Obama’s Dakota Pipeline Twist Is Not a Victory—And Could Erase the Struggle
There's no better intro to what been going on in North Dakota than this fun, informative clip from Lee Camp's Redacted Tonight.
by Gaius Publius
Another piece with not many parts to keep in mind, this time about the native American protests of the DAPL pipeline in North Dakota. Here are the pieces:
- The pipeline is a big deal. It will cost at least $3.7 billion dollars and carry close to half a million barrels of fracked Bakken oil per day.
- The investors in the project are a group of major banks, both national and international, led by Citibank.
- DAPL will cross through or near tribal lands at Standing Rock, North Dakota. This is where the protest are occurring. This is also where the pipeline crosses the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, a "lake" formed by the Oahe Dam.
- There is no way to stop climate change without stopping dead cold the use of carbon as a fuel. That means disrupting — totally shutting down — its extraction and delivery.
- Stopping the fracking and delivery of Bakken crude oil is a major goal of environmentalists and climate activists alike, for all the obvious reasons.
- Right now, the protests at Standing Rock are all that's keeping the DAPL project from continuing.
- President Obama is well into the legacy phase of his presidency. He can't afford to look bad, either to people who read news stories about him or to people who will contribute to his library and his foundation. (For more, see "Climate Change and Barack Obama's Legacy".)
Dakota Access Pipeline route and protest location. Lake Oahe is in fact a massive widening in the Missouri river behind the Oahe Dam. It's also a choke point for the pipeline construction project (source; click to enlarge).
Now the news — just two items for now.
The Obama Administration Is Appearing to Relent
President Obama and his administration are appearing to acquiesce to the native American protesters, especially in light of the relentless — and ugly — response by the corporation behind the pipeline and its private security force (for more on that, see the video above or google "DAPL attack dogs").
A bit of that story from Larry Buhl at DeSmogBlog:
Mixed Reactions as Feds Give Standing Rock Sioux Partial VictoryThis news has stirred a number of emotions in the climate community (cautious optimism and some cheering) and also in the progressive Democratic community ("Obama's doing the right thing").
Friday afternoon brought a roller coaster of emotions for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and supporters in the battle to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) near the tribe’s North Dakota reservation. Shortly after a court rejected the tribe’s emergency legal challenge, a joint statement by three federal agencies effectively stopped work on the pipeline until significant questions are answered about potential environmental and cultural impacts. ...
Minutes after U.S. District Judge James Boasberg issued a 58-page ruling [pdf] today denying the tribe's request for a temporary injunction to halt construction, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army, and the Department of the Interior issued a joint statement to “cease to authorize construction” on federally controlled lands — essentially nullifying the court’s action.
I'm not that sanguine. In fact, I'm downright pessimistic.
"Appearing to Relent" Means Lucy with the Football
This tactic, dampening protests with the lure of optimism, is an old old trick, and those who suspect it's being deployed here are right to be very very suspicious. I'd be much more optimistic if (a) there weren't so much money already on the table, and (b) Obama weren't deep into playing the middle between building a people-friendly "legacy" and collecting major corporate cash to finance his post-presidential projects.
As I said, I'm downright pessimistic, to the extent that I'd bet money Obama and his administration are playing against the protesters and for the pipeline builders. No one has explained that better than Kelly Hayes at Yes! Magazine:
Obama Pipeline Plot Twist Is Not a Victory—And Could Erase the Struggle"Thank God for Obama!" must be sweet music indeed to post-White House legacy ears.
The illusion of victory is a dangerous thing. We could undo what we have built at Standing Rock, this unprecedented act of Native American collective resistance.
All Native struggles in the United States are a struggle against erasure. The poisoning of our land, the theft of our children, the state violence committed against us — we are forced to not only live in opposition to these ills, but also to live in opposition to the fact that they are often erased from public view and public discourse, outside of Indian Country. The truth of our history and our struggle does not match the myth of American exceptionalism, and thus, we are frequently boxed out of the narrative.
The struggle at Standing Rock, North Dakota, has been no exception, with Water Protectors fighting tooth and nail for visibility, ever since the Sacred Stone prayer encampment began on April 1.
For months, major news outlets have ignored what’s become the largest convergence of Native peoples in more than a century. But with growing social media amplification and independent news coverage, the corporate media had finally begun to take notice. National attention was paid. Solidarity protests were announced in cities around the country. The National Guard was activated in North Dakota.
The old chant, “The whole world is watching!” seemed on the verge of accuracy in Standing Rock.
And then came today’s ruling, with a federal judge finding against the Standing Rock Sioux, and declaring that construction of the pipeline could legally continue. ... But then something happened. Headlines like, “Obama administration orders ND pipeline construction to stop” and “The Obama Administration Steps In to Block the Dakota Access Pipeline” began to fill my newsfeed, with comments like, “Thank God for Obama!” attached to them.
Clearly, a major plot twist has occurred. But it’s not the one that’s being sold.
Now the plot twist:
To understand that this isn’t the victory it’s being billed as, you have to read the fine print in the presently lauded joint statement from the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior:In addition, the joint statement includes this: "In the interim, we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahu."
“The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws.”
Note what’s actually being said here, what’s being promised and what isn’t.
What is actually being guaranteed?
"Letting the air out of a movement's tires"
Here's why that's so bad:
Let’s reflect on that for a moment: A company that recently sicced dogs on Water Protectors, including families, who stepped onto a sacred site to prevent its destruction, is being asked to voluntarily do the right thing.Anyone who's watched every Black Lives Matter protest of what appears to be police murder has seen this game. The offer of hope, the promise of due process, then months after the protest has stood down, the whitewash. It's almost Lucy and the football at this point — entirely predictable — which is why I'm much more pessimistic than my climate brethren (and sistren).
But the thing is, they probably will. For a moment. Because what’s being asked of them isn’t an actual reroute. Right now, all that’s being asked is that they play their part in a short term political performance aimed at letting the air out of a movement’s tires. ...
As someone who organizes against state violence, I know the patterns of pacification in times of unrest all too well. When a Black or Brown person is murdered by the police, typically without consequence, and public outrage ensues, one of the pacifications we are offered is that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will investigate the shooting. It’s a deescalation tactic on the part of the state. It helps transition away from moments when rage and despair collide, creating a cooling off period for the public. “Justice” is still possible, we are told. We are asked to be patient as this very serious matter is investigated at the highest level of government, and given all due consideration.
The reality, of course, is that the vast majority of investigations taken up by the DOJ Civil Rights Division end in dismissal – a batting average that’s pretty much inverse to that of other federal investigations. But by the time a case gets tossed at the federal level, it’s probably not front page news anymore, and any accumulated organizing momentum behind the issue may have been lost — because to many people, the mere announcement of a federal investigation means that the system is working. Someone is looking into this, they’re assured. Something is being done. Important people have expressed that they care, and thus there is hope.
So how is this similar to what’s happening with Standing Rock?
It’s the same old con game.
How to Apply the Lesson that BLM Protesters Learned
In my view the only way to apply that knowledge and that lesson is this — do not stand down short of real victory. In other words, ask for the right thing and hold to it. If the ask is, "Please, Obama, take us under your wing if you can," then the answer will certainly be, "Sorry, I tried, but I can't ... but I did try, right?"
The ask must be, "Obama, stop this pipeline. Period. We're here until you do." It's the only way.
And frankly, if that's what happens — if the protesters ramp up instead of ramping down, continue to disrupt in the way that got them this far in the first place — I'm extremely optimistic. This is indeed, as Kelly Hayes writes, "the largest convergence of Native peoples in more than a century." If battles can't be won in the election booth or the courts, they'll have to be won in the streets — or unhappy citizens will just have to continue to take their lumps and go home.
This advice applies as much to progressives in their contest against the Democratic Party — can progressives really win at the voting booth and fundamentally change the Party? — as much as it applies to forgiveness of student debt (will asking for relief solve the problem?), as well as to stopping the almost certain climate crisis to come.
At Standing Rock, victory will be won by the protesters, so long as they don't take the administration bait and stand down. Remember, no matter where DAPL is routed, it still has to cross that river. If they can't cross the Missouri River, they can't ship the crude to refineries in Illinois.
More as it develops. If this goes as I hope it will go, it could be big.