A Glimmer of Hope?

I took my first overt political action on my 8th birthday. My father had come to visit us in NYC. As the birthday boy, I got to choose the movie we would go see that night and I chose a documentary on Vietnam. I usually feel like I have fought the good fight, certainly more than most white folks. I was a leading voice against U.S intervention in Central America in the 1980s and organized perhaps the most significant action across the country at the time. I was arrested on multiple occasions for engaging in civil disobedience. I have spent much of the past twenty years of my professional life providing assistance to Indian Country, leading progressive organizations here in the PNW, serving on boards of important justice organizations.

AND, I also know that I did not put my life on hold as society continued to keep its metaphorical (and not so metaphorical) knee on the metaphorical (and not so metaphorical) neck of people of color. And so as I have reflected on this moment in history, I have felt extraordinarily conflicted and, for probably the first time in my life, guilty for not having done more – for not having put my life on hold while my brothers and sisters cannot breathe. Because isn’t that too a form a white privilege, i.e., not putting my life on hold while my brothers and sisters of color are in a literal and figurative chokehold?

My good friend, Joshua Lazerson, with whom I did some good organizing work back at Northwestern University in 1983/84, has penned a terrific essay that offers me some hope that maybe, just maybe, this time it will be different, that for the first time, the words activists and intellectuals have used to describe and decry the systemic racism of our society are available to and being used by large sections of white society. This is different. And this is hopeful. To read Words Matter, click here.

Streaming Consciousness in the Time of Covid-19

On a long bike ride last weekend, I made the belated recognition that COVID-19 may well be Mama Earth’s last wake up call. And if we fail to heed this message, Mama Earth’s next sucker punch of a message will be: The End is Nigh.

As I’ve written previously, back in January, 2008, at the International Funders of Indigenous Peoples’ Conference in Queretaro, MX, Felix Sanchez of the Naso Tribe of Panama, helped me to understand that sustainability and justice are two sides of the same coin. You cannot restore the health of the planet while continuing to exploit the great mass of humanity. Justice and Sustainability are twinned, tethered, tied at the waist. You can’t have one without the other.

I have been so busy responding to the needs of Indian Country during the pandemic that it has been difficult to seize the time to reflect on what the virus has meant to me personally beyond the recognition that this must be a wake-up call for humanity. Yet, I have taken advantage of the pandemic to reconnect with old friends, including one dear old friend, John Scherer at the Scherer Leadership Center.

John and i Skyped recently. Sheltering in place in his home in Warsaw, Poland, John and his colleagues have developed the Adventus Project as a tool to assist people in thinking about how they may want to re-envision and re-deploy their lives post-pandemic. It’s a nice 20 minute video and four thought experiments which you can watch here. If you find it useful, pass it along.

While we don’t know if humans are unique in the universe, we do know that humans are extraordinary creatures. Capable of recognizing and creating extraordinary beauty, of deciphering the indecipherable, imagining the unimaginable. With or without us, science suggests that the Earth will continue to support life for nearly another two billion years, until the sun grows so large as to begin to gobble up the planets.

Let us pray that we may seize this time to imagine and make manifest a world in which, in the inimitable words of Maz Yasgur, “the man next to you is your brother, and you damn well better treat him that way, because if you don’t, then we blow the whole thing.” Amen.

Report on Homelessness in Portland

In my role as Interim Executive Director of the Portland Citizens Crime Commission, I prepared a report that was released this week on homelessness in Portland. The report, which may be found here, describes the historical/contextual basis for this crisis of houselessness within our community. The executive summary, which may be found here, highlights seven key findings and recommendations to support on-going efforts to address the crisis. Significant among its findings:

  1. The crisis is the predictable outcome of decisions to deinstitutionalize and to incarcerate, coupled with the federal withdrawal from the low income housing market and within the context of gentrification.
  2. Our community is largely following best practice, particularly with its emphasis on creating 2,000 new permanent supportive housing beds which have been shown to sharply reduce costs for the chronically homeless.
  3. Our behavioral health system is significantly under resourced and in crisis.

A Civil Rights Tour

I was last in Birmingham in the spring of 1971, en route to Resurrection City, the remnants of the Poor People’s Campaign of the summer of 1968, which then became a 20 acre farm outside Selma, AL. We spent only the night in Birmingham. Alabama was a scary place back in 1971. As Tom Lehrer, the songster/comedian/mathematician, sang in his famous ballad about nuclear proliferation, “Who’s Next?,” “We’ll try to stay serene and calm, when Alabama gets the bomb.”

But we came down this past week on our own personal civil rights tour. We started in Montgomery, visiting Bryan Stevenson’s amazing Equal Justice Institute, and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, informally known as the Lynching Memorial. It commemorates the documented murder of more than 4,000 Blacks across the nation, while acknowledging the actual number was many times more. Like tombstones, county by county across the South, the somber steel monoliths honor the slain by name. The Legacy Museum, located at the EJI, is a well-curated exhibit documenting the history of resistance. But what was most remarkable about Montgomery was that the City had embraced its path, was indeed leveraging its legacy of racism, as a tool to foster economic development. Blacks and whites co-mingled; we saw numerous mixed-race couples. It’s a beautiful city enjoying a remarkable resurgence tied, ironically, to its past as the home of the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott.

The “tombstone” from Mecklenburg County at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL

Not so much Birmingham. While Birmingham has developed a well-deserved reputation as a foodie capital, the tension between the races is as palpable, if not as violent, as it was 50 years ago. There is no intermingling between black and white. As Willis, the clerk at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Gift Shop told me, when White folks pass Black folks, they’ll look down, cross the street, look at their phones. I believed him: We went to dinner at one of Birmingham’s famous restaurants on our first night – Chez Fonfon – located in downtown Birmingham; there was not a single black person at the restaurant in a city that is 62% Black. It was the same situation the next night at OvenBird.

Perhaps it’s the power of Birmingham’s self-guided civil rights tour, a winding path through downtown Birmingham that ends up at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a stunningly well curated exhibit of racism and struggle for civil and human rights from the end of the Civil War to the present day. The final approach to the Institute passes through Kelly Ingram Park, a path through statuary that, at its last, reduced me to my knees and tears.


Four beautiful little girls

It was an extraordinary experience made all the more poignant by the horrific acts of violence that have occurred in the past week, acts that were, sadly, encouraged by our president. I attended, as my final act of “vacation” yesterday a memorial service/peace rally/poetry slam at Congregation Beth Israel to honor the fallen from Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh. I don’t know how we put the evil genie of hate, so carelessly released to foster personal ambition, back into its bottle. But we can do worse than following the lessons so painfully learned through our struggle for civil rights. May God bless you and these United States of America.

Three Worlds

I offer a seminar on “conflict resolution,” a gift from my good friend John Scherer, called Face the Tiger. It is comprised of two parts: Pinch Theory which describes how conflict arises, and The Three Worlds, which provides a pathway out of the conflict, a way to turn conflict into reward, a way to have conversation about conflict in a voice that others can hear.

The premise of Pinch Theory is that we each perceive each and every interaction through the lens of our own experience. When I see you say X, in my world, I experience it this way or that way based upon my own unique experiences. Below, I describe a beautiful and profound example of this phenomenon. I hope you enjoy it.

One of my favorite podcasts is Krista Tippett’s On Being. This morning, I listened to her interview with Padraig O Tuama and Marilyn Nelson. To close, Tippett had them both do a reading. Marilyn Nelson read from her book The Children’s Moon. Nelson’s mother was an African American teacher in Salina, KS in the 1950s. Nelson has a photograph of her mother’s 2nd grade class from 1954 – her mother, an African American woman and her 20 white, seven year old students. Truly history making to have a black woman teach white children in that era.

Nelson, who is a poet laureate, asked 20 of her poet friends to adopt one of these children, create a back story, and write a poem about each which, together with her own poem about her mother, became the book The Children’s Moon. Nelson read her poem, The Children’s Moon. She explains that “the children’s moon is the moon that you see sometimes in the morning; you see a faint moon in the sky.”  This is the poem as I have transcribed it. The lines and stanzas are my own; I could not find the poem itself on the Internet.

In my navy shirt waist dress and three inch heels,

my pearl clip-ons and newly red rinsed curls

I smoothed on lipstick,

lipstick marked my girls,

saluted and held thumbs up to my darling Mel

and drove myself to school for the first day.


Over the school yard a silver lozenge

dissolved into the morning’s blue cauldron


Enter 20 seven year old white children

“Look children” I said as they found their desks

“The children’s moon, a special good luck sign”


We pledged allegiance and silently prayed

George Washington watched sternly from his frame.

I turned to the black board and wrote my name.


I thought I heard…

“She’s the real teacher’s maid,”

I thought I heard…

Echoes of history.


But when I turned,

Every child in the room had one hand up

Asking “What is the children’s moon?”

The “R” Word

I have been doing a lot of thinking a lot about racism lately. I monitor our Next Door for micro-aggressions. It’s frankly stunning. And our fair city, Portland, OR, continuously engages in institutionally racist behavior, particularly around housing and policing issues, even as it pats itself on the back as the People’s Republic of Portland.

Eleven years ago, a very different era in race relations than today’s “in  your face” racism, I was invited to write a column about institutional racism for the Spokesman Review. Upon reading my column, however, the Spokesman declined to print it, touching, as I suspect I did, a little too close to the truth of the matter. But, despite its datedness, I believe that column remains relevant to our current era. So, if you are so inclined, click and read. Thanks!

Institutional Racism

Seattle to Portland

I had planned to write up our little adventure yesterday but I had a severe case of acute carpal tunnel. It took me both hands to squeeze eye drops into my eyes!

There were moments of extreme sublimity. Shortly after the start, riding along Lake Washington, cool in the morning with the sun rising over the lake. Just lovely. Riding through Madigan Army/McCord Airforce Base – no cars. The occasional soldier. Firing ranges. Mt. Rainier popping into view from time to time.

And the camaraderie was a beautiful thing. Rode for awhile with a great dude from California who was riding with his father-in-law. There was this neat group – neon green – from the Philippines. They’d done it every year since ’06 I believe. Once they did it in a single day. Jacob, from Seattle, whom I met in Centralia, the halfway point.

Day one was straightforward. Mostly flat. The much vaunted “big hill” out of Puyallup was a bit of a dud. Sure, it was long but not very steep. And there were these lovely women in tutus at the top who were dancing for us! Ha. And the rest of the day was very flat.

I broke with my group early on. It wasn’t anything planned. It just happened. And pretty soon, I was well in front of them and I just kept going, didn’t stop except for water once. And arrived in Centralia at 12:36, 6 hours and 50 minutes after I’d started, an average speed of just over 15 mph inclusive of breaks.

Mat and I spent the night in Olympia, at the Townhouse Suites, strategically located on Capital Blvd where the Lakefair Grand Parade was underway. Weird mixture of small town Americana and some serious multiethnic stuff which I suspect was a result of the rapid growth of immigrant populations into rural areas to help with farming.

Sunday started out auspiciously enough. We got going around 5:40. Rode through Chehalis, and on towards Castle Rock. Flatly and lovely. Got our first shots of Mt. St. Helens. And then the rolling hills started. We crossed the Columbia and then rolled in. Hot, hot, hot. Started feeling the pain in St. Helens – just a general fatigue – with about 25 miles to go. But we did it. And the youngsters want to do it again. As for me, and as you can see below, I’m done.

Looking forward

As we witness the radical changes underway in the United States and the emergence of radical right-wing movements in Europe and beyond, I find sobering the words of the great Italian physicist, Carlo Rovelli:

“I believe that our species will not last long. It does not seem to be made of the stuff that has allowed the turtle, for example, to continue to exist more or less unchanged for hundreds of millions of years, for hundreds of times longer, that is, that we have even been in existence. We belong to a short-lived genus of species. All of our cousins are already extinct. What’s more, we do damage. The brutal climate and environmental changes that we have triggered are unlikely to spare us. For Earth they may turn out to be a small irrelevant blip, but I do not think we will outlast them unscathed – especially since public and political opinion prefers to ignore the dangers that we are running, hiding our heads in the sand. We are perhaps the only species on Earth to be conscious of the inevitability of our individual mortality. I fear that soon we shall also have to become the only species that will knowingly watch the coming of its own collective demise…”

Visionkeepers Features Portland’s ReBuilding Center

#Visionkeepers, a new show on PBS that seeks to inspire people to be the change they want to see in the world, will be featuring the #ReBuildingCenter where I served as Executive Director between 2015 and 2017. The video has been posted to OPB and can be viewed here:  https://www.pbs.org/video/reclaiming-and-rebuilding-lgktau/