When asked by young activists where they should direct their energies, Julia Butterfly Hill responds simply, “Everyone has to find their own tree.”
Julia, you may remember, is the woman who in 1997, at the age of 23, camped out at the top of a thousand-year-old, 180-foot-high California redwood named Luna, to save her and others in her grove from death by logging. She stayed up there for two solid years, through winter snowstorms, attacks by helicopter and constant harassment from the company goons holding siege below.
She eventually returned to the ground when her mission was accomplished—she had persuaded the logging company to leave Luna and her stand of old-growth trees alone. It was an important battle on the way to having the 7,500-acre Headwaters Forest protected as an ecological preserve.
This week we witnessed another brave young woman warrior, Sophia Wilansky, standing up to the attackers at Standing Rock and getting her lower arm blown off by a grenade.
Compared to the scale of the harm inflicted by the U.S. military in places like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, a young woman losing her arm seems relatively minor. The water protectors are being hit with water cannons and mace, not cluster bombs.
But by the standards of what is considered acceptable behavior for American law enforcement against unarmed citizens, what’s been going on at Standing Rock is totally outrageous.
Without in any way undercutting the incredible sacrifice that young Sophia Wilansky has made, I want us to notice that when one white woman gets hurt, suddenly the outrage of the onlookers jumps up several notches.
Native people have been getting injured with rubber bullets fired at close range; elders are being beaten up; water protectors have been thrown into dog kennel cages and kept there in inhumane conditions; they’ve been attacked by drenching water cannons in 20-degree temperatures, with no way to get warm.
And there has been outrage and solidarity from onlookers: marches and rallies in many cities and towns, an outpouring of donations of food, warm clothing, camping supplies and money for legal fees and other expenses. The indie media and social media have been out in force, covering the scene.
But still, here we are on Thanksgiving, 2016, and Native Americans are being forced to fight, David vs. Goliath style, to defend their land and water from the rapacious appetites of the colonizers.
On this Thanksgiving Day, please take a moment to say a prayer for the water protectors of Standing Rock, who are standing up for the right of every American to clean water.
And please take a moment to think about Julia Butterfly Hill’s advice.
What is your tree? What is the cause that is calling to you with such passion that your heart leaps in response? Where will you stubbornly take up a stand, vowing not to give ground until the battle is won?