I have a basket in my living room that holds a collection of precious belongings; stones, sweetgrass, cedar, tobacco, scraps of cloth, and bits of fur, little memories from other adventures throughout my life and gifts from relatives who’ve since moved on. In that basket … Continue reading Reflections on My Travels 2023- A Travel in Time and Understanding
Category: political activism
Thoughts On Being a Part of the Wisconsin Movement
It’s been twelve years now since thousands of angry, scared, and broken hearted Wisconsinites spent weeks camping out on the cold marble floors of our state capitol in an attempt to protect workers rights. While we didn’t win an immediate victory, we did change what organizing looked like in Wisconsin and throughout the US.
I was the person that the Teaching Assistants Association (TAA) called on when they realized that what began as a small protest was going to become a massive event and had the possibility of becoming dangerous. They asked me to coordinate non-violence trainings. During the weeks in the capitol I worked with a great team to bring together dozens of skilled trainers to provide non-violence training to thousands of people and the people of Wisconsin stood strong and peaceful. Here are few thoughts that I shared back then. I think that they may still ring true in many of the struggles that we face today.
Thoughts on Being Part of the Wisconsin Movement
- Why are you here?
If you are here to defend the capitol building, you are in the wrong place. If you are here to prove your belief that police are fascists, you are in the wrong place. If you are here to prove your righteous acts, you are in the wrong place. If you are here to prove Republicans bad Democrats good, you are in the wrong place. Movements depend on a shared sense of deeper purpose. The Wisconsin movement is complex because it brings together such a wide variety of groups with many reasons for acting. In order for us to succeed in the long haul we must have a shared sense of purpose. I would suggest that the purpose we share is to create a Wisconsin in which all people have their basic human rights met and in which the people of the state drive the government, not the other way around.
- What is Civil Disobedience and Why Do It?
Civil disobedience is intentional illegal action used to address injustices in the system. It is not simply actions used to make police officers work harder or to add excitement or interest. It is well thought out and used to attain a goal that moves us toward that bigger purpose of meeting the human rights of everyone in our state and gaining control of the governmental process. Civil disobedience is a tactic to be used when the legal means don’t work. It should be well thought out in advance and taken on only with people you trust implicitly. Plans should be made in advance to deal with any repercussions of your actions. Remember that the police, the courts, and our government have been dealing with protestors a long, long time. They are prepared. You need to be too. Doing the action and getting arrested is the easy part. Dealing with the repercussions can be more time consuming and difficult. Ask yourself “how will my action help the movement?” before taking any action.
- What about me?
Me is an interesting character in the movement, whoever that me is. Every action that each of us takes, positive or negative, affects every other person in the movement community. Movements are in some sense temporary minority groups. This is not to suggest in any way that movements or members of movements face the same levels of discrimination or oppression. What we share is that majority culture is quick to define minority groups by the actions of single individuals “all Black men are x,” “all women, all youth, all insert your favorite minority here are y.” The same thing happens in movements. You are a representative of the movement whether you want to be or not. So, it’s up to you to measure each action you take, even the mundane ones like the words you use or when and where you opt to play the drum or whatever else, to ask yourself is this
going to move us toward our goal or away from it. Everyone in Wisconsin is going to be affected by the decisions of our courts, the legislature, and the governor. We need a movement that is made of all ages, all races, and all backgrounds. This
isn’t some liberal, progressive, or even radical group. This is Wisconsin. We all drink the same water. Every person that you see could be a part of the movement. Each one could bring something that we need. It’s up to each of us to build the bridges, to win people to our side, to encourage that understanding that we all drink the same water.
- But I just need to be me!
If you are in a spot in which you feel a need to do something that isn’t going to help the movement take a break, step away for a moment to come back stronger. This fight doesn’t end with this budget session or even with the recalls. We’ve got a lot of work to do and it’s going to take a long time. Governor Walker, the legislature, the cops, the media, and sometimes even your fellow protestors are going to do stuff that in your mind is just idiotic and really ticks you off. If you can deal with it in ways that are both logical, empathetic, and feel right in your heart go ahead and deal with it. If you feel worn down, angry to the point of not being able to control your actions, deeply depressed or otherwise just don’t feel yourself, step back. We are a large group. We’ll cover for each other, so everyone can have a break.
- Going for the long haul
Bad stuff is happening in Wisconsin’s government, stuff that will take years to fix. We’ll need to fix it and we can. It will take a lot of work, a lot of creative thinking, and a lot of coalition building and strengthening. Right now a lot of people are burned out, more than I’ve ever seen in my 20+ years as an activist and organizer.
Go ahead and mourn. There has been a death in the family, many deaths. We’ve lost much that we love and depend on in this last legislative session and it deserves to be mourned. Crying is welcomed here. So, is talking, writing, song, lifting weights, prayer, running, hitting the punching bag, any and all of the healthy means of processing loss and regaining strength.
Angrier than you can explain? That’s good too if you use it. Organizers often call it ‘cold anger.’ If you can keep your anger controlled and directed toward supporting our forward movement in healthy ways, it is one of the best tools we have. Remember we are all family here. Take care of your brothers and sisters and let them take care of you. Caring for each other makes us each stronger.
- What’s my role here?
In my work we say “everyone a learner, everyone a teacher, everyone a leader.” It works here too. Each and every one of us is more than a body at a rally. We need you. Ask questions. Share what you know. Support others in doing the same. Share your talents, whether it’s facilitating meetings or baking cookies. Not everyone gets the spotlight, but everyone keeps the movement alive and strong. Thank you everyone for what you’ve been doing to keep us moving!
Reflections on Visiting Dachau
It’s been just over a week since I wrapped up my wanderings of the streets and mountains of central Europe. The vacation, which I booked months ago when I’d been planning to move forward in a career providing housing to terminally ill homeless people, wound … Continue reading Reflections on Visiting Dachau
Changing One Thing
So, I’ve been trying to get back to my blog after several months away, but it seems I’m facing a mild case of writer’s block. Nothing is coming to mind. It’s just empty. There are no topics to write about there. What to do? Well, since it seems the key component to becoming a successful writer is writing, I just used the wonders of the internet and sought out a writing prompt. The one that drew me today was this. “If you could change one thing in the world, what would you change and why?”
This is actually something I’ve had the chance to ponder quite a bit over the past thirty years or so as someone who’s worked in social and environmental justice. I’ve had the good fortune to work with a lot of good people along the way. I’m thankful to say that I’ve found a few good mentors too or maybe they’ve found me or in any case we’ve found each other. There’s something those mentors hold in common. They know interconnectedness. They understand what happens to one impacts us all.
Historically, many, maybe once all, cultures understood that we are connected both to our fellow humans and to everyone and everything else, animate and inanimate, but just in really very recent years (only a few generations) we’ve forgotten and we’re getting sick. We are part of the body of the world. We can’t just care solely for the hand or the foot without the other parts of the body suffering. It makes no sense to hate a part of the body for its actions or its disease. Instead, when we recognize that we are all a connected body we heal each other.
That’s what I would seek, just for us to recognize our interconnectedness, with each other a people and with world that we inhabit and to begin to live that way again.
Now, I am wondering– What would you change?
Looking at Life’s Work
I was interviewing for a new job yesterday and was asked a question that while not totally unheard of was one I’d not heard often in job interviews that I’ve done either as the interviewer or the interviewee. I was asked how I identify myself or what I enjoy outside of my work life. What a wonderful question! Thank you for letting me know that you, as an employer, want to know me as a person that you value my work/life balance.
I grew up on a farm. My parents both grew up on farms as did their parents and their parents before them. For years I used that as a reason or maybe an excuse to devote my life to my work, putting in far more hours and more brain power than I was paid for. I would talk about how I grew up learning that farming wasn’t a job it was life’s work, and that’s what my work was as well.
Looking back now, I’m questioning what that “life’s work” means. Sure there is a lot about the work that simply needs to get done when it needs to get done no matter what. When the cows get out, you need to get them back in. There are no choices there. I think I misrepresented the 24/7 nature of “life’s work” types of jobs though. My Mom and Dad worked a lot, us kids spent our time helping out too. But, we also went swimming, watched tv together, took vacations, did all the things that others around us did that didn’t have “life’s work” kinds of jobs. The big difference between a job and life’s work isn’t the level of commitment, but the level of connection. For some farming is a job, a really hard job, for others it is life’s work. For me social justice is my life’s work.
I am thankful for this look at life’s work. It gives me a greater permission to take good care of myself as I move forward, continuing to do what can be very difficult and emotionally draining work. Today, I’m encouraging each of us whose had that great gift of being able to do the work that we feel called to, that we are connected to, that “life’s work” to celebrate that calling by caring for ourselves so that we might continue.
Thoughts on How to Stop the Violence
Yesterday, 19 children and 2 adults lost their lives at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. That means we’re at nearly 250 school shootings since back when Columbine first shocked and terrified us all. Thousands of children and their caregivers and teachers have died. Others have been left behind to struggle with the loss.
Each time another shooting happens the response is much the same. We cry. We mourn. We say this must never happen again. Yet, it happens again. Why?
It happens because there are no easy answers. It happens because the changes needed are needed at many levels; personal, community, political, maybe even spiritual. It happens because the changes require more than the wonderful organizers who are already out there working day and night trying to save the world. The changes require all of us taking action. There are many ways to take action each day. Some listed here may seem obvious and direct. Others may leave you questioning a little. That’s okay. My thoughts here are based on the idea that everything is connected.
- Tell someone that you love them. If you’ve already told them, tell them again. We all need to hear these words over and over again to hold our souls together and no one wants to say goodbye with these words unsaid.
- Breathe deeply before you act and then act with the seventh generation in your mind and your heart. Some may ask what this means. The idea of the seventh generation is simple. Imagine a long tunnel. If you look down that tunnel, way down at the other end you’ll see a baby. That baby is the seventh generation, roughly 150 years from now. If you do right by that child, you’ll be doing right for today. Always treat that baby with love and respect.
- You don’t have to love your enemy, but do recognize that someone loves them and that someone is a valuable person who deserves not to be hurt. Every shooter, every evil politician, every horrible whatever out there has or had someone, their parent, their child, their grandma or grandpa, or maybe a teacher or somebody who cared about them or still cares about them. You don’t have to love the horrible, just know that somebody could see something in them that was good, that was worthy of love and act with that in mind.
- Recognize the connections. Our mental health is no accident. Good mental health depends on a healthy environment, healthy diet, financial security, and strong social support networks. We each need many things to maintain our stability. Each day we must strive to move toward fulfilling each of these needs for everyone if we are to create a healthy world.
- Be involved. Find your piece of the action whether it’s working directly on gun safety and stopping school shootings or a hundred different issues. Follow your heart and connect with your community to make the world just a little bit better. It is by the creating of good, healthy communities of many types that we heal and we stop this senseless violence and turn instead to love.
Those are just a few thoughts for the moment. I am sure there are many more. I would love to hear yours. Take good care and wishing you all peace and healing
Women’s Role in Keeping Life
I spent my evening today on the steps of the Wisconsin state capitol along with a few thousand others continuing the struggle for women’s rights. I’ve spent a lot of time on those steps over the past thirty years at a whole lot of rallies working for justice for a lot of people and a lot of places. Tonight as the crowd started to gather I found myself sitting and thinking of one of the first rallies I went to back as a student activist in the 1990’s. We were fighting the proposed Crandon mine. Frannie Van Zile, an Anishanaabe leader of the struggle from the Mole Lake Nation was speaking. I can still hear her voice echoing in my heart. Her words still guide my actions every day. “You women, you women out there. You are the keepers of the water.”
Women are the bearers of life. We are the keepers of the water. This is a great gift and a great responsibility. This is why many Indigenous nations historically hold women with great respect and why everything gets out of balance when women aren’t treated with the respect and honor that they deserve. Things are out of balance these days. The probable overturning of Roe v Wade is one clear sign.
Women must be held in respect as the bearers of life. Taking away their rights to protect their lives and safely make the difficult decisions to choose not bear a child is not respect for the child or the mother. What happens to the child that is born to a mother who doesn’t have the financial, social, or emotional resources to care for them? Is it better to be born unwanted into a world that can’t care for you and to become the scourge of those who are supposedly pro-life when you’re forced to fight to survive outside the womb? The foster care system is overburdened. There aren’t lots of people seeking to adopt. These children forced upon these women will simply die outside the womb either fully or simply in their souls. Is it better for a woman to be held victim to rape or to face the results a failed contraceptive every day for the rest of her life while the father walks away? Or is it better for her to die in the back alley? Clearly none of these options is good for anyone.
When we respect the women, when we hold them up and support them as they make the most difficult decision of their lives they become stronger. When they become stronger we all become stronger. It is when we care for and support these women that they can grow powerful, they can love, and they can bring back balance. Abortion is a painful choice, but it is a choice and as long as it is legal it can be a safe choice. If we lose legal abortions we will also lose women’s lives, and that is not pro-life. It is simply wrong.
No One Wants An Abortion
No one wants to have an abortion. Let’s just start there. It’s not something a woman does because she wants to have a surgery that will leave her with memories and questions for the rest of her life. She doesn’t want to always be able to look back and ask herself would it have been a boy or girl? Who would it have been? What would she have been like as a mother to that being?
The right to have an abortion is perhaps one of the greatest signs of motherhood. Afterall, the mother’s role is to do the best possible for the being in her womb. Sometimes the best and the hardest is to protect that being from a life of pain and want. Sometimes the best and the hardest is to protect them from abuse or from severe health conditions that would make living impossible. Sometimes the best and the hardest is to protect them from entering a world in which they will be treated with hatred by the people who are supposed to love them. There are so many reasons that a woman may choose to have an abortion. None are so simple as she wants one. All are about doing the best that she can for the being that grows inside her and for herself as well. The mother’s relationship with herself, with the world, and with her understanding of God will all change, but she will have done what she needed to do to care for herself and for the being she carried.
How can the court be so cruel to these women and unborn beings? Without legal abortions these women will not be able to save the beings in their wombs from lives of ongoing pain. If they try they will risk their own lives. What will we have won to lose both the mother and the fetus? Maybe it is these women who would risk their lives for the well-being of someone who they will never know who should be in charge instead of these judges who are willing to force them to put their lives at risk.
Can’t Drink Oil
Thinking this afternoon of that Cree proverb “When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten and the last stream poisoned, you will realize that you cannot eat money.” Over the years I’ve seen different translations of the words, but the idea is … Continue reading Can’t Drink Oil
Protests Don’t Work
Protests don’t work. Yes, I’ve said it. I’ve been an activist for over 30 years, spending a whole lot of time shouting slogans and waving signs, but I’ve been known to say it and will say it again. Protests don’t work. But, let me go a little deeper here and share what’s inspired this post.
On August 18th, 1920 the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was passed giving women in the US the right to vote. (We could get into the discussion of who exactly got the right to vote, but that’s another post for another time.) Historical societies and museums across the country are celebrating the 100th anniversary of this amazing victory right now with exhibits, documentaries, and educational events. Yesterday, a friend and I went to visit the Wisconsin Historical Museum in Madison to view their exhibit on suffrage. It was an excellent display and I would encourage anyone in the area to check it out.
As we wandered and viewed the images my friend questioned whether some of the tactics used by the suffragettes might provide lessons for organizers today. Could we use any of the same tools? She lamented that protests and rallies no longer work because of the fact that we live in a world of social media in which messages move so quickly and can so easily be modified. I proposed that protests have never worked and never will, at least not on their own.
Protests are only a tool. It is the actions between the protests and behind the scenes that make the work successful or not. Protesting remains important, if well used. It is a tool that can draw public attention and influence decision makers. However, it is important not to expect that protesting on its own is going to bring change. A large portion of the museum display was dedicated to the banners, signs, buttons, sashes, and tunics worn and used during fight for the vote and later fight for the ERA. This makes sense as they are very visual pieces of history. Still, it only shows us the highlights of what was really a much more complex history.
In the 1820’s, one hundred years before the amendment was to pass, white men had gained the right to vote in most states and discussions had begun about this right for women. By 1948, the movement solidified through the Seneca Falls convention. For nearly one hundred years women met, discussed, strategized, argued. They built partnerships and alliances. They wrote letters, created newspapers, handed out pamphlets, spoke to handfuls and to huge crowds of people. They coordinated conferences. Women, and some men, committed their lives to this issue of justice. Some would never see the results of their work as they would die before the passage of the amendment.
We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that social change is some sort of fast food where we head up to the capitol or wherever to protest and come home with our win. There is much more. The struggles are long and hard, but the victories and the loves found along the way are well worth it. Take good care of yourselves my friends and keep on moving forward.