Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Resourcing cells, fundraising communities, and economic justice

Every single cell in your body has only three seconds of oxygen available at any given point. Just three seconds. Without oxygen, your cells will die. And yet every cell in your body just keeps on expanding and contracting, knowing in some deep instinctual way, that fresh oxygen will come as needed. And the great majority of the time it does. And so you stay alive.

Within each year, the body rebuilds itself multiple times over. Our life is constantly moving, constantly growing and changing and integrating the new into something different. This would not be possible without that underbelly of cellular trust. Three seconds of oxygen and then comes the rest of our lives. Breathing.

Back in the late 90s early 00s, with a group of people I started a newspaper called Siren. Our tagline was inciting conversation and our vision was to have a city newspaper that read like a conversation between everyone who lives here. This means our writers had to write every article so that it could speak to someone who knew nothing about the article's subject and to a person whose life story had just been reported. Restaurant reviews were written as though the reader was hearing someone talk about their home food and for the reader with no idea this kind of food even existed. The same for news stories and art reviews and music reviews. We didn't always get it right but we kept trying.

When Siren started, I knew nothing about business. I didn't want to know about business. I didn't want to know about budget sheets and advertising and spending plans. So I stepped away from that part of the work, keeping my focus on the editorial and the vision for the paper. I assumed they were different things, not connected at all. I had a lot of justifications for this because really, the rational mind can justify anything, but underneath it all, the business and money side scared the shit out of me. I thought it wasn't political enough or interesting. And so I stepped back.

The newspaper folded in two years for all kinds of reasons but the biggest one was that we didn't have enough cash for a project this big. The second biggest reason is that we hadn't done enough trust at the front end to deal when our values crashed around content versus cash. We fought. A lot. And it was painful, for all of us. While at the time I was full of self-righteousness about the paper's ending, the gift of distance means that I now know, tail between my legs, how I contributed to the crash.

A year or so after Siren closed, I started learning about fundraising. I was tired of being afraid of money and letting that fear actually hurt me and the communities I loved. I didn't want to be rich or earn a shit ton of cash. I wanted to make sure that no fierce and loving vision for change and connection withered and died because deep economic injustice is real in the US of A.

Like healing and organizing, resourcing the body and fundraising from communities are the same thing. The fact of their seeming difference comes from believing that the individual is separate from the community and from all of the life that is around us. Every cell lives with only three seconds of oxygen and the absolute ability to know that more oxygen is coming. The body does not separate from the things it needs: nourishment, water, oxygen. Not every part of the body is impacted by these things in the same way and yet all need them to survive. The root, stem and leaf of a planet have different relationships to the water, nourishment from the soil and carbon from the atmosphere and yet, all need them to survive.

I was mostly paying my bills from fundraising work when I began to study craniosacral therapy. Almost immediately I saw the links between these different kinds of resourcing. It all makes sense, doesn't it? There are enough resources to support our collective basic needs. There are restrictions in those resources that are set up by unfinished histories, by the policy of extraction for profit (a form of capitalism) that defined the US as a corporate state from the beginning, one aspect of its original wound. Fundraising, when it is in right relationship, works to release or move around some of those restrictions. The same is true for the physical body; histories have set up restrictions in the tissues and bodywork supports releasing or shifting our relationship to those restrictions so that we have access to more of our life force. For awhile I met in regular conversation with two beloved friends, David Nicholson and Kate Eubank, to play with the relationship between those two things. We came up with a workshop or approach to thinking about resourcing community work that tried to learn from the body rather than from the systems around us.

As healers and healing practitioners, our work is about supporting each person we work with to feel and experience and deepen and grow their own resources. We work with their muscles to better experience their binding and lengthening factors. We work with their skeletal structure supporting its alignment so that the bones can have a more fluid and solid stacked relationship to gravity. We work with the fluid body, supporting the place where we live as whole integrated selves connected to all life. And we support nervous systems and circulatory systems and energetic systems to remember themselves and feel the nourishment of care. As healers and healing practitioners, most of us have some deep level of trust that part of changing the world is about supporting people to more fully feel and experience their own lives.

This is good. This is powerful. This is not enough. All energy needs to move. All life needs to move. All healers have to move dollars and other resources in support of the collective body. And all people involved in moving money have to learn about healing, both the individual and the collective selves. Period.

One of my favorite sayings these days is that we are all in the middle of the wound while we are trying to heal the wound. This means that how we have been hurt and survived defines how we even think about transformation. The way we have loved and connected despite the shit also feeds how we know that liberation is possible. Both are true. And for me as a bodyworker, my responsibility is to shift the conditions around healing and bodywork as much as it is about showing up in right relationship in the bodywork room.

Two or three times a year I am going to use this blog to try and move some cash from places where there is extra to places where more is needed. And I am going to ask you to do the same. I'll ask you to do it with me or to do it on your own. And I'll share what I've learned and ask you about what you've learned. And maybe out of this, we'll support some of what is tight to get a bit more fluid.

Here is what I am doing right now to weave together the resourcing of the individual body with the resourcing of community, to bridge the false gap between healing and organizing, and to then please god just get out of the way and let liberation take its own path. I don't assume this is enough or even the right answer, it's just the right answer that I hear whispered in my dreams when I ask ancestors and spirits, what next?

First, supporting a cohort of Native, Black, Brown, trans and queer biodynamic craniosacral therapists. This feels huge to me. It feels urgent. I am not going to list all of the horrible things that are happening and have recently happened that underscore the need for both ending violence and then supporting the healing of those impacted by violence. There are so many who right this second need to tolerate the intolerable. Click the link and read more about this dream and vision. And by dream, I mean literal dream. Like ancestors showing up amidst the snores, crossing their legs, raising an eyebrow and saying, hey descendant, get your ass moving.

A bit more context for this fundraiser: when the American Medical Association was created in the 19th century, its focus was on determining which kinds of healthcare were real and which were quackery*. At the time, outside of cultural healing traditions within tribal lands and elsewhere, homeopathy was the highest used form of healthcare within what is called the US. Allopathic or what we call western medicine had a smaller community of support. After the AMA was formed, multiple types of healing were discredited within the mainstream (meaning primarily European descended and government supported) world. Practices like midwifery, working with plant medicine, healing touch, acupuncture, bone setting and more were practiced in Black communities, in Native and other indigenous communities, and in immigrant and refugee communities. One of the strategies for building and shifting white supremacy was to build identity around those who followed "scientifically proven" medical methods and those who practiced "primitive" forms of care. Over time, those "primitive" forms of care (which, of course, still worked) were then made illegal, particularly in the cases of tribal cultural practices of care, midwifery and acupuncture. Healing traditions evolve over generations, tied to a community's language and cultural ways of passing on meaning and survival. Forcing away a community's healing traditions is another aspect of the violence of supremacist culture. This fundraiser and cohort is only one very small not enough moment in attempting to respond, as a healer, to the truth of this violence.

Second, supporting the People's Fund at the People's Movement Center. This fund supports free and reduced bodywork and sustainable supported bodyworkers. A basic win win.

If you can give to both, give to both. If you have to pick one, please give to the cohort. Right now. Supporting something like 15 Native, Black, Brown, queer and trans people to build their own practices is about supporting circles to keep expanding outward. This is not enough. There needs to be more. This is still something.

Our bodies know how to live as though there was enough. We rebuild ourselves, cell by cell, every day. Only three seconds of oxygen and yet, each cell keeps contracting and expanding. Our bodies remember what it is to know that there is enough. Shifting how the collective body holds the resources of money and time and knowledge and practice so that individual bodies can, together, begin to experience what our cells already know is one part of our larger work of liberation.

*While this is a real telling of history, I am also not one of those bodyworkers who is anti-western medicine. Thank god for how it is has literally saved the lives of many who I love. And oh grief for how the fierce caring and healing work of some of its members has been shaped and harmed by the insurance industry, by the cultures of consumerism and competition, and by the disconnection of a single life from the rest of all life.

** A few people have reflected that the illustration about this article is most often used to get people to go on diets. I had no idea and want to yell about that. No diets were supported or tried or experienced or demanded in the writing of this blog post. Our bodies rebuild themselves just because they do, not to change their shape but to integrate the enormity of life.

Friday, December 15, 2017

What is healing justice and how would it affect this gathering?

Yesterday I got to record a podcast conversation about the healing justice work at the USSF in Atlanta and Detroit with Cara Page and Kate Werning. I got off the phone and then went back to look at some of the documents we put together in 2010. This is something I wrote after we were already at Detroit. We were talking about how much confusion there was about how healing justice could be a lens on deep movement work, on actions and cultural change. So I wrote this and we printed about 500 copies and spread it in rooms around the Social Forum. Re-reading it I thought, yep, as HJ work often gets perceived as happening in separate spaces from where movement is taking place, this flyer is still relevant. If it's useful to you, go ahead and use it. Love credit it as appropriate.

A conversation takes place about working conditions for agricultural workers or maybe about housing foreclosures and you are listening to it when you feel something shift inside. This is not just an intellectual conversation. This is about your life. You feel your heart race and a mix of emotions are suddenly flooding through your body. Maybe you are angry. Maybe you want to cry. It is hard to just sit in a chair and talk about this as an issue. It seems no one else in the room has experienced what you have. So you shut down, get quiet, and wait for the session to be done so you can leave.

You are taking part in an action exercise, practicing using storytelling as a skill for mobilization. In the midst of a practice session, you can feel your voice get tight. You were talking about prisons and violence. It becomes hard to speak. You are embarrassed because usually you can talk about this really easily. You think of yourself as articulate. You leave the room as soon as you can, worried that people are going to remember you, that you didn’t have anything to say. You’re glad there wasn’t anyone from your hometown to witness you fumbling.

Two people with different beliefs, both undocumented, are arguing about how to organize in immigrant communities and about the roles of nonprofit organizations in social justice work. Their argument begins to get heated. People in the room freeze up, not sure what to do. A few people leave. Others take sides. You’re one of the people in the room. You don’t know what to do. You feel like you should say something but you aren’t sure what to say. You’re afraid they’ll turn on you. Or maybe you’re one of the people arguing. You don’t really want to keep fighting like this but it’s gone so far, it’s hard to back down. Or maybe you’re in the room and you say something and suddenly everyone is looking at you. The conversation ends when everyone leaves but the tension never finishes. Something got stuck and people leave, feeling uncomfortable.

There is nothing we talk about in movement building work that is only an “issue.” These are things we have experienced. Our bodies, our communities, our memories carry all of the times when we experienced or witnessed violence, systemic disrespect, or marginalization.  When we are working together to change systems and beliefs, we are also carrying the fallout from those systems and beliefs inside our selves. 

Healing Justice means taking seriously the effect of trauma, oppression and violence in our lives. It means recognizing that when we are uncomfortable or scared or furious, this is important information. We can learn from this information. We can shift what is happening in our bodies. The role of healing justice practitioners is to come into those spaces described above and to help shift what is happening. Often the reason we get stuck or feel like we need to run from the room or start fighting with someone who can and should be an ally is because of what we are holding.  This holding affects how deeply we can dream and how far we can vision. Ending oppression means ending how it exists in our communities and in the systems around us – and it means ending how it lives within our bodies.

Deep gratitude to those building on the ground at the USSF in Detroit, 2010.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Medical Industrial Complex with gratitude to Mia Mingus, Patty Berne and Cara Page (plus others)

Very simply, if we are not careful, all of our healing justice work is going to become just another piece of the machine. If we are not careful, the culturally-grounded, beautiful and deeply loving spaces that we are creating, private spaces with handmade artwork on the walls, will become a node on the organized profit machine that is the medical industrial complex.

The illustration above is a map that Mia Mingus, Patty Berne, Cara Page and a number of other disability and healing justice thinkers put together after a multipart conversation. Mia explains it beautifully and offers more explanation as a tool in our work for collective liberation.

When I was in my late 20s, after having dropped out of college for about 10 years, I decided I wanted to finish my degree. I had also been living away from the US and so, upon coming back, decided to enroll at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. I liked that Antioch was focused on experiential learning. As students we were less in the classroom and more in the world, doing internships and learning by just being in life. A more radical and glorious bunch of people you couldn't find. It was there, amidst the corn fields and old wooden farm houses, that I started to wonder if I had been duped. After all, it was perfect. We had a contained bubble of hundreds of incredibly radical folks, mostly young and very very able-bodied. Everyone slept with each other. Fought with each other. Introduced each other to friends living in other contained bubbles in other towns and cities. And we grew perfect and strong. And I remembered how the immune system has evolved to operate: when there is a danger to the body that would take a lot of energy to destroy or expel, it contains it within a membrane, something that mimics being connected to all life but is, instead, off doing its own thing and not negatively impacting the body as a whole. I sat there in Yellow Springs and felt the containment, even as we were all talking about revolution. How very non-threatening we all were.

I think about this when I think about my work at the People's Movement Center in Minneapolis. I am so grateful for our work. I believe it is important. But I also believe that, if we aren't careful, we are going to become that node on the top right of the Medical Industrial Complex map; a contained little membrane where those who have access, like a secret code, can come through our doors and be there, in the closed off membrane along with the rest of us.

I don't actually think that is happening. I think this is happening. I think both are true. I love the vision that Mia offers in the essay that goes along with the chart:

I am inspired by the possibilities that can be grown out of the rich fertile ground where disability justice and healing justice meet and overlap. I ache for more healers that don’t continue to perpetuate ableist notions of how bodies should be (or strive to be) and for disabled folks who don’t have to only know “healing” as a violent word because of our histories of forced healing, cures and fixing. I get excited about practitioners who have accessible spaces and practices that can hold all kinds of bodies and minds; and collective access and care that allows more and more disabled people to be less and less bound to the state.

I assume there are healers and other practitioners reading this blog. If so, I link arms with you and say, here is our struggle. We have a large public, a medical industrial complex, which is how most people, particularly those who are poor and Black and Brown, get their care. This is a system designed to manage people, to weed out the "abnormal" from the "normal," a process of eugenics I wrote about in an earlier blog post. There are also significant powerful people working in this system who are trying to make change, to remain relational, to shift healthcare as control into something that recognizes our complex humanity. I want to be in community with those people and with you to learn how to do all of this: to do the kind of transformative liberated work that is not possible within the bounds of most parts of the medical system and, at the same time, to refuse to let ourselves be privatized. Not a single one of us can heal until all are healed. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Healing within the context of land and history

This is a week when people are either celebrating or resisting the story of how first contact between settlers and Native people happened. This is something I wrote as part of The People's Movement Center, as we sat within the questions asked below. Any mistakes I have made in the telling of these stories, especially the stories that are not my history to tell, are my own mistakes and I am accountable for them.

It always starts with the land….

What does it mean to do healing work, to do any kind of change work when the land below your feet still carries stories that are not finished?

For 50,000 generations people lived right here, on this land that is under my feet. If you, too, are sitting on this land mass that got called North America, then you, too, are living where for 50,000 generations people lived and continue to live. Real people. Complex people. People who were loving and mean, who laughed and who got overly dramatic. People have lived here, right here, before the glaciers came and after, lived here for, as the stories tell us, 50,000 generations, that is how long we were here. Some of the stories of those times are still here, held by the grandmothers and shared with the children. Some of these stories are gone, scooped out along with water from the slough, dried out and then dust flown in the wind. Ghosts that scattered along with top soil, settling in the cracks between here and there.

This the Dakota homeland, here where I live. My home is about 3 miles from the confluence of the Mississippi and MInnesota Rivers, Bdote, the Dakota homelands.

This is land that is soil on top of sand, loose below us where the glaciers ground their way down through mountain and stone to leave sand and boulders, soft land that lets the water run through it, weaving and snaking its way into rivers and springs. This is a land where there is water.

50,000 generations of real people lived here and they did many things but there is one thing they did not do: they did not forget their relationship to the land and all living things in relation to that land. They did not bring the violence of disconnection and control that destroys life. This is why they could live here for 50,000 generations, within a land that was wild even as it was known, was loved even as it was farmed.

I work and live in south Minneapolis. Dakota people hunted and their children played right where the pavement runs through. Their families were here in 1500 when French trappers first portaged and then river-wandered from the northern lakes to the southern prairie and oak savannah.

I am not going to do this alone. If you are reading this, I want to know: Do you know your original peoples and your traditional ways? If they are not your people, then do you know the people original to the land where you live? Do you know the people who walked the land for generations before you rented your apartment, bought your house, planted your garden, and put out your recycling bins? Why are you reading this story? How do you want it to help you?
20 generations ago is when the first settlers arrived to the northern parts of this land, bringing with them the separation that they had already learned on the lands where they began. They brought their understandings of private property and land ownership and they began to settle. These people were French trappers who wandered rivers and lakes making business deals with original people. After them came the army, first wave of the surge that would take trees and furs and ore including someday oil from pipelines, the army came and over time drove the Dakota villagers who had lived along the river banks for generations,  drove them further away. Some settled along Bde Maka Ska, settling with a small farm where Lakewood Cemetery is today. Here is where Chief Cloudman lived and where some of the first Christian missionaries also set up, working to enforce western language and cultural traditions with the intent to break the cultural link the Dakota people have with the land. When you look at very old maps, there is a trail that goes from Bdote to Bde Maka Ska and it passes very near to where my work, the People’s Movement Center, stands.  
By the time the French and then the army came, there would have been squatters here, too; Europeans who came and just put up a tent, a shack, a rough house. So many of those early settlers were young people, just like young white US travelers today, young people who leave their homes to go to different lands where they can have adventures before they go back home to their families.  Collecting stories like empty skulls. Some people came because they didn’t fit in back home, because it wasn’t safe anymore to be back home, or because they felt the call deep inside for something that was wilder than cities and farms. Some became friends with people from local tribes and some did not.  They hunted. They fished. Sometimes they farmed and then they died or else, when the city got bigger they went further north and settled in whatever corner they could find. I think of them when I drive up to northern Minnesota and see the houses that are made of plywood and twine, the old white men with beards down past their knees who live by hunting and gathering, signs with pictures of guns posted along their fences.
And there were treaties. Did you know that even as the first settlers began to establish St. Anthony and what would later become St. Paul, what is now Minneapolis remained only Dakota territory until 1851? 50,000 generations lived on this land and it is only been seven generations since settlers overtook this Dakota territory. Seven generations since the Twin Cities went from being held by original peoples to being controlled by settlers. Seven generations against 50,000.
Agreements between nations, agreements like we have free trade agreements today, agreements as a tense compromise between the rich and greedy and the poorer in need of work. Or the poor and greedy, hoping to be the winners this time.  Land gluttony. It happened fast, like a plague. Within a generation, the balance tipped from mostly original peoples to those who were not. In 1862 the US government passed the Homestead Act, opening up ceded (and violently taken unceded) land for settlement. That same year, 1862, Dakota families were hungry and had not received the food and supplies promised through treaty. Young people, frustrated with weeks of promises and growing hunger, fought, protested, raged, and this became the Dakota War of 1862. President Lincoln sent in troops, many the same troops who had just fought in the Civil War, and at the end of the battles, those Dakota families remaining along the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers were removed, exiled, such violence, the uprooting of a people from their land, their history.  Their warriors, 38+2, were murdered and after all of that, what mattered most to those who came was that now there was more land.  The stories shared in newspapers to the east told the stories of land, free land, not the stories of the families whose lives had just been traded for federal profit.

More settlers came, buying farms along the Minnesota River, the Mississippi River, the St. Croix, spreading and calling their families to come and then spreading further. Trees cut down to make railroad ties. Swamps filled in. Banks and more banks opening and then closing as money changed white hands, exploded into wealth for some and disappeared over night for others. The squatters were kicked out and now land was bought with legal paper. Irish carpenters and tavern keepers, Swiss and Welsh laborers, German butchers and cigar makers, English masons, and Scots bakers joined farmers from Germany, Canada, and older areas of the United States, wagon makers from New York, hotelkeepers from Virginia, lawyers and merchants from Pennsylvania, millwrights from Ohio, ministers, teachers, and tailors from New England, and French-Canadian voyageurs and blacksmiths to spread over Minnesota including these neighborhood blocks just outside my door. 
Where were your people between 1750 and 1850? Did they have sovereignty over their own lives? Were they owned or did they own? Do you know the stories of who you were for those years? Do you know specifics or only something general? What happens for you when you think about that time, about what you know or don’t know? How close do you feel to them? Seven generations, .00000001875 percent of the time that we have been evolving on this planet, .013 percent of the time since the last ice age crossed the land below our feet. What do you know about your people from just  seven generations ago? Six generations ago? The time of your great-grandparent’s great grandparents.
The city grew.  US policy towards the original peoples moved to Kill the Indian/Save the Man, and boarding schools were set up, the children and grandchildren of those who lived along the river, who might have hunted where my home now stands, being removed from their families, from our families, and sent to Christian schools to disappear the Dakota, the Anishinabeg.  And the memories of those who remembered when there were more oak trees than people faded in the way that the stories of our great grandparents become only vaguely told sentences without the feeling of what it was like.
But not all of the stories disappeared. And they did not win. Even as the story, the violences, are not finished it is important to pause here and say this: they did not win. The stories are not gone. The people are still here, stronger and fighting back. Which side are you on?

The city grew. Flour mills and lumberyards growing fat off of the homesteading of the prairie and the cutting of the great north woods. And Minneapolis grew. Almost tripling in size between 1900 and 1950, we are creeping into the memories of your grandparents and parents, of the stories those of you who grew up here might now remember.
In 1910 all over the United States, “racial convenants” were legal instruments inserted into property deeds that prohibited people defined as “not Caucasian” from purchasing or inhabiting homes. This happened all over the country and also in south Minneapolis. The list of excluded groups reflected the racial assumptions of developers, real estate professionals, and homeowners. A common covenant read, “[this property] shall not at any time be conveyed, mortgaged or leased to any person or persons of Chinese, Japanese, Moorish, Turkish, Negro, Mongolian or African blood or descent.” Penalties for anyone who tried to break these covenants was severe and included losing your home and any money you had put into the property (equity). Looking at the map linked above, you can see the demographics of south Minneapolis laid out along with these 100 year old expression of legal segregation. Each economic development choice, when weighed against these racial covenants, defined the city, who lived in it and therefore who had access to all of the benefits of a livable city.
Who in your family was alive in 1914, how many generations before your birth? Did they live in the US? In Minnesota? How many of them lived in Minneapolis? Or were they even allowed to? This was the time of eugenics in the United States, when people of color, the poor, folks with disabilities, queers were being institutionalized, sterilized. Radio was new. Catholics were following Father Coughlin by the millions as he ladled up his version of sacred normalcy. This was World War 1, the Great Migration. When many of your family stories are still remembered. What did your grandparents, great grandparents tell about this time? How did it make who you are today?
This is around the same time when the Mexican community in south Minneapolis began to grow. Sugar beet companies in rural Minnesota began to recruit families to come up from Texas to work in the sugar beet fields. Some of the betabeleros returned to Texas during the winter months but others stayed and built homes in the Cities. While the largest community lived in St. Paul, a smaller community lived near the PMC on Chicago Avenue and further north to Nicollet avenue. In the 1930s and 50s, as the sugar beet industry began to wane and as economic controls after the Great Depression were put into place, many of these families were deported, both those who were undocumented and those who were legal residents. Just like now.
The Great Depression and everything afterwards when frightened people were looking for scapegoats. In poorer neighborhoods in Minneapolis, unemployment was over 25% In 1931, nationally Minneapolis became known for its food riots as neighbors broke into grocery stores, stealing food to feed each other. In 1931 white residents stormed a Black family's home in south Minneapolis, demanding they leave, demanding that their neighborhood stay white. Economic fear and white control have always gone hand in hand.
What stories exist in your family from the Great Depression? Were they here in the US? Food and housing insecurity was at an all time high. People both gathered together in collectives and support systems and they turned on each other, looking for people to blame. Eugenics continued to gain national traction as the reason for everything bad. During this period, 2,350 people were involuntarily sterilized in Minneapolis, most of them defined as “mentally ill” or “mentally deficient.” How did your family fit into this story? What themes from this time are coming up again today? Why?
The Minneapolis General Strike of 1934 ended in riots with the police opening fire on labor union organizers and protesters. Two were killed and 67 injured. The strike closed down all transportation in Minneapolis and the state declared martial law.  Many of the workers lived where I live and where I work. This was 7 years before my mother was born. I grew up hearing stories of the Great Depression and of the strikes from my great grandparents and grandparents. This is recent history. This is yesterday.
In 1934, the Federal Housing Administration developed a system for classifying homes for home buyers based on their resale value and were marked green for the most desirable and red for the least desirable. And thus was redlining born. At this time, race in Minneapolis was defined as Native-born white, foreign-born white and Black.  In 1930 and 1940, Black families made up .9% of the population.  If you pay attention to local politics, then you know how redlining impacted North Minneapolis. Funds dried up. Economic segregation became tied to racial segregation. And that history has still not recovered. Four blocks north of the People’s Movement Center, where I work,  just as you cross Park Avenue, you enter the redlined zone. The PMC was not in a redlined area but the PMC is on the transition space, the border. Two blocks down, at 41st and 4th, was Mrs. Little’s boarding house. Here is where Black folks new to town stayed in order to figure out their next steps. What we know about all border towns and border areas is that this is where the likelihood of conflict – as well as of creative transformation and power – increases.
In the same year, the Indian Reorganization Act demanded that, in order to be recognized by the federal government, tribal communities must organize themselves in cookie cutter ways, not by their own traditions and cultures, but by a management system that made sense to the government. And for those who were not tied to a tribal community through a reservation or for those tribal communities that the federal government decided no longer existed, the US brought in a policy of assimilation, moving Native peoples to urban areas for resettlement. And so some of the children and grandchildren of Dakota and Anishinabeg peoples were moved into federal housing in Chicago and Cleveland and Milwaukee… and also to south Minneapolis, back to their original lands but now as relocated persons within their own land.
Did you grow up in an urban area? What do you know about your neighborhood in relation to redlining or the Indian Reorganization Act? Did you grow up in a rural area? What was the racial make-up of your community? Where did who live? Was there formal or informal segregation? Were there visible indigenous people, indigenous to this land? Again, what did this all mean for your family? What did you not know because of these things? How do these stories relate to your family's origin stories, the story of how they came to be? Of where they come from and who they are? Is there a connection or were those stories told as separate things? 
There is so much more history to tell about this land where I now live. There is history to tell about the land where I was born, Cleveland, Ohio, the land of Tecumseh and the first pan-tribal resistance to the violence of settlement. There is history of busing and civil rights, history of hate crimes like the Duluth lynchings in Minnesota and the Black uprisings in the Hough neighborhood in Cleveland the year I was born and multiple times after. There are also so many stories of survival and resilience in all of these lands where I live and where I come from.

As healers and healing practitioners, these are the stories, the contexts that weave through the bodies that come to see us, sometimes visible, often invisible. This is the broader imprint that defines how the person sitting across from us feels: the food they eat, the air they breathe, the violence their people experienced or enacted, the shape of their home growing up and their home now, whether or not their was a yard, a safe place to play, other children who looked like them, the concern of threat from the sound of a doorbell or the fact that their neighbors would call the police if strangers came by. Private property or public housing, there are stories behind those homes that come up through the floorboards and settle in our bones. 
Plantain root. Dandelions. Some of the elms planted along the boulevards, pineapple weed, thistle, comfrey, all of the kinds of clover, motherwort, mugwort, and mullein. These are all medicinal plants. They grow in the alleyways behind Minneapolis homes, you find them along the roads and in public parks. Their ancestors were carried over in the pockets of settlers who brought their pharmacy with them, seeds they spread in their gardens who then escaped and became, like their sowers, transplants that crowded out what had been here before. They are medicinal plants. They heal. They are also colonizer plants. They have crowded out plants that are Native to this land, the plants that form the oak savannah and the water logged sloughs of what is now south Minneapolis. Both of these things are true.

And this is the challenge in being healers on this land who are not original to this land. This is the generosity shown by those who are original to this land who turn to those who are not in order to heal.
There are ghosts that walk our streets, right this second, as you take a deep breath and listen to the stories that you know and don’t remember, do you know who you are and why you are here? Do you know what your life has been created for? And why you are here, on this page, hearing this story, and remembering? What is that you are here to heal? And what is it within you that needs to be healed?
To purchase the map at the top of this post and others like it, go to http://www.tribalnationsmaps.com/.

Monday, November 13, 2017

#MeToo and I will fight for you

It was when I was talking with someone today, a friend who had come for bodywork. This friend has been hurt. A lot. She's been hurt by family members, by men, by queers. She is well known and well loved and most people have no idea she has been hurt. Most people have no idea of the space between her outside self and the inside self that she keeps protected far inside.

There are so many people I know and love like that; people experiencing not just a subtle but an extreme gap between the person they show and the person they protect.

We were talking about a couple of different situations she is in; situations that wander the line from fucked up to abusive. As we were talking, I suddenly felt very fierce. I leaned in towards her and said, "You have to know this, right now. What has happened to you in the past is never going to happen to you again. Not on my watch." She got soft and quiet, looking at me from the other side of the wall that she keeps well built. Careful. Cautious. "If you get into a situation that feels unsafe or you are not sure that it's safe, call or text me. If that isn't enough, then I will pick up my keys and come get you. I will stay connected to you until we are both sure that you are safe enough to be alone." I was feeling this really fiercely. Nothing I was saying to her isn't something I haven't said or felt before and still, it was there, and it felt wild and rageful, protective and fierce.

She and I had just been talking about the most recent round of white cismen being called out and called up for their past and present sexual violence. We were talking, as we have in the past, about the power in watching individual white men no longer able to hide, losing their jobs, losing some of the celebrity respect they have gathered.  At the same time, we reflected that what is happening, this allowance and normalization of constant gender-based terror, is much bigger than any individual white man's accountability - or obvious lack of accountability - can touch. We reflected on how grateful we were that some of the articles coming out name the widespread and sometimes nuanced truth of sexual violence, how it is more than what any individual white cisman does. That articles are coming out that are also naming women as complicit, calling out all of the times when women turn on other women.  This sexual violence is about the air that we breathe, something so constant and ever-present that many of us no longer recognize it as violence.  We shared our frustration that in all of the conversation about this moment, rarely are white ciswomen, no matter how hurt they have been, holding the complexity of race and white supremacy in this moment.  We know that sexual violence combined with racial violence is another deeper story entirely and that white women have sometimes condoned it as a way of getting the attention off their own backs. 

Sexual violence did not exist on this land before colonization. Sexual violence has culture and history. In the US it is lifted up, supported and pruned by histories of Christianity and European class histories which then, depending on the cultures and histories of your family and kin, mixes with what your people knew as "normal" before settling here. Sexual violence did not exist on this land before colonization, before immigration, before Christian missionaries carried with them the idea of women (and land and sex and children) as being subservient and in need of control. 

This is what we were talking about before I asked my friend how she sits within this moment when her own tissues carry memories that have largely never been voiced. This is when she shut down. This is what propelled me to fight for her. In that moment and into the future.

I have seen women fight for other women. Ciswomen. Transwomen. Poor women, Native, Black and Brown women. I have witnessed it and experienced it. It's usually something that happens on the streets or in someone's home or together, in a private room, as women in movement work are figuring out how to have each other's backs against the sexual violence from those they are supposed to be standing with as they fight against white supremacy, ableism, deportations.  I have seen women fight for and on behalf of other women, fighting as an intimate thing, a personal thing, not the work of policies and nonprofits. I have seen it. But not enough.

As my friend and I talked, we noticed that this is the connective tissue. This is the piece that wants to be added to this work of calling out and naming the perpetrators and then calling out and naming how we have passed our ways of survival on to our daughters, how we have separated ourselves from others experiencing sexual violence because of how they dressed, because of their class, because of their race, because they were not straight or cisgender or the billion other ways that you who are reading this, like me, sometimes opt out of stopping sexual violence. We noticed how often sexual violence can bring out the predator in everyone, even those who have long been victimized themselves. And we noticed the many times when it doesn't.

As healers and healing justice practitioners, we know that in order to get past survival, we have to be able to fight for our own lives. And that in order to fight for our own lives, we have to believe, in the deepest part of our beings, that our life is worth fighting for. This is the core belly truth that oppression works to unsettle. 

What happens if every single one of us who experiences or has experienced sexual violence on the basis of our gender turns to two or three or five or ten others in our lives and tells them: Never again on my watch. I will fight for you. And then explains, concretely and with detail, exactly what that means. Here is my number. Here is how I have seen you get hurt. Here is the threat I know you live under every day. No longer on my watch. Call me and tell me what it was like and I will believe you, even if you think it was small. And more than that, I will come and find you. I will put my body between yours and his (or sometimes hers or theirs) and I will not let this happen to you again. 

Sexual violence mixes with every other form of violence and it is messy and hard. Not all of us are impacted by it in the same way. Not all of us experience the same level of threat. And at the same time, no women, no fem-presenting person, should ever, no matter what their life is like and what they are aware and not aware of,  be the victim of sexual violence. Not on our watch. What happens if we tell each other: I will take a self defense class with you. I will sleep over if you feel unsafe. I will remember that no matter what he (or she or they) say or do, that I am fierce about your safety as you are about mine. I will do this as an everyday thing and I will remind you, as you will remind me, that never again on our watch, never again, will you be the victim to someone else's predator.

We all have the right to a fight response. To our fight response. To our right to fight.

Someone recently told me the story (and she might have heard it from Adrienne Maree Brown but I now can't remember) of how swallow murmurations happen. Each bird flies as closely as possible to the one next to it, keeping track of that bird, keeping eyes on that single bird, who is doing the same to the next to it and the one next to it and so on.  By doing this, the birds fly together and move forward, making stunning visual effects as they weave and shift together. They move forward. They move forward together. They each keep watch on the other.

Go ahead. If you are reading this, make a list of 2 or 3 or 5 or 10 women, fem-presenting people, and tell them, concretely and with as much detail as you can, not on my watch, never again. And then watch us fly.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Unlearning what we learned in school

I woke up yesterday morning to find my daughter sitting at the kitchen, reading her biology textbook. She had a test and was trying to cram all sorts of information into her head. While I made coffee, she sat there sighing.

Luca has talked a lot about how sucky her biology class is; how uninteresting and confusing. This morning, as she was hating on it, I asked her if I could look over what she's learning and tell it to her like a story instead of like facts. A measure of how frustrated she was: she said yes.

When I looked at the chapters she was learning, I wanted to weep. Forty pages on the cell, turning something magical into something that is dry as dirt. I looked throughout her textbook and remembered for the five millionth time: western science at the high school level turns the glory of life into something burdensome. It's part of the training ground that serves isolated individualism, as though any cell can experience itself outside the context of connection to the other.

After we had a fifteen minute conversation about the cell (which did NOT call the cell a factory like the textbook does), she asked if she could bring some of her classmates home every other week to just relearn what they are learning so that it's interesting. My mama-heart and Leo-heart and I LOVE BIOLOGY heart purred.

All life is connected. All life. Whether you believe in evolution or creation, whether you were raised with a traditional origin story or not, all life is connected. Trauma, from individual acts to collective systems passed down through history, is disconnection. The fact that disconnection exists does not contradict the fact that connection is here, too.

As I was leafing through Luca's textbook, I noticed that the chapters were arranged with an introductory chapter about life and protein followed by a small section on animals and then breaking the rest of the chapters into cellular life, cellular growth, cellular energy, reproduction, ecosystems, interdependence and then health and disease. How totally apocalyptic: the entirety of human life concluding with how we get sick. This is the conditioning that makes diagnosis and the drug industry possible.

If it really happens that Luca pulls together a group of school mates for mini-biology conversations in our house, this is how I am going to start: all life is connected. When you are reading chapters in your book about the differences between animals and plants and humans, you are reading more about the interests of the different mostly men and some women who are defined as "discovering" the principals of life. When your textbook says that cells were not discovered until after the microscope was invented in the 1500s and not really named as true until the 1800s, you are not learning the full story. You are not learning that traditions across the globe did not need to see through a microscope to have a felt sense or a sacred awareness of the billions of personalities that organize themselves into organs and systems and energy tides and balances. Life is not invented or discovered. It is lived.

I am going to say to them, let's not learn this as cold hard facts with little walls around them. Instead, let's learn about this as poetry, something you feel, something that emerges insight and connection without having to trudge through it. And then let's listen to the life inside us while we are learning about the same life. Did you know that you have the capacity to feel/sense every single cell in your body? And that, like any other relationship, you can have conversations with them? Become aware of the communication that is happening all of the time and even ask questions to deepen your understanding of your own life? Right now, close your eyes or keep them open but bring yourself to whatever stillness feels possible right now. Imagine your ears are turning direction and rather than listening to your outside body, you are listening to your inside body. And then just ask, whisper to yourself, hey liver, show me yourself. Hey left femur, make yourself known. Hey energy of my blood, rise up and warm me. And then notice what happens. You might have feelings/thoughts about getting this right, a kind of conditioned anxiety that keeps you separate from yourself. If you do, try and ignore them. You can't get this wrong. Just say, hey stomach, I'm listening. Communication can happen in so many ways. You might feel a presence, a sense of something-ness around the area where your liver or femur or stomach are. You might feel a presence somewhere totally different. You might feel a temperature change, get an image, feel the urge to move, so many different ways of life expression. Don't worry about understanding, not right now. This is just a gentle touch in, like meeting that person you've heard about for years over social media but haven't actually met yet. Hello, I feel like I know you but I don't yet. Eye contact. Smile. And then comes the time for relationship to emerge.

The words don't matter, it's the intent behind them. Every aspect of your body that you whisper to is an aspect of yourself. This is the basic destruction of western science: life is taught of as something separate, an object, a mechanism. Your cell is not a factory, it is a living breathing intelligence. It is you, 52 trillion times over for 52 trillion cells. This is you. Each cell carries the same kind of complexity as each organ, as your body as a whole, as the planet that we live upon, as the galaxy we are part of. Adrienne Maree Brown and others are talking about fractals as a way to experience organizing and change. This is what our life is: one element of an infinite fractal.

Your body, every single cell, has stories to tell you. Just like the person who lives next door and tells their family stories about your parking habits, habits that you've never noticed yourself.  Or the person who used to serve your school lunch when you were in third grade, who remembers you vividly even though you will never know their name. And then hundreds of stories that are not directly about you but they cross your life, the woman who works as a parking attendant in the garage that you pass when you are walking to work. The two people who work for the park near you, keeping the grass cut and the sidewalk shoveled in winter, you don't know them and yet their life is directly connected to yours, every time you cross the street and step on that grass. It's a wide mass of complexity and connection that is more than you can track, whether you're talking about the people who are all of the aspects of your outside life, visibly and invisibly, or the cells that are all the aspects of your inside life, visibly and invisibly. Everything is connected.

What I will tell my daughter and her friends is that, in order to understand this complexity, western science has broken it down to a never ending table of parts. That is how we come up with the word for cell and for the aspects of the cell: the organelles, mitochondria and Golgi apparatus. Sexy words, huh? Listening to the different notes of music within a complex composition is not a bad thing. It's one way of experiencing and appreciating what happens when it all comes together. The problem is when all of the parts aren't ever, on their own terms, experienced all together. That is not how most science began. Science that is indigenous to this planet, that is native to the land upon which you now live, is the science of connection and relationship, not the science of parts. It's the science that quantum physicists and evolutionary biologists and ecologists are in the process of "rediscovering." It doesn't need to be rediscovered. It just needs to be lived.

Healers or people doing their work with a healing justice lens are creating the conditions for new stories to emerge. Or for old stories to be remembered: the whisper of a muscle fiber that carries the strain of bracing against the endless stream of police cars that slow down as they pass. The open and closedness of a cellular membrane that has figured out how to operate within the toxic soup of the nearby chemical plant. The hold on the bottom of the heart from a loss that hasn't yet been heard. This is what I will tell Luca and her friends when they come to talk about biology: it's all connected. All life is always connected. This is why it is not possible to heal alone as an isolated individual, we heal together. That's basic biology, even if it isn't how it's taught in high school.

The image above is the representation of a cell, a eukaryotic cell which means a cell that has a nucleus around its DNA. Every cell, like every individual body, has a way to digest food, to poop out waste, to turn food into energy, to pump blood, and to learn in response to new information. This representation shows some of the parts of the cell. You can think of it in the same way you would see an image of human anatomy or of the anatomy of our planet.

Friday, November 10, 2017

What people ask us for when they are asking about healing

I am grateful to be a member of the People's Movement Center. Like incredibly grateful. It means that I get to be in relationship with other practitioners, with healers who are also deeply grounded in liberation and justice. We have conversations about healing justice. We also have conversations about how trauma shows up in the nervous system, about the difference between different healing traditions and how Chinese medicine has five seasons. We also have more mundane conversations like about how much money we have in the bank and how we can earn more income so that we can actually pay for a staff member.

We've been around for slightly over three years and the majority of our work has expanded through relationship. This has meant that we are getting asked more and more often to do work with groups and organizations.  In conversation, we are noticing that when people call us, they often can't exactly explain what they want. They just know they want us to do something about healing. People are calling because they have a felt sense of something. It's like they know that what they want is different from what they have - they can FEEL it - but they don't always have language to name it. It's one of the reasons why so many people are hungering to be involved with healing work.

Healers are all about patterns, right? We look for the connections between things, the places of expansion and contraction, in order to support those we work with to have more connection to their lives. So when people call us and we notice the pause that comes after, 'tell us what you mean by healing work," we start watching for patterns. 

First, a lot of people are calling and asking us about trauma. They want a mix of information and practices related to dealing with the impact of trauma on the nervous system, the role of trauma in development, and techniques for shifting the impact of present time and held trauma. At the PMC we are a collective of mostly people of color and indigenous people, of queer and trans identified people. The people who call us are also often POCI and queer and trans. And many want conversations about the connections between individual and collective trauma, between present and historical harm. People who call want to know about how to make these things visible within an organizational culture. They want tips for dealing with stress and anxiety and for frames that they can use to help navigate overwhelm. 

The second biggest ask we get is for some kind of body-based, somatic, embodiment, spiritual and experiential practices. These are all concepts that seem to be pointing to something a similar ask or experience: ways to be together that aren't just about talking and thinking. They want somatic practices or somatic facilitation, someone who can help them shift their culture from doing work to being within work. They want help in coming up with their new strategic plan but doing it through movement and listening rather than just putting ideas on paper. People call wanting Theater of the Oppressed work, movement work, breathing before talking support. They want support for ceremony or ritual or a way to make what they are doing feel more sacred. These requests are what have made us get clear that sometimes the best healers are our magical facilitators who help people re-member themselves alone and together in groups. We see you facilitators!

The third ask is directly for healing spaces. This is when people are having a retreat or want to gift their members or they have been through something intense and harsh and they want us to pull together a group of healers to hold a healing space. Sometimes these include skills sharing like leading everyone through breath work or a bodyscan and sometimes they are just about receiving.

What I was taught when I came in to this work and what I still believe is that healing justice is a lens, something that helps us to weave together histories and present time, to lift up cultural traditions and healing practices, to find ways to bring healing practitioners into movement spaces, and to work to ensure that everyone has access to culturally grounded integrative care and not only those who can afford it. When I look at what we are asked for at the PMC, I see these as sign posts for what we need to lift at this moment in time. They don't define healing justice work, but they are practices and conversations within it. And the focus or requests will change. They always do. As healers, our job is to keep listening for and tracking the patterns.

The image the top of this blog post is a slide of heart cells. There is new research about the heart that says it is wrong to think of the heart as an organ that pumps blood. This research suggests that the heart actually slows blood down, helping it to pace itself so that the body can savor it. Everything we think we know and understand evolves. Always.