Going to Boston to counterprotest white supremacy following the violence in Charlottesville did not turn out to be dangerous, but there was no way to know this in advance.
Walking the Talk or keeping my plans?
When I first learned of the antiracist rally in Boston, it did not cross my mind that I should go. I was already booked on a flight away from Massachusetts that Saturday morning. However, on Thursday, a friend invited me to a preparatory training hosted by SURJ — Stand Up for Racial Justice. I was curious and that evening was free, so I went. Once I arrived to the training, I realized that I had been too busy to consider that I might change my plans. Nearly everything that I learned that evening was, to be honest, a reason to keep my original plans, that is, reasons not to go participate in the counter-rally and march in Boston.
There were more than 20 people attending the just-in-time SURJ training; emotion in the room was high. Introductions and conversation centered on personal motivations for participation—almost nothing about strategy, goals, or specific mission. Similarity of purpose was assumed. No one seemed to blink when we were told that the march organizers, the Movement for Black Lives, had asked for white allies to put our white bodies physically in-between Black activists and white supremacists, and also between Black activists and the police. Further, the leadership had decided not to commit this march to nonviolence: they reserved the right to self-defense. Finally, just as the Mayor of Boston was actively discouraging the white supremacists from holding their (so-called) free speech rally, the Mayor had also sought to discourage the counter rally — creating a pre-condition in which violent police intervention was more likely.
It had already been a long day at work. My energy began to fade as each risk, and their compounding interactions, became increasingly clear. About an hour 1/2 into the training, we divided into groups for bonding purposes. Since I didn’t think I was going, I let my friend know I was heading home. We had a quick conversation about the lack of input into the design process…for instance, were we being deployed disposably by black leadership? Did they care about or disregard our (possible) intellectual contributions and the health and safety of our bodies? A basic reversal of power roles is not the kind of society I’m seeking to help build. I kept to myself my worries that the white supremacists had planned the sequence and locations of rallies long in advance, so their prior planning was possibly more extensive. We could literally be marching into a trap.
Before I’d driven ten minutes I knew that I was going to cancel my flight to Missouri to see the total solar eclipse with my closest longterm buds. Yes, the counter-protest felt like a set-up. Yes, it felt like if things went wrong, they would go wrong very, very, very badly. But I’d been talking all week with Patty Nourse Culbertson, who had been on the frontline in Charlottesville. She had explained that even though anti-racism activists in Charlottesville had an entire month to prepare, they still weren’t ready. I realized readiness has both existential and practical aspects. Practically, one can only be as ‘ready’ as one is, and this may never feel like enough.
First, communication. Not intending to be dramatic, I just touched base with my main peeps, letting everyone know that I was going to be there. I deeply appreciate the support of my friends and family. It wasn’t that I assumed there would be violence and people would get hurt or possibly killed, but the reality is casualties do happen: prior to Heather Heyer’s murder in Charlottesville, there was Sophia Wilansky’s terrible arm injury protesting the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock. The chances of being that individual are drastically lower in nonviolent than in armed, violent conflict, but I cannot pretend there is no risk. It seem important to at least attempt to minimize any subsequent mess.
- Ferguson Action recommendations on staying safe during actions
- Solidarity in Practice about tactical safety
- The Art of Urban Survival on safety items and what to wear
I followed the recommendations for clothing, and selected first aid items, personal protective gear and snacks that I could carry in cargo pants (since backpacks were prohibited).
Well, it was a beautiful day. Sunny, no rain, quite warm but not excessively hot. There were 40,000 of us. We had a marching band, witty and poignant signage, and many, many onlookers who showered us with thanks and gratitude. The free speech rally was fractional in comparison, about 50 individuals. A small amount of incidents with police occurred, some which seemed unprovoked and others that were in response to taunting. I enjoyed myself and remained vigilant, seeking to stick with my group members while staying alert for trouble. Thank god nothing happened because our group(s) had practically zero discipline. If something had happened we would have been scrambling. But nothing did, and so we had a successful march and, as a result, free speech rallies across the country were cancelled.
We returned from the march just in time to attend a free evening concert. I couldn’t muster the juice to celebrate, too exhausted. I went home, ate and went to bed early, sleeping for 11 hours. I was still groggy and out of it on Sunday morning. By a delightful coincidence, I was able to go camping overnight at a lovely spot on a beautiful lake. Sitting there in the woods, basking in the afternoon sun, watching the calm water, listening to the sounds of birds, children playing nearby, and the breeze in the trees, I began to feel restored.
Think about it. I had just spent an entire day acting as if nothing was wrong, as if everything is normal, as if it was just a usual day…while at the same time remaining alert to the fact that super bad shit could happen at any second. I know it is not an exact parallel, but I had a small epiphany: this is what people of color in the US feel all the time. They must develop and allocate internal resources to manage this tension every day, all day long, and all night, too. 24/7. No breaks. No 48-hour recovery period, and probably no easy access to nature in which to draw spiritual sustenance.
Not only was my fragility on display, but my white privilege, too.
“I want to know, what is human conscience.”
“Human consciousness?” I asked, not hearing him correctly.
“No,” he said. “Con-sci-ence. When I search for this word in the English dictionary, I find that it is from Latin. Con means ‘with’ and science means ‘knowing.’ So conscience means ‘with knowing.’ With science.”
“I’ve never quite thought about it that way,” I told him. “But I’m sure you’re right.”
He continued. “But this does not make sense.” He pulled out a piece of paper. “The dictionary says ‘A knowledge or sense of right and wrong, with a compulsion to do right.’”
He held up the piece of paper for me to see, so I took it. “That seems like a reasonable definition.”
“But I do not understand. Knowledge and sense are not the same thing. Knowledge I understand, but how about sense? Is sense the same as feeling? Is conscience a fact that I can learn and know, or is it more like an emotion? Is it related to empathy? Is it different than shame? And why is it a compulsion?”
I must have looked as baffled as I felt, because he went on to explain.
“I’m afraid that even though I am trained in computer science, I have never felt such a sense or feeling. This is a big disadvantage for my work. I would like to ask you, can I learn to feel such a feeling? At my age, is it too late?”
~ from A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, 2013, p 306-307 (italics in original).
These articles informed a recent talk on the topic of whiteness for sign language interpreters.
“White people [must move] from an individual understanding of racism—i.e. only some people are racist and those people are bad—to a structural understanding [of white privilege].”
~ Dr Robin DiAngelo ~
White People: Stop Microvalidating Each Other, Stephanie Jo Kent
It’s time for white people to reckon with racism, Eve Ensler
28 Common Racist Attitudes and Behaviors, Jona Olsson
The Near Certainty of Anti-Police Violence, Ta-Nahisi Coates
Dear White Parents of my Black Child’s Friends: I Need Your Help, Maralee Bradley
Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda on Finding Originality, Racial Politics (and Why Trump Should See His Show), Lin-Maneul Miranda & Frank DiGiacomo
10 Books I Wish My White Teachers Had Read, Crystal Paul
What it’s like to be Black in Napierville, America, Brian Crooks
Branches of Mentoring, Michael Meade
What are working relationships?
Learning, the Permaculture Way was a pre-conference workshop by David Eggleton and me at the 2nd Permaculture Voices conference (PV2) in San Diego. Our session drew about 50 participants, some of whom continued a dialogue that seemed—on the surface—to have a narrow focus but, over the five days of PV2, grew wider, broader and was deepened considerably through Meet-Ups and collaboration with the Mycelium team of facilitators.
A relationship that works is a relationship that does well with difference.
(Roger Fisher & Scott Brown)
For sustainability to function and endure, the overarching relationship that must function well is between people(s) and place(s). A resilient ability to balance the twin goals of being a Whole Person and living in a Whole Place is the aim and outcome of working well with the differences between peoples and places.
Many permies emphasize living in a Whole Place, so the Meaningful Makeover instrument brings an equal emphasis to being a Whole Person by elaborating the “Care of People” permaculture principle with insights from Stephen Covey (author of The 8th Habit and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).
Creatively identifying the interconnections and interdependencies between the two “paradigms” of Whole Person and Whole Place yields four working relationships that serve as touchstones for life-long learning and permaculture coaching. With the additional half-hour Diego gave us this year, we asked participants to gather in small groups organized by Working Relationship and come up with a guiding question relevant to their journey through PV2.
Two Paradigms/Four Questions
The Whole Place paradigm invokes two Working Relationships: interspecies and interelemental.
The Whole Person paradigm invokes two Working Relationships: intrapersonal and interhuman.
The overarching questions created by small groups this year were:
- Interspecies: How do we reconcile/balance our desire to integrate wildlife and net biodiversity (whole ecosystem health) with the human need for a system that ‘produces a yield’?
- Interelemental: How do my design elements fit together as a system?
- Intrapersonal: How can we become our best whole selves to care for ourselves, our communities, & the earth while at the same time welcoming the reciprocity of those things caring for us, our communities, & our earth?
- Interhuman: How do I connect with the right people, how do I properly communicate, and how do I create/find community?
Working Well with Differences, Interhumanly
Soirée noted some problems with the phrasing of the interhuman question:
I would like to point out that the three-part inter-human question resulted when we were not able to distill the community question further in the time allotted. It’s my impression that “right people” was not intended to imply some people were wrong but rather how do I find people for real connection rather than a passing fancy. [Also] I’m not entirely clear what “how do I properly communicate” meant to the contributor…
Rick pursued a different but related question: “How can I improve community stability?”
During the Meet-Ups and in the Closing Break-Out Session, we talked a fair bit about trying to increase the diversity of future Permaculture Voices conference participants and presenters. One strategy included becoming more aware of whiteness and how it can unconsciously get in the way of inclusion and diversification. More thoughts about how we/human beings can work well with the differences among us/human beings are shared at this Permavoices page. You are also invited to contribute.
This workshop at the 2nd Permaculture Voices conference in San Diego will help you plan how to maximize your PV2 conference experience by applying a tool for lifelong learning. Learning throughout your life involves steady investments of attention, time and energy. In this session, you will acquire and work with a set of considerations that set guideposts for navigating intentional learning for as long as you want, beginning with this conference and continuing through the rest of your life. With these considerations and a tool specially designed for PV2, you’ll gain clarity about the choices that brought you to the conference, the choices you have while here, and choices you’ll have henceforth.
David Eggleton, an artist and permaculture designer, and Steph Kent, a sign language interpreter and communication activist, will introduce a system of considerations that merge learning theory with the permaculture principles. We’ll then lead you through a customized worksheet to help you optimize your path through the many rich and exciting opportunities at PV2. Applying the considerations immediately to your conference plan will reinforce their value for the long run while enabling you to get the most from your PV2 experience.
The declining ability to grow food foretells the end of humanity in Interstellar much as it does in actual climate science. Food doesn’t enter Birdman, and is only racialized in Dear White People. Now, stretch with me, will you?
The essential message of these three very different movies–all playing now–is that everything is up to us.
Interstellar and Birdman are rivals on the twinned theme of love and passion. Where they diverge is that Birdman establishes no context: there’s only the stage awhirl in the midst of contemporary chaos. Interstellar, according to the best principles of science fiction, embeds its story in the established science of our times, prioritizing the climate crisis on the scale at which it deserves, within the irrefutable consequences of species survival or extinction. Along comes Dear White People, to illustrate the sickening scope of intraspecies bigotry and pettiness which we’ve yet to overcome.
While watching Interstellar, I wondered at the non-representative racial composition of the slice of surviving humanity the film constructs for us to see. Tokenism reigns, unless Christopher Nolan and his band of writers aim to propose that the privileges of whiteness extend into the near-term upcoming calamity. They could, of course. Certainly the U.S. government is embattled on this linch pin: will democracy, freedom, and equality of opportunity truly be enabled for all or will special [white] interests continue to dictate law and privilege? Not that underfunded NASA seems likely to have anything to offer in the way of off-planet redemption. That’s more likely to come from the European Space Agency, having successfully landed a spacecraft on a streaking comet.
As far as media effects go (that is, convincing the world that white people, especially white men, are the main strain of the species worth caring about), Birdman is right on cue, with its agonized and agonizing straight white male Everyman. Saving Broadway! Hallelujah!
While Birdman patches together an impressively tight composition of literary layers and cultural references, Dear White People blows it out of the water with the most densely packed social commentary I’ve ever seen. (Curious to know what you think are its equals, or even in the same league.)
“Dear White People,” Samantha White (Tessa Thompson) sums it all up, “Nevermind.” Are the costs of racial fallout still too touchy to resolve? In our day and age, too many white people are playing racism as a game–and a fun one at that. People of color are still too often forced to craft lives within the omnipresence of race consciousness. (It’s time to be colorbrave.) Oh sure, Dear White People is a comedy! How else could such stunning criticism receive the light of day? Are all the characters types? Aren’t we all, each of us, out here living our real, untheatrical lives, also easily categorized as a type? The question is which types get airtime and which don’t; which types can help us reweave the social fabric and which won’t. We have to choose.
“Humans are cultural animals,” writes Mark Morey. “Our evolution continues along paths that we direct through our choices, patterns, and behaviors. Even more importantly—we pass culture along through initiation and story.” The story of Interstellar is that the bond of parents and children is a force commensurate with gravity. The science stretches into fiction here, because none of the things we need to know to pull off such a journey are within reach. The declining ability to grow food, however, foretells the end of humanity in Interstellar much as it does in actual climate science. Food doesn’t enter Birdman, and is only racialized in Dear White People. Now, stretch with me, will you?
Just as Lionel blows when his jazz solo arrives—even though he doesn’t like jazz!—we need to be colorbrave in our daily lives, identify and dismiss noisome distractions, and alter the impelling rush of catastrophe. Somehow, someway, the artistic and intellectual brilliance of today’s intergenerational collective intelligence must form new relationships and stories that recreate and renew society based on perennial agriculture, aka permaculture. The trio of films examined here demonstrate that social justice needs permaculture and vice-versa, if another seven generations are to prosper on the earth.
One way to understand the scope of the planetary crisis is how authors of speculative/science fiction deal with the problem of avoiding self-inflicted human extinction. Alastair Reynolds composed a page of (fictional) historical reflection in Blue Remembered Earth (2012).
Geoffrey (the primary protagonist) is returning to his home in Africa from a space flight to the Moon. Unbeknownst to him until she speaks, he’s accompanied by a “construct” of his grandmother, Eunice (a main protagonist).
“Look at that planet. It’s still beautiful. It’s still ours, still our home. The oceans rose, the atmosphere warmed up, the weather went ape-shit, we had stupid, needless wars. And yet we still found a way to ride it out, to stay alive. To do more than just survive. To come out of all that and still feel like we have a home.” (Eunice, p. 167)
Geoffrey and Eunice are in “the recuperation and observation deck . . . Africa lay spread out . . . in all its astonishing variegated vastness. The Libreville anchorpoint was actually a hundred kilometers south of its namesake city and as far west again, built out into the Atlantic. Looking straight down, he could see the grey scratch of the sea-battered artificial peninsula daggering from the Gabon coastline, with the anchorpoint a circular widening at its westerly end.
To the north, beginning to be pulled out of sight by the curvature of the Earth, lay the great, barely inhabited emptiness of Saharan Africa, from Mauritania to the Sudan. Tens of millions of people had lived there, until not much more than a century ago—enough to cram the densest megacity anywhere on the planet. Clustered around the tiny life-giving motes of oases and rivers, those millions had left the emptiness practically untouched. Daunting persistence had been required to make a living in those desert spaces, where appalling hardship was only ever a famine or drought away. But people had done so, successfully, for thousands of years. It was only the coming of the Anthropocene, the human-instigated climate shift of recent centuries, that had finally brought the Saharan depopulation. In mere lifetimes, the entire region had been subject to massive planned migration. Mali, Chad, Niger . . . these were political entities that still existed, but only in the most abstract and technical of senses., their borders still recorded, their GDPs still tracked. Almost no one actually lived in them, save a skeleton staff of AU caretakers and industrialists.
The rising sea levels of the twenty-first century had scarcely dented Africa’s coastline, and much of what would have been lost to the oceans had been conserved by thousands of kilometres of walled defenses thrown up in haste and later buttressed and secured against further inundation. But there was no sense that Africa had been spared. The shifting of the monsoon had stolen the rains from one part and redistributed them elsewhere—parching the Congo, anointing the formerly arid sub-Saharan Sahel region from Guinea to Nigeria.
Change on that kind of scale, a literal redrawing of the map, could never be painless. There had been testing times, the Resource and Reallocation years: almost the worst that people could bear. Yet these were Africans, used to that kind of thing. They had come through the grim tunnel of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and made it out the other side. And at least climate change didn’t ride into town with tanks and guns and machetes.
For the most part. It was pointless to pretend that there hadn’t been outbreaks of local stupidity, micro-atrocities. Ethnic tensions, simmering for decades, had flared up at the least provocation. But that was the case the world over; it wasn’t a uniquely African problem.
A million glints of sunlight spangled back at Geoffrey from the central Saharan energy belt. When people moved away, machines had arrived. In their wake they had left regimented arrays of solar collectors, ranks of photovoltaic cells and long, stately chains of solar towers, fed by sun-tracking mirrors as large as radio telescopes. The energy belt stretched for thousands of kilometres, from the Middle East out into the Atlantic, across the ocean to the Southern United States, and it wrapped humming, superconducting tentacles around the rest of the planet, giving power to dense new conurbations in Scandinavia, Greenland, Patagonia, and Western Antarctica. Where there had been ice a hundred and fifty years ago, much was now green or the warm bruised grey of dense urban infrastructure. Half of the world’s entire energy needs were supplied by Saharan sunlight, or had been until the fusion reactors began to shoulder the burden. By some measure, the energy belt was evidence of global calamity, the visible symptom of a debilitating planetary crisis. It was also, inarguably, something rather wonderful to behold.” (pp.165-166. Ace: New York)
#KRKTR is an open game for everyone interested in developing individual character and social resilience.
Points are earned for promoting and continuing communication, especially across different topics and among different groups. The idea is that both character and resilience are built at the intersections.
- Every Tweet must include the hashtag #KRKTR
- Conference-based players should also include the conference hashtag, e.g., #NCORE2014
- All players, including non-conference players, may include other relevant hashtags
- Official play has distinct start and end times, announced by @KRKTR_HUB (all players are encouraged to follow @KRKTR_HUB but this is not a requirement).
- Unofficial play is continuous.
- This is a good faith game.
- Stimulating laughter is welcome; exercise good taste!
- Playing #KRKTR is an assertion of shine, all players are Bright Allies.
- 100 points per Tweet (remember it has to conform to the Rules above)
- Plus 200 points if your Tweet is a Reply to another’s Tweet (be sure to include the #KRKTR hashtag!)
- Plus 100 points if your Tweet is a ReTweet (don’t lose the #KRKTR hashtag!)
- Plus 500 points if your Tweet is the First Response (as determined by the timelines at twitter.com/KRKTR_HUB and twubs.com/KRKTR)
- Plus 250 points if your Tweet is the Second Response
- Plus 100 points if your Tweet is the Third Response or later; all additional responses earn +100 points
- The Last Response in each thread earns all the points accumulated in that thread: 500 + 250 + 100 x (nbr of additional Tweets) NOTE: The Last Response is determined by the end of official game play as announced by @KRKTR_HUB.
A thread is created whenever Replies and/or ReTweets are made to any original Tweet that includes the #KRKTR hashtag.
- Previous Tweets from the #KRKTR archive can be ReTweeted or Replied to in order to earn points during official game play.
- Threads can originate from any #KRKTR player.
- Threads originated by @KRKTR_HUB may become privileged. (Haven’t figured this part out yet.)
- Serious #KRKTR players are encouraged not to respond to “bad will” Tweets. Let them die alone and quickly.
Advanced play involves careful and strategic use of hashtags to make connections whenever an intersection appears.
Cultivation of a connection across two different discourses (as organized by the hashtag) requires repetition and persistence.
Rather than hashtagging every word, be focused and deliberate about the connection you’re trying to forge.
Prizes will be announced as sponsors come forth with them. (Negotiations are underway. Contact Steph with offers for this and future rounds of play.)
At the end of May, I’ll be presenting two major workshops at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE) in higher education.
One presentation, called Social Interpreting: An emerging model of simultaneous interaction, involves Babelverse, which you can learn about by watching this 20 minute video prepared for the @ think! Interpreting conference in Istanbul (March, 2014).
The second workshop is called Transmedia Character Building for Social Resilience. It promotes the idea that building character (#KRKTR) is an idea that can unify people across all kinds of divisions, and contribute to establishing locally-oriented community connections both within and beyond traditional power structures.