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Scorched Earth

Scorched Earth

This essay was spoken at an open mic on June 9th, 2017 at Black Sheep Coffee Roasters in Bishop, California where Charlie Marks and friends play really good bluegrass music. Kris Hohag showed up and gave us a taste of hip hop.

Working at the Burger Barn in Bishop, California has ushered me into political conversations at a higher rate than any other job in the past.

I am not sure if this is because as a 27-year-old, now I have worked concertedly through fits of outrage and wild tears, combined with sustained, intimate conversations with strangers and friends, through phoning my mother in all of our seeming disconnectedness to talk about Beyonce and the historically traumatic relationship between black and white women, or if it is just because now I feel emboldened by some kind of inner peaceful angst that allows me to speak the truth as far as I see it.

When I was younger I was driven by a fire. I witnessed how words can create flames and incineration. I observed the scorched earth left in the wake.

So many have told me, continue to tell me, there’s no hope. Our country, our world, right now faces great despair and suffering. People are dying. Cars are moving, espresso is being poured, white people are laughing on the streets, doing their yoga in their air conditioned bedrooms, practicing their art, pushing their babies in strollers, and people are dying. We can cocoon into our white bodies whenever we want. This world is for us. These systems protect our bodies.

Tell me about your fear. What are you fearful of? Think about your fear.

A few months ago I went to an event called, “Let’s Talk,” in Portland, Oregon. Margaret Jacobsen, a power house activist told us to divide into groups and talk. The room was full of white people and people of color. The people shuffling next to me formed a circle and the ratio was five white women, one white man, and a black woman. The black woman spoke first. I found out she was Donna Maxey, the founder and director of Race Talks, a conversation series that invites the Portland community to talk about issues of race and white supremacy. She asked everyone to talk about how they were feeling.

Everyone described being scared. It was February and Trump was now president. Maxey said, “Why are you scared?” And the white women responded by saying something about Trump being like Hitler. Maxey then told the group about being a little black girl when they shot JFK.

She realized at that time, being maybe nine years old, that if they could shoot a beautiful white man, the president of the United States, that they “sure as hell couldn’t care less about a little black girl.”

In the moment when she realized how easy it would be for anyone to off her just like JFK, she also realized that there was no longer anything to lose. If death was such a real possibility, there was no reason to be fearful of anything. Living in fear wasn’t a logical option. Her words sank in. There Donna Maxey was, sitting with five white women crying about Trump. Maxey said that this, this mess we feel ourselves in, this black hole, this seeming nightmare, was nothing new. She said to us, “it seems like this is the first time you all realize that you are vulnerable.”

Two weeks ago I went to dinner at Grandma Diane’s in Bishop. Grandma Diane is a Paiute woman who stood on the frontlines at Standing Rock, and twice a month she feeds her family by putting out a buffet of food on a white table on the front lawn of her cozy home on the reservation. Family members dine side by side and talk about Payahüünadü. At one point at the last dinner, Grandma Diane turned to Fran of the Sierra Club and asked, “Do you live near Main St.?” And Fran responded with a warm, “yes.” Grandma Diane said, “Are they still having people abide by the water limitations when it comes to watering lawns and using water?” Fran replied no. Grandma Diane nodded.

It was a tolerant nod. It was a resolute, steadfast, knowing kind of nod.

I started a feminist media company a year ago for the outdoor industry and this week I wrote an essay, published it on the website, and then I took it down because white people don’t want to hear certain things. They don’t want to hear that they could possibly be the oppressors in our world. That as white people, as well-intentioned, progressively-minded white people, that we could be doing harm. That we could be the reason for Trump. White people don’t want to hear that in all their goodness and loving intention-setting that they could be the reason for the war, for climate change, for the industries that move coal and oil and they don’t want to hear that they are the reason for the segregation that is still alive and well. White people don’t want to hear that reservations are our fault, are still our fault, though it happened a hundred years ago, the fact that it is still happening, means that we need to get up and be mad about it and do something about it already. What are we waiting for? Change doesn’t come from waiting.

So when will we wake up and radicalize the times?

Because the time is now. It has always been now. And if we only sit inside our whiteness we will never be free. Our freedom is wrapped up in everyone else. We live in this dream of whiteness. Look around? Where are the native people? Not here. This is not meant to make you feel guilty because no one has time for white guilt. This is meant to be a call for the community to get together, like really get together in person and commune. White people need to take it upon themselves to go out of their way to make these spaces inclusive. To teach themselves about the true history of this place. It is time for us to do some work outside of our 9-5s, outside of our beloved hobbies, or adventurous pursuits in the mountains.

We need to ask ourselves some questions in the privacy of our minds: Who are we? How do we imagine ourselves? How do we imagine the world? How do we imagine all the breathing, living, floating, pulsing things in it? As much as we have been capable of damaging, nightmarish things, we are also capable of extraordinary, life-giving, inspiring things. This world is hideous and beautiful. Ram Dass said, “The question we need to ask ourselves is whether there is any place we can stand in ourselves where we can look at all that's happening around us without freaking out, where we can be quiet enough to hear our predicament, and where we can begin to find ways of acting that are at least not contributing to further destabilization.”

What would it mean to confront and engage? Revolution happens when we pull ourselves out of amnesia. When we come together. When we believe in each other and act in dedicated unity. We need to be actively protesting Silicon Valley, Amazon, Google, and this kind of technological “sophistication” because it’s only de-humanizing us. All of us can only do what we can, and yes, we are all suffering physically, emotionally, mentally, but we can alleviate much of our suffering by showing up for each other and banding together. In these terrifying times when two young men are killed on a train in Portland, Oregon by a white supremacist because they were defending two young muslim women from hate speech, we need to come together now more than ever.

The war on terror is not far away in the Middle East. It is right here, sitting with us right now. Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, Honor the Earth and movements like these keep me going. When someone says to me there’s no point, I think about Tawakul Karman, Aung San Suu Kyi, Angela Davis, Edward Snowden, bell hooks, Laura Poitras, Margaret Jacobsen, Diane Maxey, and my friend, Jolie Varela who lives here in Bishop, who is starting a cultural revitalization project here in the valley. It is time we connect on a deep, individual level with the people who we live among, the people who are sitting beside, and the people who are not here, who live off Barlow Lane, those who have ancestors resting under the dirt, largely unmarked, without tombstones, where often a dirtbiker will plow over their graves like it's their God-given right.

When I think about the feminist movement, I think about resilience. I think about women who have welcomed friction, who have welcomed conflict. Because conflict will happen and it is necessary.

Underneath the fires we leave behind, underneath a scorched earth, grows a garden.

Rebecca Solnit writes that “hope doesn’t mean denying these realities. It means facing them…” Corporate transparency, economic justice, the feminist movement, the dynamics of our climate, the dynamics of our relationship with each other as living, breathing beings among each other, are all influencing and colliding with our reality.

The usefulness of pursuits in the mountains and on rock faces is that it teaches us how to go into the unknown. The usefulness of the unknown, of uncertainty, is that therein lies possibility. Everything may not be fine. But that’s okay. Tremendous suffering exists, so the question is how do we endure? We need to see each other and be there for each other. We need to acknowledge and accept that pain and hope can co-exist. That it is everything all at once. That there are many realities, and that our, individual reality needs to be constantly put to question and examine it. Through that we open up to possibility and open up to each other. We can open up to making this world more accepting, more loving. Going into the unknown means making yourself vulnerable and letting go. It means killing our egos. It means resisting individualism, it means not getting sucked into virtual reality, Instagram, Facebook, and not only focusing on our selfish outdoor pursuits, but creating a world where everyone can experience as much joy as we do when we go into the mountains.

When you acknowledge, accept, and embrace uncertainty you recognize that there is a chance to create what will happen.

Solnit writes, “When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes – you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others.” There is not certainty, but that is what is so inspiring. Nothing is certain, so anything is possible. That is enough for me to show up, act, and throw myself into uncomfortable situations, to be vulnerable, to face death, my biggest fear, because really, after looking at it, it is the one thing that keeps us all from realizing our fullest potential. We perceive risks that are not there. We are conditioned to think that by being vulnerable and putting ourselves out there something will kill us. We will die. But really, there is only radical love to embrace if we all let our guards down and join each other in solitary, communal, united action around the common goal of setting ourselves free. Everything we do matters and creates an impact. Even our inaction creates an outcome.

Solnit reminds us that there are so many things we do every day that are protests of this imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy: our interactions and commitments to our families, friendships, work relationships, our social, spiritual, and political involvement, our volunteer work, all of these things are anticapitalist and we are always doing things out of love, which is a protest of our profit-driven, consumptive, material-obsessed society.

There are existing alternatives to everything.

It is up to us stop the façade, the lies, the untruths, the relayed false messages from so-called authorities. It is time we investigate the unknown and recognize our options for ourselves. It is time we each take up our torch, because we all have one, and it is time we realize how even in disastrous, horrifying times people have been known to be resourceful, altruistic, and creative. After disaster anything is possible. When the biggest disaster has become our leader in this country, we must do everything we can to create meaningful engagement between each other.

Human nature is not selfish, violent, and evil. Human nature is compassionate, loving, and communal. The future belongs to those willing to go into the unknown. The past is complex, one of cruelty and liberation, one of sorrow and one of healing, one of violence, and one of celebration. Again, I’ll quote Solnit, she writes, “The status quo would like you to believe [memory] is immutable, inevitable, invulnerable, and lack of memory of a dynamically changing world reinforces this view.” Much has changed for the better and worse throughout history. We can have an active hand in that changing and shaping, for better or worse, and since there is hope in uncertainty there is no excuse not to try, not to fight, not to join, not to show up. Only beautiful things can come from being vulnerable and showing up for each other, building community in this way.

Standing Rock shook the world. Disenchanted it. The reality was horrifying: that people could come together in unified effort, in compassion and love, and simultaneously be met with a barrage of rubber bullets, tear gas, tasers, beatings, handcuffs. Peaceful water protectors became captured, imprisoned criminals: doctors, lawyers, restaurant workers, artists, carpenters, teachers, everyday people labeled with a number and thrown in cages, doused in freezing water in the middle of cold, sub-zero North Dakota winter. This shook the world. This caused disenchantment. It also caused a great surge of hope. How could it be that through all of this torture, violence, and great suffering, there could also be this amazing coming togetherness, this tenacious activism, this denial of surrender, this hope, this great, deep, moving belief in an alternative outcome? This struggle for indigenous sovereignty and environmental justice is one in the same, and it is not over.

And we all have the chance to do something about it.

Standing Rock was a peaceful demonstrations, now a living memorial, now a revolutionary moment in time. The exclusion, discrimination, sexual harassment, and rape that still goes on is reason enough for us to keep fighting, or for you to now join the fight.

 I think radically and idealistically. I don’t call this kind of thinking irrational. I call it a kind of thinking that is hopeful and resilient, a kind of thinking that believes in alternatives, a kind of thinking that does not accept the status quo, a kind of thinking that creates change when the current narrative is not serving any of us. The great world that I dream of is not a fantasy. I have seen it. I have lived it. I live it right now, every day. The great future we all dream of, this equality, this community, this loving kindness reality, is something that has arrived, maybe temporarily, maybe in bursts, maybe not in totality, but I have seen this world even in the absence of total victory.

I have seen this world in ruptures. When suddenly something happens between me and someone else and suddenly we are “we.” Not I and you and they. We are “we.” And it is an identity that does not exist unless we come together. But great things are possible when we start thinking as “we,” as one, as a community, as a people living side by side, next to each other in line at the coffee shop, milling around the grocery store, walking past each other on the sidewalk. This will involve conflict, but what connection, political or emotional, did not involve conflict? Conflict can be a birth place. With conflict comes resolution and reconciliation, with conflict comes healing. Conflict can bring us closer together.

Let these bursts, let movements like Standing Rock, these ephemeral experiences of the identity “we,” wake us up. Let us remember the time we thought something impossible and then proved ourselves wrong. Let us climb, let us go forward, and look back, and remember, and dream, and look into the darkness of hope and believe. And let us go forward willing to acknowledge our mistakes, willing to apologize, willing to confront how we caused harm, and be willing to make it right, willing to love, willing, willing. 

Simply let us be willing.

This morning, sitting outside Black Sheep, I overheard a woman talking about the word “enlightenment,” and she likened it to disenchantment. I like this. Because we often think of enlightenment as an “ah ha” moment, eternal peace, or a permanent state of contentedness. But enlightenment is not any of those things. The idea of enlightenment stemming from Zen Buddhism is a confronting our true selves and killing our egos. They are one in the same. We have to kill our egos. We have to disenchant ourselves from this idea of I, me, mine reality. We have to surrender our narrative of individualistic conquest and start shifting our perceptions to open up to many realities, many perspectives, oneness, which is everything all at once. It is suffering and joy, it is pain and bliss, it is happiness and sorrow.

Our world likes to chop things up, put them in categories, make boxes. But this causes us the most pain of all. We are denied the truth, which is that our world is not composed of duality, it is composed of multiplicity, it is composed of matrices. We have to accept that our enlightenment will come with pain and suffering, but also joy and love, and if we all actively work towards disenchantment we will be closer to the truth, closer to setting ourselves free, closer to building community, and mutual support.

 

 

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