"The Shadow is not what we know about ourselves and don’t like
(or like but keep hidden)
but rather what we don’t know about ourselves
and, if accused of it,
would adamantly and sincerely deny."
― Bill Plotkins, Wild Mind
“What do you mean “Sorry, man”?! I’m tired of hearing “Sorry man”!! You’re wealthy and you don’t care about people like me. There’s money for the war but not the poor!”
These words whip Boston Chinatown’s warm and humid air in the street behind me - and I volte-face towards the Black male-presenting person in their forties who just spoke. My answer to their “Hey girl, you have a couple of bucks for me?” clearly awoke in them a fierce anger that is now scintillating in their eyes.
Standing face to face, our gazes are locked. Both our feet are firmly planted on the concrete pavement, shoulders apart. There is something intense about our confrontation. Another female-presenting walker stops nearby to listen, her mouth slightly open. As usual with anger, I feel something in my chest freeze. But something else, also, is awake and alert - listening.
“I have nothing, and you don’t care. Wealthy people like you don’t give a shit about people like me. There’s money for the war not the poor,” my interlocutor repeats, making large half-circles with their hands. A flicker fires out in my inner world. I keep listening without moving.
“They’re right,” a thought finally stands out among fifteen others in my brain. My attention lands for a second on the bag of Chinese stir-fry and Taiwanese dessert in my left hand. “I just spent $25 on this meal. I could easily have given at least half of it to a charity - or them.”
My chest tenses up, as a second part of me backlashes - “You just spent $25 because this is your birthday meal before you head up north!! You look like you don’t care, but you actually really do - your life revolves around social and climate justice! This person is guilt-tripping you to get what they need.” A back and forth ensues at the speed of light inside of me. My feet don’t move, however.
“Okay,” I say after a dozen more seconds of listening, letting my plastic bag fall on the top of a trashcan next to me. My two hands reach for my purse. "You have $20?" the person asks, guessing what I am about to do. “I’m a student,” I reply, my eyes and fingers searching inside of my wallet. “$10?” they ask. “I have $5” I say, finally looking up while handing them a bill. I cannot help but add “I care, you know. I’m an activist.” They nod and walk away, without a word. The other pedestrian who has been staring at us this whole time does, too. I’m left alone at a crossroad.
Unsure of what I’m feeling, apart from a vague sense of guilt and relief, I head back to my youth hostel, walking quickly between the tall, red-bricked buildings that are now bathing in smoggy, yellow sunset light. In my hostel’s common area, I find an isolated corner next to a window and hungrily start chewing on my food, which I pick with chopsticks from the to-go boxes.
Secretly, as thoughts keep bouncing around in my brain through the window, I wonder if the gooeyness of the sweet mango soaking in coconut milk will wash away, at least for now, the question of how whether what just happened is about to impulse a new momentum to my spending habits.
“Clearly, I could have felt validated in my self-perception to be “a person who cares” because I stopped, listened, and handed them $5 - even if I am not wealthy,” I catch myself thinking the following day while staring at endless forests through the train’s window that’s whizzing up to Maine. I am about to spend two weeks at the Possibility Alliance farm where Ethan, Sarah, and their two daughters, Etta and Isla, live without electricity, running water, and the internet. As I type these words on my computer, I cannot not think about what happened the day before.
“This person was right,” I reflect. “In that one moment, I was caring more about my birthday meal than the poor. I tried to help with that $5 bill. But I could also have validated their anger with a “I get that you’re angry, you have so many reasons to” - instead of justifying myself as an “activist.” Being an activist says nothing about how much I care about other people. Lots of activists are in it for egoistic reasons, and lots of non-activists care a LOT.” I pause. “Mmm. There must be something I need to learn about my life beyond this one incident,” I conclude.
After about a week spent reflecting and frankly still not feeling too good about what happened, I end up reaching the uncomfortable truth that - indeed - this person in Boston saw the part of me that cares more about spending money for my own pleasure than directing this money to help improve others’ well-being. It’s not the whole story of me, of course, as Internal Family System shows (highly recommended!) - but it is a pretty real one.
Beyond the fear, my love for personal transformation in service of social change was alive on that train as I sat with myself. And this love looked at me straight in the eyes - and asked me to change. Truth unveiled calls for change. That’s often the scariest part of it. Perhaps a reason why searching for truths about oneself is less popular than posting touched-up selfies on Instagram. (Okay yeah, that was a little snarky, I know. I’m human, too.)
Samir Patel once said that one of Gandhi’s strengths on his nonviolent path was his ability to change his behavior immediately once he figured out something to be true. Even if Gandhi can be a controversial, paradoxical bundle of contradictions and had clear privileges in the society he inhabited - and as such, more wiggle room to manifest his free will - Samir’s words have kept running through my mind up to this day.
So, did the claim that I don’t care for the poor - even if it sounded ‘not true’ - change me… and/or change my behavior per se? Yes, it did - and to a large extent, quite to my own surprise. Sitting with my reflections and emotions; staying with the subtle waves of resistance that arose; looking for the ‘kernel of truth’ in the statement I received (see David Burns’ Five Secrets); giving it space; talking with other people about it; reflecting on ways that I could integrate it in my life - and finally grappling with the truth of it all was enough for me to understand that I could not not change...
Read more about how this experience changed me here!
At first, donating to Black and Indigenous-led projects any money saved from not going out to eat nor buying carbon and slavery-hungry treats felt like mission impossible. Seriously. That is what I started doing, however, after Ethan from the Possibility Alliance suggested it a week after my encounter in Boston (see this post for context). “Do it out of love for Nature and Life,” he said. “Not out of guilt.” His words struck me, and the same night he and I talked, I dedicated one full page of my diary to the tracking of my Life-honoring donations to initiatives that I believe in.
A week later, in the train that took me down from the Possibility Alliance (picture above) to Vine & Fig on Manahoac Territory, VA, I stared into my wallet and wondered - how am I going to do this? My whole life needed to change. And that was both exciting and INCREDIBLY scary.
Being called out in Boston’s streets had not only cracked my heart opened to the truth that parts of me clearly didn’t care about the poor… spending two weeks on a self-sustaining farm with four goats, a garden, and twenty chickens that existed beautifully without electricity, internet, and running water had also shown me why.
A distinct spark of soulful hope scintillated in my large brown eyes reflected on the bus window, surrounded by Maine’s silver lakes. As I looked closer to my own face, I saw in my own gaze a quiet determination to curve my addiction to systemic oppression. The things I knew I was going to have to work with were day-to-day luxuries - avocadoes and chocolate; added sugars; computers and smartphones; social media; convenient to-go food; and all sorts of behaviors aimed to “be nice to myself and others” - and belong - survive even - in a culture that is ever-more reliant on carbon and exploitation for perennity.
Whizzing towards Boston, passing through small countryside towns, I was feeling my emotional heart open and close inside of me - a subtle movement of longing ascending and disappearing with the magnetism of my thoughts and the charge of my emotions.
Holding the subtle tension of my heart’s open doors was delicate work, I was conscious of that. This trembling, this back and forth had me wonder how much I would actually be able to reduce my participation in mainstream systems once away from the Possibility Alliance.
Cities are not made for humans - they are made for consumers. Mainstream culture’s priority is not human feelings - it’s financial flow. And consumption in cities requires at least a certain degree of disconnection, which is toxic to the soul. I wondered if I would be able to somewhat extract myself from this system. And if I did... how long would it last?
“We’ll take it day by day,” I started reasoning as the hours passed by and my body sunk heavier and heavier in the bus’s worn-out seat. “And see what happens.” A game plan slowly emerged as my fingers sent dozens of voice messages to my WhatsApp contacts, aided by Megabus’ unreliable Wi-Fi. These messages were telling my loved ones many tales and wonders about my stay at the Possibility Alliance - and letting them know that I was deleting WhatsApp.
My relationship to WhatsApp had always been a struggle. Owned by Facebook, a known funder of addictive technology, WhatsApp distracted me and fed the neurons in my brain that hated feeling pain - the world’s pain, my pain - a pain that was just too hard to feel without a grounded mind-body. I told my loved ones I would contact them in other ways - Signal, Skype, texting, letters - and asked for their mailing address and birthdate to send them cards. WhatsApp was out.
My only chance to sustain this massive heart-opening is to concentrate,
I realized. Concentrate. Concentrate.
To concentrate on each moment so that I can stay in touch with my intention and values.
To concentrate on what is happening in front of me to feel and process.
To slow down my mind and body enough to interrupt my lifelong automatisms.
To make space for the emotions that will arise as a result of this interruption.
To end up making different decisions than usual in each isolated moment.
To concentrate so that I can lean into today’s decisions today - and feel into tomorrow’s choices tomorrow.”
So, WhatsApp was - indeed - out.
"Love is most easily nurtured when we slow down
and remove everything that can get in the way of two human beings
or a human being and Nature
― Ethan Hughes - Back to Life: Returning from the Virtual to the Real
The thought of concentration as my safety buoy comforted me. I remembered how this intention to concentrate helped me during past multiple-day meditation retreats. Focusing my attention on each very moment directed my attention away from the whisper in my head which repeated that a million other similarly hard moments spent in silence were waiting ahead of me.
That thought, when I gave it attention instead of concentrating on what was in front of me, would usually provoke a cascade of anxiety and panic, which would then open my body’s doors to dysregulation, despair, and frustration - and the desire to give up. It was a rabbit hole that I respected but did not need to feed on this path. I wanted this rabbit hole to only remind me how unpleasant panic felt when it knocked at the door of my skin.
“I know how to do this. I’ve practiced this,” I thought. “And if I stray away, well, I’ve practiced falling away from my meditation practice, too, and coming back to it for almost six years now. I know that Love is the action of coming back again and again, regardless of how many times I stray away. I got this.” From this inner dialogue, I realized that upholding my love for Life through concrete actions was going to be like… well, like being on retreat all the time. And it was exciting, too.
Sitting under a tree in Boston, waiting for my next train, I continued pondering while handing to a squirrel a piece of organic, local carrot from Belfast’s coop. “At some point, all the isolated moments will make a string of moments. And then the strings of moments will make weeks - and years. I love this world too much; I cannot go back to my old ways. My eyes and heart are opened now. Closing them would be a crime. Ignorance that is unaware of itself can be a good excuse - but intentionally repressed awareness never can.”
“We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference,
ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time,
add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”
― Marian Wright Edelman
So, day by day, over the past three weeks, I have been grappling with fear, excitement, pride, grief, joy, disgust, frustration, love - and everything in between - while trying to feed myself and simply exist in a culture captive of its own dependency on carbon and exploitation.
One of the first things I did after arriving at Vine & Fig (see photo) on Manahoac Territory in Harrisonburg, VA, was locate the city’s Coop and buy a soap and shampoo bar made with tea grown within the confines of the state. Not buying chocolate has been the most challenging aspect of my resolution so far. Chocolate is often produced through human exploitation in so-called developing countries and shipped internationally with great costs for one’s carbon and slavery footprint balance.
My fuel to sustain the momentum has sometimes been the warm feelings that my body gets while awe arises to the sight of leaves moving in the wind; sometimes the determination that every fiber of my being can master to hold onto; and sometimes the grief fed by moments like when Harrisonburg’s whole sky filled with smoke from the California fires mid-September.
Ethan’s words also continue to live with me “Do things out of love. Not out of guilt.” Guilt is a powerful, habitual fuel for me. Unsurprisingly, it sometimes arises big time when I stare at chocolate in the store. “Don’t buy this. You shouldn’t do this,” I hear Guilt whisper. Guilt’s footprint in my body is acidic, it constricts my chest and makes me look away from the shelf too quickly.
I am starting to recognize Guilt more and more. When Guilt is here, I direct my attention to the part of my body that is screaming and let this scream-feeling permeate my whole body. Guilt is Energy, it’s Power. “I choose the Power of Love today, over the Power of Guilt,” I tell myself. Slowly, I let Guilt move on and shape-shift. I start walking more slowly. I shake my limbs or breathe a little faster to dissipate the physical tension. I search inside of myself for this part of me that so wildly loves Nature and Justice. I remember the fallen trees in Suomi Finland, I remember the lush green redwood trees on Pomo Land, Mendocino. And I leave the store without chocolate.
“I could not have done this without you,” I said to Ethan later on. “There is nothing that we can truly do alone,” he replied.
Since the day of my 26th birthday on August 14th in Boston, $18 has already gone from my wallet to Soul Fire Farm, “an Afro-Indigenous centered community farm committed to uprooting racism and seeding sovereignty in the food system.” I feel more connected with my life purpose these days - and it’s been fun to have friends over instead of going out. Early September, two friends brought home-made food and home-grown veggies, and we had the sweetest time eating together while watching the sunset above Vine and Fig’s Garden.
The work that I am called into, I realize, is to let my love for the world transform my indirect dependence on systems of oppression into direct interdependence with other living and non-living beings.
" Love is most easily nurtured when we slow down
and remove everything that can get in the way
of two human beings or a human being and Nature
― Ethan Hughes - Back to Life: Returning from the Virtual to the Real
Today, August 9th, marks the 76th year since the atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. This was of course just three days after the bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima. Estimates say that somewhere in the range of 200,000 lives were lost, not to mention the physical, emotional and spiritual toll on countless more lives.
The scale of a tragedy like this is hard to comprehend. And yet, the memories of what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki always reminds me of a wild paradox - of the incredible beauty that can emerge from such deep tragedy. As we reflect on the lives lost in these two cities 76 years ago today, I want to share a couple stories of the beauty that I have witnessed that grew out of these tragedies.
The first story is from when I was young, and my mother took me to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum built to honor the legacy of this tragedy. While I was young - long before my commitment to nonviolence or peace-building work - I still remember the experience vividly. I was stunned. Speechless. Tears were welling up in my eyes as I took my time, slowly making my way through the entire museum.
As a young boy, it was the first time I walked slowly through any museum or exhibit. As a young boy, it was the first time in my life where I felt the depth of pain, suffering and violence that human beings have caused one another. And as a young boy, it was the first times where I felt that deep paradox.
I remember reading the story of Sasaki Sadako for the first time. Sadako was just two-years old when the bomb was dropped on her hometown of Hiroshima. About ten-years later, she fell ill to leukemia and was admitted to the hospital. During her stay, she heard about the Japanese legend of a thousand paper cranes.
As the legend is told, cranes are able to live for 1,000 years. And if one is able to fold an origami crane representing each one of those 1,000 years, they are granted a wish. So Sadako got to folding, with a wish for her to be cured from her disease. Despite her having met her goal of 1,000 paper cranes, her disease did not go away. So she kept folding. And as she kept folding, her wish slowly started to expand to include the health and happiness of others around her.
At just twelve-years old, after having folded over 1,300 cranes, Sadako passed away. After her death, her schoolmates raised funds to have a statue built to honor her and all of the children who passed away from the two bombs. The plaque below is reads, "This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world."
Years later, I would visit the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. I had a very similar experience, walking slowly through the entire "museum" fighting back tears, in awe of the suffering and the resilience of another young girl. Towards the end of the exhibit, there was something written on the wall. It spoke of how the Anne Frank house sometimes receives criticism about how much it focuses on the story of just one person, while so many millions of Jewish people suffered.
Their response to that criticism was simple, tragic, beautiful and true. They said that the scale of suffering related to the Holocaust is so severe, so extreme, so appalling that it is not possible for any of us to truly grasp and comprehend. Therefore, they try to understand the story of one person, the life and suffering of just one person, to try to connect to the pain and grief of millions.
Years later, I remain amazed. Amazed at the strength and resilience of these two young women from across the globe, both of whom lost countless friends and family members and ultimately lost their lives to the same war. Amazed at how much their story has inspired so many to work for peace. Amazed at the beauty that has emerged from their suffering.
The second memory I have is from the early days of my own activism. I was involved with the local chapter of the American Friends Service Committee, and we had organized a speaking tour bringing together Hibakusha (survivors of the atomic bombings) and activists from Vieques (an Island in Puerto Rico that the US Navy was using for target practice) and other Pacific Island nations dominated by the presence of the US military.
Phyllis Rodin, an elder activist from the US, was so distraught by the bombings that she flew to Hiroshima and spent years trying to be of service there. When she came back, she came back with the most beautiful art that was gifted to her from the local people. "Kiri-e" translates roughly to "cut drawings," or artwork made out of small pieces of cloth and paper.
There was a school teacher in Hiroshima who knew that they had to try to make beauty, even in the immediate aftermath while their city was still in flames. So they went around and collected materials that they would later use to make artwork with their students.
I remember being in awe at the beauty of this artwork, knowing the tragedy that they grew out of.
These stories that emerged from the bombings remind me of the resiliency of our species, of the courage of survivors of violence, and of our undying commitment to creating beauty and moving towards life.
On this day, I not only want to remember the horrors of what happened, but of the beauty that is possible on the other side.
This post is inspired by Grieve, Play, Love from Jem Bendell and Extinction Rebellion - available here.
My father’s steps resound on the ground, as his feet hit the pavement in rhythm with mine. Above our heads, the sunlight is running with us along the Baltic sea, piercing through the leafy cracks of birchs’ foliage. Carried by the wind, I run easily for the first time in years, listening to Amber Lily sing the Water Song with her acoustic guitar.
« I feel the magic
Living in my bones
And I have eyes to see
That I am whole again. »
Amber Lily - Water Song
How is it possible that I am feeling whole again, I wonder, running here on my ancestor's land in Suomi (Finland) amidst obvious signs of climate collapse ? How did I become whole again in the past 3 years on Ohlone Land, witnessing the increasingly aggressive seasonal fires turn cities and forests into ashes? How can I feel whole right now, as floods are destroying my grandmother's historical lands in Belgium and temperature rises killing Tahiti's coral reef, where I grew up?
« After we accept the full tragedy of climate change, what do we have left ? »
Jem Bendell - Grieve, Play, Love
What do I have left as I contemplate my 26th birthday coming up in two weeks?, I wonder.
Since I arrived in Suomi two weeks ago, I’ve walked amidst burned blueberry bushes and fallen pines, woken up to drastic temperature fluctuations, and swam in an unusually freezing sea. « This is not normal, I’ve never seen this before, » my Finnish mom keeps repeating, shaking her head over a land she has cared for since the earliest years of her existence.
A protective numbness grows colder in my chest as I clear the fallen trees’ acidic thorns away from the emerald moss on the forest floor. My mother and I work diligently amidst the trees next to our extended family’s house, wearing autumn clothes on an early day of August.
As I wish goodbye to the cut branches, my fingers gently caress their bark, and my soul prays that as long as I breath, I'll rise to the challenges of climate change. The consciousness that these trees and I share lives forever - and yet suffering must be soothed. My loving grief over Nature's out-breathing body - and my own body's readiness to feel and act are two of the things I have left to face the collapse.
« Talk of poems and prayers and promises and things that we believe in
How sweet it is to love someone, how right it is to care. »
John Denver - Poems, Prayers, and Promises
My own body sometimes fails to act, though. Then, all I have left to do is to feel. Some mornings, I wake up with a debilitating emptiness in my body, which I know all too well - a signal that some life energy is stuck inside of me, unable to express itself, constricted by routines and tasks that feel urgent in the shadow of the climate collapse.
Energy stuck in my body… where I used to ignore its calls only to fall into depression later on, I now listen to this silent cry's echo and escape into the Wild. That is why I am whole again. Walking - often running - amidst the tall pines and birch, I survive my own human condition amidst chaos by grieving, playing, loving, and raging in the safety of the forest's heart.
Another thing I have left is the more-than-human world as a lover, sibling, parent, friend, and confidant - all of these, yes. As wounded as the forest's arms can be, they never fail to be wide and open to me, welcoming my songs, my dancing, my tears and most importantly, my anger - every bit of my being.
Within the forest's heart, I am myself and release my sense of self, too. Feeling protected, I melt into the trees’ branches waving in the wind. As if cradled in the Pacific Ocean's waves, my body relaxes and cries and smiles and listens deeply to the Suomi forest’s ageless heartbeat that faithfully perseveres - just like mine does.
In the wild, I let my inner music shape my limbs as they wish; I let my vocal chords transform this music and other sounds into vibrations dissipating in the cool air; I remove my clothes and let the wind caress my hungry skin; I untie my shoes and let the ground wet my dancing feet ; and I unleash my rage by confronting the palm of my hands and the dry bark of dead sticks with the hard surface of bald rocks. The energy that was stuck inside of me moves through.
« Before grief, there was love. After grief, love.
Our essence is never in danger.
When all else falls away,
Our essence can shine. »
Interestingly, in the past months, the forest has started mirroring back to me that rage is one of the wildest parts of my feminine essence and the most debilitating energy to keep stuck inside of my body. The rage that is owned protects, gives clarity, and enlivens - but the rage that is possessive can deeply hurt... which is why I hated anger for so long. I used to be terrified of rage - mine and others’. So, a victim of my genuine yet inexperienced dedication to nonviolence and Buddhist meditation, I repressed anger. Actually, I did it so well that I was convinced it did not exist. I even told a friend last year « I don’t really feel anger, you know. »
That was incorrect. Like everyone else, I had and still have a lot of anger - my wildest inner soul was just waiting for a safe haven to release the disavowed energy that was corroding my soma. This is the forest's greatest gift to my young body - the unconditional love necessary for me to be born again to my own rage.
Interestingly, befriending anger in the arms of the forest stimulated my love for the anger of other bodies who were assigned female at birth. Disavowing my own rage, I used to fear and resent theirs. Now, I feel a wave of pleasure rise up in me when the familiar spark of anger lights up in another body assigned female at birth. I feel their vitality and rejoice innerly that Nature is talking to their spirit and soul. Perhaps, Rage is Nature's call for Freedom.
So, in the face of the climate collapse, what do I have left? An awareness of how to feel more alive as I contemplate death, for sure. The offering of this aliveness to the work of soothing Nature's suffering, too. Clearly, as I grieve and play and love in the face of catastrophe, I must rage in the forest, too - to keep moving and feeling - and let the song of my soul freely sing that I am and belong with Nature now and forever - beyond the collapse.
« I hear the music
Playing in my soul
And we will sing until
We come home again.»
Amber Lily - Water Song
[Art Credit: Rabbia, by Alessandro Rinaldi]
As part of the core commitment for membership in the Yet To Be Named Network, each person is asked to do a "reparations self-audit," a pretty comprehensive and introspective audit about our personal finances, our family and ancestral access (or lack thereof) to wealth, our family and ancestors relationship to slavery or colonization and much more. All of this is to be shared openly with members of our Network team so that each member as well as the team as a whole can make a concrete commitment to engaging in the flow of reparations - either by redistributing money/land, requesting and receiving it, or by facilitating the transfer of those resources to BIPOC communities.
While the conversation about reparations in the US can often happen in a Black/White binary, this process has made me realize the incredible complexity that exists in the conversation about reparations. Reparations, at the end of the day, is a process of repairing harm. So many communities have been harmed by generations of state violence, and there is so much repair that needs to be done.
In the US context, it makes sense that a lot of this conversation does take place in a Black/White framework. This is largely because it has been generations of powerful organizing by Black communities that have continued to push this issue. The enslavement of African peoples, one of the founding sins of this land, is a legacy that remains to be acknowledged and healed and reparations is a huge, critical component of that process.
At the same time, each community has a different relationship to historical legacies of harm. For example, as a Japanese person, what should my relationship to reparations be? Am I to simply sit on the sidelines?
Executive Order 9066, signed by FDR in 1942, led to the internment of over 100,000 Japanese Americans. But in 1988, survivors who were still alive received a formal apology from the government as well as a total of $1.6 billion ($20,000 to each survivor) in reparations. It wasn't enough. Among many issues, money does little to help people recover from the trauma that they had to endure, many families lost land and property they will never get back, and it does not acknowledge that such trauma can be passed down to future generations. But it was something.
As a non-white person, do I request reparations from the Network's Internal Reparations Fund? Or as a person of relative privilege (both as an individual who makes a stable income as well as acknowledging the positionally of Japanese people), do I "give" reparations to Black and Indigenous communities?
Further, as a first generation immigrant from Japan, what is my responsibility in helping to repair the harm caused by Japan's history of colonization and imperialism? What is my responsibility to the Buraku community (the "untouchables" of Japan), the Ryukyuan people (people from the islands now knows as Okinawa) or the Ainu people (Japan's Indigenous peoples)? How about to Chinese and Korean communities living in Japan, never-mind their homelands and other nations colonized by Japan? What of the legacies of the Rape of Nanking or of so-called "Comfort Women?"
Recent conversations I have been having about reparations within the YTBN Network has helped me to understand that reparations - as one strategy for bringing about repair - should be happening at both the personal and systemic levels.
The United Nations five-step framework for reparations, which came to me through the Movement for Black Lives' excellent resource (Reparations Now Toolkit), gave me a much more concrete and comprehensive understanding of what reparations could look like on a systemic level. It's not just about paying money and moving on. It is about committing to a process of repair, redress, healing, ownership, education and ensuring that it never happens again.
The reparations self-audit gave me a much more concrete understanding about the relationship that I personally want to play in the movement of resources for the purpose of repair.
As the Network continues to build and to grow, I am excited to see how we can organize campaigns to call for reparations at a systemic level. However that will take time, and I've already gained some important insights about my own personal practice of reparations, so I wanted to share some of them here.
My Own Commitment
This year, I will make $65,000 in salary from my work at East Point Peace Academy. I'll probably make a bit more than that with some income coming in from book sales. It's a bit vulnerable to write that in a public forum, in a culture where we're not supposed to talk about our money. But East Point has always had a commitment to financial transparency, and I want to begin to extend that to my personal life as well.
This amount is new for me. Until last year, I was making $45,000 a year, which is about the most I've ever made. Taking that large of a raise, to be honest, filled me with feelings of shame and guilt. Like, I don't deserve this much. I've always prided myself on the fact that I get by on relatively little. But I also came to realize that this is also ego. It's an attachment to a self-image of myself as a scrappy activist that doesn't make a lot of money. East Point is blessed to be in abundance right now, and I also know that while $65,000 continue to feel like A LOT to me and it is a lot to a lot of people, it is also about the starting salary for many nonprofit jobs in the Bay Area. The Gift Economy only works when there is selfless giving, and grateful acceptance. So while I'm still uncomfortable with this new reality, I am trying to accept it and be grateful. In a strange way, naming my salary publicly is helping my body settle.
Given my new income, all of my privileges and the commitments I feel to be in right relationship not only with Black and Indigenous communities here in the US but also with communities impacted by Japan's legacy, I wanted to challenge myself to redistribute an amount that would be meaningful and would feel like a stretch for me.
So I've settled on trying to redistribute 7.8% of my income this year, which comes out to just over $5,000. It's still not a lot, and as I continue to live into this experiment, I want to challenge myself to redistribute even more next year. The 7.8 number is meaningful to me because it represents the 78 members of the Indian independence movement that launched and led the Salt March. Their commitment - many of them living and practicing together for 15 years before that moment, has always been a source of inspiration to me.
As of today, I have redistributed $945.
Tracking & Accountability
I'm a "9" on the enneagram, in case that means anything to you. I recently learned that as a 9, I thrive when I have supportive systems and structures around, but in the absence of those structures I fall apart. This deeply resonates with me, so I've created some systems to hold me accountable to my commitments.
First, I borrowed a practice from my friend and Network teammate Morgan Curtis, who for years has been doing incredible work around reparations and healing for herself and as a mentor/teacher/coach/consultant to others. I began tracking my reparations on a google spreadsheet.
I was shocked at how much of a difference this simple practice made! When I started it just two weeks ago and tried to remember all the reparations I had made since January, I was surprised to see that I had already redistributed close to $800 already. With or without the tracking, that money was already going out there. But seeing it allowed me a chance to celebrate it. It made me happy. It gave me joy, as the person who "gave" that money out.
It's made me a more generous person. Now, each time I redistribute my money, I get to add it to my spreadsheet and see the amount grow. It's almost like a game, where I'm playing against myself, challenging myself to be as generous as I can be.
In addition to the spreadsheet, my Network team will continue to be a source of support. I plan to give updates on my reparations commitment on a regular basis on our weekly team calls - a place where I know everyone else is experimenting themselves with reparations in a similar way.
We will also be tracking our collective reparations - how much money was redistributed, received or facilitated as a team. We have had conversations internally about how we as a team want to support Black and Indigenous people within our own team (we are a mixed team) and also in our broader community, so I am looking forward to having those opportunities as well.
Reparations as Spiritual Practice
Tracking my reparations in a spreadsheet has brought fun into this practice in a way that I didn't anticipate, but I also quickly realized a potential danger in that. In some ways, the fact that there's a "game" quality to it is helpful, as giving should always be done in a way that brings joy to all sides. At the same time, there was a way that I was cheapening my own experience with it.
At the end of the day, reparations is not a game. And it is also not charity. For the person redistributing their income, it is about acknowledging that their income or wealth comes out of a legacy of violence. It is about understanding that the wealth of this country is stolen - made possible by the genocide of Indigenous people and the robbery of their land, and the enslavement of African people and the robbery of their bodies and labor. As the Network makes clear, it is not about "giving," it is about "returning" or "redistributing" stolen resources as an attempt to heal a great harm.
I worked 10 years in philanthropy, working at a small public foundation that awarded grants to smaller grassroots organizations working for justice. During those years, I worked with a lot of groups who had great integrity around who they would and would not accept money from. At the same time, I always felt odd in those circumstances because as a middle-man that served to bridge some of the country's elites to small grassroots organizations that those wealthy people may never hear about, it sometimes felt like we were laundering money.
Groups may feel great that they were getting a grant from a small foundation dedicated to social justice. But a lot of our donors made their money the way most elites accumulated their wealth - through plunder.
While I no longer work in philanthropy, I still work for a nonprofit organization that relies on support from other people, including foundations. Yes, we are committed to living in the Gift Economy and we don't spend a lot of time fundraising and have made explicit commitments about not working with most foundations. We only work with foundations with whom we feel like we are deeply and truly aligned. But even those foundations get their money from some of the wealthiest people in the country. Which means that the income I earn from East Point come from stolen resources.
It's impossible to wash our hands of the ugly legacy of how wealth was accumulated in this country. Making steps towards repair and healing from such a legacy is not light work. If we do not do it with some depth of spiritual practice (however you want to define that word), we simply may not be able to reach the depth of healing this nation requires.
So I've been balancing. Trying to honor the joy of seeing resources get redistributed, hoping that even my little contributions can bring joy, rest or healing to somebody or some community. At the same time, doing so solemnly, and with mourning and a sense of atonement.
Within the Network we see the word atonement as at-one-ment. To be one.
Since the 1600s, the word "atonement" has been a word focused on the person who committed a harm. It was about them taking action to repair the harm that they caused. Prior to that, it had a Christian theological meaning, to "atone" and become one with God again through the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ. But even before that, prior to the 1500s, "atonement" meant the "condition of being at one with others." At-One-Ment.
How I have come to interpret that is that every time I participate in the redistribution of resources, I am mourning the massive human delusion that we are not one with each other, and making acts to move back into one-ness. That me "giving" any of my resources away is not a sacrifice or goodwill on my part. If we are truly one with each other, it is not me as an individual giving something out of charity to another separate individual. It is one small part of humanity moving resources to another part of humanity that is in need. It is about acknowledging that another part of myself is hurting, and has been hurting for centuries.
So now, every time I write a check, hit "donate" on a website or hit "send" on my Venmo, I try to pause. I try to be aware of the great depths of suffering that I am attempting to bring healing to. I am trying to hold the paradox that the money that gets sent may contribute to someone's healing, but it is still part of a system of racial capitalism that has destroyed this planet and contributed to slaughter. I try to mourn. Because I know that even this is so far from being "enough."
This is An Experiment
I don't really know what I'm doing. The support and the practices of the Yet To Be Named Network have been crucial. And I have some sense of what my heart is telling me. I'm just gently pulling the thread that's tied to that calling in my heart, and seeing what emerges. Seeing where it takes me.
I'm excited to continue down this path, to see what other practices I pick up, what other systems I find to be helpful, what other frameworks I realize I need to learn and embody. Already I've learned so much.
A lot of the learning has been about realizing what I don't know. I don't know enough of my ancestry and family history to know about our relationship with, say the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII. And I realize that I need to work even harder on healing and strengthening relationship with my own family for me to even begin to have those conversations with them (funny, turns out that to contribute to healing out there, I need to heal with my own family first).
I also found out that Japanese civil society does not work the same way as it is here in the US, with organizations set up to accept online donations. So I've had to rely on some personal relationships to find ways that I can support marginalized communities in my own homeland. (HUGE shoutout to Miho Kim for being such an amazing resource, teacher, friend and thought partner on this!!!)
Through some of these conversations, I've also decided that I want to begin to engage in conversations with other Japanese people here in the US and abroad about how we repair our own legacies of harm. What does reparations and atonement look like for us? How do we contribute to healing from the harms that our people have caused? (If you're Japanese and want to talk about this, hit me up!!!)
I still have more questions than I have answers, and I suppose that may always be the case. But as the Network has also taught me, there are so many questions that will only be answered through practice and experimentation. There's no way we're going to sit in a room and think our way to racial healing. At some point, we have to see if our hearts can point us in a general direction and start moving.
I look forward to continuing to see where this direction takes me.
Image courtesy of Lewis Bernier
Last week on February 27th, East Point had the privilege to partner with activists from Idle No More SF, 1,000 Grandmothers for Future Generations and the Climate Justice Street Mural Project for another mural action! Led by members of Extinction Rebellion SF Bay, we blockaded the street right outside of the Oakland Federal Building and painted this beautiful mural with a clear message to the Biden and Harris administration: STOP LINE 3 & DAPL - BUILD BACK FOSSIL FREE!!!
On either side of the message are smaller murals designed by 12 different community organizations showing what their vision of a Fossil Free future could look like!
Check out the collection of pictures, videos and media coverage below.
Check out a short video documenting the action. Video by Maya Media, with music by the Peace Poets.
- Native News Online: Protesting Pipelines Through Street Murals: The Paint Does All the Talking
- SFGate.com: Hundreds Paint Murals on Downtown Street Opposing Oil Pipelines
- KTVU: Hundreds Paint Murals on Downtown Oakland Street Opposing Oil Pipeline
Photos & More Videos:
- Photo album from Kelly Johnson Revolutionary Photography
- Photo album and drone footage from Arthur Koch
- Photo album from Rawearthworks Journal
- Drone photo album and video footage from Lewis Bernier
Additional thanks to all of the mural teams who showed up with their vision of what our beautiful future could look like!
- Save West Berkeley Shellmound
- Idle No More - SF Bay
- Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women of California & American Indian Movement - Foothills/Central California
- 1,000 Grandmothers for Future Generations - Bay Area
- Sunrise Movement - Bay Area
- Jobs with Justice - Bay Area
- ASATA: Alliance of South Asians Taking Action
- Youth vs. Apocalypse & Earth Guardians - Bay Area
- Yet To Be Named Network - Bay Area
- Poor People's Campaign - Bay Area
- Urban Tilth
- Rich City Rides
Check out just a few images from Kelly Johnson Revolutionary Photography below:
As you read these words, the Canadian energy company Enbridge is building one of the biggest oil pipelines in the so-called US's history on treaty-protected Indigenous lands in Minnesota - even though the full cultural survey of sacred Indigenous sites is not yet complete, which was a condition necessary to the start of the constructions. You can read more about this here: https://www.stopline3.org.
On Feb. 3rd, the Minnesota Court of Appeals denied another appeal by Indigenous leaders, ringing yet another bell signaling that neither Enbridge nor legal authorities are listening to the local population and other authorities. On November 17th, 2020, twelve out of the seventeen Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) advisors appointed to examine the Line 3 Project resigned after the agency's one-sided approval of Enbridge's plans. And yet the Courts continue to support Enbridge.
At East Point, we are standing against Line 3 and with the Indigenous communities led by Winona LaDuke, Taysha Martineau, and Tara Houska, and many others. We are inviting you to join us in answering their following requests:
Request 1: Take direct action in Minnesota to block the building of Line 3.
Request 2: Give Indigenous communities access to the Biden Administration.
Request 3: Defund the Banks that are funding Line 3.
To respond to the first request, East Point is holding a weekly self-organizing space every Friday at 6 pm on Zoom to connect folks with organizers and resources necessary for direct action teams to go up to Minnesota.
No previous experience with direct action is needed to join this space, and we welcome you to email us even if you cannot make the Friday meetings - groups organize meetings during the week as well. More information about direct action in Minnesota HERE.
For more information, you can email us at [email protected]
Also, if you think you can bring something to the group from the Bay, like healing work, winter gear, or funds, you are welcome to this space! Please get in touch!
The fundraiser page supporting our teams in formation (we have five groups organizing so far) is available here: https://gofund.me/7c290f75.
As part of East Point's and the Yet-to-be-named network's Reparations work, we are committed to supporting Black Indigenous People of Color in going up the Line 3 regardless of their financial means. If you identify as such and would like to request funds to go up to Line 3, you can email us at [email protected]
As an organization and guided by Noemi Tungüi's wisdom, we also want to acknowledge the countless barriers that Black Indigenous People of Color have to work with in the face of a fashion industry that centers the needs of White-identifying people when it comes to winter clothes' design, sizes, and styles, as well as advertisement. We stand against these discriminations and are committed to facilitating BIPOC folks' access to winter clothes as we can through financial support and gear lending mutual aid systems.
For more information, you can email us at [email protected]
As you all know, we’ve been incredibly busy recently. In October alone, we pulled off 25 events to prepare us for the election; none of which was on our calendar on October 1st!!! We could not have done any of it without huge support from over 80 people who played active roles in our work, for which we are so grateful.
Over the years, we’ve learned some hard lessons about burnout. We have learned that if we are not taking care of ourselves, we are not in a position to be able to serve our community. We also know that part of the voice that tells us that “we can’t slow down, we need to keep working” is indoctrination from the capitalist mindset that is causing so much pain and suffering on our precious planet.
As an organization committed to integrating nonviolence into our work as deeply as possible, we know that not taking care of ourselves and continuing at a pace that capitalism demands is an act of harm.
We have therefore decided to take an entire month off, from December 11th to January 11th, 2021.
As an organization, we want to model what it means to take care of ourselves so that we can be in service. We also want to walk with the humility to know that the world isn’t going to collapse just because we stop answering our emails for a month.
We are not resting only to recover from a busy fall. We are also clearing our minds so that we can be discerning about our work moving into 2021. Because, let’s be clear, we are still facing multiple crises.
We are still in the midst of a global pandemic, the outgoing president’s refusal to concede is further polarizing this country, and perhaps most importantly, we cannot forget that we are still facing an existential threat from the climate crisis.
Given this, we have decided to commit the majority of our resources in 2021 to helping launch the Yet-To-Be-Named Network. In the first quarter, we will be launching a series of trainings that will deepen people into the Network’s DNA.
We also know that the end of the year is a time when many people donate to various causes. And while we have visions for growth moving forward, part of our practice in the Gift Economy is to not take more than what we actually need. And we are grateful to say that for right now, we are financially secure and feeling abundant.
We therefore want to make an ask that you may not be used to hearing from a “nonprofit,” which is to consider how much you would want to offer in support of our work, and to give that amount to these two incredible organizations:
Sogorea Te Land Trust: An urban Indigenous women-led project working to return land to the Ohlone people, the original caretakers of the land referred to as the San Francisco Bay Area.
Black Organizing Project: A Black member-led grassroots organizing project working for racial, social and economic justice in Oakland, CA.
The “constant growth” mentality of capitalism, which we view as unsustainable and ultimately violent, often seeps into nonprofit organizations, including ones committed to social justice. We are not interested in that. What we are interested in is our commitment to reparations, and to supporting Black and Indigenous leadership.
So if you were considering writing us a check for the end of the year, we ask that you forward that generosity to these two incredible groups.
As we move into 2021, we see a lot of hardships ahead. But we also move into the year feeling more confident than ever in the strength of our relationships and the resilience of our community. We are grateful and humbled to know that we will be working with you all to create beauty in the midst of so much chaos.
Wishing each of you health, safety, rest and (even if it is momentary), true peace.
astrid, Chris, Kazu and all of us at East Point Peace Academy
November 17, 2020
To Whom It May Concern at the Internal Revenue Service,
I write in response to the notice you sent me, dated November 16, 2020, of your agency's intent to seize my property if I continue to refuse to pay my federal taxes for tax year 2018. The amount of these taxes is $2413.43, inclusive of penalties and interest.
As I have explained to the IRS many times in the past (I haven't paid taxes since 2000, so we've corresponded with one another quite a bit!) my conscience forbids me from paying these taxes because they would be used to fund, among other deeply immoral things:
- war and preparation for war
- a racist and punishment-based criminal justice system
- unfettered destruction of the natural world
The word "economics" is derived from the Greek oikos, which means "home." Economy specifically refers to the tending of the home. The system we presently have in the United States is actually, therefore, anti-economics. Rather than tending to our home we are quite literally destroying it, and the taxation system your organization administers serves to perpetuate this destruction. I am duty-bound to not cooperate with it, and therefore resist taxes as an act of civil disobedience.
I am not opposed to taxation in principle, and I recognize that tax dollars fund many things that are life-serving. However, because I have no way of directing my contribution so as to avoid enriching the US military, the prison-industrial complex, and the US government's compact with Big Oil - to again cite the previous three examples - I have no conscientious choice but to withhold payment entirely.
In order to contribute to the general welfare of our society and the world, I have offered the full amount of my calculated taxes since 2000 to support humane efforts to build a more just and peaceful society and world community. In this way I like to think that my civil disobedience becomes civil initiative. In recent years the majority of the taxes I've redirected have been offered as long overdue reparations to Black and Indigenous-led groups working for their own liberation. If and when our nation transforms its spending priorities to genuinely reflect a commitment to healing, justice, peace, and ecological responsibility, I will be happy to pay taxes to the IRS.
I send this letter with all due respect for the individuals who work at the IRS. My objections to the role your agency plays do not obstruct my care for you as human beings. In fact, my tax resistance is as much on your behalf as it is on my own.
What a day it was!!! This past Thursday the 29th, we worked with hundreds of activists to block a portion of 14th street in front of the Oakland Federal Building so that we can paint this beautiful street mural Choosing Democracy!!!
Above and below the lettering are 12 round murals, created by 12 different community based organizations showing their vision of what democracy could look like. The The designs in between the round murals was created by Native artist/activist Edward Willie, and is an homage to the basket weaving traditions of California's Indigenous peoples.
The blockading of the streets were led by 1,000 Grandmothers for Future Generations, and we had support from youth groups and young children for the painting, making this a beautiful intergenerational event! During the 3-hour blockade, we were also blessed with music from the Thrive Street Choir, Lu from the Peace Poets who called in from afar and others.
We are still compiling all of the photos and videos of the event, and this page will be updated as they become available, but check out some of it now below!!!
Thank you to EVERYONE who came through and supported this project!!! Please remember that this is just our first run. If the current administration tries to steal the upcoming election, our plan is to do a much larger version of this mural in San Francisco, and we'll need all hands on deck!!! Please make sure to sign up for our mailing list for updates and Bay Resistance's text alerts by texting "RESIST" to 41411.
Watch this short clip from Maya Media with highlights from the day
Check out ALL the images from Kelly Johnson Revolutionary Photography HERE.
Check out drone footage from Mercury News
Watch a short Time Lapse video of the painting
Check out the almost completed mural from ground level with Maya Media
Watch this short video of the action on Facebook from Peg Hunter!
Check out more Drone Footage from Emanuel Desousa @FreshFotography
Thanks to our Representative Barbara Lee for retweeting our action!
Beautiful! https://t.co/VEJTmcrhDQ— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) October 31, 2020
- Check out more images and drone footage from above from the Mercury News HERE.
- Listen to a short story and watch a short video on KCBS 106.9 FM HERE.
- Listen to a short piece on KALW 91.7 FM HERE.
- Read this article on Common Dreams to hear reflections from each of the 12 organizations who painted Democracy murals!
Check out these individual murals of 12 different groups and their vision of what Democracy could look like!
Poor People's Campaign/Cardboard & Concrete Unhoused Artist Collective