Bury My Heart at Standing Rock

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images from North Country Public Radio

When I heard the news, I cried.

After a year of peaceful protest, millions of supporters, veterans providing protection, celebrities raising awarenes, and Native Tribes from all over the world joining together to fight for clean water, the oil company won. The North Dakota Access Pipeline is being built as I write this and there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it.

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Image from Democracy Now

Does money always win?

When I saw the police rolling in on miliatary style troop carriers to surround the Oceti Sakowin camp, complete with riot gear and assault rifles, I cried. How many times in our history have Native People faced this exact situation?

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Image from Voice of America

All the People wanted was clean water. That’s it. They didn’t want to annex the land back to the reservation or build a casino or anything more than a guarantee that they and their grandchildren would have clean water to drink. Clean water. One of the basic requirements of survival.

And now there’s no guarantee they’ll have clean water next year.

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Image from Native News Online

I feel powerless, angry and sad. I sent money to help the Water Protectors buy supplies for winter and then more money to hire lawyers. Thousands of people did the same. But none of us have enough power or wealth to fight oil companies and protect clean water.

Then I saw this: https://twitter.com/the_orangeidiot/status/834590610644402177  This the final message from Raymond Kingfisher, leader of the Cheyenne People and of Oceti Sacowin Camp. With tears in his eyes and a voice filled with emotion, he led the final prayers and thanked everyone for their support. He also promised that the fight wasn’t over.

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Image from WhiteWolfPack.com

This powerful video recorded on the last day of the protest shook me. If these people can walk away peacefully and proclaim the battle isn’t over, then so can I. If they can face that stark grief but still have hope, then so can I.

I will fight for people with disabilities, for equality, for compassion, for freedom of the press and of speech. I will fight for healthcare and education. And yes, for clean water.

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Image from CNN

I will fight for the welfare of future generations, just as the tribes at Standing Rock did.

Here is another powerful report from the last days of  Oceti Sacowin Camp from Intercept, by Jihan Hafiz: https://theintercept.com/2017/02/25/video-a-closing-prayer-for-standing-rocks-oceti-sakowin/

And here is how you can help the battle:https://medium.com/@ShaunKing/please-support-these-5-standing-rock-legal-defense-funds-to-stop-the-dakota-access-pipeline-754be4674ec2#.b6nzwtxnh  (thank you Shaun King for putting this list together)

How it felt to be at The Women’s March on Washington

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I’ve been trying to write something profound about how it felt to be at the Women’s March on Washington on January 21st but the best I can come up with is…

Wow….

Seriously, if the word “wow” means mind blowing and life altering.

I met my friend Jennifer, another mom of a daughter with a serious medical condition, in New Jersey. She and I then travelled by charter bus sponsored by the Unitarian Church to Washington DC. The first time I said “wow” was at a rest stop in Delaware. There were hundreds of busses packed with thousands of excited women. We were all going to Washington DC that cold, foggy morning. The weather wouldn’t keep us home.

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In Washington, the bus crept into the stadium parking lot. After parking, we joined the long line of women, men and some children in pink pussy hats, carrying signs and talking excitedly. The security person shouted that the Metro was overwhelmed, but if we wanted to catch a ride, turn left and wait about an hour. “Or walk two miles that way.” Jennifer and I chose to walk. Thousands of us walked, filling the sidewalks and roads with cheerful protest songs. The march had begun and we weren’t at the event yet.

 

When we reached the Capitol building we stood on the steps and looked across the Capitol Mall, stunned by the hundreds of thousands of people we saw. It was a milling sea of pink capped people. Slowly we walked into the crowd, unsure of what we’d find. There were so many angry, frustrated, mobilized people, but instead of rioting or breaking windows, people were holding signs, singing songs, and talking to each other. A woman stood on the edge of the reflection pool, holding up a sign and described her sign as if she was Donald Trump. “My sign is soo huuuuuge.” “This the greatest sign of all time. I promise. It’s great.” “This sign will make America great again.” Everyone laughed and cheered.

img_4682We We pushed on, trying to reach the main stage where the speakers were, determined to catch a glimpse of Angela Davis. As we got closer to 3rd and Independence, people stopped moving and we were surrounded, shoulder to shoulder, pressed forward and then back by the waves of the crowd. No more room at the stage area. The larger than expected crowd of women had maxed designated space and spilled out into the surrounding roads.

Managing to turn around, we struggled like eels fighting up stream and made it to the line for the porta-potties. Might as well stand in line for 30 minutes; by the time it’s our turn to pee we’ll need to go. People chatted and laughed at signs or discussed politics. Occasionally a cheer would rise from the stage area and then spread outward to our line, passing by in a wave of sound. A famous person would walk through a cordoned off security passage. We caught a glimpse of Drew Kerry’s neck. More cheers passed through and onward and we wondered who was speaking.

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After using the porta-potties, Jennifer and I decided to try and work around the edge of the crowd to where the march was to officially start. Only problem: there was no edge to the crowd! We thought we found it but instead of widening, the pathway narrowed and we were squeezed with a thousand others onto a sidewalk between cement barriers. The crowd stopped. No where to go. We had to wait for the crowd to move as one before we could escape. But rather than feeling anxious, I was calm. The crowd stayed calm. People were impatient, but not enough people became agitated to cause any problems. One woman and her friends forced their way through the crowd with a force so strong she spun me, which then spun Jennifer and then the woman behind us, as if we were all attached to cogs!  Instead of getting mad, we three laughed. I glanced to the other side and realized I was pressed against a movie star. She and I chatted, but I didn’t  break her cover. On this day, we were all just women.

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At last the crowd was allowed to move and the march began! Jennifer and I unfolded our banner, a pink blanket with “Respect Young Women with Disabilities” embossed on it, as well as the names of young women we were representing. My daughter’s name was next to Jennifer’s daughter’s name, and next to those names were the names of daughters of friends. So many young women who are under threat by the Trump presidency. We walked in the street and chanted with others. We stood beside a teacher in front of the Department of Education Building and held up a sign that said, “Protect Our Schools.” Three teachers fighting for education. I’m sure there were thousands of teachers there that day.

The march lasted two blocks. As the marchers rounded a corner we crashed into another crowd of people being pushed back from the stage area. Jennifer and I realized we had to get back to the other side of the crowd so we could catch our shuttle bus on time, but how? We dove in and wiggled up stream again, but were tossed back over and over by the force of people. Finally we found a way through by squeezing behind food trucks and stepping over boxes. It took 45 minutes to travel one block. We were exhausted and still had to walk two miles to the bus parking lot.

Sitting on a curb to rest, we watched four young women take turns snapping pictures of each other. Jennifer got up and asked if they wanted a group photo. The women smiled and said thank you, then posed with their signs pronouncing, “Black Lives Matter.” I wasn’t tired any more. Their excitement and energy filled me with joy. These young women were probably in their early twenties and were thrilled to be a part of history. They believed down to their bones change could happen. My 50 year old jaded self wanted to cry, because in that moment, I knew how they felt.

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We rested again in Lincoln park after walking a mile and watched thousands of protestors walk by, heading back to their shuttle bus just as we were. Everyone was so happy. Tired, but inspired! The police were still smiling at the end of a long day and I realized they had been kind and respectful all day. I never felt threatened. The locals watched us walk by their homes and waved and cheered, as thrilled by our protest as we were.

On the bus, everyone slept, worn out from such an epic day. I now know what that word means too. Epic. A part of history. Something that has changed me. Reframed my way of looking at the world. And all I can say is…

Wow.

My ancestors owned slaves?

Be careful when you research your family, you might not like what you find.

I guess that’s what freaked out Ben Affleck so much.

My uncle has been researching our family for 20 years, and has traced our ancestors back to the 1600’s in the United States; we were here before the country was. We fought in the Revolutionary War (I wonder if the Daughter’s of the Revolution would let me in?), built cities and “tamed the west” (killing many natives along the way). We’re mainly Scotch-Irish with a lot of German thrown in I discovered. And my grandmother’s family were genteel plantation owning Southerners who owned slaves.

Slaves? My ancestors bought and sold black people?

I suppose it’s not all that surprising seeing as my ancestors have been here for 350 years. But I’d lived under the illusion that my family were all abolitionists. Many were. I have ancestors who fought on both sides of the Civil War. But seeing the documentation stating how many slaves a particular ancestor owned when he died makes me shudder.

When I lived in San Francisco there was a hair salon near my house that was owned by a black woman with the same last name as my grandmother. “I wonder if we’re related?”, I thought. Today, I wonder if my ancestors had owned hers.

Slavery. We see the effects of it all around in the high proportion of poverty in people of color and the institutional racism that impacts everyone’s daily life. To be black in this country is to be judged. What is it like to live with the weight of that, day in and day out?

My ancestors were slave owners. Rather than turning away from that fact, I acknowledge it. I recognize it as a part of my history. Am I guilty about it? I’m not sure. Should I be? I myself have never owned slaves, but again I think about the black woman who owns the salon with the same name as my grandmother. If we go back six generations, what will we find?

If you’re an American with ancestors who’ve been here more than 200 years, there is plenty of blood in your family closet.

Thank you, and Happy Birthday Dr. King

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was alive when I was born. The following year, he was murdered. Despite the attempt to silence him, I grew up listening to his words and reading his story. His message resonated deeply within me.  But why had this black man affected the life of a little white girl growing up in California?

Because I am white, there is no way I can fully comprehend the power of his message. But his words about unity, freedom, and love are for everyone, black and white, male or female. I am awed by his willingness to stand up for the rights of black people in a world that hated him for being black. He was a man with a family and I’m sure he was scared most of the time. But he couldn’t stay silent. His strength is why a gun couldn’t stop  him.

My parents were hippies in the 1970’s so I was lucky enough to learn about Dr. King and Vietnam and integration at the dinner table. I knew who The Black Panthers were and I could find Saigon on a map. But no one impressed me more than Dr. Martin Luther King.

Today, I continue to educate myself about freedom and equality in my country. As a white woman, I can never understand how it feels to be black in this country. I try not to speak for the black community. Dr. King’s message of equality should inspire us all to do better. Recognize racism wherever it is and fight to end it. Don’t turn your back on injustice.

Dr. King would be marching in the streets for justice today. He would also be preaching about love and forgiveness. America can not exist with an “us vs them” mentality. We must work together.

A bullet killed the man in 1968. Don’t let apathy kill the message.