Popular Resistance returns from Standing Rock Reservation

Posted on Jan 27 2017 - 8:02am by Slade Rand

On the eve of President Donald J. Trump’s inauguration, two Ole Miss students found themselves in 20 degree weather pulling in to a security checkpoint at Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

The duo representing Ole Miss’ Popular Resistance club was made up of sophomore general studies major Jaz Brisack and senior mechanical engineering major Timothy Steenwyk. The two made this 66-hour and 2,887-mile round trip to the reservation toting a trailer fully loaded with firewood and hundreds of dollars in warm threads.

“It was about putting your money where your mouth is. I saw it as a pushback against the slacktivism we can see out there,” Steenwyk said.

Brisack began raising money through Popular Resistance, a club she founded in November 2016. She said her efforts yielded $1,500 in donations mostly from students and the Ole Miss community. $60 of that money paid for firewood from the Amish sawmill in Pontotoc, and the rest went toward coats, food and some ever-essential snow chains.

“It takes so much work just to stay warm and keep yourself fed out there. Those things we take for granted,” Brisack said.

Standing Rock

The Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock. (Photo by: Timothy Steenwyk)

Protests began at Standing Rock in spring 2016, and since then demonstrators have built up a large presence in the North Dakota plains rallying against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Brisack said these activists refer to themselves as “water-protectors” instead of protestors. When the army announced plans to hold off on DAPL on Dec. 4, many protestors packed their gear and headed back home.

Trump  re-ignited protestors like Brisack’s passion when he signed an executive action ordering that the Army Corps of Engineers take further consideration into completing DAPL on Tuesday.

When Brisack and Steenwyk arrived at Rosebud camp on January 19, Brisack said between 600 and 800 activists were still sticking it out in the cold.

“Protests are definitely down from what they have been,” she said. “But we could still see lots of army surplus tents from veterans set up right next to all these teepees.”

Brisack said the campground represents an inclusive idea of collective liberation. The rows of flags lining the camp’s main road supporting rights for other groups as well, including Palestinian freedom to homosexual rights. She said even the composting toilets in camp progressively offered gender-neutral options.

“Everyone there is much more in tune with what’s going on in the world than anything I’ve ever seen,” she said.

The national outbursts following Trump’s swearing-in have not had much of an impact on the demonstrators’ work, Brisack said. The immediate concerns of nourishment and protection take precedent instead. Brisack said helicopters circled overhead and Humvee trucks accented the horizon throughout their time at Rosebud camp.

Steenwyk said the daily battle against the elements combined with the looming military presence clouded the camp with an air of suspense.

“You feel united, but you’re on your toes,” he said.

Steenwyk said he joined forces with Brisack because she was truly getting her boots on the ground and making it possible for others to get their money on the ground. Leaving Standing Rock, he said he had a stronger sense of the people’s lives and livelihoods affected by the pipeline.

“We’ve got to understand that they are people just like you and I who have found themselves on one side of a situation,” he said. “Whenever we let these issues encroach on others, it sets a dangerous precedent.”

Brisack said the conflicts surrounding this pipeline are important because the battleground isn’t overseas or in the political realm; it’s on Americans’ home turf.

“This is actually right here in America,” she said. “It’s our own people. And DAPL’s cowboys and Indians mindset, it’s in our own backyard.”