By Val Petsche
A presentation titled “Pipelines and Protest” was given Wednesday by environmental studies professor Dr. Janet Fiskio of Oberlin College. Throughout the talk, Fiskio discussed the far-reaching implications of the #noDAPL protest as well as lessons to be learned from movements of such magnitude.
“Athough the pipeline is going to be built, that protest meant something,” Fiskio said.
While the Dakota Access Pipeline is scheduled for further construction, it is important to examine the thriving community that was established at the Sacred Stone camp along Lake Oahe. As many as 10,000 protestors visited the encampment, where food and water accommodations were provided along with a 24-hour security post, medical tent and both solar and wind power resources.
Fiskio labeled temporary camps such as this one “ephemeral utopias,” where camp strangers come together, help each other, and build an interdependent community. It is these phenomena which help model an ideal society. Everyone engages in participatory roles that contribute to a common goal.
“We’re stuck in these unjust situations; but when disaster strikes, that changes, and it opens doors,” Fiskio explained. She further reasoned that people want to make a difference and alleviate the current situation during these times.
Memorable protests throughout history were named, including the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong for universal suffrage and Arab Spring in Tunisia to protest a political regime. The Poor People’s Campaign of 1968 was a six-week encampment organized by Martin Luther King Jr. to improve the poverty, unemployment and housing situation affecting many Americans.
This protest camp in Washington had a medical clinic as well as access to education, shelter and food for all participants. Here was another example of the people creating an ideal society of their own.
“Part of what allows these kinds of temporary ‘ephemeral utopias’ is the free spaces that allow people to easily express themselves. People were saying ‘this is what it should look like, this is how it should be,’” Fiskio said.
Addressing another issue, Fiskio explained that the protests are not anti-institutional, for people could not create the results needed if that were so. Occupy Wall Street, for example, was not about tearing the bureaucratic institutions down, Fiskio said, but rather a movement that exemplified a caring, just society speaking for what they believed in.
The Tar Sands Healing Walk in 2010 was discussed. This was a peaceful demonstration to acknowledge the people, air quality and wildlife affected by the Athabasca Oil Corporation in Alberta, Canada.
“The act of walking became a prayer for the land,” Fiskio said.
The significance of this event can be traced in the simple, everyday act of walking. This march communicated decades of exploitation and suffering received by the local First Nations people, where water contamination, food security and disease were key issues.
“In these ‘ephemeral utopias,’ space is created together based on vulnerability. We don’t need to deny our feelings of love and grief. We let those be our resources for finding a way together to allow ourselves to be transformed,” Fiskio said.
She further explained that we have the capacity to create “ephemeral utopias.” It can happen in a garden, in classrooms, or in the work space.
During a discussion following the presentation, Michael Omps posed a question regarding issues today. “There comes a point when it needs to be successful, and there needs to be actual success. What do you think is the key factor to make the Black Lives Matter Movement a full-fledged movement as opposed to what Standing Rock is with the Dakota Access Pipeline?” Omps said.
Fiskio reasoned, it is not that we need to think in that mindset. There are different strategies for being effective in different ways.
“The Civil Rights Movement is a great example of multiple strategies. They were going through the Supreme Court. They were going through the state system. They were using boycotts. They were using action when they had to,” Fiskio said.
Among the audience was Dr. Fulbert Namwamba, a professor of environmental studies at Southern University in Louisiana. He explained, “We are living a tiny moment in history. We are watching things happening. I tell my students, ‘you cannot sit on the fence. There is no fantasy. You are either with us or against us.’”
Namwamba further stated that there are three things necessary to create change. The first one is the use of knowledge, for that will always be present. The second is being able to use science, and third is the need to organize. Among the stifling of the EPA and loose regulations for fossil fuel industries, knowledge will always be there to provide substantive evidence.
Fiskio provided advice to those students and individuals in regards to that statement: “I am always walking into situations [where] I don’t know what I’m doing. Don’t let that stop you from getting engaged,” she said.
Several members of the audience remained to speak to Fiskio following her insightful presentation.
“Fiskio presented her ideas about protests in a completely new light. It enabled me to think beyond the typical context of activism,” Alyssa Massey said. Massey is an environmental and political science major at Salisbury University.
This presentation offered great information about the history of protests, the implications of those movements and the knowledge to be gained in the current climate of political activism.