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.

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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.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 8/1/18

Weather: gray and clammy; then, sunshowers; then, straight-up rain; then, gray and clammy again but slightly cooler

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 11

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 3

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.70

 

Observations:

I still have to talk with other vendors about this, but it seems to me that the market is doing well this year overall—a lively and ongoing flow of vegetable-buyers.

Talked with my first climate change denier in a while today.

This is the second time at this market that I’ve been mistaken for a paranormal service worker—a palm reader or a psychic.

The woman who owns the candy store across the way very very kindly gave me a bottle of water for free, and one of the farmers very kindly added an extra tomato onto my tomato purchase.

Pause for heavy rain at 3:30.

 

Some conversations:

Being unable to do anything. I’m a news junkie. I watch and I say, “This is awful, we need to clean this thing up, we need to do something.” There seems to be something done about it with this particular administration.

So are your anxieties at the national level or—

The geopolitical level. Who’s gonna talk down that little fat guy?

Where do you get your news?

I watch both sides. Fox, CNN, NPR—I go around. I spent time in the service. Given where the rest of the world has been and was, we are the greatest country in the world, the most generous country in the world. If you have a little problem—everybody’s gonna call us. But then they’re—it’s like a teenager, you raise them, you give them everything and they’re, “Well, I didn’t ask you to do that.” Not the countries, the leaders. Let me be clear, we’ve screwed up a few things. Vietnam—we maybe should’ve done something there, but not that.

…The criticism for this administration is harsh, not only here but outside. We have this deficit in trade. We paid for the security of the entire European administration, and now they don’t want to pay. But those talks are moving forward. I’m a conservative, and I’m in favor of whatever brings those policies forward—of changing attitudes that result in changing policies. The US is the dominant player in any aspect of society. Whether that’s something that should be—if these countries had paid off their share, maybe it wouldn’t be.

So you actually seem satisfied with what’s going on right now.

[Gestures at my sign] I’m in therapy! It ain’t done yet, but I’m under treatment if you will. I’ve gone to the doctor.

How do you feel like you can contribute to what you want to see?

My contribution would be to continue to vote to put the underpinnings, such as Congress, put those same policies into effect. It seems like a little thing, but overall, I’m taking it where I want it to be. You asked me what I was worried about, not whether I knew what to do about it.

[I give him a card to take with him and explain what the EJ League—where the donations go—does.]

See, now, that’s real, that’s not up in the sky. The arrogance of human beings thinking they’re gonna take on God. He’s gonna take care of us. … You gotta get out of yourself and look around a little bit.

*

We know it is our fault. We have been blessed with a planet, we know it, but we’re savage—we don’t know how to share. We should start to be humans. I wish that all of us would combine, ’cause we strong. I just hate the fact that—I think about that boy that died, how people came together. Why can’t we do that just because? Why does it have to be after a death? I am not too proud of my kind. ‘Cause it hurt. I’m part of it, you part of it too.

… Deep inside of me I know I’m not doing as much as I should. People say God is coming—I just hope one day we learn how to be humans and live together… Everything has a purpose. My mother had a parrot fish. He played with my mother, he noticed her, he followed my mother in his tank. He was her world, he was her baby. What makes you think because it doesn’t have language–I’m not a veggie, I try, my kids try. They saw a video of a cow getting killed. And I’m also part of that. It hurts. Trees, just because you can’t talk to them—they’re breathing things, they grow.

*

I’m worried about things not changing fast enough. We’re at a point in a lot of ways—not just with the climate, but in the political landscape, the social landscape, people who are marginalized—where change can’t come fast enough. What is it they say, two steps forward, one step back? One step forward, two steps back? It’s an interesting time to be alive—I wonder what a child growing up now feels like.

You’re not that old, you’re probably going to be around for a while. What does it feel like to you?

It feels like we have a lot of work to do. I’m a new medical resident at [HOSPITAL] and I work with families having a hard time, parents who maybe don’t know how to manage in the best ways, and try to hold space for them in a way that requires empathy and patience and emotional labor from me.

How do you take care of yourself in that?

Therapy, I see a therapist. And finding like-minded people and finding support among allies.

*

[This person also spoke with me on July 11th.]

I’m so happy I’m eating a tomato! I’m not sure if I’ve really thought one way or the other about what we talked about last time, not explicitly in terms of climate change. But I’ve really been enjoying summer and the natural parts—eating this tomato, going to the beach—but it’s tinged with a little bit of “I might not get to do this forever.” I’m working with [someone who’s studying] hospice, and there’s a similar mindset with an old relative. The psychology of hospice is, “It’s done.” I don’t necessarily think it’s the same. It’s natural that our individual lives end, but this isn’t natural. But then I think if there’s someone really young who has cancer—you can’t totally use the analogy because then it’s like we’re giving up. But there are parallels in terms of mourning.

*

Lots of kids drew on the “Put Your Worries on the Map” map today. You can see the thumb of one of them here, pointing at their art.

map 8-1-18

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Sowing Place, 7/7/18

Weather: Bright, breezy, feels almost cool compared to the past week

Number of people: 7 stoppers, no walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

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

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island: $0.15

 

Observations:

There weren’t a lot of vendors when I got there. Two came later.

Nonhuman animals: seagulls and pigeons overhead; bumblebees, cabbage white butterflies and a black swallowtail (?! I think) in the South Side Cultural Center’s flower garden.

Normally, I don’t include much of what I say in these conversations. But I had one on this day where I clarified something that a lot of people who talk to me seem unclear about, so I’m including the part of the conversation that has both the explanation and why I think it matters.

 

Some conversations:

I’m concerned about my grandson. When I went to pick him up from daycare, they told me he’s been play-fighting too much. We’re trying to help him learn to make good choices for himself, limiting TV time and time with the phone. And part of the problem is the daycare isn’t an exciting environment. He’s bored. There’s too much reading and sitting still for him, not enough playing … I’m the grandma, so I get him once a week. He wants to fight me! He’s getting bigger, so his punches hurt now. We used to play-fight, but now he doesn’t know his own strength. I wonder if that’s part of why—and then sometimes he goes to his dad’s, and that’s an uncontrollable environment. We just have to keep communication going with both his parents, and be diligent about getting results. I know he’s bored … And he’s good at school, he just needs an outlet.

(I give her a card with “small cranberry” on it.)

Oh, I know cranberries, I grew up on the Cape. I know the cranberry bogs. We used to skate on them, because they flood them in winter, and you’re not gonna fall through, ’cause where you gonna go? We used to try to cut through the bog to other places, but we’d get in trouble for that ’cause we’d be smashing the cranberries. We’re cranberry people. My family worked for Ocean Spray.

*

Why are people not more concerned about long-term change?

Do you have an opinion about it yourself?

Because people are built to live on a day-by-day basis.

*

It’s so pressing, it’s so stressful. I don’t know a lot of the science behind it, but it’s just so apparent—I don’t know how people can still be in denial about it. Look at Puerto Rico—what do you mean, this has nothing to do with what humans are doing? I think it has to happen to these people—the water has to rise up to their doorstep. If it’s not an issue for them, it’s not an issue. Just here in Providence, it’s gonna hit the more affluent parts, but there’s only so much further they can go. And people living in the West End—it’s not like they can go to the next town over—when you come in and take their land because you can? Right now they know that they’ll be fine, because they have the means to put their house on stilts or move somewhere else. Or Seattle’s banning plastic straws, which is great, but it has a lot of issues—you have people who use plastic straws, but then you have huge industries taking up so much. It’s like saying that people are poor because they get Dunkin’ Donuts every week, like there are no systemic issues keeping people poor. And there are folks with disabilities who need to use plastic straws.

Also like—here we are talking about plastic, and a lot of people come talking to me about that, but do you know the connection between plastic and climate change?

No, I don’t.

I can tell you if you want to know, but my point is that we’re all walking around putting these things together but we don’t necessarily know how they’re tied together. I do it too. Do you want to know?

Yeah.

So there are two things: the first thing is that plastic is made out of oil, petroleum, and all the work of extracting and making it uses fossil fuels. And the second way is that when plastic sits around in the ecosystem, it puts a strain on that ecosystem that’s already strained by climate change.

[This person had to go do something else and another person came up and spoke to me (I didn’t get permission to post that); later we resumed our conversation.]

So the plastic bag ban—that’s kind of regressive too, particularly with low-income communities. I definitely don’t want to be that person that’s like, “Every idea is bad,” but—and it’s not something that gets brought up in these conversations. It’s like, “Oh, we banned plastic bags and plastic straws but a coal lobbyist is the new head of the EPA.”

How do you think the conversation could go, or should go?

I guess it would be like: how are you going to address—for every initiative that you do, what are you going to do to change the structures that created a lot of these environmental damages? And the other thing is, what are you going to do to prepare communities that will be of course impacted? … In DC they also have a bag ban, where you pay a fee but they take it and they let you choose an organization to donate to, so it’s not perfect but maybe it’s better?

Yeah, especially if it’s an organization that benefits communities that might be strained by the ban, maybe? What about in the work that you do, where could you see these things happening?

At [WORKPLACE] it’s pretty easy. Like we were applying for a grant, and one of the questions was, “What are the green components of your work?” So I did some research on food transportation, and it made me actually think about it—it turns out food transportation takes up so much energy. But when I think about my other job … I can’t really think of a way that we could incorporate being green in what we do.

*

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: I guess I feel like there’s a downward spiral. As the heat rises, more energy is used in cooling. If we’re not generating that electricity in a sustainable way– I read that they’re trying out Syrian strains of wheat because they’re supposed to be more fly-resistant. They’re from this seed vault in Aleppo. It’s because flies are a much severer problem in the Midwest. But destabilizing our food raising regions is scary and weird. For a while, sure, but when it’s the Sahara, you’re not growing anything.

Person 2: Are you gonna forgo capitalism entirely? And if not, where are you gonna make your changes and set your boundaries? As long as you’re participating in capitalism, it’s a ripple-wave effect.

map 7-7-18

Today, kids decorated the map of Rhode Island with pictures of an angry monster and a more cheerful-looking monster.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 6/27/18

Weather: Hazy, windy, heavy; later cooler and grayer

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 1 walkby

Pages of notes: 10.5

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 1

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.05

 

Observations:

I was in a different spot today, closer to Elmwood Avenue and next to the food. Unclear whether it was helpful in getting people’s attention, but I felt more visible. Thanks to Julius and Greg and everybody else for lending me the shopping cart to hold up the map in the wind.

I had company for the first hour, a former student of mine who’s interested in “learning the business.”

Someone mowed the lawn since last time and the clover is dull and dry. I saw one wasp, and an interlocutor spotted (as it were) one ladybug.

People continue to sort of…blur together…“climate” and “environment.” I can sort of see why that’s happening but I haven’t figured out how to reset it or if that’s my job.

I made some efforts to connect interlocutors with opportunities to work in concert with their neighbors today. Don’t know if they’ll come to anything.

 

Some conversations:

We can’t stop it—no, we can maintain it now that they wrecked it. It’s like that Billy Joel song. … We need to educate—I don’t think a lot of people know, we have to educate them. And people have to stop listening to this news, that news, and start listening to the earth. Feel the grass—why is this part mushy, why is this part dry? Get to know it! When I visited Thailand, everyone actually talked about the earth. There was recycling on every corner. Every foreign place I went to. We’re the last ones, do you know how sad that is?

… Knowledge is power. Research things yourself, and compare. Nobody does research anymore. Don’t just be like, “Google, what is…” Go out and do it yourself. You cannot change earth, you can’t fix it—no, you can fix it. Look at the ozone, it came down. It may not be quick. No, you can’t fix earth, but you can heal it.

*

Mostly stuff that I try not to think about. I took an environmental science class in 10th grade, and somehow I got the idea that all these policies seemed really clear. Like scrubbers in factories—if that’s implemented, that can fix everything. Then I went into college and literally a few weeks into college, I took this anthropology course, and what I took away from it is that everything is much more complicated. And that applies to climate as well: there’s not one thing that could happen that would change everything. It’s nature, and people are interacting with it in crazy wonky ways—for their own comfort, with gas and air conditioning and stuff, and then also trying to survive and have people here way beyond the time that we’re here. It’s hard to ask people to change their ways. Even just doing a fundraiser. You’re asking people to give up their comforts and a certain worldview, and I just don’t see that that’s gonna happen.

Okay, so, how do you feel when you think about that?

It really, really terrifies me. …It’s kind of discouraging to think that if all of us changed our everyday ways, there are also bigger things that are preventing action in terms of climate change. That’s not to say that I’m just going to give up, but…

What are some of the bigger things?

They’re almost nebulous to me. Things that happen in the seedy underworld of whatever we eat at the grocery store—the sense that there’s something bad out there but I don’t know what I can do about it, or if there’s anything I can do about it. It’s hard to see how being against something collectively can do anything—I wish there could be an alternative solution.

Have you looked? 

I’ve just been in this nebulous state of everything is really complicated and I’m scared.

Do you have a sense of what the qualities of an alternative solution would be, like what would it have in it?

Working against climate change or whatever we’re putting out into the world. Something to collectively change the mindset of people to think beyond themselves…All our actions seem so contradictory. People will go to their environmental science class, then they’ll stay in someone’s room till late and then say, “Let’s go to Wendy’s.” I’ve become kind of discouraged in a way—I’ll say, “No, I’m not going,” but now I’m in this weird space where I’m just sad. … It seems like whatever policy is implemented is harmful to somebody.

Okay, well, if that’s the case, who do we want to suffer?

I just don’t like the idea of suffering at all. I’m not really in-your-face to anybody. I’ve been in these communities where people have no idea. It almost seems unfair to be like, “Fuck you, you can take this.” They can’t fathom how much harm they might be causing.

Well, you changed your thinking about it. How did you do that?

Without an academic setting, I guess it was family and friends caring about stuff. And personal connections are important for me and everything, but people are too afraid to talk about politics at the dinner table . Especially if they’re older than you—in Korean you even use a different tense to talk to people who are older than you, and even though I consider myself Korean-American, that part of it stays alive in me. … As someone who doesn’t want to be confrontational, this is a hard thing to be passionate about.

*

I just got a text saying that Anthony Kennedy is retiring. For another generation, we’re gonna have conservative justices. There’s already the abortion thing–and then also, climate change. My dad lives right on the water and I worry about him in hurricane season. He has good windows and everything—I saw another house down the street that looked close to falling down. He’s 82. I was gonna volunteer somewhere—I was looking at Dorcas, I’ve done library ESL classes, and then on the East Side I was looking at The Providence Village, for elderly people who want to stay in their homes. I want to volunteer, but I also need to make some money. I live near [the market] but I don’t feel connected to people around here.

*

I know it’s gonna happen and I know it’s gonna hit the poor the worst, the first. We have enough people to respond in these crises. My hope is that fear isn’t gonna come down—from the state, from the military—before we create the organic structures that’ll help us through. We’re the power. We’ve been convinced by these others, by the state primarily, that it’s the opposite. This is where change is gonna come from. But when the power structure gets challenged it always rears its ugly head. When the “wonderful” structures that globalization and militarization have given us fall apart, I hope we have enough of a running start to help others so they don’t get picked off.

Where do you see examples of this kind of running start?

[Points at the Southside Community Land Trust tables] Growing in our yards! The integration of white activist culture with the [strengths] of different populations here in the West Broadway and West Elmwood neighborhoods. I don’t think it would be very hard to transplant that* to the Cape Verdean Association, have them disseminate it to all their population. I think in these types of cultural pockets, people have working community where a lot of white neighborhoods don’t. Everybody has more capacity because you know who has strengths and who has needs.

*I wasn’t totally clear on what the “that” was here and neglected to follow up.

*

War. I’m so scared to go to war. I’m thinking about our country going to war, about these kids out here going to war with each other—they send a bullet through my store—the smallest war to the biggest war.

*

Year over year, I think my own pending mortality becomes closer. My anxiety about the environment is replaced by my own fears about the afterlife. The way I have to give it all up. It’s a cruel joke. Mother Nature allows us to be parasites and enjoy it all, but at the end you gotta give.

Has thinking about this changed the way you try to live your life?

I try to be present. Take a cue from the animals that live long, the turtles—they stay pretty cool. Try to slow time through meditation. Just be. I enjoy the rain a little more, getting caught in the rain. Of all the souls that are out there, you got to be a person for a little under a hundred years. Eat good, drink good, live good—and you still gotta make room for all the other ones. Did you see Annihilation?

Yeah, I did. I really love the book.

We rub off on the things around us and those things rub off on us. You remember, out of the four of them, one wanted to kill it, one was scared of it, and there was the one that just wanted to be a part of it. Like cancer, the beauty of things that grow. You see a beautiful yellow flower and you like it, but then if there’s a beautiful yellow flower growing inside of us—it was meant to grow. It’s just our perspective.

… That’s why these rich guys get into politics—they’ve made all their money, and they’re like, “I’m still gonna die.” … People are scared, they try to get control. People that aren’t scared, they’re comfortable with their situation—they’ve seen things happen enough times that they know things are gonna be okay. But scared people need to feel some control. These garages I rent out for storage, I’m in the storage business, and it’s all about people not being able to recognize their mistakes. Rather than recognize it and get rid of it, they keep it—everything they put in storage is an attempt for them to push off recognition for their mistake. “Oh, I never needed it, I just bought it for the feeling,” but they pay for storage until they reach that.

…[When you change your life], it’s different because you don’t know that the next thing is gonna be the right thing. With what you’re doing now, you lose a little bit, but if you change you could lose a lot.

 

*

 

What do we do about it? Once the climate is like polluted, it’s like the water—when they polluted the water, like the oil where all the birds died. But it takes a lot of people to do that work for the climate. It takes more than one person. … People don’t care about that and then they wonder why everything’s so dirty. A lot of people gotta get involved.

[After making a circuit of the vendors and coming back] They don’t have that much at the market today. Last year they had a better selection.

I’ve been hearing people say it’s a bad season.

That’s the climate, that’s global warming. The strawberries are not growing right…a lot of things.

map 6-27-18

On the map of worries, people have written:

Fair Housing

air pollution

Equal Rights

clean water

THE POOREST AMONG US

Bird sanctuary

My family’s house in a future flood zone

Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market! Rally to End Family Separation!

I’m holding climate anxiety counseling sessions at the Sankofa World Market outside Knight Memorial Library (275 Elmwood Ave, Providence) starting tomorrow (Wednesday, 6/20), and Wednesdays thereafter with a couple of exceptions, 2-6pm.

Tomorrow is the market kickoff, and there will be extra music, activities for kids, and more, as well as vegetables and crafts from local vendors. Cash, SNAP/EBT, WIC, and credit/debit cards are all spendable at the market (it’s free to be there, this is just if you want to buy food or objects), and SNAP users receive a dollar-for-dollar bonus for fruits and vegetables–a fantastic deal!

Before you come and see me at the market, I encourage you to rally at the Rhode Island Statehouse to call for the end of ICE’s cruel, punitive, racist and traumatizing practice of family separation. If you’ve been reading this particular news with horror, this is a chance to speak up. Bring a child’s toy for visual impact. (Other states have issued state orders blocking the use of any state funds for this practice, and/or refused to send their National Guard troops to the border. Rhode Island should do this too.)

Then come to the market and celebrate Providence’s lively and strong community, and support the people of all origins who make it so.

 

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market, 7/26/17

Weather: Hot (but not crushingly so) and bright, with a small breeze

Number of people: 10 stoppers, no walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7.5

Pictures taken with permission: 1

People who recognized me, and I them, from a previous session: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.20

 

Observations:

I think I’ve figured out a good sunbrella configuration.

More people overall were shopping at the market today than during the previous weeks I’ve been there.

They mowed the library lawn and the clover, which was alive with honeybees last week, is gone. I saw one wasp butting against a dried flowerhead.

I still need to be better about switching from listening/questioning mode to talking/advice mode—I did it too soon twice today.

At one point, a giant bus with a graffiti painting on the side including “Powered by Youth, Run on Veggie Oil” pulled up and about 15 kids and a few adults got out. A couple of them did come over to talk with me, and many more clustered around to listen to one of the ones who was talking.

In the last conversation, I was out of my depth.

 

Some conversations:

I’ve been thinking about you! I saw you what, two years ago? My life has changed. My brother moved out, so now upstairs is my mom, my boyfriend and me, and downstairs is my sister and her kids, and it’s so much better, because we all have enough space. Now whenever I meet someone who’s going through it, the first question I ask is, “Do you have enough space?” I was ready to push my brother down the stairs and be like, “And don’t come back.”

*

My long beans are not growing this year. I’ve noticed this summer has not been as hot, but there’s extreme hot, like the last few days, and drastic cold. Last year there were so many veggies, but this year things aren’t growing.

*

 

 

I live by the bay and [the stretch where I live] is entirely controlled by Johnson and Wales. We can only go in the summertime. And the JWU students are destroying it, they eat there and then just dump everything on the ground. The blunt wrappers, I’ve seen so many blunt wrappers–When I first moved in, I saw our other neighbors picking up trash, and that’s how I started picking up trash. And now we can only go in during the summer. During the [year] we cannot get in there—and there’s an actual walkway, a state-run greenway … But the students are ruining that place.

*

A lot of the climate stuff I think about is more around food. I totally feel like I hear this all the time, talking to farmers, thinking about the resiliency of—things that people have done for years, start times for things, things that used to be indicators are now out the window. We haven’t gotten to the point where frost dates have shifted, but moisture, temperature, that’s where we’re seeing it, especially people who’ve been doing it for a while. It’s not even “a good season”, it’s just there’s no predictability. … Clearly there are always fluctuations in weather, but when it gets warm and a tree is starting to bud and then it freezes—a late frost will just wipe out the buds.

How do you see farmers reacting to this, are they just like, “We’re going to try to pull out of this in five years,” or are they like, “We’re going to try to figure out how this works…”

I don’t see that community being like, “Throw in the towel.” What’s hard is it affects—you try to look for patterns, but patterns are harder to see now. And for example, if there’s a warm winter, then pest pressure next year is much higher because they didn’t get killed off. How do you adapt to this? There are a good number of plants that can adapt to relative extremes, but they’re still gonna show signs of stress. I guess there’s the human comparison: yeah, we can tolerate it, but there’s these stresses, and at some point you’re gonna start to see shifts. There’s already been some talk of [growing] zones shifting, and then also we could see invasive [species] that [currently] can’t survive in New England—The plant profile will change. There’ll be stressors, and then at some point certain things won’t bounce back or won’t be able to survive in this microclimate. That, to me, is always the interesting one—you can say it’s “natural evolution,” but what’s hard is, it is not exactly a natural transition. It’s much more of a shock transition.

*

Oh, I’m anxious about everything today really. I just have to stop paying so much attention to the news. Today I’m anxious about transgender rights in the military. I heard an interview with this woman, she’d been in for 18 years, she was a staff sergeant. That’s her whole career. It’s tragic on a personal level but also for morale, for the people in the military who feel that they themselves could be the next target. It could be any group, anything. My dad was a military officer, a decorated pilot in the Second World War, so I grew up in that whole atmosphere. But you can’t let it ruin your day. There isn’t much I can do about it.*

… [My dog] Lucy has end-stage heart disease, and her medicine is so expensive. It’s been the best year of my life, having this incredible animal. I had to go all the way to Massachusetts today for her medicine—touring the countryside for dog medication.

*Doctor’s note: I wrote out a version of the list in this thread for her.

*

Education and school. They give us too much work, there’s too much pressure. They want us to get all As.

Why do they say they want that? I mean, why do they say that’s important?

They say, “Oh, if you don’t do this you gonna be like the people on Broad Street.”

They say that?

They don’t say that, but that’s what it sounds like. “Oh, you’re not gonna be anything, you’re never gonna succeed. Oh, you’re not gonna go nowhere in life.” It’s not me, they say it to other people. But they don’t know what’s going on in their daily lives.

*

My parents dying. Growing up, me and my parents don’t get along, and now I’m starting to get along with them, and I start thinking about how they’re not gonna be here. How when I need someone to talk to, they won’t be there. I have anxiety and I have depression, and I get panic attacks. Once in a while I try to commit suicide.

Do you know what brings the panic attacks on?

It just comes. I freeze and I just start crying, then I randomly just start laughing, like a crazy person. Then after it passes, I take deep breaths and listen to some music and just stay there, just frozen. And just thinking.

Do you see a counselor?

I went to the Providence Center, but they had no interpreter. I like to talk in both Spanish and English. I went to the guidance counselor at school, and they took me to the vice-principal and he said he would try to get me a therapist for the fall.

That’s great. Is this something you would tell your parents about or do you want to keep it private?

I keep it private. I only have two or three friends who try to keep me calm … I call my friend, and he breathes with me and talks with me. What I like about him is that he listens and he tries to help the best way he can. Not a lot of people would do that, they would talk about it. He keeps it to his self.

Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market, 7/12/17

Weather: Started out sunny and hot with sporadic showers, then POURED

Number of people: 3 stoppers, 0 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.00

 

Observations:

As in previous years, I don’t get as many walkby comments at the market as I do in Kennedy Plaza. If people are going to interact, they stop. At the market, I also look more like the things around me—other people have tables, signs, etc.–so I’m less of a visual surprise and it’s easier to just kind of skip over me.

Also, nobody (other than the vendors) has to be at the market, so the total number of people around tends to be smaller. This was especially true today, when the torrential rain kept a lot of people away (and made most of the vendors pack up early) …

… but I didn’t even care because the vendor next to me allowed me to hold her 9-month-old, and I sang to him while she went to buy some sweet potato greens, and he fell asleep in my arms.

Should I start asking people what they think they’ll take away from the conversation? I did that today, but it was with someone I know.

 

Some conversations:

I used to, but then I got over it.

*

Because it’s long-term, I think we miscalculate the impacts of some of these things. We tend to deescalate some pretty seismic shifts—famine and disease and resource wars. But it seems so distant still. I think we minimize and don’t face hard or tough decisions: “If I stash this away, it won’t affect me.” …

Do you picture it?

I can picture a couple neighborhoods in Providence flooding, a couple neighborhoods in Chicago. There are those days in winter where it’s unseasonably warm. I don’t really think about changes to crop rotations, food supplies.

You clearly know about them, though. What’s the difference between knowing about them and thinking about them?

I’m really disconnected on average from where my food comes from. I know that data is out there, but it hasn’t been in front of my face. I don’t see that information about how this is gonna change how we raise crops. And even things that people don’t think of—terrorism and terrorism recruitment. I’m pro-refugee, but an increased refugee crisis …

I did debate in high school and college, and climate change was the basis for lots of arguments about issues that are gonna come up. The recent EPA secretary is atrocious. After Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreements, I know all these mayors and governors have gotten together, and it’s defnitely endearing but it might be too little too late, sad to say.

Is it? I mean, are you sad about it?

Maybe sad is the wrong word for me to use. Disappointing wouldn’t be right either. But it’s-we’re all on this globe together. You’d think we could agree to—not “save the planet” but at least work to make it habitable. Like, what are we really here for?

*

I work in forests and forestry, so I think that’s something that can help be part of the answer. I work with the Rhode Island Woodland Partnership, so we work with professionals and woodland owners on land conservation, recreation, water supply. Forests can be a source of oxygen, they can counter heat islands. We just put out a position statement on the value that the forest brings [to the state]. Rhode Island is the Ocean State, but we’re still 50% forested, and we want that to be at the table along with coastal communities and energy.

Is it okay to put this up online?

We have a website that expresses it more eloquently than I can do right now. It’d be great if you could link to that.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/28/17

Weather: Warm, bright, breezy

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 10

Peanuts references: 1

People who recognized me, and I them, from previous years: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.25

 

Observations:

I need to be more mindful of and purposeful about power dynamics in the questions I ask and the possibilities I raise—both between me and the person I’m talking with, and between the person I’m talking with and other people in the situation. I had a conversation today about a bad situation where I don’t think I made anything worse, but I missed the chance to point out a power dynamic that—if the person I was talking to recognized it—could’ve made things less worse for someone who wasn’t there. (I know that’s vague—I didn’t get permission to post this one. But I think making it vague is also good because it can help me to remember to apply it to other situations.)

Today was really busy, especially toward the beginning. I don’t know why, except that it was beautiful out. Because of the busy-ness, I didn’t notice much in the way of police activity, other than seeing two police cards parked at the Dorrance St. end of the park as I was leaving.

One person who spoke to me was really happy about the restoration of free bus passes for elderly and disabled people, and gave me detailed instructions for how to get one if you’re eligible and don’t have one. I want to check these and make sure they don’t leave anything out before posting them here, but I will post them in case any of you knows someone who could use one.

 

Some conversations:

I’m not anxious about climate change because I feel like it’s pretty inevitable. There’s nothing we can—well, there’s some things we can do, but there are so many people contributing to it, you can’t change everyone’s mind. I don’t get anxious about death. I’ve come to grips with the idea that everybody dies. If you’re just worrying about death all the time it’ll prevent you from living. But what I am anxious about is the everyday struggle of getting through life, working your life away in order to get somewhere.

Where is that somewhere, for you?

To live in a home and know that my work fully covers my expenses. Not living paycheck-to-paycheck in order to support myself. I’m not talking about a luxury home, I’m talking about a one-bedroom apartment and being able to eat, what everybody has—well, not everybody.

What everybody needs, anyway, and some people don’t have that, and some people have way more than that.

My own father is an example. He makes over a hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year, and he wouldn’t let his own son live with him. He was scared that my mom would start coming around to his house.

Do you take care of her?

No. If she needs food, I’ll buy my mom and my siblings food, I’m not gonna let them go hungry. But I don’t support her. But my dad still didn’t allow me to stay in the house because I have contact with her. I even offered to pay my own rent … He works very hard, sixty hours a week. So I got the hardworking side from him, but other than that, I haven’t really gotten anything from having him as a dad. All he does is work and money’s more important to him than family. He takes one day off a week, and I maybe talk to him once a month. He asks how I’m doing, and I tell him I’m able to get by and that’s about it.The funny thing is, he’s in counseling for that stuff—to be able to connect with people, especially people dealing with drug abuse. My older brother’s an addict. [My father] took classes to try to change himself, but it did nothing. He looks like a stone brick all the time, he always acts the same. My grandfather was an alcoholic, and he didn’t give my father any love or any attention, so he doesn’t know how to give it himself.

Do you feel like you’ve been able to give love to the people in your life?

Yes. I have the example of my mom. She doesn’t have much but she’s always able to give with her heart. Then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum with my dad. I think I’ve learned a happy medium.

*

I work in the [REDACTED] library, and there’s a guy who comes in who’s majoring in something to try to make [climate change] better. Sometimes he comes in and we look at each other, and we don’t really speak but we know each other’s thoughts. A lot of people don’t even really want to talk about it, because what are you gonna do? I mean, there’s a lot to do but there’s so much, it’s overwhelming. We need specific ideas for specific things to do… And there’s another issue I have, well, there’s so many issues, but some people don’t have hope for their own life. So what are we doing asking them to have hope for the future? You need some hope, some connection to family—they need to associate some kind of hope for the future, for the earth, because a lot of people don’t even have hope for today. How do you get somebody out of where they’re at right now?

…And then like, let’s say I have something to recycle, and it’s dirty. Do I waste the water to clean this can, or what do I do? It’s a lot, man. I think people do want to work for a better world…the way we’re living, it’s just not a sustainable thing. We will die if something doesn’t change. That’s a fact, and we know, and we look at the [can’t read it]. You go down here and try to breathe, it’s not good air. I didn’t want to breathe down here! Do I bring my daughter down here? And I think about how life expectancy in my family isn’t that high. What is it in the water, in the air, that’s making us die so soon?

*

I’m worried about my hip.

Are you gonna get surgery on it?

I’m debating on that, but I think I’m too old. I’m 68. And I can get along, but if I do that surgery, a whole hip replacement, I might not be able to get around at all. I don’t want to be confined.

Does it give you a lot of pain?

No, no. Only in the bad weather, you know when it’s bad weather—I can tell when a storm’s coming. I got my cane, but I never shoulda picked up this cane, now I can’t get along without it. I don’t wanna get stuck down here with no way to get home.

*

My family’s in the construction business. And I have a problem, because the company is an asphalt company and asphalt is a petroleum product, there’s gonna be runoff, it does damage. But it’s money, and you gotta live. And I love trucks, I wanna buy them and drive them. But I feel guilty. When I charge my phone, I feel guilty. But you need it, it’s a necessity, but when I charge my phone I’m like, I’m fucking it up. I’m actually thinking about changing my career, being an electrician and doing solar panels. It’d be easier on me, but you can’t make as much as fast… But everything always has some type of negative outcomes.

I think a lot of the time that’s true, the way things are set up it’s hard to do anything without doing some damage. So sometimes I ask people: what could you to do sustain and help the natural world and the natural systems that you depend on?

Swallow your pride. It’s demeaning to be a guy ’cause you’re brought up—you don’t just have to pay for dinner, you have to pick her up in a truck. I take the bus ’cause the bus is easy, but [can’t read my own writing] for a guy in a Prius, compared to a lifted Chevy. If you play video games, it’s not enough to just get the Xbox, you have to buy all the new things that come with the games. We have too many accessories … Nobody wants to live in a big apartment building, they want the white picket fence, the two-car garage, I know ’cause I want it too.

*

I basically talked to you [last year] during the peak of my veganism. I’ve calmed down quite a bit. There’s definitely a lot of things about climate change that aren’t being addressed and need to be talked about. I’ve traveled the world this year. I went to Albania for a school project … on the Vjosa River, the last undammed river in Europe. There’s like four thousand species of plants that grow along this river and 250 of them are found nowhere else. The natural beauty was healing.

Do the people there feel proud of it?

They do, but they also take it for granted. We took a ferry ride through a gorge, and all the tourists were outside taking pictures, and all the Albanians were inside, they were commuting to go to work. The government wanted to put a dam on the river and this organization, Eco Albania, was like, People’s lives depend on this river in its natural free-flowing state. They fought against it and they won.* There are no dams on the river. They work harder than anyone I’ve ever encountered. I’m studying biomedical engineering and after I pay off an enormous amount of loans I want to go into nonprofit work and feel like my work matters.

*They may have another fight on their hands.

*

 

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: Yesterday there was supposed to be a hailstorm. Last night there was this dark cloud, the sky went from pink to black. There was all this thunder and lightning. There’s mudslides and tornadoes–

Person 2: Those gaping holes, sinkholes–

Person 1: It gives me anxieties. And the water in Pawtucket is disgusting. My friend drank the water and he threw up for 45 minutes. The air quality, if the water is like that, what’s the air like? Kids, asthma. … In 10-20 years our weather’s gonna be like Florida. There’s gonna be a lot more water everywhere. It’s gonna rise up. It is scary.

What do you do when you feel that scared feeling?

I just act like it’s not gonna happen to me. That’s the only way I can get out of it. My safety is at risk, but it’s not gonna happen to me. Oh, it’s gonna happen somewhere else.