I've been wanting to write about Standing Rock for a while now, having sensed (quite unreasonably) back in October that future historians would say that the most significant political event of our day was not the election, but rather the events unfolding in North Dakota. Adding further to my urgency to write about it, my eldest son Jimi told me he was going to go there to join the Water Protectors. He is there right now.
The following essay is, in part, an elaboration of the advice I gave him. "Go with a peaceful heart," I said, knowing that carrying peace within would both protect him from harm (no guarantees there, but it will help) and also make him more effective in serving the cause.
I am told by Native American friends active at Standing Rock that the elders are counseling the Water Protectors to undertake each action prayerfully and to stay off the warpath.
I would like to explain why this advice is not only spiritually sound, but politically astute as well. I would like to translate it into a strategic compass for anyone who is going to Standing Rock or supporting the Water Protectors from afar. I also want to explain how it contains a recipe for the kind of miracles that we need for the healing of our planet.
Let me explain what I mean here by a miracle. A miracle is a kind of a gift, an occurrence that is beyond our capacity to make happen. It is something beyond the normal rules of cause and effect as we have understood them. These include the rules of political and economic power that determine what is practical and “realistic.”
The halting of the Dakota Access Pipeline would be miraculous simply because of the array of powerful ruling interests that are committed to building it. Not only has Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the pipeline, but a who’s-who of global banks has committed over $10 billion in lines of credit to ETP and other involved entities. Those banks, many of whom are facing financial stress of their own, are counting on the profits from the loans at a time when credit-worthy capital investments are hard to come by. Finally, the United States government has (in its estimation) a geopolitical interest in increasing domestic oil production to reduce the economic power of Russia and the Middle East. To hope to halt the pipeline in the face of such powers is in a certain sense unrealistic.
Since when has a Native American people successfully thwarted large-scale plans of mining, energy, or agricultural interests? The usual pattern has been one land grab after another in which resistance is at best futile and at worst suicidal. But at Standing Rock, something different is possible. It is not because the Dakota Sioux have finally acquired more guns or money than the pro-pipeline forces. It is because we are ready collectively for a change of heart.