Category Archives: Quandaries and Rants

Unacknowledged Cousins: “White” Womanhood Reimagined

Unacknowledged Cousins: “White” Womanhood Reimagined  —by Jinny Batterson

My early upbringing stressed that I was “white,” as opposed to a few “black” students who began when I was in fifth grade to attend the same Maryland public elementary school I did. Whiteness has benefited me in many ways. For much of my life, it has also partially blinded me to the violence and discrimination visited on those who are “not white.” 

As I’ve aged, the whole notion of “whiteness” has become suspect. Much of the history I was earlier taught “whitewashed” the impact of enslavement and supported the myth of white supremacy, upholding both slavery and its more contemporary descendants—Jim Crow, mass incarceration, jingoism, xenophobia, disenfranchisement.

Partway through my work life, I had an opportunity to spend a couple of years in an African country, as junior member of a project supporting small-scale local consumer cooperatives. I noticed that my African colleagues and neighbors were generally darker skinned than most African-Americans I encountered while living in the United States. Once I returned to the U.S., I was advised by an African-American neighbor that most people who self-identify as “black” in the U.S. have at least some “white” ancestry. 

That got me to thinking. For much of my work life, I lived in central Virginia. The history I’d been taught as a child idolized Thomas Jefferson among the founders of our republic—author of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, Governor of Virginia, Ambassador to France, Secretary of State, President of the United States. Several times I made a pilgrimage to Jefferson’s “retirement” home of Monticello just outside Charlottesville. Little of the story of Monticello as it was then told related to Jefferson’s position as a slave holder. Over time, I began to read and learn more about the seamier side of a slavery-based economy. A few years ago, long after I’d left Virginia, an exhibit was mounted describing the life of Sally Hemings, who in addition to being enslaved, was likely the mother of several of Jefferson’s children (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/16/us/sally-hemings-exhibit-monticello.html). The exact nature and complexity of the Jefferson-Hemings relationship remains controversial, but it’s fairly well established that Hemings was a half-sister to Jefferson’s white wife, Martha Skelton Jefferson, and that after Martha died, Jefferson and Hemings were involved in some sort of relationship for several decades.  

Jefferson and other white men whose historical contributions I’d been taught to venerate may very well have been engaged in non-consensual sexual relations with enslaved black women. Might I have African-American cousins who were the result of some of my white male ancestors raping their female slaves? It seems not entirely unlikely, though difficult to prove. An African-American friend recently explained that genealogy in black families is hard to do, because record keeping was skimpy and generally did not include enough information to fully identify an enslaved person. 

“Most of us can’t go back further than a couple of generations,” he said. 

By contrast, the most thoroughly documented part of my northern European ancestry traces back a dozen generations to the Dutch tavern keeper who late in life resettled in what was then New Amsterdam, along with several of his adult children. Other parts of my lineage are less clear. Some of my Scots-Irish ancestors were likely outlaws, fleeing across the Atlantic to escape retribution. One of my Southern great-grandfathers (in a family with long generations) was born in South Carolina in 1820. By the time my maternal grandfather was born near Carthage, Mississippi in 1869, his family were former slaveholders. I remember my “Pop-pop” as a white-haired old man who spat tobacco juice out the back porch door and hated his ill-fitting false teeth. I remember stories retold to me by my mother of how frightening he’d found it as a small child to live in a Mississippi home that also billeted federal troops.  

During the 2020 election season, there’s speculation that an African-American woman will be named as a vice presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket. Certainly, there are many highly qualified African-American women politicians—Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington, D.C.; Lori Lightfoot, mayor of Chicago; Kamala Harris, U.S. senator from California; Keisha Lance Bottoms, mayor of Atlanta; Stacy Abrams, voting rights advocate and former Georgia legislator—to name a few. The challenges faced and overcome by such women have helped forge a strength that most of us “white”  women have rarely had to summon. The mythology long fed to “white women,” especially in the American South, that white men were needed to “protect the sanctity of white womanhood” was hypocritical at best, if not deliberately misleading and damaging. 

A white woman of my parents’ generation, Anne Braden, whose work I recently discovered, put it eloquently. In the early 1950’s, after reporting on the execution of a black man, Willie McGee, for the supposed rape of a white woman, Braden wrote:  

“I believe that no white woman reared in the South or perhaps anywhere else in this racist country can find freedom as a woman until she deals in her own consciousness with the question of race. We grow up little girls – absorbing a hundred stereotypes about ourselves and our role in life, our secondary position, our destiny to be a helpmate to a man or men. But we also grow up white – absorbing the stereotypes of race, the picture of ourselves as somehow privileged because of the color of our skin. The two mythologies become intertwined, and there is no way to free ourselves from one without dealing with the other.” 

The work of freeing ourselves of preconceptions and misconceptions is the work of all. However, in this era of divisiveness and government sanctioned disinformation, it is especially the work of “white” women. May we dedicate ourselves to continuing this work. 

 

Checking Our Sources, Knowing Our Contexts

Checking Our Sources, Knowing Our Contexts   —by Jinny Batterson

As the pandemic caused by the corona virus drags on, amid increasing conjectures about how to respond, increasing finger pointing about whose “fault” it might be, I can feel emotionally overloaded. So far, no one close to me has died of the infection, though several friends and relatives have had cases of varying degrees of severity. The small enclave where I live stays mainly quiet, those of us retired or furloughed staying pretty close to home, those still in the paid workforce adjusting work routines to stay as safe as practical.  

More of us live more of our lives in virtual spaces—emails, virtual meetings, social media posts. It can be tempting to get all of our input filtered through some electronic medium or other. My biological and intentional families are politically diverse. In these fraught times, we sometimes avoid discussing politics, but it can be nearly impossible not to be influenced by what we see, hear, and read. When discussions get especially heated, I try to remember some of my history teachers, including my part-time historian mother. 

“Check your sources,” they would repeatedly caution. “Everyone has an angle. Why did this particular source frame this particular event in this way? What advantage did they gain from telling their story from this viewpoint?”  

It’s disturbing to me that a fair amount of “information” these days is murkily sourced, if sourced at all. Lots of groups with high-sounding names have turned out to be unreliable at best, malicious at worst. Conspiracy theories abound.

It’s unclear where the virus causing covid-19 originated. It’s unclear exactly when it first spread among humans. It’s unclear all the ways the virus may be transmitted. It’s unclear why some people have few or mild symptoms, while others with similar backgrounds can be severely affected.  Given these uncertainties, it’s natural for us to form theories about what’s happening. What’s not natural is for so many of us to be so adamantly certain of “answers.”

I try to vary the sources of information I review, to filter out the obviously bogus. I know, too, that I respond to content in part from the contexts in which my life has unfolded so far. During my childhood, polio was a crippling pandemic that tended to reappear each summer, impacting both children and adults in seemingly random fashion. In some years in the early 20th century, as many as 6,000 Americans had died. Most Americans knew that president Franklin Roosevelt had contracted polio as an adult during the 1920’s and never fully regained the use of his legs. At its maximum in the U.S., in the early 1950’s, there were nearly 58,000 U.S. cases annually, with nearly 3,000 deaths. Swimming pools closed. Parents restricted their children’s friendships. 

Eventually, medical researchers tracked down the source of the illness and developed successive vaccines. I remember when I was in elementary school being part of a large-scale medical trial in which many of us got doses of an oral vaccine. In 2020, polio infections exist in just three countries globally, with fewer than 200 annual cases. Global health workers do their best to detect and isolate pockets of infection, often in war-torn areas, and to make sure at-risk children get vaccinated against the disease. 

At some future point, this novel corona virus that is spreading illness and death will yield to research and to more effective responses. Until that happens, it behooves us humans, whatever our political leanings or backgrounds, to check our sources and to be as aware as we can of our contexts.   

   

Democracy Is Not an “Ism”

Democracy Is Not an “Ism”  —by Jinny Batterson

We’re living in a strange season, locally, nationally, globally. First came a novel corona virus to which few humans have immunity. It has spread fear, illness, disruption, and death to nearly every country. So far efforts to contain, cure, or prevent it have met with uneven success. In many parts of the United States of America, the outbreak seems to be worsening.

As people everywhere began to cope with the pandemic, it quickly became evident that self-isolation and social distancing were the best ways to slow the virus’s human spread. In the U.S., those at the “bottom” of society were least likely to be able to self-isolate. Most lived in crowded conditions. Those who were employed mostly worked in low-wage service jobs necessary to society’s functioning—“essential workers,” they were suddenly called, as if a dignified label could make up for generations of poor pay and poor living conditions. Others chose not to isolate or distance because these practices seemed an impingement on their liberty.  

To add to the trauma of the pandemic, we’ve recently been confronted with other examples of our inequitable society. Video footage went viral of a white police officer in Minneapolis squeezing the life out of a prone, handcuffed black man by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes while other officers looked on and bystanders yelled for him to stop. It became less and less possible to talk about “resisting arrest” or “a few bad apples.” The systemic corruption of America’s criminal justice system was broadcast worldwide for all to see. 

And we have an American election coming up, one that’s poised to be expensive, divisive, and prone to distortions at many levels. Is it any wonder many of us are disturbed?  Whatever happened to the “shining city on a hill,” a beacon of hope for oppressed people everywhere? Whatever happened to our democracy?  

I’m not exactly sure, but I think part of the difficulty is that we’ve confused democracy with ideology. Many of us self-identify at least partly using a series of “isms”: conservatism, liberalism, progressivism, socialism, libertarianism, federalism, communitarianism, environmentalism. Every week seems to bring a new label.  

Democracy is not supposed to be easy. It is always a work in progress. Some guidelines our U.S. founders laid out have generally held, but there were huge blind spots in our original framework of laws. Some of those blind spots have persisted, as the George Floyds and “essential workers” of our country have recently reminded us. 

Democracy requires that each human has some say in decisions that impact him/her/them, regardless of circumstances. In small settings, that say may be direct. As groups get larger and more diverse, it becomes necessary to have “representative democracy,” where officials are elected to represent a neighborhood, town, city, county, state, or nation and to champion the interests of their constituents. 

Democracy requires that each human be willing to listen to perspectives that differ from his/her/their own, to acknowledge the humanity of others, to be humble about the limits to any individual’s knowledge or judgment. Whatever “isms” we subscribe to, we all breathe air, we all drink water, we all eat food. While we’ve been busy discounting and insulting each other, our air and water are getting dirtier, parts of our food supply are at risk, and more of us are becoming sickened by the corona virus. 

A few of our political leaders have stressed our connections across our divisions: “We’re all in this together. We’ll get through this together.”  Too many of us may not get through at all unless we start acting as if we believe that, meeting each other beyond our “isms.”  Happy In(ter)dependence Day!  

 

What DJT Learned in Kindergarten

What DJT Learned in Kindergarten (with deepest apologies to Robert Fulghum, whose original essay, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” can be found at this link: https://cpco.on.ca/files/9214/0182/6527/NeedToKnow.pdf)

Covet everything.
Play dirty.
Call people names,
but get supporters to hit them for you.
Forget where you got anything not rightfully yours.
Get others to do your dirty work,
then say you don’t know them if they get caught.
Take as much as you can possibly get away with.
Never, NEVER apologize. It’s weak.
Wash those pretty little hands,
just not in public during a covid-19 pandemic.

Live as indolently as you can–
Complain loudly when world events interrupt
Your golfing vacations or big rallies.

Before you give another command occasion
Speech at a military academy,
Practice walking down ramps.

Don’t trust anyone, and don’t let anyone
Get close to you–they might not be loyal enough.
Remember that your life is all mapped out:
Just one continuous advance to ever greater heights.
Don’t ever wonder what it all might mean.

Plants and animals are boring. There’s nothing
We can learn from them. If they die, it’s
Because they weren’t forceful enough.
Be like your friend Vlad–rig a vote to
Give yourself a lifetime appointment,
Then make sure that that life is eternal.

Forget about Dick or Jane or LOOK.
Paying close attention to anything or
Anyone besides yourself might be distracting.

RULE (just not over your own excesses).

Complicity

Complicity    —by Jinny Batterson

Never once have I used the “n” word.
I’ve supported worthy causes,
Occasionally even put my personal
Safety at risk. I’m not like those bigots
Who can’t seem to understand
That, deep down, we are all one.

Yet I live where sirens are rare, where
Police are rarely present or summoned.
The officer who came last Sunday to
Investigate the fawn lying prone
On our sidewalk was friendly,
Bemused, not overbearing.
No verbal threats. No tasers.
No weapons drawn.

The economic system that nurtured me
Valued brain over brawn, and
Whiteness over everything else.
It diminished the dignity of manual
Work, replaced those with fewest
Connections with robots, or with
Off-shore call centers, while
A privileged few profited, assuming
They merited special consideration.

“Who you knew” became nearly
As important as what, and
Everyone cheated, if only a little.
Getting ahead became a mantra,
Though it was never clear what
Exactly we were getting ahead of.

This house of cards is collapsing.
Will I be buried under it, or
Will I help find a way to make explicit a
Rebuilt society that shelters and
Protects a multifarious polyglot of
Worthies, whatever our skin color,
Skills or connections?

The Flowers Have Not (Yet) Gone

The Flowers Have Not (Yet) Gone   —by Jinny Batterson

It’s been a rough week to be an American. The death toll in the United States from the covid-19 pandemic crossed the 100,000 mark, while multiple U.S. cities experienced repeated, sometimes violent demonstrations in the wake of Monday’s death of yet another unarmed black man, George Floyd, at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  

Our economy has sputtered to a halt. Partly as a result of virus-related lockdowns, nearly a quarter of the U.S. labor force is unemployed. Our president sporadically spreads hatred and gibberish through his favored media platform, becoming so blatant in his misrepresentations and lies that Twitter has recently put “fact check” warnings on some of his posts.  

As various U.S. states attempt to restart their economies in the midst of a highly contagious novel corona virus with no known treatment or vaccine, cases have started to spike again in multiple hot spots. No one seems to know a good solution to the multiple crises besetting us.  

I sometimes get a “deja vu” feeling about our current problems and unrest, as someone who in 1968 was a young adult with much idealism and little experience. Then, an escalating and increasingly stalemated war in Vietnam was killing a disproportionate number of young black American men. Most American men between the ages of 19 and 26 (though less so the wealthiest or best connected) were susceptible to being conscripted into the military. In early April, Martin Luther King, Jr., an outstanding proponent of non-violent civil disobedience and a leader in the fight for legal equality for African-Americans, had been assassinated by a sniper while helping organize a peaceful protest for sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. In the wake of his death, over a hundred American cities had erupted in protests that often turned violent and destructive.  

Conditions in many U.S. cities in 1968 were unequal, with housing projects and decaying urban neighborhoods receiving little in the way of substantive government assistance, while billions were being spent to advance presumed U.S. political interests overseas. Other government programs either intentionally or collaterally favored “white flight” to the suburbs, which were largely off limits to non-whites. Sound vaguely familiar?

Many collegians of the 1960’s had become enamored of a folk song revival, one of its signature songs being “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”  penned by Pete Seeger in 1955. Joe Hickerson had later added more verses, turning the song into a circular questioning of the premise of warfare. The folk/rock trio of Peter, Paul and Mary popularized the expanded version, which remains a touchstone for many of us who lived through that era. (You can view their 25th anniversary rendering of the song at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgXNVA9ngx8.) 

In 2020, I’m somewhat creaky in the knees and a bit too virus-averse to participate in large gatherings, so I admire from a distance the courage and forbearance of many of the protesters (and many of the police officers who work to deescalate tensions, both short-term and longer-term). Meanwhile, I continue to send emails and postal letters to elected officials at all levels. I support voter registration and voting rights initiatives. I sew and give away protective face masks. I tend gardens. I plant flowers. I want to remind myself and others that the flowers have not yet gone. 

lilies and black-eyed susans near our central NC condo

Flowers near our central NC condo

Efficiency and Resilience–Mutually Exclusive?

Efficiency and Resilience—Mutually Exclusive?  —by Jinny Batterson

The stay-at-home phase of the covid-19 pandemic has given me more time to wonder about human futures, along with ready access to the internet and a husband who’s keen to curate podcasts and videos he thinks I would benefit from hearing and seeing.  Last week, he sat me down to watch an hour-long talk and Q&A featuring Dan Ariely, a working-from-home internationally acclaimed psychology professor at nearby Duke University. Ariely contrasted our tendencies toward efficiency and resilience. (https://today.duke.edu/2020/04/using-social-science-aid-fight-against-covid-19).  In a shorter interview printed in an India-based magazine, Ariely explained: 

 “This virus demonstrated that we are ill-prepared for a catastrophe … hospitals are equipped to deal with the standard inflow and outflow. Almost all normal hospitals don’t have extra capacity. Our economic systems are basically designed to work efficiently, as efficiently as possible. But they are not designed for a day of emergency. Very few governments would say let’s put money aside for a rainy day. There are very few companies that do it.” (https://openthemagazine.com/features/pandemic-related-behavioural-changes-wont-last-long-dan-ariely/) 

The notion that we humans too often opt for efficiency over resilience, emphasizing short term gain rather than long term viability, has been around nearly as long as humans have thought and written. It gains traction during times of chaos or rapid change. Books exploring two variations of this idea came out when I was a young adult beginning a career in the rapidly expanding, then relatively new field of computer-mediated commercial data processing. One was Alvin Toffler’s 1970 treatise Future Shock, which theorized that the increasingly rapid pace of change was disorienting to humans being required to adapt on many levels in a short time period. The other, The Limits to Growth, was a 1972 volume co-authored by Donella Meadows, an outgrowth of an early computer modeling exercise to study interlocking factors that might limit the future viability of human societies on planet earth: population increase, agricultural production, nonrenewable resource depletion, industrial output, and pollution generation. 

My attempts to sidestep the shock and stay within the limits have so far been partially successful: I’ve been able to create a wide network of family, friends, and colleagues who’ve helped buffer the impact of multiple life changes by sharing support and humor; partly out of choice and partly through necessity, I’ve been more limited than many in reproduction, food habits, resource use, material output, and pollution generation.  However, these earlier habits have not helped much to inform my response to the novel corona virus. So I wondered, what might Toffler and Meadows have to say about our current dilemmas?  

Both Toffler and Meadows have died. Both left change-studying institutions as parts of their legacy. Toffler Associates (https://www.tofflerassociates.com) presents itself as a “future focused strategic advisory firm.”  Meadows co-founded a predecessor to the non-profit Academy for Systems Change (https://www.academyforchange.org), whose mission is “to advance the field of awareness-based systemic change in order to accelerate ecological, social, and economic well-being,” a tall order in these uncertain times. I’d encourage those of you with time and internet access to explore Ariely’s insights, along with both these groups’ online presence. 

In the Academy’s archives is an article written by Meadows in the late 1990’s, still somewhat applicable: “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System” (http://donellameadows.org/archives/leverage-points-places-to-intervene-in-a-system/) In her article, Meadows argues that many of the interventions we espouse to “fix”  a system are either immaterial or counterproductive. Midway through her exposition of twelve increasingly influential leverage points are “negative feedback loops”: 

“Nature evolves them and humans invent them as controls to keep important system states within safe bounds. A thermostat loop is the classic example. Its purpose is to keep the system state called ‘room temperature’ fairly constant at a desired level. … A complex system usually has numerous negative feedback loops it can bring into play, so it can self-correct. … One of the big mistakes we make is to strip away these ‘emergency’ response mechanisms because they aren’t often used and they appear to be costly.”   

Part of our flat-footedness in responding to a novel corona virus has been the creakiness or absence of emergency human health response mechanisms on a global scale. It’s my hope that we may muddle through this crisis without catastrophic human damage, but with enough impact to prod us toward becoming more resilient, both in our personal choices and in our institutions.

The “Club of Rome,” which underwrote the study on which The Limits to Growth is based, still exists. It still provides cautions about its perceptions of humans’ misappropriations of global resources. But its pronouncements are not entirely doomsday. It continues to embrace, too, the hopefulness of Limits’ conclusion: 

The book contains a message of hope, as well: Man can create a society in which he can live indefinitely on earth if he imposes limits on himself and his production of material goods to achieve a state of global equilibrium with population and production in carefully selected balance.

Shoelaces and Scrunchies

Shoelaces and Scrunchies   —by Jinny Batterson

Our local newspaper recently
Inserted an unusual item, tucked away on a
Back page away from distressing headlines:
A printed sewing pattern with instructions.
The pattern seems simple enough,
A productive use of some stay-at-home time.

I find an unused cloth shower curtain,
Some leftover curtain lining fabric,
Retrieve an aged sewing machine from a closet.
My first step-by-step effort takes hours
And hours. The four ties take the longest:
Eighteen inch lengths double folded to just a third
Of an inch wide, then stitched and restitched
Into each corner of a smallish rectangle.
There must be an easier way.

Our local craft outlet is temporarily closed,
So I troll the aisles of the nearest big box store:
Aha! shoelaces, right width, nearly right length, still in
Ample supply. I choose a half dozen packages, careful
To leave some for other impromptu seamstresses.

The laces increase my output substantially.
Soon I have a completed stock for family, close neighbors.
After my initial supply has run out, a younger neighbor requests
More. “Got any new shoelaces?” I ask her.
Instead, she supplies scrunchies–those circular hair ties worn
By Olympic gymnasts and high school cheerleaders.
More elastic and less cumbersome than shoelaces.

A few more completed each day, overstitched into
Half moon shapes. When I go to get a leaking tire
Checked, a helpful technician takes one.
“Nice,” he tells me. “It doesn’t steam up my glasses,
And the fabric pattern looks a little like camo.” 

We all are doing our best to camouflage
The impact of a tiny virus that has upended so
Many of our prospects.

 

Earth Has Its Day

Earth Has Its Day   —by Jinny Batterson

Had this been a “normal” year, there would have been big crowds today commemorating the 50th annual Earth Day. There would have been lots of in-person speeches. There would have been live exhibits from corporations and non-profits with a mixture of important initiatives and “greenwashing,” spotlighting small impacts for mainly public relations value. There would have been more exhortations to “reduce, reuse, recycle.” 

This is not a normal year. A small pathogen whose exact origin is still unclear began spreading a respiratory ailment among the global human population in late 2019. As of today, covid-19 had caused nearly 2.5 million known infections and nearly 170,000 deaths. Much of the globe’s human population is on “lockdown.” Public gatherings are few. 

In parts of the world, other variations in nature are wreaking havoc in different ways: a plague of locusts in east Africa is destroying food crops, threatening the food supply of tens of millions; forest fires in Ukraine near the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant have recently caused the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, to have the worst air pollution of any place in the world; widespread bush fires during Australia’s 2019-2020 summer have blackened millions of acres and killed roughly a billion animals, endangering such unique species as kangaroos and koalas and putting Australia’s agricultural sector at risk; Greenland and Antarctica have ice sheets that are melting at increasing rates. 

Perhaps earth is reminding us, in increasingly urgent terms, that we are not the masters of the planet, but its guests and its (temporary) stewards. 

For much of my adult life, I’ve accumulated a clipping file of quotations and short pieces of prose that seem meaningful to me. During a personal or societal crisis, I reread them for wisdom. A while ago, I came across the World War II era diaries of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, War Without and Within, edited and first published long after that war was over, in 1980. Anne and her husband, aviator Charles Lindbergh, had spent part of the 1930’s living in Europe to regain some privacy after the highly publicized U.S. kidnapping and murder of their first child.  A pacifist often identified with her isolationist husband, Anne was deeply affected by the 1939 onset of war in Europe and the entry of the U.S. into a globalized conflict in late 1941. A diary entry from Easter Monday during the spring of 1942 expresses both sorrow and hope: 

“Today is the real Easter morning. Yesterday was overcast and chilly. This morning is still, warm, newly awakened. One walks out into it like a flower just opened. …
When I was young, I always felt a morning like this meant a promise of something wonderful … love in someone’s heart far away from me, or the success of some venture of my own. I thought–quite literally–it was a sign from heaven. The person who was ill would get well. … Or maybe something wonderful was happening for the world–some new spirit blooming. … the morning was a ‘sign.’
I still believe it is a ‘sign,’ but not for anything good happening to me or the world, anything specific. The love is not blooming in someone’s heart. The ventures fail. The one who is sick, dies, and the one who is lost is never found. Hate and cruelty and evil are still rampant, war goes on.
And yet it is a sign. It is a sign that in spite of these things beauty still exists and goes on side by side with horror. That there is love and goodness and beauty and spirit in the world–always. This is only one of the times when it is clothed in flesh–in the flesh of a spring morning.”

Amid the global concern about the covid-19 pandemic and the seemingly unending series of recriminations about whose “fault” the pandemic is, there have been occasional notes of clearer air in unexpected places, of a resurgence of birdsong alongside nearly empty highways. 

This morning where I live dawned crisp, cool, bright, with almost jewel-like clarity. May it be a sign. Happy Earth Day!   

Power, Shared

Power, Shared   —by Jinny Batterson

It’s been an unsettled week for those with putative power. While various autocrats and autocrat wannabes strutted before stadium crowds, riots broke out elsewhere in the capital city of India. In the U.S., Democratic Presidential hopefuls stood behind podiums and yelled at each other. Despite posturing by those who want us to believe in their power or leadership potential, for the moment evidence points to a microscopic organism known as “Covid19,” or just “the corona virus” as the most powerful living entity on earth.

Since an initial outbreak began in central China a couple of months ago, the virus and the serious illness it can cause has spread to every continent except Antarctica, with the biggest outbreaks outside China in Italy and Iran. Over two thousand have died, with over 80,000 sickened enough to require hospitalization. Entire regions have been on lockdown, global commerce has been dented, stock markets have plunged. 

U.S. media attention has also focussed on former media mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was convicted in New York of rape and sexual assault. He’s facing a prospective prison sentence of at least five years, as pundits weigh the significance of his conviction for other victims of sexual assault. Future Weinstein appeals and trials loom. 

Meantime, this year’s Black History Month is drawing to a close. It seems likely that our current national powers that be will do their best to ignore it. Meanwhile, here in North Carolina, early voting for next Tuesday’s March 3 primary election will end along with February on Saturday, “leap day.”  

In American politics, it is a recurring mantra that the power of the ballot is supreme. Struggles to gain and exercise voting rights have ebbed and flowed throughout our history. History reminds us that the oppressed will continue to use both overt and covert means to subvert the systems oppressing them and to gain access to power. History teaches that no solitary or absolute power can last forever.

A bit before the current corona virus outbreak, news outlets in early 2020 covered U.S. and European approval of a vaccine against the ebola virus, which had caused a major epidemic in western Africa in 2014. An article traced the international cooperation and lucky connections that capped generations of work by scientists and public health workers across three continents and at least a generation to create and distribute the vaccine (https://www.statnews.com/2020/01/07/inside-story-scientists-produced-world-first-ebola-vaccine/). Many of those involved in the project gained little in fortune or fame, but simply believed in what was to them a worthwhile cause. They helped produce another tool for the public health response to any current or future ebola outbreak.  

So, when we bother to pay attention, recent weeks may also remind us of the immense shared power of a voluntary, uncoerced “yes.”