Congrats to Urbana for Being a Sanctuary City!

Congrats to Urbana for re-affirming our status as a Sanctuary City! An original resolution was passed in 1986 designating the city a refuge for Central American refugees. One of those who took part in the earlier campaign, Francis Boyle, University of Illinois law professor, spearheaded an effort to renew it in the wake of Trump’s election. The Immigration Forum and other community members also spoke out in support. On December 19, 2016, Urbana City Council passed a resolution updating the original statement. Urbana joins others like Chicago, Los Angeles, and Seattle that have declared themselves Sanctuary Cities.

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The Recolonization of Standing Rock

By Desmond Powers

After a thirty-five hour drive from New Orleans, I rolled into Standing Rock’s Oceti Sakowin camp in a VW hatchback plastered with Bernie stickers with two fellow New Orleanians and a trunk full of herbal medicine and instruments. We made the trek to Oceti Sakowin to help Grandma Redfeather, an Oglala elder and ex-AIM activist, winterize her camp, Camp Dancing Horse. Oceti Sakowin is the largest camp at Standing Rock and the size of a small village, with a several hundred people occupying a few square miles of treaty land never bequeathed to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and thus “technically” under federal control.  Oceti Sakowin is made up of various larger camps, with people coming together for a multitude of reasons. The camp I stayed in, Camp Dancing Horse was on the outskirts of Oceti Sakowin. It was placed there to avoid entanglement from the tribal council and the main culture that permeated Greater Oceti Sakowin, especially that of the “weekend warrior” phenomenon.


White Allies or Weekend Warriors?

My first introduction to the recolonization of Standing Rock was a small group of travelers fresh off the Rainbow circuit who had a complete lack of respect for the space. They hogged the campfire (leaving no room for Grandma Redfeather, who is not only the founder of the camp, but an elder, and thus deserves to have a spot at the fire), cooked food only for themselves, played music, smoked copious amounts of weed, and waited out the DTs (delirium tremens), never leaving to volunteer at kitchens or winterizing. They had arrived with no prior knowledge of what was going on. They had hitched a ride from Colorado just to see what was happening. When we asked them why they came, they said that they were under the impression that it was another kind of Rainbow Gathering. This is an extreme example of the misunderstanding people had of Standing Rock. But it was everywhere. White allies, whether conscious or not, had come to Standing Rock with different goals than aid, and this manifested in many different ways, all toxic.

Outside of Camp Dancing Horse I met a very different type of person who came to Standing Rock that misunderstood its purpose. These were “weekend warriors.” They spent most of their time delivering donations they pilfered from their basements in exchange for selfies with teary-eyed natives, getting massages at mental health tents, singing whatever song they wished at prayer ceremonies, and attending one or two risk-free actions to finish off their Mni Wiconi (Water is Life) Facebook Album. People weren’t supposed to come there to have a pow-wow, they were supposed to volunteer and be involved in activism. This complete lack of respect surprised me, as it seemed common sense to me that if you’re going to an occupied space meant for activism, you shouldn’t treat it like the Bahamas. These people were invited to help out the No DAPL movement, but ended up focusing on their own “Standing Rock Experience.”

They were supposed to call attention to the movement by being on the front lines, getting arrested, helping winterize, and donating functional things that the camp needed. They did none of this. When I left Standing Rock, the tribal elders were telling people to bring donations to homeless shelters to their city of origin, as most of the donations were extraneous, or not usable in the North Dakota winter. As a result, most weekend warriors (who ate at the various kitchens in the camp and often sifted through the donations area as if it were a free Goodwill) left the mark of recolonization on Standing Rock. On my first day in Standing Rock, I attended a water ceremony at the Cannonball River, where one pays respects to feminine energy and water. This ceremony is accompanied by water songs, led by native women, normally in Lakota. What I witnessed was during any lapse in singing, the ever growing crowd (the majority of which was white) would interject with refrains of “Go Down to the River to Pray” and other non sacred protest songs. There was an invitation for people to sing whatever sacred songs they identified with, but the frequency and overwhelming recitations of these songs only served to whitewash a prayerful space for people of color, with allies assuming the position of leadership in spite of the fact that they were asked to help, not usurp. That’s what was important. Instead of being respectful and following tribal customs, many allies put priority on themselves, not the people they were supposed to be supporting. They silenced voices of color and crowbarred their way in at the one place people of color were supposed to have priority. And most weren’t even willing to get arrested.


Public vs. Dangerous Actions

Standing Rock was a warzone. The Morton County police used military grade technology to drain phone batteries, planes flew over Oceti Sakowin at 4am despite the no fly zone to spray chemicals that woke everyone up with “camp cough,” which stayed with them through the rest of the day. There were countless infiltrators and everyone’s phones were listened to, even outside of the frontlines; water protectors were assailed by the military police complex with everything they had. As a result, actions were normally spread by word of mouth to avoid police interception. Most public actions were mostly meant to keep the police on their feet (at least when I was there), while any action actually meant to stop the construction of DAPL or create real political pressure was kept quiet. As a result, most people didn’t hear about the more dangerous actions. But there were opportunities. And normally they were compromised by a lack of discipline and people focusing on themselves rather than the action. This can be seen with my friend, E__, who occupied and sabotaged a construction vehicle with a small group of people, shutting the site down for a day. He and a handful of people could’ve gotten away, but were arrested because instead of leaving promptly, the group took selfies on the vehicle, panicked when the police showed up while they were distracted, split up, and were picked up one by one.


Silencing Voices of Color

Even though the majority of people at Oceti Sakowin didn’t act like this, there were still enough to cause a large amount of harm to the movement. I met many people, including Grandma Redfeather’s children and grandchildren, who had been arrested many times and were faced with very serious charges, but still chose to return and keep fighting after being bailed out of jail. Most of the allies who intended to stay all winter were extremely respectful, put themselves in danger (legal and physical) repeatedly, and volunteered most of the day. Still, I feel as if the weekend warrior phenomenon has been underreported. Seeming white allies failed Standing Rock, taking the narcissism and vacationalism of our everyday world into a sacred fight, and desecrated it. There is a Lakota term for white people: wasichu. “he who steals the fat.” You don’t have to be white to be a wasichu, but as long as you abide by toxic white culture, whether on purpose or on accident, you are a wasichu. I saw many wasichus disguised as allies at Standing Rock. They betrayed the call to action and compromised the movement.



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Doing SOLHOT as a Reliable Way of Life

“I remember the day
I let go of the idea
and held on to people
I really wanna’
take care” 

– We Levitate, “Take Care”, How I Feel EP (2016)

I am a lover/bandbae/dreamer/Black girl artist/DJ/and so much more with Saving Our Lives, Hear Our Truths (SOLHOT), a collective started and co-organized here in C-U by Ruth Nicole Brown, whose intention is to use Black girlhood celebration and freedom as an organizing, imaginative, fully human, “the rule is love,” (Wynter, 1972) construct and as SOLHOT homegirl Porshe’ Garner (2011) reminds us, “…[to] do [SOLHOT] as a way of life.”

In SOLHOT we dream up worlds together. To know and do this means showing up and being reliable over and over again, and making it right when you are not. It means showing up and being ready to DJ, being ready to lead a cipher, being ready to batty dance, being ready to check in, being ready with the snack (because we need good food to dream and you will get checked by the girls), being ready to tell your truth, being ready to write, being ready to listen to Black girls, being ready to be wrong, being ready to forgive, and being ready to love. In SOLHOT, being reliable means being ready to imagine worlds, together.

The foundation of SOLHOT organizing happens with youth at a local middle school after school. One of the recent and more public ways SOLHOT has organized our dreaming of worlds and collective imagination is through Black Girl Genius Week (BGGW), a weeklong campaign of Black girlhood and voyage to Champaign-Urbana for a series of organized rituals, performances, concerts, teach-ins, dance and writing workshops, studio sessions, skill shares, homegirl kickbacks, private sessions at the local middle school and much more. To date, there have been a total of 3 BGGW’s (November 3-8, 2014; February 22-27, 2016; October 21-28, 2016). BGGW is a space and time for Black girl artists and SOLHOT home girls from around the world and the local community to use creative practice based in the everyday experience of Black girls to intently reimagine, celebrate, create culture and ideas and be free to express racialized, gendered articulations of genius as fully human, complex, beyond state violence and static biological identity categories.

During the October 2016 BGGW, we intimately discussed what it meant to be reliable and keep reliable people around. Poet Nikky Finney shared a story of a conversation she had with poet Lucille Clifton. Finney asked Clifton if she had ever been called a nigger before and if this had made her want to fight. I know in that moment, I was thinking (and hoping) Clifton’s answer would be “yes, I wanted to fight (and sometimes I did)”. Clifton responded to Finney’s question with a no; she found those people (that would try to harm her) unreliable. Through this story, Clifton urged Finney to “keep reliable people around.” Finney learned a lesson about showing up whole, being seen, and knowing and keeping those who are reliable to show up with you.

As a follow-up, Finney asked us, “Once you know who is reliable, then what? When you know someone is reliable you show up in a certain way.” Following BGGW this fall and in continuation of our private sessions at a local middle school, I have been meditating on and thinking a lot about what it means to be reliable with SOLHOT. As I write with SOLHOT (music, songwriting, poetry, love letters, conference papers, publications, etc.) through my work as a graduate student, I am learning about writing (and creating) as a way to be reliable in SOLHOT and ultimately the world. I’ve always considered myself to be a writer (artist) but it wasn’t until I began to write and create closely with SOLHOT that it made sense why, what and with whom I need to write.

In particular, examples of writing with SOLHOT prepared me for a specific way of being reliable. Homegirl and bandmate Porshe Garner (2011) reminded us in her Public i piece (2011) of the complexities involved with “saving yourself first” in SOLHOT. As a longtime organizer and homegirl with SOLHOT, Porshe has laid groundwork for how we come to know and do reflection in SOLHOT. As a SOLHOT homegirl, who has not always physically lived in Champaign (where SOLHOT meets face-to-face and heart-to-heart), I remember how reliable Porshe’s words in the Public i on SOLHOT were to me as a first-year graduate student claiming to work with Black girls and I lived half way across the country. Through critical reflection, Porshe reminded us, “When you address your own issues without trying to save others from theirs, then and only then will you be able to help others.” This was one of my first SOLHOT lessons on being reliable and still serves as a guide to being fully human.

For one, “saving yourself first,” taught me a kind of being reliable that is reflective and brings your whole self (contradictions and all), especially to spaces where Black girls are present and Black girlhood is a topic of conversation. One of the ways that SOLHOT has required me to be reliable and bring my whole self is with sound and music. Out of SOLHOT time, we reflect on our interpretations of hearing Black girls and one of the ways we do this is through music and music making and writing. I am a DJ/sound-beat maker.  The sense that doing SOLHOT as a reliable way of life as central to my DJ practice is a way I intend to show up whole and reliable. Our (my) DJ archive of music and sounds are originally co-created music, sonic memories of home, requests for dance ciphers with homegirls (because Black girls know what they want to hear and dance to, together), It is a way that I am seen in/by SOLHOT. I am made reliable through deejaying and do it for and with my homegirls.

One of my first experiences meeting with SOLHOT face-to-face before and during BGGW 2014, I was asked to bring the music and whatever we needed for the music (our music) to be recorded, played and heard. During one of our sessions/kick backs, I didn’t have our music and my home girls reminded me of the importance of bringing the songs we need to hear each other and reflect, over and over again. Why didn’t I have the songs ready? Whatever the reason, I knew in the moment who was reliable and whom I needed to be reliable to.

It is not (only) about the song files or music equipment in the literal sense. SOLHOT is more than the equipment and technology (song mp3s) it takes to be heard in the speakers. I am learning what happens when I forget to bring my whole self, which includes bringing our songs and having them ready when we need to hear and listen to each other and Black girls. The songs we make for each other, to be our own audience, are essential to how we express ourselves together, create knowledge and love fearlessly while doing it.

Black girls make and move to music, together, whether it is recorded and consumed, played back in speakers or not. In SOLHOT, we privilege being with each other, as we are our most valuable and reliable audience. We will hear our songs and truths when we are together. Funding and sound equipment, or not, we are determined to be with each other, creating worlds, complex, whole and reliable; and we will.






Blair Ebony Smith is an artist and Doctoral Candidate at Syracuse University and Visiting Scholar of Gender & Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign.


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TIMES Shelter Needs to Reopen for Men’s Emergency Services

The TIMES men’s shelter is owned by Rosecrance, a not-for-profit corporation that primarily runs 40 drug and alcohol rehab centers in four states. In 2016 Rosecrance bought Community Elements, the agency that has in many ways acted as the de-facto community mental health agency for Champaign for 25 years. (They were formerly called Champaign County Mental Health). They operate with various city, county, state and federal grants as well as reimbursement from Medicaid and insurance.

Rosecrance shut down the TIMES men’s emergency shelter, except for the 20-bed transitional program. That leaves 30 or more spaces for cots completely unused. They also shut down the Round House, which provided services and beds for teens. The Salvation Army also shut down their men’s shelter this year. The TIMES center was built in part to be an emergency shelter, meaning “guests” don’t necessarily have to be in a program toward self-sufficiency. This type of shelter is not currently in favor with HUD, which was a major funding source for services in the past.

Different organizations believe in different approaches and serve different populations of homeless. This is fortunate because there are unique stories and unique needs. Thankfully since 1992 the community has had the Coalition of Service Providers for the Homeless (CSPH) trying to identify the most pressing needs and influence the creation of a variety of services. The CSPH meets monthly to discuss challenges, share best practices, and better coordinate local efforts.

Some of the safety nets  in place are: Crisis Nursery (for children), Austin’s Place (for women), Courage Connection (for domestic violence), the Pheonix Center (for daytime services), and the Canteen Run (blankets, foods and rides for those on the street in freezing weather). These are not operated by the CSPH, but by individual 501(c)(3) corporations. This year CSPH helped the Regional Planning Commission open the Family Emergency Shelter.

With the closing of the 90 beds at TIMES center and the Salvation Army, the CSPH, including the United Way saw an immediate need for beds for homeless men and pulled together donations, volunteers and churches. This resulted in a patchwork, pieced-together solution of using two churches with four paid staff members. The men are given rides each night at designated times, from two different locations, to whichever church is open. This started on January 6 and is operating for three months on a budget of $35,000 from local individual, foundation, and Rotary Club and United Way donations. Everyone applauds the efforts to keep people from freezing this winter. But this closing of the TIMES has set us back twenty years to this makeshift solution that we used when the winter emergency shelter was operated out of McKinley Church.

How can we prevent this current atrocity from happening again? This $1.4 million building, that was paid for entirely with community and government money, is now legally in the hands of Rosecrance, a private corporation that has no intention of reopening it as the men’s emergency shelter for which it was built. Perhaps it’s time for our governmental agencies to form an alliance to provide mental health, homeless and detox services, so the assets stay in the hands of the community. But certainly it is time for the governmental agencies, the municipalities of the city of Champaign and Urbana and Champaign County to get Rosecrance to the table.

To get the TIMES center built, in 1999, the community appealed to the cities, the mental health board, our state senator Stan Weaver, and local businessman philanthropist Mr. Harrington, who donated the land. There were also considerations of zoning and neighbor acceptance to overcome. Now we are being asked to accept that that building will never be a men’s emergency shelter again, because it doesn’t play to the “core competencies” of the corporation that bought Community Elements. What’s to say it will even be used for the 20-bed transitional program in the future? There is a grassroots movement appealing to the governmental bodies to use their influence to get Rosecrance to the table to negotiate for the use of that building to remain dedicated to serving the needs for which it was built. You can sign the petition at

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IMC announcements

Fun With FOIAs! Workshop with Brian Dolinar & Sarah Lazare

Saturday, January 28, 7-10pm at IMC

This workshop will give members of the CU community access to the tools for filing their own public records requests under the Freedom of Information Act (or FOIA). It will be led by two IMC journalists: Brian Dolinar, writer for the Public i and Truthout; and Sarah Lazare, staff writer for Alternet and a former CU resident.

Evolution of Black Voices: Poetry Night for Black History Month

Hosted by Shaya Robinson and Wolf Thomas

Friday, February 3, 7-9pm at IMC

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Keep Loving, Keep Fighting: Meditations from the Days after Trump Presidency Was Declared

I’d wager that for all of you November 9, 2016 was a day of shock, revulsion, horror, disbelief, tears, confusion and a huge amount of fury. Like most of you, I had a very hard time focusing on anything but the terrifying prospect of TRUMP. It has been an amazing joy and also profoundly frightening to be part of what’s happening on the University of Illinois campus as we move from shock to action. What follows are some loose meditations on the two days right after the election.

Two men, one with a large American flag and the other with a bible, were spewing supposedly Christian but actually anti-immigrant, pro-Trump, racist rhetoric. A large group of us formed around them—some students were arguing with them and some were just watching the spectacle. I was trying to take the floor away from these two hate-mongers and focus energy in a positive way—finally a brave student took the floor and reminded them that their version of “Christian” actually has nothing to do with what Christ would have espoused (image 1-2).

Right next to all this screaming there were students quietly writing love-filled messages in chalk on the quad: “Spread love, the world needs it;” “Your skin your sex your gender your beliefs ARE VALID;” “Love is the answer.” (images 2-5). Unfortunately, another chalking, that I did not see but which a student sent me an image of, proclaimed: “White Privilege, I (heart) Trump” (image 6, sent to me by Stephen Froedge). Later in the day I saw students forming a chain in front of Lincoln Hall and chanting, “keep loving, keep fighting” (image 7). These students were contributing a wonderful energy to the quad, they were joining together to do it.

The following day, I saw a student sitting alone, and completely silent in front of the Alma Mater with a sign that read: “Vow of silence. No voice. No comment. No hate. No tyrant. #Not My President.” I gestured to him (I didn’t want to use words and disrupt his peaceful protest) to ask if I could photograph him (image 8) and he nodded yes. Then I wrote him a note: Thank you for your protest. It is very beautiful. And very needed.

Writing on a huge “What are you Thankful For” sign, I encountered a student who was chalking that she was thankful for all the solidarity and coalition-building opportunities on campus. I asked specifically which resources she was grateful for and she described both La Casa and the Gender and Women’s Studies center as offering spaces for dialogue and unloading after the election. I was relieved that, as a self-described Latina student, far from feeling isolated she felt held by these communities (image 9).

Then I talked with the Muslim Student’s association, out on the quad for a bake sale. They were so happy to have someone approach them and offer solidarity that I wondered if this was rare. The group of students I spoke to had different feelings about the election: one woman said that she did feel safe on this campus but then her friends started chiming in about Islamophobic acts that had happened here: a woman’s hijab was pulled off, and another student suffered a man shouting “go back to your country” as he walked by. When I asked them how they were feeling about Trump and about all of these revolting acts they said they were shocked but they were ready for action and to advocate for what they believe in (image 10).

Another solitary protester sat alone in a chair on the quad holding up the sign “Love trumps hate.” I asked him if he knew of other protests happening and how he felt protesting alone, and he said yes, there would soon be mass protests and it was just fine for him to protest alone. Yet another lone protester had affixed a sign on her dog that offered him as something like “post-election therapy” (images 11-12). I have to own up to the fact that the solitary protesters made be feel melancholic and protective. But they were all mourning and fighting in ways that had an impact, even those that chose to do it alone.

Among the incredibly moving and thoughtful and insightful and informative things people have posted on Facebook, I found these words from one of the many Comparative Literature graduate students who make our department so stellar particularly moving: “I have seen instructors break into tears because they suddenly feel inadequate to protect their most vulnerable students, even in their own classrooms. I have seen new communities forming around the desire to extend compassion, protection and comfort to people who feel threatened and devalued…” (Meagan Smith).

On the Friday after the election, my father, middle daughter and I went to a protest at the Alma Mater. Three generations of Kaplans were chanting “hey hey, ho ho Donald Trump has got to go!” “We welcome immigrants!” “Tell us what power looks like! This is what POWER looks like!” My Jewish-American father was part of the Civil Rights movement and always fought for racial justice; my daughter is finding her way in the world but already knows that racism is painful and wrong and that Trump and many of his supporters espouse it. The protest moved from the Alma Mater all the way around the quad and then down Green Street. We stopped traffic and took over the road—there were probably 300 or so people—black, brown, white, gay, straight, trans, young, old—an actually diverse group of people yelling at the top our lungs “THIS IS NOT MY PRESIDENT!” (images 13-17). The protest ended in an explosion of hugs.

The KKK has endorsed Trump; swastikas and other hate symbols proliferate around the nation. I don’t think it is possible to say that this isn’t a racist choice. Even if individual Trump voters may not claim the word “racist” to describe themselves…this is what Van Jones calls “whitelash.” Other people call this “white nostalgia” or the harking back to an imagined, fantastical, never-happened Eden of whiteness before there was a smart articulate black president who threatened its ascendancy. Before all these meddling professors with their diversity muddied the pure white American idyll. We now face and must fight a return of white supremacy. Coupled with and inherently part of this is a return to a celebration of masculine power. Trump unleashes the masculinist id and allows for trespasses of power and abuses against women’s right to decide when, where, and by whom we get groped and kissed. As Chris Benson rightly pointed out in conversation with Masha Gessen, Trump’s self-proclaimed abuses of power over women augur his abusive of power writ large.

If the see-saw between love and hate as represented in this small sampling from this small college town in the Midwest were to be weighed, love would definitely, certainly, trump hate. But I am not sure I could possibly hazard which one will ascend in the long run.

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Small Victories Matter

By Jacquelyn Potter

Jacquelyn Potter is on the Executive Committee of the local Sierra Club, where she is involved in activism regarding DAPL and other pipeline issues.

A celebration of joy erupted in the cold, snowy and wet camp at Sacred Standing Rock the other day, with reports of traffic jams and crowds of people dancing, singing and hugging. There was a good reason for this collective expression of happiness; this large exhale of relief. An important breakthrough was recently made regarding the recognition of Native American tribal rights and lands, when President Obama kept his word when he said “there is a way for us to accommodate the sacred lands of Native Americans,” making the final decision to deny the easement for the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) underneath Lake Oahe, and to reroute the pipeline away from native sacred homelands. In response, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe expressed that they would be “forever grateful to the Obama Administration for this historic decision.”   Although this decision falls short of stopping the pipeline entirely, there are reasons to celebrate it as a milestone. This decision sets a precedent regarding human rights and land rights v. unchecked exploitation by corporations. This decision has mandated that the Army Corps of Engineers requires an Environmental Impact Statement and public input, both of which, at least by law, are a check and balance of protection in the process.

This milestone was hard-won by the many Native American tribes, protesters, supporters and US military veterans who all came together as Water Protectors to peacefully stand up to the unlawful, abusive and often violent oppression by privatized para-military forces, government agencies and militarized police forces that were hired by or serving the will of the government support of Energy Transfer Corporation. This has been a huge turn of events since just days earlier the Army Corps of Engineers had attempted to order the Water Protectors to evacuate after weeks of abuse by police and para-military using “less lethal” weapons such as cold water sprays in freezing weather and rubber bullets that injured Water Protectors both young and old, sometimes severely (as well as injuring horses ridden by Water Protectors). Such actions constitute human rights abuses and have already brought consequence in the form of a federal lawsuit against county sheriffs and 73 different police agencies.

The decision to explore alternate routes for the DAPL crossing came after a delay allowing discussions between the Army Corp of Engineers and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation is located 0.5 miles south of the proposed pipeline crossing that would jeopardize the water supply and infringe Native American treaty rights. Corp Assistant Secretary for Civil Works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, stated that “Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do”, and that “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.” Darcy said this could be accomplished via Environmental Impact Statement and public input and analysis.

The DAPL issue not only brings up environmental concern in general, but also would have direct impact on the environment here in Illinois. The proposed DAPL, over a thousand miles in length, would connect the Bakken and Three Forks oil production areas in North Dakota to a terminal near Pakota, Illinois. It would amount to a 30-inch diameter pipe transporting approx. 470,000 barrels of oil per day. It not only would run over sacred Native American lands and water sources, but also over hundreds of communities and farms, with corporate misuse of Eminent Domain to pressure or force property owners off their properties. It would threaten natural areas and wildlife habitat, running underneath the Missouri River as well as many other rivers, streams and creeks on its way to Illinois. Within Illinois, this pipeline also poses direct threat to rivers, streams and creeks, as well as potentially threatening recharge areas of our Mahomet Aquifer near the Illinois River. History shows clearly that the question is not if a pipeline will break and spill, but when.   There were several pipeline ruptures and spills just within the past few months as the DAPL protests occurred.

Throughout the tumultuous DAPL events, the Sierra Club has supported the Water Protectors. Prairie Group members participated in several different facets of the opposition to the DAPL, including attending and participating in protests, rallies, petitions and meetings with local and state government. Along with the ongoing protest at Sacred Standing Rock camp, there have been protests all across the Midwest, including in Illinois. One of the protests took place in Pakota, Illinois, where Prairie Group members joined other activists and Native Americans in peacefully protesting the area where the DAPL is proposed to end up before it heads south to Texas, where it would be shipped out of the country to the international market.

As the DAPL events were unfolding, our Sierra Club Prairie Group also learned of the proposed pipeline expansion by the Canadian corporation Enbridge to “twin” (expand) the Line 61 pipeline (renaming it Line 66) running through Illinois from Canada. Our Prairie Group has been busy coordinating efforts with Save Our Illinois Lands (SOIL) to head off the expansion of the Enbridge Pipeline as it poses direct threat to land and water sources, including sensitive recharge areas of the Mahomet Aquifer, of which many communities depend upon. Coordinated efforts also included contacting, informing and mobilizing Illinois land owners about the dangers the pipelines pose and the tactics used by the corporations to take their land. There have been meetings with local and state government. Earlier this fall, members of Prairie Group, local Native American representatives and other environmental groups and activists came together to speak to the Urbana City Council about the dangers of the DAPL and how such pipelines threaten water sources close to home. Our Urbana City Council responded by drafting a resolution similar to that drafted in Minneapolis, MN, but also including language about the risks to our aquifers and the need to protect them. This too, is a small victory, but is important precedence to show the will of the community and its leaders to protect water, land and human rights.

The state of affairs regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline has been in constant flux, with headlines (increasingly now in mainstream media) telling of progress and challenges. The response to the Obama administration’s refusal to approve the easement for the DAPL has been swift and arrogant. Pipeline corporatocrats said that they would continue to go ahead with construction and simply pay the $50,000 per day fine. When faced with this outright and outrageous level of wealth and corruption, we know that the fight is far from over and we must not relent. What we’ve had through the Obama administration’s decision, is a validation (albeit at the 11th hour) of Tribal Treaties, Native American land rights and an emphasis on environmentally-responsible procedure. Although this may not be the ‘big’ victory we wanted, it is still important and should be celebrated. As we get to the close of 2016, we must celebrate these small victories as they can give us incremental momentum and precedence for further victories. At the very least, requiring a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement will show that the pipeline would endanger the water sources and safety of every community it goes through. And, by also requiring public input and analysis, the voice of the people is underscored as being integral to the decision-making process, as it is supposed to be in a democracy. Strategically this may be more of a victory than we realize. As our Prairie Group chair has wisely said, “This kind of procedural step may be the best thing that the Obama administration could do – it probably can’t be immediately un-done by the incoming Trump administration.” However, it is, as ever, up to us, the people, the environmental activists and organizations; the Water Protectors, to hold our government accountable to enforce its own environmental laws and agency procedures. We must demand that corporations be held accountable for actions against the environment and human rights. In 2017 you can bet we will bring the fight!

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Feminist Reflections on the 2016 Presidential Election

profile-pic2016 02 25 Julie Laut

By Nancy Dietrich and Julie Laut

Nancy Dietrich lives in Urbana and is active in the C-U community.  She is a founding funder of the UCIMC.

Julie Laut lives in Urbana and serves on the board of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Urbana Champaign.

The last month has been a time for reflection as we come to terms with the end of Hillary Clinton’s historic bid for the presidency. If the United States’ system of direct democracy extended to that office, we would currently be celebrating the election of the first woman President. And though we mourn her loss, we must remind ourselves that she was the first woman in American history to win the popular vote. For just the second time since 1900, the Electoral College denied the presidency to the person who won the popular election; this time by nearly three million votes, the widest margin ever. However, given the misogynistic, xenophobic, and racist behavior of her opponent, his lack of a clear stance on most issues, and an embarrassing lack of understanding in a number of important areas including foreign policy, many reasonably expected Clinton to win by a landslide.

Numerous reasons for Clinton’s loss have been bandied about: the email server issue that was reignited days before the election; working-class white Americans, long a mainstay of the Democratic Party, feeling like they have been left behind in the current economy; a strong anti-immigrant sentiment that Trump homed in on; Clinton’s support of trade agreements such as NAFTA that sent jobs overseas and have harmed the environment. In all likelihood, these issues and others contributed to some degree to Clinton’s loss. But for her supporters—perhaps for feminists most of all—none of these explanations take away our sense of shock and disillusionment.

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

[Photo by Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post]

We have found ourselves wondering if there is a segment of the population that simply will not vote for a woman to be president no matter the candidate. Given Trump’s offensiveness, why didn’t Clinton win by a landslide? We’ve elected many men to the presidency who held similar policy positions and were similar in temperament to Clinton. Do we hold women to a much higher standard than men? Could you imagine a female version of Trump having even the slightest chance at becoming the presidential nominee, let alone winning the entire election? We all know the answer to this question. While Clinton may not have been as far to the left as some progressives would have liked—Nancy supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries—the vitriol spewed towards Clinton both during this campaign and her run against Obama in 2008 went above and beyond simply disagreeing with her on the issues.

Before the election, an article on by Daniel Bush discussed some of the subtleties of bias experienced by women seeking leadership positions ( Terri Vescio, a professor of psychology at Penn State who studies gender bias, was quoted as saying, “The more female politicians are seen as striving for power, the less they’re trusted and the more moral outrage gets directed at them. If you’re perceived as competent, you’re not perceived as warm. But if you’re liked and trusted, you’re not seen as competent.” Research has borne this out over the years: the double standard is still alive and well.

So where do feminists go from here?

First, women must recognize and challenge the backlash that will happen throughout the Trump presidency, even coming from within our own ranks. This backlash has already reared its head in the House of Representatives, when Rep. Tim Ryan unsuccessfully challenged Nancy Pelosi for House Minority Leader. He was quoted in the Wall Street Journal stating, “A guy like me—it doesn’t have to be me—a guy like me could go into the Southern states, and we need someone who can go into every congressional district.” Ryan, referring to the Democrats’ loss of white male voters to Trump, implied not too subtly that a man would lead better in the current environment than a woman. Fifty women lawmakers signed a letter supporting Pelosi’s bid to retain her position, stating “[Young women and girls] need to see the first woman Speaker—and every woman Member of Congress—standing firm in the halls of power, continuing to fight for their rights, their dignity, and their dreams.” Hillary Clinton’s loss must not result in a greater loss for women in leadership positions.

Second, individual women need to make their voices heard, making sure we are a part of conversation and debate: we need to write letters to the editor and contribute op-eds on important issues; ask questions at public lectures or in the classroom to join the conversation; speak out at city council and school board meetings; run for office at all levels; and call our representatives when important issues arise in our state and national legislatures. Perhaps most important, we must support other women when they speak out and assume positions of power.

Third, we need to continue the fight for gender equity, something that—despite post-feminist rhetoric—is far from complete. Join a group that works towards equality, such as the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which has been advancing equity for girls and women since 1881. Other groups fighting for women’s rights and civil liberties through the courts, in communities, and/or lobbying in state legislatures and Congress include: NOW, Feminist Majority, Planned Parenthood, YWCA, and the ACLU. Get involved. These groups need our support now more than ever.

And finally, we must ask ourselves what we can do to challenge sexism, racism, xenophobia, and marginalization as we move forward. Now is the time to act. Be aware of what’s going on in our community and find a way to get involved. We cannot afford to be silent at this moment. We may have lost this opportunity to see a woman as president, but as Hillary Clinton said so eloquently after her loss to Barack Obama in 2008, “Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time…the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time.”

Posted in 2016 election, Feminism, Politics, Trump | Comments Off on Feminist Reflections on the 2016 Presidential Election

Women’s Lib as Projected on the Screen


“You need some vitamin F.” That’s the teasing advice Claudine gets from her women friends after she complains of not sleeping well.

“Could you live without a man around the house?” Alice Hyatt and her neighbor Bea ponder this question.

Let’s throw back 40 years or so to explore the question: How did American film culture tell the story of women’s liberation?

I recommend a double feature: Claudine (Diahann Carroll, James Earl Jones) and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (Ellen Burstyn, Kris Kristofferson). Both female leads received Oscar nominations for Best Actress. (Ellen Burstyn won.) Both films center around single mothers, their children, lovers, friends, and efforts to make a living. The films hit theaters in 1974, the year the Equal Credit Opportunity Act made it illegal to require single women to have male co-signers in order to apply for credit.

For a midnight chaser, watch filmmaker Lizzie Borden’s 1983 Born in Flames, set in a future America ten years after a peaceful transition to a socialist government, where some women feel compelled to form the Women’s Army.

Claudine was produced by the Third World Cinema Corporation, formed in 1971 by actors Ossie Davis, Rita Morena, James Earl Jones, Diana Sands and producer and political activist Hannah Weinstein. John Berry, who was blacklisted in the McCarthy Era, directs.

Claudine is rightly billed as a drama and a comedy. Claudine lives in New York City with six children, works off the books as a maid for a wealthy suburban family, and contends with a social worker whose job it is to track and deduct any external source of support from her government assistance, even small household gifts from her boyfriend Rupert (Roop), a garbage collector played by James Earl Jones. The charming Roop has children of his own and has to deal with his wages getting garnished for child support. When Claudine’s oldest son gets involved with the W.E.B. Dubois Community Center, the film’s politics widen further.

The comedy comes in the dialog between Claudine’s friends, her children, and in the delicious romantic interplay of Carroll and Jones. Curtis Mayfield wrote the music and produced the wonderful soundtrack, which features Gladys Knight and the Pips. The film carries viewers swiftly in an out of settings and is a trip back in time. Props and costumes from the 1970s, like the wide ties and portable record players, are fun to see, as are the streets of New York. Claudine flew under my radar until recently. I am happy to have discovered it.

The sitcom Alice may come to mind when you think about Martin Scorsese’s film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore because the show was a spin-off, but if you haven’t seen the film in decades, or not at all, do not mistake it for the television comedy, and check out the movie. Scorsese’s masterful handiwork is evident in the many panning shots, warm tones, and feel for place and setting. In addition to Burstyn and Kristofferson, the screen fills with now-familiar actors such as Jodie Foster (at age 14), Harvey Keitel and Diane Ladd (nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Flo, foul and funny).

The film triggers nostalgia in the sepia-toned opening shots of a farm like the one in The Wizard of Oz, with Alice Faye singing “You’ll Never Know” from a 1943 film on the soundtrack. Then the young Alice, looking much like Dorothy, sets us laughing with her foul mouth. She wants to grow up to be a singer better than Alice Faye and says anyone who doubts her can “blow it out their ass.” We fast forward 21 years and find saucy Alice married and a mother living a dour life in Socorro, New Mexico. The quest in her adult life is to get back to the confidence and self-determination of her girlhood.

Divided into three acts, the story begins with Alice working hard and failing to please a chronically angry, truck-driving husband. She resorts to weeping into her pillow to elicit physical affection from him. She reveals her true self to her smart, funny 11-year-old son, and they collude for survival. The second act has unexpectedly widowed Alice and her son start west for California but take a break in Tucson to earn cash. Alice finds work as a jazz singer but soon has to flee for safety and makes it to Phoenix, the setting for the third act. Here she works at Mel’s diner and some of the film’s more comic moments find life in the diner’s various characters. Valerie Curtain as Vera adds an absurdist dimension and even slapstick. The enjoyable soundtrack starts with Alice Faye but moves through the Gershwins, Mott the Hoople and Elton John. Like Claudine, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is great as a period piece but still has relevancy in its situations.

In stark contrast, Born in Flames features music from The Bloods, an all-female punk-funk band, and rockers The Red Krayola. Lizzie Borden’s 1983 underground, feminist film still stands out for its originality and relevance (eerily in the ending), and is enjoying a revival, having been recently restored by Anthology Film Archives in New York City. As a result, it’s easy to find engaging, current interviews with Borden.

Pieced together over many years on a limited budget and using mostly untrained actors, the film feels ragged, raw, radical and real. Florynce (Flo) Kennedy, activist lawyer and founder of the Feminist Party in 1971 that nominated Representative Shirley Chisholm for president, plays a prominent role in the film. Set in NYC “Ten Years After the Social Democratic War of Liberation,” the story surrounds women who retain second-class status and organize rebellion, the government who tracks them, radio DJ’s who promote them, and young women journalists transformed by them. This provocative film is a sure way to stimulate discussion. As Borden says in her February 18, 2016 Flavorwire interview with Alison Nastasi: “The reason I had set it after the first social democratic cultural revolution was that, even after the revolution, there still will be the “woman problem.” Women will still be discriminated against. There still will be white, male privilege. Even after the most idealistic win, what do you do about the “woman question”? (

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Disaster Waiting to Happen: Coal Ash Threatens Illinois’ Only National Scenic River

The Middle Fork of the Vermilion River is a swift-running stream that freely meanders from the north to the south through the Middle Fork State Fish and Wildlife Area, Kennewick County Park, and Kickapoo State Park in nearby Vermilion County. If you are among those who have paddled, fished, or hiked along the Middle Fork, you know why advocates worked so hard to have it designated both a State and National Scenic River nearly 30 years ago. The river is known for its clear-running waters; high, sandstone bluffs; gravel bottom, punctuated by large boulders and rocks; and a changing gradient with riffles that make it a fun river to run in a kayak or canoe. Together, the Middle Fork and surrounding open space corridor support 57 types of fish; 45 different mammals; and 190 kinds of birds. Twenty-four species are officially identified as threatened or endangered.


Location map of Dynegy Coal Ash Pits. All photos and graphics courtesy Pam Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative

But the state’s only National Scenic River also is home to the now-shuttered Vermilion Power Station and 3.3 million cubic yards of coal ash. This coal-fired power plant, now owned by Dynegy Midwest Generation, overlooks the river from its west bank, about 12 miles upstream from Danville. Over 55 years, Dynegy and its predecessors dumped 3.3 million cubic yards of toxic coal ash into three pits constructed in the river’s floodplain. That is enough material to cover over 1547 NFL football fields with one foot of ash, or fill the Willis (Sears) tower nearly two times!


Dynegy Vermilion’s three coal ash pits, aerial view

Coal ash is the waste that is left over after burning coal to generate electricity. It contains toxic metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chromium and selenium, which are known to cause birth defects, cancer and neurological damage in humans and wildlife. If Dynegy has its way, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) will approve a plan that will permanently leave the waste in its current location. Eco-Justice Collaborative and Prairie Rivers Network are working on a coordinated campaign calling for the IEPA to require Dynegy to move its coal ash out of the floodplain to a properly-constructed, lined facility on its property, away from the river.

What’s the Threat?

The Old East Pit and North Ash pit are unlined and leaking toxic metals into the groundwater and the river. Class I groundwater quality standards have been exceeded for boron, iron, manganese, sulfate, total dissolved solids, pH and arsenic.

The New East Pit is lined, but was constructed over mine voids, raising concerns over its long-term stability. Most importantly, the meandering river has seriously eroded riverbanks next to these three pits, moving the channel closer and closer to the walls of the impoundments that hold back the toxic waste. In fact, the river has so severely eroded the banks of the newest coal ash pit that Dynegy recently received approval from state and federal agencies to install emergency stream bank stabilization for a distance of 485 feet. Work along the riverbank abutting the New East Ash Pit is underway, but according to information obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, just 10 feet separated the river from the toe of the coal ash embankment at one location.


Failed gabions next to Old East Ash Pit, April 2016

Although Dynegy is currently working to reinforce banks abutting the New East Ash Pit, gabions (wire cages with rock) installed in the early 1980’s along the Old East and North Ash Pits are deteriorating and literally falling into the river. This leaves banks that abut these two coal ash pits vulnerable for a distance of nearly 1/2 mile. At this time, there are no proposals from Dynegy to repair or replace failed stream bank protection measures along the two oldest pits.

A breach of just one of these pits could send millions of cubic yards of toxic ash down the river, much like the 2008 catastrophe in Tennessee, where a dam at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant near Harriman TN failed, and 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash cascaded into the Emory and Clinch Rivers. The breach released a slow-moving wave of toxic sludge into the rivers that smothered about 300 acres of land, snapping trees as if they were twigs and knocking homes off their foundations. More recently, a pipe ruptured under a coal ash pit at a Duke Energy Power Plant near Eden, North Carolina, in 2014, sending 46,000 cubic yards of toxic waste into the Dan River. And just last month, flooding associated with Hurricane Matthew caused a coal ash spill from a pit associated with Duke Energy’s H.F. Lee Power Plant near Goldsboro, North Carolina, releasing coal ash into the Neuse River. Investigations are underway to determine the extent of the damage.

“If a breach of these coal ash pits occurred, and just a little over 1% of Dynegy’s coal ash entered the river, it would be comparable to the volume released in Duke Energy’s 2014 Dan River spill that sent coal ash 70 miles downstream.” – Lan Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative

This toxic waste poses a long-term threat to the river, to the people who depend on it, and to the recreational and economic values that it provides to the region. A spill on the Middle Fork could leave massive cleanup costs to taxpayers, and Illinois’ only National Scenic River and adjacent wildlife and recreation areas would be devastated. Vermilion County and the City of Danville plan to capitalize on the scenic and recreational potential of the river and its economic potential for tourism. More than one million people visit the area each year, providing much-needed opportunities for a region that has experienced de-industrialization and out-migration over the years.


Failed gabions, Old East Ash Pit, April 2016

Dynegy’s Proposed “Fix”

The National Park Service has repeatedly called on Dynegy to move its coal ash out of the floodplain, citing that the presence of this toxic waste is inconsistent with the purpose and intent of a National Scenic River. But Dynegy, whose 2015 gross profits exceeded $1.8 billion, has dismissed the option of removing the coal ash from the floodplain, citing “unfavorable costs.” Instead, the power company has proposed closing the ponds by leaving them in the floodplain and capping them with a PVC liner and 36 inches of dirt. This is the plan that has been submitted to the Illinois EPA for approval.

But even Dynegy admits in its own reports that the coal ash pits could eventually fail. Their “cap and leave” proposal is a short-term solution that will put the liability for this dangerous site directly into the hands of future generations.

What You Can Do

Go to and click TAKE ACTION to send a letter to Governor Rauner and IEPA Director Alec Messina that asks them to protect the Middle Fork River and the people of Vermilion County. Tell them you oppose any decision that allows Dynegy to leave its toxic waste in the floodplain, because it would put the river at risk and destroy the resource upon which Vermilion County and the City of Danville are building their future. Also, leaving the pits in place will mean state and county taxpayers will shoulder costs associated with future maintenance, repair, and potential cleanup.

Don’t wait. Do this today!

November 1, 2016

Eco-Justice Collaborative is a Champaign-based non-profit that uses education, advocacy and action to address urgent environmental issues, while integrating their work with ongoing struggles for social and economic justice.


Posted in Environment | Comments Off on Disaster Waiting to Happen: Coal Ash Threatens Illinois’ Only National Scenic River