While the US media brings us wall-to-wall coverage of the imminent presidential election, comparatively little coverage has been devoted to a months-long protest led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in the US state of North Dakota. Yet as Nanjala Nyabola writes in The New Inquiry, this protest, which aims to stop the construction of an oil pipeline that will threaten the local water supply and desecrate sacred Native American sites, says more about the state of the nation than a hundred voter polls. According to Nyabola, the protest highlights the persistent systemic racism faced by Native Americans (along with other marginalized groups), and the state’s woeful failure to address their real needs, such as the threat posed by climate change to their ancestral lands. As a result, many Native Americans are turning their backs on electoral politics and embracing direct action instead. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:
The Democratic party is losing a key constituency in states that may have voted Republican in the past. Native American voters may not constitute a swing state electorate, but their votes matter and might make a difference in tightly contested races. Yet while everyone I met voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, none plan to vote for the Democratic party in 2016. They believe that the president and the party have failed them.
“We saw him as the first Native in office, in some ways, because he seemed to really listen to us,” Kills-in-Sight tells me; “but now he won’t even get involved.” Obama has issued two statements on the protests that protesters see as lukewarm and non-committal. Despite his historic visit to Cannon Ball in 2014–only a few miles from the Oceti Sakowin Camp–the current president is now seen as part of the system that protects corporations over people.
Standing Rock is an indictment of corporate capture of the two-party system in the US at the cost of issue-driven politics and the real concerns of people, in this case Native Americans. The system that makes it possible during an election year to ignore the largest protest of an entire demographic in a hundred years is the same system that lets demagogues hijack the national discourse in the name of bloc voting. Voting blocs that are focused on gaining and defending power have little time for listening to real issues or speaking out in defense of the silenced, and the protesters at Standing Rock know this keenly. “They’re all in bed with the corporations,” one of the other men in our small group says, “that’s why they won’t bring it up. That’s why they don’t care.” And everyone who hears it agrees.
Image via The New Inquiry.