What would it mean to reckon with our past complicity with harm?

As the world falls apart, I wonder where faith communities are? Where are White Christians, White Quakers?

As my friend Lucy Duncan writes, “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.”

Recognizing the White dominant culture is fundamental for White people to understand. How we learn what we must change. White people must first change ourselves before we will be accepted in communities suffering injustice.

As Lucy writes below, “What would it mean to reckon with our past complicity with harm?” Lucy speaks about slavery and racism.

I tell the stories of early White Quaker relationships to slavery because slavery was never really abolished. If we can reckon with the full truth of our connection to slavery and its afterlives, perhaps we can begin the healing necessary to fulfill the promise of the Religious Society of Friends of Truth. 

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

I ask these same questions regarding our past and present complicity with harms to Indigenous peoples. I speak from my own experiences with Indigenous friends. (One place I share some of these experiences are at the website I created about the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March https://firstnationfarmer.com/ )

Two interrelated developments are finally bringing attention to Indigenous peoples, forced assimilation, and those who ran those residential schools.

  • One is the search and finding of the remains of Indigenous children on the grounds of Indian Boarding Schools in Canada and the US.
  • The second is the release of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report about what happened in those schools

What would it mean to reckon with our past complicity with harm to Indigenous peoples?

White people need to imagine what it would take to dismantle the White dominant culture. We cannot begin to reckon with our complicity in harm until we have the humility and prayers to recognize the history of those harms, and how we continue to do harm now. We cannot make authentic connections with Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) until we unlearn our attitudes and actions of dominance.

How do we do that? We look for any kind of vertical hierarchy, and reject it. Vertical hierarchies are how dominance is enforced. Are the structures used throughout our society and government.

We should instead act in ways of horizontal, or no hierarchy. Dismantling vertical hierarchies is the path to reducing or eliminating dominance.

Eliminating vertical hierarchies is the core concept of Mutual Aid. My participation in a Mutual Aid community these past two years has been a real education. A deeply spiritual experience. Mutual Aid is how I’ve been learning to reject vertical hierarchies. Some of my experiences with Mutual Aid can be found here: https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/mutual-aid/

Recognizing White dominant culture makes it possible for us to look at the past and recognize our complicity with what happened then. And helps us envision how to stop the ongoing harms of White dominance now.

By asking the question where are faith communities (above) I’m implying where should faith communities be? I believe white faith communities should be working on their structures, actions, and attitudes of dominance. Learning about and embracing Mutual Aid is a way to do that.


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

A Hierarchy Resister

I’ve been working on this diagram to show the structures of injustice, and concepts to address them. This is a work in progress. Relevant to today’s discussion is White supremacy and the way forward via Mutual Aid.


Rally for Reproductive Justice

Last night we gathered at the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge in downtown Des Moines. This was a solidarity rally for Reproductive Justice and awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous relatives (MMIR). The bridge was lit with red, the color associated with MMIR.

I learned two friends were connected to two of the women honored by the bridge.

I was glad to see so many of my friends, from Great Plains Action Society, Des Moines Mutual Aid, Des Moines Black Liberation, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Sierra Club Beyond Coal.

This sign was erected, with the Wells Fargo Arena in the background. Wells Fargo is one of the banks that fund pipelines. Many Indigenous women are taken and/or killed by pipeline construction workers because, as another example of environmental racism, the pipelines are often built near Indigenous communities. I was going to say near Indigenous lands, but it is all Indigenous land.


Whiteness and Quakers

[References to Quakers here pertain to White Quakers. There is little diversity among Quakers in this country.]

There are several reasons I’m led to revisit this today.

  • Our Quaker meetings have dwindling numbers of attenders. Most of those remaining are elderly and white. Many meetings do not have new people joining.
  • I continue to hear stories from people of color, or those identifying as non-binary in gender or sexual orientation not being welcome in some Quaker meetings.
  • Those of us working outside our Quaker communities are often blessed to find beloved communities.
  • I wish others in our Quaker meetings would join these communities.
  • Despite the many wonderful aspects of these ‘external’ communities, I sometimes sense a lack of spiritual support for one another there.
  • There are many who don’t express their spirituality publicly, or in ways “organized” religions do.
  • Quaker presence will not be fully welcome in these communities until we come to terms with our own racism.

We know that those of us who are white must confront racism in ourselves and in the institutions we care about—our faith communities, our schools, our neighborhoods, our families, our Congress.

Racism and Whiteness, Diane Randall

People ask me if I believe in god… I tell them I pray to creator.
They tell me Jesus died for me… I tell them my ancestors did.
They say I will burn in hell for not following the Bible, but it has been used as weapon to colonize and murder my people…
for me it’s spirituality over religion. I don’t hate people for going to church, but I do hate what the churches have done to us…
before colonization we had our own ways and ceremonies, I choose the path of my ancestors.

Indigenous

For a long time, I’ve been in significant spiritual distress. I’ve been learning a great deal from my Native friends and working in Mutual Aid communities. And they tell me the way white people can best support them is by embracing and teaching others about LANDBACK.

I caused conflicts in my Quaker meeting because I wanted them to join me in the work of Mutual Aid and LANDBACK. Despite my efforts to explain this, they haven’t had the experiences that would make them understand all of this, yet.

At the same time I felt I was letting my Native friends down, because I wasn’t making some of the changes I wanted to make in my life that could be an example of how white people can join the work with Mutual Aid and LANDBACK.

As environmental chaos deepens, with the resulting collapse of the colonial capitalist economic system and the political systems propping up white supremacy fail, we will have no choice but to find alternatives. Ideally those would be Mutual Aid and LANDBACK. This is a powerful incentive to embrace these concepts now.

Mutual Aid and LANDBACK

In the same way I can’t understand the involvement of many Quakers in the slave trade, and having enslaved people, I can’t understand Quaker’s involvement in forced assimilation of native children.

What does this mean for Quakers today? No matter what we say about justice for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other people of color) folks, those words are empty as long as we continue to take advantage of colonial capitalism and white supremacy.

The news of 215 Kamloops Native children buried on the grounds of a residential school shocked non-native people, who did not know how many of these residential schools existed in the lands called the United States and Canada. Did not know tens of thousands of Native children were forcibly removed from their families and taken to these institutions where thousands were abused in many ways. Thousands killed or died. Though the stated reason for doing this was to assimilate Native children into white society for their benefit, the real intent was to quell Indigenous resistance to the theft of their land by white settler colonists.

My friend Paula Palmer wrote an excellent article for Friends Journal, Oct 1, 2016. “Quaker Boarding Schools: Facing Our History and Ourselves”.

The growing numbers of remains found at other schools has re-opened deep wounds in Native communities. Many have been triggered by these atrocities. One of my Native friends wrote that she was NOT OK. Another told me, “I’m trying not to be enraged in my mourning.”

A Native friend also told me, “The church is the church’s past, which is its future. It continues to see my people as obstacles in its endless conquest. To be blunt, there is too much damage that the church profits from and needs to protect to have any future there.” Vigorous attempts are made to hide it, but history does not lie. He also told me, regarding what I had been telling him about my efforts with Quakers, “I wish you the best. I imagine it’s a hard struggle.”

I cannot face my BIPOC friends if I don’t continue to seek the Spirit, and act on the leadings I am given. Writing is one thing I am led to do.

“Don’t make orphans stand here covered in the blood of our parents and explain to you how this all came to be without doing something about it. “

The Tragedy of 215. Without truth, there can be no healing, by Sarah Rose Harper, Lakota People’s Law Project, 6/2/2021

I am so grateful to my BIPOC friends for teaching me that Mutual Aid and LANDBACK are alternatives to colonial capitalism and white superiority. LANDBACK is how to restore Native lands and leadership.

As environmental chaos deepens, with the resulting collapse of the colonial capitalist economic system and the political systems propping up white supremacy, we will have no choice but to find alternatives. Ideally those would be Mutual Aid and LANDBACK. This is a powerful incentive to embrace these concepts now.

I wrote the following epistle that is modeled from ‘An Epistle to Friends Concerning Military Conscription’

An Epistle to Friends Regarding Community, Mutual Aid and LANDBACK

Dear Friends,

The measure of a community is how the needs of its people are met. No one should go hungry, or without shelter or healthcare. Yet in this country known as the United States millions struggle to survive. The capitalist economic system creates hunger, houselessness, illness that is preventable and despair. A system that requires money for goods and services denies basic needs to anyone who does not have money. Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) are disproportionately affected. Systemic racism. The capitalist system that supports the white materialistic lifestyle is built on stolen land and genocide of Indigenous peoples, and the labor of those who were enslaved in the past or are forced to live on poverty wages today.

Capitalism is revealed as an unjust, untenable system, when there is plenty of food in the grocery stores, but men, women and children are going hungry, living on the streets outside. White supremacy violently enforces the will of wealthy white people on the rest of us.

It has become clear to some of us who are called Friends that the colonial capitalist economic system and white supremacy are contrary to the Spirit and we must find a better way. We conscientiously object to and resist capitalism and white supremacy.

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

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

Mutual Aid

How do we resist? We rebuild our communities in ways not based upon money. Such communities thrive all over the world. Indigenous peoples have always lived this way. White people once did so in this country. Mutual Aid is a framework that can help us do this today.

The concept of Mutual Aid is simple to explain but can result in transformative change. Mutual Aid involves everyone coming together to find a solution for problems we all face. This is a radical departure from “us” helping “them”. Instead, we all work together to find and implement solutions.  To work together means we must be physically present with each other. Mutual Aid cannot be done by committee or donations. We build Beloved communities as we get to know each other. Build solidarity. An important part of Mutual Aid is creating these networks of people who know and trust each other. When new challenges arise, these networks are in place, ready to meet them.

Another important part of Mutual Aid is the transformation of those involved. This means both those who are providing help, and those receiving it.

With Mutual Aid, people learn to live in a community where there is no vertical hierarchy. A community where everyone has a voice. A model that results in enthusiastic participation. A model that makes the vertical hierarchy required for white supremacy impossible.

Commonly there are several Mutual Aid projects in a community. The initial projects usually relate to survival needs. One might be a food giveaway. Another helping those who need shelter. Many Mutual Aid groups often have a bail fund, to support those arrested for agitating for change. And accompany those arrested when they go to court.

LANDBACK

The other component necessary to move away from colonial capitalism and white supremacy is LANDBACK.

But the idea of “landback” — returning land to the stewardship of Indigenous peoples — has existed in different forms since colonial governments seized it in the first place. “Any time an Indigenous person or nation has pushed back against the oppressive state, they are exercising some form of landback,” says Nickita Longman, a community organizer from George Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada.

The movement goes beyond the transfer of deeds to include respecting Indigenous rights, preserving languages and traditions, and ensuring food sovereignty, housing, and clean air and water. Above all, it is a rallying cry for dismantling white supremacy and the harms of capitalism.

Returning the Land. Four Indigenous leaders share insights about the growing landback movement and what it means for the planet, by Claire Elise Thompson, Grist, February 25, 2020

What will Friends do?

It matters little what people say they believe when their actions are inconsistent with their words.  Thus, we Friends may say there should not be hunger and poverty, but as long as Friends continue to collaborate in a system that leaves many without basic necessities and violently enforces white supremacy, our example will fail to speak to mankind.

Let our lives speak for our convictions.  Let our lives show that we oppose the capitalist system and white supremacy, and the damages that result.  We can engage in efforts, such as Mutual Aid and LANDBACK, to build Beloved community. To reach out to our neighbors to join us.

We must begin by changing our own lives if we hope to make a real testimony for peace and justice.

We remain, in love of the Spirit, your Friends and sisters and brothers,

Note: Modeled from ‘An Epistle to Friends Concerning Military Conscription’




Buffalo Rebellion and Red/Green New Deal

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. https://landbackfriends.com/2021/09/01/indigenous-led-green-new-deal/


Last weekend’s Climate Summit of the newly formed Buffalo Rebellion provided an opportunity for organizations and people to come together to share what is being done to address the climate crisis. And lay the groundwork for working together, focusing on action related to the racial and economic consequences of environmental devastation. That requires taking on entrenched white supremacy, systemic racism and rapacious capitalism.

The Buffalo Rebellion is a coalition that includes Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Great Plains Action Society, Des Moines Black Liberation Movement, Iowa MMJ, SEIU Iowa, Sierra Club Iowa Beyond Coal, and Cedar Rapids Sunrise Movement.

We believe that we must address the root of climate change, insatiable corporate greed and white supremacy, to make change happen. This will require a multi-racial movement of working people struggling together to upend politics as usual.

Buffalo Rebellion

… what if the question all water protectors and land defenders asked was, why don’t we just overturn the system that makes development a threat in the first place? This system, again, is capitalism. Rather than taking an explicitly conservationist approach, the Red Deal instead proposes a comprehensive, full-scale assault on capitalism, using Indigenous knowledge and tried-and-true methods of mass mobilization as its ammunition. In this way, it addresses what are commonly thought of as single issues like the protection of sacred sites—which often manifest in specific uprisings or insurrections—as structural in nature, which therefore require a structural (i.e., non-reformist reform) response that has the abolition of capitalism via revolution as its central goal. We must be straightforward about what is necessary. If we want to survive, there are no incremental or “non-disruptive” ways to reduce emissions. Reconciliation with the ruling classes is out of the question. Market-based solutions must be abandoned. We have until 2050 to reach net-zero carbon emissions. That’s it. Thirty years. The struggle for a carbon-free future can either lead to revolutionary transformation or much worse than what Marx and Engels imagined in 1848, when they forewarned that “the common ruin of the contending classes” was a likely scenario if the capitalist class was not overthrown. The common ruin of entire peoples, species, landscapes, grasslands, waterways, oceans, and forests—which has been well underway for centuries—has intensified more in the last three decades than in all of human existence.

The Red Nation, The Red Deal (pp. 21-22). Common Notions. Kindle Edition.


My Mutual Aid community models many Green/Red New Deal concepts.

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, Des Moines Mutual Aid, Great Plains Action Society

Building a coalition

I’m reflecting and praying about what happened this past weekend during the Climate Summit of 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.

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


Extremely thankful for this community we built this weekend. Looking forward to fighting for the future alongside all of you.
Thank you to the organizers, and big love to the participants.
Keep an eye out for Buffalo Rebellions next move.

Photo by @karl.ajconrad
@iowacci@iowammj@desmoinesblm@greatplainsactionsociety@sunrisemvmtcr
#climatecrisis#climatejustice#landback#racialjustice
Buffalo Rebellion 4/24/2022


How do you build a coalition? You bring together organizations and people who have demonstrated they are effective at building community and organizing for change. And who are aligned in their purpose.

My experience is there are a small number of people and organizations who shoulder justice work in a city or geographical area. Which means they are acquainted with each other. A given individual often belongs to multiple organizations.

But these groups often don’t work together. Building a coalition is how to remedy that. The organizations listed above are growing a movement for climate action that centers racial and economic justice. That is our common purpose. Rapidly evolving environmental chaos is an existential threat that requires radical action now.

Centering on racial and economic justice is crucial for many reasons. Blatant environmental racism is seen over and over again by the location of hazardous infrastructure in Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) communities. Conversely, solar panels are not often seen there.

There are many aspects of economic injustice as well. Those economically disadvantaged also tend to live in areas of environmental hazards. And supply the labor for jobs such as coal, oil, and tar sands mining, while white capitalists receive (steal) the profits.

Building a coalition requires us to know and trust each other. And to learn about each other’s work. Tools that we can bring to our organizations. Or know who has expertise we can turn to for help.

This past weekend of Buffalo Rebellion meetings and action went a long way in beginning to accomplish these goals. It was important to have the action of marching to the offices of MidAmerican Energy. Demonstrating how direct actions work.

The many excellent presentations shared the tools and knowledge of experts in our coalition. The following table of presentations gives an idea of what was done.

Community Building & StorytellingCedar Rapids Sunrise
End-Stage Iowa, Indigenous Land Stewardship & the Green
(Red) New Deal
Great Plains Action Society (GPAS), Iowa Citizens Community Improvement (ICCI)
NoDAPL Reunion Panel
Fundamentals of Organizing (Starting an Issue Based Campaign
and Fundraising 101)
DSM Black Liberation, ICCI, Sierra Club Beyond Coal
Police, Prison, & Military Abolition for Climate JusticeDSM Black Liberation Movement
Lobbying: Get Your Local Green New Deal Passed into LawCedar Rapids Sunrise
Migration in Iowa and Big-AgIowa Migrant Movement for Justice
Art and ActivismSay Poetry, DSM Black Liberation Movement
Frontline Tactical Methods to Protect the Land: From Direct Actions and Resistance Camps
Landscapes: The Kinship of Climate, Wildness, and Community
Mutual Aid: Bail Funds, Court Solidarity, and Incarceration Support in Resistance MovementsGPAS, DSM Mutual Aid
Linking the Origins of Iowa’s Contemporary Environmental Problems to the Extractive Nature of White Settlement
Ending White Supremacy in Climate OrganizingCPAS, DSM Black Liberation Movement, Sierra Club Beyond Coal
Launching the Movement: Strategic Applications of Drones for Grassroots ActionsGPAS
Building Power with Public NarrativeCedar Rapids Sunrise, ICCI, DSM People’s Town Hall
Damn Lies and C02 pipelinesScience and Environmental Health Network
Deep Canvassing ICCI, DSM People’s Town Hall
Urban Farming and Community FridgesSweet Tooth Farms
Bird-Dogging 101Cedar Rapids Sunrise, ICCI, DSM Black Liberation Movement
Youth Caucus ReportSeventh Generation Youth Climate Caucus

You can see the videos of most of these presentations on the Buffalo Rebellion Facebook page.

For example, this is the presentation by my friend Ronnie James of Des Moines Mutual Aid and Great Plains Action Society.

Mutual Aid: Bail Funds, Court Solidarity, and Incarceration Support in Resistance Movements

– Ronnie James, DSM Mutual Aid & Great Plains Action Society

An introduction to the how and why of supporting frontliners that suffer arrest during Movement activities. Instruction will cover the reason for, creation of, and implementation of a Bail Fund. We will also touch on the main phases of the arrest and court process: Arrest, Pre-Trial, Trial, Post-Trial, Sentencing, and Incarceration, and some of the avenues of support the defendant will require during these phases. We will discuss the role of the Defense Committee, and how they compare and contrast with the Legal Defense Team. Finally, there will be a brief summary of how this works in Des Moines, Iowa in the present moment.

Click here to see video.


The goal of this weekend of immersive training was to develop 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. I think that was accomplished.



#IAClimateJustice #ClimateJustice @NoCCSIowa

@iowacci @iowammj @desmoinesblm @greatplainsactionsociety @sunrisemvmtcr
#climatecrisis #climatejustice #landback #racialjustice

Martin Luther King Jr was a radical

“Hero” isn’t a word I hear much these days, but Martin Luther King, Jr, is one to me. Other heroes are the men and their families who also resisted cooperation with the systems of war. That includes a number of those in my Quaker community. And includes Muhammad Ali. People whose lives reflected their faith and beliefs. Because even as a child it was clear so many people did not do so. This was and continues to be spiritually traumatic.

In this brief celebratory moment of King’s life and death we should be highly suspicious of those who sing his praises yet refuse to pay the cost of embodying King’s strong indictment of the US empire, capitalism and racism in their own lives.

Martin Luther King Jr was a radical. We must not sterilize his legacy.  Cornel West

Martin Luther King’s beliefs and actions related to racism are well known.

He was late to publicly come out against the Vietnam War and was harshly criticized by most in his own community for doing so. The argument was that would weaken his work against racism. But he could clearly see the ties between racism, capitalism, and militarism.

A historic speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered even 55 years later as one of the most courageous speeches ever made. This speech stated those truths which no other leading political leader or even leading activist was willing to state in such a clear and sharp way.  The reference here is of course to the speech delivered by Dr. King at Manhattan’s Riverside Church on April 4 1967—a speech remembered also as the ‘Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence’ speech.

The great importance of this speech is due to several factors. Firstly, he drew a very clear linkage between why a civil rights activist like him has to be a peace activist at the same time. He stated very clearly that the high hopes he had from the poverty program started getting shattered from the time of increased spending on Vietnam war. So he realized that in order to really help the poor it is important also to prevent wars and to have peace. Secondly, he expressed deep regret that it is mainly the children of the poor (black as well as white young men from poor households) who were being sent to fight a very unjust and oppressive war, while they should have been contributing to reducing distress of their own settlements. Thirdly, he exposed the great injustices and bitter realities about US military intervention with such clarity and conviction that it was bound to have a strong nationwide and in fact worldwide impact.

April 4 – Remembering Martin Luther King on his Death Anniversary by Bharat Dogra, Counter Currents, April 4,2022


The major threat of Martin Luther King Jr to us is a spiritual and moral one.
Martin Luther King Jr turned away from popularity in his quest for spiritual and moral greatness – a greatness measured by what he was willing to give up and sacrifice due to his deep love of everyday people, especially vulnerable and precious black people.

If King were alive today, his words and witness against drone strikes, invasions, occupations, police murders, caste in Asia, Roma oppression in Europe, as well as capitalist wealth inequality and poverty, would threaten most of those who now sing his praises.
Today, 50 years later the US imperial meltdown deepens. And King’s radical legacy remains primarily among the awakening youth and militant citizens who choose to be extremists of love, justice, courage and freedom, even if our chances to win are that of a snowball in hell! This kind of unstoppable King-like extremism is a threat to every status quo!

Martin Luther King Jr was a radical. We must not sterilize his legacy.  Cornel West

New heroes for me are the young people I’ve been blessed to work with and learn from, particularly in Mutual Aid communities. Working against “capitalist wealth inequality and poverty.”

King’s radical legacy remains primarily among the awakening youth and militant citizens who choose to be extremists of love, justice, courage and freedom.”


Martin Luther King, Jr and Bobby Kennedy

April 4th is the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, in Memphis, Tennessee. There is always a somber gathering in Indianapolis, at the site where Bobby Kennedy announced the death to a crowd. In the days before cell phones and instant communication, most in the crowd had not heard the news.

As a photographer I was fascinated by the sculpture of Martin Luther King, Jr, and Robert F Kennedy in the park where Bobby Kennedy spoke. I visited it many times, day and night. I put together the video below with some of the photos. There are two speeches as part of the video. The first is the last speech Martin Luther King gave, the night before he was killed. The second is the speech Bobby Kennedy delivered that day in Indianapolis.

There were riots in many cities that day, but not in Indianapolis.

“We’ve got some difficult days ahead,” Martin Luther King, Jr., told an overflowing crowd in Memphis, Tennessee, on 3 April 1968, where the city’s sanitation workers were striking. “But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land” (King, “I’ve Been,” 222–223). Less than 24 hours after these prophetic words, King was assassinated by James Earl Ray.

Martin Luther King, Jr

April 4, 1968, Robert F Kennedy gave several speeches in Indiana as he campaigned for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. This young white man, as the United States Attorney General, along with his brother the President, had been thrust into the middle of the civil rights struggle. And then his brother was assassinated.

At Notre Dame he spoke about the Vietnam War and told the students there that college deferments for the draft discriminated against those who could not afford to attend college and should be eliminated.

After speaking about racism at Ball State, an African American student said, “Your speech implies that you are placing a great deal of faith in white America. Is that faith justified?” Kennedy answered “Yes” and added that “faith in black America is justified, too” although he said there “are extremists on both sides.” Before boarding a plane to fly to Indianapolis, Kennedy learned that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot. On the plane, Kennedy told a reporter “You know, it grieves me. . . that I just told that kid this and then walk out and find that some white man has just shot their spiritual leader.”

It wasn’t until the flight had nearly arrived in Indianapolis that he learned Martin Luther King, Jr, had died of his wounds. There wasn’t time to write something to cover this news. The Indianapolis event was to be held at a park in a predominantly black neighborhood downtown. The Indianapolis police and city leaders tried to get him to cancel the speech, telling him they couldn’t protect him if there was a riot.

But he insisted. At the park, from the back of a flatbed truck, he said:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’m only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening, because I have some–some very sad news for all of you — Could you lower those signs, please? — I have some very sad news for all of you, and, I think, sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world; and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.

Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black — considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible — you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.

We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.

For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with — be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poem, my–my favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote:

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God.

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King — yeah, it’s true — but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love — a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.

We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We’ve had difficult times in the past, but we — and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it’s not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

And let’s dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.

Thank you very much

At the ceremony in 2016, I was surprised see my friend, Chinyelu Mwaafrika from the Kheprw Institute in the crowd. I hadn’t known he would be there. He saw me before he went onstage to perform part of the rap song, “The revolution will not be televised” by GIL SCOTT-HERON, 4/5/2016. We had a nice visit after his performance. I thought about the many ways we are all connected with one another.


Spirituality over religion

People ask me if I believe in god… I tell them I pray to creator.
They tell me Jesus died for me… I tell them my ancestors did.
They say I will burn in hell for not following the Bible, but it has been used as weapon to colonize and murder my people…
for me it’s spirituality over religion. I don’t hate people for going to church, but I do hate what the churches have done to us…
before colonization we had our own ways and ceremonies, I choose the path of my ancestors.

Indigenous

I find myself in a spiritual crisis regarding Christianity. I realize being a Christian and professing to be a Christian are often not the same.

The Christianity I cannot be part of is the weaponized version of a religion. One that created and enforced the doctrines of discovery which gave permission to steal indigenous lands and instructed killing the people living on them. That codified white supremacy and empire. That drove global colonization.

One that raised great wealth from stolen lands and labor. And then built ostentatious churches in the midst of profound poverty.

One that tore native children from their families and took them far away, to places of forced assimilation where every kind of abuse was visited upon them. Where thousands died or were killed. And their families were often not even told of their deaths. Where other children were sometimes forced to dig the graves. The trauma passed from generation to generation. An open wound in Indigenous communities to this day that I have witnessed in my native friends. A wound that has been ripped open with the verification of the remains of thousands of native children. With many more places that haven’t been scanned yet.

Part of the reason for my crisis is reading “American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World” by David Stannard. Recent scholarship has revealed sophisticated Indigenous communities in the Americas prior to the arrival of white men. And much larger numbers of Indigenous people, millions more than previously thought. Meaning millions more deaths occurred.

American holocaust.

The destruction of the Indians of the Americas was, far and away, the most massive act of genocide in the history of the world.

Stannard, David E. American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World. Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

More often than we realize, in ways we don’t recognize, white Quakers continue to benefit from the American Holocaust. Continue white domination.

We made a small step in learning about land acknowledgements. But those are empty statements if we don’t take the next steps. We need actions, not more words.

The reason I write and talk so much about my experiences with Mutual Aid is because that gets to the root causes of white supremacy. Mutual Aid exemplifies what Christianity is supposed to be. Mutual Aid is a means to begin decolonization.

As painful as it is, I know out of my confusion and distress, I will be led to a better place.

Real radicalism implores us to tell the whole ugly truth, even when it is inconvenient.

Brittney Cooper, Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower (2018)

Capitalism must end

The two major themes of justice work I have been forced to spend so much time and effort on are trying to convince White people to understand their privileges, and why capitalism is so wrong and must end. Capitalism is the system that enforces White supremacy and power, enforces racism. Capitalism is economic slavery of those of any race who are of a certain class, i.e. struggling for basic necessities. Which is ironic because the enslavement of people of color, and the theft of land and natural resources from native peoples was and continues to be the foundation of White supremacy and capitalism.

A system that requires money for any purchase or service is morally reprehensible because that denies anyone without money to obtain basic necessities. How have we accepted millions of children going hungry? Millions denied food, housing, education, healthcare? I am so invested in the work of Des Moines Mutual Aid because we are doing what we can to feed the hungry and provide shelter for the houseless.

I’m always looking for other sources that can express this better. Because this message is critical. The following is from the interview “Bree Newsome Bass: ‘Capitalism Has to Collapse’” by Kelly Hayes, Truthout, January 20, 2022.

“So, the goal is to have that resilient plan, that plan for resiliency there and to have those connections and community there as kind of like our base of operation, while we organize and resist and fight.”

As I’ve been saying and doing, those resiliency connections and community are Mutual Aid.

On a personal note, I have an indirect connection to Bree.  My friend Todd Zimmer, who trained me to be an Action Leader in the Keystone Pledge of Resistance in 2013 and led the Change the Course training I attended in Louisville, was then working for the Rainforest Action Network.  Much of that training focused on nonviolent civil disobedience, direct action planning and execution.

Todd also helped organize the act of civil disobedience by Bree Newsome, who was arrested after she scaled the flagpole to remove the confederate flag at the South Carolina State House June 28, 2015.

The NAACP praised Newsome as a “courageous young woman” and asked for leniency from prosecutors.

“We commend the courage and moral impulse of Ms. Newsome as she stands for justice like many NAACP activists including Henry David Thoreau, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and numerous Americans who have engaged in civil disobedience,” it said. “The NAACP calls on state prosecutors to consider the moral inspiration behind the civil disobedience of this young practitioner of democracy.”

“On June 28, in the early hours of the morning, 30-year-old helmeted activist Bree Newsome scaled the flagpole at the South Carolina State House and cut down the controversial Confederate flag, which was first raised there in 1961, almost 100 years after the Civil War.”

Bree Newsome’s Superwoman-style, Confederate flag pole climb was an artistic statement, the conversation, July 1, 2015


Open Letter to Sports Page

I’ve been writing about the New Year, New Iowa Open Letter Campaign of my friends at the Great Plains Action Society. See: Your Invitation to be an Ally. At the end of this is a statement by GPAS related to a racist image found in the Sports Page restaurant in Indianola.

I called the Sports Page, where someone took a message from me, and passed it on to one of the owners. The message returned was they didn’t know anything about a mascot. Which was an unfortunate way I put the message to them, but I’m sure they got the point of follow-up concern about the imagery in their restaurant.


Great Plains Action Society makes the following points response to this issue, applicable to all persons or establishments that continue to display racist imagery.

THIS IS NOT A MATTER OF ‘OPINION’: FOR DECADES, MULTIPLE SCIENTIFIC STUDIES HAVE SHOWN THAT THESE IMAGES AND MASCOTS HARM INDIGENOUS CHILDREN. Exposure to this racist imagery also correlates to increasing negative views of Native people in non-Native children. Too often this issue gets brushed aside as a matter of “differing opinions” about what is or is not “offensive.” To be very clear, this is not about what is or is not offensive, or whether there is consensus about this among the vastly diverse Indigenous communities. Experts have weighed in and it is clear that children mascots hurt Indigenous children, full stop.

I spent my entire adult life working in a children’s hospital and this concerns me. Following is part of a policy statement on the Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Racism is a “system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on the social interpretation of how one looks (which is what we call ‘race’) that unfairly disadvantages some individuals and communities, unfairly advantages other individuals and communities, and saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources.” Racism is a social determinant of health that has a profound impact on the health status of children, adolescents, emerging adults, and their families.  Although progress has been made toward racial equality and equity, the evidence to support the continued negative impact of racism on health and well-being through implicit and explicit biases, institutional structures, and interpersonal relationships is clear. Failure to address racism will continue to undermine health equity for all children, adolescents, emerging adults, and their families.

The Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health, FROM THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS, POLICY STATEMENT, AUGUST 01, 2019

GOOD OR BAD INTENTIONS ALONE DO NOT DETERMINE THE WRONGNESS OR RIGHTNESS OF AN ACTION. So often we see people claim that because they have good intentions, their use of racist imagery and mascots is not problematic. However, it’s still problematic, because regardless of an individual’s intention, it is still an act that harms children.

RETIRING MASCOTS AND DISCARDING STEREOTYPED IMAGE IS NOT AN ERASURE OF ANYONE’S IDENTITY; IN FACT, THE EXISTENCE OF THESE MASCOTS IS A CONTRIBUTING FACTOR TO INDIGENOUS ERASURE. Many supporters of racist images and mascots are under the impression that retiring them is taking away from their identity because being a [insert racist mascot here] is a huge part of who they are. It’s unfortunate that people have built their identity around “being” a [racist mascot], because identifying as something that harms children and society in general is problematic, and that identification should especially cease when they learn about the harmful effects on children.

An Open Letter to Amanda and Joe Ripperger, the owner of the Sports Page restaurant in Indianola, and all other owners of establishments with racist mascot decor:

It was brought to the attention of Great Plains Action Society that an Indianola community member contacted the owners of the Sports Page restaurant about their racist “R*dman” mascot sign hanging at their establishment. Though the owners, Amanda and Joe Ripperger, said they took time to think about removing the sign, they eventually declined to do so based on typical, problematic reasoning. The reasons they gave are among the most common rationalizations in defense of racist images and mascots and so we are taking this opportunity to, once again, clarify some points about the racist images and mascots “debate.” We are including text from their response to the community member for context and transparency. From the community member:

They approached the restaurant owners and this was their answer:

On our first request to remove their racist signs, we were told they were “decor,” nostalgia and history.

In a second response the Ripperger’s said:

I am very sorry for your families hurt that you have experienced in our community, and we do hear your concerns. We have decided that the signs will remain up. Our restaurants are a piece of Indianola’s community, but most importantly they are ours. We have owned and operated these restaurants for 10 years on January1 and we are so proud to be part of the Indianola community that it seems like we would be erasing something that is near to our hearts. Nothing hung on our walls is meant to be derogatory. We hope that you and all our customers know that.

Thank you for sharing your perspective with us.

Sincerely,

Amanda and Joe Ripperger

We believe they would be sensitive to additional feedback and might hopefully change their position. Great Plains Action Society

#greatplainsactionsociety #NotYourMascot #NewYearNewIowa