Standing Rock: This is what democracy looks like

Democracy is complicated. It’s not about the simple stupid ballot boxes every few years. It is something that happens every day in the fabric of a society. It is in the little decisions people make, that families and communities make. It’s in how people communicate. It’s in how we conduct our media, in our journalism, in our creative activities. It’s in our ability to have speech, assemble, protest. This ability, when derived from the people, is the essence of grassroots. It’s not necessarily something planned, or designed, or coerced. But rather it emerges spontaneously. It’s not neat either. It’s often messy, awkward, dancing with two left feet at times.  It muddles through.

Yesterday, the Army Corps of Engineers denied the final permits to the Dakota Access Pipeline.  The Standing Rock Tribe and activists have a victory at this moment.  The Event of Standing Rock started with their protest months ago, it became much more. It took a life of its own, it took the rhizomatic life of democracy. People assembled from all over the world. They saw in Standing Rock a very basic human need to preserve a people’s land and their water. It really was, and is, a struggle of the water of life versus death, which is what fossil fuel is both literally and symbolically.

This is why we can love Standing Rock today. It’s a beacon of hope for the people in such dark times. I heard Tulsi Gabbard speak to congress the other day. She said words like “web of life,” and “water is life” in Congress. Web of life. Water is life. In Congress. What is this strange language? What is this crack of vitality between those moribund walls?


The best thing – 2,000 plus veterans arriving to be “human shields’ to protect the people. It’s like a nonviolent civil war between two different Kohlberg stages of moral development. I heard one vet on NPR say that he and his fellow warriors, many carrying scars both seen and unseen from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, need to do this for their souls. They are coming from being used by a lying, corrupt government, to obeying a higher calling of the soul, to protect the people and their landbase. How direct and immediate is that? Oh, how foolish we’ve all been. We thought we were just acting on others in foreign countries, when we were really just as much hurting ourselves, impoverishing our own souls, by and by.  Protest as a healing balm for the soul.  Amazing.

I heard a veteran in an interview say something that blew me away. He said, I paraphrase, “I want to apologize for our military’s treatment of these people. I will protect them, and I will ask them for forgiveness on my knees.” This is a metahistorical statement, even a prophetic one.  It’s the precise rapprochement that the character of this county needs with its land and its indigenous. It is the only way to heal the soul of the world, really, animae mundi colendae gratia. Bless your soul, sir, you are a ray of light.

This is why there must be more Standing Rocks. There must be more Standing and Occupying. This is to become a familiar activity. And when we see it, we will associate it with democracy.  We will associate it with healing. Democracy is not in the ballot box alone. It’s not a passive thing like ordering a cable package or Chinese takeout. It is a feisty affair.  It is a public responsibility to be informed, to speak, debate, communicate, express, and keep our elected few accountable to their social contract with us. The stakes are real. It’s a battle to the life and death. If we’re caught sleep walking, we’ve given up on not just ourselves, but the world.