In 1940, Walter Benjamin wrote, “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ’emergency situation’ in which we live is the rule. We must arrive at a concept of history which corresponds to this. Then it will become clear that the task before us is the introduction of a real state of emergency; and our position in the struggle against Fascism will thereby improve.” (thesis 8) It’s a good thing that Pagans and Polytheists have been talking about strengthening their communities and developing defense and solidarity networks, but black and brown people in America have long been living in an “emergency situation.” Obama has deported over 2.5 million undocumented immigrants while in office. Black, indigenous, Hispanic and Latino people have been killed by the police at consistently higher rates than those seen as white. This reality must be kept in mind as we analyze the present moment.Benjamin also wrote that “to articulate what is past does not mean to recognize ‘how it really was.’ It means to take control of a memory, as it flashes in a moment of danger.” (ibid 6) We live in a moment of danger, but it is up to us whether or not we will seize memories from the past as they flash by, and which memories they will be. For “the true picture of the past whizzes by” and “threatens to disappear with every present which does not recognize itself as meant in it.” (ibid 5)
Like the 1930s, the present is once again “a moment wherein the politicians in whom the opponents of Fascism had placed their hopes have been knocked supine, and have sealed their downfall by the betrayal of their own cause.” (ibid 10) Like the German Social Democrats, “the stubborn faith in progress of these politicians, their trust in their ‘mass basis’ and finally their servile subordination into an uncontrollable apparatus have been three sides of the same thing.” (ibid 10)
In such a moment, we are reminded that “it has been given us to know, just like every generation before us, a weak messianic power, on which the past has a claim. This claim is not to be settled lightly.” (ibid 2) This messianic power is weak because there is nothing inevitable about its victory. Like our ancestors before us, we may well be crushed once again by the ruling classes. Like them, we will seek ways to survive nonetheless. But perhaps this time we will become that “final enslaved and avenging class, which carries out the work of emancipation in the name of generations of downtrodden to its conclusion.” (ibid 12)
Benjamin described the seizing of the past in the moment of danger as an explosive rather than a progressive process:
For Robespierre, Roman antiquity was a past charged with the here-and-now, which he exploded out of the continuum of history. The French revolution thought of itself as a latter day Rome. It cited ancient Rome exactly the way fashion cites a past costume. Fashion has an eye for what is up-to-date, wherever it moves in the jungle of what was. It is the tiger’s leap into that which has gone before […] into the open sky of history. (ibid 14)
Make It Impossible for This System to Govern on Stolen Land
Benjamin’s call for the “introduction of a real state of emergency” is echoed in Indigenous Action Media’s recent essay “Anti-colonial & Anti-fascist Action: Make It Impossible for This System to Govern on Stolen Land,” which reminds its readers that “moments and movements” such as Black Lives Matter and the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) “are the result of ongoing resistance that has been waged for hundreds of years on these lands.” The essay quotes black anarchist Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin’s statement that “we must make it impossible for Trump to govern the country, and must put power in the hands of the people in the streets.”
The struggle against the DAPL, also known as the Black Snake (zuzeca sape), is one that reflects both the current global “state of emergency” and a long history of anti-colonial warfare on the plains of North America. On Oct. 27, six different states (Wisconsin, Indiana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, and Nebraska) sent officers to assist North Dakota police raid the Sacred Ground camp which was located on Lakota territory under the terms of the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, and directly blocking the path of the DAPL. The out-of-state police were sent under the auspices of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, an interstate compact that was supposedly “designed for natural disaster situations,” but which has been used against two uprisings in the past two years: the Baltimore rebellion after the police killing of Freddie Grey, and Standing Rock.
In the course of the Oct. 27 raid, a DAPL security guard pointed an AR-15 at water protectors, but his truck was run off the road, looted and burned. The National Guard was sent against a blockade on Highway 1806, the incursion was fiercely resisted, and two military supply trucks were set on fire as well. The active participation of the U.S. military in the operation is a clear sign that the Indian wars never ended. Small wonder that an Oct. 30 dispatch from Red Warrior Camp signed off with the phrase, “In The Spirit of Crazy Horse.”
The Indigenous Action Media essay makes explicit the terms of the ongoing war between the forces of colonization and indigenous communities:
We stopped talking about hope when we had to focus on survival. […] We reconnected to the understanding that we never had a choice but to fight. That colonization has always been war. That we are survivors of its brutality. That we’ve never stopped fighting.
We understand the difference between power over and power with. That there’s more power to the power of people than choosing which system will rule them. That no politician can ever represent Indigenous lifeways within the context of a political system established by colonialism. That representational/electoral politics are oppositional to liberation from colonial oppression. That the struggles of our ancestors, who defended Mother Earth and her beings with prayers and weapons in hand, is the same struggle that we carry forward today.
We Resonate Across More than One Time and Place
Many calls for direct support and solidarity with the struggle against the DAPL have been made, including by witches and spirit-workers. A “clandestine coven at Standing Rock” has issued a call “to all witches, pagans, and co-conspirators of earth centered spiritual faith to join us in resistance.” They write: “We call you to join a frontline battle in a spiritual war that has been raging for centuries. A war against a dead civilization for all life on earth.”
Spirit-workers have invoked a curse against “the Agents, Executives, and Mercenaries of the Dakota Access Pipeline,” utilizing a sigil which they invite “those who wish to support this curse to inscribe […] against the buildings, cars, equipment of company executives & agents, and law enforcement and private security agencies who serve as their mercenaries.“
Since Nov.11, water protectors in Olympia, Washington have been blocking railroad tracks in order to stop “a train carrying hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) proppants from exiting the Port of Olympia.” “Proppants” are ceramic beads used in the fracking process, and the proppants aboard the blocked train are intended for the Bakken oil fields where the oil which DAPL is being built to transport is extracted. On Nov.18, the encampment was cleared by the police, but in the words of one blockader, “This isn’t over. This is never over.” Funds are being raised for legal fees.
The water protectors in Olympia explicitly state that “as we hold down the tracks in Olympia, we resonate across more than one time and place.” They invoke the memory of the Port Militarization Resistance struggle of 2007, when military shipments intended for the Iraq War were blockaded at the port of Olympia. “There is a real force that shares power between these times and places where people have and continue to resist authority,” they write.
Another article traces the roots of the special agents of the Union Pacific Railroad back to the infamous Pinkerton Detective Agency: “It is appropriate that the blockade be facing the same agency that birthed both the FBI and every major private security company in the US. All of them were created to protect capital and for no other reason. This is their only function.” The writers align themselves with the “indigenous people, bandits, and saboteurs” who attacked Union Pacific railroads in the 1800s, with the Homestead Steel Works strikers who fought the Pinkertons, with a long and rich lineage of resistance.
Train blockades have been used elsewhere in the anti-DAPL struggle as well, ranging geographically from Atlanta, Georgia to Mandan, North Dakota (about 80 kilometers north of the anti-DAPL encampments) to Montreal, Quebec to the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory. During the 1990 conflict at nearby Kanesatake, warriors from Kahnawake shut down the Mercier Bridge for over a month. In solidarity with the struggle against DAPL, the Mercier Bridge was again blocked for several hours on October 28, and train tracks were blockaded on November 4 and again on November 15. The effectiveness of the tactic can be seen in a proposed law in Washington State that would make blocking oil trains or otherwise disrupting transportation and commerce a felony and label such actions “economic terrorism.”
The Services of Theology
Marxists believe that “the puppet called ‘historical materialism’ is always supposed to win.” Comparing the relationship between historical materialism and theology to that of a chess-playing automaton manipulated by a dwarf hidden inside it, Walter Benjamin turned this thesis on its head: “it can do this […] so long as it employs the services of theology, which as everyone knows is small and ugly and must be kept out of sight.” (ibid 1)
I believe that the guidance of the gods, ancestors and spirits is what will get me and my communities through the times ahead. Here I use the word “through” not in the sense of “along,” but in the sense of “exploding the continuum of history.” We aim to survive, to keep our traditions alive, to defend ourselves, to destroy the system which seeks to destroy us, and to find joy and beauty and love in every moment of the struggle.
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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.