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Brown and Beige

Some tribes in Sudan have skin the color of deep night.  Some Asians and Scandinavians have skin the color of pure porcelain.  But the vast majority of humans are wrapped in an epidermis that runs an amazing gamut of hues from brown to beige.

We have no choice in the matter of our color. It is our inheritance, no more alterable, except for the travesty of skin bleaching, than our ancestral lines, all of which trace back to the first humans in Africa.

Our cultures enforce attitudes about skin color. In her extraordinary book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson argues convincingly that this identifier is arbitrary. Nonetheless, It defines whether our lives are privileged or marginalized.

One identifier transcends – or could transcend – these limits.  Throughout history, most women have been relegated to “second class” status. In our deepest selves, we share doubts and fears about our value and adequacy, despite all the evidence of women’s innate and unique power. Most of us share some of the traumas of rape, domestic violence, ill treatment at the hands of health providers, barriers of abortion, and disparities of pay. We know the prevalence and persistence of these traumas across all female-dom. Our dark side – competitiveness  – has been no small part of keeping us stuck. Women of all colors have much more to gain as allies, but too often that seems a bridge too far.

In  their book From Here to Equality, Kirsten Mullen and William (Sandy )Darity Jr. set forth in harrowing detail all the missed opportunities to define and instill racial equality in America, particularly after the Civil War. The endless predations arising from white supremacist thinking are unforgiveable, and they persist.

We’ve made glacial progress in refuting American’s original sin of slavery. Action for reparations – achieving acknowledgement, redress, and closure – is the only way we can salvage a sane society.

In my life, as a beige woman, I find myself standing back as I watch the discovery and consolidation of power among my brown sisters. It’s damn well time. Their rejection of alliances is, however, often grieves me.

I’m committed to finding my place in achieving women’s ascendance, most particularly, for women of color. A quote from a forgotten source is one touchstone:  “Hate your oppressors and you’ll be forever enslaved by your memories.” But what is more  difficult: forgiving or forgetting?

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A Survivor’s Guide to Depression: Passage Two – Grey Tide

In the Company of Millions

SSRIs are the most widely prescribed antidepressants in many countries. with sales of $14.3 billion in 2019, expected to reach $15.98 Bn by 2023.

Depression is a notoriously expensive disease, costing society $210 billion per year, according to new data published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Depression is an epidemic with approximately one in six Americans on antidepressants,  and more than a quarter of those long-term users,

It’s not reassuring to know I have lots of company.

The Grey Tide Wanes and Waxes

Thanks to pharmaceuticals, I’ve had remarkable runs of freedom from serious or lengthy depressive episodes – passages I refer to as ‘donating my brain to science.’

For the past ninety-five days – for the first time in nearly thirty years – I’ve been taking no medication for depression. Stopped cold. Since I hate most kinds of drugs, this was liberation. A few situational episodes of feeling defeated rolled in, but that’s part of the challenge of this passage in my life. For most of these days, my spirit has been doing well. I fancied that my brain had rebooted, free from chemical interference. Of course, as with all experiments, one has to wait for the other shoe to fall.

I used to think of it as ‘the abyss,’ a chaos of black despair. I’ve renamed it ‘the black tide’ and I’m now swimming in the grey part of that tide. My shine’s gone dim. I hunger to be back the sun, fully engaged with all the strange and wonderful and confounding ideas and people and events that life serves up. I’m looking at all sorts of alternatives to return to stable ground.

It amazes me how little science can tell us about brain function. Psychiatrists and psychologists have evidence only of trends in effectiveness and possible side-effects, not that any individual will have these experiences or if, in fact, any given drug will have good outcome without too many bad side effects. We may be years away from knowing the best way forward in the treatment of depression.

In the meantime, drugs that tinker with neurochemistry must stand in as the best-guess response to psychological distress. We accept the little tortures of trial-and-error:  which drug, at what dose?  Sometimes a med does well by you. But if your brain is hardwired for ‘instability,’ are these work-arounds the only option? 

Admitting that depression claims occasional dominion over my life still feels a bit like copping to a secret flaw. How do we make Depression, and mental health in general, part of the wider social conversation – or at least the family conversation?  For so many, depression is the elephant on the coffee table of life. You, dear reader, or someone you love, is needing that elephant to stand down. This is my small contribution to that conversation. Comments welcome.

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How We Live Now

When I make the time to reflect on the kind of living that surrounds me, forebodings creep forward about our collective future. Noticing and commenting is a kind of resistance to what doesn’t work. Here are a few callouts.

Prancing Pronouns

The custom (when and where did it start?) of including a gender designation after your name seems to be tightening its throat-hold on Zoom and other video conferencing platforms.

Why would one feel the need to advertise their gender identity?  Why would anyone care to know?  It’s become one more socially ‘correct’ but useless affectation.

Self-induced Deafness

Our body’s auditory apparatus delivers delights and aggravation.  For me, the delights include birdsong and odd, sometimes hilarious, bits of conversation by passers-by. City-life aggravations abound:  infernal leaf-blowers, jackhammers, garbage trucks, ranters. Often these aural intrusions are mercifully short-lived. Part of the package.

Our hearing also delivers early warnings with survival implications. Who might be approaching from behind? Who might be calling for help?  Why would anyone impose relative deafness on themselves walking in an urban environment?  Earbuds worn in public disable the user. Possibly this is an inadvertent technological instrument for clearing the gene pool.

I Won’t Know You

When I walk my neighborhood, I usually greet passersby – a simple “Hi” or ‘Good Morning.’ In most cases, people look away or do not respond.  Sometimes this a result of the earbud phenomenon. Other times it’s a human whose mind it stranded elsewhere.

We are drifting a long way from vaunted notions of – or aspirations to – community when acknowledging another’s presence is too much effort.  We’ll remain isolated strangers until we make even the smallest efforts to connect.

Urban Trash Pit

The City of Oakland (California), where I live, gets trashier by the day. People can be standing a few steps from a trash bin and still drop their fast-food and packaging on the sidewalk or street or park. Entire streets are festooned with human detritus. Our central-city lake, a major bird habitat, reveals, especially at low tide, all sorts of careless leavings, from scooters and clothing to the ubiquitous plastic bottles and beer cans.

Even primitive societies employed designated trash pits. How have we managed to devolve to this level of sprawling trashiness?

Oh, and graffiti: Most of it looks like miserable artless attempts to say “Look at me! I’m here.” How do we motivate taggers to consider more productive direction for their inclinations with paint?

Our Human Tribe

These details of living add up to either a buy-in or a rejection of community. Though I admit to liking humans less and less, I recognize that we are ‘stuck’ with each other. We have to live with the living.

We can choose grace and accountability in strengthening our human tribe. Those qualities prefigure intelligent responses to events we carelessly believe won’t happen here:  food and water shortages, riots, looting, and war. With Trump and the pandemic, we got a scary preview. We have to be and do better. It’ll work if women lead the way.

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Inertial Navigation for Life

Building a life in early 21st century seems to come down to the on-board navigation systems we inherit via a series of dice rolls:  the chance of surviving our birth, in the place of our birth, in the technology created in the last 100 years. Most of us had no conscious choice regarding any of these, yet they determine the opportunities and obstacles that make us who we become.

Cultural traditions, the wisdom, pain, courage, and stupidity of all previous generations of our bloodline make up our inheritance. They enhance or limit our exposure to education and income-generating know-how. They determine where we live, how healthy we are, and if we feel safe in our neighborhood.

A life navigation system is what we grasp for. Consider the Inertial Navigation System (INS) used in the maritime and aviation worlds. INS uses a computer integrated with motion sensors and rotation sensors to calculate continuously the position, orientation, and velocity of moving objects.

Think of our personal INS components as Mind (the thought integrator), Body (motion/cues sensors), and Spirit (rotation (upset) sensor.)  All of them give us the opportunity to make sense of the people and opportunities moving, at overwhelm speed, through our lives. We’ve got a lot to track. If our baseline INS was set among abusive, drug dependent, angry, depressed people, we’ve got a very limited view of human potential and a major navigation disability to dig out of. The earlier, the better. Because, if we carry the INS analogy a step further, the really scary part shows up.

INS uses dead reckoning – a process of estimating the value of any variable relative to an earlier value, then adding whatever changes have occurred in the meantime.  The rub: errors are cumulative

The process of setting a child’s so-called ‘moral compass’– the values by which to live – is easily neglected and highly susceptible to twisted malpractice based on their parents’ crappy dice rolls.

Parenting is about teaching, in word and deed, a style of interpersonal behavior that enables a child to succeed in this world, and in the world we wish to create for them out of the current mess.

Fairness or injustice; compassion or indifference, generosity or greed; humility or arrogance, courage to change or fear of change. Never easy values to sort out. But what of those who never got well ‘set’ in the early goings?

If by age of five, a child has experienced only chaotic, negative relationships – and thus has seldom been assured of their intrinsic worth as a human being – their estimate of ‘position’ in the world has accumulated an egregious number of errors.

How do we course correct? We direct our best energy and resources to the elevation of women, particularly those denied early access to adept parenting and with a keen ability to survive.

Women will always be the best change agents. We know how to clean up a mess. And we know how to ennoble love.

These have always been the guiding values of Women’s Centers.

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Innate Beauty

“We are responsible for our own ignorance or, with time and openhearted enlightenment, our own wisdom.  We are responsible for ourselves and our deeds or misdeeds in our time and in our own space and will be judged accordingly by succeeding generations.” Isabel Wilkerson Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent

Ultimately we are all bozos on the same bus, chained and enveloped by values and beliefs we inherited at birth.  We had no say in the early goings of our life, but we were deeply imprinted with messages that pierced our sense of self. 

Ms Wilkerson writes that In a world without caste, being male or female, light or dark, immigrant or native born, would have no bearing on what anyone was perceived as being capable of.  I was astounded by her adept and moving interweave of stories, most of which wrenched my soul.  Her insights offer incentive to engage in vibrantly re-crafting of how we see and relate to our fellow humans.

The experience of being ‘woke’ both terrifies and liberates. It requires becoming, daily, a devoted seeker of understanding. Rather than calling people out, we learn how to welcome them into our presence in this world. Inevitably that leads beyond acceptance to a kind of love.

Understanding our unique purpose, a place at which we feel no threat, disposes us to empathy, a catalyst for ‘woke.’  The courage to take that path we means we manifest the innate beauty of living together on an astonishing planet.

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Imagine My Surprise!

Fifteen years ago, I worked with a young woman named Fatiah in Darfur, Sudan. In a simple statement1, she revealed to me my life’s purpose.  Since then, I have understood, with increasing clarity and urgency, the value of Women’s Centers.

The seeds I’ve planted and vigorously tended have taken root in at least two places in Sudan (a third failed due to internal squabbling), and at the ‘mothership’ in Nairobi Kenya, Baraka Women’s Center. My efforts in Oakland, CA died prematurely because the money stopped flowing. But the women’s needs never did. The pandemic deepened them. My goal is to reopen Oakland Women’s Center within four months.

Of course these years-long efforts have not been mine alone. Many remarkable allies have stepped up. Only one possessed the means and commitment to deliver serious money (water for the seeds). God bless Grant Williams.

The tradition of women gathering for mutual support spans millennia. The Women’s Center Model provides a holistic application of that tradition in environments where Conflict, and its evil twin Poverty, are newly introduced or painfully endemic.

I believe the Women’s Centers Model will revolutionize humanitarian assistance to refugees and internally displaced people.  I’m convinced that most urban destitution would reverse at a steady pace with the establishment of Women’s Centers. Every city deserves at least one. That’s because women are the best movers and shakers when it comes to community transformation.

But we women cannot do it if we find no relief from the burdens of being born females. First we must rise from deep craters of internalized insignificance, insane taboos, virulent restrictions, predatory marketing, and soul-depleting violence.

We do that best when we gather in a safe place.

We do that best when key resources– previously denied– are brought to our place.

We do that best when we’re seen and treated as complex beings with vast capacity for healing and creativity.

We do that best when our unique kinds of leadership are given full rein.

A Women’s Center is the ‘base camp’ for that redemption to happen.

Tony Benn, a now-deceased UK Member of Parliament, once opined: “It’s the same each time with progress;  first they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you.” 

My shock at the slow uptake of Women’s Center Model has exceeded my own imagining.  Why is this surpassingly elegant Model dismissed without comment by major foundations, international humanitarian organizations, and even (especially!) women’s funding networks?

“It’s the same each time with progress: first they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you.” 

After fifteen years, I believe I’ve arrived at ‘dangerous.’ Surely poor women, especially those of color, who will rise to kick ass through engagement with a Women’s Center, qualify as ‘dangerous.’ A Women’s Center would be a lot less messy way forward than howling riots in the streets. If humanity is to thrive, to say nothing of survive, they must come into their full power.

I’m inescapably aware that my stamina and ‘time remaining’ in this life is spooling out. I’d be ecstatic to see the full flowering of the Women’s Centers Model: the global network!  A Movement of undeniable authority and joy.  If I’m not blessed with that experience, I will leave behind the full instruction manual.  The young ones can continue the forward surge, adding their unique grace notes to an indomitable design.

___________________

I In answer to my question “What will you do, inshallah, when you leave [Kassab Women’s Center in North Darfur] and go home?” She said:  “We will build Women’s Centers.”

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Invisible Maze Runners

To be snared in the social services system is ‘punishment by process’ in a machine that quit working long before the crush of the pandemic. Being a client usually means you are old, disabled, or chronically poor.  God help you if all three.

I’ve been devoting some energy to assisting a couple of women who had been members of Oakland Women’s Center.  Georgia (not her real name) used to weigh over 300 pounds. A stomach-stapling procedure has been instrumental in losing about 200 pounds, all the while producing various bleeding and pain that put her in the hospital more than a dozen times.

She’s been homeless, surrounded by abusive men and women, druggies and 5150s.

She’s living temporarily in a strange half-way hotel where stuff gets stolen, and people die in their beds. After many years of grief-filled homelessness, she is ready for – working for – placement in low-income housing. The paperwork is onerous and threatening in tone. She needs it to work out.  Desperately.

And then there’s Tina (not her real name), a professional caregiver whose previous work environments generated enough stress to put her in the hospital with a stroke on Christmas Eve two years ago. She lost 80% of her vision. Since then she has been homeless periodically and on SSDI.  She is not eligible for food stamps. By the end of each month, she struggles through a ‘hunger week’ when there’s nothing left to buy food before the next benefit arrives. She wants to work, but first she has to learn how to live blind. Training for admission to blind school delivered her an instructor who verbally abued her for not being quick on the keyboard.  She freely admits that she’s not computer fluent; being blind makes another mountain to climb.

Medicare has not been helpful in providing info about local health care providers. Tina must take a number of meds which are not covered. Recently, her Direct Express card (into which her monthly benefit are transferred), was charged for a set of meds.  Alarmed, she called Direct Express to stop the charge. They cancelled her card and sent a new one – to a post office box in a town where’ she’s never lived and at a charge of $13.50  (a couple days food if she’s lucky).  Her benefits come at the beginning of the month. Until the second new card arrives (in 3-10 business days) she has no cash. Nada.

I’ve wondered if some people just draw bad luck. But then I realized that these women share a certain vulnerability. Their common denominator is poverty. And most government benefits enforce that poverty. Solutions?  Is anyone looking at how to revamp the complex maze of ‘entitlements.’ The fate of the poor remains invisible until we reset the way they are ‘helped.’

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On Being a Woman Elder

This year as of 29 July, I will have inhabited this earth and sky and seas for 70 years. I’ve led an adventurous life that’s produced books full of stories. 

I remember when personal computers were new and exciting technology.

I’ve created a home in at least fifteen different neighborhoods of the San Francisco Bay Area and in Washington, DC.

I’ve traveled throughout Europe and Scandinavia. Italy seduced my soul. Four African countries – Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, and Rwanda – are lodged indelibly in my mind and heart.

SBL waiting for a ride at Kutum airstrip, North Darfur, Sudan 2009

In my lifetime,  sixteen genocides have desecrated the human landscape – after we’d solemnly promised ‘never again.’ I studied in depth only two of these cataclysms: Rwanda and Sudan. Two was more than enough exposure to the darkest human impulses that have cost the planet nearly 10 million souls.

Blooming late, I created and manage an organization, Women’s Centers International,  from my heart’s mandate to help unleash the power of all women.  Our biggest battles are yet to be won: control of our own bodies, freedom from sexual violence, parity in pay, and elimination of exploitative images in the media.

The revolt worth supporting is rising among those with not far to fall: the poor. Women who grew up that way or were downed by a twist of fate, who subsist on starchy foods in second-hand clothes and love their kids and scramble too damn hard to keep them fed and clothed and educated.

There’s nothing noble in poverty. There is, however, great power in poverty-honed instincts for survival. 

I’ve become a woman in a hurry with a lot to do in much less time than I’ve already lived. Curiosity drives me. I know very quickly when I’m with someone whose energy inspires exuberance.

I despise the word ‘senior.’  I plan never to be a ‘retiree.’  I’m an Elder, a designation that implies wisdom; it’s what comes of surviving long and well enough.

Despite abundant evidence to the contrary, I remain optimistic about our collective ability to rescue our world from the mess we’ve created.

I know that acknowledging people when they do well can transform a day. 

I know our world adores youth. And I am not immune to the siren call of ‘stuff you can do if you have endless energy.” But I’m at the juncture that points toward mining the inner treasures.

A legacy requires a lifetime to build. I hope mine will endure.

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Taming the Beast of Poverty

Poverty preys on the human soul.  Its predations are hard to understand fully without having experienced destitution.  The most pernicious damage is the erosion of hope – the belief that opportunities come not to oneself but to others.

Beneath hopelessness dwells a kind of psychological lassitude born of chronic effort simply to survive.  While this bedrock instinct may allow certain cleverness in exploiting random good luck, it muffles incentive like a heavy quilt. In the long term, ‘working the system’ or waiting for what you need to fall off a truck does not build momentum for plans of real consequence. 

The burden of poverty falls most heavily on women, and women of color in particular. In every area of life – education, livelihood, health, housing, personal safety – ways to improve life circumstances are systematically and routinely denied by the complexity of the qualification process, by overburden providers, and by the indifference of those who could afford to help in meaningful ways but prefer to look away.

Not knowing one’s purpose, ‘hanging on’ through days of no consequence, inflicts the sort of hollowness that leads women to drugs, alcohol and/or other destructive habits. These painkilling survival strategies are often misread as character flaws. Their descending vortex is hard to notice, much less to escape.

A thoughtful look at the range of services offered to low-income people in Oakland argues that the 34% of West Oaklanders who live below the federal poverty level should not be living below the federal poverty level. Why does this situation seem intractable?

Even the most miserable woman will not capitalize on opportunities to change her circumstances without a belief that her life matters. There are no quick fixes to poverty’s psychological damage.  A disabled sense of self-worth is a deep and abiding wound. 

While handing out food may stave off hunger, it does not make a self-reliant woman. What does?

Women’s self-reliance comes from belonging to a group. One of the best things a woman can do for her mental and physical health is to nurture her relationships with other women.

A Women’s Center provides this opportunity. I have not been able to understand how this important Model is consistently overlooked by funders, especially those who profess to support ‘women’s issues.’ 

The elegance and utility of the Women’s Center Model derives from it use by women who understand how much it allows them to accomplish in their community. Baraka Women’s Center in Nairobi, Kenya continues to play the edge in this regard, uplifting nearly 1,200 women living in extreme poverty. Women’s Centers International is ready to support their initiative to establish two new Centers in Kenya. Who is ready to step up and support this ambitious initiative by a women-led community-based organization?

Just as important: when will Oaklanders rally to support the re-establishment of Oakland Women’s Center? 

Women’s Centers are all about taming the beast of poverty. It’s time to open this toolkit in service to women – locally and globally.

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How Resilient Must Women Be?

In every region of the world, “Ending Violence, Harassment, and Abuse” is the most prominently chosen (48%) response to the question: “Which three issues are most critical for you as a person? From Global Count Interim Findings.

The challenge: not only for the violence to be ended, but that all women who’ve survived violence have the opportunity to heal. It is not a solo activity. It requires a sisterhood of help and support. That’s why Women’s Centers matter more than ever. A Center is a haven, a ‘base camp’ for healing. It’s where women gather strength together.

Ironically, nothing has been a bigger challenge than to gather funds to work this magic of the Women’s Center Model.

Philanthropically inclined Americans gave somewhere around 4% of all donations specifically to initiatives that strengthen women and girls. Four percent. Animal ‘causes’ get more donations. Women and girls remain few people’s special focus.

The profound damage of rape and domestic abuse, and the bottomless self-doubt they generate, requires a major commitment of resources to rectify.

Hands-on engagement has always mattered much more to me than advocacy, especially in such a polarized political system.  WCI’s place is seeding local managed grassroots organizations to create effective Women’s Centers.

We need to get with ALL our sisters, especially those who’ve been invisible on the margins, and steadily help to free more women from all the damage wrought in the prisons of poverty and exclusion.

We have precious little time to nurture a badass united front that can redirect humankind’s current mad dash to oblivion. We don’t have another decade, much less another century to wait it out.

At Women’s Centers, rage for change sings a bold new tune. We deserve the support of everyone who cares about achieving not just gender parity but the ascendence of the women’s genius for the path ahead.

Make our day: Donate to WCI

Source: Women Deliver

You’ve Got a Very LONG Way to Go, Baby

Philanthropic trends suggest that asking for money to support services to women has somehow become like screaming ‘Fuck” in polite company.

According to a recent estimate, about 1.9% of total charitable donations go to programs for women and girls. Pet ‘causes’ get much more.

I’m talking about providing assistance to female humans who are somebody’s grandmother, mother, aunt, sisters, daughter. Around the world, we’ve got vast inequities to redress.

Employment

Depending on their ethnicity, women receive about 25-30% less than their male counterparts in every kind of job. Women constitute the largest pool of unpaid domestic workers and caregivers. Only six countries in the world give women the same work rights as men. This despite the fact that economies become more stable when women participate.

Health

Of the nearly $42 billion the National Institutes of Health (NIH) spends on medical research each year, only approximately $5 billion (less than 12%) of that funding is directed specifically at women’s health.

Many women around the world do not have authority over when they become mothers. They have limited options for birth control, options often mired in cultural/religious opposition.

When women do access health care, the quality of service is often compromised by discrimination and dismissal from doctors.

Too many states in the US have launched a full-frontal assault on women’s right to abortion and contraception. As though we are breeding stock. We keep having to fight this battle over and over with governance bodies hijacked by men with minds as useless as their dicks.

Access to Education

Globally, one-quarter of women ages 15-24 have not completed primary school. That group makes up 58% of the people not completing that basic education. Two-thirds of illiterate people are women.

Political Representation

Women remain grossly underrepresented in government and the political process. Of all national parliaments, only 24.3% of seats are held by women.

This means that issues female politicians tend to bring up – parental leave and childcare, pay equity, and sexual violence and harassment – are usually neglected.

As of 1 September 2021, there are 26 women serving as Heads of State and/or Government in 24 countries.  At the current rate, gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years.

Violence

Over one billion women don’t have legal protection against domestic sexual violence or domestic economic violence. Rape culture persists, making life a misery for young women who tend to be prime targets.

In every case, the status of Black women and Latinas are worse. And worse still for non-gender-conforming people.

Those are just the headlines. Then we have all the other predations on women that somehow survive in the 21st century:   bride price, forced early marriage, genital cutting, ‘honor ‘ killings and disfigurements, trafficking, and arranged marriages.

How societies value women determines their stability. But progress made through structural changes often is accompanied by pushback that delays substantive advances.

There’s no lack of women willing to do the heavy lifting to assist poor women. However, they seldom have sufficient capital to do all that’s necessary, much less all that could be accomplished.

Egregious inequity is the kindling of revolutions. Yet we women, and the men who claim to like/love/support us, are curiously unmotivated to take to the streets (the pandemic notwithstanding). A critical mass of righteous anger has not been achieved.

What will it take?

Flash Frames on the Rails

On a train, a sleek steel behemoth on rails, you witness the sprawl of California through a different lens –  if you take the time to look. On Amtrak ‘s San Joaquin route 714 on a January day,  I watched the flash frames of urban squalor,  coastal majesty, and then the aggressively agricultural heart of the state…

Rusted, gutted cars like metallic warts in a homeless encampment under a concrete overpass.

A freight train on a parallel track zip by hauling dozens of shiny silver tankers.  Sometimes matte black or dirty white, they seem like torpedoes ready to detonate.

To the East, sensuously verdant hills bathed in mist.  Everything green again with the Rains.

To the West, the northern San Francisco bay in all its flashing glory.

A marsh hemming an estuary where scaups and saddleback ducks, and hundreds of other seabirds skitter and dunk for lunch.

A pile of junked cars. Someplace like that is probably where my late Beetle ended up, cursed with a blown-out engine.

A neighborhood park with clever  play structures just a stone’s throw from family homes. They are up close to the train’s rumble and bleat every day.

Garish graffiti shouting out from walls and bridges:  “I have nothing better to do with my talent and this paint.”

A motor home park,. Do the residents  love the auditory muscle of  trains so close?

Another slum with shanties abutted to ruined cars, garbage heaped and strewn. Who can cope with this pissy chaos and retain sanity?

Big rigs cozied up to all the little maws of a vast distribution center.  

Road detritus. My foraging habit triggered but denied.

A solar farm covering acres with pale blue panels. Glad to see progressive energy solutions!

Spikey Mediterranean cypress. The  habit of planting them like fences annoys me.

Tri-County bus yard.  Why are so many parked here at mid-day?

Amtrak photo

Central Valley agribusiness opens up.  Straight rows of trees, ribboned with green, as far as the eye can see.  Huge irrigation pipeline feeding mature orchards, new orchards.  Probably some kind of nut.

A palm tree orchard! I would live in such an oasis!

Stockton’s backside.  Modest homes. Graffiti on too many surfaces. Strip malls intrude.

Full throated rain horn  – probably the loudest sound produced on land outside of a war zone.

Abandoned ranches.  Wondering when they skin cattle hides in the slaughtering process.

McMansions tucked beside pastures feeding horses, goats, and sheep.  Agro junk courtesy of the ‘toss it out back’ school of rural living.

Velvet green fallow fields awaiting the plow.

Bee hive boxes scattered across a grassy field.  Work to do soon.

Transmission lines suspended on robot-like steel towers.

Fresno station is delightfully old-school Spanish-inspired station at Fresno.

Though it was a four-hour journey from Oakland to Fresno,  heading North, then East and South, I found the rhythm of the ride soothing.  Got to see things normally  invisible from the highway. But not many fellow riders. Americans made the mistake long ago of favoring overpriced cars and manic freeways to the simple elegance of interconnecting trains.  Makes me miss Europe.