Monday, March 9, 2015

#141 Pioneers

Dear loved ones.
In reflecting on the past month, I have three offerings.  First, I'm proud to have contributed my editing skills to a new booklet, Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow, by my friend Daniel Hunter.  Check it out at Amazon.  Second, I'm excited about how an understanding of the connections between racism, justice and environmental threats seems to be exploding these days.  Finally, I've been noticing how scarcity holds the seeds of thankfulness:  a bad cold has made me more than usually appreciative of returning health; bitter weather makes above freezing temperatures seem downright balmy; having family far away makes every contact more sweet.  I wish you all healthy doses of scarcity and thankfulness.


I’ve always struggled when the conversation turned to ethnic identity.  My family has been in this country so long that it’s hard to name anything outside of some generic connection to the British Isles.  I remember the surprise of visiting my husband’s Pennsylvania Dutch relatives and discovering that they, and the whole community around them, had distinctive foods, expressions, art forms, and customs—something that seemed totally lacking in mine.

I’ve had a similar struggle around reclaiming language.  I love language, and would love to reclaim one but, so far as I know, my family has always spoken English.  Yet there’s a big idea here that resonates with me:  in order to think well about people from other countries, and about the larger environment, it helps to have some emotional connection to “home” and “people” ourselves.
I had the opportunity in a small group recently to explore this issue of claiming our people.  My grandparents grow up on dirt farms in the Midwest, and I’ve always felt a connection with the pioneers.  I particularly love pioneer women, with all their strength, resilience, creativity, versatility and capacity to work hard.  My grandmother is the one I knew who was closest to that experience.

I thought of the loom that my great uncle built for her, that she used for making rag rugs.  I remember how she taught us as children to weave those rugs, using long balls of rag strips and working the simple but serviceable loom that my great uncle had figured out how to make.  What a great lesson in competence, thrift and agency!  What a heritage to treasure!

As I thought of my great-grandparents settling in Kansas and Oklahoma, suddenly, and for the first time, I made the connection with my history lessons.  I remembered the image of covered wagons lining up on the Oklahoma border, ready to stake a claim to the newly-available Indian land.  These good people, my people, were taking land that was available because the Indians were being removed.

The earliest story that’s told of my family, probably from the mid-1800’s, is of a premature baby who was bundled into a feather comforter and put in the wagon heading west and, amazingly, survived.  It’s a story of resilience.  So now I’m thinking, they were living in Ohio or Indiana, which used to be where Indians lived, and they’re heading west, to another place where Indians lived.
In an effort earlier this fall to try to breathe some life into who my people were, I found a book in the library of letters from a Quaker woman who moved from Maryland to eastern Ohio in the 1820’s.  She talks about how hard her husband worked grubbing stumps out of the earth, so they could plant their crops.  And now I’m thinking, those were the eastern woodlands that some group of Indians loved and called home.

It grieves my heart. While they may never have personally killed Indians, there they were, right in the middle of a genocidal movement across the country.  I can’t give up on the goodness of my people.  Those qualities that I have cherished, and that were significant in shaping who I am—strength, resilience, love of good work, an ability to put hand and mind together to create something new, an appreciation for the gifts of the land—can still be cherished.  But the story of my people, working to create good lives as they moved west, cannot be separated from the unbearable losses suffered by the natives of this land as a result of that movement.  Somehow I have to hold them both.

I’ve known for a long time that we need to do a better job of coming to terms with our nation’s history of genocide, but it’s been a theoretical understanding.  Now, as I reach to claim my people more fully, suddenly it has become real.

The knock

My eye was caught
by the women’s stillness.
Why would she just stand there
in our little city park
gazing up
in the bitter cold?

I passed
and then my ear picked up
the hollow knocking
of a woodpecker.

I turned back to join her
looking up
into the tall tall trees.

We never saw that woodpecker
but together
we were witnesses
to life abundant
in a city park
in winter.

Imagine -- A new economy is possible!
Anchors and coops

An "anchor institution" is a large non-profit institution, classically a university or hospital, that is bound by place--unlike a corporation which has a lot of resources, but can easily move. Anchor institutions have more job creation potential and stability than most corporations, which local governments are always trying to lure away from their neighbors with sweeter tax deals.  Supporting the community economy can come to be seen as a basic part of being such an institution.

In Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood—which is a poor, mostly black neighborhood with high unemployment and an average income of about $20,000—there now exists a complex of worker-owned and environmentally conscious companies called the Evergreen Cooperatives.  The greenhouse, the laundry and the solar installation company employ over 80 community members, and all serve the three anchor institutions in the neighborhood—two major hospitals and a university. Those anchor institutions, which together purchase about $3 billion in goods and services a year, did their purchasing until recently almost entirely outside the community. 

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

President Obama's veto of the Keystone XL pipeline.  Also the victory of a local group, Earth Quaker Action Team, in their five-year campaign to get PNC Bank to stop investing in Appalachian mountaintop removal.

Chile's decision, following three years of nationwide student protests, to make college tuition-free and to prohibit for-profit school from receiving public funds.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission's vote to classify the Internet in such a way that it can be regulated like a public utility with protection for all users (Net Neutrality), despite extreme opposition from the wealthy telecom industry, but with enormous grassroots support.

The word that Norway's sovereign wealth fund -- at $850 billion, the world's largest -- is divesting from coal and tar sands companies on climate grounds.

The expansion to Nigeria of an enormously effective Quaker-based grassroots peace-building effort in East Africa, in cooperation with Brethren and Mennonites.

More resources

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:

In, Pamela Haines locates her family's homey DIY celebrations on a class spectrum of different connections to upward mobility.


Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years.  NOTE THE NEW URL. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at