Yet another experience has shown me that I am far from my ideal when it comes to approaching social advocacy as a means of grace. My husband and I attended a meeting of the Whiteclay Awareness Group, and I felt my sense of righteous indignation increase as the speakers described the situation in this unincorporated township of 12 people in the northwestern part of Nebraska.
In summary, I learned that Whiteclay, NE has four liquor stores that sell the equivalent of 4 million cans of beer a year to the Oglala Sioux of the Pine Ridge reservation. The township does not have a police force, which means that the county sheriff must investigate all of the complaints lodged against the liquor stores. Sheridan county covers 2,470 square miles, so the sheriff and his deputies are spread thin and can not regularly patrol the area.
The lack of law enforcement has fostered an environment where alcohol has been sold to minors and the inebriated. Food stamps and sex acts have been traded for alcohol.
In November 2015, the county commissioners met with the local state senator, the county attorney, the sheriff, and more than 30 other people concerned about the deteriorating conditions in Whiteclay. (A summary of the issues discussed is posted here.) As of yet, the county commissioners have not said what they intend to do to address the public safety issues.
My moral outrage centered on the liquor licenses that continue to be issued to these four stores despite the hostile atmosphere they have created in Whiteclay and Pine Ridge. Possible forms of social protest went through my mind. I wanted to know if the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission had public meetings and what forms of public protests would be necessary in order to persuade the commission to do the right thing and revoke these liquor licenses.
I was not feeling any love for the other side, which I had already decided included the store owners, the county commissioners, the sheriff, the liquor control commissioners, and the governor. They were the enemy that needed to be opposed and defeated. Several days would pass before it occurred to me that these people might be the enemy that needed to be loved and transformed.
Remembering the strategy that worked in the Keystone pipeline protest (identifying what mattered to the other side) helped me begin to simmer down. Committing to working on a Lenten devotional that viewed the suffering at Pine Ridge in the light of the suffering of Christ also helped to shift my perspective from resentment towards something a little more positive.
I’m praying for insight into what it means to love the other side in this situation. Knowing that the perpetrators have debased themselves is part of the insight. Wanting their full humanity and dignity to be restored is part of the love. I can see that they have dehumanized themselves. Now, how do I help them become aware of their fall from grace, turn around, and seek a better life for themselves, the people of Whiteclay and of Pine Ridge?