Joining Forces: Protest at Standing Rock a Modern Day Warren County

Although 43 years later, the current pipeline protests at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota parallel the activism that spurred the environmental justice movement in Warren County, North Carolina. These protests have additional distinctions aside from their difference in time and location. For example, the minority group that faces or faced immediate harm from development (African Americans in Warren County and Native Americans in North Dakota) and the type of land alteration proposed (construction of a landfill in Warren County and a pipeline in North Dakota). However, aside from these differences, both instances of activism share an important similarity.

Both groups utilized other contemporaneously occurring groups and movements to strengthen the effectiveness of their demonstrations. In Warren County, civil rights groups and religious leaders joined local residents. In North Dakota, the Sioux tribe has the support of other Native American tribes, environmentalists, and leaders of the Black Lives Matter Movement among others. The Black Lives Matter organization issued a statement on their website equating the threat of contamination into the Missouri River by the proposed pipeline to the current lead contamination in Flint Michigan drinking water.

In this way, both instances of activism gained momentum and power by banning with movements and groups with complimentary beliefs and ideologies. These sets of protests demonstrate the power of unity, particularly for minority groups; when able to unite, minority groups can enact change that might not be possible individually.

The Black Lives Matter organization goes a step further in their statement on the Standing Rock activism. They assert that the protest in North Dakota is a protest for all of us because it is “[a] movement for the recognition that water is life.” By framing the issue in such general terms, the Black Lives Matter Movement has made the Standing Rock movement a human-rights issue and by doing this will likely garner even more widespread support. Both the Warren County and the North Dakota movement have drawn upon support of others to effect change, specifically in the form of environmental awareness. The Sioux tribe should utilize environmental arguments that frame the pipeline issue in broad terms, such as the right for all to have access to clean water, in order to maximize their support.

Courtney Eggleston, 3L

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