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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

 

I Used to Know a Writer

What is it that makes someone a writer? That’s the question that I’ve been asking myself today.  Two days ago I felt the need to start a new blog.  I acknowledged all the times that people have encouraged me to put my life stories to paper and decided to do it.  Then, today, I sat down at the computer and nothing.  That’s right, nothing came out.

I grew up out in the country, on a farm in southeastern Wisconsin.  My high school graduating class had less than 100 kids.  We were pretty lucky kids though.  We really were the center of the town’s attention.  Whether it was the high school musical, a parade, or a football game we were the ones everyone came to watch.  We were the stars.  I acted, played music, edited the school paper.

Then I went to college.  The campus had about six times as many people as the town that I’d gone to high school it.  It was the big time for this farm girl.

Thursday nights my freshman year began to define me.  Thursday nights led me to the basement of the library, a gathering of the minds, probably the most creative group of out of this world artists I’ve ever had the good fortune to know.  It was University Writers and I became a writer.  I’d written for years, but it was then that I began to share my work, began to look at myself differently, see my thoughts as valuable, creative, and something special.

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat and laughed and shared with those friends in the basement of the library.  Yet, they carry with me.  Here’s a piece that I had published in Barney Street our campus literary magazine my sophomore year.

Little Boy

Little Boy
hiding in the shadows
laughing in the light
colouring a crayola world
running from shades of gray and black
dressing up in soldier clothes
carrying at his side
a gun
and a tear stained knife
Little Boy rides his unicorn
slides down rainbows
in the day
in the evening
puts in his mask
a grown-up masquerade
evil black knight
fearful, dangerous,
angry wolf
and at night
in the midnight darkness
the mask away
Little Boy cries
and prays for day

It’s nearly 30 years later now.  It’s been a long while since I’ve written poetry.  But, the stories continue.  I keep writing, journaling, grants, reports, mostly.  Does it mean that I am still a writer?  I hope so.  It seems time to start work on another chapter.

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.

Thanking Powerful Leaders

December 5th, 2014
Like a lot of people in the U.S. today,  I look at Facebook.  And, as I suspect is true for many of us, most posts really don’t mean all that much to me.  However, yesterday I saw one from a friend, “Worley Dervish” that left me thinking.  She shared the words of another person.  I’ll share it directly here both to assure that I don’t err in describing it and in hopes that it might inspire your thinking as well.

“Status update from Erika Dickerson-Despenza:
If you are white & attempting to engage in conversations or movements surrounding Ferguson, Eric Gardner, or the unending list of lynchings of Blk persons, here is WHAT NOT TO DO:
1. Do NOT give Blk people “suggestions” on what to do, say, or how to act in effort to avoid being murdered. We’ve tried it all.
2. DO NOT tell Blk people how to respond to lynchings. Do NOT talk about lessening anger, “riots,” looting, or the loss of property. At all.
3. DO NOT use the hastag ‪#‎wecantbreathe‬. You are white; you can breathe. You are NOT the “we.” Standing in solidarity does NOT mean you share our oppression.
4. DO NOT change our hashtag ‪#‎Blacklivesmatter‬ to ‪#‎Alllivesmatter‬. You’re not being lynched therefore we know your life “matters.”
5. DO NOT co-opt our organizing efforts to soothe your white guilt. ASK how you can assist not take over. This is NOT your movement.
6. DO NOT engage us with your feelings of white guilt. We’re not here for it.
7. DO NOT engage us with your white tears upon being called out, corrected, or dismissed. This is NOT about you or your feelings.
8. DO NOT engage us with your cowardly conservative Christian speech of just “praying for peace.” We believe in peace but we do NOT believe in defeatism and shrinking from our responsibility of transforming our world in keeping with God’s holy justice through His divine intervention.
9. DO NOT engage us with statistics and lop-sided historical accounts of “Black-on-Black” violence, good policemen, or “racial progress.” We will school you beyond your best textbook.
10. DO NOT quote Martin Luther King as though he was a “yes man” to white folks who encouraged us to not respond in the face of injustice. You’ve clearly misunderstood his entire strategy and did not read the entirety of his speeches.
11. That thing you were just about to say in response to this post because it made you uncomfortable by not privileging your voice, thoughts, perspective, or feelings, do NOT do/say/share that either.
You have been warned.”

That’s powerful stuff there.  I have questions.  They’re not questions about the validity of anything on this list.  It all makes sense.  What I’m wondering about is where the road is taking us.  I’m not looking for an answer here.  I am, once again, just doing as the Quakers might say “holding it in the light.”  I fully agree with that statement “Black lives matter.”  It shouldn’t be changed to some generic phrase in this struggle.  Still, I see that what comes of this phase of the struggle means so much for not only African Americans, but all People of Color.

As an organizer, I recognize that our wins are often small but that build off of each other into something larger and more permanent.  In our society we are looking for the quick big wins.  So, often people don’t see what we’ve achieved.  What is happening now in the streets across the country is the result of a multitude of struggles that have been going on for generations.  What comes of our actions of today will live on whether the wins are miniscule or gigantic.  From my spot today hearing the president’s statement, listening to the news, watching video of actions around the country, and  reading this list it looks like the wins are already great.  It is clear that a strong generation of leaders is standing up, taking charge, and moving forward in creative and strategic ways.  I express my respect and gratitude to them for their great work.  Peace.   

Changing and Staying the Same: The Struggle Goes On

November 22nd, 2014
It’s been a long time.  A lot has changed and some things have stayed the same.  I suppose it’s time to write again.

When I last wrote on this blog I lived in Madison, Wisconsin.  I was in the middle of the progressive haven in the midst of the crushing regime of the man considered by many to be the worst governor in Wisconsin history, and I was tired of being an activist and organizer.  I was taking a break and mostly just being a pessimist and trying to get through a diagnosis of epilepsy.

I had to get away.  After months of searching I came across a position with the Toxic Taters Coalition in northern Minnesota.  I had been looking at Minnesota, but I hadn’t thought I’d move so far north.  Still, I was drawn to this group with the name that made me laugh.  I got the job and suddenly I found myself living less than an hour from Fargo.  Who would have ever thought I’d go to North Dakota when I need to go to a city?

I find myself organizing again and enjoying it again.  My work is bringing together Native and non-Native people in a fight to cut the use pesticides by RD Offutt, the largest potato producer in the world.  The work is growing by the day.  I love to see people who aren’t daunted by the idea of taking on a huge corporation.  They’re just doing what they need to do to keep living, quite literally.

My growth here is in bringing together people across the divides and understanding who I am.  I’ve worked with Native people for a long time, but until now I’ve always lived far away.  Now, my office is on the White Earth reservation and my home is about 13 miles away from the reservation boundary.  The racial divides are clear.

Generations of genocide have destroyed so much of the family/ community structure and created such a sense of despair.  I have met some very strong people who are working so hard to rebuild and foster the seeds.  There’s a lot to do.  I ask myself what role I play.  I am not Native.  I can’t be that nor do I want to.  I have my own history.  I do think I have a role as an ally to act as a bridge connecting people who otherwise do not meet and understand each other.  It is a role that requires both delicacy and strength and a lot of figuring out.

Which brings me back to Madison.  It was just a few weeks ago that the one who has been considered the worst governor in Wisconsin history won again and people started talking about leaving and moving to Minnesota or other more progressive places.   Yes, Minnesota’s government is currently more liberal than Wisconsin, that’s true.  I will give you that.  But,  I wonder, to what degree does it matter?   I’m working with people right now who are fighting for the air they breathe.  They’ve watched the insects, birds, and frogs die away.  They all know someone who is sick or they are sick themselves because of the pesticides.  The other night I went to a meeting and learned about elders heating their homes with their kitchen stoves.  I’ve heard many stories already of families struggling with addiction in their midst.   I wish my home state could have gotten rid of Walker.  I hope to god he doesn’t get any further in politics.  But, someone else in the governor’s office isn’t the answer.  I wish it were that easy.

Those are my thoughts for the moment.  I hope now that the winter is upon us that I might take up this writing assignment more consistently again.  I look forward to developing my thoughts through it and to reading yours.

peace,
amy

Musings After Fergusen

November 25th, 2014
We’ve all been listening to the stories about Ferguson. There are many conversations out there about what happened, what’s happening now, how we’ve gotten to this place, and why.  In my owner corner of the world I’m fairly insulated personally from the protests directly given that I now live in a rural area of northern Minnesota, but not from the realities of racism or from the conversation.  And, my heart still travels with all my friends who hit the streets in cities around the country with the message; Black lives matter.

I was looking at Facebook today, skimming messages, seeing a lot of sadness from my politically liberal, progressive, and radical friends about the decision in the case and more broadly around how it has been considered a reflection of how Blacks are demonized in the U.S. Then I saw a message that troubled me more.  It was from someone who I care about deeply and who generally doesn’t share my politically ideologies.  It was a picture of an African American police office (I think it was an actor, but I couldn’t remember the show) with the message “Instead of saying ‘fuck the police’ How about you stop breaking the fucking law.”

It troubled me more because I know this woman to be a loving mom with beautiful, smart kids, a caring person who is very involved in her community and church.  She’s someone who is thoughtful, politically engaged, and wants the best for the little ones that she is raising as well as herself and her husband, friends, and family.   Politically a conservative yes, but not so different from me or anyone else I know in her underlying human needs and wants, and someone who I love as family.

I had to decide what to do.  Should I ignore this post that bugged me and keep tension out of the family or do my job as an anti-racist activist and say something.  There was no choice there never is.  I made a comment.  I started it with letting her know that I love and respect her then went into just acknowledging that my experience and the first hand accounts I’ve heard in my years of work tell me that the systems (police, schools, healthcare, etc) treat People of Color whether they be African American, Latino, Native American, or any other group differently than they treat White folks and that there are no “bad guys” unless society pushes people into that behavior.  I opted not to get into how behaviors are looked at differently depending on who you are.  It was just a brief facebook post and I thought that would get too confusing for a first naming.  I did, however, suggest reading Howard Zinn’s  People’s History of the United States.  I don’t know, maybe she will.  She is a person who likes to learn and think.

As for me,  I continue to think about what brought me to this place.

Thinking about the stereotypes associated too often with African Americans; criminals, uneducated, low income, addicts, unwed moms, etc. reminded me of when my eyes were first being pried open as a student at UW-Stevens Point.  I think it was during the time that I was SOURCE director and working to ensure that the Black Student Union get a fair trial with the Student Government Association regarding some small issues with a member of the BSU who had been accused of taking some money at an event.  I understood that race was a huge factor in this case and that it would be difficult for the all Black group to get a fair hearing from nearly all white government.  I went to several mentors for advice.  It was somewhere in here that I learned about the struggles that Dr. Andrea Turner had finding housing when she’d first moved to town in the 1990’s.  The Affirmative Action Director for the University was having to deal with racist landlords!  What the heck!  She left Stevens Point after only a few years.

Another Point story for me was a diorama in Andy Gokee’s office.  Andy works in the Native American Center there.  The diorama was one he made with his daughter when she was in elementary school.  Her teacher was teaching the kids something about Native Americans and was having the kids make Indian teepees.  The Gokee family has a long and proud history in what is now Wisconsin and their tribe, the Anishanabe didn’t live in teepees.  Andy took his anger and funneled it into teaching and made a beautiful piece of work with his daughter that shows more accurately how her ancestors lived.

From there I go to the road,  I keep coming back to that Protect the Earth Walk from Red Cliff to Madison.  We walked to draw attention to the seventh generation amendment, the environment, social justice, and to ask people what they wanted for the seventh generation.  I still see it.  Walking down the road, Frank, Walt, and I and there’s an older man, a white man across the road looking at us.  We cross to go talk with him.  Frank who is white and middle aged starts up the conversation.  Walt who is unmistakably Native is standing next to him and I’m a step or two off to the side.  Frank explains what we’re doing and asks him his thoughts.  The older man responds as if Walt and I aren’t even there with a tirade about those “goddamn Indians and those goddamn Indian casinos.”  I realize he has the ability to choose not to see us.

There it is.  There’s privilege.  Those of us with privilege get to decide what to see, who to see, what to do with what we see.  Those without privilege had better see everything or they will be beaten and killed by whatever they miss in that one moment that they miss it.

I was hoping that I would come out of this free writing exercise with some great insight on moving forward.  I’m not sure that I have.  I only know that the toughest folks to confront are the ones you love and those are the ones you must confront. Do so lovingly.  And, that a whole lot of stuff has brought me here,  I am honored to have been given the gifts of these experiences though many have made me sad.  I am and continue to be amazed by the strength of those I have grown to know.

Keep on keeping on.