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    Reflections of Standing Rock

    Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. 

                                                                                                -Edward Abbey, The Journey Home

    Wherever the truth may lie, this much is crystal-clear: our bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy.  The whole world is so greedy for more bathtubs that it has lost the stability necessary to build them, or even to turn off the tap.  Nothing could be more salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings. 

                                                                                                -Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

    Elsewhere where we find prestigious megaprojects like Egypt’s Aswan high dam, built by Russian money and brains to produce a level of power far beyond the needs of the nation’s economy, that meanwhile blights the environment and the local agriculture in a dozen unforeseen and possibly insoluble ways.  Or consider the poor countries that sell themselves to the international tourist industry in pursuit of those symbols of wealth and progress the West has taught them to covet: luxurious airports, high-rise hotels, six-lane motor ways.  Their people wind up as bellhops and souvenir sellers, desk clerks and entertainers, and their proudest traditions soon degenerate into crude caricatures.  But the balance sheet may show a marvelous increase in foreign-exchange earnings.  As for the developed countries from which this corrupting ethos of progress goes out: more and more their “growthmania” robs the world of tis nonrenewable resources for no better end than to increase the output of ballistic missiles, electric hairdryers, and eight-track stereophonic tape recorders.  But in the statistics of the economic index such mad waste measures out as “productivity,” and all looks rosy.

                                                                                               -Ted Roszak, Introduction to the 1989 edition of E.F Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful

    Canada, the most affluent of countries, operates on a depletion economy which leaves destruction in its wake. Your people are driven by a terrible sense of deficiency. When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money. 

                                                                                                   -Alanis Obomsawin

    The problems of the world cannot be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were. 

                                                                                                   -John F. Kennedy 


    Preface:  Not that it matters, but this journal entry was supposed to have been posted almost two months ago.  I had written part of it and then put it down after suffering from a terrible bout of writers block from which I am still recovering (hopefully).  Now that Standing Rock is back in the news in relation to President Trump’s executive order extravaganza, I may as well post what I’ve written.   Also, I was having a text conversation with an intelligent, libertarian-minded friend of mine who was critical of the water protectors at Standing Rock, stating: “All of these protests come off as being meaningless because protestors are against pumping and using oil as they use it.  To make your protest meaningful, you should take a stand and stop using oil.  Stop using electricity unless it is from wind power.  Stop wearing clothes unless no petroleum was used to make it.  Quit using your phone unless they make a completely green phone… I will believe that you mean what you say when I either get a telegram or handwritten letter by pony express.  Until then you are protesting the very thing that you depend on in order to protest.”  When I read this I said to myself: how rude, does he think the protestors hadn’t considered the irony and supposed hypocrisy of their actions?  I’m sure many were and are torn by the inherent paradox of burning energy in effort to prevent more energy from being burned.  My first response to my former friend was: “I’m glad that the founding fathers didn’t think like you.” (Libertarians, as a rule, lionize the founding fathers, in case you want to hit them where it hurts). “What if they said, ‘Let us revolt against the British, but ne’er ought fire a redcoat musket nor ride a British steed, moreover, travel on colonial roads of cobblestone is forbidden for these were in part constructed by the crown; we shan’t use anything they made in our revolt against them.”  Had the founding fathers refused to utilize the fruits yielded by colonial oppression the American Revolution would have turned out much differently, perhaps never occurring at all.  (Furthermore, there is a fallacy in his logic because in the context of environmental arithmetic it may well be acceptable to expend a little oil in order to prevent a lot of oil from being burned). My friend’s intentions were sincere in that he was attempting to point out the ostensible hypocrisy exhibited by the water protectors, but his points about using fossil-fuel based technology while protesting fossil fuels speaks to a greater first-world conundrum which I have only recently began to draw conclusions about: how does a person who contributes little to nothing to society justify his life when all he does is leech from the products and systems that have been devised and produced by men and women much more intelligent than him and whom he owes his very existence to.   In other words: In a world shaped by movers and shakers, of which I am not, how do I justify a life in which I only consumed and pollute?  It took me several years to figure this out, but I think have arrived at the answer to this question, which shall be delineated in a different blog entry someday this year.  


    Over the Thanksgiving holiday last November I joined thousands of other tourist-activists at Standing Rock in attempt to lend a hand to the water protectors attempting to halt the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline under the Missouri River in North Dakota.  I feel that the brevity of my involvement yielded zero benefits for the resistance movement, and that a commitment longer than a holiday weekend is necessary in order to have any significant positive impact on many of the processes that were underway at the Ocheti Sakowen.  Indeed, the gas exhausted to fly from San Francisco to North Dakota and back (plus the last day when I woke up and a “red alert” was issued due to the excessive number of vehicles inundating the camp, so I left to a National Park on the other side of North Dakota) probably worked to the advantage of corporations more than the environment, not to mention that a confusing preliminary mix-up meant that for first two days I mistakenly was volunteering for Energy Transfers Partners build the pipeline – shoveling dirt and laying pipes – rather than helping to stop it.   A superfluous number of temporary water protectors descended on the reservation over that holiday weekend; so much so that the aforementioned traffic-related “red alert” was a first for the elders.   Yet despite this, the part of my character that is not cynical (an infinitesimal and dying iota; I just don’t like trends and am always skeptical of the impetus and financier backing any popular movement) is grateful to have gone to Standing Rock and has learned great deal from the experience.   What follows some are some of my observations and takeaways.  The above slideshow features photographs of Standing Rock and the one below features photos taken in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

                So, the first takeaway is that you don’t have to travel 2,000 miles to be effective.  There are corporate offices, investment banks, and Army Corp of Engineer offices dispersed all across America that can be shut down in order to choke off the flow of funds, paperwork, and the bureaucratic machinery required to build the pipeline.  The other takeaway involves the human experience of protest trends.  I went to Standing Rock alone and for the first night I slept in the rental car at the casino operated by the Oceto Sakowin reservation (while the reservation is dry, the casino serves firewater).  The first negative experience involved overhearing a girl talk to her friends about Facebook posts.  She said that her friends were posting pictures of their Thanksgiving dinners and asking her how her Thanksgiving was going, and she said, “What do these bitches mean?  I’m out here at Standing Rock, that’s what I’m doing for my Thanksgiving.”  This was an example of Martin Luther King called “the drum major instinct,” where you think you’re better than others because you think you’re doing something good and their not, in effect saying that “I’m better than they are because I’m at Standing Rock.”   A different girl who was with her struck up a conversation with me that night, and we happened to run across each other two nights later when I was on my way out.  She with some friends and her demeanor was a little different and she asked about my experience at Standing Rock.  In response to my response she said, “So you’re here alone, and you sleep in your rental car?”  I said, “Yes, some nights.”  She said, “You sound like a cop.”  I was like, “whatttt?”  I was blown away at this accusation.  Here I was having brought all sorts of shit to Standing Rock (N95 respirator masks, firewood, medical supplies, my largest abalone shell for the elders to use in their ceremonies because I read beforehand that they use them), and, largely because I was solo, I being accused by a girl from New York City of being a cop.  I was so offended that after remonstrating for a minute I realized it was pointless and I walked away.  This is not do delegitimize the transient water protectors, the overwhelming majority of whom were not there for the Facebook likes but wanted to assist in what has become an incredible and legitimate nonviolent resistance (there are daily workshops on nonviolent resistance at Oceto Sakowin).

                Despite the preponderance of transient protestors like myself, the lack of self-sufficiency and sense of entitlement some exhibited, the underappreciation of the waste being produced by the expansion of the camps, and that fact that one pipeline is just a drop in the bucket in the global pipeline network, the Dakota Access Pipeline protests are entirely justified and necessary.  The protests are not just against a single pipeline, but against a system of human and environmental exploitation which needs to be re-adjusted in an ecologically sound manner if we want to avoid hell on Earth.  Crossing over the Missouri River at sundown on my way back from Theodore Roosevelt National Park I saw thousands of waterfowl on the river.  It occurred to me that if a pipeline breaks it will not only prevent people from drinking the water, but it will destroy the habitat for all the creatures depending on the river for survival.  (I realize that this is a no brainer, but sometimes you must see something right before your eyes in order for it to impact you).  Humans have the tendency to look at the natural world through an anthropocentric perspective; we think we’re the only game in town.  In doing so we lose sight of reality as perceived other living beings that are just as integral to this planet as we are.  Not only does this failure to relate and empathize with other creatures limit our ability to see the connections between our survival and theirs, but it limits our ability to grow as individuals. Theodore Roosevelt would understand this.  As an outdoorsman extraordinaire and a man who facilitated both the conservation and developed of land, I believe he would stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline.  What follows are some pictures of the National Park founded in his name, pictures taken on a road through the park which started off in a ghost down and ended up in a prairie dog town.  The road looped through surreal badlands and river woodlands, where the buffalo roamed and the prairie dogs scampered, and the edge of the world trembled before an uncertain and ominous future.  

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