Just Apples. A New Year’s Resolution.

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New Year’s is one of my favorite holidays. Not the debauchery.  I love making resolutions.  I find personal maintenance challenging so my list begins with things like sleep, exercise, and healthy food.  I tend toward isolation so I make rules like: if you spend one day alone you have to get out and be with people the next day.  I am happier outside, but I forget that easily so I make it a rule: spend time outside everyday.  I even tell myself to breath. Basic maintenance.

I can usually hold myself to a resolution for a week, but that does not mar my enthusiasm for the process. In my heart of hearts however, I know such individual efforts at self-betterment, without social structures that support our human welfare, are of limited value.  I know that thinking we can be “good” all by ourselves, or that every success is a result of personal fortitude, is not only false, but dangerous.  It leads us to categorize ourselves and others as inherently good or bad, to think we can eliminate the bad apples without upsetting the apple cart.

In the United States the number one personal resolution at New Years is to lose weight. It’s always at the top of my list.  Yet the Blue Zone folks have incontrovertible evidence that creating healthy community structures, not individual will power, is key of solving obesity.

Same goes for everything else we want to do as a society.  It’s not about rooting out bad eggs or apples and encouraging individual will power.  It’s about creating healthy, equitable social structures, systems and policies that encourage all of us to do better.

We are not the good guys if we resort to bombing the “bad guys.”  We won’t solve domestic gun violence by mental health screening because all humans are susceptible to mental dis-ease.  We won’t create a just policing system by routing out bad apples; the cart is rotten.

We are all just apples, capable of sweetness, permeable to worms.  As a society we need to develop the structures that encourage us humans to take good care of ourselves and each other, to share our collective wealth, to care for our earth, to mete out equal justice.

This year I resolve to meditate every day. My mantra will be: I am just an apple.   I look forward to joining all you other apples in 2016, to make a better cart for all of us.

Getting “Creative” with the U.S. Federal Budget.

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Speaking at Mayflower church in Minneapolis on October 30 2015,  HUD secretary Julian Castro suggested we be creative, as we don’t have the budget to fill our affordable housing needs.

So here is my creative idea. Let’s limit our war budget instead.  We could stop arming everyone in the Middle East, bring the troops home, say no to Obama’s “boots on the ground,” use tax dollars to build housing at home rather than tear it down overseas.

It’s kind of obvious, I know.  Too obvious to be creative. So I dressed it up with some magic markers.  Here, in case you need a translation, is what my drawing is saying:

Affordable housing, plus education, plus infrastructure, plus health care, plus  parks  and other common goods…. Looks like we  don’t have enough money for war! 

 

 

 

Love and rage for Umpqua Community College.

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(Photo from Niagara, New York  summer, 2011, anti-violence campaign.)

I forgot to turn in my key after class this afternoon so I  came back in the evening to the Metropolitan State University Minneapolis building where I taught an afternoon class.  I arrived just as students were getting out of class, streaming down the stairs, continuing class debates and notes about assignments, dressed in faded jeans and business wear. Metro State students are all ages — most in their 20s-40s –most finishing a double shift as workers and students, some rushing home to complete a third shift as parents.  Despite these stresses, I could feel the energy of possibility and change, of connection and new ideas rippling through the building.

In the morning I had gotten on the bus with poster-paper rolled in a rubber band and an idea that I wanted students to map out a reparations plans to heal our nation from the scourge of racist policies past and present. In class I divided the board in five parts:

  1. Apologies, monuments, museums, textbooks, and curricula.
  2. Truth and reconciliation
  3. Cash outlays
  4.  Government and institutional reparations in the form of outlays for education, housing etc.
  5. Commit the crime, do the time – retribution.

We talked about different real-life scenarios in which these forms of reparations have been implemented and then students picked one of the five and came up with plans — utopian in that they were in charge — but still in the real world, in a backlash-prone nation.   The atmosphere was jovial and thoughtful as students acted out parts to illustrate their ideas. We talked about breaking through information  silos and overcoming divide and conquer strategies.

One student stopped before leaving to thank me for the class. Another  — after talk of an upcoming paper, another joked  “This was my favorite class, but now you’re wrecking it with deadlines..”

I left class feeling inspired, walking across Loring Park, watching ducks on this gorgeous early fall evening. A dog in the narrow dog park stood like statue on a stump, making me and other passersby laugh. I crossed Hennepin avenue on the pedestrian bridge stepping over young lovebirds being photographed. I wandered around the sculpture garden. Another couple dressed for a glorious occasion were photographed next to the iron swing and the glass fish. I met my partner and we had a glorious evening listening to the magnificent poet  Douglas Kearney  and the soaring notes of a bass clarinet — Walker Art Museum’s free Thursday. 

It wasn’t until I returned home that I heard about the Oregon Community college massacre.  I immediately thought of my students, of the energy I felt in the school building when I returned my keys.

I know such hope and possibility existed  at the Umpqua Community College in  Oregon.

Now.

Ten people who made hard spaces in their lives for school, to build a better life,  are gone.

Ten families, ten groups of friends are left to mourn.

Tens of tens of Umpqua students just had the plug pulled from their hopes and dreams.

Another stat to add to the tens of tens of school shootings since Sandy Hook.

I’m glad to see the President angry. We need to stop the NRA. But we also must stop state-sponsored violence of our police and armies. Otherwise we have no leg to stand on when we demand an end to civilian gun violence.

Even the most disturbed can see when the emperor has no clothes.