You Can't Ignore Politics
No matter how much you'd like to
Boozhoo! Aaniin! Welcome to another edition of An Irritable Métis. In this case it feels like a particularly self-indulgent edition but readers, you get what you get. Maybe you’ve forgotten what all this is even [supposed to be] about, or you’re new here, whatever, you may refresh your memory here. And if you want to throw some of your hard-won earnings this way before the fascists freeze all our assets and send us off to work camps in Idaho, well feel free….
First note, all the free copies of the Whitefish Review: #27, “The Vortex” that I had for new subscribers have been taken. Miigwech to all of you new (and gift!) subscribers! You may still order copies directly from them as well, and I’m sure all the good local bookstores in Montana will have copies too. Finally, at one time I think WFR was distributed nationally at Barnes & Noble, which may or may not be the case. Regardless, keep your eyes open!
And second note, you can still pre-order the new Wildsam Western Montana guide from Fact & Fiction and I will sign my essay! You may CLICK HERE to cash in on that opportunity. I’m more than a third of my way through getting 100 sales through that wonderful bookstore yet there is still work to do. Remember, the holidays will be here before you know it and this little so-and-so will make a great gift. Get some!
When I started this newsletter a couple years ago I envisioned it as a kind of side companion to the book I figured would be out this year but will now be out next year instead (thanks for that, Covid1). If all goes as planned, the book, Becoming Little Shell, will be available for preorder about this time next year via Milkweed Editions; the plan is for a late summer/early fall release. Wish me luck.
Almost immediately this newsletter became something different from my original vision and I don’t have any regrets about that. It has been, and remains, one of my favorite components of this writing life. The ability to express myself and have a surprising number of people interested in those expressions has been a profound experience.
Over the last few years I’ve been radicalized; I can’t think of a different word to express it really. How does this happen? A decade or so immersed in learning about federal Indian policy will do it. A deeper exploration into how this country has treated non-white people from the get-go, and how the police have evolved as the vicious enforcement arm of white supremacy, will do it. The utter failure of any whiff of a support system for struggling people in the ongoing battle against a global pandemic will do it. The recent efforts of my state government (among many) to inflict suffering on LQBTQ people – and transgender youth in particular – followed by the recent brutal assault on women via the Roe debacle … well, the list goes on. I feel in many ways like I’m late to these understandings and it’s a little embarrassing, but here we are. And I want to be part of a solution and not the ongoing, uninterrupted problem.
One thing that became clear to me very quickly is that the struggles my Little Shell Tribe faced over our long history as “Landless Indians” are still playing out today in other communities, and I can’t help but feel solidarity with those people.
Still, I feel like I spend a lot of time here ranting and raving about what is going wrong in the world and everyone’s culpability without really doing much about any of it myself. I was already considering this truth2 and making faces at myself in the mirror when Irritable reader Pat Hayes posed the following question re: my bloviations of a few days ago:
How long have you been doing this organizing gig Chris ? I started working for the re-election of JFK and I've never seen socialists, progressives, liberals and anyone vaguely Democrat band together in mutual support and benefit the way that Republicans and conservatives have the past 30 years. Not even the trade union movement which is my background space unless you go back to the Wobblies, Frank Little and Harry Bridges. My wife worked as an organizer in low/moderate income communities. Making the leap from donating a small amount of money for causes to simply writing to your politician is simply a leap into the unknown for many. It's not that the principle is not understood on the left...Alinsky was, after all, a master organizer across interest lines. In Montana you only have to look at Jim Murry who pulled labor, environmental and income groups together. Here on the Rez there are lots of problem issues affecting Members, but the prevailing question seems to be "When are the next percaps coming out?".
Pat’s comment struck me, and rather than respond in line there I figured I could write an entire post about it. So that’s what I’m going to do today.
First, I’ve never considered myself an “organizer.” It’s something I’ve thought about pursuing; I just haven’t yet, nor do I have any real idea how to start, or if I ever will. Not in any meaningful, on-the-ground sort of way at least. Maybe my writing work is nudging readers toward considering things a little differently than they otherwise might have via a perspective that not many people hear: that of an Indigenous person, such as I am. Even that feels a little grandiose to me. It’s not like I have this deep history in activism, or grew up fitting under any of the stereotypes we typically associate with Indigenous people.
To say I carry chips on my shoulders would be a titanic understatement. I’m not proud of it but saying otherwise wouldn’t be true. I am a seething cauldron of my own biases and prejudices that I have to fight to overcome every single day. This struggle impacts my efforts to join things, to fit in with others. Some examples:
I struggled massively in my efforts to support my friend Cora Neumann’s failed campaign because I have huge class bias toward Missoula Democrats that I couldn’t really overcome. I attended one gathering on her behalf in the magnificently groomed backyard of a house in an upscale part of town and could not get around the idea that these were not my people. When our mayor arrived and people were fawning over him I just couldn’t deal. Later, when one of the local organizers had to hand over the handling of the mailing list for calls to actions because she and her husband would be moving soon to their cabin on the lake where they spend their summers, I just stopped participating.
My path crossed with the Poor People’s Campaign, an organization seemingly doing good work for things I care about. I started poking around their website, followed them on social media, etc. Then it seemed to me every post seemed as much as an attention grab for some person in a position of religious leadership and I recoiled mightily. The last straw was a post somewhere that said something about how important it was for America to get back to the idea of, “One nation, under god, with liberty and justice for all” and I quickly unfollowed. I couldn’t get around that “under god” part. My mistrust of Christians and Christianity is at an all-time high, to the point of irrationality.
I’ve been a member of the Democratic Socialists of America for a number of years now but I’ve never attended any of the local meetings. First, I hate meetings. Second, pre-Covid I was in a local bar for a different meeting (a bookstore thing, maybe?) and the DSAs were at the next table. I had one ear on them and it was about what I expected: half-a-dozen white dudes talking over everyone else while trying to be the smartest guy at the table at every turn and I just don’t have time for that.
There are certainly more examples I might offer. I hope it’s as obvious to you as it is to me that these three anecdotes are textbook examples of a person making stupid excuses not to participate, none of which really amount to much. The excuses, I mean. I’m certain I’ve probably misrepresented the efforts all of these folks are making for no other reason than pettiness and ill humor. What a judgmental asshole, eh?
“Listen to the people who are talking about how to fix what’s wrong, not the ones who just work people into a snit over the problems. Listen to the people who have ideas about how to fix things, not the ones who just blame others.” — Molly Ivins3
My constant irritability and indignation are symptoms of my failure to meet the world where it is instead of where I wish it was, or am working to push it. I have a terrible “all or nothing!” relationship with the world and it often sucks both for me and the people I care about. For one example, do the institutions of Christianity have a brutal history of horror and destruction that absolutely must be reconciled with from within? Yes! But does that make every person trying to improve the world while also facing their own existential struggles with a complicated faith a ghoul because they haven’t abandoned that faith? Of course not. It is going to take everyone setting aside our differences and coming together for the common good to make any significant changes in how this corrupt human society operates. Meaningful change begins with me, and with you, with all of us. Forgiving ourselves of our failures and shortcomings and just letting them go in favor of a renewed engagement with the world. It’s my hope that the conversations we have here might make some of us go out into the world and interact with more … what? Humility? Patience? Love? Yes, yes, and yes. They must! The stakes have never been higher.
“What counts is what we are, and the way we deepen our relationship with the world and with others, a relationship that can be one of both love for all that exists and of desire for its transformation.” — Italo Calvino
In the most recent issue of The Red Hand Files, Nick Cave responds to a reader’s question with this:
“You ask me, John, what I want from The Red Hand Files. Well, the answer is this – I want to facilitate, in some small way, a mutual journey toward meaning; to decrease the dimensions of our emptiness and draw us closer to love and to beauty. I understand that these sound like grandiose claims, but they are not. This common project – to improve matters – is available to all of us, at every moment, and in a multitude of ways, and exists in the smallest kindness, the most rudimentary act of tolerance, or in the simplest generosity.”
I am going to gratuitously appropriate Nick’s purpose behind his Red Hand Files for mine as well. I don’t think he will mind.
As for ideas on organizing to fix things? Here are a couple simple ones. Take a few minutes every day for yourself. Now and then reflect on some of the choices you make simply out of convenience and consider how to approach them differently. Push yourself to read the occasional book written from a perspective different from yours and truly consider how it makes you feel, how it might change your own approach to life. Listen more, talk less. I think if everyone started engaging with these kinds of ideas more often, it would be huge.
Every day is a beginning.
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Not for the first time, mind you….