I am usually positive and forward-looking about the political scene in America; even in the worst of the Trump years I found that taking action mitigated my dread of the evident fascist evils stalking our land. But, this year, everything is up for grabs: both democracy and the fate of our beloved planet.
With two weeks before the midterm election, here is a little civics lesson and a diary about how my days are going during this particularly perilous political season.
Here’s Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer celebrating one of the many pieces of Democratic Party legislation that have gone through Congress during Biden’s first term. And there we all were in the middle of a very good political summer, flushed with triumph from getting the Inflation Reduction Act signed into law. Why were our newspapers and media full of doom and gloom about Biden’s low popularity and about huge setbacks expected for the November midterms? So, I hauled myself out of the river once again, setting my swim noodle aside to write an Impakter.com column about this odd discrepancy. Here’s what I came up with:
What did I do this summer? Although I was determined to lollygag as much as possible, Washington went into high gear on climate change legislation, which I have been working on with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby for years. Now, it all came to a head! As folks in Europe seem to want to know what is going on in American politics, here was my blow by blow description of this exciting summer rush to save our beloved planet that I wrote for Impakter.com.
It is so hard to pick up my newspaper in the morning and read nothing but horror stories! Here is my suggestion about making a silk purse of constructive action out of the sow’s ear of Replacement Theory: https://bit.ly/3y5QUsY
“We may not have wings or leaves” like our fellow created beings, writes Botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer in Braided Sweetgrass, ” but we humans do have words. Language is our gift and our responsibility. I’ve come to think of writing as an act of reciprocity with the living land.”
This is a great motto for me when I wonder about my purpose in life since I morphed from a writer of Eco Fiction to a political/environmental columnist for a world-wide publication and a contributor to a newspaper out of Frankfort. Michigan.
So, here we go! For those of you interested in a collection of my columns on the Trump Horrors, the Rise of Republican Fascism, the Nitty-Gritty of Political Organizing, How to Handle Climate Grief, and some of the alternative ways to redeem our good green world that we yearn for in these troubled times, check out my updates to The Worlds We Long For . Then, to cheer yourself up, you can see what my zany family and I have been up to at our Betsie River cabin now that, after long pandemic absence, we are together again!
A reader asked me “how can Black people be disinherited if they didn’t have anything in the first place?” This denies the long record of Black achievement since Emancipation, even in the face of Jim Crow and (now) White Supremacist constraints. The “talented tenth,” as the college-educated Black professional class used to call itself, made significant progress under Reconstruction policies enacted for their advancement: “Black Wall Street,” the Tulsa neighborhood that was destroyed while hundreds of African Americans were massacred, was a well-off urban community chockablock with businesses, banks, and substantial homes – all Black owned and Black administered. That was why it was so offensive to white people.
This morning I came across a review called “Upwardly Minded” in which Lawrence Otis Graham looks at how Elizabeth Dowling Taylor describes historic Black mobility in The Original Black Elite: Daniel Murray and the Story of a Forgotten Era: “Dowling Taylor recounts the rise of African-Americans during the time of Reconstruction and their fall during the subsequent decades, when legislation was advanced in order to again segregate, impoverish and humiliate a population that many whites believed had gained too much.” (italics mine). The point is, the minute Reconstruction policies provided opportunities, Black citizens like Daniel Murray took advantage of them and advanced significantly. Then, as now, Black achievement stirred racial animus and gave rise to the laws and intimidations – especially the hundreds of hideous lynchings-of the Jim Crow era.
White Supremacists have not changed their minds in all these years. Now they are attacking CRT (Critical Race Theory) using the term as a dog whistle to rally around banning the history of the Reconstruction era, along with the slavery that preceded it, from American educational curricula. Besides their fierce need to see somebody else’s face than theirs “at the bottom of the well” (see my Impakter article, they seem to be afraid that, as a “majority minority ” Black citizens will treat whites the way we whites have treated them. This ignores African American culture’s powerfully pragmatic non-violent ethic and the paradigm shift from power/over to power/with (or, from either/or to both/ and) impacting our quest for the common good in the multi-racial America of the 21st century.
One effective way to familiarize students with Black history is to teach Black literature. After never being assigned any works by Black writers during my entire education at Smith College (B.A. English), The University of Wisconsin (M.A., English), and Columbia University (Ph.D, Comparative Literature), it was a heady experience to be introduced to excellent but marginalized poems, novels, and plays while teaching at Spelman College in Atlanta, an historically Black college for women.
How you include African American materials in standard courses must be carefully considered: first, a teacher needs thorough scholarly grounding in the material. Secondly, syllabuses must be constructed to “Mainstream” content. You want to avoid the condescension of “wagging the tail,” by sticking your one Black example like an afterthought at the end of your syllabus; nor do you want to “mix and stir” by plopping it in without comparative analysis. You need to avoid the “just like us!” attitude of facile inclusion, privileging Euro-American aspects as normative by praising the similarities between marginalized materials and the traditional canon. In order to avoid modelling racial superiority and racial ignorance you want to intersperse the previously marginalized materials throughout and in dialogue with other course offerings – I taught Winnebago cosmological myths , for example alongside the Book of Genesis; or you could let Frederick Douglas dialogue with Henry David Thoreau by teaching the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas: and “Civil Disobedience” side by side.
I asked my students at the University of Wisconsin, who were almost entirely white, to figure out what strengths of character Vyry drew upon in Margaret Walkers’s Jubilee, how Indigo survived racial and other life obstacles in Ntozake Shange’s Sassafras, Cypress, and Indigo and why Pecola in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye was beaten down by her life circumstances.
Students come out of reading such literature with empathy for the characters and a grasp of what life has been like for African-Americans over the generations.
When I came to Birmingham for the first time in 1958, I thought the local newpaper was named The Birmingham Eccentric because I met so many eccentrics in Birmingham.
First, there was my fiancé’s family. His father was a fan of the Grand Trunk railroad and rode it to work in Detroit, but his great passion was for buying oddball cars – Volkswagens, Citroens, and Peugots – before anyone ever heard of them.
On my first visit, however, I was met at Willow run in an all-American brand, an open top, 1932 De Soto touring car. It was a huge, heavy thing – useful, as I discovered my first Birmingham Christmas, for rescuing hapless drivers of more lightweight vehicles. When it began to snow, I thought we would settle cozily around the fire. This was not to be: we buttoned up in layers and went out to the De Soto. My fiancé and his brother stood on the running boards, but I was assigned to sit on the hood to provide traction while we drove up and down big Beaver in the blizzard, pulling people out of the ditch.
Eccentricity ran in that family: the teetotalling great-grandfather had been an inventor of copper tubing devices, but when he learned, to his chagrin, that they were being used in whisky distillery, he sold the business and moved to Birmingham, where he founded his own religion. I inherited his notebooks with hand written chemical formulas down one side of the page and, upside down on the other, the tents of his oddball sect.
Did I mention that my mother-in-law dried her paper towels in the oven to use again and removed the yolks from hard-boiled eggs to feed to the squirrels? They dropped dead all from overdoses of choresterol, but maybe that was the point?
Then there was Fred the milkman, who stopped for long chats in the kitchen and knew everybody in the neighborhood. And the hermit who lived in the woods across the street. And the family friend, a quirky loner who never saw a doctor and smoked himself to death while his house fell down around him.
Birmingham eccentricity manifested itself in dizzyingly idiosyncratic housing styles: stucco bungalows next to wooden Cape Cods, mid-century glass modern next to traditional brick ranches. The houses conformed, nevertheless, in being of the same size. Tiny homes ran along certain streets, two and three bedrooms prevailed on others, while, one street over, they might run to four or five. You mostly found real mansions on streets of their own, mainly clustered near the Cranbrook Estate.
The town itself was nice, though the proprietors of the hardware and drugstore and corner market were (you guessed it) somewhat quirky. It was a perfectly ordinary place to shop- you could get an apron at Kresge’s, a modest outfit at Crowley’s, splurge on something fancier at Jacobson’s, and have a chat about books at the Birmingham Bookstore.
Recently, we had an interim minister at our church, and when I asked him if he had walked downtown he threw back his head and laughed “that’s not a place for people to shop,” he explained. Birmingham, it seems, has been turned into a high-end outdoor boutique, affordable only by the (very) rich.
I guess you can tell that I like variety and difference and that I find Birmingham’s monochrome population a serious drawback. Historically segregated by zoning ordnances and redlining, it has been slow to attract a variety of residents. That was why, when I read about the city’s new plan for multi-unit, affordable housing along our major boulevards, I posted in our neighborhood email about how excited I was at the diversity the new housing might foster.
This was not well received. I learned that I belonged to the “cancel culture.” I had to ask around about what that meant: if it is monochromatic sameness in race and income I would like to see cancelled,, I plead guilty. I was asked why I thought other (?) people might want to live among us (?). One woman was convinced that living in Birmingham constitutes the pot at the end of a meritocratic rainbow for which only the wealthy should aspire; she expected her own young relatives to live in Royal Oak until they earned the right to live here.
Fear not: though we are an endangered species, Birmingham still has its eccentrics. For example: this is me writing on a paper plate on my head:
Keep your eyes open- you might spot one coming out of the woodwork anywhere around town. There are hoarders and hermits, quirky loners and cranks, off-the-grid artists, inventors and oddballs yet dwelling amongst us.
Consider the admirably persistent artist who rose at dawn for years and years to concoct beautiful assemblages of feathers and flowers and pine cones all along the path in Linden Park. Just yesterday, I discovered that she inspired an apprentice, someone who had covered the top of a sawed off tree trunk with stones, little figures, and decorations with colorful baubles dangling over from an overarching branch. And then, just a little way further down the path, I found a poem thoughtfully encased in plastic attached to a birdhouse, telling us all about the goldfinches in the park and how they warm out hearts.
After the riots on January 6, intended to stop our process of confirming Joe Biden’s election and assassinate our leaders, democracy prevailed. Like my previous columns on Making the Political Sausage for www.Impakter.com, This is my take on how it’s done. I am fortunate to have an excellent editor, Claude Forthomme, who has a wonderful way of coming up with videos to dig deeper into my subject!
Back in February 2019 (in what seems now another century!) I posted a blog on Making Political Sausage – how to get real political work done. Now, in these difficult times not only of pandemic but economic and racial turmoil, individuals feel more helpless than ever.
They are right: individuals can’t do anything; they need to join things. Starting at this point that I made in my previous blog, I go more deeply into how we can strengthen ourselves during these difficult pandemic times by joining like-minded groups.
But we are in a pandemic! This is no time to join things!
Think again, and tip toe into the world of tech. Your smartphone and your screen can exponentially strengthen your political outreach, and any organization you choose to join has a well set up program to help you.
Here’s my update, and I hope it makes you feel less helpless!