Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Not a discussion


Recently I sat in a Meeting for worship where a number of messages were given.  Someone rose after at least 4 messages had been given and said:  “What I would like to add to this discussion is….”    I hope that person just chose their words carelessly or was using an expression of speech.   I hope they did not really think that messages shared in Meeting are a discussion or that they rather than spirit had something to “add to the discussion”.   Am I nit picking here?   If it is perceived so, we are more lost then I would hope for the Society of Friends.   So I wrote this for new convinced Friends and Seekers so they may understand the issue.

George Fox famously asked Friends to look inward to find the Light of Christ within, to see what the still small voice said to them – not he said what the preacher or the Bible said to them (and I would add now not what the media says.)   He, in fact, based Quakerism on the idea that we could listen, in silence, for the truth which would present itself to us.  Our worship is unprogrammed by humans but is supposed to be programmed by God!  The silence is supposed to be a space to listen and hear the voice of God, and all messages delivered are supposed to be faithfully discerned before delivery to be from the Holy Voice.

I have written a number of previous posts about messages in Meeting:  Expectant Silence,  and  TheQuality of Silence talks about what makes a living silence and FaithfullyDelivered talks about the importance of delivering messages that we are given.  But I have not written about the discernment process of discerning whether a message is to be delivered.  I am realizing for most new comers it must be a mysterious process that some people rise and speak.  If you hang around a bit you hear that you are supposed to be moved by God to speak.  For some that is so imposingly high a bar they never speak.  Other’s noting the casualness with which some speak, conclude, as the person above did that it is a discussion, and if you have something pertinent to say why then you speak.

But the reasons we are called Quakers is because some of us have been known to literally Quake before we speak -others describe it as “butterflies in stomach”.   This is a curious thing because I speak in public all the time, sometimes in public testimony challenging existing policy, and I do not have fear of public speaking or butterflies.   And yet in Meeting for worship, if I am to speak I will have some thoughts (which I have all hour long) but after THESE thoughts I get a sensation in my stomach.  If I ignore the sensation it gets stronger (and more unpleasant) – a clear tap on the shoulder.

In the past year a newer Friend gave a message that was clearly from God but was also a bit rambly and disjointed.  When I talked to this Friend about this message he acknowledged that the message felt important but unclear to him.   I suggested: “sit with it, review it, it will get clearer.  You do not have to speak the minute the message arises in you.”    For me I will get the initial sense that maybe a message is to share – I will then review it – if it is, the physical feeling will get stronger.  If it is not I will just be again thinking about something.  I also have had to discern is the message for me or the Meeting?   Once I had the funny experience of feeling a message coming to me in a Meeting I was visiting, but no urge to speak.  I thought maybe it is just for me.  I returned home and tested it the next Sunday.  No urge.   However, several weeks later I remembered it and then received a distinct urge to speak.  Apparently, it was being held for a particular person to show up at Meeting for Worship!

Certainly all our messages come thru the veil of our own spoken language, the way we have learned to turn a phrase, the twist of our own personality -but when done correctly it serves The Holy One and not our own egos which is why we are also not responding to other messages.  I left a Meeting once permanently when people had gone to arguing with each other through messages about a contentious topic in the Meeting and M&W had not figured out how to stop this abuse of the worship space.  In a Gathered Meeting (as described in my other posts) there can be a sense of a theme and like in an orchestra different instruments sounding differently on the same note and melody.   However, when God is the one orchestrating it is indeed beautiful music.   When it is people contributing from their heads to a topic that is provocative – it has a distinctly different, and intellectual feel to it.  If you violently disagrees with something someone has said: time enough to tell them after Meeting and you will not have multiplied the voices speaking unfaithfully.
So we sit in silence and we wait for words, which may or may not be given; we discern if we have the right words and if we are truly to deliver them, and then we are faithful.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Friends and Natives: Part III

This year at FGC the opening evening was a water ceremony lead by a Native woman, Pocana.  The second night the plenary speaker was Robin Wall Kimmerer.  And the third night a panel of three started out with a white woman Paula Parker speaking about Quaker involvement in the creation and running and promotion of Quaker boarding schools.  I do not know if the order of these speakers was intentional or somewhat an accident of total speakers available to the Gathering, but for me they built powerfully on each other.

Pocana brought our attention powerfully to the role of water in life.  Robin who is also a professor of botany, very use to speaking to white audiences reached for the symbols already familiar to this mostly white audience to translate her message.   She first touched into the idea of We the People from the US constitution and talked about the idea of inalienable rights.   She went on to point out that western culture makes living things; plants, animals, water, minerals, etc into "its" - that we make them into objects rather than into living beings - and that in so doing we disconnect from them and we turn a blind eye to the web of life.  She went to a native speaker of her language and asked him if they had pronouns that did not make other living things into it.  He said no, but helped her figure out that the word ki from their language could serve in this way as a pronoun for a living thing.  She wanted to pluralize too which in their language means adding an N which of course meant the plural is kin!  While she did not say this I am well aware that this how native people really think about all living things - that they are their brothers and their sisters and deserving of respect.  In fact respect is a key concept in Native culture.

She talked about how weird it was for her when she went to graduate school in botany to have to write about plants as things in order to pass her classes.  How foreign and awful a way of looking at them this felt to her after growing up feeling completely connected with them.  She then went on to introduce folks to the idea of the rights of nature.   She gave examples from other countries where River's were given legal rights and how that changes the equation of decisions that can be made about the river and the protections it has against things like pollution.  How it sort of raises it back up into visibility as something valid.  I could feel in my body a sort of relaxing when she spoke about this - a sort of feeling into how much more rational and peaceful the world would be if we treated all of life as connected to us and precious.

The next night was the panel which started with Paula Parker describing the role Quakers had played in the creation of boarding schools for Native people and then the promotion of them.   She explained that as pacifists horrified by the continual US military slaughter of Native tribes and also aware of how poor and marginalized the tribes were, Quakers saw  assimilation as the only solution.  The schools were created to "help" the children assimilate and were at first local schools.  At one point some Quakers met with President Grant and proposed that churches be put in charge of all of them everywhere and the Bureau of Indian Affairs because it was so corrupt.  Grant eventually decided to do this and divided the country into regions to be governed by different Churches.  Quakers were, I believe, in charge of Iowa, Kansas and the Dekotas.  At this time they moved to making the schools boarding schools and forcibly removing children from their parents and sending them far away where they often did not see their parents all year.   They were deliberately not allowed to speak their language, had their hair cut off, and where not allowed to perform any cultural or religious ceremonies. The pictures she showed of children in the boarding schools were the saddest, most depressed school class photos I have ever seen.  In the absolutely saddest thing I ever heard, the Quakers encouraged this separation because they felt they had "failed" in the local schools to assimilate the children, and it would take "stronger measures".  (My God where is the reflection on why this was "failing"?)

It is absolutely horrifying to me to learn the leading role Quakers played in this nightmare.  Because of course the boarding schools did play key roles in the loss of language of tribes, and of generational trauma which has lead to more alcoholism, domestic violence, suicides and parental alienation in Native populations.   It has been the cause of so much suffering.  Paula shared in an interest group I went to later in the week that sometimes still when she gives talks among Quakers about this some Friends still try to justify or minimize the effects.  I also wonder at what point in our history we realized what a big mistake this was - because we certainly don't talk about it!  I have been a Quaker all my life and have only learned this shameful history in the last year.

Next on the same panel was a Puerto Rician man, Oskar Pierre Castro, who then shared the role that Quakers played (at much the same time in history) of causing Puerto Rico to become a colony!  Puerto Rico had been invaded and conquered by the Spanish, then the French, Dutch and British.  The US had acquired it at the end of the Spanish American war, but it had no formal status.  He explained that Quakers hosted a meeting to discuss what should happen with Puerto Rico and there was a hurricane so most of the Puerto Rican delegate could not come.  Undaunted the US Quakers met and decided that Puerto Rico should become a colony of the US.  This was proposed and passed through US Congress without the actual input of the people of Puerto Rico (who are now in the present time quite divided about whether they would prefer to be a state or to be independent. ) 

The reason I include this panelist who was not talking about Native rights (but about indigenous rights of the people of Puerto Rico) is that I was very struck by the similar white supremacist thinking that Quaker engaged in during both situations.  In both cases they correctly perceived a social injustice that the US was engaging in, but then concluded that they as "good hearted" white people could decide what was best for the poor people of color group.  I wonder in what ways we are doing the very same right this minute in our history?  Having in the last year heard Quakers say things that i considered blatantly paternalistic towards people of color I do not think we have gotten over this mindset yet.

Personally when I moved from the Midwest, some 30 years ago, I was very surprised to meet Native people who were living on reservations that had fairly intact cultural practices.  I had come from where the tribes were so genocided and so pushed off their lands that it was hard to ever meet a Native person.   Here in the NW there are 27 enrolled tribes with over 61,000 members - as well as quite a few more unrecognized tribes.  Therefore the influence of Native Art and culture is felt throughout the region.  It is important to me; it is one of the reasons it would be hard for me to ever leave the NW.  Because of the myth of the Black Snake, shared by many tribes, many native people across the country have been coming off the reservations to fight climate change and to deliberate teach white people because their prophesies tell them there is a time when the Black Snake threatens all of civilization, and they must teach the white people if the earth is to survive.  I feel extremely fortunate to have been learning from local native activists. 

What is becoming increasingly clear to me is the US's unresolved, unapologized for genocide of Native people is inherently bound up in climate change.   That same colonizing mindset: the one that says it is ok to come and take that which is not yours, to take the resources of the land, to act as if we are "over' the land and the other living creatures on it, to live in a way that is disconnected from the history of the land or its rhythms or needs is the mindset that creates climate change.   It is a way of sleep walking on the land.  I'm coming to understand that we must both heal our relationship to Native People and to this land.   We will never solve climate change until we become connected to the land and to the entire web of life.  The reason why climate change is so "big" touching everything: how we use energy, how we manufacture and consume goods, how we produce food, how we build buildings, how we do transportation,etc etc.  is because we developed all of things in a paradigm of estrangement from the earth.  The very things we need to do to heal climate change are the things that will take up back into relationship with the earth.

Those of you who live in this area of the Salish Sea (Puget Sound to some) are aware that an Orca pod that lives here gave birth to the first baby in 3 years, and it died.  The grief stricken mother has been carrying the dead calf on her nose for 9 days now!  While this has been observed before for 3 days - this length of grieving is unknown of.  At this point the scientists are concerned for the life of the mother who is not really eating in her grief.  Some have postulated that the Orca mother, aware of human observation is carrying out a protest: screaming "look what you have done".  She should scream at us: the ways we have degraded the water, and the damns and the heating up of the water by climate change has severally reduced the Chinook Salmon population which is the main food source of the Orca who belong to a food chain with the Chinook Salmon.  The Orca population is shrinking because they do not have enough Salmon.  The local Lumi Tribe has often said at protests "We are the Salmon People.  Who will we be when there are no Salmon?"  This is a question we should all be asking - who will we be when there is no Salmon- because we are part of a web of life also with them.  They bring nutrients from the oceans back into our rivers and our forests - how will our whole ecosystem change without them?

This week after hearing a story on the local radio about this situation, it was followed by a story reporting that Congress is trying to pass a bill allowing the killing of 900 Sea Lion on the west coast because they are hanging out at the entrance from the ocean to the rivers where Salmon run and gorging on the Salmon, but the Salmon are so endangered that this is a disaster for the Salmon.  The Marine biologist interviewed were divided on this plan.  One stated that this is the 11th hour for the Salmon - that we are in such danger of them going extinct that we just have to kill the Sea Lions.  The other Marine Biologist interviewed stated that it is a big mistake because other attempts to kill off a species to protect another have badly backfired.   She pointed out that the Sea Lion also feed upon some of the main predators of juvenile Salmon -so when they won't be around to do that it will simply create another threat to the Salmon.   As I listened to this I could only think "stupid white person solution".   In other words, once again we are trying to manage and control nature while being so detached from it as to only create a certain disaster.  We are mad at the Sea Lion for eating the Salmon, but have we stopped for even one moment to examine our own bellying up to the trough?  Or the multiple way we are involved in both the dead baby orca and the dying Salmon?

If we stopped seeing ourselves as separate from the web of life perhaps we could hear the feedback from the system we are a part of? 



Saturday, June 30, 2018

Friends and Natives, part II: Decolonizing our Minds


This is part two of a post I did last month about Quakers and Native Americans.   It has become even more timely with the extreme actions of white supremacy that the Trump administration has engaged in during the last month, separating Hispanic immigrant parents from their children.  It is becoming more and more clear the ugly and hateful attitudes of the Trump administration to all brown colored people and that Trump's real agenda here as he faces a country that was crossing over from white majority to people of color majority is trying to turn back the hands of time by actually deporting people of color.  The violent suppression of Native people is the first systemic racism in the Americas, followed of course by slavery.   So colonization is a foundation in US white supremacy and it is therefore important to understand it.
A first step in de-colonizing ones own mind would be learning your own family history and faith history of oppression of Native People’s. (Which some people’s families came here well after the removals had happened, but that does not mean you are not benefiting from the outcomes of colonization.) For example, on whose tribal land do you now live?  https://native-land.ca/# What were the indigenous names for the significant geography of your area (the rivers, lakes, and mountains.)  Even some of the names we are told are Native names for local landmarks are in fact badly mispronounced English imitations of the real Native name for it.  Please notice the white privilege that we thought of these lands as “undiscovered” and unoccupied and therefore ours to name.  If I came to the city or town you live in and suddenly announced that hence forth it would be called “Hippopotamus” you would be indignant and wonder who I thought I was that I can just waltz in and name something that is already named in the awareness of all its residents.   And yet that is exactly what people of European descent did.  
So for example I grew up in Winnetka, Illinois – both names I were told were Native names – Winnetka does appear to mean "Beautiful Place" but it is unclear in what native language.  Illinois had a French ending because the French changed it from Illiniwek.  The tribe there, recorded by the US government as the Illinois called themselves the Inoka.  I then went to school in Indiana in territory that had belonged to the Miami (resulting in a nearby city being named that ) by 1846 most had been “removed”,  and the Osage tribe (official Bureau of Indian Management name – they referred to themselves at Wazhazhe).  The Miami and the Wazhazhe were both forced west to Oklahoma as were the Inoka.  So I grew up in lands with Native names but no Natives.  I knew there existed tribes in a few places in the US, but thought of them as mostly having been genocided long before my birth.  
It took moving to Seattle (a city named after a Native chief whose real name was Chief Sealth.)  before I met any real native Americans.   And then again I lived in a city that had forced the Duwamish tribe off its land and then denied them to this day official recognition as a Tribe – resulting in their having no reservation and no services.  Despite them popularly being referred to through the city as the Duwamish, this is turns out is also a mispronunciation of their name.
During the end of President Obama’s term he renamed Mt. McKinley as Mt. Denali its original name – in recognition of the indigenous people and that President McKinley had in fact never even been there.   However, Trump is now planning to rename it Mt. McKinley because he says Obama disrespected the former President McKinley  (There is of course blindness to the disrespect of a whole culture.)  My thought was ‘hmm well what if we all just kept calling it Mt. Denali?"   And then my mind went further and realized what if I just went to calling everything by its original name?  Would it help me to live with the humbling reality that all white Americans are standing on stolen land?
There are many other useful questions to begin looking at what it means to be the descendants of Settlers.  Unlike some people who were taught very rationalizing history about “Indian’s on the warpath” as a justification for US killing of Native tribes – I was fairly early on taught the ugly truth about the Trail of Tears, the slaughter of tribes etc.   But somehow this was still taught to me as “look what the US government did, look at what the army did”.   Somehow I was shielded till a native person called me the descendent of Settlers from the truth that indeed both sides of my family came to this country as “settlers”  - both took land awarded to them as if it were “empty”, “vacant”, and “unoccupied” and called it their own.  Suddenly I am seeing clearly that it was just such taking up of land that was why the army “cleared” the land, and why the treaties pushed the Natives further West and off their historic lands.  Suddenly I have to understand that indeed I have benefited from the complicity of my ancestors.
This is a good start to recognize how we are part of colonization.  And then we must look clearly look at how the media, Hollywood, tv and book portrayed the people indigenous to the United States.   I don’t know about you but when I was growing up they were still called “Indians” and tv shows and movies still showed them as “sneaky” and attacking white people (generally for no reason).  Books like the Little House on the Praire series, which was then turned into a tv show, portrayed the white people as nothing but kind, hard working and noble with a few references to Indians as threats.  Children still played in their imaginative play, as well as with little plastic figures “Cowboys and Indians” – a game in which the cowboys were the good guys and it was appropriate to kill all the Indians before they killed you.  (As a Quaker I was not allowed to play these games but that does not mean that my mind did not take in the programing.)  Phrases like “Indian giver”, and “circle the wagons” without any awareness of their racist origins.  For me decolonizing my mind means squarely confronting all these cobwebs, as well as confronting the implications of the term wilderness the gives lie to what was true about all US lands before they were “settled”.
Native People have been some of the most powerful fighters of climate change, using their treaty rights to stop massive oil pipeline and excavation projects.  And for that reason the tribes are under great threat under the Trump administration, which wishes to change their status to a race rather than to one of a sovereign nation.   This would be a clear opening move to strip all remaining power and self governance from them..  One example already happening is the desire of the Trump administration to strip an already financially strapped population because of the lack of jobs on reservations with health benefits by putting “work requirements” on them.  Health care was provide for under most treaties.  So the taking, and the violation of Native Tribes is not a historic footnote.  It has not stopped. 
So the big question remains what will you do now to not passively support the ongoing colonialization of this country?  And how might you benefit if you stepped out of a way of thinking that sees nothing wrong in taking, that says possession is 9/10th of the law, that does not see killing, maiming or destroying as an inappropriate way to get ones way.   Sure you don’t personally believe that, but what practices in your life come out of that same way of doing things?  (An example which comes strongly to mind is how easily an without thought we feel it is ok to cut down groves of trees and to kill animals.)  I strongly encourage people to read the whole Spring issue of Yes Magazine on decolonization,  and particularly the article by Native author Kyle Powys Whyte of the Potawatomi Tribe, “White Allies, Let’s be honest about Decolonization”.   Will we stand with Native people this time to stop the taking?

                                          public art on the Lower Elwha Klallam tribal lands


Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Truth about Friends and Native Americans....




If I were to ask you: “have Quakers been good to Native people?” What is your answer?  I think most Friends would conjure up the Benjamin West painting of William Penn sitting under a tree with members of the Lenape tribe and the often repeated story of PA making a treaty with the tribe rather than killing them as was done in most other states.   Or perhaps you would think of the famous Doyle Penrose painting of some Indians quietly sneaking into an old time Friends Meeting as they worshipped.   Or maybe you would simply be aware of FCNL’s dedicated work for decades to prod the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to treat natives well and especially to honor the treaties.  

As a birth right Friend this is what I was raised with a sense that I was from one of the “good churches” who had treated natives well and until recently had felt that if I told a Native person that I was Quaker that it would have immediately identified me as an allie.  I like most other Friends with progressive consciousness, signed for years petitions for Leonard Peltier’s release and even wrote to President Obama with the hope that Leonard would finally be pardoned and not have to die in prison.  I have mourned the trail of tears, the intentional small pox infestations and the cruel stories of children ripped from their families and forced to go to boarding schools where they were not allowed to speak their language, were often beaten or sexually abused and where the cultural extinction began in earnest.   I have thought “what ignoramus’ thought it a good idea to strip a culture of its language” the very means it tells its story, and mourned the restrictions against Native spiritual practices.

You may share my shock and horror then at the discovery that these “ignoramus” were indeed Quakers. Paula Palmer has written about this in Friends Journal and if you have not read her article please do: https://www.friendsjournal.org/quaker-indian-boarding-schools/.   She tells us that Quakers were among the largest promoters of boarding schools for Native people and ran 30 such schools primarily in the Midwest.   How do you grow up Quaker and in the Midwest and not know this shameful history?   Apparently, we have become embarrassed enough of it that we do not speak of it – even while still speaking of our other “good deeds” towards Natives.

 Having perceived Native tribes to be people (a slight improvement over the commonly held belief at the time that Natives were “animals” or “savages”), and having out of a general conviction towards non-violence had for the most part managed not to engage in killing them, Quakers still held the culturally biases view point that they lived “primitively” and that white culture with its language, and it technology was culturally superior.   Once one buys into the myth of superiority one is quickly down the path of unconscious white supremacy.  It is on this logic path that Quakers concluded that the best thing for the Native people was for them to go to school and learn what we considered the most important lessons of our culture.  This is a path that believe assimilation is best for some other group of people. 

Seeing Native resistance to this, the idea was arrived at that if children were separated from their parents and not allowed to speak their native language then they would be receptive to the offerings of the schools.    From this flawed logic Friends not only encouraged the idea of Indian boarding schools, but Friends being big proponents of education we actually set up and ran many of these Indian boarding school.  (This flawed notion of helping those “less fortunate” is the same logic that lead us to our other biggest mistake – the setting up of the penitentiary system – in the naively idealistic notion that if prisoners had quiet time alone for meditation and reflection that they would arrive at pence and eventually redemption.)

I have wondered before why some Native people I have met have last names that I think of as “Quaker” names.   I was aware that at the boarding schools they were forced to give up their Native names and go by English names.  I thought only first names.  It was only recently that I learned that there were scholarships to help pay for Native children to go to school and that  they were then given the last name of their Quaker “patrons”.   I cannot tell you the pain I feel at meeting native people carrying this colonial marker of Quaker fallacious thinking.

In my next Post I will talk more about the process of “decolonizing our own minds” and beginning to look at how we live on this land – this land that is someone else’s.   However, a good starting place as Friends is to learn our true history in relationship to Native People and to begin to tell truthfully that story.   So for example that Doyle Penrose painting I mentioned at the beginning.   That story, as it is told, is that a local tribe who were angry and had been aggressive in the area arrived at the Meeting house on a Sunday while the members were worshiping, they entered but felt the “Presence of the Great Presence” and so remained quiet, share a meal with them and leave behind a white feather as a sign of friendship.   (The implication being that if we were not so Holy then the Friends there might have all been killed.)  Thus we feel proud of ourselves from being different from other white people of the time.   What is unsaid in the normal telling of that story is that the land the  NY Meeting house was on was undoubtedly land that Tribe had occupied.   We still have that picture in many Meeting Houses today.  What sort of message does that send any Native who might happen in our doors?  Just like it is time for the South to take down statues of Confederate “war heros”,  it is time for us to take down such paintings and tell more accurate stories about our relationships to the original inhabitants of this land.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Living as if...

In Feb I wrote about the amount of economic privilege all Americans have.   In March I wrote about the extremely poor conditions in which people around the world work to produce in expensive items that we in the US consume (really wage theft - working for $1 a day, etc.)  Each month I asked us to keep these things in mind, to consider different consumer patterns etc.   But in this month's post I want to contemplate what it would mean for us to live as if we were actually connected to people living half way around the world who work "for us".

I remember once a few years ago putting on a sweater and then having the amazing obvious but penetrating thought:  "someone made this for me."  (This is not like the joke about a pre-schooler being asked where the apple they were eating comes from and their saying: "the grocery store".)   On some level I confess I have operated most of my life as if sweaters come into existence completely made in the shopping mall, and that my computers, and furniture, cars, etc do as well.  I have two sweaters that were knit for me by someone who loves me and I'm clear where those came from.   When I stopped to consider this I realized that materials were gathered together and made into fabric, and then someone ran some sort of machine that created pieces and someone else (more well off) had designed it.   And in some final stage of production someone sewed together pieces.   I noticed as I considered this that these were all people in other countries and probably poor and people of color.  So when I go shopping and look at different options - thinking about what they look like, different colors, the rest of my wardrobe, and how "affordable" each item is, I am missing the fact that the cheapest "finds" are probably made with the cheapest labor, probably represent the most suffering.  However, the only place I know that had clothes actually made in the US "American Apparel" was "expensive" because of labor costs and just went out of business last year.

What if I lived as if...there were real people serving me, real people making everything I consume, real people suffering if the work conditions there are poor?   It would not change the choices available to me.   On one level hundreds of choices for every product - but in this globalized economy actually little to no choice to buy a product not made in other countries and under poor working conditions.   When I was a child it was a thing where many progressives would only buy "union made" - that was thought of by some as them being "clickish" or over the top pro-union, but in fact it was a way of trying to avoid buying things that were made under abusive working conditions and thus keep the pressure up for good conditions.   However, shortly after achieving the highest level of unionization in our history, the globalized economy started with it's "race to the bottom" of out sourcing of jobs to the poorest countries (that paid the least).  And those with means benefited by being able to buy even more, less expensive stuff - and those who had been middle class lost jobs and lost economic ground.

So while I don't have a way around globalization - it seems like a starting point would be to have in mind the real people who make the things I buy.   To offer a silent prayer of thanks, to hold the intention that they become fairly compensated for their work.   To in the instances where I can make choices that support justice to do so - so to buy fair trade chocolate, coffee or bananas instead of "regular" ones produced exploitatively.  To use some of the "privilege" I have as part of the world's 1% to pay for organic food so that it is produced in ways that are less destructive to the earth. To look at the information at the Enough Project website mentioned last month to at least buy electronic products, etc at the fairer end of the spectrum (knowing it is still not enough, but at least a step.)  This also means that the furniture in my home is actually wood rather than processed woods because it means the wood is from the US and that it has been made by a US carpenter and not with a lot of off gassing products.  It means that I'm trying to buy more clothes that are made out of organic cottons (less hard on the earth) balanced with more second hand clothes (so less production and less expensive, unlike the organic cotton.   It means that I will consider buying things made at craftfairs (very expensive) because they are not made under abusive work conditions.   Because they are more expensive I will buy less items.  And I will keep remembering the real wealth I have in comparison to most of the world's population.

When I have watched period piece movies where people in lavish extravagantly embroidered and silk, etc clothes get in horse drawn carriages where servants drive the carriage, serve the food, do the chores, etc I think "how did they live like that?"  just walking past these servants as if they were not there, taking what they did with little to no acknowledgement, having probably some awareness at some points of those people's struggles and yet just shrugging those off.   Some how the class gap is so obvious to me in those cases. And yet is it any better that I do not see the poor people who serve we half way around the globe?   That I simply do not know the suffering they experience?   If you go in a fast food restaurant - do you see the person taking your order and bringing your food as someone who is working full time for a "minimum" wage that is in fact not enough to live on?

Recently I went in a restaurant with a friend.  It is not uncommon for waiters or waitresses to say "I am Jean and I will be your server today."   This one did not say that.   My friend said very deliberately and with a kind and attentive voice: "And what is your name?" and then referred to that person by name throughout the meal thanking them for bringing food.  I was touched.  I was touched by this modeling of what it means to live as if...I am cognizant of the human beings co-creating the world we live in.



Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Seeds of War, Suffering and Climate Change

Last month I wrote a post: Who is Wealthy?  Designed to help US citizens understand how much income they have relative to other people from the US and how even a median income in the US makes us part of the 1% of the world.  This month I would like to look at the labor practices in other parts of the world that allow us to buy cheap items from elsewhere in ways that enrich our lives while keeping in poverty and suffering people around the globe.

One of the most famous John Woolman quotes is: "May we look upon our treasure, the furniture of our houses, and our garments, and try to discover whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions."  At the time Woolman wrote, he was of course thinking both of slavery and also of wars that were fought over resources.   In modern day translation I would add: whether the seeds of war, suffering and climate change have nourishment in these our possessions.

For example many people are aware of "conflict minerals": tin, tungsten, tantalum (3ts) and gold which are mined in African countries, and particularly the Congo, controlled by guerrilla groups using the money to fund a civil war which has killed over 5 million people since 1998.  Amnesty International has also documented the use of child laborers, as young as age 7, being made to work in these mines. These materials are used to make smart phones and many computer chips.   Only 16% of our phones are even recycled -so these built to be obsolete items contain materials we throw away that others have literally died for.  Efforts by a company named Fairphone to build a completely non-conflict sourced phone have yet to be successful

Gold of course is also used in jewelry as are diamonds: also known as "blood diamonds" in some circles because of the violence associated with them.   African miners make a dollar a day, again often use child labor and work in war zones.  Violence is often directed against the workers and the environmental practices leave areas around the mine devastated. 2

The Enough Project attempts to provide us some rankings for these companies so we can reduce our complicity.   For example Apple has done a pretty good job of reducing its conflict minerals followed by Google, HP, Microsoft, and trailing at the bottom Samsung and then Toshiba.   For Jewelers the department stores that have the most blood on their jewelry are not surprisingly Walmart and Sears being worst, Helzberg and Costco close to the bottom and with Signet and then Tiffany's doing the best.3

And then there is Chocolate.   For years the media has been documenting that African (Ivory Coast and Ghana producing 60% of the worlds cocoa)  has child labor and even child slavery being used to pick chocolate.4  Many of these same issues surround the production of coffee, teas, bananas and coffee.  Fortunately there is a Fair Trade designation for these products that attempts (some better than others) to document that fair labor practices, as well as environmental standards, were used in the production.5

Cotton of course is in our clothes.  If not organic it has been produced with chemicals very hard on the earth. But really for all our clothes when you look at the label that says where it has been made, almost inevitably you will see some of the poorest countries in the world where there are not protective labor laws and where workers work long hours for little pay.  Sweat shops have simply moved abroad.   This is why inexpensive clothing can be found for prices you could not match by just buying the fabric and making it yourself in this country.

Before I completely leave this list of horrors there is also the rape of the earth categories.  If you were to see pictures of areas of the amazon that have been clear cut to: provide cheap teak wood, land for raising cheap beef for $1 fast food hamburgers, or for palm oil which is in most processed foods and beauty products in the US you would be horrified by the pictures.  Yet we innocently buy these products with no awareness of the havoc that was wrecked to bring them to us.  Deforestation is one the huge contributors to climate change.  (10 to 15% of the Greenhouse gases)

So yikes: here are the seeds of war, suffering and climate change in our cellphones, our computers, our electronics, our jewelry, our food, our clothing, our cosmetics, and our furniture.  I really was not trying to depress the hell out of you!   I know most of my f/Friends would not stand in front of a child factory or a clear cut forest and buy the products coming out of there.  We in fact have happily believed that child labor, slavery and environmental destruction were things that were outlawed a 100 to 40 years ago.   Well they were in the US.  But one of the results of globalization is that it hard to find a product that in solely and completely produced in the US.  Most ingredients or components at least come from other countries where they were extracted with cheap labor and in environmentally destructive ways and then the finished products or the components for assembly were sent to another country or the US for final assembly.  We are inexplicably bound to suffering around the globe that is conveniently kept out of our sight.  Perhaps because we would not participate in it if we could see it.

So as painful as this is the first step in changing this is bringing its reality into our awareness.  Looking at our possessions and understanding in fact where they do come from, seeing the humans behind our possessions. Unfortunately, in the globalized economy it is not possible to live in an industrial country and be able to separate yourself from this chain of suffering.  So there is not a way to achieve some moral purity - there is only the possibility to start pushing back and trying to create more justice and fairness one bit at a time.

What are some of the solutions:
1) Buy less - you will create less suffering - to quote an old saying: "Live simply so others may simply live".
2) Recycle and reuse and repair - as 70's as that sounds when we reuse materials more mining does not go on.   When we reuse items more new production does not go on.
3) Learn about fair trade certifications and buy products that bare fair trade labels.  Yes it will cost more - I think it is worth it to not support child labor, slavery and people working for $1 a day.  I will have to buy less and save for some things - and probablt represents the true costs and a more fair balance of resources in the world anyway.
4) Look at the Enough Project and try to buy on the fairer end of the spectrum - create consumer pressure for products that are produced with fair labor and environmental standards.  Buy a Fairphone the next time you replace your cellphone.
5) Buy less processed foods - they are healthier for you anyway but they will not contain palm oil or foods produced with cheap labor in another country.
6) Consider giving services and not things as gifts to others.
7) When possible buy items made by artisans in your own community.  (Examples: hand made jewelry, clothing, items made by wood workers, bakers, carpenters, etc in your own community.)


1 http://www.newstalk.com/Can-you-buy-a-conflict-free-phone-minerals-intel-fairphone-apple
2.https://www.brilliantearth.com/conflict-diamond-facts/
3. https://enoughproject.org/reports/demand-the-supply
4. http://fortune.com/big-chocolate-child-labor/
5. https://www.fairtradewinds.net/guide-fair-trade-labels/





Monday, February 26, 2018

Who is Wealthy?


My intention with this post is to help us get real about our actual wealth – as Quakers and Americans.  Due to the non-stop advertising messages coming our way almost all of us want something we don’t have (even if not a material object, we want to fix something or to go on a trip or get some comfort of some sort.)  By the nature of class in America people are generally surrounded by people of their own class and hear the wants and desires of people with similar means to their own – those further encouraging and normalizing our feelings about the things we want.  Politicians talk endlessly about the middle class and caring for the middle class.  Polls show that almost everyone thinks they are in the middle class.   Folks who are in fact poor think they are middle class, and folks who are in the top 15% of income in America think they are middle class.    So most of us, sadly, have no sense of reality about where we stand economically.

I am going to talk about the mean income in America (that is the point at which half make more and half make less).   The average is not a very useful statistic because taking all the income and dividing it by the number of people – because of the obscene wealth of the top 1% of America means that it skews high the statistic of average in America.  Further confusing those who are at the median to thinking they are some how $15,000 “behind” what is average in America.

Please stop for a minute – good thing it is tax season- and review what your income last year was, and then guess where you think you fall: bottom quarter, middle lower quarter, middle upper quarter, or upper quarter – or the 1%.   Occupy has made famous the phrase: the 1%, but most of us don’t know how much you would have to make to be in that club either.   Ok have you decided where you think you fall?

And the truth is: in 2016 the median income for a US worker was 31,099. 1  (Almost exactly the median for a female with a bachelor’s degree – note for women getting a bachelor’s degree gets you in the middle – for men it gets you higher….19,000 higher.2)  For a family it was 72,707.1  (that is for families of all races – for Black and Hispanic families the mean is as much as 30,000 less a year!) The poverty line (at which one qualifies for various forms of assistance) was 23,339 for a family of 4 in 2016.  43.1 million people lived at that level.  So that is people not working right?  NO.  If you earned the minimum wage set by Federal law (some states like WA have higher) and you were the single breadwinner for a family of 4 you would be below the poverty line.  Let that sink in “our minimum wage” does not keep a full time worker out of poverty.  ¼ of Americans make less than $10 an hour putting them below the poverty line.  That’s right ¼ of Americans are below the poverty line!   If someone is serving you….they are probably below the poverty line.3

Now if you think this news about the bottom fourth is bad – hold on there is more.  In 2012 the top 10% earned 50% of the nations total income – the highest ever recorded.  But worse yet the top 1% earned 20% of the nations income. 4  The word obscene does come to mind here. 

A picture of obscene in 2014.2   In fact in 2016 Forbes magazine listed the richest 25 families in America.  (Families like the Walton’s, the Koch’s, the Cargill’s etc.) All with fortunes worth more than 1.2 billion.  They collectively are worth 1.3 trillion.5 There is nothing I can imagine a human being doing that is worth that amount of money.  To live with that amount of money while 25% of our country lives below poverty is a sin.   (and I do not believe in the word sin.)

Census bureau data further shows the top 3% making over 400K a year.  Because I am writing this for a primarily Quaker audience and also a strongly Washingtonian audience the home of software millionaires, I need to further spell out this 2014 picture. I suspect a lot of my audience when they guess at the beginning thought they were somewhere between 50% and 75% when in fact the median as already mentioned is 31,099.  The top 10% was making over 160K, the top 15% was making over 115K, and the top 25% was making over 100K  which means that the top 25% are making 3x or more per person than over 50% of our country makes individually.2

Now if all this was not mind boggling enough – for many of you to realize that you are actually wealthy in America. Now we must confront the far more jarring reality that the US is the world’s 1%!   A 2012 story revealed that you needed just 32,000 (6 years ago) to be in the worlds 1%.   So in otherwords our median income puts us in the top 1% of the world.6    So just a minute ago I was feeling right in the middle of the pack, and now I see that I am wealthy beyond measure.    The BBC reported on a complex calculation that was done in 2012, it took the average wage of every country and multiplied it by the number of workers in that country and then came up with the average, they also adjusted the money for the exchange rate.  They came up with a monthly wage of $1,480 or just less than 18,000 a year.7  Earlier, I reported that the poverty line in the US in 2016 was 23,000 for a family of 4.   So that’s right – even the poor in American, many of them have more money than the average wage earner else where in the world!  There are second hand products that can be obtained here that are not available at all in many other countries.

How do we see what we have to share?  Those who earn less than 100K give the most 3.6% of their income.  Those over between 100k and 200K give the least 2.6% and those with the most, those over 200K give 3.1%.


Some of my regular readers are probably wondering why this heavily statistical and not (thus far) spiritual post?  I want to invite you to grapple with these facts.  I want to invite you into adopting an accurate picture of the money you have, the privilege you have and yes the wealth.  For me it is information that allows me to see my own situation and the world around me entirely differently.  For me there are profound moral implications to this information.  

What does our faith say to this level of inequality?  When I buy a cheap item in a store I don’t see the worker half way round the world who is paid less than minimum wage workers here to produce it?   But if I could would I still feel ok, feel right about my inexpensive purchase?  What choices would I make if I stay conscious each day of the fact that I am part of the world’s 1%?