By Bob Gaydos
Last Monday morning, virtual reality became real reality, if you will, in an encouraging way.
My usual morning routine includes a casual scroll through my Facebook feed to see if I missed anything of vital interest overnight. Usually it’s more of the same. But Monday, a post stopped me short and prompted a silent, “Really?”
It seems a young Facebook friend had traveled to North Dakota overnight and “checked in” at Standing Rock Indian Reservation in solidarity with the Sioux tribe protesting construction of an oil pipeline there. We both live in upstate New York, so this is no easy overnight jaunt. I was impressed with the young man’s commitment to a cause, until I scrolled a little more and discovered that another local friend, a middle-aged woman, had also checked in at Standing Rock. I could believe that she, too, would support the cause, but I was now skeptical about the travel.
A short while later, my partner said, “My Facebook friend checked in at Standing Rock.”
“Not really, I said,” having finally figured out what was going on. “I think there’s a movement on Facebook to show support for the protesters by checking in, virtually, at Standing Rock. It’s a really cool idea.”
Indeed there was and indeed it was. Cool. About a million Facebook users stood in real and virtual solidarity with the Sioux Tribe and thousands of others who have joined them in North Dakota to protest against the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
While the check-ins apparently started as a response to a request from activists at the site, who said police were using the Facebook feature to find out who was at Standing Rock in order to target them, police denied doing so. As it turned out, it didn’t matter, as the massive show of online support sent a message far beyond North Dakota.
For one thing, it brought to focus an actual issue — really several issues — that were being played out in a part of the country far removed from the drudgery and dirty laundry of the presidential campaign. The standoff at Standing Rock had been going on for some time with major media outlets managing to ignore it while obsessing on emails and sexual predation.
I can imagine the newsroom discussion. Editor: “North Dakota? An oil pipeline? Indians? That’s a long way. Can’t we pick up some info from a local reporter?”
Assistant editor: “I don’t know, chief, there’s a bunch of tribes there and now hundreds of others supporting them and they are unarmed and the police and hired security forces are using tear gas and Mace and batons and rubber bullets — they shot some reporter and some horses — to force them off the land. The Sioux say it’s ancient tribal land where their ancestors are buried. Also, the pipeline threatens their water source. The protesters say the private security force even used attack dogs on them. A lot of people were arrested, including what’s-her-name, from NPR. It’s getting ugly. Mark Rufalo was there. Bernie Sanders asked Obama to do something.”
The Sioux are still waiting.
A little background for those, like myself, overwhelmed with political “news.” Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe see the pipeline as a threat to their water supply and their culture. They say its route crosses lands — not part of the reservation — where members of their tribe once hunted and were buried. They also worry about damage if the pipeline were to break where it crosses under the Missouri River, their sole source of water.
Energy Transfer, the company building the pipeline — a $3.7 billion project — says it will pour millions of dollars into local economies and create thousands of construction jobs. The pipeline would carry 470,000 barrels of oil a day from western North Dakota to Illinois. The pipeline was moved from its original path, closer to Bismarck, the state capital, because officials feared it could damage the city water supply. Apparently, no such concern was felt for the drinking water of the Sioux.
So, back to do something.
The two candidates for president did nothing.
Donald Trump loves oil and doesn’t trust anyone who isn’t white and Christian. North Dakota’s three Electoral College votes are his anyway.
Hillary Clinton, often criticized as overly cautious, missed a chance to show real leadership. With no votes to pick up in the state, she could have stood for the rights of indigenous peoples, for protection of the environment, for the First Amendment right to free assembly, and for the responsibility of corporations, who like being considered citizens when giving money to politicians, to also act like responsible citizens when it comes to the public good. She could also have stood against military style force by police against unarmed citizens. Some Clinton doubters in other states (Nevada, Colorado, Arizona) might have been impressed.
Even President Obama waffled. He said, in an effort to accommodate sacred land of Native Americans, “the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline in a way. So we’re going to let it play out for several more weeks and determine whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to the traditions of the first Americans.”
Well, maybe that’s not so bad if the police and paid enforcers aren’t shooting rubber bullets at you and dousing you with hoses, Mr. President. How about telling them to stand down while the Army Corps does its job?
In one day, a million Americans stood in virtual solidarity with the Sioux. Is it too much to ask their president and would-be presidents to demonstrate the real thing?