Not Allies, Accomplices: Perspectives on #noDAPL and Anti-Trump Protests

“First of all we need people to be part of the revolution…. This is the last stand. We need bodies…” (3:53)

At the recent #nodapl solidarity gathering a group of anarchists who were masked up received particularly confrontational treatment on three occasions from three middle aged, well-to-do looking white-looking liberal women.  The argument of these white liberals was that direct action is violence and that being at the #nodapl Portland gathering advocating direct action is undermining native leadership. It seems the white liberals are making the same exact argument as the Sheriff and racist news reporters in this article. They have invented very interesting definitions of the words “violence” and “peace.” In one anti-Trump demonstration last week, fellow anarchists and radicals stated that they had to physically stop fights that broke out when liberals tried to physically attack people who were committing simple acts of vandalism/liberation, now called “violence,” including spray-painting messages related to their cause on private and public property. “Stop breaking shit!” someone yelled while anarchists encircled the people under attack to protect them.

In a tense and beautiful moment, a self-identified trans person of color gave a brilliant impromptu speech in defense of property damage and shamed white liberals for trying to silence the very voices of the minorities they claim to support. They followed up with a chant: “Shit’s been broke,” and at first it was just five or ten of us. But then, a young black kid ran up and asked what we were chanting. As soon as he joined in, the entire crowd erupted. At least half of the people at the front end of the march engaging in so-called “violence” appeared to be young people of color, which reflects the trend of the last several years in radicalizing more diverse groups of people, diversifying the white male bias of anarchism. Many did not seem to be seasoned activists. Even more important than using moments like this to force onlookers to change their minds, however, is the lesson to be learned from this. White liberals had been shouting “peaceful protest” in response to acts of vandalism/liberation performed by what seemed to be largely people of color for several hours. Eventually, their dogmatism about peaceful protest led them to attack the very people they seemed to think they were there to stand up for. What could possibly cause someone to do something like this? It’s not a phenomenon simply limited to racial differences, either: I’ve many times sat through lectures from cisgendered men on gender ethics and marveled at the significant differences in the rhetoric I hear from actual queers. But investigating the noDAPL solidarity event further will yield similar criticisms.

The white liberals at noDAPL were upset about anarchists wearing masks in light of the recent property destruction in the city as a result of anti-Trump protests. What is interesting is that white liberals felt this way even though many native demonstrators directly resisting DAPL are seen in masks for their safety and protection in the above video and others. It seems, then, that liberals must be upset at native people resisting DAPL also for wearing masks. This seems inconsistent with their claims of “Stand with Standing Rock.” One woman who confronted anarchists at the noDAPL solidarity event began an argument by saying, “Why are you wearing masks? Are you a bunch of window-smashers?” I can only imagine, then, that this white liberal at the noDAPL solidarity gathering must also view masked natives as “a bunch of window-smashers.” This seems rather disrespectful towards the native actions opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline and made me begin to wonder what motivations such a person would have for wearing a “Stand with Standing Rock” T-shirt while so blatantly characterizing their tactics, as well as ours, as criminal and deserving of “citizen’s arrest.” Indeed, the same woman who accused us of undermining native leadership by wearing masks threatened to “citizen’s arrest” anyone involved in unlawful direct action.

I hope that this makes it clear that the white liberals are acting as an extension of the police force. Admittedly, this is a well-known lesson in even the most novice activist circles, but huge disasters could be avoided if people came in prepared with this knowledge. The only method of resistance liberals will accept seems to be prayer and precludes “violent” actions like trespassing, erecting barricades, and damaging equipment. Mainstream liberal news media that obsessively repeats the hypothesis that nothing has been damaged only bolster the idea that if there were to be property damage, then the resistance would be illegitimate. Unfortunately, restricting acceptable forms of protest so heavily could be a death sentence for the natives who depend on the threatened waterways. According to the logic of the liberal woman who started a very disrespectful argument with a group of anarchists, touching two of them suddenly without consent at the solidarity event… natives ought to be arrested if they break the law. That is why whether or not the resistance can be characterized as peaceful is so important to them and a constant debate in the mainstream media. This is how white liberals “Stand with Standing Rock:” they only stand until the law is broken, and then they stand against you, because it’s the safest way to assuage their guilt which is their true goal. No doubt, I can only speculate that native people probably keep this in mind when it comes to press releases. It’s worth noting that native organizers anarchists did interact with at the event said things like “Hey, y’all having a good night?” and seemed very cordial. Anarchists spoke with native friends and their friends, which included native leaders. Being masked up was never brought up as an issue during their conversation.

Liberals have co-opted the noDAPL protests from local native organizers by dictating what are and are not acceptable ways for natives and their supporters to resist. A great way to disarm movements is to quash what the oppressed say by installing activist-class liberals to speak for their movements. Then, when white liberals begin to fear real resistance via direct action (they are too comfortable to want to take real risks in the name of change, unlike the actually-oppressed), they become an arm of the state, ratting out their comrades, dividing the movement, physically attacking people for using a diversity of tactics, and even helping police intimidation tactics by threatening to lock us up in cages via “citizen’s arrest.” They are nothing more than an ignorant and crucial arm of the state. They cannot even be bothered to read about the resistances they claim to support, or to read about anarchism before condemning everyone with a mask as a childish criminal or demanding on-the-spot explanations. They perfectly fit the definition of a reactionary (it’s worth noting that it is still best to work with them in many situations, even if it calls for separation of tactics. There is strength in numbers. My personal feeling on it is that the only reason the battle of seattle was so successful was because there was a solid strategy that was constructive, agreed upon between liberals and anarchists).

Another thing to notice is that in this long-time practice of allowing movements by the oppressed to be co-opted by white liberals, an identity has developed for the white liberals which someone recently referred to as the “white savior complex.” I thought that was very fitting, and I think it explains what could cause people to attack the very people they say they support. It is this white savior/martyr attitude (common among upper-middle-class-and-better activists) that has led to flagrant public exhibition of white guilt as a matter of pride. “If you are white, you are bad, but feeling guilty will make you a little less bad, especially if you shamelessly tell everyone about it” goes the timarchic sentiment. Little do white liberals know that the oppressed want to eat and be safe and secure and they don’t give a flying rat’s ass about white liberals publicly or privately discussing their guilt. They want to get free, as anyone would, and white guilt is no salve for their hunger and exhaustion and fear. A good example of this from my own life was a time when I was interviewed by young white college kids because I had been homeless for several years. They encountered me on the street for this documentary and I sat through all of their questions, thinking certainly they would give me a few bucks afterward. They said it was a school project. I think they walked away feeling like they had done something they could pat themselves on the back for by being interested in homelessness. I, however, was pissed off that they wasted time I could’ve used for spare-changing and I was worse off for it.

Often enough, these flagrant public exhibitions of white guilt look like long-winded diatribes by white people with megaphones at demonstrations, in which statements that talk about their whiteness and how much they have “checked their privilege” are made over and over. We have all seen this mode of conversation in action. And while these long-winded diatribes go on and on, no strategy is talked about, no plans for material change are made, and people slowly wander off from the group as the actually-oppressed lose interest in listening to this self-important method privileged people use to cope with their guilt. Most oppressed people are too worried about survival and coping to be interested in liberals discussing how good they are for checking their privilege. I imagine a fair amount of oppressed people would prefer a situation in which they received no confirmation that you feel guilty about your privilege, but instead received material resources that could actually make their lives better.

It has never been very clear to me why white liberals seem to implicitly assume that the state of their minds creates the state of the world. That seems ultimately white supremacist– to think that white people are so important that, if they merely feel bad about their privilege, shit will change for the oppressed. Do not be fooled. This kind of talk is NOT aimed at liberating the oppressed. It is aimed at making white people feel less guilty about their privilege by being seen “standing up” for those “weaker” than they are. When people are engaging in public self-flagellation of this kind, they are wasting time that could be used for strategic action to accomplish the liberation of the oppressed. Further, it is rooted in profoundly selfish ideology– the ideology that it is right and good to co-opt and destroy the movements of the oppressed in order to get a chance to show how good one is for recognizing their privilege. And at the end of the day– the privileged go home, pat themselves on the back and show pictures of themselves being such good saviors to their friends for weeks afterward. Then they get off on calling other people out who haven’t done the same exact thing. Now who does that ultimately serve?

This is how ally politics was born (“Taking Sides: Revolutionary Solidarity and the Poverty of Liberalism,” Milstein, p. 20). Ally politics is a subtly racist way of looking at the oppressed which puts people into boxes based on the color of their skin or religious identity. It is an outgrowth and consequence of identity politics. For the ally politician, these identity boxes need to be well-defined so that they can point to the things they support that make them the “good white people.” It pretends that races are unified wholes and that members of each race want the same things as one another. This way, ally politicians can be allies to “The Muslim People.” It rejects the ability of a member of a race or creed to be profoundly different from other people of their race or creed, or if it acknowledges the ability, it rejects the importance of these outliers. It completely ignores the fact that races and cultures are ill-defined with extremely fuzzy boundaries, for the sake of easily being able to point to a definitive list of positions that a given minority supports and to support those things too. It ignores that race and culture are living things that evolve with time. It ignores that we all originally came from the same race and culture. It acknowledges and supports majority rule by supporting the idea that the majority members of a race/creed have the right to tyranny of the majority.

democracy-war

I believe in liberation. I don’t want to get comfortable, I want to get free. I think people should be able to identify however they so choose, and standing on the outside as a white liberal looking in on oppressed minorities and pretending that they are a unified group of people that all feel the same way and all want the same thing is fundamentally fucking racist. By engaging in the ally political way of looking at things, a person is saying: “You have no individual identity. You are only meaningful to me insofar as you are part of a cohesive homogeneous group. I will resist all attempts to recognize that you are not defined by other people with a similar skin tone. To me you are black, and I am white. You are the black people, and we are the white people. You must be completely defined by the opinions of the majority of your race because in that way I can make it clear that my stance as an ally supports all black people. Otherwise, anyone who disagrees has to be written off out of utility. I can then ignore any in-depth analysis of interior power dynamics and still be seen as a ‘good white person.’”

This attitude becomes very obvious when you look into the behavior of white liberals on the noDAPL issue. They are completely ignorant to the fact that the Dakota Access Pipeline is being resisted using methods of direct action, methods that many white liberals like to call violent, which includes pipelines being directly damaged. Liberals choose not to acknowledge these facts because they trust the police, the courts and the mainstream media. They trust articles like the one above. They trust the Sheriff that says “That was not a protest. That was not prayerful. That was a riot.” They trust the news media headlines that declare “If North Dakota’s Tribes Want Respect They Should Call Off the Rioters.” They trust news media analysis that says direct action and “violence” is undermining the power of the noDAPL resistance movement, when in fact direct action is the entire substance of that movement. They embrace it so much that they put up a smokescreen to all direct action and convince themselves all natives are only out there praying. If natives were not breaking laws in resistance, then there would be no resistance since, obviously, laws leave no room for resistance to the state. They read from articles that say:

“The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, with the active support of the state’s other tribes, has disrespected the State of North Dakota. They have partnered with a far-left extremist group called Earthjustice to challenge the Dakota Access Pipeline, and then invited all manner of activists to the state to help further their cause… Back in October one of the protesters, a woman named Red Fawn Fallis, was arrested and charged with attempted murder after she allegedly fired a handgun at police officers… What have tribal officials done in the state in terms of condemning this violence? What have they done to expel the extreme and violent factions of this movement they’ve formed? Almost nothing. The tribes often talk of wanting respect for their communities and causes, and there is no questioning the historical wrongs done to our indigenous neighbors. The American government has very often been disrespectful and dishonest to Native Americans. But today, in the summer and fall of 2016, our Native American neighbors have disrespected our state, and as such have damaged that nation-to-nation relationship. If they want to repair it, they could start by condemning the #NoDAPL violence and rioting and working to end it.”

and they agree with implicit premises that result in the above sentiment. They agree that it is never alright to break laws, to resist police, to break the instruments of the state that are threatening life. The white liberals live in a fantasy-land where they think that if the Jews in Nazi Germany would have just organized larger peaceful protests, they would have been alright in the end. Many native people are fighting for their lives and white liberals are agreeing with the analyses that call their direct action violence. It seems completely ludicrous to say you stand with standing rock while asking them to go quietly without breaking any laws. Fuck that. Standing with Standing Rock means standing with direct action.

As a rule, people need to stop listening to leaders when forming opinions and start listening directly to the diverse and less powerful individuals that make up that group, especially the ones that have an organic affinity with. Stop taking the opinions of white liberals and leaders and pretending that represents the entire group. Stop operating based on the rumors of people who start telling you they heard natives in the resistance want this or that. Everyone who has actually been seriously involved in activism knows the FBI constantly plants false information, like the other day when the police told anti-Trump protesters that shots heard in the distance were a gang of militant Trump supporters headed their way. They turned out to be fireworks for a funeral (unsurprisingly, a permit with the city had been on file for that funeral long before the protests were conceived).

Natives are calling for us to be a part of the revolution, and I stand with them in solidarity, whether some leader or white liberal figurehead disagrees with them or not. Natives making a call for revolution are my comrades and I will not abandon them. I will not expect that they ask the state nicely not to send attack dogs and mine-resistant tanks at them. It is true that some native leaders have called out for their people to stop physically resisting and resort to prayer. However, it is completely racist to think that native people are so different from the rest of human beings that they must all agree with their leaders. It is very clear in the video linked at top that some natives believe in more direct tactics and want more radical changes. Why ought we defer to leadership and abandon our comrades who want to overthrow this unjust system? That is what ally politics instructs us to do, and that is why it is fundamentally incompatible with anarchism. That is the biggest problem with ally politics– it would have us abandon the people we have affinity with in order to support those deemed “leaders” of a group. That is oppressive. An ally politics-minded person only has two ways to justify their beliefs. It is either by pretending all “minorities” must feel the exact some way as their leaders, or by admitting that minority voices who disagree with their leadership are not important and that we should never entertain the idea of partnering with dissenting individuals of a group over their leaders since we are not a part of that group and not fit to determine what sides to support (notice that ally politics doesn’t want us to determine for ourselves which side of a conflict in a different community to support, but at the same time it tells us to support the majority opinion. That is a logical inconsistency). I would never so categorically disregard dissenting opinions like that. Doing so would be to exactly copy the power dynamics and methods that make our democracy so oppressive and unjust to minorities in the first place.

EDIT: After the original publishing of this article, I discovered information validating that the #noDAPL solidarity event mentioned in this post actually was co-opted from the original, local native organizers.

“Next thing we all know, the event had been taken over by ally groups and non profits seeking only one or two tribal people to give their consent without contacting the original indigenous organizers… Yesterday other organizers with 350.org, green peace and Portland rising tide all took over on this event and held it at the waterfront.?!?! When they all claimed their original target was the ACE Lloyd center office?!?! We are getting sick and tired of non profit and ally groups jumping on the Standing Rock bandwagon to get notoriety and funding for themselves and their groups… Our tribal community will not be manipulated and tokenized by so called ‘ally’ groups to legitimize their ‘solidarity.’”

Further, in a comment the correspondence was posted which purportedly gave the go-ahead on co-opting the event.

Just gonna post the entirety of the letter we received from Idle No More Washington which is why we chose to target the downtown Portland ACE office: ‘Any gathering in the name of Standing Rock needs to be conducted in a peaceful and prayerful manner. That is very important for when you speak for or about Standing Rock or the Sioux/Lakota Peoples you are representing and are an extension of these peaceful Peoples. It is of the utmost importance for the front line Protectors safety. For our aggressive behavior will reflect on the Protectors and the camps. I feel that to rally at the Army Corps of Engineers Lloyd location would be redundant (There was an event there last week) as well as a high risk for a police presence. Also note that Homeland Security is located there. ‘”

It seems pretty obvious that the direct action of local indigenous groups was indeed co-opted by “allies” who decided to change the location of the event because they thought the original strategy could produce a response from police and be seen as “violent” by the liberal media.