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Buying Silence: Why So Many Democrats are Mute About Standing Rock

After weeks of calling for the United States Government to provide the efforts of water protectors at Standing Rock to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, Bernie Sanders finally has some company in the United States Senate joining him in that call.

In a November 21 letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) called on the Department of Justice to protect the Dakota Access Pipeline water protectors after water cannons were used on them by North Dakota State Police and Morton County Sheriff’s Office as a method of crowd control in sub-freezing temperatures, risking the lives of hundreds of people.

“Video of the incident appears to show that the water cannons were not simply being used for fire control, or even crowd control, but were often directed at small crowds or even individual protesters. Combined with the onset of wintry weather, water cannons are extremely dangerous and potentially lethal weapons, and I urge you to investigate their use on protesters,” he wrote to Lynch. “Native American populations have struggled for decades under the complex burden of historical trauma, and I have witnessed and admired how these communities have turned to their cultural foundations to build strength against that burden. These tactics against protesters exercising their Constitutional rights threaten to add another layer of trauma to these communities. I urge you to do everything in your power to prevent further escalation of violence.”

The response from the Department of Justice and Obama Administration to what has been occurring at Standing Rock has left a stain on the end of President Obama’s second presidential term. Despite visiting the Standing Rock reservation in 2014 and affirming his commitment to Native American rights, his administration has remained neutral amid reports for weeks of abuses towards the water protectors.

Several weeks ago, attack dogs were used against water protectors. Journalists were arrested for reporting on the ground at Standing Rock. Rubber bullets have been a commonly used form of weapon against the unarmed, peaceful water protectors. This past Sunday, not only were water cannons used in freezing temperatures, but a 21-year-old Williams College graduate is now at risk of losing her arm because she was hit by a concussion grenade used on the water protectors.

Most politicians have remained silent or neutral on the Dakota Access Pipeline. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) who has claimed to be Cherokee, said she opposes the pipeline when questioned by a supporter, but has avoided making any public comments on the issue. Hillary Clinton issued a neutral, meaningless statement after protesters sat in her campaign headquarters demanding action. Since her defeat to Donald Trump, she has refrained from devoting any effort to addressing the Dakota Access Pipeline. Democratic Party leaders in the Senate, including Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, have ignored the issue.

This is likely because the Dakota Access Pipeline is being funded by some of the most prolific donors to the Democratic Party. Sunoco Logistics Partners is set to acquire Energy Transfer Partners, the company constructing the pipeline, while Sunoco will oversee its operation. The owners of the company primarily consist of Wall Street firms, including Goldman Sachs.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer has been one of the top recipients of campaign donations from Wall Street, and he has encouraged Wall Street firms to spread their donations to other Democrats. After the 2008 economic recession, Schumer received 15 percent of Wall Street donations to the Senate in 2009, nearly twice as much as any other Senator. “Wall Street welcomes expected Chuck Schumer promotion,” read a CNN headline from 2015 immediately following Reid’s announced retirement.

Phillips 66, who have financed 25% of the Dakota Access Pipeline project, is primarily owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s holding company. Buffett actively campaigned for Hillary Clinton this past presidential election, and has made large donations to Clinton, Obama, and other Democrats over the past several years.

In December 2015, congressional leaders rescinded a 40-year-ban on oil exports, increasing the potential profits the Dakota Access Pipeline could yield its investors if government officials don’t intervene. Based on their slow reaction so far, and the Democratic Party establishment progressively favoring its corporate and wealthy donors, that window of opportunity for the Obama Administration and top Democrats to step in before Trump enters the White House is rapidly closing.

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Michael Sainato’s writing has appeared in the Guardian, Miami Herald, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, Buffalo News, the Hill, Alternet, and several other publications . Follow him on twitter: @MSainat1

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