“Call the White House. Tell them this is unacceptable!!” someone tweeted yesterday, as people watched in horror as heavily armoured Police and law enforcement agencies moved to clear the water protectors in North Dakota fighting to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The full brutal force of the state was in evidence. Twitter and Facebook were ablaze with anger and horrific stories as batons, tear gas, truncheons, tazers, rubber bullets, pepper spray, smoke grenades were used by men in full body armor flanked by multiple mine-resistant ambush protected military vehicles (MRAPs), sound cannons, armored trucks and a bulldozer. There were even reports of military snipers.
In fact yesterday, North Dakota resembled a war zone.
As veteran freelance journalist Antonia Juhasz, who was reporting on the frontline yesterday, noted on her Facebook page: “As many of you know, I have reported twice from Afghanistan. This was the closest thing to that experience I’ve ever experienced. The most heavily militarized police today looked as if they’d been plucked from that war zone into a new near ‘war zone’ in the middle of a field in North Dakota on behalf of an oil pipeline company. They cleared the camp and the tents in the same way I’ve watched soldiers clear homes in war zones”.
At the end of the day over one hundred and forty people had been arrested.
Everyone was shocked by the brutality. “They used a sonic device and then also they used rubber bullets and we have shots of people who had rubber bullets right to the face. They maced elders right in the face. They dragged people out of sweat lodges. They shot one 15-year-old boy’s horse and killed it under him,” Jacqueline Keeler from the Sioux tribe told the BBC.
Rose Stiffarm, a member of six Native American nations including the Chippewa Cree, told the Guardian. “The government is attacking us for protesting, for protecting the water. “We are innocent people – women, children and elders,” she said.
The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Dave Archambault II, criticized the “militarized” response. “Militarized law enforcement agencies moved in on water protectors with tanks and riot gear today”, he said: “We continue to pray for peace.”
As Kelly Hayes, one Native American wrote yesterday: “It is crucial that people recognize that Standing Rock is part of an ongoing struggle against colonial violence. #NoDAPL is a front of struggle in a long-erased war against Native peoples — a war that has been active since first contact, and waged without interruption”.
It is also crucial that people remember that this violence is being perpetuated by the State on behalf of Big Oil. It is also crucial to realise that the petrochemical age comes intertwined with violence: from the Middle East; the Caucuses to Africa and Latin America.The history of oil is a violent history.
Wars have been fought for oil and people killed for oil. The only way to stop is to stop our addiction to oil.
In the Middle East, if we reduced our dependence on oil, peace would come sooner. And times do not change. Nearly a hundred years ago, in 1918 the British Foireign Secretary said of oil in Iraq: “I do not care under what system we keep the oil, but I am clear it is all important for us that the oil should be available”. And that system has often been conflict and intervention. We have fought about oil in the Middle East ever since. Oil may not have been the only reason for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but it was in the mix. As Daniel Yergin, the author of The Prize stated, there was “clearly an energy dimension” to the war.
For decades the oil industry has been intertwined with violence in Africa too. Just ask the people of the Niger Delta, where people have been killed and thousands displaced by the military working in collusion with the oil companies.
In the nineties, there was outrage that Shell was colluding with the Nigerian military and Mobile Police Force by providing logistical and financial support. If the scenes from yesterday had been seen in the Niger Delta, we would have been calling for the “colonial violence” to stop.
But instead this violence is on home soil. And that is even more unacceptable. As outrage grows around the world about what is happening in North Dakota, we have to realise that oil is not a benign product: it is brutal. The infrastructure that surrounds it is brutal. And this brutal violent age has to stop.
The only way to beat it is to transition to a cleaner and more peaceful future. It really is that simple.