One sense of the verb, “progress,” is “to advance toward perfection or to a higher or better state; to improve.” That’s what comes to mind with the term “progressive,” as in, the Progressive Agenda: “favoring, working for, or characterized by progress or improvement.” It’s safe to say, our country needs to improve. Starting with basic human rights and dignity.
I spent an embarrassing amount of time watching the Parler videos on ProPublica. I learned that the Capitol Police, absurdly outnumbered, fought valiantly for a hellish hour to hold off the mob. Their little riot gates would make better bike racks. For that tense time, conventional rules of obedience to authority held through bitter confrontations. Most people seemed content to stand there yelling their slogans. Of course we know what happened, but that long hour teetered between order and chaos.
I never took Econ in college, which qualifies me to think freely. Haha! This is like when climate deniers start with, “I’m no scientist, but . . .” (Ignorance is no excuse, but it’s also bliss.) That’s not to say I haven’t read widely since: Ecology of Commerce, Natural Capitalism, Sacred Economics, Small is Beautiful, Deep Economy, Plan B, The Real Wealth of Nations, and The Truth About Green Business. To name a few.
It struck me recently that Capitalism is a crap system. It’s a lie. It’s a wonder that a system relying on cooked books and slave labor has survived this long. I guess it’s a testament to greed and stubbornness or the lure of power and willful ignorance.
Capitalism doesn’t account for its true costs. It does not factor in the costs of environmental despoliation and degradation. It does not account for the true costs of waste. That a capitalist system has waste at all is a gaping design flaw unworthy of us as the self-appointed cleverest species.
By far worst of all, it does not count the true cost of labor. Not from its earliest beginnings, in the heyday of growth and brutal slave labor, not the offshoring era to black and brown people in the global south. Not here, now, with the refusal to pay workers a living wage and the obscene (and still growing) wealth gap. Not with union-busting and exploitative practices, like keeping a workforce just under the eligibility line for benefits like pensions and health insurance. And bathroom breaks (looking at you, Amazon).
Americans are inflamed by conversations on social media, by divisive rhetoric from our so-called leaders. We are inflamed by the chaos and violence on our streets. We are inflamed by the injustice of systemic racism.
In the body, inflammation is a signal of imbalance in the immune system. When the inflammatory response flares out of control, it’s called a cytokine storm—a term we’ve learned in recent months with COVID-19. The body’s immune system attacks its own cells and tissues, rather than fighting the virus. It can be fatal.
There’s been so much written and said about the “inner child” in the last couple of decades that any mention of it is likely to bring on an eye roll. This morning, though, I was visited by a memory that gave me a whole new view of it (or, in my case, her). I’ve had a lifelong love-hate relationship with the creative, childlike part of me. Okay, mostly hate. And shame. Today, I have a new understanding of how unnecessary that has been. And a glimpse of the sweet freedom that’s available with just a small shift.
About ten years ago, I was at a weeklong program at Integral on Sustainability. Among the many fabulous experiences we had was a guided practice called “Big Mind.” This is a combination of Buddhist and modern Western psychological thought developed by Dennis Genpo Merzel to not only “get in touch” with inner voices, but to embody and integrate them. To feel whole. When he invoked the inner child, I became sad and forlorn. Later, I was surprised when everyone else said their inner child was carefree and playful and joyful. Continue reading →
I was glad to see that the organizers of the Women’s March have issued a position paper. It’s good to have a better sense of the energy bubbling up within and around this event. If the bus parking applications are any indication, this is going to be big. It’s fair to assume that people are coming for many, many personal reasons. The position paper helps us to recognize a shared purpose. And from there, who knows what’s possible?
So it was with a growing feeling of unease that I read down the four PDF pages, point by point, wondering when—and then if—the environment would get a mention. Here we have gender justice, freedom from violence against our bodies, an end to—and accountability for—police brutality, and the end of racial profiling. Here we have dismantling gender and racial inequities within the criminal justice system, Reproductive Freedom, Gender Justice, LGBTQIA rights, and a fair, secure, equitable economy. Here we have equal pay for equal work, the dignity and fair treatment of care workers, the right to organize, the living wage, Civil Rights as birthright, passing the ERA, and immigrant and refugee dignity and rights.
A fellow Baltimorean who has been a tireless and effective advocate for housing policy reform is calling it quits for lack of funding. Driven by her own sense of justice, she has helped countless elderly folks avoid eviction and called attention to the disgusting inequities in Baltimore housing. A wise man said recently that people have long known how to profit off exploiting poor people. He said, when we can figure out how to profit off helping the poor, well, then. Look out.
It disgusts me that these things always come down to money. But this is not a post about the sacred energy of money or the power of intention or of positive thinking or the secrets of manifesting wealth. This is a rant about politics, a topic I normally avoid. I saw Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings speak last night. He considers himself an ordinary man who has had extraordinary experiences by the grace of God and his own hard work. Pity that he is the exception rather than the rule. Continue reading →
The Dalai Lama was at the White House last week. It was their fourth meeting, held in private with no video cameras or reporters present. This rankled the officials in China, who see the Dalai Lama as “a dangerous separatist.” Obama considers him a friend, and I imagine a trusted advisor and fellow leader. Given the timing of the visit, the Dalai Lama offered his condolences for the many victims of the Orlando shooting.
Last year, the Dalai Lama celebrated his 80th birthday. There is a big photograph of him off to one side of the yoga studio where I practice. He’s laughing and pointing, like he just made a joke or is putting someone at ease. Looking at it yesterday, it struck me that he has been the spiritual leader of Tibet for my entire life. Even when I had no idea who he was. Continue reading →
I’ve been reading Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. It’s a perfect illustration of the threshold between stories. The old stories—of law and order, of command and control, of rich versus poor, of white versus black—are exposed through vivid facts, stories, and history as unfair and inadequate, manipulative and destructive.
Everyone has the power to conjure the stories that we so desperately need now, particularly when it comes to the gulf between people of means and those in poverty, white privilege and the oppression of people of color. Alternative stories are recognizable for their humanity, their appeal to empathy, connection, and belonging.
In “Straight Outta Compton,” Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy E and their friends are taking a break outside the record studio in Torrance, where they are producing their second album. The police roll up and get to work harassing and humiliating them in a practiced way, assuming they are gang bangers and dope slingers. The musicians’ protests are met not with respect or the benefit of the doubt, but with threats of further harm. It’s a clear dramatization of the power-over dynamic enabled by the war on drugs. The militarized tactics of police rely on the logic of old stories. Continue reading →
This guest post is by Megan Carlson. You can read a bit about her on the “Denizens” page.
When I was ten years old, a friend’s mom said—to my face—that she felt sorry for me because of how hard my mom worked. She was “worried about how I would turn out.” My mom, a graduate of Johns Hopkins Medical School and entering into a field, at that time, heavily dominated by men, was somehow an unfit role model for her daughter in the southern eyes of women in our community.
My parents, though, carried on in discarding gender roles. My dad had me in the lab with him on Saturdays running “experiments” at the age of six, and my mom decided to keep being a great physician despite the questioning looks and muttered concerns. However, in spite of their great efforts in molding a daughter who was fearless, I still had issues with confidence and self-doubt, something that was invisible to most. Luckily, my professors at Auburn and Clemson saw the weight of my insecurity bearing down on me, and day by day they chipped away at it until I discovered what it felt like to move freely. Continue reading →
Sunil Yapa’s novel has a strong structure: a ensemble cast—seven different points of view plus a narrator’s voice–weaving around an actual event with vivid details that rise to the level of mythic symbolism. A billy club stands for the brutality of all authority wielded in violence; a police horse evokes intelligence beyond the petty human; a facial scar suggests menace or heroism; the misty rain sets a theatrical atmosphere. Details like PVC pipe, apple cider vinegar-soaked pink bandanas, swim goggles, and a riot helmet reflecting clouds passing overhead work together in an ominous concert of impending doom.
The story at times feels like passages of the Mahabarata, Greek myths of fathers and sons, Shakespearean drama of mistaken identity, or the Bible’s story of the Prodigal son returning. Perennial activist John Henry is a Moses character, bringing his people to freedom through the desert. Even the simple mention of stores at an intersection—the Gap, Banana Republic, a bank—takes on an End-of Empire feel. Yes, they are actual stores, but they also stand for something far greater, beyond any one individual. They are part of a vast capitalist network of exploitation of material resources and people’s lives and livelihoods. Continue reading →