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.


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’




FCNL Native American updates

Following are Native American updates from the Friends Committee on Legislation (FCNL).

Seeking Truth, Healing, and Right Relationship: Quakers and the Legacy of Indian Boarding Schools
MAY 25, 2022, 5:30 – 6:30 PM Central, ONLINE

FCNL and Friends advocate in solidarity with Indigenous peoples. Yet, historically, Quakers played a role in colonization and the cultural genocide of Native people through the operation of more than 30 Indian boarding schools. With legislation now before Congress to investigate the legacy of Indian boarding schools, how are Friends communities engaging to address Quaker complicity in these atrocities?

Join us on Weds. May 25 at 6:30 p.m. EDT to learn how FCNL and F/friends are reckoning with this history and advocating in solidarity with Native communities.

In conversation with Paula Palmer and Jerilyn DeCoteau, FCNL’s Congressional Advocate for Native American Advocacy Portia Kay^nthos Skenandore-Wheelock will discuss FCNL’s work to build support for the bipartisan Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act (S. 2907/H.R. 5444). Paula and Jerilyn will share from their expertise and experience co-directing Towards Right Relationship with Native Peoples with Friends Peace Teams. Director of Quaker Leadership Alicia McBride will moderate the conversation.


Reauthorize FVPSA with Critical Support for Tribal Domestic Violence Programs

The Family Violence Prevention and Services Improvement Act (FVPSA) is the primary federal grant program for domestic violence shelter and supportive services. This is especially significant for tribal communities, which deal with domestic and sexual violence at unparalleled rates. 

FVPSA will help all tribes provide culturally appropriate and life-saving prevention and treatment resources for their citizens by funding domestic violence programs, shelters, hotlines, resource centers in Alaska and Hawaii, and tribal coalitions. In short, FVPSA is a key piece of legislation to address the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People.

The House passed their bill (H.R. 2119) in October 2021, but the Senate has yet to vote on their version (S. 1275).

Remind your senators of their responsibility to tribal nations and urge them to pass the Family Violence Prevention and Services Improvement Act.


Historic Funding for Tribal Nations in FY 2023 Budget Proposal

For the first time in history, the president’s budget process included direct consultations with tribal nations. As a result, President Joe Biden’s FY 2023 budget proposal includes increased funding for tribal nations and programs. Notably, it would also significantly invest in the stabilization of the entire tribal healthcare system.

By recategorizing Indian Health Service (IHS) funding as mandatory rather than discretionary spending, IHS funding would automatically keep pace with increasing healthcare costs and population growth. This change would gradually close longstanding shortfalls, address backlogs and inequities, and modernize record systems. The budget proposal recommends $9.1 billion in mandatory funding for tribal healthcare.

“This proposal is a historic step forward towards securing adequate, stable, and predictable funding to improve the overall health status of American Indians and Alaska Natives,” said IHS Acting Director Elizabeth Fowler. “It also ensures we never repeat the disproportionate impacts experienced during the pandemic…and acknowledges the need to implement long-term solutions to address IHS funding challenges, which contribute to the stark health disparities faced by American Indian and Alaska Native people.”

Other wins in the budget proposal include increased funding for tribal programs in general, Violence Against Women Act programs, and the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative.


Interior Department Reverses Nearly 50 Year Obstacle to Tribal Water Rights

On April 7, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland reversed the Morton Moratorium, a 1975 memorandum directing the Bureau of Indian Affairs to disapprove tribal regulation of water use on reservations. With this change, tribes requiring secretarial approval of tribal water codes will be able to better regulate and protect waters on tribal lands.

“If we are to truly support tribal self-determination, we cannot be afraid to review and correct actions of the past that were designed to create obstacles for tribal nations,” said Haaland. The Interior Department will hold tribal consultations for guidance on an improved review process for tribal water codes.


What we’re reading

Dare we hope?

I was searching for a way to describe what WE experienced during OUR Buffalo Rebellion Climate Summit this weekend. A moment reminiscent of the times of the civil rights and anti-war movements which brought together thousands of people and created change. This weekend a coalition of people and organizations came together to rise to the challenges of rapidly evolving environmental devastation and collapse of the systems of capitalism and white supremacy.

As I wondered whether to write “what WE experienced” versus “what I experienced” I realized this was emblematic of what the Buffalo Rebellion is about. Dare WE hope? In its simplest expression, we need to change from “I” to “We” in all we do.

Those of us who have been working to protect Mother Earth are more aware than the general public of the breadth and depth of damage being done. More alarmed, more discouraged after years of work with little apparent progress.

The COVID pandemic made us more isolated and made it difficult to safely do our organizing work. Although our Des Moines Mutual Aid community never stopped distributing free food every week. We strictly enforced wearing masks and gloves and attempted to maintain social distancing by limiting the number of volunteers.

As an example of how long some of us have been working to protect our environment, fifty years ago I was led to refuse to own a car. I’m not aware of that changing other people’s lives.

In 2013 the Keystone XL pipeline struggles began to bring some people and organizations together. One group was known as the Cowboy-Indian Alliance.

What little I learned about native cultures showed peoples who lived with far more integrity than I was able to. When I first became engaged with fossil fuel and pipeline resistance in 2013, I began to hear stories of Indigenous peoples working to protect the water. The Cowboy-Indian Alliance came together to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. I was honored to be given this poster from the 2014 Harvest the Hope concert.
[See: The Cowboy and Indian Alliance.]

It was clear to me and others that nonnative folks needed not only to join with Indigenous peoples but be led by them. How to make that happen?

Indigenous Iowa and Bold Iowa organized the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March in 2018, with the intent of providing a small group of native and nonnative people the time to get to know each other, so we could begin to work on issues of common interest and concern. We walked and camped for eight days along the path of the Dakota Access pipeline from Des Moines to Fort Dodge, Iowa, ninety-four miles.
[see stories and photos from that sacred journey here: First Nation Famer Climate Unity March]

A number of us worked on various projects together since, strengthening our friendships. A number of those on that March are involved in the new coalition, the Buffalo Rebellion. That includes Sikowis Nobiss, Mahmud Fitil, Trisha Entringer, Donnielle Wanatee, Miriam Kashia, Peter Clay and me.

I plan to write a lot about the Buffalo Rebellion but wanted to begin with this introduction.

I believe the answer to the question posed by this post, Dare WE hope? is yes.

Buffalo Rebellion

#IAClimateJustice

The Duty to Resist

“The Duty to Resist” is an article in a recent edition of Friends Journal, The Duty to Resist by Carlos Figueroa, Friends Journal, April 1, 2022

I had forgotten Bayard Rustin had been incarcerated for draft resistance. He joins the list of those who have written about their prison experiences such as Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King, Jr.

In March 1948, Bayard T. Rustin, in his capacity as secretary of FOR’s Racial-Industrial Department, was honored with the opportunity to deliver the William Penn Lecture as part of the Young Friends Movement of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Since its inception in 1916, the William Penn Lecture had been given by several Quaker luminaries. The lecture, titled “In Apprehension How Like a God” (drawing on Shakespeare’s Hamlet), touched on many Quaker values but, more importantly, the moral and pragmatic lessons Rustin had learned while incarcerated for two years in Kentucky and Pennsylvania federal prisons for refusing induction into the military. 

In his lecture, Rustin reminded Friends of the need to uphold their moral responsibility with integrity as individuals and within the broader community whenever witnessing and confronting domestic or global social injustices. Rustin implored Friends toward consistency and truthfulness in the face of violence, war, and oppression.

The Duty to Resist by Carlos Figueroa, Friends Journal, April 1, 2022

In the magazine, Ithaca College’s Carlos Figueroa looks back at an important talk Bayard Rustin gave to the young Friends association in Philadelphia in 1948. It was a pivotal moment in a life that contained so many: Rustin had spent the early 1940s organizing with the Fellowship of Reconciliation and was recently released from a prison term for violating the Selective Service Act. This was his opportunity to lay out a pacifist politics for the Cold War era:

Rustin explicitly sought to persuade others into considering civil disobedience as a social democratic strategy for pursuing structural and policy change. Rustin advocated for a humanitarian, communal, and moralistic approach to change, thus disregarding an individual’s political affiliation, geographic location, or government system.

Bayard Rustin in Friends Journal, A Blog from Martin Kelley, April 7, 2022


Rustin explicitly sought to persuade others into considering civil disobedience as a social democratic strategy for pursuing structural and policy change.


From the introduction of the QuakerSpeak video below: As a gay African-American, civil rights activist Bayard Rustin faced discrimination his entire life—sometimes, Walter Naegle reminds us, among his fellow Friends. Walter, Rustin’s partner and companion in his final decades, discusses his vital contributions to Quaker testimony of peace, integrity and equality.

“Bayard believed in the oneness of the human family, in the brotherhood and sisterhood of all people,” Walter says. “He believed in the power of nonviolence which comes out of that belief in the oneness of all people.… He saw everybody as equal in the eyes of the divine.”


“I put my life on pause, rewound, now I’m pressing play. The come up, grinding until the sun up, knowing it could all be gone if one person puts their guns up. A black Quaker no savior, I’m on my Bayard Rustin to convince all the skeptics and get people to just trust em.”

Sterling Duns

I’m reminded of a teach-in by my friend Ronnie James, The Police State and Why We Must Resist. “As bleak as this is, there is a significant amount of resistance and hope to turn the tide we currently suffer under.”


I’ve been working on this post for days, which is unusual. Not quite sure how these seemingly disparate parts fit together. In part because there will increasingly be direct actions related to environmental devastation. I’ll be attending a Climate Summit this weekend, which will include training for and participation in direct action.


#IAClimateJustice #Climatejustice #Climateaction

Wicked problems and sensemaking

I have so many questions.

  • How can the government do everything it can to increase oil production and exports, when our extinction is assured if greenhouse gas emissions are not radically decreased immediately?
  • How could the atrocities and utter destruction have happened? In Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, United States?
  • Wouldn’t nonviolent responses against the invasion of Ukraine have been better, even if that meant Russian occupation for a time?
  • How can sanctions be a good thing when they result in the impoverishment of millions of people?
  • Why is it possible for everyone to buy and carry a gun?
  • Why do culture wars prevent teachers from teaching?
  • How did we allow healthcare workers to be overwhelmed by COVID cases?
  • How is it possible for so many prescription drugs to be too expensive?
  • Why have we allowed the militarization of police?
  • Why do millions of men, women and children live in poverty? So many without shelter? So many hungry?
  • Racism?
  • How can the military budget greatly exceed all other government programs combined?
  • How can the government control women’s choices? So many choices of all of us?

These questions stem from the difficulty of making sense of what’s going on today. Which reminds me of the concepts of wicked problems and sensemaking that James Allen writes about. I try to refrain from using so many quotes, but the entire article is well worth reading.

One thing he writes about makes more sense to me now from my experiences with Mutual Aid. What he writes here is a good description of Mutual Aid.

Something important happens when we gather in pursuit of a common goal. First we form rituals that help us relate to and negotiate each other, everything from a civic tradition that allows anyone with a voice to be respectfully heard, to sharing food and music in the local town hall every Friday night, to a labour system that fairly distributes the burden of work. Then, those rituals that stand the test of time become embedded in daily life. The ritual activities themselves and the good they produce help a community identity take root. As identity strengthens, so too does our sense of connectedness — our sense of affection, responsibility and obligation — to one another. When this happens, we then share a greater capacity for coherence and cooperation. And where we share greater capacity for coherence and cooperation there is also greater resilience: the ability to mobilise skills and resources to support the emergence of collective intelligence in response to crisis, enable rapid adaptation and ensure the continuity of the most important functions and structures of the community. This coherent togetherness and the collective intelligence that emerges out of it is the source of human strength and ingenuity. Within it lies our ability to transition from one evolutionary niche to another, even against the odds.

Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, originally published by Medium, June 18, 2019

…there remains the most existential risk of them all: our diminishing capacity for collective sensemaking. Sensemaking is the ability to generate an understanding of world around us so that we may decide how to respond effectively to it. When this breaks down within the individual, it creates an ineffective human at best and a dangerous one at worst. At the collective level, a loss of sensemaking erodes shared cultural and value structures and renders us incapable of generating the collective wisdom necessary to solve complex societal problems like those described above. When that happens the centre cannot hold.

The jumping-off point for this essay is a regrettable acceptance that a forthcoming energy descent combined with multiple ecological crises will force massive societal transformation this century. It’s hardly a leap to suggest that, with less abundant cheap energy and the collapse of the complex political and economic infrastructure that supports our present way of life, this transformation is likely to include the contraction and relocalisation of some (if not most) aspects our daily lives.

The problems before us are emergent phenomena with a life of their own, and the causes requiring treatment are obscure. They are what systems scientists call wicked problems: problems that harbour so many complex non-linear interdependencies that they not only seem impossible to understand and solve, but tend to resist our attempts to do so. For such wicked problems, our conventional toolkits — advocacy, activism, conscientious consumerism, and ballot casting — are grossly inadequate and their primary utility may be the self-soothing effect it has on the well-meaning souls who use them.

If we are to find a new kind of good life amid the catastrophes these myths have spawned, then we need to radically rethink the stories we tell ourselves. We need to dig deep into old stories and reveal their wisdom, as well as lovingly nurture the emergence of new stories into being.

Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, originally published by Medium, June 18, 2019

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.”


Mutual Aid and Revolution

Mutual Aid and Revolution by Andžejs Jenots is another article in the zine I’ve been writing about, We Gather Here Today in Disservice of the State, from Des Moines Mutual Aid (DMMA). I think of Mutual Aid as revolutionary because it represents a paradigm shift from capitalism. I recently wrote Mutual Aid is the Quaker way of being in the world.

This article addresses a weakness of Mutual Aid that I’ve been aware of, which is “to the extent that mutual aid is an activity resulting in products and services, financed by groups of workers who exist because they (or a large enough share of them) sell their labor power to the enemy class for a wage, mutual aid is the redistribution of a share of those wages.”

But there is much more to Mutual Aid than providing products and services. As Jenots says below, “one of the central tasks of mutual aid is less about doing something for the sake of doing something, and more about thinking and noticing.” Des Moines Mutual Aid is very skilled at noticing and responding.

At present most of the food we distribute comes from sources that paid for the materials and labor to make it. We got it because its freshness date had expired. I envisioned a time when wheat, for example, was grown by farmers who gave it to those who make bread, which is distributed without charge. The farmers and bakers would be among those who received the bread. This is not as naive as it might seem, because capitalism is collapsing. We need to be thinking about and working toward what we want to replace it.

As Jenots goes on to say, “it is clear what the main weakness in this is: all (class-independent) mutual aid activity is constrained by the wages of its participants and donors.”

Mutual aid is not infrastructure for running away or carving out a small plot of land – literal or figurative, it is infrastructure for driving a spear into the heart of capital and sustaining an effort to do so. Mutual aid is a basis for preparedness for future revolutionary events, including for the allocation of all of the skills and capabilities whose aims will be redirected from profit-making to something else as a result of the widespread clarity gained in a revolutionary situation. Even though we can say little in detail about a coming revolution, we know that it will be a conflict between classes, and that will mean strain on dependencies between those classes. To the extent we now depend on the enemy class for the organization of the production of goods and services (and in many ways, we do), someday we won’t be able to anymore. However, the fight will no longer belong only to `we unhappy few,’ these early-to-consciousness revolutionaries, with our meager skillsets. It will become everyone’s domain…

The task of revolutionary mutual aid is to re-link production with distribution when and where capitalist social relations no longer do….

One of the central tasks of mutual aid is less about doing something for the sake of doing something, and more about thinking and noticing – understanding the trajectory capitalism is taking in order to understand the needs it will create and the means, methods, technique, skills, expertise, etc. which finally become available to us as they are expelled from capitalism.

Andžejs Jenots, Mutual Aid and Revolution

We Don’t Leave Our Fighters Behind

Another article in the recent zine, We Gather Here Today in Disservice of the State, from Des Moines Mutual Aid (DMMA) is “Court Solidarity: How and Why, or We Don’t Leave Our Fighters Behind.”

Des Moines Mutual Aid is an Abolitionist Mutual Aid Collective made up of varying radical and revolutionary tendencies in what is currently known as central Iowa.

Even though I’ve been engaged with DMMA for two years, I continue to learn of the many things our collective does. My experience is with the food giveaway project, and I know about the work to help the houseless. I also know about the bail fund. But not the full extent of Court Solidarity.

Des Moines Mutual Aid is the best community organizing group that I know of. Besides putting together and distributing the boxes of food on Saturday mornings, I look forward to hearing what my friends have been up to. And look for ways I can help. By offering to take photos at events, for example.

The Why

The injustices we face are commonly perpetrated and enforced by the state. Which means our demands for justice often require agitation against the state. The state criminalizes the exercise of civil liberties with laws that are themselves often unconstitutional. But this is how the state attempts to quell resistance, by arresting and incarcerating us.

The basic reasoning of why this tactic [court solidarity] has developed is that the state uses isolation as a tool for intimidation and compliance. The state relies on you feeling powerless once they have you in their grips… When we know our communities have our back, we are less likely to be coerced into decisions detrimental to ourselves and our communities and more willing to fight back.

May capitalism’s armed militias never capture you. If they do, may your people have your back like you had theirs.

A Brief History of Des Moines Mutual Aid Court Solidarity

When the uprising after the police murder of George Floyd began, Des Moines Mutual Aid understood we needed to organize a bail fund to keep our fighters out of jail and get them back to the streets. This was also during the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and jails are an extremely dangerous hotspot for virus transmission.
As expected, the state responded viciously to the protests and began making mass arrests. We put a call out to the community and they responded rapidly with donations. We set up a hotline that is monitored 24/7 to alert us to arrests and typically have bonds posted within hours. We managed to bail out every protester in Des Moines since the Summer of 2020 and continue to do so at the time of this writing at the beginning of 2022.

This reminds me of my training for community organizing as part of the Keystone Pledge of Resistance in 2013. Everyone participating was told to write the phone number to our bail support team on their skin.

But the court solidarity of DMMA goes far beyond that.

After bail was paid and the person was leaving jail, they were interviewed to see if they had any immediate needs and to obtain their contact information so the court solidarity team could monitor court filings and work on finding pro bono lawyers and mental health professionals as needed.

As the street protests cooled down and the trials began, we put out a call to build a Court Solidarity crew. We used information from the defendants and public court records to keep up to date on court scheduling and made sure we showed up to court dates. This also served as a movement building tactic. Many different orgs are represented on these days and we use this time to eat together, organize further, and strategize about upcoming cases

Arrest

Once arrested there are two things that need to be done right away.

  • Assess the immediate needs of the person arrested, and of those who depend on them.
    • “Needs such as injuries, time-dependent medications, pets, children, dependent adults, immigration status, etc.”
  • Determine their bail and get it paid quickly
    • “The longer someone is in the hands of the state the possibility of something very bad happening increases.”

Pre-trial

Once the ransom is paid, or the defendant is denied bail and must wait in a cage for trial, the next step is to find legal representation.

This is also the time to organize defense committees for the defendant or a group of defendants, with their consent. The defense committee’s roles include raising funds for legal costs and dependent care as well as popular support, as deemed appropriate. They often work hand in hand with the lawyers to make sure neither is creating roadblocks for the defendant’s goals. The defense committees should have one or more individuals that keep track of the defendant’s mental health and arrange for therapy or other means of relief.
All of these processes are traumatic to the defendant.

Remember that many protest arrests are of people knowingly risking their freedom to further ours.

Trial

Once the trial starts, fill those seats! There are few feelings of isolation like sitting in a courtroom inside a building completely filled with people that have your worst interests in mind, many of them armed. When you have a few dozen people sitting with you it can give the little extra courage needed to complete this on your terms. There is evidence to suggest that court support and character letters, which we will come back to, have a positive effect for the defendant during sentencing.
If the defendant is feeling it, have the whole crew eat together during lunch breaks, and rest somewhere together while waiting on the jury to return its verdict. This can have the effect of keeping the defendant’s morale up, as well as that of the defense committees, many of whom may be defendants themselves. The stress of state repression during times of increased resistance can, and all too frequently has, fractured relationships and solidarity.
These are important moments to nurture those relationships and maintain the strength we built together in the street

Post-trial

In the case of a guilty verdict or acceptance of a plea, continued support is needed. Character reference letters can be sent to the court prior to sentencing. And funds need to be raised. crowdfunding is commonly used.

In the worst case scenario money will be needed for commissary.

Letter writing can be very helpful, not only to those who are incarcerated, but as a way those outside the prison walls to learn of conditions in prisons. And organize ways to address conditions. I’ve written about the prison letter writing group I’ve been involved with. That is organized by one of my Mutual Aid friends as part of the work of Central Iowa Democratic Socialists of America.

Transgress the Prison Walls

This is a very broad overview of Court Solidarity. Many of the important details will differ based on the laws of your state. Looking up state code and talking to lawyers, law students, or paralegals will help you get a handle on that.
Our next installment will cover prison escapes, how to live underground, and states that refuse u.s. extradition.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at desmoinesmutualaid@protonmail.com.

Networking

Yesterday I was struck by all the interconnected relationships among my friends at Des Moines Mutual Aid.

I was happy to see my friend Donnielle at Mutual Aid for the first time yesterday. She and I were part of the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, September 1-8, 2018. A small group of native and non-native people walked and camped along the path of the Dakota Access pipeline, from Des Moines to Fort Dodge, Iowa (ninety-four miles). One of the main purposes of that walk was to create a group of people who began to get to know each other so we could work on issues of common interest and concern. That really worked and many of us have worked together in many ways since. One of the first things several of us did together, was to lobby Senator Grassley’s staff to support a couple of bills related to safety of Indigenous women. That was in 2018. The renewal of the Violence Against Women Act was just passed and includes those tribal protections. The photo below at the Neal Smith Federal Building was taken the day of the meeting with Senator Grassley’s staff.

Jake, the climate justice advocate from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI) was also there. Two weeks ago, I attended a board meeting of the Iowa Energy Center Board, having been asked to take photos there. Jake organized a group of us to attend the board meeting to try to get MidAmerican to shut down their five coal burning plants. We have since learned our presence there has had some effect. He also asked me to write a letter to the editor about the same issue, which I did. Yesterday Donnielle asked Jake about an upcoming city council meeting where MidAmerican’s franchise with the city will be discussed.

Jade was at Mutual Aid, as usual. She organizes the prison letter writing project of Central Iowa Democratic Socialists of America, which I have joined. A friend of mine in Indianapolis, a professor at the law school there, got me involved in Religious Socialism, part of DSA, hence the name of this blog.

And as usual, my good friend Ronnie was at Mutual Aid. I had told him about some transgender people who were looking for support. Yesterday we talked about that some more, and he gave me a couple of suggestions that I passed along.

My small Quaker meeting is also part of this networking. Some members have been supporters of ICCI for years. It is this meeting that is looking into how we might support the trans people. And I will be speaking about Mutual Aid during the annual gathering of Quakers this summer.

Other connections include supporting the Wet’suwet’en peoples as they try to stop the construction of the Costal GasLink pipeline through their pristine territory in British Columbia. In the photo below you can see Des Moines Black Lives Matter is helping us stand with the Wet’suwet’en.

The signs about Prairies Not Pipelines and #NOCO2PIPELINES was organized by my friend Sikowis, who also walked on the First Nation-Famer Climate Unity March.