11 (more) things on my mind about the protests in the u.s.

In April, I wrote a post called "11 things on my mind about the anti-police-violence and anti-racism protests". For reasons unknown to me, it's one of the most widely-read posts I've written in a long time. So here's an updated list.

1. When governments respond to protests with violence and intimidation, and the protests only grow, a movement has reached another landmark of growth and development. This is happening right now, and it's exciting!

2. Protest by middle-class and middle-aged citizens is so heartening to see, and possibly another milestone. The so-called Wall of Moms, and the "dads" with leaf blowers and hockey sticks, are crucial pieces. Their courage will embolden so many others. No change will happen until and unless the middle-class is onboard, so get onboard!

3. Veteran resistance is so powerful. I wonder about resistance within the active military.

From my work with the War Resisters Support Campaign in Canada, and from extensive reading about war resistance movements, I know that military resistance is always much bigger than civilians might ever imagine. Those courageous men and women are badly needed, right now.

4. I hope organizers are working on tactical nonviolence training -- not because I think protests must always be nonviolent, but because it will build movement power.

Nonviolent protests command a huge amount of attention, and focus attention on the one-sided violence against the protesters. We have a cultural memory of the power of nonviolent protests from the U.S. civil rights movement, and consciously linking the present protests with those famous scenes is strategic and powerful. I'm not inside the movement on that level, so I don't know if this is already happening, but I hope it is.

5. People are educating themselves about racism. Books like How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo are on bestseller lists and have long hold queues at public libraries. Libraries are posting antiracism reading lists. Antiracism book clubs and discussion groups are popping up. This is amazing and so beautiful.

6. A repeat from that April post: the US was founded on protest. Every important, positive change in the United States has been born of protest. Protest is as American as racism and gun violence. Which is stronger? We shall see.

7. How far will the crackdown go? How far down the spiral into a police state will the current occupant of the White House and his lackeys take the US?

8. What will Trump do when he loses the election? If enough people vote to counteract all the fraud, vote suppression, and black box voting, Trump will lose, and Biden will be elected. If that happens, will Trump leave peacefully?

9. And if he doesn't, will other countries condemn the US? Will the UK, Canada, and other countries with a long and friendly history with the US punish and sanction it? What would it take?

10. In my heart, hope wrestles with cynicism.

For so long, I have felt the situation in the US is beyond hope. Then Occupy. Then Black Lives Matter. Then the Fight for 15. Then Idle No More. Then Extinction Rebellion. People organizing. Against racism. Against a brutal economic system. Against environmental destruction. People organizing knowing that these are all connected. I feel a tiny glimmer of hope.

Then I think about what "winning" in the US would look like. For so many people, a Democrat in the White House -- hell, a sane, thinking person in the White House -- will be enough.

And I despair.

Then I see the uprisings, and I have hope.

Then I think... and I despair.

(Of course, how I feel is irrelevant.)

11. The future is unknown. No one knows what the future will be, no matter how much certainty they put in their words or their voice.

The future has not been written yet. If Trump is having this much trouble squashing resistance in Portland, what's it going to look like in Brooklyn, or Philadelphia, or Oakland, or St. Louis?

This is why it's so important to organize. And that's exactly what BLM and FF15 and all the solidarity networks have been doing.

Who knows, maybe after organizing and winning small victories, changing R to D won't be enough. Maybe people will demand more.


rotd: "systemic racism" is redundant

Revolutionary thought of the day:
"Institutional racism" and "structural racism" and "systemic racism" are redundant. Racism itself is institutional, structural, and systemic.

Ibram X. Kendi, How to be Antiracist


listening to joni: #15: turbulent indigo

Turbulent Indigo, 1994

Front Cover
Turbulent Indigo is a rich album, one that demands repeated listening. Every time I hear it, I discover new sounds and meanings, and I find that it has slyly become one of my most beloved of Joni's work.

The name of the album is itself enigmatic. Many reviewers have noted that it echoes an earlier masterpiece, since the colour indigo is a form of blue. I don't find much in common between 1972's Blue and this one. On Turbulent Indigo, the music is sparse, and the lyrics mostly look outward in social commentary, nothing like the deeply personal lyrics of Blue with resounding piano.

Given the nature of the songs, the album title seems to refer to the times we live in, the turbulence and dark colours of our contemporary world. The title may also reference the violence and inhumanity associated with indigo, the substance: it was part of the slave trade for hundreds of years. (Interesting tangent: the International Center for Indigo Culture seeks to revive the cultivation of indigo through humane and sustainable practices.)

The title track (and the album cover) evoke Vincent Van Gogh, similar to how Joni evoked Beethoven in "Judgement of the Moon and Stars (Ludwig's Tune)" (For the Roses). This Van Gogh, like Beethoven, is rough-hewn, not socially cultured, the people shuffling past his paintings blind to his wild visions. Over Joni's signature rhythm-and-percussion guitar, to a dark minor key punctuated by Wayne Shorter's lilting soprano sax, she sings:
Brash fields crude crows
In a scary sky
In a golden frame
Roped off
Tourists guided by
Tourists talking about the madhouse
Talking about the ear
The madman hangs in fancy homes
They wouldn't let him near!
He'd piss in their fireplace!
At least two songs on Turbulent Indigo are about the oppression of women. "Magdalene Laundries" was the first time I had ever heard of that particular method of repression, this one brought to you by the Catholic Church in Ireland. (Similar institutions existed in Canada and Australia, too.) The song is told through one of the captive women: Joni gives her a voice.

Hearing this song for the first time led me to seek out every scrap of information I could find about the laundries. There's a movie and a survivors' network, and there's been testimony to the United Nations. The practice is now widely acknowledged as both torture and slavery -- like something from a dystopian novel, but alas, very much of our world. The song still affects me deeply, with tremendous sadness and anger, every time I hear it.

Back Cover

These are from the inside covers.
I like how they're photographed with their frames,
a picture within a picture.
"Not To Blame" evokes the pandemic of violence against women: "The story hit the news from coast to coast, it said you hit the girl you love the most." Incredibly, more than one reviewer wondered if the song was about Jackson Browne and Daryl Hannah, an abusive relationship that was in the news at the time. Somehow I think they've missed the point.
Six hundred thousand doctors
Are putting on rubber gloves
And they're poking
At the miseries made of love
They say they're learning
How to spot
The battered wives
Among all the women
They see bleeding through their lives
Those two lines -- "Six hundred thousand doctors / Are putting on rubber gloves" -- paint an appropriately chilling, gruesome picture.

"Yvette in English," co-written with David Crosby, about a lovely woman in Paris, is so cinematic, I can visualize the whole encounter, the "wary little stray" who is "So quick to question her own worth," but who runs off. Nothing bad happens to Yvette in this song, and it's the only track that is not somber and dark.

From the lyrics booklet.
Although I avoid mapping songs onto life, here I go doing it again -- hopefully only the second time in this blog series. Just as "Solid Love" on Wild Things Run Fast was clearly inspired by Joni's relationship with "Klein," as she always calls him, "Last Chance Lost," must have been inspired by their breakup, which took place before and during this album's creation. Over the simple guitar rhythm, Joni's voice breaks out -- loud, open, holding long, clear notes, like she's sounding a siren or an alarm. The sad line "the shrew will not be tamed" echoes self-recrimination we've heard before, on "River" (Blue) and most agonizingly, in "Amelia" (Hejira). This short song is a sad and beautiful meditation on heartbreak.

On "Borderline," Joni again explores duality, but this time, rather than two aspects of her own mind, she sings about divisions that prevent us from seeing our shared humanity.
Every bristling shaft of pride
Church or nation
Team or tribe
Every notion we subscribe to
Is just a borderline
Good or bad we think we know
As if thinking makes things so!
All convictions grow along a borderline
It's hard not to see ourselves in some piece of that.

The album closes with a seven minute tour de force of the dark night of the soul, inspired by the biblical story of Job.
Let me speak let me spit out my bitterness
Born of grief and nights without sleep and festering flesh
Do you have eyes?
Can you see like mankind sees?
Why have you soured and curdled me?
Oh you tireless watcher! What have I done to you?
That you make everything I dread and everything I fear come true?
On this song, the music becomes more layered; Shorter's soprano sax is given room to run, and Joni does her own backing vocals. The lyrics and music build, darkly but with a feeling of uplift and inspiration, reminiscent of Court and Spark, especially "Down to You". The song is a masterpiece.

The album cover

This album cover is very interesting! Joni has re-imagined a self-portrait of Van Gogh as her own self-portrait, using a Van Gogh-esque style.

There are more Joni paintings inside, and on the back there's a photograph of part of her bookshelf, posted above.

In keeping with the Van Gogh theme, my promo copy of the CD came with a little metallic ear! Allan was still writing about music at the time. We got lots of free stuff, and sometimes the swag was awesome. I made the ear into an earring -- which I don't wear, for fear that it will fall off the hook and be lost forever.

In her own words

From an interview with Mary Campbell of Associated Press.
Joni Mitchell has a new record, a new record company and a new love. She kiddingly calls herself "the new and improved Joni."

"When public interest wanes in a detergent, they stick a 'new and improved' label on it. I'm the new and improved Joni. I'm going to put it on my albums," Mitchell said.

"At 50, you've worked things out. You know yourself pretty well. I saw a Leonard Cohen quote, 'After 50, the anxiety cells in your brain begin to deteriorate."'
Co-writing credit

"Yvette in English" written with David Crosby.

"How Do You Stop" written for James Brown by Dan Hartman and Charlie Midnight.

Other musicians on this album

Bass, Larry Klein
Guitar, Michael Landau, Steuart Smith
Pedal Steel Guitar, Greg Leisz
Guitorgan, Bill Dillon
Soprano Sax, Wayne Shorter
Drums, Jim Keltner, Carlos Vega
Percussion, Larry Klein
Keyboards, Larry Klein
Background Vocals, Seal, Charles Valentino, Kris Kello

john lewis and c.t. vivian, rest in power

What a sad and moving coincidence, that two great freedom fighters died on the same day.

I chose these photos as a reminder that doing the right thing may involve breaking the law. Canadians, who over-value a superficially peaceful society, frequently need reminding.

As a remembrance of these two men, I cede the floor to Black Lives Matter.

* * * *

A Requiem In Memoriam Our Great Ancestors

The Honorable John Robert Lewis
(February 21, 1940 - July 17, 2020)

The Reverend Dr. Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian
(July 30, 1924 – July 17, 2020)

Today, we celebrate two men of moral courage, ethical excellence, and relentless diligence in making Black Lives Matter in the policies and practices of this country and world: The Honorable John Lewis and The Reverend C.T. Vivian. Like many of us, C.T. Vivian and John Lewis participated in a movement -- a protest -- and it changed their lives forever. For C.T. Vivian and John Lewis, a jail cell was as familiar as a police officer's baton. For their human rights work, cops arrested these activist ministers more times than they cared to count and suffered several brutal beatings at the hands of law enforcement.

These courageous human beings, now among our greatest ancestors, disrupted the status quo -- commerce/business-as-usual -- FOR YEARS before anyone took notice. They were attacked, despised, and criticized relentlessly by mainstream society and their own people, but they persisted. Only in their latter years did they receive the honor due to them, including being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Perseverance, tenacity, and determination (among other things) in this struggle link us to them. None of us are free until all of us are free, so we commit daily to the work of making Black Lives Matter in policy and practice knowing our struggle for justice is a part of the same continuum of human rights struggle led by those before us.

Thank you, John Lewis and C.T. Vivian, for being freedom fighters. Thank you for your service to our community, country, and world. We are winning.

-- Black Lives Matter Global Network

* * * *


what i'm reading: political graphic nonfiction: this place: 150 years retold

This Place: 150 Years Retold, foreward by Alicia Elliott.

In keeping with my posts about political graphic nonfiction, here is a quote from This Place.

The book is an anthology of 10 stories by 10 or 11 writers and illustrators. Each writer prefaces their story with context, including something about their personal connection to the material. Chelsea Vowel begins her preface to "kitaskinaw 2350" like this.
Dystopian or apocalyptic writing occupies an enormous amount of space in contemporary storytelling and in our social consciousness. We are told that the end is nigh, and that the world (or at least the world as we know it) will be destroyed, and that this is a Bad Thing. We are encouraged to imagine what life could be like during and after this supposedly inevitable destruction, but are steered away from dreaming up alternatives. Indigenous peoples have been living in a post-apocalyptic world since Contact. This entire anthology deals with events post-apocalypse!
* * * *

This Place: 150 Years Retold makes an excellent illustrated companion to the Indigenous Canada MOOC. Reading it has inspired me to learn more. Perhaps you will find the same.

You know who I wish would read this book? Paul Bunner, racist speechwriter for Jason Kenney, who called residential schools "a bogus genocide story". I was impressed, but not surprised, that an Indigenous leader reached out to Bunner, determined to find common ground and exchange ideas. I cannot imagine remaining calm and clear-headed speaking with a Holocaust denier.


in which i reflect on the joys of summer in north vancouver island, especially during the pandemic

In 2015, Allan and I moved into an apartment, for the first time since leaving New York City in late 2005.

We had rented a series of houses for 10 years. Now the market had changed and it was clear there were no houses for rent in our price range that would offer long-term stability and a decent commute.

There is no way we would consider buying a house in the Toronto area, and we had no interest in buying a condo. This meant we were forced to move back to rental apartment life. We found a great apartment, as rentals go -- three bedrooms, two bathrooms -- at an affordable rent. And we adjusted.

I'm very aware of my own privilege, so I consciously found the positives and tried not to complain about the negatives. But truth be told, it was a difficult adjustment, and definitely a diminished sense of well-being and happiness. I sorely missed having private outdoor space -- a lack that had me scheming to find a way to leave NYC many years before we actually did. Having a backyard was the reason I made peace with suburban life. Living in an apartment in suburbia just made no sense.

The other negatives were doing laundry (a minor nightmare), frequent elevator breakdowns (and their impact on dog-walking), and above all, not having control over the temperature of our living space.

Both Allan and I hate hot, humid, summer weather. In NYC, we would spend the summer trapped in our apartment with the air-conditioner blasting 24/7. (I am not exaggerating.) Now we found ourselves in the same situation, but so much worse -- because we couldn't control it. Giant Corporate Landlord made tenants suffer the heat for at least a month before turning on the air-conditioning, then never turned it up high enough, then cut it off months before it cooled down outside. For months, we were always too warm and never really comfortable. (Again, I'm aware of all my privilege as I write this.)

As it turned out, this disappointing regression to apartment life was the push I needed to make the next Big Life Change. After our first trip to Vancouver and to visit our west-coast family, in the taxi home from the airport, surrounded by ugly, grey concrete and smog-choked air, I said, "Why do we even live here anymore?"  Much like "Why don't we move to Canada?" in 2003, I look back on these words as a door we consciously opened.

Fast-forward to the bizarre world of 2020. We have been incredibly fortunate, more fortunate than I can express, to ride out the pandemic in (1) BC, where Dr. Bonnie Henry has been a true leader and model, (2) a remote, sparsely populated area where infection rates are very low, and (3) a comfortable home with a great deck and a big backyard.

And now it is summer. At least that's what the calendar says. In Mississauga, temperatures in the 30s, sometimes with a "feels-like" (as the Weather Network calls it) of more than 40. (American readers: 40 C = 104 F.) To us, anything over 20 (68) is hot, and anything over 25 (high 70s) is very uncomfortable. 30 (86) is unbearable.

Here in Port Hardy, we have yet to see a day over 20 (68). This summer is unusually cool, but even during 2019's more typical summer weather, we never missed having an air-conditioner. A few times we used a fan in the bedroom, and it was easily cool enough to sleep.

I'm imagining living in that Mississauga apartment with inadequate cooling and over-crowded elevators, with the pandemic raging. I'm so sorry that so many people are suffering... and I'm so grateful to be where I am.

Mississauga, July 2020

Port Hardy, July 2020

Photo from July 10, 2020. Seriously.


things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #32

I emailed this to my colleagues and our administrators; I should share it with wmtc readers, too. Along with many library workers, I am worried that our most vulnerable neighbours are being left behind.

* * * *

I just heard a heartbreaking lament from one of our regular customers, who was here for curbside.

She told us that most people she knows do not have internet access or any TV service, and many do not have phones. They rely on library staff to suggest and order materials for them.

We assured her that we can still do that. We asked her to encourage folks to show up during curbside hours and we will find books and DVDs for them.

Then she said, “It’s not just the boredom. It’s the isolation. It’s the friendship. We are a poor community, and this library is our lifeline. I would work on the jigsaw puzzle or read a magazine, but that was just an excuse to be among people, to see friendly faces, to connect. The other place we would hang out is the Salvation Army – also closed. Many people go to church for that reason only, to connect with people – also closed. We’ve been cut adrift. People are depressed and they're suffering.”

She understands why we can’t open our doors yet. She just wants us to know how much the library space is missed.

I share this as a reminder, both of the great need for physical materials – a need not likely to go away, and of the service we provide that cannot fit through the takeout window.