Trust and practicing hope

I refuse to dwell on all that is negative, all around us today, and will instead continue to practice hope.

People often mistake hope for a feeling, but it’s not. It’s a mental discipline, an attentional practice that you can learn. Like any such discipline, it’s work that takes time, which you fail at, succeed, improve, fail at again, and build over years inside yourself.

Hope isn’t just looking at the positive things in this world, or expecting the best. That’s a fragile kind of cheerfulness, something that breaks under the weight of a normal human life. To practice hope is to face hard truths, harder truths than you can face without the practice of hope. You can’t navigate dark places without a light, and hope is that light for humanity’s dark places. Hope lets you study environmental destruction, war, genocide, exploitative relations between peoples. It lets you look into the darkest parts of human history, and even the callous entropy of a universe hell bent on heat death no matter what we do. When you are disciplined in hope, you can face these things because you have learned to put them in context, you have learned to swallow joy and grief together, and wait for peace.


My friend Ronnie James recently told me some of the story of how the organization he helped build, Des Moines Mutual Aid, came into being and the work it does now.

In 2018, four trusted friends decided they needed to find ways to stop the city of Des Moines from evicting a houseless camp during that brutally cold winter. They pooled their knowledge and resources and began to learn how to rapidly respond to people’s needs. Other efforts came to include raising ball money for protesters arrested during demonstrations against racial injustice, supporting a Free Food Store and several other initiatives.

Trust is the key to the group’s success, to any group’s success. His small group of friends who began this work already knew and trusted each other. And their engagement and dedication to the work built necessary trust with the communities they work in and with.

Trust is the key requirement for any community, including several I’ve been blessed to be part of. As part of the Keystone Pledge of Resistance (against the Keystone XL pipeline), four of us were trained as Action Leads in Indianapolis. We quickly came to trust each other as we made plans for civil disobedience direct actions. And those in Indianapolis who wanted to participate began to trust us as we held training sessions in nonviolent direct action, and held rallies and marches. And we trusted the Rainforest Action Network that trained and supported us, including monthly national phone conversations.

“Congratulations on completing your training this past weekend!  As an Action Lead, you are now a living, breathing, nonviolent threat to the Keystone XL Pipeline.  We at Rainforest Action Network are very glad you have stepped up, and ready to support you in your role.  All of us at Rainforest Action Network are honored to be working with you on this historic effort.  You inspire us.”

Rainforest Action Network

As you might imagine, another project required a long time to build trust as the Quaker Meeting I attended in Indianapolis engaged with the small black youth mentoring community, the Kheprw Institute (KI). Monthly book discussions we attended at KI allowed us to learn what we thought about the books we were reading together, revealing parts of ourselves with each other. At one point Imhotep Adisa said, “these discussions are revolutionary.” That surprised me at first, but I quickly decided he was right.

It was several years of being together before I was asked to teach photography during KI’s summer program. These things can really take a lot of time. But I was so happy that trust was being built.

The stated purpose of the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March was to begin to build trust among our small group (about 20) of native and nonnative people as we spent hours sharing stories with each other, as we walked and camped for eight days along the path of the Dakota Access pipeline in central Iowa. That was wildly successful in community building, and many of us have worked on a number of projects together since.

These experiences have taught me that developing friendships is what to concentrate on for social justice efforts. Once people become friends, learn to trust each other, they can tackle anything. This is something Ronnie has also written about.

As Ronnie describes the beginning of his recent work, what began with those trusted friends identifying a problem, pooling their knowledge, experience, and resources has become a large collaboration with community provided resources and an ability to rapidly respond to situations.

So I understood what Ronnie was telling me about trust among those doing their work in what they call Des Moines Mutual Aid. And trust between them and the communities they work with.

He says anyone can do this work if they are willing to get in the dirt. That is my experience, too, as I hope my examples above show.

His biggest hope is that their example will lead to more and more Mutual Aid groups to spring up and continue to expand what is possible in grassroots organizing. That is the definition of The Power of The People. It is my hope I might help a Mutual Aid group come in to being.

We each have skills and resources we can utilize towards the abolition project. Some of us can use the halls of the system to make short term change there, others have skills that produce food, provide medical care, or care for our precious youth, some are skilled in the more confrontational tactics needed. Once we envision that world our ancestors want for us, finding our role is natural.

If we are to survive, and more importantly, thrive, we know what we will have to do.

All Power To The People.

Ronnie James, The Police State and Why We Must Resist

“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

I am a dreamer made real by virtue of the world touching me. This is what I know. I am spirit borne by a body that moves through the dream that is this living, and what it gathers to keep becomes me, shapes me, defines me. The dreamer I am is vivid when I fully inhabit myself—when I allow that. Meditation is not an isolated act of consciousness. It’s connecting to the dream. It’s being still so that the wonder of spirit can flow outward, so that the world touches me and I touch the world. It’s leaving my body and my mind and becoming spirit again, whole and perfect and shining.

Wagamese, Richard. Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations (pp. 10-11). Douglas and McIntyre (2013) Ltd.. Kindle Edition.

This entry was posted in civil disobedience, Des Moines Black Lives Matter, Des Moines Mutual Aid, Keystone Pledge of Resistance, Kheprw Institute, revolution, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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