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 DO NOT quote Martin Luther King as though he was a “yes man” to white folks who encouraged us to not respond in the face of injustice.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.

Privilege and Guilt– One Activist’s Perspective

January 21st, 2014

There have been several articles in the local media in the Madison area lately that have caused quite a stir among some of the White activists in the area.  Writers, both Black and White, have had the audacity to bring up the subject of racism in our liberal bastion and its making some people uncomfortable.

In that discomfort I see hope.  There’s no reason to fix a problem until we see a problem exists.  Right now some of my activist friends are looking into a glaring light and their eyes are hurting.  They want to turn away.  Instead I hope they will give their eyes the chance to adjust and that they will do the work that needs to be done on this issue just as they do on so many related concerns.

There is a particular term that has been thrown about lately and seems to be being inappropriately defined.  I’d like to offer my fellow activists some more accurate definitions.  The term that is generating heat and misconceptions is White privilege.   White privilege simply means that by the nature of our skin color White people, as a group, have access to resources at a different level than do People of Color.  As a group we are more likely to have access to jobs, education, and other positives. We’re also, as a group, less likely to experience the negative impacts of these systems like jail, homelessness, poverty, etc.  That doesn’t mean that White people don’t go to jail or aren’t homeless, or aren’t struggling economically.  Most certainly many are.  However the research is clear White folks have a better chance in life just because we were born White.  That’s reality.

Now, that’s something different than what I’ve been hearing some of my fellow White activists turning to.  They are quickly pulling out White guilt and claiming they are being made to feel White guilt.  White guilt is about feeling bad about yourself because you were born with White skin and frankly, it’s a waste of time and energy.  No matter how badly you feel or how many tears you cry your guilt isn’t helping anybody.

So why talk about privilege if it isn’t to make someone feel guilty?  Here’s why;  when people with privilege are willing to act in their every day to assure that everyone gets their needs met and privilege is no longer a reality we all win.  If you believe in social, economic, environmental justice and in peace, it can’t just be for some people.  If it is, well, then it’s really not for anyone.

I know, we’re all working hard on the issues we’ve chosen and can’t take on one more thing.  Well, don’t take on something new.  Instead, ask yourself what am I doing in my current action that makes this work for everyone?  How am I acting in my everyday?

A few months ago I had the good opportunity to travel to Tennessee with a group of students of Color from the UW.  Along the way I got into a conversation with a few of them and one young man was speaking to how racism affected his every day.  He told us of how White people would rather stand on the bus than sit next to him, a young Black man.  It made me think.  How do I respond in those moments?  I encourage my fellow White activists to ask yourself over and over again in those little moments in which you are engaging with people of Color what are you thinking?  What prejudices are defining your actions?  How are you overcoming those prejudices?  I encourage all to do the same exercises in those moments in our groups and activities to learn about ourselves and how we unintentionally welcome or turn away those who do not look like us.

Let go of the guilt.  It’s doing none of us any good.  Instead start asking questions of yourself and the world you live in and start acting.

Peace,
amy

Questions for My Readers– Please Share Thoughts

September 4th, 2013
Hello all.   Thank you for reading my blog.  I hope that you are enjoying it and learning from it as well.  I’ve been enjoying writing and thinking about my role in social change work.

As those of you know who’ve been reading my posts over the past few weeks, my world got a bit of a shake up when it was discovered earlier this summer that I’ve had some nocturnal seizures.  I’ve had a bunch of tests done, but nothing has uncovered the cause yet.  In Wisconsin if you have epilepsy it’s illegal to drive unless you’ve been seizure free for at least three months.  Given that I don’t own a car, I don’t drive much anyway.  But, this new restriction has gotten me thinking more about my role in social change work and in how I do consulting, training, and organizing work.  I’ve got a lot of questions.  I’d like to get your insights.  Please take a few moments to respond to any of the questions below that you have thoughts on.  Thanks!

  1. Do you know any consultants or organizations who are doing community organizing training work online that you think really works at building community?
  2. Who is creating the models that work for sustaining organizers?
  3. What would you like me to talk about in future blogs posts?
  4. What would be helpful for me to put on a website for you to use in your organizing work?
  5. How do you connect and build community with other people and groups?
  6. How could this blog and/or an organizing website help you build an organizing community?
  7. What others ways could my writing be helpful to you?

Those are just a few of the questions on my mind this evening.   The other deep question is about returning to graduate school.  Right now I am working on a masters certificate in Sustainability Leadership and deciding whether I should do a full masters in Sustainability Leadership or Education or if I should pursue a doctorate in some area of Sociology even though I wouldn’t be done with school until at least my mid-forties.  Anyone who wants to get into that area of puzzlement , I welcome you to puzzle with me!

Thanks everyone who shares thoughts!

peace,
amy

Why Sing a Song

August 7th, 2013

Song is a scary thing you know.  I don’t know what it is, but there is something powerful there.  I think of freedom songs that were used to carry codes and free people.  I remember the union songs that told the stories of struggle of working people who won and those who died.  There are the folk songs that tell the stories of mountains and forests, people and lives, war and the path to peace. There’s that demon rock and roll.  And, of course, we cannot forget how song provided the framework for the civil rights movement or how it has continued to grow and tell the stories of our lives in so many ways, reggae, rap, the blues, and the list goes on.

People ask why we are singing in Wisconsin.  Why haven’t we gotten a permit to sing our songs?  The answer, in my mind, is simple.  People have had the right to gather, without a permit, in the capitol rotunda to petition their government in Wisconsin since the capitol was built.  The current administration trying to limit that right and that’s not ok.  Rights are easier lost than won.  We cannot insult the legacy of all those before us who have fought and too often died for the right to petition their government by becoming silent.

People say we should be doing public service instead of singing.  Well, amongst our singers we have nurses, teachers, pastors, people who work in nonprofits, volunteer for food pantries, people leading efforts to build homes for the homeless, tutors and mentors for area youth, volunteers for area museums and community centers, and the list just goes on.  We work every day to care for the world we live in for today and for the long term.

We aren’t there for political parties.  We are there for deeper ideals; freedom of speech, a fair and just society in which the government works for the people not the corporation, a government that stands up for what is right and just, a democracy for, of, and by the people.

I think that if we really had the choice a lot of us would rather take that hour to go grab some lunch.  We don’t have that choice anymore.  We love Wisconsin too much to give it away to the highest bidder.

Come, sing a song.  Don’t worry if you’ve been told you can’t sing well.  Look back at that list of all the others who sang before us in the fields and the factories and everywhere else in between.  They didn’t all sing in tune.  If you can’t sing well, sing loud.

For our friends around the world who wish to support by helping out the more than 100 people who have been cited for singing you can make a contribution here http://solidaritysingalong.org/

The Community Table

August 29th, 2013

I get to work often with groups who want to bring others to the table, wherever that table might be and whatever the people around that table might be doing. Usually the folks they want at the table are different from them in some notable way. They’re often younger. Maybe they have a smaller income. Many times the people with the table have pale skin and the people they’d like at the table have some shade of brown skin.

Increasingly, I’m challenged by that idea of bringing people to the table. I see a couple problems with it. First, it presumes that the people being invited don’t already have their own table that is just as good that you’ve just never seen. Secondly, it keeps the host in the host role. There’s no marriage of equals here. One person/group owns the table. The other is a guest.

We live in a world filled with unhealthy power dynamics around class, race and ethnicity, age, gender, and the list goes on. If we want our organizations and our organizing to not be a reflection of the sickness of the world, we have to do something different.

Step away from the table. Meet the people that you want to work with on shared turf. What are your shared needs and concerns? Know that you may be turned away for a myriad of reasons. Some of those reasons will have to do with your personal actions and some with all the stories of histories of oppression. Show respect. Show a willingness to learn. Show a willingness to fall and get back up again. Know that it will take a long time, maybe forever to build a trust.

Get a new table, one that isn’t yours or theirs, but instead that you fashioned together out of shared dreams. Know that this table will look different than your old one. Maybe it will be stronger and maybe it will be a little off balance. Who knows? It will be larger and have many carvings of great stories hard and beautiful.

How do you step away from your table? Here’s just a couple quick pointers that I’ve found helpful over the years:
1. Diversity of whatever sort isn’t a side issue. It is THE ISSUE. Being welcoming, supportive, and representative of all people that you want to be together at the table has to be central to everything you do.
2. Look at whatever you are working on from many angles. Why might others care about this same thing? Why do you care about it? What do you share with others?
3. Keep looking at yourself and your own actions. We are all products of history. We all need to hold ourselves accountable to act in ways the future can be proud of
4. We are all learners, teachers, and leaders. Allow yourself to be each of these with everyone.
5. Be there. When you are called to be supportive to those you want to work with and who are struggling in whatever way do so in whatever way you are able.

That’s a short clip, no where near the whole story. But, maybe there’s something there to consider. Mull it over and share. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Keeping it Cool

July 26th, 2013

I spent my noon hour today as I have often lately. I spent it singing with my friends. Today was a little different though, a return for me after spending most of the week away. The numbers of people in the Wisconsin capitol each noon hour are continuing to grow again. Hundreds of people filled the building again singing and standing in support of the singers and the people’s right to the capitol as a public forum.

Up north my friends are starting to get threats for their work against the proposed mine. Unsigned messages left out in the woods threatening the women with rape and all with death.

I keep hearing messages of sadness and the fascist state that Wisconsin has become. That makes me sad on some level. On a deeper level though I feel the strength growing. I see the people gathering. I’ve been organizing for over two decades and I’ve never seen the people claiming the space like they are today.

There is fear. There is anger. There are heartless beings who have lost their connection to this place and think that the land is something dead for their consumption. They will strike out.

One man at the capitol today was taken to the hospital in an ambulance after his arrest. He was struck by his own body. His heart failed him. It was not an action of billy clubs or tasers. Maybe the police were negligent in their care for him. I don’t know. The violence that injured the pastor today was that of his own body. Tomorrow that may not be true. Tomorrow’s violence may be external. It may be the police or perhaps those heartless beings who have forgotten our connections to each other and this place and think only in dollar signs.

We must be prepared.

I ask all those out there who call themselves activists or organizers or just people who care take the moment. Pause. Do what it is that you do. Call upon Allah. Set down tobacco. Pray in any of a million ways or just simply breathe.

It is time to do something different now. For generations those in power have shown us to meet violence with violence, to shoot faster and straighter. What has it gotten us but dead?

The Anishanabe tell the story of the seventh generation. We must hear that story. We must live it in each action. It’s not some far away fairy tale. It is real.

As you fall asleep tonight, as you wake in the morning, as you feel your rage rising within you, look inside. Look down that long tunnel and see the baby that is our future, that child who is the seventh generation. Ask yourself “will my words, will my actions or inactions today bring that child warmth, safety, food, and love?” Remember if your actions are right by that child they will be right today.

It is hard. It is the hardest thing you may ever do to choose not to strike blindly in anger but instead to listen and stand strong in rage and revolution instead.

Thinking Deep at 4am

July 18th, 2013

A few weeks ago I had a seizure. It was a night like any other until I went to sleep. I had just gone to bed when my housemate heard unusual noises coming from my room. When I didn’t respond to her calls to me she looked in on me. She found me having what appeared to be what is now known as a generalized tonic-clonic seizure. They are more commonly known as “grand mal.” Because the seizure lasted several minutes and I appeared to be having trouble breathing she called 911.

In Madison we do 911 calls with style. They came with a firetruck and ambulance. I regained consciousness to see half a dozen uniformed men and women surrounding my bed. The really good looking guy was in charge of asking me questions. I did my best to answer those really tough ones like “what day is it?” Who knows what day it is when you’re awoken in the middle of the night? It’s tough to answer questions when you’re struggling to form words and figure out where you are and who these people are.

They decided to take me in to the ER. My housemate, Jennifer, met us there and helped me understand what was happening and was my advocate.

The days following that event were really tough. First, of all dealing with the migraine that came along with the two seizures that I had that night and all the other physical side effects. Secondly, exploring all the fears and new understandings that arose as well.

My family and friends have told me how lucky I was that Jennifer was there. I definitely was lucky. I’d thought for months that I might be having seizures. Now I have proof and can figure out how to address them. On the other hand, however, had she not been there I would have slept through it and just woken with a nasty migraine and nothing to fear.

So what does this have to do with organizing?

Lots I suppose. You can’t deal with the issues until you know what they are and you can’t change them, can’t win until you face the fear. It’s also a reminder to me that I am not permanent. There was a time before me. There will be a time after me. Some day my eyes will close for the last time and there’s a good chance I won’t know it.

How do we continue to do the good work with that knowledge, with a recognition of our miniscule space in the grand realm? Again I have no answers.

I do know that over the years I’ve had hundreds of conversation about burnout, trauma, stress, depression, and hopelessness as a part of what we do. I’ve been a part of many efforts to address such things. Some have helped. Some simply died away themselves.

I know that I struggle with those same things sometimes. I find myself losing my ability to feel the passion that I once felt. I am often left with just sadness and emptiness. I both miss the passion and am thankful to not have that intensity that has worn me out. Still, I look for ways to maintain and build my ability to feel and embrace and love this world and its beings.

We, as activists, organizers, and educators, need to figure out how to not just support others but support each other and ourselves. I find the last the hardest. There is always someone else who needs care, who needs support, who needs strength. They don’t jump in front of me in the line to receive care. I step behind them, push them forward. It’s easier to address another person’s needs than my own.

Tonight, or rather this morning I’m staying awake. I have to. I am going to get my brain scanned in the morning to see why I had those seizures. I have to be in a sleep deprived state. In a little more than an hour I will have been awake for 24 hours straight. Surprisingly I still feel quite awake. In fact, I’m going to take a shower and go for a long walk with the dog when I’m done writing this. It’s been a while since either of us has seen a summer sunrise.

I hope to learn something there that will help me move toward caring more for myself and through that care rebuilding my passion. I ask my fellow activists, organizers, and educators out there, don’t wait for the seizures and brain scans. Show yourself that love and caring that you save for those you defend today and every day. If we are to be in this work for the long haul, we need to be here for the long haul.

What Is Strong? Holding Together

July 14, 2013

There’s some trouble going on in Northern Wisconsin. I’d say it all started when Gogebic Taconite showed up and tried to start mining, but it didn’t. It started generations ago when we forgot that we all come from around the same fire.

This latest round involved some direct action advocates who took action against the Gogebic crew and did some minor damage. They were apprehended and charged. Now folks are left to figure out how to move ahead. Some people supported the action and some didn’t and trust has been lost. Now, how is trust rebuilt? Wish I knew. If I knew I just tell folks what to do. They might try it. It might work. It might not work. They might be thankful. They might tell me what I’m full of.

Here’s what I do remember though. I remember a day many years ago standing out in the cold in a cemetery in Northern Wisconsin. My friend Walt’s body was being laid in ground. He was a veteran so the men were out there with the guns to do the salute. I had already committed to a life as a pacifist and to a belief in the use of direct action. I knew war was wrong. I knew violence was wrong. I knew direct action was right. I knew I would always stand for what was right no matter what.

There was a man there that day who without a word made me question all I knew about violence and nonviolence and direct action. He was standing to my left. When the gun salute went off I looked in his direction. He had the sadness in his eyes and that far away look that seems to see into another world. He was both a million miles away and right there with his cousin who was being laid in the ground at the same time. There was a power there that I did not know until that moment.

It was in that moment that I really understood something that only knew in my mind before. Now, I knew it deeper. That man who was standing next to me was Andy Gokee. He, like Walt and many of the other folks standing there that day had stood many times to protect treaty rights, the right to live as Native peoples according to the beliefs handed down to them for generations. One of the ways that they did that was through the spearfishing struggle of the 1980’s. When I heard those gunshots in that cemetery that day I understood in a different way that the folks I stood there with had their lives threatened. They’d been followed. They’d been shot at. They knew that their families could be killed because they were Indians or because they stood with Native people.

Today I had another of those experiences. I got a message from a Black woman that I know. She had gotten stopped by the cops in the Madison area because she looked “suspicious.” She was interrogated for half an hour for nothing, nothing other than driving while Black.

I don’t claim to know much. I know the stories go much deeper than I will ever know. What I understand is that sometimes there is a power much stronger than words that speaks to us all. There are powerful spirits among us and there are those who walk in fear as well.

It is alright to be afraid. In fact sometimes it may be the wisest thing to be. Fear can increase your consciousness of what is around you, give you the tools with which to act. To deny that fear is generally nothing more than lying and cockiness. Be afraid and keep walking through that fear. Learn the stories, listen deeply, and walk through the fear wisely. Acting for the sake of acting brings nothing. Acting with heart and spirit and mind in tune, brings justice and healing and change.