Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Natives Are Restless

Updated 9/10 3:00 p.m. (I added two nice photos by Dallas Goldtooth below - one is going around on Twitter and I went to his Facebook page and saw the other.)

The protests in the Dakotas and Iowa by mostly Native American protestors I mentioned a couple posts ago against what's called the Dakota Access pipeline that have drawn the support of the Navajo Nation with Navajo president Russell Begaye and his vice president participating personally got some support from President Obama today when he halted pipeline construction. The US Army Corps of Engineers must now review the permit they previously issued, which protestors said was based on an environmental impact statement conducted by the pipeline company and completely ignored the concerns they had raised about the pipeline.

Screen shot showing entry way lined with participating tribes' flags - Unicorn media
If you can get it to play this is an interesting cell telephone video shot from a mini van driving past the protestors' main encampment and then passing through a national guard "checkpoint" down the road that's been set up in the middle of the highway.

With Obama just completing a swing through Asia devoted to bolstering Neoliberal Capitalism globally and strengthening America's Asian alliances in his "pivot to Asia" strategy to surround and contain China militarily and economically, while was sending back messages that he plans to start pushing the TPP trade treaty again, I doubt his halting of this pipeline has anything to do with appeasing working class protestors. More likely he sensed that the protests, which have been steadily increasing in size and just a few days ago started getting mainstream media attention, would impact Democrats in the November election.

The protests also had the potential to galvanize large segments of the working class in opposition to Capitalism and mushroom into something more widespread. There's widespread anger at the Capitalist system already, but the Sanders and Trump campaigns have been channeling it back into a political process that Capitalism has well under its control.

Cowboys and Indians protest - ABC News
The pipeline in question, like the infamous Keystone XL pipeline that drew widespread opposition and which Obama also halted by denying the federal permit for it, was being opposed on the grounds it would endanger someone's water supply.

The Keystone pipeline crossed a huge aquifer used by Natives and also by white farmers who were part of those protests, and in this case the pipeline will cross the Missouri River upstream from where several Native tribes draw water.

These pipelines are opposed by environmentalists simply because they are pipelines, period, and especially because they'd carry fracked oil in this instance and Canadian "tar sands" oil in the other, both of which are seen as particularly "dirty" oil.

Cowboys and Indians protest - National Geographic
The Keystone protests started getting a lot of mainstream media attention when the someone came up with the idea of putting cowboy hat wearing ranchers and Native Americans on horseback and making up some posters about Cowboys and Indians, either one of which is a powerful American methaphor and a selling tool that advertising has used endlessly.

Native Americans have controlled the narrative during these most recent protests. They use innovative methods that inspire the rest of the activist community and spark interest outside of it and because they are new and different are harder to counter by the ruling class and its police enforcement arm.

And they're Natives, after all. Millions of Americans have a romanticized fascination with them. All a Native has to do is say "our traditional religion" or "our ancestral burial grounds" and millions of Americans get wide eyed and nod their approval. I wouldn't be surprised if Natives have inside jokes about this.

The Dakota Access pipeline, if it ends up not being built, isn't going to change Capitalism. There are other ways to move oil. But whenever there's what's seen as a victory like this people get a renewed sense of their inherent power, and their ability to organize as a mass and successfully oppose Capitalism. Blacks Lives Matter and Occupy did that, but Native Americans introduce a new element. The very idea of them appeals to peoples' imagination. The Hollywood movies and paperback novels and New Age mysticism that made mush of millions of baby boomers' minds had done half the Natives work for them.

The American people had pretty much lost their sense of power over the course of the last 50 years. Americans last had it in the 1960s when they brought about civil rights changes and stopped the Vietnam War. Thy had it then because in the half century before that, the Labor Movement had instilled it in them by organizing millions of Americans in mass struggles to redistribute wealth.


Dallas Goldtooth photo

I've been listening to the Librivox reading of Alexis DeToqueville's classic study of our republic - Democracy In America. (We use democracy to run it but it is, as conservatives like to say, a republic). That book, published in two volumes in 1835 and 1840 just 50 years after the constitution was adopted, is a brilliant analysis of us -- our federal and state constitutional systems and why they were working very well for us, particularly, under our particular conditions. Many students are assigned that book but I doubt many actually read it. I did a report on it for a Journalism history class without reading it. Now that I am hearing it read I can see why it was assigned. I think many politicians used to read it and maybe a few still do.

As deTouqeville lays it out, pretty much all Americans used to participate in the governing of our country, and that had several consequences, one of which was that it gave people a sense of their own power, to the extent that rich people, although average Americans at the time didn't resent for their wealth, lived in constant anxiety. Because of that sense of power, which was part of Americans' identities, there could not be, in America, the rise of anything like the class of nobles in Europe where power is heredity, deToqueville said.

Dallas Goldtooth photo


Things changed though. The federal and the states' constitutions have been altered in various ways that have contributed to the establishment of a professional political class, and the wealthy layers at the top of American society have become a virtual ruling oligarchy with the now permanent political class acting as their servants and enforcers.

Because of those developments and the weakening, by the political class and the oligarchy, of the Labor Movement, which was been one of the central strategies of Neoliberalism, the American people have lost their sense of power and stopped participating in government. Meetings of elected bodies are most often pretty quiet affairs and Americans are ignorant of the internal workings of government. They talk about politics but only in superficial and symbolic terms, then they go vote and hand all their power over to a politician and participate no further.

The Labor Movement was organized mainly by immigrants who had been exposed to Socialist ideas and who in many cases were socialists, or anarchists, themselves. Socialism develops class consciousness, which is a way of saying that it gives people a sense of community with other people who have the same interests; and working class people have much more in common that the differences there are between them, but Democrats' identity politics and Republicans, and now Trump's more overt, racialized appeals cause people to focus on and be aware of only their differences.

The 1960s movements had a Socialist flavor and today, polling and survey data show that young people are more inclined toward Socialism than toward Capitalism. Occupy with its 1 percent and 99 percent dichotomy was overtly class based, and now that Obama is on his way out and Black Lives Matter is no longer under the onerous obligation not to criticize the first Black president and the Capitalist system he oversees is taking on a stridently economic critique that's in many aspects a Socialist critique of Capitalism, which I reported on here earlier.

All these developments taken together indicate that class consciousness among the working class -- people who work for a paycheck -- is on the rise. The ruling class already had class consciousness. They think and act as an economic class and are well aware of class. The working class is beginning to become aware of it and of the fact that Neoliberal Capitalism has been nothing more than class warfare waged on them from above.

Obama's cancellation of the pipeline was perhaps his signal to the the ruling class to start circling the wagons. He knew this time was coming. He's been militarizing local police for his entire term by handing over to them multi millions worth of military equipment and he has let them by and large have their way with us, voicing token concern about police killings while doing nothing to structurally alter anything.

As the violence visited upon the pipeline protestors this week demonstrates, the police know they haven't been called off yet. It may even be too late for that. Once a dog goes into attack mode it can't even hear its master calling.

Trump's divisiveness on the one hand, and the continual demonizing of him by the political class and the media on the other, will waylay the moment when working class power becomes sufficient to bring the police, and then Capitalism itself to heel, but the underlying prerequisites for that moment to come about are rapidly falling into place.

 





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