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.
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.