Valuing Human Life

A new farm bill will be drafted in 2023. In a public letter to senate committees that will negotiate the bill, fifty diverse organizations asked for an agricultural system that values human life.  Yes, in 2023, we are finally asking to value human life. 

The letter goes on with requests to transition to chemical free agriculture, and to support community based farming and food marketing systems. It asks for improved housing for farmworkers and to redirect federal finances from industrial operations towards farms that are using regenerative methods. Basically it’s asking to resolve all of the inhuman aspects of our chemically driven industrialized food. 

It’s a comprehensive letter and it represents thought leaders from a variety of areas. From fenceline communities who live and work within miles of hazardous chemical plants to food system workers and farmworkers, family farmers, businesses, scientists, and environmental health and justice organizations, all are human beings with skinny in the game. But then again aren’t we all?

There was another request that got my attention. It’s to amend the Farm Bill’s Conservation Title to include protecting human health in addition to soil health. Imagine that. All these years we’ve waited for the government to codify protecting human health in agri-business. Maybe we are remembering the ancient wisdom of food as the first medicine. 

Ever wonder how the chemical manufacturers and agricultural industries have been able to diminish our health and well being for decades? Thank lobbyists, advertising and Wall Street … but there can be no excuse. Where are we in all of this? Isn’t it time we all value human life?

Learn more at Coming Clean From their website: Coming Clean is a nonprofit environmental health collaborative working to transform the chemical industry so it is no longer a source of harm, and to secure systemic changes that allow a safe chemical and clean energy economy to flourish. Our members are organizations and technical experts — including grassroots activists, community leaders, scientists, health professionals, business leaders, lawyers, and farmworker advocates — committed to principled collaboration to advance a nontoxic, sustainable, and just world for all.

You can also listen to my conversation with John Peck, Executive Director of Family Farm Defenders on WDRT‘s show Conversations, December 8 at 9 am. Listen live or at the website.

We Are All Blessed

If you are celebrating a day of gratitude with family or friends with eyes wide open to the violent history of the United States and that awareness is bringing you to some form of compassionate activism, this is not for you.

If you are aware the riches of our society come from the history of stolen lands, slavery, poor laborers and extreme extraction of natural resources, this is not for you.

If you have come to understand that we live in a society that continues to propagate and champion violence in the name of peace and are readying your self to transform it, this is not for you.

For you, may Peace, Love, Joy and Clarity stay alive in your heart.

Today is Thanksgiving. Apparently someone thought we needed to mandate a day for gratitude. Expressing gratitude has been a fundamental human trait throughout time. Many Indigenous people offer gratitude as a daily practice and in truth many of us do, too. But somehow our culture has found a need to celebrate Thanksgiving as a day of opulence and telling antiquated lies about pilgrims. And of course it’s followed by a day of hedonistic consumerism, which demonstrates the lessor god we choose to honor.

If you ever wonder why people consider atheism, look no further than our hypocritical version of piety. Recently, someone reflecting on his families’ good fortune told me they are blessed. After bristling at the implied notion that wealth is a blessing and the poor are blessed-less, I responded, “We are all blessed, some of us simply don’t know it.”

There is a lot we don’t know, but we are great pretenders. 

I know this may seem very uncharacteristic of my writing. But what is not uncharacteristic is my need to confront ignorance head on. 

So when this great Christian nation bows their collective heads I hope they ask for forgiveness for all the hate and violence they have allowed and continue to allow. I hope they pray for strength to become accountable for the beliefs that continue to make “others” targets of derision. Because we all know children are not born with hate or division. They are taught, either by word or by example.

The white crowds that gathered for lynching and murdering of Blacks often did so in a celebratory manner.  And when someone at your feast cracks a joke about gays or flat out lies, please remind them of the terror that was brought upon human beings in Colorado Springs. 

We are ALL blessed; some just don’t know it.

Stop Doing Harm

The Climate Summit is underway. The gathering is supposed to allow all countries equal footing to negotiate the perils of climate change. Once again the fossil fuel industry is driving the agenda to continue the abusive use of coal, gas and oil.  And once again governments, who are the greatest emitters of greenhouse gasses, are refusing to wind down.  Climate justice groups are given little space to talk about the need to stop harmful polluting, while fossil fuel industries set up elaborate booths to sell their products. It’s more than a conflict of interest; it’s death by greed.

The request for financial help to repair the damage caused by large polluters is being sidestepped. The request to “stop doing harm” is going unheard. 

The summit is called COP 27. That means for the past 27 years this spin has continued while our overuse of fossil fuels impacts the climate and adversely affects our health. 

So when I learned about our school district receiving grants and loans to do a makeover, I looked to see if there were plans to use renewable energy. There were none. The plans are for larger spaces that will require more energy. 

And energy costs are rising and will continue to. Taxpayers will foot the bill for the construction AND for the operational costs. That figure was left out the planning as well. 

The Inflation Reduction Act is ready and waiting for makeovers like this one. Switching to renewables in this moment makes total sense.

I can’t be at COP 27, but I can make my voice heard and I did. I will not be voting to approve the plans for the school makeover unless renewable energy is used. It’s time to stop doing harm. We can.

Photo from an article Misconceptions about solar energy

Thanks to Edward Kimmel via Wikipedia Commons for the image of the sign from the 2017 Climate March in Washington, DC. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

Why do we keep allowing the fossil fuel industry to call the shots?

VANESSA NAKATE to Democracy Now: Well, apparently, we have more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists at this COP, and yet so many communities and activists from the frontlines of the climate crisis weren’t able to make it here. There is a quote that I read recently that said, “If you’re going to discuss about malaria, do not invite the mosquitoes.” So, for me, it’s a worry that we have over 600 fossil fuel lobbyists in this place. It’s a worry for our future. It’s a worry for our planet. It’s a worry for the people.

They Paved Paradise

Hello, I am writing from my old home in Western Pennsylvania and welcoming you to Consider This*.

Once there was a hillside by a river. The hillside was blasted and a city was built. Well, not really a city, but the bright lights can be seen throughout the rolling hills all over Beaver County as night falls.  No chance of star gazing here. It’s a multi story ethane plant, one that will feed on the Marcellus shale readily found in this state. Known as a cracker plant it will convert natural gas into ethylene and then into plastics.  Pennsylvania will allow the release of 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. The deals were sealed with the American subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell in 2012, as most of the world understood the need to move towards renewable energy and to step away from plastics. 

And what of the pipelines that will transport the natural gas to the plant? Well, in 2018 the Revolution Pipeline operated by Energy Transfer Partners breached when heavy rains caused a landslide that tore through it. One house was destroyed from the blast and other homes and vehicles were damaged.

I have family in the area. Emergency evacuations have always played a part due to the Shippingport nuclear site near-by, but now they have taken on new meaning. The oppressive air is noticeable and inescapable as will be the increase in breathing disorders. But those factors were not part of the agreement between the state and Shell. 

Why am I telling you this? I’m telling you because everyday decisions are being made about our energy and the costs with little to no input to or from us. We carry on and pay the price – both in finance and in health. 

It’s time we uncover the hidden costs of fossil fuels.

This photo was taken from the hillside behind my childhood home on November 8, 2022. Our home was located about twelve miles from the cracker plant. About 15 from the nuclear site (plum of smoke in the background). Numerous chemical plants like Valspar Corp. dot the area. This is a nuisance to all living beings in the area. And it will soon be shown to be unnecessary.

*Consider This is my 2 minute weekly commentary on WDRT, 91.9 FM Community Radio which airs Thursdays at 5:30 pm CST.

Which Side Are You On?

I’m traveling between Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, two bitterly divided states as the mid-term elections are upon us. These are states where millions have been spent on slick advertising designed to elicit straight party line votes. Advertisements have been fear baiting and relentless in divide and conquer tactics pitting neighbors against one another. The threat of violence and voter intimidation is on the rise and there are candidates throughout the country declaring they may not accept election results.  

There are candidates who would turn back the clock on LGBTQ rights in the same way the clock was turned back on a women’s right to choose her own healthcare. These are people who would be content to see our history whitewashed, immigration sidelined, and workers rights eroded. If Governor Evers loses, Wisconsin could face a MAGA governor who sees himself as an old western sheriff. Movements towards restorative justice and efforts to end racial profiling will be dealt heavy blows. 

The question before us cannot be: which side are you on, because it is not that simple. There is another consideration that we have not tried. And it lies in the question; can we choose to be human? 

Can we afford more escalation of violence? Can we continue on the ill fated belief that hard work alone is all that is needed for success, as we watch more and more of our people slide into poverty? Being human is not about following doctrines and leaders. It is about compassion and dignity. And government should not be about power; it is about caring for all of us.

I will always believe the violent are the minority of people, but I am equally certain it is the silence of those who know better that allow the violent to win.

This is not a moment for silence.

Enjoy Which Side Are You On, a labor movement classic sung by Natalie Merchant.

And then there is this: Power to the People by Patti Smith.

Regardless of the outcome, our effort continues.

Clean It Up

Abolition is a fearful word for those who insist on living in fear. When Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial hopeful Tim Michels spews about maintaining “law and order” he’s actively seeking the fearful, people who have all but forgotten their humanity. The ones who desperately try to erase the historical context of this country. Content to live with division and superiority, they are willing to sacrifice the common good. But our history is not merely in the past; it’s hauntingly in the present. 

It’s present every time a Black man is brutally killed by police. It’s present in our schools and in the stories we omit to teach. It’s present as the Supreme Court attempts to whittle away the sovereignty of Tribes, and as we ignore the hideous truths of boarding schools. Our lack of accountability for past harm and our care-less approach to reparations of any kind are testaments to our inhumanity.  

The cry of many politicians, to escalate the police state, is in direct opposition to the voices of Abolition. And while the unyielding word “Abolition” is turned into “All That Should Be Feared”, the truth is this: the more human we become the less tolerant we are of inhumanity. And that is as it should be.

The violence of the dominant or those who would be dominant is escalating. They are and have always been the minority. We’ve been taught to believe otherwise and have cowered because of it.

Being human is not radical. We have the tools for transformation: clarity, kindness and love. Add conviction to the mix while maintaining the recognition of what is possible and we can begin to make it happen. Let’s have a new beginning.

Roll up your sleeves; it’s time to clean it up.

The Empowerment of Choice

The abundance of harvest and the beauty of the season are upon us. So are the bombardment of political ads and the ridiculous robo calls vying for attention.

Choice. It’s an amazing tool if we use it.

The stark contrast of the sublime and the degenerate surround us. Nature carries on and for a brief moment we are witness to her glory. And politics carries on and we are witness to lies and false promises. We really should replace the words “In God We Trust” with “We Have Forsaken Trust”. It would be more accurate.

When politicians pit us one against another and instill fear, they do so with deliberate aim. Power is the goal. Greed is the motivation.  The bitter seeds of hate are offered, often wrapped in the cloak of religion, and too many are swallowing those seeds and becoming very ill. Politicians scream of rising crime and boast of law and order, while they champion January 6th insurrectionists and scramble to elect them. The excuses given are to protect the unborn and to get tough on crime. Few blink an eye at the audacity of the claims and fewer still recognize the ignorance of electing those who will incite more division.  

We have become the parrots who learn to say the words, “Beware the hunter” and chant that mantra as we step into the hunter’s net. 

Who is served by the arousal of anger and fear? Ask yourself that. The inciting of racial division is real. The consequences of the choices we make may harm us for generations. We have the opportunity to learn from one another. We have the opportunity to heal and to emerge as one people for the good of all.

Choice. It’s an amazing tool if we use it.

Get Out and Vote: Enjoy this great video from  No Studio highlighting the need to register AND to vote on Nov 8th. Sponsored in part by WNPJ member groups Building Unity, SOULS (Solomons Outreach & Urban Learning Sessions) and Mother’s Against Gun Violence, Milwaukee. 

Compassion

According to Google, mentions of the word compassion are on the upswing. Not nearly as heavily used as in the early 1800’s but definitely reversing the downward trend of the 20th century. We are mentioning the word compassion with a bit more frequency.

I found this out by researching the word. The Latin root means “to suffer with”, which is a far cry from the modern definition of feeling “sympathetic pity”.

Pity is a rather aloof concept, locked in the chambers of the mind. It implies a distance from the object being pitied. I rather resonate with “to suffer with”. It requires interconnection.

All this contemplation of compassion began as I walked my twelve year-old sheep back to the barn. It is our nightly ritual now.  Our slow methodic steps, listening to the creaking of her arthritic hips; I do not pity her. I am witness to her effort to live, to socialize with the others as best she can, to relish the apples and corn in the morning, to bask in the warmth still afforded on these fall days. And in the evening to join me as we take our leisurely stroll back to the barn.

I do not pity her. We are the same. I enjoy, as she does, the sweetness of life. And I recognize my own aging in hers. I learn from her. My caring for her comes from our mutual kinship, not from some separate ideal of what I should do or how I should be.

Compassion must surely spring from this knowing, this reverence, and this kinship with life. If I must have pity I will hold it for those who have forgotten how to feel. 

Thankfully compassion is palpable and can grow with care and understanding… 

May the awareness of compassion continue to rise.  

This piece is dedicated to my mother, Antoinette (Mignanelli) Eakles who would have celebrated her birthday on October 11. Through hardships and sorrow, through joy and understanding she grew her compassionate heart. I am happy to follow that lead.

Not Far Enough

We’ve come far but not far enough. It pays to know history, even a bit of it. During the Great Depression, the struggle for a living wage and dignity in the workplace culminated in 1930’s Labor Laws. The imbalance of power of desperate workers and company greed forced the government to support the right to unionize and created social security. A forty-hour workweek was mandated, child labor was banned and a federal minimum wage was instituted.

Sounds good, right? While a step in the right direction, companies took to the courts for decades and successfully struck down minimum wage laws. One claim was that companies’ constitutional right to freely contract with workers was taken away.

Caveats to the law became the norm. There were minimum wages for women. There were word games like “they’re not employees, they’re independent contractors”. And there were the Southern Democrats holding on to the racial divide. There was no way they could accept an equal playing field. So the expansively written minimum wage law was whittled down by exclusions. These exclusions omitted occupations held disproportionally by Blacks, Latinos, women and poor. 

The 1963 March on Washington brought another turning point towards human dignity. The Civil Rights Act ended legal segregation in public places and prohibited employment discrimination.

Yet industries still exclude workers from fair pay and decent working conditions. If you are a farm or domestic worker, you know what I mean. If you process maple syrup or work in the motion picture industry, you know what I mean. (For a great podcast on this visit Reveal).

We’ve come far but not far enough. The value of human dignity must exceed the drive of greed. And each of us must ensure it. 

One Life Lives On

A young woman stands with her brother on a train station in Tehran. They’re Kurdish and visiting the city from a small town. She is approached by the morality police for not wearing her hijab properly and is taken into detention. Three days later she is dead. Her name is Mahsa Amini and her death has unleashed protest and demands for human dignity in Iran and throughout the world. 

Hospital records, photos and eyewitnesses tell us that Mahsa was beaten and fell into a coma from which she never recovered. From her family we know she was a healthy twenty –two year old.

For forty years the morality police have been sanctioned with the task of ensuring the dress codes for women are followed. But today even women who wear the hijab willingly are saying, “Enough”. There is no need for violence; there is no need for coercion. 

For the past two weeks the women led protests carry on. Burning hijabs, cutting their hair, and defiantly rebuking government authority. The death toll of protesters is estimated at seventy-six, but no one really knows.

Here is what we do know: the death of Mahsa Amini has ignited a roaring fire from the smoldering outrage of young and old, women and men. What we do know is that there are people willing to sacrifice human dignity and life to follow orders. What we can do is to stop giving our power to those who are so very willing to destroy us with it.

This is not an Iranian issue, not a hijab issue. This is not even a woman issue – although women have paid the highest price for living under unchecked power. 

This is a human issue and one we must all work to change.

I stand with the women and men of Iran and throughout the world who are demanding human dignity and freedom from tyrannical leadership. I am saddened by the loss of life and I know we can all do better than we have done. Violence is a sickness and has no justification. It perpetuates itself.

I have always appreciated the song Bella Ciao now sung in Persian by an Iranian woman. Please feel the spirit of resistance it upholds. Please join in resisting the urge to comply with ignorance. That is something we can all do.

In a September 25 video, Oscar-winning Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi called for the support and participation of the creative community: “I invite all artists, filmmakers, intellectuals, civil rights activists from all over the world and all countries, and everyone who believes in human dignity and freedom to stand in solidarity with the powerful and brave women and men of Iran by making videos, in writing or any other way,” Farhadi wrote.

Let us carry on in confidence that our day has come.