Archive for June 2017

Burn ~ Part 2 (cont. from last week’s part 1): Refusal

by Nancy Grayum

I see withholding as a practice, a way of living lightly, spending small, taking time to think and feel, pacing ourselves. Progressive refusal, increasingly tweaking our resistance to the culture of waste and greed, can create meaningful outcomes.

Divestment from funds that support environmental or social abuse is easy to accomplish, but it can be difficult for people to let go of potential financial gain.  If investing in mutual funds, then we select “socially responsible” and read the fine print.

No banks or investment corporations use my money now. I’ve used only our local credit union, not the for-profit banks, for 50 years. A credit union is a cooperative non-profit, with an elected board that exists to benefit local community members. Bank-initiated legislation constantly threatens the non-profit status of credit unions. Even with strong resistance from members, the banks creep in: WECU sold our mortgage. Their Visa is actually Citibank. I pay the charges quite immediately so Citibank gets zero interest, but the usurers get a take from my vendors, who in turn charge me.

It’s this type of close examination of my own assumptions and habits that leads me to seek and share more ways to resist dependence on an abusive system.

I won’t vote for a candidate who accepts corporate contributions. Thousands of alliances have formed since Senator Bernie Sanders set the example and proved the power of common people during his presidential campaign. As these groups coalesce I will support them in the interest of social justice, education and a compassionate society.

Since the 1970’s everyone in our family has attended to efforts to decrease personal use of fossil fuels. These days I walk and use public transit to schools, markets, libraries and offices, but we also use a gas-powered car.

We support local farms and economies by purchasing locally-sourced fresh food. We avoid buying things that had to be transported by ship, plane, or trucks. But we can’t grow lemons or avocados here; there is still privilege in our purchasing habits.

We recycle and re-use. We also agonize over the omnipresent plastic that is woven through our personal culture like the DNA of living organisms. We could do better.

I resist by protecting my mind. I refuse to watch or listen to propaganda aka advertising aka network programming, so I don’t feed the gaping maw of corporate athletic, retail, political, or pharmaceutical America. There’s been no TV at home since I dialed up the internet in the 20th Century, but still the headlines from around the world swim in our ether whether we want to know about them or not. I’ve always been disinterested in “the news” in a rather snooty way, and continue my lifelong quest for meaningful journalism, verified sources with integrity, and without snarly hi-amp attitude. I wi-fi-couch surf national and international headlines but find other ways to read those topics in depth for free. Breitbart is free. (Opposition research.)

Oh yes, Yes!  magazine makes my list, along with other ad-free print and online sources of news and people in our multiple cultures that interest and inspire me: The Sun, Orion, Crosscut and Northwest Citizen, ACLU, Sierra Club, Northwest Treaty Tribes, Jay Taber’s Salish Sea Maritime blog and Jen Briney’s Congressional Dish podcast. Then I try to budget my stress hormones and let my thoughts compost sans odeur.

While I aim to stay healthy and fully available to family and friends, I now take the time to write postcards to our members of Congress every week–one topic per missive. I sign petitions, forward the urgent emails, then unsubscribe from the flood of solicitous promotions that result from my clicks. I make protest signs, and after years away, show up at protests. I pray that all people and all creatures may experience kindness and compassion.

Quiet time, retreat, solitude are like the exhale after a frightened gasp. Post-traumatic stress after November 2016 made me sick for three months. I seek renewal. Wendell Berry, in the last line of his poem The Peace of Wild Things, says it for me:

For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

We were burned this past winter and the flames are intensifying. But we are still breathing. The deliciously saturated clouds are still floating above, the rhodies are blooming at our front door, and we didn’t use the gas fireplace today. We can’t change our cultural entrapment with the flick of a switch, but we can keep the wicked wizards’ feet to the fire while we continue our own slow burn.

Author’s Bio: Nancy Grayum grew up in the rain-blessed forests and on the salty shores of Washington State, usually seeking the right path, or some divergence. She taught in public schools during the 1970’s, did a stint as a self-employed copy editor, then had a long career in classroom technology support at WWU. As a recovering technical writer she enjoys writing poetry and creative non-fiction, and is a volunteer with Whatcom Land Trust. She lives in Bellingham with her husband Gene Riddell  and their dog, Mr. Black.

Burn ~ Part 1 Investigation

by Nancy Grayum

We got burned. But as I simmer over the dismantling of the EPA, the outrageous bloating of a so-called “Defense” budget, the construction of pipelines, rolling of coal and oil trains and the fracking for natural gas, I also initiate an investigation of the contradictions in today’s energy culture and in my own way of living. I can resist more effectively if I am mindful.

Natural gas for our home averages a very reasonable $30 a month for on-demand hot water and the gas fireplace that, with the flick of a switch, heats most of our small house. The gas main runs under our street about 30 feet from the front door, where, gazing at snowfall last winter, I became wide-eyed-curious for the first time about where the gas in that pipe was extracted or how, and what route it followed as it moved to our home.

A geologist friend says our gas most likely comes from fracking the tar sands in western Alberta, British Columbia and Montana. With the methane leaks in drilling for it, the power needed to liquefy it and the carbon emissions from burning it, natural gas is a disaster for the climate. Fracking damages and pollutes water tables and causes earthquakes. Puget Sound Energy derives 24% of our electrical supply from natural gas generating plants and they plan to build more on the tideflats in Tacoma. Are there other energy sources we blindly enjoy without scrutinizing the actual cost?

Coal-fired electrical generation is being phased out in Washington since we passed a law in 2011 that will eliminate it by 2025. However, 35% of Puget Sound Energy electricity is generated at a coal plant in eastern Montana. Ironically, our bounty of coastal ports attracts fossil fuel companies’ desire for shipping facilities in order to reap profit from overseas markets. Lummi Nation provides a superb example of protection and resistance by holding fast to their 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott rights.

Hydroelectric power is the highest ranking source of electricity in the state, at 36%. As a young girl I rowed a little boat on the reservoir behind Merwin dam on the Lewis River, heartbroken to see the black ghosts of huge trees rooted and motionless beneath the deep, clear water. With construction of our 47 hydroelectric dams across nearly 20 of our major rivers, the new reservoirs permanently destroyed habitats for thousands of species, and the salmon journey through fish-ladders became a lame excuse for the vibrant rapids and life cycles of their past.

Oil is not extracted in Washington State, but refineries have a huge footprint along our coastlines, no matter how they try to hide behind tree buffers, wage statistics or best practices. Trains with hundreds of oil cars pass through every community with a track. Tank ships, with their engines idling in port 24/7, fill up with refined product and chug away, risking our fragile and beloved Salish Sea.

Electricity derived from wind, solar or bio-gas is minimal–just four percent–in our green state. We support it by paying higher fees to PSE. This doesn’t mean our homes are singled out to use only green energy, but we become sponsors for the addition of green power to the grid. I just barely believe this; after all, PSE, while once a public utility, is now held by foreign private investors and stockholders.

We’ve never trusted nuclear power plants because we’ve seen the damage. As a result of Japan’s tsunami catastrophe, we fret about our wild Alaska salmon. Instead of asking a chef, “Is it farmed or is it wild?” we now grimly joke, “Is it farmed or Fukishima?” We’ve very effectively resisted nuclear power plants: just 1% of PSE power is generated at Hanford.

Most Washingtonians who are fortunate and comfortable are agitated about forthcoming disaster, if not from spills or explosions then from the sense of walking over hot coals to stay economically safe. Messaging by fossil fuel corporations imprints and drives our culture, keeping people confused, polarized and in the dark. Ads, fake news, blatant lies and distraction succeed in the election of greedy con-artists and financiers to the seats of power. It’s not new. Our comfort has a high price, it’s just more obvious now than in recent years.

For me, resistance takes the form of paying attention to these greedy ones and trying not to get hooked into their game. Call me passive-aggressive: I withhold.

 

In this two-part post, Nancy withholds, so check back in a week to read about resistance by progressive refusal.

Aleppo

The smell of laurel and olive trees is impregnated in my skin. The scent is integrated and meshed with generations of my family. It was my great grandfather Elias, who had the original idea of planting laurel and olive trees on the small piece of land that he inherited from his father. Elias planted ten olive trees and one laurel whenever a child was born. When my grandfather Adnan inherited the land he went around asking his friends and neighbors what they would do with them. There were many suggestions and one night he came up with the idea of making soap. The soap of Aleppo is famous worldwide. Adnan and then my parents continued the tradition of planting olive and laurel trees every time a child was born, so now we have many trees. Before the war we had a successful soap making business.

When I was a little boy I would spend my days running in between the trees, as I got older I began to help with the recollection of olives, which was very hard work. But it was fun too, the whole family worked together. The women began cooking the day before, making baba ghanoush, kibbeh and, tabbouleh. The men and younger adults did the physical work. The grandmothers helped with the little ones. There was a job for everyone and within a few weeks it was all done.

One day I was running with my friend Ahmed. We were racing through some buildings that had been bombed the month before. Suddenly I heard the plane and before I could yell to Ahmed there was an absence of sound, as if all the noise in the city had been pulled into a vacuum and then the sound was deafening and I was thrown to the ground by a violent shock wave. I must have fainted. When I awoke, I did not recognize my surroundings. It was full of dust, debris, there was dirt in my mouth, my lips were dry, and my body and my eyes hurt. I tried to get up, but fell down. When I finally stood up, I began calling for Ahmed, but he did not answer. My heart began to beat faster, I felt sweat on my hands and began to push things around. But I knew that he would not be alive.

After that day I did not go out on my own again. I trembled when I heard the planes. I woke up yelling at night, calling for Ahmed, until my mother would come and touch my hair, shushing me.

“Why Mama, why Mama?”

“I don’t’ know. It is God’s will,” Kamar answered. I did not like this God that took so much and gave so little.

One day I asked my grandpa, why he had not wanted to leave.

“A country’s strength is in its people. If it’s people leave, it weakens it. I will not abandon my land. I believe there will be peace in Syria, soon. I want to be there when it happens”. My parents had offers to leave to France, but after many discussions, they finally agreed they could not leave my grandpa alone.

We watched our friends and neighbors flee, some died and some joined one or the other side. The Americans, the Russians and the Europeans bombed us. They say they want our oil. I just hope my grandpa will see peace. His parents planted the olive and laurel trees and he began the Aleppo Soap Company. We have been closed for six years, but next year we plan to reopen in hopes that the civil war in Syria will be over.

I’m just a little boy, but I heard and saw the bombs fall on my city. I know the smell of burning skin and the piercing sound of humans in their last scream. I’m just a little boy who has seen too much.

 

Karuna Tzadi Arnold began writing in Ibiza, Spain, when she was nine years old. Since then she has written in many different countries and currently lives in a small village in Extremadura, Spain, with her husband Lorenzo and their twin 3 year old boys, Miles and Rio. She enjoys her morning walks in nature and inventing stories for her children.

She looks forward to her boys beginning school in September, so she can have more time for her different writing projects; a couple children’s books, a blog and working on an historical novel “Rosannah”, which takes place in the 1770’s in Pennsylvania and in Wales. She also enjoys writing in Spanish and has spent this year entering writing competitions in Spain and South America. In January two of her short stories “Otra Etapa” and “Blind George,” were published on an online journal www.escritores-en-red.es