James Baldwin Wisdom for Today

james-baldwinTen days ago it was James Baldwin’s birthday. I posted the picture you see to your right on Twitter. There are so many good quotes of his that I love, but this one stood out to me for my own personal reasons of life upheaval and related impacts. But with Baldwin, I find, you can read the same thing on a different day and come away with a much different perspective. Rereading it today, it has taken on a whole new meaning in light of events in Charlottesville.

I haven’t done much this morning but look at the #Charlottesville Twitter feed. It’s impossible to state how devastated I feel over the events that I watched taking place there in the past 48 hours. I need words today, and I can’t think of many that can express what I’m feeling better than Baldwin. Unfortunately, much of what he said about America’s racism is still applicable.

“White people are trapped in a history they don’t understand.”

Photos of yesterday’s violence side-by-side with violence against Freedom Riders in 1961. Video of a car speeding into a crowd of people, killing Heather Heyer and injuring others there to protest against bigotry and hatred. Images and events like these shocked our conscience 50 years ago, but will they change our current trajectory? Not unless we all accept our share of the responsibility for what has happened and is STILL happening. This requires us to learn our history, which lets us see how systemic racism is still alive and well.

Michelle Obama said that the presidency “reveals who you are.” Trump purposely didn’t call out the cause of the violence, instead saying it’s from “many sides.” This is bullshit and we should all call it that. White supremacy has never gone away, but it is now thriving in the daylight, given a place of legitimacy by the administration. Not just that its presence is accepted, but by the fact that 45 has condoned violence on many occasions, emboldening those people who think hateful rhetoric and protesting with swastikas, guns and shields at a “rally” is just another form of free speech. Which brings us to the next quote.

“Ignorance allied with power is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

The new white supremacist uniform is no longer a white robe and a pointy hat with holes for eyes, but khaki pants and a white polo shirt. Don’t forget the MAGA red hat. The evening accessory is still blazing wood held aloft, only this time they’re holding up tiki torches. The images are both scary and ridiculous, but one thing is clear – all the symbols of the KKK and their hate were on full display and nobody was trying to hide it. The fact that they were dressed like one of Trump’s 49 golf outings since inauguration (at a cost of $58 million of your tax dollars, thank goodness for small government) shows you these guys understand what 45 really believes.

“I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.”

Some Republicans have come out to condemn the violence and even a few have named it for what it is – but it’s not remotely enough. This is the same party that is actively trying to pass voter suppression laws all over the country. Words don’t mean anything if your actions say the opposite. Voting laws are about one thing – disenfranchising non-white voters, so a party (of mostly white men) can stay in power, and continue the long tradition of making rules to benefit whites and hurt people of color.

 

“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

 

White people, myself included, need to own up to and speak out against all the ways we’ve allowed a system that benefits us to continue unchecked. It’s easy to hide in whiteness, a place of comfort and safety. This is our identity, and we need to start breaking it up, giving up the power we hold. I know I can’t understand what it feels like to be a person of color, but I can sure as hell learn my country’s history, listen to and learn from people of color, call out injustice when I see it, and ask other white people to do the same.

I’m not shocked by what is happening in Charlottesville and other places. I’m angry. I’m sad. The flagrant hatred on display is horrifying but it isn’t nearly as dangerous as all the ways in which systemic racism is weaved into the fabric of our country, in education, housing, inherited wealth, criminal (in)justice and myriad other strands. It is incredibly hard to untangle, but we have to start, or things will never change. We will no doubt see more days like yesterday as we continue this fight, but we must keep fighting.

 

Advertisements

Being in the Streets

Nothing much in the tank today. Or, in more climate-friendly terms, the batteries are depleted and the clouds are preventing much in the way of energy production. I’ve been crazy busy these past few weeks, and ran out of steam.

It was a really good weekend, with some work in the garden (peas have a semi-functional makeshift trellis), getting ready for and going to the climate march Saturday, and having dinner with friends that night. We hadn’t gotten together since New Year’s, and it was so good to catch up, scarf down pasta and take a walk in the last of the day’s light with a typical Seattle mist falling on our heads. We found a soccer ball in the cul de sac at the end of our block and ended up playing some convoluted form of soak-’em and soccer in the street until we were gasping from laughter. Ed, being on the opposing team from me and Tess, kept losing a shoe which I felt fully justified in kicking as far as I could from him. I think she and I still lost, although I’m not entirely sure.

As far as friends go, you can’t ask for much better. Aside from our parents and siblings, they’re the people we consider our family members. We’ve traveled together, gone camping together and have been trying to figure out for a long time how we could eventually all live together. Since among the six of us, only one has a grown daughter, it’s likely we’ll be having to find a way to care for ourselves as we grow old. I think about this a lot now, since of course I assumed Doug and I would be very self-sufficient well into our old age.

We’re barely self-sufficient now as it turns out, but we manage okay with help from these and other friends, and our parents who come take care of things around the house. Doug and I both have four parents, and while I’d never suggest divorce is good, we’ve had more than our share of parental love and support as a result. My stepdad Grant is 83 and still works on our cars. Talk about spoiled.

climate-march-D&G

Doug and Grant, the dynamic duo

Speaking of whom, he marched with us on Saturday! He has grand kids and great-grand kids, and he wasn’t the only grandparent there trying to do something to help keep our planet a decent place for them to live in the future. He’s really frustrated and worried and just wanted to be out there in the streets to protest with like-minded people. I felt really honored to be out marching with him.

climate-march-kidsWe arrived early to the pre-march gathering at Occidental Park and were right in the middle of the action when things got started with drummers, a marching band, and a not-coal train powered by people wearing wind-turbines on their backs. Lots of great creativity, as always. I really loved the person wearing a bee-keeping outfit, with paper bees attached to her by springs so they bobbed all around her head. Her sign said “Honey Makers Not Money Makers.”

A major element of the climate change movement is for a just transition away from our oil-driven economy, in recognition of how a changing climate will impact some communities more than others. And that the solutions should – and can! – improve our lives, with green energy jobs, cleaner air and water, walkable communities with healthy local food, and so much more. There is no reason for polluting pipelines to go through native peoples’ lands if we move to solar and wind power instead. There’s no reason to open our national parks up to gas and coal exploration either. None of these things is needed, but they make huge profits for someone, so of course they get pushed.

climate-march-PFTP

This kid has major courage and conviction

At the end of the march, we rallied at Westlake Park and heard a bunch of great speakers, including two kids from the youth-led organization Plant for the Planet. Their goal is to plant a billion trees (!) around the world. These kids are amazingly well-spoken and motivated, and they aren’t afraid to call out grown-ups like us for not doing more. They’re taking the actions they can, and reminded us that we can vote. Ahem.

So yeah, we have work to do, and not just in the streets. But while we’re on that topic, today is the beginning of the annual Bike Everywhere month (read my 2015 post here). It’s one of my favorite ways to help the planet and stay healthy. Plus, we have some actual sun in the forecast, hallelujah! I feel more energetic already. Happy May everyone!

 

 

Not Enough Sign

BLM-marchI put on my marching uniform and hit protest number three yesterday on the year, for Black Lives Matter. Could have been four, but I didn’t attend the Tax March in the morning, even though I obviously support the sentiment. Why hasn’t 45 released his taxes yet? It’s appalling. Many of the Tax March folks showed up for BLM though, so it was a good size march, around 7,000 people. The Facebook RSVPs numbered 18,000 so I guess a bunch of people decided not to come, which is disappointing. The organizer lamented the lower than expected turnout during the rally, but since we were the ones who showed up, not sure how helpful that was. (FYI, I did read on the event’s FB page that some black people in Seattle didn’t support this march because of the organizer; I don’t know much about that, so will need to learn more).

My hubby got to go with me to this one, having had to miss the Womxn’s March and the Immigrant & Refugee rally because he was sick or not up to handling the crowds. It made me really happy to have him there. I missed my other partners in resistance, but CG was away for Easter weekend and the others were working. Peg Cheng and her husband were there, but of course, we never saw each other! Maybe next time, since we know there will no doubt be a next time.

Two things hit me right away when we got there. First, there were WAY more cops than at the Womxn’s March, for way less people. I suppose they thought more people were coming, but even if all the RSVPs had shown, it would still not have been anywhere near the volume of the Womxn’s March. A giant pink sea of pussy hats must be less intimidating than a little pond of black beanies.

The second thing was there were no porta-potties. I don’t know if this was due to a lack of funding or planning, but it was a bummer. I hope there will be some for the People’s Climate march in two weeks, or my mum will be very unhappy.

BLM-names

Remember their names.

You can’t really talk about protests without talking about signs. I spent days thinking about what I wanted to put on one, but in the end, I just couldn’t decide what I wanted to say. There’s too much to say to put on one sign. The theme of this march was to tie into the tax one, in light of the economic issues and disparities faced by black Americans, and especially in Seattle where our sales & real estate tax rates unfairly burden lower income and people of color. But Black Lives Matter is both more specific, to stop police shootings of unarmed black people, and broader, drawing attention to educational disparities, lack of affordable housing, environmental (in)justice, discrimination in the judicial and penal system, and so many other things that no sign could possibly capture it all. When you start layering in issues of intersectionality (i.e., gender, LGBT, disability, class, etc.) you might as well create a flip board. I may do just that at the rate we’re going.

BLM-sign1Of course, I saw signs I liked, like the one pictured here, which captures one reason why I wanted to be at the march, even though it’s only one tiny effort to dismantle a system that’s been in place for hundreds of years. I saw something online while I was thinking about sign possibilities – how instead of a wall, we should build ourselves a giant mirror, and look at ourselves, what we’ve become. If a mirror could also show us the past, perhaps we could accept what (or more accurately, WHO) built so much of this country’s wealth and prosperity, and figure out what kind of country we want to be moving forward. As white people, it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge our role in an unfair system that we feel like we didn’t create, but still benefit from. Looking in the mirror and listening to black peoples’ experiences is the only way we can start to fix things. Racism is hard to talk about, but if you don’t start with that basic premise, it’s a lot harder.

Oh, and in case you missed it (I haven’t really paid that much attention to it myself), lots of states are trying to pass laws to curb protests and make punishments more severe, including here in Washington. Because it’s “economic terrorism.” Which is both laughable and infuriating, given we have a President who refuses to be transparent about where his money comes from and if he’s paid any taxes while the rest of us spend the next two days getting our taxes done on time. If you like irony, it’s a good time to be alive.