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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:

Opposition is a Prayer

T. Thorne Coyle, beloved as a magical worker and master teacher within pagan, occult, and witchcraft communities, writes this elegant prayer as a testament to her personal experience and commitment sitting in meditation with Buddhists, pagans, and Christians as a form of direct action against the militarization of police forces in the United States and abroad. This action, organized by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship in the summer of 2014 as part of a larger week of action orchestrated by a diverse coalition of over 30 different community organizations, remains an exemplary instance of engaged spiritual practice and inter-faith, cross-lineage action.

More details on the action itself are included at the end of the post. This piece has been posted with permission of the author. You can read the original post on Coyle’s blog here.

BPF_Marriot protest

Photo: Joshua Eaton

Alan Blueford, Mike Brown, Kimani Gray, Ezell Ford, Anita Gay, Kelly Thomas, Oscar Grant, Gary King, Sean Bell, Kayla Moore, Andy Lopez…

Nine of us sat in prayer and meditation on cold concrete blocking the doors to the Oakland Marriott while across the driveway, where guests stepped out of cabs or limousines, others meditated, sitting or standing, holding signs decrying police militarization and violence. People also meditated facing the street. Others handed out fliers with information.

Monks chanted and drummed. Your names rose within me as I sat: a litany, a mantra. Something in me settled more deeply. A sense of great love washed through.

I felt the doors push against my back as people tried to exit the hotel. Every time this happened, I followed the drums. I sank deeper. I chanted your names in my heart and mind.

Mike Brown, Ezell Ford, Alan Blueford, Oscar Grant, Anita Gay, Gary King, Kimani Gray, Sean Bell, Andy Lopez, Kayla Moore, Eric Garner, Kelly Thomas…

Two people thanked us for being there. One man was upset, and tried to get past us, saying, “They have a right to protest, but they don’t have a right to inconvenience people!”

He was inconvenienced. Like Mike Brown, Kimani Gray, and Anita Gay were inconvenienced.

Like their families were inconvenienced.

Like Oscar Grant was inconvenienced, lying face down and cuffed on a train platform, shot to death at close range.

Like the people of Ferguson were inconvenienced by tear gas, concussion grenades, LRADs, armored vehicles and other weapons of war.

Like Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen was inconvenienced on the streets of Oakland when shot in the head by a lead bean bag which fractured his skull causing brain trauma, and then was gassed along with the medics who rushed  to help him.

Alan Blueford, Mike Brown, Kimani Gray, Ezell Ford, Anita Gay, Kelly Thomas, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Gary King, Sean Bell, Kayla Moore, Andy Lopez…

The doors pushed against us.  
I settled deeper, still.

This hotel, along with several places in our county, yearly hosts a convention that trains police and fire fighters in urban warfare on citizens, and enables them to gaze upon and purchase tools of war. We protested last year. We are protesting this year. This is not an inconvenience. This is civil disobedience. This is a minor effort to tip the scales of justice. This is a minor effort to ask you, please, to see what is happening.

We sat in meditation on the concrete for two hours, keeping those doors shut. In between necessary conferring with the woman acting as police liaison, I continued to chant your names, knowing they were only a few of the hundreds of names that should be shouted to the night. My mantra was silent, keeping time with my breathing and my heart.

Mike Brown, Ezell Ford, Alan Blueford, Oscar Grant, Anita Gay, Gary King, Kimani Gray, Sean Bell, Andy Lopez, Kayla Moore, Eric Garner, Kelly Thomas…

We are up against a monster that does not trust the people. We are up against a monster who hates those who live in poverty. We are up against a monster who feeds upon our fear. We are up against a monster who delights in control, oppression, and in pain.

We are not up against individuals. We are up against a being formed by a collective, what magic workers call an egregore*. This egregore is hungry for injustice. It is hungry for screams, and rapes, and beatings, and gassing, and shots fired into flesh.

It insinuates itself in airports and alleyways. It grows larger at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference and at Urban Shield. It infects good people with a madness that cannot be appeased without more violence.

Alan Blueford, Mike Brown, Kimani Gray, Ezell Ford, Anita Gay, Kelly Thomas, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Gary King, Sean Bell, Kayla Moore, Andy Lopez…

Your names are the antidote.

Sitting in meditation on concrete for two hours blockading doors is an antidote.

Education is an antidote. Community is an antidote. Love is an antidote.

Love is greater than fear. Always.

We form an egregore, too, all of us who love. All of us who stand for justice. All of us who march the streets of Ferguson, or sit down upon concrete in Oakland and declare, “Enough. We love each other. We feel angry. So, enough.”

Alan Blueford, Mike Brown, Kimani Gray, Ezell Ford, Anita Gay, Kelly Thomas, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Gary King, Sean Bell, Kayla Moore, Andy Lopez…

Friday, an officer in Oklahoma who raped 8 Black women in six months was finally charged. Saturday, people from all over gathered with Mike Brown’s parents to march again in Ferguson, Missouri. while others gathered in a church in Los Angeles California to mourn Ezell Ford.

The systems of oppression are in place. So are the avenues of our resistance and our action.

My opposition is my prayer. My prayer is my opposition.

I love you all so much. I give thanks to every activist. I give thanks to every person spreading kindness. I send blessings to every parent, friend, and lover who mourns.

Mike Brown, Ezell Ford, Alan Blueford, Oscar Grant, Anita Gay, Gary King, Kimani Gray, Sean Bell, Andy Lopez, Kayla Moore, Eric Garner, Kelly Thomas…

I meditated on cold concrete for two hours. Your body lay on the street for four hours. You lay face down on the platform, dying, friends and strangers screaming for your life. You were crying, with no one to hear you.

There is no comparison. None.

We shut down the hotel doors for you, for two hours. It isn’t enough, but last night, it was what we could do.

Friday and Saturday, when Urban Shield rolls into town, when tactics and training and weapons to be used against us are all being practiced and on display? We will do more.

And we’ll do it in your names.

Alan Blueford, Mike Brown, Kimani Gray, Ezell Ford, Anita Gay, Kelly Thomas, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Gary King, Sean Bell, Kayla Moore, Andy Lopez…

Your names are my prayer.


T. Thorn Coyle is a magic worker committed to love, justice, and liberation. Her work reaches people all over the world through spiritual direction, soul readings, vibrant workshops, and online classes. Thorn is the author of many books, including Evolutionary Witchcraft, and Crafting a Daily Practice. She is founder and head of Solar Cross Temple and Morningstar Mystery School. A lifelong activist, Thorn’s current alliances are with Martin de Porres House of Hospitality in San Francisco, and the Anti Police-Terror Project in Oakland, CA, which organizes with the families of those affected by police violence.

*egregore: an occult concept representing a “thoughtform”, or “collective group mind”, that takes on a life of its own and influences the thoughts and actions of a group of people. In this context, the “new Jim Crow” would be an example of an egregore that was able to change shape from it’s original form – the old slave codes – to a secondary form – the Jim Crow laws of the old south – to its current form as a highly racialized system of mass incarceration.

While the first reference in the article names an egregore as a harmful entity created by the dominant culture (a psychic being that feeds on injustice and violence), the second reference (“we form an egregore, too”) indicates the way in which our activism takes on a life of its own and works its own influence upon society according to the principles of justice and integrity with which we charge it.

About the action
On August 31, 2014, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and allies blockaded the Marriott Hotel for 2 hours as a direct protest and obstruction to the Marriott’s hosting Urban Shield Oakland. Urban Shield is a weapons expo and SWAT training for police to practice militarized techniques, promoting increasingly deadly practices within civilian police forces across the country and around the world. Two very detailed descriptions of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship action can be found in subsequent articles written for Lion’s Roar and Tricycle. You can also watch a short video on the action here. The entire week of action had a measurable effect: Urban Shield will no longer be held at the Marriott and it will no longer take place anywhere in Oakland. Organizing and protests against Urban Shield continue to take place across the country.

Finding the Comfort in Discomfort

A Letter from Tim McKee, North Atlantic Books Director of Publishing, on bringing Radical Dharma to press

Igniting a long-overdue dialogue about how the legacy of racial injustice and white supremacy plays out in society at large and Buddhist communities in particular, new book Radical Dharma is an urgent call to action. The process of bringing this book to press had a profound impact on Tim McKee, who worked closely with co-author’s Lama Rod Owens, Rev. angel Kyodo williams, and Dr. Jasmine Syedullah in the process. Tim’s process as a white, cis, straight man collaborating with three queer African American authors – on a project at once urgent and profound – has significant implications for all of us as, raising questions about how we participate in “business as usual” behavior, and what it means to get comfortable with the discomfort of changing those patterns. That the process of publishing would itself be a crucible of liberatory experience is both poetic and inspiring.


There were several times while working on Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation that I had to get up from my chair and walk away from the book. The content was intense and provocative: a fierce call to question and change the systems of oppression permeating our society at large and our spiritual communities in particular. Written by three queer African American Buddhists, the book challenges the notion that we can continue to do “business as usual” and survive, whether the “we” is a country, a planet, an organization, a neighborhood, a sangha, or an individual.

But on a deeper level, the book pushed me because of the very force it became as a tangible being. The book’s content invited me to, as Rumi famously put it, “not go back to sleep,” but the collaboration with Reverend angel Kyodo williams, Lama Rod Owens, and Jasmine Syedullah forced me to stay awake, to question the very norms I perpetuate, consciously or not, in my own life. In other words, working on the book itself became a crucible mirroring the radical inquiry detailed in its pages.

When Reverend angel and I first talked about the project, I proposed a timeline in keeping with publishing-industry standards: a year, maybe a little more. “Um, no, we need to get it out in seven or eight months,” Reverend angel replied firmly. “The world is asking for it now. But what about all the marketing meetings, and the sales-rep discussions, and all the time and labor and road-building it takes within the institutions to get a book out in the world? I thought. There is no way!

But there was. Through sheer hard work, unconventional meet-ups, gritty faith, grassroots word-of-mouth, and late-night phone calls, the book came together in record time and emerged into the world just as the realities of racial profiling, homophobia, deep sorrow, and spiritual emptiness roiled through the country in the aftermath of the Orlando massacre. We could not abide business as usual. As Reverend angel says, “This is the ‘back of the bus’ moment of our time.”

Nor could I abide by my usual approach to editorial collaboration. I dipped my red pen into the manuscript with vigor, using the tools I’d learned to, in my mind, clear the trail for the reader. The authors appreciated many of the edits, but they also raised questions in places where my own learned behaviors as a cis, straight, white male caused my pen to overstep its bounds in the name of “clarity” and rob some sentences of their hard-earned identities as bold, black, queer roars.

This was uncomfortable, but it was what I needed to do. For the book’s sake, yes, but also for my sake, for, as the book shows so clearly, it is only when we engage compassionately in a bold interrogation of our usual practices that we are able to grow and evolve. The “safe space” that so many people of privilege want to maintain is so not safe for the majority of the world’s people. To not get uncomfortable would be to play my part in maintaining a hegemony that I purportedly work against.

Fortunately, for inspiration and hope I only had to look to Reverend angel, Lama Rod, and Jasmine. As they chronicle so beautifully, their own paths toward freedom involved countless moments of deep discomfort, and yet there they stand, leading conversations about race, love, and liberation to packed rooms of multihued seekers, united in their willingness to get messy, to get radical, and to get liberated.

Radical Dharma is fiercely demanding, but it is also fiercely compassionate. Yes, the book exposes the ways people are othered and humiliated, and how all of us, unwittingly or wittingly, play a part in that. But the book also extends open arms to our ghosts and invites us to find new ways of intersecting and being. It’s a book for the soul. As Reverend angel puts it, “Every time I tried to stay within the lines, they ran over me, so I chose the borderlands and left divisions behind.” Radical Dharma offers a borderland that must become our new commons.

Touching Radical Dharma is a life-changing experience, not because of what it says, but because of what it invites, galvanizes, and metabolizes in those who are willing to sit with its complex truths. I’m forever grateful for its fire.

A longtime managing editor at The Sun magazine, Tim McKee came to North Atlantic Books in 2013 as acquisitions manager before being promoted to director of publishing in 2014. Born in New York City, McKee grew up in Los Angeles, received a BA from Princeton University and an MA in journalism from the University of Missouri. He has worked in the nonprofit sector for his entire career, including serving as grants director for a social-justice foundation in San Francisco and as a writer for several community-based organizations in California.

Radical Dharma, white supremacy, and liberation – a webinar with Rev. angel Kyodo williams

White privilege and supremacy are dominant elements in our society. They pervade social and environmental movements, as well as Buddhist and other spiritual communities, the very places where many of us work for positive change. We have to confront the inequities in our organizations and movements before we can succeed in our work.

Rev angel Oakland RD launch

Rev. angel at the Radical Dharma launch in Oakland, CA

What steps can individual activists and organizations take? Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Sensei, explores this question with Todd Paglia, ED of Stand (formerly “ForestEthics”) via this public webinar. Stand is an advocacy organization made up of people challenging governments and corporations to make the health of our communities, our environment and our climate the top priority. Todd opens the webinar with the observation that far from being unrelated, forest protection, climate change, and white supremacy are so deeply interconnected there is “no solving one of these things without solving all of them”.

Rev. angel has been a member of the board with Stand the past 10 years, and currently supports the organization on issues of race, equity, and mindfulness practice. This summer Rev. angel, along with Lama Rod Owens and Dr. Dr. Jasmine Syedullah, PhD, released a timely and provocative book: Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Revolution. This article is a selected transcription of Rev. angel’s presentation (via the webinar with Stand) on the book, the philosophy, and the message of liberation and hope that Radical Dharma brings.

Because Stand is a white-led organization, special emphasis is given to contextualizing Radical Dharma for a white audience. This article is a selected transcription of Rev. angel’s presentation. The full webinar is embedded at the bottom of the post.


“We have nothing to loose but our chains” – Assata Shakur / Photo: Radical Dharma

About the book, Radical Dharma
About the process of creating the book
About the use of the term “white supremacy”
About the theme of liberation in the book, and how it relates to white people
Full webinar

About the book, Radical Dharma:

This notion of dharma as universal truth is one of the ways the word is interpreted. It’s also interpreted as the teachings of the historical Buddha, but this idea of dharma as universal truth is the way we are holding it here. It’s not a Buddhist book. It is a love song to the Black Lives Matter movement and movements for Black liberation, and that is inclusive of all movements for liberation.

One of the points of the book is to look at the way that various forms of oppression intersect with one another and are particularly locked in and around white supremacy. My sense of the work is that it is not a book that is about dealing with a black problem or a brown problem; it is a book about dealing with the problem and the challenge of white supremacy.

One of the ways we approached the book is as a book inside of a book. The book inside of the book is a set of conversations that have been mashed up together. We traveled to four different cities: Atlanta, Boston, Berkeley, Brooklyn (we being myself; Lama Rod Owens, who is an African American queer man who is teacher or Lama in the Tibetan tradition; and Dr. Jasmine Syedullah, who is a long time practitioner and student of mine and also an academic. Jasmine actually facilitated the conversations in three of the four places.) We then took these conversation, mashed them up together, and packaged them under the three themes of race, love, and liberation.

The book is what we call a talking book. It was inspired by the book “Breaking Bread”, by Cornel West and bell hooks. For me and for Lama Rod, it was an amazing, pivotal book. It defied something of our understanding at the time because it was two black intellectuals talking to each other. What that did is turn on it’s ear the idea of who is an intellectual, and what does intellectual conversation actually pertain to – what does it cover – when the individuals talking are black folks. What stood out for us is that it was the same for us as Buddhist teachers, we [Lama Rod and Rev. angel, as two black, Buddhist teachers] are unfortunately rare at this moment, in terms of being Buddhist teachers in America.

We went to these cities based on Buddhadharma magazine asking Lama Rod and I to have a conversation after the non-decision to indict the officers that were responsible for the death of Eric Garner. There was a heaviness that set in that added to Trayvon Martin, to all of the other things that we were seeing emerging into the consciousness of America. So we had this conversation, and the way I like to say it is that it went as viral as anything could be considered viral in the Buddhist community. We realized there was an openness and a receptivity to this conversation.

The Buddhist community, very much like the environmental community, and a lot of our progressive movements, is  overwhelmingly – and unnecessarily – white. So it signaled something to see that people were responding to these conversations. Out of that we decided to pull these conversations, in these different cities, and put together a book.

We realized that there were some other questions that should be pointed to, in terms of ourselves personally and what it took for black folks to be able to find our ground and actually create a home in an institution – within communities – that have been overwhelming and predominantly white. [We write about] what it meant to pursue personal liberation in the face of that; to navigate situations that are commonly traumatizing for black folks and people of color, but also to figure out how to make relationship with the reality before us.

I think that pertains very much to  the situation that we find ourselves in today. How do we navigate the social realities that we find ourselves in and also take care of the very real truth that the exposure to the realities of the continuing situation of white supremacy in America are staggering and traumatizing? [This has always been the case for] those of us who have been aware of it all along – but to have the actual images put before us [is particularly traumatic.] These images can also generate a sense of shame, frozen-ness, and reactivity for some people, even for activists who considered themselves allies.

We saw this in a big form last year right around this time at the Netroots Nation Conference, during which the Black Lives Matter activists who were there confronted Bernie Sanders about Sandra Bland and asked him to say her name. His response was a bit lackluster, but the resulting protest, actions, and the conversation that it generated is what this is about. This conversation actually caused the democratic party, for one, to turn around and have to navigate a conversation about racial justice and inequity in this country. That is a conversation this country needs to have.

One of the things that I think about this is that what we are confronting are the inadequacies of solely dealing with legislation and advocacy as a way in which to shift something that is as pernicious as racism and white supremacy – that are actually the grounding and the foundation of this country as a whole.

So I just wanted to lay that down, and say that what you’re going to see in the book is this early section about what we had to leave behind. This is a common framework in many spiritual traditions and personal liberation traditions, is to think about what one has to leave behind in order to enter the path of freedom.

Then each of us contribute an essay on what it is that we bring forward. That is to say, what are the specific themes that we each focus on. In Rod’s case, he focuses quite a bit on healing. In Jasmine’s case she focuses on the connection between modern day race, racialization, and the abolition movement and slavery – that’s her focus as an academic.

RadicalDharma_CoverIn my case I look quite strongly at the arena of intersectionality, and how intersectionality informs the next possible frontier for not only specific communities and how they relate to one another interpersonally, but also transcendental movements and how transcendental movements are possible when we look at the underlying connection of all things. In a woo-woo way, you might say that that is oneness. I like to say that it is “oneness” actually brought out into reality. We are sitting on the precipice, in many ways, of both the challenge of confronting race in America [and also] the very real opportunity of finally having love enter the conversation about what makes social liberation and transformation possible.

About the process of creating the book:

The process, in a word, is “breakneck”. The last word was “put to paper” (digitally) on Feb 22, 2016. So this book moved at a breakneck pace. We didn’t even get our contract finalized until January. We bypassed much of the ordinary publishing process. We didn’t get on the usual “train” so to speak, because we felt very strongly that the book needed to be out in time for summer – in time for Juneteenth; for Netroots Nation (the largest cross-issue organizing conference in America); for Black August; for youth organizing in the summer; for Black Lives Matter and liberation movement organizing, much of which happens during the summer.

And in so in many ways we forewent the normal path [of publishing]. That speaks to, also, our commitment. We forewent the normal path of “this is how you get your book in bookstores; this is how you get it in front of people.” Our response was, “We don’t want it in front of ‘people’, we want it in front of our people; we want it in front of the people.” …

As black or brown people, one of the things we are forced to do – if we are choosing a path of liberation – is to navigate the personal as political. This made for an easier process in terms of each of us writing that way, because we actually have to live it. We don’t have, as a result of race, the same privilege to invisibilize our personal experience. I think that this is one of the things that racialization has done for and with black folks and brown folks – we are constantly navigating our personal and collective experiences, and recognizing the relationship between the two.

One of the things that we talk about in the book is that we think that it is a great loss for white skinned people that are caught within the construct of whiteness – before it is deconstructed for them – that they actually lose access to that [awareness of the personal as political]. Either people are hyper-personalized and think “I’m not part of a collective; whatever I do is of my own making and it’s all about me”, or their own personal heritage, backgrounds, and history gets lost in this big melting pot of whiteness.

We know one of the results of whiteness is that people don’t have the opportunity to fully explore and navigate who they actually are, what their own backgrounds and histories and upbringings are, both inside and outside of whiteness as a construct.

About the use of the term “white supremacy”:

The way that we hold white supremacy is [to refer to] the centering of the cultural construct of whiteness as supreme or superior to the cultural proclivities, desires, and self determination of all other people.

It lifts up the values of so-called “white people” as superior, and it centers the so-called “white race” – which we know scientifically doesn’t even exist – but it centers the values of the so-called white race as superior, more civilized, and the central organizing component of all of society.

Who decided those values? How is it that German values, Italian values, Jewish values, Irish values, Scottish values, Slovenian values, Czechoslovakia values – how is it that these values could possibly be the same thing? Underneath the notion of white supremacy, there is actually a ruling class, or owning class, holding and delivering one theory of togetherness under the form of white skin that was actually designed to divide white peoples from native and black peoples. White went on the books here – it didn’t exist as an actual legal term until it got to America. People used to talk about where they were from (an Irishman, an Englishman, a Scotsman) as opposed to being just plain ole white.

So this terminology is home-brewed right here in America, and we have been very good at exporting it all over the world. But the really key thing for us to understand about white supremacy is it’s constraints and confines. One of the main confines I like to talk about is the politics of dis-belonging – which is to say that If you do not conform to whiteness, if you do not conform to the notion that whiteness sits at the center of all things, then you will get dis-belonged from whiteness. If you get dis-belonged from whiteness you are now subject to all of the lack of privilege and lack of benefit of all those brown and black and red and yellow peoples, and nobody wants that!

When I talk about whiteness and white supremacy, I want to highlight the fact that in our modern society black skinned bodies, brown skinned peoples, are also holding down white supremacy as a result of internalized oppression. On the other hand, there are white skinned people that are clear anti-racist organizers, clear anti-white supremacist organizers.

So we’re not talking about people’s skin color, as in automatically this is who you are if you have this skin color. We are talking about something that is very complex – which makes it all the more important that we actually navigate white supremacy as distinct from racism. If we don’t we will not see that white supremacy holds a patriarchy, and notions of masculinity; we will not see how it holds up a rabid form of capitalism; we will not realize how it holds up the degradation of the planet, under the framework of “man over planet” – this notion that we have the right to simply use natural and human resources as we wish – which is very much part of the framework of the white supremacist thinking.

About the theme of liberation in the book, and how it relates to white people:

Liberation, in a word, is ease. Ease, and being free from the sense of limitation and holding back that constructs, whatever those constructs are, [create]. On a personal level we talk about it as ego, right? That ego is something that has been constructed and handed down to us from our parents, our family of origin, from our heritage, the different ways we’ve been shaped by religion, by the schooling that we had, by experiences that are traumatizing, and also celebratory.

In many ways we get handed these ideas about who we are and we start living in the projection of who we are – ego – rather than actually being able to live in the free, open, liberated space of who we [actually] are. The result of that is this kind of persistent sense of anxiety, of not being enough, of constantly looking over your shoulder for what it is that other people think.

The way that I speak about whiteness is as a social ego – it is a social construct, that has been handed to us. We don’t question, “Where did that come from? Why do I just buy this idea that I’m white without deconstructing that?” In the same way, at some point in my life I bought this idea of who angel was, who she could be, what she was permitted to do and not do, what I could do as a black woman, as a mixed race woman, as a queer woman, as a Christian (being Baptist), as a New Yorker, as the child of a parent that didn’t finish high school – what did that say about me, what could I earn, what could I do, what kinds of jobs could I apply for.

All of that exists on a social level through whiteness. Whiteness starts to shape what it is we think that we can and can’t do – in positive ways, for white folks, and in negative ways. Obviously it has negative connotations for black folks and brown folks because there is a sense of what is possible for us. We’ve been taught the myth of meritocracy, that it’s just about what we each do, but we also know – there have been studies – of racial bias, unconscious bias.

One of the things that white folks loose as a result of this construct of whiteness is one’s ability to love across lines of difference -because of that dis-belonging, because of that politeness that is ascribed by belonging to whiteness. One can not love freely across lines of difference. One is told who one can love and be connected with in terms of one’s rank in society.

Whiteness forces white people to actually trade their humanity for privilege – the privilege of having those paths of access. What does it mean if you as a white man, Todd, begin to stand up and talk about inequity for black people? You’re going to get some push back. Some doors are going to shut down on you, and you’ve got to make a decision about that. That [awareness] is usually happening unconsciously. White folks just know to be quiet, know not say anything. They see something wrong going down – it starts very early in childhood – you see something that feels wrong, that seems off, and you want to say something, but there is an invisible cloak of whiteness that tells you, “You better not say anything cause something’s going to happen!” I think most white folks don’t’ even challenge or deconstruct, what is that thing that’s going to happen?

What’s on the other side of that – and this is the truth, the dharma, of all liberation – is that when we move through these places of resistance, when we move through these places of fear, what we access on the other side is our own liberation. We get to settle down and be more of who we are as a result of that. So, yeah, socially there’s push back, there are so-called consequences, but the value, the benefit, is that we get more free. And if we get more free – to speak the things that are true for us – we get more free to actually be who we are. Less and less of our lives are defined by external circumstances of conditions.

The result of that on a mass level, the result of people that are anti-racist, that are progressive, that believe in humanity, that believe in equity for all, that believe in a society that works for all – yes there is going to be this period of churn, just as there is on a personal liberation path where, basically, your shit is hitting the fan. You don’t know what is going on. It’s all kind of confusion. But when you move through that what you find is that you have this sense of ease and groundedness and presence in life that creates a space and opportunity for other people around you to have that ease and ground and presence and sense of bravery to step forth into what is often referred to as one’s basic goodness.

You get out of the questioning mode of “am I good enough; am I okay enough; do I have enough; should I do this in order to be seen this way by that person”, and you just drop into this fundamental okay-ness with who you are; – the basic goodness, the promise, that every single one of us are basically good. We are basically kind, we want to belong, we want to be connected, we want to love, we want to be loved. All of this anxiety that comes from this conditioning keeps us from being able to relax into that. It happens on a personal level, it happens on a structural and social level. Liberation – to be radical, to be complete about really unpacking the things that are hindering us from that kind of ease, from that kind of freedom – is what radical dharma is about.

Rev. angel Kyodo williams has been bridging the worlds of spirit and justice since her critically acclaimed first book, Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace, was hailed as “an act of love” by Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker and “a classic” by Buddhist pioneer Jack Kornfield. She received the first “Creating Enlightened Society” Award from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and is a Senior Fellow for Faith and Social Justice at Auburn Seminary. Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Revolution was released this summer.

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Two Strands – a “spirit-spoken” inquiry into culture, colonization, and ancestry



“Brigid’s Dream” by rain crowe

“Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice.”

– Rebecca Solnit

This writing excerpt is based on a presentation offered by rain crowe at the Cascadia Rising Bioregional Confluence, held in Portland, OR in 2014. The exploration of the intersection of white settler-ism and bioregionalism is intended to speak to those of us who identify as non-native to the North American lands, and who are of European descent. The invitation is to begin an exploration of the genocidal roots and ongoing impacts of our white settler presence on Turtle Island, while also holding a connection to our own indigenous ancestors and their subsequent colonization.

For those of you who are not familiar with pagan practices, the piece is written in a Wiccan ritual form (with roots in pre-Christian traditions of the British Isles). You are invited to read this piece as a poetic essay, or enter into the offering as a practice. The form of this practice is available for you to use, respectfully and with acknowledgment of the source, in other contexts as well.

Pentacle w words

Photo: John Keogh

The basic framework of the ritual form: prepare yourself and the area through centering, calming, and/or focusing practices (“Grounding”); create sacred space (“Casting”); invite spiritual powers to guide you (“Invocation”); and do the work you are there to do. Though not explicitly outlined in this written excerpt, it is best to “open” the circle that has been cast by thanking the spirits that responded to the invocation, and releasing the energy that was built, while affirming the intention of the work. As a reference point for Buddhists, a similar concluding practice is the dedication of merits.

You might want to engage in this inquiry alongside the interview with David Dean, whose experiences with residents of the Crow Indian Reservation prompted him to ask questions about his European ancestry, the forces that led to a culture of violent conquest, and the possibility of healing and reconnection to more life-giving ancestral ways. This excerpt has been modified for White Awake. You can read the original version of rain crowe’s piece in the Zine “Cultural Appropriation and Spirituality”, housed online at Witches Union Hall here.


Into a deep sense of place, the exact place where we are, we send down our roots.

How did the terrain come to be the way it is in the process of deep geological time? How did the elements shape it? How did the waters flow upon it? How do they flow now?

What creatures of the world have lived here, are no longer, or still remain?

Who were and are the first peoples here, and where are their descendants now?

How did we come to be where we are, and what does our presence mean?


The sphere of life is omnipresent and we cast ourselves into its embrace with a remembering of wholeness that dispels the ensorcellment* of Estrangement, Entitlement, and Enslavement, those markers of a pathology that is insidious, addictive, and life-diminishing.

(*ensorcell: to bewitch)


WA Site fire-prayer-4-rain-crowe

Photo: rain crowe

Ancestors of path, land, blood, and love, for those of you who are called to be with us, we invite you to join the feast we set for you, the feast of praise for your willingness, the feast of grief for your sufferings, the feast of longing and delight for all your gifts…

To the Descendants of Life, we invite you to our magical workings that we might leave a living world for you to embody as creatures dancing the preciousness of the good Earth, our only home…

And to the Stars of Possibility, and the Underworld of Mycelial Wovenness, and to all our guides and allies,


Feeling for a path of right relationship: an inquiry and spiritual working

If our words are spells, and the language we use creates the consensus reality in which we live, then let us choose carefully, intentionally, and wisely how we language ourselves into the consciousness of a journey of healing, of decolonizing, and of calling ourselves home.

This is a slice of a template used to work with the difficult and necessary conversations of cultural appropriation, presence to the privileges of white settler colonialism, and healing of inter-generational and cross cultural trauma brought about by the global wounds of Empire consciousness. Since some of our oldest stories live in the language we use, we begin with the words “inquiry”and “complexity”.

Inquiry is any process that has the aim of augmenting knowledge, resolving doubt, or solving a problem. It is a question, a query, and a close examination of a matter to find truth. The etymology is Old French borrowed from vulgar Latin and the root means: to seek.

Moving from inquiry can be a redemptive act in that it helps us craft the map of enduring questions, those which have no easy answer, to which we can only aspire to lend to some small piece of knowing in our time, and from which we might preserve the layers and registers of our collective glimmers of understanding.

Complexity is generally used to characterize something with many parts where those parts interact with each other in multiple ways. The word comes from French borrowed from Latin and the root means: to braid or twine that which is intricate.boudica_charge against romans

Complexity, within the inquiry at hand, means understanding that we [“white people”] come from many different places, and that for thousands of years our European ancestors lived indigenously in cradle to grave cultures of right relationship to place and life. This is one lineage.

There are many stories about how and why the shift away from right relationship happened; suffice it to say another one of our lineages is that of colonized linguistic cultures of Empire defined by a consciousness that shifted to definitive oriented understandings rather than relational-mystical understandings. These linguistic cultural ancestors are the ones who were displaced, assimilated and colonized themselves, and who would come to perpetuate an “orphan trauma” of disconnection to place. They live within us as well.


“King Philips War”

Having a foot in two worlds of ancestry, how do we proceed? Can we be a hinge in time, inviting spiritual home into our lives with the vestiges of amnesia still tangled in our hair?

What is right relationship? An incomplete answer, to put something on the table for each of you to contemplate and explore, is: Being right sized with our power, our presence and absence, our consumption, and our impact. We feel for it because we are making the path as we go along, using all of our senses to ask the questions, take the actions, grow our tolerance to the distress of not having the answers, and our resilience to the discomfort of not knowing.

For those of us thoroughly indoctrinated in the culture of shame and punishment, it can be terrifying to endeavor into the very necessary conversations about our tendencies to fill the holes of our own longing, and unrequited needs for spiritual wholeness, in ways that may be perpetuating the harms of our colonized and colonizing ancestors.

Un-shaming our mistakes, while not letting ourselves off the hook of response-ability, is imperative to feeling out the path. Acknowledging that our shadow – the sum total of all the parts of ourselves that we repress, neglect, deny and disavow – is always in the room, and is always in the conversation, can make it easier for us to access empathy for ourselves and our communities of conversation and connection. Our shadows are the edge places of discomfort, learning, and enrichment. Learn to notice them and to befriend them.

Template questions
You are invited to read these aloud and to notice the sensations within your body.

What is home?

What is culture?

How do we begin to unravel what it means to be a person of European descent in this time, who comes from both far off indigenous and, most recently, colonizer ancestral lines?

How can we make sense of, and possibly respond to, the inter-generational and cross cultural trauma within Empire culture?

What did relationship-to-place mean to our ancestors? What could it mean for us?

Who were and are the first peoples of the land where we now live, and what does their presence or absence mean?

How did we come to be where we are, and what does our presence mean?

You are invited to resist the impulse to answer the questions. Instead allow more questions to fluidly move through you. Where does the pathway of questioning take you? What other doors open, what other insights arise, what is your body telling you?

Balt Reclaiming Justice magical collage

Pentacle of Great Turning / courtesy Baltimore Reclaiming

Re-member. Sitting with the complexity of your inquiry, guided by your intuition, and holding a steadfast gentleness alongside a commitment to persevere, make symbols of your questions, or work with your hands as you ruminate, contemplate, and meditate. Let your body sense the next steps; maybe you will reach out, find a book that calls to you, make art to express, or ask for guidance in dreams about what is coming through. Continue to resist the impulse to “know”, and instead make offerings to feed the Sacred with gratitude as you stretch your capacity to be in the wonder of midwifing a beyond-our-lifetime vision of right relationship to the web of life.



rain crowe works with and from a body of work dedicated to cultivating the arts of interdependent relationships through group facilitation, mediation, and educational opportunities. She is a regenerative culture events organizer who engages with spiritual, political, rewilding, and intentional communities. She teaches and writes about magic and ritual, the ancestral skills of council making and restorative conflict transformation, systems thinking in radical organizing, and ecstatic connection to the sacred.

rain is grateful to all of the teachers with whom she has studied: Dominic Barter, Martin Prechtel, Starhawk, Arnie Mindell, Cynthia Jones, Suzanne Sterling, and Geri Ravyn Stanfield, and to all of those teachers who have influenced her from afar: Bill Plotkin, Joanna Macy, Brian Swimme, Thomas Berry, and Pema Chodron. Special thank yous to all the peer teachers in life who keep her on her toes.

Spring 2016 – White Awake News

New Curriculum, SURJ-Faith Pilot Learning Project, HBC “Buddhism and Race” conference, and more!

HBC Conference Presenters crop

Photo of presenters from the Second Annual “Buddhism and Race” Conference; courtesy Harvard Buddhist Community

Harvard Buddhist Community: “Buddhism and Race Conference”

The second annual Buddhism and Race Conference (organized by the Harvard Buddhist Community at Harvard Divinity School) took place this past April, and brought together a beautiful community of activists, sangha leaders, community members, and students to learn from one another and share justice-oriented teachings and training. You can watch each of the three panel discussions on Youtube:

White Awake director Eleanor Hancock spoke on the third panel, and offered a break out group entitled “White Affinity Work Demystified” for conference participants. Attendance was overwhelming! The hunger for support and strong white affinity materials really emphasized the importance of a project like White Awake.

SURJ-Faith National News

Showing up for Racial Justice’s inter-faith network is on the move, and we hope you will join them. This past weekend, faith communities around the nation participated in a “Love is Unstoppable” action to assert faith-based values of love and inclusion in the face of Donald Trump’s retoric of hatred.

At the same time, the SURJ-Faith team has developed a Pilot Learning Project to support congregations/spiritual communities in responding to the call for white people of faith to be more bold in taking action for racial justice. We hope you will considering bringing this learning project into your spiritual community. SURJ-Faith will be having two national Q&A calls to about the project. You can register for a call here.

White Awake offers support to SURJ-Faith through Eleanor’s membership on the national team.

New Curriculum on the Site!

In keeping with our mission to grow the curriculum offerings that are presented on our site, and to be a place where diverse communities of practitioners and leadership can “see” what one another are doing, White Awake has just added two new pieces of curriculum onto the site! The SURJ DC 7 Month Study Curriculum offers readings and discussion questions designed to building a shared understanding among participants of what racism is and how it dehumanizes all of us. “Am I Doing Enough” is a short series of activities that incorporates reflective inquiry, meditation, and visual art into a one hour sequence designed to explore the question: “How can I tell the difference between anxiety born of white guilt, and true messages coming from inner wisdom that I am not adequately engaged?”

Radical Dharma cropRadical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation

White Awake is encouraging our community members, Buddhists in particular, to  pre-order your copy of “Radical Dharma” now!  In this new book Rev. angel Kyodo williams Sensei, Lama Rod Owens, and Dr. Jasmine Syedullah outline the ways that racism and privilege prevent our collective awakening. Release parties will take place all over the country, including Brooklyn, Berkeley, and Boston. To stay connected join the email list on the site.

Building White Awake through Fundraising

As you know, White Awake is a collaborative project that relies on contributions such as yours to maintain and expand our offerings. This year, we have very exciting news – a large donor has pledged funding that is building a foundation for White Awake’s future! While some of this funding has been released, in order to secure all of what is promised we need to demonstrate substantial progress towards our annual fundraising goals through other sources. That means that you can help us meet our funding goals, and secure the donation! We hope you will consider doing so by making a tax-deductible contribution online here.


“Courage for Black Lives Matter Times …

… and the Horcrux Strategy for Collective Liberation”
Chris Crass at the Washington Ethical Society, Oct 14, 2015

Chris Crass holds a strong voice in activist community and inter-faith communities both here and in Canada. adrienne maree brown (Co-editor, Octavia’s Brood), gives a wonderful introduction to Chris’s work in her endorsement of his latest book:

“White supremacy is an overwhelming crisis for humanity, one that is making it impossible for any human to evolve in right relationship with the planet and the species. It has not, and will not, be resolved merely by Black and other non-white people fighting for a change – it must be unlearned, relinquished by those who walk with the privileges of whiteness. Chris Crass has been stepping up into leadership in this work in ways that reach beyond ally, all the way to comrade. I know he does the work not to be politically correct, or down with people of color, but because his soul demands it.”

This article is a lightly modified transcription of a talk Chris gave at the Washington Ethical Society last fall. The full audio is embedded below.

Part One: Black Lives Matter Times
Part Two: Los Angeles Burning
Part Three: “Your Leaders, Too”
Part Four: “What Brings You Courage?”
Part Five: “Expecto patronum!”
Bio, and full audio of talk

WES for site

Washington Ethical Society

Part One: Black Lives Matter Times

It’s beautiful to be here with the Ethical Society. It’s beautiful to be with a congregation on the move for justice. We live in Black Lives Matter times. We live in times where people are taking to the streets, people who’ve been told “your voice, your lives do not matter. Your voices, your leadership is insignificant.” Working class black communities in Ferguson,  Baltimore, and all around the country are saying: “We will not bow to supremacy systems. We will not have our lives taken without resistance.” The racist violence we’re seeing in the news is not new. It’s the resistance and people taking the streets and people saying “No more!” that has caused the headlines all over the country to be filled with the news of the latest racist violence, or the news of right wing reaction to Black Lives Matter. You’re seeing this? You’re feeling it? I know you are because you’re a congregation that’s involved.

Black Lives Matter times means that structural inequality, things that have always been right there below the surface, are being brought to the fore for the whole country to have to engage with, to have to see. Choices have to be made about what side of history we stand on. Many of us look back at different points in history when movements have been on the move and say, “I would’ve been on the right side. I would’ve been an abolitionist. I would’ve been a sit in activist”, and many of you were involved in the 60’s and 70’s. But it’s often easier to look back and assume that we would’ve been on the right side of history than to be on the right side of history when it’s happening now and it’s complicated.

We live in times where being on the right side of history requires courage and communities of courage. That’s why it’s beautiful to be with a community engaged in creating action for Black Lives Matter. And it’s an ongoing commitment, an ongoing struggle, to stay involved. When I think about my own experience, as a white young person being raised in this society, when it came to race the most vocal white voices were the racists. The white people that could talk the most passionately, articulately, and consistently, with no fear, were the racists in my family and in my community. The white people who wanted to be on the right side of history were often terrified to talk about race, afraid to say the wrong thing, awkward and confused, but good-hearted white people. You with me?

It’s understandable, because white supremacy is an unconscious agenda moving forward. So if you’re a white person that says, “I’m just trying to do my thing, race isn’t my issue” you are on the conveyor belt, fully supporting the white supremacist agenda. You’re either actively saying “I choose to engage in anti-racist work in my society and my community”, or society will perfectly fit you into reproducing white supremacy every day. You with me?

How many of you woke up today and said, “You know what, I really want to reproduce white supremacist capitalist patriarchy today; I want to make sure those systems are fully functional.” How many of you woke saying, “It’s another day to further oppression!” – ? We don’t. We wake up and we want to be justice loving people. But it’s not just about good-hearted people; it’s about institutions and culture and policies and laws and the way the economy is built.

Anti-black racism is not an attitude. It is the foundation of the economy of this country. It’s the foundation of the political system of this country. Confronting anti-black racism is at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement, challenging it, calling out how deeply embedded it is in the foundation of the United States. You with me? Calling this out requires courage. Because white people and folks of color internalize racism, internalize the logic of the system, and to stay in this movement we have to fight against it; all of us have to fight against the logic of racism and white supremacy that impacts our lives and our communities.

When you step off that conveyor belt that’s moving you towards furthering white supremacy, it’s a little shaky – you’re legs are wobbly; you’re unsure of the ground you’re standing on. It can be awkward and confusing and the next thing you know everything you do seems to be a mistake. Am I right? It requires courage.

LA Burning2

Photo: Kirk Mckoy / Los Angeles Times

Part Two: Los Angeles Burning

I remember for myself as a young person, I really came of consciousness in the early nineties with the Rodney King verdict. Those of you who were around then remember the Rodney King verdict. It was 1992; an African-American motorist who was speeding got pulled over, late at night, and was brutally beaten by four white police officers while a much larger ring of officers stood around keeping a perimeter. It was videotaped; the video went viral.

As a young person I thought, well of course, justice will be served. Even as an activist (I was politicized early) I thought, “The officers got caught on tape; they will be charged.” I was 18 years old. The trial was moved to a courthouse thirty minutes from where I lived, to the white middle class suburb of Simi Valley. The results: acquittal; no charges against the officers. You know what happened next – you can feel the echoes with each grand jury today. I could feel it all around me as Trayvon Martin got put on trial for his own murder, and George Zimmerman was acquitted. Over and over and over again. Thirty minutes in the other direction from my house, the multi-racial, working class city of Los Angeles erupted.

Before Rodney King, the narrative around race that I grew up in, as a member of a liberal white family, was, “Hey, the civil rights movement happened; Dr. King gave a speech; now we’re post racial. We’re colorblind.” You hear that all the time, right? “We’re colorblind.” Now Los Angeles is erupting, and the flames are burning down my whole worldview. I had no idea that I even had a worldview to begin with, but after this I knew. I could smell it burning.

LA Burning

Photo: Kirk Mckoy / Los Angeles Times

I had no idea what to do next. About 15 of gathered together the night of verdict and we were angry. I mean we were united against racism, which is a good place to start. That’s some good unity to build with. But we also had the belief that racism came from individual extremists. There was one black person in our crew of mostly white social justice activists: Terrance. Terrance didn’t often talk about race, and I just assumed that was because we’re colorblind, we’re post racial. We talked about class, we talked about economic justice, but we didn’t talk about race. That evening, though, Terrance started talking about his experiences of racism. He said, “We’re friends, but in order for me to be here with you on this night – as Los Angeles is in flames, as people all over the country are rising up against this verdict – I need to talk with you about my experiences with racism.”

It was a powerful moment, because oftentimes—and many of you are painfully aware of this—when a black person starts talking to white people, rarely do white people let that black person finish a sentence, unless that black person is telling those white people how great they are. But if a black person starts talking about their experiences of racism, the but-but-but-but-but river of denial flows. You with me?

That night, however, something powerful happened because Los Angeles was in flames, and a whole group of white people just listened while Terrance started talking about his experiences. One story he shared was about being the class valedictorian on the way to his high school to give his speech. This school was mostly white, mostly middle class; he was one of the few black students there. He was in front of his high school, excited and going over his speech in his head when the police stop him. The white officers start searching him. He doesn’t have his student ID on him, and they don’t believe that he goes to the school there. They laugh at him when he says he’s the valedictorian. They say, “You’re here to break into the cars of the parents while they watch their kids graduate.”

The white students and their families are walking by, awkwardly; they see him but just keep going. Terrance says that even though none of white parents said it, he could feel this look on some of their faces. It was like, “Good job officers you got him. That kid’s probably trying to sell drugs to my child.”

Eventually someone finally stopped and said, “He goes to this school, he is the valedictorian.” Terrance gave his speech, but he was in a much different place than he had thought he would be while giving it. He said that that incident reminded him that, “Yes, you’re the valedictorian, but don’t forget your place. Don’t forget who you are. This is not your school. This is something that was given to you. It can be taken away at any moment.”

It was painful, and it was devastating. And for those of us who were raised white, hearing about race for the first time, if you let your heart listen to it, it can be devastating for us to. For those of you that are folks of color, to talk about race and to have a white person finally just listen, I think you have an idea of what that night in Los Angeles might have been like. These are moments where transformational consciousness can happen, where ethical values can be developed. But nonetheless, I felt horrible, I felt guilt, I felt shame. Anyone here ever felt that? Whether you’re a man and you find out you’re sexist and you’re like “oh my gosh!” Or you’re a white person and you realize you’ve got internalized racism. You feel terrible. The history is brutal.

Part Three: “Your Leaders, Too”

After this I started going over to my friend Terrance’s house and he had a poster up on his wall of all these black leaders. Looking at that poster, I realized I didn’t know who any of them were except Dr. King – and even Dr. King I’d essentially been taught about by the right wing, who just said, “Dr. King had a vision about no one seeing color and no one talking about race again”, which of course wasn’t Dr. King’s message at all.

So, I’m over at Terrance’s house and I look at all these black leaders and I asked him, “Who are these folks?” And Terrance started to explain:, “This Ida B. Wells, who spearheaded the anti-lynching campaign of the early 1900s. This is Septima Clark, and she was the architect of the citizenship schools in the sixties that taught tens of thousands of young, black folks throughout the south not only about citizenship rights like voting, but about how being active participants in a democratic society can transformation the relationship to power so we can all be free and equal.” He was breaking it down!  And I realized, I was 18, with three years already as a social justice activist, and this was the first time in my life I was hearing a person of color explain history and politics.

I had no real way to make sense of what he was saying. It was almost as if someone was speaking another language. Week after week, I’d be like, “Terrance, who are these people again?” And finally  he said, “Look, I’m not telling you about these people because you feel guilty about Rodney King, and you just want to know a few things about black people.” You know what I’m saying? This isn’t, “now you have a couple things to pull out of your pocket if a conversation about race comes up” – just so you can say, “Yea, Ida B. Wells, I know about her.” Or during black history month, so you won’t feel so bad. Terrance said, “I’m not telling you who these people are to make you feel better. And I’m also not telling you who these people are because they are my leaders. I’m telling you about WEB Du Bois and Ella Baker because they are your leaders too.”

Then Terrance said something that changed my life. He said, “One of the ways that white supremacy hurts white people is that it makes them functionally illiterate to understand the world around them and it teaches them that they have nothing to learn from the histories, legacies, culture, literature, poetry, lives, experiences of people of color historically and today. White supremacy is gutting the foundational democratic people’s movements of this country from your consciousness. White supremacy is turning you into a well-intentioned, good-hearted, wants-to-do-the-right-thing person, but is only showing you the steps to take to further oppression.” You with me? I said, “Oh my god.” It changed my life. And I feel the echoes of those moments, of those conversations, each time one of these grand jury announcements comes out, each time a new rising up for black lives matter happens today.

Part Four: “What Brings You Courage?”

As I started getting this new consciousness, I got involved a multi-racial coalition at my working class community college. At first we were working around fee hikes, working around economic justice, but not talking about race. We had people of color leadership, MEChA and the Black Student Union. And we were powerful. We were mobilizing hundreds of people at this commuter college in Orange County California, the hot bed of right wing politics, the Ronald Reagan coalition—the base of right wing politics.

We had a multi-racial student coalition working around fee hikes, and we had mass support, hundreds of people coming out to our rallies. But then one of my mentors, a leader of the coalition—David Rojas—said, “Next semester we’re going to fight not only for free education but for education that represents who we are as people. We want expanded ethnic studies, more black studies, more chicano and chicana studies, more women’s history. And we also want more faculty of color—women of color faculty in particular—hired.” I was like, “Let’s do it!” I had no idea what was about to happen.

Our mighty coalition studied Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States together to prepare. The next semester begins. We start having rallies, demonstrations, putting out leaflets about ethnic studies, women’s studies, hiring more faculty, a democratic education for all …

The white support almost completely vanished.

Me and a lot of my white friends were taking ethnic studies classes, and we were still involved. But almost all of the white support vanished. And even some of the progressive white professors who had been encouraging us were like, “Why are you taking on the race issue? That’s going to divide everybody.”

We had a rally for ethnic studies. Shortly after, the coalition that had been heralded in the local newspapers as a revival of civic engagement was now the coalition that divides the campus.  MEChA – who had been a leader of this coalition, who had been referred to over and over and over again as the campus heroes for building up this coalition and re-engaging students – was now being called an anti-white hate group.

Apparently, if you talk about ethnic studies, if you talk about hiring faculty of color, if you start talking about racism, that means you’re anti-white. And the same thing’s happening now: Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization that hates white people. Right? Audience: “No!” See, that’s why I come to the Ethical Society.

At the same time that these rallies started happening for ethnic studies, ads started appearing in newspapers all over California saying that the reason student fees were going up is that illegal aliens were taking over the state. It was the beginning of a massive, anti-immigrant attack in California in the nineties. This was also being put forward at the same time that we were talking about ethnic studies – so we started talking about immigrant rights.

Right at that time, we hold a rally, and I’m walking towards it, and at first I was like, “Wow there’s a lot of white people here! Great!” But as I get closer, I realize what’s happening.

There are a couple hundred white people surrounding a much smaller demonstration of mostly Latino/Latina students with some of the Black Student Union members as well—all people of color, black and brown. And they’re surrounded by about 200 white students who are yelling, “Go home! Go Home! Go back to your country! Go back to your country!”

I would bet that every single one of those white students, if they were asked, would say that they weren’t racists. Because we live in a time of colorblind white supremacy, where there are no racists anymore. I mean the Klan will talk about how they’re trying to support white people’s continued existence, and then they’ll say, “yea, yea, we are racists, we’re the Klan.” But over and over and over again we hear, “No one’s a racist.” Even when they perpetuate racist things. They say, “It’s a misunderstanding, you don’t understand my joke, my humor.” You know what I mean?

So as I approach this rally, there’s this huge crowd of white folks yelling at my friends and the people who are part of the coalition—all people of color. And I’m standing on the outside and I can see them in there.

How many of you have been in many situations where you’re standing in a position where you know the right thing to do is over there, and something terrifying is in the way? Something terrifying is in between you and the right thing to do? You with me? The Black Lives Matter movement is over there, but a Fox News right-wing media machine has created a mob of folks yelling and screaming at the Black Lives Matter movement.

That’s the situation I was in. I needed to get there, but I needed to go through something terrifying to get there. The thing to do, in moments like these, is to think about what brings you courage. For me, as I start making my way through all these white folks, I start thinking about ancestors. I start thinking about the ancestors on Terrance’s poster. About social justice ancestors who I deeply respect, and I make it through the mob of white people, I join the protest, and I pick up a sign for ethnic studies. When I do this, the white students just kind of lose it. They start yelling, “Race traitor! Race traitor!”

This was particularly surreal, because at the time I was in fact reading a journal called Race Traitor. I had been reading in this journal about how white supremacy keeps people from coming together to create a humane society that benefits all people; about how the development of white people in the first place happened by convincing European working class and poor people they were “white people” who were best off aligned across class to a ruling class agenda which does benefit them but perpetuates this idea that it’s a white society. So even if you’re a working class white who doesn’t have good healthcare, who has a crappy house, whose kids are going to a school that’s falling apart, you can blame every person of color around you for those problems and simultaneously feel like, “At least I’m better than them. I’m white.” You with me?

W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the people Terrance taught me about, he said that white people exchange economic justice, exchange an ethical society based on the values that are truly at the heart of who we are in this room, exchange those commitments for the psychological and public wages of whiteness. And it’s happened for generation after generation until white folks don’t know that this is what is happening, or that we have a choice. It’s just the way things are.

The Black Lives Matter movement is a time of exploding consciousness, realizing that there are choices that have to be made – and that’s the kind of experience I was having in the 90’s, participating in this multi-racial coalition, mobilizing for ethnic studies. And I’m there with my friends, the only white person who is part of the protest, and all the whites around me are yelling:. “Race traitor! Race Traitor!”

Then this one guy gets right in front of my face and asks, “What color is your skin?! What color is your skin?!?” And I realize – I’m being called back.

White folks are telling me, “You’ve stepped out of line, and I’m calling you back—you’re supposed to be on this side of the line.”

This is how it is now, right? We act like racism doesn’t exist anymore but then you start talking about racism and the vile, racist poison just comes shooting from all directions. Am I right? “Everything’s fine. Don’t talk about race. We don’t have a race problem here. Maybe somewhere else, but not here.” And then Black Lives Matter starts taking to the streets, and the poison and the evil starts coming out.

Part Five: “Expecto patronum!”

Abigail as Tonks

Photo: Matt DeTurk

How many of you here have studied the great struggle of Harry Potter? If you have, then you’ll be familiar with the Voldemort principle of supremacy systems. Voldemort is a right-wing fascist leading an army to impose pure blood supremacy within the wizarding world. Biological differences that, in a diverse society, would only be seen as beautiful representations of our full humanity, in a supremacy system become ways of organizing people into hierchies. You with me?

Of course Voldemort wants to crush critical consciousness at Hogwart’s and get rid of the gay professor Dumbledore. But we also know—and I won’t give too much away for those of you who haven’t finished the series—that Voldemort is not only “out there”. Voldemort gets “in here”. White supremacy is “out there”, patriarchy is “out there”, and it’s also “in here” – it’s the same.

For those of us raised into white privilege, into a white ignorance of racism—white silence, the centuries-old code of white people. White silence in the face of racial injustice. Not only silence but the inability to see what’s right in front of you – this is the way white supremacy gets “in here”. You with me? So Voldemort’s “in here” too.

But thankfully, just like in Harry Potter, we have people like Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley—folks who fight back against Voldemort. Hermione Granger is like the Ella Baker of the wizarding world. She organizes. There’s important lessons about Hermione because she made some mistakes with the whole house elves situation, but she learns from it. And those of us who are white, and those of us who are male, we start coming into consciousness about feminism and about racism, and next thing you know we’re off the conveyor belt and we’re not sure what to do, and we start to get really awkward and really scared about where to step. Am I right?

For a lot of white folks the number one concern is not to say the wrong thing. Folks of color are like, “My number one concern is the annihilation of my community.” But I understand, as a white person you come into consciousness and you don’t want to say the wrong thing. But again, it’s not about individual behavior, it’s about institutions and structures. So Hermione learns from her mistakes and she helps form Dumbledore’s Army. We need a Dumbledore’s Army that brings all kinds of different people together to fight for collective liberation.

So, bear with me here. With Harry Potter, there’s the Horcrux strategy of collective liberation. Horcuxes are how supremacy systems live in the institutions—healthcare, education, housing. It’s in the policy, not the decisions of one particular racist neighbor. I’m talking about policy decisions to create all-white, low-interest loan suburbs and redlining communities of color. Policies that impact millions of people’s lives. So the Horcrux strategy of collective liberation is for all of us impacted by supremacy systems (which is all of us!). We have to simultaneously work against the structural inequality in society, while getting the death culture of supremacy systems out of our minds.

But I will also say that sometimes when you start to become conscious of supremacy systems, the impulse can be like mine when I found out about racism and sexism. When I realized how I’d internalized patriarchy and racism as a white male in our society, my initial feeling was, “Oh my god, I’m a sexist, too! I’m a racist, too! Maybe the best thing I can do is stay in bed. I won’t say something messed up to somebody, I’ll just stay in bed.”

But getting the poison of white supremacy and patriarchy out of our heads means engaging in struggles in our communities, through our Ethical Society, through our organizations, through our relationships with other organizations, forming alliances. Working to transform the racism in the criminal justice system and the education system. Working to build up working class organizations in our communities, and our unions. All while recognizing that we’re working to get Voldemort out of our heads. You with me?

We have to create a culture of courage because one of the key moments in trying to fight off the supremacy systems of Voldemort, in the world and in our heads, is to be able to name the reality of those supremacy systems. You have the Washington Ethical Society to help you do this. You all have created a culture of courage. You have a Black Lives Matter banner out there. You all are building the capacity to be courageous in the face of injustice. Am I right? So part of what we have to do is look for openings and opportunities to bring more and more people with us, to invite people in.

As a young white person, I was invited in to white supremacy over and over and over again. Invited to see undocumented people as enemies. Invited to see black women on welfare as the cause of every problem in this country. You with me? But I was rarely invited into a white anti-racist tradition of struggle for a multi-racial democracy. Because very few people in my life even knew that such a tradition existed.

So part of our work is to create freedom schools for all of our kids, for all of our people. To learn the history not only of the black liberation struggle, which is vital, but young white people need to know about people like Anne Braden—white anti-racists throughout history that said, “I’m choosing to be on the right side of history even if that means I’m alienated from my family and my community.” We need freedom schools for all of our kids, because so often white babies are abandoned to white supremacy. You get what I’m saying here?

I was giving a talk to a multiracial group of students about anti-racism, and a couple young kids of color came up and said, “Thank you so much for being a passionate white person speaking up about racism. Because I’ve never heard someone speak like that before.” Many of you can speak like that, too! We need lots of voices of white folks that are speaking passionately and courageously about racism for young kids of color to know that there are white folks like us out there.

After this, at that same talk, two 18-year-old white boys came up to me. And they said, “Before you talked about Anne Braden, before you talked about William Lloyd Garrison, before you talked about these white anti-racists, I knew who I didn’t want to be, but I had no idea who I wanted to be. Who I could be.”

The death culture of white supremacy is actively, daily working to raise white kids to fear and hate children of color. White supremacy is devouring children of color and also deforming the humanity of white kids. You with me? In the face of this we need a courageous culture for racial justice, a courageous culture for Black Lives Matter, that says, “White supremacy cannot have any of our babies. White supremacy can’t have any of our children. White supremacy cannot have any of our communities.”

For those of who have been raised white, you see more and more white folks protesting with Black Lives Matter holding up signs that say “White silence equals consent.” Have you seen those? And that is powerful, but my closing message here is to say that that the next step is to have white folks not only say that white silence equals consent. We need white folks begin to take space in white communities. To bring a white, anti-racist vision and possibility of hope to white communities in a way that takes space while also making space for the leadership for folks of color—and the Black Lives Matter movement in particular right now—to be amplified and heard within white society.

The vision is for all of us to come together as a multi-racial beloved community, while at the same time we all have different work to do within our networks, within our families, within our communities. Because anti-black racism has impacted all of us in the room in different ways. For white folks, it’s a time for courageous, white anti-racist leadership, particularly in white society. It is time to not only break the silence, but to create a beautiful symphony of liberation voices of white people who talk about multiracial democracy connected to ending anti-black racism. A beautiful chorus, a multi-racial chorus that includes white folks talking about anti-racism who understand that we need to free the minds of all white folks from the poison of Voldemort, the position of white supremacy. You with me?

So let us be courageous. I invite you now, to consider how we not only have to deal with Voldemort, we also have the dementors to contend with. The haters that come and say, “You can’t do anything! You can’t accomplish anything! You’re powerless!” You ever feel that? Like, “We’ve got like a ten person social justice committee that can hardly pull off a successful meeting right now, how are we going to change the world?” You with me?

Sometimes these dementors get in our business. So just like Harry Potter, we’re going to cast a spell to drive the dementors away. I invite you to bring out your magical wand of liberation. I invite you to think about ancestors, think about your children, think about whatever it is that brings you courage. Whatever brings you courage to fight for Black Lives Matter when Fox News is putting forth the message that even though the number of police officers killed is at a 20 year low and the number of civilians killed by police is at a 40 year high, if you support Black Lives Matter, then you support a war on cops. That kind of hate, that kind of dementor-twisting of reality. You with me?

Imagine those voices and connect to your courage; to our ancestors, to the people that inspire us, to our ethical values that ignite us. And bring forward your wand because we have a spell to cast, which is “Expecto patronum”. “Expecto patronum” is a spell that connects us to the power we have to work for collective liberation. It connects us to a place of power and joy in our lives, knowing that we can create beloved community; we can create multiracial alliances; we can cross the barriers that divide us to create loving, beautiful relationships. Do you know that? Do you feel that? Well it’s time to channel that energy.

On the count of three, we’re going to cast a spell – we’re going to say “Expecto patronum” together. Channel your happy place for liberation. Imagine those dementors that are telling us that we can’t do this, supremacy systems are too strong, and racism will divide us again, and inside of yourself say, “No! We can accomplish incredible things! We can work for collective liberation!” On the count of three let the liberation shine and blow away these dementors. You with me? 1…2…3…“Expecto patronum!” Thank you all.

Chris Crass is a longtime organizer, educator, and writer working to build powerful working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation. He was co-coordinator of the Catalyst Project for more than a decade, and has written widely about anti-racist and social justice organizing, lessons from women of color feminism, and strategies to build visionary movements. His newest book, Towards the Other America: Anti-Racist Resources for White People Taking Action for Black Lives Matter, was just published this past fall. Chris gives talks and leads workshops on campuses and with communities and congregations around the U.S. and Canada, to help support grassroots activists efforts.

Listen to full audio of Chris’s talk here:

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