Water Is Life
On May 19th, 2017, members of Deep Green Resistance Santa Barbara attended the Water Is Life: Standing With Standing Rock conference hosted at UC Santa Barbara. This conference was presented by the Carsey-Wolf Center, the American Indian & Indigenous Collective, the American Indian Student Association, the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts, the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center, and Red Lightning, in addition to receiving support from many other co-sponsoring organizations.
The conference commenced with welcomes from members of the Chumash Nation and conference co-organizers. The history of environmental activism in Santa Barbara was mentioned, being catalyzed by two large oil spills in the Santa Barbara region. Despite environmentalists’ efforts, fossil fuel production has only expanded in the region, most recently with three large oil & gas projects proposed in the past few years. The conference co-organizers expressed their gratitude to the Standing Rock water protectors who traveled to the university to speak, and recognized that we have a lot to learn from them about how to protect the water and land here in Santa Barbara. After the introduction, there were three panels centering around different themes.
After Tilsen had to leave because of a prior engagement, the conversation turned to the role of women in leadership. Charger encouraged women in the audience to disobey the traditional feminine gender role: to be brave, powerful, and outspoken, and not to care about being pretty. She believes women are sacred and have a spiritual connection to the Earth because they can create life. But patriarchy has caused women to forget that they are sacred because they are so disrespected, especially native women who suffer much higher rates of abuse than the general population and are raped in “man camps” that accompany large extractive projects. Braun agreed with Charger, and added that the western, civilized, patriarchal point of view has distorted relationships between native women and men by introducing the male supremacist power dynamic. Patriarchy was enforced in indigenous communities through the Christian church & boarding schools, and the destruction of traditional indigenous knowledge, spiritualities, and cultures.
Dewey echoed Bigelow’s concerns about freedom of speech and the importance of independent media, as the mainstream media largely ignored the events at Standing Rock. He live-streamed video footage from the camps on Facebook many times, providing one example when law enforcement was harassing him. Dewey believes that had he not had his camera rolling at that time, his life may have been taken. The morally reprehensible behavior of law enforcement towards the nonviolent water protectors was a constant theme throughout the struggle against DAPL, and drawing media attention to these events helps to garner public sympathy. Corporations and governments know this, which is why they attempt to intimidate journalists and curtail freedom of the press.
Oil pipelines are everywhere, and they affect everyone. If you are white enough, rich enough, and/or lucky enough, the pipelines might not be built in your backyard, but no matter who you are, they contaminate the water, air, and land upon which you depend for your life. The distance does not keep you safe, it only delays alarm. There are no safe places to hide from a culture and economy based on extraction, drawdown, theft, genocide, and ecocide; this culture eats beautiful forested lands, rich seas, and clear skies and leaves behind deserts, toxic dead zones, and, possibly in the near future, an inhabitable planet. If it doesn’t seem like this culture and its economy steals wealth of all sorts for the benefit of a few, it’s very likely that you live in an exclusion zone rather than a sacrifice zone. The exclusion zones are where resources are sent, where power is concentrated, where the in-group is nourished. Sacrifice zones are where resources are extracted, where power is enforced to maintain subjugation, where the out-group is impoverished. Even if you recognize the material problems this culture produces, its strong tradition of silencing dissent, erasing indigenous cultures and knowledge, and spreading self-serving disinformation obscure the root cause of these problems. For thousands of years, the dynamic of the haves and the have-nots has been at the core of an evolving culture that dominates and erases other cultures. It has taken many forms, including city-states, empires, kingdoms, feudalism, mercantilism, colonialism, white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and fascism. The common denominator is a selfish urge to profit at the expense of others, beginning about 10,000 years ago with the advent of agriculture and male subjugation of women. This developed into various socioeconomic structures that depend on and thus facilitate the destruction of life. The dominant culture abuses the earth just as it abuses women.
How do we effectively resist something that is powerful enough to eliminate entire species and cultures from our world, colonize and enslave many lands and populations, pollute and scar our homes, and even drastically change the global climate? Effective resistance begins with properly identifying a few key points: the problem, our goal, and a strategy, i.e., a path to achieving said goal. The problem we face is immense and complex. It is a global network of systems that consolidate power by taking it from others. It is huge and powerful, but it is vulnerable. We can’t sit idly by out of fear, incompetence, or naive hopefulness. We must act. As Tilsen said at the Water Is Life conference, “We need incredibly brave, unreasonable people to step up… and we need to follow them.” If we don’t, civilization will eat our planet until there is no life left.
Contrary to what most “environmentalists” say, there is no sustainable future with solar panels and wind turbines or some other “green” energy. Do you ever wonder why the question is: how do we keep the power flowing and growing? instead of: how do we improve our landbase? how do we enter into mutually beneficial relationships with those around us, both humans and non-humans?