From the Heart of America: #NeverGiveUp
August 8, 2016
Greetings, brothers, sisters, & others —
Once again, I am writing to you from Oregon, after our long journey home from the demonstrations in Philadelphia. It was a19-day journey, which took us through 12 different states and carried us about 6,000 miles, there & back — we did this as two citizen-journalists, essentially penniless, upon the wings of about $3,300 in small donations made by over 100 different donors. In return, we promised to report on what we rightly believed the media wouldn’t and I feel confidant in saying that we fulfilled that promise to the best of our ability, in Philadelphia — but now I find that the journey & those I met along the way have given me more to write about than I can ever hope to finish. Today, I’d like to write to you about one of the places that the journey took us — a place called Turtle Mountain, which is the heart of America.
Journey to the Heart of America
After the protests in Philly, an activist & good friend of mine told us about Andy Laverdure, a native man who had been one of North Dakota’s delegates to the DNC, for Bernie Sanders. He said that he and many others had been moved to tears when Laverdure spoke in FDR park about the conditions of native peoples and suggested that I write about it. We sent a message to Andy and he responded, inviting Jacob & I to visit him & his family in North Dakota — the next day, we were on our way to the reservation at Turtle Mountain, the geographical center of the continent.
After a short trip to Niagara Falls & an accidental crossing into Canada, in which we had our car torn apart by police for the 2nd time on this trip (presumably to protect the public from any medicinal herbs which they incorrectly suspected these young Oregonians would be foolish enough to carry), we arrived atBelcourt, North Dakota, where we met Andy Laverdure at a fuel station. After refusing a handshake in favor of a big hug, he took us up into the forested hills of the reservation, where he & his family live alongside a cat named Lucky with 7-toed paws & a friendly pack of assorted dogs, including two Shih Tzu’s who later became my nighttime snuggle-companions.
Andy, his two daughters, Felina & Haleah, Paul Cardenas (Haleah’s partner), Jacob Yona, & I sat down around the Laverdure’s kitchen-table for wild-rice soup & coffee, then began to discuss our love & support of Bernie Sanders & the events which took place at the DNC. Since we had been outside with the protesters, I asked Andy, Heleah (who was also a Bernie delegate), & Paul (who accompanied them) what their experience inside the DNC had been like. “It was Awful,” Andy began, “and it wasn’t democratic, at all.”
Inside the “Democratic” National Convention
They explained to us that, on the first day, they had split up into “caucuses” and that they had joined the native caucus. Those present had expected to be able to ask questions & participate in the discussions but both Andy & Haleah say that everyone was essentially told to just sit down & listen to the speakers, all of whom parroted the same basic message — the contests are over & you are to cast your votes for Hillary Clinton. Andy was not happy about this arrangement and he made sure the speakers knew that, afterward. Haleah agreed that the “caucus” wasn’t intended to give the 46% who broke for Sanders a voice — it was intended to make it clear that there was only one choice. “They weren’t acting like they wanted unity,” Andy said, “How can there be unity, when they behave like that?”
Andy told me that Bernie Sanders was the only candidate who really listened to native people. While he spoke, he showed me pictures on his phone that he had collected, all of different events, in which Natives had honored Bernie Sanders. He told me that an Anishinaabe man, from Minnesota, had challenged Sanders at one of his early campaign rallies, saying “you’ve come to our land, hoping for our vote, but you haven’t asked us about our concerns & you didn’t invite any of us to your rally.” Andy told me that, when security went to remove them, Bernie Sanders waved security away and stepped back from the microphone so that they could speak.
“Bernie Sanders is a warrior & we honor warriors,” Andy said.
He explained to me that Sanders is a warrior because he’s not afraid to step into discomfort and he’s not afraid to listen & to learn from others. After having discussions with native leaders, Sanders started including their issues & concerns in the platform he was fighting for & in his public speeches. For people like Andy & Haleah Laverdure, the DNC’s suppression of Sanders’ delegates’ concerns & issues was nothing less than insulting.
& the Impact on Native Communities
One of the issues which was basically ignored at the DNC is the impact of oil & fracking on native communities, an issue of grave importance for Andy & for many others. The party leadership never gave Andy, Haleah, or anyone else the chance to explain the devastation that the fracking & oil companies are unleashing on the native peoples of North Dakota — not only are these corporate entities wreaking the depressingly usual havoc on our environment but they are also threatening the very fabric of Andy’s culture. He told us that many of these gas companies are so poorly regulated that they don’t run background checks on their workers. As more gas & oil companies move into North Dakota, drug use among natives is increasing & the presence of drug-traffickers from out-of-state is not going unnoticed by community leaders like Andy Laverdure, who has been a judge on the Turtle Mountain Reservation for many years.
Andy says that the little jail on Turtle Mountain never used to be full but that, as the oil & gas companies moved in, he watched criminal activity increase rapidly as drug dealers are targeting natives on reservations who are vulnerable for numerous reasons. Now, the jails are often overflowing and, in some instances, they’ve had to send tribal members to off-reservation facilities because their infrastructure is simply not prepared to deal with these new challenges.
“I’m afraid,” Andy said, “that what the white man failed to do with guns, disease, suppression, & alcohol, will finally be done with meth & heroin.”
There is great concern, Andy explained to me, that the native peoples there could lose an entire generation and that his culture could be wiped out. So much of the native people’s spirituality & traditions are passed down orally and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do that when so many in the younger generation are locked up in a cycle of poverty, despair, & hard-drug-use. The older natives at Turtle Mountain, those who know the Anishinaabe language & who know & understand the traditional stories & spirituality, are growing older & fewer.
“It could be the end of our culture,” Andy told me.
Andy wanted us to understand that, if the next generation wasn’t viable & if they weren’t able to pass down the traditions, their way of life could pass away forever. From what I understood, Turtle Mountain is considered by many to be the heart of America — if that heart is polluted & poisoned, it will spread to the rest of the nation & the world.
Andy, Jacob, & I spoke late into the night and, as I was watching for shooting stars (I saw a few!), Andy told us about a dream that he had, long ago. In the dream, Andy was facing east and he saw a great, consuming fire moving west across the land. He said that it ravaged Turtle Mountain Reservation
& continued west to consume the entire continent.
“It frightened me,” he said, explaining to us that it is his people’s belief that dreams are important & often contain messages. He told us that a dream was like a living being & that all of the dreams that exist today were created in the beginning, with the rest of the world — so, a dream can choose you to dream it & it could be the same dream that someone dreamed 500 years ago.
The dream, Andy told us, which was also dreamed by 3 others, was pointing to events that would unfold and he believes that the fire in his dream was pointing to what is happening now — for his people, it is the fracking, the struggle against poverty & despair, & the drug-epidemic which is now seeping into native lands as an effect of those things. But the fire that Andy dreamed of is not only effecting native peoples, he says — it is a struggle that is & will effect all of us. The conflagrations of economic, racial, & environmental injustices that are sweeping over our nation are manifestations of that same fire and we have to face it, as well.
Never Give Up!
Before we all went to sleep, I asked Andy Laverdure what message he most wanted to convey to everyone and he said: “Never give up. Don’t let it go.” He said that the young people today give him hope and that, if we refuse to accept the slow death that Republicans and Democrats want for our world, we can change things — we can change society & we can help to build a better, kinder world that fosters justice, solidarity, & love. Those who lived & fought for these things in the 1960’s are growing old — they’ve fought the good fight and the responsibility is now falling to us to struggle against, to defy, & to resist those who would sell our world & our future for a small price.
Andy said that, if the young people of the world don’t give up, then there is a lot to hope for. An interpreter of dreams told Andy that there was no way to stop the fire from happening — he said that it would be a hard fight but that it would be a fight which, together, we could win.
Our Journey Home
& the Oil Fields of North Dakota
The next day, Andy Laverdure drew us a map & showed us where we could see the oil fields & fracking operations that he had spoken with us about. We thanked him & his family for their warm company & hospitality and they sent us on our way,well-rested, with money for snacks, & with good memories of their kindness which I shall never forget. I hope very much that our paths will cross again, one day.
In order to take pictures for this very article, we set out early, following the map that Andy drew for us and, as we drove away from Turtle Mountain — as we drove away from the heart of this beautiful continent — my mind was full with images of Turtle Mountain, somehow beating like a great heart, sending us on our way to help nourish the body of our nation, out through it’s highways, coursing like blood in the veins of America. Just as blood is pumped to & from the heart to be replenished with the vital air, so we felt oddly full of something that I still have trouble describing. That feeling of fullness, however, was about to be challenged by what we saw along the route that we took — through the gas-lands & oil-fields. While Turtle Mountain Reservation itself has passed laws against fracking, the land around it is not as fortunate. Below are some of the pictures that Jacob took along the way. [For the full photo-gallery, CLICK HERE]
To Sum It All Up
When I asked Andy what people could do to help, he told me that the natives would have to fight this particular battle for themselves but that there were different ways to fight the forces of greed & corruption that all of us would have to discover for ourselves. Indeed, I don’t think that any of us will have any difficulty identifying environmental or racial or economic injustices around us that we can start or continue to address. What I want you to take from this article and what I think Andy wanted me to convey is that
there is much good that can be accomplished if young people everywhere take up the struggle, in the streets, in congress, or with our voices, to demand a stop to the insanity of greed, the despair of artificially-created poverty, & the injustice of putting profits over people & planet.
It is true that Andy, his family, Jacob, you, & I (& millions of others!) are all disappointed & perhaps hurt over the way the “Democratic” National Convention turned out. We wish that Bernie Sanders would have emerged as the nominee because he is an honest & good man that wanted to help fix this corrupted system which doesn’t care about the poverty of our children & allows oil, gas, & other destructive industries to go unregulated. We wish that were what happened but it just isn’t.
Now, the question hangs in the air — what are we going to do? Are we going to give up on change because it’s too hard, because our leader is gone, or because the establishment won’t let us? Are we going to “let it go,” vote for the lesser evil, & hope that things go better for us, next time?
Or are we going to resist? Are we going to fight? Are we going to hold the DNC officials accountable for insulting & disregarding the issues that people like Andy are facing? Do we resign ourselves to the fates that our so-called representatives have written for us — or do we find a way to take our future into our own hands?
Thank you for reading.
John Laurits #NotMeUs
P.S. Here is a short list of vetted progressive candidates & Berniecrats running for office in North Dakota, who we believe will be good allies of the native peoples’ struggle, there — Chase Iron Eyes for U.S. House of Representatives,click here to like his FB campaign page & support him, please; Corey McGarvey for U.S. House of Representatives,click here to visit his website; Ruth Buffalo, for North Dakota Insurance Commissioner, click here to like her Facebook campaign-page & support her; Richard Marcellais for State Senator, click here to visit his official North Dakota Legislative Branch website. Also, please consider visiting & liking Elle Spawn’s Facebook page, a progressive running for a seat in the South Dakota legislature, who wants to take action on the same issues.
P.P.S. If you live in North Dakota & are wondering about ways that you can become involved in helping the progressive cause, please consider joining this website & forum (click here), where you can learn about & discuss the issues with others.
Other Recent Articles by John Laurits
#OurRevolutionContinues: The Path Forward (8/3) *New!*
The DNC Protests, Part One: Confusion or Sabotage? (7/30) *New!*
The “Democratic” National Convention (7/27) *New!*
We Are Not Defeated (7/26)
Democracy Spring Demonstration, July 25th
The Democratic Convention: #MarchForBernie (7/24)
The Game is Up — #DemExit & the #DNCLeaks (7/24)
About Prayers & Violence (7/17)For the full list of articles by John Laurits, click here to visit “The News-Real”