“I was a typical young Southerner, born and raised in LA—Lower Alabama.” Meet Bob Zellner.
I got to do just that, last October, when Bob and his activist wife Pamela joined my Common Power Team NC canvassing group. Over big plates of BBQ, I got to ask Bob questions about events I’d read about in his book, The Wrong Side of Murder Creek. Like the time Bob was beaten badly on the steps of the town hall of McComb, Mississippi, in a march led by Black high school students. But in the New York Times article, they called Bob “the leader” of the march–because he was the only White guy there.
You could call Bob the White counterpart of Representative John Lewis; they grew up quite close to each other in Alabama, both poor, both country–but on either side of the color line. Which explains why Bob started life from a KKK-supporting family, before becoming the first White field secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960s.
Bob’s a folksy guy; like a lot of Southerners, he’s not into drama. Just tells it like it was–and is. His mission today, he says, and for the rest of his life, is to tell young people: “You can be White, and you can be a Civil Rights activist, and you can survive.”
Come to think–that’s a pretty good message right there. Reading Bob’s story, not to mention rubbing shoulders with him, reminded me how ordinary these extraordinary “ACTIVISTS” can be. Maybe a teensy bit braver than I am…
I hope you listen to Bob or check out his book. Pass it on!
When it comes to the state of the world, be it locally, nationally or globally, everyone I know–and probably most I don’t–has felt like this a good deal of the past five and a half years:
Most folks I know–and even more I don’t–have also found sources of inspiration to get themselves up off the floor and stay positive, or at least productive. Staying within my immediate circle of control is my go-to: cooking a meal for someone; spending time with an elder or a child; sometimes just contributing money.
But for me, real hope takes larger-scale action, and I would like to share my personal “hope-workout” of the last few years: Common Power.
Originally named Common Purpose and founded by UW Communications professor David Domke, “CP”s goal is “to foster, support and amplify a democracy that is just and inclusive.”
Even better, in my book, is the way CP goes about their work. I was first introduced to their three-part mindset when I attended a standing-room-only (obviously pre-pandemic) meeting in Seattle back in…2018, I think. This image speaks for itself:
Since joining, most of my “work” has been calling elected officials or phone-banking in “red” or “purple” states, which, no, I do not love. (Who does?) But most of that calling hasn’t been about trying to convince people to vote a certain way. It’s simply been working with in-state, non-partisan organizations (like NC’s You Can Vote) to give folks information they need to register, or to get their ballot accepted, or find their polling place. Do we target traditionally sidelined or disadvantaged voters? Of course. That’s the point. And as a result, those folks we do reach are, often as not, more grateful than grouchy.
Besides providing me with an escape ladder from the Pits of Helplessness, CP has also become a source of inspiration, learning, and even joy.
Close to home, when I can, I attend AJ Musewe’s Lunch and Learn series midweek, where the delightful AJ explores themes like the history of redlining, or little-known democracy pioneers. (When I can’t attend live, I listen to them recorded.)
The monthly meetings (fully accessible now–no more trips to Seattle!) begin with music and good news, and always leave me pumped up about the next event, like…the inauguration of the newly-expanded Institute for Common Power, coming up June 4! That one’s in-person, so I don’t know if I can go, but maybe you can go, and personally mingle with some civil rights heroes, compatriots of the late Rep. John Lewis, who survived the campaigns of the 1960s.
CP enthusiasts are also encouraged to join state “Teams” to focus their energy on one of seven states where democracy is both imperiled but also salvageable. Of course I chose Team North Carolina. And while I’ve limited my participation to online and phone work so far, I intend to travel next fall with Team NC to my home state to do the most effective GOTV work of all: knocking on doors, connecting with people. I CAN’T WAIT.
Best of all, for my teacherly soul, CP’s emphasis on next-generation leadership means that my NC fieldwork will be directed by leaders younger than my own kids. They’ve all been through CP’s Action Academy–a completely rad organization in itself; maybe you’d like to contribute, or recommend a youth to attend?–and I also CANNOT WAIT TO WORK WITH THEM.
Can you hear that hope-muscle working? Does your own hope need a workout? I invite you to check out Common Power.
Kendi’s blurb tops all the praise on the back of Heather McGhee’s The Sum of Us. And if Kendi–Professor Antiracism himself–has been waiting for this book, this research, this analysis, how much more do the rest of us stand to gain from paying attention?
At the high school where I taught, one of my favorite principals used to say, “Tell the truth and point towards hope.” McGhee’s title does just that, and so does her book’s contents.
McGhee’s chief metaphor for the costs of racism, whose image graces her cover, is the destruction of public swimming pools all across America, following orders to desegregate them in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision. Cities and towns of all sizes literally poured concrete into their pools or bulldozed them rather than let Black people swim there. As a result, everyone lost:
“Over the next decade [1960s], millions of white Americans who once swam in public for free began to pay rather than swim for free with Black people…The classless utopia faded, replaced by clubs with two-hundred-dollar membership fees and annual dues. A once-public resource became a luxury amenity, and entire communities lost out on the benefits of public life and civic engagement once understood to be the key to making American democracy real.” (p. 28)
McGhee, an expert in economic and social policy, goes on to demonstrate this “close the pools” reaction–and its evenhandedly negative effects on communities–in more current policies such as the expansion of Medicaid (nearly all Republican-led states refuse it, even though the people who most stand to benefit are the poor whites calling it communism); the fight against raising the minimum wage; and the choice of southern white automobile workers to vote down a union.
From the beginning–Bacon’s Rebellion in 1675, when poor whites and Blacks joined forces and scared the pie out of the ruling class–McGhee shows how the ruling class has used race to keep poor whites attached to “zero-sum” thinking: Any gain of a racial minority means a loss for me. Through her narrative, it’s not hard to understand why generations have chosen racial identity over any other potential benefit, be it wages or cool water on a hot summer day.
But here’s something neither I, nor my Constitutional Law-professor Mate, knew. Take it away, Ms. McGhee:
But there was another path from Brown, one not taken, with profound consequences of our understanding of segregation’s harms. The nine white male justices ignored a part of the social scientists” appendix that also described in prescient detail the harm segregation inflicts on “majority” children. White children “who learn the prejudices of our society,” wrote the social scientists, were “being taught to gain personal status in an unrealistic and non-adaptive way.” They were “not required to evaluated themselves in terms of the more basic standards of actual personal ability and achievement.” What’s more, they “often develop patterns of guilt feelings, rationalizations and other mechanisms which they must use in an attempt to protect themselves from recognizing the essential injustice of their unrealistic fears and hatreds of minority groups.” The best research of the day concluded that “confusion, conflict, moral cynicism, and disrespect for authority may arise in [white] children as a consequence of being taught the moral, religious and democratic principals of justice and fair play by the same persons and institutions who seem to be acting in a prejudiced and discriminatory manner.” (p. 182-3)
When I read this, it knocked me breathless. Those quotes from the early 50’s sound like they’re describing white folks of 2021. And I’m not just talking about the “confused” folks who carried the Confederate flag into the capitol building. I’m talking about people like me, “nice white people,” who, in middle age, are just starting to acknowledge what we’ve lost by living whole lives without close friends of other races.
[photo “Hermandad” by Rufino, Wikimedia Commons]
But. I told you this book’s title promises hope, and the book delivers. McGhee constantly pivots to examples of what she calls the Solidarity Dividend: white and Black workers in Kansas City joining together to win a $15 minimum wage; conservative Connecticut passing “a raft of popular public-interest bills” like paid sick days and public financing of elections; the 95% white town of Lewiston, Maine, at death’s door economically, embracing African immigrants to bring itself back to life. McGhee ends with a clarion call:
Since this country’s founding, we have not allowed our diversity to be our superpower, and the result is that the United States is not more than the sum of its disparate parts. But it could be. And if it were, all of us would prosper. (p. 289)
God knows it’s hard to feel optimistic at this moment in our history. But these concrete examples show what is possible because they already exist. If we all keep pointing to them, divisive fear will stand less of a chance.
Question for y’all: have you seen this Solidarity Dividend in action? Please share.
You’ve heard of a square peg in a round hole? That’s not me. I’m more like the most boring bit of a Tinker Toy set, the little stick that connects to ANYTHING. Or–going literary–I’m Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, trying to play all the roles: “Let me be the lion too!”
Or Raven & Chickadee, a dedicated travel blog by two folks on a years-long, slo-mo road trip, which regularly gathers dozens of comments.
Etc. I’m sure y’all know many more blogs on many of my favorite topic where the comment section is hopping.
But you know what? I am OK with my own lack of internet sizzle. Two of my favorite blogs, written by fellow Lopez Islanders, fill me up with ideas and inspiration every time I read them, and sometimes their comment section is as modest as my own. (But just in case you want to be filled with ideas & inspiration yourself and you don’t already follow these, check out:
burr and thorn as much a part of us as any fragrant rose.
I started the habit of reciting a Morning Poem right after the election of 2016. I found I needed to fill my mind with something beautiful and deep at the start of the day , before exposing it to the news or even email.
I’ve had other poems–longer ones, more intense–but something about the brevity and purity of this one has stuck it with me now for a year. Only problem is, I’ve forgotten the poet! And as I tend to treat my books of poetry like library books, sending them on instead of keeping them, I can’t look it up.
I’ve tried Googling the first line; it yielded mostly suggestions for growing corn.
What I love about this poem is the way it reminds me of those dark/light, yin/yang pairing: imperfection yet striving, pride yet humility. Both, and. Yes. Onward we go.
I’m not giving this poem up until another suggests taking its place. But I really want to credit the poet! So I’m hoping someone can step forward and help me here.
Still, while we’re on the topic: I’d also love to hear other suggestions for a poem with which to begin the day. Hit me!
When I Zoomed in at 1:30, House Public Safety Committee Chair Roger Goodman was announcing the lineup for the 2-hour session. It sounded ambitious. First up: amendments on two different bills: one restricting police car chases, one banning no-knock warrants. Then came public comment on two other bills: one refining the definition of hate crime, the other allowing survivors of sexual assault improved access to the progress of their cases and better overall care. Finally, at the end: “my” bill, 1090.
Oooookay, I thought. Maybe I’ll go make a cup of tea and check back in an hour.
But before I wandered away, something caught my attention. The same something that has probably caught all of America’s attention beginning this past Wednesday, Inauguration Day. That something was…civility.
A minority Republican on the committee–a beefy White guy in a Statue of Liberty necktie–was making an argument about an amendment on the car-chase bill. Talking about the Democratic sponsor of the bill, I heard him say, “…though I love and respect him as a person…” Then the Democratic Chair was allaying the Republican’s fears. And then they thanked each other.
Wait. Wait. No snark, no snarling? I barely recognize this tone…like a Golden Oldie playing softly in the background. Mesmerizing.
So I stayed right where I was. I watched that same burly Republican Representative have another of his amendments voted down–he wanted to allow the police broader scope to continue with no-knock warrants (like the one that killed Breonna Taylor in 2020). Still: no rancor, no posturing. Just–“just!”–courtesy.
I watched prosecutors and brave victims of hate crimes testify in favor of HB 1071, which refines the definition of a hate crime to reflect the reality of what people are facing. I watched legislators from both parties thank the participants with zero grandstanding or finger-pointing.
They’re all so respectful! So pleasant! I wanted to run into that Zoom room and hug the entire committee.
By the time they got to the private prisons bill, of course, they were out of time. Only a couple of the dozens of folks signed up to speak got to do so.
Did I mind? Not one bit. That two hours of civil civic discourse was as encouraging as a COVID shot. I felt unexpectedly innoculated against political cynicism.
“Well, sure,” my Mate said when I told him about it, “that’s Washington State for you.” I think he meant, y’know, we’re practically Canadians. But no: our governor’s mansion was also attacked on January 6. We’re every bit as vulnerable to the political virus as any other state.
So…feeling pessimistic about political polarization? Depressed at the divide? Take two of these and call me in the morning–“these” being a couple of the most rivetingly boring hours ever, listening to politicians act like grownups together.
If you’re new to this blog, you might not know that I created it with little enthusiasm back, oh, nine years ago, when the People Who Know Such Things convinced me that I, as an Author, needed a Platform.
Then a funny thing happened. I started to enjoy blogging. Especially since “Wing’s World” has remained fairly untethered to theme. What’s not to love when you can blog one week about kale salad, and the next about how many times you’ve run around Planet Earth? As a writer, I did try to steer clear of two topics: writing about writing—boooooring—and politics: divisive.
Then an unfunny thing happened: the last four years. And I’ve found myself increasingly drawn toward topics of justice that need addressing, and increasingly uncomfortable blogging with my usual whimsy. While I appreciate lightheartedness in the writing of others, for myself it feels too much like fiddling while Rome burns.
But who needs more blog posts about everything that’s dire? And so I respond with…silence. My posting has gone from a robust twice-weekly clip to weekly…to biweekly…to whenever the hell I feel like it. And I haven’t felt like it.
Can I get an “Amen”?
Then on a walk the other day, doing my Mary-Oliver-best to let the wild wind and whitecaps and dripping mosses capture all of me, I thought back to a podcast I’d just heard, which reminded me of a hackneyed but super useful concept I learned back in the 90’s. That concept: the Circle of Control from good ol’ Stephen Covey—remember the 7 Habits guy?
EVERYONE should be able to relate to this. Life feeling out of control? Too much, too fast, too hard? Well…what are you in charge of? Eating a healthy breakfast? Reading a book to a child? Do that. Start there.
Now that I think about it, it’s quite similar, in fact, to the Serenity Prayer. Probably smarter people than I have already noted this.
Along her journey of discovery—that is, science discovering this woman and putting her power to use—Joy befriended another woman, suffering from Parkinson’s, whose mantra for living with her disease seems to be actually defeating it. This woman says that, in the face of terminal out-of-controlness, she simply tries to “do the next right thing.”
I like that phrase even better than “Circle of Control.” It’s more humble, more tender, more…real.
Throughout most of 2020 (or COVIDCOVID if you prefer), my “next right things” included working on my book, and working to help save America from Donald Trump. [Pictured: my phonebank tallies. Including the calls for the Georgia runoff (which already feels like a year ago), I made approximately 3,000 calls.]
Since that time, conditions in our country and our world feel more out of control than ever–all the more so from having spun away just in the budding of hope. My back pain is not improving. And my writing project is stalled (yes, I WILL write about that when I am able).
In short, I need some new, modest enterprises to function as Serenity Prayer. So here are three:
–a local online tutoring project for kids in our community
Are these projects blogworthy? We’ll see. Of course they’re wildly divergent in scope and tenor. But they do have one thing in common: for me, in 2021’s crazy start, they all feel like the next right thing.
As a woman who’s included “runner” as part of her identity since 1967 (true story), I’ve only recently joined the ranks of those smarter humans who treat their body as an entire vehicle, paying attention to all the parts–not just the ones that make me run faster.
I’m talking core. As in, that middle part of me that is apparently my secret weapon against the back pain that’s been messing with my routine. That part the rest of y’all have probably all been working on all this time, rolling your eyes at me for taking my body for granted. (Oh, sorry–that’s the Mate who does that, not you. Probably.)
Anyway, all this lying-on-the-floor-trying-to-get-in-touch-with-muscles-I’ve-never-heard-of stuff has me thinking about our country. Because, like “runner,” another identity I’ve taken for granted my entire life is “American.” And lately that identity, like the disc in my lower back, has started to fray, sending shocks of pain throughout my spirit.
Is this who we are? A nation of separate realities, separate truths? Is this 2020, or 1860?
You don’t need me to say more. You know what I mean. And you have probably been doing the same kind of wondering: where is that secret, hidden muscle we need to work, the one that binds us, keeps our body politic from falling apart?
I want to say that muscle is simply compassion–but how simple is compassion? In these days when each tribe thinks the other wants to destroy it? Can I make myself wish the best for, oh, I don’t know, a Michael Flynn, who urges a do-over of our entire election, or a Kelly Loeffler, who refuses even to acknowledge that’s what her leadership wants? Can I wish compassion for Trump or for people who scream his name without masks?
As I write this, I can hear John Lewis’s voice in my head:
“You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone — any person or any force — dampen, dim or diminish your light … Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won.” (from Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America)
What “exercises” are you trying to strengthen your commitment to a “more perfect Union” in these fraught months? I would love to add them to my new routine.
The day after Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were declared President- and Vice President-elect, I sat down to express my thoughts in this blog…and quickly realized someone had already expressed them for me. “Raven and Chickadee” is the blog of my friends Laurel and Eric, who left their home in Ashland, OR several years ago for a life on the road as full-time RV-ers. Until COVID, which…well, I’ll let Chickadee (Laurel) tell it. The photos are by Raven (Eric).
Bridging The Divide
Wow. Is it really over? I hope so. I am deeply relieved to step off of this insane election roller coaster.
It probably comes as no surprise to anyone who knows us that we did not vote for the incumbent. But this election has made me think long and hard about the state of our country.
Strangers In A Strange Land
Our hometown—Ashland, Oregon—is about as liberal a town as you’ll find anywhere. That’s one of the things that drew both Eric and me to live there many years ago. For decades, we lived in a town of like-minded folks, where the biggest controversy was how to humanely manage the deer mowing down people’s gardens.
We now find ourselves in Eastpoint, Florida—a stronghold of conservatives, where we are liberal outliers in a community rife with Trump flags and signs.
When we took to the road for our fulltime travels seven-and-a-half years ago, one of my fears was that we wouldn’t find people with whom we had anything in common. That has not turned out to be true. Our network of friends has expanded to a rich and satisfying tribe that extends from coast to coast.
In our travels, we’ve also discovered that people, by a vast majority, are decent. Even if we aren’t destined to become close friends, we’ve been touched time and again by the kindness of strangers, no matter what their political or religious beliefs. That includes our neighbors here in Eastpoint, who have been unfailingly kind and generous as we’ve navigated these difficult months of dealing with my parents’ home, my father’s death, and the pandemic.
The Long Road Ahead
This election was certainly not the Blue Wave that we anticipated. While we are thrilled to have Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as our new president and vice-president, it is painfully clear that we have a long road of healing ahead. And it’s up to us, the people, to heal our nation.
I hope we will be kind to one another, that we will approach each other in a spirit of generosity, that we will listen to each other’s concerns, that we will try to understand, and that we won’t fall into the seductive trap of labeling and dismissing anyone who votes or thinks differently. (I am excluding anyone who voted for Trump for racist reasons. That includes anyone flying a Confederate flag or wearing a MAGA hat. The time of white supremacy is long over, so get over it. )
We do not have an easy task ahead. Personally, I’ve had a field day with the absurdities of Trump over the past four years (along with feeling terrified and outraged). But along with the vast majority of our neighbors here in Eastpoint who voted for Trump, Eric and I both have family members and friends who voted for him. These are not racist, unkind, ungenerous people. They had their reasons for voting for Trump, just as we had our reasons for voting for Biden. Somehow, we need to find compromises.
The chasm is wide. But we have to bridge it, for the sake of one another, our country, and our world.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been phone-banking for the election. And as I’ve mentioned before, I still hate phone-banking just as much as when I started back in June.
But with less than a week till the election, the need to feel like part of the team is stronger than ever, and I don’t have any excuses. I only work part-time. My kids are grown. I’m a people person. And I know that good ol’ poly-sci research shows that Get Out the Vote phonecalls make the most difference right NOW.
Still, I found myself the other day staring longingly out the window as I waited for the “ThruTalk” dialer to connect me with some not-yet-voter in North Carolina. What a beautiful day! What am I doing indoors? And what…what in all the gods’ names is that?
Not pictured: “that.”
The sun was shining through the scruffy fir forest outside our house, and between each tree, strung among the branches like filaments of fire, were strands of…spider silk? Some other magical bug-excretion? The shining lines were all horizontal, as if the trees had decided to briefly represent their invisible communication through the most tender and celestial of metaphors.
I checked my watch: twelve minutes to go on my shift. Maybe eight more calls. Then I’d hurry out there with my camera to capture the magic.
But to my sorrow, when I hurried out thirteen minutes later, the filaments had all disappeared from my sight. Were they still there, dull without sunlight? Were they ever there at all?
Crestfallen, I looked around…and found some cheery wee mushrooms just dying to have their picture taken.
That little episode reminded me of another photo I’d taken a couple of weeks ago, out for a walk between rainstorms. Some kind of tiny, bracketed stems of a bygone flower were making chandeliers among the lichens at my feet.
I’m sure the poet Mary Oliver would make way more of this than I, but how about this for an attempt: those filaments, those mushrooms, those droplets, those maybe-voters in North Carolina–aren’t they all really the same thing?