. The BPP published a Ten Point Program in each issue of their newspaper which is still inspiring.

This summer, people associated with the Black Lives Matter movement introduced Campaign Zero, a 10 point campaign to end police violence. The two 10 point documents — separated by 50 years — are interesting to compare. So here’s a copy of the BPP 10 points (edited slightly for length) and excerpts from the Campaign Zero 10 points which are too long to publish in full but are available on-line.

The Black Panthers: Ten Point Program

1. We Want Freedom. We Want Power To Determine The Destiny Of Our Black And Oppressed Communities.

We believe that Black and oppressed people will not be free until we are able to determine our destinies in our own communities ourselves, by fully controlling all the institutions which exist in our communities.

2. We Want Full Employment For Our People.

… We believe that if the American businessmen will not give full employment, then the technology and means of production should be taken from the businessmen and placed in the community so that the people of the community can organize and employ all of its people and give a high standard of living.

3. We Want An End To The Robbery By The Capitalists Of Our Black And Oppressed Communities.

We believe that this racist government has robbed us and now we are demanding the overdue debt of forty acres and two mules. Forty acres and two mules were promised 100

years ago as restitution for slave labor and mass murder of Black people. We will accept the payment in currency which will be distributed to our many communities. The American racist has taken part in the slaughter of our fifty million Black people. Therefore, we feel this is a modest demand that we make.

4. We Want Decent Housing, Fit For The Shelter Of Human Beings.

We believe that if the landlords will not give decent housing to our Black and oppressed communities, then housing and the land should be made into cooperatives so that the people in our communities, with government aid, can build and make decent housing for the people.

5. We Want Decent Education For Our People That Exposes The True Nature Of This Decadent American Society. We Want Education That Teaches Us Our True History And Our Role In The Present-Day Society.

We believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of the self. If you do not have knowledge of yourself and your position in the society and in the world, then you will have little chance to know anything else.

6. We Want Completely Free Health Care For All Black And Oppressed People.

We believe that the government must provide, free of charge, for the people, health facilities which will not only treat our illnesses, most of which have come about as a result of our oppression, but which will also develop preventive medical programs to guarantee our future survival. We believe that mass health education and research programs must be developed to give all Black and oppressed people access to advanced scientific and medical information, so we may provide our selves with proper medical attention and care.

7. We Want An Immediate End To Police Brutality And Murder Of Black People, Other People Of Color,All Oppressed People Inside The United States.

We believe that the racist and fascist government of the United States uses its domestic enforcement agencies to carry out its program of oppression against black people, other people of color and poor people inside the united States. We believe it is our right, therefore, to defend ourselves against such armed forces and that all Black and oppressed people should be armed for self defense of our homes and communities against these fascist police forces.

8. We Want An Immediate End To All Wars Of Aggression.

We believe that the various conflicts which exist around the world stem directly from the aggressive desire of the United States ruling circle and government to force its domination upon the oppressed people of the world. We believe that if the United States government or its lackeys do not cease these aggressive wars it is the right of the people to defend themselves by any means necessary against their aggressors.

9. We Want Freedom For All Black And Oppressed People Now Held In U. S. Federal, State, County, City And Military Prisons And Jails. We Want Trials By A Jury Of Peers For All Persons Charged With So-Called Crimes Under The Laws Of This Country.

We believe that the many Black and poor oppressed people now held in United States prisons and jails have not received fair and impartial trials under a racist and fascist judicial system and should be free from incarceration. We believe in the ultimate elimination of all wretched, inhuman penal institutions, because the masses of men and women imprisoned inside the United States or by the United States military are the victims of oppressive conditions which are the real cause of their imprisonment. We believe that when persons are brought to trial they must be guaranteed, by the United States, juries of their peers, attorneys of their choice and freedom from imprisonment while awaiting trial.

10. We Want Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice, Peace And People’s Community Control Of Modern Technology.

…[words from US Declaration of Independence from 1776]

Slingshot issue #122 introduction

Slingshot is an independent radical newspaper published in Berkeley since 1988.

We’re struck once again by the change in seasons and how the end of summer and the beginning of fall has an authenticity and tangible reality that the make-believe impositions of the system with its elections, its business trends and its new techno-toys lacks. The mornings in the Bay Area are moist and crisp and clear — that is real.

While taking a meal break, the collective tossed around ideas to sum up the state of the struggle. Capitalism’s world view is organized around constant growth, with each corporation, machine and individual striving, expanding and “improving.” Picture climbing up an endless mountain. But that isn’t the way the earth with its cycle of the seasons works. There are no infinitely high mountains. Rather, each life goes in a circle of birth, life and death. Reality isn’t about progress, it’s about watching the wheels go round and round. There’s just one earth with its own limits that we exceed at our peril. We need to ask “can you eat all that money?”

These realities are hitting us in the face but because the capitalist / industrial system feels like a runaway train that’s outside of our control, rather than summoning the strength to stop before we tumble over the cliff, many of us are getting caught up in confusion, psychological pain, fear and resignation.

So while NASA reports arctic sea ice receding at record rates and CO2 concentrations higher than they’ve been in millions of years, corporations respond by creating a phone app so you can watch the earth dying in real-time. The brightest minds are working on self-driving cars, when what we really need is to stop, breathe, and think hard about new directions. The forces killing the earth seem out of our control but that is fundamentally incorrect — it’s people killing the earth which means that people can stop killing the earth.

The same constant-progress myths spawned by capitalism infect radicals’ brains. We want fast solutions or to instantly solve all our problems with a revolution. But the cycle of the seasons points in a different direction, towards the struggle as a constant effort that needs us to stay engaged forever.

And yes it’s worth repeating that money isn’t real and corporations aren’t really people. The prison strike inmates are waging is real. When you learn to cooperate with others to pleasurably meet your needs and build something beautiful — that is real. We’re pretty sure paper is real, but once the electricity goes off, all those tweets may not amount to much.

Slingshot is always looking for new writers, artists, editors, photographers, translators, distributors, etc. to make this paper. If you send an article, please be open to editing.

We’re a collective but not all the articles reflect the opinions of all collective members. We welcome debate and constructive criticism.

Thanks to the people who made this: Amado, Dov, Eggplant, Elke, Fox-redwood, Isabel, Izzy, Jesse, Korvin, Matthew, Nadja, Thorsten and all the authors and artists!

Slingshot New Volunteer Meeting

Volunteers interested in getting involved with Slingshot can come to the new volunteer meeting on December 11, 2016 at 7 pm at the Long Haul in Berkeley (see below.)

Article Deadline & Next Issue Date

Submit your articles for issue 123 by January 14, 2017 at 3 pm.

 

Volume 1, Number 122, Circulation 22,000

Printed October 7, 2016

 

Slingshot Newspaper

A publication of Long Haul

Office: 3124 Shattuck Avenue Berkeley CA 94705

Mailing: PO Box 3051, Berkeley, CA 94703

Phone (510) 540-0751 • slingshot@tao.ca slingshot.tao.ca • twitter @slingshotnews

 

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If You’re Afraid of Trees, Don’t Live In a Forest

By Isis Feral

“Thirty years ago, the greatest threats to nature were chainsaws, bulldozers, and poisons. Now the greatest threats are wild plants and animals. And what do we use to fight them? Chainsaws, bulldozers, and poisons. Who does this serve?” — David Theodoropoulos

The forest fires throughout California are a painful reminder for many who lived on the East Bay side of the San Francisco Bay Area in 1991, when a grass fire in the Oakland hills reignited after it was declared extinguished, and rapidly escalated into a massive blaze that killed 25 people, and destroyed more than 3,000 homes.

Fueled by the fear of the next spark in the hills, the agencies that oversee our forested commons have come to the conclusion that the way to prevent forest fires is to….cut down the forest!

The University of California Berkeley (UCB), the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD), and the City of Oakland want to kill the eucalyptus, along with acacia and Monterey pines, which they claim are a greater fire hazard than other trees because they are not native to the area.

Roughly half a million trees are on the chopping block on thousands of acres of public land spanning two counties, from Point Richmond to Castro Valley. Thousands of gallons of herbicides are to be used to prevent resprouting.

They convinced the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to grant them millions for these projects, even though 90% of 13,000 written comments, and an overwhelming majority at public hearings, expressed opposition, several vowing to put their bodies between the trees and the chainsaws.

It took a lawsuit by the Hills Conservation Network (HCN), a group of hill dwellers, with grassroots funding from the community, to sway FEMA in favor of the forests. In September a settlement terminated the funds granted to UCB and Oakland. The EBRPD grant remains, but only covers brush clearing, not tree removal.

While this was an important victory, the deforestation plans are not dependent on FEMA funding, and the struggle to defend East Bay forests is not over.

Officially UCB projects are delayed indefinitely, but we cannot trust the university not to jump the gun, as it did when it clearcut 600 trees on Frowning Ridge before the FEMA environmental review was done. HCN is now suing to challenge UCB’s compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The park district has not changed its plans to destroy most of the three tree species. It already killed many trees with Measure CC funds, and is seeking funding elsewhere to continue what it euphemistically calls ‘thinning’, which involves cutting over 90% of trees, leaving standing dozens in what are now groves of hundreds.

Oakland is still required to conduct a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) under CEQA, a process that can take upwards of a couple of years, which is now further delayed as FEMA funding was expected to pay for it. The city’s Wildfire Prevention Assessment District (WPAD), which continues to meet even after voters did not renew the assessment in 2013, is now offering questionable grants that encourage the killing of eucalyptus.

Exploding Gasoline Trees

Eucalyptus got an undeservedly bad reputation after the 1991 Oakland hills fire, and have become so extensively scapegoated as the cause of that disaster, that few reports about the fire neglect to mention, however extraneously, that eucalyptus were planted here as a lumber crop, abandoned when the venture turned out not to be profitable.

Terrifying stories of exploding trees and flying embers had everyone understandably traumatized. Though less flammable than native bay laurel trees, Eucalyptus was reported to have defied the laws of physics, with burning embers propelled for miles without becoming extinguished. Somewhere the rumor began that in their native Australia, eucalyptus are called ‘gasoline trees’ by firefighters, even though Australians call gasoline ‘petrol’.

But fires do not discriminate which trees to burn on the basis of origin. They ignite and turn into an explosive conflagration most anything in their path. Native oak trees also explode when they burn, and their embers showered Angel Island during the fire in 2008, which stopped right before it reached the last few acres that had been spared in the eucalyptus eradication campaign there.

Like on Angel Island, many eucalyptus trees remained unharmed during the 1991 Oakland fire. Another dramatic example of eucalyptus that did not ignite can be seen in photos after the Scripps Ranch fire in San Diego in 2003, where charcoaled remains of houses were surrounded by a massive green eucalyptus grove.

The Oakland-Berkeley Mayors’ Task Force on Emergency Preparedness and Community Restoration, tasked with investigating the 1991 fire, agreed that the spread of the fire was primarily caused by human-built structures, not trees of any kind. Often it was the houses that set the trees ablaze, not the other way around.

In fact, living trees do not catch fire easily, but help prevent the spread of fires by providing windbreaks for winds that drive fires and embers into neighborhoods, and shade that keeps vegetation and the forest floor moist, which tall trees in the Bay Area further contribute to by precipitating several inches of annual fog drip. According to retired Oakland firefighter Dave Maloney, who was on the mayor’s task force, removing the trees would make the hills more vulnerable to catastrophic fire, with a potential of spreading far into the flatlands.

In news reports we rarely see how fires start. By the time the news crews show up, the first spark is past, and flames are climbing walls and trees, and explosive heat has built up into a spectacular, raging inferno that attracts the attention of the cameras. But the spark matters, and all official reports agreed the 1991 fire started in grasslands, as most wildfires do, including the fires burning throughout California.

Yet EBRPD hopes that flammable native grasslands and islands of shrubs take over where the trees are now, while using pesticides that contribute to flammability of vegetation and may themselves be flammable, contradicting its own goal of fire safety.

Of Immigrants, Invasions, and Good Intentions

While fire fears are the official reason, at the root of these projects is an ideology masquerading as science that benefits and is promoted by the chemical industry, and is fooling many sincere environmentalist activists:

‘Invasion biology’ drives a lot of government policy about pesticide use, like the medfly spraying that started in the 1980′s, the gypsy moth programs across the country, the ongoing light brown apple moth program in California, and countless other programs like it. Many of us were injured and disabled by the pesticides from these programs invading our neighborhoods.

The trees targeted for destruction in the East Bay hills are considered illegal aliens, and much like human immigrants are unfairly blamed for all sorts of problems they are not responsible for.

This ideology and its accompanying pesticide use is also becoming increasingly rampant in other countries, like Canada and New Zealand, and with capitalist trade laws ‘harmonizing’ environmental policies across borders, we are likely to see these toxic programs continue to expand elsewhere, unless we come together to stop them.

What’s ‘native’ is a slippery concept in this ideology. Spartina is being sprayed up and down the west coast, including along shorelines of the East Bay, while revered on the east coast. Monterey pines are an endangered species native to Monterey County, only about 80 miles away from the East Bay where they are being eradicated instead of saved from extinction.

Claims about eucalyptus as an ‘invasive species’ are increasingly challenged as prejudicial and proven inaccurate. Eucalyptus forests are not monocultures that kill everything else, but coexist with a great diversity of native and other plants, have an abundance of wildlife living in them, are a particularly important supply of nectar for bees because they bloom year-round, and are a preferred nesting site of hawks, and overwintering site for Monarch butterflies. While these trees were at one time deliberate monocrop plantations, they have long since become part of the complex ecology of the East Bay hills.

Ironically these projects to rid the hills of ‘non-native’ trees are actually a direct threat to endangered native species in the East Bay. The herbicides threaten the California red-legged frog and Presidio clarkia. Both the Alameda whipsnake and pallid manzanita are fire-dependent and threatened by exclusion of fire from their habitat. The pallid manzanita cannot reproduce without fire to sterilize the soil and scar its seeds.

These species are threatened with extinction because of human development, chemical vegetation management practices, and aggressive wildfire prevention, the very actions these projects propose more of. The entire framework of native vs. non-native species is full of such contradictions.

The very existence of fire-dependent species in the East Bay hills points to the inescapable fact that they are in a natural fire zone, and anyone committed to the protection of native species must therefore speak out in defense of fire itself.

Just like fire-dependent species, there is also snag-dependent wildlife that relies on dead trees for food and habitat. The black-backed woodpecker seeks out burned trees for wood boring beetles that feed on them. The otherwise elusive and tasty morel mushroom is abundant the first year after a fire. A vast number of animals use downed logs as their homes.

While this may be an uncomfortable reality, and a landscape of burned trees more upsetting to some people than chainsawed tree stumps covered in toxic chemicals, wildlife biologists at the Wild Nature Institute insist “a severely burned forest is a living, thriving habitat that has always been a natural part of western forest ecosystems”, but the US Forest Service relies on most of its funding from ecologically damaging firefighting and logging practices, supported by the myth that fires are fundamentally destructive to forests.

In 2003 Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE) even filed suit, because the policy of fighting all fires endangers firefighters, prompting the father of one killed on the job to say: “we’ve got these kids out there dying for something that is scientifically bankrupt. We are subverting nature, causing more damage than good.”

Restoring What Past?

Proponents of the East Bay hills projects insist that this massive assault on forest life will restore an ecology that was destroyed when eucalyptus were planted over a hundred years ago, to what it was originally ‘intended to be’, which sounds more like religious belief in destiny determined by an invisible deity, than sound evolutionary science that recognizes that nature is never static and unchanging.

The notion that ecocide somehow fixes previous ecocide is more than a little troubling. By this logic, people of European descent should be killed as to magically reverse the genocide of the native people who were here before the European invasion. It is particularly perverse that this hostility towards ‘non-native’ organisms is largely promoted by people of European descent, some who refer to themselves as natives of the Bay Area.

In contrast, a nearby native human community expressed a very different attitude towards so-called ‘non-native’ plants threatened at Sogorea Te in Vallejo: “Elders in the local Native community say that All Life is Sacred. We oppose extermination of the trees and plants that have taken root on this Sacred Burial Ground, regardless of whether they are endemic species or relative newcomers.”

In An Evolutionary Perspective on Strengths, Fallacies, and Confusions in the Concept of Native Plants, evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould described that the Nazis used this concept to further fuel their racist ideology.

Conservation biologist David Theodoropoulos, who has done extensive research and fieldwork to debunk ‘invasion biology’ as a pseudoscience, also traces the first government policy based on this ideology back to the Nazis, who thankfully were overthrown before they could destroy all non-German vegetation throughout the country. Millions of humans were not so lucky, gassed with poison developed by a conglomerate that included still existing pesticide company Bayer, now merging with Monsanto, manufacturer of glyphosate, the #1 herbicide used in so called ‘restoration’ work, including in the East Bay hills.

Budgeting Pesticides vs. Firefighters

Proponents of ‘invasion biology’ have been exploiting our fire fears ever since the 1991 fire to push their ideological agenda. Maloney described having to argue about fire science with people on the mayor’s task force, who were obsessed with killing eucalyptus.

But the toxic writing was on the wall in 2003, when Donna Hom, Chief Financial Officer for the Oakland Fire Department, gave a presentation at a Public Managers Forum on deficit budgeting, in which she included herbicide use as a financially feasible option.

That year budget cuts decimated the fire department, and the city instead spent massively on overtime on overworked firefighters, whose union complained about reduced response time and endangered lives due to understaffing and rotating closures, especially of fire stations in the hills.

As millions were cut from essential services, and the governor invoked emergency powers to authorize funds for fire departments, only to take the money back a month later, the WPAD, originally established after the 1991 fire to collect a special fire management tax from hills residents, was pushed back through, and funding of community response group CORE further shifted the burden on the community instead of trained firefighters.

In 2005 pesticides were on the agenda outright, when Jean Quan, then city council member, held a town hall of the WPAD, with all landowning ‘stakeholders’ represented, including UCB, EBRPD, and the water district EBMUD (which also uses pesticides and destroys eucalyptus and Monterey pines).

Friends of Sausal Creek, under the guise of fuel reduction, but openly motivated by its own native plant ‘restoration’ activities, had requested Oakland exempt herbicide use on a long list of ‘non-native’ plants from its Integrated Pest Management (IPM) policy, which bans pesticides on public lands, but has extensive exemptions, including routine applications on median strips.

Most opposition came from a handful of us who had been poisoned by pesticides. We were not yet aware it was part of a massive, coordinated effort to deforest the East Bay. We spun our wheels providing nontoxic alternatives for vegetation management until we realized that the listed plants were not targeted under limited circumstances, but would be eradicated on principle. The EIR that now delays Oakland was the small victory we won during that struggle (though shortly after the city contracted with UCB to violate its own pesticide policies).

The full extent of the destruction planned only became clear in 2010, after FEMA combined the grant applications by Oakland, UCB, and EBRPD, and published its intent to conduct an Environmental Impact Study.

Developing Nature

UCB forests are under the jurisdiction of the ‘real estate’ department, illustrating the attitude towards the trees, which are seen as property, natural ‘resources’, a crop, not nature with its own right to exist on its own terms. The concept of undisturbed wilderness is clearly lost on these people, who consider the forest a garden to be manipulated and managed, quite literally to death.

An already logged area in Claremont Canyon is a teaching site, but what UCB teaches there are toxic vegetation management practices, and entitlement to controlling nature and waging war against it.

The East Bay hills projects are at their core about development. UCB plans in particular appear to be a development scheme to build more student housing, and expand Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which is adjacent to the targeted forests.

While I sympathize with the desire to live in a natural environment, I strongly oppose any further destruction of precious forests so that people can feel comfortable building (and rebuilding) exquisitely flammable wooden tinderboxes out of more dead trees in a natural wildfire zone.

In Let Malibu Burn: A political history of the Fire Coast, historian Mike Davis described how the fire cycle of wealthy fire-prone neighborhoods like Malibu also contribute to a repetitive cycle of “public subsidization of firebelt suburbs” to perpetually rebuild and develop on increasing scale, and displace working class residents.

Fundamentally, if the goal is fire safety, then residents in the hills have the responsibility to create defensible space around their own homes, not chop down entire forests. It shouldn’t be the prerogative of wealthy people to build their homes in forested areas, and then decide to kill all the trees and deny them to the rest of us. The bottom line is that if you’re afraid of trees, don’t live in a forest!

A particularly poignant example of irresponsibility was when Jean Quan herself, by then Oakland mayor, was called the ‘Queen of Blight’ by her neighbors for failing to secure the space around her own house in the hills.

A more reasonable approach for fire safety than devastating ecosystems would be to address the problem at the root, and focus on what provided the primary fuel for the 1991 fire: human development.

Continuous expansion of development must end, while already existing structures should be made safer with fire resistant materials. Last year’s Valley Fire destroyed Harbin Hot Springs in Lake County, but the temple’s earthen cob walls remained standing, ceramicized by the blaze, while all wooden parts of the structure had turned to ash. Even straw bale houses are dramatically less flammable than wooden houses.

Protecting human life should not be at the expense of East Bay wildlife, but focus on defensible space where people live, reliable road and water access for firefighters, and additional firefighters and tools to aid their work.

Defend East Bay Forests

Instead of defending our neighbors in the hills from fires, it is now the hills themselves that need defending from agencies that aim to fundamentally transform the East Bay landscape. The tree roots and canopies connect a complex ecology of other living things that are being killed along with the forest.

But don’t rely on professional activists like the Sierra Club to defend the East Bay from deforestation.

While the Sierra Club’s presents itself as an organization opposed to deforestation and pesticides, it has been one of the primary promoters of these practices in the East Bay hills. One of its local leaders, Norman La Force, proudly takes credit for coming up with the “resource management and habitat enhancement approach, which the Park District adopted, for the Park District’s Fire Management Program”.

When HCN sued FEMA, the Sierra Club went so far as to file a countersuit, demanding that all the ‘non-native’ trees should be eradicated immediately. In response members burned their membership cards in front of their Berkeley office.

Pesticide applications and killing hundreds of thousands of healthy trees cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered conservation. Xenophobia and ecocide are not environmentalism. John Muir would be turning in his grave.

If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one around to stop it, not only does it make a sound as it’s put through the chipper, but we allow the deforestation of yet one more hill, one more landmass, and ever more of the planet.

We need your help to stop it.

The Coalition to Defend East Bay Forests meets at the Long Haul Infoshop in Berkeley. Please check the calendar on our website for meeting times, events, and actions at DefendEastBayForests.wordpress.com

 

Kill the Black Snake

By Tracey

How did a nice, well-intentioned, white lady like me find herself sobbing over the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) during a layover in an isolated corner of the Denver airport? Frequently traveling from my current home in California to my original home in North Dakota means I’ve flown in and out of the Bismarck, North Dakota airport more times than I can count. My favorite feature is a mosaic on the floor with an inlay of the Missouri River that stretches from one end of the tiny airport to the other.

The Schomberg Center for Black Research in Harlem also has an inlay on its floor, in which some of Langston Hughes ashes are buried. It’s a cosmogram featuring several rivers, evoking lines of his poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

When I saw the Schomberg mosaic, I was reminded of the Bismarck airport. Although visitors to Bismarck and visitors to the Schomberg Center are typically worlds apart, we all have a deep connection to water, a connection flowing through our veins, our hearts, our souls. We are formed in water; we are made of water; we wouldn’t last more than  a week without water. Water, quite literally, IS life.

Mni Wiconi, Water is Life is the banner thousands of people are rallying under on the rolling plains of southern North Dakota. They are at Sacred Stone Spirit Camp near Standing Rock Reservation to protect the Missouri River from the pipeline, which is being called “the black snake” in a reference to a Lakota prophecy about a black snake that will come to America with the power to either destroy the world or unify it.

North Dakota has been experiencing an oil boom since 2006 when fracking was first used to extract crude from the Bakken shale formation in the northwestern corner of the state. I remember feeling both a sense of relief that the high rates of employment the boom brought with it meant the recession wouldn’t devastate my entirely rural home state, and still being terrified of the environmental degradation it would also bring.

Since then, oil companies have been left unregulated to accidentally spill oil and illegally dump toxic wastewater while Williston, ND, a city of 12,000 has become an area filled with dangerous working conditions, man camps and sex slaves.

More than 36 oil companies, largely from Texas, Halliburton being one of them, rushed to North Dakota to benefit as fast and as much as they could from this newfound source of crude, despite a lack of infrastructure to wisely capture and transport the oil and natural gas. Because it was not in their economic interests, the natural gas was burned off, making the sparsely populated region glow brighter than major metropolitan areas in nighttime satellite images.

The crude was initially transported primarily by rail, but with a recent decline in oil prices, companies’ margins are now too slim to continue high cost methods of transport; so, ten years later, they’re trying to convince us that they’re building a pipeline because it is safer. They’re trying to convince us they care about our safety. Let that sink in. Oil companies care about our safety, that’s why they’re building a pipeline. They care about our safety as much as they care about this country’s energy independence, a claim they make about Bakken oil, when, in fact, the crude is being transported to Illinois to be processed and sold overseas. This newfound concern about transporting crude shows a deep and abiding respect for only one thing and it is most definitely not our safety, it is their bottom line. Their pocketbooks.

The $3.7 billion pipeline they have started to build is 1,172 miles stretching across North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois and will transport 470,000 barrels of Bakken crude a day. The company responsible for the pipeline is Enbridge, an energy delivery company based in Canada that is still reeling from a scandal in which they have been unable to account for miles of faulty pipelines and valves. There are assurances of a monitoring system (in Texas) that turns valves off in case the DAPL leaks. They have no assurances in case of an explosion. According to the US Pipeline Hazardous Material Safety Administration, oil from the Bakken reserves is one of the most flammable types of oil.

This is not a new story:  “Oil Company Destroys the Environment to Make a Profit.” So why has this pipeline elicited such a high profile response? Why have I been so deeply moved by this and not the Keystone pipeline, which was roughly the same length moving similar dirty oil? My entire life has been constructed around an unwillingness to own a car as a revolt against our fossil fuel dependency. So what moved me to tears about this particular environmental disaster? Why has this situation caused a gathering of a handful of Lakota to turn into what Cheryl Angel, one of the water protectors (not protestors), is calling an Indigenous Global Summit, as tribes who have remained enemies for centuries conduct sacred ceremonies of unity with each other for the first time in 200 years?

For me, this pipeline is close to home. I spent my childhood swimming in the waters of the Missouri River. I may be a California transplant of 20+ years, but my heart belongs in North Dakota, and I travel there at least twice a year, spending weeks at a time under the endless blue skies that seem to always be dotted with large, fluffy clouds. I need to go there and fill my soul with those wide-open spaces in which you can see thunderstorms that are miles away. I need to jump in the lake fed by the Missouri. My rural hometown of 1,100 has always seemed like a place untouched by the changing world. A place where I can ride my bike one block to the pool, in my swimsuit and leave it resting on its kickstand without even locking it, as if I were a kid. It’s rare to have your childhood home remain this preserved and unchanged, and I knew it would all be shattered when the oil boom’s black snake slithered closer to Garrison.

Even as water protectors stand up to the DAPL two hours away near the Cannonball branch of the Missouri River, a natural gas pipeline is in the works to be built under Lake Sakakawea, two miles away from my hometown (disregarding the Three Affiliated Tribe’s opposition and the treaties granting them mineral rights.) I know this is self-serving and human nature to be touched by events occurring closer to your heart; but there’s a sense, for me, that when my forgotten state of North Dakota is touched, we’ve reached a tipping point. The DAPL drives the fear and hopelessness I have about the impending environmental apocalypse deep into my heart.

So, yes, this is personal for me, but why has this pipeline in particular become a gathering point for over 200 Native American tribes? Why has a camp in Indian Country grown from 30 people to 3,000 people in less than a month? (The numbers of Sacred Stone Spirit Camp change daily, fluctuating from 1,500 to 7,000 people, but are expected to decline as the weather grows colder.)  It’s hard to say why, when LaDonna Brave Bull Allard first put out the call on social media to come and occupy her land to block the DAPL, they just kept coming. From the forty or so she expected in mid-August, to 200 five days later, to thousands.

Maybe this explicit instance of environmental racism was the one that was finally just too much. The DAPL’s originally-proposed path crossed the Missouri River just north of Bismarck, a community that is 90% white, but when concerns were raised about the water supply there, it was rerouted south to go under river right next to the Standing Rock Reservation where 8,000 inhabitants get their drinking water.

Maybe Native Americans could not stand one more violation of their indigenous sovereignty as their opposition to this pipeline was disregarded and sacred sites were bulldozed under.

Or maybe the prophecies of Crazy Horse are coming true. Many protectors believe they are the seventh generation meant to wake up and rise against the spiritual genocide and environmental degradation of American colonization, and to lead the healing and restoration of the planet, rejuvenating a forgotten spirituality, and creating harmony among all people. This is why the camp has been open to all: tribes that have warred for generations, Black Lives Matter activists, white people.

This belief spurs the camp’s strict guidelines stating no drugs, alcohol, or firearms. This is why it is called Sacred Stone Spirit Camp and why its main form of nonviolent action has been prayer. Brave Bull Allard’s first call was for people to come and pray, and prayer has been the most important form of protection, even as marches take place at the capitol building in Bismarck and individuals lock themselves to the equipment used to scrape away sacred sites.

Prayer has proven powerful. I was dumbstruck as I watched a video of North Dakota law enforcement personnel standing over a Native American drummer as he sat on a pile of dirt praying along a long line of bulldozers stopped by people locked to them. Why are they just standing there, I wondered. There seemed to be a force around the drummer, keeping police from moving in on him and instead, they went after bystanders.

I am befuddled by the way this has played out so differently than I would expect from a major “protest” of this size. Early on, the state of North Dakota began providing water, medical services, and toilets for the encampment. This aid went on for several weeks!  Some arrests were made, but not nearly the numbers that were expected. I watched actions at the Bismarck capital and videos of law enforcement at the highway near the camp, and I thought, “Oh, people in North Dakota don’t protest. These polite Midwestern officers haven’t realized they’re supposed to act like thugs in these situations.” I waited and waited for the governor, who is tied to the interests of the oil industry, to call in the National Guard. He didn’t. I waited for mass arrests. They didn’t happen. I waited for a crackdown in response to “violent protestors with pipe bombs.” It didn’t come.  Because when Native Americans are called to “load their pipes”, it actually refers to their peace pipes, in preparation for an action of prayer.

Yes, the highway is being blocked to make access to and from the camp difficult (but not impossible); but the only oppressive violence has come from a private security team. Yes, law enforcement was conveniently absent when the security company attacked protectors, but law enforcement has not actively attacked protectors in a way I am used to and have been expecting since August. The National Guard has finally been called in and it appears law enforcement is stepping up their arrests for trespassing.

While protectors are on the front line stopping bulldozers, Standing Rock Sioux Reservation has used all legal means to stop the pipeline. Regulatory approvals of DAPL were based on a faulty study that failed to meet the minimum requirements of protecting historical and sacred sites, so the Standing Rock Reservation conducted their own survey, finding historical Cairns and other rare sacred artifacts never before discovered in North America. Before the state could document them, possibly impacting legal rulings, Enbridge sent bulldozers to the site to destroy them. They were accompanied by private security guards that unleashed attack dogs on protectors and their horses. The dogs were so hard to control, they attacked each other and the security guards. Amy Goodman filmed the entire thing for Democracy Now and was promptly arrested for trespassing.  The private security guards were not charged with setting attack dogs on citizens.

Despite this horrific erasure of sacred artifacts, it cannot be denied there is some powerful medicine being brought forth. Even though the district courts denied an injunction filed by the Standing Rock Reservation to halt construction, moments later the Obama administration temporarily stopped construction of the pipeline where it crosses the Missouri River (it continues elsewhere.) The U.S.  Army Corps of Engineers, the same entity that approved construction of the pipeline in the first place, issued the Standing Rock Sioux tribe a special use permit allowing the encampment, which has spread off of Brave Bull Allard’s property, to continue to use federal land. Most recently, a federal judge cancelled the temporary restraining order DAPL had issued against Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II, council member Dana Yellow Fat and five others. The company argued the order was necessary to stop “protesters” from interfering with construction and costing the company business. To this I say, “Hell yes! Keep up that fine and noble work of disrupting, protectors.” Dakota Access, the company responsible for the pipeline, just stated in a brief that a temporary delay would mean losses of over $430 million and put the entire contract in jeopardy.

I view these legal wins with cautious optimism. And things change fast, so it’s hard to say what will have happened at the time this article is published. But one thing is certain: this action is having a lasting impact on Indian country. Native Americans came to protect their indigenous rights, sovereignty and water supply, and in doing so have built an alternative community strengthening ties to their language, culture, and the Indian Nation. Tate Walker of the Standing Rock Sioux says, “I can’t adequately put into words how historic an Indigenous gathering like this is; something similar happened in 1876, when many Native nations under Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and other great leaders came together and defeated Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Calvary at the Battle of the Greasy Grass (aka Little Bighorn).” The Crow Nation, treated with suspicion and mistrust by the Sioux since they acted as scouts for that same battle with Custer, were welcomed into the camp as they arrived with peace pipes and hundreds of pounds of buffalo meat.

As the encampment has grown, it’s begun to operate like a small town, and indeed, has become larger than some small towns (including my own) in North Dakota, setting an example of how an alternative community can spring out of grassroots action. When the state removed the medical services, they were provided by the tribe. The water and port-a-potties were replaced within a day.  Winter lodges are being constructed. A community kitchen, a school teaching indigenous languages, a “store” with donation items, and a pirate radio station have been organized. And my personal favorite, family events such as horse races and relays.

The most hopeful sign of all is the empowerment of Native American youth. There is a sense, among the youth at the camp, that they are there to fulfill their destiny, and embrace the heritage that genocide has stripped away from them. While learning traditions from their elders, they are also using other means of resistance through social media, broadcasting live to appeal to other members of their community to get involved. In July, Bobbi Jean Three Legs, Montgomery Brown, and Joseph White Eyes, all in their 20s, organized and chaperoned a nearly 2,000-mile, intertribal relay run from North Dakota to Washington, D.C., to deliver a petition of more than 160,000 signatures against the pipeline to the White House and to the Army Corps of Engineers in person. With suicide rates at an epidemic level among Native American youth, their presence at Sacred Stone Spirit Camp and in the resistance, quite literally, is a matter of life and death for them.

Native Americans have been and will continue to be the primary protectors of the environment. Nick Tilsen, Oglala Lakota, the executive director of Thunder Valley CDC, a grassroots community development corporation on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota working to build energy-efficient homes on 34 acres of land, was lauded by President Obama for his commitment to sustainable community development at the 2012 White House Tribal Nations Conference. He most recently locked himself to a piece of machinery to stop the DAPL. Tilsen said, “This pipeline is a pipeline to the past, and we need to be building sustainable infrastructure for the future, not destructive, unsustainable industries that hurt land, that hurt water, that hurt people. Everything is wrong about this pipeline—all the violations of rights for the tribes and the people. So we’re here, standing in solidarity with millions of people from around the world that are against this pipeline.”

So even though my heart aches and I weep publicly when I read about a new development in this continuing saga, even though I want to be standing in a circle of solidarity at Sacred Stone Spirit Camp I have to be elsewhere spreading their story and standing in solidarity. I am doing what they are doing. I am praying.

P.S. I’m also sending money. Winters in North Dakota are no joke and they need supplies. Here are ways you can donate: gofundme.com/sacredstonecamp. Mail debit gift cards, cash or checks  to: Sacred Stone Camp, P.O. Box 1011, Fort Yates, ND 58538

Really, really cold weather camping gear is needed, but the best donations are monetary donations. To see what they need, you can go to the Sacred Stone wish list on Amazon (I know, boo Amazon, but it shows you what they need.) For more information: Indian Country Today Media Network. Follow Indigenous Environmental Network, Sacred Stone Camp and Red Warrior Camp pages on Facebook

Inside the Protectors’ Camp

By Benji

Having just crested a hill on my bicycle, I view a sprawling and bustling encampment along the Cannonball River. Even from this distance I can feel the vibrancy of life here. People splash about in the river, gallop bareback on horses across the few stretches of empty pasture, and sit in small circles outside teepees and RV campers. Riding closer, I hear loud drumming and a group of voices singing high over the thunderous booming, the rhythm matching my own elevated heart rate. I turn down a dirt road into the camp, and two young volunteers on the security team smile and nod at me. I pass between dozens of flags from American Indian tribal nations who formally support this movement and gathering, who have come here to be in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. I pass a large tent with children sitting in a circle, a teacher prompting them with a question about their communities and the environment. There’s an impressive kitchen with pit fire grills, next to the center of the camp where drummers are sharing their song. I stop here for a while.

This is Oceti Sakowin camp, or “Main Camp” as many people call it. After the drumming stops a councilman of the Standing Rock Tribal Council gets on a mic and thanks them, and announces the arrival of a delegation of tribal nations from the Northwest, welcoming tribal leaders from Lummi, Yakima, Puyallup, Swinomish, Suquamish, Nisqually, and other Coast Salish tribal communities. A long truck arrives with a large totem pole strapped to the bed. This totem pole was carved by Lummi tribal members, and is being brought on a journey to here and other places in Indian Country where communities are engaged in the fight against the destructive practices of the fossil fuel industry. (See tetempolejourney.com)

These new arrivals give speeches about their commitment to fighting the DAPL, share their own recent, longstanding, and historical battles against numerous violations of treaty rights and greedy corporations. Songs are sung. People gathered are taught a traditional prayer and invited to join together to perform it. Gifts are given to the Standing Rock nation. People then form a processional circle to shake hands with one another, offering welcome and thanks. It feels good to be here, to shake hands and offer Miigwech to these folks coming from many nations.

I continue down the hill towards the river, where I’m camped. I stash my cell phone and bike, and make my way to the Red Warrior Camp. I enter the enclosed area past signs prohibiting cell phones and photography. Five young people at a security checkpoint welcome me with curt nods. People mill about doing volunteer tasks or sit in small circles. The mood here is more somber, less focused on formality and public displays of tradition and culture, but the reasons for gathering are the same: we are here to stop the pipeline. This camp is younger, includes more non-Indian allies, less supported by donations but leaner and scrappier. I find myself naturally gravitating towards sitting around the fire and sharing meals with other two-spirit, queer, and trans Indians, which is lovely and grounding.

The other young American Indians I meet here in the Red Warrior Camp have a fire behind their eyes, a burning desire to cut the head off the Black Snake and end all injustices against our people. Being in this camp fills my mind and heart with visions of countless acts of active resistance against the many forms of genocide and colonization endured by American Indians. It is not enough to merely maintain tradition, remember our languages, and to keep our spirits healthy with prayer, but we must also fight to defend ourselves, the land, and the water. As a people who have endured many forms of trauma, so too does our medicine come in many forms.

There is so much to take in here, this place now being the largest gathering of American Indian nations in recent history, and perhaps in all of history. It is clear that this gathering is not merely just a show of support and solidarity for the Standing Rock nation, but is an immensely significant act of healing for Indian people. While a lot of us sometimes joke lightheartedly that parts of this feels like going to a really great powwow, it is obviously so much more, as we bring our whole selves and come together and share stories of resilience and the diverse experiences of being indigenous to this land.

It’s been useful for me to look at this through the lens of Decolonization. As a mixed-race urban Indian and child of a transracial adoptee, my family experienced a diaspora that is sadly too-common in the US. While I’m proudly Anishinaabe and a card-carrying member of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation, I have no immediate family that lives on our reservation, no family who speaks our language or knows our traditions. Most of my American Indian friends in the city are also in diaspora, and most of us have found piecemeal community with non-Indian friends who have different but parallel stories and similarly complicated connections to our places and communities of origin.

Most of the people I befriended at the camps have opposite experiences, growing up and living on reservations, actively working to maintain knowledge of culture, traditions, and language, while also facing other persistent struggles with corporations who exploit natural resources and poison the land and people, government agencies like the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Land Management who act in collusion with those companies, economic and legal policies that leave people landless on their own reservations, and deal with judicial systems that are complicit with (mostly) white settlers committing crimes and fleeing with impunity when they leave reservation land. Despite our different lived experiences, we all connect with one another here and recognize that while our paths have branched apart, our roots are the same.

Part of the violence of colonization is that it tears away our connections to our histories, tries to make us feel that assimilation is the only option for survival. Being here liberates my mind from those ideas. I see others experiencing this too. The effort to protect the water has become a holistic path to healing, liberation, and decolonization for Indian people: we bring our whole selves with all our complications and pain, we center ourselves in prayer, tradition, and medicine, we find support and solidarity with one another, and we act together to physically stop the pipeline. We become whole again by deepening our connections with one another and resisting the forces of oppression.

Being at camp is both surreal and momentous. Events like this have long been watershed moments for American Indians, from the occupations of Alcatraz, of Fort Lawton in Seattle, to Wounded Knee, these events have inspired American Indians to act boldly and radically. People here know it, too; almost everyone I talked to shared a story of putting aside their lives at home to come here, be it taking a semester off school, quitting their jobs or taking significant time off, borrowing a car to drive across the country with relatives and friends. I must admit that there is some frustration from people committed to the movement about some elements of this, having the camp inundated with tourists and weekend-warriors who want to witness this captivating historical moment and take photos of Indians on horses and next to teepees, without actually being willing to do the hard work that this community needs.

The movement against the DAPL needs people to show up here, but it also needs people to be strategic, thoughtful, and respectful. My best friend and I reached out to our communities in the Bay, asking for assistance receiving donations and statements of support and solidarity. In addition to practical good like ropes, tarps, and camp chairs, we brought with us incredible letters of support from black.seed, a queer, Black, liberation collective, and Asians For Black Lives. Statements and acts of solidarity from folks in the Movement for Black Lives has been profoundly important for people at the camp, and I saw people talk with pride about being visited by a delegation of Black Lives Matter Twin Cities and talk excitedly about news of official support for the national BLM organization. These acts are vitally important for the anti-DAPL movement to thrive.

Joining the efforts to stop the pipeline has been a profoundly important act for me, and for so many other American Indians. I would like to encourage other urban Indians in particular to come to the camps and be willing to work hard in supporting our siblings whose lands are enduring ongoing colonial violence, and to do so with an open heart in receiving guidance and wisdom from our relatives and elders. This movement to protect the water benefits all people, but it centers us, as it is just the newest manifestation of the oppression and genocide that our community has endured for over 500 years. We need healing, and this can only be done by joining as a united people. Together, in the largest gathering of tribal nations in known history, with the support of allies and accomplices, we will stop this pipeline and other implements of violence against our lands, water, and people. Resistance is medicine.