Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Gifts of Deep Winter

I remember as a little girl struggling to create friendships in school, most probably owing to that characteristic disastrous combination of shyness, intelligence, and shabby clothes.  Recess was always painful for me, until the day that I somehow integrated some of the other young girls into a pretend game I’d been playing which involved riding pegasuses into all manner of adventures in a world we created in our imaginations but transposed onto the playground.  I can still remember the amazing feeling in my heart as I saw the game grow and grow all around me, including more girls and then boys and the jungle gym and slides and swings and everything I saw, and there I was, in the throng of it all for once. 

That memory has been coming back a lot to me, these chilly days in Indiana.  It started while watching Jason’s children and nieces and nephews play, who are about that age, and seeing in their games a similar spirit to that bright memory.  Beyond the simple similarity is a sense of yearning that lays beneath many of my thoughts these days – a yearning to create something, and to be a part of something, growing and expanding into deeper and deeper throws of beauty and imagination.

I suppose becoming aware of that yearning is the gift of my isolation from my community here, in this land of snow and ice and unfamiliar faces.  Here, surrounded by snow and strip malls, processed food and abundant time to watch the junkos and cardinals at the bird feeders, I become viscerally aware of both the intense power and transformation of the work that I’ve been doing in the world and also how far we have to go.   Watching the evening news and nighttime drama television shows is an act of despair work: seeing both what is voiced (terrorism, often created by either Muslims, anarchists, or protestors; cops saving the day; diets of powdered chemicals that promise weight loss; endless cute commercials for pharmaceutical drugs) and what is not (like even the suggestion that the terrible flooding in Southern California or the blizzard on the East Coast that has stranded thousands might have a relationship to climate change).  I wonder, what can and must happen to build bridges with those people who seem the furthest from us in their choices and beliefs, and what can and must happen within us to be able to come to the table with openness to their wisdom?

These thoughts bring me back to the yearning, which grows sharper as this year draws closer to its closing.  I feel more ready to let this year pass away than in years previous, more keen in my excitement about what the coming year will bring and the adventure and work on the horizon, less attached to all that didn’t get done and the disappointments.  The faces of those who are on this path with me are clearer, coming up in unbidden memories of the past and wonderful schemes for the future and bringing waves of appreciation and warmth for these kindred spirits – many of whom are not my closest friends or the most likely suspects, but people who sparked something deep and slow-moving in a now forgotten conversations at camps or in the streets that still work me beneath the surface, stirring and shifting my awareness.  I find myself having bouts of sharp and strong commitment to these folks, our shared work and play, our emerging vision.  This sense of commitment feels sharper and stronger than the many pale emotions of the fall, and perhaps even longer – these winter winds have blown away the fine dust of burnout and broken dreams that built up into drifts without my noticing them. 

These are the gifts of deep winter: that our colorful leaves, once so alluring and intoxicating, drop to the ground and get buried in snow, leaving the trunk and branches of our true selves naked, starkly visible against the pale landscape.   That what remains takes on a deeper, stronger, clearer significance in the dreams we dream on long winter nights and the visions that brighten our hearts during the day.  That we reconnect to our passion and commitment, during these cold months that our ancestors struggled to survive. 

A couple of nights ago we witnessed the first full lunar eclipse on the winter solstice in over 400 years.  I felt the Turning that night, felt this turning that has creating a sense of openness and renewal in my heart.  Below is the missive I sent out on Solstice Day:

Dear Witchy Ones (and kindred spirits),

If you have received this email in your inbox, it means that sometime during the turning of this year, you have touched me magically.  This is a "group email" but its not to any particular group -- just people in my heart that I'm thinking about on this Solstice Day.  I wanted to share some of my thoughts right now, about this thing we call the Great Turning and the magic and the power that's flowing.  I wanted to share this love that I'm feeling so strongly tonight with you.

Last night, I went out and spent a beautiful Solstice Eve / Lunar Eclipse Night with my community; it was truly a night of beauty and adventure, which began with a plunge into the freezing cold waters of the Pacific Ocean and ended curled up in the crook of my lover's arm on the floor of the Black Cat House ritual room, with Starhawk chanting and drumming over us, surrounded by many of the teens that I've worked with so intensely this year.  Somehow, in the flow of the night, it came clear to me how much magic has happened over the last year and also how much is unfolding right now in my life.  I don't think I'm alone in that feeling.   Sure, often I allow myself to be jaded and cynical -- I succumb to the trap of being overly analytical, disparaging, uncourageous, too lazy for hope.   But beneath that is an awareness of the shifts in the world that are happening, shifts in power and in consciousness.  Last night, I really allowed myself -- no, dared myself and then committed myself -- to opening to the deep transformation that's happening in this world and in my own heart.  An upwelling of earth wisdom, my friends in Minneapolis call it.  

Joanna Macy, my mentor that I so love to quote (you probably already know that) says that expressing gratitude is a radical act in a world that tells us that we aren't enough and thrives on a philosophy of scarcity.  She also says that being grateful means being present to the beauty of our lives, even during the darkest times.  If that's true, than I must admit that I've been ungrateful at times lately, letting myself get weighed down by thousands of small things that don't really matter that much -- although the overculture likes to tell me that they do.  I probably will go down that road again, sometimes.  But right now, with the final glimmers of this solstice moon in the sky, I'm aware of the bigger picture that my life is a part of and also the web of beautiful work that we're doing together.  I feel very grateful for you in my life, and aware of the beautiful connection that we share.  It's a connection of my heart to your heart, and its also the mystical connection of something that I call the Great Turning because that makes it easier for me to grasp it:  being alive during this precarious age and working for the forces of life of beauty in our own, creative, personal, powerful ways.

I'm also grateful for the ways that you've supported me, both visibly and invisibly.  I'm grateful for the times we've laughed, made music, held each other, dreamed together, kvetched together, smiled at one another in passing.   I'm grateful for knowing you, and for the potential to know you even more deeply during the turning of this next wheel of the year.

The light is returning.  I suspect that at first it may feel hard to believe, that it might seem like all is the same as it was before for awhile, like the nights are just as long.  And then an inkling -- yes, really, it does feel a bit different.  It feels better.  It feels like the days are getting warmer, that the plants are growing bigger around us, the songs of birds are more clear.  

One last thing: during these long winter nights, my dreams have been strong.  In one of those dreams, I was given a new addendum to my magical name.  I feel tremulous about it, uncertain, but I wanted to share it with you all the same.  Let us see if it stays as the wheel turns to spring and summer and fall again.

With love and joy and deep gratefulness,
Riyana Sweetwater Moon 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

"Anarcho-herbalism"? It's like a dream come true...

‎"The development of a new medical system, or the recovery of ancient models, will be another link in our safety net when industrialism fails. It will keep us alive and kicking out windows now in the system's last days when so many people have no access to industrial medicine. And it will reestablish our connection to the real medicine that is the Earth." 

Thoughts On Health and Healing For the Revolution 
by Laurel Luddite 

My medicine chest is a council of bioregions, with representatives gathered together as I make my way around the world west of the Rocky Mountains. The Coptis root was picked out of the churned-up scar left by an excavator, at the retreating edge of the Idaho wilderness. The tiny amount of Pipsissewa leaves came from an ancient grove above the Klamath River just feet away from where the District Ranger sat on a stump talking about his plans to cut it all down. I am drying Nettles from the California creek where salmon die in the silt left after a century of industrial logging.

Every jar holds a story (often a ghost story of dying ecosystems and places gone forever). I am honored to have known the plants in their home places and to have studied their uses as medicine. But for people not lucky enough to roam throughout the wilds, purchased herbal preparations such as tinctures may be the link back to this sort of healing.

Like so much in this consumerist society, it is easy to ignore the connections between a bottle on a shelf in some store and a living, growing plant out in the world somewhere. It can be hard to know if the plant grows a mile away or on another continent. There is much to be said for reconnecting, for educating ourselves about the herbs we use and gathering our own medicine when we can. That's how we will be able to build a whole new system of healing ñ one that can support our movement away from the corporate power structure that medicine has become.

The development of a new medical system, or the recovery of ancient models, will be another link in our safety net when industrialism fails. It will keep us alive and kicking out windows now in the system's last days when so many people have no access to industrial medicine. And it will reestablish our connection to the real medicine that is the Earth.

An alternative to "alternative medicine" The sort of herbal medicine popular these days (presented to us by the media and so-called green capitalists as yet another exciting fad) has brought with it very little thought of a new way of healing. The plants, reduced to capsule form or, worse, to their "active ingredients", are just new tools to work with in the same body-machine that industrial medicine sees people as being. They become no different than pharmaceutical drugs or a scalpel blade: something to pry into the body-machine with and use to mess around with the parts. Except of course much less effective, because the herbs have been taken out of the system of healing in which they have their strength.

When the marketers of herbal products get their hands on a new "miracle cure", it can mean extinction for the plant. This is especially sad when so many living creatures go into useless products or are wasted on conditions that they don't treat. (Has anyone else seen that Echinacea shampoo?) The classic example of this is Goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis, a plant close to extinction in the wild. It has a couple of amazing actions in the human body but has mostly been marketed as a cure for the common cold, which it will do almost nothing to help. By the way, the largest brokers of wild-harvested Goldenseal and many other big-name herbs are multinational pharmaceutical corporations. Given american society's obsession with herbal Viagra, weight loss pills, and stimulants, most of the herbs on the mass market are being sacrificed to these ridiculous causes.

There is an alternative to "alternative medicine". Southwestern herbalist, author, and teacher Michael Moore probably said it best in one of his recent digressions from a lecture: "In this country, the herb business mostly revolves around recently marketed substances with new research, and it comes from them to us. Whereas we're trying to establish as much as possible (in this "lower level" if you will) the fact that we need to create a practice and a model that's impervious to faddism. We're trying to practice in a way that derives from practice rather than from marketing. Not from above to below but from below around. Bioregionalism uber alles. Keep it local. No centralization because centralization kills everything."

So we need another way of looking at our bodies and the plant medicines. Seeing the two as interconnected and in balance is new to industrial culture, but in reality it is the most ancient healing model on earth. We knew it before we were people. Animals know how to use plants to medicate themselves. Their examples surround us, from dogs eating grass to bears digging Osha roots. Probably every human society has had some way of explaining how the body works and how plant medicines work in us.

One thing all herbalists know - dogs and bears included - is that a health problem is best treated before it begins. In more primitive societies where people have the luxury of listening to their own bodies it is easy to spot an imbalance before it turns into an acute disease state. This is where herbs are most effective. They work at this sub-clinical (and therefore invisible to industrial medicine) level of "imbalances" and "deficiency" and "excess".

This old/new healing system is subtle and requires a lot of self-knowledge, or at least self-awareness. It uses intuition as a diagnostic tool. Emotion, spirituality, and environment become medicines. The spirit and environment of the plants we gather affects their healing properties, and our relationship with those plants becomes very important.

Green Herbology 
When we take herbal medicine we are taking in part of the plant's environment. Everything it ate and drank and experienced has formed the medicine you're depending on, so you better make sure it gets all the best. When we are healed by plants, we owe it to them to look out for their kind and the places where they live. Traditional plant-gatherers often have a prayer they recite before they take anything from the wild. I usually say something along the lines of "OK, plant. You heal me and I'll look out for you. I got your back. No one's gonna build over you, or log you, or pick too much while I'm around." So this true herbal healing system has at its heart a deep environmentalism and a commitment to the Earth.

The bioregional concept is important to this model of healing. Plants' actions in our bodies are really quite limited by the chemicals they can produce from sunlight and soil. For every big-name herb on the market cut from the rainforest or dug from the mountains, there is most likely a plant with a similar action growing in your watershed. Some of the best medicines to maintain good health grow in vacant lots and neglected gardens around the world.

Anarcho-herbalism A society of people who are responsible for their own health and able to gather or grow their own medicines is a hard society to rule. These days we are dependent on the power structure of industrial health care - the secret society of the doctors, the white-male-dominated medical schools, the corporate decision makers with their toxic pharmaceuticals and heartless greed and labs full of tortured beings. That dependence is one more thing keeping us tied down to the State and unable to rebel with all our hearts or even envision a world without such oppression. With a new system of healing, based on self-knowledge and herbal wisdom, we will be that much more free.

Offering a real alternative health care system will help to calm some people's fears about returning to an anarchistic, Earth centered way of life. There is a false security in the men with the big machines, ready to put you back together again (if you have enough money). What is ignored is the fact that industrial society causes most of the dis-eases that people fear. Living free on a healing Earth while surrounded by true community and eating real food will prove to be a better medicine than anything you can buy.

What steps can we make now towards creating this new system of medicine? We all need to learn what we can about our own health. This can be through training in one or more of the surviving models of traditional healing and/or through self-observation. How do you feel when you're just starting to get a cold? What kinds of problems come up repeatedly, especially when you're stressed out? If you're a womyn, how long is your cycle and what does the blood look like? Understanding how our bodies act in times of health can help us recognize the very early stages of dis-ease when herbs are the most useful.

People who have some background in healing (in the traditional or industrial systems) can be a great help to those of us just learning. Healers who are working to form this new model, whether collectively or through their individual practices, should keep in mind that commitment to the Earth and a decentralized form are central to truly revolutionary medicine.

In these times of change, everything is being examined and either destroyed, rebuilt, or created from our hearts. Industrialism has affected every aspect of our lives - we are just starting to realize how much has been lost. Medicine is just one part of the machine that we have to take back and re-create into a form that works for the society we will become. Every herb, pill, and procedure should be judged on its sustainability and accessibility to small groups of people. We can start with ourselves, within our communities and circles, but should never stop expanding outwards until industrial medicine rusts in a forgotten grave, a victim of its own imbalances.

(this article was copied from Michael Moore's website. There's a wealth of herbal information there, for those who are interested.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Nourishing the Revolution...

Today, I'm sitting in my kitchen, feeling joy and peace.  I've been back from my summer travels for a little over a week now, and although they were exciting and powerful and deep and everything else you could want from an adventure, I feel so happy to be home.  My garden is in shambles, but I'm working on it to turn it around again.  I'm starting to root down again, into my home and my work that's here in the Bay Area.

Right when I got home, there was a wonderful get-the-bay-area-pagan-folks-revitalized-into-activism barbecue.  The next day, Jason and I got arrested at the SF Stop Big Oil Action outside of the BP offices in San Francisco.  Which you undoubtedly want to hear more about, because folks are always so into the activism part of this blog -- especially the gritty things like arrests and tear gas and whatnot.   Well, you're out of luck.  You're going to have to be satisfied with these two pictures, because that's all you're going to get:

My arrest last week at the BP Action -- doesn't this totally look like some sort of drunken celebrity paparazzi shot?

Jason's arrest shot.  He's a whole head taller than the officers -- I wonder if that's why they get so nervous around him, or is it the broody eyes?

What's really exciting me right now is the herbal infusion that I'm drinking, courtesy of  I am frigging obsessed with this site right now, I can't even tell you.  The wealth of herbal information that's there -- as well as traditional nutrition and just good ol' community vibes -- is astounding.

One of their biggest pushes is to encourage us all to drink a nourishing herbal infusion everyday, which is essentially an ounce or so of a chosen herb (or herbs) steeped in hot water for 8 hours.  Today, I'm sipping my first of what I hope is many: mint, oatstraw, and licorice root.  Although oatstraw is noted for its calming and heart-focused healing powers, and mint good for the digestion, and licorice a deep immune tonic, I didn't choose the infusion for any of those particular qualities -- I chose them to taste good and nourish my spirit.

It feels like its working.  Being home, sipping my tea, looking at my disheveled garden -- I feel very nourished, very alive.

Drink your herbs!


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Magical Children

This is a short video documentary about the program that I'm going to be teaching starting in a couple weeks at a local elementary school in San Francisco.  I'm such a lucky girl and this is such an adorable video.

Magical Arts with Dori Midnight from Dori Midnight on Vimeo.

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Day of Ritual, A Day of Action: TOTB Day 4

As the sun begins to rise, we gather by the ritual fire.  Mateo and his wife, Michelle, who are not originally from this land but were adopted by the native people here and now call it home, have invited us here to this sacred ceremony.  Michelle holds an infant in her arms as Mateo steps around to each of us and smudges us with sage.  In the custom of their teacher, who has passed away, they open the circle with a traditional song and then ask us to bring in spirit in whatever way feels right to us, to pray to whatever gods we pray to, because we are all here doing the work together and we are all in service to the land.  Slowly at first, then with more confidence, we take turns stepping into the center of the circle, drop tobacco that’s dried but still green into the flames, and say a prayer --- although for some of us that’s spoken words, and others its song, and still others its silent.  Lisa offers “Let the Beauty We Love Be What We Do,” which reminds me of my dear friend Jeff Mooney and brings a little pang to my heart, wishing he was here in his body rather than only with his song.  Some people step forward and speak in Spanish, others in native tongues that belong to nations that I don’t know the names of.

The morning was filled with last minute preparations and too soon it we were loading into cars and the bus and driving down to Las Alamos.  On the way we passed Black Mesa, which is a place that I’ve heard much of but never see before.  It’s a sight to behold: layers of orange and red rock rising straight out of the earth, looking for all the world like the hand of some titanness has placed it there.  All around the mesa are plateaus of similarly straight, sunset-colored rocks surrounded by scrubby brush and the occasional wild sunflower.  It’s a place of incredible beauty, and it’s hard to imagine how anyone could decide to build a nuclear lab here because “nothing’s here, anyway.”  Above us, the sky is pure sapphire blue.

We pull up to Ashley Pond, a park that I’ve heard was made by the indentation of a nuclear bomb, although that seems to be at best an unconfirmed rumor.  Again Seeds of Peace arrives with a basket full of food to feed the whole group, and while the puppeteers get their props together the rest of us circle up beneath a huge tree and begin the ceremony.  Juniper grounds us and then an indigenous elder honors the spirits of the land and calls for their blessing upon us, honoring the ancestors of all of our bloodlines at the same time.  Then another elder steps forward and prays for us, followed by a young organizer who calls for us to put our blessings and intentions into the waters that we will bring with us down to the lab and, hopefully, to the CMR building which is an object of quite a bit of tension and dispute. 

CMR stands for Chemical Metalurgy Research, which is the place where they build the plutonium pits that ignite the rest of the bomb (it’s a pit like a peach pit, not a pit like a hole in the ground).  Building plutonium pits goes against the Nuclear Proliferation Act, which the US apparently has signed but not ratified, meaning, it’s a treaty in name only – something that’s pretty obvious considering how much we ignore it.  LANL is currently in the process of expanding the CMR to become the CMRR, which would be the brand new CMR, expanded and pretty and filled with new equipment.  This is all fairly ironic, given Obama’s expressed desire to be on the road to becoming a nuclear-weapon free country, and also given that there’s a lot of money dedicated to this new facility and very little dedication to the dismantlement of our older nuclear weapons which at the very least could be retrofitted into new weapons or, even better, turned into something that will never create another mushroom cloud on this planet.

After our intentions of healing, rejuvenation, and transformation are put into the water, we call in the ancestors – first those that have died of radiation poisoning and nuclear exposure on this continent (like my own father, grandmother, and grandfather), then the veterans of wars who have given their lives either in service or from the effects of depleted uranium weapons, and finally, a woman from Japan steps forward and honors the deaths of those killed 65 years ago today in Hiroshima and all of those who died afterwards from the lingering effects of the bombs (both Hiroshima and Nagasaki).  Juniper tells me that with all of these powerful ancestors with us, we cannot be stopped.  I hope that she’s right.

The puppeteers and dancers come forward to perform for us.  They are quite a colorful array.  Obama is there, twenty-feet tall and four-armed, using his many hands to cover his eyes so he can’t see the bomb-makers, who are poisoning the elements and the land.  A bevy of pregnant mothers – of all genders – give birth to radioactive babies, and fall upon the ground.  Then the elementals return, dancing and singing, and the bomb shifts to become a beautiful healed earth. 

We’re ready to go.  We step off into the street and start our two-mile procession down to the lab, chanting and singing and drumming and dancing.  Juniper, Jim and I drum alongside a young dreddy fellow going absolutely mad on a teeny metal doumbek.  The police quickly arrive, but we have a permit and so there’s really nothing for them to do other than trail alongside us as our escort, which is kinda nice because alone we are only blocking one lane of traffic but with them there we’ve effectively shut down all of the lanes headed towards the lab.  It’s a long walk, and of course about halfway through I realize that I really need to use the loo.  I briefly entertain the notion of stepping behind a barricade to go, but then push it aside and hope that the thing will happen that does happen sometimes where you have to go for so long that your body just gives up on it. 

During our strategy meetings, we weren’t sure if we were going to end up doing the rest of our action in the street in front of the lab or in the parking lot (where we’re allowed to be), as there were many people worried about risking arrest by being in the street.  Once we got there, however, it was obvious that the street was our place to be.  The cops rerouted the honking cars while we did the puppet show in the middle of the intersection and then circled up and began the spiral dance, singing: 

We are sweet water and we are the seed
We are the storm winds that blow away greed
We are the new world we bring to birth
A river rising to reclaim the earth.

Then the living river surged forward – a long cloth dyed blue with woad that has been in Quebec, Miami, and may other Pagan Cluster actions, held up by activists who were willing to risk arrest in order to continue the ceremony directly in front of the CMR.  During our planning, we weren’t sure if it would only be a handful of us -- and yet with the drums and the singing and the puppets swirling forward with us, soon nearly everyone was crossing the line onto the lab property and marching down the road.  The police watched, apprehensive, but doing nothing to stop us.   We continued singing, first the pagan standbys “The River is Flowing” and “Born of Water,” and then moving to “When we go down to the river to pray,” which stayed powerful for quite some time. 

As we walked, it began to rain.  At first it drizzled, but then the clouds opened up and the water began blessing us for real.  Lightning crackled across the sky and thunder boomed, and still our voices and our drums stayed strong.  Before long, we were there – all the way there, at the CMR, and Jason was spreading the holy water in the four directions while we toned.  “We pray for the people who once called this land sacred land, and still do.  We pray for the people who live in this place and drink the waters; we pray for the people who work here.  We pray for all people that there may be peace across all the lands and these weapons will be dismantled, because we don’t need them anymore.”

Lisa, Jason, and others quietly and with dignity sat down in front of the doors to the CMR to pray, and finally – but reluctantly – the police moved into action.  The commander first addressed the crowd, promising to be peaceful and not to harm anyone so that we “might achieve our objectives” as long as we did the same.  It wasn’t a hard promise to make, being the dedicated  nonviolent peace activists that we are.  They filed into a line between us and those who were being arrested, and soon a line of activists was standing in front of them holding the living river banner waving in the rain, surrounded by still more of us singing.  I felt really in my power now, drumming and holding space for this magical work, and my voice was loud and clear in spite of how tired and utterly drenched that I was.  It was time for something different for this work – for something a bit more fierce. 

We are the rising of the moon, we are the shifting of the ground
We are the seed that takes root when we bring the fortress down.
We are the tongue that speaks the truth, we are the dragon on the wind
We are the courage to step forth – we are the change that now begins.

I looked across the line of police and activists as I drummed and saw Lisa crying as we sang to them, being arrested.  I’ve never seen her cry before, and I’m not even sure what had brought tears to her eyes, but there they were.  It was so touching to me, that moment of connection.  Part of me wished that I was on the other side of the police line with her, but there are commitments that require me to be sure that I get on my plane tomorrow afternoon.

It turns out not to really matter, because our friends who were arrested – 8 of them in total – are already being released on their own recognizance.  And although I’m tempted to have some regret about my choice, I feel proud of the work we’ve done today.  We all do.  The whole day was one of magic and power, a manifestation of our passion for peace and healing through ceremony, art, and action. We’re still waiting for a couple of folks to be released, but they’re on their way – and while waiting, we hear that another 30 folks have been arrested at Livermore Labs, and probably still others across the US.  It feels good, it feels totally right, to be part of a movement of people that honors today like this.  I feel proud of all of us.  And I’m betting that if I’m not here in New Mexico this time next year, I’ll be somewhere else, honoring and remembering the beloved dead with my heart, soul, and my feet – in the streets!

The Ancestors Walk With Us (Think Outside the Bomb Day 3)

Hello my dear ones,

Here's yesterday's report from New Mexico.  We had a huge storm last night, knocking out our internet and much of our phone service, so I wasn't able to post.  Right now, I'm sitting in a cafe next to Ashley Pond, where our big march to the Las Alamos Nuclear Lab will start.  We'll have a ceremony at the beginning of the event and invoke the ancestors from here and Hiroshima and all over the world who have been affected by the nuclear-industrial complex, and later will continue the ceremony in an act of civil disobedience as we cross the line onto LANL to spread the waters of the world and pray for healing and rejuvenation.  I hope that you will hold us in your hearts and prayers for the next couple of hours.

Much love,


I don’t like marching on sidewalks.
About sixty of us headed down the road, on the sidewalk, banners waving and drums drumming.  In spite of my itch to not be on the sidewalk (“Off the sidewalk, into the streets!), my heart felt very glad to have made in there in time – my affinity group had been off doing a delegation at the New Mexico Environmental Protection Agency, which we left somewhat frantically to meet up with the rest of our cohort at Cathedral Park in downtown Santa Fe.  As important as meeting with decision makers is in activism, I knew that my place was here – well, maybe not right there on the sidewalk, but here at this march of young people and elders of various communities, percussionists with all manner of noise-makers and artists carrying graffitied signs on cardboard, budding photographers and indymedia writers from around the country. 
We marched straight into the offices of Locheed-Martin and then to the offices of the lawyers that represent the uranium mining industry, filling their tiny waiting rooms with chants and music and calls for justice.  Somewhat feebly, a blonde woman in a pink button-up shirt replied and black slacks tried to remind us that we were on private property and this was a business day for them, talking as if she were speaking to a naughty child.
“We are here on business,” a young latino activist flatly retorted.
“Well, if you’re here on business, the appropriate way to do so is to email us to make an appointment and we’ll schedule a meeting…”
“I think what we’re doing is getting a, how do you say it, a walk-in appointment,” he answered, jovially ignoring her tone.  The woman didn’t reply, rolling her eyes at the man dressed nearly exactly the same beside her (but in blue instead of pink – it was almost like a cartoon), and turned and walked away to go call the police. 
There wasn’t too much more to be said after that, and with more chanting we snaked our mass of color and sound down the staircase.  “Protect our waters, heal our lands – uranium mining is a sham!”
Outside, we passed an open-air tour bus of folks who all eagerly snapped our pictures, and many pedestrian folks, some of who peered at his quizzically while others smiled and waved and put their thumbs up in response.  The drivers, as usual, expressed more displeasure at our presence there than the pedestrians; glaring and cursing, some of them tried to slip past our mass as we crossed the street and cursed at us when they weren’t able to.  Sam, who I recognized from a wonderful dancing-in-the-streets moment in St. Paul two years ago, took on handling traffic control while the rest of us made our way out of downtown and (finally) into the streets that led up to the capitol building.   Other drivers, however, honked and waved cheerily – after all, this is their town, and it is their drinking water affected by radiation pollution.  There’s a lot at stake here for the people of this city.
The security guards at the capitol didn’t quite know what to make of us, as it is a public building and we have every right to go into it.  They settled on disallowing our signs and flags and banners but allowing our persons inside, where we took a reprieve from the hot sun outside.  I quickly threw on an aura of invisibility as I passed the guard with my drum, knowing that not only did I feel uncomfortable leaving it there on the sidewalk, but that it might be pretty fun to have it inside.  It worked: the guard either didn’t notice or didn’t care.
Once inside, some people went off to look at the art exhibit in the center of the building while others refilled their water bottles and used the loo.  Lisa and I met up in the large, round entryway, conferred quickly, and moments later the gorgeous open hall was filled with four stories of voice and drum and snaps and hums.  A fellow with rainbow socks up to his knees, long blonde hair, and an electric green bandana started swirling around the polished marble floor, as graceful as any ballerina.  Then more dancers filed into the center of the hall, taking the space.  Soon everyone was dancing, singing, swirling, and drumming while the security guards looked on with anxious frowns.
Eventually we swirled outside, circled up, and sang again.  “We are the rising of the moon, we are the shifting of the ground; We are the seeds that take root when we bring the fortress down.”  Then, miraculously, there were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from Seeds of Peace, and we clamored back into the bus, which wheezed its way out of Santa Fe and back to the encampment.
Just as we turned the corner back to the land, the thunderstorms rolled in.  I was exhausted from having spent hours marching during the hottest part of the day, but the clouds opening up to release their nourishing waters and the plants and earth opening up to receive that life-giving love was too much for me.  I tossed my drum and pack into my little tent just as the rain began to pour down, went down to the river, and sang and danced to the rain.  I felt so alive, just as the earth must feel in this dry place, and the plants, and the animals that live here, to be a part of this moment – the moment of renewal in a dry, dry land.  I was soaked, but I didn’t care.  My voice felt strong and powerful, my soul felt rejuvenated. 
This is good work we are doing here.
The beautiful, life-giving rains unfortunately also caused a bit of havoc for our encampment, tearing down the large tent that we do our trainings and meetings in, the registration tent, and scattering papers and other debris everywhere.  The next couple of hours after the rains were spent cleaning up and building back up, while others continued working on puppets and costumes for tomorrow’s action and still others worked out the ifs and hows of doing civil disobedience at the lab tomorrow.  Now it’s late at night, and although I know I should be going to bed, I’m feeling too awake for my little tent to seem at all appealing.
Some folks have written to me, asking me to speak more about why I’m here.  It’s a good question, one that I don’t have a clear easy answer for.  Certainly part of it is that one of my dearest mentors, Joanna Macy, has always spoken so eloquently and urgently about the need for us to take on the role of “nuclear guardianship,” protecting the generations of beings that will come for thousands of years after us from the consequences of our actions should we continue to mine and process uranium and plutonium as we are currently doing (and of course, goddess-forbid, should we actually use the bombs we create).  
Another part of it is much more personal, though.  When I was young, my father got mysteriously sick with a very rare disease that attacked his blood and bones from within.  It was a progressive disease that began as one thing, turned into something else, and eventually became leukemia, which killed him.  He was diagnosed and told that he had ten years to live when I was six; he died when I was sixteen and he was forty-six.
My father was the world to me, and his death still remains with me to this day.  I’ve given up “getting over” it, and have come to accept and hold tenderly that part of me that still mourns his death. 
It was a couple of years after my father’s death that a family relative alerted us to a class-action lawsuit that folks who had grown up outside of the Hanford Nuclear Lab were putting together.  The suit argued that the high rate of mysterious cancers and other diseases in that population had been caused by the lab cooling off the nuclear reactors by running waters from the Yakama river over them and then routing those contaminated waters back into the river, which local people then used for drinking and watering their vegetable gardens.  Hanford also is the lab where the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki was created.
It was also only twenty or thirty miles from where my father grew up.  His father also died of leukemia at a young age.
I’m holding not only the memory of my father and grandfather here, but of course the millions affected by that bomb.  I hold also the generations that I will never know, but who will grow up here outside of Los Alamos and Hanford and Chernobyl and will be effected by radiation poisoning and genetic mutation.
Tomorrow, we’ll go right up to the beast itself and stare it directly in the face; we’ll also see the people that work at the lab as people, and hold them with compassion.  Amidst all of my excitement that’s keeping me up so late right now, I’m also feeling a bit of nervousness.  But when I close my eyes, I feel a presence behind me.  I feel them in the rain that falls down, and hear them as whispers behind the voices that speak at the spokescouncil and that sing in the streets.  They are with us, here – all of them.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

TOTB Day Two: Banner Drops and Promises of the Land

I was pretty convinced that I’d missed by chance to do the banner drop by oversleeping my alarm, because I felt too good and the inside of my tent seemed too sunny for 5:30 in the morning.  Luckily, however, when I prodded my starving phone into service, it revealed to me with its last moments of juice that it was 6:20 – late, yes, but not so late that I’d missed my chance completely.  I quickly threw on my sneakers and tore out of the tent, catching up with Lisa and a couple of activists from Boise who were loading themselves into a decrepit but supposedly trustworthy Volvo.  A man with silver hair thrust a bundle of painted sheets, newspaper, duck-tape and rope into my arms, and then we were off.

Our first stop was an overpass on the highway that leads to Los Alamos, an essential target to hit up before the morning commute began.  As we drove down the road, Lisa pointed out various other spots that we might consider for future banner drops and other art actions, which was inspiring but hard for me to focus on, because the only thing that was getting through my foggy brain was threads of excitement about what we were about to do.  Liz, navigating from the passenger seat, had a map with the various sites our scouts had decided were the most important --  she was clearly as excited as the part of me that was awake was feeling, and kept saying cute things like, “Here we go!”  I wanted to be similarly cute and overtly enthusiastic, but had to content myself with quiet, mostly monosyllabic responses.

When we came to our first target spot, Lisa pulled out onto the shoulder and Liz and Derek charged up the side of the embankment to the bridge, leaving Eric and I with the banner down below.  I wasn’t actually been sure that I wanted to do this particular banner drop, because it involved going up a steep embankment covered with brush and rocks and other trippy things, and sometimes I’m not the swiftest or most agile activist in the bunch.  But then there I was, feeling quite happy I’d opted for the close-toed sneakers rather than my usual chacos and not nearly as clumsy or slow as I’d feared, running up the embankement after them carrying the banner.  We unfurled it as trucks and commuters hurled by and then dropped it down, its newspaper and duct tape weights holding it down to drape legibly off of the side of the bridge.   We used tape to secure the rope and make it harder to cut (it’s not a question of if they’ll cut it down, simply when) and, whooping and shouting, careened back down the embankment and to where Lisa was waiting with the ca.  As we drove back to camp (after hitting up a second target, which was a bridge with a suicide fence on it – ooh la la) we spotted a banner that had been hung by a different team, and that felt almost as wonderful as seeing our own whipping in the cool morning breeze.  It was nice to imagine these banners up all over Santa Fe and Los Alamos, brought by little packs of excited young activists crammed clown-like into their getaway cars.

After lunch there was a skill-share about one of my current passions – herbs and herbal medicine.  Originally a local midwife was supposed to come by and do a training with us about the plants of this area, but she wasn’t able to make it, and so instead the 8 or 9 of us that were interested simply gathered in the main tent and took turns sharing what we know about the gifts of the plants.  As is often the case in groups, together, it turned out that we actually knew quite a bit.   This was immediately followed by a street medic training in the same vein, and then it was time for affinity groups to meet.

I felt unsure about my affinity group when I first met them, mostly because our “affinity” seemed to be based only upon the fact that we were folks without an affinity group already, and being used to running with the Pagan Cluster for most of my activist career, I was worried that it would feel disconnected and disparate to work with a group of relative strangers.  I also worried that my “woo-woo” would be off-putting to activist who might not be used to or even want to have a spiritual focus to their work, while at the same time feeling committed to contributing quite a bit of woo-woo in the form of prayer and ritual at this gathering. 

And yet, as these things do often go, the people in my group quickly proved to be exactly the right people for me right now: Emily, who shares the same name as my beloved cat and has the same dark hair; Elias and Elizabeth, both young and quiet and eager to sink their teeth into the work; Seth, whose spare words carry weight when he chooses to offer them; and Jason (not to be confused with my dear one), who feels a strong affinity for water and has a deep desire to work with it energetically in this action.  As the group gelled and it became clear that this was an idea that appealed to quite a few of us, we named ourselves Sweetwater (after the song: “We are sweet water, and we are the seed; we are the storm winds that blow away greed…”) 

That was yesterday.  Today, our desire to work with water ceremonially during the action crystallized, and we came up with a plan to create a ritual that would involve inviting native people to ground and open the space for us, to honor those effected by the nuclear-industrial complex with a time line that invoked them historically and personally, to do a spiral dance to charge waters brought from all over the world, and then to do an act of civil disobedience and cross the line with the waters and bring them to the weapons lab as a prayer for healing and rejuvenation.  Unfortunately, it became clear after the spokescouncil that our elaborate ritual plan didn’t mesh with the plan that the organizers had for a procession and a skit at the gates of the lab.  So, as these things often go, we realized that we were going to need to switch it up and be flexible.  Luckily, we have a whole day to work it out – although tomorrow is our first day of actions out in the streets and also the last day we have to plan Friday’s big action, so whatever planning we do will have to be snappy. 

Three last thoughts: one, that today at dinner Jim Haber, a friend of mine from the Bay, showed up, and it felt really wonderful to have someone that I know from the rest of my life appear here magically, as if he’d heard the prayers at the end of my last post (although I happen to know he’s been planning on coming here for weeks, and I simply didn’t know).  The other thing that happened today is that a man that I’ve never met before in my life, who also happens to be from Boise, gave me one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever had. "I've always wondered what it looks like when you see one of these wise women elders -- what they look like when they're young,” he said.  “Seeing you, I feel like now I know."  

I’m not totally sure that I can live up to such an amazing compliment, but I’m trying it on anyway, trying to connect in with that wise woman self within even as I allow myself to open more and more to the power and intelligence of the youth here, as well as the elders, of course, and the land itself.  Which brings me to my last thought.  Seven years ago, I came through Albequerque on my way to New Orleans on a train.  I had fallen asleep in the barren sands of Arizona and woke up among the dark red clay earth and elegant pale sages and feathery osha plants of New Mexico, and was completely blown away by the beauty before me.  I only had a couple hours to be here, but it marked me.  A part of me whispered, knew in the depths of my self, that I would be back someday -- that I had to come back to this place, because something in me recognized this place from some time beyond my understanding, as if some part of me that was waiting to be awoken. 

Tonight, I made good on that promise.  As evening began to fall, I went down to the river that cuts across the edge of the property in a quicksilver flow and watched the sun go down over the chapparal and the orange layered rock and the trees that rise like miracles out of the dry desert floor, watered by the acequias, which is an ancient irrigation system created by the people that lived here 400 years ago.  I took my drum and my whistle and sang and played to the river, as I imagine people have done here for at least 400 years, but more likely, 4,000 or maybe even 40,000 years.  This land, in spite of the immense poisoning and the incalculateable damage, is magical.  I open deeply to her.  I listen to these winds, the river, the plants, so that I might learn wisdom and relationship.  I open to the understanding that if we can all do this, we will win.  

Nuclear Guardianship

"To call this stuff "waste" is a misnomer, it is hardly an accurate term, because the strange and almost mythic character of the poison fire -- uranium -- and our processing of it has been that at every stage of the fuel cycle, everything that we have employed, every glove, every boot, every truck, every reactor, every facility, every mine, every heap of mill tailings, everything becomes not only contaminated, but contaminating. And governments and industry and scientists themselves don't know what on earth to do with it. They don't know what to do with this stuff, and it is our most enduring legacy. They say they have a final solution to bury it in the ground in deep geological disposal, hiding it out of sight and out of mind, as if the earth were dead, as if the earth were not a living being, shifting with underground waters and seismic activities, as if the containers themselves could outlast a generation, which they cannot! For nothing lasts as long, no container lasts as long as the poison fire itself. And it will leak out and out to contaminate. We know that that is true from our own personal lives. We try to hide something in our personal life, you know that happens, and it contaminates everything. And North of me, up at the Hanford Reservations they talk about clean up. Clean up! And even though Congress through the DOE has allocated millions of dollars for that now, they push around and they move the earth with their trucks and their bulldozers and their scoops. Try asking them where they are going to put it!

This challenge -- it asks of us to evolve a different relationship with uranium, with plutonium, with the poison fire. . . more and more citizens are beholding, seeing, recognizing that this legacy must be guarded responsibly. Ground level storage on sight, and so we know better what to do with it, keep it visible with minimal transportation on sight where it is ecologically feasible. . .

I have been reading reports of five years of meetings between Soviet and American scientists from the Federation of American Scientists about what to do with the separated plutonium. There is a tremendous pressure to use it. . . . It is as if we don't know what to do with this unless we make it serve us, and that is exactly what I am beginning to think, that we cannot ask of the poison fire. If we want to make it serve us, it will kill us, and perhaps the plutonium is saying to us something like this: Look at me, just look at me.  I cannot be your slave, I cannot serve your ambitions and your comforts. You cannot use me to fight each other.  Just look at me and if you look at me, guarding me, keeping me out of the biosphere for the sake of your future generations, then I will become your teacher. And in the act of beholding me and guarding me, you will awaken to your courage and to your faithfulness and to your solidarity with each other."

-- Joanna Macy

excerpted from her address at The World Uranium Hearing, 1992

More about Nuclear Guardianship and Depleted Uranium, here.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Messages of the Desert: Thinking Outside the Bomb Day 1

"The Tradition tells us that we should believe the messages of the desert.  Everything we know was taught to us by the desert."  
-- Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I had no idea last week that I’d be in New Mexico this evening, but the fates decided otherwise.  And so here I am at the Think Outside the Bomb Encampment, on less than four hours of sleep, in a large tent made of tarps and alit by strings of Christmas tree lights and silver branches of lightening creating flashes of purple in the wide black sky, surrounded by activists of every age and persuasion who are living together and aligning heart and soul to do the work of healing this desert and her people. 

One of the most notable things about this group, aside from the general kindness and groundedness present here that sometimes evade activist communities, is the rainbow of skin colors.  There are natives here who’s families have lived near the Los Alamos labs for generations, young Latino water activists from Albuquerque who’s roots stem from Bolivia and Puerto Rico and Mexico, rosy-cheeked blonde dready hippies and silver-haired elders in baseball caps, an African-American fellow sporting a Lakers jersey, children with almond-shaped eyes and olive skin. 

Right now we’re talking about the legal ramifications of being arrested on Friday, which is the 65th anniversary of the day that the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and what I’m learning is that this group is part of a long tradition of contentious protestors at the labs who have been brought here by that strange mix of faith, innocence, disenfranchisement, and grief that marks so many activists and visionaries.  Then we’ll talk about tomorrow’s actions, which include banner drops, conversations with government officials, and postering – the kind of things that will raise awareness of our presence and our mission, and perhaps even raise support, among the community that lives here – many of whom work at the labs.  While their livelihood is dependent on them, their children are being poisoned by uranium in the waters here and their lands are being destroyed by mining.  So, it’s a complicated issue.

I know that I should be listening, but I’m sleepy and it all feels like a dream – both my magical journey here and the magical place that I have found myself in.  It began with Scarecrow, my partner, who told me that our dear friends Lisa and Juniper were working with these people and how inspired and inspiring they are. No, actually that’s not right -- it began last year at the two-week retreat that I did with my mentor, Joanna Macy, who has worked in the anti-nuclear movement for decades.  “We need to make shrines of these nuclear sites, to tend them and care for them as places of great and terrible power,” she says.  “For even if they are closed today their destructive legacy will outlive us far beyond the lives of our grandchildren’s grandchildren.  They must be marked, and we must dedicate our lives to healing and transforming the earth around them – for the half-life of their waste alone is tens of thousands of years.” 

Tens of thousands of years.  Beyond imaging.

Earlier today, Juniper led a workshop on Magical Activism, where she led us through an experience of grounding in the midst of crowds and then connecting in with our spirit allies to hear messages for our work here in Los Alamos.  Since this whole trip has been a blur for me – knowing that I wanted to come here and work and learn from these people, feeling unable to pull it off and slightly unwilling to go without Scarecrow (who had to stay home and work), then having everything synchronistically fall into place as if the whole universe was indeed conspiring to make it happen – in all of that, I hadn’t had much of a chance to meditate on my purpose here and what I can bring to this place.  So I felt incredibly grateful to her for creating a time and space to tune in and listen to the tres, the earth, the downpouring rain. 

In my meditation, I had visions of the role of wisdom and prayer in these issues, both in our organizing and in the work of the lab.  I saw that uranium is a very powerful magical tool, one that we dabble with and tamper with without understanding it and without connecting into the wisdom of our deepest selves and our connection to the earth.  Afterwards, talking to a beautiful mohaked woman who happens to share my name, I learned that the native peoples of this land honored uranium as powerful medicine, and that they feel that using it as a fuel is an aberration of its true purpose.  Hearing her, I felt a kinship with this mysterious element for the first time – for how many of us feel like our true purpose is tampered with and our power co-opted, used as fuel for death and destruction that we know in our heart is wrong?  What could we learn from this powerful medicine, if we were able to start from a place of wisdom and prayer?

My sense of being in a dream is heightened by the extreme majesty of the landscape here – such sky! such sweet air! – and the beauty of the camp itself.  Seeds of Peace is here cooking; there is a healing center and designated sacred spaces and altars and permaculture gardens; an art space for making puppets; even the composting toilets are clean and unsmelly.  

I suppose I should come out of the dreamworld and start paying attention, though, because I do want to get up in the morning for the banner drop.  I’ve always wanted to do a banner drop, I must confess, although I’m afraid of heights.  So, we’ll see how it goes.  Scarecrow, community, everyone – I wish you were here.  Stay open, though – I didn’t think I’d be here until I almost was, and perhaps if you listen and look, you’ll find the way “synchronistically” opening up as well.  I’ll continue to hold it in my heart as a possibility if you do.

Introduction to Disarmament Summer Video

The Pagan Cluster's Very Own Lisa Fithian Talks Nukes and Other Niceties

Monday, August 2, 2010


Well, it’s done. It’s been two years since my arrest at the RNC in St. Paul, and since that time, there hasn’t been a day that it hasn’t come up in some way, whether its seeing a police car pulled over on the side of the road or listening to a story about another protest or dreaming of what I might do with my settlement money (although I tried to avoid doing that too much).

Energetically, it’s been there for two years, the pending court case serving like a little thread tying me to that one day.  Now, I’m noticing how in the timeline of my life it continues to appear as a major shift, a turning point for me – but that string feels gone, even with Jason’s court case still on the horizon.  That will be a part of my life, too.

The settlement hearing itself was powerful and painful and poignant, and possibly some other “P” words that escape me at the moment. 

Jason and I went down to the courthouse in the morning with Ted and Peter, our lawyers.  In the café downstairs, we went over our strategy in about five minutes – basically, it seemed like all we were doing was walking in, talking about money, and leaving.  They were very cursory in their explanation: the Judge Magistrate would walk in between our room and the room that the defense would be in as they attempted to whittle down our settlement demand of $135,000 and we played up our case.  Two of the police officers named in the suit, the lawyer that had deposed us and the partner of the firm representing the city, and the guy from AIG would be there, although the lawyers said we weren’t likely to see them.  I felt strangely disappointed in that, when they told me – how was I supposed to know who we were dealing with and how to deal with them, if I couldn’t see them and feel who they were?  Both of my lawyers and Jason told me it didn’t matter who they were – the whole decision was up to the money guy from AIG, who was basically a soulless number cruncher.  I tried to settle into that reality, as all three of these men have more experience with me in these matters, but I couldn’t.  There was some sort of connection that I needed in order for me to do this, I thought, even if it was simply a face.

As we went upstairs, however, we ran into the two police officers, and suddenly my desire to see anyone on the defense team vanished.  I noticed the first because as he went through the security gate he beeped and flashed a badge to get waived through, and it was clear to me that this was a person who, although wearing a suit, was armed.  He was dark haired and somewhat handsome and roundish, not at all like what I had remembered anyone from my arrest looking like.  Peter pointed out the second officer to me – a slight, sandy-haired man in a checkered shirt that looked too big for him, as if at some point he’d shrunk in the wash.  That, he told me, was a man that we'll call Alan Slate, the officer that grabbed Jason’s backpack and ran me down on horseback.  Looking at the small, nervous looking man, it seemed unbelievable – there was no way that was the same man.  In my head, he was a Viking on a war charger in full battle armor: blonde, massive, ruthless.   The first man I’d seen was a man we'll call Commander Shawn Grazings, who was the squad leader overseeing all of the other officers at Mear’s Park.  I hadn’t met him on that day, though I’d asked repeatedly to see the officer in charge, which was why I didn’t recognize him. 

Seeing the officers sent a shiver of fear through me and a thread of nausea down into my belly.  Of course, as luck or otherwise would have it, Grazings ended up in the same elevator with us.  Jason watched him, seemingly curious and bemused, as he courteously ducked his head and tucked his large frame into the corner of the elevator furthest from us.  My lawyers jovially chatted him up.  I moved behind Jason, the fact that my stomach was threatening to bring forth the quiche I’d so enjoyed at the Mayday café outside of Powderhorn Park that morning outweighing the feminist shame I felt at hiding behind my big strong man.  I couldn’t look at Frazer, although I did note with some appreciation that as we walked through the hall to our separate little rooms, he again courteously ducked his head as he squeezed past us.  There was nothing of the smugness and arrogance I so often associate with cops in his demeanor.

The Judge was a thin, petite woman with pale reddish hair in her 50s.  She immediately took on something of a grandmotherly tone with me as she laid out the flow of the day and her role – which was not, as I’d imagined, as a messenger between the two sides but actually something of a devil’s advocate for both.  She’d come into our room and tell us that the other side was holding firm, that they had a very good case, that there was all of this talk of terrorism and how much people fear that and what will the jury think when they hear the cops talk about finding bags of excrement on other protesters and such?  Then she’d go into their room and say what a sweet, honest young woman I am, how the jury will love me, how my eyes well up and my voice shakes when I talk about the day of the incident.   Then back again.  Over and over she went, walking from one room to the next.  Her intention was clear – to bring about a settlement, without any particular concern as to what that settlement would be or what message it would send.

After hours of this, we remained entrenched and stuck.  At first, the defense wouldn’t even offer a counter-offer of any kind, which is basically the same as saying that their counter offer was zero dollars and zero cents.  That my case, that my experience, wasn’t worth shit.  Ted, who’s a bit of a firecracker, was incensed.

“This is insulting,” he said.  His face was noticeably red. “It’s an insult.  They’re wasting our time.”

The Judge, firm yet kind, shook her head.  “They’re not trying to minimize your experience,” she said, speaking to me instead of him.  “Their just looking at the numbers of how these things have settled out before.  That’s all.  It’s just a numbers game.”

I wanted to point out to her that the very act of number-crunching my experience and sticking the terms “false arrest, unlawful imprisonment” into some database and coming out with a four digit figure was minimizing my experience and insulting.  Instead, I asked to speak alone with my little team and fumed and cursed and cried with them. 

As the day wore on, it became apparent that the four-digits vs. five digits of the figure in my suit was a big deal to AIG, much bigger than the actual money itself.  After all, although some of the numbers being thrown around seem big to people like me and most of the people who read this blog, the total sum of the suit was still miniscule compared to a CEO holiday bonus and the portion of it that would go to me was probably less than they were spending having two lawyers and a corporate mucky-muck sit in a settlement conference all day.  No, the issue was precedent and notoriety.  They simply couldn’t let it be known that some protestor in St. Paul was getting five-figures suing the police who’d defended the republicans and that AIG was paying for it.  They didn’t want it all over the web.  They didn’t want it being used in other cases, just as they were using the small figures from a couple other RNC civil cases in order to haggle me down to nearly nothing. 

I started to hate being there.  All this talk of money, as if we were horse-trading, seemed so far away from the justice and transformation that I dreamed of, in spite of my jadedness.  I hated the guy from AIG, the lawyers, the police, and after awhile even the judge’s kindness began to rankle and feel manipulative.  Even though I’d walked in feeling quite clear that going to trial twice – once for me and once for Jason – was something that I wanted to avoid at all costs, suddenly it seemed like the only thing that made any sense.  At the same time, that thought made me feel even more despondent.

Eventually, the judge suggested that I talk to the police officers, at first in passing and then more overtly.  She really thought that talking about our experiences that day would shift the stuck place we were in – no lawyers, no talking about money, no Jason.  Just them, her, and me. 

My stomach went into uproar again, this time threatening to evacuate the sad little cesar salad that I’d eaten out of a styrofoam box from the courthouse café downstairs.  

“This is an amazing opportunity,” she urged.  “Most people don’t get this chance.  I think you should really hear what they have to say.  And I think it would be powerful for them to hear your side of the story.  It could really bring about some healing and closure.”

I was fraught with indecision, paralyzed.  On the one hand, I absolutely did not want to see, or speak, or help create healing for those men.  On the other hand, for years I’ve wanted to hear their side of the story, wanted to know what was in their minds as they tasered Jason, wondered why they’d done this to us and thought that I’d never know because they would of course lie about it on the stand.  But this wouldn’t be on the stand; none of it would be admitable.  It was simply a conversation.

“I think you have this idea that the cops decided to do this to you because they were out to get you,” the Judge said, which is absolutely untrue. Alright, it’s at least mostly untrue.  Most of the time, I’ve believed that they did it because they were trained by the higher ups to fear us, given false intelligence that lied about us, and used the arsenal of weaponry at their disposal as they were bound to do, given that they had it at their disposal.  There have been other times – such as when I found out that Jason and I were referred to as “public enemy number one and public enemy number two” on Fox News – that I’ve wondered if it was more specific than that. 

“This would give you a chance to see that’s not true,” she said.  “I wouldn’t do this with just any cops.  But you’ll be safe.  I’ll be there. No one’s going to yell at you or say anything bad to you.”

I still wasn’t sure.  She left me alone to talk to Jason about it, and I absolutely fell apart in his arms.  “I don’t want to I don’t want to I don’t want to I don’t want to I don’t want to I don’t want to I don’t want to I don’t want to I don’t want to…” I kept saying over and over again, all the while knowing that I would do it, because it was the right thing to do.  But I had to speak my fear and move it through me first; I had to let out the tears and the trauma that were coming up in sharp relief.  He held me and echoed that it was such an amazing opportunity, and this was such powerful work. 

“But these are people that hurt you,” I said, again and again. 

“You have an amazing opportunity here,” he said, again and again.  I wonder if he knew, too, that it was inevitable that I would do it, that I wouldn’t let a chance go by to have them hear me and see me and perhaps make some difference – even if it brought up all of my old trauma and anger and sadness and fear in one moment, every different iota of emotion rioting and clamoring for attention.  Still, somehow I managed eventually to get up and follow the Judge into her chambers, where she kindly gave me a cup of tea in yet another styrofome container.  Sigh.

What happened in that room, when I finally went, was amazing.  I’m not really sure how specific I can be about what happened, so I will err on the side of caution and say that I felt heard by them, seen by them, and apologized to by them – maybe not in the typical “I’m sorry” kind of liability-admitting way, but in a way that I felt they expressed real sincerity nonetheless.  Perhaps what is most amazing is that we didn’t really have much disagreement about the incident at all, in all of its terror, chaos, regretability, and the knowledge that real mistakes were made.

I listened to them and saw their humanness, both in their attempts to do the right thing now and also in their admissions of fear and confusion.  I felt compassion for them, but not in a way that excused their behavior – simply an understanding and acceptance of that humanness.  And then, when it was all said, I was able to look them in the eyes and tell them that while I understood where they were coming from, I also felt that they had a responsibility for being calm and trained to wield their power in ways that do not harm innocent people – that it is simply unacceptable.  They said nothing.  They nodded.  Their was nothing else to be said about it.

After that, it began to flow.  It didn’t necessarily get too much better for me, as the reality of the situation was that although their was a certain softening and connection made between me and the police, the AIG guy really was as soulless and disinterested as Jason, Ted, and Peter had said he would be.  Perhaps most irritating of all, part of my settlement agreement was me being strong-armed into not publicizing the amount of my settlement far and wide, for fear of creating a flurry of internet gossip.  I hated doing it, but I didn’t feel like I had a choice.  Very reluctantly, I agreed.

What I can say is this: the agreement originally called for a certain amount to be paid to my attorneys and a certain amount to be paid to me, and privately my attorneys and I have agreed to share that money differently, so that’s more in my favor than the official amounts of the settlement (where my attorneys received literally twice as much as I did).  Since leaving Minneapolis, I’ve started to think about how I want to spend the money when it does eventually clear the trust fund and make its way to me.  I know that I will probably be responsible and pay off some debts and perhaps buy a bicycle.  One that has caught my eye is this one.   In fact, if I wanted to, I could probably buy 4 or 5 of them – but do I really need 5 bikes?  I’ve also been thinking about investing in solar energy for  the day in my future that I finally own my own house… the Solar Living Center has full get-ups here that might work out well, and since its such a good thing to do, I've been dreaming of buying one for me and one for Scarecrow's house back in Indiana.  I’ve even thought of indulging my lifelong fantasy of owning a pony, and I noticed this one for sale.  Perhaps he’ll be in my future.  Who could say?  Not I.  ;-)

Could this pony be in my future?  He's a bit small, but he's totally cute.

These weird denizens live just outside the Minneapolis Federal Courthouse, where the settlement conference happened.  Even in my darkest hour, I could not but help be cheered by the entire village of these creatures doing all manners of things on the grassy knolls surrounding the building.  I loved them.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Is this the Sound of Settling?

I come to you from a plane headed to Minneapolis, the town that changed my life.

I suppose quite a few towns have changed my life: Los Angeles, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Copenhagen, and of course, San Francisco.  But Minneapolis is special, in a way that's both saddening and amazing.  I guess, in 60s counter-culture terms, I was radicalized by my experiences there: I went from lukewarm earth-loving ikea shopper to a person much more serious, more fierce, and less starry-eyed.  I suppose in some ways, I became hardened.  In other ways, I was cracked open, my more vulnerable parts exposed.  I don't know how I feel about it, necessarily: talking to my brother the other day, who identifies as Centralist-Democrat, I realized that even his analytical, pragmatic approach to current affairs is more optimistic than my own beliefs -- me, who was so often in the past called "unrealistic" and "idealistic."  Parts of my heart and psyche seem to wither when I think about the world, the people, the hope for the future.  The forces of death and exploitation feel too powerful and unyielding, and I can be sent into a whirlwind of apathetic despair from an experience as simple and unassuming as watching the woman two rows over from me board the plane carrying nothing to occupy her for four hours other than her handbag and an issue of Marie Claire.  

(Alright, now that I've gone into all of that, I will confess that in recent days, there has been some breast tenderness and other signs of cyclical hormonal fluctuations that may indicate that all of this delving into apathetic despair is not only about my feelings about current affairs.  'Nuff said).

Anyway, back to Minneapolis -- or really, St. Paul, where Jason and I were attacked and arrested nearly two years ago.  The lawyers have lawyered, the judge has done some preliminary judging, and it's time to make a choice: settle or go to trial.  To be clear, the criminal charges against the two of us were dropped or never filed, respectively, and this is our civil suit.  Police brutality has as of late oft been topic of conversation in my community: in Oakland, near where I live, an officer who shot a unarmed man in the back was recently convicted of a mere "involuntary manslaughter charge," and less than two weeks later, another man was shot and killed by police in the exact same neighborhood.   Tomorrow, at the settlement conference, I'll engage in my own little process of justice and injustice around police brutality, and it weighs heavily with me.

On the one hand, I do not want to go to trial.  Period.  I don't want to do it.  I don't want to be questioned, perhaps even blasted, by the defense's lawyers who (ironically enough) are being paid for by none other than AIG, the notorious powerhouse of money, corruption, and immorality.  I don't want to have my character attacked.  I don't want to listen to the cops lie about that day -- which they will.  I don't want to cry in front of them -- which I will.  I guess the truth is that I'm not as hardened as all that stuff at the beginning of this post suggests.  And, by goddess, I don't want to watch any more slow-motion footage of Jason being tazered.

On the other hand is the issue of justice.  One of my mentors wrote to me the other day and said, "It’s important not just for you and Jason, and for justice, but as a deterrent to keep them from doing that same thing to others."  There's a part of me that believes that, that feels like there's something about integrity and justice to go through the entire process and not let them have one iota of "settling" or "compromise."   Yet there are other parts of me that believe that it doesn't really matter, that in light of the fact that when they murdered Oscar Grant in the Oakland Bart Station and had nothing more than a slap on the wrist happen, some payout and a small article on page two of the paper isn't going to make much of a difference.  Focusing the lens even smaller, the issue becomes whether or not the trial might affect and raise the awareness of the officers involved in the actual incident (rather than the institution as a whole) -- but I've seen too many smug smiles on the faces of police officers, too many arrogant swaggers, heard too many condescending speeches, to have much hope of that.  Widening out, the fact that any payout that comes will be paid out of the coffers of a corporate supergiant (that was bailed out by a government invested in two wars around the world) that has a penchant for parties and spa-dates that cost more than my suit is likely to garner in even the most abundant of possible outcomes does not inspire me to believe that it means much in the larger fight against the powers-that-be.  

Which brings me down, I suppose, to the question of my own personal gains or losses.  This lawsuit has been long and arduous -- the endless discovery stage, the depositions, the faxing, the phone calls, everything.  I've already invested a lot of time and lifeforce energy into it, and I'm not simply going to roll over and accept whatever Arrogance, Ineptitude, & Greed decides to parcel out to me.  There is an opportunity here to divert some tiny amount of their power (aka resources) into something good -- an intentional communal living situation with Jason, perhaps, or a baby, or a my business as a budding herbalist.  But how much more energy do I want to pour into that possibility?  And how much more energy will be required before its all done, first with my suit, and then later, with Jason's?

Alright, that's enough from me for now.  Funny, now that I've gotten some of these thoughts out, none of which were really uplifting, I feel a bit better.  Perhaps somewhat more clear.  Well, wish me luck tomorrow, blogosphere!  I'll let you know how it goes.