Publisher’s Note: This is the 5th and final installment in our series exploring how the mainstream corporate commercial US media misrepresented 10,000 #NoDAPL peaceful water protectors over the course of this past fall and winter 2016.
It is important to call out the growing intolerance towards those who participate in protests or demonstrations. As the process of Trump’s election has outed a deep, bitter, divisive anger regarding a number of charged issues and the phrase “elite liberals” is now equated with a pile of steaming dog doo, it is notable that it tends to be “elite liberals” who are often linked with the word “protesters.” However, the core participants in the Standing Rock demonstration, Native American tribal members with a long heritage of mistreatment and lies from the White Europeans who invaded their land, are not “elite” by any stretch of the imagination.
Voices of dissent, no matter what the issue, are being rapidly discredited with negative PR. It doesn’t matter what side of the fence a demonstrator is on; it’s become an extremely unfriendly, even dangerous, climate for speaking out. Protesters in any location for any issue garner responses of scorn, derision, and outright hate. Many are arrested for dubious reasons. There are rumors about vandalism and violence, and gripes about inconvenient traffic snarls. Anarchy groups come uninvited and wreak havoc, lending credence to assertions of wrongdoing. As each protest is rapidly discredited, the important messages of demonstrators are invalidated, particularly for those who need to hear the messages most. Sadly, this treatment of dissenting voices is not too different from how an abuser treats a victim: snap judgment, caustic put down, then invalidation.
Invalidation of protest is of grave concern in a time when corporate muscle—in direct funding dollars, campaign support, and lobbying pressure—is consistently brought to bear upon institutional and political policymakers. What are average citizens of any political affiliation to rely on to be heard when they would rather certain policies were not enacted or were enacted differently? Physical protest and written/verbal communication seem to be the tools, barring one’s ability to run for and secure public office, or step into the fray of political campaign influence.
The noticeable negative attitude towards protest in America is ironically expressed with a newly embraced, gleeful disregard for productive dialogue. At the same time productive dialogue erodes, the president is extremely touchy about anyone who disagrees with him. With his anti-flag burning tweet (Let’s revoke citizenship!), his off-hand or vehement discounting of the numerous protests that have erupted since he stepped into the Oval Office, and his attacks upon and exclusion of the press, Trump is active in eroding the first amendment. As protesters during such a time, we need to be doubly aware of our conduct when in a demonstration. We should pick up our garbage for starters. Those who desire to discredit demonstrators have deep pockets and weapons of words at their fingertips in a single tweet, a short article link on Facebook, a 30-second soundbite. And most people are too busy paying the bills to spend the hours and hours of research time it took to look into the four claims above, yet we owe it to ourselves to investigate and discount false narratives which demonize protesters, to protect the first amendment and our right to peaceably assemble.
At the heart of Standing Rock and DAPL lies the issue of what we plan to do as stewards of the Earth. Some people believe that, as a dominant species, the Earth and all of its creatures, minerals, and plants are here to serve us, the humans. As justification for this ideology, some might reference Genesis 1:26: “Then God said, Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” But, what good and admirable ruler allows the beings in his or her charge to struggle and die off, to go unheard, to suffer invalidation? Further instructions in Ecclesiastes 3:19 are important: “For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity.” The message of Standing Rock is crystal clear, not muddy: all creatures, Earth’s minerals, waters, air, and even the vastness of space are interconnected, and maybe, if quantum physics theories are correct, in a way beyond our ability to as yet scientifically understand. Yet there currently seems to be a deficiency in our awareness as Americans, as humans, of interconnectivity. A solid sense of interconnectivity is required to hear messages brought into the public sphere by large groups of fellow human beings in demonstrations, especially the messages that run counter to personal constructs or desires.
Instead of “interconnectivity,” the current buzzword in the wake of Trump’s election seems to be “infrastructure.” DAPL’s inception, and other gas and oil development, was under the watch of the Obama administration; however, the Trump administration is already busy deregulating environmental roadblocks to fast-track infrastructure. But fossil fuel infrastructure is going in the wrong direction. If the fervor of the proponents of DAPL were harnessed for renewable energy, city parks and schools, refurbishing walkable downtowns and city centers, creating viable telecommuter options in the workplace, and manufacturing better automobiles that run on something other than gas, we might not need all that fuel that will be rushing through the Dakota Access Pipeline. Alternate infrastructure projects, rather than oil and gas development, would also create much-needed jobs and economic security, security that is much more sustainable.
A common goal that most of us share is to have a safe, beautiful, comfortable, sustainable place in which to live out our short lives, a place that will remain for our children’s children’s children. To achieve this goal we must first firmly take the reins from multi-billion dollar petroleum companies and politicians profiting from those companies, and drive our team of horses ourselves. To wrest the reins from the hands of corporate interests and reclaim our democracy, we will definitely need the right to demonstrate and a clear-minded citizenry willing to wade through the muck to hear our message.
Kylee Mabel Cushman is a writer, editor, adjunct professor and citizen activist based in central Vermont.