Freedom Colonies

As I was reading about Andrea Roberts’ research into “freedom colonies”, I found that the name bothered me. Freedom ––as I’d always understood it from elementary school, from the Pledge of Allegiance we recited every day, facing the flag and with our hands over our hearts, from Woody Guthrie songs and the Star-Spangled Banner–freedom should be general across the entire nation, not confined to a colony. And that freedom only exists for some people within such colonies. Andrea Roberts is a Vassar graduate, and Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at Texas A and M University. She is researching the thousands of historically black settlements, often called “freedom colonies,” that emerged across the United States after the Civil War. There are hundreds of these kinds of communities, these colonies, formed for mutual care and support and protection after the Civil War. “These weren’t places where [African American families] were pushed to,” Roberts said. “They were created on purpose and had ‘anchors,’ such as schools and churches and cemeteries around which the settlements were built.” There are hundreds of communities like this, based on race or religion or gender or just shared values–formed by groups distinct from the dominant culture.

This is the good side of groups creating communities. But the Ku Klux Klan also rose during Restoration in the South. The Freedom Colonies rose during this fraught period and protected their inhabitants against generalized racism, violence and hostility of that time, which is still with us today, and rising. History and the past are not the same. Let’s try to bring them closer together.

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In my other alumnae monthly, from Smith, I was struck by a related quote from Deborah Archer (Smith ’93): “My parents…understood that access to opportunity meant entering spaces where we were not expected and were not welcome. And, of course, we were met with resistance.” You need to go places you’re not wanted, and say things that the people there don’t want to here. Archer was a student at Smith a few years after I was–I spent my freshman year there. Even at Smith, Archer had a note slid under her door that said “N—— go home”. She was not surprised. Growing up in Hartford, Connecticut “KKK” was sprayed on the side of her house.

Help the Kelp and eat Purple Sea Urchin

A warm blob (is this what the oceanographers are calling it? This is what the KQED journalists are calling it)…a blob of warm water moving through the Pacific is killing off sea stars, which eat Purple Sea Urchin, which in turn eat Kelp…leading to a massive plague of Purple Sea Urchin and the decimation of Kelp forests off the coasts of California and Oregon. As we know, Kelp is great–it’s a habitat for fish, it creates oxygen, sequesters carbon, everything good. And the Purple Sea Urchin are starving.

Responding to this, a group called Urchinomics is working with UC Davis to prototype urchin farms, which they hope in turn will create a market for Purple Sea Urchins, a common delicacy in Japan, and a perennially popular item on sushi menus. If the urchins can be gathered and farmed, kelp will return, and kelp , unlike trees, regrow quickly. If the urchins are removed, the kelp forests can rebound in six months. The delicious “Uni on a Spoon” that we eat at nearby restaurants is delicious, and it is pricy: there is value in the urchins. Can we help the kelp?

Taking Action:

– Are you or do you know any chefs and restaurant owners who could develop some sea urchin recipes for their restaurant?
– Preserve Purple Sea Urchin, say, can it be canned? Then it could be used as a sauce. There is a fantastic Purple Sea Urchin pasta served at a great restaurant in our neighborhood, Rich Table. Let’s all eat that.
– Develop recipes for consumer packaged goods/
– Eat Purple Sea Urchin when you can! Let’s hope the price is declining!

Any other ideas? Please post in the comments.

San Francisco Politics, PG&E

  • In the always colorful world of San Francisco politics, I learned  that our new DA, Chesa Boudin worked for Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, whose Wikipedia entry notes that:

    Under Chavez, Venezuela experienced democratic backsliding, as he suppressed the press, manipulated electoral laws, and arrested and exiled government critics. His use of enabling acts and his government’s use of propaganda were controversial. Chávez’s presidency saw significant increases in the country’s murder rate and continued corruption within the police force and government.

    Right? And his parents are both in prison–they were members of the Weather Underground, and were involved in the Brinks robbery which resulted in the death of two police officers. Boudin started visiting them in prison as a toddler, and so has seen the criminal justice system from the inside.

  • Camp Fire 2018

  • The story I have been following with the most interest lately, as it impacts all of us in California, is the PG&E story. Public utilities should not be for-profit endeavors, and bankrupt PG&E has been trying to evade responsibility for the fires it started in 2017 and 2018 (and undoubtedly this year’s fires as well.) Not only that it has been shutting off power, allegedly to prevent forest fires, a strategy from 100 years ago. A modern power company would not do this. A properly updated and maintained system would not require shutoffs. The 2018 Camp Fire was started by a 100 year old transmission tower, and this year’s Kincade Fire was probably started by a 43-year-old transmission tower. PG&E has dangerously old systems, and has been ordered to stop paying dividends.   I would like to see a system which did not require power lines from power plants running through forests to rural areas, and a new power grid of wind and solar–a distributed, decentralized system. I don’t know much about the power grid and how it works, but this seems obvious. The technology exists. 
  • Sam Liccardi, Mayor of San Jose, is getting a lot of public support for a proposal to take PG&E back, forming a co-op instead. Yes. PG&E should not be running our power any more.
  • Glad to see that San Francisco’s supervisors have reached an agreement for $100 million to go towards Mental Health reform. Which is long overdue. And of course it always shocks me to see how government differs from my general experience of “getting things done”, i.e. nothing specific will be enacted as a consequence of this agreement, but an 11 member committee will be formed to make recommendations. So it’s an agreement to make an agreement to address mental health. It’s a start. The main point of this article, though, seems to be that they didn’t go to the voters to decide. Up with representative democracy! There is waaay too much “going to the voters” in California. This is why we have elected leaders! So I can find a candidate with whom my values align, and I don’t have to decide if we need to invest in roads, or schools or hospitals or this proposal or that proposal. Thank you elected officials.

“This is where people can learn to rely on each other”

An interview with Jyri about Kahvila Siili, the café we run in the summer in our neighborhood in Helsinki came out this week. “Kahvila Siili” means “hedgehog café”–there are a lot of hedgehogs in the neighborhood, though we didn’t see any, as we usually do, at the end of the summer this summer–some people say they are being driven out by the increased heat from climate change.

“Our fortune, in the next decades, will be intricately connected to our community structure,” he says on sunny afternoon in the front garden of the café. “A place like this is not just about vegan food or recycling waste but allowing people to rely on each other as we face the challenges of climate change.”

Spoken like the entrepreneur, investor and sociologist he is. Here are our neighbors coming out for the opening party at the beginning of the summer:

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Planting a Trillion Trees

It’s been another summer of record-breaking heat here in Europe and the climate crisis comes closer and closer in our lived experience.

It’s been estimated that need a trillion new trees planted to slow the climate crisis. Ethiopia let many of their civil servants off for a day and planted an estimated 350 million trees, according to their government. Here is the prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, planting a tree in Addis Ababa:

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There was also, simultaneously, an attempt to beat the previous Guiness World Record, set by India, who planted 50 million trees in one day. A map of the various regions and how many trees were planted in each:

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How to Prevent Domestic Violence

More than 3x as many women have died from domestic violence than soldiers have died in combat. And the most dangerous place for women is their own homes. In a new book, No Visible Bruises, myths of domestic violence are debunked, as well as the myth of its intractability. Because it’s known how to prevent domestic violence, and domestic killings:

Prosecute cases without the victim’s help, as we do murder trials. Treat restraining orders like D.U.I.s and keep them on file, even after they have expired. Train clergy members and doctors to recognize and respond to domestic violence. Promote battering intervention programs. Choking nearly always precedes a homicide attempt; teach police to recognize the signs, and instruct doctors to assess women for traumatic brain injury. And, of course, there is the near-unanimous recommendation from law enforcement and domestic violence advocates: “You want to get rid of homicide?” a retired forensic nurse asks. “Get rid of guns.”

The Believer Festival

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Last week, for a second time I headed to The Believer Festival in Las Vegas, a literary festival spun out from the Believer Magazine, founded by Vendela Vida and Heidi Julavits. One of the best parts of being on the McSweeneys board is going to this festival with them. It redeems Las Vegas for me.

I’ve always avoided Las Vegas–the smoke, the vice, the disorienting carpets, the sad compulsion, the flashing lights and ringing bells–but through the festival I’ve learned to see Las Vegas as a vast, still disorienting carpet woven of a million stories. Everything in Las Vegas is a story. For the four days of the festival we floated in an oasis of stories, a glory, an orgy, a jackpot of stories.

Look at the author list at the link above to find new writers to adore. I loved Valeria Luiselli, Leslie Nneka Arimah, Rita Bullwinkel, Tommy Orange.