Category: political activism

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.

Looking Back at the Grassroots Leadership College

From 2003 to 2012 I ran a small nonprofit in Madison, Wisconsin called the Grassroots Leadership College. Our work was based in the idea that everyone is a learner, everyone is a teacher, and everyone is a leader. Starting with that idea in mind we created a coach/leader/ project based leadership education program for adults.

Over the nine years that the GLC operated we provided training to more than 500 people through our core program, workshops, and our Spanish language series. Those program participants led more than 120 different community organizing projects in the Madison area. Many of those efforts continue today.

The GLC was an amazing experience, not only for the projects that our participants led, but because of who our participants were and the community that they created by coming together to learn from each other. Madison has historically been a very liberal community. However, like many liberal towns, it has always been very much divided by race and class as well as other differences. Through very intentional work the Grassroots Leadership College was able to break down those barriers, even if only just for a moment, and bring people together. Our class groups would typically include homeless individuals, former felons, retirees, university faculty and staff, students, and professionals. The groups would often have an age range of thirty or more years. We simply created a space in which all voices were heard and honored for the knowledge and experience that they carried.

One of the people who had a great impact on me was a woman in our first class group. I’d only just begun as the director a few weeks before receiving her application. In that application she acknowledge that she had schizophrenia. I wasn’t sure of what to do, but our vision statement “everyone a learner, everyone a teacher, everyone a leader” played through my mind. Did we really mean everyone? I took the issue to my executive committee and we agreed that I would meet with her to learn more and determine whether she’d be a good fit for the program. Mona and I met at the Yahara House, a clubhouse for individuals seeking support with mental health issues. We discussed the program and her health. She explained to me her illness and told me about the others in the room that I couldn’t see, but she could. It was a wonderful conversation. She was a gifted teacher. My decision was easy and she joined the program, helping break down the fear of mental illnesses for many of our participants that semester.

After nine years of successful teaching coupled with financial struggles, it became clear that the Grassroots Leadership College wasn’t economically sustainable regardless of the good we did or the love we had for the program and we had to close the doors.

Now, it’s almost nine years later and so much has changed politically, socially, and economically both locally and on the grander scale. Still, I see good energy out there to do great things and some really good organizing going on. I think about the GLC and believe that what we did almost a decade ago could serve those doing the good work today. I don’t think that it’s up to us who led it then to rebuild it, but I wonder about how we might share the stories? What tools might be of value? How can we or should we hand on what we learned? We are in a different time with new leaders rising from the grassroots, but many of the needs remain the same and it seems there is little need to start over completely when there are models to build from. Still, one must also honor the new leaders and allow them their space to grow. It’s a delicate balance and one that I am trying to figure out.

White Folks and Fires: Thoughts on the Minneapolis Protests

In the last numbers I saw more than 30 fires had been set in Minneapolis. I don’t know how many businesses had been looted. Some would say that all of this is in reaction to the recent murder by Minneapolis police of Mr. George Floyd just a few days ago. That’s partially true. His death was a spark, but only one of thousands of sparks over the last 500 years.

If we want the looting to stop, if we want the arson to stop, if we want the violence to stop, we have a responsibility. I speak those words as a White ally.

When that Black baby comes into the world, it is our role to make sure that baby has access to quality childcare, healthcare, food, and all the other things that the White baby has. As that Black baby grows, it is our responsibility to make sure that baby has access to same level of learning experiences that the White baby does. Right now, too many kids coming from African American families don’t have the same access to learning so by the time they enter kindergarten they are already far behind many of their White counterparts even though they are just as smart and talented.

As that Black child grows, we have a responsibility to show them the best of who they can be. Celebrating Dr. King and Rosa Parks is great and we need to do that, but no child should grow up only seeing a handful of heroes that look like them. Show them all the best. Celebrate the famous names of history and the fact they just did well on their spelling test and everything in between. After all, that’s what we do for the White kids.

As that Black child grows to adulthood, recognize that they are still growing. They will make mistakes just like their White counterparts. Trust and forgive them as you do those young adults with white skin. Hire them, teach them, inspire them and be inspired by them.

As that young adult ages know that their life experiences from infanthood on will continue to define their actions and that we are responsible for their experiences within the community in which we, White people, quite frankly hold most of the power.

This is how we stop the violence. This is how we end the looting. This is how we stop the fires burning. We acknowledge that we, the holders of power in our communities, are holding tight the hand of every arsonist out there and forcing them to strike the match. We have the power to stop doing that. We need to do that now.

Kneeling

A lot of thoughts are going through my head and the feelings are deep in my heart as I join the nation in mourning the passing of Mr. Floyd George who was murdered by Minneapolis police yesterday.

The murder wasn’t simply the killing of man. It was part of a generations long action to hold down people of Color. It was one of million acts of fear by White folks, afraid to give up their power, afraid to live in peace, and solidarity with our brothers and sisters.

One of the things that I find myself thinking about is the uproar caused by Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the anthem. A man kneeling as a statement, calling for justice for people of Color and thousands cried out claiming he was some sort of anti-freedom heretic. Yesterday, another man knelt. He knelt on the throat of a fellow man who pleaded to be allowed to breathe.

So many men and women in this country have fought and died in the name of freedom. I pray that we are wise enough to recognize their sacrifice and to know that freedom lies in our ability to speak, not in the ability to crush the speech of others.

For all of those who kneel to reach the heavens, I hope that you will do so. All those brothers and sisters, like Mr. George, need whatever it is that we each do so that they might breathe.

When Will We Be Able to Breathe Again?

The Minneapolis police murdered another Black man last night. Mr. George Floyd died, his airway crushed under knee of racism.

I watched a press conference this afternoon about the event. It was gathering of mostly African American leaders with a sprinkling of other people as well. I was struck by an elder standing near the mic. I didn’t catch his name. I think it might have been Frank something. He was Native. I don’t know his tribe. He wore the AIM uniform, an AIM t-shirt, jean jacket, and cowboy hat. His look reminded me of a hundred other friends I’ve known along the way and of a story.

I was reminded that we all come from around the same fire. Someday, if we are to survive we have to come back together be that new people.

This man died because he couldn’t breathe through the hatred and fear that held him down. Not his hatred, not his fear, the hatred and fear that is white and monied. The hatred and fear that chokes the life out of all of us.

It’s been over 500 years now. It’s long enough. It’s time to step out and celebrate the beauty of our differences. We are more than black and white. I know we’re still social distancing, but in whatever way you can, hold each other in your hearts, raise up the beauty, celebrate the strength, honor the struggles. Do whatever it is that you can to make it possible for all who are being crushed to breathe again.

Using Time Wisely

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranked the US as the most obese country in the world in 2019. The World Health Organization tells us that we are one of the most depressed countries in the world.

The US is among the highest CO2 producers in the world. We continually are dumping poisons everywhere. We are continually putting poisoning our own food and the water we drink. Why?

We have a fascinating opportunity right now. At other times people might pay thousands of dollars to go on retreats to step away from their regular day to day lives and step into something new. We’ve all been given the opportunity for free. Sure, maybe it doesn’t come with an exotic vacation spot or maybe we’re still doing a lot of our work from before and some new jobs too, but we’ve got something here. How can we use it?

I keep thinking of something a friend use to say. He’d be presenting to groups, talking about all sorts of important environmental issues of the day and he’d tell people. “Don’t worry about protecting the earth. The earth, she’ll be fine. It’s us that we need to that we need to be concerned about. We’re the ones who will no longer be able to drink the water. We’re the ones who will no longer be able to breathe the air. We’re the ones who will no longer have food to eat.”

He was right. I suspect that this virus is simply another warning. The warnings are getting bigger and more intense each one after the other. We need to figure this out. What can we do?

You are there in your personal retreat. How can you take this time to care for yourself body, mind, spirit, soul? How does your relationship to this place where we live, this earth change? How do we show her respect? How do we stop poisoning her and poisoning ourselves in the process? When we walk together again who will you be? Who will we all be?

The Place I Am Today

I used to be a community organizer. I like to believe some days that I still am, but other days I wonder especially as I sit here writing in my bed, alone, with my dog laying on my feet, and not knowing how to impact the place where I live.

I began as a student back in the 1990’s with the fire of a teenager and the wisdom of someone who’d seen almost nothing beyond her own home. I got a lot shocks and a great deal of love. I fell often. My teachers helped me find my footing and brush myself off over and over again. We got a lot done and I found a place where I belonged. I’m still in touch with people from those days. Some, I would say, count among my closest friends.

After my years as a student, I took on being an organizer professionally. I learned the ideas of Myles Horton. I came to understand that it isn’t my job to solve the problems that a community faces, but to ask the questions, to hold up the mirror so that the community members might see the answers that they hold and find the solutions for the themselves. It was in asking the questions that I made connections and built friendships.

I’ve moved from here to there over the years, but so many connections remain along with the lessons we’ve learned together along the way and all the struggles that we’ve won and lost. It sometimes seems that I might reach out almost anywhere and find some connection, someone that I’ve known or someone who’s connected to someone I’ve known.

Yet, here where I am right now it seems the connections are tenuous at best. I can see the challenges. But I am in a strange place. It is one of those places where two communities share the same space and are in some sense tied together, yet in deny each other and I don’t know how to change that. Maybe it is what life is in a small town with a university. There is the university and there is the town. There are some who are really part of both and there are some who just live or work in one and are part of the other. Then there are a few like myself who work here and reside here, but don’t really belong to either. I am not sure what to do with that. This is an interesting time and place to look at it. I wonder if it would be different in a larger town or a larger university? My suspicion is that it would, but I can only hope to someday see.

I wonder how many of us there are in these situations. These places where we work and reside and yet are not a part. How does this change? Can it change with time? What does it take to be in the community and not the organizer or what does it take to be an organizer in a community that has two or maybe more personalities?

How Does This Change Us?

Okay, I took a break again and now it’s time to start writing. I don’t know what to say and can only hope that I find words that can provide help to someone somewhere. This COVID-19 thing is a strange beast. To me in some ways it only feels like a continuance and growth of my past few years here in Morris. While I have found some friends who have made all the difference, I haven’t found my home here. My main community has remained in different places separate from me. So, this is largely just a chance to learn about myself, to figure out some different ways to work, and to work on my own inner challenges in hopes of coming out a stronger and healthier person for whatever my next adventure may be.

The thing that keeps coming to my mind is something that my old friend Walt used to speak about when he was out talking with groups. Walt was a leader in the environmental and social justice movements in the Midwest and beyond. He used to tell people that we didn’t need to worry about saving the earth. The earth she will be okay. The earth she will heal herself. It is us that will die when we can’t breathe the air. It is us who will die when can’t drink the water anymore. It is us who will die when there are no trees, when there is no food to eat. It is us who will die.

Walt told the stories and gave the warnings. This COVID-19 thing seems to be giving the warnings too, giving them loudly and forcefully. I wonder how this changes who we each are individually and collectively? I’ve heard some tales that the shutdowns have already had positive impacts on the environment. I see stories each day of people slowing down and taking the time to take a walk and wave to people they pass, feeling the crushing weight of stress lighten as they stop running from meeting to meeting and task to task.

When this is over will we go back to who we were? Can we go back to who we were? Will we be someone new? Who do we want that someone to be?

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.

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.