Both Standing Rock and the infamous desert art festival (in its early pre-police days) are examples of temporary autonomous zones, which I will refer to as “TAZ,” because even if it wasn’t already an acronym, it just sounds badass.
This term, invented by anarchist philosopher and sweet-ass-name-haver Hakim Bey, refers to “temporary spaces that elude formal structures of control.” Building a TAZ can be a great protest tactic. You just pick a spot where your presence can disrupt something in need of disruption and build a town around it.
There was no strict hierarchy at Standing Rock. One of the first things we saw driving into the camp was a large series of tents set up as essentially a gigantic free closet full of winter wear for all who needed it. There were also camps, and sections of camps, dedicated to providing free coffee for all. There were camps which cooked meals with donated ingredients for everyone (we ate buffalo stew and buttered vegetables), and camps that handled recycling.
There were camps where both trained medical professionals and nonsense medical professionals were on hand to perform emergency medicine, give back rubs, and do whatever the fuck Reiki is. There was a camp of legal experts and a camp full of press liaisons. They weren’t hired for the event; they showed up, found other people with similar skills, and started doing whatever it is they did best. We considered starting a dick joke tent, but then assumed they already had one.
We did occasionally hear talk of “elders,” which got us all excited about the possibility of learning a new Dragon Shout, but it turns out they weren’t that kind of elder. One night, we heard an announcement over a bullhorn at the main fire that the elders had advised everyone to head back to their camps for the evening, since it might drop below freezing. It was advice, not an order. A liaison at a camp where U.S. Military veterans gathered to pool their skills told us they listened to advice from the elder council, “but we are here to serve the people, just as when we were deployed.”