Witness

When I was first trained at a journalism school in the 1980s, I was taught that journalism was about witnessing. I quickly learned that it wasn’t possible to see everything, but my eyes didn’t lie. I trained my eyes and ears and memory to see and write down and remember and write it down fast. The eyes don’t lie. It’s important to be there; journalists call it shoeleather reporting. It’s work; you don’t guess but you could be wrong. That’s why it’s called the first draft of history.

Here’s my first draft on the Chicago Women’s March on Saturday, Jan. 21, and I am glad I didn’t have to file this right away. I was in the crowd of an estimated 250,000 marchers, standing in the street on Congress Parkway, a couple blocks south of whatever was going on by way of a program with speakers. There were signs, signs, signs, and the best ones were homemade. My favorite was “Toddlers against Trump,” written on cardboard in red crayon and smeared with crayon. YUUUUUGE MISTAKE was good. The Devil Wears Pravda. Paws Off Women’s Bodies (this from a pug in a backpack, with bonus joke #puglife). Girls Just Want to Have Fundamental Human Rights. Reading the signs was better than hearing the program; they roared with wit. My own sign was pretty staid: Diversity is Reality.

img_1326

As has been reported, they did cancel the march but we marched anyway, flowing down Congress to Wabash to the main stream of marchers on Jackson to LaSalle. Yes, there were grandmas and strollers and a Muslim man whose sign said “I respect my wife and her rights.” I was attuned to the symbols of religion: clerical collars, a woman wearing a kippah and a prayer shawl and pushing a stroller. I’m white and I saw young and old African-American women, young and old white women, young and old white men. I didn’t see a lot of young African-American men, but there was much I didn’t witness in a crowd of a quarter-million.

This wasn’t my first demonstration, but it’s been a while. I decided fairly last-minute to go after figuring out how to travel so I could get to work immediately afterward. I thought the event would be predominantly angry, like my Facebook feed has been. But the crowd was cheerful and polite and I couldn’t stop laughing at the clever signs. It was easy to talk to strangers. For a while now I’ve been growing slightly fearful of strangers, anticipating some sort of hostility or contempt. On Saturday I chatted all the way back on the train with my seatmate, Cindy, a preschool teacher who had been to the march. I love being able to talk to strangers and smiling at them. The march was an antidote to some sort of social toxin that has been accumulating in my system, in the air somehow.

I marched to get my own energy back and so I wouldn’t miss history. I marched for my children; my older one Adrian has lately been the marcher, but she had to work. I marched for, and with, my best friend from college. I marched because black lives matter, especially the lives of my friends. I marched because I don’t want the planet trashed or the DPAL built or the EPA gutted. I marched because I don’t want my Muslim friends having to register. I marched for my journo friends and a world of real facts, not alternative ones. I marched because I don’t want Roe v. Wade overturned. I marched because I love flowers and peaceful classrooms and playgrounds and streets for kids.

I cried for a little bit while marching. It felt like all these people had lifted a weight. We can do this. Si se puede.

The Last Roses (I Think)

I have hung up my garden hat after planting another row of garlic. It’s been nice, in a freaky sort of way, to postpone freezing weather in this part of the Midwest. But it’s unnatural, although maybe the natural order is changing a wee bit in this, which is shaping up to be the hottest year on record. Astonishingly, I did harvest a few tomatoes in rather paler colors than their intense August hues, and my roses are still blooming. Today 72 degrees. Tomorrow, a low of 32, they say, followed by lows of 25 degrees on the weekend. So I cut the last roses of fall to bring them in and shelter them. They are too beautiful to blast.

lastroses

Gardeners know that seasons change, nothing lasts, gather ye rosebuds while ye may, etc. Poets and reflective people are inclined to see plenty of metaphors in gardening and the march of the seasons. I love it that there are so many meanings, diverse ways of understanding what is beautiful and what is natural. I also love it that there is a science to gardening. There are things you must do: I need to water the new hackberry tree planted on my lawn and not just wax romantic about how only God could make a tree. God may have made it, but this particular tree came from a local nursery and the city planted it and it is now up to me to tend it. The poets and philosophers need to join hands with those wearing gardening gloves. There is always work to be done. It just differs by season.

Walking cheerfully

I have been losing sleep over the election. I am really, really afraid of one candidate. I’m more than happy with the other, despite some important disagreements. I’ve been wondering what is my responsibility besides voting. I’ve wrestled with writing about this, since I have some talent at communicating in writing. But there is a real tsunami of opinion out there, and so one more view hardly matters. On the contrary, in this election, restraint is a good, mature thing; thinking “I alone have the answer”  is hubris at best, narcissism at worst.

Like so many others, I really liked Michelle Obama’s speech and her idea that this is not about us: this election is about our children’s world. And I’m a little worried about the children, and not just my two. I’m worried that we’re not leaving them a better place, but instead we are bequeathing a lot of crushing personal debt, a climate-challenged planet, fear of strangers who speak different languages, and soul-numbing cynicism. That last really bothers me.

I heard a lot of great speeches at the convention. Although I normally find good oratory inspiring, I must admit its charm is wearing thin. And this article  really got me re-thinking the way I value an inspirational speech. What about getting things done? What about problem solving?

For me, for my children, for my planet, I want solutions. I want to read about them. I want to vote for somebody who sweats the details of getting things done. For my own part, I need to concentrate on things getting fixed, or getting better, given enough commitment and ingenuity. I need to shift my focus from a relentless litany of what’s wrong without denying what is wrong and from jejune despair that “the system is rigged.” The system is big and complicated and contains a lot of people who unfortunately don’t think like me.

More concretely: this is also a way of practicing the Quaker discipline of “walking cheerfully over the world” . This is what I am going to do during the election season: call attention to solutions. If I can’t find any, it might just be cute kittens or pretty flowers. (I thought of doing this while sitting by my flowers.)

I’m kicking off by celebrating an amazing planetary healing (it’s yuuge): the hole in the earth’s ozone layer is closing because we banned CFCs. The lead scientist who published about this said: “Aren’t we amazing humans?”

Bonus: here are some flowers:IMG_1173.JPG