Monday was a cold, windy, autumnal day in North Dakota. We arrived outside the Morton County Courthouse in Mandan to produce a live broadcast of the Democracy Now! news hour. Originally, the location was dictated by the schedule imposed upon us by the local authorities; one of us (Amy) had been charged with criminal trespass for Democracy Now!'s reporting on the Dakota Access Pipeline company's violent attack on Native Americans who were attempting to block the destruction of sacred sites, including ancestral burial grounds, just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
Hurricane Matthew has come and gone, leaving devastation in its wake. So far, at least 1,000 people are reported to have died in Haiti, and at least 39 have died throughout the southeastern United States. In North Carolina, the rivers are still rising. In this election year, given the destruction, you would think climate change would be a major issue. In the presidential debates, which tens of millions watch, there has hardly been a mention. It is what is happening outside, in the grassroots around the country, that gives us hope.
President Barack Obama made a brief statement in the Rose Garden Wednesday, announcing that the global accord to combat climate change, the Paris Agreement, had achieved enough signatories to enter into force. "This gives us the best possible shot to save the one planet we've got," Obama said. At that moment, about 1,200 miles due south, Hurricane Matthew, as reported by Weather Underground, was "reorganizing" and "restrengthening" over the Bahamas, after pounding Haiti and Cuba. Millions along Florida's east coast and many more in South Carolina were battening down their homes and evacuating. Nature's fury raged onward, unmoved by the diplomatic efforts to tame her.
Grassroots organizing, the hard work of building movements, can be gruelling. Pay is often low or nonexistent. Success is never assured. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." But it doesn't bend itself. Right now, under some of the most repressive circumstances that exist in the United States, a national movement is growing for prisoners' rights. The United States has less than 5 per cent of the world's population and almost 25 per cent of the world's prisoners. This movement is rippling out from a solitary-confinement cell inside the Holman Correctional Facility in rural Atmore, Alabama.
The MS St. Louis was a German passenger ship whose most famous voyage, in the spring of 1939, became known as "The Voyage of the Damned." On that trip, 908 German Jewish refugees were headed to Cuba, fleeing the Nazis, but only 22 of the Jewish passengers were allowed to disembark. Aid organizations pleaded with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the government of Canada to accept the refugees. They were snubbed, and the vessel headed back to Europe. Hundreds of the repatriated refugees would die in the Holocaust. The refusal of the U.S. government to accept them remains a dark stain on our history. Sadly, our government's current track record with refugee resettlement suggests that history may be repeating itself.
The Missouri River, the longest river in North America, has for thousands of years provided the water necessary for life to the region's original inhabitants. To this day, millions of people rely on the Missouri for clean drinking water. Now, a petroleum pipeline, called the Dakota Access pipeline, is being built, threatening the river. A movement has grown to block the pipeline, led by Native American tribes that have lived along the banks of the Missouri from time immemorial. Members of the Dakota and Lakota nations from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation established a camp at the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers, about 50 miles south of Bismarck, North Dakota.