Murdered and Missing Women: Reflections on a Tumblr comment

[Warning: This release contains profanity and triggers about violence.]

The way these phrases and photos invade my life is a bit like grace, in that I do not anticipate their effect and I know they are spiritually important—but they do not feel like grace.  They are always something dreadful and sad that spring out of the information gathering I do that is part of my work.  Usually, they are not accounts of slaughters or grand tragedies, or pictures of carnage.  When an Israeli military bulldozer driver ran over Rachel Corrie in March 2003 (can it really be eleven years now?)  The photo of her corpse did not pierce me.  It was the photo of her colleagues—calmly comforting her in previous photos—weeping and embracing each other in the final photo, after her death, that got its hooks into me, that still has its hooks in me for that matter.

Most recently, the item of hideous grace was this: “Fuck, they just found her body.  Rest in peace, love.”

It was a comment by a young women going by the name “Willow Deplorable” on the Tumblr blog of our Aboriginal Justice Team.  They had posted a notice about 26-year-old Loretta Saunders’ body turning up on the Trans-Canada highway in New Brunswick.  An activist trying to publicize Canadian authorities’ lack of interest in more than 800 murdered and missing Indigenous women, Saunders had been writing her thesis on the topic when she disappeared on February 13.  I clicked on a link that brought me to the article about her disappearance, and for some reason, among the 64 notes posted at the bottom of the article, Willow Deplorable’s jumped out at me:

“Fuck, they just found her body. Rest in peace, love.”

And then I read a piece by Saunders’ thesis advisor, Darryl Leroux, who wrote that the image of her final resting place by the highway “hurts beyond anything I could say in words…I simply cannot get this image out of my mind.”  I read Tara Williamson’s piece, “Don’t be tricked,” in which she said she shared Leroux’s initial gut reaction, “she’ll show up in a ditch like so many indigenous women before her” but allowed herself “this glimmer of hope, this notion that, for some reason, maybe this time it would be different…because she was an urbanized grad student or because she could pass as white … Despite all my talk, all my activism, all my ‘decolonizing’ work, I swallowed the pill… I got tricked.”

Williamson goes on to say,

•    If you are an Indigenous woman, don’t be tricked into thinking you are any more safe than any of our other sisters out there. You’re not. The system and most Canadians don’t give a shit about you…

•    Don’t be tricked into thinking that wearing a ribbon for a day, or signing a petition, or composing a tweet, or writing an article is going to change anything on its own…

•    Finally, don’t be tricked into thinking someone else will do this work. You are that “someone else.” Loretta knew this. That’s why she was working so hard on uncovering the truth about murdered and missing women.

Honour Loretta. Don’t be tricked.

The thing is, I knew about murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada before Loretta Saunders’ death—women whose disappearances and deaths the authorities mostly could not be bothered to solve.  I edit releases for the Aboriginal Justice team for CPTnet.  If I were working with the team in Canada, I would have gladly joined demonstrations and put my skills to work on behalf of this issue.  In fact, I have edited hundreds of releases describing many horrible things over the years, but for some reason, Willow Deplorable’s comment, “Fuck, they just found her body. Rest in peace, love” was like a raft that carried me past the word “issue,” and forced me to face the agony of the people who loved these women.

And then that raft left Canada.  It was 1999; I was with Lakota friends in South Dakota who were telling me about their ancestors’ bodies displayed like animal specimens in museums and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers flooding their sacred burial grounds along the Missouri river.  I was in college in the 1980s learning of other bodies tortured and dumped by the roadside in El Salvador and Guatemala, disposed of by men trained in the U.S. to terrorize civilian populations.  It was 1998; I was viewing the photos of Mayans from Union Progreso in Chiapas who had been stripped naked and cut open by the Mexican military and returned to their families that way.  I was reading the reports of how paramilitaries slaughtered and mutilated Las Abejas, our partners in Chiapas from 1998-2001.  It was 2001-2003 and I was editing reports of my CPT colleagues and friends pulling bodies and parts of bodies out rivers in Colombia, bodies who had been teachers, and farmers, and labor organizers and some of whom would remain unidentified—all to teach the people in the Magadalena Medio Region that rightwing paramilitaries were in control.

“Fuck, they just found her body. Rest in peace, love”does not completely capture what I felt as I wept for these poor abused bodies, and the people who lived in them and their loved ones, but it echoes the sentiment.  Willow Deplorable’s Tumblr comment begins with outrage, lays bare the awful truth, and then ends with compassion.
And as I said earlier, the tenacity of its grip around my heart seems like something spiritual.




I have a circle of readers I send the “first” draft of my manuscripts new, meaning a draft I’m not embarrassed to have other people see.  One of the people whose opinion I value most is a fellow writer who has very different tastes in literature.  He hates Jane Austen and loves William Faulkner.  I am the opposite, and so we write different sorts of fiction and in a way, that makes him a bit more objective, I think.   He has been more successful than I in the past.  He has an agent,  although he’s had a rather long drought in sales, so I definitely value his opinion on what’s “sellable.”

Which is why I came away from our standard, “I’ll feed you lunch and you give me a critique” encounter depressed  yesterday.  He had liked my first 100 pages, although he said they were hard to read, because of some personal shared life experiences I won’t go into here, and because, like me, it’s not hard for him to imagine the U.S. sliding into religious fascism.  Yesterday, he told me he had to really forced himself to read the the rest of the book, for some of the same reasons mentioned above, and thought it had real problems with pacing, that there was too much exposition, that I had too many climatic points, that in general, the novel had problems that would require a pretty big rewrite.

I’ve been edited a lot, so I don’t generally have a knee-jerk negative response to suggestions I rewrite.  But others who have read the manuscript said they found it hard to put down.  On the other hand, they were fellow members of my organization, Christian Peacemaker Teams, who sort of share my worldview, while my friend is a professional writer, who was giving me a professional assessment from the outside.  On the other hand, he was picking it up and putting it down over the course of a month and is in general too impatient to read Jane Austen.  If a movie doesn’t interest him within the first five minutes, he will walk out.  Some of the places he marked as too much exposition were only two paragraphs long and they covered a period of months.

He liked my second novel, and I realized something today: that novel and all of his novels take place in one location, over a period of a few months, with a few characters.  Shea, my third novel, takes place over a period of thirty years, moves from the U.S., to Canada, to Chiapas, MX, to Scotland and England, and also ties in how global events are impacting the struggle to bring down the fascist Christian Republic regime in the U.S.  Am I being too ambitious? My book is the fictional prison memoir of a political dissident who describes how he, his wife, Shea, and thousands of other ordinary people brought down the fascist regime of the Christian Republic in the United States.  All of the great struggles to bring down fascist and oppressive regimes in recent history have had an international component to them, and my work with Christian Peacemaker Teams basically brings that international component to ordinary people who are struggling nonviolently to resist systemic oppression, so my gut says “no.”

This morning, in my e-mail were two critiques from readers outside of Christian Peacemaker Teams who told me that they found the pacing to be brisk.  They are not writers, but they are readers.  I probably won’t feel completely easy, though, until I have a professional assessment from an editor or agent about how Shea needs to be revised.