Standing Rock as a microcosm of the left

Native American veterans join an interfaith ceremony at the Oceti Sakowin camp where people have gathered to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline in Cannon Ball, N.D., Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. Tribal elders have asked the military veterans joining the large Dakota Access pipeline protest encampment not to have confrontations with law enforcement officials, an organizer with Veterans Stand for Standing Rock said Sunday, adding the group is there to help out those who've dug in against the four-state, $3.8 billion project. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

In the wake of a resounding defeat in the hands of Donald Trump, the Democratic Party, and the left in general, now stand at the crossroads of progressivism and third way democratic politics. Hillary Clinton’s supposed easy win against a ruffian like Donald Trump has called into question the direction and cause of the Democratic Party. Washington regulars and all liberals alike are left to puzzle over what exactly is responsible for the utterly improbable failure that this election has come to represent. After all, Hillary Clinton should have beaten Donald Trump by a landslide, according to many of the most astute political observers and pollsters. Even winning by a narrow margin would have been cause for concern, and yet she lost. What is so wrong with the Democratic Party?

We turn, now, to the events at the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Reservation. The controversial pipeline project, which would carry over 400,000 barrels of heavy Bakken crude close to the water supply of the reservation, has become a flashpoint in the fight against climate change, environmental protection, big oil and police militarization. It represents a microcosm of the current state of the American left, peppered with identity politics and moral courage, opposing big money, environmental destruction and doing so with a relatively diverse coalition.  

Here we have perhaps the most oppressed group in America, Native Americans, fighting the construction of a pipeline carrying some of the dirtiest crude oil through their land with a diverse coalition of supporters and environmentalists across the country. They have clashed with an army of militarized police and suffered injuries that many would not expect from crowd control. Security contractors have released guard dogs on activists. The violence has been so extreme that Black Lives Matter activists have come from all over the nation to Standing Rock in solidarity against police violence and fire hoses reminiscent of the civil rights era.

Interestingly enough, the crude heading though Standing Rock was rerouted from a planned route through urban Bismarck citing the potential for high damage in the event of a spill. The oil being piped is the product of a massive fracking operation, which is already producing millions of barrels a day from a marginal quality oil reserve, producing wastewater that threatens aquifers throughout the entire region. There could be no more quintessentially liberal a cause to rally to. Even in the event that some Democrats support the construction of more fossil fuel infrastructure and the environmental depravity that comes with it, ought they not denounce the grievous violence being perpetrated against some of the most marginalized communities in America?

Here is a microcosm of modern grassroots liberalism, and yet not a word has been said by President Obama. Hillary Clinton offered tacit condemnation of protests by vaguely proffering, “The path forward ought to serve the broadest public interest,” this coming after she “evolved” away from fracking and Keystone XL earlier this year under the face of mounting pressure from the rising progressive threat of Bernie Sanders (who has called on the President to take a stand and publicly denounced its construction).

Undoubtedly, there is gulf between the cocktail parties and big money fundraisers that characterize party insiders and the grassroots groundwork that has redefined the Democratic base, but the silence of most major party Democrats at even the most egregious of offenses against protesters at Standing Rock, especially when it represents an almost poetic microcosm of modern liberalism, speaks volumes to the bankruptcy of the modern Democratic party.

Modern liberalism is championed by movements and figures that carry a defining moral conviction to fight against big oil and climate-change-inducing greed, against oppression, preaching solidarity and equality and advocating personal rights. Yet it has found itself endorsing a party largely without the nerve to stand with almost any moral conviction at all. Instead, the shining idealism of modern liberalism has been married to a party that very quickly turns away from inspiration and hopes to lecture on the necessity of incrementalism and realpolitik as the means of achieving revolutionary goals.

A party clings that to the third way, mashing big-donor cocktail-party fundraisers with big-wig executives and yet strikes with unions fighting in the streets against the very employers cutting checks to the DNC. With a party whose words and actions represent so much simultaneously, they ultimately mean nothing at all.


Austin Georgiades is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus.  He can be reached via email at austin.georgiades@uconn.edu.