The Fourth Metamorphosis

Butterfly Pavilion 2

Photo by Lucinda Marshall, ©2012

One morning late last winter, feeling deeply depleted, I yanked the router cable from the wall, turned off my computer and crawled in bed with pen and paper and gave myself permission to write whatever I needed to write. I thought perhaps I might do some journaling but what ended up on the paper was poetry, something I hadn’t written for many years. As I wrote, I realized I’d been suffering from paragraph fatigue and needed to be able to write in a far less rigid mode. Quite a few pages later, I crawled out of bed and reconnected the wifi, but I didn’t put down the pen. As I continue to explore poetry, my work is once again flourishing and I consider it a necessary part of my writing life.

And thus begins what I consider the fourth metamorphosis of my work, which began in architectural design with some vague idea of designing Utopia and at the very least in the meantime, some earth-friendly structures. After the birth of my first child I migrated into art–painting whimsical furnishings and making fabric baskets and some really bad ass and sometimes erotic mixed media art about how women see women because I was damned tired of going to museums and seeing how men see women.

In 2001, in response to the deep misogyny that was surfacing in the anti-war movement, and my concerns about how war in Afghanistan and Iraq would impact women, I founded the Feminist Peace Network. At the time I didn’t expect it to replace the art, but it became clear after awhile that while I was both a visual and verbal creator, I was dreadful at doing both at the same time. Since then, I’ve written about many issues, often with little turn around time in the 24/7 media world. Part of that work has been writing the FPN blog and since 2006, that has added up to almost 1800 posts! It’s been a privilege to do this writing, but somewhere along the line, my personal has gotten lost in my political and I need to re-balance the gaze and pace of my writing.

To accomplish that, I am ending the FPN blog so that I may free up the time and energy for new work (although I still plan to maintain the website and Facebook and Twitter feeds and be involved in human rights and social justice work). I will continue to write opinion pieces when I am so moved and they will appear on this, my personal blog, but they will be interspersed with poetry and pictures of wondrous things and great silences that you may presume are filled with my feet hiking along a trail, a good nap or perhaps deep meditation and lots of good food and laughter and hugging my loved ones, working in my own community and yes, you’ll no doubt still find me at demonstrations now and again carrying signs and standing my peace.

Share

Shot On The 4th Of July

There is a kindness meditation that I like to do every so often that involves putting your hand on your heart and sending kind thoughts to your loved ones, friends, neighbors, the people in your city and country and throughout the world.  For whatever reason, I decided to do that particular meditation the morning of July 4th.  Two seconds after I’d put my hand on my heart I realized the irony of doing that the same day that so many people participate in holiday rituals that involve putting their hands over their hearts and pledging allegiance to a flag that stands for a toxic definition of freedom and independence that requires ‘power over’ that can be held only through violence–quite the antithesis of my little kindness meditation–which after that realization felt all the more necessary albeit completely inadequate.

Then, over the weekend, I happened to meet Luiz R.S. Simmons who is a representative to the Maryland House of Delegates.  He was at the farmers’ market asking people to sign a letter to Maryland Governor O’Malley asking him to close Maryland’s gun control loophole by funding a system that would facilitate law enforcement officials in confiscating guns which are illegally in the possession of those convicted of violent crimes.  There is such a law in Maryland that allows law enforcement to do this, just not the funds to enforce it.  Mr. Simmons estimates that it would cost $350,000 to set up the system with another $35,000 a year for personnel to run it.

As Nick Kristof pointed out in column published on the July 3rd,

All told, since 9/11, the United States has spent $8 trillion on the military and homeland security, according to the National Priorities Project, a research group that works for budget transparency. That’s nearly $70,000 per American household…
…The imbalance in our priorities is particularly striking because since 2005, terrorism has taken an average of 23 American lives annually, mostly overseas — and the number has been falling…
…Most striking, more than 30,000 people die annually from firearms injuries, including suicides, murders and accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. American children are 13 times as likely to be killed by guns as in other industrialized countries.

In Chicago alone, 72 people were shot over the July 4th weekend.  The benefits of Mr. Simmons modest spending request should be abundantly obvious.  Aside from the astounding number of people who are killed by guns in this country every year, in comparison to the cost of fighting terrorism, the amount needed to fund this proposal is chump change.  Add to that the other costs of gun violence.  If you suffer a serious but non-fatal gun wound, the hospital bill for just one person could easily be more than the amount Mr. Simmons is asking for.  And then there are the lost earnings, the impact on families, the costs of prosecuting and imprisoning perpetrators who should never have had the weapons in the first place, etc. The cost is enormous in every possible way.

Over the weekend, EMC Insurance Cos. announced that they would not provide insurance for Kansas schools where teachers carry guns.  Imagine if other insurance companies followed suit or refused health insurance to those who keep guns in their homes.  Imagine laws requiring liability insurance for those who own guns (and insurance companies that refused to issue it).  It would be a good economic move and save a lot of lives.

Corporate decisions like that and campaigns like Mr. Simmons’ in Maryland are very productive steps in getting the gun problem in this country under control.

And the next time you are asked to put your hand over your heart, pledge to send out kindness too.

 

Share

Patriotism Reconsidered

As the flags are waved and the parades marched this 4th of July, we would do well to consider the freedom and independence we claim to cherish and defend.  In decidedly different ways, Edward Snowden’s leaking of NSA documents and Texas State Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster have challenged us to think about what it means to stand up for what we believe in, in ways that don’t involve spending billions of dollars fortifying our borders, stopping and frisking without cause, arresting people for expressing their First Amendment rights in washable chalk, perpetually attacking other countries,  the highest rate of incarceration in the world, and the highest per capita rate of gun ownership.

Bill Moyers reports that,

In just the six months since the Newtown killings there have been more Americans murdered by guns than the 4,409 United States armed forces killed in the Iraq war.

Aside from the fact that fighting spurious wars against other nations most decidedly makes us more vulnerable rather than safe, on our own streets and in our own homes, every day, we are waging war against ourselves.

Our military meanwhile censors news in defense of free speech and insists that maintaining the chain of command and good order trump legitimate prosecution of sexual assaults within the ranks, completely missing the point that the epidemic of personal violence being perpetrated by those who have sworn to protect us completely belies any semblance of a functional chain of command or good order.

At the same time, we have ignored both our own complicity in and the consequences of global warming.  How is it that the President just got around to making a major speech on that subject?

Last week there was an insert in my PEPCO bill that informed me that 41% of my power came from coal, 18.6% came from gas, 34% came from nuclear and only 5.7% came from renewable sources.  Meanwhile we are told that we must frack, never mind that it causes water to catch on fire and earthquakes, and we still don’t have a clue how to store nuclear waste (because the truth is it can’t be safely done) and we build tar sands pipelines through our farmland, wilderness and suburbs, and commit mountaintop mastectomies.  Our air and land and water are polluted, wildfires rage and entire cities flood.

And too, we cut education spending, close schools and fire teachers, and saddle our college students with impossible debt. Even with “Obamacare” there will still be those who do not have insurance.  In our legislatures and in Congress, a war is being waged against women’s reproductive rights. And retirement?  Don’t even go there. And Wall Steet?  Well it’s doing just fine.

That is the nitty gritty of the democracy for which we wave our flags. As Team America put it so eloquently, America, fuck yeah.

Josh Marshall (no relation) of Talking Points Memo makes the point that  American democracy is dependent on secrecy as an integral part of its defense and questions whether breaking that secrecy (even when it exposes the abuse of that mandate) is acceptable,

Let me put my cards on the table. At the end of the day, for all its faults, the US military is the armed force of a political community I identify with and a government I support. I’m not a bystander to it. I’m implicated in what it does and I feel I have a responsibility and a right to a say, albeit just a minuscule one, in what it does. I think a military force requires a substantial amount of secrecy to operate in any reasonable way. (emphasis mine) So when someone on the inside breaks those rules, I need to see a really, really good reason. And even then I’m not sure that means you get off scott free. It may just mean you did the right thing…
…And I’m very skeptical of the notion that what Snowden did is awesome just because leaking state secrets is always a heroic act.

No question, America does indeed depend on secrecy.  But as The New Yorker points out,

Snowden took classified documents from his employer, which surely broke the law. But his real crime was confirming that the intelligence agencies, despite their strenuous public denials, have been accumulating vast amounts of personal data from the American public.

Yes, precisely.  And ask yourself this–Can you defend democracy with secrecy and spying or do those acts in fact completely undermine what you claim to hold dear?

Patriotism is a dangerous notion.  It assumes the supremacy of the state  that requires the constant exertion of ‘power over’ to maintain and the sanctity of borders that imply a damaging assumption of dominion and ownership which destroy any possibility of real freedom or democracy.

It’s time, past time, to reconsider what that flag we so proudly wave really represents and to stand up for the values that we hold dear.

Share

Playing Bang Bang With A Pink Pistol (He Was Only Three Years Old)

He was not a well regulated militia,

He was not defending himself

Against tyranny

Nor did he shoot in self-defense

He was just a three year old boy

Playing bang, bang you’re dead

With a pink pistol that

Turned out not to be a toy

And which now lies in his cold dead hands

That would make Charlton Heston proud.

 

It was an accidental shooting

According to the news.

But what is accidental about

A gun that is left in a toddler’s reach?

Will this keep you awake tonight, Wayne LaPierre,

Or will you be too busy wining and dining lawmakers

To be sure they don’t pass stricter laws and

Anyhow, the President went skeet-shooting–

Look kids, shooting can be fun.

 

Tmorej Smith was just a little boy

Who thought that the shiny pink gun was a toy,

And now he is dead,

And it isn’t a game anymore.

Share

Self-Inflicted Terrorism

Consider the following:

You cannot separate these facts, they are intrinsically linked in our culture that glorifies war and violence. A recent romp with my remote control through cable channels illustrated all too clearly that the generation that is just now reaching adulthood has grown up with a staggering amount of violent entertainment that glorifies the use of force. If it isn’t about law and order, it is the Military Channel or a ‘reality’ show about border patrols or cops, never mind the computer games and on and on.

This is the generation that grew up with the military freely roaming school cafeterias recruiting our children courtesy of the No Child Left Behind Act under the watchful eye of Homeland Security and being told constantly that we must be vigilant and get the bad guys before they get us.  We have relentlessly told this generation that guns and violence are the way to solve things, exert power and get what you want.

Little wonder then that there is an epidemic of troops finding out that being in the military and killing people, especially little children, isn’t at all as cool or righteous as they were led to believe.  And little wonder that there is a gun-possessed murder epidemic in this country.  I simply do not remember when the last time was that I opened my morning paper without finding a report of a murder, or more often than not, multiple murders.  It is a daily event in this country.

And we need to hold Congress accountable. That they are more afraid of the gun lobby than of their constituents being killed is unacceptable. In addition, their failure last year to re-authorize funding for the Violence Against Women Act leaves us with the deadly take-away that as a nation, we do not take violence against women seriously.  And year after year, they give the military more and more money while education funding languishes.

We have set up a monstrous apparatus for catching ‘terrorists’ in this country.  But let’s get real–taking off our shoes at the airport while a gun show goes on down the road and sending the military into our schools to entice our children to serve their country only to send them into service so pointless and brutal that they take their own lives  and refusing to provide funds to address violence against women amounts to self-inflicted terrorism.

And think about this too–

If a young Arab man commits mass murder, he is described as a terrorist.

If a young man of color commits mass murder in a poor inner city neighborhood, he is described as a dangerous thug.

If a young man joins the military and accidentally kills innocent civilians on a bombing run, he is a hero and the deaths are referred to as accidental collateral damage.

If a young white man commits mass murder in the suburbs, we say it was his mental health or his home life.

We need to do a reality check of our own situational perceptions in labeling men (and yes it is almost always men and we need to confront that too), who kill and their victims, because regardless of where killing takes place and who pulls the trigger, dead is dead, killing is killing, whether it is children in Pakistan killed by a drone strike or children in a Connecticut suburb killed by a disturbed young man, and the grief of their loved ones is the same, no matter what their skin color is or where they live.

We must mourn all of those who have been murdered, and we must strive to end the culture of entitlement and impunity that allows and enables killing, wherever it takes place.

We need to think about what we have taught our children.  It has very real and very deadly consequences.  And we need to move away from equating punishment with justice.  Doing that requires a massive shift in our thinking and a relentless connecting of dots in understanding the impact of our actions.

I started this piece with links to the litany of violence that is the American nightmare.  It doesn’t have to be that way and for inspiration and thoughts about re-thinking justice and resolving conflict, I highly recommend this piece in the New York Times and this piece from Common Dreams.

———-

Addenda:  Another important read about a program that is working to transform justice.

 

Share

Meditation in the Aftermath of the Sandy Hook Shootings

Another senseless mass shooting,

Scores dead, mostly children.

 

Shot by a young man,

It is almost always young men who do these things.

The media says he was disturbed,

But fail to mention that he is disturbed by living in a disturbed society.

 

The President goes on television and cries,

But offers no plan of action,

As if we had the luxury of not taking action,

As if it is okay to slaughter innocents,

But then he regularly condemns innocent people to death when he orders military actions,

So perhaps he is used to senseless deaths, tears not withstanding.

 

The rightwing zealots say we do not pray enough,

Or carry enough concealed weapons.

And the media insists on reporting these insane babblings,

Because there must be two sides to every story.

 

But there are not two sides to this story.

 

I remember so clearly the morning of the Columbine shootings,

Walking my children in to school,

Holding their little hands too tightly,

Terrified to leave,

Hugging other grim faced parents as we pray that they would be safe.

 

And yet tonight, the stars twinkled impossibly brightly in the clear night sky.

Share

A Culture That Condones The Killing Of Children And Teaches Children To Kill

The Sandy Hook massacre isn’t just about the need for gun control laws, it is about a culture that condones the killing of children and teaches children that killing is okay.

It is about a country addicted to violence on television and movie screens.

It is about cuts in education spending.

It is about giving the military free access to our schools where they regale our children with romanticized delusions of military righteousness.

It is about environmental and health policies that expose our children to all manner of toxins in the air, land and water.

It is about thinking we have the right to kill children with drones or by dropping toxic munitions on their countries that cause birth defects and miscarriages.

It is about saddling our children with crippling education debt and no prospect for jobs.

It is about telling boys (and men) they have to be tough and to fight and kill for what they want or think is right.

It is about a national policy that denies children basic rights and systemically teaches them that violence is okay.

And it is about a media so insensitive that it thinks it is okay to shove a microphone in the face of young victims in the name of sensationalized 24/7 cable “news” while under-reporting the root causes of this tragedy.

Sandy Hook did not happen because of a lone, disturbed young man and it is not an isolated incident. It is an epidemic and we are all to blame.  And today (and tomorrow and every day after that) is the time to confront this self-inflicted tragedy.

Share

Finding Strength In The Extraordinary Ordinary

For more than ten years now, I have devoted the overwhelming majority of my work as a writer and activist to shining a light on the many heinous guises of misogyny, especially on the impact violence has on women’s lives, and also on efforts to stop that violence and to empower women. Now and again I have also tackled other topics, including environmental issues such as global warming and climate change because as we confront environmental disaster after environmental disaster at a rapidly snowballing speed, the need to address these issues as an integral part of my work feels urgently compelling, yet words more often than not painfully fail me.

What precisely can one say about ocean acidification, leaking methane from the thawing Arctic, seas that are rising faster than expected, the loss of ice in Greenland and Antarctica, (and those are just stories that have crossed my digital desk in the last week alone)?  And how precisely can one say what should be said about these overwhelming climactic disasters in a way that accurately portrays the proper measures of terror, and the tears that should be streaming down our faces as we see the result of our misguided dominion while offering  hope or perhaps vision?  On most days, I neither know or begin to feel adequate to that task.

Not being one to suffer writer’s block or despairing inertia quietly, I have floundered about trying to find inspiration and strength, a grounded path towards coherent expression.  I have buried myself in the words of Terry Tempest Williams and tackled a lengthy biography of Rachel Carson. I cheer Sandra Steingraber’s call to action about fracking and Bill McKibben’s relentless tar sands pushback and the solar-powered Thanksgiving in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

And mostly I have walked away from the computer and staggered out into the natural world, needing to take in huge gulps of (I hesitate to say fresh) air.  I have sat beside the Atlantic Ocean and watched the tides roll in and out, seagulls standing watch at the water’s edge.  I’ve walked along the Potomac, visited pueblos and mountains and craters in the Arizona desert and high country. And some days, I simply walk the streets of my suburban neighborhood.

The community in which I live is perhaps the embodiment of a sub-urban design train wreck–houses crammed in every available space, open spaces in the wrong places, dysfunctional streets where people live isolated lives.  But even in this embodiment of Malvina Reynolds’ little boxes on the hillside “all made out of ticky tacky, and they all look just the same”, I have looked up at the trees, and found wonder and love and grounded strength in these branches of heart filling beauty.

And where words come sometimes only haltingly, I have taken to letting my camera portray the extraordinary that we all too often fail to see, let alone honor in the ordinary of our days.

The words will continue, we must talk about what has been, what is and what will be.  But we must also see the tree branches above, and feel the breezes from the sea, the hot desert sun and the path below our feet.

Share

Will We Drown In Denial Or Face The Sea Change of Climate Reality

Of all the searing images in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the one that I find most disturbing is this picture of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which remained throughout the storm at great personal danger. That we must honor our military dead even at the risk of completely unnecessary loss of life speaks volumes about our priorities in this country.

I rarely watch cable news, but I found myself obsessively switching between a local news channel, CNN and The Weather Channel for much of the storm.  There was much valuable and urgent information shared although much of it looked like a contest between reporters to see who could report while standing in the deepest water and stay standing (and I absolutely need to say that throughout the storm, I consistently found critical information being disseminated on Twitter well before I saw it on television). But not once did I hear any mention of the many nuclear power plants in the storm’s path, or a discussion of what to do if your house is flooded with toxic waste or the lack of plans to protect oil and gas facilities. No analysis of what climate change denial and inaction has cost us.

Nor was there mention of the fact that we’ve known that storms like this have been an event waiting to happen.  Instead, as I pointed out a few days ago, we have continued to beat the drum in the fight against “terrorism”, pouring billions of dollars into destroying other countries, killing innocent civilians and creating conditions in which terrorism ferments and while we’re at it doing an ace job of brainwashing ourselves into being perpetually paranoid and terrified while at the same time allowing the infrastructure of our own country to go to hell.

As Chris Mooney pointed out in Grist, NASA warned about an event like Sandy in 2006:

Scientists at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York have been studying that city’s vulnerability to hurricane impacts in a changing world, and calculated that with 1.5 feet of sea level rise, a worst-case-scenario Category 3 hurricane could submerge “the Rockaways, Coney Island, much of southern Brooklyn and Queens, portions of Long Island City, Astoria, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, lower Manhattan, and eastern Staten Island from Great Kills Harbor north to the Verrazano Bridge.

And of course, that wasn’t the only warning.  WE KNEW IT COULD HAPPEN.  And we did nothing.  As a result we are now contending with this:

Consider what Kathy Waters, American Public Transportation Association vice president for member services had to say about the New York subway system,

The New York system, although there are some components that have been upgraded over the years, has a lot of antique components where the vendor has been out of business for 50 years. (emphasis mine)

And then there is this from NRDC’s Amy Mall:

Under the Clean Water Act, there is something called the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule which includes requirements for oil spill prevention, preparedness, and response to prevent oil discharges to navigable waters and adjoining shorelines…Sounds like a no-brainer. But in Fiscal Year 2011, EPA officials visited 120 sites oil and gas development sites and found 105 were out of compliance– 87.5%…Almost every single oil and gas site inspected lacked a mandatory spill prevention plan meant to protect our rivers and streams. (emphasis mine)
 

Internet, cable and phone services were also significantly disrupted and yet two days later with thousands of people still without access, I heard a report of a FEMA official telling people to file claims on the internet.  And he expects people who are stranded in flooded buildings to do that how?

And,

Raw sewage, industrial chemicals and floating debris filled flooded waterways around New York City on Tuesday

…The best officials could do was urge residents to steer clear of the contaminated waters.

Incidentally, they sent that warning out by email.  To people who obviously were going to have trouble accessing their email.

The storm also precipitated numerous problems at various nuclear power plants, all of which are aging quickly past the lifespans they were designed for and some of which are the same design as the Fukushima facility in Japan,

Storm-related complications were blamed this week for forcing three nuclear reactors offline – Nine Mile Point Unit 1 northwest of Syracuse, N.Y., Indian Point Unit 3 about 25 miles north of New York City and the Salem plant’s Unit 1 on the Delaware River in New Jersey.

Meanwhile, rising waters along the Barnegat Bay prompted officials to declare an “alert,” the second-lowest in a four-tiered warning system, at Oyster Creek in New Jersey…

…NRC officials reported that other plants continued operating but reduced their electrical output as a precaution, including the Millstone plant’s Unit 3 reactor in Waterford, Conn., Vermont Yankee south of Brattleboro, Vt., and both reactors at the Limerick nuclear plant about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia. The storm also appeared to knock out emergency sirens used to notify residents who live near the Oyster Creek and Peach Bottom plants in Pennsylvania, according to NRC reports. (emphasis mine)

These are the kinds of issues we need to confront if we are to stand a prayer of survival.  They aren’t theoretical or in the future.  They are real and they are right now.  We need to see this as literally the moment for a sea-change in attitude.  It is not acceptable for the media to continue to ignore climate change,

Last year at least 7,140 journalists and opinion writers published some 19,000 stories on climate change, compared to more than 11,100 reporters who filed 32,400 stories in 2009, according to DailyClimate.org…

…Particularly noticeable was the silence from the nation’s editorial boards: In 2009, newspapers published 1,229 editorials on the topic. Last year, they published less than 580 – half as many, according to DailyClimate.org’s archives.

And it is not acceptable for our politicians to continue to chest thump  the drums of war while maintaining a deafening silence on climate change. Protecting symbols of military prowess while our cities drown isn’t honorable, it is an act of national suicide.

Share

The Day Before The Day After Tomorrow–Meditations On A Storm And A Young Friend Who Wants To Serve His Country

In the pre-hurricane calm before Sandy hits, I am sitting by a window (where I probably don’t want to sit tomorrow), watching the skies darken and thinking of a young man that I’ve known since he was in diapers.  After high school, he joined the army and last week, he left to serve in a war zone.  All we can do now is pray that he comes back alive, hopefully without his body or mind broken.

———-

They are now saying that 10 million people could lose power from Hurricane Sandy.  One of the reasons that may happen is that for decades now, we have done far less than we should to protect our utility grids.  Water may be compromised and communications systems too.  Some of that would be inevitable with a storm this size, but proper upgrading and maintenance along the way might well have mitigated that.

What few are talking about and which may be a far larger worry is the potential danger to the 16 nuclear power plants that are in harms way.  After Fukushima, we should have no illusions that these plants can withstand catastrophic weather.  And we should be mindful of the massive amounts of toxic materials that may blow into our water and onto our shores as the storm blows through.

———-

I began by mentioned the young family friend now serving in the military, in a continuing war that serves only to continue to destabilize the world.  Yes, there will always be a few that will want to bomb and destroy us, and perhaps they will get away with killing some of us.  But no terrorist can ever hope to accomplish what climate changed weather has and most certainly will continue to do when it comes to wreaking havoc and destruction.

Yet throughout this presidential campaign, it has been business as usual with the war talk–why we must use drones and must fight terrorists without even a peep about climate change or the environment.

My young friend is a patriot.  He wants to defend the country.  Imagine if instead of fighting wars of empire that serve only to destroy and bankrupt, we brought our soldiers home and asked them to help secure our aging and  dangerous nuclear plants as best we can?  What if we asked them to install solar and wind installations?  What if we asked them to help trim trees off power lines and replace aging water pipes and roads. What if we put the formidable force that is the U.S. military to work doing things that would actually protect the country?  And if we still wanted to send some of our troops overseas, we could help other nations do the same, making them safer and less likely to hate us.

It is too late for this storm, but how many more times does this need to happen before we finally say no more to business as usual and start using our resources to address the real needs of climate change and stop the destructive foreign policy that drains us of our economic resources, destroys other countries and puts our troops in harms way?

Share