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.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.