A Tax Day Letter to the IRS

April 15, 2022

To Whom It May Concern at the Internal Revenue Service:

Please find my enclosed 1040 form for tax year 2021. I’m including this letter in order to explain why payment for my calculated 2021 tax of $1970.00 is not also enclosed. 

Since 2000, I have refused payment of my taxes because US law does not provide a means for me to ensure that my tax contribution will not enrich our nation’s military-industrial complex, prison-industrial complex, immoral immigration system, or our government’s treacherous compact with oil corporations, which continue to wage an unfettered—and ultimately suicidal—assault on the natural world. Because the tax system provides no legal way for me to avoid supporting these things, I find no conscientious choice but to withhold payment entirely as an act of civil disobedience.

Conscientious objection to the payment of taxes and the redistribution of such funds to humane alternatives represents a longstanding nonviolence tradition. Tax resisters choose different methods. For example, some—like myself—file tax forms while withholding payment, some don’t file at all, and some live below the taxable income level. Some are content with resisting quietly as a personal practice, while others resist in a public way to raise awareness about our government’s misuse of tax income and to outwardly demonstrate the moral power of civil disobedience. 

I am not opposed to taxation in principle. I know that tax dollars fund many things that are life-serving. 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 society and world community. 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, 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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"Mourning the Gap": Ukraine, nonviolence, and the wider context

Ukrainian soldiers take cover from incoming artillery fire in Irpin

The day Russia invaded Ukraine, East Point’s core team member, Luis Miranda, sent an email to the rest of our core team. It began like this:

I’m feeling powerless… I don’t know if there is anything appropriate for us to do or anything to do at all.

Luis’s honest admission of powerlessness opened the door for the rest of us to give voice to our own versions of it. Our replies included phrases like “speechless and confused”; “helplessness and heartbreak.” We felt that some kind of solidarity statement from East Point might be meaningful, but we also struggled with the way such statements, when they aren’t combined with concrete actions in defense of life, can actually reinforce feelings of inadequacy and impotence. 

Expressing solidarity with words is a pale substitute for our heart’s deeper longing for justice. As important as it is, the same can be said for sending money in support of relief efforts, for those of us in a position to do so. As thousands of people are being killed and millions displaced in this new and utterly unjust war, we wish so badly that there was something we could do to actually stop the senseless death and destruction. We want the suffering to end.

This speaks to a kind of reckoning that nonviolence-oriented activists and organizers often shy away from. But we owe it to ourselves to be brutally honest: When it comes to countering extreme violence with nonviolence we are horribly unprepared. Nonviolence has undoubtedly made remarkable strides in the realms of community organizing, restorative justice, direct action, mass protest, and moral public accountability. As painful as it may be to admit, though, when these efforts come up short and the bombs start dropping, we and nonviolence are almost unequivocally left without anything approaching an adequate answer. 

It’s a strange and somewhat disconcerting experience as a flagbearer for nonviolence to feel so deeply inspired by Ukrainian people and volunteer fighters from around the world taking up arms to defend what they love. In the face of such extreme violence, absent an adequate response from the world of nonviolence, what else can we do but pray for their safety and hope that against all odds they somehow manage to hold the line.  

To add to the complexity, alongside our reality check about the inadequacies of nonviolence, we are also witnessing the paradox/irony that nonviolence may yet still be a primary driver to end this horrific war.

Nonviolent action is already playing a huge role. In Russia people are showing up to the streets, confronting the dominant, violent, hegemonic Russian state, and being arrested in mass because of their moral convictions. Many Ukrainians have also been demonstrating the power of nonviolence: in the way they’re crafting their narratives, in the ways they are engaging the so-called “enemy” from an unwavering stance rooted in the kinship between peoples, appealing to the humanity of the Russian soldiers and their families.

This is all to say that while our global nonviolence community may not yet have what it takes to stop a military invasion of this magnitude, it may still prove to be the Achilles Heel of the imperialists. We watch with such hope as courageous and creative practitioners of nonviolence steadily chip away at the impetus for war.

Meanwhile, though, the horror continues, and the seeds of the wars of the future are sown.

In her work as a facilitator and organizer, our friend Miki Kashtan often encourages groups to practice “mourning the gap” between what they have capacity to achieve and what they wish they had the capacity to achieve. This is vital, Miki argues, when a group’s work must proceed, even though some important need remains unmet. I think this practice has profound relevance right now for those of us committed to nonviolence.

Grief, it is often said, is the measure of our love. If this is true, and I believe that it is, “mourning the gap” holds great power for us right now. Along with our statements of solidarity and whatever we’re able to offer in support of the heroic relief work currently being done in and around Ukraine, may our mourning be a catalyst for deeper expressions of commitment. May it move us to support and wherever possible join with those experiments in nonviolent resistance that reveal the sacredness of life in the midst of war. May it also move us to double down on the hard work of developing our collective capacity to meet extreme violence with extreme nonviolence.

Another deeply important layer of this historical moment begs to be named. The humanitarian crisis in eastern Europe is of a monumental scale. In a matter of weeks nearly 6.5 million people have been displaced inside Ukraine, on top of 3.2 million refugees fleeing the country, and the belligerent megalomaniac who launched this war stands at the helm of a superpower more than capable of nuclear armageddon. As real and terrifying as this situation is, it is critical to remember that what is happening to the people of Ukraine is a continuation of a deeper wounded, traumatized human community reeling with its demons. 

Alongside our immense grief over this war, we at East Point are nonetheless disturbed, though not surprised, at the way this new crisis has taken center stage over all the other crises that non-white People of the Global Majority are facing, and have been facing over the past many years: seven coups and coup attempts in African nations during the past year and a half, for example; the continuing refugee crises in Syria and Venezuela; the ongoing war and escalating hunger emergency in Yemen; Israel’s comparatively slow motion, yet ceaseless conquest of Palestine. Not to mention that fossil fuels and greenhouse gasses continue to ravage our climate and create sacrifice zones for marginalized peoples across the globe. 

So it is that I close by saying to our brave and beloved siblings of Ukraine and of all places where people are standing against oppression and imperialism: Our hearts and prayers are with you.

~

If you are able to offer financial support to aid the people of Ukraine, we encourage you to consider contributing to SLOT, a grassroots Polish organization helping Ukrainians fleeing the violence.

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2021 Year End Financial Statement!

Click Image to See/Download Full Budget

We've just completed our financial statement for 2021 and wanted to share them with you as part of our commitment to financial transparency! We're sorry this took us a little while this year. With many of our staff being away and us integrating laura onto our team, it's been a busy start to the year.

As always, as an organization that relies on the Gift Economy, we are so grateful for all of your support. Not only grateful, but we are constantly in awe of your generosity, and the generosity of the universe. We see everyday that when we are aligned with our true purpose, the universe supplies us with abundance and sustainability. 

Here are a few summary points for the year:

  • In 2021, we raised a total of $222,462.67!!!! That is amazing, for an organization with no fundraising staff, no fundraising events, and very little effort put into fundraising! This is the power of the Gift Economy. We are so grateful to each person who contributed!
  • We spent a total of $191,763.87. That leaves us with a net of $30,698.80!
  • As you may know, we practice what is known as "emergent budgeting." We do create budgets, but use them as VERY loose guidelines, knowing that there is no way for us to anticipate what might happen throughout the year. We make very little effort into making sure that our spending or fundraising is aligning with our budget, knowing that they were just guesses that we made at the start of the year.

    Instead, we focus our time, energy and human resources on our programs, and have faith that the work we are meant to be doing in the world will be supported and sustained. 
    • This means that throughout the year, we often times have expenses or income that was unanticipated at the start of the year. An example of this are the three delegations to the Line 3 struggle that we supported early in the year. This accounts for the majority of the $23,252.22 we raised through crowdfunding. The expenses are accounted for in Honorariums and Stipends for the delegates, Housing, Transportation and Travel Expenses. 
      • Honorariums and Stipends also includes payments for our Core Team members who are not on staff as well as facilitators and trainers throughout the year.
  • Another new thing you may notice in our budget is both income and expenses for the Possibility Alliance. The PA are friends of East Point and one of the founding organizations for the Fierce Vulnerability Network, and are now under fiscal sponsorship with East Point. This means that donations made to the PA come to East Point, after which we send it to them as a grant. 

 

If you have any more questions as you look through our budget, please feel free to contact us! We are only able to do our work because of your support. This means you deserve to know anything and everything about how your money is used!

With infinite gratitude,

The Core Team and Board at East Point Peace Academy

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East Point's Public Workshops

You may have noticed that we have not been offering as many public programs recently. This is because we've been having a lot of exciting internal conversations about reimagine our work moving forward. Our Core Team will be engaging in a revisioning process in the coming months, after which we will have a better sense not only of what programs we will be offering, but why.

Over the years, our work has expanded a lot, from simply offering Kingian Nonviolence workshops to offering a wealth of workshops and programs. Not only have our programmatic offerings expanded, but we have shifted from becoming just a training organization to a community of practice - gathering together and putting into practice the tools we are learning in our workshop spaces. 

As we move forward, we will continue to put resources into this community of practice - largely through our commitment to the Fierce Vulnerability Network (formerly the Yet-To-Be-Named Network). We want to build a powerful movement of healing and resistance working at the intersection of racial healing and climate justice.

As we gain clarity as to what that looks like, we will design programs that support that vision. This will mean launching a series of trainings to support engagement with this Network, hopefully later this Spring. 

In the meantime, you will be seeing a few workshops here and there from us. But please be on the lookout for bigger announcements soon about the future of our work! We can't wait to share them with you!

On Behalf of the East Point Core Team,

Kazu

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Dr. King Day Weekend Events 2022

East Point Peace Academy was founded in 2013 to spread the teachings of Kingian Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation, a philosophy that grew out of the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the first several years of our work, we facilitated hundreds of workshops in Kingian Nonviolence and trained dozens of Kingian trainers. We worked in county jails and state prisons, in high schools and with youth groups, and countless activists and social movements. 

Our work has expanded a lot since then. Not only do we facilitate Kingian Nonviolence workshops, but we have offered workshops on countless topics ranging from emotional regulation, movement strategy, the relationship between nonviolence and Buddhist dharma and of course our Fierce Vulnerability workshops. We have also been directly engaged in the work of social change, from supporting the organizing leading up to the 2020 elections to supporting the growth of the Fierce Vulnerability Network (formerly the Yet To Be Named Network).

However, we have not lost touch with our roots, nor will we forget the importance of continuing to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by continuing our work for social transformation through a commitment to nonviolent action. 

As we approach Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, here are a few events that members of East Point Peace Academy are helping to keep Dr. King's legacy alive:

Thursday, January 13th @7:30-9:00PM PT
Meditation & Dharma Talk - Virtual Event at East Bay Meditation Center's People of Color Sangha

Join Kazu Haga for a meditation and dharma talk for self-identified People of Color. More info here. 

Friday, January 14th @3:30PM-4:25PM Eastern Time
Nonviolence365: It Starts with Me: Creating the Beloved Community with the King Center
Join Kazu Haga for a panel discussion, which is part of The King Center's official week of celebrations honoring Dr. King day. More info here.

Saturday, January 15th @6:30-8:30PM PT
The Dharma of Dr. King - Virtual Event at Spirit Rock Meditation Center

Join Kazu Haga for a mindful, interactive workshop exploring the intersection of the teachings of two great wisdom traditions - Buddhist dharma and Kingian Nonviolence. More info here. 

Sunday, January 16th @2:00-4:30PM ET
Nonviolent Organizing & Action Training - Belfast, Maine

Join astrid Montuclard, as well as members of Maine Youth Power and the Possibility Alliance for this workshop on the teachings of Dr. King, and how to apply it to today's movements against racial injustice and the climate crisis. More info here. More info here. 

We hope to see you there!

 

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Welcome to East Point, Luis!!

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Shadow And Transformation: Do it out of Love, not Guilt (1/2)

"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 changeThat’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!

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Shadow And Transformation: Do it out of Love, not Guilt (2/2)

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
interacting."
― 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
interacting."
― Ethan Hughes - Back to Life: Returning from the Virtual to the Real

 

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Reflections on Hiroshima & Nagasaki

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.

Sadako Sasaki

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. 

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Grieve, Play, Love - and Rage in the Forest.

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. »
Jem Bendell

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]

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