Amanda Poppei, Senior Leader of Washington Ethical Society
In February, I visited the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Bismarck, North Dakota to help them support Oceti Sakowin, the main camp at Standing Rock, and the water protectors. Over the months, the small but dedicated UU group has accepted and distributed donations from across the country, gone on clean-up trips to camp, and provided hospital and jail support for peaceful protestors. (The Washington Ethical Society raised more than $1,500 to donate to the legal fund.) Even now, as the main camp is being dismantled, they look toward the future and how they can support those who are remaining to fight the pipeline and those already in the legal system because of their witness.
This little congregation has been mighty indeed, and it was a pleasure to get to know some of the people there and their minister, Karen Van Fossen. My role was to support Karen however she needed it, and that included practical things like transforming their library from a dumping ground for supplies back into a library, and less tangible support like offering a listening ear to Karen and to congregants there, all of whom have given so much of their heart to this work.
At first, I was pretty disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to see the Oceti Sakowin camp, to meet the leaders who have been part of this incredible, international movement for Native rights and environmentalism. But as I learned more about what it’s like for Bismarck UU to support the camp, I realized I was in exactly the right place. The camp certainly didn’t need tourists coming just to visit. That was clear. So often we want to be on the front lines of social justice work, doing what feels like the “real” work where the media spotlight is shining. But the truth is we need people in the footlights too, and backstage, building infrastructure and capacity and supporting the long-term resilience of those in the center.
I came back with an increased awareness of the need for many kinds of support in the work of resistance, and an increased appreciation for those who don’t make it down to the rally, but instead babysit the children so their spouse can go, or sing in the chorus so that the marchers find inspiration, or run the annual budget drive so the congregation can continue. I’m so grateful for the many ways you all show up, and for the chance I had to show up for the people of Bismarck…and, in so doing, for the Water Protectors and Oceti Sakowin.