Standing Rock: A Study in Nonviolent Resistance
BY SHARON GILLESPIe, LUTU member
As the earth teeters on the brink of irreparable climate change and mass extinctions, Standing Rock has shown us that people worldwide are inextricably connected, and it is this connection, through our cooperation, that may yet save us. Governments by and large collude with the extraction industries as they hurl us toward climate destabilization and disaster. Since we cannot expect their help, it is incumbent on us to save ourselves. As Harold Frazier, chair of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, has put it, “All we have is each other.”
So how does a movement begin? The key is to adopt a simple message based on clear moral authority, repeat it often, and never veer from it. Standing Rock framed it beautifully. It couldn’t be more obvious than “Water is life.” And it’s an expansive message that ripples out to embrace the concept that humans of necessity must be stewards of our home, the earth—and the more radical notion that conveniences born of fossil fuels must yield in favor of life-giving water.
But a message without a voice is not enough. Mainstream media outlets brazenly ignored Standing Rock’s struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). So the tribe reached out to independent journalists and social media, and they heard the call, as did clergy, celebrities, activists, and veterans; as did indigenous tribes across the Americas and around the globe; as did you and I, the hundreds of thousands who participated with donations, disruptions, and Facebook shares, hoping to bring the pipeline giant and its financiers to their knees. In the process, we learned that the indigenous people of Standing Rock are not alone. The American people and the world want clean water and renewable energy, not infrastructure to justify the extraction of tar-sands oil, in this case, or fracked gas, in another. From common purpose comes community, and the message that we are all in this together is implicit.
As with other peaceful movements, Standing Rock has its protestors: water protectors, as they’re called to help frame the message. To ensure favorable public opinion, protestors must remain nonviolent in the face of violence. Under threat, they rely on both courage and discipline, as well as their spirituality, to maintain acute focus on nonviolence. When protectors were besieged by water cannons in near-freezing weather or by attack dogs while defending ancestral burial grounds, the worldwide audience viewed them through a sympathetic lens: Armed only with prayer, water protectors—historically abused and impoverished Plains tribesmen—engaged in the battle for survival over extinction, pitting their bodies against a pipeline bully, its amoral bankers, and the government-owned, militarized thugs who do its bidding. The optics of David versus Goliath captured the imagination of humanity and won our hearts, giving Standing Rock an overwhelming advantage on the world stage.
In essence, Standing Rock is waging a campaign—a pacifists' war, if you will—of diversified tactics. The tribe has strategically planned and employed these tactics on various fronts simultaneously, not waiting for one to fail before engaging in another. From nonviolent direct actions to lawsuits and administrative appeals, it has taken the long view and held fast. Since an unforeseen event could defeat DAPL at whim, delaying construction is vital, and each day the pipeline remains unfinished is an invaluable achievement. Impressively, in alliance with the cause, spontaneous actions have arisen from the general public. All those who’ve closed bank accounts with Chase or Wells Fargo, for example, or protested outside the many banks financing DAPL have joined the front lines to kill the Black Snake.
In this battle to save the earth from greed, the indigenous people of Standing Rock and their allies have been maced and pepper sprayed, strip searched, and kenneled. The Morton County Sheriff’s Department has brutalized them with near-lethal concussion grenades and rubberized bullets. Though they are no longer visible, two missile launchers were recently pointed at the camp. With the presidency of Donald Trump, who himself owns an interest in the pipeline, and the rise of fascism across the nation, the tribe can expect escalating violence from increased militarization and advanced weaponry. As Standing Rock and its allies continue to put their bodies, lives, and freedom at risk to protect the already imperiled Missouri River, this is not the time for us to stand down—it is the time to hold strong in answer to their ongoing call for help.
Regardless of the outcome for Standing Rock, its fight—in the words of Naomi Klein—has shown “people everywhere that organizing and resistance are not futile.” In the face of overwhelming odds, there is honor—and victory of sorts—in standing up for what you believe. To do otherwise concedes defeat without engagement. In this battle to save our mother, the least empowered among us delivered a glancing blow, and the world watched the giant as it reeled. And while we watched, we began to see that the assault on Standing Rock is an assault on each of us, and we began to see what was possible.
In solidarity, Mni Wiconi!
LUTU Scores a Touchdown with Citizen Lobbying Workshop
by Mike Lewis, LUTU member
With the new year comes a new Trump executive administration in command of an emboldened 241–194 majority in the House, 52–46–2 majority in the Senate, and a soon to be 5–4 majority in the Supreme Court. On the state level, 2017 begins with the GOP holding 36 of the 50 governorships and 69 of the 99 state legislative houses. Even though the last election cycle just ended, things could not be more dire for progressive grassroots mobilization in 2018.
This means there is a mountain of work to do for progressives, and one organization is on the right track. Left Up To US formed in March 2016 out of the Sanders campaign in Central Texas, where Bernie won Travis county. Left Up To US has created a niche role in the community by engaging citizens to take action and stand up for the direction they would like to see their government go. In preparation for the upcoming 85th Legislature, as well as impending progressive fights ahead, Left Up To US hosted a community workshop on January 8 on how to both register people to vote and lobby state legislators on citizens' issues.
More than 75 Volunteer Deputy Registrars were certified by the Travis County Tax Assessor/Collector, Bruce Elfant, who is fresh off his own victory of achieving 92.3 percent voter registration this past election cycle. These activists discussed plans for deep canvassing into low-voter-registration neighborhoods, and Elfant encouraged them to set up voter registration booths across town as well.
The event finished with a discussion with Texas State Employees Union lobbyist Harrison Hiner on how to effectively influence elected officials. Hiner laid out the state’s process of filing, debating, and passing bills and gave advice on organizing to participate in public hearings and making tactical visits to state offices at the Capitol.
This workshop's intent was to lay out the basic nuts and bolts of participating in state politics in simple, digestible terms, in many ways reminiscent of Hall of Fame NFL coach Vince Lombardi’s famous “This is a Football” speech to his '61 team. Six months earlier, the Green Bay Packers had squandered a lead late in the fourth quarter of the NFL Championship Game, losing to the Philadelphia Eagles.
After months of dwelling on the brutal loss, players were eager for advanced instructions on how to win a championship. But on the first day of summer practice, Lombardi had something completely different in mind. He assembled the team and with five words revealed his agenda. He held out the pigskin and said, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”
Lombardi stuck to an obsessive focus on the basics of blocking and tackling throughout the season, and his team went on to win the next season’s championship game against the New York Giants 37–0. Lombardi never lost a playoff game again.
If progressives in Texas can stick to the fundamentals of registering people to vote and showing up with more people to the polls, we can have our championship run too.
One Resistance: Thousands Stand Up Against Trump
by Glenn Scott, LUTU member
On Donald Trump’s inauguration day January 20, thousands of Austinites protested in the streets. Organizing the march and rally was a coalition of more than 40 community and labor organizations under the banner One Resistance. The march idea was initiated by city council member Greg Casar in conversation with a handful of community social justice activists the day after Trump’s victory at the polls November 8.
In the wake of the election, Casar reached out to several community leaders, including Sukyi McMahon, director of operations for the Austin Justice Coalition, a grassroots organization focused on local criminal justice reform; and Kandace Vallejo, founding director of Youth Rise Texas, which works with young people whose parents have been incarcerated or deported.
Of the first One Resistance meeting on November 9, McMahon said, ”There was a lot of venting, but then we picked ourselves up and started to work on carrying on the fight.” The meetings quickly grew in size, she said, and the December 1 planning meeting included representatives from 40 organizations.
McMahon credited Councilmember Casar for bringing together a broad range of activists who were working in marginalized communities. “He used his position to bring all these groups together,” she said.
Recalling the early stages of planning, Vallejo said, “We wanted to plan a public action that was family friendly and where people who felt under attack could feel safe.”
Vallejo said that the early group made it a priority to build a broad coalition. They reached out to the local labor movement and groups working on immigrant rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, Muslim rights, environmental justice, and other civil and political issues.
McMahon said she was pleased with the planning committee’s process. “The preparation was robust and thoughtful. We developed our list of demands for marginalized people in a very collaborative way.”
Vallejo said she was proud of what the One Resistance march and rally, which drew over 5,000 participants, accomplished on January 20. They achieved the coalition’s goal, Vallejo said, to “reach out to those who were the most vulnerable to Trump’s agenda and to help them feel safe and to feel support from the Austin community.”
Vallejo said she was proud that young people participated in the march, including many who worked with Youth Rise Texas. Students from five high schools and charter schools walked out of school to protest Trump’s racist attacks on people of color, undocumented immigrants, and Muslims. Students were at the front of the march, which media outlets and the police estimated included more than five thousand people.
McMahon echoed Vallejo’s feeling that the One Resistance event was successful. “We were able to bring together groups that work in many different areas of social justice but had not had the chance to work together on one project,” she said, adding that she was proud of the diversity of the participants in the march. Many people brought their children to the march, which to McMahon meant that the organizers had achieved the goal of holding a family-friendly public demonstration of the values of respect for all, in contrast to the hate and fear being promoted by the new Trump administration.
“We worked hard to make sure that we would have a large, peaceful act of resistance. And I believe we achieved that.”
McMahon and Vallejo agreed that the march’s planners will continue to meet and plan together. “The strong relationships that were built among the many groups that planned One Resistance will sustain us in our work ahead,” Vallejo said.
Earlier on Friday, more than 160 high school students had walked out of classrooms to join marchers protesting the inauguration. Hundreds of UT students participated in rallies and protests at UT and then joined the One Resistance march on Auditorium Shores.
From the beginning, march planners wanted communities and people who are most under threat by Trump’s administration to lead the protest and participate in the planning. Representatives from immigrant rights groups such as Grassroots Leadership, Youth Rising, JOLT, and Workers Defense Project played active roles in planning the events.
Civil rights and criminal justice groups such as the Austin Justice Coalition, Communities of Color United for Racial Justice, Austin Environmental Justice Coalition, and Texas Civil Rights Project, among others, participated in planning the event. Labor organizations were early supporters of One Resistance, and the Austin Central Labor Council, Fight for 15 Texas, and Workers Defense Action Fund all played important roles. Feminist organizations such as the Lilith Fund, the National Organization for Women, the National Abortion Rights Action League, and Planned Parenthood Texas Votes participated in weekly planning meetings.
Left Up To US actively promoted the march and rally, along with other social justice groups including Austin Democratic Socialists of America, Austin Jewish Voices for Peace, American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee of Austin, and Austin Socialist Collective.
ATX DSA Queer Coalition
Organizing to Protect Our LGBTQIA Community in 2017
by Nikki Reese and Taylor Jones, co-chairs of ATX DSA Queer Coalition, guest contributors
The ATX DSA Queer Coalition formed shortly after the 2017 presidential election in direct response to resulting anti-LGBTQ political legislation and surges in local hate crimes against our community. We are a committee within the rapidly growing Austin, Texas, chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, and we are dedicated to LGBTQIA advocacy and local mobilization efforts. We intend to bring together the actions of our membership base and the ongoing work of local organizations that are already fighting for LGBTQIA rights in Texas.
We welcome all LGBTQIA folks and allies to join us in our meetings and posted events. It is our mission to acknowledge and promote understanding of the intersectionality of racial, religious, environmental, and labor-oriented injustices currently experienced by our LGBTQIA communities.
ATX DSA Queer Coalition meetings occur every second Wednesday of the month. Our next meeting will take place Wednesday, February 8, 7-8:30 pm at the Texas State Employees Union (TSEU) office (1700 S. 1st Street). We are excited to host Equality Texas Regional Coordinator, Robert Salcido who will be speaking about mobilization strategies for defeating anti-LGBTQIA legislation filed for the 2017 Texas Legislative Session, including:
Senate Bill 6 (aka the “Bathroom Bill”): This bill, filed by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, prohibits transgender Texans from using restroom and changing facilities consistent with their gender identity. The questionable enforceability of this kind of legislation poses a threat to our safety by emboldening citizen policing and violence toward our vulnerable transgender/nonbinary community. Take immediate and persistent direct action by calling these numbers to express your disapproval until the bill is defeated. Texas Lieutenant Governor Comment Line: (512) 463-5342; Texas Lieutenant Governor Office Line: (512) 463-0001.
Senate Bill 92: This bill, filed by Senator Bob Hall, intends to prohibit any local authority from providing nondiscriminatory LGBTQ protections while also repealing any existing local LGBTQ protections that are broader than state law. Sign and share the petition at this link to defeat this dangerous legislation.
For more information about additional bills filed that threaten the safety of our LGBTQIA community, please review and support the important work done by Equality Texas.
We also encourage you to join us at the capitol on March 20 for Equality Texas Advocacy Day. We’ll be meeting with our representatives about these bills and demanding justice for our community. Please register for this event in advance so we can adequately accommodate everyone involved.