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The Horrid History of Convict Leasing

In 1865 the 13th amendment abolished slavery except as punishment for someone convicted of a crime . The crimes that people were convicted of were ridiculous (being recently “freed” from slavery, but arrested and convicted for not yet having found employment). So convict leasing as a form of slavery continued. And basically still exists. If you don’t understand this point in history, I highly recommend educating yourself. It is critical to understanding the present moment and recognizing how much of this country was literally built by enslaved Africans and African Americans. This recent finding in the article below also further illustrates the lengths those with power have gone to in order to hide and obscure the truth of this practice and the treatment of people.

From the article: Bodies believed to be those of 95 black forced-labor prisoners from Jim Crow era unearthed in Sugar Land

” The convict-leasing system proliferated across the south in the late 19th century and into the 20th, overwhelmingly targeting black Americans picked up for offenses such as vagrancy, flirting with white women or petty theft, as historian Douglas A. Blackmon reported in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Slavery by Another Name.” The prisoners were then leased by the state to private businessmen and forced to work on plantations, in coal mines and railroads, or on other state projects — such as building the entire Texas Capitol building from scratch.

When the state leased convicts out to private contractors, they had no financial interest in the health or welfare of the people working for them,” said W. Caleb McDaniel, a history professor at Rice University in Houston. “And so the convict-leasing system saw extremely high levels of mortality and sickness under convict lessees. If the prisoner died, they would simply go back to the state and say, ‘You owe us another prisoner.’ ”

From sunup to sundown, convicts who were leased by the state to plantation owners toiled in the fields chopping sugar cane sometimes until they “dropped dead in their tracks,” as the State Convention of Colored Men of Texas complained in 1883.

Reginald Moore, started researching Sugar Land’s slavery and convict-leasing history after spending time working as a prison guard at one of Texas’s oldest prisons, and his curiosity intensified. He had a hunch. Based on what he learned, he believed that the bodies of former slaves and black prisoners were still buried in Sugar Land’s backyard.

For 19 years, he searched for their bodies, stopping just short of sticking a shovel in the dirt himself.

At the former Imperial State Prison Farm site, archaeologists have unearthed an entire plot of precise rectangular graves for 95 souls, each buried two to five feet beneath the soil in nearly disintegrated pinewood caskets. The 19th-century cemetery was unmarked, with no vestige of its existence visible from the surface.

But more crucially, he said, it vindicates the prisoners whose backbreaking work helped rebuild the state of Texas in the ruins of the post-Civil War era without so much as a proper burial to acknowledge their contributions.

“This is a completely rare site. It’s going to change how we think about Texas history and how we think about ourselves and how we built this state, how all of us built this state.”

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People Are Murdered and Criminalized for Speaking out for Justice

Berta Didn’t Die, She Multiplied! 30 Minute cut from Sam Vinal- Mutual Aid Media on Vimeo.

(Film in Spanish)

DJs2UM8VYAA4AAQAround the world, including in the US, North Carolina and even Asheville, activists are harmed, harassed, murdered, incarcerated, or wrongly convicted for standing up for the rights of the people and the land — they are criminalized for speaking out for justice and exercising their fundamental rights to free expression and assembly.

Knowing this threat, people continue to risk their lives to protect their people, the earth, and the well being of future generations. These are people who are deeply devoted to the common good and the well-being of people living now and in the future. These are not folks who want to look like they are committed to a better world, but people whose actions and lives reflect their actual devotion.

Today I am praying to those who are now ancestors to guide and protect those who are still alive and are walking this path today. I am praying that more of us will release from the fog of denial, open our eyes to the fact that so many rights are being threatened all around the world and in our own neighborhoods, and find concrete and courageous ways that we can join the struggle to stand for freedom for all.

Screen Shot 2018-03-02 at 11.08.37 AM2 years ago today, Berta Cáceres, a Lenca organizer, activist and leader  in Honduras, was assassinated in her home. From 2010-2017 in Honduras, 124 environmental activists were assassinated for their grassroots efforts to defend indigenous rights and the environment, fighting against the Honduran oligarchy and international corporations that are stealing and trying to steal indigenous land to build dams, gated communities, refineries and more. The activists standing up to these government and corporate powers are fighting against the increase in militarism and military spending as education and health go unattended to (sound familiar) and the earth is extracted for profit. They are standing up against patriarchy, homophobia, the stealing of land, and discrimination against indigenous people. They are defending the rivers. These indigenous communities are fighting for the future.

The military force and brutal repression being used against them is funded by US taxpayer dollars, and US companies are profiting from it.

The below video is a beautiful and informative window into this situation in Honduras and a mirror for situations all over the world. These indigenous people are calling on us all to build societies that are able to coexist in a way that is fair, dignified and for life. These are examples of alliances of people coming together to defend rights. “The people united will never be defeated.” Their resistance includes songs, theater, drums, and community.

The question for me these days is not so much “what can I do?” But, more so, who are the people that are with me, sincerely devoted to taking action together for the rights of all people, the well-being of current and future generations? There are many different roles we can play, there is so much to do, not acting is not an option for me.

In honor of the 2 year anniversary of Berta’s assassination, please consider a quick phone call to your House representative asking them to sign the Berta Cáceres Act. Details below.

——
The Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act is a landmark bill introduced by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and currently co-sponsored by 70 Members of the House of Representatives.

Find out if your House Rep has signed it.

The bill states: “The Honduran police are widely established to be deeply corrupt and to commit human rights abuses, including torture, rape, illegal detention, and murder, with impunity” and that the military has committed violations of human rights. Therefore, the bill asks that the United States suspend all “…security assistance to Honduran military and police until such time as human rights violations by Honduran state security forces cease and their perpetrators are brought to justice.”

Note, two of the accused murderers are former Honduran soldiers trained by the United States in Ft. Benning, Georgia, home of the School of the Americas

Please call your Representative NOW and ask to speak to his/her Foreign Policy Aide! Because the bill has been re-introduced, all of the bill’s co-sponsors will need to co-sponsor again! If your representative has not yet signed, call them and ask them to add their support as a sponsor of the bill!

Script:

“My name is _____. I’m a constituent from (your town/city) in (your state), and I’m calling to ask Rep. _____ to co-sponsor H.R. 1299, The Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, calling for a suspension of U.S. security aid to Honduras until human rights violations committed by the Honduran security forces cease. Has Rep. _______ seen this bill? Can I count on him/her to sign on? Please call me this week at (your phone number) to let me know if you have seen the letter, and if Rep. _____ will sign it.”

More info about the situation:

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Reflections on White Supremacy on the Rise

So many feelings around this

Nazi’s and White Supremacists are willing to be violent and kill people. Period. They also feel emboldened right now.

This feels like an instance where police acted fast and used their resources to stop actual violent perpetrators (With the partnership of a community member that knew to remember the license plate in a time of crisis). I’m grateful for that.

I was traveling last week. One of the things that I noticed and mentioned to my white male friend was that I kept noticing myself being suspicious of a certain type of white men (clean cut, polished and pointy ones) when I passed them in the hotel. Many times I caught myself wondering what was under their suit? Is he one of the alt-right folks? My friend encouraged me to continue listening to that thought, let it warn and protect, and at the same time, to also hold the awareness that my mind is recognizing patterns and making generalizations.

In writing this post, I kept deleting my thought that — their sunburns feel symbolic. Then I went to learn more about the conference and read the NYtimes article that quoted Richard Spencer, a leader amongst the alt-right and the keynote of their conference:

“But now his tone changed as he began to tell the audience of more than 200 people, mostly young men, what they had been waiting to hear. He railed against Jews and, with a smile, quoted Nazi propaganda in the original German. America, he said, belonged to white people, whom he called the “children of the sun,” a race of conquerors and creators who had been marginalized but now, in the era of President-elect Donald J. Trump, were “awakening to their own identity.”

As he finished, several audience members had their arms outstretched in a Nazi salute. Mr. Spencer called out: “Hail Trump! Hail our people!” and then, “Hail victory!” — the English translation of the Nazi exhortation “Sieg Heil!” The room shouted back.

And from the article about the 3 men arrested:

“In a coincidence, two of the men who were arrested spoke to the Gainesville Sun before the shooting. Said William Fears to the newspaper: “Us coming in and saying we’re taking over your town, we’re starting to push back, we’re starting to want to intimidate back. We want to show our teeth a little bit because, you know, we’re not to be taken lightly. We don’t want violence; we don’t want harm. But at the end of the day, we’re not opposed to defending ourselves.”

I wonder about all the men who are trying to show their teeth right now, what is the healing that they need? All the white people who feel threatened by changing power structures and are also trying to show their teeth or actually firing bullets at people, actual bullets or the ones dressed as laws and policies. What do they need to start acting differently?

And always, I wonder what we do to shift this. In this case, I can only look to all the other white folks I share this planet with. These are our people. These are our fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, sons and neighbors. It is also many of our ancestors who did, in fact, create an America that was initially only for white, wealthy people. In that way, I think the first part of what Richard Spencer says has truth:

“America was, until this last generation, a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity,” Mr. Spencer thundered. “It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”

American governance is indeed the creation of white people. In most other ways, America was nourished and built by people of color.

I think that the rest of us white folks have a responsibility to help the future of America be one that is created by the vast diversity of people who inhabit this land, to share what we have inherited with those who are not white, and together, to recognize that this land actually belongs to Mother Earth.

Phew… so many feelings…

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He Carried a Vision of Love Alive in the World

chris head shotSomeone incredibly dear to my heart and soul
left his body on Wednesday.

A spirit buddy. A soul friend.
A guide. A mentor.
A lover of life.

One who sought to “open eyes and entice hearts out of their prison into accepting a simpler, more loving way… I want to hold their hands and say, “don’t worry, we really can be fully ourselves, love makes its own way. Let’s laugh and enjoy one another and be caring, and vulnerable, and alive, and free.” ~ Chris Weaver

Chris held space and invited us into magical places, inside ourselves and out in the world. He modeled ways to live a more loving, compassionate and interconnected world. He was devoted to helping children be as fully alive and whole and connected to loving community as possible. He focused his attention on the places where children gathered. Including his sons.

Chris was a teacher. a father. a husband.
And so much more.

He was a wordsmith…
a poet
a writer
a storyteller
a metaphor maker

He could paint words that evoked worlds.
Co-creating cultures that felt like family.
He was a wisdom weaver with the elements.
It’s been said, that Chris was magic.

He carried a vision of love alive in the world.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I haven’t had a real conversation with Chris in about 13 years.
I don’t know where he was in his life journey.
But I do know that he experienced life deeply.
He was a feeler. He was awake to the joy and the suffering of living.

And when I knew him, he had old, old patterns. Patterns that could pull him into dark and isolating places. Sometimes those places were called depression. He was committed to learning to navigate those patterns.

“sometimes i feel like my dramas are like boats. they go somewhere. if i forget that the ocean is love, & is me, then i’ll stay on the boat (down in the hold, banging my head against the wall). but when i remember that it’s just a boat, then, well…maybe instead of dissolving it back into a wave of undifferentiated love (always a fun option), right now maybe i’ll just stay on the dramaboat & use it, follow it a bit further, find out what it is teaching me, let it shine & surprise somebody…

… and i sure remember my own version of the panic of feeling myself circling back into the prison-boat of my own depression (clang)” ~ Chris Weaver | 10.13.04

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

shofar-temple-mount-rosh-hashana-tallit-prayer-jerusalemYesterday was Rosh Hashanah.
I have not celebrated this religious holiday in many years. I felt called to go to services. The Rabbi spoke of the symbolism of blowing the shofar (a ram’s horn). Its sound is raw and piercing. It sounds pained, like crying. It is also a triumphant sound of joy and celebration.

She told us that it’s meant to remind us to pay attention and be alert to the raw truths happening around us.
To listen to people when they tell their own stories.
To hear the cries of those who are suffering.
To hear the mothers wailing for their lost children, even if their children are your enemy.

In her sermon, she connected this to the need for us to hear the declarations that Black Lives Matter and the accounts of how Palestinian people are suffering. We must listen to their stories in their own words. We must allow ourselves to hear and feel their cries.

After services I went to the river for a ritual (another tradition on this holiday). When I returned home, I learned that Chris had passed. I hear in his death that he was suffering. I feel shock rippling through his community. I return to the stories of the shofar.

Chris gifted us with so many different ways to experience life, love and beauty.
And it feels like perhaps he kept people protected from seeing the depths of pain and suffering that he also felt.

Some of the most amazing and magical people on this planet, who love so deeply and see fiercely how to make this world a more loving and just place, these are also people that are suffering deeply on the inside.

In my grief, I am also praying with all my heart, that we who are living,
…that we will get better at hearing the raw cries of those that are hurting,
…that we will see other options than to isolate ourselves when we are hurting,
…that we will shake up the patterns that have so many people unaware of how difficult life is for others,
…that we will give more loving attention to the realities of living with mental and emotional challenges,
…that we will grow in our abilities, as communities, to love and care for one another.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

To my dear friend, as you transition to greater freedom…

Thank you for the beautiful gifts of living, loving and experiencing life that you have shared with so many of us. Our hearts and lives are forever changed for the better. May the love you cultivated be of profound support in helping those who loved you dearly find solace and peace as we adjust to you no longer being in physical form. May we always feel your presence. Rest peacefully. Fly free, dear one.

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A few windows into his life:

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Grief, Trauma, Exhaustion

Awake in the darkness of the night… I’m feeling… my heart traveling the terrain of trauma and love erupting fiercely on this globe, erupting fiercely in the hearts of so many dear souls.

SimLev“In Hebrew, “pay attention” is literally translated as, “place your heart”. Placing our hearts requires effort. It requires us to focus beyond the chaotic white noise that fills so much of our lives… Placing our hearts means imagining a world where we see people for who they really are, where we seek to understand the lived experience of those around us, from their perspective. Not with judgement, but with compassion.” ~ Rabbi Will Berkovitz

Under the gaze of this new moon, I feel the grief and warrior-ship of my trans and non-binary community after the loss of Scout Schultz this week and Derricka Banner last week. May we place our hearts with you. May we see you as you are, whole and beautiful. May we love you as you are, courageous truth tellers.

I feel the dark and confusing places that the human mind can travel to, those moments when purpose and peace and connection feel stripped away, when we are struggling with our mental and emotional and physical health. May we place our hearts with those of you who are in this struggle. May love seep into the cracks, overshadowing the pain, and illuminating the light of your own precious soul, igniting the places where you can feel the divine breathing through you, where you can feel lightness and see how incredibly valuable your presence here on this earth is.

?I feel the fear and trauma as storm meets earthquake meets fire meets flood. As people?’s lives are uprooted, loved ones lost, homes demolished. May we place our hearts with you. May we continue to turn to one another and extend a helping hand. May we build home together. May we see beyond our differences and awaken to our abilities to help make this world safer for one another… in times of crisis and also in the ordinary moments.

I feel the weight of exhaustion, the personal toll taxed upon those who daily are impacted by forces of oppression — systems that are trying to hold you down, trying to keep you from fully expressing the profound aliveness of who you really are, dampening the opportunities for your genius and gifts to be contributed to this world. May we place our hearts with you and tell the truth about these systems of destruction. May the fierceness of our gaze cause these systems to incinerate. May the power of our imagination and our commitment to one another grow brilliant webs of relations grounded in love, justice and equality. May we all know freedom and liberation. May we cultivate a more loving and compassionate world for our children to grow up in.

Thank you for traveling with me into these feelings and prayers. Thank you for being willing to sit with the dark and the light. Thank you for placing your heart and gifting your attention. Thank you for dreaming into the power of our togetherness… May it be so. <3

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Our Land, Our Health, Our Economy – In the Hands of Oil Industry

This is not the water we want to give our kids to drink. It’s not the condition of the Earth we want to leave them to try and inhabit. This is greed and addiction and too many of us who are still too weak to face the oil dependencies we have and not yet courageous or creative enough to stand up to this monstrous industry and all the politicians who are being fed by its existence. I know we can do better, humans… but will we?

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Solstice Lessons on Life and Death

Walking along the beach, I’m drawn into the bramble of a small grove.
Explorer’s eyes wide-open. Shells and sea creatures washed ashore catching my attention. A scanning gaze joltingly stops at a large dead bird. A pelican’s body, twisted and strewn out. Recently deceased as is evident from the perfections of life still intact.

I’m drawn in by its beauty. The elegant lines of its head, its feathers, fur, colors, shape. And yet… I’m scared to approach it. I circle the perimeter, maintaining a wide distance.

Why? Why must I stand so far away? Why am I afraid to approach this dead bird?

I stand with reverence. A moment of prayer. May you pass peacefully along on your journey.

The beauty beckons me forward. I’ve never been able to be so close to an animal such as this one. To gaze at its lines and shapes, to drink in the size of its life and presence. And yet I’m resistant. With fear. Why this fear?

I realize that I am afraid that it might not be totally dead yet. If I get close, I may see it move, last grasps at life. Its shape hints at an unexpected death. I project suffering. I recoil from fear of that suffering. If I get close, I might personally feel it. It will make me suffer too. And perhaps even the irrational fear that death will jump up and take me too.

I don’t want to see it suffering because I don’t want to suffer.
I don’t want to die.
I don’t want to feel that pain.
So I stay away. I stand back. I create distance.
Somewhere inside me I have been programed that I am doing this for my own protection.

I disagree. Not right now. This moment of beauty and death is calling to me.

I breathe with the realization that in this moment I am afraid to get close and genuinely feel what-is if there is a chance that I will feel suffering.

I must walk in. Walk closer. Push beyond this internally polarized force, repelling and invoking.

I flash to bigger picture, parallel patterns. In order to invite growth, change and transformation I believe that we have to start by accepting what-is, and then discovering what we can love about what-is. Often situations that are in need of transformation and change have a coating of suffering that surrounds the core. To face what-is means to be with that pain and suffering, to feel through that contraction and seemingly awfulness… for only in that acceptance is there room to travel beyond into the opening and fruits of possibility.

And so on this solstice day I dance with the balance of beauty and death, suffering and possibility, my own personal fears and universal patterns. May the light grow increasingly more abundant and may I discover new acceptance in the caverns of the darkness.

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