The Ripple Effect: How Standing Rock Violence Inspired Demonstrations Around the World
Stark images of police officers dressed like Storm Troopers pepper-spraying unarmed water protectors at Standing Rock burst through computer screens on October 27, grabbing Native and non-Native Facebook users all over the world. The shock of violence transfixed most as they watched, like a sledgehammer to the chest, and for many, the fire they felt spurred them to action.
Ripples went out.
Facebook groups supporting Standing Rock began receiving pictures of supporters from all over the globe. From Belgium, Ireland, Scotland, England, Holland and Spain. From Croatia, New Zealand, China, Mongolia and Vietnam. In this country, rallies occurred in Anchorage, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Seattle.
The rally in Seattle on Saturday evening, October 29, was organized in just 24 hours as a response to the violence on October 27 at Standing Rock. Local TV news reports estimated 200 people attended, but it appeared to be more like 500, swelling to 800 or so at the demonstration’s peak.
Tsimshian lawyer Millie Kennedy, who helped get the Indigenous Peoples Day resolution passed in Seattle two years ago, officiated at the rally. Matt Remle, Native activist, writer and editor of Last Real Indians, opened with a prayer in Lakota.
Among the speakers was Deyo Esquivel, art coordinator of the Chief Seattle Club, who helped organize the event. He spoke of how the violence at Standing Rock also happens to homeless Native people in Seattle. Speaking about the recent sweeps of homeless encampments in the city, he told the crowd:
“Standing Rock isn’t the only place that that happens. That happens right here in Seattle. Our people, our Native American people, our homeless people, are being beaten and pepper-sprayed, their property stolen, their property destroyed. They’re being pushed around on our own land. So this feeling that you have, that disgust that you felt when you saw those videos, that needs to continue here.”
Speakers also decried the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminal in Longview, Washington, which will bring trainloads of coal and hazardous coal dust to Native lands and fishing areas.
But rallies are also fun. Nearly every speaker began with the chant: “Mni Wiconi! Water is Life!” The crowd would join in and fists would go up. Shouting the chants vented the crowd’s frustration and anger at the law enforcement response to peaceful water protectors. It also melded them into a single unit, a tribe, readying itself for battle.
American Indian Movement member Raymond Kingfisher of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Montana led the rally in a round dance. With very little coaxing, the demonstrators joined hands and formed several concentric circles, stepping rhythmically to the left in time with a Lakota song.
The circles looked like ripples in a pond, human ripples radiating out from the violence of October 27, Native ripples that would now go into the world bringing with them concern for the water protectors and for Mother Earth.
A Personal Perspective
Moving clockwise, we clasped our hands with those on either side of us. We stepped as one in time to the song. Individually, we’d sat at home or work in front of computer screens, smartphones and tablets, our jaws open at those images of cops in riot gear blasting people with industrial pepper spray.
I remember wanting to dive through that screen and help them, but the screen was covered with invisible bars keeping me and everyone else locked outside. Alone we were virtually powerless, but now, together as a tribe, we were strong and we would not be denied.
We were not protestors. We were not a special interest group. We were Native people. We were a culture responding to an injustice that’s been going on for over 500 years.
We lost ourselves to the dance and the invisible, social walls that normally separated us dissolved away. The differences we normally felt were gone, too, and the heavy burden of our day-to-day identities melted. We were one, a tribe.
The mettle of our outrage was forged into steel by that round dance. Most of us would never make it to Standing Rock, but through working together we could fight just as hard in our own hometowns.
Not long after that night, I attended my first class in Tlingit at the Chief Seattle Club taught by my friend Nahaan. I’d always avoided learning Tlingit, my late mother’s language, because I hated grammar and vocabulary. But after I understood how the conflict at Standing Rock was about reclaiming our cultures and decolonizing our hearts and not just about oil, I realized learning my Native language was an act of defiance just as strong as being in North Dakota.
After the rally I viewed a video of the round dance. The videographer, Patrick MacKay, a cancer survivor and former acquaintance of John T. Williams, had captured the spirit and power of that moment. I included the clip here with his permission.
Since that night, rallies have occurred all over the world. In particular, a rally in Toronto on November 5 drew several thousand people and included an inspiring round dance even bigger than the one in Seattle.
The violence at Standing Rock on October 27 threw a stone into the collective hearts of oppressed people everywhere, but instead of turning to stone, those hearts opened and out went ripples of compassion. Those ripples reverberate everywhere, bringing the spirit of Standing Rock into our homes and hearts and ultimately out to the entire world.
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