I want to disclose I am honored to be on the Bold Iowa Team. I appreciate the many good things Bold Iowa has done and continues to do, especially related to climate change. Unfortunately a recent attempt to call attention to the dire threat of environmental collapse was not sensitive to the multigenerational trauma related to nooses in communities of color. I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t think it was an example of how those of us who are white need to continually pay close attention to the assumptions we are making, that are shaped by systemic racism and living a culture of supposed white superiority.
I was going to post the video of climate performance art by Bold Iowa. Three people were standing on blocks of melting ice, with nooses around their necks. But some people on the video expressed concerns about nooses and race, and those concerns make sense to me. I do appreciate the underlying message and am sure you can visualize this but the history of lynching in the U.S. means, to me, this is not appropriate.
A friend had this to say about that statement:
When William S. Burroughs’s book *Naked Lunch*, a devastating indictment of the moral bankruptcy of American society, was first published, the city of Boston banned it on account of the language it contained. Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan, speaking at the trial in defense of the banned book, likened the offended Boston Brahmins to a man who, on being awakened at two in the morning by a person outside the front door shouting that the house was on fire, criticized the way the person who awakened him was dressed. At two in the morning!
Well, the complaints about the protests sound a whole lot to me like people who, on being told their home is on fire, criticize the way the messengers are dressed.
What a world.
My response to that was:
I strongly disagree. As a well read person I imagine you have read about multigenerational trauma. I don’t know if you have first hand experience with it, though. I’ve been at the Kheprw Institute where mothers will break down in tears describing the terror they feel every time their children leave the house. That terror comes not only from present day police abuses, but from the long, sad history of lynching in this country. Over 4,400 African American men, women and children were “hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950. Millions more fled the South as refugees from racial terrorism, profoundly impacting the entire nation.” https://museumandmemorial.eji.org/
A Native friend told me the story of how upset his mother was when she recognized a rope that was being used to ferry people across a small channel of water at Standing Rock. The rope reminded her of the history of Native children being kidnapped to be taken to Indian boarding schools. The Natives would use a boat with a tow rope to try to save their children. This trauma occurred in the mid 1800’s yet the trauma persists.
I don’t believe we have the right or privilege to use symbols of these traumatic events for our own purposes.
I appreciate that Ed Fallon has issued an apology. I will definitely continue to work with and support Bold Iowa and its good work. Any person or organization that is on the forefront of justice work is guaranteed to make a mistake now and then. Making mistakes is how we learn and grow.
The following is from an article in the (Cedar Rapids) Gazette:
CEDAR RAPIDS — The organizer of a climate change protest at last weekend’s gathering of presidential candidates in NewBo is apologizing for incorporating a symbol evoking America’s violent racial past — a hangman’s noose — into his demonstrations, but that may not be enough to quell the condemnations.Iowa protesters wore nooses to make statement on climate change. Now they are apologizing. Bold Iowa apologizes for protest deemed racially insensitive outside Progress Iowa Corn Feed, The Gazette (Cedar Rapids) July 16, 2019
Ed Fallon, a former Democratic state representative and the current leader of the progressive activist group Bold Iowa, apologized Tuesday for a “lapse in judgment.”
“It wasn’t the right call on our part in terms of trying to get the message across,” he said. “I hope people will look beyond that lapse in judgment and understand that we have a tremendous challenge facing us right now” with climate change.
Dedric Doolin, president of the NAACP Cedar Rapids branch, decried the protest using something so emblematic of lynching as insensitive and said it displayed “the lack of understanding about how the symbol of a noose intimidates, terrorizes and puts fear in the hearts of many people, especially African-Americans.”
“They didn’t understand the impact their display had on the community,” Doolin said. A member of NAACP’s national board of directors, Doolin plans to spread word of the protest’s tactics to other NAACP chapters in hopes of curbing any such future protests.
On his Fallon Forum website, Fallon describes the protest as Bold Iowa’s “provocative performance art.”
“We underestimated the way it may trigger folks who either are concerned about the rise in racism in this country, in many respects because of Donald Trump,” Fallon said in an interview. “And also people who were affected by a family member who maybe committed suicide by hanging. … Our focus is to get people to understand just how urgent of a situation climate change is. We really are at a point where human extinction is a possibility.”