Two hundred feet from the border of the Pine Ridge reservation lies the unincorporated town of Whiteclay, Nebraska, technically on Lakota treaty land. With a population of just twelve people, Whiteclay is tiny by any standards. Yet, its four bars manage to make four million dollars a year, primarily from residents of the neighboring Pine Ridge Reservation, where alcohol is strictly prohibited. The Oglala Sioux Tribe Criminal Offenses Code makes it a crime to manufacture, transport, sell, or possess alcohol anywhere within the borders of the reservation, where public or private intoxication is also penalized.
Pine Ridge has been a dry reservation for generations. When the 70,000 square miles became a reservation in 1881, it also was named Prisoner of War Camp #334. The government agent responsible for it had cautioned of "introduction of intoxicating liquor from the whiskey ranches established just over the Nebraska line." In a feeble preventative attempt, the U.S. government inserted a 50-mile buffer zone between Pine Ridge and the Nebraska border, with the supposed intent to “prevent renegade whites from selling guns, knives and alcohol to Indians living on the reservation.” In 1904, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt canceled the buffer zone (and gave the demarcated land to the state of Nebraska) and alcohol dealers moved in several months later.
Alcohol wasn’t a problem for American Indians until colonial settlers brought it to the Americas. This form of colonization has only grown worse. Now, indigenous people experience 5 times the national rate of fatal liver disease and cirrhosis. Alcohol-related ailments are 60% greater in Indian Health Service hospitals than what is seen in average U.S. hospitals. In Pine Ridge, the rate of alcoholism is one of the highest in the U.S. Because folks on the reservation face so much oppression and poverty, many become depressed and turn to alcohol. As a direct result of alcohol, the reservation experiences a high mortality rate; 1 in 4 infants is born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder; the suicide rate is twice the national rate, and that of teen suicide is 4 times the national rate. On reservations across the country, Native women are nearly 3 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than other women in the U.S., with 80% of their perpetrators being white men.
Olowan Martinez is a mother and land defender. She is the child of AIM activists and works with Owe Aku Bring Back the Way and founded Zero Tolerance Camp at the border of Pine Ridge and Whiteclay, Nebraska, where she leads resistance against alcoholism and the alcohol industry. [Photo 1]
Vic Camp is a resident of the Pine Ridge Reservation and works with Owe Aku Bring Back the Way. He is the child of AIM activists and hosts a weekly show on KILI 90.1FM, a Lakota radio station, where he talks about colonization and Native issues. [Photo 2]
Sacheen Pointe traveled to Pine Ridge from the Ahousaht First Nation, in so-called British Columbia. Alcohol also destroys lives where she lives with her children, so she came to support fellow Native women facing similar issues. [Photo 3]
Debra White Plume is a grandmother and founder of Owe Aku Bring Back the Way. She is currently leading resistance against the Keystone XL Pipeline. Debra is a resident of the Pine Ridge Reservation, where she has been organizing to protect the land for a very long time. [Photo 4]
T.R. McKenzie is an activist who was a Deep Green Resistance blockader when we met him in Pine Ridge, but he now works with Deep Roots, a collective in its early stages that organizes actions focused on people of color. [Photo 5]
In the belief systems of more than sixty indigenous nations, the Black Hills are considered the center of the world. So it was painful to see the area plagued by tourists for Mount Rushmore - the faces of four white men carved into spiritually sacred land. According to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, the Oglala Lakota Nation has territorial claims to the Black Hills, but the land was stolen from them several years later in pursuit of gold—which the Supreme Court conceded in 1980, ruling that the land was seized illegally. Rather than return the Black Hills as requested, the U.S. government sought to compensate the Lakota people with money; the Lakota rejected the offer and the government and private landowners continue to hold on to the land.
A hundred miles east of Mt. Rushmore is the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Now a U.S. National Historic Landmark, Wounded Knee was home to a Lakota community, 300 of whose members were indiscriminately murdered by the U.S. 7th Cavalry in the massacre of 1890. It was the same 7th Cavalry that was defeated by the Lakota and other tribes, led by Chief Crazy Horse, fourteen years earlier at the Battle of Greasy Grass, commonly known as Custer’s Last Stand.
The sprawling state of Montana seems an unlikely setting for the next major battle against climate change. Compared to the Keystone XL protests that have spanned the continent, with mass sit-ins outside the White House and high-profile celebrity arrests, last year’s Coal Export Action in Helena was a modest yet groundbreaking achievement, with a few hundred participants and 23 arrests. In fact, in a state with one of the sparsest populations in the country, it was a huge triumph–the largest climate-related act of civil disobedience in Montana’s history–and the first time issues surrounding coal export mining have broken into Montana’s public discourse and press. In addition to opening a floodgate of mine development, the state’s incoming mine and railroad proposals pose a direct health threat to local residents and destroy more land. If successful in blocking the development of new coal mines in Montana, the Coal Export Action will not only be protecting Montana’s valuable agricultural resources, but will also prevent further pollution from coal trains running throughout the Pacific Northwest. In doing so, it will be setting a powerful precedent towards advancing clean energy solutions.
We arrived in Helena after a couple of days of driving through endless green mountains, right as the Coal Export Action was wrapping up the last of their arraignments and legal paperwork. Several people emerged from the courthouse, just down the street from City Hall, where the rotunda had been the site of a week of civil disobedience. The place where activists and residents gathered against coal export mining and delivered their demands to Attorney General Steve Bullock was, by that point, deserted. The sunlit halls were also eerily quiet.
Occupy the Farm (OTF) began on April 22, 2012, when over a hundred activists began planting crops on an unused plot of land in Albany, California. Like the date—Earth Day—the site was chosen for its significance as the target of a decades-long struggle to preserve one of the last pieces of prime agricultural land in the area. The Gill Tract, as OTF’s home is known, contains the last Class One soil left in the East Bay and is located within a thermal belt that provides some of the best farming conditions statewide. Just three miles from the UC Berkeley campus, the fourteen-acre plot is all that remains of the original 100-acre Gill Nursery purchased by the University of California in 1928. Since the 1990s, community groups, local residents, and UC faculty have fought to establish a sustainable urban farm on the land, pressuring the university administration to protect the school’s legacy as a pioneering institution for sustainable agricultural research. Despite this history, the majority of the Gill Tract is currently being used for research related to genetic modification of corn, and is slated to be rezoned for commercial development in 2013.
Our day with Occupy the Farm began with a morning meeting in the backyard of a nearby house, where an ever-growing diameter of activists circled around a picnic table spread with fresh fruit, tea, and breads. The action plan for the day was straightforward: go in; weed; harvest; get out; distribute.
When he’s not teaching kids about urban agriculture, Ashoka Finley regularly tends to the Gill Tract farm with other folks involved in Occupy the Farm. Ashoka became involved in activism in 2009 during the budget cuts movement at UC Berkeley and participated in the occupation of Wheeler Hall. Forty-three students locked themselves inside the building for 12 hours, while thousands of supporters waited outside in a standoff with riot police.
Lindsay Grace moved to Oakland from L.A. two years ago and has organized with Oakland Occupy Patriarchy. In her interview she speaks about the Feminist Vigilante Gangs march, which was meant to encourage women, queer and trans folks to come together to physically confront patriarchy, and have one anothers’ backs at all times. Oakland Occupy Patriarchy was formed out of a need for a space to address patriarchy within the Occupy Oakland commune/camp and wider community. A self-defense class, Offensive Feminist, came out of the group and continues to meet weekly. The Facebook event for the next class can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/123085451197090
At times seen as a relatively uncontentious encampment, having managed to evade negative media, Occupy Los Angeles still experienced traumatic events like being raided, evicted, and arrested in hundreds. Similarly across Occupy communities, people with historically marginalized backgrounds found the need to create their own spaces within the larger group, so the Occupy Los Angeles (OLA) Queer Caucus was formed, more formally known as the LGBTQA2Z Caucus. Thereafter, affinity groups formed around projects in common, as was the case with the OLA Queer Affinity Group, or Los Angeles Queer Resistance Collective, a producer of radical queer propaganda and hub for zine-making skillshares. Before visiting the site of the former encampment, we spent some time talking with John Waiblinger, whom the Los Angeles Queer Resistance Collective had chosen as its delegate for our interview.
Despite being an appalling development in Arizonan legislature, HB2281 was preceded and eternally upstaged in mainstream media by its older sibling, Arizona Senate Bill 1070 (SB1070). SB1070 was a controversial law enacted in 2010 and requires all immigrants over 14 to carry identification and comply to racial profiling, stops, documentation requests, detentions, and arrests by the police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
We had the opportunity to talk to Lupe, a spirited MAS graduate, who earnestly identifies as a thug-turned-activist and organizes with Derechos Humanos and Occupy Tucson. He is just one example of how new laws spawned by racism and anti-Mexican bigotry are invading multiple aspects of people’s lives. Lupe spoke of the MAS program as being life-changing, familial, and formative; HB2281 destroyed that. He also described a night with his family, when his brother-in-law ran to the supermarket during dinner preparations, but was stopped, arrested, and ultimately deported to Mexico instead; SB1070 made that legal and common.
Our first day in Tucson also coincided with the weekly meeting of Derechos Humanos, an activist coalition which leads the local struggle for human and civil rights, increasingly challenged by the militarization of the Southern Border and its soldiers’ cruel treatment of undocumented people. The coalition’s goals include:
The Mexican American Studies (MAS) program, created in 1998, devotes an accessible curriculum to teaching high school students history from the perspective of the oppressed. The program provided an alternative to traditional high school curriculum that glossed over or in some instances, outright ignored, significant pieces of Mexican American history. While the dropout rate of Chican@ students was 50 percent within the TUSD, those in the program had a 98 percent graduation rate.
Originally known as the Raza Studies program, the MAS program was forced to change its name in October due to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne’s incessant and ignorant criticism about the word raza, which translates to ‘race.’ Horne, now Arizona Attorney General, was instrumental in devising the constitutionally questionable Arizona State House Bill 2281 (HB2281) legislation passed in May 2010, which sought to ban the MAS program and prohibit Arizona school districts and charter schools from teaching classes that:
At the Occupy National Gathering this past July, we found ourselves completely in awe of two people who spoke at a group discussion on people of color and Occupy hosted by organizers of (A)GITAT(E), an anarchist convergence happening concurrently. After a long conversation on the grass, we learned Amalia and Maria were organizers with (un)Occupy Albuquerque who had consented to sending them as representatives, and raised funds on their own for travel costs. With the overwhelming feeling that getting to know our new (un)Occupy friends and hearing their thoughts was the the highlight of our time at the National Gathering, we looked forward to visiting Albuquerque on the Radical Resistance Tour more than ever.
Maria told us that when visitors come to (un)Occupy, they almost always ask about “the name-change.” That was easily understandable, since it was one of our first questions to them during our interview. As they often do, and as Amalia skillfully did at the National Gathering, they touched upon several reasons how and why the name-change happened.
Modestly located next door to a tire shop, Occupy the Stage is one community with access to a multi-purpose warehouse—something which other Occupy communities may call a privilege, especially when the weather is too cold for outdoor General Assemblies.
Originally a wooden stage of just a few square feet at the Duncan Plaza encampment facing City Hall, Occupy the Stage (OTS) provided live entertainment to the Occupy NOLA community, ever-cherishing of a good time. After evenings of many a burlesque show, reggae band, and stand-up comedian, OTS grew into a working group, which seems to unite artistically inclined protesters and Anonymous enthusiasts. Following the eviction, several members of OTS found an unused warehouse and repurposed it using personal funds. OTS thus evolved into a physical space that provides a home for Occupy NOLA’s library, media station, performances, meetings, tents, as well as art, bike, computer workshops.
We arrived in New Orleans just in time to head to a Chalkupy action organized by folks from Occupy the Stage, a subgroup of Occupy NOLA. Obama was visiting New Orleans and was hosting a campaign benefit, with tickets from $250. The name of the benefit? Occupy the Vote. Its main sponsor? Shell Oil. With its abundance of irony, the event seemed to be begging to be disrupted, but since tickets were unaffordable, Occupiers resorted to simply chalkupying at a privately-owned public amphitheatre across the way from the venue.
A big pipeline from big money needs big resistance. All bases must be covered. The struggle began with legislative resistance, formulated with awareness and community organization, and is now blossoming with direct action. The Tar Sands Blockade has been diligently keeping up the fight for some time, and is now at the exciting stage of getting to use preventative non-violent civil disobedience tactics against trucks carrying equipment and parts for the pipeline in East Texas.
Environmentalists from all across the U.S. converged in East Texas for a long weekend of camping out and practicing various forms of non-violent civil disobedience: soft-locking, hassle lines, tree-climbing, and using lockboxes—all in high temperatures for extended periods of time.
When Texas is portrayed in popular culture, oil tends to be in the picture. Too often, “Texas Tea” is shown as the state’s main attraction, or even its pride and joy. With the unwelcome arrival of the Keystone XL Pipeline, however, we learned of one commercialized phrase that did prove to be true: Don’t mess with Texas. They will fight back.
One thing that is noticeable within the first twenty minutes of traveling around Chattanooga is the number of new buildings. Walls upon walls of bright, young brick of beige to rose hues seemed to shout for attention from entrepreneurs, business ventures, and other good ol’ capitalist leeches. In Chattanooga, a hotel and resort have been erected in place of the eponymous Choo Choo. The amount of new money architecture, however, is not enough to make you forget southeast Tennessee’s valuable history.
One day, in 1961, a place called the Highlander Folk School had its land and buildings seized by the state after having been under government investigation. The Highlander Folk School was a social justice leadership school, established in the 1930s, where notable alumni such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King received their priceless activist training. The next morning, the institution reopened as the Highlander Research and Education Center, and has been standing tall ever since.
One of the first coal advertisements we came across in southern West Virginia was a billboard that appeared to have given up dozens of years ago, back when the coal industry wasn’t so highly mechanized, and in a twisted way, less deadly. Back before the practice of coal slurry injection, before the possibility of coal sludge dams failing and killing hundreds of people. All that remained on the washed out billboard was “KING COAL” in faded black print.
In the Coal River Valley, from the time people are toddlers, the coal industry maintains an Orwellian hold on the community. Students at Marsh Fork Elementary School are hushed with threats of the adjacent coal sludge dam breaking and wiping them out. If local politicians step out of line with the coal industry, they are looking at a dead career. A coal miner with an activist son is forced to throw him out of the house for fear of being fired.
Jen Osha is an activist, mother, and musician. She received a PhD in geography so she could testify in court against mountaintop removal. She is Project Coordinator at Coal River Mountain Watch (CRMW), and Director and Co-Founder of Aurora Lights, where she produced Still Moving Mountains: The Journey Home, an album of local interviews and music about mountaintop removal in Central Appalachia.
Rob Goodwin is the Citizens’ Enforcement Project Coordinator at CRMW. He studied surveying engineering at the University of Maine and now works to empower citizens to to fight back effectively against irresponsible coal industry practices.
Kristen Ross is a West Virginia local in law school at WVU, who is using her legal expertise in an internship with CRMW. She has deep ancestral roots in the Coal River Valley and is working to push forward research studies on absentee landowners, coal companies and property tax reform.