Friday, September 15, 2017

Does Property Destruction Advance Progressive Social Change?

by Dr David Drake, DM Reg., Sept 11, 2017

I was recently invited along with a group of social change activists to attend a private gathering at the Des Moines Catholic Worker Berrigan House with two young women — Jessica Reznicek, 36, and Ruby Montoya, 27.

The purpose was to discuss how progressive folks think about the actions they both admitted to along the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). I had previously met Jessica when she and a friend were camped out in front of the Iowa Utilities Board last winter on a prolonged fast to protest the IUB's approval of the pipeline through Iowa. I had brought her hand warmers and we spoke briefly. In deciding to accept the invitation, I had concerns and wanted to hear what these two women and others had to say about tactics that go beyond more common civil disobedience associated with successful movements for voting, civil rights and for peace in Vietnam.

Jessica wrote me and others in the invite:

"As many of you know, Ruby Montoya and I have engaged for the past year in various forms of what we believe to be peaceful resistance against the Dakota Access pipeline. In July, Ruby and I claimed responsibility for having undergone an 8-month-long property destruction campaign against DAPL infrastructure in an effort to halt construction.

"It has not gone unnoticed that our friends in the peace and justice communities of Iowa have been somewhat slow to publicly support our activities. In fact, most of our allies have remained completely silent, although many have reached out and support us personally.

"We understand that overwhelmingly the hesitance of support from our friends stems from unexamined belief systems regarding property destruction as violent, as well as from a fear of government oppression. For example, if a building is burning, and a baby is trapped inside, do you not break the window of said building to rescue the child? Do you not act from love and compassion? Is it violent and criminal to break the window of the building so as to rescue the child at risk of smoldering to death?

"Ruby and I have not acted from a place of anger, but rather one of love and compassion, with a commitment to nonviolence and peace. We do not embrace nonviolence merely as a tactic, but rather as a lifestyle. So naturally, we feel frustration when we are misunderstood and labeled as violent. We are asking, however, that those of you on this email list consider taking part in a conversation surrounding property destruction as a viable role in the movement."

Our evening conversation lasted 90 minutes. Of the seven in our circle, we each spoke of our concerns and hope around their actions. I spoke of my sadness for each of them — knowing each may spend some years in prison for their actions. Another member spoke of inspiration by their commitment while yet another stated that these two women "are putting their lives on the line" and that they are "reasonable warriors for the planet."

Jessica and Ruby stated their actions paused the construction for 90 days to save sacred ground and under a source for drinking water. This action was taken after multiple involvements in demonstrations and civil disobedience. I agree with a close friend who wrote me: "On the one hand I find myself reacting with some envy to their sense of moral certainty and commitment. It makes life very clear. Yet in this case, I can't get my head wrapped around any long-term benefit to their tactic. I suppose history will tell. I could have a change of heart, but right now I don't see myself getting involved with consideration of property destruction as a legitimate tactic for social change."

I don't know that pipelines of dirty oil for export to other countries will be stopped — especially with the current President — although I do believe they should. I support nonviolent public protest and in some cases actions that may end in arrest and facing the consequences. Support for the destruction of property may encourage further acts, some of which may go even more extreme.

I believe a turnout by masses of people committed to social change and the courts may save us. In the meantime, I wish these two young women leniency by the courts.  They are clearly not terrorists.  

David E. Drake, D.O.,<>  is a psychiatrist in Des Moines.

No comments:

Post a Comment