Accidental Activist

It’s Election Day Eve, the most important election since I became a naturalized American citizen in 1972, years after I was eligible through marriage, the delay in protest of the Viet Nam War. The Tallahassee yoga studio shootings in the same week we mourned the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, weighs on me, especially as a yoga instructor who signs off each class with ‘Shanti, shanti, shanti, (peace) and a resident of a state where meaningful gun reform has been a non-starter. You do all you can: join an Indivisible group, host a house party for so-called Hot Democrats, canvass your neighborhood, join Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Women’s March, Hustle-remind voters of their duty. And I’ll never understand why so many do not exercise their franchise.

I’m in awe of the commitment and energy of my activist colleagues in these resistance groups. My genetic material is skewed toward civil service, and I inherited from at least two generations a faith in Government with a capital G, as if it were a kindly parent with the responsibility to protect and bring out the best in its citizens. America even more so, I’ve always believed. What other founding documents even mention ‘the pursuit of happiness?’ It’s worth fighting for.

Voting was something of a novelty in my native Burma (now Myanmar). When I became eligible at 18, I embraced it with the same alacrity I had absorbed my parents’ post WWII optimism about the prospects for our newly independent democracy. Two years later, I saw how quickly this could be overturned one dawn in 1962, when we were roused by the sound of explosions in the direction of the university. Within hours of the military takeover, politicians, dissident students, journalists, and supreme court justices, were rounded up like criminals and held without trial for what would be years. One of these was the editor-in-chief of a prominent newspaper, and my much-loved boss. Nothing like this could ever happen here, right? It’s unthinkable.

But then, so was the possibility that the birthright issue could affect my two children, given that their father was an American citizen. Most knowledgeable people (on both sides of the aisle) say this is a phony threat. But in light of the whiplash change we all live with these days, I (and my kids) would be unwise to ignore it.

And yet, we cannot give in to despair. People have been sharing We Are the World on Facebook, and the Jewish nurse who cared for the wounded Pittsburgh shooter wrote a deeply moving article on why and how she felt compelled to do that. On a book tour in the UK, Anne Lamott memorably said, “Earth is forgiveness school.” I share these items because I hope more people might read and even share them, especially the people in my life the least likely to. My ‘friend’ list holds many people I barely know, added in the flurry of my early ‘why not?’ days of social media, about four years that feel like forever. The numerically best response to a post of mine I’ve seen lately is an indication of how hungry we are to lighten up, have some fun, return to normal. We were having brunch with some friends this week, and my ever-playful spouse grabbed the doily on his plate, tore it in half, and inserted it under the collar of his shirt. A borrowed pair of our friend’s eyeglasses and voila! our joyful tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, captured on smart phone and posted. A little explosion of hearts, likes, and comments followed.

Times like these, I think about my friend and Transition Movement colleague, Jean, who is busy creating a spiritual center on the acres of property in another state, on which she and her family launched their dream to live in harmony with nature — permaculture, bee-keeping, to name a couple of their practices. This new direction began with spontaneous community gatherings around bonfires, with music and food, and shared dreams of the future. The family, with a few partners, aims to evolve that into a more formal center and I gladly wrote a ‘seed’ money donation. Recently, in response to an email lament of mine about the state of the country and world, Jean had this to offer: “… perhaps the most revolutionary act is to have FUN.”

This puts me in mind of Wendell Berry’s quote (Manifesto): “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” I like it so much, I’m using it to inspire the new version of this blog, Transition Tales. Same URL for now, but with content more reflective of where I am now (in Tree pose, on the edge.) The earlier posts and the tags remain for now. It is time for a change. Tomorrow, may it be so!

Bailing by the Thimbleful

antique-thimble-0808-lg-9681196My world is almost entirely structured around climate activism these days, from engaging with other local activists to hold our elected officials to account for their pledges – the Southeast Florida Climate Action Compact – to planning Transition Monthly Meetings, to tending a community garden whose crop will be donated to feed hungry people. And I am putting in a fraction of the time some of my colleagues are devoting in groups like the Climate Action Coalition, Organizing for Action, and EcoArt South Florida, to name three. They are the true patron saints of sustainability, in the ecological sense. And yet it’s not enough given the math stacked up against us, and possibly short of the real target.

 “There is a corruption at the heart of American politics, caused by the dependence of Congressional candidates on funding from the tiniest percentage of citizens.”

Fix that, and many other issues will be resolved, argues Harvard professor, legal scholar, and Beltway bête noir, Lawrence Lessig. He makes this point in an electrifying TED Talk and a follow up book (published by TED) called Lesterland. Hint: the Lesters are the 1%; the USA is Lesterland. Right now, you can purchase the ebook for $1.99, and I encourage you to do so, share it, and maybe create a book group around it.

As if we needed any more reminders of how broken our democracy is, how corrupted government has become by money, Saturday’s New York Times published this: Energy Firms in Secret Alliance With Attorneys General. It was the most emailed article through the weekend and has drawn 1594 comments to date. This one by Richard Watt of Pleasantville, NY, was the most “Recommended.”

“I should not be surprised, but I must say I was shocked when I read this article. These attorneys general should be impeached and removed for the sale of their offices and the people* behind these letter[s] should also be prosecuted.”

But this morning, the article was no longer in the top ten. So I have to agree with the second most Liked comment, that of S.R. Simon of Bala Cynwyd, PA: This is how democracies die: behind closed doors. And I might add, inside minds that shut down when the facts become too awful to contemplate.

If you’ve been working on sea level rise (SLR), to pick the environmental blowback that will likely cripple the economy in Florida, you know how challenging it is to chin up and keep bailing, if only by the thimbleful.  And yet, bail we must, because the alternative is even worse.

Take the Ag Reserve, a parcel of land once considered ‘safe’ from developers because it is so important to our agricultural economy, and now back on the bargaining table.  Yes, attend the meetings and send in statements. Go demonstrate to protect the Briger Forest from the Scripps juggernaut. Raise funds for Florida Earth Day 2015 and to commission environmental artist, Eve Mosher (HighWaterLine), to do for Delray Beach what she did for Brooklyn and, more recently, Bristol, UK – show graphically on the roads and buildings what SLR looks like in our communities. It’s as good as it gets, and we have to do whatever we can to support these actions. But let’s not kid ourselves that meaningful change is possible when money has the upper hand

OK, here’s some good news, sort of. As Professor Lessig points out, this is not a Left vs. Right, Red vs. Blue, Treehugger vs. Denialist issue. It is clearly a Beltway insider vs. the rest of us issue, and on that you may find agreement in surprising places.  Of course, using campaign contributions to buy yourself, say, an ambassadorship, is nothing new and long the prerogative of presidents. Here’s The Palm Beach Post’s ever wry columnist, Frank Cerabino:

“You can be America’s ambassador to Argentina and not speak Spanish…President Barack Obama nominated Noah Mamet, a California political consultant, to become America’s next ambassador to Argentina, and the Senate confirmed that nomination on a party-line vote…Mamet doesn’t speak Spanish, and he had never visited Argentina. But he did orchestrate a $1.4 million bundle of donations to Obama’s re-election campaign two years ago.”

Not pretty, but compared to what’s going down now, this is chump change.

Larry Lessig is looking for 300,000 engaged citizens, no matter which issue
stirs our passion most, to join his organization, Rootstrikers. Whether or not you feel inspired to do so, you will find it packed with information you won’t find elsewhere, e.g. why Citizens United is the ‘tip of the iceberg.” If Rootstrikers feels like the best way to strengthen your citizen muscle — and boy, could we all use that! — choose from a range of campaigns to join – supporting Government by the People Act (H.R. 20) is my mine.   Could citizen-funded elections also eliminate the endless election season we currently endure? That would most certainly get my vote.

More on H.R. 20

A Short History on Long Campaigns 

* Big energy interests