Blog

Mutual Aid now

Yesterday I wrote Faith Now and suggested Mutual Aid as a framework for faith now. So, I’ll describe more of my experiences with Mutual Aid.

I’ve spent the last couple of years involved in Des Moines Mutual Aid (DMMA). Much of what I’ve learned can be found here: https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/mutual-aid/

The are several reasons for my excitement about, and continued involvement in DMMA. The first time I went to the DMMA food project I was immediately aware I was in a special place. There was a greater diversity of people than I had found in any other gathering in Iowa. “These spaces become intergenerational, diverse places of Indigenous joy, care and conversation.”

There were usually around a dozen of us. There is a signup sheet on the Internet. So many people wanted to come to help that we had to limit attendance. This was also important for social distancing because of the COVID virus. Wearing masks is mandatory. No mask, no work.

As I spent more time in this community, I often heard people say these Saturday mornings together, putting together boxes of food and handing them out, were the highlight of their week.

Care is shown when each person coming to help is greeted by name, and how as we moved around, filling the boxes of food, when we came near each other, we would exchange a few words, asking how we were doing. When asked how you are, more than a surface “OK” was expected.

Whenever a problem came up, you were welcome to ask anyone what to do. The answer was always given in a positive manner, and usually ended with “but do whatever you think is best.” Taking initiative and critical thinking were expected.

I remember a specific instance early in my Mutual Aid experience. I was helping move the tables we usually set the boxes to be filled upon from the basement of the church to the yard outside. That was because the church that let us use their basement was holding a COVID vaccine clinic there that Saturday morning. Ronnie, who helped facilitate DMMA taking over the free food project, asked me, a relative newcomer, to tell him what he could do to help.

Since we were all working toward the same end, there weren’t the tensions of someone telling you to do things a certain way. This is the non-hierarchical way that is the foundation of mutual aid. This also meant our work was done very quickly and efficiently, as no one was waiting for someone to tell them what to do. In just one hour we put out sixty boxes and proceeded to add the vegetables and food from three sources into each box.

The vegetables were waiting for us when we arrived. There might be about a dozen boxes full of peppers and other vegetables. Someone would arrive with a car full of boxes of dated food from one source, and someone would arrive with the van that one of us drove to another source to be fill with donated food. All this food was carried into the church basement, and each bag opened and the food from it distributed. It’s hard to give you an idea of how much food that is, but it all got distributed quickly.

Four long tables were setup outside. When we finished distributing all the food, we carried those boxes out to the tables. People coming for the food knew to park in the parking lot of the school cross the street from the church. When we were ready, one of us would direct those cars, one at a time, to drive to the tables. We would open the car door, greet the people, and put a box of food in the car. This is one of my favorite parts, seeing how great my friends are at interacting with those in the car.


 There is an aspect of self-determination and ethical engagement in organizing to meet our peoples’ material needs. There is a collective emotional lift in doing something worthwhile for our peoples’ benefit, however short-lived that benefit might be. These spaces become intergenerational, diverse places of Indigenous joy, care and conversation, and these conversations can be affirming, naming, critiquing, as well as rejecting and pushing back against the current systems of oppression. This for me seems like the practice of movement-building that our respective radical practices have been engaged with for centuries.

Maynard, Robyn; Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake. Rehearsals for Living (Abolitionist Papers) (p. 39). Haymarket Books. Kindle Edition.

I learned about the Des Moines Mutual Aid food project from a series of messages about it with Ronnie James who I was getting to know. The more I learned the more I wanted to see how that was done. From experience I knew a level of trust needed to be established and we need to be careful about inviting ourselves into these situations. Finally, the spirit led me to ask Ronnie if it was alright for me to participate. He said, several times, that it was fast paced, which sounded like a caution. I later learned several people had not been able to keep up with the physical demands. And I’m seventy years old. But he said yes.

That first Saturday morning I was a bit apprehensive. I’m not good at meeting new people and wasn’t sure what to expect. As I met people, they were polite but reserved. I imagine part of that was the mistrust of the old, white man. And the people were protective of each other. I was told we were all expected to take any of the food ourselves, and then I began to help fill the food boxes.

One mistake I made was not taking any of the food myself. When after a few weeks someone in a pleasant manner said I never took any food, I realized I hadn’t been participating in the mutual aspect of this. So, I began to take something each week. There were some awesome cakes from Whole Foods. I realized my sweet tooth was noticed when someone asked me if I wanted something they had come across. Just one example of how we learned more and more about each other.

I had thought I’d attend just once or twice, just enough to see how this worked. But from the start I began to see all the wonderful things about Mutual Aid that I’m writing about today. I was ‘hooked’ as the expression goes. It didn’t take long to feel accepted and begin developing deep friendships. I’ve attended almost every week for the past two years.

It was only recently, though, that I’ve recognized the healing aspect of this work. It is difficult to learn of the wrongs of the past. The atrocities white people executed on others. The damage done to Mother Earth. And the wrongs continuing today. The injustices we are complicit in. Helping meet people’s survival needs is something we can do now. This is what I meant when I wrote Faith Now yesterday.

And then the second part of the talk is an evocation of the healing that is necessary and possible, a gradual elevation of the human spirit. It’s about the mobilization that is needed and which is within our reach. Then people know you’ve spoken truthfully, and you have evoked in each person a desire to help, to take care of their families, to have self-regard. I see this pattern in every talk I give.

The World We Still Have. Barry Lopez On Restoring Our Lost Intimacy With Nature BY FRED BAHNSON, The Sun, DECEMBER 2019

My reference to faith now comes from being led to call on Quakers to apply our spiritual practices to critically evaluate the systems we live in and take for granted. That are unjust and must be replaced. We must reject capitalist systems and systems of dominance. Build Beloved communities where everyone is cared for. Mutual Aid communities are a template for doing so. Are radical in the sense of freeing us from the power systems we find ourselves living in.

By faith now I mean today. Every day we live in this settler, colonial, capitalist society, we continue to be oppressors.

Faith Now


Queries

  • How are we working to deal with existing chaos and preparing for further collapse?
  • Do we provide for everyone’?
  • What is our relationship with Mother Earth? Do we honor and conserve the resources we use?
  • What systems of dominance, of vertical hierarchies are we involved in?
  • Do we work to ensure there aren’t vertical hierarchies in our communities, in our relationships with all our relatives?
  • Do we have the courage to follow what the Spirit is saying to us? To not force those messages to conform to our existing beliefs and practices.
  • How do we connect with communities beyond our Quaker meetings? What are we learning about spiritual connections beyond our meetinghouses? Are we sharing these spiritual lessons with others?

Kheprw Institute (KI) Indianapolis
On the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, 2018

Faith Now

Faith Now can refer to what the state of our faith is at this moment. And/or it can be an admonition to focus our faith on what is happening now.

My witness has been so many people, including people of faith, are driven by the past. This is obviously true with religious practices demanding adherence to some set of rules. Rules created in the past. Rules designated by systems of dominance.

One of the reasons I have remained a Quaker is the minimum of such rules. We say we believe the Spirit can speak to us now, that ours is a living faith. We use a set of queries (questions) to help us continue to examine our faith. This can make our faith less passive.

It is not my place to judge other’s faith and practice. But there are things that have troubled my spirit for a long time.

One is that Quakers do have unwritten rules. As a recent example, prior to the forced separation because of the COVID pandemic, I was told, many times, that Quaker business decisions could only be made when Friends were together physically. When I lived in Indianapolis, I had suggested using programs for remote connections to my meeting in Iowa, but that was universally held to be unacceptable. We see how that has changed. What are other unwritten rules? Identifying them might account for why we are attracting few new attenders in this time of spiritual poverty.

And there is the universal challenge of living our daily lives consistently with our faith.

White Quakers were and continue to be settler colonists. Our ancestors claimed Indigenous land for their homes and farms. Ever since, we have continued to live on and profit from these lands. And have engaged with capitalism and systems of dominance and control that come from this colonization.

There is the devastating history of churches’, including white Quaker’s involvement in the institutions of forced assimilation of native children and genocide of Indigenous peoples.

I’m also devastated by the use of fossil fuels. Speaking from my own experience, when I saw the smog when I moved to Indianapolis (1970), I was led to know I could not be part of owning cars. My faith showed me how to go about this, helped me get through the significant challenges involved. I’m of course not the only person to have made the same choices. And I’m challenged today having moved to a small town in Iowa. The sprawling way our cities and towns are designed coupled with the absence of mass transit is a challenge. But we would not have built cities this way if we had chosen to build mass transit systems instead of the massive infrastructure for cars. Building all the streets and highways. Parking areas, traffic control systems, so many gas stations, extractive systems for coal and oil, and pipelines.

Had the decision not been made to follow the path of cars, we would not be in accelerating environmental collapse now. Think about that.

We are in perilous times. I believe spirituality and spiritual connections are key for survival. https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/2022/11/17/spiritual-connections-for-survival/

My reference to faith now comes from being led to call on Quakers to apply our spiritual practices to critically evaluate the systems we live in and take for granted. That are unjust and must be replaced. We must reject capitalist systems and systems of dominance. Build Beloved communities where everyone is cared for. Mutual Aid communities are a template for doing so. Are radical in the sense of freeing us from the power systems we find ourselves living in.

By faith now I mean today. Every day we live in this settler, colonial, capitalist society, we continue to be oppressors.

The following quote expresses this eloquently. People are desperately hungry to have a purpose, to do something concrete to help others.

You and your relations, my friend, are (still) busy building a different world at the end of this one. This is something I’ve emphasized over and over again in my own work. I cherish the belief and practice that it is never enough to just critique the system and name our oppression. We also have to create the alternative, on the ground and in real time. In part, for me, because Nishnaabeg ethics and theory demand no less. In part because in Nishnaabeg thinking, knowledge is mobilized, generated, and shared by collectively doing. It’s more than that, though. There is an aspect of self-determination and ethical engagement in organizing to meet our peoples’ material needs. There is a collective emotional lift in doing something worthwhile for our peoples’ benefit, however short-lived that benefit might be. These spaces become intergenerational, diverse places of Indigenous joy, care and conversation, and these conversations can be affirming, naming, critiquing, as well as rejecting and pushing back against the current systems of oppression. This for me seems like the practice of movement-building that our respective radical practices have been engaged with for centuries.

Maynard, Robyn; Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake. Rehearsals for Living (Abolitionist Papers) (p. 39). Haymarket Books. Kindle Edition.

Following is a diagram I’ve been developing for several years. I’ve written a lot about these things on this blog (Religious Socialism, Mutual Aid, and Abolition of Police and Prisons).



Faith Now

  • Spirituality can show us how to live with integrity now. How to be examples to others. This is how change happens.
  • The Creator can help us heal the wounds of the past. And the wounds that continue to be inflicted.
  • The Spirit can guide us through the coming chaos.
  • It is by the Spirit we create connections among diverse peoples.

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.

Joseph Campbell

Queries

  • How are we working to deal with existing chaos and preparing for further collapse?
  • Do we provide for everyone’?
  • What is our relationship with Mother Earth? Do we honor and conserve the resources we use?
  • What systems of dominance, of vertical hierarchies are we involved in?
  • Do we work to ensure there aren’t vertical hierarchies in our communities, in our relationships with all our relatives?
  • Do we have the courage to follow what the Spirit is saying to us? To not force those messages to conform to our existing beliefs and practices.
  • How do we connect with communities beyond our Quaker meetings? What are we learning about spiritual connections beyond our meetinghouses? Are we sharing these spiritual lessons with others?


Running throughout (Lopez’s book) Horizon is the question of human survival. The multiple threats we now face, especially the very real possibility of climate disaster, expose the tensions between human aspiration and ecological reality. Perhaps what is most needed, Lopez suggests, is for us to lament what we’ve destroyed, but also to praise and love the world we still have. “Mystery,” he writes, “is the real condition in which we live, not certainty.

Bahnson: You’ve confronted the darkness you see on the horizon with anthropogenic climate change. How do you talk about this with audiences? People need to know what’s coming, yet if you overwhelm them with depressing news, they might freeze. How do you strike the balance between educator and artist?

Lopez: Whenever I speak in public, I write out a new talk. I begin by stipulating, with a modulated voice, that things are way worse than we imagine. And I offer some examples: the collapse of pollinating insect populations; the rise of nationalism; belligerent and ignorant narcissists like Donald Trump; methane gas spewing out of the Siberian tundra. You’re saying to everybody, “Let’s take off the rose-colored glasses now and see what our dilemma really is.” And then the second part of the talk is an evocation of the healing that is necessary and possible, a gradual elevation of the human spirit. It’s about the mobilization that is needed and which is within our reach. Then people know you’ve spoken truthfully, and you have evoked in each person a desire to help, to take care of their families, to have self-regard. I see this pattern in every talk I give. To remember, geographically, exactly where you are speaking that night, and to know whether there might be a full moon outside the building; to offer that sense of immediacy and groundedness; to underscore the specificity of the moment; and to be sure that you implicate yourself in the trouble. It all helps in these situations. If you attempt any version of “I know, and you don’t” or “This is not my fault” or “I am the holy messenger, and you’re the fools,” the evening ends in darkness. You have to be in it with them.

The World We Still Have. Barry Lopez On Restoring Our Lost Intimacy With Nature BY FRED BAHNSON, The Sun, DECEMBER 2019


Walk a Path of Doing the Truth

Truthsgiving is about the holiday known by many non native people as Thanksgiving. A day when families gather together. Family gatherings are wonderful. Unfortunately, the myth of a peaceful gathering of settler colonists and Indigenous peoples comes up.

I didn’t think I would write about this today. Didn’t want to bring negativity to joyful gatherings. But the Spirit is telling me to share this, this plea to at the least not whitewash the history.

The term Truthsgiving is about the opportunity to spread awareness about the true history, about the genocide and land theft from Indigenous peoples by white settler colonists.

Truthsgiving is an ideology that must be enacted through truth telling and mutual aid to discourage colonized ideas about the thanksgiving mythology—not a name switch so we can keep doing the same thing. It’s about telling and doing the truth on this day so we can stop dangerous stereotypes and whitewashed history from continuing to harm Indigenous lands and Peoples, as well as Black, Latinx, Asian-American and all oppressed folks on Turtle Island. https://www.truthsgiving.org/about

If there is an opportunity for truth telling, there will probably be questions about what to do about this. That’s where mutual aid comes in. I was blessed to be led to connect with Des Moines Mutual Aid and have written a lot about that. https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/mutual-aid/

The reason mutual aid is important is because it provides an alternative to the capitalism and white superiority that our mainstream society is built upon. Mutual aid can help us Walk a Path of Doing the Truth as my friend Ronnie James wrote in “Doing Truth When the World is Upside Down.”

To walk a path of Doing the Truth

To walk a path of Doing the Truth is a battle with a very young culture. Telling the truth is comparably easy, we have our oral histories, art and traditions created and carried on, histories printed by those that found a way to the presses. We can recount the stories and lessons that survived colonialism.

But to do the truth, to live a life that enforces what we once had, a life and culture that made a millennia of humanity possible to thrive, is to be at war with what has defined and destroyed this world for too long.

Doing Truth When the World is Upside Down by Ronnie James, TRUTHSGIVING, Nov 18, 2020

Truthsgiving is an ideology that must be enacted through truth telling and mutual aid to discourage colonized ideas about the thanksgiving mythology

TRUTHSGIVING. The Truth will not be whitewashed

Des Moines Mutual Aid Points of Unity

0. We believe in working shoulder to shoulder and standing in solidarity with all oppressed communities. We ourselves are oppressed, and our mutual aid work is a fight for our collective liberation. We do not believe in a top-down model of charity. Instead, we contrast our efforts at horizontal mutual aid, the fostering of mutually beneficial relationships and communities, to dehumanizing and colonizing charity. 

1. We believe in community autonomy. We believe that the communities we live and organize in have been largely excluded from state social services, but intensely surveilled and policed by the state repressive apparatus. Capitalism is fundamentally unable to meet people’s needs. We want to build self-sustaining communities that are independent of the capitalist state, both materially and ideologically, and can resist its repression. 

2. We are police and prison abolitionists. Abolition and the mutual aid that we practice are inextricably linked. We don’t rely on capitalist institutions or the police to do our work. We believe in building strong and resilient communities which make police obsolete, including community systems of accountability and crisis intervention. 

3. We work to raise the political consciousness of our communities. Part of political education is connecting people’s lived experiences to a broader political perspective. Another component is working to ensure that people can meet their basic needs. It is difficult to organize for future liberation when someone is entrenched in day-to-day struggle.

4. We have open disagreements with each other about ideas and practices. We believe there is no formula for resolving our ideological differences other than working towards our common aims, engaging with each other in a comradely manner, and respecting one another, whether or not we can hash out disagreements in the process. 



Des Moines Mutual Aid is an Abolitionist Mutual Aid Collective made up of varying radical and revolutionary tendencies in what is current known as central iowa.

None of these articles represent the collective as a whole. Take what you can from these pieces and burn the prisons.

In Love and Rage,
Des Moines Mutual Aid


https://www.truthsgiving.org/take-the-pledge
https://www.truthsgiving.org/

TRUTHSGIVING resources

TRUTHSGIVING is a term my friend Sikowis Nobiss defined in contrast to the inaccurate myth of Thanksgiving.  The Great Plains Action Society she is the founder of created the website:  TRUTHSGIVING. The Truth will not be whitewashed.

There are many settler colonial mythologies about Native Americans. These widely held but false beliefs are rooted in deeply entrenched discriminatory attitudes and behaviors that are perpetuated by institutionalized racism. One of the most celebrated mythologies is the holiday of Thanksgiving, which is believed, since 1621, to be a mutually sanctioned gathering of “Indians” and Pilgrims. The truth is far from the mythos of popular imagination. The real story is one where settler vigilantes unyieldingly pushed themselves into Native American homelands, and forced an uneasy gathering upon the locals.

In the words of Wamsutta Frank James, Wampanoag, “the Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors, and stolen their corn, wheat, and beans.” These words came from his 1970 Thanksgiving Day speech, which he wrote for the annual celebration of the landing of the Pilgrims held every year in Plymouth, Massachusetts. However, this speech was never presented; the organizers of the celebration reportedly asked to see his speech ahead of time, according to James’ obituary in theBoston Globe, and allegedly asked him to rewrite it on the basis that his words were not aligned with the popular mythology. He instead declared Thanksgiving a National Day of Mourning.

Thanksgiving Promotes Whitewashed History, So I Organized Truthsgiving Instead by Sikowis, aka, Christine Nobiss, Bustle, November 16, 2018


This website of the Great Plains Action Society has many resources for those who want to learn more. TRUTHSGIVING. The Truth will not be whitewashed.

About Truthsgiving

Truthsgiving is an ideology that must be enacted through truth telling and mutual aid to discourage colonized ideas about the thanksgiving mythology—not a name switch so we can keep doing the same thing. It’s about telling and doing the truth on this day so we can stop dangerous stereotypes and whitewashed history from continuing to harm Indigenous lands and Peoples, as well as Black, Latinx, Asian-American and all oppressed folks on Turtle Island.

The idea of Truthsgiving did not emerge from anything new. Indigenous Peoples across Turtle Island have been resisting this mythology since its inception, even when they did not know about it, simply because we have resisted colonization and genocide since Columbus set foot on the lands of the Lucayan People (now known as the Bahamas). 

Modern resistance to the holiday began during the rise of the Red Power movement during the civil rights era. According to Sikowis, “In 1970, the National Day of Mourning was instituted by James, the United American Indians of New England, and the local Wampanoag community as a resistance to Thanksgiving. This alternative holiday is held at Plymouth Rock and has occurred annually for almost 50 years. The National Day of Mourning also coincides with an event on the other side of the country that takes place on Alcatraz Island (an important Native American site). Unthanksgiving Day, also known as The Indigenous Peoples Sunrise Ceremony, is a large cultural event that has been held annually since 1975 and commemorates the Alcatraz-Red Power Movement occupation of 1969. There are, in fact, many anti-Thanksgiving events that occur around the country each year — one of which I have co-organized, called Truthsgiving.”

There are also many other resistance events held all over Turtle Island every year through Indigenous-led organizations and family gatherings where the mythology is overridden. That is how Truthsgiving emerged–as a family gathering to resist Thanksgiving that then turned into local celebrations in Iowa City, organized by Great Plains Action Society founder, Sikowis.

This website was created to uplift the collective efforts of Tribal Nations, Indigenous-led organizations and Indigenous Persons that are attempting to abolish institutionalized and aggrandized white supremacy that is supported through the thanksgiving mythology. It is, so far, a collective effort by organizations in the Midwest.

TRUTHSGIVING. The Truth will not be whitewashed




You can show your support. This tee shirt is available at: https://www.greatplainsaction.org/shop

Doing Truth When the World Is Upside Down

As I was doing more research about truthsgiving, I came upon this beautiful statement by my good friend Ronnie James. As it says on the TRUTHSGIVING The Truth Will Not Be Whitewashed website, Ronnie is an Indigenous organizer and activist in the Mutual Aid tradition in central Iowa.

To walk a path of Doing The Truth is a battle with a very young culture. Telling the truth is comparably easy, we have our oral histories, art and traditions created and carried on, histories printed by those that found a way to the presses. We can recount the stories and lessons that survived colonialism.

But to do the truth, to live a life that enforces what we once had, a life and culture that made a millennia of humanity possible to thrive, is to be at war with what has defined and destroyed this world for too long.

We, those that conspire to live the truth, have chosen to honor our histories of cooperation. We know, with all that we have, that a world of competition and conquest is the opposite of how we gained the knowledges that propelled our abilities to create the sciences and the art and architecture of beautiful societies that our ancestors built, and we draw our strength from that to continue, to create, a world our future generations can thrive in.

It has only been a very short time that the world has been this way, which is the proof that it doesn’t have to stay this way.

Ronnie James is an Indigenous organizer and activist in the Mutual Aid tradition in central Iowa.


Photo: Jeff Kisling

Photo: Jeff Kisling

I was truly blessed to meet Ronnie a couple of years ago. It was the Spirit that led to our meeting. He came to a vigil we were holding related to the Wet’suwet’en peoples, who have been working tirelessly to prevent the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline through their pristine territory in British Columbia.



Since that time, he has patiently mentored me about Mutual Aid. That now includes my participation in Des Moines Mutual Aid’s weekly food giveaway, the Saturday Panther Pantry. That is in reference to the Black Panther Party that originated the Free Breakfast Program in 1970 in Des Moines and other cities. I have only missed showing up for our food giveaway a couple of times over the past two years. I agree with the sentiment I’ve heard from my comrades, that these Saturday mornings are the highlight of our week.

So, I work with a dope crew called Des Moines Mutual Aid, and on Saturday mornings we do a food giveaway program that was started by the Panthers as their free breakfast program and has carried on to this day. Anyways, brag, brag, blah, blah.

So, I get to work, and I need to call my boss, who is also a very good old friend, because there is network issues. He remembers and asks about the food giveaway which is cool and I tell him blah blah it went really well. And then he’s like, “hey, if no one tells you, I’m very proud of what you do for the community” and I’m like “hold on hold on. Just realize that everything I do is to further the replacing of the state and destroying western civilization and any remnants of it for future generations.” He says “I know and love that. Carry on.”

Ronnie James

Doing Truth

I love the title of Ronnie’s post above, Doing Truth When the World Is Upside Down.

I’m so frustrated with how much time and effort is spent talking about problems without determining correct solutions. And/or wasting time trying to implement incorrect solutions. Instead of “Doing the Truth.”

Mutual Aid is a framework that can guide us “to walk a path of Doing the Truth.”

Mutual Aid is a framework that can guide us “to walk a path of Doing the Truth.”

As a person of faith, I look for spiritual guidance for my work. But this has been consistent with Mutual Aid as a framework for doing justice work.

“Mutual Aid is not only a tool of survival, but also a tool of revolution.”

I’ve written about my Mutual Aid experiences here: https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/mutual-aid/

Des Moines Mutual Aid that Ronnie and I are part of is a member of the Truthsgiving Collective. https://www.truthsgiving.org/



Truthsgiving 2022 Pledge

Sadly, but importantly, white settler colonists such as me, at least those paying attention, are learning a great deal about the genocide of native peoples, in large part facilitated by the institutions of forced assimilation. Sometimes referred to as Indian boarding or residential schools, though school is a misnomer, an example of whitewashing. The remains of thousands of native children are being located on the grounds of these institutions in this country and Canada.

whitewash: deliberately attempt to conceal unpleasant or incriminating facts about (someone or something):

The following was written by my friend Sikowis Nobiss.

There are many settler colonial mythologies about Native Americans. These widely held but false beliefs are rooted in deeply entrenched discriminatory attitudes and behaviors that are perpetuated by institutionalized racism. One of the most celebrated mythologies is the holiday of Thanksgiving, which is believed, since 1621, to be a mutually sanctioned gathering of “Indians” and Pilgrims. The truth is far from the mythos of popular imagination. The real story is one where settler vigilantes unyieldingly pushed themselves into Native American homelands, and forced an uneasy gathering upon the locals.

In the words of Wamsutta Frank James, Wampanoag, “the Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors, and stolen their corn, wheat, and beans.” These words came from his 1970 Thanksgiving Day speech, which he wrote for the annual celebration of the landing of the Pilgrims held every year in Plymouth, Massachusetts. However, this speech was never presented; the organizers of the celebration reportedly asked to see his speech ahead of time, according to James’ obituary in the Boston Globe, and allegedly asked him to rewrite it on the basis that his words were not aligned with the popular mythology. He instead declared Thanksgiving a National Day of Mourning.

Thanksgiving Promotes Whitewashed History, So I Organized Truthsgiving Instead by Sikowis, aka, Christine Nobiss, Bustle, November 16, 2018


This website of the Great Plains Action Society has many resources for those who want to learn more. TRUTHSGIVING. The Truth will not be whitewashed.



“The following resources are available so that folks can learn more about Indigenous perspectives on Thanksgiving, the land they live on, how to be a good ally, and how they can decolonize their minds in order to abolish personal and institutionalized white supremacy.” https://www.truthsgiving.org/resources

FCNL, Iowa Quakers and Native Americans

Members of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) (Quakers) have a long history of involvement with the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). FCNL is the national lobbying organization that works to promote legislation consistent with Quaker beliefs in the US Congress.

Every two years FCNL contacts all the Quaker meetings and churches in the US, to ask what those meetings’ legislative priorities are. All those responses are combined into a list of the priorities that FCNL and its supporters will work on during that Congress. (See below). Following are several recent stories about Iowa Quakers’ work with FCNL, which shows the variety of ways this work can be done.


A couple of days ago FCNL published the following story about a national FCNL network for Indigenous justice (see below). One of the priorities for this Congress is “witness and advocate for American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian rights and concerns. Honor the treaties and promises.

There is a web of interrelationships among Native and non-native peoples in the Midwest that presents opportunities to work together to learn and publish the truth about Indian Boardings Schools. There are parts of this that are only appropriate for each community to work on separately. But hopefully these Congressional visits will be the beginning of further work together.

This began with an appeal from Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) asking us to contact our Senators to support that legislation (S. 2907). And specifically, to do this during their current recess when they would be in Iowa.

I know my friend Sikowis Nobiss is interested in supporting legislation related to Native Americans, so I contacted her about this. She put me in touch with Jessica Engelking, who is also part of the Great Plains Action Society. Fortunately, I met Jessica when we were attending the Buffalo Rebellion conference recently. Some of the networking that occurred there.

When Jessica asked what Quakers have been doing related to our role in some of the residential schools, I shared FCNL’s decades of advocacy for Native Americans. We began to work together to arrange visits to our Senators about the truth and healing commission act, and included Jessica Bahena, FCNL’s National Organizer, who is FCNL’s contact related to this legislation in our planning.

I told Jessica Engelking about the great tool FCNL has to help people write emails to support causes. The template sends your email to your Congressional representatives and senators. And that FCNL has such a letter template to Support the Establishment of a Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools (see below).

I was really glad when she wrote a blog post for Great Plains Action Society, telling their supporters about this letter writing tool!



Support the Establishment of a Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools: Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)

As children are returning to school, we are reminded that school has not always been a safe place for Native children. For many years, Native children were taken from their homes and placed in government and religious run institutions with the aim of stripping away their Native language, culture, and identity. We are only now beginning the painful process of bringing home the children left in unmarked graves at the boarding schools they were sent to (U.S. report identifies burial sites linked to boarding schools for Native Americans). We are still working on healing the damage of boarding school and intergenerational trauma (American Indian Boarding Schools Haunt Many : NPR). Healing from the damage caused by the boarding school system will require effort by not just those harmed, but the institutions that did the harming. There is great work being done by our comrades at the Friends Committee On National Legislation (Native Americans | Friends Committee On National Legislation). For this edition of our Open Letter Campaign, we are directing you to a letter from our friends at FCNL to help you in urging your representatives to support the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act (S. 2907/H.R. 5444).

The following is courtesy our much appreciated Quaker friends (esp Jeff!):

It is long overdue for the United States to acknowledge the historic trauma of the Indian boarding school era. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Christian churches collaborated with the government to create hundreds of boarding schools for Native American children. The conditions at these schools, some of them Quaker-run, were unspeakable.

Now we must work with tribal nations to advance congressional efforts to establish a federal commission to formally investigate boarding school policy and develop recommendations for the government to take further action. Although the wrongs committed at these institutions can never be made right, we can start the truth, healing, and reconciliation process for the families and communities affected as we work to right relationship with tribal nations.

Remind your members of Congress of their responsibility to tribal nations and urge them to support the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act (S. 2907/H.R. 5444).

https://www.greatplainsaction.org/single-post/open-letter-campaign-truth-and-healing-with-friends

A small group of us had meetings with Iowa’s Senators, Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley’s staffs about the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act (S. 2907/H.R. 5444).

The following are excerpts from blog posts regarding those visits.

This morning Jean and David Hansen, Rodger Routh and I met with John Hollinrake, Regional Director for Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst. Several others had planned to join us but didn’t make it.

We expressed our appreciation for Senator Ernst voting for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

I asked John if he was familiar with the Indian Boarding Schools. He indicated he had read the information I had sent from Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) in emails prior to this meeting. Some of the great support we received from FCNL

John listened attentively and took notes as we told our stories and why we hope Senator Ernst will cosponsor and vote for the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act (S. 2907/H.R. 5444).

Jeff Kisling, Jean and David Hansen and Rodger Routh. Photo credit Rodger Routh

Senator Ernst and Indian Boarding Schools Commission, 8/31/2022


Yesterday we had a meeting with Senator Ernst’s Regional Director John Hollinrake, to ask the senator to co-sponsor the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act (S 2907). John was very polite and attentive but offered no feedback.

It was a much different story just now when I had a Skype meeting with Reid Willis in Senator Grassley’s Washington, DC, office.

Reid was familiar with the history of Indian Boarding Schools. He told me Senator Grassley agreed with intent of S 2907 with two exceptions. He feels the commission would duplicate work already being done by the Department of Interior’s Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative (see below). And that such a commission should not have subpoena power. Senator Grassley feels this particularly because he is the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator Grassley and Indian Boarding Schools Commission, Sept 1, 2022


National FCNL Network Mobilizes for Indigenous Justice

A diverse cohort of grassroots advocates are driving support for a Truth and Healing bill to address the Native boarding school era by Alex Frandsen and Bobby Trice, FCNL, November 17, 2022.

A diverse cohort of grassroots advocates are driving support for a Truth and Healing bill to address the Native boarding school era by Alex Frandsen and Bobby Trice, FCNL, November 17, 2022.

FCNL Priorities for the 117th Congress (2021-2022)

Since the early days of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), God’s spirit has led Friends to be a prophetic witness and to take action in the world. Friends are called to promote genuine equality of opportunity and communities in which everyone can safely live, learn, work, worship, and love.

The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) brings Friends’ spiritual values and testimonies to bear on U.S. public policy decisions, guided by the legislative priorities below.

Our work continues to be understanding and addressing the root causes and long-term consequences of today’s crises.

We are mindful that our nation has a special responsibility to redress the consequences of our history of slavery and genocide, together with ongoing race-based discrimination and oppression.

With each priority below, we will identify, expose, and work to eliminate institutional racism, institutional sexism, and other forms of systemic discrimination.

The order of these priorities does not reflect their comparative importance.

  • Promote peacebuilding by emphasizing diplomacy and honoring treaties and by working towards peaceful prevention and resolution of violent conflict, especially in the Middle East.
  • Confront the paradigm of global militarism, demilitarize space, reduce military spending, limit the spread of conventional weapons, prevent armed interventions, repeal the Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMFs), and reassert Congress’ oversight role.
  • Promote nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation.
  • Advocate for a justice system that is just and equitable, eliminates mass incarceration and police brutality, and establishes law-enforcement that is community-oriented and demilitarized.
  • Ensure that the U.S. immigration system promotes and respects the rights, safety, humanity, and dignity of all immigrants, refugees, and migrants.
  • Support equitable access for all to participate in open, secure, and transparent political and electoral processes; protect the integrity of our democratic institutions and processes; and work to ensure honesty and accountability of elected and appointed officials.
  • End gun violence by supporting policies that are informed by public health best practices.
  • Witness and advocate for American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian rights and concerns. Honor the treaties and promises.
  • Address structural economic inequality through measures such as a fair and progressive tax system, a living wage for all, and an adequate social safety net.
  • Prioritize programs that meet basic needs, including universal access to quality affordable healthcare, a necessity magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Strengthen environmental protections and advance environmental justice, while recognizing the finite capacity of the earth and the need to protect human, animal, and plant diversity.
  • Promote sustainable, science-based solutions to the climate crisis and prioritize international cooperation to achieve global sustainability goals and protect vulnerable populations.

FCNL solicited the views and concerns of Quaker meetings, churches, and organizations around the country to help discern these priorities for our lobbying and public education work during the 117th Congress (2021-2022).

The Legislative Priorities for the 117th Congress was approved in November 2020 by the FCNL General Committee. The discernment process took nearly two years under the leadership of the FCNL Policy Committee. It is based on the discernment of more than 200 Quaker meetings, churches, and other organizations.

FCNL Priorities for the 117th Congress (2021-2022)

Honoring all victims of war, including those who resisted

I have wished there were a memorial for those who resisted war. It was disconcerting to live in Indianapolis where there are blocks of war memorials downtown. The city streets are laid out from the Circle in the center of the city, where the Soldiers and Sailors Monument stands. Ironically, I have taken many photos over many years of anti-war and other demonstrations that have been held at the Circle.

Anti-war demonstration on the Circle, downtown Indianapolis

I’m grateful that a Quaker friend sent me this article in Bleeding Heartland.

By an act of Congress in 1954, the name of the holiday (Armistice Day) was changed to Veterans Day. Some, including the novelist Kurt Vonnegut and Rory Fanning of Veterans for Peace, have urged the U.S. to resume observation of November 11th as Armistice Day, a day to reflect on how we can achieve peace as it was originally observed.

It is in that spirit that we honor the original intent of Armistice Day this morning by honoring all victims of war, including those who resisted war, those who have advocated for peace.

Those who advocate for peace may do so in ways that challenge us. I would like to take the next few minutes to share with you stories of three advocates for peace, all associated with the University of Iowa over the past century, but each one following his own conviction in his own way.

Honoring all victims of war, including those who resisted by David McCartney, Bleeding Heartland, Nov 15, 2022


Steve Smith burns his draft card during “Soapbox Sound Off” in the Iowa Memorial Union on Oct. 20, 1965. Image from the 1966 Hawkeye yearbook, University Archives (RG 02.10), Department of Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries.

Steve Smith, a slight 20-year old sophomore English major, took the speaker’s stand Wednesday afternoon and spoke quietly of what he believed. He then burned his draft card.

The audience of approximately 200 persons had known what was coming. Comments, encouragement and laughter greet Smith. An emotional debate on the virtue of U.S. policy in Viet Nam had preceded his appearance. But Smith was very much alone in his act of defiance. He said he was “sick to my stomach” at what he was doing.

“I feel,” Smith said, “that now is the time, because of my own sense of dignity, my own sense of morality, to burn my draft card.” He took the card from the pocket of his sweater and ignited it.

U of Iowa Student Burns Draft Card During ‘Sound Off’. Steve Smith, 20, Says His Action Moral Decision by Paul Butler, The Daily Iowan, Oct 21, 1965


By the following summer (1964), Steve grew restive. He became a political activist, speaking out against racial segregation and participating in local marches calling for an end to racial discrimination. In July 1964, while in Canton, Miss., to help register African-Americans to vote, he was detained by a sheriff’s deputy and beaten brutally while in custody (The Des Moines Register, July 18, 1964). He was 19 at the time.

Steve’s attention turned toward the escalating U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. During 1964 and early 1965, there were scattered but growing antiwar protests around the country, including instances of draft card burning. The cards, issued by the Selective Service System to draft-eligible men between the ages of 18 and 35, became a symbolic target of antiwar protestors. Alarmed by the trend, Congress passed, and President Lyndon Johnson signed, a law in August 1965 criminalizing the destruction of draft cards: a maximum five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

For nearly two months, the law had its intended effect. But the silence ended on Oct. 15 when David J. Miller burned his draft card near an induction center in New York City. Five days later, on Oct. 20, Steve Smith became the first in the nation to do so on a college campus after the law’s enactment.

He did so during “Soapbox Sound Off,” a weekly open-mic session in the Iowa Memorial Union. Reaction from those in attendance was reportedly mixed: some cheered, others jeered. Smith was steadfast. “I do not feel that five years of my life are too much to give to say that this law is wrong,” he said at the forum. The next day’s newspapers reported that his father was unsympathetic and highly critical of his son’s action.

Two days later, FBI agents arrested Steve at an Iowa City apartment, where he was charged with violating the Rivers-Bray amendment to the Selective Service law. He left the UI after the fall 1965 semester and, while under arrest, married his first wife in Cedar Rapids the following February. For the charge of willful destruction of his Selective Service registration card, he was tried and convicted in U.S. District Court in 1966 and sentenced to three years’ probation. The Eighth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld his conviction later that year.

Old Gold: Steve Smith, following his conscience. UI archivist seeks info about the student who burned his draft card in 1965 by David McCartney, Iowa Now, 7/30/2012


Today we honor the good work of people like Steve. We honor his patriotism, his willingness to question our government’s actions. We honor his desire for a more just and generous and peaceful society. And we honor his legacy of courage that bloomed on our campus 57 years ago.

The University has taken steps to acknowledge this act of civil disobedience, and it has done so by recently installing a plaque in the Iowa Memorial Union. The plaque was unveiled last month and it recounts Steve Smith’s antiwar protest and its historic significance, an event that prompted further debate about the war not only on campus, but across the state and across the nation. I invite you to visit and view the plaque, which is located on the lower level of the Iowa Memorial Union near the south entrance.

The debate over war is never-ending.

What can we do? How do we respond, when our government engages in these practices? What can we do, individually or collectively?

We might feel powerless, we might feel hopeless, but we can start with ourselves. And we can do so on our terms. At age 18, in 1974, I registered for the Selective Service as a conscientious objector. It was a symbolic act, as the draft had been suspended by that time; I nonetheless found it necessary to commit myself to doing so. Yet as a U.S. taxpayer I realize I am complicit in the activities recounted in the Brennan Center report. Increasing charitable donations, in lieu of taxes, is perhaps one way to address this.

There is no single answer. But a common thread is hope. Rebecca Solnit writes,

I believe in hope as an act of defiance, or rather as the foundation for an ongoing series of acts of defiance, those acts necessary to bring about some of what we hope for while we live by principle in the meantime. There is no alternative, except surrender. And surrender not only abandons the future, it abandons the soul.

Rebecca Solnit

This of course is easier said than done. But if we recognize that the decisions we make come from our truth, as Steve Smith had done in 1965 in the face of hostility, we may find peace with ourselves. German philosopher Arthur Schopenhaur said, All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

In closing, I would like to share this from Kristen Suagee-Beauduy:

Resistance is not a one lane highway. Maybe your lane is protesting, maybe your lane is organizing, maybe your lane is counseling, maybe your lane is art activism, maybe your lane is surviving the day. Do NOT feel guilty for not occupying every lane. We need all of them.

Kristen Suagee-Beauduy

Honoring all victims of war, including those who resisted by David McCartney, Bleeding Heartland, Nov 15, 2022


I am grateful to learn about Steve Smith’s story and that he was a student at the University of Iowa.

I began as a student at Scattergood Friends School, a Quaker boarding high school in 1966, not far from the University of Iowa. While a student at Scattergood, in 1968 I attended the national conference on the draft and conscription, held at Earlham College. https://jeffkisling.com/2019/10/05/richmond-declaration-on-the-draft/

Friends Coordinating Committee on Peace has announced a national conference on the draft and conscription to be held at Earlham College (Richmond, Indiana), October 11th through 13th. It is primarily planned as a working conference, with about 180 representatives from Yearly Meetings, Friends schools and other Friends’ organizations and seventy to a hundred additional Friends appointed at large. A detailed program and other information may be obtained from FCCP, 1520 Race Street, Philadelphia, 19102.  

Friends Journal 8/15/1968

When I was a Senior, during one of the days of the Moratorium to end the war in Vietnam, Oct 15, 1969, the entire student body (about sixty) walked from the school into Iowa City, to the University of Iowa (about 12 miles). During another of the Moratorium days, Nov 15, 1969, we held a conference about the war and the draft at the school.

October 11, 1969  School Committee Day

From the Scattergood Friends School committee minutes:

A group of students attended Committee meeting and explained plans for their participation in the October 15 Moratorium. The Committee wholeheartedly endorses the plans. The following statement will be handed out in answer to any inquiries:

“These students and faculty of Scattergood School are undertaking the twelve mile walk from campus to Iowa City in observance of the October 15 Moratorium. In order not to detract from the purpose of the walk, we have decided to remain silent. You are welcome to join us in this expression of our sorrow and disapproval of the war and loss of life in Vietnam. Please follow the example of the group and accept any heckling or provocation in silence.”

Scattergood Friends School students’ Peace Walk from the School to the University of Iowa on the Moratorium to end the war in Vietnam


I turned in my draft cards but was not prosecuted. Unfortunately, my schoolmate, Daniel Barrett was imprisoned for his draft resistance. Our stories can be found in those collected by (Quaker) Don Laughlin, Young Quaker Men Facing War and Conscription.


My friend and mentor, Don Laughlin (Quaker) collected stories of Quaker men facing war and conscription.


David F. McCartney, University Archives

david mccartney

McCartney is a dedicated archivist ensuring access to University of Iowa history and highlighting voices that are underrepresented in the archives. McCartney has developed relationships across campus, working with classes or faculty in every department. After publishing an award-winning article on the life of UI student Stephen Smith, a young man from a small Iowa town who found his voice through civil rights activism in the 1960s, McCartney organized the Historical Iowa Civil Rights Network to bring together related repositories and collections from across the state. He also established the Stephen Lynn Smith Memorial Scholarship for Social Justice. He has served as a consultant for many smaller archives and libraries in Iowa and volunteers with smaller nonprofit organizations. He has held many positions in the Midwest Archives Conference, including president, and makes invaluable contributions to the Big Ten Academic Alliance University Archivist Group and the Consortium of Iowa Archivists.

UI honors recipients of 2020 faculty, staff awards by JACK ROSSI, Iowa Now, 11/17/2020


https://dsps.lib.uiowa.edu/hicrn/

The Historical Iowa Civil Rights Network uncovers, preserves, and shares the stories of Iowans who participated in Civil Rights-related activity or the African American experience. HICRN  is made up of community members, archivists, historians, librarians, former Civil Rights workers, and others from across Iowa who seek and preserve photographs, diaries, scrapbooks, letters, personal memoirs, and oral history interviews. https://dsps.lib.uiowa.edu/hicrn/


Although not exactly a memorial for war resisters, my dad, Burt Kisling, and Chuck Day, both Quakers, worked to have this sculpture of three intertwined doves, the “Path to Peace”, installed in downtown Des Moines, Iowa.

“Path to Peace”, Des Moines, Iowa

Spiritual connections for survival

For many years I’ve been praying, thinking, writing, and discussing how we can prepare for an increasingly dystopian future. In an article in Friends Journal, Donald McCormick asks “why is there no vision for the future of Quakerism?”  I wrote about my vision in the article What is your vision for the future?

The increasing threats from environmental devastation and chaos lead me to share more of my vision, which has been evolving over the past several years. It’s taken me a long time to write this article, I think because I haven’t found resources available to check on what I’m saying here.

I’ve always believed the greatest problem to solve is how communities of the future organize and govern themselves. We’ll have to do things differently because our present systems are collapsing. Which is often not a bad thing since those systems are based on colonialism and capitalism.


Spirituality

Spirituality is especially important now as we experience increasing environmental chaos, which will contribute to further social, economic, and political collapse. We will have no choice but to band together for the survival of us all. The alternative is tribalism with its violence, destruction and death.

We will need the help of those who know survival skills that we don’t. It takes time to build the trust necessary for these connections. It is urgent to do this now. It is by the Spirit that we can engage with everyone around us, of all cultures, identities, ethnicities.

  • Spirituality can show us how to live with integrity now. How to be examples to others. This is how change happens.
  • The Creator can help us heal the wounds of the past. And the wounds that will be inflicted in the future.
  • The Spirit can guide us through the coming chaos.
  • It is by the Spirit we create connections among diverse peoples.

Kheprw Institute (KI)

One set of my spiritual experiences relates to my introduction to a community of people of color, the Kheprw Institute (KI). I wrote about this in detail at: https://jeffkisling.com/2021/03/14/white-quakers-and-spiritual-connections-with-the-kheprw-institute/

At my first meeting with the KI community, I was asked a number of questions. When I said I was a Quaker, one of the adults (the group was mainly teenagers) spoke about the history of Quakers related to the underground railroad. When she finished, all eyes turned to me. I said I was glad my ancestors did that, it was the right thing to do, but we try not to take credit for things we have not done ourselves. When I was asked to speak more about that, I wasn’t sure what to say. I remember clearly that an answer came from the Spirit, which told me to not only say that Quakers believe there is that of God in everyone, but to also look into the eyes of each one there and say, “and that includes you”. Each person smiled at me when I did that. That ended the questioning, and I was welcomed into the community. We had this spiritual basis for our work together.

But that was just the first step. Trust was built, but slowly. With permission, I invited members of my Quaker community to engage with KI’s monthly book discussions. This was one way we began to get to know each other. But it was two years after this introduction before I was invited to teach a class on photography for KI.

Kheprw Institute, Indianapolis

First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March

Because of my lifelong commitment to care for our environment, I’d always wanted to learn about Indigenous peoples and their sustainable lives. I jumped at the opportunity to do so when I heard about the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March in 2018. The intention was to build a community of native and nonnative people by walking and camping together along the route of the Dakota Access pipeline from Des Moines to Fort Dodge, Iowa (94 miles). Many long hours walking together, for eight days, along empty Iowa gravel roads was very effective in creating the beginnings of trust. There were about fifteen native and fifteen nonnative people, which allowed each of us the opportunity to share stories with every other person.

I’d hoped there would be ways to learn more about their spirituality, and to share some about my own. But I knew there was a huge barrier between us related to Friends’ involvement in the institutions of forced assimilation of native children. It is uncomfortable to admit this, but at the time I wondered how much awareness there was about the Indian Boarding Schools. I was soon to learn how profound that trauma was, and how it was passed from generation to generation. Is a deep wound today in every Indigenous person I know. I discuss this in detail in White Quakers and Native Peoples and other writings.

I didn’t know if, or how, the occasion might occur to talk about this during the March. Or whether I should.

But I vividly remember when the Spirit told me to say, “I know Quakers were involved in the Indian boarding schools and I’m sorry that happened” to the native person I was getting to know the best early in the March. I was worried saying that would upset him, open wounds. But he just nodded his head, and we kept walking together. But later in the day he said, “I want to tell you a story”, and proceeded to tell me a story related to him and his mother and the boarding schools.

At various times the Spirit led me to bring this up with each of my native friends. Every one of them and their families have had traumatic experiences related to forced assimilation. And the removal of native children from their homes continues in the guise of child welfare.

This is something that should not be taken lightly. A certain level of connection and trust is important. This is not about us (White people) and what we would like to see or do. There should be clear spiritual guidance.

I’ve found my Indigenous friends to be deeply spiritual. I like the sign, Earth is my church, carried by my friends Foxy and Alton Onefeather during the March. That says a lot about why I feel my friends are spiritual, their reverence of all things human and nonhuman. And their practices such as smudging, putting down tobacco, expressing thanks to the Creator each time they speak in public. Their humbleness. One friend often says “we are just pitiful people” during her prayers.

In the four years since that March, various combinations of us have had numerous opportunities to work together.

And yet again, that trust has been built, is being built slowly.

Foxy Onefeather holds sign on First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March (2018)


Spiritual guidance

Quakers believe our lives must be guided by the Spirit. But far too often people haven’t found, or don’t try to discern that spiritual guidance. They try to figure out how to do justice work on their own or in conjunction with like-minded people. with the best of intentions. That phrase usually indicates not listening to those affected by injustice. And indicates not having discerned what their faith is trying to tell them.

And that often results in unintended, harmful consequences. A common phrase to keep in mind is nothing about us without us. This is especially challenging for White people who are accustomed to their privileges. Often not even aware of those privileges. We would not need to qualify what our intentions were if we were following the leadership of the communities facing injustice.

One horrific example of best intentions gone wrong were the Indian boarding schools. A policy of forced assimilation of native children into White culture was thought by many to be a way to help Indian children adjust to the enveloping White society. But tens of thousands of children suffered physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Thousands died. Genocide. And that trauma has been passed to each following generation, including todays. Every one of my native friends has been affected.

This is an example of difficulties in making connections between different communities and/or cultures. With this horrific history, and ongoing trauma, how can a bridge ever be built between these two cultures, White and Indigenous? Or between White and BIPOC people and communities? (Black, Indigenous and other people of color)

But for others, especially in the government and military, this policy and horror was exactly what they intended.


Mutual Aid

The Spirit also led me to become involved in a Mutual Aid community. And led me to be involved in efforts to abolish police and prisons. I’ve written extensively about these things on my website Quakers and Religious Socialism, Intersection of Mutual Aid, Abolition and Socialism.


How to create connections between different communities or cultures

Returning to Donald McCormick’s question, “why is there no vision for the future of Quakerism?” I’ve tried to express my answer here. In these increasingly trying times, spiritual guidance is crucial. Sharing this with others is a gift Quakers have to offer. But we need to understand the history and concepts of oppression. Of Quakers’ role in oppression. And discern how the Spirit is leading us.

Frontline communities are figuring out how to live when the systems that are supposed to serve them no longer do, if they ever did. White communities will look to these communities and their solutions for our own survival.

I was recently surprised when a Quaker friend said I had a way of finding and connecting with oppressed communities. Which made me realize something I hadn’t expressed before, which is we must seek out these communities ourselves. Be guided to these communities by the Spirit. Search for these opportunities. Searching social media is usually very useful. And we can learn what our Friends and friends are doing and join those efforts.

Following is a list of things I have been learning from my experiences related to making connections between different communities and/or cultures.

You have to be in it with them

When I say I pray each morning, seeking what to write, I do spend time in quietness. But I also research what my sources are saying.

I came across this photo I took in 2013 that I found on the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement’s (ICCI) website. The photo was taken at ICCI’s offices during the two days of training for leaders in the Keystone Pledge of Resistance. Where I learned so much about community organizing.


Keystone Pledge of Resistance training, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Des Moines, Iowa 2013

This reminds me we have been working on pipeline resistance for ten years. We defeated the Keystone XL pipeline, but not the Dakota Access pipeline. It also looks like the Coastal GasLink pipeline in British Columbia, on Wet’suwet’en lands, will be completed.

Now we are faced with the “false climate solutions” of several proposed carbon (CO2) pipelines in Iowa. The liquified carbon dioxide in these pipelines is a hazardous material that can be lethal when ruptures occur. If that happens in a densely populated area, there could be many deaths.

On November 9th, we held a rally against carbon capture in Des Moines, organized by the Buffalo Rebellion I’m a member of. See: https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/2022/11/10/dont-look-down/


Part of that rally was blocking Third Street, in front of the Iowa Event Center, where the carbon pipeline supporters were meeting, for about twenty minutes.

Blocking traffic on third street in front of the Iowa Event Center.
Jake Grobe, ICCI and Buffalo Rebellion organizer

In this photo my friend Jake Grobe says “yes, these people stuck in traffic are impatient and angry. But so are we. How long have we waited for action on real climate solutions?”

That is demonstrated by the time span between this photo, and the one above, taken in 2013.

The images of the latest environmental catastrophe, Hurricane Nicole, are really stunning. And, of course, the erosion of beach fronts will only worsen. As another warning, the article below was published just today.

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — Nations will likely burn through their remaining carbon budget in less than a decade if they do not significantly reduce greenhouse gas pollution, a new study shows, causing the world to blow past a critical warming threshold and triggering catastrophic climate impacts.

World has nine years to avert catastrophic warming, study shows. Scientists say gas projects discussed at U.N. climate conference would seriously threaten world’s climate goals, by Sarah Kaplan, The Washington Post, November 11, 2022

The question of human survival

Running throughout (Lopez’s book) Horizon is the question of human survival. The multiple threats we now face, especially the very real possibility of climate disaster, expose the tensions between human aspiration and ecological reality. Perhaps what is most needed, Lopez suggests, is for us to lament what we’ve destroyed, but also to praise and love the world we still have. “Mystery,” he writes, “is the real condition in which we live, not certainty.

Bahnson: You’ve confronted the darkness you see on the horizon with anthropogenic climate change. How do you talk about this with audiences? People need to know what’s coming, yet if you overwhelm them with depressing news, they might freeze. How do you strike the balance between educator and artist?

Lopez: Whenever I speak in public, I write out a new talk. I begin by stipulating, with a modulated voice, that things are way worse than we imagine. And I offer some examples: the collapse of pollinating insect populations; the rise of nationalism; belligerent and ignorant narcissists like Donald Trump; methane gas spewing out of the Siberian tundra. You’re saying to everybody, “Let’s take off the rose-colored glasses now and see what our dilemma really is.” And then the second part of the talk is an evocation of the healing that is necessary and possible, a gradual elevation of the human spirit. It’s about the mobilization that is needed and which is within our reach. Then people know you’ve spoken truthfully, and you have evoked in each person a desire to help, to take care of their families, to have self-regard. I see this pattern in every talk I give. To remember, geographically, exactly where you are speaking that night, and to know whether there might be a full moon outside the building; to offer that sense of immediacy and groundedness; to underscore the specificity of the moment; and to be sure that you implicate yourself in the trouble. It all helps in these situations. If you attempt any version of “I know, and you don’t” or “This is not my fault” or “I am the holy messenger, and you’re the fools,” the evening ends in darkness. You have to be in it with them.

The World We Still Have. Barry Lopez On Restoring Our Lost Intimacy With Nature BY FRED BAHNSON, The Sun, DECEMBER 2019


You have to be in it with them

“And then the second part of the talk is an evocation of the healing that is necessary and possible, a gradual elevation of the human spirit. It’s about the mobilization that is needed and which is within our reach. Then people know you’ve spoken truthfully, and you have evoked in each person a desire to help, to take care of their families, to have self-regard”

I have experienced this healing with my Des Moines Mutual Aid community.

You have to be in it with them” is the core concept of Mutual Aid. Perhaps more accurately stated, “we are all in this together”.

Please build Mutual Aid communities where you are.