After an overwhelmingly successful donation drive, we had two vehicles filled to capacity, a U-Haul trailer and four drivers on the road to deliver. I had never driven beyond the middle of Montana and oh my, North Dakota is far from Eugene, Oregon.
The items we were delivering to the water protectors varied. We had gathered more than we could take and I had to sort through items for quality and appropriateness. The night before we left, our living room had mountains of supplies, coats, food, randomness. In full disclosure, I really felt pushed beyond my comfort zone. I needed to do something with all these items, reign in some of the chaos, put order to disarray. I made piles of coats by gender than size. A good friend recommended vacuum sealed storage bags and soon we had seven x-large bags full of the coldest weather gear. We made supply boxes and first aid boxes. All of this generosity covering my couches. The people of Eugene really have a lot to share. The world is abundant.
We gathered most of the donations through social media events and sharing. I was on the local news twice. Oh, Facebook and the news. I am not going to rail about fake news or anything really besides the fear we allow into our lives. I had watched countless videos about Standing Rock, daily. I was full of emotion about what was happening hence the donation drive and delivery. I was saddened and worried and mad about the water and my fellow humans. (What is the root of all those emotions? Fear) Once we had made the plan to go it became very curious how people reacted. I had more warnings for my safety than I had expected, from all types of people. Their concern was real. But I wasn’t afraid. Should I be afraid? Was I being naive to the reality of being attacked by water cannons and pepper spray? Was I missing an appropriate amount of fear?
Facebook and I had an unhealthy relationship in the 2010’s. We broke up and remained apart for about 5 years until last year when I started my own business and needed to hop back into the ring. I created clear boundaries for myself and Facebook. So far things have been relatively healthy. During the break up I could not control myself and the happiness of others was crushing me. I was in ruins and off kilter while EVERYONE was happy and successful. I did not have the tools to see the truth about Facebook. Fast forward: Today my comparisons of friends success and their highlight reel has been kept in check. Comparisons are a rusty sword to my well-being. They cut gashes that fester on my weaknesses (it’s all about the tools). In my world, I feel envious when certain friends travel the globe but mostly I wonder why people post some of the personal things they do. To share intimate information with people holding a tenuous thread in your life seems like a false vulnerability that teeters on attention seeking and over exposure. I have to wonder sometimes about what I post and share and the story I am telling about my life because essentially we are all telling a story. I digress.
Two days before we left for North Dakota the water cannon incident in below freezing weather happened. What I watched and read was so brutal. On the drive there I wondered how humans can continue to treat one another this way. The majority of my information was from Facebook. The brief news bits on the radio really did not give much meat to the story. We also heard bits from people who had returned from the trip.
The drive was interesting. We hit two snow storms. There were towns I really did not want to stop in. There were places that I did not want to be too lesbian in. Just slide right on through, don’t bring any attention to us. We made good time. And we hit North Dakota on Thanksgiving. I had never driven through an Indian Reservation. We had to take an alternative route because we heard that there were roadblocks and searches and this took us south of Bismarck through the Rez. I was unnerved. How did people survive and make a living? It looked bleak. Hardly any trees, hardly any greenery. The houses were really spread apart. The miles and miles just rolled by. Nearing Cannon Ball, I had a flood of nerves. I welled up with tears and as they spilled out I tried to place the root of my emotions. I was empathizing with a suffering.
Then we made it to camp.
My tears promptly dried. I was not expecting the vastness of the camps. The sheer number of tents and cars and people left me with a new set of emotions. We were greeted by a beautiful woman at the gate who welcomed us home. After driving pass rows of cars, we found a spot to park and stretch our legs. In the near distance, we heard a megaphone giving peaceful protest directions. We headed over and got caught up in a large group heading to the front line. Yikes! This is where people are hurt and the guards stand waiting to inflict the punishment. We had gas masks and ear protection but left it all in the car. Should I be scared? I didn’t feel scared. And as we walked, the hill with the guards became clear. I had seen this hill on Facebook. I walked past the guy who posted vlogs daily, I felt an odd familiarity with him though I cannot say we ever met. I overheard conversations that were trivial and saw people who looked like people I had seen at other gatherings. Not protests but parties. I saw more cars chugging down gasoline driving to the front line. So many cars everywhere. Isn’t our fossil fuel consumption a big part of this problem? Isn’t the pipeline moving around crude oil to be processed to fuel things like cars? And as we got closer to the hill I felt like a hypocrite. I drove my car 1500 miles one way to fight against the very thing that got me there. I was just another white girl at the party. My privilege clouding the actual struggle of native people. My history class never covered the genocide of Native Americans with any actual meaning. As we walked, the men on the hill became just men. And I am just human. And I was an interloper in this battle.
Once we reached the front line, it became very clear to me that this place was not where my best efforts would be utilized. There were prayers and songs and people crossing the water. There were National Guard troops waiting on every hill with Humvees and rifles. There were publicly paid armed guards standing watch from atop the hill ready for something. But it was Thanksgiving. And the guys on the hill were just guys. Not even important guys because if they were they would have the day off. Those guys couldn’t change the course of this pipeline. They were not the powers that be. They were just cogs like the rest of us who drove there dependent on oil. I felt like I should have had a spiritual experience. Like I should have felt more and been moved towards some enlightenment. We shared space and spoke with other humans doing incredibly human things. We went back to camp and shared the items we brought. And we left. That night.
On our long drive home we listened to many podcasts. Some on racism, one about Putin’s propaganda against gays and I decided I needed to use my power wisely. BLACK LIVES MATTER. And white lives need to believe and live and teach the fact that black lives matter. Yes, all lives matter but it is not the same history for all lives. The majority of white lives have not had slavery as defining force in their ancestry. There is not the same societal, educational, economic forces pressuring all lives. Side note: read or listen to THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD by Colson Whitehead. It will blow your mind.
Me yelling at some guard on a hill who has to work Thanksgiving (I can’t even get started on Thanksgiving) someone without any real power is not going to change anything. He may be able to inflict harm but he cannot make real change externally to the pipeline. And how do we make real change? How do I make real change? How do I use my power? I want to say IDFK, but on some level I do know.
Gotta start inside first. Check myself, my ego, my bullshit. Do my work on me. In my experience, this work is a constant. Not in a self-centered, I-can-only-work-on-me-type of way, but remembering I-carry-some-bullshit-type of way and to not let that slow me down in making the world a better place. So internal work then external work.
External work: I like to think and say “vote with your money”. How do we vote with our money? First, if we are in debt we have no power. We are not free, we are tethered to things that happened in the past. Second, if we are not informed we have no power. We must know how the system operates to change it. Eyes, ears, heart open. Take in information in a broad manner and critically think about what you find. Third, if fear steers the ship we are going to sink. Fear has to be put aside when rethinking the paradigm and our place in it. Fear is a crafty shit that seeps in even when we are looking for it. We have to manage our own fear (internal) but we also have to navigate fear within our groups (external). The fear that grips groups of people really clouds and skews judgement. I am sure you have seen this fear show its ugly face with recent politics in the US. I have seen and heard a lots of fear mongering about the President-Elect. Fear cannot steer the ship. Fourth, STOP EATING MEAT.
We did not need the gas mask during our brief time at the front line, it will be saved for another day. I empathized with my imagination, maybe from conjuring suffering from a collective consciousness or maybe from the deep well of my personal suffering. I understand the walk a mile in her shoes but if I cannot even fathom the shoes or the road, it’s nearly impossible for me. I don’t think I am alone in this. I had no first hand knowledge of Standing Rock. I didn’t know anyone who lived there. I thought I knew what was happening based on social media. I learned that I need to find out for myself. I needed to go to North Dakota and feel small and powerless and gullible. I needed to realize my own hypocrisy and the power fear has over me. I needed to see other humans so committed in their cause to make me feel so flaky in mine.
Where is my power? It may be in my story. The story I hear in my head and my heart. The story I tell others. We need to tell our stories with a fierce love that allows changes and editing. An unconditional love that lets us see flaws but tell the story anyway. Our stories may be the only thing we have. Our stories have power.
Maybe I had a spiritual experience after all.