The Disarming of a Crusader: Memories of My Mother

She called herself a crusader, as far back as I can remember…and as Mother’s Day approaches, I am thinking once more of my mother’s folders upon folders of writing and correspondence.

Leadership in the Maryland Back to God Movement, volunteer hours spent with the National Federation for Decency, donations and letters to innumerable similar organizations. Op-eds supporting Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, letters and essays on abortion, school prayer, pornography… writings on every conservative hot-button issue imaginable.

In those same bundles of files are also her environmental campaigns: passionately advocating for the trees in the City and in our neighborhood. For the preservation of green space. For protection of the Chesapeake Bay, of national parks and wildlife, of alleycats and retired horses.

And then, radiant spiritual meditations such as The Mystery of Love….or her extended memoir piece, “Recollections of an Ethnic Childhood in Baltimore”…or laugh-out-loud humor pieces such as “Die Comes Before Diet” and “I Married a Workaholic.” In two packed file cabinet drawers I have a multilayered, nuanced, intensely complex portrait of a fiercely independent-minded, deeply spiritual woman who fed every creature that came to her door, who held firmly to the teachings of old-school Catholicism and scorned the label “feminist”…but held firmly that women were responsible for protecting the Sacred in art, culture, and politics. And protect it she did, with all the ferocity of her Confirmation saint, Jeanne d’Arc.

Like her namesake, she was a mystic; born “with a caul,” she spoke of having had visions: when her beloved sister died of alcoholism, she stormed heaven with prayers until she saw Jesus cradling Aunt Olga as a lamb, and received the message that all was well. I believe that was not the only vision she had…and she certainly had the gift of foresight.

But that mysticism was firmly reined in by dogma and politics. When I became involved in the Charismatic movement as a teen, she came in with me to be sure it wasn’t a cult. We studied together, were “baptized in the Spirit” together…it was one of our closest times. But Campus Crusade for Christ came in and we both were swept off into evangelicalism, albeit from different perspectives: I saw the narrowness of a succession of fundamentalist churches and fled first to Quakerism, then Earth-based traditions; for her, a fusion of experience and dogma led to an ever-deepening love affair with the political Right.

I see the foreshadowings of today’s polarization of the nation in her writings at that time….her 1977 piece, “While Gentle Art Languishes,” for example. It started off with a line in the sand

“I hate liberals, radicals, leftist activists, activist leftists, and all others of that ilk. While my ideological persuasions are, of course, involved, I have an even more compelling reason for hating them. They and the brand of mischief they are dedicated to fomenting are preventing me from peacefully pursuing my chosen avocation of creative writing. They are like fiendish imps of the perverse creating discord, controversy, confusion, and always a deliberate state of unrest. All of this, as a matter of conscience, demands of a patriotic, conservative American a prompt and impassioned defense of whatever traditionalism is currently being attacked. As a result, it turns out that before the Muse can be indulged, duty always seems to be demanding protesting letters to Senators, Congressmen, editors, TV networks, local politicians and/or bureaucrats, schools, churches – the scenario is repeated continuously. The end result, of course, is that my creative writing is neither created nor written……”

Originally submitted to the Baltimore Sun, it was rejected (which she interpreted as a sign of that paper’s liberal bent and the unlikelihood of her being published there….despite their publishing many of her op-eds and letters to the editor). It went on to be rejected by the National Review, the Foundation for Economic Education, the Boston Globe, and other publications before it was finally retired to her files with “Unpublished” firmly written across its first page…..the only unpublished manuscript I found among her files.

Why point up this one, bitter, early article out of her long and well-respected writing career (albeit minimally paid….when she wanted to retire on disability from her work as an executive assistant, she was forced to prove at length that her writing was a hobby, yielding an occasional windfall of pin money, not in any sense a second income)? One reason, mainly: it puts in specifically personal terms the moral outrage that lay behind her political writing….not to mention the delicacy of the dance we shared over the decades that followed.

How did she, a conservative Republican Catholic, feel about having a daughter who married a Quaker liberal and ultimately made a living writing for businesses, nonprofits and individuals matching my mother’s list of hates,  signing endless petitions to vent her outrage at the actions of a government representing the unholy religious-political marriage my mother seemingly supported?

We never talked about it. We tiptoed around the elephant and donkey in the room. Oh, there were openings – one year she asked me to buy her the latest Ann Coulter book for Christmas while I asked her for Starhawk’s Webs of Power – but neither of us took it any further. Out of love and respect for each other, we bought and gave the requested books without comment, hugged and kissed beside the Christmas tree, and that was the end of it. We asked each other to edit our op-eds, and gave critiques that were grammarian, literary, and studiously neutral.

It wasn’t because our relationship was equally pro forma. Despite all appearances, I believe we both knew that we shared a foundation that went deeper than political demagoguery…that the right-left rift was superficial at worst and that we were in deep alignment at a spirit level, where it really mattered. I gave her Sue Monk Kidd’s The Dance of the Dissident Daughter one year…but when she quizzed me later on my fascination with herbalism (nudging toward an inquiry about spellcasting), I was wary. Eventually we had deep theological conversations in which she sought to understand what I believed and why – but she ultimately admitted that she found it too challenging and retreated into her conservative comfort zone.

That core alignment was never so clear as it became at the end. Nine months after my husband passed, and after years of rigorous cardiac self-care and two bypass surgeries, Mom had a heart attack, falling and hitting her head, causing the beginning of her decline. I’d already begun to pursue my master’s degree at that time, and when Mom was in hospice a year later, I showed her some of the reports I’d written in the program. They began by thanking her for teaching me to value and connect with the natural world and hold it sacred….and went on to lay out the framework underlying my spiritual understanding.

She struggled to follow my reasoning, stopping midway through with a sad smile and saying, “I’m not up to reading this, I’m sorry. But what I clearly see is that you have a vocation. It’s not the one I would have wanted or chosen for you, but it’s clear that you have a vocation.” She stopped and said slowly and with great intensity: “And I want you to follow your vocation.”

That was her blessing, and our last deep conversation. My father was a constant presence when I visited after that, mandating stilted small talk and precluding mother-daughter sharing. She passed peacefully in her sleep, two weeks later.

The hospice called that morning at 6:00 am to let me know; Dad and I came to say goodbye and do the necessities. When I came home afterward, I walked in the door and asked the house – Where’s Mom here? Where is her energy in this house?

As if she were standing behind me in the flesh, I heard her say, “I’m right here with you. I’ll never leave you.” Not as a ghost, stuck on this plane, but as a living ancestor protecting the generations that follow. Feeling her energy, all I sensed was our deep spirit connection – all the conservative Catholic dogma, the hard-right political ideology, had fallen away. She was as I’d always known her to be.

She is one of my guides to this day.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you.

One Perfect Tomato

This year, as I watch the headlines – wildfire here, floods there, a typhoon, hailstorms, drought, vanished sea ice in the Arctic, millions of hectares clearcut in Brazil – I have been witnessing the most extraordinarily gracious and gentle weather in our part of Baltimore. Warm – but not stifling – days, balmy nights, plenty of soaking rain – California weather, I’ve called it.

I spend afternoons on my front porch swing with my computer, watching the catbird and cardinals – and a new bird, looking and acting like an acid-washed starling – working over the suet, and the hummingbirds buzzing around their feeder with their anxious-sounding little chirps, occasionally whirling over to check me out, just a few feet from where I sit. Crickets chirping, the sound of traffic distant on our dead-end street.

This is perfection, I think to myself. The black-eyed Susans and echinacea and phlox overflow their corner of the rain garden; my backyard is a jungle with plaintain and red clover and lemon balm and mugwort spilling over the perimeters and the veggie garden awash in insectary and medicinal herbs among the veg plants.

“Thank you,” I tell the spirit entities of the land. “I love you. Thank you for all you do to keep this land green and healthy.”

Everything is overgrowing its boundaries. The cucumber vines wrap almost all the length of the garden fence and have wandered into the tomatoes and beebalm. I have been madly picking fat yellow cucumbers that expand in diameter, not length, turning green only as they grew overripe. Cucumber soup and felafel, my mother’s cold beet-and-cucumber soup, cucumber salads….I want to share them, try pickling some but these cukes grow too fast! They are on the edge before I realize they are ripe.

I step though the gate, brushing past the borage and the bean vines with their foot-long crimson fruit. Perfunctorily lift aside the squash leaves – these two plants have been blooming like overworked lawyers in love, trying to book a mating time between their male and female blossoms. It’s August and they haven’t hooked up yet, despite my efforts to hand-pollinate. It’s not pollinators that are the problem here – I see plenty of ground bees, moths, butterflies. The problem is timing. I imagine the blossoms immersed in smartphones and planners, watching excretions and temperatures, not looking up until their would-be mates have faded.

At first glance I see nothing – withered stumps where female blossoms died unfertilized. I move on to look for cucumbers…and then notice, almost under my feet, a length of dark-green, smooth – squash!

I feel like a middle-aged mother greeting her in-vitro firstborn. Eyes wide, mouth agape until I realize I’m likely to swallow a mosquito. The baby is about six inches long – big enough for picking, but I’ll wait till tomorrow when the latest batch of cuke soup is gone. This squash may be the only one I harvest; it deserves special treatment.

Gesturing a blessing over its speckled length, I turn to the tomatoes, not expecting to find anything but blossoms and baby fruit. I’ve picked one huge tomato to ripen in the window, after seeing it hang green for weeks in the heat. It was easily four inches in diameter; any others would be easy to spot…

And there is one! One enormous yellow fruit, hiding under the leaves, as big as my palm. It comes off readily in my hands.

I admire them as the sun glances off its skin, setting it glowing. Its heady fragrance rises along with that of the warm basil plants next to me.

And suddenly the beautiful, fragile, glorious, suffering world narrows down to this one moment: a small jungle of a garden producing these rare, glorious fruits in the face of tragedy and disaster around the world. I hold the tomato up to my nose, take a deep breath  of its aroma, reach down to pinch four leaves off the basil plant.

I want to immerse in this tomato and its green companion. I want to taste and absorb the golden sunlight shining in its skin, the earthy-spicy-sweet flavor of its flesh. We go into the kitchen and I wash and slice them, thanking them for their beauty and vitality. Put them in a Sunday-dress-up bowl and take them out to the porch swing.

The sun is bathing the porch with its golden glow. The birds are winging in for their evening feeding. I sit on the swing, watching them, taking one bite after another of perfect golden-green balmy rare, perfect-summer sensual delight into my mouth, savoring it, being nourished by it like a cancer patient savoring a last meal.

I will cherish this property and its green and feathered and winged and four-legged and burrowing beings as long as we share life. And – if this is the last summer of delight – I will savor and share and immerse and give thanks for every blessing this land gives. Until this summer, until I faced the awareness of coming loss, I have never truly savored or given adequate thanks for the fruit of the land I tend, or the beings who support its production.

Taking Refuge

Along with just about everyone else I know, I have been moving through various stages of depression, anxiety, dread, horror, and grief as I witness the travesty of government, the utter destruction of anything remotely resembling democracy, a social safety net, or environmental protections, indicated by Congress and the evolving cabinet of the soon-to-be-inaugurated dictator-wannabe.

But lately something has happened that – while it hasn’t brought me to singing and dancing, it has allowed me to put my feet more firmly on the ground. take a deep breath, and put myself back together.

A couple of weeks ago, an old real-life nightmare returned after I’d thought it gone forever. It brought profound upset, fear, anger, outrage, and a raft of other emotions, all based on pure conjectures built on a chance 15-second encounter on the street. Trauma kicked in and – after digging deep into my own “Defense against the Dark Arts” toolbox and many others’ – I went through massive home purges and clearings, doing shadow-work and practicing Metta meditation and self-Reiki.

I didn’t know what was coming regarding that nightmare, but based on what I knew, it was likely not to be good. Another wise friend had told me “If you project XYZ negative possibilities, you are also responsible for finding the same number of positive possibilities. You simply don’t know why this has happened.” I tried hard, but past experience was getting the better – or worse – of my intentions.

Click to hear Tara Brach’s guided meditation: Taking Refuge in the Beloved

Finally – exhausted by the what-ifs, the possibilities, the projections, and the near-paranoia of this close-t0-home circumstance on top of the drama on the national stage – I stood at my Reiki altar before the images of Tara and Mother Mary, and the words came to my mind, “Take refuge.” And – having run out of other options – I did. Envisioned a field of compassionate love, the arms of the Divine Mother, took a running mental leap and threw myself in.

The peace was immediate, and exquisite. It wasn’t that the genuine and potential horrors of the world – or the potential terrors of my immediate neighborhood – had ceased to be; I became aware that they were not all that existed. That – as Viktor Frankl had discovered in the Nazi concentration camps – the final freedom of one’s mind was still unbroken:

 …everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.. ~~Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

I could choose my focus: fear and paralysis, certainty of helpless victimhood, outrage and striking-back – or I could focus on the human spirit taking large and small acts of compassion and love nearby, across the nation and around the world. I could focus on the goodness, beauty and creativity of Earth Mother and her endless adaptations of evolution. I could focus on the dark, and surrender to despair, or I could focus on the knowledge that there is a deeper balance.

This didn’t mean that I was going to disappear into never-read-the-newspaper/never-look-at-the-news/happy-happy perky never-a-negative-thought denial. It meant I could see the horrors, but deny them their power over me. I could choose my state of mind, I could choose my actions rather than reacting.

As I disengaged the emotional hooks of dread and helplessness, I remembered the words of the young warrior at Standing Rock:  “The police and DAPL are trying to scare us, put us off our balance. Don’t let it disturb you. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? You’d go in spirit to see your relatives. Don’t let them shake your prayers. Stay in prayer, sister.” Take refuge in divine love and compassion.

 

 

 

 

One Heart, One Mind – A Cry and a Flood of Solidarity

At two-twenty one morning, after a week of horrific news from Standing Rock, Washington, Aleppo, ecosystems of the world, I was numbly clicking through Facebook posts so I didn’t have to go to bed, lie there staring at the ceiling, and possibly get waylaid by the despair that had been building in me since….I’m not sure when, probably since the brutal attacks started at Standing Rock.

The Facebook post wrote itself…and touched off a flood of support, empathy, and wisdom: 104 “likes,” 64 comments (some long-extended commencolorful-1320721_1280ts spanning hours or days) and one share…not to mention the personal connections made and deepened off the thread. Six days later, the “likes” and responses continue. I am astounded..at no time have I ever been so raw in my FB sharing; nor have any of my posts touched such a chord. Never have I been gifted with such solidarity, support and wisdom. I am awed, humbled, and deeply grateful for so many soul-connections, unknown until now.

As friends have been posting their own struggles with depression and despair since then, I’ve been tagging them on the post, so they could share in the wealth of solidarity…and finally realized that it would make far more sense to copy the post and comments (with their makers’ permission) here.

Let it stand as a testament to human connection in a time of growing isolation, a demonstration that even when we humans feel most alone, most direly isolated, we are not alone; others are sharing the struggle, suffering with us. We are all truly connected in this world, we all do share in the sufferings and delights of others at profound levels, whether we realize it or not.

I have (for obvious) reasons, posted only a select few of the comments; for each one here, there were many variations on “You’re not alone,” “I hear you,” “I’m struggling too” and “Standing with you,” many punctuated by heart icons. What a blessed festival of love.

___________________________

Phila Hoopes
December 14 at 2:22am ·

 This has to stop. I am lying here on my sofa at 2:20 a.m., clinging to our sharing, our grieving here, each share a bearing-witness, each click a prayer. Dry-eyed, choked silent, feeling the knot of world-pain growing in my chest, in my throat: Aleppo, Standing Rock, Washington, the rainforests, the oceans, the…….all of it. Too much to begin to comprehend, too much to bear…and yet as a human with a heart I cannot shut it down and go to sleep; I cannot stop this vigil of solitary grieving, this silent, ongoing scream of desperate, directionless prayer that does nothing practical (or does it?).

This is the worst time, when the phone is running out of power and bed is beckoning my body, but I cannot think of letting go even this tenuous FB thread of connection to people who together are suffering the connection to the world’s pain and fighting the causes in such wee-hours ways as we can – a petition here, a letter there, a donation somewhere else, prayers and Reiki ongoing – does it make any difference at all? The demons set loose on the world would have us believe it does not – meanwhile trying to keep up the energy to do our own work of service for the world.

This is the time when I wish for a sweatlodge to wring the salt water and pain from pores and eyes while surrounded by others similarly releasing. To hear prayers from others echoing my own. To know that somewhere, somehow, this giveaway of heart makes a butterfly-flap of difference, shifts the balance even the tiniest fraction of a millimeter toward the light.

Comments
Sucely Lucifera Hernandez <3 It does. The Moon bears witness to our pain at the same time as she sheds light on it.

Casey van Bronkhorst You are far from alone. Let the thread of connection act as a very slow recharge cable, linking you back to us all with the faintest and most delicate of energies. You are heard. You are, softly, appreciated. Rest if you can; sleep if you must, but savor the hidden strength of that cable. …Run with us, if you’re too tired to stand. We pace in the earliest hours. We listen, though our ears are too weary to accept silence.Grief is a needle and thread that stitches you back together after a phenomenal loss. Occasionally, as it does its work, it sticks you, catching you off guard. That’s part of its process, though, as each bit of pain is a healing moment but it may help keep your empathic talents in perspective at the moment when you feel like reaching out and grabbing someone’s pain from them.

Cate Raphael  Send out that which you desire and turn it over. It’s so easy to get caught up in all of the drama and the emotion of it, it happens to me too. But then when I go into meditation and be very quiet and focused and send out what it is I wish to see in the world , I remember that it is all happening for a reason. The best thing we can do is to take care of our bodies and our spirits , so that we can raise the energy, raise the vibration in this crazy world filled with turmoil. You cannot control people places or things you can only send out the energy that you want to receive. That is how healing works. If you are unable to physically help then work on raising your own energy so you can help with the healing ! You are draining yourself, and that will not help anyone but it will hurt you.

Karen Starr So many of us are reeling at the state of the world at this moment. And it is hard to know where to focus and how to best be of use. Especially for empaths this is a very hard time indeed. However, I think we need to cultivate a calmness that allows us to move past the grief and outrage to find the wisdom to direct our action. So many beings are depending on us and we have more allies in the natural and spiritual world than we can possibly imagine. Each day, each hour there is only each of us doing our best to relieve some small part of the suffering around us as best we can. Sending you lots of love, Phila.

Christel Libiot   I hear you sister and yes there is so much going on in the world, everywhere, at so many levels.. It seems the hope of “better” is so tenuous. And more than ever we need to show up and stand strong as the peaceful warriors that we are and come together to energize the emerging paradigm of Oneness and Right Relationship with All Our Relations, supporting a new establishment of a World that Works for Everyone. We have the power to do what is necessary. Let’s gather; let’s do it!

Sue A. Phillips  I am there with you too. One day despair, the next day hope. I am working on standing in my loving warrior space – I get there for a little while, then I am overcome with a depth of sadness that has me running scared – retreating into my little one who can ignore reality for a while. I honor all sides of myself along this very difficult road. We must move out of FaceBook to the real world and start standing together- for support, yes, but more for the strength of our warriors standing in all of our collective glory to protect Mother Earth and our sisters and brothers . The hard part for me is how to start the process.

David Alan Tyner  Phila, your witness is heard, your sharing felt, your deep compassion appreciated, yet most significantly your hope is kindled and enfolded. We who are letting ourselves be sensitive to this often overwhelming life, must find some way not to be crushed by its weight and expanse. Thich Nhat Hanh has helped me take Andrew Boyd’s challenge to somehow find a solution and to become it, piece by peace.

The Four Qualities of Love, by Thich Nhat Hanh
CREATIVESYSTEMSTHINKING.WORDPRESS.COM

….”The second aspect of true love is karuna, the intention and capacity to relieve and transform suffering and lighten sorrows. Karuna is usually translated as “compassion,” but that is not exactly correct. “Compassion” is composed of com (“together with”) and passion (“to suffer”). But we do not need to suffer to remove suffering from another person. Doctors, for instance, can relieve their patients’ suffering without experiencing the same disease in themselves. If we suffer too much, we may be crushed and unable to help. Still, until we find a better word, let us use “compassion” to translate karuna.”
http://andrewboyd.com/the-agony-of-being-connected-to…/

….“Oh well, blankets for land is a bargain indeed,
And the blankets were those Uncle Sam had collected
From smallpox-diseased dying soldiers that day.
And the tribes were wiped out and the history books censored”
~ Buffy Sainte-Marie 

…. A close friend just mentioned obliquely who knew of Buffy Sainte-Marie, the lyricist for Donovan’s “Universal Soldier” ? And I burst into tears remembering her as the one who told my near empty younger slate of the story of blankets, that forever changed my life and perception of First People’s struggles, being beyond any misery I could ever imagine. Still trying … many decades later.

Thank you Buffy Sainte-Marie, one of my heroines.
“My country ‘Tis Of Thy People You’re Dying”
VIDEO HERE:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnuV9m7RahA

“Donovan – Universal Soldier”
VIDEO HERE:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A50lVLtSQik

LYRICS HERE
http://www.metrolyrics.com/my-country-tis-of-thy-people-you…

…It’s my honor to share this flame I imbue, as I’ve often been rekindled and know that this spark we share, goes back long past campfires, fighting off the Ice Ages.

… Geese share ‘point’ duty, as that initial sacrifice makes all others’ journey easier, which undermines the nominal leader/follower model with us all being leaders, just waiting for our time

…I talked to one of the creators of this app, and she assured me there are many healing circles that welcome men, although some do not and that’s also needed: 
http://www.findawomenscircle.com/
Find A Woman’s Circle: The Divine Feminine App

Carol Sheppard I understand and share in the mania of love, and worry, and needing to make even a flicker of a difference when all the forces seem to be saying that it is futile, with so many hands reaching toward fleeting connection and community that only faith says might make contact and matter. This is such a dark and difficult time and I pray to the spirits that somehow so much suffering may eased. Hard as it is we must hang on and do the work of loving fiercely and fully, especially when there is no evidence that it makes a difference. It is necessary to be the ones that do so, especially now. Sending you love and blessings ♡♡♡

Kerrith McKechnie I am with you. I think there are countless beings with us. We must be still so we can know our strengths and do what we must do. One tiny step at a time, but it IS a step, and we ARE together.

George Moore I’ve changed my prayer intention from putting an end to all of what is going on to allowing it all to ramp up to the point that finally tips the scale and creates worldwide peaceful resistance and economic revolution. By being peaceful resistors in the faces of militarized corporations, like the Water Protectors are doing, we can affect peaceful change. By not buying anything from the multi billion dollar corporations and buying locally from small businesses that only sell what is produced in your home country we peacefully cut the supply of green blood to the greed ridden billionaires and put them out of business. These actions will change the entire world. This is what I pray for, meditate on, and ask everyone to join me in.

Standing Rock: The Relations Multiply

Just a brief post tonight….and yes, there will be more about my visit to Standing Rock; after the horrific events of 10/27, I am still madly sharing the news I see to inform sympathetic friends.

But this thought: One of the most moving elements of my experience at Oceti Sakowin was the warmth of the welcome and the shared support of the men and women camped there. The elders at the drum circle would speak of the campers as family – “we are all relations here” – and it was common to hear groups addressed as “relatives” or “brothers” or “sisters” with the deepest authenticity.

In the deepest sense, yes, we were all there as members of the earthly tribe of living beings whose most critical and intimate connection is to water – water as sacred, water as life, water as ultimately endangered – and so we as humans (whatever our race, gender, nationality or creed), along with nonhumans of all descriptions, were intimately related. It was a bond of mutual support, respect, caring, and genuine tenderness.

As many times as I had heard the words Mitakuye Oyasin – All My Relations – I had never experienced it so deeply.

Coming home after that profound experience of community – family – was difficult; re-entering my solitary life was difficult. Reading of the events that followed my departure – the overwhelming, brutal force unleashed against the water protectors – has been devastating.  Yes, I’ve been madly sharing article after article; the pain of reading and sharing has in some strange way been…not relieved, but distributed…among other caring hearts who add their prayers and energy to the immeasurable energetic support being sent to Standing Rock, and share the word in turn.

By joining the  innumerable others who have connected to the heart-community of mni wiconi – water as sacred, water as life, water as endangered – in sharing its suffering and power with our circles of friends, and seeing them passionately spreading the felt connection to their circles of friends, we are helping to extend the family of Oceti Sakowin across the continent and the globe.

We are all, truly, related.

14910504_10207499657830224_3903113288269618939_nAnd now the meaning of the water-blessing ceremony begins to sink in: just as the water of life was poured into the sacred vessels, blessed, shared throughout the community, and borne to the river, where it rejoined the earth’s living waters with prayers, we who have visited Oceti Sakowin have become vessels of its message, carrying it in our hearts and sharing it with the world, and returning it to Source in our steadily multiplying prayers of support.

I remember Bea Jackson, the Ojibwe medicine woman who led and taught us the ritual, smiling and saying “It’s all part of the action.”

Indeed it is. Indeed it is.

Standing Rock: A Moral Choice for the Media

To the Editors:

Reading the prevailing mainstream coverage of the horrifying events at Standing Rock on 10/27 and 11/2, as hundreds of police from multiple states massed in military vehicles and riot gear against the unarmed, praying water protectors, I have been simply appalled. While some reporters have represented the full situation (more or less), too many have been one-sided or biased in their coverage, weighting the words of corrupt officials beholden to the oil industry and diminishing the just claims of the people being victimized as they struggle to protect the water resources not only of their tribal lands, but of the nation’s heartland. Even cursory research would have turned up the truth that there is far more to the situation than is being represented.

Here is the backstory too many articles are not mentioning: the Dakota Access pipeline was originally slated to run close to the city of Bismarck, but potential risk to the city’s water sources (!) led the project engineers to re-route the pipeline’s path across the treaty lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. Note the difference here: where water needs of the citizens of Bismarck were consulted, those of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation were not. They were presented with the pipeline plans as a fait accompli, as their treaty rights were blatantly disregarded in yet another disgraceful example of this country’s double-dealing with the sovereign nations within its borders. They have been fighting this pipeline route since 2014; the current direct action resistance is simply the latest tactic.

A common statement is “(protestors) are concerned that if the pipeline ruptures, an oil spill could pollute drinking water.” Again, this gives only part of the picture. The DAPL – which is being constructed by the same company responsible for the recent leak that contaminated the Susquehanna River in Lancaster, PA – would threaten not only the Missouri River (and ultimately the Mississippi) but also the Oglala Aquifer, the nation’s largest source of ancient fresh water, on which not only the Standing Rock Sioux Nation but millions of people, Native and non-Native, depend. According to water protector Debra White Plume, reservation water is mixed from the Missouri River and the Aquifer  – which has already been compromised in places by corporate uranium mining in the Black Hills. If oil seeped with groundwater into the Oglala Aquifer, or contaminated the Missouri River, the effect would be catastrophic – and irreparable.

How likely is the pipe to leak? Take a look at this map of pipeline leaks over 5 years. In North Dakota alone, there have been 292 spills in just two years – only one of which was reported. “”Oil pipelines break, spill, and leak—it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of where and when,” as 13-year-old Standing Rock Sioux Anna Lee Rain YellowHammer said .

More than 200 indigenous nations from the U.S., Canada, Central America, South America, and Australia, have gathered to support the Standing Rock Nation, recognizing that this issue is one of global environmental justice as represented in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – which the U.S. has endorsed.

One reporter mentioned that “earlier this month, the tribe lost an appeal in federal court, paving the way for construction on the $3.8 billion pipeline to continue.” Again, only part of the story, not mentioning that the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior immediately responded to the court’s decision with a joint statement to “cease to authorize construction” on federally controlled land.. Quoting the statement:

“The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws. Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time. The Army will move expeditiously to make this determination, as everyone involved — including the pipeline company and its workers — deserves a clear and timely resolution. In the interim, we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.” (http://www.ecowatch.com/dakota-access-pipeline-decision-2001895297.html )

Meanwhile, the Sheriff of Morton County, supported by Gov. Dalrymple and the mercenary security forces serving DAPL have been ramping up their mistreatment of the water protectors. Their actions qualify as torture under the U.S. Army Field Manual – using attack dogs hoods, strip searches (including repeated strip searches of underage girls); shooting unarmed elders and supporters with rubber bullets and chemical agents at point-blank range; leaving prisoners naked in their cells for prolonged periods, penned in dog cages on cold concrete…and more. Since when was this allowable in the U.S.?

Standing Rock chairman David Archambault has appealed to the United Nations regarding the blatant violation of treaty lands and human rights. In response, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, along with Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Léo Heller; Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, John H. Knox; and Special Rapporteur on cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, have “admonished the U.S. for failing to protect protesters’ rights and failing to properly consult with communities affected by the fossil fuel infrastructure.

Amnesty International has also called for an investigation of Sheriff Kirchmeier’s inhuman tactics and documented humiliations of NoDAPL water protectors.

Both the U.N. and Amnesty International have now sent delegations to observe the treatment being meted out by the so-called law-enforcement forces.

The water protectors are supported also by science, as CommonDreams.org notes: “Close to 100 scientists have signed onto a letter decrying “inadequate environmental and cultural impact assessments” for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), and calling for a halt to construction until such tests have been carried out as requested by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.”

If journalists are going to cover this historic story, I would hope that they would do somewhat better than the current Fox News level of lazy and one-sided coverage skewed to propitiate the same oil corporations being served by the notably corrupt Gov. Dalrymple. The Sioux nations have been waging a peaceful, prayerful resistance for the sake not only of their own water but for that of the nation’s largest aquifer and heartland rivers (see a map of the Mississippi watershed, and the rivers veining the center of the U.S. here, stating time and again “Mni Wiconi” – Water is Life – and “You Cannot Drink Oil.” And for this, self-serving media outlets have been blindly accepting a corrupt government’s portrayal of them as criminals. This is utterly unacceptable. Even a cursory YouTube search will reveal the documented evidence of human rights abuses against prayerful, nonviolent resistance.

This is a watershed issue with implications for the world (as affirmed by the delegations of indigenous nations from Canada, Central and South America, Australia and Norway to Standing Rock): the need of living beings for water is being pitted against the crushing domination of Big Oil, with its devastating impact on ecosystems and the climate. Even insiders in the oil industry are admitting that this situation represents a “political debacle” for Big Oil.

This is a moral issue for the journalists of the world: the facts you choose, the quotes you use, by default support either DAPL’s script – supporting oil extraction and spills, climate change, poisoning of the water of millions, and criminalizing those who resist – or that of the people and ecosystems of the Mississippi watershed, and the global climate. The potential impact of the stories you publish is profound.  On which side of history do you choose to land?

Standing Rock – Setting Stories Aside, Seeking News

There is a time when human-interest stories of strong and gentle people preparing for winter in a remote resistance camp fade before a heart-stopping demonstration of raw communal courage, made in the face of overwhelming militarized force. A demonstration documented only on social media; the most important history of our time is being made far away from the mainstream news cameras.

That’s what happened yesterday. My accustomed middle-class routine was setting in; I’d intended to spend the day blogging about the amazing people I met at Standing Rock. But upon seeing a stark, terse warning in a NoDAPL group’s feed, I spent the day frantically scouring Facebook for the latest news, trying desperately to find out what was happening and get the news to someone – anyone – who could give it the mainstream media coverage it deserves.

Urgent. Tell frontlines on all channels. Confirmed: Around 50 police vehicles on the way to front lines with 5 trailers full of atvs.
Estimates from
30 police suvs
5-6 flare beds full of atvs (5 atvs per trailer)
4-5 unmarked suvs
4-5 Cop cars probably from various jurisdictions
5-6 sand colors humvees/mraps
Get get word to frontlines
Seen 45 miles east of bismarck around 10:45
So total 60 vehicles plus 30 atvs
Plus forensic van

It was another reminder – if reminders were needed – that Oceti Sakowin is not a rainbow social gathering, much as it seemed like one, with people of all races, genders, and creeds present and pitching in harmoniously. The camp is very genuinely a strong and oppressed nation’s last stand in defense of its land and water, its people and ultimately all peoples, human and otherwise, who occupy the watersheds of the continent’s great heartland rivers and Oglala aquifer.

There are still stories to tell about my stay at Oceti Sakowin, but I can’t think of them now. From what I have learned today, on the morning of Sunday, October 23, the water protectors set up a blockade on Rt. 1806 and reclaimed and reconsecrated the land ceded to them in the 1851 Fort Laramie treaty. According to their press statement:

“This frontline camp is located on the final three 3 miles of the proposed pipeline route, before it connects with the drill pad that will take the pipeline beneath the Missouri River. Active construction of the Dakota Access pipeline is 2 miles west of this frontline camp. Oceti Sakowin water protectors continue an on-going pledge to halt active construction as frequently as possible.

Mekasi Camp-Horinek, an Oceti Sakowin camp coordinator states, “Today, the Oceti Sakowin has enacted eminent domain on DAPL lands, claiming 1851 treaty rights. This is unceded land. Highway 1806 as of this point is blockaded. We will be occupying this land and staying here until this pipeline is permanently stopped. We need bodies and we need people who are trained in non-violent direct action. We are still staying non-violent and we are still staying peaceful.”

Joye Braun, Indigenous Environmental Network organizer states, “We have never ceded this land. If DAPL can go through and claim eminent domain on landowners and Native peoples on their own land, then we as sovereign nations can then declare eminent domain on our own aboriginal homeland. We are here to protect the burial sites here. Highway 1806 has become the no surrender line.”

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A signpost by the Cannonball River points to water protectors’ places of origin: more than 200 indigenous nations from the U.S., Canada, Latin America and South America, plus innumerable non-native supporters.

They were met with a massive military force – armored vehicles, tanks, sound cannons – and a pro-DAPL sniper shot a video drone out of the sky to eliminate documentation of the event. Later that evening, Linda Black Elk, tribal coordinator of the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council, told me that the state’s forces “have seriously lost their minds.”

That is as much as I know at this time. I have seen no new news so far today.

There were warnings even before I left that something was in the works. The police patrols on Rt. 1806 past the camp and in the air were increasing in frequency. People coming into camp reported seeing police and military vehicles massing at points alongside the highway. At the communal tables in the dining tent, front-line activists spoke of seeing others arrested, passing time with Amy Goodman (who had stopped briefly at Oceti Sakowin before proceeding to her hearing for alleged rioting while doing her job as a journalist, recording dogs set on unarmed water protectors a month before; the rioting charge was ultimately thrown out in court). The consensus: the Bill of Rights was being shredded, with freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press in tatters. And when would Obama step in?

It was hard leaving the friends I’d made; all of us were aware that anything might happen in the coming days or weeks. The National Guard at the “information stop” on Rt. 1806 waved me through with barely a glance; I learned later that the checkpoint was shut down the next day. Because communications are jammed and mainstream media, by and large, are studiously ignoring the history being made there, getting news of events as they happen is next to impossible.

And so I connect by social media with other Standing Rock supporters across the nation, make prayers, and reach out to all the media folk I know.

May justice and peace prevail. May justice and peace prevail.

 

Standing Rock: A Call to Action – Direct and Subtle

On Saturday, October 15, everyone in the camp met for Pipe ceremony preceding a direct action at the pipeline construction site. This account is based on my memory; no notes were taken. I’ve made every effort to remain faithful to the messages conveyed, but these are paraphrases, not direct quotes.

The call came while the eastern sky was still dark: Wake up, water protectors! Wake up, water warriors! Hoka hey – it’s time to get up! We have been sleeping for more than 500 years. This is the time to stand up and protect our land for coming generations! We are the seventh generation, this is the seventh fire, now is the time for us to stand up at Standing Rock! They want to portray us as savages – it is time to show them that we are protecting the water and land not only for our people but for all people and for all of life. The world is looking at you! It’s time to get up and remember that!”

Lakota Elder Guy Dull Knife of Pine Ridge, SD, was rousing the people for Pipe ceremony at the South Gate, riding through the camp with microphone in hand, his voice resounding in the still, cold air. Wondering how to find the South Gate – perhaps follow the drums that were now echoing some distance away? – I rolled out of my sleeping bag, hastily changed clothes and maneuvered out of my tiny tent with flashlight in hand. Fortunately I encountered one of the women I’d met in the kitchen earlier, and together we followed the rutted dirt roads through the camp – how far? Half a mile? More? – to a fire beside one of the gated driveways opening onto Rt. 1806. Shadowy forms of people circled the fire; several elders were sitting beside it. There was no other sign of activity; the summoning voice was still distant.

This Pipe ceremony for the entire camp was to precede a triple action at the pipeline construction site – that was all I knew. We waited in chilly silence until the voice and sound of drums grew louder, and two trucks approached: Guy Dull Knife as ceremonial leader and his assistants. Sage was sent around to smudge the people as the singers honored the four directions, the Great Mystery, and Mother Earth; Pipe carriers were called to the center to prepare their ceremonial pipes as the canupa-filling song was sung. And as the Pipes were taken around the circle for the hundreds of people, Dull Knife spoke of the sacred intent and protocol of the action that was about to take place.

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Reminders of direct action principles are posted throughout the camp and offered in daily trainings.

This was an action of prayer and love, he reminded the people: we were in ceremony and should act accordingly, with dignity and restraint; the water protectors must stay in prayer. He understood that the young men, seeing the abuses of the police and DAPL mercenaries, could get angry, but this was a place to keep emotions in check, to hold oneself accountable to the people. If a water warrior did get angry and begin to swear and act out, a security person from the people would step in to stop him, and that would reflect badly, that the people were not in unity and prayer. The eyes of the world were on the water protectors, people from all over the world, even movie stars, were coming to stand and be arrested with them.

I could hear a wry smile in Dull Knife’s booming voice: are there any movie stars here? Come and stand with us!

His tone shifted: He knew that there were spies for DAPL and the police and the feds among us. He invited them to come along and see that the water protectors were not savages, but that they were protecting the water that the families and children of the police and DAPL also needed to drink. We cannot drink oil, the water must be protected, the water is life! In fact, he invited them to come and stand with the water protectors, be arrested alongside them!

The Pipes were coming to the completion of the ceremony. As their carriers performed the closing portions of the ritual, Dull Knife began calling out the logistics: move quickly to your cars, buddy up, we leave in five minutes for the sites! People wereimg_20161016_073603908 striding in all directions – which way had we come? Where was my campsite and car? And was I prepared to go and risk being arrested? I made a guess as to the direction from which we’d come and started walking, soul-searching all the way, heart pounding as I thought of the increased militarization of the forces that surely would meet the water protectors.

By the time I found my tent and car, the decision had been made for me; the cars were gone and the camp was relatively quiet. Wondering what I should do now, I made my way up to the central drum circle, and found a cluster of women at the speaker’s tent, preparing for a ceremony. One of them smiled and asked if I would like to take part in a water ceremony by the river. I hesitated – was this a part of the action? The elder woman in ceremonial regalia – Bea Jackson, Ojibwe medicine woman – smiled. “It’s all part of the action,” she said. Her assistant clarified: this was a separate ceremony, to be held away from the front line, at the Cannonball River.

I learned later that Bea’s elders had given her this ceremony to share with the people of Standing Rock and beyond, that it was a blessing for the water, to give it healing properties for the people and all beings. It was based on a three-line chant of love, gratitude and respect for the water, sung as the water was poured into sacred copper vessels and offered to the Mystery and the Earth. Then, as the water-carriers made their way down to the river, chanting, each person they encountered was given a small amount of the healing water to drink,  At the river, each woman would have an opportunity to offer a little of the remaining water to the river with a primg_20161015_092939287ayer, followed by a pinch of tobacco carrying her prayers for the protection of the waters. Every day the water would be blessed and shared with the people and with the river, drawing them ever closer in a sacred bond.

After a few men of the camp helped us up the steep hill from the riverbank, Bea thanked the women who had taken part in the ceremony: if we were interested in learning more, she said, she would offer further teachings in the afternoon, followed by a special women’s ceremony in the evening.

It was the night of the full moon.

 

Standing Rock: Starting the Day in Beauty

In the morning of my first full day at Standing Rock, I awoke to the sunrise and the song of the Four Directions echoing over the img_20161014_080906204camp. Quickly unwrapping myself from the emergency blanket, sleeping-bag liner and mummy bag in which I’d coccooned against the frigid night air, I did my morning preparations and hurried down to the central drum circle for the morning’s ceremonies.

The singer was just turning over the mic to Lyla June Johnston – “the singer who blew us all away yesterday with her beautiful voice and inspiring message,” he said. She came to the center – an internationally recognized performer with a mission to empower Indigenous youth – and…well, a description won’t do this poem justice. I cannot imagine any more powerful expression of the beauty and divinity of life – the life that these people are putting themselves, possibly their lives, on the line to protect.

 

Standing Rock: This is Not a Rehearsal

I knew of the DAPL desecration of ancient graves and brutal attacks on unarmed water protectors; the ramped-up arrests by the Morton County sheriff’s officers; the lies being spread through the local media about the resistance to the pipeline. I knew of the paramilitary equipment that was showing up against the front-line water protectors’ actions. But nothing could have prepared me for the shock of seeing the steady parade of law-enforcement vehicles on Rt. 1806 past the camp, or the surveillance helicopters and planes that circled many times each day. It was clear: this camp was at the border of a conflict zone; a psy-ops campaign was underway to wear the people down.

It is a strange feeling, being a white middle-class woman, a clicktivist, letter-writer, and subtle activist but not a direct-action protestor, walking into such a situation: the adrenaline immediately starts to flow, the nervous system goes on hyper-alert, and the slightest thing can seem to be a danger signal. I was awed at these people, survivors of 500+ years of attempted genocide, who lived day-in, day-out under the strain, strong, watchful, and outwardly cheerful, with a constant thread of ceremony weaving through their life together. walking peacefully to stand in the face of the paramilitary forces that seek to destroy their land, culture, and sacred places.

Still, it didn’t take long to start hearing warnings and rumors. I’d just set up my tent and come down to the central drum circle  to hear Dennis Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement, welcome a busload of middle-school students from Duluth, MN, when a woman hurried up: “Have you heard? They’re saying the governor’s going to call in the National Guard to evict us all, any day now.”  Mark Lesser, the firekeeper who had helped me put up my tent on the first day, pooh-poohed the rumor when I asked him a little later. “That’s been going around the camp for months. This land is off reservation territory,” he told me. “According to treaty, it still belongs to the Standing Rock Nation. However, it’s Army Corps of Engineers land, and yes, any of us could be arrested for camping here. If you want to be safe, you should go and camp at Sacred Stone, that’s private land.”

I chose to stay, but took the lesson: live lightly, set priorities, be ready in case of eviction. Everything except the barest necessities stayed in the car. The phone stayed with me at all times unless it was charging at the solar station at the top of Facebook Hill.

The real wake-up moment came as I was standing at that charging station at the highest point in the camp, hearing the buzz of a DAPL airplane overhead as I talked with NoDAPL activist Deborah Gaudet of New Mexico. Nearby, journalists interviewed Dennis Banks, and security guards rode past on horseback, surveying the camp perimeter. In that charged moment of communication and watchfulness, shortly after I’d learned of the eviction risk, I saw the bright yellow of a front-end loader rolling past the security station and into the camp.

Had it begun already? A black SUV followed the heavy equipment, and I thought of the unmarked black vehicles that had accompanied the police cars on their last pass. What to do? Frantically weighing options, I gave increasingly distracted responses to Deborah, until she made her farewells and moved away. I headed downhill for the security station.

The young guard there – Larry, who had greeted me on my arrival – smiled easily as I approached. No sign of alarm there. Feeling rather foolish, I stammered, “I, er, saw some heavy equipment coming into the camp just now…ummm, is everything OK?”

He glanced down the central avenue, lined with the flags of the nations represented in camp, and nodded. “Oh, that’s just to help with building the yurts for the elders,” he said. “The building materials arrived a while ago and we’re getting ready to level the ground to put them up.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m so glad,” I said. “I’d just heard that the National Guard might be coming to evict us all in the next day or so.”

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Sweatlodges in camp

He frowned. “You’ll hear stories like that all the time. The police and DAPL are trying to scare us, put us off our balance. Don’t let it disturb you. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? You’d go in spirit to see your relatives. Don’t let them shake your prayers. Stay in prayer, sister.” He smiled reassuringly, held out his arms and gave me a big hug; I smiled at him in gratitude.

It was the first of many times I would be reminded of the source of this camp’s heroic strength.