As a tired 60-year-old “liberal” — a label I wear proudly — I’ve seen my share of protests, demonstrations, and clashes with the police. From the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s to the anti-war movement in the 1970s, all the way through to Occupy Wall Street in 2011, I’ve been there. Carrying my sign, shouting, sleeping in the rain and snow and getting arrested.
Through it all, I’ve never thought about “phoning in” my protest. Maybe it’s a byproduct of the social media era where people can sit on their couch in their pajamas, “check in” with the protesters at Standing Rock, and think they’ve accomplished something.
Maybe they have, but if so they’ve done what’s good and missed what’s best.
Protesters at Standing Rock Rock Sioux Reservation have been calling for reinforcements since last summer. Marissa Lang, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, reports that as of this morning, about 800 people have answered the call: 1.5 million people have marked themselves as present at the pipeline protest — even though they aren’t there.
Many believed it was a way to deflect law enforcement away from those who have physically gathered in opposition to the almost 1,200-mile pipeline.
The online gestures have no impact on police — or the method they use to track protesters at the site. One inadvertent side effect has been to spread awareness of the protest. Not everyone is aware of the life-or-death struggle going on in North Dakota.
“It begins a conversation about what this is about and why you posted it,” said Sue Evans, spokesman for the Standing Rock Tribe. “We need people to do more.”
Agencies may be using surveillance technologies to track the protester’s movements as well as determining identities; demonstrators and civil rights group believe they are. While law enforcement has continued to refuse to provide information in response to North Dakota ACLU’s public records requests, cops have been using Facebook to wade through images to determine if demonstrators are armed.
Protesters report phones turning on — by themselves, and calls cut in and out. Jennifer Cook, ACLU ND’s policy director, says live video streams have been interrupted as “evidence they’re being spied on.”
The viral protest, which began moving across Facebook this past weekend, follows supporters’ claim of law enforcement using Facebook to monitor and track individuals at the demonstrators’ base camp. The Morton County Sheriff’s Department said they are not relying on Facebook’s check-in system to track protesters. With the millions of dollars at the disposal of militarized law enforcement, it’s difficult to believe they rely on Facebook to track peaceful protesters.
The last week in October saw the largest mass detention of pipeline demonstrators in months. About 300 individuals have been arrested, and tensions recently intensified as the pipeline’s construction moves to a river crossing.
While videos and stories have gone from one account to another on Facebook, people wonder what else they can do to help. The merits of “viral activism” have been debated.
Critics say it hurts more concrete actions such as volunteerism. Relying on Facebook “check-ins” discourages people from donating money or time by permitting individuals to feel as if they had done their part by posting a silly status on Facebook.
Standing Rock officials have said they’re grateful for the display of solidarity, but there are more efficient ways for people to help and get involved.
“Call North Dakota’s governor and congressmen. Tell them to stop construction at least until the review is complete,” Evans said.
Four Things You Can Do That Actually Help
Protesters at the encampment are prepared to remain there over winter.
It can be difficult to understand how to help activists and show support. There’s been a virtual media blackout by major news networks, and many are left wondering what to do.
Here are some of the critical ways to help the #NoDAPL protesters today.
Donate money and supplies to the Sacred Stone Camp. Money can be contributed and purchases water, food, propane and blankets as well as other supplies.
Learn about the pipeline, the protests and the Sioux history. Get a reasonable understanding of what is going on beyond what you read on Facebook. Then you can talk intelligently to the issue with family and friends.
Call the powerful.
A. Jack Dalrymple, Governor of North Dakota: 701-328-2200
B. Army Corps of Engineers (demand to reverse the permit): 202-761-5903
C. The executives at Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline.
i. Lee Hanse
Executive Vice President
ii. Glenn Emery
iii. Michael (Cliff) Waters
The most effective means of showing support is to actively participate.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in this world.”
Being the change means more than just sitting on the sofa with your laptop mindlessly “checking-in” at Standing Rock.