As the year draws to a close, I’m struck by the marked—and somewhat encouraging—disconnect between top-down and grassroots forces at play in the U.S. right now. The government has been an utter disappointment in so many ways, from directly undermining economic, racial, and gender equity to making us the only country in the world not even nominally committed to participating in the Paris climate accord.
But against that backdrop, I see signs of a widespread societal reckoning and awakening that has come to the fore since the presidential election. There is discussion not only of the assault that happens on the “casting couch” but also in the kitchens and fields, thanks to momentum behind a movement of empowerment through empathy started by Tarana Burke eleven years ago. These conversations have been happening for a long time, but I’m struck by the way the substantive complaints are being aired so publicly now and finally taken seriously—and how that has led from lip service to action that affects both the reputation and the bottom line of many powerful men unchecked for decades.
Thanks to the persistence and rectitude of a host of activists of color, many nominally progressive white people who’ve sat on the sidelines because they “aren’t racist” or consider themselves among the “good ones” are now grappling with their own culpability and responsibility in a structurally racist society. Duke University’s Seeing White series—largely a conversation between John Biewen and Chenjerai Kumanyika with support from various historians and other experts on issues of race—traces some of the more recent evolution of awareness and opportunity for engagement. (I’m usually too much of a visual learner to listen to podcasts, but this one is compelling.)
Despite the embarrassing and damaging federal disengagement from climate science, leadership, and solutions, state and local governments are redoubling their commitment to the Paris targets and partnering directly with other motivated nations. Drawdown, released earlier this year, aggregates the top hundred most effective existing ways to address climate change—not just to mitigate its effects but to achieve a net decline in greenhouse gases. And lest we think that #MeToo and #ActOnClimate are completely unrelated causes, the sixth and seventh solutions with the greatest net impact on atmospheric carbon relate to the empowerment of women and girls, through education and access to birth control.
On a personal note, I’m pleased to share that my as-yet-unpublished poetry manuscript, California Building—which grapples with, among other things, the implications of climate change on family lineage—was a finalist for this year’s National Poetry Series, and an excerpt is forthcoming in Crab Creek Review. Other excerpts have appeared in Berfrois, Fourteen Hills, Poor Claudia’s Phenome, and sparkle + blink. More updates to come.
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