By: Anthony Williams, Staff Writer
December 16, 2016

Our material reality as Black folks is rooted in this country’s traumatic origins, and it still shows today. Given the recent victory in North Dakota, we must extend gratitude to Indigenous water protectors and allies for obstructing the damaging Dakota Access Pipeline. After seeing such a show of grassroots strength and resilience against environmental racism and corporate interests, we also have to challenge ourselves to ask: why do the mainly-Black residents of Flint still not have water and how do we get people to mobilize? It has almost been a year since Flint, Michigan was named a state of emergency and yet, where is the progress? Genocide for Indigenous people and Black Americans is not new, and we need to acknowledge how we move to stop these intertwined assaults on our people.

As a reminder, the founding of the United States of America began with the genocide of Indigenous peoples and the labor of enslaved Africans. The cute turkeys that first graders create by tracing their hands or  the “adorable” pilgrim or “Indian” costumes that we encourage them to wear are actually ways to normalize the unnecessarily violent massacre of Indigenous people.

Whether we are discussing our sitting president on the incoming fascist regime, the original American values of pilgrimage and global colonialism are strengthening with each year. In other words, it’s 2016 and we’re still robbing and stealing from other countries, killing Black folks, living on land that was never ours, and acting like nothing is wrong.

We need to remember that #BlackLivesMatter and the current iteration of the Movement for Black Lives sprung up during the last eight years under a Black president. The rerouting of the Dakota Access Pipeline from a predominantly white area to Sioux lands also happened while a Black president sits in the White House. The White House, the same house built by enslaved Africans, does not care who inhabits it. The White House merely seeks to maintain the status quo; to uphold a system designed from its foundation to oppress and marginalize those who do not fit into America’s box of normalcy, and the upcoming cabinet does not bode well.  For the last seven years the Black Organizing Project has interrupted the status quo by fighting for racial, social, and economic justice for real people living here in Oakland, CA. We aren’t the only ones fighting and we won’t be the last, which is why it is important to contextualize the fight for water and safety in North Dakota.

“Mni Wiconi,” or “water is life” in English, is not just a phrase used by the water protectors in North Dakota while youth and elders risked their lives over exercising their right to peacefully protest access to water. Water access should be a basic human right, yet these activists, organizers, and regular people faced dog kennels, hypothermia, rubber bullets, and concussion grenades as they attempted to protect it. Hundreds of different Indigenous peoples from all over the Americas and beyond banded together for the first time in years to fight against the destruction of Native lands and the inevitable burst of the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Much like police used water hoses on us in the 1960s, the North Dakota police replicated the same techniques in under 30 degree weather in order to assault peaceful protesters.

This is why the Dakota Access Pipeline and what happened in North Dakota,  should matter to all of us, if it did not already. Moving forward, we can revisit coalition-building with similarly oppressed peoples as one solution, but this is not just about our future. Mother Earth’s land, water, and safety are being threatened by capitalism now, just as they have been for the last year in Flint, Michigan. Just like the desire for money led the U.S. into international war during the Bush administration, #NoDAPL is rooted in the idea of “profit over people.” The mainstream media still has not fully caught on to the severity of the situation, covering the situation as “violent,” rather than calling out who (read: the police) is actually committing the violence. The Dakota Access Pipeline is a direct threat to Indigenous peoples in North Dakota, yes, and it is also still a threat to every single one of us in the United States and beyond, even with the recent victory.

Everyone can do something to help, although we have to acknowledge that current socioeconomic challenges and lack of resources can make it difficult. For example, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels can help stop global climate change, but it is not economically viable or attainable for most Black folks in this country. And although eating less animal products can lessen our carbon footprint and eventually defund the our factory-style meat industry, it requires time, effort, resources, and research in order to implement. We are in a perpetually expanding environmental crisis that is about much more than one racial group, ethnic group, social class, or national identity. Our continued and collective poisoning of our planet is too late to be stopped, but it can be slowed.  One possibility, however, is fighting against environmental racism in whatever way we can.

History teaches us that grassroots community organizing and tangible policy change for Black folks must come with an expanded lens that includes the global political landscape. With the Movement for Black Lives, the infamous lack of clean water in Flint, and our day-to-day lives as Black people, it is easy to focus on only ourselves and our own communities. While nothing will get done in our own communities unless we hold ourselves accountable, we must also try to stop atrocities in other communities as well. Nothing about the resistance of Black and Indigenous people in this country is new, it is merely another iteration of the same fights that we have always waged. We must not forget that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated shortly after calling out U.S for our involvement in Vietnam and economic injustices for all.

The power of collective action and organizing is clear when we examine how the Army Corps denied easement for the The Dakota Access Pipeline, which is a step forward, but this is not the end. The owners of the Dakota Access Pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners, are standing by their commitment to risking pipeline failure and the battle is not yet won.  It took organizing to stop the pipeline and it is going to take organizing for us to protect the each other and the earth. Please consider helping the water protectors at Standing Rock by donating here or by helping for Flint here.