I’ve been an activist for 33 years and continue to learn something new every day. Often, I learn from my mistakes, so I’m hardly above criticism. In fact, I value it.
With that in mind, I need to clarify some things I wrote last week. I first encountered M.K. Gandhi’s writings when I was 21. I knew immediately that I’d found a mentor who would inspire me the rest of my life — despite aspects of Gandhi’s character that are troubling and deeply flawed.
In 1995, I became friends with Gandhi’s granddaughter, Sumitra Kulkarni, and organized a speaking tour for her. Later, when I visited India, I stayed with her before traveling to meet activists applying “satyagraha” (holding on to truth) and “sarvodaya” (universal uplift) to current social and environmental injustices. I became very fond of Sumitra, and she of me. She would refer to me occasionally as being like a son to her.
I share these details to underscore how important is my relationship — on a political, spiritual, and personal level — with Gandhi, his family, and his legacy. I always try to analyze my public work through the lens of Gandhi’s philosophy. When I fail to do so, I often mess up. I’ve learned from other mentors, too — some living, some dead — but Gandhi’s influence remains primary.
Everyone is entitled to the philosophy or religion of their choice, providing they don’t bludgeon others with it. Just as it would be disrespectful, for example, to tell a Catholic that the Pope is a fraud or to tell an atheist that Nietzsche was an idiot, it’s disrespectful for someone to tell me that my interpretation of and dedication to Gandhi’s philosophy is wrong. If I want your opinion about my “faith,” I’ll ask for it.
Similarly, it was wrong for me to judge the actions of Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya using the barometer of my own understanding of Gandhi. (Check out our August 7, 2017 conversation.) As I said in a 2017 Register story and again in last week’s Register story, I admire Jess and Ruby’s passion and courage. I also admire their commitment to a higher moral ideal and their willingness to take great personal risk. If more people showed their level of courage, the world would be a better place.
But as I’ve said, strategically, my goal is to actually end injustice! That means building more power through bringing new people into the movement. It means being deeply thoughtful about how to communicate a message that resonates beyond the choir.
In my opinion, torching bulldozers is not an effective strategy. That’s my opinion, to which I’m entitled, just as Jess and Ruby are entitled to undertake the action they took. For me, an effective action is one that brings new people on board instead of pushing them away. By that standard, I believe shutting off valves along the pipeline route and occupying trees in the path of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline are effective, in that they are likely to resonate more favorably with people we want to win over. So, I support those actions.
To be clear, I’m no stranger to poor decisions when it comes to effective strategies. To cite just a few examples:
– Some of the protests I’ve led have been counter productive.
– Filing over fifty bills my first year as a lawmaker was just dumb.
– Stumping for Ralph Nader in 2000 was ill-conceived.
Because the fight to save our earthly home is a fight not only against injustice but against time, we have to challenge ourselves and each other to do more — and to do it wisely, strategically, and civilly. Name calling and public shaming weaken our movement more than any damage outside forces might inflict. United, we are strong. Divided, we fall.
I want to clarify one more thing. I wrote last week that Jess and Ruby’s action “gave pro-pipeline forces an excuse to pass legislation this year classifying DAPL as ‘critical infrastructure’ and creating criminal penalties that could scare people away from exercising their First Amendment rights in the future.” I didn’t say that Jess and Ruby were to blame for the passage of that legislation. Far from it, and I’m sorry if that was unclear. Working with bought-and-paid-for lawmakers, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) was going to pass that bill one way or another. But being able to refer to it as “the pipeline sabotage bill” gave ETP’s lobbyists a talking point that resonated with lawmakers of both parties. Again, the Iowa Legislature would have passed the bill without the excuse of sabotage. That tag just made their job easier.
As anyone who knows me can attest, I’m always willing to respond to civil conversation. I’m happy to talk about ways we can collaborate, and happy to address differences of opinion. It’s pretty easy to reach me, either at this email address or at (515) 238-6404.