Call to Action: Iowa 4-H director fired after gay, transgender inclusion policy inflames conservative groups

By  Jeremy Michaels, 3rd Generation 4-H’r from Dallas County, Iowa

As reported in the USA Today, the Des Moines Register and several other news outlets — John-Paul Chaisson-Cárdenas the nationally recognized Iowa 4-H Director and the first Latinx to serve in that post (In any state) in over 120 years was fired last week.  His offence was working to include youth of color, immigrants and LGBTQ Youth.    His termination comes shortly after he suggested a 4-H LGBT inclusion policy, which drew rebukes from conservative groups and resulted in hundreds of complaints submitted to Iowa 4-H.

(USA Today Article Link

After the inclusion proposal in mid-April, the Liberty Counsel, a law and policy firm that promotes “Christian” values and Word Daily News (both groups listed on the Southern Poverty Law Center Hate  Watch) targeted Chaisson-Cardenas by name which sent thousands of racially charged and homophobic communications to Iowa State University’s leadership. 

In the termination letter by John Lawrence, Chaisson-Cárdenas’ boss and Iowa State University’s vice president of extension and outreach, wrote that he “decided to make a change in the leadership of the 4-H Youth Development Program.”  “Your letter of intent states that your position serves at the pleasure of the administration,” Lawrence wrote. “At this time, I have decided to exercise that provision and terminate your employment … effective immediately.”

John-Paul’s was quoted by the Des Moines Register as saying “Through my life and through my career I have always tried to foster inclusive environments that welcome diversity for all youth and all people, that’s what I believe my career was built upon.” 

It feels important to mention that John-Paul has the 2017 winner of the for “Powerful Partnerships within Iowa State Extension and Outreach” Award and his inclusion work was featured in Iowa State University’s winning nomination of the National Association of Public and Land-grant Universities Innovation & Economic Prosperity Universities 2018 Award.


What Can you do:

1.       Stay Informed by liking and or following the 4-H for Inclusion Facebook Page

2.      Write or call the Iowa State University president.

3.      Writing Iowa State Lawmakers and making your voice heard



How meditation can help address the troubles in our world

by Damita Brown

One of the most helpful things I ever heard a meditation teacher (who I will refer to as Edward to preserve his privacy) say is “we’re all beginners.” He was a senior teacher in my Buddhist community and so it was unexpected. I did not see him that way.

In fact, I had learned so much from him that I had begun to create an elevated place for him. It was a source of distance and false separation. Edward’s comment turned my relationship with meditation practice to a whole new direction. I actually began to lighten up and see how my hurry to get somewhere on the path was a real obstacle, a form of aggression that prevented me from settling fully into who I am. There was an element of harshness and speed that kept me grinding along.

If we are all beginners, then I am invited to think about what it really means to be on a path with real “maitri,” a Sanskrit word that means friendliness. I had heard about the view of meditation as it’s taught in my lineage that has to do with cultivating friendliness toward oneself. But for some reason, this comment really deepened my connection to what that really means.

It’s the fact that he saw himself as a beginner that really made my own aggression more visible to me. Before that I got caught in one fixed view after the next about the meaning of true attainment as a meditator. The saying “the path is the goal” made more sense than it ever had before.

Anyone who has read “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” by Shunryu Suzuki might have a sense of the value placed on being in the position of actually being new enough, fresh enough to a subject of study that there is room to wonder, to utilize curiosity and relax without fear or negativity towards the state of not knowing.

Edward’s words helped to restore a sense of flexibility and kindness towards all those things I felt I should know by now. Aggression toward myself evaporated. The pressure was off. I remain grateful that he shared his perspective. This kind of being in which every aspect of my experience is welcome is what makes it possible to be genuine. Something softens and that softening makes space. Something opens and that openness creates flexibility. I deepened my sense of trust and true patience. It is very difficult to find patience for yourself when you are caught in a trap of self-doubt.

Finding more kindness for myself, I was convinced that we all need this same kindness to undo the harm that aggression causes. Whether we are talking about the hundreds of families fleeing poverty and violence who sought asylum in the US when their children were kidnapped, or the horror of hundreds dead in an ethnic cleansing campaign that took place in Congo this year, finding solutions will require us to have “maitri.”

If we want to be able to solve the problems presented to us as our world relates to the catastrophes caused by global warming or the school to prison pipeline that funnels thousands of children of color into the prison system each year, we will need some ability to treat ourselves with kindness. Why? What does friendliness toward myself have to do with ending violence or poverty or racism or any other problem?

In a wonderful video titled “The Noble Journey From Fear to Fearlessness,” the western Buddhist nun Pema Chodron teaches that in taking the meditation posture we are taking the posture of attentiveness and openness to whatever arises and that this is an act of bravery. This opens us beyond our habitual view of our reality and we don’t know what we are going to see. We see who we really are. We are becoming more able to hold and accept all the parts of us that might be mean, small-hearted, greedy or aggressive. Then you get to a place of breaking through those habitual of static views and that brings fear.

Moving from narrow and rigid thinking and acting means fear arises. But beyond that fear is a new place of openness – a gradual process of becoming less and less afraid. Being fully awakened means staying open and not centralizing back into oneself. This is what it takes to be able to stay open to the fear, the aggression of other people. Relating to our world’s craziness means cultivating the ability to open this way and remain open. We have no real trustworthiness as allies in the struggle against racism, for example, if we cannot look honestly at the ways we have perpetuated racism in our day to day thinking and actions. If we can stay open to our collusion in an essentially oppressive situation, we are deepening our bravery to do what it takes to engage this problem with kindness.

Pema is reminding us of how essential it is to have friendliness toward yourself if you aspire to befriend another. So the most powerful act in dealing with so many of the worlds problems is really just to have a deep sense of trust in your own ability to to be honest, kind and flexible.

My on-going journey of befriending myself translates into the aspiration that we all have the benefits of this kind of friendliness. I think approaching the troubles of the world as beginners might afford the patience and wonder we need succeed.

Surviving Racism

by Damita Brown, PhD

In developing Midwest Telegraph, I have often been in the position of dealing with the harm of both interpersonal and structural racism. Recently, I started to relate to this work as a survivor. As a Black person I am constantly negotiating the racist terrain of anti-Black  social conditions that force me to decide whether or not to respond and if so how. As a racial justice educator and advocate, my underlying motivation as always to find a way to preserve open communication in order to teach anti-racism and enrich relationships that can help dismantle racism.

Midwest Telegraph is dedicated to making sure that the media environment addresses the many ways independent voices and alternative media sideline the voices of marginalized communities. A particular emphasis is placed on establishing groundwork that can lead to a broader conversation. Ending racism means creating a conversation in which we understand our power to transform the exclusiveness, privilege and structural violence of racism within community dialogues. This focus is a direct response to the sanctioned ignorance that entrenches our so called “progressive” organizations, institutions and political processes in the culture of racism. I am a survivor of this culture.

White people have a terrible track record when it comes to listening to people of color about racism. That record is bolstered by the fact that listening is too often confused with self-serving goals that preserve racism.  In conversations about racism, the goal has to be the same for all involved — ending racism. If the goal is winning an argument, hiding ones hand in perpetuating racism, defending one’s racist actions, explaining away racist behavior, denying race based power imbalances,  pretending racism is not the issue or other forms of re-affirming  white dominance, then the goal of dismantling racism cannot be achieved.

I think our best chance for success is in trying to understand how we participate in preserving the socially conditioned relationships and scripts that are fundamentally based in racism. This requires beginning every conversation, action or engagement with the assumption that racial hierarchies are always in operation and they intersect other hierarchies of oppression which keep the power dynamics we have in the Unites States in place. There isn’t any room for the idea that race is sometimes not in play. As a survivor of racist America, going into any conversation with this foundation would make it impossible to accuse me of playing the race card. The race card doesn’t exist. What exists is racial injustice which plays itself in our day to day interactions. It is already played.

With this understanding true allies and accomplices in the struggle to end racism are ready to understand the anatomy of listening and dissecting personal investments in the racial hierarchy. We should look at allyship and growing capacity to listen to people of color as the primary act of solidarity and the strongest form of reparations. We are repairing the missed or denied opportunity to listen without creating “us and them”. We are investing in the much needed work of shifting the terrain of communication so that there aren’t sides, there is no blaming and compassion becomes a true possibility. At this point, personal divestment from the structures of white supremacy become possible.

Too often we under estimate the problem of colonization. Colonization is most powerful when is operates unseen. Hearts and minds are invested in the invisible myth that is whiteness and the internalization of a world view in which white supremacy is taken for granted. Ignorance of ones role in propping up this type of social organization is the best ally to power elites. And ignorance is not an accident, it is incorporated in the structure of our educational institutions. What oppressive power would teach its subjects how to dismantle it? What system of domination would fail to preserve its power through dominating and controlling media, education, political processes, churches and the organization of the family? These are the institutions that make up the social fabric of racism. Their maintenance depends on our investment in them and the belief that we need them.

If we can understand this relationship between our social position and identity and our investment in the institutions and power dynamics that affirm these identities, the next and inevitable step is to question our acceptance of the falsehoods on which racism depends. What are these falsehoods?

Surviving racism requires us to look carefully and how we play our roles and preserve the scripts. It means letting go of that safe expected response or non-response again and again and again. There has to be a willingness to get to a place where the script of racial dominance is thrown out entirely. I am a survivor of the racist narrative that has led to untold brutality and degradation. My family has been torn apart by mass incarceration and economic exploitation. I suffer at the hands of those daily enforcing their white privilege. I am a survivor.

I have searched out allies and accomplices who have smiled in my face while they lie, cheat and steal. I have sat in “really progressive” conversations that show no awareness of the power dynamics being re-enacted for the benefit of white power. And every conversation is a delicate weighing of costs and benefits. We have to ask ourselves. What lies about race am I buying onto today. And what will be my day to day civil disobedience, my daily direct action to undo this harm. How have I divested myself, my energy, my comfort, my silence from this white supremacist behemoth today? I am a survivor, are you?

About the Author

Dr. Brown recently directed Freedom School 360: Liberation Practices for Our Times in Iowa City Iowa. With a diverse teaching team of 15 she created a contemplative and blameless environment in which to re-awaken curiosity and wisdom, develop capacity building skills for sustainable activism and envision communities without racial oppression. To contact her, email

Midwestern Independent Radio Stations – featuring Madison’s WORT FM – 89.9 fm

One of our missions at Midwest Telegraph Media Cooperative is to help connect, strenghthen and promote independent media and free press, with a focus on those here in the Midwest region.

Madison Wisconsin’s WORT FM radio station has been buzzing through the airwaves of a 50 mile radius around “Madtown” since 1975, over forty years. The station is currently run by a handful of staff and over 300 community volunteers. WORT’s call number is 89.9 FM or via the internet at

WORT’s motto:

Here’s to “the uns:” unabashed, unafraid, uncensorable, unconventional, uninhibited, unorthodox, unpretentious, unstinting, unsung, untiring, and finally, definitely unique!

WORT has a rich programming of over 10 independent daily or weekly news forums and upwards of 50 unique music programs. Read on for a profile of WORT’s Independent News offerings:

A brief overview of the Independent News shows that WORT broadcasts follows:

  • 8 O’Clock Buzz(weekdays): is a one-hour, upbeat morning show hosted by local personalities, including a mix of music, culture, information, news and interviews. This week, the shows covered topics such as “Reintegration Following Incarceration”, “Judge Everett Mitchel on Juvenile Justice”, “Congress Considering Giving the President More War Powers”
  • Democracy Now (weekdays)-a global, independent news hour hosted by award-winning journalists Amy Goodman and Juan González.
  • A Public Affair(weekdays): is WORT’s daily hour-long talk program. It aims to engage listeners in a conversation on social, cultural, and political issues of importance. The guests range from local activists and scholars to notable national and international figures. Recent broadcasts have include: “Roseanne Barr and Racism in the News”, “Trade War with China” and “Updates on Foxconn”. “The Effects of Inequlity on Public Health”.
  • Letters & Politics (weekdays): seeks to explore the history behind today’s major global and national news stories. Hosted by Mitch Jeserich.
  • Her Turn (weekly):Information about women including news stories, in-depth features & guest interviews.”
  • Mel & Floyd (weekly):Two wacky guys broadcast a hilarious blend of political commentary, weird news, and stand-up comedy. Mel & Floyd were voted Madison’s favorite radio personalities in the Isthmus reader’s poll in 2009.
  • Access Hour (weekly): is WORT’s commitment to community access to the airwaves. For one out of every 168 broadcast hours each week, WORT turns the airwaves over to a member of the public to program on their own. That hour is every Monday night from 7 to 8pm.
  • Insurgent Radio Kiosk (daily): The Kiosk is a four minute pre-recorded segment featuring a commentary and a calendar of events for the day. Members of the public may submit.
  • World View (weekly): The oldest news show at WORT, World View newscasts include a half-hour round-up of the week’s international news, followed by a 20-30 minute feature, often a speech or in-depth interview.
  • Labor Radio (weekly):: News by, for, and about working people. Labor Radio’s mission includes strengthening local unions, increasing the breadth and depth of media coverage on labor issues, and providing for the information needs of the community.
  • WORT Local News: WORT Local News presents alternative viewpoints in its news – both in the sources it uses and the stories it covers. Newscasts include local and state news, weather, and regular features. It aims to give underrepresented people a voice.

The prolific radio station also runs over 50 different music shows a week as well.

WORT is a listener run community non-profit station and affiliated with Pacifica Network (affiliate station)

We’ll keep profiling independent media here, including stations like The Progressive Radio Network – the World’s Leading commercial free 24/7/365 progressive news and radio network. Don’t take my written word for it, though, have a listen yourself and tune-in to WORT today.