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.
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.
POET 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.
PHOTOGRAPHER 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.
Hearing stories of widespread and expanding areas of drought today, I was reminded of The Story of the Drought, part of a project I was involved in related to the Nandi tribe in Kenya.
My friend, neonatologist Jim Lemons, has done a lot of work in Africa related to the Kenya Mothers and Babies Hospital. He knew Indiana University anthropologist Jeanette Dickerson-Putman because of her interest in Africa. When he learned of a project she was interested in, he introduced us to each other.
Jeanette has made several trips to Africa. Recently her interest related to why the violence occurred after the elections in Kenya in 2007. The Nandi tribe was most involved in that. Jeanette found both the Nandi elders and the youth felt tribal knowledge was not being passed between generations, and partially accounted for the violent response after those elections. She wanted to find ways to bridge that gap.
When I learned what she wanted to do, I suggested a story website might be a way to help. Developing a place where Nandi people could learn the language and stories they had lost or never learned. The stories could be seen by those who had moved away from their homelands since the website could be seen from anywhere in the world. I was surprised to learn African people often had cell phones.
Jeanette made recordings of someone reading a story in the native language while the English translation was displayed on a computer or cell phone screen.
We didn’t get to implement the project. But I did create one video of The Story of the Drought from an audio recording she had obtained.
When Jeanette returned to Kenya, she was able to show some Nandi people that story, that I had uploaded to the Internet. This photo shows Nandi viewing that story on a cell phone in Kenya.
My previous postwas a description of the beginnings of my foundational stories, which related to the intersection between my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography. The intention of this series of articles is to show how these foundational stories changed over time.
The beginnings of the stories were about my struggles and eventual decision to resist the draft. Although I wasn’t prosecuted for that felony offense, there were other consequences. During the time it took for my family to adjust to my intention to resist the draft, I joined the Friends Volunteer Service Mission (VSM) in inner city Indianapolis in 1971. This was a Quaker part of my foundational story.
VSM was set up to provide alternative service work for conscientious objectors. The two-year program involved working at the type of job that qualifies for alternative service, most often in a hospital. And saving enough money from that job to support yourself to work full time in the community. Others, not doing alternative service, were also able to apply.
VSM was impactful in my life in two ways. The work I found was in respiratory therapy, then called “inhalation therapy”. I received on-the-job training to do this work during my first year at VSM. After my VSM experience, I obtained a degree in respiratory therapy and worked for about five years as a neonatal respiratory therapist. And for the rest of my career worked in an infant pulmonary function research lab.
VSM was also where I began to learn important (foundational) lessons about community organizing, Quaker faith in action. Others at VSM did what I thought of as traditional organizing, which included many meetings about setting up a neighborhood health clinic or trying to prevent the construction of an interstate highway through the local community.
I quickly found I didn’t like that type of community organizing. And felt a little guilty that I didn’t. But I eventually discovered what kind of community organizing I was led to do. During my first year at VSM I spent a lot of time with the kids in the neighborhood. The VSM house was next to Second Friends Church, which had a nice yard where we played games like capture the flag. One of our VSM projects involved setting up a basketball hoop in front of the garage of the church.
There were no programs for kids in the neighborhood and I really enjoyed working with them. When thinking about what to do during my second year at VSM, it became clear I should continue to work with the kids full time. We organized a 4-H club, went swimming, and rode bicycles to shopping centers, where we played “wall ball” on the walls at the back of the stores.
At VSM, there became another way photography became important in my life. I knew how to set up a basic darkroom and did that in the VSM house bathroom. Photography became one of the kids’ favorite things to do. We would ride around the city on bicycles with a couple of (film) cameras. Then develop the negatives and print the photos. I can still see the wonder in their faces as the image gradually appeared on the paper (in the red light of the darkroom).
Now, fifty years later, on two separate occasions, kids from that time found me on Facebook. They both talked about those darkroom experiences.
Protecting Mother Earth and photography
During this time in Indianapolis (early 1970’s) I didn’t have a car, simply because I couldn’t afford one. So, riding a bicycle everywhere, including to the hospital for work, was my routine.
But moving to Indianapolis had a major (foundational) impact on me, which influenced the rest of my life. I couldn’t believe how foul the air was. I saw clouds of fumes pouring out of the exhaust of every car. This was before the availability of catalytic converters, which cut out the visibility of the exhaust, but didn’t stop the greenhouse gas emissions. No one was talking about global warming and greenhouse gases then.
But I had a profound vision of clouds of pollution blocking the view of my beloved mountains. Specifically, obscuring Long’s Peak in this photo I took and developed around the time I moved to Indianapolis. That horrific vision stayed with me the rest of my life. As a consequence, I refused to have a personal automobile for the rest of my life. (Protecting Mother Earth).
These are more of the ways my foundational stories are about the intersection between my Quaker faith, protecting Mother Earth, and photography.
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
Broken political system
Media as propaganda
Domestic terrorism. Armed militias.
Movements of millions of climate refugees
Punishment-oriented judicial system
Education discourages critical thinking
Continued commodifying all natural resources
Continued fossil fuel extraction and burning
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.
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.
In response to a recent blog post, Rising Tensions with North Korea and Farm Diplomacy, Jon Krieg (American Friends Service Committee) who played a key role in this endeavor, wrote, “Isn’t it pretty cool how one thing that feels relatively small at the time can send bigger waves?”
I also heard from another key participant, Dan Jasper who wrote “You’ve done a lot to keep the history alive and I think you documented some important stuff on that post. It was a good trip when Linda and I came to Iowa and this retelling is very timely. We’re in the middle of our Korea peace advocacy week (an annual event where we set up meetings for grassroots folks to speak to their members of congress on Korea related bills). I also recently presented my sabbatical research on the connections between food, climate, and peace at AFSC. I’ve come to believe that it’s no accident that ag offers a place for communities and even adversaries to come together.
We could also set up a meeting with your congressional delegation as a sort of extension of the Korea peace advocacy week.”
This AFSC website will help you send a letter about tensions in North Korea to your US Congressional representatives.
The U.S. must act now to build peace and humanitarian cooperation with North Korea.
June 25, 2022 marks the 72nd anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War. Though there was a ceasefire in 1953, the United States and North Korea have yet to sign a peace treaty to officially end the Korean War. This open wound is a root cause of the conflict and hostilities still present on the Korean Peninsula today.
This “forever war” risks further military conflict, fuels arms races, exacerbates global humanitarian crises, and keeps families separated. And it’s time for it to end.
Join us in calling for peace and humanitarian cooperation today!
This is the letter that is created from that link. And the response from Senator Chuck Grassley.
As someone concerned about the well-being of the people on the Korean Peninsula and as a supporter of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), I ask you to please co-sponsor H.R. 1504 – the Enhancing North Korea Humanitarian Assistance Act. The bill expedites the provision of nongovernmental humanitarian assistance, including life-saving medical care, to the people of North Korea. In the weeks following the COVID-19 outbreak in North Korea, it is critical that you support these measures, which will help private aid organizations respond when the borders reopen.
Please also co-sponsor S. 2688, the Korean War Divided Families Reunification Act, which would require the State Department to work toward reuniting Korean-American families separated by the Korean War.
Help us respond to critical humanitarian needs and reunite Korean Americans with their families in North Korea.
Thank you for your consideration.
June 16, 2022
Dear Mr. Kisling:
Thank you for taking the time to contact me with your support for the Enhancing North Korea Humanitarian Assistance Act (S.690) and the Korean War Divided Families Reunification Act (S.2688). As your senator, it is important to me that I hear from you.
I appreciate hearing your support for the Enhancing North Korea Humanitarian Assistance Act which was introduced by Senator Edward Markey. This legislation, if enacted, would require the Treasury Department to expand existing humanitarian licenses for North Korea to include larger humanitarian projects as opposed to medical supplies and food.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Treasury Department and the Department of State have expanded licensees for the provision of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations in sanctioned countries. That said, I do not believe that the wholesale removal of sanctions on North Korea would alter the regime’s behavior or ensure adequate distribution of relief within the country. Rather, it would provide Kim Jong-Un with resources to continue persecuting the North Korean people and antagonizing the United States and the rules-based international order.
I also appreciate hearing your support for the Korean War Divided Families Reunification Act. This bill was introduced by Senator Mazie Hirono and if enacted, would require the State Department to report to Congress on its consultations with South Korea about potential opportunities to reunite Korean Americans with family in North Korea.
Both of these bills have been referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Should either of these pieces of legislation come before the full Senate, I will be sure to keep your thoughts in mind.
Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me. Please keep in touch.
Chuck Grassley United States Senator
My great thanks to my fellow activist photographer, Jon Krieg, of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) for these photos of the visit of Linda Lewis and Dan Jasper, of AFSC, to Iowa to tell us about their work in North Korea, March 2018. (Another activist videographer, Rodger Routh joined us. His video of this visit can be found below). You can see Linda and Dan visited us at Bear Creek Meeting. Russ Leckband presented them with a gift of his pottery. Linda and Dan also spoke at Des Moines Valley Friends Meeting. Also attending was my friend Reza Mohammadi. Ed Fallon interviewed them on his radio program. And I’m glad they were able to visit Scattergood Friends School and Farm where they spoke with Mark Quee and Thomas Weber.
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.
I recently received the following from Dan Jasper of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) about rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. The state of Iowa and my Quaker meeting, Bear Creek Friends, have a long history related to North Korea. Dan visited us in Iowa in March 2018.
Tensions between the U.S. and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or “North Korea”) are on the rise once again. In recent weeks, North Korea has conducted missile tests, and the U.S. and South Korea have responded with missile of tests of their own.
To make matters worse, a recent outbreak of COVID-19 in North Korea threatens a population that is already experiencing shortages of food and basic supplies.
A peace agreement would be a crucial step toward nuclear disarmament, and without it renewed military conflict could erupt at any moment. It would also help reunite thousands of families—including many Korean Americans—who have been separated for over 70 years.
As the pandemic further threatens lives and livelihoods in North Korea, the U.S. must also support private aid organizations providing critical humanitarian assistance in the country.
Asia Public Education and Advocacy Coordinator American Friends Service Committee
Sept. 1, 2017, Kenneth M Quinn, President of the World Food Prize suggested inviting a North Korean delegation to visit the United States as a way of easing tensions. In 1959 the Des Moines Register invited Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to come to Iowa to discuss agricultural practices. The Register’s Lauren Soth won a Pulitzer Prize in 1956 for that editorial, in part because Khrushchev accepted the offer. https://www.pulitzer.org/prize-winners-by-year/1956
In 1959, at what was the most dangerous moment of human history as Soviet and U.S. nuclear weapons were poised to be fired at each other, an event on a farm in Iowa contributed indirectly, but crucially, in keeping those missiles from ever being launched.
As the artwork that accompanies this essay and hangs in our World Food Prize Hall of Laureates in Des Moines shows, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev traveled to Coon Rapids on Sept. 23 of that year to visit the Roswell Garst Farm. Standing at the corn crib and holding an ear of hybrid corn, the Premier asked Garst why he couldn’t have corn like this in the Soviet Union.
Garst responded by sending his nephew John Chrystal on multiple trips to Russia over the next three-plus decades as an unofficial ambassador of agriculture, sharing aspects of Iowa technology.
After that article was published, Jon Krieg, of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Des Moines, shared the story below, Growing seeds of relationships with Des Moines Register editor, Lynn Hicks, about AFSC hosting a North Korean agricultural delegation’s visit to Iowa in 2001. October 5, 2017, the Register published the following editorial Could North Korea’s Kim visit Iowa, as Khrushchev did?
In 1955, this newspaper invited Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to send a delegation to Iowa “to get the lowdown on raising high quality cattle, hogs, sheep and chickens. We promise to hide none of our ‘secrets.’”
The Register’s Lauren Soth won a Pulitzer Prize in 1956 for that editorial, because the Kremlin took note. Exchanges of farmers followed, and hybrid seed-corn entrepreneur Roswell Garst met with Khrushchev in Moscow. And in 1959, Khrushchev shocked the world by accepting Garst’s invitation and visiting his Coon Rapids farm.
Ambassador Kenneth Quinn evoked the Khrushchev visit in a Register op-ed last month. Quinn, president of the World Food Prize, wrote: “With so few good options to defuse the current situation over North Korea’s enhanced strategic capabilities, including possible nuclear-weaponized long-range missiles, using agriculture as a vehicle to reduce tensions would seem worth a try.”
It was my distinct pleasure and honor to accompany the five North Koreans who visited an Iowa farm in 2001. What a warm and friendly evening it was, as we gathered for a delicious potluck with friends at the Bear Creek Meeting House.
That kind of one-on-one conversation and exchange of ideas is sorely needed today.
Why not invite Kim Jong Un to Iowa? “Farm diplomacy” helped ease tensions in the 1950s. Why not now? It could be a powerful way to move the conversation with North Korea from bombs and missiles to food and feeding hungry people.
Herb Standing’s words still ring true today, “We must tell people that it is not through missiles and bombs that we find security and peace, but rather through the one-on-one sharing with persons of different countries, cultures and experiences.”
Growing seeds of relationships, Eloise Cranke, Regional Director, American Friends Service Committee, Spring, 2001
I am fascinated by the story of the 2001 visit to my Quaker meeting, Bear Creek, because I wasn’t living in Iowa at the time. In the photo above, Burt Kisling is my father, Russ Leckband continues to attend Bear Creek, Herbert Standing was a cousin, and Arnold Hoge was the father of Win Standing, whose husband Ellis, is my mother’s brother. The delegation visited the farm of Ellis and Win. Then, after the potluck meal at the meetinghouse, I can easily imagine them gathered around the wood burning stove as described above, “…the conversation ranged from farming to families to religion, touching on many topics of curiosity and interest”.
Several of the people who had participated in that visit in 2001, were at Bear Creek meeting the morning of 10/8/2017. They shared their memories of that time. Winifred Standing shared what she had written in her journal that day:
Wednesday, February 28, 2001 2 degrees above zero this morn. Sunny I made an Economical Sponge Cake and a soybean casserole. Browned roast. Lots of phone calls this morn about wood and about tonight. I went to meetinghouse–cleaned a bit, set dishes out, got coffee pot ready, etc. I started cooking roasts at 2:00. Peeled potatoes. Eloise Cranke arrived just before 4. We visited with her until Randy Iverson and 5 North Koreans arrived. They looked at our heifers and quizzed Ellis. Eloise took me to meetinghouse about 5:15 to get supper started. Ellis brought Dads and Dorothy later. A good crowd gathered. A good supper and questions and answers around fireplace after–Home about 9. We visited and rested. Seemed a good evening.
We discussed how this might relate to our current political situation. I said I had shared a recent blog post about this with Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee, Scattergood Friends School, and several people at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). If another North Korean delegation did come, I thought a visit to Scattergood Friends School’s Farm at West Branch would be very beneficial.
The meeting wanted to support the idea of the Des Moines Register inviting another delegation from North Korea to visit us and approved the following letter, which was published by the Register.
When we looked into what was being done regarding North Korea at this time (2018) we were surprised to learn that the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) had been involved in bringing agricultural practices to North Korea for many years. We contacted the people who had been doing this work, Linda Lewis and Daniel Jasper, and they agreed to visit us in Iowa to share what they had been doing in North Korea.
Jon Krieg, AFSC, recorded the following video of the presentation about work Linda and Daniel have been doing in North Korea that was held at Des Moines Valley Friends Meeting on March 18, 2018. Both have been to North Korea and described how the AFSC has used efforts to improve agricultural practices in North Korea to facilitate understanding and build peace between North Korea and the United States since 1980.
Following is an excellent video by Rodger Routh interviewing Linda and Daniel on March 20, 2018, about their work for peace in North Korea. Linda and Daniel were in Iowa to discuss their work with agricultural projects in North Korea and to talk with us about how we might arrange for another North Korean agricultural delegation to Iowa, as happened in 2001, to try to reduce tensions between North Korea and the United States. Unfortunately, another visit has not occurred, so far.
Returning to Dan Jasper’s email about present day tensions with North Korea, Call on Congress today to take action. Urge them to pass legislation to end the Korean War, support nongovernmental aid missions, and reunite families.
I came of age during the Vietnam War years. Organized a draft conference, walked with the entire student body of Scattergood Friends School (all sixty of us) fourteen miles into Iowa City during the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, became a draft resister. The entire country was in an uproar. Young men and their families lived in fear of induction based on a lottery system. Over 58,000 Americans were killed.
A key component to the sustenance of the permanent war state was the creation of the All-Volunteer Force. Without conscripts, the burden of fighting wars falls to the poor, the working class, and military families. This All-Volunteer Force allows the children of the middle class, who led the Vietnam anti-war movement, to avoid service. It protects the military from internal revolts, carried out by troops during the Vietnam War, which jeopardized the cohesion of the armed forces.
NO WAY OUT BUT WAR By Chris Hedges, Scheer Post. May 23, 2022. Permanent War Has Cannibalized The Country. It Has Created A Social, Political, And Economic Morass.
I’ve often despaired at the absence of an antiwar movement since our plunge into a ‘war on terror’ that is an excuse to have military presence and conflict in any place politicians define a threat. To terrorize children by the sounds of drones circulating overhead. With untold civilian casualties from drone strikes. Death by remote control.
What should I have done? What should I be doing now?
Shortly after the Vietnam years, I moved to Indianapolis (1970). The filthy air, the clouds of smoke pouring out of every tailpipe, traumatized me. Especially as I imagined how the air in the beautiful National Parks I had visited might become polluted.
We went on vacation to California around this time. The first day in Los Angeles we could hardly breathe. We coughed and our eyes were irritated. We were told we would get used to it.
It was this war against Mother Earth I devoted my efforts to, including refusing to own a car, which I called a weapon of mass destruction. And against the wars of White supremacy on black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC).
But the armed wars of this country continued, expanded internationally. And turned inward, bringing the tactics, equipment, and attitudes of war to our cities.
The United States, as the near unanimous vote to provide nearly $40 billion in aid to Ukraine illustrates, is trapped in the death spiral of unchecked militarism. No high speed trains. No universal health care. No viable Covid relief program. No respite from 8.3 percent inflation. No infrastructure programs to repair decaying roads and bridges, which require $41.8 billion to fix the 43,586 structurally deficient bridges, on average 68 years old. No forgiveness of $1.7 trillion in student debt. No addressing income inequality. No program to feed the 17 million children who go to bed each night hungry. No rational gun control or curbing of the epidemic of nihilistic violence and mass shootings. No help for the 100,000 Americans who die each year of drug overdoses. No minimum wage of $15 an hour to counter 44 years of wage stagnation. No respite from gas prices that are projected to hit $6 a gallon.
The permanent war economy, implanted since the end of World War II, has destroyed the private economy, bankrupted the nation, and squandered trillions of dollars of taxpayer money. The monopolization of capital by the military has driven the US debt to $30 trillion, $ 6 trillion more than the US GDP of $ 24 trillion. Servicing this debt costs $300 billion a year. We spent more on the military, $ 813 billion for fiscal year 2023, than the next nine countries, including China and Russia, combined.
We are paying a heavy social, political, and economic cost for our militarism. Washington watches passively as the U.S. rots, morally, politically, economically, and physically, while China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, and other countries extract themselves from the tyranny of the U.S. dollar and the international Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a messaging network banks and other financial institutions use to send and receive information, such as money transfer instructions. Once the U.S. dollar is no longer the world’s reserve currency, once there is an alternative to SWIFT, it will precipitate an internal economic collapse. It will force the immediate contraction of the U.S. empire shuttering most of its nearly 800 overseas military installations. It will signal the death of Pax Americana.
NO WAY OUT BUT WAR By Chris Hedges, Scheer Post. May 23, 2022. Permanent War Has Cannibalized The Country. It Has Created A Social, Political, And Economic Morass.
Chris Hedges goes on to explain
There were three restraints to the avarice and bloodlust of the permanent war economy that no longer exist. The first was the old liberal wing of the Democratic Party, led by politicians such as Senator George McGovern, Senator Eugene McCarthy, and Senator J. William Fulbright, who wrote The Pentagon Propaganda Machine. The self-identified progressives, a pitiful minority, in Congress today, from Barbara Lee, who was the single vote in the House and the Senate opposing a broad, open-ended authorization allowing the president to wage war in Afghanistan or anywhere else, to Ilhan Omar now dutifully line up to fund the latest proxy war. The second restraint was an independent media and academia, including journalists such as I.F Stone and Neil Sheehan along with scholars such as Seymour Melman, author of The Permanent War Economy and Pentagon Capitalism: The Political Economy of War. Third, and perhaps most important, was an organized anti-war movement, led by religious leaders such as Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr. and Phil and Dan Berrigan as well as groups such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). They understood that unchecked militarism was a fatal disease.
NO WAY OUT BUT WAR By Chris Hedges, Scheer Post. May 23, 2022. Permanent War Has Cannibalized The Country. It Has Created A Social, Political, And Economic Morass.
Where was the organized anti-war movement?
I wasn’t there. As I said, I was led to the ‘fight’ to protect Mother Earth, protect the water. The damage we’ve done to our environment has led to the collapse we are experiencing now. As I wrote just yesterday, collapse is already here. Significantly worsening environmental chaos is everywhere and will only worsen, rapidly.
What does this mean regarding militarization now? As Chris Hedges writes above, there is no political resistance to continued military spending, leaving little for domestic needs. “The permanent war economy, implanted since the end of World War II, has destroyed the private economy, bankrupted the nation, and squandered trillions of dollars of taxpayer money.”
The US military is the largest polluter in the world because of the combustion of fossil fuels by the machines of war and the energy needed by steel production.
Depletion of fossil fuel supplies will eventually render those machines useless. But they will be a priority for dwindling supplies. I guess time will tell how long armored tanks and planes will have fuel in the timeline for our collapsing society.
So many military installations are on ocean shores and will be flooded by rising waters.
As oil supplies are depleted, the US armed forces will continue to take over fossil fuel sources anywhere in the world.
At the time when it is absolutely essential to stop burning fossil fuels, the military will continue doing the opposite. Might this be the way we finally rise up against the tools of war?
As our economy continues to collapse, the armed forces and militarized police will increasingly be used to quash civil unrest.
I was led to the fight to protect Mother Earth, protect the water. Much as I wish I had been able to do more to stop militarization, I know I have tried to hear what the Spirit was leading me to do. And then do it.
I am grateful for many things this morning. For the waters falling from the sky. For my Mutual Aid friends who demonstrate what a Beloved community is. For the Buffalo Rebellion, growing a movement for climate action that centers racial and economic justice. Thankful for my Quaker communities. I give thanks to the Spirit.
I am grateful for my Indigenous friends. Humbled by the grace they have shown me and other white people as we seek ways to heal from the horrendous history of white supremacy and forced assimilation, abuse, and death of thousands of Native children. As we search for ways to deal with the present, ongoing injustices. The intergenerational trauma. Ripping open deep wounds as the remains of children are located. As the title of this new documentary says, “They Found Us”.
Growing up I heard references to Quakers who worked in the residential schools. I was told they were helping the Native children adjust to living in white society. I didn’t have the awareness to question why that was not a good thing.
I’ve had a life-long concern about environmental devastation. I grew up on farms. When I moved to Indianapolis in 1970, I was horrified by the dense, noxious fumes from every tailpipe, making it difficult to even see. This was before catalytic converters hid the damage being done. I was led to refuse to own a car.
It was obvious Indigenous peoples lived in sustainable ways.
To pull this all together, here is the link to a recent blog post, Midwest Quakers and Native Peoples, which describes how I was blessed to become friends with Indigenous folks in the Midwest and the history of some of the work we’ve done together. It also talks about the Indian Residential Schools and includes a letter from Curt Young, member of George Gordon First Nation, describing the documentary he created, “They Found Us”. Sikowis is also a member of George Gordan First Nation.
“I thought it would be important to document these searches and capture some of the stories told by members that were forced to go to these institutions. It’s a first hand look into some of the experiences survived in residential school.”
Curt Sipihko Paskwawimostos, creator of “They Found Us”.
Sikowis (Christine) Nobiss is one of my close Indigenous friends. We’ve discussed the residential schools, briefly, a few times. I was glad she felt she could ask me if Quakers would help pay for expenses to travel with the film for viewing in a number of communities. She later told me it was difficult for her to ask for funds.
I am clerk of the Peace and Social Concerns Committee of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). Our committee has a budget of $1,100 to support justice work. In the past we sent $50 or $100 to a number of such organizations. Someone suggested instead sending a larger amount for one or two projects. We decided to do that but didn’t have a project in mind when we were meeting last summer.
I believed the Spirit would show us the way. The request for “They Found Us” seemed to be what we were waiting for. Our committee met to discuss and unanimously approve this. I’m grateful and humbled for that, as well.
“Hero” isn’t a word I hear much these days, but Martin Luther King, Jr, is one to me. Other heroes are the men and their families who also resisted cooperation with the systems of war. That includes a number of those in my Quaker community. And includes Muhammad Ali. People whose lives reflected their faith and beliefs. Because even as a child it was clear so many people did not do so. This was and continues to be spiritually traumatic.
In this brief celebratory moment of King’s life and death we should be highly suspicious of those who sing his praises yet refuse to pay the cost of embodying King’s strong indictment of the US empire, capitalism and racism in their own lives.
Martin Luther King’s beliefs and actions related to racism are well known.
He was late to publicly come out against the Vietnam War and was harshly criticized by most in his own community for doing so. The argument was that would weaken his work against racism. But he could clearly see the ties between racism, capitalism, and militarism.
A historic speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered even 55 years later as one of the most courageous speeches ever made. This speech stated those truths which no other leading political leader or even leading activist was willing to state in such a clear and sharp way. The reference here is of course to the speech delivered by Dr. King at Manhattan’s Riverside Church on April 4 1967—a speech remembered also as the ‘Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence’ speech.
The great importance of this speech is due to several factors. Firstly, he drew a very clear linkage between why a civil rights activist like him has to be a peace activist at the same time. He stated very clearly that the high hopes he had from the poverty program started getting shattered from the time of increased spending on Vietnam war. So he realized that in order to really help the poor it is important also to prevent wars and to have peace. Secondly, he expressed deep regret that it is mainly the children of the poor (black as well as white young men from poor households) who were being sent to fight a very unjust and oppressive war, while they should have been contributing to reducing distress of their own settlements. Thirdly, he exposed the great injustices and bitter realities about US military intervention with such clarity and conviction that it was bound to have a strong nationwide and in fact worldwide impact.
The major threat of Martin Luther King Jr to us is a spiritual and moral one. Martin Luther King Jr turned away from popularity in his quest for spiritual and moral greatness – a greatness measured by what he was willing to give up and sacrifice due to his deep love of everyday people, especially vulnerable and precious black people.
If King were alive today, his words and witness against drone strikes, invasions, occupations, police murders, caste in Asia, Roma oppression in Europe, as well as capitalist wealth inequality and poverty, would threaten most of those who now sing his praises. Today, 50 years later the US imperial meltdown deepens. And King’s radical legacy remains primarily among the awakening youth and militant citizens who choose to be extremists of love, justice, courage and freedom, even if our chances to win are that of a snowball in hell! This kind of unstoppable King-like extremism is a threat to every status quo!