Friday, November 25, 2016

The Necessity of Social Justice Work in Climate Activism, Part Two: 5 Reasons We Won't Get Anywhere on Climate Change Without Doing Anti-Racism Work

This post is directly inspired by an ongoing conversation with a fellow activist in my town, who I collaborate with. The ideas and organization of it have been turning over in my head for weeks, since before I went to Standing Rock, dividing themselves into the categories you will see below.

I wish I didn't have to explain this stuff. I wish we were all already on the same page. And I know others have said the same things I'm going to write here. None of this is original, it is all completely derivative. Unfortunately my requests for my network to supply me with these specific points I want to make already being connected did not return any results. The following assessment is a result of years of thinking about these issues, slow learning.

I don't want to delay further in diving into the main content of this blog, but I first want to name a realization that came to me as I was outlining it: systems thinking. It's a matter of systems thinking! 

Where did I recently read something about the "conservative" versus "progressive" worldviews, and the difference being one of Systems Thinking? Was it Rebecca Solnit? Or a link sent me in email by another fellow climate collaborator? If I find it, I will link to it, but the general point was that those who support "conservative" policies seem better able to think about direct cause and effect. Ah yes, here it is, George Lakoff, "Understanding Trump." Scroll down or CTRL+F to 'Direct vs. Systemic Causation." (Ironically, I will be here making some very different conclusions than some of those Lakoff makes at the end of his article, and I'm using one of his premises to do so.)

But about direct vs. systemic causation -- if you see climate change as primarily caused by fossil fuel pollution, you try to stop that fossil fuel pollution, without changing anything else in the social system. But once you see that it's the larger system causing that fossil fuel pollution, a system that funnels power in certain directions and away from others, you begin to realize that unraveling that system from any corner of the fabric can bring it all apart.

I hope this becomes more clear as I go on. I'm figuring this out myself right now - external processing. Thanks for coming with me.

Practical/Logical Reasons (Why Racial Justice Work is Necessary for Effective Climate Activism)

 

1) Movement Building & Mutual Aid

About a year ago, my local 350 chapter had a "Global Climate March." It was a big event, with hundreds of folks in our smallish city. At the end of the march, when we were coming into the plaza, there was one person there who seemed quite angry at us. They were getting in our faces about another cause, and telling us their cause was more important. I don't want to say what it was, because it isn't fair to have this person's behavior reflect on that cause. I think they were jealous of how much we'd been able to mobilize compared to their group. But getting in our faces and demanding we pay attention in a certain way wasn't the way to go about it. And this isn't a matter of tone policing, because it was another environmental issue, not a social one (to the extent there's a meaningful division, which is exactly what I'm tearing apart right now, so it's all paradoxical). Anyway, I told this person I wasn't available to listen to their shpiel, especially because they were saying that their issue is so much more important than climate change.

This person could have thanked and congratulated us for our work and looked for common ground, ways to build off of our momentum. Instead they felt we were a threat, a competition for a scarce commodity of activist energy - a capitalist worldview. I would like to suggest that instead we can view activist energy as synergistic, a force that builds off of one another as all of our causes are moving us in the same direction: a world that works for all.

And people's ears tend to turn off when you say, "My cause is more important than yours." Even if this were objectively true (and I'm not saying it is), it is not going to get you any allies. All you have to do to recognize this is imagine how you feel when someone else says it, and compare that with how you feel when someone shows you how both of our issues are related and we can work together for common cause.

2) Vision

Speaking of a world that works for all... that's not what we have. The violence and suffering experienced not only by the global poor, but by marginalized groups in these United States, is so extreme, that I have heard at least one person express the sentiment in response to climate change, "Let it burn." And if you reading this think this is a dramatic, selfish statement, I want to transparently say that I believe you are the one who is out of touch, and encourage you to educate yourself on the following realities. When there is NO safe place to hide from being shot by police for being black, when there is nothing that can save you, not politeness, nothing except hiding in your house (and then how do you support yourself? and what kind of life is that? And is even that enough to protect you?), or when you are at risk of being attacked for not conforming to gender norms, or your concerns about accessibility treated as incidental when activist meetings are held in places wheelchairs can't reach, for example... is the world even worth fighting for? Who are we fighting to keep alive? Rich, white men, the ones causing these problems in the first place?

This is all very depressing stuff. I encourage you to let go of trying to convince people that "let it burn" is a selfish stance, and instead work together to create models of the world we want to create, a world in which all humans have their well-being and dignity, and basic safety, given the utmost care. This gives people the emotional support needed to want to be involved in an activist community, and trust that if the climate struggle is won (let's leave aside the question of what "winning" means for now), that it will be for a livable climate in which all can thrive - not a continuation of the oppression and harm that systems of domination have been enacting on the world for a few thousand years. (See Sylvia Frederici's Caliban and the Witch for more on this, and how we got to where we are at from Medieval Europe.)

3) Access to Power and its Implications for Resource Extraction and Waste Disposal

This could be a relatively complicated point, but I will try to keep it concise. Poor, indigenous, and/or people of color do not currently have equitable influence in decisions that affect them. Look at the racial and economic make up of Congress, for example. Is it proportionate to the population in demographics?

The systems destroying the Earth through fossil fuel extraction and waste disposal depend on "sacrifice zones" (see Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything and accompanying movie). Consider, for example, the Dine' struggle against Peabody Coal. If indigenous sovereignty had been respected in the history of this land, Peabody Coal would never have been able to do the resource extraction there that it has - with the accompanying reduction in carbon emissions. Apply this to current struggles at Standing Rock as well.

So, if you can't bring yourself to care about social justice, at least see how it is compatible with your aims, single-issue climate activists. If People of Color, indigenous folks, poor folks - if all communities have full empowerment and choice about the resources taken or disposed of in their communities (think mountaintop removal in Appalachia), are they going to consent to it? No, they won't allow it. And this will leave the fossil fuel companies with nowhere to turn. It will starve them out.

On the other hand, it is hard for us to truly work with folks until we embrace the idea that the reduction in emissions that accompanies maintaining/restoring indigenous sovereignty and community self-determination is not the primary goal, it is a wonderful, wonderful secondary benefit to righting a social wrong. Which brings me to my next point, and a different category of points altogether.

Spiritual/Intuitive Reasons (Why Racial Justice Work is Necessary for Effective Climate Activism)

 

4) Karma

You weren't expecting me to say that, were you, racially aware social justice warriors following along to see if this blog validates, contradicts, or expands your worldview? It's borderline appropriative, isn't it?

Nevertheless, it is the simplest way to convey my sense that we, and by that I mean those of us in the upper tiers of privilege in this world, mostly white folks, may be getting our just desserts when it comes to the climate crisis. I'm not proposing we think of it in a Christian way, where God is punishing us for our white supremacy and colonialism with climate catastrophe, although it would be all too easy to go there.

No, what I mean here is more elusive than that to our inherited Judaeo-Christian outlook. It has more to do with the Buddhist idea of "dependent co-arising." Nothing exists separately from anything else. The lessons we are learning as humans on this planet (getting New Age on ya, watch out!) are all interrelated. The lessons we are learning from the climate catastrophe are not separate from the lessons we are learning from the legacy of enslavement, genocide, rape culture, and other forms of domination. And until we work out our "karma" about this troubling domination paradigm, we won't be "rewarded" with a stable climate. Oops, I've slipped back into the Christian worldview of reward and punishment! It's tricky! I have an internal felt sense of the difference between a reward/punishment interpretation of karma, and a dependent co-arising interpreation, but conveying it is hard. I will ask you to turn elsewhere if you want to explore these distinctions further.

This is all my intuitive feeling about the state of affairs we are in, which is why I created this category of reasons. And I have one final, cliche' thing to add before I go.

5) Albert Einstein

There's a quote that I've seen so many variations of, I wanted to get to the right source and cite it accurately for this blog, even though I've been planning on including it for weeks. Well, this is easier thought of than done. You might know which quote I'm thinking of, but here's an exploration of where it comes from if you want to check.

Regardless of the specifics, the idea of this quote is that we need a new type of thinking to solve the problems we face. Or, we can't solve problems with the same type of thinking that created them.

The problem of climate change was created by a certain type of thinking. Thinking works in memes; ideas and patterns of thought spread between social groups like disease. And when our society is clustered into segments, where some folks who are tasked with solving problems and have the resources to try to do so, are only exposed to certain types of thinking, they aren't going to see certain solutions.

So, we must look at whose voice has been left out. This relates to point three above, but in a different way. It's not only about self-interest, it's about genius and brilliance, the genius and brilliance that gets lost in the cracks of systems of oppression.

White people have different ways of seeing things than people of color. This isn't an essentialist statement. I don't believe there is a fundamental racial difference in our thinking. But when I have a different social experience of life than someone else, different ideas are more or less likely to occur to me. Different solutions. And in our society, we do have different experiences of life based on race, as well as culture, relative wealth/poverty, ability, age, and straightness or queerness in all its myriad forms -- etc. etc. People with different experiences of life will see solutions that are in the blind spots of other people. So we have to listen to more voices if we want a more complete picture.

Isolation hasn't worked. Putting issues in vacuums hasn't worked. We are in an unprecedented crisis. We need each other. A friend of mine told me years ago that when she asked a Zapatista elder what she could do at home to help the cause, the answer was, "Break down individualism." And that's what intersectionality is - the breaking down of individualism within the activist world.

Conclusion

So, I've made my points and now I'm supposed to wrap up, always the most difficult part. [I started to write "the hardest part," and then wanted to make a sex joke. I'm letting you all know this because silliness keeps an activist grounded. This one's for you, C.]

All I really have to say is that if this blog helped connect some dots for you, and you want to continue to learn about these things - systems thinking, intersectionality - I hope you will take the initiative to do so. A big part of my activism is educating myself. Sometimes it is borderline self-indulgent, mental masturbation perhaps. But Paolo Freire, in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, talks about the importance of education and reflection on our activism. Without it, we are easily manipulated into getting caught up in propaganda, part of a mass of people not discerning on the direction we're headed in. Not everyone needs to be quite as into reading and self-education as me, perhaps. Some people learn better through interaction and conversation.

But every time you read an article or listen to a podcast, you may be helping the activist community by not having to reinvent the wheel. People have fallen into many pits along the way of making social change, and we can learn from them to some extent, even as we necessarily make our own mistakes. So I invite you to check out the resources I linked to in this article. Everyday Feminism is also a decent starting resource. There's no requirement to agree with everything you read on there, or anywhere - I don't! But there's no requirement to disagree either. There's another way to relate to ideas, which is to consider them, feel into them, understand the perspective they come from and empathize. Look at where they apply or don't apply. Are they universal, or only useful in some specific situations?

If you're wondering why or how I've gotten into meta-education here on a blog about racial justice and climate activism... me too. But it makes sense when I think of it as a reflection on not just what I'm fighting for, living for... but how I'm doing it. I'm inviting myself as well as those reading, to come to our activism with curiosity and open-mindedness, a willingness to stand for what we care for, as well as a willingness to learn. I am learning from all of my experiences, including the disagreements I have with fellow activists, and I am doing my best to lean into them when appropriate, and even be grateful. Because, if I hadn't had the conflict that inspired this post, I wouldn't have written it, and I imagine it may benefit others as well. These are uncertain times in which the effects of my actions and writing are not predictable, but as a comrade and lover exclaimed to me while reading Rebecca Solnit's Hope in the Dark recently, "Dark doesn't mean bad; it just means you can't see!" So even though we can't see, let us feel our way forward.

Or some other trite, inspirational ending. I told you, I'm bad at conclusions. Life doesn't end. But blog posts must.


Interlude: Journey to Racial Awareness(?)

I originally wrote this July 14, 2015, and am publishing now because the desire to share my learning with other activists has become more important than my fear of negative reactions to this note.

***
The other night I was sitting on my porch couch with some friends talking about social justice, as one does on most nights, and the subject of exponential awareness-raising came up. By this I mean that there are issues that I have come to care about that I didn't always concern myself with as much as I do now, and in the past years my understanding of why they are important has increased exponentially. One such issue is, to put it broadly, racism. It can be hard to remember my own deeper degree ignorance of not so long ago, when relating to people who are unaware of what I have had the fortune and choice to be educated about. We talked about how our awareness was changed on this issue, as white people. What was the journey? And after this conversation, I got to thinking that I might find meaning in sharing some of the milestones of this journey, for me.

I was told by my mom at age three, perhaps, that my grandfather was "prejudiced" but that she, or we (I can't remember if she specified herself or both of us) weren't. We lived in a nearly all-white neighborhood in a small, conservative Northern California town, but we had one black neighbor who my mom was on friendly terms with, and we sometimes went over to her house. So I was never consciously "racist" by the dictionary definition of "consciously believing people of a certain skin color are inferior or should be stereotyped in a certain way." But it would be a long time before I started to understand that racism is so much more than that.

Unfortunately my exposure to people of color remained limited most of my childhood and adolescence as I lived in small rural communities such as Anderson and Gardnerville that were mostly white and also segregated in function. My time in Sacramento for three years was something of an exception to this.

I'd like to jump ahead to my teenage years, during which time I became more involved in activism: first animal rights, then working at the Peace & Justice Center, Food Not Bombs.... My main cause was always "saving the Earth." Although I definitely always carried a sense that "what's wrong with the world" is all inter-related, I still had some compartmentalization when I would express the thought, sincerely at the time, that social justice issues such as racism should take a back-burner to environmental concerns. I believed, and still do, that industrial civilization is deathly, but I led that to another belief that any other "causes" could not be important--even that working on social justice while species are dying every day was selfish. Humans in the first world have it so good, I thought, even if they do experience racism. How can that be as important as stopping the destruction of our entire biosphere?

Enter Mimi Riley's "Our Sustainable Future" class at Butte College, 2008. This was hardly a "social justice" class, mostly focused on such issues as deforestation, climate disruption, ocean pollution, etc. But one thing she exposed us to that semester was the concept of "Eco-Apartheid," from Van Jones. We watched a movie from him that discussed the racial segregation of the environmental movement: middle-class white people driving Priuses while black and brown families are forced by institutional poverty to live in areas subject to factory pollution, causing health problems, among other things. His proposal was to dissolve this eco-apartheid through efforts such as creating green-collar jobs (like installing solar panels) for working class people of color. I didn't rush out and join that campaign, but I thought it made sense, and my separation between "environmental activism" and "social activism" dissolved a little more (it had always been porous). I realized that if I wanted people facing the issues of racism to care about things I care about--like protecting redwood trees--I needed to show mutuality and care about the daily struggles they face that keep them from having more energy to expend on other "causes." I didn't yet know how to do this, but again, I agreed it was sound in principle. This article by him expresses some of the same ideas: http://truth-out.org/archive/component/k2/item/70209:van-jones--beyond-ecoapartheid

Another milestone happened over a period of time, but there is a story that crystallizes the principle. I was at workshop with Miki Kashtan in Berkeley in 2012, about Principle-Based Teaching (of Nonviolent Communication). While we were there an issue of perceived racial (racist?) exclusion came up. There was a group process about it. The outcome of this process was the idea that it is easier to be present with a white person who is crying because their feelings are hurt during a conversation about race--and harder to empathize with a person of color who is expressing anger about injustice. But being present with that anger is all the more important and valuable because it is harder to do. This will seem like old hat to many anti-racism activists, but it is a milestone for me and others I imagine. Before that, I still had a fear of anger and some beliefs that it is "not an effective way to express oneself," or that it is the job of those of us who are upset about a social injustice to calm ourselves before speaking, rather than an opportunity for the listener to practice being present with rage and frustration. I already was convinced that anger does NOT equal violence, and anger is a valid emotion, but I still had hangups internalized from culture about it--even and maybe especially within the NVC community.

Now my awareness increase starts to unfold faster. In 2013 a friend told me to read "Sitting in the Fire" by Arnold Mendel. It's a book about communicating about privilege and oppression. He calls it "rank" instead of privilege, but it's a similar concept. He discussed all sorts of rank, including gender, racial, even spiritual. (This ties back in with the above paragraph--people pull "spiritual rank" by saying something such as, "But I must be right and you must be wrong because I am so calm and you are hysterical.") He also encourages people to not deny their rank, but to use it to promote awareness of those who don't have it. For example, he says, if you are heterosexual and coupled, don't refrain from making out with your partner in public because not all queer couples can do that. Make out with them, and then loudly pronounce, "Wouldn't it be great if ALL romantic partners felt safe kissing in public? I'd LOVE to live in a world like that!!" (Which I then did at least once with my boyfriend at the time, although I used to kiss my ex-girlfriend in public a lot too. Chico is pretty chill.)

That same year I was noticing the misogyny all around me more and more. I had someone coming to my NVC classes cross some boundaries, and do some online harassment towards me. I found it very difficult to get support. People wanted to justify his actions and defend him more than support me. I became even more hyper-aware of systemic sexism than I had been in the past. And since I was reading Sitting in the Fire at the time, I once again came to a logical conclusion: If I want men to be my allies in the fight against violence and predation on women, I need to be in integrity and be more of an ally to those who don't have an unearned social privilege I do: whiteness.

At that time I started to access online learning resources more. I started reading more articles on Everyday Feminism and such sites about types of oppression that I don't face. I started seeing a word pop up that I had a feeling of long before I saw it (although it had already existed, it wasn't as pervasive as it is now): intersectionality. Over time, I have really come to stretch myself more and more in reading "angry" even "accusatory" expressions of rage against injustice that I don't experience myself, although I can relate to from other oppressions I do. Occasionally I can really take on that view, such as when reading bell hooks and realizing I identify with her first-person narrative character so much that I also feel that "Killing Rage" (the name of one of her books) about white supremacy; I no longer have the patience to wait for "progress" on this issue; it should never have happened this way in the first place. (!)

Now, this exponential awareness increase has gotten to the point where I see racism everywhere I turn. I also see COLONIALISM which I have always been more aware of, from being taught a certain empathy for First Nations people also by my mother (although she didn't know that term), and from valuing the ecological wisdom that First Nations traditions hold. I no longer see these things as even remotely separate. Racism and the destruction of the planet are part of the same issue, along with a whole host of other tragedies of patriarchal culture.

I imagine some people reading this and thinking that this white woman doesn't even know. I KNOW I still have a lot to learn, and I am enjoying the painful process of challenging my racist socialization, although I feel like if I take in any more awareness about injustice my head might explode. Maybe that would be a good thing though. It's said, when your heart breaks, let it break open. What happens if my head breaks open? New astounding insight?

Looking over these milestones I see that it took so long for me to get these things that now seem so obvious and I wonder if there is a way to communicate them to people who haven't encountered these within themselves. This was actually one of the topics covered at the workshop in 2012; not about racism specifically but about increasing awareness of the world and our desires to live well in it--how to condense milestones in consciousness into a short phrase--like a bumper sticker--that can easily be grasped. Some that could be sifted from what I've written here might be, in order:

"Down with Eco-Apartheid: Green Jobs for All"

"Anger is an Opportunity to be Present to Injustice"

"Use Your White Privilege to Film Cops Harassing People"

"Want Solidarity? Give Solidarity to Others"

"Oppression Takes Many Forms; Learn about All of Them"

"The Neuroses of Awareness are Worth the Expansion of the Heart"

On the other hand, I question whether someone would really "get" these unless they already "got them." But I also think that when we finally "get" something, it might be because partially because we have encountered it before and not gotten it. I think of the Intercultural Communication class I took at Butte. Many of these concepts or related ones were presented in that class, but I didn't really get them at that time. Is that because I wasn't ready, or because the teacher didn't communicate them effectively, or both? I think it has something to do with the academic structure of learning, in which teachers are not mentors, who take the time to learn where each student is at and help guide them to their next stage of learning. Instead there is set curriculum that may be too easy for some, too hard for others, and not right at all for even more.

***
And on that note of mentoring, I am deciding to publish this primarily because of a recent altercation I had with someone I collaborate with on some activist projects. I have realized that the material I needed for that conversation already exists, I have been sitting on it waiting for this day to come. Go forth words, and ripple in ways I may never know.

The Necessity of Social Justice Work in Climate Activism, Part One: Reflections on Pulse

Even knowing (thinking? wondering if?) I am apparently more likely to be massacred in a queer club, I feel safer in queer clubs than in straight bars. (Clubs. Whatever. I'm using them as synonyms.)

I thought about this in the days and hours after the Pulse tragedy, as I had already been considering going out to a queer bar here in Medellin. I questioned for a moment, in that irrational way humans do, applying something with similar characteristics to our own lives, however distance and removed, if this could happen where I am.

Here's why: Even if there is some kind of hate crime at a queer club every night in a thousand, I experience harassment and lack of consent practices in straight clubs any time I go out and try to socialize.

If I go and don't make eye contact with any male-presenting people, I can maybe get away without being harassed. Not always.

But I want to go out to socialize, and yet the sad fact is that in straight bars people don't know how to respectfully ease into consensual interactions.

I am one to wear my love and lust on my sleeve. When I like someone (blush), I tell them. Often through text messages, drunk or no, because then I can get all my thoughts out at once, without interruption, and be sure that I am saying exactly what I want to say.

Some people think this is weird. I met up with a fellow traveler yesterday who was surprised by this, calling it brave. I have gotten the gamut of responses to my strategy, from "brave" to "awkward and dorky / not smooth." Even "desperate" (probably mostly in my head).

But my question is, what is the alternative? If I am attracted to someone, and I don't just put this out there, what do I do? Well, the alternative given to my by this culture (and I certainly have participated in this as well) is to wait for some chance moment to swoop in for a kiss. Sometimes accompanied by liquid courage. But as the song goes, a kiss is not a contract. What do you think that kiss means?

Anyway, THIS REALLY UPSETS ME. I am so sick of the swoop-kiss, in real life and in media. In TV shows, it is portrayed as romantic. I have even seen, repeatedly, that some character, often male, kisses a female character who is in a monogamous relationship. She doesn't stop him right away, out of surprise and/or enjoyment. Then, she feels guilty, and sometimes her male partner even gets mad at her for cheating. She will often say, "I kissed so-and-so." Um, no, they kissed you. It is not your job to go around fending off kisses. And, for me, an unasked for kiss can be just as violating as lots of other unasked for sexual contact. You can't take it back once your lips are planted on me.

All of which is to say, this is the meat-and-potatoes of straight culture and straight bars, I think. And straight culture in general. Not to say it isn't present in queer culture - as portrayed in media as well. I got mad when, in Pretty Little Liars, Paige swoop-kissed Emily while Emily was upset about Maya. How insensitive could she be? (And I recall times when I tried to swoop in, especially in my high school days, on someone I liked who had just broken up with someone.)

I am probably spoiled. I get to spend parts of my summers surrounded by magical community where consent is a top priority, the norm, the expectation. But this shouldn't be spoiled, I want this to be the norm everywhere. Because once I knew how much safer, healthier, it felt, I can't deal with this violation culture all over the place. I want to be able to go into any bar, straight or not, and have a conversation with someone, drunk, and trust that they won't try to swoop-kiss me. I was at a club a few months ago and danced with a cute girl. Even amidst the loud noise, I was able to easily, and gracefully, lean into her ear and ask, "Before we leave tonight, would you like my number, a kiss, or both?" And she smiled and said both!

Consent is one of my biggest values. It is why I am so distraught over what is going on in the world. We have a disaster going on in the world in terms of consent. Last year, while being trained for my job advocating for climate legislation, I connected my value of consent to the problems of the world, again. If we valued consent as a culture, nobody would build nuclear power plants, coal plants, or fracking operations, because they would have to get the consent of those who live there - including the plants, animals, rivers. And they would never consent to that! It's absurd! I know it is an overused, perhaps even desensitizing term, but this is why the phrase "the rape of the Earth" emerged.

I am wondering how we can, at this moment in time when so many are increasingly betting on worst-case scenarios, bring consent into climate activism. This is how we can make the climate movement feminist. These issues are not silos, as ecofeminists have been aware of for decades. It is all connected. Just as Pulse is connected too (and thank you forever, 350, for acknowledging this).

There has long been a divide between social justice activism, and environmental activism. That is why these days, I talk about and social and environmental justice. Bring these things together. 350.org as a global organization is making strides in this department. But I still hear folks in my community, sounding like myself not so many years ago, saying "The environment is more important than human social justice, because we all need it (the earth) to live any life, even a horrible one." I am not going to name any names. I love you, fellow activists. I understand your reasoning, because it was once my own. It is a seductive line of thought, especially for those of us who are White enough, or rich enough, or educated enough, to have some distance on any social problems except the environmental ones.

I no longer think this is true. For some people, they say, we don't have time to be distracted by social justice causes, because we need to put all of our energy into fighting climate change. Slowing it down, whicever. I say, we don't have time to not think about social justice. It is an emergency that we bring our movements together, as some already know. I want to see this happen in my community. It is important for two reasons, that I can name in particular.

One, I don't think humans are inherently greedy and selfish. Some may have their empathy turned down quite a bit. But in general, when we humans have our basic needs cared for, it is easier for us to make decisions considerate of others. Take plastic bags as an example. Here in Colombia, I am using way more plastic bags. This happens because they are offered to me constantly, and it is much harder to turn them down when I don't have an alternative to offer, as I often do at home. When I am grounded at home, and have enough food to eat, options for what to eat, food from my garden, I am more easily able to avoid plastic bags. My mom, who lives off grid, finds plastic bags incredibly useful. When you are poor and may not even have running water or a fridge, plastic helps keep things separate, clean, dry. Another example: when I am here, walking around in the heat, and feeling dehydrated, if I can't find water or a place to get a juice in a glass, I much more readily accept a plastic container of juice, because my more basic needs aren't met. Again, this is a matter of physical priorities. Our organisms must be fed, watered, protected from the elements, before we can effectively reach beyond ourselves to care for the rest of life.

The second reason is that to have an effective movement, we need all hearts and minds in the problem of climate change and stopping capitalism's assault on life. And we aren't going to have all hearts and minds on the problem if some people keep reiterating this claim that it is the only cause that matters. We need solidarity. We need mutual aid. This has all been said before. I am not the first, or the most eloquent. But I hope some people I know will listen to me when I say that I will be able to be more present and bring my whole self to my climate activism if my straight climate activist allies care just as much about ending heteronormativity. I feel alienated when I see environmental activists seeming to ignore the Pulse tragedy, stuck in our issue-silos. I know we are all experiencing compassion fatigue; there are plenty of events in the world I can't always bring myself to act on. But I can still look, I can still breathe into my heart and acknowledge this is happening.

Can we all care about consent together, the consent that stops the rape of human bodies as well as bioregions and ecosystems, and our whole biosphere? I know it is overwhelming, but will you breathe into this with me, and we can share our hearts, and act from here?

Monday, June 27, 2016

A Entender Una Broma



Place: Ampitheater, small, of a biblioteca or similar building in La Playa area of Medellin (I still cannot figure out how to put in an accent on that i).

Time: Mid-morning to midday, June 22.

Scene: Fold-down seats of about 150, half-full. Big screen on which presentation and videos from LGBTI (pronounced elle-hay-be-te-ee) collectives all over the city play.

Guys. Guise. Gize. This city has a different LGBT organization or collective for every neighborhood. OK, so this probably makes sense, given how big of a city this is. But still. That is pretty cool. And yes, maybe some neighborhoods aren't represented. I am sure that is true. Still.

Am I getting ahead of myself? How did I end up here? Where to start? The event at the other library with the history of LGBT people in Medellin? Where my now host invited me to stay at her sweet little house on the outskirts of the city, for much cheaper than the hostel I was staying at? With a KITTEN?

How the next day I went to a presentation on marriage equality in Colombia and met new friends who I rlylikealot. And went to a concert with them, only leaving early to not miss the last bus to San Cristobal.

How I got to go to this event because E (my host) invited me along, because she was going to represent her organization.

I learned a lot, even without being fluent in Spanish and not being able to maintain my attention for very long to the words.

It is amazing how much you can gain, and also how much you can miss, being in a group of people speaking in another language. This same day, I was sitting during lunch with a small circle of folks. E asked if she could have some piece of meal that I was too full to eat. I asked if I should put it in her styrofoam box. She said, No aca! And someone else, L, who I'd met a few times, laughed, Aca, in su boca! And I laughed with them. It was a simple joke, but still, it was a joke, and I understood it. It contrasted with the times I have sat in a circle of people laughing at a Spanish joke and not understood it.

Very soon after, I expressed that I was going to hang out with a friend, and L started teasing me about whether this was like a date. I was able to say, "Soy timida!" as an excuse not to reveal any information. This was all very good fun.

I have decided to experiment with posting shorter, bite-sized blogs, so I will end this here. Fair warning, the next one may be in a more serious tone.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Between Vacation and Pilgrimage

I'm stuck between vacation and pilgrimage.

Initially I blamed this - which I only realized this evening, but of course have been feeling for days - on Jacob. He is certainly part of it. He wants to do vacation-y things, like go swimming in chlorinated pools, ziplining, who knows what else. That's OK. He is still learning so much about the world; I trust in that. It actually seems good for him to do fun and familiar things on this trip, to balance out the culture shock.

In a way though I have set myself up for success. I have the perfect excuse for not sinking into my journey faster, a tether to the culture of the United States, entitlement to be a traveler without a purpose other than self-enjoyment, hedonism. I don't have a problem with hedonism, usually. I think it's great - "harm none, do what ye well" and "all acts of love and pleasure are Her rituals."

But in someone else's land and culture (which raises some serious questions about my place in the land of the Maidu, the Wintu, Turtle Island as Gary Snyder called it), I don't feel so entitled. I feel guilty. And recently, I did an exercise to discover what I really want. One answer was, "I want to stop feeling guilty and start having fun." However, this was more about a specific relationship dynamic than it was about my trip.

I should feel guilty. In a good way. A way that promotes growth. Brene Brown says that guilt is the positive alternative to shame. Rather than thinking we are "bad people," we see that our actions were bad - or in NVC speak, did not live up to our values or ideals. Then we make reparations and strive to do something different in the future.

The problem is that the things I feel guilty about have to do with white and First World privilege. And it is stress compounded, because of all the crap us white people take for "indulging in guilt" within the activist network. I get it that it can be bothersome when a white person's guilt distracts from the work of social justice. But feelings are important. That's why we need to make the activist network a community of people who can support one another.

Oh my god, but I digress. Or do I? I said I was coming on this trip to get different perspectives on climate change. How to think about the problem. What the solutions are. Yet an oh-so-obvious realization emerged the other night. I was in Cahuita, Costa Rica, staying at Cabinas Algebra. The owner, a German expat (also known as an immigrant) mentioned climate change one evening. I told her that this subject is one of my main reasons for this trip. She invited me to interview her.

The interview was a little difficult for me. I didn't have questions prepared. I imagine myself coming off as simultaneously too formal and also unprofessional for what I was trying to do. She told me a story that wasn't very surprising: the rains are less than they used to be, wells are going dry. Less frogs - she hadn't seen the formerly common poison dart frog in months (although I think J. and I did later see one, I think while waiting for a bus by the side of a minor highway). How does this affect tourism? Turns out, it's great! Tourists love the sun. They complain when it rains, she said. "Why does it always rain in the Caribbean?" I don't understand this myself. The rain was a welcome relief from being constantly drenched in sweat, blazing humid heat. We had to leave more quickly than we planned because we couldn't sleep at night. I suppose with folks who have money enough for air conditioning it doesn't matter.

During the interview, I didn't know what else to ask. I had already covered, what are people here doing about climate change? She said that folks are becoming more concerned, but also valuing First World resources and lifestyles. Cars are becoming more common among locals. So I asked her what social issues folks are more concerned about. She said it is like anywhere else, naming social problems such as domestic violence, drug addiction. Also access to education. Her son, 17, said that in the nearby bigger town there is a lot of "copying" on classwork (he didn't use the word cheating - is this because he is of German descent in a Spanish-speaking country and it isn't common? Maybe, but it reminded me that the idea of pooling knowledge as bad is not universal). They said that the public school in Cahuita has issues - there is only one teacher, and when she has an errand to run or other obligation, class is cancelled that day.

This all led me to realize that, of course, climate change cannot be seen as in a vacuum. We can't have a meaningful conversation about this without talking about everything else happening in the world. I mean this in a spiritual sense more than an empirical sense, though I believe both are true. It's like a friend of mine once said: Of course my body goes through seasons. I'm part of Earth, and Earth goes through seasons.

Similarly, when we go through environmental trauma, such as cambio climático, we are all going through it together. How does climate change affect domestic violence? Drug addiction? Some would say not at all, that I'm grasping at connections that aren't there. I'd fling some mud at those folks in the form of my favorite slur: reductionistI! When we look at it in the opposite direction, it is easy to see that metaphors abound for how our treatment of the planet is analogous to intimate partner violence; this may have first been introduced to me by a book I saw on the Peace Center library shelf called Rape of the Earth. Then there is the concept of our "addiction to oil." 

Sometimes we are told that we "don't have time" to focus on a certain social problem because some other problem is more urgent or important. Sure. At this moment, I want to bring in some Pema Chodron wisdom and say, none of them are problems at all. They are situations. Dilemmas, maybe. Opportunities to respond with compassion and the intention to reduce suffering, acknowledging that we may not ever be able to eliminate it - because there is a dynamic tension between the pain of the universe and the compassionate response to that pain (got this from The Universe Story by David Swimme). This is not to excuse intentionally or negligently harmful behavior. It isn't spiritual bypassing. It is, I hope, spiritual integration. We need some way to be at peace while also engaging in social change efforts.


That is our mission. Our life's work, according to some person quoted in the book I have The Art of Pilgrimage, is a mission we must dedicate our lives to - and it must be something that is impossible to complete.


I can tell this post is coming to a conclusion because I'm getting anxious about how to conclude. I want to perform pilgrimage for y'all. Or perform adventure? I don't know. Here's some radical honesty: I'm nervous that those who contributed to my trip financially will judge me for "not doing it right" somehow. What do you want from me? I trust that those who really love me and are clear in themselves want me to follow whatever I want. I asked for elder- mentoring on Facebook and got this question: What do you hope for?

My answer: I hope to travel in the spirit. This was a phrase that came out my clearness committee on January at Western Young Friends New Year's gathering. I am telling myself, after Jacob leaves, then I can drop all the planning and listen to Spirit more. But I know that if I'm using him as an excuse now, then I will find another one then. So I am doing my best to listen now. I got the message today: go to the market. There is a farmer's market in Boquete once a week. Extranjeros sell goodies there as well as locals. I tried to support those who looked local or seemed to only speak Spanish, to disrupt the colonization process happening there with retirees moving en masse. I bought organic sprouts, happy eggs, some traditional treats (like corn shaped into a mini-pita and filled with queso, frijoles, y salsa, and an empanada), parsley for 50 cents, yogurt con melacotón, blackberries, and a veggie meatball made of lentils and quinoa and walnuts. (It was amazing.)

I also got the message, go surfing. This was already an option, but there were a number of options, and I wasn't sure which to follow. So we are headed to Punta Burica now. We came down out of the mountains where Boquete is to David. The transition was rough. I got super stressed at the crowded bus station. I didn't have an address. We ended up taking a taxi to the hostel. No one wanted us on the bus with our big backpacks. (Although we had taken a calm bus ride from Palmira to David. Which was interesting because of the scenic route, as well as the lovely walkways that go over the highways, one of which was even wheelchair accessible. I was impressed by the infrastructure.)

We met three German travelers here at the hostel. They are going to Punta Burica tomorrow too. Meeting German travelers seems to be a theme on this trip. I try to bond with them over the German spelling of my last name. The first one was impressed, but these ones less so.

I'm drawing Tarot cards about every 2.7 days. At first I got The Fool. Then the 8 of Wands. Now I'm on the 2 of Wands. The message: "You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore." I'm ready to do that. It feels like it goes with surfing very well too, although I certainly plan to keep the shore in sight.

I'll draw a new card tomorrow, and see where I'm at in my journey then.

[Journey - from the French word "jour," - "day" - the distance traveled in a day.]

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Arriving in Chico: A Quiet Place to Rest

I have friends who are keeping travel blogs in places far and away: Iceland, Scotland... and I am about to venture into parts unknown to me as well, at which time I imagine I will have plenty I want to share about.

But I found myself wondering last Sunday, why don't I have much to say about my life here, my daily and weekly routine? The only difference between here and anywhere else is the novelty.

So I continued about my day with fresh eyes. And this is what I experienced.



Today I attended a small Quaker meeting of about 12-15 people. I had woken up and pulled a Tarot card before I went out for the day. Well, I pulled about 10 cards, but none of them felt right. Finally, I cut the deck down the middle, pulled the first one, and it was the 10 of Cups. "Joy is yours, if you only look beyond the material and glimpse the light there."

I sat with this phrase in the Quaker meeting. One woman stood up and gave ministry inspired by words from Michael Franti: "Every single soul is a poem/ written on the back of God's hand." I took that into my body. I AM a poem written on the back of God's hand. I can feel that. I can feel it. I swirl through my life with care and carelessness, bringing my rhyme and rhythm into others' lives.

Some of them are touched in ways that they appreciate. After the meeting, a different person came up to me, crying about the hard times she is going through. She told me that I am such an inspiration to her; and I simultaneously knew and didn't know why.

I left the meeting, after texting another person in my life who I had some relational tension with - sharing the thoughts that had been coming up for 3 days. I biked to the park, intending to go through it on my way home, but was called to take a right instead of a left at the bottom of the path, deeper into the park.

It's odd; I felt nervous doing that. I was scared of something. Charles Eisenstein says in one video, Why does it hurt just to exist? One common answer is that it hurts because of the separation from Nature. It hurts because of all the pain on this planet at this time. The 'abiding loveliness' is damaged beyond repair. So I was scared to bike into the park, to wander without purpose, as I have enjoyed at other moments.

I didn't go far. I saw a log, just off the path, ideal for sitting on. There were purple clover flowers all around - one even growing out of the log. Bees hovered on and around the stalks. I had brought colored pencils, and a Tarot drawing journal - with blank space to create images for each card. I drew clover blossoms, and a bee, on the 10 of Cups page.

There was more wonderfulness later  - these paragraphs were only the first part, hard to believe how much goodness can fit in a single rotation of our Earth. There were multiple cuddle pass-offs in one day - just as my cuddle buddy housemate was preparing to leave from our snuggly position with his head on my lap on our couch, another dear one arrived to cuddle and, later, pick mulberries. And that night, when my mulberry-picking companion left and I felt sad with my lack of snuggles, my housemate returned to sleep in my bed all night long. I don't always have to be alone (and I am never alone, if I only remember all my plant-kin, cat-kin, Sun-kin, and so on).

Of course, not every day is such a grand series of moments. The past few days have been largely about enjoying being able to sleep in, to not have a schedule - although I am packing my bag, attempting to finish work for various streams of income I maintain other than the main scheduled one that is out for the summer. I enjoyed the two most recent episodes of Once Upon A Time this morning. Simple, indulgent pleasures bring a certain balance to life. I'm traveling through this universe, this pluriverse, and each day is an adventure, each day is new, if I remember to look beyond the routine and glimpse the light here.

Friday, April 22, 2016

My Quest Toward Enlightened Subjectivity

I pulled out my tarot cards for the first time the other day in a while. My cats had knocked some crap off my dresser, unveiling a book I have on tarot that I haven't used much and previously didn't find very accessible.

But this morning, I found some new spreads that were inspiring. One of them is about the sacred quest. It's a 7-card spread. Since I'm planning a quest this summer, it felt appropriate.

1. What is my quest?

10 of Cups, reversed








10 of Cups is a very obvious card for me to get as my quest mission. This card is about Ecotopia, a village in which families play in green pastures, praising the rainbow in the sky. To me it can represent sustainable community. According to one of my book, tens are associated with the concept of Kingdom. This card looks like the kingdom of Earth, a land in which we can dwell happily forevermore.

However, it is reversed. This brought up questions for me, such as, is a sustainable world/kingdom/community impossible?

Or perhaps it is encouragement to recognize the happiness I already have. I live in a village, of sorts - my residential community. This card can be a reminder to celebrate this.

But then, I realized something. Something about polarities reversing. A memory of witch camp, and one of my teachers beginning in the South, instead of North, while casting a circle. And it all clicked into place - this happy village already exists - in the Global South! While it is certainly a generalization, my impression of the cultures "below" the equator is that they tend to be more collectivist. And I hear words from a friend, spoken years ago, about her conversation with a Zapatista elder. My friend had asked, "What can we do in the states to support you?" Her response: "Break down individualism."

This is why I'm going to South America this summer. I need new templates of human interaction. We need this community way of being to survive. We don't have to reinvent the wheel, although we do need to adapt it for our place.

Note that I am under no delusions that the Global South, and South America in particular, is some paradise free of sin or human foible. I know there is a gruesome history of exploitation by those of us who come from European lands. Coffee, sugar, mined materials, and more - the commodification of these goods is tied up with immeasurable suffering at the hands of my kin and compatriots.

But, if nothing else, this card is validation of my journey this summer.

2. What path am I on?
King of Wands, reversed


Hey there KW! This fellow showed up in my life at the Montana national rainbow gathering, summer of 2013, in a random pocket trade. It was a different deck, but it's nice to see each other again.

First of all, I noticed the lizard near the top (since this card is reversed). I just learned the Konkow word for lizard - pic'ak. There's a lion at the bottom - Leo, my moon and south node, both signs being qualities I've already mastered and now need to move beyond. Wands channel magic, so maybe reversed, I'm on the path of letting magic flow through me - being the wand rather than using one.

Other than that, I don't make much of this card, and actually kind of want a new deck with less royalty and more imagery that I connect with. So, onward to the books.

This card seems to be about your basic bro who thinks he's so smart and rational and should be the philospher-king. Interesting. For one, this archetype is one that pisses me the fuck off, for lack of a better turn of phrase. Now I'm wondering if I need to honor my inner bro. Could I do this? At least I'm admitting I might have one (yep, I do).

Reversed, the basic bro experiences setbacks that transform him into someone more compassionate and understanding, as well as "serious and austere." (Hey, aren't I already on this path? What else do I have to learn here?) This reminds me of being the facilitator in a consensus-style meeting, rather than making decisions for others, as a king does.

I don't think this King of Wands is done with me. Apparently I've been on this path for at least two years, and I believe more. But let's continue.


3. Where does the path lead me?
The Emperor, reversed


I sure am getting a lot of royalty today. A lot of dudebros who think they are in charge - but they AREN'T, according to these reversals. A lot of undoing of the patriarchy, me thinks. Could the emperor reversed represent revolution?

According to my book, this card can signify civilization itself - so, reversed, undoing and dismantling that. It represents the laws of physics as well- which are broken by magic! It is also associated with setting boundaries and defending them - perhaps the reversal is a call to transgress and cross boundaries. And to act irresponsibly, since the Emperor is all about responsibility.

Again, like the King of Wands, the Emperor becomes less harsh and more compassionate and emotional when reversed. But he "may have trouble with clear thoughts and decisive action." (Not very feminist of you, tarot book - portraying compassion and emotion as in opposition to clear thinking.) Maybe decisive action isn't what is needed. This could be an excuse to hedge. The path of hedges...sounds like a deleted scene from Alice in Wonderland.

4. What opposes me?
Temperance, reversed


Temperance reversed sounds like a need for hedonism. Good call, tarot. I notice the red wings, the pouring cups, the flowers like daffodils, and a triangle on the dress.

According to one source, this pouring cups can represent the combination of solar and lunar qualities. Reversed, this card can signify finding it difficult to act in a moderate way and instead going wild, overreacting, or getting caught up in people's emotions.

This is where I'm starting to get really confused by this reading, in particular all the reversals. So, it is Temperance Herself that is opposing me, or Temperance reversed? In this particular placement the reading is especially difficult, because of the opposition. Part of me thinks I need to have a temper tantrum - perhaps about the creepy friend of a friend who keeps showing up in my life and feeling entitled to touch me and feel me up while drunk. Perhaps I should stop holding back and give him a good smack or at least a yelling at. Either way, the call to be more temperate doesn't resonate right now.

Which is confusing, given that if I do need it, that would make it all the more important.

5. What aids me?
Justice, reversed

As if I am not already confused enough, now Justice is reversed too.

According to my book, Justice comes at the center of the Fool's journey. It represents the spiritual laws of truth, above the laws of society. It holds a commitment to honesty, as well as combining opposites as seen in the scales. It is about recognizing what we have done and what others have done - that it is never "all my fault" nor am I "always the victim." As has come up in my circles over the past year, "right-sized accountability."

Reversed, this card warns of an injustice in a conflict or our own behavior, and a need to look under the surface of the situation.

Ironically, as much as I love justice and love this card, I feel like the reversal goes hand in hand with Temperance. Just as Temperance opposes me right now, I feel that maybe I'm being called to be less "objective" (along with the Emperor and King of Wands reversed) and more "subjective." To honor my piece of the truth without having to track everyone else's. To hold down my side of the scale and not worry about the other side. To name victimization and trumpet it from the rooftops.

And, at the same time, I resonate with a call to recognize the ways I have victimized others, and may continue to do so. This is also a big theme in my life, one that I have begun expressing over the past year in part by creating a document full of past transgressions in intimate relationships, as well as traumas that influence how I show up for intimate connection. I share this document with new people I'm getting closer to. Justice reversed, in the Aiding position, would seem to approve of this work, and encourage me to continue deepening it.

6. What must I sacrifice?
Ace of Swords, reversed


If I wasn't already clear about the message of this spread, this is the final nail in the coffin of any current attachment to logic and cool rationality I currently have. The Ace of Swords is all about detachment - cutting remarks, a cold blade that pierces directly to the so-called essence of things, meanwhile ignoring that the delight is in the details. Swords remind me of violence and domination.

Reversed this card is associated with illusions, difficulty in thinking, anger, exaggeration, and the need to think more carefully. Again, this is difficult because, like the Temperance card being in the Opposition placement, it's a sort of double-negative - a card that must be sacrificed while also being reversed. It could go both ways.

But the feeling I get is that I actually need to think  less carefully, and more on a whim. I'm ready for that. I started by sending a flirty text to someone cute without overthinking it. (Well, I had been, and then I just went for it.) I'm sure there are much bigger applications as well. Like, time to start packing my bags for my trip, and call Air Panama to arrange that flight.

7. What will I become?
Queen of Cups!!


FINALLY...A CARD THAT IS NOT REVERSED! And it's the final card, the card I'm becoming. How perfect is this?

Cups are associated with the element Water, and this is a very watery card. Water is conventionally seen as feminine. She is seated firmly on the throne (reality), while the stream (emotion) flows into her dress and becomes part of her.

She is the Queen of love and sensuality (thank Goddess this wasn't reversed).

I couldn't have drawn a more perfect card to represent who I want to become in my life if I had tried. The throne of reality reminds me of my Venus in Aquarius, becoming the Goddess of Visionary Thinking. Yet I need this to be more than an airy abstraction. And that's where the water comes in.

I don't really even know what to do with this card, it is so wonderful. Am I deserving of this destiny? Do I have to/ need to work with the other cards more before I can embody this archetype? My answer is probably, but that doesn't mean I can't start all of them at once - all Time is Now, after all. We don't live in a linear existence.

One of my books suggests I spend the day with my cards; well, I've spent a couple days with them. I drew them Wednesday morning and have since spent multiple sessions journaling and reading about them, and now this blog. It also tells me to record my dreams and only follow my instincts today.

Closing Thoughts

One of my biggest takeaways from this reading is the idea of a reversed card representing the Global South (or the opposite of whatever hemisphere I happen to be in while reading?). The Ten of Cups asked, what does community and utopia mean in the South?

I could ask the same question for each reversed card. What does the King of Wands look like in the South? How are men or masculine people embodying compassion in the part of the world I'm visiting?

What about the Emperor - this would seem to be an archetypal enemy of the South, considering colonization. But then again, didn't the Inka have Emperors as well, or analogous roles? What can I learn from this history? How were those Emperors different from the European ones? I'm thinking back to my reading of 1492, and remembering that in the Inka empire, there was an excess of goods stored in warehouses. Production was inefficient according to capitalist standards, but in a way that created security and abundance for people.

What does the South have to teach me about Temperance - is this a place for it, and if so, where? What about Justice? And the Ace of Swords, cutting rationality and exaggerated anger? There's a lot here, and I will be keeping my eyes, and hopefully my heart as well, open for what speaks to these questions as I weave my way further into my journey.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

EFT for Activists


I don't really need to add a lot of commentary to this video. I woke up the other morning and felt inspired. It is off the cuff, unpolished, unedited. That's OK. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly (rather than not doing at all). Comments welcome - specific things that came up for you would be inspiring to make another one.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Activist Apprenticeship Invitation

I'm embarrassed to say that I started an animal rights club at 13 that didn't accomplish anything. 

I literally feel the same shame I felt then.

When I was 13 I lived in a small, poor, mostly white town in Northern California. I went to a middle school there and started this club. We met at a playground to discuss how we could help animals. I remember I spent an excessive amount of time coming up with words that made a great acronym, but I don't remember what it was.

One girl came almost every week. Her mom said, "This is perfect for her." I want to cry thinking about how I failed. I failed her - and myself. Why does this hurt so bad? It hurt then too. I was ashamed to admit I had no resources. I had no framework for offering this girl, one year younger than me, any more opportunity than myself to help animals in any way.

I talked about going to the animal shelter to volunteer. But I didn't know where it was; or what their volunteer policy was. I didn't know how to look that information up, even though internet did already exist by that time. I didn't look up the number. My mom didn't have a working car. I was too embarrassed to admit to this mom that I had no way of making this happen, this trip to the pound. I just kept talking about it, and the girl kept coming, and we'd play on the playground. It really was more of a club - people who have an interest in helping animals, and meet up to talk about it, but don't do anything tangible - rather than a project, movement, or organization.

I want to help teenagers like me to gain the skills of organizing. I might have an opportunity to do this next year, through my work, but I don't know if it will take off. I could just offer this to the world, but do I even have the space?

I have so many gifts to give to the world, and I have such a hard time keeping them all straight. Well, I'm not straight. (Queer joke. Womp womp.) I have a Capricorn Sun-Mercury-Saturn-Uranus-Neptune. That's a LOT of structure. I've been burning through my entire life on a wing and a to-do list. How many of those things actually get crossed off is sometimes more a matter of my Gemini rising though, or some other nefarious influences I may not know about.

But I'm reading a book right now about making organizations more like people, focusing on emergence rather than pre-planning. Letting things unfold. I wonder, does this include starting projects and allowing them to drop? Or how can I share my gifts in a less structured, more informal manner? Is this even possible? What about the value of structure to making things happen on a larger scale?

These are all questions emerging in my process right now. When I was 13 I needed help making my social justice dreams come true. If you know of any aspiring 13 year old world changers who need mentoring, send them my way. I'm happy to take on an apprentice.

Here's what I would tell my 13 year old self, off the top of my head:
  • Admit what you don't know. When people show up at your meetings, tell them about the vision you have, your ideas, and your resources (or lack thereof). Ask them for help. Be honest.
  • Ask adults for help who seem to have the same values as you. Many of them may be discouraging or patronizing, but some of them will be inspired and supportive.
  • If you are facilitating a meeting, co-create the agenda with whoever shows up.
  • Open up a phone book and get all the numbers of organizations that might have compatible focuses. Call them. Bike to their building. Start a conversation.


On second thought, I did more than I realized. 

It just wasn't organized, it was emergent, like the book I mentioned earlier is talking about. (It's called Anarchists in the Boardroom, by the way.)

Biking to the store one day to get groceries for me and my mom, I found a dog running down the road. In traffic. I grabbed her by the collar, wheeled to a nearby store, and used the grocery money to buy a leash instead. (Good thing my poor mom loves animals.)

I brought this dog home and she lived on the porch of our studio apartment building for a few days. My mom called animal control and it turned out that the dog, who I named Pooch temporarily, lived nearby and had run away. The animal control officer took her home.

But the next day or so, she was back. This happened a couple of times, until finally the officer gave her family our number so we could communicate directly. It turned out that the family had just gotten two new dogs, little hairless purebred creatures that yapped and annoyed Bandit (the name this dog already had). The family said that we could keep Bandit if we wanted, because she kept running away and wasn't getting along with the new dogs. In hindsight, this was pretty irresponsible of them, since they didn't really check us out. We weren't really in a position to care for Bandit that well, but my mom and I did our best with what little resources we had, and a lot of enthusiasm.


At this same time, there was a studio cat named Thomas who lived on the porch of our building. Sometimes my mom and I gave him canned food. He sort of belonged to everyone, and he fathered most of the kittens on that street. I liked him. One day, another resident in the apartment told us that he had called the cops (animal control again) because Thomas bit him. They took Thomas in for quarantine. He would be held for ten days and then probably adopted out.

The year before, my aunt had started a savings account for me. She put $50 in it. I never added to it. I used this money to go get a voucher from a vet proving that I would have Thomas spayed. Then the pound released him to me. Pretty soon he was home, though without his testicles.

We talked a lot of shit about that neighbor, calling him a wuss for being scared of a little cat bite. One day I was feeding Thomas canned food on the porch, and I told him, in a baby voice, "You can bite whoever you want, Thomas." And he chomped down on my hand. I teared up but laughed it off.


Big picture, or interpersonal changes?

While these stories connect me with what I have accomplished, and did accomplish at that time, in service of my values and passions, I see that they didn't change anything at a systemic level. As important as I believe interpersonal kindness are - crucial, essential - I want to change the systems that allow for scores of animals to go without homes, be euthanized, tortured in labs, bred to have deformities and diseases, and factory farmed. (This isn't actually my focus anymore, though I still feel this way.)

Maybe, though, this interpersonal stuff is a good place for beginning activists to get their start. To ground in service, getting to know the populations we care about on a personal level. Our neighbors, in whatever form - humans harassed by police, animals without homes, trees being cut down, rivers polluted.

I don't have all the answers or the one best way. I have this experience, which is valuable. And I am willing to share it.

So contact me if you're that 13 year old (or 12, or 11, or 14...) who wants some support in actualizing your vision for the world, embodying your passion ... and noticing how you are already living it.
Use my current email: cultivateedge@gmail.com


Saturday, April 2, 2016

Notes from Washington - Spring Lobby Weekend

Friday, March 11, 2016 - In transit, c. 2:14pm

Flying across the country, I see miles and miles - thousands or more - of patchwork squares and rectangles, and a few circles, below on the ground. I can't comprehend that humans have altered this landscape so incredibly much, to bring this regular geometric forms to such a large expanse of land.

Earlier, when I woke up from my initial in-flight nap, I looked out of the window just as we passed over the Grand Canyon. At least, that's the only logical explanation I could come up with for that big of a gash in the land below, and the flight tracker seemed to confirm that we were in the right place for it.

When I arrive in Kansas City for a layover, I'm challenged on the notion that women's bathrooms are cleaner (although I didn't actually compare) - there's a little gendered thought. Only four or five stalls - my neighbor said it was a small airport. The cardboard box of seat protectors is pushed halfway out of the metal dispenser meant to contain it, leaving it mangled and disgusting.

Back in the air, I'm listening to a book about the history and exploitation of Latin America to prepare for my trip this summer and pass the time. The starting place for my trip is climate change - cambio climático - but as I listen to the history of enslaved indigenous people forced to work in the mines and all the life that has cost, I remember that climate change is merely a symptom of a system. I call it capitalism; some say it is bigger - civilization itself. It is hard to know without learning more about how communist or socialist societies have conducted themselves - did they colonize? I think at times they did. Certainly the Inka seemed to have done so, and from what I understand, they were a very successful socialist society, according to the book 1492.

Saturday, March 12, 2016 - At the conference

In the opening session of Spring Lobby Weekend, during Welcome Reception, attendees stand up and share stories of what brings them here. This includes stories of how and why people have interacted with the criminal justice system - selling drugs, trespassing. We don't get all the background to these stories, but what strikes me is how something deeper is going on here. This isn't just about changing the outer world. This is also about getting to know one another's shadows. In the Quaker community, I sometimes feel there is this shame for not fitting into society or conforming in some ways. Ironic, given Quaker history and legacy of protest and dissent. I don't usually discuss my history with drug use in Quaker circles. This has more to do with how I think it would be received than any rejection of this history I feel.

One of my favorite speakers is Jondhi Harrell from The Center for Returning Citizens. He really brings home the human element of mass incarceration. To learn more about this organization's work, here is their website: http://tcrcphilly.org/

During the first meeting for worship, rich beautiful ministry was shared that reminded me of the value and importance of having a spiritual well from which to draw for our activism. One man mentioned the story of Paul and Silas singing in prison. It reminded me of this song I learned at witchcamp a summer or two ago from Rose May Dance.:

We will rise with the fire of freedom/
Truth is a fire that will burn our chains/
and we will STOP the fires of destruction/
Healing is a fire running through our veins

A Unitarian participant mentioned lighting candles and believing in the good we can accomplish. With songs still in my head, this reminded me of the Nahko song about good things coming.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkGBLLjAXEA

There's a line in my notes that sounds like a quote, but there's no name attached to it, so I think it came from my own brain - but of course, it was an assemblage of sentiments being expressed in that room; I can't claim I created it anymore than anyone can claim to have originated anything:

"Just like you can't buy God, you can't put a price on human dignity."

 

 Sunday, March 13 - Monday, March 14, Assorted Factoids, Quotes, & Notes

The structure of the conference is hard for me. I would rather have Meeting for Worship at the end of the day, to integrate the mental and psychological distress of taking in all this information about human suffering. I wish we had already started our lobby training too, gotten to meet our state groups. We need to plan the visit; people are nervous. Nevertheless, I manage to take in some information.

 

It costs $30,000/year to house imprisoned people.

Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, was moved by grassroots lobbying to take a stance on sentencing reform, and draft the Sentencing Corrections and Reform Act. He was convinced by the fact that many states, "legislative laboratories," have had success with similar legislation.

Please read the sentencing reform bills and dispel some myths about them. They are not "soft on crime" or a "get out of jail free card."  (For FCNL's central page on incarceration legislation, go here.)

The Senate and House of Representatives are people, even though the DNC, RNC, and Congress are themselves corrupted institutions. Faith inspires people to take risks, go against the grain of those corrupted institutions...which creates a chance for a mass of people to seize a moment, a chance, for sudden change.

This is an opportunity to pass meaningful bipartisan legislation at a time when there is not a lot of hope. ... Hope for bipartisan collaboration, hope for a functional Congress.
 

March 14, 7pm: Cory Booker

He is by far the most charismatic speaker this weekend. I'd never heard of him before, and since getting home, one of the seasoned activists in my community expresses some disappointment in his policy choices in the past - despite acknowledging what a great speaker he is. He's very quotable; in fact, I believe some of my previous notes, that were written after the fact, were influenced by his words. Here are some more:

"If you love your country, you must love your countrywomen and men. ... It will break your heart."

 

"Cynicism is a refuge for cowards."

 

"If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains."
"Sometimes you have to fast and pray."
(OK, these last two are actually from the bible).

 

"Stay faithful." - Mrs. Jones, Cory Booker's old neighbor.

 

Somewhere along the way, maybe because Cory used to be a mayor, I start thinking to last summer, when we met a DC city councilor as part of our training for Advocacy Corps. I remember how she said that her run for city council included knocking on almost every door in the city, three times each. I think Cory says something like this too, so I start doing math for my future city council run. If there are about 90,000 people in Chico, there should be no more than 45,000 doors, probably less, but some people are single, while others live in families or couples. [I'm damn close - according to the census, there are about 37,000 households - even easier!]

If I allow for up to 20 minutes per conversation, to really meet people, and only spend 3 hours a day doing this (I'll still have to work and have fun while campaigning!), that's 9 doors a day. At that rate, it would take 5,000 days to meet everyone in Chico. ... Uh oh, that's about 15 years. I'm going to have to rethink this somehow. (This is a good example of why money corrupts politics - someone who doesn't have to work to live can campaign all day long without having to support themselves.)

Booklist from the Weekend

The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander
United, Cory Booker (he recorded it himself for audiobook, I now have it on Audible!)
America's Original Sin, Jim Wallis
Just Mercy, Bryan Stephenson

 ...

...

...

But, wait! Aren't you going to tell us how the lobby visits went?

I think there's enough to chew on here for now. I might come back to that, though I'm not making any promises. You can listen to my cohort's thoughts about it at this podcast, though.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

What It's Like Being 26

You there...you're 25, right? 24?

I know all sorts of things about your life.

I know about that serious on-again off-again relationship. The one you thought you couldn't live without. I know the ones before that, too. The really unhealthy one that makes you feel like a totally different person when you think about it. The lovers who used to seem so important and now almost are erased from memory. If you started as young as me, that is.

Time is relative. It grabs you by the wrist, I've heard. It lengthens and compresses. I know about how your fur-children, kittens so recently, are now getting old. They fall into the "Senior Plan" at the vet's office.

I know about the sex. The wild, delicious sex with those you could communicate well with. The awkward, disappointing one-night stand with that boy from high school, now all grown-up, but apparently missing some crucial lessons. The drunken rolls in the grass out back behind the house after a night of crashing frat parties.

I know you think you will be skinny forever, no matter how much you eat. You're just lucky that way, with your metabolism. You can eat a whole tub of ice cream with no consequences. Don't let that older boyfriend shame you for having too much sugar. He's a fuddy duddy.

I know you think biking everywhere is perfectly fine and convenient and ethical. You're absolutely right. Don't get into bad habits of borrowing your roommate's car. They grab hold quick.

You have some idea of what your purpose is in this life right? You've dived into your psyche deeply, explored it through meditation or mushrooms, or both, and are ready to take the next steps of being an adult. Some semblance of what that may be is starting to take shape.

You are gathering all the self-knowledge you need. You still care so much what people think of you, but you are starting to dare boldly to challenge them a little - let out a little bit more of your radical self in those professional contexts. Don't shave for them. Body hair doesn't disqualify you from that scholarship, or make you do your internship less competently.

Dumpster diving is a thing of the past now, not because you think it's gross - it just isn't needed, or as fun as it used to be. And maybe it is a little gross when you have enough money to buy your own food. Dumpster diving clothes is still fun, right?

I know that your finances are still tight, and sometimes your roommates are irritated with you for not paying rent or bills on time. You're trying, but it is so difficult to survive in capitalism. Especially while maintaining some integrity and self-love, refusing to take totally shitty jobs. You were never good at customer service. That whole put a smile on thing makes you want to fuck some shit up.

I know you like to dance like a dork to music from your early teens. That doesn't change, don't worry. But some things do. Let me tell you about them.

26 is about eating sushi and drinking sake. It's about playing Scrabble in Spanish, because you're going to Latin America this summer, for the first time in 5 years.

It's about mentoring people younger than yourself, realizing that you are in fact older than some people, and learning not to look down on them and remember how much you hated it when older people did that to you. They still have experiences you haven't, because every life is different.

It's about hiking with new friends, and telling old friends hard truths. It's about moving beyond objectivity while mediating conflicts, and trusting so deeply in community that you can bring your full self to a difficult moment. Because you've put the effort in and made those relationships strong enough to resile (the verb form of resilience).

It's about Mercury retrograde opening you up so big that you tell people truths you held inside for too long. It's about mistakenly thinking you could stay that open a whole year long, and then coming into a more even-keeled balance. Praying for continued honesty, while also taking care of oneself by privacy if needed.

It's about climate organizing. Really it is, for everyone. It's about finding the last piece of the puzzle in planning your South America trip. It's about getting people you love to go with you.

It's about successful fundraisers and traveling across the country with friends to fight for criminal justice reform - and maybe have some drinks while you're at it. It's about birthday lunches with friends at a Thai restaurant (weeks after confirming that, in fact, no Thai place is open between the hours of 3 and 5pm anywhere in your city).

It's about gifts and celebrations. Poetry on other friends' birthdays. Sharing vulnerably and being inspired to write more.

It's about cuddling and being held in nonsexual ways that are deeply nourishing and maybe a little confusing at times. But you'll get it.

26 is about holding space for dear ones coming in the door sobbing, and helping to hold them, smush them all better, with a group of other people big enough to contain this pain, and valuing so deeply what it means to be in community. It's about appreciating that you've come to take this level of human connection and support for granted, and how fantastic is that. Once upon a time, maybe all humans did.

26 is about so many things. Cats and Congress, community and cooking. Planning your shopping list from recipes and actually eating well for days on end. Having enough. Enough food, enough love, enough faith, enough adventure... . It's about making friends on the Internet out of potential enemies. Crossing bridges and seeing a bigger picture. Having your hope in the future restored - which means a willingness to act towards a positive vision.

26 is about starting to write again, knowing that no matter how many breaks you take for how long, you can always begin again. Always. (26 is about diving deeper into long-loved fandoms, as well.)

26. 2 and 6. 2+6=8. Infinity. 8 was perhaps the last year before you truly lost your innocence, your faith in your guardians to care for you well. This year, the 26th year, is a time to regain that sense of being able to be well-cared for, by yourself and others. And to give that care to others, also.

But who knows, really, all that 26 is. Not me. I'll let you know, if I get to 27.







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Monday, February 15, 2016

Sweet Activist Love

I want you to make sweet activist love to me
I want you to hold my head in your hands; help ease the pressure from utopian visions pounding to get out.
I want to wrap my legs around you and press my face in your tears
for whales dying from navy sonar.
I feel our fellow ache for a just world making me wet 
Help me release this tension between the world I want and the world we have 
with orgasms that blow up dams--
Grasping each others hair in vain attempts to hang on to another endangered species shedding from this alopecic world;
Laying my head on your chest I hear blood gurgle like tides of spilled oil on sandy beaches.

I need to grieve with my body.
Does your body creak with rusty joints of hidden despair?
Overloaded information conveying suffering from all corners of Earth sends me into numbness.
How can I make love to you when children are losing limbs from bombs made by my neighbors' labor?
While I enact the myth I need a man to be my savior. 

Save me
Save me from the terror of globalization with your touch
Save me from the tragedy of extinction in your embrace
Save me from helplessness learned in female socialization by listening to my desires as intently as you listen to Democracy Now


When our escapism and rejuvenation 
Have culminated in a sticky pile of privileged guilt and shame
Cuddling ourselves back into this reality
Pulling each other up to go 
To the next march
The skill share workshop
the strategy meeting
Refreshed.