Democrats should be inspired and push forward from Standing Rock

This is a fantastic day. The Army has announced that it  “will not approve an easement that would allow the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota.” As Bill McKibben writes in The Guardian, “Today’s news is a break in that long-running story, a new chapter” in the novel with too many scenes featuring the abuse of indigenous people and too few about we the continent’s newcomers’ dignifying them. While there is surely a long path to justice as there was and still is from Selma, we’ve moved.

As a Democrat and a Bernie Sanders delegate I hope all Democrats take some time to recognize this momentous occasion. The rejection of the Dakota Access Pipeline is why our platform is on the right side of history. You remember that thing that Bernie kept calling “the most progressive platform in our history?” It’s also the thing that we Democrats agreed to fight for.

The people who pushed for a full-throated support of Indians in Orlando should feel the winds at their backs today. Bernie Sanders and his delegates were right to make the rights of our Native American brothers and sisters into an essential part of a political and policy platform. We are a party that dignifies people, not polluting corporations. Today we know why.

The platform says, “We have a profound moral and legal responsibility to the Indian tribes.” That responsibility is “grounded in the Constitution, treaties, and case law to American Indian and Alaska Native tribes.” It demands recognition of tribal sovereignty, recognition of their governments, and requires that “we will constantly seek to ensure that American Indian communities are safe, healthy, educated, innovative, and prosperous.” Importantly, it says that we must be “committed to principles of environmental justice in Indian Country and we recognize that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain, and regenerate its vital cycles. We call for a climate change policy that protects tribal resources, protects tribal health, and provides accountability through accessible, culturally appropriate participation and strong enforcement.”

The water defenders at Standing Rock just fought for their own and nature’s rights. The used their constitutional rights of speech and assembly to fight for safety, health, resources, and accountability. They also pushed back against corporate prosperity that privatizes profit and puts the risk on the public. These folks were the platform in person.

Finally, the Army Corps recognized the people of Standing Rock. So too did Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

The people of Standing Rock live 1/2 mile from Lake Oahu. But they not been afforded access to the procedures that Energy Transfer had. Moreover, the lack of recognition was putting them on the receiving end of the pipeline’s risks but none of its benefits. Of course, as the Standing Rock encampment grew and more people came to exercise their rights to peaceful assembly, they weren’t afforded equal protection under the law. In fact, they were brutalized by “security” with German shepherds. Meanwhile, Energy Transfer–a corporate person–was afforded the full protection of state troopers.

All animals are equal in the petrocartels of course. But some are more equal than others. But there is only so long that the Animal Farm version of equality can hold. Today, it fell apart. But the only way it will stay on the floor is through continued support for native rights and smart and fair environmental policy.

This will mean continuing to support or join peaceful protests like Standing Rock. Already Standing Rock North is moving as people mobilize to stop more tar sands oil from reaching port. But it also means supporting families and landowners in Pennsylvania, people like the Gerharts who are fighting the Sunoco Logistics Mariner 2 natural gas pipeline and its captured government officials. It means meeting with and encouraging our elected officials to listen seriously to tribal governments and landowners and developing cooperate on social, economic and environmental programs to ensure shared prosperity. If there’s something that the last election showed us, it’s that people are miffed about the status quo and want things to happen differently.

In the past, Democrats have paid lip service to environmental justice and Indian governments. It can’t remain lip service. Standing Rock’s blood from dog bites and rubber bullets, the tears from tear gas, and the proverbial sweat from water cannons in subzer0 temperatures must now be vindicated. We have to build strong alliances and policy that creates the conditions for environmental justice and Indian tribal security and prosperity. The willpower of 200 tribes and thousands of activists and veterans from across the country and even the world must now be defended and carried further. That’s what Democrats pledged to do. That’s what Democrats will do.

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