We lost someone unnecessarily to police violence

How do you feel about the police shooting treesitter Manuel Teran (Tortuguita) in Atlanta?

I’ve been wondering why I felt so much sorrow about this. Some of the statements below have shed some light on this. My whole life I have been in resistance to capitalism and the state. I quickly learned there were such a small number of others engaged in this work, at least in this country. I felt a connection to, respect for them.

I’ve been a lifelong environmentalist. Among other things, refusing to own a car. So, I identify with the treesitters trying to protect the forest, the environment, Mother Earth.

For the past several years I’ve become involved in the abolition of police and prisons work.

I’ve just recently come across the concept of prefigurative work, which is living today in a manner consistent with the society you are working to create. All these concepts guide our Mutual Aid work (see: Points of Unity, Des Moines Mutual Aid below).

My heart is hurting over the death of Tortuguita, a forest defender I never met, for so many reasons. One is the loss of this young person, under any circumstance. Theirs was a life cut far too short. I also feel a sense of kinship in loss. I know many other activists who have worked encampments and tree-sits are also feeling this way, because there’s something special about that kind of struggle. There’s something in the prefigurative work, in the effort to rehearse the world we want, to care for each other, in the face of the elements, in the face of police, even when you’re under siege – it’s beautiful, messy work, and whether our battles are won or lost, we carry it with us, always

The Death of a Forest Defender at “Stop Cop City” by Kelly Hayes, TRUTHOUT, January 26,2023

I’m sharing this video from Unicorn Riot again, to show the excessive police presence at the Weelaunee Forest.

Those in the forest at the time of the police raid refute the police contention that Tortuguita first fired at the police. But the statement in this video, “today we lost someone unnecessarily to police violence” is true. They would not be dead if the police had not raided the forest.


So, today we lost someone unnecessarily to police violence. I believe everybody here agrees with the fact that nobody should die at the hands of the state. And in the midst of this grief and sorrow I want you to make space for that. We are organizing for a future free from oppression, free from violence.

Title: Atlanta Community Reacts to Police Killing of Forest Defender Manuel Teran
Uploader: Unicorn Riot
Uploaded: Thursday, January 19, 2023 at 4:16 PM EST via Parallel Uploader
License bync


  1. We believe in working shoulder to shoulder and standing in solidarity with all oppressed communities
    We ourselves are oppressed, and our mutual aid work is a fight for our collective liberation. We do not believe in a top-down model of charity. Instead, we contrast our efforts at horizontal mutual aid, the fostering of mutually beneficial relationships and communities, to dehumanizing and colonizing charity.
  2. We believe in community autonomy.
    We believe that the communities we live and organize in have been largely excluded from state social services, but intensely surveilled and policed by the state repressive apparatus. Capitalism is fundamentally unable to meet people’s needs. We want to build self-sustaining communities that are independent of the capitalist state, both materially and ideologically, and can resist its repression.
  3. We are police and prison abolitionists.
    Abolition and the mutual aid that we practice are inextricably linked. We don’t rely on capitalist institutions or the police to do our work. We believe in building strong and resilient communities which make police obsolete, including community systems of accountability and crisis intervention.
  4. We work to raise the political consciousness of our communities.
    Part of political education is connecting people’s lived experiences to a broader political perspective. Another component is working to ensure that people can meet their basic needs. It is difficult to organize for future liberation when someone is entrenched in day-to-day struggle.

Atlanta, Georgia – The ongoing protests against the construction of a police training center in the Weelaunee Forest in Atlanta, Georgia are a testament to the spirit of resistance that was ignited by the Black Lives Matter movement and the George Floyd Protests of 2020. For two years, brave activists and protesters have occupied the forest and taken to the streets to demand that the city reverse its decision to spend tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to further fund a police force that has historically been used to violently repress, control and limit the power of working class people and people of color in particular.

But the protesters in Atlanta are not only fighting against further wasteful spending on police and the “Cop City” training center, they are also fighting against the destruction of the region’s natural environment and the further pollution and degradation of land that will disproportionately affect the poor and working-class who live in the area. As those who oppose the massive development (which would include, among other things, several shooting ranges and a landing pad for Black Hawk helicopters!) have made clear, the forest is a vital part of the wetlands that help to contain and filter pollution and rainwater, preventing and limiting the threat of floods to the predominantly Black neighborhoods that border the forest.

IN STANDOFF OVER COP CITY, POLICE ARE THE REAL TERRORISTS by James Dennis Hoff, Left Voice, January 29, 2023


In this episode of “Movement Memos,” Atlanta organizer Micah Herskind and host Kelly Hayes discuss the death of Tortuguita, a forest defender who was gunned down by police while resisting the construction of “Cop City.” “It’s all hands on deck for the forces of the prison-industrial complex, the forces of capitalism … they are willing to use any and all tactics and tools available to them, whether that’s literal murder, whether that’s trying to deter the broader movement by slapping people with domestic terrorism charges. As environmental catastrophe is upon us, I think the forces of capital are organizing themselves,” says Herskind.

Kelly Hayes: Welcome to “Movement Memos,” a Truthout podcast about organizing, solidarity and the work of making change. I’m your host, writer and organizer Kelly Hayes. Today, we are talking about the struggle to Stop Cop City in Atlanta and DeKalb County, Georgia, and the death of forest defender Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, who was gunned down by police on the morning of January 18. The Guardian has called the deadly shooting “unprecedented” in the history of U.S. environmental protest. While the killing of protesters, including environmentalists, is not unprecedented by any means in this country, law enforcement entering a forest occupation and killing a protester does mark an escalation of state violence for this era. Co-strugglers have described Terán as “a trained medic, a loving partner, a dear friend, a brave soul, and so much more.”

A lot of people may shy away from solidarity with the forest defenders, because the police are claiming that Tortuguita fired first. But we have plenty of reasons to be skeptical of the police narrative, and we cannot abandon this struggle, as the violent and legal repression of protesters has implications for all of our fights against state violence and environmental destruction.

My heart is hurting over the death of Tortuguita, a forest defender I never met, for so many reasons. One is the loss of this young person, under any circumstance. Theirs was a life cut far too short. I also feel a sense of kinship in loss. I know many other activists who have worked encampments and tree-sits are also feeling this way, because there’s something special about that kind of struggle. There’s something in the prefigurative work, in the effort to rehearse the world we want, to care for each other, in the face of the elements, in the face of police, even when you’re under siege – it’s beautiful, messy work, and whether our battles are won or lost, we carry it with us, always. Ruth Wilson Gilmore tells us that “where life is precious, life is precious.” In every encampment and forest defense scenario I’ve been a part of, people were trying to cultivate a place where life was precious and where people were precious to one another. In those spaces, I have seen things that made me believe we could remake the world. When I think about all of that power and potential, the thought of a young person, who was out there for the love of the trees, being struck down — it just rips right through me.

The Death of a Forest Defender at “Stop Cop City” by Kelly Hayes, TRUTHOUT, January 26,2023


In Tortuguita’s own words, 

“The right kind of resistance is peaceful because that’s where we win. We’re not going to beat them at violence. They’re very, very good at violence. We’re not. We win through nonviolence. That’s really the only way we can win. We don’t want more people to die. We don’t want Atlanta to turn into a war zone.”

and

“The abolitionist mission isn’t done until every prison is empty,” Teran told me. “When there are no more cops, when the land has been given back, that’s when it’s over.” I must’ve shaken my head a little at the grandiosity of this statement because Teran immediately broke into a sheepish smile. “I don’t expect to live to see that day, necessarily. I mean, hope so. But I smoke.” 


On Wednesday, January 18, Georgia State Patrol murdered Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran, who was camping in a public park to defend the Weelaunee Forest and stop the construction of Cop City. Over the weekend, six protesters were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism. In solidarity with the protesters, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) calls for an end to the construction of Cop City and the ongoing police brutality against demonstrators.

NLG National joins our Atlanta and University of Georgia Chapters and comrades in mourning the devastating loss of a beloved community member. Tortuguita was a kind, passionate, and caring activist, who coordinated mutual aid and served as a trained medic. The Atlanta Community Press Collective is compiling memories and accounts of their life, and we encourage everyone to honor and remember Tortuguita through the words of those who love them.

As radical movement legal activists, NLG recognizes that this horrific murder and the related arrests are part of a nationwide attack on protesters, land defenders, and marginalized folks, especially Black, Indigenous, and other activists of color. Labeling these demonstrators “domestic terrorists” is a harrowing repetition of No DAPL activist Jessica Reznicek’s terrorist enhancement last year, and both are clear indicators that the people in power view protesters and environmental activists as enemies of the state.

Though Atlanta city officials continue to insist that Cop City will keep the community “safe,” the destruction of the Weelaunee Forest will undoubtedly exacerbate the climate crisis and expand the policing of Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color in Atlanta. The ongoing arrests and brutalization of demonstrators opposing the deforestation of stolen Muscogee land proves that policing is the true threat to our collective safety.

We reject the various attempts by the Georgia State Patrol and Atlanta officials to disregard these community members as “outside agitators.” This kind of language attempts to discredit the very important, justice-oriented goals of the community members defending the Forest.

Our comrades defending the Weelaunee Forest are advocating for racial, environmental, and economic justice. In solidarity with their efforts, NLG encourages everyone to support the movement in whatever way is most accessible to them. Please see below for information directly from the organizers about the best ways to support their efforts:

  • Donate to the Atlanta Solidarity Fund to support legal costs for arrested protestors and ongoing legal action.
  • Call on investors in the project to divest from Cop City (list of APF investors). Call on builders of the project to drop their construction contracts.
  • Organize political solidarity bail funds, forest defense funds, and forest defense committees where you live.
  • Participate in or organize local solidarity actions.
  • Endorse and circulate this statement of solidarity.

NLG STATEMENT IN SOLIDARITY WITH ATLANTA FOREST DEFENDERS, January 28, 2023


PRESS RELEASE: Emory doctors condemn police violence against Cop City protests

Monday, January 23, 2023
Defend the Atlanta Forest has received the following submitted statement:

As health care workers, we strongly condemn the repeated escalation of police violence in their interactions with members of the public protesting the construction of Cop City. On various instances, in both the streets of Atlanta as well as in the Weelaunee Forest/Intrenchment Creek Park which is under threat of destruction, police have used violence including reports of toxic chemical irritants such as tear gas, rubber bullets and now live ammunition which most recently resulted in the police killing of one of the forest defenders, Manuel ‘Tortuguita’ Teran. A year after police in the U.S. killed more people than any prior year since records started to be tracked in 2013, we recognize violence perpetrated by police to be harmful to public health. We are also concerned by the detentions and the charges of domestic terrorism levied at individuals arrested while protesting the destruction of the forest. This fits within the context of a disturbing pattern and threat to public health whereby the USA has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world; perpetuated by a judicial and legislative system that targets Black and Indigenous peoples, migrants, those living in poverty, those who are unhoused, as well as environmental and social activists.

The construction of Cop City will not solve a government’s failures to listen to the wishes of members of the community, its failure to stop the widening gap between rich and poor, the lack of affordable housing, the negative effects of gentrification and racism, or the poor and unequal access to nutritious food, healthcare and mental health services. As physicians, we recognize that these failures have negative consequences on the public’s mental and physical health. Instead of strengthening community health, Cop City will be a dangerous attempt to invest in harmful and violent solutions, strengthening the corporate and political powers that seek profit over the well-being of the people, while simultaneously eroding and transforming natural and public spaces into privately owned property. The public health evidence for developing healthy and thriving communities strongly opposes the expansion of policing and its subsequent violence. All Atlanta communities deserve more life affirming investments, not those that value private property over human life.

Signed,
Michel Khoury, MD, Co-director of Georgia Human Rights Clinic
Amy Zeidan, MD, Co-director of Georgia Human Rights Clinic
Mark Spencer, MD, Co-Leader, Internal Medicine Advocacy Group
Suhaib Abaza, MD, Co-founder, Campaign Against Racism ATL chapter
Social Medicine Consortium



Confluence

Doesn’t it seem that we are in a time when many swollen tributaries are coming together, causing massive flooding?

Not only literally from environmental chaos.

While I’ve been devasted by the killing of land defender Manuel Teran Tortuguita in Atlanta, there is the emerging story of yet another police murder, that of Tyre Nichols in Tennessee. This against a background of mass shootings occurring nearly daily. Sometimes more than one a day. School children drilled on what to do in response to an active shooter.

The violence of the militarization of policing. When Congress cannot pass laws related to gun safety and reforms of policing. The violence of the attack on the US Capital. The authoritarian practices and legislation passed there. The example this provides to other countries around the globe. The extreme gerrymandering and voter suppression.

Against a background of the violence of poverty, hunger, and houselessness. The epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous relatives. The ongoing discovery of the remains of thousands of native children on the grounds of the institutions of forced assimilation. Children continuing to be removed from their homes. Continued violence against women, including criminalizing abortion.

The continued colonization and broken treaties.

The violence of US military around the world. The escalating proxy war against Russia in the Ukraine.

The violence against Mother Earth. Monocropping, CAFOs, fertilizers, pipeline construction and leaks. The violence against the water.

The violence of substance abuse and deaths. And suicides.

The violence of banning books. Violent suppression of free speech. Eradicating study of the multicultural peoples that many of the students are members of. Forced assimilation continues.

The violence of the southern border, against those seeking asylum, and against those in the country who are immigrants.

This violence and oppression fueled by systems of capitalism, institutional racism, white supremacy, and dominance.

It’s both enraging and exhausting to hear people who are supposed to be leaders lament these tragedies and offer the same tired ideas that have never worked before. Why would they work now?


Mutual Aid

Trying to make incremental changes to the system will never work because the system is the problem.

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

Mutual Aid is “where we go from here.”

This morning Ronnie and I were in Des Moines as usual, distributing donated food.
(See: https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/mutual-aid/)

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


Do you trust the police?

There continue to be conflicting versions about the first killing of an environmental activist in this country, Manuel Teran “Tortuguita”. I am also an environmental activist.

So many times, the initial versions of police killings from the police have proven to be false. In this case the police say Tortuguita fired at them. Do you trust the police version? There is supposed to be body cam video, but that hasn’t been released. We are waiting for more details, but the truth may never be known

I know people have different ideas and/or experiences related to policing in this country. My attitude has changed dramatically over the past decade because of being involved in Black, Indigenous, and other people of color’s communities.


We as White Quakers like to think of ourselves as ahead or better than dominant culture, but we have been complicit in a system and mindset that are ubiquitous. Claiming the full truth of our history and committing to repair the harms done are deeply spiritual acts of healing our own wounds of disconnection. I would argue it is the pathway upon which we can, perhaps for the first time, discover and invigorate our faith with its full promise.

What would it mean for us to take seriously and collectively as a Religious Society a call to finish the work of abolition, hand in hand and side by side with those affected and their loved ones? What would it mean for us to stand fully with the calls to abolish the police and fully fund community needs instead? What would it mean to reckon with our past complicity with harm and fully dedicate ourselves to the creation of a liberating Quaker faith that commits to build the revolutionary and healing faith we long to see come to fruition? What would it look like to finally and fully abolish slavery?

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

Lucy’s article includes this correction, that so many White people do unintentionally:
Correction: The author and FJ editors realize that an earlier version of this article inadvertently erased BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) Quakers in describing Quakers as though we were/are all White. Certainly there have been Black Friends and Friends of Color in our body from our earliest history. We apologize for this error. This online article has been updated accordingly. We have also clarified the relationship of George Fox with Margaret and Thomas Rous.


I have learned much more about community safety from my experiences with my Mutual Aid community. Mutual Aid is about rejecting hierarchies. Policing is about enforcing, often violently, hierarchies, systems of dominance.

I would like to see more people join our efforts to abolish police and prisons.


I’ve been participating in the Quaker for Abolition Network, initiated by Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge and Jed Walsh. The following is from an article they wrote for Western Friend.

Mackenzie: Let’s start with: What does being a police and prison abolitionist mean to you?
Jed: The way I think about abolition is first, rejecting the idea that anyone belongs in prison and that police make us safe. The second, and larger, part of abolition is the process of figuring out how to build a society that doesn’t require police or prisons.
Mackenzie: Yes! The next layer of complexity, in my opinion, is looking at systems of control and oppression. Who ends up in jail and prison? Under what circumstances do the police use violence?
As you start exploring these questions, it becomes painfully clear that police and prisons exist to maintain the white supremacist, heteronormative, capitalist status quo.

Abolish the Police by Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge and Jed Walsh, Western Friend, November December 2020

I contributed to another article in Western Friend.

In late 2020, the two of us wrote an article for this magazine, called “Abolish the Police.” Through writing the piece, we realized we wanted to convene a larger space where Friends with an interest in police and prison abolition could have conversations with one another. Quaker abolitionists today face major pushback from our Meetings; we hoped that drawing Friends together would support and strengthen our work.
In this context, the Quakers for Abolition Network is being born. We are a collection of Friends from at least five Yearly Meetings; we range in age from high school to our 80s; we are disproportionately queer and trans. While AFSC and FCNL staff are participating, this is a grassroots project without any formal connections to existing organizations. We are in the process of defining our mission statement, structure, and our methods for addressing white supremacy when it shows up in our work, while building relationships with each other as we go. Below, four Friends write about their approaches to abolition, their lessons, and their visions for where Quakers might be headed.

Jeff Kisling: Mutual Aid and Abolition
I grew up in rural Iowa, where there was very little racial diversity and interactions with police and the court system were rare. About ten years ago, I was blessed to become involved with the Kheprw Institute, a Black youth mentoring and empowerment community. I’ll never forget how shocked I was when a Black mother broke down in tears, explaining how terrified she was every minute her children were away from home. It was obvious that every other person of color in the discussion knew exactly what she was saying.
After retiring, I was led to connect with Des Moines Mutual Aid, a multiracial organization founded to support houseless people. For over a year, I’ve helped my friends fill and distribute boxes of donated food, while continuing to learn about the framework of mutual aid.
To me, mutual aid is about taking back control of our communities. Besides the food giveaway, we support houseless people and maintain a bail fund to support those arrested agitating for change. We also work for the abolition of police and prisons.

Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge and Jed Walsh: Introducing the Quakers for Abolition Network, Western Friend, Sept 2021


Points of Unity. Des Moines Mutual Aid

  • We believe in working shoulder to shoulder and standing in solidarity with all oppressed communities
    We ourselves are oppressed, and our mutual aid work is a fight for our collective liberation. We do not believe in a top-down model of charity. Instead, we contrast our efforts at horizontal mutual aid, the fostering of mutually beneficial relationships and communities, to dehumanizing and colonizing charity.
  • We believe in community autonomy.
    We believe that the communities we live and organize in have been largely excluded from state social services, but intensely surveilled and policed by the state repressive apparatus. Capitalism is fundamentally unable to meet people’s needs. We want to build self-sustaining communities that are independent of the capitalist state, both materially and ideologically, and can resist its repression.
  • We are police and prison abolitionists.
    Abolition and the mutual aid that we practice are inextricably linked. We don’t rely on capitalist institutions or the police to do our work. We believe in building strong and resilient communities which make police obsolete, including community systems of accountability and crisis intervention.
  • We work to raise the political consciousness of our communities.
    Part of political education is connecting people’s lived experiences to a broader political perspective. Another component is working to ensure that people can meet their basic needs. It is difficult to organize for future liberation when someone is entrenched in day-to-day struggle.
  • We have open disagreements with each other about ideas and practices.
    We believe there is no formula for resolving our ideological differences other than working towards our common aims, engaging each other in a comradely manner, and respecting one another, whether or not we can hash out disagreements in the process.

Martin Luther King and Capitalism

Whenever I try to talk about the necessity of rejecting capitalism, people don’t seem to even comprehend what that means. Why it must happen. When I asked Ronnie, my Mutual Aid mentor about this, he said he’s been having that experience for the twenty years he’s been an activist. He said that was because people hadn’t experienced the collapse of capitalism in their lives, yet. I believe he’s right. Unfortunately, that is changing as the capitalist economy is collapsing. Yet another reason to form more Mutual Aid communities.

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

I too have become fully convinced of the evils of capitalism. Moreover, I have come to the conclusion that my faith dictates that I work to replace it.

Fran Quigley, Director of the Health and Human Rights Clinic at Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work was as much about economics and poverty, as it was about racial equality.


“I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic,” Martin Luther King admitted to Coretta Scott, concluding that “capitalism has outlived its usefulness.”

Speaking at a staff retreat of the SCLC in 1966, King said that “something is wrong … with capitalism” and “there must be a better distribution of wealth” in the country. “Maybe,” he suggested, “America must move toward a democratic socialism.”

For King, the only solution to America’s crisis of poverty was the redistribution of wealth. In a 1961 speech to the Negro American Labor Council, King declared, “Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God’s children.”

The Forgotten Socialist History of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Matthew Miles Goodrich, In These Times, January 16, 2023


Again, we have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that Capitalism grew and prospered out of the protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifice, the fact is that Capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor both black and white, both here and abroad. If Negroes and poor whites do not participate in the free flow of wealth within our economy, they will forever be poor, giving their energies, their talents and their limited funds to the consumer market but reaping few benefits and services in return.”

I wish that I could say that this is just a passing phase in the cycles of our nation’s life; certainly, times of war, times of reaction throughout the society but I suspect that we are now experiencing the coming to the surface of a triple prong sickness that has been lurking within our body politic from its very beginning. That is the sickness of racism, excessive materialism and militarism

The Three Evils of Society – Delivered at the National Conference on New Politics August 31, 1967, Chicago, Ill

“And one day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America? And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth.’ When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society…”

Excerpts from King’s speech “Where Do We Go From Here?” delivered at the 11th Annual SCLC Convention, Atlanta, Georgia, August 16, 1967

The title for this blog, Quakers and Religious Socialism, came from exchanges of messages with my friend Fran Quigley. The following was in response to my blog post, The Evil of Capitalism.  

This post of yours struck me close to home. I too have become fully convinced of the evils of capitalism. Moreover, I have come to the conclusion that my faith dictates that I work to replace it. Turns out I am far from alone, so I’ve been devoting much of my time this past year to the Religion and Socialism Committee of the DSA, www.religioussocialism.org .

And, as part of a book project on religious socialism, I have published several articles profiling activists from different faith and spiritual traditions who feel called to advocate for a socialist society.  (Examples, if you are interested: a Catholic socialist, a Jewish rabbi socialist, a Black Presbyterian minister socialist, a Liberation Theologian Lutheran minister/professor,  Muslim socialists , a Buddhist socialist and a Black Baptist minister socialist.  I also co-wrote with longtime Religion and Socialism activist Maxine Phillips a short, one-stop primer on the argument for Christian socialism: https://mphbooks.com/democratic-socialists/ )

I do not know of a definitive guide to Quaker socialism, but I know Bayard Rustin, Staughton Lynd, and AJ Muste (late-in-life switch to being a Friend) at various times identified as socialists, and there is a robust UK Quaker Socialist Society: https://quakersocialists.org.uk/  Willard Uphaus was a Christian socialist and pacifist Earlham alum, but it’s not clear to me if he was a Quaker: https://www.americanswhotellthetruth.org/portraits/willard-uphaus

Fran Quigley, director of the Health and Human Rights Clinic at Indiana University McKinney School of Law and a religioussocialism.org editorial team member


Des Moines Black Lives Matter/ Black Liberation
https://www.facebook.com/desmoinesblm

Early in our lifetimes, industry provided nearly full employment. Nearly every household had someone who was working, and bringing home a paycheck. All commerce was based on capitalism. Money was required for every transaction. Money was the only way to obtain goods and services.

Then with increasing automation, and moving jobs overseas for cheap labor, the unemployment rate began to increase. Soon millions of people no longer had the income needed to pay for goods and services. The numbers of those without jobs has increased dramatically from the economic impact of the COVID pandemic. Those without jobs have to rely on social safety nets, which often means people are living in poverty, at subsistent levels.

As a society we failed to address the loss of wages for millions of people who no longer had money, in a system that required money for everything–food, shelter, healthcare, etc.

It is clear to me that capitalism is an unjust, untenable system, when there is plenty of food in the grocery stores, but men, women and children are going hungry, living on the streets outside the store. There is no justification for this.

Conscientiously Object to Capitalism, Jeff Kisling, 12/4/2020


Transformative Mutual Aid Practices Part 2

This is a continuation of yesterday’s blog post, Transformative Mutual Aid Practices. I’m truly blessed to have almost three years of experience in my Mutual Aid community. It’s because of the support I’ve received from this community that I can relate to these ideas of transformative mutual aid.

[A note to people of faith. From what I’ve seen about T-MAPS so far, I don’t think faith is talked about specifically. Rather, you can include that in the parts of T-MAPS related to what gives you support. And I think T-MAPS can be helpful for faith groups, such as Quaker meetings, as another way of communal care.]


Capitalist society teaches us not to care for each other. Approaching the creation of a nurturing culture as the fundamental revolutionary praxis of your group and as a dialectical process that is ongoing will transform your org in uncommon ways, draw a diversity of individuals to join your group, and ultimately empower it to transform the world you live in and the world around you.

A Call for Prefigurative Mental Health Support and Communal Care Within Radical Groups and Organizations
Ronnie James, Des Moines Mutual Aid

A Call for Prefigurative Mental Health Support and Communal Care Within Radical Groups and Organizations is an excellent resource about prefigurative mental health support and communal care. And background for the following discussion about Transformative Mutual Aid Practices (T-MAPS).


T-MAPs

Transformative Mutual Aid Practices (T-MAPs) are a set of tools that provide space for building a personal “map” of wellness strategies, resilience practices, unique stories, and community resources. Creating a T-MAP will inspire you to connect your struggle to collective struggles. When we make and share our T-MAPs with others they become potent tools for healing and liberation.

The acronym T-MAPs stands for Transformative Mutual Aid Practices

Transformation
We understand that we’re always in a process of transformation and growth; we’re not just in a process of ‘recovery’ or going back to some state of health (that we may have never known). As our lives change, it’s helpful to leave tracks for ourselves about where we’ve been and where we want to be going. T-MAPs help facilitate this process.

Mutual Aid
We also understand that just working on our own “self-care” isn’t enough; we also need mutu aid. Most simply, mutual aid is when people help each other. Historically, mutual aid has been a way that people have self-organized to create interdependent networks of support. People might help each other with things as basic as growing food and building barns or as abstract as education and mental health support.


Practice
When we think about how personal and community change happens, it’s pretty clear to us that the only way to grow and evolve is to intentionally practice what we want to see happen in our lives. Practice might be as simple as not getting on our smart phone as soon as we wake up in the morning, or as intentional and deliberate as a daily sitting meditation practice. Practice that happens ith groups of people has the potential to change the world.

T-MAPS. Transformative Mutual Aid Practices


Your T-MAP is a guide for navigating challenging times, figuring out what you care about, and communicating with the important people in your life. We’ve developed different ways to create this document; these tools can help you generate your T-MAP through an online questionnaire or through a downloadable pdf workbook that you can print and fill out. You can complete a personalized booklet (or “T-MAP”) by yourself or with a group.


The mental health of all members (of your group) should be supported in an ongoing way. Go around the circle so that comrades can indicate to the group if:

▪ they would like others to reach out to them for a period of time or in an ongoing way, and how
▪ they would be willing to reach out to others who ask for that support
▪ they are currently unable to provide support to others
▪ they would like people to hang out with when they are not feeling well
▪ they are available to hang out with others to decrease their isolation during difficult times
▪ etc

A Call for Prefigurative Mental Health Support and Communal Care Within Radical Groups and Organizations

Now I’m off to Des Moines for our Mutual Aid’s weekly food giveaway project.

 

Creative Commons License

 T-MAPs is licensed by Jacks McNamara and Sascha DuBrul under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Transformative Mutual Aid Practices

This was a morning when I didn’t seem to be led to write anything. Then, as I was searching using the keywords prefigurative and mutual aid I found references to Transformative Mutual Aid Practices.

I’ve just recently become aware of traumas I hadn’t known I was suffering from. My Des Moines Mutual Aid community practices many of the things listed below. This awareness of healing comes from experiencing our care for each other, including those who come for the food.

I’ve heard Indigenous friends speak of the intergeneration traumas in their communities.

My Quaker meeting has recently discussed healing.

So, I was interested to see this zine, A Call for Prefigurative Mental Health Support and Communal Care Within Radical Groups and Organizations. Creative Commons licensing allows sharing material from this zine.

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This zine has a lengthy list of things related to mental health and communal care. Here are a few.

  • Many of us experienced childhood and adolescent traumas and continue to experience traumas based on our individual intersectionalities
  • We understand the mechanics of the harms and traumas inflicted by the prevailing social order’s oppressive and exploitative systems
  • We must recondition ourselves towards caring for each other; communal care is ongoing radical action
  • Alone we are vulnerable, but together we are strong; therefore, genuine community is paramount
  • We acknowledge that the architecture of capitalist society is colonizing white supremacy culture; it is an architecture of domination, abuse and exclusion
  • We focus intensely on the concept and practice of mutual aid
  • We endeavor to decolonize our thinking, group interactions, and architecture of group processes
  • We center acting in solidarity across groups in ways that build unity through diversity
  • We emphasize prefiguration within our organizations as necessary to counteract the abuses of prevailing society and manifest community and liberatory ways of being and living
  • When we do not prefigure communal care into our group structures and routines, we unconsciously recreate the alienation, racism, homophobia and transphobia, hierarchical ableisms, and neuro-homogeneities of capitalist society, along with their negative effects
  • If we don’t practice solidarity with our own comrades, we cannot expect to practice solidarity with others
  • Knowing what we know about how prevailing society operates to oppress, exploit, and traumatize vulnerable people, a group or org that does not actively engage and support the mental and emotional wellbeing of its members is not revolutionary
  • Many folx who show up to our groups do not stay because they sense the group is non-supportive or unsafe for their being

A Call for Prefigurative Mental Health Support and Communal Care Within Radical Groups and Organizations


What can prefigurative community care that supports the mental health and wellbeing of all members look like?

1. Create space for an in-depth group discussion focused on the concept of your collective as an organism with a life of its own. Talk about your group as an organism that can flourish with everyone’s nurturance or get sick and die from everyone’s lack of care. The objective is to create group consciousness and ownership, and to arrive at and agree to incorporating new features that will consistently support the mental and emotional health of members.

    2. In addition to your regular monthly meeting, commit to a regular monthly restorative gathering for wellbeing. This is for members only. It could potentially serve as a welcoming way for prospective members to dip their toe in, as opposed to their first engagement being a meeting or an action. In organizing circles, more often than not the more powerful, demonstrative, or vocal members guide their groups, narrowing opportunities for other modes of expression, communication, and consciousness to emerge. Monthly nurturance counterbalances that tendency. The focus here is on creating a predictable format for restorative connection, communal care, and wellbeing among comrades.

    Based on years of creating group cohesion and deep trust among vulnerable students from disparate backgrounds, the author recommends a specific format: a regular relaxed gathering where individuals enjoy solo projects alongside each other (when two or more people work on one project, it tends to disrupt the group dynamic). Each member brings a relatively quiet activity that they will work on, such as creative writing, drawing, crafting, reading, planning or visioning, designing, etc. At the start, folx will want to greet each other and it’s interesting to get to know each other through hearing what everyone else is going to work on. Once y’all get started, talking will become secondary to the texture or feel of the group-as-relaxed, meaning that talk should not be allowed to take over the ability of everyone to generally stay focused on their activity. This container fosters individual and collective nervous system soothing, group nurturance, authentic group communication, divergent group thinking, and organic group relations. Relaxing, restoring, and recreating together is very powerful medicine.

    Many of us only experience each other in supercharged situations like intense meetings, protests, street outreach, and community work. Our groups attempt to balance those experiences out by having social gatherings such as potlucks, bar karaoke, and game nights, which have their own place. However, social containers do not foster egalitarian ommunity-building or the types of experiences required to build the trust comrades need in order to open up and be vulnerable with each other. In addition, social gatherings often reenact the ableisms and other -isms present in dominant society. This monthly gathering allows members to relax and encourages other parts of their beings to emerge within the safety of the calm group in ways that round out both the individual and the group experience. It fosters care of the self via meaningful recreation; it cultivates group consciousness and group heart via the commitment to be more patient, open, and authentic with each other; it provides an antidote to alienation and isolation, restoring the communal bonds that dominant capitalist society strips away.

    A Call for Prefigurative Mental Health Support and Communal Care Within Radical Groups and Organizations

    Hope

    With so much pain, strife, isolation, and fear of greater troubles to come, many are bewildered, scared, and don’t believe things will get better. Hope for improvement fades, especially when the tools that had occasionally worked for change, such as political lobbying, have been completely corrupted.

    Hope for financial stability is threatened by rapidly increasing prices of nearly everything in conjunction with flat income and increasing unemployment. Millions are being pushed closer to, into poverty. Many people feel their self-worth is tied to their financial worth.

    And the greatest threats, the multiple aspects of rapidly escalating environmental chaos, are almost impossible to ignore, though many still try. Once that begins to be accepted, there is the realization that there is no way to change the weather. Hopeless.

    Faith was once the primary source of hope for many. For years, the trend of turning away from organized religion has continued. Of course, organized religion is just one way to express faith.

    The accelerating trend towards a more secular America represents a fundamental change in the national character, one that will have major ramifications for politics and even social cohesion.

    U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time by Jeffrey M Jones, Gallup, March 29, 2021

    Hopelessness is toxic. Diminishing the sense of self-worth. Affecting personal mental health and relationships. Encouraging search for a savior which means embracing authoritarian politics. Mistrust of, violence against “others” who are portrayed as the reason for our hopelessness.

    The approach of a new year often stimulates reflections on the past year. Some consider resolutions to make positive changes for the new year. But in the face of all these challenges, what is there to hope for?

    Mutual Aid

    My past three years of experience with Des Moines Mutual Aid has not only given me hope but also helped me begin to heal from traumas I hadn’t known I was suffering from. https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/mutual-aid/

    Because living with hopelessness is traumatic. Witnessing the hardships of so many people because of capitalism is traumatic. Seeing and feeling the damage to Mother Earth is traumatic.

    These Points of Unity eloquently express what Mutual Aid is about. Basically, it is the system of capitalism that has trapped so many people in hopelessness. Has destroyed their sense of self-worth. Has created a system to give power to those at the top of the hierarchy, the rich. And in the process has deeply damaged Mother Earth by recklessly extracting resources with the sole intent of increasing wealth of the rich.

    Points of Unity. Des Moines Mutual Aid

    • We believe in working shoulder to shoulder and standing in solidarity with all oppressed communities
      We ourselves are oppressed, and our mutual aid work is a fight for our collective liberation. We do not believe in a top-down model of charity. Instead, we contrast our efforts at horizontal mutual aid, the fostering of mutually beneficial relationships and communities, to dehumanizing and colonizing charity.
    • We believe in community autonomy.
      We believe that the communities we live and organize in have been largely excluded from state social services, but intensely surveilled and policed by the state repressive apparatus. Capitalism is fundamentally unable to meet people’s needs. We want to build self-sustaining communities that are independent of the capitalist state, both materially and ideologically, and can resist its repression.
    • We are police and prison abolitionists.
      Abolition and the mutual aid that we practice are inextricably linked. We don’t rely on capitalist institutions or the police to do our work. We believe in building strong and resilient communities which make police obsolete, including community systems of accountability and crisis intervention.
    • We work to raise the political consciousness of our communities.
      Part of political education is connecting people’s lived experiences to a broader political perspective. Another component is working to ensure that people can meet their basic needs. It is difficult to organize for future liberation when someone is entrenched in day-to-day struggle.
    • We have open disagreements with each other about ideas and practices.
      We believe there is no formula for resolving our ideological differences other than working towards our common aims, engaging each other in a comradely manner, and respecting one another, whether or not we can hash out disagreements in the process.

    The principle of raising political consciousness is the purpose of this blog post about hope. When we show people their situation is the result of the capitalist system they are in, they can then begin to have hope as they build caring communities outside the capitalist model.

    The website for Iowa Mutual Aid Network shows the expanding number of mutual aid communities in the state, and the variety of work they are doing.


    https://iowamutualaid.org/

    My hope is that many more people will become engaged with Mutual Aid communities so we can pull people out of the traumas from capitalism. I hope you will consider becoming involved in Mutual Aid to begin your own healing. I hope you make mistakes.


    I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.

    Neil Gaiman

    I often sign my emails “practicing hope” because I practice this mental discipline.

    People often mistake hope for a feeling, but it’s not. It’s a mental discipline, an attentional practice that you can learn. Like any such discipline, it’s work that takes time, which you fail at, succeed, improve, fail at again, and build over years inside yourself.

    Hope isn’t just looking at the positive things in this world, or expecting the best. That’s a fragile kind of cheerfulness, something that breaks under the weight of a normal human life. To practice hope is to face hard truths, harder truths than you can face without the practice of hope. You can’t navigate dark places without a light, and hope is that light for humanity’s dark places. Hope lets you study environmental destruction, war, genocide, exploitative relations between peoples. It lets you look into the darkest parts of human history, and even the callous entropy of a universe hell bent on heat death no matter what we do. When you are disciplined in hope, you can face these things because you have learned to put them in context, you have learned to swallow joy and grief together, and wait for peace.

    IT IS BITTER TEA THAT INVOLVES YOU SO: A SERMON ON HOPE by Quinn Norton, April 30, 2018

    Buffalo Rebellion Community Call: Great Plains Action Society and Mutual Aid

    Recently I wrote about our Buffalo Rebellion Community Call. That post focused on all the things Jaylen Cavil told us about the work of the Des Moines Black Liberation Collective. https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/2022/12/14/buffalo-rebellion-community-call-des-moines-black-liberation/

    Also, during that call, my friend Sikowis spoke of some of the extensive work of the Great Plains Action Society (GPAS).

    She recently wrote Great Plains Action Society’s Theory of Change.

    Great Plains Action Society addresses the trauma Indigenous Peoples and our Earth have faced and works to prevent further colonial-capitalist violence through education, direct action, cultural revival, mutual aid, and political change. We believe that Indigenous ideologies and practices are the antitheses of colonial capitalism, and we deploy these tools to fight and build on our vision–tools that are deeply embedded in a culture of resistance. 

    It began with the need to protect our homes and way of life from settler invaders, colonial militias, and imperialist governments. There is over a 500-year history of Indigenous resistance to the violent nature of colonial-capitalist genocidal and extractive practices. As stewards of the land, our ancestors saw right away that settler invaders, who were directly harming us, were also harming the environment and throwing the ecosystem off balance. The resistance is ongoing as long as genocide and colonization are perpetuated by the nation-state and its settler citizens. To be in a constant state of resistance is traumatic, hence why we suffer from intergenerational and historical trauma. Yet, it is necessary to protect our land, our people, and our ways from colonial-capitalist forces.

    Great Plains Action Society’s Theory of Change written by Sikowis Nobiss


    Colonial capitalism

    I’ve been learning a lot about colonial capitalism from my friends at GPAS.

    • I have had almost no success in getting my White friends to understand that capitalism is one of the root causes of injustice in this country today. Most of them are so invested in capitalism they cannot, or don’t want, to imagine and work toward alternatives.
    • The initial colonization in this country’s past occurred five hundred years ago. Making it easy for colonial settler citizens today to ignore that history and believe it is their privilege to continue to occupy these lands they have settled on.
    • Now when I look at photos of my ancestors, I view them as settlers. And know I am a settler, too.
    • I am learning that Indigenous ideologies and practices are the antithesis of colonial capitalism.
    • Mutual Aid is a central concept of Indigenous ideologies as Sikowis further explains in the Theory of Change (see below)

    Climate parade, Des Moines, photo: Jeff Kisling

    This is a diagram I’ve been working on to visualize the relationships among these concepts. Including colonial capitalism, Black Liberation, Mutual Aid and the Buffalo Rebellion. (See: https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/)


    Mutual Aid

    As I wrote earlier, Jaylen Cavil of Des Moines Black Liberation Collective, spoke about the collaboration of Des Moines BLM with Des Moines Mutual Aid. He said Mutual Aid is the alternative to the capitalist system that drains all the resources that should be invested in our people and communities.

    This part of the Des Moines Black Liberation Collective website shows some of these relationships. https://www.desmoinesblm.org/mutualaid

    https://www.desmoinesblm.org/mutualaid

    Sikowis writes about Mutual Aid in Great Plains Action Society’s Theory of Change.

    When we imagine a strong political infrastructure, societies built on compassion, and a regenerative economy, we see a focus on relationships and community. Contrary to this county’s notion of independent thought and action, we recognize the importance of relationships and community as the foundation for true democracy. Indigenous traditional societies and cultures are collectivist in nature and we find this to be a critical way of being as we face down the climate emergency and increased societal polarization caused by the adversarial structures of our current governing systems. Radical individualism only benefits the wealthy.

    Unfortunately, we have a long struggle ahead of us–but we are up for the challenge. We have no choice. And so, we organize from the bottom up through grassroots and frontline efforts and we are informed by the communities that we serve and are a part of. This work has made it very clear that mutual aid is necessary for achieving our decolonized vision as radical love helps heal and activate more folks on the ground to get culturally, civically, and politically engaged. By empowering BIPOC, 2SLGBTQIA+, and Disabled folks to get involved in change-making, we are building faith in disenfranchised communities that currently lack trust in governmental institutions. Only through mutual aid and community-based organizing will we be able to increase genuine interest in social and climate justice matters, which affect everyday people. We also aim to get out the vote and increase political engagement as most of the big change we seek always comes down to legislation–even at the frontlines. 

    Great Plains Action Society’s Theory of Change written by Sikowis Nobiss


    I am very glad to learn more about how Sikowis and GPAS see Mutual Aid. She described GPAS’s financial support of the work Ronnie James does at Des Moines Mutual Aid (DMMA). Ronnie is a member of GPAS’s staff and has become a very good friend of mine. Ronnie is in the middle of this photo I took on the day we met in February 2020, at a vigil to support the Wet’suwet’en peoples’ resistance to the Costal GasLink pipeline construction on their lands. Our meeting was Spirit led and changed my life. Most of my justice work since that meeting has been related to Des Moines Mutual Aid.


    GPAS’s Theory of Change highlights several important aspects of Mutual Aid.

    • Indigenous traditional societies and cultures are collectivist in nature and we find this to be a critical way of being as we face down the climate emergency and increased societal polarization caused by the adversarial structures of our current governing systems
    • And so, we organize from the bottom up through grassroots and frontline efforts and we are informed by the communities that we serve and are a part of.
      • This is a fundamental principle of justice work. Something I learned about when involved in Quaker Social Change Ministry (See: https://jeffkisling.com/2021/03/15/afsc-quaker-social-change-ministry/)
      • Far too often White people’s approach to justice work was not informed by the communities they were trying to serve. Which often did more harm than good as a result.
    • This work has made it very clear that mutual aid is necessary for achieving our decolonized vision as radical love helps heal and activate more folks on the ground to get culturally, civically, and politically engaged.
      • As I was learning more about the injustices of colonial capitalism, I wondered what the alternative would be. Mutual Aid is that alternative. Fundamental to Mutual Aid is the replacement of today’s hierarchical systems such as political, social, and economic systems with a framework that actively works against such hierarchies. Hierarchies that capital colonialism is based upon. Hierarchies enforce systems of dominance.
    • Only through mutual aid and community-based organizing will we be able to increase genuine interest in social and climate justice matters, which affect everyday people
      • In these times of apathy and hopelessness, Mutual Aid invites people to do work that has an immediate impact when providing things required for survival, such as food, shelter, protective equipment during a pandemic, etc. Generates feelings of self-worth and a desire to help.



    Great Plains Action Society and Midwest Quakers

    What follows is a history of the development of relationships among people of the Great Plains Action Society (GPAS) and some Quakers in the Midwest. I’ve had a lifelong concern for our environment and always wanted to learn more about Indigenous peoples and their spiritual and sustainable ways of living. But I hadn’t known how to make that happen. My intention in writing this is to share my recent experiences, and show various ways I’ve found to make such connections, so you might make your own.

    Friends are involved with Indigenous peoples in a number of ways in the Midwest. Many members of my Quaker meeting have been involved in the annual Prairie Awakening/Prairie Awoke celebration at the Kuehn Conservation Area for many years. Other Friends have lobbied legislators. Friends are involved with Friends Peace Team’s program Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples.

    The reason for my focus on the Great Plains Action Society is because of the many friends I have there, and the many wonderful things they do. Things I have been led to join in, when appropriate for a white person.

    As a Quaker I know that everything is grounded in faith and I believed that was true for Indigenous peoples, too. I was truly blessed when opportunities started to appear about seven years ago that began to teach me about these things. What follows is an account of how I have been led on this journey thus far.

    [NOTE: this is not about calling attention to myself. At the end of this post is a statement about humility.]

    Fundamentally, relationships can only be made by spending a lot of time together over an extended period. And only when this is something you are led to do. It doesn’t work if you are only doing this out of a sense of obligation and/or not able or willing to spend a lot of time in the endeavor. And White people, such as I, must constantly guard against bringing along an attitude of White superiority. I find it helpful to try to move outside myself, to evaluate the situation I’m in and what I’m doing from a distance. The less we say and the more deeply we listen, the better. You will often feel vulnerable. That’s part of the process, how you grow, and how relationships deepen.

    It is urgent now to develop relationships to support each other as environmental devastation will continue to collapse economic, political, and social systems. The only choices will be to return to Indigenous ways or violent tribalism.

    Damage to Mother Earth from extreme extractive industries and fossil fuel infrastructure is a focus of much of the work of Indigenous peoples, and of the new coalition, the Buffalo Rebellion. It is because of these shared concerns that I began to make connections. I was trained as an Action Lead in the Keystone Pledge of Resistance in 2013 and have been involved in resistance to the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Coastal Gaslink pipelines. And now against carbon (CO2) pipelines.

    TRUTHSGIVING

    The concept of truthsgiving is why I’m writing this extended article. To share the truths that I have been learning. My intention is to show the variety of ways we can become involved, or more involved, in building relationships with native peoples. And to show the reasons why the Mutual Aid work that has been my focus for the past three years is so important.

    It is time for Quakers, for everyone to acknowledge the atrocities of the Indian Boarding Schools. Which must begin with truth telling. “The Truth will not be Whitewashed” calls out those, not only many Quakers but most White people who don’t want to face these truths. Locating the remains of thousands of children on the grounds of Indian Boarding Schools in this country and Canada is bringing attention to these atrocities. And opening wounds.

    Truthsgiving is a concept of my friend, Sikowis Nobiss, who is the founder of the Great Plains Action Society (GPAS). GPAS created the website TRUTHSGIVING. The Truth will not be Whitewashed. The Truthsgiving Collective includes GPAS, Des Moines Mutual Aid, and others.

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

    https://www.truthsgiving.org/about

    Mutual Aid

    Mutual Aid comes up frequently in these stories because this is the framework to escape the colonial capitalist system that is oppressing all of us now. Mutual Aid communities exist all over. You can search for “mutual aid” on the Internet and social media platforms. The website Iowa Mutual Aid Network is an excellent resource. https://iowamutualaid.org/

    You can read much more about my mutual aid story here: Mutual Aid in the Midwest

    Dean Spade has written an excellent book, Mutual Aid, Building Solidarity During This Crisis (And the Next).

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

    Mutual Aid is important because it truly builds community. These are troubled times with many people in despair, feeling hopeless. Mutual Aid communities help people help each other and restore a sense of self-worth. Opportunities to make a difference.



    I’ve often written about my first meeting with Ronnie James as being Spirit led. February 2020, I posted an event to support the Wet’suwet’en peoples who were trying to stop a pipeline from being built through their territory. I didn’t expect anyone to attend who wasn’t already involved in this issue. Thank God, literally, Ronnie James, an Indigenous organizer, saw the event and joined us. He was surprised anyone beyond those he knew was aware of the struggles of the Wet’suwet’en. That meeting changed my life. It makes me sad to think I would have missed everything that came from this meeting if it had not occurred.


    Queries about Mutual Aid

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

    Some of my writing about Mutual Aid: https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/mutual-aid/

    And my mutual aid booklet here: Mutual Aid in the Midwest

    You can read much more about my mutual aid story here:
    Mutual Aid in the Midwest


     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.

    Building Relationships

    What follows are some of my stories about how such relationships developed. It takes time to build these relationships, which is why it is important to begin now.

    Guidelines

    I begin with some general guidelines that I, as a White person, have learned about making connections with communities of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC).

    This graphic summarizes some of what I have learned from my own experience. I learned much of this during the years I spent in the Kheprw Institute youth mentoring community in Indianapolis. A community of people of color. And these guidelines have been very helpful in the context of the last five years as I was led to connect with my Indigenous friends.

    I also learned a great deal from participation in the American Friends Service Committee’s (AFSC) Quaker Social Change Ministry program and recommend it. https://www.afsc.org/quakersocialchange


    Don’t be a burden

    From that initial meeting, Ronnie and I began to exchange text messages. Related to “don’t be a burden”, text messaging is far less intrusive than phone conversations, for example.

    Do NOT ask or expect to be taught

    This can be one of those gray areas. There is a difference between expecting to be taught and accepting what someone is offering to teach you. Ronnie was/is very generous with his time and encouragement. He is what I would call a very effective organizer. He recognized our Wet’suwet’en vigil would be a chance to find allies for the work he does. Since then, I’ve seen how often, and how well he writes to educate others. And he always shows up. In the nearly three years I’ve known him, he and I have rarely missed being at our weekly food giveaway. And those times when he isn’t there, it is often because of other things related to his activism. He is involved in many things besides our food project.

    Listen deeply-this is how you learn

    Think about what is being said. Learn the language, so to speak. Pay attention to body language and facial expressions. This is hard when people are wearing face masks, which are always required at our food project. No face mask, no participation. This is done to reduce the chance of any of us passing the virus on to others.

    Observe common tasks and help do them. For example, every Saturday morning tables need to be set up outside, where the food boxes will be put for distribution. So do that if there is idle time. You don’t need to ask for permission. It is expected that you will use your own initiative. Because of everyone being aware of what needs to be done, and doing it, our work is done really efficiently. As Ronnie says, at the end of the hour you will be tired, sweaty and felling good. And that’s true.

    Do NOT offer suggestions/leadership until invited to do so

    It can take a long time (months) to understand all that is involved in the work you are participating in. It has taken a lot of work, trial and error, for those involved in the community you are connecting with to get things to function well.

    The rest of the list is self-explanatory. Accepting being vulnerable is likely the most difficult part of this. You are being vulnerable just by doing what it takes to join in the work, to show up. When uncomfortable things happen, they are often not your fault. Try not to take things personally.


    Great Plains Action Society and Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)

    A number of Friends (Quakers) in the Midwest have had opportunities to work with the Great Plains Action Society (GPAS) and the people who are part of that organization. My first connection was being present at a panel discussion at Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) about building bridges with Native Americans in 2017. Sikowis (Christine) Nobiss, Donnielle Wanatee and Peter Clay were on the panel. (See: Iowa Panel Looks at Building Bridges with Native Americans | American Friends Service Committee)

    Great Plains Action Society (GPAS)

    Sikowis was involved in Indigenous Iowa, and Seeding Sovereignty, then moved on to establish the Great Plains Action Society (GPAS). My friends Ronnie James, Trisha Cax-Sep-Gu-Wiga Etringer, Mahmud Fitil, Regina Tsosie, Foxy and Alton Onefeather, and Jessica Engelking are among the people of GPAS.

    I only mention that I took this photo as an example of building relationships. With time, people learn what you have to offer. During the Buffalo Rebellion Climate Conference we were all attending, there was a spontaneous opportunity for a group photo of GPAS. I was glad to be asked to take the photo.

    Great Plains Action Society (5).png
    photo: Jeff Kisling

    History

    Resist and Indigenize

    GPAS started to build in 2014 and became an official non-profit in 2017 with two full-time staff, two part-time staff, and two youth interns. Founder, Sikowis Nobiss, who started organizing over twenty-five years ago during the Burnt Church Indigenous fisheries crisis in New Brunswick, Canada, saw that Iowa needed more Indigenous voices to speak up for the Earth. During the NoDAPL resistance movement in 2016, she created a platform for Great Plains Action Society to empower Indigenous voices in Iowa concerning extreme resource extraction perpetuated by the fossil fuel industry. During this fight, GPAS worked tirelessly in both Iowa and North Dakota, bridging the gap between Indigenous communities and rural landowners. This led GPAS to form Little Creek Camp, an Indigenous-led resistance hub in Iowa and to finally register as a 501(c)4 that is 100% Indigenous run. Our efforts have truly brought the voice and actions of Indigenous Peoples to the forefront of Iowa’s climate movement, which is much needed in the most biologically colonized state in the country and the number one contributor to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico due to colonial-capitalist farming practices. By uplifting traditional Indigenous ecological knowledge, we are making it clear that Iowa needs to rematriate prairie, bring back first foods and increase Indigenous land stewardship. 

    Great Plains Action Society’s Vision

    “We are a collective of Indigenous organizers of the Great Plains working to resist and Indigenize colonial institutions, ideologies, and behaviors. Our homelands are located in the vast grassland of Turtle Island, situated between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River and stretching from the Northern Tundra to the Gulf of Mexico.”

    Great Plains Action Society Mission Statement

    Great Plains Action Society addresses the trauma Indigenous Peoples and our Earth have faced and works to prevent further colonial-capitalist violence through education, direct action, cultural revival, mutual aid, and political change.


    Gatherings and actions

    What follows is a history of my experiences with my Indigenous friends. Although each episode is with at least one person who is part of the Great Plains Action Society (GPAS), many are not official GPAS actions or events.

    US Bank, Super Bowl weekend, 2/3/2018

    February 3, 2018, Super Bowl weekend, Ed Fallon organized a van trip to Minneapolis to call attention to USBank’s funding of fossil fuel projects. USBank’s headquarters are in Minneapolis, and the game was played at the USBank stadium. Sikowis, Donnielle, Trisha and I were among those who attended.


    Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives MMIR

    One lesson I learned from the trip to Minneapolis was to be aware of the interrelationships among justice issues. The epidemic of the kidnapping and murder of Indigenous women, men and children is something I had not known about prior to getting to know native people. But this happens to a shocking number of people. I heard a story about a family member from a new friend on the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March.

    This is yet another consequence of building pipelines. Many are built near native lands–another example of environmental racism. The “man camps” of pipeline construction workers are thus found near native lands. Adding to the problem was that native law enforcement could not arrest nonnative people. Recent Federal legislation that several of us lobbied for has changed that.

    When in Minneapolis, Sikowis Nobiss and Donnielle Wanatee both spoke about MMIR. During the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, Foxy Onefeather carried this sign.

    Foxy Onefeather on the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March

    This spring, MMIR was part of a GPAS rally for reproductive justice.

    This sign was erected at the event, with the Wells Fargo Arena in the background. Wells Fargo is one of the banks that fund pipelines.


    First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, Sept 1-8, 2018

    September 1 – 8, 2018, Sikowis, Donnielle, Trisha, Mahmud, Regina, Peter Clay (Iowa Quaker) and I and others participated in the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March. We walked and camped together from Des Moines to Fort Dodge (ninety-four miles) along the path of the Dakota Access pipeline.

    Some Iowa Quakers had worship sharing each morning of the March to support us. Also, each evening there was a discussion on various topics. My friend and Scattergood Friends School schoolmate and member of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), Lee Tesdell, talked about his progressive agricultural practices. Sikowis had something to say about Indigenous agriculture.

    Lee Tesdell speaks during First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, 2018

    The purpose of the March was to create a community of native and non-native people who began to know and trust each other so we could work on things of common concern. That was really successful, and we have done many things together since.


    First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March website


    Lobbying Senator Grassley, December 2018

    One of the first was when several of us from the March, including Sikowis (in the center of this photo), Iowa Quakers Shazi and Fox Knight, and I lobbied Senator Grassley’s staff to support several bills related to native concerns.


    Sunrise, Green New Deal, Des Moines, 2019

    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.

    Trisha, Lakasha and I at Sunrise Green New Deal Tour, Des Moines, 2019

    National Network Assembly, summer 2019

    The summer of 2019 Sikowis suggested I attend the National Network Assembly at the Des Moines YMCA Camp near Boone, Iowa, that she helped organize. I was aware that if I wanted to build on relationships with native peoples, I should respond when invited to do something like this. I don’t usually attend conferences, but seeing this as one of those opportunities, I did attend. And I got a lot out of it. This was a conference for justice organizers.


    Climate Crisis Parade in Des Moines, Feb 1, 2020

    Many of us participated in the Climate Crisis Parade in Des Moines, Feb 1, 2020.


    Wet’suwet’en Vigil, Feb 7, 2020, Des Moines

    As I began to discuss above, in early 2020, I began to hear about the struggles of the Wet’suwet’en peoples in British Columbia, as they worked to prevent the construction of a liquid natural gas pipeline (Costal GasLink) through their pristine lands and waters. There was little being written about this in the mainstream media, so supporters were asked to write about what was happening on our social media platforms.

    This photo is from a post about a rally I organized to support the Wet’suwet’en in Des Moines on February 7, 2020. Iowa Friend Peter Clay attended.

    As I wrote earlier, I’m sure my meeting with Ronnie James was spirit-led. We’ve become good friends in the three years since this Wet’Suwet’en rally. Ronnie is one of the people involved in GPAS, the person who leads the Mutual Aid efforts.

    We are both at the food project almost every Saturday morning. Although it doesn’t take much space here, DMMA is the focus of my justice work. And I have found it to be healing. At the end of this is A Love Letter to Y’all about the work of DMMA.

    This is a link to a booklet I wrote about the Wet’suwet’en.
    Wet’suwet’en and LANDBACK


    Indigenous People’s Days (annual)

    As often happens, once people know I love photography, I get invited to events for that purpose (even though I’d want to go, anyway). This photo of Sikowis was taken at last year’s Indigenous People’s Day. She’s holding a Great Plains Action Society bag.


    “Fourth of He Lies” (annual)

    Another event where I took photos was a gathering on the State Capitol grounds related to racist statues. On July 4th, 2020 and 2021 we gathered for the “Fourth of He Lies”. In this photo on one of those days, Sikowis is speaking at the Pioneer statue. Ronnie James and Donnielle Wanatee also attended.


    December 2021 Summit Carbon pipeline

    Last December, Sikowis asked me to come to Ames to take photos of a rally at the office of Summit Carbon, one of the companies that want to build a CO2 pipeline.


    Buffalo Rebellion

    I’m blessed to have been invited to join the newly formed Buffalo Rebellion, a new coalition of Iowa organizations that are growing a movement for climate action that centers racial and economic justice. Peter Clay, my friend and also a member of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) was also invited.

    Buffalo Rebellion is a new coalition of Iowa organizations that are growing a movement for climate action that centers racial and economic justice. The Earth Day Rally will be an afternoon of honoring Mother Earth through sharing stories and visions for climate justice and taking action together for a world that puts people and the planet before profits for a few.

    Following the Earth Day Rally, Buffalo Rebellion will be holding two days of immersive training to develop 100 grassroots leaders who will build local teams to take on climate justice issues in their community and come together to create a thriving state-wide movement.

    Formed in 2021, Buffalo Rebellion is comprised of seven Iowa organizations: Great Plains Action Society, DSM Black Liberation Movement, Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice, Sierra Club Beyond Coal, Cedar Rapids Sunrise Movement, SEIU Local 199, and Iowa CCI.

    Buffalo Rebellion


    Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI)

    Iowa Citizens for Community improvement is very active in environmental and many other concerns and a member of the Buffalo Rebellion. “We talk, we act, we get it done” is their motto. I’ve participated in several environment related actions led by my friend Jake Grobe, ICCI’s Climate Justice Organizer. He has focused on getting MidAmerican Energy to close their five coal burning plants in Iowa. And Jake is very active in the resistance to carbon (CO2) pipelines.

    This is a photo I took of Sikowis and Jake at this summer’s Earth Day Rally in Des Moines. After the speakers we marched to the offices of MidAmerican Energy.

    In an example of interconnections, the mural below is by GPAS and made during the First Nation Farmer-Climate Unity March in 2018. In another connection, Jake often comes to our Mutual Aid food project.

    Sikowis Nobiss and Jake Grobe at Earth Day Rally 2022

    The Buffalo Rebellion coalition in action

    The resistance to carbon pipelines continues. This flyer and the photo I took below are about an action by the Buffalo Rebellion at the time a national meeting of those promoting carbon pipelines was occurring in Des Moines. In the photo Jake is speaking using a bullhorn, in the street that we blocked temporarily to call attention to the pipeline meeting. He said these people (in the cars) are impatient and angry, but we’re angry and inpatient, too, at the decades of inaction to respond to climate devastation.

    Jake Grobe (ICCI) speaks against carbon pipelines in Des Moines, Nov 2022

    Forced Assimilation/Indian Boarding Schools and Quakers

    One of the tensions between Indigenous peoples and Quakers is the tragic history of forced assimilation of over 100,000 native children in the Indian residential schools. And the deaths and abuses that occurred there. Some Friends were involved in such schools. Several times I was led to speak about this with Sikowis, Ronnie and other Indigenous friends. We could not develop much of a relationship if this went unacknowledged. It is important to not do this until you have a relationship with who you talk to about this.

    This became personal when one of my friends introduced me to his teenage son. I could not imagine the conversations they must have had about forced assimilation. Continue to have as the remains of thousands of children are located on the grounds of so many of the sites of forced assimilation.

    Last year I was clerk of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee. The committee had a small budget to support organizations doing justice work. Last year we were led to a choice of rather than giving token amounts to a number of organizations, to instead see if an opportunity arose to give the entire budget to make an impact on the work that presented itself. I believe because of our discussions about the residential schools, Sikowis asked if Quakers could support showings of the film “They Found Us” that had been made about the residential school of her nation, the George Gordon First Nation. Our Peace and Social Concerns Committee gladly agreed to donate our budget to this. https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/2022/04/13/they-found-us/


    Orange Shirt Day is Canada’s Day of Truth and Reconcilliation–a time of mourning and remembrance.

    Great Plains Action Society has felt this pain firsthand, as many of our close family members attended these schools, and we are rising to meet the needs of our communities. Last year, in Sioux City, we hosted a large community feast and ceremony to honor nine children whose bodies were reMatriated back to Sicangu Oyate lands from the grounds of the Carlisle Boarding School. We have also raised funds to help one of our relatives, Curt Young, show his film, They Found Us, about the search for children’s bodies at the George Gordon First Nation. If we can raise enough funding, we would like to get his film shown throughout Iowa and the Midwest.


    Your Invitation to be an Ally

    A fundamental principle of justice work is to make sure that your (i.e. ally) work is directed by those impacted by injustice. “Nothing about us without us.” Great Plains Action Society’s Open Letter Campaign is such an opportunity, an invitation for non native peoples to support their work.

    Resolutions are not just for January! As we are gathering momentum for the daunting work 2022 has in store for us, we would like to invite you to join us in ushering in a New Year/New Iowa. Things need to change. The harm we are doing to the environment is devastating. The attack on truth in public education is a contributing factor to our attempted erasure. The ongoing use of racist mascots harms children, and perpetuates dehumanization. Iowa has a lot of issues. The work we need to do to make Iowa better is not going to be easy. But it can be done, and the best chance we have is working together. And that is why we are coming to you with our Open Letter Campaign.

    Over the course of 2022, we will be sharing with you Open Letters we’re addressing to those who are in positions of power. We’re doing this in the format of an Open Letter for a few reasons. First, these issues are important, and this is an opportunity to explain the issues to a broader audience. The more people who understand what is going on, the better. Second, we need numbers. We are mighty, but we are few. The more people we have putting pressure on those with power, the more likely we are to see results. And finally, it’s something that you can do that doesn’t require much of you. Although it’s only February, 2022 can already feel exhausting. The thought of having to leave home to do things can be overwhelming, even frightening as COVID is still a very real threat. But this is something you can do from home, without investing energy you are probably running low on. Working with us can be as simple as tweeting out a hashtag. But it can be more too, if you’d like. It’s an opportunity to write the words that express your frustration and join them in an agitated choir. This is a chance to remind yourself that you deserve to be heard and that you are capable of taking action that affects change.​

    We have always appreciated when allies and accomplices approach us to ask how they can be of help. Things can be complicated, and it is considerate to be mindful of how one engages. This is absolutely a situation that we request your help with. We need your voices to make something happen. Our land, our water, our children are under attack. The truth is under attack. We need to stand strong together to create the change that so desperately needs to happen. This Open Letter Campaign is a means for us to unite our voices to call for change. You are welcome to use the words we share, or to express your own. If all you have it in you to do is share an article or use a hashtag, every little bit helps. If you have letters of your own you’d wish to share with us, we’d love to hear from you! Again, we look forward to putting our voices together with you, to call for the New Year/New Iowa we so desperately need. Thank you.

    The New year, New Iowa Open Letter Campaign is led by Jessica Engelking. If you have ideas or thoughts to share, please contact her at jengelking@greatplainsaction.org 

    We look forward to putting our voices together with you, to call for the New Year/New Iowa we so desperately need. Thank you.

    https://www.greatplainsaction.org/newyearnewiowa


    There are three Open Letters I’ve been involved with.

    1. An Open Letter to the Sports Page

    One is the Letter to Sports Page, a restaurant in Indianola that native images on their walls. This is the story I wrote about this. https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/2022/02/09/open-letter-to-sports-page/


    2. Letter to Indianola School Board

    Ronnie James once lived in Indianola. He wrote about his experiences with the Indianola School board when he asked them to stop using native imagery for their sports teams. Knowing I am a photographer and live in Indianola, he asked me to take some photos of that imagery, which I was glad to do. 


    3. Truth and Healing with Friends

    Jessica Engelking of the Great Plains Action Society is the contact person for the Open Letters campaign. Fortunately, I met Jessica when we both attended the Buffalo Rebellion Climate Justice Summit this summer. A lot of networking occurred at the summit.

    When she asked what Quakers were doing related to the Indian Boarding Schools, I was very glad to share the Friends Committee on National Legislation’s letter writing tools. And specifically, to the one to support the establishment of a Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools. This became one of the Open Letters of the GPAS.

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

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

    The following is courtesy our much appreciated Quaker friends

    :

    https://fcnl.quorum.us/campaign/35660/

    As another way to encourage the passage of this legislation, David and Jean Hansen of Ames Meeting, Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and my friend activist Rodger Routh, and I went to the Des Moines office of US Senator Joni Ernst. Jessica Engelking of the GPAS had planned to attend but was unable to do so.

    Lobbying US Senator Ernst to support legislation to create a Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools

    The Great Plains Action Society recently published their Theory of Change.
    https://www.greatplainsaction.org/single-post/great-plains-action-society-theory-of-change.

    MUTUAL AID is one of the METHODS.


    Great Plains Action Society addresses the trauma Indigenous Peoples and our Earth have faced and works to prevent further colonial-capitalist violence through education, direct action, cultural revival, mutual aid, and political change. We believe that Indigenous ideologies and practices are the antitheses of colonial capitalism, and we deploy these tools to fight and build on our vision–tools that are deeply embedded in a culture of resistance. 

    Indigenous Peoples in the US and around the world have created a culture of resistance, built on the frontlines, that is now a way of life. It can be found in our dancing, singing, clothing, art, and in our political motivations. For instance, the American Indian Movement (A.I.M.) song was created out of the Red Power Movement and is sung at many of our cultural events and in our movement spaces, which are often one and the same. It began with the need to protect our homes and way of life from settler invaders, colonial militias, and imperialist governments. There is over a 500-year history of Indigenous resistance to the violent nature of colonial-capitalist genocidal and extractive practices. As stewards of the land, our ancestors saw right away that settler invaders, who were directly harming us, were also harming the environment and throwing the ecosystem off balance. The resistance is ongoing as long as genocide and colonization are perpetuated by the nation-state and its settler citizens. To be in a constant state of resistance is traumatic, hence why we suffer from intergenerational and historical trauma. Yet, it is necessary to protect our land, our people, and our ways from colonial-capitalist forces.

    Great Plains Action Society’s Theory of Change, Sikowis Nobiss
    https://www.greatplainsaction.org/single-post/great-plains-action-society-theory-of-change

    I’ve been working on this graphic for several years, to visualize the connections I see. Mutual Aid and the Buffalo Rebellion are part of this.


    A Love Letter to Y’all (a thread)

    One year ago yesterday Des Moines Mutual Aid participated in a march protesting the potential for war or increased hostilities with Iran that followed the fallout of the assassination of Qassem Soleimani by drone strike in Baghdad.

    This was our first “public” event since adopting the name Des Moines Mutual Aid, a name we gave our crew during our growing work with our relatives at the houseless camps throughout the city and our help with coordinating a weekly free grocery store that has a 50 year history, founded by the Des Moines Chapter of The Black Panther Party For Self Defense.

    A year ago we started laying the foundation for work we had no idea what was coming.

    As we were adjusting our work with the camps and grocery re-distribution in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, both that continued to grow in need and importance, the police continued their jobs and legacy of brutality and murder.

    This nation exploded in righteous rage in response to the pig murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

    DMMA realized we were in a position to organize a bail fund to keep our fighters out of jail, both to keep the streets alive as a new phase of The Movement was being born, and because jails are a hotspot of Covid-19 spread.

    Not to mention the racial and economic oppression that is the cash bail system.

    In the past year DMMA has expanded it’s work in multiple directions and gained many partners and allies.

    We partnered with the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement (@DesMoinesBLM) to create the DSM BLM Rent Relief initiative to help keep families in their homes in the midst of a pandemic and the winter.

    The camp work has grown exponentially, but is being managed with our collaboration with Edna Griffin Mutual Aid (@egma_dsm), DSM Black Liberation Movement (@DesMoinesBLM), and The Great Plains Action Society (@PlainsAction).

    The bail fund remains successful because of desire from the public and a partnership with Prairielands Freedom Fund (@prairielandsff) (formerly The Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project).

    The weekly free food store has maintained itself, carrying on the legacy it inherited.

    Every one of our accomplishments are directly tied to the support of so many people donating time, talent, and funds to the work. We are overwhelmed with all of your support and hope you feel we are honoring what we promised.

    All of these Mutual Aid projects are just a few of many that this city has created in the last year in response to the many crises we face, not only confronting the problems and fulfilling the needs directly in front of us, but creating a sustainable movement that will be capable of responding to what’s next and shaping our collective futures as we replace the systems that fail us.

    These last 12 months have been wild and a real test of all of our capabilities to collectively organize.

    But it is clear that we as a city have what it takes to do what is needed in 2021, no matter what crisis is next.

    Much gratitude to you all.

    In love and rage,
    Des Moines Mutual Aid

    Originally tweeted by Des Moines Mutual Aid (@dsm_mutual_aid) on January 6, 2021.



    We need to be careful when we talk about humility. The kind of humility this work brings isn’t the kind that would have us reject or repress our gifts. This kind of false humility leads us to oppress each other in the name of preventing pridefulness. This happens far too often. Real, life-giving humility means living up to the light that we have been given without judgment of how bright or dim that light is. False humility is hiding this light under a bushel for fear of jealousy or judgment. The challenge is to be faithful right where we are—no more, no less. This takes courage. To be faithful, we have to make space.

    Prophets, Midwives, and Thieves: Reclaiming the Ministry of the Whole by Noah Baker Merrill

    Resources

    You can read much more about my mutual aid story here:
    Mutual Aid in the Midwest

    This is a link to a booklet I wrote about the Wet’suwet’en:
    Wet’suwet’en and LANDBACK

    First Nation Famer Climate Unity March website:
    First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March


    Great Plains Action Society

    Web – greatplainsaction.org

    FB – @GreatPlainsActionSociety

    IG – @greatplainsactionsociety

    Tw – @PlainsAction


    Des Moines Mutual Aid

    Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/DesMoinesMutualAid/

    Iowa Mutual Aid Network – https://iowamutualaid.org/

    https://iowamutualaid.org/des-moines-mutual-aid

    Buffalo Rebellion

    Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/IowaBuffaloRebellion/


    https://www.iowacci.org/


    Home – https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/

    Mutual Aid – https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/mutual-aid/

    Buffalo Rebellion – https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/buffalo-rebellion/

    Abolition – https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/abolition/

    Forced Assimilation – https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/forced-assimilation/


    Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)

    FCNL – https://www.fcnl.org/

    Native Americans – https://www.fcnl.org/issues/native-americans


    Mutual Aid now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Faith Now


    Queries

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

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