Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/15/19

Weather: Bright and fiercely windy

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 1 walkby, 1 map marker

Number of hecklers: 0!

People who got the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

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

Pages of notes: 4

Dogs seen: 16

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $0.15

 

Observations:

Downtown was tooling up for the Pride parade. There were lots of people wearing or carrying one-use plastic rainbow objects, which infuriated me. There was also one person wearing a rainbow clown wig that looked like it had seen a few seasons of service, and another person carrying a little made-at-home trans pride flag, both of which I found touching. Older couples and groups were nice to see.

While eight people spoke with me at length today, none of them wanted me to take notes or share the conversations (which were also not about climate change but about other concerns and strains in their lives). So I won’t.

Today also had an unusually large number of people saying that they thought the booth was cool, a great idea, etc., but not stopping.

Around 4:25, one of four white people I’d seen walking around together with a muzzled dog beckoned a cop car over to the park. That cop and two others searched a Black man with an orange-striped shirt and made him get in the car, then stayed around questioning other people. Three white women (not me) went over together to speak up for the guy they arrested, but with no success. Later, someone else told me that the dog was biting people and that the guy they arrested had tried to defend himself.

Someone wrote, “My kids’ safety” on the whiteboard map of Rhode Island, where I ask people to “put their worries on the map,” but I can’t get the picture of it off my phone. So here, instead, is a picture of a small friend of mine feeding blazing star to his shark. Let’s work together to make sure that joy, not violence, is waiting for him. Let’s work for the thriving of the plants, the sharks, and the humans.

 

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

Weather: Hot & steamy, with showers. The sun is almost unbearable.

Number of people: 3 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 2

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

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

Dogs seen: 4

Dogs pet: 3

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.25

 

Observations:

Another light-traffic day, with permission to post only one conversation. The market was slowish until about 4:15.

I also took a few shade breaks away from the booth, and may have lost some interlocutors because of that.

I recommended that a guy who thought there was “some debate about the science” start with the NOAA website.You can do this, too!

 

A conversation:

Instead of uniting us, it seems like [the President’s] trying to divide us. Whether you’re using color or economics, or because of your race—I don’t like what he’s doing with Spanish people.

Why do you think he’s doing that?

To keep our eyes off him and what he’s doing—a lot of underhanded stuff … All these kids in cages, I don’t think that’s right. They’re leaving their countries for a reason.

I also got opinions about the football players and all that. They’re just taking a stand—they have the right to say that they don’t want to stand up for the flag. These young Black men are getting killed.

 

P.S. I spoke with The Revelator about the climate anxieties counseling booth. Funnily enough, “revelator” is a role I invented for an alternate history.

Alternate History: A Just Transition

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

7/8/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Good Time to Support the Providence Community Safety Act

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

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

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

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

*

Dear [Councilmember]:

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

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

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

Sincerely,

[Your name and address]

 

Alternate Histories: 5/5, 6/13, 9/21

5/5/15

I’m always mad at people who are happy when it’s warm in winter … In person I’ll be like, “Oh, I’m a winter girl,” or “I like having seasons, I’m from New England.” On Facebook it’s good and bad, because I’m far away and I can’t see their faces, and I get angrier, but I work myself into a frenzy and either I end up writing nothing, or I write something really angry and then I try to edit it so I can actually convince somebody, and then it ends up being too weak so I don’t write anything. Especially with my family, who are on the other side of the political spectrum … They’ll use something you said when you were six against you in a conversation about climate change. It gets so emotional so quickly. Then I want to say things like, “My son!”

Like, “Don’t you want your grandchild to have a future?”

*

6/13/15

Mom: Warming in general. Typical stuff that you hear all the time. We’re connected together, so once one thing gets out of sync, the whole thing falls apart. I live in Pennsylvania, and this past winter was so cold, and a lot of people in the neighborhood suffered–they lost plants or trees. Nobody has any time to do anything. I just keep on going. But–I know how it sounds to say this, but I have faith in the next generation coming up.

Daughter: They say you’ve already screwed it for us.

Mom: Anything they tell me to do, I would do.

Daughter: We learn the limitations of humanity. In Rochester, the winter there every year is like this winter tenfold. I live up here, and this winter, we had federal emergency aid, we ran out of sand twice–if something actually catastrophic happens, we’re hosed. We’re not ready. We’re comfortable.

*

9/21/15

Talking together, B and H and K begin to do something unthinkable: they begin to change the quality of their expectations, the way they expect. It’s hard. It’s like prying up pavement: it wrecks what you had, and it hurts your whole body, and you don’t know what’s underneath. It could be useless. It could be terrible. You could die anyway.

But they are coming to understand that they will die anyway, and the parents among them, B and K, are beginning to know–know isn’t the right word, it’s like a miniature black hole in their flesh–that their children will die. That they can’t protect their children and their children can’t protect them in the way that they thought. That the spring may not come in the way that they thought, that the fall might not cool, that the heat might not fade, that the snow might not melt. And this is what they begin to say to the people they know.

Not surprisingly, the person with cancer writes back I fucking know that, and the person who police flung to the ground only two nights ago writes what do you think I think about?  But the world is changing itself and us, shifting its distribution of matter and its ways of mattering. Here, it manifests as parties, short pilgrimages, where you go outside in the season and listen to its insects and eat whatever it offers and tell it you are willing to hear its new name.  There, it shows up as a wall that doubles as a gravestone, acknowledging on the outside people who’ve already died of heat or flood or famine while on the inside sheltering, for now, people who may not die today.

The person with cancer receives their care for free, and dies quietly without much pain; there is no time to hoard, no reason to withhold. The person who traced a tattoo around the maps of their bruises knows it will be the last mark the police leave on them, because there are no more police: that’s not a good use of resources. The night watch prowls and sings, walking off their anger from the time before. Fear is a companion, the jumpy, sad companion for whom there is no permanent soothing, no lasting comfort. The world really is dangerous and life really is brief. The world really is rich, complex, fragrant, and life really is full. Whether B buries her daughter or H buries her mother (or burns her, eats her, gives her to the scavengers) their sorrow will be full, and it will be real, and they will live in it.