“Flood Stage” in American Midwest

Nebraska flooding, Spring 2019

An excerpt from “Confessions of a Westward Expansionist” in Bending the Arch (Wipf & Stock, 2019) by Rose Marie Berger

FLOOD STAGE

From the plane I see
acres green with corn
hay rolls full of foam
soy swirling and swaying
the tassels poke skyward
from an ancient interior sea

Before the last glacial maximum
when people were thin on the ground

The planet was in drought
and sea levels fell to expose the plains

The great ice sheets
began to melt

We
are the people

who came after
the ice

Can you hear
the American Midwest
inhaling, exhaling?

Do you desire to enter into life
the baptismal question
to have life in all its abundance?

Earth lodge to sod house to condominium
in less than a hundred years
less than the span
of three generations

–Rose Marie Berger

An excerpt from “Confessions of a Westward Expansionist” in Bending the Arch (Wipf & Stock, 2019) by Rose Marie Berger

Video: Ya-Ya Says, ‘A White Man Ran Around the Corner and Punched Me in the Face’


(Video photography and Editing: Travis Houze)

Here’s a taste of the devastating testimonial given at a demonstration last night in Columbia Heights, D.C., by two young African-American women, Erica and Hadaiyah Ya-Ya Bey, from D.C., on their return from Ferguson, MO, where there have been nearly two weeks of demonstrations against the police regarding the murder by the police of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American man, on Aug. 9 and rising questions of police responsibility, police brutality, militarization of police, and more. (You might recognize the woman in the white shirt in the opening section.)

Ya-Ya said through her tears, “The first night that we got there … it was 8:30 and the police started gassing and shooting. And Erica, Erica was my partner down there, we were running from bullets and I was right behind her. Maybe a few feet behind her. And a white man ran around the corner in between us and punched me in my face … and told me to ‘sit the F down.’ Uhhhm, that’s why I have this black eye …”

This is what the principality and power of death looks like when it is “at home, rather than at work in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Gaza, Afghanistan, Egypt, or the Corrections Corporation of America. It has no problem using whatever tools are at its disposal to crush the souls — and sometimes bodies — of living human beings.

The prophet Jeremiah spoke about this mechanism of Empire and what it does to those who are righteous and trying to live in the land: “For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace’, when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:13-14).–Rose Berger

Rev. Sekou: Gas Mask or Clerical Collar in #Ferguson?

My brother in Christ, Rev. Osagyefo Sekou (video), has had guns aimed at him and has been tear gassed in Ferguson as he attempted to nonviolently de-escalate the violence in the aftermath of the waves of police-led domestic terrorism going on in Missouri.

Sekou, as he’s known, was interviewed this morning on Democracy Now!, saying, “It is a tragedy that as a clergyperson I need a tear gas mask more than I need a collar to be able to do the work that I feel called to do.”

Cornel West and Sekou at anti-war protest in D.C. in Sept. 2005. (Matthew Bradley, Creative Commons)
Cornel West and Sekou at anti-war protest in D.C. in Sept. 2005. (Matthew Bradley, Creative Commons)

Sekou and I have known each other since the early days of Boston’s Ten Point Coalition. We’ve been arrested together numerous times in anti-war demonstrations. (I was a few folks down from Sekou and Cornel in the photo to the left.)

He’s a pastor at the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plains, MA, outside of Boston. He was dispatched to Ferguson by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (read more here). Ironically, he just returned from a six-week fellowship at Stanford University where he was studying in the Martin Luther King archives.–Rose

Heather Wilson: No ‘Rules of Engagement’ in Ferguson

HeatherwithcameraMy sister in Christ, Heather Wilson (left), had guns aimed at her last night in Ferguson, MO, as she attempted to nonviolently document the violence in the aftermath of the waves of police-led domestic terrorism going on in Missouri.

Heather is a photojournalist. She spent a year as a Sojourners intern and now works at PICO National Network. Heather spent a few years in Afghanistan as a photographer in the mission field. She’s covered war zones before.–Rose

Here’s what Heather wrote to me today:

the concussion grenades and flash grenades are petrifying. They were shooting teargas into the neighborhoods. Community members thought they were safe because they were abiding by the understood regulations that had been set. But the cops just threw those out the window last night. There were no understood rules of engagement. I had no idea if they were going to shoot us or not as we tried to get out of the protest space. I bought a gas mask and had it with me. So thankful. And gave it to a coworker as he went back into the mayhem to coordinate getting people out with a bunch of local clergy.–Heather

Here’s part of what I wrote back to her:

Here are some tear gas and smoke grenade tips from my experiences in the Mt. Pleasant uprisings of 1991: Soak oversized bandannas in apple cider vinegar then carry them with you in a gallon-size zip lock bag with about 3/4 cup of apple cider vinegar in the bottom. If you’ve got the baggy with you then you can keep your bandanna resupplied. I usually brought an extra bandanna with me to share if someone caught caught without anything.

For flashbangs or concussion grenades all I know is cover your eyes and use the heavy-duty machinist ear plugs. (Those flashbangs can be totally lethal. They can cause heart attacks and trigger panic attacks – so stay the hell away from them if you can.)

Wear white and keep yourself highly visibly identified, if you can, with PRESS or PEACEKEEPER taped to your shirt with duck tape.

I’m sorry it is so terrifying. Sadly, it’s meant to be. This is what race-based domestic terrorism looks like.

This is your mantra: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Repeat this and walk/move to its rhythm. I’m here. I’m praying.–Rose

Read more of Heather’s accounts from Ferguson, MO. here.

May 26: Prop 8 and Dred Scott

dred-scottDo you think the California Supreme Court was aware that it was handing down the Prop 8 decision on marriage equality on the anniversary of Dred and Harriet Scott’s manumission?

I hope the odd coincidence of history is predictive and, despite California’s court decision, the U.S. will soon be celebrating the “manumission” to marry for whosoever will.

On March 6, 1857, after an 11-year court battle, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Dred Scott, an African-American slave, had “no rights that a white man need respect.”

On May 26, 1857, Taylor Blow, a son of Scott’s original owner, purchased Scott and his family in order to set them free.

Dred Scott was born a slave in Virginia about 1790. He was sold to a doctor who later moved to Illinois and eventually to Missouri with all his property. In 1846, Dred Scott filed a suit in Missouri seeking freedom for himself, his wife, and two daughters. He based his case on the fact that slavery was prohibited in Illinois, and because he had lived there, he had been freed.

Scott’s pursuit of their freedom when on for seven years in various courts, with one higher court after another reversing previous decisions. Throughout the ordeal, the children of Dred Scott’s original owners gave him financial support. Finally, after the Missouri Circuit Court ruled that “once free, always free,” Scott’s case went to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The federal Supreme Court ruled that Scott had no right to sue because blacks were not U.S. citizens. Scott and his family were returned to their owner.

Fifteen months after Scott had been freed by the Blow family, who were Catholic, he died of tuberculosis. When Dred Scott died on September 17, 1858, the Blow family arranged to have him buried in the Catholic Calvary Cemetery of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.