The art of blessing the day

This morning, I woke up thinking of lines from Marge Piercy’s poem, The Art of Blessing the Day.

This is the blessing for a political victory:
Although I shall not forget that things
work in increments and epicycles and sometime
leaps that half the time fall back down,
let’s not relinquish dancing while the music
fits into our hips and bounces our heels.
We must never forget, pleasure is real as pain.

Last Friday, I drafted a blog post about how to support the water protectors at Standing Rock. I tried to keep up with the most urgent calls to action, as the situation on the ground shifted by the hour.

standing rockThousands of people from around the world have gathered to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s peaceful opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline project. The proposed route for the pipeline threatens the Tribe’s water and sacred land. Police action against the water protectors has recently erupted into violence. Hundreds of unarmed people have been injured by water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and percussive grenades. The threat to the water protectors escalated as the Army Corps of Engineers set a December 5th deadline to leave the area, and the North Dakota governor ordered immediate evacuation.

So much is at stake. The waters of the Missouri River and the well-being of tens of thousands who depend on it. The right of sovereign tribal nations to protect its citizens. Native women and children who are the targets when oil industry “man camps” bring a massive influx of sexual violence. The fate of the planet, as oil consumption fuels environmental devastation.

Then Sunday night, a surprising victory. The Army Corps announced it would deny the pipeline project permission to tunnel under the river.

The celebration reminded me of another sweet moment, nearly four years ago, when Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act. That victory came after a long standoff, 500 days of negotiation. It was a triumph of unprecedented solidarity among advocates, and the courageous leadership of Native women.

The victory was not complete, but it was real. After the win, it took another kind of grit to insist on celebrating it. The next threat loomed. The inevitable strategic failures immediately came into focus with 20/20 hindsight.

But the discipline of blessings is to taste
each moment, the bitter, the sour, the sweet
and the salty, and be glad for what does not hurt.

By yesterday morning, the oil companies made it clear they would continue construction of the pipeline despite the government’s decision. It is hard to imagine the little relief that has come from the Obama administration will last once Donald Trump is in the White House. For the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the fight is not over. Meanwhile, the next battles are already happening.

What we want to change we curse and then
pick up a tool. Bless whatever you can
with eyes and hands and tongue. If you
can’t bless it, get ready to make it new.

Here is what you can do right now:

  • Call or email your Congressional Representatives. Ask them to do everything they can to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline.
  • Give money to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Help cover legal costs and equip water protectors for the harsh winter.

Celebrate. Get ready. Fight. Repeat.

Tactical frivolity

Is it me, or is there a ridiculous level of horrible news stories lately? My usual reaction is to feel outrage, which I will defend: Outrage is an honest and legitimate feeling. But then I read an article about Mary Numair, who single handedly broke up an anti-choice protest in front of a Planned Parenthood. How? By standing beside them yelling “Yeast infection!” and holding a sign thanking Planned Parenthood for helping her with that particular issue. Her description of how the protesters reacted is hilarious.

Photo courtesy of Mary Numair
Photo courtesy of Mary Numair

I love her use of humor (maybe fueled by some internal outrage) in this protest. Turns out there’s a term for this: tactical frivolity. Finding levity in tough situations makes space for us to contemplate them in a way that rage and indignation do not. And using humor can lower defenses and resonate with people in a different way than being confronted with anger or even charts and facts.

Mary Numair’s story was a beautifully timed reminder of this amid a tsunami of heart breaking news. She literally created a safer space for others in a way that was light, funny, and in no way harmful to the other protesters. She sent a loud-and-clear message about an issue that was important to her and it resonated far beyond her community. Fantastic!

I’m going to keep feeling outrage. I need that in my work to end violence against women and girls. But I’m also feeling inspired to figure out some new ways to engage with people. I mean, we all know violence isn’t funny, but perhaps there’s a way to use humor to make the topic more approachable that would ultimately make us more effective. Maybe I’ll ask Mary if she has any ideas.

I had a dream

I just got back late last night from Washington, D.C. WSCADV received the Sheila Wellstone award for outstanding organization. A great honor. We got a nice plaque at a fascinating ceremony at the Hart Senate Office Building. I’ll tell you about it if you want to hear.

I had 4 whole hours the day after the ceremony to wander around before flying home. Walking New York Avenue toward the White House, I heard drumming. What’s going on? Let’s find out.

A protest!

Though House Majority Leader Eric Cantor calls these (and other) folks a “growing mob” bent on “pitting Americans against Americans,” that’s not what I saw.

This family is on vacation from Kansas City, Kansas. (She lost her job a few years ago―a super interesting story.) Who else was there? The raging grannies. Veterans in wheelchairs. Young people, old people. Oh, and me. I suppose in an odd way, it’s a compliment to call us a mob.

After folks left to reassemble at Lafayette Park, I walked over to the new Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial. If you’ve ever been to D.C., you know you have to walk really far to get anywhere. I had a lot of time to think. What the hell is our government for? Why are so many people suffering and unhappy?

The MLK memorial was not as inspirational as I needed. It’s a chilly place―I mean emotionally. Have you been there? What do you think?

I wandered on and happened upon the reflecting pool.

How ironic is that? This is a place I always associate with Dr. King and his most famous speech. And here it lies today. Is this reflecting the mood of the nation? It certainly was reflecting mine.

Next stop: the sculpture garden café across from the National Archive. Maybe I was just feeling crabby because I was hungry―so I ate lunch.  Sitting there brooding and staring at the Archive, I decided to make it my last stop. I wanted to lay my eyes on our founding documents―I mean THE Declaration of Independence, THE Constitution and THE Bill of Rights.

I lined up with all the school kids to get in and at last found inspiration. And had a good laugh too. I was bending over the glass case looking at the Declaration of Independence and the middle schooler standing next to me was asked by her teacher “Who were we declaring independence from?” The little girl paused and answered “France.” Ouch. I stood behind the teacher, made eye contact with the girl and mouthed “England.” She tried, but evidently couldn’t read lips.

Call me a geek, but I went to the gift shop and bought a copy of the Constitution and read it on the plane on the way home. There! Right there!  It says “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare (See? It actually says that!), and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

If we can recommit ourselves to this―to our democracy―if we can reclaim it for ourselves, then we will free ourselves from the violence that surrounds us.

You really need to read the rest of the Constitution, then get out there and find a mob of your own.