Can We Ever Heal? We Examine Extremism, the Obelisk & the Great Divide: Such an Important Post

Statues are being removed by protestors or by elected officials, right-wing militia have plotted to kidnap governors, Trump supporters are increasingly unhinged by Trump’s violent rhetoric. In this context, how can we possibly heal post Nov. 3?

Can We Heal?
If So, How?

There is currently a pattern of what should be considered criminal neglect on the part of all branches of US government:

  • We are without a national COVID strategy with projections now predicting over 400,000 Americans will have died from COVID by February, with a buffoon president rejecting sensible prevention actions, exposing his own supporters to infection, and with public health officials, including Dr. Fauci, being all too timid in outing Trump’s outrageous behavior.
  • Even without COVID, our health system leaves millions vulnerable from inadequate, costly coverage, copays, and coverage exclusions, and the ongoing skyrocketing costs of medicine.
  • Our public education system begins two years too late, leaving millions of young families without affordable quality early childhood development services, and ends four years too early, leaving tens of millions of college graduates hopelessly in debt.
  • Our Congress has failed to address even our 20th-century infrastructure, leaving our roads, dams, and bridges in danger of collapse while failing to even hint at a plan for a 21st-century renewable energy & telecommunications infrastructure.

We have become a country that throws its hands up at challenges and kicks the can down the road. The absence of trust in government’s capacity to address these problems has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The seeds of our doubt in government have been systematically sown by right-wing plutocrats like the Koch brothers, DeVos family, and others who fund right-wing think tanks that create their own facts, science, and reality, a reality that allows their continuous wealth accumulation while destroying the poor, the middle class, and the Earth. It has also divided our country, creating an increasingly large gap that separates two segments of our nation with some proportion on each side feeling justified in taking violent action. There is daily media conversation about the possibility of a coup or violent actions at the polls.

It is important that this context be understood. We are not helpless, but we feel that way too often, as we face one dispiriting battle after another for what should be common-sense solutions to solvable problems. And we are systematically divided–intentionally divided–with largely white, too often poorly educated swathes of Americans standing in fear of every progressive policy, seeing even the smallest common sense reform as a threat to their freedom and the country they love, even seeing a mask as a threat to their liberty.

Yet, almost all progressive policies would address social, health, and economic challenges that are decimating poor white communities almost as badly as they are destroying communities of color.

After Nov. 3, we must begin developing strategies to heal this breach. It is clear our leadership is incapable of doing so and our media has a self interest in promulgating the divide. So, we must explore how and why this divide must be healed, for the good of all of us. We need our energy and passion to be focused on our very real problems, not on each other.

Here is where I want to pivot only slightly to discuss the Santa Fe obelisk and its being pulled down by protesters on Indigenous Peoples’ Day earlier this week. For those who are not aware of the history of the obelisk, we off this from historian Estevan Rael-Gálvez:

“The Soldier’s Monument or Obelisk honors the lives of men who died in two intersecting conflicts — the Civil War and the Indian Wars….This memorial is among the oldest placed in this landscape and is built in the shape of an Egyptian obelisk, an ancient symbol representing creation and renewal, particularly in its association with the light of the sun. It was identified with the benu bird, a precursor to the Greek phoenix, but tied to two gods, Thoth, keeper of the records and Ra, the sun god. It is seated upon a raised base, decorated with laurel wreaths symbolizing triumph, held up by four pillars framing inscriptions on marble, one of which has been the subject of contentious civic debate and community activism for decades.”

Historian Estevan Rael-Gálvez.

What was not mentioned by Rael-Galvez is that until the 1970s, the obelisk included an inscription “to the brave heroes who have fallen in various battles with savage Indians….” And while the word “savage” was etched out by an unidentified individual almost 50 years ago, there is good reason for indigenous outrage that such a monument should be at the center of the town square.

We are seeing other statues being removed legally or as part of activist action across the nation. In either case, one side celebrates while the other is left feeling disrespected or violated. If you’ve been reading this blog for any time at all, you will appreciate where our sympathies lie. We were strongly opposed to the Entrada and pleased to find it end as a public event on the Santa Fe Plaza. But there are significant segments of the population for whom the Entrada was a seminal festival, a source of cultural pride.

I am trying to sort out how our city, our state, and our nation can address these divisions, can find a way to identify and advance our common goals and face our common needs while respecting our differences. Or is our future going to be continuing battles of words with each side operating with their own inflamed sense of justice, buoyed by their own facts, arguments, and media sources, with frustrations increasingly leading to threats of violence or violent actions?

I am not seeing how healing will be possible when protestors pull down obelisks, statues of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Jefferson Davis or any of the dozens of other statues commemorating presidents, generals, and others who have since been recognized as representing racist or colonial actions, policies, or eras. On the other hand, statues commemorating Kit Carson are deeply offensive to indigenous people, as was the obelisk. Statues of Jim Crow “heroes” must trigger revulsion among African Americans who live in communities still honoring those who condoned or promoted lynching, segregation, and other racist actions.

In the instance of the obelisk in Santa Fe, in June our Mayor announced that the obelisk indeed would come down and that “a proper place” would be found for it.

“In this historic moment, we are being called upon to come to terms with our past. When the history of the 21st century is written, 2020 will go down in history as the moment when we either stepped up and took advantage of the challenge we are facing or allowed the past to swallow us up,” Webber said.

June 17, 2020, ABQ Journal

For four months, the Mayor failed to follow through on that commitment and didn’t communicate about any plans that were unfolding to resolve the situation. With Indigenous Peoples’ Day approaching, he had to realize that the obelisk’s continued presence in the center of the plaza would be a focal point of protests. If he had taken “advantage of the challenge” the absence of an obelisk would have been something celebrated as elected leadership facing up to our history. Instead, he was “swallowed up” by the moment.

Roxanne wondered yesterday whether a better end to the obelisk saga, and other culturally offensive statues, would have been for the Mayor and City Council to propose its being placed in the New Mexico History Museum where it could be put in historical context and educate the public about its origins and why it is now controversial. Where other displays could honor the courage of indigenous people and celebrate both the Spanish and Indigenous history and culture. We do not learn from history by removing vestiges of ugly, even murderous, eras in that history. But we also can no longer abide symbols commemorating heroes of hatred, racism, and genocide being displayed in public squares.

I had planned on ending the post here because while Roxanne’s idea about the obelisk seems a worthy way to have resolved one manifestation of the increasingly dangerous divisions plaguing our nation, frankly, addressing the obelisk seems far easier to resolve when compared to the divide that separates our nation.

But, as often happens when I am going to write something that is about the tenor of the times, I receive an article from someone that is so germane to what I am writing that I must find a way to incorporate it into the piece. This post had been completed Thursday morning when Charlotte Lipson sent me a blog post, “Winter is Here” by Sean Patrick Hughes, someone who I had never read before. The quote will make it evident why I want to read more from him and have subscribed to his blog:

“There’s a consistent pathology in the American political debate. The chronic form metastasizes when we deny that we have problems in common. The easiest way is to simply say that a problem is not a problem and just push on. If we can’t deny it outright, we’ll get to work on making the case that the cure is worse than the illness. This should sound very familiar to Americans right now. The roads we’ve kicked cans down are long. And the cans we’ve kicked are many. And you can go on for quite a long time kicking them, but eventually there’s a reckoning. And the cycle moves on. It is the chronic American political condition.

The acute sickness is much more dangerous. It’s when we refuse to acknowledge that we are one people. Problems may be self-evident. But we deny that we have them in common. Because we deny we have each other in common. And so, some problems not only aren’t things to solve. They’re weapons to use against the “others.””

Winter Is Here: Sean Patrick Hughes

This, it seems to me, is the heart of the matter, we are no longer in this together. Hughes is more optimistic than I am. He goes on to say that Covid is the existential problem we simply can’t deny, a can we simply can’t kick down the road. And we can’t solve it unless and until we acknowledge that the problem is ours to solve together, that it simply will not be beaten if some communities shelter-in-place, consistently don masks, and avoid completely all large gatherings while 40% of us go about our lives without a care in the world. We are seeing today how that approach works. We will also not meet this challenge if when a vaccine is developed, half of America refuses to take it. We must own Covid as “our” problem.

Hughes feels that Nov 3 will be the turning point and may it be so. But as much of this post has described, I am not seeing how, even with a Biden landslide, that we rally around him and unify or heal. Or even if we do not rally around him, we somehow rally around beating COVID and that maybe out of that process, that collective problem-solving, we realize we have more to gain by working together on those challenges I identified at the beginning of this post.

I don’t really see a “fix” for what ails us, but I think that it needs to be addressed as an issue that in some ways dwarfs all the other issues we must face. How can you address a pandemic when 1/3 of our nation refuses to wear masks and doesn’t believe the science? How can we address the climate crisis when 1/3 of our nation doesn’t believe the science and points to snow as evidence that the earth is not warming?

About a year ago, Roxanne and I spent a day in dialog with Trump supporters working in a series of conversations facilitated by Better Angels. Their premise was that by reasonable people speaking with each other in a moderated framework, some level of consensus could be achieved, some common ground identified, a starting point. But 6 hours of “conversation,” while civil, was nonetheless maddeningly pointless, as they had their set of facts and logic and we had ours. There was no common ground to be found. And that may be the crux of our national problem.

And so to return to the beginning of this post where I itemized a list of national challenges that impact all of us across divides. Could conversation about those needs be a starting point for a dialog where we can at least agree that these problems need to be addressed and that they are shared problems? From there, could a national debate be initiated on how we might address those challenges? It would feel encouraging to at least feel that most of us were collectively thinking about these challenges, acknowledging that they are “our” challenges, and seeking ways to address them. One promising sign I see is a national exhaustion, a gut feeling that we can’t continue like this, part of it is COVID, but part of it is just the exhaustion of our public debate being so fueled by hate. Maybe we can start by agreeing on just one thing: the way we are living right now is simply not ok. We must find a better way. We must heal.

Having said that, I wish I were more optimistic about our prospects of healing our divisions. But 2020 has eroded my optimism? How about you? Where do you see a path to a national consensus?

In solidarity and hope,

Paul & Roxanne

Figuring this out is outside my capacities, so I am turning to you. Do you see a path to healing this nation, to repairing the divisions, to working together to address the challenges ahead? Please comment below.

Categories: Social & Racial Justice & Immigration Reform

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17 replies

  1. Revitalize the economy for working people: Black, white, etc. Redistribute wealth through more balanced taxation. This will calm the nation and undermine extremists as has been demonstrated throughout our history. Unfortunately this sort of meager rebalancing acts to prop up the status quo in the end. We have kicked the can down the road in this way for so long that the problems in our Country and planet have now overtaken us. Following the civil war attempts to create inclusion of Southern racist populations and leaders lead to a disaster for black people and the country at large leading up to our current situation. Let us take care in how we reach out to these folks following the election. The norms have been broken. Putting our society back together will take real solutions if it is not too late.

  2. Hi Paul. Wondering if I can check back with you about the Transformation Study group and how it is approaching this. Am I missing something about not having a category for process level stuff like Sociocracy and NVC that focuses on surfacing and addressing human needs? I probably am – have been feeling like a helpless idiot… Xxoo

  3. As the obelisk conversation moves forward, the use of restorative and transformative justice models can lead to greater inclusion of all peoples, where all are heard and their voices have power. These are a few resources:

    Using Restorative Justice to Transform Racialized Harm in the U.S. – 2019 National conference –, 28:29 min video. (Fania Davis – “In our retributive justice system, if I cause you to suffer then that creates an imbalance in the scales of justice and to rebalance the scales, I must be caused to suffer. We respond to the original harm with a second harm. Ours is a system that harms people who harm people to show that harming people is wrong.”)

    Also has many resources for transforming communities, making them genuinely safer while avoiding the ineffective carceral system.

  4. From the Santa Fe Reporter 6/17/20: “I support the removal of the obelisk on the Plaza,” says Councilor Signe Lindell, telling SFR she believes the statues and monuments should be reinstalled in a museum. “Recent events have reminded us that our public spaces belong to everyone and we should erect monuments and statues that bring out the best in all of us and that aren’t symbols of division and subjugation.”

    My comment: The City of Santa Fe lost a great opportunity in its failure to remove the Obelisk from the Plaza as promised. A somber, respectful ceremonial event of atonement could have been planned by the city and native and tribal organizations. Such an event could have helped to unite diverse groups and educate people. Instead we got what happened on the Plaza on Indigenous People’s Day. The city missed its chance.

  5. I think it’s a decades-long problem that will require a new generation who, with enough training in critical thinking, achieves “nerd” immunity against misinformation, bias, hypocrisy, and all the rest.

  6. There is still an awful lot of denial over the racism, in this community. Now in a climate where these divisions are exploited, to distract from the poverty, lack of resources, and income inequality, it looks even worse.

    The whole town needs a History lesson. People are afraid to say that a lot of the local “Spanish Culture” is steeped in racism, and it is so ingrained here, that Anglos either can’t identify it, or remain in denial, engaging in their own version. They always bring “faith” into the equation too. For some this “Faith” requires whitewashing and sanitizing their own history.

    There is a lot more to that “Civil War Monument” as they like to portray it.

    Why would “Hispanics” be so invested in a civil war monument?

    “But here, Navajos were always the preferred slaves, or criados, as captives continued to be called. They were considered intelligent and more easily taught.”

    At the very same time the last remaining Indigenous lands are under attack, on a scale we have never seen before, globally.

  7. I read something a while back that said the whole Republican/Right ideology is based on a fear of weakness–of being weak, of appearing weak. This made a lot of sense to me. It’s like when studies show that some people (men) don’t recycle because they think recycling is too feminine. Emily Atkin has a great blog post on Proud Boys and petro-masculinity: I think if we could get to people young and get them to start thinking differently about what strength and weakness really are, we could make a world of difference. Obviously, this is a very long-term, pie-in-the-sky idea.

  8. We should not discount the benefit, generally, of social norms that require one to bury their racism. Acknowledging that we are all racist, some of our fellows are differently and deeply, philosophically racist. But before Trump gave permission to be racist out loud and in the public square, most people buried that virulent brand of racism. Trump created conditions for its proliferation, as something to be proud of. Sending it back underground has some positive aspects, the most apparent is that it is not viewed as a model for younger people. In the 60s and 70s, people tended to keep religion to themselves, but the evangelical movement brought it front and center to the public square where it unfortunately still is. Some things may never go away, and if they are not going to go away, then keep them at home until they do. SO to get to my point, if nothing else, a sweeping out of the current gang may usher in an era where it is not acceptable to be racist in the streets, backed up by some law to dog it out of public existence. Then the next generation, as Karl notes, is the one to carry forward a saner place to co-exist.

  9. As an artist who has created public art, both permanent and temporary, I often think of Julia Butterfly Hill who, during her tree sit, spoke daily with the owner of Pacific Lumber. She engaged him in conversation about his family, asking questions about his kids and his life…this simple brilliant way of building trust, finding common ground and humanity led to the preservation of her tree and part of the forest, and is the basis of building healthy communities and insightful public art.

    The obelisk, that honored soldiers from the Civil War, that spoke of other human beings as savages, that was a point aimed at the sky, was a failure both in honoring our history, our humanity and in engaging people. As Roxanne said, creating an installation in the history museum that addresses this history, and the obelisk, is indeed a more relevant place for it.

    What, meanwhile, should go where the obelisk once stood? This land was settled by humans because of the many springs, a river and a wetland. The Place of the Governors was built near a spring, to have access to water. Water then is what we should honor, for Water is a Commons and is Life. Let us celebrate water, for water is essential, and is the core of us all.

    • Many people have suggested water structures or monuments with water, especially to the Pueblo people who were made slaves by the conquistadors. I think a water structure might be nice but not as a central piece because the Plaza is small. I suggested solar sidewalks, which light up in a beautiful blue color all night, after being exposed to sunlight all day. The center could be a mosaic-ed into the ground the Zia symbol, allowing for kids to gather for story telling, or more intimate musicals. It also gives more room for dancing and lectures on the stage. The benches could be placed around the open space for elderly citizens to sit. Benches and light poles could be made in Native designs and Spanish tin light shades, resembling the past Pueblo and Spanish village designs. The stage could be redesigned with viga posts and solar panels on top, which could amplify the entire Plaza.

      Right now, the Plaza doesn’t work for people. There’s no where to dance, and the obelisk obstructed views of the stage. Maybe fountains around the Plaza? The ideas are endless, and should be collected by an oversight committee. And the Tewa people’s ideas should take precedence.

  10. One way we can move toward healing is for us all to learn and practice the 11 Ways to Speak with the Enemy as described in the blog link below. We really need to get beyond having our ideas and beliefs be what is driving us and dividing us. It’s a process of undoing that I think is essential in bringing about the healing that you are speaking to. Rumi said it best when he wrote, centuries ago, “Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” These eleven ways of speaking with others who we might consider “the enemy” could be a powerful part of the process.

  11. Hi Paul and Roxanne. An honest post, if ever there was one. I want to share with you a very recent teaching available to almost everyone. It is 500 million years old, the seeming dilemma of me, we, and them.

    In Buddhism, there is often a reference to the cause of samsara, which is the gerbil wheel of cause and effect, a continuous recycling of energies, but is usually spoken of in terms of the confusion that surrounds a life without true meaning.

    This ’cause’ is often referenced as ‘dualism,’ or the separation of mind from form, or substance. The fear spoken of in your essay has its origins in that separation, a terror of the mind due to the complete isolation it experiences when separate from form, or shared reality (or worse, a separation from reality itself).

    We all have felt this many times, and certainly are feeling this now. The Five Dukkhas (illusions) and Four Noble Truths Buddha often spoke of form the basis of reason through experience used in Buddhist teachings.

    Seriously, Buddhist teachings are immensely profound, and are not comforting in the least. They require a level of humility that is very punishing to the ego, and take a very long time (unless one is blessed with a union with Zen) to integrate.

    The effort is strenuous, and gut wrenching. But I experienced an hour-long lesson in the vanquishing of the feared illusion of me/we/them that shook me to my core.

    It is a documentary movie called “My Octopus Teacher.” It is available on Netflix, and probably elsewhere in digital media. Many times, I have found myself, quite by accident, in a Zen state of being. This documentary IS Zen, and its exposure of the illusion of fear and separateness, and a reconciliation of that primal feeling, is overwhelming.

    I will not attempt to give a primer, but suffice it so say that the small world of one creature living for just one year in a kelp forest in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South Africa, as experienced by a snorkel diver who himself was in a serious state of samsara, carries a 500-million year teaching of the irrelevancy of fear.

    If this story does not break your illusions of being separate and alone into a million pieces, I suggest immediate suicide. But I am confident it will not come to that.

    Right now it feels like all of us are swimming with sharks. When I say all of us, that includes the sharks the ‘other’ sees us as. Imagine, if you can, a sea filled with nothing but sharks, all eating each other. That is the samsara of fear, which leads to hate, which leads to anger, ending in immersion in the Dark Side..

    Please watch, and learn from a master teacher.

    Mick Nickel

  12. Mariane Williamson 2020 presidential candidate did this in Florida 2000 and travelled the country for the NAACP. Blacks were ready to buy guns and ” healing tour” helped. VP Al Gore had a “trust in government” project that raised trust from 23% to like 60%.

  13. Marianne Williamson 2020 Presidential Candidate, did a “Healing Tour” in Florida 2000 and across the nation for the NAACP and came to Albuquerque. Blacks were doing a movement to buy guns and go to the White House to remove Bush and she was able to mitigate this. VP Al Gore, had a “Trust in Government” project that raised trust from like 23% to 60%. Merging these two efforts might help. The N.M. Voter Services Coalition founded by Bob Moses, Lawrence Alires and myself in 2000, help a series of forums on Election Reform where the Republican Party, Green Party, Libertarians and Dem. Party crafted ten bills for the 2001 Legislative Session sponsored by Rep. Jim Trujillo (D-45).

  14. First, Much Gratitude to Paul and Roxanne for all of your Energy and Effort during these difficult years. Having so much out there to keep up with, you make my life so much easier. I trust you. Thank you for that!

    The only way I can navigate through times of chaos in my life and is from the point of view I call The Big Picture. This is when I can gather myself, breathe, watch a bird or tree or anything in nature, and remember I am. I am a part of Nature. And that there are Laws in Nature like: Cause and Effect; With Every Action, There is a Reaction; Gravity; Balance; Evolution; among others. I truly believe: What affects one, affects all; We All Breathe the Same Air; Each Thought Has an Effect on the Collective; Life Unfolds between the Polarities of Order and Chaos; Something Has to Dissolve to Make Room for Something New.

    In extraordinary times like these, while continuing to pursue Right Action in the moment, I have to stand back and look at The Big Picture, and know that it is as it should be. We, as the Collective, have created this reality with each of our thoughts and actions. The Balance is out of whack. In general, life became too easy, with much consumption, thoughtlessness, etc. Now, as a result, a period of Collective Chaos is being experienced, which in nature, is a necessary prelude to the arising of something new. This is the story of creation. Birth and death. Each of us is part of this cycle.

    My recourse is to keep up with the news from various outlets around the world, not just the U.S. Only do a brief review each day, if I feel I have to. Do something every day for the good of my community. It’s so easy to be drawn into actions that are unconscious. I get sucked in very easily. But that can also be a present moment reminder. Remember that I am part of Consiousness, like the ray of light is part of the sun. Practice Gratitude. Disagree with the opinion, not criticize the person– which creates an enemy and in turn strengthens the Unconsiousness–Cause and Effect. It is long history of the Evolution of Humankind. We are here to create whatever we choose. As I am getting up in years, I can still be an activist. Working on my thoughts is the biggest activist practice I have experienced, with the most powerful effect. I believe this will bring balance, which will affect our trajectory.

    Many Blessings!


  1. Reflections on a Week of Statues, Elections & US/NM Failure to Protect Us from Radiation, Methane & Waste + An Update on the Obelisk & the Election – Retake Our Democracy
  2. Using Restorative Justice to Address the Obelisk Could Have National Implications – Retake Our Democracy

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