VoteVoteVote. Got it got it got it. But THEN…

Warning: if you’ve had a tough time living in Trumpmerica, this image might make you feel like bursting into tears.

Hope & Change, baby.

Yep–that was me twelve years ago, casting my vote for Joe Biden…as VP to Barack Obama’s President.

I’ll give you a moment. Might need to take one myself.

Fast forward to now, 2020. Two weeks or so before the election. My ballot and the Mate’s are already sealed and ready for dropping off. (We Washingtonians have been handling this vote-by-mail thing for over a decade now!)

Notice I didn’t bother taking a picture of the inside this time.

It’s obvious to me that, compared to 2008, I’m not nearly as excited about the candidates I’m helping to elect. This election feels more like grabbing the emergency brake before the country goes hurtling off a cliff. But I think that might actually be a good thing.

Because…what if my political dreams come true? What if everyone I vote for wins? What if the party I prefer takes over the White House and both houses of Congress? We still have so much on our plate. Poverty. Systemic Racism. Private prisons. A toxic political system, which has created a toxic social divide, and vice-versa.

So this post is just to remind myself: yes, I DID write HUNDREDS of letters to voters in battleground states, over the course of the last few months. Yes, I DID encourage many friends to do the same. Yes, I WILL celebrate on election day if the issues and candidates I voted for actually win.

Dear _______, let me tell you why I vote in every election!

But no, I will not do what I did in 2008 and 2012: celebrate and then relax. Because need never sleeps, and the next fight is always around the corner.

Lesson learned, 2016–thanks very much. And 2020? Let’s hope you’re just the first tiny step away from that cliff.

Finding Empathy in Smoky Air…and Children

You know that phrase, “Be careful what you wish for?”

Yeah.

Below is the chorus of a song I wrote several years ago, about the experience of living on a small, peaceful island while the rest of the country struggles:

No man is an island, let that be my prayer

No matter how alluring be the shore.

Keep battering my senses, O you ocean of despair

Till that landlocked pain is pounding too hard to ignore.

I wrote that song in response to the death of Philando Castile, or rather, to the jury’s response in refusing to convict the policeman who shot him in front of his family. But these days, as smoke from the terrible mainland wildfires keeps us indoors day after day, “that landlocked pain” takes on a whole new meaning.

If you’re wondering why I’m not inserting a photo here of our apocalyptic skies, it’s because I don’t want to record them for posterity. Too depressing. So just picture mountains rising behind an ocean view, and then picture that lovely scene disappearing into grey nothingness.

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in the effects of climate change before. I didn’t need convincing. But “believing” isn’t “feeling.” Real empathy, I think, requires some residue of that pain to lodge inside a person, like tiny particles in the lungs.

So I’ve been thinking about empathy–where it comes from, how we can better stimulate it in each other. And that’s when I ran across this article in a new publication on my island, “The Lopezian,” written by 29 year-old Lopezian Terrell Carter, pictured (literally) here:

(image courtesy Terrell Carter)

As you read Carter’s article, I’d like you to notice two things. One: how, indeed, “no man is an island,” and the deepening divide of mainland America is present even in our bucolic community. And Two: the natural-born empathy of young people this reporter evokes as they respond to the attack on the Say Their Names/Black Lives Matter memorial that occurred on August 12.

Meanwhile at the Skatepark…

Local youth react to vandalism across the street

By Terrell Carter

September 5, 2020

Transcript of audio:

[00:00] Intro music

Terrell Carter: This is The Lopezian: Phase Two News. I’m your host, Terrell Carter. In this issue, we turn now to the Sheriff’s Report.

Newscaster: On August 12th, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Log reports that a Lopez Island man was arrested and lodged in jail on several charges after reportedly vandalizing Black Lives Matter signs near the Village using an excavator.

Terrell Carter: Following now are reactions to this incident as recorded across the street at Lopez Skatepark.

Penelope (age 8): I know that one guy tried to lawn mow them down.

Reporter: How do you feel about that?

Penelope (age 8): I don’t know. Just like that wasn’t a right choice.

Clark (age 11): Knocking over signs is just rude.

Davis (age 11): People just, like, wanna show that they support something.

Clark (age 11): Yeah. They make too big of a deal of it. It’s just unfair, it’s mean, and rude.

[1:02] Connor (age 13): Is there any reason that they broke the sign?

Reporter: The first sign was a Trump sign that got defaced and then in response the person who owned the sign trampled over some of the Black Lives Matter signs.

Connor (age 13): Alright, uh, so I think you’d be pretty mad if someone destroyed your sign, and especially because it’s political, everyone has different opinions about it, so, it’s not right to break someone else’s property if you don’t agree with it, uh, but it is definitely wrong to uh, once you got your property destroyed, to go and break someone else’s property. Two wrongs don’t make a right and, uh, they shouldn’t have done it.

Liam (age 10): I don’t think it’s right. Because it’s kind of considered destruction of other people’s property and also if, like, somebody worked hard on it and you vandalized it, that would just be really mean.

[2:00] Reporter: Have you ever experienced uh someone destroying property or witnessed it before?

Liam (age 10): Um, well if you’re counting toys then yes. Sometimes my friends build really cool builds with Legos and other people destroy them. It’s kind of frustrating because like, when you’ve worked hard on something and then it gets destroyed.

Reporter: How about if you disagree with what’s on the sign, what then?

Liam (age 10): I won’t vandalize it. I’ll just think it in my head.

Jesse (age 14): Aren’t all those signs memorials?

Reporter: Yeah

Jesse: Aaagh. I mean, I guess, I’d say like one is like a memorial that is put up in respect of someone who lost their life. Another one is like a sign for a political party. I think that, yeah, vandalism’s bad but…they’re memorials! If there was a sign that was up for like, you know, part of my family, and, like we had a sign up, that would be, I would be devastated if someone out of spite knocked, knocked it over.

[3:16] Eloise: If they’re memorials, that’s for someone who’s dead. We should give them, we should give a lot of signs respect, but we should give them more respect because, like, they’ve lost their life. If we knock them down, that’s extremely rude.

Penny (age 7): It’s unfair that, like, white people and black people are treated different. And I think they should be treated equally. It’s just really unfair. And really sad at the same time, and like, a lot’s going on already and having the people kill other people, black people, is not helping it actually at all. It’s making it, Coronavirus, go worse. Cause then we’re losing people and it’s just unfair, unfair, unfair.

[4:21] Newscaster: Following the incident, the man involved was charged with two counts of reckless endangerment and one count of malicious mischief in the third degree. He pleaded not guilty on September 2nd and stands trial at San Juan District Court at 9:30am on Wednesday, October 14.

Terrell Carter: But the story of the signs doesn’t end there.

Reporter: Over a hundred people came together to help repair the sign. They put it back together. Uh, I’m wondering how, how that makes you feel hearing that?

Jesse: Yeah, that’s, that’s kind of epic. It’s good to see communities working together to…to…

Eloise: …to improve mistakes.

Terrell Carter: A ceremony to transition the signs and to speak the names of those honored will take place at the Community Center lawn tomorrow, Sunday, September 6th, at 12 noon. Everyone is invited to attend in support of Black Lives Matter. [05:25]

Images of POC killed by police created by multiple Lopez artists; memorial created by a small group of Lopezians; image provided by Terrell Carter

No man is an island, indeed. Those kids in this article understand that better than most adults in our country. Now, what can we do to make fresher air for all of us to breathe!

Limbo: Trying Not to Go Low

Have you noticed how long it’s been since I last blogged? Me neither. All I’ve noticed is that I haven’t felt like it. My last post, exactly one month ago, was a re-post of my friend’s, about the Say Their Names memorial in our little village.

photo courtesy Iris Graville

Now I’ve just returned home from a ceremony honoring those signs and moving them to their next home, as they were not constructed to withstand fall and winter weather. And I’m finally feeling moved to write again…about the limbo I’ve been in.

Limbo. Two definitions come to mind,* neither of them Biblical:

1) “an uncertain period of awaiting a decision or resolution; an intermediate state or condition”

2) “a West Indian dance in which the dancer bends backward to pass under a horizontal bar that is progressively lowered to a position just above the ground”

(*both definitions from Google)

Things that seem stuck in limbo:

–since the COVID shutdown, millions of people’s education, jobs, projects, plans–hell, our lives.

–the forward movement toward racial justice that many of us deeply want to believe in , as the forces against change gather for counter-attack, and as weariness or fear threaten to overwhelm action.

–somewhere in all of that–me. And, very possibly, you.

I don’t want to go into the details of my own personal limbo, which has to do with my two creative passions, writing and music. I want to write about avoiding the “how low can you go?” part of limbo.

Here’s what I am doing to “stay high” in this uncertain period:

  1. Working on the main source of mood-overwhelm: continuing self-education about the prospects for racial justice AND participating in Get-Out-the-Vote campaigns in several key states.
  2. Finding assurance and inspiration in certain voices. Right now, my main Muse is Michelle Obama, via her wonderful podcast.
  3. Sharing good food with near & dear people, and good Zooms with far & dear.

    Like picking blackberries with my sons and turning them into…

    …pie! (The berries, not the sons.)

  4. Reading good books–like Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass–and writing often in my journal.
  5. Worshipping regularly in the Church of the Great Outdoors.

    Amen! (Photo by Suzanne Strom)

How about y’all? How are you avoiding the lows of your own limbo? Please share inspiration here.

The Big Antiracism “Now What?”: Can There Be Angels in the Details?

Erin Aubry Kaplan, in her op-ed in the New York Times, “Everyone’s an Antiracist. Now What?” makes a rather devastating point: Congratulations, White People. You have arrived…at the beginning of something:

Recognizing that Black people matter as much as all other Americans is only acknowledging what’s always been true. Embracing Blackness as a something of value and dignity is a baseline for progress, not progress; it is moving into position at the starting line, but it is not the race.

I am finding my days heartened currently by the scope of racial education among people and groups who have, like me, always assumed themselves to be “good,” “non-racist” folks without doing any real work to back up that assumption. People who’ve coasted on privilege for generations (like me) are finally scrutinizing that fact and grappling with the implications. BUT, as Kaplan writes,

But this is all part of Step 1. Being truly antiracist will require white people to be inconvenienced by new policies and practices, legal and social, that affect everything in everyone’s daily lives, from jobs to arts and publishing.

It’s one thing to declare your support for Black Lives Matter with a lawn sign and quite another to give up segregated schools, or always seeing yourself and people like you as the center of the moral universe. The privilege to not engage is one that many may be loath to give up, even if they believe engagement is the right thing to do.

This is the part where people usually say, “Yeah, antiracism’s great, but the devil’s in the details.” As in: what do you mean by antiracist work? What if it’s not only inconvenient by messy, complicated, hard, threatening?

To that thought–my own thought!–I am trying to give this reply: What if those aren’t devils but angels in the details? What if we can find our own redemption as a dominant race by taking some nitty-gritty steps toward REAL equality, REAL justice? Doesn’t that sound like a blessing to you?

So, for my own work, my own “angels,” I am committing to the following:

  1. actively engage in the struggle to protect voting rights in “battleground” states, by phone-banking to promote mail-in balloting, along with promoting progressive candidates from the bottom to the top of the ballot; continue to mail letters to individual voters to urge their participation in November
  2. continue to advocate, through phone calls and email, for the closure of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA, run by the private prison company Geo Group
  3. continue to educate myself about the American carceral state, to see what else needs advocating for (restoration of voting privileges for former felons? prison defunding? what else?)
  4. look for opportunities to support Black businesses, like WeBuyBlack.com (gorgeous dresses!)
  5. stay open to calls for action from organizations like Color of Change, using the privilege of my free time to advocate on specific cases of injustice whenever I have a moment

    Not gonna lie–it’s a tough read.

When I find myself foot-dragging on any of the above actions–which, face it, are not inherently fun–all I have to do is re-read Kaplan’s line: The privilege to not engage is one that many may be loath to give up, even if they believe engagement is the right thing to do.

Photo Courtesy of Color of Change.org

I admit, I’m writing this as much to keep myself motivated as anything. Privileged non-engagement is very, VERY comfortable. That’s why I’ve lived there for most of my life.

Anyway–thanks for reading about my commitments. I’d love to read about yours! Please share your current or next steps, wherever you are on this journey.

 

“Stand-up Tragedy”: When Coping Mechanisms Become Calls to Action

I’m not a particularly gifted comedian, but comedy plays a big role in the life I’ve made with my Mate. We like to say Jon Stewart pretty much raised our children. I know he got us through the Dubya Bush years, especially after the invasion of Iraq. When the Daily Show theme music came on, we’d yell, “Hey boys, Funny People!” and the boys would come running.

Since the election of 2016, I’ve leaned hard on Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah to remind myself that I’m not the only one who feels like my country’s turning back 100 years. But since the death of George Floyd, like the comedians themselves, I’m finding more solace in bitterness.

Isn’t that a contradiction? No–not when the bitterness is shared, and focused.

This morning’s New York Times article about Richard Pryor, by Jason Zinoman, put it best. After moving on to discuss Pryor’s legacy among Black comics, including SNL’s Michael Che and The Daily Show’s Roy Wood Jr., Zinoman focuses on Dave Chappelle, and coins the perfect phrase:

Over the past few decades, Chappelle has repeatedly made comedy from the pain of police brutality, but what stood out about his recent set was how his typically grave tone didn’t pivot to a joke, how often he let his unfiltered outrage sit there…Chappelle went long stretches without jokes, producing a kind of stand-up tragedy. When he asked what the police officer whose knee was on the neck of George Floyd could be thinking, he spoke with a righteous anger that comedy could not address. There are limits to what a joke can do.

Stand-up tragedy. YES. That is what feeds my soul these days: someone standing up, literally, and calling out what happened and what it means. Here is Trevor Noah, his first workday after the death of Rayshard Brooks:

Trevor isn’t telling me what to do. But when this professional funny person, this man whose impish dimple has brought me so much joy over the past five years, looks me in the eye and speaks his bitter truth, I feel called up. Which is how I want to feel right now.

It’s even more (bizarrely) comforting to hear comedians call other people out–people not like me, whom I wouldn’t have the right to criticize. Here’s Hasan Minhaj, from his show Patriot Act, calling out his fellow immigrants from Asia and the Middle East:

There are some speakers, like Killer Mike and Kimberly Jones, whose words are pure bitterness and zero comedy–no less brilliant and even more gripping–and I’ll probably focus on them another time.

Right now I want to give a huge shout-out to those “Funny People” whose wit and wisdom is fueling me these days–and hopefully you too. Please share others!

‘Nuff Said? We’ll See.

This book is suddenly a national best-seller. My copy’s back-ordered. It’s a start.

Of what? 

“Some people go out in glory

Yeah with the wind at their back

Some get to tell their own story

Write their own epitaph

Sometimes you see it coming

Sometimes you won’t know until

You’re out of breath

With a knee on your neck

For a $20 bill.”                          –Tom Prasado-Rao

 

Friends–let’s do the hard work, whatever’s ours to do.

White, Horrified and Helpless: Six Ways to Find Your Direction

Let’s say you’re White. Let’s say you’re not in close touch with many People of Color. Let’s say the reality of being Black in America is coming home to you in a deeper way than it ever has. Let’s say you are feeling ready to do more than just feel bad, attend a demonstration or write a check. Let’s say you are wondering where to start.

That was me, following the election of 2016. From what I’m hearing and seeing on social media, it’s a lot more people now. If it’s you, please keep reading.

Since struggling in the winter of 2016-17, I’ve begun to find some direction, some guidance. I would like to share it here.

  1. First, rip off your emotional blinders. Read Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

    This book is soul-changing.

  2. Learn the history you never knew you needed to know: Wherever you can fit it into your day, listen to episodes of the podcast “Seeing White” by John Boewin, with special guest Chenjeria Kumanyika.
  3. Get personal with that history. Read The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson.

    Better yet, read it with a friend.

  4. Turn the lens on yourself. Read Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility or Debbie Irving’s Waking Up White. Or both.

    Start a book group.

  5. Reach out. Investigate groups you may have never heard of, like Color of Change. What work are they doing? Do you want to support it, and if so, how? Watch Netflix shows like “Dear White People” or “BlackAF”–they’ll make you laugh while your mind is expanding. Read People of Color. Listen to People of Color. Think about what you’ve never thought about. Think about where this country has an opportunity to go.
  6. Get involved with a group like VoteForward or Common Purpose to defeat Donald Trump. While we find a way to move forward, we have to keep our country from sliding further backward. How can you help?

    Racism is like COVID, or cancer. If you can’t study it and talk about it, you can’t cure it.

You know and I know, it is no longer possible just to dislike racism. We are either doing anti-racist work–starting with ourselves–or we are permitting racism to hold its grip. Please add your own suggestions here for what people like you, like me, or ANY people can do.

But Wait! I Have One More Gift Idea! Just…Give! OK? Merry Christmas.

Before I sign off for the holiday week (I know, I’m not a teacher anymore, but I still think of Christmas/New Year as one lengthy holiday. That’s still better than the corporations, who seem to think it starts after Halloween.)–sorry, where was I? Right. The holidays. I know it’s late, but I have ONE MORE EXCELLENT GIFT IDEA, and it requires NO driving, NO wrapping, and very little time. But lots of thought, and heart.

Why not give the gift of giving? My best find of 2019 was the Americans of Conscience Checklist, a weekly message in my inbox full of suggestions of political phonecalls to make or letters to write (including thank-you notes to people who’ve taken good or brave action). AoCC is a regular part of my week now–usually 20 minutes’ worth.

And now, AoCC offers a curated list of causes to donate to, based on your passions–or those of the person you wish to gift. Click here to see the list.

Categories for giving include:

Migrant justice: give to an organization which collects airline miles to help re-unite separated migrant families.

Prison reform: support an organization dedicated to providing books for prisoners, while educating Americans about the prison crisis.

Election integrity: give to a non-partisan group which oversees elections at all levels, in our own country. And there’s one particular group that focuses on enfranchisement in Indian Country.

I can’t think of a better way to show your love for someone than to donate to a cause they love.

Of course, it’s not all about money. If you want to gift someone with the feeling I’ve been enjoying these past few months–the feeling of empowerment–just send them the AoCC link and let them feel it for themselves.Merry happy!

Merry, happy Everything, people! See you in 2020.

My Conscience Speaks In Joan Baez’s Voice. And I Don’t Care If That’s Weird.

A friend once offered some questions she’d brought back from a writing retreat. I can’t remember them verbatim, only that they were mind-opening. Especially the one that went something like this:

“Give your Inner Critic a persona and a voice. What does s/he say?”

I didn’t have to think at all. My Inner Critic–sometimes self-doubt, but more often simply my conscience–sounds like Joan Baez. She IS Joan Baez. And she usually wants to know, in her beautiful, stripped-down, poetic but peremptory way, why I’m not making more out of my time on Earth.

Do I need to explain this foible of mine, or defend it? Maybe I will, someday. But right now all I want to do is celebrate and share Joan singing, “The President Sang Amazing Grace.”

The song, written by Zoe Mulford, captures in song the moment Barack Obama did just that, in June 2015, while giving the eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was shot in his own church along with eight other worshippers by a young man in the depths of hate. But it also captures…amazing grace. The kind that turns hopeless grief into hopeful action. The kind that speaks, decade after decade, in Joan Baez’s voice, asking me if I’m living the best life I can lead.

That’s all I think I need to say. If the hatred of our age is getting to you…just listen to Joan. Then comment and/or share as you feel moved.

Americans of Conscience Checklist: For Those Of Us Who Can’t Keep Up

I admit it. I hate calling my Congressperson. I actually have to ASSIGN myself a time to call, or a number of calls to make, depending on the issue. But after calling, I always feel good, and wonder why I had to fight so much inertia.

If this sounds at all like you, you might be interested in this website I was just introduced to by my friend Iris, the Americans of Conscience Checklist.

I signed up to receive the weekly Checklist via email. It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. As it tells you on the home page,

the AoC Checklist features clear, well-researched actions for Americans who value democracy, equality, voting, and respect. To stay engaged through challenging times, we practice gratitude, self-care, and celebration.

So I get the best of both worlds: a definitive, time-based reminder that’s done all my legwork for me. All I have to do is choose one thing–boom, done. I can go deeper if I want, but that’s entirely up to me.

My own little bit for America (photo by SweetShutter, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take this week’s list, for example. It offers actions to take if you are concerned about…

…advocating for a crucial safeguard against election fraud:

[h/t Verified Voting]Call: Your two state legislators (look up).

Script: Hi, I’m calling from [ZIP] because I want security around [STATE]’s elections to be public and trustworthy. Nonpartisan experts agree that a specific type of post-election oversight called a risk-limiting audit (RLA) is the strongest and most cost-effective defense against malfunctioning or hacked voting systems. Can I count on [NAME] to support mandatory RLAs in [STATE] beginning with the 2020 presidential primaries? Thank you.

…the rights of vulnerable people, like Native American women:

 [h/t National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center] Call: Your two senators (look up).

Script: Hi. I’m calling from [ZIP] to express my deep frustration that the Senate still has not acted on the Violence Against Women Act, lapsed now for more than a year. As a result, Native American women in particular are even more vulnerable to assault and rape. I’m asking [NAME] to support the complete House version (H.R. 1585) and call for an immediate vote on it.

The checklist goes on to offer a name of someone worthy of thanking. This week, it suggests: “Thank NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for affirming employees’ individual rights to freedom of expression.”

And of course it provides Mr. Silver’s address.

Then comes my favorite part, the Good News section. Don’t know about you, but I need this stuff to keep me hopeful! There’s national good news…

A federal court issues a temporary injunction against the administration’s “public charge” rule, which would limit aspiring Americans’ ability to receive green cards should they need to utilize public assistance. 

…as well as state-by-state, like this from Vermont:

VT will allow young adults aged 18-20 with criminal charges to remain in the juvenile court system, providing them with age-appropriate services and allowing them to avoid a life-altering criminal record.

Way to go, Vermont! I doubt I would have learned that news from any other source.

Point is, my inertia doesn’t stand a chance against this kind of easy, hand-picked list of ways to weigh in on things I do care about, even if you wouldn’t know it from my laziness. If you can relate to this at all, I hope you’ll consider checking out the Americans of Conscience Checklist here.

Let’s go, America! (photo by finn, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)