As part of a world-wide demonstration against the North Dakota Access Pipeline, a very-well-attended rally, demonstration, and march occurred at the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in downtown L.A. Mainstream media coverage was sparse—though Channel 11 interviewed Gloria Arellanes, a Tongva, live. Meanwhile, other actions took place in 300 cities around the world (200 of them reportedly in the U.S.). Here in the States, participating cities included San Francisco (where, according to the Pacifica Evening News, Market Street was shut down. Watch for more at https://www.indybay.org/
); Portland, Oregon, where Portland IndyMedia reported over 500 participants (see: http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2016/11/433790.shtml
); Columbus, Ohio; Montpelier, Vermont; and the University of Denver (Colorado), where hundreds also turned out.
November 15, 2016: Popular opposition to the North Dakota Access Pipeline was apparent well before I arrived at the protest site. As various protesters, including myself, walked toward the demonstration, locals responded positively to signs we were carrying.
At the site itself, passing motorists honked in support. Many participants stood on the freeway overpass with signs evoking honks from the busy 110 Freeway.
Turnout for the demonstration was quite impressive—especially for the middle of a weekday. At the time of this writing there was no official estimate, but turnout appeared to be in the hundreds. In my 14 years of demonstrating this is one of the thickest crowds I recall seeing (outside of marches). Just walking through it was very hard; it was almost solid people. Additional protesters stood across the street. There was diversity in age and ethnicity. I recognized activists from many areas of Southern California: Topanga*, Pasadena, South Pasadena, Montrose, Northeast L.A., and the West Side.
As far as I could tell, police and representatives of the Army Corp were working harmoniously with event organizers in managing the crowd.
“. . . I recognize so many relatives and people from all nations, and I'm so thankful that you are here,” said Tongva elder Gloria Arellanes. The crowd was so thick I could barely see her or any other speakers, even though I managed to get 10 or less feet away. She then gave a prayer, which I refrained from recording. I didn't know if she was uncomfortable with that as is sometimes the case. She then described conditions on reservations as they are--even without toxic and destructive pipelines--and she spoke out against deportations. Auntie/Grandma Gloria subsequently went inside the building, along with Indigenous children, others in the Native community, and actress-activist Susan Sarandon, to deliver a letter as well as letters written by individuals.
Meanwhile, others addressed the crowd. One statement that particularly struck me was said by a male: “If you want to make America great, give it back to the Natives.”
Multiple speakers advised people to take money out of banks invested in the Dakota Access Pipeline. Jay Ponti identified HSBC, Wells Fargo, Chase, Bank of America, and Citi Bank as such investors. Besides closing accounts, he suggested reporting it on social media. #BankExit.
Lydia Ponce of Idle No More, Los Angeles reminded people to keep pressure on President Obama to grant clemency to “Brother Peltier,” an innocent man (even the judge who sentenced him says his trial was unfair) with ongoing health problems. She gave the number to the White House, 202/456-1111. “And while you're at it, [tell them to] free Mumia Abul Jamal,” she added.
The immigration/refugee issue came up again. “I come from the deserts of Arizona,” said another speaker, “where thousands and thousands of people are trying to cross, and they die in the desert, because of no water. Traditionally we welcomed everyone. We honored them, we honored their differences, we honored their songs, we stood next to them, we sat by a fire. Today we isolate ourselves from them. Today many of us are at fault of isolating ourselves from the rest of the world. I am not an American, I am all of them. I am from traditional territories of my people. . . .”
The same speaker also spoke of the need to decolonize. (The need to avoid or withdraw from colonized schools was another recurring sentiment this day.) “. . . Don't listen to the lies that they continually tell you. Pull your kids out of these western bought-off schools that continue to colonize your children and even colonize you. Relatives, you have to decolonize from what you eat, the way you think, the way you see things, the way you act. You have to decolonize so that we can live together. We want to live together, we want to live with you, but some of you are too destructive, and you can't live that way. . . .”
When the delegation to the Army Corp came back outside, one member, introduced as “a relative,” commented: “I believe the gentleman that we talked to here has a heart. [Cheering.] He knows the difference between the people here and the people there and the Corp here and the Army Corp there. But the truth is we all have challenges. . . . We had dialog about the concerns of the future of our nations, of the humanity of all people. They know that they have a challenge against powers that be, but they realize that we're here, standing here where they would like to stand if they didn't wear the uniform that they represent. So at least we have a chance to have someone represent the reason that we come together for the right of life of water. . . . ”
Gloria Arellanes then gave her report. “I want to tell you the children were awesome and incredible. They had voice in there, and they were not afraid to say what they said, and they said it in a good way. I'm very proud them. . . . And we could hear you in there, whew! So if we heard you, they heard you. Good job everybody.
“But I think it was a very good meeting. He said he would forward those letters. He was very gracious to the children, and thank goodness they came because I insisted that they put the children in there. They didn't want to let the children in at first, but I said, 'They need to learn, they need to see how things work.' Because our children are very bright and very not afraid to speak up. [Applause.} So I'm pleased.”
She emphasized to the Army Corp representative concern about the time factor. Work on the pipeline is going 24 hours a day.
The next member of the delegation to speak was actress-activist Susan Sarandon. “. . . I don't know if you know that the United Nations just left Standing Rock and declared that it was inhumane circumstances there and have declared it an emergency. So it's taken the U.N. to go into the situation and say that people cannot be treated this way. [Cheering.]
“Now this past week has been very upsetting for some people after this election. People are depressed, people are angry. There are a lot of people that have taken to the streets. I just want to say that we don't have the luxury of being depressed and angry at this time. [Cheering.] This is a pressing issue. If only we had that many people that were aware of what's going on in Standing Rock and would be standing with my brothers and sisters to put an end to what is going on there. . . .” She, too, underscored the importance of divesting from the banks involved in the pipeline (“That's how we got South Africa to turn around.”) and calling President Obama. “It's not enough to just live Tweet , it's not enough to just pass things on.”
Sarandon also commended the movement for its non-violence and emphasized the importance of it.
Several of the latter statements can be seen and heard in full on Lauren Steiner's live video stream on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Lauren.Steiner.LA/videos/vb.1138104490/10211048826033408/?type=2&theater
Shortly after the report back, a march proceeded to Pershing Square.
*Topanga is an original Tongva placename meaning “the point of the mountain range which ends there in the sea.” (Source: The First Angelinos: The Gabrielino Indians of Los Angeles by William McCawley, page 61.) Other Tongva placenames still in use include Cahuenga, Pacoima, Cucamonga, Tujunga, and Azusa (originally Asuksangna).
Tapo, as in Tapo Canyon, is said to be a Chumash-Tataviam placename (perhaps meaning abalone or shell or limestone deposits (McCawley, 35)), and Malibu derived from the Chumash name Humaliwu (“thought to mean 'as the surf pounds loudly'”). Reported by Dr. Chester King in this publication: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28577838-native-american-cultural-sites-in-the-santa-monica-mountains
Simi is another placename thought to have originated from a Chumash village, in this case the village of Shimiyi (see: http://articles.latimes.com/1998/apr/24/local/me-42584