Thursday, December 31, 2020

Jane Fonda on the “Eye-opening, Vision-improving Year” That Was 2020

Writes actress and activist Jane Fonda:

It’s almost midnight on the last eve of one of the worst years any of us have ever been through – 2020. That’s how we designate perfect eyesight, right? 20/20. And it actually seems appropriate that over this year, so many people were able to see certain things with a clarity they’d lacked before:

How critical certain jobs are to our well-being: farmworkers, delivery men, postal service employees, bus drivers, restaurant workers, domestic workers, teachers, and nurses.

We didn’t really pay much attention to them before. Not really. But this year, we called them “essential workers” and we also saw with new clarity – and horror – how their employers viewed those majority people of color as dispensable, not providing them PPE or paid sick leave or a livable wage, cramming them tightly in meat packing plants and Amazon warehouses.

We’ve also seen how precarious their paycheck-to-paycheck lives are. How they have to go to work in spite all of this, sometimes multiple jobs, because it’s a matter of survival.

We saw a policeman’s knee on a Black man’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds. We saw the Black man die. Our eyes were opened wider and we were reminded of all the other Black deaths at the hands of the police and by the thousands – tens of thousands- we poured into the streets, Black, White, Brown, young, old . . . for months we marched – many for the first time – and the protests spread to over 2,000 cities and towns in all 50 states and in over 60 other countries, seeking justice for George Floyd, for the wider Black Lives Matter movement, and speaking out against police violence. Our eyes had never witnessed anything like the vastness of what happened.

And many White people saw up close with new insight what Black people have endured for centuries and some of those White people were also subjected to police brutality. And our understanding deepened.

In 2020, our eyes were opened to many things about how our government works that we hadn’t fully understood, like the Electoral College.

We saw how fragile our democracy is, so many loopholes and vaguenesses in our Constitution.

How easy it seems to be for a greedy, but clever grifter to rob us of our hard-fought rights and decency when he has enough enablers willing to do his bidding. It has to be fixed.

But we’ve also seen the emergence of empathy and compassion, haven’t we? All those banging pots in open windows and porches; all the protesters who poured out despite the pandemic to march and chant and sing in solidarity; All the women across the country making meals for those in need; the homes in San Francisco whose doors opened to those who had to evacuate the fires; the volunteer poll workers.

2020 has been an eye-opening, vision-improving year and we must do all we can to not forget what we’ve seen and learned and turn our empathy and new understanding into action, not to return to normal because we know now that ‘normal’ was the problem.

We need sweeping change and that’s what plagues and pandemics can do. They thrust us into emergency mode and we start to do things in whole new ways that we never could have imagined. They usher in sweeping change.

Do you know that it was the bubonic plague in Europe in the Middle Ages killing one-third of the continent's population that gave rise to the Peasant’s Revolt and led to the end of feudalism?

But in 2020, it’s the COVID plague that has forced us to experience sweeping change . . . and we’ve seen how capable we are when we’re in an emergency.

We’re in multiple intersecting and compounding emergencies of democracy, racism, the economy, health and looming over them all is the climate emergency, that’s the big one. The existential one. And if we don’t tackle that, all the others will be worsened beyond solution.

There is not one aspect of our lives that will not be altered because of what’s coming if we do not tackle climate.

And here’s the thing: we can start to address all those other related emergencies at the same time as we tackle climate. That’s what the Green New Deal and the THRIVE Act are all about. And we need to get those sweeping changes passed by the Biden/Harris administration this year.

Which means, one of your New Years resolutions needs to be a commitment to take action, in whatever way you can.

The future is not predestined, it depends on us. Right now. This new year. It is in our hands. Historians and our children and grandchildren will look back and know that we were the generation who made the difference . . . or failed to. This is the heavy, awesome challenge that rests on our shoulders.

We have little time. We cannot fail.

There’s enough of us who care, so let’s join together by putting our concerns, our new vision and, yes, our anger and grief into actions. You can do it in your home by what you buy and how you use and discard it.

But better yet, way better because this isn’t an individual thing, this is a collective crisis. So join climate organizations and write letters to editors, call your elected officials. . . . See, being part of an organization helps you do all those things strategically. And it provides you with a supportive community. Saying goodbye to individualism and embracing community is important now.

And when it’s safe again, join protests, engage in non-violent civil disobedience. That’s where I’ll be. Back in D.C. with Fire Drill Fridays. History is always made by those who are angry enough to take action in numbers large enough to match the size of the crisis. This is what climate scientists and progressive politicians are calling on us to do. It’s called outside pressure.

COVID will pass. The climate crisis will not and so we must remain in emergency mode around climate and take action. Have a happy, healthy and very active New Year.

– Jane Fonda
December 31, 2020

NEXT: Carrying It On . . . Into the New Year

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Blessing for the New Year (2020)
Out and About – Winter 2019-2020
Out and About – Spring 2020
Saying Farewell to 2019 in a Spirit of Gratitude
A Blessing for the New Year (2019)
Let Us Be “Energized by the Beauty That Is All Around Us”: Jane Goodall’s New Year Message (2018)
A New Year (2017)
Andrew Harvey on Radical, Divine Passion in Action
For 2015, Three “Generous Promises”
Threshold Musings

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Out and About – Spring 2020

Yes, I know I’m cutting it fine, but before the year ends I want to share my experiences of the momentous events of the spring. It was a time dominated here in the U.S. by both the surging coronavirus pandemic and the uprising for racial justice set in motion by the police killing of George Floyd, a killing that took place not far from my home in south Minneapolis and which triggered a global protest movement against systemic racism.

I’ll start with the pandemic. . . . As most of you reading this would know, I work as the Palliative Care chaplain at Mercy Hospital in the north metro of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul. This hospital is part of Allina Health, Minnesota’s largest healthcare system.

I’m part of a team of specialty providers; we specialize in palliative care, which involves symptom management of chronic and/or terminal illnesses and end-of-life support and care. I’m not actually a chaplain (or as I prefer to say, a spiritual health provider) with the hospital’s Spiritual Care department but rather with Allina’s system-wide Hospice and Palliative Care department.

In the last two weeks of March I started becoming aware of a growing sense of anxiety and dread – in society in general (as restaurants, movie theaters, gyms, sporting events and most stores closed down) and in the healthcare world in particular. I felt this sense of unease within myself, my team, the hospital, and the wider healthcare system of which the hospital is a part. From friends working in other Minnesota healthcare systems, I became aware that this growing anxiousness was there too. Indeed, news stories made it clear that it was a nationwide reality.

This anxiety and dread stemmed from the very real likelihood that the nation’s healthcare systems were about to be overwhelmed by a surge of COVID-19 patients (COVID-19 being the name given to the disease caused by the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2). The administration of the hospital where I work started doing all it could to try to prepare for this surge, and different responses were planned depending on various scenarios. For instance, we planned to use the first floor of our parking ramp to “provide space for rapid triage assessment during a surge.”

Visitor restrictions were put into place, and many clerical workers began working from home. Actually, many people across the country began working from home as states began shutting down. Because of my work as a “frontline health care provider,” I was considered an “essential worker” and continued to travel, Monday-to-Friday, from my home in south Minneapolis to Coon Rapids. I will say one good thing about this: my commute became much easier and quicker with far less traffic on the roads! And the parking lot of the hospital bore testament to the fewer number of workers on site.

At that time (March-April) the reality was that in hospitals across the country, there were simply not enough ICU beds or the necessary specialized equipment (such as ventilators and PPE) to deal with a large surge of COVID-19 patients. As a result, there were very real and stress-inducing concerns that medical professionals were about to be placed in heartbreaking situations where they must decide who will be treated and who must go without; who might live and who will probably die. As in other states, Minnesota put into place at the end of March a “stay-at-home” order. The hope was that this would slow the rate of infection (“flatten the curve”) and thus spare healthcare systems from being overwhelmed and making agonizing life and death decisions based on limited resources. As the spring progressed, this stratgy proved to be effective in Minnesota. We were not overwhelmed by a surge of COVID-19 cases in the spring.

Of course, in late March/early April we were yet to know this, and so levels of stress and anxiety were running high at that time. How high? Well, I had a weird experience that will give you an indication of how this stress impacted me.

Okay, so the first thing to know is that I often have trouble sleeping. I fall asleep easily enough but usually wake up one or two hours afterwards and can have trouble getting back to sleep. I experienced this in the early hours of Monday, March 16. Now, what I did next is a bad habit, I know, and one that doesn’t help in getting back to sleep, but I did what I usually do and checked Facebook on my phone. I saw a comment I had left on a posting but noticed that it read differently than how I remembered writing it. That’s weird, I thought.

I then followed a link from Facebook to my blog – to this blog. As I scrolled down I was horrified to see that, in terms of its text, everything was different. I jumped out of bed and turned on my laptop. When I opened and began scrolling through The Wild Reed I realized I was seeing the same thing I had just seen on my phone. Although the photos and general layout were the same, the wording of my headings and posts were all different, as if someone had edited my work. In some cases, I found myself begrudgingly acknowledging that these changes were an improvement. But it was still different and clearly not my doing. Someone had hacked both my Facebook account and my blog and rewritten and changed my writings!

I remember going to the back window of my attic apartment and looking out over the darkened neighborhood. What the hell was happening? I asked myself. I was feeling panicked and had to force myself to breathe slowly. The scenes from London Spy when Ben Winshaw’s character Danny realizes that nefarious government forces were messing with all manner of things in his life so as to shut him up, came to mind. I felt like that character and was responding in the same panicky way.

I took a few more deep breaths and after some time, returned to my computer. As I again started looking through the pages of The Wild Reed I slowly began noticing that things were now back to being as I remembered them. I was still shaken though. I changed my password and even took photos of my computer screen showing certain posts (left)! Yes, I was still feeling rather paranoid. Yet as time went by and everything I looked at was as I remembered, I started thinking that perhaps I had just experienced some kind of weird waking dream.

In the morning, I concluded that the largely unacknowledged stress I was under due to the various ways I (and indeed everyone) was losing control because of the pandemic, had manifested itself in and through this strange experience I’d just had. It took days, though, to fully get over the anxiety I’d experienced in those early morning hours.

Above and below: My attic abode (and sanctuary) in south Minneapolis – March 2020.

When not at work at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids, I spent most of my time in my attic apartment in south Minneapolis. Apart from the other people living in the triplex, the only person I saw on a regular basis throughout the spring was my “best mate” Deandre (left).

It was Deandre who, after noting how in many ways I was living like a monk – what with my prayer shrine and my penchant for burning candles and playing meditative music in the evenings – inspired me to name my attic abode The Monkery!

Above and right: Celebrating Deandre’s birthday – Wednesday, March 31, 2020.

Over the course of the spring, Deandre and my mum in Australia formed a touching friendship via telephone. They now periodic call each other up independent of me! Deandre calls her his “fairy grandmother.” I hope they get to meet one day. I snapped the picture below during one of mum and Deandre’s phone conversations.

Above and left: A late afternoon walk with my buddy Raul through my neighborhood – Tuesday, April 7, 2020.

We walked the short distance from my south Minneapolis home to the West River Parkway and then returned through the Seward neigborhood, taking heart in the first signs of spring emerging from the earth.

Above: My friend and downstairs neighbor Kathleen – Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020.

Above and right: Shopping with my friend Mahad, who’s always stylin’, even in the midst of a pandemic! – Thursday, April 16, 2020.

The photo below shows one of perhaps two or three aisles in the store where shelves were empty. Overall, though, this store, like most throughtout the country, was well-stocked. This particular photo shows the toilet paper aisle, and, as you can see, the shelves are pretty much empty, the result of panic buying during the coronavirus pandemic. Another aisle with empty shelves was where sanitized hand wipes would have been if they too hadn’t been sold out in a rush of panic-buying.

Above: On Saturday, April 18, 2020, my friend Michael cut my hair and a number of my friends’ hair (including Ian, pictured) on the back deck of the home of my friends Joan and Matt.

We were all long-overdue for haircuts! Barber shops and salons had all had to shut down back in March as part of Minnesota Governor Tim Walz’s “stay-at-home” order, the aim of which was to slow the rate of coronavirus infection (or “flatten the curve”).

Above: That look you make when you find a golf club in the woods!

Honestly, this photo of my friend Adnan never fails to make me smile. It was taken on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 22, when Adnan and I walked from my place in south Minneapolis to the nearby wooded west bank of the Mississippi River.

Above and below: Portrait shots of Adnan – April 22, 2020.

And, yes, he definitely looks more pensive in these photos. But then he is dealing with a lot in his life.

Back at the Monkery, I suggested to my friend that he exchange his somewhat ragamuffin look for something totally different. He was game, and so soon a rather magical transformation occurred!

I told Adnan he looked like the Somali prince he is at heart!

Our time together that day was a welcome diversion for my friend from his troubled life; a diversion I was happy to provide.

As you may have gathered from how I’ve presented these portrait shots of Adnan, I’ve been experimenting with Prisma, a photo-editing mobile application that “uses neural networks and artificial intelligence to apply artistic effects to transform images.” I quite like some of the effects that can be created using this app.

Also, for anyone interested, the robe and scarf Adnan is wearing comprise an outfit I bought a number of years ago to wear when officiating weddings! It’s actually an Indian Kurta suit. I’ve worn it for two of the four weddings I’ve officiated! (See here and here).

Above: A Prisma filter-treated photo of me that Adnan took when we were exploring the wooded west bank of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis on April 22, 2020.

Right: Of course, sometimes filters simply aren’t necessary. Here’s an unfiltered portrait of Adnan – with the morning sun in his hair! – Saturday, April 25, 2020.

And speaking of the sun . . .

. . . as April turned into May, we saw a lot more of its light and felt more of its warmth.

For more images of the beauty of spring in Minnesota, click here.

Above: Maintaining “social distancing” while visiting my friend Mike – Thursday, May 14, 2020.

Left: Connecting via Facetime with my friends Liana and Amelia – Sunday, May 17, 2020.

Above: Shopping in the age of coronavius, complete with reminders to “social distance” while checking out – May 27, 2020.

Above: After work on the afternoon of Thursday, May 28, I drove to the intersection of Chicago Ave. and 38th St. in south Minneapolis to pay my respects to George Floyd, the 46-year-old African-American man who was killed by police at that location three nights previously.

For more images and commentary, click here, here, and here.

Above: This seems such a peaceful scene, doesn't it? In reality, it’s a photo of my friend Deandre as he and I sat in the bedroom of my attic apartment on the evening of Wednesday, May 27, listening to the sound of sirens, helicopters, and exploding flash bang grenades just blocks away. All this commotion was police reacting to the Minneapolis Uprising, an uprising that had begun two days earlier in response to the killing of George Floyd.

At this point, the four police officers involved in Floyd’s killing had been fired and were being investigated, though no arrests had been made. On Wednesday night, violence erupted around the Minneapolis Police 3rd Precinct, not far from my home, after police fired rubber bullets, stun grenades, and tear gas into a crowd of protesters. Later, some of those gathered set fire to several buildings and cars. In the ensuring chaos and destruction, one man was killed, innumerable windows were smashed, and looters descended upon the nearby Target store and Cub Foods store.

Above: The scene just blocks from my home in south Minneapolis on the evening of Wednesday, May 27, 2020. (Photo: Star Tribune)

Below: Photographer Rachel McLean's image of Minneapolis burning – Thursday, May 28, 2020.

Left: On Thursday, May 28, police abandoned the 3rd Precinct. Later that night a crowd ransacked and set fire to it. (Photo: Star Tribune)

For The Wild Reed's coverage of the unrest, including an examination of the extreme right-wing infiltration of the George Floyd protests in Minneapolis, click here.

Above and below: The aftermath of the Geoege Floyd protests of May 27-29, 2020. I took these photos on Friday, May 29 and Sunday, May 31, 2020.

Notes Wikipedia:

The vast majority of protests in Minneapolis–Saint Paul were peaceful. However, over a three-night period from May 27 to May 29, Minneapolis sustained extraordinary damage from rioting and looting – largely along a 5-mile (8.0 km) stretch of Lake Street south of the city’s downtown – including the demise of the city’s third police precinct, which was overran and set on fire. Neighboring Saint Paul suffered damages that totaled $82 million and affected 330 buildings, including 37 that were heavily damaged or entirely destroyed, mostly along the city’s University Avenue business corridor. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz activated the state’s National Guard in response to the riots, resulting in the largest deployment of its troops since World War II. By mid June, violence in the Twin Cities had resulted in at least two deaths, 604 arrests, and upwards of $500 million in damage to 1,500 properties, the second-most destructive period of local unrest in United States history, after the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

Above: Throughout the days of unrest, residents in a number of Minneapolis neighborhoods came together to look-out for each other's safety and to protect property from those individuals and groups who had infiltrated the George Floyd protests so as to target minority-own business and public infrastructure, such as post offices. The goal of such infiltration and violence was to create mistrust and fear, undermine community solidarity, and advance a white supremacist ideology.

Some of my neighbors saw unknown white people in our neighborhood driving in out-of-state and even plateless vehicles. When confronted, these people offered vague reasons for their presence and often became defensive or hostile when pressed. Kerosene-soaked bundles of firewood were also found stashed in alleys and gardens.

Following are the tips that were written by and circulated among residents of my neighborhood in response to the suspicious activity being observed and which many linked to the arson that local black and minority-owned businesses were suffering. In many neighborhoods, mine included, there was concern and fear that this violence would spread to residential areas.

Please consider the following:

• Be off the streets at 8:00 p.m.
• Leave lights on – especially outside, but inside too if you can.
• NO guns
• Charge cell phones. Cell towers might go out
• Remove anything from your lawn that could be flammable or used as a projectile
• Store dumpsters in your garage or move to a hidden area in your back yard. Consider wetting down the inside contents if they have to be left outside in view
• Keep cars in your garage or in the alley
• Have garden hoses ready and untangled for possible use
• Soak down wood fences and surfaces
• If you have a Little Library – empty it.
• If you have a fire extinguisher – get it ready
• If you see anything suspicious, make lots of noise – bang pots, blow a horn – and take pictures, if you safely can
• Have an escape plan and a to-go bag (remember to take along any medicines you may need)
• If you need to be outside, wear a headlamp, bright colors, and reflective clothing
• Have alternative ways to communicate with your neighbors and help them to make a plan in case things do get bad.
• Check on each other – especially older neighbors and the vulnerable

Thanks to those of you have volunteered to keep watch on the block in two-hour shifts, but please stay on your property.

For those who choose to stand outside, watching homes or businesses, do not confront anyone. Call 911 and call another neighbor to be with you.

Yes, the last days of May were tense times in Minneapolis!

In the early hours of May 30, despite a curfew, my friend Adnan made his way to my place for respite from certain aspects of his troubled life.

I took the photo of Adnan above later that day. For me, this portrait of my friend conveys something of the deep anguish of both his personal life and the times society is currently going through, times marked by scarring racial injustice and deep emotional pain. They are just some of the many wounds that, sadly, some attempt to self-medicate and deal with in ways that are self-harming.

I find what Adnan is wearing to be startlingly symbolic of a very tragic truth. On the surface, “Savage” is the name of an urban clothing brand. Yet at a deeper level, the word speaks to certain stereotypes that young black men in the U.S. have to deal with every single day; stereotypes that define them as threatening, dangerous, violent. Because of this, they disproportionately experience both police violence and judicial double standards.

I feel that all of this is captured in the forlorn and crushed look on Adnan’s face. It’s a look worlds away from that of the Somali prince I had captured just a few weeks earlier. . . . And one that breaks my heart.

Above and below: Signs of the times.

Above: On Saturday, May 30, my friend Deandre and I took a break from all the upheaval and strife in Minneapolis and drove to Coon Rapids. Deandre was in search of a tobacco shop that wasn’t closed and boarded-up, and I had something I needed to print at work. That’s where I took this picture, in the park next to Mercy Hospital.

Above and below: Deandre and my friend Kathleen shooting some hoops – June 6, 2020.

Above: In June, the ban on indoor dining (imposed in response to the pandemic) was lifted. Personally, I was determined to continue to keep avoiding this type of indoor gathering. Deandre and I did, however, have lunch one day at the Famous Dave’s BBQ restaurant in Roseville, though only because we were the only ones doing so.

Deandre loves his ribs. He asked me at one point during lunch, “Hey, do you know how we know Adam wasn’t Black?”

“No,” I replied, “How?”

“Because you can’t take a rib from a Black man.”

Yeah, I know. It’s a joke I couldn’t get away with. 🤣

NEXT: Out and About – Summer 2020

Spring 2020 Wild Reed posts of note:
When Spring Returns
Something to Think About – March 23, 2020
Celtic Spirituality: “A Fluid, Transmutable Affair”
Marianne Williamson: In the Midst of This “Heartbreaking” Pandemic, It’s Okay to Be Heartbroken
Interiors I | II
The Calm Before the Storm
Holy Week, 2020
Deep Gratitude
God’s Good Gift
Progressive Perspectives on Bernie Sanders’ Suspension of His Presidential Campaign
Remembering and Celebrating Dusty
Sonya Renee Taylor: Quote of the Day – April 18, 2020
Nine Years On, a Poignant Farewell to Sarah Jane
Something to Think About – March 22, 2020
Morning Light
Examining the Link Between Destruction of Biodiversity and Emerging Infectious Diseases
The Landscape Is a Mirror
Remembering Little Richard, 1932–2020
From the Palliative/Spiritual Care Bookshelf
“You're All Kings and Queens”
The Lancet Weighs-in on the Trump Administration's “Incoherent” Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic
Memes of the Times
Spring Awakens
“I Can’t Breathe”: The Murder of George Floyd
Something to Think About – May 28, 2020
Honoring George Floyd
“New and Very Dangerous”: The Extreme Right-Wing Infiltration of the George Floyd Protests
He Called Mama. He Has Called Up Great Power
Marianne Williamson: Quote of the Day – June 2, 2020
Emma Jordan-Simpson: “There Will Be No Peace Without Justice”
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: Quote of the Day – June 9, 2020
Compassion as the Key to Healing an Addicted Loved One
“An Abolitionist Demand”: Progressive Perspectives on Transforming Policing in the U.S.
On the 100th Anniversary of Their Horrific Murder, Remembering Elmer Jackson, Elias Clayton, and Isaac McGhie
Black Pumas’ “Colors”: A Celebration of Family, Connections, Movement, and Life

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Out and About – Winter 2019-2020
Out and About – Autumn 2019
Out and About – Spring & Summer 2019

For previous Out and About series, see: 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020

Images: Michael J. Bayly (excerpt where otherwise noted).