“…..as is well argued by Bruce Pascoe in his book Dark Emu, the Europeans had a terrible track record for arriving in a new world (Australia in the case of Dark Emu) and, as we all know, devastating the Native tribes by varying methods of genocide, or at least brutal displacement. In order to treat other human souls so viciously, this behavior on “our” part required a certain degree of denial. This was achieved by treating the American Natives, or the Aboriginal tribes in Australia as less than human – vermin, really – that required extermination, so that the proper “civilized” humans could set-up house. Pascoe succinctly points out that when the English made their reports detailing the progress of their settlements Down Under, they therefore had to necessarily ignore the complex civilizations of the local tribes entirely, despite their methods of surviving amicably in concert with nature that had been developed over millennia. Housing, farming, fishing complete economies: eradicated. Wiped off the face of Australia. “Nothing to see here, your highness, except some random savages!” Next, of course, the English heroically shipped in herds of grazing sheep and cows and attempted to plant their wheat and other continental grains, and then looked on stupidly as they all faltered and died in inhospitable soil, within an ecosystem that was entirely alien to the biology of their plants and animals. They exhibited all the common sense of hijacking a plane for its cargo of riches and then killing the pilots without gleaning any of their imperative knowledge. We’re all in so much of a hurry, then and now, to make money, that we never bother learning to land the son-of-a-bitching plane.”
Bees build around the honeycomb of lungs,
Ants build around white bone.
Torn is paper, rubber, linen, leather, flax,
Fiber, fabrics, cellulose, snakeskin, wire.
The roof and the wall collapse in flame and heat seizes the foundations.
Now there is only the earth, sandy, trodden down,
With one leafless tree.
WE DO NOT KNOW THE FUTURE. We do not know when the next war will start. We do not know when the last glacier will melt. We do not know when the last coral reef will bleach. We do not know how much oil we might still burn. We do not know when the last Javan rhinoceros will die. We do not know how nation-states will cope with millions of climate refugees. We do not know what policies economic crisis will be used to justify. We do not know when the Amazonia will collapse. We do not know how many more concentration camps will be built. We do not know when the Colorado River will go dry. We do not know toward what insidious ends the righteous hate of the downtrodden will be turned. We do not know when the Arctic Ocean will be ice free. We do not know what politics looks like in a world of catastrophic ecological collapse. We do not know when the Gulf Stream will slow to a stop. We do not know what we are capable of getting used to.
It is thus that the novel takes its modern form, through “the relocation of the unheard-of toward the background…while the everyday moves into the foreground.” There is, however, an important difference between the weather events that we are now experiencing and those that occur in surrealist and magical realist novels: improbable though they might be, these events are neither surreal nor magical. To the contrary, these highly improbable occurrences are overwhelmingly, urgently, astoundingly real.
Amitav Ghosh The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable
The Right to Vote is ephemeral.
It is as fragile as a butterfly.
It must be protected, or it becomes extinct.
Democracy, like nature, must be nurtured.
It is fragile and easily destroyed.
And it is difficult to restore what has been lost.
Dante and Virgil divine this “comedy,”
And point the beast to the gates of hell.
Raise your hands and be counted.
Awake, arise, and vote!
We are not separate from the world.
Always find balance.
The path you make is on dirt shared by others.
All remarkable, mysterious and precious as you.
Thank you for the hummingbirds…a glimmer of hope we cherish in our gardens.
Hear our votive prayer for the bird souls, thousands dead in New Mexico, victims of the wildfires fueled by climate change:
“And when bird song is gone will earth be the only witness?
Will only rocks grieve the absence?”
Do we pray for a miracle
awake from the dream that our world consists of disconnected beings?
Big Mac speaks:
“buy now, pay later, Diner’s Club.”
Is the darkness only in my mind?
And then I look outside and see the smoke.
The last few months, while we’ve all been sheltering-in-place, I have been teaching my grandniece and grandnephew some painting and music lessons. We live about 3,000 miles apart, so, these wonderful Sunday events are brought courtesy of phones, meeting software, and social media – anything that can help us keep a connection. Recently, we sang old folksongs together – some by Woody Guthrie and others traditional. The children are very young – for them they are sweet songs, they don’t yet know the stories behind them.
When I was their age I began to learn to play the guitar and sing. A few years later, when I was about eleven I discovered the great song collector and ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax. At my music teacher’s shop there was a big thick book of more than 600 pages that fascinated me. It was Lomax’s 1960 Folk Songs of North America: In the English Language that included the melodies and guitar chords transcribed by Peggy Seeger, sister of the beloved folk singer Pete Seeger. Somehow I scraped the money together, and about a year later, I bought this treasure chest representing all regions of the United States, song stories about sailors, farmers, pioneers, railroaders, hoboes, dam builders, cowboys, folks in good times and folks in bad times, and singing the stories taken from the countries of immigrants transplanted to this new country, many from the British Isles. The book includes a section called The Negro South where spirituals, work songs, ballads, and the blues are archived. In the 1960s it was a victory to say that African-Americans had a history, had a part in the American Story. A generation ago that was a step towards the light yet, as I opened the book to prepare for teaching my grand ones a few things about folk songs, the label used for the collection of African-American songs hit me hard. The framework is dated. It is a record documenting that era, but how do I tell little children about the pain and suffering that comes from the racism, which is the source of some of these songs? How do you tell that story? What do they need to know? As a historian and archivist, I understand and appreciate the book’s artifactual value, but from the perspective of an uninformed reader, without any context, I wonder. History is complex; when and how do you introduce the complexities? Some fifty years later, that book has traveled with me across the country and across my many paths. It’s been a constant in my life; and as I grew the music taught me empathy and I began to learn about the complexities. It opened the door to so much wonderful music – music I’ve played and sung, and music I’ve listened to and helped me become an archivist and historian. It put me on the path to discover the stories behind the songs. The book is a catalog of our roots, Americana, a music visited by many artists during the 1960s ranging from Peter, Paul, and Mary to Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones to the Grateful Dead, and more recently by musicians such as Dave Alvin and Tony Dubovsky. That wonderful big black book and the stories it tells has played an important part in my life. And perhaps that is what I tell my grandniece and grandnephew; learn the truth about what was and with empathy be part of writing the new story and writing their new song.
Big Bill Broonzy (1903-1958) was an American blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist, who wrote and copyrighted more than 300 songs – some of his songs are included in the Folk Songs of North America. The Smithsonian Folkways Recordings also captured Mr. Broonzy singing both some of his songs and traditional songs like Trouble in Mind, C.C. Rider, and Midnight Special. On late nights, I love listening to Mr. Broonzy then turning around and trying to play his songs myself. I do OK on the singing, but he was a master guitarist, so I just try to get the rhythm guitar going. Born in Mississippi, he worked as a sharecropper, preacher, soldier in World War I, and later, after moving to Chicago as a Pullman Porter, a foundry worker. But through it all, there was always the music he wrote, played and recorded including folk songs, spirituals, country blues, urban blues, and some jazz. His voice is authentic, it is strong, it is ironic, it is sad, it is angry, it is wise, it is brilliant, and it is beautiful.
One of Mr. Broonzy’s most poignant blues compositions is the Black, Brown, and White Blues. It’s a song about the relentless Jim Crow…it always finds some place to roost. Mr. Broonzy “had written this protest song, which addressed the experiences of black war vets and the painful issue of preferential treatment by gradations of skin color, in 1945 and had offered it to RCA Victor, Columbia, Decca and several of the newly formed independent record companies, but none of them wanted to record it. As a result Mr. Broonzy had to wait until 1951 before he could record the song commercially in Europe for a white and overseas audience. In the US it took until after his death in 1958 to be released and was titled Get Back.” Relentless. I share the lyrics below. The Reverend Dr. Joseph Lowery giving the benediction paraphrased the song at the 2009 inauguration ceremony of President Barack Obama stating “we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right.”
And here we are in May 2020, and once again we are a nation pushing the contours of its historic founding documents, hoping that those long cotton threads are strong and flexible. We are engaged in a mighty struggle. What vision of America will triumph: the fearful authoritarian contraction or the confident democratic expansion? Will our Bill of Rights be torn to pieces as we fight oppression with our questions, our demands, and our protest? Taking inspiration from Dr. Lowery, it is a good time to write and sing a new song about these struggles. The new song will be righteous, like Bill Broonzy’s, but it will sing a story about the struggle for justice and a vision of political power, economic opportunity, and respect for all.
This little song I’m singing about,
People you know its true.
If you’re black and got to work for a living’ boy,
This is what they’ll say to you:
Now if you’re white, you’re all right,
And if you’re brown, stick a-round,
But as you’s black, O brother
Get back, get back, get back
I remember I was in a place one night,
Everybody was having fun,
They was drinkin’ beer and wine.
But me, they sell me none.
I was in an employment office,
I got a number and got in line.
They called everybody’s number
But they never did call mine.
Me and a man was workin’ side by side,
And this is what it meant.
They was payin’ him a dollar an hour
And they was payin’ me fifty-cent.
I helped build this country,
I fought for it too.
Now, I guess you can see
What black man has to do
I helped win sweet victory
With my plough and hoe.
Now I want you to tell me brother,
What you gonna do about the old Jim Crow?
Now if you’re white, you’re all right,
And if you’re brown, stick a-round,
But as you’s black, O brother
Get back, get back, get back
Last Friday September 18, 2019, young people on every continent took to the streets, a student global strike protesting climate change, marching with signs reading “Save Nature, Save Earth, Save Future” and “Plastic Waste is an Economic Flaw” and chanting “You had a future and so should we…[and] we vote next.”
Only the day before Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed the House of Representatives Joint Committee to submit the landmark IPCC report (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). “I don’t want you to listen to me, I want you to listen to the scientists,” Thunberg told the US lawmakers. “I want you to unite behind the science and I want you to take real action.” 
Afterwards, Thunberg addressed supporters in the grand committee room stating
“the USA is the biggest carbon polluter in history,” she told the audience. “It is also the world’s number one producer of oil. It is also the only nation to signal its intention to leave the Paris climate agreement because it was ‘a bad deal’.”
Speaking softly, she modulated her voice slightly to make clear she was quoting, disapprovingly, [President]Trump with the words “a bad deal”.
Thunberg invoked Martin Luther King’s struggle for civil rights and John F Kennedy’s goals that included landing a man on the moon – “not because they are easy, but because they are hard”, – to plead with Washington to lead in the fight, even if it seems impossible. “Giving up can never be an option,” she said.
Talking about her new book On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal  Naomi Klein quoted Greta Thunberg “We cannot solve an emergency without treating it like an emergency.” We have to “act as if the house is on fire, because it is.” “That does not mean we simply need a New Deal painted green, or a Marshall Plan with solar panels. We need changes of a different quality and character. A new vision of what humanity can be is emerging. It is coming from the streets, from the schools, from workplaces, and even from inside houses of government. When the future of life is at stake, there is nothing we cannot achieve.”
If the sound of a Shofar can be heard during WWII at Auschwitz, then surely each of us can act to preserve our world and what we cherish, and become a mensch…worthy of the humanity in the phrase ‘human being”.
Update: On Monday 9/23/19, Greta Thunberg addressed the delegates at the United Nations “you have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words…the eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line.”
Afterwards Greta Thunberg stared down President Trump as he entered the United Nations (UN) building to attend a meeting on religious freedom after he had boycotted the UN climate summit.