The title for this piece was taken from a speech delivered by Shirley Chisholm at Howard University on April 21, 1969. Shirley Chisholm was a trailblazer for African American women: she was the first Black Congress woman to serve in 1968; four years later she became the first African American to run for president. Chisholm was also the first woman, along with Patsy Mink, to seek the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1972.
Late in August 2016, news started to trickle in about the Dakota Access Pipeline protest on the sacred land of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Weeks would go by before it gained traction in mainstream media. Yet during the three presidential debates–aired on September 26th, October 9th and October 19th–the moderators (and their news organizations) did not consider it worthy or important to ask the candidates their views on the fight taking place at Standing Rock. Perhaps the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, and Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, also agreed not to discuss the ongoing protests in North Dakota. Credit goes to Green Party nominee, Jill Stein, who joined the protesters and even had a warrant issued for her arrest when a video turned up of her spray-painting a bulldozer owned by the oil company.
I could not help to think how little attention is given to North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. As a whole, the concerns and well-being of the indigenous people living within the United States borders are ignored. And their rights are consistently abused or dismissed, much like the rights of other non-white Americans. For the people of Standing Rock Sioux nation, their main concern with the Dakota Access Pipeline plan–to transport up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil a day from North Dakota to Illinois–is the risk of contaminating clean water. The hashtag which has gained momentum on social media–#WaterIsLife–is a consequence of the ongoing dispute between the native tribe and the oil company. Polluted water has a crippling and rippling effect: it poses a danger to the land, the surrounding wildlife and the lives of local communities. Not only does the construction of the DAPL ignore the sanctity of the tribe’s land, it threatens the ecosystem. The same environmental concerns can be said of the Keystone XL pipeline, which was designated to carry crude oil from Alberta, Canada to Texas. However, that plan was eventually rejected in 2015 by President Barack Obama. The key difference between Keystone Pipeline and Dakota Access Pipeline is that the former proposal was designated to cross international borders and cover almost 3,000 miles (to be built in three phases) to the Gulf of Mexico–as opposed to 1,170 miles for DAPL. Consequently, Keystone required stricter scrutiny by the Environmental Protection Agency. Ironically, the EPA, and two other federal agencies, addressed their concerns regarding the Army Corps’ DAPL design; however, there was insufficient public backlash to make it hold.
Wednesday night, I watched The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell. In a later segment, he brought in David Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, to discuss the struggles of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Sitting next to Dave Archambault was Rev. Mark A. Thompson, the only African American talk host on SiriusXM Progress with Make It Plain. Then he did a satellite interview with Black Lives Matter civil rights activist, DeRay Mckesson, who had announced his endorsement for Hillary Clinton in this op-ed: Why I’m voting for Hillary Clinton. O’Donnell drew a parallel with the growing pains of the Black Lives Matter movement and the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s fight for civil rights. There was a bridge of hope in Mckesson’s message when he urged Archambault to “Keep the fight”. Mckesson also reminded the audience that the protesters who gathered and united in the aftermath of the police shooting and death of Michael Brown in August 2014 “were in the streets [of Ferguson, Missouri] for over 350 days”. There was sincerity in Thompson’s voice as he turned to Archambault and said “I’m in solidarity with my sisters and brothers at Standing Rock.” Adding “There is some historical foundation for that. All of our struggles are similar. And there is some intersection. We know the police and law enforcement have been brutalizing the people at Standing Rock. And have treated Native Americans around the country the same way they have treated African Americans. So we all should stand together.” Thompson reiterated the need for patience and discipline when he mentioned “The Montgomery bus boycott was [a campaign that went on for] a year.” The boycott actually endured for a year and 15 days from December 5, 1955 to December 20, 1956.
Lawrence O’Donnell has been discussing the ongoing fight for freedom at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation well before the other TV news programs, including MSNBC and elsewhere, started to cover the protests. Kudos to O’Donnell for visiting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota, and for continuing to report on this important matter. He deserves credit for comparing the similarities with the protests which led to the Black Lives Matter movement to the battle for clean water and civil rights at Standing Rock.
Chisholm said “Freedom is an endless horizon” because the asymptotic curve of transformational change never quite reaches the axis of true equality. The “many roads” she referenced “that lead to [freedom]” is part of the endless pursuit for a more tolerable and accepting culture through various forms of activism–protests, policy changes, education, and voting.