Variations on 2 Fish and 5 Loaves: MLK 50 Years Later

Back up in the DC area, I put together a little Jewish dish for the Quakers, kind of wondering about the 2 fish and 5 loaves event as I did it.

It’s served room temperature, and kind of like a bruschetta. Pretty tasty.

FCNL had an organizational voice in an event commemorating Martin Luther King’s speech “Beyond Vietnam“. It was the 50th anniversary of that speech and a bunch of us got together to listen to it, and participate in various workshops on poverty, Medicaid reform, police militarization, and race relations. The panel was quite illustrious Rev. Grimes (BLM activist and reconciliation), Sister Simone Campbell from Nuns on a Bus, International Religious Freedom Rabbi David Saperstein, Imam Talib Shareef, and some Buddhist monks who had walked all the way from Massachusetts with a sign saying “Sanctuary City”.

Later we marched over to the Whitehouse carrying our signs as the monks drummed and held a vigil.

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St. Augustine and A Little Snowbird

I continued down migrating like the snow birds ,and Native Americans might have to St. Augustine, Florida. Amazingly, the citrus grows wild out in the forest here at this time, and you can just pick it when you’re hungry. I stopped in St. Augustine – the “oldest” American (European) city, taking a bike ride around the city with the pups as I contemplated a more ambitious St. John River trail. It was interesting to think about the immigration question in this context. Apparently, only 1 in 3 people who live in Florida were born in the state.

We biked around the “oldest” city, and I learned a bit of the history of the site. Settled by the Spanish, it was heavily, heavily fortified against the Native Americans. Of the descendants of the original 50 or so families, only those from 2 families have remained settled in the St. Augustine area. The rest went to Cuba. I’m kind of reading between the lines here, but I’m wondering if it was somehow easier to defend their position on Cuba.

We went on to have a nice visit sleeping out in the Ocala National Forest and visiting many of the lakes down there where you can swim with the manatees.  We saw a lot of exotic water birds, and warily gazed back at the alligators.  I contemplated how a Catawba indian would handle an encounter with an alligator.  

It would have been a spiritual encounter – I am sure.

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The Black Snake Pot

The blizzard came and I managed to get out right before it struck – my years of living out of a car having taught me that $20 worth of gas can do a lot in a weather emergency. So, while everyone else was running to the store to shelter in place – I turned off the heat and left for a few days. I probably broke even in terms of carbon costs. Down with the Catawba tribe in South Carolina, I visited their cultural center and took the beautiful trail down to the river with the pups, testing their creek water on the way back up (the river bank was too steep to do the river). The results came back pretty clean. The dogs enjoyed the water, too.

The Catawba are known for their coil pottery – a tradition that dates back for centuries as they harvested the clay from the river bank. One artist had designed the most beautiful pot and very cleverly sculpted a black snake around the pot to keep the rodents out. The black snake was invoked using stories with the children to teach them to fear the river, but also used artistically to show its place in the natural world.

We talked about the Dakota Access Pipeline protest, and the next steps that could be taken to raise awareness of the pain that this pipeline causes. The black snake pot could also be a metaphor for pulling our resources together to try to come to terms with what we are and aren’t willing to do for oil. Oil lubricates “the machine” making it easier for everyone to do everything – but with that ease comes fewer jobs because machines can do a lot of the manual labor for people. Our health becomes worse because we get out of shape. The environment and wildlife are hurt, and human cancers and birth defects occur.  In the end, there is job creation (taking care of sick and handicapped people), but are these jobs that we want to create?

There are at least 3 different ways of job creation: 1) motivated by available money, 2) motivated by the need for the work, and 3) motivated by the desire of the individual to do the work. So, how might a pipeline create jobs? 1) oil companies make money off of a natural resource that is in the land 2) This money then trickles down to employees by creating something for them to do in exchange for this money. So, with this strategy, a billionaire could create a lot of jobs with their money simply by creating jobs for people to do in exchange for it. There is no need for oil to create the job. The earth gives when the billionaires won’t.  Ultimately, as I pointed out before, oil creates fewer jobs as defined by criterion 2.

So, personally, I would like to see another couple of buttons on the tanks at the gas station – new grades of fuel that have the disclaimers: “Fuel obtained and processed in a manner approved by the Native American Tribal Council” and “Fuel obtained without hydraulic fracturing.”

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Where the Money Goes

As a poor person, I’m pretty good at fiscal discipline – being confronted with a lot of sexy ads for my money and not wanting most of it. So, although I don’t have a lot, I want to make sure that any money I spend does not go to someone who was willing to run over an Indian to make their 3rd daily trip to the grocery store in their SUV. So, let’s see who is willing to buy that oil? They are vetted to be in a class all by themselves.

According to Wikipedia “Dakota Access, LLC, a Houston, Texas based company and subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. The minor partners involved in the project are Phillips 66, Enbridge, and Marathon Petroleum.” I found this article about the banks that are backing the project.

but it is important to know where the oil ultimately goes, so that I don’t buy from any gas station that is willing to take it.

The very best solution is really for everyone to get a lot of exercise filling the pipeline back up with the dirt that was removed from it. Before any oil goes through.  It would create a lot more jobs (and fewer healthcare needs) than passively allowing the oil to drip through a pipeline (and ultimately into the environment).

Another good idea would be for some oil companies to adopt a new “proactive” logo (and policy): “This oil is certified by Native Americans not to violate any treaty rights.” Another one could be “This oil is frack-free.”

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How Native am I?

So, I’m out at the 4-or-more day protest (Tues-Fri) on the DC mall (not a shopping mall, rather a monument mall)  with the Native Americans and others protesting the North Dakota Access Pipeline – the water protectors.  A day late setting up my tent among the tee-pees because I was out in the field collecting and testing water samples from various streams and rivers. That, and the fact, that probably like many of my Native American brothers and sisters, I was trying to figure out whether I had enough money to spend on the trip and medical supplies for my diabetes. I ended up spending my last $10 on the trip after I found some extra supplies stored away.

We are about 10 big tee-pees out here, and my little tent. The tee-pees seem small compared to the National Monument

– the tent even smaller…

With Native cultural events, and speakers, and a march planned to lobby Congress on Friday, it should be good company. The march plans to leave at the Army Corps of Engineers near G St and Massachussetts at 10 am Friday, and finish at Lafayette square with a rally at 12 noon.

On a beautiful day, I sit in a grove of trees – many of the trees poetically protected by a sitter.

So, why care about the Dakota Access Pipeline?
1) First and foremost, it is indigenous sacred land. The small community of people in North Dakota who cared endured unbearable hardship as a small frozen community to say “No” to access for this pipeline. It violated ancient Indian treaties. What happened to the Indians in this country is a tragedy that is beyond words. They, and the natural abundance of wildlife associated with them, are truly on the edge, communities that are almost voiceless in the stand-off with a culture racing for MORE, MORE, MORE.

2) If you don’t care about the Indians or wildlife, then there is additionally the question of water and what happens to it when it gets polluted. Some people seem to think that pollution is no big deal. Just get someone to bring the water back up to spec with some costly system – water treatment, more chemicals, etc. It is abundantly clear to me, as someone living in a community that has had water problems, that “putting more chemicals in the water” to “make it ‘alright’ to drink” is not a solution that can solve every water contaminant. Most aren’t easily detectable. And then there is the wildlife…how are they going to survive when the water becomes so polluted? Look at the chemical disasters that have occurred with pesticides, and other agents that the EPA is charged with cleaning up. The massive fish kills in Florida and other areas, whole flocks of birds exterminated when they land on fields that are contaminated and flooded and migrate. It is never just a local problem.

3) CANCER.  Your groundwater is very likely connected to someone else’s who is dumping carcinogens into the water.  If your kids swim in streams, participate in river sports, etc.  they are being exposed at a level that will affect them a few years up the road.  The horrific tragedy is that it is “the Indian way” to simply  gather water in their hand and drink it – a belief that their body is somehow protected against most external threats that seem so foreign to them, like chemicals injected into water.

4) If it isn’t abundantly clear to everyone by now, we ARE accountable for how we treat others and the environment.  Being born or living in a rich country that can have as much as it wants does not translate into unaccountability.  There will be a tab.  Learn to say “no” when someone is hurt by your excesses – especially if they are voiceless.


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Am I an Immigrant?

The problem with MoneyGram’s questions has been resolved.
They told me yesterday that up until Saturday it had been their policy,
to ask whether people were born in the USA but that the policy had
changed on Monday to simply showing an ID (which you always had
to do).

So good resolution on this issue, and thank everyone who acted.

For Historical Record:

Ever since Trump has been elected, every time I go to ______ now to receive money, I’m asked whether I was born in the U.S. in other words, am I an immigrant?

Many times, when I refuse to answer that question, they deny me funds. I object to this question and their soliciting information for the government so much, that I am willing to take my business somewhere else. To be fair, sometimes I am given the money in spite of my refusal to answer the question. But I have stopped shopping at one store where the person behind the counter enforced her Stazi-like right of refusal when the funds were needed for a medical emergency. Give me information or die. It hurt me. It hurts the company. It is bad for the environment because I have to drive further to find other options.

They should wake up and change their policies before it becomes a national trend.

Update: Another attempt to address this issues with management at the store. i.e. train their employees to engage in civil disobedience. The problem apparently is with MoneyGram – so the companies, claim, that although their employees provide the interaction with Moneygram that their company is separate from Moneygram. I argued back that the store should stand up for their customers. Might it prevent some fraud to have everything about everyone disclosed? Possibly. But it is not worth the price.

To be fair, it is not like undocumented people are living high off the hog. We are talking about basic necessities and medical care. So are we willing to declare as fraudulent any attempt to satisfy these basic needs when some people in this country have already declared people to be “fraudulent” or illegal, and therefore unable to participate in the economy? Someone should actually do the math and calculate what the value of “documented” or “legal status” is in a society.  Anyone who has ever been a refugee understands this. Undocumented people are not terrorists, criminals, or thieves. The fact that some do become these (in a lower percentage in fact than people in the native population – probably because their feeling of entitlement is less) is simply a reflection of natural social forces that exist in the native population. When there exist some people in the lowest class of legal people that are swayed toward these means as a way of accomplishing something, it is probable that they will use their influence on these vulnerable people to influence them similarly. The fact that so many of these vulnerable people do not participate in these activities is a testament to what they are willing to endure.  I, for one, am not willing to say that the billionaires of the world get to declare what the rules are to the point of depriving people of basic necessities.  They have a credibility problem here.

We need grey – the right for people to think critically, and for themselves, about government, laws, and the people around them.  And we need the value of the interpersonal business transaction – that where the business and the customer actually have a relationship that is courteous and community-forming and where the government camera does not drive people underground where these community relationships are not possible.

So, now the difficult process has to begin of extricating myself from all businesses that use their employees to acquire funds for people through Moneygram as long as they continue this practice. Most of the big pharmaceuticals do, so I am going to have to transfer my prescriptions to a pharmacy that is a small Mom and Pop store that does not do financial transactions through Monegram (and probably any other service since they are likely the biggest).

Can you imagine being asked: Are you Black or White in order to receive money, are you Jewish or Muslim or Christian in order to receive money? Are you gay or straight or transgender to receive money?  Most stores would not allow their employees to participate in acquiring funds for people based on these questions.

2/12: I went to the ACLU action on this issue: as stated here:

I really like their idea at the end of the page asking businesses who support immigrants to post signs on their doors and property saying: “We Welcome Immigrants and Refugees”.  Interestingly, some of the stores that do use MoneyGram to get funds are generally very supportive of immigrants, they just don’t recognize the extent of their complicity in MoneyGram’s policy by training their employees to participate in this question and refuse money to anyone who won’t answer the question.  Ideally, this problem should be quickly resolved, MoneyGram should change its policy, and business should resume as usual. Keep trying, talk to the managers, explain your point of view, and walk away if the policy is still in place.

Another thought on this…Jesus, was crucified on a cross with the thieves. Not above them. With them. Do I think property laws help people to get along? Yes. Do they apply when people have already decided not to get along? Yes. Do they apply when people aren’t getting along and the more powerful party is excluding the other party from a voice in the decision about the definition of the value of property? I’ll leave that one to individual discretion about what’s fair.

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The First Walk Out

Today was a day of solidarity with all immigrants – those who are afraid to visit their homes and families in other countries because they could risk not being able to get back in, those documented, and undocumented. Many of us stayed home in the quickly planned protest, writing emails and calling all those to act according to their conscience – for some it would be about inclusion, others about safe places, yet others an economic point about how much immigrants contribute. For many, it was emphasized that the current action violates judeo-christian-islamic ethics where the moment of hospitality is sanctified by Abrahamic covenant with the angels visiting Abraham to save the destruction of the city. Abraham and his wife, alone in their wilderness tent, are obligated to offer the best that they had to the un-anounced visitors. G_d watches over this moment. I imagined protests in the tech and science industries where people, finding out at the last minute about the protest, went out into the street at their workplace and blocked traffic. Those who were immigrants, those who know immigrants, our friends, our families, our spouses…
People cleaned their own houses, did their own farm work, etc.

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