The Weight of Water
by RJ Newell
Standing Rock was hard to leave.
I don’t know how to summarize this in an easily digestible way. It’s a 400+ year struggle that many of us learned next to nothing about in school. My analyzing brain is steaming and frazzled. I just…can’t.
What on Earth can I say that will fully convey to you the terrible and beautiful reality that I was so honored (and appalled) to witness at Standing Rock?
It’s going to take me a bit to translate what I’ve learned, but something tells me that the language I’m most comfortable with is not even close to enough.
This movement won’t be defined by politics. It can’t be squeezed into a box and tucked away on history’s shelves. It’s bigger in shape and scope than any hashtag, t-shirt or headline could suggest.
The community that has assembled at Standing Rock represents a circle of solidarity that transcends geography and time. What you’re hearing of it now is just a tiny crescendo in the ballad that’s been sung for centuries before we were born. It’s just finally reached a volume (thanks, Internet) that’s piercing the veil of western privilege and smashing past and future together for the world to see.
It’s humbling, horrifying, illuminating and revolutionary – ‘Evolutionary,’ as Ed Higgins puts it.
We are all two-leggeds, they say. If we are to evolve, we must evolve together.
The fight at Standing Rock is one of peaceful resistance – water & fire, thought & action, glued together in prayer. Empathy. Respect. Wisdom. Love.
This week in North Dakota, I saw history dance in a circle with its uncertain future. I spoke with people on all sides of this circle, including some who would prefer to smash it.
Walking into a group of ‘ProDAPL’ protestors yelling racial slurs was definitely one of the riskier things I’ve done in my life. Only one of them stopped yelling long enough actually speak with me, and what she said was a gift (as upsetting as it was) because it helped me to better understand the opposing view.
Beneath our battles, most people want the same basic things. When we dehumanize others, we dehumanize ourselves. And without understanding, there can’t be any progress. The people of Standing Rock shared that message loud and clear, this week – not by talking, but by doing.
The truth is, I saw more cooperation and love in this environmental war zone than anywhere else I’ve been on Earth. Getting back to LA is jarring, but this just illuminates the work to be done here.
It’s time to listen, learn, and create a future that does not perpetuate trauma, but heals it. We need all hands on deck. Everyone who marched across the country in support of #NoDAPL added something truly unprecedented to the spirit at work in ground zero. The crowds of volunteers braving winter in North Dakota and building, building, building are all the proof I need that America’s going to be okay.
The events of this week restored my faith in humanity, in ways that I did not expect.
Now that I’m back in LA, I’m choosing to follow the Standing Rock elders’ example. I’m funneling my post-election feelings (of which there are plenty) into positive action. And I’m grateful that there are millions of other Americans who are choosing to make the same commitment.
America is much bigger than I imagined. It’s not quite the country I grew up thinking it was. Fortunately, it’s still full of GOOD people who are doing their best to help, without recognition.
This week taught me to look for the helpers. There are helpers everywhere.