Movement Defense

What is the movement and how do we defend it?

Social and political movements are made up of many diverse individuals, organizations, and communities who share collective visions or goals that move them towards liberation. At Standing Rock, thousands of people came together to stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Those people came from all over Turtle Island and included Indigenous communities, communities of faith, earth liberation movements, various radical movements, student organizations, and much more. While many people came to Standing Rock with varying ideas of how to stop the pipeline itself, there was indeed a shared vision of stopping the pipeline in its tracks and preventing DAPL from drilling beneath the Missouri River. At the heart of this movement was Indigenous leadership and a centering of Lakota values.

Flash forward from April 2016 when the Sacred Stone camp was first founded to April of 2017: over 800 Water Protectors face criminal charges, 7 Indigenous warriors face federal felony charges, and a federal grand jury has been convened to investigate the activities of Water Protectors in order to charge more of them with crimes. During the past year, tens of thousands of people joined this movement, whether by coming to the camps or by supporting from afar, and it is the responsibility of all of us to protect one another from state repression. The question is, how do we do that?

There are simple ways that we all keep one another safe every day without even thinking twice about it. We let people know when harm has come to one another or we share the stories of the movement with others and build solidarity. Some encourage the use of secure communications with tools like the Signal messaging app or encrypted emails. We remind our relatives and comrades to be careful when using social media. We engage in what is often called security culture.

Other areas of movement defense include jail support, court support and prisoner support. Helping to run a jail support hotline when actions are happening, fundraising for bail, offering to be present in the courtroom for people’s hearings or trials are all a part of making our movements stronger. When people know that others have their backs they are more willing and able to take the risks that are necessary in the struggle for liberation. These support tasks cannot be left to lawyers or “experts” in legal work. The best support comes from the people you know and trust, like your relatives or comrades. Lawyers and professional legal workers can be very helpful in our efforts, but it is best when they are integrated with the movement itself and not separate from it or trying to control it.

When Water Protectors are incarcerated, prisoner support work is a tremendous part of movement defense. Many of us have or have had loved ones or comrades imprisoned; whether incarcerated for strictly political reasons or not, support and connection to those of us on the outside makes all the difference. When people get locked up for political or movement related charges, it is vital to keep them connected to the movement and those who care about them. Many political prisoners continue to be very involved in their communities and movements, like Mumia Abu Jamal who does a radio show from prison or Leonard Peltier who is a prolific writer and painter. One of the biggest ways to help prisoners stay connected is by writing letters to them, as well as donating to their commissary funds or sending books. Take a look at the section in this site about writing prisoners for tips on security and safety. As the old slogan about political prisoners says, “They’re in there for us, we’re out here for them.”

Some movement defense work is not quite as obvious or concrete. The violence, repression, and legal charges from the State are a form of abuse, and many people facing various forms of repression might experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress. People will need different kinds of support, whether it is a ride to counseling, making sure they are eating well, helping with childcare, or just someone to check in and listen. Looking out for each other and being diligent about taking care of each other–especially after the action and media coverage subsides–is absolutely crucial to movement defense and ensuring that the resistance continues.

Movement defense is broad, and the above suggestions are only some examples, because the needs of the movement and its participants shift and change for many reasons. But, if we could impart any one thing to Water Protectors and others it is that the responsibility of movement defense work falls on every single one of us. It is seldom glamorous or fun work to do, it doesn’t grab headlines, make great photo ops, or make anyone very famous. But like cleaning up the dishes and the kitchen after a big communal meal, without this work the movement will not continue. Those who are doing the work of liberation must also do the work of keeping one another safe until we get there.