Listen More & Talk Less: A Veteran’s Reflection on Standing Rock

Editor’s Note: OLB invited writer, veteran and medic Jacob Thomas to reflect on his experience at Standing Rock in early December, 2016. He sent this manuscript en route from Tijuana, MX, where he is working to document deported veterans’ oral histories for the Library of Congress. For more information on this oral history project see the GoFundMe support page.

The entrance to Standing Rock’s Oceti Sakowin Camp (All photos taken by Joe Brusky / Overpass Light Brigade).

I was standing by the port-a-john, waiting, when a very young, hip-looking threesome approached me. They asked me where they should sleep. I looked around, not knowing what, if anything, I should say. I said something like, “Sleep where you can.”

“Yeah, but we don’t have sleeping bags.”

“Tent?”

“No tent.”

“Ground cover? Anything?”

“Nope.”

“Where are you coming from?”

“Los Angeles.”

“Did you have any idea what North Dakota was like?” I asked, with that disappointed tone that I learned from my mother.

To be fair, I had been to North Dakota once, in the summertime, and I had no idea just how bad it was going to be in winter. In winter, during a blizzard. My research— a quick googling of temperatures— resulted in my learning that North Dakota is the coldest of the contiguous states. My climatological education would be furthered to learn that it is the wind that makes North Dakota so treacherous. It apparently starts in South Dakota, moves south, speeds up, and stops at nothing, picking up all the cold from both poles before it hits North Dakota. It will knock you over, that is no hyperbole.

These three kids had no idea.

It wasn’t five minutes after I told them to leave, that they would be a burden on the camp, and they shouldn’t have come if they weren’t self-sufficient, when Oceti Sakowin security came by and told them to shake tents until someone had room for one or all of them. He said, “We’re Sioux, we’ll put you up.”

That was my first night, December 2nd, at Oceti Sakowin, and only my first of many encounters with a relentlessly understanding and accepting culture. I’m not speaking of Native Americans, or even the Sioux Nation. I’m not speaking of environmentalists. I’m not even thinking about activists, or liberals, or any other subculture. I’m talking specifically about the people who were drawn to Standing Rock. They were all different types of people, yet similar in their motivation for change.

A military veteran joins the Standing Rock during the Veteran Stand weekend.

Over the last month, Oceti Sakowin and its people have been on my mind constantly. Standing Rock was a mind-blowing amalgam of all different types of people, from all cultures, economic statuses, religions, political ideologies, gender identities, and tribes. No two people there would have the same answer as to why they were there. Some folks I met lived there, born and raised on the Standing Rock Reservation. Some were there for Native American rights. I got to know AIM revivalists, Wounded Knee (’73) survivors, and their families. The environmental cohort was strong. But even then, there were factions of  revolutionary environmentalists promoting property destruction and violent encounters with DAPL and police. There were also factions of peaceful green protestors, promoting things like divestment and commercial abstinence from non-green companies. I ran into folks who were against the government interfering with capitalism. There were anarchists. There were capitalists. There were people there who had no political or social ideologies at all, but were there to protect civilians peacefully protesting. That is only a start, because there is no possible way to describe it, but it speaks to the overwhelming nuance of the group at Oceti Sakowin. But it is important to acknowledge the nuance in order to weave a single narrative out of so many different voices.

My little thread of voice in this narrative rug began several months ago. I was considering driving out to Standing Rock as soon as I heard about it, in maybe September. I talked about going out there with my dreadlock-sporting musician friend. I was hesitant, for many reasons, but mostly because of an article I read which reported white people had moved into camp in throngs and turned it into another Burning Man-esque music festival. The last thing I wanted was to be another white guy who made something that wasn’t his, his. It wasn’t my fight. My own Native American blood is thin, my inner environmentalist is morally defeated, and my inner anarchist is too afraid of life without cable. I felt that if I went and started to protest on behalf of Native American rights, or anyone’s rights really, I would be commandeering a fight that wasn’t mine. My older sister sent me a link regarding Veterans Stand for Standing Rock and their crowd-sourced donation page. I found out that a local woman specifically asked for the help of veterans. I also learned Native Americans represent the largest percentage of any cultural group to serve in the military. I immediately started packing, all I needed was someone to ask me to come. I was activated by a mission, a call for help, and brothers and sisters in distress, as veterans are wont to be. I am aware my voice is stronger and louder than others’ because of my ethnicity, gender, and economic status, so I have been making a concerted effort to talk less. I talk less in hopes for someone else to start talking, but it took me awhile to get to this point where I can talk less but still act. A big part of that motivation to act without assuming the fight as my own was the rhetoric about protecting Native American’s right to peaceful protest, and protecting the Bill of Rights. Well, hell, I already took an oath to do that! That is my fight!

Although I didn’t truly align myself with any one group or cause represented at Standing Rock, I felt compelled to protect them and their right to be there. All these groups had their own motivations and they seemed to be just as compelled to be there to support their individual causes.

Oceti Sakowin Resistance Camp

Despite, or maybe in spite, all these disparate ideologies, Standing Rock worked. There were reports of 12,000 people at camp on December 5th . I have no idea if that’s accurate, it would be near impossible determine how many people were there… it was a lot. Rumors said there were 600 indigenous tribes present, that it was the largest meeting of Native Americans ever. Rumors said every continent was represented. Rumors even said that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was there, but I can’t personally verify that. There were two things that held that many different people together. The mission and the wind.

There was one clear mission, set forth by elders and reservation leaders: have the Army Corps of Engineers re-evaluate their decision regarding construction of the pipeline under Lake Oahe.

I was asked to march with the elders during their prayer ceremony on the bridge because I was a medic in the Army. As far as I could tell, there were no media or non-natives on the bridge during the prayer. It was a beautiful and incredibly impactful thing to witness. There were three of us medics on the bridge with the elders and medicine women and Akitchita, and several hundred Native Americans on the road behind them. In the middle of the elders was a Contrary. A Contrary is a type of inherited social position in the tribe, a teacher and warrior, who does everything backwards. They would ride into battle on their horses backwards. You greet them with your back to them. You kick dirt on them or throw cigarettes at them when you walk by them. Their role is to make people think about what has become status quo in society. The Contrary and I had a cup of tea after the prayer ceremony while we warmed ourselves. With his greyed cheeks from the cold and frost lining his lashes, he smiled and said, “In my other life, I sell furniture.” I’m proud to say he told me I’d make a good Contrary. The Akitchita were on horseback. The Akitchita are appointed protectors of the Sioux people for a specific duration of time. Based on ones’ abilities and the needs of the times, someone is nominated and appointed as Akitchita until they are no longer needed. The women smudged us and the elders prayed in celebration of their long awaited accomplishment. It was a moment I will never forget. And then my feet froze solid.

Once the blizzard started, and it came up quickly and without forgiveness, it became a struggle for survival. I’m not indulging in exaggeration. It was 20 below with 45 MPH winds. If you were standing outside, you were likely to get knocked down and dragged a bit across the frozen ground. There were throngs of people at Oceti Sakowin who were not prepared at all for the extreme weather, for one reason or another. The medics did all we could for as many as we could. Our duties as medics mostly came down to just calming people and keeping them warm. There was one hairy moment when a tent started on fire and we had to get everyone out, and then find the 30 or so new lodging before they got cold.

But again, it worked. No one died. Everyone came together and came out alive and most were feeling good after the blizzard was over. When survival is on line, and there is a true danger, people come together and get things done. They make it happen. And they will continue to make it happen. The blizzard was a physical threat, but I feel it is a great analogy to any other threat, be it social, like infringement on human rights, or economic, like the widening class gap.

Since I left Oceti Sakowin in mid December, I’ve been asked by many people, of all political leanings, about Standing Rock. I try not to bring it up or talk about it unless asked, and then all I do is address that specific question or comment as briefly as possible. Because I learned that no matter what I say, my point is lost.

With people who lean right, the conversation is about the supposed permanence of fossil fuel infrastructure and capitalist society. I try to bring up that there were a great many political ideologies represented at the protests, including Libertarian and New Republicanism. Many protestors were blue collar heroes, trying not to become forgotten in an ever-progressing technological world that seems to be leaving them behind. My part of the conversation always lands on deaf ears, because for conservatives who weren’t there, it looked like a bunch of wild idealists trying to dismantle capitalism portrayed in their little corner of the media.

With people who lean left, the conversation derails into conspiratorial terrain pretty quickly. I was at a party right after I came back home, and I was asked if I was at Standing Rock. I said, “Yes,” and then I listened to a ten minute tirade about chemical weapons being used on Native Americans and it being the onset of another genocide. I said that that was not true, and I was promptly corrected, being that this person happened to read something on social media about it. I was going to ask if she wanted to hear about it from someone who was actually there a week prior, but I didn’t. She didn’t want to know what it was like, she wanted to hear her conclusions re-enforced. This has happened several times, in several different conversations, so I stopped talking about it. Talking about my personal experiences won’t change anyone’s mind about their own individual conclusions.

While I’m wanting to shove my experience down peoples’ throats, cram all I learned into a box and force it on to people, I don’t. That is a lesson I learned from my military service. People truly want to believe whatever they already believe. If they want to believe that all soldiers are mindless child killers, they’re going to continue believing that. If they want to believe that all soldiers are heroes, they’re going to believe that. Whatever we were, and whatever we are now as veterans, whatever we do in our other lives, we can talk less, and act more. We can act by letting other people talk, and protecting their right to talk. When we act, we should chose our battles wisely. We should assess, determine the threat, and develop a clear mission. And we should come prepared.

 

A Year of Water and Indigenous Struggle

Water action outside the Wisconsin State Capitol (All Photos in this blog are credited to Joe Brusky / Overpass Light Brigade).

This has been a year of intense activism focused upon water and indigenous rights in general, and we at the Overpass Light Brigade have tried to use our visibility to give focus to these issues. Last January hit hard and cold and the freezing weather was a match for the frozen hearts of our state legislators who tried to put forward rapid fire bills that would allow landowners and business to dig up ancient Indian burial mounds, as well as bills to allow the privatization of municipal water service and supply. What could possibly go wrong with such forward thinking policies?

Light action in support of the preservation of Native American burial mounds at Lake Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
“MIKWENIM” means “Sacred Site” in Ojibwe.

Multiple tribal bands and regional Indian nations converged on the State Capitol in protest of the proposed burial mounds bill. On that same day, we worked with some indigenous friends to hold a message at an important, and generally overlooked, mound smack dab in a popular Milwaukee park. It was probably the coldest action we have ever done, and we still get shivers thinking about the windchill of -30 on that evening, as we brought out our message, SACRED SITE, with a flip side of that same notion in Ojibwe, MIKWENIM. Our impromptu round dance was as much to keep warm as it was to celebrate the location, though we were happy that a news channel picked up the story that evening. Though the main resistance was in Madison that day with the dramatic convergence of the tribes, we did help to get the word out in a peaceful and poetic way. The bill was soon dropped.

Milwaukee water actions in support of the water fight in Flint, Michigan.

NO MORE FLINTS has been on our mind throughout the last few years. There was a bill creeping its way through the State House that seemed to suddenly erupt into public consciousness. It would ease regulations around public water supplies, and allow global corporations to swoop in and buy water rights in municipal district – sacrificing long term water access and health for short term profit. People were lulled by the holidays and no one was talking about this sneak-privatization plan. We began some actions at the state capitol and along our beautiful Lake Michigan water front that we hoped would at least get people informed. This coincided with an unprecedented amount of behind-the-scenes organizing on a local and national level in order to stop this bill. The Republican sponsors were secure in their accounting of the votes to pass it, and were smug in their corporatist goals. The outcry grew, from a small few to larger groups concerned about water issues. It began to get picked up by local news, and then by friends around the state. Resistance actions were springing up throughout the region, and the bill, once assured of passing, was tabled. It is never over, but for now, we pushed back and they backed down. “No more Flints,” we say. But we don’t forget that Flint is still there, still reeling from the dire consequences of the corrupt practices of privatization. The fight over water continues…

Filming “We Are Water” along the shores of Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin.

While we always get charged up by a cause, or a call to collaborate with a group we respect, or a campaign against injustice, we also at times like to explore the creative and expressive dimensions of this medium that we invented. In June, we made plans with our favorite filmmaker to do some water-based stop motion footage. “Wouldn’t it be cool,” we thought, “to visit various locations around Wisconsin with messages about water!” That was a pretty ambitious idea, but we were able to do three amazing photo and film shoots on Lake Monona in Madison, in Europe Bay, Door County, and along the Milwaukee River. All of these sequences involved kayaks, boats, the complexities of getting large groups of people together, the durational endurance of time-lapse filming and some amazingly talented and dedicated people. Here’s the first part out of the effort, with more to come in the future. We think of it as a “love song to water.” Little did we know that within a few months, water issues would take national prominence out in the Dakotas.

We Are Water from Overpass Light Brigade on Vimeo.

By September, the occupation at Standing Rock had grown to be a sizable presence, at least in our social media and political circles. Activists from the area began to ask us if we were going to make a trip out to North Dakota, to join in the struggle against DAPL. Leading up to the Labor Day weekend, we planned an action, got some impromptu approvals, packed some light panels in the van, and readied ourselves for the long trek. It was an intense weekend, not only to see so many indigenous activists, water warriors, and water protectors living, arriving, and thriving, but to be there when private security forces sicced attack dogs on peaceful people. We negotiated more concrete approvals with Sioux elders in order to enable a few actions with lights and our strange “pixel stick” that magically displays programmed imagery when the lighted wand is swept across the sky. Some of these images went viral, and our Facebook site was hitting a 1.6 million person reach for the weeks after. In this way, and on this blog, we felt that we were able to help highlight the courageous and important work being done by so many indigenous Water Protectors and non-indigenous allies. Getting the word has been an important aspect of this struggle, since until only recently mainstream media all but ignored this massive uprising.

Sitting Bull Over Protectors

We returned in December and were amazed by the growth of the camps, the momentum of the movement, the complexity of the daily negotiations, and the incoming presence of over 3,000 veterans. The provisional “win” came the day after we arrived, with the veterans in full force in support of the Sioux and this amazing indigenous movement. We marveled at the celebration, the discipline of the Water Protectors in their unflagging commitment to nonviolence, even in the face of such extreme and violent repression perpetrated by police and other militarized forces under command of corporate power brokers and their political appointees. Indeed, that was why the veterans showed up, and their presence seemed to shame the State into at least a temporary hiatus of overt desecration. Due to circumstances, we weren’t able to mount another Light Brigade Action, but did have the backing to receive a much coveted press pass, and were able to take some fantastic picture for posterity.

Military veterans from around the world stream into Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock.
Water protectors at Standing Rock celebrate denial of permit to U.S. Energy Transfer Partners to drill under Lake Oahe.

And then the blizzard swept down the plains. We knew it was coming, and hightailed it out of the camps, moving east as fast as the wind pushed from the west. A few hours later, all roads were shut, cars in ditches, smart people hunkered down with cords of firewood dried and ready for the warmth of wood stoves. We drove home, back to our own water wars, back to the reality of our lives in Wisconsin, which has been the petri dish of the new America. We know what it is to struggle, and we know what it is to keep struggling when we feel that all is lost. We know that even when we win, as we have in the actions cited on this page, our wins might only be temporary, that the fight will come around again as soon as a politician craven enough to put a bad bill forward feels that no one is watching or that no one cares. And here we are, at the end of a year, a rough year, a bad year for art and poetry and song and water and climate and education and immigrant rights and electoral politics and democracy in general. And here we are, ready to fight, to organize, to make calls and write posts and hit the street and make videos and do what we can to take care of our sad and beautiful world.

A full nighttime view of the Oceti Sakowin Camp in Canon Ball, ND.

So to all of our friends, our followers, our Holders of the Lights… Solidarity in the New Year. Help us to LIGHT THE WAY!

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Hate’s Insidious Face: UW-Milwaukee and the “Alt-Right”

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Last night, Milo Yiannopoulos’s “Dangerous Faggot Tour” came to UW-Milwaukee, hosted  by a student front group, also responsible for the somewhat lame exercise in neo-McCarthyism, the “Professor Watchlist.” For over a month, faculty, staff and students have been expressing concern about the known dynamics of Milo Y, a kind of sly and slick performance of white grievance against political correctness, immigrant and muslim communities, as well as LGBT+ campus presence and politics. The administration, quivering in fear of their rightwing legislative budget lords’ threats of defunding, generally evaded the issue of the impact of hate speech to vulnerable communities, though subsequently released tepid but earnest statements regarding freedom of speech and their inability to control the sponsorship of student groups, with the intent to disassociate the UWM brand with a known hate-monger, white supremacist, such as Mr. Y. Cautious hand-wringing has generally been the operative dynamic at play within the crumbling institution.

Concerned students and workers planned and mounted a solid counter protest: we marched, disrupted the jubilee of white resentment, conducted an alternative open mic event near the heavily policed second floor of the student union, and held light panels that proclaimed “DENY HATE.” Our struggling union, AFT3535 bought pizza for the counter protesters, and the energy was celebratory, aggressive, and peaceful.

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This Breitbart videographer yelled insults at students comfortably from behind UWM officers.

There was a full house for Milo, and his one hour stand-up game of hate charades was live cast on Brietbart. At 49 minutes into his shtick, Milo projected a picture of a UWM trans student (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), who was undergoing conversion, and “outed” them for making an issue of bathroom access. Bathrooms, right? What an outrage! Milo went on to suggest his own interest in having sex with the student, all while assessing them critically in very specific and demeaning ways. The student’s name was prominently displayed, and everyone laughed.

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For over a month, many of us have expressed our concern about the inevitability of this kind of violence towards our students. This is what Milo is known for, and this is where the framing of “free speech” and “academic diversity” has been, to some of us, quite hollow, or, to be more generous, extremely complex in its very concrete implications for the safety of our students.

Immediately following the event, Chancellor Mone released an email to the entire campus, where he expressed that “I will not stand silently by when a member of our campus community is personally and wrongly attacked.” He goes on to say that “I am disappointed that this speaker chose to attack a transgender student.” But this is what Milo does! This is how made a name for himself with the shitfest known as Gamergate. This is why he was kicked off of Twitter! This is what he does in his insidiously amoral stand-up comedically clever campus tour.

How does Chancellor Mone’s refusal to “stand silently” translate into anything other than a vague “disappointment” that Milo did such a heinous and harmful thing to a specific person, while broadcast live to a massive national audience known for a propensity towards vicious trolling and specific harassment?

The student in question  sent out a blistering email to multiple faculty and staff after reading Chancellor Mone’s statement.  It is long. It is scathing, It is angry and hurt and dismayed and weary and fed up. It is unedited except for the redacting of her name. It is worth reading.

+++++++++++++++

Chancellor Mark Mone

 GO FUCK YOURSELF.

I am the trans student that was attacked and your email is nothing short of insulting. I wasn’t going to write this email at first, even after Milo attacked me, but then I saw your email and  I’m SO FUCKING SICK of your goddamn lip service. Seriously go fuck yourself.

 Your email? I don’t even know where to begin. Also, I don’t care if you feel “offended” or “harassed”. Welcome to my life. Sue me. I’d be more than happy to defend my free speech in court (since this is what you call it apparently) to lambast your ass for being an ungodly, fucking pathetic “ally.” And quite frankly I don’t care who the fuck reads this email (as you can tell by the CC) or what people think of me. I’m aware of where this email can end up. So be it. My “give a fuck card” was thrown out the window a long time ago. I’m going to write about you and YOUR fucked-up bullshit.

 Your words: “I also will not stand silently by when a member of our campus community is personally and wrongly attacked.” That is probably the biggest piece of goddamn fucking bullshit I’ve ever read. What exactly do you plan to do? OH YEAH, NOTHING, BECAUSE YOU’RE A COWARDLY PIECE OF SHIT. Your “not standing silently” apparently consists of a single email mass-sent to the university. That’s it. You don’t get a fucking cookie for that. What else were you going to go? NOTHING. You were planning on doing jack shit.

 Did you even attempt to reach out to me? NOPE. Not even an email, nothing. Instead it was supposed to suffice to just send a nice little bit of polished hogwash to the general campus. Is that right? Were you trying to head off student protests calling for you to be sacked or something? You’d like nothing better than for this to just blow over. Seriously what the hell ARE you even doing right now? You say you’re not standing by silently? BULL-FUCKING-SHIT YOU POMPOUS ASSHOLE. YES YOU ARE.

 Don’t act like you didn’t know this would happen. You knew goddamn well it would. I lost track of how many people pointed this out to you. And what the hell did you do when students tried to organize and deliver a petition to cancel Milo’s event? YOU FUCKING CALLED THE COPS ON THEM. LIKE WHAT IN THE LIVING FUCK. Your asshole level is off the charts, especially because you feign concern about this with one hand while backhanding all of us with the other. Because there’s nothing like the threat of state violence to keep people in line.

 Seriously, you FUCKING CALLED THE GODDAMN POLICE on students at your office who were raising extremely valid concerns about Milo, you forcibly threw students out, and then you want to turn around and act like you didn’t see this coming? How fucking naïve do you think we are?

 This also isn’t just a case of a speaker going off an a tangent like that, like some random occurrence. It was not a case where you had no way of knowing he would do this. Quite the contrary: Milo has a supremely extensive, highly-documented track record of doing precisely this. As I’ve already said, YOU KNEW THIS WOULD HAPPEN. WE TOLD YOU IT WOULD. AND WE TOLD YOU AGAIN. AND AGAIN. But you brushed this off under “muh free speech” bullshit.

 Do tell me, if someone invited a fucking modern Hitler to campus, would you allow that? Because that’s what your bullshit argument says. How about David Duke of the KKK, can we invite him? Or how about Andrew Anglin, the self-proclaimed Nazi who runs the Daily Stormer website? (Yes, he is an actual Nazi. That is not hyperbole.) Can we invite him? Genuine question. You’ve already allowed a fascist on campus, so can we invite a full-fledged Nazi? Are there no bounds? Maybe we should invite a radical who advocates burning down Chapman Hall, because speakers like that can be found (and no, me typing that sentence is not a threat to destroy property. “Words don’t hurt anyone” as the fascist you defended last night would say.)

 Free speech does not cover harassment, and that’s exactly what Milo did to me. But hey, do email about hashtagging #UWMstandstogether as if that fucking accomplishes anything. Damn, you fucking liberals really drive me up the wall. Now you can spend all of 10 seconds making some half-assed tweet, give it a cute hashtag, and go about your day feeling like you did something. NO. YOU DON’T GET CREDIT FOR THAT. YOU ACCOMPLISHED NOTHING. You’re as embarrassing as the people who wear a safety pin and think that counts as being an ally—patting yourself on the back for a job well done—all while you stand silent as fascists attack your students. Some ally. Or making a hashtag that virtually nobody in the city will see, and which will do abso-fucking-lutely nothing. Good grief…UWM “stands together”…as you fucking call the police on students who tried to petition you…as you divide and attack marginalized students while saying you want unity…as you allow a fascist to use “free speech” as an pretense to harass and attack. The amount of doublethink here is just incredible.

 And we’re supposed to respond with positive messages, not anger? WHAT FUCKING WORLD DO YOU LIVE IN. Do you have any idea how much fucking privilege you have to even BEGIN saying something like that? WHAT. THE. FUCK. You do NOT get to dictate how we feel. You do NOT get to tell us what our emotions should be. Oh but okay, here’s a positive message: Nobody died! WOO-FUCKING-HOO! Positivity! Go Panthers!

 Fuck no. I am done getting repeatedly abused and shit on, and expected to just take it and not be angry. But don’t worry, I’m not angry. I’m way, way beyond that. I am SO FUCKING DONE having to justify my humanity to shitheads like you all the fucking time. Angry bitches get shit done. You say to not respond with “anger”…goddamn you haven’t the slightest fucking clue what pervasive marginalization is like.

 Do you even know what Milo said about me? Do you, asshole? Here, I’ll type a bit out for you, because I highly doubt you actually know what that fascist said about me from his podium in front of hundreds of people (and live-streamed on Breitbart in front of thousands):

>>> Context: Milo just finished mocking feminists who critique the very harmful phrase ‘man up’ <<<

Milo: “I’ll tell you one UW-Milwaukee student that does not need to man up, and that is (Student’s name).”

>>> Milo puts an image of me, taken from last spring when I was earlier in my transition and appeared significantly more masculine, on the main screen<<<

Milo: “Do you know about (Student’s Name)? Have any of you come into contact with this person? This quote unquote nonbinary trans—you’re not laughing now, are you, you know him—this quote unquote nonbinary trans woman forced his way into the women’s locker rooms this year. Who knows about this story, any of you?”

>>>Milo looks around, people laugh<<<

“I see you don’t even read your own student media. He got into the women’s room the way liberals always operate, using the government and the courts to weasel their way where they don’t belong. In this case he made a Title IX complaint. Title IX is a set of rules to protect women on campus effectively. It’s couched in the language of equality, but it’s really about women, which under normal circumstances would be fine except for how it’s implemented. Now it is used to put men in to women’s bathrooms. I have known some passing trannies in my life. Trannies—you’re not allowed to say that. I’ve known some passing trannies, which is to say transgender people who pass as the gender they would like to be considered.”

>>> Milo directs the audience’s attention to the image of me.<<<

“Well, no.”

>>>Audience laughs. <<<

Milo: “The way that you know he’s failing is I’d almost still bang him.”

>>> Audience begins laughing a lot, keeps laughing <<<

Milo: “It’s just…it’s just a man in a dress, isn’t it? I should reapply my lipstick…”

And all you can say is you’re “disappointed” he attacked me? Disappointed? Are you fucking kidding me? How about ENRAGED or INFURIATED. What the fuck is this use of disappointed? Tranny is the equivalent of faggot, and you’re disappointed? Really? REALLY? YOU FUCKING THINK???? Goddamn. Oh but you condemn it. Okay, that forgives everything. Not.

You: “I would not deprive students or our community of opportunities to hear diverse viewpoints.”

Translation: I would never deprive students of the ability to collectively harass and verbally assault another student, because it’s “free speech.”

I was at Milo’s event. You have NO FUCKING IDEA what that was like. NO. FUCKING. IDEA. I knew this event would bring out all the worst people on campus, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. Standing in line was bad enough. Luckily at this point in my life, I look substantially more feminine than I did last spring (when almost everybody perceived me as a “boy in girls’ clothes”), and I’m correctly gendered as a woman probably 90%+ of the time now. Anyway I’m in line waiting, and in front of me two dudes are making hateful comments about trans folk. Yet 10 minutes after that, one of them was looking at my chest and checking me out. In my mind the only thing I’m thinking is, “If this person knew he was sexually attracted to a trans girl…holy shit…” because asshole boys like him tend to get extremely aggressive if they realize a girl they found attractive has a penis.

But that was still bearable and I was prepared in case they realized I’m trans (thankfully they didn’t). I also knew Milo was going to regurgitate a profound amount of racist and transphobic hate. What I did not anticipate was being specifically targeted and called out in the way he did. I hadn’t said anything or made even the slightest disruption: He had his harassment of me planned out well in advance. I’m sitting there and I hear him say “(my name” and I just froze up. I have never, ever, ever been more terrified in my life of being outed. Ever. He put my picture up, which as already stated, was taken from a prior period when my masculine features were significantly more sharp and extremely noticeable. And I am sitting there frozen in total terror that somebody around me would recognize me, point me out, and incite the mob of the room against me. Nobody did point me out, thank god. But do you have ANY idea how much power Milo had and how it feels to pray that your ability to “pass” doesn’t fail you now? That’s what it was like. Fuck, you can’t even appreciate what I’m writing. You say you do but you really don’t. You do NOT have this perspective. I was looking at the stage, consciously aware of trying to not look “suspicious” and reveal I was the person he was talking about (even as I could feel the color draining from my face), but also not looking at Milo directly ‘lest he recognize me and instantly set off dozens of people screaming at me.

I was trapped in fear and went numb. Completely numb. I felt nothing. I was having a severe, emotional, traumatic response to being fucking called out and directly targeted by this transphobic asshole in front of thousands of people, and my body’s main coping mechanism for severe stress is to shut down all emotions. I couldn’t even cry, and that’s probably a good thing because it would’ve outed me. Even after the event, I still felt nothing and was “fine.” It wasn’t until hours later, as my body began to process it, that I broke down sobbing uncontrollably. I can handle transphobia (you’re basically forced to as a trans girl) but Milo went way the fuck beyond that in what he did to me.

Do you have any fucking idea how hurtful this is? Do you know what it’s like to be in a room full of people who are laughing at you as if you’re some sort of perverted freak, and how many of them would have hollered at me (or worse) if I was outed? Do you know what this kind of terror is? No, you don’t, because as a cis person you do not understand. Sorry-not-sorry, but you don’t and you can’t. You don’t understand how misgendering is violence. Yes, VIOLENCE. And did you miss the part where Milo was talking about having sex with me? Aka shoving his dick up my ass, and joking about applying lipstick to seduce me. How the fuck is this acceptable? This is both gender and sexual harassment. What court upholds this as free speech? Answer: NOBODY. THIS WAS SPECIFICALLY TARGETED AT ME. WHAT FUCKING COURT HAS EVER UPHELD THIS SORT OF HARASSMENT DIRECTED SPECIFICALLY AGAINST A STUDENT AS “FREE SPEECH”? Just wait, now an apologist for fascists will find one lonely example, amidst a plethora that protect students from harassment.

If you actually cared about students, you would have blocked this student org from bringing Milo here, and had they fought it in court you would have battled back and prevailed. The difference here is Milo harasses specific people and incites violence against them. That is not protected, and other universities have successfully blocked him because of that. But you’re too busy kissing the ass of trans-hating republicans running the state and letting fascists attack whomever they want.

But whatever, let Milo joke about fucking me (up the ass). Who gives a fuck about sexual violence. It’s not like I’ve been raped or anything before (actually, I have). Universities regularly push that under the rug in order to protect their sorry-ass reputations. I sure as hell wouldn’t put that past UWM either. And Milo is the Dangerous Faggot after all. Let him repeatedly commit violence against me by erasing my identity and painting me as some sort of male sex predator preying on women in the bathroom. Because who cares if a student is slandered? WHO THE FUCK CARES ABOUT THOSE GODDAMN CODDLED STUDENTS? Who cares if they get harassed?

Perhaps this might be an explanation you can somewhat, partially understand on what it’s like to be misgendered and how this is violence, Mark Mone: Pretend you go to a restaurant to order a meal, and when you arrive, you’re given a gendered greeting of, “Hello woman, how may I take your order?” After placing your order, “Thank you ma’am, that will be such and such.” Then when you receive your order, “Oh hey, did you know you’re STILL not a man? Because you’re not. Oh and here’s your food, thank you!” And whenever anybody interacts with you, you’re called she all day, every fucking day. Imagine a similar scene again an hour later at the gas station. Now imagine it CONSTANTLY happening, on a DAILY basis, every week of the year, EVERY GODDAMN YEAR OF YOUR LIFE. You get to a point where it really, really severely fucks with you. The endless invalidation and relentless attack.

Oh who the fuck am I kidding. Why am I bothering even trying to explain what it’s like? It completely escapes your mind the very real violence Milo intentionally committed against me by calling me a man over and over in the name of “free speech” and slandering me as a sex predator.

You will also never know what it’s like wanting to die every day, you don’t know what it’s like attempting suicide multiple times, you don’t know what it’s like looking down 20 stories to a concrete ground and being an inch away from plummeting to death, you don’t know what it’s like putting your neck on a railroad track, only to chicken out right before the train got there and cursing yourself for not going through with it, (to your fucking bullshit police, no I am not suicidal right now but you fucks will try and twist past-tense into present. you pretentious assholes), you don’t know what it’s like to look in the mirror every goddamn morning and see a face you don’t recognize, YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE GOING THROUGH PUBERTY FOR THE WRONG FUCKING GENDER. THIS IS A HELL YOU CANNOT, AND WILL NOT, AND ARE UTTERLY FUCKING INCAPABLE OF UNDERSTANDING. And then being denied medical access for years and years and years. Do NOT have the audacity and gall to say you “understand” our concerns. NO YOU DO NOT. You don’t know what it’s like being in poverty and unable to pay for physical transitions, and locked in the wrong body. You have NO FUCKING CLUE what it’s like to be in our shoes and having to pretend everything is fine and dandy. And then to have the university defend a speaker that targets you by name and puts up a masculine-looking picture of you to laugh at…regardless if I had been there in person (sitting in terror) or hiding in my home, HOLY FUCKING SHIT. FUCK YOU. JUST FUCK YOU.

Honest to god, if any student said or did that to me, it would be a complete and total violation of university policy on harassment. NO student could say those things and get away with it. NOBODY. BECAUSE FOR THE 100TH FUCKING TIME, HARASSMENT AND VERBALLY ASSAULTING PEOPLE IS NOT FREE SPEECH. But if they bring in an outside speaker who does THE SAME EXACT FUCKING THING, then apparently it’s okay because “free speech.” Seriously, do you not comprehend how contradictory and fucked-up your logic is?

Can I bring in a speaker who goes on a tirade and personally insults, attacks, and makes crude sexual jokes about a student in the Turning Point USA org? And then do it again for the next student, until every student in that organization is thoroughly trashed? Is that free speech?

NO YOU ASSHOLE, IT IS NOT. HARASSMENT IS NOT FREE SPEECH. AND YOU FUCKING KNEW MILO WOULD DO THIS. WE TOLD YOU. YOU REFUSED TO LISTEN.

But you know what, I’m not done ranting against your transphobic ass yet. I’d like to tell anybody who is still reading this email the other bullshit going on in this hellhole. You have rung me around ever since last January with your locker room bullshit. You do realize there are trans and intersex people on campus who 100% avoid the locker room and Klotsche Center because YOU still insist on policing their body parts? And yes, I say YOU personally because YOU approve of the unpublished “interim policy” that does just this and still forbids any nonconforming body part from being exposed for so much as a second. This is where you’re truly a transphobic ass. You are no ally. If a transgender man changes clothing in the men’s locker room, and someone sees his breast, YOU would seek to punish the trans man for the so-called “crime” of changing his clothes. Nevermind how totally fucking inverted this reasoning is.

And you won’t commit to putting a locker room policy on paper either, so instead you have something that’s transphobic as fuck yet only verbal, making it harder to track and challenge. You’re taking ZERO leadership on this and are instead stalling for time, waiting for the issue to be forced and decided in the courts. Yet you’re “proud” of the work the LGBT resource center does? Goddamn if that’s the case (it’s not; you’re a transphobic asshole), then either be an actual trans-inclusive leader or get the fuck out of the way.

I knew when I went public last spring with all the transphobic bullshit YOU were putting me through that trolls would pick up on it. I was ready for that. But what I’m NOT going to gloss over is your contemptible pandering to trans and intersex folk, and your fucking self-righteous email and related bullshit you put forth claiming to stand with marginalized people like me. NO YOU DO NOT.

Your administration never wanted to allow me and other trans and intersex folk locker room access in the first place. You fucks originally tried to force me into the men’s locker room (which ironically, I couldn’t change clothing in there right now either because I have breasts…or are you so incredibly transphobic you don’t recognize that my breast development is indeed female breasts? I can’t change clothing anywhere under your goddamn policy unless I run off and lock myself in a stall), or to force me into a completely segregated, single-user space that lacked a sauna and pool access. It was only—and I repeat, only—because your attorneys advised you that you had to allow access that you ever let me back in to the locker room after originally banning me. And even then, you insisted I follow special restrictions (which by the way, I long, long, long ago disregarded. You’re in another fucking world if you think I’d submit to that bullshit.) And you continue to marginalize other trans and intersex individuals in locker rooms to this very day. If someone who appears trans wants to use the facility, you’ll have them yanked aside and given a body-shaming lecture where they are told they must always cover up in a locker room…a fucking locker room where undressing is expected…fuck you really are backwards. It’s apparent our bodies will never be acceptable to you.

Besides deliberately and purposely preventing a trans-inclusive locker room policy, your list of shit also includes throwing ALL of your trans and intersex employees under the bus by refusing to fight for their right to have medical procedures and treatment covered by insurance. You are PERFECTLY content with the status quo of denying medical service, as much as you may pretend otherwise. In fact, you recently had a prospective hire walk away from a job offer because they were transgender and you refused to provide medical benefits. But do continue blaming your bullshit on third party “outside of your control” crap and doing meaningless shit to change that.

I can keep listing more things but you know what, just go fuck yourself and in all honestly, drop your T from LGBT. Quit pretending. You do not stand for or represent trans folk and you ignore our needs. Asshole. You are LGB at best and a complete transphobic jerk. I’m done with you. Coming to this university was one of the single-most, worst mistakes I have ever made in my life. At the time you were supposedly ranked 5 stars for LGBTQ+ friendliness and sold me a colossal amount of bullshit to that effect. HA! WHAT A FUCKING JOKE. I really do genuinely regret ever coming here. It was a mistake.

Believe me when I say no matter how much you might dislike (or resent) this email, any pain you feel from what I wrote is but a tiny fraction of the pain I felt, and still feel in my chest and throughout my body, when Milo attacked me, and the pain trans folk feel just for existing in this society. You are so, so incredibly blinded by your privilege and place in society. Fuck you.

Sincerely,

(Student’s Name)

Former student at this godforsaken university

Pronouns: They or She, not that you actually give a shit in the greater scheme of things

P.S. To Mark Mone and your cronies: I’m not going to respond to any phone calls, emails, or attempts to have me speak with anyone. I am never returning to your goddamn campus again. Ever. GOODBYE BITCHES. And very specifically to you Mark Mone and other spineless liberal assholes that fully support bringing a fascist speaker to campus who is EXTRAORDINARILY well-known to harass and target specific students: From the bottom of my heart, truly, FUCK YOU.

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The Long Knives and the Seven Fires

Photo credit: Joe Brusky / Overpass Light Brigade
Photo credit: Joe Brusky / Overpass Light Brigade

Overpass Light Brigade invited Margaret Noodin, an Anishinaabe poet, to write a piece about the struggle at Standing Rock for this blog. This is what she has to say:

This poem was written in the midst of the historic show of support for land, water and indigenous life and culture. We all need to raise our voices and be heard. We need to integrate awareness of the rights of nature into our lives, now as we stand with Standing Rock and long after this crisis when the cycles of industrial capitalism continue to place profit before lives.

The poem is written in one of the languages of the Three Fires Confederacy in honor of the members of the Seven Fires Council. The Ojibwe, Dakota and Lakota people have been warriors together for many centuries and this time they are clearly greeting this new dawn together.

The image by the poet’s daughter reminds us there is strength and memory in the stones placed as grave markers beneath the stars and in all the lives who sustain the ecosystem of the prairie.

Aaniin Idamang? How do we speak of this?
Poem by Margaret Noodin
Illustration Shannon Noori

Aaniin idamang gaa ezhiwebag
mashkodeng gii mashkawiziwag
be-bezhig okoshimaawaad asiniig
endaazhi-mashkosiikaa?
How do we speak of what has happened
in the prairie where they were strong
one by one piling stones
in the long grass?

Minogizhebawagad. Haha nawashte. It is a good day.

Aaniin idamang ezhiwebag waasa
bimide aanjitoowaad zhooniyaan
ziinibiizhaawaad bibagasiiniig
miskwiiwan ode’akiing
How do we speak of what happens from a distance
turning oil into money
squeezing stone layers
bleeding the heart of the earth?

Minogizhebawagad. Haha nawashte. It is a good day.

Aaniin idamang ezhiwebag besho
ganawenimaawaad mashkode-bizhiikiwag
mashkode-akakojiishagan niimiwaad
Ojig Anong madogaananing Ogimaan?
How do we speak of what happens nearby
where buffalos watch over
prairie dogs dancing
on the Chief’s constellation?

Minogizhebawagad. Haha nawashte. It is a good day.

Aaniin idamang waa ezhiwebag
giishpin gaawiin nisidotawaasiiwaan
Chimookimanag Oceti Sakowin-an?
Gaawiin de aatesiinoon o’o biidaaban.
How do we speak of what will happen
if there is no understanding between
the Long Knives and the Seven Fires?
This dawn cannot be extinguished.

Minogizhebawagad. Haha nawashte. It is a good day.

aaniin

News From the Sacred Fire

skull
Writing and above photo by Barbara With

Today, Chief Arvol Looking Horse held a ceremony around the sacred fire. The purpose was to hear a report from the UN representatives who have been investigating the allegations of human rights abuses and to bless the belongings of the people who had been jailed.

The UN representative, only introduced as Roberto, announced that the result of their investigation is that a representative of the US Secretary of State’s office will be arriving in a few days and more investigations will ensue. She is also going to facilitate a meeting with the Standing Rock Sioux, Morton County Sheriff, and a representative from DAPL. This is guardedly optimistic news.

The Morton County Sheriff returned the possessions of those who were jailed. They were thrown into plastic bags marked with the numbers the prisoners had on their arms. Because possessions, especially clothing, hold the energy of the owner, it was important to bless and cleanse the belongings as if they were living beings.

Also all the possessions from the north Treaty Camp that were torn apart in last week’s attack were put into four storage crates that were being brought back to camp that night, including teepees and poles. They called for four volunteers with pick ups with trailers to go retrieve them after the ceremony.

possessions2
photo by Kellie Stewart

Chief Looking Horse introduced the Buffalo clan singers, who sang the song of the White Buffalo Calf woman. He then said a long, beautiful prayer in Lakota, while the drummers and singers sang a song about the four directions. We started facing west and slowly turned to all four directions as a young warrior was busy with sweet grass and sage, smudging the pile of plastic bags laid out like body bags with the sacred, cleansing healing smoke.

As we stood under the last afternoon sun, and the smell of the fire and the sage and the sweet grass filled the air, I was again transported deep into prayer. I felt so honored to be present in this ceremony. I may never experience anything like this again. How gracious and loving this was in the face of what had happened: giving thanks to the Morton County Sheriff for returning the possessions and sacred objects of the people they had just beaten, maced, hit with LRAD and microwaves, fired rubber bullets at, killed their horses, and caged like animals, all the while allowing DAPL to dig up the graves of their grandmothers and continue building the deadly black snake that will destroy the water. To me, it was hard to be thankful. How does one be peaceful and gracious in the face of all this?

As I stood there in prayer, I understood. In order for us to endure past what Chief Looking Horse called “the point of no return” we simply must learn such humility and grace. This is indeed the front line of the new world peace movement. It is Gandhi, Jesus, and Mother Teresa, all rolled into an ancient culture born of a deep love of Mother Earth, one that cherishes all life, including the animals, plants, and even possessions as equal and living beings. One that begins and ends each day with deep prayers of gratitude.

After the ceremony, I lingered at the sacred fire for a long time, in awe of everything I have seen over the past three days. As the sun set, there I sat on my last night with my little blue mason jar filled with Superior, on the altar of the front lines of the point of no return.

Standing Rock Will Prevail

feather

By Barbara With, October 29, 2016
All photos by Barbara With, except “Boys On Horses,” by Joe Brusky

Today I made my first visit to the Sacred Stone Camps, the now-famous water protector settlement in Standing Rock, North Dakota. I arrived at Standing Rock casino well past midnight and arose early the next day to get to camp. In the casino restaurant, I met two elders, a man and a woman, who had just been released from jail after being arrested two days ago. I bought them both breakfast and listened to their story…

She had a “#1” on her arm. This was how law enforcement marked the people arrested. Seeing the number on her arm made me think of the Jews during the Holocaust. She told us that about 80 women had been kept in dog kennels and were made to sit on the concrete floor for hours. There were young girls in the cages, and the guards were hanging off the sides of the cages, harassing them. At one point, all three of the girls were removed from the cages. She said no one knew where they had been taken.

Even though the Red Owl Legal Cooperative arrived in Bismarck with cash to secure their release, officials refused to set bail, waiting until too late in the day for the detainees to go before the judge. The couple was then separated, and she was taken to Devil’s Lake jail, a four-hour drive to the north. She did not know where he was taken. The legal collective drove to Devil’s Lake, and still they would not release the prisoners.

He related how they destroyed the teepees and sacred objects at the front line camp. Many people lost everything. Luckily the couple had loaded most of their stuff into their truck, drove it to a safe place, and gave someone their keys. Many others lost their cars that have been impounded as “evidence.” People have no idea where they are or if and when they can get them back.  

They told us about the young man and the elder who had been ripped out of their sweat lodge where they were holding ceremony, thrown to the ground, handcuffed, and not allowed to dress. Video footage from the front lines confirmed that. They apparently were made to sit in the cell with only their shorts.

frontlines

The couple said that they were some of the last to be arrested, as they were sitting in their prayer circle. The militia had surrounded them, but was waiting until everyone was gone, thinking they could make their arrests with no risk of getting caught on camera. She said after everyone had been pushed back, the officers ripped an elder out of the circle and beat him, and then ripped a young woman out as well and threw her to the ground before they were all arrested.

Even though there was a no-fly zone put in place to prevent drones from filming, the camp journalists flew them anyway and then anonymously contributed their footage. Sure enough, everything she told me is on the drone footage.

At one point in the struggle, two different herds of buffalo came thundering over the hills, much to the joy of the water protectors. She told me that the buffalo were running in front of several young people on their horses, who were driving the herds towards the front line. When DAPL saw what was happening, they chased the young people, firing their rifles at them. One of the horses was struck in the leg with a bullet. When they missed the young woman rider, a DAPL security guard overcame her and rammed his ATV into the back of her horse. She and her mount went flying, breaking both of the legs of the horse. Later, sadly, the horse had to be put down. It was a miracle that none of those young people were shot or killed.

horse-boysAs of this morning, they still have not accounted for 101 arrestees from yesterday. The chairman of their tribe was also arrested, along with archeologists, lawyers, and many other water protectors whose only goal is to make sure there is clean water for everyone.

The presence of these two water warriors was stunning. As I sat there crying, they, on the other hand, were filled with a light, talking about how inspiring it was that their chairman was also arrested. And they recounted their happy moment when they found each other again. He was released first, went and found his truck, and laid down in the back to wait for her. When she arrived, they grabbed each other and thanked the creator for their good fortune to be together again.

He described what is happening at Sacred Stone Camp simply: “It’s like being the one always being bullied on the playground, and then, people suddenly start standing up for you. It feels so good!”

Today was a relatively quiet day on the front lines. DAPL and Morton County sheriff have blocked off the road while DAPL continues to tear up their sacred sites, desecrate their ancestors graves, and move closer to the Missouri River.

jingle

We walked to the front line in prayer, with the drum and songs. A group of jingle dancers did a round dance, and we prayed some more. At one point, Chief Arvol Looking Horse, who was leading the prayers, walked over to the security forces and had a talk, but nothing changed: the barricades remained, US law enforcement continued to protect a multinational corporation with a record of leaking pipelines, and a band of water protectors continued to pray and remain peaceful and vigilant.

If you haven’t gone to Standing Rock, get there. Not only are you needed as a water protector, but you will be forever changed by the power of these amazing people. Peaceful prayer as a protection is the most powerful force there is.

If this pipeline goes through, we will all be called upon to stand up and protect our water. Why not do it now, before it’s too late?

No matter what the outcome of this epic stand, the Standing Rock Sioux have already won. Love trumps hate, prayer beats weapons, and nonviolence will be their legacy. They are on the right side of history, and I am betting even those men in the militarized militia cannot drink oil.

chief

Echoes of the Ghost Dance

Memory is long in Indian Country and histories get obscured through the haze of stories untold or skewed in the telling. By the late 1800s, the nomadic Sioux had been relegated to 320 acre plots, their children sent to boarding schools for assimilation into Christendom, and the great buffalo herds all but extinguished. Their once fluid land base had been reduced to an area the size of the state of South Dakota, and then reduced again to the roughly five reservations they now occupy. In the 1890s, a spiritual awakening intermixed with millennial anxiety, rebellion against the oppressors, and cultural expression of autonomy swept the destitute tribes. It was known as the Ghost Dance; a consolidation of secular round dances conducted with the conviction that earnestness and spiritual alignment would rid the land of its brutal occupation, and bring back the buffalo, the disappearing birds, fish and plants, and the old ways.

The Ghost Dance scared white settlers and their BIA enforcers who saw it as a call to arms, a resurgence of a powerful warrior spirit. Perhaps it had those elements, as the warrior spirit of the Sioux runs deep, but when people are starving and facing the harsh Great Plains winter dressed in rags and without shoes, it is very difficult to amass a credible threat to the cancer of colonization. In spite of the reality of the situation, BIA agents asked for troop reinforcements, claiming that Sitting Bull’s leadership posed a great threat to westward expansion. Panic set in among the white settlers, Sitting Bull was arrested for not intervening in the illegal dances, and was subsequently shot and killed in suspicious circumstances. The Ghost Dance continued to sweep through Native American tribes.

Ghost Dance. Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain
Ghost Dance. Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain

To the settlers, the dancing was seen as ritualistic, primitive, Dionysian, and the ululations, pitch-singing and drumming heard as cries for revenge of all that was lost. At Wounded Knee, a Lakota dance began near the banks of a little river. Earth was thrown into the sky as an offering to the heavens, a pathway for the return of lost animals, a holy offering. Was it a signal for rebellion? A gunshot was heard, and the massacre began. White soldiers, still humiliated from the Battle of Greasy Grass (Little Big Horn), and hungover from a night of hard drinking, opened fire with carbines and mounted Hotchkiss guns, and when the roar of bullets cleared, the blood of 153 Lakota seeped into the tall grass prairie. Escaping women and children were tracked for miles, slain where caught.

Memory is long in Indian Country, and the devastation of colonization continues. We witness the  zealotry of security as they release bloody nosed dogs who lunge at their leashes to bite and rip at bodies. We see the glee in the troops as they pepper spray point blank in the faces of peaceful and prayerful people. We understand the genocidal consequences of our continued investment in economies of extraction, our attack on the water of life itself. Helicopters whirl overhead, surveilling the camps, and militarized police mix with private security to protect corporate interests as they plow through sacred sites of what once was legally decreed Sioux land. Police are armed, protectors are not. There is money at stake, a lot of it, and South Dakota seems wholly owned by petroleum industries.

“But things are different now. Wounded Knee could never happen again,” you might be thinking. Yes, things are always different, but history repeats itself, or more accurately, is not finished. This is the same history. As Digital Smoke Signals’  Myron Dewey says in a video post, “So we got this in reference to the Ghost Dance. When they were in prayer, they were in circle, and then they (the soldiers) created propaganda and  went in, and that was the issue. We do not want to repeat history.”

This is followed up by a direct call to action from Joye Braun of the Indigenous Environmental Network, who makes a direct plea for our participation in this ongoing and escalating standoff:

“We need everyone to come to camp now! This is not pretend anymore… Pack up, get your bags, and come here now! Come through the South Dakota side, and get to Standing Rock! …This is ground zero. Now! We need you here, right now!”

Memory is long in Indian Country. The ghost of Sitting Bull watches over the protectors. At night, drums thud to the fire’s glow, and northern lights arc across the open sky. There is singing, ululation, laughter, prayer. As you drift into sleep, you just might hear the hope and promise of a Ghost Dance of the Great Plains whisper through the buffalo grass. There is a lot at stake here, and we have a slim chance of getting it right, maybe this time…

History is always skewed, but there is that arc, they say, that sometimes bends towards justice.

An image of Sitting Bull was produced behind this message under the growing number of flags at Sacred Stone Camp (photo credit: Joe Brusky)
An image of Sitting Bull was produced behind this message under the growing number of flags at Sacred Stone Camp (photo credit: Joe Brusky)

Madison City Council Passes Resolution Expressing Solidarity with Resistance Against the Dakota Access Pipeline

A group of women marching at Sacred Stone Camp (Photo credit: Joe Brusky of Overpass Light Brigade).
A group of women marching at Sacred Stone Camp (Photo credit: Joe Brusky of Overpass Light Brigade).

The Madison City Council unanimously passed a resolution expressing solidarity with Indigenous resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline on Tuesday night.

“WHEREAS, the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline would carry as many as 570,000 barrels of fracked crude oil per day for more than 1,100 miles from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota to Illinois, passing over sensitive landscapes including treaty protected land containing recognized cultural resources and across or under 209 rivers, creeks, and tributaries including the pristine Missouri River, which provides drinking water and irrigates agricultural land in communities across the Midwest; and,
WHEREAS, the proposed pipeline violates the collective environmental human rights of the people of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to life, health, clean water, and a clean environment, treaty rights secured to them by the 1851 and 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaties between the Oceti Sakowin and the United States, as well as by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 3, 25; ICCPR, Art. 6; the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, Art. 7, 24, 29; and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, Art. 1.; and,
WHEREAS, despite deep opposition from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as well as farmers, scientists, more than 30 environmental advocacy groups, and other Tribal nations along the proposed route, and without Tribal consultation or meaningful environmental review as required by federal law, in July, 2016 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit allowing construction of the fracked oil pipeline to move forward; and,
WHEREAS, in a show of monumental cooperation not seen in the 140 years since the Battle of the Greasy Grass or Custer’s Last Stand, members of the Lakota Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have united with the Oceti Sakowin, the Seven Fires Council – which include the confederation of Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Nations – and established a peaceful encampment in Cannon Ball, North Dakota known as the Sacred Stone Camp to resist the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline with a cultural and spiritual presence; and,
WHEREAS, on August 15, 2016 the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council led by Tribal Chairman David Archambault II called on Tribal nations and Indigenous people around the world to issue resolutions in support of the Standing Rock Sioux and the Sacred Stone Camp; and,
WHEREAS, more than 200 tribal nations and a growing number of US cities have formally passed such resolutions; and,
WHEREAS: the City of Madison is located on the traditional homelands of the Ho-Chunk people and their ancestors; and,
WHEREAS, the City of Madison recognizes the importance of maintaining government to government relationships between tribal governments and local, state and federal governments established by treaties between tribes and the US Government and has recognized Indigenous Peoples Day since 2005; and,
WHEREAS, all 11 federally recognized tribal governments in the State of Wisconsin have formally expressed their support of the Standing Rock Sioux in their treaty rights to free and informed consent, and their human rights to clean water; and,
WHEREAS, the City of Madison is home to a thriving American Indian community, including members of all 11 federally recognized tribes as well as tribes from across the continent; and,
WHEREAS, the State of Wisconsin, County of Dane and City of Madison have codified protection of sacred and otherwise culturally important sites in law and ordinance; and,
WHEREAS, the highest concentration of Late Woodland effigy mounds is centered in Madison and Dane County, although most of them were destroyed by the middle of the 20th century; and,
WHEREAS, the City of Madison understands the vital importance of protecting our natural resources, in particular the water,
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Mayor and Common Council of the City of Madison, stand in support of the Indigenous opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline and call on all residents of Madison to raise awareness about this important struggle for Indigenous sovereignty and environmental justice and to support the Sacred Stone Camp efforts in any way they can; and,
FINALLY, BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City of Madison calls upon the United States and the Army Corps of Engineers to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of the Standing Rock Sioux and any other tribe whose resources could be impacted by the pipeline prior to taking any federal action regarding the DAPL that would harm or destroy tribal ancestral lands, waters and sacred sites.

Madison City Council resolution sponsored by Rebecca Kemble, Marsha Rummel, Samba Baldeh, Ledell Zellers, Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, David Ahrens, Mike Verveer, Sara Eskrich,and Amanda Hall and Mayor Paul Soglin

We need every city in America to pass similar resolutions. What are you waiting for?

#noDAPL #WaterIsLife

Sacred Stone and Peaceful Resistance

Since our visit to Sacred Stone Camp, we have been highlighting news and pictures of the Dakota Access Pipeline resistance fight on our Facebook page and in this blog. People are obviously hungry for news about this movement, but we were surprised to see our “total reach,” a barometer of Facebook’s algorithmic dispersal of pages and posts, hit a weekly high of 1.5 million people. While some of this is due to the sharing of our original content, we are also sharing other groups’ posts and articles that we feel accurately communicates the complex story of indigenous resistance. Until recently, people were seeing few articles or reports on these issues in mainstream media, so it is even more important to disseminate news in such a grassroots and rhizomatic manner. This is for three significant reasons. The first and foremost is to simply share reliable information from the front lines, so that those who have little connection to the region are able to understand what is happening. It often feels that this “news” function is being abandoned by traditional news sources, and we hope to fill that gap if we are able. The second reason is to shame these news sources with information that percolates up through the dark matter of the internet, so that they begin to feel a need to do their jobs and report the stories of this historical indigenous movement, in spite of the patronage of Big Oil that underwrites much of their organizational structure. It is not a stretch to feel that the “Fourth Estate” is often derelict in its definitive role of “speaking truth to power” or at least adequately reporting the story of those who do. While social media is a shabby substitution for real investigative journalism, those on the ground with the grassroots movements do have a story to tell, and the cumulative effect is an important one. A third reason for taking our collective grassroots media reach seriously is movement building itself; that is, the important work of bringing people together around the urgent struggles for environmental sanity, social justice, and racial equity.
The flags of indigenous nations line the entrance of Sacred Stone Camp.
The flags of indigenous nations line the entrance of Sacred Stone Camp (photo: Joe Brusky).
The invention of cheap, DIY lighted letter panels, and their extension into the growing Light Brigade Network, has allowed certain night spaces to become effective canvasses for messaging and the amplification of such issues. In the case of the resistance against pipeline colonialism, and specifically the indigenous struggle against DAPL, we are committed to continue to get the word out through all bandwidths possible.
Along with other activist groups, OLB was involved in coordinating a national call of support, hosted by Action Network.  We are calling on President Obama to instruct the Army Corps of Engineers to revoke the permits for this dirty pipeline, not simply for a temporary halt so that protocol for public response, rushed at best, can be honored after the fact, but for the recognition that the Standing Rock Sioux have rights as a sovereign nation as decreed through legal historical treaty.
So continue to share information on social media, talk to friends, get involved in this historical struggle. It matters. When we care enough to put our bodies on the line, the front lines, a rally, a march, a meeting, a hearing, holding a lighted letter in a message on a bridge, we struggle against a culture of complacency, and push our elected officials to think that they might indeed represent us. We also understand that we are active agents in a history that unfolds, not merely spectators in someone else’s story. By gathering together, in this case, we  hope to call attention to the dedicated warriors at The Sacred Stone camp and encourage others to take a stand in support of these brave Protectors.

via GIPHY

Drone To Be Wild

Shiyé Bidzííl (third from the left) has been using his drone camera to bring greater visibility to the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline in  Canon Ball, ND.

It was horsemanship day at the Red Warrior Camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, and we had set ourselves up in the minimal shade of a small break of willow trees. It was the only shade around, and people drifted in to watch the riding events, joining us away from the blistering sun. We started talking with a local guy, and were delighted to realize that he was responsible for some great video footage of the area taken from a drone. In fact, it was the very footage that helped catalyze our own decision to drive all the way from Milwaukee to North Dakota, in order to witness the phenomenal gathering in resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline being ramrodded through by corporate America and their police and security forces. The following is a Q & A that we at OLB conducted with Shiyé Bidzííl (Dean Dedman, Jr.) and his “drone2Bwild” photo and video project that can be found here:

My name is Dean Dedman Jr. I am half Hunkpapa Lakota and also half Dine (Navajo). I am an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. I am the pilot behind the controls of Drone2bwild. I was living in Mobridge, SD where Lake Oahe is located. But since the fight has come to the lands of my people and ancestors, I took it upon myself to come here to the Cannon Ball River to stand and fight for the waters and lands that we all share on this planet. I have been camping here going on five weeks now, I have sacrificed everything in order to be here and do what I am doing. I’m planning on staying here till the very end and until we Water Protectors put an end to DAKOTA ACCESS and its atrocities towards our sacred sites.

My interests in drones came at the beginning of this year, when I bought my first Phantom 3 Advanced. I was so intrigued with this new technology that I worked all year and saved up enough money to get my own, and since then I’ve been flying every single day here at the camps. I want to show the people that drones can be used for good, because right now when people hear the word drones, they automatically think, FBI, Homeland Security, CIA, and DAPL!… So using this technology has really educated the people at the camp about drones, and now they welcome the use of the drone, especially when we have canoe actions or horse races. The drone is here to cover these events as history is being made each day. This camp is expanding and getting bigger by the day. Everyone is still on edge, and waiting for the next move that DAPL will be making… Will they still be working secretly? Will they bring in more security forces? Questions like these run through my head and amongst the camps, but for now we are all here bringing the awareness and solidarity of all these tribes that have shown up to stand with us and to put an end to this Black Snake.

The work I have been doing for this movement has had a huge impact and has been very beneficial to my indigenous peoples fighting against this pipeline. The Drone2bwild page went viral and my drone footage has been shared around the world. Messages from people all over the world come in by the day expressing prayers and support for what I am doing. Simple drone technology has given us activists and grassroots people the upper hand in surveillance and has allowed me to show the world this movement from a higher perspective. I was the first drone pilot to follow this movement from the start, providing the first drone footage of the resistance against Dakota Access Pipeline construction workers and the clash between law enforcement and Water Protectors.

This photo of a water action at Sacred Stone Camp was taken by drone2bwild.
This photo of a water action at Sacred Stone Camp was taken by drone2bwild.

Since that time, this place has blown up with major media outlets from around the world. Now there are a few more drone pilots here at the camps, which has become a concern for the Morton County Sheriff Department. They have already addressed that they are looking for a drone pilot. Who would they be looking for? All I know is I gotta stay one step ahead of them. It is now week 5 and the media has blown up now and they have been targeting journalist and drone pilots alike. I have been warned by the Morton County law enforcement that what I am doing with the drone is illegal, yet we have helicopters and planes flying way below their intended flight altitudes, and I have also seen DAPL security use the same drones we are using to survey the pipeline and to spy on our peoples at the camps.

I feel that they are trying to keep drones out of skies because of the heavy media attention they are getting for their wrongs and lies they have been spreading. One other drone pilot almost had his Phantom 4 taken from him, but was given back when the crowd closed in on the officer who grabbed it. I am also prepared to face resistance from both FAA and law enforcement in the coming weeks. However, I am here for one reason, and that is to protect our precious water at all cost. I will use every talent and skill that I have to protect our children’s future. I do this for my kids, my twin boys and baby girl. They were born from water, we are water, water is essential to all life in the universe. Let’s take care of it! Let’s take care of this planet! Let’s stand up and show these big fossil fuel giants that we are here and we will fight and die for what we hold dear to our hearts and that this is the spirit of the water and the earth.

This whole movement has changed my life and the way I now look at the world. The future of this pipeline is total shut down, but the future of this movement is only the beginning of a world wide stand against all of this environmental degradation that we see every day. I love what I do and I am very proud of my accomplishments with this drone footage.