United, we are strong

Dear Friends,

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.

Thanks, Ed

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Raising awareness for effective action

Dear Friends,

I’m a big believer in pacing oneself. We’ve got to take time to smell the roses even in the midst of intense struggle. Yet sometimes — often, in all honesty — the demands of fighting for justice require some pretty exhausting days.

Josie Ironshield

The First Nation – Farmer Climate Unity March will be a string of such days. But the importance of this march — raising awareness about the historic lawsuit that could stop the flow of oil through the Dakota Access Pipeline — can’t be understated.

Last Tuesday’s investigative trip to Lyon County to dig into the recent tar sands oil spill was such a day. Well, two days actually, one of them involving numerous meetings and nine hours in a car. Check out the culmination of that trip with this excellent article in the N’West Iowa Review.

Regina Tsosie

Efforts by residents and advocacy groups to monitor the oil clean up will continue, regrettably, as the effort may take over a year. And in a new development that has residents near Iowa’s Great Lakes fuming, soil and plant debris contaminated with tar sands oil is being dumped in their county. Check out this article in the Dickinson County News.

ACTION ALERT: CALL GOV. REYNOLDS AT (515) 281-5211 AND ASK HER TO PUT A STOP TO DUMPING TAR SANDS OIL IN DICKINSON COUNTY.

Christine Nobiss and Dara Jefferson

Sunday was another long day. It started at 5:00 a.m. and landed Kathy and me back in Des Moines after 10:00 p.m. The highlight of the day was the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women rally in Rock Island, Illinois. Check out the livestream, which is both powerful and instructional. I’ve included with this blog a few photos of the inspiring Native leaders who spoke at the event.

Sunday’s trip concluded with a sunset tour of tornado damage in Marshalltown. I was blown away (yeah, bad pun, I know) at how severely the tornado had torn up that community. I’ve been in communication with Chief of Police Mike Tupper and State Rep. Mark Smith. Help will certainly be needed, especially for the low-income families hit hard in northeast Marshalltown. Stay tuned.

Dawson Davenport and Ed Fallon

In other news, a Des Moines Register article reminded us of the one-year anniversary of Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya announcing that they’d repeatedly vandalized equipment along the route of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). I caught flack for my quote in the Register story, where I describe Jessica and Ruby’s action as “misguided” because “it alienated a lot of people who we need on our side. So while I respect and admire their passion, I don’t think it was a wise decision.”

Narcissa Trujillo-Nolen, Regina Tsosie, Larry Lockwood, and Dan Eads

For an injustice to end (and DAPL is unjust on so many levels), you have to continually build more and more popular opposition. Fact-finding, community forums, press releases, protests, nonviolent civil disobedience, lawsuits, speaking out at official meetings — all turned public opinion against DAPL. Torching bulldozers and vandalizing valves didn’t. In fact, it 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.

Some have cited Gandhi in defense of Jessica and Ruby’s action. But Gandhi never destroyed property and was always open about everything he did. Most significantly, Gandhi was about effective action. Even his symbolic acts were orchestrated with an eye toward moving Indian and global opinion toward supporting India’s independence from Britain.

Gandhi wasn’t just about civil disobedience, which constituted a very small portion of his work. Much of his effort was behind the scenes, creating new structures to replace failed models that only perpetuated injustice. Gandhi was also about political reform, remaking the Indian Congress Party and raising funds to assure that the Party could operate effectively year round, not just during a showy annual convention.

In the DAPL fight, our most effective action is yet to come: the landowner/Sierra Club lawsuit over the misuse of eminent domain. That case will probably be decided by the Iowa Supreme Court in September or October. In the meantime, whatever we can do to continue to move public opinion our direction will be helpful. I’ve been dismayed, but not surprised, that the mainstream media have mostly ignored the lawsuit.

Let’s change that. Visit Bold Iowa’s Stop DAPL 2.0 page for ideas on how to get the word out through your local or regional newspaper. Thanks!

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The Contemplative Side of Social Change

Dear Friends,

Jess and Ruby were livestreamed on the Fallon Forum on Monday.

I’ve had lots of invigorating conversations lately about the spiritual and moral impetus for civil disobedience. Much of that conversation was inspired by the resistance of Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya, who recently confessed to damaging Dakota Access pipeline equipment. Check out our talk on this week’s Fallon Forum, and dialogue with Ruby and Jess face-to-face tonight at 7:00 p.m. at 1041 8th Street in Des Moines.

Leaving time for introspection has always been tough for me. How tough? Here’s a reflection I wrote about . . . well, about reflection . . . during the 2014 Great March for Climate Action. As always, feedback welcome. Thanks. – Ed

“With Steve gone, my marching day becomes increasingly contemplative. I often avoid the route Sarah and Anna have laid out and tack on extra miles to walk quiet roads or detour through small towns in search of a cafe with Internet service and large servings of bad food.

“Western Nebraska is sparsely inhabited but under-appreciated, exuding a wealth of sights, sounds and smells too abundant to catalogue. The lack of traffic liberates me from the fear that the next car or truck barreling past could kill or maim me. My focus shifts from survival to the alluring world around me — and to the even more alluring world within.

“Marching becomes meditation, my footsteps the mantra. I see the fields, ditches, trees, irrigation pivots, fence lines, homes and out-buildings. I hear the dog bark, the cow bellow for her calf, the cardinal sing to his mate, the warm breeze rustle the chest-high corn. I smell the white clover, the fresh-cut hay, the comfortable scent of horses, the acrid pungency of too many hogs. All this and so much more drifts through my senses in slow motion — visual, audial and olfactory b-roll, the canvas for the actual performance of life itself.

“My mind focuses on the repetitive, rhythmic crunch of shoes on gravel. It clears my head and brings a sense of peace. I recall the meditation course I took at age sixteen, the ten-minute introductory session inducing an unexpected inner calm that remained with me the rest of the day. Nothing bothered me — not the blackberry thorns that tore at my skin as I harvested the plant’s fruit; not my Mother’s nagging; not my brother calling me names for sport.

“Years later, after a long day hitchhiking through the French Alps, I settled for a bit high up in the mountains at a Buddhist monastery. Sitting for hours with the monks as they chanted “om,” the sound playing off ancient stone walls that once housed Catholic monks, I noticed how the mantra would roll through six or more unique tones in one recitation.

“Decades later on a work day during my campaign for governor, I thought about that experience as I made tiramisu at Cafe Dodici, an Italian restaurant in Washington, Iowa. The restaurant’s young, artistic chef showed me how to blend the egg yolks. “Watch how many different shades of yellow they go through, like 15 or 20,” he explained excitedly. “It’s awesome, as if you’re watching the universe unfold in a mixing bowl. But you’ll need some tunes to really bring it home,” he said as he flipped a switch sending rap music blaring through the kitchen.

“Om. Egg yolks. Footsteps. There are endless aids to center oneself on the path to enlightenment. But a mantra isn’t stagnant white noise. It’s alive, rich with motion and texture. My right heel’s first contact with gravel produces a deep tone. There’s a sudden decrescendo as the foot begins to roll forward. The pitch and volume rise as my weight shifts to the ball of the foot as the left heel moves into place and repeats the pattern. Every four steps, my walking stick punctuates the rhythm with a sharp sforzando as it grinds into the loose gravel. Right. Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Seven million times . . .

“Like waves breaking on a beach, my footsteps roll through gravel, through Nebraska, toward infinity, toward eternity. At times like this, my mind seems to get it. The technique and purpose of meditation — directing the hungry soul toward the peace that comes with knowing one’s higher self — is so simple, so transparently important. Yet more often than not, my mind remains restless, distracted by both beauty and ugliness, unable to focus on the deeper truth that transports one beyond pleasure and pain.

“Forty years ago, my first meditation was a uniquely powerful experience. But life’s pressing demands lured me away from the pursuit of inner peace. Perhaps had I continued to meditate, continued to cultivate the balance that such practice brings, I’d be able to manage the March’s turmoil with more dignity. Perhaps meditating during my solo walks on backroads might yet help me deal with the challenges ahead.

“A dog barks. I re-enter the world of the senses. What kind of dog is that? Is it on a leash? Does it bite?

“A bird sings . . . wren or finch?

“Will the cafe in the next town serve real butter?

“I hope I don’t run out of wet wipes today.

“I suck at meditation, even under the tutelage of a guru as patient as western Nebraska’s gravel roads.”

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