I must admit that I am not terribly familiar with many indigenous resistance movements (for instance, I had not heard about the occupation of Alcatraz prior to taking this course). However, I did follow the Standing Rock protest somewhat on social media. I think the “on the ground” stories did a much better job of conveying this struggle than did mainstream news organizations, which are clearly in the pocket of large capitalist corporate institutions that have a vested interest in maintaining a reliance on fossil fuels. As Emily Dreyfus of Wired noted, “social media and live streaming enabled the Standing Rock Sioux to amplify their protest for clean water.” Indeed, people around the world could show solidarity with the protestors by “checking in” to Standing Rock via Facebook. At the same time, however, such visibility was fraught with tension, as social media allowed for the spread of misinformation and several hoaxes. In addition, there is the question of whether social media contributed to the protest in any meaningful way; in an article published in New York Magazine, Madison Malone Kircher observes “as with so much social-media activism, there’s very little evidence that checking in to Standing Rock on Facebook makes much of a difference.” This idea echoes Dreyfus’s assertion that the “speed and ceaseless flow [of social media] also allowed the world to forget about [the protestors].”
In addition, on January 24, 2017, “President Trump signed an executive memo aimed at allowing the Dakota Access Company to finish the last bit of pipeline,” along with a second memo that “reportedly [enabled] the completion of the Keystone Pipeline” (Dreyfus). This action underscores the massive power imbalance between ordinary protestors and the capitalist oligarchs who have not only consolidated their corporate power but have also infiltrated all levels of the United States government. Moreover, this imbalance widens for people of color and indigenous peoples such as the Standing Rock Sioux who sought to block the pipeline. I know I am not saying anything new here, but the multinational corporate entities that seek to do nothing more than maximize their bottom line care little for the concerns or well-being of people. Indeed, in The ZAD and NoTAV, the members of the Mauvaise Troupe Collective quite correctly write that “Capitalism quite openly depends on the fantasy of infinite economic growth,” and the CEOs of the megacorporations view ordinary people as either cogs in the machine or dollar signs they can exploit (often both at once). Given that the protestors seek to stand in the way of this profit-driven expansion, they are nuisances meant to be stamped out. This goes double for indigenous people or people of color, who sometimes cannot participate in the scam of capitalism due to various economic imbalances. Additionally, the corporations have enlisted members of the government to help quash any sort of rebellion.
According to the Mauvaise Troupe Collective, capitalism dictates that “as long as our environment is a resource, it must be exploited, and if it becomes an obstacle, it need only disappear.” This attitude applies to both the environment itself, but also to the people who would stand in the way of infinite economic growth. Yet such growth is untenable, especially given the finite resources of planet Earth. Indeed, as the authors of The ZAD and NoTAV explain, “the limits of the resources on which [economic] growth is based [have] well been reached,” and thus “a critical phase presents itself. This critical phase speaks to the necessity of protests and/or interventions such as that staged at Standing Rock. Yet it also highlights the massive power imbalance between ordinary people and the wealthy capitalists who seek to line their pockets with little regard to the planet or its inhabitants. At the same time, however, one must take into account “the whiplash of the news cycle and the short attention spans exacerbated by the Twitterification of politics” (Dreyfus), all of which can contribute to outrage fatigue. Furthermore, given the corporate consolidation of information media, it becomes easier for oligarchs to manipulate people and get them to work against their own interests. As the Mauvaise Troupe Collective notes, populism can establish “people as a mass that can be manipulated by flattering their basest instincts and often using reactionary tricks” that can lead to “an increase in pride and submission to an authority.”
Ultimately, all the thoughts discussed here tie into my own anxieties and uncertainties regarding the need for protest and their efficacy. Clearly, given the looming environment crisis that threatens to radically alter (if not end) civilization on Earth, the need to protest the “infinite growth” model of capitalism is more vital than ever. Yet the outcome of protests such as #NODAPL, which became highly visible but nevertheless failed to stop the advancement of the pipeline, suggest that the capitalist machine has become so big and so powerful that the people’s best efforts are doomed to fail. This may be a pessimistic outlook, but I often wrestle with the question of how we as ordinary citizens fight back against a system that is so clearly rigged in favor of those who hold little regard for the environment or the basic human rights of others. I understand that protest and interventions often serve to create visibility for an issue or to foster a sense of community among people, but if they fail to turn back the tide of environmental degradation and the march of capitalism, then what is the point of it all? That is mainly where I struggle with my desire to revolt against mainstream hegemonic ideologies and my sense of hopelessness that we can enact any sort of meaningful change before it is too late.
Dreyfus, Emily. “Social Media Made the World Care About Standing Rock—and Helped It Forget.” Wired, January 24, 2017. Web. April 6, 2019.
Kircher, Madison Malone. “Checking In at Standing Rock on Facebook Is a Nice Show of Solidarity, and Not Much Else.” New York Magazine, October 31, 2016. Web. April 6, 2019.
Mauvaise Troupe Collective. The ZAD and NoTAV: Territorial Struggles and the Making of a New Political Intelligence. Translated by Kristin Ross, Verso, 2016.