On social media and in real life we hear this often: “What can I do to help Standing Rock?” Some answer the question by donating money, many send supplies, and hundreds of people jump in their car and travel to the camps near Cannonball, North Dakota. Once there folks pray, some engage in direct action, and all of us learn more about the challenges facing humanity.
There is something else that can be done: Vote.
Chase Iron Eyes, who is running for Congress from North Dakota, made that point on his web page this week. “I don’t believe North Dakota is racist, a certain percentage of the ReTrumplicans are—but we can vote them out—if you would only vote,” he wrote. “The majority of us are evolving in mutual respect. That’s our North Dakota.”
The congressional race is a stark example of these various differences: The incumbent, Rep. Kevin Cramer, wrote a position paper for Donald Trump that says any new climate policy should not “punish coal” or other fossil fuels. The Republican considers himself a climate change skeptic dismissing both international commitments made by the United States and the mountain of scientific evidence.
But is this a moment when North Dakotans are open to a change? And, is there an evolving majority beyond North Dakota? How many allies are out there? How many people are ready for a significant policy shift when it comes to energy?
The answers depend on how many people stand in line at polls, vote by mail, and cast a ballot. If it’s a yes, or a hell yes, this could be the most significant organizing moment in American history.
Consider the camps at Standing Rock. Many of the water protectors arrived about a month ago and say they were willing to stay as long as it takes. That means (or it could mean) that they are residents under North Dakota law and could vote in the next election. How would that work? There would have to be some mechanism in place to certify the “new residents” either by identification or more likely by affirmation. If that is done now, then people at the camps can vote in the November election because North Dakota does not require voter registration.
Imagine adding 2,000, 3,000 people or more to the voter rolls in Morton County, ND. There could even be a write-in campaign for county offices (members of the county commission are currently running unopposed). This would send a message to those in office that the people at the camps are constituents, too.
This potential surge in voter registration would also promote the candidacies of the three Native Americans running statewide in North Dakota, Chase Iron Eyes, Ruth Buffalo, and Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun. Even better: The Spirit of Standing Rock could became a rallying cry that calls people across Indian Country to vote. Imagine if every community set a goal of as close to 100 percent turnout as possible.
Of course there are not enough American Indians to win on our own. We need allies. So when people say, “what can I do to help?” Answer, “vote.”
Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports
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