West Marin brings stories from Standing Rock

01/05/2017

Last September, in a brimful Bolinas Community Center, Jesse McCollum rose to address his community about what he witnessed in North Dakota while defending the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation from the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. He called for participation from his peers, and directed the audience to the Facebook page “Bolinas Standing With Standing Rock.” 

When he finished, a woman stood from the crowd to provide context: “I know this isn’t a Bolinas problem,” she said. “But it’s a human problem.”

Activism spurred by Standing Rock has resonated in West Marin, where at least half-a-dozen residents have travelled to North Dakota and returned home to inform and share with their neighbors what they experienced and how to move efforts forward. 

Constance Washburn, an educator from Lagunitas, joined a supplies mission that delivered winter tents, wood stoves, generators, clothing, medical supplies, sleeping bags and over $7,000 to the fields of protestors camping near the Missouri River in North Dakota over Thanksgiving week.   

“That holiday is not popular [with the people I met],” she said. “They call it Thanks-taking, not Thanksgiving. I sat at the camp and heard their history of what Thanksgiving means after the genocide and massacring [of indigenous people].”

Ms. Washburn joined a group of friends from Oakland in a caravan of three RVs carrying over 25 people from all different backgrounds, ages and nationalities. “I had been reading about Standing Rock, but I wanted to do something concrete,” she said. “I can bring warm clothes to the people who are cold.”

Elsewhere in West Marin, an active mobilization has been in effect. The Bolinas Gallery’s Art Auction raised over $7,000 to be donated, part of the sales from the La Libertà album release show last month at Yoga Toes Studio were also donated and in November, a protest rally occurred outside the Wells Fargo bank in Point Reyes Station. Proceeds from a few recent concerts have also been contributed.  

At a KWMR-sponsored event at the Point Reyes Presbyterian Church in December, Ms. Washburn spoke about bringing the work of Standing Rock home and spreading it “outside the bubble.”

“Having Standing Rock everywhere is a mindset to get us out of this ‘us and them [mindset],’” she said. “People want to work for something, not against something. They want to fight for clean water and clear air. Everybody wants a planet that’s livable–at least that’s what I believe.”

Two other speakers relayed their experiences from visiting Standing Rock at the event: Raven Gray, an activist living in Inverness, and Nonnie Welch, proprietor of Spirit Matters in Inverness Park. Both had been to Standing Rock in November.

The American news media has been criticized for not reporting the stories from Standing Rock sufficiently or swiftly. Ms. Welch said she took to the internet, where individuals engaged in the protest were spreading news and information. She also relied on Ms. Gray: “Social media played a big role–Raven is my media,” Ms. Welch said. 

Perched on a couch in the back of Spirit Matters, Ms. Gray said she was only relaying messages she herself had heard. “I was watching individuals; you were watching me and I was watching them,” she told Ms. Welch. “Thank god for [the livestream service] Facebook Live.”

In October, over a million Facebook users “checked in” at Standing Rock—meaning they told their followers that they were currently in North Dakota, even if they were not—as a way of showing solidarity. But using these services may have come at the cost of privacy. 

“When I got back, I got this Facebook message from the U.S. General of Special Forces in charge of Domestic Terrorism. He gave an actual friend request!” Ms. Gray said. “It was just [meant as] a threat but I was paranoid for about five minutes. We all know it from Edward Snowden: anybody who went to Standing Rock is on a list.”

On Dec. 4, per decree from the Obama administration, the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would not, at this time, issue an easement for the pipeline, and may undergo an environmental review. The declaration was received as a victory for most people—except, perhaps, the pipeline companies and the protestors themselves. 

In a statement released the same day as the easement announcement, Energy Transfer Partners, the lead oil pipeline company working on the Dakota Access Pipeline project,  called the announcement a “purely political action” and that “over the last four months the Administration has demonstrated by its action and inaction that it intended to delay a decision in this matter until President Obama is out of office.”

Meanwhile, protestors feel they are far from succeeding in their efforts. “If there is an environmental impact statement, it could delay the pipeline for another year,” Ms. Gray wrote in an email. “But Trump could just as easily tell the [Army Corps] to issue the permit, once he gets in office, and there are good reasons to believe that he will do so.”

She went on, “There is a long history in this country of the violation of indigenous rights (and native American genocide) and the violation of nature’s rights. My advice to the people of West Marin is to keep their attention on Standing Rock and to learn what it means to be a white ally to the cause.”

There are many ways to contribute to Standing Rock. For monetary donations, the Water Protector Legal Defense Fund and Rosebud Sicangu Oyate and Sacred Stone Camps have online fundraising websites. Raven Gray’s Facebook page is a powerful local source of daily updates. Just don’t ask to be her friend if you’re the fuzz.