Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Standing Fast at Standing Rock

On January of this year Ammon Bundy and a small gang of like minded people occupied The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon. They demanded, among other  things, that the Federal Government cede control of public lands to local authorities. About 40 days later they were arrested. The Feds charged them with criminal conspiracy.  A week or two ago a jury found them innocent.

By coincidence, Law Enforcement officials in riot gear chose the same day that the men in Oregon were acquitted, to fire bean bag rounds and mace at protesters in Morton County, ND. The protesters, mostly Native Americans, are protesting the construction of a pipeline which, they say, threatens their water supply on the nearby Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and interferes with sacred burial grounds.  150 protesters were arrested.

Observers in North Dakota noted that the  seriously armed occupiers in Oregon were left unmolested by authorities and were arrested only upon leaving Malheur to attend a meeting. The mostly Native American protesters, unarmed and non-violent, in North Dakota bore the brunt of violent attacks by police and massive arrests. The difference in treatment of armed white Oregonians and unarmed, non-violent Native Americans in North Dakota has attracted a good deal of comment.

But the Oregon and North Dakota protests differ in other ways that are important to notice. The occupiers of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge were, to be frank, a small group of crackpots trying to protest Federal control of public lands. Except for one person in this group, no one was a rancher, or lived off the land. They were city folk in cowboy boots and Stetsons demanding local control of Federal lands.

The issue in North Dakota is very different. It concerns the construction of an oil pipeline to move oil produced by fracking to a terminal in Illinois. As planned the pipeline will will cross 209 rivers, creeks and tributaries. It will destroy more than one Native American burial ground.

In the background looms the entire issue of our national energy policy. Oil companies continue to drill wells and build pipelines as if they had not heard of the environmental crisis. Government co-operates instead of redoubling its efforts to reduce the use of petroleum. The protesters at Standing Rock are not merely standing up for Native American rights to their land and their water supply. They are standing up for all of us and for future generations, my children and yours, and the children they will bring into the world. Will future generations be heirs to a livable environment or will they be tormented by wild storms, excessive heat and drought, by farmland turned into deserts? 

The answer to that question depends directly on what this generation does about global warming. If the energy companies have their way, the outlook for the future is gloomy. If the Standing Rock protesters get their way, we may have a chance to survive.
But as the attack by Law Enforcement and the arrest of protesters suggests, the government is solidly on the side of the energy companies. With Republicans controlling the White House and Congress the outlook is gloomy indeed.

There is, then, another pressing issue at play: saving our democracy from utter corruption by the monied interests, large corporations, financial firms and the politicians who call their corruption “realism.” In the face of urgent need to have the government adopt stringent policies to reduce fossil fuel use, the energy companies can bribe the government to foster expanded oil exploration. Our government is no longer for sale; it has already been sold.
As we have seen in the electoral campaign: politicians have little to say, but money talks very loudly. It talks so loudly that we cannot hear the message from Standing Rock: energy use must be dialed down TODAY. Extraction of petroleum must be reduced. No more pipelines, no more fracking, if we want future generations to have an inhabitable environment.