Category: political activism

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.

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.

What is an Activist

When I began Sustainable Life in Action back in 2013 the Grassroots Leadership College had only been closed for a year and I was trying to find enough work to keep my rent paid and figuring out how to keep doing community organizing. My dreams were of starting a new Grassroots Leadership College maybe statewide or maybe in northern Wisconsin along the shores of Lake Superior. It wasn’t too much later that I left Madison. Life didn’t take me to northern Wisconsin, but to Minnesota.

In those days, for me, being an activist still meant organizing people, coordinating trainings, taking part in protests, speaking at rallies, being a force, and fighting out loud in a non-violent yet intense way. While my work was for a better world most of my actions still landed in the realm of working against the evils. I loved my work. I loved getting to know people, making connections, supporting others in achieving their dreams, creating positive social change. We did create change. Every time we people connected and came to know each other, to see each other as valuable human beings we were creating change, not to mention all the battles won.

Despite my love for my life work I was burning out. That’s why I started Sustainable Life in Action. It was a tool to encourage my own self care as well as to support others in caring for themselves. It has been a helpful tool for me. I hope it has been for others as well.

My journey as an activist has reached a new stage. It is an interesting one for me. After seven years in Minnesota and one in Poynette, Wisconsin, I have returned to Madison where Sustainable Life in Action began. When I left this place I was deeply involved in the activist scene. My name was known for work I’d done, nine years running the Grassroots Leadership College, coordinating the non-violence trainings for the capitol take-over during the Walker administration, Green Party stuff, Labor Radio and board leadership at WORT 89.9fm, and more. Now, I am coming back in quietly to a place where there are many new leaders and much of the old guard seems to have disappeared or maybe just is quiet in these times of COVID. It is coming back to a place where I’ve never been before.

It’s good to stand and watch this new place as I too am in a new place internally. After looking for jobs in the nonprofit realm and at the university and colleges to no avail, feeling my stomach churn a bit as I considered roles in organizing again, I decided to go back to another of my earlier careers. I accepted a position as an infant/toddler teacher in a large local child care. I’ve been intrigued by the reaction of old friends who seem to believe that going into teaching early childhood is leaving the world of activism. These people tell me how I’ve “done my time” and that it’s okay for me to do something else.

How can there be anything that is more about social justice than caring for our children? Being an activist isn’t all about holding up signs and shouting slogans. Being an activist is about how we live our lives. At this phase of my being, much of my time will be dedicated to holding the little ones and showing them love. I’ve also chosen to commit my time to being creative, telling my stories, and playing with art. All these things are important. I haven’t done my time, none of us has. We all have a duty to care for this place and for each other each day for the remainder of our time. How we do it is up to us.

Take good care of yourselves. That’s where it all begins.

Thoughts on Making Schools Safe

While sitting in the laundromat earlier today waiting for my clothes to dry, I was paging through the news on my phone. I saw an article from WPR that said Wisconsin schools are calling the police on students at nearly twice the national rate. Kids with disabilities, Latinx, Black, and Native students are the victims of most of the calls with Native kids at the top of the list closely followed by Blacks. The article made me ask again what it is that I love so much about my home state, maybe it’s my love of wanting to make things better.

While calling the cops on these kids might simply mean a referral for a child in crisis or a warning for some teenage action like yelling at teacher and aren’t by any means all arrests, it’s still hugely problematic that kids with disabilities and BIPOC youth are being referred to law enforcement at twice the rate as the overall student population and Native kids are three times as likely to be referred as white kids. It’s 2021 and we’re still operating as if it’s against the law in Wisconsin to have brown skin or to have a disability! Come on folks we can do better than this!

While I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I do think there are a few things that put together are worth considering.

  1. Take cops out of our schools. I’m not going to say that police are bad. I am saying that they have a role and that role is to uphold the law. By having them in schools that presumes that the law is not being upheld or is in danger of not being upheld. It tells kids that our expectation is that they will behave as criminals and that their space isn’t safe. Kids getting the message every day that they are criminals in an unsafe environment are more likely to act as criminals in an unsafe space.
  2. Support the support systems. A few generations ago black and brown children were stolen from their families to be sold in slavery or handed over to the boarding schools. Still, family systems remained and adjusted to care for these children. These family systems are under great stress as the dominant white culture continues to steal their children away through foster care, prison, drugs, and other tools. It’s important to recognize that families don’t look the same, nor should they, across all cultural groups. We need to see these systems and simply stop threatening them and stealing their children.
  3. Care for the educators. This is a simple one that we’ve all heard many times. Our teachers and school staff need the physical resources, time, and classroom support to do their jobs. They also need to be compensated for the work that they do. That’s it.
  4. Honor the bodies and spirits of our children. We are all impacted by what we take in. Our kids today are taking in a lot of junk. They’re fed junk on their plates in the form of processed foods filled with sugars and chemicals. They’re fed junk on the screens of their phones and computers all day long. They fed junk in stories about themselves as they’re forced to digest the history of the powerful that doesn’t represent them. All junk. How can we expect anything other than anger and frustration? Feed them goodness. Feed them good food. Feed them the stories of their own peoples. Tell them their histories of strength and courage. Feed them beauty. Give them the opportunity to run and play and explore the world or just the backyard. Feed their souls. Let them stretch their creative selves and find other ways of being beyond angry.
  5. Look at ourselves. These kids weren’t born angry or trouble makers. They were born cute and cuddly, adorable and sweet. We made them who they are. It is us who need to deal with our stuff. It is us who need to look at ourselves each day and ask ourselves how our actions are impacting the world. It is us who need to act.

Growing Friendships, Changing the World

The satisfaction, success, and joy in our lives is not defined so much by what we do, as it is by the connections that we make and the friendships and relationships that we build along the way. I was reminded of this again recently by someone I met about 15 years ago.

His name is Ben Schumaker. At the time he was dating my dear friend Abha and had started a small nonprofit called The Memory Project about a year and a half earlier. The Memory Project had been inspired by Ben’s travels while a student at UW Madison. Like many young travelers, Ben wanted to engage in the world and make an impact. He started by making friends. He asked one of those friends what he might do to help the poor and struggling. The friend told him that while many people shared food and clothes, obviously important, the children had nothing to show themselves their own value, to reflect on their own beauty. It was with that idea that The Memory Project was born.

By the time we met Ben was already attracting national attention with this incredibly simple and beautiful project in which he or others take photos of participating children in countries around the world and share those photos with art classes in high schools in the US, along with a bit of information shared by the children including things like favorite colors, life goals, and of course their names. The students in the US then take those photos and stories to create portraits of these beautiful children. The portraits are then given as gifts to the children who’d had their pictures taken months before. It’s so simple, yet so profound.

I’ve been able to help out with the Memory Project more closely since January, working mostly on preparing portraits to be sent to their owners, but also a bit on outreach to classrooms in the US, and other projects. It’s been a powerful experience sorting through the artwork, looking at the faces of the young children from India, Cameroon, and Afghanistan.

Given the events of the past few months including the withdrawal of American troops and the actions of the Taliban, I am most struck right now by those pictures of the children from Afghanistan and the simple reality of it all. Feeling those drawings and paintings passing through my hands has made those kids so much more real to me. They are no longer just a news story. They are little ones to be held and sung to.

That brings me back to the creation of the Memory Project. It began with conversation and the development of friendships. Over 17 years it seems that has never changed. Ben and the Memory Project have worked with people in Afghanistan for several years now and he built friendships. When it became clear that friends were in danger because of the situation in their country this little group stepped up to help them escape. The story is told more deeply in this New York Times Article. You can be a part of supporting this ongoing work by clicking here to support the Memory Project’s work to help the people struggling both within Afghanistan and the refugees today. Thank you!

Save A Walleye, An Ongoing Lie

It was in 1974 that two brothers went fishing. Mike and Fred Tribble, two Anishanabe men from the La Court Oreille reservation in Wisconsin had called the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to inform them of the fishing trip and then went out on Chief Lake, crossed the imaginary reservation line, cut a hole in the ice, and speared a fish off the reservation.

This small action would lead to more than decade in the courts resulting in the historic Voigt decision which acknowledged the Chippewa’s (name used for Anishanabe in legal records) right to 1) harvest fish, game, and plants off-reservation on public lands (and on private lands if proven necessary to provide a modest living); 2) use both traditional and modern methods in the hunting and gathering; and 3) barter or sell the harvest.

The decision took the hood off a long simmering Klan-like hatred in the Northwoods. The boat landings were filled with protesters like those in the photo above. Still, despite threats to their lives the Anishanabe stood strong and fished. Over four years, a Witness for Nonviolence made of allies from around the state grew to stand a peaceful guard along the landings.

Over time, the protestors drew their Klan hood back over their being and things quieted. Many who weren’t Anishanabe started to believe that the struggle was over, that it had become safe again. That wasn’t the reality. Whether the protests are small and quiet, not magnified by the media or loud and in the light of the cameras, they are there and they are threatening.

Just yesterday I learned of a family who were out spearfishing and attacked by white men. The men threw things and harassed the family with racial slurs and threats and one of the white men pulled down his pants exposing himself to the children who were fishing with their father and other family. This is nothing new. Some fishers can tell stories of being shot at every year. Yet they continue because they are Anishanabe and they must be who they are.

When will we learn? The Anishanabe have hunted, fished, and gathered here since the great spirit guided them to this place. Their harvest is miniscule in comparison to that of those who sports fish and the tribes work hard to care for the environment and replenish the fishing stock. This isn’t an issue about fish. This is Wisconsin’s version of the Klan and it is simply wrong and needs to stop.

Want to really save a walleye? Support Native spear fishers and keep the racist freaks off the water.