When the Army Corps of Engineers announced in mid-November that it was temporarily halting construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) pending further review of potential environmental risks and research into possible alternate routes, it did two things. It stripped the protest of its sense of urgency, and it allowed the Democrats to push the problem off on the incoming Republican administration.
The Corps’ decision was always a temporary one, but it gave protesters the sense that they had achieved a serious victory.
“We wholeheartedly support the decision of the administration and commend with the utmost gratitude the courage it took on the part of President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing,” read a post on the Stand with Standing Rock website.
“The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all of Indian Country will be forever grateful to the Obama Administration for this historic decision.”
But where was the “courage” before the election? Why did the Obama Administration and the Corps wait until after Democrats lost the election to make a move, and why should a tepid one when they finally did?
— Indigenous (@AmericanIndian8) February 14, 2017
Everyone knew that Donald Trump would allow construction of the pipeline to continue once he came into office. Mother Jones reported on this fear among activists as soon as the Corps halted the construction, yet there was still a simultaneous sense of victory. Many of the Standing Rock activists, feeling they had achieved their goal, packed up and went home.
The campsites that had been the temporary home of thousands of protests, were suddenly populated by only hundreds, as The Intercept recently reported.
For Obama and the Democrats, it was a brilliant move. The pipeline would eventually continue, so any ties that Democratic lawmakers may have with the company constructing and leasing the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, and its lobbyist will remain intact. No harm, no foul. And it also gave Democrats some political capital with environmentalists and Native American activists and their supporters.
When the next election cycle rolls around, Democrats will be able to say to voters, “Look, we tried stopping DAPL, remember? Trump is the one who finished it.” This will be said despite the fact that the project began under Obama, and that most of the protests, including a majority of the brutal crackdowns on non-violent protestors, to date, occurred on his watch while he sat back and did nothing except offer milquetoast statements whenever things got too intense to ignore.
In other words, Democrats lost nothing by temporarily halting the construction (the energy lobby ultimately won’t care) but came out looking like heroes to many Democratic voters, again, despite having done absolutely nothing to stop the pipeline when it actually mattered.
Pipeline opponents have launched what they’re calling a “last stand,” holding disruptive actions across the U.S. https://t.co/ihlS0neoax
— The Intercept (@theintercept) February 19, 2017
Now, with activists crestfallen because of Trump’s executive order to move forward with both DAPL and the Keystone Pipeline, water rights and anti-fracking activists are focusing on local actions across the U.S. in one last-ditch effort to derail DAPL or other pipeline projects.
“In Wisconsin, the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa actually voted to decommission and remove the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline from their reservation.”
Local groups are looking at direct action and disruption as means of sending their message.
“Many communities have turned to direct action as a last resort,” Brown continues.
“The city of Lafayette, Colorado, which has long attempted to block fracking in the area, has even proposed a climate bill of rights, enforceable via nonviolent direct action if the legal system fails.”
In at least four states, activists have built encampments similar to those found at Standing Rock to serve as bases of operations.
Here’s to wishing them success and to hoping we don’t get duped by half-measures meant to distract us this time.
[Featured Image by Scott Olson/Getty Images]