Back in September, when video of private security guards attacking protesters with dogs and mace at a Dakota Access Pipeline construction site went viral, it seemed the outcry that followed might force the the 3.7 million dollar fracked-oil project to move from Lake Oahe, if not get the venture cancelled altogether.
Keystone XL had been defeated a year earlier, the thinking went, so why not DAPL, at least in part?
Surely, elected officials, if not corporate executives concerned about public perception and stock prices, would respond substantively to the confrontation, which in social media led to searing memes juxtaposing the besieged water protectors — as the activists call themselves — with pictures of civil rights activists also being attacked by canines in 1963 Birmingham.
At the very least, the private security detail seen dispensing pepper spray left and right and yanking around the dogs, some of which had blood dripping down their snouts, would be charged.
But fast forward nearly two months later, and relief seems perhaps as far off as it was before the labor day weekend confrontation put DAPL in the spotlight.
The pipeline’s corporate maker, Energy Transfer Parter, is racing to a January completion date, shrugging off the vast protest movement that’s blossomed and tepid pushback from the Obama administration. The North Dakota portion of the four-state pipeline is already 87 percent complete as of the end of September.
Meanwhile, Hilary Clinton, the person likely to be occupying the oval office come January, remains mum on what’s become the most pressing issue for native people and the environmental movement today.
In fact, with Bernie Sanders now unabashedly campaigning for her and the ogre known as Donald Trump virtually vanquished, it’s unlikely we’ll hear anything before inauguration day from Clinton, especially with the last of only three debates between her and the proto-fascist Republican candidate firmly in the rear-view mirror.
Even if the pipeline is completed before her elevation to the presidency, it will go down as a black mark for Hilary Clinton the candidate as much as for President Obama.
Rather than use an executive order to curtail the pipeline, Obama has only delayed a decision on Dakota Access’ petition for easement on federal land under Lake Oahe.
With her silence, Clinton is signaling that Energy Transfer Partners has nothing to fear from a Clinton presidency if the Obama administration decides to kick the can down the road.
She also seems to be communicating that her penchant for fracking as secretary of state will likely follow her back into the White House . This at a time when the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has surpassed 400 parts per million, as scientists announced earlier this month.
That she continues to ignore DAPL is not for want of recent drama either.
Since that labor day weekend showdown, hundreds of people have been arrested protesting the pipeline — including 80 on Saturday alone — at DAPL sites as well as at solidarity actions across the country.
The dirty work of guarding construction sites is now being done almost exclusively by the state — police and sheriffs deputies from around the country patrol the high prairies with military grade rifles and bulletproof vests, replacing the private security in the video, who are apparently going scot-free.
In fact, the only protagonists from Democracy Now’s video who have been charged are the journalist behind it, Amy Goodman, and some of the protesters. (Goodman was cleared last week when a local judge threw out the case)
Besides indigenous rights and environmental pollution, the fight over DAPL has also brought to the fore a raft of other issues that haven’t seen light in the presidential debates.
One that comes to mind is eminent domain, which the federal government used to expropriate land from Iowa farmers for the project, a move some are still contesting in court. Another is press freedom: Besides Goodman, the documentarian Deia Schlosberg and four journalists from the media collective Unicorn Riot have been arrested and charged.
A third is the militarization of law enforcement, with the fight over DAPL showing this as a phenomenon occurring not only in urban areas but in rural parts as well. This resonates strongly in a year where the killing of black people by cops is a disturbingly recurrent news item.
While its horrifying that the toupeed, fascist Republican standard bearer in this year’s elections once called global warming a hoax by the Chinese, voters shouldn’t give Clinton a pass considering she’s bragged of promoting fracking around the world as secretary of state and avoids discussion on the disconcerting pushback against DAPL protestors and journalists.
It’s not hard to guess why. Many of the financial institutions putting money behind DAPL are some of Clinton’s top donors.
As Bill McKibeen, founder of the environmental group 350.org, put it in a September LA-Times op-ed calling on Clinton to speak out, “The people who’ve built Clinton’s campaign war chest and her personal fortune are the same people who paid for the dogs that bit young native Americans…”
Even if it it’s too late to stop the pipeline as a whole, Lake Oahe and water rights for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe might be saved if our leaders, both elected and waiting at the wings, take a stand.
That Clinton has kept silent should give voters pause as they head to the polls in two weeks.
Oliver “Oscar” Ortega is a freelance journalist based in Madison, Wisconsin. Back in his mainstream media days, his work appeared in the Boston Globe and other regional newspapers. He can be reached at: oortega.news@gmail.