Nancy Vedder-Shults Born on International Women’s Day, Nancy jokes that she was “predestined” to become a feminist. She has been offering ecofeminist and spiritual growth keynotes, workshops, and classes since 1987.
It’s a sad day in Wisconsin. Yesterday afternoon in less than two hours, our Republican Senators — after insisting for a month that their union-busting law was needed because the state was broke — separated the collective bargaining sections of the bill from the financial parts and then passed it. They no longer needed a Democratic Senator for a quorum, since the bill was no longer ostensibly about finances! They unmasked themselves with this political maneuver. Now everyone can see that it never was about the money. It was an attack on workers’ rights all along. And despite massive protests last night and today, the Republican Assembly passed the bill as well.
Many of us thought Republican legislators were shoving an undemocratic bill down our throats three weeks ago. But at least they gave us six days (a ridiculously short amount of time) to think and talk about it then. Yesterday’s two hours of discussion breaks that record by a yard. The upshot of all this is that 60 years of workers’ rights have been swept away using undemocratic methods for an undemocratic outcome (there will probably be a lawsuit about the tactics). This is especially hard to take, since polls show that anywhere from 65% – 74% of Wisconsinites believe that public workers should have the right to organize.
I led a nature divination workshop in the University of Wisconsin Arboretum a few years ago. I asked the group first to ground and center, then remind themselves of their oracular question, and then simply look around at the marshland where we had gathered. One woman decided to ask two questions rather than just one.
She stationed herself on a boardwalk overlooking the marsh, closed her eyes and asked: “How can I find the time and energy to enjoy my life, given the fact that I am extremely busy with work right now?” When she opened her eyes, she immediately noticed the swaying grasses and rushes in front of her and realized that she, too, could be flexible like these plants. She could go with the flow and fit pleasure into the small cracks in her work life.
Then she closed her eyes again and asked: “What should I do about my nephew?” Opening her eyes on the same scene less than a minute later, she noticed a large tree in the middle distance that appeared sturdy and deeply-rooted. Yes, she thought to herself, I could provide this teenager with the kind of stability this tree represents if I open my home to him.
My student’s experience exhibits the extent to which her insight depended on her own perception. Because she was looking for different types of feedback, at the same place and at almost the same time, she noticed two very different images.
This is exactly the type of experience I wanted to foster when several years ago I proposed a project to my daughter, the painter Linnea Vedder. My idea was a deck of divination cards that helps people access their own insight. Linnea illustrated the cards and I wrote the accompanying book. We call it The World Is Your Oracle.
Last Thursday July 15th Fran Luck interviewed Abby Scher and me about right-wing “feminism.” I wrote about it after our talk, and I just wanted you to know that you can hear us at http://archive.wbai.org. Just scroll down the page until you come to the “Joy of Resistance” on Thursday July 15 at 11:00am (the listing is in reverse chronological order). The first half of the show concerns current news about women around the world, and the interview begins at 31:17 (i.e. 31 minutes and 17 seconds into the program). Hope you enjoy it.
NWP members picket the White House in 1917. The banner reads, "Mr. President, How Long Must Women Wait For Liberty."
This morning I had the pleasure of talking with Fran Luck on WBAI-FM , a Pacifica affiliate in NYC. Fran hosts the “Joy of Resistance,” a show that covers “the ongoing and world-wide struggle for the full liberation of women–as it continues to unfold dynamically in every country and culture on the planet.” She had read my original post about Sarah Palin and wanted to interview me about the parallels I saw between Palin’s “feminism” and the Nazi militants, about whom I wrote part of my dissertation. It was a great conversation.
I’m a conversation junkie. Nothing gets my mind going like talking with a knowledgeable person. That’s part of the reason I love Tikkun Daily. I interact with smart, informed folks who are just as interested as I am in the topics I write about.
Fran’s interest in my post was piqued by the fact that a group of women calling themselves “feminist” existed during the Third Reich. She brought Abby Scher into our discussion, because Abby has been researching women on the American Right for quite a while and edits “The Public Eye,” a quarterly publication that tracks right-wing movements.
Journalism about biology often tells us more about our cultural assumptions and prejudices than about the science itself. Nicholas Wade’s most recent article in the New York Times about chimpanzees is no exception. After introducing us to John Mitani, the main chimp researcher in his piece, Wade says
Most days the male chimps behave a lot like frat boys, making a lot of noise or beating each other up. But once every 10 to 14 days, they do something more adult and cooperative: they wage war.
When I read those sentences, my mouth dropped open. My definition of cooperation doesn’t encompass war. In fact, cooperation and conflict are opposites as far as I can tell. And if I were a “frat boy,” I would have some difficulties with Wade’s initial comparison. In fact, as an adulthuman, I have a problem with all the assumptions that undergird Wade’s article.
When I was ten years old, I had a dream: I wanted a chipmunk to eat out of my hand. I laid peanuts in a trail that led from 15 feet away to the tip of my toes, with one final nut in my palm. I sat for what seemed like hours before the chipmunk arrived. The small animal scurried around, looked the whole situation over, scampered away, and then quickly returned to pick up the first nut in her mouth. After she tucked it into her pouch, she proceeded to the next, and the next, and then scooted away to hide them in her burrow. Happily for me, she returned, getting bolder and bolder, until she had taken every single nut, every one, that is, except the one in my hand. She was much too scared of me to risk jumping into my palm for that final reward.
As you can imagine, I was greatly disappointed. The most carefully laid plans of mice and men (or in this case chipmunks and girls) had come to naught. Unfortunately, no one told me that I had made a good start in acclimating that chipmunk to my presence, or that it actually takes several desensitization sessions for a wild animal to become comfortable enough to first take a nut from a human hand and then – eventually – to jump into that person’s palm for the proffered peanut. I learned that myself last summer when I finally realized my 10-year-old’s dream and trained a chipmunk not only to jump into my palms, but from one of my hands to the other and finally into my lap for the nuts I had placed there. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to finally overcome this animal’s instinctive fear of me. For as opposed to my 10-year-old self, who wanted a “pet chipmunk,” I wanted a relationship with a wild animal.
Wildness, wilderness, Mother Earth in Her most primal state have always been important to me, even as a child. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that listening to the purple martins’cheet, cheet, chert as they talk to each other from our purple martin house, or watching the northern orioles flash their orange-and-black plumage as they fly to and from our feeder, or just soaking up the view from our porch over Lake Mendota has an undeniably relaxing and rejuvenating effect. As Nancy Wood says in her poem,
Sarah Palin has been drawing attention to herself again lately, this time by calling herself a feminist. Although I think it’s usually best to ignore her, in this case, I have to respond. Writing a dissertation on Nazi propaganda, I discovered — to my utter surprise and horror — that there were women in the National Socialist party who by the standards of their day would have been considered feminist. Seeing Palin in the light of their history ushers us into a better understanding of this controversial figure.
My dissertation, was entitled “Motherhood for the Fatherland,” and it concerned propaganda about women and their place in society written by Nazis of many stripes. In my research, I unearthed Die deutsche Kämpferin — best translated as The German Woman Warrior — a magazine published by a group of Nazi women. These writers were conservative, racist, anti-Semitic, and had bought into the Social Darwinist understanding prevalent among the Nazis, but they disagreed with their bosses about women. They believed that women like themselves should have a piece of the Aryan pie. According to the articles in this publication, the Nordic “race” had a tradition of equality between the sexes, something this group wanted to re-establish as the basis of Nazi society. Without women’s contribution to the fatherland, these female militants believed that the German people wouldn’t flourish.
You may remember that I wrote about “Earth Day at 40″ a couple of weeks ago. Since then, my brother-in-law has put a video of my sister Amy Vedder‘s presentation online. It’s worth a look — with great photos and description of some of the innovative approaches Amy has developed over the last 30 years to successfully preserve animal species and their habitats.
Amy, who is now senior vice president of the Wilderness Society, offered three examples of her successful projects during this talk. The most dramatic was setting up the Mountain Gorilla Project in Rwanda in the late 1970s. What she and her husband Bill Weber discovered was that the Rwandan people had no connection with the gorillas in their land, to the point that they asked why these two Americans weren’t studying American gorillas. The Mountain Gorilla Project, described in Amy and Bill’s book In the Kingdom of Gorillas, established a win-win situation for the people and the animals in Rwanda, giving jobs to Rwandans who lived near the Virungas National Park, bringing hard currency into this 3rd poorest country in the world, and giving the people pride in the gorillas that lived only in their country and nearby. It was perhaps the first ecotourism project in the world.
All eyes are on big oil these days, and for good reason, with possibly the worst oil spill in history happening as we watch. But coal, the other fossil fuel, is by far a worse culprit in the long run. From mining to processing to transportation to burning to disposal, coal has more environmental impacts than any other energy source. And we’re burning it everywhere in the U.S. — often without pollution-control equipment — even on our college campuses.
Here in Wisconsin, a large percentage of our electricity has been produced with coal. That’s why I’ve been excited to see the University here in Madison shifting from coal to natural gas and biomass. After a successful lawsuit by the Sierra Club in 2007-2008, Governor Jim Doyle decided to convert the university’s power plant rather than simply installing scrubbers to reduce air pollution emissions. This was a part of Doyle’s Clean Energy Jobs Act (which unfortunately was not passed during this session of the legislature), aimed at producing 25 percent of the state’s energy from renewable sources by 2025.
Once the governor’s decision was made, UW scientists from the Wisconsin Bioenergy Initiative and the College of Engineering jumped in head first, enthusiastic to create a model power plant for others to imitate. By investing $250 million to produce a cleaner and safer environment, the UW will become the first major research university in the country to completely eliminatethe use of coal for energy. Unfortunately, other UW administrators seem to be dragging their feet. According to the Sierra Club, coal-fired plants at campuses in Eau Claire, La Crosse, Stevens Point, and Stout are currently violating the Clean Air Act.
We had much to celebrate at “Earth Day at 40.” But, of course, we had much to concern us as well. The good news is that whenever we touched on “global weirding,” water rights, or any number of other environmental issues, someone at the conference offered ideas or solutions. These ranged from the most massive — a new electric grid across the United States — to the smallest and most local — digging up your lawn and planting raised beds with vegetables.
And there was even better news — we all left the conference fired up to make a difference! I’m just sorry we didn’t use that new-found energy to walk the few blocks to the capitol and demonstrate for the “Clean Energy Jobs” bill, which the Wiscsonsin legislature didn’t pass the next day!!!!