I did not journey across the country to learn anything, I ventured to stand in solidarity with our Native relatives, but while I was at Standing Rock in the Oceti Sakowin Camp, I was taught and learned much. One of the first things I learned was how vast the camp is. I do not know what I thought I would see, but I was not expecting to see an entire valley filled with tents, tepees, campers, vehicles and people. I have been part of many demonstrations in opposition to unjust exploitation of peoples and planet, but I have never been part of anything like Standing Rock. There were thousands of people from all over the world, many of whom were represented on Flag Road, which seemed to go on forever identifying all the nations and peoples in solidarity with Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires), which is the “proper name for the people commonly known as Sioux.” What I witnessed is that a shift is underway the likes of which we have not experienced since the time of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) and the American Indian Movement (AIM), when the oppressed peoples from all over the world are uniting in a common cause: to end the harmful exploitation of our peoples and planet, and caring for our world and peoples in such a way that ten generations from now our descendants will inherit a healthy and vibrant world to share. And yet however much a shift in culture is neither without opposition or complications, it is nonetheless beautiful to see coming into fruition.
This level of unity among the oppressed peoples must be terrifying to the repressive state regime because it is losing its legitimacy and control, and people are losing faith in this state’s ability to manage our world. This is evinced by the harmful and repressive actions the state has engaged in to retain its control of the people and the situation. The state has enacted counterinsurgency tactics and technology against its own people in the worst of ways. From the targeted arresting of people, to the excessive use of lethal force, to the eviction of peoples from their lands, to the complete disregard of humanity of indigenous peoples and people of color; the entire operation is laden with human rights violations. The right to peaceably assemble and to the freedom of religion are not only guaranteed by the US Constitution (First Amendment), but also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18; Article 19; Article 20). Furthermore, Article 9, of the UNDHR states that “no one shall be subject to arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile.” Article 5, of the UNDHR, says that no one shall be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment; which should entail being sprayed with water from fire hoses when it is twenty degrees outside, or shot in the head with rubber bullets for praying on your own lands. Not that it needs to be mentioned, but in case people have forgotten, cruel and unusual punishment is also protected against by the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Using intimidation and legalized terrorism is not managing, it is tyranny and it is out of control. The problem lies in the reality that this sort of behavior has been normalized in the United States when the state is interacting with indigenous peoples, people of color, and active political dissent from the harmful practices of this state and its agents. However, the oppressed peoples are uniting as the legitimacy of the state is faultering and we are being joined by those who are also losing faith in the motivations the state and the results of its decisions.
Oceti Sakowin Camp is a prayer ceremony on treaty land (Treaty of Fort Laramie 1868), that is, the land the camp is on and where Energy Transfer Partners LP is constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) belongs to Oceti Sakowin. First, if someone were to come into your or my home and start destroying things, especially that which our ancestors or predecessors left to us, we would most likely stand in physical opposition to the intrusion and destruction, and we would be well within our rights to do so. It is a twisted way of thinking about development and progress—the doctrine of Manifest Destiny—that informs people’s perception that the manner in which our Native relatives have chosen to be stewards of the land is neither efficient nor correct. Notwithstanding that false perception, this land belongs to Oceti Sakowin and the infringement into their land is no different than an intrusion into our homes. Thus, when physical opposition has occurred, the people who engaged in these acts have been completely and entirely justified in doing such. In fact, the actual motivation and justification for the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution was to protect against the arbitrary and tyrannical abuses of power by the state over the people. The fact that it mentions weapons only provides one of the means by which this may or should be accomplished. The spirit of the amendment is that state repression of free and equal peoples is not to be tolerated when the repression is unjust. Yet, while that is not only the law and the right of the people, the state, the corporations, and the media has sought to villainize and make illegitimate the actions of Water Protectors, as if they believe something else, or would have behaved differently should this have happened to their homes and their families. Painting with a broad stroke the entire camp and opposition movement as riotous villains in an attempt to discredit Oceti Sakowin and gain legitimacy for state tyranny, is wrong and unaccountable to the Amerikan people and the people of the world. And yet however justified physical opposition is, the majority of the opposition, and the vast majority of the people at Standing Rock are in prayer, and have been for most of the time the camp has existed.
Every morning before sunrise, a water ceremony occurs that is usually led by elders who are women. The people at Oceti Sakowin Camp are called to the Sacred Fire to participate in the ceremony as the people first ask to commune with the Creator, before asking the Creator to protect the headwaters of the Midwest. Many people from Amerika are not familiar with prayer in the form of song and dance because many of us come from a Judeo-Christian background, and so, it may not be immediately recognized that a prayer ceremony is occurring, but that does not alter the immense power that is felt participating after being invited into one of the ceremonies. From the Sacred Fire after the initial prayers are completed, the people are led to the water (Cannon Ball River) to bless and pray for the water that heals our bodies and our souls. As the sun rises we are standing on the shores of the waters giving thanks for the resource and element that provides so much for us and all that lives on the planet we share. Starting the day in a thankful spirit of gratitude for a precious and limited resource has the impact of directing our whole day and shifted my thoughts from what I need to take for myself and instead focused them on what I have to offer.
The time I spent at Oceti Sakowin Camp led me to re-conceptualize my perception of direct action, even as a seasoned activist. Often direct action is referred to as a demonstration. For example, when a Black Lives Matter protest occurs on Black Friday, in any city, challenging the very institutions of capitalistic economy that buttresses and profits from the prison industrial complex and by extension the brutality of police, and the school to prison pipeline; the objective is to interrupt. Wherein there may be lockdowns, blocked traffic, or interruptions of broadcasts. However, at Oceti Sakowin, when the people leave camp to any location, it is in prayer just like the morning Water Ceremony. The prayers are not discriminatory, but universal, which means that the people are praying for the health of the water not only for Oceti Sakowin, but also those part of the repressive state regime spraying Water Protectors with water from fire hoses in twenty degree weather. Behaviors with these motivations in other settings have often been referred to as acts of unconditional love and brings to mind the Civil Rights Movement of the Black Liberation Era. I know many of the stories, but have not exactly been able to bring myself to love those I have seen and felt as my enemies as they continued to harm me and my peoples.
Growing up, I was racially profiled by police more times than I can count or even remember, but a few situations stand out. I was pulled over for nothing besides driving while Black and when the cop could find nothing else to charge me with, not a tail light, not a failed signal, not an invalid license, he placed some sort of light detector on my tinted windows to try to find anything to justify his harassment of me. Another account was when my father called the police because some of our neighbors were threatening to kill my brother and I when we were eight and nine, respectively, and when the police came they arrested my father. I can remember walking home from high school with my book bag, only to have a cop car jump the curb and come to a screeching halt in front of me, before slamming me against a wall and searching through my school books, only to find school books. And one night when I was walking down the sidewalk, two plain clothes cops simply decided not to identify themselves, and instead to beat me almost to death before hauling me off to jail for absolutely nothing. I was never even apologized to or given bus fare home, but was released from their custody to walk miles home at three-thirty in the morning in the middle of winter. I recount these personal experiences now only to evince that my hatred for the institution of police is not only systemic, but also personal. When we arrived at the camp we were asked to set these feelings aside and to pray for the police, the army, the militias, and the mercenaries suppressing the people at Standing Rock. This was difficult for me, as it was for many others, too. Then I heard a report about one of the leaders of the International Indigenous Youth Council, speaking directly to how the people interact with the police during a prayer ceremony;
“It is our duty not to dehumanize others, as we seek to establish our own humanity.”
What I learned from this is that I am no better if I create the same trauma that I am seeking to overcome. I cannot become my enemy and still expect to overcome the oppression I suffer from my enemy. The means must be consistent with the ends, if the ends are to be just.
So, while the people at Standing Rock are completely justified in mounting an armed resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the suppressive agents using counterinsurgency tactics against the people, they are in fact, praying for all of us. I have never experienced this amount of love and forgiveness. I have read about and studied it, I have heard stories from the Foot Soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement, but I have never felt it. This is the spirit of the people that our government has permitted helicopters and planes to fly over the camp surveilling and is suspected of spraying chemicals on, all day and night. This is the spirit of the people that the government is utilizing cell phone suppression and corruption technology upon. This is the spirit of the people that the government is throwing concussion grenades at, shooting in the head with rubber bullets, unleashing the Long Range Sound Device, the LRAD sound cannon—the same technology used in Ferguson after the execution of Michael Brown—on, and spraying with water from fire hoses in twenty degree weather at; all of which are prefaced as non-lethal instruments, but when applied together and in the conditions they were used, are all individually lethal and are especially so in conjunction with one another. The state has been arresting, imprisoning, and nearly killing people for praying, and on their own lands no less.
The state is a force to be reckoned with, many of us now this acutely and personally well from first or second-hand experiences, and it must be confronted and challenged. There are also other complications that can and do often emerge when people who have been oppressed unite among themselves, and when the oppressed people unite with people who are from privileged classes. It is not the issues so much as how they are addressed that is truly important. At Oceti Sakowin Camp there was a lot of very positive and encouraging work being done to overcome much of this while simultaneously challenging neo-liberalism, capitalism, and state repression.
During orientation at Oceti Sakowin Camp on my first morning there we were told that we should not have come to learn, or to take anything because that is a continuation of the colonial apparatus. Yet, still, because so many people flooded into the camp over ‘Thanksgiving’ week, who were honestly concerned about what is and has been happening at Standing Rock, who were by no means prepared enough in a socially conscious manner for the work ahead, some instruction was necessary. I am a photographer and this has been a major component of the liberation work I have engaged in over the years. I am also a historian and a philosopher, and the three of these skills combined help me tell stories as objectively as possible.
(My cameras were stolen from me by the police in Bismarck when I participated in a prayer circle and was unjustly abducted and duhumanized, so I do not have images to share at this time.)
During the orientation, the proctors mentioned that the act of taking a picture “take, take, take” is an act of colonization, which is all about the extraction of people, land, and resources. This was used as an analogy to expecting to have time with Native elders who could “tell the history correctly” because people had “come to learn the truth” from the people most impacted. Not realizing that the imposition of time, from primarily white folx, was another act of colonization playing itself out, many had rushed to the elders. Many people had also been walking through camp with their cameras out, snapping shots of people in front of their teepees, which is no different than standing on someone’s lawn and pointing a camera into their home; taking, extracting, and feeling ‘entitled’ to do so. This colonialist imperative of take all you can for yourself, this capitalist motif is precisely what the people at Oceti Sakowin Camp are opposed to. It is this colonialist imperative and capitalist motif that Energy Transfer Partners are operating under; and they are precisely what underlies the exploitation and degradation of the planet through the burning of fossil fuels. Cultural appropriation, is stealing, it is taking without permission or understanding. We were informed that this was a camp of giving and of self-sacrifice for the common good, for the rest of humanity and all the creatures we share the world with. Thus, many of our beliefs and practices that people came to camp with needed to be unlearned and ceased because they are components of the very things that brought us to Oceti Sakowin in the first place and what we are working to overcome and evolve beyond.
Oceti Sakowin camp embodies the way of life that many of us are aspiring towards. A world in which the first thought is how I can fulfill the needs of others around me, instead of the first thought being how I can take care of my own needs by extracting things from others.
Living among the people at Standing Rock I learned that I do not need everything I think I need in order to not only survive, but to thrive healthily and to be happy.
When everyone is giving, then there is no lack. There is no need to be fearful that the things we actually ‘need’ will not be provided. This social organization is so completely contradictory to anything that most of us within the borders of Amerika are familiar with that it almost seems impossible because of how we have been indoctrinated to think and feel, but it works well. Not only is it liberating, but it is efficient and limits the amount of waste our society tends to produce and accumulate.
Many of our people suffer from forms of historical trauma, especially people of color, or are the beneficiaries of a long line of privileges gained from historical traumas, such as men and white folx, or both, and so the work to unpack, unlearn, and heal continues. These are deep emotional and intellectual processes. As such, they are not easily overcome. In fact, we tend to bring these things with us even when we are working to remedy human rights violations and to alter harmful practices. Unfortunately, there were more than a handful of events and occurrences from which to draw examples from at Oceti Sakowin camp. Notwithstanding that, and although it was problematic that a lot of misinformed, or uninformed, well-intentioned white folx poured into the camp during the week of Thanksgiving; it was nonetheless inspiring, to see so many people who are beginning to wake up and see our state of affairs for what it truly is. That being said, there is no doubt that a lot of emotional labor was unduly placed upon our hosts and other people of color to inform, correct, and instruct a lot of the people who simply did not understand things like, it is not cool just to walk up and touch someone else’s hair because you think it is fascinating. That is entitlement plain and simple, and it is an extension and an expression of colonization, one of the very things the people in the camp and elsewhere are working diligently to overcome.
Entering into another person’s personal space, and especially touching their body without prior consent because of either an implicit or explicit belief that you are entitled to do so (and this includes rape and rape culture) is a colonial and patriarchal act. Consent is vitally important to healthy relationships. Firstly, consent signifies that there is respect between two parties and an acknowledgement of both their humanity and their agency.
The Dakota Access Pipeline that Energy Transfer Partners is placing in the ground without the consent of Oceti Sakowin, is an act of colonization.
They have come into Oceti Sakowin lands, desecrated their ancestral burial grounds, and threaten to poison both the land and the headwaters with faulty technology that in addition, will also promote the distribution of CO2 from the burning of the oil, thus exacerbating the rate of climate change and the destruction of our environment. None of these outcomes are desirable to Oceti Sakowin, which is why they have gathered in opposition and put the call out for many forms of support. The Army Corps of Engineers, and Energy Transfer Partners have failed to respect the humanity and the agency of the peoples from Standing Rock, and by corollary the rest of us. The reason that so many in our society, and even among those who journeyed to Standing Rock to stand and work in solidarity, embodied and acted through this colonial lens is because that is what we have been indoctrinated with. Most do not understand that these every day, seemingly minor expressions are what permit the larger, more broadly impacting expressions to exist and persist. Although, it is true that these things will not be overcome in a day, and that it should not be the responsibility of those who have already been harmed so much by this system and society of injustice to emotionally labor with those who still harbor, whether knowingly or not, colonial and patriarchal prejudices, ideologies, and beliefs, they must be continuously worked on; simultaneously within the system and within ourselves.
More than anything else, what I felt most while I was at Oceti Sakowin Camp, from the people at the camp, was love. What I felt from the people in North Dakota who opposed the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline was sheer hatred and anathema. When I was abducted by the police in a most violent and unjust manner while the people were praying for protection of our water, the bystanders denied our humanity in a manner of which I have never felt in my life. I was accosted by a woman who stared me directly in my eyes as I lay hog-tied on the ground in agonizing pain, when she proclaimed;
“Prison food is horrible. The way they treat you in prison is horrible. I hope you enjoy it there. You are getting everything you deserve.”
This was said moments before a chant for “blue lives matter,” then a chant stating “oil is life” began. At this very moment, without restraint or regard for the welfare of people, the police were chasing unarmed, unthreatening, escaping, and innocent people tackling them like linebackers from the San Francisco 49ers, slamming them into walls and doors indiscriminately; merely selecting people of color they thought might have been involved in the prayer.
In stark opposition, as was mentioned above, much of the spirit of the people in the camp was along the lines of not dehumanizing as we all sought to establish and assert our own humanity. There was much forgiveness and grace, but more importantly, there was love. Criticism, when it is done constructively, and with the intention of improving the relations between relatives, is an act of kindness and love. I suppose that is why when that woman looked at me with such disdain, and spoke to me as if I was not a human being, that I did not become angry at her or her actions, but instead, I felt pity and sadness, and began to pray for her. Ironically, and quite contradictory to my previous sentiment, I also prayed for the police officers as I prayed for our water, our people, and our collective future.
I am still not a fan of and am starkly in opposition to the police institution as it exists, the militarization of local law enforcement all over the country, the prison industrial complex, the school to prison pipeline, the counterinsurgency against social movements to achieve justice and equity, but something definitely shifted in me during my time at Standing Rock.
Although, most of us who made the journey did not do so to learn or take anything home with us, I do not think it is possible for a person whose heart is open to spend time at Oceti Sakowin camp and not return home affected in some positive manner.
Many know that we need a new and redesigned legal and political system, which includes a new economic structure. However, more and more are coming to believe that the actual shift must occur on a spiritual level and must spread naturally among us as if it were a scent on the breeze that we all become aware of. A spiritual transition is not something that can or will be motivated by force, it is more about attraction than promotion or proselytizing. It is slower, but much longer lasting.
When this manifests, then many of the officers, militias, and military personnel who, because of the authoritative structure and plausible deniability who feel secure in participating in human rights violations, may begin not to silence their consciences and moral aptitudes any longer, and may begin to question the unchallenged consent to execute unjust orders against innocent human beings. If it truly manifested, then those institutions would no longer be necessary. The state will continue to issue orders, but the people will cease to follow them or step down all together. To be balanced, it has often been argued that the people in these positions lack consciences and that appealing to them is doom to failure, disillusionment, and further repression. That has more often than not been the case, so this perspective is completely rational. I have stood with my people in front of a line of cops screaming until we had no voices left dropping facts about the institution’s dehumanizing and brutal actions only to be beaten and unjustly arrested; and nothing seemed to change afterward. So, I have seen it with my own eyes. Yet, there are cops leaving the force all over the country because the brutal suppression of innocent people is not what they signed up for, and police departments have made public statements in direct opposition to the Trump policy of racially profiling people to inspect their citizenship documentation. Small steps to be certain, but it is evidence that a shift is also beginning to occur there as well. Like the Veterans who also journeyed to Standing Rock and participated in a major apology ceremony for their participation in the brutal suppression of indigenous peoples and made the declaration to oppose the practice. The indoctrination of lies and division that has sprung forth from Amerikan capitalism and imperialism is being torn apart and delegitimized.
Bernard LaFayette, the organizer from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who went to Selma Alabama and began the voter registration campaign there, also believed in and practiced seeing the humanity of our oppressors. There is a certain healing power in it, and it is also pointing toward a future when we see and feel more points of unity than division and difference among us. It is my belief that this shift in cultural understanding is well under way and is spreading. I felt more than the embers of this at Standing Rock, with people from all over the world, from many different backgrounds, with all kinds of stories all standing in unity under the leadership of the most impacted by this system, our Indigenous relatives. We all have much healing and growth ahead of us, and the state is ramping up its repressive regime, but it is inspiring to have witnessed and been party to the cultural shift of resistance that is underway, not only at Standing Rock, but all over the world.
Street crime, drug addiction, and delinquency have been asserted to be the result of the immorality of the impoverished. Therefore, poverty, which is a human creation, that is, it is an institution which is being blamed for the depravity of the people in our society. The extension of this is that those who are most disenfranchised and without the power to influence and shape society are being blamed for the creation of the institution of poverty. Yet, there cannot be poverty if there is not the massive consolidation of wealth. Thus, if the object of the “Tough on Crime” and “War on Drugs” campaigns that lead to the development and expansion of the Prison Industrial Complex were really to heal the immorality of our society, then the most obvious solution given the underlying assumptions would have been to eliminate poverty and diminish the pervasive disparities of this country. This would mean that the best method and strategy to limit the harms that occur in our society is to redistribute the control of wealth merely beyond the threshold of their being people who are impoverished. It is not the case that people do not want to work yet, it is the case that many cannot afford to work because the minimum wage in most states does not even begin to permit a family to escape poverty. When a person has a forty hour work week and still has to rely on welfare to eat and maintain a place to live, and at the end of the month are still in poverty is the quintessential example of the creation and maintenance of a system of impoverishment. But, this solution has been rejected because it is believed to present too much of a short-term burden in exchange for a long-term peace and moral maturity. Those who claim to be the most concerned with the immorality and depravity of our society, and who are also the most responsible for their existence, are also least interested in doing what is necessary to solve the problems they themselves have created. Instead, to retain their comforts and privilege they blame the people least responsible and most disenfranchised, while expanding the penal code and criminalizing even the smallest infractions, that are then arbitrarily enforced by the police institution, to put these people behind bars to further fatten the pockets of those most responsible by increasing the prison labor pool.
If there is a reasonable alternative to an inequality that causes undue and preventable harm, regardless of whether that injustice is a result of economic or political, social or institutional systems, structures, or pressures, then the reasonable alternative should be selected to achieve a more just and fair world. The hierarchical structure of our society that as a strategy for survival, however inadequate that strategy proves to be in reality causes unjust inequalities that lead to unjust health inequalities and neither are necessary conclusions. Therefore, as a society we should seek to implement a reasonable alternative, which entails a decentralization of decision making power to distribute control of our lives more broadly because lack of control is the greatest factor contributing to the unjust inequalities in our society.
Either inequalities are just or they are unjust. Inequalities are natural phenomena, so it cannot be the case that they are inherently unjust. For example, the day is naturally warmer than the night, as is the day also brighter than the night, and both are the result of the unequal distribution of the sun shining on different parts of the planet at different times. Gorillas are stronger than chimpanzees as a result of their natural physical compositions. Men can neither give birth to a child, nor can they carry a fetus to term because they lack the necessary physical components to do so. On the other hand, women, by natural physical composition are the sex of our species that bear the burden of both carrying fetuses to term and suffering the pain of giving birth. None of these examples are inherently unjust, because there are yet no reasonable alternatives to them and as such, there is no choice available to augment the distribution of inequalities. So, if inequalities of themselves are not unjust, then there must be other factors that commingle with inequalities, if people feel they are unjust.
Inequalities are unjust, if they are unnecessary and they are a cause of preventable harm. There is nothing moral or ethical about the day-night dichotomy described above. It is merely a description of what is. The mere fact that gorillas are physically stronger than chimpanzees, or for that matter one human as opposed to another, is also simply a description of the differences between them and as such, there is nothing immoral about the inequalities; in fact, they are amoral. The physical differences between men and women are not of themselves immoral or unjust, they are merely descriptions of what is. However, when natural difference lend themselves to alternative options, such as, who has control of if and when a woman is to carry and bear a child, then morality and justice come into effect. For instance, women in the United States were at one point considered by law as the legal property of the men they were married to, who also had claim to the woman’s reproductive capacity. Women had to fight a long and arduous battle for the right to control their own reproductive rights; i.e., for women to control the decision of if and when to elect to have a child, when to use contraception, and when to have an abortion. The unfair and biased control exercised over women’s sex difference by men was an injustice to women. Since men are not the ones who have to either suffer the pain of carrying a fetus to term or to suffer the pain of birth, and furthermore, since men have no claim to a woman’s body because it is not theirs, men have no right or justification to impose upon any woman that she must bear these burdens against her will if she elects not to suffer them. The redistribution of decision making authority from men to women over their own bodies was a just redistribution of control.
It is not the existence of physical differences e that makes the circumstances unjust, similar to the fact that natural inequalities are not inherently unjust, but rather, that when as a result of social interventions that exploit those differences and lead to unfair situations wherein harm occurs is what identifies situations as unjust. Therefore, because that which is unjust results from social interactions wherein there are reasonable alternatives that do not lead to harm or lead to less harm, we should obligate the actions and decisions that limit harm, and hold responsible those who violate those obligations and cause harm, while seeking as a positive duty to limit the unfair and unjust harms that occur.
Sex however, is not the only pertinent social factor that leads to unjust inequalities; class and social status are also relevant social considerations that lead to unjust outcomes and situations. Another example of unjust inequalities is one that results from the social hierarchical structure of our society as one of the consequences of the economic system, was revealed by the Whitehall Studies conducted in London. Michael Marmot, the author of Social Causes of Inequalities in Health, who analyzing the longitudinal Whitehall Studies identified that a person’s belief of a lack of control over their environment was one of the leading factors to diminished health. Marmot found that there is a gradient of mortality when the society is based upon a hierarchical structure of organization wherein each lower stratum has a higher mortality and disease rate than the stratum above it.  The Whitehall Study tracked men in white collar positions, none of whom were impoverished and all who were gainfully employed, and this is where the pattern was identified. The pattern was also consistent for the control of one’s living conditions and was exacerbated by economic constraints such as poverty, which reveals that social class; i.e., the social stratum of an entire group of people is vulnerable to this pattern. After analyzing trends of the identified pattern and how it shifts over time, Marmot correlated these shifts with governmental policy and suggests that: “[i]f it can vary, presumably as the unintended consequence of government policies and other trends, it should be possible to vary it as an intended consequence.” This reveals that the health inequalities observed in the Whitehall Studies are not necessarily inevitable, and because they are not necessarily inevitable that means there may be reasonable alternatives to the socially caused factors for the disparities and as such could be unjust.
It could be argued that the data is wrong, or that there are not reasonable alternatives to select from. Marmot however, is not the only one who has identified class differences as a relevant factor of health disparities and inequalities, Norman Daniels, has done so as well. Daniels, in the book, A Theory of Justice, in the chapter, “Three Questions of Justice,” identified that class was a greater determinant of health status than race. Given that there are reasonable alternatives to the manner in which health is distributed along economic lines, which is exacerbated by racial and gender factors, Daniels proposes this theory of justice: 
Failing to promote health in a population, that is, failing to promote normal functioning in it, fails to protect the opportunity of capability of people to function as free and equal citizens. Failing to protect that opportunity or capability when we could reasonably do otherwise…is a failure to provide us with what we owe each other. It is unjust.
One of the major issues in the manner in which health care and health in general is distributed across and throughout a society is that access tends to be delineated by economic capacity to purchase; that is, spending power. The problem with this as Daniels asserts is that it causes us to “treat health care as a commodity,” as something that is not of “special importance” to society, but that is not the reality. However, Daniels observes that as a society goods, such as jobs and education, are distributed “very unequally across subgroups that differ by race, ethnicity, gender, or class.” One’s position or stratum in the hierarchical structure directly correlates with one’s ability to control one’s environment and the circumstances of the conditions of their environment because success in the economic structure of the market is dependent upon one’s ability to purchase. This market structure however, fails Daniels’ theory of justice because the economic bar to access limits the opportunity for people to function as free and equal citizens.
Margaret Whitehead has also observed health disparities that directly relate to the social stratum people belong to. In Whitehead’s article, The Concepts and Principles of Equity and Health, it is noted that “there is consistent evidence that disadvantaged groups have poorer survival chances, dying at a younger age than more favoured groups.” One of the reasons for this difference that Whitehead identifies is that there are inequalities in access and quality of health services and that “those most in need of medical care, including preventive care, are least likely to receive a high standard of service.” Whitehead lists seven “differentials” that will help to clarify whether inequalities are unnecessary and unfair, or simply are inequalities:
(1) Natural, biological variation.
(2) Health-damaging behavior if freely chosen, such as participation in certain sports and
(3) The transient health advantage of one group over another when the group is first to adopt a
health-promoting behaviour (as long as other groups have the means to catch up fairly soon).
(4) Health-damaging behavior where the degree of choice of lifestyles is severely restricted.
(5) Exposure to unhealthy, stressful living and working conditions.
(6) Inadequate access to essential health and other public services.
(7) Natural selection or health-related social mobility involving the tendency for sick people to
move down the social scale.
The first three Whitehead suggests are simply inequalities or are acceptable and I would agree as it is similar to what I have argued above. However, the last four differentials all share relevance to the type of unjust inequalities that can be distinguished among the social strata of the hierarchical structure of society. In particular to Marmot’s discussion is (5), “exposure to unhealthy, stressful living and working conditions” because it pertains to the lack of control one has the capacity to express over their environment that leads to health inequalities.
It does not appear as though the data is incorrect since similar data has been identified by multiple sources and they draw very similar conclusions, so the remaining objections to the inequalities being unjust will fall upon the reasonableness of the alternatives. To deny that there are alternative social structures is to deny the reality of the world in which we live because not all societies have such stark hierarchical structures. In addition to that, it is possible to craft social and economic policies that will have the effect of leveling-up the least-well-off, the lower strata, and to raise their standard of living and personal control of their environments to a more equitable distribution. It would further be possible to augment the capitalist structure of the political system so that more participation from a broader spectrum of the population would result in a greater sense of control of their lives. A system of collective ownership with collective bargaining could be instituted for how companies organize themselves, thus providing people with more control over their working environments. In fact, Whitehead recommends “decentralizing power and decision making” as one of the core actions to be taken to mitigate unjust inequalities within society.
If it is argued that these recommendations are unfair because they suggest a shift in culture and that it is not right to seek to change culture, then the most obvious response is that culture, by definition, is a social strategy for survival. Because culture is a strategy that means it is an institution, a human creation and as such was not inevitable, but rather, something that can both grow and change. It further means, that because it can grow and change that there are potential alternatives as have just be evinced, and that because it is social it is the factor earlier identified that if harm results, is the factor responsible for the injustice. Therefore, if the culture is unjust and there is a reasonable alternative, and there is, then there is also an obligation to strive toward that alternative in order to limit the harms resulting from the inequalities inherent in the current culture.
The goal is not to create a completely egalitarian society or to rid the world of all inequalities, but rather to seek a more just society for all members. In regard to this Whitehead wrote: “[w]e will never be able to achieve a situation where everyone in the population has the same level of health, suffers the same type and degree of illness and dies after exactly the same life span. This is not an achievable goal, nor even a desirable one.” It is however the goal, to respect the humanity and the dignity of each and every human being, to honor the agency and the autonomy of every person, and to accept that we all need to feel as though we have control over our own lives. The reality is that we all have a shared interest in seeking to achieve the greatest possible aggregate health because that is something that is necessary for us all to flourish, which is what I believe the true definition of justice is. Conversely, that which intervenes in the best possible, or the greatest potential for the flourishment of all people is unjust if there is a reasonable alternative to select. Many of the inequalities that exist today, when measured by the differentials proposed by Margaret Whitehead reveal them to be unjust. Thus, we as a society should seek to limit their impacts by reducing the impacts of the hierarchical structure of our society.
 Marmot, Michael “Social Causes of Inequality in Health.” In Public Health Ethics and Equity, edited by Sudhir Anand, Fabienne Peter, and Amartya Sen, 37-61. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 38.
 Marmot, 41
 Daniels, Norman. A Theory of Justice. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 14.
 Daniels, 20.
 Daniels, 13.
 Whitehead, Margaret, “The Concepts and Principles of Equity and Health,” Health Promotional International vol 6 (1991), 218.
 Whitehead, 219.
 Whitehead, 223.
 Whitehead, 219.
Before beginning I must first acknowledge that we are on stolen Duwamish and Salish land.
Second, I would thank you for making the time to visit us at the University of Washington Governor Inslee. There are myriad pressing issues you could have selected to devote your time to, but you have chosen to invest your time with us and your concern and interest has not gone unnoticed. Thank you.
Today I am going to speak on issues of equity and how they pertain to the qualities and characteristics of the kind of Board of Regents members we desire here at the University of Washington and why. Equity is not blind it is very intentional and it differs drastically from equality. Equality as I have come to understand it is like placing everyone from different socio-economic, racial, gender, and citizenship status backgrounds on the same starting line. On the one hand this would seem just and fair because of the concept of equality, but what it lacks is an understanding of preexisting conditions for some that translate into unfair advantages for others. Many of the non-white students here at UW are also first generation college students, which may mean that our families do not possess as much disposable income to assist us in times of need, or that when it comes to academic concerns or administrative issues they are unable or incapable of helping us. Gender is a fluid and evolving concept of identity, but one thing that is certain is that when a student does not fit into a particular definition of gender they face discrimination and marginalization. And citizenship status can often pose an almost insurmountable barrier to affording tuition or other helpful resources, regardless of the reasons a particular individual’s status is in question. These preexisting conditions and many others can make admittance into and successful completion of university programs difficult, if not, nearly impossible for many. Merely placing everyone on the same starting line is simply not enough. On the other hand, equity seeks not to establish a similar starting point rather it seeks to garner similar outcomes regardless of preexisting conditions.
Last week students from universities across the country staged demonstrations in solidarity with the students of the University of Missouri who were protesting racial injustices and unfair responses from their administration. The demographics of University of Missouri are not unlike University of Washington, which is also a predominantly white institution; black students make up roughly eight percent and three percent of the undergraduate populations respectively. Earlier this year the students of the University of Washington staged what has been reported as the largest demonstration on campus since the 1960s when we declared a State of Emergency because of the racial and class disparities on campus, and walked out on February 25, 2015. During that demonstration we were subjected to racial epithets and as a result of further reprisals intent to silence our people through violence, which went unpunished, we determined it was necessary to challenge the unjust system of impunity with further demonstrations, much the same as the students at the University of Missouri.
These demonstrations are part of a much larger national struggle challenging the racial and class inequities and injustices within institutions such as law enforcement, the prison industrial complex, and education that reemerged onto the agenda of the general public with the Black Lives Matter movement. Police brutality and murder by police officers are major problems because they equate to state sanctioned violence against the people, which is extremely problematic because this violence is perpetuated in the name of and purported to be for the benefit of society. We are members of this society and this treatment is disreputable, and repugnant, humiliating and dehumanizing. Moreover, police brutality, which is nothing new to poor and minority communities is but one of the many factors that constitute the negative preexisting conditions that layer and stack upon each other to consolidate into a system of oppression and inequity.
The School-to-Prison Pipeline is also a major factor contributing to the racial, class, and ethnic disparities that confront many of our communities. People of color and those with mental disabilities are three times more likely to be disciplined while at school. From the ninth grade onward, one suspension or expulsion makes a student over fifty percent more likely to wind up in juvenile detention. Once in juvenile detention they become seventy-five percent more likely to end up in the adult penitentiary system and, once in that system they are more than eighty-five percent likely to return. Many people equate these statistics to inherently ‘bad’ youth, but Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow, reveals that there is just as much if not more crime committed by white people. And one of our very own professors at the University of Washington, Katherine Beckett, the author of Making Crime Pay, has shown racial profiling is real and a serious problem even here in Seattle. So, it is not the case that students and people of color are ‘bad,’ but it is the case that we are being punished at disparaging and unfair rates.
The prison industrial complex is an institution grounded and founded upon extracting profit from slave labor. The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which supposedly outlawed slavery made one exception in the case of a person being convicted of committing a “crime.” That short clause provided justification for the creation, expansion, and explosion of the prison labor system. It began with convict leasing to plantations and mines that used to be worked by slaves, and now the prison industrial complex produces products that range from military equipment, to furniture, to home appliances and Correctional Industries’ website looks like any other online shopping website where people can purchase products. More troubling is the relative monopoly that Correctional Industries is granted by Washington State Law. RCW 39.26.251 states that all state agencies which include both universities and colleges must purchase the products made by Class II type prison labor. What this all equates to is an inequitable system of oppression entrenched in our largest and most prestigious institutions, which forms many of the preexisting conditions that stack and layer upon one another to create an inequitable system.
I was the president of my high school and the treasurer of North Seattle College and I used to be a business owner and helped the Department of Planning and Development of the City of Seattle revise it Job Order Contracting, so I am very familiar with bureaucratic governmental organizations. I was also part of the Divest UW coalition who for three years negotiated with and challenged the Board of Regents until we won a divestment from coal fire power earlier this year. I was also part of the team that helped draft and pass the City of Seattle City Council Resolution 31614: “Zero Use of Detention for Youth” in Seattle on September 21, 2015. What has been a consistent pattern is the nearly ubiquitous feeling that we as people are not being heard by the representatives that are supposed to be working on our behalf. Our UW President, Ana Mari Cauce, has done a lot to shift that phenomenon and also to address the racial and equity issues at the university, but we must do more. Although, I do not agree with all of the capitalistic and profit driven motives of the institution, I do understand that the university is operating within a capitalist system. Nonetheless, I and the many people I represent find it deplorable to be dehumanized and objectified, being reduced to dollar signs. When a human being is “thingified,” as Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called it, it dissolves one’s perception of their moral culpability to that individual and that is problematic. We need some Board of Regents members who are not the heads of major corporations, who are leaders in marginalized communities and can represent our concerns. We need Board of Regents members who have a firm understanding of how interlocking and intersecting forms of systemic and structural oppression function to foster inequitable conditions for many people. So that when we bring our grievances we feel heard, are heard, and our concerns are responded to appropriately and in a timely manner. And most importantly, we demand that we are respected as Human Beings.
Setting out for justice, challenged at every turn
Only been centuries, I’d hoped, that we’d learned
But we still hate each other, just, want the world to burn
like here is your mother, cremated in an urn
Created in a flash can never be replicated
but the human intellect, selective and sedated
The individual over-weighted,
slated to be evaluated,
personal gain delineated
Look at the ones who finally made it
Sellin out they people to fatten they pockets lint
think they gettin somthin, but they souls have been spent
forgotten who they are, and what the movement meant
So, it is no wonder, that we’ve barely made a dent
Liberation from these chains, those were the calls that rang
Up and Down the streets, of a country so deranged
Estranged from its people, Hatred spewing from its steeples
Addicted to the havoc, like, the poison in a needle
Fear to be without, Hunger causes doubt
Will change what we’re about, till we purge the poison out
Taught to stand alone, we have to make our own
Buildin Brick by Brick, until, we can call it home
But, these are the chains that bind us
The gears, of the machine that grinds us
denies us the vital relations
Marx called it alienation, I call it constipation
Yet, Either way, it is the clot, that clogs the heart of our nation
So we stand at odds, casting lots and throwing rocks
Killing those who stand beside us, fearing plots
Co-Intel insidious, but something much more hideous
the pity is, we are worse than cops
Because our skin grants us in
we think an ally, even friend
But programmed by the system
opponent where it ends
We think of us, we think of me
We think of all our family needs
We think of all the harm been done
We think of all the treacherous deeds
And we come again to see
that beyond all the rhetoric
Alone is how we came, and alone is how we’ll leave
Till it shatters the meridians
And fills our hearts with greed
We assassinate and take, cuz we failed to believe
Climate change is both a global issue and an environmental justice issue that threatens people of color lives the most.
The same moral justifications that support the Department of Justice and its derivative the police institution, which permits the murder of Black and Brown people, also serves as the moral foundation for maintaining economic disparities, political disenfranchisement, environmental injustice and as a result climate change. If we want to stop killing of black people, we cannot only look at the direct killings, done by police officers we must also look at the slow, insidious killing of black people through environmental pollutants.
As with most things in this racist system, marginalized communities like people of color, migrants and poor people get the short end of the stick. (Poor) Black people are literally breathing different air than rich white people, the places with the lowest air quality and highest levels of toxins are also the places where the majority of minorities live due to the lower cost of living in these places. This is why Black people have the highest rates of asthma and why black woman have high rates of infant mortality. Although climate change is affecting the entire planet, as with everything else, black people are getting the worst of it. We have already seen this during Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, where Black people were the last to be rescued from the wreckage, and with climate change these disasters are becoming more frequent. As natural disaster frequency increases, those with money and power will be able to protect their own, leaving marginalized communities to fend for themselves.
If Black Lives Matter as much as White lives, we would have already done something about climate change. But it is not the elite and privileged in the USA, England or Germany who is already being affected by climate change but black and brown lives throughout the rest of the world. Droughts have already caused thousands of preventable deaths in Africa, the monsoons are already drowning people in India, the decreased snow-pack is already causing shortages of freshwater in South America, the melting glaciers have already caused thousands of Indigenous people in the Arctic to be displaced and the rising tides have already risen over Pacific Islanders homes. The failure of the Global community to take action on climate change to stop these impacts tells us that those in power do not believe #BlackLivesMatter.
To oppose one part of the system, and in particular Police Brutality, without recognizing the larger superstructure that is maintained by racist ideologies will not serve to unhinge the system that oppresses us. This superstructure, just like police brutality, is hinged to capitalism, and capitalism, as Malcom X said, cannot exist without racism. Capitalism is an extension of colonialism, which entails the exploitation of both our people and the earth, dislocating and destroying the relationships countless peoples once had with the earth, and commodified both. The White Supremacist Ideology emerged with colonialism as the Europeans systematically exploited the labor of people of color; the Indigenous from the ‘Americas’ and the Black People stolen from the African continent to be enslaved. This is the ideology and system of justifications that has been transmitted to the contemporary corporations that continue to exploit the people and the earth. So, opposing police brutality and not the slow, insidious killing of black people through environmental pollutants is simply not enough.
Climate Change matters to Black Lives because we are the first ones impacted and the most impacted globally, and at its base are the core racist ideologies that have led us to challenge police brutality.
First of all, it is not just apathy or a lack of concern for particular communities that is the problem; it is the blatant oppression and harm to particular communities that is the problem. What Shell and other fossil fuel companies are engaged in is Environmental Racism. Now, I know this may be a concept that is difficult for most people to wrap their heads around so I will explain it to you.
When people in America hear the term racism, they tend to think of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), Jim Crow and the segregation with all its relevant signage, and Slavery. When people in America think of the consequences of racism they tend to think of Lynchings, Police Brutality, or events such as the Holocaust or the Genocide that occurred in Rwanda.
What is distinct about the list above is that they are all easy to identify, they all possess the characteristic of a particular individual or group as being the cause of the harm done. To flesh that out, the person or group responsible for the harm is seen in proximity to the person or group that is harmed. For example, in these recent police shootings of Black People that are plaguing our country, we can easily trace the path of the bullet from the gun it was fired from, which includes the person who pulled the trigger, to the person who was shot. A person with no scientific experience could identify this.
Climate Change on the other hand, has an issue of proximity, wherein the cause ‘seems,’ and only seems, to be dislocated from the harm that is done. Nothing about the atmosphere occurs in isolation, there is not microcosm about emitting metric tons of carbon on one side of the globe; as to imply that it will not affect the other side of the globe. A teeter-totter is a prime example and elementary algebra is another; what is done to one side of the equation directly affects what occurs on the other. However, regardless of the distance or the time between the cause and the effect, that does not absolve the causal chain and responsibility of what is done on one side of the globe.
The largest consumers of fossil fuel are those in Western Civilizations, such as, the United States, which has a Carbon Footprint of 4 Earths. What that means is that if everyone on the planet were to consume resources at the rate at which US citizens do, that it would require four earths worth of resources to meet that demand. While conversely, countries such as Ethiopia have a carbon footprint of 0.80. Thus, the largest production and emission of carbon is coming from countries such as the US, which is being supplied by companies like Shell at rates vastly surpassing those of countries not counted as being members of Western Civilization.
When carbon is emitted into the atmosphere it is distributed throughout the globe creating a sort of insulating blanket that locks in the heat that our planet naturally receives from the sun in terms of solar energy. This is a naturally occurring phenomenon that has been cycling for millions of years, but since the Industrial Revolution in the 19th & 20th Centuries in many Western Civilization countries, we have exacerbated and augmented this naturally occurring process and exponentially increased the rate at which the insulating blanket is forming. The best scientist in overwhelming consensus (something like 98%) have identified a two degree limit that will result in a plus or minus 25 degrees respectively throughout the planet. The IPCC or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provided this research and the consequences of not changing our behavior to our governments. The results will be #Desertification depletion of water resources, and rising ocean levels.
Now, most of the countries in Western Civilization have the resources, technology and infrastructure to protect their countries from the harms of climate change. But, the best scientific models do not identify the areas to be most impacted by climate change to be n the Global North, which are primarily populated by people who either are white or look white. The regions that will be most impacted by climate change will be in the Global South, which is populated primarily by people of color, many of who are indigenous peoples, who lack the resources, technology and infrastructure to mediate the harms that will result from climate change.
Here it is prudent to incorporate into this analysis the effects of Colonialism and its offspring Capitalism and its foundation of Liberalism and Hierarchical structures. Indigenous peoples throughout the planet have been held in a subjugated position for centuries, and have been continuously denied the ability to develop their own infrastructures and economies. Each time they have attempted to throw off the oppressive reality, they have been confronted with State Sanctioned Violence usually in terms of a military force, but often times in the form of police institutions suppressing their assertions of autonomy and independence from Western Civilization. These Anti-Colonial and Anti-Capitalism movements are nothing new and have been occurring since the advent of colonialism. To clue you in to how far the government and its tool of indoctrination Public School is willing to go to restrict access to this truth take Tupac Shakur for instance. He was named in honor of Tupac Amaru, who was an indigenous revolutionary in Peru in 1780-1781 which at the time was under the colonial rule of Spain. The Crown dispatched a treacherous, rapacious, villainous, genocidal army who murdered indiscriminately the indigenous population of the Andes to suppress the uprising. This was followed by the disbanding and rewriting of the history of the Inca people and the Tawantinsuyu Empire that the Spanish Empire ‘conquered’ in South America. The government, the state, would like the people to believe that the indigenous people, first of all, no longer exist in the lands of their ancestors; and second, that they consented to their lands being stolen and their brethren being viciously exterminated because it makes occupying our lands much more palatable for the average American.
That needed to be fleshed out because I foresaw the rebuttal that if the indigenous people had only ‘assimilated‘ into Western Civilization or ‘made their own way’ that they too would have the resources, technology and infrastructure to mediate the harms of climate change; that I have shown they are not even responsible for. So, that argument will not work here.
This now brings us full-circle back to the issue of causality and the fact that the Global North is engaged in Environmental Racism against the Global South. Racism does not require that the person or group responsible for the discrimination be conscious or cognizant of the thoughts or practices they are engaged in that is causing harm to others. Furthermore, racism requires a system of hierarchical power that stratifies and relegates particular groups of people to positions of inferiority. There is no such thing as Reverse Racism and the very term is repugnant. Anyone who argues that reverse racism is a thing first and foremost acknowledges that racism exists. The second thing they acknowledge is that it does cause harm, and this is revealed by the fact that they do not want racism done to them because of its harmful characteristics. And third, it acknowledges that they do not want to do anything to change the impacts of racism because the argument is usually made in response to a suppressed people or their allies promoting some project, policy, practice, or legislation to make the system more equitable. A person who benefits from the hierarchical system of power that stratifies and relegates particular groups to positions of inferiority does not need to be cognizant of the benefit they receive from the system to benefit from it. This is White Privilege and as Sarra Tekola has put it, Climate Change Denial is a “white privilege” because they do not have to be conscious and cognizant of the impacts of climate change, given that they are not in the Global South.
The Shell Oil Rig that is parked in the harbor in Seattle the Polar Pioneer which the corporation is attempting to ship to the Arctic off the coast of Alaska is a continuation of the colonialism, capitalism, liberalism, and oppression of indigenous peoples throughout the entire planet. If they gain access to that deposit of oil it is guaranteed that we will cross the two degree threshold the IPCC has outlined as the point of no return before we enter into a feedback loop of climate change and global harm. If Shell is ignorant of the Global Impact their enterprise will have, that does not absolve them of responsibility or of the blatant racism of their actions. The Selfishness of those who benefit by white privilege is racism when that selfishness has an impact on people of color.