How Do We Respond To All The Violence?

Some of my students and I were meeting today for our regular learning circle. It turned out not to be the circle I’d expected. I’d gone in with a list of questions and updates to make sure that everyone’s community projects were on task and ready to be done in just a few weeks.

Instead, we got into other conversations. One of the topics of conversation was the recent mass shootings. We discussed how violence has become the norm, the students spoke to how their response to the growing number of shootings in our country is to do their best to ignore it. They expressed how this is the only way that they feel they have to handle the immense fear, grief, and anger. They spoke of becoming hardened to feeling.

I suggested to them that this hardening seems to me much like that of depression or burnout and that maybe our society is burned out and that’s not okay. They agreed that this may be the case. Not surprisingly, they had no clear answers on what to do. But, I think the conversation was good and healthy and maybe part of what needs to be done. They talked with each other. We came together as community and acknowledged our fear face to face. That coming together and just talking is part of the healing I am sure of that. Community is essential. That’s not social media discussion or meetings to act or anything else other than just coming together as people and just letting the conversation flow.

I had another interesting conversation later in the day. A friend offered to me that part of the problem we may be facing today is inter-generational trauma. My friend spoke specifically to the trauma carried by white people from generation to generation from our role that we’ve played in so much destruction and enslavement of many kinds. Something there made sense to me, not just for the dominant group, but for all of us.

What is it that we do with our history? I’d always heard of the concept of multi-generational trauma associated with Native cultures. There is much to suggest that it is very much a reality. What if it is true of all of us? What if we carry the experiences and energies of past generations? What if we are deepening and speeding up the process with the intensity of the growth of violence in our lives?

Many Native peoples have found their way in life through a revitalization of cultural history, by learning their languages, practicing their spirituality, returning to traditional foods, and simply listening to their stories.

While I believe firmly in pressuring the government to take appropriate actions to address the growing violence and I think it’s important to partake in non-violent protest to make our voices heard, I think there is something more, something for the long term.

I think there is a knowledge in the work being done in Native communities to address inter-generational trauma that is part of addressing the growing issue of violence in our communities. We need to ask ourselves each day, “How can I treat myself and all my relations with respect and caring?”

This begins, I believe, with taking pause, breathing deep, and treating ourselves gently, feeding ourselves in healthy ways physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This gives us the energy to reach out.

We reach out to feed our relations whether those be fellow people or the earth and its other inhabitants. We take time to breathe together and get to know each other, to heal each other’s wounds.

That’s where we begin and that’s where we ultimately find the long term answers, in caring for ourselves and each other, in building our spiritual and emotional connections, in becoming a community.

It seems so simplistic and yet so challenging and so lost over so many generations. Yet, it is what we need. So, today, care for yourself, treat yourself with respect, and reach out with the same caring and respect for all those around.

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Burnout Politics

I’ve been an activist and organizer for a long time. I used to say my whole adult life, but I suspect it actually started before that. The first formal action I took part in was in high school. Funding was being cut in our industrial arts and music programs. Almost the whole school walked out. A few kids whose religious beliefs didn’t allow such protest were the only ones left inside.

I’ve had the good fortune to fight the good fight in many ways and many places and to count some good wins along the way. I’ve had some good mentors and made some good friends.

I used to be really involved in political organizing. I was one of the leaders of our local Green Party. I co-chaired the state party. I helped start the national diversity committee. I worked on political campaigns. I facilitated meetings. I did it all and I loved it and believed in it.

But then, I got burned out. I was deep in depression and lost on what to do. I had to walk away.

After years of working on the front lines taking on major corporations, working on campaigns from school board to president it wasn’t the work that beat me down. It wasn’t the losses or some sort of evil conservative whatever. It was my own community, those who see themselves as liberal, or progressive, or even radical who wore me down and forced me to back away. They forced some great and strong people away and the movements struggled.

I share this now because I see the same things happening today. I hear the rantings about Republicans, the self-righteous talk of the evils of conservatism and I know some of the best folks I’ve ever learned from and walked beside would call themselves conservative or Republican. I know these folks as people who’ve worked hard caring for families, serving their communities, seeking the same love that my liberal/progressive/radical friends do, battling the same pains.

I write this in honor of all my friends and mentors who understand. The work we do isn’t about Republican or Democrat or Green or any other political identification. The work we do is about that child seven generations from now who deserves clean water, a safe place to live, healthy food to eat, a community to rely on.

To everyone else I say, drop the labels and reach out in love and healing. It doesn’t mean to deny the horrific actions. It means to recognize the pain and fear behind them. Be part of the healing, not one to tear at the wounds with self-righteousness causing infection. Your insistence that all Republicans or conservatives are evil does nothing other than wear out a lot of hard working, caring people and encourage the building of walls.

One Week In On The Fruits and Veggies Challenge

Well, if I made six cups of fruits and veggies today, it was just by the skin of my teeth. I took a trip to South Dakota this afternoon. It was the 152nd annual Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Wacipi (powwow) and it felt time to go. I am glad that I went. Powwows, however, are not the place to find nice, healthy fruits and vegetables. They are though the place to find the best fry bread known to humanity and that’s reason enough to go.

So, my food at home was good and healthy; yogurt with strawberries, mango, and banana, fresh green beans to snack on, things like that. At the powwow though I enjoyed a delicious Indian taco and some nachos with cheese. The day wound up a bit under 1600 calories, so not too bad even with some high carb indulgences which were well worth it.

The food was just one piece of the powwow. I’ve gone to many before and they are always good for the heart. There’s a special power in the drum. It’s good to feel the music. I find myself watching the dancers, thinking it’s probably nearly time for me to step away, but I can’t just yet after all it’s men’s fancy, my favorite dance. Then a few minutes later I think it’s near time to go, but I can’t right now, it’s women’s traditional, my favorite dance. This goes on through all the different dances. Each has it’s own strength. Each holds a role in teaching the children to be proud of who they are. It’s a gift to get to sit there on the sidelines and witness what remains, how the strength of generations continues forward never to be squelched by the colonizers.

I sat today on the sidelines when the older man sitting in front of me turned to talk with me. He asked where I was from when I answered and asked where he was from he told me, just down the road and then proceeded to speak to me in Dakota. I looked at him confused. He translated what he’d said for me. He told me he’d learned English when he went to school and asked me if I was surprised that he was Native. I was a bit, but I’ve known a fair number of blond haired, blued eyed Native people in Minnesota, so it wasn’t too big a surprise. Then he went on and told me stories of his life. He must have talked for at least an hour talking of his family, ancestors, speaking in both English and Dakota. He shared so many bits of wisdom. It was one of those life moments that cannot be anticipated and reaches in to do amazing things.

It was a good day and has been a good first week. Let’s see where next week goes.

History Isn’t Such a Long Time



I like history museums and historical sites. I’ll often go visit them to get to know the place that I live or the spot that I’m visiting or maybe just to get to know myself a little better.

Today, since it was raining and I had the day off of work, I took a trip down to the Pope County Museum in Glenwood Minnesota. It’s a great little museum. I would encourage folks traveling through the region and those who live here to stop in. It had one of the best displays on Native American history that I’ve seen in a museum of its size. True, I’ve seen some really inaccurate and just plain awful displays of Native history, but this one, it was okay. Overall, the museum was quite good, and, as far as I can tell, accurate.

As I wander, generally aimlessly, through museums and historic sites my mind comes to think of time. I come to understand connections and recognize how huge and small things are at the same time. Today, in the Pope County Museum, I studied a simple display. It was a timeline from the founding of Glenwood through the present. It laid out what seemed to be a rather random collection of historical events at national and local levels. Looking at it got me thinking again how short time really is.

Glenwood was founded in 1866. My great grandparents were just children then. My grandparents would be coming along in a few decades. Three of those grandparents would pass on before I was born, but one I knew. Grandma Mondloch was born in 1900 and would live until 1984. She passed on just after I turned 13.

I looked at that timeline just as I’ve looked at many historic sites. I looked at it thinking in Grandma time, looking at how the world has changed in a lifetime that I knew and still know. It’s not a story in a history book. It is life.

Grandma was the third generation of her family in this country. She grew up with her native language. I remember my Aunt Lucille telling me once how she’d been angry that, as kids, they spoke Luxembourgish at home and that it was tough to learn English as a school kid. Four generations, it took four generations to lose a language. Now, we expect immigrants to give up their language, forget who they are not in generations, not even in years, but immediately on coming to this country. We do this while we still try to find ourselves in festivals and museums, German Fest, Luxembourg Fest, Irish Fest, whatever fest.

I kept wandering through the museum. I turned a corner and a small Nazi pennant caught my eye. It was part of a display of items soldiers had brought home from WWII. My family knew this war. I had several uncles who fought, and well, all families knew this war in one way or another.

Last year I went to Luxembourg. I saw memorial sites and visited museums. I also learned a little something about myself. I learned that my ancestry generations back was Jewish. My branch of my family had left behind that identity generations ago, but it gave me a different perspective on those concentration camps. Those concentration camps became the death places of unknown cousins, aunties, uncles. They left the history books and became real. I had an uncle, Uncle Clarence, who helped free the people in the camps at the end of WWII. I never heard him speak of it. I just learned it some years ago from a cousin. I don’t know if he knew, but he was freeing family.

I look at it now in the question of the detention camps in the US. Is it any different? I mean really, is it any different? Looking back, somewhere we are family. We are detaining our brothers, sisters, cousins. We don’t have that right. We who carry European blood, this isn’t our land. We are, once again, imprisoning those who come from this place based on silly lines we drew on a piece of paper and called a map. The map isn’t real. It’s our lines. The lines we’ve drawn. Why do we keep drawing lines? It didn’t work when we held the Japanese in detention centers or when the Germans put Jews and others into the concentration camps or when we held Native peoples in stockades or for that matter as we still hold Native peoples on reservations or Black people in ghettos.

Stop with the lines, stop with the pretending that maps are reality. History is short. It’s not too big to change. All we need to do is to listen to the stories, learn, and act. Take a trip. Check out a museum, a historic site, maybe sit with an elder. Whatever it is, come to know yourself, where you are. Reach for knowledge. We have a lot to do.



It’s Been a Fair Experience

One of my favorite parts of summer as a child was fair time, specifically going to the Sheboygan County Fair at the end of August. It was a family outing every year. We’d do it all. Wandering through the barns, riding the rides, eating the best of the funnel cakes, ice cream, and the simple plethora of fair food. The best, to my memory was the building with the school exhibits. It was filled, floor to ceiling, with the works of school kids across Sheboygan county. If I was lucky, I might find a piece that I’d created.

Fair time was also a time for a bit of jealousy. Who could help but be jealous of the 4-H kids? Girl Scout camp was great, but these kids got to have horses and cows of their own and got to spend nearly a week going on rides, eating fair food, and hanging out with friends in the barns!

Years later I still love a good fair. Sadly, it’s been a long time since I’ve been to the Sheboygan County Fair, but these days I’ve become a visitor to Minnesota’s fairs. It started with my work at Toxic Taters. Each year I’d go to Becker, Wadena, Hubbard, East Otter Tail, and Perham. One year I made it to West Otter Tail too and another year it was Cass County.

My time being employed with Toxic Taters is over, but my love of fairs continues. Already this year, I’ve been back to Wadena and today I was off to Todd County. I’m hoping for at least three more this year.

It’s a joy to watch those 4-H kids. I never realized when I was busy being jealous of them for their freedom and fun as a kid, that the reality was that they were learning, developing a base for themselves to work from into the future. I suppose the same happened in Girl Scouts, but I was too busy having fun myself at the time to notice.

Each county brings something special to its celebration. Today in Todd county, I saw their strengths in showing cattle and doing the barrel runs with the horses. Last weekend’s highlight in Wadena was definitely the tractor pull. Becker county is strong in the midway offering lots of rides and games for the kids.

None of the fairs have quite energy that I remember from those days at Sheboygan county. Today, I actually saw a large list of disbanded 4-H groups in Todd county hanging on a wall. It made me a bit sad. I wonder if 4-H might rebuild as we, as a society, come to recognize our need for healthy foods, the necessity of working toward environmental and economic sustainability if we are to survive, and if there might come a day in which we truly recognize our need for community such as that which is offered through groups like 4-H and events like the fairs. Could we become that dream community again that I imagine from my childhood? What would it take? What does the fair, the 4-H of the future look like? How do we continue to provide that base of learning and that simple freedom and fun?

Meanwhile, I’ll just keep going to the fairs we have and having fun with the simple things from wandering among the animals to checking out the demo derby!

A Look At History

I spent my day yesterday at Saint Cloud State University with several hundred middle and high school students and a hearty crew of adults.

I was one of those hearty adults, a History Day judge. It’s a good way to spend a day.

Minnesota is a part of a larger organization, called National History Day, that’s been around since 1974. More than 600,000 kids each year take part in this event competing locally, regionally, and for some, at state and national events. They’ve worked for weeks or even months to prepare for the contests creating websites and displays, writing papers, and developing presentations and skits. Each year the kids get a theme. This year was about tragedy and triumph. They take the theme and individually or as groups use it to explore a topic in history of their choice.

It’s neat to see how it makes history come alive for these kids when they get to choose what they want to study and they get to lead the research and figure out for themselves how they’re going to learn. It’s a little disarming to find how events in my own lifetime are now finding their way to History Day. Walking through the exhibit hall was actually a chance to see quite a few events I could remember– the Iran Hostage Crisis, the Jacob Wetterling story, and the OJ Simpson case, along with many that were really interesting and outside the realm of most classrooms. These kids are exploring things like the Radium Girls, the Stonewall Riot, escapes from Alcatraz. Their eyes are opening.

I got to judge junior group websites this year. These are middle school aged teams of two or three kids who are designing Weebly sites on a specific topic. It was pretty cool. The “penicillin girls,” as my fellow coach and I called them, brought us bacteria and mold they’d collected to complement their website work. The “hockey boys” had gotten an interview with on of the US players from the 1980 Olympic Hockey team. This is a really cool way to touch history.

How great it is when we let our kids lead the way and simply act as the supportive guides that we are meant to be. We are born with a natural inclination to explore, discover, and learn. It’s why we reach out for toys, crawl, and eventually run. It’s our nature to learn. We do it with many of the same tools we did when we were babies. We reach. We test. We try different methods. That’s what these kids were doing by nature with the help of teachers, parents, and others who just gently nudged when needed.

I love it when kids get to do things like that whether it’s History Day, playing outside and learning about science by licking slugs (yes, at least some types of slugs will make your tongue go numb. Try it.) or getting on stage with the play they’ve been working on or the new piece of music they’re playing because they want to make music or act.

Do what you can to support a kid learning through experience. You won’t regret it. In fact, you may learn quite a bit through the experience too. I know that I do!

Hardening

Is it becoming hardened to the world?  Is that what’s happened? Is it ok?  Is it a good thing?  Does it need to be addressed?

I went to see the movie “The Hate You Give” a couple weeks ago.  A woman I knew was there with a friend of hers and their teenage kids.  The adults were talking about how one of the kids had absolutely devoured the book and questioning how they’d respond to the movie.  The kids loved the movie. They also seemed to have the power to take it in as both normal and fiction.  I found myself questioning whether I could have done that in the same nonchalant way when I was their age.  I suspect not.  I’m guessing I would have been troubled.  Though I do kind of wonder about their power.  After all, I was busy being troubled by many things as a teenager that I had no words for, but they looked at ease. 

Then I look at myself.  My work hosted a discussion last night on the prevention of sexual violence and sex trafficking.  We had a good room full of people and excellent facilitators.  They shared some powerful research about what’s happening in Minnesota.  I found myself looking about the room at all the students and other community members and wondering “how many here have been affected?” but not really feeling. 

This isn’t new.  I’ve been doing community organizing in one form or another for nearly 30 years now.  There was a time when discussions like that of last night would have sent me off in anger to organize, to take part in a rally, to do something.  Now, sometimes I just sit and reflect and don’t feel the anger or the sadness or maybe I do, it’s just deeper where I don’t see it. 

I still do work.  It looks different.  I spend a lot of time with college students asking them how they’ve been sustaining themselves.  I measure the invitations to get involved in local efforts and choose the ones that I believe will build community while addressing issues of concern. 

You know it does frighten me that I or those teenagers can look at any form of violence and see it as part of the place and time in which we live and not be at least a bit angry, heartbroken, and fearful.  We deserve better.  

Hardening is a form of protecting self, but isn’t softening that as well? How can we be both soft and pliable and strong to face the painful realities? That’s the ongoing question.   I keep working for an answer.