Standing Rock shows us that organised resistance and mass movements work argues Shabbir Lakha
The US Army Corps of Engineers yesterday announced in a statement that it will not grant easement for the North Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe. The announcement comes after months of protest led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe based less than a mile south of the proposed crossing and just a day before the expiration of the deadline issued by the Army Corps on 25th November to protesters to clear the banks of the Missouri River or face prosecution.
Apart from the pipeline ripping through sacred burial grounds, any oil spill from the finished pipeline threatened severe contamination of the main water supply of the Sioux Tribe. The statement by Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Assistant Secretary for Civil Works, pledged an undertaking of an environmental impact study and to look for alternative routes. It is telling though that this wasn’t done in the first place.
The news was received with jubilation by the thousands of protesters still at the camp from all around the country, including members of numerous Native American tribes and over 2000 veterans. But although it seems the veterans joining the protesters had a role in this success it is important to recognise that this victory comes down to the unity of Native American tribes, and the collective solidarity and organising of ordinary people from all over the country.
Similarly, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II’s statement thanked the Obama administration respectfully, but to say this victory is because of the graciousness of Obama would be wrong and unfair. Like the decision to block the Keystone Pipeline earlier this year, it is a result of the ardent campaigning by environmental activists led by affected and indigenous people. It is apt to remember that Obama maintained silence for months, even when protesters were viciously attacked with water cannons, rubber bullets, teargas, pepper spray and attack dogs.
Some have also advised caution because of the likelihood of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline, appealing the decision, potentially launching a lawsuit and of the incoming Republican President overturning the decision. This caution in itself should serve as a reminder of both Donald Trump’s corporate interests and the reality of free trade agreements such as NAFTA – and CETA which the EU has just agreed – that give multinational corporations the power to sue governments over democratic decisions.
But Donald Trump can rest assured that any such developments will be met with mass protests and radical organising, supported by global solidarity. And he can also anticipate that the thousands of people involved at Standing Rock are likely to be key to the mass movement that is being built against him and for radical democracy and change.
The Guardian quoted a 13 year old Native Youth organiser, Alice Brown Otter of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, saying: “A lot of people didn’t believe in us that we were going to change the world, us 13-year-olds and 15-year-olds”. And this victory truly is a testament to the entire world and especially young people and marginalised minorities what persistent organising, a united front and mass mobilisation can achieve.
Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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