The Importance of Shared Memory

I am discouraged today. Yesterday our political discourse sank to a new low. As usual the press obsesses on the latest attack on “others” by this administration. We get distracted by paying attention to the latest political outrage and often don’t look beyond that.

There is a fundamental problem when we have gotten so polarized, not only in our politics but in our neighborhoods. It is an eerie feeling when I walk through block after block in neighborhoods and see almost no one outside. How many of us interact with people beyond our usual circles? Why do so few people attend meetings related to conflicts or problems?

I think it was Bob Berquist’s idea that those of us who were concerned about the Vietnam War visit with random people in West Branch to find out what they thought about the war.  I remember being very apprehensive about this idea, but Bob seemed to think it was a good idea, so a small group of us did.  I remember walking up to houses and awkwardly saying we were Scattergood students who wanted to know what they thought about the war.  We were stunned to find people were universally unhappy with the war and wanted peace as soon as possible. I remember how much this impressed me, that we shouldn’t have preconceived ideas about people and what they believe.  I wish I had done a better job of remembering that, many times since then.  Another example of the education we received at Scattergood.

From my Journal April 19, 1970


A friend of mine described how they gained enough support to pass a law for marriage equality in Minnesota. Many supporters went from house to house to have face to face conversations.

About seven year ago I had been wondering how I could learn about racial justice. On the Internet I found an environmental event was happening at a place I hadn’t heard of, the Kheprw Institute (KI). There I found about a dozen children, eagerly showing their aquaponics system and the rain barrels they sold. This was the beginning of a long history of being involved with and learning from this community of people of color. Even though I moved from Indianapolis, I still maintain connections with my friends there.

More recently, I was learning the key to moving through our evolving environmental crises was leadership by indigenous people, because they have maintained their relationship with Mother Earth. Once again I began looking for ways to meet and learn from indigenous people. When I saw a poster for the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, I immediately knew I needed to be part of that. Walking along country roads with a small group of Native and white people for 94 miles over 8 days along the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline in Iowa provide so much time, so many experiences for us to learn about each other.

As Manape LeMere said, the reason we were marching together was so we could work together in the future. In order to do that, we needed to trust each other. And to be able to trust each other, we needed to understand each other.

Since the March there have been a number of occasions when we have worked together. The photo below was taken when we went to Senator Chuck Grassley’s office to talk about two bills related to Native concerns.

Jeff, Fox, Shazi, Christine, Shari and Sid

Another occasion was when the Surnise Movement’s Green New Deal tour came to Des Moines. 450 atteded, including my friends from the March, Trisha and Lakasha who were on the program to speak about the importance of a Green New Deal to be led by Native people.

Last Friday my good friends Rezadad Mohammadi and Christine Ashley, of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) participated in the Lights for Liberty, a Vigil to End Human Detention Camps, outside the White House. They engaged people in attendance, inviting them to hold the banner “Love Thy Neighbor. No Exceptions”. Engaging with people one on one. (Photos by Rezadad Mohammadi).

Georges Erasmus, an Aboriginal leader from Canada, said, “Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created.”

These are examples of how “common memory must be created”. I encourage you to seek out your own opportunities to experience building new relationships. We need to reconnect with each other. We have so much more in common than we do differences. We have to pull back from the extreme rhetoric and actions. We have to build real community and to do that we have to work together, spend significant amounts of time with each other, building common memory, building real community.


No

We had to keep going. We sang our grief to clean the air of turbulent spirits.

Yes, I did see the terrible black clouds as I cooked dinner. And the messages of the dying spelled there in the ashy sunset. Every one addressed: “mother.”

Yes, the distance was great between your country and mine. Yet our children played in the path between our houses.

No. We had no quarrel with each other.

Harjo, Joy. Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems (p. 12). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
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