Pat Burns reports to The Control Line on his experience and observations at the massive protest at Standing Rock against Dakota Access Oil Pipeline (DAPL)
My week at Standing Rock
by Patrick Burns
Spending a week at Standing Rock was a profound experience. I have not seen anything so monumental since I was one of tens of thousands of rebels demanding an end to the Viet Nam War.
This struggle has shown the power of uniting demands for Native sovereignty with the battle to save the planet itself.
Sunday night, November 20
What I witnessed Sunday night with my comrade, Gina Petry, proved once again that the owning class will enlist the overwhelming power of the state to ruthlessly punish anyone who has the courage to stand in the way of its insatiable need for profit. In the freezing cold, we saw the water cannon operate like a water sprinkler, drenching the courageous and unarmed Water Protectors. We saw the sadistic Morton County Police let loose volumes of pepper spray on their hundreds of victims.
I stood next to a drone operator as he captured the visual evidence of these concerted crimes against humanity. The worst I saw was one of the Water Protectors start to break through the razor wire, but get snagged up in it, only then to be dragged through it by the Morton County Police.
Vehicles chaotically went back and forth carrying the wounded. Three hundred were reported injured and eight seriously. One of those vehicles eventually carried Sophia Wilansky whose arm was destroyed by an officer who purposely threw a flash grenade right at her.
With every public comment, North Dakota’s Governor Dalrymple and the Morton County Sheriff Kirchmeier struggle to obscure their crimes against humanity. Their lies pile upon themselves. They have lost any credibility they might have had before this all started. These policy-makers need to face criminal charges.
And who can deny the courage of the Native People, often led by women, and the non-native people who resist with them? The movement has shown that through overwhelming numbers, steadfastness and international support they can force changes from the Obama administration. The digging may have been halted for now, but who knows what battles lie ahead when Trump takes office, or even sooner? The water defenders’ strategy until now has been one of nonviolent resistance. But they also have every right to arm themselves and to fight back in self defense.
On the morning of November 21, we went back to the camp one last time before we had to leave. We made our way to the medic tents. I spoke to one medic who told me one young woman almost lost her eye to a rubber bullet and four people had been shot in the groin. The man next to him told me his daughter was one of the victims.
A moment later she was brought back into camp, carried by the shoulders by two women. She did her best to shuffle her feet along. She was screaming, and crying, enduring pain that to me must have seemed eternal, a pain inflicted upon by her by a Morton County policeman meant to terrorize her. Like most of the other injuries, this was no accident. It was intentional.
Oceti Sakowin Camp
The camp itself is the “opposite” of the economic forces trying to run roughshod over the sovereignty of the Sioux Nation. For those who are most in need of shelter, every effort possible is made to provide it. There are no cash registers at the mess halls providing food.
Those who receive these benefits give back correspondingly. This orientation effectively creates the ethos necessary for the camp to function. The expectations and demands serve as the camp’s foundation. No Drugs. No Alcohol. No Weapons. These restrictions make the camp more safe and create an air of security.
Orientation facilitators firmly express the expectation for all to contribute personally in some way to the needs of the camp—cook, help build shelter, help stock provisions…. All this keeps spirits high at the camp and makes more possible the effectiveness of the Water Protectors.
I spent most of my week constructing shelters. One day I helped with the assembly of wood stoves made out of steel drums. The next three days I helped four young men build their shanty—walls framed with crates. I helped them build roof trusses. They identified themselves as socialists. I made sure to inform them about the feminist, race liberationist socialist party to which I belonged and they got copies of the Freedom Socialist newspaper.
I met up with Liam Cain who represented Labor for Standing Rock. He made me aware that the National Building Trades, in conjunction with the AFL-CIO, has brought shame on every union member. The Building Trades have written to Governor Dalrymple to call out the National Guard to protect the pipeline workers from the Water Protectors. These misleaders have conveniently forgot how many times the National Guard was called out to assault the workers who gave us the union movement.
Yet to see the maturity and confidence of the men and women who comprised the International Indigenous Youth Council was most inspiring. They spoke about how their parents and extended family would tell them stories about their history, how they were told that they would need these stories to prepare them for a time like this, to be able to confront the repression they now face.
At the Youth Council meeting, I saw these eloquent young leaders organize a meeting where a lot happened in a short amount of time. They knew how to be concise, move the meeting along and be authoritative when necessary. They have firmly taken hold of the torch passed to them and are steadfast in their resolve to make this world a better place for the next seven generations to come.
Patrick Burns is member of the Freedom Socialist Party and a retired member of Carpenters Local 30. He traveled to Standing Rock with Gina Petry, Seattle Radical Women Organizer.