Today at 2pm, the emboldened task force detailed with removing protesters at Oceti Sakowin camp will begin making arrests and forcible evictions. I say “emboldened” because, as we know, history has shown how violent leadership gives violent license well beyond the purview of any one leader. The model of fear and intimidation running rampant in our nation traces in and through the highest offices, trickles down to every locality and region. There may be days that warrant careful treading: where thinkers and writers work to reach across the aisle, resist rushing to judgment, attempt to make compromises for the betterment of the country. Frankly, I do not believe today to be one of those days. As men, women, and children are ripped from their protest site at Standing Rock, cleared from the meager land into which they have been cornered, our feelings of outrage and indignation are warranted. And they are powerful.
Narrative and memory are more powerful than guns and tear gas. The storylines that have emerged—and will continue to emerge—from the brave protestors at Standing Rock cannot be silenced so easily: like the strong women who have told us that Water is Life, or the dramatic journalism that has covered this unprecedented event (much of which was documented on our podcast episodes, Standing Rock 1 & Standing Rock 2, as well as my last blog post, CENHS & Standing Rock).
Thus, any politicians or law enforcement who currently suffer under the delusion that 2pm marks the end of Standing Rock will be sorely disappointed. When it comes to rights discourse, those who have suffered from systematic racism, who have been routinely silenced and cast out, know that the course of true justice never did run smooth. If only the arc of history tilted more firmly toward integrity and fair-mindedness, if only the legacies of colonialism and racism were truly past-tense affairs. But despair is a longstanding tool of empire, especially an empire that takes the form of a transnational system of capital that must coordinate the suppression and regulation of local rights in practically every corner of the globe. Despair cannot be our response.
In my last post, I wrote about how Standing Rock is a model for environmental resistance, living up to Rachel Carson’s call that the resources of this earth cannot justifiably be reduced to a mere “matter of politics.” At 2pm today, the water at Standing Rock—this precious resource that is also a religious and cultural heritage—is being treated as a “matter of politics.” Those who intervene in the dealings of a decidedly non-diverse cast of politicians and business people are regarded as a fifth column. We have already heard the rhetoric of suppression deployed by the current administration, which casts dissenting voices as cries of sympathy for evil. But what could be more loyal, more honorable than those fighting for the future of their own people, whether Sioux or Houstonian? Those who will not fight for the sustainability of the earth’s resources, those who see water only as a political and economic incentive—these are the real fifth column.
Now more than ever we must recommit ourselves to an intelligent and informed discussion of energy, science, and the humanities, for there is no way to discuss a moment like Standing Rock without considering all these categories. CENHS may be a crossroads for voices, opinions, blog posts, information—but beyond our digital troposphere we must find ways to bolster resistance, give voice to the unheeded, and speak toward a future that is so profoundly uncertain.
As I was writing this post, I began reflecting on all the meanings behind the word “clearance,” thinking, of course, about the clearance at Standing Rock. But there is also the informational “clearance” granted to Army generals, the clearing practices of loggers and industrialists, or in more arcane cases the settling of a debt. I even learned that, in the steam-engine, “clearance” describes “the distance between the cylinder-cover and the piston when at the end of its stroke.” Clearance is actually a mostly violent word that masks itself within a soft, two-syllable ring. And the practices of clearing—whether clearing people or landscapes or pistons in the steam-engine—function as synecdoches for much larger ideas concerning our responsibility for the world around us. There is no environmental justice without social justice, no social justice without environmental justice. In the clearance, our very future is at risk. In the clearance, we must sow new seeds and plant new ideas. In the clearance is our beginning.
And it is only right, in this beginning, to give the Sacred Stone camp the final word: “Tomorrow they will come for us. Regardless, we rise.”
Clint Wilson III is a CENHS predoctoral fellow, a Diana Hobby editorial fellow for Studies in English Literature: 1500–1900, and a PhD student in English at Rice University. His research explores the intersection of race, politics, and toxicity in the modernist imaginary, as well as the larger study of contamination in the environmental humanities.