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On Beating Extinction and Refusing Eviction: A Letter to #NoDAPL’s Frontline

By Kelly Hayes

I write these words on what’s a cold night in my city, and a much colder night where my heart is — with my friends in Standing Rock. My writing, which typically centers movements, often sways between news and analysis. My coverage of #NoDAPL has been no exception. But this piece is neither news nor analysis, because these words are for you, my people, for our Protectors and resistors — for those who aren’t seeking to be heroes, but who are nonetheless members of heroic movements and communities.

Protestors standing in front of a Citibank holding signs related to #NoDAPL
Chicagoans shut down a Citibank branch in solidarity with #NoDAPL. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

To you I write these words, on the night the governor of North Dakota has issued you an eviction notice, like so many notices issued to so many displaced people. One of the ironic distinctions of course, is that marginalized people are usually pushed out into the cold by eviction, whereas you are being threatened with rescue, due to your own decision to face the elements. While that menace has thus far masked itself in concern, we know better, and what stage is likely being set — one of forcible removal, consistent with the history of colonialism.

I hope people see your determination and know that future isn’t set. Knowing that myself, I am not mourning today’s news, as I am sure you wouldn’t want me to. We know despair heals nothing, builds nothing, and further empowers our enemies. We live in a disciplined state of hope, and have done so for centuries. I didn’t always understand what that meant for me or my own freedom, but I do now, and I feel it more deeply because of you.

We all take joy and comfort where we can, but my whole heart is with you tonight. Whether you are afraid or not, whether you are staying or not. I know a good many of you will hold the space you’ve grounded yourself in, and that on every front, this struggle will continue. I know we are not stifled by their proclamations. I am grateful to you all — those who will stay, those who feel they must leave, and those who made that space a home for as long as they could. There is something revitalized in the air we breathe because of you. In this moment, I believe in us as I never have, not because I didn’t believe in our potential, but because I had only witnessed snapshots of its expression.

I have not been alone in my years of resistance, but I have never felt so far from loneliness in what it means to struggle as a Native person — even as an “urban NdN,” because I believe we have found something there too — a connection of the dots in our collective constellation, and in some moments, where those lights branch elsewhere.

painting of Standing Rock protestors, "from Chicago to Standing Rock"
(Image: Monica Trinidad)

I believe in us, and that we are ready, more so than I have ever envisioned, to rise up against every threat to our survival and self determination. We have survived the rise of a nation state — a “super power” — grounded in our genocide. This country, built on death and human bondage, has not extinguished the lives it meant to snuff out, nor fully subverted the lives it has strived to control. It has accomplished much towards these ends, but our ancestors have risen, time after time, to prove what we are made of.

We have survived this nation state’s will for us because we are a fire that their water cannons cannot extinguish.

I am so many miles away from you tonight, but I feel your fire, burning in the freezing cold, in a place I’ve visited, but have not managed to live. You have fed that fire with every hour you have held that space. I know you’re not done yet, but I want you to know that your victories have come in stages, all building to this moment, and whatever trial or climax comes next. I want you to know that you have moved us and will continue to move us, bringing us closer to the united front we must form, with ourselves and with those pushing against every other pillar of white supremacy.

I am here for you and this. My disability and responsibilities keep me from joining you in that cold, beautiful heart of resistance that your blood — the blood of what couldn’t be killed — has kept beating. But I am living in this moment with you so that our peoples may live, and until we all get free. I will live for that, now and always, until we uproot every pipe they try to lay through our land, until we halt their violence and empty their cages. I want you to know, and have to tell you, that I will live for you, for us, and our co-strugglers, until we are living our freedom dreams — whether I live to see that day or not — and that in this moment, you give me life.


Kelly Hayes is a direct action trainer and a cofounder of The Chicago Light Brigade and the direct action collective Lifted Voices. She is community relations associate and a contributing writer at Truthout and her photography is featured in the “Freedom and Resistance” exhibit of the DuSable Museum of African American History. Kelly’s contribution to the anthology Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? stems from her work as an organizer against state violence and her ongoing analysis of movements in the United States. Kelly was also a contributing writer and co-editor of the anthology The Solidarity Struggle: How People of Color Succeed and Fail at Showing Up for Each Other in the Fight for Freedom, and is a monthly contributor to BGD. Kelly’s writing can also be found at her blog Transformative Spaces.

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