Dear Standing Rock

Posted on Oct 24, 2016
Dear Standing Rock

Dear Standing Rock,

We bring you greetings from a revival of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign and the Kairos Center for Religion, Rights & Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

Nearly 50 years ago, Dr. King announced a plan to unite poor people across color lines and all lines that divide to fight what he called the three giant, interrelated, evils of society: poverty, racism, and militarism. You are confronting these three evils – and the fourth major evil of today – ecological devastation. You fight these evils under constant surveillance, against the power of multinational corporations, and on difficult terrain. You are geographically isolated and facing a long, cold winter. Yet you are powerfully countering these many, inseparable evils – battling them – with prayerful, determined, non-violent resistance. We see you. And we thank you.

We are seeing the attack on indigenous peoples’ lives and the attack on Native American sovereignty, and we understand this violence as continuing the United States’ long history of genocide. The US government declared Monday, October 10th Columbus Day, but we celebrated it as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. It was a bitter irony to see 27 protectors arrested defending the land on that day. We recognize the four centuries of unending violation of the rights of indigenous peoples, and this history leads to Standing Rock. We lift you up as protectors of the water and land and we stand in solidarity with you. And we intend to fight alongside you to end this injustice.

Your struggle gives us – and the wider world – a moral and spiritual vision. The truth you’re exposing is that those of us most impacted by the evils in our society will be the people leading the way to a better future – the poor, the dispossessed, the families struggling to survive. We are also fighting these evils – in our own ways and on our own terrain – and we know that our fights are connected. We share the same enemies. Standing Rock is a strategic, amazing, inspiring front of struggle against those enemies, and in the larger fight for a just and sustainable society and world.

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Photo credit: Karen Savage

Some of us have signed this letter as individuals and organizations:

We are from the No New Leases Campaign on the Gulf Coast where, as of 2016, more than 20 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico have been leased to the oil and gas industry. Offshore drilling, pipeline bursts, spills, and rig failures have already inundated our waters with toxins – and most of that acreage has yet to be developed. You are right to fight this pipeline and this industry. It will poison your water as it has ours.

We are from the Democracy Defense League Water Task Force in Flint, Michigan, where our government has poisoned our water with lead, abandoning our children to bacterial illnesses, in order to save a few dollars. We are from the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization in Detroit, Michigan, where our city government has been replaced by a “manager” who has privatized water so that companies can profit from it, and hundreds of thousands of us have had our water shut off because we cannot afford to pay their high prices. We are now having our children taken away from us because we are poor and now we lack running water.

We are from cities, towns, and rural places where our water could be impacted by the proposed 1,100-mile pipeline you are fighting– and we thank you for struggling to protect our water, our health, and our children.

Together, we are working to revive the vision Rev. Dr. King put forward in 1967 and ‘68. And we see that through your resistance, you are raising the same fundamental questions that Dr. King raised in 1967 as he moved toward the Poor People’s Campaign:

There are forty million poor people here [in the United States]. And one day we must ask the question, “Why are there forty million poor people in America?” And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth… We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s market place. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. You see, my friends, when you deal with this, you begin to ask the question, “Who owns the oil?” You begin to ask the question, “Who owns the iron ore?” You begin to ask the question, “Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water?” These are questions that must be asked.

The thousands of people encamped along the banks of the Cannon Ball River embody what Dr. King imagined in the Poor People’s Campaign. They are part of the “new and unsettling force” that we need to transform our nation and the world. As Dennis Banks, a founder of the American Indian Movement, recently stated:

This is what I felt was beautiful. I’ve not seen this kind of gathering – bringing in of support. I’ve not seen it in my entire life. Wounded Knee (1973) was one kind of action, but it was nothing in terms of people coming together. Every weekend I’d come back [to Standing Rock], and then I’d see five more flags, ten more flags, twenty more flags, a hundred flags, and the community building. And I would say in six or seven weeks it was no longer an encampment. It was a community.

Hundreds of flags line the roads through the Oceti Sakowin camp, the largest encampment at Standing Rock, mostly representing the 300 indigenous tribes who have come together. The fences along the highway from the camps up to the pipeline are also a continuous array of signs of solidarity. Among the hundreds of signs is one that states: “Flint stands with Standing Rock.” We echo that and we say that poor people across this massive land stand with Standing Rock – because we are on the same side. We are connected by our struggle to survive, and by what Dr. King described as our need for “a moral revolution of values”: our struggle to move from a “thing-oriented” society that values oil and gas and profits above our lives, health, and planet to a “person-oriented” society where the sacredness of human life is truly recognized.

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Photo credit: Paul Anderson

As you face the wealthy and powerful; as you are blamed for your own misery, as your land is deemed worthy of sacrifice for the accumulation of vast riches by others; as protecting land, water, and health is pitted against “good jobs” or “national energy independence”; as your water – your and our source of life – is threatened: We see you. We thank you, because we know that if your water is not safe, our water is not safe. We stand with you.

We will email our emerging Poor People’s Campaign mailing lists and post this letter on Facebook, calling our folks forward to support you directly by giving money and goods, by spreading the word, and in whatever other ways that you would find helpful. Especially as winter approaches, please reach out to let us know how we can be of support. A movement is building in our country – it is sometimes small and scattered – but it is a real movement against poverty, racism, militarism and ecological devastation. Your fight is key. Stay strong.

#NoDAPL #WaterIsLife #NoNewLeases #PoorPeoplesCampaign

On behalf of the call for a New Poor People’s Campaign,

Cherri Foytlin, BOLD Louisiana (Rayne, LA)
John Wessel-McCoy , Kairos Center (New York City)
Catherine Coleman Flowers, Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise (Lowndes County, AL)
Marian Kramer, Chair, National Welfare Rights Union (Detroit, MI)
Maureen Taylor, Chair, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (Detroit, MI)
Mary Bricker-Jenkins, Assembly to End Poverty, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Social Workers Action Alliance (Chattanooga, TN)
Maegan Wilson, Democracy Defense League Water Task Force (Flint, MI)
Claire McClinton, Democracy Defense League Water Task Force (Flint, MI)
Gina Belafonte, Sankofa.org (New York, NY)
Raoul Roach, Sankofa.org (New York, NY)

There’s many ways to support the struggle in a material way. One place to start is the list here, at the Indigenous Environmental Network’s website.