House Bill No. 1203 in North Dakota

Here is the text of North Dakota House Bill No. 1203, which would make it legal for North Dakota drivers to hit people with their cars if those people are walking in the road. The articles I’ve seen about this state that the bill is a response to the civil disobedience of water protectors at Standing Rock.

Here is the email I just sent to the members of the Transportation Committee, through whom (if I understand correctly) the bill would have to pass:

Dear [Representative]:

I’m writing to ask you to refuse to advance Mr. Kempenich’s House Bill No. 1203, which would protect North Dakota drivers from the consequences of injuring or killing pedestrians with their cars.

I saw on the legislature page that you have children and grandchildren. Imagine saying to your child, or imagine your constituents saying to their children who they were teaching how to drive, “If you hit and kill someone, if it’s under such-and-such circumstances, you won’t get in trouble.” Once you’ve said that, does it really matter what the “such-and-such circumstances” are? Wouldn’t you then be saying that when they’re driving, they don’t need to care about other people’s safety–or that they can be the person who decides who lives and who dies, who’s widowed or orphaned,  who’s disabled for life? Are those the drivers you want on North Dakota roads, or any roads?

Although I don’t live in your state, I was moved to write to you because it’s possible that this bill could set a precedent for others. It is inhumane and dangerous. When House Bill No. 1203 comes before you, I urge you and the other members of the Transportation Committee to stop it from going any further.

Thank you,

Kate Schapira

Providence, RI

*

The Transportation Committee meets on Thursdays and Fridays. If you have a moment tonight or tomorrow, please call them or write them a letter–feel free to use mine or to create your own.Please let them know that people outside the state are watching this, and reject it utterly and with disgust.

Remembering the Arctic Ice Cap: A Celebration of Life

Ever since I started offering Climate Anxiety Counseling, I’ve gone back and forth about mourning the places and people–human, nonhuman–that we know climate change will not just hurt, but kill, before they’re gone. It seems like ill-wishing them–pre-grieving, shooing them out of the world, walking over their graves. And it also seems like something that you’d do instead of trying to keep them alive.

This summer, in Newport, RI–which is admittedly a very odd place–they held a funeral for a beech tree that’s reaching the end of their life (fernleaf beeches usually live for 150-200 years–I’m not sure how old this one is or was, and I also don’t know if they’re still standing). I changed my tune a little bit. The tree was dying; this gave people a chance to appreciate it and acknowledge them while they were still alive.

And now, my friend Maya Weeks is holding a memorial and celebration for the Arctic Ice Cap: She writes, “As we anticipate losing year-round sea ice as soon as 2018, we are taking this occasion to gather and process our feelings about this changing ecosystem together. We will gather to say goodbye to the sea ice algae and the Arctic cod and the polar bear. Please feel free to bring candles and loved ones to the Mosswood Amphitheater [in Oakland, CA] at 2pm on Sunday, December 18.  Please feel free to say a few words if you would like. This is an outdoor venue with a ramp for accessibility.”

This comes just after another group of literal and figurative deaths in Oakland: people living and celebrating at the Ghost Ship, which burned, and the way of living and being that was possible there. You can donate to the relief fund here, and to funeral services and end-of-life costs for the trans women who died at the Ghost Ship here. When I donated to the latter, I also donated to the Trans Assistance Project’s main fund, which “exists to finance legal/ID changes and healthcare for trans folks in need,” because the living and the dead both need care, but in different ways.

Other living beings don’t necessarily do peopledom the way human people do. A forest might be a person; a jellyfish might be a community. And equating human and nonhuman death is full of bad logic and bad history, especially when the human who died died at the remote hands of structures of power and capital and cruelty. Who gets to die like a person, and who like a plant; who is a martyr, a casualty, a throwaway–these are all mediated by the structures I just mentioned, and I’m not looking to draw a comparison that isn’t there or isn’t right.

But one thing that the dead share is their absence–even if we, the living, are in communication with them or take their advice, we mostly recognize that the way they are is different from the way we are. And one thing the nearly dead share with the living is their presence, their ability to be touched and known. I’m still on the fence about mourning the still-alive. But I don’t think that sorrow and anger for one kind of loss needs to displace sorrow and anger for another kind, and I think that mourning the dead can help the living to fight like hell for each other.

 

Alternate Histories: The Subway Series

I went to New York, realized that what I was seeing in the bottom of the subway tunnels was water, and wrote this story.

*

When we pried up some of the streets, we laid down metal grid and limestone and marble and peat moss and sharp sand and the bones of some of the dead and broken glass turned back to sand. We planted salt-tolerant grasses, beach peas, heathers, junipers. We left plenty of streets, don’t worry. The ambulances and the power chairs can still get through.

 

The negotiations between the builders’ and plumbers’ and electricians’ unions (whose representatives drove in from Queens and Staten Island each day), the water’s lawyers (arriving on foot and on bikes), the various tenants’ rights cadres (some of them armed and riding the city buses), the Doctors, Nurses and Patients’ Coalition (in wheelchair-compliant vans), the delegation from Riker’s Island–these took almost a year, even with everyone eager to be fair, to admit that they might have been wrong or done wrong, to outlive years and decades and centuries of mutual suspicion and uneven violence. Pain and anger and hatred all wash out slowly, slowly, and only when people stop renewing them.

 

Rainwater filters down through the grids of plant and sand and stone into what used to be the subway tunnels, diluting the dank sick dark-brown water with clearer, washed water. In the storms, on the wettest most tantrum days, the tunnels become flood tunnels: the seawater crashes in and the skywater pours down: we made a place for them, because everyone and everything needs a place to be, and sometimes more than one. Spillways open and when the storm subsides, they close; when the storm subsides, sunlight comes down through the light-and-ventilation shafts and makes the water steam up.

 

We don’t need the subway tunnels for the subway anymore because work doesn’t work the same way. Most people live pretty close to the work they do, and no one works for a living; people live and they work. This took a long time, almost as long as it took to pry up some of the streets. We started doing it, and some of us got tired, and lay down, and the rats and the dermestid beetles from the Museum became our undertakers, and we gave our bones to the water.

 

This is terrible, we hear you saying, how can you stand it? There are pilgrimages to the catacombs but there’s no horror, or rather, horror is a part of our lives, a neighbor. We combined a few of the many things that people have done with the dead, since the beginning of the world.

 

We admit that we smashed up some of the buildings to get the marble. Even the softest stone is still hard, and holds a lot of memory. We wanted it to communicate some of what it had known to the water; we wanted its power to be transformed. But we didn’t smash up any people, or trap them into smashing themselves. We worked slowly and we worked with care, and no one worked past or even close to the limits of their strength, to move the stone on rollers, we chanted rhythmic encouragement and carried cleaner water, water gathered before it hit the ground, in the heat. Our plant and animal neighbors fed us, or calmed our minds, or renewed the air, or shit fertilizer. That’s how they were to us. How we were to them: pruners, killers, renewers of air, cleaners of habitat.

 

The rats have their own routes; the light that filters in, the unpredictable waters, and the lack of dropped food–there isn’t nearly enough to waste, anymore–make it less of a place for them. They live there, and sometimes there are terrible rat stampedes–we feel disgust–we stand as still as we can, shuddering, while they flood our ankles. They stay out of the water, though, now, we don’t know why. Science works differently now, too, we cut fewer things open, we stop fewer processes. Its motion is even slower, making some of us feel crazy. Those of us who can write, write our findings up on the tunnel walls, and sometimes the floods wash them away. Depending on the changing levels of dampness, moss and fungi flourish or dry to dust and sift down.

In the tunnels a few bats live, refugees, but they’re shy of people. We found out about the crayfish when the first raccoons came down. We stay away from them: they carry rabies, and there’s no vaccine anymore, not anywhere in the city or the world. But they’re among the best at finding exits and entrances, so sometimes we follow them at a safe distance, to see if there are places we should be watching out for, places where we poorly understand the change from aboveground to underground, where they understand it well. We don’t eat the crayfish. You can go to another storyteller to find out more about how we feed each other and where we sleep, the various ways we decide about children or pray or joke or clean. This is about the way we know the water underground.

 

Year by year, decade by decade, century by century, the water in the tunnel bottoms becomes sweeter. We lay marble tile from the smashed-up buildings, with cracks between so it can seep back down into the cycle, what we used to call the water table but now call the belly. The tunnels are long throats. This metaphor will break down pretty soon, but that’s okay with us. We build things now to be breakable, reparable, to flood and subside. Sometimes the water that sinks back down is seawater, is salt. We know this slows renewal, poisons roots, just like it would make you sick to swallow. We hope for time to dilute it.

 

On the hottest, driest days, the former tunnels are cooler than the streets, and we walk down the long ramps to lower our temperature, and that’s how we notice–after some generations have passed–the stalactites starting to form on the roof, just little nubs with a drop of water glimmering. Their roots are deep tobacco-stained brown; their extremities are gray and pale tan with the slightest surface glitter, as the sediments work their way down. When you see them changing, you don’t know it’s change you’re seeing. They are made up of millions of years of the minute dead, in aggregate, now entering another form, moved by the requirements of matter. They aren’t beautiful yet. Neither are we.

Alternate Histories: 7/15, 8/19

7/15/15

Do people have that, climate anxiety?

Yeah, some people do.

I don’t have that. I grew up in the Caribbean and we have hurricanes every year, natural disasters all the time, so I don’t have anxiety about that. One thing I do have anxiety about is we have had some tremors here, we have had severe tremors, so I worry about that. So you believe in global warming?

Well, it’s not really a “believe” thing–I know that it’s happening.

I didn’t know what to think about it, but my son, I have a younger son, and he said, “Mom, it is for real–if you look at the Arctic, all those animals, the ice they live on is melting.” Sometimes when you say what you worry about people will look at you like you’re dumb, but everybody has their anxiety.

[I give her a RI organisms card with a fish on it–she reads the words on it out loud.]

My ex-husband was Pisces, the fish.

Do you want a different one?

No, it doesn’t matter to me. There was abuse, but not physical abuse, but I had to go.

*

8/18/15

S had come through fear of many kinds, and through the things that brought the fear, many of which she’d never tell to this white stranger. Some still weighed on her life, and some did not. At home, she put on a pot of rice and peas and called her son, listened to his voicemail message before hanging up. She would have done this again, to hear him, but the last time she did that, she did it four times, and he called her back holding down panic an hour later.

There’s always something to fear. How could you possibly take it all away? Build all the houses on–S leveled her palm over the countertop, feeling the spilled grains roll –on dry rice? She smiled, but with one side of her mouth only. Put on music, started to hum and flick her hips.

S remained, not in place, but in balance on the axis of her spine in the troposphere of her apartment and the orbit of her day. Around her, people her son’s age and plants no more than a year old sucked the poison out of the ground so that she wouldn’t have to eat it, and the poison out of the air so that she wouldn’t have to breathe it. Further out from her, people a little older than herself carried their grandbabies into the offices of powerful men–carried them diaperless, gumming bagels or juicy mango pits, and put them down on the carpeted floors. Still further out, soldiers began to withdraw from their bases and administrators from their offices in countries where they were not born. Further yet, a satellite tossed back her son’s recorded voice, and sometimes his present voice, filtered through signals.

S stepped freely, doing and being, trading decorous nods or full warm smiles with people whose orbits crossed hers. She left a pattern on the air, and when she died, who can say that this pattern didn’t remain, a signal to follow, a reminder to keep recreating and revising an order that could sustain her? Who would dare to say such a thing where she might still be listening?