Sunday, January 23, 2022

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Four days in December…five years later

Five years ago, veterans from across America, and indeed from across the world, came 

together in solidarity for four days at the mouth of the Cannonball River on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Reservation. They came together to support peaceful water protectors, Indigenous rights activists, and environmentalists who were exercising their First Amendment rights in opposition to the illegal Dakota Access Pipeline and the use of military tactics against peaceful unarmed citizens. This gathering marked the largest assemblage of veterans since The Bonus Army of the last century.

Nearly 10,000 veterans answered the call and showed up on December 4, 2016, to augment native veterans who were already there. Veterans self-organized and came from all fifty states, all of the Canadian provinces, and from as far away as New Zealand, Switzerland, and Australia. It was truly a global event.

The arrival of the veterans caused the White House to take action on a cold December Sunday. President Barack Obama issued an executive order that effectively shut down construction of the pipeline. The great white snake had arrived. So, too, did a blizzard. 

What happened next lives as an example of people coming together in the best of ways. Roughly 10,000 out-of-town veterans were caught in one of the most severe blizzards in modern memory. Communities on Standing Rock and Cheyenne River opened emergency shelters and served as makeshift barracks and kitchens. Thousands of visiting veterans hunkered down at the casinos. Hundreds were trapped in camp until the weather cleared.

The blizzard caused people to come together to feed one another, keep one another warm, and to work hard to keep one another safe. It allowed people from all over the world the time to listen, share, and experience the best that humanity has to offer; all the while concentrating on the shared experience of survival.

Most of the visiting veterans returned to their homes as soon as the weather cleared. What they took with them was the lesson that “We are all relatives” and we can come together in good ways even in the worst of circumstances. This was the lasting lesson of those four days in December.

Many of the veterans who answered the call to stand at Standing Rock continue to be of service to the people in good ways. Veterans, specifically those who went to Standing Rock, continue their service to the people by being active in addressing some of the most contentious issues of our time, including: MMIWG, family separation, Black Lives Matter, the border crisis, the rise of fascism, and opposition to Keystone XL, ACP, MVP, and Enbridge Line 3. 

Perhaps the greatest surprise and the greatest impact of the movement was the healing that so many of those who came to Standing Rock experienced in the days, weeks, months, and years since that time. Standing Rock provided a renewed sense of service to the people that many veterans had not experienced since their time on active duty. 

Another lasting legacy of the veteran movement to Standing Rock is the implication that it can be repeated if necessary. Already, the threat of another “Standing Rock,” -type protest camp has caused corporations and governments to reconsider environmental sustainability and the rights of the people over short-term profitability and public relations nightmares. 

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