2007 - 2021

Standing Our Ground

1479709410490Standing Rock

Last Sunday the US Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would not grant the permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline to drill under the Missouri River. With that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe secured a crucial victory in their months-long campaign against the Pipeline.

Despite the freezing weather and the aggression of the ‘law enforcement’ agencies, the prayerful resistance of the water protectors had succeeded.

The Standing Rock Sioux have been joined by the largest gathering of North American Indigenous Nations since the Great Sioux Nation gathered before the battle at the Little Big Horn, including a large contingent of US veterans (both Native American and non-Native American) and other supporters.

They are not leaving, because there is no guarantee.

Victory at Standing Rock may look shallow if the pipeline is simply rerouted, but the victory is profound.

If dedication by a people to the prayerful protection of place can happen here, it can happen everywhere.

Their self-description as ‘protectors’ not ‘protestors’, as engaged in ‘prayerful resistance’ not just ‘non-violent resistance’ has implications for those of us whose activism is often defined by what we oppose.

There is no hope in waiting for some exceptional event – good or bad – to tip the balance in favour of radical change. We can only win by getting on with it now: grounding our care in the protection, recovery and celebration of the unique places where we live, and in supporting others to protect their places too.

So here are some thoughts on what we are up against and how we can win. If reading such thoughts makes the wheels of your mind feel like they are getting stuck in the mud, then please ignore!

Uniquely Unexceptional

If you let yourself be defined by what you are against, you have already lost (you become them).
If your resistance is shaped by what you are for, you have already won (and your time will come).

In voting for billionaires, or for the outcomes they advocate, we are called on to vote for the ‘exceptional’, for those who believe reality can be bought and sold.

Yet they are not exceptional at all.

They are a rehash of tortured exceptionalism: the exceptionalism of America, the UK, the West, of how we view progress, humanity, life on earth – each widening circle deepening the divide between us and them.

To be exceptional is to be unable to relate as equals (and therefore unable to relate at all): it means having to insist on the need to impose order on the incapable, the lesser, the threatening other.

To be unique is to recognise the uniqueness of others: it is to know that our security (what the elite call order) emerges from our tentative reaching out (risk, hurt and healing) that enables relations of trust.

Exceptionalism is desperate stuff (a harsh inadequacy that is desperate to snuff out all tenderness). Uniqueness knows that our limits are the grounds we meet on (blessed by having nowhere else to go).


  • Did the Standing Rock protectors win a great victory or were they conned?
  • Were the Paris/ Marrakesh climate talks a success or failure?
  • Were the Brexit and Trump votes a cry of desperation or of privilege and prejudice?
  • Are the NHS or BBC to be defended or condemned (their problems presented as due to being a public service, while stemming from being disemboweled for corporate profit)?

We don’t want to acknowledge our success (for fear that we may be being conned) nor defend some part of the status quo (for fear that our hope will turn to ash in our throats)

Yet to actively hope is the greatest threat to those who seek to render us powerless:

That is why the media glorifies the ‘exceptionals’, and salivates for the victory of the far right.

That is why they hide the hugely positive stories of mutuality behind smokescreens of ridicule:

  • The movement behind Bernie Sanders, or the one that voted Corbyn in
  • The social justice push for Scottish independence, or the Pirate Party in Iceland
  • The Green President of Austria’s victory vanishing behind the media’s amplification of the loser

and what does that prove?

That the inculcation of hopelessness is not naturally given, that hopelessness is something those with power have to strive to maintain in us,that without it they are fallen.

They want us to run from ridicule, but will they buckle if we stand our ground in hope?

Not a hope that the system will deliver us, but the opposite: hope in our unique and differentiated power to care.

Beneath all the spinning symptoms:

The crisis is not environmental
the crisis is not economic
the crisis is not political

The crisis is exceptionalism itself embodied in the legalised theft by the few that drives deepening inequality and eco-devastation for us all.

65 people own as much wealth as 50% of the worlds population.

They also own much of the media/ education/ political/ entertainment system that demands we put our faith in it delivering us from our inadequacy, a system that tells us the lie that we have a crisis of scarcity.

We don’t.

We have a crisis of our natural abundance being stolen, and the theft being hidden.

There is no underlying problem, except the lie itself.

There is no exceptional solution, just care in action: connecting, resisting, transforming.

There was never anything else: just care in action, up against care that has given up and become fear of being found out (masquerading as power).

Comments (5)

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  1. John Page says:

    Well said, Justin
    And just think on the exceptionalism underlying why people think it is okay to have nuclear weapons on the Clyde
    John Page

  2. David Grant says:

    Thank you, Justin. You’ve summed it up perfectly.

  3. Alastair McIntosh says:

    Your emphasis here on “prayerful resistance” identifies the game changer. When reduced to petitionary wish-lists, prayer becomes a childish downsizing of its own power and the divine, little more than a cosmic sugar daddy.

    The late theologian Walter Wink said that activist prayer “is the interior battlefield”, on which campaigns are won or lost before there is any outer engagement.

    We have been blinded to such dynamics of engagement from within by moribund religiosity. Religiosity that clamps the Spirit in chains of dogma. Standing Rock has been a wake-up call to activist renewal. The campaign has been overtly spiritual. That doesn’t mean that every such campaign will succeed. Crucifixion, often, will remain the outer outcome. But even there, you can’t kill the Spirit. You can’t kill that deep ground of reality that extends outside of space and time. To which resurrection is intrinsic.

  4. Mathew says:

    Very glad to hear about this victory for the Sioux – but why do the US Army Corps of Engineers get to make this decision and not,say, an Environmental agency?

  5. john young says:

    Until we regain our spirituality/morality then the world as we know it will continue on it,s downward spiral,the people have the power do they have the willpower?

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