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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baraka SoS

How to convey the oeuvre of Nairobi? The fulminating heap of humans tumbling through their dusty days, industrious as army ants. NBO JamSpeed bumps and pedestrians crossings on freeways. Gridlocked traffic into town all day. I’ve developed an aversion to traveling anywhere in a vehicle, knowing that I will sit in the heat and exhaust for up to 45 minutes, no matter the ‘real’ time of a journey. So I walk a lot.

We are making steady progress in reviewing and refining all the systems at Baraka Women’s Center, as well as making new connections with potential funders. I am ever humbled by the power of relatively small amounts of money here. One woman to whom I gave the equivalent of ten dollars tearfully launched into a lengthy prayer of gratitude.  Baraka indeed gathers in the lost and the hopeless; the energy of inclusion in this community is a miracle to behold. To belong is to have new power, new hope, even joy. A safe gathering place matters, and that’s what the Center provides.

Yesterday, twenty-five women gathered to mark the seventh anniversary of the Center, as well as to celebrate the graduation of the vocational program trainees.  Our food offering was peanut butter sandwiches (would have been plain bread had I not brought peanut butter) and cake.

BWC Staff and trainers
BWC Staff and trainers

This and other daily events painfully remind me that I came mostly empty handed. No month can pass without an infusion of cash; BWC has not located its August infusion. Shifting BWC into ‘thrive’ mode takes money. It means reallocating  some of our wealth to women with the greatest needs, to those who can set things right in the long haul.

$10 transforms a woman’s life for a week.

Add zeros and the prospects for the sisterhood grow exponentially.

What will move you to contribute what you can?  

Career Busting in the Age of #MeToo

“Cruel and Unusual Punishment” is the title of Lionel Shriver’s excellent essay in the February 2019 issue of Harper’s.  He ponders how charges of sexual predation leveled at men, whose works are considered significant cultural contributions, are ending their careers.

Among those mentioned: Louis C.K. (new film withdrawn before scheduled American release, HBO series dropped), Bill Cosby (“sentenced not only to ten years [in prison] but to cultural near- oblivion”), Garrison Keillor (Minnesota Public Radio ended broadcasts of his Writer’s Almanac, and re-broadcast of  The Best of A Prairie Home Companion), and painter Chuck Close (a major retrospective ‘indefinitely postponed’).

But what of the women who have suffered possibly years of career-impinging depression and anxiety due to men’s violations?  How do we judge that the loss of their contributions would be any more or less than those of the accused?

In the 21st Century, we are fighting off (still) The Great Silence: women have suffered such predations for centuries. Their violations once were considered not a trampling of of rights but the loss of their value as a marriageable commodity.

Silence no longer an option

It’s no news to most women that men of all levels of accomplishment have been culturally permitted a level of sexual entitlement.  Most of us are fully aware that the tether holding men to respectful behavior toward women is indeed fragile and unpredictably loosened.

Being called out is not an aberration, but a signal that the pattern of male entitlement cannot stand. If their fame has not taught these men a modicum of restraint in the internet age, then shouldn’t they take a fall?

Eventually female predators alsowill end up with their heads on stakes outside the gates of our citadel of “too much information.” The work of re-balancing gender power takes no prisoners.