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Sonali Kolhatkar

Disappointed but Not Defeated: Battle Over Oil Pipelines Continues

Sonali Kolhatkar
Columnist
Sonali Kolhatkar is a columnist for Truthdig. She also is the founder, host and producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a radio and television show that airs on Pacifica stations KPFK and KPFA and will begin…
Sonali Kolhatkar

Digging in for the winter: Activists protesting the Dakota Access pipeline shore up against the cold on Monday near Cannon Ball, N.D. (James MacPherson / AP)

Despite the immense failures of the Democratic Party to live up to its stated progressive ideals, there are differences between the two major parties. Nowhere is that difference more obvious in recent days than in the decision by Donald Trump to reinstate the Keystone XL and Dakota Access (DAPL) pipeline projects. Tens of thousands of environmental, indigenous and other activists slogged for months, even years, to push President Obama to stop the climate-destroying projects. They marched, locked themselves to each other and to heavy equipment, faced arrests and felony charges, were hit by tear gas and rubber bullets, and even bitten by dogs. But they prevailed over Obama. With the stroke of a pen, Trump signed memorandums Tuesday to undo the results of those sacrifices and struggles, even though he knows he has no popular mandate. And he did it on day five of his administration.

Despite the dismay felt by many Americans, Kandi Mossett, the Native Energy and Climate Campaign organizer with Indigenous Rising, a project of the Indigenous Environmental Network, expressed optimism in an interview for “Rising Up With Sonali.” Of the 2015 Keystone victory, she said, “We won it once and we’ll win it again, even in a Trump administration.” Just over a year before last November’s election, Obama bowed to public pressure in the face of congressional support for the project and killed it. Less than two months ago, Obama took a similar stand on the DAPL. “Even though we celebrated for one day on December 4th,” said Mossett, referring to the day of Obama’s action, “we knew that this was coming in a Trump presidency, and so we were prepared.”

Indeed, the encampment at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota, where the struggle over the DAPL is centered, never closed down. Mossett, who is heading back to the site, explained that about 500 activists, also known as “water protectors,” have remained at the camp through the dead of winter. Because there are serious concerns about springtime flooding in the area, activists plan to move to higher ground and are undergoing training to withstand the seasonal weather and the expected crackdown by law enforcement. Just days before Trump revived the project, 16 people were arrested in protests over the pipeline, bringing the total number arrested over the course of the fight to 600.

Mossett said that the fight against the pipeline has brought indigenous groups together. But so has the election. “Native nations across the country have been coming together in response to a Donald Trump presidency,” she said. “We will band together as nations in this country and make a significant change using our treaty rights and the legal system.”

Trump, however, has not even acknowledged the existence of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which has led the legal fight against the project. Asked by a reporter about the tribe moments after he signed the DAPL memorandum, Trump simply ignored him and moved onto the next question. Press secretary Sean Spicer suggested Trump would “negotiate” with the tribe, saying, “He is willing to sit down with all of the individuals that are involved in the Dakota pipeline to make sure that it’s a deal that benefits … all of the parties of interest, or at least gets them something that they want.” But, Mossett countered, “We won’t negotiate. There’s no negotiating with our lives.”

Despite the grim news of the pipeline renewal, Mossett remains hopeful. “We are so strong as a result of a Trump administration,” she said. “Him being in there is causing this revolution.” More than 300 tribal nations have expressed formal support for the Standing Rock Sioux’s fight against DAPL. Worldwide, approximately 600 indigenous groups have done the same. Mossett believes Trump may be “underestimating the power of the indigenous nations, our treaty rights, our right to exist and thrive on a planet that actually impacts everyone, even him.”In recent years, the fight for climate justice, particularly under the leadership of indigenous communities and organizations, has blossomed into a full-fledged movement, winning victories on national and local levels. It therefore was not surprising to me that at the largest women’s march, which took place in Los Angeles on Saturday, I spotted many signs that sported “#NODAPL.” Mossett, who was at the main march in Washington, D.C., was thrilled to hear marchers chant, “We support Standing Rock.”

She and other indigenous activists recommend that supporters engage in civil disobedience and other forms of political activism in their own communities and in centers of power. Indeed, within hours of Trump approving the pipeline projects, at least a thousand people gathered outside the White House to demand an end to the DAPL. The morning after the decision, members of the environmental organization Greenpeace unfurled a gigantic banner that said “Resist” from a construction crane overlooking Trump’s new residence. Greenpeace cited the pipeline decision during its action. In New York, Los Angeles and Seattle, emergency #NODAPL protests have already been organized.

Another prong in the multifaceted struggle against the DAPL is a divestment effort to push banks funding the pipeline to pull their money. The website defunddapl.org offers a guide to approaching banks and applying public pressure. To date, the effort takes credit for pushing banks to divest more than $50 million from the project.

In addition to being a focus of indigenous human rights and treaty rights, the fight against these pipeline projects is part of the broader struggle for climate justice. In dismissing climate change as a hoax and appointing pro-fossil fuel industry leaders to top Cabinet positions, Trump has declared war on the global climate. How we respond at this political moment will determine whether we push our atmosphere past its tipping point or manage to dodge the worst impacts of the warming that is already in progress. If the fight against the Dakota Access pipeline was the most important grass-roots political battle of 2016, it may very well win that distinction for the second year in a row.

Watch Sonali Kolhatkar’s interview with Kandi Mossett below (via “Rising Up With Sonali”):

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