For 2017, from Standing Rock
On Jan. 13, 2016, I penned an opinion-editorial for this newspaper on New Year’s resolutions and the need to do away with them entirely. In that piece I lamented that 2015 had been “an awful year for the world.” I wrote that “at the beginning of 2015 I held so much hope for the year and it turned out that much of my hope was misplaced. Jan. 1, 2015 did not mark a new era of compassion or justice, it was a mere continuation of the broken world it inherited from Dec. 31, 2014.”
Little did I know just how shitty 2016 was going to turn out.
Like 2015, 2016 wasn’t without its high points. I was able to travel to Palestine in May and return to Scotland in September. I grew as a scholar and got accepted to a strong M.Div. program that I’ll enroll in next fall. There was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, there was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and there was Stranger Things. There were some good times with friends and family through it all.
But on the whole, I shouldn’t need to convince you just how shitty 2016 was. Cops escalated the war on Black people and it returned to our own backyard with the killing of Keith Lamont Scott. We lost Bowie, Prince, Cohen, Rickman and so many other favorites. Flint still doesn’t have clean water. There was a weird thing with clowns for a bit. A bigot won the longest, most insufferable presidential campaign in history between the two least popular major nominees ever. Since then, there has been an unprecedented surge in hate crimes against LGBTQ people, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, Latinos and Black folks, and there has been an unprecedented surge in public and visible Nazism, often coded as the alt-right.
There’s no reason at all to believe 2017 will be anything better. In my previous article, I quoted Antonio Gramsci:
“That’s why I hate these New Years that fall like fixed maturities, which turn life and human spirit into a commercial concern with its neat final balance, its outstanding amounts, its budget for the new management. They make us lose the continuity of life and spirit. You end up seriously thinking that between one year and the next there is a break, that a new history is beginning; you make resolutions and you regret your irresolution and so on and so forth. This is generally what’s wrong with dates…I want every morning to be a new year’s for me. Every day I want to reckon with myself and every day I want to renew myself. No day set aside for rest. I choose my pauses myself, when I feel drunk with the intensity of life and I want to plunge into animality to draw from it new vigor.”
Following Gramsci’s poetic argument, there’s no reason to believe 2017 will be anything better, but there is ample reason to believe that 2017 can be something different, something new.
Last week I wrote about Standing Rock and how the Army Corps planned to clear the protest site to resume construction by Dec. 5. At the time of writing this article, on Dec. 4, the Army Corps has just announced the permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline current route (which would have infringed upon indigenous sacred burial sites and threatened water supplies) will be denied. In one week, the protesters went from being attacked and nearly expelled to winning.
The Dakota Access Pipeline and its backers will try to reroute and when they do they must be met with ensued protest. Oil pipelines, often ominously called “the black snake” threaten indigenous communities with pollution and catastrophe and must be fought at every turn. The war against the oil companies and their financiers and the police state is not over. But ask any of the water protectors on the ground in Standing Rock, N.D. right now and they will tell you that this is a victory. This is a victory won by months of relentless protests, by the courage of the indigenous water protectors and incredible solidarity from veterans and others. Hundreds of tribes joined forces at Standing Rock, along with supporters, in a camp that reached up to 15,000. The decision from the Army Corps and Obama Administration was not charity; they were forced to act by the power of the people.
I have friends of mine at Standing Rock who I saw crying tears of joy in response to the news. In the eleventh hour, right before threatened eviction, the opposition caved and the water protectors won a (limited, temporary, but no less real) victory.
For me, in the eleventh hour of 2016, the victory at Standing Rock is a beautiful reminder that our movements – in support of Black Lives Matter, Palestine, the Fight for $15, against sexism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism – can in fact win. Where there is solidarity and courage, there can be a better world. For those celebrating Christmas this month, the idea of a light coming into the world, just in time, is a familiar one. When people celebrate advent, they celebrate the fact that the future can be something new and beautiful and in fact will be something new and beautiful. There is no guarantee of when things will change or how, but there is the historical fact that there is always change and that the change we seek can be just around the corner. 2017, in all likelihood, will be brutal; after all, that racist we elected this year will be officially sworn in as President of the United States. 2017 will inherit the broken world of 2016, but there is hope in the fact that 2017 doesn’t have to be another 2016. The world doesn’t have to remain broken, just because it is today. In the meantime, it is our obligation to keep on seeking justice and loving one another through the storms to come.