Joy is the justice we give ourselves

The following story and poem are from an online magazine I recently discovered, Emergence Magazine.

The title caught my attention because joy is one of the main benefits of Mutual Aid communities. It has been true for my involvement in Des Moines Mutual Aid for the past two years. Especially in these times of growing fear about the baffling breakdown of so many things we took for granted, finding joy is so important. This quote from the book “Rehearsals for Living” by Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson describes this well.

“Rehearsals for Living” by Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

Roots anchor and support us. Firmly and deeply established, they can carry us through difficult times. When we do the work of rooting, we find those threads that can nourish us in the face of adversity.

In “Joy Is the Justice We Give Ourselves,” poet J. Drew Lanham grounds his vision of racial justice in quiet moments of awe in nature. Celebrating radical acts of joy, he lifts up liberation, reparations, and deep connection to ancestors and the living world.

Emergence Magazine

Joy is the justice
we give ourselves.
It is Maya’s caged bird
sung free past the prison bars,
holding spirits bound—
without due process,
without just cause.

Joy is the steady run stream,
rights sprung up
through moss-soft ground—
water seeping sweet,
equality made clear
from sea
to shining sea,
north to south,
west to east.

Joy is the truth,
crooked lies hammered straight,
whitewashed myths
wiped away.
Stone Mountain
—just stone.
—no more.
Give the eagles
their mountains back.


Joy is the justice we give ourselves


J. Drew Lanham is a birder, naturalist, and hunter-conservationist. He is the author of The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature, which received the Reed Award from the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Southern Book Prize, and was a finalist for the John Burroughs Medal. His essays and poetry can be found in Orion, Audubon, Flycatcher, and Wilderness, and in the anthologies The Colors of Nature, State of the Heart, Bartram’s Living Legacy, and Carolina Writers at Home. He is an Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Master Teacher at Clemson University.

Sheila Pree Bright is an acclaimed fine-art photographer known for her series Young Americans, Plastic Bodies, and Suburbia. Her documentation of responses to police shootings in cities across the US inspired her book #1960Now: Photographs of Civil Rights Activists and Black Lives Matter Protests.

Reflections on Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indy Art Jeff Kisling

Changes since the March in 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Accomplices, Continued

One of the primary reasons I embarked upon this journey about the evolution of my foundational stories was to encourage people who hadn’t been much involved in justice work to change that.

  • Injustices abound. The victims should be supported while working to address the root causes of the injustice.
  • We should search our own lives to see if and how we are contributing to injustice.
  • Spiritual guidance often leads to justice work.
  • If others observe our Spirit guided work, they may join our Quaker communities.

It is discouraging to see attendance of our Quaker meeting diminish as Friends die or move away, and few new people join. Many Friends do justice work, but that is often unseen by people in the community. This is a time of great spiritual poverty, and Quaker meetings for worship could be what some seekers are looking for. For seekers to find us, we need to be seen in our communities. And doing justice work is a way for that to happen.

The reason I’m thinking about all this now is because a group of us will be meeting with Senator Ernst’s staff in Des Moines to talk about the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act (S. 2907/H.R. 5444).

There is a web of interrelationships among Native and non-native peoples in the Midwest that presents opportunities to work together to learn and publish the truth about Indian Boardings Schools. There are parts of this that are only appropriate for each community to work on separately. But hopefully these Congressional visits will be the beginning of further work together.

This began with an appeal from Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) for us to ask our Senators to support that legislation (S. 2907). And specifically, to do this during their current recess when they would be in Iowa.

I know my friend Sikowis Nobiss is interested in supporting legislation related to Native Americans, so I contacted her about this. She put me in touch with Jessica Engelking, who is also part of the Great Plains Action Society. Fortunately, I met Jessica when we were attending the Buffalo Rebellion conference recently. Some of the networking that occurred there. Others at that conference included my friends Peter Clay, Sikowis, Mahmud Fitil, Ronnie James, Miriam Kashia and Jake Grobe.

When Jessica asked what Quakers have been doing related to our role in some of the residential schools, I shared FCNL’s decades of advocacy for Native Americans. We began to work together to arrange visits to our Senators about the truth and healing commission act, and included Jessica Bahena, FCNL’s National Organizer, who is FCNL’s contact related to this legislation in our planning.

Over the past several years there have been changes in how I do justice work. What hasn’t changed is the I’ve tried to be obedient to what the Spirit is telling me to do.

Most of my life I did justice work within the framework of Quaker meetings, communities, and organizations, such as FCNL. For about 8 years I was clerk of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee. At our annual sessions a month ago, someone else took over that responsibility.

The Quaker involvement in the Indian Boarding Schools has long been a concern of mine. When I learned about this appeal from FCNL, I wanted to work on that. But no longer being on the Peace and Social Concerns Committee, I wasn’t thinking about working in the context of that committee, although I did contact the clerk of the committee in case they wanted to become involved.

Mutual Aid

For the past two years I’ve been working in the Des Moines Mutual Aid community. This has answered a deep need in my life to find accomplices who are doing justice work in a way that focuses on root causes of injustice and builds community. (See: Mutual Aid PDF)

I’d like to explore the possibility of Native Americans and White people working together on these traumatic problems. At first, I thought the Mutual Aid part would just be an interesting possibility to frame this work, but the more I think about it, the more important I think it could be, for making our work together avoid the problems of hierarchy, who’s in charge.

Mutual Aid

It is common to feel vulnerable when we meet new people, in new organizations and communities. But we need to venture out of our meetinghouses more often. I’ve been blessed to have found numerous communities to work with over the years. What follows are guidelines I’ve discovered that can help you as you begin to work with other communities or cultures.

Foundational stories: Finding accomplices

“There’s nothing more radically activist than a truly spiritual life. And there’s nothing more truly spiritual than a radically activist life.”

Brian McLaren, Naked Spirituality

At the dawn of a new day, I listen to hear what I will write. I did not expect to be writing about accomplices today. But as I prayed about the next episode of this series of foundational stories, I am trying to express what or who I was looking for when I retired and moved back to Iowa (2017).

This quote immediately came to mind. “Destroy” might sound extreme, but the author is one of the most nonviolent people I know.

Randomly passing an accomplice on the street and throwing up a fist at each other as we go our separate ways to destroy all that is rotten in this world will never fail to give me extra energy and a single tear of gratitude for what this city is creating.

Mutual Aid friend

I leave the author unnamed because we never know what the authorities will use against us. I include myself in this by saying “against us“. I say Mutual Aid friend because we are both involved in a Mutual Aid community, which means we all support each other.

Although accomplice is defined as a person who helps another commit a crime, the meaning in the quote is more like associate or collaborator.

Or is it?

Nonviolent civil disobedience most often involves intentionally committing a crime. I previously wrote about being trained as a trainer for nonviolent direct actions, i.e. the Keystone Pledge of Resistance. And being prepared to break the law by blocking the doors of the Federal building in downtown Indianapolis, if necessary, to try to stop the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

I intentionally broke the law when I resisted the draft.

And there is the whole question of what is legal and who determines that? Legality and justice are not the same. Laws often enforce injustice, protecting the status quo.

The Doctrines of Discover gave permission to steal the land from and kill indigenous peoples all over the world. Manifest destiny said the expansion of white settlers across the land was justified and inevitable. There is the institution of enslavement. Forced assimilation.

…Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. The proper place to-​day, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less desponding spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the State by her own act, as they have already put themselves out by their principles. It is there that the fugitive slave, and the Mexican prisoner on parole, and the Indian come to plead the wrongs of his race, should find them; on that separate, but more free and honorable ground, where the State places those who are not with her, but against her — the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor. If any think that their influence would be lost there, and their voices no longer afflict the ear of the State, that they would not be as an enemy within its walls, they do not know by how much truth is stronger than error, nor how much more eloquently and effectively he can combat injustice who has experienced a little in his own person. Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to choose. If a thousand men were not to pay their tax-​bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible. If the tax-​gatherer, or any other public officer, asks me, as one has done, “But what shall I do?” my answer is, “If you really wish to do anything, resign your office.” When the subject has refused allegiance, and the officer has resigned his office, then the revolution is accomplished. But even suppose blood should flow. Is there not a sort of blood shed when the conscience is wounded? Through this wound a man’s real manhood and immortality flow out, and he bleeds to an everlasting death. I see this blood flowing now…

Henry David Thoreau

I hope the foundational stories I’ve written thus far illustrate that what has been meaningful for me is to find people and communities who act instead of just talk. I was looking for such people and organizations to work with when I moved to Iowa. I’m blessed to have been led to them.

Foundational stories: Spiritual Warriors

The Keystone pipeline resistance ended with President Obama’s denial of the pipeline’s permit. But then we began to hear about the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). In one of the most transparent, egregious examples of environmental racism, the route of the pipeline was changed when people in Bismarck, North Dakota, objected to the original plan for DAPL to cross the Missouri River just upstream from them, fearing contamination of their water. So, the route was changed to cross beneath Lake Oahe (Missouri River), at the edge of the border of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation (orange in the map below).

By NittyG – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Dakota Access Pipeline route (Standing Rock Indian Reservation is shown in orange)

That new route stimulated months of prayers and ceremonies by hundreds of Native American tribes and thousands of people.

By late September, (2016) NBC News reported that members of more than 300 federally recognized Native American tribes were residing in the three main camps, alongside an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 additional pipeline resistance demonstrators. Several thousand more gathered at the camps on weekends.[7][34][35]

Dakota Access Pipeline protests

DAPL support begins in Indianapolis

In a recent post (Keystone Pledge of Resistance) I described how Jim Poyser, Ted Wolner, and I were trained to design peaceful, nonviolent civil disobedience actions. And how we trained about fifty people in Indianapolis to participate in such actions.

A Spirit-led connection was made when Jim was talking with Joshua Taflinger about the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Jim lived near Joshua’s White Plains Wilderness Academy. Joshua wanted to know what he could do locally to bring attention to the Dakota Access pipeline. I say ‘bring attention’ rather than protest, because one of the first things I learned from those opposing DAPL was the difference between protesting and being a water protector.

Water protector was about an integral, Spiritual connection with Mother Earth, and all things human and nonhuman.

Bringing attention to the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) in downtown, Indianapolis

Jim told Joshua about the Keystone Pledge of Resistance, and those of us who had been trained to organize public gatherings and actions. And told Joshua we would be glad to support similar efforts to call attention to the dangers of DAPL. We were all excited about helping Joshua and White Plains Wilderness Academy, glad our experience could be useful.

Before getting into what we did related to DAPL, I’d like to express how working with Joshua and his wife Brandi, made me aware of the concept of spiritual warriors.

It may seem odd for a Quaker to speak about warriors. But what I mean by warriors is what Chief Sitting Bull said.

For us, warriors are not what you think of as warriors. The warrior is not someone who fights, because no one has the right to take another’s life. The warrior, for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves and above all, the children, the future of humanity.

Chief Sitting Bull

Warriors today are forging different ways to live together, returning to Indigenous ways to live in community. Mutual Aid is an alternative to our broken systems. Members of Mutual Aid communities are working for the abolition of police and prisons. To escape the colonial capitalist system. Feeding the hungry and finding shelter for the houseless. Collecting clothing.

The following from Joshua, is another example of radically rethinking our stories.

I am inspired to share with you all more directly a post I wrote, because I consider you an established and effective nature/spiritual warrior and believe that there is a need for the perspectives shared in the attached post to be more common thought in the minds of the many.

If you feel truth from this writing, and are inspired, I highly encourage you to re-write your own version, in your own words/perspectives, and post to your network.

With the intention of helping us all wake up, with awareness, clarity, and direction.

..spreading and weaving reality back into the world….

What has risen to the surface at Standing Rock is a physical/spiritual movement. Learn how to quiet your mind. To find the silent receptive space to receive guidance. To learn to adapt and follow the pull of synchronicity to guide you to where you will find your greatest support and strength.

What I have found in my time praying in the indigenous earth-based ways, is that it’s not about putting your hands together and talking to God…. It’s about quieting and connecting with the baseline of creation, of nature. Tuning into the frequency and vibration of the natural world, the nature spirits. The beings and entities that have been in existence, for all of existence, the examples and realities of sustainability and harmony.

It’s about becoming receptive to these things. Being open and flowing with them. The spirit guides us, but we have to make ourselves receptive to feel, sense, and respond to this guidance.

Joshua Taflinger

Each Warrior of the Light contains within him the spark of God. His destiny is to be with other Warriors, but sometimes he will need to practice the art of the sword alone; this is why, when he is apart from his companions, he behaves like a star. He lights up his allotted part of the Universe and tries to point out galaxies and worlds to all those who gaze up at the sky. The Warrior’s persistence will soon be rewarded. Gradually, other Warriors approach , and they join together to form constellations, each with their own symbols and mysteries. 

Coelho, Paulo. Warrior of the Light: A Manual (p. 89). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition

There comes a time when all life on Earth is in danger. Great barbarian powers have arisen.

Although these powers spend their wealth in preparations to annihilate one another, they have much in common: weapons of unfathomable destructive power, and technologies that lay waste our world. In this era, when the future of sentient life hangs by the frailest of threads, the Shambhala warriors appear.

The warriors have no home. They move on the terrain of the barbarian powers. Great courage is required, both moral and physical, for they must go into the heart of the barbarian powers to dismantle their weapons, into the places where the weapons are created, into the corridors of power where decisions are made.

The Shambhala warriors are armed only with the weapons of compassion and insight. Both are necessary. Compassion gives them the energy to move forward, not to be afraid of the pain of the world. Fueled by compassion, warriors engage with the world, step forward and act. But by itself compassion burns with too much passion and exhausts us, so the second weapon is needed — insight into the interdependence of all phenomena.

With that wisdom we see that the battle is not between “good guys” and “bad guys,” because the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. And with insight into our profound interrelatedness, we discern right action, knowing that actions undertaken with pure intent have repercussions throughout the web of life, beyond what can be measured or discerned.

Together these two weapons sustain the warriors: the recognition and experience of our pain for the world and the recognition and experience of our radical interconnectedness with all life.

Adapted from Dugu Choegyal, as recounted by Joanna Macy

The Spiritual Warrior is a person who challenges the dreams of fear, lies, false beliefs, and judgments that create suffering and unhappiness in his or her life. It is a war that takes place in the heart and mind of a man or woman. The quest of the Spiritual Warrior is the same as spiritual seekers around the world.


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

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

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

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

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

Ronnie James

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

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

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

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

Mutual Aid Will Help Communities Thrive

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

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

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

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

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

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

CSO = A New Model for Supporting Autonomous Agents of Change

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

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

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

Backbone Campaign


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

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

Vertical power

umair haque is the only author I read almost every day. He explores problems we face in more depth than other writers I’m aware of. Issues related to civilization, politics, economics, and our environment.

Still, I was surprised when a recent article focused on “vertical power“, and how that inevitably leads to authoritarianism. He defines “vertical power” as every stratum of society occupying its position on a hierarchy.

If you look closely at America, you will see a society of vertical power. One whose sole organizing force is vertical power. What do I mean by “vertical power”? I mean that every stratum of society occupies its position on a hierarchy, and each struggles to keep the next down, instead of lift any other up. Vertical power is power over, vertical power systems maximize power over — and so American life is now one great power struggle over the next person, everyone locked in mortal combat with everyone else.

Vertical power allows us only two rules in life. Punch the next person down, so they stay down. And obey the next person up, so they don’t hurt you.

Why America Collapsing Into Authoritarianism Was Inevitable by umair haque, Eudaimonia and Co, 8/7/2022

Those who know about Mutual Aid know it is based on escaping vertical hierarchies by building communities without such hierarchies. Communities described as having flat, horizontal, or no hierarchy.

Modern societies need a very different kind of power. Horizontal power. What is horizontal power? It is genuine self-governance and self-directedness. It is power to, power in, not power over. The power to realize one’s self, to fulfill one’s possibilities.

The problem is that America does not do horizontal power. It does not understand it, have any affinity for it, or believe that it can exist, really. It never has. It is deeply uncomfortable with the idea of horizontal power — precisely because it is so attached to its history of vertical power. Why don’t white people want black people to rise? Why don’t people in cities care about people in rural areas — and vice versa? Why don’t people lift each other up? America is obsessed with vertical power.

Why America Collapsing Into Authoritarianism Was Inevitable by umair haque, Eudaimonia and Co, 8/7/2022

As he says, this country is deeply uncomfortable with the idea of horizontal power. But Mutual Aid communities offer the opportunity to experience horizontal power. I have found participating in a Mutual Aid community fulfills a great yearning to do meaningful work with like-minded people. To build Beloved communities together.

When I first heard about Mutual Aid, I thought I would go to a local Mutual Aid project, the free food giveaway, just to see how that worked. Instead, I found the home I’d been looking for, and have returned nearly every Saturday morning since for the past two years.

Des Moines Mutual Aid
Des Moines Mutual Aid
Des Moines Mutual Aid
Ronnie James on Mutual Aid

Trying to face environmental meltdown

I’m still working on my foundational story. It is taking much longer than expected. I’ve been following a recent suggestion to examine my foundational story at its beginning, how it has evolved along the way, and what it is now.

Much of my foundational story is about care for Mother Earth. I lived my entire adult life without owning a car, being able to do so in part because of the barely adequate city bus system in Indianapolis. I don’t keep bringing this up for self-promotion. Rather, to point out everyone living in the early 1970’s could see the damage being done by the clouds of noxious fumes coming out of tailpipes. Since then, catalytic converters hid the visible damage, but the greenhouse gases continue to spew out.

We each made a choice.

  • either stop the pollution
  • or deem fouling the air with automobile exhaust an acceptable choice for our convenience

If we had decided to tackle the pollution and greenhouse gases then, we would not be in this environmental catastrophe now.

No one knows what the future holds, but it is no longer possible to hide the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions. High temperature records are broken daily. We see shrinking lakes and rivers, violent storms, flooding, and forest fires.

I’ve studied and prayed about this my whole life. I’m broken down by the continuous stress of knowing. At times I’ve felt like giving up. Wanting to stop thinking about all of this.

I don’t have a plan for what to do when water stops flowing from the faucet. When the grocery stores no longer have food. When no one picks up the trash. When there is no gas for cars and trucks. When hospitals close. When houses are destroyed by fires, winds, or floods. When there is no Internet. No electricity.

But I do have two tools to help me make a plan. For some hope.

  • My Quaker faith and faith community
  • And my Mutual Aid accomplices, who are not just making plans but implementing solutions now

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

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


Our country is primed for an overthrow of power within rapidly shifting currents. The land has seen devastation over the winter’s long night, but now sings songs of rebirth inside the blossoms of the cherry tree. At least in this hemisphere. The people…well, we’re all a little worn out thanks to a heavy hitting astrological and planetary realignment. Does anyone else feel like they’ve hardly had a moment to process and catch a breath before Mercury went Gatorade? Again? We’re being tested. Within each survivor is a warrior. Can we captain this ship through unknown waters? Are we braver than our fears? Will we earn a seat at the table, our place as a future ancestor? Oh, hell yes.

Nahko Bear

When I realized this, I felt even more hopeless, but, thankfully, my Quakerism led me to another definition, which is also in the dictionary. In addition to defining hope in terms of desire, expectation, and fulfillment, most dictionaries provide a secondary, archaic definition based on faith. This older and much less common meaning is about trusting life, without the expectation of attaining particular outcomes any time soon. This type of hope has a quiet but unshakeable faith in whatever happens and in the human capacity to respond to it constructively. It is a positive, but not necessarily optimistic, attitude to life that does not depend on external conditions or circumstances.

I call this “intrinsic hope” because it comes from deep inside us. Václav Havel, former president of Czechoslovakia, said in Disturbing the Peace that hope “is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. . . . It is an orientation of the spirit, and orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.” To me, intrinsic hope is also that of God in everyone; the inner light; the quiet, still voice; and the experience of the Great Mystery.

A Quaker Perspective on Hope By Kate Davies, Friends Journal, September 1, 2018

Mutual Aid and Ways of War

The reason I haven’t published anything for a while is because I’ve been working on a presentation about Mutual Aid that I plan to give when my Quaker yearly meeting, Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) meets this week. It’s been helpful for me to organize my thoughts about Mutual Aid, something that’s become the center of my peace and justice work for over two years. I’m glad to have this opportunity to share this work.

I don’t plan to talk about everything on this list of all that is going wrong now. But it is alarming to see how many of these have escalated recently.

  • Collapse of capitalism
  • Severe drought, floods, heat result in massively diminished food production and famine
  • White supremacy
  • Spiritual poverty
  • Fascism/authoritarianism
  • Broken political system
  • Media as propaganda
  • Domestic terrorism. Armed militias.
  • Militarized police
  • Global militarism
  • Movements of millions of climate refugees
  • Punishment-oriented judicial system
  • Prisons
  • Education discourages critical thinking
  • Continued commodifying all natural resources
  • Continued fossil fuel extraction and burning
  • Factory farming
  • Broken healthcare

Instead, I plan to use this slide about how we can no longer depend on so many systems now. We’re being forced to find alternatives, and Mutual Aid can be the solution. I hope the presentation will result in more Quakers and others getting involved in Mutual Aid work.

One of the things I’ve been praying about is this statement by my good friend and Mutual Aid comrade, Ronnie James.

Coming of age in the last 1960’s, during the Vietnam War, I saw and was part of the massive antiwar movement in this country. For the past several decades I’ve wondered what happened to the antiwar movement

Then we began to see war coming to the streets of our cities.

  • In 2014, we saw militarized police and tanks in the streets of Furguson, Missouri, following the killing of Michael Brown. Friends of mine from Indianapolis went there during the prolonged unrest. A Quaker friend went.
  • In 2016 the violent attacks of militarized police against the peoples peacefully gathered at Standing Rock were broadcast across the world.
  • At the beginning of 2020, I saw the violent invasion of Wet’suwet’en lands by the militarized Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). And learned similar invasions occurred in previous years.
  • Also in January 2020, “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.”
  • Then the world watched in horror as Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd by pressing on his neck for nine and a half minutes on May 25, 2020. Prolonged nationwide protests occurred in many cities, including Des Moines. Des Moines Mutual Aid established a bail fund that kept every protestor out of jail.
  • Now, militarized police responses have occurred at every protest against so many, ongoing police murders.
  • The war is now on the streets of this country, in the communities of the oppressed.
  • Now I think of FCNL’s “War is Not the Answer” signs being about these domestic wars.

I agree with Ronnie, “the more we take care of each other, the less they can fracture a community with their ways of war.” Mutual Aid is how we can take care of each other.

Mutual Aid is how we can work for peace and justice now.

War is Not the Answer

These words were taken from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, delivered April 4, 1967 at the Riverside Church in New York.

The message – War is Not the Answer – and the signs went viral. FCNL and Friends saw the potency and popularity of the message grew and spread, and the rest is history. With the increasing prospect for an endless war with Iran, War is Not the Answer, has become more relevant.

Friends and other people of faith act when they see broken systems. As we stand on the precipice of another war, Friends are mobilizing across the country to demand Congress halt the spiral into all-out war.

FCNL has distributed more than 2,000,000 “War is Not the Answer” bumper stickers and yard signs since 2002. Demands for the sign are increasing so we are making it available free online for you to download and print. If you’d like to purchase a lawn sign or bumper sticker, you can do so here.

Sherry Hutchison

Paradox of Mutual Aid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

description from goodreads

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