#NoDAPL, #YesGreatSpirit: Why Standing Rock Won an Amazing Reprieve

#NoDAPL, #YesGreatSpirit: Why Standing Rock Won an Amazing Reprieve
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A banner on "Flag Road" at Oceti Sakowin Camp. Photo by the author.

Sunday's Army Corps of Engineers' announcement stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline ("DAPL") in its tracks was a victory for an explicitly spiritual activism not seen on a signifant scale in the U.S. since the Civil Rights Movement.

The oil industry has usually gotten its way politically since its inception (see, e.g., Robert Engler's classic The Politics of Oil). Sunday's government action blocking DAPL for now is a stunning victory for its opponents, even though more battles are probably ahead. Energy Transfer Partners was so confident that it would receive permission to build the pipeline under the Missouri River that it completed most of the $3.8 billion project without that permission. The Army's announcemnt spoke of the need to explore alternative routes, but it will now finally require "an Environmental Impact Statement with full public input and analysis." This may or may not be the death knell for the project, especially with a new administration coming in, but the delays which it will cause may well make it economically infeasible.

The Side Weakest in Physical, Economic, and Political Power is Winning

Because I recently spent nearly three weeks at the largest Water Protector camp, Oceti Sakowin, I am often asked what the strategy for stopping the pipeline is. "Is it to physically prevent construction?" No. While there are diverse points of view, I understood the dominant one to consider that strategy neither possible nor in accordance with the values that moved the Standing Rock Tribe into action.

Supportive actions on the economic front have to be helpful, but here, too, the power wielded thus far has been nothing compared to that held by Big Oil and its finance-capital backers. Even if, say, a large bank like Wells Fargo somehow incurred enough protests and withdrawals to follow the Norwegian State Bank in selling its DAPL-loan assets, Energy Transfer Partners would be unaffected. Someone else would just hold the debt.

Politically, Standing Rock has received a great deal of sympathy and support, but it is largely underground, as mainstream media have barely covered the controversy, and often unfairly. In an Administration that on so many fronts has done the right thing only when forced to (under a president who not so long ago bragged about the growth of pipelines under his Administration), the #NoDAPL movement has nowhere near the political strength needed to force the Administration to act in the face of a fossil-fuel industry that must be terrified of defeats that could set precedents.

Yes, the specter of the publicity if local authorities injured or killed the veterans showing up en masse this weekend probably played a role. Yes, the political actions — petitions, celebrity support, and statements from Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, and others — had to have helped. Yes, as my smart young friend Kelsey reminded me, civil disobedience was critical to keeping the issue alive and gathering sympathy.

And Then There Is Spiritual Power

But my answer to "What's the strategy?" has been that, from what this White guy could discern, it has been reliance on Spirit. Though an advocate of massive political activism, who usually posts under Politics, not Religion, I believe that's the deepest reason for Sunday's victory.

Posted at Camp and taught at nonviolent direct action trainings were a series of agreements, including "We are peaceful and prayerful" and "This is a ceremony — act accordingly." I never heard talk of a political, economic, or direct-action strategy for stopping the pipeline. While points of view differed, the overriding ethos was that any success would come through the power of prayer and ceremony, amplified by many acting in unity, and grounded in the sincerest intentions to protect the sacred Mother Earth and future generations. Prayer and ceremony were a part of the direct actions.

Moreover, usually when I heard prayers for the protection of the water and of the Water Protectors themselves, also included were prayers for the healing and well-being of the law enforcement personnel, the DAPL workers, and even those who employed them and gave them their orders.

I don't believe in simplifying things into single causes and effects. And when I first heard at Camp that people were expecting to stop the pipeline, if at all, through prayer, I was somewhat skeptical. But I am convinced that this surprising win can most fundamentally be attributed to the spiritual power of the effort. What else can explain its capacity to touch the hearts of so many of us, mobilize thousands of veterans for an action unlike any they have participated in before, and deal a powerful blow to the fossil fuel industry's plans for Business as Usual? It's a miracle, if not in the sense of a Biblical God consciously directing things, at least in the everyday sense of an extremely improbable and gratifying outcome.

I am left believing that energies were mobilized in the unseen realms of reality that allowed this to happen. And I understand more deeply how much we can learn from indigenous people.

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