Defeat of DAPL at Standing Rock
On Sunday evening I was looking up details about a protest due to take place the following day outside the American Embassy in London. It was being organised to coincide with the scheduled eviction of the Water Protesters’ Standing Rock Sioux peace camp in North Dakota, planned for the same day, Monday 5th December. As I was checking out how to get to the Embassy to join the protest, I saw a post that stated the energy company ETP (Energy Transfer Partners) was not, after all, going to be authorised to lay the oil pipe in the area that was being disputed: the Army Corps of Engineers had just announced that it was blocking the final permit needed to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). This was stunning news after months of non-violent demonstrations by hundreds of indigenous tribes and supporters. People had begun camping and protesting in the area earlier in the year to divert this underground oil pipeline project that would run through the heart of sacred Native Indian territory, with potential for devastating impact on Lake Ohae, a reservoir fed by the Missouri River.
Stand Up London
I wrote here recently about feeling a deep, visceral pull to support this campaign. Jumping on a ‘plane to join the camp in North Dakota didn’t seem to make a lot of sense, though, not least for environmental reasons. Instead, I followed the protest from home and now was all set to head to the American Embassy the next day. The news that the pipeline project had been halted as a result of the peaceful campaigning did not alter our plan to meet: we decided to gather anyway to mark and celebrate this wonderful outcome at Standing Rock.
Gathering in Grosvenor Square
I cycled from south east London, across the river and through Mayfair with its myriad of lights and displays for the festive season and its crowds of people going about their business. In the park at Grosvenor Square, a group started to form and we introduced ourselves to each other. A police officer ambled over to ask why we were assembled there rather than directly outside the Embassy, like people normally did when demonstrations were taking place. An amiable exchange followed and we assured him we’d be making our way there once everyone had arrived.
After a while, we came together in a circle and some people shared what had moved them to turn out and come here on a chilly December afternoon. Images were described – seeds, a great flowering tree, the season of spring; and feelings and ideas were expressed – hope, solidarity, interconnectedness. Then we moved on and stood outside the Embassy in silence for 20 minutes.
A heartwarming stand
The cold started to work its way through my layers but, as someone standing close to me had murmured, the cold and the standing still there were nothing compared to what people in North Dakota had been enduring, particularly as autumn turned to winter. Time went by as I pictured huge camp fires burning night and day in Standing Rock, large enough to take the chill off everyone’s bones, to reach everybody camping and working and peacefully protesting there.
The sound of bagpipes pierced our silence, played by Dirk who had travelled up from Lewes in his kilt, and we started to rub our hands, pick up our bags, catch each others’ eye with a smile. New friends and old exchanged goodbyes and we all began making our journeys back home. I rode through central London, across the river and along the cycle paths towards my house feeling enriched and warm from top to toe, from the inside out.
The power of one, the strength of few
We were a small group that met on Monday afternoon and the day came and went with the travel there, the gathering, the travel back. Standing in Grosvenor Square I had tried to imagine the thoughts of those looking out of the Embassy, seeing us standing there motionless with a few candles flickering and a few small signs saying, ‘Water is Life‘. We would have looked few. But the image that came more clearly to my heart and mind was that of the Standing Rock camp where first a few people had come together, and then more, and more, and more, until there were hundreds of indigenous tribes gathered together, for the first time in modern American history in this way; and other supporters from near and far; and later on, US Army Veterans.
Change starts small
What also felt so alive, of course, was the result announced the day before, a result that one of the biggest energy companies in the world had presumably not imagined possible. Over the months, their power had shrunk in the face of the power created by those gathered peacefully together in North Dakota.
When I got home, I browsed social media to see the latest responses to what had actually unfolded at Standing Rock on 5th December, in place of the expected eviction by those with state authority against those without. A familiar and wonderfully appropriate quotation jumped out, a perfect summing up of a long struggle and heartwarming outcome, whose reverberations reach backwards and forwards through time and place for us all:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”. Margaret Mead.