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How Standing Rock Birthed a New Generation of Independent Left-Wing Media

Independent, activist media, such as Unicorn Riot, covered the Standing Rock camps of water protectors fighting the North Dakota Access Pipeline before and after big media took an interest. These citizen journalists were arrested, had their drones shot down, and slept in tents in freezing weather. Some of them were beaten by cops. Many of them are indigenous. 

CHEREE FRANCO

CHEREE FRANCO

VICE

A crew of journalism collectives and livestreamers were more effective at covering the movement than the mainstream media.

On April 1, 2016, a caravan of 40 horses and about 200 water protectors rode 30 miles from Fort Yates, North Dakota, to a newly formed prayer camp on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. The camp, dubbed Sacred Stone, was already home to a few dozen activists, there to protest the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) that they consider a threat to their water supply.

Though the camp and its ensuing conflict with authorities became major news months later, at the time the caravan was covered by just two media outlets, the local Bismarck Tribune and a volunteer collective out of Minneapolis called Unicorn Riot. For almost a year, as water protectors held prayer ceremonies, established a school, and occasionally clashed with police, Unicorn Riot was on the ground, documenting it all.

In October and November, when Standing Rock activists faced mass arrests and harsh police tactics, the mainstream media had little to no presence there, but outlets such as MSNBC, Reuters, VICE, Mother Jones, and RT featured footage from Unicorn Riot, as well as from personal livestreamers and drone pilots, who documented law enforcement macing activists and spraying them with water canons in subfreezing temperatures

Unicorn Riot remained in the camps when thousands of veterans showed up one chaotic week in December, when the Army Corps of Engineers denied the company behind the DAPL the easement it needed to finish construction, when the Standing Rock Sioux tribe asked the water protectors to leave, when the decision on the easement was reversed under the Trump administration, and finally, when the camps were cleared in February. By then, national interest in Standing Rock had waned, and three Unicorn Riot reporters had already been arrested covering the protests. 

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