Transport of “Bakken” Crude Oil Threatens Native Way of Life

However the particularly flammable “bakken” crude oil is mined or transported across native lands, in North Dakota or in the Pacific Northwest, it threatens native lands and ways of life.

The Westway terminal expansion proposal to transport bakken crude by ship threatens tribal fishing and hunting in Grays Harbor and on the Chehalis River and its tributaries. It also threatens lands with accidents all along its rail and pipeline transport routes from sacred native lands in North Dakota. Bakken crude was involved in the recent rail fire in Mosier, Oregon, in which water from the Columbia River had to be pumped at the rate of 1500 gallons per minute onto flaming rail cars for ten hours before they were cooled down enough to accept fire suppressant foam without simply evaporating it.

Three years ago the Quinault Indian Nation filed an airtight expert report that should have stopped expansion of the Westway Terminal in its tracks, but the Washington State Ecology Department recently came out with an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) with some shaky mitigation ideas.  One of them is that the City of Aberdeen might build new roads several years in the future to mitigate the problem with traffic delays of up to 77 minutes caused by oil train passage– during which time the report acknowledges no traffic movement will be possible, since there are no alternative routes.  That is, if an accident like that in Mosier  occurs in this area, there would be nowhere for residents or local traffic to go to evacuate.

The EIS also relies on limited geographical analysis.  The oil tankers loaded in the expanded terminal would be going to sea through Grays Harbor– not incidentally, periodically crossing Quinault tribal fishing lanes as well as salmon runs. But the EIS neglected federal ocean law standards, an oversight against which Earthjustice and the Quinault Nation recently filed suit before the Washington Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear their case. 

In the post below on our responsibility to “remember to remember” in this Thanksgiving month are many examples in which native peoples of Western Washington taught pioneers how to live on this land.  It seems they are doing it again:  working to protect the environment upon which we all rely. The Warm Springs and Yakama and Chehalis have also weighed in against the Westway expansion– their statements are included in the EIS above.  Tragically, the Quinault themselves are facing a direct assault from the climate change that would be exaggerated by the burning of the millions of gallons of bakkan crude transported by rail into the Westway terminal to be shipped overseas.  Their home village, Taholah, needs to be moved inland to avoid being washed away by rising seas due to climate change.

You can write the City of Hoquiam protesting the permitting of the Westway terminal expansion, as well as weighing in on behalf of those fighting the pipeline in North Dakota.  And when you sign this petition be sure to emphasize that simply finding another route for the pipeline is not acceptable.  It should be stopped.

Earth Day 2015: Creating Safe Spaces for Natural Life

P1040963 prepaering for flight

Essays and photos copyright by Madronna Holden

Not so very long ago in earth time, all places were sanctuaries in which individual lives and their kin tried out their relationships with one another–creating the wondrous diversity of natural life on earth.

Today we have protected wilderness areas from ourselves to provide such safe–and all too rare– places for life to play itself out.

In parallel with our own wilderness areas, the ancient peoples of many lands understood that certain places should belong to themselves rather than to humans–and thus they refrained from trespassing on particular powerful places.  In such places the land remembers itself without human presence.

These are places where the land is able to think for itself.

By contrast, most places on the land keep a memory of human presence. The early Euroamerican explorers who wrote about the abundance of the salmon here, for instance, were in fact describing the several thousand year old land-memory of the salmon-human partnership.


Those who praised prairies overflowing with the blue-flowered camas were describing the land’s memory of the careful hands of the indigenous women who dug those bulbs to feed their people– and spread them at the same time.

Sadly if an explorer from another world ventured into industrial society today, there would not be so many lovely memories of humans for the land to tell.

Like many of my friends and my students, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the sheer insanity of those whose actions clearly undercut the survival of so many lives on earth. Those bent on profit for its own sake are like the man in ancient tales who saws off the limb he is sitting on. If we allow them to continue on in this way,  creating toxins and using up limited natural resources we need for survival, we will hit the wall when all there is left of us is the land’s memory– and what it has to overcome to re-establish itself as a sanctuary of life once more.

But the human story is more complicated than that as the land’s memory of us attests.

march 2013 006

In Eugene, we have managed to preserve invaluable wetlands and stream corridors in private-public partnerships.

My own neighborhood organization fought long and hard– over two decades– to make a park of the headwaters of the Amazon creek that flows through Eugene.   Within the city limits, we may walk in second growth forest, where the lungs of the earth are by turn breathing out and taking in the carbon that has disrupted the tender blanket of atmosphere nurturing human life in the last 10,000 years.

Here the land’s memory exists in the native species in the forest– and the human part of that both in that we have made this place safe for such natural life and in the old growth stumps telling how we cut all the old trees.  Now in the future, the land will be able to remember we gave it the freedom to express life as it can be here.

On these blooming spring days, the trails here are full of people of all ages.  Yesterday I was part of a bottleneck of five people trying to pass one another on that trail.  A young woman laughed at our bumbling crowd, and the insinuation that there might be too many of us, saying “We are all just loving this trail.”

This is one small place that can now hold for us the ancient library of natural knowledge we have barely begun to access in our own short time on earth as humans.  Further down the trail, I met two young men stopped to listen to a particular bird call. One spoke authoritatively to his friend about the places on the trail he had previously heard that call.

These are such simple things: Things I dream of in a future in which young men and women can feel the joy and attend to the knowledge of places where life is safe to be itself.  And they can join in this feeling of safety rather than a world scarred by climate change and toxins and extinctions.

This is not nature we have “saved”, this is the refuge we all need.

P1050367aOn this Earth Day 2015, we might well honor this need in ourselves for such sanctuaries of life. The ethical standard of “going on the side of life” becomes our own when we work to make any place safe for nature’s lives.

Imagine a bumblebee happily coming upon an evergreen huckleberry with its hundreds of blooms- or going dizzily, along with the butterflies and other bees, among the eclectic meadow flowers in your yard.


In making a place for native species, we are honoring the land’s ancient memories and wisdom of the way natural life has come together over time.

In the wake of the 50,000 bumblebees dead from a pesticide application in a Wilsonville, Oregon parking lot, imagine being able to whisper to the bees who visit our yards, “You are safe. There are no poisons here.”

Imagine such corridors of safety everywhere,  along which more than human lives might migrate– and human children walk into their own future.  In which, as one of my neighbors phrased it, the plants grow in abundance, “happy to be here” along with other natural lives, including ourselves,


In which we have the patience and humility to let nature design our fields and our yards, our gardens and our farms.  If we did that in California as a group of local women did in Bangladesh, we would not be hitting the wall with industrial farming’s overuse of water in the face of the current drought.  In Bangladesh, ecological farming methods recharged the water tables rather than drawing them down with the need to support plant varieties reliant on vast amounts of water and chemical fertilizers.

It is nature that designs all the places where life is happy to be– which is turn makes us happy to be here too. I am thinking of the story of an African-American woman who made a garden from a garbage-strewn vacant lot in New York City–and welcomed the young men of her community to share with her and to help her, thus planting seeds of heart as well as plants in their lives.

No matter what our personal spaces, we all have a natural place we can make into an essential place of refuge for life:  our own bodies.  Nature has designed those as well.

This Earth Day, we can listen to the wisdom that our bodies carry for us– no matter what our age or shape or personal history of accident or disease. And work to make our bodies and those of others safe.

We have uncounted challenges ahead as a species. But this is where our hope lies: as we make a safe place for life, life nourishes us in turn.

And thus we can each go on the side of life in our own way– accepting the wonder we are meant for.


Fighting the Instincts of Self-Destruction


By Madronna Holden

A good culture fights the instincts of self-destruction.”

—-Chinua Achebe

Lessons from an indigenous society

Among particular US Plains Indians, the traditional position of chief was based strictly on service rather than privilege. If other tribal members were hungry, it was the chief’s duty to feed them before he fed himself or his family. The chief’s teepee served as refuge for those embroiled in conflicts—and should those conflicts come to battle, his body was the first on the battle line.

The service required of the chief was so arduous that this position sometimes went vacant.

There are lessons in the undercutting of privilege in enduring human cultures like those above. I like to imagine the homes of our wealthy filled with those they are obligated to feed—a society in which wealth creates a duty to care for others rather setting privilege in the hands of a few.

And certainly contemporary warfare would take a cut if those who declared it were required to place their own bodies first on the battle lines.

No one had to inform these Plains societies of the ways in which privilege could undermine their society. For those who inappropriately tried to parlay leadership into privilege, they also had a remedy. A chief who misused his authority was liable to wake up alone on the Plains, where he would be chief of nobody after his people had abandoned him.

This is not a bad strategy today in the face of corporate privilege. Small communities all over the US are turning their backs on a Congress that caters to what money can buy to go about the business of caring for their communities—prohibiting pesticide use (as did a town in Maine), regulating or prohibiting the growing of genetically engineered seed to protect local farmers’ crops (in Santa Cruz County, Trinity County, Marin County, Mendocino County, and Humboldt County in California, San Juan County in Washington, Maui County and Hawaii County in Hawaii and Jackson County in Oregon) — or creating standards of carbon emissions to address climate change (in California, Oregon, and Washington—and north of the US in British Columbia).

Corporations well understand what such community moves mean to their privilege. Thus those bent on oil drilling are suing to put down a New Mexico community ordinance prohibiting fracking to protect local ranches – and Monsanto, along with the Grocery Manufacturers Association, is suing Vermont for its legislation labeling genetically engineered food.

These will not be easily won battles—it is no simple thing to confront privilege in the modern world where money buys so much. But in the end the largest international corporations are no more without their community base than a chief’s teepee alone on the Plains. Social privilege derives from society just as economic wealth is extracted from society– and society can revoke either of these.

We can choose where to spend our dollars—and thus reward corporations whose actions help to create what most of us actually want– a more just and environmentally sustainable world. At the same time we can stop rewarding those on a societal level whose actions create wealth for themselves and a diminished and dangerous world for our children.

Modern corporations know such choices are not small gestures, as indicated by the money they spend on “greenwashing” or “humanewashing” campaigns, which play on citizens’ desires to support ethical and environmentally sustainable businesses.

These corporations might benefit from dropping the semblance and simply acting according to standards their communities can support.

Take the case of Forrest Paint, a family-owned business in Eugene, Oregon. When the Eugene Toxics Right to Know ordinance was passed, it required them to publically list the toxics used and emitted in their business—and to be taxed accordingly.

At first Forrest Paint attacked that ordinance, joining a legal suit along with other businesses to strike it down. But after a year or two of battling on, they got smarter. Forrest Paint installed an innovative state of the art recovery process for its chemicals. It has now become a national leader in non-toxic paint manufacturing.

Instincts of Self-Destruction

All communities need elders, mediators, and grandparents whose wisdom and presence serve as refuge for the vulnerable and guides for the future. Today we also need business leaders like Seventh Generation Chairman and “Chief Inspired Protagonist” Jeffrey Hollender and Fortune 500 CEO Max DePree—and the Forrest family– to keep our economy running.

Yet as the Chehalis Indians observed, power is just as dangerous as it is powerful. Authority can easily get out of hand. Thus enduring societies have mechanisms with which to direct and guide the power they allocate to any individual or group of individuals. Hollender (“Regulate Me, Please”) reminds us a society that operates in economic free fall with its dictum of “internalizing benefits” (keeping profits for oneself) and “externalizing costs” (passing them off to others) supports those who create what few of us want.

This process also unfairly taxes those who would do the right thing, since it costs ethical business more than those who don’t abide by environmental or social justice considerations. In the contemporary world this has left us with climate change, an escalating cancer epidemic caused by environmental contaminants and a society in which one per cent of the population controls 99 per cent of its wealth.

A working democracy needs another tact. Indeed, a surviving society needs a another tact.

The founders of the US knew such regulation was necessary. In order to earn their license to operate, the first US corporations had to prove they provided service to their communities—and they had to continue to do so. Their licenses were only renewed on condition of their continuing good conduct.

“The best societies”, says Nobel Prize winning novelist Chinua Achebe, “fight the instincts of self-destruction”. A key “impulse of self-destruction” is the impulse to dominate others. Achebe illustrates with an historical example from his Igbo (Nigerian) tradition. The Igbo knew themselves well—they knew that each man among them wished to be king. They limited this impulse by structuring their society as a constellation of small face to face communities—villages in which power could be asserted in socially constructive ways and the abuse of power thwarted.

The Igbo were well aware there were other possibilities for structuring society—such as the nations the British deemed more “civilized”. But they kept to their villages because they knew themselves– and thus devised this way to “fight their instincts of self-destruction”.

Cultural Deregulation

When British colonialism supplanted the traditional Igbo social structure, 600 Igbo villages suddenly had kings vying to rule over their fellows. As depicted in Achebe’s classic novel, Things Fall Apart, individuals with a strong impulse toward leadership—who might have made positive contributions and been honored for them in the cultural context that regulated and directed their power—were left in the lurch.

Their actions not only tore their societies apart, but bled any sense of meaning from their own lives.

Jeffrey Hollender lends contemporary perspective to this dynamic in his essay, “Regulate Me, Please” which lays out the logic of ground rules to guide business activities toward creating what most of us want: clean and just and sustainable communities. The cooperative stance of unions and auto makers in Germany is an example of the positive outcomes of a regulatory environment in which human dignity and economic well-being are linked.

It is the responsibility of a community that assigns power to any individual or group of individuals to offer guidance and direction along with that power—lest what might otherwise serve society tear it apart. Without such regulation, as Hollender asserts, “business is eventually doomed to eat itself”—to erode the social and environmental ground that allows it to flourish.

Without regulation, power easily becomes privilege—setting loose the impulses of self-destruction that today threaten the very survival of life on our precious planet.

Becoming a “good culture”

To be a thriving culture we need to know ourselves well. We need to understand our own impulses—and also how to best use these—to guide them so that they do not become self-destructive.

We need to understand our responsibility—as individuals and members of our communities—to shape and guide the power we license. To Thomas Jefferson’s observation that we cannot find too many ways to divide power, we might add that we cannot find too many ways to educate ourselves about the results of our actions—or too many ways to reward actions that result in the society we want—and inhibit those that do not.

Achebe’s perspective tells us that there are no perfect human beings—anymore than there are perfect human societies.

But as we face the challenge of repairing a world in which every natural system is currently in decline and wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, we have both the capability and the imperative of becoming one of those good cultures that “fights the instincts of self-destruction.”

Senator Frank Lautenberg: A Tribute

We mourn the recent death even as we celebrate the legacy of New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg. While too many  in Congress support corporate interests over the public good  and engage in petty in-fighting,  Lautenberg took a different course– the one for which he was elected.

He served US citizens.

I can only imagine how our society might change for the better if all current Congresspersons followed his model.

Early on in his career he stood down pressure from the alcohol and tobacco industries to  spearhead anti-smoking legislation and legislation that raised the legal age of drinking to 21–and specified legal blood alcohol levels for drivers.

Moving against big oil, he inserted legislation into the Coast Guard law to triple federal liability limits for oil spills, authored legislation supporting public transportation (especially Amtrak), and fostered a program to cut back energy use in federal buildings.

He also initiated legislation that protected open spaces (especially in coastal lands), legislation to monitor and respond to ocean acidification, and legislation to protect water quality and prohibit ocean dumping.

He helped shift financial responsibility for brownfield clean up from the public coffers to the corporate polluters who created these disasters.

In the face of unrelenting pressure from chemical industry lobbyists, he re-introduced the much-needed update of the  Toxics Substances Control Act year after year. One final legacy he has left us is a bipartisan breakthrough in support of this bill this year.

And while the updated TOSCA was stalled, he created the Toxics Release Inventory as well as other right to know legislation that allows local communities to assess and respond to pollution to which they are subject.

He was a primary author of the “21st Century GI Bill” and he worked to maintain affordable housing and health care access  in the US–as well as human rights standards in the global arena.

Moving against the tide of gun manufacturer lobbyists and in line with the tide of US public opinion, he authored a bill to prohibit gun possession by those convicted of domestic violence offenses.  He continued to work for over a decade to try to close the “gun show loophole” allowing guns to be sold without background checks at gun shows.

After a spate of school fires, he drew up fire safety standards for schools that were  included in the congressional higher education legislation in 2008.

Frank Lautenberg’s record  not only models the standards to which we might hold our politicians– but with which each of us might act on our values.

There is a good deal we can learn from him.

–When one avenue was blocked, he found another.

–He never stopped at a single roadbloack but persisted, gathering allies as he went.

–He took many small steps to reach larger goals.

–He did not let his ego get in the way.

Thus this “quiet man”, as so many of his colleagues characterized him, amassed such a solid record of success in his five terms in Congress.

Frank Lautenberg has left us not only a more vibrant environment and a more just and safer society– but something to live up to.

Here is an appreciation with some personal touches written by Andy Igrejas of the Safer Chemicals/Healthy families campaign.

We Are Not Our Guns: We Must Stop Identifying People with Weapons

By Madronna Holden

Updated 3.8.13

The most recent issue of the  American Legion magazine features a full page ad for a working submachine gun which can be had by filling out a mail order coupon and supplying a credit card number. The absence of any reference to background checks in this ad is troubling enough—a recent survey indicated 85 per cent of the US public wants stronger background checks for gun sales.

But there is also cause for concern in the depiction of this gun decorated with gold braid and medals. We should be decorating a person rather than a gun in such ways.  The glittering display is meant to convey that the owner of the gun will share a heroic identity by association with his machine gun.

Linking guns with the identity of those who own them is a ploy used by gun manufacturers to sell their stock – and the vast majority of their profit is gained through selling assault weapons.  These manufacturers would have us believe that challenging the individual’s right to own assault rifles is tantamount to challenging who they are as persons.

Unfortunately, some US citizens seem to have bought this line.  A recent demonstration of gun owners had them displaying their guns as if to challenge their right to carry these would challenge who they are.

Certainly we should think of ourselves–and ways of meeting our needs for safety and security– in more expansive and creative ways than the firepower we are able to amass. At the very least, we need to take the profit motive out of the discussion of gun ownership.   In the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook, which killed “fellow educators and the children we cherish”, the 800,000 strong California Teacher’s Union has done just that by divesting  their pension fund of stock in companies that make assault weapons.

The association between a product and its buyer’s identity is business as usual for ad makers, who would persuade us that who we are is wrapped up in the cars we drive and the clothes we wear.  But if it is buyer beware concerning such products, guns ought not to be on that advertising list at all.  There is no reason to allow the advertising of products whose only purpose is to kill other humans.

Michael Meade, who has worked with young men in prison for violent crimes, quoted the African saying, “Never give a gun to a man who can’t dance” as he used the sharing of personal stories to dissociate these men from their weapons.

Recently, Meade is working on a welcome home project for veterans, using their stories as a way of re-integrating them into our communities.  Making a purposeful place for all is not only the least we owe those who risked their lives on our behalf– but an anecdote to violence everywhere.

Palestinian bishop Elias Chacour relates how responsibility for the care of olive trees is passed down in traditional Palestinian communities.  When, however, centuries-old olive trees are uprooted by the development of settlements on Palestinian land (settlements the UN has declared illegal), the purposeful identity of young men is uprooted with them.

The loss of place in community, of personal purpose—and the anger of that loss — opens the way for the manipulation of certain alienated adolescents to literally turn themselves into weapons as suicide bombers.

By turn,  we see the identification of Israeli soldiers with their guns as they face off against Palestinian farmers in the documentary, “Five Broken Cameras”.  The guns in their hands lead to atrocities  in the heat of the moment– atrocities that escalate the grief in Palestinian communities—and insecurity for Israeli society.

This documentary also shows the fragility of human life too often overlooked by those who identify themselves with their weapons. This is a fragility we share with all natural life, as expressed when Israeli settlers burn a Palestinian olive orchard and a weeping Palestinian asks, “Why burn the trees that pray to God? What have they done?”

Altogether, life is too fragile to carry out our negotiations with any living being with rifles in hand.

As an alternative, Daniel Goleman taught “emotional intelligence” skills to those in impoverished communities at risk for violence resulting from what he terms an “amygdala highjack”– the amygdala is a part of our brain which takes over in such situations. All of us have experienced this phenomenon at the point we are “seeing red” and our “flight or fight” response kicks in.  Emotional intelligence entails skills in recognizing this “highjack” in ourselves—and disengaging from others until it recedes.

In the heat of such a “highjack”, each of us has done or said something we wish we could take back. But if we have a gun in our hands at that moment we may not be able to rescind our actions.  It only took seconds to kill 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook elementary school with the aid of a rapid fire weapon.  That same day, an  attack in a school in China perpetrated by a man with a knife wounded 22 children and an elderly woman– some seriously.  But he killed no one before he was stopped.

The wounded children, unlike those at Sandy Hook, all recovered to go  home to their families.

Given that anger is part of our humanity—and sometimes a necessary component in protecting ourselves—some wise cultures design rituals that limit the effects of the weaponry used to express their anger. Gabriel Franchere, visiting the mouth of the Columbia River in 1811, described such a custom there.  First a person feeling offended would sent a notice to the offender, opening the way to resolution by apology and mutual gift-giving.  If this process did not resolve things, a ritual “battle” ensued, in which two combatants shot at each other with arrows that would not penetrate the armor they wore.

Among Plains Indians warriors who counted coup for honor, it was more honorable to touch another than to harm him, and more honorable to wound him than to kill him. To kill an enemy was the least honorable of all.

What these instances also illustrate is that bringing the results of violence closer to us ameliorates it— we are less likely to use violence the more intimately we face its consequences.  This is the opposite of what happens when we avenge our wrongs with modern weapons that distance us from their results.  A tragic example of such distanced violence is that of drive-by shootings.

A powerful and effective remedy is that of elder vets who volunteered to stand on dangerous street corners that children in Chicago have to pass through to get to school.  They don’t have guns.  Instead their very presence makes a profound difference to the security of their communities.

I once overheard two young men speaking about enlisting in the first Gulf War.  “Boom!”  One of them said, “It is just like a video game.  You are up above a village in a helicopter and you just push a button to destroy it.” This indicates the problem with drone technology: it is all too easy to overlook the person at the other end of such the weapon.

If we need more evidence of the consequences of living amidst guns, we can look at the case of Switzerland, which has both a prevalence of guns and strict gun regulations.  After their term of service in the citizen militia—which Switzerland has in place of a professional army–  those who wish to keep their guns in their homes can do so only through documentation of necessity—and after they submit their weapon to a process that changes it from an automatic to a semi-automatic weapon.

That machine gun advertised in the Legionnaire would be illegal to sell  in Switzerland. So would non-military personnel’s transporting a weapon on a public street without a permit. Further, in Switzerland all gun sales, including private ones, must be fully documented—and every gun in this country has a unique registration number.

In spite of such strict regulation, however, the presence of so many guns provides an occasion for gun violence in Switzerland, which is second in the developed world for gun murders with four times the average of other developed nations.

This statistic would actually be an improvement for the US, which has double the per capita number of guns among its citizens as does Switzerland–and leads the developed world with ten times the average gun murders among its citizens.

The framers of the Second Amendment of our Constitution could not foresee the right to bear arms as entailing the right to bear every technologically advanced gun available today.  It is certainly in keeping with their intent to protect the freedom of our communities as a whole by drawing the line as to the types of weapons we allow individuals to purchase and carry.

As the overwhelming majority of US citizens agree, we need stricter registration and background checks.  We would also do well to disallow gun manufacturer’s advertising of assault weapons.

On a cultural level, it is important to disengage ideas of strength and security from any self-destructive association with greater firepower.  We must work to foster a sense of purpose and inclusion for all our citizens– to foster a sense of self in one another that is larger than any weapon in our hand.

Here is an action you can take to protest the corporate sponsorship of the National Rifle Association and help break the inappropriate links between guns and profit.

Here is a link to “Mayors against Illegal Guns” who share ways to make their cities and the US as a whole safer from gun violence.  Here you can join over 1.2 million others to demand a plan to end gun violence and view an interactive map that will tell you whether your state is doing what it can.

Bernice Johnson Reagon: Singing in Harmony against the Disorder

By Madronna Holden

“What is it you want to do with the time you have left on this planet?”

— Bernice Johnson Reagon

As we celebrate Martin Luther King this January of 2015, we will do well to remember the elders who have dedicated their lives to ensuring justice and democracy– such as Bernice Johnson Reagon, a self-defined “songtalker”– whose life models hope and vision.

Bernice Johnson Reagon, professor emeritus at American University, curator emeritus at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and founder of the acclaimed a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock, was an original member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee’s Freedom Singers in 1962. She sang in jail and she sang in marches where she and her friends traded off leadership to share the risk of the violence levied against them.

When Civil Rights protesters were faced with such violence, the Freedom Singers continued to sing, affirming their purpose as expressed in Sweet Honey’s, “Stand”, with its refrain: “We will not bow down (to racism, to exploitation)”.

Today, as an elder who sees it as her responsibility to encourage visionary leaders of the next generation, Reagon travels the country speaking as she did at the University of Oregon last year. She begins her talks with a song, inviting her audience to sing along in their own harmonies.

In her words, “We always sing in harmony.  We may not know the tune, but we always join in”. Of course, there are conditions to that:  one must sing softly enough at first to hear what others are singing.  Listening is key:  ceding space to one another, as Ella Barker did for decades in her NAACP leadership, working behind the scenes to locate future leaders.  Her vision was strong enough that the leaders she mentored were in place ten and twenty years down the line.

Barker is the heroine of Sweet Honey’s “Ella’s Song”, whose chorus insists “We who believe in freedom will not rest until it comes”.

For Reagon singing is an expression of personal power, a gathering of courage—and a “grounding in place”. “It’s something about cleansing or preparing the air. I was born amidst singing. I don’t know of breathing or eating without singing. Like walking and talking, like the air you breathe, it was woven inside you, the house you grew up in, the yard you played in, the school you went to, the church you went to.”

Each of us has our individual voice, but we do not have to begin all over again as we sing our songs, Reagon tell us, listing the influences that stood behind her. We have history to inspire us, an inherited song to carry on. This is how the long term strategy for change works, as it did in her community.  At the turn of the century black leaders who protested against lynching located other leaders who emerged in the 1940s—and they in turned located the leaders who emerged in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s.

Even so, public action was often difficult to learn for those who had been told for generations, do not stand out, and especially do not call attention to yourself with respect to the police. But for change to take place, Reagon says, you must be willing to become “outlaws” with respect to the disorder of an unjust system so as to enact an alternative vision– such as the vision Reagon and other veterans of the Civil Rights movement outlined this fall (2012) in the face of what they saw as the “hijacking” of the US government by greed through the “citizens united” Supreme Court Decision.

They re-gathered at the historical site of lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina. There they drew up the Greensboro Declaration, stating their vision of the current disorder and the alternatives they vowed to struggle for in support of the generations to follow. They invite each of us to sign on to the Declaration—as we enact and re-vision it in our own terms, according to the rules of community harmony that Reagon learned with song.

Reagon cautions that those around you “will not always love you for…speaking out against the disorder”. Even those who are part of your community, for whom you act on behalf of justice, may speak against you. Some of those who spoke against her came back to offer their friendship twenty years later.  But there was a lonely time in between.

Still, “if you are true to yourself, you will always have yourself as company.”

As a student, nonviolence was a hard lesson for Reagon to learn, given the violence levied against herself and other civil rights workers. But non-violence was a “long-term survival strategy”, fully in line with the long term strategy of locating inter-generational leadership. It took her years to really learn that lesson. “It’s not l-o-v-e. It’s saying ‘Good morning’ to somebody. It’s you saying, ‘I don’t know what they’re going through, but I’m going to say a little prayer for them.’ ”

There was fear for their lives felt by those involved in the Civil Rights protests, but there was exhilaration too, wonder at what a community could do, working together. A dramatic moment that stays with Reagon today is the effectiveness of the bus strike in protest of segregation. She remembers her awe at seeing the buses going by one after another, emptied of their riders. It was a profound statement of how powerful community action could be.

Whatever we choose to do to take our stand against the “disorder”, Reagon also warns us, we can be sure we will do many things wrong.  The important part is not to look for perfection, but to begin—to take that step affirming our personal vision in seeing the world clearly.

And we should be aware of the long term vision. Though we may not be here when the changes our actions prepared for finally come, we will have started the necessary process that made something better possible.

In her own life, there was a time when the “vicarious sense of life” she got from her college education, inspiring as it was, urged her to something more.  Instead of just telling that story, she began to live it.

When it is time to live our story, in turn, Reagon advised, “don’t copy, but learn from history”. And then become a force of nature.  Then bombs cannot stop you, just as they did not stop the Civil Rights movement and they did not Sweet Honey’s unity performance in Washington, D. C. in the wake of the 9/11 bombings.

Reagon leaves us with perhaps the most important question each of us can answer with our lives, “What is it you want to do with the time you have left on this planet?”

The Greensboro Declaration

Excerpts (with a bit of my own wording) from the Greensboro Declaration:

• Click here to see the whole declaration and add your personal endorsement

September 12, 2012

We are the National Council of Elders. We are veterans of the Civil Rights, Women’s, Peace, Environmental, LGBTQ , Immigrant Justice, Labor Rights and other movements of the last 60 years. We have come together in Greensboro, the birthplace of the Sit-in Movement in 1960, to birth a movement that can share the torch of freedom, justice, peace, and non-violent action with those who have risen anew in the 21st century.

We are moved by a shared sense of national and global crisis and the resultant suffering being inflicted on millions of people in our nation and around the world. As this declaration will attest, our country is gripped by an interlocking, multi-layered economic, educational, social, political and moral crisis. This is part of a worldwide crisis that reflects the end of the industrial era.

The lack of certainty about what the future holds, the dysfunctionality of many of our structures and systems, combined with narrow-minded, manipulative leadership breeds confusion fear, and destructive reactions. As a new era dawns, we are challenged, therefore, to not only hold political and social leaders accountable, but we, the people, must strive, with love at the forefront, to forge more democratic, just and creative structures and ways of living that are consistent with the emerging era that affirms the dignity, worth and unrealized potential of all the people of our country.

We speak, in this time of crisis, out of our commitment to justice and non-violence and to add our collective voices to the unfolding conversation of this historic moment. We speak out of thousands of years of combined experiences of working for the betterment of this nation and our world. It is with compassion, the scars of yesterday’s struggles, and a deep commitment to advancing the well being of our nation and all humanity that we call upon the people of our nation, including our national leaders to live out the highest ideals of our humanity and national calling by struggling to make the radical revolution of values not only against racism but against materialism and militarism that Dr. King advocated in his historic BREAK THE SILENCE speech.

We affirm our deeply held conviction that the Creator has granted every resident of our country a place on this earth as part of “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness;” that place ought to be respected by our nation. In our experience it is the people who must move forward, developing 21st century leaders in the process of making this non-violent revolution of values. For that reason, we are grateful for the newly emerging movements of young people. We applaud, support, and join them in our mutual struggle for justice and human rights.

Voting is an important tool of democracy, which must be more fully utilized and further developed. We strongly urge all citizens to vote in the coming elections and to intervene where necessary to ensure As we move towards the November election, we see that the deepest needs and aspirations of the great majority of our 300 million U.S. citizens are largely ignored in the Presidential and Congressional campaigns. Therefore, we call the following critical concerns to the attention of both our fellow citizens and all of our nation’s leaders who we hope will search for just and viable solutions:

  • The well-being and potential achievements of our children are being jeopardized by the destruction of our public schools system and the essential health and welfare services necessary for their development.
  • The hundreds of thousands of our young adults who must try to establish their lives with limited employment prospects and a staggering weight of debt from student loans. This burden must be eliminated or greatly reduced.
  • The “Citizens United” Supreme Court Decision, to which we profoundly object, that administers the final blow to our already faltering electoral campaign system by making corporate money practically the ultimate determinate of who wins and loses and, thereby, puts money and greed in charge of critical life or death decisions for many people.
  • The scandalously lawless practices of bankers and other lending agencies have led to home foreclosures and homelessness, impacting African Americans and other people of color inordinately.  Such practices grow out of greed but also a deeply flawed financial/monetary system. We call on the U.S. government to monitor and ensure the implementation of programs to rectify this economic disaster and to bring restitution to citizens who have been victimized. We call for a moratorium on foreclosures where unfair lending practices are involved.
  • We call for full employment of the U.S. workforce. It is not true, as some politicians claim, that Americans do not wish to earn a living. History affirms a strong legacy of productivity and industriousness among American workers.
  • We support ending the marginalization of the poor, ensuring greater work opportunities and a higher standard of living for them, as well as for the middle class.
  • We celebrate the recent legislation of the current administration which extends medical care to greater numbers of citizens, but continue to urge the implementation of a health care system that will ensure equal access and adequate health and medical care for all our citizens.
  • We affirm the value of our Social Security and Medicare systems. Over several generations, these programs have been absolutely essential lifelines for millions. We oppose all efforts to restrict or diminish them in any way.
  • We speak out against the virulent racism that continues to fracture our society. This bigotry is manifest in many arenas of our national life. One telling example of this is the manner in which President Obama has been disrespected and demonized, without public outcry at this unprecedented disregard for the Office of the Presidency.
  • We lift our voices against all of the attacks against the full humanity of women, including physical and mental abuse, economic inequality, and the freedom of conscience and choice.
  • Although, there are legitimate criticisms of both the Democratic and Republican Parties, we are stunned by the publicly professed determination of the Republicans in Congress to create a congressional “gridlock,” blocking legislation that would provide for the people’s needs, fueled by the singular, deliberate intention of sabotaging the Obama Presidency.
  • We are outraged by the continuation of U.S. “justice” system’s policies that have led to the incarceration of 2.5 million U.S. citizens, two-thirds of whom are African American or Hispanic, constituting what writer Michelle Alexander calls the “New Jim Crow.”

Without exception, we supported the full elimination of the Jim Crow system of racial segregation and abuse. Many of us were on the front lines of that struggle. Today, we are appalled by the extent to which systemic racism taints the interactions of Americans in mundane and unacknowledged ways – in our workplaces, schools, and courts, even in our places of worship. We call on our fellow citizens to bring their moral principles and spiritual insights into our engagement with each other, trusting that through the consistent practice of being mindful of every human being’s dignity, we can begin to rid our society of the poison of racism.

We raise our voices against violence and the ways in which it pervades our national life. The acceptance and propagation of violence has been an essential part of the national culture, from the dispossession of the Native Indians and Mexicans of their land, to the enslavement and exploitation of Africans, Chinese and others, to contemporary wide scale police brutality and massive incarceration. Our deeply rooted culture of violence is increasingly taking the form of targeted as well as random murders; it is entrenched in all our institutions and systems. It characterizes our international engagements, including interventions in Third World countries to seize control of resources and the support of dictators who support US interest and oppress their own people. The United States Government instigates wars of aggression where there has been no threat to our country, and now uses drones, an even more insidious form of war and the culture of death.

Those in power have abused and exploited the environment, rather than co-existing with it or practicing mindful stewardship. This will to exploit, which does not take into account the ways the Earth may be destabilized, has brought us to the environmental crises that we face today, including massive pollution of our air and water resources, global warming resulting in climate chaos, and other threats to the ecosystem of our planet.

Too many citizens have supported these forms of environmental abuses, domestic and international violence and oppression by not speaking out against them. We call on our leaders and our fellow citizens to break with the preference for violence, and to insist that national resources be put to the healing of the natural environment, and to the creation of programs that will bring a higher quality of life for all people, to further insist that funds previously allocated to the buildup of nuclear weaponry and other military programs be diverted to the repair and building up of the national infrastructure, educational system, health and welfare services, all of which will provide much-needed employment for the millions of jobless among us.

We acknowledge that the reality picture we have painted is challenging and reflects a period of danger; it can be a cause for despair by many. We urge you, however, to believe with us that inherent in great danger is also great opportunity. Let us seize on the opportunity and in the inspiring words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “to hew out of the mountain of despair” stones of hope. History has given all of us – but especially the young generation of the 21st century, the opportunity to forge non-violent hearts, non-violent lives that will result in a caring, nonviolent society.

We urge you to help make this Declaration a living, growing reality by discussing it among diverse organizations and individuals, including family members, young people, workers, teachers, professors, scholars, community groups, and faith communities. Further we invite you to sign onto this Declaration or to produce your own declaration. For as we declare and live into our “revolution of values,” we will also be creating a lively national alternative to the multi-million dollar super PACs that increasingly endanger the entire democratic process.

Finally, as elders, we pledge to our nation and especially to our younger brothers and sisters, that we will be faithful to our own history as human rights workers. We will undertake with you the work we have called for in this statement as fully as our lives allow, doing everything in our power to bring a greater measure of justice, equality, and peace to our country and to the world.

Endorse the declaration:

A Weed is a Weed is a Weed? Good and Evil in the Garden

By Madronna Holden

Updated 3.4.12

New link for Polish beekeepers winning ban on  corn genetically engineered to produce Bt (see below)

At the 2.5 acre Grass Roots Garden, cultivated to feed the hungry in Lane County, Oregon, there is “weed walk” led by an Oregon State University Master Gardener on the first Saturday of each month.  The weed walk emphasizes the edibility of many weeds, which have a higher nutrient value than what we intentionally plant.

The presence of certain weeds also supports the growth of classic garden plants in contributing to the fertility of the soil. Dandelions, for instance, have long tap roots that bring up minerals and other nutrients from deep in the soil and make these available to garden plants.  For this reason, the dandelion, every part of which is edible, is one plant never pulled out of the personal garden of the head of the local Master Gardener program.

Wise gardeners who don’t want the dandelion to spread simply snip off the blooming flowers. They might add these sweet delicacies to fresh salads and leave others to bloom for the sake of honey bees and goldfinches who feed on them.

Of course, you shouldn’t eat these from an area that has been sprayed—and neither should the honey bees or goldfinches. But these are often unseen collateral damage in the mindset of good and evil in the garden: good being those plants under our control, and evil being those plants that audaciously grow on their own.

This is an historically rooted part of the Western worldview, as indicated by the journals of the early fur traders in the Pacific Northwest, who wrote that they planted their gardens not primarily to harvest the produce, but to teach “control over nature” to local indigenous peoples.  Herbicide commercials play off this worldview, depicting the “weed” as a sly and dangerous presence out to undermine our control of our yards and gardens.

Nowhere in these ads do we find the information in a recent study done by University of Pittsburgh researchers who found Round Up applied according to label instructions caused nearby amphibians to change their shape.  Ironically, Round Up, which also creates several other health and environmental harms, including likely human birth defects,  is one of the least toxic herbicides currently in use– less toxic than some of the products the US allows to be sold that are outlawed in European countries.

Atrazine, for instance, currently banned in Europe, has powerful hormonal effects.  It is directly linked to breast cancer and causes “chemical castration” in a number of species.  Atrazine  is, however, the number one herbicide currently used in the US–the number one contaminant of drinking water in agricultural areas.  An important film documents this in a discussion between a mother and scientist, which indicates data  that such chemicals will effect our grandchildren’s grandchildren.

The ads for herbicides also don’t mention that human labor is an effective way to banish unwanted plants—and though this course is more expensive than herbicides in the short run if we count the expense of labor, it is most effective in the long run in actually eradicating certain problem plants. Herbicide use is, by contrast, an economic woe for farmers who must continue to increase their herbicide use as more plants grown resistant to these chemicals.

Manual control also avoids serious environmental and health problems with the very things that make herbicides most effective—their “systemic” qualities (being taken up into all parts of the plant) and “persistent” qualities (which keep them from breaking down).  And even as we apply  stronger herbicides with more systemic and persistent qualities, we cannot keep ahead of the Mother Nature’s adaptability, which is creating herbicide-resistant “super weeds” in response.

A recent essay in Onearth, published by the natural Resources Defense Council, suggested we might take a “conciliatory” approach to even invasive weed control. That is, since there are weeds that are simply not going away, we might learn to live with them. This essay documents how quickly insects adapted to feed on a particular invasive species in its new habitat.

I love native plants and nurture many of them in my own yard, but I also find the declared “war” on all invasives ironic when waged by those who are themselves European transplants on the American continent. In a local natural area, a friend and I recently came upon a volunteer placing herbicides on the dandelions that grew (if only sparsely) in an open meadow next to a river.

Though I know the management is trying to restore the local ecosystem here, they might take into account that this tact not only places persistent and systematic poisons in water systems, but has potential effects on important root crops like native camas that also share this meadow.  According to Kalapuya elder Esther Stutzman, herbicides used by the BLM and the National Forest Service have caused native harvesters of camas to become seriously ill from ingesting this former food staple.

One thing overlooked in the war on weeds is that they are often vital in providing humans with food. Take the case of modern rice grains imported to Asia during the “Green Revolution” of the 1960s.  These grains are more productive than their diverse counterparts (there were over a hundred rice varieties grown in traditional fields) only if one counts the yield of that one particular plant per acre.

But as Vandana Shiva points out, these single crops are less productive when measured against the total output of all crops in traditional fields.   Indeed, the greens that once grew between the rice rows– now considered weeds– provided essential vitamin A and other nutrient to the local diet.  Currently, vitamin A deficiency is a serious health threat among populations growing rice as weed free crops.

Weeds also historically fed the hungry during hard times in the US, since they are free, nutritious and readily available. Many poor families survived on such weeds during the Depression. My father cannot eat greens to this day without being reminded of the extreme deprivation of those days.

The good news is that his mother was able to gather enough weeds to keep her family from starving. As related to me by another man who lived through the Depression, those who massed in the California gold fields with their hungry children, hoping to pan enough gold for a loaf of bread, were not so lucky.

The weeds were reliable, but the gold wasn’t.

It is sheer folly to poison plants (along with ourselves and the environment) that are faithfully there for us in the worst of times and supplement our diets and fertilize the land in the best of times.

Instead we might redefine “weeds” as those plants that detract from balanced, diverse, and vital ecosystems —such as the genetically engineered corn that Polish beekeepers won a recent legal ban against, since its  Bt saturated pollen poisoned bees.

It is time we learned enough about our world to cease making enemies of our friends.

Please feel to pass on the information in this essay in whatever way you see fit.