La Terre Institute

Group pic with John Clark

Bayou La Terre, Mississippi       It was time for a field trip for our friends and visitors from Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Albania, some of whom were in their last few days after weeks of working and training in New Orleans with ACORN International and our Louisiana affiliate, A Community Voice. For various reasons some weeks ago, I had reached out for John P. Clark, a former professor at Loyola University and activist in New Orleans.  Clark is a prominent eco-communitarian anarchist philosopher and author.  More importantly for us he also runs the La Terre Institute in the piney woods of southern Mississippi not much more than an hour from New Orleans and fairly close to the Mississippi Sound of the Gulf Coast.

bridge over Bayou La Terre

La Terre Institute abuts Bayou La Terre on more than 80 acres of contiguous property that Clark has assembled since the early 1990s.  The promise of the institute is to serve as a gathering spot and demonstration project for individuals and groups who align with some of Clark’s advocacy and scholarship.

Clark couldn’t have been more generous with his time.  Immediately he wanted to take us on a hike through the various pieces of his property and show us all of the work they had done.  We admired the solar panels and the pavilion they had constructed for larger meetings.  He hoped for walls someday, but thought one-hundred people could fit under the canopy even now.  The newish bridge was sturdy and led to a cabin across the bayou that looked comfortable and was still a work in progress as well.

Bayou La Terre

The trail was exhilarating on a warm, fall afternoon.  It was rough in spots from recent windfall, but had good winding angles and frequent surprises in spots along the bayou, sudden ravines and clearings, pine and some hardwood and cypress also shadowed us at different places along the way.  In stops and starts we heard about more plans for tent platforms and hutments at different points along the trail.  On one stop, we heard about a recent Earth First meeting of two-hundred in the winter which had been very successful.  They had shown their teams how to build a tree stand for sitting and sleeping in protests against timber cutting that was fascinating.

the trail

earth first protest tree stand

The key destination for our hike was a gnarled cypress tree that dates at least to 1803 and the time of the Louisiana Purchase more than two hundred fifty years ago.  The tree had been cored to determine the date, but just looking at the curvature of the limbs and trunk it was easy to imagine the hurricanes it had weathered through the centuries.

Visiting back and forth with Clark after we returned to the main house, our crew shared stories of their work and experiences.  I was given tips on how to fly to India from Katmandu on Buddha Airlines.

The La Terre Institute is a living example of Clark’s search to build the “impossible community,” and that’s a noble goal.  Being on the ground, it almost seemed realistic.  We all promised to return, and in my case, it’s a promise I’ll honor in order to support keeping this spirit alive.

250+ Year old cypress



Arizona is in Play in November and It Could Matter

Promise Arizona Get Out the Vote Float

Promise Arizona Get Out the Vote Float

Rock Creek, Montana    Whenever a state is compared to Mississippi, it’s a sure fired signal there’s trouble coming, so I hunkered down to read an article in the recent New Yorker that referred to Arizona as “the Mississippi of the West.” Trust me, that’s not a complement, and trust me on this as well, Arizona has earned every piece of this putdown in the way that it has dealt with its Latino population, calling to mind in excruciating detail the way Mississippi has been infamous for its discrimination against African-Americans over the years.

No surprises, the article focused on the fact that there are huge efforts to register 75,000 Latinos to expand the voting pool. Most of the groups mentioned in the article are organizations we know well and have worked with at various times in the past in one way or another: Puente, Promise Arizona, and One Arizona. These are good people with deep commitments. There’s a real organizing community in Arizona, which makes it a pleasure to work there.

Given the fact there is always more turnout in a general election year, and that Republican nominee Donald Trump has gone out of his way to alienate the Hispanic population nationally, and especially along the border, this is an important peoples’ effort to make a difference and prevail despite incredible efforts by the state legislature to suppress voting access and create voting barriers. There isn’t a poll tax, but there’s’ almost everything else, including the kitchen sink that politicians have thrown in the way of voters. The recent scandal when polling places were reduced in Maricopa County, home of Phoenix the state’s population center where 40% of the electorate is Hispanic, to about one-third of what they had been, thereby creating huge lines and waiting periods is just one example. What’s at stake may not be the Presidential election, because there are other, larger battlegrounds like Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania that will play a larger role, but to the degree that longtime Senator and former Presidential candidate, John McCain, could lose his seat, affecting the Senate majority, and that arch nemesis Sheriff Arpaio could finally fall make this coming election worth watching.

Last time a joint effort called Adios Arpaio came very close to throwing the Sheriff out of office. This could be the time, but only if the registration effort succeeds and voter turnout is high. A recent effort, covered in the article, was successful statewide when all groups joined together to push through a ballot proposition that will reallocate $3.5 billion from the state’s land trust to the public-school system where 44% of the population is Latino. Importantly, the measure won by 20,000 votes.

Much of the article focused on Petra Falcon, a former Industrial Areas Foundation organizer and longtime activist in the state, who directs Promise Arizona. It was fun to read that she still uses the old Fred Ross house meetings as a regular part of their methodology. The piece didn’t paper over the fact that the Latino organizing community is not monolithic. The religiosity Falcon and her organization attach to the work is not shared as widely by other groups and her support for the Gang of Eight immigration compromise, roundly attacked by almost all other immigrant groups when proposed, puts her a bit out of step with others.

More importantly though, on this election, everyone in Arizona is united and that could mean something great for the whole country and speed up the process of taking the Mississippi out of Arizona in the future.