Student Organizations Rally for Standing Rock


Hunter Blas speaks at the teach-in hosted by the students of the DDCSJ. (ELIZABETH LANDRY/THE OBSERVER)


Throughout the month of November, student organizations at Fordham’s Lincoln Center (FLC) campus  gathered in solidarity with the Dakota Access Pipeline protests taking place on Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota. Not only did students participate in sharing information directly from protesters on social media, but also held a meditation for awareness and a bake sale to benefit protesters’ winter preparations.

The source of the dispute is the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s assertion that crude oil pipeline company Dakota Access’s $3.8 billion construction plans threaten historically sacred lands and burial sites now possessed by the U.S. government. They also argue that it has the potential to devastate the main water sources for the reservation’s communities and agriculture. Beginning in late August, protesters—or “water protectors”—have protested the pipeline, entering the site during construction, peacefully demonstrating outside of the site and setting up a camp that now houses thousands of them.

Protesters have faced resistance from the company and the state since early September, including the documented use of attack dogs by private security and clashes with local and state police. Despite a dearth of mainstream media coverage for much of the protest’s duration, calls for the federal government to step in resulted in the Dec. 4 announcement by the Army Corps of Engineers that an easement necessary to the construction plan will not be granted, which effectively grounds the project. Months of largely social media-driven organizing, however, elicited that response.

During the last days of October, a rumor circulated across social media suggested that Standing Rock police were using Facebook check-ins to track activists protesting the pipeline. It read, in part: “Water Protectors [sic] are calling on EVERYONE to check-in at [SR], ND to overwhelm and confuse them. This is concrete action that can protect people putting their bodies and well-beings [sic] on the line that we can do without leaving our homes.”

Many Fordham Lincoln Center (FLC) students shared this message on their Facebook pages, joining more than 1.5 million reported check-ins in a daylong period. Queer and Indigenous Studies professor Zein Murib, who sees the “#NoDAPL” social media contingent of Standing Rock protests as a dynamic example of contemporary progressive activism, said that the appeal of the question of land struggle involved at Standing Rock is natural for an FLC student to empathize with.

“The campus at [FLC] replaced a housing development that had been here before and part of ‘cleaning up’ that area of town was displacing those people and creating Lincoln Center, and giving part of that land to Fordham University,” Murib said. “I think the students are aware of the politics and so there is, I imagine, a connection to land struggle there.”

She also brought the issue into the context of settler colonialism when comparing recent protests in New York City with the Standing Rock demonstrations. “You know, we want voting rights or the right to influence government in these ways,” she said. “What they’re asking for is sovereignty. They’re saying, this is our land, and that is being totally violated by corporations, by the Canadian government, by the U.S. government.”

Although a spokeswoman of the Morton County Sheriff’s Department released a statement denying the use of the check-ins to track protesters, the post’s popularity showed that many on social media were willing to voice support.

At FLC, students at the Dorothy Day Center for Service and Justice (DDCSJ) were putting together a plan to bring awareness of the issue to more of the community. “We’re looking at doing a teach-in next spring, pulling in resources from outside [the school] who really know about this issue, and bringing it to campus,” said DDCSJ social justice leader Hunter Blas, FCLC ’17.

On Nov. 17 DDCSJ held an “intentional meditation” on the plaza during the activity block. A small group came and listened to prepared information regarding the history of US-Native American Indian legal relations and the protest situation, and participated in a short meditation led by Associate Coordinator at FLC Katheryn Crawford.

“We are all part of this earth, we are all connected to Mother Earth and so we have to be in solidarity and really stand to allow that to happen,” Crawford intoned. “To be in connection, even if we are in New York City, we really want to stand and be, in intention and in prayer and in thoughts, for the water protectors of Standing Rock.”

Crawford said afterward, “I think it’s a really great opportunity especially going into Thanksgiving, to really get people interested and to really think about us as a community holding space for Standing Rock.”

Two weeks later, Global Outreach (GO!) Lincoln Center held bake sale tables on the indoor plaza where all proceeds would be donated to “assisting Standing Rock and the people’s needs.” Not only were donations of any amount accepted, but small cards were made with online resources and links for more information on how to aid protesters.

GO! President Kyndal Jackson, FCLC ’17, and Vice President Caroline Grondahl, FCLC ’17, were among the students who spent time at the tables. “It’s so important that we get the word out to students who might not know about this,” Jackson said. “We want people to know that we are with the water protectors and how they can get involved as well.” Many students stopped by the table throughout the day, raising almost $400 in donations.

As of Dec. 4, many news outlets reported that the Army Corps of Engineers had announced it would look for an alternate route for the pipeline, drawing both cheers and doubt from protesters and activists. The camp community will remain, and their lead organizer has asked supporters to continue to put pressure on the federal government.