Monthly Archives: November 2016

If Drones Dropped Bombs on Chicago

What would happen if China or Korea or Russia or Mexico sent drones in to drop bombs on Chicago?

Imagine for a moment the scenario. Let’s say Mexico had the influence and power, the chutzpah and the arrogance, to argue that we were not policing our drug dealers or the terrorists who live within our American borders. “Look at how many people have been shot in Chicago alone,” Mexico’s President explains. “As of November 28, 2016, 3,992 victims have been shot.” Out of these 3,992 victims, 688 have been killed, which works out to one homicide every two hours. “The United States is failing to police its own borders,” explains the Mexican President. “Mexican nationals are being massacred because of American indifference to the mayhem happening on the streets of its cities. They are fueling the illegal drug industry, which is infiltrating our borders and destroying our people, damaging our economy, and threatening our security. We cannot delay any longer–we must act to protect our interests and our citizens.” Mexico must act to obtain peace, but at a cost.

Mexico sends in its drones. “We’re avoiding obvious civilian installations,” Mexico states, “But the enemy, with its violent drug pushers, are hiding behind schools; they’re holed up in hospitals, so it’s possible that some unfortunate civilian casualties will ensue. Of course, that’s the United States’ fault, not the fault of our military. After all, they are allowing their criminals to mix with their civilian population. We’re not targeting their civilians! We would never aim at innocent bystanders.” Naturally, thus, innocent American lives would be lost, but it wouldn’t be Mexico’s fault. After all, they’re not trying to kill innocent American lives! And hey, what about the children of the drug dealers, or the wives? They’re choosing to live with a violent criminal. They’re a part of the ring of drug violence. They chose this!

Mexico would become the worst enemy Americans had ever met.

Imagine what Chicago would look like after just a few days of drone hits. Blood would run in the streets. We’d see it all on our social media feeds. We’d watch the nightly news in shock, aghast at the destruction we were witnessing. Most Americans would rise up in shock and dismay, in anger and outrage, and would call for massive retaliation. Indeed, the political in-fighting over the President-Elect would dissipate, replaced by jingoist calls for the infliction of revenge on our southern bullies. Politicians from both major political parties would call for protection of innocent America. Perhaps there would also arise a movement within Chicago itself to police itself. Indeed, the National Guard would be called in, and so would the Red Cross, and the U.N. would send in its peacekeepers.

Russia, France, Germany, and other countries would poke their noses in, offering a mix of assistance, advice, and unwanted criticism. After all, you brought this on yourselves, Russia would probably say. You allowed Chicago to rage on against itself; you and your guns and your drugs and your crime–you did this, America! Now sit back and allow us to root out the source of all this violence. Allow us to kill the killers–otherwise, we will support Mexican efforts to end your drug and gun scourge.

Meanwhile, what would self-appointed militiamen do? Millions of gun-toting Americans, after all, own guns under the aegis of the Second Amendment. Would they allow a foreign nation to attack our people without taking action? I think not. I think militias would gather, and loosely-organized battalions would walk to Chicago to protect it from foreign aggressors. And some of these militiamen would probably travel down to Mexico, and along the way, they would grab whatever Mexicans they could find. Hey, why not? Why allow these deplorable, illegal (or legal, doesn’t really matter, they’re still here and they’re bombing us) Mexicans to live off our land?

Or maybe the militiamen would start taking potshots at the U.N. peacekeepers, who would be doing the bidding of Russia. Violence would spiral out of control. Some Americans would blame the government; others would blame foreign governments; still others would call for the quashing of the self-appointed militiamen. We’d have, quite simply, civil war.

Does this make your blood boil? The mere thought of another country thinking it can police our own borders is antithetical to our nationhood, isn’t it? The sheer gall of those Mexicans is maddening and insane, right? As a country, we know our needs best. We can police our terrorists, our criminals, our people, better than any foreign nation could, and accepting for a moment that maybe we can’t root out every single criminal or terrorist doesn’t mean that we should cede control to another country. We have a right to our own sovereignty, after all. No one else can tell us how to run our country. Not even if our people are dying.

So you’re with me, I think. You get that Mexico absolutely cannot launch drone strikes on Chicago, not for any reason whatsoever. You see that it wouldn’t end well for anyone.

So what are we doing in Syria? How are we making the world safer for the people of Syria? How are we helping the souls who live in Syria pursue their own happiness? Is it right for us to value American interests above the lives of Syrians? Doesn’t that matter to us? Or do we (or our politicians by proxy of our vote) think that Syrian is less important than we are, that Syrian lives matter less than American lives?

If even one bomb dropped on American soil, we would lose our everlasting minds.

American bombs drop on Syria and civilians die, and it is happening with a shocking frequency. We turn our heads and allow the U.S. government to continue its terrifying campaign. But God help everyone if any nation dropped bombs on Chicago. We would not stand for it. But America is not only allowing bombs to slam into Syrian bodies–America is sending the bombs. Because America knows best, is protecting its interests, and is trying to stop the spread of terrorism–and unless a nation agrees to root out terrorism in exactly the way the United States proscribes, America will send its drone attacks.

Have we declared an actual war on Syria? No, we haven’t declared war on Syria. Apparently we don’t need to do that, even though Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution requires the President to ask Congress to declare war before initiating non-emergency hostilities. American Executive power has spiraled out of control, so much so that most Americans as well as the vast majority of politicians agree that a President can wage hostilities without consulting with a democratically-elected Congress. In the case of Syria or other countries in the Middle East, we basically bomb them at the will of the President. The American Executive simply declares a “war on terror”, and now the United States is to fight it by any means necessary. If those necessary means include acts of state-sponsored terrorism, so be it.

As human beings, we should realize that our war on terror must not make us terrorists.

But it is.


Violent Protest is Not the Answer

Where are we and what are we doing?

I awoke to this question, inchoate, unformed, and after a brief moment of reflection, elucidated in the early morning fog of my dream world. I was stuck in a recurring dream I have been having. In last night’s version, I was traveling from one side of our country to the next, in search of my children. I was waiting by the ocean side for them to return to me. Fear engulfed me, and pain. Where were my children?

I spotted them, and the three of them ran towards me. My daughter cleaved to me. I held her to my breast and whispered, “I will protect you, I will keep you safe.”

“But why did you let me go?” Her blue-grey eyes reached into my own.

“I didn’t, I wouldn’t, but you had to go, you had to see, so I let you, and ever since you left, I’ve been looking for you, I’ve been following you everywhere, waiting, waiting . . .” I brushed the hair out of her eyes and added, “I always knew you’d return, and you did, and I was never gone.”

I woke up then. It was five-something, and I didn’t want to leave the lumpy, warm sheets, so I just lay there. I know why I keep having variations of the same theme in the space where my subconscious creates its own world. My world is rooted in love, and my children reside at these roots. Together, we’ve gotten where we need to go, but my mind remains unwilling to let go of its fears. That’s okay, I realize. As one of my friends said this morning in regards to opposition to Donald Trump:

What scares me the most is that I’ve been told I have no right to be afraid. That our president says that if a man has money or power, it’s okay to violate me…and that I’m told that is not supposed to scare me . . . and I’m just supposed to suck that up. That mentality is what scares me. Being told I have no right to fear when the leader of the free world has put his seal of approval on misogyny. That’s the difference. It’s never been okay, and no one has ever done much about it, but now the president says it’s okay. So if it was never okay before to be sexist, racist, violent, etc., what is it going to be like now that we’ve been given the go ahead to hate? That’s what scares me as a woman. So please, stop with this cut and paste thing I’ve been seeing for days all over the internet saying we have no right to be scared . . . At least we have the courage to stand up for ourselves, voice our fears out loud, and say NO, THIS IS NOT OKAY. –Summer Barnes Darvischi

This was the first thing I read this morning. My mind at this very moment was a fertile field for contemplating the state of affairs in America. I found myself thinking about FDR’s famous saying: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” But FDR was exhorting us to act with courage despite our fears—he wasn’t telling us we did not have the right to feel fear.

Right now, we are sixteen years into the Twenty-First Century. Over the past one hundred years, we’ve experienced war and famine, revolution and reform. We’ve seen countries rise and fall; here in America, we’ve watched Presidents come and go. Women and minorities have experienced advances in their legal and social status . . . and yet racism and sexism still exist. The specter of violence hangs over all of us, and it doesn’t come from those who voted for Trump alone. Protests in Portland, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and other cities turned violent since last week’s election. Call it rioting, call it anarchy . . . no matter. Looting, burning, and breaking is violent, and violence, like hatred, begets more violence.

Multiple fires are lit in dumpsters and trash cans during protests in Oakland, Calif., late Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. President-elect Donald Trumpís victory set off multiple protests. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group via AP)

Multiple fires are lit in dumpsters and trash cans during protests in Oakland, Calif., late Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. President-elect Donald Trump’s victory set off multiple protests. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group via AP)

I see the violence.

I for one acknowledge that it has happened, and I denounce it. Violence is never the right answer. Rioting is not an acceptable means to achieve social change. I always find myself quoting this, and then I stop and begin to think it through. Perhaps it’s my legal background that causes me to ask myself, at what point is rebellion justified? At what point could violence be justified in pursuit of said rebellion? Because I respect Thomas Jefferson so much, I often come back to his writings on the matter, and he has often been misquoted as saying that rebellion or revolution should occur every generation. I think it’s worth reading the full quotation, which I am providing in a footnote.[1]

There’s a lot in this quote, but to summarize, Jefferson in 1787 is arguing with a proposed provision in the Constitution. Drafted as a knee-jerk reaction to Shay’s Rebellion in Massachusetts, this clause would have limited the people’s right to rebel. Jefferson argued that the rebellion occurred due to ignorance rather than wickedness. He also stated that it was worse for the people to remain quiet even when they were acting under misconceptions, for remaining quiet results in lethargy, which is the “forerunner of death to the public liberty.”

Jefferson did not advocate anarchy; indeed, Shay’s Rebellion was conducted in an orderly manner and it was suppressed by state militias. Jefferson advocated pardoning those who had rebelled. He did not support the rebellion; indeed, he recognized that rebellion, when it went astray, was like tyranny in that it led to the destruction of individual rights.

Shay’s Rebellion is a far cry from rioting in the streets, and rioting solves nothing. Riots are disorganized and destructive, and they cannot lead to peaceful overthrow of even a tyrannical government. At this point, no one is advocating overthrow of the government, peaceful or otherwise.

So what are we doing, when we protest? We need to ask ourselves, just as I did this morning when I awoke from my nightmare, “Where are we? And where are we going?” To riot against the sexist and misogynistic President Elect may somehow seem like a good idea to some people, who are, as Jefferson would have said, motivated by ignorance rather than wickedness. But rioting is anarchy, and it leads nowhere good.

Official Portrait by Rembrandt Peale

Official Portrait by Rembrandt Peale

I was asked this morning to denounce these riots by those who stand with me in opposing President-Elect Trump’s policies. I can do so. Indeed, I’m HAPPY to denounce rioting. I’m HAPPY to pronounce and follow a creed in which no one has the right to violate anyone else’s rights. Indeed, that’s exactly what peaceful protestors like me are fighting for: to live in an America where the government is here to secure the rights of ALL humans, of ALL Americans.

What we are asking as champions of human freedom and human liberty, nay, demanding, is that Trump and his supporters hew to the same course. We are concerned, and we have a right to be concerned, because it seems as if white supremacists have been emboldened by this election. We would like for Trump to denounce racism and sexism, and we would like for all acts of lawless and racist aggression to end. We don’t support it under any circumstances.

Where are we going? I am not sure. But I know where I’m going. In search of the best future I can secure for my children.

That’s where I’m going.


[1] “I do not know whether it is to yourself or Mr. Adams I am to give my thanks for the copy of the new constitution. I beg leave through you to place them where due. It will be yet three weeks before I shall receive them from America. There are very good articles in it: and very bad. I do not know which preponderate. What we have lately read in the history of Holland, in the chapter on the Stadtholder, would have sufficed to set me against a Chief magistrate eligible for a long duration, if I had ever been disposed towards one: and what we have always read of the elections of Polish kings should have forever excluded the idea of one continuable for life. Wonderful is the effect of impudent and persevering lying. The British ministry have so long hired their gazetteers to repeat and model into every form lies about our being in anarchy, that the world has at length believed them, the English nation has believed them, the ministers themselves have come to believe them, and what is more wonderful, we have believed them ourselves. Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusets? And can history produce an instance of a rebellion so honourably conducted? I say nothing of it’s motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20. years without such a rebellion.[1] The people can not be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13. states independant 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half for each state. What country ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure. Our Convention has been too much impressed by the insurrection of Massachusets: and in the spur of the moment they are setting up a kite to keep the hen yard in order. I hope in god this article will be rectified before the new constitution is accepted.” – Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith, Paris, 13 Nov. 1787[2]


The Desperation that Feeds Trump Supporters and the Other America

I’ve been thinking about how to address Donald Trump’s ascendancy, and it took me a few days to process the election and see it clearly for what it is. My starting place is one of love for my brothers and sisters, but I must admit this election is a little hard for me. After all, Trump has fed the sleeping lions of white-lashing racism with his rhetoric, and he has promised to ban Muslims, deport millions of illegal immigrants and build a wall to separate us from our southern neighbors. Moreover, at least eleven women have accused Trump of sexual assault, and Trump himself has admitted to believing that his celebrity status entitles him to grab women by the genitals. This is the man Americans elected. And the response of many Americans is one of anger, fear, and dismay.

Like I said, it took me a few days to process my own feelings and thoughts. I shared some of this outrage and dismay. But I am not, as so many people have suggested, a Clinton apologist. Indeed, I see, as many others have seen, the Obama presidency as representing a dramatic expansion of Executive powers, with a corresponding decrease in American freedoms. Poverty still haunts minority populations, and we still see Two Americas, as Martin Luther King pointed out: one is rich, the other is poor. One is entitled; the other is deprived. Under Obama, big banking grew larger and continued its criminal taking from the lower and middle classes; drone attacks accelerated on innocent populations; health care grew exponentially more expensive; real wages hardly changed (except to feed the deep pockets of the autocrats who run big corporations); surveillance of innocent Americans expanded beyond measure; police brutality and militarization spiraled upward; in other words, the rich got richer, and the poor ate canned soup for dinner. If you look critically at his actual record, Obama grew the government, fed the corporate coffers, and did very little to protect human rights.

At least, that’s my take on it. In coming to my conclusions, I was influenced by blogs written by Deb Bryan and R.R. Wolfgang, as well as articles that appeared in The Intercept, Democracy Now, The Guardian, and the website Brand New Congress. Finally, I was also impacted by a book review of Arlie Russell Hochschild’s new book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. Hochschild spent five years traveling to Louisiana and getting to know some of Trump’s most ardent supporters, or those who live in the economically deprived and environmentally ravaged vicinity of the Bayou in southwestern Louisiana. Hochschild listened to these southerners and tried to comprehend them in full.

I need to emphasize this point: we need to listen to one another’s viewpoints in order to understand why people voted the way they did. Instead of jumping to the conclusion (which itself relies upon a logical fallacy) that all those who voted for a man who speaks in racist and sexist terms are also racist and sexist, we need to listen to Trump supporters and seek to understand their actual point of view. Those of us who voted for someone other than Trump may well feel horrified by the prospect of a fascist takeover of America, but to arrest the movement that supports Trump, we also must understand what fuels it. We need to understand our fellow Americans and offer them another alternative. And we also need to understand that many, many Americans viewed the Obama presidency in a negative light. In fact, many of the so-called “Deplorables” felt like they were drowning under Obama. Their piece of the American Dream had shrunk to a phantasmic sliver, like silvery fairy dust dispersed over a wind-blown range.

Russell Brand spoke of this in a recent video:

As often is the case, Russell Brand delivers a solid and comprehensible perspective on how to think about the Trump Presidency. The fact is we need to listen to those who feel like Trump gives them a voice. We need to understand the failures of Liberal Democracy in America if we are to achieve meaningful political change. Russell lists some of these failures:

Photo from

Photo by Eva Rinaldi from

  • Americans are seeking true change, and viewed Hillary Clinton as likely to continue Obama’s policies. Many of these policies failed to ameliorate the lives of the common people.
  • Over the last eight years, there has been terrible unrest in many populations, fed by poverty, racism, and a sense of despair. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, drones kill, and money from America feeds the killings, which in turn feeds the growth of terrorist organizations like Isis. Amid all this appears corporate bailouts without corresponding aid to the lower classes, who flounder at subsistence wages.
  • We still have the mindset that created the nuclear weapons; we haven’t achieved disarmament, and we keep ploughing more money into armaments and foreign entanglements.
  • Hillary Clinton would have continued Obama’s war on the Middle East and she would have continued to cozy up to American banks and corporations, all of which has led to the decline in how real Americans are treated. After all, real Americans fight in these wars, real Americans are struggling to live off of subsistence level wages, and real Americans are facing their Other America each and every day.
  • The conditions have occurred under which Trump could become President. He is merely taking advantage of a failure of American Liberalism, which did not offer a choice that made sense to the electorate.
  • The political system does not connect with people or give the disenfranchised Americans true power.
  • A true alternative was not provided by Hillary Clinton. The Democrats had the revolutionary Bernie Sanders and gave the people a recycled alternative instead: a politician beholden to banks and corporate cronies.

As Russell explains, we need to offer actual not superficial alternatives. Clinton would have continued policies begun under prior administrations that did not solve the issues faced by blue collar Americans. This election, argues Russell, was inevitable and it had to happen–we needed to reach some sort of crisis, so that we could not continue on as we were.

Now we know that politics cannot continue on as they have been. But we must seek change going forward by starting with our own inner reality. In order to change the world, we must change our mindset. And we need to love one another–absolutely we must love one another. We must find a way to see how our brothers and sisters reached a place where such a desperate vote for an individual like Trump felt necessary. We need to understand how they feel; we need to comprehend and care about the Other America. And all of us need to become involved in our country’s political and social future. We must work on true democratic reform. We must prepare for revolution. Peaceful revolution.


As good of a closing paragraph as that felt to write, it lacks specifics, and thus felt a little hollow to me. I want to give you things you can actually do.

For starters, you can get involved in your local community.

I volunteer through my nonprofit, Strays Welcome Interfaith Ministries. We help the homeless and abused women in particular. For certain, there are shelters in your community who need your support, and there are also churches who are helping various people who are in need. Speaking of churches, one near me is adopting a Syrian refugee family, and I am thinking of asking if my own church, The Unitarian Universalist Church of the Shenandoah Valley, will do the same thing. I’m gonna offer to help run the program. If you wanted to help refugees, you could ask your church if you could get involved in a similar program or efforts.

Another way you can help is by getting involved in local politics. There is an organization built by Bernie Sanders supporters, called Brand New Congress, that is trying to recruit 400 individuals (non-politicians) to run for political office. For more information, please go here: To better reach politicans, here is a helpful article: “How to Make Your Congressman Listen to You“.

You could also dedicate your art to revolutionary politics. I, for one, am beginning a new novel which will be a political saga. The entire point of this novel will be to help awaken humanity to the need for change, and the intent will be to provide a moral and positive blueprint for change. If you’re not inclined to art, but wish to speak up, you could write letters to newspapers or media outlets, or you could call your senators–just don’t be silent. Silence is what got us here. Speaking up with love and commitment to achieving political change is necessary.

You could also work with environmental action groups. Many, many organizations are rising up in support of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. And keep in mind, Obama is taking a “wait and see” attitude, which means the pipeline is gonna get built unless enough citizens rise up in peaceful political protest against it. Here are some places to find Standing Rock protest information:

And here’s a link for a list of peaceful protests occurring around the nation’s capital: Assemble

There are also peaceful protest groups you can join, like:

Peace Alliance

Nonviolent Peaceforce

United for Peace and Justice

Roots of Peace

Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

My point is, get involved. Get involved locally; get involved globally. But get involved. Use your special, God-given skills and abilities to make this world a better place. With love as your root, and courage as your foundation, please, get involved.




When the Legal System Fails: The DAPL Protests Part 2

. . . I read all of this with interest, and at first I found myself thinking, “Well, maybe the tribe didn’t follow the right procedures, I wonder what that means about the rightness of their protest itself.” But then I recalled my own work as a member of a community, fighting for safer walking trails and lowered speed limits on a road that passed in front of my children’s school. Basically, the citizens of my community banded together to petition for a lowered speed limit, flashing safety lights and a school speed zone, and for reasons complex and frankly silly, the state highway officials as well as the school board opposed passing our safety measures. For years, different people fought to get these safety measures passed, and the issue really came to a head when a child died crossing the street. Still, the state and the school board said, “No” to increased safety measures on our parkway.

Part Two

So we took it to our local political officials as well as to the governor of our state. A local politician formed a committee that included a few citizens, the school’s PTA president, as well as officials from the school board and the state highway safety folks. We would meet once a month, and we’d barter, negotiate, argue . . . but it looked like nothing would get done. Eventually, we came up with an odd but effective tactic to get our school zone sign and our flashing lights. The school wanted to get a hundred million dollar renovation approved by the County. Knowing the way county government land use law works, one citizen suggested that we appear before the zoning board and announce our conditional opposition to the renovation absent the approval of increased safety measures. A few of us in fact showed up at the zoning board, and we made a fifteen-minute presentation. Our measures got approved on the spot.

In other words, we did an end-around the county. We weren’t being heard, even though we were talking and talking and talking. We never stopped talking, mind you, but we went to a different governmental actor, and we found a way to get the complex strands of American democracy to work in our favor. We got a democratic body to strong-arm another arm of government to give us the safety measures we wanted.

When I survey what’s going on with the Tribe and the DAPL, I see a similar tactic being used. The Tribe didn’t think it could get anywhere with the Army Corps or with the pipeline company. Sure, the Tribe tried to use the legal system and the existing governmental processes to oppose the pipeline, and it certainly could be argued that they could have tried harder or used different legal tactics to oppose construction. But my sense from studying the case is that the Tribe (like so many other tribes and like so many citizens) has been down this road before, and it hasn’t been heard.

Indeed, the judge in the D.C. court case recognized just how little Native Americans have been served by our democratic and legal processes:

“Since the founding of this nation, the United States’ relationship with the Indian tribes has been contentious and tragic. America’s expansionist impulse in its formative years led to the removal and relocation of many tribes, often by treaty but also by force.” Cobell v. Norton, 240 F.3d 1081, 1086 (D.C. Cir. 2001). Id. at 1.

The American legal and political system, in other words, has not been a particularly just one as far as tribal rights are concerned. Anything but, in far too many cases.

I think the Tribe recognized the real politics at hand. At the heart of its protest has been an effort to garner awareness and use the resulting outrage as leverage to impel democratically elected politicians to take up the tribe’s cause. In other words, the legal challenge itself was irrelevant, and so too were early negotiations with the Army Corps or the pipeline company. The Tribe knew the results were stacked against it; the Tribe also knew that it could obtain better results through appeals to the people of our nation. Indeed, this worked, at least initially: President Obama ordered a temporary halt to pipeline construction the same day the D.C. court ruled against the tribe.

“Construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time,” said a joint statement from the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Army. “We request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”

It could be said that the Tribe is not really concerned about sacred or historically relevant cultural sites, but is using that as a convenient excuse to oppose the pipeline. But it could and should also be said that the Tribe is really trying to save our nation’s water supply. If this is true, the way the legal and regulatory system is set up precludes the Tribe from effectively fighting the pipeline.

By NASA/Apollo 17 crew; taken by either Harrison Schmitt or Ron Evans [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By NASA/Apollo 17 crew; taken by either Harrison Schmitt or Ron Evans [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Indeed, in our legal system, you must have “standing”, or an actual legal interest in whatever you’re objecting to or protesting. Since the Tribe’s water supply may not be directly impacted by the pipeline, the Tribe lacks a legal interest in wherever the pipeline is being built. I find this argument to be true in some ways, but it misses the point of what it means to be a Native American. From an early age, Native Americans are taught that it is their duty to protect our land and our water. They are taught that the land has life as well as life-giving spirit.

The rest of us Americans are taught to “think globally, but act locally.” Most of the time, we don’t get involved in the political system unless our own property or our families are threatened by a proposed or ongoing public measure. It’s only when a pipeline or a well or a manufacturing plant or some other externality-creating monstrosity is about to be built in our backyard that we take to the courts or the local and state governmental bodies. We are the consummate self-interested actors. We don’t get involved unless we are interested in and have an interest in a problem.

The Tribe is thinking and acting both locally and globally. The Tribe sees that the pipeline is being built near its water supply, but also realizes that the pipeline will pass by or through or under major rivers like the Missouri. The Tribe sees that the pipeline thus could harm other communities or other bodies of water that exist outside the tribe’s land. And it also sees that the energy companies cannot be trusted to comply with safety measures that will keep the water supply alive and healthy. The Tribe doesn’t trust the government to enforce its own laws on the environment; after all, what has our government shown Native Americans as far as its willingness to obey its own laws and treaties?

The Tribe is protesting more than desecrations to its own land. It is seeking to protect all life, both within and outside its borders. The Tribe says that “Water is life,” and this would sound like a cliché were it not the simple truth. We cannot go more than three days without water and live. And as the citizens of Flint Michigan can tell you, our nation cannot destroy its citizens’ water supply without the citizens suffering deleterious health consequences.

Sometimes I think we as a nation have become actually addicted to oil. When I bring up the issue of saving the water, logical people ask me, “Well, if we stop producing and transporting oil and using it for our energy needs, then what? How will we power our cars, our houses, our other energy needs?” I always shake my head and answer honestly. I don’t know. But I know that the current processes we are using to produce energy are damaging the environment. And I know that we need to re-think energy. We need to figure out a better way to produce and use energy, because the way we’re doing it now is hurting Mother Earth. We need her. We need to protect her.


Oil Field Mittelplate in the North Sea By Ralf Roletschek [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (], via Wikimedia Commons

I know. We need our cars. We need our houses heated. Clean energy is too expensive, too hard to produce . . . oil and coal are cheap. I get it. The economics of the environment are complex. Simply saying we need clean energy doesn’t get us the clean or cleaner fuel we need. But do we need to get the fuel the way we’re getting it to live? Is this the best way? Or is there a better way?

The Tribe says we’re hurting the land. The Tribe says that building another massive oil pipeline is going to hurt our water. The real question is not whether we can live without oil, says the Tribe. It’s whether we can live without water. I think both questions need to be answered. But first, we need to listen to others when they ask the questions.

If you don’t think we can live without cheap oil, I challenge you to re-think your premises. Is there a better way? Can we spend less on other things, and spend more on the development of clean energy? Can we dedicate less of our GNP to other foreign entanglements and domestic items, and more to developing clean energy? And is what we’re doing to our land and water worth the long-term costs to its health—and by logical connection, since we depend on our water, to our health?







When the Legal System Fails: The DAPL Protest Part 1

Last night I read a thoughtful post by an Independent friend of mine, in which she decried the failure of the mainstream media to cover the North Dakota Access pipeline protests. I fell down a little bit of a rabbit hole when I read this friend’s post, which was limited to the issue of critical analysis in the media, because one of her friends set forth a very logical rebuttal against the merits of the protest itself. According to this rebuttal, which was well-supported by citations to relevant case law, the tribe shouldn’t be given the attention it is receiving because it didn’t follow the proper procedures over the last two years, while negotiating with the government and with the energy company trying to build the pipeline.

I was a lawyer and a constitutional history major before I was called to the ministry, and I felt troubled when I read allegations to the effect that the tribe is somehow in the wrong and should not be opposing the pipeline. I learned in law school to question everything, and I have been reminded as of late just how important it is to dig into the original source materials—to form your own opinions.


Protestors Appear at the White House

So I read the entire federal court decision on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (Tribe) against the Army Corps of Engineering last night. If you’d like to inform yourself, you can read the decision here.

The Tribe, in case you’re unaware, is protesting the erection of a massive pipeline in the vicinity of their tribal lands in North Dakota. The Tribe filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineering to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The Tribe claimed in the case that the pipeline will disturb sacred tribal burial sites and that the pipeline will (both specifically and in general) harm their water supply as well as the nation’s water supply. According to an article I read yesterday, the Standing Rock Sioux failed to comply with United States regulations that provide for exactly how an entity or a people should consult with the U.S. government when they disagree with a proposed energy project.

Sure enough, the judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia lawsuit wrote in detail about how the tribe didn’t attend all the meetings, hearings, consultations, and sundry systems set up for civil discourse in these here United States of America.

Supposedly, the fact that the tribe didn’t answer all phone calls, emails, or meeting invites disqualifies it legally from opposing the pipeline construction. The Army Corps tried to include the Tribe in the decision-making process. And Dakota Access re-mapped the pipeline more than a hundred times to avoid historically significant sites. Oh, and the pipeline itself does not go on tribal land, but passes within a half-mile of it:

One place of particular significance to the Tribe lies at the traditional confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball Rivers. Id., ¶¶ 11-12; ECF No. 6-1 (Declaration of Dave Archambault II), ¶ 12. The ancestors to the Standing Rock Sioux gathered in this location to peacefully trade with other tribes. See Mentz Decl., ¶ 36. They also considered the perfectly round stones shaped by the meeting of these two great rivers to be sacred. See Eagle Decl., ¶ 11. Mighty natural forces, however, no longer hone these stones. Id. In 1958, the Corps dredged and altered the course of the Cannonball River to construct a dam. Id. As a result, a large man-made lake known as Lake Oahe now covers the confluence. Id.

Photo from

Photo from

The Tribe nevertheless continues to use the banks of the Missouri River for spiritual ceremonies, and the River, as well as Lake Oahe, plays an integral role in the life and recreation of those living on the reservation. Id. Naturally, then, the Tribe was troubled to learn in late 2014 that a new pipeline was being planned that would cross the Missouri River under Lake Oahe about a half-mile north of the reservation. See Archambault Decl., ¶¶ 8-12. See case here at 11-12.


Apparently the pipeline where it crosses Lake Oahe travels across ground that has already been used for other pipelines or which is already used for existing overhead utility right-of ways. The Court explains that “[i]n fact, where it crosses Lake Oahe, DAPL is 100% adjacent to, and within 22 to 300 feet from, the existing pipeline.” Id. at 14. So the pipeline has been designed to avoid harming new land owned by the Tribe since it is being built where the land has already been disturbed.

Photo by Dell Hambleton courtesy of

Photo by Dell Hambleton courtesy of

I read all of this with interest, and at first I found myself thinking, “Well, maybe the tribe didn’t follow the right procedures, I wonder what that means about the rightness of their protest itself.” But then I recalled my own work as a member of a community, fighting for safer walking trails and lowered speed limits on a road that passed in front of my children’s school. Basically, the citizens of my community banded together to petition for a lowered speed limit, flashing safety lights and a school speed zone, and for reasons complex and frankly silly, the state highway officials as well as the school board opposed passing our safety measures. For years, different people fought to get these safety measures passed, and the issue really came to a head when a child died crossing the street. Still, the state and the school board said, “No” to increased safety measures on our parkway.

To read what happened and to learn more about the DAPL, please read the upcoming blog post, Part 2.

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