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Remembering Beloved UCLA Professor

While at UCLA, I took Professor Mark Sawyer’s course, “Black Experience in Latin America and Caribbean.” I still have the books we read in this class and I still have the slides he made for his lectures. This is one of the most valuable courses I ever took at UCLA and one of the most memorable. His class was interactive and he would incorporate music and popular culture into his curriculum, making the material a lot more relevant and easier to understand.

He also led the abroad program to Puerto Rico with Professor Cesar Ayala and I remember trying to convince people to sign up with me because the program kept getting cancelled due to low student enrollment.

I hope his contributions continue to receive the acknowledgement they deserve and that his legacy remains strong. May he rest in peace.


Transitioning from a Big Household to College

I went from living in a big, noisy Mexican household of eight people, to living in a tiny, quiet room with two other people. I felt out of place, like a fish out of water, for a few weeks after my transition.

My hometown is San Jose, a city within the Bay Area. My home is five hours away on a good day, but sometimes it takes six or seven hours to get there with traffic. Some would say I stayed close to home, and though it is true I can go home fairly easily, it still feels like I’m an incredibly long way from home.

The hardest thing for me was waking up the first couple of days and not hearing the familiar voices. Not hearing my two nieces yelling at the top of their lungs, my brothers happily playing on the PlayStation, my mom and dad making breakfast, our two dogs barking and running around.

I woke up and heard voices that were so new to me it’s as if I almost drowned them out.

I believe family dynamics plays a big role in how difficult or easy a college freshman’s transition is.

What seems like a big move to me, may not seem like a far distance to others. Not every family is the same and while my family is a tight knit, huge family, other students may come from a household of only two or three.

Thankfully, for me, being apart from my family gets easier as the months go by. The first couple of months were the hardest because I did not see my parents for most of fall quarter, but now that I’m busier and more involved on campus, time seems to be flying by quicker and before I know it, it seems as if I am packing up for a weekend back home.

Julianna Swilley, a first year pre psychology major, says she adjusted to college life fairly well, making her transition easier than she thought.

“Not having my mom around was hard because back at home it was just me and her, and being here alone was hard for me,” Swilley states. Swilley believes her family was close, having breakfast together on Sundays and weekly dinner gatherings with her aunts and grandparents, but her transition was easy, something she believes to be “contradicting.”

On the other hand, Paige Mesias, a first year business economics major, said her experience as a college freshman has gotten a bit more challenging. Mesias comes from a large family of seven. Although she believes her first quarter was an easy transition, she now finds herself missing her family more than last quarter. The hardest part for Mesias is not being able to talk to her parents daily. Mesias believes that family dynamics play a role in how difficult or easy a college student’s transition is because an independent person will miss their family a little less than someone who had a close relationship with them.

Whether we come from a small family of two or a big, extended family, it seems that the transition to college affects every freshman differently.

As much as we wanted to tell ourselves that we would be fine without our parents, let’s face it, we miss them just as much as they miss us.

¡AYOTZINAPA RESISTE!: State Sanctioned Violence and Indigenous Resistance

Above photo credit to Al Jazeera Media Network

This article is a collaboration between La Gente staff writers, Maritza Geronimo and Kristian Vasquez.

Este es México. La de este país es una historia de equivocaciones. Pero hasta ahora, siempre de los que equivocan son ellos y nosotros [Indígenas] somos la equivocación y quien la paga.

—Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, un Zapatista de Chiapas, México

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Ayotzinapa Habla del Corazón

On November 21st and 22nd, a father and organizer of the Ayotzinapa 43 movement raised consciousness to the mass kidnapping of the disappeared students. They spoke of what took place on September 26, 2014 in Iguala, Guerrero, México, and the aftermath of what was to come; it was a caravan which would spend two invaluable days at UCLA.

From student-led discussions, questions, and comments and a class led by Chicano Historian Juan Gómez-Quiñonez, El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA)–supported by the Chicana/o Studies Department–organized this important outreach/plática to take place.

The Organizers shared their testimonios of the students from Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa. These students were leading a bus to protest and remember the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre in la Ciudad de México.

The students were intercepted by Iguala municipal police,  were then taken, detained, and handed over to a drug organization. Speakers Felipe de la Cruz and Mario César Gonzalez Contrera discussed corruption and the reality of state sanctioned violence against the Indigenous people of México.

After the events of September 26th, Indigenous Resistance was pioneered by parents, families, and communities. The Ayotzinapa 43 lived on.

This is for them, their parents, and everyone.

This is the consciousness needed by the movement to find the 43.

Below you will find our personal stories, experiences, reflections, and frustrations.


“Ayotzinapa Somos Todos”

Siento su dolor, siento su resistencia, siento la desaparición de los 43. Siento como si fuera mi cuerpo, mi familia, mi sangre—y sí lo es.

The 43 went missing in México, but the pain was and must continue to be felt everywhere until they are found.

September 2014:

The sky feels mi gente’s pain; we cry as one. I hear the crowd count off, “uno, dos, tres, cuatro….” Alone with my camera in hand, I run through the crowd. I see the distress on all the brown faces as they yell for justicia.  Pictures of the 43 young men plastered on poster boards and in them I see myself: an 18 year old college student with a drive to learn and uplift my community. Yet our struggle is not the same, for I am here standing safely while they are missing. Pero su dolor es mi dolor. I carry that pain with me for the next two years. Not a day goes by that I do not remember the 43.

“Vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos.”

November 2016:

I am standing outside the UCLA guest house awaiting MEChA’s two guest speakers: Felipe de la Cruz (representative for the families of the 43) and Mario Cesar Gonzalez Contreras (a father of one of the 43 missing students).

“It has been two years, but it feels like just yesterday. We are tired, but not ready to give up,” they share with a crowd of students. I am translating for them tonight. I translate the words of a father’s broken heart and with every syllable that comes out of my mouth I feel his heartbeat.

Don Mario recounts a personal narrative, one left out of most media outlets, where he recalls the last time he heard his son’s voice on the day of September 26, 3:35 pm. He looks at us students and says, “I have gotten the opportunity to speak in front of many crowds, but by far this college tour has been the hardest. I look at you all and see my son. Many of you are his age. Many of you have similar characteristics.” The crowd is silent. I am hurting yet quickly trying to formulate words for others to understand.

As Don Mario continues, he says, “To be a student in México is to be a threat to the government. Why do you think our children are missing? We cannot trust the police, the narcos, the government: because they are all the same.” If we cannot trust any systems then we as a gente must organize together and not forget the 43. Students are quick to ask the guest, “What can we do to help?”

Don Mario answers, “We were just farmers—humble people. Many of us did not know how to read and now we read every day. We have created a movement—us. You, you have all the tools. If we did it, you can too.”

It has been 2 years: a wound left open, a wound being continuously cut—sangre corriendo. The government’s hands covered in blood, come in for a handshake. Creen que no sabemos. They think they can continue to erase us—pero ya basta. A nuestra gente les quitaron tanto, que les quitaron el miedo. Entonces miremós al gobierno a la cara y recordarles de quien es esta tierra.


“Triste Soy”

Este es nuestro grito, esta es nuestra canción

acabar con la obediencia y aplastar la sumisión

Antes que ser esclavos preferimos morir

Porque la obediencia es muerte y revelarse es vivir

This lyric—from the anarchist punk band de México, Desobediencia Civil—resonates with the powerful, beautiful, and resilient 43 Indigenous students who were taken from all of us.

With the rise of activism from students—of expression and direct-action—state sanctioned violence, which presents itself with the mass kidnapping of these students, speaks volumes. It reminds us all of the importance of protest, of the struggle for real transformation, and its reactive counter from the oppressive nation-state and their respective agents.

These 43 students stood up against what they perceived as wrong, against systems that oppressed, exploited, and marginalized their community. They fought, as Indigenous people of the land, for their liberation and self-determination to resist, exist, and emancipate themselves.

Education, often considered a privilege, is a necessity for all people, a right for all people. Education was fought for by the Ayotzinapa students: 43 sacrificed their lives for such a struggle.

I’m reminded constantly of the brutal, persistent, and unpleasant effects that have ruptured la tierra de México. The conditions of México have been in turmoil ever since the first wave of colonialism in 1492 and its later inception as a nation-state by the Spanish Empire, further complicated by México’s independence and what Mexican anthropologist Guillermo Bonfil Batalla called  the “Imaginary México.” But this gets spoken about differently in many and all spaces; between classes, family, institutions, the government, and so on. We see either its necessity, its benefits, or maybe (when we are critical) we perceive the complexities which birth the motions at work today.

Yet, we must always remember where México is grounded: who inhabits the lands (and always has), who works the land (and experiences first-hand the ills of modernity), and who breathes the air their ancestors did before 1492. The remnants of Mesoamerican civilization and its ongoing survival—these are the Indigenous who suffer the most and the imperative to see through their eyes is exponential.

We must read our history as Raza and see that across Abya Yala we are all connected—but some of us experience drastically different things (from different regions and upbringings), and because of colonialism las Indígenas de esta tierra are subject to subjugation far beyond what we know here in the United States.

With the rise and stabilization of modernity, with its catastrophic results, the situation we bear witness to in México is exemplified by what happened—continues to happen throughout México—in Iguala, Guerrero. The Indigenous people continue to suffer under the hands of colonial legacies and modernities and are erased slowly from the social fabric of our consciousness as we choose to forget. Students like the 43 wanted to mobilize against this reality.

The lost, they bleed through our neglect.

The lost, they incite inside many of us a fire that never burns.

The lost, they must never be forgotten—or we will have given up the Indigenous struggle, and the struggle for our entire Raza’s liberation.

Triste soy por toda mi gente que sufre este tiempo de corrupción.

This is violence, and this is injustice.

¡Ayotzinapa resiste!

As I turned my eyes and ears to the stories bled by a vulnerable father, I felt the pain for the 43 families, of a community who can’t find 43 young students. They paid with their lives for an education, which was evolved by parents to a grander and global movement for the future of México.

We must all struggle for their lives, for their vision, and for the struggle of Indigenous people in México.


Call to Action

“They thought they could bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.” —Popol Vuh

Indigenous people have been at the forefront of our liberation, yet too often it is us who continue to neglect them.

Somos de su sangre—pero no lo queremos admitir—escucha a tu corazón temblar por sus llantos—y verás que son tus llantos también.

As Students of Color, as Raza, it is our time and energy that must be put to work. We are reminded today of Don Mario’s words: “We hope the search does not have to continue for another 2 years”

The movement these parents started must continue to be heard—if it takes another 2 years; let it be 2 years of growing cross community organizing, 2 more years of building consciousness—but do not let 2 more years be silenced. It is our time to recognize our place in the fight for liberation of nuestra raza, which can only truly begin once we realize the 43 students somos todos.

We can no longer look at the Indigenous struggle as something of the past—it has been, it is here, and will continue to be here until we recognize it as our struggle too.

This is a call for you.

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How to Help

Organize! Join Raza groups! Join Student Groups! Create your own consciousness-building collective! Spread the word through your social media; your family, peers, friends, Gente; travel the far corners and yell #Ayotzinapa43Vive!




Maximino Hernandez Cruz
Tesorero de los padres de Ayotzinapa

Num. Cuenta 0105636140 Bancomer

Codigo interbancaria: 012280001056361403


Cel: 7541036291

Press Release: Statewide Strike of the University of California to Impact Students and Public

Below is a press release of the University of California workers strike that is taking place today on the Los Angeles and San Diego UC campuses. The workers, who are represented by Teamsters Local 2010, are protesting unfair labor practice violations. UC workers held a similar demonstration in November protesting insufficient wage increases.


Same School, Different Stories: Getting to Know UCLA’s Non Angelenos

Students travel from all over the world to attend and graduate from an institution like UCLA. This is exactly what makes it such a prestigious university. Students come here with different majors, different cultures, and different experiences, but all with one thing in common: a motivation to succeed.

First year political science major Alejandro Cepeda traveled 2,000 miles to attend UCLA. “My experience has been pretty cool. Living in a big city like LA is great. Everyone wants to come here,” says the South Florida native.

Fortunately for Cepeda, it did not take a lot to convince his parents he was attending school in California.

My parents already dealt with it with my older brother. They were obviously sad about everything but they completely supported me [because] it was to improve my education,” he says.

“My family went to college in Colombia. My parents didn’t finish over there but my grandparents did. It’s a different system there but my brother and I are the first to go to a university in the United States.”

Though his family experienced education through a slightly different educational system, it allowed him to learn the importance of reaching for higher education.

Cepeda also mentions that moving away from home wasn’t a surprise to anyone around him. “I’ve never planned to stay at home in the sense that I would be a commuter, I never wanted to do that. But I always thought I’d go out of state because I have siblings that went to out of state, so it was just normal for me. It wasn’t this crazy idea,” he says.

He has embraced all that UCLA has to offer even taking the step to pledge for Nu Alpha Kappa, a Latino-Based fraternity on campus.

“Being separated from my family can be a bad thing but it’s also a good thing because I get to live on my own. I do everything by myself. It’s a learning experience for me,” he says.

Just a slightly further trip, first-year economics major Arthur Costa traveled 12 hours and 5,5000 miles on a plane from São Paulo, Brazil to spend his next four years at UCLA.

He is very happy having chosen UCLA to continue his education. “My experience has been pretty great, actually. I really like it here. I love California. I thought it was the best state to come to,” he says.

Costa applied to schools from all over the world but narrowed his options to schools in the U.S.

He was also fortunate enough to be influenced by his parents to attend college. Costa is not new to the idea of pursuing education considering that both his parents went to college in Brazil.

Though he is far from home, he hopes to go back to Brazil during the summer and intern at a Brazilian bank. He will definitely continue becoming a competitive candidate for graduate school.

On another note, first-year political science major Cindy Montoya had a different experience coming down to Los Angeles as a California native.

“The move was a little difficult for me because I was so attached to my family, but I got past the homesickness within the first days I got here,” she says.

Montoya traveled all the way from Salinas which is approximately 5 hours away from UCLA. “I come from a big city up in NorCal but nothing compares to the size of LA so everything is new to me.”

Even though she is a first-generation student, her parents continue to emphasize the importance of achieving higher education.

“My parents only finished high school and my sister is just starting her second year at Sacramento State University. Sometimes it feels like I’m doing everything on my own but I know it’ll be worth it for my family and myself,” she says. “My experience has been really great so far. Everyone is very friendly, the campus is beautiful, and L.A. is honestly amazing. It’s like a whole different world in SoCal.”

This just goes to show that UCLA has a diverse set of people with different stories. These three students are living proof that the Latino community is continuously fighting battles and still manage to represent our community in prestigious universities across the world.

On The Hill: Dia de los Muertos

Hand crafted paper mache flowers, yummy sugar skulls, and numerous altars of deceased celebrities adorned Covel Grand Horizon on The Hill Sunday, October 30th.

The event was in celebration of Dia de los Muertos. Organized by the Chicano/a residential floor, they showcased student artwork and hosted live entertainment with their overall theme of Day of the Dead.

According to Catholic beliefs, Dia de los Muertos kicks off the month of November that is dedicated to the souls of purgatory where believers pray for their dead.

Dia de los Muertos is influenced by Mexican indigenous culture and Spanish Catholicism. The holiday is observed on November 2nd and it provides an opportunity for family and friends to honor and commemorate their deceased loved ones.

The holiday is not one marked by sadness but is filled with joy as people remember their loved ones with music and food. Families often remember their dead by setting up altars with offerings of the dead’s favorite objects. People celebrate by making sugar skulls and decorating graves with colorful flowers and by spending time with their deceased loved ones.

Despite being held early, the Dia de los Muertos on event on the Hill, was a complete success. Attendees had the option of making sugar skulls, paper-mache flowers, or just sitting down and enjoying pan de muerto.

There were also altars of deceased celebrities, such as singer Selena Quintanilla-Perez and actor Cantinflas, and paintings related to el Dia de los Muertos for people to admire.

Additionally, there was was a Day of the Dead themed photo booth for people to have their pictures taken. This gave many the opportunity to model the festive face paint offered at the event.

After an hour, UCLA’s Grupo Folklorico took the stage and performed for 30 minutes. They danced beautifully to traditional Mexican songs.

Mariachi de Uclatlan followed Grupo Folklorico. They filled the room with their vibrant music and wooed the audience.

Among the UCLA students attending the event was second year biology major Eveline Garcia. She said her favorite part of the event was watching the performances because the dance performances “depict how the celebration itself brings an uplifting mood rather than a sad mourning one.”

The event created a sense of community on the Hill and welcomed students to celebrate their loved ones while learning about Dia de los Muertos.

The Disappointing History of Photography Legend Cindy Sherman

The unfortunate and jarring realization I made about the art community through a female photographer’s racial bigotry

My first week here at UCLA, I was eager to begin utilizing the amazing resources now at my fingertips: books, professors, and discussions composed of intelligent people who were eager, just like me, to begin a journey of self-discovery and learning. So, on a sunny afternoon during Week 1, I paid a visit to the arts library.

As an art major, I made visiting the arts library a top priority. Photo books are a source of motivation and release and I find a lot of comfort in them. I scanned the long hallway of photo books, particularly hoping for a good selection of female photographers, and picked up three works, one of which was by famed fine art photographer Cindy Sherman.

Cindy Sherman, a female photographer, is best known for her self-portrait projects where she takes on an array of human identities. She is well known in the photography community and has been someone I looked up to a lot, as a female photographer myself.

The book has a collection of some of her most provocative projects. I reached a collection of scans of some of her photoshoot notes, when a line in her jumbled writing caught my eye.

In explaining what models she’d like to use for an upcoming project, Cindy describes them as “stupid looking model-types (but ethnic-dirty).”

Photo by: Gabrielle Biasi

Sherman’s photoshoot notes, published in “Cindy Sherman: Retrospective” on page 119. Photo Credit: Gabrielle Biasi

It took me a moment to comprehend what I had read. Was Cindy equating ethnic people to looking stupid…to being dirty?

I decided to investigate.

I googled “Cindy Sherman Racist” and was greeted with 685,000 hits. Among those were various articles on a photo series she did in 1976 titled “Bus Riders”, where she portrayed 15 different characters she saw at bus stops. Five of those characters were black, which she decided to portray using blackface.

Upon viewing the nauseating images, I knew I had unfortunately discovered the classic trope white artists often use in their artwork.

Time and time again, whether through orientalism, primitivism, or exoticism, white and western artists have used non-white identities as props: Gauguin and his works of Tahitian women, Matisse and his works of Moroccan women, Edward Curtis and Native Americans, are all classic examples of this worn out custom.

In uncovering Sherman’s blackface portraits and ethnic offenses, I felt the beginning of a difficult journey for myself as an artist unfold. I began to reevaluate the female artists I considered admirable: Cindy Sherman, Sophie Calle, Imogen Cunningham, Dorothea Lange, Annie Liebovitz. They are all women who overcame the male dominant field of photography, but they are all white women.

As a white passing Latina, I am aware of the privilege I have, but my connection to Latino culture is embedded in my soul. Because of this, I have always felt more connected to female artists of color. Unfortunately, women of color are rarely found in art education and history curriculum and art galleries. Carrie Mae Weems, Nikki S Lee, Wendy Red Star, Ana Mendieta, Yurie Nagashima, and Pun Ho Yun are the few female artists of color I have discovered through friends and digging deep on the Internet. They were absent from textbooks and lectures despite their impactful artistry.

I still admire the white female photographers and the obvious talent and work ethic they have, but seeing the lack of women of color in photography is disheartening. I hope that the art community, here at UCLA and across the world, will join me in re-molding this unfortunate reality of art and photo history. All artists must come together and help elevate female artists of color, so that every young artist learning their craft can have the relatable role models I never had been taught.

Siege at Standing Rock

On the afternoon of October 27th, a militarized police force of more than 100 officers responded to, raided, and arrested over 140 members of a resistance camp lying directly in the path of the proposed $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, on the Standing Rock Indian reservation in Cannonball, North Dakota.

Using concussion grenades, rubber bullets, and shotguns armed with bean bag rounds, the responding police force shot at, bruised, bloodied and injured the steadfast water protectors of the resistance camp. The advancing police were clad in “riot gear with automatic rifles lined up across North Dakota’s highway 1806, flanked by armored personnel carriers, a sound cannon, Humvees driven by National Guardsmen, an armored police truck, and a bulldozer.” The officers were more than equipped to engage in battle with a small army. Was all of this really necessary for a large group of unarmed Native Americans asking to protect their sacred lands and clean water?

According to the Los Angeles Times, “Protesters said that those arrested in the confrontation had numbers written on their arms and were housed in what appeared to be dog kennels, without bedding or furniture. Others said advancing officers sprayed mace and pelted them with rubber bullets.” The described scenes are enough to evoke past images of Native Americans being mistreated by US authorities. Claims of sabotage came out as video footage showed an armed company security contractor who attempted to infiltrate the camp of water protectors. According to Democracy Now, “In the video, the contractor can be seen pointing the assault rifle at the [water] protectors as he attempts to flee into the water. He was ultimately arrested by Bureau of Indian Affairs police.”

This latest flare up of confrontations between water protectors and law enforcement comes more than a month after the September 3rd incident near Lake Oahe, where “security guards working for the Dakota Access pipeline company attacked Native Americans with dogs and pepper spray” who were attempting to stop company tractors already in the process of demolishing a sacred burial site. In response to the attacks, on September 9th the US Departments of Justice, Interior, and Army Corps of Engineers, backed by the Obama Administration, stepped in requesting “that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe”—some 40 miles north of the Cannonball resistance camp. It was later found by the Morton County Sheriffs that the company guards were without the proper licenses to do security work in North Dakota, according to Democracy Now.

The Dakota Access pipeline stands as a very real threat, not just to the local Native American land in North Dakota, but to every community in its path. Once constructed, the pipeline “would carry over about 500,000 barrels of crude [oil] per day from North Dakota’s Bakken oilfield to Illinois,” according to Democracy Now. “Since 2009, the annual number of significant accidents on oil and petroleum pipelines has shot up by almost 60 percent, roughly matching the rise in U.S. crude oil production, according to an analysis of federal data by The Associated Press,” reports the Chicago Tribune.

The months of protest against the Dakota Access pipeline not only oppose its construction but strive to assert Native Americans’ rights over their reservation. They assert their right to protect the water, land, and local environment all under an 1851 treaty with the United States. The site of the resistance camp is within the boundaries of this treaty, “which [water protectors] say makes the entire area unceded sovereign land under the control of the Sioux.” The path of the Dakota Access pipeline is in violation of their sovereign rights, which sadly continues a long history of broken promises from the US government. Activists also claim that the pipeline does nothing for the locals on the reservation, who risk the most with potential oil spills and other environmental hazards. Winona LaDuke, long time Native American activist and executive director of the group Honor the Earth, argues that opposing the pipeline not only benefits the locals but helps in the fight against climate change. LaDuke states “It’s time to end the fossil fuel infrastructure. I mean, these people on this reservation, they don’t have adequate infrastructure for their houses. They don’t have adequate energy infrastructure. They don’t have adequate highway infrastructure. And yet they’re looking at a $3.9 billion pipeline that will not help them. It will only help oil companies.”

If it’s more information you want about the Dakota Access pipeline, don’t run to your cable news network. Sadly, most UCLA students have only heard about the violence in Standing Rock from friends or on social media. Tiana Austel, a 4th year student, stated that she hasn’t “seen it on any major news outlets.” Most of what she hears about the Dakota Access pipeline comes through her food studies courses and philanthropic circles.

Other students agreed that there was a lack of mainstream coverage on the events taking place in Standing Rock. “It’s not getting enough coverage,” says Karla Duarte, a junior transfer. She stays informed through friends and online articles posted on social media because the “news is being really biased.” Her friend, Samantha Gonzalez, said she only heard about the Dakota Access pipeline through social media as well.

Strangely enough, our generation’s fascination with social media provides some relief from the mainstream media blackout, so students can still catch some of the Standing Rock story–but is it enough? Ryan Perry, a fourth year student, claims he doesn’t watch a ton of television, yet he is still aware of what’s going on through friends and social media, although it is “extremely limited.” In response to the treatment of Native American water protectors, Ryan stated “These are people who have a home there. How many more Native Americans do we need to move around?”

When most major news networks are silent on the violence in Standing Rock, water protectors and other activists have found hope through other means to tell the world about what’s really going on in North Dakota–#NoDAPL!