Eleven Presidential candidates took part over the two days, responding to questions from panels of Native tribal leaders and grassroots activists.
You can watch videos of the event below.
The Native Organizers Alliance is honored to stand in unity with all those who are making a commitment to Mother Earth by pledging a “Promise to Protect”. Guided by on the ground leadership and vision, NOA has been helping to create the training program for the upcoming “Promise to Protect Training Tour”
He later told VOA, “I basically wanted to show the recurring nature of history. It’s a story so familiar.”
President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy has separated nearly 2,000 youths from their parents since April, triggering outcry from many Native Americans who find parallels in their own history with the U.S. government.
Author, speaker and storyteller Gyasi Ross, who comes from the Blackfeet Nation and how lives on the Port Madison Indian Reservation near Seattle, Washington, suggested on Twitter that the policy is no surprise:
White liberal friends stop saying that separating children from their parents is “unAmerican.” That is ahistorical & insensitive as hell to the 100ks of Native people who were separated from their children by official US policy from boarding schools & the Indian Adoption Project.— (@BigIndianGyasi) June 16, 2018
Native Americans are no strangers to the break-up of families.
“Most [non-Native] Americans do not know their own history, partly because any history that was embarrassing was not taught in school,” said Oglala Lakota journalist Tim Giago, editor of Native Sun News Today. “Native Americans were taken from their parents starting in the late 1800s and shipped to places like Carlisle, PA and Genoa, Neb. to Indian boarding schools. We are still suffering from the trauma it caused.
Fellow journalist Vi Waln, editor of the Lakota Times, expressed a sense of solidarity with those detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“Many Indigenous people are praying for the [detained undocumented] children to be reunited with their families and for the United States to do the right thing,” Waln said. “But we know from experience that this might not happen.”
O.J. Semans, a Rosebud Sioux tribe member and executive director of South Dakota-based voting-rights group Four Directions, echoed Waln’s comment, remembering another government policy which encouraged placement of Native American children in non-Native foster families.
“In the 1970s, we had 25 to 35 percent of tribal children ripped away from their families. It took until 1978 to get Congress to create a law, the Indian Child Welfare Act, to curtail the abductions,” he said, predicting that the current policy of separating migrant and refugee children from their parents will leave lasting scars.
“The trauma of children being ripped away from their parents — the only true love they have — will haunt their dreams and memories till the day they die,” Semans said.
One Native American mother offered heartfelt sympathy for the immigrant parents.
“I just can’t imagine my children being taken away and not knowing if I will ever see them again,” said a member of the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas, who asked that her name not be used.
She said she believes the policy is racist: “Do you think we’ll see this happening to Canadians illegally crossing the border? No!”
Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians, released a statement Tuesday which said, in part, “Congress and the President should take heed of such abhorrent mistakes from the past and actually live the moral values this country proclaims to embody by immediately ending this policy and reuniting the affected children with their parents. Families belong together.”
But not all Native Americans oppose Trump’s policy.
“I think we as a government have the right to detain anyone who comes here illegally,” said Rick Cuevas, a disenrolled member of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians in California and author of the Original Pechanga blog.
“And those who are going after the Trump administration now were the same ones protecting Barack Obama as he was separating children from parents. His policies allowed 50,000 unaccompanied minors into the country,” he added.
A surge in migration of unaccompanied minors in 2014 led the Obama Administration to place unaccompanied minors in closed housing units until they could be transferred to family in the United States while they awaited court proceedings.
Trump has blamed Democrats for the current policy, announced in April, citing a “horrible” laws that call for children of families attempting to illegally cross the U.S. border to be taken from their parents.
However, there is no U.S. law or court decision that mandates that action.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says it has no policy on separation, but that children and parents may be separated in situations in which “DHS cannot ascertain the parental relationship, when DHS determines that a child may be at risk with the presumed parent or legal guardian, or if a parent or legal guardian is referred for criminal prosecution, including for illegal entry.”
In 2017, U.S. border agents apprehended more than 41,000 unaccompanied minors attempting to cross the southwest border of the U.S., and U.S. customs officials report that between October 2017 to March 31, 2018, nearly 40,000 families attempted the same crossing.
Reprinted from Voice of America News
An Indigenous-led coalition is fundraising to install solar panels along the route of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline to protest the project and provide renewable energy to family farms and Native communities in Nebraska and South Dakota.
“In the fight against dirty tar sands oil from crossing Indigenous treaty lands, we must also take moments to highlight the things we are fighting for,” explained Indigenous Environmental Network campaigner Dallas Goldtooth. “We will not only build renewable energy in America’s breadbasket, on Indigenous lands for Indigenous people, demonstrating the goals of a just transition towards sustainable energy, but we will build it in the face of the Keystone XL pipeline.”
“The fight against Keystone XL has always been about more than one pipeline—we’re demanding a world free of dirty fossil fuels,” added 350.org executive director May Boeve. “Putting solar in the path of this pipeline models the massive overhaul our energy system needs to stop the worst of climate change.”
This effort is just the latest phase of the Solar XL campaign launched last year by the Indigenous Environmental Network, Native Organizers Alliance, Brave Heart Society, Dakota Rural Action, Bold Nebraska, and 350.org. The groups installed an earlier round of solar arrays last summer.
The activists and landowners—who are also fighting the pipeline’s development in court—are optimistic about the message the new solar installations will send to politicians and the public alike, and compared the effort to mass demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“The powerful thing about alliances for mother earth is when they create a space to unlearn fear and to relearn leadership. This was true at Standing Rock, and Solar XL is another chance to learn and build a shining example of the future we want,” said Faith Spotted Eagle, a member of the Yankton Sioux Nation and the Brave Heart Society. “Our efforts to fight Keystone XL combines the power of solar with the power of the people.”
With a fossil fuel-friendly Republican Party in control of the White House and Congress, anti-Keystone XL activists continue to emphasize the importance of building broad opposition to the dirty energy industry and the politicians that back it.
“While Trump and fossil fuel executives continue to deny the writing on the wall, our resistance must grow stronger,” declared Boeve, referencing moves such as the administration’s attempt to save struggling coal and nuclear plants with a taxpayer-funded bailout. “We already know the just way forward is with renewable energy solutions like solar and wind, now we need the will.”
“Projects like Solar XL, built with grassroots financial support and owned by Indigenous communities and family farmers, are our best hope for a future of sustainable energy that delivers us from dependence on fossil fuels and the harm caused by extractive industries,” concluded Native Organizers Alliance director Judith LeBlanc Caddo.
The coalition has produced a video sharing the stories of families and communities who would be impacted by the pipeline:
Flagstaff, Ariz. • Election sites far from reservations. Poll workers who don’t speak tribal languages. Unequal access to early voting sites.
Native Americans say they’ve encountered a wide range of obstacles that makes voting difficult. Advocates have been spending the last few months gathering stories from around Indian Country in hopes that tribal members can wield more influence in elections, and improve conditions among populations that encounter huge disparities in health, education and economics.
“Some of the problems they were facing actually were issues we thought we’d taken care of long ago,” said OJ Semans, a Rosebud Sioux tribal member and executive director of Four Directions. “If you don’t keep your eye open and the communication open, things will reverse.”
Tribes successfully have challenged what they see as discriminatory voting practices around the United States. In Utah, a federal judge recently ordered school board and county commission districts redrawn after the Navajo Nation argued they were racially gerrymandered. In Nevada, the Pyramid Lake and Walker River Paiute tribes won a legal battle to improve early voting access on their reservations. Alaska Natives reached a settlement in a case that includes increased language assistance for three census areas.
Tribes often turn to the 1965 Voting Rights Act to try and force changes when working with local elections administrators doesn’t work, said James Tucker, a pro-bono attorney for the Native American Rights Fund. The group is part of a coalition holding field hearings across the country ahead of the next round of redistricting and to compile what it believes will be the most comprehensive look at voting rights abuses in Indian Country.
I’m in Lower Brule, South Dakota, where elected tribal officials, spiritual leaders, Native grassroots organizations, youth groups, and traditional women’s societies have gathered with non-Native farmers, ranchers and others affected by the Keystone XL pipeline. That project to carry tar sands from shale fields in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico threatens our water, our livelihoods and our sacred sites.
We were together Monday when we heard the news Nebraska’s Public Services Commission gave approval to an alternative route for the pipeline.
Yes, we were sad, and angry. But within minutes, we went from being sad to being strategic. That decision opens a new terrain to continue the fight to prevent the building of KXL, and it can be stopped if we build on the strong relationships between Native leadership and non-Native farmers and ranchers. We can leverage the power of organized prayer in a values-led campaign that puts Mother Earth above profit-hungry fossil fuel corporations.
What We Learned in Standing Rock
Many of us are veterans of Standing Rock. We learned so much during those long, cold months at the Oceti Sakowin camp, in our struggle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.
We won at Standing Rock, even though the oil is now flowing. Because over 400 tribes came together to stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for their sovereign, moral and inherent right to protect the Missouri River and Mother Earth.
Native peoples have a unique role to play in building a movement that defends the planet, and in creating a future where we all can live in healthy communities.
Joining Our Struggle
What began as a struggle to protect the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s water supply and sacred sites grew into an international movement to protect the water for the 17 million people who live, work and play along the shores of the Missouri. Along the way, we were joined by by thousands more from all around the world.
As we believe, we’re all related, and that all we do in life, and nature has an impact on every one of us.
So the mood at our gathering today is that in the present, we can act on the wisdom and knowledge of our ancestors, and protect future generations from destruction if we work strategically. We must lead with love for humanity, for community and for Mother Earth.
We must plan and organize, not just politically, but also with the prayers that will give us the strength and courage to do what we need to do to stop this pipeline. Tribal leadership and Native communities are the keys to winning this struggle.
The truth is that TransCanada, the pipeline’s builders, aren’t happy. Nebraska allowed their project to proceed, but they didn’t get what they wanted. A new route means TransCanada has to decide if the costs of proceeding are worth it.
TransCanada’s investors must face questions of the viability of building a pipeline that has been fought for years as oil prices have dropped. Quarterly earnings come out December 9, and their shareholders meet on December 15. According to the New York Times, they still haven’t decided whether they will proceed with building the pipeline.
The price of oil is still low. And the movement we started at Standing Rock succeeded in the divestment of $5 billion from the Dakota Access Pipeline. City governments, union pensions and individuals were convinced by the power of the Oceti Sakowin Camp that it was immoral to have their money fund that pipeline. We can do the same with Keystone XL, and TransCanada’s investors know it.
What We See
So what we see here in Lower Brule is that all up and down the new proposed route, there are possibilities to challenge the building of Keystone XL.
Sadly, we’re also gathered near where 210,000 gallons are leaking from the Keystone 1 pipeline. TransCanada has proven that they’re not prepared to deal with this kind of calamity, nor can they protect the precious aquifer and wells that are critical for ranching, irrigating crops and drinking water.
The movement to stop Keystone XL has momentum, because it is grounded in the Indigenous practices of living in harmony with nature. Ourstrategy and tactics are rooted in the inherent responsibility of indigenous communities to do whatever is necessary to protect the land, water and air from destruction.
Our Power Has Grown
Response to this week’s KXL permit decision comes out of years of united resistance between Native and non-Native landowners. Our power has grown since Standing Rock. People now understand that if we build unity, if we build a movement with compassion for Mother Earth and concern for Humankind, we can win the hearts and minds of a broad cross section of people in this country.
And if we beat Keystone XL, we can disrupt the pro-fossil fuel campaign coming from the White House. We will signal an unmistakable challenge to all those running for office in states where American Indians are concentrated that the Native vote is the swing vote, which will be mobilized all the way from prayer camps to the voting booth.
There’s a very keen awareness that this fight is important not only for those who live along the pipeline, but also for how our country can become less dependent on fossil fuels, and we can move towards the protection of our planet.
A Family Reunion
So here in Lower Brule, we’re holding a family reunion: veterans of the first successful KXL fight, the Standing Rock family, with newcomers, Natives with non-Natives. Strategizing, sharing stories and renewing our shared commitment to protecting the sacred from desecration by fossil fuels has made us even stronger.
But the coming battles are going to be new, not like the ones in the past, and will demand all our strength. The traditional indigenous practice is that you must respond to adversity with courage, humility, compassion and love of community as we always have.
The NO KXL movement is being built from a spiritual starting point that’s rooted in the traditional Lakota, Dakota culture and origin stories, in the grassroots and in sovereign treaty rights that have been so often ignored.
Wherever You Are
Together with our allies like 350.org, Greenpeace, and Rainforest Action Network, we “Promise to Protect the Sacred.” So if the need arises, if we have exhausted all local avenues, when we need assistance, people from all over the world will be called to come to Nebraska and South Dakota to physically stop the building of this pipeline.
Wherever you are, please take a moment to remember think about how you can be a part of this historic movement to stop Keystone XL.
Native peoples have a legal, moral, spiritual and inherent right to be caretakers of the planet. The sacred teachings of our cultures reflect the resilience that has brought us this far, by prioritizing kinship, reciprocity and community building. It’s about preserving relationships and living in balance, with all things – natural, human and animal.
Reprinted from CommonDreams.org
Direct Action: Protest and the Invention of American Radicalism with author L.A. Kauffman, Judith LeBlanc and Charles Lenchner
Posted by Organizing 2.0 on Saturday, April 8, 2017
Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. In this series we’ll be talking with organizers, troublemakers and thinkers who are working both to challenge the Trump administration and the circumstances that created it. It can be easy to despair, to feel like trends toward inequality are impossible to stop, to give in to fear over increased racist, sexist and xenophobic violence. But around the country, people are doing the hard work of fighting back and coming together to plan for what comes next. This series will introduce you to some of them.
Audio of the interview:
Judith LeBlanc: My name is Judith LeBlanc. I am a matter of the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma. I am the director of the Native Organizers Alliance.
Sarah Jaffe: What is going on at Standing Rock?
Judith: Standing Rock is everywhere right now. [Thursday, February 2] there was a march in downtown Seattle, hundreds of people in support of the Seattle City government resolution to divest from Wells Fargo.
Standing Rock is everywhere and it is a beautiful thing because water gives us life and water has become, because of what has happened at Standing Rock, a symbol for all that is sacred and important for humanity and for Mother Earth. We have an organized approach to moving the battle for Standing Rock to the other reservations of the Oceti Sakowin and to spread the organizing all across the country, because tens of thousands of people have gone through the Oceti Sakowin camp and have become a part of this magic moment in Indian country. The Oceti Sakowin elders who came together for the first time since the Battle of the Little Bighorn, extinguished the fire that had been burning to guide the prayers of the camp, to guide the way the camp existed. They now are planning to visit each of the territories of the Oceti Sakowin to fortify the resistance to potential takeovers of our land and the infringement on our sovereignty.
Every social movement going into new stages is never smooth or even. In the last few days some of those in the camp who want to remain in the area built another camp outside of the Oceti Sakowin camp a little ways down the road. There were many people arrested as a result.
One of the difficulties that we face in Indian Country is that the pipeline for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is one major issue, but there are other many, many major issues that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is working on all at once. The median income at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is a little over $13,000. There are key issues of healthcare and economic development and education. In many ways, I think the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has really been showing how difficult and how important it is to build unity in support of protecting our larger rights, Indian Country-wide right to protect our sovereignty and that is what the fight in stopping the pipeline was about. Because when the Bismarck folks said, “No,” to the pipeline, their “No” stuck. When the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said, “No,” the Energy Transfer Partners said, “Well, anyway…” and acted as if they could build this pipeline.
We have run up against a very difficult situation with the Trump administration being elected to office. One of the senators from North Dakota, very pro-pipeline, has become the head of the Chair of the Indian Affairs Committee in the Senate. We are up against a situation where it is very hard to see how the pipeline will be stopped, unless we continue to put the pressure where it needs to be, on the 17 banks that have invested, continue to pressure the Trump administration to not violate the law and proceed with the environmental impact study that was mandated under the Obama administration. It is a tough fight in the next days ahead. It will be determined by whether or not the government violates the will of the people who have been in solidarity with Standing Rock and the 17,000,000 people along the shores of the river.
Sarah: What has it been like this winter? There have been people camped out all the way through, right?
Judith: I like to think about Standing Rock, what it was like on the ground there September 1st when it was warm. I think about it at sunset. It was a very golden kind of light where thousands of Indian people had gathered in solidarity. We created a 21st century Indian city. We had our own kitchen serving three hot meals a day, coffee all day long, and a school and a radio station, and the feeling of prayers and people power being the most amazing medicine that our people could experience because of all of the trauma, all of the deep generational problems that come with the policies of the U.S. government since colonial times.
People began to prepare in October for the winter, because North Dakota winters, you don’t play with them. Very, very severe. Collectively, people began to prepare for winter starting in October and early November, fortifying the different places where people were sleeping, yurts, insulating the teepees, redistributing the kitchen so that it could be in different sectors of the camp. But as we moved into December, when the big blizzard hit, it became clear that peoples’ lives were in danger. There was a call for people to protect themselves by taking the struggle home, to go home and to continue to support the legal fight.
Many, many people followed that directive, because it is just too tough. Others stayed and really have dug in and therefore the dismantling of the camp right now is a complicated business. We have to use backhoes and teams to remove the structures that were set up because it is on a flood plain. The floods are going to be very, very bad this year because of the amount of snow. There is great danger for the people who are camped there. Back in the day, when our people were there without down, without wool socks, it is really hard to imagine how amazing our people were to be able to not only survive, but to continue to thrive and grow as a people under such severe weather conditions.
Sarah: Trump and his people have already made noises about trying to sell off more native peoples’ lands. How can people respond to that if they are just going to try to privatize everything?
Judith: It goes to the heart of how the vast majority of people in this country is going to protect hard-won rights and programs and continue to push forward for the things our communities need. Sovereignty is the bottom line. In Indian Country, we are preparing now for a mobilization to Washington. The time is now to plant all of our nations’ flags in [Washington] D.C. to signal to both the Trump administration and Congress that we are here to stay in this country as sovereign nations, that we are ready to fight for sovereignty.
We are nations that have not only a legal, but a moral, responsibility to protect our land, our air, our water for all of humanity. Sovereignty is also a way to protect the communities and the states and the rivers that affect all of us. When you have tribal governments that are able to do what is best for Mother Earth, then it benefits the border communities, it benefits the economy of states, and it makes our country a better place to live for all and will save the planet. At this point, the Trump administration signaled, even before taking office, that they were willing to follow a policy of privatizing Indian land for oil, for energy resources.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is calling on people, all people, Indians and non-Indians to come to D.C. March 6-10th where we will establish a prayer camp on the National Mall and we will spend our days doing actions, flooding Capitol Hill, and then, marching on the White House on March 10th. We are working to bring together the other 300 tribes that stood with Standing Rock. Over 300 tribes, many of them derive significant revenue streams from fossil fuels, but they stood with Standing Rock because it is a matter of tribal sovereignty. We have the right to decide for our land, our water, and air, how our people are affected by these greedy corporations who will stop at nothing to maximize their profits.
When you look at the Navajo Reservation, you look at the reservations in Nevada, all over the country fossil fuel corporations have come onto our land, paid us money, taken their profits and run, leaving generations of disease and death in their wake. We are inviting all of these tribes to march on the White House to say, “President Trump, you meet with us, you deal with us as sovereign nations.” The Indian people who come from all over the country, as we did flock to Standing Rock Reservation, we will flock to Capitol Hill and lay it on the line with the members of Congress.
In this session of Congress, there are many issues that affect our sovereignty: the attack on Obamacare is an attack on the right to healthcare for Indian people. Legally, we have been guaranteed, from birth to death, quality healthcare and we have not been able to achieve that. If Obamacare is destroyed, it will destroy some steps forward that we took under the Indian Health Improvement Act, which was incorporated into Obamacare. We are going to make a statement, just as the people did at the airports on protecting the rights of immigrants and as we did during the Women’s March. President Trump, we are on our way.
Sarah: There was another trip during the Keystone XL fight, where there was also a prayer camp set up in D.C. Correct?
Judith: Correct. Many of the veterans that organized those events and orchestrated that victory to stop the pipeline are the lead on this, like Faith Spotted Eagle from Yankton tribe who received one Presidential electoral vote here in the state of Washington, the Indigenous Environmental Network. Many of the grassroots leaders, many of them who were the headsmen and some of the spiritual leaders at the Oceti Sakowin camp are in the lead of this initiative.
The challenge now is: How do we not only continue to mobilize our people and build strong alliances with non-native, environmental, faith-based groups, the labor movement, but also how we support at the grassroots an organized strategic role that people can play in fighting for the everyday immediate policies that are being debated and need the support of a movement for them to become transformational policies, even under a time when the right wing is on the offensive? That is a big challenge for us in Indian Country, how we will continue to organize, not just mobilize.
Sarah: Let’s talk a little bit more about the role of these divestment campaigns targeting the banks and the financial institutions that are funding the pipeline and how they connect to things like Wall Street deregulation that Trump has called for.
Judith: This is a very important strategy in order to get at the systemic nature of the role that fossil fuels play in the economy and in creating the huge threat to the existence of our planet. If you want to go to the roots, the economic and structural roots of a problem, you have to dig into the role of financialization and the banks. This divestment movement has given a handle for many who wouldn’t come to Oceti Sakowin camp, who need to do work in their own communities to make the links between the problems we face and the role that banks and the economic system plays in the broader crisis.
You look back over many decades, during the anti-apartheid movement and the global solidarity movement, divestment was a key tool. In other countries, there is incredible mobilization that has resulted in some of the banks in other countries divesting from Energy Transfer Partners. The divestment strategy has also been a way for us in this moment to build global awareness of the threats that exist to the existence of our planet.
No matter how strong capitalism seems to be, it is inherently full of contradictions and therefore masses of people, when organized, even if not the majority, can have an impact. We have organized this alliance, joined a coalition that involved many, many groups—faith groups, as well as divestment groups and environmental groups like 350.org—in doing a serious of actions in the last few days to pressure the 17 banks who are invested in Energy Transfer Partners to meet with the tribe. To divest, but to do so on the basis of meeting with the tribes and understanding what the issues are and the impact the pipeline can have. We have also had tremendous numbers of people, I can’t remember the figures of people who closed their personal accounts that were in some of the 17 banks. It has given many people the ability to say, “Amen,” in their personal lives, to live a life that is actually in sync with their beliefs that we all have a role to play in saving Mother Earth.
I think the divestment strategy and the pressure that it is putting on Energy Transfer Partners is very important in shifting those around the Trump administration to think about the bottom line. At this point, the pipeline is losing money. It is not a good business investment. Energy Transfer Partners acted for the last two years in the business pages in North Dakota and the Wall Street Journal that “Hey, we have got this. We have the permit. This is going through.” They kept building the pipeline until it got to the point where it was so close to the reservation’s water supply that the resistance began. I don’t think they anticipated the resistance would last as long as it has and I think it has begun to dawn on some of the investors, especially the banks outside of the country, that even if the pipeline was moved away from the current path, that the resistance would continue. It wasn’t the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe saying, “Not in my backyard.” They were saying, “Not in anyone’s backyard.” Pipelines break.
It is a classic capitalist situation. They overproduce vehicles and ways that oil should be transferred. Truth is, they don’t need this pipeline. It is not a necessity. We are hoping to convince the banks and therefore the people of Wall Street who have some semblance of business sense to pull out of this.
Now, the Trump administration, we are dealing with one that is not rational. Even the Koch brothers are questioning the direction of what the Trump administration is going on, which is a direction of chaos. Shooting from the hip and asking questions later. I think the divestment strategy is even more important, because there are some sectors of finance capital, some sectors of corporate America who are rational and if you create more chaos, it is not good for business. If there is no stability, markets respond. The divestment strategy is a good strategy because you are pointing people to the root causes in the capitalist system, but in this moment it can have a huge impact on Wall Street and therefore a mitigating factor on the Trump administration’s chaotic cowboy attitude.
Sarah: You spent a lot of time working with United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), the big umbrella movement against the wars during the Bush years. Now that we are, again, in a moment with a right-wing president who looks like he might start a war any day now, can you talk about some lessons from that movement?
Judith: I have thought a lot about this in the last two weeks. I had the honor of speaking at the Women’s March in D.C. I was standing on the stage and I was looking out at the people and I thought about what it was like when United for Peace and Justice brought together over 1,000 organizations; national immigrant rights, labor, faith-based peace groups, a real cross section of movements and organizations. We did demonstrations of hundreds of thousands for years to put the pressure on the Bush administration and to open up the political space to connect the policies of militarism and war with the economic and the moral impact in our communities. The economic impact was clear, that more money was being and continues to be spent on the Pentagon and wars than on the social safety net that is needed in our communities.
I think the Iraq anti-war movement had a huge impact on changing public opinion. Some say, “Well, you didn’t stop the war,” but we did gain political momentum that became the driving force behind people pushing for the election of a president who had committed to a date certain for troop withdrawal from Iraq.
But, the truth is, that we were so busy mobilizing against the full spectrum of the Bush agenda that we did not pay enough attention to organizing. We focused on trying to build unity across sectors and to maintain a coalition effort that was focused on ending the war, but did not pay enough attention to how grassroots folks continue to be engaged in between mobilizations. I think it was because of the nature of the urgency of the moment and the nature of the wars that were going on in Afghanistan and Iraq. But, I also think it was because the movement, as a whole, had that blind spot that grassroots organizing was not the key element of work in communities. Although there has always been a sector of people, economic and racial justice organizations, that have been doing that. We weren’t able to incorporate it as a part of that movement-building project.
We are in a totally different place now. In fact, the first two weeks of the Trump administration have shown that we are at a level where not only are people willing to mobilize, but people are making the connections from their own self-interest to people way beyond their own immediate communities. That is what was powerful about the Women’s March and the demonstrations at the airports. Number one, it was grassroots-driven. When you looked at the signs at the marches all over the country, but especially in Washington, the handmade signs that people brought with them were about democracy. That the protection of women’s rights was part and parcel of protecting the system of democracy in its best and truest form. When you look at the airport demonstrations, people said, “I have to be there to support and stand on the side of people who are being detained at the airports.” I think it is because of the incredible grassroots organizing and work that has been done during the eight years during the Obama administration.
We had a period where people began to go deeper into what it takes to change the economic system. There has been more experimentation and initiatives around generating sustainable green economic development. There have been unlikely coalition relationships around an array of issues. There’s a broader cross section of groups and infrastructure out there that is willing to support this grassroots upsurge by delving deeper into political education and helping people to develop themes that will sustain them, that we need to push back the attacks that we are facing.
There is an array of issues that people are ready to promote and develop a sustained, strategic campaign on. That wasn’t the case when Bush was elected. We were just in full hair on fire, “We have got to show our power in the streets,” mode. It is the same now, but the difference is that I think people are ready to dig in for the long haul. We are not going to solve this with one demonstration. We are not going to solve this simply with anger. We have to use all the tools in our toolbox, from divestment strategies to deep political education that helps people understand the roots of the problems and not just respond to the agitation and chaos. And we need to be organized. This is going to take years to deal with and you can’t burn yourself out. We are in a marathon, not a sprint.
I think the Standing Rock moment has laid the basis for people to understand that we need organizing at the community level that is led with love and open hearts and led by values. That we are not on the defensive. We are on the offensive. We understand that we have to reach out to people who maybe didn’t vote and those who maybe voted for Trump, because there already is the beginnings of buyer’s remorse. People were swayed by the values-led campaign that Trump did and now we need to organize and lead with movements that are value-centered, that are rooted in love of humanity.
That is what you saw at the airports. That was a beautiful thing. My heart soared like an eagle to understand that even through hate and the racist agitation that has become the norm in political discourse, that many white people understood that they have a personal stake and responsibility to stand on the side of Muslims and people of color who were being attacked and detained. That solidarity is the norm, not the exception.
UFPJ, our mission was to try to build that unity. When it was working well, it was a beautiful thing. We need that kind of level of collaboration, and we also need to do the work at the grassroots that taps into the values that people share, the long-term work of going deep into people’s hearts and minds.
The Native people, we have a special role to play. Our culture, our experiences for many people are a source of inspiration. No matter what the impact of the initial colonization was, no matter all of the attempts to sideline and to erase us from this country, we not only have survived, but we have thrived.
Sarah: How can people keep up with you?
Judith: Native Organizers Alliance is putting together a very broad cohort of native trainers that can support tribes and native non-profits and social movement activists at the local level. We are going to be working with Oceti Sakowin elders in South Dakota to Missouri to protect the water and to empower tribal governments to lead the water protection that needs to happen, when the EPA could be gutted. We are also working with organizers on the Navajo Reservation to develop a Colorado River protection project which would involve all of the states along the Colorado River, starting with the tribes and the activists who have been working for generations on the uranium contamination of the water there and land.
We are also conducting our annual National Native Community Organizing Training in August, which is a six-day training. We have done it for six years. Hundreds of people have come through the training and many of our alumni were playing important roles at the Oceti Sakowin camps. Our curriculum is rooted in our inter-tribal cultures. Community organizing is not an idea that a few white guys in Chicago came up with. It is as old as dirt. Our communities have always been premised on the idea of collective economies, collective resolutions to problems. We are using our history and experiences to develop curriculums that build and strengthen those traditions.
We are also collaborating on an array of voter protection and civil rights issues, because Indian Country had the largest number of Indian candidates in U.S. history ran in 2015. We have an array of elected officials in states that are controlled by the right wing. We will be doing a lot of work to help them develop an inside/outside strategy.
Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast.
Originally appeared on InTheseTimes.com