Thursday, February 23, 2017

Oceti Sakowin Camp Closes: But the Struggle Continues

 Water protectors march out of Oceti Sakowin camp
The was a sense of poignancy, defiance and nobility as the last remaining residents of the Oceti Sakowin protest camp in North Dakota departed yesterday in advance of a 2pm deadline-to-vacate order signed by Governor Doug Burgum.

The thousands of native peoples from around the world who joined the protests represented the vanguard of a much broader grassroots protest movement.

Opposition not just to oil, but to the increasingly soul-less coalition of extremist political and social conservatives whose rigid ideology now serves the interests of the massive corporate monarchies that rule over the various fiefdoms of banking, fossil fuel and petrochemical production, agriculture, manufacturing, mining and telecommunications.  

The 150 or so protesters who walked arm-in-arm out of the snow and mud covered grounds of the Oceti Sakowin camp Wednesday afternoon ( under the eyes of over a hundred law enforcement officers from different states) were still singing, chanting and most importantly - standing.

With a federal court having ruled that drilling to run pipelines that will carry crude oil directly beneath a fresh water source the Sioux share with 20 million other people can proceed, this particular battle is done for now.

But the war of non-violent resistance is not over.

Hundreds of other protesters who defiantly stuck out the freezing temperatures of the winter in support of the sovereign rights of the Standing Rock Sioux are reportedly moving on to other protest camps in the area that have been set up on private land where government officials cannot order them off.

New EPA administrator Scott Pruitt
Others will take the next stage of the fight to court rooms and legislative chambers.

Even if many of those too are stacked with conservative Republicans who've shown a willingness to bend the law to the will of the alliance of oil companies, pipeline manufacturers and banks behind the DAPL regardless of the cost to human and environmental health.

Republicans like the climate change denying lackey of the oil industry Scott Pruitt.

After being sworn in last Friday as the administrator of the same federal agency he repeatedly sued as the attorney general of Oklahoma, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, addressed members of his staff for the first time on Tuesday.

As Rebecca Leber reported for Mother Jones on Tuesday, Pruitt delivered a generic 11-minute speech that was short on policy specifics and gave no indication of what the Trump administration has in mind for the EPA's role in addressing climate change.

As America comes to grip with the reality of a man who denies the existence of climate change heading up the government agency charged with protecting the environment, his confirmation doesn't bode well for grassroots environmental groups opposing oil and natural gas pipeline projects around the nation.

In the same way that an executive order issued by the White House has tasked members of Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) to begin an unprecedented roundup of illegal immigrants in the United States, regardless of how long they've been here or whether they've committed a criminal offense, in the wake of the inauguration on January 20th, efforts to remove the Standing Rock protesters increased in some unsettling ways.

   CLDC attorney Lauren Regan
According to an article posted on The Guardian back on February 10th, Lauren Regan, the executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Oregon reported that at least three different DAPL protesters were contacted directly by agents from the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) to ask them for information about the Standing Rock protests.

As she told The Guardian, "From the very beginning, law enforcement has attempted to justify it's militarized making false allegations that somehow these water protectors were violent." 

Rumors about FBI surveillance of Standing Rock protesters had been swirling on social media just days after Trump's inauguration.

An interview on the Tuesday February 7th episode of The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC with Cora Currier and Trevor Arronson, contributing writers to The Intercept, offered some chilling perspective and insight on the kinds of tactics the FBI likely used in Standing Rock to monitor protesters and undermine demonstrators.

Click the link above if you have a few minutes, it's definitely worth a listen.

Currier's and Arronson's contribution to an Intercept series called 'The FBI's Secret Rules', uncovered some fascinating details on the scope of FBI surveillance.

For example, they noted that in the late 60's and early 70's, the FBI employed approximately 1,600 informants as part of their notorious COINTELPRO program of domestic surveillance of groups they deemed subversive; including Civil Rights activists, Black Panther Party members, Vietnam War protesters, feminist organizations and the KKK.

By the post-911 era when the U.S. government was appropriating billions to anti-terrorism and homeland security efforts, the number of FBI informants had soared to over 15,000 - so it's fair to assume that the FBI had informants in place at the Standing Rock protests.

Oceti Sakowin camp structures burning on Wednesday
Members of local law enforcement were engaged in the same kinds of harassment tactics too.

A Monday February 13th article posted on the Website of
 The Guardian chronicled claims by several members of the veterans activist group VeteransRespond that local police stopped their vehicles simply for having out of state plates and conducted bogus searches.

Flagrantly illegal police searches that turned up small amounts of weed that some of the vets take for medical reasons to alleviate symptoms of PTSD which were used to arrest and detain the protesters.

As my friend James, who lives on the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma, reminded me the other night, Native Americans have been viewed as terrorist suspects by the U.S. government since long before the highly-publicized 1973 occupation of the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota by some 200 Oglala Lakota and members of the American Indian Movement (AIM).

As I write this late Wednesday night, there are reports that at least 50 to 75 protesters remain inside the Standing Rock protest camp, though local law enforcement have made no efforts to forcefully remove them even though the governor's order to evacuate expired at 2pm on Wednesday.

Despite the outcome, the Standing Rock protests brought global attention to both the sovereignty of indigenous peoples as well as the environmental dangers posed by the slew of oil and natural gas  pipeline projects being constructed across the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The intentional burning of temporary wooden structures at the Oceti Sakowin protest camp by departing protesters yesterday is symbolic.

Protesters claimed the burning of those structures was an "ending prayer", maybe it's meant to symbolize the end of this latest chapter of the ongoing war for Native American sovereignty.

The global support that the Standing Rock Sioux garnered raised awareness of the struggle for the rights of indigenous peoples in America and around the globe - but it also helped to galvanize a much broader protest movement that made its presence known on January 21st.

What happened in Cannon Ball, North Dakota reaffirms the power of peaceful protest, civil disobedience and non-violent resistance at a time when millions of Americans are gearing up to oppose the policies of the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress.

A chapter may have ended in the Sakowin camp with the assistance of the corpratocracy, federal and state entities including the FBI, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, federal courts and local law enforcement from multiple states.

But this story is far from over.

As one of the camp's leaders Phyllis Young noted in an interview, "The camps will continue, freedom is in our DNA, and we have no choice but to continue the struggle."

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