Why We Sat During The National Anthem

Graduation class of 2018

The graduating class of 2018, made up of Master of Arts in Urban Affairs students and Master of Public Affairs students, recently reflected on a decision they made during their graduation ceremony. Four of the students share their experiences here.

Jessica LindquistJessica Lindquist, Master of Public Affairs

A few days before graduation, my friend Amy mentioned to my cohort that last year the Urban Affairs students sat down for the National Anthem during the graduation ceremony to protest the racial injustice and oppression that plagues America. It took only moments for us to collectively decide we, both the Urban Affairs students and the Public Affairs students, would continue the tradition. I sat down to honor American heroes: the courageous nonviolent protesters who have at times risked everything to bring attention to the thousands of people who have lost their lives to police brutality and state violence. I sat down because as a white woman, society has endowed me with a tremendous amount of privilege that I did not earn. Toni Morrison said, “if you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.” I sat down to be in solidarity with all those who are fighting for civil rights amid the most blatantly racist administration we have had in modern history. I sat down because through my own research I have seen how the financial services industry has been a major culprit of institutionalized racism in our county. What we did was a small symbolic action but I know it’s just the beginning. I’m eager to see what contributions my cohort makes to advance racial equity in our communities.

Bernice Rosas Belmonte 2

Bernice Rosas Belmonte, Master of Public Affairs

At one point after the National Anthem and midway through the graduation ceremony, a woman behind me leaned forward and asked why we sat down. “As a sign of protest,” I replied. “Yes, but why?” For a quick second, I hesitated not expecting her to ask another question. “Because we are protesting institutionalized racism and police violence. We are sitting because we are acknowledging that.” The woman said nothing and slid back in her seat. Yes, we were graduating today, but our degrees represent much more than a piece of paper. Our degrees represent two years of learning about economic, class, race and power struggles in our society and exploring solutions to these problems. We spent two years highlighting injustices and working towards solutions that can create a real, positive impact in our communities. We sat because we are non-conformist. We sat because each of us has seen society’s problems and have decided to dedicate our lives to work for the common good. We sat because this one action is just one of many actions we are going to take make a positive impact. We sat because we are in this together.

Amy Dundon 2Amy Dundon, Master of Urban Affairs

I sat during the national anthem because I am unwilling to accept or tolerate (let alone celebrate) the distraction of patriotism. I also sat because we, as a group, sat; I sat because my freedom is entirely contingent on the freedom of others (Lorde 1981). I sat to honor the lives risked and lost in crossing to get to this country; I sat out of love for those wrongfully relegated to silence, to detention, to death; I sat because Black lives matter. I sat in reverence for the 2,358 lives lost to police violence since the year I began graduate school (Tate, Jenkins and Rich 2018). I sat because I had to check that number this morning. I sat out of respect of others who have sat, knelt, raised fists before I even thought to remain seated. I sat to honor those that are disciplined, ridiculed, or met with violence for their own acts of protest; I sat in solidarity. I sat because it would have been dishonest to stand.

Briana Gonzalez 4

Bri Gonzalez, Master of Public Affairs

Our cohort had just spent the past two years learning about the racial, economic, and social injustices that plague people of color in America, so it was only fitting that we would sit during the anthem while we graduated from the institution that opened our eyes to these oppressions. We protested and will continue to protest, a country that marginalizes groups based on the color of their skin and the shallowness of their pockets. We protested because of the never-ending cycle of gun violence that kills hundreds of children and people of color each year, yet is ignored by our leaders so as to not upset the NRA and the Republican base. We protested because the groups who are being gunned down by the police are not even allowed to protest the atrocities they endure without facing repercussions. In Ferguson and Baltimore, they were called rioters and were met with more violence by the same police force that had just murdered members of their community. In the NFL, players will now be fined if they kneel for the anthem, a blatant display of oppressing black and brown men. We protested because the Second Amendment is deemed more valuable than American lives. There are many reasons why we protested, and each of us may have our own versions, but we all agree that our country cannot continue down this path. Our gesture might have been small, but it was done to stand in solidarity with those who are fighting against these injustices and it is when we are all in solidarity that change can reverberate across the nation.

Works Cited

Lorde, Audre. 1981. Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches by Audre Lorde. Berkeley: Crossing Press.

Tate, Julie, Jennifer Jenkins and Steven Rich. 2018. “2018 police shootings database: Fatal Force.” The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/national/police-shootings-2018/?utm_term=.41ecdc06633e

Defending the Sacred in a Militarized Police State at Standing Rock

as-ace.png

Alexis Stanley

Alumna, Former Advocate for Community Engagement ’15

On the evening of Sunday, November 20th I was returning home after a week up in Standing Rock, North Dakota. This was the same night unarmed water protectors, just north of the main Oceti Sakowin camp attempted to remove the cement barricades and burned cars blocking the public 1806 Highway. Water protectors were met with water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and concussion grenades. Despite this being outright inhumane and completely unnecessary it does speak to cycle of violence inflicted upon Native lands and communities since settlers first arrived.

This fight to protect water and defend sacred sites has been met with a corporate police state military invasion of a sovereign tribal nation. Dakota Access is protected and supported by North Dakota’s National Guard, Morton County Sheriff’s Department and State police. Behind their razor wire barricades, humvees, tactical security walls, snipers, and riot gear outfits, we see the ongoing willingness to exert violence and force guided by colonialism.

I had been following the social media coverage rather closely in the months leading up to my arrival in Standing Rock. While I thought I went in with little expectations, I was still surprised to see what was actually taking place on the ground. There was a heavy surveillance presence throughout the entire area. Drones consistently flew above day and night, along with several helicopters and small planes. Atop rolling grassy hills are large flood lights that Dakota Access shines directly into the camps at night. All of these intimidation tactics are to instill fear, paranoia, and disrupt the work being done on the frontline. To me, this militarized police state at the hands of corporate interests shows that even with all the armor and disposable resources, they are still terrified to go head to head with unarmed Natives and their allies that are led by prayer and unwavering stance to protect Mother Earth.

There is very heavy emphasis when inside the camp that this is prayer and resistance driven camp where drugs, alcohol and weapons absolutely have no place there. Throughout the entire camp, work is constantly being done, from construction, art, cooking, organizing, and ceremony. This isn’t Coachella. Snow has already arrived, and in the last several weeks people have been in hardcore preparation mode to be ready for the increasingly cold winter to come.

With Standing Rock being an indigenous centered space, I was still slightly surprised to see the majority of the camp to be non-Native. Based on my own observations, it was clear to see how even within the different sub-camps, with majority of the camp being with non-Native allies this presents a lot of questions and challenges. Allies are crucial in this fight to defend the water, but there is a need to continue to have open conversations on intentions and impacts in Native-led spaces where tribal leadership and wisdom may be new concepts for you but must be respected at the same time.

Screen Shot 2016-12-05 at 9.21.05 AM.png

On Thursday, November 17th, a large group of us, water protectors, rolled out to Bismarck and Mandan, ND to rally outside a Federal courthouse demanding that President Obama take immediate action to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from being constructed. We then proceeded to march and circle the Morton County Correctional Center where the Morton Country Sheriff is headquartered. Water protectors chanted to demand the release of Red Fawn Fallis, a water protector who is facing charges of attempted murder after authorities claimed she fired shots at law enforcement while she was being arrested during the October 27th raid on the Oceti Sakowin 1851 treaty land encampment. Some of local town “counter protestors” had plenty of choice words for us when participating in peaceful direct action, which was mostly comical, but unsettling all the same. It’s almost hard to conceptualize why they consider water protectors “terrorists” for standing their ground. When in turn, it was these same communities north of Bismarck who feverishly opposed the pipeline being constructed closer to their communities and would have threatened their water supplies, but their opposition wasn’t met with this strong of a military presence.

On Friday, November 18th, the International Indigenous Youth Council led a direct action at the barricade north of the Oceti Sakowin camp. Hundreds of water protectors and allies stood, sat, and knelt at the bridge to pray and stand in solidarity. In those moments, I felt connected to land we stood on, the water, and I felt calm and empowered to be alongside the protectors and allies defending our life source and sovereignty as indigenous peoples.

Being able to go up there and experience some of what is taking place on the frontlines is something that will always stick with me. I felt a personal calling to stand in solidarity largely because I grew up respecting, cherishing and understanding that water is sacred. My mother’s family is from the Navajo Nation, and in Navajo (Diné) something that has always resonated with me is “Tó éí ííńá át’é” which means “water is life”. Similarly, the Lakota way of saying this phrase is also “Mni Wiconi” which can be heard randomly exclaimed throughout the camps at Standing Rock as a way to get people pumped up. As a Diné woman, I embrace the notion that we are our ancestors prayers in the flesh, we are the seventh generation, and I support and stand with our relative who are putting it all on the line to protect our waters, our lands, and our people.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.