Filed under: Action, Analysis, Capitalism, Critique, Development, Indigenous, Land
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“It was impossible for us to get a bank account in this country, or insurance coverage in this country, and unfortunately we lost a lot of shareholders as well […] The number of activists isn’t huge, but their impact has been incredible […] There needs to be an understanding that this is a threat to all industries. The tactics could be extended to any other sectors of the economy.”
– Brian Cass, Managing Director of Huntington Life Sciences, on the efficacy of the Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty campaign
The urgency of resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) cannot be overstated. Following the election of the billionaire, white supremacist and heteropatriachal Donald Trump, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) Chief Executive Officer Kelcy Warrren – who donated over $100 thousand to Trump’s right-wing populist campaign – has stated that he is “100% confident” that Trump would facilitate completion of the DAPL route through unceded Oceti Sakowin territory. Trump, who has also vowed to renew construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, has up $2 million personally invested in Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66, two of the key partners in DAPL.
The Obama administration’s Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), in anticipation of a transfer of authority and jurisdiction to the Trump administration, is still anticipated to approve the final easement – the sacred water of the Missouri River – at any moment. After months of empty pandering, in which the USACE had politely (and futilely) requested that Dakota Access, LLC (DAPL) and ETP voluntarily halt construction until a decision on the easement could be made, it appears that the Obama administration is either going to officially approve the desecration and theft of sacred land, or going to continue to delay decision, under the rubric of tribal inclusion and placation, while claiming that any continued construction on “Corps land” is not currently permitted until a decision has been reached. ETP dismisses the move to delay as nothing but a “sham process,” “motivated purely by politics” at the expense of the company’s profits.
Despite the USACE’s official stance that work cannot continue on the “Corps land” that borders the water, DAPL operates with violent indifference. Journalists spotted an ominous horizontal drill, clandestinely appearing near the militarized Missouri River crossing site, during the early morning hours of November 16, and construction operations have not so much as staggered in the wake of the USACE decision. CEO Kelcy Warren asserts that nothing will deter these rogue operations. Energy Transfer Partners filed a lawsuit on November 15th, seeking a Judge’s approval to continue construction without the final USACE permit. But a regulatory or court decision could be delayed until early 2017, leaving a months-long gap where Dakota Access can continue to operate with impunity. Even if the current Presidency continued to stall on its administrative decisions, lest it risk the tarnishing of its ostensibly progressive image on climate change and fossil fuel infrastructure, it is abundantly clear that under Trump, DAPL will get all state and capital backing that it needs to realize its colonial project.
Meanwhile, on the ground of Oceti Sakowin, indigenous resisters, land defenders, and water protectors continue to fight with resilience every day. Invoking the 1851 Treaty of Ft. Laramie, the Oceti Sakowin have declared sovereignty over the unceded territories, through which DAPL hopes to operate. In spite of extreme state violence and the coming harsh winter, hundreds continue to take direct action to stop construction of the pipeline and to defend sacred indigenous land. Red Warrior Camp is leading the resistance along the easement that routes the pipeline to cross under the water. International solidarity actions are increasing in frequency and intensity, and Red Warrior Camp has called for global solidarity with resistance on the land. On November 15th, solidarity proliferated across Turtle Island and the world, with estimates of over 300 different actions. ETP has claimed in court that the organized resistance of water protectors and land defenders has already cost the company $100 million. ETP also conceded that if it does not complete the project by the January 1st deadline, it may have to renegotiate its contracts with backers and financiers, in a global oil economy that is making Bakken oil production and distribution increasingly “high-risk” for investors.
In response to this momentum, ETP has only escalated construction efforts, and, in collusion with private security firms and militarized state and federal law enforcement agencies, escalated violence and repression against the movement. Hundreds of arrests have been made, with many facing felony charges. Countless have suffered horrible violence at the hands of police. The Federal Aviation Administration has created a large no-fly zone above Standing Rock. There are reports of torture at the hands of police – including waterboarding and detaining water protectors in dog kennels. Floodlights have been installed surrounding the encampment and where DAPL intends to drill under the Missouri River. The 24-hour floodlights have been functioning as sleep deprivation and psychological warfare against the water protectors. The state of North Dakota just approved an additional $4 million for this sort of law enforcement protection of the Dakota Access Pipeline project, bringing the current debt total to approximately $10 million.
All of this is to say that any measure of efficacy against state and corporate actors has always come from organized grassroots resistance led by front lines communities most impacted by violence, marginalization, and subjection, and never from the institutions and structures of power and capital. Neither Obama nor Trump will stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. DAPL is a modern settler colonial project, made possible through the operations of white supremacy, capitalist accumulation, land theft, police violence, and neoliberal deregulations and finance markets. Make no mistake, the current infrastructure of state violence and racist nation building existed long before Trump stirred settler unrest and panic under the pretense of “white working class” (or rather, the anxious and xenophobic white middle class) populism. Strategic resistance and solidarity is the only path to liberating the land and challenging colonial-capitalist power.
Solidarity with Standing Rock has been outlined before. Whether a symbolic civil disobedience or a Facebook check-in, the avenues of solidarity are diverse. But solidarity can be more than symbolism. Land defense on the ground has been brilliantly orchestrated for months, and is a seemingly never-ending source of inspiration. Land defenders and water protectors have taken huge risks, again and again, and faced extreme brutality in response. How has solidarity been measuring up? Has the level of dedication and critical analysis been symmetrical with the work of water protectors on the land? How can solidarity organizing itself become an integral strategic supplement to the direct and ongoing resistance that is taking place at Oceti Sakowin?
This is a call to build a sustained pressure campaign against the pillars of support for the Dakota Access Pipeline. In order to complete the pipeline, DAPL must be able to access capital markets, construction labor, and government permits. All of these create a constellation of pressure points within a system of power that makes DAPL not only economically and politically feasible, but profitable, in the scheme of capitalist accumulation. The goal of pressure campaigns is to disrupt the process of accumulation by targeting both capital and power. Although the website NoDAPLSolidarity.org has already outlined key pillars of support for DAPL, a clear analysis or strategy has yet to be produced that identifies the operations of power that make DAPL possible.
Pressure campaigns, “comprehensive campaigns,” or “political-economic disruption campaigns” has a long and vibrant history in left and radical movements. The strategy has developed over the second half of the last century through the organizing of anti-racist and non-traditional labor movements of the 1960s and 1970s (such as the Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers Union’s (ACTWU) campaign against J.P. Stevens), the anti-apartheid movement in the UK (City of London Anti-Apartheid Group – CLAAG), the anti-sweatshop movements of the 1980s and 1990s (particularly focused on Nike), Earth First!’s Redwood Summer and Corporate Fall campaigns of the early 1990s, the anti-globalization movement of the early 2000s, anti-imperial and anti-war corporate campaigns targeted at munitions manufactures throughout the so-called War on Terror (Take Down SNC), the radical animal liberation movement spanning the 1990s until now, in particular the Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty campaign, and the international Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli occupation and apartheid on stolen Palestinian land. Countless examples exist, and a myriad of tactics, including residential protests, economic sabotage and underground direct action, have been employed to make these campaigns extremely effective. The commonality that they all share is an analysis of how power operates throughout the political economy of institutions, industries and enterprises that are the targets of their mobilizing efforts. These movements became dynamic, living risk factors in the process of the accumulation of capital, giving them the ability to challenge power by leveraging financial and reputational risk through the targeting of shareholders, credit lenders, insurance providers, security contractors, business affiliates, IT providers, and other pillars of support.
Not only did these movements pressure these monolithic institutions in the political economy, they were able to break down their inner-workings and create power maps of individuals who held substantial power and privilege in the decision-making processes. If capital itself represents the quantifiable commodification of power, then disrupting the accumulation of capital in order to halt projects like DAPL requires challenging the many diffuse ways in which power maintains itself. In this regard, the Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty (SHAC) campaign was one of the most brilliant and formidable pressure campaigns in recent memory. SHAC was able to bring the world’s largest banks, financiers, and insurance companies into severing business contracts, divesting shares, or withholding loans from the campaign’s primary target, Huntington Life Sciences (HLS), an infamous multinational vivisection contractor. Lauren Gazzola, a SHAC organizer at the time and former political prisoner, describes the campaign’s strategy:
“SHAC sought to drive HLS out of business through a strategy of secondary targeting, personal protest, siege mentality, and illegal direct action. By targeting companies affiliated with HLS—its investors, customers, stockbrokers, insurers, service providers, et cetera—and demanding that these companies stop doing business with the lab, SHAC aimed to starve HLS of necessary services and capital. By protesting not only against monolithic corporations, but also against the employees of HLS and affiliated companies, SHAC sought to pierce the corporate façade and more directly pressure corporate decision-makers. By branching out beyond traditional protests to engage in residential picketing, in-office disruptions, phone blockades, and a variety of other protest tactics, SHAC aimed to create a siege mentality, so that the annoyance and inconvenience of the SHAC campaign were constant features in the lives of those who worked for HLS and affiliated companies.”1
Few grassroots campaigns have had such an impact on the global market economy. In addition to getting hundreds of secondary and tertiary targets to stop doing any sort of business with HLS, SHAC was able to get HLS delisted from both the London Stock Exchange and New York Stock Exchange, the largest stock exchanges in the world.
For Judi Bari, an organizer with Earth First! and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), this kind of campaign model was a crucial supplement to direct action taking place on the land, and one that allowed for pressure to flow up the corporate hierarchy:
“The purpose of Corporate Fall was to bring the demonstrations to the corporate offices and lavish homes of the people who are actually benefiting from the destruction of the earth. Somebody who is making seven or nine bucks an hour cutting down the last of the Redwood forest is not benefiting from the destruction of the earth […] They’re being exploited to accomplish the destruction of the earth. When the corporations are done they’re going to lay them off, and they’re not going to have any money to relocate or to retrain or anything. What we’re trying to do is to make it really clear who is to blame. We’re not trying to fault the people who are working in the industry who are also being exploited. We’re trying to lay the blame where it belongs.” (interview with On the Issues magazine)
Regarding the effectiveness of pressuring seemingly impenetrable and immense social, political and economic structures and institutions, Omar Barghouti, a founder of the BDS movement, in an interview with The Intercept, finds the impact to be easily measured:
“It’s very strange to hear anything about the effectiveness of the movement. I think that’s settled by now. Companies are abandoning Israeli projects, pension funds are abandoning Israeli projects, major churches, major academic associations across the world, especially in the U.S., are taking action.”
This is not a history or analysis of the SHAC campaign, redwood forest defense, BDS, or any other effective campaign against capital and power. This is a call to adopt a similar strategy of pressure and siege tactics against the capital markets, and individual decision makers within them, and all who continue to make DAPL, land theft, and genocide possible. Coupled together, the resilience of the defense of the land at Standing Rock, sustained strategic pressure against these pillars of support, diversity of tactics and tactical and strategic innovation, and the demystification of the operations of power within monolithic social institutions has the very real potential of disrupting the accumulation of capital and land – bringing DAPL to a screeching halt.
It is not hard to figure out how power flows through the political economy. Corporations have shareholders, investors, lenders, executives, boards of directors. These are tangible and specific individuals, with their shared values, social statuses and networks, performative roles, and social, economic and material vulnerabilities. Corporations often list some of this information publicly on their websites, especially if they sell publicly traded stock and are forced to be accountable to shareholders. Financial and organizational information can be accessed through shareholders reports, Security Exchange Commission (SEC) or Canadian Securities Administration (CSA) filings, public databases such as EDGAR or SEDAR, state-by-state business registries, business media sites like the Wall Street Journal, and private libraries and specialized financial databases, such as the Bloomberg Terminal (some large, well-funded NGOs have access and might play nice). People in power have home addresses, tax records, property assessment records, and are often very easy to find on people search engines such as InstantCheckMate, Pipl, WhitePages, or Spokeo. Don’t underestimate the power of Google – it is ubiquitous and can be extremely effective. These individuals also participate in the world of social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and especially LinkedIn – and their otherwise innocuous daily social lives suddenly can become rich with pivotal information for strategic and tactical planning. What matters to them? Where do they play golf, drink wine, or enjoy their yachts? What information can be exploited to create the siege needed to bring them into fold, and to get them to sever ties with DAPL? What tactics can be innovated and produce the desired effect?
Speaking on SHAC, two political economists wrote of the critical impact of this strategy:
“SHAC has provided organizers with important lessons on how PEDCs [political-economic disruption campaigns] provoke the anxieties of capital. Investors have a twofold fear: 1) fear of being personally targeted; 2) fear that the fear of others will drive down the value of stock.”2
Those anxieties extend beyond just lenders, investors, or shareholders, but encompass all aspects of the capitalist accumulation process. For organizers, those considerations should be taken for all institutions, enterprises, state bodies, and individuals that participate in the colonial-capitalist political economy.
Food and Water Watch, Rainforest Action Network, and NoDAPL Solidarity have already produced a breadth of information on the pillars of support for the Dakota Access Pipeline, including a list of shareholders and credit lenders, security providers, and construction contractors, and some of those companies’ corporate and branch locations. Some focus has already trended towards the financial landscape that underpins the pipeline. Norway’s largest bank, DNB, recently sold all its assets related to DAPL, after an international solidarity campaign, led by the indigenous Sami people of Scandinavia, pressured the financial behemoth to withdraw support, and it is threatening to revoke its $342 million loan amid concerns about worsening situations on the ground. Large environmental NGOs globally, such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, have begun backing the #DivestfromDAPL campaign. Concurrently, some solidarity activists and water protectors have begun using higher-pressure tactics, such as home demonstrations against Kelcy Warren. It is high time that the movement sees a marriage of these strategies and tactics.
These organizations and support networks have outlined the skeletal system of DAPL’s continued operation. What follows below adds flesh to the bone. The institutions are known, but up until this point they have been treated as inert and homogenous bureaucracies. Those who occupy specific positions of agency and influence and are instrumental in this regime of capital are obscured by the pretense of corporate power. Moving forward with this information, those who take action in solidarity should consider how each of these individuals fits into the system of pressure points that keep DAPL afloat, and how to use tactical innovation and diversity and the siege mentality to pressure them. What level of pressure will it take? What range of tactics and strategic timeline will get us there? Who wields influence? Who has the most at stake? What is the balance between power and investment? For example, Kelcy Warren could stop the project with a phone call, but he and his company also stand to gain immensely from DAPL. Energy Transfer Partners is a fossil fuels energy company, and its accumulation of capital is based entirely on projects like DAPL. But banks and construction companies have other investments, clients, customers, and assets – other means of generating profit. To put it simply, DAPL needs them, but they don’t need DAPL.
The following is a fragment of the power map of the Dakota Access Pipeline project, specifically designed to “pierce the corporate façade” and demystify the political economy of the monolithic corporations and state agencies involved. These are the names, positions, and home addresses* of specific actors in the processes of colonization, land theft, desecration of sacred sites, and poisoning of water at Standing Rock, Oceti Sakowin territory. But this is only part of the picture. Each of these companies and institutions have dozens of executives and directors all over the country, and many abroad. Research them and figure out the power map in your area. #NoDAPL solidarity means targeting them, developing sustained strategies, and employing a diversity of tactics with unrelenting and intensifying pressure – creating the mass siege needed to shut this project down and reclaim indigenous land, water, and sovereignty from 500 years of settler colonial incursion and violence.
That colonial violence is manifest this moment on the plains of Standing Rock. On November 20th, police used tear gas, rubber bullets, concussion grenades and water cannons – in below freezing temperatures – against water protectors who were attempting to move damaged military vehicles that were blocking Highway 1806. Over 160 were injured, including a woman who may lose her arm due to the extent of tissue damage, and two who suffered cardiac arrests (an elder remains in critical condition). In response, an indigenous-led coalition of groups at Standing Rock have called for a global week of action, escalating from November 25 to December 1, focusing on the financers of DAPL and the police departments involved in the brutality. Actions are already taking place. With the Army Corps of Engineers now announcing the planned eviction of the Standing Rock encampments on December 5th, there has never been a more pressing moment to shift the strategy for global solidarity.