Listening to all the Black chatter about the post-Obama era, all the indignation, the whining, and the lamenting about Trump, makes me think about the Standing Rock protest and standoff in North Dakota. In April 2016, Standing Rock Sioux elder, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, began a resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline that soon grew to thousands of people. The protesters refused to leave even under orders from government powers and in the face of armed national guardsmen, pepper spray, attack dogs, and police in riot gear.
They set up a small village, lived in tents and trailers, and hunkered down for the long haul. Then the cold weather came, and boy was it cold! To add to the protesters’ misery, police used water cannons on them in the freezing cold. Temperatures dropped to twenty below, not to mention the wind chill, and in November two feet of snow fell in the area. Yet the protesters said they will not leave until the pipeline is rerouted away from their sacred land and the water sources they depend upon. You reading this, Flint residents?
Despite 141 protesters being arrested, bringing the total number of arrests since the protests began to more than 400, Chairman Dave Archambault said, “The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is not backing down from this fight…We are guided by prayer, and we will continue to fight for our people. We will not rest until our lands, people, waters and sacred places are permanently protected from this destructive pipeline.”
That’s what we call “sustained persistence,” which obviously is a redundant term, and we need “sacrificial resistance.” It reminds me of those who withstood the fire hoses and dogs during the civil and voting rights battles. It also brings attention to the importance of maintaining, supporting, and sustaining our protests over the long haul rather than simply a day or two. Not since the Montgomery bus boycott, which lasted for 381 days, have Black folks demonstrated the will and commitment to sacrifice for long periods of time for our causes.
Today we have protests that last for a few hours; we hear a couple of speeches and return home to await the next call to do the same thing. Think about how many protests Black people have called over just the last five years. Think about our tepid responses to the police killings of Eric Garner, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, and many others. We get “fired up” but we are not really “ready to go” because we end up going nowhere, and we fail to resolve the problems we are protesting.
The recent march led by Al Sharpton was called, “We shall not be moved.” Well, the title was certainly correct; we have not moved since that one-day march, and I have not seen any positive results that came from that protest against Donald Trump. Have we simply become professional marchers, complainers, and paper tigers?
Unlike the folks at Standing Rock, our leaders do not appear willing to live in tents in the freezing cold and stay in protest mode no matter what. We call for “boycotts” of a certain mall or a certain store, and sustain it for a day (Black Friday). We say, “Boycott Christmas,” only to catch the after Christmas sales, the MLK Day sales, the Black History sales, and the tax refund sales that come in the ensuing months. Maybe our protest leaders have grown weary of marching and doing anything over a sustained period of time. Maybe they just want to impress us with their bombastic, threatening, and angry rhetoric. They want to get us fired up and ready to go, but they don’t want to go with us.
Speaking of rhetoric, if Black folks would simply put as much energy into appropriate action as we expend on discussing issues that will not advance us one iota, or complaining about Trump, or lamenting about Obama leaving, we would move far beyond our present state. Trump is large and in charge; Obama is playing golf in Palm Springs. They are doing just fine. What about us though?
We must revisit the days of Montgomery, the days of sacrifice, and the days of sustained persistence and resolute resistance. Expend our energy doing things that will result in progress, on some level, for our own people. Find something that really matters not only to you but to your children’s future, like the Standing Rock protesters, and plan to see it through for the long term. Temporary protests bring temporary fixes, if they bring about any change at all.
Take a lesson from this country. When another nation does something we don’t like, the first response is economic sanctions that last for years if we don’t get what we want. We should be so smart.