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.

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Climate Anxiety Counseling: Last Day Downtown, Schedule Change, AMOR Grill-Off

Tomorrow (Friday, 6/15) will be my last day this season listening to climate anxieties in Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park. I’ll be there 11am-2pm.

I’d planned to be there Saturday as well, but I’d rather go to the AMOR Grill-Off, a picnic benefit for Alianza para Movilizar Nuestra Resistencia/Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance, a support and rapid response network offering (among other things) legal support for immigration and police brutality cases, mental health support, community response, and transportation and interpretation services.

If you want to go too, here are tickets. If you want to help the event happen, here are some donations the organizers could use.

And if you can’t come see me tomorrow, June 20th will start my stint at the Sankofa Market outside the Knight Memorial Library, 2-6pm on Wednesdays.

Flood the Statehouse!

Tell Governor Raimondo #NoLNGinPVD!

TODAY, 4pm, Rhode Island Statehouse rotunda (the big room when you go inside)

No LNG in PVD is not only concerned with National Greed’s Liquefied Natural Gas Liquefaction export facility. It is unnecessary, unsafe and costly, but as seen by a malfunctioning port alarm, the recent natural gas explosion on Allens Ave and the state’s unwillingness to look at the cumulative dangers of the Port, whether or not this facility is built, the Southside and Washington Park are in danger and unprepared for an extreme weather event and subsequent flood. Both sides of Allens Ave. are overflowing with toxic, explosive facilities: National Grid, Shell, Univar, the scrapyards. All of these are on the wrong side of the hurricane barrier and adjacent to overburdened working-class communities of color.

As storms become more frequent and seas rise, the people living near the Port are in more danger with each passing day. Join us to tell Governor Raimondo and the other leaders of this state that they must stop the LNG plant, end fossil fuel infrastructure in Rhode Island and begin the process of making the Port a safe place to live.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa Market/Sowing Place, 6/2/18

Weather: windy, looking like a thunderstorm, but just occasional rain.

Number of people: 3 stoppers, no walkbys.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 3.5

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.00

 

Observations:

This was the second time the Sankofa Market was happening in conjunction with Sowing Place. It’s pretty new and it’s also set back off the street. So far, most of the people who’ve talked with me at this event have been involved with Sowing Place as vendors, artists in residence, etc.

I talked with two kids about yellow, white, and purple clover.

 

Some conversations:

 

 

I’m undocumented, and one of the major things I’m anxious about right now is the state of immigration in this country. It’s very scary. We don’t know what’s happening. Trump, one of the things he was running on was this attitude toward immigration, and he doesn’t actually know how it works—he’s talking about building a wall, because he doesn’t know that most of us come on planes. We just have overstayed visas. He doesn’t know how it works, but he wakes up and decides one day to end the program that I’m on. … So what’s the next thing he’s gonna cut? When he ended DACA it was a big deal because people cared, but then something else is on the radar next week. There’s crisis after crisis and it makes it hard to take a collective approach.

Would you say it’s a feeling that’s always with you, or comes and goes, or–

It’s seemingly always with me. It’s part of my identity, it keeps me on high alert. ‘Cause it’s not just me, it’s my entire family. I’ve been talking about it, trying to educate people. ‘Cause the whole narrative of immigration in the US is this xenophobic anti-Latino narrative, but you’ve got like Irish old men living in the Bronx who are undocumented and nobody knows about it because they’re white. So I’ve been trying to talk more, and, more publicly, about my own Black immigrant experience.

How are the conversations going?

They go well. I feel like I’m changing minds. I’ve been writing poems about it and it’s new territory for me, that I’m starting to write about it, because it’s so stigmatized. If my mother knew she’d have a heart attack. But being out and open, especially in the face of all this—when he ended DACA I was like, Let me start to be vocal. And when I talk to people I know, since they realize it’s me [that’s affected by this], they start to care. I have this visibility and maybe power, as a performer and as an online voice especially. I don’t have a huge following but I know people pay attention to what I say, so maybe I should put a tweet about this in between the tweets about poop or whatever. I’m also trying to find my stride as a writer. Poems are great and I love them, but I really wanna do essays, write about ending stigma, talking about status and citizenship. People are like, “Go back to your country,” but the country I was born in doesn’t do birthright citizenship.

*

What I’m concerned about is this natural gas plant. We need to figure out how to get them to listen to us. One of my coworkers has been a powerful advocate, and she got me involved. We had an event at our church, and that got a lot of people to know about it. We need to be able to eat the food that we grow in the ground, and breathe air that’s in our backyards. When I would go to these meetings, a lot of white people showed up, but we need people in the Latino and Southeast Asian communities to talk to each other. They want to know about it, but people don’t understand.

And I know that the agencies and so on don’t make it easy to understand.

When they had the hearings, they took people out of a public space into a side room like they were interrogating them. One person from our church, he said, “I thought I was doing something wrong.” There’s not enough of us to tell them that this is the wrong position. We need to make them understand that [they] are a public servant, they work for us—not the opposite.

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/1/18

Weather: Cool, humid/sticky, gray; spitting rain followed by steady rain

Number of people: 8 stoppers, no walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 6.5

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken with permission: 1

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 2

Dogs seen: 4

Dogs pet: 0, but one sniffed me

Rabbits seen: 1, black and white, on a pink leash

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $5.05

 

Observations:

I started late because I was helping a friend clean, and ended early because of rain. At 12:55 I moved into the park, inside the drip zone of a sycamore; at 1:30 it became clear that the rain was only going to get worse.

Two food trucks on the western side of the entrance, one on the eastern side. I was on the eastern side facing west.

I meant to bring chalk (for kids to draw on the sidewalk) today, but forgot when it was time to remember.

Two cops walked up to get food from a food truck at 1:09.

This day afforded me an opportunity to put my questions for conspiracy theorists into practice.

 

Some conversations:

I’ve been changing my outlook on things. There’s always going to be a mix of positive and negative.

Last time we talked, you were thinking a lot about the ocean. How are you feeling about that these days?

I feel that there’s a lot of people who are gonna take action where that is concerned. One anxiety that I do have right now is that the job market is going to be totally eliminated by technology. I studied accounting, and businesses don’t care about how they eliminate expenses.

*

I feel like it’s kinda been proven but hasn’t at the same time that the government—have you heard of chemtrails? … There’s a conspiracy that the government is basically dropping pollutants out of the sky and you can see it sometimes and it’s harming our immune systems …

How does it make you feel, when you think about that?

It makes me feel worried, just worried about the world and like the climate is changing. You see a lot of animals dying. I don’t like that at all. I’m worried about myself as well—I don’t know how I feel about it. I’m here, I’m living, I don’t really have to go through something like that yet, but I do. It’s happening right under our noses. That’s not the only thing I see about climate change. I feel as if the sun is getting—it can affect our moods. This is coming from somebody who’s an athlete: there’s a difference between how people play, like say basketball, in the winter, inside in a gym, and how they play outside in the summertime. The hole in the ozone layer is really starting to hit now—you see a lot of things changing.  … Certain weather is making humans—just like destroying the natural flow of some things. The snow hasn’t been regular. It’s confusing the birds. It’s confusing a lot of things. A lot of the problems we’ve been going through—there’s a little bit of humans causing harm to our environment. At the same time, I think it’s weather manipulation. It’s a way for the government to say that the reason that a lot of these things are happening is because of what humans are doing.

Why do you think they would do that?

It all has to do with energy. The government is trying to control anything that they can control—citizens as well. When it’s hot, emotions run higher, everything’s quicker, everything’s more sensitive. Winter is the opposite, everything goes into hibernation. When it’s hot, everybody wants to pop out. There’s an increase in death and murder in the summertime versus in the winter, especially for people in negative environments.  If the government manipulates the weather … especially in rough neighborhoods, where people are already in a tough situation, you’re gonna get them feeling some type of way. It works on certain people. You could test this theory, just come out here during wintertime and then in summertime. I know it’s hard to believe.

What do you think would happen if people had more knowledge of it?

There’s not much we can really do about it. You can’t really control anybody else. I could try to inform people about it, but that does—the only people that would want to learn are the people who are willing to understand. Some people just won’t believe it just with me telling them—they’re gonna want solid facts, evidence. I mean there are facts, there are documents. There was this CIA plot, it was a depopulation project. This world, America, is getting bigger by the second and supplies only last for so long. Cutting the population down a little bit—well, a lot—helps. I believe that the people who are in the highest power in this world aren’t in it for the money, they’re in it just for power, the power and the control, and you can only control so many people. Look at the food we have to eat. If you go to the grocery store, the stuff they have the most of is not the healthiest thing to eat. You can’t hide from the world that you live in, but you can balance it. You can balance your own world.

How do you do that?

Well, mentally, balancing your logic and your emotions. Then the evils of the world can’t really get to you. Knowing how to react to certain things—when I play sports, there’s certain characters, they get frustrated easily and I understand that. But if they were to balance themselves—it’s picking and choosing your battles, weighing out your battles—“Is this battle heavy enough to make a battle?” Stopping, thinking and then getting into it.

*

What about the theory that the earth is just breathing? If you look at the climate, the earth is just breathing a bit. We do have an ozone problem that we’re trying to take care of. There’s more to get to protect our environment.

More to get?

Getting means [carbon dioxide] emissions. We need to spend more to get more out of our environment.

I still don’t understand what you mean by getting. Getting more resources? Getting more time?

Getting more resources.

I often ask people where they get their information, so where are you getting your information about this?

From my brother who’s a biologist. He used to work for the DEM monitoring streams and waters.

Can I talk to him?

My brother’s a very private person.

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 5/31/18

Weather: Warm and bright and pleasant

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 10.5

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

Dogs seen: 5

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island: $3.30

 

Observations:

I sat facing east today, and it did seem like more people were walking westward than eastward. Both food trucks were also parked on the westward side, screening me from view for people who were walking eastward. I had my lowest number of conversations to date at this site in this season. This highly scientific comparison is thus far inconclusive.

Nonhuman animals present and visible: grackles, sparrows, pigeons, starlings. The grackles made a nice sound.

One of the people I spoke with brought up the method of agenda:hacking as a tool for organizers. I don’t know anything about it other than what that link says and haven’t (knowingly) been involved in any meetings that used it, but I thought I’d pass it on. This same speaker, as you’ll see, spoke a lot about their involvement with post-Trump organizing here in our state: I know that you all know I get permission to post what I post here, but I want to make it especially clear that I did get their permission, since they’re talking about their interactions with specific organizations.

I seeded the map with “Great Salt Pond.”

 

Some conversations:

 

 

I get anxious when things are supposed to happen. Like about seeing certain people—my kids, my girlfriend.

Before or during?

Before, sometimes during.

Do you have anything you do about it that you already know works?

Smoke weed. Most of the time it works.

It sounds like you already have a way of dealing with the anxiety, but is your goal to not ever get to the point where you feel it?

Yeah, I’d say that’s the goal. Music helps a lot—playing it and listening to it. I do music, that’s therapy for me.

 

*

 

 

I think one form my anxiety takes is the pervasive feeling that it’s too late in many ways. I’m thinking about the gross scale—individual communities do more or less great jobs trying to address this, but often people who are super passionate about the “environment,” or just the state of the world—how more intersection can be invited, how to network groups of people who are working on different aspects of the same thing. Supporting more mindful agricultural practices used by Black and Indigenous farmers, combining that with permaculture—how do people continue to meet each other? I guess that’s not an anxiety, it’s a curiosity about organizing and how can socializing be a deeper part of organizing?

A related anxiety is: post-Trump-election, how do people become aware of the fact that organizing is ongoing? A lot of people seemed eager to create something new and massive that is reiterative on a lot of issues–[I’m thinking of] the Working Families Party and Resist Hate Rhode Island, who have … a lot of very well-intentioned organizing around issues that could be described as “environmental” issues, but it’s not anti-racist or anti-oppressive, and when you try to get it to be, there’s pushback from white centers of power. Then you get people saying things like, “We don’t have any power, we’re volunteers,” when sitting on a steering committee [for an organization] confers power, at least in decision-making processes! How do people who come from a variety of relationships to work and labor—not just from corporate or even nonprofit structures—how do we learn to make decisions together more collectively?

Is that part of the “too late” feeling? Like, “If we can’t even do this…”

I feel like that sometimes. … I’ve been looking at the history of the ebb and flow of the orientation of separatism. I’ve had elder mentors who were in that space, and I used to not get it, but now I’m like, Damn, do we just need to go over here and do our thing? It’s not insurmountable, but it bogs people down, and it’s confusing because we are all oriented toward the same goal, of making a world that’s not only habitable but better than the one we know now. I’ve been thinking about this question of sustainability—maybe that’s not what we want to do, to sustain, but to refigure or to dismantle some things.

Working in PVD Fest as an artist, I’m noticing what is more or less profitable to talk about as an artist in such a space.  … Cultural influencers in this city could take a lot more stake and stock in what they put their name on—like what just happened at Local 121 with House Party Vibes, these overlapping spaces of parties and social events to [in this case] benefit relief efforts in Puerto Rico. But of course it’s based on what is captivating people’s attention currently, so we see “a crisis” rather than one moment in an ongoing crisis in occupied territory How do we connect dots, how do we show that crisis is not exceptional but sustained? The government has a knack for introducing people to crises as discrete.

After the election, there was this outpouring of empathy, and not like I want to say empathy is a bad thing, but it has to be coupled with intimacy … so that when truth is spoken in a space, you hear it. A lot of people of color who do organizing, or not, a lot of queer people are asking straight people, various generations are asking: how do people just gather their own and then emerge into community and relationship with each other? Difference in identity and experience is a blockage—that’s nothing to be ashamed about. We need people to gather and have the same kinds of rigorous conversations, and do this useful or necessary pulling apart before coming back together.

Do you have any experience with that kind of dismantlement, someplace you’ve seen it work well?

The thing is, I have more examples of the other thing. With Resist Hate, there was harm being done in meat and digital spaces. Specific and explicit harms were named and action asked for—really specific suggestions about how governance could be changed, base-building and decision-making. But the steering committee was unwilling to change their course. Power in these situations is extremely real and completely imagined.  … I’ve seen continually that people don’t know how to organize without engaging shame and punishment. It seems like [Resist Hate RI] couldn’t get away from that model of punishing and shaming each other into action or into modifying behavior, and I think we need less carceral approaches, more de-escalation.

Why do you think that happens?

The issues are too large, too confounding. People want rules instead of thinking about practices, instead of engaging the heart and mind or asking, “What is a way that I can approach with care?” … I think it has to do with agency and modes of control, seeking to control the situation, and to receive affirmation—it can be such a blow to be told, “That’s great, and you should also consider this whole bunch of other things,” or, “We’re just wondering how this approach is going to include racial justice.” It seemed like it was more important to them always that momentum be maintained than correcting course. Slowing down has so many potential impacts, creating the ability to organize, making sure people are seen and acknowledged.

… I feel anxiety too about—my pathway to learning better ways of organizing has a great deal to do with my own personal access, both to types of education but also just—I’ve been talking to my parents about situations that are real in the world, and their response has been like, “Well, we don’t live in New York,” or, “Well, we don’t live that lifestyle.” Like, “The way we live is so utterly different from the way you do it that we just don’t have any frame of reference.”… One of the people I’ve been really influenced by recently is adrienne maree brown–I’ve been loving her challenge to reconsider things that are deeply entrenched in my mind or entrenched culturally. How in whatever situation do you apply the ways that you think about it, the set of practices that you think about? There’s something rich in this set of values because it’s so literally about adaptation. I want to approach all things with so much more inquiry. A lot of my practice is rooted in teaching: you learn about something, then you want other people to know about it and experience it, so you try to deliver that experience, and that’s not maybe as successful as inquiry and invitation.

*

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: Climate change makes me anxious. The denial of climate change in everyday practice, feeling abstracted from the land. I think the immediate consequences of it, we’re insulated from by infrastructure. I try to push myself to think about it but most of the time I kind of push it out of my head. I think about it, but I don’t feel much about it.

Why do you think that is?

It’s too big. The feelings available are, like, despair, which feels like a bad reaction, or hope, which doesn’t feel like it has much efficacy. I don’t feel like I have a third way that makes sense, or makes common sense. So in everyday life, my coping mechanism is refusing those two options, and that doesn’t do much.

Do you talk about it with other people?

Yeah. That tends to be more like, “This is exciting,” like how they’re making artificial reefs out of the Tappan Zee Bridge.

Person 2: They do that with old subway cars, too. They’ve been doing that for a while now.

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?