The Big Picture –
By Glynn Wilson –
Winter is coming to Cannon Ball, North Dakota, so time is of the essence if the public is going to support the actions of the Standing Rock Sioux, clearly a historic moment in the human struggle for survival on planet Earth.
Those of us who have camped with the Standing Rock Sioux are now watching from afar as heavily armed private security forces and white, local Sheriff’s deputies team up to try to end the peaceful protest over an oil pipeline before the ground freezes and becomes too hard to continuing digging.
So far the success of the protest has inspired environmental activists from all over the country and the world. A piece of federal property just on the border of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation by the Missouri River has become the symbolic front lines in a war to save the planet from climate change due to global warming from the burning of fossil fuels.
While the pipeline fight has not become a major issue in the presidential campaign, perhaps it should be. We learned this week that Republican nominee Donald Trump is a major partner in Energy Transfer, the oil consortium that owns Dakota Access, the company building the pipeline
Trump’s financial disclosure forms from May show he is a partner to the tune of between $500,000 and $1 million of the company. According to the Center on Responsive Politics, Energy Transfer’s chief executive Kelcy L. Warren contributed $1.53 million in campaign contributions to Super PACS and $246,900 to individual campaigns and the Republican Party this year alone.
Unfortunately, the Democrats don’t seem willing or able to exploit this fact and join the Standing Rock Sioux on the front lines. While President Obama visited Cannon Ball two years ago and has worked with Native American tribes more than any previous president, Hillary Clinton’s campaign can’t seem to get its heads around where to stand on the pipeline fight.
“Now, all of the parties involved — including the federal government, the pipeline company and contractors, the state of North Dakota, and the tribes — need to find a path forward that serves the broadest public interest,” Clinton campaign spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said in a statement.
In reacting to this stance, Bill McKibben of 350.org, which joined forces with the national Sierra Club two years ago and managed to get about 35,000 people to march on Washington for action on climate change, called the Clinton campaign statement “pap.”
“It literally says nothing,” he said.
This is no way to win a presidential campaign, or a war to save the planet.
By way of contrast, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders spoke at a rally against the pipeline, and said: “Our species as human beings will not survive, if we continue to destroy nature.”
Meanwhile, in a court decision even the conservative Associated Press called a “stunning acquittal,” seven white men who occupied a federal wildlife sanctuary in Oregon during an armed standoff last year “raised fears that the verdict could embolden other militant groups in a long-running dispute over government-owned Western lands.”
While one juror was quoted as saying the decision was a rejection of the prosecution’s conspiracy case, not an endorsement of the defendants’ actions, it certainly prompts questions about what’s the difference between an armed occupier and a peaceful protester?
Having just returned from a 6,000 mile fact finding trip out west, a few things now seem obvious that you can’t learn just from hanging out on Facebook.
The Standing Rock Sioux are engaged in a significant moral crusade that most political and environmental advocates in the United States are too afraid to embrace, just as many African Americans and liberals were too afraid to fully engage in the Civil Rights movement in Alabama in the 1960s, until Martin Luther King’s protesters were beaten up on Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
While the Bundies and their cohort ranchers and oil men out west pretend to be engaged in a similar struggle, simply driving around in the west clearly demonstrates that their cause is not so just.
What is the beef these cattlemen have with the federal government?
Everywhere you go out west, in every national forest bordering every national park, there are signs that read “Free Range,” which is supposed to warn travlers about unfenced cattle ahead. But that’s not what it means anymore, since there are fences everywhere. It simply means there are privately owned cattle munching the grass in our public lands down to the roots. They drink all the water in every pond owned by the public.
Everywhere you look, there are private oil and gas wells pumping fossil fuels out of the ground, when the science clearly tells us this is a bad idea. There are private logging trucks hauling the timber out of our national forests — for private profit.
Obviously there is an intellectual disconnect from reality on the part of anyone who would side with the ranchers against the feds. I don’t know how to fix it. Donald Trump is clearly making matters worse, and Hillary Clinton is not fighting against it hard enough.
Some of the Agriculture Department employees in the Ouachita National Forest between Fort Smith and Hot Springs, Arkansas, had an idea. Passing through on our trip, we took notice of signs erected along the route saying things like, “This is your forest. Please protect it. Don’t litter. Prevent forest fires.”
But of course the roads around the signs were covered in trash, making me think the obvious. The rednecks of Arkansas who drive through the forest on their way to and from work and home think of the land as “federal government land,” not their land. Just like the ranchers out west.
Until we come up with a better way to characterize this situation and flood the political airwaves and the media with a better story line, public support for the likes of Ammon Bundy is likely to eclipse public support for the Standing Rock Sioux. And that would be a national shame and an international disaster.
But I can’t even seem to get paid, professional environmental advocates in my home state to understand that voting to allow the privatization of the state parks is a bad idea. They are on the wrong side in this battle and the wrong side of history.
What will become of this place? I don’t know. All I can do is try to convince people to do the right thing. The rest is up to you.
© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.