All posts by Renaissance

About Renaissance

A rabble rousing trouble maker for those who depend upon injustice as a means to their ends.

Understanding Repression, Suppression, Oppression

We tend to conceptualize the terms oppression, suppression, and repression to mean exactly the same thing in general conversation and while this is not true, they are nonetheless, interrelated.

To repress is to keep under control, to keep down or to suppress.

To suppress is to put an end to the activities of a person, body of persons, etc.

To oppress is to burden with cruel or unjust restraints, subject to a burdensome or harsh exercise of authority.

The aim of all three of these is to seek to control a person or group of people for some end that is not defined by the subject but, rather, by the object. Any time person (A) seeks to limit or control the actions or thoughts of person (B) is an expression of repression. Both suppression and oppression are means to achieve repression. At the core of this is the denial of person (B)’s agency by person (A), which is in turn a rejection of person (B)’s humanity. This is precisely how Paulo Friere defines oppression and what is wrong with it in the book Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

However, the situation is a bit more complex because not all acts that appear to fit the definition of repressive are by their very nature unjust. To seek to control the actions or the thoughts of a rapist, molester, or murderer, or an anti-Black racist Ku Klux Klan member with the aim of preventing harm to others is not necessarily unjust. The factors that may make such repression unjust are not the repression, but the manner in which the repression is carried out. For example, murdering members of a racist group merely for their affiliation and not because they have themselves done anything harmful. To do so is to become the oppressor and not to achieve real liberation for our people, as Paulo Friere argues can happen. Furthermore, this is by definition one of the conditions of genocide.

 

On the other hand, accountability circles and restorative justice practices which bring into focus a person’s behavior respecting their agency and humanity and working through what was wrong with a particular situation and working with them to grow so as not to recreate those same harms is a just form of seeking to help a person develop their thoughts and actions. As such, this overcomes the definition of oppression and is not exactly consistent with suppression because it is not an outside entity that shifts the behavior of person (A), but rather internally within person (B) because through a process of reconciliation their analysis has broadened and deepened, thus, becoming more humanizing.
Understanding these terms and what they mean is vital to developing our critical analysis of the conditions under which we live through deep personal and interpersonal examination. Furthermore, it permits us to engage with the complexity of social organization and what may on the surface appear to fit the definitions of oppression, suppression, or repression and to draw a clearly defined boundary between the just and the unjust practices, policies, procedures, and socialization processes of our world.

True Liberation Requires

I think most people miss the point of what is truly implied by the statement “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I believe that most people miss the duty that is presupposed by this statement that we all have to rout out injustice, exploitation, and oppression from whence it emerges, wherever and whenever. Whether that be from KKK members, racist presidents, teachers, or friends. When our homeboys are being sexist, when our fellow revolutionaries are screaming and fighting to be treated and valued as human beings and are dehumanizing women. To the people we pass on the streets whatever the case may be.

The statement means that I can not experience liberation if someone else is being oppressed or exploited. Our system, as it exists, cannot permit liberation, will not permit liberation, because it requires exploitation and oppression to sustain its existence. To achieve liberation, we have to achieve an entire psychic change, experience a complete overhauling of our collective system of values, completely revolutionize our entire economic structure, and most important our own personal perceptions about ourselves each other and our world must be radically altered and compelled to evolve.

Only then, when injustice in all of its ugly forms is shunned and rebuked, by everyone, will we ever begin to achieve liberation. This is what I understand this statement to mean.

If your partners, were skimming profits

Droppin income into losses,

you’d lock the faucets, if you caught them

And if they spent it, on content to keep you impoverished

And dependent upon them

Well, you wouldn’t call’em partners

You’d flip the script, quick, shift the method from exist

To the “Big Payback,” revenge a cold dish

Loyalty a must, betrayal the rust

But why we only feel it from the ones close to us?

The State claimed to abolish systems of enslavement

With the 13th Amendment, Emancipation Proclamation

But read it closely and you’ll see it defined the method

Intrepid and shrewd progress was arrested

All they had to do was convict a person of a “crime”

Then sell their labor back to plantations and mines

Convict Leasing, a system that expanded

The answer to cheap labor their markets demanded

The Struggle to Decolonize

Has anyone else noticed that it is difficult to decolonize one’s thoughts and actions while living in the belly of the beast of a colonizing empire?
The system we live in (or under) is founded on exploitation and practices it in nearly all of its endeavors. The system forms a binary, a dichotomy wherein one is either an exploiter or one is exploited. Put another way, one is either the oppressor or the oppressed. Much of our understanding, false though it is, begins with our education that is more correctly an indoctrination. Even the style of education within this system presupposes hierarchical structure of dominance in what Paulo Freire termed the “Banking System” of education in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, wherein communiques are merely deposited into students who are presupposed to be ignorant, and thus, inferior. The students in order to succeed must concede and adapt to this position of inferiority thereby solidify the exploiter-exploited relationship and contradiction. This system denies the agency of the student and rejects the proposition that all human beings who are not suffering from dehumanization are members of the creation and re-creation of knowledge. Only when such an understanding is reached is it possible to respect and honor the agency of every human being as full human beings. And for so long as the system denies the agency of full human beings then it is an exploitative system.
The learned and practiced adaptive preferences of this system become solidified within a person long before that person enters the workforce, so resigning one’s self to an inferior position of exploitation for another’s gain is standard operation; i.e., it is normalized. Any human being who thinks for them self, who is critical of the system is considered a pariah, is considered an outsider, a person who is against “order,” and is to be punished. This is essentially because the exploiters cannot permit those who have not received the stamp of approval, which has been codified into law, to be the agents of change even in our very own lives and communities, are to be punished, suppressed, and silenced.
This is part of the reason why I believe it is so difficult to decolonize one’s self while living in the belly of the beast of a colonizing empire. W.E.B. Du Bois called it the “Double-Consciousness,” Audre Lorde called it, “Double-Think,” Paulo Freire called it the “oppressor consciousness,” but all pointed to the internalization of the colonizer’s, the exploiter’s identity and perception of the world and of ourselves. We must overcome this indoctrination if we ever mean to achieve liberation for ourselves and all of our sisters and brothers from this system of exploitation and imperialism.
Trust in the power of WE. All long-lasting and effectual change emerges from the bottom-up, not from the top-down, and this is especially true of cultural revolutions. This means that the power to overcome this evil resides within us. It resides within us all.
#AllPowerToThePeople

A Statement of Intent

I am a recent graduate of the University of Washington history and philosophy departments and I am currently preparing to enter into a PhD program. My passion and my goal in life is the improvement of the systems and the institutions that govern our lives and societies. However, knowledge by itself without the experience of practical application is often not very valuable. Conversely, when experience guides decisions and actions the knowledge created is vastly more relevant and pertinent. Therefore, I decided to take a year or two away from my academic studies to gain experience and to put what I have learned into practice.

Ultimately, what I would like to do with my time is to work in the community with a non-profit or governmental agency on an issue related to justice. Disenfranchisement and the ability of people to express their agency are two phenomena that nestle at the heart of most issues concerning justice. Much of this I believe exists because of the constriction of lines communication by policies and practices, and because of the fear of interacting with a system that people who are impoverished or who feel disenfranchised find difficult to trust.

I think part of the work that is necessary to overcome these obstacles to justice is assisting people to become knowledgeable about how the current system functions and how they can participate without retribution. Voting is one of the important strategies of participating in the system and expressing agency. Yet, there is often latency between the emergence of an issue, bringing the matter to a vote, and beneficial solutions coming to fruition. Whereas, participating in public meetings both at the government and community levels can often have immediate effects. Yet, there are often issues of accessibility about when the meetings are held and the competing obligations of people who are impoverished, such as, meals and childcare. However, I believe we can easily remedy these kinds of barriers to participation by working with community organizations and elected officials.

Another very important component of an issue of justice is the accurate reporting of facts, trends, conditions, and projections. The first factor is acquiring and consolidating accurate information, which we can then utilize to inform our projections. One aspect of this is historical research and data analysis, and another component is hearing from the members of the communities most impacted. Most situations are complex and have multiple motivating factors or causes. The object of this information gathering should be to identify the real motivations and causes of injustice. The next factor is ensuring that we accurately present this information to those who are responsible for making decisions. As a result of our improving the participation of the people who are often not engaged in governmental activities and who are often the most impacted by injustice, the likelihood that more accurate and complex reports will make it into the record dramatically increases.

I believe the work I have outlined above to be the next steps to the improvement of the systems and the institutions that govern our lives and societies. It is possible that by decreasing the prevalence of disenfranchisement and increasing the ability of people to express their agency that the outcomes of our large bureaucratic system will more accurately represent the disparate and varying lives of the people in our society, thereby increasing the amount of justice experienced. We can only accomplish this work in and with the community and that is why I want to work with a non-profit organization or a governmental agency focused on issues of justice.

Where the Vision Comes From

The overall objective is a complete overhaul of the entire system, which includes imperialism, capitalism, sexism, patriarchy, climate change, classism, the prison industrial complex, immigration, and so on. However, if there is anything that we have learned from the history and the present of this protracted struggle is that it will not be won overnight. In the mean time people and the circumstances of their lives continue to worsen and our people continue to suffer. Therefore, a major component of our work must be directed toward mitigating the negative impacts of this racist, xenophobic, patriarchal system. This work must not only be done here in the US, but globally because our people are suffering from the same tyranny worldwide. This is often enacted as defensive measures in response to harmful policies and practices. Those defenses should most definitely continue. And in addition, an offensive is desperately required. Waiting on a government that was not designed to serve us or protect us is a strategy doomed to fail.

 

WE must build our own, for our own. WE can and we must. WE have agency. WE are in control of our own destinies. WE are powerful. WE are courageous. WE are ingenious. WE come from the longest lines of Queens and Kings, Astronomers, Mathematicians, Scientists, Engineers, Architects and Agriculturalists. It is in our genes, our hearts, and our souls.

 

 

The false histories we are taught are designed to deprive us of hope and to strip us of the desire to strive and work toward something better. The false histories we are taught are designed by those in power to keep themselves in power. Our educational systems are not designed to develop critical thinkers who are capable of developing an analysis of the system on our own. It is most certainly not designed to teach the oppressed peoples of the world how to assert our agency and to effect change in this system. This is why the education of Social Justice was removed from the public school system in Arizona, and why ethnic studies are being attacked nationwide. Thus, it falls to us, as it should, to be our own educators to ensure that our people are receiving a radical education that will prepare them to critically analyze our societies and ourselves. It is only through critical self-reflection that we can hope to improve upon what we have done, or what has been done in the past.

 

 

One of the largest pitfalls that our people fall into is a lack of vision about what our world and our societies within our world can be like. This is in large part because the indoctrination that most of us receive constricts our perspective into a fatalistic tunnel vision of potentiality. That is why no matter how bad the system of mass incarceration has been proven to be, or how certain 98% of the brightest and most prolific scientists of the world are concerning climate change, that the public and our politicians hold staunchly to the trajectory that our society is on. They cannot and will not envision alternative means to achieve the same goals.

 

 

Critical analysis lends itself to creativity and creativity is what is necessary for the formation of a new vision. The stifling of critical analysis is the process responsible for constricting the peoples’ ability to envision alternatives. This process furthermore restricts agency and supplants in its place a dependence on large structures of government as the provider of stability and direction. Thus, removing and denying the responsibility of the people to think and act, and furthermore to only be concerned about their selves, as if, as people we are somehow self-contained “monads” unaffected by the world. Nothing could be further from the truth.

 

 

Individualism is an illusion that is destructive to the very fabric of our society and to our connection to the earth. There is nothing that any one of us can ever do that does not impact someone or something else in some way. The concept that we are self-contained is fallacy. Take for example again, language. Language cannot be learned in isolation. In fact, language would be entirely unnecessary if every person was self-contained an unaffected by the world. Quite contradictory, language is one of the basic means of interaction by beings who are not self-contained, precisely because we need each other for survival at the very least, and to thrive at best. Thus, any institution of education that does not explicate and replicate this fact in its indoctrination and inculcation of a generation is not only destructive to the society, but is harmful to the person.

 

 

When humans cannot envision and feel the interconnection and the symbiotic relationship that we have with the Earth, then the destruction of the planet is not perceived as the destruction of ourselves. When humans cannot envision and feel the interconnection and the symbiotic relationship that we share with each other, then the destruction and torture of people is not perceived as the torture and destruction of ourselves. For example, if we value, as I am sure that most people in the United States do, the Freedom of Speech, then this value must govern all speech given a few caveats, which the people agree to. To censor the speech of one person or group merely because they are not liked or agreed with opens the floodgates for all speech to be censored, or to be arbitrarily censored at a whim. That which is done to one of us affects everyone else. Furthermore, and often more disconcerting is that more often than not those whose freedom of speech is constricted are those who have a critical analysis of our societies and who are actively working to improve the conditions of those who are most impacted by them.  In turn, when the torture of one human being is permitted, or the bombing of one town is permitted, that then opens the floodgates to permit those policies to be generalized to others. Lastly, and perhaps the most relevant is that what is done on one side of the planet is not contained to that region, but rather, is felt throughout the world. The eradication of the Amazon rain forests, the burning of fossil fuels, the dropping atomic bombs, the explosions of nuclear power plants, the displacements of peoples, or the extinctions of species are all phenomena that are felt globally. Individualism is an illusion and it is one of the most destructive aspects of our contemporary culture. It is thus vital that our people begin to construct a new vision for what our world can be like.

 

 

This new vision and means will not come from the top-down, but rather, from the bottom up. It is a false education that teaches us that the most effective changes come from the top when the evidence proves that cultural shifts surface from the bottom and permeate an entire society. Language also functions in this manner because language is a function of culture. Grammar is a top down push meant to institute a particular and prescribed form of a language stigmatizing all other dialects and forms of the language. However, that does not cease or stop the natural evolution of a language. The version of English spoken in the United States today was at one time the stigmatized form. The prevalence of a system of education that teaches the opposite of this only serves to maintain the status quo, to sustain the dominance of those in power, and to continue the process of the worsening conditions of our peoples. It is an attempt to stifle the natural and necessary cultural evolution that must occur for us to overcome the injustices of our societies.

 

 

The first step in creating a new vision of what our world can be like and to addressing the issues causing the worsening conditions of our people is to institute a radical education ourselves to help foster the critical analyses our people are capable of and responsible for.  We must start with education because for so long as the fatalistic tunnel vision of potentialities is maintained and continues to persist among the most impacted by the harmful impacts of this unjust system, for just that long will our peoples believe we do not have the power or the means to effect beneficial change. The mere act of carrying out this radical education, wherein true histories or rather more complete, comprehensive, and complex histories are taught through a dialogic and dialectic method will provide the fertile ground for solutions to be created and to surface. The system will begin to be seen and understood for what it is, and once that understanding begins to take hold of the consciousness of our people and we are reacquainted with our agency as peoples, acting upon the vision and solutions that take shape is the natural corollary or outcome that follows.

 

 

The first things that will most likely be addressed by our critical analyzers are the immediate conditions causing the suffering of our peoples. The solutions to those immediate problems will permeate our societies from the bottom-up and as the society shifts its cultural center of gravity, the institutions and systems it relies upon will also be revolutionized.

Reflections from My Time at Standing Rock

I did not journey across the country to learn anything, I ventured to stand in solidarity with our Native relatives, but while I was at Standing Rock in the Oceti Sakowin Camp, I was taught and learned much. One of the first things I learned was how vast the camp is. I do not know what I thought I would see, but I was not expecting to see an entire valley filled with tents, tepees, campers, vehicles and people. I have been part of many demonstrations in opposition to unjust exploitation of peoples and planet, but I have never been part of anything like Standing Rock. There were thousands of people from all over the world, many of whom were represented on Flag Road, which seemed to go on forever identifying all the nations and peoples in solidarity with Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires), which is the “proper name for the people commonly known as Sioux.” What I witnessed is that a shift is underway the likes of which we have not experienced since the time of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) and the American Indian Movement (AIM), when the oppressed peoples from all over the world are uniting in a common cause: to end the harmful exploitation of our peoples and planet, and caring for our world and peoples in such a way that ten generations from now our descendants will inherit a healthy and vibrant world to share. And yet however much a shift in culture is neither without opposition or complications, it is nonetheless beautiful to see coming into fruition.

This level of unity among the oppressed peoples must be terrifying to the repressive state regime because it is losing its legitimacy and control, and people are losing faith in this state’s ability to manage our world. This is evinced by the harmful and repressive actions the state has engaged in to retain its control of the people and the situation. The state has enacted counterinsurgency tactics and technology against its own people in the worst of ways. From the targeted arresting of people, to the excessive use of lethal force, to the eviction of peoples from their lands, to the complete disregard of humanity of indigenous peoples and people of color; the entire operation is laden with human rights violations. The right to peaceably assemble and to the freedom of religion are not only guaranteed by the US Constitution (First Amendment), but also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18; Article 19; Article 20). Furthermore, Article 9, of the UNDHR states that “no one shall be subject to arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile.” Article 5, of the UNDHR, says that no one shall be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment; which should entail being sprayed with water from fire hoses when it is twenty degrees outside, or shot in the head with rubber bullets for praying on your own lands. Not that it needs to be mentioned, but in case people have forgotten, cruel and unusual punishment is also protected against by the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Using intimidation and legalized terrorism is not managing, it is tyranny and it is out of control. The problem lies in the reality that this sort of behavior has been normalized in the United States when the state is interacting with indigenous peoples, people of color, and active political dissent from the harmful practices of this state and its agents. However, the oppressed peoples are uniting as the legitimacy of the state is faultering and we are being joined by those who are also losing faith in the motivations the state and the results of its decisions.

Oceti Sakowin Camp is a prayer ceremony on treaty land (Treaty of Fort Laramie 1868), that is, the land the camp is on and where Energy Transfer Partners LP is constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) belongs to Oceti Sakowin. First, if someone were to come into your or my home and start destroying things, especially that which our ancestors or predecessors left to us, we would most likely stand in physical opposition to the intrusion and destruction, and we would be well within our rights to do so. It is a twisted way of thinking about development and progress—the doctrine of Manifest Destiny—that informs people’s perception that the manner in which our Native relatives have chosen to be stewards of the land is neither efficient nor correct. Notwithstanding that false perception, this land belongs to Oceti Sakowin and the infringement into their land is no different than an intrusion into our homes. Thus, when physical opposition has occurred, the people who engaged in these acts have been completely and entirely justified in doing such. In fact, the actual motivation and justification for the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution was to protect against the arbitrary and tyrannical abuses of power by the state over the people. The fact that it mentions weapons only provides one of the means by which this may or should be accomplished. The spirit of the amendment is that state repression of free and equal peoples is not to be tolerated when the repression is unjust. Yet, while that is not only the law and the right of the people, the state, the corporations, and the media has sought to villainize and make illegitimate the actions of Water Protectors, as if they believe something else, or would have behaved differently should this have happened to their homes and their families. Painting with a broad stroke the entire camp and opposition movement as riotous villains in an attempt to discredit Oceti Sakowin and gain legitimacy for state tyranny, is wrong and unaccountable to the Amerikan people and the people of the world. And yet however justified physical opposition is, the majority of the opposition, and the vast majority of the people at Standing Rock are in prayer, and have been for most of the time the camp has existed.

Every morning before sunrise, a water ceremony occurs that is usually led by elders who are women. The people at Oceti Sakowin Camp are called to the Sacred Fire to participate in the ceremony as the people first ask to commune with the Creator, before asking the Creator to protect the headwaters of the Midwest. Many people from Amerika are not familiar with prayer in the form of song and dance because many of us come from a Judeo-Christian background, and so, it may not be immediately recognized that a prayer ceremony is occurring, but that does not alter the immense power that is felt participating after being invited into one of the ceremonies. From the Sacred Fire after the initial prayers are completed, the people are led to the water (Cannon Ball River) to bless and pray for the water that heals our bodies and our souls. As the sun rises we are standing on the shores of the waters giving thanks for the resource and element that provides so much for us and all that lives on the planet we share. Starting the day in a thankful spirit of gratitude for a precious and limited resource has the impact of directing our whole day and shifted my thoughts from what I need to take for myself and instead focused them on what I have to offer.

The time I spent at Oceti Sakowin Camp led me to re-conceptualize my perception of direct action, even as a seasoned activist. Often direct action is referred to as a demonstration. For example, when a Black Lives Matter protest occurs on Black Friday, in any city, challenging the very institutions of capitalistic economy that buttresses and profits from the prison industrial complex and by extension the brutality of police, and the school to prison pipeline; the objective is to interrupt. Wherein there may be lockdowns, blocked traffic, or interruptions of broadcasts. However, at Oceti Sakowin, when the people leave camp to any location, it is in prayer just like the morning Water Ceremony. The prayers are not discriminatory, but universal, which means that the people are praying for the health of the water not only for Oceti Sakowin, but also those part of the repressive state regime spraying Water Protectors with water from fire hoses in twenty degree weather. Behaviors with these motivations in other settings have often been referred to as acts of unconditional love and brings to mind the Civil Rights Movement of the Black Liberation Era. I know many of the stories, but have not exactly been able to bring myself to love those I have seen and felt as my enemies as they continued to harm me and my peoples.

Growing up, I was racially profiled by police more times than I can count or even remember, but a few situations stand out. I was pulled over for nothing besides driving while Black and when the cop could find nothing else to charge me with, not a tail light, not a failed signal, not an invalid license, he placed some sort of light detector on my tinted windows to try to find anything to justify his harassment of me. Another account was when my father called the police because some of our neighbors were threatening to kill my brother and I when we were eight and nine, respectively, and when the police came they arrested my father. I can remember walking home from high school with my book bag, only to have a cop car jump the curb and come to a screeching halt in front of me, before slamming me against a wall and searching through my school books, only to find school books. And one night when I was walking down the sidewalk, two plain clothes cops simply decided not to identify themselves, and instead to beat me almost to death before hauling me off to jail for absolutely nothing. I was never even apologized to or given bus fare home, but was released from their custody to walk miles home at three-thirty in the morning in the middle of winter. I recount these personal experiences now only to evince that my hatred for the institution of police is not only systemic, but also personal. When we arrived at the camp we were asked to set these feelings aside and to pray for the police, the army, the militias, and the mercenaries suppressing the people at Standing Rock. This was difficult for me, as it was for many others, too. Then I heard a report about one of the leaders of the International Indigenous Youth Council, speaking directly to how the people interact with the police during a prayer ceremony;

It is our duty not to dehumanize others, as we seek to establish our own humanity.

What I learned from this is that I am no better if I create the same trauma that I am seeking to overcome. I cannot become my enemy and still expect to overcome the oppression I suffer from my enemy. The means must be consistent with the ends, if the ends are to be just.

So, while the people at Standing Rock are completely justified in mounting an armed resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the suppressive agents using counterinsurgency tactics against the people, they are in fact, praying for all of us. I have never experienced this amount of love and forgiveness. I have read about and studied it, I have heard stories from the Foot Soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement, but I have never felt it. This is the spirit of the people that our government has permitted helicopters and planes to fly over the camp surveilling and is suspected of spraying chemicals on, all day and night. This is the spirit of the people that the government is utilizing cell phone suppression and corruption technology upon. This is the spirit of the people that the government is throwing concussion grenades at, shooting in the head with rubber bullets, unleashing the Long Range Sound Device, the LRAD sound cannon—the same technology used in Ferguson after the execution of Michael Brown—on, and spraying with water from fire hoses in twenty degree weather at; all of which are prefaced as non-lethal instruments, but when applied together and in the conditions they were used, are all individually lethal and are especially so in conjunction with one another. The state has been arresting, imprisoning, and nearly killing people for praying, and on their own lands no less.

The state is a force to be reckoned with, many of us now this acutely and personally well from first or second-hand experiences, and it must be confronted and challenged. There are also other complications that can and do often emerge when people who have been oppressed unite among themselves, and when the oppressed people unite with people who are from privileged classes. It is not the issues so much as how they are addressed that is truly important. At Oceti Sakowin Camp there was a lot of very positive and encouraging work being done to overcome much of this while simultaneously challenging neo-liberalism, capitalism, and state repression.

During orientation at Oceti Sakowin Camp on my first morning there we were told that we should not have come to learn, or to take anything because that is a continuation of the colonial apparatus. Yet, still, because so many people flooded into the camp over ‘Thanksgiving’ week, who were honestly concerned about what is and has been happening at Standing Rock, who were by no means prepared enough in a socially conscious manner for the work ahead, some instruction was necessary. I am a photographer and this has been a major component of the liberation work I have engaged in over the years. I am also a historian and a philosopher, and the three of these skills combined help me tell stories as objectively as possible.

(My cameras were stolen from me by the police in Bismarck when I participated in a prayer circle and was unjustly abducted and duhumanized, so I do not have images to share at this time.)

During the orientation, the proctors mentioned that the act of taking a picture “take, take, take” is an act of colonization, which is all about the extraction of people, land, and resources. This was used as an analogy to expecting to have time with Native elders who could “tell the history correctly” because people had “come to learn the truth” from the people most impacted. Not realizing that the imposition of time, from primarily white folx, was another act of colonization playing itself out, many had rushed to the elders. Many people had also been walking through camp with their cameras out, snapping shots of people in front of their teepees, which is no different than standing on someone’s lawn and pointing a camera into their home; taking, extracting, and feeling ‘entitled’ to do so. This colonialist imperative of take all you can for yourself, this capitalist motif is precisely what the people at Oceti Sakowin Camp are opposed to. It is this colonialist imperative and capitalist motif that Energy Transfer Partners are operating under; and they are precisely what underlies the exploitation and degradation of the planet through the burning of fossil fuels. Cultural appropriation, is stealing, it is taking without permission or understanding. We were informed that this was a camp of giving and of self-sacrifice for the common good, for the rest of humanity and all the creatures we share the world with. Thus, many of our beliefs and practices that people came to camp with needed to be unlearned and ceased because they are components of the very things that brought us to Oceti Sakowin in the first place and what we are working to overcome and evolve beyond.

Oceti Sakowin camp embodies the way of life that many of us are aspiring towards. A world in which the first thought is how I can fulfill the needs of others around me, instead of the first thought being how I can take care of my own needs by extracting things from others.

Living among the people at Standing Rock I learned that I do not need everything I think I need in order to not only survive, but to thrive healthily and to be happy.

When everyone is giving, then there is no lack. There is no need to be fearful that the things we actually ‘need’ will not be provided. This social organization is so completely contradictory to anything that most of us within the borders of Amerika are familiar with that it almost seems impossible because of how we have been indoctrinated to think and feel, but it works well. Not only is it liberating, but it is efficient and limits the amount of waste our society tends to produce and accumulate.

Many of our people suffer from forms of historical trauma, especially people of color, or are the beneficiaries of a long line of privileges gained from historical traumas, such as men and white folx, or both, and so the work to unpack, unlearn, and heal continues. These are deep emotional and intellectual processes. As such, they are not easily overcome. In fact, we tend to bring these things with us even when we are working to remedy human rights violations and to alter harmful practices. Unfortunately, there were more than a handful of events and occurrences from which to draw examples from at Oceti Sakowin camp. Notwithstanding that, and although it was problematic that a lot of misinformed, or uninformed, well-intentioned white folx poured into the camp during the week of Thanksgiving; it was nonetheless inspiring, to see so many people who are beginning to wake up and see our state of affairs for what it truly is. That being said, there is no doubt that a lot of emotional labor was unduly placed upon our hosts and other people of color to inform, correct, and instruct a lot of the people who simply did not understand things like, it is not cool just to walk up and touch someone else’s hair because you think it is fascinating. That is entitlement plain and simple, and it is an extension and an expression of colonization, one of the very things the people in the camp and elsewhere are working diligently to overcome.

Entering into another person’s personal space, and especially touching their body without prior consent because of either an implicit or explicit belief that you are entitled to do so (and this includes rape and rape culture) is a colonial and patriarchal act. Consent is vitally important to healthy relationships. Firstly, consent signifies that there is respect between two parties and an acknowledgement of both their humanity and their agency.

The Dakota Access Pipeline that Energy Transfer Partners is placing in the ground without the consent of Oceti Sakowin, is an act of colonization.

They have come into Oceti Sakowin lands, desecrated their ancestral burial grounds, and threaten to poison both the land and the headwaters with faulty technology that in addition, will also promote the distribution of CO2 from the burning of the oil, thus exacerbating the rate of climate change and the destruction of our environment. None of these outcomes are desirable to Oceti Sakowin, which is why they have gathered in opposition and put the call out for many forms of support. The Army Corps of Engineers, and Energy Transfer Partners have failed to respect the humanity and the agency of the peoples from Standing Rock, and by corollary the rest of us. The reason that so many in our society, and even among those who journeyed to Standing Rock to stand and work in solidarity, embodied and acted through this colonial lens is because that is what we have been indoctrinated with. Most do not understand that these every day, seemingly minor expressions are what permit the larger, more broadly impacting expressions to exist and persist.  Although, it is true that these things will not be overcome in a day, and that it should not be the responsibility of those who have already been harmed so much by this system and society of injustice to emotionally labor with those who still harbor, whether knowingly or not, colonial and patriarchal prejudices, ideologies, and beliefs, they must be continuously worked on; simultaneously within the system and within ourselves.

More than anything else, what I felt most while I was at Oceti Sakowin Camp, from the people at the camp, was love. What I felt from the people in North Dakota who opposed the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline was sheer hatred and anathema. When I was abducted by the police in a most violent and unjust manner while the people were praying for protection of our water, the bystanders denied our humanity in a manner of which I have never felt in my life. I was accosted by a woman who stared me directly in my eyes as I lay hog-tied on the ground in agonizing pain, when she proclaimed;

“Prison food is horrible. The way they treat you in prison is horrible. I hope you enjoy it there. You are getting everything you deserve.”

This was said moments before a chant for “blue lives matter,” then a chant stating “oil is life” began.  At this very moment, without restraint or regard for the welfare of people, the police were chasing unarmed, unthreatening, escaping, and innocent people tackling them like linebackers from the San Francisco 49ers, slamming them into walls and doors indiscriminately; merely selecting people of color they thought might have been involved in the prayer.

In stark opposition, as was mentioned above, much of the spirit of the people in the camp was along the lines of not dehumanizing as we all sought to establish and assert our own humanity. There was much forgiveness and grace, but more importantly, there was love. Criticism, when it is done constructively, and with the intention of improving the relations between relatives, is an act of kindness and love. I suppose that is why when that woman looked at me with such disdain, and spoke to me as if I was not a human being, that I did not become angry at her or her actions, but instead, I felt pity and sadness, and began to pray for her. Ironically, and quite contradictory to my previous sentiment, I also prayed for the police officers as I prayed for our water, our people, and our collective future.

I am still not a fan of and am starkly in opposition to the police institution as it exists, the militarization of local law enforcement all over the country, the prison industrial complex, the school to prison pipeline, the counterinsurgency against social movements to achieve justice and equity, but something definitely shifted in me during my time at Standing Rock.

Although, most of us who made the journey did not do so to learn or take anything home with us, I do not think it is possible for a person whose heart is open to spend time at Oceti Sakowin camp and not return home affected in some positive manner.

Many know that we need a new and redesigned legal and political system, which includes a new economic structure. However, more and more are coming to believe that the actual shift must occur on a spiritual level and must spread naturally among us as if it were a scent on the breeze that we all become aware of. A spiritual transition is not something that can or will be motivated by force, it is more about attraction than promotion or proselytizing. It is slower, but much longer lasting.

When this manifests, then many of the officers, militias, and military personnel who, because of the authoritative structure and plausible deniability who feel secure in participating in human rights violations, may begin not to silence their consciences and moral aptitudes any longer, and may begin to question the unchallenged consent to execute unjust orders against innocent human beings. If it truly manifested, then those institutions would no longer be necessary. The state will continue to issue orders, but the people will cease to follow them or step down all together. To be balanced, it has often been argued that the people in these positions lack consciences and that appealing to them is doom to failure, disillusionment, and further repression. That has more often than not been the case, so this perspective is completely rational. I have stood with my people in front of a line of cops screaming until we had no voices left dropping facts about the institution’s dehumanizing and brutal actions only to be beaten and unjustly arrested; and nothing seemed to change afterward. So, I have seen it with my own eyes. Yet, there are cops leaving the force all over the country because the brutal suppression of innocent people is not what they signed up for, and police departments have made public statements in direct opposition to the Trump policy of racially profiling people to inspect their citizenship documentation. Small steps to be certain, but it is evidence that a shift is also beginning to occur there as well. Like the Veterans who also journeyed to Standing Rock and participated in a major apology ceremony for their participation in the brutal suppression of indigenous peoples and made the declaration to oppose the practice. The indoctrination of lies and division that has sprung forth from Amerikan capitalism and imperialism is being torn apart and delegitimized.

Bernard LaFayette, the organizer from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who went to Selma Alabama and began the voter registration campaign there, also believed in and practiced seeing the humanity of our oppressors. There is a certain healing power in it, and it is also pointing toward a future when we see and feel more points of unity than division and difference among us. It is my belief that this shift in cultural understanding is well under way and is spreading. I felt more than the embers of this at Standing Rock, with people from all over the world, from many different backgrounds, with all kinds of stories all standing in unity under the leadership of the most impacted by this system, our Indigenous relatives. We all have much healing and growth ahead of us, and the state is ramping up its repressive regime, but it is inspiring to have witnessed and been party to the cultural shift of resistance that is underway, not only at Standing Rock, but all over the world.

#WaterIsLife

The Illusion of Individualism

The people who believe “crime” is an individual act are still trapped in the illusion of individualism. They are unwilling to see their responsibility in the situation and that until society is healed crime will be a problem and incarceration will increase.

 

Furthermore, the profit motive of the prison industrial complex only serves to interrupt the process of seeking alternatives to incarcerating youth.

 

Blaming and punishing youth, whom it is our responsibility to socialize, for our failure to properly instruct them and providing them an environment in which they can thrive is wrong. That is blame-shifting and it is destroying the fabric of our society.

 

One of the biggest problems the illusion of individualism has create is the destruction of our human necessity for interdependence. One of the factors is simply the size of our society because its very structure denies participation on a level that is necessary to foster interdependence. In a civilization that is so disparate and where participation so minimal the agency and control by people over their environment is fleeting at best. Major corporations are also culprits in this regard. When I refer to creating an environment conducive to the development of youth, I am thinking about an environment that has a foundation of interdependence. When your neighbor is the one growing the food you eat, and you are producing the tools they need to farm it creates a motivation to not harm those we depend upon for survival. Intra-communal violence and harm are reduced by necessity and when the people simultaneously may express more control and agency over their own environments many of the other factors that lead into “crime” are averted. The people will have more time and opportunity to socialize the youth and can elect the method and manner in which they are socialize them that is localized to the needs of the community, not standardized to an entire civilization in a manner that may have no meaning to the youth.

 

Individualism, hierarchical systems of power and control, and agency are the major factors to the ills of our society, and as such, are the major component of the prison industrial complex and why most Amerikans are afraid to even consider an alternative to incarceration. Furthermore, the indoctrination that most Amerikans have received systematically denies the very type of shift we need to occur, and thus, they deny the evolution our society needs in order to thrive healthily.

Growing Pains

You remember those pains we used to get in our legs and arms as our bodies were growing when we were little? I do. Sometimes they were so bad I could not sleep. I would toss and turn all night long and never find peace. No matter which way I turned it only seemed to make the pain worse. It felt like it would never go away.
 
I get migraines. I have for years. They started after I survived a fatal car accident when both my breathing and heart stopped for several minutes. I had to have brain surgery and was in a coma for several weeks. When I came out of it not remembering anything at all, like I mean complete amnesia, the worst thing physically I suffered was chronic migraines. After the many years of dealing with these I have noticed one of the strangest phenomenon; I never noticed when the pain stopped hurting. I would just be going about my life and then it would come to mind that my mind was no longer hurting.
 
That is also how I remember what it was like after the growing pains went away. But something else I also noticed about the growing pains was that when I would get measured I would recognize that I had also matured.
 
Lately I have been going through a new kind of growing pains, and it is uncomfortable, and it feels like it will never be over. However, instead of it being something I am familiar and altogether comfortable with, this time I am feeling the stress of spiritual growth. Yet, even with all of my experience and knowledge that at some point these pains will pass, and that when they have that I will have matured into a more developed human being. Right now it hurts. The worst part about these spiritual growing pains is that the spiritual is not something that lives in isolation, like the pains in my legs. No, the spiritual blunders that are causing my pain, that is the growth is also affecting the people I care the most about. In fact, without them I doubt that I would even notice the pains at all.
 
However, there are two things that I have learned. First, there is nothing that I can do to change the fact that I am currently going through a growth spurt. Second, Unlike the physical pains that were personal and only affected me, and no one else could help or intercede; my spiritual growing pains are nothing of the sort. So, as I trudge through and into this new chapter of my life I am relying on those I love and those who love me.
 
Perhaps that is precisely the lesson that my spirit wants me to learn. We are spiritual and social beings and we do nothing alone. As a matter of clarity, trying to continuously do things alone when it is obvious that I cannot is a harmful symptom of toxic masculinity. It only serves to shut me off from the sunlight of the spirit, which for me shines brightest in the people around me.