Category: social 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.

Ikigai

There is a Japanese concept known as Ikigai or “reason for being” that I was recently introduced to by a dear friend who is providing me guidance as I think through where I might go in my next adventure. It is a bringing together of that which you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid to do.

Find your Ikigai.

I’ve been delving into this idea, seeking my Ikigai for some weeks now. I remain confused by exactly what is the difference between what the world needs and what I might be paid for. I don’t know if this is a result of having spent too many years in low wage sectors of the work force or being overly influenced by the realities of a capitalist society. But, in either case, or maybe some combination of both, I tend to believe that anything the world needs is something that one might be paid for. I suppose the question then becomes if one could be paid enough to live on, but as I said, I’ve worked a long time in low wage sectors of the workforce. My pay expectations have risen a great deal since I first began, but monetary riches aren’t really on my radar at all. These days I believe in a living wage, good benefits, and a welcoming work place. When I first began all I sought was a welcoming work place, the other two were just added plusses.

Writing my lists of loves and things that I’m good at brought back many memories. So many were filled with songs and stories, art and laughter. They were memories of caring times, whether those caring times showed themselves in miles of hiking for peace or to protect the water or raise funds for raptor rehabilitation or rocking babies or teaching adults or standing on the strike line. They were creative times filled with ideas showing themselves in a myriad of different ways. Some were sung out. Some acted. Others written in poetry or prose or simply spoken in stories.

This is what I have learned or maybe was just reminded of. I thrive on the creative, both that of others and my own. It simply feeds me. I value the opportunity to care, but care alone can drain me. The two together help me maintain a balance. As I seek my path forward I seek the creative and the caring.

I wish you all the best as you move forward and hope that we might all find our Ikigai

Growing Clarity

It’s been almost two weeks now since my VNS device was turned on and nearly a week since my first increase in voltage. There will be six more increases in voltage until I reach my full dose that will, hopefully, significantly decrease if not stop the seizures that have been a part of my life for so many years.

Already the little device seems to have become a natural part of my being. This is so much different than medication. Sometimes I can feel the little buzz in my throat. I think of it now as a frog in my throat and it reminds me of Kermit singing “Rainbow Connection” from the Muppet Movie, one of the first movies I ever went to see as a child. It brings me good memories and comfort.

Where almost every medication I’ve tried has brought me rashes, tremors, fogginess, and just a general feeling of malaise, I am slowly feeling the curtain lift with this treatment. Buddy and I are back to walking about 2 hours a day. My focus is returning at work. I’ve been feeling good enough about myself and my direction to get myself a few household gifts, things I’ve needed for quite some time but just never got around to purchasing. I’ve returned to actually reading, not just listening to audio books. A lot of little things, good little things. I feel the world turning in a good direction.

I am once again beginning to move toward bigger questions. Walking through the small town where I live I’ve been seeing lots of Black Lives Matter signs. I have one in my own yard. There are very few Blacks who live in the community. I find myself wondering who the signs are for. Are they here in support of Black people facing discrimination and racism or are they here to make White folks feel good about themselves because they put up a sign? I don’t know. I keep puzzling and have found no easy answers, but it does seem to be a question worth pondering.

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.

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?

Dreams

This morning my thoughts are of dreams. I’ve always been a dreamer. I believe our sleeping lives tell us a great deal about our waking time sometimes it’s just difficult to figure out what it all means and what to do with it. As we settle into this time of isolation and slowing of our society, I wonder how our dreams will be? I wonder if the spirits might be heard more clearly as we allow our brains to quiet from the daily noise? I wonder if we’ll understand and listen?

I don’t always remember my dreams, but there are few from these past two weeks that are still floating in my head. In the first I was pregnant. My belly was large and round. I felt its warmth and cradled my about to be born child with love. I woke as the child was being born. The child was a new world. It was a beautiful moment for a forty-eight year old post-menopausal woman who’s never had a biological child. It feels like some directions to me, that I am to give birth to something. I don’t know what but I trust in the beauty and the good.

The second dream made me thankful for being able to awaken. I was in an old house, but it was new to me. I was there with an old friend. We were just moving in. I’d laid on a bed when I felt a weight down on me and couldn’t move. I could hear that Queen song, Under Pressure playing and forcing me down into the mattress. Then I awoke and for just a moment I was stuck there unable to move until I realized again where I was. It wasn’t quite a nightmare. I was able to wake up before it became one. I was somewhere between the old and the new and stuck there.

How are we all now in this place between the old and the new? Are we ready to give birth to a new beginning? What is it that we seek of ourselves and what is it that we seek in the world when this time of isolation is done? How are we preparing?

Dreams well my friends. Our dreams hold a lot of questions and a lot of answers.