In a line of barely-awake, Starbucks-craving New Yorkers, Floris White Bull is a vision in her Native American Dress.
She's only an afternoon away from the premiere of Awake: A Dream From Standing Rock, a film debuting at the Tribeca Film Festival in which she both narrates and features, and tells the story behind the struggles at Standing Rock against the famed Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).
Waiting for our coffees, she tells me that after our interview she's headed to a rally to protest the DAPL, amid the pouring rain on a gloomy Saturday, before she leaves for the evening's red carpet soirée.
White Bull was chosen as one of the subjects of the documentary by filmmaker Josh Fox after a fortuitous meeting in Iowa. White Bull was in attendance to show support for a friend who had begun a blockade in her town against the prospect of the DAPL cutting through their land.
Fox had been accumulating footage for the documentary while penning an accompanying script which he planned to narrate. But after hearing White Bull speak at the protest he asked if she would take over the narration.
White Bull was by then a seasoned veteran speaking on behalf of the Sioux Tribe and Standing Rock's cause. Having chosen a degree in Energy Technology and then minoring in American Studies, she was well-acquainted with the effects of the DAPL on the land and the muddy future that would await those living off the water supply in the region if the legislation was pushed through.
"What's happening today in energy development is that there's a disregard for people's ties to the land."
-Floris White Bull
Her father, who raised her and her siblings by himself, had been a forward thinker when it came to clean energy. When he passed away, White Bull was adamant to pursue a dream of his. "The best way to honour a person is to follow one of their dreams to fruition," she says. White Bull was painfully aware of the ramifications of such a pipeline once the plans were disclosed. The pipeline and protecting the land it would run through would become her life's work.
Floris White BullInitially, neither side thought the standoff would last as long as it did. "You're facing a billion-dollar company and I lived on my [college] stipend - me and my [five] children," she remarks, continuing, "the feeling of helplessness I felt was unbelievably overwhelming."
Having been taken to prison after what is now known as "The Treaty Camp Raid," White Bull had real experience of the degradation and disrespect with which the local police force treated her people and those who stood with them with.
Floris White Bull and partner Mikasi at Awake: A Dream From Standing Rock premiers at Tribeca Film Festival
The unrest at Standing Rock was not the first time the Native tribes had clashed with the local police department or government. In the 1950's, Congress passed an act to construct dams in Dakota, the result of which would mean the river around the tribes' land would flood. Local tribes were left with no option other than moving further upland, and without any notice. "They came in and moved the people at gun point," White Bull's grandparent's generation said. "When the officiating priest was trying to identify the bodies as they were digging up our relatives to pull them out and get them out of that area - they weren't able to identify everyone they pulled out. So in my community in our cemetery now there's a whole space that's just marked unknown."
They weren't, however, able to get everyone out of their graves before the work started and now, White Bull says, when the water level drops, those bodies will sometimes rise to the surface.
"That's our history with the army corp of engineers. Just that - but it's just a slice. And that was just an act passed by Congress - just the flick of a pen, and how much it inflicted on us," White Bull remarks.
The pain suffered by the tribes at that time was emulated once again on the first day of Donald Trump's presidency, during which he signed an executive order for the DAPL to move forward.
“These are pipelines we don't even need," says White Bull. And is resolute that it's the billionaires that are the only people who are going to benefit from it. The regular person's oil costs are not going to plummet from the implementation of these new lines, she explains. “These billionaires are completely out of touch with the common people," she comments. "And don't understand what they're doing."
Looking back at the support the tribe received from the world, White Bull says, "it was an amazing convergence of all these different aspects of community." She continues: "It created a space for all of us to come together. Different religions, different races, it was truly beyond more than any of us could have ever asked for."
Given Trump's order of business, the future of Standing Rock remains uneasy. But although oil is currently flowing through the pipes, White Bull holds out hope for a future repeal of the order and a cessation of the line. “As we speak there is oil flowing through that pipeline," she says, "that doesn't mean this is done. We can still shut it down."
“A lot us are going through PTSD from what happened right now," she says. It wasn't something she ever expected, but admits that while they were not in a "conventional" type of warzone, that she saw things regular people should not see on a day-to-day basis. "A lot of things I see, normal people aren't meant to see things like that." Once the executive order was signed, her cousin, a military veteran who served in Iraq, warned her she would now succumb to feelings of boredom the likes of which she could have never imagined. And it's taken a toll on her mentally.
Going forward, White Bull intends to focus and concentrate her efforts on clean energy, while her partner fights upcoming pipelines in Oklahoma. She's shocked by the massive investments banks are making in these pipelines instead of in clean, renewable energy - where, regardless of what any politician believes, the future of the world's energy lies. Oil spills damaging the environment occur everyday. “Clean energy, is not supposed to be a dirty word," she comments, while lamenting the loss of the water source for which she has devoted the last year of her life.
Awake: A Dream From Standing Rock premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday, April 22nd, and can be watched here for a small donation.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.