What Is Strong? Holding Together

July 14, 2013

There’s some trouble going on in Northern Wisconsin. I’d say it all started when Gogebic Taconite showed up and tried to start mining, but it didn’t. It started generations ago when we forgot that we all come from around the same fire.

This latest round involved some direct action advocates who took action against the Gogebic crew and did some minor damage. They were apprehended and charged. Now folks are left to figure out how to move ahead. Some people supported the action and some didn’t and trust has been lost. Now, how is trust rebuilt? Wish I knew. If I knew I just tell folks what to do. They might try it. It might work. It might not work. They might be thankful. They might tell me what I’m full of.

Here’s what I do remember though. I remember a day many years ago standing out in the cold in a cemetery in Northern Wisconsin. My friend Walt’s body was being laid in ground. He was a veteran so the men were out there with the guns to do the salute. I had already committed to a life as a pacifist and to a belief in the use of direct action. I knew war was wrong. I knew violence was wrong. I knew direct action was right. I knew I would always stand for what was right no matter what.

There was a man there that day who without a word made me question all I knew about violence and nonviolence and direct action. He was standing to my left. When the gun salute went off I looked in his direction. He had the sadness in his eyes and that far away look that seems to see into another world. He was both a million miles away and right there with his cousin who was being laid in the ground at the same time. There was a power there that I did not know until that moment.

It was in that moment that I really understood something that only knew in my mind before. Now, I knew it deeper. That man who was standing next to me was Andy Gokee. He, like Walt and many of the other folks standing there that day had stood many times to protect treaty rights, the right to live as Native peoples according to the beliefs handed down to them for generations. One of the ways that they did that was through the spearfishing struggle of the 1980’s. When I heard those gunshots in that cemetery that day I understood in a different way that the folks I stood there with had their lives threatened. They’d been followed. They’d been shot at. They knew that their families could be killed because they were Indians or because they stood with Native people.

Today I had another of those experiences. I got a message from a Black woman that I know. She had gotten stopped by the cops in the Madison area because she looked “suspicious.” She was interrogated for half an hour for nothing, nothing other than driving while Black.

I don’t claim to know much. I know the stories go much deeper than I will ever know. What I understand is that sometimes there is a power much stronger than words that speaks to us all. There are powerful spirits among us and there are those who walk in fear as well.

It is alright to be afraid. In fact sometimes it may be the wisest thing to be. Fear can increase your consciousness of what is around you, give you the tools with which to act. To deny that fear is generally nothing more than lying and cockiness. Be afraid and keep walking through that fear. Learn the stories, listen deeply, and walk through the fear wisely. Acting for the sake of acting brings nothing. Acting with heart and spirit and mind in tune, brings justice and healing and change.

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