[Note: with multiple disasters occurring now, and since environmental devastation has been a focus of my life, its hard not to write about these unfolding disasters. But what is important to me, what I am led to think about now, is how we can live through these difficult times. Can make the changes necessary to build the best future we can for our children. I am discovering Mutual Aid organizations offer an example.]
As my friend Ronnie James says below, “what we have is each other. We can and need to take care of each other.” It is as simple and yet complicated as that.
Earlier I wrote about the ways those working for justice discover each other, because that is often a challenge.
But the first step is to discern from the Spirit what you are being led to do. That is the critical foundation so many fail to do. The term “good intentions” is when someone wants to do good, but was not successful. I suspect they did not have a spiritual foundation.
The path forward must be a new way, something we cannot do on our own. Requires the leading of the Spirit, and connection with those who are similarly led and are implementing that new path.
We need to find the strength and will to begin this work. You may have heard or read that you need to be prepared to be vulnerable. We have all experienced vulnerable occasions; beginning a job, beginning a relationship, etc.
Looking back, every significant venture I’ve been led to, required a willingness to be vulnerable. Being led down a new path by definition means we will not know exactly what to expect. Means we will have to take risks, and will make mistakes, as we make our way into what is not known to us when we begin our journey. Making mistakes is so valuable because it teaches what doesn’t work. Moves us closer to what does.
I started to list below some of the times I’ve felt vulnerable and was surprised at the length of it.
I’ve been writing about getting to know Ronnie James. https://kislingjeff.wordpress.com/?s=ronnie+james
I read in the talk he recently gave at a Black Lives Matter teach-in, The Police State and Why We Must Resist, included below, that he represented Des Moines Mutual Aid. So I asked him to tell me about that.
It started as group of my friends working with the houseless camps some years back. It has now grown into a solid crew that runs a free food store started by the Black Panthers, still work with the camps, we organized a bail fund that has gotten every protester out of jail the last few months, and we just started an eviction relief fund to try to get a head of the coming crisis, in cooperation with Des Moines BLM. We have raised $13,000 since Wednesday and the application to apply for the grants goes live this week.Ronnie James
Then I was intrigued when I read something else he wrote recently:
So I work with a dope crew called Des Moines Mutual Aid, and on Saturday mornings we do a food giveaway program that was started by the Panthers as their free breakfast program and has carried on to this day. Anyways, brag, brag, blah, blah.
So I get to work and I need to call my boss, who is also a very good old friend, because there is network issues. He remembers and asks about the food giveaway which is cool and I tell him blah blah it went really well. And then he’s like, “hey, if no one tells you, I’m very proud of what you do for the community” and I’m like “hold on hold on. Just realize that everything I do is to further the replacing of the state and destroying western civilization and any remnants of it for future generations.” He says “I know and love that. Carry on.”Ronnie James
My Spirit lit up when I read that. This was just the kind of opportunity I was looking for since returning to Iowa after my retirement. My experiences in Indianapolis showed me time and again that building relationships in communities is the way justice work needs to be done.
We need to be careful about inviting ourselves to join certain projects. I felt I was getting to know Ronnie well enough to ask if I it would be appropriate for me to participate in the food giveaway. He said “definitely”, so I prepared myself to head into Des Moines last Saturday morning. Feeling a bit vulnerable. Which I didn’t think I needed to feel because the people I would meet are people who show up to do actual justice work. Just the kind of people I wanted to get to know. And yet, I was a little uncomfortable. My experiences are anytime I’m feeling that way, I am doing something that I will look back on as an excellent adventure. And so it was, again.
Last Saturday found me driving to Trinity United Methodist Church in Des Moines. I was glad to see Ronnie face to face for just the second time, even though it felt we had been friends for awhile, with all the messages back and forth.
Eventually there were about a dozen of us gathered in the church basement. Forty empty boxes were set out on tables. (When I shared this story with my Quaker meeting, Bear Creek, I learned some tables had been donated to this church when the mental health center Bear Creek supported was closed).
I was surprised at the amount of food that had been donated. Bread and cookies that were taken off the shelves when past their due date. But there were also a lot of vegetables.
Patrick told me, in a friendly way, “we don’t do a lot of telling people what to do.” So I jumped in, grabbed an armful of food and went around distributing it in the boxes. The hills of food rose higher and higher. That took about an hour.
Then these boxes of food were carried outside and placed on tables. People waiting for the food had parked in a nearby lot. One of us directed the cars to drive to the tables, where we put in the boxes. People smiled and said thanks.
Des Moines Mutual Aid
Teach In 8/22/2020
Des Moines BLM
The Police State and Why We Must Resist
Hello all, my name is Ronnie James, and I am here representing Des Moines Mutual Aid.
I am descended from numerous peoples of so-called north america.
At this point I am supposed to do a land acknowledgment, but I don’t like what those have been distorted into. Instead I will say you are standing on and directly benefiting from stolen land, within a nation built by stolen bodies, which is the foundation of the police state that occupies these sacred grounds of the original peoples. If you would like to know more of who’s land you are on, there are numerous resources. We are still here, and numerous, just ask us.
Historically, the police and other law enforcement were formed to protect the interests and property of the moneyed classes from the rest of the People. This “property” included the bodies of the enslaved and was the justification for brutally repressing the righteous and inevitable revolts born from the atrocity of slavery. This same philosophy of endless possession was the bloodlust that fueled the “Indian Wars” and the theft of Indigenous land and bodies that continues to this day. (Wampanoag, 2020)
Today, this same war of conquest, the repression of the many for the benefit of the few, continues.
Currently, Des Moines Mutual Aid and its many accomplices have been fighting a battle with the city of des moines and it’s foot soldiers trying to repress our houseless population from utilizing unused “property”. The basic universal need of a place to rest and be safe is trumped by the need of the wealthy, and the wannabe wealthy, to control every inch they can possess. It is a war for control, and the pigs have enlisted willingly.
This same war of conquest is currently using the mass incarceration machine to instill fear in the populace, warehouse cheap labor, and destabilize communities that dare to defy a system that would rather see you dead than noncompliant. This is the same war where it’s soldiers will kill a black or brown body, basically instinctively, because our very existence reminds them of all that they have stolen and the possibility of a revolution that can create a new world where conquest is a shameful memory.
As bleak as this is, there is a significant amount of resistance and hope to turn the tide we currently suffer under. We stand on the shoulders of giants that have been doing this work for centuries, and there are many lessons we can learn from.
The first, and possibly the most important, is that it was not always this way, which proves it does not have to stay this way.
What we have is each other. We can and need to take care of each other. We may have limited power on the political stage, a stage they built, but we have the power of numbers.
Those numbers represent unlimited amounts of talents and skills each community can utilize to replace the systems that fail us. The recent past shows us that mutual aid is not only a tool of survival, but also a tool of revolution. The more we take care of each other, the less they can fracture a community with their ways of war. Organized groups like The American Indian Movement and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense showed that we can build not only aggressive security forces for our communities, but they also built many programs that directly responded to the general wellbeing of their communities. This tradition began long before them and continues to this day. Look into the Zapatistas in Southern so-called Mexico for a current and effective example.
These people’s security forces, or the “policing of the police” not only helps to minimize the abuse and trauma they can inflict on us, but it begins to shift the power balance from them to us.
Mutual Aid programs that help our most marginalized or other events that work to maintain our spirits result in stronger communities. A strong community is less vulnerable to police intrusion. 99% of our conflicts can be solved by those affected by them, but only with the support of those around them. Anytime we call on the police to mediate our problems, we are risking ourselves or a loved one from being hurt or worse.
The more we replace the police with organized community response to conflict, the safer we will be. Another powerful benefit is the removal of power from those that take their orders from those that have no interest in your well-being, at least past it being useful to amass and increase wealth.
Of course, part of this fight of police abolition will be fought on the political stage, but let’s not fool ourselves that the state and the wealthy will ever give up tight control on all resources. We can lobby and vote to have police resources diverted to less dangerous organizations, but they will still be working for the same state and same class that have dispossessed and repressed us for centuries. Every election has the possibility of reversing any policy gain we may won. Some of the fight will be in the government offices, but the majority of it will be us, in the street.
Many communities work to train amongst themselves mental and physical health workers, conflict mediators, and anything else we need, despite the state and it’s soldiers insistence that they are the sole “authority” of these skills, and always with the implied threat of violence.
As we work toward this, and this summer has proven des moines has the heart, desire, and skills to do so, we still have to deal with what’s in front of us.
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.
All Power To The People.
If we are to survive, and more importantly, thrive, we know what we will have to do.
Some experiences when I felt vulnerable:
- Turning in my draft card at the Selective Service office
- Deciding to live without a car
- Joining the Friends Volunteer Service Mission, where it was up to me to create my own plan to work in an inner city neighborhood I went to live in
- Join the Keystone Pledge of Resistance to learn to design nonviolent direct actions, and train others to participate in them
- Hold a sign saying “Quakers Know Black Lives Matter” during vigils on the streets of downtown Indianapolis
- Leave working in the neonatal ICU, which I loved, to go into research
- Take on complex computer software projects I had no idea how to do when I started them. One of which took three years to complete
- Engage with the Kheprw Institute, a black youth mentoring and empowerment community
- Implement the Quaker Social Change Ministry model with North Meadow Circle of Friends
- Agree to be clerk of the Peace and Social Concerns Committee of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). At our first meeting my hands were shaking so badly I couldn’t take notes
- Going into the Chase bank in downtown Indianapolis to close my account. While holding a sign saying “Chase funds Dakota Access Pipeline”
- Join a van full of people I didn’t know to go to Minneapolis to hold a vigil at the headquarters of USBank, which funds fossil fuel projects
- Participate in the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March as a way to learn about Indigenous peoples. Having no idea whether I could walk the 94 miles of the March
- Raise the issue of Quaker residential schools and the damage done there with my new native friends