Thanksgiving

27 11 2016

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

This weekend, we celebrated an origin legend of the United States, which tells of one happy moment when the colonist Americans from whom many of us are descended managed to coexist with the native Americans, and share a meal together.

Like most legends, we don’t know if it’s true or not. Even if it is true, most of us know that it represents just one ray of light in a mostly tragic story. But we love it all the same.

I don’t think we take the tale of Native American history gravely enough. Our country is built on the largest successful genocide in human history. Before contact with Europeans, our continent was inhabited by over 50 million people who spoke over a thousand different languages. Their culture was not “primitive”, and it was not a sham. They practiced sustainable farming and irrigated agriculture. They had leisure sports, domestic animals, and gay rights. Some lived in tents, some lived in wooden houses, and some lived in cliffside cities carved from living rock. They were aware of the existence of other tribes, cultures and empires surrounding them; they traveled, traded, intermarried, and learned each others’ languages.

Today, there are 5 million Native Americans left in our country. They have lost many of their languages, but they still practice American religions and have a culture distinct from our generally European one. And they are still punished by this lack of assimilation. They can only live by their laws, and practice their non-European ways of life, on the same “reservations” whose borders have not changed since they were carved out in the 1800’s from whatever unwanted scraps of land were left lying around. They suffer the most suicides out of any ethnic group in our country.

And who can blame them? How would you feel, if you were, say, a Jew living in the alternate universe where Hitler managed world domination? In this alternate universe, though, a few generations later society decided to be “civilized” and passed laws that any remaining Jews should no longer be hunted, and should be allowed to go back to living in ghettos. Personally, I don’t know if I could find it in myself to faithfully salute the swastika, serve in my conquerors’ military, and become a quiet member of society (even though the only living I could eke out was by scraping my countrymens’ pockets in casinos). But that’s exactly what Native Americans have done in this country, adding a twisted element of Dickensian tragedy to an already-tragic story.

Whether the story of Thanksgiving is true or not, I have never been more disgusted or ashamed in my country than this Thanksgiving. On a holiday which pretends for one day out of the year that we have some shred of respect for these original Americans, the police force of our country is hurling percussion grenades at peaceful Native American protesters on their own land. They’re spraying these protesters with hoses in 30-degree weather, and worse, they’re spreading misinformation that the protesters are violent, despite many publicly-available videos which display the opposite.

If you live under a rock and don’t know, I’m referring to protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline, an oil pipeline which is under construction in North Dakota and set to cross the Missouri River just upstream of the last Sioux lands. No, the pipeline itself is not on Sioux land; and yeah, maybe it never will spill, though 75% shareholder Sunoco has one of the worst safety records in the oil industry.

But for me, this is not a question of conservation v. economics, but a question of Native rights. And it goes way beyond anything I have ever felt about politics before. Seeing this unfold has germinated in me a realization which makes me feel a hundred years older: we have not changed. How can we celebrate Thanksgiving when we are still taking part in the history that overshadows and contradicts its legend? As we sit around tables groaning with food and tell our children how the first Pilgrims and the first Indians learned to share, our government moves in with military-level reinforcements to finish the vendetta that our ancestors started. We are still them. We are vile. Many times in my life have I been less than stoked to be an American, but always chalked it up to the fact that every country has its dark side and that ours, like our presence on the world stage in general, is large and public. But never before have I been so deeply repulsed by my own country, never, never, never.

I feel powerless, but I don’t think that we’re powerless. I think that democracy is bureaucratic and cumbersome and hard to get rolling unless it’s a total emergency. I also think that the protesters will never stop. Why would they? They have nothing to lose. If it ends in violence, on our shoulders be it.

Many people have expressed the same thoughts I’ve expressed above more gracefully than I. But I can’t help to feel that my words, even borrowed and echoed ones, are worth more than my silent assent.

There’s a list of the concrete actions we can all take below. Many of them you’ve probably seen before, circulating the social media; this is just my attempt to compile the biggest, most recent and most relevant items in one place.

I am thankful for a lot of things, and I’m glad we have a time of the year when we’re supposed to remember them. But we have got some chutzpah, to celebrate our own prosperity at the altar of a fake story about how nice we were to the people who lost everything so we could have that prosperity.

To enjoy that same celebration, with the knowledge that those same people are still losing everything – that goes beyond chutzpah. That’s f$^%ed up.

Please, if you had food on your table this Thanksgiving, consider some of the actions below, especially monetary donations. Our actions are small, but each one chips away at this country’s shame.

And you know what? For that, I am thankful.

3. Express your support of the protesters to your state representatives
4. Call to express your support of the protesters to the White House at (202) 456-1111 or (202) 456-1414.
5. Call for the Army Corps of Engineers to rescind the building permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline: (202) 761-5903.
6. Call North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple to express your concern about the situation and your support for the protesters: (701) 328-2200
7. If one of the seventeen banks funding the Pipeline is yours, withdraw your money from there, close your accounts and do business elsewhere.
8. Call or email the executives of Energy Transfer Partners, L.P., and tell them to stop building the pipeline:
  • Lee Hanse, EVP (210) 403-6455 lee.hanse@energytransfer.com
  • Glenn Emery, VP (210) 403-6762 glenn.emery@energytransfer.com
  • Michael (Cliff) Waters, Lead Analyst (713) 989-2402
9. Call any of the sheriff departments that have deployed to Standing Rock and pressure them to remove support (the following list is taken from the actionnetwork.org site linked to in number 10):
  • Morton County Sheriff Department, Mandan ND 701-667-3330
  • Michigan City Police Department, Michigan City, IN (219) 874-3221
  • North Dakota Highway Patrol, offices across North Dakota, (701) 328-2455
  • Hammond Police Department, Hammond, IN 219-852-2900
  • Munster Police Department, Munster, IN (219) 836-6600
  • Griffith Police Department, Griffith, IN (219) 924-7503
  • Anoka County Sheriff’s Office, Andover, MN (763) 323-5000
  • Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Stillwater, MN 651-430-6000
  • Marathon County Sheriff’s Department, Wausau, WI (715) 261-1200
  • La Porte County Sheriff’s Office, La Porte, IN (219) 326-7700
  • Newton County Sheriff’s Office, Kentland, IN 219-474-3331
  • South Dakota Highway Patrol, Pierre, SD 605-773-3105
  • Jasper County Sheriff, Rensselaer, Indiana 219-866-7344
  • Lake County Sheriff Sheriff’s Department, Crown Point, IN 219-755-3333
  • Laramie County Sheriff’s Department, Cheyenne, WY 307-633-4700
  • Wyoming Highway Patrol, Cheyenne, WY 307-777-4301
  • Ohio State Highway Patrol, Columbus, Ohio 614-466-2660
  • Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, Lincoln, NE (402) 471-7421

10. Find a #NoDAPL event near you

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