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.

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.



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.