Climate Anxiety Counseling: Seasonal Total for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective

This season, I asked Climate Anxiety Counseling booth interlocutors to donate their nickels (often, in practice, more–as much as $20.00 from some people) to the Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective. Their commitment to healing and nourishing work as a key part of fighting oppressive forces and enacting a livable, possible world is powerful and necessary, and I wanted to support it. I thank you all for supporting it too.

I’m pleased to report that the people who spoke with me at the booth shared a total of $116.85 (rounded up to $117.00 because GoFundMe doesn’t do decimals). If I do any rogue booth sessions this fall, I will add to the total.

You can read a little more about Tooth and Nail’s principles and projects at the above link, and if you didn’t get a chance to stop by the booth this summer but would like to support their work, I encourage you to do so.

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[IMAGE: Hands digging in brown leaf mulch, mostly oak leaves, a few beech leaves.]

The Tooth and Nail farm also has work days; after I post this, I’m going to put my shoes on and head out there.

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About the Amazon

When people say that climate change is what you get when your starting points are capitalism, exploitation, colonization and genocide, the burning of the Amazon is the kind of thing they’re talking about. This is the destruction of a world. It could mean the destruction of all the worlds we know.

If you have never been driven from your home by violence or disaster, I ask you to imagine the fire–fire set by human hands–taking not just your dwelling, but all your landmarks, your houses of worship, your sources of food and of meaning, driving you and your relatives apart, flattening and poisoning everything that made you who you are.

People are doing this to other people, right now, in what used to be the forest, in order to punish them for existing and to profit from that punishment. If you are neither the destroyers nor the people they’re trying to destroy, what can you do?

Climate and culture writer Nylah Burton has laid out a well-sourced and compassionate explanation of why boycotting beef is a worthwhile response to this murder and desecration if enough people do it. Remember that the purpose of a boycott is to starve an industry or a practice of profit–clearing your conscience is a side effect. (That thread includes a few actions and choices beyond your own eating habits as well.)

Europe and Asia are presently the main markets for Brazilian beef and soy, so if you don’t live in those places but know people there, please strongly and lovingly recommend this to them. People living in EU countries can also write to or call the office of your MEP (UK residents can do it here) and demand that they block the Mercosur trade deal if it includes no protections for the Amazon (a little background).

Improving tree and plant cover and soil health where you live is not enough to counter the wholesale destruction, but is good practice and may offer some relief, especially if it becomes more widespread. If you use Twitter, @BuildSoil is a good person to follow for suggestions and instructions on how to do this. Local conservation, restoration, permaculture, and food sovereignty/food justice initiatives already often have a body of expertise and effort that you can add your weight to–if you’re not already involved with them, use those terms to search for some near you.

Here is an alternate history about the end of resource extraction. Here’s another one about the Amazon and transforming grief into action and healing. Let’s open our imaginations, recognize our connections, and let both of those inform our choices and actions: it’s true that destruction or life in the Amazon can destroy life elsewhere, just as what happens there when the fires aren’t burning can nourish life elsewhere. It’s also true that what we do on the ground we’re on, in the web of life we’re in, reverberates in places we will never touch or see.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market, 6/26/19

Weather: Hot & bright to start, bigger clouds & cooler later

Number of people: 5 stoppers, no walkbys, one map marker

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 4.5

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $1.00

 

Observations:

I said to Jhane, the market manager, “Quiet day today,” and she pointed out that it was the end of the month, which should have occurred to me but didn’t. (Unlike many things that are labeled “privilege,” this is a nice clear example of privilege, if anyone’s looking for one: it didn’t occur to me because I’ve never had to wait for my food stamps to refill, and I’m not living paycheck-to-paycheck.)

I only got permission to post one conversation today, though I had a couple that I wish I could post, about (among other things) how poorly the US stacks up against other places that people have lived.

Nonhuman animal presences: bumblebee on the fake flowers at the taco stand, cabbage white butterfly, sparrows, pigeons, a starling, a wasp on a yellow flower I don’t know.

 

A conversation:

I’ll tell you what I’ve done in a sort of half-humorous, half-serious way. I live in New London, CT, near the Thames River, and I’ve planted blueberry bushes, because I’m going to be living on an island and I’ll need dessert.

Would you say humor is how you cope with it?

Partly. But it’s also making plans for the future. I will live on an island, I will need to eat. I do other things. I write letters … but I’m not sure we’re not going to hell in a handbasket.

How does it feel?

To think that we are? It feels terrible. I think people deserve what we get, because we’re pigheaded. Or maybe just some people are pigheaded and ignorant and the rest of us have to suffer. I can’t change it but I can make small efforts as an individual person.

Is there stuff you do with other people?

I sing with the choir, I don’t preach to the choir. I work with a food co-op and I’m here helping out a co-op that’s getting started… I’ve been to two or three or twenty climate marches. But if somebody comes up and tells me climate change isn’t real, I’m not going to argue—I’m not even going to verbalize my [MISSING ADJECTIVE, SORRY] reaction.

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling TODAY, 6/26! Also: Newport next week!

I’ll be at the Sankofa World Market (275 Elmwood Ave, Providence) 2-6pm today (Wednesday 6/26) to listen to your climate anxieties and other anxieties and connect you with opportunities for action. You can also buy delicious fresh vegetables grown nearby, slightly fancy tacos & vegan baked goods at the market, and go to the Knight Memorial Library. This is a picture of a small market visitor last year, when the market ran into the fall..

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[IMAGE: picture of a small Black girl wearing a black parka with a furry hood and drawing a big face on the whiteboard map of worries, next to the sign that says “Providence Community Library: Knight Memorial.”]

Also, for people who live or work in Newport: Starting on MONDAY, JULY 1, I will be at the Miantonomi Farmers’ Market in the North End, 2-5pm. Come visit me there!

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:

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*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.

 

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.

Getting back in the saddle with the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge

I decided to do the Food Solutions New England 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge because it seemed like a good idea, relevant to this work, potentially useful, and potentially connective to other people who I could learn with and from.

It’s been winter, so I haven’t been doing the booth (starting up again in May!); recording my responses to the challenge here seems like a good way to get back in the habit of posting here. (I might un-decide to do it, though. We’ll see.)

If anyone wants to do it with me, let me know! I’m fine with people jumping in whenever. If I like doing it and the organization runs it again next year, I might try to do it with people in a more organized way, but I found out about this too late to set that up this time.

Here are some peas that my mom sent me, soaking in preparation for planting.

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Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 9/26/18

Weather: Gray, humid, sprinkling rain. Later, breezy and cooling off some.

Number of people: 4 stoppers, no walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 3

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.00

 

Observations:

Short shift (4-6pm) today because of a meeting.

It’s pretty common for me to have conversations about farming and food when I do the booth at the farmers’ market. I think the three different ways these three different people are talking about them are illuminating.

Yellowjackets; cricket sounds.

 

Some conversations:

It’s a big world out there. It feels like a lot of things are ending, which, what do we do about that?

What do you do about it?

 I grow more plants, I learn about growing plants. I come to things like this.

 When is it that you feel anxious?

 Reading a new piece of news about, oh, the ways that communities are experiencing the world changing around them.

What does it feel like, when you read that or see that?

 Some kind of dread. But in many  cases it’s very removed from my actual life. It’s like I get an echo of what’s happening.

 Are there times when it feels more immediate?

 Looking around—my grandfather is a big gardener, and talking with him about things that have changed in his lifetime, like, he can grow these peppers for longer. It kinda feels positive—he feels like he can grow more stuff. English is not his first language, and he doesn’t read that much, so what he knows is mostly what my sisters and I talk to him about. So it’s one step removed, the dread—he gets it filtered through us. He’s good at focusing on the here and now.

 Is that something you can kind of learn from him?

 It feels like it’s something out of reach, but it’s good to tap into—to work in the here and now.

Do you have conversations with other people about this?

 Yeah, but a lot of the conversations I have are not very productive. Some of them end in like a feeling of dread or incapacitation—it doesn’t go anywhere and I kind of feel like it’s a copout, but how to move past that?

 What would happen if you moved past it by going through it?

 Often it’s either been with people or in spaces where we’re not able to be intentional about moving past that. It needs a devotion of time and energy, and you can’t do that individually, and the stars gotta align to have what you need to do it communally.

What would that look like?

 It would look like something that if it exists—it should look different from anything that we’re used to.

* 

It’s a bigger thing than me recycling. I do all the good things that people should do, I have dreams of owning my own little piece of land. But it’s no use doing my part unless I can get other people to do their part. The work I do, the nature of my work, kinda goes in that direction. I grow sunflowers at my house, I give ’em away to my neighbors—the other day there was a big group, a big bunch of middle schoolers, and I offered them sunflowers and they were all like ugh, you’re a dork, like my nephew’s that age. But there was this one, she didn’t want to admit that she wanted one, but she came back later.

… I feel guilty when I’m driving a car. On an individual level I do what I can, but on a macro level it’s too big for just me. Even if push comes to shove and we have to deal with some kind of environmental tragedy, we’ll handle it, hopefully. “Okay, what do we do now that the world’s underwater?” One thing that does worry me is that a lot of people close to me live in food deserts, food insecurity. Like one of the kids I was talking to [at CityFarm], she was like, “My family are farmers, but I go hungry sometimes.” So yeah, we’re giving food to the neighborhood, but what’s happening on the other side of the table? … I’m always mindful of it. I’ve gotten friends involved … It’s dope to meet people and get them interested in your interests. I’m much more into the personal interactions than I am in leading a movement. Empowering people to grow their own food– “You know what a ton of mint you can grow in this little pot? Try it!” People like to start with succulents. Something that stuck with me from childhood: Rich Petersen from CityFarm, he’s been my mentor, and he was like, “Food is one thing everybody has in common, ’cause everybody has to eat.” You can use food as a connecting tool. This one guy, I gave him a handful of huskcherries. He didn’t wanna try ’em but eventually I’ll get him.

 *

I have a lot of concern about farmers and how they’re impacted by climate change. There was some crop I was reading about recently where there was a blight, it was a very poor crop this year, and it was related to climate change. Oh, corn. One clue after the next, that’s something. With seafood—seafood is very affected by the warming of the waters. Jonah crab is becoming a thing here, and it’s great to have jonah crab, but it’s also a symbol of warming waters. How it’s affecting lobsters, other shellfish—I’m in the food business so I think about it from that point of view.

 And also the things that eat lobsters, the things that lobsters eat—

 Of course, it’s a whole ecosystem getting disrupted.

 When was this first brought to your attention?

I’m personally not engaged in any advocacy for climate change. I have a lot of colleagues who—that’s much more in their wheelhouse, and I support the work that theyre doing. Water, energy, the environment—food is the nexus of a lot of things … I’m worried and frustrated because not everybody in the political world is as excited about this. That’s what we need, to change a lot of things. And it’s hard when you come from a state that’s pretty democratic. If I was in a purple state I might be more involved.