The First Nations peoples in North Dakota are showing us the future of direct action. In the path of the Enbridge pipeline—the “black snake”—they’re making something that traditional environmentalists don’t have words for. A friend of mine who is there put it this way: "It’s not like a protest. It’s a ceremony."
There is a crucial lesson here that we environmentalists must learn. At Standing Rock, the cops and courts, helicopters and drones and Dobermans – face their opposite: the pipeline of pure life is pouring onto them from a hundred tribes. It must be astonishing for Dakota Access advocates to come face to face with their anti-world.
All the life that they would have killed over many years is anticipating events and concentrating here now. All the antelope and burrowing owls and prairie rattlers and eagle feathers catching the wind with the dancers. It’s all the beings of the Earth that aren’t oil! Let’s watch Standing Rock long enough to make our stand. We’ve got to keep this earthy pipeline flowing over the drills puncture, the pipeline's tunnel, the bomb train’s rails…
After the power of what we have seen among the Squamish canoeists and kayaktavists and now of the Standing Rock Souix and their many guests, now is a good moment for us to return to these teachers, without anxiety that we’re headed back to the sixties. Many of the American Indian Movement heroes were murdered by the feds. But this timeif we stand by and don’t defend these first people—if all we do is watch, the way that white settlers stared from their front porches at the walking and dying on the Trail of Tears—then we won’t be able to save ourselves.
The people of the First Nations always tell us the same thing: "The Earth is a living being. The Earth communicates with us." This changes everything. Our activism is completely turned inside out. All questions of ego and courage are lifted from us. We are acting now with the Earth flowing through us.
A couple days ago I was in a police cruiser in handcuffs. I had tried to crash an annual and immense Monsanto party, in which the chemical and seed companies lease the entire State Capitol and Supreme Court Building in Des Moines, Iowa. State troopers actually took the role of bouncers. It was simply corporation as government. Outrageous. Orwellian.
I was standing there with my Occupy the World Food Prize friends, this their fifth year in opposing the soiree of the great poisoners. Father Frank Cordaro was there, fresh from the southern pipeline tunneling under the Des Moines River, the one that is supposed to join the Standing Rock pipe somewhere in the Dakotas and complete the Black Snake. The young men in uniform talked with us for their amusement and then arrested three of us quickly.
The ground our little band held sacred was an earthy memory of pre-GMO Iowa. My great grandparents from the Netherlands, William and Lena Talen were farming near here and the joke in the family is that they were such devout Calvinists that they were bad farmers. The prayers got in the way of the plowing. Now their great grandson is another over-mediated white guy looking for a ceremony. I yearn for an endlessly complex Earth. Don’t we all? Don’t we have that in us somewhere? Even these police? Who wants the numbed mono-culture of toxic corporate farms?
As the police cruiser took me toward the highway and the prison – the branches of great, old trees swept over the car. The tires crunched acorns in the drive. Arrest is a bad dream that I try to re-write as it happens. Doubled over with my handcuffs, I forced myself to marvel at these trees above. I remembered a tree-fact: when sunlight enters a leaf and photosynthesizes into energy, this energy can flow instantaneously to any point in the tree, to the deepest tendril of its roots… the energy transfer takes no time. Western science can’t explain this. It is as if the trees defeat distance inside themselves. Any energy in the tree can be everywhere in the tree at once. And it pierces my incarceration.
As their grand gestures slide over the windshield, I promise myself that I will receive the interior of trees into my voice, somehow, the way that the plains is pouring toward the pipeline through the people who have loved that Earth.
Yes! We will be wise in the ways of the trees by the time Monsanto turns Iowa over to Bayer. See you next year.