A New Whale

My friend said I’d probably already seen them: the “new species of rare beaked whale discovered in Bering Sea,” according to the headline at OregonLive. I hadn’t already seen them, and I’ll probably never see them in person, but I now know that they dive deep to feed on fish and squid in underwater canyons; that in Japan they have the common name “karasu” or “raven”; that scientists have so far, if I read the article correctly, only found them dead, and determined their newness by comparing their appearance and their DNA to that of other, more familiar beaked whales. If this is the case, there might not be any alive anymore.

The whale isn’t really new; it’s my knowledge of them that’s new. The fish and squid they eat know about them; the water knows about them; they know about each other. The whale this article refers to was found in 2014, and for all I know, human knowledge of this whale has risen and sunk many times over the years. And in order to exist now, these whales must have already existed for a time that seems long to us; that’s evolution for you. Ending them forever could be much quicker.

When I saw the artist’s rendering of this whale, I was seized with the desire to protect them. The OregonLive article, too, quotes Erich Hoyt of Whale and Dolphin Conservation in the UK: “The implication of a new species of beaked whale is that we need to reconsider management of both species to be sure they’re sufficiently protected, considering how rare the new one appears to be.” But to protect a creature you have to protect everything around them: it’s not enough to just stop killing them directly. Whatever they eat–plants, live animals, corpses–has to keep renewing itself; the land, air and water around them have to maintain the qualities and relationships that make their lives possible, with at least tolerable levels of warmth, contaminants, movement and activity.

And some of the forces that affect those things originate hundreds, thousands sometimes, of miles away from the path these whales are thought to swim, from the tropics to the pole and back: currents of warm water, gouts of greenhouse gas, nitrogen-based fertilizers. Typing away on my coal-powered computer, sitting in front of my coal-powered box fan, I am injuring those whales right now, molecule by molecule. I’m injuring the creatures whose predators they eat, and the creatures who eat their corpses after they die.

This is the point at which a lot of us break down, I think: we recognize our interconnection with the systems of life and their defaults, both human-engineered and not, but so many of the systems that sustain humans in particular have abuse of other parts of those systems built into them. So many of our motions do harm we can’t see firsthand, and a lot of people’s response to this–judging by what they say to me at the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth, and in conversation, and in a kind of low-grade hum that arises from the ways that people talk in public about complicity–is a moment of stricken paralysis, of suspended motion, and then a resumption of similar actions because there’s nothing they can do about it, after all: there’s no other place for their actions to go, no other way for their actions to lead. The most they can hope for, or so they think, is to do less damage, with things like renewable energy sources and water-saving dishwashers and buying fewer new objects.

What if instead of harming these whales incrementally, my ordinary tasks allowed me to help them incrementally? Could we wean ourselves onto methods of eating, building, burying, that shifted the flow and the burden of work, of waste, of making and mending and breaking down? Where is the give in our relations–what can’t we interrupt without severe damage, and what might be more mutable than we might suppose?

Not every system we’re part of may be susceptible to this, and we may not have time to adapt the ones that are. Climate scientists like Guy McPherson and others say that we probably don’t, that it’s too late not only for the new whales but for us, that talking about conservation, preservation, borders on the insane: what are we keeping, and for whom?

Back in the early days of the booth, I had a conversation that I didn’t handle my part of well; my interlocutor seemed to think that something could only matter if it mattered forever, if it persisted unchanged; that something that ended could not matter. I wish I’d asked that guy a few more questions. I’m still here, and if these whales really are still here–if the last of them didn’t wash up on St. George Island in 2014–I would like to make their life here as possible as possible, even if that time is short. The same is true for your life, you who are reading this: I want your life to be possible for you. I want us to change whatever we have to change for that to happen. I would want it if I knew for a fact you and I and the last of these whales were all going to die within the week. I would want it if we were all going to swim through the world for centuries to come.

*

Jason Moore’s Capitalism in the Web of Life, which I’m in the early middle of, and Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, which I’m rereading, helped with the framing for this writing.

No Fracked Gas Power Plant in Burrillville: Petition and Community Meeting

Burrillville residents are meeting with RI Governor Gina Raimondo tonight: many of them don’t want a fracked-gas power plant in their town and want to tell her so. If you would also like to tell her that, the meeting is at Burrillville High School, 425 East Ave, at 6pm tonight. You can RSVP here.  Burrillville residents will be seated first.

If you can’t make it to Burrillville tonight, but would like to ask or tell Governor Raimondo not to support a power plant that will increase greenhouse gases, interrupt habitats, and slow a necessary transition to low-pollution/low-impact energy without providing lasting work for RI residents, you can …

sign this petition.

…call Governor Raimondo’s office: 401-222-2080

…email Governor Raimondo: governor AT governor DOT ri DOT gov

… tweet at Governor Raimondo: @GinaRaimondo

Tell her that you want to prevent the Spectra expansion in Burrillville and that you want her help in preventing it, too.

Some Reminders: No LNG in PVD, Interdependence Day, Providence Community Safety Act

If you live in Providence, there’s so much you can do this week to take care of yourself and your neighbors, and bring the world we want out of the one we have.

You can come out to the corner of Eddy St and Thurbers Ave at 4pm TODAY (Wednesday, 7/13) to demonstrate peacefully against the proposed liquid natural gas facility in South Providence–get details and RSVP here. Bringing extra water would be a kindness!

You can come to our third Interdependence Day gathering TOMORROW (Thursday, 7/14) to meet and talk with neighbors, share stories and food, make something together, and exchange needs and skills. We will probably be doing some mourning/grief work tomorrow, too.

You can, starting now, write to your councilperson (names by ward, map of wards) urging them to support the Providence Community Safety Act.

There are probably lots of other things you can do, that you may know about where I don’t. If you know of one that other people can do too, let me know and if I can share it, I will.

No LNG in PVD: Peaceful Demonstration, 7/13

To learn the details of why it’s dangerous and environmentally unjust to build a liquid natural gas facility on Allens Avenue in Providence, you can read this statement.

To lend your voice to resisting this facility, you can come to the corner of Eddy St and Thurbers Avenue on Wednesday, July 13th, 4-5:30 pm. Bring sunscreen, water and signs, and RSVP here.

This is part of taking care of each other; this is part of living in the same world as each other; this is part of bringing the world we want out of the world we have.

Alternate History: A Just Transition

This alternate history, whose task is to show our current choices as contingent rather than natural and to imagine a world that works better for more people, owes a great debt to the ongoing work and words of Mariame Kaba.

7/8/16

That day we recognized that police officers were like coal miners or offshore riggers, maintainers of imbalance, people distorted and damaged by the work some of us were asking them to do, and that they were in need of a just transition away from dirty, dangerous, dehumanizing work. They needed true and possible paths that would allow them to recognize themselves and others without damage.

We did all the usual things, to start. We made cordons with our bodies around entire neighborhoods, three and four people deep. Similar cordons formed around the Public Safety Complex, around the parking garage, around at least some cops’ houses. The moments when one threw their gun or taser on the ground, out of reach, and came to stand beside us were precious to us; this didn’t happen very often. More often, we said to armed men and a few armed women: this line can open to you. There’s a place for you beyond this line. But you can’t force it open. You have to tell us what you’re going to do. And it can’t be anything like what you did before. We said: you can’t stay on that side of the line alone, forever.

They didn’t hit us, didn’t shoot or gas us. They knew, we think now–and some of them have even said, since then–that the time for that was over. That was the beginning of their part in the change, but not the end.

It’s a struggle every moment to unschool yourself as a bully, but it was part of their reparations to the rest of us: when they asked us what we wanted, what would satisfy us, after the days of blocking their paths everywhere they went, we said that we couldn’t undo the past but that we needed to undo a future of violence, starting now. We said, you have to be the ones to do it; our job will be to make a place for you as you get better at it.

A person who doesn’t know that they are desperate is dangerous, and a person who doesn’t know that what they’re doing is a decision is equally dangerous. We stood in front of them. We said, we’re desperate; this is what desperation looks like. We said, this is our choice; this is what a choice looks like. Do you want to see who you could be on the other side of the line? What you could have? What you could leave behind?

People who weren’t cops stopped calling the cops. More and more cops quit. Like everyone now, they were guaranteed a living whether they worked or not, but they told the rest of us that that wouldn’t be enough. They needed something else to attach their ideas of themselves to, like the mussels that cling to the rocks; they needed to do work, and they needed to learn how to feel fear without doing harm. Well, so did we.

The world we were making was full of necessary daily work, both grim and joyful; the need for extreme heroics, sea rescues, fire control, resuscitations and transfusions; plenty of dead bodies to tend, despite everything we could do. There was a lot of that kind of work for them, in addition to the slow, grinding, stammering labor of breaking survival away from entitlement, identity away from blame. Most of them were very bad at this at first, no matter how willing they were: it always had to be someone else’s fault. But there was no one else’s fault for it to be.

The men’s houses were helpful for some of the ones who were men. (Free access to hormones, and confidence of their welcome as women–though not necessarily as former cops–in all places, was helpful for some of the ones who were in fact women.) The anger shrines on street corners, with their punching surfaces and screaming chambers, saw a lot of use, too. Some of the ex-cops spent time tending horses, as veterans also did, forming a new understanding of risk, fragility, care and trust. We were using horses more for certain tasks by then, even in the city–hauling things that weren’t in a hurry to get there, supplying manure for our farms–and occasionally for fast city-to-city transportation, since the solar shuttles were still in prototype.

More people were living more of their lives in public, too, by this point–houses were fuller, streets and waterways more active, privacy more a matter of courtesy than of soundproof walls and locked doors. It was harder to hide cruelty, and there was less to steal. The night watch made it harder for people who wished to stab and twist and violate to do so under cover of darkness. We used Build the Block and Creative Interventions as models for emergency response. We mostly didn’t allow the ex-cops to do these things with the rest of us: it was too close to the wound of what they had been for us to be safe with them, and sometimes, in spite of all that work, they were the people we needed to stop.

We sunk the guns in the last of the concrete–it was the easiest, most permanent thing to do with them.

 

A Good Time to Support the Providence Community Safety Act

Today is an excellent day to write to your city council urging community oversight of police conduct, and to research and support any initiatives in your city whose goal is to reduce police violence.

In Providence, we have such an initiative: the Providence Community Safety Act. Below the asterisk is the letter I wrote to my councilperson today urging him to support it; please feel free to borrow this text and adapt it as needed to write to yours.

If you aren’t in Providence, but are in the U.S., you can still use this letter to support a local initiative or act; if your city doesn’t have one, consider urging your councilperson to sponsor one.

For Providence residents, here is a list of councilpeople by ward, with email addresses; here is a map of the wards, so if you don’t know yours you can look for your street. This is a way to let your city government know that black lives matter to you, their constituent, who votes them in or out of office.

*

Dear [Councilmember]:

This week, two police officers in Baton Rouge, LA and Minneapolis, MN shot and killed two black men who had committed no crime. This is an important moment to insist on accountability and oversight for police in American cities: without it, Providence could be the next city in the news for police violence.

As a resident of your ward, I urge you once again to support community oversight of the Providence Police Department via the Providence Community Safety Act. Police officers doing their job fairly and responsibly will not be constrained by it, and it has the potential to prevent the pointless, tragic, wrongful injury and death of Providence residents–including your constituents–such as we have seen in other cities.

Please do your best for our community by supporting the Providence Community Safety Act.

Sincerely,

[Your name and address]

 

Direct Action Opportunity with Fuerza Laboral: POSTPONED

THIS ACTION HAS BEEN POSTPONED. I will update if it is rescheduled, or you can email the organizer below.

Why is Climate Anxiety Counseling posting about a direct labor action with Fuerza Laboral? Because both are about bringing the world we want out of the world we have.

Here’s their statement:

“DIRECT ACTION OPPORTUNITY WITH FUERZA LABORAL: Labor Abuses and Wage Withholding

The owner of a cleaning company  employed a group of 8 people to clean student apartments in North Providence. The workers worked 40+ hours, but after the work was done he claimed that the job wasn’t done right and that they took too long to clean the disgusting apartments after the students went on summer break. The apartments were so dirty that the workers had to be on their hands and knees scrubbing the floors, bathrooms, walls etc.. He owes them over $3,000, so we are going to his very fancy home in the suburbs of Johnston. This is not his first offense: he has done it before to other workers, and Fuerza Laboral has already done an action against his company in 2008. The action will be on Thursday  7/7, starting at 5:15 am in Johnston.”
You can email the organizer for details/location: organizer AT fuerza-laboral.org.

Second Interdependence Day, 7/5, 6-7:30 pm

The second of our Interdependence Days is tonight! Come for ritual, small stories, meditation led by our guest person, a needs/skills share and more.

6-7:30pm

186 Carpenter St., Providence, RI

You may bring food if you want to, but it’s not required.

Here’s the event page; here are some questions and answers about what these days are, how  they formed, and why you might like to be part of them.