My foundational stories: 1970’s

My previous post was a description of the beginnings of my foundational stories, which related to the intersection between my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography. The intention of this series of articles is to show how these foundational stories changed over time.

The beginnings of the stories were about my struggles and eventual decision to resist the draft. Although I wasn’t prosecuted for that felony offense, there were other consequences. During the time it took for my family to adjust to my intention to resist the draft, I joined the Friends Volunteer Service Mission (VSM) in inner city Indianapolis in 1971. This was a Quaker part of my foundational story.

Quaker

VSM was set up to provide alternative service work for conscientious objectors. The two-year program involved working at the type of job that qualifies for alternative service, most often in a hospital. And saving enough money from that job to support yourself to work full time in the community. Others, not doing alternative service, were also able to apply.

VSM was impactful in my life in two ways. The work I found was in respiratory therapy, then called “inhalation therapy”. I received on-the-job training to do this work during my first year at VSM. After my VSM experience, I obtained a degree in respiratory therapy and worked for about five years as a neonatal respiratory therapist. And for the rest of my career worked in an infant pulmonary function research lab.

VSM was also where I began to learn important (foundational) lessons about community organizing, Quaker faith in action. Others at VSM did what I thought of as traditional organizing, which included many meetings about setting up a neighborhood health clinic or trying to prevent the construction of an interstate highway through the local community.

I quickly found I didn’t like that type of community organizing. And felt a little guilty that I didn’t. But I eventually discovered what kind of community organizing I was led to do. During my first year at VSM I spent a lot of time with the kids in the neighborhood. The VSM house was next to Second Friends Church, which had a nice yard where we played games like capture the flag. One of our VSM projects involved setting up a basketball hoop in front of the garage of the church.

There were no programs for kids in the neighborhood and I really enjoyed working with them. When thinking about what to do during my second year at VSM, it became clear I should continue to work with the kids full time. We organized a 4-H club, went swimming, and rode bicycles to shopping centers, where we played “wall ball” on the walls at the back of the stores.

This would determine my approach to social justice work for the rest of my life. What was important was being in the communities where the work was to be done. And to focus on building friendships.


Photography

At VSM, there became another way photography became important in my life. I knew how to set up a basic darkroom and did that in the VSM house bathroom. Photography became one of the kids’ favorite things to do. We would ride around the city on bicycles with a couple of (film) cameras. Then develop the negatives and print the photos. I can still see the wonder in their faces as the image gradually appeared on the paper (in the red light of the darkroom).

Now, fifty years later, on two separate occasions, kids from that time found me on Facebook. They both talked about those darkroom experiences.


Protecting Mother Earth and photography

During this time in Indianapolis (early 1970’s) I didn’t have a car, simply because I couldn’t afford one. So, riding a bicycle everywhere, including to the hospital for work, was my routine.

But moving to Indianapolis had a major (foundational) impact on me, which influenced the rest of my life. I couldn’t believe how foul the air was. I saw clouds of fumes pouring out of the exhaust of every car. This was before the availability of catalytic converters, which cut out the visibility of the exhaust, but didn’t stop the greenhouse gas emissions. No one was talking about global warming and greenhouse gases then.

But I had a profound vision of clouds of pollution blocking the view of my beloved mountains. Specifically, obscuring Long’s Peak in this photo I took and developed around the time I moved to Indianapolis. That horrific vision stayed with me the rest of my life. As a consequence, I refused to have a personal automobile for the rest of my life. (Protecting Mother Earth).

Long’s Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

These are more of the ways my foundational stories are about the intersection between my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography.

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