As Pipeline Construction and Repression Grows, DAPL Protest is Looking More Like a Mass Movement

Photo by John Duffy | CC BY 2.0

Photo by John Duffy | CC BY 2.0


News this past week from the front line of the Dakota Access Pipeline battle has been alarming.

As they seek to block construction on the 1200-mile long pipeline, water protectors — as the activists call themselves — are getting arrested by the hundreds in North Dakota, victims of a police force now virtually indistinguishable from an occupying army.

In the latest round of mass arrests Thursday, more than 300 cops raided a recently-erected teepee camp near highway 1806;  as they  rolled through, officers used the tips of their automatic weapons to push open teepee doors, a scene witnesses likened to US Army raids on native villages in the 1800s.

Some protectors were even marked with id numbers on their arms and housed in dog kennels.

“It goes back to concentration camp days,”  Oceti-Sakowin coordinator Mekasi Camp-Horinek, who was arrested and numbered on his arm by police Thursday,  told the Los Angeles Times.

Meanwhile, only a few miles behind the advancing police line, crews continued to dig up sacred burial ground and lay pipe for DAPL. The pipeline is expected to pump over 500,000 gallons of fracked oil from the Bakken Shale formation in the northern part of the state down to southern Illinois.

But for every action there is a reaction. Whenever the pipeline’s makers and law enforcement have raise the ante, the DAPL protest movement — spearheaded by hundreds of tribes and supported by environmentalists — has responded in kind.

Despite the mainstream media blackout, in fact, the stop DAPL protests have arguably snowballed into a mass movement, spanning both physical and digital space, and strategically targeting different elements of the pipeline.

Not a week has gone by without solidarity actions across the country since the labor day weekend video of protestors being attacked by private security went viral.

On Monday, for example, twelve people were arrested for blockading elevators at the San Francisco headquarters for Citibank, the pipeline’s lead lender and arranger. Similar actions have taken place at headquarters and local branches for Wells Fargo, TD, and other financial institutions backing the $3.7 million dollar venture.

On the law enforcement front, local governments outside North Dakota are being pressured to pull back help to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.

Following news of the Thursday’s camp raid, hundreds of people packed Minneapolis City Hall on Friday, the second day of demonstrations that week, to demand the Hennepin County sheriff recall the thirty officers they had sent over to police pipeline sites.

Earlier this month, the sheriff for Dane County, which covers my home of Madison, Wisconsin, ordered deputies to come home from North Dakota after facing intense public pressure following the arrest of Madison alderwoman Rebecca Kemble at the camp. Officials in dozens of cities, including Cleveland, Seattle, Oakland, and other places, have pushed to pass local resolutions in support of the water protectors.

There have also been more actions recently tied to this year’s election. On Thursday, while cops were raiding the camp in North Dakota, a group  of 11 young activists from Standing Rock were knocking on the doors of Hilary Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Brooklyn, hoping to pressure the woman likely to be our next president to speak out on DAPL for the first time.

Similar demonstrations took place in Virginia Friday, where groups from four universities stormed local Clinton campaign offices to demand the secretary of state come out against the pipeline.

Not surprisingly, the best they could get from the Clinton machine was a well-manicured PR concoction reeking of false equivalencies that “literally said nothing,” in the words of Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org.

The DAPL protests are also attracting celebrity input. The reverend Jesse Jackson and actor Marc Ruffalo joined protectors at the camp just over a week ago; Ruffalo has given solar panels and other help to the camp and spoke glowingly of the movement in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. Shailene Woodley has made several trips to the camp, getting arrested on her last one in early October. Hollywood A-listers including Ben Affleck, Leo Di Caprio and others have also voiced support for the tribes.

In the online realm,  I woke to up Monday find friends across the country checking in to Standing Rock  Sioux Tribe reservation on Facebook. After some bemused  scrolling, I learned this was part of a campaign to confuse law enforcement, who were apparently using Facebook check-ins to monitor protectors, according to some in the resistance camp.

Everything counts in a battle increasingly marked by daily tension and the growing fear that, with a heavy militarized police force, a tragedy could strike at any moment.

The protectors want the pipeline rerouted — if not cancelled outright, which is looking more unlikely by the day— in order to protect the main water source for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and the more than 17 million people downriver.

On the other side of the equation, the powers behind the pipeline are seeking to put all the stops on a movement some industry analysts, especially after Thursday’s ugly confrontation, worry is becoming a  “symptom of significant challenges facing the U.S. energy industry going forward,” in the words of trade publication Oil and Gas Investor.

Perhaps the next step for activists is to lobby  foreign press outfits to send correspondents down to Standing Rock, since, for the most part, our media refuses to get anywhere near the latest page in the genocidal treatment of American Indians and the destruction of the planet by fossil fuel interests.

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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.com

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