How many colors in the rainbow?

There has been some controversy recently in some corners of the LGBTQ community when group in Philadelphia introduced a new variant on the rainbow flag. This time there were 2 new stripes added – a black one and a brown one.

Morecolormorepride.com

I don’t object to this addition by any means. There have been a lot of variants on the rainbow flag over the years. And in light of how in many cases LGBTQ people of color are less visible than white people – particularly cis white gay men – I understand the desire to add those extra colors as a way of adding visibility.

It surprised me though – and not because I think of the rainbow flag as a symbol of something colorblind. Quite the opposite. As I have been reflecting on it, I had specific experiences around the time that I came out that very clearly cemented the rainbow flag in my mind with inclusion of people of different races and ethnicities.

My coming out process proceeded quickly after I arrived at college in 1987. Being outside my parents’ house and on my own in a liberal environment meant that within 2-3 months, I was coming out to many people in my daily life and learning about everything involved in embracing my identity as a gay man, including the ideas behind the rainbow flag.

Another major cultural force in the United States was using the rainbow as its symbol at the time – the presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson. Jackson had run in 1984 for the Democratic nomination and again in 1988. In that second campaign, he was the second-highest vote getter for the Democratic nomination, behind the eventual nominee, Mike Dukakis.

Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition (later merged with PUSH to form the Rainbow PUSH Coalition) was a politically inclusive movement built very explicitly on racial and ethnic diversity. And I believe that Jackson was the first and only major party nominee addressing LGB audiences around the country (sadly, I can’t vouch for the inclusion of Trans people at this time). I saw him speak at the MCC (Metropolitan Community Church – an expressly LGB Christian denomination) in Minneapolis. And he was standing underneath a giant rainbow flag. The symbolic power of this candidate combined with this rainbow was huge – even if ultimately the Reagan/Bush version of conservative America was the one that voters chose.

Since these two uses of the symbol of the rainbow were combined in my consciousness, the Rainbow flag has always been – without any doubt – a symbol of inclusion of people of all races and ethnicities, as well as being a symbol of inclusion of LGBTQ people. And I think I’m just realizing that maybe that strong link is more personal for me than anything that is communicated to most people viewing the rainbow flag today.

Let’s be honest: there is a huge problem with racism within the LGBTQ community. Of course there is. There’s a problem with it within our society, and LGBTQ people are raised in and exist within our society. We learn all the underlying racist attitudes and bias that everyone else does. They don’t just go away. They need to be challenged all the time – by ourselves and within our communities.

Here in Chicago, for example, some of the most visible gay neighborhoods are largely white. This is a very segregated city. There have been longstanding tensions between white property and business owners in these neighborhoods and young LGBTQ people of color who are seeking out a community that purports to welcome them. Unfortunately, many of these young people of color are met with suspicion and prejudice instead of a welcoming attitude.

If adding a couple stripes to the flag address this in some way or help to bring awareness to the lack of representation of people of color in the LGBTQ press and within our community organizations, I will welcome it. Sorry, if it’s going to just take me a minute to get used to the fact that I see a meaning in that rainbow that nearly everyone else doesn’t.

If you don’t have anything nice to say…

I have been quiet on this blog lately. I have done some writing – I wrote and submitted a piece for a queer magic anthology, which I will have more information on in the future.

I have also been putting a lot of mental energy into my new position as Magister for the Brotherhood of the Phoenix, which I mentioned on my previous post. This has taken a great deal of mental energy, even more than I anticipated. We’re going through discussions that cut to the very core of our mission and which will redefine who we are as an organization. And they have been contentious and sometimes emotional. And that intensity looks like it’s probably not going to let up for months, at least.

So, I’m getting some hands-on learning about how to help guide a group through conflict. How do I foster an environment where everyone feels heard? How do we balance the urge to hold onto what we know and value, while opening up to a broader vision? I knew these conversations were bound to happen, but they weren’t in the front of my mind when I took this position.

One of the Four Powers of the Sphinx is “to keep silence”. I have been thinking about this a great deal lately. I think a lot of people in this noisy world find this to be a very difficult lesson. Without trying to boast, I think I am better at it than many (which still doesn’t make me particularly good at it).

In much of my adult life, I have not sought to take the spotlight. I gave up music and theatre that I loved during my teen years. I didn’t put any of my writing in the public eye for years after college, even though I studied Creative Writing. It’s only in the past few years that I have kept this blog and occasionally did talks to (usually small) groups. I really made the decision to restrain my own voice. I try to think about whether my voice will contribute something in a given context before I speak up.

Now, as I am trying to navigate a leadership role in an organization, restraining my own voice has seemed even more important. If I start off a discussion with strongly stating my opinion of our path and what we should and shouldn’t do, I risk stifling different opinions. I have to find the right balance of saying enough to get the conversation going without trying to dominate the conversation. And of course, I have to watch to make sure conversations don’t descend into something hurtful.

Another aspect of this silence is that when I think about something to write about, I have been feeling empty, and a bit helpless. There are so many horrors in the world, from American politics, which seems to be lurching from one crisis to the next, to the horrifying stories coming out of Chechnya, to environmental disasters and disastrous environmental policy decisions.

I often feel the urge to run away to a remote location where I can plant a huge garden and watch over and try to protect some patch of forest. I have no idea how to change people. I don’t know how to make people compassionate or conscientious. I don’t know how to make them stop harming others and the environment. And I don’t think my voice – whether it be a blog post, a chant and a placard at a protest, a public meeting – is going to open people’s eyes to reverse the disastrous course that we’re on.

What lies ahead looks like what I have seen before

As I was reading this article about the incoming Cabinet appointees, I couldn’t help thinking that I see what is ahead of us. It looks a lot like a place where I have been before.

I came out in 1987, in Reagan’s America. Only a handful of states had non-discrimination laws for employment or housing. No one even dreamed of legal same-sex marriages. A major epidemic had taken hold because the Federal government thought it only affected gays and drug addicts, who frankly deserved to get sick.

It was a common fear for children to be disowned by their parents or forced into therapy for coming out as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. It was common for people to lie to themselves and their spouses and live lives that looked like everyday American families, but were really a kind of silent hell.

For Trans people – well, it’s hard for me to even imagine. There was so little hope for support from home, school, work – so little awareness and so little sympathy for their identity that they knew in their hearts.

For LGBTQ people of color, who faced multiple intersections of discrimination around sexuality, race, ethnicity, and religion – the challenges and complications went far beyond what I ever experienced.

And so many brave and beautiful souls persevered.

 

It won’t look like it did before. The 1980’s didn’t look quite like the 1950’s, even if that’s what many in power aspired to achieve. LGBT communities had become established during the freer years of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Anita Bryant took her anti-gay crusade around and succeeded in getting quite a few places to roll back anti-discrimination laws (including St Paul, MN, my home at the time I came out). But the community still existed and grew stronger in spite of the disasters it faced.

The “Moral Majority” was in full swing – as was the “Satanic Panic”. There was a backlash against the open religious exploration of the 1960’s as well as the increasing secularism of American culture. Here, too, the counterculture was established enough that it held on, even if it was only in casual, personal ways. Neopaganism continued to develop, although it took on a “New Age” cast that was more about self-improvement than creation of an alternative spiritual community.

 

I was too young to really understand it at the time, but the 1980’s were also a time when environmental progress was rolled back. The move toward energy conservation through the 1970’s was reversed. Protected lands were opened to logging, drilling and mining. The EPA was weakened in favor of “business friendly” policies allowing more pollution. See more about Reagan’s environmental record here

The 1980’s saw a dramatic step up in the War on Drugs, which meant increasing incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders. Of course this had a racial component – much of the enforcement was in communities of color, even when drug use was just as prevalent in primarily white communities. See more about the War on Drugs here.

It was also the time when standards of honesty and integrity of the press was eroded. Reagan played a critical role in rolling back the “Fairness Doctrine” and other safeguards to hold media responsible for their reporting. This deregulation, along with the proliferation of cable news and then the internet news sites, has led to most news outlets being highly partisan and in many cases portraying opinion and sometimes even lies as news. See more about the changes to media in the 1980’s here.

 

 

We seem to be facing all these social currents again (or, in some cases, still): Anti-LGBTQ legal actions; Religious xenophobia and fear; Environmental protections being rolled back; An increase in racialized policing; A news media system that continues to fail in bringing reliable and balanced information to the American public.

I hope the cultural shifts of the past 20 years around all these issues will be enough to hold us together through the next decade. I am worried that if I get fired from my job because of my sexuality or my religion, the Federal legal system is not likely to help me out. I am even more worried about the climate of religious and ethnic discrimination that seems to be rising. And I am most worried about the fragile balance of the environment and the climate, which already seems to be on the verge of tipping.

Political Uses for Fear and Safety

Of course they're looking out for your safety (image source http://villains.wikia.com/wiki/File:Junglebook-disneyscreencaps_com-6101.jpg)

Of course they’re looking out for your safety (image source http://villains.wikia.com/wiki/File:Junglebook-disneyscreencaps_com-6101.jpg)

In Britain’s dark days of World War II, Winston Churchill famously said “We have nothing to fear but Fear itself.”

There was a good deal to fear at the time, including the possibility of a German bomb dropping on one’s home, the U-Boat attacks on shipping, the lives of armed service members, and of course the threat of a Nazi invasion of Britain and all the horrors that would entail.

But nonetheless, there’s an important lesson in this statement. When we are overcome with fear, we often forget important things we want to protect. We give up our freedoms to a strong leader who promises to keep us safe without much thought about whether we actually trust this leader and what are circumstances under which that leader surrenders those powers.

 

Keep a watch on how politicians use fear and a desire for safety to advance their own agenda. Be critical about what they tell us to fear. Be critical about what they tell us will bring safety.

One of the most dramatic uses of fear was Hitler’s use of the crisis of the Reichstag Fire to cement his own autocratic power. The event is an extreme example, but there are many others in recent history that also serve to illustrate this type of seizure of power in reaction to a fear-stoking event. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reichstag_fire
The George W Bush administration used the climate of fear in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to launch a war in Iraq (which had no connection to those attacks and none of the claimed Weapons of Mass Destruction). He also created the USA Patriot Act and a vast increase in the mechanism for monitoring electronic communication, even for US citizens on US soil, something typically seen as illegal overreach.

 

Recently the Army Corps of Engineers issued an eviction order to the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies that the water protector camp in North Dakota is to be closed “to protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protestors and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area, and to prevent death, illness, or serious injury” from the winter weather.

This is a definitely example of an appeal to safety that seems plausible, but coming from an organization that has fired rubber bullets and water cannons (in below-freezing temperatures) at members of the group, the concern for preventing death, illness, or serious injury rings hollow. They have already deliberately caused serious injury to dozens of people at this site.

 

In China, the government is dismantling up to ¾ of the town of Larung Gar because it has become a center for Tibetan Buddhism, and the government fears the potential political power. Again, the pretense is that the housing is unsafe. However, their solution is simply eviction and tear-down without any plan for replacement of the housing.

 

The incoming Trump administration, which has already threatened to institute a registry for Muslim Americans and stricter enforcement of immigration laws, could easily use the fear associated with some dramatic event in our near future to enact draconian laws around these issues. Many commentators have warned that we should watch out for Trump’s Reichstag Fire moment – a large scale terror attack or riot to be blamed on immigrants and/or Muslims that he will use to suspend regular processes of law.

For those of us who live in diverse communities, elbow to elbow with immigrants and Muslims, we know that these people are not a threat. They are typically regular people working to improve their lot and help their families. But it seems very likely that the powers of the government will be turned against these people to make their lives more difficult. And a little bit of fear is all it takes to shut down dissent from those who will speak against such policies.

Don’t let those excuses based on fear and safety stand when they are being used to destroy our freedoms and supress our neighbors. Be critical about reactions of attacks – will new restrictions, new spying programs, or new military actions really make us safer? Or are these just ways to give up our power to an unscrupulous leader?

Is this new government going to turn me into an anarchist?

I am in a rather grim mood about our future today. I know people think of me as normally balanced and reasonable. But without any real hope, my reasonability is feeling pretty strained.

 

A year and a half ago, I wrote this article about why I am not an anarchist.

The thrust of it was that I believe that the best argument for a strong Federal government is to provide effective regulation and restraint to those who are destroying the environment. I do not see any other institution that will effectively prevent people from literally trashing the wild places, forests, water supply, oceans, and air. I do not see any other institution with the power to reduce our society’s love affair with producing greenhouse gasses.

With the recent election, I guess it is pretty clear that the new administration and Congress will have no interest in using their power to protect natural areas, curb hazardous practices like fracking, limit or reduce carbon emissions.

I have a growing certainty that we are already past a point of preventing significant effects of climate change, and we keep hurtling down this path to use as much fossil fuels as possible – while we destroy forests and pollute water along the way. Turning away from this path could mitigate, but not prevent climate change – and yet we as a country are determined to ignore the changes needed.

 

I have sometimes said that I am not an anarchist because I don’t have an optimistic view of people’s motives, compassion, or even really about their ability to see what’s best for their own middle-to-long term future. I don’t think that view has really changed. Most people don’t really think about their impact on those around them, the future generations, or the environment.

Unfortunately, my faith in the federal government to protect us from the destructive actions of others is now destroyed. My main reason for supporting the idea of a strong federal government has been flushed down the toilet. Wild areas will be logged and mined with abandon. We’re going to keep getting more electricity from coal and less from wind and solar. The EPA will be slow to enforce whatever regulations are left, and polluters will feel quite free to dump and spew in whatever way benefits their bottom line.

I am still not optimistic about people’s ability to not destroy the environment, but that no longer seems like much of an argument for a strong federal government. It just seems like a recipe for drought, storms, poisoned water, and flooded cities. And no governmental authority is willing to take the action to stop it.

Here are some articles about where we’re headed on the environment:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/11/trump-presidency-a-disaster-for-the-planet-climate-change

http://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2016/11/14/13582562/trump-gop-climate-environmental-policy

http://time.com/4564224/donald-trump-climate-change/

My Big Gay Pagan Agenda

It used to be a common refrain from the Religious Right that we as a country shouldn’t give in to the Gay Agenda. With the increasing acceptance of different sexual and gender identities, that phrase was starting to seem rather silly.

But I am here to admit that with the changes that seem to be facing us, trying to move past despair and fear, I am starting to make up an agenda. Unfortunately, most of these are not things I can do on my own. These are all things we need to pull together to accomplish, and as of January 20, 2017, we can count on very little help from the federal government to support any of these goals.

This isn’t a complete list of what I want, but it’s some of the more realistic areas where we can take action in the political climate going forward.

So, in the spirit of being the change that scares the crap out of the religious right, here is My Big Gay Pagan Agenda.

 

My Big Gay Pagan Legislative Wish List:

Enact laws to ban Conversion/Reparative Therapy (State and Local)

Conversion Therapy is a damaging and debunked practice that attempts to “convert” people with same sex attractions to heterosexuality. Our new VP, Mike Pence, is an advocate for this infamous practice. Several states (California, Illinois, New Jersey, Vermont, and Oregon) have already banned this. If you can push your state and local politicians to enact a ban, I heartily encourage this. http://www.hrc.org/resources/the-lies-and-dangers-of-reparative-therapy

 

Enact laws to ban “Gay Panic” and “Trans Panic” legal defenses (State)

At this point only California has banned the use of “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses in cases of murder and assault. In the rest of the country, a bad reaction to someone’s sexual or gender identity can be used as an argument for justification or mitigating circumstances for the crime. We need to acknowledge that this is pure discrimination and malice. It should not be allowed as a defense in crimes against LGBTQ people. http://lgbtbar.org/what-we-do/programs/gay-and-trans-panic-defense/

 

Enact laws to protect LGBTQ people from employment and housing discrimination (State and Local)

A lot of people thought that after same sex marriage went nationwide, the Gay Agenda had been completed. Far from it. In many states, people can be legally fired from their jobs or kicked out of their homes because they are LGBTQ. Efforts to push a national bill through Congress have been stalled and we are almost certainly not to see any progress with the incoming Congress. The game is at the state level. If you live in any of the states that do not have such protections, put the pressure on your elected officials. https://www.aclu.org/map/non-discrimination-laws-state-state-information-map

 

Change policies to de-escalate police violence against Communities of Color

This is a huge and complex issue, but Campaign Zero has a lot of concrete and useful suggestions about ways to change and de-escalate policing that too often ends in the deaths of people who pose no significant threat, and are very often not even involved in criminal activity at all. http://www.joincampaignzero.org/#vision

 

I wish I could add issues around environmental protection and immigration reform, but those are questions handled federally, and I’m afraid there’s little hope for progress there, only a wish that the most radical proposals fall apart or are opposed so vigorously that they can’t move forward.

 

My Big Gay Pagan Personal Wish List:

Be Out

Visibility helps, when it comes to sexual and gender identity and when it comes to religious diversity. People are less likely to support discriminatory policies if they know that it would hurt their friends, family, and neighbors. I know not everyone feels safe doing this, and different places can have different levels of safety (out with friends and family, but not at work, for example), but try pushing the envelope. Talk about and normalize your family or romantic situation. Challenge gender stereotyping and gender essentialism. Respectfully challenge the idea that “we all believe in the same god”. Talk about the sacredness of natural places.

 

Strengthen our support and solidarity networks

Don’t let despair prevent you from connecting with friends, local groups, and support networks. I found this article below from Gods and Radicals to be very thought-provoking and full of ideas to keep moving forward, even if/when there are new repressive actions from the government. Although I don’t advocate illegal actions at this time, I think it’s very important to ask ourselves where the line is. Mass deportations? Religious tests for US travel? Suppression of the press? The justice system turning a blind eye to racial violence?

https://godsandradicals.org/2016/11/12/solidarity-networks/

 

Stand up against harassment and violence

As has been reported in many parts of the country, violence and intimidation against Muslims, immigrant communities, and many other groups have been on the rise since the success of the Republican nominee’s campaign. Many people are noting that bigotry has been emboldened.

https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/11/15/update-more-400-incidents-hateful-harassment-and-intimidation-election

 

Support the resolve of Sanctuary Cities

My home city of Chicago is a Sanctuary City, which will not cooperate with Immigration enforcement and will not even request the immigration status of people who interact with police. Otherwise law-abiding citizens who are undocumented are not subject to local law enforcement. The incoming administration has threatened to take away federal funding for such cities who defy the new immigration enforcement protocols.

More information on Sanctuary Cities

 

Support organizations that advocate for the embattled groups and the environment

I’m sure any of these organization will be happy to receive donations of time and/or money. Again, this is a very incomplete list.

ACLU

Campaign Zero

GLAAD

Lady Liberty League

Lambda Legal

Mercy for Animals

NAACP

Pagan Pride organizations

Planned Parenthood

Sierra Club

Southern Poverty Law Center

Wilderness Society

Immigrants’ rights groups, trans advocates, food pantries and homeless shelters, anti-defamation leagues, local LGBTQ organizations, Muslim aid societies, independent press organizations

 

My Big Gay Personal Challenges:

I am introverted by nature, but I am pushing myself to feed and strengthen my support networks at this time. I will continue to grow my involvement with Brotherhood of the Phoenix, an organization for men who love men (gay, bi, trans, queer). This Brotherhood can be a resource and support for the vulnerable among us.

I have limited financial resources, but I will try to help support organizations doing good work in whatever way possible – publicity, volunteering, etc.

I need to remain strong, physically and mentally. Friends and strangers may need a sympathetic ear. They may also need someone to help protect them from abuse or harassment, which is a far more physically demanding challenge.

I am going to seek out a self-defense class at some point in the near future. I am not a person who has a background in physical confrontation, but I fear there may be a time when such confrontation comes to me. I need to be more prepared than I am today.

One of my gifts is that I love to cook for people. Food is an immediate way to give people a bit of support, and it provides an occasion for gatherings and network building. I need to continue to use that gift.

I will continue to refine this Agenda and to keep myself strong enough that I will not be overwhelmed by the challenges ahead.

Is “Hospitality” Enough For An Anti-Racist Framework?

Let me start with an admission. With all the back-and-forth that Heathens have been having about racism, tribalism, folkishness, etc. I am so glad that I have never been called to a path in Heathenry/Asatru/Northern Traditions. It’s not my intention to offend those who are called to these paths, but I’m sure many will be offended, at least in part because outrage seems to be the default mode of online discourse in many of these communities.

I feel like Heathens have a certain stigma to accommodate, even if they aren’t white supremacist, even if they adhere to the more “universalist” interpretations of Heathenism. The fact there are so many white supremacist voices within the community is horrifying. To feel the need to put your time and energy figuring out what place, if any, these people have in your tradition – well, it has to be a drag on the whole tradition. Not only that, since people outside the Pagan and Polytheist community don’t know the difference between the various factions, it’s an embarrassment to everyone who calls themselves a Pagan and/or a Polytheist.

 

But let me move on to my main point here. There has been a loud and ongoing series of discussions, arguments, angry exchanges, accusations, defensive responses, (etc.) around the topic of Heathens and Racism. It has been a dominant topic within the Pagan/Polytheist online community for a while. I have already made my thoughts about this clear.

I have to make an observation for those Heathens who are striving to assert themselves as anti-racist.

Many of those who argue for an anti-racist Heathenism point to the ethic of Hospitality (which is one of the Nine Noble Virtues taught by some Heathen traditions). They argue that anti-immigrant, xenophobic rhetoric, policies, and violence are the opposite of hospitality. They argue that welcoming those who are different is a lauded virtue in the lore. That’s great. I am a believer in hospitality. I think there is much to be admired in using that spirit of generosity and hospitality as guiding principles. Another often repeated addition to this is that we should treat strangers as if they may be Gods in disguise, for there is a long tradition of just such stories.

But hospitality is dependent on a certain defined relationship. Someone is a host and someone is a guest. The host is the owner. The host belongs there. The guest is an outsider. No matter how gracious the host, the guest is always a guest, i.e. the outsider.

As Americans, we live in a land that is multi-racial and multi-cultural, as well as being open to people of different religions and immigrants from different parts of the world. All of these people are part of our country. Hospitality works fine when we are talking about welcoming people into our place of residence, and sometimes when we are talking about our small local organizations. But it breaks down when we try to apply a Heathen hospitality to a larger societal scope.

Heathens don’t “own” towns, much less states or the country. People of northern European descent don’t “own” these, either. They may own property and participate in the political process and economic life, but American values and laws guarantee that entry into these activities is not determined by race, ethnicity, or religion.

Further, everyone in this country of northern European descent is descended from an immigrant. Thinking of those Americans of northern European descent as our society’s “hosts” and people of darker skin or other religions as our society’s “guests” is a thought trap.

It’s a manifestation of the same racist thinking that assumes that a default American is a person of white race. This country obviously had people of Native American background long before the Europeans showed up. People of African descent have been on these lands for nearly as long as Europeans. Chinese people and other east Asian populations have been in this country for hundreds of years. We should not think of ourselves as a white European population with non-European guests. That never was a true way of thinking about it, and as time goes on, it is less and less representative of the reality of the American population.

So, to be honest, I don’t see how hospitality on its own can really encompass true inclusion in a multi-cultural and diverse society. Those of us who look like what our culture has told us is a default American identity – i.e. cis-gendered, able-bodied white people – need to realize that this doesn’t automatically mean the country is “ours”. The inclusion and participation of others who don’t fit that definition should not be defined by whether we are feeling generous that day. African Americans, Asian Americans, Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans – these are not our guests. They are fellow Americans, who have an equal share in our society.

 

Since I am not a Heathen, there will be those within those traditions who won’t even consider my voice in this conversation. But since the conversations happening within these communities reflect on the larger Pagan and Polytheist communities, I am impacted by those conversations. I hope that they can embrace a way of thinking that is more in line with full rejection of xenophobia and racism. I think that will require moving beyond an ethic based on simple hospitality.

 

If you are curious about the Heathen anti-racist movement, one of the most prominent groups is Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR).

Riots in Milwaukee – My Native City’s Racist Heritage

I grew up in Milwaukee, on the north side, although not in the Sherman Park neighborhood where this week’s rioting happened. I haven’t lived in Milwaukee for over two decades, but I still have many connections with the city, including family and many high school friends in the area.

I am a little too young for any memory of the late 1960’s race riots, which seemed to have had an indelible mark on my parents and many adults I knew. I grew up with the idea that outward signs of racism against black people were not socially acceptable. “The N word” was not to be used, ever – not at home and certainly never in public. I attended the aggressively desegregated Milwaukee Public Schools, and I count myself very lucky in this. I went to a magnet high school located in an almost entirely African American neighborhood. The school population was slightly over half African American students. It was a wonderful place to go to school, and I will always appreciate that education for many reasons. The true diversity of the student body was a definite asset, and the ability to make friends with people from different backgrounds was a great benefit. Also, I was lucky enough to be in a choir with singers who had grown up with the marvelous tradition of choral singing in African American churches, and the rich musical culture that came with that.

 

But in spite of the effort in the schools, segregation ran deep in Milwaukee, and racist attitudes were common. It wasn’t until I was in high school when I began to understand some of the racial dynamics of Milwaukee real estate. Many north side neighborhoods experienced dramatic “white flight” episodes, when a few black families move into a neighborhood and racial panic-selling ensued. The plummeting property values then motivated other sellers less concerned about race, but were sensitive to a perceived impending financial disaster. The racial makeup of a neighborhood could change dramatically within a few years.

My neighborhood had a real estate agent who practiced what I now know as “steering”. I didn’t understand the dynamic at the time. It wasn’t until I thought back on it years later after getting my own salesperson’s license. If a house in our subdivision went up for sale, she simply did not show it to African American buyers. Eventually, sellers began to realize that her method often resulted in a lower sales price, and she lost her dominance.

I am sad to hear that Milwaukee is just as residentially segregated as ever – one of the most segregated cities in the country, in fact. And I am sad to hear that the program to keep the schools desegregated has been entirely reversed. The schools are more of a reflection of the neighborhoods, and therefore segregation and disparities are the rule.

 

In addition to these dynamics, I remember a certain narrative often repeated. The story went that unemployed people would come to Wisconsin to take advantage of our generous welfare benefits. There was a certain hand-wringing that we were attracting the lazy and the parasitic to Milwaukee because we were too generous. Like Reagan’s “Welfare Queen” story, it was charged with an unspoken racism. These people were presumably African Americans coming from southern states to take advantage of the system.

In truth, industrial jobs held by workers of all races were being lost throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. Low-skilled workers were finding it harder to find employment, and that was undoubtedly at the root of the larger dependence on government aid programs. Milwaukee is a “Rust Belt” city. Iconic factories were closing and downsizing. Even those that stayed around began to depend more heavily on automation and employed fewer people. There was no need for this bogeyman of the welfare immigrant. There were more than enough people right under our noses that needed help.

 

But it seemed that a spirit of generosity was far from plentiful. And things only have gotten worse for those who are in greatest need. Government aid programs, youth employment programs, public education – all these safety nets have been cut. Milwaukee area was hit hard in the housing crash. Job opportunities in the suburbs are often inaccessible with the area’s patchy public transportation system, so are unavailable to those in the poorest areas of the city.

Poverty, hopelessness, and violence often go hand-in-hand in many of the largely African American neighborhoods of Milwaukee. I wish I could say it was surprising that violence would flare up like it did this weekend. The truth is, it isn’t. Sherman Park seems to have had a recent history of racial tension centering on the gas station that was burned down. When the police shoot someone in the neighborhood, the residents’ anger and grief, primed by a string of recent national incidents, will come out and be directed at police and institutions like that gas station. And it shouldn’t be a surprise that all this will result in violence.

 

I think tonight, things are quiet in Sherman Park. Aggressive policing may calm things down temporarily, but the underlying issues are still there. The segregation, economic inequality, hopelessness, and anger are still there. And I’m afraid my native city doesn’t even seem to be moving in the right direction away from these. My heart breaks for those who live in fear and hopelessness. My heart hopes that my native city can turn this around, recognize and help their neighbors and find some real change.

 

Here is some more reading on these recent incidents and reflections on the larger picture:

Reggie Jackson in the Milwaukee Independent – a voice from the neighborhood

Syreeta McFadden in the Guardian

A sad history of the re-segregation of Milwaukee schools

Reading List for “John Michael Greer and the Steampunk Future”

My talk to The Owen Society for Hermetic and Spiritual Enlightenment was pretty well received today. We had about 15 people, many of whom seemed interested and engaged. Of course there is so much more source material than I could present, so I put together a reading (and watching) list to follow up on some of the issues covered.

 

The Long Descent and Catabolic Collapse

How Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse (academic paper that is fairly technical)

http://ecoshock.org/transcripts/greer_on_collapse.pdf

On Catabolic Collapse

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2006/05/on-catabolic-collapse.html

The Trajectory of Empires

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/02/trajectory-of-empires.html

 

The Myth of Progress

What Progress Means

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2015/02/what-progress-means.html

This Faith in Progress

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2007/01/this-faith-in-progress_10.html

 

The Steampunk Future

The Steampunk Future

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-steampunk-future.html

The Steampunk Future Revisited

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-steampunk-future-revisited.html

 

Green Wizardry

Seven Sustainable Technologies

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2014/01/seven-sustainable-technologies.html

 

John Michael Greer – YouTube Playlist created by me

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJF1Nk3eL3u-jokYzVMJG0GJ0Fzze5N0F

 

John Michael Greer books:

The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age, 2008

The Ecotechnic Future: Envisioning a Post-Peak World, 2009

The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered, 2011

Apocalypse Not: Everything You Know About 2012, Nostradamus and the Rapture Is Wrong, 2011

Green Wizardry: Conservation, Solar Power, Organic Gardening, and Other Hands-On Skills From the Appropriate Tech Toolkit, 2013

Not the Future We Ordered: Peak Oil, Psychology, and the Myth of Progress, 2013

Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America, 2014

After Progress: Reason and Religion at the End of the Industrial Age, 2015

Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush: The Best of The Archdruid Report, 2015

Dark Age America: Climate Change, Cultural Collapse, and the Hard Future Ahead, to be released Sept 2016

 

Other resources:

The End of Suburbia (52 minute documentary about Peak Oil and the work of Howard James Kunstler)

https://youtu.be/Q3uvzcY2Xug

A Victorian lifestyle in the spotlight (Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman of Port Townsend, WA)

https://youtu.be/O9S_fIw_7fs

 

Other books:

Muddling Toward Frugality Paperback by Warren Johnson

Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E. F. Schumacher

Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update by Donella H. Meadows, Jorgen Randers, Dennis L. Meadows

Rainbook: Resources for Appropriate Technology by Lane deMoll

The Book of the New Alchemist by Nancy Jack Todd

Faith in Humanity?

An internet meme set off a chain of thoughts that came to an essential question for me. It really is at the bottom of so much of my philosophy, particularly when it comes to politics.

“Do you have faith in humanity?”

 

Now, I have to be honest. Vague questions like this make me itchy. Faith in humanity to do what? Faith in what sense? Individuals, groups, or literally every human?

So let me tease this out a little.

 

My immediate reaction is that in a group of humans, I do have faith that a couple of things will happen:

  1. Some of them will do brilliant, creative, beautiful things.
  1. Many, perhaps most, of them will only look out for their own interests or the interests of their small group of insiders, family members, club, tribe – instead of the greater good and/or future sustainability.
  1. A few will take advantage of more than their share of limited/finite resources. They will know or willfully ignore the fact that their actions hurt others.
  1. Some will come up with genius solutions to problems.

 

Some people will look at this list and say that I’m talking about “human nature”. Once again, I get itchy. If you notice, nothing on that list is an “all” or “nobody” statement. There are very few statements about human behavior that fall into those categories, as far as I can tell. There are any number of behaviors that people assured me were “human nature” that never seemed particularly natural for me (e.g. being attracted to the opposite sex, eating meat), so I tend to distrust any talk like that.

So, how does this lead me to politics? For one, it means that although I value freedom, I am not an anarchist. I have written about this before, specifically with regard to the environment. We absolutely need environmental regulations and someone to enforce them, because even if we somehow create a culture where most people are responsible and motivated to protect the air, water, and wild places, someone will screw it up for the rest of us. Someone will quarry the Grand Canyon. Someone will build a smokestack to belch smoke. Someone will dump toxic waste into pristine waterways.

So we need some kind of governance to restrain those who would ruin vital resources for the rest of us. We need governance to restrain those who would abuse people, animals, and natural places. We need governance to restrain those who would take away the freedom of others.

 

But beyond that, taking into account the list above, what should a political system look like?

In our current economic system, bolstered by our political system, there is a variation of a Capitalist free market economy in play. In classical free market, the market determines the price and value of a limited commodity based on supply and demand. The tendencies in #2 above are encouraged, and the “invisible hand” of the market will lead to an equilibrium. The pitfalls of #3 are pretty much ignored.

There’s no value assigned to wild natural places – they are simply assigned a value as raw materials. Even animals are considered nothing but possessions and commodities. Creations of beauty – music, poetry, art, dance, theatre – are only considered valuable if someone is paying for them or if they are used to sell something else.

In our corporate Capitalist society, time –as the saying goes – is money. Many of us give our labor – our time, our energy, our physical work – to our employers. It is only through government regulation (thanks to the pressure of the labor movement) that prevents employers from demanding virtually all of an employee’s time and labor. Even so, many people still give long hours and all their energy to their employer or employers, just to survive financially. There’s no time or energy for creating the beautiful and the brilliant, and little to no breathing room for the genius to emerge.

So what should the political system look like based on all this? I will write about that in the near future.