Written by Ava Graciela Rutter, Staff Writer
On Oct 31, a global Facebook meme encouraged users worldwide to “check in” their location at Standing Rock, North Dakota, the epicenter of the #NoDAPL movement. The posts attempted to prevent police efforts to track protestors of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a controversial interstate oil project running through Native American sacred grounds. Instead, the online posts accomplished something better than its original goal: It brought public attention to the issue of marginalization in the US.
“I first found out about the protests fairly recently through social media,” says Meghan Puich, who participated in the check-in movement after some deliberation. “To be completely honest, I was very skeptical at first of the credibility of the post and the actual impact it was making.”
It was this skepticism that inspired her to investigate further, and it turned out to be relevant to her environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz. Despite safety precautions, the pipeline poses a risk of contaminating the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s primary water source.
This conflict of interest and environmental health reflects how “the government continues to dance around the issue of climate change and water depletion.” Puich argues this is because “it is not an issue that will really ‘sway’ the mind of a voter, and it also impacts many corporations and government beneficiaries.”
This governmental oversight has led to serious repercussions for minority communities with little power over authority decisions, says Hailey Madison Slate, who posted her Standing Rock check-in from Scotland.
“This isn’t the first time the US government has blatantly ignored water quality concerns in minority communities,” she explains. “Just look at the ongoing situation in Flint, Michigan, a predominantly black working-class community.”
Though both the Flint and Standing Rock situations have been attempts to cut costs, the pipeline running near Standing Rock Sioux’s reservation does present a variety of larger-scale benefits. The $4-billion project was proposed in 2014 as a major player in weaning the US from foreign oil and integral to efficiently providing domestic transportation fuel.
But larger-scale benefits don’t necessarily improve the bigger picture, Slate points out. “The billionaires behind the DAPL want to liberate America from its dependence on foreign oil. American minorities and the working class however, will not experience this liberation,” especially those displaced or harmed by the completion of pipeline construction.
At first, it wasn’t Native Americans at risk of water contamination; it was a majority-white community. “The original Dakota pipeline was originally planned to run through Bismarck,” reveals Puich. Upon considering construction costs and the community risks to the 90%-white city, however, the project was redirected to Standing Rock. It’s “just another example of continual inequality and white supremacist-driven motives found in our society today,” she contends.
This racial discrepancy extends into infringement of religious rights.
“My opinion of the Standing Rock situation at first was shocked,” says Sarah Erckenbrack, because “historically religious areas have been preserved by law since the founding of the nation. To infringe upon these rights, given to almost every other religious institution, seems to be a demonstration of how business can . . . supersede the rights of freedom of religion.”
She was moved to action after a passionate discussion of the situation with her best friend, who posted a “check-in” on Facebook. Erckenbrack saw it as an opportunity to stand for her opinion and stand in solidarity.
Her goal in participating on Facebook was not to implement massive change but rather inspire a change of mind. After all, “liking or posting a social status has shown not to be life-changing, but awareness-raising.”
For many, this was the lasting value of the Facebook check-ins. Puich agrees, “I came to realize that this post had actually made me come to research the issue itself and really develop my own thoughts and opinions.”
She adds, “I believe it’s only through activism and public awareness that change will really take place.”