Dr. Mary Keller, Closing remarks at the January 18, 2020 March For A Better America. Cody Wyoming.
Let’s begin thinking from an Indigenous perspective today. If you’d like to learn about the Crow people who were here before we, the settlers, arrived, read the book Pretty Shield about an Apsáalooke (Crow) woman and healer. She loved moving across this land. She loved picking up her home, her tipi, and moving to the next beautiful space for a few day’s stay, and then moving again. She experienced so much freedom of movement, and knew the seasons and the stars and how and where to find the food and healing herbs of this region.
At the end of the book, she is asked by her biographer (Frank B Linderman) what life was like after she was constrained to the reservation. She replied that their hearts fell to the ground. She and the other women waited for the men to come up with solutions, but that their hearts had fallen to the ground. Have any of you felt like your hearts have fallen to the ground? Has anyone else felt despair, devastated by the destruction of our ecology, the separation of children from their families? The refusal to allow vaccinations in detention centers? Does it seem that a madness has taken charge that is shredding the fabric of our very being? It has happened here before, and we as the inheritors of that great devastation of Indian tribes are connected to their experiences, and ought to learn from Pretty Shield’s words.
Have any of us been waiting for the men to figure out a solution? Have I been waiting for the Congress and the Senate to figure out what to do next? Our world is undergoing devastating changes and the institutions of our governance are failing us. We cannot wait for our institutions of governance to move swiftly enough to a better America because they are not, and so they cannot.
The time my heart fell to the ground was when Al Gore’s Presidential victory was taken from him. I’ve understood climate science for forty years, and I knew that shutting the window of serious climate action back in 2000 was going to be devastating for future generations. Eight years of Bush policies and Dick Cheney’s invention of the war on coal gutted what could have been international climate change leadership.
Toni Morrison also recalls falling into despair at that election, and when she reported to a colleague that she could no longer write or concentrate, he urged her that the work of the arts was the most important at this point. She went on to rally artists, writing
“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.”
And you know who later had to draw on Toni Morrison for the drive to create at a time of crisis? Dave Chappel used Morrison’s words to rally the writers at Saturday Night Live after Trump’s victory.
I’d like to address two issues today: Why we march and what is beyond marching.
Why do we march?
We’re in Cody Wyoming, the Rodeo Capital of America! Of course we march. We do parades, we do flags and banners and posters. We do cars with megaphones and Texas longhorns on the hood. We do arenas with pageantry. We know that it’s good entertainment and good business to combine perfectly healthy humans and perfectly healthy animals, and set them up for chaos and harm, because crowds of people will pay money to watch it in the name of good fun.
That is why we are a particularly resilient crowd of people. Sure the current administration is eroding civil liberties, and eroding quality public education, and eroding affordable health care, and eroding the decades of environmental protection. And sure, the Supreme Court drastically eroded our democratic power when they ruled that corporations were people and that corporate money was therefore its free speech. But we come from people who have built their economy on the spectacle of nightly wrecks between humans and the natural world upon which their lives depend, which they simultaneously love dearly while setting up for catastrophes. We’ve got this and we’re marching.
Though we are all formed by this home, we have a particular kind of problem. We are underdogs here. Our problem is that we are not satisfied with the erosions of the truths we hold dearest. We march for a better America. We are marching to fight against those erosions because they threaten our ecology, they threaten human dignity, and we head relentlessly toward a future where the temperature is 4 degrees centigrade warmer than it was before industrialization.
Last night, we put our old Dog to sleep, and so today she is freely chasing rabbits on the bunny hunting grounds. She’d lived a good life and was facing tumors, so it was the right time. You will no longer see facebook posts from me asking if you’ve seen her, after she took off like Karelian bear dogs do, in order to hunt independently. She ran her races hard and had a full life. I’m thinking about her today, her vigilance, and her heritage of facing bears.
With her dog bed empty by my side, I watched the documentary “A Force More Powerful.” It tracks the success of six major political victories of the 20th century that were won by employing strategies of non-violence. If you cannot name those six major political victories then it is time to watch the film. The history of non-violent success does not often rise in the history we teach our children. Those of us who know the value of non-violent social change need to be its watchdogs, recalling it as our light.
Let’s join a force more powerful than violence, hatred and fear. We march to join the force more power that has proven its power for citizens who could never hope to defeat militaries, and who refuse to accelerate arms races. How about you all—do any of you wish to meet the growing militias with more weapons? Let alone the U.S. military? That is not how we will right this ship.
Gandhi called his strategy “satyagraha.” Satya means truth and graha means force. Let’s say it out loud—Satya! Graha! Satya! Graha!
If you ask of yourself to study and reflect on something as profound as truth, especially in our day, then will find yourself on guard. Do you not feel like you are standing guard for truth these days? And in honor of Ursa, today I want to consider ourselves as watch dogs. We are watching or truth and will stand up against injustice.
In the study of human history, injustice is always rooted in lies about the superiority of one group over another group. Today in the States we see white supremacy raising its ugly head in public spaces and virtual communities. White supremacy is hitting, shooting, beating, intimidating, and blockading the votes of the marginalized and the poor. We march today because one of the truths that Gandhi realized was that he needed to bring the will and the power of the poor and the marginalized into the public spaces to demonstrate their power. Not through violence, but through their refusals to participate in their own subjugation. He built the aggregate power of the unarmed by disobeying unjust laws.
We are the underdogs here. Rather than simply “pass” on the streets, thereby giving power to injustice, and rather than waiting this one out to see what happens in 2020, we march as watch dogs. We are the watch dogs who aspire for a better American, and we use the political theater of marching to experience the joy of connecting our will. We refuse to support injustice and the erosion of our social fabric.
And what is beyond marching? It is the transformation of ourselves as the force of truth that will disrupt that predictable line of greenhouse gas emissions. Can we be the generation that says “Keep it in the ground” to fossil fuels? Can we be the generation that says “No ICE detention center run by a crappy for-profit prison”? Can we be the generation that delivers on health care as a human right? People are dying for insulin they cannot afford. People are going into bankruptcy due to medical bills. With US healthcare, the gap between winners and losers is the gap between living and dying.
Five or so years ago, I gave myself a guard dog name. I won’t call it a nom de guerre—I will call it a guard dog name, and it signaled my desire, if not my realization, that I will become a person who puts her body on the line for the truth force of nonviolence.
My name is “It’s Morning.” And this name signals my entangled relationship with the Indigenous people because every morning that the sun rises, it rises on Indian country. My people benefited from the violence and destruction that removed the Indigenous people of this country, and every day I am called to work for restoration between our people.
This name also signals our entangled relationship with Africa Americans. One could mistake the whiteness of Wyoming as evidence that it has no African American heritage but that would be false. The street names of every town in Wyoming proclaim the names of men who were involved in one way or another with the Civil War. Wyoming was territory and then a state out of the crisis of the Civil War, and the rails of our railroads were manufactured by African Americans who were imprisoned and used as slave labor after the Civil War. In the play “It’s Morning,” written by Shirley Du Bois, a mother faces the terrible fact that when morning arrives, her girl child will be taken from her by a slaver, and that mother, who has experienced a life of beatings and rape, considers whether it would be motherly love to kill her girl child since she cannot protect her from the degradations ahead in any other way. Toni Morrison later borrowed from this play as she wrote “Beloved”—an American Masterpiece. So by naming myself “It’s Morning,” I am reminding myself of the position that women will be in if they allow the violence of injustice, and the willful ignorance of exploitation to rule. It is our children who now face a future so uncertain that Kangaroo Island asks us all to consider what being loving parents means.
As my fighting name, “It’s Morning” ties me to the three founding cultures of Wyoming—American Indian, settler, and African American—the couplings of which have produced too much domination and exploitation by the one.
I called Grant Bulltail today to ask him if the Crow have a name for someone who has undergone a transformation and is now preparing to fight for their people. He told me of two words. The first is “ichichaak” and it means to wake anew or to waken to a new world. Daskuuluushia is the second word, meaning “the heart is leading the way,” or “the heart will lead the way.” Having heard the other speakers, I feel so grateful that their hearts are leading the way. From a freshman in Powell High School who is informing herself and fighting against the ICE detention center, to Dr. Langerfeld who brought us the policy history that makes us fighting mad, my heart feels full. After we march, what comes next is transformation. May you wake anew or waken to a new world. May your heart lead the way. We march and we move beyond the march, connecting locally and nationally with the thousands of people who constitute a truth force.
We march. We vote. And we transform ourselves because we are not waiting for the men to fix this.
Mary Keller, co-chair