Standing Rock and Veterans Stand

New Orleans      Standing Rock seems like yesterday though it was the fall and winter of 2016, when the Standing Rock Sioux were joined by representatives of tribes from throughout the nation and thousands of supporters in an encampment that tried to stop the completion of the Dakota Pipeline.  The fight inspired deep support.  A truck with clothing and supplies was loaded around our coffeehouse in New Orleans.  Appeals were wide spread and many counted their participation as a milestone in their lives.  I interviewed an organizer-participant on the top of a hillside overlooking the camp where he was able to get cell service and spoke with me on KABF’s Wade’s World for 30 minutes finally admitting that he was standing the whole time in freezing rain.  This was a serious fight.

One of the tactical surprises in the later stages of the resistance when the encampment was being threatened by the sheriff and others was the sudden announcement that a group of veterans being spearheaded by Wesley Clark, Jr., a former solider and son of General Wesley Clark a one-time presidential contender originally from Arkansas, was issuing a call for thousands of veterans to come stand in solidarity with the water keepers.  The fact that they had a GoFundMe site was widely publicized and the publicity helped the site blow up with donations that eventually, with various GoFundMe efforts, totaled more than $1.4 million dollars reportedly.  The notion that so many veterans might rally in this cause was very, very interesting and could have been strategically critical it seemed from an organizing perspective.  When the day came though the numbers were less than expected and the number of veterans reported was in the two-hundred range even as their organizers continue to claim that thousands were on the way but stranded by weather and logistics.  The story drifted as the courts moved increasingly against the tribe and the North Dakota winter became characteristically harsh and bitter for participants.

An amazingly well-reported story in the High Country News by Paige Blankenbuehler entitled “Cashing in on Standing Rock:  How Veterans Stand squandered $1.4 million raised around the #NoDAPL protests” fills in the blanks, and it makes a Dakota winter seem mild.  This is a story that freezes the soul.

The reporter is confused about charities and nonprofits, but she gets right the fact that for inexplicable and suspect reasons the GoFundMe donations were deposited in the personal account of one of the organizers, Michael Wood.  His handling, or rather mishandling, of the money is the lingering issue, but the total disorganization of everything else was the hot mess that meant the numbers at the action were weak, promised reimbursements were late to nonexistent, and logistics on the ground were virtually nonexistent for many veterans trying to support the indigenous efforts.

That’s a tragedy for all of us that no accounting or auditing can cure.  Wood is in a California condo paid for by these contributions. His take-the-money-and-run attitude about Veterans Stand is appalling, and his claim that these were personal donations is scandalous, but the real heartbreak underlying this story is the richness of an alliance between protestors and veterans that has been crippled by this Standing Rock scam and could shut the door on any a future alliance that mobilizes veterans for social justice for years, if not forever.

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Please enjoy this unreleased version of Nothing Compares 2 U by Prince.

Thanks to KABF.

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Boulders Still on the Road Forward for Standing Rock

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.

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