How to Win While Losing
What Standing Rock has taught us about True Power
There’s a brilliant commercial out right in which people walking down the street past a kids’ lemonade stand only notice the famous rapper and actor Ice-T. They keep curiously inquiring “Ice-T”? He is utterly confused by this question, advising them over and over that it’s lemonade, not iced tea, that is being sold. Finally he loses his cool and snaps, “What’s with these people, man? Lemonade, read the sign, lemonade, read it!”
This is a classic example of the Universal Truth that what we put our attention on is what we see manifest in the world. Everyone else saw a celebrity, but the celebrity knew himself only as a man. He therefore could not comprehend how people could be so confused about what kind of refreshment was being offered.
Following the February 22nd eviction notice issued by North Dakota state officials, the most famous of the Standing Rock Water Protector Camps was shut down by authorities. A movement that had launched into the public psyche last spring as an effort to prevent Energy Transfer Partners from building a pipeline across Lakota Treaty Land looked to many like it was on its last leg.
But as we’ve just seen, looks can be deceiving.
“Now the pipeline is set and oil will flow. Perhaps in a few days. So the thinking of the company is that it’s all over. They won.
But this is not the only fight about water. There are now hundreds of scenes spread across North America. The protection of water, the rebalancing of the world, now has a symbol and a memory to carry that story forward. Every pipeline project that’s planned across North America will have to defend itself in every community, on social media, and with investors.” – Mark Trahant, Yes Magazine
There are common currents that surge through great movements in history. The outcomes of these currents radically shift the world upward, but the irony is that the day-to-day operations of such movements are often completely lacking in the glamour that their lofty idea of progress seems to encapsulate. The nitty-gritty nature of these efforts is a testament to their depth – after all, who among us has achieved anything significant through shallow means?
In all these life-altering campaigns for change, we see the following mutual qualities:
• They are nonlinear. Losses rack up.
• They are multifaceted: what is seen on the surface is often just the tip of the iceberg.
• They are David vs. Goliath.
• They have a spiritual base that allows them to convert setbacks into steps forward.
• They are clear, direct, and touch on the core of what it means to be human.
• They take time.
• They don’t merely educate; they also provide opportunities for the collective to choose better for themselves.
I would add one more attribute to this list: the people involved in driving great movements forward have an uncanny ability to look past the ‘Illusion of Impossible’ to see a path to success. In other words, they don’t believe the hype. They believe in themselves. There’s a feeling generated by such down-to-earth confidence that the foundation of such movements is solidly built upon the Rock of authenticity and will therefore stand the test of time.
Even the name evokes images of unparalleled strength. It encompasses all of the traits one would expect to find in a great movement, with its own unique spin: it is teaching us what chucking political labels can do to move our progress forward.
Its many images of cross-cultural unity certainly have been elevated by the movement’s straddling of two administrations, beginning with Obama’s term and continuing on into Trump’s. This gives credibility to the notion that its agenda is not political. But even before anyone knew who would come up with the winning presidential ticket, the water protectors of Standing Rock were helping unite people across the political spectrum over an issue that for too long has been lost amidst bipartisan bickering: human sovereignty.
We have been gifted by Standing Rock with a snapshot of the truth: that it really doesn’t really matter who is in Washington. What does matters is that we unify. The government’s blatant disregard for the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty highlights the maneuverings and machinations of a system in which the corporate power structure takes precedence over individual rights. It is clear that formal front room agreements mean nothing in the face of informal political backroom deals. This blatant disregard for individual’s rights has sparked similar pipeline protests to arise all over the nation, and has given new life to existing actions.
Standing Rock, then, has presented us with an opportunity. This movement can become the proverbial straw that breaks corporate rule’s back. Just like Ice-T’s pleas to look past his celebrity in order to see the refreshing lemonade stand just a few feet away, we too can we can look more deeply at what is actually happening in our country. With more than enough pipeline laid in the last seven years to serve America's needs, oil spills continuing to pollute our communities, and green technologies springing up here, there, and everywhere to ease our reliance on fossil fuels, we have a chance to create a more sovereign, cleaner world, one in which We the People once again take center stage.
The protests that continued worldwide on March 10th are only meant to be the catalyst for change. The real shifts upward take place when we do something positive with the information we have learned. These positive actions can play out in a number of ways, from contacting the banks financing the DAPL, to divesting our own money from these organizations, to building and supporting green technology initiatives in our local communities. Most importantly, we can use our buying power to boost businesses that boost us back.
As Woody Harrelson pointed out in the epic documentary film Ethos, "The minute we start taking responsibility and spending our money wisely, every politician, every corporation, and leader around the world is gonna' know that we have woken up."
We do have power – but how our power manifests depends on what we focus on.
We can we put our attention on our own actions that help affect positive change, and stop making enemies out of those with different political beliefs from us. We have the power to do this. Don’t be distracted by the surface labels put on us by those who find it more advantageous to keep the status quo. Greater sovereignty is not something that we need wait to be handed over to us by those who will never do so.
Instead, it comes from us seizing opportunities presented to us to choose better for ourselves.
Kirstie Ganobsik launched the self-help blog ENLIGHTENMENT FOR SCHMUCKS in the spring of 2015. She is the editor and co-author of the travel anthology Traveling Toward Enlightenment: Where the Road Intersects the Soul, a writer at BlogMutt, and a freelancer. She’s contributed several articles highlighting how positivity begins inside, including How to Scare Gratitude Out of Hiding and The Happy List. Her first full-length book entitled Stumbling Towards Enlightenment is due out in late 2017.