In a defining moment at the intersection of environmental racism and indigenous sovereignty, the standoff at Standing Rock brought together Water Protectors from hundreds of Native American First Nations and Indigenous Tribes in solidarity.

Citizen reporters and progressive journalists have battled the negligence of big media and the surveillance of militarized police to broadcast powerful images of peaceful and prayerful demonstration in the face of brutal assaults by oil mercenaries backed by state law enforcement. Revolution Messaging was able to pitch in by producing media on behalf of Water Protectors, all of which is now available to the public domain.

Digital Organizing at Standing Rock

With sparse cell reception at Standing Rock, communication is difficult. The few members of the media who make the trip share a generator with the rest of camp atop Facebook Hill, the only place at Oceti Sakowin Camp with reliable service. There’s patchy hotspot wi-fi, and it’s liable to be hacked – this is a revolution, after all. With these constraints, the ubiquity of mobile technology has made text messaging the most accessible tool for digitally organizing collective direct actions in the field and across the country at once.

Digital Organizing at Standing Rock

Grassroots fundraising is not just for digital-age presidential campaigns: ahead of the Army Corps threat to siege Oceti Sakowin Camp, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was flooded with donations from supporters across the country who were called to act on behalf of clean water. As the movement grew, it drew national attention and supporters far beyond the tribe itself. Celebrities and legislators, like Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, added a spark to the movement by making the long trip to Oceti Sakowin Camp to stand in solidarity with Water Protectors. Their presence helped others recognize the broader struggle for social justice encompassed by the Tribe’s stand. But with increasing danger in the field, the Water Protectors needed a legitimate portal to aggregate the influx of cash and nerve.

In February, Revolution Messaging joined forces with Blackout For Human Rights to engage and fundraise for #JusticeforFlint using Revere Mobile. Much like in Flint, we were able to step in to deploy our Revere technology on standwithstandingrock.net to help channel the flow of calls and donations directly to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Visitors to the site were prompted to call the White House, sign the official petition and donate. Over Thanksgiving weekend alone, over 15,000 people opted in to the mobile list (50% of those clicked to donate) and Revere Calling logged over 12,000 minutes of calls to the White House. Callers were prepared by a recorded briefing from a Tribe leader, then patched through.

Using these tools, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has been able to organize people inside and outside the movement by collecting the much-needed data to build and sustain a resistance. Scalable digital communications are the key to the success of these rapidly evolving decentralized movements. Mobile platforms empower organizers to communicate quickly with excellent response rates from rapidly growing constituencies because word of mouth matters to millennials who give a shit, and all of them check their texts.

Digital Organizing at Standing Rock

As we near the end of a deeply unpopular year, it feels good to get a win. Still, the present perfect tense of this report is intentional: the struggle at Standing Rock is far from over, and the tiny victory of denying easement for an Environmental Impact Study may be quickly overridden by the incoming administration. Corporate oil profits still motivate the amoral machinery behind a state that has repeatedly demonstrated its disinterest in the protection of the people in its jurisdiction. In these times, peaceful Native Americans on their own land aren’t the only ones facing eviction notices, or the only people of color being poisoned by their own government. Standing Rock was just one instance of people finding themselves fiercely awakened by the physical and spiritual destruction of our habitat.

As the ground freezes in North Dakota, committed protectors continue to wage prayerful action to hold their ground. While others take up the call to act elsewhere, there are many battles left to fight – and digital organizing is as important as ever.

Digital Organizing at Standing Rock
Photos by Arun Chaudhary.