I attended a panel discussion about the Standing Rock Protection (not protest) the other night, and it was painful. Following a brief description of the sacred nature of the action by a (white settler) professor in Native American studies, the four panelists described their various experiences while visiting the camp. The common thread was personal growth, enlightenment and transcendence, much like those who travel to Sedona Arizona might describe their 'personal journey'. The one native on the panel could speak with authenticity about a re-connection to cultural roots but even there it was a story of dislocation and alienation (joining the military and going to Iraq, PTSD, and isolation, etc..) within a damaged culture and individual and the return of a prodigal son. There was lots of emphasis placed on the fact that so many veterans were drawn in, wounded warriors, who might find a certain redemption and grace through immersion into "the sacred".
If I sound cynical it is because I know this audience and their collective yearning for a New Age, non-confrontational way to "accept the Universe" and "be the change they want to see". As opposed to fighting for it. So a gathering with teepees by a river where they simply listen and absorb ancient wisdom from aboriginal people, not unlike the expensive meditation retreats they frequent, is the perfect anti-dote to the chaos of The Political. Oneness and Unity and prayer. Tribal connectivity. There is simplicity as well in the "Water is Life" meme; no mention of climate catastrophe, no deep structural analysis with all its nuance and contingency,no talk of democracy or The Left. Any struggle is reduced to one between the coarse "material" realm and the ethereal "spiritual", between affect and intellect. In this sense it is binary thinking, the setting up of a dichotomy, specifically anti-dialectical, ironically the very "Western" schism they claim to reject.
The thing is, I have been a "water protector" for many decades and know how the role is constructed with built-in bureaucratic, regulatory barriers to systemic change. One begins by accepting the framework of "capitalist democracy" and its inherent power relations. "Safe standards" are those which "balance" the protection of health with profit and investment property.
It is exactly the "realism" promoted by 350 Missoula when they claim there will "never be one climactic, ultimate victory but instead a steady one-by-one rejection of proposals", in other words an endless chain of camps fighting an endless supply of brush fires.
At the meeting we were asked to put our questions for the panel on 3x5 cards but I just had to leave. How does localized water protection turn into the necessary generalized rejection and revolt? Where is power located and how is it confronted and de-legitimized? If society is currently organized by market relations, what takes their place? If everything is sacred, is nothing then sacred?