Enjoying the Small Victories
by Malaika Hankins
On Sunday, we had a victory. On Sunday, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would be conducting additional environmental studies of alternative routes that would not bring the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. This is a bureaucratic success for indigenous and environmental activists who used nonviolent protest and resistance to prevent the construction of the pipeline as previously designed. Many people around the world, especially those in North Dakota who have been camped out for months, rejoiced at the news. Many people around the world, especially those in North Dakota who have been camped out for months, are also not convinced that this decision actually means change. Despite having already faced below freezing temperatures for weeks, many protestors are refusing to leave the camp, saying there is too much uncertainty with an upcoming presidential transition and a long history of un-kept promises by the government.
As is the case of many revolutions, it can be hard to recognize the large impact of small victories, especially when those victories result in prolonged negotiations. Hearing that the US government will consider alternate routes for the pipeline does not sound earth shattering. It may even sound like a band-aid for a gaping wound. However, history has shown us that the small victories, especially the ones with symbolic significance, can do the most to unify and inspire those fighting for justice.
Take for example Ghandi’s Salt March in the fight for Indian independence. Taking hundreds of thousands of people with him to the sea, Ghandi encouraged supporters of the movement to resist buying British clothing and salt in favor of locally made and sourced products. Protestors refused to pay land taxes and resigned from municipal government positions. These instances of civil disobedience were rallying cries for the subcontinent. It is perhaps one of the best remembered examples of people saying “No More” and uniting against an oppressive government. However, a historical look at the outcome of the campaign shows that the concessions made by those in power were relatively small. The result Ghandi’s salt satyagraha was not even a repeal of the Salt Act that Indians, rich and poor, were actively boycotting. The negotiations that Ghandi and the British viceroy agreed to had no discussion of Indian independence or inquiry into the police brutality committed on nonviolent protestors. Authorities simply agreed to return the fines they had collected from protestors and allowed activists to continue a peaceful boycott of British cloth. At the time, Indian leaders were highly disappointed with the conclusion of the talks. Yet, Ghandi is widely considered to be the father of the Indian Independence movement. How? Because even though the momentary concessions of this victory were small, the larger, symbolic gains were world-changing.
As we reflect on the victory at Standing Rock, we have a lot to learn. We should take a moment to reflect on the successes and challenges of the campaign, using these teachings to better our own work. We also owe it to ourselves to celebrate this victory, and a big one at that. How lucky are we that we get to live and learn in a time with such amazing warriors fighting for justice? How lucky are we, that in a year of so much pain and hatred, we have this victory? Yes, we still have a lot of work to do. But while my fist is clenched and my arm is in the air, I am standing a bit taller today knowing that our voices were heard on November 27th.