Janine Jackson interviewed Kelly Hayes about what’s next for the #NODAPL movement for the December 9, 2016, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.
Janine Jackson: The struggle of the Standing Rock Sioux against the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline rivets the attention of people around the world, not only as an environmental story, an emblem of what the fight to address climate change actually looks like, but also as a historic story, a chapter in the resistance of indigenous people to the violent power of state and corporate actors. The announcement that the Army Corps of Engineers would withhold an easement permit for the last part of the Dakota Access Pipeline, pending an environmental impact study, is a significant moment that should nonetheless not be mistaken for the end of either that environmental or that historical story.
Joining us to talk about where we’re at is Kelly Hayes, a direct action trainer and a co-founder of the Chicago Light Brigade and the direct action collective Lifted Voices. She’s also community relations associate and a contributing writer at Truthout. She joins us by phone from Chicago. Welcome to CounterSpin, Kelly Hayes.
Kelly Hayes: Thank you so much for having me.
JJ: Acknowledging and celebrating activists victories is psychically necessary, for one, and also important in terms of seeing what works. It’s also true that, precisely because we want to derive meaningful lessons, we have to put gains in context. And I would say that’s not discouraging, but actually a way to ward off discouragement, because these fights that we’re in are long haul fights. So what shall we celebrate now in the NoDAPL fight, and what do you think we should be mindful of as the context for that celebration?
KH: Well, I was saying to some folks in a direct action workshop just the other day that we have to understand victory as coming in stages, always. But as storytellers, we have to recognize that our victories are not just climactic, in the way that an outside view might understand them. Just having a group of people who are willing to throw down and take things to the next level, so that we can all be free and so that our people may live, that’s kind of what I would call a stage one victory. And we’ve obviously come way beyond that with the Standing Rock struggle.
Our people have been throwing down for eight months now. A number of my friends have been staying out there, and have made a home there for more than five months on, and some of my friends are actually day one individuals. And for them, of course, it’s huge.
It’s hard to overstate how emotionally powerful it is to know that oil was going to be pumping through that pipeline by January 1; that was something that Energy Transfer Partners had promised its investors, that there would be oil in that pipeline by January 1. And there won’t be. So missing that deadline creates a point of weakness that can be exploited, that can be dug into deeper, by those of us who want to make sure this pipeline never happens.
But it’s very, very important that we don’t let our desire for a happy ending give this recent development any kind of notion of finality, because there is no finality here. If anything, the only thing that was maybe finitely accomplished here was that the Obama administration came up with a maneuver that will remove this as a stain from the legacy of an outgoing president. It will now be on Trump’s watch.
But that’s the problem for us, right, is that Donald Trump is about to take office, and he’s already stated that the moment he’s in office, all of this gets reevaluated. And we have heard from experts that it would be a matter of hours, if Trump were determined to do so, for him to dismantle these gains that we have recently made.
So it’s important for us, always, to find joy and to celebrate each other, and to celebrate how far we’ve come, and to celebrate the losses of our opponents. But we are at a very critical time, and mischaracterizing this as the larger battle being won risks us falling from the headlines, risks this entire story being pushed out of public view.
It took a whole lot of fighting, it took a whole lot of people getting hurt and really living this struggle, in order for this to be seen. So we’re at a critical juncture in terms of making sure that this does not become unseen, that it does not lose the attention that it’s gained. And we’re also at a critical juncture in terms of where we direct our resistance now.
The truth is, they are more vulnerable now than they have ever been, in terms of money getting shut off. We have one bank that’s already disinvested. We have Wells Fargo sending out letters to people who have objected, saying that they’re willing to sit down with our elders and our leaders. We have millions of dollars that have been moved already through move your money campaigns, to get people to divest from banks that are supporting the pipeline.
We need to hit on that front harder than ever. We need people to disrupt their banks, we need people to shut down banks that are funding this pipeline. We need people to move their money, and make sure that their financial institutions know exactly why they’re moving their money.
This is where we have the most power now, and that’s actually a really beautiful thing, because people can do this from wherever they are. We don’t need to be able to get to Standing Rock in order to be a part of the front line, as we think about it, because we can create front lines in cities around the country. There is a front line waiting to be created outside of every Wells Fargo, outside of every Chase bank, and we can all be doing this. So we need to see this as a moment of expansion in this struggle, and not a moment of resolution.
JJ: I just want to say that you went right to where I was hoping for, because I think it’s easy to make fun of, but activism by unpracticed activists—people who aren’t organizers but are, you know, bartenders and teachers and retail workers, but who are frightened and angry and concerned—that activism is important. And people are asking, what can I do from home? And I just think that rather than snipe about what’s the best kind of resistance, talking about what people can do seems worthwhile. Because each specific fight that we’re in is going to be, as you might say, more “optional” for some folks than for others, but it’s important that people see the connections between those various fights.
KH: Oh, absolutely. And I think something that’s been very heartening for a lot of people about NoDAPL is the connectivity that this has created the potential for, the connectivity that it’s established. Here in Chicago, we have gone after banks a few times now, and a coalition that has formed around doing so involves my group, Lifted Voices, which is a direct action-oriented group, but also largely we do a lot of direct action education. So, folks who are already kind of on that radical tip. We have the American Indian Center, which has been largely a cultural hub and direct services hub in this city, working hand in hand with us, people like the Autonomous Tenants Association. It’s just broadening and broadening.
And now we’re actually having conversations here in town about, how do we connect prison divestment, private prison divestment, with NoDAPL divestment? How do we tell that story in a more connected way?
So building these interconnections between movements being essential, and, absolutely, as you were saying, we need to have a lot of healthy regard for all these folks who maybe haven’t been doing this, maybe have never done any of this. Anyone who wants to be elitist about activism is really shooting themselves in the foot, in both feet really, because without new folks being activated, where are we going?
I want a movement, not a clubhouse of people who think they know how it works. I want people to understand that organizing means messing up. In addition to doing great things and changing the world—and we will do great things and we will change the world—we’re going to mess up.
So when I invite somebody to join me in direct action, to join me in organizing, I’m inviting them to make mistakes as well, because there is no science to getting free that is a proven formula, or we would all be safe and free by now. So I welcome and invite and I celebrate people to whom this is all very new, doing whatever they can, from wherever they can, and knowing that it’s going to be bumpy, and maybe even silly sometimes, but that this is how we’re going to all evolve forward together.
JJ: We’ve been speaking with writer, social justice organizer and photographer Kelly Hayes. You can find her work on NoDAPL and other issues as well on Truth-Out.org. Kelly Hayes, thank you for joining us this week on CounterSpin.
KH: Thank you so much for having me.