We Stand with Standing Rock
We were really lucky that Roots Camp fell just before Thanksgiving, so we could tack on visits to our families after the conference. It was a great opportunity to eat delicious food, chill out, catch up, and be asked a million times, "what's next?" and "what can we do to stop the impending attack on our planet and our neighbors?". To which we replied, "We have hundreds of ideas and no sense of direction. Our heads are spinning and we would thank you very much to STOP REMINDING US".
Just Kidding. We just said we didn't know and let everyone be jealous of our freedom... Aaaaaand then we spent all our time thinking about what to do next, or actively avoiding thinking about what to do next.
We knew we needed a break to physically and mentally recover from the campaign, to process and to plan without a steady rotation of distractions and inquiries. (We know our shift with NextGen was shorter than most, and acknowledge they're tougher than us.) We planned to head southwest from Vegas to spend time climbing, hiking, running, fishing, and reflecting. Then, we'd visit friends in LA and possibly adopt a van dog. We figured we'd heed the flight attendant's advice to put our oxygen masks on before assisting others.
But the world moves fast. Things were reaching a boiling point at the No DAPL camps in North Dakota and we knew we had more freedom than most to support in person. We weren't sure if two more white people in a van were actually wanted, so we reached out to my family friend Sierra, a greenpeace veteran who had just returned from Standing Rock, to get her perspective. She encouraged us to examine our motivation for going, asses our willingness to risk bodily harm, educate ourselves about camp policies and to commit to being followers while at camp. But she also encouraged us to act, asserting that all people willing to adopt the right mindset were welcome, particularly if they were also willing to be arrested. In light of the mandatory evacuation notice released that day, she encouraged us to join the camp before December 5th and pointed us to an Asheville to Standing Rock meeting that afternoon. We entered the meeting undecided, but after learning more about the long history of the struggle, the methods and goals of the camps, and the importance of numbers in the ground game, we left planning our journey north. (this was Friday November 25th)
We'd been looking for direction, and this was a call too loud to ignore. We went because we could, and others couldn't.
We canceled some plans with friends and family in LA, and took our scheduled flight back to Vegas on Tuesday. We drove north to Salt Lake City on Wednesday and based out of SLC to buy and organize cold weather gear and food. Everyone we spoke to emphasized the importance of campers being self-sufficient and we didn't want to be a drain. We also purchased equipment, spices, and tons of lentils for the Food Not Bombs kitchen at Rosebud Camp. We'd heard from Asheville to Standing Rock that Food Not Bombs was setting up a new kitchen to serve vegan meals. I figured that feeding vegan tree huggers, and reducing drain on traditional native kitchens was probably a good way to be immediately useful. I called the food not bombs contact for the kitchen and was able to confirm that they were still building, the kitchen was at Rosebud, they still needed things, help was always good, and... not much else. The prep work in Salt Lake took longer than we'd hoped (of course) and we got on the road again Friday afternoon.
Big thanks to my dear friend Liz & her beau Alex for feeding us delicious veggie pho on Wednesday night and letting us borrow their kitchen, shower, laundry & recycling. It was great to catch up with a friend I've had since middle school. I hope one day we can return the favor. Thanks also to all the people who contributed funds for camp kitchen supplies. They were much appreciated.
We spent the next night in a Wal-Mart parking lot outside of Casper Wyoming and woke repeatedly to the wind rocking our van like a ship on the ocean. Although the van started warm from the drive, it was frigid by morning and we worried about North Dakota, resolving to try to park near a wind break at camp.
It took us all of Saturday to get to Standing Rock. Arriving in the dark, we encountered a maze, a jumble of tents and tipis and old school busses and shacks; flags, banners, and handwritten signs, winterized RV's and collapsed tents. It smelled of wood smoke and cigarettes and cold. Everything beyond our headlights was mysterious, a shifting landscape of floodlights and firelight, LED headlamps and lanterns, red, amber and blue-white, snow and dark and a mess of humanity. We took an accidental tour of Oceti Sakowin and needed our new snow chains to get to the Rosebud camp entrance.
Our experience at Standing Rock was our own, and doesn't reflect that of other water protectors or match popular media channels. I think everyone tells a pretty honest story of their own experience, and the media picks up the sensational ones because they draw attention to the issue (and generate ad revenue).
When we arrived, our plan was to stay two weeks. We intended to focus on helping with the kitchen until it was fully operational and then cook or join actions/ceremonies on a day by day basis. If there was a forced evacuation on December 5th, we were going to cross the river to Oceti and get in the way (leaving our van "safe" at Rosebud). We didn't plan to lay claim to any elders wisdom or expect spiritual enlightenment. We went to be allies, to be foot soldiers who didn't ask for explanations. We went with eyes, ears and hearts open to learn what the camp had to teach and hoped that we might also glimpse a brave new dawn of solidarity and community, the standard for a new era of peaceful direct action.
Of course nothing goes exactly as planned. We ended up spending only three full days at Standing Rock.
On Sunday, we attempted to attend the recommended orientation session at Oceti Sakowin camp but the orientation tent was so full, we joined a small crowd of people with ears pressed to the tent walls, straining to hear what was going on. What we managed to catch reinforced the camp prep documents we'd read and we decided to try again on Monday. We found the Food not Bombs tent on the way back to the van and introduced ourselves to Antony and Angela, the incredible people running the kitchen.* Then we dropped off supplies, re-parked the van in a 'legal' parking spot, and got to work. That first day was sunny and a balmy 25ish degrees, so we were able to sort a huge pile of donations and drag things we couldn't use to people who could on a sled. Monday we finished building the last floor section, helped install a wood stove, and carried and stacked a bunch of firewood. Tuesday we helped build shelves and organize the tent. Wednesday I shoveled snow from the walkway onto a snow bank in an attempt to create a wind shield, and James started the van to drive us to Bismark.
The wood stove (above) installation was an adventure in it's own right. Many people helped to get it set up properly. The van window (right) was well frosted on the inside.
If you were following along at home, you know that the few days we were at Standing Rock were pretty eventful, but it's amazing how isolating freezing temps, lots of work, and horrible cell service can be. Whenever we glanced up from our work on Sunday, we wondered at the never ending caravan inching into camp. Late in the afternoon, the sight of thousands of veterans across the river holding hands to encircle Oceti was incredibly powerful. That solemn gesture of love really hit me in the gut with how many people were supporting the effort, with what was at stake, and with what we were up against. But there were plenty of people participating in the ceremony and we had work to do. When the army corps ruled that they would deny the easement to tunnel under the Missouri River, we just kept sorting and hauling. That night, a couple people coming to the tent for soup brought the news, and even with fireworks going off across the river, it still seemed as questionable as assurances that "someone" was setting up a composting toilets later that week. Regardless, no one in our group trusted that it was more than a partial and temporary victory.
Monday's snowstorm dampened our resolve to cross the river for the orientation, so we got back to work and waited for mealtimes to bring bits of news. We fed people organizing warming tents and heard there might be an action, so we prepped to feed hypothermia patients, but there was no confrontation. At dinner, we heard there was a powerful forgiveness ceremony at the casino, and we wondered how everyone GOT to the casino in the snow.
Tuesday was the coldest day we were there for. When a guy from the tarpee construction team stopped by for their breakfast, he brought stories of people pulled from collapsed tents during the night. As we built shelves, stacked and sorted, we were asked to spread word that anyone without adequate shelter should board evacuation busses to a community center. Rumors that Chairman Dave Archambault II had asked everyone to go home got louder, joined by warnings about stronger storms and colder temps on the way. When we went searching for a friend we'd failed to meet in camp, it took about two minutes for my nose to bleach white and James to start worrying I'd get frostbite. The cistern at Rosebud was empty, so we stacked bottled water by the wood stove, and worried about overfull porta-johns. Antony represented our kitchen at a camp meeting and relayed that campers were still needed, but that anyone who wasn't prepared for North Dakota's winter shouldn't let themselves become a liability. Further large-scale direct action seemed unlikely. Rosebud and the other camps had become an occupation, their goals to survive and to keep watch on the pipeline construction site. With the heavy lifting of the kitchen set up done and the weather report showing Wednesday was the only foreseeable opening in the weather (not snowing & warm enough to start the diesel van without a block heater), we decided to make a break for it. Antony and Angela were heading to Bismark for supplies, so we gathered our things and figured we could return if news access pointed us back.
When we got to Bismark, we posted up at the co-op with a bunch of other water-protector-looking people, and did some research to confirm our decision. It seemed that after the Army Corps Decision and the decent of real winter, the camps were dispersing. A small group needed to stay to sound the alarm if construction resumed, but divestment campaigns and other actions would be better organized from civilization.
I'd say that our experience wasn't what we expected, but we didn't really know what to expect. We would have liked to participate in some direct actions and help at the Oceti art tent, but I do think we made a worthwhile contribution. Last we heard, the Food Not Bombs Kitchen is still going strong, and I'm glad we were able to make a small contribution to that. Standing Rock isn't a utopian community, we didn't float around high on love and connection. There was definitely miscommunication, interpersonal/intercultural friction, non-contributors, general griping, and jobs undone or twice done. It was however, a huge diverse community of open minded, generous, grateful, and self-motivated people united by a common goal. The sharing economy really worked because most people's first question wasn't "what's your name", or "where are you from" it was "how can I help." As the camps grew, many water protectors lamented an influx of 'burning man kids'. Standing Rock is not a festival. It's not a festival because there's a lot at stake, because there's an objective, and because everyone works. But if I were pushed for a parallel, another place to find similar openness, generosity and camaraderie amongst complete strangers, I'd have to name a music festival.
As far as the future of direct action; I think we learned a lot about what is possible, the power of multimedia storytelling, and the potential of organic organization. However, we also learned about the importance of clear lines of communication, and the pitfalls of dramatic, unplanned growth. Also, North Dakota is really F***ing cold. REALLY. And cold is isolating. It hampers interaction and redirects creative energies to survival. The continued culture of love and openness at Standing Rock is a true triumph.
*Antony & Angela have been at camp since the beginning of November, and as of January 6th, they're still holding down the fort. These guys have an incredible capacity for generosity and getting shit done. They run a tight ship and make sure everyone is fed, even if they come to the kitchen at an odd hours. If you want to send direct aid to the camps, shoot us an email: JamesandEva@wildopen.com, and we'll put you in touch with Antony.
*** Updated information here: http://standwithstandingrock.net/
> Urgent: Click above to find out how to call and urge the Army Corps to start the environmental impact study process by filing a letter of intent - making it harder for Trump to halt the process!
** Also: #DefundDAPL
We first saw the video below at the Asheville to Standing Rock presentation on November 25th. We've watched it dozens of times since then and it always brings tears to our eyes and inspires us to get up and do something. I hope it does the same for you.