Last week there were two events that got me fired up. One was seeing unarmed (mostly… and even then, just with rocks) protestors being arrested en mass at the Dakota Access Pipeline. The other was seeing the armed perpetrators of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge standoff acquitted of their charges. Why is it ok for a group of heavily armed people to out stay their welcome on public land, yet others are being forcibly removed from a different area? While we can’t know what’s going on in the judge’s head or the police officers’ heads, I can provide some speculation.
One only has to look at the two groups of people to see a difference. The majority of people involved in the wildlife refuge fracas were white men (one woman was involved, as was one non-Caucasian man). Many of people being arrested in North Dakota are from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, i.e. native Americans. The first group found some out of the way public land to occupy to protest what they deemed unfair government control of public lands. They want to be able to graze their cattle on our land, for free. I’d like to build a house at Yellowstone, but that would defeat the purpose of public land, right?!
The second group is protesting an oil pipeline that they say could rupture, negatively impacting their drinking water, not to mention slowing any progress toward finding alternative fuel sources to slow climate change. They tried legal proceedings to shut down the project, to no avail. When that failed, they took to the land, literally, to block the pipeline’s construction.
Aside from race, the other issue at heart here is that the Bundy’s and their pals were not blocking any commercial enterprise, aside from potentially stopping some federal employees from fully doing their day-to-day jobs. The protestors in North Dakota are stopping a commercial enterprise. Dollars are trumping environmental protections once again.
If I lived closer, I’d like to think I’d be there too, standing with the Standing Rock Sioux. Thankfully there are many environmentalists adding their voices to the situation. Let’s hope for a peaceful and satisfactory conclusion that protects water quality and these native peoples. And let’s hope that the acquittal of those armed vigilantes in Oregon does not spark more militia-like takeovers of public lands. Just because that land belongs to us all doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want on it!