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

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

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

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


“I Rage Because I Love”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


They Found Us

Following are stories about the documentary They Found Us by Curt Sipihko Paskwawimostos who is a member of George Gordon First Nation. My friend Christine Nobiss is also a member and has been working to get funds to support the video. The documentary is about the search for unmarked graves at their rez, George Gordon First Nation.

If you click on this image, you will see a remarkable and powerful 3D image that can be moved using your mouse. In an eerie and disturbing way, you find the children.

Well my documentary They Found us got a nomination for best documentary Althens Film Freeway fest. If I win I will be put in for best movie of the year. We’re I would be going to Athens Greece 🇬🇷 for the film fest 🤞🤞🤞❤️❤️❤️🦅🦅🦅
Let’s just see what happens ❤️❤️
Curt Sipihko Paskwawimostos


As described in the following letter, the project was originally for a compilation of Elder’s narratives. But during the initial interviews, the findings of the 215 bodies outside the Kamloops residential school changed the direction of the documentary. To focus on the process that George Gordon’s First Nation was undertaking related to the unmarked graves or bodies at the GGFN reserve’s residential school.

March 27, 2022

This letter in regards to a request for financial support for a documentary title “They Found Us”, to support community presentations of this film that I produced.

My name is Curt Young and I a member of the George Gordon’s First Nation.  I am a descendant of Mike Longman, along with my mother Longman-Young; both members of this nation.  The development of this documentary was an intent for myself to learn more about my maternal familial lineage, as I had not grown up on GGFN and wanted more connections to my cultural heritage.  I applied for the “Peoples Investment Grant”, while residing in Calgary and was a successful candidate.  These funds were intended to financially support a compilation of Elder’s narratives, however, during the initial interviews, the findings of the 215 bodies outside of the Kamloops residential schools, inspired myself to change the direction of the documentary.  I decided to focus more on the process that GGFN reserve’s undertaking of a ground search outside of the local residential school; to see if there were any unmarked graves or bodies buried there. 

Over the past year, I have made three trips to GGFN to obtain footage of the community’s initial activities related to the ground search of the area.  Aside from the footage of the community, I also have compiled interviews from GGFN members, and other Indigenous people, including leaders and Elders, that have shared their own narratives and experience with residential schools.  The budget that I was provided by the grant I received was allocated to travel costs associated with these trips to GGFN, along with the rental of video technological equipment, necessary to create the documentary.  I have spent time and effort into producing this documentary and have been promoting it through various online platforms, along with connections I have within Indigenous communities, both urban and rural.  I have much interest in public showings of this documentary, particularly since June is coming up, with it being National Indigenous Peoples month.  One showing that I have confirmed is the first week of June; at Fort Calgary.  Although I am quite excited for the interest and opportunities, I would like to honour my home community and acknowledge the stories that are compiled in my documentary, by having the first public showing of “They Found Us” on GGFN.

In order for myself to bring the documentary to GGFN I am requesting funds to support my travel, accommodation and honorarium for traditional drummers and possibly a dancer to create a healing and culturally safe space for a community show.  My first showing that I have booked for this documentary is June 4, 2022, thus, I am asking to have funds to showcase the documentary on GGFN prior to this date. 

Curt Sipihko Paskwawimostos


History of involvement of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) Friends

My relative, Curt Sipihko Paskwawimostos, created “They Found Us”. It’s a documentary about the search for unmarked graves at our rez, George Gordon First Nation. I hope we can bring it here to Iowa in the near future. My cousin Janna Pratt is featured in the film.

“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.”

The film delves into members’ recollections along with the process towards the first ground search of Gordon Residential School before Ground Penetration Radar (GPR) in 2021. This is only the beginning…

I want to say thank you to Jeff Kisling and the Iowa Quaker community for the donation that will help get the film seen. If others would like to help support this work, hit me up.

Sikowis (Christine) Nobiss


During the 2017 annual sessions of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) there was panel discussion about building bridges with native peoples. The panel consisted of Peter Clay, an Iowa Friend, Donnielle Wanatee from the Meskwaki Settlement, and Sikowis (Christine) Nobiss, one of the most active Indigenous leaders in the Midwest. All three have played a large role in my connections with Native Americans since. 

In February 2018, I was part of a group who went to Minneapolis to protest US Bank’s funding of oil pipelines. Sikowis spoke at that gathering. 

I began to get to know Sikowis when she and I were among a small group of native and non-native people who walked and camped for eight days along the route of the Dakota Access pipeline, from Des Moines to Fort Dodge, Iowa. Iowa Friend Peter Clay was also on this First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March.  Jon Krieg (AFSC) joined us for the first day. And my Scattergood School roommate Lee Tesdell participated in one of the evening discussions during the March. Another Iowa Yearly Meeting Friend, Liz Oppenheimer, organized a time of worship sharing and prayer among Friends each morning, supporting our sacred journey. 

Last year I was clerk of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee. The committee had a small budget to support organizations doing justice work. Last year we were led to a choice of rather than giving token amounts to a number of organizations, to instead see if an opportunity arose to give the entire budget to make an impact on the work that presented itself. I believe because of our discussions about the residential schools, Sikowis asked if Quakers could support showings of the film “They Found Us” that had been made about the residential school of her nation, the George Gordon First Nation. Our Peace and Social Concerns Committee gladly agreed to donate our budget to this.


Ay hai kitatamihin, 
Sikowis (Fierce), aka, Christine Nobiss, she/her
Plains Cree/Saulteaux, George Gordon First Nation
Executive Director, Great Plains Action Society
sikowis@greatplainsaction.org 
Web – greatplainsaction.org
FB – @GreatPlainsActionSociety
IG – @greatplainsactionsociety
Tw – @PlainsAction

Do you trust the police?

There continue to be conflicting versions about the first killing of an environmental activist in this country, Manuel Teran “Tortuguita”. I am also an environmental activist.

So many times, the initial versions of police killings from the police have proven to be false. In this case the police say Tortuguita fired at them. Do you trust the police version? There is supposed to be body cam video, but that hasn’t been released. We are waiting for more details, but the truth may never be known

I know people have different ideas and/or experiences related to policing in this country. My attitude has changed dramatically over the past decade because of being involved in Black, Indigenous, and other people of color’s communities.


We as White Quakers like to think of ourselves as ahead or better than dominant culture, but we have been complicit in a system and mindset that are ubiquitous. Claiming the full truth of our history and committing to repair the harms done are deeply spiritual acts of healing our own wounds of disconnection. I would argue it is the pathway upon which we can, perhaps for the first time, discover and invigorate our faith with its full promise.

What would it mean for us to take seriously and collectively as a Religious Society a call to finish the work of abolition, hand in hand and side by side with those affected and their loved ones? What would it mean for us to stand fully with the calls to abolish the police and fully fund community needs instead? What would it mean to reckon with our past complicity with harm and fully dedicate ourselves to the creation of a liberating Quaker faith that commits to build the revolutionary and healing faith we long to see come to fruition? What would it look like to finally and fully abolish slavery?

A Quaker Call to Abolition and Creation by Lucy Duncan, Friends Journal, April 1, 2021

Lucy’s article includes this correction, that so many White people do unintentionally:
Correction: The author and FJ editors realize that an earlier version of this article inadvertently erased BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) Quakers in describing Quakers as though we were/are all White. Certainly there have been Black Friends and Friends of Color in our body from our earliest history. We apologize for this error. This online article has been updated accordingly. We have also clarified the relationship of George Fox with Margaret and Thomas Rous.


I have learned much more about community safety from my experiences with my Mutual Aid community. Mutual Aid is about rejecting hierarchies. Policing is about enforcing, often violently, hierarchies, systems of dominance.

I would like to see more people join our efforts to abolish police and prisons.


I’ve been participating in the Quaker for Abolition Network, initiated by Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge and Jed Walsh. The following is from an article they wrote for Western Friend.

Mackenzie: Let’s start with: What does being a police and prison abolitionist mean to you?
Jed: The way I think about abolition is first, rejecting the idea that anyone belongs in prison and that police make us safe. The second, and larger, part of abolition is the process of figuring out how to build a society that doesn’t require police or prisons.
Mackenzie: Yes! The next layer of complexity, in my opinion, is looking at systems of control and oppression. Who ends up in jail and prison? Under what circumstances do the police use violence?
As you start exploring these questions, it becomes painfully clear that police and prisons exist to maintain the white supremacist, heteronormative, capitalist status quo.

Abolish the Police by Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge and Jed Walsh, Western Friend, November December 2020

I contributed to another article in Western Friend.

In late 2020, the two of us wrote an article for this magazine, called “Abolish the Police.” Through writing the piece, we realized we wanted to convene a larger space where Friends with an interest in police and prison abolition could have conversations with one another. Quaker abolitionists today face major pushback from our Meetings; we hoped that drawing Friends together would support and strengthen our work.
In this context, the Quakers for Abolition Network is being born. We are a collection of Friends from at least five Yearly Meetings; we range in age from high school to our 80s; we are disproportionately queer and trans. While AFSC and FCNL staff are participating, this is a grassroots project without any formal connections to existing organizations. We are in the process of defining our mission statement, structure, and our methods for addressing white supremacy when it shows up in our work, while building relationships with each other as we go. Below, four Friends write about their approaches to abolition, their lessons, and their visions for where Quakers might be headed.

Jeff Kisling: Mutual Aid and Abolition
I grew up in rural Iowa, where there was very little racial diversity and interactions with police and the court system were rare. About ten years ago, I was blessed to become involved with the Kheprw Institute, a Black youth mentoring and empowerment community. I’ll never forget how shocked I was when a Black mother broke down in tears, explaining how terrified she was every minute her children were away from home. It was obvious that every other person of color in the discussion knew exactly what she was saying.
After retiring, I was led to connect with Des Moines Mutual Aid, a multiracial organization founded to support houseless people. For over a year, I’ve helped my friends fill and distribute boxes of donated food, while continuing to learn about the framework of mutual aid.
To me, mutual aid is about taking back control of our communities. Besides the food giveaway, we support houseless people and maintain a bail fund to support those arrested agitating for change. We also work for the abolition of police and prisons.

Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge and Jed Walsh: Introducing the Quakers for Abolition Network, Western Friend, Sept 2021


Points of Unity. Des Moines Mutual Aid

  • We believe in working shoulder to shoulder and standing in solidarity with all oppressed communities
    We ourselves are oppressed, and our mutual aid work is a fight for our collective liberation. We do not believe in a top-down model of charity. Instead, we contrast our efforts at horizontal mutual aid, the fostering of mutually beneficial relationships and communities, to dehumanizing and colonizing charity.
  • We believe in community autonomy.
    We believe that the communities we live and organize in have been largely excluded from state social services, but intensely surveilled and policed by the state repressive apparatus. Capitalism is fundamentally unable to meet people’s needs. We want to build self-sustaining communities that are independent of the capitalist state, both materially and ideologically, and can resist its repression.
  • We are police and prison abolitionists.
    Abolition and the mutual aid that we practice are inextricably linked. We don’t rely on capitalist institutions or the police to do our work. We believe in building strong and resilient communities which make police obsolete, including community systems of accountability and crisis intervention.
  • We work to raise the political consciousness of our communities.
    Part of political education is connecting people’s lived experiences to a broader political perspective. Another component is working to ensure that people can meet their basic needs. It is difficult to organize for future liberation when someone is entrenched in day-to-day struggle.
  • We have open disagreements with each other about ideas and practices.
    We believe there is no formula for resolving our ideological differences other than working towards our common aims, engaging each other in a comradely manner, and respecting one another, whether or not we can hash out disagreements in the process.

A New Year Begins

12/31/2022

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

1/1/2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prefigurative politics

Fleeting thoughts often return to my consciousness. One of my life’s goals has been to catch those thoughts or prayers before they disappear. Because when they reappear, they are significant. Perhaps that gap is needed for the thought to incubate. For me to become ready to accept the thought.

In the early days of being in my Mutual Aid community, a fleeting thought was “this reminds me of the way Quakers used to be”. And “I wish Quakers today were like this”.

What about Quakers changed? Why are we no longer the way we used to be? In part it is because we have become too invested in the status quo.

Quakers have always believed we should let our lives speak. How we live should reflect our spirituality. What is the way we live now saying?

But my fleeting thoughts reveal our methods of resistance and social change are no longer effective. The society we (White Quakers) grew up in, the State, is itself unjust.

As my friend and Mutual Aid mentor, Ronnie James, wrote:

I’m of the firm opinion that a system that was built by stolen bodies on stolen land for the benefit of a few is a system that is not repairable. It is operating as designed, and small changes (which are the result of huge efforts) to lessen the blow on those it was not designed for are merely half measures that can’t ever fully succeed.

So the question is now, where do we go from here? Do we continue to make incremental changes while the wealthy hoard more wealth and the climate crisis deepens, or do we do something drastic that has never been done before? Can we envision and create a world where a class war from above isn’t a reality anymore?”

Ronnie James

Prefigurative politics

Yesterday I learned of a new (to me) concept, prefigurative politics. Returning to fleeting thoughts, my Mutual Aid community is an example of prefigurative politics. When my thought was “I wish Quakers today were like this”, I’m realizing I mean embracing the concepts of prefigurative politics, for example, Mutual Aid.


Something new is happening – something new in content, depth, breadth and global consistency. Societies around the world are in movement. Since the early 1990s millions of people have been organizing similarly, and in ways that defy definitions and former ways of understanding social movements, protest and resistance. There is a growing global movement of refusal – and simultaneously, in that refusal is a creative movement. Millions are shouting No!, as they manifest alternatives in its wake.

Prefigurative Societies in movement by Marina Sitrin, Popular Resistance, December 21, 2022


Prefigurative politics are the modes of organization and social relationships that strive to reflect the future society being sought by the group. According to Carl Boggs, who coined the term, the desire is to embody “within the ongoing political practice of a movement […] those forms of social relations, decision-making, culture, and human experience that are the ultimate goal”.[1] Besides this definition, Leach also gave light to the definition of the concept stating that the term “refers to a political orientation based on the premise that the ends a social movement achieves are fundamentally shaped by the means it employs, and that movement should therefore do their best to choose means that embody or prefigure the kind of society they want to bring about”. [2]

Prefigurative politics, Wikipedia
  1.  Boggs, Carl. 1977. Marxism, Prefigurative Communism, and the Problem of Workers’ Control. Radical America 11 (November), 100; cf. Boggs Jr., Carl. Revolutionary Process, Political Strategy, and the Dilemma of Power. Theory & Society 4,No. 3 (Fall), 359-93.
  2. Leach, D. K. (2013). Prefigurative politics. The Wiley-Blackwell encyclopedia of social and political movements, 1004-1006.


See beyond our own time

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

Survival needs are ranked as:

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

So, the questions are:

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

Great Plains Action Society and Midwest Quakers

What follows is a history of the development of relationships among people of the Great Plains Action Society (GPAS) and some Quakers in the Midwest. I’ve had a lifelong concern for our environment and always wanted to learn more about Indigenous peoples and their spiritual and sustainable ways of living. But I hadn’t known how to make that happen. My intention in writing this is to share my recent experiences, and show various ways I’ve found to make such connections, so you might make your own.

Friends are involved with Indigenous peoples in a number of ways in the Midwest. Many members of my Quaker meeting have been involved in the annual Prairie Awakening/Prairie Awoke celebration at the Kuehn Conservation Area for many years. Other Friends have lobbied legislators. Friends are involved with Friends Peace Team’s program Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples.

The reason for my focus on the Great Plains Action Society is because of the many friends I have there, and the many wonderful things they do. Things I have been led to join in, when appropriate for a white person.

As a Quaker I know that everything is grounded in faith and I believed that was true for Indigenous peoples, too. I was truly blessed when opportunities started to appear about seven years ago that began to teach me about these things. What follows is an account of how I have been led on this journey thus far.

[NOTE: this is not about calling attention to myself. At the end of this post is a statement about humility.]

Fundamentally, relationships can only be made by spending a lot of time together over an extended period. And only when this is something you are led to do. It doesn’t work if you are only doing this out of a sense of obligation and/or not able or willing to spend a lot of time in the endeavor. And White people, such as I, must constantly guard against bringing along an attitude of White superiority. I find it helpful to try to move outside myself, to evaluate the situation I’m in and what I’m doing from a distance. The less we say and the more deeply we listen, the better. You will often feel vulnerable. That’s part of the process, how you grow, and how relationships deepen.

It is urgent now to develop relationships to support each other as environmental devastation will continue to collapse economic, political, and social systems. The only choices will be to return to Indigenous ways or violent tribalism.

Damage to Mother Earth from extreme extractive industries and fossil fuel infrastructure is a focus of much of the work of Indigenous peoples, and of the new coalition, the Buffalo Rebellion. It is because of these shared concerns that I began to make connections. I was trained as an Action Lead in the Keystone Pledge of Resistance in 2013 and have been involved in resistance to the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Coastal Gaslink pipelines. And now against carbon (CO2) pipelines.

TRUTHSGIVING

The concept of truthsgiving is why I’m writing this extended article. To share the truths that I have been learning. My intention is to show the variety of ways we can become involved, or more involved, in building relationships with native peoples. And to show the reasons why the Mutual Aid work that has been my focus for the past three years is so important.

It is time for Quakers, for everyone to acknowledge the atrocities of the Indian Boarding Schools. Which must begin with truth telling. “The Truth will not be Whitewashed” calls out those, not only many Quakers but most White people who don’t want to face these truths. Locating the remains of thousands of children on the grounds of Indian Boarding Schools in this country and Canada is bringing attention to these atrocities. And opening wounds.

Truthsgiving is a concept of my friend, Sikowis Nobiss, who is the founder of the Great Plains Action Society (GPAS). GPAS created the website TRUTHSGIVING. The Truth will not be Whitewashed. The Truthsgiving Collective includes GPAS, Des Moines Mutual Aid, and others.

Truthsgiving is an ideology that must be enacted through truth telling and mutual aid to discourage colonized ideas about the thanksgiving mythology—not a name switch so we can keep doing the same thing. It’s about telling and doing the truth on this day so we can stop dangerous stereotypes and whitewashed history from continuing to harm Indigenous lands and Peoples, as well as Black, Latinx, Asian-American and all oppressed folks on Turtle Island. 

https://www.truthsgiving.org/about

Mutual Aid

Mutual Aid comes up frequently in these stories because this is the framework to escape the colonial capitalist system that is oppressing all of us now. Mutual Aid communities exist all over. You can search for “mutual aid” on the Internet and social media platforms. The website Iowa Mutual Aid Network is an excellent resource. https://iowamutualaid.org/

You can read much more about my mutual aid story here: Mutual Aid in the Midwest

Dean Spade has written an excellent book, Mutual Aid, Building Solidarity During This Crisis (And the Next).

Mutual Aid is important because it provides an alternative to the capitalism and white superiority that mainstream society is built upon. Mutual aid can help us Walk a Path of Doing the Truth as my friend Ronnie James wrote in “Doing Truth When the World is Upside Down.”

Mutual Aid is important because it truly builds community. These are troubled times with many people in despair, feeling hopeless. Mutual Aid communities help people help each other and restore a sense of self-worth. Opportunities to make a difference.



I’ve often written about my first meeting with Ronnie James as being Spirit led. February 2020, I posted an event to support the Wet’suwet’en peoples who were trying to stop a pipeline from being built through their territory. I didn’t expect anyone to attend who wasn’t already involved in this issue. Thank God, literally, Ronnie James, an Indigenous organizer, saw the event and joined us. He was surprised anyone beyond those he knew was aware of the struggles of the Wet’suwet’en. That meeting changed my life. It makes me sad to think I would have missed everything that came from this meeting if it had not occurred.


Queries about Mutual Aid

  • How are we working to deal with existing chaos and preparing for further collapse?
  • Do we provide for everyone’?
  • What is our relationship with Mother Earth? Do we honor and conserve the resources we use?
  • What systems of dominance, of vertical hierarchies are we involved in?
  • Do we work to ensure there aren’t vertical hierarchies in our communities, in our relationships with all our relatives?
  • Do we have the courage to follow what the Spirit is saying to us? To not force those messages to conform to our existing beliefs and practices.
  • How do we connect with communities beyond our Quaker meetings? What are we learning about spiritual connections beyond our meetinghouses? Are we sharing these spiritual lessons with others?

Some of my writing about Mutual Aid: https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/mutual-aid/

And my mutual aid booklet here: Mutual Aid in the Midwest

You can read much more about my mutual aid story here:
Mutual Aid in the Midwest


 There is an aspect of self-determination and ethical engagement in organizing to meet our peoples’ material needs. There is a collective emotional lift in doing something worthwhile for our peoples’ benefit, however short-lived that benefit might be. These spaces become intergenerational, diverse places of Indigenous joy, care and conversation, and these conversations can be affirming, naming, critiquing, as well as rejecting and pushing back against the current systems of oppression. This for me seems like the practice of movement-building that our respective radical practices have been engaged with for centuries.

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

Building Relationships

What follows are some of my stories about how such relationships developed. It takes time to build these relationships, which is why it is important to begin now.

Guidelines

I begin with some general guidelines that I, as a White person, have learned about making connections with communities of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC).

This graphic summarizes some of what I have learned from my own experience. I learned much of this during the years I spent in the Kheprw Institute youth mentoring community in Indianapolis. A community of people of color. And these guidelines have been very helpful in the context of the last five years as I was led to connect with my Indigenous friends.

I also learned a great deal from participation in the American Friends Service Committee’s (AFSC) Quaker Social Change Ministry program and recommend it. https://www.afsc.org/quakersocialchange


Don’t be a burden

From that initial meeting, Ronnie and I began to exchange text messages. Related to “don’t be a burden”, text messaging is far less intrusive than phone conversations, for example.

Do NOT ask or expect to be taught

This can be one of those gray areas. There is a difference between expecting to be taught and accepting what someone is offering to teach you. Ronnie was/is very generous with his time and encouragement. He is what I would call a very effective organizer. He recognized our Wet’suwet’en vigil would be a chance to find allies for the work he does. Since then, I’ve seen how often, and how well he writes to educate others. And he always shows up. In the nearly three years I’ve known him, he and I have rarely missed being at our weekly food giveaway. And those times when he isn’t there, it is often because of other things related to his activism. He is involved in many things besides our food project.

Listen deeply-this is how you learn

Think about what is being said. Learn the language, so to speak. Pay attention to body language and facial expressions. This is hard when people are wearing face masks, which are always required at our food project. No face mask, no participation. This is done to reduce the chance of any of us passing the virus on to others.

Observe common tasks and help do them. For example, every Saturday morning tables need to be set up outside, where the food boxes will be put for distribution. So do that if there is idle time. You don’t need to ask for permission. It is expected that you will use your own initiative. Because of everyone being aware of what needs to be done, and doing it, our work is done really efficiently. As Ronnie says, at the end of the hour you will be tired, sweaty and felling good. And that’s true.

Do NOT offer suggestions/leadership until invited to do so

It can take a long time (months) to understand all that is involved in the work you are participating in. It has taken a lot of work, trial and error, for those involved in the community you are connecting with to get things to function well.

The rest of the list is self-explanatory. Accepting being vulnerable is likely the most difficult part of this. You are being vulnerable just by doing what it takes to join in the work, to show up. When uncomfortable things happen, they are often not your fault. Try not to take things personally.


Great Plains Action Society and Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)

A number of Friends (Quakers) in the Midwest have had opportunities to work with the Great Plains Action Society (GPAS) and the people who are part of that organization. My first connection was being present at a panel discussion at Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) about building bridges with Native Americans in 2017. Sikowis (Christine) Nobiss, Donnielle Wanatee and Peter Clay were on the panel. (See: Iowa Panel Looks at Building Bridges with Native Americans | American Friends Service Committee)

Great Plains Action Society (GPAS)

Sikowis was involved in Indigenous Iowa, and Seeding Sovereignty, then moved on to establish the Great Plains Action Society (GPAS). My friends Ronnie James, Trisha Cax-Sep-Gu-Wiga Etringer, Mahmud Fitil, Regina Tsosie, Foxy and Alton Onefeather, and Jessica Engelking are among the people of GPAS.

I only mention that I took this photo as an example of building relationships. With time, people learn what you have to offer. During the Buffalo Rebellion Climate Conference we were all attending, there was a spontaneous opportunity for a group photo of GPAS. I was glad to be asked to take the photo.

Great Plains Action Society (5).png
photo: Jeff Kisling

History

Resist and Indigenize

GPAS started to build in 2014 and became an official non-profit in 2017 with two full-time staff, two part-time staff, and two youth interns. Founder, Sikowis Nobiss, who started organizing over twenty-five years ago during the Burnt Church Indigenous fisheries crisis in New Brunswick, Canada, saw that Iowa needed more Indigenous voices to speak up for the Earth. During the NoDAPL resistance movement in 2016, she created a platform for Great Plains Action Society to empower Indigenous voices in Iowa concerning extreme resource extraction perpetuated by the fossil fuel industry. During this fight, GPAS worked tirelessly in both Iowa and North Dakota, bridging the gap between Indigenous communities and rural landowners. This led GPAS to form Little Creek Camp, an Indigenous-led resistance hub in Iowa and to finally register as a 501(c)4 that is 100% Indigenous run. Our efforts have truly brought the voice and actions of Indigenous Peoples to the forefront of Iowa’s climate movement, which is much needed in the most biologically colonized state in the country and the number one contributor to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico due to colonial-capitalist farming practices. By uplifting traditional Indigenous ecological knowledge, we are making it clear that Iowa needs to rematriate prairie, bring back first foods and increase Indigenous land stewardship. 

Great Plains Action Society’s Vision

“We are a collective of Indigenous organizers of the Great Plains working to resist and Indigenize colonial institutions, ideologies, and behaviors. Our homelands are located in the vast grassland of Turtle Island, situated between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River and stretching from the Northern Tundra to the Gulf of Mexico.”

Great Plains Action Society Mission Statement

Great Plains Action Society addresses the trauma Indigenous Peoples and our Earth have faced and works to prevent further colonial-capitalist violence through education, direct action, cultural revival, mutual aid, and political change.


Gatherings and actions

What follows is a history of my experiences with my Indigenous friends. Although each episode is with at least one person who is part of the Great Plains Action Society (GPAS), many are not official GPAS actions or events.

US Bank, Super Bowl weekend, 2/3/2018

February 3, 2018, Super Bowl weekend, Ed Fallon organized a van trip to Minneapolis to call attention to USBank’s funding of fossil fuel projects. USBank’s headquarters are in Minneapolis, and the game was played at the USBank stadium. Sikowis, Donnielle, Trisha and I were among those who attended.


Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives MMIR

One lesson I learned from the trip to Minneapolis was to be aware of the interrelationships among justice issues. The epidemic of the kidnapping and murder of Indigenous women, men and children is something I had not known about prior to getting to know native people. But this happens to a shocking number of people. I heard a story about a family member from a new friend on the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March.

This is yet another consequence of building pipelines. Many are built near native lands–another example of environmental racism. The “man camps” of pipeline construction workers are thus found near native lands. Adding to the problem was that native law enforcement could not arrest nonnative people. Recent Federal legislation that several of us lobbied for has changed that.

When in Minneapolis, Sikowis Nobiss and Donnielle Wanatee both spoke about MMIR. During the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, Foxy Onefeather carried this sign.

Foxy Onefeather on the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March

This spring, MMIR was part of a GPAS rally for reproductive justice.

This sign was erected at the event, with the Wells Fargo Arena in the background. Wells Fargo is one of the banks that fund pipelines.


First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, Sept 1-8, 2018

September 1 – 8, 2018, Sikowis, Donnielle, Trisha, Mahmud, Regina, Peter Clay (Iowa Quaker) and I and others participated in the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March. We walked and camped together from Des Moines to Fort Dodge (ninety-four miles) along the path of the Dakota Access pipeline.

Some Iowa Quakers had worship sharing each morning of the March to support us. Also, each evening there was a discussion on various topics. My friend and Scattergood Friends School schoolmate and member of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), Lee Tesdell, talked about his progressive agricultural practices. Sikowis had something to say about Indigenous agriculture.

Lee Tesdell speaks during First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, 2018

The purpose of the March was to create a community of native and non-native people who began to know and trust each other so we could work on things of common concern. That was really successful, and we have done many things together since.


First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March website


Lobbying Senator Grassley, December 2018

One of the first was when several of us from the March, including Sikowis (in the center of this photo), Iowa Quakers Shazi and Fox Knight, and I lobbied Senator Grassley’s staff to support several bills related to native concerns.


Sunrise, Green New Deal, Des Moines, 2019

The Sunrise Movement was launched as a national campaign for a Green New Deal (GND) in 2017. From the beginning I heard my native friends talk about the importance of a GND to be Indigenous led. In 2019 Sunrise’s Green New Deal tour began with a stop in Des Moines. There my friends Trisha Cax-Sep-Gu-Wiga Etringer and Lakasha Yooxot Likipt spoke about Indigenous leadership as a requirement for a GND.

Trisha, Lakasha and I at Sunrise Green New Deal Tour, Des Moines, 2019

National Network Assembly, summer 2019

The summer of 2019 Sikowis suggested I attend the National Network Assembly at the Des Moines YMCA Camp near Boone, Iowa, that she helped organize. I was aware that if I wanted to build on relationships with native peoples, I should respond when invited to do something like this. I don’t usually attend conferences, but seeing this as one of those opportunities, I did attend. And I got a lot out of it. This was a conference for justice organizers.


Climate Crisis Parade in Des Moines, Feb 1, 2020

Many of us participated in the Climate Crisis Parade in Des Moines, Feb 1, 2020.


Wet’suwet’en Vigil, Feb 7, 2020, Des Moines

As I began to discuss above, in early 2020, I began to hear about the struggles of the Wet’suwet’en peoples in British Columbia, as they worked to prevent the construction of a liquid natural gas pipeline (Costal GasLink) through their pristine lands and waters. There was little being written about this in the mainstream media, so supporters were asked to write about what was happening on our social media platforms.

This photo is from a post about a rally I organized to support the Wet’suwet’en in Des Moines on February 7, 2020. Iowa Friend Peter Clay attended.

As I wrote earlier, I’m sure my meeting with Ronnie James was spirit-led. We’ve become good friends in the three years since this Wet’Suwet’en rally. Ronnie is one of the people involved in GPAS, the person who leads the Mutual Aid efforts.

We are both at the food project almost every Saturday morning. Although it doesn’t take much space here, DMMA is the focus of my justice work. And I have found it to be healing. At the end of this is A Love Letter to Y’all about the work of DMMA.

This is a link to a booklet I wrote about the Wet’suwet’en.
Wet’suwet’en and LANDBACK


Indigenous People’s Days (annual)

As often happens, once people know I love photography, I get invited to events for that purpose (even though I’d want to go, anyway). This photo of Sikowis was taken at last year’s Indigenous People’s Day. She’s holding a Great Plains Action Society bag.


“Fourth of He Lies” (annual)

Another event where I took photos was a gathering on the State Capitol grounds related to racist statues. On July 4th, 2020 and 2021 we gathered for the “Fourth of He Lies”. In this photo on one of those days, Sikowis is speaking at the Pioneer statue. Ronnie James and Donnielle Wanatee also attended.


December 2021 Summit Carbon pipeline

Last December, Sikowis asked me to come to Ames to take photos of a rally at the office of Summit Carbon, one of the companies that want to build a CO2 pipeline.


Buffalo Rebellion

I’m blessed to have been invited to join the newly formed Buffalo Rebellion, a new coalition of Iowa organizations that are growing a movement for climate action that centers racial and economic justice. Peter Clay, my friend and also a member of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) was also invited.

Buffalo Rebellion is a new coalition of Iowa organizations that are growing a movement for climate action that centers racial and economic justice. The Earth Day Rally will be an afternoon of honoring Mother Earth through sharing stories and visions for climate justice and taking action together for a world that puts people and the planet before profits for a few.

Following the Earth Day Rally, Buffalo Rebellion will be holding two days of immersive training to develop 100 grassroots leaders who will build local teams to take on climate justice issues in their community and come together to create a thriving state-wide movement.

Formed in 2021, Buffalo Rebellion is comprised of seven Iowa organizations: Great Plains Action Society, DSM Black Liberation Movement, Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice, Sierra Club Beyond Coal, Cedar Rapids Sunrise Movement, SEIU Local 199, and Iowa CCI.

Buffalo Rebellion


Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI)

Iowa Citizens for Community improvement is very active in environmental and many other concerns and a member of the Buffalo Rebellion. “We talk, we act, we get it done” is their motto. I’ve participated in several environment related actions led by my friend Jake Grobe, ICCI’s Climate Justice Organizer. He has focused on getting MidAmerican Energy to close their five coal burning plants in Iowa. And Jake is very active in the resistance to carbon (CO2) pipelines.

This is a photo I took of Sikowis and Jake at this summer’s Earth Day Rally in Des Moines. After the speakers we marched to the offices of MidAmerican Energy.

In an example of interconnections, the mural below is by GPAS and made during the First Nation Farmer-Climate Unity March in 2018. In another connection, Jake often comes to our Mutual Aid food project.

Sikowis Nobiss and Jake Grobe at Earth Day Rally 2022

The Buffalo Rebellion coalition in action

The resistance to carbon pipelines continues. This flyer and the photo I took below are about an action by the Buffalo Rebellion at the time a national meeting of those promoting carbon pipelines was occurring in Des Moines. In the photo Jake is speaking using a bullhorn, in the street that we blocked temporarily to call attention to the pipeline meeting. He said these people (in the cars) are impatient and angry, but we’re angry and inpatient, too, at the decades of inaction to respond to climate devastation.

Jake Grobe (ICCI) speaks against carbon pipelines in Des Moines, Nov 2022

Forced Assimilation/Indian Boarding Schools and Quakers

One of the tensions between Indigenous peoples and Quakers is the tragic history of forced assimilation of over 100,000 native children in the Indian residential schools. And the deaths and abuses that occurred there. Some Friends were involved in such schools. Several times I was led to speak about this with Sikowis, Ronnie and other Indigenous friends. We could not develop much of a relationship if this went unacknowledged. It is important to not do this until you have a relationship with who you talk to about this.

This became personal when one of my friends introduced me to his teenage son. I could not imagine the conversations they must have had about forced assimilation. Continue to have as the remains of thousands of children are located on the grounds of so many of the sites of forced assimilation.

Last year I was clerk of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee. The committee had a small budget to support organizations doing justice work. Last year we were led to a choice of rather than giving token amounts to a number of organizations, to instead see if an opportunity arose to give the entire budget to make an impact on the work that presented itself. I believe because of our discussions about the residential schools, Sikowis asked if Quakers could support showings of the film “They Found Us” that had been made about the residential school of her nation, the George Gordon First Nation. Our Peace and Social Concerns Committee gladly agreed to donate our budget to this. https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/2022/04/13/they-found-us/


Orange Shirt Day is Canada’s Day of Truth and Reconcilliation–a time of mourning and remembrance.

Great Plains Action Society has felt this pain firsthand, as many of our close family members attended these schools, and we are rising to meet the needs of our communities. Last year, in Sioux City, we hosted a large community feast and ceremony to honor nine children whose bodies were reMatriated back to Sicangu Oyate lands from the grounds of the Carlisle Boarding School. We have also raised funds to help one of our relatives, Curt Young, show his film, They Found Us, about the search for children’s bodies at the George Gordon First Nation. If we can raise enough funding, we would like to get his film shown throughout Iowa and the Midwest.


Your Invitation to be an Ally

A fundamental principle of justice work is to make sure that your (i.e. ally) work is directed by those impacted by injustice. “Nothing about us without us.” Great Plains Action Society’s Open Letter Campaign is such an opportunity, an invitation for non native peoples to support their work.

Resolutions are not just for January! As we are gathering momentum for the daunting work 2022 has in store for us, we would like to invite you to join us in ushering in a New Year/New Iowa. Things need to change. The harm we are doing to the environment is devastating. The attack on truth in public education is a contributing factor to our attempted erasure. The ongoing use of racist mascots harms children, and perpetuates dehumanization. Iowa has a lot of issues. The work we need to do to make Iowa better is not going to be easy. But it can be done, and the best chance we have is working together. And that is why we are coming to you with our Open Letter Campaign.

Over the course of 2022, we will be sharing with you Open Letters we’re addressing to those who are in positions of power. We’re doing this in the format of an Open Letter for a few reasons. First, these issues are important, and this is an opportunity to explain the issues to a broader audience. The more people who understand what is going on, the better. Second, we need numbers. We are mighty, but we are few. The more people we have putting pressure on those with power, the more likely we are to see results. And finally, it’s something that you can do that doesn’t require much of you. Although it’s only February, 2022 can already feel exhausting. The thought of having to leave home to do things can be overwhelming, even frightening as COVID is still a very real threat. But this is something you can do from home, without investing energy you are probably running low on. Working with us can be as simple as tweeting out a hashtag. But it can be more too, if you’d like. It’s an opportunity to write the words that express your frustration and join them in an agitated choir. This is a chance to remind yourself that you deserve to be heard and that you are capable of taking action that affects change.​

We have always appreciated when allies and accomplices approach us to ask how they can be of help. Things can be complicated, and it is considerate to be mindful of how one engages. This is absolutely a situation that we request your help with. We need your voices to make something happen. Our land, our water, our children are under attack. The truth is under attack. We need to stand strong together to create the change that so desperately needs to happen. This Open Letter Campaign is a means for us to unite our voices to call for change. You are welcome to use the words we share, or to express your own. If all you have it in you to do is share an article or use a hashtag, every little bit helps. If you have letters of your own you’d wish to share with us, we’d love to hear from you! Again, we look forward to putting our voices together with you, to call for the New Year/New Iowa we so desperately need. Thank you.

The New year, New Iowa Open Letter Campaign is led by Jessica Engelking. If you have ideas or thoughts to share, please contact her at jengelking@greatplainsaction.org 

We look forward to putting our voices together with you, to call for the New Year/New Iowa we so desperately need. Thank you.

https://www.greatplainsaction.org/newyearnewiowa


There are three Open Letters I’ve been involved with.

1. An Open Letter to the Sports Page

One is the Letter to Sports Page, a restaurant in Indianola that native images on their walls. This is the story I wrote about this. https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/2022/02/09/open-letter-to-sports-page/


2. Letter to Indianola School Board

Ronnie James once lived in Indianola. He wrote about his experiences with the Indianola School board when he asked them to stop using native imagery for their sports teams. Knowing I am a photographer and live in Indianola, he asked me to take some photos of that imagery, which I was glad to do. 


3. Truth and Healing with Friends

Jessica Engelking of the Great Plains Action Society is the contact person for the Open Letters campaign. Fortunately, I met Jessica when we both attended the Buffalo Rebellion Climate Justice Summit this summer. A lot of networking occurred at the summit.

When she asked what Quakers were doing related to the Indian Boarding Schools, I was very glad to share the Friends Committee on National Legislation’s letter writing tools. And specifically, to the one to support the establishment of a Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools. This became one of the Open Letters of the GPAS.

Support the Establishment of a Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools: Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)

As children are returning to school, we are reminded that school has not always been a safe place for Native children. For many years, Native children were taken from their homes and placed in government and religious run institutions with the aim of stripping away their Native language, culture, and identity. We are only now beginning the painful process of bringing home the children left in unmarked graves at the boarding schools they were sent to (U.S. report identifies burial sites linked to boarding schools for Native Americans). We are still working on healing the damage of boarding school and intergenerational trauma (American Indian Boarding Schools Haunt Many : NPR). Healing from the damage caused by the boarding school system will require effort by not just those harmed, but the institutions that did the harming. There is great work being done by our comrades at the Friends Committee On National Legislation (Native Americans | Friends Committee On National Legislation). For this edition of our Open Letter Campaign, we are directing you to a letter from our friends at FCNL to help you in urging your representatives to support the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act (S. 2907/H.R. 5444).

The following is courtesy our much appreciated Quaker friends

:

https://fcnl.quorum.us/campaign/35660/

As another way to encourage the passage of this legislation, David and Jean Hansen of Ames Meeting, Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and my friend activist Rodger Routh, and I went to the Des Moines office of US Senator Joni Ernst. Jessica Engelking of the GPAS had planned to attend but was unable to do so.

Lobbying US Senator Ernst to support legislation to create a Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools

The Great Plains Action Society recently published their Theory of Change.
https://www.greatplainsaction.org/single-post/great-plains-action-society-theory-of-change.

MUTUAL AID is one of the METHODS.


Great Plains Action Society addresses the trauma Indigenous Peoples and our Earth have faced and works to prevent further colonial-capitalist violence through education, direct action, cultural revival, mutual aid, and political change. We believe that Indigenous ideologies and practices are the antitheses of colonial capitalism, and we deploy these tools to fight and build on our vision–tools that are deeply embedded in a culture of resistance. 

Indigenous Peoples in the US and around the world have created a culture of resistance, built on the frontlines, that is now a way of life. It can be found in our dancing, singing, clothing, art, and in our political motivations. For instance, the American Indian Movement (A.I.M.) song was created out of the Red Power Movement and is sung at many of our cultural events and in our movement spaces, which are often one and the same. It began with the need to protect our homes and way of life from settler invaders, colonial militias, and imperialist governments. There is over a 500-year history of Indigenous resistance to the violent nature of colonial-capitalist genocidal and extractive practices. As stewards of the land, our ancestors saw right away that settler invaders, who were directly harming us, were also harming the environment and throwing the ecosystem off balance. The resistance is ongoing as long as genocide and colonization are perpetuated by the nation-state and its settler citizens. To be in a constant state of resistance is traumatic, hence why we suffer from intergenerational and historical trauma. Yet, it is necessary to protect our land, our people, and our ways from colonial-capitalist forces.

Great Plains Action Society’s Theory of Change, Sikowis Nobiss
https://www.greatplainsaction.org/single-post/great-plains-action-society-theory-of-change

I’ve been working on this graphic for several years, to visualize the connections I see. Mutual Aid and the Buffalo Rebellion are part of this.


A Love Letter to Y’all (a thread)

One year ago yesterday Des Moines Mutual Aid participated in a march protesting the potential for war or increased hostilities with Iran that followed the fallout of the assassination of Qassem Soleimani by drone strike in Baghdad.

This was our first “public” event since adopting the name Des Moines Mutual Aid, a name we gave our crew during our growing work with our relatives at the houseless camps throughout the city and our help with coordinating a weekly free grocery store that has a 50 year history, founded by the Des Moines Chapter of The Black Panther Party For Self Defense.

A year ago we started laying the foundation for work we had no idea what was coming.

As we were adjusting our work with the camps and grocery re-distribution in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, both that continued to grow in need and importance, the police continued their jobs and legacy of brutality and murder.

This nation exploded in righteous rage in response to the pig murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

DMMA realized we were in a position to organize a bail fund to keep our fighters out of jail, both to keep the streets alive as a new phase of The Movement was being born, and because jails are a hotspot of Covid-19 spread.

Not to mention the racial and economic oppression that is the cash bail system.

In the past year DMMA has expanded it’s work in multiple directions and gained many partners and allies.

We partnered with the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement (@DesMoinesBLM) to create the DSM BLM Rent Relief initiative to help keep families in their homes in the midst of a pandemic and the winter.

The camp work has grown exponentially, but is being managed with our collaboration with Edna Griffin Mutual Aid (@egma_dsm), DSM Black Liberation Movement (@DesMoinesBLM), and The Great Plains Action Society (@PlainsAction).

The bail fund remains successful because of desire from the public and a partnership with Prairielands Freedom Fund (@prairielandsff) (formerly The Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project).

The weekly free food store has maintained itself, carrying on the legacy it inherited.

Every one of our accomplishments are directly tied to the support of so many people donating time, talent, and funds to the work. We are overwhelmed with all of your support and hope you feel we are honoring what we promised.

All of these Mutual Aid projects are just a few of many that this city has created in the last year in response to the many crises we face, not only confronting the problems and fulfilling the needs directly in front of us, but creating a sustainable movement that will be capable of responding to what’s next and shaping our collective futures as we replace the systems that fail us.

These last 12 months have been wild and a real test of all of our capabilities to collectively organize.

But it is clear that we as a city have what it takes to do what is needed in 2021, no matter what crisis is next.

Much gratitude to you all.

In love and rage,
Des Moines Mutual Aid

Originally tweeted by Des Moines Mutual Aid (@dsm_mutual_aid) on January 6, 2021.



We need to be careful when we talk about humility. The kind of humility this work brings isn’t the kind that would have us reject or repress our gifts. This kind of false humility leads us to oppress each other in the name of preventing pridefulness. This happens far too often. Real, life-giving humility means living up to the light that we have been given without judgment of how bright or dim that light is. False humility is hiding this light under a bushel for fear of jealousy or judgment. The challenge is to be faithful right where we are—no more, no less. This takes courage. To be faithful, we have to make space.

Prophets, Midwives, and Thieves: Reclaiming the Ministry of the Whole by Noah Baker Merrill

Resources

You can read much more about my mutual aid story here:
Mutual Aid in the Midwest

This is a link to a booklet I wrote about the Wet’suwet’en:
Wet’suwet’en and LANDBACK

First Nation Famer Climate Unity March website:
First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March


Great Plains Action Society

Web – greatplainsaction.org

FB – @GreatPlainsActionSociety

IG – @greatplainsactionsociety

Tw – @PlainsAction


Des Moines Mutual Aid

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/DesMoinesMutualAid/

Iowa Mutual Aid Network – https://iowamutualaid.org/

https://iowamutualaid.org/des-moines-mutual-aid

Buffalo Rebellion

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/IowaBuffaloRebellion/


https://www.iowacci.org/


Home – https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/

Mutual Aid – https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/mutual-aid/

Buffalo Rebellion – https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/buffalo-rebellion/

Abolition – https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/abolition/

Forced Assimilation – https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/forced-assimilation/


Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)

FCNL – https://www.fcnl.org/

Native Americans – https://www.fcnl.org/issues/native-americans


Faith Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My reference to faith now comes from being led to call on Quakers to apply our spiritual practices to critically evaluate the systems we live in and take for granted. That are unjust and must be replaced. We must reject capitalist systems and systems of dominance. Build Beloved communities where everyone is cared for. Mutual Aid communities are a template for doing so. Are radical in the sense of freeing us from the power systems we find ourselves living in.

By faith now I mean today. Every day we live in this settler, colonial, capitalist society, we continue to be oppressors.

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

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

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

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



Faith Now

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

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

Joseph Campbell

Queries

  • How are we working to deal with existing chaos and preparing for further collapse?
  • Do we provide for everyone’?
  • What is our relationship with Mother Earth? Do we honor and conserve the resources we use?
  • What systems of dominance, of vertical hierarchies are we involved in?
  • Do we work to ensure there aren’t vertical hierarchies in our communities, in our relationships with all our relatives?
  • Do we have the courage to follow what the Spirit is saying to us? To not force those messages to conform to our existing beliefs and practices.
  • How do we connect with communities beyond our Quaker meetings? What are we learning about spiritual connections beyond our meetinghouses? Are we sharing these spiritual lessons with others?


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

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

Lopez: Whenever I speak in public, I write out a new talk. I begin by stipulating, with a modulated voice, that things are way worse than we imagine. And I offer some examples: the collapse of pollinating insect populations; the rise of nationalism; belligerent and ignorant narcissists like Donald Trump; methane gas spewing out of the Siberian tundra. You’re saying to everybody, “Let’s take off the rose-colored glasses now and see what our dilemma really is.” And then the second part of the talk is an evocation of the healing that is necessary and possible, a gradual elevation of the human spirit. It’s about the mobilization that is needed and which is within our reach. Then people know you’ve spoken truthfully, and you have evoked in each person a desire to help, to take care of their families, to have self-regard. I see this pattern in every talk I give. To remember, geographically, exactly where you are speaking that night, and to know whether there might be a full moon outside the building; to offer that sense of immediacy and groundedness; to underscore the specificity of the moment; and to be sure that you implicate yourself in the trouble. It all helps in these situations. If you attempt any version of “I know, and you don’t” or “This is not my fault” or “I am the holy messenger, and you’re the fools,” the evening ends in darkness. You have to be in it with them.

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


FCNL, Iowa Quakers and Native Americans

Members of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) (Quakers) have a long history of involvement with the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). FCNL is the national lobbying organization that works to promote legislation consistent with Quaker beliefs in the US Congress.

Every two years FCNL contacts all the Quaker meetings and churches in the US, to ask what those meetings’ legislative priorities are. All those responses are combined into a list of the priorities that FCNL and its supporters will work on during that Congress. (See below). Following are several recent stories about Iowa Quakers’ work with FCNL, which shows the variety of ways this work can be done.


A couple of days ago FCNL published the following story about a national FCNL network for Indigenous justice (see below). One of the priorities for this Congress is “witness and advocate for American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian rights and concerns. Honor the treaties and promises.

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) asking us to contact 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.

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.

I told Jessica Engelking about the great tool FCNL has to help people write emails to support causes. The template sends your email to your Congressional representatives and senators. And that FCNL has such a letter template to Support the Establishment of a Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools (see below).

I was really glad when she wrote a blog post for Great Plains Action Society, telling their supporters about this letter writing tool!



Support the Establishment of a Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools: Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)

As children are returning to school, we are reminded that school has not always been a safe place for Native children. For many years, Native children were taken from their homes and placed in government and religious run institutions with the aim of stripping away their Native language, culture, and identity. We are only now beginning the painful process of bringing home the children left in unmarked graves at the boarding schools they were sent to (U.S. report identifies burial sites linked to boarding schools for Native Americans). We are still working on healing the damage of boarding school and intergenerational trauma (American Indian Boarding Schools Haunt Many : NPR). Healing from the damage caused by the boarding school system will require effort by not just those harmed, but the institutions that did the harming. There is great work being done by our comrades at the Friends Committee On National Legislation (Native Americans | Friends Committee On National Legislation). For this edition of our Open Letter Campaign, we are directing you to a letter from our friends at FCNL to help you in urging your representatives to support the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act (S. 2907/H.R. 5444).

The following is courtesy our much appreciated Quaker friends (esp Jeff!):

It is long overdue for the United States to acknowledge the historic trauma of the Indian boarding school era. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Christian churches collaborated with the government to create hundreds of boarding schools for Native American children. The conditions at these schools, some of them Quaker-run, were unspeakable.

Now we must work with tribal nations to advance congressional efforts to establish a federal commission to formally investigate boarding school policy and develop recommendations for the government to take further action. Although the wrongs committed at these institutions can never be made right, we can start the truth, healing, and reconciliation process for the families and communities affected as we work to right relationship with tribal nations.

Remind your members of Congress of their responsibility to tribal nations and urge them to support the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act (S. 2907/H.R. 5444).

https://www.greatplainsaction.org/single-post/open-letter-campaign-truth-and-healing-with-friends

A small group of us had meetings with Iowa’s Senators, Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley’s staffs about the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act (S. 2907/H.R. 5444).

The following are excerpts from blog posts regarding those visits.

This morning Jean and David Hansen, Rodger Routh and I met with John Hollinrake, Regional Director for Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst. Several others had planned to join us but didn’t make it.

We expressed our appreciation for Senator Ernst voting for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

I asked John if he was familiar with the Indian Boarding Schools. He indicated he had read the information I had sent from Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) in emails prior to this meeting. Some of the great support we received from FCNL

John listened attentively and took notes as we told our stories and why we hope Senator Ernst will cosponsor and vote for the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act (S. 2907/H.R. 5444).

Jeff Kisling, Jean and David Hansen and Rodger Routh. Photo credit Rodger Routh

Senator Ernst and Indian Boarding Schools Commission, 8/31/2022


Yesterday we had a meeting with Senator Ernst’s Regional Director John Hollinrake, to ask the senator to co-sponsor the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act (S 2907). John was very polite and attentive but offered no feedback.

It was a much different story just now when I had a Skype meeting with Reid Willis in Senator Grassley’s Washington, DC, office.

Reid was familiar with the history of Indian Boarding Schools. He told me Senator Grassley agreed with intent of S 2907 with two exceptions. He feels the commission would duplicate work already being done by the Department of Interior’s Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative (see below). And that such a commission should not have subpoena power. Senator Grassley feels this particularly because he is the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator Grassley and Indian Boarding Schools Commission, Sept 1, 2022


National FCNL Network Mobilizes for Indigenous Justice

A diverse cohort of grassroots advocates are driving support for a Truth and Healing bill to address the Native boarding school era by Alex Frandsen and Bobby Trice, FCNL, November 17, 2022.

A diverse cohort of grassroots advocates are driving support for a Truth and Healing bill to address the Native boarding school era by Alex Frandsen and Bobby Trice, FCNL, November 17, 2022.

FCNL Priorities for the 117th Congress (2021-2022)

Since the early days of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), God’s spirit has led Friends to be a prophetic witness and to take action in the world. Friends are called to promote genuine equality of opportunity and communities in which everyone can safely live, learn, work, worship, and love.

The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) brings Friends’ spiritual values and testimonies to bear on U.S. public policy decisions, guided by the legislative priorities below.

Our work continues to be understanding and addressing the root causes and long-term consequences of today’s crises.

We are mindful that our nation has a special responsibility to redress the consequences of our history of slavery and genocide, together with ongoing race-based discrimination and oppression.

With each priority below, we will identify, expose, and work to eliminate institutional racism, institutional sexism, and other forms of systemic discrimination.

The order of these priorities does not reflect their comparative importance.

  • Promote peacebuilding by emphasizing diplomacy and honoring treaties and by working towards peaceful prevention and resolution of violent conflict, especially in the Middle East.
  • Confront the paradigm of global militarism, demilitarize space, reduce military spending, limit the spread of conventional weapons, prevent armed interventions, repeal the Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMFs), and reassert Congress’ oversight role.
  • Promote nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation.
  • Advocate for a justice system that is just and equitable, eliminates mass incarceration and police brutality, and establishes law-enforcement that is community-oriented and demilitarized.
  • Ensure that the U.S. immigration system promotes and respects the rights, safety, humanity, and dignity of all immigrants, refugees, and migrants.
  • Support equitable access for all to participate in open, secure, and transparent political and electoral processes; protect the integrity of our democratic institutions and processes; and work to ensure honesty and accountability of elected and appointed officials.
  • End gun violence by supporting policies that are informed by public health best practices.
  • Witness and advocate for American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian rights and concerns. Honor the treaties and promises.
  • Address structural economic inequality through measures such as a fair and progressive tax system, a living wage for all, and an adequate social safety net.
  • Prioritize programs that meet basic needs, including universal access to quality affordable healthcare, a necessity magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Strengthen environmental protections and advance environmental justice, while recognizing the finite capacity of the earth and the need to protect human, animal, and plant diversity.
  • Promote sustainable, science-based solutions to the climate crisis and prioritize international cooperation to achieve global sustainability goals and protect vulnerable populations.

FCNL solicited the views and concerns of Quaker meetings, churches, and organizations around the country to help discern these priorities for our lobbying and public education work during the 117th Congress (2021-2022).

The Legislative Priorities for the 117th Congress was approved in November 2020 by the FCNL General Committee. The discernment process took nearly two years under the leadership of the FCNL Policy Committee. It is based on the discernment of more than 200 Quaker meetings, churches, and other organizations.

FCNL Priorities for the 117th Congress (2021-2022)

Honoring all victims of war, including those who resisted

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

Anti-war demonstration on the Circle, downtown Indianapolis

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The debate over war is never-ending.

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

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

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

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

Rebecca Solnit

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

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

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

Kristen Suagee-Beauduy

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


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

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

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

Friends Journal 8/15/1968

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

October 11, 1969  School Committee Day

From the Scattergood Friends School committee minutes:

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

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

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


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


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


David F. McCartney, University Archives

david mccartney

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

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


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

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


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

“Path to Peace”, Des Moines, Iowa