Sunday, August 28, 2016

#157 Bitter and Sweet

Dear all,

Our boys and their wonderful families keep being served health challenges--we're so much looking forward to the time when everyone is well again!  And while it's lovely to get to the garden in the coolness of dawn--and the tomatoes are delicious--I'm also looking forward to the end of this oppressive heat. 

But my slowed down summer evenings have been a treat.  I've loved tracking the cycle of the moon, and joining new friends from last month's kayaking trip (from a distance) as they hold full moon ceremonies in service to the health of their people.   And I keep forgetting to mention the book I've been working on for two years that is now out!  (see "Imagine" below)


Bitter and Sweet

Bitterness and sweet tears have been on my mind this summer.  On the eve of a five-day paddle down an unknown river early in the summer, we gathered for orientation at a campground on a Native reserve in Canada.  Everything—and almost everybody—was new.  We closed with an elder sharing stories from her grandmother, and one sentence settled deep into my heart with the ring of truth.  Her grandmother said, “You have to cry till your tears are sweet.”  Grieve beyond the point of bitterness.  This was the moment at which my journey down the river began—taking in a gift of wisdom as I prepared to put out my best effort toward defending the treaties and protecting the earth.

In midsummer I heard from a young woman across the ocean who is like a daughter to me that her marriage was in trouble and she needed advice.  I pulled myself together to offer everything I had—and it wasn’t enough.  Her response that she was feeling bitter—this from one of the most generous, hardworking and loving people I know—shocked me as nothing else had, and I entered into a full-blown campaign to gather more resources around her.  This woman, of all people, must not be left to bitterness.

Late in the summer, I read an article in the paper about “bitter voters”.  President Obama had used those words in the 2008 election campaign to characterize white working class people whose small Midwestern towns had been left behind, where the promises of successive administrations had not brought regeneration.  He said, “It’s not surprising that they get bitter. People feel like government’s not listening to them, and as a consequence, they find that they can only rely on the traditions and the things that have been important to them for generation after generation:  Faith.  Family.  Traditions like hunting.  And they get frustrated.”

In an attempt to join those voters, to be on their side, another politician had challenged that characterization of bitterness and negativity and emphasized their spiritual richness.  While I have no doubt these are good people, I still think Obama was right.  They were also bitter, and they still are.  You can try to sanitize that bitterness, or gloss over it, or pretend it is something that it is not.  Or, much more problematic, you can feed on it for political advantage.  But the advice of our native grandmother’s grandmother—to cry till the tears are sweet—offers a way forward that rings with the sound of truth.

Bitterness is a hard, tight thing. It needs to be loosened, by attention, by understanding, by tears.  Someone in this election season has said that you cannot make an impact on such voters in an interchange of less than ten minutes.  I would guess that it takes significantly more, and that it cannot succeed at all without a deep well of open-hearted listening.  There are so many lost hopes and broken promises.  There is such a strong sense of betrayal, of becoming invisible in one’s own country.  What will it take for the tears of the bitter voters to run sweet?

Beyond knowing

I take it to bed with me
A report on corporate tax evasion
financial power grabs
shadow banking
regulatory loopholes.

The need to know is strong.
What are the levers
to rein in these shadowy
and powerful forces
that lurk at the core
of much of what is wrong
in our world?

I wade through dense language
barely hanging on at times
determined to understand.

These folks suggest
detailed policy changes
hoping to guide
the next president.

I have been guided as well
and now know more.
But just my knowing
changes nothing.
What do I do with the clarity
inside my head?

Imagine:  A new economy is possible!
Toward a Right Relationship with Finance. 
Check out this new book that I co-authored on Debt, Interest, Growth and Security.

The growth economy is failing to provide equitable well-being for humanity and a life-sustaining future for Earth.  However our institutional endowments and individual retirement are dependent on that same growth economy.  This book:
    • offers background on our current economic system--how it is based on unearned income on the one hand and debt on the other, with a built-in momentum toward economy inequality and ecological overshoot;
    • frames the conversation within the context of our deepest values and beliefs;
    • suggests plausible and historically grounded alternatives to the current system, particularly with regard to financing retirement; and
    • invites everyone to imagine new forms of durable economic and social security, and to help create the relationships and institutions that will make them a reality.
With many people now counting as never before on the performance of Wall Street for retirement security, how can this system be challenged with integrity and effectiveness?  Can we break with our dependence on financial speculation and build up new structures of security in a transformed, life-centered economy?

To order the book, or read it on line, go to and scroll down.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently

Reverend William Barber’s call for a 21st century moral movement that evokes Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement, both in a revival I attended in Philadelphia and in a speech at the Democratic National Convention. 

A TV news reporter's astonishingly direct discussion of our country's historical relationship to native people, their role as our first environmentalists, and the irony of arresting them for trespass as they protest pipelines that endanger all our waters.

Muslims in France who publicly attended mass in response to the killing of a Catholic priest by a Muslim extremist.

A campaign led by students at Columbia University that has successfully pressured the school to become the first institution of higher education to divest from the private prison corporation CCA and the private security company G4S, combined with the federal Justice Department’s announced plan to end the use of private prisons after concluding that they are less safe and less effective that government run prisons.

More resources

Resource from my friend Daniel Hunter, Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow; An Organizing Guide.

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

Pamela Haines

To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.