I Will Bear Witness

Empty seats at the National Mall prior to the inauguration  (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Today I will not attend the inauguration of Donald J. Trump. Nor will I watch it on television or listen to it on the radio.

I have argued with myself about this. It wasn’t an easy decision. I have never missed a presidential inauguration.
I’ve been asking myself why this time is different. And this morning the answer finally came: My decision to be absent isn’t a political one. It’s a moral one.
I’ve watched president-elects I haven’t voted for take office many times, often with qualms about their proposed policies or their visions for the future, but I’ve never had a sense of moral grief as I do today. What I object to most isn’t Mr. Trump’s proposed agenda, disturbing as much of it is. What I object to most is his lack of fundamental respect for human beings beyond his own blood and tribe. Though he hasn’t yet been sworn in, that lack of respect has already done tremendous damage to the nation,.
With every fiber of my being, I grieve that harm. I refuse to give it my stamp of approval by somehow “attending” his swearing in. He is my president, yes. My country elected him. I acknowledge that political fact. But the moral fact is that Mr. Trump’s values are destructive to human community. I grieve his ascendancy not because he’s a Republican but because he lacks conscience. He appears willing to do anything, and say anything, to get what he wants. And what he wants most is attention.
As a citizen it is therefore my deep responsibility to not feed his narcissism and encourage his bigotry by helping him celebrate his rise to power. I will read or watch his inaugural speech later, in the off-chance that it might help me understand him better. But I feel a moral urgency to not bear witness to the moment of his triumph. It is, among other things, the triumph of crassness, incivility, insecurity, intolerance, fear-mongering and hatred. I choose instead to witness to decency and respect, humaneness, compassion, inclusion, righteous relations, the sacred dignity and worth of all.
On this Inauguration Day I will pray, in my way, for this nation and President Trump. I will tune into love of the neighbor, love of Mother Earth, love of All That Is–even that which I find repugnant and must actively resist. I will spend my time meditating, writing, contemplating, preparing myself in various ways for tomorrow, just another ordinary day in a lifetime of serving the common good.
Deep peace to us all.

“We are the resistance now”


Jan Steckel

The Statue of Liberty’s arm is tired.
She may have torn her rotator cuff.
She still has dual citizenship,
wonders if her passport is in order.

She imagines lowering her arm,
dousing the torch in the harbor,
boiling the sea and seething Ellis Island.

Friends, look at the person next to you.
Put your arm around their shoulder.
Help them keep that torch in the air.
Tell them you’d never turn them in.
We’re the resistance now.

Dear President-Elect Trump

I submitted this piece some days ago to run in my local paper, The Brookings (SD) Register. But it’s likely to be obsolete before it’s run, since Mr. Trump is so quickly squandering my good will.

Image result for pensive president-elect donald trump
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at his election night rally.

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Let’s get down to brass tacks, Mr. Trump. I didn’t vote for you, and I’m shell-shocked that so many of my fellow citizens did. Frankly, by the look on your face on election night, I think you’re rather shocked as well.

As the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

Since you will be my next President, I’m going to make you these promises, just so you know what you can count on me for.

I promise:

  1. Not to further paralyze the country by having obstruction as my chief goal, just to make you a one-term President.
  2. Never to ask you to produce your birth certificate to prove your citizenship.
  3. Never to accuse you of hiding your true religious identity.
  4. Never to call you a criminal and demand you be locked up unless you’re first convicted by a jury of your peers and sentenced to prison.
  5. Never to make veiled threats to your personal safety by insinuating that “Second Amendment people” should take matters into their own hands.
  6. Not to hold your looks against you in the performance of your job.
  7. Not to make fun of your disabilities.
  8. Not to build a wall to confine you to the White House, or to round up your family and deport you all, to keep you from running loose in my country.
  9. Not to tweet nasty remarks about you at 3 a.m.
  10. Not to judge you by the size of your hands.

I also promise:

  1. To affirm you as my President because you were duly elected under the Constitution, and not to delegitimize your Presidency because I’m a sore loser.
  2. To fervently hope that you’re capable of much greater good than you demonstrated during the campaign.
  3. To try to forgive you for the fear and distress that your rhetoric has planted in the heart and mind of my child and countless others.
  4. To help you keep your promise to “bind the wounds of division across this nation” and to “do right by the people”–all the people, whether or not they voted for you.
  5. To acquaint myself more fully with the concerns of those who did vote for you, that we might thoughtfully consider and address those concerns together.
  6. To treat you and those who voted for you with the same dignity and respect with which I myself wish to be treated.
  7. To listen carefully to your positions without exhibiting rancor or disrespect.
  8. To support any of your efforts that promote the common good, benefiting us all and not just a chosen few.
  9. To fulfill my responsibilities as a citizen, which include opposing without violence any of your policies or actions that would inflict harm, especially on those among us who have the least power and means to defend themselves.
  10. To work endlessly with stout, inspired souls, right here where I live, to create a society whose members are well informed, curious about the world, and respectful of the rights and lives of others, not because it’s politically correct but because it’s the decent thing to do.

With good will for you and our country,
Phyllis Cole-Dai

There is Still Water, and Light, and Cracks in the Rock

This is a difficult day. I will spend it writing. I will spend it hoping, and praying in my way, that the man just elected President of the United States might, with our help, prove better than his flaws and capable of much greater good than the harm he has already perpetrated.

But before I turn inward, I want to share a reassuring word with you, in case you too, are in shock today, and filled with worry. It’s a word from the poet Denise Levertov, an excerpt from her poem “The Fountain”:

Don’t say, don’t say there is no water.
That fountain is there among its scalloped
green and gray stones,

it is still there and always there
with its quiet song and strange power
to spring in us,

up and out through the rock.


Here’s a Story to Offend Your Conscience

Note: This blog post was submitted today as a speak-out to the Brookings (SD) Register, my local newspaper.

Old family graveyard. (Photo: Phyllis Cole-Dai)

Imagine a large piece of prime farmland where your relatives have lived for generations, getting married, working hard, raising up children, worshipping, being laid to rest. These days, the old family graveyard isn’t used anymore. The fieldstone fence surrounding it is tumbledown and overgrown. Most of the gravestones are so weathered you can scarcely make out the names and dates. But the dead who are interred there are still part of you. As one of their descendents, you feel a connection to them, deep in your bones.

On a certain day a very rich farmer from far away comes along without warning and lays claim to some of your family’s farmland. The law, he says, is on his side. Before you can dispute him, he’s clear-cutting trees, digging new ditches, even changing the course of the river. And now he’s getting ready to demolish the family graveyard. He plans to till up the old plot, adjacent to one of his fields, so he can plant it and increase his yield.

You and your relatives pay him a visit, to protest. He’s deaf to your appeals. So you file a legal complaint. Before the judge can hold a hearing, the farmer shows up at the graveyard with a bulldozer. He brings along some of his buddies armed with guard dogs and pepper spray. You call the sheriff to intervene. No patrol cars come.

As you and your relatives yell and gesture in righteous anger, the rich farmer razes the old graveyard. Six of you are bitten by dogs. Thirty more are disabled by pepper spray. In only an hour or two, the final resting place of your ancestors is leveled, and nothing, nobody, will ever be able to put it right again….

This could never happen in America, you might be thinking. It’s a made-up story. But last weekend much of this (and worse) actually played out near Cannonball, ND. Instead of a “rich farmer,” the bad actor was Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline. Instead of “you and your relatives,” the burial sites belonged to native people.

Security held off demonstrators as burial and sacred sites were destroyed. (Photo: tomasalejo.com)

I’ve a hunch that if an Indian-owned company had sicced its dogs on white people protecting a white cemetery, the mainstream media would have been all over the story. Lawsuits would already have been filed against ETP. Heads would have rolled at the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office for not protecting the white demonstrators. But as it is, the media has largely been silent about this incident, or it has insinuated that the Indians who nonviolently resisted the desecration were somehow to blame.

Even if I weren’t opposed to DAPL, the events of last weekend would have offended my conscience. And I hope they offend yours. Can we agree that it’s unconscionable for any company to deliberately destroy any burial site for the sake of its own bottom line? Can we agree that it’s unconscionable for any company (or government, or law enforcement agency) to assault citizens who are nonviolently exercising their constitutional rights to assemble and speak their mind?

I hope you’ll join me in doing one or all of the following:

Call Vicki Granado, the public relations officer at Energy Transfer Partners (214-599-8785), and express your dismay over these abuses.

Call the Morton County Sheriff’s Office (701-667-3330) and remind them of their responsibility to protect peaceful citizens.

Call North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple (701-328-2200) and ask him to help de-escalate the situation.

Finally, call the White House (202-456-1111) and urge President Obama to do what he can to ensure that justice holds sway.

We can’t stand idly by. None of us. (Photo: Dallas Goldtooth)