In this age of Trump, with its’ rising white nationalism and escalating acts of terror against people of color, there can be no ambiguity when it comes to resisting white supremacists in particular and the far Right in general. And the environmental movement is no exception.
To begin this story, cast your mind back a few months…
It’s May 2016. My facebook feed (the ultimate source of truth in our post-truth world) seems to be schizophrenic, or at least representing two entirely different worlds.
One world is the ‘green’ activists, who are in the middle of two weeks of global actions against fossil fuels. The spectacular actions in the US, Australia, the UK and most notably Ende Galende in Germany, have led some of my comrades to claim: “WE ARE WINNING!”
Three nights ago, 19.37 million television viewers watched the opening game of North American professional baseball’s so-called World Series pitting the Chicago Cubs against the Cleveland Indians (the latter team won 6-0). I made it through the second inning before I had to switch to radio out of disgust at the Indians’ jersey and ball-cap team logo – a wild grinning Native American caricature best understood as a modern-day Red Sambo. It’s bad enough that the Cleveland team retains (well into the 21st century) the name “the Indians.” First Nations people (the Canadian term) in the United States are more properly called Native or Indigenous Americans – not a name imposed on them by white conquerors who mistakenly thought they’d “discovered” “the Indes.”
But the logo is really beyond the pale. Imagine a team called “The Baltimore Blacks” or “The New Jersey Negroes,” with a ball-cap showing a racist caricature of a “Black Sambo.” Or imagine a German football (soccer) team named the “Buchenwald Semites” – or an Austrian team named the “Vienna Hebrews” – with a jersey bearing the crudely exaggerated caricature image of an old stereotypically hook-nosed Jewish man. That would be unthinkable in Holocaust-haunted Germany, of course.
Native Americans suffered their own Holocaust on the lands that were swallowed up as the United States. By some estimates more than 15 million First Nations people inhabited North America (most of them on land later seized as U.S. territory) before Columbus. Thanks to white-imposed disease, displacement, eco-cide, and murder, the number of “Indians” alive in the United States fell to less than 250,000 by 1890. But team names bearing images and/or names of Indigenous people who experienced genocide – the Washington Redskins (yes, “redskins,” which the Black comic Chris Rock once analogized to naming a team “The New York Niggers”), the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago Blackhawks (named after a famous Sauk Nation warrior whose tribe members were butchered en masse by Andrew Jackson’s U.S. Army), the Kansas City Chiefs, the Fighting Illini, the Florida State Seminoles, etc. – live on with impunity in the U.S.
Meanwhile, up in the northern Great Plains, predominantly white and heavily militarized local and state police are attacking the civil rights and bodies of Indigenous people fighting heroically to help humanity (including the mostly white folks watching the World Series) avert environmental catastrophe. The remarkable prayer, protest, and resistance camp set up by North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux tribe is dedicated to blocking Energy Transfer Partner’s eco-cidal Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The pipeline is a “giant black snake” being laid to carry 470,000 barrels of hydraulically fractured (fracked) crude oil daily from the North Dakota Bakken oil field under and near the Missouri River (under twice), the Mississippi (under once), and numerous other streams, lakes, rivers, and aquifers.
Her work has appeared in numerous publications on subjects including imperialism and colonialism, political economy ecology, ecological justice, feminism, advertising and propaganda, financialization, mass incarceration, and social theory.
She is a featured speaker at a regional socialist educational conference, The Solution is Socialism, to be held at Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, Connecticut on October 22.
David Kiely, a socialist youth organizer in Connecticut, interviews Hannah Holleman on the ecosocialist imperative.
Many focus on environmental injustice as the unequal distribution of outcomes of environmental harm. Colonized or formerly colonized peoples are homogenized and described as “stakeholders” in environmental conflicts. Mainstream environmental organizations, those on the privileged side of the segregated environmental movement globally, and more linked to power, are encouraged to diversify their staff and memberships and pay attention to issues of “justice.” However, the deeper aspects of social domination required to maintain the economic, social, and environmental status quo often are denied, minimized, or simply ignored.
Ignoring the systemic and historical injustice that makes current inequalities possible allows environmentalists and other activists, as Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes, “to safely put aside present responsibility for continued harm done by that past and questions of reparations, restitution, and reordering society,” when discussing current, interrelated environmental and social problems.[i] Superficial approaches to addressing racism, indigenous oppression, and other forms of social domination preclude the possibility of a deeper solidarity across historical social divisions. However, this kind of solidarity is exactly what we need to build a movement capable of challenging the status quo and making systemic, lasting change that is socially and ecologically restorative and just.
“There is a time,” Mario Savio famously said just more than half a century ago, “when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop.”
That’s easier said than done, but you’ve got to make a start.
Beneath the cover of the endless presidential election season, which in Iowa started a year and a half ago, the Texas-based company Dakota Access LLC (a division of the corporation Energy Transfer Partners [ETP]) has moved methodically ahead with its plan to build this ugly, winding, and ecocidal tube of death. The $4 billion, 1134-mile project would carry 540,000 barrels of largely fracked crude oil from North Dakota’s “Bakken oil patch” daily on a diagonal course through South Dakota, a Sioux Indian burial ground,18 Iowa counties, and a Native American reservation to Patoka, Illinois. It will link with another pipeline that will transport the black gold to terminals and refineries along the Gulf of Mexico.
Right now, several thousand indigenous tribal members (supported by over 160 tribes), land owners, environmentalists, climate justice activists, and supporters of #BlackLivesMatter have gathered together into two camps in rural North Dakota to organize nonviolent resistance to this massive project which will parallel and match the length of the infamous (but rejected by Presidential order) Keystone XL pipeline. Several others have been protesting all along the pipeline's route over the past couple of weeks. These 1000s strong intrepid folks are supported nationally and internationally by 100,000s.
The leaders in this effort have done all they can working "within the system" to oppose this project to no avail:
Anti-pipeline activists have been playing by all the official local, state, and federal rules. They’ve gone through the established channels of law and procedure. They’ve worked the legal and regulatory machinery to the point of exhaustion. They’ve gone through all available avenues of reason and petition. They’ve written and delivered carefully worded petitions and given polite, fact-filled testimony to all the relevant public bodies. They’ve appealed to the IUB. They’ve appealed to the Army Corps of Engineers and to numerous other federal agencies and offices including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Advisory on Historic Preservation, and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration. They’ve sued in court, defending farmers’ traditional American-as-apple-pie private property rights...And it’s all been for naught because the state is stuck in the deep pockets of Big Carbon. Last week a long-awaited district court ruling in Des Moines gave DA, ETP, Enbridge, and Marathon and their big financial backers what they wanted. DA is free to complete construction on fifteen parcels where the farm owners had challenged the state’s right to enforce eminent domain on behalf of the Bakken snake.
This project would represent a disaster for the world's climate. Already humanity is experiencing a climate emergency--as the increase in the Earth's average overall surface temperature has surpassed 1°C--brought on by fossil fuel capitalism. Every sensible scientific peer reviewed study dictates that in order to avoid the destruction of the ability of humanity (and much else living) to survive on our planet, the global increase must reach no higher than 2°C, at most (and most agree that an increase beyond 1.5°C would be bad enough). In order to do this, at least 80% of the known fossil fuel "reserves" must remain in the ground. This pipeline would make that prospect increasingly difficult, because it is designed to facilitate the continuing extraction of the Bakken Shale in North Dakota.
Worse than that, this pipeline represents the further colonization of indigenous lands, particularly that which lie adjacent to or solidly within the path of this project.
None of this is necessary. Studies show that all of the world's energy needs can be met by a combination of conservation, 100% renewable energy generation--which is entirely feasible using existing technology, and a reordering of the world's economic systems to facilitate production for need, not profit. The 100,000s of people who oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline understand this.
In spite of this massive opposition however, one group, in particular, has remained disturbingly silent, and that's labor unions.
In one corner of the field, children plucked berries and mashed them into their mouths. In another they tugged carrots from the soil and waggled them in the air, squealing with delight. Others trundled around the grounds in a choo-choo train decorated as a bumble bee.
There was a cow bounce, a chicken show, an animal petting corral, a hay pyramid, a combine harvester slide, picnic tables and, depending on parental budgets, a choice of standard birthday party, deluxe birthday party and pony paddock birthday party.
In Santa Cruz, California for the past year, a struggle has been brewing over the survival of a community garden. Although insignificant in the larger scheme of things, this small campaign has much to teach us about the way different forms of injustice converge, about the relationships among different forces within US cities in the 21st century, and about how to and how not to build a campaign to fight the environmental racism in our midst.