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Open letter to NoDAPL Struggle

Thursday 15 September 2016

Dear Water Protectors,

I write to you knowing that I have more to learn from your centuries of resistance to colonization than I could ever offer you myself. When I talk about land defense, it’s on the scale of four thousand acres, not the scale of continents. Yet I see many similarities to a struggle I’ve been involved in and want to share my reflections in the hope that you can sidestep our mistakes without having to make them yourselves. I don’t intend to propose a model, only some thoughts and an invitation to share the questions they provoke with the people around you.

In 2009, the movement I’m a part of started a similar encampment structure to yours which we renamed the Zad, (Zone to be Defended), with multiple camps spread out across a wide area. The impetus was to resist the construction of a proposed airport, invited by the local people and farmers who had been opposing the project for 40 years and who were frustrated with the ineffectiveness of their legal battles. The movement is composed of a wide range of groups, from anti-authoritarian squatters to farmers to environmentalists, located near Notre-Dame-des-Landes, France. People there fight to protect land, and water, against an airport but also against the world that needs airports as part of a global capitalist economy based on exploitation. Fighting for community self-determination, for autonomy, against domination, hierarchy, and the false choices of who will make our decisions for us – because the option of collective control over our lives is never in the public hearing, never on the ballot. We defended against police eviction in the fall of 2012, and are gearing up to resist another threatened attack in October.

One of our greatest strengths is unity in diversity – organizing together towards a common goal while using our different tactics and abilities, and being able to use the social legitimacy of the farmers losing their land to eminent domain alongside the latent threat of violence from unpredictable “riff-raff.” Our enemies know that when we are standing together we’re powerful, and they will do whatever they can to pressure the lines of possible division they find and sow dissent. In the anti-airport movement, these groups use a range of tactics, and have informal agreements not to discredit each other in the media if they use tactics they wouldn’t use themselves. We strive to discuss our problems internally in general assemblies and not offer clear examples of division to the government. The most delicate part of this has been finding a balance between staying together as a diverse movement with the strength and trust to have constructive, open, debates, while not falling prey to those who use the idea of “unity in the face of imminent threat” to perpetuate internal oppression and silence dissent. This occurred many times during the evictions at the Zad, where the concerns of women and queer people were forever pushed aside for a “later” that never came.

As you’ve surely seen, organizations and politicians consistently attempt to co-opt, recuperate, and manipulate any uncontrollable formation of people and use them to their advantage. I’m sure it’s clear that the Obama administration didn’t support the restraining order against DAPL out of “solidarity”, but because of a calculated risk of the threat that you pose to “order” in this country, to the eternal status quo of isolation and resignation. I saw that Robert Kennedy Jr. and Jill Stein came to voice their support. It reminds me of a politician from the Green Party who’s been coming for years to speak about how he supports our struggle, saying he’ll be the first in front of a bulldozer, but the only things he’s first in front for are TV cameras, speaking his own thoughts in the name of the movement.

So the court decision was a partial delay, and a vague promise to meet tribal leaders at some time in the future. For the Zad it was a 6 month ban on cutting trees for construction and a “National Commission of Dialogue” intended to distract and put opponents to sleep. Don’t get comfortable — use that time. A tactic that they used against us was stalling – promising reforms and meetings that never came, waiting for us to tire of the cold and the wet, the daily police harassment, to “go home,” or turn on each other. Please, use that time with an eye to the future to meet, to organize, to plan, to act. One of the things that has ensured the longevity of the struggle in Notre-Dame-des-Landes is the time we’ve had – with every legal motion filed, the delay allowed us to deepen our relationships with each other, the local community, and like-minded people elsewhere. This has allowed us to build infrastructure based on our needs, to better understand each other’s positions and dreams, and to discuss how to move from defending to being on the offensive, working actively toward what we want to live with each other.

During the eviction period, with thousands of people rolling in, many of us decided to work towards decentralizing the support our struggle was receiving, realizing that being present everywhere made us stronger and more resilient. We imagined a rhizome, where this energy could come together, cross others, and be woken up here to then go on and nourish struggles elsewhere. The idea was that people who were fighting in their hometowns against infrastructural projects, the metropolis, the imposed decisions of others, could use the Zad as an concrete example, an idea, an image that would let them skip a step, to take advantage of the household name of our struggle and take a shortcut instead of starting conversations with abstract concepts. Many of these committees continued to organize horizontally according to their own local struggles while also preparing to literally shut down the economy if there was an government attack on the Zad. This looming threat of widespread economic disruption has also helped us be stronger in our face-off with the state. We hope that people acting locally against the same forces in their own way contributes to breaking the image of our so-called “democratic” society, and that our struggles continue to multiply out of their control.

Right now I imagine there are so many strong feelings amongst people there on the ground – a sense of euphoric disbelief of how many supporters have flooded in, and a powerful feeling that anything is possible. It is, for now. This is the time of minimal repression, a supportive public, and thousands on site. All the things you dream of: do them now, while your enemies are reeling, trying to figure out their next angle of attack. There won’t ever be less repression, less police and private security, less drones and dogs. I personally regret not pushing harder before our possibilities shifted, not taking things to the fullest expression they could have reached. I hope you won’t have these same regrets.

Your stories and photos have moved me to tears over the past weeks, and inspired me to struggle harder and in new ways. I hope these reflections can contribute to your ongoing discussions of strategy, and I look forward to learning from you and the new forms of resistance you’ll create.

Mni Wiconi!

In solidarity,