On Plastic Straws and the Coming Collapse

When you look at what is needed to slow down or stop Climate Change and the destruction of the environment that sustains human life, you get confronted with an awful reality. That reality? There is literally no significant change that will not also deeply harm vulnerable people or infringe upon some modern freedom we now conceive as vital, inherent, and inalienable.

An editorial, from Rhyd Wildermuth

Recently, the city of Seattle in the United States became the first US city to fully ban single-use plastic straws, utensils, and cocktail picks in restaurants, bars, and coffeeshops. The ban was heralded as an environmentalist victory by marine conservationist groups and fiercely fought by restaurant associations, plastics manufacturers, and some activists for the disabled.

You may have encountered news about the ban specifically because of the opposition of some activists for the disabled. Though the Seattle ban allows restaurants to provide flexible single-use plastic straws for people who medically need them, restaurants, bars, and cafes aren’t required to keep such straws on hand. Thus, a disabled person who cannot drink without a straw might find themselves needing to provide their own in order to consume a beverage they’ve purchased. Activists for disabled people point out that this situation creates an accessibility barrier for a minority of people who already face countless other such barriers.

The debates around the plastic straw ban unfortunately obscured several much larger issues around environmental destruction, Climate Change, and disability. More unfortunately, the way the plastic straw ban was debated across social media reduced the question to a false polarity: save the turtles and oceans, or keep disabled people from aspirating their liquids and dying of pneumonia.

The problem with all these debates was that there were deeper topics which were never up for debate. For instance, can laws designed by technocrats to change consumer behavior actually stop environmental destruction? Can capitalist nations fix the problems they’ve caused by replacing one product with another? And what about the vulnerable people who rely on capitalist-created products that destroy the environment?

One can detect in the ban on plastic straws by Seattle (a city in which I lived for 16 years) a smug and fully unmerited sense of humanitarian “progress.” Much of it is hypocrisy: Seattle is longtime home to some of the most environmentally-destructive corporations in the world, such as Boeing and Amazon (which will sell you 100 plastic single-use straws for $5.99, straw ban be damned). Seattle relies heavily on those corporations and their workers for its tax revenue. Also, Seattle’s carbon output, while low compared to many cities of its size, is only so low because of its geographical proximity to hydro-electric power plants, not from efforts to conserve energy.

Like many “progressive” European nations and other cities, Seattle obscures its own contributions to the destruction of the environment while implementing laws and policies which only alter the aesthetics of its damage. This same hypocritical stance can be seen in Seattle’s treatment of homeless people. The Seattle King County metropolitan area has the fourth largest homeless population in the United States (12,500, the same size as South Korea’s homeless population), yet prides itself on its Liberal/progressive policies and is also the first large US city to have elected a Socialist to city council.

Seattle is the perfect example of the self-congratulatory, hypocritical Liberal Democratic (that is, capitalist) order, but it is hardly alone. This same duplicity can be found throughout the Western world. For a case in point, we need only look at Germany, usually touted as a paragon of green policies even under a conservative government. Angela Merkel announced the closure of all nuclear power plants by 2022; but Germany purchases and will continue to purchase and transport nuclear energy from its neighbors, particularly France. In addition, half of its timber production is burned to create electricity.

Almost all of the shifts that Liberal Democratic (capitalist) nations in the world have made towards reducing the destruction of the climate follow a similar pattern. Reductions in one destructive behavior are replaced by increases in another, and each switch is mere aesthetic. This pattern is nothing new: consider how most of the policies of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act in the United States focused entirely on aesthetic changes. Reductions of emissions into the air from factories and coal-fired power plants, as well as from automobiles, never significantly reduced CO2 in the atmosphere; instead, they reduced particulates which were causing asthma, smog, and “acid rain.”

The problem here should be obvious. While no one wants to choke on automobile exhaust and industrial pollutants, and reducing these particulates absolutely decreased cancer rates and helped asthmatics, these policies only made the larger problem invisible. C02, the primary agent of Climate Change, doesn’t leave a stain on the sky or cause immediate health problems. Instead, it increases the temperature of the entire earth by trapping heat, thereby melting glaciers, shifting ocean currents, and initiating wide-scale droughts, floods, crop failures, extinction events, and eventually societal collapse.

See No Evil

With this in mind we can return for a moment to the plastic straw ban. 9 million tons of plastic are dumped into the world’s oceans every year; of that pollution 2000 tons are single-use plastic straws: 0.025% of the total (though 4% by volume). Beyond pointing out the unnoticeable change in the oceans even the eradication of all plastic straws in the world would affect, we also need to remember that consumer bans like this are not actually targeting CO2 emissions.

Single-use plastic straws are visible waste. We can point to the images of sea turtles and marine birds choked to death on a piece of plastic and say, “look–we did this.” Larger-scale pollution such as trash dumping or oil spills likewise provide visible signs of the damage our modern way of life causes to the environment. Gulls and seals covered in petroleum or whales and dolphins killed by plastics make us feel bad. Our immediate response is guilt and some anger: we didn’t want to kill those things, and we want whomever did to take responsibility immediately, clean up the mess, and hopefully pay some sort of fine.

This is a deeply Liberal/capitalist sense of guilt, one that feels quite sorry for things and hopes everything can go back to normal once all the apologies are repeated and the perpetrator has learned their lesson. This guilt wants its feelings smoothed over and the ugliness taken away, along with re-assurances that all is forgiven. And most of all, this guilt just wants the crisis to be over so capitalism can continue.

The real crisis, however, is only just beginning. The destruction industrialized capitalist society has caused to the entire biosphere has been mostly invisible for the last two centuries; it has now made itself visible and becomes increasingly difficult to ignore. But unlike an oil spill or a sea-turtle suffocated by a plastic straw, the visible manifestations cannot be traced directly to individual actors, and creates a crisis for the model of Liberal guilt and responsibility.

Who is most responsible for the C02 emissions of automobiles? Is it the manufacturers who made the cars, the millions of people who bought and drove them, the governments which built the roads and defunded public transit, or the petroleum companies who delivered the gasoline to the consumers? Is it the people who profited off of all this most, or the people whose demand and consumption enabled that profit? And even if we decide that it is the corporations and politicians who are most responsible, the billions of people in the world such as myself who have never owned nor driven a car could just as easily say that those who do–even if they needed it because they are disabled–are also guilty and responsible.

The Coming Collapse

Extinction Symbol

The problem remains that guilt doesn’t actually change anything, and these questions–just like the debates around the straw ban–obscure the much more terrifying issues.

When you look at what is needed to slow down or stop Climate Change and the destruction of the environment that sustains human life, you get confronted with an awful reality. That reality? There is literally no significant change that will not also deeply harm vulnerable people or infringe upon some modern freedom we now conceive as vital, inherent, and inalienable.

Consider the automobile question posed above. Ending automobile use and manufacturing of automobiles would drastically reduce the amount of CO2 we put into the atmosphere, as well as the destruction of land and habitat caused by roads and petroleum extraction. Also, it would re-green a lot of space quickly: think all of those parking lots and highways no longer used. But if you have a car right now you’re probably thinking about how put out you’d be, especially if you live in a rural or suburban area. That goes doubly for someone in that situation who is disabled.

This problem repeats itself in every possible scenario. Jet travel, international shipping, personal energy consumption: vastly curtailing or even ending any of these things would actually make a difference and possibly stop climate collapse, but in each case most humans would lose something they count as a freedom, while a few would also lose their ability to survive.

Unfortunately, this is the future for industrial civilization whether we want it or not. Doing absolutely nothing will still kill the most vulnerable, while a small minority will get to keep all the technological splendor of late-capitalism. The biosphere will wither, civilization will self-destruct, and the rest of the human and non-human populations of the earth will suffer a slow, agonizing genocide.

A scenario already playing itself out in many places helps to explain the really awful crisis we are in. Increased temperatures increase demand for air-conditioning and other CO2-producing cooling technologies. Brownouts (when power-plants cannot provide enough electricity to meet demand) already occur and will increase as the earth warms. Such events will disproportionately affect vulnerable populations (the elderly) who may die during heat waves. So even all our efforts to transition to renewable and less-destructive energy sources will not fix the problem: the extra energy creation will merely go into mitigating these disasters.

There is currently no political or social mechanism to decide how to distribute energy to protect vulnerable people while reducing energy consumption by those who need it less. The best the technocrats in whom we are told to put our faith have come up with are aesthetic changes which feel good but change nothing. More so, even these toothless policy changes rarely ever take effect.

No government has banned personal automobile use, nor petroleum extraction, nor the vast networks of server farms or industrial manufacturing and distribution upon which our modern existence relies. Nor can we ever expect to see governments do this without revolutionary pressure.

So the current state of affairs–in which humanity continues to produce and consume its way to its eventual demise–will continue unabated. People living in wealthy capitalist nations will continue to debate aesthetic changes to their way of life and argue endlessly about who precisely is most to blame. Meanwhile, the most vulnerable beings–human and especially other-than-humans–will continue to suffer more and more from industrial civilization as the glaciers melt, the forests burn, the deserts spread, and the oceans rise.

Until our debates about environmental damage and Climate Change take this reality as their starting point, we will all suffer this collective fate, whether we ever use a straw or not.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd Wildermuth is the co-founder and a co-editor of Gods&Radicals. His latest book, Witches in a Crumbling Empire, is now available at our online bookstore in print or digital.


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The Socialist Case Against Medicare for All

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

Nursing assistants often resent their clients.

I worked in assisted living. My co-workers would complain about residents who blew up if they got breakfast at 8:10 instead of 8 – never mind that each of us had 8 or 9 other residents also demanding breakfast at 8. Sometimes, they did worse than chew us out. For most people, getting hit by clients from time to time isn’t “just part of the job.” For CNAs, it is.

However, the residents who lashed out had cause to feel isolated and powerless. Social programming for long-term care residents is inadequate in many facilities (if it’s offered at all). Facility life is profoundly lonely; worse, facilities rarely treat their clients as adults with a right to dignity and bodily autonomy. And, of course, plenty of them don’t even meet their residents’ bare physical needs.

Was that the CNAs’ fault? We did the best we could under conditions not of our making. But, frustrated residents still took out their grievances on us, the only representatives of the facility with whom they had any regular contact. It made sense for them to blame us for their situation, just as it made sense for us to blame them for mistreating us.

But management decided how the place was run. They created a situation in which mutual scapegoating was a logical decision for both CNAs and residents. Meanwhile, the company could cut costs and accumulate profit, at the expense of clients and workers both.

Residents and their families were rarely the ones who paid. Assisted living costs thousands of dollars per month; few can afford it out-of-pocket. So, most residents at most facilities are there only because their health insurance covers it. If insurance doesn’t pay, the resident doesn’t stay.

That gives management an incentive to keep residents healthy enough to live for a long time, but never so healthy that they need a less intensive level of care (since that would mean less billable treatment). From a patient’s point of view, the best-case outcome is to recover enough to require less intensive care. But for the facility, the best case is that the resident never stops having more health problems to treat, so insurance never runs out.


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Source: DSA for Medicare for All

At its 2017 convention, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) declared Medicare for All (M4A) its highest priority.

Single-payer healthcare has long been a leftist and liberal priority. While Democrats tend to view M4A as an end in itself, socialists approach it as a springboard to a fully-nationalized, UK-style system. As Timothy Faust wrote in Jacobin:

In other words, a single-payer program is not the goal. Single-payer on its own cannot be the goal. Single-payer does not solve the biggest sin of commodified health care: that taking care of sick people isn’t profitable, and any profit-driven insurance system thus disregards the most vulnerable.

Single-payer alone does not solve these problems. But it gives us a fighting chance to square up against them.

Further, given that Bernie Sanders made it a key campaign promise, many leftists view M4A as the ideal “winning issue.” What could be better than a “universal public good” that enjoys majority support in the polls and already gets significant media coverage?

So, is there a leftist critique of M4A to be made? What socialist would oppose universal healthcare?

M4A, though, isn’t universal healthcare access in the abstract. Medicare is a specific program. M4A calls for it to be expanded in specific ways. M4A is not the general principle of a right to healthcare. It’s a concrete policy proposal and should be evaluated as such, just as criticizing a particular play doesn’t mean condemning the theatre in general. In critiquing M4A, I am not attacking the principle of universal healthcare. Rather, I am arguing that this particular reform campaign is flawed to the point that socialists shouldn’t take part in it.


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Source: DSA for Medicare for All

Neither lack of access nor commodification is US healthcare’s deepest problem.

It’s more than how it’s paid for or to whom it belongs. The issue is in its bones: how people get diagnosed, how treatments get prescribed, and how care gets delivered. US healthcare serves two primary purposes: it keeps workers healthy enough to go to work, and it warehouses disabled people as cheaply and expeditiously as possible. Those imperatives aren’t simply imposed by individual corporations. After all, the process of diagnosis, prescription, and treatment works no differently in a state-owned or nonprofit clinic than in a private one. When the process itself artificially pits patients and workers against each other, neither more comprehensive insurance nor nationalization deals with the root cause. It’s not about who gets healthcare. It’s not even about who owns healthcare. It’s about what healthcare is for.

Why else is long-term eldercare is so often institutionalized neglect (or worse), even if it’s state-run – especially if it’s state-run? Why else is inpatient psychiatric care rife with organized physical, emotional, and chemical violence? M4A demands greater access to something that, in certain situations, is actively harmful. For instance, a former EMT in Washington recently told me:

Many of the psychiatric facilities our ambulance visited were understaffed, filthy, and frequently spared little regard for patients’ wellbeing. Staff members often referred to patients with contempt and disgust (sometimes within their hearing). I observed that patients’ medical needs were often neglected for days at a time, which was frequently the reason for our visits. On multiple occasions I had reason to suspect that facilities were manipulating their documentation in order to maintain patients’ involuntary commitment status. (I only had limited interactions in my capacity as an EMT because we were only there when they called us.)

In those cases, the only way out of institutional abuse is for someone’s insurance to run out. What happens when M4A guarantees it never will?

Now, DSA’s fifth M4A demand – “job training/placement assistance for people currently employed by the private health insurance industry” – already looks beyond simply expanding insurance access. However, nothing in the campaign even implicitly critiques the process of healthcare provision itself.

If M4A requires a jobs program, shouldn’t it also require that people in long-term care and people with mental health diagnoses get the right to refuse unwanted treatment? After all, other categories of patients have the legal right to decline care, even if that means the patient’s death. A psychiatric diagnosis, however, means that police can detain a person and physically force them to receive treatment against their will – and at least a quarter of police shooting victims have a mental health condition, while involuntary psychiatric commitment rates exhibit a racial bias.

Shouldn’t M4A demand an end to abusive and eugenicist practices? For instance, guaranteed coverage of Applied Behavioral Analysis isn’t a good thing for autistic minors – ABA applies physically and emotionally punitive techniques developed for anti-gay conversion therapy to suppress common autistic mannerisms, such as hand-flapping and avoiding eye contact.

Shouldn’t M4A call for healthcare workers and patients to exercise control over their facilities, rather than bureaucratic managers (either private or state-sector)?

Instead, M4A demands universal healthcare without those reforms. Sure, some individual supporters of M4A support them as well. But, M4A the campaign does not make reference to them. Neither DSA nor any other M4A organization is pushing for them, even in a non-M4A context. They aren’t part of the M4A package. Even if M4A is the first step on the road to a national healthcare system, that doesn’t address the issue – every one of these problems is embedded in government-run and nonprofit healthcare facilities, not just for-profit ones.

Is a “winning issue” so worth pursuing that there’s no need to address the key contradictions it contains (except with a jobs guarantee)? Socialism depends on leadership across differences, not lowest-common-denominator single-issue coalitions.

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The state isn’t neutral.

Every state belongs to a class. In medieval Europe, the state belonged to aristocratic landowners. In ancient Rome, it belonged to slave-owning patricians.

The US government belongs to the capitalists – that is, the owners of the physical and organizational machinery that workers use to create goods and services.

It doesn’t belong to them because politicians are corrupt. This isn’t a matter of “money in politics” – it’s the way the state itself is set up. No matter who holds office, the structure of the state means that it can’t help but enforce capitalist class rule. From the day-to-day activities of municipal civil servants to the highest levels of the Executive Branch, everything the government does in some way contributes to that task. It makes sure that contracts are enforced, infrastructure carries goods and services, markets operate smoothly, threats to private property are neutralized, and – above all – that workers keep going to work every day. The state uses force to defend the “public order” of capitalism; in practice, that also means white supremacy, empire, and patriarchy. It regulates businesses to protect the business class’s long-term stability. It runs social services to keep the working class healthy enough to be exploited. It allows radicals to participate in elections to pre-empt their inclination to build revolutionary institutions of their own. It grants concessions to movement demands to de-fang their revolutionary potential and coax them into patronage politics.

This is an inherently capitalist state. Changing that would mean completely redesigning and restructuring it, bottom to top, from the Constitution to common law to the bureaucracy. In other words, it would have to be smashed. A new system would have to be built in its place.

Revolutionary socialism, both Marxist and anarchist, begins by recognizing that. Government socialism begins by denying it. Government socialists, like conservatives and liberals, treat the government as a “public sphere.” Supposedly, it does (or at least could) belong to “the people” in general, not just the ruling class. It can act in the “general interest.” Socialism, therefore, just means more government! State universities are socialist. Roads and sewers are socialist. Parks are socialist. According to a few government socialists, the NSA, the NYPD, and the United States Marines are, too. And “universal public good” redistributive programs – like an expanded Medicare – are the most socialist things of all.

The problem, of course, is that the institutional machinery of the US government can’t be divorced from its role in defending white supremacy, imperialism, and the ruling class. To expand that machinery, even if it does some good in some people’s lives, necessarily strengthens those things.


It is one thing to set up a day care centre the way we want it, and demand that the State pay for it. It is quite another thing to deliver our children to the State and ask the State to control them, discipline them, teach them to honour the American flag not for five hours, but for fifteen or twenty-four hours. It is one thing to organise communally the way we want to eat (by ourselves, in groups, etc.) and then ask the State to pay for it, and it is the opposite thing to ask the State to organise our meals. In one case we regain some control over our lives, in the other we extend the State’s control over us.

Silvia Federici

Until the government disbanded it in 1954, the Communist Party ran a group called the International Workers Order. The IWO provided its nearly 200,000 members with health, dental, and life insurance, and its 19,000 branches ran clinics and summer camps of their own (all in addition to a wealth of cultural and educational activities). The Communists built it all during the Great Depression, when working-class people had far fewer resources than they do now. A generation later, the Black Panther Party and its allies followed the IWO’s lead, establishing clinics and social services of their own.

The state didn’t establish the IWO. It didn’t run the Panthers’ clinics. Revolutionaries created those services themselves. They operated them on their own terms, under their own control.

The point of socialism is mass power, in every sphere of life. It’s not a bigger federal government.


Therefore, we repeat, state ownership and control is not necessarily Socialism – if it were, then the Army, the Navy, the Police, the Judges, the Gaolers, the Informers, and the Hangmen, all would all be Socialist functionaries, as they are State officials – but the ownership by the State of all the land and materials for labour, combined with the co-operative control by the workers of such land and materials, would be Socialism.

Schemes of state and municipal ownership, if unaccompanied by this co-operative principle, are but schemes for the perfectioning of the mechanism of capitalist government-schemes to make the capitalist regime respectable and efficient for the purposes of the capitalist

James Connolly

Don’t campaign for M4A.

Address healthcare like any other issue: organize the workers in that industry. Use mutual-aid programs to grow revolutionary capacity. Government socialists claim that for something on the scale of healthcare, mutual aid just isn’t a workable approach. But even setting aside the IWO and other counter-examples, mutual aid is still more workable than M4A.

M4A can’t happen without a Democrat in the White House, a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in Congress, and (most of all) those Democrats’ willingness to actually make it policy. Now, all of the Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls recently co-sponsored an M4A bill. That’s only symbolic. It’s red meat for primary voters, but they don’t intend it to ever actually lead to policy. It’s no different than the millionaires’ tax that the New Jersey Democrats supported in opposition, but oppose now that they’re in power.

DSA has the numbers (if not the will) to launch an IWO-style mutual-aid health program. But do they think they’ll be able to win over the federal leadership of the Democratic Party – the same people who made sure that the most popular politician in the country lost his primary fight to one of the least popular, who couldn’t even stomach Keith Ellison as DNC chair, and who just spent eight years in office administering war and neoliberalism? What do they think the Democratic Party is?

 

The US working class doesn’t yet exist as what Marx called a “class-for-itself” – it isn’t an autonomous political force in its own right, organized through its own base of institutions and capable of contesting for social power against other classes. The most important job for revolutionaries right now is to help it become a class-for-itself. Government-socialist and left-populist reforms can’t do that. Organizing the unorganized, building up the institutions through which an independent base can exist, can.

That won’t come from Medicare for All.


Sophia Burns

is a communist and polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her work on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/marxism_lesbianism

An Intersectional Experience

“I recognised the similarities between sexism and ableism. We are weak and need a strong man to help us even if we think we don’t. The man will know better.”

From Pieter van Diepen

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Dear world,

I was born and raised a white male in a stable middle class family as the second of two boys. It was society that made me into a straight cis-male, It did not fully fit but neither did the alternatives, after getting a bachelors degree in civil engineering I was at the pinnacle of privilege. At that time I was not aware of it. Now 10 years later I am. It took a stroke rendering me incapable to work and nerve pain to recognize my privilege when I am walking. I no longer identify as a cis hetero male but society still views me as such. That is not an issue for me because I identify as indifferent to all those concepts.

Non binary a-romatic asexual

Being pragmatic fits my male sex according to society. I’d like to share some experiences I got since I lost most of my privilege. Because of the pain, I have to use a wheelchair. To me, using a wheelchair is like using a bike for an able-bodied person; I can go further and carry more stuff. Sadly, society doesn’t treat me like a more active person like they do with cyclists. Instead, they treat me as if I’m a 10 year old child that needs to be taken care of. Last summer, I had the strongest example:

I was at a free music festival where I have been going since it started. I always enjoyed the atmosphere, until last year when “adults” were drinking more and getting obnoxious. So I was a bit anxious when I went last summer. Sadly my suspicions were confirmed. I went early so people would still be sober enough to have a normal conversation. I take medication so I stopped drinking alcohol after my stroke, and coping with an ableist society is hard enough when people don’t have the emphatic capability of a toddler. It was a nice day, I talked with some nice sober people and tried to avoid people that try to use me as a token to show the world how nice they are for being nice to a person with a disability. I was more focused on avoiding annoying non interesting people that find me exotic. I tried to connect to people that look interesting to me, or who I already know to be interesting or nice. I found some interesting people that I apparently already knew and saw some nice shows. I can still walk for 5 minutes and walked behind my wheelchair on the uneven grassy field and would sit down at the show. When I want to see I can stand up but I prefer to sit in a spot with good sound quality.

Around midnight I had used up most of my energy and went to sit at the empty dance floor next to the drum-n-bass artist. I had my hoody over my eyes because the lights drain my energy, which was already at a low, and even with my eyes closed the flashes were too strong. I was sitting there experiencing the sound when a woman tapped me on the shoulder, I looked up, she shouted too loud in my ear asking if everything was okay. I confirmed, she stepped away but kept glancing in my direction. I ignored her and covered my eyes again.

A bit later someone tapped on my shoulder again, this time it was a woman I had spoken to a couple of times in the last decade. She had had too much to drink, first she shouted too loud in my ear about how much fun she was having. I nodded and hoped she would move back to her friends. She instead turned to me again. I was sitting in my wheelchair with my back to some boards, she was standing in front of me and bent over close to my face, I tried to move away but I could not move the chair. I leaned back as far as possible but she kept coming closer. I panicked and screamed at her that she had to move away or I would head-but her. She startled, which gave me the opening to stand up. I can’t use my left side and in crowded uneven areas I have to hold on to my wheelchair for balance, she moved closer again and tried to come close to my face with her face. Because I am 1.95 meters tall, she could not reach, but she put an arm around my neck and pulled me down. That’s when I saw no other way out than to to tap her on the forehead with my forehead. That startled her enough to move away from me and towards some friends. I immediately moved behind my wheelchair to walk away. The guy that was standing between me and the way out asked if everything was okay. I screamed at him: keep her away from me. He moved a bit so I could leave and I walked out of the tent. When passing a security person I told him: if anybody is going to bother me I will start a fight. He nodded and looked away.

So, I moved out of the tent and sat down outside where I could still hear the music. This was going to be the last show, since the main show had already ended. People were all heading to the exit and ignored me, so I could gather my thoughts. A friend walked by but I didn’t feel like interacting with people, so I was glad that he kept going when we both nodded as a sign of recognition. That is how I wanted my interactions to be like for the last hour. I got up and moved to a different part of the terrain.. When I was almost there I heard my name. It was someone from the organization that asked me to make make a memorial stone earlier that day, this time there were 2 security people with him, he told me that they had seen me use violence and because of that they asked me to leave. I agreed that all violence is wrong and that part of the policy is to respond like this, so I walked with them to the exit. While doing so I explained what happened, they said they knew her personally and were surprised that she would behave like this. It did not sound so strange to me because she has a history of erratic behavior and substance abuse. But they ensured me that they would talk with her. It all went very civilized and they even went to exchange some of the festival coins for a mug.

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The Accessible Icon Project

On my way home I almost drove into a pole because I was not focused. And had to stop a couple of times to cry. Luckily I was in the comfort of my own tiny disability car driving on the cycling lanes that are abundant in the Netherlands. When I got home I had to cry some more because I realized this exactly was the thing that had been corroding my self-esteem for 5 years. Ever since I started using a wheelchair in public people have been taking away my agency.

When I told my experience to a friend she said this is an example of intersectionality[1]; in the wheelchair I am the vulnerable person and I’m susceptible to harassment, but when I’m standing, the woman is the vulnerable person. So my trauma was not acknowledged by security because I was standing when I told them. I told some other people and most responded in a supporting manner, but one did a bit of a victim blaming trick. That’s something people say when I complain about random people forcing their help on me just because I’m in a wheelchair, maybe I should put up a sign. In this case, the person asked if I was clear enough about not wanting to be interacted with (ignoring the fact that it was not OK to ignore someone’s request to keep distance).

People take away my agency all the time and cross my personal boundaries by grabbing the wheelchair. Even when I am not sitting in it it feels like they are touching me when they grab my wheelchair without consent.

I thought this was my first experience with sexual harassment, but I have been kissed on the mouth by random women whilst sitting in the wheelchair before. To me it is harassment to touch my face without consent. This did not happen once in the 30 years I had been walking and 3 times in the 5 since I have been riding my chair.

A more clear example of overlapping oppression was the time I asked a female student to put my wheelchair in the train. I had chosen her to do it because I know that the person that helps me will have a good feeling about themselves for doing so. So I don’t offer the macho people this opportunity. It’s not hard to do if you know how it is done, so I explained and we waited for the train.
 I had asked her not because I can’t do it myself, but because when I do it myself there are almost always people that grab my chair when my back is turned while I step into the train. And when I turn around there is someone clumsily holding my chair and I have to tell them to put it down because I can’t pull it into the train while they are holding it. Also that they should ask permission before grabbing other peoples belongings. I avoided this frustration by partly accepting the victim position. After the train stopped, I got in she, walked behind me while pulling the chair inside, but while she was doing it the conductor grabbed the chair and pulled it from her hands to put it in the train. We had to wait for him because he was at an odd angle.

Then I recognised the similarities between sexism and ableism- we are weak and need a strong man to help us even if we think we don’t. The man will know better. And because of that, afterward we will be thankful.

NO.

So I’ve made this sticker that clearly states my feeling:

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[1] Intersectionality is the best fitting theory for the stacking of problems people can experience. Intersecting identities can cause overlapping symptoms. My case is confusing because there are mostly positive (intended) prejudices around my identities (male= strong / person in wheelchair= innocent). It would still have gone different if I had only one identity. Because of my different positions of privilege, I do not fit in the visualization of intersectionality and I started thinking of alternatives, which is not starting from the identity, but from the prejudice intersecting shapes instead of lines.

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Pieter van Diepen

29893251_10156225620998544_526601187_oPieter started to get involved in activism after joining many protest marches as if they were guided tours. After befriending activists, joining in protests became more of a social than a political activity.

Now he has started to raise awareness for the unrecognised oppressed; the people with physical disabilities, and the invisible oppressed; people with invisinle disabilities including mental illnesses. This could be the start of a new movement: anarcho-capabalism.


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The Caricature of Discomfort

A powerful and painful declaration of the reality of living with disability.

From Azuos Naej

English Translation below.

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A Caricatura Do Incômodo

Incomodo: ligeira alteração de saúde; mal-estar, indisposição, não é cômodo, confortável ou aconchegante.

Instintivamente sabemos o que fazer com um incomodo, e na maioria das vezes é muito simples: é só virar a cara e elevar o coração e a vontade para as belas paisagens que criamos em nossa mente. Sim, o escapismo é nossa principal ferramenta de defesa, e com ela nos elevamos ao patamar de humanos, pessoas, indivíduos, cidadãos… Nossa mentalidade é formada pela classe média, que o ideal está em toda parte dizendo o que devemos ser e fazer, eliminado o imperfeito. Nascemos marcados em um tipo de predestinação, não no sentido místico, mas pela probabilidade social muito bem ordenada apesar de parecer um caos. De onde viemos diz muito de nós e impregna na carne, nervos, tecidos e órgãos. A adoração do belo é dos melhores escapismos que a humanidade inventou e nesse mundo que vivemos isso é o mais importante, apesar de o discurso dizer a mesma merda moralista que tem uma palavra tão linda que dá vontade de tatuar na testa- igualdade.

Quantos incômodos por dia evitamos indo para aquele paraíso em que somos os vencedores? Mas pra vencer tem que ter o belo, vivenciá-lo e fazer parte dos belos. O feio só tem valor se se submete a alguma norma, se tornando uma caricatura, e estamos nessa época. Desgastamos a beleza com nossos discursos, o feio cotidiano as vezes é colocado em certos lugares para observarmos uma beleza inexistente, que só usando a força do cinismo dá para suportar o ideal decadente jogado na cara.

O feio está em toda parte, de certa forma somos feios, mas as inúmeras maquiagens nos dão a sensação de conforto.

Não superamos nossos corpos, eles ditam a essência do ser, talvez porque somos viciados apenas em ver. Parece o único sentido que possuímos, apesar de usarmos as palavras elas pouco importam em comparação a essas duas bolas que temos em baixo da testa, bolas que lacrimejam e que não queremos muito esse líquido salgado saindo delas. O que você quer ver, o que procura no espelho, encontrou? Se não encontrar é só não olhar e desviar os olhos. Tarefa fácil, mas as vezes o medo vai se acumulando até virar um esgoto pronto para estourar, quando não somos capazes de suportar o peso de ser caricatura e não nos deixam estar entre os eleitos (olha que são muitos) só nos resta a tarefa mais difícil que é abandonar os olhos e fazer uma imersão introspectiva, e aí vem as malditas perguntas, tu se pergunta porque é o que é, e porque não faz parte, aí tu descobre que é proposital pessoas como você estar onde estar e ter que conviver com a solidão, aí tu se olha no espelho, são tantas coisas que não deveriam estar nesse lugar, os olhos não são claros, a boca e o nariz não são como você se imaginava, a imersão no corpo não para ainda mais que a todo momento você é lembrado que tem um e precisa de manutenção sempre no ideal do belo. Mas e quando a caricatura é ainda mais borrada ao ponto de nem se parecer com algo humano? Você pode falar como os eleitos, se vestir igual e ser tão capaz quanto eles, mas seu lugar de origem e seu corpo vão te empurrar para fora do paraíso, a termos muito claros para a exclusão e uma lista enorme, a caricatura humanoide é rotulada de deficiente físico, e seu corpo não é atlético e sexy como milhões de propagandas despejadas toda hora, você usa alguma prótese ou tutor numa das mãos ou pernas ou nas duas, tu não anda direito se arrastando por aí e há várias formas de se arrastar de joelhos, arrastando a bunda, de quatro… inúmeras posições que marcam o corpo, é uma vida de cicatrizes diversas. A vida passa a ser uma tentativa de se curar, pois quando você se arrasta arrasta os olhos e as bocas para si, a boca entortando de risadas ou nojo, arraste-se todo dia e todo dia as mesmas bocas e olhos. A sua forma de andar diz qual porta ou escada você pode usar, se você depende de uma cadeira de rodas sabe o que estou dizendo, mas ser cadeirante tem suas vantagens se seu problema é só as pernas atrofiadas. Você já reparou naquelas crianças dementes que babam e tem mal formação congênita, ou aquele vizinho que tem uma enorme cabeça por causa de hidrocefalia? Em que lugar eles estão na sua imaginação?

O ideal de belo hierarquiza qualquer realidade entre os não eleitos há eleitos, ainda mais se conseguir disfarçar sua caricatura, alguns como eu usa calça e evita ir em lugares que precise estar com menos roupa, temos a vantagem de nos integrarmos a sociedade fazendo tarefas idiotas, entrando em algum sistema de emprego que dará 10% de isenção a uma empresa fingir que tem preocupação social, mas na peneira só a caricatura menos borrada terá essa chance.

Você está só e sempre estará, mas a solidão é muito mais cruel se tu não tem atrativos para alguém, aí as bolas que estão abaixo da testa não param de lacrimejar, e na maioria das vezes que expressa descontentamento em público, ou tem a sorte grande de ter alguém escutando você, e você ouve que não tem problema, que a merda do mundo é assim mesmo, e que você é uma boa pessoa, e o que importa é o que você tem dentro, e é para parar de reclamar tanto porque você tem uma bela vida e tem piores. Você se pergunta se tem piores e imagina o que dizem para os piores. Os piores podem ser caricatura, eles tem esse direito?

Não ame ninguém porque não será correspondido, sempre vai existir uma barreira, ainda mais se estiver se arrastando. Mate a imaginação, sonhar apenas trás dor e sofrimento, no máximo você terá um quase, quem quer se relacionar com uma caricatura, quem sentirá compaixão ou desejará estar ao lado de um reptil humano? A solidão é a única companheira e ela é ciumenta e sorrirá na sua cara a cada tentativa frustrada ou sonho desfeito l. Acostume-se a estar só mesmo que venha a dor no peito te torturando, mesmo que a cabeça doa todos os dias e sua coluna se desfaça, a maior dor não é estar num ciclo de eleitos e sim de não ser amado, não possuir o respeito comum. A dor é outra companheira, essa é mais perversa, ela gargalha alto te apertando e moendo seus ossos, por mais esforço que faça não será humano, e você verá todos que conhece com suas vidas, tendo seus amores, lutas e desafios, mas você ainda está no mesmo lugar sendo infantilizado por não estar conformado, e será julgado, sendo rotulado de arrogante, anti-social (hoje em dia temos a vantagem de termos amigos imaginários nas redes sociais que é o ápice do anti-socialismo disfarçado em integração social), de não ver as coisas belas da vida, é esse belo que todos enxergam que está em tudo menos em você.


Azuos Naej

É um poeta, músico e cuidador de gatos de Salvador.


Apoie nosso trabalho aqui.


English Translation

The Caricature of Discomfort

Discomfort: slight alteration of health; malaise, indisposition, not comfortable, pleasant or cozy.

Instinctively we know what to do with discomfort, and most of the time it’s very simple: just turn your face away, elevate your heart and will to the beautiful landscapes that we create in our minds. Yes, escapism is our main defense mechanism, and with it we rise to the level of human, people, individuals, citizens… Our mentality is formed by the middle class, that the ideal is everywhere, saying what we should be and do, eliminating the imperfect. We are born marked in a type of predestination, not in the mystical sense, but by the very well ordered social probability, although it seems a chaos. Where we come from says a lot about us and permeates the flesh, nerves, tissues and organs. The adoration of the beautiful is one of the best escapisms that mankind has invented, and in this world we live in, it is the most important, although the discourse says the same moralistic shit that has such a beautiful word that makes you want to tattoo on the forehead- equality.

How many troubles a day do we avoid by going to that paradise where we are the victors? But to win you have to have the beautiful, experience it and be part of the beautiful. The ugly only has value if it is submitted to some norm, becoming a caricature, and we are in that time. We wear beauty with our speeches, the ugly everyday is sometimes placed in certain places to observe a nonexistent beauty, that only using the force of cynicism can support the decadent ideal thrown in the face.

The ugly is everywhere, in a way we are ugly, but the volumous makeup gives us the feeling of comfort.

We do not overcome our bodies, they dictate the essence of being, perhaps because we are addicted only to seeing. It seems the only sense we have, although we use words they matter little in comparison to these two spheres that we have below the forehead, spheres that tear up and we don’t want much salty liquid coming out of them. What do you want to see, what do you look for in the mirror, did you find it? If you do not find it, just do not look, look away. Easy task, but sometimes the fear is accumulating and becoming a sewer ready to burst, when we can not bear the weight of being caricatures and not letting us be among the elected (see that there are many) we have only the most difficult task, which is to leave your eyes and do an introspective immersion, and here comes the damn questions, you wonder why it’s what it is, and why it’s not a part of life, then you discover that it’s purposeful for people like you to be where you are, to be lonely and have to live with loneliness. You look at yourself in the mirror, there are so many things that should not be there, the eyes are not light, mouth and nose are not as you imagined, immersion in the body does not stop even though every moment you are reminded that you have one body and it needs maintenance, always in the ideal of the beautiful.

But when is the caricature even more blurred, to the point that it does not even look like something human? You can talk like the elected, dress the same and be as capable as they are, but your place of origin and your body will push you out of paradise, to very clear terms for exclusion, and a huge list of them. The humanoid caricature is labeled physically disabled, and your body is not athletic and sexy like millions of advertisements dumped all the time, you wear some prosthesis or tutor on one or both hands or legs, you do not walk around right, dragging around, and there are several ways to crawl on the knees, dragging on the ass, on all fours… innumerable positions that mark the body, it’s a life of diverse scars.

Life becomes an attempt to heal itself, for when you drag your eyes and mouth towards you, your mouth twisting with laughter or disgust, crawl every day and every day the same mouths and eyes. The way you walk says which door or ladder you can use, if you depend on a wheelchair you know what I’m saying, but being in a wheelchair has its advantages if your problem is only the atrophied legs. Have you ever noticed those demented children who drool and have poor congenital formation, or that neighbor who has a huge head because of hydrocephalus? Where are they in your imagination?

The ideal of beauty hierarchizes any reality among the non-electable and the elected, even more if you can disguise their caricature. Some like me wear pants and avoid going places that requires wearing less clothing, we have the advantage of integrating society by doing stupid tasks, entering into some employment system that will give 10% exemption to a company pretending to have social concern, but in the sieve only the least blurred caricature will have that chance.

You are lonely and always will be, but loneliness is much more cruel if you have no attraction for someone, then the spheres that are below the brow do not stop watering, and most of the time expressing public discontent, or is lucky enough to have someone listening to you, and you hear that there’s no problem, that the world’s shit like that, and that you’re a good person, and what matters is what you have inside, and it’s for you to stop complaining so much because you have a beautiful life and some have worse. You wonder if you have worse and imagine what they say to the worst. The worst can be a caricature, do they have that right?

Do not love anyone because it will not be reciprocated, there will always be a barrier, especially if you are crawling. Kill the imagination, dreams only lead to pain and suffering, at most you will have almost. Who wants to relate to a caricature, who will feel compassion or will want to be next to a human reptile? Loneliness is the only companion and she is jealous and will smile in your face with every failed attempt or dream undone. Get accustomed to being alone even if the pain in the chest comes torturing you, even if your head hurts every day and your spine is undone, the greatest pain is not being in a cycle of electables but being unloved, not having the respect. The pain is another companion, this is more perverse, she laughs loudly squeezing and grinding your bones, no matter how much effort you make, you will not be human, and you will see everyone you know with their lives, having their loves, struggles and challenges, but you are still in the same place being infantilized for not rolling with the punches, and being judged, being labeled arrogant, antisocial (nowadays we have the advantage of having imaginary friends in social networks that is the apex of antisocialism disguised as social integration), of not seeing the beautiful things of life, it is this beauty that everyone sees that is in everything but in you.


Azuos Naej

Is a poet and a musician from Salvador, Brazil. He also takes care of cats.


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Our Disabled and Climate Changed Futures

“Two things are inevitable: the climate is changing and we are all becoming disabled.”

From Pat Mosley


1, 2, 3, the rain starts to patter on the metal porch roof.

1, 2, 3, I start anxiously counting out my pills.

4, 5, 6 days left, two days until landfall, the pharmacy won’t let me refill my prescription for another three days at the earliest. If there’s a delay, if the hurricanes prevent this legal trafficking of my survival, another day or two on top of that. I may have to improvise. I may go through withdrawal.

When winds come knocking and trees bury roads, how will I die? Will I hold off eating, balance my blood sugar as best I can, starve, or blackout? Will I slip into the cozy of Death’s embrace or flail madly, obtuse in anger that I am finally so close to a life I enjoy and use to bring joy to others?

Does melting ice disable polar bears? Do the highly specialized diets of koalas feel like an impairment in the face of deforestation? Do fish and birds feel blinded or disoriented with the loss of ancestral migratory patterns and changing seasonal variations that call them too soon, too late, further away, or not far enough?

When the revolution comes… We had entertained our hike months earlier. When all hell breaks loose… When every insurrectionist wakes to live and die in their favorite wet dream…How will I die?

I am not afraid of Death. We have met. Death is dressed in blue not black. When I was a child, Death was like a warm ocean as deep as time. Death was a golden pirate’s treasure sinking deeper, and deeper still while the machines beeped a slowing pace and the doctor’s inserted a needle or a tube. A few years ago, Death was electric, bright teal and navy energy arms, pushing my wheelchair down the halls of the ER. I was Death. I greeted myself at the edge of life.

I am not afraid of death. Death is the end of capitalism, the end of gender, the end of work, of war, of counting pills, and feeling guilty about not attending more socialist meetings.

I am adverse to a slow and painful death of waiting to starve or blackout, or choking on the polluted air that others’ lungs have adapted to.

I am concerned that discussion about slaying the Leviathan relegates me and other disabled folks to these slow and painful deaths. Capitalism, industrial society, and all else we observe along the body of the Beast are rightly identified as root causes of climate change. Capitalism, like its absence, also causes disabled people to suffer and many to die slow and painful deaths. But while abolishing an economic system is justified, what will we grow in its place? And more importantly, when do we begin? (Can we begin now?)

Disabled people like me want to be part of our collective conservations on life post-capitalism. We want to be included, but not in the tokenizing social progressive ways of neoliberalism. Disabled people are also people of color, Queer people, trans people, working people, immigrants, and more. Our issues at times parallel other social concerns like racism and sexism, and have even informed these prejudices. For instance, the perceived mental disability of being female was once used to justify opposing women’s suffrage. And perceived racialized disabilities preventing one from being an efficient worker have a long history of being employed against immigrants to the U.S. Being gay was once thought of as a mental illness, and debate on whether or not trans people stand to benefit in more material ways from claiming gender dysphoria as a disability rather than distinguishing themselves from disabled people was a community issue just a few years ago. In one form or another, ableism still informs sexist, racist, and other prejudicial discourse.

But at the end of the day, disability is also different. I need to eat on a specific schedule. I need to eat specific types of meals that depend on my blood sugar, and vary day to day and throughout the day. This isn’t as easy as me simply telling other people what I can eat. I’m still navigating this terrain myself. I sometimes have trouble hearing too. A few years ago, I went totally deaf for five days. I’ve had teeth removed to help relieve this impairment. Under times of intense stress, my whole body feels like it is sunburned. I get fatigued and my skin is irritated by even the softest and lightest fabric.

I need assistance breathing the air we have polluted. When I was a child, my lungs collapsed with relative frequency. I was out of school for at least a week every semester for several years. Leaving Baltimore for North Carolina sometimes helped. In fact I made that move permanent over a decade ago. But this year my symptoms have returned. I pay ~$95/month for a rescue inhaler in order to perform a bodily function most people have to intentionally set aside quiet time to remember they do with ease. I’ll be paying more in the future if my symptoms don’t subside. Many times this spring, I went to sleep wheezing because I knew I could not afford a visit to the emergency room. I couldn’t leave the house for much of July when the skies were just too hazy and the air quality was too poor. I waited for months to see the doctor in one of two yearly visits I can presently budget.

Other disabled people have other types of needs. Others have different forms of mobility, sensory experience, and physicality. Disability is wide-ranging and diverse in scale. Our experience of life is marked both by hyper-visibility and invisibility, social stigma, and the embodiment of difference. Whereas one may argue that other forms of prejudice can be resolved by changing social attitudes about their focus, changing attitudes towards disability will not resolve difference. Prejudice isn’t the cause of lost limbs, deafness, malfunctioning organs, etc. And while capitalism is undoubtedly exploiting the health and life out of disabled people everywhere and informing ableism particularly in relation to employability and worker efficiency, neither is capitalism the cause of disability.

Disability is rather an experience of being human. As we age, our bodies break down on the way to death. As we experience the wildness of life, disability becomes us. As we are born, our bodies map an orgy of natural physicalities innate to human biology, mind and flesh, inside and out. The eugenicist and capitalist fallacy of the perfect worker is a dark magic spell Freak witches and wizards everywhere have been disabling.

As the raging hurricanes and rising tides bring climate change to the doorstep of so many unbelievers, and the mindsets of those in social justice awaken to a planetary dialogue continuing with or without us, disabled people must be part of the utopian futures we envision. If not for our sake, for your own sake, when you are aging, when your body’s health eludes you, and when the weight of all that human greed has profited on betrays you. Able-embodiment is temporary, conditional, and under direct assault by the pollutions and economic obstructions leaving your health to chance and a function of your zip code. Two things are inevitable: the climate is changing and we are all becoming disabled.

The deluge of corporate sins upon the Earth excites many into a state of climate change anxiety. When necessary, will we flee or bunker down in place? Will I run out of medication at the most inopportune moment? Will I drown in my home, or die of treatable impairment? Those of us witnessing the storms from afar may find ourselves suddenly inspired to take action, to open our doors to (climate) refugees, or to demand revolutionary changes to our impact on the planet.

I think the impulse to burn it all down or to retreat to the wilderness and find some long ago purged part of ourselves there or to die trying are feelings we all move through. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I think there is a well-traveled social change model we may think we have time to follow: a flurry of petitions, a media spectacle of permitted marches in the street, an election for the best candidates from a pitiful selection, or even a nonviolent public action of some sort providing us with the moral high ground of having been to jail for justice. Others of us may go vegan, become locavores or freegans. I’m personally traversing an evangelical stage of compost and zero waste enthusiasm complemented by a newfound creative interest in trash. A multitude of strategies will emerge in this era, and that multitude will be necessary for change.

For those of us responding to climate change and economic collapse anxiety by creating alternatives, I reason it is critical that we think as disabled people, even if we momentarily experience able-embodiment. As climate health worsens, our own health worsens too. How will we replace industrialized medicine, or rob the healthcare industry of the power to profiteer off our disabilities? How will we grow and manufacture our own pharmacies? How will we reclaim our bodies, our narratives, our medicines, and our assistance tech from capitalism? In our utopian futures, healthcare is a community function, and the health of the commons is where that value plants its roots.

Beyond the medical model, how too will we create sustainable communities structured in such a way to weather not only climate change but the physical changes of human experience? How will we modify our communities to account for multiple modes of accessibility, and to treat soil health, air quality, water potability, tree health, animal health, and human health as one holistic equation? How do we empower a biodiversity and cultural shift that values native plants, animals, and people too?

I am dreaming of wheelchair-accessible forest labyrinths, wild edible scavenger hunts, and community gardens. I am dreaming of community economic models that eschew ableist and capitalist constructions of jobs for a fulfilling life built together, from each according to ability, and to each based on need. I am dreaming of activists who learn sign language not just to better integrate with Deaf comrades, but for the sheer fun of knowing those who surveil them will have to budget time to pick up ASL too.

1, 2, 3, the little rain drops hit the curved leaves of my night-blooming cactus. A wren carries off the last twigs of an offering I made to Feronia, while a shaggy community cat perches before the altar dish with tail in carnal flex.

Meanwhile, floods return the streets of Texas and Florida to the ocean. I remember a girl from massage school whose house was destroyed by an oil spill in the Gulf. I wonder how many climate refugees will be washed ashore now. It looks like North Carolina will dodge the worst of it, this time.

The pharmacy opens in a few minutes, and I’ll finish this piece before I go to get the pills I need to survive. For another month, I probably won’t die from eating or breathing. For another month, I can work on something better without the urgency of survival gnawing at my lungs and pancreas.

How will this moment cause us to change?

What worlds are we creating in place of what is washed away?


 Pat Mosley

Pat is making magic in the Carolina Piedmont. His blog can be found at patmosley.wordpress.com