Recently a series of things happened that provoked some reflection. I saw the quote, “what you get into will change you. Sometimes in life you just don’t know what you’re getting into”, which prompted me to write the following.
A lot happened to me since retiring and returning to Iowa four years ago. I hadn’t given a lot of thought to what would happen when I returned to Iowa. I had stayed connected with Iowa Quakers and involved with them as much as I could from a distance. So, there were already some relationships to build on.
In Indianapolis I was blessed to have made many friends as we worked to protect water and oppose the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. I was also most fortunate to become involved with the Kheprw Institute (KI), a youth mentoring and empowerment community. And North Meadow Circle of Friends Quaker meeting. It was hard to leave but I stay in touch.
What follows are stories of my justice experiences since returning to Iowa. They are offered in case they might be helpful for you and your own work.
I’m frustrated more people don’t engage in justice work. Why are we here if not to grow and engage with family and our communities? Most people either don’t know how to engage or don’t want to. I’m frustrated because there is so much work to be done. We are experiencing environmental catastrophes that will only worsen and occur more frequently. We need masses of people to prepare now for the evolving chaos.
Also, these experiences will be good for you. I know from experience “what you get into will change you”. https://www.dailygood.org/story/2795/what-you-get-into-will-change-you-phyllis-cole-dai/
It is important to recognize “sometimes in life you just don’t know what you’re getting into.” Those can be times of great opportunity. I encourage you to get involved in opportunities like this, as long as doing so is relevant to what you are called to do.
The most important step is to figure out what you should do. There are so many problems. Many people get burned out by trying to do too many things. People of faith rely on faith to help us figure this out. Keep what you are led to do in mind. You must be vigilant as you look for opportunities to get involved with justice work. And just as vigilant to decline to get involved in things not related to what you are called to do. Maintaining this focus is crucial for success.
First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity
I had long wanted to get to know some Indigenous people for numerous reasons, such as spirituality and sustainable living. Fortunately, an ideal opportunity to do so was to walk and camp along the path of the Dakota Access pipeline with a small group of native and nonnative people. The intention was for those in the group to get to know each other as we walked 10-15 miles/day, put up our tents, and have meals together.
During the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March (Sept. 1 – 8, 2018) Manape said we were on a sacred journey. During the March, Donnielle said we are a tribe. This morning I’m realizing the following stories about the past are part of my sacred journey. Also thinking of the many new friends found as part of this journey. I’m thinking how much I would have missed if I didn’t recognize and take advantage of this amazing opportunity.
Last Saturday morning began by watching a new video (see below) from the Wet’suwet’en people in British Columbia. Gidimt’en Checkpoint spokesperson Sleydo’ (Molly Wickham) and Elder Janet Williams found a film crew trespassing on Gidimt’en territory, making a commercial to promote Coastal Gaslink’s plans to tunnel beneath the sacred headwaters.
I first learned about the Wet’suwet’en’s struggles in January, 2020, when I saw a remarkable video of Sleydo’ evicting the Coastal GasLink workers from Wet’suwet’en territory. “All CGL workers have now been peacefully evicted from Unist’ot’en and Gidimt’en territories. Under the authority of Anuk nu’at’en (Wet’suwet’en law), and with support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs of all five clans, the Wet’suwet’en are standing up for the last of our lands and we need you to stand with us. We will honour the instructions of our ancestors, and continue to protect our lands from trespassers.”
I began to follow what was happening with the Wet’suwet’en, especially when they started asking people to write about what was happening, since the mainstream media was not. A few of us, who had worked together on some Indigenous related events, organized a vigil in support of the Wet’suwet’en:
We didn’t expect anyone to join us. Fortunately, Ronnie James did. In the photo are Peter Clay, Linda Lemons and Ronnie James. Ronnie is an Indigenous organizer with many years of experience and interested to see who organized and attended our vigil. After he left, I realized I didn’t have a way to contact him. Fortunately, he accepted my Facebook Friend request. We began to have numerous conversations (via social media), where he patiently taught me a great deal about organizing, Indigenous thought, and Mutual Aid. (See: https://landbackfriends.com/mutual-aid/)
Meeting and becoming great fiends with Ronnie changed the course of my life. I eventually joined the work of Des Moines Mutual Aid (DMMA). Every Saturday morning, I participate in the free food distribution program. About a dozen of us put together sixty boxes of food, that we then put in the cars of those who need it. It is amazing this food distribution has been in existence in Des Moines since the Black Panthers organized the free breakfast program for school kids in the 1970’s.
Putting together the boxes of food, we move as a well-oiled machine. There is a little visiting as we pass each other when putting the food into boxes. I learn a lot about the justice work people are doing in central Iowa, since my Mutual Aid friends are also involved in many such projects.
Saturday there was a lull while waiting for another food delivery that provided a chance to talk with Ronnie. I mentioned the story below about the continued oppression of the Wet’suwet’en peoples and reminded him that we had met at the vigil for the Wet’suwet’en mentioned above. I told him that was something he taught me about organizing. Going to justice events to meet people. I said I wouldn’t have known about Mutual Aid if not for him attending that Wet’suwet’en vigil. He replied I probably would have learned about Mutual Aid because it had been in the news a lot recently.
Ronnie mentioned that was the first time he had been at Friends House, where the Wet’suwet’en vigil was held. Des Moines Mutual Aid has its offices in Friends House now. I had just spoken with Jon Krieg who works with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), whose offices had been in Friends House. Recently AFSC had moved out and Jon mentioned he missed visiting with Ronnie.
Des Moines Valley Friends meeting, which meets in a meetinghouse attached to Friends House, has been allowing another Mutual Aid group to use their kitchen to cook meals that are taken to the houseless camps.
Another set of connections relates to the Great Plains Action Society (GPAS), founded by my friend Christine Nobiss, who was also on the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March. Ronnie’s Mutual Aid work is supported by GPAS.
Prairie Awakening/Prairie Awoke
Saturday was also the day of the annual Prairie Awakening/Prairie Awoke ceremony, an annual event sponsored by the Dallas County Conservation Board. The ceremony is held in the Kuehn Conservation Area. My Quaker meeting, Bear Creek, has been involved with the ceremony for over ten years. A number of Friends attended.
While there, I was able to talk with my friend Rodger Routh, who grew up in the Earlham, Iowa (where Bear Creek meeting is) community. Rodger is a photographer/videographer and justice advocate, who is often at the same events I attend. Jon Krieg (AFSC, mentioned above) is also a photographer. It is common for the three of us to be at the justice related events.
One of the principles of justice work is to follow the leadership of the communities affected by injustice. In Indianapolis, the Kheprw Institute would let us (Quakers in this case) know what we could do for them.
Recently I had a chance to ask Christine how nonnative people could best support her and her work now. She told me to learn and teach others about the concepts of LANDBACK. So, I created a website named LANDBACK Friends, where I’ve been sharing what I am learning about LANDBACK. https://landbackfriends.com/
As the completion of a circle, I was so glad to be contacted by my friends at the Kheprw Institute (KI) in Indianapolis. Aghilah contacted me because KI is interested to learn more about LANDBACK. Evidently, they have been following my blog since I left Indianapolis and reading what I’ve been writing about LANDBACK.
Quakers for Abolition Network
My blog also made it possible for one of my new friends, Jed Walsh, to contact me about the work he and Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge are doing related to abolition of police and prisons. I wrote a little in their article that was just published by the Western Friend, https://westernfriend.org/article/quakers-abolition-network.
We are moving more deeply into collapse. Fueled by the consequences of environmental chaos, our economic and political systems are failing. We must work now to build ways to deal with this collapse. I’ve been working on this diagram to illustrate how people are building such systems. It is important to build Mutual Aid communities. And embrace the principles of LANDBACK. “What you get into will change you”.
This document has a lot more information about Quakers, the Wet’suwet’en peoples, and LANDBACK. Scroll down to move through the document.