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STORIES are everywhere
Something is wrong when groups that want to deport and even kill people we’ve encouraged to enter our country, may organize and express their hatred.
Our constitution doesn’t say, it’s OK to threaten people as part of expressing beliefs and opinions, it doesn’t say, it’s OK to organize a militia in times of peace. We are a country that opened its arms and said: “Give me your hungry, give me your poor…”.
Perspective: I worked in a youth prison for 15 years. I met the downtrodden, the poor, the unprivileged, the throwaway kids. They were black, brown, yellow and white. They all had a story of misfortune, abuse, the “wrong” cards dealt in life. The story of 18 foster home placements by the time you’re 9 years old; or being “saved” by a grandfather at 14, who molests your younger sister after he brings you and her to this country from Mexico (illegally), after your mother is murdered. The story of having to steal food for survival because your Vietnam Vet father is too drunk to care and your Vietnamese mother can’t take being beat up anymore and leaves you and your younger brother with your father. The story of being an adopted drug baby, who doesn’t, will not have the brain power to make good decisions, and is urged to go to church to be “saved” from sins. The story of surviving in an unheated, leaking trailer with your 3 younger siblings for 6 months on a deserted piece of property, while mom lives in town with her boyfriend high on meth, and nobody notifies social services until you get caught stealing.
Privilege: These stories don’t belong to color of skin, these stories belong to children who don’t have a chance in a society, called the land of the “free”, where you have to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Equality means nothing when you don’t have the means, the brainpower, the support you need to grow into a well-adjusted adult. Privilege means support, a functioning brain, the basics of food, shelter and education.
Power: Once in a while I’d get a Neo-Nazi kid on my unit. He’d (I worked with young men) tell me about his father, his father’s friends, the meetings, the weapons they were collecting, the skinhead tattoo symbols imprinted on their bodies forever. I’d ask, “Look around, are you better than them?” He couldn’t let himself think it, it meant no longer belonging to the only group he belonged to, and he stuck to his guns, pun intended.
Everyone needs a group to belong to. If you don’t get a good family, if your community is riddled with gangs, drug users and dealers, you do the only thing available to you, you adopt the group that will take you in. In prison it means the most prevalent gang representation on your unit because they’ll have your back when mayhem breaks out in a late night uprising in your sleeping quarters. In the outside world, it means whatever group will take you in, feed you and give you a purpose, be it doing the “work” of beating up the rivals, or learning to shoot a gun for when the big takeover will take place.
What do we do?
In prison it was forbidden to draw Swastika signs, to expose hate tattoos (if they had them they had to cover up, or get them removed), to shave their heads, to wear markings of a gang or violent, homophobic organization. Any expression of hatred and bigotry had consequences, meant counseling, could mean temporary isolation until the offender engaged in counseling. In prison, someone in charge made rules to reduce hate and create equality among inmates.
In 2017 we have a president who divides, waffles between encouraging violence and expressing a desire for a peaceful society. We have a president who takes away privilege with the executive orders he signs.
We, the privileged, cannot let this happen. We the people need to use our voting power to put someone in charge who turns this tide. Get out there; do the canvassing; talk with people who have a disenfranchised story to tell. Develop perspective and listen. Give them opportunity to belong to a healthier society.
“I told the students [….] that places were more reliable than human beings, and often much longer-lasting, and I asked them where they felt at home.”
― Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby
The flat open valley floor meets the mountains on the horizon both west and east and greets me with waving grasses, shows me rock formations that call out for climbing and standing on the look-out. The valley hides wet indentations where horses, grazing cattle, rabbits and deer quench their thirst. Light streaking from either side colors the grass, green in spring, yellow in summer and brown with snow tufts in winter. This place screams openness, emptiness, possibility. I love this place. Towering over this valley to the South sits Mt Shasta.
This summer I walked 14 days on the Pacific Crest Trail in a wide arc around this mountain, the tallest one (14,610 ft) of the Cascade range in Northern California, 50 miles south of the Oregon border. I walked with the spirit of the mountain as you might say, as she - I think of her as feminine, maybe because she is so accessible in a landscape of tree-covered ridges and grassy valleys - showed her white self on every ridge I climbed, and through openings in the woods where I hiked. The local Karuk Indians call Mt Shasta, Úytaahkoo, which translates to “White Mountain”.
On my two-week hike I encountered steep snowfields. Shasta mountain gave me back memories of climbing her steep sides and I remembered the techniques I needed to traverse what was in front of me. When the trail became confusing, the mountain helped me orient myself. When the sun was blazing on the ridge, Shasta looked at me from beyond the ridge with a cool white eye, reminding me that “this too will pass”. When I dunked my sweaty body in the glacier-melt McCloud river, I thanked the mountain’s year round snow cap, providing coolness. Mt Shasta is the epicenter, the umbilical cord of what I call “my place”. A place I chose after wandering around the planet for the first trimester of my life. A place where I raised a family. A place where I found community.
Why this place? Does the mountain have “a spirit” as the Karuk say? Does she call the ones to get to know her spirit? When it was time to choose a place for my family, I chose this place with a statistical approach, listing and rating the things I thought we wanted and needed. I thought myself smart and conscious in doing so. I didn’t know whatever place you choose doesn’t become “your” place until you spend time, shed sweat and tears, accept its good and bad, and slowly form a relationship that enters your bones. It took time to discover that Mt Shasta is the epicenter of the place I call home. I have walked this place when I felt overwhelmed, when I was distraught; I have walked when I was curious, in love, happy and hopeless.
I have walked and by walking I always find myself again, find the heart of what moves me forward in life. As I walk, breathe and carry, my life is reduced to the basics of living at two miles an hour at the base of a mountain that has spewed out the terrain I walk on. A mountain that supports plant and animal life with rivers that flow from her snowy peaks, a mountain that calls the rain and snow to her. I meet Mt. Shasta when I move about this place. I’m a visually oriented person; the mountains, vistas and light of this place bind me. Walking brings me to myself and walking around this mountain gives me a sense of place, my place.
For you, it maybe different. You may find your place because of the sounds, the smells, the food, or its people. Walk and meet the spirit of the place you can call yours!