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?