The sun had come up, but it was very overcast and snowy again. I was dressed and packed up pretty quickly and after gassing up the car, I was headed East for home.
I had many hours to reflect on the week I had just been through, but it was difficult to process everything. There had been some not so great things that had happened. However, I had met some wonderful people that I certainly hope to come across again in my life. I was saddened by the multiple factions that seemed to be splintering off at the camp, and a little disturbed by the factions I saw emerging in the VSSR camps.
It seems to be human nature to want to create order out of chaos. It also seems to be human nature for everyone to have a different idea of how to go about creating that order. Unfortunately, as evidenced around the planet, those with the muscle and might are often the ones that come out on top in such conflict.
Human nature had reared its ugly side many times during this adventure. Wes Clark jr. using the vets for his "spiritual journey" was typical of the religious extremist that tells people one thing, then does another to satisfy their own desires. The midnight raid on "agitators" that wanted to use other options for their stand against DAPL seemed questionable to me at the time, and became even more sketchy as time passed and I learned more about the reasons behind it - not to mention that the assembled vets searched the wrong tents first... other veterans tents. Margaret attacking Tammy for questioning her command. It all left a metaphorically sour taste in my mouth. The unity of purpose I had felt back in August wasn't there anymore. Even on my trip in October, I had seen seeds of discontent and anger between groups. But this visit highlighted the dissolution of that unity, brought on as well by the influx of too many veterans that immediately split into factions as well. The veterans that wanted to follow the Elders command to stand down in peace and prayer vs. the vets that marched on the bridge vs. the vets that were there for completely different reasons all together.
I spent a lot of time pondering the ramifications of societal collapse, especially in light of the incoming administration this coming January. People, in large groups, don't tend to follow leaders that are weak or tyrannical. In the President Elect, we have both character traits. The potential for "Really Bad Things" to happen in the next 1-4 years have increased exponentially with a guy that has...shall we say... a "Margaretesque" temperament. A "Clarkish" need for self aggrandizement. Wanting to install sub-commanders that want to dismantle and eliminate the very departments they would be leading. A man whose claims and campaign promises, that apparently mattered to just over 60 million Americans, now don't seem to matter to him. A guy who likes the idea of not just building more nukes, but using them as well.
He has a grouping of supporters that have already broken down into bickering factions. "Build the Wall" vs. "Don't worry, nobody will build a wall". Those wanting to block all Muslims, those wanting to round up the Muslims, and those calling for war against the Muslims. People that say "Just give him a chance and give it some time, everything will be fine" vs his supporters that still want to "lock her up" and ban non-Christians and non-straight people from anything and everything resembling this American life. He not only has the support of white nationalists, he's appointing them to leadership positions, and that seems to be ok with his more rational supporters as well.
So, yeah. I have some serious misgivings about the direction this country has taken, even just since the election itself. And having just witnessed a microcosm of societal collapse at Standing Rock, I am not altogether encouraged by human nature.
Now, I do think that there are many, many really good people out there. The Laura's, the Mel's. The Kiyoshi's, Frances', Tammy's and the Marlow's. There were great people that I hardly knew out there. Sgt. Major Clark (not Wes) and others that were capable and knew how to organize and get good things moving along. In a collapse without weapons, I am certain that good would prevail. It only took four or five people to pull Margaret off of Tammy and de-escalate the situation. Unfortunately, we don't live in a society without weapons. It seems like the crazier and more extremist somebody is, the more weapons they have. I tried to imagine the same scenario with everyone having a sidearm. How many people would Margaret have taken down with her? How many people that still supported her would have come to her aid? What would it have been like if we had been thrown together not for a few days, but a few weeks or months? What if we had that to look forward to for four years?
The military works because we are indoctrinated to follow lawful orders from our superiors. Most of the time, the superiors we have rose through the ranks because they were already good leaders. So the military keeps chugging along because we have faith that the higher ups will at least know what they are doing a little bit. But we have all heard stories of fragging poor officers. Every vet has a story or ten of some officer that just didn't have a clue, or orders that came down that were completely ridiculous. Every corporal can remember a time when they had a better plan than their sergeant, and on up the chain. Throughout history there have been violent overthrows of leadership due to someone else wanting to do things a different way. Et tu, Brutus?
We have a 'civil' society now, because for the most part, we all believe in the rules and the enforcers of those rules. We have a Constitution or other documents that lay out those rules, and we try to live by them. But what will happen when our documents are no longer followed by those in charge? What happens when large swaths of our population are refused the freedoms those documents are supposed to protect? As it is, our collective government has ignored or marginalized many groups of people. Non-whites, non-Christians, non-straight, non-conformist. Freedoms and rights have been ignored or brushed aside ostensibly for the "common good".
But what happens when the majority of the population come to realize that those protecting the "common good" are really only protecting their own self interests? What happens when more people realize that this country protects corporate greed over ordinary citizens? Have we reached the point in our great experiment of "Democracy" where we have too many factions to find unity again? Unlike the camp, we can't just pack up our tipis and leave to go home. No matter where we live in this country, we ARE home. So then, do we become like the midnight raiders and "sweep" our camp for undesirables, agitators, those who want to do things differently from us, and tell them to conform, or we will remove them by force? How does that make us any better than Germany circa 1938 and 39? How do we still claim to be the "United States of America" when some individual states have more voting influence that that of the population as a whole? How do we claim moral high ground if we've walked into the swamp that someone promised to drain? And how long will it take supporters of that 'someone' to realize they followed him right into the swamp so that he can stand on their backs and not get as covered in the filth?
Standing Rock is having a crisis of leadership. Everyone there and everyone who has gone want the same thing. Many want to expand on killing this black snake to transitioning to sustainable energy for the survival of the planet. Lots of people fall in the middle of those two goals. But the different factions have different ideas on how to accomplish that. Peaceful prayer vs. direct action. Non-violent protest vs. all out war on DAPL. Then there are factions that have a mix of any or all of those ideas. Then there are factions that want to use the whole thing as a money making opportunity. It has gotten to the point where I don't know who to support any more. At least, not from a distance. And I don't think I'm alone. Many, many of my friends have expressed a hesitation to donate to any specific fund anymore because nobody is sure of the motives of those groups.
This couldn't come at a worse time. The people that have been arrested over the past nine months are starting to come to trial, and will need financial support to get justice. Winter has hit the camps, and there are people in need of heat and food and water. But without actually being there, or having been there for awhile, it is impossible to know which faction to back.
So my heart has been in turmoil since the drive home. Sad for the unity that I had seen before being gone. Glad for the unity of some of those vets I had met, that gathered with good hearts. Upset by the personal agendas that I was used for. Glad for the small victory of easement denial, but sad knowing that it could easily be reversed by the invested incoming administration.
It was a long car ride home from the Dakotas. In many ways, I'm still trying to find my way home. I'm not sure that the place I dwell really is 'home' anymore. Never in my life has the term "Home is where the heart is" been more of a reality. Wherever my wife and kids are, that is my home now. My fealty to a plot of land or a state or country has been profoundly shaken in the past couple of months. The future is always unknown, of course. But I had hoped that the country that I lived in would keep making progress towards realizing those truths that we once held self-evident. Our government has been seized by a quarter of the population that seem willing to destroy it, and by the apathy of half of the citizenry that didn't think they mattered. By an electoral system that was designed to keep this very thing from happening, but has been so corrupted over our two hundred plus years that it doesn't know how to do anything but rubber stamp an election.
Will there be enough of us that stand up against this? Will we have enough time to do so? We are putting the launch codes into the hands of a man that gets mad at a SNL skit. How will he handle mocking from China, North Korea, or his Russian "friends"? We are putting the future of our environment into the hands of people heavily invested in keeping us addicted to fossil fuels. The science is pretty clear about what we can expect if we choose to stay addicted, yet we still have the incredibly short sighted and happily ignorant trying to tell us that everything will be fine.
I feel like we're all on a bus that is being driven off a cliff by a delusional narcissist that thinks that more road will magically appear because he wants it to, and a quarter of the passenger think that sounds cool, half the passengers are asleep or too busy on their smart phones to care, and the rest of us are fervently looking for a way to stop the bus or get the hell off.
Oh, humanity. I'm not all that sure we are worth saving in the long run. For the sake of my children and grandchildren, I hope I'm wrong.
Otherwise it will be EOM, End of Mission, for us all.