Throughout the primaries and the general election, the leaders of the Democratic Party told us time and time again that they were the party of the underdog, the party of those in need of protection. They and they alone would defend women, people of color, members of the LGBT community, immigrants, religious minorities, and the economically challenged from the Draconian policies that a Republican presidency — especially a Donald Trump presidency — would surely entail.
They were, supposedly, the party of progressive values.
— The Intercept (@theintercept) November 22, 2016
There is an argument to be made that the Democratic Party does have a better track record on issues of social and economic justice. Unfortunately, that argument is muddied by numerous policies Democratic administrations and Congresses have pushed through over the years that have proved detrimental to the most vulnerable members of our society.
Bill Clinton championing and signing off on the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act and the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act comes to mind, as does his signing NAFTA into law in 1993.
More recently, President Obama’s immigration policy has proved more vicious than that of any president who came before him. The Democratic Party as a whole also shunned the Black Lives Matter movement for the most part. They played lip service to the movement on occasion but then distributed internal memos telling Democratic candidates “Don’t offer support” for the “concrete policy positions” offered by the movement’s leaders, the Huffington Post reports.
This is not to say that the Democratic Party has never done any good. It has. It just seems that any time the Democrats do something good, they can’t help but follow up by doing something wrong to cancel it out.
Progressives are perpetually breaking even with the Democratic Party, and breaking even isn’t very inspiring. It doesn’t motivate people to get out and vote.
The party needs to learn that before the next election.
Amidst this ongoing history of giving only to take away, this endless cycle of hope and disappointment, we now have to witness the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline unfold at Standing Rock.
These protests began way back in April. For nearly nine months we have watched militarized police officers decked out in riot gear gear and flanked by armored vehicles attack unarmed and nonviolent Native Americans and their allies with tear gas, paper spray, sonic weapons, rubber bullets, bean-bag guns, and tasers. We have seen them beat men and women with batons and billy clubs before dragging them off to jail, temporarily locking them in dog kennels, according to reports from Salon and others. We have seen paid security guards sick trained attack dogs on American citizens — in 2016.
Sunday night, the police escalated the brutality of their violence by intentionally spraying protestors with water cannons as the temperatures dropped into the 20s, The Intercept reported. They simultaneously fired tear gas and pepper spray at them.
The Los Angeles Times says one women — Sophia Wilansky — may lose her arm because of an injury sustained during Sunday night’s melee. Neither side wants to take responsibility.
It’s impossible to see these images, to watch videos of police spraying civilians with hoses and activists having attack dogs released on them, without thinking of the iconic images of the Civil Rights Movement.
The activists of the Civil Rights Movement were fighting for basic human rights.
Water is a basic human right.
The Dakota Access Pipeline threatens the supplies of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux and millions of other people in the region.
— Jennifer Cha-cha-cha (@JenChancellor) November 22, 2016
The government knows the pipeline is a potential threat. This has been acknowledged by several agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers, which fast-tracked construction of the pipeline, according to a report from the Seattle Times.
In fact, the Army Corps of Engineers rerouted the original path of the pipeline due to concerns that it might contaminate the water supplies of cities it passed by. They chose to endanger the water of the Sioux and others instead.
Why is their home, their comfort, their survival less important than anyone else’s?
They have a right to protest and to protect themselves.
Native Americans are among the most marginalized people in America. We don’t need to recall the history here. We should all be familiar with enough of it by now to know better than to let what’s going on at Standing Rock continue.
The Democrats want us to believe that they are there for those who need them, that they will protect the most vulnerable among us. Yet what’s happening at Standing Rock — all of it — has taken place under a Democratic administration. All of it — all of it — has taken place during the administration of the man who campaigned on the promise of hope.
President Obama and Hillary Clinton have been silent throughout the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, silent in the face of police brutality against thousands of unarmed citizens.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Obama has spoken on the matter.
“[W]e’re going to let it play out for several more weeks and determine whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to the traditions of the first Americans,” Obama said in a November 3 interview with Democracy Now!.
President Obama, it’s been nearly three weeks and we’ve now seen how it’s going to play out: more protestors in jails and hospitals as construction of the pipeline continues.
The Standing Rock Sioux don’t have time to watch it play out. Everyday construction continues is another day closer to their permanently losing this battle.
This is one of the progressive issues of the moment. If this past election cycle taught the Democratic Party anything, it should be that progressives don’t easily forgive or forget and that the party needs them to come and vote if it wants to win.
Obama and the Democratic Party must take action on the Dakota Access Pipeline right now if they want to start to win back progressive voters. Otherwise, it’s going to be very difficult to take seriously any pitches the party makes about caring about marginalized peoples — or the environment for that matter — in 2018 and 2020.
Saying “We’re not as bad as the really bad guys” is not an effective campaign slogan. The Democrats should know that by now.
[Featured Image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]