FCNL Statement on Anti-racism, Anti-bias, Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

My parents, Burt and Birdie Kisling, were involved with the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) for many years. I’m very grateful they persuaded me to become involved, too. I was on the General Committee for nine years.

I was reluctant at first because I refused to have a car, so the trip from Indianapolis to Washington, DC, took twenty-two hours via the train, if it was on time, which it usually wasn’t. I would arrive sometime around 9 pm and walk from Union Station to William Penn House. I just had to stop by the US Capital building on the way to take photos, as it was lit so beautifully. I was sometimes approached by Capitol police, but I guess I appeared to be harmless. (Don’t tell my friends at FCNL that I mainly went to DC so I could take photos of all the monuments and memorials. Some of those photos can be found at the end of this.)

As Black History Month begins, here is an article by Lauren Brownlee. Following that is the new FCNL Statement on Anti-racism, Anti-bias, Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion that I wanted to share with you.


“I Rage Because I Love”

I strive every day to put my faith, and the love at its heart, into action. I will always remember sitting in a Meeting for Worship in the early days of the Black Lives Matter movement and realizing that I rage because I love. Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother, said, “I had to change my mourning into a movement, my pain into purpose, and sorrow into a strategy.” As Quakers say, ‘friend speaks my mind.’  

As Black History Month begins, I again feel rage in mourning for Keenan Anderson, Tyre Nichols, and too many others. I strive to channel my righteous indignation into grounded action. Sometimes that action is reaching out to loved ones to check in on them. Sometimes it is going to a rally, a protest, a vigil, or a march.

Sometimes it is organizing and advocating to change the systems that maintain white supremacy, and those are the moments that I am most grateful for FCNL. While the world we live in was built on a foundation of white supremacy, the world we at FCNL seek centers racial justice.  

Dr. Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We are the ones who help bend it and there are myriad ways that we can do so. Each of our FCNL issue areas are designed around bending that arc, and our new Statement of Anti-racism, Anti-bias, Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (AJEDI) guides how we bend it. 

(article continues here: https://www.fcnl.org/updates/2023-02/i-rage-because-i-love)  

As Black History Month begins, I again feel rage in mourning for Keenan Anderson, Tyre Nichols, and too many others. by Lauren Brownlee, FCNL, February 2, 2023


The Friends Committee on National Legislation is a national, nonpartisan Quaker organization that lobbies Congress and the administration to advance peace, justice, and environmental stewardship.

Founded in 1943 by members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), FCNL fields an expert team of lobbyists on Capitol Hill and works with a grassroots network of tens of thousands of people across the country to advance policies and priorities established by our governing General Committee.

Indigenous Land Acknowledgement
As we bear witness and lobby in solidarity with Native Americans, we also honor the Nacotchtank tribe on whose ancestral land the FCNL, FCNL Education Fund, and Friends Place on Capitol Hill buildings stand. They are also known as the Anacostans, the Indigenous people who lived along the banks of the Anacostia River, including in several villages on Capitol Hill and what is now Washington, D.C. By the 1700s, the Nacotchtank tribe had merged with other tribes like the Pamunkey and the Piscataway, both of which still exist today.


https://www.fcnl.org/sites/default/files/2022-05/fcnl-statement-on-antiracism-antibias-justice-equity-diversity-and-inclusion-may2022.pdf


T-MAPs 4: Slipping off the Tracks

This is a continuation of the series on Transformative Mutual Aid Practices (T-MAP’s)
(See: https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/t-maps/ )

This section is a bit odd for me. The questions relate to significant stresses, deeper than I’ve had to deal with. There were significant stresses related to my career as a neonatal respiratory therapist, software and medical hardware engineer, database developer, and researcher. But I’m retired now.

The point of this section is to map out what is hard for us, what we struggle with, and help us develop self-knowledge to be able to figure out what to do about it. This section is often the hardest one to fill out because it asks us to think about hard times, but the information we gather is really useful in our journey. Often unresolved things from our past can make us feel unsafe or upset in the present – this is called getting triggered. Sometimes our triggers contain useful information about what needs to heal in us, and what we need to express. If you find yourself getting triggered or overwhelmed as you complete your map, take a break and do one of the practices in your wellness toolkit. It can also help to do the T-MAPs process with other people and realize you are not alone.

My Stressors

Do my job, school, or finances contribute to my stress?

Check off any of these examples that apply to you, and write in your own answers at the bottom:

Add your own:

My stressors relate to conflicts that arise from my spiritual guidance and trying to get Quakers and/or others to understand that guidance and follow it with me. Or for certain guidance, finding out how to implement it, and then do it myself. I realize this isn’t much compared to the awful things many people have gone, are going through.

Do my relationships negatively impact my wellness?

I get stressed when Quakers, friends and/or others feel I’m on the wrong track with my spiritual journey.

What health factors negatively impact my wellness?

Sleep Deprivation

Getting Sick

Add your own:

Sleep deprivation commonly triggers migraine headaches. Or becoming irritable more easily. Fortunately, I don’t get sick very often, but I don’t like to feel unwell.

Do stressors related to my cultural background or identity negatively impact my wellness?

Describe your experiences:

I suppose being a Quaker and my spirituality are my cultural background. It can be hard to hear what I am led to do spiritually. And sometimes to be led to do difficult things like write blog posts expressing some things I know will upset others. And sometimes it is difficult to join public events related to justice.

Do any traumatic events from my past cause me to get triggered in the present?

People criticizing or judging me in a way that brings back past experiences of emotional/​verbal abuse

Add your own:

My first public expressions of spiritual leading were when a teenager I really upset my parents when I turned in my draft cards during the Vietnam War. I know they had my best interests in mind, but I felt betrayed that they didn’t support draft resistance despite their Quaker beliefs in peace. That often comes to mind as I do many things related to justice work.

Now we’re going to ask some questions about what we’re like when we’re not well.

We get to decide what “not well’ means for each of us. There’s nothing wrong with having a hard time, but sometimes things feel like more than we can handle.  Try to identify what is a “warning sign” for you that danger is ahead, and what is just part of the natural ebb and flow of how you experience life. It can be very useful to have this information so we can share our insights with others.

What it looks like when I’m not doing well:

How I feel when I’m not well:

Check off any of these examples that apply to you, and write in your own answers at the bottom:

Anxious

Everything seems like too much effort

Describe your own experiences

I sometimes take on too much related to justice work. Also, responsibilities related to my Quaker community. That can add to the stresses related to spirituality. On the other hand, I don’t usually get too anxious because I do have a strong spiritual basis in my life (most of the time).

The following sections explore warning signs that we are having a rough time and could even be headed for crisis.

We’ve offered suggestions of different warning signs people might have, but feel free to move these around and make them your own – for example, for one person not sleeping enough might be an early warning sign, and for someone else it’s an advanced warning sign. Trust your own intuition and arrange your answers in a way that works for you – at the end of each question, you can always write in your own responses.

Warning Signs that I’m having trouble

Check off any of these examples that apply to you, and write in your own answers at the bottom:

I’m not sleeping enough.

I can’t get excited about things I usually love

Everyone and everything irritates me

Add your own

I usually notice this right away when I find I’m having trouble writing, since I write a blog post almost every day. And I have trouble finding things I want to take photos of, since I walk with my camera almost every day.

Advanced Warning Signs that I’m Approaching Crisis

Check any that apply to you, and write in your answers at the bottom:

Add your own:

I don’t even attempt writing or photography. I consider leaving my faith community altogether. Think about just giving up on my blog.


You are free to share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format under the following terms:

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

A New Year Begins

12/31/2022

It still seems strange that tomorrow we will have transitioned to a new year. As a scientist I understand measuring and classifying things like time. One of the few times my godson got really upset was when he learned about losing an hour of his life with the switch to daylight savings time. I could understand and somewhat share his outrage.

1/1/2023

You probably aren’t surprised that the sunrise captured my attention before I could begin writing this morning. Perhaps a good omen for the new year.

One thing I did last year was to write about my foundational stories. https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/foundational-stories/
Which turned out to be a bigger project than anticipated. One thing I hoped that would answer was whether I should stop writing and just share photos. I know I write a lot and repeat things as I examine what goes on in this world, and in my spiritual life. I’m still wondering.

We all experienced a lot last year. Pandemics, multiple environmental catastrophes, out of control drug addiction and death, gun violence, police killings, antisemitism, government control of women’s bodies, attacks related to sexual orientation and identity, worsening economic situations for most of us, millions of children going hungry, ridiculous politics and yet another war.

I am no longer, after nine years, clerk of the Peace and Social Concerns Committee of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). I was led to become clerk of Bear Creek Friends meeting. Both of those things had/have consequences related to my faith and how I practice it.

A number of things have challenged me regarding faith. I am blessed to have deepened my friendships with many Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. It is hard to see the devastating effects the Indian boarding schools have on the generations of the families of all of my Indigenous friends. To learn even more about the Quaker involvement with forced assimilation. When I see family photos from the 1900s, I realize my ancestors were settler colonists. And that I am, too.

I am very blessed to have been invited to join the Buffalo Rebellion, a coalition of justice organizations in Iowa.

And the most intense experiences continue to be related to being part of Des Moines Mutual Aid. It has taken a long time to understand the depth of what I’ve been learning there. From the beginning I could tell this was a special place. A lot of this was the great diversity of this community. And learning of the depth of the commitment of my friends for justice. Of their tireless work in the community and on the streets.

And recently, and hardest to accept, has been to learn that I have experienced a lot of trauma as I’ve tried to work for justice, to follow my faith. I had always convinced myself that I was strong and self-sufficient, ignoring signs that said otherwise. I began to realize this as I saw how my Mutual Aid friends cared for each other in genuine ways during our weekly food giveway project. How kind they/we are to those coming for food. How they understand things I’d been going through and have cared for me.

For the new year, I’m led to continue to work with Mutual Aid and the Buffalo Rebellion. To find more ways to bring my faith into these spaces. How to do so has been puzzling. There is the history of White Quakers’ involvement in the Indian boarding schools, and continued settler colonization. The history of White Quakers’ involvement in the institution of slavery, and continued participation in systems of White dominance.

We say our lives should be expressions of our faith. While I haven’t heard discussions about faith, I know my Mutual Aid and Buffalo Rebellion friends are deeply spiritual. And recently I have been honored that Indigenous friends have read, and suggested others read some of my blog posts. This is likely the way I was looking for to share my faith with them.

And to continue to bring the concepts of mutual aid to my Quaker communities. I plan to speak more plainly about the evils of capitalism. When future generations look back at this time, they will not understand how we participated in capitalism, a system of economic slavery. In the same way we look back on the institution of slavery, and the land theft and genocide of Indigenous peoples. Will not understand our complicity in a dominate system of White superiority and racism.

A friend just now shared the following that more eloquently expresses what I’ve been trying to say above. This describes my Mutual Aid and Buffalo Rebellion friends perfectly.

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.

See beyond our own time

My Quaker meeting plans to discuss questions to not only stimulate discussion, but to begin to form a plan to meet our survival needs. We need to establish a baseline to know what Friends think about our present condition and what to do about it.

Survival needs are ranked as:

  • Oxygen/air
  • Water
  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Physical, mental, and spiritual health

So, the questions are:

  • What will we do to prepare for when clean water is no longer available? (Coming through water lines or even available to buy).
  • What will we do when food is no longer available from grocery stores?
  • What will we do for shelter? Survival will require us to live near water and food supplies. And each other.
  • How do we govern our communities? Who is included in our communities?
  • What to do about energy?
  • What to do about safety?
  • What medications and diagnostic equipment (blood pressure, thermometer, etc) should we stockpile?
  • What are our children thinking? Can we find ways to engage those who aren’t now involved?
  • How can we gather and store things like books for when digital technologies are no longer available?
  • Who already has such plans that might help us?

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

Faith Now

Faith Now can refer to what the state of our faith is at this moment. And/or it can be an admonition to focus our faith on what is happening now.

My witness has been so many people, including people of faith, are driven by the past. This is obviously true with religious practices demanding adherence to some set of rules. Rules created in the past. Rules designated by systems of dominance.

One of the reasons I have remained a Quaker is the minimum of such rules. We say we believe the Spirit can speak to us now, that ours is a living faith. We use a set of queries (questions) to help us continue to examine our faith. This can make our faith less passive.

It is not my place to judge other’s faith and practice. But there are things that have troubled my spirit for a long time.

One is that Quakers do have unwritten rules. As a recent example, prior to the forced separation because of the COVID pandemic, I was told, many times, that Quaker business decisions could only be made when Friends were together physically. When I lived in Indianapolis, I had suggested using programs for remote connections to my meeting in Iowa, but that was universally held to be unacceptable. We see how that has changed. What are other unwritten rules? Identifying them might account for why we are attracting few new attenders in this time of spiritual poverty.

And there is the universal challenge of living our daily lives consistently with our faith.

White Quakers were and continue to be settler colonists. Our ancestors claimed Indigenous land for their homes and farms. Ever since, we have continued to live on and profit from these lands. And have engaged with capitalism and systems of dominance and control that come from this colonization.

There is the devastating history of churches’, including white Quaker’s involvement in the institutions of forced assimilation of native children and genocide of Indigenous peoples.

I’m also devastated by the use of fossil fuels. Speaking from my own experience, when I saw the smog when I moved to Indianapolis (1970), I was led to know I could not be part of owning cars. My faith showed me how to go about this, helped me get through the significant challenges involved. I’m of course not the only person to have made the same choices. And I’m challenged today having moved to a small town in Iowa. The sprawling way our cities and towns are designed coupled with the absence of mass transit is a challenge. But we would not have built cities this way if we had chosen to build mass transit systems instead of the massive infrastructure for cars. Building all the streets and highways. Parking areas, traffic control systems, so many gas stations, extractive systems for coal and oil, and pipelines.

Had the decision not been made to follow the path of cars, we would not be in accelerating environmental collapse now. Think about that.

We are in perilous times. I believe spirituality and spiritual connections are key for survival. https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/2022/11/17/spiritual-connections-for-survival/

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.

The following quote expresses this eloquently. People are desperately hungry to have a purpose, to do something concrete to help others.

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 a diagram I’ve been developing for several years. I’ve written a lot about these things on this blog (Religious Socialism, Mutual Aid, and Abolition of Police and Prisons).



Faith Now

  • Spirituality can show us how to live with integrity now. How to be examples to others. This is how change happens.
  • The Creator can help us heal the wounds of the past. And the wounds that continue to be inflicted.
  • The Spirit can guide us through the coming chaos.
  • It is by the Spirit we create connections among diverse peoples.

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.

Joseph Campbell

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?


Running throughout (Lopez’s book) Horizon is the question of human survival. The multiple threats we now face, especially the very real possibility of climate disaster, expose the tensions between human aspiration and ecological reality. Perhaps what is most needed, Lopez suggests, is for us to lament what we’ve destroyed, but also to praise and love the world we still have. “Mystery,” he writes, “is the real condition in which we live, not certainty.

Bahnson: You’ve confronted the darkness you see on the horizon with anthropogenic climate change. How do you talk about this with audiences? People need to know what’s coming, yet if you overwhelm them with depressing news, they might freeze. How do you strike the balance between educator and artist?

Lopez: Whenever I speak in public, I write out a new talk. I begin by stipulating, with a modulated voice, that things are way worse than we imagine. And I offer some examples: the collapse of pollinating insect populations; the rise of nationalism; belligerent and ignorant narcissists like Donald Trump; methane gas spewing out of the Siberian tundra. You’re saying to everybody, “Let’s take off the rose-colored glasses now and see what our dilemma really is.” 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. To remember, geographically, exactly where you are speaking that night, and to know whether there might be a full moon outside the building; to offer that sense of immediacy and groundedness; to underscore the specificity of the moment; and to be sure that you implicate yourself in the trouble. It all helps in these situations. If you attempt any version of “I know, and you don’t” or “This is not my fault” or “I am the holy messenger, and you’re the fools,” the evening ends in darkness. You have to be in it with them.

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


Honoring all victims of war, including those who resisted

I have wished there were a memorial for those who resisted war. It was disconcerting to live in Indianapolis where there are blocks of war memorials downtown. The city streets are laid out from the Circle in the center of the city, where the Soldiers and Sailors Monument stands. Ironically, I have taken many photos over many years of anti-war and other demonstrations that have been held at the Circle.

Anti-war demonstration on the Circle, downtown Indianapolis

I’m grateful that a Quaker friend sent me this article in Bleeding Heartland.

By an act of Congress in 1954, the name of the holiday (Armistice Day) was changed to Veterans Day. Some, including the novelist Kurt Vonnegut and Rory Fanning of Veterans for Peace, have urged the U.S. to resume observation of November 11th as Armistice Day, a day to reflect on how we can achieve peace as it was originally observed.

It is in that spirit that we honor the original intent of Armistice Day this morning by honoring all victims of war, including those who resisted war, those who have advocated for peace.

Those who advocate for peace may do so in ways that challenge us. I would like to take the next few minutes to share with you stories of three advocates for peace, all associated with the University of Iowa over the past century, but each one following his own conviction in his own way.

Honoring all victims of war, including those who resisted by David McCartney, Bleeding Heartland, Nov 15, 2022


Steve Smith burns his draft card during “Soapbox Sound Off” in the Iowa Memorial Union on Oct. 20, 1965. Image from the 1966 Hawkeye yearbook, University Archives (RG 02.10), Department of Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries.

Steve Smith, a slight 20-year old sophomore English major, took the speaker’s stand Wednesday afternoon and spoke quietly of what he believed. He then burned his draft card.

The audience of approximately 200 persons had known what was coming. Comments, encouragement and laughter greet Smith. An emotional debate on the virtue of U.S. policy in Viet Nam had preceded his appearance. But Smith was very much alone in his act of defiance. He said he was “sick to my stomach” at what he was doing.

“I feel,” Smith said, “that now is the time, because of my own sense of dignity, my own sense of morality, to burn my draft card.” He took the card from the pocket of his sweater and ignited it.

U of Iowa Student Burns Draft Card During ‘Sound Off’. Steve Smith, 20, Says His Action Moral Decision by Paul Butler, The Daily Iowan, Oct 21, 1965


By the following summer (1964), Steve grew restive. He became a political activist, speaking out against racial segregation and participating in local marches calling for an end to racial discrimination. In July 1964, while in Canton, Miss., to help register African-Americans to vote, he was detained by a sheriff’s deputy and beaten brutally while in custody (The Des Moines Register, July 18, 1964). He was 19 at the time.

Steve’s attention turned toward the escalating U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. During 1964 and early 1965, there were scattered but growing antiwar protests around the country, including instances of draft card burning. The cards, issued by the Selective Service System to draft-eligible men between the ages of 18 and 35, became a symbolic target of antiwar protestors. Alarmed by the trend, Congress passed, and President Lyndon Johnson signed, a law in August 1965 criminalizing the destruction of draft cards: a maximum five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

For nearly two months, the law had its intended effect. But the silence ended on Oct. 15 when David J. Miller burned his draft card near an induction center in New York City. Five days later, on Oct. 20, Steve Smith became the first in the nation to do so on a college campus after the law’s enactment.

He did so during “Soapbox Sound Off,” a weekly open-mic session in the Iowa Memorial Union. Reaction from those in attendance was reportedly mixed: some cheered, others jeered. Smith was steadfast. “I do not feel that five years of my life are too much to give to say that this law is wrong,” he said at the forum. The next day’s newspapers reported that his father was unsympathetic and highly critical of his son’s action.

Two days later, FBI agents arrested Steve at an Iowa City apartment, where he was charged with violating the Rivers-Bray amendment to the Selective Service law. He left the UI after the fall 1965 semester and, while under arrest, married his first wife in Cedar Rapids the following February. For the charge of willful destruction of his Selective Service registration card, he was tried and convicted in U.S. District Court in 1966 and sentenced to three years’ probation. The Eighth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld his conviction later that year.

Old Gold: Steve Smith, following his conscience. UI archivist seeks info about the student who burned his draft card in 1965 by David McCartney, Iowa Now, 7/30/2012


Today we honor the good work of people like Steve. We honor his patriotism, his willingness to question our government’s actions. We honor his desire for a more just and generous and peaceful society. And we honor his legacy of courage that bloomed on our campus 57 years ago.

The University has taken steps to acknowledge this act of civil disobedience, and it has done so by recently installing a plaque in the Iowa Memorial Union. The plaque was unveiled last month and it recounts Steve Smith’s antiwar protest and its historic significance, an event that prompted further debate about the war not only on campus, but across the state and across the nation. I invite you to visit and view the plaque, which is located on the lower level of the Iowa Memorial Union near the south entrance.

The debate over war is never-ending.

What can we do? How do we respond, when our government engages in these practices? What can we do, individually or collectively?

We might feel powerless, we might feel hopeless, but we can start with ourselves. And we can do so on our terms. At age 18, in 1974, I registered for the Selective Service as a conscientious objector. It was a symbolic act, as the draft had been suspended by that time; I nonetheless found it necessary to commit myself to doing so. Yet as a U.S. taxpayer I realize I am complicit in the activities recounted in the Brennan Center report. Increasing charitable donations, in lieu of taxes, is perhaps one way to address this.

There is no single answer. But a common thread is hope. Rebecca Solnit writes,

I believe in hope as an act of defiance, or rather as the foundation for an ongoing series of acts of defiance, those acts necessary to bring about some of what we hope for while we live by principle in the meantime. There is no alternative, except surrender. And surrender not only abandons the future, it abandons the soul.

Rebecca Solnit

This of course is easier said than done. But if we recognize that the decisions we make come from our truth, as Steve Smith had done in 1965 in the face of hostility, we may find peace with ourselves. German philosopher Arthur Schopenhaur said, All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

In closing, I would like to share this from Kristen Suagee-Beauduy:

Resistance is not a one lane highway. Maybe your lane is protesting, maybe your lane is organizing, maybe your lane is counseling, maybe your lane is art activism, maybe your lane is surviving the day. Do NOT feel guilty for not occupying every lane. We need all of them.

Kristen Suagee-Beauduy

Honoring all victims of war, including those who resisted by David McCartney, Bleeding Heartland, Nov 15, 2022


I am grateful to learn about Steve Smith’s story and that he was a student at the University of Iowa.

I began as a student at Scattergood Friends School, a Quaker boarding high school in 1966, not far from the University of Iowa. While a student at Scattergood, in 1968 I attended the national conference on the draft and conscription, held at Earlham College. https://jeffkisling.com/2019/10/05/richmond-declaration-on-the-draft/

Friends Coordinating Committee on Peace has announced a national conference on the draft and conscription to be held at Earlham College (Richmond, Indiana), October 11th through 13th. It is primarily planned as a working conference, with about 180 representatives from Yearly Meetings, Friends schools and other Friends’ organizations and seventy to a hundred additional Friends appointed at large. A detailed program and other information may be obtained from FCCP, 1520 Race Street, Philadelphia, 19102.  

Friends Journal 8/15/1968

When I was a Senior, during one of the days of the Moratorium to end the war in Vietnam, Oct 15, 1969, the entire student body (about sixty) walked from the school into Iowa City, to the University of Iowa (about 12 miles). During another of the Moratorium days, Nov 15, 1969, we held a conference about the war and the draft at the school.

October 11, 1969  School Committee Day

From the Scattergood Friends School committee minutes:

A group of students attended Committee meeting and explained plans for their participation in the October 15 Moratorium. The Committee wholeheartedly endorses the plans. The following statement will be handed out in answer to any inquiries:

“These students and faculty of Scattergood School are undertaking the twelve mile walk from campus to Iowa City in observance of the October 15 Moratorium. In order not to detract from the purpose of the walk, we have decided to remain silent. You are welcome to join us in this expression of our sorrow and disapproval of the war and loss of life in Vietnam. Please follow the example of the group and accept any heckling or provocation in silence.”

Scattergood Friends School students’ Peace Walk from the School to the University of Iowa on the Moratorium to end the war in Vietnam


I turned in my draft cards but was not prosecuted. Unfortunately, my schoolmate, Daniel Barrett was imprisoned for his draft resistance. Our stories can be found in those collected by (Quaker) Don Laughlin, Young Quaker Men Facing War and Conscription.


My friend and mentor, Don Laughlin (Quaker) collected stories of Quaker men facing war and conscription.


David F. McCartney, University Archives

david mccartney

McCartney is a dedicated archivist ensuring access to University of Iowa history and highlighting voices that are underrepresented in the archives. McCartney has developed relationships across campus, working with classes or faculty in every department. After publishing an award-winning article on the life of UI student Stephen Smith, a young man from a small Iowa town who found his voice through civil rights activism in the 1960s, McCartney organized the Historical Iowa Civil Rights Network to bring together related repositories and collections from across the state. He also established the Stephen Lynn Smith Memorial Scholarship for Social Justice. He has served as a consultant for many smaller archives and libraries in Iowa and volunteers with smaller nonprofit organizations. He has held many positions in the Midwest Archives Conference, including president, and makes invaluable contributions to the Big Ten Academic Alliance University Archivist Group and the Consortium of Iowa Archivists.

UI honors recipients of 2020 faculty, staff awards by JACK ROSSI, Iowa Now, 11/17/2020


https://dsps.lib.uiowa.edu/hicrn/

The Historical Iowa Civil Rights Network uncovers, preserves, and shares the stories of Iowans who participated in Civil Rights-related activity or the African American experience. HICRN  is made up of community members, archivists, historians, librarians, former Civil Rights workers, and others from across Iowa who seek and preserve photographs, diaries, scrapbooks, letters, personal memoirs, and oral history interviews. https://dsps.lib.uiowa.edu/hicrn/


Although not exactly a memorial for war resisters, my dad, Burt Kisling, and Chuck Day, both Quakers, worked to have this sculpture of three intertwined doves, the “Path to Peace”, installed in downtown Des Moines, Iowa.

“Path to Peace”, Des Moines, Iowa

Spiritual connections for survival

For many years I’ve been praying, thinking, writing, and discussing how we can prepare for an increasingly dystopian future. In an article in Friends Journal, Donald McCormick asks “why is there no vision for the future of Quakerism?”  I wrote about my vision in the article What is your vision for the future?

The increasing threats from environmental devastation and chaos lead me to share more of my vision, which has been evolving over the past several years. It’s taken me a long time to write this article, I think because I haven’t found resources available to check on what I’m saying here.

I’ve always believed the greatest problem to solve is how communities of the future organize and govern themselves. We’ll have to do things differently because our present systems are collapsing. Which is often not a bad thing since those systems are based on colonialism and capitalism.


Spirituality

Spirituality is especially important now as we experience increasing environmental chaos, which will contribute to further social, economic, and political collapse. We will have no choice but to band together for the survival of us all. The alternative is tribalism with its violence, destruction and death.

We will need the help of those who know survival skills that we don’t. It takes time to build the trust necessary for these connections. It is urgent to do this now. It is by the Spirit that we can engage with everyone around us, of all cultures, identities, ethnicities.

  • Spirituality can show us how to live with integrity now. How to be examples to others. This is how change happens.
  • The Creator can help us heal the wounds of the past. And the wounds that will be inflicted in the future.
  • The Spirit can guide us through the coming chaos.
  • It is by the Spirit we create connections among diverse peoples.

Kheprw Institute (KI)

One set of my spiritual experiences relates to my introduction to a community of people of color, the Kheprw Institute (KI). I wrote about this in detail at: https://jeffkisling.com/2021/03/14/white-quakers-and-spiritual-connections-with-the-kheprw-institute/

At my first meeting with the KI community, I was asked a number of questions. When I said I was a Quaker, one of the adults (the group was mainly teenagers) spoke about the history of Quakers related to the underground railroad. When she finished, all eyes turned to me. I said I was glad my ancestors did that, it was the right thing to do, but we try not to take credit for things we have not done ourselves. When I was asked to speak more about that, I wasn’t sure what to say. I remember clearly that an answer came from the Spirit, which told me to not only say that Quakers believe there is that of God in everyone, but to also look into the eyes of each one there and say, “and that includes you”. Each person smiled at me when I did that. That ended the questioning, and I was welcomed into the community. We had this spiritual basis for our work together.

But that was just the first step. Trust was built, but slowly. With permission, I invited members of my Quaker community to engage with KI’s monthly book discussions. This was one way we began to get to know each other. But it was two years after this introduction before I was invited to teach a class on photography for KI.

Kheprw Institute, Indianapolis

First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March

Because of my lifelong commitment to care for our environment, I’d always wanted to learn about Indigenous peoples and their sustainable lives. I jumped at the opportunity to do so when I heard about the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March in 2018. The intention was to build a community of native and nonnative people by walking and camping together along the route of the Dakota Access pipeline from Des Moines to Fort Dodge, Iowa (94 miles). Many long hours walking together, for eight days, along empty Iowa gravel roads was very effective in creating the beginnings of trust. There were about fifteen native and fifteen nonnative people, which allowed each of us the opportunity to share stories with every other person.

I’d hoped there would be ways to learn more about their spirituality, and to share some about my own. But I knew there was a huge barrier between us related to Friends’ involvement in the institutions of forced assimilation of native children. It is uncomfortable to admit this, but at the time I wondered how much awareness there was about the Indian Boarding Schools. I was soon to learn how profound that trauma was, and how it was passed from generation to generation. Is a deep wound today in every Indigenous person I know. I discuss this in detail in White Quakers and Native Peoples and other writings.

I didn’t know if, or how, the occasion might occur to talk about this during the March. Or whether I should.

But I vividly remember when the Spirit told me to say, “I know Quakers were involved in the Indian boarding schools and I’m sorry that happened” to the native person I was getting to know the best early in the March. I was worried saying that would upset him, open wounds. But he just nodded his head, and we kept walking together. But later in the day he said, “I want to tell you a story”, and proceeded to tell me a story related to him and his mother and the boarding schools.

At various times the Spirit led me to bring this up with each of my native friends. Every one of them and their families have had traumatic experiences related to forced assimilation. And the removal of native children from their homes continues in the guise of child welfare.

This is something that should not be taken lightly. A certain level of connection and trust is important. This is not about us (White people) and what we would like to see or do. There should be clear spiritual guidance.

I’ve found my Indigenous friends to be deeply spiritual. I like the sign, Earth is my church, carried by my friends Foxy and Alton Onefeather during the March. That says a lot about why I feel my friends are spiritual, their reverence of all things human and nonhuman. And their practices such as smudging, putting down tobacco, expressing thanks to the Creator each time they speak in public. Their humbleness. One friend often says “we are just pitiful people” during her prayers.

In the four years since that March, various combinations of us have had numerous opportunities to work together.

And yet again, that trust has been built, is being built slowly.

Foxy Onefeather holds sign on First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March (2018)


Spiritual guidance

Quakers believe our lives must be guided by the Spirit. But far too often people haven’t found, or don’t try to discern that spiritual guidance. They try to figure out how to do justice work on their own or in conjunction with like-minded people. with the best of intentions. That phrase usually indicates not listening to those affected by injustice. And indicates not having discerned what their faith is trying to tell them.

And that often results in unintended, harmful consequences. A common phrase to keep in mind is nothing about us without us. This is especially challenging for White people who are accustomed to their privileges. Often not even aware of those privileges. We would not need to qualify what our intentions were if we were following the leadership of the communities facing injustice.

One horrific example of best intentions gone wrong were the Indian boarding schools. A policy of forced assimilation of native children into White culture was thought by many to be a way to help Indian children adjust to the enveloping White society. But tens of thousands of children suffered physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Thousands died. Genocide. And that trauma has been passed to each following generation, including todays. Every one of my native friends has been affected.

This is an example of difficulties in making connections between different communities and/or cultures. With this horrific history, and ongoing trauma, how can a bridge ever be built between these two cultures, White and Indigenous? Or between White and BIPOC people and communities? (Black, Indigenous and other people of color)

But for others, especially in the government and military, this policy and horror was exactly what they intended.


Mutual Aid

The Spirit also led me to become involved in a Mutual Aid community. And led me to be involved in efforts to abolish police and prisons. I’ve written extensively about these things on my website Quakers and Religious Socialism, Intersection of Mutual Aid, Abolition and Socialism.


How to create connections between different communities or cultures

Returning to Donald McCormick’s question, “why is there no vision for the future of Quakerism?” I’ve tried to express my answer here. In these increasingly trying times, spiritual guidance is crucial. Sharing this with others is a gift Quakers have to offer. But we need to understand the history and concepts of oppression. Of Quakers’ role in oppression. And discern how the Spirit is leading us.

Frontline communities are figuring out how to live when the systems that are supposed to serve them no longer do, if they ever did. White communities will look to these communities and their solutions for our own survival.

I was recently surprised when a Quaker friend said I had a way of finding and connecting with oppressed communities. Which made me realize something I hadn’t expressed before, which is we must seek out these communities ourselves. Be guided to these communities by the Spirit. Search for these opportunities. Searching social media is usually very useful. And we can learn what our Friends and friends are doing and join those efforts.

Following is a list of things I have been learning from my experiences related to making connections between different communities and/or cultures.