Climate Justice Unity March: Day 4

Tuesday, April 25, 2017 – Searsboro to Sully (8.5 miles)

As I pack up my tent this morning, Sarah informs me that she woke with a pit in her stomach, an odd sense of foreboding. She’s spoken with Shelley Buffalo and Fernando Manakaja as well, and they also have the same sense of unease — an intuition that someone or something may try to harm us today.

I take their intuition seriously. Our marching column is tight, and we walk two-by-two on the gravel shoulder — where it exists. Sometimes there is no shoulder, and we walk single file along the white line marking the edge of the pavement.

I stay up front to the right of my walking companion and employ my broad, sweeping, sustained wave with every vehicle that passes. Most drivers are respectful, slow down if necessary, and move partially or completely into the left lane. Some wave back.

Less than a half mile outside Lynnville, the driver of an over-sized white pick up truck floors his engine as he passes. He turns around a short ways beyond us, makes another sweep and again floors his engine. His intent is clearly to frighten and intimidate.

During our break in Lynnville, I discuss the incident with Sarah and Shelley. I suggest we carry the American flag at the front of our column. “We have an American flag with us?” asks Sarah, a bit surprised that, as the logistics director, I hadn’t told her.

I apologize, and tell her I’d thought to suggest we carry the flag while we march, but was concerned that some of our marchers would be opposed.

Sarah finds the flag and fastens it to a pole with zip ties and duct tape. Shelley insists that the Native people on the March be the ones to carry it. She and Donnielle take turns at the front of the column while I walk behind them and wave to passing vehicles. The response from drivers is noticeably different. They are more respectful, wave back. Some smile. We feel distinctly safer, and I’m relieved that we’ve found a way to connect immediately and powerfully with our vehicular audience.

Yet as suspected, two marchers are upset. That night after dinner, we discuss the decision to carry the flag. One marcher who is upset describes the flag as the quintessential symbol of American imperialism. He says he was embarrassed to walk behind it.

The Native people on the March speak strongly in defense of our decision. “As Native women carrying this flag, we’re commandeering the narrative about what it symbolizes,” says Shelley. “Native Americans have served disproportionately in the armed forces under this flag. To me, it represents liberty, self-governance, personal autonomy and freedom — all values taught to the colonists by the Natives of the East coast in whose social and governmental constructs, these values were institutionalized.”

We resolve the flag dispute after much conversation, some of it heated. Already, in just four days, other conflicts have arisen on the Climate Justice Unity March, and I am reminded that unity begins at home. Even among a small group of committed activists passionately dedicated to a common cause, striving for and maintaining unity is an ongoing challenge.

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Climate Justice Unity March: Day 3

Monday, April 24, 2017 – Montezuma to Searsboro (9.5 miles)

Marchers setting out from Diamond Lake Park

Searsboro is one of those small, forgotten Iowa towns bypassed by the main highway. It’s a sprawling community of 142 people, built on hillocks tucked away in a valley along English Creek. I’ve driven by Searsboro dozens of times, wondering what it was like but never bothering to stop.

From the highway you see only a few of Searsboro’s houses. Today, as our march winds its final mile over and around several steep, rolling hills, I feel like I’m walking into a town cloaked in a touch of mystery.

Our tent site in downtown Searsboro

Our campsite for the night is in the very center of town, on Main Street where The Little Bear Inn once stood. It’s now a grassy field, and though I’m sad to think that this was once a bustling center of commerce, the site is perfect for our tents.

Mayor Kim Shutts is a gregarious, dynamic community leader passionate about the well being and future of Searsboro. She’s an Independent who leans Republican, but has an open mind and knows something needs to be done about climate change.

Mayor Kim Shutts, Kelly Boon, Marley, Sarah Spain, Jeannie Hunter (city Council member), Shirley Tremmel (city clerk) and Dave Phipps

She reserves the Community Center for our evening program, and 15 people turn out for all or part of it. “That’s ten percent of the population,” I tell Kim. “If ten percent of Des Moines turned out for a meeting there, that’d be 20,000 people.”

A half dozen kids show up for Wendy and Mike’s puppet show. Chap makes pasta and several people bring side dishes and desserts. Before the meal, Searsboro resident Mike Moore offers a Christian prayer. One of our marchers, Fernando Manakaja of the Havasupai nation, prays in his Native tradition. It’s a powerful moment of unity.

The kids of Searsboro made for an even more lively evening

The evening is a wonderful exchange of dialogue and fellowship, with lots of conversation about climate and the environment. Kim is intrigued by the wind turbines being built east of here, and is going to look into whether a turbine might be built on one of Searsboro’s hills. We also discuss with her the possibility of solar panels on some of the town’s rooftops.

It’s a beautiful evening, with the sun setting across the hills framing the western bank of English Creek. After dinner, a smaller group of town folk and marchers reconvene outside the Community Center. We joke around and play music. Kim’s got a nice voice and harmonizes well with Heather on “The Rose.”

I crawl into my tent later than I’d like. The day has been deeply satisfying. If more of this can happen — if each of us can go the extra mile and step out of comfort zone to break down the barriers that segregate us across geographic, cultural and political divides — surely there’s a pathway forward to a more sustainable future.

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Climate Justice Unity March: Day 2

Sunday, April 23, 2017 – Deep River to Montezuma (10 miles)

As we circle up this morning and prepare to leave Deep River, a man driving an ATV pulls up. He introduces himself as Darrin Ehret — the guy next door who put up the Confederate flag yesterday. He was surprised at how quiet and respectful we were last night, and that inspired him to come over. Based on the things he’d heard on Facebook, he was expecting all kinds of noise and bad behavior.

David Osterberg and Darrin Ehret

“I put up that Confederate flag not as any kind of political statement, but as an expression of freedom of speech,” he admits. “We heard a lot of bad things about Little Creek Camp, mostly on Facebook, and that flag and the American flag were just my way of saying we didn’t want any flag burning. So I’m sorry I did that.”

We ask about the loud noises that we assumed were gunshots. “Those were M-80s [firecrackers],” said Darrin. “We think it’s a guy down the hill who’s been setting them off. We don’t like it either.”

We delay our departure to talk with Darrin. “For my part, I apologize for assuming the noises were gunshots and for calling the Sheriff on you,” I say. “I made my own assumptions, and I’m sorry about that.”

Darrin’s a died-in-the-wool conservative, but agrees strongly with us that water quality is a huge problem. He’s not sure about the causes of climate change, but he’s a big supporter of wind energy and has agreed to have a turbine installed on his farm this fall. I tell him we have a wind energy expert, David Osterberg, joining us tonight, and I invite him and his wife to our camp at Diamond Lake.

Marchers with Jack and Kim Higginbottom

It’s another perfect day to march. But as we enter Montezuma, we crave shade. We pass a yard with a large, inviting maple tree, and I ask the owners, Jack and Kim Higginbottom, if we can rest in their shade for a bit. They’re very accommodating, and before long, they offer their spacious porch, drinks and their bathroom. Jack and Kim understand the urgency of climate change and are delighted we’re marching. We invite them to join us for dinner, too.

Tonight’s campsite is perfect. We’re on Diamond Lake, surrounded by trees and sloping hillsides. There are picnic tables, a fire pit and hot showers. (Our solar showers are warm, but not hot.) As we get ready for dinner, Darrin, his wife Molly and a friend named Casey show up. Molly brings brownies fresh out of the oven.

Later, Jack and Kim join us, along with three young guys from Montezuma. One of them explains that everybody in the area has been following what’s going on at Little Creek Camp and most are against it. “But I kind of go my own way,” he says. “I thought I’d come and check you out. And yeah, this is great. What you’re doing is totally chill.”

Cynthia Hunafa

I ask him to tell his friends. “If any of them want to walk with us tomorrow, we’d love that. And we’d love to have you and them join us at our camp in Searsboro tomorrow night.”

Cynthia Hunafa shares her feelings as an African-American about the Confederate flag, and Molly responds: “We’re not racist, and didn’t mean to imply any hatred toward anyone — Black, Native, Latino. It’s more about how safe someone looks to approach. If I saw you and Casey (who sports a scruffy beard), I’d think you were a lot safer than him.” We all get a good laugh out of that, including Casey.

We talk with our guests for a couple hours over a wonderful dinner of Chap’s corn-vegetable-ham soup and Donnielle’s fry bread.

Donnielle Wanatee preparing to make fry bread

Toward sunset, four Native men show up. They’d heard about the problems marchers were experiencing, and wanted to come and show their support and solidarity. Our guests from Deep River and Montezuma talk with them as well, further extending the bridge that Darrin started building when he showed up at our camp this morning.

The evening ends with many of us sitting around a fire, talking and singing. One of our marchers from Little Creek Camp, Madu, turns forty today, and Heather and Jessica present him with a birthday cake. Another marcher from Little Creek, Fernando, sings and plays the drum in a tribute to Madu. He talks a bit about the important work we’re doing.

Yes, the weather was perfect today. Even more perfect was the fellowship. This is why we march.

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Toilet paper provided; bring your own towel

Dear Friends,

Q: What’s more challenging than marching ten miles a day for eight days?

A: Organizing the logistics to make such a march possible.

Seriously. Shari Hrdina, Sarah Spain and I have done this before, organizing the coast-to-coast Great March for Climate Action in 2014. Did we learn our lesson? Apparently not. Here we are again, organizing the Climate Justice Unity March reminded on a daily basis just how complex are the logistics of a march of 25 people.

One example: Check out these pictures of our Enviro-Commode/Solar Shower trailer, designed and built by Sean Spain. It would take an hour to tell you just how much planning and work went into putting this beaut together. The best way to get a feel for it is to come use it next week. Toilet paper provided; bring your own towel.

When you figure out the route, find campsites and venues, recruit speakers, contact the press, plan meals and pull together a host of other details, organizing this event is a gargantuan undertaking.

But it’s been worth it. In terms of human and planetary history, we are at a life-and-death moment. Policies being legislated at both the state and federal level will do great harm to our water, land and climate — and those policies will hit low-income communities and poor nations hardest of all.

So we march, talk, listen and break bread with friends and strangers. We bring together people from Iowa’s urban centers with residents of small towns to share food, music and conversation about climate change and related issues.

There’s so much division in America since the last election. But it’s my belief that whether you voted for Trump, Clinton, someone else, or not at all, we all have so much in common. And whether one thinks climate change is caused by humans or is cyclical, there’s a growing consensus that it’s happening and that we need to take action.

Yet little progress will be made if we don’t respect each other and talk about climate change with civility. There’s no better way to jump-start that conversation than with food and music . . . and of course, walking — for those who are up to that part.

So, come join us  . . . to march, for the evening program, to try out the commodes, or just to meet the hardy marchers trekking the highway from Millersburg to Des Moines. Check out our Wish List and see if there’s anything we still need that you might have.

Especially, come rally with us and hundreds more on the west steps of the Iowa State Capitol at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 29, at the People’s Climate March Iowa.

A lot of effort by a lot of people has gone into bringing the Climate Justice Unity March to fruition. I’d especially like to thank Heather Pearson, who’s been an energetic addition to our core organizing squad. Heather plans to march six days next week. She takes a break to travel to Calhoun County to stand trial for her non-violent action against the pipeline last fall. Please join her at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, April 26 in Rockwell City, Iowa. Click here for further details.

Thanks!
Ed

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Stepping Forward for Climate Unity

Dear Friends,

As we build to the big rally on April 29, I am all kinds of excited about the upcoming Climate Justice Unity March! We have 20 people planning to march each day, and if you’d like to participate for one day, or the entire week, there’s still time to sign up. Click here to sign up.

Within the past 24 hours, I’ve spoken with mayors of two of the small towns we will stay in. What they are most excited about is the opportunity for dialogue, as they agree emphatically that the level of political acrimony in our country today is beyond anything we’ve ever seen. So, the evening forum / dinner / music gathering will be just as important as the daily march.

Here’s the press release we sent out today.  The original release can be found here on the Bold Iowa website. Please share with others, and contact me if you have any questions or need information.

And yes, WE ARE LOOKING FOR DONATIONS! Email me at ed@fallonforum.com if you’re able to help.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 11, 2017
Contact: Ed Fallon, Bold Iowa: 515-238-6404, ed@boldiowa.org

Iowans to Embark on Eight-Day, Eighty-Mile March for Unity on Climate
Twenty-five marchers of diverse backgrounds to depart from Little Creek Camp on Earth Day (April 22), arrive in Des Moines on April 29 for People’s Climate Rally at State Capitol

Des Moines — A group of Iowans of diverse backgrounds will embark on an eight-day, eighty-mile Climate Justice Unity March later this month to help build a broader coalition organizing for action on climate, environmental and racial justice, and clean energy jobs — and build momentum leading up to the People’s Climate Movement Rally at the State Capitol in Des Moines on April 29.

WHAT: Climate Justice Unity March: 80 miles, 8 days
WHO: Bold Iowa and allies representing Native, African American, Latino and farming communities
WHEN: Saturday, April 22 at 9:00 a.m. through Saturday, April 29 at 1:00 p.m.
WHERE: Little Creek Camp (Millersburg) to Iowa State Capitol (Des Moines)
DETAILS: http://boldiowa.org/2017/03/09/climate-justice-unity-march

“The Climate Justice Unity March provides a unique opportunity to bring these voices together through the dignified, disciplined commitment of marching, and through non-confrontational gatherings each evening that will build momentum for the April 29 People’s Climate Movement Rally at the Capitol and forge new relationships essential to the work we must do going forward,” said Bold Iowa director Ed Fallon.

“The evening community gatherings will be as important as the daily marches,” added Fallon. “As we work to build the strongest possible alliance to push back against the failed policies of status quo politicians at both the state and federal level, it’s essential that we take time to listen to each other and embrace our common ground and destiny.”

“Little Creek Camp is an embodiment of the change that needs to happen at all social and environmental levels,” said Christine Nobiss, a Plains Cree woman from Iowa City and founder of the camp and Indigenous Iowa. “So it’s fitting that the Climate Justice Unity March starts here and ends at the State Capitol, where so many important decisions are made.”

“Foul air, polluted water, diminished natural resources, rising temperatures, injustice – these things have dire consequences – directly or indirectly, to every living being on Earth,” said Cynthia Hunafa, Chief Operations Officer for Creative Visions, an organization in Des Moines’ central city that provides services to economically vulnerable communities. “This, of course, is regardless of nationality, gender, ethnicity, religion, economic status, political ideologies, or any other human-made divisive barrier.”

Climate Justice Unity March Route

  • Saturday, April 22: Little Creek Camp (near Millersburg) to Deep River (12 miles)
  • Sunday, April 23: Deep River to Montezuma (8.5 miles)
  • Monday, April 24: Montezuma to Searsboro (10 miles)
  • Tuesday, April 25: Searsboro to Sully (8.5 miles)
  • Wednesday, April 26: Sully to Reasnor (10 miles)
  • Thursday, April 27: Reasnor to Prairie City (12.2 miles)
  • Friday, April 28: Prairie City to Pleasant Hill (14 miles)
  • Saturday, April 29: Pleasant Hill to Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines (6 miles)

Organizational partners for the Climate Justice Unity March
Bold Iowa
Indigenous Iowa
Sage Sisters of Solidarity
League of United American Citizens (LULAC) Iowa
Creative Visions
Iowa Farmers Union
La Reina KDLF 1260 AM
Hola Iowa
Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility
Great March for Climate Action

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