20. I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight

by Megg on July 31, 2017

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This is day 20 of my 100 day writing project. Please donate if you can to keep the project going.


I want to go down by the river at night and hear the drums.

There was so much trouble, so much trauma, but there were moments of pure magic, I tell you.

J took me over the back hills of Sacred Stone Camp to the stones that tell the future. “We’re gonna win this thing,” he’d always tell me. “I know you know it.”

There was this perfect time when the weather was still good, and the cops were more confused than violent. This incredible thing had just happened and was laid out before our eyes. I loved to sit across the river and look at it. Oceti Sakowin. We had made a video, and at the end of it we all said “stand with us” and, sure enough, they came and they did. By the end of August, when it felt like our numbers were tripling every week, I was burnt out. I was overworked and on-edge, feeling the tension supplied by the constant surveillance and law enforcement presence.  But by mid-September, I had settled in to this new reality. The soft glow of campfires; there’s nothing so beautiful as a tipi lit up at night. I remember when there was only one. Now we had a village.

There were drums and songs and if you were lucky, frybread. If one kitchen was out of food you could trek over to the next. It was an overwhelming amount of people but they were all so nice and vibrant. We were tired but not so beaten down yet. The energy was immense and enthralling. All that time we had sat there, sweating in the hot July sun, holding space… all that had paid off.

It’s hard for me to write about Standing Rock right now. I still feel that unease of being monitored all the time. We unwittingly ended up in what are now being referred to as battles. My only problem with that term is that we were not armed or attacking. We were being assaulted, with no way to defend ourselves. This idea, of course, is nothing new to the original peoples of this land.

There was a point, recently, in my recovery from my time at Standing Rock that I realized the trauma was not the only thing that I was dealing with. I realized that, despite all that violence we suffered on the front lines, the camps themselves had a different story. By the end, after Tigerswan and their cohorts had done their work of infiltrating and ripping open tiny rifts, it could be hard to remember. But by and large the camps were a place of incredible community. The energy was like nothing else I have ever felt. We all lived together, ate together, stood for what we believed in together, depended on each other. We literally helped each other survive.

One of the major pictures the people against us tried to paint was the one of the paid protester. So many times the cops or the oil execs would accuse us of only standing up against pipeline because we were making money. This became a big joke to the water protectors. We’ll say with a smirk that we’re looking forward to our checks. But I understand so well the idea behind this ridiculous myth.

Why is it an insult, in this intensely capitalistic society, to be accused of being paid to do something? The problem is, the very people that benefit the most from capitalism have something to lose if the general public understands that tens of thousands of people came together to fight one of their profitable projects. It is dangerous to let people know that so many people just like you gave up their livelihood, their jobs, their homes to help other people. We had medics that saved our lives on a daily basis, we had lawyers that defended us, we had cooks to feed us, builders to shelter us, security to protect us, teachers for the children. All these people were working for free. We sustained this many people thanks to donations from around the world. I worked more and harder than I ever have. It wasn’t something I thought about. It just seemed more important than any amount of money. And there were people who gave up way, way more than me to be there.

I learned from this fight that when you put your life on the line for something you believe in, you are giving up the life you had, even when you, thankfully, do not lose it completely. You, and your life, will never be the same.

But it is also very hard to go back to “normal society” after you see that kind of intense community in action. I realized I was grieving the loss of this. To see firsthand that this kind of existence is possible, and then suddenly be thrown back into regular American society is depressing, to say the least. Then, I realized that it is up to those of us who lived it to be sure that such beauty didn’t get destroyed with the camps.

I want everyone that did not get to go to Standing Rock to know that it doesn’t have to be like this. We actually can work together with our communities to support ourselves. We can protect ourselves and our kin this way. Communities can become radically self-sufficient in this way. It is not just some lofty daydream, or “only good in theory.” It is good in real life. It is not only possible; it is a more natural way to be. It’s not only possible, but it’s simpler, humbler.

I want to whisper it, like the most exciting secret, into the ears of everyone I meet.



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