Author Archives: Eleanor Hancock

“What have you given up?” – Zen priest Greg Snyder on growing up Pennsylvanian Dutch, assimilation, intimacy, and power

Greg Snyder is a dharma teacher and senior priest at Brooklyn Zen Center, which he co-founded with his wife, Laura O’Loughlin. He is also a professor of Buddhism at Union Theological Seminary. As a priest, teacher, and community leader, much of Greg’s work is oriented around peace-building and social justice initiatives. The following post is an interview with Greg conducted by Eleanor Hancock, director of White Awake.

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Greg Snyder

Born in 1969, Greg grew up in a close-knit Pennsylvania Dutch community. At 13 years of age, Greg encountered his first experience of assimilation when his family moved out of this community, in central Pennsylvania, and relocated in Houston, Texas. Greg characterizes this assimilation from an ethnic to non ethnic white identity as a consequence of being poor in a capitalist society, and distinguishes his experience as one of loss. In reflecting on his own story, as well as on the experiences of other people who are socially categorized and socialized as white, Greg points out that when this loss of identity occurs intimacy and connection is traded for positions of relative social power.

Greg’s story is unique, in part, because he has lived through a transition from ethnic to assimilated “white” culture (with all the ensuing white racial privilege that this imparts) within his lifetime. For many white people, assimilation occurred generations ago, such that we may not have the same type of personal insight into this trade-off (of intimacy for power) that Greg brings.

Please note that the Pennsylvania Dutch are a cultural group formed by early German-speaking immigrants to Pennsylvania and their descendants. The word “Dutch” does not refer to the Dutch people or the Dutch language, but to these German settlers (ie “Dutch” = Deutsch = German). 

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Rural Pennsylvania

Eleanor Hancock:  What was it like to grow up Pennsylvania Dutch? How was it different than growing up white in the suburbs?

Greg Snyder:  The main thing that was different about growing up in a Pennsylvania Dutch (PD) community, in central Pennsylvania, is that my default identity wasn’t white. I didn’t know people without Germanic surnames – Snyder or Rehmeyer or Schroeder. That area of Pennsylvania was said to be, at the time, the least ethnically diverse place in the U.S.; virtually everyone was Pennsylvania Dutch. We were in the social position of being treated as white — but as a kid that wasn’t our first way of talking about ourselves.

EH:  How did your ancestors come to Pennsylvania Dutch country?

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Amish cemetery, Lancaster PA

GS:  My family came to the area in two waves. The first wave of Pennsylvania Dutch families was in the late 1680s; another was in the 1720s. One line of my family actually bought our family farm from the son of William Penn, the early Quaker after whom Pennsylvania is named. If you visited local graveyards, in my childhood, all the gravestones bore Pennsylvania Dutch names. So you had a feeling of an internalized “we.” “We are living here; we’ve been living here.” There wasn’t much discussion of who we took that land from. But there was a sense of “we have an identity in this land as a people.” In strict Pennsylvania Dutch circles, like the Amish community, the word for outsiders is “English.” I grew up with a really strong sense that New Englanders and WASPs looked down on us and that we didn’t like them; there was a huge bias in the community against WASP culture that probably had to do with ethnicity and class going back to early years in the US.

EH: Did you grow up speaking English?

GS:  Yes. All of my grandparents spoke Pennsylvania Dutch – which is a version of German dating from the late 17th or early 18th century. It’s a version of German with old constructions mixed into it, so that to modern German ears it would sound odd. Television and our education system has destroyed ethnic communities in the U.S. In the 1950s there were still Czech-speaking communities in Texas, French-speaking communities in Louisiana, and communities speaking PD. All that has shifted dramatically; people began speaking English instead. I wish our elders would have taught us PD, because now it’s a dying language that will soon be gone.

EH:  Were Germans involved in genocide as they cleared the land in your area?

GS:  In short, of course, but maybe not in the horrifically and overtly violent ways we know from other areas of the country. My elders and many of the Pennsylvania Dutch like to say that they lived alongside  the indigenous groups, rather than driving them away. Is it true? Highly doubtful. Maybe some families to a certain extent, but the fact is that the Susquehannock are not there anymore; they were forced to move north and south as a result of wars — joining the Delaware tribe, joining the Iroquois — until finally they were gone. Something happened. And another thing that is very suspicious: the first U.S. school created to re-educate Indian children — to try to drive their culture out of them — was in Carlisle, Penn., right in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country. This school was probably considered compassionate by the Christians  who founded it. After all, the early American prisons were founded by Quakers as places of contemplation. But when the vanquishers  say they were kind to the vanquished, well, it’s not so trustworthy.

Carlisle Memorial ceremony

Memorial ceremony at the Carlisle Indian cemetery

EH:  Would you say more about PD culture and the environment you grew up in?  

GS:  On the one hand it’s wonderful to grow up in a farm environment where you go to one neighbor for a lamb shank and another neighbor for potatoes and everyone grows food around you. My family still does that to this day. My cousins buy their meat and their vegetables from people around them and go to the grocery store for packaged, processed stuff. As a child you could go outside with a deep sense of safety in that environment. In summer I could take a bag lunch and be out all day.

I had a deep sense of being Pennsylvania Dutch, of community, a deep sense that this land is the land of my people; we were all farmers. I also had a deep sense that I was not ethnically the same as the rest of the United States. People in the community would wear t-shirts that said “If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much.” There was an ethnic elitism.

I don’t want to pretend that it’s all wonderful being Pennsylvania Dutch. In fact it was difficult and complicated. It was a community where everyone paid attention to what everyone else was doing. We are talking about a very deep German Protestant patriarchy. The way children were raised, it was “Don’t be seen or heard; fall in line.” That’s one of the shadow sides. There’s a lot of patriarchal violence in Pennsylvania Dutch communities. You were sculpted to be a certain kind of a man. People beat their kids. I don’t know if it’s that way anymore, but when I was growing up it was. Most of my childhood traumas had to do with patriarchy.

EH: How rural were you? What sort of technology and modern amenities did you have?

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Family garden, PA Dutch country

GS: My mother’s family came from Mennonites; she lived her whole life on a farm. My father lived on a farm when he was young, then moved to a small town. His family came from Lutherans, who are allowed to do everything, including drive cars. Mennonites have cars but it’s a simple life. Although the simplicity of my life was not because of a Mennonite commitment. It was because of poverty. Old farm houses with outhouses. My mother always had a large garden, where we grew some of our food. There were times when we lived in farm houses with other people, and times when we were really broke and we lived in trailer parks. We moved a lot — often because we were unable to pay the rent. Yet where I had a real sense of rootedness and strength was in my extended family. My grandmother’s house was where everybody came together. Sundays and holidays there was a big meal – my cousins and everybody were often there, the elders sitting around speaking Pennsylvania Dutch.

EH:  You and your family had less than the other Pennsylvania Dutch?

GS:  Yes. There were many days, as a child, when the free lunch at school was my meal for the day. We’d go to farmers who had already picked their green beans and we’d pick what was left over.

EH: When did you first become conscious of race?

GS:  I never heard anyone talk about race in Pennsylvania — except once, driving through the black part of town, when my dad locked the doors. When I was 13 my family moved to Houston, Texas, for work. That was the first place I ever heard about race; it was non-stop. I would hear things like “Mexicans are lazy” — while watching literally all the work being done by Mexican Americans. Coming from the outside, that was mind-blowing. Soon after we got to Texas the Saudi royalty was buying up the energy industry, and local stores were selling baseball caps that said “Sand n*****s keep out.” I remember thinking, “Why would anybody buy that hat?”

I came into that culture not as a northern liberal but as someone completely protected from talk of race. In Pennsylvania, if there was any trash talk as kids, it was against middle-class WASPy types who looked down on us.

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Houston, TX

EH:  Coming from a close-knit Pennsylvania Dutch community, what was the transition like for you? Did you move to a mostly white part of Houston?

GS:  Our neighborhood in Houston was mixed; Mexican and white folks, mostly. What changed for me is that I didn’t have a people anymore. I felt this painfully and I didn’t know how to talk or act with people, and I didn’t understand what unified people. But ultimately it was really good, because I went from thinking that a French surname was exotic, in Pennsylvania Dutch country, to the situation in Houston where I had everyone in my school: South Asians, East Asians, people from the black and Mexican communities. I ended up making friends with a lot of different people — some white, some black, some from China and Vietnam and Mexico and Guatemala. I walked into U.S. racial dynamics that I didn’t consciously know a thing about. I remember asking the dumbest questions.

In Pennsylvania I was a shy boy; I was afraid. We moved around a lot, to new places, and felt alone. But I also had a sense of “we.” So much of that “we” had to do with the land. It wasn’t an abstract we, like “we’re all American.” I am suspicious of that identity and wonder how many folks really walk around with a deep, gratifying visceral identity as an American. Maybe they do. I guess I am just suspicious of identities that seem to have more to do with power than connection.

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Marcellus shale formation, eastern PA

When I go back to central Pennsylvania and I see that particular landscape, it feels like me. I am that land. I am the people who till the earth on that land. I know that shale; shale is right on top of slate. I used to make chalkboards with my brother, cutting into that ground. It’s sad: in one or two more generations, I think the people I am of will be gone, as an identifiable ethnicity in the U.S. Maybe the Amish will survive, but already assimilated Pennsylvania Dutch are shifting from calling themselves Pennsylvania Dutch to referring to themselves as being descended from Pennsylvania Dutch. Capitalism and whiteness are really good at wiping out ethnic support systems for poor white people.

In Undoing Racism workshops [for white folks], at Brooklyn Zen Center, we have participants state their ethnicity. How connected they are to their ethnicity depends on how far back it got included in the white camp. Italians and Greeks are clear: “I’m Italian; I’m Greek.” They know who they are. While those of English or Welsh background don’t really have any idea who they are; it’s hazy. So they say “I’m just white suburban.” As someone with a Germanic heritage (which has also been wiped away in the U.S.), what I cherish is that I grew up with a sense of a people. The saddest thing for white people, and something they need to look closely into, is what’s missing. What’s missing when you let whiteness characterize you? What have you given up?

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Weather worn sign, Kutztown PA

During October where I grew up, there was still a tradition of Oktoberfest, which was rooted in a celebration at the end of the harvest. Because of the beer drinking, Oktoberfest has become a gimmick now in the U.S, like St. Patrick’s Day. Yet it actually still had meaning in our Pennsylvania Dutch community. As a kid we had something in February called “Fastnacht” — the night before the fast, the night before you go into Lent. All the churches make fastnachts — little round donuts without holes — and families  would eat them together. There were lots of things like this, that were experienced as an ethnic community. Having a sense of a people, where you live together and do things together — an identity — I think that’s a loss. Of course food is the last thing to go with eroding ethnicity, so fastnachts and Pennsylvania Dutch food are still popular. But I remember having a sense of the year’s progression in relationship to the cycles of the harvest and community religious celebration. When I left Pennsylvania, that was lost.

When an ethnicity falls away for the sake of whiteness, we trade intimacy of connection for positions of power. If you understand yourself as an individual without a people, the only thing protecting you is your social location. We have to interrogate that deeply. What would it be like to be a people that is not rooted in power?

EH:  In antiracist circles ethnicity and class are sometimes conflated, where white is taken to mean middle class. Would you talk about your own experience of ethnicity and class and what you’ve learned?

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Pennsylvania German barn

GS:  When I was young in Pennsylvania, we didn’t have much money and it was obvious, so I was tortured by other kids. Suburbs were beginning to be built in the farmlands, so we began to have a mix of farm kids and suburban kids — sons and daughters of professionals who worked in Harrisburg and places like that. In sixth grade two boys, older than me, decided to encourage the whole bus of children to cheer every time I got off the bus. They would also shove me out of my seat so I would have to sit in the black, wet walkway between seats. They did that for a long time. I think as a kid who was smaller and obviously poor, I was an easy target for this kind of aggression.

In reaction I decided to be better than these rich white kids. I was going to read everything they read. I was going to educate myself, to go beyond all of them so they couldn’t touch me. I gave myself reading lists. One summer it was Russian novels. I would read them all and then go on to the next thing.

Over the years I framed this as a kind of rebellion. But one day – I’d already finished college — it hit me that I didn’t rebel against wealthy white people; I became them. I lost my accent; I can’t even imitate a PD accent anymore, though I can imitate a Texas accent in a heartbeat. So assimilation, I get it. I get how you fool yourself into thinking you’re rebelling and gaining power. Which you are. But you’re assimilating in the process and an enormous amount is lost.

I realized I had been taught to hate myself — where I came from and the people I came from — because the broader world convinced me we were hicks. It’s painful to believe that your customs and your ways of doing things – based on class and ethnicity — are improper, stupid, ugly. “You don’t eat at the table the right way; you have to learn how to hold a fork and a knife the right way.” Bullshit. That’s the WASP way, not the proper way. It would be really helpful if we all stopped all stopped thinking that the WASP way of doing things is the only proper way to do things. I think this is beginning to change.

EH:  What did you do with this realization?

Blessed Year Hex DutchHexSign

Blessed Year hex

GS:  I went through a process of saying “no, I affirm my Pennsylvania Dutch identity.” So now I have a Pennsylvania Dutch hex symbol on my front door – one of those round paintings that are on barns and front doors all over Pennsylvania Dutch country. They’re paintings that come from Germany; they welcome people. I’m not reducible to my Pennsylvania Dutch identity, but I try as much as possible to go back to my annual family reunions. There’s this huge ritual when we go to the family farm: we visit the graves of all my grandparents, my great-grandparents, my great-great-grandparents and family members tell stories about our ancestors.

EH:  I’ve heard you talk about anger, saying that anger can be different depending on one’s background. And that anger can, in fact, be generative.

GS:  Yes, I’ll give you an example: As a kid in farm country, when you ran out of something you went to your neighbor and asked for it. If you started working in your yard, your neighbor showed up to help you. When my aunt Henrietta got cancer, pies and other food just kept showing up. Here in New York City, I’d never ask my neighbor for anything. In middle-class white circles, asking your neighbor for something can be seen as a sign of shame or weakness: “Why haven’t you figured this out?”

Understanding myself to be in a network of support, I get angry on behalf of my community. I was 9 or 10 when the accident at Three-Mile Island nuclear plant happened; 144,000 people abandoned the area. The U.S. government said no meltdown ever happened, but the leukemia rate for children shot through the roof. It was a lie, a complete cover up. The whole community felt that together. You don’t have that experience if you’re an educated, white middle-class person in a suburb that doesn’t have a dump next to it. Instead everything is individualized. A whole community can experience this kind of violence collectively while a wider narrative covers it up. The collective experience is sometimes the only thing that keeps one from feeling insane in a world that denies one’s experience of reality.

As a Zen teacher, when somebody starts talking about their anger, I see it differently depending on who’s talking. White middle-class, educated persons usually talk about themselves and their anger. It’s usually framed as a single person against the world. I also have students who are working class, immigrants, Dominican, Haitian, black American, etc; they talk about their communities a lot more. I’ve heard some in the Zen community say these people are avoiding their personal work and feelings by focusing on the community. This is not necessarily the case. It is very possible that this is a  felt sense of self that isn’t as strictly individualized in the way mainstream white culture is.

There can be a real difference in where one’s anger is coming from. Is it coming from a “we” or an “I” or both? Some people have never really experienced, outside of their family unit, the anger of a “we.” In our Undoing Racism workshops, those who came out the most pissed off were working-class ethnic whites. I’ve seen working-class white people leave with a lot of anger when they realized what had been done to them. And some became real allies to people of color as a result.

This interview was conducted and transcribed with support from Margo Mallar, and edited by Cathy Cockrell. Thank you Margo and Cathy!

Photo creditsRural PA: Nicholas A. Tonelli / Amish Cemetery: Allie Caulfield / Memorial service at Carlisle Indian School cemetery: White Bison / Houston, TX: Joe Wolf / Pennsylvania German barn: Wood Natural Restorations / Blessed Year hex: Dutch Hex Sign

We Can’t Move Forward Without Looking Back

OnBeing columnist Courtney E. Martin introduces her neighbor and friend, Louise Dunlap, whose reflections on land and her settler-colonial ancestors model truth-telling and accountability. Louise offers guidance on how to engage, and a wealth of resources (via links in the text) on decolonizing and other relevant topics. This essay was originally published at and is reprinted here with permission.

in the shadows steve corey

“To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.”

So says Buddha. Which is a fitting way for me to introduce you to Louise, my 78-year-old neighbor and friend. She’s a writer, a teacher, and a Buddhist activist. She’s, quite possibly, closed the gap between how she lives and what she believes more than any other human I’ve ever encountered.

Even when it comes to race — a place where so many otherwise impassioned white activists, especially of a certain age, have deep moral failings. Louise may have failed, she may continue to fail in various ways, but she has no delusions about her culpability or the ways in which her freedom is tied up in taking responsibility.

As this letter demonstrates, she is committed to telling truth about her own family’s story and how it’s wrapped up in the larger national history of racialized violence and economic exploitation. She’s teaching me, through these words and her actions, how to walk the maze of human life with more courage, especially at this cataclysmic moment.

– Courtney Martin

Dear Courtney,

Just last summer we were on the deck at my family’s place in the woods — you and me and your two little girls — waiting for our friends to arrive for a picnic. Enjoying the dry, hot air, cooled just a little by huge spreading live oaks — a perfect northern California day on the edge of the Napa Valley. We were on this futon where my mother used to sleep outdoors with her grandchildren. Baby Stella had sprawled out dozing and I was telling Maya about sleeping here and sometimes seeing wild animals. I was about to go on about bobcats and skunks, when she startled both of us.

“I see a animal,” she said in her confident three-year-old voice, looking out towards the field. Hardly believing her, I turned and followed her gaze beyond the dark arms of the oaks. And there he was, not ten yards away, lying in a patch of shade surrounded by sunlight — a little buck with upright horns. He looked so peaceful, resting there in the heat of the day, and didn’t seem to mind our excitement, how we passed the binoculars to Maya, showed her how to use them, and praised her clear seeing, marveling at her openness to the natural world.

Next time you’re here with Maya, we have to figure out how to tell her some of the history that surrounds this place. It’s hard to know how the land can be so lovely and peaceful. It’s “ours” only because my great, great grandfather bought it during the terrible period after statehood when the early people of California were being hunted down in what we would later name genocide.

So far as I know he wasn’t in any of the militias that wiped out peaceful villages, killing women and even babies in ways too horrible to tell Maya. But he was in the state legislature when they voted to pay those militias, and likely shared the common view that Indians should be “exterminated” from land that hadn’t already been cleared. That was their code for genocide at the time. I’m guessing my ancestor voted in 1860 — right before the Civil War — to strengthen state laws that permitted kidnapping and sale of Native children into indenture — which was really slavery. Even though he was a union supporter, the census for that year listed two people who were likely indentured Indians living in his own home. In a nearby town, an observer said almost every household had one to three Indian child servants.

California was particularly violent, but the story holds true in different ways throughout the country, whether our white ancestors were actually there for the killing or immigrated later and moved into places that had been conquered. Free land, some of them thought. We know the real story in our hearts but don’t want to look at it. There’s too much fear and grief. But not acknowledging keeps us locked into self-destructive patterns. We’re living with the kind of shadow Jung talked about — played out in our political life, denial of climate change, and lack of true respect for darker-skinned people. As long as we don’t look back, the wound deepens and we can’t move forward. Like with PTSD.

Under the oaks last summer, we hadn’t known the election outcome or seen how deeply into this shadow our country would move.  And now, we’re reeling from it, casting about — so many of us — to see how we can step up our good work, our resistance to new waves of atrocity. Now things look very hard, with a government that seems not to care about the earth or understand that none of us can be free (or our country “great”) unless we embrace those who’ve been left out and repair the harm done to them.

You tell me I have wisdom to impart — maybe because I’m nearly 80 and have spent over half my years focusing on this racial karma. Your trust is a little daunting to me. I’m just as subject to dread as anyone else — perhaps because I know too much about what we’re historically capable of, what some of our revered founding fathers specifically did that has never been grieved or repaired. But I can tell you what I’m doing and encouraging others to do.

  • Gather with others. We need to sit down with other people, especially other white people — in person if possible — to share our fears, our heartbreak, and the steps we’re taking. As you know so well, this is where real understanding develops, and the power to move forward.
  • Look even more deeply for colonial mind in ourselves. No matter how many friends, courses, or roommates of color we’ve had as white people, there’s more to learn, ways to grow beyond guilt and discomfort into compassion and understanding. One good way is to look back into our own histories on the continent: when did our people immigrate and how did their stories mesh with the narrative of colonization? This makes for great discussion when we gather. After all these years, I still need more looking deeply. Right now I’m stuck about talking to a particular white person whose superior attitude caused some real harm. Why can’t I just tell her about it? To me this says I, myself, still have some of that same colonial mind that I see in others. When I can forgive my own mistakes and love myself, I’ll be free and able to talk with love and equanimity to anyone. But it’s a long process.
  • More action than before, especially local action. I don’t mean we should all get busier, but these next four years call us to keep our history in mind in every action and to find new ways to focus our longstanding interests. I’m rethinking my own projects and looking for ones that bring it home to where I live. I’m excited that young friends have returned from Standing Rock fired up about what tribes lived here in our area, what their issues are now, and how to support as allies. The Ohlone people have been organizing for years here to gain a land base and preserve the oldest sacred site in the Bay Area from development. Now many new supporters are showing up to help.
  • Remember that positive change is happening. Watching how racial karma affects our body politic and researching family history in the light of genocide can be discouraging, but when you look closely, there are enormous shifts in consciousness. We’re not stuck. Looking back to some of the little known stories of the Civil Rights Movement and the women’s movement, people before us changed some very deep attitudes. And when I worry about how hard it is to decolonize the very mind of a society, I think about how it’s actually been happening over the generations in my own family. Starting with the great, great grandfather who bought this land — so deeply grounded in the racist thinking of Manifest Destiny. Nothing changed much in the next generation, but then my grandmother’s views shifted just a little, and her sons began to express some real questions. On the other side, my mother — descended from slaveholders — became the only white mom I knew in the 1950s who would speak up against the “n-word” whenever she heard it. Consciousness changes are happening right in our own families. Seeing these slow-moving changes in collective consciousness humanizes my ancestors for me and even makes them lovable. Some traditions even say these ancestors are trying to help us undo the harm of their legacy.

And what a time to be doing decolonizing work in America! Dozens of groups are finding remarkable new ways to look at white peoples’ complicity, without the guilt-tripping of the old ways (Louise references White Awake as an example in her original article). Ta-Nehisi Coates has affected us; white people really are starting to wake up.

Many say we wouldn’t be doing these things with the same passion and urgency if another candidate had been elected. We wouldn’t be finding the ways to deal with our founding wounds that I think we’ll see in the next four years — not in the headlines maybe — but in our hearts and our grassroots institutions. Four years from now — 2020, when our next president is inaugurated — will also be the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s landing at Plymouth, a time that was far more traumatic for both colonists and Indigenous than our schoolbook histories say.

As we hold the ground in our democracy, this coming four years will be a good time for us to collectively look back and change the public narrative, which will mean we can really move forward. I hope that will be a story we can share with Maya the next time we’re up in the woods.


Louise Dunlap reads a book with Courtney Martin and her daughter Maya.

louise--150x150Louise Dunlap is a fifth-generation Californian, who has taught writing for 53 years at UMass Boston, Tufts University, MIT, U.C. Berkeley and more. In quiet ways, she is active on many environmental and social justice issues. She is the author of Undoing the Silence, a book for writers. She is now writing about land and her settler-colonial ancestors.

CourtneyMartinCourtney Martin is a columnist for On Being. Her newest book, The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream, explores how people are redefining the American dream (think more fulfillment, community, and fun, less debt, status, and stuff). Courtney is the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network and a strategist for the TED Prize. She is also co-founder and partner at Valenti Martin Media and FRESH Speakers Bureau, and editor emeritus at

Feature photo credit: Steve Corey

Work That Reconnects Passover Seder

“Even before Christianity emerged, Jews were a troublesome people to ruling classes of the ancient world, because they had emerged with a revolutionary message, articulated in the Exodus story: the message that ruling classes were not inevitable, that the world could be fundamentally transformed …”

– Rabbi Michael Lerner, from Jews and Blacks: Let the Healing Begin, by Rabbi Michael Lerner and Doctor Cornel West

This special seder, created in the spirit of the original Freedom Seder of 1969, and drawing on both The Promised Land Haggadah and The Ma’ayan Passover Haggadah, was created by Cara Michelle Silverberg for a Work that Reconnects (WTR) five day workshop that began the first day of Passover, 2016.

Within her haggadah, Cara integrated embodiment work coming out of the deep ecology movement (spiral of the WTR) and a social justice framing via the “four questions” that W.E.B. DuBois poised to future generations of organizers and civil rights activists – four questions that were given new life through the Black Prophetic Fire of Cornel West in his opening remarks for the Left Forum conference in New York City, 2014.

dandelion spiral croppedWe hope that our readers will find value and inspiration in this liberatory Passover seder. White Awake has embedded a few links into the haggadah online, to help those less familiar with the form to visualize the instructions given.

Those of you who are Jewish may be inspired to incorporate elements of this haggadah into a Passover seder with your family, friends, and/or community. This haggadah is available to be used and reinterpreted as you see fit.

If you want to hold a ritualized meal that intentionally explores systems of oppression, but don’t have access to Jewish community with whom you can hold a Passover seder, the WTR Passover Seder haggadah might be a lovely source of inspiration for a different type of event. As with all things, it is important to learn the roots and honor the sources of traditions and teachings.

If you would like to read more about Cara’s process creating this haggadah, see our interview with her here. If you would like to more fully understand how White Awake frame’s this type of cultural, spiritual practice within the context of our work, please see our Community Practice section.

How to use this Haggadah:

bill wetzel the seder table• A circular or square table setting in which all participants can see each other is ideal. This seder was first led for 32 people, sitting at six tables positioned in a open rectangle (with no seats in the center). We set each table with its own set of ritual items – a seder plate, a bowl/towel/pitcher, a plate of matzah, a bowl of charoset, and a bottle of grape juice and wine. We also included flowers on the tables, and four pairs of candles for the candle lighting (tea lights, so they burned out by the end of the seder and were not so tall as to cause a hazard).

• The blessing for lighting the candles in the beginning of the seder was originally composed for a seder occurring on Shabbat.

• Participants take turns reading aloud, except sections designated “Leader.”

• Blessings and text between two ∞ symbols are intended to be read in unison by all present, according to participants desire and ability.

• The notes in [ ] brackets indicate the estimated amount of time necessary for the following section. There are four sections in this seder, which each correspond to one station of the Work That Reconnects spiral.

• Please keep in mind that this is a very long ritual, with almost all of the traditional elements included, and a lengthy discussion around DuBois’s four questions in the middle. To complete this entire haggadah with a group, you will need about three and a half hours.

Songs used in the seder can be found on their own page, here.

transformers seder cropped


Kavannah (Intention)

Leader: Let us all take a few moments to arrive, breathe and make silence together. The intention of this seder is to honor the stories of oppression and liberation that have shaped human history, and the experiences of destruction and rebirth that have shaped this Earth throughout all time.

May our stories of oppression and liberation give power to our collective process of claiming the sacredness of life – in every moment, in every species, in every generation. May this seder bring us closer to understanding and being forces of tikkun olam (repair of the world soul).

Introductory Notes

Seder means “order” in Hebrew and is the name of this ritual meal. The haggadah, or booklet we are reading from, means “telling” in Hebrew and refers to the telling of the story of the Exodus. It also refers to the sharing of anecdotes, songs and prayers that relate to our experiences of oppression and liberation.

A Passover seder is not simply a series of ritual actions. It is a process by which we actively engage in an intellectual and spiritual process of questioning the systems of injustice that pervade our world. One way of doing this is asking questions. At some Passover seders, adults even do silly and strange things just to get the children to ask questions! You are invited and encouraged throughout this seder to ask clarifying questions, rhetorical questions, any questions that help to open your mind and heart.

There are many different versions of the haggadah, all designed to emphasize certain dimensions of the Passover story. Some parts of this seder have been slightly rearranged from the traditional order as a way to adapt it to this unique community. This haggadah is inspired by the Freedom Seder by Rabbi Arthur Waskow (a radical elder in the Jewish justice and environmental movements who created the first Freedom Seder during the Civil Rights Movement); The Promised Land Haggadah by Lynn Lebow Nadeau; and The Ma’ayan Passover Haggadah by the Jewish Women’s Project.

While Hebrew is a gendered language, some Jewish feminists and humanists have created blessing alternatives to the traditional masculine gender constructions of Jewish prayers. This haggadah switches between feminine and non-gendered grammatical formulations of blessings in order to honor the mother Earth from which all is born and a world beyond gender binaries. This wording is different from what one would hear at a more traditional seder or Jewish prayer service. For those present who prefer to use traditional Hebrew blessings with masculine grammatical formulations, this is perfectly welcome.

Participants may also choose to use English words such as Creator, Mystery, Peacemaker, Mother of Life, etc. to represent their own concepts of sacred energy. Please feel free to use whatever words feel right to you and refrain from words that do not. Should you feel inclined to listen to blessings and readings rather than speak them aloud, this is also perfectly welcome.

Candle Lighting (when Seder falls on Shabbat)

Sundown tonight is the beginning of Passover and the beginning of Shabbat. We will now kindle the festival and Sabbath lights.

During six days of the week, we work, worry and bustle about, guided by the six directions and their energies of activity and movement – north, south, east, west, sky, earth. On Shabbat, and on this festival night of Passover, we retreat from the world of work and worry, we give ourselves space to explore the transformational power within each of us, and we return to the seventh direction from which we all come – the center, the source.

(Turn out all the lights. Participants near the candles each light one. Recite together:)

Yitromeim l’beinu, t’shovav, nafshenu,

B’hadlakat neir shel Shabbat v’shel yom tov.

May our hearts be lifted, our spirits refreshed,

as we light the Sabbath candles.

Blessing The Children (when Seder falls on Shabbat)

Another traditional blessing on Shabbat is the blessing over the children. While this blessing is generally said by parents for their own children, tonight we will say a blessing for all children as well as the children present here with us.

(Leader offers a blessing for the children.)

[GRATITUDE – 35 min, all the way through the 1st cup of wine]

Miriam’s Cup

This is Miriam’s Cup. (Leader holds up Miriam’s Cup.) When the Hebrews wandered in the desert, Miriam the Prophetess manifested water wherever they traveled. Miriam’s Well, as it came to be known, nourished the people as they wandered.

We will go around the room introducing ourselves by name and sharing a single word about something we are grateful for. As we share, we will pass around Miriam’s Cup and each pour a drop of water from our own water glass into her Cup.

(Whoever is near Miriam’s Cup, begin the sharing and pass to your left. When the sharing is complete, readers continue below.)

This cup, now overflowing with our gratitude, brings our hearts and minds together. It will remain on our seder table throughout the meal, as a reminder of all that nourishes us, even in times of struggle.

(Leader introduces a partner exercise. At its conclusion, Leader brings the group’s attention back together.)

Leader: Please turn to someone sitting next to you, introduce yourself, and take turns completing the following sentence: “I feel truly free when … ”

While your partner is speaking, your job is to simply and lovingly listen – no responses or questions. When I ding the bell, you’ll switch who is speaking and listening. Again, the prompt is, “I feel truly free when …” Please find your partner, and begin your sharing.

(Bring the group back together with a bell and a song.)

First Cup of Wine

Sanctifying a cup of wine is one of the most common Jewish traditions. Wine is a symbol of joy, of the flowing cup of life. By blessing wine, we make it, and the moment we mark by drinking it, sacred. For those of you who do not wish to drink wine, grape juice is available.

Tonight, we will drink four cups of wine (or grape juice), each symbolizing stages in the process of liberation. We begin with this first cup, which honors our gratitude and appreciation for the world and each other. With this first cup, we also recite a traditional Hebrew blessing expressing gratitude for our arrival together in this precious moment.

Leader: Pour just an ounce or so of wine or juice in your glass. You do not need to drink it all at once, but you will want to finish it by the time we reach the blessing for the second cup (about a half hour from now).

N’vareykh et Eyn Hahayim matzmihat p’ri hagefen.

Let us bless the Source of Life that ripens the fruit on the vine.

B’rucha at yah Eloheinu Ruach haolam shehecheyatnu v’kiyimatnu v’higiyatnu lazman hazeh.

You are Blessed, Breath of the World, who has kept us in life and sustained us, enabling us to reach this season.

Urchatz (first ritual hand washing)

Twice during this meal, we perform a ritual hand washing as an act of cleansing and sanctifying.

For this first washing, the seder leader will symbolically wash their hands for all of us. All are invited to raise their hands in the air, look around at the hands of ourselves and others, and meditate upon the sacred work our hands undertake in this world.

[HONORING OUR PAIN – 45 min, all the way through 2nd cup of wine]

Karpas (parsley in salt water)

(Leader introduces a partner exercise. After the exercise, the leader brings the attention of the group back together and readers continue below.)

Leader: Turn again to the person you shared with before in the open sentence exercise. Tap your partner on the shoulder – whoever tapped first is partner A speaking first, and the other person is partner B lovingly listening first. When I ding the bell, you will switch roles. Take turns completing the following sentence: “A form of oppression I see in the world is … and when I turn my attention toward it, I feel … ”

Try to trust your body and emotive instincts and really sink into your feelings. I will ring the bell at two minutes so you can switch who is speaking and listening.

(Bring the group back together with a bell.)

We come now to the karpas – parsley and salt water. The green karpas represents spring awakening, the force that waits behind grief and loss.

To ignite this awakening, we must deeply honor our grief and loss. We dip the karpas in salt water, empathizing with the tears of all those who feel pain, oppression and destruction. We dip, and we join together in the following blessing:

B’rucha at yah eloheinu ruach ha’olam boreit p’ri ha’adamah.

You are Blessed, Breath of the World, who creates fruit of the earth.

Yachatz (breaking the middle matzah)

At any other Jewish festival meal, we break bread and eat it. At this meal, we break bread and later hide it, reminding us that this seder is both a celebration of freedom and a search for it.

At each table, there is a stack of three matzot. Someone at each table may remove the middle matzah from the plate and break it in two.

Leave the two pieces on the plate to remind us of the fracturing of our world and all that needs healing.

Maggid (the story)

This is the part of the seder when we examine the story of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt. We begin by explaining each of the items on the seder plate.

(As readers explain each item on the plate, someone near the item should hold it up for others to see.)

The matzah, or unleavened bread, was the bread eaten by the Jews during their hasty departure from Egypt, as their bread did not have time to rise. The communion wafer used in the Catholic mass is based on the matzah used at the Last Supper.

The maror, or bitter herb (horseradish root), represents the bitterness of slavery – of the Jews in Egypt and of all beings who are enslaved and abused.

The charoset, a mixture of fruit, nuts and wine, represents the mortar out of which our ancestors were forced to make bricks when they were slaves in Egypt. The sweet taste reminds us that all labor has its dignity and satisfactions.

Traditional seder plates include the z’roa (shank bone), which symbolizes the sacrificial lamb whose blood saved the Jewish children while the plague of slaying of the first born took the lives of Egyptian children. The Talmud, a sacred Jewish text, says that vegetarians may use a beet instead of a shank bone because it also “bleeds.”

The karpas (green vegetable) represents the perpetual rebirth and freedom of Springtime, even when the frozen winters have diminished our hope.

The beitzah (roasted hard boiled egg) represents the cycle of life and death.

The orange, first added to the seder plate by Jewish feminists to represent women’s rights and strength in Jewish leadership, has come to represent a wider expression of Jewish feminism and LGBTQ identity and solidarity.

The Four Questions

In the traditional “Four Questions” we ask, “Why is this night different than all other nights?” The act of questioning opens our minds to the possibility that the conventional way things are is not the way they have to be. Tonight, we will ask four questions to examine the systems of power that surround us and to wonder: does it have to be this way?

Dr. Cornel West says: “W.E.B. DuBois, in 1957 at the age of 89 years old, decides to write love letters to the younger generation. It’s almost as if he knew that there would be another wave of marvelous, new, moral and spiritual militancy among a younger generation, who are hungry and thirsty—something beyond the superficial culture of spectacle … He says, ‘I’ve been wrestling with four questions all of my life, and every generation has to come to terms with these questions.’”

(Leader explains how the Four Questions discussion exercise will work.)

Leader: Each table will focus on one of the Four Questions. Your table’s question is printed on one side of a card on your table. Focus only on the question – not the quote on the other side of the table card. You will have approximately 10 minutes to discuss within your group, and then we will all come back together to share one or two points related to each question.

1. The first question: “How shall integrity face oppression?”

– What is integrity? In what part/s of your life do you feel the most integrity? In what situations do you find it hard to act with integrity?

2. That second question DuBois raises: “What does honesty do in the face of deception? What does it mean to aspire to be an honest person?”

– Do you speak your truth? What is the impact of truth telling?

3. The third question: “What does decency do in the face of insult?”

– How do you stand up for your values and beliefs when challenged or offended? How do you stand up for others?

4. The last query: “How does virtue meet brute force?”

(Cornel West on this question: “The last query is, in some ways, the most difficult one, because we don’t like to talk about it—DuBois says, how does virtue meet brute force? Because anybody who has the audacity to be fundamentally committed to integrity, honesty, and decency may sooner or later have to come to terms with brute force, with repression…”)

– Are you willing to put your body on the line for justice? What does this look like for you?

(Leader brings group back together with a bell and a song. Time allowing, each small group may share 2-3 things that came up for them in their discussion. This can also be led in paired sharings, as opposed to whole table conversations.)

Ten Plagues

We now recite the 10 plagues that God wrought upon the Egyptians while the Hebrews were enslaved. As we recite each plague in Hebrew and in English, we remove a drop of wine for our cups, using our small finger to dip from the cup onto our plate. This removal of wine from our own cups reminds us that freedom comes at a cost, that our pleasure is always in tension with the suffering of the world, including the suffering of oppressors.

(All together, recite the Ten Plagues.)

Killing of the firstborn

A common, modern interpretation of the Ten Plagues of the Exodus story is that they were not lightning bolts flung by a Super-Pharaoh in the sky, but rather ecological disasters brought about by the arrogance and stubbornness of Pharaoh.

We ask ourselves: Who and what are the Pharaohs of our modern day? What Plagues are these Pharaohs bringing on our Earth? To what extent do we contribute to the onslaught of these Plagues? For each modern Plague, we drop some more wine or grape juice from our glasses:

  • Mass incarceration, and the systemic plague of police violence and excessive use of force, especially against indigenous people and people of color.
  • Ongoing physical and cultural genocide against indigenous people’s of the world.
  • Unheard-of droughts in Africa and the Middle East, setting off hunger, starvation, civil wars and genocide.
  • Decimated mountaintops and dead coal-miners in Appalachia.
  • Erratic weather patterns that destroy staple food crops and ruin millions of homes and lives.
  • Systemic racism, rampant Islamophobia and xenophobia, violence against women.
  • Water contaminated by fracking and agricultural runoff.
  • Inability of wildlife to successfully reproduce due to massive oil spills.

What other plagues are impacting humans and more-than-human beings across this planet?

(Leader makes time for participants to name other modern plagues.)

Second cup of wine

Leader: We now come to our second cup of wine. We bless and drink this second cup to honor our pain for the world.

N’vareykh et Eyn Hahayim matzmihat p’ri hagefen.

Let us bless the Source of Life that ripens the fruit on the vine.

Rachtzah (second ritual hand washing)

Dismantling injustice takes many hands and many hearts. Deep grieving requires community. As a way of supporting each other now, use the bowl, pitcher and towel on your table to wash the hands of the person to your left, using the bowl as a catchment for the water you pour over your neighbor’s hands. Remember the water of Miriam’s Cup and the deep nourishment this cleansing can offer. As you wash, we will sing a Hebrew song of healing, the words and translation for which can be found in the listing of songs that accompany this haggadah.

N’vareykh et Eyn Hahayim matzmihat p’ri hagefen.

Let us bless the Source of Life that ripens the fruit on the vine.

[SEEING WITH NEW EYES – 30 min, all the way to 3rd cup of wine and singing]

Deep Time (WTR terminology)

On the Shabbat just before Passover, we read the last passage of the last of the Prophets, Malachi, who proclaims on behalf of the Breath of Life:

“Before the coming of the great and awesome day when the Breath of Life may become a Hurricane of Change, I will send the Prophet Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to the children and the hearts of the children to the parents, lest the earth be utterly destroyed.”

This passage reminds us that for healing to come, the generations must turn their hearts to each other. We turn our hearts to the generations before us to honor them, and we turn our hearts to the generations after us to care for them. Each gives us a special wisdom.

(Leader leads a meditative exercise. Afterwards, readers continue.)

Adaptation of the Seventh Generation exercise (WTR form)

Leader: If you are able, please stand with you feet about hip width apart, comfortable and relaxed, your back long tall. If you cannot stand, please sit with your limbs uncrossed, relaxing the weight of your body into your chair, and bringing some attention to the alignment of your back.

Breathe into your belly and lower back, and feel the structure and weight of your body as you stand or sit. (brief pause) Now imagine you are a tree, and the roots of this tree extend downward from your tailbone, connecting you deep into the center of the earth. Flowing up from the top of your spine, your shoulders, neck, and head is the fork of the trunk that leads to branches. These branches extend out above your head, reaching for the sky while the roots extend down into the earth. Breath, relax, and feel or imagine this rootedness in earth and extension towards sky. (brief pause)

Now imagine your ancestors stretching behind you, one after the other, back through time. And imagine the future generations stretching out in a line in front of you, one after the other, extending throughout all time. Is there a message these ancestors and future generations have for you? (brief pause) Do you hear the message, see the message, feel this message? (brief pause) Hold the message or messages you receive in your hands like a precious gem. (brief pause) Notice if there is a place in your body you want to store it, so you can always come back and contemplate this message again. (brief pause)

(Once the meditation is complete, return to participant readers.)

The following Hebrew text is one of the paramount texts Jews are obligated to say as part of the Passover seder. It reminds us that our duty of working towards liberation for all is never complete, that every generation must be part of the struggle for justice and healing. Please read this text with me.

B’chol dor vador chayavim anu lirot et atzmeinu k’ilu yatzanu mi mitzrayim

In every generation, it is our duty to consider ourselves as if we had personally come forth from Egypt.

We thank you ancestors and we thank you future generations for joining us here and blessing us with your wisdom. It gives us spiritual fuel to pursue justice and healing.

Blessings Over the Ritual Foods

Physical nourishment is also essential for pursuing justice and healing. We have almost reached the festive meal. But first, we look to the seder plate.

Each person should take a piece of the broken matzah, as well as a piece of a whole matzah. Each person should take a bit of maror (horseradish), as well as a bit of charoset (fruit and nuts).

As we eat these ritual foods, we contemplate their symbolism. The traditional order of blessings and eating is included below for those who would like to bless and eat in the ritual order. For those who prefer to take in this physical nourishment in your own way, please do so now.

Please also pour yourself more wine or juice in preparation for our group blessing over the third cup in just a few moments – but don’t drink yet!

Motzi Matzah (bread)

B’rucha at ya, eloheinu ruach ha’olam hamotzi’ah lechem min ha’aretz.

Blessed are You, Breath of the World, who brings forth bread from the earth.

Yitromeim libeinu, t’shovav nafsheinu ba’achilat matzah.

As we eat the matzah, may we enter the spirit of our liberation.

Maror (bitter herbs)

B’rucha at yah, eloheinu ruach ha’olam asher kidshatnu b’mitzvoteha v’tzivatnu al achilat maror.

You are Blessed, Breath of the World, who makes us holy with mitzvot and commands us to eat bitter herbs.

Koreich (Hillel sandwich)

The second-century sage Hillel interpreted the biblical commandment to eat the matzah, maror and charoset as a commandment to mix all three together, combining the symbols of slavery and freedom into one “sandwich.”

(Leader encourages participants to create and take a bite of the Hillel sandwich now.)

Bareich (third cup of wine)

Leader: We now raise up our third cup of wine. We bless and drink this cup to honor the new ways of seeing the world that this community and seder has offered us.

N’vareykh et Eyn Hahayim matzmihat p’ri hagefen.

Let us bless the Source of Life that ripens the fruit on the vine.

(Leader brings closure to Seeing With New Eyes section by leading the song “I Am Determined To Walk In Freedom”, encouraging participants to stand, sing, dance, and shake it out! All songs used in the seder can be found here.)

[FESTIVE MEAL & GOING FORTH – 60 min for Chef’s intro, the meal and afikomen]

Shulchan Oreich (festive meal)

Leader: We now get to enjoy our festive meal! This time of eating, drinking, and talking together holds the space for the final stage in the spiral: “going forth”. We hope you will use your dinner conversation to follow up on our discussion of W.E.B. DuBois’ four questions, share with one another the actions that call to you, and talk about how you may be finding new ways to focus your longstanding interests on liberatory social change.

Towards the end of the meal, please listen for the bell so that we can bring our attention back to the whole group, and finish the seder together.

(Leader introduces the Chef, who explains what the meal is and how getting food will work. Clean up occurs AFTER the entire ritual is complete.

Everyone now joins in the meal together, talking and socializing as they please.

When people are almost done eating the Leader brings group’s attention back together. It is fine if people are not seated, so long as they are all paying attention and able to hear.)

Tzafun (search for the afikomen)

Leader: Earlier in the seder, when you all broke the middle matzah to symbolize the fracturing of the world, I took the middle matzah, wrapped it in a napkin and hid it! Remember: Justice and healing is something we must search and strive for and we can engage in this process with joy! Traditionally, all the children at the seder search for this afikomen (dessert). I cordially invite you to find your inner child and participate on a search for the afikomen! Once it is found, we will join back together at the table to conclude our seder. For those who wish to recite the birkat hamazon, this is a good time to do so.

Whoever finds the afikomen will get a prize! GO!

[CONCLUSION – 15 min]

Nirtzah (conclusion)

Leader: Standing O for our chef!

Elijah the Prophet is said to be the messenger of peace whose arrival tells us that the world we dream of has come. We open the door now for a few moments to invite Elijah to join us. Let us make silence together and determine our intentions for how we contribute to this peace.

Leader: “We fill Elijah’s Cup with wine by each pouring in a drop from our own glasses, symbolizing our contributions to this Great Turning. While passing around Elijah’s Cup, we will sing a song in three parts – listen to catch on and stay on a part that you feel comfortable with.” (Leader leads the group in singing “We Are The Ones by Sweet Honey In The Rock.” All songs used in the seder can be found here.)

(Leader facilitates the ritual of pouring into Elijah’s Cup.)

Leader: We now come to bless our fourth cup of wine. With this cup, we recognize the strength and resilience we possess in bringing healing to our world.

N’vareykh et Eyn Hahayim matzmihat p’ri hagefen.

Let us bless the Source of Life that ripens the fruit on the vine.

Closing Words:

All will come again into its strength

the fields undivided, the waters undammed,

the trees towering and the walls built low.

And in the valleys, people as strong

And varied as the land.

You too, God, will find your strength.

We who must live in this time

Cannot imagine how strong you will become.

– Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours

Leader: Our seder is officially complete. You are welcome to continue drinking, singing and helping clean up. Thank you all for your presence and participation.

“This hagaddah may be revised, adapted and used in other contexts, in whole or in part. Please honor prior sources and contributors in order to honor the tradition, elders and leaders involved in its evolution.” (C.M. Silverberg, 2016)

White Awake has made slight adaptations to Cara’s original haggadah, in keeping with our website format and organizational focus. If you are not Jewish, please respect that this is a Jewish cultural form. While you may be inspired by this seder to create a ritual meal of your own, please do not hold a seder without participation and/or input from Jews.

Photo credits: Dori Midnight / Bill WetzelEwan Munro

Cara Michelle Silverberg works in the field of youth leadership and environmental and social justice programs, with a focus in Jewish and interfaith community building. She is pursuing a Master of Arts in Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation at the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont. You can contact her on LinkedIn or follow her blog:

WTR Passover Seder / Freedom Songs

These songs were compiled by Cara Michelle Silverberg as part of the Work that Reconnects Passover Seder that she created for a WTR workshop in 2016. An article describing Cara’s process and inspiration in creating the Passover seder can be found here.

meaning of easter flickr cropped

Mi Shebeirach
by Debbie Friedman and Drorah Setel, based on traditional Jewish healing prayer

G        Em           Bm C   D
Mi shebeirach avoteinu (The one who blessed our fathers)

G                         Em  Bm    C D
M’kor hab’racha l’imoteinu (Source of blessing for our mothers)

Em                            Bm
May the source of strength,

C                                         G
Who blessed the ones before us,

C                               G                          C                             G
Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing,

C                    D G
and let us say, Amen.

Second verse
Mi shebeirach imoteinu (The one who blessed our mothers)

M’kor habrachah l’avoteinu (Source of blessing for our fathers)

Bless those in need of healing with r’fuah sh’leimah, (complete healing)

The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit,

And let us say, Amen

When The World Is Sick (3-part round)
from original song by Silver Mt. Zion, taught at Occupy Wall Street

When the world is sick

Can’t no one be well

But I dreamt we was all beautiful and strong

Redemption Song / Mi Chamocha
Hebrew words from Song of the Sea, Book of Exodus
Music and English words by Bob Marley

G          Em                      C   C/B  Am
Mi chamocha ba-elim Adonai

G        Em          C       C/B        Am
Mi kamocha nedar bakodesh

G         Em          C      C/B Am
Nora tehilot oseh feleh

G         Em           C           D
Nora tehilot oseh feleh

G    C              D                G
Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom

C       D      Em    C      D                   G
Cause all I ever had…redemption song

Translation of Hebrew:
Who is like you among the gods, REDEEMER?

Who is like you, majestic in holiness?

Awesome in splendor, working wonders

Sing Our Own Song
Original by UB40, chorus adapted

Part 1: Shoo-bee doo-bee doo-bee dum dum…

Part 2: Bee-dum ba-da-da-da dee-dum-bum…

Part 3: And we will fight for the right to be free

And we will build our own society

And we will sing, we will sing, we will sing

Our own song, our own song

Dayenu/ More Than Enough
by Holy Taya / Taya Shere
listen to track here

If only we be gentle and wise.

If only we see through compassionate eyes.

If only we free our true voice to rise. Dayenu.

If only we protect earth mother.

If only we respect sister and brother.

If only we connect with each other. Dayenu.

If only we flow forth in love.

If only we know God below and above.

If only we seed all we dream of. Dayenu.

If only we emanate conscious vibes.

If only we co-create with our tribe.

If only we shift survive into thrive. Dayenu.

If only we embody divine.

If only we take our sweet time.

If only we root as we climb. Dayenu.

I am more than enough.

You are more than enough.

We are more than enough.

I Give Myself Permission
taught by Alisa Starkweather

I give myself permission to be all I can be

I give myself permission to be powerful and free

Let Us See The Beauty
by Laurence Cole, original words from the poem “The Invitation” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Part 1: Let us see the beauty every day, and source our lives from

its presence

Part 2: I want to know if you can see the beauty, even when it’s not

pretty every day

I want to know if you can see the beauty, and source your life from its presence

Olam Chesed Yibaneh
Hebrew words from Book of Psalms
Music and English words by Rabbi Menachem Creditor

עוֹ ָלם ֶח ֶסד יִ ָבּנֶה

Olam chesed yibaneh…yai dai dai

I will build this world from love… yai dai dai

And you must build this world from love… yai dai dai

And if we build this world from love… yai dai dai

Then G-d will build this world from love… yai dai dai

Brich Rachamana
Aramaic words from the Talmud
English words by Rabbi Shefa Gold

Brich rachamana malka de’alma marey dehai pita

You are the Source of Life for all that is and your blessing flows through me.

We Give Thanks for Unknown Blessings
original by Ben Bochner, chorus adapted by Vermont Wilderness School

We give thanks for unknown blessings already on the way…

We Are The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For
author unknown, music by Sweet Honey In The Rock

Part 1: We are the ones, we are the ones, we’ve been waiting…

Part 2: We are the ones, we are the ones, we’ve been waiting…

Part 3: We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, we are the ones we’ve

been waiting for…

I Am Determined To Walk In Freedom
African American spiritual song

I am determined to walk in freedom, yes I am

I am determined to walk in freedom, yes I am

Through all trials and tribulations

Persecutions, I am determined

I am determined to walk in freedom, yes I am

This Is The Day
taught by Cara Trezise as learned at PYE Global

Parts 1 and 2: This is the day to celebrate all life…



Photo credit: johnninetwentyfive

The Election: Of Hate, Grief, and a New Story

Charles Eisenstein (author of Sacred Economics) brings valuable post-election commentary in this piece on the breaking down of an old story, and the opening for something new. Especially fitting for White Awake, Eisenstein encourages us not to fall into the blame-game but, instead, to center ourselves in love and possibilities that flow from there. This is an abridged article, reposted from the original on Charles’s site.


Normal is coming unhinged. For the last eight years it has been possible for most people (at least in the relatively privileged classes) to believe that society is sound, that the system, though creaky, basically works, and that the progressive deterioration of everything from ecology to economy is a temporary deviation from the evolutionary imperative of progress.

A Clinton Presidency would have offered four more years of that pretense. A woman President following a black President would have meant to many that things are getting better. It would have obscured the reality of continued neoliberal economics, imperial wars, and resource extraction behind a veil of faux-progressive feminism. Now that we have, in the words of my friend Kelly Brogan, rejected a wolf in sheep’s clothing in favor of a wolf in wolf’s clothing, that illusion will be impossible to maintain.

The wolf, Donald Trump (and I’m not sure he’d be offended by that moniker) will not provide the usual sugarcoating on the poison pills the policy elites have foisted on us for the last forty years. The prison-industrial complex, the endless wars, the surveillance state, the pipelines, the nuclear weapons expansion were easier for liberals to swallow when they came with a dose, albeit grudging, of LGBTQ rights under an African-American President.

We are entering a time of great uncertainty. Institutions so enduring as to seem identical to reality itself may lose their legitimacy and dissolve. It may seem that the world is falling apart. For many, that process started on election night, when Trump’s victory provoked incredulity, shock, even vertigo. “I can’t believe this is happening!”

At such moments, it is a normal response to find someone to blame, (as if identifying fault could restore the lost normality) and to lash out in anger. Hate and blame are convenient ways of making meaning out of a bewildering situation. Anyone who disputes the blame narrative may receive more hostility than the opponents themselves, as in wartime when pacifists are more reviled than the enemy.

Racism and misogyny are devastatingly real in this country, but to blame bigotry and sexism for voters’ repudiation of the Establishment is to deny the validity of their deep sense of betrayal and alienation. The vast majority of Trump voters were expressing extreme dissatisfaction with the system in the way most readily available to them. (See here, here, here) Millions of Obama voters voted for Trump (six states who went for Obama twice switched to Trump). Did they suddenly become racists in the last four years? The blame-the-racists (the fools, the yokels…) narrative generates a clear demarcation between good (us) and evil (them), but it does violence to the truth. It also obscures an important root of racism – anger displaced away from an oppressive system and its elites and onto other victims of that system. Finally, it employs the same dehumanization of the other that is the essence of racism and the precondition for war. Such is the cost of preserving a dying story. That is one reason why paroxysms of violence so often accompany a culture-defining story’s demise.

The dissolution of the old order that is now officially in progress is going to intensify. That presents a tremendous opportunity and danger, because when normal falls apart the ensuing vacuum draws in formerly unthinkable ideas from the margins. Unthinkable ideas range from rounding up the Muslims in concentration camps, to dismantling the military-industrial complex and closing down overseas military bases. They range from nationwide stop-and-frisk to replacing criminal punishment with restorative justice. Anything becomes possible with the collapse of dominant institutions. When the animating force behind these new ideas is hate or fear, all manner of fascistic and totalitarian nightmares can ensue, whether enacted by existing powers or those that arise in revolution against them.

That is why, as we enter a period of intensifying disorder, it is important to introduce a different kind of force to animate the structures that might appear after the old ones crumble. I would call it love if it weren’t for the risk of triggering your New Age bullshit detector, and besides, how does one practically bring love into the world in the realm of politics? So let’s start with empathy. Politically, empathy is akin to solidarity, born of the understanding that we are all in this together. In what together? For starters, we are in the uncertainty together.

We are exiting an old story that explained to us the way of the world and our place in it. Some may cling to it all the more desperately as it dissolves, looking perhaps to Donald Trump to restore it, but their savior has not the power to bring back the dead. Neither would Clinton have been able to preserve America as we’d known it for too much longer. We as a society are entering a space between stories, in which everything that had seemed so real, true, right, and permanent comes into doubt.

For a while, segments of society have remained insulated from this breakdown (whether by fortune, talent, or privilege), living in a bubble as the containing economic and ecological systems deteriorate. But not for much longer. Not even the elites are immune to this doubt. They grasp at straws of past glories and obsolete strategies; they create perfunctory and unconvincing shibboleths (Putin!), wandering aimlessly from “doctrine” to “doctrine” – and they have no idea what to do. Their haplessness and half-heartedness was plain to see in this election, their disbelief in their own propaganda, their cynicism. When even the custodians of the story no longer believe the story, you know its days are numbered. It is a shell with no engine, running on habit and momentum.

We are entering a space between stories. What would it take for it to embody love, compassion, and interbeing? I see its lineaments in those marginal structures and practices that we call holistic, alternative, regenerative, and restorative. All of them source from empathy, the result of the compassionate inquiry: What is it like to be you?

It is time now to bring this question and the empathy it arouses into our political discourse as a new animating force. If you are appalled at the election outcome and feel the call of hate, perhaps try asking yourself, “What is it like to be a Trump supporter?” Ask what confluence of circumstances, social, economic, and biographical, may have brought them there.

My acupuncturist Sarah Fields wrote to me, “Hate is just a bodyguard for grief. When people lose the hate, they are forced to deal with the pain beneath.” I think the pain beneath is fundamentally the same pain that animates misogyny and racism – hate in a different form. Please stop thinking you are better than these people! We are all victims of the same world-dominating machine, suffering different mutations of the same wound of separation. Something hurts in there.

We live in a civilization that has robbed nearly all of us of deep community, intimate connection with nature, unconditional love, freedom to explore the kingdom of childhood, and so much more. The acute trauma endured by the incarcerated, the abused, the raped, the trafficked, the starved, the murdered, and the dispossessed does not exempt the perpetrators. They feel it in mirror image, adding damage to their souls atop the damage that compels them to violence. Thus it is that suicide is the leading cause of death in the U.S. military. Thus it is that addiction is rampant among the police. Thus it is that depression is epidemic in the upper middle class. We are all in this together.

Something hurts in there. Can you feel it? We are all in this together. One earth, one tribe, one people.

We have entertained teachings like these long enough in our spiritual retreats, meditations, and prayers. Can we take them now into the political world and create an eye of compassion inside the political hate vortex? This does not mean to withdraw from political conversation, but to rewrite its vocabulary. It is to speak hard truths with love. It is to offer acute political analysis that doesn’t carry the implicit message of “Aren’t those people horrible?” Such analysis is rare. Usually, those evangelizing compassion do not write about politics, and sometimes they veer into passivity. We need to confront an unjust, ecocidal system. Each time we do we will receive an invitation to give in to the dark side and hate “the deplorables.” We must not shy away from those confrontations. Instead, we can engage them empowered by the inner mantra that my friend Pancho Ramos-Stierle uses in confrontations with his jailers:

“Brother, your soul is too beautiful to be doing this work.”

If we can stare hate in the face and never waver from that knowledge, we will access inexhaustible tools of creative engagement, and hold a compelling invitation to the haters to fulfill their beauty.

bio / Eisenstein

Photo: Creative Commons – Abhi Ryan

Resistance and Liberation: a Guide to Social Engagement in the Era of Trump


Anti-trump protests in Los Angeles – approx 8,000 people (Nov 12, 2016) Photo: Lucy Nicholson Reuters

Now more than ever, White Awake is stepping up its call – and support – for white people to engage in organized resistance to the systemic force of white supremacist/capitalist/patriarchy embedded in our society. We remain committed to synthesizing spiritual practice with anti-oppression educational materials … and we want to be sure that you and your community have the support you need to bridge the gap between education and action.

To this end, we have prepared a resource guide to help White Awake users prepare for the Trump administration. There are so many good materials circulating at this time – if you see something you think should be added to this resource guide, please feel free to share it with us via a comment on the page.

Many thanks to Hugh Byrne (IMCW Guiding Teacher, and White Awake board member) for his article Our Way Forward Post Election. I have organized this guide around the four central themes Hugh put forward in this piece:

  1. Acknowledge and accept the truth (which includes reason based study and assessment of the what we are facing in a Trump administration).
  2. Build community and draw strength from it.
  3. Practice self care – including personal spiritual practice – and prioritize resilience for the long haul.
  4. Develop our capacity to resist what is harmful, and stay socially engaged.

Please note that while most of the materials in our White Awake Manual section are oriented towards white affinity work, this is not a guide for white people organizing with other white people. It can be useful to organize in this way – this is the focus of Showing up for Racial Justice, for example, which is a national network of white people organizing for racial justice that then partners with indigenous and POC-led organizations on a group to group level.

However there are many other powerful avenues of engagement available to each of us at this time, including:; Standing Rock solidarity; Cosecha; The Movement for Black Lives;; People’s Climate MovementFight for $15; localized Muslim support networks … to name a few. We hope you will join together with people in your area and plug in as best suites your unique gifts, passion, and location.

Wherever you align yourself and put your energy, White Awake is here to help you do this with self reflection and awareness of identity, race, and dominance, and with access to spiritual resources that break down harmful cultural patterns that are the product of the attempt to create a unified “dominant” group.

Now is not the time to despair … but to join with others, strengthen our resolve, practice “radical hope”, and sustain ourselves for the long haul. Who knows what will come. White supremacy is not new, but – like all things on this earth – it’s days are numbered.

In solidarity,
Eleanor Hancock

Director, White Awake

Part One: Acknowledge and accept the truth

“In his book, The Wise Heart, Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield describes three qualities of a bodhisattva, or spiritual warrior. First, they acknowledge and accept the truth of their situation—not that it is right or just but that it is a reality. They face the truth, turn towards the difficulties, and shine the light of understanding on them.” – Our Way Forward / Hugh Byrne


American students protest outside the UN climate talks during the COP22 international climate conference in Marrakesh in reaction to Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election, on November 9, 2016. Photo: Fadel Senna AFP Getty Images

The broad nature of the threats the Trump administration poses – as represented by Trump’s cabinet nominations and picks for White House staff, the overwhelming number of judicial vacancies his administration will fill, and other aspects of executive/federal power to which the Trump administration and the GOP have almost unlimited access – are positively dizzying. I make no claims to address all of them here, but will attempt to offer some central resources that assess these dangers.

As a general set of resources on the “who” of the Trump administration, I refer you to CNN’s interact list of appointments, and Democracy Now! as one reliable source of information/starting point for reading up on each of these top picks. Of particular note: Stephen Bannon as Chief Strategist; Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor; Jeff Sessions for Attorney General; Scott Pruitt for Administrator of Environmental Protection Agency; Exxon CEO Rex Tillerman for Secretary of State.

Lest we drown in specifics, I will highlight three articles that focus on a central, existential threat embedded in the Trump administration – fascism. See:

Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?

We have spent two decades studying the emergence and breakdown of democracy in Europe and Latin America. Our research points to several warning signs. … Drawing on a close study of democracys’ demise in 1930’s Europe, the imminent political scientist Juan J. Linz designed a ‘litmus test’ to identify anti-democratic politicians. Mr. Trump tests positive.

Prepare for Regime Change, Not Policy Change

Confidence in the exceptional resilience of American democracy is particularly misplaced in the face of today’s illiberal populist movements, whose leaders are constantly learning from each other. Defenders of liberal democracy, too, must learn from each other’s victories and defeats. Below are some hard-earned lessons from countries that have been overrun by the contemporary wave of illiberal democracy. They could be essential for preserving the American republic in the dark years to come.

Autocracy: Rules for Survival

“Thank you, my friends. Thank you. Thank you. We have lost. We have lost, and this is the last day of my political career, so I will say what must be said. We are standing at the edge of the abyss. Our political system, our society, our country itself are in greater danger than at any time in the last century and a half. The president-elect has made his intentions clear, and it would be immoral to pretend otherwise. We must band together right now to defend the laws, the institutions, and the ideals on which our country is based.” That, or something like that, is what Hillary Clinton should have said on Wednesday …

Right about now is probably a good time to balance “inner” with “outer” focus … I suggest you take a deep breath, and assess the truth of how you’re feeling. Notice your thoughts, your emotions, and your body. You may want to do a complete body scan, and give permission for anything tight or uncomfortable to readjust or relax. Do not “will” anything – simply take stock, and give permission.

If particular emotions need expression, take time to let them out. Part of your assessment may be what these emotions need in order to be expressed and fully “felt” – an intimate conversation with a loved one, intense physical exercise, a community gathering that centers cathartic expression … . As my spiritual teacher, Katrina Messenger (White Awake advisory council member), often reminds me – all emotions want is to be felt. We don’t need to overanalyze them, or hang on to them, just feel them.

Now, I would like to suggest you take a moment to reflect on these words:

“To me, hope has nothing to do with optimism: the latter mindset, like pessimism, thinks the future is foreseeable and intervention is unnecessary. Hope for me is the belief in the unknowability of the future, the sense that its outcome is not fixed, and that we might intervene in it.” – Rebecca Solnit (Preface to 20th Anniversary Edition / Savage Dreams)

Ironically, the need for broad social engagement to counter the fascist potential of Trump’s administration could be the force that galvanizes millions of people to reject our “ideological differences” and work together in way we haven’t experienced before. Who knows! This is possible … this #WhiteLash could even be the dying gasps of white supremacy itself. A lot depends on how we respond.

Finally, while we assess the threats that are gathering at the federal level, let us not lose sight of the forces of life at work. Most notably, I would like to point out that an unprecedented, historic display of indigenous strength and leadership has arisen at same time as the 2016 presidential campaign, and the election of Donald Trump. This cannot be seen as circumstantial. There are broad forces at work. To get a better understanding of the forces represented by the struggle at Standing Rock, see our post with updates, heart-centered stories, and current call to action. Another powerful article of sober hope:

The Time is Now: To Defeat Both Trump and Clintonian Neoliberalism (article)

“If Trump is the price we have to pay to defeat Clintonian neoliberalism – so be it.” – Mumia Abu-Jamal

Black Lives Matter, the Black Youth Project 100, Dream Defenders, our reinvigorated labor movements, Socialist Alternative Party, Workers World, the movements for Mumia Abu-Jamal and other political prisoners, the MOVE Organization – all of these are organizations by some of our most vulnerable and repressed peoples who have combined with some from elite sectors to fight repression. Their fight will continue.

I wager that the fight of these new growing movements will be greater than the bluster, despair and demagoguery of a Trump regime – even with his henchman at the ready. We can face them down. The repressed can return. They can rise up against the order represented not just by the Republicans but also by President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, two faces of Clintonian neoliberalism.

Where and how we align ourselves, at this potent moment in history, matters.

Part Two: Build community


Photo: SURJ DC

“When Ananda, the Buddha’s attendant, had a moment of insight and went to the Buddha and said, ‘I’ve realized that sangha (community) is half the spiritual life,’ the Buddha responded, ‘Don’t say that, Ananda, don’t say that, community is all of the spiritual life.’” – Our Way Forward / Hugh Byrne

“How do we begin to recover from this shock? By experiencing and building and rebuilding and consolidating community. Community is the answer.” – Angela Davis

As you find your place in the growing networks of resistance to a Trump administration agenda, we encourage you to engage with other people in person – not just online. Real time, embodied community, action, and connection is vital as we face the forces of hatred, exploitation, and (potential) fascism that are about to dominate all three branches of the federal government.

Contemplative Action Circles

a template for building close-knit community that centers courageous social engagement, collective resistance, and movement building

Work coming out of the Boston area (initiated within Episcopalian circles, and informed by Swarm) is resulting in a template for tight-knit communities that build the bonds necessary to take risks together and engage in social resistance and transformation for the long haul.

We can learn from these social experiments. I encourage anyone who is ready to build deeper communities of resistance and resilience to put together a circle like this. Make a commitment to practice together for at least 3-6 months (at which point the group can consider continuing, changing the structure, or disbanding). Below is the basic template and vision.

Please note: While we have borrowed the name “contemplative action circles”, what I’m sharing here is not formalized by the Boston group, but rather inspired by their process.


  • intimate circles / approx 10-15 people
  • meeting in a home, or another intimate setting
  • shared food, prepared by participants
  • 3 hour meetings, 2-4 times a month
  • when possible, make this a “whole community”, multigenerational experience (child-focused activities that take place separate from adult-focused activities may be necessary for portions of the time)

A program for time together that includes:

  • spiritual practice
    • this can be based on shared practice of participants, especially when participants are all coming from the same religious tradition or spiritual community
    • can include singing, reading from sacred text, meditation, or any other spiritual practice
    • elements of the White Awake Manual can be adapted for this small group format
    • White Awake will be building out potential community practices as part of our resources, and in collaboration with SURJ DC leadership healing team
  • sharing a meal together
  • personal storytelling, and empathetic listening
    • see Relational Uprising video for inspiration
    • White Awake is committed to building out our toolkit of relational practices; again, many practices in the Manual section can be adapted
  • dedicated discussion, role-playing, or other activity that builds skill set, knowledge base, and commitment to engaged social action


  • that these communities of practice would engage in action/activism together
  • communities that include middle to upper class members would work together, and within their networks, to support resource redistribution (see Resource Generation for analysis of resource distribution in the context of collective liberation)
  • these communities could become building blocks in local/regional transformation (inc sustainable food networks; municipal models of participatory democracy; solidarity and resource redistribution between over-resourced and under-resourced neighborhoods; etc …)
  • these communities could be central aspects of national organizing and solidarity

Your contemplative action circle can be white affinity, but it does not need to be. Regardless of group demographics, awareness of power dynamics between individuals, the development of a shared anti-oppression lens, and group norms around conflict and the expression of trauma are all important to the healthy functioning, and social engagement, of the group.

This development of group culture will of necessity incorporate aspects of study, and key resources already present in White Awake may be helpful in this process. We are actively working on resources that support building a healthy, relational culture – including conflict resolution and sensitivity to trauma.

Commit to principles of Decolonization. As you build community, know whose land you live on, and how you came to live there. This article can help!

Our encouragement, whether you form a “contemplative action circle” or not, is to go beyond the study group. Try to get together with like-minded folks every couple of weeks, at least, support and encourage one another in being socially engaged … and include some element of food, joy, storytelling, and fun!

If you form a Contemplative Action Circle, please write us and let us know how it goes! We want to keep learning from one another, and developing best practices together.

Part Three: Prioritizing resilience for the long haul

While community and resilience of the heart are closely tied together, this section is focused on individual practice and self care. White Awake has just initiated a new “Personal Practice” section, we’ll keep building this out to support you in bringing your full self to the work of social transformation. This section is taken entirely from “Our Way Forward” / Hugh Byrne.


Photo: Satya

“Given the challenges ahead, it will be essential to take care of ourselves—and each other—and cultivate the resilience to work for as long as our bodies, minds, and hearts permit us.

The first rule of resilience is to ‘put on your own mask first’, as we are told when we board an airplane. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we will not have the resources to support others in pain or distress. This is not a luxury—as anyone who has burned out while doing work of the heart knows.

Some of the ways we can build resilience are well known but bear remembering:

  • Develop or deepen a practice of awareness that gives you the resources to deal wisely with stresses and reverses while remaining grounded and engaged
  • Stay embodied—practice yoga, qigong; take walks, spend time in nature, take in beauty

[White Awake has a new body of work for you to draw upon to “stay embodied” – see Whole Heart Connection resources in our Personal Practice section]

  • Take time to step out of routines—when conditions allow, take vacations, go on retreat, observe the Sabbath or other ways of renewing and restoring yourself, creating a ‘clearing in the dense forest of your life’ (M Postlethwaite, ‘Clearing’)
  • Bring awareness to diet, nutrition, and sleep and be aware of habitual behaviors and conditioned responses that prevent you from living healthily or that provide short-term comfort with long-term costs
  • Stay connected—nurture intimate relationships and friendships that are one of our strongest supports in times of adversity, helping us remember we are not alone.
  • Don’t neglect taking care of the business of life—paying bills, taxes, scheduling medical appointments, which can come back to bite us later and sap our resilience if we ignore them.

Paying attention to these areas of life will help create the conditions to stay engaged for the long run.

But the deepest support of all is resilience of the heart: developing an unshakeable faith and trust in the human capacity for goodness and love—even in the midst of greed and ugliness—and in the possibility of our awakening to the truth of our interconnectedness. Authentic spiritual practices that help us cultivate and remember truth, love, and our capacity for freedom can support us on this path.” – Our Way Forward / Hugh Byrne

Part Four: Develop our capacity for collective action, and stay socially engaged

Make a commitment to engage, and use community as a way of holding ourselves accountable. You’ll want to study social change strategy; assess local landscape, identify organizations to support (you can find one such list here), and find your own personal calling and community of engagement. This section begins with some general advice from “Our Way Forward”, then continues by highlighting a few specific resources.

Catalog of Resources:

  • The Craft of Nonviolent Action and Mass Mobilization
  • Learn from the Tea Party’s Success
  • The Overton Window
  • The Power of a Local Focus (Municipality Movement in Spain)
  • People’s Mandate / Exercise our Power
  • Get Trained
  • Existential Crisis in White America … create a spiritual response

“Resistance can take many forms—from protests, civil disobedience, and lobbying members of Congress to registering as a Muslim if laws are passed requiring Muslims to carry documentation of their religion; from churches and synagogues declaring themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants fearing deportation to towns, cities, and states refusing to work with federal authorities enforcing unjust laws.

There have been and will continue to be pressures to ‘normalize’ words and actions by Trump and his allies that at other times would have been considered unacceptable or ‘beyond the pale’—such as reintroducing torture or excluding people from the country on the basis of religion. The dignity of the office of President can increase pressure to normalize behavior that should not be considered normal or acceptable. This does not mean mindless opposition or resistance for its own sake—but rather resisting what is clearly harmful.” – Our Way Forward / Hugh Byrne

The Craft of Nonviolent Action and Mass Mobilization

“There is a craft to uprising – and that craft can change the world.” – This is an Uprising

Ayni Institute / Momentum Training Webinars (and other resources online)

In order to transform our society, we cannot simply settle for what’s winnable within our current political climate: we must create the political climate to win what we truly need.

This is an Uprising (book)

From protests around climate change and immigrant rights, to Occupy, the Arab Spring, and #BlackLivesMatter, a new generation is unleashing strategic nonviolent action to shape public debate and force political change. When mass movements erupt onto our television screens, the media consistently portrays them as being spontaneous and unpredictable. Yet, in this book, Mark and Paul Engler look at the hidden art behind such outbursts of protest, examining core principles that have been used to spark and guide moments of transformative unrest.

Learn from the Tea Party’s success …


Former congressional staffers reveal best practices for making Congress listen.

Donald Trump is the biggest popular vote loser in history to ever call himself President- Elect. In spite of the fact that he has no mandate, he will attempt to use his congressional majority to reshape America in his own racist, authoritarian, and corrupt image. If progressives are going to stop this, we must stand indivisibly opposed to Trump and the members of Congress (MoCs) who would do his bidding. Together, we have the power to resist — and we have the power to win.

We know this because we’ve seen it before. The authors of this guide are former congressional staffers who witnessed the rise of the Tea Party. We saw these activists take on a popular president with a mandate for change and a supermajority in Congress. We saw them organize locally and convince their own MoCs to reject President Obama’s agenda. Their ideas were wrong, cruel, and tinged with racism— and they won.

We believe that protecting protecting our values, our neighbors, and ourselves will require mounting a similar resistance to the Trump agenda — but a resistance built on the values of inclusion, tolerance, and fairness. Trump is not popular. He does not have a mandate. He does not have large congressional majorities. If a small minority in the Tea Party can stop President Obama, then we the majority can stop a petty tyrant named Trump.

Core elements of Tea Party strategy:

They were locally focused. Form tight knit, dedicated local groups. Understand what motivates your Members of Congress ( it’s all about re-election), and be vocal, visible, and relentless in asserting your agenda to your MoC.

They were almost purely defensive. “A defensive strategy does not mean dropping your own policy priorities or staying silent on an alternate vision for our country over the next four years. What it means is that, when you’re trying to influence your MoC, you will have the most leverage when you are focused on whatever the current legislative priority is.”

The Overton Window

Defenestration (blog post)

“Imagine that you live in a room with just one window.  It looks out onto a rather normal scene:  a bit of lawn, a strip of flowers alongside the road, a maple tree in the middle. One night, without your even really noticing, someone comes and moves the window a  few inches to the right …”

The Overton window, also known as the window of discourse, is the range of ideas the public will accept. If you control the window, you can move policy in the direction that you want. This article makes a few strategic points about how the Left can stop the “purity wars”, get out of defense mode, and join with diverse allies to insist on what we really need.

The Power of a Local Focus (Municipalist Movement in Spain)

“Alternative policies will not be enough to create an effective challenge to Trump; different ways of doing politics will also be needed, and local politics has great potential in this regard. As the level of government closest to the people, municipalities are uniquely able to generate new, citizen-led and participatory models of politics that return a sense of agency and belonging to people’s lives.” – Kate Shea Baird, Barcelona en Comú and Steve Hughes, Working Families Party

Barcelona en Comú publishes ‘how to’ guide to winning back the city (article)

On 24 May 2015, against all the odds, the citizen platform Barcelona en Comú won the Barcelona municipal elections and former housing activist, Ada Colau, became the city’s first woman mayor. Similar citizen platforms were catapulted into office in cities across the Spanish state, from Zaragoza to Madrid to Coruña.

Since the election, Barcelona en Comú has been inundated with messages from activists in cities all over the world asking the same question: how did you do it?. That’s why Barcelona en Comú is publishing “How to win back the city en comú” to mark its first year in office. The guide, drawn up by the platform’s International Committee, aims to explain the origins, philosophy, and strategies of the new municipalist movement in the Spanish state to activists in cities around the world.

Recipe for a municipal movement (documentary) (scroll down to Vimeo video embedded on page)

Spain’s Micro-Utopias: The 15M Movement and its Prototypes (article)

America needs a network of rebel cities to stand up to Trump (article)

The municipalist movement need not be limited to the largest cities. Though large cities will inevitably be strategic targets in any ‘bottom-up’ strategy, given their economic and cultural power, all local politics has radical democratic potential. Indeed, some of the most innovative — and successful — examples of municipalism around the world are found in small towns and villages.

Popular Resistance (online resource)

With the corporate takeover of federal and state governments, more people are becoming politically active in new and creative ways. A growing culture of resistance is utilizing nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience as a primary tactic, and is forming real democratic organizations to empower local communities—as opposed to working within the corrupt government dominated by a two-corporate party system and within an unfair, big finance, capitalist economy. is a resource and information clearinghouse for this movement.

People’s Mandate / Exercise our Power

How To Fight For The Climate During A Trump Administration (article)

The climate crisis is already underway and we can’t waste four years playing defense. We need to drive action at the state level, pushing California, New York, and others to build out clean energy, shift the markets, and tie up the fossil fuel industry. We need to look to the courts, not only to defend regulations, but to start holding fossil fuel companies and the federal government accountable. The Children’s Trust case and the investigation into ExxonMobil become even more important.

We need to challenge private institutions to take action, ramping up the divestment campaign, pushing carbon neutrality, and urging colleges, museums and foundations to become leaders in their own communities. We need to go after the banks, getting them to move billions out of fossil fuels and into clean energy. We need to push companies to green their supply chains and commit to 100% renewable energy. We need to think globally, looking for ways to support fights around the world with our funding, solidarity, and online campaigns.

DefundDAPL (solidarity divestment campaign)

Get Trained

Look for training in your area in Nonviolent, Direct Action and Active Bystander Intervention. Reach out to Showing Up for Racial Justice if you can’t find local/regional trainings, and see if they can help you make the connection.

“5 Ways to Disrupt Racism” (video / post-Brexit bystander intervention focus)

Organizing for Power, Organizing for Change (online resources)

Alliance of Community Trainers (Texas based collective / offers training and consulting)

Existential Crisis in White America …

… create a spiritual response

“The new people were something else before they were white—Catholic, Corsican, Welsh, Mennonite, Jewish—and if all our national hopes are to have any fulfillment, then they will have to be something else again.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates

“Where Does it Hurt?” Ruby Sales, episode of On Being (transcript here)

“I really think that one of the things that we’ve got to deal with is that how is it that we develop a theology or theologies in a 21st-century capitalist technocracy where only a few lives matter? How do we raise people up from disposability to essentiality? And this goes beyond the question of race. What do you say to someone who has been told that their whole essence is whiteness and power and domination? And when that no longer exists, then they feel as if they are dying or they get caught up in the throes of death, whether it’s heroin addiction.

We’ve got a spiritual crisis in white America. It’s a crisis of meaning, and I don’t hear — we talk a lot about black theologies, but I want a liberating white theology. I want a theology that begins to deepen people’s understanding about their capacity to live fully human lives and to touch the goodness inside of them rather than call upon the part of themselves that’s not relational. Because there’s nothing wrong with being European American. That’s not the problem. It’s how you actualize that history and how you actualize that reality. It’s almost like white people don’t believe that other white people are worthy of being redeemed.” – Ruby Sales

Alt-Right Gathering Exults in Trump Election With Nazi-Era Salute (article)

“To be white is to be a creator, an explorer, a conqueror.” The choice facing white people is to “conquer or die.” – Richard B. Spencer

“All Nations Rise” (video / FB post)

“Some of the first Indigenous Peoples that were forced into hiding were the medicine women of Old Europe. They estimate that 6-9 million women were raped, beaten, tortured, burned alive or drowned alive for being ‘witches.’ Let us reclaim our Earth Selves no matter what ‘race’ you are and do it soon! The earth may depend on it.” – Lyla June


“Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated and isolated, joy is a fine act of insurrection.” – Rebecca Solnit

Activists gain resolve from civil rights vets post-election

Maria Varela, a Mexican-American member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee: “The Trump election is going to unite progressives in a different kind of way,” Varela said. “Just wait.”

Find your place in the movement, and bring every gift you have – including self awareness, humor, and joy.

Raging Grannies Blockading Entrances and Exits of WA Department of Ecology

The groups are sitting in rocking chairs chained together across the Department’s vehicle entrance. They are telling workers that the Department is closed today for a “Workshop on How to Say No to Big Oil.”




Standing Rock – Update and Current Call to Action

“Let us put our minds together to see what kind of life we can make for our children.”
– Sitting Bull

We are living in a time of prophecy. The Anishinaabe know this time as the “Seventh Fire”, when humanity has a choice between two roads. One path is well-worn, but scorched. The other path is green.

The genocide against Native Peoples of this land – the wanton destruction of the great civilizations of the Western Hemisphere that secured the land base of the United States of America and the raw capital on which our economy is built – is a cornerstone of white supremacy. As the ranchers and landowners of the Cowboy Indian Alliance know, the death culture of white supremacy does not, in the end, hold any life sacred. Being “white” will not protect us from the scorched earth path.

Right now, members of the Great Sioux Nation are living into their own seventh generation prophecy – a time when “indigenous youth and allies from all races come together to enact a new age of healing and rebirth for Native people and Turtle Island.” White Awake is committed to providing resources and spiritual guidance to people who’ve been socialized as white that will, in the terms of these prophecies, support our participation in this age of healing and rebirth. At this moment – as Trump prepares to take office, and white people face the inherent failings of the society we’ve inherited – connecting white people with the rising leadership of indigenous nations is an important piece of White Awake’s work.

In this spirit, White Awake has prepared a collection of resources on Standing Rock. They include:

  1. heart centered stories from the Water Protector camps
  2. a focus on where things presently stand, and what is called for now
  3. an overview of what’s at stake, and how we got here
  4. a list of organizations to follow for the most current news

If you have time for nothing else, know this:  #NoDAPL is not over. People at Standing Rock are still being arrested, and the Dakota Access Pipeline could be built under Trump.


Water Protectors dug in for the winter. Photo: Todd Seelie for Jezebel

The primary call right now is to divest from the banks who are invested in the pipeline – you can do that as part of a larger campaign via  You can also give to the camps on the ground – see regularly updated list here.

May we use this dark time of the year to reorient our understanding, consolidate our resources, and align ourselves with life.

In love and solidarity,
Eleanor Hancock

Director, White Awake

Heart Centered Stories

Mni Wiconi – video

Mni Wiconi features water protectors from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and allies trying to stop the 1,100-mile Dakota Access Pipeline – DAPL. Interviews in the film include Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s Chairman Dave Archambault II; Jodi Gillette, former White House advisor for Native American Affairs; Ladonna Allard, founder of Sacred Stone Camp; Winona LaDuke, founder of Honor the Earth; and Cody Hall, Red Warrior Camp spokesperson.

‘We opened eyes’: at Standing Rock, my fellow Native Americans make history (The Guardian)

“Native people have survived 500 years of atrocity on this continent with the help of prayers, ceremony, and our community. We are steady in our promise to never give up on our cultural and spiritual relationship with the land and water we owe everything to. It is perhaps for this reason that despite the continuing war against our way of life, there is love, happiness and a deep spirituality at Oceti Sakowin Camp.”

They stood with Standing Rock. This is why. (CNN)

“A few of the people who helped the Standing Rock Sioux get to this point — and why they’ll keep the fight going”

The Crucial Roles Women are Playing at Standing Rock (photo slideshow)

“According to Lakota prophecy, a “black snake” will someday come to destroy Mother Earth. And, when the time comes, it will be women who emerge as the ultimate guardians and protectors of life. These predictions were long left open for interpretation. But today, the notion at Standing Rock is that the black snake resembles the 1,172 mile-long Dakota Access oil pipeline.”

Native Women on the Frontlines (video)

“Women from across Turtle Island came together at The Oceti Sakowin Camp to facilitate workshops for three days in support of healing survivors of rape, abuse, and harassment. The events culminated in a march that brought awareness to the parallels between the abuse of kunsi/unci (Grandmother Earth) and women.”

Oceti Sakowin – Sacred Stone Camp – December 2016  (video)

“This is not a video of the battles for the Standing Rock or the blockaded 1806 Highway bridge seen in this video, nor the illegally active drilling pad, but a look at some of the other events inside, and around the Oceti-Sakowin camp on those winter days.”

Why I Joined My Fellow Vets at Standing Rock This Weekend (article)

“When I joined the Marines 40 years ago, I took a vow to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” That’s why I drove from the suburbs of Minneapolis to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation this weekend to join other military veterans in protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.”

Tulsi Gabbard speaking as a member of the delegation of Veterans (video)

“We have heard our mission from the leadership here – to protect water. To do so in peace and prayer. And to recognize that for however long you are here, we must put that mission first.”

Forgiveness Ceremony with Veterans (video)

“We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain… We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways but we’ve come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness.” -Wes Clark, Jr.

Kandi Mossett of Indigenous Environmental Network / Dec 4 / celebratory live update after Army Corps of Engineers permit denial (video)

Josue Rivas (photographer) / Dec 4 / celebratory live update after Army Corps denial of permit (video)

Turtle Island to Aleppo / Indigenous Rising Media (video)

Latest Updates / Current Call

The primary call right now is to divest from the banks who are funding the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Go to for instructions on how to do this in a public, coordinated way. You will see the running total of money divested from the 12 funding banks – right now it’s about 35 million dollars. You will also see the photographs of individuals who have publicly divested from these banks, and have the opportunity to post your photograph as well.

In addition to defunding DAPL, allies are encouraged to organize actions and includes a link to find an action, and post an action, as well as information about strategic targets.


Photo: Rosie Haber / ACLU

A core group of water protectors are overwintering in the camps, and they need our support. If you want to donate money to water protectors on the ground, maintains an up-to-date list of fundraising campaigns here.

Dakota Access Resistance Camps / Coalition Statement
On Dec 8 a statement was released by a coalition of grassroots groups living and working in the Dakota Access resistance camps along the Cannon Ball River in Oceti Sakowin treaty lands. These grassroots organizations are: Sacred Stone Camp | Indigenous Environmental Network  International Indigenous Youth Council |  Honor the EarthThis statement provides a summary of what is happening on the ground, and what is being asked for of allies. You can read the statement here.

NoDAPL Solidarity update
Also on Dec 8, NoDAPL Solidarity held a national call for allies (you can listen to the recording here), and shared this update with their mailing list:

  • The Army Corps of Engineers did not grant the final easement to drill under the Missouri River. You can read the Army Corps’ full statement here.
  • The Dakota Access Pipeline owners released a statement saying that they will complete this project regardless of the ACOE’s decision.
  • Trump and his administration have already proclaimed their desire to push projects such as the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL Pipeline through. Trump takes office in 42 days.
  • A full hearing for DAPL’s Appeal will be held in February. The delay in construction is costing DAPL over 20 million a week.
  • Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault has asked Protectors to leave because of the hazards created by North Dakota winters and the strain on local resources due to a recent blizzard.
  • However, Water Protectors have made commitments and vows to protect the Rights of Mother Earth, Indigenous Peoples and Humanity. Within that framework, Protectors will not leave until the Black Snake is dead, the water is safe and treaty rights are recognized. Watch Chase Iron Eyes statement here.

SURJ DC banner / Dec 10 rally / Photo: Alex Brandon AP

The Long Haul … and our role in Decolonization
The water protectors at Standing Rock are one manifestation of a centuries old struggle of Native peoples against the forces of a European invasion that began over 500 years ago. Part of our work, as allies, is to confront within ourselves the “fundamental questions of what it means to live on stolen land and how to transform colonial relations in a way that creates a viable and just future for all communities and the planet.” See “How to support Standing Rock and confront what it means to live on stolen land for a detailed support in living into these questions.

Overview materials

Standing Rock Is Greed Vs. Humanity’s Future  / Jane Fonda for Time

“The great hero of Standing Rock, Chief Sitting Bull, understood the white invaders when he said in 1877 “… the love of possession is a disease with them.” We must rapidly cure ourselves of this disease or it will take us all down.”

The Beginning is Near: The Deep North, Evictions and Pipeline Deadlines / Winona LaDuke for Indian Country

“This is a moment of extreme corporate rights and extreme racism confronted by courage, prayers, and resolve. This moment has been coming. The violence and the economics of a failing industry will indeed unravel, and this is the beginning.”

Winona LaDuke on the Dakota Access Pipeline: What Would Sitting Bull Do? / Yes Magazine

“I am not sure how badly North Dakota wants this pipeline. If there is to be a battle over the Dakota Access, I would not bet against a people with nothing else left but a land and a river.”

Standing Rock and the Battle Beyond (video) / Al Jazeera English

Fault Lines examines the case against the Dakota Access pipeline, connecting it to other fights being waged by US tribes that have helped build the growing movement at Standing Rock.

The Standing Rock Resistance Is Unprecedented (It’s Also Centuries Old) / NPR

“The scope of the resistance at Standing Rock exceeds just about every protest in Native American history. But that history itself, of indigenous people fighting to protect not just their land, but the land, is centuries old.”

Indigenous peoples and their allies are also battling oil pipelines inWest Texas, Florida, and Minnesota (and this list is not exhaustive).

… and this it’s not just indigenous people who are affected, or who are fighting oil companies. See John Bolenbaugh about the Kalamazoo tar sands oil spill:

“I am a Navy veteran with a bronze Star, Union member, pipeline fencing supervisor, head yard boss appointed directly by Enbridge.

As a clean up worker for S.E.T environmental (subcontractor under Enbridge) I became the whistle blower for the largest tar sand oil spill in north American history. I was not an environmentalist in any way until I saw how it was making people sick. When I realized the gravity of the situation, I had to do something about it or go to hell.”

See footage from the frontlines of Standing rock, as well as John wading through tar sludge from the Enbridge spill, in his documentary short, here.

John’s truth telling about the Enbridge cover-up forced the pipeline company to re-clean several dozen areas that were signed off by Enbridge, EPA and DEQ as 100% clean.

Organizations to follow


Tonya Stands recovers from being pepper sprayed by police / Photo: John L. Mone

follow on Facebook for most current updates:

Indigenous Environmental Network

Camp of the Sacred Stones

Oceti Sakowin Camp

Honor the Earth

International Indigenous Youth Council

Lakota People’s Law Project

Indigenous Rising Media

See also:

NoDAPL Solidarity

Sacred Stone Camp trusted media sources

Honor the Earth

Lakota People’s Law Project

Clearing Unconscious, Embodied Racism: Thea Elijah, and Whole Heart Connection practice

thea-elijahThea Elijah is a white woman of Jewish descent who found her way to Chinese Medicine at a young age and was transformed by it. Her apprenticeship in Chinese healing modalities led her to Sufism, where she deepened her own healing practice and converted to Islam. As a mother, Thea blended core elements of both Chinese and Sufi healing into a set of practices that could help her child navigate a complex world and live a fully embodied life. After formalizing this work for adults as Whole Heart Connection practice, Thea began to have students of color ask her, explicitly, to teach these practices to white people so that they would be “easier to talk to.”

With her own focus, as a teacher and healer, on the body, Thea began to see the ways in which white folks enacted unconscious, embodied racism, and vowed to use her work to interrupt and clear these harmful patterns of behavior. This profile piece is based on an interview conducted by Margo Mallar with Thea Elijah in the summer of 2016.

What is your connection with White Awake?

“For some time, I’ve been wanting to come across people, commonly termed white, who are taking on the question of how to transform white privilege into conscious dedication to real change – in ourselves, and in other white people. I was looking for a peer group really.

I perused the White Awake website for a number of months and thought, “Wow! This is more than just well-meant; it’s well thought out.” I also had the feeling that I might be able to make a contribution, because my own approach to these issues is very body based. There is a very beautifully articulated intellectual rigor on the White Awake site, and a body based approach would clearly  be complementary. This is valuable because while we can intellectually espouse a particular position, our conditioning is in the body.  Our flinch when someone comes into the room doesn’t actually change based on our theories, or even our best intentions.  What’s written in our bodies needs transforming, too. The practices I offer are focused on how we get into what is written in the body, so that we can clear conditioning that is preventing us from being our full selves, and honoring our best intentions.”

How did you connect Whole Heart Connection Practices with racial bias?

“I first realized that the practices I was teaching for healing per se were vitally applicable to racial considerations at a Chinese medicine conference.  I was working in a room of almost entirely white people and we were doing embodied exercises around creating the body language of common ground –   teaching people how to ground, not just think about it, but actually do it, which are two very different things.

I learned a lot of this from Chinese Five Element veterinarians. You cannot simply tell a cat, “I’m doing this to help you.” You cannot talk to a nervous horse about how “this will benefit your asthma.”  You have to create presence on an animal level, and communicate your intentions without words. You have to create common ground.  Dominance issues, intimidation issues, inclusion, exclusion – four–legged beings communicate this mainly with their feet.  [At the Chinese medicine conference] we were working on creating inclusion through our feet. Then once we had created common ground, we worked on what I call equal weight, equal height.

Creating equal weight is a great exercise for people of different sizes to be able to get it that your weight is equal to anyone else’s weight. Not just to think it but to feel it, to establish it. Whether you’re working with a 5 year old or Goliath, the goal is to be able to establish equality at an animal level. We can do this with height as well. So, we were going around the room, and it was so beautiful.  People were exploring this ability to ground, and this ability to work with someone who is having difficulty arriving, to help them ground.

Then we took a break and went out into the lobby, and I watched the participants practice this with all of the other white people in the room but not the people of color who were attendants in this situation. It was basically a bunch of white acupuncturists, who came out and worked with a larger group of white people during the break. They were able to practice what they had learned with those with whom they intellectually or unconsciously considered their peers, the other white acupuncturists, even though they hadn’t been in the training with them. They were able to take this new practice out into the world of white acupuncturists, but they didn’t take it into the world of the latina woman who was cleaning up the cups.

It broke my heart. It was like a silent implosion. It was one of those revolutionary moments when nothing showed on my face but inside I was taking vows. ‘This will not continue to go on in my presence.’ I am sure that not one person in that class would say that they are racist. I am sure that every single one of them was absolutely certain that they would never treat people with that level of inequality just based on racial background. It was so unexamined. So built in.”

Can you tell us more about your commitment to clear unconscious, embodied racism?

“That moment at the Chinese Medicine conference was what woke me up to my commitment to working with white people around healing and transformation of our unconscious dominance patterns.  But there was another moment that took it much deeper for me, in a class I was teaching in Baltimore.  A black woman was telling me a story about a shooting that happened in the street that week. When her five year old son heard about it, the first thing he asked was whether the one who shot was white, and whether the one who got shot was black. She told him yes. He asked his mother, “Mama, I don’t understand white people.  Can you explain them to me?” She shook her head sadly and said, “No, sweetie, I can’t.”

My heart broke at the sincerity of that question, and I swore I would find an answer—that I would have something to say to that boy before he became a man, something to explain white people—something that would satisfy and hopefully something that would heal.

I told her that I wanted to stay in touch with her so that when I had an explanation of white people, that I could give it. I don’t think she’s expecting much—but I can’t let it go, no matter how long it takes to find the understanding deep enough to heal.

Connecting with White Awake is a part of my attempt to fulfill those vows.”

How does the work you teach help shift social dominance in the body?

“The practices around equal weight/equal height are some of the practices that I’ve been working on to help people get into those unexamined places.  It’s not just around race. I completely own that without this practice, when I’m around large men, I immediately go sub alpha. With this practice I’m able to catch myself and say “oh, what is the practice that I’m living for the sake of both of our healths?” … and then I ground, I make common ground, and I take my equal weight, and we both relax.  It’s healing for both of us.  Even though I consider myself a feminist, there’s conditioning inside of me that makes me get small before I even think of it.  As I practice that shift, I find that over time it’s easier to go there more quickly. It’s much easier to catch myself when I’m drifting off to an unhealthy and unconscious place.  In this way it’s like any other self-healing practice.

There are a number of other practices that I’ve developed, in part as a reaction to seeing what I’ve been seeing in groups, and in part in response to my students of color who have said “Teach this to white people to make them easier to talk to! … to help them become better allies.” I have a lot of practices that deal with the physiology of threatened-ness and there are a lot of people – men, or white people, or anyone in the “hey I’m normal” role  – who can use some extra help on working with threatened-ness. Having some physiological tools to create more resilience, to feel unthreatened, allows them to stay connected in a highly charged situation.

Regardless of whether you’re in the position of social dominance or marginalization, in interpersonal practice the solution is the same: balance the see-saw. If I’m feeling smaller than you, then I can find where common ground between us is, and empower both of us. If I’m a really confident person and don’t mean to go alpha, but inadvertently alpha people, I can feel for our common root and come to common ground with you, without squashing myself.  When I do that, I become ecologically responsible. I’m in my body so that we can be in our bodies together; we are part of a little ecosystem. It’s a body sensation.”

How did you learn Chinese medicine?

“Chinese medicine came first into my life when I was 17 and in Chicago. I was taking the “L”, the public train, and I got lost. I got off on the wrong stop and it happened to be the Vietnamese section of town. I wandered around for a while and basically fell in love. I can’t tell you why, but there was something there in the rhythms, the sounds, and the smells that was new to me and that I knew I had to know more about. So I kept coming back, and ended up in an herb dispensary one day, and there was the feeling of bingo. There was an old man in the corner taking people’s pulses and writing the script of the various prescriptions in calligraphy.

I was really interested in healing, and had not found a modality that spoke to me. I had dropped out of high school and ran away from home. I grew up in Manhattan and ran away to Chicago because there was a bed for me there. I was searching. This was a finding.  Socially, I was a loser. I was difficult to be around – an undomesticated animal, basically – that couldn’t get along with anybody. I was awkward, real awkward, and Chinese medicine gave me a handle on being more aware of what I was doing that caused so many people to dislike me so immediately, and gently helped me with becoming somebody who was much more socially acceptable.

I began to learn Chinese medicine in the early 80s. There weren’t that many books available at the time. There was Ted Kaptchuk’s “The Web That Has No Weaver”, and there was something called Turtle Mountain (the first American company to make Chinese herbal formulas), but other than that the people I knew thought of Chinese medicine as things like chopped up pieces of gecko. It was not easily accessible information, and I just needed to learn about it.

After the experience at the herb dispensary, my approach to learning was to wander into as many Asian healing situations as I could find. I could tell hilarious stories of trying to communicate across language barriers. Trying to ask for formulas like pei pa koa and having people hand me paper towels.  And then going home on the train to get a book with a picture so that they understood I meant pei pa koa.  I slowly learned to enter the Vietnamese universe as a sort of amusing clown who was tolerated because I was funny and earnest.

I moved from Chicago to upstate NY and became an organic vegetable farmer—first an apprentice then a farmer. That first winter I saw an ad in the paper of some new grad that was trying to start an acupuncture  practice, and I went to his various self-promotional lectures on Chinese medicine. His name is Lonny Jarrett.  He has since become very famous. I apprenticed with him for 6 years.  While I was apprenticed with him, he was studying with some of the top names in Chinese medicine.  Like Leon Hammer, Ted Kaptchuk. Through him, I became their student, too.  I also spent a lot of time studying with Elizabeth Rochat de la Vallee and Claude Larre, and just got myself into a lot of different learning situations during those 6 apprenticeship years while earning a college degree and being an organic vegetable farmer.

I did the bulk of my training as an apprentice to Lonny Jarrett, but received my acupuncture licensing credentials via the Traditional Acupuncture Institute in Columbia, MD (now Maryland University of Integrative Healing in Laurel, MD).”

How were Chinese medicine modalities passed down to the teachers you worked with?

“My connection to lineage in Chinese medicine is very diverse, and rooted in non-TCM sources. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) is a modern version of Chinese medicine systematized by the Communist government under Mao-tse Tung. The history of Chinese medicine is rich and diverse, and TCM doesn’t even come close to representing that vast diversity and depth of wisdom. It also is not very traditional in many ways—for instance, in order to conform to the tenets of dialectical materialism inherent in Communism, all references to the spirit had to be suppressed (except for insomnia—even the Communists will admit that the spirit has something to do with insomnia as a medical pathology).

My own teachers have all been rooted in pre-Communist traditions which emphasize the role of spirit in both pathology and healing. I am a Worsley-style 5 Element acupuncturist, but I am also an herbalist who has studied extensively with Ted Kaptchuk and Leon Hammer (and others). In my earliest years as a student of Chinese medicine, I was fortunate to have spent a lot of time in seminars with sinologists Claude Larre and Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée of the Ricci Institute. They have been my teachers in the fundamentals of how my Western mind needed to shift in order to understand classical Asian ways of thinking. What it means to be a Western white woman practicing pre-Maoist Chinese medicine in a post-Mao world is a complex discussion worthy of an entire article unto itself!

Many of the Whole Heart Connection practices are based on Chinese medicine and Qi Gong – what I call “supermarket qi gong,” the kinds of things you can do when you’re just standing around, being with other people. Another significant source is Sufism.”

Can you tell us about your experience with Sufi healing modalities, and your conversion to Islam?

“I came to Sufism because no one would teach me the things in Chinese medicine that I wanted to learn. What does it take to be capable of having whole heart connection with someone else? I knew that it was a part of the medicine. I was searching for it everywhere. Qi Gong teachers got closer, but I didn’t find a teacher who could help me learn what I was hoping to learn.  What eventually happened was that I found Sufis who were teaching healing methods that gave me the embodied heart connection that I was missing, and so I followed that direction.  Initially, it was because  I wanted to learn the hidden or missing pieces of Chinese medicine – which are of course not just part of Chinese medicine, but part of being human, and so of course Sufis can do it; anybody can do it, and it shows up in many lineages.

Basically, someone suggested I go to a Sufi workshop – which I couldn’t attend – but I did make it to a gathering afterward of about twenty people and a teacher named Ibrahim Jaffe, a Jewish white man (convert also). He was telling everyone in that room the truth about themselves, right to their face, with so much compassion that there was no shame. They couldn’t hear it right away; they’d say things like “what do you mean I’m holding anger at my father?” and then you’d see their whole body relax about twenty minutes later when they got it. Nobody was fighting, nobody was shamed.

I said, “Whatever than man has done in himself, to be able to speak the truth in such a way, I want to learn!” and enrolled at the school out in St Helena CA, University of Spiritual healing and Sufism. I dove headfirst into it, then fought like hell as a Jewish woman who was taught that all Arabs want to kill us, they want to turn the seas red with our blood, they are the enemy, an ancient enemy. My Jewish background is strongly Zionist and filled with prejudice. The word Allah filled me with terror and, underneath that, hatred. So it’s been a very long journey – it’s been 17 years now!

Part of my initially difficult experience was with sexism, as well. At first I really thought that I was racist against Arabs. I thought that I just hated them. It wasn’t just theoretical. When I was in their presence I didn’t like it, until I figured out that what I didn’t like was being around sexist Arab men. I had no problem with Arab women, so I learned a lot about the ways that what initially seemed like racism was just my experience with a different flavor of sexism than I’m used to.

I’m used to the sexism of white men, and don’t react in the same ways; but the sexism of any other culture sends me through the roof.  Working with that understanding helped me to liaison directly with the women and realize, “Oh, I can know the truth of a culture much better if I’m with the women.” It was through Muslim women that I was able to find my way of understanding Islam differently. I’m so glad that I’ve had enough connection with Muslim women to understand womanhood differently – to understand the biases inherent in Western feminism differently, and to understand that Islam isn’t necessarily what men say it is. It’s just as much what women say it is, but that’s not what’s on the news most of the time.

In the Sufi community, I’m associated with two different tariqas (two different communities). Both communities are branches of the Shadhuliyyah tariqa.  My primary affiliation is with Sheikh Sidi Muhammad al-Jamal, who is Palestinian, although here in the United States the tariqa has a majority of  Western white converts. The other tariqa I’m associated with is that of Sheikh Hossein, Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr, who taught at George Washington University before his retirement.  He is an Iranian man, and that tariqa is quite international, even here in D.C.”

Can you describe the Whole Heart Connection practices?

“The first practice is making ourselves at home in our chair, as a first step towards making ourselves at home in our own body.  Am I living indigenously in my own body, or am I living like a refugee?  Feeling at home in our own body, and in our own chair, is the first step towards living indigenously.  People who are living even slightly more indigenously are less likely to trash the planet, themselves, other people.  When was the last time you (or your parents or other ancestors) actually felt at home, here and now?   No matter what brought you and your ancestors to where you are today, begin the healing—be here now, and know that you live here:  this planet is your home, this body is your home.  This chair that you are sitting in right now is not where you were born, but while you are here, can you begin to feel what it would mean to make yourself at home?

“Home” is a crucial missing experience in many people’s bodies, and you can develop it through awareness of your relationship to the chair you’re sitting in right now.  To what extent are you in “on your mark get set go” mode, and to what extent are you trusting the chair? What is the degree of trust that you have in the chair, physically? The actual sensation of your butt – how clenched is your butt?  How clenched are your thigh muscles? How tense?  It’s not so much the answer to these questions that matters most, but the process of shifting into being aware enough of your body to know:  Am I working awfully hard just to be in a chair?

Can I feel the chair’s support? Can I experience the feeling of being supported? There’s no way we can access trust in the Tao if we can’t even access trust in the chair.  The best way to translate the whole notion of Tao is the phrase: you can’t push the river.  That flow state of Tao is not available to those who are in ‘on your mark get set go’ mode or ‘oblivious’ mode or ‘high power intellectual’ mode.  It’s a fundamentally ecological relationship with all of life.  It starts with opening, which starts with greater ease in our body, in our chair.

Somewhere in that beginning of being body-aware, we might notice a bit of a clutch in the chest, or in the gut, or a clutch somewhere.  The places in us that do not feel at home—that have perhaps not ever felt at home—begin to be more obvious. When people begin to open those places, we can begin to have conversations about safety, and about how safety is created.

Feeling basically safe in our body (a.k.a. accessing the parasympathetic) allows us to drop out of our head and into our heart.  This is a very real shift, studied in the emerging field of  neurocardiology.  A lot of what we’re doing in Chinese medicine and Sufi healing is not biochemistry, it’s biophysics.  We work with the coherence and the entrainment of electromagnetic fields. You see that when fish become a school of fish, when birds become a flock of birds, when basketball players become a kickass basketball team … you see it in really great jazz players.

There’s no amount of neurons in the brain that bring us into that state.  To be able to come out of head thinking and into whole body thinking gives us tremendous access to a capacity for entrainment that we otherwise don’t have. A capacity for insight, a capacity for listening, a capacity for an engagement on a pre-intellectual level.

The application of the embodied work around race and racial conditioning is something I think white people are really hungry for – basically, “how do I feel differently around people of color?  How do I lay the groundwork in my body for a greater sense of ‘us’?”

How would you sum up the relationship between what you do with Whole Heart Connection and the work of White Awake?

The most important baseline practices that I have learned both from Chinese medicine and Sufi healing teach that vast access to inner resource begins with feeling safe. The feeling of not being safe is clearly an epidemic for oppressed people. That’s clear. What is not perhaps as clear is that the feeling of not feeling safe is also an epidemic for oppressors, or people in a dominant class.

There’s not a rich person who doesn’t know that there are poor people. We may do our best in our places of privilege to ignore those who are being ripped off or being kept hungry, but on some level we really do know what’s going on. There’s a defendedness that we need to maintain, and so long as we are defending that defendedness, we will not be able to access vast realms inside of us, and we will not be able relax our parasympathetic nervous system.

We need to have the ability to feel safe enough in our own bodies to be able to be honest. These are all basic practices for making honesty and insight physiologically possible. All the good intentions in the world won’t make us capable of honesty. Denial is a response to pain; it’s not a conscious choice to go into denial – it’s an expression of what we don’t let ourselves know. We can’t make ourselves be aware. We can work to help ourselves come home to our own body, to be capable of working with what comes up in us, as well as what might be coming up in others when they tell us what their experience has been.  This is the beginning of true ecology.

My students of color have asked me to teach these practices to white people. They see this as helping white people become much easier for them to talk to, honestly.

Tools to help people honor their best intentions – that’s what Whole Heart Connection is all about.”

You can find the Whole Heart Connection practices Thea has shared with White Awake hereIf you would like to work with Thea, or purchase the WHC workbook, please visit:

This article was created with the support of Margo Mallar, a member of the staff at the Insight Meditation Society, a Buddhist retreat center in Barre, Massachusetts. Many thanks to Margo for making this profile piece possible!

Standing Rock Sioux and the Dakota Access Pipeline – a pivotal moment for all of us

WA Site Sacred Stone FB banner

SACRED STONE CAMP / Chante tin’sa kinanzi Po – a Spirit Camp founded on the proposed route of the Dakota Access bakken oil pipelinearnoff_dapl_breaking_850_568

Most Recent Stories:

Interview with LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, co-founder of the Sacred Stone CampDemocracy Now

At Standing Rock, a Sense of Purpose: “This Is How We Should Be Living” – Yes!

Obama Administration Steps In to Halt Dakota Access Pipeline- For Now – In These Times

Dakota Access Pipeline Resistance: Stay in the Game. We’re Winning – Indian Country Today Media Network

Continue Resistance to the Dakota PipelineShowing up for Racial Justice / solidarity toolkit

Native American protesters are confronted by a security team with dogs – Heavy

The genocide against Native Peoples of this land – the wanton destruction of the great civilizations of the Western Hemisphere that secured the land base of the United States of America and the raw capital on which our economy is built – is a cornerstone of white supremacy. Likewise, in the words and spirit of historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, the health, vitality, and leadership of Indigenous peoples “offer possibilities for life after empire” or – from the vantage point of our project, White Awake – an alternative to white supremacy culture and “business as usual”.

WA Newsletter NYT cover photo standing rockIt is in light of this imperative that White Awake steps beyond it’s usual bounds to offer this short update (including a compilation of current news, social media, and ways you can offer direct support to Native activists) on the developments taking place in North Dakota and the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation that have national and international relevance in scope.

Dakota Hearing DC Alejo

Photo: Tomas Alejo

As you may well be aware, at this moment the Standing Rock Sioux are standing strong against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. It is an historic moment. An estimated 2000+ people have gathered at the Sacred Stones Camp, an ongoing encampment founded in prayer last April along the route of the proposed bakken oil pipeline. With representatives of over 200 different sovereign, tribal nations present, the Sioux bands themselves haven’t come together in this traditional way since the Battle of the Little Big Horn. According to co-founder LaDonna Brave Bull, the grandmothers who founded the camp are preparing to over-winter in the encampment.

Approved in July, the pipeline is slated to pass beneath the Missouri River just upstream from the Standing Rock Reservation. The pipeline puts the water supply of the entire tribe at risk, along with another 18 million people who depend upon the Missouri River for water.

Ground was broken along the river on Aug 10, but five days later Native activists had succeeded in temporarily shutting construction down while a battle in the US District court continues. A federal judge heard both sides of the case (Standing Rock Sioux vs Army Corp of Engineers) on August 24, and took a week to settle on his decision.

Over Labor Day weekend, days before the ruling would be made, the Dakota Access Company went out of their way to bulldoze sacred sites that had just been identified in court. Hundreds of protectors rushed to protect the site, and were met by a security team armed with mace and attack dogs. Many were wounded, and others arrested, but the destruction was brought to a hault.

bulldozer-sacred-stone-camp-fbOn Jan 9, the federal judge assigned to the case ruled against the tribe. Immediately following this ruling, the Obama administration intervened, effectively reversing the judge’s decision and squashing the project for the foreseeable future. A joint statement from the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior call for further review of the pipeline’s route “bordering and under” Lake Oahu. Along other portions of the route, Dakota Access continues to build.

Meanwhile, the coalition of Native and non-Native supporters at Sacred Stone Encampment continues to grow. Representatives from as far away as Hawaii and the Amazon have come to the camp, and currently over 200 nations – from across the Western Hemisphere – are represented there. As the First People of this land mobilize against forces that endanger life, an opportunity arises to move away from white supremacy toward a just and sustainable future.

Many thanks to the Standing Rock Sioux, and everyone else who is standing strong at the Camp of the Sacred Stones.

We stand with you.

Sacred Stones Camp website / FB

Oceti Sakowin Youth & Allies website / FB


Standing Rock Youth Petition

Sacred Stone Camp fund

Legal Defense fund

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The Camp of the Sacred Stones near the Standing Rock Sioux Indian reservation grows in numbers daily with supporters on the camping grounds. Photo: Latoya Lonelodge

“For me, it feels good, it feels good in my heart to see everybody come together, going around and getting to know everybody and their first name, where they’re from, sharing stories and it’s stories that keep us together as Native people. Stories is what keeps us alive and stories will always go down in history, it’s good that we’re all here from different nations and we’re all telling each other stories and we’re relying on the message that everybody’s here for a reason and we’re here to protect the water that gives life to this whole continent and world. That’s what I’m here for,”
– Dean Dedman, with the Hunkpapa Tribe from the South Dakota side of Standing Rock

Yes! Magazine – Winona LaDuke on the Dakota Access Pipeline: What Would Sitting Bull Do?

sacred-stone-camp-frybreadVice VIDEO – The Standing Rock Reservation’s Fight Against Big Oil

Inside Climate News – Native American Pipeline Protest Halts Construction in N. Dakota

Indian Country Today / MSNBC Lawrence O’Donnell VIDEO – ‘This Nation Was Founded on Genocide’: MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell on Dakota Access – Support and Unity at Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s #NoDAPL camp

CNN/HCL Michaela Pereira VIDEO – Interview with “Divergent” actress Shailene Woodley and Lakota Youth Organizer Bobbie Jean Three Legs

Democracy Now VIDEO – Stopping the Snake: Indigenous Protesters Shut Down Construction of Dakota Access Pipeline

(also: Black Lives Matter Delegation Returns from Standing Rock Camp)

Historical Context, and day-to-day struggles – Red Cryonline documentary; Cante Tenzatraditional warrior society supporting Lakota elders on Pine Ridge; The Indigenous People’s History of the United StatesRoxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

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Tribal flags from various nations are united on the protesting grounds at the Camp of the Sacred Stones near the Standing Rock Sioux Indian reservation. Photo: Latoya Lonelodge


Native youth relay race participants – there were three total, the final was almost 2,000 miles long, from ND to DC

“We brought water, medical supplies, and tarps, just about anything that had to do with camping. Our reason for that is because of the water, the river. What I had felt several weeks ago when I saw what was happening here, it really moved me and I found that it was so important, especially when everybody began to gather and I realized we needed to be there. We needed to go and support the people,” – Renee Sans Souci, with the Omaha Nation in Nebraska


Wiyaka Eagleman has been at the encampment since April and is from one of the seven Sioux council fire tribes set up there. Photo: Desiree Kane


“I am not sure how badly North Dakota wants this pipeline. If there is to be a battle over the Dakota Access, I would not bet against a people with nothing else left but a land and a river.”
Winona LaDuke

Healing the Dominant Group, Breaking the Cycle of Violence

Basketball, Native youth, men’s healing, indigeneity, a European culture of conquest – all of these things come together in David Dean’s personal story. David’s story takes us on a journey that melds study with life experience as he spends five summers on the Crow Reservation in Montana, asks questions about his European heritage and how such a horrific culture of violence and conquest emerged within it, and compares his own experiences healing hyper-masculinity to the type of healing we might need as people of European descent to stop the systems of colonialism and white supremacy our ancestors put in place.

After reading David’s story, you might consider engaging with the guided inquiry “Two Strands”, which explores themes of colonization and indigenous ancestry through pre-Christian, traditional ritual practices from the British Isles.

David Classroom

“I began developing a deeper understanding of the realities of oppression in the world as a senior in High School. I attended Sandy Spring Friends School in Maryland, just outside of DC. My school offered a unique class on the history of Indigenous Peoples in this country that covered the long story of colonialism in the US in a more truthful way than anything I’d ever experienced before. Bob Hoch has been teaching the class to seniors for over 30 years.”

David was an avid basketball player and studied the significance of the sport in reservation communities. “It’s incredibly popular. Some people speak about the game as a modern day equivalent to a young person’s development as a warrior in traditional society.” David’s high school study of colonialism, basketball, and cultural renewal turned out to be the beginning of a longer path.

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Unity Hoops

At Guilford College in Greensboro, NC, David became friends with Justin Big Hair. Justin’s mother, Peggy Wellknown Buffalo, runs The Center Pole, a beloved and longstanding community organization on the Crow reservation (Apsaálooke Nation) in Montana. David and Justin’s friendship formed amid threats of violence and responsive activism on the campus.

“Someone threw a brick with a homophobic death threat on it through a gay student’s window that semester, and students organized a vigil in response. We met around that time and we talked a lot about the massive levels of homophobia on my basketball team at Guilford.

Because I was already familiar with it, we began talking about how popular basketball is in the Crow community, and eventually started bouncing around this idea for a summer program, using basketball as a hook for participation and connecting it with an education that was responsive to the deeper needs of young people there. We shared the idea with Justin’s mother, and she liked it.”

The result was a program called Unity Hoops, which brought David to the Crow reservation five summers in a row. He worked closely with Crow leadership and youth as coordinator of the program, and underwent his own transformation in the process.

Time on the Crow Reservation, and Questions

Unity Hoops is a summer camp for Native youth that cultivates values such as teamwork, dedication, critical thinking and poise under pressure. The program connects these values, which are integral when competing in basketball, to social justice work. The young people develop Community Action Projects, working in teams to identify an issue or form of injustice in their community.  “They would study the issue [by assessing] their own lived experiences with it, doing internet research, and talking to community and family members. They then would make a plan of action to do something about it and carry out that plan as a team,” David recalls.

“As coordinator of this program, I had to understand the effect of the historical trauma of colonialism [on indigenous peoples] in the US and specifically in this community. For some time colonization involved a very long history of genocidal conquest to take land and make money off of it. Then came forms of cultural conquest and colonization of the mind that involved legislation outlawing traditional ceremonies and a national boarding school program that stole Native children from their homes, physically abused them, and taught them that their culture was of the devil – indoctrinating them with the capitalist values of the white, Algo elite,” David continues.

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Peggy Wellknown Buffalo

“There is all of this healing work that Native people are doing everywhere at this time. Peggy went to boarding school and was affected by that in very harmful ways. What helped her achieve the most healing was doing the Sun Dance for the first time. [The Sun Dance is] an intense and deeply transcendent traditional ceremony. The most important thing for her was reconnecting to her culture.”

Spending about 4-5 months of cumulative time (over the course of these summers) immersed in the Crow community, David came to understand how important it was for many Native people to reconnect to their own ceremonies and traditional ways of life, and to understand their history. This was not only important for personal well being – it was a prerequisite for effective action for legitimate social change. Healing oneself seemed to be intimately connected to healing one’s community.

This value placed in the recovery of one’s own indigenous culture came up in other experiences David had during the same time period, including his work as an assistant to Fania Davis (sister of Angela Davis) in her organization Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY).

After decades as an activist and civil rights lawyer, Fania entered an Indigenous Studies doctorate program and began to study under traditional African healers for her own well-being. Fania’s current work to transform the school-to-prison pipeline integrates the principles of restorative justice that she learned from her travels into schools and communities, emphasizing the notion that “harmed people harm people” and that “healed people, heal people.”

Fania reflects on her experiences with indigenous cultures in her article “This Country Needs a Truth and Reconciliation Process on Violence Against African Americans – Right Now,” a widely circulated piece that Fania wrote in response to the 2014 national outcry over the killings of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. David did supporting research for the article on the tenets of various truth and reconciliation models. His exposure to Fania’s work and value system meshed with the experiences he was having through Unity Hoops.

“I came away with all of these questions through this whole learning process,” David says. Fania encouraged David to reconnect to his own indigenous culture and ceremonies, but the idea that his ancestors were at one point indigenous was not intuitive to David. This realization came, he says, as an “epiphany,” and it initiated lots of questions. In addition to understanding who they were and how they lived, David wanted to understand what happened to his indigenous ancestors that would eventually cause them to become violent colonizers of other lands.

“I wanted to understand this culture of conquest and this culture of domination that came out of Europe and hit Africa, hit the Americas, and hit Asia through colonialism. I started questioning the idea that the reason this happened is solely because western Europeans had superior technology – “Guns, Germs and Steel,” which is the title of a famous book that argues this. To me, even if they did have those things, where did this culture come from? Why would you inherently want to dominate the world?”

What Happened to Us?

WA Site Witch_Burning

Witch Burnings

The questions he was asking started David on a path of research into the history of domination and colonization that occurred within Europe prior to its brutal expansion abroad. He began to read books such as Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous People’s History of the United States – which describes the refinement of a European culture of conquest through the violent theft of peasant lands in England and the British colonization of Ireland, Wales, and Scotland – and Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch – which traces the birth of capitalism to the late-Medieval stigmatization and mass genocide of “witches” as a strategy to destroy traditional rural culture, inculcate fear and division in the peasant class, privatize and steal communal land, and establish oppressive gender norms that subjugated women to the home in order to exploit men in the factory.

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Boudicca, Celtic Queen

“I’m still very much in the beginning stages of learning about this cyclical history of colonial domination; this wounding that expanded outward from western Europe across the globe.” David’s desire is to better understand how the indigenous peoples of Europe were disconnected from their own traditional ways and how a healing process for their descendents could create the capacity to face and redress centuries of harm done to people of color.

“I know that Rome, and other groups after them colonized the British Isles in a very similar way that centuries later Britain did to their periphery in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Then the entire empire did it to much of the world.  I want to learn more about genuine efforts to reclaim indigenous cultures of Western Europe, particularly the British Isles where I come from.”

Facing the Emotions Our Ancestors Repressed

David met and began a dialogue with Eleanor Hancock, director of White Awake, through an InterPlay class she co-facilitated at the Dance Exchange in Takoma Park, MD, in the early summer of 2016. This class, called “InterPlay with Race: Exploring Whiteness”, was organized and led by local InterPlay facilitator Katrina Brown, producer and director of the film “Traces of the Trade: a Story of the Deep North”. Through six weekly meetings, the group used movement and storytelling to explore emotion, identity, and the history of racism in a white affinity context.

In reflecting on the class, David says that, “White people are not taught how to dig deep into the emotional experience of these topics and so having embodied outlets for those really strong emotions is powerful. One of the things that’s cool about White Awake is this idea that while many of us who are white can intellectually understand how racism operates and functions – how to say the right thing and to be moral human beings in relation to these issues – we also need outlets for processing emotion. When you are a part of a group that has directly perpetrated or been complicit in massive forms of group violence such as genocide or slavery, through the generations you can incur toxic levels of shame that are not processed.”

Pequot genocidal slaughter

Pequot “War”

An important piece of David’s research has been on the trauma experienced by perpetrators of violence, and the need for healing of perpetrator and victim in order for cycles of violence to cease. David has been very influenced in his thinking by psychologist Eduardo Duran’s concept of the “soul wound”, as well as the STAR (Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience) training program used by Coming to the Table, a nonprofit focused on racial reconciliation.

“[When I] started to work in an indigenous community, I found a lot of emotions bubbling up. We did some exercises in the Interplay with Race class about the cost of racism to our mental health, to ourselves. It was cool to be able to get past the intellectual and move more into my body. The way that I could process and discharge a lot of negative emotions.

For me the emotions that have come up are shame, that’s the big one, and sometimes emptiness, just not having meaning, and anxiety about messing up at times when doing this work. Prior to getting in touch with my body, my only strategy for dealing with these things was powering through and numbing, numbing, numbing.”

David found the embodied outlet of InterPlay to be helpful in processing these emotions, and is interested in supporting the work of White Awake in bringing more of these types of modalities into white affinity work. He sees all of this – understanding our history, and working to heal from internalized colonization, cultural loss, and the toxic, transgenerational shame of perpetrating violence – as part of the process of challenging racism and ending this cycle of violence today.

“My understanding is that Western European people were ripped away from their indigenous cultures through violence, and when they came to this country they were given a state-sanctioned outlet to pass on this trauma to black and Native people, continuing the cycle and incurring more psychological and spiritual wounding themselves by perpetrating this harm.

Naming the impact on the perpetrator is not to silence the pain of people of color and indigenous people, which needs to be the center of any conversation about healing in this country. On the contrary, I believe it is key to combating racism. If the wound of the dominant group is never discovered and articulated – so that there are direct ways to process and heal from that pain – then I think it maintains the cycle of violence and keeps real racial justice from happening in this country, because of massive defensiveness that makes us unable to stand in genuine solidarity with people of color.”

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Celtic Wheel of the Year

David has found it very helpful to begin to understand the history of how a culture of conquest developed among his ancestors in the British Isles. “When you understand the forces at work you can begin to unwind them. We need to understand that at one time we came from a place of wholeness and connection to the earth. This is not about taking away accountability; it’s about creating the conditions where, through greater wholeness, accountability is possible.”

Healing the Dominant Group, Breaking the Cycle of Violence

David’s experience with breaking a cycle of violence by focusing on the unmet emotional needs of a dominant group has its roots in a masculinity project he initiated while he was still in college. After his freshman year at Guilford, David transferred to Dickinson College in central Pennsylvania, where he completed his undergraduate degree. At Dickinson, David was exposed to on-campus organizing around sexual violence against women. He also experienced a personal shock when he was cut from Dickinson’s basketball team.

“I was an athlete all my life and played until about half-way through college. As I got to higher levels in the sport, I was subject to an intensifying culture of hyper-masculinity that involved the suppression of emotions that had any depth to them, a superficiality of relationships, and the normalization of homophobia and misogyny. All of that made me feel unsafe being who I actually was, and placed me in a fog of anxiety about whether or not I would “measure up.” When I was cut from Dickinson’s team in November of my sophomore year I just kind of cracked and decided I could no longer live in this man box and that I instead wanted to change it.

The next semester, in 2011, the spring of my sophomore year, there was a massive occupation of the college’s administrative building. 350 people occupied the building for four days in protest of the sexual assault policy and how the school was not handling sexual harm in ways that were effective.”


MORE Men’s Retreat

David’s friendship with the women who organized the occupation had an influence on his own perception and experience. He began to see a connection between his struggle to be himself and the epidemic of sexual violence on college campuses. With a group of other Dickinson students and the support of the organizers of the protest, David started a men’s group called MORE (Men Overcoming Restrictive Expectations).

“As soon as we created an opportunity for men to open up we found that people really responded because of how much bottling there was. We found that when men can begin to embrace the side of themselves that feels, that loves, that cares – not only is their well-being served, but the campus community becomes a safer place for everyone.”

MORE started with weekly meetings of about 15 people (all men/male-identified), in which the men talked with one another about what it was like to try to conform to rigid expectations of masculinity. David says that, “you might think that people wouldn’t have been receptive to the work but they really were; not everyone but many. Hyper-masculinity is not a good place to live. That’s why men commit suicide all the time.”

The group expanded into intensive weekend retreats, in which men processed their emotions about their socialization and gender expectations, and eventually began holding on campus panels about these issues, to promote men’s growth and make the connection between hyper-masculinity and violence against women. David notes that the relationships he had with women organizers on campus were of vital importance to the growth of MORE.

“What’s really cool about this work is that it shows how the ultimate well being of dominant and oppressed peoples is connected. The wholeness of one is related to the freedom of another. That breakthrough helps men engage in feminism. It can also help release white people from opposing racial justice. Rather than seeing our autonomy and freedom as opposed to people of color, we are able to get out of the cultural dynamic we’re inside of.”

David concludes by saying, “The foundation point of me really wanting to dig in, to understand the wounding of white people and the way we were ripped away from our indigeneity and traditional ways and sent on this journey of perpetrating a lot of oppression, came out of my experiences with MORE and the work on the Crow reservation. All of this has helped me see a bigger picture of global colonialism, how colonized people are trying to heal, and how a related form of healing could support us as white people to engage constructively in the struggle for racial justice.”

This article was created with the support of Margo Mallar, a member of the staff at the Insight Meditation Society, a Buddhist retreat center in Barre, Massachusetts. Many thanks to Margo for making this profile piece possible!

You can listen to David speak directly about Unity Hoops and the awarenesses he developed through engagement with the Crow community in the video below, a clip of David’s presentation to the extended community of his high school alma mater (Sandy Spring Friends School) at the Adelphi Friends Meeting in Maryland. If you’d like to contact David, he’d love to hear from you! Write to: