Reflections on Reflections

The First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March involved a group of about thirty native and non-native people walking, eating, and camping together for 8 days. We walked ninety-four miles from Des Moines to Fort Dodge Iowa, along the route of the Dakota Access Pipeline during the first week of September 2018.

It was a bit amazing when I read the following as I’m reflecting on my experiences and friendships from the March.

Roughly a year later, in 2019, as part of my work at the Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning in Denendeh, I helped organize a solidarity gathering that took place in March, in the territory of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN). Our idea was simple—to invite a small group of Black, Brown and Indigenous activists, thinkers, writers, and organizers to spend time with us, in the spring, on an island in what the Yellowknives Dene known as Tindeè, or “big lake.” Together we fished nets under the ice, travelled by snowmobile and sleigh across the frozen lake, shared moose ribs cooked over the fire, stories from YKDFN Elders, our own ideas, and time with each other.

We wanted to invest in our relationship with each other and our affinities, outside of the institution, the internet, and crises, because we believed that the land would pull out a different set of conversations and gift us with a different way of relating. We wanted to sit together on the land, immersed in a Dene world, engage in a practice of Dene hospitality to see if we related to each other in a different way. This is exactly what happened. The land nurtured a set of conversations and way of relating to each other outside of the institution and its formations.

Maynard, Robyn; Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake. Rehearsals for Living (Abolitionist Papers) (p. 35). Haymarket Books. Kindle Edition.

In many ways the March was transformative for me. I wrote a long blog post of reflections on the March in early 2020. See: Reflections on the March.

The world, and I, have changed a lot in just the two years since those reflections were written. These two images represent the time span between the March and work we are doing today.


The first time I attended Quaker meeting after the March (2018), Russ Leckband gave me this piece of pottery, which was still warm from the kiln. The graphic on the right is about the Buffalo Rebellion, a climate justice summit, that I attended earlier this year.
(See: https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/?s=Buffalo+rebellion )

I suppose this blog post is more reflections on the prior reflections.
(As a photographer, I envision what that might look like)

Indy Art Jeff Kisling

Changes since the March in 2018

Environmental devastation and chaos are occurring much more rapidly than expected. In some ways not anticipated. The havoc from increasingly ferocious and frequent wildfires, violent storms, floods, and development of large areas of drought are overwhelming our social, economic, and political systems. Continued wars ruin or prevent the transport of vast quantities of agricultural products.

So many of the systems we used to depend on, we no longer can. Municipal services such as water, power, sewage, and trash processing will fail, are failing.  Food will no longer be available in grocery stores. Medical services will collapse. What will happen to those in prisons and long-term care facilities? Financial failures will wreck the economy and end social safety nets.

There are other compelling reasons to design and build new communities. Our economic system has not adapted to the loss of jobs overseas and to automation. There are simply not enough jobs for millions of people, and many of those who do have work are paid at poverty levels. Forced to depend upon increasingly diminishing social safety nets.

The judicial and law enforcement systems work with extreme bias against people of color. What will the response of militarized police, armed forces, armed militias be as social unrest escalates?


How do we respond? Some lessons learned from and since the March.

It is one thing to talk about change, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid the reality of the changes described above. So, this is not an intellectual exercise.

Almost none of the White people I know, or have observed, are thinking of the radical changes necessary to deal with this evolving chaos. They are trapped in these failing systems and ways of being. Even those who recognize the many injustices of those systems.

For many reasons I believe our responses will be a return toward Indigenous ways and the sustainable ways of our ancestors.

White settler colonists must learn the true history, which was not taught to us. We can’t begin repair if we don’t know the underlying sources of injustice. We must stop treating the symptoms and instead focus on the causes, the underlying disease.

I FEEL THAT I NEED TO go backward in order to go forward. If we are going to find a way to make livable lives in these times, it is necessary to move beyond “human-related activities”: the climate crisis is tethered to its origins in slavery and colonialism, genocide and capitalism.

Maynard, Robyn; Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake. Rehearsals for Living (Abolitionist Papers) (p. 25). Haymarket Books. Kindle Edition.

I’ve been learning about the #LANDBACK movement, but I hadn’t consciously made the connection to the land we walked and slept upon during the March. We were deeply affected when we crossed the pipeline. And were aware of how different it was to spend hours outside and away from the busy-ness of technology. Many more hours than usual for many of us. And yet time had that elastic property that made hours seem like minutes and vice versa as we traveled through space together. Hearing stories of the past that can help us face the future.

Most of my White friends are horrified as they are learning more about the atrocities committed at the Indian boarding schools. Can hardly believe thousands of children died there. But they are being forced to as the remains of the children are being located.

White people cannot process these things and begin healing as long as they remain in the their White spaces and thinking. And deny any responsibility for what was done in the past.

My hope and prayer is a mass movement of us build Mutual Aid networks.

As William Shakespeare wrote, “what’s past is prolog”. Native children are still being taken from their families in the guise of child welfare. Native children are still forcefully assimilated when they are forced to read the White settler colonist view of history.

My involvement in Mutual Aid for the past two years has resulted in significant changes in my life. Changes that can be done now and help us move into the future. Another quote from the book Rehearsals for Living eloquently describes Mutual Aid.

My hope and prayer is a mass movement of us build Mutual Aid networks.

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 the latest version of a diagram I’ve been working on to visualize some of what I’ve expressed above.

Foundational stories: Finding accomplices

“There’s nothing more radically activist than a truly spiritual life. And there’s nothing more truly spiritual than a radically activist life.”

Brian McLaren, Naked Spirituality

At the dawn of a new day, I listen to hear what I will write. I did not expect to be writing about accomplices today. But as I prayed about the next episode of this series of foundational stories, I am trying to express what or who I was looking for when I retired and moved back to Iowa (2017).

This quote immediately came to mind. “Destroy” might sound extreme, but the author is one of the most nonviolent people I know.

Randomly passing an accomplice on the street and throwing up a fist at each other as we go our separate ways to destroy all that is rotten in this world will never fail to give me extra energy and a single tear of gratitude for what this city is creating.

Mutual Aid friend

I leave the author unnamed because we never know what the authorities will use against us. I include myself in this by saying “against us“. I say Mutual Aid friend because we are both involved in a Mutual Aid community, which means we all support each other.

Although accomplice is defined as a person who helps another commit a crime, the meaning in the quote is more like associate or collaborator.

Or is it?

Nonviolent civil disobedience most often involves intentionally committing a crime. I previously wrote about being trained as a trainer for nonviolent direct actions, i.e. the Keystone Pledge of Resistance. And being prepared to break the law by blocking the doors of the Federal building in downtown Indianapolis, if necessary, to try to stop the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

I intentionally broke the law when I resisted the draft.

And there is the whole question of what is legal and who determines that? Legality and justice are not the same. Laws often enforce injustice, protecting the status quo.

The Doctrines of Discover gave permission to steal the land from and kill indigenous peoples all over the world. Manifest destiny said the expansion of white settlers across the land was justified and inevitable. There is the institution of enslavement. Forced assimilation.


…Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. The proper place to-​day, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less desponding spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the State by her own act, as they have already put themselves out by their principles. It is there that the fugitive slave, and the Mexican prisoner on parole, and the Indian come to plead the wrongs of his race, should find them; on that separate, but more free and honorable ground, where the State places those who are not with her, but against her — the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor. If any think that their influence would be lost there, and their voices no longer afflict the ear of the State, that they would not be as an enemy within its walls, they do not know by how much truth is stronger than error, nor how much more eloquently and effectively he can combat injustice who has experienced a little in his own person. Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to choose. If a thousand men were not to pay their tax-​bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible. If the tax-​gatherer, or any other public officer, asks me, as one has done, “But what shall I do?” my answer is, “If you really wish to do anything, resign your office.” When the subject has refused allegiance, and the officer has resigned his office, then the revolution is accomplished. But even suppose blood should flow. Is there not a sort of blood shed when the conscience is wounded? Through this wound a man’s real manhood and immortality flow out, and he bleeds to an everlasting death. I see this blood flowing now…

Henry David Thoreau

I hope the foundational stories I’ve written thus far illustrate that what has been meaningful for me is to find people and communities who act instead of just talk. I was looking for such people and organizations to work with when I moved to Iowa. I’m blessed to have been led to them.


Mutual Aid and money

The role money plays in Mutual Aid is what I had the most questions about, and the question most often asked of me when I talk about Mutual Aid.

The Mutual Aid project I’m involved with is the free food distribution, which has been in place pretty much continuously since the Black Panthers in Des Moines organized the Free Breakfast for School Children program. It was when this program looked like it might have to close several years ago that Des Moines Mutual Aid to over the program.

The first Survival Program was the Free Breakfast for Children Program, which began in January 1969 at one small Catholic church in the Fillmore district of San Francisco, and spread to many cities in America where there were Party chapters. Thousands of poor and hungry children were fed free breakfasts every day by the Party under this program. The Program became so popular that by the end of the year, the original Black Panther Party set up kitchens in cities across the nation, feeding over 10,000 children every day before they went to school.

Bobby Seale
All Power To All The People!
http://bobbyseale.com/
#blackpantherparty#blackpanthers#bobbyseale#blackhistory
 


Food from local farms, and dated food from local grocery stores is the source of our food to distribute to the community.


What Is Mutual Aid?

Mutual aid is collective coordination to meet each other’s needs, usually from an awareness that the systems we have in place are not going to meet them. Those systems, in fact, have often created the crisis, or are making things worse. We see examples of mutual aid in every single social movement, whether it’s people raising money for workers on strike, setting up a ride-sharing system during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, putting drinking water in the desert for migrants crossing the border, training each other in emergency medicine because ambulance response time in poor neighborhoods is too slow, raising money to pay for abortions for those who can’t afford them, or coordinating letter-writing to prisoners. These are mutual aid projects. They directly meet people’s survival needs, and are based on a shared understanding that the conditions in which we are made to live are unjust.

There is nothing new about mutual aid— people have worked together to survive for all of human history. But capitalism and colonialism created structures that have disrupted how people have historically connected with each other and shared everything they needed to survive. As people were forced into systems of wage labor and private property, and wealth became increasingly concentrated, our ways of caring for each other have become more and more tenuous.

In this context of social isolation and forced dependency on hostile systems, mutual aid— where we choose to help each other out, share things, and put time and resources into caring for the most vulnerable— is a radical act.

Dean Spade. Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) (Kindle Locations 104-120). Verso.


The key is when we think about money, we are thinking within the context of capitalism, which is the system we (Mutual Aid) are working to replace. Think how the communities of our grandparents depended so little on money. Where everyone knew everyone else. Where people just naturally helped when there was a need. Came together to harvest the crops, going from one farm to the next with the machines to do the harvesting.

Since then, increasingly, “people were forced into systems of wage labor and private property.”

The key is when we think about money, we are thinking within the context of capitalism, which is the system we (Mutual Aid) are working to replace

Handling Money

Handling money can be one of the most contentious issues for mutual aid groups. Because of this, it can be very useful for groups to consider whether this is something they want to do. Some groups can do their work without raising money at all. Some groups can do their work just raising money through grassroots fundraising in their communities, taking small donations from many people. That kind of fundraising can avoid the problem with grant-making foundations attaching strings to grant money and trying to control the direction of the work. Grassroots fundraising can help build a sense that the community controls the organizations rather than an elite funder and doing grassroots fundraising can be a way of spreading the ideas of the group and raising awareness about the problems the group works on. However, even if money is raised in this way, managing money still comes with pitfalls. Handling money brings logistical issues that can cause stress and take time, such as figuring out how to do it fairly and transparently and figuring out how to avoid a problem with the IRS or otherwise expose group members to legal problems. Because most people in our society have a tangled, painful relationship with money that includes feelings and behaviors of secrecy, shame, and desperation, a lot of otherwise awesome people will misbehave when money is around or get suspicious of others’ behavior.

Dean Spade. Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) (Kindle Locations 1199-1209). Verso.

Our Mutual Aid group appeals to the community for funds for a need in the moment.





Collapse is already here

This is a continuation of a recent post, the centre cannot hold, and discussion of the article Collapse Is Already Here — And It’s Spreading by umair haque. The reason I follow umair’s writings is because I agree with his analysis of where we are and learn more from him. In this article he talks about the collapse of the three systems we live in.

  • economic
  • social
  • political

Failing economies

Right now, a wave of mega-inflation is surging around the globe. It’s driven largely by climate change — and our nonexistent “response” to it. Harvests are failing, goods are getting harder and harder to distribute and ship, raw materials harder to source and attain. Inflation is going to keep rising — for the rest of our lives.

Shortages become the norm. You can see them beginning to happen in vivid, shocking detail now. Empty shelves are becoming the new normal. The age of abundance is over.

Our economies have failed. And they’re going to continue to fail.

Collapse Is Already Here — And It’s Spreading. I Don’t Know If You’ve Noticed — But Our Systems are Breaking Down by umair haque, Eudaimonia, May 19, 2022

Failing social systems

Think of how many generations our economies have failed at this point.

Boomers were the last ones to really live the dream — since then, our economies have been in decline, and that decline has accelerated rapidly. Gen X had it worse than Boomers, but not so bad as to cause total despair — enough to be comical. Millennials had it worse than Gen X — and they can’t afford to move out of their parents’ homes, or start families, so birth rates are declining. Zoomers have it far, far worse than Millennials — they’ll never be able to retire, they can’t get decent jobs, their lives are over before they began.

There’s a word to sum all that up — intergenerational inequality. What does intergenerational inequality do? It destroys the possibility of functioning social systems. Someone has to pay for them, after all — from retirement systems to post offices to hospitals and universities and so forth. Social systems must be funded from the public purse. But when people are struggling harder, generation after generation, getting poorer, there’s less left over to invest.

Collapse Is Already Here — And It’s Spreading. I Don’t Know If You’ve Noticed — But Our Systems are Breaking Down by umair haque, Eudaimonia, May 19, 2022

Failing political systems

This is the real reason why young people are apathetic about politics. They know they can’t change anything even if they try. They don’t have the money, so what’s the point? Sure, they can vote in politicians who want to build social systems — and sometimes they do, like AOC or who have you. But those politicians are left powerless in the end, because societies in which generation after generation is getting poorer cannot afford to be functioning societies at all.

Collapse Is Already Here — And It’s Spreading. I Don’t Know If You’ve Noticed — But Our Systems are Breaking Down by umair haque, Eudaimonia, May 19, 2022

The collapse of the economic, social and political systems umair haque describes above are part of the diagram below I’ve been working on for several years.

The economic system is Capitalism (red box in diagram below). Capitalism exerts financial control, and uses criminal justice systems of police and prisons to enforce capitalist policies.

Capitalism once did some funding of social systems: Medicare, food stamps, unemployment insurance, etc.

But now, the collapse of capitalism is leading to increasingly inadequate social services, pushing more people into, or further into poverty.

The answer, it seems to many of us, is to replace the capitalist economic system. As my friend Ronnie James says:

I’m of the firm opinion that a system that was built by stolen bodies on stolen land for the benefit of a few is a system that is not repairable. It is operating as designed, and small changes (which are the result of huge efforts) to lessen the blow on those it was not designed for are merely half measures that can’t ever fully succeed.

So the question is now, where do we go from here? Do we continue to make incremental changes while the wealthy hoard more wealth and the climate crisis deepens, or do we do something drastic that has never been done before? Can we envision and create a world where a class war from above isn’t a reality anymore?”

Ronnie James, Des Moines Mutual Aid

How to replace capitalism and the systems that support it is indicated in the Red/Green New Deal box. Discussions of these things can be found on these blogs of mine and elsewhere.


Building the Future We Want

I wrote about the Rally for Reproductive Justice at the Iowa Women of Achievement bridge in downtown Des Moines last Friday. The event was a case study of how I hope and pray we find our way toward the goal of Beloved community. This is urgent now as the systems we have depended on continue to collapse around us.

White Christian problem

I’m always uncomfortable talking about myself but being asked to take photos at this event represents one principle of how we can work together. White males represent/perpetuate the systems of dominance that we must get rid of. Being a white male, I work to avoid those attributes in what I do.

White people need to wait to be invited into this work. So, I was honored that one of my friends, Sikowis Nobiss, of the Great Plains Action Society asked me to take photos at the rally. It takes a long time for this trust to develop. I’ve been working with the Great Plains Action Society for five years.

Sikowis Nobiss

There were several signs at the gathering like the one below that say “end the white Christian problem and keep abortions legal”. White supremacy is at the root of systems of dominance and oppression. White Christians should work to liberate themselves from their systems of dominance and oppression. In the process, helping liberate those oppressed by those systems.


I’m going to try to explain how the principles of the Red/Green New Deal in the diagram above were represented at the Reproductive Justice event. The Green New Deal (GND) represents the idea of modeling bold initiatives to address environmental disaster on the New Deal of the 1930’s.

LANDBACK

The Red New Deal stands for Indigenous led Green New Deal. This is represented in the diagram above as LANDBACK.

The Reproductive Justice rally was supported by the many justice organizations in Iowa listed in this graphic. My friend Sikowis Nobiss of the Great Plains Action Society was one of the main organizers (and who asked me to take photos). Other Indigenous friends included Mahmud Fitil who took video via a drone, Donnielle Wanatee, who gave prayers, and Ronnie James of Des Moines Mutual Aid who setup the Wells Fargo Kills Communities banner. Our gathering was just across the street from the Wells Fargo Arena.

NOTE: I have another blog which is about LANDBACK titled LANDBACK Friends.

It is the reclamation of everything stolen from the original Peoples.

  • Land
  • Language
  • Ceremony
  • Medicines
  • Kinship

It is a relationship with Mother Earth that is symbiotic and just, where we have reclaimed stewardship. 
It is bringing our People with us as we move towards liberation and embodied sovereignty through an organizing, political and narrative framework. 
It is a catalyst for current generation organizers and centers the voices of those who represent our future. 
It is recognizing that our struggle is interconnected with the struggles of all oppressed Peoples.
It is a future where Black reparations and Indigenous LANDBACK co-exist. Where BIPOC collective liberation is at the core. 
It is acknowledging that only when Mother Earth is well, can we, her children, be well. 
It is our belonging to the land – because – we are the land. 
We are LANDBACK!

LANDBACK Manifesto


Black Liberation

BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. White supremacy is the attempt of White people to dominate those who are not white, i.e. BIOPC people. Much of what I’ve been writing about regarding Indigenous peoples applies to black and other people of color. The obvious differences relate to the history of enslavement and continued injustices related to skin color.

From the LANDBACK Manifesto (above): “It is a future where Black reparations and Indigenous LANDBACK co-exist. Where BIPOC collective liberation is at the core.” This is represented by Black Liberation in the diagram above.

One of the main organizations involved in the Rally for Reproductive Justice was Des Moines Black Liberation. The concept of black liberation represents moving beyond the concept of Black Lives Matter.


Abolition

Today abolition commonly refers to abolition of police and prisons. The public lynching of so many unarmed Black and other people of color appear relentlessly because of news and bystander videos. There are incredible inequities of prison populations and long sentences of BIPOC people compared to white people. Prisons are abused to keep BIPOC people off the streets.

There are numerous examples of the success of dispatching mental health personnel instead of police where appropriate.

Mutual Aid

Mutual Aid has been my focus for justice work for the past several years. While Des Moines Mutual Aid is not listed in the organizations supporting the Rally for Reproductive Justice, several of us were at the Rally. One thing they did while I was taking photos was set up this banner calling attention to missing and murdered Indigenous relatives (MMIR).

The Rally for Reproductive Justice was in solidarity with the annual day of awareness about MMIR that is observed at this time. The Wells Fargo banner calls attention to the bank’s financing fossil fuel projects. Pipelines are often intentionally built near native communities. Violence against native peoples occurs from the men in the camps at the construction sites. The Wells Fargo Arena is just across the street from where the rally was held.

The color red is associated with MMIR. Many in the crowd at the rally wore red, and the Women of Achievement bridge was lit in red for the same reason.

Bridge lit in red in support of missing and murdered Indigenous relatives

As shown in the graphic above, Mutual Aid is about getting rid of vertical hierarchies, which is fundamental for building Beloved communities. There won’t be power structures of superiority, dominance, and oppression if we commit to the framework of Mutual Aid.

Conservation

For healing for Mother Earth to occur, it is essential to dramatically reduce extraction and consumption of resources. We must act in a manner that will be best for the next seven generations.

Spirituality (Religious socialism)

My friend Donnielle Wanatee offered prayers during the Rally.

Donnielle Wanatee

That briefly covers what is included in the graphic above (Red/Green New Deal).


I wanted to mention there were people at the rally to sign for those with hearing impairments.

One of the other organizations supporting the Rally was Iowa CCI (Citizens for Community Improvement) that I’ve just begun to become involved with. One of my friends is Jake Grobe, who is the Climate Justice Organizer for Iowa CCI. Jake and I often see each other at the Des Moines Mutual Aid food giveaway each Saturday morning.

Jake and Sikowis are two of the people who did a great deal of work creating a new coalition, the Buffalo Rebellion. This coalition will do much to help us build the future we want. The Buffalo Rebellion recently held an intense Climate Summit that I was blessed to attend, to build a network of climate and justice advocates.

Sikowis Nobiss and Jake Grobe

As my Mutual Aid friends and I left the Rally we said, “I’ll see you in the morning” where we’ll be at our food giveaway.

Buffalo Rebellion and Red/Green New Deal

The Sunrise Movement was launched as a national campaign for a Green New Deal (GND) in 2017. From the beginning I heard my native friends talk about the importance of a GND to be Indigenous led. In 2019 Sunrise’s Green New Deal tour began with a stop in Des Moines. There my friends Trisha Cax-Sep-Gu-Wiga Etringer and Lakasha Yooxot Likipt spoke about Indigenous leadership as a requirement for a GND. https://landbackfriends.com/2021/09/01/indigenous-led-green-new-deal/


Last weekend’s Climate Summit of the newly formed Buffalo Rebellion provided an opportunity for organizations and people to come together to share what is being done to address the climate crisis. And lay the groundwork for working together, focusing on action related to the racial and economic consequences of environmental devastation. That requires taking on entrenched white supremacy, systemic racism and rapacious capitalism.

The Buffalo Rebellion is a coalition that includes Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Great Plains Action Society, Des Moines Black Liberation Movement, Iowa MMJ, SEIU Iowa, Sierra Club Iowa Beyond Coal, and Cedar Rapids Sunrise Movement.

We believe that we must address the root of climate change, insatiable corporate greed and white supremacy, to make change happen. This will require a multi-racial movement of working people struggling together to upend politics as usual.

Buffalo Rebellion

… what if the question all water protectors and land defenders asked was, why don’t we just overturn the system that makes development a threat in the first place? This system, again, is capitalism. Rather than taking an explicitly conservationist approach, the Red Deal instead proposes a comprehensive, full-scale assault on capitalism, using Indigenous knowledge and tried-and-true methods of mass mobilization as its ammunition. In this way, it addresses what are commonly thought of as single issues like the protection of sacred sites—which often manifest in specific uprisings or insurrections—as structural in nature, which therefore require a structural (i.e., non-reformist reform) response that has the abolition of capitalism via revolution as its central goal. We must be straightforward about what is necessary. If we want to survive, there are no incremental or “non-disruptive” ways to reduce emissions. Reconciliation with the ruling classes is out of the question. Market-based solutions must be abandoned. We have until 2050 to reach net-zero carbon emissions. That’s it. Thirty years. The struggle for a carbon-free future can either lead to revolutionary transformation or much worse than what Marx and Engels imagined in 1848, when they forewarned that “the common ruin of the contending classes” was a likely scenario if the capitalist class was not overthrown. The common ruin of entire peoples, species, landscapes, grasslands, waterways, oceans, and forests—which has been well underway for centuries—has intensified more in the last three decades than in all of human existence.

The Red Nation, The Red Deal (pp. 21-22). Common Notions. Kindle Edition.


My Mutual Aid community models many Green/Red New Deal concepts.

I’m of the firm opinion that a system that was built by stolen bodies on stolen land for the benefit of a few is a system that is not repairable. It is operating as designed, and small changes (which are the result of huge efforts) to lessen the blow on those it was not designed for are merely half measures that can’t ever fully succeed.

So the question is now, where do we go from here? Do we continue to make incremental changes while the wealthy hoard more wealth and the climate crisis deepens, or do we do something drastic that has never been done before? Can we envision and create a world where a class war from above isn’t a reality anymore?”

Ronnie James, Des Moines Mutual Aid, Great Plains Action Society

Quaker Slavery and Manumissions

I pray and think about the past a lot. I cannot feel it, but I see some of the impacts of trauma from the past on my friends’ lives today. The intergenerational trauma. A number of White Quakers in the past were involved in the institution of slavery, the theft of land from Indigenous peoples, and/or the forced assimilation of Native children.

This morning I came across the term “intergenerational transformative justice”. “As we deal with the uncomfortable truths of our White Quaker ancestors, we release them from the amber in which our myths have captured them. “

The myths we tell ourselves and the lies those myths uphold are embedded in our contemporary faith practice. When we believe and perpetuate falsehoods about ourselves, it not only disconnects us from the truth, it also limits our ability to act with full integrity today. Telling the truth about ourselves and our White Quaker ancestors grounds us in reality, in a sense of the complexity of our identity. It allows us to create a different future, not built from delusion and half of the story but from an honest and grounded reckoning with who we are and who we have been. My friend Mila Hamilton calls this “intergenerational transformative justice.” As we deal with the uncomfortable truths of our White Quaker ancestors, we release them from the amber in which our myths have captured them. As we allow them to become the full, flawed humans they were, we also free ourselves to reckon with our present, which arises from their past, and to tell the full truth of who we are.

A Quaker Call to Abolition and Creation by Lucy Duncan, Friends Journal, April 1, 2021

Friends Journal senior editor Martin Kelley speaks to my friend, Quaker preservationist Avis Wanda McClinton about her work as a community liaison to Haverford College’s “Manumitted: The People Enslaved by Quakers.”

Inside Haverford’s Manumission Archives by Martin Kelley, Friends Journal, February 1, 2022


A manumission is a legal document that promises to free someone who is enslaved. In this context, we’re talking about American chattel slavery. Manumission has existed in many different forms of slavery, generally referring to the freeing of an enslaved person. But in this context, it’s specifically in the Americas with stolen African people. 

Manumissions are often standard sizes of paper, maybe half sheets at times. It might be a normal-sized piece of paper with two manumissions, one on the top and another on the bottom. 

They are promising to free someone, either immediately or in the future. There aren’t a lot of details on whether that promise was ever fully completed or not. These records were turned over to the yearly meetings and the quarterly meetings, which is why we have them. And so at least in that regard, there was some sort of process that Quaker members would go through, in order to demonstrate to their meeting that they were in agreement with the rules. 

Inside Haverford’s Manumission Archives by Martin Kelley, Friends Journal, February 1, 2022

Bibliography:

  • Block, Kristen. Ordinary Lives in the Early Caribbean: Religion, Colonial Competition, and the Politics of Profit. University of Georgia Press, 2012.
  • Frost, J. William. The Quaker Origins of Antislavery. Norwood Editions, 1980.
  • Gerbner, Katharine. Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018.
  • Soderlund, Jean R. Quakers & Slavery: a Divided Spirit. Princeton University Press, 1985.

Wicked problems and sensemaking

I have so many questions.

  • How can the government do everything it can to increase oil production and exports, when our extinction is assured if greenhouse gas emissions are not radically decreased immediately?
  • How could the atrocities and utter destruction have happened? In Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, United States?
  • Wouldn’t nonviolent responses against the invasion of Ukraine have been better, even if that meant Russian occupation for a time?
  • How can sanctions be a good thing when they result in the impoverishment of millions of people?
  • Why is it possible for everyone to buy and carry a gun?
  • Why do culture wars prevent teachers from teaching?
  • How did we allow healthcare workers to be overwhelmed by COVID cases?
  • How is it possible for so many prescription drugs to be too expensive?
  • Why have we allowed the militarization of police?
  • Why do millions of men, women and children live in poverty? So many without shelter? So many hungry?
  • Racism?
  • How can the military budget greatly exceed all other government programs combined?
  • How can the government control women’s choices? So many choices of all of us?

These questions stem from the difficulty of making sense of what’s going on today. Which reminds me of the concepts of wicked problems and sensemaking that James Allen writes about. I try to refrain from using so many quotes, but the entire article is well worth reading.

One thing he writes about makes more sense to me now from my experiences with Mutual Aid. What he writes here is a good description of Mutual Aid.

Something important happens when we gather in pursuit of a common goal. First we form rituals that help us relate to and negotiate each other, everything from a civic tradition that allows anyone with a voice to be respectfully heard, to sharing food and music in the local town hall every Friday night, to a labour system that fairly distributes the burden of work. Then, those rituals that stand the test of time become embedded in daily life. The ritual activities themselves and the good they produce help a community identity take root. As identity strengthens, so too does our sense of connectedness — our sense of affection, responsibility and obligation — to one another. When this happens, we then share a greater capacity for coherence and cooperation. And where we share greater capacity for coherence and cooperation there is also greater resilience: the ability to mobilise skills and resources to support the emergence of collective intelligence in response to crisis, enable rapid adaptation and ensure the continuity of the most important functions and structures of the community. This coherent togetherness and the collective intelligence that emerges out of it is the source of human strength and ingenuity. Within it lies our ability to transition from one evolutionary niche to another, even against the odds.

Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, originally published by Medium, June 18, 2019

…there remains the most existential risk of them all: our diminishing capacity for collective sensemaking. Sensemaking is the ability to generate an understanding of world around us so that we may decide how to respond effectively to it. When this breaks down within the individual, it creates an ineffective human at best and a dangerous one at worst. At the collective level, a loss of sensemaking erodes shared cultural and value structures and renders us incapable of generating the collective wisdom necessary to solve complex societal problems like those described above. When that happens the centre cannot hold.

The jumping-off point for this essay is a regrettable acceptance that a forthcoming energy descent combined with multiple ecological crises will force massive societal transformation this century. It’s hardly a leap to suggest that, with less abundant cheap energy and the collapse of the complex political and economic infrastructure that supports our present way of life, this transformation is likely to include the contraction and relocalisation of some (if not most) aspects our daily lives.

The problems before us are emergent phenomena with a life of their own, and the causes requiring treatment are obscure. They are what systems scientists call wicked problems: problems that harbour so many complex non-linear interdependencies that they not only seem impossible to understand and solve, but tend to resist our attempts to do so. For such wicked problems, our conventional toolkits — advocacy, activism, conscientious consumerism, and ballot casting — are grossly inadequate and their primary utility may be the self-soothing effect it has on the well-meaning souls who use them.

If we are to find a new kind of good life amid the catastrophes these myths have spawned, then we need to radically rethink the stories we tell ourselves. We need to dig deep into old stories and reveal their wisdom, as well as lovingly nurture the emergence of new stories into being.

Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, originally published by Medium, June 18, 2019

FCNL Witness Wednesday silent reflection

I’m inviting you to join the Friends Committee on National Legislation’s Witness Wednesday Silent Reflection April 6, 2022, from 4:15-5:00pm Central on Zoom.  

I will be sharing a story about our Mutual Aid work for reflection. You can read some of my more recent writings about Mutual Aid here: https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/mutual-aid/


This is the Zoom link for Witness Wednesday Silent Reflection:  fcnl.org/ww-stream  


What to expect at Silent Reflection

The space is open for conversation and fellowship beginning at 4 p.m. Central Time.
At 4:15 p.m. CT, a designated convener will gather the group. Often the convener will share a quote or question to help the group focus.
The group will settle into silence. Anyone is welcome to share a message or reflection. We ask that you leave space between messages and only share once.
A few minutes before 5:00 p.m. CT, the convener will close the gathering and invite participants to introduce themselves and share closing thoughts.

To join, visit fcnl.org/ww-stream or register here to receive the information to join by phone.
You shouldn’t need this, but just in case:

  • Meeting ID: 854 485 249
  • Passcode: SR2021

This Wednesday, April 6, I will be sharing this story from my good friend Ronnie James. Ronnie is an Indigenous organizer with twenty years of experience. I’ve been blessed to be involved in the Des Moines Mutual Aid food giveaway program he talks about in this story. Other Mutual Aid projects include court solidarity and bail fund, and food and propane support for houseless communities in Des Moines.


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. 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

A fundamental part of Mutual Aid is the entire community is involved. We avoid “us” versus “them”. This leaflet is included in the boxes of food we distribute. I know of people who once came for food who are now helping with the distribution of the food.


This photo is from the recent Des Moines Mutual Aid zine that contains excellent articles. DOWNLOAD HERE



We Don’t Leave Our Fighters Behind

Another article in the recent zine, We Gather Here Today in Disservice of the State, from Des Moines Mutual Aid (DMMA) is “Court Solidarity: How and Why, or We Don’t Leave Our Fighters Behind.”

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

Even though I’ve been engaged with DMMA for two years, I continue to learn of the many things our collective does. My experience is with the food giveaway project, and I know about the work to help the houseless. I also know about the bail fund. But not the full extent of Court Solidarity.

Des Moines Mutual Aid is the best community organizing group that I know of. Besides putting together and distributing the boxes of food on Saturday mornings, I look forward to hearing what my friends have been up to. And look for ways I can help. By offering to take photos at events, for example.

The Why

The injustices we face are commonly perpetrated and enforced by the state. Which means our demands for justice often require agitation against the state. The state criminalizes the exercise of civil liberties with laws that are themselves often unconstitutional. But this is how the state attempts to quell resistance, by arresting and incarcerating us.

The basic reasoning of why this tactic [court solidarity] has developed is that the state uses isolation as a tool for intimidation and compliance. The state relies on you feeling powerless once they have you in their grips… When we know our communities have our back, we are less likely to be coerced into decisions detrimental to ourselves and our communities and more willing to fight back.

May capitalism’s armed militias never capture you. If they do, may your people have your back like you had theirs.

A Brief History of Des Moines Mutual Aid Court Solidarity

When the uprising after the police murder of George Floyd began, Des Moines Mutual Aid understood we needed to organize a bail fund to keep our fighters out of jail and get them back to the streets. This was also during the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and jails are an extremely dangerous hotspot for virus transmission.
As expected, the state responded viciously to the protests and began making mass arrests. We put a call out to the community and they responded rapidly with donations. We set up a hotline that is monitored 24/7 to alert us to arrests and typically have bonds posted within hours. We managed to bail out every protester in Des Moines since the Summer of 2020 and continue to do so at the time of this writing at the beginning of 2022.

This reminds me of my training for community organizing as part of the Keystone Pledge of Resistance in 2013. Everyone participating was told to write the phone number to our bail support team on their skin.

But the court solidarity of DMMA goes far beyond that.

After bail was paid and the person was leaving jail, they were interviewed to see if they had any immediate needs and to obtain their contact information so the court solidarity team could monitor court filings and work on finding pro bono lawyers and mental health professionals as needed.

As the street protests cooled down and the trials began, we put out a call to build a Court Solidarity crew. We used information from the defendants and public court records to keep up to date on court scheduling and made sure we showed up to court dates. This also served as a movement building tactic. Many different orgs are represented on these days and we use this time to eat together, organize further, and strategize about upcoming cases

Arrest

Once arrested there are two things that need to be done right away.

  • Assess the immediate needs of the person arrested, and of those who depend on them.
    • “Needs such as injuries, time-dependent medications, pets, children, dependent adults, immigration status, etc.”
  • Determine their bail and get it paid quickly
    • “The longer someone is in the hands of the state the possibility of something very bad happening increases.”

Pre-trial

Once the ransom is paid, or the defendant is denied bail and must wait in a cage for trial, the next step is to find legal representation.

This is also the time to organize defense committees for the defendant or a group of defendants, with their consent. The defense committee’s roles include raising funds for legal costs and dependent care as well as popular support, as deemed appropriate. They often work hand in hand with the lawyers to make sure neither is creating roadblocks for the defendant’s goals. The defense committees should have one or more individuals that keep track of the defendant’s mental health and arrange for therapy or other means of relief.
All of these processes are traumatic to the defendant.

Remember that many protest arrests are of people knowingly risking their freedom to further ours.

Trial

Once the trial starts, fill those seats! There are few feelings of isolation like sitting in a courtroom inside a building completely filled with people that have your worst interests in mind, many of them armed. When you have a few dozen people sitting with you it can give the little extra courage needed to complete this on your terms. There is evidence to suggest that court support and character letters, which we will come back to, have a positive effect for the defendant during sentencing.
If the defendant is feeling it, have the whole crew eat together during lunch breaks, and rest somewhere together while waiting on the jury to return its verdict. This can have the effect of keeping the defendant’s morale up, as well as that of the defense committees, many of whom may be defendants themselves. The stress of state repression during times of increased resistance can, and all too frequently has, fractured relationships and solidarity.
These are important moments to nurture those relationships and maintain the strength we built together in the street

Post-trial

In the case of a guilty verdict or acceptance of a plea, continued support is needed. Character reference letters can be sent to the court prior to sentencing. And funds need to be raised. crowdfunding is commonly used.

In the worst case scenario money will be needed for commissary.

Letter writing can be very helpful, not only to those who are incarcerated, but as a way those outside the prison walls to learn of conditions in prisons. And organize ways to address conditions. I’ve written about the prison letter writing group I’ve been involved with. That is organized by one of my Mutual Aid friends as part of the work of Central Iowa Democratic Socialists of America.

Transgress the Prison Walls

This is a very broad overview of Court Solidarity. Many of the important details will differ based on the laws of your state. Looking up state code and talking to lawyers, law students, or paralegals will help you get a handle on that.
Our next installment will cover prison escapes, how to live underground, and states that refuse u.s. extradition.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at desmoinesmutualaid@protonmail.com.