Standing Rock, Vote Swapping, Hillary & Heartbreak
At this very moment, Hillary Clinton is traveling the country making speeches about her vision for this country, and there are two words that are not coming out of her mouth, at least not together: “Standing” and “Rock.”
Right now, in the heart of the nation, the original wound of native genocide and goldlust and environmental destruction is replaying itself. Although now the corporations don’t lust for gold, rather fossil fuel. Like in 1492, they strike out for treasure. And God save anyone who gets in the way of their return trip. Anyone like the Indigenous people of the Dakotas and their allies, who are trying to stop the 1,172 mile Dakota Access Pipeline:
Projected to transport hydraulically fractured (or “fracked”) natural gas from the Bakken Oil Fields in North Dakota to the Gulf Coast, DAPL violates the Fort Laramie Treaties signed in 1851 and 1868 by the United States and bands of the Sioux and other tribes, as well as recent United States environmental regulations…The dangers to the natural environment and local Indigenous communities are grave…Not only may this pipeline contaminate a vital water source for Standing Rock, and millions of people in the surrounding area, but it also threatens one of the largest subterranean water tables in the world, the Ogallala Aquifer. In the last 2 years, over 300 pipeline leaks and spills have damaged irreparably land, water, and animal life…the benefits of this construction project are tied to the prosperity of a very few — in particular, a private energy corporation, Energy Transfer Partners, based in Dallas, Texas and their financial backers. (From the NoDAPL Syllabus).
The struggle at Standing Rock is an effort to prevent the construction of a deadly, destructive mechanism, created by greed-driven people with no regard for our lives. It has always been this way. We die, and have died, for the sake of expansion and white wealth, and for the maintenance of both….We have always been here, fighting for our lives, surviving colonization…” (From “How To Talk About #NoDAPL: A Native Perspective” by Kelly Hayes).
The law enforcement response to NoDAPL protesters has been excessively brutal. It is deeply painful to witness both President Obama’s and Secretary Clinton’s lack of response to this crisis. He could solve it. She could use her platform to speak about it. Yet this is the Democrats doing what they do. Siding with empire. Or letting their silence equal consent. For those who have witnessed me advocate for Hillary Clinton, do not believe for a single second that I am naïve about the allegiances of the Democratic party. They are socially progressive, but they nearly always side with empire. They are the liberal heirs to this country’s genocidal evisceration of Native peoples, and to the nation’s infected scar of slavery. Generation after generation, they refuse to open and cleanse those wounds. They are the ones who would make nice and have a dinner party with multi-colored children singing Kumbaya on top of the battleground soaked with black and Indigenous blood. This is who they are.
I believe that her centrist liberalism is strongly preferable to the neofascism of Donald Trump; because her neoliberal feminism and multiculturalism is strongly preferable to the anti-feminism, racism, and xenophobia of the Republican party; and because I believe it is a good thing, symbolically and practically, for the United States, for the first time in over 200 years, to elect an establishment woman who is a feminist to the presidency rather than an establishment man who is a misogynist.
I agree. Like I have said before, the president and the government are not going to rescue our people and our planet from the terrible mess we’re in: politically, socially, economically, ecologically. We, the people, are going to do it. The movements we build are going to do it. We are merely electing the landlady (or landlord) who will own the building in which we organize. There are only two choices here. Hillary or Donald. We know what he will be. And we know what she will be. We know that she will betray us, as she is doing now, in foreign and domestic policies. As Obama has, she will treat different groups as expendable at different times.
Yet, I know this: as a liberal, she will do her best to stay out of our way as we build our movements. A democratic congress and presidency might have a shot at campaign reform. And the supreme court, where many of our movement’s gains are either validated or struck down, may lean a bit more to the left for the next quarter century. It matters.
So I’m not voting my conscience next week. I’m not voting in protest. I’m voting my strategy. My strategy is to elect Clinton as the president who can create the most supportive climate in which to build our movements.
One exciting development has been the explosion of vote swapping apps online, where 3rd party voters can make their voices heard while also making sure to block Trump. In these transactions, a voter in a “safe” state (a state that polls for Clinton in a landslide) agrees to vote for a 3rd party candidate, in exchange for a 3rd party voter in a swing state voting for Clinton. I like this approach because it allows people to be strategic to both block Trump and to push for alternatives to the two party system.
But some people are so alienated that they say they won’t vote at all. Clearly, these aren’t people who don’t care, but have such a negative reaction to Clinton that they can’t bring themselves to do it. I ask them to consider the possibility that this is an emotionally difficult choice they are being asked to make, and that the specter of a Trump presidency means they need to rise to the occasion.
Most of us, as adults, maintain our calm through the better part of daily life, but the emotions are underneath. For children, however, they are often on the surface. I drive my kid and others in a carpool. This week, a five-year-old was in a state of outrage. She didn’t want to say goodbye to her mom. She has a wonderful, loving mom, who had gone back to work when she was a baby, and the child still had old grief about it. On my carpool day, her mom had to go to work and I had to handle the tantrum. The girl used all the considerable strength in her little body to protest. She refused to let her mom go, clung in the doorway, clawed and fought, refused to get in the car. Her mom placated her: yes, one more hug, one more kiss. Really, that little girl needed to have her screaming grief. But she was placated to a place where she just clung to things that didn’t matter. A screen door. A car seatbelt. Clawing at the arm of another mom that wasn’t her own.
That child needed to howl and sob for the baby she’d been, robbed of her mom by an unforgiving economic system that sends mothers back to work whether they want to go or not. She wanted the love of her mother. She ended up with a fist full of netting. She had no power to stop the carpool. One way or another, she was going to school. She wasn’t going to get to spend the day with her mom. But more than that, spending the day with her mom wouldn’t heal the wound of separation from her mom as a baby, four years before.
Today, I write this with my back still aching from wrestling that little girl (I had to get her to cooperate in a way that was neither emotionally nor physically harmful to her, but that meant crouching down for much longer than my lower back could stand). Afterwards, I talked to the mom about how we could set up the goodbye so that the child could roar her grief at the closed door, without clinging in vain to screens and seatbelts.
If you live in a swing state, Jill Stein is that screen. In any state, not voting is that tantrum, the you can’t make me that blocks any actual progress. Blocking Trump is a critical step in the direction of the world we want. Don’t let the our bitter disappointment in this Democratic candidate and this historical moment keep us from using all forms of political power at our disposal. If this is emotionally difficult for some of us, then it’s time to let our hearts break. As the shameful events at Standing Rock show, we haven’t come any further than this. But we need to vote for Clinton. She’s the landlord we need. Don’t placate yourself with that last Jill Stein hug in Florida. Don’t stay home from the polls, with your rage in your fists–especially when there are down ballot races (senate!) and measures that need your progressive vote. Release the grip on the ineffective strategies, and open up the core of your outrage and allow our chance to grieve. Then, when we face the opportunities a democratic president and congress and even reconfigured supreme court might offer our movements, we have the energy and renewed hope to seize the day.