The following short documentary focuses on some of the direct action tactics protestors engaged in to block the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Approximately 20,000 indigenous Americans from hundreds of tribes and their supporters occupied contested land near the Standing Rock reservation in during 2016-17 in their efforts to block DAPL construction. Although the US government claims the land the DAPL runs through, the1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie cedes it to the Lakota Nation.
Referring to themselves as “water protectors,” specific tactics Standing Rock protestors employed to halt pipeline construction included locking themselves down to heavy construction equipment, dismantling and sabotaging equipment and confronting construction workers to run them off their land.
When protestors were confronted by a highly militarized police force, they were forced to change tactics, with more focus on property damage and setting fire to vehicles of intruders.
Individuals the filmmakers refer to as “peace police,” played a much bigger role in undermining the protests than uniformed police in riot gear. In addition to police and government undercover agents that are common to all resistance movements, the water protectors had to deal with interference from paid tribal leaders (who draw a salary from the US government and have little connection with traditional tribal governance) and with non-indigenous non-profit organization such as Greenpeace and Forest Ethics. Both organizations are notorious for advancing their own campaigns by cutting secret deals with fossil fuel companies. Such agreements typically include a requirement for the non-profit groups to coopt and limit direct action by more militant activists.
My favorite scene is the one in which Chevron officials try to make a deal with Lakota activists to enter their land in return for a peace offering of bottled water and tobacco.
According to the promo, END:CIV “examines our culture’s systemic addiction to violence and environmental exploitation.”
The title is drawn from Pac Man, an arcade came that first came out in 1980. In one of the world’s first video games, the player guides Pac Man, a small faceless mouth, through a maze while he devours Pac Dots and tries to escape blob monsters. The first three minutes of END:CIV superimpose a Pac Man game over images of old growth clear cuts, belching smokestacks, factory hog farms, wild fires, hurricanes and the US military’s ruthless killing machine. The sequence ends as a gigantic “GAME OVER” flashes across the screen.
The film is based on the Endgame, the best selling two volume book Derrick Jensen published in 2006. In Endgame, Jensen argues that mankind urgently needs to bring down “civilization” before it destroys the planet. He bases his case on twenty basic premises he lists at the beginning of both volumes. The film END:CIV examines four of them.
Premise 1 – industrialized civilization has never been and will never be sustainable, mainly because it’s based on non-renewable resources.
The film, like Jensen’s book, traces the rise of cities, which by necessity steal resources from distant regions and eventually denude the entire landscape of those resources. After making the case that the corporate elite are mindlessly and voraciously consuming an ever increasing amount of energy, land, water and other resources, the filmmaker reminds us that we live on a finite planet. He then argues that corporations will most likely continue this greedy consumption until everything is used up – or until we stop them.
Premise 2 – A major focus of industrialized civilization has been to destroy indigenous communities by force – because they don’t willingly allow the confiscation of their natural and mineral resources. A corollary of Premise 2 is that without its heavy reliance on violence, industrial civilization would collapse.
In an cameo from a public forum, Jensen explains that much of violence is invisible and a matter of conditioning. He gives the example of the cop who will pull a gun and drag you to jail if you don’t pay your rent or satisfy your hunger by eating off grocery shelves. Yet we are all indoctrinated to believe that people must pay for the right to exist on this planet.
The film goes on to criticize the main message put out by the nonprofit environmental movement: that people can remedy pervasive violence, resource theft and exploitation by making politically correct purchases.
In the view of Jensen and other activists featured in the film, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Forest Ethics and similar “eco-bureaucracies” have essentially sold out by making preservation of the global economy more important than saving the planet.
This section is also highly critical of the dogmatic opposition of the environmental movement towards violent resistance. Jensen does a great send up of the movie Star Wars. In his version, the rebels don’t destroy Darth Vader by blowing up the death star. Instead they promote eco-tours and Fair Trade products from endangered planets and send waves of compassion and loving kindness towards Darth Vader, while locking themselves down on his ship. They also vote to condemn and exclude the renegades who propose to blow up the death star – for allowing themselves to be contaminated by Darth Vader’s culture of violence.
Premise 3 – the culture (of industrialized society) as a whole and most of its inhabitants are insane.
The section points out that, contrary to popular belief, no combination of fossil or alternative fuels will allow us to continue our current “happy motoring” society. It focuses on Alberta’s insane tar sands project, the most environmentally destructive enterprise in history.
Premise 4 – from the beginning, the culture of civilization has been a culture of occupation.
The film ends with a brief overview of the resistance movement in Nazi-occupied Europe. In the final scene, Jensen poses the provocative and disarming question:
“If your homeland was invaded by aliens who cut down the forests, poisoned the water and air and contaminated your food supply, at what point would you resist?”