What The Dakota Access Pipeline Reminds Us

The election is less than a day away. Finally, more than 500 days after Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton announced that they would be running for president, we are close to knowing who the president-elect will be. Millions of people have voted early, and many more are gearing up to head to the polls. Here's the thing: Voting, while an important tool, is only one way of being politically engaged, and voting in a presidential election is not the most important way to effect change. The ongoing fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline proves as much: No matter who is elected on Tuesday, people who have always been systemically oppressed are still counting on their fellow Americans to fight for justice.

Trump, the Republican nominee, has unsurprisingly been silent on the issue of the Dakota Access pipeline. It was never likely that a demagogue who has run on a platform of hatred and bigotry would show solidarity with Native American and indigenous people, and voters should make it clear that they have no interest in electing him.

However, Clinton has also been largely silent on the subject of the pipeline, despite running on the campaign slogan "stronger together." The only acknowledgement the Standing Rock Sioux tribe members and their allies received from the Clinton campaign was the following statement:

We received a letter today from representatives of the tribes protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. From the beginning of this campaign, Secretary Clinton has been clear that she thinks all voices should be heard and all views considered in federal infrastructure projects. Now, all of the parties involved — including the federal government, the pipeline company and contractors, the state of North Dakota, and the tribes — need to find a path forward that serves the broadest public interest. As that happens, it's important that on the ground in North Dakota, everyone respects demonstrators' rights to protest peacefully, and workers' rights to do their jobs safely.

This statement by no means shows solidarity with the water protectors. It is a cop-out, and fails to acknowledge the power imbalance on the ground. Rather than taking a firm stance against the pipeline — because it violates treaties by being constructed on Native Americans' land, because a pipeline leak could threaten the water of millions, because it would be environmentally destructive — the candidate has decided to take the "all voices should be heard" approach, even though some voices already are heard far louder than others. "The broader public interest" doesn't seem to apply to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, who have been camping out for months to protect their water and their land. They have allegedly endured a militarized police presence and dehumanizing treatment, and yet have been dismissed by both of the major-party candidates for president.

If for some reason the human rights violations on the ground aren't motivation enough, it would be a strategic political move, too, for Clinton to show solidarity in the #NoDAPL fight, because her opponent in the Democratic primaries, Sen. Bernie Sanders, has been vocal in his support of the water protectors. Moreover, Green Party nominee Jill Stein and her VP candidate, Ajamu Baraka, have both been on the ground with local Green Party members to lend their support and call for donations and resources.

Stein will probably not be elected on Tuesday, though there are strategic ways to vote for a third party in order to ensure both a Trump defeat and more third-party funding in 2020. But President Obama's response to the Dakota Access Pipeline proves that no matter how supposedly liberal a president is, voting in a presidential election simply is not enough to ensure justice. Last week, for the first time, Obama finally addressed concerns about the pipeline in more detail.

"As a general rule, my view is that there is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans, and I think that right now the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline," Obama told NowThisNews. However, Obama said that he was going to "let it play out for several more weeks" before determining what should be done about this pipeline.


Now is not the time to let things "play out." Everyone from the Standing Rock Sioux to Bernie Sanders to Shailene Woodley to the journalists onsite have made it clear that the Dakota Access Pipeline has potentially disastrous effects. It takes more than a vote for a presidential candidate, however, to really generate change. This should be obvious, but I've seen so many portrayals of voting as the be-all, end-all of democracy, when in fact it is just one small part of what we can be doing. Oppressive systems weren't generated overnight, and they will not be dismantled overnight based on who becomes the new president-elect.

If you consider yourself even remotely politically engaged, you need to be prepared to hold whoever is elected accountable for what they have said and done — or not done. I will say it again: Voting is not enough. Native American and indigenous people have routinely been discriminated against and dismissed by the American government, and they certainly have not been the only ones. No matter who is in office, there is no way to ensure that movements for social change will triumph unless we call for accountability.

This is not just about political theory. This is about people's lives and livelihoods hanging in the balance. So on Tuesday — or right now, if you can vote early — go vote, and pay careful attention to local elections, ballot measures, and propositions that will have an immediate impact on your community. Then, on Wednesday, prepare to get back out there and continue the fight against injustices such as the Dakota Access Pipeline. Do so by giving your money and/or your time to the fight against the pipeline, by contacting your elected officials, and by listening to and amplifying the voices of Native American and indigenous folks who are calling us all to action. Voting is important, but it is not the only thing that is, and it is certainly not our only responsibility.