How the Standing Rock protest movement defeated the US state and big oil


People power provides an alternative in the year of the rise of rightwing movements

NATIVE AMERICAN protestors at Standing Rock in North Dakota have defeated plans to build an oil pipeline through their home territories.

The stunning victory is the outcome of months of mass mobilisation, which has seen protesters stand firm against violent police repression and outpourings of solidarity from around the world.

CommonSpace takes a look at how events unfolded.

How did the protests start?

The Dakota access pipeline was due to take oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, 1200 miles to southern Illinois. The project, worth $3.8bn is mainly complete, except for a section which will run under Lake Oahe in the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in southern North Dakota.

The company building the pipeline, Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), includes firms with a record of oil spills. President Elect Donald Trump is a former shareholder with ETP and backs the project.

People have protested all over the US in defence of the camps at Standing Rock

In April 2016 a local Sioux tribe elder, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, established a small camp mainly as a means of raising awareness of the pipeline and to protests against the desecration of lands and the threat of oil contaminating the local water supply. Initially, small delegations from other Native American tribes came to the camp for media appearances, but soon hundreds of protesters began to arrive in the camp, both Native American and from a range of communities.

Why has there been violence?

Various authorities including state police, soldiers and private security hired by ETP have been accused of extreme violence in their attempts to move protestors.

After a summer of peaceful protest by the growing camp, violence began to escalate in September and October.

In early September, a private security firm began ploughing up an area thought to be a Native American burial ground. When protestors attempted to stop the demolition, they were attacked with pepper spray and dogs.

In another peak of violence, a winter encampment built by protestors in October in the pathway of the pipeline was evicted by armed soldiers and riot police.

There have been over 400 arrests during the months long protest, and women protesters claim they have been specifically targeted and subject to strip-search by male officers.

Video of the aggressive tactics deployed by security forces increased sympathy for the protestors. When up to three thousands veterans began traveling to the camp, authorities were confronted with a serious problem; it would create a backlash if military veterans were violently attacked.

How did Standing Rock protestors win?

On 4 December 2016 the US army engineering corps said it would not allow construction of the pipeline on its own land, meaning the state intervened to de-escalate the conflict.

The retreat by the US state in the face of the protestors is a remarkable achievement. But how did the protestors win?

 The protest camp was based on a strong sense of Sioux and Native American identity, and this helped bond protestors with a long historic memory of resistance to oppression and provided an immovable feeling of belonging with the lands they wanted to protect from environmental damage.

However, the Native American protesters also invited support from all over the US and all over the world, and thousands of non-Native Americans travelled to the camp. This created an inspiring international movement with constant media attention.

The protests have become a lightining rod, attracting marginalised communities from across the US

The demonstrations also benefited from representing a convergence of different political causes; environmental justice, opposition to the historic disenfranchisement of Native Americans, anti-corporatism and opposition to police militarisation and repression.

Above all else, the protestors were simply unwilling to be moved, even by extreme force, and the thousand strong camps represented an immovable obstacle to the pipeline.

The protest has demonstrated the effectiveness of people power against the state, at a time when a whole new generation are preparing to resist the hard right politics of president Trump.

Pictures: Joe Brusky, Peg Hunter
Video: Youtube/Democracy Now

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