Reflection | Keep Standing Rock Decolonized

This is a militarized zone unlike any I’ve seen before. One side is armed, while the other chooses not to be. One side faces no threat; the other is threatened from all angles – snow, sleet, sickness, sadness and the System. One side fights violently for oil and money; the other, peacefully, for water and justice and life. “Which side are you on?” asks an old, familiar line, and I know my answer. Our bodies are 65 percent water; the Earth is 71 percent water, and I am 100 percent on the side of those who protect the water. Every day at Standing Rock, I learn more about what that means – because this isn’t only a struggle for water rights, but for the indigenous tribes’ right to survive as they are, where they are.

“Everyone wants to be fists-up,” says the young woman leading Oceti Sakowin Camp’s newcomers’ orientation. ”Nobody wants to be fists-down, shoveling snow and washing dishes.” She reminds us we all live on territory that was taken by force from Native people, and that the urge to want to take control of fighting the Black Snake, as our indigenous hosts have named the Dakota Access Pipeline, is shades of imperialism. Many of us don’t understand, she explains, the ways that attitude embodies all the DAPL represents: colonialism, capitalism and race-based entitlement. Plenty of people show up wanting to stick it to The Man – few recognize how this desire can turn us into The Man’s right hand.

The only way to really side with the water protectors, I learn, is to serve them – not to be their boss or supervisor or savior, but simply to serve them in any way possible. This is, after all, a matter of life and death for them – there’s no time to waste on trying to be a star. The newcomers’ orientation (as well as the daily Decolonization meeting) exists, after all, because too many people have been coming to the camp expecting to lead the charge against the Black Snake, failing to see that the charge is already being led. What the charge needs, desperately, is followers. But when a majority of the volunteers who turn up are not only white, but more accustomed to giving instructions than receiving them, the dynamic that ensues eerily mimics the one known all too well by Natives, and can be summed up in five words: “You’re not doing it right.”

It becomes my mission to counteract that narrative in every possible way during my short stay at Standing Rock. When I feel the urge to go to the front of the march, I stay back. When I want to rush straight to the Direct Action training, where people are being prepped for doing battle with the long arm of the law, I change course and veer toward the kitchen. But I only work there for a day and a half, because I want to respect the indigenous tribes’ choice to observe a person’s moon cycle by, among other restrictions, keeping them away from food preparation and serving – and wouldn’t you know, my Moon happens to have risen a few days early. Even though my white-feminist mind initially bristles at this exclusion (“What am I – dirty?” sputters my inner monologue), I learn in orientation that this isn’t an attempt to shame people who bleed (not only cis-gendered women, it’s acknowledged), but a way of honoring the ability of these people to bring forth life, and the unique power that we exhibit during this time of the month. An indigenous man in the room adds to this explanation that “when a person is on their Moon, they can bring a roomful of men to their knees,” and this sounds much more respectful than being dismissed as weak because I’m “on the rag.” This is, I’m told, our time to be served, and it sounds pretty appropriate to me.

When I sheepishly inform Megan, a young Native woman I meet in the kitchen, that I have to excuse myself because my Auntie Flo has arrived, she smiles.

“You’re in your own ceremony at this time,” she assures me, and rather than feeling crippled by my intensifying stomach cramps, I suddenly feel strengthened, while also humbled by the idea that she, not I, has been addressing menstruation the “right” way. As one who regularly derides the American Way of telling us to “shut up and shove some cotton up your twat,” I’m embarrassed to realize that I haven’t even been honoring my own body. That’s the patriarchy for ya, I think to myself. And I smile, remembering that this camp is a matriarchy – yet another foreign concept to most of us volunteers. Who are we to think we know what we’re doing? I ask myself, and am unable to locate an answer.

The first day, I learn how to stand in strength and silence with Native women on the bridge by standing behind them as they face down concrete barriers and armed guards. The second day, I learn to stand in the kitchen, washing dishes and preparing food, overseen by Native women. The third day, I learn to stand in the donations tent handing out socks, gloves, hats and boots to Native men and women who won’t ask for them, while keeping an eye out for my fellow white people who might be loading up shopping bags full of things they don’t need. I have no idea what I’ll be learning next. Chances are, it will be far less glamorous than standing on the front lines, facing down The Enemy. But I’m certain that whatever task I accept, as long as I’m serving the Water Protectors with humility and respect for their work, wisdom and sacrifice, I will be doing it right.

Reflection | Silent And Strong: Women Lead At Standing Rock

As I march beside hundreds of silent women toward the imposing guards of the Dakota Access Pipeline, I wonder why we don’t do this every damn day, every-damn-where in the world. Arms linked, we march from the camp to the bridge, where behind towering concrete barricades lurks an LMTV (with a gunner!). The smell of sage fills the air, and not a word is uttered. I feel stronger than I ever did during my six years in the army, when an M16 was my useless bodyguard, and anger, my daily drug. Neither anger nor firepower can match the strength of a procession of women peacefully united for a common cause.

The women lead, with the men following behind to “hold the space,” keeping a protectively small distance. Indigenous people, effortlessly confident in the rightness of their action, invite us all to pray with them for the water – and even though praying is not a thing I’ve done in years, I realize the prayer isn’t the kind I performed as a kid in church, but a summoning of the power of the universe to right the wrongs of humanity. We are protecting the water because it is the reason for life, and the women here at Oceti Sakowin Camp know the best way to protect it is not through violent attacks, but through powerful, prayerful, silent presence.

We can tell it’s the women who know because this camp is a matriarchy, and it’s the women who make the decisions – it’s they, not the men, who’ve been calling for the unarmed, peaceful protest that’s been going on here for nearly four months. It’s they who march us forward onto the bridge, then signal: Sit down. We sit. In the front of the march, hands flashing the sign for peace (or perhaps the sign for victory) reach toward the sky, and the gesture ripples back through the crowd. Hundreds of hands, silently floating up toward circling airplanes and surveillance drones, spread their frigid fingers, as the bodies attached to them kneel on the road in the bitter North Dakota wind, praying for the water. We have no idea whether the authorities will attempt to intervene, but we do know that they don’t need a reason to try. We also know that we have every reason to stay exactly where we are.

They don’t intervene. They don’t even make a sound. As daylight begins to fade, we all stand and turn to look over the bridge to our left, where a group of our indigenous leaders are beginning to drum, chant and pray beside the river. Rose-tinted clouds appear in the evening sky, reddening as the sun sinks, melting into blue and then grey as the elders finish their ceremony. A bundle of sage passes through the crowd, its cleansing smoke fanned by hand after hand, and I feel as calm and centered as I ever have, strengthened by the collective intention powering this movement. We all silently link arms and march back to the camp, where an elder thanks us for the work we’ve done today, for completing our action in prayerful silence.

“They didn’t think we could do it, but we did it,” she says, and although I don’t know specifically who “they” are, I understand that this action was done to prove as much to ourselves and our allies as to the Army Corps of Engineers, the government of North Dakota, or the investors in the Dakota Access Pipeline. We’ve shown everyone watching and listening that our quiet, confident presence is our greatest show of strength – not noise, not aggression, not violence, but determination, and peaceful, passionate silence. We are Woman – hear our hearts beat. We don’t need to roar.

News | Bringing Truth to the Youth: The Counter-Recruitment Movement, Then and Now

“Back when we started, recruiters were just blatantly lying to the kids,” said Susan Quinlan, the co-founder and volunteer coordinator of the peace and justice group, Better Alternatives for Youth–Peace (BAY-Peace). For 12 years, she’s been bringing teams of youth into Oakland, California, schools to inform students about deceptive military recruiting practices. In that time, she has seen the recruitment climate in schools change drastically — and not necessarily for the better. …

[Read the full article at http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36822-bringing-truth-to-the-youth-the-counter-recruitment-movement-then-and-now]

Op/Ed | Thanks for Your Service, but Don’t Tell the Kids About It (We Need Them to Enlist)

The question came over my right shoulder, from a well-dressed woman whose nametag proclaimed her to be a member of the Chamber of Commerce in Pittsburg, California. We were in the Pittsburg High School gymnasium, the location of an end-of-year career fair for graduating seniors. Two other veterans and I, along with a civilian friend, were tabling there with the Full Picture Coalition, a network of individuals dedicated to bringing students the truth about military recruitment, and we’d been conversing with students for nearly two hours before the woman interrupted us to demand, with eyes narrowed, what kind of negativity we might be spreading. Alex, one of the veterans in our group (and a former Army recruiter himself), smiled at her. …

[Read the full article at http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/36397-thanks-for-your-service-but-don-t-tell-the-kids-about-it-we-need-them-to-enlist]

Op/Ed | A Veteran’s Affair: How Dealing With The VA Is Like Dating A Douchebag

After nearly 15 continuous years of war, you’d think more Americans would be aware of the ordeal veterans go through to get the benefits promised to us by the military. Unfortunately, because only one percent (roughly) of Americans serve in the military at any given time, there’s a massive cognitive disconnect between veterans and, as we lovingly call the rest of the population, civilians. But there is hope for us yet to bridge the communication divide.

What is the Department of Veterans Affairs to a veteran? It’s a relationship – with the douchiest person we’ve ever dated. And who has dated a douchey person? *Peers out at sea of raised hands* So, maybe it’s time for us veterans to start referring to the VA in more relatable terms – let’s say, as that douchebag we’ve all gone out with. There are, after all, striking similarities. …

[Read the full article at: http://brokeassstuart.com/blog/2016/02/08/a-veterans-affair-how-dealing-with-the-va-is-like-dating-a-douchebag/]