Elemental

COVID and the Uprisings have put us on notice that we longer have time to piss around with the same brutality and ineptitude that have characterized much of our nation-making. 

Women need to inhabit all key leadership roles In the movements that arise at this time.  We want to crowd out the possibility of a planetary train wreck that men in power would greedily host. Now is the most stunning opportunity in most of our lifetimes to remove the barriers between us and to spread around the capital controlled by too few.

What makes women so much better suited to tending the human herd?

Our blood attachment with our children means we viscerally prefer not to see them killed, maimed, starved, or shot it.

We can get a lot done with just a look.

We are trained from a very early age to take care of people not us.  Then we learn to take care of us too.

We’re quick to read subtext, value nuance, and engage in soul-lifting conversations with those who share our dot in the universe.

The depression thing that has undercut so many of us will lighten or dispel as we gain traction being in charge and being valued, including by ourselves. Are you in for the long haul?

Biting the Hand that Needs a Shake

In past periods of  famine in Africa, relief organizations often flew in food staples from America and Europe at enormous cost. Regional suppliers seldom were tapped, depressing prices, consigning African agriculture to low output.  Rather than build the economy of the nation in distress, helpers tended to co-opt their means of recovery.


The same appears to be happening with PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) in Africa.  My particular interest is Kenya where, through Baraka Women’s Center, I know some back stories of Kenya’s COVID response.

The Plan

In April 2019, the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI), the Kenya National Federation of Jua Kali Associations  (KNFJKA), and The Micro and Small Enterprise Authority (MSEA) formed a coalition to promote small business in the so-called ‘informal sector.’ For COVID response, MSEA was tasked with forwarding the Ministry of Health’s orders to vetted small businesses, and paying invoices when the masks were delivered.

In an April 24th speech (at approx. 8 minutes in) Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta promised  KES 1.5 billion (about $17.5 million) to enable the Jua Kali sector to take ‘center stage’ in the production of face masks for domestic and export markets. 

Informal sector businesses contribute about 83% of economic activity in Kenya.  Anything that supports growth in this sector will have a huge positive impact on the country’s recovery.

Money Arrives!

Since March 2020, money has been pouring into Kenya for COVID response:

$724 million from the International Monetary Fund

$1 billion from the World Bank

$208 million from The African Development Bank

$69 million from the European Union

Total:  about $2.1 billion.  This does not include smaller pledges and donated goods. Most of these funds are directed through the Ministry of Health.

The Train Wreck

Now we come to the Kenyan tradition of corruption, though profiteering has been a worldwide phenomenon during this pandemic.

Speaking on Monday, Aug 10, Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe said he and President Uhuru Kenyatta are determined to eliminate cartels in the Procurement Department inside the Ministry of Health. 

Meanwhile, 42 small manufacturers throughout Kenya have, or can acquire, the capacity to meet the government goal of getting 24 million face masks to Kenyans. Thirty- four of the organizations (80%) are managed by women.

Orders came to some like Baraka Women’s Center in May. As of Aug 10, they still have not gotten requests for delivery nor received payment for finished masks.

For them, finished inventory is taking up too much space. Cash flow has fallen to a trickle. The women who sew cannot be paid.  Families go hungry and feel more panicked about it.

Enter COVID-19 Action Fund for Africa (CAFA), a PPE initiative of over 30 organizations “dedicated to protecting Community Health Workers on the frontlines of Africa’s COVID-19 response” in 24 African countries (including Kenya). Key objectives: Find an urgent unmet need and protect community health services delivery.

The only reason there could be unmet needs for face masks in Kenyan is that MSEs / Jua Kali have been sidelined. CAFA’s incoming Western- or Chinese-made masks could depress prices in Kenya where, with sufficient capital, small women-lead businesses could deliver a wider and more durable country-based response.

The next two months offer an “opportunity window” to grow Kenya’s PPE manufacturing capacity.

It’s hard to predict when the train wreck debris will be sorted.  The livelihoods of thousands of women  now depend on a probe of government corruption, the actions of illegal cartels, and the reach of “well-wishers.” But the virus and hunger pause for no one.

Thanks to Dannika Andersen for fact-checking.

Public and Private Reparations

Many more of us than ever before are beginning to imagine ways out of the dismal swamp of racism in our cultures –  in the US and around the world.

Cruelty no one could deny shoved us out of complacency. ‘The Spark’ had to be brutal and captured on video.

Most of us white folks have been uneasily blind and guiltily defensive about the centuries of punishments meted out to blacks in America.  Some of us will find redemption in activism for racial justice, each committing to action that fits, with ‘No Whining’ please.

Reparations seem an especially significant action.  A vast debt is long overdue. America has denied generations of black families access to the capital through enslavement and discrimination. All our systems were designed and aligned for that to happen. Changing the hard-wiring requires a lot of small and large efforts over a long period of time.

I began my private effort at reparations with this ever-growing understanding:   

Women of color, especially those living in poverty, need access to resources to heal from the traumas of their lives. It takes a long as it takes.

The healing process point to long-deferred dreams and the skills needed to achieve them.

Deploying those skills makes women the best change agents a community is likely to have.

I’ve leveraged my white privilege to deliver those resources in spaces women have found safe and welcoming. Those places are Women’s Centers.

Women’s Centers took wing when I understood how this approach could serve refugee women, women displaced from their homes by wars, and ultimately all women systematically denied basic human rights.

Capital to meet the needs of even a small portion of this vast population of women has been notably  difficult to access.  I get it that (R)Evolutionary ideas can take awhile to catch the tow-rope of capital commitments, but it’s time now to hurry up the slope.

Meanwhile, our societal reparations plan deserves sorting out with all possible dispatch. As was dramatically illuminated with COVID, our federal government finds money when circumstances are dire.  A massive 400-year-old debt certainly qualifies.

The effort to prepare a reparations package cannot take years, certainly not the more than fifty years that the Equal Rights Amendment has languished without ratification. The struggle for black lives to matter  – socially, economically, politically, educationally, in health care, banking, the art, the trades – is bound up with the struggle for women’s lives to matter. Those changes will be just a wrenching and breathtaking and compelling.

No question that the best ideas and energy should catch momentum now.  It took centuries to construct the evil empire; it will take day after day of healing and safety and breakthroughs for all of us find our way home to each other.

Momma had no clue there’d be days like this

We don’t know if the virus is slowly killing us or if we’re gaining traction subduing it.

Some of us are doing the prudent thing:  laying low.  The less prudent are engaged in a sort of Russian roulette with a lethally unknowable adversary.  The President is taking  a potentially dangerous medication; perhaps he will manage to off himself through sheer stupidity.

In the absence of sane national leadership, it’s tricky to know what to think.

Resilience has it limits.  The Earth is demonstrating hers – the virus demonstrating ours.

Entrenched food supply lines are being compromised. People get crazy when they’re hungry. For those of us who live in cities where unequal access to resources has long divided people, the possibility of riots rears its head.

The poorest bear – early and often – the blunt force of a crisis.  Anger and desperation make ravenous bedfellows in times of societal deterioration. Our worst impulses rise up.

We’ve been such colossally wretched stewards of our planet,  redemption may take a while. The time required to adopt intelligent ways to inhabit the earth may shove us a lot closer to extinction than anyone could imagine.  There’s a sinister impatience in that calculation.

These thoughts do not feel like maudlin speculation, but rather a necessary investigation of trigger events for self-preservation strategies. 

I live my days feeling unstuck in time, not a bad outcome for one who’s lived life on schedule.

I work at home, have done so as often as possible in my careers because I cannot tolerate, temperamentally or ecologically, commuting.

I’ve managed to get comfortable with virtual meetings.

Finally, we all get to see ourselves as others do – that’s the new part. Informative and sobering.

All of my plants are blooming spectacularly this year.  All my neighbor’s plants are blooming spectacularly. The Lake Merritt Gardens are awash in brilliant flowers, Monarch butterflies, inquisitive squirrels, and singing birds.

Is this fecund outburst the result of less vehicle pollution, or ‘good enough’  rains in the land of an expanding  megadrought, or generous sunlight in an untroubled sky?  A consolation prize for all the darkness of COVID?  A small indicator of benefits if we as a species revise our reckless ways with Her ecosystems? 

We weren’t prepared for any of this. Not in any meaningful ways. We’re left to consider worst case scenarios, while inveterately hoping for good outcomes.  Caution and the clarity of preparedness might have saved us falling this far. We consider a new kind of future, agitated but not despairing.

Free-fall through The Portal

Stagger Me

Like many who’ve been sequestered at home –  four weeks for Californians – I’ve  been staggered by the scope of this crisis, and dragged myself into uber-anxious foraging for information.

Venturing out for a walk or bike ride, I give wide berth to those without masks, wondering if they will remain in denial until they are infected, and will never know (care?) how many they’ve infected.

A Dutch study determined that the ‘slipstream’ of potential virus-bearing droplets from people walking, running, or biking is frighteningly longer than the six-feet social-distancing guideline when standing in place. Sobering stuff – how much we share without realizing it.

Little Bright Spots

Makeup has become irrelevant for many women. We’ll find out if we like our hair longer. We’re practicing better hygiene habits and getting proficient with Zoom.

The State of California is finding a way to house its urban refugees (aka unhoused aka homeless) by buying up hotels to house them – at least in the short term – finally embracing the only intelligent way to end homelessness – by housing people.

Perhaps we’re finding we don’t need to keep so many people in overcrowded prisons.

Corporations are opening their wallets – at least in their public promotions –­ to bring basic resources to communities in need. (Why was this hard to manage in the past, when the poor were left to their own devices?)

The Mafia in Sicily is providing free food to residents.

Animals are touring their own zoos, and wild creatures are showing up in neighborhoods with no traffic.106452921-1584669021476gettyimages-1207535203

Humans Behaving Badly

No way around the fact that this will be a long epidemic and we will lose a lot of people.

Such crises, also bring out the worst  behavior.  Snarky politicians surface to foist their small-minded agendas on citizens, no matter who suffers. For example:

A federal appeals court just ruled that Texas may enforce a near-total statewide abortion ban for as long as the coronavirus pandemic lasts.  They won’t have to suffer what women do when they live an unwanted pregnancy though to the end

Cities are recording substantial increases in domestic violence, as dysfunctional families are forced to be together. Many feminists are calling this the shadow pandemic. And where is the money to support outreach and women’s shelters?

And, this being America, gun sales are setting records.

I harbor a gloating wish that 3M will be stuck with the millions of masks they could not deliver before we shifted to DIY with t-shirts and cloth napkins and bandanas.

The Portal

Arundhati Roy suggests this pandemic is a portal between one world and the next – a shaky new bridge between our past and our future.

Our social and economic systems are being altered forever, and some of them deserve to die. Like commuting habits that pollute the air we breathe;  like using more clean water than we can reasonable expect to have access to in the future; like tolerating vast unhealthy food production and distribution systems – and that’s just scratching the surface of our collective aggressions on the planet.

Why would we want to drag those messes forward?

Rather, we can set down these burdensome ways, marshal our ingenuity, and rebuild a more balanced world, a place we finally will defend from our own worst impulses.