New Orleans The headlines on the progressive websites have been big and bold and heralded that “Resistance Works” in the wake of the delay won this week in construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Oahe Reservoir, the subject of massive protests by the Standing Rock Sioux and thousands of supporters. The websites are right – protests did work.
But, it was more than simple protests. What worked was a massive and entrenched show of force in the face of a confrontation that clearly no one on either side really wanted, no matter how much some of the fire breathers from the sheriff’s office and elsewhere might have wanted to provoke conflict and violence. The prospect of violence was likely a bigger threat than any slogans on protest signs.
The scale shifted decidedly in favor of the protestors when groups mobilizing veterans to support the Standing Rock Sioux announced that they would arrive coinciding with the state’s attempt to close the park where much of the encampment was located. The million dollars raised by the veterans on GoFundMe’s website was a serious statement. They claimed that 2000 veterans had signed up, and they were disciplined and talking tough. News accounts indicated that certainly 250 actually did come for sure and likely more where there, but by that time the Army Corp of Engineers had finally blinked, likely with a huge shove from the White House and denied the permit at least for now.
The pictures of the protests and reports from the field were heroic. This all looks like a modern day Valley Forge with protestors hunkered down and flag waving the snow. The mounted horsemen are dramatic. The symbols are stark. The Indians are resolute. And, truth to tell, they all look freezing cold and miserable! Winter in North Dakota is no one’s idea of a vacation spot in December. This is serious business.
Equally sobering is the flimsy feeling of the victory, since temporary is stamped all over it. The North Dakota congressman says build, baby, build. President-elect Trump has said he’s for finishing the job. He’s even interviewing oil company executives these days for jobs like Secretary of State for goodness sakes. Environmental lawyers said they would sue over any re-issuance of the permit, and the demands for a complete environmental study looking at alternatives is still reasonable and right. The head of the tribe played the situation perfectly by saying he looked forward to having an opportunity to make the case for rerouting the pipeline to Trump when possible.
A standing party will likely maintain the encampment through the winter until spring. Better weather will offer the opportunity to revive the support, because this fight could become iconic as the delays stretch from months into potential years. Even the pipeline builders with enough time may want to reroute just to be done with the job so that they can see the oil coursing through the pipes and collect their final paychecks.
A battle may have been won, but not the war. There’s a whole lot more fighting that will have to be done before all of us can count coup on another pipeline project.