Donald Trump and Andrew Jackson: More in common than just populism

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in front of a portrait of former U.S. President Andrew Jackson. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in front of a portrait of former U.S. President Andrew Jackson. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Billy J. Stratton, University of Denver

At President Donald Trump’s request, a portrait of former President Andrew Jackson now hangs in the Oval Office. Commentators have cast Trump’s populist appeal and inaugural address as “Jacksonian,” while others have tried to emphasize their major differences. One writer lauded Jackson as “the president who, more than any other, secured the future of democracy in America.” The Conversation

However, these comparisons overlook experiences of marginalized people while defining history in terms of the ideologies of progress and American exceptionalism.

Jackson’s intolerant attitudes and harsh treatment of African-American and Native American peoples have not gone without mention. They are indeed inescapable. As a scholar who has written about Native American history and literature, I am aware of just how often the perspectives of native people are neglected in conventional historical discourse.

The criticisms Trump has directed against Indian casinos in the 1990s, along with his insult of calling Senator Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas,” casts his veneration of Jackson in a particularly disturbing light.

Andrew Jackson and the Trail of Tears

Jackson was a staunch supporter of slavery and policies that forcibly removed Indians from their lands. The passage of the 1830 Indian Removal Act was aimed at isolating native peoples to prevent conflict over territory and allow increased settlement.

The solution, originally conceived by Thomas Jefferson, was to empower the government to evict native peoples living east of the Mississippi River from their lands. Those subjected to removal would be moved “beyond the white settlements” to distant reservations in the West, known at the time as “Indian territory.” It was a form of segregation.

R. Ridgway, engraving, c.1859, Muscogee Creek Chief William Weatherford surrenders to Andrew Jackson after the 1814 Battle of Horseshoe Bend. As a result, Jackson forced the Creek to cede over 20 million acres of land in Alabama and Georgia, including almost two million acres claimed by Cherokee Nation, allies who had fought in support of Jackson’s forces.
Library of Congress

In 1832, the Supreme Court struck down Georgia laws aimed at depriving the Cherokee people of their rights and property in Worchester v. Georgia. The court affirmed a degree of native political sovereignty and annulled state jurisdiction over native lands. It was the final case of the so-called Marshall trilogy, named for Chief Justice John Marshall – the author of the majority decisions – and established major precedents of federal Indian law.

The immediate effect of the decision was to grant protections to the Cherokee Nation, and by extension to other tribes. It could have prevented forced removals, but Jackson was reportedly indignant at the result. According to the famed journalist Horace Greeley, Jackson was said to have responded, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”

Whether Jackson spoke those words has been contested by historians ever since. But his strong support for removal policy and subsequent refusal to enforce the court’s decision made his position clear. The response was a stern rebuke of the legitimacy of the Supreme Court, the doctrine of the separation of powers, the rule of law and ultimately the Constitution.

The result was the Trail of Tears, in which Cherokee and other native peoples of the Southeast were forced at gunpoint to march 1,200 miles to “Indian territory.” Thousands of Cherokee died during the passage, while many who survived the trek lost their homes and most of their property. Ironically, much of the land on which the Cherokee and other removed tribes were settled was opened to homesteading and became the state of Oklahoma some 60 years later.

Yet, the violent manner by which removal was carried out had been ruled illegal and unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the Worchester case.

New assault on native rights?

The new administration is showing similar malice toward the legal status and rights of native peoples secured in American law. For example, Trump recently lifted President Obama’s injunction halting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Last week’s eviction of pipeline opponents from Sacred Stone Camp, led by the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, under threats of arrest has led to renewed uncertainty about native rights.

Statements by Trump’s advisers and government officials calling for the privatization of native lands guaranteed by treaties to seize valuable natural resources have only heightened these concerns.

This rhetoric echos policies that oppressed native people in the past. These include allotment, extending from 1887 to the 1930s, which eliminated communal ownership and led to the taking of millions of acres of native land. This was followed by termination and relocation of the 1950s, aimed at eliminating the legal status of native people while sending individuals from reservations to urban areas, further depriving native peoples of their lands, liberty and culture.

Native treaties are unequivocally assured in Article 6, the Supremacy Clause, of the U.S. Constitution. It states: “all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land…”

Tribal leaders negotiated treaties in good faith to reserve what amounts to a fraction of their original lands, with all attendant rights. Privatizing tribal lands would be a violation of these treaties.

The casual rejection of these covenants heighten the insecurity among native people evoked by Trump. His esteem for Jackson and their shared attitudes toward their legal rights and status should give us pause. That journalists and historians continue to offer positive views of Jackson’s presidency in light of this legacy underscores how the suffering of native people continues to be ignored.

Billy J. Stratton, Professor of contemporary American literature and culture; Native American studies, University of Denver

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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How will Native Tribes Fight the Dakota Access Pipeline in Court?

After the Army Corps of Engineers approved an easement for the North Dakota Pipeline, two tribes requested – unsuccessfully – to halt construction while their lawsuit over the project is resolved. AP Photo/Susan Walsh
After the Army Corps of Engineers approved an easement for the North Dakota Pipeline, two tribes requested – unsuccessfully – to halt construction while their lawsuit over the project is resolved. AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Monte Mills, The University of Montana

On Feb. 8 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reversed course and issued an easement allowing the installation of the Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe in North Dakota. That decision followed a presidential memorandum indicating that construction and operation of the pipeline would be in the “national interest,” and set the stage for a final showdown over the pipeline’s fate.

In response, two Indian tribes, the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux, filed new motions to halt the pipeline’s construction and operation. After an initial hearing on those motions, the federal judge on the case allowed construction to proceed but will be considering the Tribes’ claims before oil will pass through the pipeline under Lake Oahe. That means, unlike the voices of thousands who joined the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in protest against the pipeline, the next chapter of this fight will be argued by a few lawyers in the pin drop silence of a federal courtroom.

Although the details of those arguments will be complex, as a legal scholar focused on Native American law I see the case addressing an essential question at the heart of our legal system: namely, how does federal law and judicial process protect the fundamental values and structure of the Constitution?

The central issues in the case are now whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ approval of the pipeline and easement illegally interferes with the tribes’ religious beliefs and whether the corps adequately considered the tribes’ water and other treaty rights before issuing that approval.

Religious Freedom and Restoration Act

According to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, oil running through the pipeline would represent the fulfillment of a generations-old prophesy, passed down through the oral traditions of tribal members, that warned of a Black Snake coming to defile the sacred waters necessary to maintain the tribes’ ceremonies. Beyond the environmental concerns often at the center of the pipeline protests, the tribe’s motion for an injunction squarely defines final authorization of the pipeline by the Corps as an existential threat: destruction of the tribes’ religion and way of life.

One of the key legal questions in the North Dakota Access Pipeline case whether federal interests can supersede religious freedoms of native groups.
vpickering/flickr, CC BY-ND

The Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees the exercise of religion free from governmental interference. But the Supreme Court, in Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protection Association, in 1988 upheld the Forest Service’s approval of a road across an area on federal land sacred to local tribes even while recognizing the road could have devastating effects on their religion.

Then in 1993, Congress enacted the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA), which requires that the government demonstrate a compelling interest and use the least restrictive means to achieve that interest if its actions will substantially burden religious practice.

In other words, even if approving the Dakota Access Pipeline served a compelling governmental interest, RFRA may require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to show that the pipeline easement under Lake Oahe would have the least impact on tribal religion. That approach would be consistent with the Supreme Court’s broad application of RFRA in a 2014 case not involving tribal interests or federal lands and may pose a significant challenge to the corps, which considered but rejected a different route that did not pose the same threat to the tribes.

Both the Corps and company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline argue that the risk of spill from the pipeline is minimal and that the tribes failed to raise these religious concerns in a timely manner. In addition, the Corps contends that, consistent with the Lyng case, governmental action on federal land should not be restricted because of religious concerns raised by local tribes.

Thus, resolution of the case will turn upon whether the court recognizes the legitimacy of the tribal religious concerns and broadly applies RFRA or, instead, chooses to prioritize federal authority over federal land to the detriment of those concerns. The parties will argue whether the religious freedom issues support an injunction on February 27.

Arbitrary or capricious decisions?

In addition to their religious concerns, the Sioux Tribes challenge the Corps’ decisions based on the rights they reserved in treaties made with the federal government in 1851 and 1868.

The Constitution recognizes treaties as the “supreme law of the land” and, according to a 2016 analysis done by the Solicitor of the U.S. Department of the Interior, both the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux retain treaty-reserved water, hunting, and fishing rights in Lake Oahe.

The pipeline company has argued that the risks to the water supply are minimal and that the tribes didn’t raise religious concerns earlier in the approval process.
diversey/flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Before reversing course in February, the Corps refused to issue the easement last year in order to further understand and analyze those treaty rights.

Importantly, federal law generally allows courts to set aside arbitrary or capricious agency decisions. In a February 14th filing, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe asks the court to review the Corps’ about-face under that standard and argues that the federal trust responsibility,recognized by the Supreme Court since the early 1800’s, demands more than just a cursory review of tribal treaty rights.

The parties will be briefing the treaty rights issues into March but the judge is keeping a close eye on Dakota Access’ progress in the meantime.

The ultimate fate of the pipeline will turn on how the courts recognize the rights asserted by the Sioux Tribes, rights rooted in the Constitution’s values and structure – precisely the type of rights our rule of law and federal courts are meant to protect.

The Conversation

Monte Mills, Assistant Professor of Law & Co-Director, Margery Hunter Brown Indian Law Clinic, The University of Montana

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Sure, pipelines are good for oil companies, but what about jobs related to preserving nature and culture?

A 2002 pipeline spill in Cohasset, Minnesota which released 6,000 barrels of crude oil. mpcaphotos/flickr, CC BY-NC
A 2002 pipeline spill in Cohasset, Minnesota which released 6,000 barrels of crude oil. mpcaphotos/flickr, CC BY-NC

Chip Colwell, University of Colorado Denver

On his fourth day as U.S. president, Donald Trump penned executive orders to advance construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline Project pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline. A week later, there were reports the new administration has ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to grant an easement that will allow completion of the disputed Dakota Access Pipeline to proceed.

The White House press secretary said completion of the controversial pipelines would increase jobs and promote economic growth – an argument Trump’s supporters echo.

However, this viewpoint focuses on the profits that go to the oil and construction industries, while ignoring the price that will be paid by other sectors of America’s economy, including tourism and preservation of our cultural heritage – a point I’m quite aware of as an anthropologist focused on the American West. A more accurate reckoning of the economic benefits of pipelines needs to consider the negative impact of pipelines on other parts of our economy.

The business of preservation

The management of America’s heritage begins with a suite of important federal laws such as the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966, which affirms that “the spirit and direction of the Nation are founded upon and reflected in its historic heritage.” The NHPA’s starting point is that patriotism, preservation and profits are not contrary goals, declaring that “the preservation of this irreplaceable heritage is in the public interest so that its vital legacy of cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational, economic and energy benefits will be maintained and enriched for future generations of Americans.”

Preserving America’s past for its future is a monumental task. A National Park Service report, for example, found that just in 2014 16.5 million acres were surveyed for cultural resources across the United States. More than 137,000 properties were evaluated for their historical significance and added to state inventories, while more than 1,000 new sites were added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The industry that fulfills this trust responsibility is known as cultural resource management, which is made up of a small but highly skilled set of technicians in archaeology, architecture, engineering, geography, history and related fields. There are about 1,300 CRM firms nationwide – nearly all of them small businesses – which employ some 10,000 people. These businesses in turn feed more work, such as equipment suppliers, IT and HR professionals, accountants and administrative support.

Opponents to the Keystone XL pipeline have opposed it over worries over spills and its contribution to greenhouse gases, but the projected path would also run across public lands and cross 265 archaeological sites and 132 historic structures.
AP Photo/Nati Harnik

The 2014 NPS report also documented the role of historic preservation in the country’s economy. Between 1977 and 2014, under the Federal Historic Preservation Tax program, more than US$73 billion in private investment has been generated to rehabilitate commercial historic properties and nearly 140,000 low and moderate housing units were built in restored historic buildings. Since 1978, an estimated 2.4 million jobs have been created through these projects focused on the preservation of America’s heritage.

The places that are protected have economic tendrils that reach far across the country through tourism. In 2015, for instance, more than 305 million people visited national parks. These tourists spent nearly $16 billion on an array of local services – hotels, gas stations, restaurants – helping to sustain nearly 300,000 jobs. Tourists and travelers visit scores of other national, state and local parks, spending their money to enjoy nature and cultural sites.

Cost of spills

In announcing their support for expediting the pipelines, Trump’s allies also failed to acknowledge the negative impacts of environmental damage.

For example, the 2010 BP oil spill immediately impacted tourism. Even five years later, tourists were slow to return to some spots along the Gulf Coast, and economists argued that BP’s $10 billion in payments did not fully account for the spill’s secondary effects.

The Bureau of Land Management has leased land near Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, one of 20 World Heritage sites in the U.S., for oil and gas drilling.
Chris M Morris/flickr, CC BY

These accidents can directly impact everyday Americans. As of last year, some 50,000 claims were still sitting with BP. Transporting oil via pipelines is generally safer than rail, truck or barge, yet pipeline spills do occur and cause financial problems. According to the federal agency the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, since 1995, accidents involving oil and petroleum pipelines have caused approximately $3 billion in property damage. The change to people’s sense of place and the trauma caused by oil spills are also a negative effect, though hard to enumerate.

In the end, we all are likely to pay as tax dollars are used in part for the Superfund program to clean up spills: for example, a Texaco oil pipeline in California that has contaminated the soil and groundwater.

In other places, it’s not only a question of accidents but accepting the negative effects of extraction over the positive effects of preservation. The recent decision to allow oil and gas drilling around the Chaco Canyon National Historical Park in New Mexico – considered one of the best-preserved centers of Pueblo culture in the American Southwest – will likely destroy irreplaceable archaeological sites and could dissuade some tourists from visiting the World Heritage Site – a place deemed as important as the Taj Mahal, Easter Island and Statue of Liberty.

A different economic development

The Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines in some measure threaten to undermine the possibilities of the heritage industry – particularly if the projects were to bypass standard environmental mitigation, as happened recently at Oak Flats in Arizona. According to a State Department report done under the Obama administration, the Keystone pipeline would disturb more than 15,000 acres, 10 percent of that public lands. The corridor would cross 265 archaeological sites and 132 historic structures – 44 of which are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The pipeline would also be a risk to more than 2,500 water wells, soils, wildlife and vegetation.

The report also calculated the Keystone XL pipeline would generate about 42,000 jobs indirectly and about 3,900 construction jobs if the project were done in one year – far fewer than the 28,000 Trump touted when signing the order. Once the pipeline is operating, it would employ about 35 full-time and 15 temporary employees, according to the report.

In contrast, heritage provides a different kind of economic development. Not only does it protect places that honor our past and living cultures, but also increases property values, protects natural resources needed for communities to thrive and grow, supports small businesses and provides sustainable long-term jobs in tourism and associated commercial ventures.

Trump’s apparent preference for the oil industry shouldn’t be surprising – after all, only last month Trump sold off his stake in Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline. But a president who professes to care so deeply about business should see the economic benefits of protecting heritage and preserving nature, too.

The Conversation

Chip Colwell, Lecturer on Anthropology, University of Colorado Denver

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How Standing Rock became a site of pilgrimage

Protesters block a highway in near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. AP Photo/James MacPherson
Protesters block a highway in near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. AP Photo/James MacPherson

Rosalyn R. LaPier, Harvard University

The Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency responsible for investigating, developing and maintaining water and related environmental resources, recently announced that they would not allow the Dakota Access pipeline to be constructed under the Missouri River and through Lakota territory.

This decision essentially ended the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s protest against the pipeline, which they claimed would both desecrate their sacred sites and cause potential environmental harm.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe was able to achieve this victory in part because of the assistance of thousands of “water protectors.” In his letter of thanks, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman David Archambault Jr. wrote,

“Standing Rock could not have come this far alone. Hundreds of tribes came together in a display of tribal unity not seen in hundreds of years. And many thousands of indigenous people from around the world have prayed with us and made us stronger.”

Thousands of people, both those within Native American communities and their non-Native allies, felt called to go to Standing Rock. But what drew that many people to Standing Rock?

As a Native American scholar of environmental history and religion, I believe that for most individuals who gathered at the site, it was a modern-day pilgrimage.

Here’s why.

Idea of pilgrimage

First, what is a pilgrimage? Anthropologists Victor Turner and Edith Turner in their classic study “Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture” addressed that question when they researched the personal motivations of those who traveled long distances on pilgrimage.

Their answer was twofold. The Turners contended that individuals on a spiritual quest seek both an “out of this ordinary world” experience and a sense of community, “unity” or “oneness” with those on a similar quest. Individuals on a pilgrimage usually have these experiences both while traveling to certain places of transcendence and while at those sacred places.

What does pilgrimage mean?
Joe Brusky, CC BY-NC

Lakota scholar Philip Deloria, has also described how the transformative experience of Native American sacred places provides meaning and personal growth for individuals who journey to be in their presence. In the book “American Indian Places,” Deloria discusses how people are likely to return to these important places again and again.

Going to Standing Rock evolved into a pilgrimage for many Native Americans: they left their “ordinary” lives behind to journey to a Lakota sacred place, and participate in a larger collective action.

My cousin Renee LaPier and her daughter Modesta LaPier, for example, journeyed 2,600 miles to and from Standing Rock. As Ojibwe women, with family on the Turtle Mountain reservation in North Dakota, they felt inspired to go to Standing Rock after meeting hundreds of like-minded individuals at a “water protectors” gathering they organized in their hometown of Portland, Oregon.

Going to Standing Rock forced them and others to step out of their “ordinary” modern lives and travel to a remote rural area of the U.S. with few amenities including no cellphone coverage. And once at the site, they encountered a transformative experience. Reflecting on her experience, Renee said, “It’s personal. It’s deeply deeply personal. It’s important for all of us to stand up together.”

Going on a pilgrimage.
Joe Brusky, CC BY-NC

Modern-day pilgrimage

It is not just Native Americans who have gone to Standing Rock. On Dec. 5 an estimated 2,000 U.S. veterans, both Native American and their non-Native allies, made their pilgrimage to Standing Rock in a freezing blizzard. They came from across the U.S. and other parts of the world; they represented American veterans from many conflicts and wars, including older Korean and Vietnam vets and younger Iraqi vets. They said they came to Standing Rock for “peace and prayer.”

What does this mean?

Religious scholar Laurel Zwissler has studied why and how young people are “refocusing their personal religious practices” to include “religious practice with public action.” She explains how they are blending their individual religious ideas and political activism into a new form of religious expression.

Zwissler’s research reveals participating in protests, even those across a great distance, becomes a new place of individual and collective spiritual practice.

Many Native Americans and non-Native allies viewed going to Standing Rock as a pilgrimage. I have read hundreds of social media posts of people who were drawn to go there as a spiritual quest, reflecting on how the experience changed their sense of identity, gave meaning to their lives, provided a sense of community and transformed them forever.

Even Chairman David Archambault Jr., in an address to the veterans, said their pilgrimage had meaning because “What you’re doing is sacred.

I believe a modern kind of pilgrimage for Native Americans is emerging in which people travel to sites of collective action as a form of religious practice. It is true that some come for personal goals of spiritual awakening and some to journey to a sacred place. And, there are others who undertake a spiritual journey to find community, and purpose.

In the end, utilizing prayer and ceremony, they would have all experienced a pilgrimage – returning to their home different from when they left.

The Conversation

Rosalyn R. LaPier, Visiting Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies, Environmental Studies and Native American Religion, Harvard University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What can the mass ‘check-in’ at Standing Rock tell us about online advocacy?

Many people wanted to virtually join the protest. Andrew Cullen/Reuters
Many people wanted to virtually join the protest. Andrew Cullen/Reuters

Many people wanted to virtually join the protest. Andrew Cullen/Reuters

Leshu Torchin, University of St Andrews

On Oct. 31, more than a million Facebook users “checked in” at Standing Rock Reservation, on the border between North and South Dakota. Since last March, the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribal communities and activists have been blocking the construction of a crude oil pipeline, which threatens sacred sites and the tribe’s water supply.

All those users who checked in had not actually traveled to the encampment. Rather, they’d been prompted by a post that went viral, claiming that the local sheriff’s department was monitoring online check-ins. It asked people to “overwhelm and confuse” this surveillance effort by using a Facebook feature to signal their presence at the protest.

This was the first time this check-in strategy appears to have been so successful. But as has happened other times online advocacy has gone viral, skepticism and derision followed. Snopes, a site dedicated to debunking internet rumors, quickly posted an explanation: Police were not using Facebook check-ins to track protestors.

Mother Jones magazine described the action as a “waste of time.” And by titling journalist Alexis Kleinman’s otherwise helpful guide for action “Checking into Standing Rock isn’t helpful,” Mic expressed its ambivalence toward online activism. The piece’s first sentence was clear about this doubt: “Clicking a few buttons on Facebook isn’t enough to make an impact.”

But that rapid dismissal was too quick. As a scholar of media and advocacy, I’ve noticed skepticism whenever activism has attracted lots of attention. In fact, online connections can help overcome obstacles of space, time, income and knowledge to share stories and information while linking people to each other and to opportunities for action. Indeed, Mic soon revised its article headline: “Checking in at Standing Rock on Facebook is cool – but here’s how you can actually help.” That signaled an important acknowledgment: While online action alone can’t solve a problem, it can be a very useful tool to mobilize people and focus attention on a crucial issue.

Concerns about surveillance

One element of the post that caught people’s attention was the claim that police were electronically monitoring the protest. It was tempting to think that faraway individuals could help thwart that police effort by overloading them with false data.

While police say that wasn’t happening in this case, online surveillance of activists is a real and troubling phenomenon. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has used social media to track Black Lives Matter activists and to locate vigils and actions.

Even decades ago, the practical potential of online communications for organizing and mobilizing was evident. In the 1990s, the Zapatistas in Mexico used email listservs to build support and update allies around the world. During the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran, activists used Google maps and related apps to direct demonstrators to safe spaces – and the police used that information against the protesters.

The suggestion to check in gave people not directly involved in the Standing Rock protest a plausible way to show concrete support.

Mobilizing support

The Standing Rock Sioux and their allies who were physically at the Sacred Stone camp do not appear to have called for the mass check-in action themselves. But they pronounced the Facebook activity a “great way to declare solidarity.”

All your friends went where?!
Screenshot, CC BY-SA

Indeed, the check-in identified more than a million Facebook users who cared enough about the Standing Rock protest to identify themselves publicly as supporters. Their numbers suggested a growing critical mass of public sympathy, in a size that could get the attention of politicians who could halt the construction.

In addition, check-ins could take advantage of Facebook’s algorithms to draw even more attention to the protest. Facebook location updates are designed to appear on the feeds of friends and to foster connections between friends who may be physically near one another. For some, this allows meeting up at a concert or sale. But in this case, users could exchange information – whether about the Snopes item, ways to contact government representatives to urge them to halt construction or a donation link for the Sacred Stone Camp Legal Defense Fund.

Forcing news coverage

The attention built to a point where the mass media could no longer ignore it. Before the check-in action, there had been minimal mainstream coverage of the Dakota Pipeline protest. That left protesters and supporters dependent on social media – and alternative media sources like Democracy Now and Counter Current News – to pass the word.

The use of social media and citizen journalism to bypass media blackouts is nothing new. Twitter and YouTube allowed protesters to circumvent the mainstream media during the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran. In the summer of 2013, protesters in Istanbul took to Facebook and Twitter to report on the demonstrations and the ensuing police brutality – while CNN Turk aired a documentary about penguins.

The Standing Rock check-in did more than share news; it became a newsworthy event on its own. A million people had told Facebook – and therefore their friends – that they had gone to the Dakotas to protest a crude oil pipeline. What was going on? News organizations responded.

In the process, they had to explain what was happening in this remote camp that would motivate people to go there – even virtually. There was increased coverage, including from the Washington Post, the Austin American-Statesman and London’s Telegraph newspaper. In addition to boosting coverage, the check-in action provided a story about a rising tide of public opinion supporting the protestors.

By looking at whether the check-in itself was effective, it is easy to lose sight of the true picture. That single action was never meant to be a click to save the world – and I don’t think anyone actually thought it was intended to. Rather, it took place within a larger context of a growing movement seeking options for further action – particularly from supporters far from the actual protest site.

Most advocacy activities are not used in isolation. The check-in was, instead, a way to amplify the reach and urgency of an important issue, to connect people with each other and to offer them new ways to act.

Whether a similar mass check-in action could work in the future remains to be seen. Some may still view the idea skeptically, in part because in this case it didn’t actually mislead the police. And Facebook itself has been less of a site for action and more of a way to share and exchange information. But for the time being, social media continues to offer opportunities for useful political organization and mobilization.

The Conversation

Leshu Torchin, Senior Lecturer in Film Studies, University of St Andrews

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.