I spent last week cut off from most of the world in rural, southern Vermont. No cell service, the weakest of Internet connections, and a “courtesy flush” septic system.
It was glorious.
I’m a big fan of mandatory adult timeouts. I try to implement time away from technology – social media, specifically – at least every few months (or when the news cycle or my timelines become too triggering) for self-care purposes.
Last week I had the honor and privilege to experience Kopkind, a timeout with strangers who would become amazing friends. It was set up like how I imagine lots of movie-worthy youth camps are set up: Scheduled learning, shared chore duties, organized fun, fires and games, and reconnection with the Earth. And lots of bugs.
The Kopkind Colony is an educational summer residency program for nonpartisan, independent journalists and community organizers. When he died, in 1994, Andrew Kopkind was eulogized as one of the great journalists of his generation, a man who, in America’s leading magazines, brought high literary style and intimate acquaintance with the dynamic political and cultural life of his time to the service of reportage and analysis. The Kopkind Colony, started by his family, friends and colleagues as a living memorial, is based at Tree Frog Farm in Guilford, Vermont, where Kopkind did much of his writing and where his archives are housed. The project honors Kopkind’s legacy by bringing together young reporters interested in making sense of the world around them and young people engaged in the political life of their communities for seminars, skill-honing sessions and lectures with established writers and political activists. It emphasizes inquiry and exchange on a range of social as well as professional issues, and a broadening of knowledge based on an understanding of history and a sensitivity to the experiences of others. At a time of increasing compartmentalization and the decline of formal mentorship in American journalism, it fosters collaboration–with focused programs designed to create a colloquy between professional and apprentice, young and old, rural and urban, with special attention to racial and gender diversity. – The Kopkind Mission
There’s a lot to that mission statement. But it’s all of that magic and more. I applied to the fellowship without really knowing much beyond this mission (I wasn’t a little put off by the use of the word “colony,” but totally sold on the idea that journalism can and should mean active participation in the world – more on that later). Someone I know and admire posted a general Facebook post encouraging folks to apply. My unending thanks to this person. You know who you are ❤
The theme this year was “Freedom to Be.” My cohorts – now hunka (chosen family) to me – came from a variety of activism backgrounds: José works tirelessly in Chicago for the rights of day laborers and domestic workers; Aaron is an elementary teacher in all ways that title does no justice to describe the commitment of those who don’t see their role as simply a profession; Tashira is a lawyer and wordsmith who champions the causes of marginalized youth and families; Chuck is a writer and filmmaker who uses the media to give voice to the voiceless and as a mirror to force the privileged few to see that which they are blind to; Anna is a freelancer kicking the shit out of the journalism world with her prose and passion; Joel is a poet of both words and action and his care for the lives and stories of NYC’s youth and families makes lives better; and Renee fights daily to ensure access to quality reproductive health care is available to those who seek it.
Much of our discussion last week centered on the Black Lives Matter movement, how it relates to us, and why we need to care for each other – not just in a solidarity sense, although that for sure is a must – in order to continue the work we do. Too often, our self care is solitary and framed upon our desires to make the world better. As many of us discovered, however, taking time to breathe, to connect with the land and with each other, makes us more powerful than we’d ever be without these essential elements of movement work.
Outside of the amazing bonds we formed, my greatest takeaway was that the work I do to uplift and center indigenous voices is important, valued, and desperately needed, because it is intricately tied to the greater efforts of Justice Work.
I entered journalism with the idea that I could do a better job than most at presenting indigenous stories fairly and accurately (or, you know, at all). My training while a participant of the Freedom Forum‘s now retired American Indian Journalism Institute, as well as with the student projects of UNITY: Journalists for Diversity and the Native American Journalists Association always always always focused on ethics, that we as journalists should do everything we could to remove ourselves from the human equation in order to avoid any semblance of biased behaviors or perspectives.
I vividly recall the discussion one of my favorite mentors held in which she described how she was not a registered voter, because she didn’t want her public voting record to be used against her as she reported on legislative affairs. She also didn’t serve on boards or volunteer. She still doesn’t do much by way of social media likes and shares. I should add here that this mentor in no way decreed her ways be adopted by the masses, but her words impacted me greatly. Also, this was more than 10 years ago.
But as I developed my reporting skills, I held firm this concept. Then, in 2008, I began working within the social services and education spectrums, and it became clear to me that this way of thinking was apathetic in the most harmful of ways. My disengagement from community involvement was an affront to very real cultural values of my Lakota people, and worked to silence the same people I was hoping to represent fairly and accurately. It took many years, but I began asking myself, “Why should I be fair to racists, or homophobics, or transphobics, or misogynists, or ableists, or white saviors, or anti-choicers, or any other person who lives to oppress others?” Hate isn’t a “viewpoint” to give equal news space to, and as a journalist I find the best good I can do is write about ways to end oppression or stories that bring hope, voice, and justice to indigenous endeavors.
I shared all these things and more with those at Kopkind. My work and writing and passions received verbal praise, sure, but more than this were the snaps, head nods, and hugs, physical kudos that reverberated through my being. And I was validated. I will be ever-thankful and humbled by this generosity.
To commemorate the week, I was commissioned to create a video testimonial of the Kopkind retreat and its impact. It’s not meant to be a marketing product (it’s nearly 20 minutes long), but something to encapsulate what we we all felt and will bring with us as we move forward with our work and lives.