Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Please join me at

Hello, Friends and Readers,

This is my invitation to you to join me at my new blog site, which I have fondly named birdperson. While I still love peace and theater and the both of them together, birds have started talking to me (literally, actually).

The blog began with a 5-day-old starling (who talks) and a nestling sparrow (who loves almonds -- and my hair). So far, titles have been...

* Top 10 (or 11) Reasons Why Life with Stari (the Starling) is Waaaay Better than a Carnival or a Festival (or Even Disney World)

* A Turtle. At My Door?

* Doug? Or...What to Name This Unintended Bird?

I would love for you to join me.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Top Six Reasons You Shouldn't Leave Our Country, and Instead, Should Move Promptly to North Dakota: An Open Letter to Progressives Beyond North Dakota

Dear Progressives in Other States,

The last time I took the train to Oregon, I gathered a bit of knowledge. It had nothing to do with nude beaches or jasmine flowers or drumming on the city lawn. Not exactly.

It began at the locally-owned market in the vicinity of the local, organic berries of all kinds.

A casual acquaintance said to my long-time friends something about the Pacific Northwest seceding from the Union. Body language told me, this was common knowledge among my West Coast friends, this idea that Washington, Oregon, and maybe even California should simply strike out on their own. They're so ahead of the rest of the nation, why should they hold themselves back? I began to wonder if people on the East Coast harbor such views. Do both of our coasts dream of leaving us?

I wanted to holler...something. I should have hollered...something.

But, being Midwestern, I smiled.

Now, many months later, I have finally gathered my thoughts. I call them, the "Top Six Reasons You Shouldn't Leave Our Country, and Instead, Should Move Promptly to North Dakota: An Open Letter to Progressives Beyond North Dakota.”

1) You want to make a difference in the world, a really significant difference in the world; you know your life is inseparable from the world, from our planet. Where you live, Halliburton is cursed for its role in the devastating Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Here in North Dakota, we are faced each day with unchecked oil and gas development at the hands of Halliburton and other out-of-state companies - with oil spills, oil well fires, hydraulic fracturing chemicals leaking across the land and into the water. Yet the director of our Department of Mineral Resources, our only regulatory agency, is also charged with oil and gas promotion in North Dakota. He testifies each week to the North Dakota legislature on behalf of oil and gas developers; he speaks excitedly about "Oil Can! Day," which celebrates the industry, even supplying Halliburton catalogs for the event. Our world, in North Dakota, could use your help.

2) You love food. Local food. Organic food. Sustainable agriculture. These are words you wear like talismans. If you lived in North Dakota, you could support our budding organic food movement, our efforts to nourish community-supported agriculture, our longing to have access to the many foods that are grown here but then shipped out of state. Indeed, did you know both U.S. Senators from North Dakota sit on the 21-member Agriculture Committee? That's where the national Farm Bill lives and breathes – or doesn't. That's where the fate of our food gets decided. If you lived in North Dakota, 10% of the Ag Committee would be (to some degree) beholden to your views on farms and food.

3) You want a more peaceful future. You have bumper stickers that say, “Bark less, wag more.” It pains you to see so many young people getting sent into desperate wars at their peril. But did you know that 45% of military recruits come from rural areas, areas like North Dakota? We lose too many of our young people before they get a start. All the while, we look to you for alternative ideas, alternative points of view; “alternative” is your very way of life. Maybe you could help us dream of alternatives.

4) I have noticed that many of you, whether Native or otherwise, draw hope and direction from Native teachings and traditions. (I first learned of the sacred work of the “Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers” out in Oregon, for instance.) If you come to central North Dakota, you will find yourself surrounded by land, culture, and history that is deeply rooted in traditional Native ways of life. You could also give your muscle to Native struggles.

5) We often hear that North Dakota's stable economy (a rarity in our time) is the result of the oil and gas development I mentioned above. Does it make you a little curious, then, why Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas, and other states with massive gas development don't enjoy the same prosperity? After reading the insights of many economists, I believe our secret is the Bank of North Dakota, the only state bank in the country. North Dakota's revenue is safe from subprime lending, derivative markets, and other imaginary methods of money exchange. As Dr. Stuart Jeanne Bramhall reported last April:

"Currently there are five states (Massachusetts, Illinois, Michigan, Washington, Minnesota) with bills pending to explore the creation of state owned banks or lending institutions. In addition state candidates in eight other states (Florida, Oregon, Illinois, California, Vermont, Idaho, Hawaii, Virginia) are running on a platform that calls for the creation of a state owned bank as a way to stem the hemorrhage of state funds to private banking institutions."

If you come to North Dakota, while there's much to teach - there's also much to learn.

6) If seceding is in your blood, we have a few secessionist bills of our own.

So, catch the Empire Builder Amtrak any day of the week from Seattle or Portland - or connect through Chicago's Union Station.

If you're still bent on seceding, please just take the rest of the country along.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Senator Berry Calls the "Initial Language" of the Peace Resolution "Offensive to the United States of America"...and more

February 24, 2011

Dear Senator Berry,

I was sitting in the North Dakota Senate balcony Tuesday when you spoke about SCR 4015, North Dakota's Peace Resolution. As you might imagine, I was disturbed by your report to the Senate on the testimony you heard in the Senate GVA Committee.

Tuesday afternoon, I heard you tell your fellow Senators that "much of the testimony" on SCR 4015 involved people "apologizing for being American and pointing out the fact that the United States appears to be a great Devil."

I was frankly shocked by your report, as I was in attendance at the entire hearing. As you may remember, I was one of 15 North Dakotans who testified in support of the Resolution, and one of more than 40 North Dakotans who attended the hearing in support. Some of those who spoke were long-time friends of mine, and some were total strangers. While I did not personally agree with every statement made by every North Dakotan who testified, I did not hear the sort of testimony you describe.

I would like to pose three questions to you:

1) Here is a list of the fifteen North Dakotans who testified in support of SCR 4015. Would you please identify which of these individuals referred to their country as a "great Devil" and, as such, "apologized" for being citizens of such a country? Please keep in mind your assertion that "much of" the testimony on SCR 4015 reflected these statements.

* Sister Kathleen Atkinson, OSB, Annunciation Monastery, Bismarck
* Sister Maris Stella Korb, Sisters of the Presentation, Fargo
* Joseph Richardson, entrepreneur, Fargo
* Verle Reineke, retiree, Bismarck
* Jeff Skjelver, retired Marine, two-time veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Rugby
* Tammy Hathaway, mother of U.S. Airforce recruit, Bismarck
* Senator Tim Mathern, co-sponsor of SCR 4015, Fargo
* Tom Disselhorst, attorney at UTTC, Bismarck
* Herb Wilson, WWII veteran, retired physician, Bismarck
* Christopher Dodson, lobbyist, North Dakota Catholic Conference
* Dawn Archer, associate pastor, United Church of Christ, Bismarck
* Hannah Balaban, mother, Bismarck
* Eric Thompson, retired counselor
* John Jacobsen, lobbyist, North Dakota Veterans Coordinating Council
* Karen Van Fossan, spokesperson, North Dakota Peace Coalition, Bismarck

2) If you were concerned about the character of the testimony you heard during the hearing, what was your reason for withholding this concern at the time, and instead, reporting it on the floor of the Senate? I am certain that the faith leaders, veterans, parents, and other North Dakotans who testified would have welcomed the opportunity to clarify their intentions. Unfortunately, when you spoke to the Senate, we had no opportunity to do so.

3) If your primary concern was that some of those testifying challenged -- or even criticized -- U.S. policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, I wonder if you could explain to me the correlation between criticizing the policies of one's country and declaring that country to be a "great Devil." In other words, would someone who criticizes U.S. policy on healthcare, taxation, or oversight be equally guilty of such a declaration?

I look forward to your response. If for some reason, I misheard your statements or intentions on the floor of the Senate, I would welcome a clarification. In addition, if there are any words of apology that you would like me to convey to the veterans, faith leaders, and others who testified in support of SCR 4015, I would be glad to do so.


Karen Van Fossan

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why I Support SCR 4015, North Dakota's Peace Resolution

by Karen Van Fossan, for the North Dakota Peace Coalition
Statement made to the press on January 27, 2011

I have spent nearly ten years of my life speaking, writing, protesting, organizing, even singing and dancing for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I could quote statistics:

* 20% of Americans who die from suicide each year are veterans.
* More than 4,000 troops have died in these wars.
* There is documentation of more than 100,000 civilian deaths in Iraq -- a country we were told we were liberating.
* The cost of these wars now totals more than $1 billion for North Dakota taxpayers alone.

These statistics are not new information. The cry for peace is not a new movement. It occurs to me this morning that I have nothing new to add.

So I'll tell you what others have said.

Jeff Skjelver of Rugby, ND, says this: "When the North Dakota Peace Resolution was previously introduced 4 years ago, I was deployed for my second time to the Al Anbar province in western Iraq. It was clearly obvious to me by then that our presence in Iraq was not to the benefit of the people of the United States, nor to the people of Iraq. Iraq had no involvement in the attacks of September 11, 2001. Weapons of mass destruction were not in Iraq. The people of Iraq did not hate us for our freedoms. Nothing we were told by our leaders about why we had to attack and invade Iraq turned out to be true. In short, the contractors, and those working for contractors, were and have been the only beneficiaries of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq."

A 12-year-old student from Mandan, ND, grapples with a world at war: "I wonder if the world will ever be peaceful...No war in the world? How can people imagine that? I know I can't."

A 12-year-old North Dakota girl cannot imagine peace in our time.

Her peers in Afghanistan, from the Afghanistan Youth Peace Volunteers, would like us to imagine just that. They have asked U.S. and allied forces to leave their country, so they may pursue their own work for sustainable peace.

In this spirit, SCR 4015 not only calls for an end to these wars and occupations -- it holds up nonviolent alternatives that work.

From building schools for children to reestablishing agriculture to preventing violence against women, these alternative programs make a difference -- supporting people to use their own wisdom to solve their own struggles.

My grandfather, a veteran of bloody battles in WWII, tried to explain to me once why he became a proponent of peace. He paused -- and then he said: "I don't like to kill anybody."

Who does?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My Favorite Angels

© 2010 Karen Van Fossan

There is a story of angels I long to tell you.

I could begin with Matthew Shepard,
a young guy looking to meet another young guy
or two.
I could begin with Fred Phelps,
a civil-rights attorney, turned God-Hates-Fags
Or maybe Romaine Patterson,
just a girl from Wyoming, she says,
who found herself – or put herself –
at the center of debate
about the most publicized
anti-gay hate crime
in our history.

But I am going to begin 10,000 years ago,
when bison and
prairie dogs could see themselves for miles,

when all of our ancestors
were indigenous,
and theater wasn't theater.

It was life.

People gathered,
as some do today,
at the heart of their communities,
to make art with their bodies
to make prayers with their bodies.

And so –
when Matthew Shepard
was tied to a rancher's fence,
and Rev. Fred Phelps and his followers
stood outside the funeral
to tell the world that Matthew was
rotting in hell
for being gay –
Romaine Patterson had 10,000 years
of history
whispering at her feet,
whether she knew it or not.

As the trial of one of Matthew's murderers approached,
Rev. Phelps and his group were expected
once again,
brandishing their usual signs about God
and fags,
along with special signs about Matthew.

Romaine met with her friends.
How to protect Matthew's family?
How to honor the memory of their beloved?
They gathered together plumbing supplies and long swaths of fabric.
They cut and stitched, measured and sewed.

They turned themselves into angels,
meditative angels,
who didn't go to war with Rev. Phelps and his associates,
waging battles of good versus evil,
each side claiming the good.

Instead, they made a circle.

They surrounded Phelps and his group,
bringing silence to the moment –
facing outward,
with their hearts toward Matthew's family.

wing to wing --
they reclaimed Matthew's story,
Phelps's metaphor of Hell.

Romaine, with her supporters,
transformed the living moment,
through an embodied act of theater in the round.

Their action had – and has –
no given name.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Transgender Day of Remembrance

© 2010 Karen Van Fossan

I have read in Time magazine about man make-up. I have seen the man purse, proudly worn. I know women who feel sexy in a nice, snug pair of men's jeans. Gender-bending seems to have inspired our mainstream sense of fashion, if not our deeper sense of who we are. And still, transgendered people – those who cross gender lines by cross-dressing, cross-identifying, or reassigning their biological sex – have reason to watch their backs.

Transgender Day of Remembrance is a day, or sometimes a week, to mourn and remember those who have been killed because of anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The first commemoration was held in 1999 to honor Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was stabbed to death in the Boston area on November 28, 1998.

In commemoration of Transgender Day of Remembrance, there are stories I want to tell, hundreds and hundreds of stories. These are just a few that I have learned...

Izmir, Turkey

Azra lived and died in Izmir,
one of Turkey's largest cities,
along the Aegean Sea.

She was a founding
member, the first member,
of the Black Pink Triangle LGBTT Association,
which works for
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transvestite, and Transgender

Turkish officials,
including the Minister of the Interior
and the Governor of Izmir,
tried to close Black Pink down.

They claimed:
Black Pink violates
public morality
and Turkey's family structure.
They took Black Pink to court.

But the Turkish judge replied:
“Like other citizens,
lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people
have a right to create
This case is dismissed.”

With Azra's help,
Black Pink won the right to agitate.

But that same week,
Azra was shot
and killed, probably by a serial killer,
known for murdering women.

At a vigil in her name –
and the names of
other loved ones –
people wore
pictures of Azra
on their hearts.

Rome, Italy

In the city of the Sistine Chapel,
the Vatican,
the Tiber River, the Colosseum,

Brenda made her living
on the streets.

Maybe she intended it,
or maybe she didn't intend it –
but she found herself
at the center of a scandal.

Piero Marrazzo,
former governor of the Lazio region,
was rumored –
or maybe known –
to seek the services
of transsexual women
in Brenda's line of work.

There was media attention.
There were accusations.
There were illicit videos,

In the midst of this,
Brenda died in a fire
in her apartment.

Authorities found
a couple of packed
in Brenda's home.

Maplewood, New Jersey, USA

The County Prosecutor's Office said:

“On Sunday, September 12,
at approximately 5 a.m.,
Victoria Carmen White, 28,
of Newark,
was fatally shot at a private residence
located at 159 Jacoby Street
in Maplewood.
Information released immediately following
the shooting identified the victim
as James White.”

Long Island Channel 12 reported:

“The family of a woman
killed in Maplewood
believes her murder may have been
a hate crime.
Investigators say they are searching for two men
White and her cousin had met
earlier at an Irvington night club.
Relatives now wonder if the men she met
reacted violently
after somehow learning
Victoria was a transgender

A friend named “Hortense” said:

“Are you sure that police spokesperson got her facts correct?
From what I understand,
Carmen didn't go out with her two cousins
and was home on the couch asleep when they returned home.
Her cousins brought those thugs up in the house.
Carmen didn't date that element of man.”

A friend named Alanna Carter said:

“I've never met a more radiant

She was found in
the Kalimalang River.

Her body was not
in one piece.

No one
seems to know
her name.


In honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance, there are also poems I long to make, write, scream, sing, demand. Here is the first.

(If you're a regular reader of this blog, you may have seen it before in an earlier form.)

It is...

Dedicated to my transgender friends, relatives, and students
who are very much alive.

Dedicated to the people around the world
who are commemorating Transgender Day of Remembrance this week.

Dedicated to the 150 transgender people
who were murdered in the United States this year.

Dedicated to Roy Antonio Jones III,
a 16-month-old baby who was beaten and choked to death
for acting like a girl.

Dedicated to Azra from Turkey, Brenda from Italy, Victoria Carmen from New Jersey.

Dedicated to the unidentified transgender woman
whose body was found, in pieces, in the Kalimalang River.

Also, this is dedicated to you.

by Karen Van Fossan

There was a woman
whose name I have never known.
The syllables of her name
might have been sharp against my tongue,
had I ever tried to pronounce them,
which I did not.

The woman was not my friend.
Her sisters were not my friends,
nor her brothers, nor her fathers, nor the mothers of her heart.

I never washed my clothes
in the Kalimalang River
with her.
I never heard her humming
as she combed her tangled hair.
I never knew her favorite things,
the nightmares that made her
gasp for light,
the person or the people
who put her torso,
then her legs,
then her head inside the river.

If I could walk from my river
to hers,
from the mud of my Missouri
to the mud of her Kalimalang,

I would find the pieces of her.
And I would hold the pieces of her.
To each and every piece,
I would
It is all right.

There was a woman
whose name I have never known.
The syllables of her name
might have been sharp against my tongue.

And yet, I miss her.


May we remember those who deserve to be remembered.

May we find a more just and loving future.

Peace to you,

Friday, November 5, 2010

Top Ten Reasons I'm a Pagan

© 2010 Karen Van Fossan

In honor of Lunar Samhain (Halloween on the Lunar Calendar), I have made a short list of the top ten reasons why I practice earth-based spirituality, otherwise known as paganism. According to Samhain traditions, this is the new year, a good time for letting go, cleaning up, making plans, and maybe even making lists. So here's mine...

Top Ten Reasons I'm a Pagan

10) The earth is cool.

9) The stars are cool.

8) The sun is cool.

7) The moon is cool.

6) The dark is cool.

5) The dirt is cool.

4) The ocean is cool.

3) We are cool.

2) Life is cool.

1) Freedom of religion is really cool.