From my weekly column at Greed: “No Quarter”
(GREED) – The scene is a new one, yet its repeated wherever the Western world collides with one that is perhaps incalculably old.
It’s evening time in North Dakota and a young Anarchist from out of state sits beside a bonfire. He looks at the comrades around him, primarily indigenous peoples, and breathes deeply the clean air of the plains. Stars he never sees in the city paint the night sky and the moon lights up the hills that seem to roll on forever. He can understand why these proud people want to defend this land, this soil, and fight so hard to keep the long arm of capitalism from despoiling it. With a big breath he tries to soak up as many memories, his entire body beaming with joy.
This is the revolution he was always waiting for. The one he dreamed about all those nights he stayed awake at college reading Bookchin, Kropotkin, and Emma Goldman. He begins to feel that this whole thing could be it, the final tipping point where humanity liberates itself from the oppressive chains of the State and superstition.
But as he revels in revolutionary delight a soft female voice rises from the other side of the fire. She too has come to join the protest and speaks in the tongue of her people, words our Anarchist can’t understand yet ones that cause his hairs to stand on end:
“Ate Wankantanka, Mitawa ki,
Wazi ya tanhan, ka te na Wa ska ki u ya ye ki,
Hena un taku ya kage ki, ya glu ska kta, he ca nu,
He iye cel, Wakantanka, Anpetu ki le, Micante Ki Mi ci yu ska ye,
He cel tohanl, nitokab woyasu ki el, wahinajin ki, ima ya cu kta.”
Later he’ll ask what those words meant. He’ll find out they were a prayer to Wankantanka, “The Great Spirit” of the Lakota, to mind his creation and to keep it “clean and pure.” Our Anarchist is at a loss for words, the anti-religious arguments that served him so well at university seemingly stuck in his throat. He tries to critique, fails, and slowly grows silent. He sees others join her in prayer. The wind picks up and for a moment he swears he hears ghostly voices, soft songs from the hills rising upward to the same stars he never felt this close to at home.
The Pipeline Protests in North Dakota have been a rallying point for Native Peoples, an awakening not seen on the reservations since the American Indian Movement of the late 1960’s. The battle to stop the pipeline has many layers, from anti-capitalism to dirty energy, and thousands have come to join the fight. One aspect of the fight that many from the traditional radical milieu, even protest veterans, seem totally unprepared for is the deep spiritual thread running through the entire battle.
It was something I had been discussing several months ago with an unnamed activist as I was desperately trying to score an interview. “That’s what these people don’t understand, man! This isn’t just a belief, it’s an entire way of life.” I knew the struggle: many of the people who adore my militant Anarchism end up perplexed by my talk of chasing spirits from houses and offering gifts to the dead. They assure me that what I’ve seen isn’t real, that it’s all in my head, and that surely the lights my wife and I see are all part of some previously undiscovered strain of mass hallucination.
Those same dismissive voices are now eerily quiet at Standing Rock.
This is above all a struggle of first nation people and one must remember while spiritual beliefs may differ from tribe to tribe they share some common traits: all life is sacred, a gift from the Creator that humanity had to care for. Douglas James, a 64-year-old member of the Lummi Nation told a reporter for the Des Monies Register that “We’re the voices speaking up for the four-legged brothers that can’t talk for themselves — all the animals down the river that can’t speak out…We’re just speaking out for Mother Earth.” Spirit is seen in all things, from plants and animals to the very land itself. A Havasupai medicine man told the same reporter “Many people fantasize and glorify this. And we’re not here as fantasy beings or glorified beings.” He added “We’re here basically to be sentinels for a force that is unseen.”
Compare this to the Radical Left, who jettisoned any spiritual trappings it may have had shortly after Marxism became the dominant economic theory of its time. From the Bolsheviks blowing up churches to Anarchists shooting priests in Spain you are much more likely to hear an eight-hour lecture on the “genius” of Richard Dawkins, a man who referred to animals as “survival machines for genes,” than any kind of talk about unseen forces or Mother Earth.
Which is odd, because Leftists seem to be the only ones carrying on this materialist belief.
The Soviet Union and the CIA carried on wildly successful psychic spy programs. Apollo missions regularly reported anomalies on the moon. Other astronauts have seen strange lights and craft they can’t explain. Children are born with memories of previous lives that line up with historical data they had no way of knowing. Mediums have been tested under double-blind laboratory conditions and were able to report accurate and specific information about deceased people when no sensory information could be plausible for where they got their information. We have audio and video evidence of the dead still communicating with the living.
You can put all this in the hands of many a radical, scream and holler that the world is actually way weirder than they can ever imagine, and most will either ignore whatever evidence you might have or refer to it as “woo.” In effect Anarchism and its ideological cousins maintain the same religious fanaticism they accuse the Right of, just reversed to a militant denial of anything spiritual rather than simply equating it to the work of “the Devil.”
In a country where 43% of people believe the Dead are quite capable of visiting them, 61% believe them, and 18% have seen it happen, any ideology that tells them such things are stupid is a hard sell to make. It’s an even harder sell when increased competition for funding has led science to drift from an emphasis on rigorous reproducible research to flashy high impact studies, which in some cases have been subsequently found to be erroneous or exaggerated. The once impervious belief in “the science” has led to a perceived reproducibility crisis, in which the credibility of scientific findings is increasingly questioned.
Evidence of a quiet crisis in science is mounting. A growing chorus of researchers worry that far too many findings in the top research journals can’t be replicated.
“There’s a whole groundswell of awareness that a lot of biomedical research is not as strongly predictive as you think it would be,”said Dr. Kevin Staley, an epilepsy researcher at Massachusetts GeneralHospital. “People eventually become aware because there’s a wake of silence after a false positive result,” he added. The same is true in every field of science, from neuroscience to stem cells.
Standing Rock might finally give the spiritual enough room to breathe in the radical mileau and make die-hard atheists begin to question their own beliefs.
I spoke to an Insurrectionist, who we’ll call Sam, that had actually made his way up to the camp. “I spent a week at overflow camp just outside of Standing Rock Reservation. The camp was founded as a spiritual camp and most of the people I talked to were spiritual in some context, what exactly that meant varied as there were folks from hundreds of tribes passing through with new people arriving every single day. I personally am not a spiritual person in any regard so I mostly listened to these different perspectives around fires and around shared meals.”
In such a new and different climate of belief our young Anarchist found a spiritual existence at work far from any “opiate of the masses” he might have expected. “We regularly gave thanks with offerings of tobacco and part of the time I was there overflow camp would walk up to Frontline Camp for a prayer. Something I found more interest in were the folks who viewed everything they did at camp as prayer.” Sam went on noting “they viewed prayer not as passive but as action. They viewed physically confronting this pipeline as an act of prayer. Some felt it was the pain of their ancestors and the pain of those attacked at the camp, which they said they felt, which brought them there.”
Shoulder to shoulder with tribes that have maintained an intimate connection to the Spirit World over thousands of years, Anarchists and other radicals are coming to realize that perhaps there is something to this “unseen” nature of reality. There is so much to learn at Standing Rock and radicals of many stripes would be wise to pay attention to cultures that have survived some of the most brutal repression the State could ever devise.
They cannot deny the spiritual nature of this struggle, in the hearts of the people and in the weird behavior of certain animals. The First Nations, like many people, do not base these beliefs on faith but lived experience, and the sooner Anarchism can understand the difference between the two the sooner it can accept the fact that it is willingly deceiving itself.
When Anarchism can move past the Victorian materialism neither the American or Soviet governments ever took seriously perhaps it can move with the same power and meaning we see on display in North Dakota. Maybe when it can start to accept that the world is much more alive than Richard Dawkins or Neil Degrasse Tyson will ever admit, that maybe forces do exist we may never fully understand, and that a struggle against hierarchy and capitalism can be just as important to the Dead and the Land as the Living…well maybe things start to change.
The Spirit World is available to all, waiting just beyond the fires edge.
Take a risk, reach out, and seize just a little more light.