President Obama was confronted at a Tuesday press conference in Luang Prabang, Laos, on an issue which, thanks to progressives’ outcry, is spreading like wildfire: the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline. Knowing the President’s pro-Native record, the question would feel like a cinch to answer for the questioner's concerns about the pipeline's transgression on Native land. Unfortunately, this turned out not to be as easy as it seems. And its vagueness is shady.
In a 1 minute, 20 second response to a question protecting “ancestral lands” while the Pipeline’s construction continues, Obama answered, courtesy of US Uncut’s transcript:
“One of the priorities that I’ve had as president is restoring an honest and generous and respectful relationship with Native American tribes. And so we have made an unprecedented investment in meeting regularly with the tribes, helping them design ideas and plans for economic development, for education, for health, that is culturally appropriate for them.”
Going on to discuss a government response, Obama states, “Now, some of these issues are caught up with laws and treaties, and so I can’t give you details on this particular case. I’d have to go back to … my staff and find out how we are doing on this one.”
This statement comes 3 days before today, when the Department of Justice quickly stepped in to at least halt the pipeline's construction after District Court Judge James Boasberg said that the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, in North Dakota, "has not demonstrated that an injunction is warranted" for ceasing the pipeline's construction. The reservation's continued cries to halt the pipeline have raged across activist communities on social media, which makes this seem like progress. Now we must fight for total closure, not only for the Natives, but the environment.
As the peak of an estimated 4,000+ Native American protesters successfully block construction of the pipeline at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, in North Dakota, time is not on the environment’s side. The outrage has reached its peak when it has been reported that ETP has been collaborating with law enforcement and using unlicensed attack dogs on protesters, and now North Dakota is calling in the National Guard for damage control.
Never minding the actual impact of this Energy Transfer Partners pipeline—in length which would be only seven miles shorter than the vetoed Keystone XL Pipeline—it would be intuitive at this time for Obama to announce his opposition to it. Obama maintains a relatively unsullied reputation as an upholder of Native rights, notable with his full ratification of Executive Order 13175 to cement government support of tribal well-being. With a new onslaught of pro-environment activists scrutinizing the government’s oil-fracking activity, blindly accepting the project would be bad for PR.
Besides, silence would just contribute to a vacuum of oil-industry selling out that the Democratic Party is hardly enduring after Hillary Clinton was exposed for being on payroll for the fossil fuel industry, as well as her hiring fracking supporter and former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar as head of her Transitioning Team.
And knowing President Obama’s seems to care about environmental reform (such as through a not-so-promising plan for carbon emission cuts while Oklahoma becomes an artificial earthquake paradise thanks to oil drilling because, well, oil is good), the question remains: what are you waiting for?
If anything at all?
No one doubts President Obama’s restlessness with overworking, causing him to lag behind in current events. And as we've known for 8 years, he stammers a lot. Yet it seems like a baleful omen knowing that a single Google search can teach one all they need to know about the struggle to stop the pipeline and the pipeline’s impinging on treaty-arranged territories for the Sioux people, and our president seems clueless.
Yet it also is unsurprising, especially when it dawns on oneself that Obama has for years now watched over civil disruptions such as Black Lives Matter protests and mass shooting aftermaths with complete detachment. Even at times when it seems like the powers of the presidency seem futile to stop the legislative government’s inability to enforce lasting justice, let us not forget Obama visited Standing Rock Reservation two years ago to give a speech on preserving Native rights.
If we are to view Obama’s actions on civil rights in this country, as well as his integrity to providing a beacon of hope he notches in careful strands of his rhetoric, we should demand better from him. We can forgive him at times for occasionally slipping up on his own word, which is part of being a politician. Yet if this cycle of silence on current issues after continued reneged promises and flip-flopping on the policies he will use to make his prophetic "Change," it’s clear the President is setting himself up for reputation suicide.
Failures to redress the concerns of those who care for these civil issues is coming to characterize his presidency, which is now ending its final year with a failed sit-in for gun control reform without proceeding executive action, a fast-track to a free trade agreement that openly profits from sweatshop labor in human rights violating countries (besides killing mercantile integrity), and a near re-negotiation of the ban on military equipment for police in wake of anti-police abuse demonstrations. From a higher pundit-like standpoint, it seems like this could just be the result of opposite forces from Republicans pulling at Obama’s hair. The other, more likely possibility is Obama’s new problem of a lack of political transparency and outright hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy that would make it unsurprising that he’s oblivious to Dakota Access’s injustice.
Even more unsurprising if he lets it slide.
Obama is the unofficial leader of the Democratic party, and its frontrunner presidential candidate has been unmasked as a corporate donation taker. Obama’s continued endorsement of pro-oil Democrats like Hillary Clinton could mean that he is trying to preserve his position in Washington even if he is being overshadowed by his party’s deeper corruption.
It could very well be an attempt to help preserve his public image, if not so that he continues a steady but shaky legacy of progress within the outreach of party chaos ever since Bernie Sanders supporters widely destroyed the public’s trust in the Democratic party. This would explain why he along with his Democrat cohorts remains very uncritical of the corporate policies that the party is approving, such as, apparently, advancement of oil drilling.
Note again that Obama vetoed Keystone XL.
But if Obama is only willing to stand for change when it is convenient, when the issues make mainstream headlines, he will be remembered as inconsistent. People aren’t unbending; politicians are not often remembered for the good they do when they warehouse the issues they don’t solve for their successors. The truth is, Obama could be using the executive powers to halt the construction of the pipeline until its permit to use the land it is being built on is settled in court.
We’re willing to wait until such action can be issued speedily, so long as it is effective immediately. What we won’t tolerate is hesitation, dilution or outright dismissal.
This is an issue that goes beyond just being a politician. The trend of politicians who claim they support political reform but don’t endorse actual policy changes must stop. Standing up for a cause and turning your back on it does not preserve your public image.
And if you’re kissing up to the oil fracking companies that bought you out, get out of politics.