Note from Kathie: Nonviolence in support of human and environmental rights have won the day at the recent Standing Rock protest.
However, because Charles Eisenstein’s message of peace, recently begun on this blog, is timeless and there will be other challenges to human and environmental rights in the years to come, we will publish the rest of his posts with their critically important advice concerning how to conduct a nonviolent and successful protest.
Standing Rock: A Change of Heart, Part 2
by Charles Eisenstein
OK then, back to love as an instrument of protest. I am not talking about shying away from confrontation and hoping to stop the pipeline by loving the police or energy company from afar. Standing Rock has given us many examples of love in action that offer a hint of the miracle that is possible.
I heard about one incident in which a group of Water Protectors went to talk to the sheriff about the water cannons. They were met with police who began to arrest them. While she was being arrested, one of the women began to sing a native prayer song; soon all of the group were singing in unison. The police began to look uncomfortable; one of them even started crying. Another, who looked like he might have Native heritage himself, started to take off his helmet but thought better of it when he saw none of the other police were doing it.
There have been many actions like this at Standing Rock involving song, prayer, ceremony, and nonviolent resistance. To a great extent the urging of the elders has been heeded, and as the above incident demonstrates, these actions have an effect on the police. They disrupt the narratives that legitimize the forceful suppression of the Water Protectors, narratives about violent extremists, criminal elements, protecting the public, and so forth. This has already born fruit: if not for the resolute nonviolence of the resistance, the government would surely have forcefully evicted the Water Protectors by now, justifying violence with violence.
If the Water Protectors go onto the warpath and see and treat the police as enemies, they play into the narratives that legitimize state violence. Consider this report from an army veteran, Harlan Wallner, who wrote to me after spending some time at Standing Rock: “I witnessed people on the shore shouting that the police were fat donut-eating pigs, cowards, etc., that they should be ashamed of themselves, that they have no honor. I heard one man shout that a curse was being placed on them and all of their descendants. I saw one man throw a rock at police in a boat and then be shot in the leg with one of their bean-bag bullets. On two occasions when the anger got particularly fevered I shouted ‘It’s still important to be kind! It’s still important to be kind!’ and the second time I was nearly attacked. ‘Fuck you! Fuck that, it’s way beyond time for that!’ one man nearly growled at me. I shut up after that.”
Now put yourself in the shoes of the police officers. Nothing creates solidarity in the ranks like a common threat. Slurs like “donut-eating pigs” eliminate any possibility that the police will sympathize with the protestors. They play into the very narratives that justify police action to begin with: maintaining law and order in the face of violent extremists. In other words, by engaging in this kind of verbal violence against the police, the militants comply with their own demonization. They put themselves in a position where the only kind of victory possible is a victory by force.
That kind of victory is unlikely. Worse, even if it is achieved, it creates the conditions for an eventual defeat. What are the deep conditions that give rise to the desecration of indigenous peoples and destruction of nature? In the case of indigenous peoples, their oppression is invariably facilitated by their dehumanization or even demonization. This is the deep template of genocide, the primary prerequisite. By demonizing the police or ETP executives, one contributes to the field of dehumanization. One upholds the basic premise that some people are less fully human than others, that they are contemptible, abhorrent… deplorable. That is the essence of racism and the enabler of war.