The title of the article, Defending Standing Rock, Combating State Repression, caught my attention this morning. I remember how shocking it was to see police in full riot gear and military vehicles facing nonviolent, often praying people at Standing Rock. As it was also shocking to see militarized personnel and vehicles deployed in 2014 on the streets of St. Louis after Michael Brown was murdered by law enforcement.
Most of us have become numb to those sights and tactics in cities across the country by militarized police. To see this in response to Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality, which often creates a vicious cycle.
Then to have commentators and legislators brazenly use the BLM protests as justification for the presence of armed civilians in the Michigan capitol, armed and violent insurrectionists in the US capitol.
Rather than condemning these violent acts, large numbers of elected officials publicly condone them. It is hard to see how this will not continue to escalate. That we will see increasingly predatory militaristic responses to justice protests.
Ryan Fatica: There’s been years of legal battles and all sorts of repressive tactics that law enforcement has used to respond to and to shut down the movement that emerged in response to the Dakota Access Pipeline. You’ve been involved in much of those efforts. Can you help us understand better what kind of tactics law enforcement used there and what the outcome of some of those cases have been?
Lauren Regan: Yeah, I think it’s actually kind of timely and important to be having these conversations as things in Minnesota begin to also heat up, because like I just said: history does repeat itself. And especially with regard to the fossil fuel industry–they have a limited playbook that they continue to repeat over and over again. And so what happened in Standing Rock is important for activists to learn about and consider so that we do not repeat the same situations the next time around and so that we can be better prepared and more aware to strategically dance around the obstacles that we know the state will–once again–put in our way. When I used the word “the state,” I am referring to government, including law enforcement, but also corporations, especially fossil fuel corporations.
And so with Standing Rock, the first thing that I will say is that the whole playbook of standard activist repression was present. CLDC actually does really lengthy trainings on what is repression and how can you resist it. But one thing that’s important to know is that every social justice movement has faced repression and will face repression. Repression is nothing new. It is expected that when we challenge the status quo, when we push against capitalism and the profit sharing mechanisms of the state, that they’re going to come at us with everything they’ve got, and they’ve got quite an arsenal to fight back against us. We have people power, we have the mass movement, we have passion and commitment and all of those good things, and they have things like guns and prisons–that whole litany of stuff.
Then, of course, we also had the form of state repression that is excessive force and police violence. So many different examples of police, police working with security, using illegal excessive force, sicking dogs on water protectors, shooting them up using tear gas and water cannons for the first time since the 1960s. And, of course, using explosive devices. They shot the eye out of a water protector. Dozens of non-violent water protectors were indiscriminately, permanently, and seriously injured as a result of police violence being used against them for the exercise of their constitutional rights.
Ryan Fatica: Lauren, what advice would you give to activists today? Particularly young people who may have gotten involved in social movements for the first time this summer. A lot of people may have seen these protests as very powerful, as they were, and were very enamored and are now dealing with some disillusionment with all the repression that we’re facing. What advice do you have for them?
Lauren Regan: The first thing I would say is: if you are going to engage in direct action, you have to take yourself seriously. And that means knowing what you’re getting into before you get into it. That’s not only regarding knowing your rights, which I do think are important. On our website since the pandemic started, we’ve been doing these weekly webinars for activists on all sorts of topics, including security culture, state repression, police misconduct, “know your rights” for climate activists, digital security, all these different topics. If you’re going to engage in activism that involves property damage, for instance, you are basically offering yourself up to the state if you are not prepared for that level of risk. The amount of discovery that I have had to watch of people wearing very distinct costumes and clothing, breaking windows, walking into stores, that are obviously filming, and have video cameras everywhere, and they’re not masked up or they’re in very distinct clothing. And, even in Eugene, where I am, the cops just posted like 60 pages worth of screenshot photos of people who were breaking windows and walking into stores and taking things or just walking around. And now there’s warrants out for their arrest and the state is hunting them.