Racial Justice and the Climate Movement: an opportunity for learning

As more and more people recognize the need to respond to climate change with multiple forms of action and transformation, we need more tools for working together in a way that doesn’t replicate unjust power structures, but undoes them within as well as outside our activities. If you live in Rhode Island or can easily get here, here is a way to start doing that! It requires some time but is free in money. I’m going to do it and maybe you would like to do it also, especially if you’re part of an environmental or climate organization whose members are mostly white! Sign up here by September 19th for the dialogues described below.

“Join White Noise Collective, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) RI, No LNG in PVD and the FANG Collective for a dialogue series on understanding racism in the climate movement. This 5-part dialogue series is designed to support white climate justice activists and other white co-conspirators in the Rhode Island area in making connections between climate justice and racial justice and how to incorporate anti-oppression into our movements and organizations. Participants will commit to 4 three-hour sessions and will be guided through readings, exercises, and dialogue to reflect on the ways that white supremacy and other forms of oppression show up in our culture, organizations, relationships and within ourselves.

Some of the topics discussed will include: white supremacy culture and how it impacts our organizations, how non-native people can show up in solidarity with indigenous movements and leadership, accountability with front-line communities, Jemez Principles, Green New Deal, and strategies for shifting organizing culture to address oppression when it shows up.

We use these dialogue spaces to develop greater self-awareness, literacy, and accountability in order to show up with more integrity to the movement work in which each of us is involved. We also investigate larger patterns and systems of racism including white supremacy culture, intersections of race, class, and gender, and practices of allyship.”

Again, registration is here, along with dates and locations, descriptions of the organizations leading the dialogues, some core values, and some opportunities to request particular topics of discussion.

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

Weather: Cloudy and muggy at the start, shifting between that and sunny.

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 2 walkbys.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

People who got the Peanuts reference despite the “doctor” part of the sign being gone: 2

People who asked me for Xanax despite the “doctor” part of the sign being gone: 1

Pictures taken with permission: 1.5

Pictures taken without permission: 0.5

Conversations between strangers: 2

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $11.07!

 

Observations:

I either never knew or have forgotten when “catching a passerby’s eye” crosses over into “creepily staring.” Anyway, I don’t think I have the balance right.

No visible cops or cop vehicles at the beginning of my shift. I noticed one on the park side at 3:30, leaving at 3:55, and another by the Greyhound stop around 4.

Had a couple conversations today that I’m kind of bummed I didn’t get permission to post.

 

Some conversations:

Winters no longer start. I used to go trick or treating with my kids, there would be snow on the ground in October. Now it doesn’t snow till February. We don’t have spring anymore—you know, how you think of three months slowly coming into summer. We just have winter and summer, and for winter you just get one giant snowstorm. It’s a really tight time frame—you remember that blizzard we had, it didn’t come till February and then it came and it came and it came. I do notice it, and it’s bizarre. In the fall, the foliage comes and goes very fast. It used to be you could pick a weekend, go and look at it. Now the window is so short you can’t enjoy it anymore.

My sisters live in Tennessee and Georgia, and they got snow, their first snow in twelve years. Nobody has a shovel—my sister had to have a shovel sent to her in Tennessee. But what do you do? I try to be minimalistic and not even make trash. But I don’t know what to do. I’m one person. This planet is huge—what can you do in little Rhode Island, the most politically and financially corrupt state?

*

Plants are our brothers … Trees, plants, climate. Every animal has the same type of organ basis as a human. If you scrape your knee, it scabs up, and that’s like the bark of the tree, it’s a scab protecting what’s inside from foul stuff in the atmosphere. Plants are living just like us …

So with all of these relationships in mind, how can we take care of them? Show our gratitude?

By respecting their time. A plant has a flowering time and a bedding time. Respect them like a human—but people don’t really respect humans that well. People are confused, it makes them judgmental, it leads to favoritism.

How do we move away from that?

Openmindedness. I think it just needs generations of time. People from older times are still stuck in their ways. You’ll hear somebody old say some racist stuff, it’s because they lived by it. The next generation gets to choose whether they follow that. But if you have a family that’s wealthy, people are gonna have to choose whether to agree with them and take the money, or argue with them. People would rather do the wrong thing and get value for it. Doing the wrong thing is easy in every aspect of life, it’s doing the right thing that’s hard.

map 6-6-19

[Image: Somewhat impressionistic map of Rhode Island, made out of tape on a dry-erase board. It says, “Put your worries on the map,” and “Is there a place in Rhode Island you’d like to protect?” Today, people added “The Neighborhoods” in the vicinity of Providence, and a ZIP code, “02840.”]

 

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.

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.

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: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 6/20/18

Weather: blue blue sky, veils of cloud giving way to hot direct sun

Number of people: 5 stoppers, no walkbys [? check]

Pages of notes: 4

People I’ve seen before, back for more: 1

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 2 (this is the correct ratio)

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.71 plus a penny from Guyana

 

Observations:

This was the first instance of this market this season. I left halfway through to go to the rally for immigrant families, and when I left the crowd was just picking up.

I invited vendors to come and mark the map.

Nonhuman animal presences: brown cowbird, chimney swift, sparrow, bumblebee, honeybee, cabbage white butterfly.

Four kids whom I recognized from last summer at this site came to the market, but didn’t stop and talk with me.

I forgot the goddamn fucking Narcan and talked with one person who could potentially have used it, and I was supposed to have made a plan with a Spanish-English interpreter by this day, and there was at least one and possibly two people who would have been able to talk with me if I’d gotten it together.

 

Some conversations:

[After marking “affordable housing” on the map] With Boston moving down here, we’re moving in the direction of all this urban sprawl, but the pay doesn’t increase here. Ten to twelve dollars an hour is not a living wage, so if rent’s gonna constantly increase—when we were looking to move, everything that we looked at was either slummy or too expensive. I don’t think it’s gonna get better. And it’s also applicable if you have a business in mind—there’s no incentive for them to keep prices down. I feel like wages and respect for people’s lives just never keep pace with housing costs and food costs. And I—I mean, I did it all myself but I have a lot of things going for me. English is my first language, I’m a white female so that helps—obviously it’s worse for people who don’t have those advantages.

*

 

The mounting racial tensions in this country. Everything is so amplified by the media, and it’s bringing out emotions people didn’t know they had, unconscious bias—you learn things about people you know, people you thought you knew. It’s also, for me—I’m in a biracial marriage and it’s really coming out how opposing our families’ views are. We’re not always prepared to deal with it. [Between the two of us] there’s a lot of topics we don’t talk about, because we get so emotional. It’s hard when someone can’t see it your way.

And also, it’s not exactly the same for each of you.

Yes. And to talk about the unfair advantage—you know, you love your husband so much, and you also know he’s had this advantage over people who are just as deserving, but if you point that out you’re diminishing his accomplishments. Or things that they consider massive trials are just a walk in the park for some people … There are these questions in relationships that weren’t there before. It’s exhausting even though it’s important.

*

 

[This person helped me carry the booth to my car when I had to leave.]

I’m definitely worried about climate change and sort of what we will do as the water rises and people have to leave their homes. All the cities that I love are on the coast. In Miami, they have to pump seawater out of the streets. And yet there’s a huge development boom there. It’s unsustainable. But how much time do we have to relocate people and where do they go, especially people with less means—are we gonna have this huge refugee crisis?

… In Houston they had these floodplain maps and they knew they weren’t developing responsibly. They knew all the possible bad things that could happen. And the houses that got hit the worst there were owned by low-income people, who were tricked—I mean, the American Dream is buying a home, for some people this was maybe their first home, or they were the first ones in their family to own a home, it was exciting, and they were exploited.

I’m trying to learn more. I read about this in a couple of news articles—it’s different in Miami and in Houston and I want to learn more about that difference, focus on specific communities, learn more about community-specific issues and policy proposals by people who know more than I do. We need to have big conversations about tribalism, and how the way something is phrased to you tells you what you’re supposed to think, so people [repeat the things that their group says and] don’t learn that much about the nuances of specific issues … But I’m not going to talk to a climate denier and be like, “Let’s see what they have to say.”

map 6-20-18

On the map of worries, people wrote:

drought and food shortage (a seed from me)

Lincoln Woods

Affordable housing

South Beach

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 5/24/18

Weather: Bright, hot sun, stiff cool breeze

Number of people: 10 stoppers, 3 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 10

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken with permission: 4

Pictures taken without permission: 1

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

Dogs seen: 5 (4 tiny, 1 big)

Dogs pet: 0

Narcan shared: 1

 

Observations:

The park ranger and the parking meter enforcer hang out together.

Nonhuman organisms in the park: yellowjacket, starlings, hairy defoliating caterpillars.

Today I had lots of conversations with people that I didn’t get permission to write down. Sometimes this was because I asked and they didn’t give it; sometimes because they were in full flood of speaking and I didn’t have a chance to ask.

One such person had a blue jay feather tucked behind their ear, and I showed them the one I keep in the RI Organism card box.

People often ask me about trends from year to year. I’ve already noticed a slight uptick this year in anti-immigrant rhetoric, and I need to figure out how I want to respond to that (haven’t been satisfied with the ways I’ve handled it so far).

 

Some conversations:

I moved up here from Florida in ’86. Thirty years ago we never needed air conditioning. Now we need to put it in every summer, usually by May. Winter [used to start] in October. Everybody who says it isn’t happening has their head in the sand.

 

*

Well, I did read about Greenland. There was a huge article in the New Yorker—I felt almost traumatized. It’s just coming unglued. There are huge crevasses, it’s melting at such a rapid rate, and ice reflects sunlight but water absorbs it. It’s such a rapid pace that they can’t even [measure?] the rate of melt. It was a very powerful experience reading the piece. These people that have dedicated their lives to being on the front lines of global awareness of climate change—it just kind of blows me away …

Boston flooded, there were like, floating cars, and it was vastly underreported. I didn’t see it in the national news. I try not to be a huge conspiracy theorist, but I felt like it was deliberate. [The Greenland article] really woke me up—I was really aware of it before, but not feeling it personally. I think we’re going to see rapid changes coming down the pike in the next five years. I think people are gonna be up to their waists in water, I think people are in denial.

What do you think people would do if they recognized this reality? 

I’m moving inland. I’m visiting a friend in New Mexico, Santa Fe, and I’ll see what happens. I feel like I kind of go over better west of the Mississippi. My daughters have moved away, Lucy [the dog] finally died a few months ago—I’ve had a lot of loss and a lot of completion …

Have you talked to your daughters about it?

I haven’t talked to them about this. They think I’m nuts anyway. My friend who’s moving to Oregon, she’ll say, “If there’s a tsunami, I’ll just hop in the car.” If there’s a tsunami, you’re not getting in any car! I think it is hard to grasp, I don’t know. … If you love where you are and you have a good life, you wanna stay where you are. I think people are like, “Well, the weather certainly has been erratic,” and older people remember very different weather patterns, but people just think it’s weather. I remember these really cold winters, my boots getting full of ice. …

How does it feel, when you think about it?

It’s awful. I have a friend who’s a master of permaculture. She’s got a self-sustaining quarter-acre, where she can grow enough food to feed herself and her family—it’s like two backyard lots, and we’ve talked a lot about issues of food scarcity. She was pretty dire. Her feeling is that we’ve just really gone too far. And I kind of had to not have that conversation. I honestly don’t know much good it would do to have a garden if people around you were suffering from a shortage of food. … Sometimes there are things that are just too painful to discuss, too huge to wrap my brain around. There are times in the day that I’m more open to confront difficult things.

*

 

[I know both of these people, and have spoken to them at the climate booth before, but they don’t know each other. They came up to me one at a time, but also spoke to each other.]

Person 1: I guess I’ve been thinking about water. I was watching the weather on TV, which is not something I normally do, and they were talking about El Niño and La Niña, and I learned how the moisture that the soil absorbs in spring affects how rainy the season will be—the rainier a spring is, the more likely thunderstorms are, and that’s weird to think about.  A lot of things come and go—human matter is the same carbon that’s been around forever but it’s in different forms—but water doesn’t decompose, it’s the same water, and we only have so much of the water we have—I mean, we have so much and so much of it is not usable, a fraction of one percent of it is actually usable.  The rest of it, we can’t use it or it’s hard to use it. I don’t know how to turn that into an anxiety—well, it is an anxiety that—what if we don’t have water someday?

Maybe my anxiety is that I feel a little fatalist. Growing up as a child of global warming, I recognize that the Earth is dying and I want to make changes, but people who really know what’s going on are like, “We’re fucked.” Ten, twenty, thirty years—I think in thirty years we’re not gonna have energy. You have to put energy into getting energy: people talk about solar and wind power but it takes a massive amount of energy to make a metal turbine. Solar panels are made with all these rare materials.

… I tell my sister, she’s talking about what she wants to be doing thirty years from now, and I’m like, “Do you really think things are gonna be the same in thirty years?” Or people are like, “Our children’s children,” and I’m like, “I don’t know if there are gonna be ‘our children’–or they’re not gonna live like this.” We can take steps to preserve some things, but other things have already been lost. It doesn’t make me want to destroy—it makes me want to liberate things in the short term. I don’t think I would be as radical as I am [without the knowledge of climate change], and I think a lot of people have been radicalized. Soon, even the capitalists will suffer. Desperate times call for desperate measures. But I think it also has made me numb … Sometimes, I feel like I’m not doing anything, or I’m just working on my own things because I feel like it’s all gonna be gone in 20 years.

[Person 2 came up around this point.]

You can be delusional and think things can keep going the way they are, or keep going with just a few minor changes, but we’ll be transformed by this, so we can either be radicalized and work really hard, or take the sad way and just be passive.

One thing I’ve been thinking of is—people do things, or one of the reasons people do things is because they feel good, not just because they’re trying to avoid feeling bad, so in a time like this, how do you move toward joy?

Person 2: I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m doing. I feel like there’s no future right now, but I’m just gonna keep producing plays, keep writing the things that I want to see in the world.

Person 1: I feel like that a lot. Does it feel worthwhile to you?

Person 2: What feels worthwhile is that I find my tribe. People who I relate to and I relate to them.

Person 1: I think about how much fun I had on the night Trump was elected. We were all like, “I don’t know, fuck it, let’s get drunk in Worcester,” just breaking things and being like, “Nothing matters.”

Person 2: These days, I’m waiting for a cop to talk to me. That’s when I’m gonna be like, “Nothing matters.”

Person 1: Does it scare you?

Person 2: No, I’ve had ’em. I’ll have more. The more I learn about policing and social justice, the more I find if we can grow out of slavery we can grow out of guns. That’s the other thing that feels worthwhile, connecting with the youth and teaching classes—my art doesn’t exist without that. That’s how I move toward joy. I just applied for a grant, but if I don’t get it, I’m teaching this class anyway. Art through social justice—I get excited about that stuff.

Person 1: I don’t think people realize the mental health toll of living in the world where nothing is certain.

I was wondering if people who—you know, the more marginalized you are, the more likely you are to face upheaval every day, and I was wondering if people who have had to face that might have wisdom for those who haven’t.

Person 2: I wish. This is a cultural issue. I remember during the stock market crash, and black people were like, “Just another day. You’re stressed out over something that we’ve been living.” Most black people will tell you, “Welcome to my world.” You make the move when where you’re at is so uncomfortable that you can no longer bear it. You either think we’re crazy, or you join in.

map 5-25-18

Description: This (somewhat impressionistic) map of the state of Rhode Island says, “Put your worries on the map,” at the top, and “Is there a place in Rhode Island you’d like to protect?” at the bottom. Someone has drawn a circle around the entire state.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 5/23/18

Weather: Hot, breezy, bright, big moving clouds

Number of people: 12 stoppers, 4 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 9

People who got the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 2

Dogs seen: 4

Dogs pet: 0

Conversations between people who didn’t know each other before: 1

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 1, but I didn’t recognize them at first

Money raised for the Environmental Justice League of RI: $9.30

 

Observations:

This day was my first in Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park this season. I didn’t know what to expect from the new time (11-2 instead of 3-6) or the presence of the food trucks. So far, what it’s come down to is that a higher percentage of strangers talking to me are people who have food truck money. The noise of the motors doesn’t seem to be a problem; I can hear everyone.

One person who spoke with me also shared her fries with me. I ate about half of them and then shared the rest with a guy who did not have food truck money. (I only touched the ones I ate.)

You need a permit to be a vendor in the park. The ranger came up to me near the beginning of my session and said, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you know what I’m gonna say, don’t you?” (I have a permit; I showed it to him.)

Next time I need to come out with water and more finished organism cards.

This seems like a good moment to reiterate that I don’t agree with everyone whose conversations I post!

Some conversations:

The housing situation. We’re constantly having to move. We’ve had three houses sold out from underneath our feet, and the place we were just in got condemned for no apparent reason. Someone called the fire marshal and they were like, “Oh, you gotta update to the new fire codes,” this impossible renovation, so they misplaced families, they put us in a hotel. The landlord is depressed, his hair turned white in a week. This house has been in his family for generations. My children are straight-A students, but every time this happens it’s affected their grades, their attendance at school, they’re tardy—they should not have to deal with this.

I think they’re picking on him for renting to Black people. The fire department, when they saw it, 48 hours later they shut us all out. Changing the code—it’s like the police stopping a car, like, “This is a bus now. Everybody gotta get off, and you gotta get a bus license. If you don’t get a bus license, you gotta get off the road.”

*

It’s a really big issue. The current leadership of this country has me the most anxious. I can’t even listen to the radio anymore. I used to listen to NPR all the time, but now every time I hear the so-called President—I can’t even say his name—I have to change the station. I have a violent reaction—I want to yell, to drown out his voice. If they mention his name, I have to turn it off. Now I just listen to WCRB, just music, the classical station.

Where do you get your information now?

News apps and online—the New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC. I’m interested more in a global perspective. This way it’s in my control if I choose to see his face, or read or hear what he said. He makes me want to do violence to myself or others—mostly others, mostly him.

What do you do when you feel that anger?

I drink alcohol. I joined a gym, I want to be more physically fit.

Have you been involved with any political stuff here in the state?

I haven’t. I used to be active in another state, around the 2004 election. I’ve been voting my whole life, and at first I registered independent, until I found out that in my state you had to be in a party to vote in the primary. I’ve since become disillusioned. I’m not a member of a party—I’m more progressive and left-leaning than most Democrats. There is a woman running for Congress in my district, but I haven’t signed up to volunteer. I think we need more women in positions of power.

What would smooth your path to volunteering?

If I had a sense that it would be time well spent. But if that was what it took, nobody would donate, nobody would volunteer. It’s difficult to fit in with my own personal business, but I’d probably feel better.

*

My wife and I noticed in East Providence, on Massasoit Avenue, there are these abandoned gas tanks, Getty tanks, and someone is building houses there. Who’s gonna want to live there? God knows what’s in the ground there.

*

Global warming trends. Weather patterns seem strange lately. I have some anxiety about cell phones and wireless—what long-term effects of that are there gonna be? Because it’s pretty pervasive.

What does the anxiety feel like, do you feel it physically?

I get a tension in my head, a tightness in my chest.

And what do you usually do after you feel it?

I try to distract myself with reading, doing work or chores around the house. I try to be conscientious, but I have anxiety about some of the things I have around the house that are going into the landfill system.

*

I heard 11 feet by the year 2100.

Where’d you hear it?

Some progressive politics meeting. That’s a good chunk of Rhode Island! I’m filled with anxiety, but it’s not present enough, I have to consciously think of it, and I think that’s why action doesn’t happen. There’s no immediate sign of it that you feel—it’s not like an asteroid heading towards Earth. But it’s gonna have really scary consequences that we haven’t really understood yet. The ecosystem is incredibly elegantly balanced, and because of climate change—I think the Lyme disease outbreak is a consequence of climate change. There’s sea level, there’s stupid simple things that we can picture, but we don’t picture how the rain falling over the wheat is gonna start falling over the Pacific. I’ve decided that this is the issue. Other political issues are just moving deck chairs on the Titanic—what does it matter about income inequality if the planet doesn’t work? I think people feel a bit of helplessness, like, “What can I do”– or they’re like, “Oh, I drive a Prius, I’ve done what I can.” Maybe it’s because I live in a liberal bubble, but I haven’t bumped into that many people who don’t think it’s a real thing, I guess that’s good.

*

I think it’s stressful how much we are consuming and [at the same time] talking about the natural world breaking. I don’t think I can imagine it. So much of my day-to-day life is relying on the Earth. We have this human saturation—not the amount of people but what we’re doing. That’s my new band name, Human Saturation.

What would they sound like?

Maybe really harsh noise. It feels like something down the road. We don’t want to think about it until we inevitably have to deal with it, and we pretend we’re not going to have to. … To have this huge thing that’s happening to everyone, to not acknowledge it is damaging, literally damaging. It’s hard to find one single answer. It has to happen on a huge level—I don’t think a few people biking to work every day is gonna cause change

*

 

I’m coming from a place of statistics. Overpopulation—more people means more waste, more use of natural resources, higher [carbon dioxide] levels. … It’s one of many things that’s gonna happen. Maybe the ice caps melt and we all drown. Maybe we die in a fuckin’ fiery mass of nuclear fallout. It could be a bunch of different things. Massive volcanic eruptions, the sun being blotted out by ash clouds. Who knows how long we have? We all could be living on fuckin’ boats. A massive Atlantis is what I see. There are people who live on water already. Or maybe [carbon dioxide] levels rise and our planet burns to a crisp and we’ll all go live on galactic space stations. Everything has its cycle—part of time is essentially death. … When you work out, you’re breaking your muscles. It takes death to incite growth. We’re all just figments of imagination, we’re specks of dust, a million atomic particles with the capabilities for love. If we pass—you can’t create or destroy energy. Our bodies die but the energy continues. You could wipe all the information off the face of the earth, science will still be science. We’ll be absorbed back into the Creator. Love is my higher power. It’s one way of sort of honoring God, God presents himself to me through the love of other people. … If you show love and be kind, you will be blessed by God. I’ve been clean for a couple of months. I was an addict for 10 years, and what I lacked was love—recognizing and applying love and living by it. Being an addict tends to absorb everything you love, all your interests, all your pleasures. A guy in recovery told me you can trade one thing for everything in your life or you can trade everything in your life for one thing. I’m blessed to have two beautiful children and it’s my duty to make sure that they love themselves first and foremost, but more importantly, that they’re accepting love from others.

map 5-23-18

Description: This (somewhat impressionistic) map of the state of Rhode Island says, “Put your worries on the map,” at the top, and “Is there a place in Rhode Island you’d like to protect?” at the bottom. People have written:

Woonsocket

The box of Eddie St

Coventry

Massasoit Ave

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market, 9/1/16

Weather: Coolish, muggy. Rained earlier so everything was soggy. Sun came out and stayed out, mostly, around 4:15.

Number of people: 11 stoppers, 9 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0! I think one guy was messing with me, but not in a mean way

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 1

Dogs seen: 21

Dogs pet: 2

Ferrets seen: 1, on a leash

Ferrets pet: No

Money raised for the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island: $6.35

 

Observations:

Maybe this is a good time to remind readers that A) I don’t call out to people from the booth–they choose to come up to me or not; 2) people can talk to me about whatever’s pressing most on their mind, even if it’s not climate-change-related; D) I try not to argue with people at the booth, though I may try to get them to see something from an angle they haven’t previously considered.

This market was extremely rich in both kids and dogs. There’s a playground in the park, and the fields of the park itself; lots of playing, running around, shrieking, and so on. One kid stood rapt as a human threw a frisbee for a dog and the dog caught it in the air.

I heard enough people speaking Spanish to each other that I think the next time I’m in this spot, on 10/6, I’m going to try to line up an English <–> Spanish translator.

An unusual number of people, including lots of kids, marked a map of the state with a place in Rhode Island they love and would like to protect. Some places they marked on the map: the coast (x2), the park (for riding her bike), the zoo, Block Island, CityFarm, Dimeo Farm and farmland in Johnston, Burger King, Brockton (Massachusetts, where her family and friends live), salt ponds, farmland in Portsmouth and Newport, his house. A kid with an orange slushie circled the whole state.

 

Some conversations

Kid 1: Are you a doctor?

No, not really, but I talk to people about their worries.

Kid 2: Can we talk to you?

Yeah, you can talk to me. 

Kid 2: [Throws me an extremely suspicious look, leaves]

*

[These two came up together; the first speaker is the second speaker’s son.]

Person 1: I’m waiting for a kidney transplant. I’ve been waiting for two years and eight months. My friend’s finishing up with the testing and it looks like it could be good.

Person 2: We’re hoping that he’s gonna be a good recipient and that she–that it’s gonna go well for both of them.

That is a transplant they do a lot.

Person 1: Yeah, you don’t realize it until you’re in the situation. Everyone at the party has had it … I have dialysis Monday, Wednesday, Friday. I’m grateful for the help that I’ve gotten, I’m happy to have Obamacare, I don’t care what anyone says. My medicine would be $2000–it would be $44, 000 a month for dialysis.

*

I worry about my children. They don’t do anything bad, it’s just concern. Like in school, are they okay, are they gonna be okay in the future in school, are they gonna be okay if they go to college, how will they deal with it? One goes to [NAME OF HIGH SCHOOL], one goes to middle school. I wonder if they put pressure on themselves. The one in high school, she’s gonna take three advanced classes, she’s just gonna be a junior–is that a lot of pressure? She says she likes the challenge … If they don’t get what they want are they gonna be disappointed in themselves, are they gonna be something wrong? She’s a cancer survivor when she’s four, now she’s sixteen and she says, “I want to be a doctor, a children’s cancer doctor,” and you don’t wanna say, “It’s kinda hard,” but … How do you approach that? Once they become adult, they don’t talk to you. She brings me her report card, in calculus I think she got a C, she said, “Oh, you gonna yell at me? You can yell at me, I’m already mad at myself.” I’m not gonna yell at her!

I teach college and I’m also an advisor for students, and a lot of students, especially if they’re the first generation in their family to go to college, they worry about making their parents proud, about giving back to their parents.

But that’s not what we want. We want them-we know how it is to survive, we don’t really care what we are. For us, we start with nothing, we want them to do good, not for us, not to help us, it’s more for themselves. We just want them to have their own easy life.

*

Black people being shot by angry white people, ’cause nowadays everybody seems to be shooting Black people. Education and job security for my children. Saving Black babies here in Rhode Island–maternal and infant health. I run a cloth diaper service, I’m trying to help the environment.

*

Smaller Sister: I’m scared of something.

What are you scared of? 

Smaller Sister: I’m scared of poisons, poisonous spiders.

Slightly Larger Sister: I’m scared that somebody poison my food and make me eat it.

[A few minutes later, Smaller Sister comes back with Smallest Sister]

Smaller Sister: She’s scared of dogs.

Little dogs or big dogs?

Smallest Sister: Big dogs.

*

The word, “Anthropocene.”* The idea that an entire stage in the planet’s existence could be defined by human destruction. I read this headline, “Scientists define the Anthropocene,” and that really made me anxious … When I was a kid I had this Reader’s Digest atlas, with all sorts of information in the back, and there was a list of geological epochs, and I always think of the Holocene as being the geological epoch in which I live. And that we’ve changed things so fundamentally that we can never go back to living in the Holocene–

How does that cause you to approach the world, how you perceive things?

Even if we get to the state where we’ve reduced emissions so that temperatures are back to what they were during the Holocene, we won’t be able to go back. We’ll have changed so much. I still have that optimism–it’s just who I am, the belief that millions of people will change their minds, that something will bring it home to people. But it’s so definite–one era ends and the other begins. It implies a tipping point. I suppose that’s why they use it.

*Doctor’s note: I hate this word too, but for different reasons, which I might outline here or somewhere.

*

I wanna be an adult and buy property, but I’m worried if I go too far south it’s gonna be dry, and I don’t wanna move too far north. I don’t wanna buy property along the coast. Should I think more about farming my own sustenance?

It sounds like you’re worried that you might not be able to have the life you imagined.

Yeah. The old models that my parents used to plan their future don’t apply anymore.

 

 

 

 

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]