March 13, 2017

Native Nations Rise & Standing with Standing Rock March 2017

This past Saturday, I returned from my whirlwind 48-hour trip to Washington DC with my cohort of the Justice Ministry Education program that I'm in. 

What follows is the itinerary and schedule we had, and some initial reflections...  

Unfortunately, one of the members of my group decided at the last minute not to make the trip because of health concerns, including issues with mobility and keeping her energy up. Given the cold, rainy-snowy weather we had during the 2-mile, 3-hour march and rally on Friday, we all thought of how miserable our colleague would have been, had she been with us. 

Also, another member of our group is Oglala Sioux and had traveled with her family, so we seldom saw her.  It seems she and her family were heavily involved in the indigenous-centered activities...  She and two others from our cohort had gone to Standing Rock in North Dakota last fall, including the supervisor of the cohort, who had been twice. They all provided us with a bit of context and history of Standing Rock--nothing beats first-hand experience!  Another of us had gone to the March on Washington as a boy when Martin Luther King Jr had given his "I Have A Dream" speech. So among us, we have a lot of history of involvement in movements for social change. 


Thursday, March 9
  • Depart just before 9:00am; arrive Washington DC around 1:00pm. 
  • Grab lunch. Leave our luggage at where we would be staying.
  • Head to the office of Al Franken, who is one of Minnesota's U.S. senators and sits on the Indian Affairs Committee.  We met with his aide for about 10-15 minutes and spoke with him about Standing Rock and the need for the federal government to receive *consent* (not just have consultation) before proceeding with the construction of pipelines that would cross/desecrate indigenous land.
  • Head to the National Cathedral for the interfaith prayer service. A video of the 3-hour service is here:

Friday, March 10
  • Head to breakfast at First Trinity Lutheran Church, with brief program about Standing With Standing Rock before the march
  • 10:00am-1:00pm Native Nations Rise/Stand With Standing Rock March & Rally.  (This was a "permitted" march, meaning that there would be minimal disruption to the city and its traffic, and cops would be prepared ahead of time to redirect traffic.)
  • FREE TIME the rest of the day
    • We had lunch near where the rally was held at the end of the march. Then we walked to the Mall in front of the Pentagon where the indigenous community had set up (with permits) large tipis for events, ceremony, presentations, etc. 
    • We also walked to the new African American Museum nearby and took photos of ourselves in front of it. Tickets currently go on sale--and sell out--3 months ahead of time.
    • Then those of us who were wiped out went back to where we were staying, in order to rest for a couple of hours (including me). Others went onto the American Indian Museum nearby.
    • A few of us went to dinner at the Langston-Hughes inspired restaurant/bookstore/bar Busboys & Poets. Others got together with friends or just stayed put. 

Saturday, March 11
  • Depart Washington DC at 5:30 am to catch our flight home


Thankfully, we all seemed to get along alright with one another, although we have met together only 5 times in the month we've been together.  

We have different gifts:  One person recently had moved from Washington DC, so he knew all the good spots to eat and how to get around. The supervisor of our cohort is super-connected, so she had made plans for us as to where to be when, and with whom.  She's also an experienced traveler, so she was familiar with the various forms of transit we'd be using.  Another of us has a great sense of humor and tremendous stamina, so their easy spirit at times lifted us up. And then two of us were more like shepherds (that was my role/gift), keeping our eyes on the small flock of us and doing what we could during the march to keep us together, checked in with everyone, texted each other when any of us wandered off, etc.  

I think because of my organizer training and my experience in Ferguson, I grew concerned when one person from our group--the person most familiar with DC--really did just go off on his own, without saying anything to any of us, and we lost track of him for about 45 minutes or so.  Then I had the idea to text him, tell him we noticed his absence, and asked him to find a place to settle when he was ready and just let us know his whereabouts.  A little while later, he replied and said he had gotten too cold and needed a restroom, so he took care of himself.  Then I suggested he think of a place for us to eat lunch, so we could head there right after the rally, which worked out great. And we reconvened at the rally without too much difficulty, once he found an easy spot to meet him at.

During the interfaith worship service on Thursday night, it was a challenge for me to be still.  There were a lot of speakers; sometimes it was hard to hear because of the enormous space that is the National Cathedral--lots of echoes, and using a microphone didn't always help. And yet, to be in that holy space--holy because of our purpose together and because of the people gathered--with hundreds if not more than a thousand people gathered for the purpose of inward preparation for the next day's march... to hear from the father of Dallas Goldtooth, and the young adults, and the elders, and the women... about the history of Standing Rock, the vision of the people, spiritual well-being of the wider community... the drumming, the singing, the Native flute, the burning of the sage...

The most powerful part of the evening for me, personally, was when four elders--some of whom were dressed in clergy garb--and two young people carrying candles approached the center of the worship space. (This is at the 2-hour 10-minute mark of the video, I think.)  The elders lit the sage sticks they were carrying from the candles and walked around the entire room, allowing the 1000 worshipers to bless themselves with the smoke of the burning sage ("smudging")... The last time I received such a blessing was maybe 15 years ago, when I was in Milwaukee... It took about 20 minutes for the 4 elders to smudge everyone, and it was all done in silence and with great respect.  To me, it felt like an affirmation that we can practice abundance and generosity of Spirit; that there is enough time for everyone to receive a Blessing; that there is no need to rush.

Our indigenous colleague was also part of the clergy procession during that interfaith worship, and she likely knew many of the indigenous speakers. She seemed very peaceful and at rest...  whereas I myself could not help but stiffen up each time I saw the outward Christian symbols that Friends traditionally don't use:  lit candles; large wooden crosses; tall steeples; prayer books and hymnals...  Being both from a Jewish family and worshiping now among Friends, these customs unsettled me for a while...

Other times, I relaxed into receiving the prayers that were offered in an indigenous language.  Something deep among us seemed to be healing, as these Native people and their languages were honored and invited into and lifted up in such a colonized, Christianized space... Remember: The U.S. and its boarding schools--including Quaker-run schools--had all but criminalized and obliterated Native American spirituality, ceremony, traditions, culture, and language. 

One speaker invited us to look around at the enormous holy space we were in, the National Cathedral... to reflect on how long that steeple house had been there, and how many religious events and sacred communions with the Spirit had taken place over the years... and then to imagine what our response would be, if the country had found valuable mineral deposits and other critical resources beneath where this sacred space had been... Imagine how we'd respond if the government told us that the whole thing would have to be torn down, razed, and dug up...  How would we feel?  "Well, that is what is happening to our sacred sites..." he said.

And then a few minutes later, we were being smudged in the Holy Silence.

. . . . . . . . .

It was a long day of travel, followed by a long worship service. I wasn't able to meet up with members of Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) who had some gatherings that day, but after the worship, I had a few minutes of time to visit with a Facebook Quaker friend from Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Tina has been active there in that city's version of the Occupy Movement (they called it UnOccupy, out of respect for the indigenous people who lived there before European settlers occupied it).  She had also traveled to Standing Rock last fall; and she and I have called on each other for support around whiteness, white privilege, and racial justice issues.  It was a gift to connect with her and with her daughter in person.  Her daughter told me she has written online about her experiences:;  Look at her posts from March 9-12, 2017: she writes about events that I hadn't known about or wasn't able to get to...

I don't have much to say about the march:  our group was in the middle of the thousands of people, so we couldn't see or hear what was happening at the front of the march-- we stopped in front of the controversial Trump Hotel, where apparently a temporary tipi was erected and a Black Snake danced outside the lobby-- but smelling the burning sage and hearing the drums and chants around us, while also having some fellowship with the folks in my group kept me going.

I'm glad I went, despite it being such a short trip.  Thanks to all of you for your prayers and support. 


August 29, 2016

Healing our disconnectedness

In my worship yesterday, I found myself lingering on thoughts and reflections on the spiritual wounding that occurs whenever I choose to disconnect from someone else.  That choice often is driven by anger, resentment, hurt, shame, fear, etc.

It seems to me, in turn, if I am not intentional about how to go about my own healing, then I can resort to filling that wound with whatever might cover up the original pain--which can include some form of power play or domination over someone else.

When I view the choice to disconnect from a multigenerational lens-- oh my! My ancestors who left their families and homelands behind to come to this land... Those devout men among my predecessors who chose to abide by sexist religious teachings and subjugate women... And my American-born relatives who unconsciously accepted the racist, white supremacist conditioning they were exposed to in this country....

I appreciate reading about the concept of recovery-as-a-journey* as it applies to oppression (racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, etc). I know I am helped, often wordlessly, by reminders that I can "debias" myself and that I can "decolonize my mind."

It will take time, intention, and community building. My socialization into the cycle of pain/disconnection/asserting power started long before my grandparents and I were born; it will take a great deal of time to heal and "recover" from that multigenerational wound.

With recent and current national struggles over marriage equality, voting rights, immigration rights, indigenous rights, climate change, and the movement for Black lives, I am thinking of two more parts of my own cycle of recovery and healing: self-awareness followed by (re)connecting.

Sometimes that reconnection piece involves getting involved in justice work. I am beginning to wonder if justice work is required in order to heal a collective wounding, whether that wounding is named and acknowledged or not.  Examples of justice work include:

  • Prison reform/abolition and ending mass incarceration;
  • Land return to indigenous communities;
  • Wage and employment equity for people of color, and wage equity for women;
  • Immigration reform;
  • Ending police brutality and providing full accountability for police misconduct;
  • Protesting extreme extraction of the earth's resources. 

For me, worship helps me see where I have sinned--where or how I have disconnected from someone, and whether the Way is open, or how the Way might open, if I wanted to reconnect or wanted to repair that wound. The repair will look different if the wound is interpersonal, systemic, or multigenerational.

I have more reflection to do, and more healing.

Thanks for reading me.

*During the 2016 FGC Gathering of Quakers, an African American Quaker recently shared her ideas with Friends there about "recovery" in relation to oppression.

May 11, 2016

Testimony on a Minnesota bill about body cameras

Dear friends in the struggle for racial justice,

Below is what I read as testimony during the 10 May 2016 committee hearing in the Minnesota legislature about body cameras.  It isn't an exact transcript of what I ended up saying but it is very close for nearly all of it.

Although 3-1/2 of the 4 hours of testimony was against advancing the proposed bill, the committee ignored our testimony, openly acknowledged the power of the police lobby, and voted to move the bill along, unchanged. It probably didn't hurt that three or four of the thirteen committee members themselves are or were police officers.  No wonder I wanted to draw parallels the next morning between the election in an earlier era of white supremacists to serve on our legislative bodies and the final vote tally that took place yesterday.

There will always be more work to do to end racism, to uncenter whiteness, and to take down white supremacy.



House Committee for Civil Rights & Data Practices
10 Fifth Month 2016

My name is Elizabeth Oppenheimer.

My pronouns, when you refer to me, are she, her, and hers. I introduce myself this way because as I attend meetings with young adults, this is a practice that they are using more and more.

And I am a Quaker who feels compelled to speak to this issue and the proposed legislation.

Today marks the 3-year anniversary of the officer-involved shooting of unarmed Terrance Franklin, an African American man in Minneapolis.

First, before I forget, just as someone raised the question [at this committee hearing] "Where have you been while we've been developing this bill for years?" I would ask, Where have you been, to not know the concerns of communities of color and of white people who have direct relationships with those communities during sessions to discuss the use of body cams?  

I also want to acknowledge that opportunities for public comment yields no guarantee that community input would have an equal amount of influence as, say, the police lobby. In fact, given what Minneapolis just went through [see above link], major community recommendations were completely left out of the Mpls Police Department's proposed policy about use of body cameras. 


I'm giving testimony today in part because I want the record here to show a few things.

I want the record to show that the proposed legislation completely erases or discounts the long, important work at the request of the Minneapolis' mayor and police chief, already carried out by that city's Police Conduct & Oversight Commission there (the PCOC).

I want the record to show that the work done by entities such as the PCOC has included research-based best practices and community-based recommendations, all of which are effectively ERASED here.

Onto the proposed legislation:

I have a strong concern that the proposed legislation, which currently would allow police officers to have unrestricted access to recordings or "data" prior to writing their reports after an incident, would then allow them to in turn create data--in the form of police reports--that would set in motion a narrative that could explain away any misconduct that the bodycam may have recorded, whether or not there was "substantial bodily harm" [a phrase used in the bill].

Once a narrative gets out there, one that is based nearly entirely on official police statements without inclusion of eyewitness statements that may run counter to the officer-created data or narrative, the stars too often align to favor the police officer's version of what happened--and such unrestricted access to recordings produced by the bodycam unfairly advantages police and disadvantages historically negatively profiled communities, such as African American, Native American, and Latinx communities.

I caution us to think through who gets to decide what are "offensive to common sensibilities," a phrase already mentioned at this hearing. A historically oppressed group develops a different "common sense" from what an historically privileged group might develop. Similarly, who gets to decide what will or won't promote police accountability? 

To that effect, I want the record to show that the work by entities such as the PCOC has included researched-based best practices and community-based recommendations

In addition, a nearly unanimous group of community members at multiple sessions for bodycams in Minneapolis favored, as do I, keeping the recordings separate from the creation of written reports. That separation would keep in tact the EVIDENTIARY VALUE of both the recordings and the reports. 

In essence, this piece of the proposed legislation comes across as a form of willful denial and even rejection of the community that has already spoken up to put into place a policy that would PREVENT officers from reviewing the recordings created from a body-worn camera.  This seems to be willful disregard about what Minnesotans are actually saying and a disregard of what has already been identified as best practices when it comes to use of body worn cameras.

In closing, I want to mention the new TV series Underground and a little bit about my own background.

In Underground, the well-intended, heavily socialized white people made conscious and unconscious choices to disconnect from the people around them who are darker skinned, in order to "go along to get along" with their white peers. They had to choose to unsee, thousands of times a day, their brothers and sisters of color who were mistreated by so many.

We ALL start as idealistic children, at least I know that I did.  I promised to myself and to my second- & third-grade teachers that I would work for peace, that I would be friends with everyone, that I would be kind.  The young white son in Underground made similar promises in his heart. So did you, I'm guessing. 

But when **I** willingly turn away from pain and mistreatment of people of color who I know, and who have sat in my house and in my workplace and in my classroom, I am choosing to stay sheltered from their pain so I can stay disconnected from community members who call on me--on you--to be on THEIR side too, to create policy and laws that protect THEM from the harm of an unjust system ...  even though you may choose to unsee them, a thousand times a day: 

So when you propose legislation to disregard what communities here have said, communities that experience the most severe impact of our government's laws; when you vote to disregard researched best practices of bodycam policies from across the country, please don't think about the people you choose to unsee who end up as hashtags in social media or as leading stories on the evening news. 

Don't think about the promises you made to yourself and to your teachers, as I did, to be kind and peaceful and loving. Don't think about the facts about the disproportionate representation of Minnesotans of color who are targeted, profiled, brutalized, arrested, jailed, or killed at the hands of our police officers.  Don't think about the part of your soul--or mine--that dies, a little at a time, each time you or I act to unsee the ongoing harm of that deadly system. 

I have done that over the years--though not as a law maker or as a police officer--and I don't wish to betray my soul, my heart, my sisters and brothers of color any longer.

Please exclude the ability for officers to preview the data prior to writing their reports. And please consider reading the PCOC report in its entirety, given its national scope of research regarding best practices.

Thank you.  

August 11, 2015

Staying woke: Confessions of my "No TV" days

NOTE: The following post has a number of hashtags included, noted with the "#" in front of a word or phrase.  A number of social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, use hashtags as a way to follow a topic. You can do an online search for each hashtag to get more information about that particular topic. Include the # sign in your search.  --Liz
I had a conversation with two white Quakers the other day, after a Ferguson-solidarity event (#MN2Ferguson), about how a number of us Friends pride ourselves in not having a TV anymore, not listening to the news, or only listening to public radio, Democracy Now, etc.

But even those outlets are embedded in unexamined whiteness, unintentionally minimizing or even erasing the lives and the lived experience of people of color. (There's also unexamined classism, and systems embedded in unexamined middle-class norms, so keep that in mind, too.) An active part of my own journey into anti-racism work is the work of undoing my "socialized whiteness," exploring my socialized conditioning of overvaluing my "good intentions," and deepening my commitment to showing up for racial justice and for working for meaningful change.

I admit that it's been part of my white privilege to be able to turn off the news, or to get by without a TV... but that choice--to turn off the TV and simply NOT HEAR about what goes on in communities of color also had cut me off from the realities of what people of color endure Every. Single. Day.

It's a privilege to be able to turn away from deeply disturbing news and then get back to our everyday life. It's a privilege that also marks what some are now calling white fragility.

With the Green Revolution in Iran a few years ago, I learned to turn to Twitter--not to create an account, but rather to do an online search for hashtags back then: #GreenRevolution for example. ...And the news that was coming from Twitter was vastly different from the (lack of) news (initially) coming from the mainstream media.

That was the beginning for me, to learn to use the internet and social media when there were rumblings of things going on. I wasn't turning on the TV so much, but I was turning to Twitter.

Next up for me was to turn to Twitter for tracking and amplifying the work of marriage equality for same-sex couples, especially when the issue came to my state.

During the 18-month period of work to defeat Minnesota's proposed anti-GLBTQ marriage amendment, I began to find my own voice on Twitter, amplifying and repeating what others were sharing (that's called "re-tweeting" or RT for those who are curious).

My life is very different now: thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, marriage for same-sex couples is now a protected right.  More importantly, I actively choose to "stay woke," as younger people are now saying (the hashtag #staywoke is actually used in social media).  I choose to pay attention and seek out news, rather than avoid it.  I choose to go to news sources that point out systemic oppression and that track fast-breaking news--sources that provide consistent messages of what's happening when there are incidents especially involving racism.

Network television seldom provides the coverage I seek.  Being at #FergusonOctober in 2014 and comparing my own experience there with what the mainstream media was reporting at the time highlighted for me the difference between news provided by mainstream media and what civilians were posting on Twitter.

So now, when I hear or see a news story of significance, especially involving the police or people of color, I use that initial exposure as a reminder for me to check out social media, especially looking for/listening for reports from civilians of color.  And by centering on the reports from people of color, I am beginning to see the world through different eyes:  a different reality that had been hidden from me before, because of the thick veil of privilege I didn't know I was wearing.

It's all too easy for me these days to forget where I started my own journey, exploring white privilege and how I unknowingly, unintentionally used it to keep me comfortable and insulated from horrific news around the world, in my country, or even in my neighborhood.  But then something comes up, like #MikeBrown or #FreddieGray or a conversation here or there, and I remember:

  • I don't know what I don't know.

  • I'm socialized to disconnect or shut down when things get tough.

  • Good intentions sometimes have harmful impacts.

  • Good intentions don't outweigh harmful impacts.

  • Rewriting how I was socialized is a never ending journey.

  • We're all on a journey.

  • Friends call that journey continuing revelation.  Sometimes it includes turning off the TV; other times it includes using it differently.