Category: political activism

WORT- A Story On What Takes To Handle Crisis in Community Organizations

As someone who’s worked many years both professionally and as a volunteer in nonprofits and leadership development, I need to give a shout out to WORT 89.9fm Community Radio in Madison, Wisconsin for really having the essentials together.

I’m not saying that WORT is perfect.  I served on the board for several years when I lived in Madison and I can assure you that they are far from it, but they’ve got the key components and that became really clear recently when they faced a major incident at the station.

WORT is a community led, listener sponsored radio station in progressive Madison that went on the air in 1975 and has been riding the waves of operating in a community oriented space ever since.  In the early morning hours of Sunday, August 5th some of the pain and fear that’s all too common in our reality today walked into the station.  Someone came into the station and fired shots.  A DJ was injured.  Thankfully, the injury wasn’t serious and they were released from the hospital within a few hours.

Here’s where I become amazed.

The shooting happened in the early hours of Sunday morning, a time when the station would just have volunteers in the building and probably no paid staff.

  • The volunteers on air were able to respond to the shooter in a way that minimized harm.
  • Volunteers knew how to reach the board chair.  He was contacted and spoke effectively on behalf of the station with police and media.
  • The news department had a message out the WORT community telling them what had happened within a few hours and cutting off the main flow of the rumor mill.
  • WORT volunteers and listeners immediately stepped up with messages of support, offers of help, and donations.

I was thinking about this yesterday because of another board that I serve on.  It’s a struggling organization and I agreed to serve on the board because I believe they can be better.  Right now if there was an incident like the one WORT faced, I’m not sure what would happen.

We all hope none of our organizations ever have to face such moments of terror, but there is a lot to learn from WORT even for our every day operations.

  • Do your volunteers know who the person or people are who speak on behalf of the organization and how to reach them?
  • Do they know what to do in case of emergency?
  • Do you have a communications plan?
  • Do your volunteers and supporters feel that sense of connection to your organization that they’ll step up in a time of need?

WORT has had many ups and downs over its more than 40 years of operation.  It’s taken a lot of work to get to the point that they could get stronger from disaster rather than weaker.  Now is the time to work on these issues in your organization.  Don’t wait for the emergency to happen.

An All White Town

I grew up in rural Wisconsin in the 1970’s and 80’s in an all white town, except that it wasn’t, all white that is.

I don’t know exactly when I realized that little bit of information. I just know that even today I hear about rural communities being “all white” and I wonder.  I know that was the story of the area that I grew up.  That’s how we, at least we who identified as white, spoke.  “Those people” whoever “those people” were lived somewhere else, maybe in Chicago or Milwaukee or up north on the reservations, but certainly not in our area.

While I was busy living in that White Town fantasy world, some of my friends were living the reality of being bi-racial, Latino, or Asian in a community that didn’t, and probably still doesn’t really recognize them for who they are.  Instead, it asks that they pretend to be White or better yet, just be invisible or don’t be.

Well, these days I hang my hat in west central Minnesota.  I’m still in a small town and I work with small towns around the state.  Our rural communities are changing.  The White population is slowly shrinking and the population of people of Color is growing.  It’s going to continue that way into the foreseeable future.  It wasn’t ok for us to expect people of Color to pretend to be White or to try to be invisible or to just not be thirty years ago.  It’s absolutely unacceptable today.

Do we want rural communities to survive?  If we do, then we need to take a look at ourselves and ask some questions.

  • Am I seeing everyone who lives here for who they are or am I asking them to reflect me?
  • What am I doing to honor the experience and gifts that People of Color bring to the table?
  • How am I perpetuating racist systems and how am I tearing them down in my every day?
  • Who do I welcome and how?
  • What do I want my community to look like in twenty years? What will it take to get there?

I am sure there are many more questions to consider, but these give us a starting point.  The key thing is that the fantasy White Town has always been a nightmare for some and is becoming a nightmare for all.  If we want the nightmare to end, we need to look racism in the eye and tell it no more.

Polo Shirts and American Flags

In honor of Memorial Day, I thought I’d take on a topic I’ve not visited in a while.

Back in college I served in the student government association at my school.  We were a committed crew.  We gathered every Thursday night for multi-hour meetings fighting for students rights, our mix of conservatives, liberals, and radicals each determined to do what we believed was right.

Every Thursday night began with the Pledge of Allegiance which I, and a few others over the years, sat out.  I still remember being taunted by my fellow student senators for choosing not to take part.  What I remember best is the night that the flag wasn’t in the room.  One of the conservatives happened to be wearing a shirt designed like an American flag.  The group began to jokingly say the pledge in his direction.  I exploded.

People who had taunted me for a political statement against war abroad and injustice at home were ready to pledge allegiance to a shirt probably made by slave labor.  The pledge of allegiance isn’t just a poem.  The flag isn’t just cloth.  They were created to mean something.  Sometimes protest is our strongest way to honor that meaning.

Just some thoughts.

 

 

 

 

The Boarding Schools Continue

I was a foster parent for a bit over a year before I moved to Morris.  It gave me an opportunity to learn quite a bit about the foster care system in Minnesota as well as to care pretty deeply about some profoundly hurt children.

The foster care system in Minnesota is a lot like that in other states.  It needs systemic change.  Wonderful, caring people work within the system.  They are overworked, under prepared for their roles, often lacking cultural competence for working with the groups that they interact with, and eventually just burned out.

There’s a piece though that troubles me most deeply about how the system works.  Here in Minnesota that piece goes back to 1871 with the opening of the White Earth Indian School.   The White Earth Indian School was one of sixteen boarding schools in Minnesota, the largest of which was on the campus where I now work.  The Morris Industrial School for Indians which was begun by the Catholic Sisters of Mercy and later run by the Federal Government had over 2000 students during its 22 year history from 1887 to 1909.  These schools were where Minnesota lived out that idea made famous by Capt. Richard H. Pratt, who founded the Carlisle School in Pennsylvania, “Kill the Indian. Save the man.”

Native children were kidnapped. Their hair was cut. They were denied their traditional diets and forced to speak only English.  They could no longer practice their own spiritual beliefs or learn from their elders.  Entire generations began to lose a sense of who they were.  We know now that this loss has fed into many of the challenges that our Native communities face today.  We understand that the destruction of the Native diet has led to diabetes, heart disease, depression, and other illnesses. We know that people need a sense of family and self to stay clean of drugs and to succeed economically and emotionally.  We know that many of the elders who lived through the boarding schools still carry the trauma and that those experiences are handed down one way or another.

Why does that matter?  Well, here in Minnesota 2% of the population is Native. Yet, over 20% of the children in foster care are Native.  In 1871, maybe the Federal government didn’t understand the culture of the Native people and how the community raised children.  Maybe they really thought they were doing something good.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that today we know better.  Today we know that it’s wrong to simply kidnap those children, cut their hair, take away their language and their beliefs, and feed them poison.  Yet we continue.

The system needs to change.  Stop putting Native kids in foster care at record rates.  Instead, feed them good food, bring back their languages, let them learn their history and their values, honor their communities.

The Red Dress

Image may contain: people standing and outdoor

Miigwetch to David Manuel or whoever took this photo.

 

I’ll start this by being clear.  My ancestors are from Luxembourg and surrounding countries.  Sometimes when I advocate that the people of the over 500 different tribal nations in the place now referred to as North America get treated with basic respect and dignity I am asked if I am Native. I’m not.  I was just raised to care for and respect my neighbor.  And, I’ve had the good fortune to count some great Indians among my dearest friends.

I saw the photo of the red dress this morning.  It made me think.  I have long believed that racism is an act of fear more than power.  Somewhere in our being white folks recognize that we’ve done wrong for these many generations and we’re afraid of retribution.  We’re afraid of what could happen if everyone else had homes, jobs, money, education, and a safe place to be, at the same level that we do.

I’m not talking about individual fear.  Some people individually have moved past it.  But, as a group, we’re afraid.

We women, we have to address that fear.  It’s our to address because we are strong.  I remember as a young activist standing on the steps of the Wisconsin State Capitol, listening to Frannie Van Zile from the Mole Lake Nation.  She was talking about the proposed Crandon mine.  She said “You women, you women out there, you are the keepers of the water.”  Those words changed my life.  In many Indigenous cultures women are respected and honored. They are recognized to carry an important power, that they are keepers of the water, bearers of life.

That red dress reminds me that Native women, in fact all women of color, are in great danger because fear attacks where power resides.  It also reminds me that, as a woman, I have a responsibility to my sisters to care for them, to mourn their loss, and to do what I am able to keep them safe.

 

Another Addict Is Gone

Another addict died this week.  Did it matter?

While more white people in Minnesota die of opioid abuse than any other population in the state, the tribes are some of the hardest hit by the epidemic. In 2016, 395 Minnesota residents died of overdoses. Native people in Minnesota die at a rate nearly 6x as high as whites. Yet there are no answers.

Native people are roughly 2% of the population of the state.  Why are they dying every day from addiction?

American Community Survey data suggests that Minnesota has a poverty rate of 10.8%. Native people, however in our state face a poverty rate of 31.4%. Native people are also less likely to make it through the educational system.

Still, after more than 200 years of attacks by European invaders and their descendants the tribes survive.  But, yet the attacks continue.

If white people were dying of opioid abuse at a rate 6x that of Native people, would we be responding differently?

Success in recovering from addiction requires hope and stability.  Right now that hope and stability doesn’t exist.  We need to change that. We can arrest as many dealers as we want and more will appear.  If we’re serious about ending the opioid epidemic, we need to address racism.  Here are a few steps to take.

  1. Learn about Native history and treaty rights
  2. Support local Native run businesses
  3. Be a vocal ally
  4. Support efforts to teach Native languages
  5. Encourage our schools to accurately teach about the history and cultures of tribes
  6. Help build a sustainable local economy
  7. Support young people by showing that you care in whatever ways that you can
  8. Listen to the elders and learn
  9. Stop and think
  10. Question the system

https://www.mprnews.org/story/2016/04/18/opioid-overdose-epidemic-explained

http://www.wctrib.com/opinion/editorials/4405297-tribune-opinion-minnesota-opioids-bill-brave-and-needed-proposal

http://bismarcktribune.com/news/state-and-regional/spaces-between-us-racial-disparities-persist-in-nd-minnesota/article_e72061be-01b3-56f9-95a9-5a16505501f2.html

 

Challenges and Gifts

My father will turn 90 in just a few days.  Family is gathering for the party tomorrow.  I’ll be 500 miles away.

That wasn’t the plan.  The plan was that I’d drive home yesterday, spend a little time with friends along the way, then head for a weekend with family.  My body, well actually my brain, changed the plan.  I have epilepsy.  I was diagnosed in 2013.  My seizures have been well under control, but one showed up a few days ago and I had to set down the car keys for the next few months.  And, I had to take a few days to just rest and recover.

The good news is that it encouraged me to pick up the laptop again.

I don’t know why I have epilepsy.  I come from a large family and I am the only one with this challenge/gift.  I can hypothesize a list of possibilities, and I have many times. But, the reality is that it’s here and I get to live with it.

Why write about it?  Well, because it is a gift and gifts are good to share.  What? Epilepsy is a gift? No way!

I will admit it’s not a gift I would have chosen and if I had the receipt I would most definitely return it, but it is a gift.  Here are just few reasons why I consider my epilepsy a gift in my life.  I wonder what unexpected and perhaps unwanted gifts life has given you?

  1. It’s helped me look at the temporary nature of life to better understand that there was a time without me and there will be another time without me.  That’s ok. Now is my time to be alive.
  2. It got me to take pause to take care of myself.  I’m now a whole lot more conscious of when I need to just relax.  I’ve totally changed my diet, lost a lot of weight, and feel much better and happier.
  3. It’s helped me empathize with the experience of others.  Seizures scare people.  They also sometimes limit some of the things that I am able to do.  Epilepsy is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.  So, I am told, by the law, that I now have a disability.  Some days I agree.  Some days I don’t.  But, I do know that I have a better understanding of how both my brain and societal rules create limits.
  4. I have found great support.  I am a lucky one.  I have a strong family and friends that don’t run when they get scared.  I’ve also been able to find some excellent online support groups that have added to the group of people that I have that understand.  How amazing is it when people stay with us through the our rough spots?
  5. It’s continued to inspire my work to encourage healthy living both as individuals and as community.  My experience simply reminds me that we need to take care of ourselves individually and as a community if we’re to survive and thrive.

What challenge/gifts inspire you and carry you forward?

Prepared and Peaceful– Bringing Back the Nonviolence Training from the Wisconsin Capitol

January 25th, 2017
Back in 2011 I had the good fortune to get a phone call from the TAA in Madison, WI.  They needed a little help.  You see some folks had gathered in the state capitol because Governor Scott Walker was breaking the hearts of Wisconsinites with his anti-union, anti-worker behavior.  And, well, those folks who gathered there had had enough of the governor cheating on them and they’d decided not to leave.  The TAA and friends were hosting a gathering at the people’s house that would engage hundreds of thousands of people over the next several weeks.  They needed a little help making sure the space would stay safe and nonviolent.

I got the call in the afternoon and in a few hours my good friend Jeff and I were giving the first nonviolence training. Soon, I’d brought together a crew of trainers and we created “Prepared and Peaceful” a document that was shared throughout the capitol and later given to the Occupy Movement.   I’m proud to say the capitol protests remained nonviolent through the weeks were there.
With the changes in our government I expect we’re going to see a massive change in community organizing in the near future with a great increase in direct action organizing.  I’d like to share with the world again the materials that we used in Wisconsin during the capitol occupation and encourage you to be well prepared and peaceful.   Below is the text of “Prepared and Peaceful.”  If you’d like to get a pdf copy, please let me know.

Peace,
Amy

prepared + peaceful
training for being in and around the Capitol

Each of us is here because we’re committed to something important.
How we express that commitment matters.
Remember, the whole world is watching.
For your safety, the safety of others, and the safety of the protest, we ask that you plan ahead,
consider your options carefully, and get whatever support you need to remain calm and peaceful in
the event that we are asked to leave.
Nothing written here is intended as legal advice. We just want every person in and around
the Capitol to make informed choices about if, how, and when to leave.

NONVIOLENCE
Nonviolence is a philosophy, a lifestyle, and a strategy. Here we address it as a strategy to:
• Keep the public on our side
• Inform our interactions with counter-protestors
• Inform our interactions with police (who mostly support the goals of this protest)
Strategies that support our ability to practice nonviolence include:
• Connecting with others
• Planning ahead, visualizing nonviolent responses, role-playing
• Staying sober and free of alcohol/illegal drugs
• Song, prayer, meditation, compassion—remaining centered, calm, and focused on purpose

CONNECTING WITH OTHERS
Affinity groups are a long-standing way of
organizing nonviolent protest. Consider forming
a small group of people you already know or
meet here to:
• Watch out for each other
• Know each other’s contact information
• Help each other stay healthy and safe (food,
sleep, medications, mood, etc.)
• Have a designated meeting place if you get
separated
• Decide together what actions you’ll take
• Support each other to leave if anyone can’t
stay nonviolent
• Have a plan for what to do if you are at risk
of arrest

BEING WELL
One of the biggest health concerns in a situation
like this is burnout. Take time to take care of
yourself. Use your affinity group to support you.
• Breathe consciously. Even a few deep
breaths can make a real difference in your
ability to think clearly. Make a habit of
breathing consciously 10-15 minutes every
day.
• Rub your feet! At the end of a day at the
Capitol, get the blood circulating, then
elevate your feet so they’re less swollen in
the morning.
• Be sure to take all medications as
prescribed. See “Being Arrested” (back) for
how to prepare if your meds are critical to
your moment-to-moment well-being and
you plan to risk arrest.

PLANNING AHEAD
To avoid unintended consequences, consider in advance: “If the police ask us to leave, will I
leave when asked, or will I refuse respectfully?” This is your individual choice. Opinions
differ on whether or not it would be useful for the movement for people to be arrested. If you are
told to leave, you have three choices: Leave peacefully, cooperative civil disobedience, or
passive civil disobedience.
(OVER)
brought to you by the Grassroots Leadership College | http://www.grassrootsleadershipcollege.org | updated March 11, 2011

LEAVING PEACEFULLY
• Follow police instructions
• Do not interfere with arrests of others, even verbally
• Leave—walk, don’t run
• Meet up with your affinity group to confirm that everyone is away who
intended to be away
• Provide planned support for anyone in your group who stayed

CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE is the active, professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands, and
commands of a government. It is a nonviolent resistance tactic that involves finding ways to achieve
our goals without harming people.
• If you choose to stay, breathe, sing, center, pray, meditate, remain calm
• Recall the police are largely in support of the protest goals and want to keep the charges minimal

COOPERATIVE CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE
• Respectfully let the officer know you do not want
to leave but will cooperate physically
• Stand & hold your hands together in front of you
• Do not react/resist/pull away in any way to
avoid escalated charges
• You may be given a citation on the spot and
released, or transported to a processing center &
given a citation ($150-500 fine & a court date)

PASSIVE CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE
• Respectfully refuse to leave
• Sit down or go limp
• This will likely result in arrest, and if
done completely nonviolently should
be a misdemeanor
• Do not react/resist/pull away in any
way to avoid escalated charges
• See “being arrested” below

BEING ARRESTED
• Recognize that remaining limp while being physically removed can be extremely challenging, can
be dangerous to you, and could possibly be considered resisting arrest, a greater charge.
• Don’t make sudden moves around the police or touch them—this could be construed as
assaulting an officer, a greater charge.
• Consequences could be different for non-US citizens, students, minors, people with outstanding
warrants or past criminal records. Get legal advice before deciding to risk arrest.
• The police may use zip ties to cuff your hands. Keep your hands, arms and shoulders as relaxed
as possible. Use very gentle shoulder rotations to keep the blood moving. If your hands are
behind your back and swelling, get them above your heart by going down on your knees and
bending your head forward, so your hands rest on your back.
• You can ask where you are being taken, but if you aren’t told, don’t worry.
• Once in police custody, cooperate fully as you are transported, fingerprinted and photographed.
If you resist, you must be jailed.
• Don’t lie to the police. Give them your real name and contact information. Not to do so is a crime.
• Provide information about medical conditions or medications. If it is important that you
continue medications while in custody, be sure to bring several days’ supply with you in the
original prescription bottle. Also have with you a doctor’s note specifying the importance of those
meds to your health. Without this, your treatment will likely be delayed—perhaps significantly.
• Don’t answer other questions. Say, “I want a lawyer. I will be silent until I get a lawyer.”
• The ACLU and lawyers hired by the unions will be tracking who is arrested and will do their best
to make sure everyone gets legal support, as long as they are simply in trouble for nonviolent civil
disobedience. Our understanding is that they will NOT give legal assistance to people who get
charged with assault on an officer, drug charges, etc.
• Legal support is being coordinated through the number below. During the day, a person will
answer. At night, a recorded message will provide the numbers for people on call that night.
608.257.0040
• Write this number on your body. If arrested, you will not have your cell phone or notebook.
prepared + peaceful
training for being in and around the Capitol
updated March 11, 2011

Why the Violence and What’s the Role of the White Ally?

April 27th, 2015

I’m a white anti-racist activist with more than two decades long commitment to nonviolence.  Let’s just lay that out there to start with.  Back in my early days I was studying Gandhi, Dr. King, Buddhism, Hinduism, and various Christian traditions, along with being influenced by many elders in the struggles that I was involved in at the time.  I’m still committed to nonviolence.  The simplest reason is strategic.  The folks we’re fighting, those who are in power, have a bigger arsenal.  If we become violent they have greater discretion to use it.  Our strength lies in not giving them the o.k. to attack.

Therein lies the big question; what happens when the powers that be have already decided they have the o.k. to attack?

I started this entry by noting that I’m a white anti-racist activist.  That white piece is important here.  I think it’s important that those of us who are allies ask ourselves how our whiteness impacts our perceptions of what nonviolence means, our understanding of its history, our willingness to make the commitment, and our expectations of our fellow activists in communities of Color.

In recent months there’s been a story replaying across the U.S. Communities of Color, especially Black activists having been fighting back specifically against police brutality and more broadly against racist systems.  In many renditions of this story there are some incidents of disruption of the day to day and occasionally violence, though that tends to be sporadic.  The mainstream press likes to grab onto it and make it into news.

What happens in these stories is that white liberals, including many good activists who have claimed to care about racism for years, get upset because of what they see to be violent actions and disruptive behaviors.  They want peaceful protest.  They want actions to be directed toward a clear target and to follow the rules and regulations set forth.  They’d feel much more comfortable with a permitted rally or march.  They definitely get angry when things get out of control, when they can’t see the strategy, and when actions they deem to be violent happen.

Part of what made the Civil Rights Movement a success were those who were both committed to nonviolence and ready to defend themselves and those around them with a weapon if necessary.  We forget that.  We forget the disruptions that the were caused by the actions of those who struggled for freedom.  We forget that the gains beyond those told about in a page or two in a history book some February day in some classroom somewhere that took lifetimes and lives to achieve.

The struggles going on in our communities are like that.  Mainstream media is giving us that one line quip about a 500+ year story.  Just like that history book they’ve missed almost everything and told us only what they wanted us to hear.  We have to ask ourselves is it violence when people are acting against generations of genocide (cultural and physical)? Is it violence when people are acting against centuries of economic oppression in its multiple forms from physical slavery to being denied equal education, pay, and access to work? Is it violence when people are acting against prison, housing, healthcare, and education systems that all work against them?  Or is it simply self defense?

My fellow white anti-racist allies, I have to challenge us.  It’s time for us to step up.  We must take our role as allies seriously and step out into our communities of privilege to create change, to educate, and to eliminate the systems of oppression.  Many of us are doing the work in some way, a few of us live it with our hearts each day.  Now’s the time for all of us to do that.  Peace can’t happen until we take our role so that our brothers and sisters don’t have to defend themselves.

Peace,
amy

Thoughts on How to Be a White Ally in the Struggle

December 6th, 2014

I hear some of my fellow white activists struggling to find a way to be allies in this latest chapter in the ongoing struggle for justice for Black people and, I believe, all People of Color. This is a difficult puzzle for a group of people who have for many generations held the scepter of power, to consider not wielding it. I am writing the following not a final thought for myself or anyone else, but as my own process of thinking things through. I welcome any People of Color who might read it to tell me if I am off track or continuing to carry out my privilege in my words. I welcome other anti-racist allies to consider how these thoughts might fit or not fit your own practice and to share your thoughts as well. Here’s what I’m thinking about how to best be an ally in the struggle for justice for Black people and all People of Color. I recognize that the story is far from a perfect analogy, but I hope that it works.

Imagine yourself and a friend. That friend grew up in an abusive situation (society). They didn’t choose that situation. It was simply the one that they were born into. When you were younger you didn’t realize the nature of your friend’s situation. At some point you realized you weren’t allowed to go to that person’s house and slowly you learned other unwritten rules. As you both grew older you both grew stronger and wiser as well. Your friend stretched their wings in small ways at first, gaining little freedoms here and there. Now, they’ve come to the point that they’ve decided to confront their abuser. What do you do?

Do you say follow me I’ll figure out a plan to deal with this? Do you tell them to stop? Do you tell them to behave and it will be o.k.?

No, I think you say I love you. I respect your decision and stand behind you. Now what do you want from me to help you make it happen? Then you listen, do what you are able, mourn the losses, and rejoice when the struggle is won.