A Japanese Immigrant's experimentation with Reparations

The cover of the Atlantic Monthly's June 2014 issue featuring Ta-Nehisi Coats' fantastic article, The Case for Reparations

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?"

Statue in San Francisco dedicated to the legacy of "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. 

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Stop Line 3 Mural Action!!!

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.

Media Coverage:


Photos & More Videos:


Additional thanks to all of the mural teams who showed up with their vision of what our beautiful future could look like!

 

Check out just a few images from Kelly Johnson Revolutionary Photography below:

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Join East Point's Direct Action Organizing Against Line 3 !

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]


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Taking a deep breath & our end of the year NON-“appeal”

Beloved Community,

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.

 

Sincerely,

astrid, Chris, Kazu and all of us at East Point Peace Academy

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To Whom It May Concern at the IRS

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.

Sincerely,

Chris Moore-Backman

 

 

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Democracy Street Mural

Photo by Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group

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. 

Marge Sister Who Walks With Bears Grow-Eppard blessing the clay paint, which came from her people's land

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 so grateful to Bay Resistance for their partnership, and the Climate Justice Street Mural Project and in particular David Solnit for their vision and leadership!!!

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
Street Blockade & Mural Painting

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!

Media Coverage

 

Democracy Murals
Check out these individual murals of 12 different groups and their vision of what Democracy could look like!

1000 Grandmothers for Future Generations

Warriors for Justice

Colombia Conexion

Thrive East Bay

Sunrise Movement SF Bay

Yet To Be Named Network Bay Area

The Ahimsa Collective

Extinction Rebellion Bay Area

Poor People's Campaign/Cardboard & Concrete Unhoused Artist Collective

Code Pink Golden Gate

First Mennonite Church of SF

The Mangalam Center

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Trainings for November Actions

We know that many people around the country are feeling a deep level of anxiety around the upcoming November election, and the chaos that may follow it. We believe that one thing that can help us ease that anxiety is to not wait until November, but to begin preparing ourselves for it now. 

East Point Peace Academy and the Yet-To-Be-Named Network have been busy building relationships with many community members from across the Bay Area to organize a series of trainings and workshops, building a vision for 10 days of gatherings leading into the election as well as some action ideas for after the election - particularly if there is an attempted coup. 

We invite anyone who is interested in being in community with us - particularly if you are based in the San Francisco Bay Area - to join us for any of these upcoming workshops.

CLICK HERE to see the list of all upcoming workshops

CLICK HERE to see our upcoming "Preparing Together" workshops, which are two-hour introductory workshops that will provide a framework for our organizing, as well as updated information about our November plans. 

CLICK HERE to see our upcoming "Enhancement Trainings," which are short skill-building workshops on everything from art building to direct action to emotional regulation tools.

If you would like to be updated about future actions and workshops as we inch closer to the election, make sure you are signed up for our mailing list!

We are also in conversations with artists and activists from around the Bay Area to organize a series of potential actions if there is an attempted coup. Many of these actions will require people to be in small teams of trusted friends. PLEASE consider committing to being in actions with a team of 3-8 people you know and trust. Once you have your team, check out this resource and fill out this survey so that we can coordinate!

We hope to see you soon!!!

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Preparing Together: Join Us As We Get Ready for November

East Point has launched a series of trainings to help us prepare for a series of actions in November. These trainings, each of which will be two-hours long, will give people an introduction into the ethos of Fierce Vulnerability - out of which our actions and gatherings will emerge - and will share our vision for 10 Days of Deepening Together -  a commitment to gathering together for the 10 consecutive days leading up to the election. 

Please join us for one of these trainings! All times are Pacific Time. (To Register: Click on the date to view the details of each session, then fill out the registration form at the bottom.)

THURSDAY, OCT. 8TH: 5:30PM - 7:30PM 
MONDAY, OCT. 12TH: 10AM - 12 PM (BIPOC ONLY*)
THURSDAY, OCT. 15TH: 5:30PM - 7:30PM 
MONDAY, OCT. 19TH: 10AM - 12 PM 
THURSDAY, OCT. 22ND: 5:30PM - 7:30PM  (BIPOC ONLY*)

The aims of this workshop:
  • to build a deepened sense of community and connection with one another
  • to explore principles and practices foundational to a "fierce vulnerability" approach to direct action
  • to pass along key information about emerging action plans for the Bay Area, and immediate next steps
  • to support the process of getting folks organized into small action teams

 

Join us and help spread the word!!! We hope to see you there, and in the streets with us!

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Updates for November Action

Here we go. We're just about a month away from what is perhaps the most important election of our lifetime, and we are gearing up to be in community together through whatever comes. 

In the past couple of weeks, East Point has worked with the Yet To Be Named Network and began a seven-week practice group of the book My Grandmother's Hands for 100+ white-identified people, and hosted a Fierce Vulnerability weekend workshop for 70 Black, Indigenous and People of Color, all to prepare to engage in November. 

That process has led to several visioning calls as well as 30+ people being trained to give a 2-hour training that we will be offering throughout the month of October to prepare us for action. 

While the details of our plan are still coming together, here's an outline that is emerging for the Bay Area:

Preparing Together: October 8 - October 24
During these weeks, we will be offering two tracks of trainings. One will be a series of trainings offered twice a week to share with people the ethos and worldview out of which our actions emerge, as well as our plans for the actions and how to plug in. CLICK HERE for our calendar and to register. 

Another track of trainings will offer concrete skills, including Direct Action, Emotional Regulation on the frontlines, Art Building and others. 

Deepening Together: October 25 - November 3
We will then commit to being in community together for 10 consecutive days leading into the election. Each day will have a theme: some possible ones that are emerging include a Day of Grief, a Day of Resilience, a Day of Visioning, etc. 

These days will offer us an opportunity to deepen in relationship so that when it is time to act, we will be in a better place to act collectively and in relationship with each other. 

Taking Action Together: November 4th onwards
Regardless of the results of the election, we want to commit to being in action together. Regardless of the result, we know that our democratic process has broken down, the climate is in crisis, white supremacy is taking the lives of Black and Brown people and destroying the soul of this nation. 

We are in conversation with many activists, artists and healers to design possible actions based on various scenarios. It is hard to know what will happen on November 4th, but again, if we are in relationship, we will be ready for anything. 

We will continue to send you updates as they become available, including our entire calendar of trainings (which we hope to announce in the coming days). 

We also acknowledge the many communities around the country who are also preparing for November. We encourage you to check out our friends at Choose Democracy who are leading national trainings to stop a potential coup. Daniel Hunter also wrote an important piece on the "10 things you need to know to stop a coup." And The Atlantic has published, "The Election That Could Break America," a lengthy and powerful description of the various forms the potential coup might take (the article is available at that link in both written and audio form).  

To stay updated, make sure to sign up for our mailing list! 

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Being Swallowed by a Forest

www.niralis.com
thesacredpulse(at)gmail(dot)com

A few nights ago, my partner heard me whimpering with discomfort at 3:30 in the night. I was crying. He tried to wake me up. I was worried that the deer may not have enough water at night in the fires and the smoke. I could see their soft innocent faces in my dream. I went out in the middle of the night to put out water. Most nights these days I find myself waking up in the dead of night with images of animals and birds in pain. 

It all began some time back when I went camping alone at a remote site in a forest in California. I did not have an agenda of rock-climbing, hiking, surmounting a mountain peak or getting exercise. My intention was to attune to the rhythm and speed of the elemental realm and listen to the forest. To allow the spirit world to touch me deeply. I did not know that such a simple intention was about to disrupt my life- perhaps permanently! 

It was profoundly 'wholing' to be able to immerse in the fecundity of the wild. I could feel the forest pregnant, primal and pulsing in the amplitude and intensity of its own erotic charge. Slowly expanding the ravines of my own sensual pleasure. As I walked into the ecotones of my subconscious, the veils between the human and spirit realms started getting thinner and thinner.

The soothing darkness of the thick mysterious night continues to nourish my heart. Memories of jumping in rivers and feeling the sunlight dry the droplets on my brown skin brings a trembling delight to my heart.

A potent but unpredictable process ensued in the forest which continues to unfold, palpably, for many weeks even after I returned to the city. Like an enormous transmission moving through my system, I experienced a magnitude of care and love in my heart that I had never experienced before. As if the trees, the birds, the soil and all of life became my lover - my consort - my family.

This love entered along with extraordinary grief. It too is revealing much that I had not seen before. It is clarifying. Melting layers of delusion. Sprouting new tendrils of insights in interbeingness - stretching out to mend.  

***

The first night in the forest I experienced fear. Especially fear of wild creatures like bears and mountain lions. I pitched my tent, tucked myself into my sleeping bag and these waves of unease passed through my chest.  I woke up twice in the middle of the night imagining a bear standing outside my tent. It wasn’t. Clearly, I was tripping. That’s what a forest does to you even without any intoxicants. It deeply reflects you back and pulls up dormant emotions from the dark hidden caves of the subconscious.

After about twenty-four hours, the fear subsides. After the first two nights, the fear is completely gone. Instead I began to feel care for the bears and mountain lions.  My body unfolded. The breath started softening and spreading into regions of my pelvic floor. I could feel my muscles widening, and my nervous system resting ever more deeply.

The over-culture has injected these stories of fear of the forest. But in my time in the wild over many years, not once have I experienced a single incident where any animal went out of its way to harm me. There is a connection here. Between the multi-million dollar deforestation industry and the lucrative political war and weapons industry. If America wants to bomb Iraq and Afghanistan, it has to create a narrative of fear.  Iraqis are dangerous, cruel or demonic beasts that need to be fought in the righteous battle of democracy. Dehumanizing the Iraqis gives Americans moral authority to torture them. Similarly, a forest is a dangerous place full of vicious beasts waiting to eat you. 

***

I may be digressing.. allow me to reel back a little. 

My intention was to attune and converse with the forest. But this forest was not really opening up to me. This was unlike my experience of being in forests in other parts of the world. I finally had the painful realization that it is not trusting me. It was heart-breaking. 

Meanwhile, in my meditation, my mind was revealing story after story about racism. I was confused. After a few days, I drove out to the dirt road to find a bar of signal on my phone and called my partner.

I tell him, “I am trying to do my elemental practices. I want to be present to the trembling leaves and the enormous redwoods, take in the sounds of the river and smell the morning air. But instead I’m kind of a hot mess here! Instead of being present to the immediacy of the sensorial  experience, my mind is flooded with stories. I have conversations about colonization with my activist friends in the city. But I am not here to write a paper on Racism. I just want to feel some quiet and calm so that I can be present to the forest instead of all this anger.”

He laughs, “You’ve never been the one to manufacture quiet and calm - not even as a meditation teacher. You have always seen emotions as important messengers. What is the anger and discomfort trying to tell you? This has to be a messy process. It has to. And you’ve done this so many times before.”

He was right. I have given many talks on how anger is a clarifying and potent force that needs to be honored. I needed my own medicine fed back to me.

And the one thing I do know after twenty years of meditation practice is how to sit in discomfort. This is the teaching of the ancient feminine Tantric Lineages - to be able to conjoin or unite the macrocosm with the microcosm. Inversely, so much of the modern consumerist meditation industrial complex is built on avoidance of messy emotions and conflict.

I came back to my site and tried to do some awareness practices. But it felt like the practices were keeping me a little rigid. They were creating a scaffolding so that I didn’t go into a complete freefall. I could see that the scaffolding was there to keep me safe - to keep me in the known - in the familiar.  

A point came, when I had to decide. “Can I let go of all defenses and safeguards and find the courage to freefall? Do I have the capacity to descend in the underworld of the collective psyche?” It was an enormous risk. But gripping on to the comfortable and predictable felt even more painful.

When one leaps off the cliff in radical trust, one doesn’t know if the ground will ever appear.

I gave up all practices. Submitted all the structures and scaffoldings of “concepts” to the forest as a loving offering. And asked the forest to take me into the depths of its heart.

The next few days were full of intense body pains. The stories and emotions ran wild. The body was releasing toxins. I could not eat much. There were times I could barely even walk. I would have to lay down and simply find the energy to breathe. 

Over time, a new feeling gently emerged. A secret happiness floating up like a soft tiny cloud. Something subliminally cracking open and the delicate ribbon that connects all life was beginning to reveal itself. Lying on the ground I felt its tender gravity on my body. I was becoming heavy with pleasure. A tear rolled down my face. I felt like I was being slowly swallowed by the forest.

Images of indigenous people of the land that we call California, living here hundreds of years ago, came alive. Them worshipping this forest. Holding rituals intended to offer respect and gratitude. Them treating the soil, the trees and the animals like their relatives. Referring to them as their brothers and sisters. I realized that in order to communicate with the forest, I first need to build a relationship with these wise ancestors who cared for this land. I needed to honor them and make offerings.

After a while, it seemed as if the forest began speaking to me - mostly in images. It was delivering a vision and there were times my body could barely hold the energy of this transmission.

The most important teaching was in the ‘gaze’ of humans towards the trees and animals. It was as if they were looking at their beloved. As if they were witnessing the sacred. 

This was a relationship that was tended. This is why the forest and its spirits trusted the ancient humans. The forest spoke to them, offered visions and teachings, and took them inside its pulsating energies and secret mysteries. The forest played with them and delighted them. This was a movement of reciprocity.

In ancient times nothing was taken without permission. There was a process of relationship building, bowing and honoring.

As I saw these images, I realized that this was true about most Earth based indigenous cultures in every continent. This is how humans were once in ‘right relationship’ with the non-human world.

When the white colonizers came to the Americas they did not follow the native ways. Instead they destroyed most communities that were holding the inseparable weave of sacred relationality! Even in Asia, cultures that saw the ‘divine’ in trees and rocks - cultures that acknowledged and worshiped the forest spirits - were called names such as savages, pagans, uncivilized, primitive, uncultured, heathens by the white colonizers! This includes my own ancestors from India.

Earlier I could see the inseparability of racism with the ecological crisis in the form of how the climate crisis adversely impacts the poorest of poor communities around the world in brutally unequal ways, and how most climate refugees are people of color.

But now I could see that white supremacy and its scientific view divorced from sacred relationality with other life-forms is what has caused the environmental crisis. And I wonder how can white people who have not done sufficient work around anti-racism offer holistic ecological solutions to the world? What does it mean for white people to take on leadership roles in countries where they have destroyed native communities and their ancestral spiritual practices of listening to the Earth? How can white colonizers listen to the Earth when generations of their ancestors are steeped in behaviors of unconscionable extraction, anthropocentrism and consumerism? In order to truly listen to the energies of nature, isn’t it imperative for white people to unpack the trauma of intergenerational racism and do sincere work of healing it first?

In order to colonize others one has to colonize oneself first. In order to destroy cultures that view the Earth as sacred one has to destroy one’s own communities that have built and tended to deep familial and spiritual bonds with nature. First, you have to burn down your own Shamans and Witches.

In the work of ecological healing, it can be profoundly potent if white people would be willing to follow the ancient wisdom of the native people of the land that they have colonized. They need to seek out native people who still remember their ancestral Earth practices. It is likely that the solutions and pathways native people offer might sound unscientific, illogical, mumbo jumbo, meaningless superstition to a linear, rigid, anthropocentric, disembodied or heady person who has gulped down the kool-aid of white supremacy and consumerism all their life. But this is the necessary hurdle that one will need to overcome in order to wake up to a deeper and subtler reality. The invitation is to be humble and learn the art of courting the mystery.

The most glaring facet of white supremacy is ‘entitlement’. And its biggest gift to the world is capitalism that has literally broken the back of entire continents causing bloodshed and starvation, robbing many of their basic human dignity.

I also admit that I have met a small number of white people who are perhaps more free of the toxic white supremacist values than many people of color. And in some sense we need to distinguish the ‘behavior’ from the ‘race of a person.’ Unfortunately today, people of all colors across the globe are entranced by the spell of white supremist values of hyper-individualism, domination  and control. 

***

The Intertwined Ecology of Oppression

After going through days of heightened physical changes in the forest, I regained some strength. When I walked into the more popular old groves of the forest, they were peppered with tourists.  For many people it seemed like the forest was another amusement park where they could extract another ‘experience’.

Entering a forest is like walking into a temple of worship or the abode of a lover. One cannot enter a forest with the mind of a colonizer who thinks they can walk into anyone’s home whenever they feel like - ransack, destroy or extract whatever they feel like. The modern mind lacks respect, relationality, humility or knowledge of rituals of permission taking.

Today some people engage in the elemental practice of Buddhist and Hindu Tantra with a desire to extract another ‘experience’. Or truckloads of tourists drive into the Amazon forest each month for shamanic Ayahuasca ceremonies. But I wonder if spiritual growth is possible without confronting racism, patriarchy and anthropocentrism?

With the advent of globalization and cultural homogeneity that which is considered ‘normative’ or ‘legitimate’ often gravitates and caters to white values or white-centerd needs. The painful truth is that human ‘entitlement’ plays out similarly. Human beings feel that all non-human life forms need to cater to human-centered needs. This is evident in not just white people but also in black and brown people who have lost connection to their roots and ancestral wisdom.

I found myself in the layered ecology of oppression - where the roots of one oppression extend into a greater oppression that is often not evident. The oppression of racism, casteism and patriarchy has deeper roots in humanocentrism. Part of my anguish had to do with how I too was conditioned by the values of domination and extraction - and how I too am completely complicit in this.

Today, most humans across all races display vulgar behaviors of entitlement towards nature. We humans seem to feel superior to other living beings not unlike white supremacists who seem to feel superior over other people of color. And somehow this obscene behavior is normalized.

It is violent to enslave other human-beings. My own ancestors were brutally enslaved. But fencing off a piece of land, possessing it as one’s property and creating a written document of ownership is not different from slavery. We need to deeply reflect - what is our relationship to land?

***

Enraptured in Ishq

I have a dear friend from India. She has an extraordinary medicine when it comes to romantic love for men. Her love is so full-bodied, rich, vital and erotic that it literally opens up portals of divine realms for many men who get into a relationship with her. It is like a transmission of Ishq which is an Urdu/Arabic word often used by the Sufis. There is literally no translation for it in English. Ishq is an intense version of love that includes the emotions of eros, fearlessness, untamable ecstatic beauty, delight-filled madness, worship, longing, surrender and sacrifice. For me, it is a sacred transmission just listening to her when she is enraptured in this ‘wild love’.

But the problem is that she is young and sometimes lacks discernment. In recent years she has wasted this love on men who completely lack calibre or depth to even understand what is being offered to them. Recently she was in a relationship with a man where unfortunately for him her love was an object to be consumed. He was so limited by analytical thought and logos that he could only calculate what he could get from the relationship and how he could optimize his experience.

She felt utterly commodified and violated! She was devastated and it took a long time for her to regain her faith in men. It was heartbreaking to witness her pain.

I realized that nature is perhaps feeling similarly about us humans. It offers us this incredible Ishq and we have objectified and commodified her. We violate her every opportunity we get. 

***

Reckoning the Normative

I returned from the forest at once blissed out and deeply disrupted by grief. These days even driving a car over a highway feels like an extreme act of violence. I cannot believe how our species has come to ‘normalize’ such a behavior. 

How did we decide to build highways at the cost of destroying delicate and intelligent life-forms, blasting open wise old grandfather mountains, entering forests and plundering them? For extracting the metal of the car that is mined - how did we feel entitled to rip open the belly of the Earth without praying or permission taking? How did we get here?

Humans are so arrogant and lost that they call these extractive practices - ‘technological advancements and scientific achievements.’ So much so that we are now preparing to mine the Moon and Mars. How did we get here?

You may think I am being overly sentimental. But I am questioning how have we come to ‘normalize’ such psychopathic behavior?

In only the last one week of writing this article two reports came out. Humans wiped out two-thirds of the world’s wildlife in the last 50 years. Another report shows how hundreds of thousands of birds are suddenly dropping dead in the Southwest U.S., and no one knows why.

The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment report, published by the UN says that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades. It adds,  “Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.”

***

Nothing is inanimate. Every rock and every stream is alive, breathing and extraordinarily intelligent. Likely more intelligent than humans.

She is sometimes by mother, my sibling, my child, my lover, my deity. Some days the grief is overwhelming and it is hard to even get out of bed. In those moments I feel frozen from shame, guilt and despair. And some other times, I can be with it completely present - without the shame or despair.

I try to remember my practices of emotional resourcing and titrating. But I do not want to get 'rid' of this grief. I know what's in the way IS the way. I can see how this grief is moving me towards authenticity, aliveness and awakeness. Wishing it completely gone feels like going back to a more numb, contracted, disembodied and psychopathic version of living. The grief is tenderizing my heart, melting away layers of delusion. Membranes of the skin becoming more porous and the heart a tiny bit humble. 

The tears need to flow. Somedays I feel that I am crying the unshed tears of hundreds of humans who are not yet ready to feel this. 

***

Healing the Split

When I am violated by another person what is it that I really want as repair? What is it that I want from my sexual abuser? Do I want this person to be punished, beaten or dehumanized? Will that heal me? The answer is ‘no.’

Or when I feel into the intergenerational pain of colonization what is it that I want from white colonizers and their grandchildren who are enjoying the privileges of the loot? Do I want white people to be persecuted, tortured or humiliated? Do I want revenge? Will that heal me?

No. Not at all.

What I really want is for them to fully and deeply feel.  To realize the impact of their actions, inactions and intergenerational privilege -  the web of systemic harm it perpetuates across all aspects of life (social, economic, political, cultural, etc.). I want them to take the enormous risk of letting down all scaffoldings and sitting in the unknown. In the confusion. I want them to sacrifice their defenses. For transformation to happen it requires a necessary disruption. This is sacred alchemy.

I want them to experience the required intensity of grief for their harmful behavior. And from that place of being tenderized and humbled by grief, I want them to offer repair. 

If they offer repair without going through any grief work, it will not help much. Infact, it is even possible that it might harm me. 

Fortunately, I experienced on multiple occasions, when the person who had violated or hurt me felt genuine grief, something miraculous happened. I did not have to carry the trauma anymore because they are taking responsibility for carrying it now and doing the work of transforming the pain. As if a weight lifted off my chest and I could literally breathe deeper. Their grieving and genuine transformation created a magical and palpable form of healing within me. It was almost as if their grief transformed the pain into a medicine. And the very spirit of the relationship deepened.

Many people are willing to offer physical labor or intellectual labor. Even a level of (conceptual) spiritual labor. But what this work of ecological healing demands is emotional labor. This is indeed an enormous but necessary ask. Emotional labor is even harder than starting an institution or marching on the frontlines and getting arrested in a protest. Without the emotional labor, the outward actions might remain performative or exhibitionist.

Today, some environmentalists and activists are trying to fix the climate crisis without doing the emotional labor when it comes to their relationship with the Earth. Offering repair to the environment without putting in the emotional labor of doing the intense and important grief work is similar to a sexual offender in a Me-too situation, trying to immediately repair the pain of his victim without slowing down, without sitting with himself and deeply reflecting on the impact of his behavior. It is premature, arrogant and recapitulates a patriarchal and supremacist paradigm.

As my friend Lowell Harrison says, “I used to be an environmental activist trying to solve my own climate crisis - trying to keep my inner climate within a comfortable temperature by going to protests.”

Letting in grief feels like breaking open the dams built around the heart. It demands an abject vulnerability. A spiritual nudity. What will flood in will not only be guilt and sadness. But also an outpouring of strength, authenticity, beauty and love. We have done everything in our capacity to hold up the dam. Only when we allow the Earth’s pain to enter our bodies can we listen to Her needs. Take on her trauma so that she can breathe a little more easily.

We need to realize that we are standing on the shoulders of people who said that we have a crisis - anyone who has pointed out - shamans, indigenous folks and scientists - who have pointed out how enormous this crisis is. We are indebted to them.

But we cannot offer solutions for environmental healing without doing the grief work. Build your emotional capacity. Because it seems to me that there is no other way for humanity to come back into ‘right relationship’ with Nature without putting in the sincere emotional labor around grief. And I hope we find each other in this ceremony of grief - in hundreds and thousands - for there is nothing I wish for more than ‘togetherness’ in these intensified, polarized  times. 

From my experience of being around dozens of spiritual communities in the last twenty years, I can say that unfortunately, many spiritual communities are under-developed and anaemic in their capacity for emotional labor. Most of them lack a sophisticated understanding of working with messy emotions, largely modelling different flavors of spiritual & emotional bypassing.

This work is hard. Humility is the starting point and humility is the end point. Humility is the indicator that you are clearly willing to sacrifice yourself. Willing to melt in the fierce heat of truth.
That is the freefall!

***

Enter with caution

Grief is not easy. There are many examples of people who have literally gone mad, taken to addictions or ended up in mental institutions. Do not take this work lightly.

Often grief comes with shame, guilt and despair. One needs to learn to work with the shame, guilt and despair separately and skillfully, without bypassing it and without getting stuck in it.

It is also a slippery slope. For one can easily co-opt the grief of the Earth and center it around oneself - making it all about “my enormous grief.” Thus turning it into another form of performance, exhibitionism, vanity or conceit. Or worse, we can turn it into a digestible pill and create a business out of it. 

In order to do this work, one needs to ask, “How do I touch into the required and sustained intensity of Grief without getting stuck in it?”

Because being stuck in grief is dangerous not just for oneself but for the world. We cannot show up for the world and offer repair if we are not strong and resourced. And we need to show up for the world because the world is burning right now! I How can we embody the paradox of slowness and urgency?

Also, remember grief has many flavors. Sadness. Remorse. Appreciation. Adoration. Gratitude. Love. Hope. Even authentic joy. The concept of non-duality is familiar to those who are grieving. Grieving is not a denial of life, abundance or eros. In fact it is a welcoming of it. It does not evangelize asceticism. To paraphrase Emma Goldman, a revolution without joy is not a revolution worth having.

Many ancient cultures equate grieving to singing praise! Grieving is a celebration of the enormous love we feel in our hearts for the Earth. Let the spring of holy tears crack open your heart.

***

For now, I go up to a hummingbird in wonder, and gently whisper, ‘I love you!’ 

I sing a lovesong to the mountain and feel the loud drum beat throb with ever increasing force and cadence like a spirit moving through my bones so that my ancestors can hear it.

Kneeling, bowing, with heartfelt tears, and a willingness to listen, I say to the forest, “I’m sorry.”  And I will say it again and again. A hundred… a thousand … a million times if need be… till it comes from the very depths of my heart..

….till I really mean it,

“I am sorry.”

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