Buffalo Rebellion Community Call: Des Moines Black Liberation

I am so glad to be part of the Buffalo Rebellion
(See: https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/buffalo-rebellion/ )

Last night we had a Community Call via Zoom to reflect on the past year, hear updates of work being done, and what the future might hold.

The main accomplishments of this year were

Using Zoom breakout rooms, we got to know each other better and hear what work we are each doing. I talked about being involved in Des Moines Mutual Aid, and that I’ve been talking about this in our Quaker meeting. That I hoped more people of faith would become involved in Mutual Aid. There were only two other people in our breakout room. One said he had attended Quaker meeting in Connecticut, and the other said this resonated with her.

Des Moines Black Liberation Collective

1. Removal of armed school resource officers from Des Moines Public Schools

Jaylen Cavil of Des Moines Black Liberation Collective (https://www.desmoinesblm.org/) reported on something I hadn’t known about, getting police out of schools. From my time in the Kheprw Institute community in Indianapolis, I knew how children of color and their parents distrust and fear the police. It was an awful thing to bring the police into the schools. The school to prison pipeline is a horrible situation and Des Moines Black Liberation Collective (Des Moines BLM) was recently about to get “school resource officers” (SRO) out of the public schools.

Before the pandemic, armed officers known as ​“school resource officers,” or SROs, from the Des Moines Police Department would patrol the school hallways. But during the summer of racial justice marches and protests after the police murder of George Floyd, students, parents and community members spoke out against SROs at Des Moines School Board meetings. In the end, the police contract with the schools was terminated. After scrambling to make remote schooling work during the long, mournful slog of the pandemic, Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS) were left to find a way to reimagine school safety — and fast.

The district moved quickly to implement restorative practices, an increasingly popular educational model for school safety, violence prevention and mediation. 

The 2021 – 2022 school year was a huge opportunity with the highest of stakes: DMPS could become one of the only districts in the nation to succeed in concurrently removing SROs and implementing restorative practices, or the district and its students could be thrown into crisis.

The City That Kicked Cops Out of Schools and Tried Restorative Practices Instead. Here’s what happens when a school rethinks punishment by ANDY KOPSA, In These Times, DECEMBER 12, 2022

Vanessa says she sometimes asks to go to the ​“Think Tank,” a designated area created by RP staff for kids who violate school rules. While in the Think Tank as a punishment, students cannot talk, have outside meals or snacks and must turn off electronics. But the Think Tank can also be a respite; for Vanessa, it’s a safe space to deal with the anxiety that drove her to wander the halls.

“I would get overwhelmed and then I would ask to go to the Think Tank so I was able to do my work,” Vanessa says. ​“And Mr. Musa had snacks.” The snacks made a lasting impression.

When I drop by Roosevelt’s Think Tank with Mr. Musa, eight kids have opted to be there in lieu of suspension. Two girls are there because of a scuffle in the bathroom, though they say they were bystanders. Then there are a couple hallway roamers and two boys caught vaping.

In the Think Tank, students are required to do school work. In many cases, that’s a back catalog of assignments and writing about what they did, how it made them feel and how they might handle it differently in the future.

The subtle, important difference between the Think Tank and traditional in-school suspension, according to Jake Troja, DMPS director of school climate, is that students are there by choice. In the past, the message from the school district to students was, ​“You have a suspension, that’s it,” he says. Now, RP staff have a new message: ​“We’d love [for students] to be in class, but we can’t do that, so here’s another option.”

“It’s about power and authority,” Troja says.

The district asked for reform — such as installing ununiformed and unarmed officers in schools — but the Des Moines police department responded, in February 2021, with a surprise termination of the contract. Sgt. Paul Parizek, Des Moines police public information officer, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Des Moines schools had already begun training teachers in restorative practices in 2018. With the $750,000 saved from the broken contract, the school district funded 20 new positions and hired specially trained RP staff across the city’s five public high schools. The district even invited Sellers and other students to observe the hiring process, and students picked up on red flags that staff missed, Sellers tells me, like candidates who called students ​“delinquents.”

The City That Kicked Cops Out of Schools and Tried Restorative Practices Instead. Here’s what happens when a school rethinks punishment by ANDY KOPSA, In These Times, DECEMBER 12, 2022

2. Prison letter writing and abolition

Jaylen talked about Des Moines BLM’s support of Central Iowa Democratic Socialist of America’s (DSA) prison letter writing project. This is something I’ve been involved with in several ways. Jade, my friend from Des Moines Mutual Aid is the organizer for this project that a number of us from DMMA participate in. https://landbackfriends.com/2021/11/28/prison-abolition-letter-writing-project/

I am writing to you as a part of the Central Iowa Democratic Socialists of American prison abolition group. I am inviting you to join our solidarity and pen-pal network. We are connecting with people incarcerated in Iowa because we believe the struggles of people both inside and outside of prison walls are intertwined. Specifically, we recognize the need to eliminate systemic injustices produced by the current criminal justice system.

Please let me know if you are interested in taking part in this project. I would love to receive any information from you so that we can make a case to those on the outside to take action on the demands of incarcerated people.

We are the Central Iowa chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Promoting the concept of democratic socialism through political action, direct service, and education. We are building for the future beyond resistance.

Quakers for Abolition Network

My blog made it possible for one of my new friends, Jed Walsh, to contact me about the work he and Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge are doing related to abolition of police and prisons. I wrote a little in their article that was published by the Western Friend, https://westernfriend.org/article/quakers-abolition-network.

3. Des Moines BLM and Des Moines Mutual Aid

Jaylen also spoke about the collaboration of Des Moines BLM with Des Moines Mutual Aid. Mutual Aid is the alternative to the capitalist system that drains all the resources that should be invested in our people and communities. That houselessness is by design because those in power want us to feel desperate, so we can’t focus on change.

He told of the City of Des Moines periodically razing the houseless camps, which served no good purpose because they are rebuilt shortly after. Last year it cost about $30,000 to provide propane and heaters for those in the camps. Funds for this purpose are behind now.

Information about camper support and to make donations can be found here: https://iowamutualaid.org/camper-support


4. Demands for the Department of Corrections

Help uplift demands from individuals incarcerated at Anamosa State Penitentiary https://linktr.ee/demandsfordoc

Jaylen asked us to send emails to the DoC to support the demands of incarcerated individuals.

In subsequent posts I’ll report on the other work that was presented at this Buffalo Rebellion Community Call last night.

You can read more about these issues in the Iowa Mutual Aid publication, We Gather Here in Disservice of the State


Social and Economic Justice

One of the things that means the most to me as a Quaker is the practice of considering advices and queries. The queries are sets of questions meant to ask ourselves what we are doing in our own lives, and in the work of our Quaker meetings in the present moment.

This is an example of how Quaker faith is grounded in what is happening in our lives today. And our belief that God, or the Spirit, is present in every being today, human and nonhuman. Can guide us now. The practice in our meeting is for the advice and queries to be read aloud. Then we sit in silent reflection. When we feel we have been given a message to share, we speak.

This helps keep our faith active, rather than passive.

There are twelve sets of queries, each about some part of our lives. The usual practice is for Quaker meetings to reflect on one set, each month. Topics include education, environmental responsibility, outreach, peace and nonviolence. Today at my meeting we will be reflecting on social and economic justice.

Often, I reflect on these queries outside the Quaker meeting gathering. That is why I write so much. Writing is a Spiritual exercise for me. Writing helps me listen for what the Spirit is saying. And helps me organize my thoughts. This is similar to keeping a journal as I did in the 1970’s. It looks like handwriting was a challenge.

Social and economic justice is something I’ve been thinking and praying about a lot lately. Over the past two years I’ve been deeply involved in Des Moines Mutual Aid. I mean Mutual Aid is something I’ve been studying and thinking a lot about outside the actual time spent at our weekly food giveaway.

A recent summary is this blog post, Mutual Aid is the Quaker way of being in the world.

As the advice says below, “we are part of an economic system characterized by inequality and exploitation. Such a society is defended and perpetuated by entrenched power.”

That is exactly what Mutual Aid is about. The capitalist economic system we are living in is designed to be unequal. Those who are skillful, or ruthless enough, accumulate wealth. Fundamentally, everything and everyone is seen as a resource that can be harnessed to create wealth. The result is millions of people trying to survive on subsistent wages. The result is the rape of the resources of Mother Earth. Which has put us on the road to extinction.

The capitalist economic system is enforced by political and criminal justice systems. Systems built on vertical hierarchies of power.

Mutual Aid is just the opposite. We work to maintain a flat or horizontal hierarchy, where everyone is equal.

One query for today is “how are we beneficiaries of inequity and exploitation? How are we victims of inequity and exploitation? In what ways can we address these problems?” I believe the answer involves building Mutual Aid communities.

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.

I wrote my own queries about Mutual Aid

Queries related to Mutual Aid
Do we recognize that vertical hierarchies are about power, supremacy and privilege? What are Quaker hierarchies?
Do we work to prevent vertical hierarchies in our peace and justice work?
What are we doing to meet the survival needs of our wider community?
How are we preparing for disaster relief, both for our community, and for the influx of climate refugees?
Are we examples of a Beloved community? How can we invite our friends and neighbors to join our community?

mutual aid is the new economy. mutual aid is community. it is making sure your elderly neighbor down the street has a ride to their doctor’s appointment. mutual aid is making sure the children in your neighborhood have dinner, or a warm coat for the upcoming winter. mutual aid is planting community gardens.

capitalism has violated the communities of marginalized folks. capitalism is about the value of people, property and the people who own property. those who have wealth and property control the decisions that are made. the government comes second to capitalism when it comes to power.

in the name of liberation, capitalism must be reversed and dismantled. meaning that capitalistic practices must be reprogrammed with mutual aid practices.

Des Moines Black Liberation

Des Moines Mutual Aid is a collective that does outreach for homeless folks in our community, houseless folks in our community. We also assist BLM with their rent relief fund, and most of the work we’ve done is running the bail fund for the protests over the summer. In the course of that work, we have witnessed firsthand the violence that is done upon people of color, Black people specifically, by the white supremacist forces of the state – in this state, in this city, in this county. There is absolutely a state of emergency for people of color and Black people in Iowa. The state of emergency has been a long time coming. We will support – DMMA will absolutely support any and all efforts of this community – BLM, and the people of color community more generally- to keep themselves safe. Power to the people.

Patrick Stahl, Des Moines Mutual Aid


Advice and Queries

“For when I was hungry you gave me food, when thirsty you gave me drink, when I was a stranger you took me into your home, when naked you clothed me, when in prison you visited me.”     Matthew 25:35‑36


We are part of an economic system characterized by inequality and exploitation. Such a society is defended and perpetuated by entrenched power.

Friends can help relieve social and economic oppression and injustice by first seeking spiritual guidance in our own lives. We envision a system of social and economic justice that ensures the right of every individual to be loved and cared for; to receive a sound education; to find useful employment; to receive appropriate health care; to secure adequate housing; to obtain redress through the legal system; and to live and die in dignity. Friends maintain historic concern for the fair and humane treatment of persons in penal and mental institutions.

Wide disparities in economic and social conditions exist among groups in our society and among nations of the world. While most of us are able to be responsible for our own economic circumstances, we must not overlook the effects of unequal opportunities among people. Friends’ belief in the Divine within everyone leads us to support institutions which meet human needs and to seek to change institutions which fail to meet human needs. We strengthen community when we work with others to help promote justice for all.


  • How are we beneficiaries of inequity and exploitation? How are we victims of inequity and exploitation? In what ways can we address these problems?
  • What can we do to improve the conditions in our correctional institutions and to address the mental and social problems of those confined there?
  • How can we improve our understanding of those who are driven to violence by subjection to racial, economic, or political injustice? In what ways do we oppose prejudice and injustice based on gender, sexual orientation, class, race, age, and physical, mental, and emotional conditions? How would individuals benefit from a society that values everyone? How would society benefit?

Faith and Practice

Dearly Beloved Friends, these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by, but that all, with the measure of light which is pure and holy, may be guided and so in the light walking and abiding, these may be fulfilled in the spirit, not the letter, for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. Letter from the meeting of Elders at Balby, 1656

We are seekers but we are also the holders of a precious heritage of discoveries. We, like every generation, must find the Light and Life again for ourselves. Only what we have valued and truly made our own, not by assertion but by lives of faithful commitment, can we hand on to the future. Even then we must humbly acknowledge that our vision of truth will again and again be amended. Quaker Faith and Practice of Britain Yearly Meeting, 1994 page 17

Faith and Practice, The Book of Discipline of Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends (Conservative) is a statement of principles and beliefs by which our society endeavors to learn and express lessons in Christian living. It provides guidance for the conduct of daily life and for carrying on the business of the meeting. Faith and Practice suggests rather than commands, and raises questions or queries rather than giving specific answers. It places upon the individual and corporate conscience, rather than upon external authority, the responsibility for the discipline of the Spirit.

Faith and Practice is based on an earlier document called the Discipline of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). It is intended as a handbook and guide for those of the Religious Society of Friends who belong to Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends (Conservative), also known as Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) or IYM(C). The first written disciplines among Friends appeared in Britain Yearly Meeting in manuscript form in 1718. At about the same period or a little later, in America, minutes of the yearly meetings were gathered in manuscript book form under captions alphabetically listed. The first printed Book of Discipline of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting appeared in 1797. The first Friends settling in Iowa lived under disciplines of Indiana Yearly Meeting and of Ohio Yearly Meeting.


May we look upon our treasures, the furniture of our houses, and our garments, and try whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions. John Woolman, A Word of Remembrance and Caution to the Rich published posthumously, 1793

I will never adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many and give luxuries to the few. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, [St Paul’s Episcopal Church] 1963

Friends’ historical testimony has included the message that all people are equal, and deserve to share equally in the blessings of creation. The world is far from this ideal, and most in Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) have benefited from global and local inequalities, however inadvertently. But we also suffer spiritually and otherwise because of the injustice in which we participate.

Friends believe that we should live in ways that do not “sow seeds of war.” Many are called to act in quiet or public ways to promote lifestyle choices, policies, laws, and treaties that will ensure the basic human rights of all people, including the rights to safe and healthy places to live and work. Historically, Friends have been able to help correct major injustices such as slavery, inhumane conditions for prisoners, and inequality in the treatment of women. The magnitude of current problems caused by economic injustice does not excuse Friends from the struggle against it, but makes obedience to God’s call all the more necessary.

Friends are reminded that there can be no peace without justice, and to live simply, so others may simply live. Many Friends find seeds of war and injustice in their lifestyles. Friends are challenged to participate constructively in the economy by supporting fair trade, choosing investments with attention to their social impact, and purchasing products produced under safe and healthy conditions. What each can do individually may not seem like much, but, guided by the Spirit and added to the efforts of others, it can make a difference.

The Book of Discipline of Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends (Conservative)
Religious Society of Friends


Yesterday I was struck by all the interconnected relationships among my friends at Des Moines Mutual Aid.

I was happy to see my friend Donnielle at Mutual Aid for the first time yesterday. She and I were part of the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, September 1-8, 2018. A small group of native and non-native people walked and camped along the path of the Dakota Access pipeline, from Des Moines to Fort Dodge, Iowa (ninety-four miles). One of the main purposes of that walk was to create a group of people who began to get to know each other so we could work on issues of common interest and concern. That really worked and many of us have worked together in many ways since. One of the first things several of us did together, was to lobby Senator Grassley’s staff to support a couple of bills related to safety of Indigenous women. That was in 2018. The renewal of the Violence Against Women Act was just passed and includes those tribal protections. The photo below at the Neal Smith Federal Building was taken the day of the meeting with Senator Grassley’s staff.

Jake, the climate justice advocate from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI) was also there. Two weeks ago, I attended a board meeting of the Iowa Energy Center Board, having been asked to take photos there. Jake organized a group of us to attend the board meeting to try to get MidAmerican to shut down their five coal burning plants. We have since learned our presence there has had some effect. He also asked me to write a letter to the editor about the same issue, which I did. Yesterday Donnielle asked Jake about an upcoming city council meeting where MidAmerican’s franchise with the city will be discussed.

Jade was at Mutual Aid, as usual. She organizes the prison letter writing project of Central Iowa Democratic Socialists of America, which I have joined. A friend of mine in Indianapolis, a professor at the law school there, got me involved in Religious Socialism, part of DSA, hence the name of this blog.

And as usual, my good friend Ronnie was at Mutual Aid. I had told him about some transgender people who were looking for support. Yesterday we talked about that some more, and he gave me a couple of suggestions that I passed along.

My small Quaker meeting is also part of this networking. Some members have been supporters of ICCI for years. It is this meeting that is looking into how we might support the trans people. And I will be speaking about Mutual Aid during the annual gathering of Quakers this summer.

Other connections include supporting the Wet’suwet’en peoples as they try to stop the construction of the Costal GasLink pipeline through their pristine territory in British Columbia. In the photo below you can see Des Moines Black Lives Matter is helping us stand with the Wet’suwet’en.

The signs about Prairies Not Pipelines and #NOCO2PIPELINES was organized by my friend Sikowis, who also walked on the First Nation-Famer Climate Unity March.

Justice and Disaster Preparedness

Watching the tragedy of war unfolding in Ukraine makes real the future I fear we are moving into. Are already experiencing in many ways.

Fear not only as a noun, “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous”, but also as a verb, “to be afraid of.”

I can’t imagine anyone watching the stories from Ukraine, and not thinking about how tenuous our own lives are. Seeing people’s lives destroyed in an instant. Injury or death of loved ones. Loss of shelter and infrastructure. No water, power, medicines, food, community.

What would we do in a similar situation?

We might find out sooner than we think. We are facing numerous crises ourselves.

  • Environmental chaos
  • Economic collapse
  • Political collapse
  • War
  • Domestic extremism and armed conflict

There have been warnings about these things for decades, with little effect. But now we are seeing everything on that list happening to various degrees. And each negatively impacts the others.

Following is a new diagram I’m working on to show relationships among systems. The reason justice is in today’s title is because so many of our current systems have injustices embedded in them. As we prepare for disasters, not addressing injustice would mean:

  • Not benefiting from the wisdom and skills of those we don’t have relationships with now. Because of the mistrust between us.
  • Bringing these injustices and conflicts into the disaster relief communities.

We have three choices:

  • We can just react to what is coming at us. Go into survival mode.
  • We can prepare for disaster locally.
  • We can work for justice as part of disaster preparedness.

Descriptions of the systems in the diagram: ecosocialism, LANDBACK, abolition and Mutual Aid follow.

I believe faith is an important part of this. This morning I thought faith was going to be the subject, but found this background needed to be covered first.


Ecosocialism brings together two complementary ways of thinking about humans and the environment they live in. The “eco-” in ecosocialism comes from the science of ecology and its emphasis on the complex and dynamic interactions among the living and non-living components within an ecosystem. In particular ecologists understand how the life-supporting functions within an ecosystem can be disrupted by the behavior of one organism, for example, humans.

But ecology lacks a social analysis; it has no way of understanding how economic and political forces drive human behavior and social change.

Ecosocialists start with the premise that environmental degradation and social injustice stem from the same source: a world where profit is the highest goal. We believe that the emancipation of people from capital and its masters goes hand-in-hand with the emancipation of the earth and its biosphere from the cancer of capitalism.

What is ecosocialism? System Change Not Climate Change


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



The criminal justice system is violent and harmful: The UK’s prison population has risen by 90% in the last two decades, bringing the number to over 90,000. At the time of writing we are 156 days into 2018 and already we have seen at least 129 deaths in prison, immigration detention centres and at the hands of the police. As the effects of neoliberalism and austerity deepen each day, increasing numbers of people find themselves made disposable by our economic system and structural inequality, targeted by the agencies of the criminal justice system simply for being homeless, experiencing poor mental health or being born in a different country.

The criminal justice system does not reduce social harm: Policing, courts and the prison system are presented to us by politicians and the media as solutions to social problems. Yet, as the prison population has soared, we have continued to seen violence and harm in our society on a massive scale. Violence against women and girls is endemic, racism and the far right are on the rise in Britain and rates of murder and violent assaults are beginning to increase again. As politicians continue to scapegoat those with the least power in society, the conditions of structural violence that so often precede interpersonal violence remain in place.

We can build a world based on social justice, not criminal justice: All over the world, communities are coming together to build real solutions to societal problems. These solutions lie outside of the criminal justice system, in preventing harm through building a better society. By bringing together groups and organisations working for social justice, we want to demonstrate and strengthen the links between prison abolition and wider struggles for housing, health, education, and environment; and for economic, racial, gender, sexual and disability justice.

Abolitionist Futures

Mutual Aid

DSA Religious Socialism


The DSA Religion and Socialism Commission is pleased to announce the re-launch of its publication Religious Socialism.

If you’ve wondered what religion and socialism have to do with each other, we hope this site will be useful to you. It is dedicated to people of faith and socialism. As our community grows, we will use it to connect DSA members and to reach out to the larger group of faith-based social justice activists and thinkers. 


The original Religious Socialism was founded by John Cort, a long time Christian Socialist writer and activist as well as co-chair of the Religion and Socialism Commission of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). The publication was originally structured as a printed newsletter in 1977 and was in circulation for more than thirty years.


The new RS is a work in progress. We invite you to join us in making it useful both to people of faith within DSA and to the wider religious left. Be sure to like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter and contribute by sending short essays, commentary and articles of interest to via email: religioussocialismdsausa(a)gmail.com