Day 2: Indigenous Food Ways: How Do We Move From Repression to Recognition?

For the Food Solutions New England 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge; prompt here, along with a list of things to look at and read.

The hills, beaches, forests and cities that I am most often within are on Narragansett, Nahaganset,* Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe of the Pokanoket Nation, and Nipmuc land**. They were the site of King Philip’s War, one of the most brutal wars of conquest in the early days of European colonization, and I just encountered a newly gathered map of histories of that war that looks amazing. It’s called Our Beloved Kin: Remapping a New History of King Philip’s War, and I want to spend some time with it.

The Narragansett Tribe has a Food Sovereignty Initiative that looks pretty cool, too. This is from their website:

Picture

*The Narragansett are federally recognized, the Nahaganset are not and do not wish to be . The link gives a little more background, but this is a source of conflict between/among their members that it’s not my place to say any more about.

**Knowledge of whose ancestors lived here before Europeans arrived, and who lives here now, has been slowly sifting into my consciousness for a few years, as I said in the first day’s challenge—but even now, really, I just know about the names, not the lives, relationships and ways of thinking and feeling that go with them. Genuine relationship-building is slow and requires desire on all sides. I have been honored to work with and/or alongside some people who are Indigenous to the place where I live (as well as some people who are Indigenous to other places and live here now too) on various efforts where the same things matter to us or overlap, including this one, and have tried to learn by watching and listening.

Something useful that I think these daily challenges are making me think of: what are the ways that I can challenge myself—that is, learn—without placing an inappropriate demand or burden on someone else? If there’s a choice between my learning being demanding for someone, the displacement/enslavement/murder/exploitation of whose ancestors has benefited me, and me learning another way (even if that way is secondhand), I’m going to lean toward the latter. But possibly my avoidance is also a form of ass coverage/not wanting to be told no?

If I think about how I feel about this, I think I mostly feel…foolish? Gullible? Why on earth didn’t I put it together before, the various histories and silences? Actually the word for what I’m looking for is shame—I have something, but it’s wrong that I have it, and it’s more work for the people I have wronged to tell me how to make it right. But I think the good twin of shame is humility, the willingness to be small and listen, to be exposed, to learn from mistakes, to have foolishness be a necessary condition of learning and right action.

 

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Day 1: Locating Ourselves & Racial Identity Formation

For the Food Solutions New England 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge; prompt here. I did the signup wrong so am starting late. (Some of this seems a little…potentially burdensome for people of color? “Consider talking with someone you know, who would be willing, who identifies as being of a different race”?)

I feel like the number of words that anyone wants to read from a white person about being white is limited, no matter what the words are, so I will try to keep it short (for me, this is short):

When I was a kid I knew I was Jewish, because my family talked about it (and so, occasionally, did other people). I didn’t know I was white; most of the people I knew were, and none of us talked about it.

Thinking critically about whiteness and white supremacy started for me mayyyybe ten, twelve years ago? (I am 40.) The work of a number of online writers, mainly Black women, mainly writing for readers of color, laid some groundwork and so did the act of participating in the conversation ONLY by listening. This enabled me to both read more deeply and learn more from people I know as well.

My sense of myself as a colonizer or settler, or at least as someone who reaps the benefits of those enterprises, is much younger, maybe three years. The pattern is similar: this is a lesson started for me by writers and thinkers online, on Twitter and elsewhere, in a way that has enabled me to continue reading more deeply and learning more from people I know.

Between these two, I would say that my present sense of white people is something like, “People who, when we live someplace, make things worse there.” One way I try to address this is by not going very many places, or into very many contexts, unless I am invited–though sometimes I ask for an invitation.

The prompt asks, “How do you think about your own racial identity and its relevance to your life, work, studies and/or volunteerism in the food system (or as an eater)?” Certainly my class, as shaped by my race, affects what I can afford to buy to eat. This also affects the time and energy I have available to volunteer with Hope’s Harvest RI, which I do from time to time (maybe you can too?). And the food that I eat is grown/raised on land shaped by colonization, genocide and enslavement, and in many cases grown by people who–partly because of white supremacist interference in their or their ancestors’ countries of origin, partly because of the way capitalism and white supremacy work together now–are trapped and depleted by the work that they do.

For four years now the Sankofa Market in Providence has kindly hosted the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth (they’re looking for gardening volunteers! Email dresendes AT westelmwood DOT org!)–and I infer that my being white, in a neighborhood mostly dwelt in by people of color (at a farmers’ market where most of the vendors are people of color, which is an offshoot of a housing development corporation that has a high proportion of both staff and participants of color) affects people’s willingness to speak with me–as well as activating my own background racism, though I try to be aware of it and not let it shape the way I’m interacting with people. Here is a picture of me, so you can see what people see when they look at me.

my face mom hat

Passover is coming up, one of the two Jewish holidays that my family celebrates as a family. I love it; I love the way that my own family has made room to acknowledge the holiday’s complexities and complicities, and the format of the Seder has been a huge influence on the way that Climate Anxiety Counseling works. There is a long email thread about who’s going to cook what, which I have mostly been ignoring, but I just made a deal with my mom about the brisket (grass-fed, organic, expensive, probably from McEnroe Farm), on Matabesec Mohegan land–which, full disclosure, I never knew until I looked it up to write this): if she teaches me how to cook it, I will do the part she hates, which is slicing it up before putting it back in the gravy.

“We will keep fighting for the health and safety of South Providence”

Yesterday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a certificate–basically, the necessary permit–for National Grid to build a natural gas liquefaction facility on the Southside of Providence. If you know me or have been reading this site for a while, you know that I’ve been working with No LNG in PVD to stop this plant from endangering the people of the Southside and (through contributing to climate change by increasing the extraction, transport and consumption of natural gas) the world at large.

lng plant panorama

Here is our statement.

No LNG in PVD is committed to fighting for health, safety and justice for all residents of South Providence. For three years, neighborhood residents and committed allies have fought to stop National Grid from building a liquid natural gas plant on Allens Avenue that will increase health and safety risks for residents and contribute to global climate change. On Wednesday, October 18, we learned that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has granted National Grid a certificate for this project, subject to certain conditions.

FERC’s decision came through 12 days after the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated in strong terms that ceasing fossil fuel emissions–reducing them to 45% by 2030 and to zero by 2050–is essential to maintaining human life and well-being on Earth. In National Grid’s permit applications, the useful life of the LNG facility is stated as ending in 2030. Meanwhile, on October 3, a truck carrying over 11,000 gallons of gasoline overturned on the Route 95 ramp from Allens Avenue, pouring gasoline onto the road and into the Providence River. Threats to the neighborhood and to the planet are ongoing from activity in the Port.

No LNG in PVD is proud of the work we have done to try to protect the people of the Southside. We are proud of delaying the construction of this shortsighted and dangerous facility for three years. We are proud of our attempts to participate in the public regulatory process despite many obstacles, and we are proud of the Southside: a neighborhood where people live and work, not a sacrifice zone. We wish that our elected officials listened to the concerns of the people they represent. We are grateful to Mayor Elorza for supporting our campaign from the beginning.

No LNG in PVD will continue to fight for the well-being of the Southside. This is only the start of ongoing efforts to make the Port of Providence clean and healthy again, and to make Rhode Island a place where economic and environmental health go hand in hand.

We learned the news yesterday. Today, I went with a friend to East Greenwich, RI to help collect salt marsh grass seed, which the Fish and Wildlife Service will germinate over the winter and set out in the spring at another marsh, in the John W. Chafee National Wildlife Reserve, to help the marsh keep pace with sea level rise.

grasses

[Image: grasses.]

Eventually, if the grass seedlings take, they will mediate between land and water (which helps humans) and provide homes for many nonhuman people there, as they do here.

grasses and mussels

[Image: grasses with mussels hanging onto their roots and the bottoms of their stems.]

I was, and am, so angry. I was, and am, so sad. I was, and am, so scared. And I am not finished. We are not finished.

grasses and beam

[Image: grasses, a sunbeam, and some tidal mud.]

I want to be clear: if the state were serious about the health and safety of the Southside, about “environmental management,” about “resilience,” we could and would work toward a restoration project like this there, too, where people live, where the land meets the water. Right now it’s poisoned by industry and choked by concrete, but Nature isn’t a specific place where you get to go if you’re rich. Nature is us.

When there is more that you can do to help us fight for-profit environmental racism, I will let you know.

Climate Anxiety Counseling in ThinkProgress

Jeremy Deaton wrote about me, but not just me, and the climate booth, but not just the climate booth, for ThinkProgress. One reason I really like this article is that it puts the booth into context, and shows how the kind of thinking and feeling that I want it to make possible–livable–is underway. It cites work done, and truths spoken, by many people and connects readers to that work and those truths; it is open about the relationships among material and emotional suffering.

I’ll have more of an articulate response soon (right after I…type up all the notes from two weeks of booth sessions) but I want to thank Jeremy for our conversation and all the other people, named and unnamed, whose articulated reality this article includes.

Questions for Conspiracy Theorists

Where do you get your information?

Do you talk with other people about this? How do those conversations go?

How do you feel when you think about this?

What are you afraid of?

What are you hoping for?

If people listened to you, what might they do and what would change?

How do you deal with this knowledge when you’re alone?

Looking for stories about the way climate change is changing you

Friends, I am looking for some help.

I want to know, and to talk about, and to write about, how we live with the knowledge of climate change: how we bear it, and how we act on it.

I’m working with a Rhode Island organization to create a manual of concrete actions for fossil fuel drawdown and community building in the state, called “Livable Rhode Island”, and so I’m looking for stories from Rhode Islanders specifically. If you have such a story, I can take it via email at any time: publiclycomplex at gmail is my address.

And I’m also working on a series of writings that will be a more general tool for transforming ourselves in response to the transformation of our world, so I want to listen to people about that. This, I’d like to do in person and in groups if possible.

The climate anxiety counseling booth isn’t really set up for this–for one thing, I want those conversations to be about what the person talking to me chooses and needs. I’m still working on the structure, trying to learn from the arc of Interdependence Days and other things I’ve been part of. Let me know if you think you might like to be part of this, and please ask me questions.

Talking is weird because it’s somewhere between feeling and doing–it’s a necessary prelude to action, but it isn’t itself action (though the amount of effort it takes to do it can trick you into feeling like it is). But it still seems to me to be a key part of making a possible, livable world in the present and for as long as we can–we need to listen to each other in order to know how we can work together.

Sorry about that “we”–I know it’s not as simple as that–but in its complication and variation is strength, too.

I hope you will stay with me.

Out of the Woods On Climate/Borders/Survival/Care/Struggle

This conversation with Out of the Woods, a collective investigating capitalism and climate change, gets at the heart of a lot of what I’ve been trying to do with the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth, the alternate histories, and the Interdependence Day gatherings (now on hold, but these writings may help us reinvent them).

“To say ‘yes’ to what we want,” they say, “and what is already created in cramped spaces – necessitates saying ‘no’ to the world that dominates save for those cracks or openings.”

I knew about Out of the Woods, but hadn’t spent a lot of time with their ideas and questions. I’m going to do so now.

Children, Meaning, Transformations

A few things by me/with me in them and relevant to this project appeared online this week, so I thought I’d share them here.

I wrote about climate and political change, having or not having kids, and record-keeping for the present at Catapult.

Kate Colby and I talked about mattering, meaning, and ecology at Ploughshares.

And Jonah-Sutton Morse talked about stories, transformation, attention and Annihilation at Cabbages and Kings.

 

Some Alternate Histories and an interview in Reckoning

Michael DeLuca interviewed me about the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth, and published three of the alternate histories in Reckoning (the other writing in there is great too).

“Everything I see, both firsthand and reported–not just predictions for the future, but observations about the present–says that we are in the middle of a hard time that’s going to get harder, more painful and full of loss and grief, falling unevenly according to who’s already suffering or exploited. I don’t feel better about anything, ever, anymore, except in little tiny patches,” I said.

“But those tiny patches matter to me and I want to nourish them,” I said.

I also said, and 100% meant, that I would LOVE it if other people want to do a version of the booth in their own city (this has always been true) and if you want to, I will help you. Just saying.

Remembering the Arctic Ice Cap: A Celebration of Life

Ever since I started offering Climate Anxiety Counseling, I’ve gone back and forth about mourning the places and people–human, nonhuman–that we know climate change will not just hurt, but kill, before they’re gone. It seems like ill-wishing them–pre-grieving, shooing them out of the world, walking over their graves. And it also seems like something that you’d do instead of trying to keep them alive.

This summer, in Newport, RI–which is admittedly a very odd place–they held a funeral for a beech tree that’s reaching the end of their life (fernleaf beeches usually live for 150-200 years–I’m not sure how old this one is or was, and I also don’t know if they’re still standing). I changed my tune a little bit. The tree was dying; this gave people a chance to appreciate it and acknowledge them while they were still alive.

And now, my friend Maya Weeks is holding a memorial and celebration for the Arctic Ice Cap: She writes, “As we anticipate losing year-round sea ice as soon as 2018, we are taking this occasion to gather and process our feelings about this changing ecosystem together. We will gather to say goodbye to the sea ice algae and the Arctic cod and the polar bear. Please feel free to bring candles and loved ones to the Mosswood Amphitheater [in Oakland, CA] at 2pm on Sunday, December 18.  Please feel free to say a few words if you would like. This is an outdoor venue with a ramp for accessibility.”

This comes just after another group of literal and figurative deaths in Oakland: people living and celebrating at the Ghost Ship, which burned, and the way of living and being that was possible there. You can donate to the relief fund here, and to funeral services and end-of-life costs for the trans women who died at the Ghost Ship here. When I donated to the latter, I also donated to the Trans Assistance Project’s main fund, which “exists to finance legal/ID changes and healthcare for trans folks in need,” because the living and the dead both need care, but in different ways.

Other living beings don’t necessarily do peopledom the way human people do. A forest might be a person; a jellyfish might be a community. And equating human and nonhuman death is full of bad logic and bad history, especially when the human who died died at the remote hands of structures of power and capital and cruelty. Who gets to die like a person, and who like a plant; who is a martyr, a casualty, a throwaway–these are all mediated by the structures I just mentioned, and I’m not looking to draw a comparison that isn’t there or isn’t right.

But one thing that the dead share is their absence–even if we, the living, are in communication with them or take their advice, we mostly recognize that the way they are is different from the way we are. And one thing the nearly dead share with the living is their presence, their ability to be touched and known. I’m still on the fence about mourning the still-alive. But I don’t think that sorrow and anger for one kind of loss needs to displace sorrow and anger for another kind, and I think that mourning the dead can help the living to fight like hell for each other.