Standing Rock Trial Update: Court Solidarity Success

Progressive Christian Social Action

Arrested at Standing Rock on Nov. 11, 2016

Standing Rock Trial Update:  Court Solidarity Success

One year ago today, I was arrested at Standing Rock Reservation with three local friends–Janie Kesselman, Shirley Osgood, and Christy Hanson–and over twenty-five other people at a Water Protectors’ action.  We were taken to several different North Dakota jails, then released on bail.  We all went back to our homes, dispersed around the country, and awaited our trials.  Mine was scheduled for December 8, 2017.

Most of us pleaded “not guilty” to the misdemeanor charge of “obstructing a government function.” We hired our own lawyers or were assigned public defenders, who worked closely with the Water Protectors Legal Collective, the group that had given us legal training and paid our bail.  The Freshet Collective also gave us support.  They looked us up and put us in touch so that we could communicate with each other directly.

We refused to consider any offers from the prosecution that did not include us all, and held fast to our right to a jury trial.  By doing so, we were engaging in “court solidarity,” a tried and true legal tactic for practitioners of active nonviolence.  The purpose is to take the struggle for justice to the courts and to act in solidarity with each other to protect the most vulnerable among us from being targeted with disproportionate fines or jail time.  In this case, Indigenous people would have been the most likely to be targeted, but court solidarity also gives a degree of protection to anyone who might be targeted on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, class, age, gender identity, sexual preference, disability, etc.

Finally, just a few weeks ago, as we were beginning to make travel arrangements to return to North Dakota for our trials, we were offered a settlement that looked pretty good.  Many of us who were arrested together consulted together online, and when we were all agreed, we accepted the offer.  It’s called a “pre-trial diversion,” which means that we don’t have to travel back to North Dakota, plead guilty, or pay fines.  We do have to pay the standard court fees of $350, but that mostly means forfeiting the bail that was already paid.  And we each have to donate $100 to a North Dakota Charity.  I sent my donation to the Great Plains Food Bank in Fargo, North Dakota.

We also had to agree to six months of unsupervised probation, with the only stipulation being that we avoid any other criminal charges.  This part of the agreement concerned some of us, who feel it is important to maintain our flexibility, because you never know when strong and courageous nonviolent direct action might be necessary.  But according to my lawyer, it is unlikely that arrests in another state for nonviolent action would be reported to Burleigh County, North Dakota.  Regardless, he said, “You could probably go back to North Dakota and rob a bank and they’d still not renew this case,” because the courts are so ready to be done with the backlog of these cases.  After the six months, our cases will be closed and we won’t have a conviction on our records.

This was a court solidarity success.  But now we all must stand in solidarity with anyone else who faces charges related to Standing Rock.  The authorities can’t deal with all these cases, but they would like to make an example of someone.  Judge Merrick, who was scheduled to be my trial judge, threw a 27-year old man and a 64-year old woman in jail a couple of weeks ago. They weren’t even given time to get their affairs in order, but were remanded to jail immediately.  See more about these cases here.

Meanwhile, Chase Iron Eyes, a Lakota who grew up on the Standing Rock Reservation, is being charged with inciting a riot, and he faces five years in jail, despite the fact that Standing Rock was a strictly peaceful and prayerful encampment.  See a short film about his case and sign the petition to drop his charges here.

Meanwhile, a federal judge has ruled that the Dakota Access Pipeline was constructed illegally and is pumping oil illegally.  The fight is not over yet.

Thanks to all who gave so generously to my three local friends and I to help us raise money for our legal fees.  Because we don’t have to go back to North Dakota for trials, we have extra money left over, which we will split between the Water Protectors Legal Collective and the Freshet Collective.  If you donate to these organizations, you support other people facing trials for charges related to Standing Rock as well.

As I wrote in Love in a Time of Climate Change:

“Regardless of the outcome of the struggle, Standing Rock has become a symbol of Indigenous resistance to the degradation of creation for the sake of profit. It is also a model that will be replicated as people seek to protect the rights of Native people and the gifts of creation in this critical time. Standing Rock represents the much larger struggle of bringing peace, justice, and healing to the earth. It demonstrates that when people come together in peace and in prayer, there is hope that creation may be protected and justice may prevail against the principalities and powers of this and any age.”

See Sharon’s previous blog posts about Standing Rock and resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.

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Standing Rock Victory and Trial Updates

Progressive Christian Action Blog

Standing Rock Victory and Trial Updates

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People who have supported the Standing Rock Sioux in their struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline are celebrating a victory, as we hear the news that a federal judge ruled on June 14 that the Army Corps of Engineers must review the permits that allowed the pipeline to go through.  President Donald Trump had signed executive orders speeding up the approval process of both the DAPL and the Keystone XL pipelines, but this ruling is yet another example of Trump Administration policies that do not stand up under scrutiny by the courts.  Fortunately, there are still judges who rule based on laws to protect people’s rights and the commons, laws that were often put in place through the democratic process fueled by people power.

Trials against water protectors and allies who stood with them are proceeding.  Many have been dismissed.  Standing Rock Chairman David Archambault II and Council member Dana Yellow Fat were acquitted by a jury.  The trials of those of us who travelled to Standing Rock from Nevada County have been postponed until November or December.  My trial is now scheduled for December 8.  Our lawyers are still working with the  Water Protectors Legal Collective, the organization that bailed me out after spending four days in Burleigh County Jail.

I join my prayers with the Standing Rock Tribe and with people around the world in joy at this partial victory and in hope that justice will prevail.  In words from my new book, Love in a Time of Climate Change,:  “Regardless of the outcome of this struggle, Standing Rock has become a symbol of Indigenous resistance to the degradation of creation for the sake of profit. It is also a model that will be replicated as people seek to protect the rights of Native peoples and the gifts of creation in this critical time. Standing Rock represents the much larger struggle of bringing peace, justice, and healing to the earth. It demonstrates that when people come together in peace and in prayer, there is hope that creation may be protected and justice may prevail against the principalities and powers of this and any age.”

See more of Sharon’s blog posts related to Standing Rock, including posts about her arrest and upcoming trial. 

Read the full excerpt, Indigenous Resistance and Standing Rock here, from Love in a Time of Climate Change.

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God Bless the Grass


I’ve been singing two songs lately that use images of the earth to carry a message of hope in the face of despair.  The first song is “Now the Green Blade Rises,” a traditional Easter hymn.  The second song, “God Bless the Grass,” is by singer-songwriter and social justice activist Malvina Reynolds.  Both songs present the key message of Easter:  love overcomes violence, life overcomes death.

Listen to this version of “Now the Green Blade Rises” by the Smoke Fairies.  

Now the Green Blade Rises

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

In the grave they laid Him, Love Whom we had slain,
Thinking that He’d never wake to life again,
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

Up He sprang at Easter, like the risen grain,
He that for three days in the grave had lain;
Up from the dead my risen Lord is seen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

When our hearts are saddened, grieving or in pain,
By Your touch You call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

(John M.C. Crum, 1928, 15th Century French Melody)

I also hear the message of life conquering death in this wonderful song by Malvina Reynolds.  You can hear her sing it here:  God Bless the Grass .

 God Bless the Grass

God bless the grass that grows thru the crack.
They roll the concrete over it to try and keep it back.
The concrete gets tired of what it has to do,
It breaks and it buckles and the grass grows thru,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the truth that fights toward the sun,
They roll the lies over it and think that it is done.
It moves through the ground and reaches for the air,
And after a while it is growing everywhere,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the grass that grows through cement.
It’s green and it’s tender and it’s easily bent.
But after a while it lifts up its head,
For the grass is living and the stone is dead,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the grass that’s gentle and low,
Its roots they are deep and its will is to grow.
And God bless the truth, the friend of the poor,
And the wild grass growing at the poor man’s door,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the grass, which demonstrates the power of life to overcome death, and to bring about both personal and social transformation.  May we all have renewed confidence, courage, and hope during this Easter season.

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This post is re-posted from April, 2013.

Holy Saturday: Following Jesus

On this Holy Saturday, the last day of Lent, we continue to reflect on the death of Jesus and on what it means to follow him, as we wait for the dawn of resurrection. What does it mean to follow Jesus in this time of ascending evil, destruction, scapegoating, and death?  First, what it does not mean:  Following Jesus does not mean submitting to oppression or choosing to suffer.  Jesus raised up women, children, outcasts, and others who were despised and oppressed, and showed that they were worthy children of God.  Surely we are called to do the same.

Nor did Jesus seek suffering for himself—nothing in the gospel accounts point to that.  Rather, he was true to his mission as he had declared it: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).  By his preaching, teaching, healing, community building, and actions that challenged the ruling Powers, he incurred their wrath.  As a result, they plotted against him and had him executed.  Jesus’ death was the result of the way he lived his life.

The story of Jesus and his “passion” was not something he had wanted for himself, nor was it the plan of an angry God.  Rather, in full integrity and freedom of choice, he refused to back down and betray himself, his mission, the people he loved, or his God.  Further, in the agony of Jesus, the suffering God endured the full impact of human sin and evil, and continues to suffer at our hands as God’s beloved children and creation itself are crucified today.

The question arises:  Why would we want to follow Jesus, who experienced such a horrendous death, or a God who undergoes suffering?  Why not instead focus on something positive, or find a faith that enables us to transcend the world’s suffering, or point to a God who looks on from a distance and sees only harmony?  Or, why not interpret the message of Christianity as being based on the God-ordained sacrifice of a beloved son who came to die to set things right?  Then all we have to do is say “yes” to this story, accept this (ahistorical) Jesus into our hearts, and worship him.  This at least allows us to accept the supposedly predetermined status quo.

But Jesus did not call on his friends to worship him, but to follow him:  to reject the cultural values of wealth and worldly power and to practice and promote the values of tolerance, justice, peace, and love.  This requires an “ethic of risk,” because it places us at odds with the dominant institutions of our day, just as it placed Jesus at odds with those of his day.  And we see clearly not only what human-constructed systems did to Jesus, but what they do to those “surplus populations” that threaten the order of global corporate-dominated capitalism today.

Still, even on Holy Saturday, as we remember the death of Jesus and so many unjust deaths throughout history until today, we anticipate and live into the reality of Easter.  The light of the Risen Christ is with us, making it possible to face the evil, pain, and darkness of our time and to celebrate compassion, beauty, and love.  His Living Spirit is with us, making it possible to set out on the path of following Jesus into the heart of the struggle for a better world.

Previous blog post:  Good Friday:  Contemplation and Resistance

This is the final post in Sharon’s series, A Lenten Call to Resist.

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Good Friday: Contemplation and Resistance

Good Friday 2014 at Beale Air Force Base

Today is Good Friday, the darkest of days, when Christians remember the crucifixion of Jesus and stand by him in his suffering.  It is also a dark season in the world, with the Trump Administration dropping the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan, threatening North Korea, bombing Syria and Yemen, targeting immigrants, abandoning climate legislation, dismantling the social safety net, eviscerating education, and unleashing corporations to wreak unregulated havoc on the earth.

I grieve.  I enter and face the darkness.  I resolve “to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified,” as Paul did when he visited the Corinthians (1 Cor. 2:2). This has been my ongoing spiritual practice during this season of Lent.

Contemplating the death of Jesus in prayer and holding space for that story throughout the day grounds me in the painful reality of Jesus’ time and of ours.  It helps me to face and bear what seems unbearable—that the evil powers of this world, the “rulers of this age” (1 Cor. 2:8), seem to have the upper hand, and are crucifying what is precious, destroying our hopes and dreams and everything that we hold dear.  But the ability to bear this apparent reality—that the dominant institutions and systems of our world are moving us toward global death—depends on my determination to resist.  Otherwise, how could I simply “accept” this cruel, unjust, and unspeakable state of affairs? That would be consent and complicity.  Instead, I choose to stand in solidarity with the crucified Jesus and all other victims of Empire, to follow him in nonviolent resistance to the Powers, and to risk the same fate.

For me, contemplation and resistance go together.  In contemplation, we assimilate actions that we have taken in the world and receive clarity and inspiration for further actions of mercy, justice, and nonviolent resistance to the Powers.  In our actions in the world, we express the love and insight that we have received in contemplation. Contemplation and resistance go together.

Reflecting on the cross, the death of Jesus, and all the other deaths throughout history can bring us face to face with our complicity and our rock-bottom poverty of spirit.  We may even experience what seems to be the absence of God, as Jesus did as he hung on the cross, crying out: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” As we reflect on our own personal failings and our participation in unjust systems, we discover our moral bankruptcy, emptiness, and inability to control the outcome of events.  We recognize that our wisdom and strength are inadequate to the task of personal and social transformation, and so we surrender ourselves, our very being, to God, whose wisdom and power are hidden in mystery.  Our ego stops trying to justify and defend itself.  We die to ourselves.  We enter the darkness, the depths, the journey of emptiness and loss and letting go, the dark night of the soul, trusting beyond trust, where trust has been betrayed, hoping beyond hope, where all hope is gone.  Paradoxically, it is by entering this very darkness that light dawns and hope is reborn.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  The mystics call this the Via Negativa, the way of nothingness.  It is the Way of the Cross.

Previous blog post:  God’s Restorative Justice

Next Post:  Holy Saturday:  Following Jesus 

This post is part of Sharon’s series, A Lenten Call to Resist.

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