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.

We Gather Here Today in Disservice of the State

This is a photo of some of my Des Moines Mutual Aid friends and accomplices, which is found in an excellent zine about Mutual Aid you can download here:

Download Zine We Gather Here Today in Disservice of the State

Today is yet another day with so much horror in the news. The war in Ukraine, rise of fascism, dismantling of civil liberties, and all kinds of environmental chaos. I say this to contrast why I work and write about Mutual Aid, instead. Mutual Aid works on the causes of injustice instead of all the symptoms.

For example, the weekly free food distribution I look forward to attending every week:

  • Distributes free food to our friends and neighbors.
  • Is an opportunity to interact with our neighbors in a positive manner. We always offer a cheerful greeting to each car of people coming for food.
  • Is a chance for us to invite others in our community to join us in this work.
  • Demonstrates the resilience of this program that was started by the Black Panther Party in 1971.
  • Is an opportunity for us to gather joyfully with each other.
  • Is a place where we network with each other. Hear about ways to support each other’s work.

It takes some time to understand what Mutual Aid really is. I can see this zine is going to be very helpful as I try to educate people about Mutual Aid. Because once you’ve experienced “real” Mutual Aid, you want all your friends and neighbors to engage in Mutual Aid projects. Both for their own sake, and as a way to meaningfully work for justice.

The first article in the zine is Mutual Aid: A Burnout Counterculture.

It’s an all-too familiar feeling for your average person trying to dismantle the capitalist state: Brought on by the combination of endless problems to solve, repetitive tasks to keep up with, monotonous wage labor, and disillusionment of having not made any progress over the past two years (among a myriad of other stress-inducing conditions), the exhaustion never seems to go away. Burnout is experienced when pushing one’s individual capacity with any type of work.

What is needed instead is an integral culture of community care in the practice of mutual aid within organizing spaces. A main feature of mutual aid is building communities that can support and sustain themselves, as opposed to relying on and being disappointed by the capitalist state, NGOs, or other nonprofits to meet basic survival needs. A bit of irony is found as people often become burnt out as a result of working on various “mutual aid” projects, which in theory, should be supporting and empowering the people who are organizing them. If organizers don’t gain anything from their efforts besides a feel-good, savior-sense of having helped someone else to survive, it’s not mutual aid. It’s merely setting oneself up to work until there’s no energy left to give.

Organizers must focus on actively avoiding burnout by caring for each other in tandem with the work they take on. There is a great need to understand that taking care of each other as human beings is “the work” and must be incorporated in “the work.”

Successful organizing leads to having more capacity. It’s Going Down, November 24, 2021 “Organization, Repression, Burnout, Action: A Discussion with Crimethinc.”

Successful organizing leads to having more capacity.

Crimethinc

Dean Spade, author of the widely circulated Verso publication, Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and The Next), defines burnout as “the combination of resentment, exhaustion, shame, and frustration that make us lose connection to pleasure and passion in the work and instead encounter difficult feelings like avoidance, compulsion, control, and anxiety.”

End of free meals for all students

It is both disgusting and ironic to learn Congress decided to leave money for free meals out of the recent spending package. Ironic because I’m getting ready to leave to join my Mutual Aid friends for our weekly free food distribution. This has continued since the Black Panthers’ free breakfast program started in Des Moines and other cities across the country, in the 1970’s.

Public schools have been serving all students free meals since the COVID-19 pandemic first disrupted K-12 education. In March 2022, Congress rejected calls to keep up the federal funding required to sustain that practice and left that money out of a US$1.5 trillion spending package that President Joe Biden signed into law on March 11, 2022. We asked food policy expert Marlene Schwartz to explain why free meals make a difference and what will happen next.

The Conversation, March 14, 2022

What are the advantages of making school meals free to everyone?

In my view, the biggest advantage to universal school meals is that more students actually eat nutritious school meals. Following the regulations that emerged from the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, the nutritional quality of school meals improved significantly, and a recent study found that schools typically provide the healthiest foods that children eat all day.

The research shows that making school meals free for everyone improves attendance and boosts diet quality. It also decreases the risk of food insecurity and the stigma associated with receiving a free meal. When no one has to pay, the growing problem of school meal debt is also eliminated.

There are important logistical benefits to universal school meals. Families don’t have to fill out any paperwork to establish their eligibility for free or reduced-price meals. And cafeteria staff can focus on serving the meals if they don’t need to track payments.

Marlene B. Schwartz

The office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., did not immediately respond to reports that he is against funding and extending school nutrition waivers.

Kate Waters, a Department of Agriculture spokeswoman, said Wednesday that the agency is “disappointed” in the lack of action by Congress, but that it will “continue to do everything we can to support leaders running these programs during this difficult time.”

Earlier this week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told The Washington Post that “the failure of Republicans to respond to this means that kids are going to have less on their plates.”

School meal programs in ‘financial peril‘ after spending bill snub, advocates say. Temporary changes that allowed schools to keep feeding children during the pandemic are set to expire unless Congress acts. By Erik Ortiz, NBC News, March 9, 2022

Once again, the government fails to take care of we the people.

Jeff Kisling

What we have is each other. We can and need to take care of each other. We may have limited power on the political stage, a stage they built, but we have the power of numbers.

Those numbers represent unlimited amounts of talents and skills each community can utilize to replace the systems that fail us.  The recent past shows us that mutual aid is not only a tool of survival, but also a tool of revolution. The more we take care of each other, the less they can fracture a community with their ways of war.

Ronnie James, Des Moines Mutual Aid

Transgress the Prison Walls

I just sat down after taking two letters to prison pen-pals to the mailbox and saw the article Abolitionist Efforts to Trangress the Prison Walls by Jaden Janak, Hood Communist, March 10, 2022. I don’t like to include too many quotes in my writing, but this article touches on many things I’ve been learning, much which is about Mutual Aid.

Through a close reading of Black Communist trans prisoner Alyssa V. Hope’s legal efforts and writings, this article unearths how a pen-pal relationship transformed into a comprehensive abolitionist community. This case study provides an example of how abolitionists are grappling with the need to support the material needs of marginalized communities while still building otherwise possible worlds separate from a failing welfare state. Mutual aid projects, like the one formed by Hope’s supporters, showcase that otherwise possible worlds are not only possible, but they are being created right now before us.

Abolitionist Efforts to Trangress the Prison Walls by Jaden Janak, Hood Communist, March 10, 2022

… it was not always this way, which proves it does not have to stay this way. 

What we have is each other. We can and need to take care of each other. We may have limited power on the political stage, a stage they built, but we have the power of numbers.

Those numbers represent unlimited amounts of talents and skills each community can utilize to replace the systems that fail us.  The recent past shows us that mutual aid is not only a tool of survival, but also a tool of revolution. The more we take care of each other, the less they can fracture a community with their ways of war

Ronnie James, The Police State and Why We Must Resist

The focus of the Transgress the Prison Walls article is on the writings of political prisoners, but much applies to prison pen-pal relationships with anyone who is incarcerated. I’ve become involved in the prison letter writing project of the Central Iowa Democratic Socialists of America. Not surprisingly, I found several of my Des Moines Mutual Aid friends are also involved.

I wrote the following based upon a sample letter.

As abolitionist organiser and theorist Mariame Kaba writes, “The work of abolition insists that we foreground the people who are behind the walls… That we transform the relationships we have with each other so that we can really create new forms of safety and justice in our communities.” (Duda/Kaba 2017) This solidarity takes many forms such as written correspondence via pen-pal pro-grams

Abolitionist Efforts to Trangress the Prison Walls by Jaden Janak, Hood Communist, March 10, 2022

More than a one-way exchange of sympathy, abolitionist solidarity operationalises mutual aid as a foundational modality for community building. Abolitionist mutual aid recognises the necessity of meeting immediate communal needs while also addressing deeper causes of violence: mechanisms of control, management, and punishment that structure everyday life (Spade 2020, 9). Historically, mutual aid communities have taken many forms including the 1969 Free Breakfast programs of the Black Panther Party in the United States and the maroon communities formed by free and escaped en-slaved people (Nelson 2011). In the 1950s and 1960s, health providers routinely refused Black patients and relegated Black people to sub-standard facilities (ibid., 24). To protest this treatment and provide for their community, the Black Panther Party of Oakland and other chapters around the nation and world opened People’s Free Medical Clinics that provided quality medical services free of charge to Black community members (ibid., 79). Mutual aid work, like that of the Black Panther Party, is not top-down charity. Rather, mutual aid projects “are an integrated part of our lives… and [they] cultivate a shared analysis of the root causes of the problem.” (Spade 2020, 28f.) Even as the welfare state continues to crumble, communities work together to meet each other’s needs while creating new relations of accountability and care in the state’s absence.

Abolitionist Efforts to Trangress the Prison Walls by Jaden Janak, Hood Communist, March 10, 2022

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, Des Moines Mutual Aid

Spirituality for a just transition

Ever since I wrote yesterday’s post, I knew something wasn’t right. Trying to think things through in public can be disconcerting. Hopefully, there is some value in showing the process. Making mistakes is how we learn and grow.

I’ve been praying and thinking about all the things I’m learning in my Mutual Aid community for a long time. I’ve been wondering what sustains my friends in this work. Sometimes difficult work. My Mutual Aid community is definitely an example of Beloved community. We feel and share the love. Never have I seen anger. This is part of what sustains us.

And the joy of being able to provide food to our community is a large part, too. I wrote that sentence carefully, to demonstrate an important part of Mutual Aid. It is NOT us helping them. We are all in this together. A friend recently told me at one time she needed food. Now she is so happy to help distribute food.

Des Moines Mutual Aid

Returning to yesterday’s post, Justice and Disaster Preparedness, I tried to simplify the main concepts I think are important for making a transition to the communities we want, need to create. I was trying to figure out where faith fit. I put it under Socialism because I’ve been learning about religious socialism. That and other problems made me decide to scrap that diagram. Following is today’s version.

Socialism, Mutual Aid, Abolition, and LANDBACK each have a role in building Beloved communities. Especially regarding disaster preparedness.

Spirituality is what will help us make the just transition to communities needed to prepare for the present and coming disasters.

Spirituality can be expressed in many ways. But there is only one Creator or God.

I love the EARTH IS MY CHURCH sign my friends Alton and Foxy Onefeather carried during our First Nation Farmer Climate Unity March.