Category Archives: Environment

Peter Street’s Natural World Poetry: Earth Talks

Adviser Peter Street was diagnosed with autism six years ago. At 70, Street believes his incredible life is in large part thanks to his autism. A qualified Arboriculturist and environmentalist who writes on Green issues, his book Trees Will Be Trees was published with Shoestring Press. He launched his last book, Listening to The Dark, at the Albuquerque Lit Festival, where he appeared during a tour of Midwest America funded by Professor Fred Whitehead, retired. Preeta Press published his memoir: Hidden Depths: Life and Loves of A Young Gravedigger. Street was recently interviewed with the BBC “1800 Seconds on Autism” and Readers Digest interviewed him about his work as someone with five successful poetry books with an international readership. John Harris, in his Guardian Weekend stated, “Peter Street was the most interesting person I have ever interviewed.”

Even when Street writes of the wars of men, a strong current of the natural runs through his poetry. Below, are two poems previously published in Thumbing From Lipik to Pakrac, by Waterloo Press.

 

Trigger Happy

They were trees being trees
minding their own business
on the corner next to the swimming pool
in Lipik

Christ’s sake, just standing
on the corner
until snipers blew
their tops out

target practice,
keeping their eye in
there were trees

and there were bodies
all over the place
you should have seen it

on second thoughts

*

Dunscar Cenotaph 

                                for Thomas Edgar Street
Pals, all of them
buried there right in front of us
underneath “Keep Off The Grass”,
as if they’ve been carried here
from where ever they fell
for me and dad

who, every time we stand here
on the edge, holds his black trilby
tight to his chest

trying to tell me
about his trench
and something or other
about some gas

I almost lose balance
and stumble
into their sacred ground
on top of them

*

In his latest collection, Earth Talks (forthcoming by Caparison Press), Peter Street addresses what amounts to a war against the natural world. “The book is about a parliament of flowers coming together to talk about the harm humans have caused over the centuries- but it’s also about the advent of climate change,” says Street. “The plants in the past have been silent bystanders- but now that has come to an end – they think it’s time for action.”

About Earth Talks, Caron Freeborn, poet and university lecturer says, “In some ways, this is different from Street’s other work: more overtly politicized, less filled with people, and yet many of the same things occur: spare, usable language; the sound(s) of natural speech condensed to drive the poetry; attention to the power of white space. Anyone engaging with this book will leave it more informed; as William Carlos Williams said: ‘It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there’. We all die miserably for want of what is found in Peter Street’s deceptively simple yet rigorous work. Everything natural is beautiful and itself and a metaphor at the same time; everything is dangerous and true ‘remembering those poor beetles / who tested the waters and teased the millions of elms into suicide / even then we were still ignored’. This is a book we all need to read.”

Saying No to The Icebergs

Sand Sedge    Carex arenaria 

like all families we have fought

put it behind us
an army is washing
towards us

waves of them
from land of ice and water
we have to be ready

or be washed away

come and stand with us
here next to my triangular stems
shields against their salt-burn

we have to slow those waves down

take the battle to them   here
on these dunes
Sand Sedges are natural warriors

we take root   colonise
safe in numbers
know what we have to do
are you with us

*
Congratulations to Writing for Peace Adviser Peter Street on the completion of this latest powerful collection, Earth Talks, by Caparison Press. The book and ebook can be preordered for £6, plus postage, by contacting Peter at peter.street3@googlemail.com


Exciting Writing for Peace Publishing News

December 2nd, 2019

DoveTales logoWe are thrilled to announce that, due to popular demand, Writing for Peace will continue the annual tradition of publishing a print edition of DoveTales, An International  Journal of the Arts in addition to our twice annual DoveTales Online. Our 2019 DoveTales Anthology will be available for purchase beginning next week, featuring Guest Editor Patricia Jabbeh Wesley’s One World, One People summer edition, including contributors from all over the globe, and the winners of our 2019 Young Writers Contest. Coming Monday, December 9th, the 2019 DoveTales Anthology makes the ideal holiday gift!

Copyright © 2019 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.

When the bell tolls for coal, By Vicki Lindner

VickiLindnerHorizontal1000-745x373When the bell tolls for coal: Pull yourself up by your WHAT?

By Vicki Lindner

(Previously published in Wyofile.com, Wyoming’s truth-telling online newspaper, representing free journalism in a conservative state. Reprinted by permission.)

(Opinion) — I moved from New York to Laramie in 1988, when cheap foreign oil made drilling for domestic reserves unprofitable. Unlike unemployed roughnecks, who’d walked away from vehicles and homes, I came for a job — teaching creative writing at the University of Wyoming. The salary ($28.2K) wasn’t so hot (my New York friends groaned), but it included benefits, and thanks to severance fees paid by the minerals industry, I wouldn’t have to “give the governor” a dime.

Like most newcomers with romantic notions, I was looking for change more than high pay. I soon rented a funky cabin on the Big Laramie River, 30 miles from town, and fantasized that a single rugged individualist like me would soon be two-stepping with cowboys down at the bar.

But strangers were suspicious characters in Woods Landing. A university administrator, an  outsider, complained about his high electric bill, a faux pas, as the rural power company was run by his next-door neighbor. My landlord, an artist, had shared the green shack with her lover — another gal. Then she rented it to a woman who left her miserable pets to fend for themselves while she flagged for highway construction crews in other counties. What, locals wondered, would this new citified single lady, also a UW prof, get up to in there? For almost four years, they kept their distance and waited to find out.

Isolated on the Big Laramie, I pondered the folksy signs and sayings that seemed to offer prescriptions for my Wyoming life: “If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It,” was a motto never heard in New York, an economic “energy center,” where whatever didn’t change demanded rethinking. Were the stickers on pickups, “Welcome to Wyoming: We Don’t Give a Damn How You Do It Back Home,” aimed at me? And what about, “Stop Whining,” “If You Don’t Like it Here, Leave,” and “Pull Yourself Up by Your Bootstraps”? (Were those the wee loops on the tops of my used gold parade boots?) Most unnerving was the expression I heard when natives didn’t know I was listening: “Our Way of Life.” Was my new state an exclusive country club, open only to insiders?

While on one hand the maxims advocated self-reliance and proud survival on high desert plains, on the other, they concealed warnings for presumptuous newcomers: We own this place. Don’t try to change it. Cowboy up or ride out on the horse you rode in on. What was the difference, I wondered, between Our way of life in a boom-and-bust state, where the population had sunk to 458,400, and Xenophobia — defined asan unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers, or that which is foreign or strange.”

Meanwhile, my students feared they’d betray their birthright if they abandoned small, remote towns for overcrowded cities in other states, or even Jackson. I soon heard that only the Wyoming-born could win major state offices. In 2014 Gov. Matt Mead announced that three new additions to his staff were men with “Wyoming roots.” And last May, the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services introduced a new program, “Wyoming Grown,” designed to bring natives home by clueing them into job opportunities. Hayley McKee, the information officer, said that in the last eight months 26 professionals have been placed.

Yet, as the 21st century got underway, “Our Way of Life” took a sucker punch. The world finally acknowledged that climate change was real, and billions of tons of CO2 spewing from coal-fired power plants played the largest role in higher temperatures, storms, tornadoes, floods, impending food shortages and species’ extinction, not to mention lung and heart conditions. Thanks to new EPA regulations inspired by the June 2014 Clean Air and Climate Change Act, followed by the Paris Agreement on climate change, U.S markets were no longer buying the 400 million tons of publically-owned and federally-regulated Powder River coal that 15 mines had railroaded out every year. And largely dependent on fossil fuel fees, 11 percent of state revenues went down the drain. As 2015 ended, coal stocks continued their dive, the industry reeled from debt, two companies went bankrupt, U.S. coal production fell to its lowest level since the 1980s, and coal mine workers  applied for unemployment insurance. This past Christmas, New York Times reporter James B. Stewart wryly joked that we could extend coal’s future by putting more lumps of it in bad children’s stockings. Then, on Friday Jan. 15, the Obama administration landed  a knock-out blow by announcing a “pause” in approving new coal leases. If the National Mining Association had any doubts, it now knew that the Feds intended to keep coal in the ground.

Coal’s dim future was already a sensitive issue in 2012, when Tom Buchanan, then president of the University of Wyoming, was pressured by coal-county legislators and the Wyoming Mining Association to raze Chris Drury’s $45,000 campus installation, “Carbon Sink” — a spiraling circle of beetle kill lumber that morphed into coal. Yet the sculpture only symbolized what everyone knew: that CO2 emissions were largely responsible for tepid winters that allowed lodgepole predators to thrive. By 2015, the warmest year yet, Gov. Mead, the university’s School of Energy Resources, and legislators beat their breasts like ancient Egyptian mourners after the Pharaoh’s death, and asked what offerings coal would need to embark on its afterlife.  

You’ve heard the proposals: What about turning the mineral into a gas that makes plastics, pharmaceuticals, paints, and food sweeteners? (Those gasification plants are costly to build and also eject CO2). Could Wyoming cash in on iffy CO2 sequestration technologies that neutralize emissions in different kinds of reservoirs, or better yet, enhance oil recovery? How about shipping Powder River coal to Asia? (The states with ocean ports said no, and, it turned out, Asian markets could access closer, cheaper suppliers as they, too, began phasing out coal.) Meanwhile, Wyoming’s renewable energy sources, wind and sun, didn’t engage imaginations preoccupied with schemes for coal’s second coming.   

“Thank God for the rainy day fund,” Wyomingites sighed, meaning the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account, flush with $1.8 billion. But states can’t retire and live off their savings, like I did. And how long will Wyoming’s other non-renewable fossil fuels — oil and plentiful natural gas — hold out (centuries?) before they, too, go the way of coal, coal methane gas, and the dinosaurs that left their bones in Como Bluffs?   

The governor suggested diversifying the economy. (Not a new idea.) True, Wyoming is one of three states (with Texas and West Virginia) where the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the 10 highest employment quotients are energy related. Other industries, Mead affirmed, would make state coffers less susceptible to energy downturns. He focused on clean, high-paying technology companies, (Colorado has 495 in Denver alone), and proudly announced that Microsoft had expanded its Wyoming operation by 25 jobs.  (A positive move, but to put it in perspective, the new Google campus in Boulder, Colorado, will add 1,500 positions to the 300 the company already had.)

Diversification is a soul-stirring word, but what does it call for? Not just a few companies, expanding high speed wireless broadband, but a wider business base, including small manufacturers. They might choose Wyoming over China and Vietnam when they got a load of the Cowboy State’s lack of corporate and income taxes, less stringent regulations, and low union participation, as well as federal tax incentives for staying and producing in-country. (New Wyoming businesses do pay a franchise tax.) But one crucial factor is missing: Asia’s abundant labor force. You can’t attract a factory that makes, say, mattresses, or diesel-hybrid electric tractors, or even a meat packing plant without  potential workers.

A viable workforce demands an increased population. (Wyoming is the least populous state in the union.) And where in Sam Hill will the state get that? The answer, my friend, is blowing in a gale-force wind: The answer is people from other countries — yes, Immigrants, including refugees, with other religions, languages, traditions, and skin colors, who are unlikely to share “our way of life.”

These people, who may have suffered human rights abuses, war, economic and political oppression, don’t think that “freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”  As I write, the foreign-born that the state needs to transform its economy are walking through 31-mile tunnels under the English Channel, and risking their lives to cross turbulent seas in inflatable rafts. They’d love to have a job, a home, and a school for their kids in a peaceful place with beautiful scenery. And, I bet, they’d be happy to pay a state income tax, like the one Tax Reform 2000 suggested. (Sixteen years ago the group of legislators and economists estimated that a small, flat-rate tax would raise $153,633,405, only about $5 million less than the 2016 budget shortfall. And, they pointed out, every state on Wyoming’s borders, all red but one, has an income tax, except South Dakota.)

Other governors realize that paying taxes is one of the ways that immigrants expand local economies. Michigan’s Rick Snyder called for a new program to attract and welcome the foreign-born, citing statistics that said newcomers were more than three times as likely as non-immigrants to start a new business. (They also filed more international patents.) Cities, too, have adopted pro-immigrant initiatives. Despite Congress’s discouraging rhetoric, Washington, Atlanta, Nashville and Memphis, Charlotte, Louisville, Tucson, and Dayton have pledged to create immigrant-friendly climates because they recognize that new arrivals who attract businesses also start them, spend gobs of money, and pay sales, income, and property taxes.

Actually, immigrants already reside in Wyoming. The American Immigration Council’s statistics say that in 2013 one in 10 Wyomingites was Hispanic or Asian. The foreign-born made up 3.5 percent of the population, or 20,081. (All but 5,000 were “authorized.”) Comprising 4.1 percent of the workforce, they paid $105.9 million in federal taxes and $38.5 million in state taxes (property and sales). Like immigrants elsewhere, many are better educated than natives. As a Dubois summer resident, who buys groceries in Jackson, I can vouch that the thriving tourist town’s restaurants, motels, and grocery stores depend on Hispanic and Eastern European workers. (The former owner of the Italian bistro, The Yellowstone Garage, once told me that Hispanics had saved the restaurant and hotel industries, and are the only restaurant employees who still have a work ethic.)

This brings me to Syrians — for Wyoming, largely a symbolic issue, as the U.S. hopes to settle the 10,000 in cities where Syrian communities already exist. Instead of joining 27 Republican governors who rejected the war-ravaged victims of Assad and ISIL, Gov. Mead, who ran into political flack when he sensibly proposed a refugee center, should have begged for 5,000. With federal subsidies, nonprofit grants, a committee to create acceptance strategies, and a chunk of that bulging rainy day fund, the state could have stimulated its own economy by building the strangers housing in Casper, where Monster.com now lists 691 positions, mostly for drivers and sales associates. Like your grandfather and mine, the foreign-born who worked the Butte copper mines, and my cab driving Ethiopian friend in Denver, immigrants know you gotta start somewhere.

Diversity, however, describes not just changes in population, or a good business mix, but personnel in individual organizations. A study from The Center for Talent Innovation shows that companies benefit from hiring diverse employees, instead of safe “cultural fits,” like their friends, who root for the same team, look and act like the boss, and share his or her taste in movies and books. Research shows that homogeneity breeds complacency; and the mere presence of someone from a different social background improved workplace performance and accuracy. The strongest teams employ different ages, races, and genders, as well as members with “acquired” diversity, like military experience, foreign language skills, and time spent abroad.  Leaders who are receptive to unexpected or challenging questions, and support new ideas, increase their companies’ profits and capture new markets.

Which brings me back to the Manhattan emigrant I was long ago. Although I made no waves in rural Woods Landing, I shook up the university’s English department. I said what I thought in faculty meetings (a cultural no-no), challenged students to excel in harder courses, and designed a visiting writer program that hired authors from many states, including Wyoming, who also taught community members. As my own contribution might indicate, the diversity that energizes a single workplace, could energize an unsustainable fossil fuel-based economy.  

So how to fix what’s broke? Sure, create a Refugee Center to vet Muslim immigrants and dream up new lives for coal, but grow the workforce with ambitious newcomers who will have a profound personal stake in enjoying and enhancing their American home.

But what will keep the new residents from moving to Oregon? Before you roll out the welcome wagons, stop saying, “Our Way of Life,” and tear off that xenophobic bumper sticker, “We Don’t Give a Damn How You Do it Back Home.”

About Writing for Peace Adviser Vicki Lindner

vicki Lindner (3)Vicki Lindner is an Associate Professor Emerita at the University of Wyoming, and an instructor at Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver, where she serves on the Diversity and Inclusivity Committee. She is the author of a novel, co-author of Unbalanced Accounts: How Women can Overcome their Fear of Money, and many essays, short stories, magazine and newspaper articles. Learn more about Vicki Lindner and her work here.

— Essays are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

WyoFile is a nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

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Check Out Our 2016 Young Writers Contest!

Writing for Peace dreamerWriting for Peace challenges young writers (ages 13–19) to expand their empathy skills by researching an unfamiliar culture and writing from the point-of-view of a character within that new world, while exploring social, political, and environmental pressures, and universal themes. We’ve extended the submission deadline to April 15, 2016 at midnight (Mountain Time). There is no fee for participation.

First, second, and third place prizes will be awarded in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry categories. Announcements will be made on May 1st on the Writing for Peace Blog.

  • First place winners will receive $50. Second  place winners will receive $25. Third place winners will receive $10.
  • Winners work, photo, bio, and a follow-up interview will be published in DoveTales, An International Journal of the Arts. Winners will receive one hard copy of the book.
  • Finalists may be eligible for online publication in our Writing for Peace blog.
  • Winners and finalists may receive invitations to participate in other Writing for Peace events, such as our Annual Youth Summit, readings, and possible mentoring opportunities.

Check out our full guidelines here.

Recommended Reading From Adviser Dr. Margaret Flowers:

Dr. Margaret Flowers, Writing for Peace Adviser“The conflict between democracy and state repression, often claimed as necessary to protect our safety and security, has moved the United States consistently toward a greater national security state that has become inconsistent with people’s privacy and freedom; as well as their ability to exercise First Amendment protected political activities. Where are we in this balance? How do we change it?”  Newsletter: End The Security State

 

Copyright © 2016 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.

 

 

Tree, by Azfar Ali Rizvi

11399_425513554192798_758677447_nTree

By Azfar Ali Rizvi

Among other things that almost all children universally share, is a tree. It could be the one in the backyard of our oldest house. The tree you played around. It could be the one you carved your name in, or the one you buried your pet cat under. Sometimes it’s simply the one you held close, while curiously looking at the funeral of your best friend’s brother. Or worse your own brother’s. Trees are our saviors, whether we acknowledge or not. They allow us to celebrate our gains and mourn our losses. They let us be.

This fleeting thought was triggered by news last year that the 007 Skyfall director Sam Mendes will bring to life the much loved British Author Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series. Blyton has left behind an unmatchable legacy– her books not only sold over 500 million copies across the world, but were also translated into 40 languages. Pippa Harris, co-founder of Neal Street Productions, the company responsible for this ambitious task, expressed her excitement over the development, saying, “The Magic Faraway Tree is one of the most loved children’s books series from an iconic author whose work has been adored by generations. To be able to adapt these for the big screen is incredibly exciting.”

So I picked it up again last week, and saw the merit in C.S. Lewis’ words: “ … a story worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then.” I can read it again and again, and find something new every time. Storytelling at it’s best, the series sparks imagination about peace, diversity and family values. It reminds of us the potential of love and coexistence in a small world. This is a story that opens a portal to another world in every week, and gently nudges the readers to accept contrasting nuances and cultures. As adults, we tend to forget this as we take the world head on, and life gets in the way of our understanding of stories.

A good story amuses us; a great story allows us to fantasize and bend this world and the situations we find ourselves in, to allow us to clearly focus on the moral aspects of what’s happening. Hence, I consider it a privilege to be a small part of WFP. Every year, we are treated to some of the most challenging, unique and diverse perspectives from around the world. WFP is simply championing the cause of barebones storytelling for peace. My allegiance is not just because I crave a peaceful future, but also because writing liberated me from the clutches of my past, and allowed me to soar to a better future. A future where I could be with my tree and carry it on my sleeve.

 

Azfar Ali Rizvi, Writing for Peace Adviser2Azfar Rizvi is a proponent of social justice, and a driving force behind interfaith, cross-cultural and pedagogic initiatives across three continents. He is a Toronto based documentary filmmaker, Photographer, an academic and a cross-platform communications strategist.

Originally from Karachi, Azfar experienced extremism in his early years after surviving violent ethnic cleansing first hand. The incidents shook him to the core and he started exploring reasons behind extremism through this writing; something that evolved from local dailies to covering systemic national issues for news and current affairs publications across Pakistan. Before transitioning into television news and documentaries, he took to presenting radio with the country’s first English radio network at the time.

Learn more about Azfar Rizvi here.

 

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Activism Update From Adviser Dr. Margaret Flowers:

Dr. Margaret Flowers, Writing for Peace Adviser“Black Americans, Indigenous peoples and immigrants who are standing up to highlight the injustices they suffer on a daily basis are creating a long overdue teachable moment for whites in the United States.  Whites who believe in equality, an end to prejudice and equal justice for all are standing with them; together we can make transformational change on racism and prejudice.”

Follow the latest Popular Resistance developments here.

 

DoveTales “Nature” Edition Update

DoveTales "Nature" CoverPurchase your copy of DoveTales “Nature” and support Writing for Peace! To all those who have ordered books for yourself, family, and friends, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Book sales help to cover the substantial costs of funding our mission.

DoveTales are available through our website here.

 

 Copyright © 2015 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.

Purse String Stagecraft, By David Scott Pointer

brain-barcode

   Purse String Stagecraft

By David Scott Pointer

 

Flesh-eating economic system

innards,

rolling

over community blood pressure apparatus,

attached to intergenerational empty wallets

attached to local and international poverty

attached to invisible, intertwined groups

with similar, different interests systemically

turned upon each other like pit-bulls or birds

innards

opening up the doors of paddy wagons

dispensing

box spring-bounce house, driver euphoria

disguising decades old ‘screen test’ metal

rebranded as unfortunate rough ride…….

splashed into teenage brain cells

addicted

to corporate college, mass consumerism

revisionist

page-turner TV, sound byte burn-bits

strategically misusing blackness stilled

aiding 1% adding machine economics

 

 

Brake Slamming Role Players

 

Police act like casting agents

while

driving

prisoner transport van, vamoose,

stomping on, lead-footing gas…

catapulting cuffed, unsuspecting

prisoners head-neck first into

their ‘screen test’ debuts, with

slim chance at Hollywoood, now

enroute to overcrowded hospital

 

About Writing for Peace Adviser David Scott Pointer

david-scott-pointer-writing-for-peace-advisor

David Scott Pointer is a long time social justice/political poet. His father, a piano playing bank robber, died when David was just 3 years old, leaving him to be raised by his grandmother, who determined that the best way to keep her young charge from emulating his “scoundrel” father was to socialize him to be a good soldier.  David’s earliest memories are of training for battle in his backyard in Kansas City, Missouri. Learn more about David and his work here.

 

 

quill3Victoria’s Writing Tips~

Creating Story Tension with Characters

By Victoria Hanley


An important part of writing a story is creating a convincing antagonist to oppose the main character. For this writing exercise, bring to mind someone from real life whose personality grates on you and whose perspective seems to be all messed up. Now, write a scene from that person’s viewpoint. Describe the world through their eyes, and do your best to imagine and express the turbulent tides of their emotions. How will this help you to create an interesting antagonist for a story of your own?

 

Meet Victoria Hanley, Writing for Peace Adviser

Victoria Hanley, Writing for Peace AdviserVictoria Hanley’s novels have won many honors and awards at home and abroad, and inspired two nonfiction writing books: Seize the Story: A Handbook for Teens Who Like to Write, and Wild Ink: Success Secrets to Writing and Publishing in the Young Adult Market. She teaches writing at Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver and at Northern Colorado Writers in Fort Collins.

Learn more about Victoria’s books, read her blog, download a free chapter of Wild Ink, and watch Victoria in action at www.victoriahanley.com.

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Activism Update From Adviser Dr. Margaret Flowers:

Dr. Margaret Flowers, Writing for Peace Adviser“A recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, “The Climate Deception Dossiers,” proves that the corporations which profit from the burning of fossil fuels knew about global warming decades ago, knew their industries contributed to it and responded by funding propaganda to deny global warming and pushing policies that increased their profits at the expense of a livable future.”

Follow the latest Popular Resistance developments here.

 

DoveTales “Nature” Edition Update

DoveTales "Nature" CoverPurchase your copy of DoveTales “Nature” and support Writing for Peace! To all those who have ordered books for yourself, family, and friends, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Book sales help to cover the substantial costs of funding our mission.

DoveTales are available through our website here.

 

 Copyright © 2015 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.

How to Become a Revolutionary Icon, By Lyla June Johnston

Young Diné women prepare for “Nihígaal Bee Iiná: Our Journey for Existence.” To assist with the group’s crowdfunding campaign visit: http://igg.me/p/1055200/x. Photo Courtesy Colleen Cooley

Young Diné women prepare for “Nihígaal Bee Iiná: Our Journey for Existence.” The group will embark on a 200-mile trek through western New Mexico—a tribute to the 150th anniversary of the tragic “Long Walk.” To assist with the group’s crowdfunding campaign visit: http://igg.me/p/1055200/x. Photo Courtesy Colleen Cooley.

How to Become a Revolutionary Icon

By Lyla June Johnston

1. Speak your truth aloud
2. Say it with love and humility
3. Ignore the thousands of people (including yourself) who will tell you that you’re unworthy of bringing this message
4. Repeat
……………………………………
I look at some of these young warriors like Nahko Bear, Ta’kaiya Blaney, Xiutezcatl Martinez, and others who are so sought after for their presence and their words. They are no different from anyone else. They are simply willing to stand up and speak light into the darkness, brazenly, at the risk of seeming overly idealistic or arrogant. This is not idealism, this is the truth that our child-selves saw so clearly but did not have space to express. This is not arrogance, this is the deliverance of nourishment to a world starving for truth. I was blessed to learn that I CAN speak in a society that expects and rewards silence.
……………………………………
I remember once at Stanford I came to my poetry collective with a poem that loudly professed my allegiance to unity and love. My entire team laughed at me and said they would not partake in the group performance I had sketched out. The tagline was, “WE WANT YOU FREE!” I guess it was too corny for them… But when I have the courage to say these things to the crowd something happens in their hearts. The rumbling of my voice, the clarity and conviction of the message, awakens dormant volcanos within them that have been waiting, silently, patiently, for years to erupt. Once I am finished they burst with applause and rise for the standing ovation. I know in my heart they are not cheering for me. They are cheering because, finally, the sleeping wolf has arisen within them. The wolf that sits in its conformist cage. The wolf that begs to howl this truth into the dark night with all its might but is not allowed to by societal norms. They are cheering for the Love that has triumphed, the Truth that has overcome all obstacles set before it. They are cheering for Creator, that Her message has finally been released, that it has finally breeched the walls Iktomi has built all around us. Walls meant to distract us from the ever-present, ever-shining, ever-true reality that we are free, we are love, we are loved and we hold the very breath of the Creator within our lungs and in our veins. This is the beauty our child-selves knew we were born for. This is the beauty we are all able to hold again. If we only have the courage, to step forward and… speak.

About Writing for Peace Young Adviser Lyla June Johnston

Lyla June Johnston, Writing fr Peace Young AdviserLyla June Johnston is a 24 year-old poet, musician, anthropologist and human being, from Taos, New Mexico. Her passion for peace unfolds both outside of herself through community organizing and within herself through continual prayers to forgive and love a wounded world. After studying Human Ecology at Stanford University, Lyla founded Regeneration Festival, an annual celebration and honoring of children and young adults worldwide. She plans on attending Harvard Business School to obtain the platform she needs to disarm the private sector and repurpose the capitalist infrastructure for healing and social change. Her ancestors are Diné and Cheyenne and it is from this ancestral worldview that she derives her visions for helping to create a culture of peace and generosity. Learn more about Lyla’s work here.

 

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BREAKING NEWS:

Young Navajo Stage 200-Mile Trek for Cultural Survival

Young Diné women prepare for “Nihígaal Bee Iiná: Our Journey for Existence.” To assist with the group’s crowdfunding campaign visit: http://igg.me/p/1055200/x. Photo Courtesy Colleen Cooley

(Photo Courtesy Colleen Cooley.)

By Writing for Peace Adviser, Lyla June Johnston

HUERFANO, New Mex.- At dawn on January 6th 2015 a group of young Diné (Navajo) women and their supporters will gather at a fire department near the base of Dził Na’oodiłii (Huerfano Mountain). From there the group will embark on a 200-mile trek through western New Mexico—a tribute to the 150th anniversary of the tragic “Long Walk.” Throughout this journey they intend to raise awareness about historical and present day challenges faced by Diné people and inspire hopeful solutions to address these issues.

Organizers are calling out for community support in the form of walking, hosting or helping to garner basic materials. This first journey will end at Tsoodził (Mount Taylor), their southern sacred mountain. Three more walks are scheduled for spring, summer and fall so that each of their four sacred mountains is visited. The walkers intend to cover over 1000 miles in 2015.

The commemorated event occurred in 1864 when Colonel Christopher “Kit” Carson—under the command of General James Carleton—enforced a merciless, scorched earth policy to bring Diné people into submission. During this time nearly 9,000 Diné and 500 Mescalero Apache men, women, children and elderlies were marched at gunpoint for 300 miles to a small patch of arid land known as Bosque Redondo, New Mexico. Many perished along the way.

During their four-year internment at this reservation “experiment”—known in Diné as Hwééldi or “the place of suffering”—hundreds died due to starvation, illness and physical violence. In 1868, high costs of rations and soldier commissions caused the federal government to disband the experiment and release them back to Diné Tah, the Navajo homeland.

“We are walking to honor the resiliency of our ancestors who 150 years ago were forced to march hundreds of miles in the dead of winter on a genocidal death march,” says Dana Eldridge, one of several female organizers of the walk. “They sacrificed and suffered so much so that we could live within these four sacred mountains. So we’re walking to honor them.”

According to the organizers, the walk is not simply a re-enactment of The Long Walk, but their return to a traditional lifestyle.

“It’s something that people don’t do anymore. We have the convenience of vehicles. But walking an entire journey is something that’s revolutionary in a way,” says young organizer Nick Ashley of Gallup, New Mexico.

“Our ancestors walked so that we could be here on our homeland singing, dancing and praying the songs they did. But now everyone is chasing the American Dream and neglecting our homeland, our language and way of life,” says Kimberly Smith of St. Michaels, Arizona.

Several Diné elders, including Larry W. Emerson, think present day problems might be due to “an abandonment of self.”

“One purpose of the walk might be for us to come back into ourselves via our traditional knowledge—into our homes, families, relations, communities and earth-sky knowing. Ké and k’é hwiindzin—to be conscious of our interdependent relationships based on compassion, love, and nurturing—are vital to our survival and we cannot come home to ourselves without these vital teachings. [We] offered several teachings [to the walkers] that might address the practice of coming home to ourselves, including some prayer songs.”

According to organizers, land-based prayer is an important part of their journey. “Everything we do is a prayer to return to our original selves,” says Laura Red Elk of Pueblo Pintado, New Mexico. “The mountains were our original naat’áanii [leaders] before IRA governments or the tribal council. Since our government is failing to protect us, we are returning to our original leadership by letting the mountains determine how we walk on the land.”

Organizers and their elders have chosen to name their movement as “Nihígaal Bee Iiná” or “Our Journey for Existence.” Due to the widespread presence of uranium, coal and gas extraction throughout Diné Tah,organizers feel that their environmental situation has reached a boiling point.

“One hundred and fifty years ago our ancestors stared their extinction in the face. And today, we young people are staring our extinction in the face. Our home will become an unlivable toxic wasteland if nothing is done,” says Eldridge.

According to the EPA, nearly 4 million tons of uranium have been extracted from Diné Tah since 1944. With over 500 abandoned uranium mines throughout the region, both homes and water sources are contaminated with high levels of radiation.

Additionally, over 20,000 tons of coal are strip-mined from Diné and Hopi lands every day by Peabody Coal Company alone. This coal feeds Navajo Generating Station, rated by the EPA as the highest emitter of toxic nitrous oxide in the country.

Organizers forecast that the next major threat is the onset of a boom in oil and natural gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing—a process now banned in the state of New York.

Erin Konsmo of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network in Alberta, Canada, says that resource extraction is not only a threat to the environment: “Some of the highest rates of missing and murdered women are in the tar-sands extraction areas. This is related to worker’s camps and the lack of jurisdictional protection for women on tribal lands.” Organizers state that the heavy presence of extractive industries is having a similar effect on Diné women.

“We give life and we nurture life just like the land does. Our traditional leadership structure is matrilineal because we are the spinal chord of society, the first teachers of the children. We are journeying back to our original selves including our responsibility as women to protect the land and take care of it,” says Red Elk.

“It’s all the more reason for this walk to be led by majority women. As traditional caretakers of the land, their physical presence is in and of itself a resistance to resource extraction,” comments Konsmo.

Weekly paychecks for Diné miners and generator operators are a constant reminder of their economic dependence on the fossil fuel industry. Walkers hope to raise awareness about self-sufficiency as an alternative to the extraction economy. They will disperse heirloom corn seeds to communities along the way and speak on the importance of food sovereignty and self-reliance.

“We are being told to invest in our own destruction in the name of the economy,” says Eldridge. “People say we need these jobs, but we don’t. To take care of ourselves it will take a tremendous amount of work, but it is a beautiful dream and it is so possible.”

Organizers are urging others to join them, especially Diné people, for all or part of the walk.

Smith encapsulates the spirit of the walk by saying, “We have to go back to where the wisdom is embedded. We have to reintroduce ourselves to those places. It is our inherent right and responsibility. The uplifting that our people need is there. We want to bring it back for our people, we want to honor our elders, our children and most importantly, we want to honor the earth.”

For more information on “Our Journey for Existence,” contact nihigaalbeeiina@gmail.com. To assist with the group’s crowdfunding campaign visit: http://igg.me/p/1055200/x

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