“Gentleness is the greatest strength.”
— Tadodaho Leon Shenandoah
Last week, I voted on Tuesday, and exercised my Amendment 1 rights on Thursday. I believe that the two are intertwined. The Thursday events was a rally in Oneonta, NY, in support of the Standing Rock Sioux. Like voting, voicing one’s opinion on this type of conflict is both a right and responsibility.
The Trump vs. Clinton contest was an all-time low in this nation’s history. It played out like a Jerry Springer Show, with too many members of the audience participating in an ugly, divisive brawl. This strikes me as particularly offensive, after the positive energy of the Bernie Sanders campaign.
Still, I’ve been encouraged by the numerous peaceful protests across the country since the election. That does not equal agreement with every position that the protesters are taking. I definitely disagree with those who are engaging in violence. It is unethical, and is not a tactic that can lead to positive change.
The corporate media will almost always “report” the violence against people and property, much more so than report on peaceful protests. And in a sense, maybe they should. Yet that would mean reporting on the struggle between the non-violent Sioux and their thousands of supporters at Standing Rock, and the gross violence being committed by the DAPL, police, politicians, and other mercenaries hired by the “energy” industry.
A few years back, Faith Keeper Oren Lyons, of the Onondaga Nation, was speaking to an audience of corporate leaders. In an exchange with one gentleman, a top executive, Oren asked him why he wouldn’t make the decisions he knew were “right” on an environmental issue? The gentleman said because if he did, he’d be fired. His willingness to make the wrong decision was a necessary part of his job.
Oren asked if he was a father and grandfather? The gentleman said he was. Oren asked when he would make choices based upon being a father and grandfather, rather than executive? The room became silent. Ethical and moral questions are outside of the business model that these executives subscribed to.
Another gentleman attempted to break the uncomfortable silence by asking Oren, “Now, you are an Indian. What do you know about prophecy?” All of us who know Oren know there was a heck of a lot he could have said. He thought for a moment, then said slowly, “There’s one thing that I can predict for sure. You guys will meet again in a year, and nothing will have changed, because you refuse to answer the moral questions.”
Oren pointed out that among the 100 top “economic units” (their term) in the world, 49 were nations, and 51 were corporations. Hence, most political-economic-social decisions were made by corporations. Most politicians merely front for corporations, rather than advocating for the good of human beings and other living things. They refuse to answer that ethical-moral question.
Fast-forward a few years, and consider the conflict at Standing Rock, in relation to the 2016 elections. During the post-convention general election contest, Bernie Sanders visited Standing Rock, and called this the most important issue our country faces. Three of the presidential candidates favored the pipeline: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Gary Johnson; one opposed it: Jill Stein. She also visited Standing Rock. Yet, other than shallow coverage when President Obama temporarily halted the most contested section of the pipeline, the corporate media has largely ignored it.
John Lennon said that “a conspiracy of silence speaks louder than words” (Walls and Bridges). Despite the media blackout, the conflict at Standing Rock has caught the public’s attention — largely as a result of the internet, especially Facebook. Responses have been similar to when southern police attacked the non-violent Civil Rights movement. People around the world have seen film of mercenaries unleashing vicious attack dogs on men, women, and children, and of police in military gear assaulting nonviolent Water Protectors.
The presidential election divided Americans. Those divisions even flipped: FBI director James Comey was a hero, then an enemy, of Clinton supporters, and an enemy, then hero, to the Trump supporters. That would be a giggle in some circumstances. But there is nothing funny about the hostility that grew between communities, and even within families. That does not bode well for society.
What I find interesting is that among my family, friends, and associates, while some voted for Clinton, some for Stein, and some for Trump — none that I know of voted for Johnson — all of them support the Standing Rock Sioux. No matter what their particular political beliefs, they all have values that include understanding the difference between the Sioux’s position, and that of the energy corporations. They are willing to make a statement on an ethical/ moral issue, that neither corporate executives or politicians tend to address.
We need more people to answer those questions that the executives and politicians ignore. While many of us are calling Washington, and more, there are many people of good will who haven’t. I am hoping that they will take that step, and call the White House to express opposition to the DAPL. Once people take that step, which exercises their Amendment 1 rights, they will feel good about supporting the Standing Rock Sioux. And we will go forward from there.