Colin Kaepernick sitting in protest during the national anthem, unarmed natives at Standing Rock attacked by security personnel with dogs, leaked DNC emails, Donald Trump, and the weirdest election cycle in history…what is going on in America?
Is America Going Through an Existential Crisis?
An existential crisis is when an individual questions the very beliefs at the foundation of their life. It can be painful, even humiliating, and ego-crushing, but seeing through our own illusions is what brings self-awareness. Sometimes everything needs to fall apart in order to transition into something better. If you have been feeling like the news and social media is too depressing, you may appreciate considering things through this lens.
We are witnessing a massive awakening through recent events, which have only become news thanks to independent media, and of course, the internet. In America, the summer started out with leaked emails exposing corruption, causing people to question the authenticity of the election process in the heated primaries. This is particularly powerful because American politicians have been selling foreign wars, invasions, and billions of dollars worth of military contracts on the notion of “spreading democracy”, only to find it ailing at home.
A Very Potent Moment in History
Election cycles are typically a time when contested issues bubble to the surface. Trump has been openly racist in his campaign, whereas Democratic Primary Contender, Bernie Sanders, brought attention to the ways that corporate influence, and Wall Street, has corrupted the democratic process. However, with issues like climate change, gun violence, political corruption, racism, economic inequality, and others, reaching a critical point, citizens are not willing to wait for politicians to act.
Activism, civil disobedience, and heated discussion on social media, has disrupted the traditionally scripted election cycle. Most notably, has been the recent showdown over a pipeline at Standing Rock, North Dakota, and Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the National Anthem. Though these may seem like unrelated incidents, they have a common thread that is well worth exploring.
Just like personal trauma, the potential for old wounds to recapitulate (play out over and over) until they are resolved also exists within nations. Racism, exploitation, destroying our environment, oppression, inequality etc. are problems that humans have battled with for millennia, yet we have never been more poised to address these issues than now. It certainly may look hopeless at times, but it is not.
What is the Common Thread?
Kaepernick’s act of civil disobedience, in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, is meant to bring attention to the lack of justice for police brutality towards African Americans. Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Sandra Blanch, Michael Brown, are just a few incidents that provoked riots in cities like Ferguson and Baltimore. When public outrage reaches critical mass, it can be volatile but it also signifies a great opportunity for internal growth and healing in a nation.
At Standing Rock, over 200 tribes, along with non-native activists, have gathered from across the country to protect their watershed from a proposed $3.8 billion pipeline. Just like police violence towards African Americans, the treatment of indigenous people over natural resources has followed a predictable trend. The common thread is that America has some skeletons in the closet, unresolved history that continues to haunt the nation, and it is becoming harder for people to look the other way.
The reason people awaken is because they have finally stopped agreeing to things that insult their soul. ~ Anonymous
Black Lives Matter
Songs convey stories, they express values, people gather around songs the way they gather around a fire to stay warm. Singing together is a beautiful expression of solidarity, harmony, a way to celebrate and to grieve. The Star Spangled Banner, was written by Francis Scott Key, who was a slave owner that believed the practice was morally acceptable.
If you believe people have no history worth mentioning, it’s easy to believe they have no humanity worth defending. -William Loren Katz
During the war of 1812, when America attempted to grab Canada from Britain, the British retaliated by raiding plantations, freeing slaves, and arming them to fight against American slave owners. These are people who were whipped, shackled, bought, sold, and forced to do much of the manual labor that made America a prosperous nation. These slaves were fighting for their own freedom and lost. The Star Spangled Banner celebrates their loss.
This act by the British was not too different from another episode in history when slaves were given freedom to fight as Buffalo Soldiers against the Native Americans. Buffalo Soldiers were ordered to take native children from their families and forcibly send them to Indian Residential Schools where they were sexually and physically abused, and prohibited from speaking in their native tongue.
In a country where most people are sitting on the couch with a beer in one hand during the Star Spangled Banner, you would think that Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the anthem would go by unnoticed. Yet it didn’t, and that alone says volumes. Those who were the most upset about Kaepernick’s act of civil disobedience are also the ones who claim loudly that the history is irrelevant. Why not just change the anthem to This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land by Woody Guthrie?
‘Is This Land Your Land, Is it My Land?’
In a Democracy that has given the rights of people to corporations (see Citizens United Ruling), it appears that maybe the land actually belongs to the extractive industry that has the most money and political pull in Washington. This is not too different than antiquated ideas like the Doctrine of Discovery. Colonial belief systems justify taking, by force if necessary, without asking regardless of the environmental repercussions to all of the inhabitants.
Papal Bulls (Vatican) of the 15th century gave Christian explorers the right to claim lands they “discovered” and lay claim to those lands for their Christian Monarchs. Any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered”, claimed, and exploited. If the “pagan” inhabitants could be converted, they might be spared. If not, they could be enslaved or killed. -Doctrine of Discovery
Standing Rock is Not Only About Indians
These natives are the original people. They understand that they are fighting for the 20 million people down river from them who depend on the water that flows from Missouri River into Mississippi. This is water for crops, for drinking, not only for humans but for the birds, fish, and other animals that depend on it.
We have been warned from ancient prophecies of these times we live in today, but have also been given a very important message about a solution to turn these terrible times.
To understand the depth of this message, you must recognize the importance of Sacred Sites and realize the interconnectedness of what is happening today…
-Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Keeper of Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe
These people’s ancestors were massacred by the millions, and were victims of a genocide as awful as the Holocaust. Yet, they stand in peaceful resistance protecting what is sacred to them and to all of life, water. The same is true for the Apache protecting Oak Flat, a rare riparian area with a perennial stream in an Arizona canyon, surrounded by desert, which state senators attempted to sell to a foreign mining company. The same also goes for the Hawaiians who stood peacefully to protect their sacred site, the top of the watershed on Mauna Kea. It is the same battle that people of all races and skin colors are fighting across the globe to protect the fragile ecosystems that we depend on for life in the face of greedy, careless, extractive industries.
We don’t carry only pain, we carry connection. Whenever we resist or insist in the face of the depredations of developers, corporate predators, government officials, university administrators, or even the general public, we are trying to protect our relationships to our ancestors, our language, our culture, and our ʻāina (land). But at the same time, we are trying to reawaken and protect their connections as well.
That short-sighted model of ‘progress’ – that we seem to be standing in the way of – hinges upon all of us, all of Hawaiʻi’s people, all of the Pacific’s people, all of the world’s people losing connection to land, to sea, to other human beings. The less you feel these connections, the easier it is for you to be convinced that unrestricted development is the highest and best use of land.
– from We Live in the Future. Come Join Us by Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada
Feel These Connections
These are connections to history, they are connections to the land, they are connections to each other, despite the color of our skin, they are connections to all of life. There is pain where these connections have been severed, where we have lost our own humanity, and therefore, many people would rather not feel it at all. Yet denial, numbness, and disconnection, only makes it worse. What we do to each other, we do to ourselves, what we do to the land, we do to ourselves.
This history is still alive in the land, in the descendants, the belief systems, and the culture of America. Every so often it resurfaces and we have a chance to make peace with it, heal it, and let it go. It is a known biological fact that trauma is passed down through the generations in our DNA. The stories that we tell ourselves become the beliefs that rule our reality.
How is America’s Existential Crisis Good for the Rest of the World?
Despite the negative aspects of America’s troubled history, the nation has always held a special place on the global stage. It is the birthplace of democratic ideals, as the founding principles of the United States government are borrowed from the Native Iroquois People. Though similar democratic ideas had circulated in Greece, nothing as evolved as the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) matriarchal form of checks and balances, along with an integrated understanding of sharing/stewarding the land had ever existed in Europe.
America has led the world in many creative and innovative ways. It has gifted the world with blues, jazz, hip-hop, and many other musical, visual art forms that are celebrated across the planet. Americans have taken old-world traditions and combined them in beautiful ways, integrating them with technology, film, the internet, and media. The global contributions are enormous and the reasons to love America are endless.
However, the colonial, imperial ways also continue. Today, they are guised in “development”, or “progress”, or wars waged for “democracy” that profit from the theft of sovereignty and natural resources. The geo-political, strategic policies in the Middle East like the coup to overthrow democratically elected leaders, like Mosaddegh, over fifty years ago continue today. Weapons sales by America to countries with horrible human rights abuses, like Saudi Arabia, interventionist policies funded by taxpayers continue, while Americans argue about standing or kneeling for a song at a football game. However, when America comes to terms with it’s own shadow, with it’s own history, it will light the world on fire with inspiration once again.
Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children. -Sitting Bull
When we study bloodlines, and migration routes, we know beyond any doubt that humanity is completely interconnected with each other. When we study the biology of our own bodies, we recognize that we are connected to every aspect of our environment from the air we breathe, to the water we drink, to the sacred ground we stand on. When we find peace within ourselves, only then can we emanate it to the world around us. The journey of cultural healing can be joyous and colorful if we choose to embark on it together.
Let us honor the roots, let us awaken to our history and become our most actualized selves! May we emerge from this existential crisis knowing that we are one people, sharing one glorious planet. Our Native American relatives say it best when they say “Mitakuyeoyasin”, which in Lakota translates as “We are All Related’. Sometimes things need to fall apart before they can come together stronger than before.