Come with me into an image, come with your courage and heart, and with your tears and your outrage. Look with me into the north central US, to the bitter cold of winter. In a circle stands a group of people. Some carry drums, others carry gifts, and all carry a lineage of heartbreak, victimization, and deep injustice. They stand around a wide and expanding hole, the wound of their beloved Mother, and into that hole, they shed their tears. They sing their songs. And they come together in mourning. While their beloved Mother has heard their voices, and received their gifts, and while they have given everything possible to stand together and protect all that is holy, once more they have become the recipients of heartbreak, victimization, and deep injustice. Behind them, rank-and-file militants, utterly without care or willingness to understand the perspective and needs of these people. And behind that, a row of wealthy, well-dressed executives, smirking and praising the militants for upholding what must continue in the name of progress. Following in the footsteps of their forebears, these simply did what was in the best interest of “all,” and for that to happen, sometimes sacrifices must be made. Once again, the sacrifice made in the name of white progress has come to be forced upon the indigenous ones. And the game of colonial conquest continues.
I remember reading about the Trail of Tears when I was a child, barely able to comprehend what had actually happened there. In my late teens, I came to comprehend that my ancestors had been the Cherokee who had somehow hidden in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. The Trail of Tears, and the injustices dealt to the indigenous peoples of what we now call America, became a personal matter. Witnessing the injustices dealt to the Water Keepers at Standing Rock has been a potent reminder that while this country has made some paltry attempts to acknowledge the atrocities committed against the native people, in truth, the dismissal continues strong. Dismissal of them as sovereign people living in the way that is in alignment with their values. Dismissal of their needs as valid and worthy of protection. Dismissal of actual legal negotiations that took place a long time ago as a token act of respect in the wake of great horrors. Ultimately, “you don’t matter. We want what we want, and you are in our way, and we will do whatever we need to do to remove you. It will work because you are weak, and we are strong. And as we remove you, we will make you suffer even more, and paint the image of you as radicals and dissidents and vermin that stand to destroy all that “we” need as a country to continue.”
As the Standing Rock news came, I watched one of our cats playing on the rug near the front door. She has never shown any interest in what is beyond the front door, and is perfectly content in the world of our house. A flash of insight came to me in that moment: one of the profound problems that we are facing in the US is that so many people have never stepped outside of their small, familiar little world in order to understand those who are not like them. They simply have no significant experience in understanding what is beyond the narrow scope of their own lives. In a response to what’s happening at Standing Rock, I saw a conversation in which someone not only expressed support of the pipeline, but who also claimed that the Native Americans can take care of themselves, that it’s not really “our” problem to get involved in this situation. That person went on to definitively state that there is no proof from “soil samples” that any of the land in question was ever used in “burial grounds,” so the argument of the Standing Rock Sioux has no bearing. Dismissive, indeed. In similar arguments about refugees, immigrants, and Muslims, the same blatant dismissiveness is rampant. I think it would be very, very interesting to inquire whether those claiming these kinds of ill-informed arguments have ever stepped beyond their own whitewashed worlds into seeing what the experience of others is like.
I began stepping outside of my world as a teenager. I stepped outside of a world that was white conservative Christian, and stepped into a world of artists, and was ecstatic to know that there were people with a much broader perspective. I stepped outside of the Bible Belt community where I was born and raised, and stepped into a world of diversity, and my community expanded to include people from all over the world, people who spoke many different languages and lived in many different ways. I stepped out of the tight values of my community of origin, and felt a sigh of relief as I expanded into a world that said YES to a broad spectrum of values that embrace the diversity of human experience. I first stepped outside of the US while in college, and just seeing street signs in another language ignited a call within me to keep learning more. I have stepped outside of the US many, many times since, and have been blessed to continue to expand my heart and mind as new ways of living and being are shared with me. I am now more grateful than *ever* that I stepped outside the door of my small world all those years ago, and indeed, I have never turned back. It’s much easier to hold tight to beliefs and judgments about people and places that you’ve never met or seen, which makes it much easier to be controlled by people who’d like you to believe that the “other” is ultimately bad. Especially when believing that would allow for the escalation of an agenda that aims to stop the “other” from bringing their “horrors” into that small, closed world. This is indeed what we are seeing in the US right now. And it is indeed what is being played out as this administration attempts to discredit the media and gain followers in their crusade to confuse what is true and what is not. If the powers-that-be call *actual* facts “fake news” while also reporting incidents that never happened as “real news,” they are muddying the waters on purpose. For those people living in their own small worlds, having no experience to the contrary, and little time or desire to do the research to find out what is actually true in the big picture, they easily and passionately believe what they are told by the ones who have hooked them. And there are many, many of those people.
Those at the very top of the chain of power and money, too, have no interest in opening the door and stepping outside into the bigger reality. They are happy at the top, and prefer as little interaction with those below them as they can manage. While they have likely had the opportunity to see the bigger picture, they ultimately have no interest in anything that doesn’t meet their agenda: greater power and wealth. People outside their little world are simply a means to an end: either helping them to get what they want, or an obstacle that must be removed. The only reason the current administration has made great efforts to engage the “little” people in the US is because through their vote, and subsequent blind and passionate support, they can grow into immense power, and there is little chance that these supporters will have any interest in hindering the process that is unfolding.
Here’s an essential question: what brings some people to open that door and step outside of their comfort zone, while others are content and never even think about it? Courage, and a healthy dose of curiosity. Are some people more likely to wonder about the unknown, about other people and places and perspectives? Perhaps. Are some people given the means and support to do that, while others are not? Yes, for sure. But as a woman who came from a poor family in an economically challenged blue-collar town in the Bible Belt, I can say for a fact that economic means and social environment are not definitive elements – and I am thankful for ALL the blessings that came into my life that helped me to step beyond the small world I was born into. What I’d also venture to say is that there are a lot of people who have access to knowledge and resources that simply have either no interest in taking advantage of it, or are too afraid to step beyond what has been modeled for them, fearing what is unknown. In that environment, it is easy for one to become caught up in the fears of others who would prefer that they stay exactly where they are, as “it is just fine, thank you very much.” Of course, it is also important to note that there is an underlying current of entitlement in ALL of this. Refugees don’t step outside of their world because of opportunity and curiosity. They do it with a half-hearted hope of surviving the day, feeling that there is no other option. That, of course, is the greatest kind of courage, following the voice inside that says “anything is better than this, and it’s worth dying for ~ for at least I will have done everything I can to have a better life.”
What we are observing right now is a form of cultural cancer, in which rogue cells have infiltrated the body of our democracy, seeking to destroy all that is in its path. To understand this better, a definition of cancer: “Cancer develops when the body’s normal control mechanism stops working. Old cells do not die and cells grow out of control, forming new, abnormal cells. These extra cells may form a mass of tissue, called a tumor.” While no body is free of potential issues, dynamic equilibrium strives to maintain balance between all systems, and we call this “health.” The same is true for our democracy ~ though it has been far from perfect, the ultimate goal has been to find balance as a free and just society is upheld. As rogue cells invade, there are systems in place that hold those people accountable, with the integrity of the whole as a guidepost. What we are now seeing is a rogue cancer that has taken charge of the US government, and is also keen on dismantling ALL systems of accountability that maintain dynamic equilibrium. This is terrifying to those of us who aren’t in positions of authority, as we seek a return to health as a nation.
How is cancer commonly treated? By blasting the body with chemicals and radiation, seeking to destroy the invasion. But in the process, far more is destroyed as well, and though this is considered to be the best treatment of cancer in conventional medicine, the success rate is questionable at best. In other places around the world, more holistic approaches to treating cancer are strong ~ including our southern neighbor, Mexico. Instead of treating the illness like a war, and accepting casualties as an expected part of the process, strategies of treatment are now available that involve using powerful holistic measures to blast the body with nourishment in order to fortify its natural healing capacity, and in doing so, fiercely destroying the stronghold of the cancerous growth. And this, my friends, is our key to healing the situation within our country at this time. WE must become that powerful holistic measure, holding a vision of destroying the cancerous invasion, and salvaging and transforming the current situation into a new era of balance, understanding, and harmony.
When the refugee looks back on her desperate flight from a war-torn land, she knows that she had no choice in following the deep call into action. When the cancer diagnosis comes in, one must take all information into account in order to make a decision on how to approach treatment and healing. And when we see a vicious force of self-interested, dangerous elites taking over the government of our country, we must act. We must come together and get moving! There is no time now for laziness or complacency, and there is no one else who will swoop in to save the day. It is up to US. The forces in control right now are continuing to employ a strategy of “bomb dropping” with the issues that tear at our hearts. How can one person stand for injustice toward Muslims, and at Standing Rock, and with the Black Lives Matter movement, and with the LGBTQ community, and with the environmental protection movements, and countless others, while also swimming in a sea of “fake news,” “alternative facts,” and utter disregard for the law? And how do we keep our footing when the system of checks and balances has also lost its integrity, standing for an agenda that is a tyrannical disgrace to democracy? THIS is being done on purpose. It seeks to call up our outrage and passions, and then divide us in our efforts to stand for what is right. In the moment of exhaustion and uncertainty that inevitably comes, we are then pounded with a sea of underhanded and confusing tactics, and they hope and expect that we will simply cave. THIS is why unity is more important than ever at this time. When we stand together for ALL issues, there are no separate issues. When ALL injustice is the same to us, we will stand together for the good of all. And when some of us are exhausted and need to rest, others will stand in our place. As we come together, we must stay connected to what is happening, discern what is true from what is not, and pay close attention. We must let nothing slide – continuing to resist and protest and speak out against what is happening. Then, we must continue to come together in strong nonviolent action, making it clear that we will not go back to sleep, for there is too much to lose.