Category: social activism

Reflections on Visiting Dachau

It’s been just over a week since I wrapped up my wanderings of the streets and mountains of central Europe. The vacation, which I booked months ago when I’d been planning to move forward in a career providing housing to terminally ill homeless people, wound … Continue reading Reflections on Visiting Dachau

Blue Eyes Flashing and other words

I’ve been continuing to face an ongoing struggle with writer’s block. I strongly suspect a sort of fear of writing, a fear of what I might learn if I go to deep, but I have no choice. There are words that I need to share and they’ll be there inside me until I let them out. So, I am continuing to work on letting them out. Today I’m going back through old journals and finding bits and pieces to revise and share more publicly. The first piece has no title yet, but maybe I’ll call it Boots. It was written on 7-6-2000 on the shores of Lake Superior while on a walk around the big lake to protect the waters.

I am standing here

on a precipice

looking out

afraid to fly

wanting so badly to walk away

to not

defend

my people

or

my place

but my boots

will not walk backward

like the staff

my being is feathered

and I will

fly

Another story that I found came from a few years earlier. It is called Blue Eyes Flashing and is dedicated to my great aunt Sr. Christine Mondloch. Sr. Christine was born in 1898. She served as a School Sister of Notre Dame, teaching school for many years before retiring. She lived out her final years in Elm Grove, Wisconsin in a tiny blue room in her convent. She was an inspiration to me. She found such joy and meaning in the simplest life.

Blue Eyes Flashing

(a revision of the 3-4-96 version dedicated to Sr. Christine Mondloch who walked on 2-24-96)

Blue eyes flashing

From behind the clouds

Not recognizing a brother

Only crying out

In fear

Imagining your smile

Wishing for you the great beyond

Remembering the cardboard cutouts 

Stored away in my parent’s basement

And wondering how the demons

Caught your spirit, stole your soul

All my life you gave me cardboard boxes,

Toothpick flags, and empty suitcases

All your treasures in the world

I think of you of your autobiography

98 years written on one page

I remember the tiny blue room

Charity called your home

I walk the halls and feel your footsteps

In time with mine

Changing One Thing

So, I’ve been trying to get back to my blog after several months away, but it seems I’m facing a mild case of writer’s block. Nothing is coming to mind. It’s just empty. There are no topics to write about there. What to do? Well, since it seems the key component to becoming a successful writer is writing, I just used the wonders of the internet and sought out a writing prompt. The one that drew me today was this. “If you could change one thing in the world, what would you change and why?”

This is actually something I’ve had the chance to ponder quite a bit over the past thirty years or so as someone who’s worked in social and environmental justice. I’ve had the good fortune to work with a lot of good people along the way. I’m thankful to say that I’ve found a few good mentors too or maybe they’ve found me or in any case we’ve found each other. There’s something those mentors hold in common. They know interconnectedness. They understand what happens to one impacts us all.

Historically, many, maybe once all, cultures understood that we are connected both to our fellow humans and to everyone and everything else, animate and inanimate, but just in really very recent years (only a few generations) we’ve forgotten and we’re getting sick. We are part of the body of the world. We can’t just care solely for the hand or the foot without the other parts of the body suffering. It makes no sense to hate a part of the body for its actions or its disease. Instead, when we recognize that we are all a connected body we heal each other.

That’s what I would seek, just for us to recognize our interconnectedness, with each other a people and with world that we inhabit and to begin to live that way again.

Now, I am wondering– What would you change?

Looking at Life’s Work

I was interviewing for a new job yesterday and was asked a question that while not totally unheard of was one I’d not heard often in job interviews that I’ve done either as the interviewer or the interviewee. I was asked how I identify myself or what I enjoy outside of my work life. What a wonderful question! Thank you for letting me know that you, as an employer, want to know me as a person that you value my work/life balance.

I grew up on a farm. My parents both grew up on farms as did their parents and their parents before them. For years I used that as a reason or maybe an excuse to devote my life to my work, putting in far more hours and more brain power than I was paid for. I would talk about how I grew up learning that farming wasn’t a job it was life’s work, and that’s what my work was as well.

Looking back now, I’m questioning what that “life’s work” means. Sure there is a lot about the work that simply needs to get done when it needs to get done no matter what. When the cows get out, you need to get them back in. There are no choices there. I think I misrepresented the 24/7 nature of “life’s work” types of jobs though. My Mom and Dad worked a lot, us kids spent our time helping out too. But, we also went swimming, watched tv together, took vacations, did all the things that others around us did that didn’t have “life’s work” kinds of jobs. The big difference between a job and life’s work isn’t the level of commitment, but the level of connection. For some farming is a job, a really hard job, for others it is life’s work. For me social justice is my life’s work.

I am thankful for this look at life’s work. It gives me a greater permission to take good care of myself as I move forward, continuing to do what can be very difficult and emotionally draining work. Today, I’m encouraging each of us whose had that great gift of being able to do the work that we feel called to, that we are connected to, that “life’s work” to celebrate that calling by caring for ourselves so that we might continue.

Thoughts on How to Stop the Violence

Yesterday, 19 children and 2 adults lost their lives at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. That means we’re at nearly 250 school shootings since back when Columbine first shocked and terrified us all. Thousands of children and their caregivers and teachers have died. Others have been left behind to struggle with the loss.

Each time another shooting happens the response is much the same. We cry. We mourn. We say this must never happen again. Yet, it happens again. Why?

It happens because there are no easy answers. It happens because the changes needed are needed at many levels; personal, community, political, maybe even spiritual. It happens because the changes require more than the wonderful organizers who are already out there working day and night trying to save the world. The changes require all of us taking action. There are many ways to take action each day. Some listed here may seem obvious and direct. Others may leave you questioning a little. That’s okay. My thoughts here are based on the idea that everything is connected.

  • Tell someone that you love them. If you’ve already told them, tell them again. We all need to hear these words over and over again to hold our souls together and no one wants to say goodbye with these words unsaid.
  • Breathe deeply before you act and then act with the seventh generation in your mind and your heart. Some may ask what this means. The idea of the seventh generation is simple. Imagine a long tunnel. If you look down that tunnel, way down at the other end you’ll see a baby. That baby is the seventh generation, roughly 150 years from now. If you do right by that child, you’ll be doing right for today. Always treat that baby with love and respect.
  • You don’t have to love your enemy, but do recognize that someone loves them and that someone is a valuable person who deserves not to be hurt. Every shooter, every evil politician, every horrible whatever out there has or had someone, their parent, their child, their grandma or grandpa, or maybe a teacher or somebody who cared about them or still cares about them. You don’t have to love the horrible, just know that somebody could see something in them that was good, that was worthy of love and act with that in mind.
  • Recognize the connections. Our mental health is no accident. Good mental health depends on a healthy environment, healthy diet, financial security, and strong social support networks. We each need many things to maintain our stability. Each day we must strive to move toward fulfilling each of these needs for everyone if we are to create a healthy world.
  • Be involved. Find your piece of the action whether it’s working directly on gun safety and stopping school shootings or a hundred different issues. Follow your heart and connect with your community to make the world just a little bit better. It is by the creating of good, healthy communities of many types that we heal and we stop this senseless violence and turn instead to love.

Those are just a few thoughts for the moment. I am sure there are many more. I would love to hear yours. Take good care and wishing you all peace and healing

Care for the Water, Care for the Women

I was back at the state capitol today. Sometimes I wonder if I should maybe just avoid that building. It seems every time I go there something makes me cry.

Today, I was there to join with hundreds of other to remember and honor all the missing and murdered Indigeneous women. As of 2016, the National Crime Information Center reported 5,712 cases of missing Native American women and girls. I am terrified to considered how much the numbers have grown since then. Indigenous women and girls are ten times as likely to be murdered as all other ethnicities. More than half of Native women and girls experience sexual violence. According to the Center for Disease Control murder is the third leading cause of death among Indigenous women.

Today, we sat and listened to the stories of survivors and to stories of the families and friends of those who didn’t survive. I found myself in tears and thinking about some of the little girls I got to know during my time in Minnesota. In particular, I found myself thinking about two little girls who are now both just coming to that stage of life of entering womanhood. I remember that time being confusing and hard enough with body changes, the discovery of sexuality, and noticing the cute guy at school. These girls live in a different world and I could only cry as I can’t protect them on my own.

Why is it this way we wonder? Well, all I can come down to is that it’s about power. These little girls, these women are too powerful. If they are allowed to keep their power, the forces of evil would be crushed. Rape is a tool to control and break down not only the individual, but the whole community. If the women are controlled with the force of violence and fear, the children are controlled. If the women and the children are controlled, the men are broken. Nothing works anymore. The community struggles to merely survive when the women are no longer safe.

Who profits when the community struggles? Big oil, mining companies, all the corporations who make money off of Indigenous people’s lands and waters. That’s why we see the numbers of women disappearing and being murdered going up when the mining companies and oil pipelines come in. It’s control. It’s breaking down the community and tearing out the heart.

So, what do we do? Listen to the women and the girls. Honor them and respect them. Don’t allow for this injustice to continue. Remember that these women, they are the keepers of the water. Respect the water and you will respect the women. The two are not separate. Care for the water. Care for the women. I can’t protect those little girls on my own, but together we can. Each action, every day keep remembering. Care for the water. Care for the women. Respect the water. Respect the women.

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.

Ponderings on Race in Madison Today

Ah the wonders of returning to the “thirty square miles surrounded by reality!” Yes, that is what many know Madison as because it is a community unlike any other in the state of Wisconsin. Its hyper-political, ultra-educated, super-liberal personality makes it a strange juxtaposition to the grounded-ness of the surrounding counties in their simply seeking to work hard and live right style of being.

I was reminded of where I am by several interactions this week. One was on my bus ride to work. The driver had just stopped for three teenaged girls, but wasn’t opening the door. Instead, he was shouting at them to put on their masks, telling them he’d open the door when they were masked. Two already had their masks on, the third was putting hers on as she prepared to board. I saw no reason to shout or prevent them from boarding. It seemed their behavior was much like my own had been, still getting my mask on as the bus stopped. The difference was stark though. I’m a middle-aged white woman and they’re teenaged black girls.

I am impressed by these girls, despite the rude and cruel behavior of the driver they moved forward as they seem to each day. They get on the bus, find seats by a woman who I think works at their school, and start to share stories of their day with her. They’re good kids, well behaved, and take good care of each other. I find myself wondering how long they can withstand the expectation that they are something other than good kids? How long until they meet the driver’s expectations because they are told through such actions that they are supposed to be trouble makers or somehow less than?

I found myself too in a conversation about race with a group of white folks from a predominately white group this week. The discussion was about welcoming people of color into the organization. I appreciated the openness and honesty of the group talking. Despite not knowing each other well, or maybe because they didn’t know each other well they took some risks in what they were willing to say. The conversation was interesting and unusual. Instead of focusing on the evils of racism it centered more on the question of being with people of like experience. Asking why would the organization want to increase the number of people of color involved? Do we seek to engage more people of color simply to make ourselves feel better? What does that mean? What value do we bring to the relationship? What are we willing to change in order to share ownership? Are we willing to change?

The conversation was both valuable and ugly. While there were no words spoken in anger and everyone seemed to be taking pause to think deeply, processing ideas and feelings fully, being open to learning still the conversation brought such ideas to light that I could almost imagine the hoods. The questions, the ideas; asking if “they” might not just want to be in “their” own group, if “they” might not want to be with “us”, if “they” might want to have “their” own kinds of celebrations, music, and ceremonies, if “they” might somehow be different than “us.”

These are well educated people. Yet, the world created dividers and told them who the other was. It was so much like the bus driver and the girls. Expectations are set, regardless of reality. I can only hope that we can change ourselves and become like the school staff person on the bus who each morning greets the girls with a smile and a kind word, who sees who they really are.