Reflections on Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indy Art Jeff Kisling

Changes since the March in 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our foundational stories: Beginning

Recently I heard a Quaker friend speak about returning to the beginning of a foundational story in our lives. And then think about how that story changed as we grew older. And how we view it today.

That was amazing because I had begun to do just that before she spoke. My foundational story is related to the intersection between my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography. This combination has remained a powerful, yet evolving, influence throughout my life.

I’m praying about my foundational story for several reasons. Thinking of how drastically our world has changed since the beginning of my story. And wondering how I might be most helpful or effective now. Because my Quaker faith, care for Mother Earth, and photography have always been about doing what I’m led to do to help all my relations.

I often think of this quote:

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

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

So, this is me radically rethinking the stories I tell myself (and you). We are being forced to nurture the emergence of new stories into being because of the catastrophes that are ever worsening because of environmental devastation.

As I explain in the following, there have been times when I’ve kept a record of what I was thinking and feeling, documenting my foundational stories. Of course, I didn’t have a way to share what I was writing in my journal at the beginning of my story. That is one difference in how my story has changed, now that there are so many ways to share writings on the Internet. This has stimulated me to write nearly daily blog posts for more than the past five years. I don’t know how many people read them. Although the main reason has always been for me to think through, pray about, what was going on at the time.

Now I have ways to share what I was learning about spirituality with others. Some of this might be helpful for the declining number of those involved in organized religion. This is the Quaker piece of my story.

I began a journal in 1969 when I was a senior at Scattergood Friends School. (see: journal). This is my first journal entry.

Sept 29, 1969

Journal, Sept 29, 1969

I sometimes included printed material in my journal. The following, It’s Your Choice, was written by Joan Baez, a folk singer and peace advocate. Which includes a photo of half of a young man’s face. I put a photo of myself at the time on the right-hand page of the journal entry for November 6, 1969. (Photography as part of my foundational story). Getting close to my eighteenth birthday, Nov. 21, 1969, when I would have to decide whether to register for the draft.

I would disagree with one thing she wrote. I believed it WAS God who was going to get us out of the bloody mess we were in, the Vietnam War.

Journal, Nov 6, 1969

It’s your choice
Ultimately you can listen to only one thing, not your President, not you many misguided leaders, save a few, not the Communists or the Socialists or the Republicans or the Democrats, but you must listen to your own heart, and do what is dictates. Because your heart is the only thing which can tell you what is right and what is wrong. After you have found out what you think is right and what is wrong, then you must know that you can say yes to what is right and no to what is wrong. And you young men, for instance, if you feel that to kill is wrong and to go to war is wrong, you have to say no to the draft. And if you young ladies think it is wrong to kill, and war is wrong, you can say yes to the young men who say no to the draft. Because it is not the leaders and the dictators, it is not God who is going to get us out of the bloody mess we are in. It is only you and only me.

Joan Baez

Mother Earth

Anyone who has farmed is intimately connected to our environment. The first ten years of my life we lived on dairy farms. I took the beauty for granted and remember much of the time was taken up with hard work. We had a large pond with a narrow strip of land through the middle, dividing it in half. There were many times I was so frustrated when I got the herd of cows moving around the pond, heading to the barn for milking, when half of them would turn back, going the wrong way down that narrow strip on the pond. And of course, when I went to get them, others would turn around, going along the side of the pond. One day it was so muddy I stepped out of my boots and that was the last straw. I went to the house in tears, without the cows.

In those days (1950’s) living on the farm usually meant living with very little money. But my parents were able to rent small campers that we loaded with food and went camping for two weeks. We usually went to National Parks. One of the first was Rocky Mountain National Park, which immediately became our favorite.


As a teenager I was blessed to be led to photography. I was a lifeguard at the YMCA in Marshalltown, Iowa, one summer. To show appreciation (we didn’t get paid) we were taken to the YMCA in Racine, Wisconsin, where we were taught to scuba dive in the swimming pool there.

On the way home, we stopped in downtown Chicago. I was amazed to find a camera so inexpensive; I could buy it with the small amount of cash I had with me. In those days cameras didn’t have automatic focus or built-in light meters. So, you used a standalone light meter to see what settings were needed for the shutter speed and aperture, and manual set those on the camera. The focus was also set manually. The camera looked like this picture on a tee shirt I have.

I don’t know why I was so drawn to photography. My mother and brother were artists. I couldn’t draw or paint well, though I didn’t spend much time practicing. This is my portrait of my best friend, Randy Porter.

Part of it was the science of photography. My career was to be computer programming and medical research. But the exacting process of film and paper development was often frustrating. For example, the temperature of all the chemicals and water bath could not vary more than one degree without causing problems in creating the negative of the film. I developed this photo of Long’s Peak in a darkroom.

Long’s Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado Jeff Kisling

I wrote a lengthy story about photography in my life: Jeffrey Allen Kisling Photography

Quaker Faith

I was born into a Quaker family and community, Bear Creek Friends, near Earlham, Iowa. So, I grew up seeing how faith was an integral part of people’s lives.

Bear Creek Friends Meeting near Earlham, Iowa

Attending Scattergood Friends School, a co-ed Quaker boarding high school, continued my Quaker education. Not so much intellectually, but in the way we worked together, and made decisions in community. We rotated through a crew system, where we prepared meals, baked bread, cleaned, did laundry, raised pigs, and did other work on the farm.

Scattergood Friends School

It’s not at all that we were indoctrinated. In fact, what we value is how we are challenged to examine our beliefs and whether we are living those in our lives. We have a spiritual practice of reflecting on questions, or queries, about our lives at that moment.

Queries related to peace and nonviolence:

  • What are we doing to educate ourselves and others about the causes of conflict in our own lives, our families and our meetings? Do we provide refuge and assistance, including advocacy, for spouses, children, or elderly persons who are victims of violence or neglect?
  • Do we recognize that we can be perpetrators as well as victims of violence? How do we deal with this? How can we support one another so that healing may take place?
  • What are we doing to understand the causes of war and violence and to work toward peaceful settlement of differences locally, nationally, and internationally? How do we support institutions and organizations that promote peace?
  • Do we faithfully maintain our testimony against preparation for and participation in war?

The first time I was really challenged in my faith was while a senior at Scattergood. All eighteen-year-old boys were required to register with the Selective Service System (military draft). That was consequential because the draft at that time was inducting boys into the armed forces, where many were sent to the war in Vietnam.

Quakers could apply for conscientious objector status, which would allow you to spend two years working as a civilian, most often in hospitals. Many of us found doing so was still participating in the military and refused to cooperate with the draft. To refuse was a felony offense.

I was convinced becoming a conscientious objector was wrong for me. But I struggled with the idea of facing time in prison. There were over a dozen Quaker men who refused to cooperate in the 1950’s when there was a peacetime draft. And they were imprisoned. Muhammad Ali also refused to be drafted. That showed me there are people who act according to their beliefs, no matter the consequences. Without their example, I imagine I might not have resisted the draft myself. I did refuse to cooperate but was not prosecuted for that.

Quakers don’t believe in proselytizing, instead believing the way they lived their lives might be an example for others. Like those who resisted the draft mentioned above.


My faith led me to try to share my spiritual experiences and show my love for the beauty of Mother Earth through photography. These three things, together, concern for Mother Earth, photography, and faith, came into play in many ways, and at various times during my life. I love this quotation, which pulls these things together.

(Barry) Lopez could not have known the effect he was having on one impressionable member of the audience. Yet I believe he established a connection with me that evening—a thin strand in the elaborate web that is community—by describing a path that was utterly new to me, and by suggesting that, as others had walked that path, it was safe for me to do so as well. This all happened in the space of a few seconds, as he mulled over the central question plaguing the men and women at the conference, namely: How could we convince lawmakers to pass laws to protect wilderness? Lopez argued that wilderness activists will never achieve the success they seek until they can go before a panel of legislators and testify that a certain river or butterfly or mountain or tree must be saved, not because of its economic importance, not because it has recreational or historical or scientific value, but because it is so beautiful.

His words struck a chord in me. I left the room a changed person, one who suddenly knew exactly what he wanted to do and how to do it. I had known that love is a powerful weapon, but until that moment I had not understood how to use it. What I learned on that long-ago evening, and what I have counted on ever since, is that to save a wilderness, or to be a writer or a cab driver or a homemaker—to live one’s life—one must reach deep into one’s heart and find what is there, then speak it plainly and without shame.

Reid, Robert Leonard. Because It Is So Beautiful: Unraveling the Mystique of the American West. Counterpoint. Kindle Edition.


It only takes one doom scroll through social media to see there is no shortage of injustice in the world. But there is also no shortage of people who have dedicated themselves to dismantle systems of violence and advance justice through activism.

With how deeply entrenched injustice is in our society, the work to dismantle injustice is a full-time job. Despite the hours put in, this job does not fit a capitalist and colonial view of labour.

HOW ACTIVISM LABOUR DEFIES CAPITALISM By Gabriela Calugay-Casuga,, August 9, 2022

I’m intrigued to have come across the idea of Community Supported Organizer (CSO) this morning.

I’m so often impressed by the dedication, sacrifice and skills of my friends involved in activism. I learn about some of the things they are involved in when I’m at our (Des Moines Mutual Aid) weekly food giveaway. This networking is one of the advantages of being involved in this community. The following summary describes some of what has been accomplished by Des Moines Mutual Aid over the past two years.

Ronnie James

One of the basic principles of Mutual Aid is to replace the capitalist economic system. The following shows no money is involved in our food distribution project. Of course, someone pays to make the food that is donated. But this is food that would otherwise not be used. In a local community it is possible to have the food produced without money when the farmers are supported in nonmonetary ways by the community.

But as we work to replace capitalism, we remain in that economic system for the time being.

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

Dean Spade. Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) (Kindle Locations 119-120). Verso.

Mutual Aid Will Help Communities Thrive

Part of the answer is community care and mutual aid, according to Jones. She said that many mutual aid networks popped up during the pandemic, but this type of support can continue outside of COVID-19 lockdowns. She said that every person has different capacities and needs. Finding the ways those capacities and needs fit together will create a support system that can continue to dismantle cycles of injustice.

Grove said that if every community does work to identify its needs, then folks in positions of privilege can come together to support those who do unpaid but necessary work.

“A lot of forest defenders lost their cars, lost their homes, lost everything because they saw that this is a fight worth fighting,” Grove said. “The next task was figuring out what the needs are of people that come off these frontlines. Sometimes it’s financial, like you just need to get a roof over your head.”

Jones said that mutual aid work also reveals that activism is not some exclusive thing that only a few people can engage in. Anyone can support the struggle for justice, Jones said.

“There’s this idea that there’s a class of people that ‘do activism,’” Jones said, “but that’s not a mass movement. A mass movement is when everybody has the skills and capacity, everybody is called upon to do what they can, everybody gives what they can, everybody is empowered and given the ability and resources to do that.”

HOW ACTIVISM LABOUR DEFIES CAPITALISM By Gabriela Calugay-Casuga,, August 9, 2022

CSO = A New Model for Supporting Autonomous Agents of Change

Backbone Campaign’s Community Supported Organizer (CSO) pilot program is a nascent but promising innovation in funding social change work. Backbone designed this model to work similarly to Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs). CSAs create a stable funding source for local farmers through a synergistic relationship with community members who pledge support.  In return, the CSA member receive a share of the harvest and a deeper connection to the farm and the food they eat. We believe that the CSO model presents a new way to support our most talented change agents, establish meaningful connection to the work being done, and a deep pride in the harvest.

Being a CSO provides a way for a self-directed change agent to be innovative and responsive to emergent opportunities. They are not constrained by an organizational bureaucracy directed from afar.  They are not locked into an inflexible plan or narrow mission.  A CSO is accountable only to a diverse community of sustaining donors from whom they crowd source recurring donations. This community benefits from a CSO’s increased skill and capacity gained through their immersion in the work and their access to training, skill shares, reflection, mentorship and tactical tools that Backbone Campaign provides.  We all enjoy the harvest of accelerated positive change and mounting victories.

We believe that the CSO concept can help further empower autonomous activists and organizers around the country to dedicate themselves more fully to the work they are doing in their communities. This will help lead us faster to the positive and just changes we strive to see happen in our world.

Backbone Campaign


I don’t know much about patreon, but have used it to support Matè Farrakhan Muhammad, co-founder of the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement.

TheBlackArtivist is the creative engine of Matè Farrakhan Muhammad, a Des Moines based activist and artist who co-founded the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement. TheBlackArtivist seeks to explore, educate, and radicalize us as human beings against the oppressive forces which seek to destroy our futures and steal our joy.


I’m finding it difficult to put into words what I think and feel now.

I say this not as “I told you so”, but to put environmental devastation into some context related to time. Fifty years ago, this farm boy moved to Indianapolis, and was horrified by the thick, noxious clouds of smog pouring out of thousands of cars. And was led to a spiritual vision of a life without owning a car. Though I still needed them, or city buses, occasionally for transportation. But I planned where I lived so I had a walkable environment. Grocery store, laundry and work within walking distance.

Of course, I am not the only one to do so, but vast numbers of people chose the path of the automobile. The path of least resistance, or most convenience.

Indigenous peoples have lived with a fraction of my carbon footprint for thousands of years. That was one of the reasons I wanted to develop relationships with Indigenous peoples. And am blessed that happened.

So, for fifty years I’ve tried all different ways to warn of what we were doing to Mother Earth. As far as I know, I didn’t convince anyone to give up their car. In 2015 I wrote about cars as weapons of mass destruction. Seven years ago, I wrote “now is the time.” The common refrain from all of us warning of what was coming. Every year we would say now is the time.

It is now painfully obvious that we must stop burning fossil fuel now if we are to avoid the extinction of the human race.  We are out of time.  We have to stop using personal transportation now.  We have to lead the movement to embrace mass transit now.  Cars are the seeds of war.  I ask you to join me in rejecting personal automobiles.  I’m not really comfortable being this assertive now, but I regret not being assertive enough thirty years ago.  Now is the time.

Cars as weapons of mass destruction, Jeff Kisling, 9/13/2015

It was easy for people to ignore what we were doing to Mother Earth because so much of the damage was invisible or occurring slowly. Catalytic converters covered up auto emissions. Carbon dioxide and methane are invisible gases. Air temperatures were increasing gradually and helped by the oceans absorbing so much of the heat.

But the signs began to be visible. Polar bears on tiny pieces of ice. Mountain snows disappearing. Islands being covered by rising waters. Water levels of lakes and rivers falling dramatically. Forests burning, frequent, wild storms.

But this summer we can no longer hide from the earth on fire.

Those of us who paid attention had an idea of what to expect from rising greenhouse gas emissions. The devastation unfolded as we anticipated.

But we are in new territory now. I think we have all been caught by surprise at the pervasive and prolonged record-breaking air temperatures. These will likely trigger tipping points, like unthawing methane deposits in the oceans, which would cause a rapid escalation of air temperatures.

Who knows what will happen now? People assume the heat will relent. But will it?

 It took me almost a year to figure out, first, what ailed me and then to develop a remedy for it. I was, it turned out, like the miners’ canary, among the early victims of an emerging virus, the one that causes eco-despair. Unlike the canary I was still walking and talking, though my spirit had a hard time getting out of bed. The first symptom was a growing awareness that our way of life had put us on a high-speed train headed for a nasty ecological crash. Then came the question that felled me: was there any reason to hope that we would be able to change course in time to avoid it, or at least to slow the train enough to minimize the damage?

I feared the answer was no. The train was propelled by a hyper-consumption lifestyle that we equated with progress and success for us as both individuals and as a species. We were addicted to it. I didn’t think enough people could be convinced to quit or quit aspiring to it. In developed countries it would mean giving up too many conveniences that we considered our birthright. Like cars and air conditioning and ever-increasing supplies of electricity and running water, both cold and hot. In the developing ones it would mean letting go of the dream of attaining that lifestyle.

A case of eco-despair by A.J. Chopra

Paradox of Mutual Aid

In response to a recent article I wrote, Ideological commitment to destroying life on Earth, there was an objection, that simply changing to another political system will not result in the changes we need.

I had quoted George Monbiot. “Until we change our political systems, making it impossible for the rich to buy the decisions they want, we will lose not only individual cases. We will lose everything.”

I agree with the objection about political systems. The changes needed now go far beyond political systems. What is needed is a complete change in the structure of how we live with each other and all our relations. A change in how we prioritize among the urgent needs, and how we come together to address them.

Today, in industrialized countries, all of our systems have become vertical hierarchies. Supervisors, teachers, politics, medicine, military, priests, and police. These hierarchies came about because of population growth and industrialization, which made our society more complex.

The primary reason for this switch to vertical hierarches was for control. The hierarchy for governance, for example, begins with the president, vice president, etc. Then Federal agencies, state governors, state agencies, mayors and city councils. These systems attempt to control us with laws, enforced by courts and police.

In a broader sense, the whole framework of capitalism and colonialism requires, and has viciously enforced vertical systems for control.

How does Mutual Aid replace these hierarchies? It does so by bringing governance and care back to local communities. At an earlier time, there might have been a debate about whether to do this. But since our current political chaos has paralyzed city, state, and federal governance, we will increasingly see the collapse of those systems. Hence another significant reason to build Mutual Aid communities now.

Mutual Aid is about a fundamentally different system of living in community. Mutual Aid is about living in a system of horizontal, flat, or no hierarchy. In horizontal group structures. A system that works in local neighborhoods and communities.

Trying to explain Mutual Aid is paradoxical, because that is the way peoples all over the world lived prior to industrialization. The way those in non-industrial places continue to live. The way our ancestors once lived.

People in our current, vertical hierarchies, don’t understand why we have to return to those ways. And why, if we decided to do so, it wouldn’t be easy to return to living without vertical hierarchies.

The problem is we bring our learned practices of hierarchy with us. We have forgotten how to live in a community without hierarchies. People become very uncomfortable when they realize they have forgotten how to act when order is not imposed by those above them in a vertical hierarchy.

“Mutual Aid is essential to our survival” by Dean Spake, Truthout, October, 28,2020

Because we bring our learned practices of hierarchy with us, a learning process is required to return to horizontal group structures.

As I was researching this, I came across this description of a book that I look forward to reading. Which describes my own experiences as a middle-class settler activist. It has taken me several years to learn how to be in a Mutual Aid community, and I’m still learning. Giving away food and providing for the houseless are public political actions. As have been public political actions for reproductive justice, against carbon pipelines, removing racist monuments and celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day. All of these actions occurred out in the community, on the streets. We have to be there to be transformed. There is no alternative to doing this together, in public.

And I’ve prayed a lot, with critical self-reflection, about all these things. And continue to pray.

Decolonizing Solidarity: Dilemmas and Directions for Supporters of Indigenous Struggles by Clare Land

Land argues that the predominant impulses which drive middle-class settler activists to support Indigenous people cannot lead to successful alliances and meaningful social change unless they are significantly transformed through a process of both public political action and critical self-reflection.

description from goodreads

This is a link to one PowerPoint presentation I have created about Mutual Aid.

Ideological commitment to destroying life on Earth

The recent article by George Monbiot (excerpts below) explains that the multitude of recent government policies and judicial capitulations that are dismantling any efforts to protect Mother Earth are not based on financial interests. The ideology of the ultra-rich is one committed to destroying life on Earth. “It’s no longer about money for them. It’s about brute power: about watching the world bow down before them. For this rush of power, they would forfeit the Earth.”

As Monbiot writes below, the changes needed to protect Mother Earth and all our relations cannot happen until we change our political systems.

Indigenous peoples have always known how to protect our environment. Which makes the policies of forced assimilation of native children and peoples all the more ignorant and reprehensible. We would not be in this catastrophic situation now if settler colonists had learned from native peoples. Can you imagine what that would have looked like?

What would be the political system that would allow us to honor the earth and each other? One alternative would be to build communities based on the concepts of mutual aid. (see: )

The following is from my mutual aid community, Des Moines Mutual Aid (DMMA).

But the final straw for me was a smaller decision. After two decades of disastrous policies that turned its rivers into open sewers, Herefordshire county council, following a shift from Tory to independent control, finally did the right thing. It applied to the government to create a water protection zone, defending the River Wye against the pollution pushing it towards complete ecological collapse. But in a letter published last week, the UK’s environment minister, Rebecca Pow, refused permission, claiming it “would impose new and distinct regulatory obligations on the farmers and businesses within the catchment”. This is, of course, the point.

When I began work as an environmental journalist in 1985, I knew I would struggle against people with a financial interest in destructive practices. But I never imagined that we would one day confront what appears to be an ideological commitment to destroying life on Earth. The UK government and the US supreme court look as if they are willing the destruction of our life support systems.

But even financial interests fail fully to explain what’s going on. The oligarchs seeking to stamp out US democracy have gone way beyond the point of attending only to their net worth. It’s no longer about money for them. It’s about brute power: about watching the world bow down before them. For this rush of power, they would forfeit the Earth.

Since 1985, I’ve been told we don’t have time to change the system: we should concentrate only on single issues. But we’ve never had time not to change the system. In fact, because of the way in which social attitudes can suddenly tip, system change can happen much faster than incrementalism. Until we change our political systems, making it impossible for the rich to buy the decisions they want, we will lose not only individual cases. We will lose everything.

It’s democracy v plutocracy – this is the endgame for our planet by George Monbiot, the Guardian, July 6, 2022

The Worker’s Summit of the Americas

As often as I think about why we need to move toward Mutual Aid communities and know that Mutual Aid is far from a new idea, I haven’t spent much time learning about the many cultures and countries that live this way, that are not based on capitalism.

Even though there has been little mainstream media coverage in this country, the Summit of the Americas was a dismal failure because so many countries boycotted it when the Biden administration refused to invite Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

The alternative summit, the Summit of the Americas of the Working Men and Women Workers declares they will, “take concrete action to combat the labor and social violence applied to our peoples by the U.S. and Canadian governments.” I don’t yet know what the power of this group is.

More leaders of Latin American countries have announced they will not attend the Summit of the Americas, which is taking place in Los Angeles. The summit has been mired in controversy after the Biden administration refused to invite Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. On Monday, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced he would boycott the talks over Biden’s decision. The presidents of Bolivia, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have also said they will not attend the summit.

Latin American Leaders Boycott Summit of the Americas, Democracy Now, June 8, 2022

Here is the final declaration of the alternative to the Summit of the Americas, the Summit of the Americas of the Working Men and Women Workers.

We, representatives of Trade Union, Peasant, Political and Social organizations, gathered in Tijuana – Mexico, June 10-12, 2022, on the occasion of the realization of the Summit of the Americas of the Working Men and Women Workers, in immediate response to the exclusion of Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua imposed by the Government of the United States.

There is a systemic and structural crisis of capitalism in its imperialist phase. It is in itself a civilizational crisis. The capitalist economic model and its political arm neoliberalism, as well as its modern cultural foundation, have put the planet’s life in crisis. If not eliminated, imperialism’s necropolitics leads us to the planetary collective suicide, which is more lacerating in the sectors less favored by the current world system. Our position is a bet for life, and the empire offers us death: it is either life or death!

We are witnessing a process of recolonization over the people. This is expressed in the excessive growth of racism, poverty, unemployment, job insecurity, environmental deterioration of territories, criminalization of migration, and gender and cultural violence. For this reason, we call upon the programmatic unity of the American continent’s workers, peasants, and progressive and popular forces to reflect, debate, and take concrete action to combat the labor and social violence applied to our peoples by the U.S. and Canadian governments.

We consider that the working class of the 21st century will only be able to play an independent and central role if – in addition to fighting for the most heartfelt demands of the labor movement – it assumes the struggle against patriarchy together with the feminist movement, the struggle of the native peoples against climate change and the defense of the biosphere together with the youth and the broad spectrum of professionals and scientists.

We must build articulations and alliances in which we structure our common forces for a unique and global struggle. Globalize the struggles. Build new organic forms of the working class from the political-cultural to the socio-productive to overcome capitalism and build socialism.

A robust internationalism is needed to pay adequate and immediate attention to the dangers of extinction: extinction by nuclear war, climate catastrophe, and social collapse.

In this regard, we agree:

  • To promote active solidarity with the peoples and sovereign nations (Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela) and the other peoples of the world “sanctioned” and attacked by economic blockades and unilateral coercive measures imposed by the U.S. and its allies.
  • To hold an annual meeting in Tijuana, Mexico, with the workers and social movements of the Americas to express solidarity with the peoples of Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua and their revolutions to repudiate unilateral coercive measures against sovereign governments.
  • To constitute a Committee for the organization of the Meetings to be held annually in the North and South of Mexico, integrated by: Unión del Barrio of the USA, Movimiento Social Por la Tierra de México (MST), Sindicato Mexicano Electricista (SME), Alianza por la Justicia Global of the USA, Central Bolivariana Socialista de Trabajadores de Venezuela, Central de Trabajadores de Cuba, Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo de Nicaragua (ATC), Movimiento Magisterial Popular de Veracruz Mexico, Fire This Time of Canada, Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO) of the USA, International Action Center (IAC) of the USA, Task Force on the Americas of the USA and the Plataforma de la Clase Obrera Antimperialista (PCOA).
  • Demand the immediate release of Alex Saab. He is a Venezuelan diplomat kidnapped by the U.S. and illegally detained in its territory since October 16, 2021. Saab’s arrest is an action that attacks diplomatic immunity, a right guaranteed by international law to any diplomatic official in the exercise of his duties.
  • Reaffirm the resolutions agreed upon at the Meeting of the Peoples of the Americas, held June 7-8, 2022, in Chiapas, Mexico.
  • To ratify our unwavering solidarity with the Palestinian and Saharawi peoples.
  • Demand that the U.S. Congress immediately cut off military aid funds to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, and Haiti.
  • Promote a campaign to hold an international day of action in solidarity with Cuba to be held when the U.N. General Assembly meets to condemn the blockade against the Caribbean island.
  • Expand the “Bridges of Love” program to other countries and international coordinate days on the last Sunday of each month in the form of caravans or other activities.
  • Demand the immediate release of comrades Mumia Abu Jamal, Leonard Peltier, Iman Jamil Abdullah al-Amin and Julian Assange.
  • Demand the immediate release of the social fighter Simón Trinidad from Colombia, who is deprived of liberty in prison in the USA.
  • To promote the regional integration of the anti-imperialist working class of Our America and the participation in the strengthening of ALBA TCP, CELAC, and UNASUR. In this sense, the Bolivarian Socialist Workers Central of Venezuela will call a meeting for the 3rd quarter of 2022.
  • To promote a campaign against the U.S., NATO, and Colombia’s policies of interference and expansionism and to ratify the declaration of Latin America and the Caribbean as a zone of peace promoted by CELAC.
  • We reaffirm the Mexican Electricians Union workers’ demands for their reinstatement in the Federal Electricity Commission.
  • We stand in solidarity with the Puerto Rican people and their dignified struggle for independence and sovereignty.



Mutual Aid and money

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

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

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

Bobby Seale
All Power To All The People!

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

What Is Mutual Aid?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Handling Money

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

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

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

Advocating for climate sanity

I recently discovered papers written by Zhiwa Woodbury, so I don’t yet know how much I will agree with him as I read more. But I agree with the following excerpt. This paragraph strikes a chord in me now, as I am trying to make sense of what is going on in the world today. I recently returned to the concept of sensemaking in Where are we now?

We have a stark choice between our own eventual extermination or a near term transformation. Such a transformation of human culture and the global economy will not come about without a simultaneous shift in collective consciousness. Trauma always raises questions of identity, whether considered at the scale of the individual, a culture, or now with the climate crisis, at the scale of an entire species. The choices we humans are making now – and will continue to make – in response to this spiritual emergency will determine whether we engender spiritual emergence, the messy rebirth of our species, or instead we repeat the kind of Great Dying that once wiped out 95% of all life on the planet, and took 10 million years for the biosphere to recover. My purpose in writing this book is to offer guidance and succor to all who those natural healers and existential professionals in the world, all those who hear the cries of the Earth, and all those advocating for climate sanity in every arena of life, so that we may attend Gaia’s bedside and serve as her spiritual midwives in planetary hospice. Whether Gaia is now dying, just ill, or about to give birth is largely dependent on how we, as a species, respond to her signals and attend to her needs

Climate Trauma, Reconciliation and Recovery by Zhiwa Woodbury

I do believe we are in a spiritual emergency and need a shift in collective consciousness. I often write about spiritual poverty. We spoke about this, too, last night during our weekly (Quaker) Spiritual Sharing Small Group.

We need to be advocating for climate sanity in every arena of life.

I always hesitate to bring this up, but I think we need to speak from our own experience. When I moved to Indianapolis in 1971, I was so horrified by the clouds of smog (before catalytic converters) I decided to live without a car. I know others have done so. But the point is, that was one way of advocating for climate sanity. It is heart wrenching to think of what a different world we would be living in today if fifty years ago we had decided to prioritize mass transit systems. And worked to build our cities and towns as walkable communities.

That was then. What do we do, advocate for, now? Our society clearly continues to refuse to think, let alone do anything about our deepening environmental catastrophe.

Rather than close coal burning plants, more are being built. Rather than stop further fossil fuel pipelines and other infrastructure, more is being built. Crazy schemes like carbon capture are being built. Some of what is captured is used to frack more oil from the ground.

Militaries are the worst polluters. The war in Ukraine and military operations globally need to be stopped immediately. The war in Ukraine is war against Mother Earth.

CLIMATEWIRE | Greenhouse gases trapped 49 percent more heat in 2021 than in 1990, as emissions continued to rise rapidly, according to NOAA.

“Our data show that global emissions continue to move in the wrong direction at a rapid pace,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad.

NOAA found that carbon dioxide, the most plentiful and long-lived gas, expanded at the most rapid rate over the last 10 years. But the most potent global warmer also broke records: methane increased more than it has since at least the early 1980s, when NOAA began its current measuring record. The methane emitted in 2021 was 15 percent greater than in the 1984-2006 period, and 162 percent greater than preindustrial levels, NOAA found.”

Record Methane Spike Boosts Heat Trapped by Greenhouse Gases. NOAA’s Annual Greenhouse Gas Index finds that greenhouse gases trapped nearly 50 percent more head last year than they did in 1990 by John Fialka, Scientific American, June 1, 2022

We have a stark choice between our own eventual extermination or a near term transformation. Such a transformation of human culture and the global economy will not come about without a simultaneous shift in collective consciousness.”

We are continuing to make this choice now and it’s for our eventual extermination.

What will it take to make the other choice, for a near term transformation? What would this shift in collective consciousness to transform human culture and the global economy be?

This shift in collective consciousness requires a response to our spiritual emergency. Returning to Indigenous ways, the idea of LANDBACK, would be part of a response. For Quakers, fortifying our Spiritual awareness, and acting on what that reveals, could be part of a response. The radical reimagining of our lives, our culture by the concepts of Mutual Aid could also be part of a response.

I was a little surprised when I wrote:

The reason I have been led to experiences with Native people and my Mutual Aid community is because the stories, the value structures I find there are closer to my values than those of White people in general in this country.

And most radical is to change, or return to how we look for and interpret our stories. To embrace spirituality in ourselves and our communities.

Although we rarely speak of it, our shared spirituality is what I have found to be the deepest connection with my Native American and Mutual Aid friends.

Where are we now?

Where are we now?

Sometimes when it seems the whole world is collapsing, I try to step back, hoping a wider perspective might help me understand. Unfortunately, doing so today just reinforces the global extent of chaos. I picture the world in flames.

I often return to reflecting on the term sensemaking as described by James Allen.

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

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

I didn’t want to go over the list of disasters we are experiencing yet again. But a number of these are escalating. Recently India had experienced temperatures (124 degrees Fahrenheit) close to the point where humans simply cannot survive. We see the relentless march of severe weather across the land. Fierce wildfires. Water levels sinking below the point where water can be taken in at the Hoover Dam. Electricity cannot be produced, nor agricultural land irrigated.

A political party whose only goal is to gain power. An explosion of gun violence and mass shootings with no end in sight. A broken supply chain that can’t even supply baby formula.

Perhaps most concerning is the accelerating increase in gas prices.

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

“The contraction and relocalisation of some (if not most) aspects our daily lives” could be Mutual Aid.

I’ve met a great deal of resistance to the idea of replacing capitalism with Mutual Aid. When I asked a (Mutual Aid) friend why people had so much trouble recognizing the evils of capitalism, he said it was because they hadn’t experienced the failures of capitalism in their own lives, yet.

We are experiencing the failures of capitalism now.

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

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

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

What does it mean to radically rethink the stories we tell ourselves? This is influenced by who “we” are, what our culture is. But Allen writes of “shared cultural and value structures.”

The reason I have been led to experiences with Native people and my Mutual Aid community is because the stories, the value structures I find there are closer to my values than those of White people in general in this country.

What does it mean to radically rethink the stories we tell ourselves?

I believe that means to search beyond our comfort zone. To stop wasting time advocating for incremental changes in systems that are broken.

Radically rethinking involves searching for the truth of what happened in our history. The land theft, forced assimilation, and genocide of Native peoples. The many atrocities of the institution of slavery. White supremacy today.

And most radical is to change, or return to how we look for and interpret our stories. To embrace spirituality in ourselves and our communities.

Although we rarely speak of it, our shared spirituality is what I have found to be the deepest connection with my Native American and Mutual Aid friends.

This is where I am now.