In this era of social justice and progressive movements, it can be hard to keep up with all the changes. It can be overwhelming, even for those people who are interested in social justice movements.
All I knew about the Dakota Access Pipeline was that Native Americans were upset about it. When I travelled to South Dakota and camped alongside the self proclaimed “water protectors,” I didn’t know what to expect.
I learned quickly that the pipeline threatened to pollute the water and leak toxins into the land of the reservation. That has sparked outrage across the country and united thousands of Americans in support of native rights.
The campsite where the water protesters have gathered is called Oceti Sakowin. The camp is made up of hundreds of tents, tipis and RVs. Oceti Sakowin is run entirely on volunteer labor.
The sense of unity and mutual respect throughout the camp was palpable. It was clear that everyone shared a single goal: to do whatever they had to do to stop the pipeline.
My greatest learning experience didn’t come from the pipeline, it came from a group of moms I met in a 16 person tent. They were part of a non profit organization called Moms Across America. The organization works to get genetically modified organisms and pesticides out of foods to keep kids healthy.
I spoke with these moms about what inspired them to travel to Standing Rock. They spoke about their opposition to the toxins which would leak into the water if the pipeline was built. They went on to discuss how their opposition to toxins led them to stop vaccinating their children, based on the chemicals contents of the shots.
At that point in the conversation I was appalled and confused. I could not comprehend how people who didn’t see the benefits of vaccines could agree with me on anything. Yet, I continued to listen to them, and eventually the conversation moved a new subject.
What I learned in this situation is what I hope every social justice movement can also understand. In that moment, it did not matter that I disagreed so greatly with the group of moms because we were connected by something greater. We were all in South Dakota, in a tent, in the winter, to support native rights to water.
Ultimately the things that divided us were insignificant relative to what brought us together. I think if people hung on to that perspective during protests and daily interactions the world would be better off.
Whether the pipeline is built or not doesn’t ultimately matter. What matters is that Standing Rock has formed a community which will continue to bring people together for years to come.