Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Standing Rock

Part II
Axmen Firearms
Retail store on Hwy 93 Just South of Missoula MT
Dec. 12th, 2016

I think there's common agreement amonst human beings not unhinged that we don't want to live in a dystopian world, nor do we want to hand off such a thing to our children. 

Why then, has the above-pictured poster-child of such a world been tolerated at the south end of Missoula on the highway for every single car traveling north or south out of Missoula to see since shortly after the Obama election? Why have at least a half a dozen other such abominations directly along that route in the 40 miles between Missoula and Hamilton been tolerated for at least that long? 

Really, have we had enough yet? Have we finally had enough?

Oceti Sakowin Camp from raised grade of Hwy 1806
Morton County, ND
Dec. 2nd, 2016

There's been an antidote to such extremism all along that's been available to everyone who hasn't allowed their fears and bigotries to pop the hinges off the lid of their common sense, and it's been  known for millennia. Anyone who's lived in the Northern Rockies of Montana for any length of time (with their hinges intact, of course) knows this for sure. Just take a walk (or ski) through the trees and listen to them. You know what I mean. We're lucky, is what they say. The Truth has set us free. 

But before I get to that most important thing I learned by witnessing (for the short time of one week) the doings at Standing Rock, as a public service I would like to speak to something a little more pedestrian: public safety. Maybe this could be a connector, a light bulb so to speak, for those who may not have had the opportunity to memorize the map of the night sky yet. Be patient on that. It's all knowable, and all you need is the curiosity and the bit of time it takes a human brain to shed enough of those superfluous byproducts of our commercial culture that are undoubtedly clinging to your perceptions of the world. You can get by all that, it's not that hard, and you can know all you need and want to by and by, so don't worry.

In the meantime, let's consider public safety. Use this observation about it as a measuring rod, if nothing else, to size up what corporate news is really trying to sell you about what has happened at Standing Rock so far, what's happening there now and what you can bet your mortgage payment is going to happen there in the future.

Water protectors looking north across Backwater Bridge on North Dakota Highway 1806 at militarized police, razor wire and water cannon blocking access to shortest, safest route to emergency services at Mandan/Bismarck, ND
(Oceti Sakowin Camp is just a little behind the protectors and to their right)

The picture above is what a tax-paying motorist heading north out of Oceti Sakowin Camp on Highway 1806 would have been confronted with on their frigid way out toward Bismarck. The scene itself is dystopian enough (like an oversized assault weapon advertising a hardware store, for instance). But of particular concern regarding public safety during the week I was at the camps was that between Dec. 1 and Dec. 7 the camp was filling up with thousands of vets staging for their anticipated action of collectively shielding the water protectors. Along with these vets were many people coming from across the swath of America's religious, spiritual and cultural denominations who came to lend support during that crucial week before the Governor of North Dakota's "eviction" notice set for Dec. 5th. Nobody knew what was going to happen on that date other than that, if the state was serious about trying to evict the camp, there was going to be another scene similar to the all-but-deadly debacle the state perpetrated on protectors on Nov. 20th on this very bridge. It turned out that, due to the wisdom of the tribal elders combined with the huge show of support--and the massive media coverage centered around the vets'  arrival--the state backed down. For the time being.

But simultaneous to this backing-down was the coming of winter's second blizzard bringing arctic conditions to the camp, which many of the newcomers were not (and I believe could not be) prepared for. Many of the vets came in buses and were "deployed" (put up) in public facilities located on the reservation. But I met many good-hearted, elderly vets and other supporters who came in their own vehicles and were sleeping in them. Given the weather conditions, this was awe-inspiring in its own right and, to a person, the ones I talked to were game to challenging the militarized response to peaceful demonstrators, and to do so as best the could in the teeth of a North Dakota blizzard.

I think it's fair to observe that on this week the locals were particularly overwhelmed with "out-of-towners" and that more than a couple tribal folks I chatted with thought it was more than a little funny that these newbys were putting chains on newer-model all-wheelers while they were skating around quite nicely without them in their earlier-model econo-rigs. In other words and, of course, the locals were expecting such weather. But to these good-hearted out-of-towners who had been sleeping in their cars for a couple-three nights and were not as used to such North Dakota reality, and even to those who were, this was serious weather, with serious consequences for an individual if one of many things went wrong.

Most stayed until the Dec. 5th deadline passed and the vets did their peaceful actions at the bridge and at the Oceti Sakowin Camp and other locations. After that, the weather made it clear that, for those who were unprepared, it would have been dangerous to themselves as well as to the movement for them to have remained and had something unfortunate happen to them. It was time for those to leave, and there were a lot of them.

And here is the key point I wish to make: The state of North Dakota, whose tax-funded employees were paid to protect and provide safe services for ALL citizens, including their OWN, felt it was a more important use of tax dollars for them to harm the movement by attempting to harm their own citizens as well as these newcomers (many of whom ended up dumping untold thousands of dollars into the local economies of Mandan and Bismarck to the north in the middle of this--shall we politely say?--non-traditional tourist season). The state of North Dakota officially blocked these peaceful folks' safest, fastest way north to Mandan and Bismarck with razor-wire and water-cannons. For the sake of a pipeline company.

Repeat that last sentence a couple times in your head. Is your jaw dropping yet?

OK. Let's give the cops the benefit of whatever shred of doubt there is to that last sentence for a minute. Let's assume, as I can only guess they did given their behavior, that most of these folks (and just include myself here for the sake of argument) were starry-eyed and naive, similar to, say, your average occupant in an out-of-state vehicle traveling across North Dakota on I-94. How rude, a local might snort, to be so starry-eyed and naive in such weather, right? A smug little snicker under their breath, an off-color joke or two at the truck stop, that would have been the only proper response for publicly-funded entities sworn to protect citizens during exactly such circumstances. But imagine a dangerous storm hitting unwary travelers on I-94 and the state of North Dakota throwing razor wire, water cannons and a militarized police force in the path of their fastest way out????!!!

That's what I witnessed at Standing Rock on Highway 1806. The nearest analogy I can come up with is being caught driving while black in Selma, Alabama in 1963. Think about it the next time you're traveling across North Dakota in a blizzard, or reading anything about North Dakota from now on for the foreseeable future. That state has some long and sincere apologizing to do before any hinged American should take what they officially have to say seriously again.

Water protectors approaching Backwater Bridge on Highway 1806 at night

Burnt vehicle and trailer placed on Blackwater Bridge by law enforcement,
removed by water protectors on Nov. 20th 

Thanks to some epic failures on too many peoples' part, the road we're collectively staring down is distinctly Dystopian now, no doubt. Too bad, but there's no use turning back, and shying away from looking forward is even less of an option. Maybe this is our golden moment. Hard to say and who's to say such a thing even after the fact. But activism's always the best antidote to social despair, and heres what I think:

On the other side of those scary lights is a road where hardware stores wouldn't dare use assault rifles to advertise their knick-knacks in America's heartland. 

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