Yesterday I wrote about Peace in a Culture of Violence, which began ‘this country’s culture of violence has taken dramatically new forms that we haven’t adapted our work to address. ‘ And ended with ‘in light of all this, what does work for peace and justice look like in a culture of violence?‘.
My intention is to share things I’ve learned about peace and social justice work. In part because Bear Creek meeting is re-establishing a Peace and Social Concerns Committee. For a number of years this work was done by the meeting as a whole. So this is an opportunity to take a fresh look at what we might be led to do and, perhaps more importantly, how we do it.
As the title implies, all these efforts involve engaging with our surrounding communities, our neighbors, to make our presence felt beyond the meetinghouse. And to learn about our neighbors and their concerns. I believe many meetings do peace and justice work by supporting FCNL and AFSC, and supporting the work of individuals in the meeting with their concerns. Getting out of the meetinghouse implies what might be a different approach, which I hope to illustrate with stories about my experiences.
As I did yesterday, thinking about peace naturally leads to thinking about violence. I intend to explore violence much more thoroughly soon. There is an excellent classification of the many forms of violence, charts of structural violence, on the BlackQuaker Project website. https://www.theblackquakerproject.org/structural-violence-charts
But to get to concrete examples from my experience, I will briefly describe:
- Keystone Pledge of Resistance
- Quaker Social Change Ministry
- First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March
- Mutual Aid
Those of us in the environmental community were frustrated for years because we could not find an effective way to break the grip the fossil fuel industry had on our economy. Then in 2013 construction of the Keystone pipeline was announced. Because the pipeline would cross the Canada-US border, President Obama would have to approve the construction permit.
The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) recognized this as a way to take on the fossil fuel industry. This was a unique opportunity because the decision was solely that of the President, so we had a specific target for our efforts. RAN created the Keystone Pledge of Resistance. There was a website where anyone could sign a petition that stated they would participate in civil disobedience if it looked like the approval was eminent. Over 90,000 signed the Pledge.
The genius of the Pledge was to collect the contact information from those who were willing to provide that. There was also a checkbox to indicate if you would be willing to be a leader in your community. RAN used the list to determine the 25 cities where there was the most interest. Then that summer people from RAN spent a weekend in each city to train those who had indicate they would be leaders on how to organize civil disobedience direct actions in their city. The training was excellent, including role playing. Here is the training guide: https://1drv.ms/w/s!Avb9bFhezZpPhb8k23M8ZVV9JOq9GA?e=rSNae2
There were four of us who were trained as action leaders in Indianapolis. We designed a direct action to block the doors of the Federal Building. We held six training session, training about 60 people. One part of the planning involved going to the target (Federal building in our case) and deliver a description of what we planned to do if the Pledge was triggered. We had a polite discussion with the Federal security officers, and learned all Federal facilities had been alerted to these actions. Which was the plan, to put pressure on the government. There was also someone who knew President Obama, and let him know if the pipeline was approved that would trigger nonviolent direct actions in 40 cities simultaneously.
Lessons learned from the Pledge were
- How to identify a specific action that has a clear target and a specific trigger
- How to build a group of participants and organizers
- How to train leaders how to train local participants to carry out nonviolent direct actions
- Use multiple ways to let decision makes know what will happen if the actions were triggered
- Use ongoing rallies and press releases to keep the issue in the public eye
Quaker Social Change Ministry is an American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) program led by my friend Lucy Duncan. Here is information about QSCM from AFSC: https://1drv.ms/b/s!Avb9bFhezZpPhrAc9U4wO6xyIeic4A?e=sO7jlP
The title of this blog post indicates one of the core objectives of Quaker Social Change Ministry. The key idea is to find a community experiencing oppression to partner with. I’ve written a lot about the experiences of the meeting I was attending in Indianapolis, North Meadow Circle of Friends, and our engagement with the Kheprw Institute (KI), a black youth mentoring and empowerment community: https://jeffkisling.com/?s=QSCM
The thing that was emphasized over and over again, was it is essential to listen deeply to the community you are engaged with. To refrain from any attempts to guide the decisions and work of that community. To only talk when you are invited to do so, and then only from your own, personal experience. Which might be new ideas for many Friends.
Listening to, and following the lead of that community does several things. First, it shows your respect for the community. It builds trust when you honor what is being said and done. It teaches you so many things you didn’t know about the difficulties the community is dealing with. Teaches you what the community already knows about how to address those issues. It creates the space that is essential if you are ever going to be invited to work together.
It allows you to become friends. What that does is make it possible to move forward in your work together. So many times well meaning people have a specific goal, which may or may not be a goal of the community they are trying to engage with. Whereas if you become friends, you can continue on the journey together, no matter what your original intention was. You have a common vision, and the trust to take on whatever new things come up. I’m thinking of a specific example that is related to the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March described in the next section. I thought we would be talking about the pipeline and our environment, which we did. But the subject of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women came up over and over. This makes sense to me, now that I learned every native person on the March has been impacted in one way or another by that.
If I have learned one thing about justice work, it is essential to establish friendships. Works well with Friends/friends, doesn’t it?
Many blog posts, photos and videos of the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March are available on this website: https://firstnationfarmer.com/
The First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March involved a small group of about fifteen native and fifteen non-native people walking and camping together along the route of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL). We walked from Des Moines to Fort Dodge, Iowa, a distance of 94 miles that took 8 days to walk, September 1 – 8, 2018.
This March had several objectives. One was to bring attention a case that would be heard at the Iowa Supreme Court about the abuse of eminent domain to force landowners to allow the construction of the pipeline on their land.
The larger purpose was for a group of native and non-native people to get to know and trust each other as we shared our stories as we walked over the many miles of gravel rural roads. As we supported each other through the adversities, including blisters on our feet, and several days of pouring rain. This was very successful in our developing friendships with each other. Since then many of us have worked together on many different things.
The most recent work I am doing is a result of the friendships established on the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March. That is involvement with Des Moines Mutual Aid (DMMA).
This began when I met Ronnie James as described in many stories here: https://jeffkisling.com/?s=mutual+aid
Although Ronnie had not participated in the March, he works closely with several people who were, including Christine Nobiss, Trisha Cax-Sep-Gu-Wiga Etringer, and Foxy and Alton Onefeather. They are all involved in the Great Plains Action Society (GPAS).
This year’s Indigenous People’s Day at the State Capitol in Des Moines was organized by GPAS. Christine and Ronnie were there, speaking and otherwise supporting the event. I was glad to be asked to take photos that I then shared with them.
I’m not sure why I hadn’t heard of the idea of Mutual Aid prior to meeting Ronnie. But I’m very grateful for what he has taught me about it. There is a lot to share about what I’ve been learning about Mutual Aid, and this is going to be the focus of my justice work for now. https://jeffkisling.com/?s=mutual+aid
The fundamental idea is expressed in the name. Mutual aid means helping each other. Not “us” helping “others”. When I first came to the free food store, Patrick told me this really is mutual aid, and encourages anyone doing the work to also take food for themselves.
This quote from Ronnie really resonated with me, and is an accurate depiction of my thoughts, too.
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
He later explained how his work began.
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 organzied 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.
Another time wrote:
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
I was really intrigued by all this, especially the free food store. I think we have to be careful about inviting ourselves into things like this. Again, a level of trust needs to develop. Fortunately Ronnie has been very gracious in telling me about this work. Last month I felt comfortable asking if it would be appropriate for me to help with the free food store, and he said “definitely”. So I’ve been spending Saturday mornings in the basement of a church, helping fill about 60 boxes of donated/dated food. Then taking them outside to put in cars as the pulled up. Ronnie said, you work hard for an hour and a half, at the end of which you are tired, sweaty, and feeling good. I found that to be true. On another occasion someone told me Saturdays mornings are the highlight of their week.
Ronnie and Des Moines Mutual Aid now how an office in Friends House, at Des Moines Valley Friends Meeting. I imagine this will lead to further opportunities to get to know each other, and work together.
This is a slide from the PowerPoint presentation that contains a lot of material related to the subjects discussed above. https://1drv.ms/p/s!Avb9bFhezZpPis8FvkD42Cqr6OiOdA?e=MTaxyw