Category Archives: issues

This planet is their home

“We cannot separate our children from the ills that affect everyone, however hard we try.” – Erica Jong

People often ask me how my decision to live without a car affects my children. Usually, I respond with my standard spiel about how we’re able to do all the stuff other families do (blah, blah, blah), because for the most part, it’s true — and because what usually underlies these questions is an assumption that I am shortchanging my kids, that I have sacrificed their birthright of a middle-class lifestyle in service of some extreme and unrealistic ideology.

The thing is, in a way, I have.

I look around and see friends and acquaintances driving their kids to water parks and on camping adventures and to premiere athletic competitions and to schools that are perfectly suited to their needs and temperaments. I see them participating in cultural organizations we would likely join if we owned a car. And sometimes, it feels like I am shortchanging them. Certainly, our life choices limit their access to opportunities many of their peers enjoy.

And then I remember that my children are not deprived in any of the ways that matter. They are loved. They are housed. They have access to fresh food, health care, and unlimited books (thank you, Seattle Public Library). They participate in sports and study the arts and play outside safely in their own neighborhood. And they see their beloved extended family regularly, if not as often as they (or I) would like.

Yes, their lives are constrained in some ways, but all kids’ lives are constrained by their parents values and circumstances. (Just ask my dad, who was prohibited from participating in many school sports because it conflicted with his family’s religious observances.) And far more important than the minor, parentally imposed constraints they currently deal with are the very real threats to their future — climate change, extreme inequality, political instability — which are primarily the result of this coveted lifestyle they are being deprived of.

At some point, we have to acknowledge that what our culture values and prioritizes isn’t actually good for our children. We can continue to participate, or we can choose a different path, however impractical or unrealistic.

Several weeks ago, I came across this beautiful essay by Nicole Bradford, a mother of three whose husband Ben is facing several years in prison for participating in direct action efforts to stop fossil fuel extraction. Nicole’s insights are a gift, because they remind us of what we truly owe our children — and all children.

The accelerating instability of our earth is clarifying. And the act of rising to the enormity of what’s in front of us magnifies the commitment I made to them, when painfully, in love and toil, I brought them to this world.

I know that to use their youth as an excuse to not engage in this struggle would be to betray their existence. Together we are fighting for something all children on earth should be entitled to: a livable planet. And for Ben and me, the work of it becomes its own love story–to each other, and to our children.

Certainly, my family’s “sacrifice” (such as it is) cannot be compared to the Bradfords’ courageous stand. It’s difficult to even argue that our transportation choices are making any kind of difference — in the health of our planet or in our culture. But while the effectiveness of our resistance might be up for debate, the need for it is not.

Working for a healthy, peaceful, just planet does not conflict with our role as parents. On the contrary, it is the most important part of our job. We don’t owe our children fancy camps, or a perfectly curated school experience, or a spot on the best premiere soccer team. We owe them a future. We owe them a life.

 

What will happen if I don’t?

Last Friday, on a Portland light rail train, a white supremacist verbally abused and threatened two nonwhite teenage girls (one of whom was wearing a hijab) and then stabbed three men who tried to intervene, killing two of them.

Since I first learned about this horrific incident, I haven’t been able to think of much else.

For me, public transportation is a space to feel and be a part of my community. And a crowded train in broad daylight is one of the safest places I can imagine. I am not naïve. I know that sharing space with others isn’t always easy or pleasant and that transit reflects all of who we are, including our ugliness. What happened in Portland last week was a reminder that the ugliness can surface at any time, even in broad daylight on a crowded train.

When I was in my teens and early twenties, I endured near constant harassment by grown men — on transit trips and otherwise. And, like every person of color in this country, I have experienced my share of name-calling and other forms of direct, in-your-face racism. I know that feeling of vulnerability, the stress of staying vigilant and alert for the entirety of every outing, so I can easily imagine the fear, rage, and humiliation those young women felt when an unhinged stranger loomed over them spewing hate.

I can also imagine what it felt like to be on the train when the incident happened. I understand the desire to turn away from conflict or confrontation, especially if you are personally vulnerable. Rachel Macy, a passenger on that devastating ride, described her initial fear in an interview with The Oregonian.

“I didn’t want to look. I was too afraid. It felt really tense,” said the 45-year-old Southeast Portland resident of Native American descent. “I’m a woman of color. I didn’t want him to notice me.”

She found her courage a short time later, when she rushed to the aid of one of the victims and comforted him in his last moments of life.

Of course, the perceived threat was not the same for the men who did step in. Most likely, they did not imagine that the encounter would end their lives. But certainly, it would have been easier to look away, to turn up their headphones, to wait for someone else to help.

Those men did not turn away. And their decision to act with compassion and decency did end their lives.

What happened to these brave people should not be a cautionary tale; it should be a call to action. We cannot turn away from the evil that is happening around us — in our schools or workplaces or in the adjacent aisle on the train. We must stand and face it. We must defend the dignity of our fellow humans. Standing up might risk our lives, but it will save our souls.

Thank you, Ricky John Best, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, and Micah David-Cole Fletcher.

“The question is not, ‘if stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?’ The question is, ‘if I do not stop to help [the man] what will happen to him?’” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Parable of the Good Samaritan

What I know — what I owe

In the mid ’90s, back when I lived in Texas, I was a teacher. I came to the profession through a rather unconventional — though sadly, not particularly uncommon — path, and I didn’t last long.

I graduated from college with a BA in English, broke, with no clear idea of what I wanted to do for a living and exactly zero job prospects. Despite numerous visits to my university’s career services office, several half-hearted applications to “consulting” firms, and the moral low of applying for an entry-level communications role at Enron, I remained unemployed months after graduation. It was during this desperate time that I learned a school district at the northernmost reaches of the Houston city limits, comprised mostly of poor students of color, was hiring teachers.

It hadn’t occurred to me to apply for a teaching position, since I had no teaching certificate or teaching experience. (I had entertained — and dismissed — the idea of a teaching career early in college.) But this district was just as desperate as I was; it was experiencing an extreme teacher shortage and was therefore offering emergency certification. All that was required to apply was a bachelor’s degree, a mediocre GPA, and a background check.

After a short interview at the district office, I was hired to teach English at one of its four high schools. I started work at the beginning of the semester, without one single minute of training, without even a substantial meeting with the principal or the other teachers in my department. I was told what subject matter I was expected to cover, issued a couple of teacher’s manuals and a rolling cart, and sent off to do a job I had no idea how to do.

The cart, I should explain, was needed because I did not have a classroom. The school was overcrowded, and because I was a newbie and therefore low on the teaching totem pole, I was expected to “float”: teach each class in a different room, using the classrooms of more fortunate teachers during their planning periods. I had no desk of my own, no way to prepare lessons on the board in advance of class, and no place to meet with students or parents outside of class time. I didn’t even have access to a closet to store my coat and purse.

My classes were huge. Some had close to 40 students. On days when everyone showed up, there weren’t enough desks, and I would scramble at the beginning of the period in search of rare extras from other classrooms. A couple of times a month, a new student would show up. At least as often, a student on my roster would disappear.

The school had recently moved to “block” scheduling and for some reason could not figure out how to implement more than one lunch period with this new schedule. So, all 3,000 students ate lunch at the same time. There was not enough room for 3,000 people to eat in the cafeteria, so students ate throughout the school building. The staff was expected to supervise the students during lunch, to ensure that they followed school rules. This exercise in futility was called “lunch duty.”

Back in the mid 90s, state tests were just starting to become a thing. Texas’s test, then called the TAAS, was a big deal for districts and was an especially big deal for our district, since our scores were quite low. In my second year at the school, I was required to teach a daily, semester-long class on this test. (In block scheduling, a semester is the equivalent of a full school year.) I repeat: I was required to teach a daily class about how to take a test. This was in addition to the math test prep that I, an English teacher, was required to do with all of my classes for the first 10 minutes of every period.

These were the conditions under which I began my short-lived teaching career. It is clear to me now (even more than it was then) that I was not set up for success. Given the circumstances, I could not have given my students what they needed and deserved no matter how hard I tried. But the thing is, I didn’t really try.

I had no idea how to be a good teacher, and I didn’t ask for help. I didn’t find a mentor, or attend trainings, or read books about best practices for classroom management or lesson preparation. Instead, I prepared lessons at the last minute and “winged” my way through almost every class. I looked forward to my students completing required readings so that I could show the movie version of the story and avoid teaching for an entire class period. Any (rare) moments that I wasn’t required to spend with students I spent in a locked classroom with a few other young teachers, talking about how much we hated our jobs.

Once, I shared a lunch duty post with a PE teacher, a man in his 50s with many years of experience. In the course of our conversation, I complained about the chaos at the school. He agreed with me about the craziness but seemed resigned and wholly unconcerned. “These kids are trash,” he told me matter-of-factly. He only worked at our school, he explained, because the district paid more than districts with more “desirable,” students. He was looking forward to retirement, but in the intervening years, he would earn his paycheck honorably, by “giv[ing] them a basketball.”

What did I say in response to this man’s disgusting comments? Absolutely nothing.

At the beginning of every semester, I received individual education plans (IEPs) for all of my students with special needs. As their teacher, I was required to adjust my teaching style to suit these students’ learning styles. I know for sure that I did not do that. I did not even know how.

I rarely called parents, in part because many of my students were from non-English-speaking families, and I lacked the necessary communication skills, but mostly because I wasn’t organized or proactive enough.

Despite these (and many other) deficiencies, both of my formal reviews were solid: in the B+ range. This fact alone tells you all you need to know about the level of expectation and the amount of oversight in that school.

It wasn’t all awful. I showed up every day, despite the terrible conditions and the depressing, prison-like atmosphere. I tried to help my students understand how their schoolwork applied to their lives and their futures. I managed a few creative and inspired lessons. And I am certain that some of my students learned something of value from me.

With my 9th graders — in someone else’s classroom (ahem). Hard to tell which of us is the teacher.

Two of my students — eating their lunches on top of a trash can

With a student on the last day of school. Loved that kid but was singing, “Hallelujah!” in my head.

After two years, I accepted that I was not cut out to be a teacher and moved on to a profession I was better suited for. (A decade later, I moved on again, but that’s a story for another time.)

Now I have children in school, and I am dependent upon teachers to care about them, to see their humanity, and to create safe and stimulating learning environments. Now I understand better than ever what my students deserved, and just how much I failed them.

There is no way to fix the mistakes I made. All I can do now is ask myself what I owe.

Certainly, I owe a commitment to the children who are enrolled in public school now. I owe support and encouragement to those teachers who take seriously their responsibility to educate our children. (This support must also manifest in the public arena, by demanding that our leaders fund reasonable working conditions and decent salaries.)

Also, I owe the truth.

The truth is, we don’t value all children equally. The truth is, we are willing to accept substandard education for poor students and students of color.

The truth is, we are throwing away human beings.

What are we going to do about it?

I’m too damn tired to think of a title for this

Yesterday morning, I had to look my children in the face and explain to them that a man who was supported by the KKK is our new president.

A. Man. Who. Was. Supported. By. The. K! K! K! Is. Our. New. President.

We are no longer in the realm of politics or policy. This is about denying others’ humanity. This is about inciting violence. This is about evil.

I have never, at least not in my adult life, felt connected to any symbols associated with the “United” States — not the flag, not the anthem, not the Declaration of Independence — none of it. I see behind and beneath all of that, to the oppression and empire building. To the individual suffering of people who are considered afterthoughts or unfortunate casualties of this great American Experiment. And I just can’t drink the Kool Aid.

What I do feel connected to, however, is this city where I was born. Not the symbols or the culture, but the place. This landscape — the mountains, the water, the trees, the rain, even the way it smells — is deeply embedded in me.

Tahoma

I am a descendent of people from three continents. Nearly all of my ancestors – West African, Cherokee, Choctaw, Irish – share a history of displacement. This place, where my grandparents migrated over 80 years ago, is the closest I have to homeland. My father was born here. My children were born here. My people are here: dad, brothers, nieces, nephew, lifelong friends. My doctor, my dentist. My library. My neighborhood. My beautiful neighbors. The trees I planted. My church. My kids’ school. My mother’s ashes. My grandparents’ graves. My community. My memories. My history. I am as rooted as I can ever hope to be.

But on Tuesday, that was taken from me.

I am not safe here. This is not my home.

We are water

These are strange times. I look around and see a world consumed by greed and hate. Everywhere I turn, there is an injustice, an outrage, a terror, each on its own so big, so entrenched and intractable, that it doesn’t seem possible to fix it — or even to make a meaningful impact. I don’t know what to do about any of it, so most of the time, I do nothing.

But something beautiful is bubbling up in the midst of the greed and hate: resistance. While I sit around feeling hopeless and angry, courageous people — regular folks with bills and deadlines and daycare pickups — are building movements. These people understand that knowing the exact right thing to do isn’t as important as the doing. So they speak up, tell the truth, and refuse to go along, in the face of unlimited money and military might marshalled against them and a corporate media establishment that alternately ignores and vilifies them. They stand up — despite the risks to their reputations, livelihoods, safety, and freedom — because it is all they can do.

I am humbled and inspired by Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, sHell No!, COPINH, the Democracy Defense League, and so many others. And today, as we await a federal judge’s decision about the fate of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, I am especially grateful for the Standing Rock Sioux and all of the people who have gathered at Sacred Stone Camp, sacrificing themselves to protect our water.

Water protectors at the Sacred Stone camp resisting the Dakota Access oil pipeline (source: Indianz.com)

Water protectors at the Sacred Stone camp resisting the Dakota Access oil pipeline (source: Indianz.com)

Last Saturday, one of the members of the camp was interviewed after being attacked by dogs from the pipeline company’s private security. The reporter asked the man if he thought he and his fellow activists would win their battle to stop the pipeline. He replied, “We win every day, when we stand in unity.”

I am with you. Thank you.

Context

My Chicklet is a woman’s woman. Almost as soon as she could talk, she was proudly asserting her gender identity – and allegiance. Now she’s eight and a half, and for the last few months, she’s been talking about feminism and women’s rights in ways I hadn’t even thought to introduce to her yet. Her delivery is a bit on the self-righteous and unforgiving side – she comes by that naturally (ahem) – but she’s not wrong about any of it.

Chicklet’s newfound feminism has caused some sibling tension. Whenever she makes an assertion about men’s role in women’s oppression, or asks to participate in something that is for girls only, her little brother gets upset. Really upset.

In their most recent exchange, he burst into tears as soon as the subject came up. “Don’t say stuff like that,” he sobbed. “You’re making me feel bad about my gender!”

Some background:

Sweet Busling is one of the most open-hearted, fair, and inclusive people I have ever known. In his world, the power balance is clearly tilted in favor of his older sister, whom he adores and looks up to. And, though his dad and I have been proactive about teaching the historical roots of racism, we have kept most of our discussions about gender to general concepts of equality, which Busling has taken to heart. He simply doesn’t see sexism as something that hurts women. Instead, he sees any attempt to single out or exclude someone based on their gender as wrong. And, he is personally offended by any suggestion that there is something wrong with being male.

For months, I have struggled with how to handle Busling’s reactions to his sister’s gender-related complaints and assertions. My instinct has been to comfort him, to push aside my daughter’s very valid critiques in the interest of protecting his feelings. After all, he has no context for understanding women’s oppression. And he certainly didn’t have anything to do with it. Plus, he’s my baby! Every time I look at his sweet face, I want to reassure him that everything is OK.

But here’s the thing: Everything is not OK. Sexism and misogyny pervade our culture. If I avoid or dismiss or sugar coat the truth so that my child can feel good, I have done him – and all of the girls and women he will interact with in the future – a disservice. And really, we’ve had enough recent examples of self-absorbed, entitled young men who see their feelings as more important than someone else’s freedom or safety.

solidarityMy son’s perspective about women’s equality is my responsibility. (Actually, it’s mine and his father’s, but you get the idea.) He doesn’t have any context about women’s oppression because he is new to the world, so it’s my job to provide it. This doesn’t mean I should teach him to feel bad or guilty about being a boy. Instead, I must teach him that oppressive, hierarchical systems hurt everyone, that his freedom is bound up with everyone else’s, and that it is his responsibility to challenge systems that harm people.

Experiencing my own child’s inability to recognize sexism has helped clarify many things for me, including the refusal of many seemingly sane white people to acknowledge the existence of racism. In the past, I assumed that such people feigned ignorance to mask their hostility or indifference to black and brown pain. But now, I am starting to understand that they simply have no context.

Racism, anti-blackness, and white supremacy are facts of life in the United States — part of the very foundation of our country. And yet, it is possible for white children to make it to adulthood without ever being forced to deal with this reality. Schools do not teach the truth, and parents – even those who consider themselves anti-racist – often exacerbate the problem by avoiding difficult conversations or substituting platitudes like “skin color doesn’t matter” for substantive dialog.

Of course we want our children to feel good and have a pleasant life, but our children’s comfort cannot come at the expense of justice. Parents of white children must educate their families (starting with themselves) about racism. They must teach the truth about our nation’s history. They must point out examples of racism and give their children the tools to recognize and resist it in their own lives.

We are all born into systems of oppression we had no hand in creating. Sometimes, they benefit us (in an immediate, individual sense, though certainly not in a long-term collective one); often, they don’t. Either way, it’s our responsibility to help dismantle them. Even if it’s uncomfortable.

Building the beloved community

Several of the writers I most admire say that they write to make sense of the world, to explore topics that trouble them or make them curious. Through their wisdom, I have begun to understand that writing isn’t about having answers; it’s about looking for them. Hallelujah (!), because 1) I have no answers – ever, and 2) asking questions is my specialty. (Guess I forgot one skill back when I was making a list.) Folks, if you could get paid for wondering stuff, I’d have a lucrative career on my hands.

I digress.

One topic I spend a lot of time considering is community. Resilient, interdependent, connected communities are critically important to our mental and physical well being. They are necessary for educating children, caring for elders, protecting our natural environment, and building movements. And yet, very few people I know can claim themselves a part of one.

On a superficial level, I am steeped in community. I am married to a man I adore and am mama to two amazing children. I live in the city where I was born and raised (a physical place I love deeply), and I still have family – including two nieces and a nephew (!!!) – and longtime friends here. I like and spend time with my neighbors. My kids attend the local public school, which is a half mile from our home, and both my spouse and I are actively involved there. Our church is a mile away. We vote and volunteer. And, because we are bus riders, we regularly share space with the people we share the world with.

All of this sounds good on paper, but in reality, it’s a disjointed mess. My in-laws live thousands of miles away. My mother is deceased. My father is out of town for several months every year. My two siblings who still live in the area are long freeway rides away. All of my closest girlfriends live either across town or across the country and are so busy with work and family that even phone conversations are a rarity. And while our church is close to home, only a handful of our fellow members still live in the neighborhood. Even our pastor lives in Kent.

What this means is that the people I have deep, long-term, soulful connections with are not the people I see every day. I am fortunate that my neighbors, the people I do see every day, are fantastic. We are slowly building bonds, but they are not (yet) the people who know my secrets or who I would call on to hold my family up through a crisis. I am making an effort to spend more time with them, but making time to see people is not the same as making a life with people. And to be honest, I’m not even sure how to do that.

The details of my specific situation aren’t particularly important, except for the fact that they aren’t particularly unique. Many of my friends and acquaintances are in the same boat: living their daily lives far from those they hold dearest, and lacking the time or ability to connect in meaningful ways with people in their immediate vicinity.

So how did we get here? What has brought us to this place of such profound disconnection? What does community even look like, and why are so many of us missing it?

We experience community in many different ways, including, these days, through the world-shrinking miracle of the internet. But what strikes me as most critical — and also most lacking — is a robust, connected, compassionate network in one’s immediate physical location. Instead of merely access points to the other places we go every day, our neighborhoods should be unique, diverse, dynamic, home bases, where we care for one another and the physical space we occupy, and truly build our lives.

OK, yeah. It sounds a little “woo woo” – and a lot naïve. I realize, perhaps better than anyone, that the idea of community is often a lot rosier than the reality. Dealing with people is hard. Dealing with conflicting ideas and interests is hard. But we have buried our humanity so deeply under the layers of nonsense our culture prioritizes, we have made it a lot harder than it needs to be.

In the United States, we have a history that disconnects us, on many levels. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on a history lesson, but I will point out that building a nation through settler colonialism, genocide, slavery, oppression, and exploitation of the natural environment tends have a negative impact on community.

The people who colonized this part of the world – perhaps because they didn’t originate in or understand the places they settled – lacked reverence for them. Again and again, settlers arrived in a place, assessed its “value” by the natural resources that could be dug up, cut down, caught, or killed. Human beings were also devalued – exploited, oppressed, or exterminated – in service of the goal of material wealth. “Race” became the justification for this devaluation – and it continues to inform our connection to place and to each other.

The system of separation, of using race to create winners and losers, of privileged people seeking the next “frontier” to exploit for profit, persists. In our extractive, profit-focused economy, places are interchangeable. Companies move on when resources are exhausted, or when another location promises cheaper labor, lower taxes, or fewer regulations. The wealthy grow wealthier by actively undermining community, while the victims of this exploitative way of life are either displaced, forced to leave their homes in search of work, or incarcerated.

Even if we are fortunate enough to find a means of survival and a permanent place to settle, the structure of our society prevents us from being in community. Most of us have to work long and hard – sometimes at more than one job – just to get by. (Don’t get me started on the cost of living in this town.) Those of us who are privileged enough to earn decent wages often work at jobs that require long hours and round-the-clock availability. All that time spent working leaves us precious little time for people.

Our built environment also fosters isolation. For many decades, communities have been built to prioritize cars — with multiple lanes, no sidewalks, and few public gathering spaces. Travel happens in an isolated bubble between parking structures and involves no contact with human beings. Neighborhoods become less important, because we can drive anywhere we want to go. Coveted homes in these car-centric communities are built to be self-contained. Their big yards, rec rooms, and entertainment centers preclude any need to interact with others for leisure.

All of this (plus the complete absence of a social safety net and sane family leave policies) creates a society in which we are disconnected from the fact of our interdependence. We see the world in terms of ourselves, our partners and children — and possibly our extended families. But even most families have a sense of impermanence. Our kids grow up, move away – often, far away – in search of opportunity or independence and start their own families. There is no shared memory, no inter-generational support system, no continuity of connection.

No wonder we feel so alone.

I don’t know how to build the beautiful communities I envision. (Shoot, I don’t even know how to keep my own children from arguing.) But what I do know is that we cannot build anything until we start digging ourselves out from under all the layers of racism, individualism, and materialism and rediscover our humanity.

We must be willing to acknowledge, understand, and atone for our nation’s history. This means that the truth must be told, from a variety of perspectives, in formal and informal settings, at every opportunity.

We must radically restructure our economic priorities. We might not be able to overhaul our entire economic system, but we can act in small and large ways to prioritize human lives and relationships over productivity and profit. Obviously, we can vote and advocate for appropriate policies. But we can also lean on each other when we face economic pressure by sharing our skills and resources. We can offer – and ask for – help when it is needed.

We must foster a sense of place. In the United States in 2016, it is rare for people to settle in the same physical location for multiple generations. Mobility is part of who we are. But, we can work to build resilient communities while we live in them. We can do this by learning the natural and human history of the places we live and trying to understand how that history informs what is happening in the present. We can do this by meeting our neighbors – and finding ways to interact with them beyond the obligatory greeting at the mailbox. We can do this by giving of ourselves — planting trees, picking up trash, coaching a team — and taking advantage of local resources. And we can do this by getting outside as often as possible. Walking anywhere, even if it is just around the block, provides an opportunity to see our neighborhoods from a different perspective and to rejuvenate our spirits with a little fresh air and exercise.

So much is wrong with the way we live today. Our problems are structural, but they are also spiritual. They are destroying our natural environment, but they are also threatening our emotional well being by keeping us self-centered, lonely, and sedentary. The only way to respond is by making choices that directly counteract the forces that separate us.

I am encouraged by the perspective of one of my sheroes, Grace Lee Boggs, who taught us that change isn’t a top-down process. Instead, she said, it happens “from many small actions occurring simultaneously.” Here’s to using our lives — and our daily, small, actions — to improve the systems we’re a part of.

grace boggs

People of color and the planet, part I

“If you breathe air and drink water, this is about you.” – This Changes Everything

Almost all of my adult life, I’ve received the message that environmentalism isn’t for black people. Black people aren’t “outdoorsy.” (Don’t tell these folks!) We don’t camp (ahem) or hike or kayak, and we damn sure don’t mess with wildlife. And anyway, we don’t have time to worry about polar bears and glaciers when we can’t even walk home from the corner store without fearing for our lives.

But here’s the thing: Preserving the natural environment is critically important to black people — not just because we live on this planet with everyone else, but precisely because we are black.

Mainstream discourse causes us to think of “the environment” as some special, pristine place, far away from our day-to-day lives and immediate needs. This encourages us to believe that the only people who should concern themselves with environmental issues are people who have the luxury to focus on niche causes. In other words, white people.

In reality, our environment is directly connected to us. It is what we eat, drink, and breathe every day. What affects our air and water affects our health and well-being and our children’s ability to thrive.

In the United States, it is poor communities and communities of color that are most likely to experience the effects of pollution. Freeways are built through our neighborhoods, factories bury hazardous chemicals near our homes, and municipalities locate landfills in our backyards.

Often these polluting forces are brought with the promise of jobs, most of which are provided at the expense of our health — sometimes our very lives. More often than not, they are forced on us, because we do not have the money, political clout, or connections to stop them.

Natural disasters often disproportionately affect black people, both because we are more likely to be living in substandard housing and because the country as a whole just gives less of a damn about our well being.

On a global scale, the effects of climate change are not being distributed equally. The nations that will be most affected by climate change are in the global south, while the global north, which is largely responsible for the problem, sets emission targets that will protect its own people and then does nothing to meet even those.

So-called “developed” nations have built their wealth by appropriating resources from brown and black people across the world and by placing the disproportionate burden of their extractive, wasteful, greedy culture on those same people.

What this means is that we cannot truly improve the well-being of black and brown people without fundamentally changing the way we treat our environment. Rather than rejecting environmentalism as a hobby for people who already have everything, black folks should be at the very forefront of the movement to protect our planet and demand justice for its inhabitants.

This is not about buying recycled toilet paper or organic bed sheets. Certainly, individual choices have a role (though to be clear buying stuff is the exact opposite of what we need to be doing), but to counter the forces that are destroying us, we must build something bigger than our individual choices. We must come together as communities to protect our land and water. We must demand affordable, accessible transit service and safe places to walk and bike. We must insist on healthy, whole food grown sustainably. We must share with our neighbors.

We must refuse to accept rapacious corporations into our communities because they promise us a handful of jobs. Instead, we must insist that our young people be the first hired to build the sustainable, healthy, and safe communities of the future.

We no longer have the luxury of leaving environmentalism to others. As the tragedy in Flint makes painfully clear, our very lives depend on it.

An anniversary, a heavy baby, and an(other) angry rant

As of last week, it’s been twelve years since I gave up my car. A lot has changed since my 11-year “anniversary.” For one thing, we have another kid.

Seriously.

Our foster son (Heaviest Baby Ever, or HBE, for the purposes of this blog) is 21 months old, adorable, brilliant, and completely insane. (It is no coincidence that I posted my last entry mere days before he joined our family.) HBE has been with us since he was 16-months old, already well into the squirmy, irrational toddler phase. (On the plus side, I got to skip the busing while pregnant part this time.)

All of us have spent the last four months adjusting to this change and bonding with our delightful—and exhausting—new addition. The grown-ups in our household have also spent it figuring out how to manage busing with three babies.

As you might imagine, I have some STORIES TO TELL—about double the drop-offs, the return to traveling with a toddler, and adjusting to having more children than hands—but I’ll save those for future posts. Today, I’m not particularly interested in sharing the details of my personal experience. Or, perhaps I mean to say, my family’s personal experience isn’t really the point.

Over these twelve years, I’ve come to understand that the fact that we’ve managed to make this car-free life work, despite all the children, route “restructuring,” and sketchy stop removals is not reflective of what is possible for most people. It is reflective of some level of determination and stubbornness on our part—and also of a fair amount of privilege.

What’s on my mind almost all the time (and certainly every time I sit down to write something about transit)? The many people who aren’t managing.

Instead of focusing on the tradeoffs and compromises we were willing to make in order to live near transit and other amenities, I want talk about the fact that most working people can’t afford to live in Seattle at all, with or without tradeoffs.

The cost of housing in Seattle has been a problem for decades. At this point, it has reached the level of crisis. It is the most important issue our city faces, and there is shamefully little being done about it. We can talk all we want about urban villages and walkability and live/work communities, but if only rich people can live these utopias we’re building, we haven’t solved any problems. If anything, we’ve made problems worse, pushing people who can’t afford cars to distant suburbs that require them and moving rich people, many of whom will still choose to own cars (even if we ever manage to provide adequate transit service), into a crowded city that is better off without them.

Rather than regale you with stories of the dozens (hundreds?) of times I walked from one end of Yesler to the other (it’s 32 hilly blocks, in case you were wondering) because the 27 doesn’t run during the day anymore (!!!), I’d rather talk about the reliability and availability of transit in this region. The pathetic frequency of many routes, combined with the fact that buses are stuck in the same traffic mess as cars (but unlike cars, don’t have the option of rerouting to get around it), means that buses simply can’t be relied upon to get folks to their jobs, childcare pickups, and medical appointments on time. The way I have coped is by always leaving early, scheduling appointments at times when buses are more likely to be reliable, and living close to everything I really need to do every day. These are not luxuries everyone has.

Looking at reliability in a broader sense: Transit service in King County has been in jeopardy for years. Riders live with the constant threat of cuts, never knowing if the bus they rely on will be eliminated or reduced. In September, KC Metro cut almost 200,000 of hours of service (my beloved 27 included), and riders were left to figure out how to carry on their lives. In the meantime, the agency continues to raise fares to compensate for lost revenue (props for ORCA LIFT, though), and there is still no statewide (or, for that matter, countywide) transit funding solution on the horizon.

One of the purposes of this blog has always been to, as I said, back in 2009, “present a way of life.” I hoped that it would encourage people to think differently and give them a window into a way of doing things they perhaps hadn’t considered. But these days, encouraging people to depend on transit seems naïve, even irresponsible.

Right now, the region’s got all it can handle trying to make things better for those who already do.

No buses, no peace

Two days into the reality that King County’s transit system is about to return to 1997 levels of service, I find myself too overwhelmed to say anything coherent on the subject.

Since election night, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking–about how 60 years of social engineering, influenced by a handful of greedy corporations, can create a transportation system that requires people to be able bodied, within a certain age range, and capable of spending many thousands of dollars per year just to have basic mobility.

I’ve been thinking about how a transit agency can be put through the ringer, its finances audited and scrutinized from top to bottom, in order to be granted the right to restore funding that was stripped away by an anti-tax crusader. Then, when that agency is found to be operating soundly, the media call for more “reform” instead of more money. Voters believe them.

Meanwhile, road projects all over the state are mismanaged and bleeding our tax dollars.There are no ballot measures to ask us if we want to pay the bill.

I’ve been thinking about how this state of professed progressives creates task forces to talk about pollution and global warming and pays lip service to social justice but can’t make one single transportation decision the reflects these professed priorities.

I’ve been thinking about how ridiculous it is that in 2014, in this growing, prosperous, innovative county, we’ve had to fight so hard–and for so long–just to preserve a basic bus system.

The thing is, I’ve been thinking about this stuff too much.

Stress about transit cuts has sucked the joy out of the bus for me. How can I write about the cool chick with the “Blasian” t-shirt on my late-evening 27 when WE’RE ALL ABOUT TO LOSE OUR BUSES? It feels frivolous. Worse, it feels irresponsible.

I don’t want to be frivolous or irresponsible, so for eight months, I’ve been silent.

I miss coming here to celebrate buses and trains. I miss telling you guys what I’ve experienced, on the ground, in the seats, and at the stops.

So while I’m figuring out what to say about the big stuff, I’m going to go back to talking about the small stuff—because it will make me feel better. I hope it will make you feel better, too.