In the face of all of this, generation after generation of colonized peoples struggled to fight back and to preserve their lives and communities.
Ojibwe people around Lake Superior remember the Sandy Lake Tragedy of 1850. It had been announced that the yearly payment of food, tools, guns, etc, which they were owed by treaty, would be delivered at a fort in Sandy Lake, Minnesota, rather than the normal delivery point in Wisconsin. This was a trick by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, who knew that it would take hundreds of people to carry the load back to traditional winter territory, over 200 miles away. When those hundreds of people showed up at Sandy Lake, they were told to wait, the supplies had not arrived yet. They waited for months, many people died of disease or malnutrition. Eventually some supplies arrived, but they were a fraction of what was promised, and much of the food was rancid. More died as the returning party struggled to make it home in the winter. All told, over 400 people died, which was 12% of the total Ojibwe population at that time.
In outrage, Ojibwe people organized, drafted petitions, and sent representatives to Washington. Chief Buffalo and his companions made an incredibly difficult journey and managed to get a personal meeting with President Millard Fillmore, where they insisted on new treaties giving their people strong hunting and fishing rights throughout their traditional territories and establishing reservations on some of the most important lands, like wild ricing areas. To this day, Ojibwe people in Wisconsin have stronger treaty rights and more collective power than many indigenous groups in the US.
On the other side of the Great Lakes region in the 1850s, people were banding together to fight for the abolition of slavery and an increase in women’s rights. Maybe this fox whispering from behind the clothesline could be Harriet Tubman – in her early years she guided bands of escapees through the Underground Railroad into New York and Canada, during the Civil War she lead raids on plantations, and then later in life she became prominent in the women’s suffrage movement. She traveled the northern states working alongside Susan B Anthony of New York, who also devoted her life to fighting for equal rights, spreading the word through petition drives, changing local laws, and even getting arrested for a civil disobedience action of voting in 1872!
Between the 1890s and 1920s, there were great uprisings of agrarian and working-class people all over the US, leading to the formation of the Grange, the Populist movement, and numerous labor unions. Great Lakes states saw these struggles as well. Coal miners fought and died in Central Illinois, as part of the 30-year struggle collectively known as the “Mine Wars” – coal miners in Appalachia and in Colorado were also working hard to create unions and strike to demand workers rights like minimum wage, the 8-hour day, safety regulations, workers compensation, and an end to child labor. The great labor organizer Mother Jones, who was present for the famous Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia, also rallied for the union cause in Central Illinois. There is a very touching monument to her in the Mt Olive Union coal miners cemetery where she is buried next to “her boys.”
During this time of great upheavals, there was also a powerful elite counter-movement, which was facilitated primarily by the US Supreme Court. In 1886 the Court found that the 14th Amendment, which had recently changed “property” into “persons” – slaves into citizens – also applied to corporations, and from that point forward directors and stock-holders were shielded from responsibility for their actions behind the legal fiction of a “corporate citizen.”
Once corporations were considered “persons,” elite lawyers over the generations have talked the Supreme Court into granting corporations one privilege after another, and changing laws to favor corporate rights over human rights. Regulatory agencies like the FDA, FCC, EPA were created as bureaucratic bulwarks which would present a caring face to citizens while consistently approving any corporate proposal, further protecting owners of corporations from being held accountable by the angry public.
Which means that the individuals who run these corporate activities have rights to do whatever they want regardless of the negative impacts on others. In the US, a corporations right to conduct business trumps a county boards right to protect groundwater. Thats true – thats the law, all over this country it has been happening, corporations sue and win against any community that tries to keep them out… With new Free Trade Agreements, this is becoming law in more countries all over the world.
In spite of a rich history of resistance, we are still living in a colonial paradigm today. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is an example of corporate interests once again making the laws, and we can see clearly colonial intentions in there “Open for Business” model laws that restrict voting rights, roll back social justice movement wins, treat women and people of color as sub-human, extract private profit from everything even schools and prisons, and repeal environmental protections as well as local control.
Free trade agreements like the upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are threatening to undermine even state control and now mega-corporations like Monsanto and Nestle are muscling into every country in the world, seeking to monopolize seeds and water, life itself.
The colonial pyramid scheme assumes that those at the bottom will be gobbled up – land will be stripped, slaves will be worked to death – and so it must always grow and expand, and today we can see that it has gone global. In the now global pyramid scheme, power and resources always flow up, abuse and environmental degradation always flow down.
After generations of exponential growth, the pyramid now looks like an exponential growth curve – a few at the top are unimaginably wealthy (we call them the 1% nowadays), while more and more people are being pushed down into destitution and desperation at the bottom.
This is especially true in the Global South, were millions of people are piling into overflowing cities because their homelands are being destroyed by mines, hydropower dams, deforestation, desertification, and war.