Category Archives: Political

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

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A Stance Must Be Taken

At some point a decision must be made and a stance taken to alter the unjust components of the system we are part of, or injustice and harm will continue to flourish as a result of our failure to act. It does matter how we got to this situation. It is important who was and is responsible for the suffering that people are compelled to undergo. However, regardless of who the guilty parties are the reality is that we all are the ones responsible for permitting the injustices to continue or for developing solutions to the problems inherent in our system. I believe it is our duty to do more than what is expected of us by the standards of a system that permits nearly ubiquitous suffering because the status quo is synonymous with more of the same. I believe it is not only possible, but achievable for us to improve on the systems we have inherited and the history of countless generations of humanity will confirm this conviction. It is true that it will not be easy. It is also true that we will most likely make many mistakes as we experiment with alternatives. However, if we do nothing different than what we have been doing then there is no chance that we will improve and people will continue to suffer undo and unjust conditions. Yet, should we but believe that at least something minimally better is possible and provide the most meager amount effort to see it through, then—and I am staking my life on this—we will see and feel revolutionary changes and evolution in human culture. A decision will be made and a stance taken regardless of whether it is to do nothing different, or to seek beneficial alternatives.

Genetically speaking, human being have not evolved for millennia. It has been our culture that has evolved, which has enabled us to adapt to our environments and to thrive as a species. However, evolution is not merely something that happens all on its own. Rather, evolution only occurs when an organism must respond to adversity in order to survive. Evolution however, is not a genetic mutation that occurs to a specific organism within its own biological life-span. If the organism is not predisposed to survive the factors of an environment then it simply will not be able to survive. However, if there is enough genetic variation within a population, and if some of those variants are predisposed to overcome or be unaffected by those factors, then they will have a chance of survival. Culture is a strategy for survival, but it is unlike genetic variation in that it can be adapted within an organism’s biological life-span. Like genetic variation, culture is a response to environmental factors and it has evolved over time to adjust to contemporary circumstances and conditions. The evolution of our culture has resulted in the formation of the systems by which our society operates, much like biological systems have adapted to circumstances. The relevant components of the analogy between genetic evolution and cultural evolution are sound and lends itself to this conclusion: as a democratic society we are faced with a set of factors that we as a political community are compelled to adapt to for the sake of survival, but instead of the variation or mutation happening by necessity it must freely be chosen and enacted.

A decision must be made and a stance taken if our culture is to evolve to meet the circumstances and conditions questioning our ability to survive as a species. Segregation was once a strategy that was perhaps necessary for smaller groups to survive. Today, segregation is primarily a tool of those who have power and privileges to maintain the status quo while others suffer the unfair distribution. Furthermore, those with power could share in this distribution without even remotely coming close to the level of subsistence. Since segregation is no longer a strategy that is necessary for survival it is also no longer a necessary cultural practice because the survival of those who maintain the segregation is not in question. Jim Crow was shown to be an unnecessary strategy and that it was in addition an unjust practice. Much like the wall that Donald Trump is proposing will be shown to be unnecessary for survival and unjust. We must be willing to critically analyze our practices for the merit they have in so far as they have the potential to assist us in surviving. The choices that we have to make, cannot and in fact should not be made arbitrarily, but rather, they should be investigated for their practical and moral qualities. The decision which will guide the stance we take that will also be made democratically, will only be an improvement on what has come before if people believe, and that it is fact true that their contributions matter.

The principle test of a system should be whether or not it achieves the goals for which it was implemented. If the system does achieve the ends for which it exists and it continues to contribute to our survival then chances are good that we should maintain that system for so long as it continues to satisfy these conditions. However, if the system does not achieve the ends for which it exists or it does not contribute to our survival, then chances are good that we should cease the practice entirely and seek an alternative. For example, the system of prisons is prefaced on the explicit goals of rehabilitation and deterrence, and the implicit goal of retribution. The prison system has a recidivism rate of nearly 95% and that means that almost every single person who enters into the adult penitentiary system at some point returns to prison. This reveals that the prison system fails at the explicit goal of rehabilitation. The United States has but 5% of the world’s population and yet 25% of the world’s prison population and save for the last few year has witnessed an exponential increase in population density. Therefore, the prison system is also failing at the explicit goal of deterrence. Lastly, when a person is indicted for a crime it is the public the plaintiff and the contest is between the individual accused and the state. This entirely removes the person who was harmed so far from the process that often times not even an apology from the person responsible is possible to the person who was harmed. The system also fails at its implicit goal of retribution. Yet, the prison system as it exists today has an ulterior motivation which has nothing to do with these other goals and that is profit for corporations. This hidden goal of the system is not something that the public has agreed to and are mostly ignorant of. In addition, this goal also undermines most of what the public agrees the criminal justice system should be aimed at, which is entailed within both the explicit and implicit goals of the prison system. Therefore, since the prison system fails on all counts and in addition fails to be consistent with democratic principles, this is a system that should cease to be a component of our culture.

On the other hand, although there are problems with it, the system of education when it is not interrupted by the prison system, does in fact contribute to our survival and achieves it goals. The explicit goal of the education system to prepare citizens for a diverse array of roles within society. These roles are vital to the functioning of society and thus, for the survival of the members of that society. Reading and mathematics are basic requirements for survival of the members of most societies and the citizens of the United States in particular. Education is a system that imparts these skills unto the people and thus transmits important characteristics of our society. True, that the system often fails many and these failures can often be measured along the lines of class and race. This while revealing a shortfall in the system also reveals the relevant aspects for improvement, not wholesale cessation. Nonetheless, it is apparent that when analyzing our systems, that is, our strategies for survival we may discover that they are or can function to meet the needs of our civilization, or they may not. It is at this junction that a decision must be made and a stance taken by the people about how to respond: to remain stagnant, or to evolve; that will be the question.

There is more than enough blame to go around the world multiple times over and while it will at some point be the right time to hold particular individuals responsible. However, at this moment that will neither help us to achieve justice, now to improve the conditions of the lives of those who are suffering. Responsibility aside for the moment, the truth is that we are most likely not going to make this world a better place factionalized. It will most likely require all of us to fulfill some role, many of them vital to our cultural evolution because of our experience and knowledge. At the same time, it will be incumbent upon many of the people who are in positions of power to analyze the systems that are in place and in practice that limit or completely bar cultural evolution. When practices or structures like these are discovered it will be their responsibility to disassemble them and to get the necessary help from the people most impacted and affected by these practices and structures to create new strategies so that positive and beneficial change can begin to take form.

Our world is turning upside down on itself and the consequences of our actions are quickly catching up to us and are going to leave us with a set of conditions that are going to be nearly impossible to address unless we do what we can to adapt to them before them emerge. Climate Change is a latent phenomenon that grows exponentially as the factors are compounding over time. There is still yet time to make the necessary cultural transitions to adequately address this threat, but time is running short to evade the impacts of the negative feedback loop that is ahead of us. Countries are at odds economically and militarily, and the tension is so tight that one slight move in the wrong direction and the entire structure will come cascading down. The victims of such an atrocity will not be the people who make the decisions, but rather, the general public of our societies who are merely attempting to get by relatively well. It may seem as though my sense of urgency is unfounded, but that is only because our energy sources have not been tapped, desertification has not destroyed most of the arable land we depend upon for food, and borders are not being flooded beyond capacity with millions of starving and terrified human beings seeking anything better than what they are fleeing. When these conditions begin to be felt, then the economic constriction will follow and the protectionism that is a major component of our cultures will be expressed with the military. Those who have not fallen victim to the former calamities, will be present for the latter.

None of this is necessary though and it can all be avoided should we choose to make a decision and take a stand on experimenting with alternative strategies. It is imperative that we stop thinking and acting in the realm of the short-term, and from the perspective of the micro-personal, and began thinking an acting in the realm of the long-term and from the perspective of the macro-personal. We only have one world to live on and we have to share with all the people and other species that are here. Because we have the capacity for rational thought and forethought, it is our duty and our responsibility to be responsible stewards and wise planners. The conditions and the factors that require evolution are present or soon will be. We have the unique opportunity to choose what and who we evolve into as oppose to either facing extinction or evolving into something unwanted by necessity. Culture can evolve by choice, it does not have to be compelled. Whatever the choice of the people is though, it is us, all of us who are responsible for these decisions and the actions that they will guide

Leadership

A leader should be a servant to the people. However, when I say servant, I do not mean a slave because human agency and the capacity for choice is what distinguishes a leader from a tyrant or a slave. It is not what a person does under compulsion that we tend to hold them morally blameworthy for, but rather, for what they chose to do given that there are or were reasonable alternatives. By servant I mean a person who acknowledges the presence and the humanity of people, makes the time to understand their concerns and desires, and actively chooses to fulfill those ends. The ends of the actions of a good civic leader and good public service should be a more just and equitable society wherein people have the greatest amount of liberty to pursue their goals with limited infringement upon the goals of others. I am a member of the Climate Justice Steering Committee with the local, grassroots, community organization “GotGreen?,” and last year we developed a survey to discover the issues most pertinent to the citizens of south and west Seattle. We hosted several community forums to share our discoveries and to get feedback. The result of our community engagement is a campaign that will focus on food justice, housing security, and access to adequate health care. Had we paternalistically imposed a campaign upon our community instead of being servants to our community we may have missed one of their most important concerns, housing security.

It is possible to make a difference

I have worked on issues of police brutality, mass incarceration, the School-to-Prison Pipeline, climate change, food justice, gentrification, the education gap, immigration, sovereignty rights, gender equality, racism, and basic human rights for all human beings. Much of this work has been done in formal settings with school administrations, city officials, county officials, and the state legislature. The rest of the work has been done through and with the community itself in a non-formal manner, much of which has been direct action and the exercise of our First Amendment Right to protest and exercise free speech to affect change. After nearly a year of protest and public meetings concerning police brutality and mass incarceration, I was instrumental in the drafting and passing of Resolution 31614, “zero use of detention for youth in Seattle” in September of 2015. I was also instrumental in pulling together the concerns and complaints of students from three University of Washington campuses and staging the largest demonstration in nearly thirty years on the Seattle campus that led to the formation of the Race and Equity Initiative. Both of these victorious objectives share very similar characteristics, namely, accountability to the impacted communities, and working with members through the entire process. This garnered broad community support for the issues with which we were contenting. In addition, as a result of our dedication, strategy, and relationship building we were able to win the confidence and support of administrators and politicians in positions of power who were sympathetic to our concerns.

Accountability

Of the characteristics attributed to leaders, the one that stands out the most is accountability. Some people are considered leaders, but in reality, have no relationship with the people they claim to represent or to be working for the benefit of. Evidence of this can be observed with programs which are designed to help a particular group that in fact either, exacerbate the problem or have a null effect. For most proposed solutions to actually have a net positive benefit the people who are most impacted by whatever problem they are facing must be party to the decision and implementation process. This was a lesson hard learned. Being a civic leader tends to require the courage to stand out, the willingness to engage in controversy; and the ability to negotiate, to strategize, and to propagate a message. However, those qualities alone may lead to a person being an unaccountable leader who does more harm than good. I have my own analysis of unjust circumstances, but what usually motivates me is that someone has requested I act on their behalf. Otherwise, we bring our analysis to the people to ask for their input, and what they want to be done about it. Lastly, and often most important to accountability is access. Human beings are fallible and we make mistakes, whether intentional or otherwise, and the people whose interests we are working on behalf of need and deserve to be able to air their grievances and to shape a leader’s actions accordingly.

Can’t Merely Be A Student

I cannot begin to express how much I would love to merely be a student. That the only things I was concerned about were my grades.  For a recovered alcoholic/addict, person who went from being in a gang to living on the street via a stretch in the juvenile prison system, for whom attending the UW was nearly statistically impossible, trust me when I say, I wish I could merely be a student focused on my classes and grades.

But when our people are being slain and executed in the streets on a nearly daily basis nation wide. And my own friends are being profiled, targeted, assaulted, and battered by the UW police, it makes it nearly impossible for me to only be a student focused on my grades. I went from being the valedictorian of one school with an almost 4.0 status to failing classes. Not because I do not know the material and that I do not stay up all hours of the night to make sure I do, but because my assignments when I find the time to work on them in between all the challenges to this white supremacist and racist super structure we call The STATE, they are either late or never get turned in. “If not us, who? If not now, when?” It’s like they want us to continue in the impoverished state of learned helplessness and just accept the way that our people are being treated and devalued. Institutions like the UW are like yes we love and welcome Black people, but check your culture at the door because you are entering into a white space and you might scare the other students. But “to be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” Then they have the audacity to tell us that we are being “uncivilized,” when that is the same rhetoric that justified the extermination of the Indigenous peoples of this land. Ain’t shit changed in the ideologies. They also tell us to wait for a more opportune time but when they say wait it is as if they are saying “never.” Like don’t worry about us abducting your cousin or your mother, raping your sister, pillaging your village, outsourcing your jobs, gentrifying your neighboorhoods, providing mandatory deplorable education then blaming us for not being more intelligent; we will get our shit straight in time. No! This shit has to end now. They keep trying to suppress the problems like that will make them go away. But we all know that is not the case. The police target and kill and go unpunished. The state enslaves our bretheren and profits. The U.S. who promoted the United Nations will still not fully ratify the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights! How can they when it would undermine everything that holds the United States up as a super power of oppression and exploitation, carnage and termoil, of blatant terrorism?

I would love to merely be a student focused on my classes and my grades, but each time I try to do that, the evil hydra that is Amerikka rears one of its ugly heads and strikes out at our people. I just cannot in good conscience shut out the reality of our world the way they want us to.

In the Struggle for Justice

I think that we are at a pivotal movement in history when some very profound changes have the opportunity to be brought about and for this to occur we are going to need unilateral participation from people across the spectrum of our society. Many of us in the Black Lives Matter struggle have felt shunned, ostracized and denounced by many who can be counted among the clergy or the “old guard.” One of the reasons for this is because of a natural age gap and difference in perception that in every struggle I have studied always seems to play a major part. It brings up the thought of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” wherein he mentions the moderate whites of his time and how they agreed with the aim and the goals of the movement, but disagreed with the methods; suggesting that they wait for a more opportune time. For the most part, many of the demonstrations across the country have been peaceful demonstrations of people exercising their First Amendment Rights; the Right to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for grievances rendered. There have been a few outbreaks of violence which have cleverly in the media been labeled “riots,” but they seem to me much more like rebellions which are a natural response of a silenced people to an oppressive situation. For most people, open rebellion is one of the last resorts, which only even becomes plausible after which point many other avenues have failed to materialize any substantive changes in the conditions under which the people live. Again, an exercise of their First Amendment Rights, and in line with the Declaration of Independence:

 

“WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalianable Rights, that among them are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of HappinessThat to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

 

This statement should be amended to state; “all Humans are created equal,” and “Governments are instituted among Humans,” so as to limit its marginalizing and disenfranchising impacts.

 

 

What we need is for the leaders and individuals in our community, especially those who are at the heads of institutions, such as, but not limited to churches, universities, and corporations to make public statements denouncing the deplorable and dehumanizing treatment from the United States Government and its subsidiary institutions such as the Department of Justice; the Law Enforcement Agencies in every city and state; and the Prison Industrial Complex with its corporate structure and profit-driven slave labor model that undermines the expressed intent of penitentiaries: penitence and rehabilitation. Penitence is to feel sorrow for one’s actions and rehabilitation is to prepare someone for reentry into society as a functioning member of that society. However, the system is designed to be a revolving door so as to maintain a subsidized, if not free, labor force for industries and markets wherein the United States does not have a comparative advantage. In other words, the United States could not compete in those markets and industries because those products and services can be produced at a much lower cost and at a greater efficiency in other countries; countries that are experiencing the exploitative practices of American corporations and results thereof. The domestic outcome is that our taxes are being used to fund slave labor internment camps throughout the nation from which corporations are benefiting and earning profit. The global outcome is that Anti-Blackness, which Black Lives Matter is diametrically opposed to and in contention with, is harming, subjugating, and suppressing People of Color worldwide. Moreover, there are over twelve million people in the United States who have been disenfranchised and had their Right to Vote revoked because of felony disenfranchisement laws. All of this is justified according to Law because of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution wherein slavery and disenfranchisement is unconstitutional except in the case of being convicted of a “crime.” All of these factors add up to a false system of justifications, under law, to kill, murder, and enslave People of Color shredding the Bill of Rights and the people’s ability to challenge the tyranny of the United States government and its subsidiary institutions.

 

What we need is for the leaders and individuals in our community, especially those who are at the heads of institutions, such as, but not limited to churches, universities, and corporations to make public statements denouncing the dire economic and living conditions, which includes but is not limited to red lining, job opportunities, educational opportunities, gentrification, transportation equity, and climate change. We are not far removed from the nearly ubiquitous slavery in the United States when Black people were denied education and are even less removed from Jim Crow segregation, an era that denied People of Color in the United States equal educational and employment opportunities and specified the boundaries in which People of Color could live, work, and own property. Furthermore, the rise of the Prison Industrial Complex in the 1980s, the outsourcing of industrial jobs as part of globalization in the 1980s, and the deplorable educational institutions in areas populated by People of Color and poor people have resulted in the expansion of an exceedingly stratified hierarchical economic structure of classes and castes the likes of which has not been experienced since the fall of the Roman Empire. Our people will remain vulnerable to exploitation and suppression by an elite plutocracy and oligarchy until we can achieve economic justice.

What we need is for the leaders and individuals in our community to stand in solidarity with, to march with, and to shutdown business as usual and the status quo with the people who are collectively called “activists.” We are called activists and militants because we will not passively resign to second-class citizenship which seeks to deny our Humanity. We are called activists and militants because we challenge the status quo of injustice and, the arbitrary and unfair practices by a government and its subsidiary institutions who are supposed to protect our “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness.” They call us activists and militants because our minds are active and we critically question and analyze the conditions under which we live.  We are Human Beings. We are autonomous. And we will not passively relegate ourselves to positions of inferiority. Our struggle is your struggle. And yet, by labeling us activists and militants, what the media and the government hope to accomplish is to discredit and disavow the very real issues and concerns that We, the People have concerning the unjust conditions with live under.

 

What we need is for the leaders and individuals in our community to help us fund the expensive litigations, political campaigns, community organizations and programs, bail funds and trial costs that are most certainly likely to incur as we struggle against a repressive regime to achieve justice for our people. We need the people who have benefitted from the struggles of our predecessors and are now in positions of more economic security to invest in our collective future.

Most importantly, what we need is to know that we are not alone. And the world needs to know it, too.

Hard Won Vitories are Still Victories

I am tripping right now. In the last couple of weeks I have watched three of the major battles we have been fighting come to fruition, at least in part. Resolution 31614 “zero use of detention for youth” in Seattle, and while this is only a resolution, it is nonetheless a step in the right direction. Then Shell pulled out of the artic drilling, and while this is not an end to dependence on fossil fuel, it is nonetheless, a victory for the people. UW is also now paying over 5,000 other employees the $15 that have been so fought for, and while there are still countless others that are not earning a living wage yet, this again, is a step in the right direction.

All of these battles we have been fighting for quite some time and I have been engaged with them for the better part of a year. There came a point where I did not really think that we were going to get the decision makers to see anything differently; it was dieheartening and disillusionment set in. But the people never gave up or relented and now change, however slow, is taking shape.

Being new to both activism and advocacy, I expected to be imprisoned or killed, or ostracized and marginalized, and there were more than a few times that they all seemed like very real outcomes for me and the people I was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with. Yet, we all braved the risks together, and some of us–including me–were arrested and/or beaten by the police, but we were acting for a purpose much greater than our own personal concerns. Those fears and realities are nothing new and many who came before us in the struggle for justice have confronted them and come out victorious as well.

What this is teaching me is one, not to expect immediate change and to not stop running before the race is over. It also teaches me that it may take a while to be fully understood, but that we are being heard. And third, that collective action can and will make a difference in all of our lives when we can find a way to sort out our differences long enough to stand together for something greater than ourselves.

Not Worth the Sacrifice

One of the hardest things to do after participating in all the activism this last year has been holding on to myself, and who I used to be with my humility and my humanity. Inundated with such ruthless hatred and violence it is more than easy to lose hope in humanity and the human condition, to become bitter and despair of seeing goodness anywhere in the world, and least of all in the faces of the people I see around me. However, I have come to the conclusion that if I lose sight of what is best about us, and if I sacrifice who I am at my core during this battle for justice and freedom, then not only have I lost or forgotten the reason for the struggle, but I will not belong in the world we would create because I will have become that which I have been fighting so hard against.