When You’re a Protester, the Color of Your Skin Is All That Matters

ACTIVISM, 7 Nov 2016

Charles P. Pierce - Esquire

The Difference between Oregon and North Dakota



 28 Oct 2016 – Yes, there is a cruel, stupid irony about living in a country when, on the same day, a bunch of gun-toting rubes who have less understanding of the Constitution than a wombat does of nuclear fusion get acquitted after an armed takeover of federal property in Oregon while, half a country away, peaceful protesters doing nothing but praying on land to which they have a right guaranteed by treaty get rousted, roughed up, and hauled away by a militarized police force acting largely at the behest of a private company. For those of you who are sorry you missed the last Gilded Age, hang in there. You’re going to get your wish fairly soon.

The white privilege embedded in the two competing narratives is almost too garish to contemplate, and it is beyond argument. In Oregon, people with a history of armed sedition were the beneficiaries of a clear case of jury nullification. Even the counsels for the defense had sharply smacked gobs on them when the verdicts were read. From The Washington Post:

“I had been telling my client you can count on being convicted,” said Matthew Schindler, a lawyer for one of the men on trial for the armed takeover of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. “You don’t walk into a federal court and win a case like this. It just doesn’t happen…Defendant Shawna Cox issued a call to action: “Wake up, America, and help us restore the Constitution. Don’t sleep with your head in the sand.”

In North Dakota, people with a history of being crushed beneath the wheels of the white man’s government got treated to another sample of how that feels. Via NBC News:

Authorities used pepper spray and fired bean bags at activists demonstrating against a controversial North Dakota oil pipeline as the standoff there reached a new peak Thursday, according to officials. Armed soldiers and police in riot gear removed the demonstrators using trucks, military Humvees, and buses Thursday afternoon, according to The Associated Press. Two helicopters and an airplane scanned the operation from the air. At least 141 protesters were arrested as of midnight Thursday (1 a.m. ET) after law enforcement slowly closed in and tensions escalated, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.

(You will note some talk in there from law enforcement about an anonymous woman who fired three shots in the direction of sheriff’s deputies. Follow this closely. If no indictment is forthcoming, and if the woman’s name is not forthcoming, the story is bullshit.)

However, what the two events have in common is that, in both cases, citizens engaged in civil disobedience, however misguided or bizarre, were treated as a kind of common enemy by the political and law-enforcement establishments. Certainly, the Bundys got a white man’s verdict as obvious as any handed down in the South during the high tide of lynching there.



But, at the same time, one of them was shot and killed during the action. I may be alone in this but I think the killing of Leroy Finicum by federal agents made the nullification a lot easier. (And “suicide by cop” has the dangerous potential of becoming as big an all-purpose alibi as “a threatening motion” has become.) Treating the water-protectors on the prairie as though you were British paratroopers patrolling the Falls Road in Belfast in the late 1970s is an overreaction as potentially deadly as it is obviously stupid. The vested interest in a quiet, docile population is sadly bipartisan.

There is little question that, since the political process is manifestly incapable of dealing with the climate crisis, and since the crisis itself is ongoing and becoming more critical by the day, it seems inevitable that any pushback against the forces contributing to it is largely going to come from outside the political institutions, from the streets and the prairies and the badlands beyond the Beltway.

For a peek at the future, look to Canada, to Saskatchewan, where a pipeline broke, because it is a pipeline and pipelines break, which is why all those people are out in the autumn gales of North Dakota in the first place, and where the people who owned the pipeline that broke are making a nice buck anyway, and, goshdarnit, they just don’t have the time or money to clean up the rest of the spill. From The National Observer:

The profit amounted to $1.37 per share, which contrasted with a year-earlier loss of $196 million or 20 cents per share. The news comes roughly three months after a 19-year-old pipeline belonging to the Calgary-based company spilled more than 1,570 barrels of crude oil and other toxins into the North Saskatchewan River, contaminating the drinking water source of thousands. The biggest contribution to Husky’s third-quarter net income was a $1.3 billion after-tax gain from the sale of midstream assets to a new limited partnership. Husky retains a 35 per cent interest in the partnership. The Calgary-based company also recorded a $167-million after-tax gain from the disposition of some Western Canada production assets…The company delivered its latest financial results for investors a few days after telling the Saskatchewan government that it was unable to meet a 90-day deadline to submit a “detailed incident report” regarding a mid-July pipeline spill. The province gave Husky a 30-day extension after the company said that two technical reports — one metallurgic and one geotechnical — had not yet been completed by its third-party engineering firms.

This is the kind of thing that’s coming here. This is the kind of thing that’s already happening. This is the kind of thing that will continue to happen as long as the climate crisis is not seen as an existential threat to the survival of the species.

(Note to Hillary Rodham Clinton: If you’re considering re-starting the Keystone XL project, be advised that this is what’s going to happen if you do.)

The difference between the defendants in Oregon and the defendants in North Dakota is that the former are arguing, stupidly, that the Constitution gives them the right to exploit lands that belong to all of us, and that puts them on the long end of the continuum that ends with oil derricks in Yellowstone and uranium mines near the Grand Canyon. But the two cases give us another example of the fact that no institution of the government, not even the federal judiciary, is prepared for a new Gilded Age, a new land war, and a new battle over who owns the earth. Nobody ever expects the 19th Century.


charles-p-pierceCharles P. Pierce has been a working journalist since 1976. He is the author of four books, most recently Idiot America. He lives near Boston with his wife but no longer his three children.

Go to Original – esquire.com

Share this article:

DISCLAIMER: The statements, views and opinions expressed in pieces republished here are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of TMS. In accordance with title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. TMS has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is TMS endorsed or sponsored by the originator. “GO TO ORIGINAL” links are provided as a convenience to our readers and allow for verification of authenticity. However, as originating pages are often updated by their originating host sites, the versions posted may not match the versions our readers view when clicking the “GO TO ORIGINAL” links. This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Comments are closed.