Rural America on the Chopping Block

It comes and before you even knew it was a possibility, it may be gone. That’s the political game being played and the game board is rural America. 

“It” is the money allocated by the Inflation Reduction Act specifically targeted to rural electric coops. That money would come to us under the Empowering Rural America Program.

Sounds good, right? The first catch is to encourage your Electric Cooperative to make a pitch for the nearly $10 million dollars set aside for each cooperative. There are twenty-four in Wisconsin alone. That could be $240 million coming into the state to help offset our electric bills and to aid our transition to clean renewables. Our electric coops need only to create a plan in order to ask for the money. The money is available to those who ask. 

But wait. You’ve heard of the deal made to keep the United States from hitting the debt limit. What you may not have heard is that one of the cuts Congress is asking for is the very same money that has not yet made it to us. It is, of course, the Empowering Rural America money.

Not only do you need to let your cooperative know where you stand, you need to remind your Congressperson that they are governing a rural part of the state and we could surely use that money. 

If that were all that there was to this story, it would be a simple one. But there’s more. The farm bill’s Rural Energy for America Program is also being targeted in the House along with eliminating funding for climate research. Same old, same old.

Nothing will change unless we all care enough to take action.

Listen to this WDRT Conversation with Allan Buss, Board President of Vernon County Energy District to learn more.

photo from wikipedia commons thanks to Carol M. Highsmith

This One Chance

This week the NAACP found it necessary to issue a travel advisory to black and minority travelers to Florida. It was a simple one. “Don’t go.” 

We’ve come to this. The division we have allowed has grown to be so violent and unpredictable that safety is no longer a given.

School children know this. Ask them about how they are trained to take cover. Ask them what it feels like to live in a state of underlying fears.

Blacks know this, as do Native Americans, Latinos, Asians and LGBTQ+.  Sure there are the occasional movie stars, politicians, athletes and others who’ve climbed the ladder, but ask them about the fear and rage they’ve stifled. Ask them what systemic hatred feels like.

More than 80% of American Jews feel anti-Jewish sentiment is a growing concern

We’ve come to this. We don’t want to teach the Holocaust, the violence of slavery or the repression of the Reconstruction Era. The claim is that it is just too much for young white minds to handle. We’d rather teach them about the kingdom of heaven and how to get a ticket to the pearly gates.  

The classic gay flag now has a triangle that represents transgender. We fly it at the farm to let people know they are safe and respected here. In a world so ready to cast away, it’s important to draw people near.

I long for a time when kindness and respect are celebrated and love will rule. This will not happen without our effort and our choices. We can do this.We have this one chance, while we are alive, to get it right. Let it be so.

Cycles Come and Go

And just like that everything is green again. Despite the chilly nights Spring has arrived. Birds are back and gracing us with song. Rhubarb and asparagus are abundant, and spruce tips will become a favored drink. Nettles are welcomed here and we cook them with our morning eggs. Later they’ll be dried for tea. The ongoing battle to keep free-ranging chickens out of the garden is only topped by the numerous groundhog holes that are popping up.

So it goes. Life has its cycles. And we have our choices. Putting up fencing or getting some groundhog recipes are high on the list of choices right now. Neither of which we’ll do.

There are practical skills learned by living with the land. At some point you must decide which battles are worthy of your time and which are not.

I think everyone should take at least a one-year stint of living on a farm and attempting to be sustainable. If you’re fortunate you’ll learn about what is precious, and if you’re really paying attention you may even remember what is sacred.

The notion of progress has defined us as “modern people”. The irrational pursuit of wealth has crippled our ability to care for one another. The simplest joys elude us as we join the rat race and leave the human race behind.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In our heart of hearts, we know it doesn’t have to be that way. But we’ve been conditioned to follow the leader to the exclusion of what we know is possible. It’s time for that to change.

Cycles come and cycles go. If we would allow the longing for simplicity and the need for peace to lead once more, this cycle of darkness would end.  

Bring Back Cooperation

The rise of the rugged individual has over shadowed common sense.  What began as a movement toward self-reliance swung into a backlash of community. We have slipped into a “me” culture supported by top down leadership and unchecked capitalism. 

The result is that we have all suffered. 

By most accounts human beings are at their best when in community.  We have an inherent need to feel connected. We thrive when we are all doing well. This need to belong coupled with rugged individualism has given way to perverse alliances.  Too many of us no longer feel the connection to the entire human race. And the alliances we choose are often in competition with one another. Cooperation is considered less important, even trivial. Too many look to the top dog, or covet that position.

In Beloved Community (as explained by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), there is no top dog. There are unique individuals who recognize their own self worth and are willing to accept that in another.

There can be no strong and healthy community without unique and self-aware individuals. 

The contemporary focus on outward strengths and power strategies cause us to relinquish our inner strengths.  These strengths are universally available. Clarity and self-awareness help us navigate the world in which we live. Empathy and compassion allow us to recognize other human beings as similar, not different. There is more waiting to be tapped, if only we will take the time.

I’m grateful for the circles of communities that I dwell in, and I’m most grateful to those individuals who remind me we are one planet, one people.  

Let’s bring back cooperation. Let’s find our uniqueness again.

Recognize the Sacred

Land acknowledgments have become more common over the years. Acknowledging the story of the land that we now occupy and the people who inhabited it long before the time of conquest is critical to understanding that we all are one people today.

The tendency for dominant cultures to eradicate the “other” and to steal their resources and plunder their culture is not new. What is new is the push back that we are witnessing, as People emerge resilient and determined to be counted in.

And that push back is not really new, but technology and travel have allowed for greater perspectives to take hold.

The dominant culture is being called out on everything. From lies told in history books, to broken treaties, to the ignorant lumping of all tribes as one, we’re being confronted to learn the truth

And while we may be learning facts, we’re still far from discovering our humanity. 

I often think about how different our lives would be if the early colonizers had recognized the humanity of the Native People they encountered. If instead of imposing the patriarchal and capitalistic paradigms, we could have explored the world anew – and glimpsed it through the eyes of our Native brethren. Instead of being bent on usurping the resources we could have learned from the ones who had lived here the longest. We could have maintained the garden. We could have lived in peace.

To free our selves from dominant thinking and to honor the earth with respect and deference would be the greatest land acknowledgment. To recognize the sacred and temporal existence of the land would give us all a second chance.

It’s never too late to undo what has been done. 

The Earth can heal and so can we. 

Valuable, Capable and Loved

“People need to feel valuable, capable and loved”*. Those were words I heard in a conference decades ago and they’ve never left me.

Sounds right, doesn’t it? This very simple recognition of something so very basic to human life – but how is it achieved? It can’t be a mantra that we run around and say to one another, because it has to be felt. There are lots of words we know are true, yet we’ve not taken the time to unearth their deeper meaning by feeling them.

And what if each individual could feel their value and could comprehend their preciousness? How would it look in the world that we live in today? For one, when we understand our uniqueness and can celebrate the gift life affords us, it must be nearly impossible to harm or judge another human being for the color of their skin or because who they choose to love.

This simple act of respecting another would have massive implications. It may even create a tidal wave of love and kindness that would upend the cruelty we are faced with daily. Regardless of life choices or life’s circumstances each of us can come to this recognition. But we must take time to feel it. 

And what of those who transgress upon us? Should they feel valuable, capable and loved? Or is there some dividing line of right and wrong that makes that impossible?

This is where it gets a bit tough. This is when one begins to realize that our punitive systems and our judgmental natures are out of control. This is when you know its time for change.     

One sunrise, one heartbeat, one breathe at a time… discover you are loved.

*My recollection from a conference with Prem Rawat in the late 80’s.

Beat Swords Into Plowshares

Shot for going to the wrong home.

Killed for turning around in the driveway.

Shot for opening the wrong car door in a parking lot.

I keep hearing, “It’s not the guns. It’s unconsciousness. It’s the lack of respect for human dignity and life. It’s mental illness. Therefore laws on gun ownership won’t matter. Let us keep our guns; find another solution.” 

And while I understand the logic, I cannot divorce the gun from the power it bestows. I cannot separate the gun from the one who pulls the trigger or the ones who manufacture and sell these tools of destruction. I won’t separate the gun from the ignorance of humankind and those who insist on hating. And I will never hold the protection of property as sacred, as I do of human life. 

And while I am certain gun laws can be repealed, fought against and ignored, as they have been in the past, it is incumbent upon those of us who are weary of violence to climb out of this trap of self-annihilation that we have allowed. 

Therefore let us return to the wisdom of Isaiah 2:4 and ask that “the swords be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.” And as was observed in that book, that we should be taught the ways of peace and walk its path and study war no more. This is the only solution that I can dare dream. 

It will never happen you say. And I say it is only your doubt that stops it. If we could find the courage to speak up against violence instead of cushioning ourselves in doubt, we could soon see the possibility of peace.

If we could find the conviction to end the cycles of dominance that utilize every means to maintain power, we could make weaponry obsolete. 

We have yet to make the prophecy of Isaiah a reality. We have yet to study the ways of peace. 

Study War No More – Pete Seeger


The Option of the Heart

Hot dry winds are pummeling us and one has to hope that no single flame will ignite the tinderbox we currently reside in. And as I listen to the news it appears that people all over the world are holding their breaths, bowing in prayer or screaming in agony as tinderboxes keep being lit.

The Burmese government is dropping bombs and sniping villages from helicopters, killing mostly women and children in their quest for control. The Philippine government has not had enough of United States imperialism and is happily joining forces again, risking increased saber rattling with China.

And the silent on-lookers could only say, “Wow”, when Tennessee again reminded us that racism is alive and well.

We’ve been persuaded that there only two sides and we need to pick one. And every time we pick one, we wind up with the short stick. But that doesn’t keep us from believing. 

Pundits and experts fill the airwaves with theories and definitions, strategies and complexities designed to dazzle the mind and keep us entertained as we continue on the merry-go round. 

But those wise ones have yet to realize there’s another option. It’s the option of the heart. It’s the power that lies in our mutual humanity and in the recognition that we are one people, one planet. 

I’m long over believing there will be a movement or a leader that will come and save the day. It is up to every one of us to change course.

We’ve engaged in the worn tactics of conquering and war in every aspect of our lives, no wonder violence stalks us.

There’s so much more to life and living, friends. 

There is a third option. Choose.

We Live Here

The Wisconsin Supreme Court now has a new ideological make-up. The power struggles of the binary system shifted, but what in us has shifted? The downward spiraling of communication divides us. And our lack of unity only serves the powerful and the economically secure. Look around. How are we, the people, faring? Childhood innocence has been replaced with fear. Money for war is readily available but money for public necessities are stripped away. And the earth is treated as a commodity to be used, abused and pitched. 

We live here. 

We live in this melting pot that is now boiling over with violence and rage. The ideals and the dreams of living peacefully erode daily. Hopelessness is on the rise.

We live here. And how we live here matters. There are choices to be made, real choices that affect the way we live together. Do we want to live in a police state? Are we comfortable with the insecurity that has become our norm? Food, safety, clean air and water insecurities mount. Are we confronting these transgressions with empathy and compassion or are we accepting these as our lot? Do we assume someone will come to save us? Or are we ready to accept responsibility to turn this ship around?

From where I sit, solutions are simple. We’ve aligned with the left or the right, we’ve declared our faith and we’ve cut our path, often in disregard and distain to those around us. We’ve yet to discover our mutual humanity. We’ve yet to discover our own.

I saw a bumper sticker that read “Non-judgment day is coming”. Hallelu, may it be so.

The Silence of Our Friends

I’ve had the belief for a long time that there are more people willing to pick up a hoe than a gun. In other words, there are more people wanting to live in peace and harmony rather than in violent discord. 

Living in the United States tends to make us doubt that possibility. Another school shooting, another pipeline breach, more felony arrests of nonviolent activists, and fear of LGBTQ+ keeps getting in the way of “live and let live”.

Recently as I participated in Vernon Electric Cooperative’s annual meeting and witnessed the majority of members voting against their own interests and willing to sacrifice democratic control, even I had to ponder the notion that more people want peace than not. I suppose it can be argued that authoritarian rule and control by a few is preferred because then no one has to think too much.  

But the question remains: How does it feel?

How does it feel when you read about another school shooting yet continue to offer thoughts and prayers instead of applying pressure on legislators to change the course of things? How does it feel to know that queer people are being subjected to sub-human treatment? How does it feel to know this country was founded on the deliberate subjugation of People for wealth and pretend it isn’t so? 

I’m not willing to give up my understanding that more people want peace. But I will admit to this: too few are willing to say and to do the necessary things to make living in a peaceful way a reality. 

Martin Luther King spoke great wisdom when he said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. “

Find your voice friends. Before it’s too late.