Close enough.

Two months ago I had my third and final baby. Two days ago another white supremacist took the lives of 17 more of someone else’s babies.

I haven’t written since January, last year. I didn’t expect to write again anytime soon. But I’ve been getting an itch lately. Why, I couldn’t say, since I have no time to spare and on the surface it seems nothing has changed. Our lives are all encompassing when we are in them, even when they seem small against the enormity of the world. But it doesn’t seem right to neglect the small tales of daily life because there are such big stories that must be reckoned with. And, as I suspect those who dedicate themselves to cultivating life know well, the day to day is sometimes all that is left, and what all our striving and struggling is aimed at improving, anyway.

Many of the seedlings won’t make it, but enough will. Probably.

This winter we endured a cold spell the likes of which I’ve never experienced. My designed-for-the-South duck pen partly collapsed under the epic snow. My hens were so traumatized they stopped laying for 3 weeks. The land-lease proposal I spent six months working on to try and eke out an acre of farmable land in a nearby power cut failed and the dreams for expanded small scale homesteading that went with it are done. We are coming up on two weeks of the most serious crud our kids have ever had. No one is sleeping.

What holds me together when the daily struggles feel big is working outside in the fresh air, getting my hands dirty and sweating. I don’t care if it’s freezing or raining outside; I don’t care if it’s mundane. But this winter the newborn wasn’t into below-zero yard work excursions. Even on days when it was supposed to be mild I would watch the day rot away while I made iterative rounds of food for two growing boys, tried to keep myself fed, nursed every ten seconds…all while feeling the pull of the outdoors like an itch I just couldn’t scratch. If I was lucky I’d escape to feed the ducks and hens before it got dark at the ridiculously early hour of 5 o’clock, an hour and a half before my spouse got home and 3 minutes before the kids fell asleep or killed each other. Or both. Even now that it’s warming up, there is always so much laundry, so much chaos, so much to do.

And of course the planet is burning in every possible sense of the word. Our state and federal leaders are grinning from the sidelines after jumping out of the smoking wreck of our government that they just sent over a cliff.

And yet…

The fall burn pile kills pests and gives the soil nutrients it needs for next year.

A few weeks ago I was wearing the baby and pushing the 3 year old on the swing while he and the 7 year old screamed competitive awfulness at each other. I felt my mind winging away to the place it goes when I cannot take one more second of them and I know I’m about to say things I’ll regret…and I noticed that the stems of the elderberry bush beside the swings looked a bit swollen.

Elderberry. Unkillable harbinger of spring.

The days are getting longer. Sometimes, if a million stars align, I can sneak out when my husband gets home and pull two weeds in the garden or pick up a stick or two. The cold spell, which coincided with the new baby, forced my eldest children to figure out how to play together in a way they haven’t bothered to in the past. Our community is mostly folks of retirement age, but when we bundled everyone up to visit the sledding hill after the Big Snow (it literally took the entire morning), we ran into most of our neighbors–including folks in their seventies–heading out to sled. I watched the sun sparkle as my kids threw handfuls of snow into the air; watched my husband snuggle my 3 year old as he cackled with glee speeding down the sledding hill; laughed with my neighbors as they tried to get a peek at the new baby under eight layers of clothing and a baby carrier; and realized what an amazing place this is. My community.

Since decisions require consensus here, my land-lease proposal involved visiting with most of the households in our community. We’ve lived here for five years but I hadn’t made the time for that kind of visiting before. In between talking about my proposal I learned the history of my community and the stories of all these folks, most of whom have been here for nearly four decades. My proposal failed, but I have a bunch of friends I didn’t have before and my daily experience in the neighborhood has become richer and more substantive.

After an onion crop failure last year, I decided to plant half the crop in perennial yellow potato onions, a Southern staple that can be harvested and replanted, year after year.

Just like government regulation can spur an industry to come up with creative solutions (cheap Japanese MRI, anyone?), scarce time has made me more efficient than I could have imagined. Somehow, I’ve been able to do more and more in my garden as my life gets wilder and fuller.

I can’t come up with anything good to say about the duck pen collapsing; that was just gut wrenching after everything I put into it. Some things are just that way.

But in the middle of the Plague of 2018, there was one day when the kids weren’t in such distress that I was needed every second…and I went out in the yard and planted my spring seeds. Because, believe it or not, it is planting time…and if you don’t plant, you can’t harvest, no matter what else might happen in between.

Everything may look dead. It’s not.

Even though it’s not spring yet, it’s close enough.

Hardy kiwi, biding her time.

Last fall’s carrots look dead after the cold spell. They aren’t. Today my 3 year old learned to look below the surface, even when it looks like there isn’t much there.

When I thought I’d harvested all the beans, there are always a few I can’t see until everything else has died.

 

Justice and Unity Speech December 3, 2016 Moore Square, Raleigh NC

The Greensboro Massacre took place on November 3rd, 1979 when members of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party opened fire on a crowd of protesters in broad daylight in the Black neighborhood of Morningside Homes in Greensboro, North Carolina, killing five members of the Communist Workers Party and wounding ten more. Sandy Smith, CĂ©sar Cauce, Michael Nathan, Jim Waller, and Bill Sampson. They were Black, white, and Latino, from elite and working class backgrounds, from the South and the North. They were spouses and parents. My parents were also survivors.

The Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which worked tirelessly reviewing documents and collecting testimony for two years, concluded that while the white supremacists planned and carried out the attack, the violence likely could have been avoided if the police had not left just beforehand, allowing the perpetrators to kill with impunity. The klan were given time to pack up their guns and leave before the police returned to arrest the wounded and grieving.

In the years that followed, all white juries acquitted the klansmen in both state and federal criminal trials, despite four different sources of video footage and the klansmen’s own unrepentant testimony. The survivors were charged with inciting a riot and black-listed. My mother was a public health pediatrician working with poor children and their families in Orange County. Jesse Helms went after her personally, trying to get her fired.

But he failed. He failed because her community of patients fought for her. The mamas whose babies she cared for circulated a petition, defending her and her commitment to their children.

The Communist Workers Party was far from perfect, but they showed up. They did the work. They lived in committed community. They listened to what poor and working people had to say. They respected their lives and culture, even when it was not shared. They worked with urban and rural poor; Black and Brown and white. They did multiracial organizing in the South where other progressive organizations would not because they either had to fight the Klan or work with people who were likely in the Klan. The November 3rd protest itself was meant to be the kickoff to a day of workshops about how the ruling class used the klan to divide working people in the South.

This is the legacy of Greensboro that I want everyone here to have crystal clear. Because it is the answer to why these particular organizers were targeted and how we will persevere despite what seem like overwhelming odds, today. These organizers were dangerous because they challenged white supremacy–not with their incendiary rhetoric, but despite it. They challenged white supremacy in the work they did every day in the factories and the mills and their communities and in the alternative vision of the South they strove for.

White supremacy is the fabric of daily life, everywhere. It has been a quiet truth for many; easily ignored or misinterpreted most of the time. For Black and Brown Americans, for immigrants, and for Native people around the world it has been a loud and inescapable reality since the first European colonists needed a veneer of religious legitimacy for their thieving greed.

We are at an inflection point in history in which millions of people who had not been deeply aware of the persistence of white supremacy have awakened to that reality. For many it began with the killing of Trayvon Martin and the realization that state terror against people of color is the status quo, rather than a few bad apples.

We mourn and rage as Native people are brutalized at Standing Rock and our leaders do nothing. We watch our public schools crumbling from the weight of attempted resegregation and lack of funds caused by tax cuts to the wealthy. We watch our country fall further and further behind on helping working families care for their young children without losing their livelihoods. Climate change has reached a tipping point and, as always, the most vulnerable communities suffer the most. The list of challenges is staggering and racism runs through it all.

So we struggle to understand how a society could become aware of all this tremendous injustice and respond by electing Trump. We are watching this nightmare of a presidency unfold, many of us experiencing real fear for the first time.

But this is not the first such historical moment. A similar moment occurred when the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War brought American injustice and hypocrisy into the light and millions of Americans became politicized for the first time. The reactionary push back against desegregation and the assassinations of the sixties brought home the reality of white supremacy and the vulnerability of our democracy.

That experience propelled people from all over the country to organize for justice and equality. Those who died in Greensboro were inexperienced until they began to do the work, and learned. For the past 37 years the survivors have continued doing both the political work and the community building work that is necessary to sustain a movement for justice. Thousands of people who came of age in the sixties made that commitment and continue to show up and do the work, every day.

What these organizers dedicated their lives to was a vision of the future for poor and working people in the South that offered an alternative to what 300 years of white supremacy has given us: racial and economic inequality, nepotism and backwardness in our institutions, and a toxic and brutal history of personal violence that has wounded our families and prevented Southerners from embracing so much that we share.

They thought they were just trying to overthrow capitalism, little did they know 🙂

The promise of what the South can be is what we are fighting for today. It is what the organizations that brought us together here and so many others have been striving for for decades. This is easier than the last time; we do not have to start new organizations from scratch. We do not lack experienced leadership. We have historical lessons that we can and must learn from. The struggle for justice and unity demands deep listening, humility, and more than anything a commitment to show up and do the work. There is room for everyone in this fight. That is how we defeat the klan. That is how we win.