As the homestretch of the new federal administration’s first 100 days and the warmth of a rising spring approaches, I am reflecting on a few interesting connections I’ve stumbled across recently between Dandelion and and the pursuit of social justice. But before I share those with you all, I want to address a question which may rise in many readers’ minds — why bring politics into an herbal blog?
Because herbalism IS political. Our very medicine depends on access to clean air & water, on healthy land for our beloved medicinal plants to grow, on access to health care, on decolonizing Western herbalism, on addressing issues of appropriation within our practices, on using herbalism to care for the underserved and oppressed. And so, it is with that in my heart & mind that I bring you an admittedly unabashedly political look at one of our most common plant allies: the Dandelion.
With award-winning books and documentaries like The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and 13th by Ava DuVernay, the horrors of the prison-industrial complex in the age of mass incarceration are being drawn further into the harsh light of day. I recently became aware of the work of Dana Woodruff, the owner of Dandelioness Herbals, a community herbalist who sees plant medicine and social justice as inseparably intertwined. An interesting interview with her is available here.
In the interview, she refers to a story about Dandelion making a memorable appearance on her path while she was engaged in prison ministry work – attempting to get information, resources, & supplies about herbal medicine and medicinal foods into prisons in her area. She had this to say about Dandelion and the pursuit of social justice: “The powers that be may try to keep us separated by systematic divisions like racism and classism – or with literal concrete walls and barbed wire, but they can’t keep fierce, persistent, and abundant dandelion seeds from blowing right through those fences.” She believes deeply in a strong connection between not just Dandelion, but the whole of the practice of herbalism, and the major social justice causes of this age.
As a herbalist & social justice advocate, I am inclined to agree with her, and so after reading about Dana’s work, I continued to seek connection between Dandelion and the pursuit of social justice. An internet search with the words “dandelion social justice” brought me to the story behind the hashtag #riseofthedandelions as part of broader social justice movements involving the struggles against the oppression of people of color at work in the US today, to include the oppressions inherent in the American prison-industrial complex.
#RiseoftheDandelions began as a hashtag connected to a performance art piece by Eden Jeffries featuring Angela Davis & a desert dance by Styles P. Since then, it has spread, just like the seeds of a dandelion, across social media and evolved into a phrase that is inspiring many different POC activist groups to engage art as a medium for the exploration of justice, resilience, & community.
In 2013, Freedom Harvest, a collective resistance effort of artists & activists associated with Dignity & Power Now, created a workshop series called Rise of the Dandelions, which focused on the deep healing power of art, resilience training, & community movement building to jails across the Los Angeles area . Freedom Now shared their thoughts about the strong social justice medicine of Dandelion in this statement: “We chose the dandelion a weed as a symbol of hope, resilience, medicine and strength. The dandelion grows EVERYWHERE and is highly medicinal, although often dis-regarded as a just a weed. The dandelion, like our people can operate as a tool for healing.”
On my activist journey with Dandelion, I next discovered a book called The Dandelion Insurrection: love and revolution, a social protest novel about the main characters’ nonviolent struggle to restore democracy, by a woman named Rivera Sun. The novel came out in 2013 and in 2015, she released a study guide for the exploration of nonviolent social justice methods in a group setting.
The Dandelion Insurrection is a work of fiction exploring the country we are swiftly becoming in the wake of a compromised election, a meteoric rise in homegrown fascism, and the relentless destruction of corporate hegemony. As author, Rivera Sun, writes in her epilogue:
The Dandelion Insurrection is a prophetic mirror, both foretelling and reflecting the story of our times. Between the first pencil-scratched draft and the publishing of this edition, many details of the novel have shifted from this author’s wild imagining into a stark and sobering reality. As a result, the story resides in a foggy realm between fact and fiction.
Reading the first few chapters was disconcerting, as I could see now how very, very, very close we are to the world in which this story takes place. But as I kept reading, I got to know a cast of wonderful characters like Charlie Rider, the young writer with a passionate voice for nonviolent action, and Zadie Byrd Gray, the spirit of the Dandelion Insurrection and the dedicated midwife to love & revolution. They, along with their friends, family, & communities commit themselves to the rebirth of a nation — one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
It is an enormous task. Almost an impossible one.
But Charlie, Zadie, and the Dandelion Insurrection don’t ask us or their families or friends or communities to do it at one fell swoop. Nor do they ask us to do more than what we can in this moment, right now.
Throughout their adventures, their striving, they continually remind us that the Dandelion Insurrection is “as small as baking bread in the oven and as large as bringing down dictators.” They encourage us to join them in a movement that is “as big as restoring democracy and as small as saying hello to your neighbors,” that is “as vast as the planet and as microscopic as infectious disease.”
In a particularly powerful moment, Zadie reminds us all that the nonviolent revolution that is the Dandelion Insurrection isn’t simply “a handful of radicals. It’s all of Life itself!” — life that self-organizes within the framework of creation and persists in the face of countless attempts to destroy it.
Through Rivera Sun’s work, the imagery of Dandelion, encourages champions of moral causes seeking to live in right action and further the cause of justice to “Be kind. Be connected. Be unafraid!” Just like Dandelions.
These are only three brief examples of what I found when I began to look for connections between Dandelion & social justice medicine. All across the internet, there seem to be many, many uses of the imagery & essence of Dandelion in connection with justice seeking all over the world today. This leads me to wonder, perhaps Dandelion is the consummate justice seeker – humble, yet persistent in its ability to initiate desperately needed detoxification (in the body & the body politic). Dandelion is resourceful, able to make healing use of all its parts and spread its message of freedom around the world.
Kate M. Brunner is a writer, healer, homeschooling mother, member of The Sisterhood of Avalon, & resident of Heartwood Cohousing. Kate is a presenter for Red Tents & women’s retreats. She also hosts seasonal women’s gatherings, priestesses labyrinth rituals, and facilitates workshops on an assortment of women’s healing & spirituality topics. Follow her exploration of herbalism and mandala healing on Facebook at Mandala Dreaming with Kate. Read more of her work in Flower Face: A Devotional Anthology in Honor of Blodeuwedd and The Goddess in America: The Divine Feminine in Cultural Context.