Showing posts with label Letters from Trumplandia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Letters from Trumplandia. Show all posts

12 November, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Invisible City, Part 4


Two people in as many days have died on the streets as Louisville settles into the first cold snap of the year. One of them died next to a local homeless shelter that, in theory, provides overnight protection from the elements for the city's homeless.

The first cold snap is hard because no one ever seems to see it coming -- in spite of past precedence. I see this as a fundamentally positive thing about human nature... it's our ability to hope for the best regardless of experience. But when it comes, no matter how much those of us engaged in homeless outreach try and plan for it, it still hits like a steel toe boot to the nuts.

We did a better than average job planning for it this year. I'm not the only one who obsessively watches weather patterns, so between the merry OCD/ grumpy old men in our group and the lovely folks that donate there money and donate supplies for us to pass out every week, we were able to get a few things together.., hand warmers, sternos, some coats and blankets and sleeping bags.

But there are moments in outreach when the wheels and cogs are laid bare and there is nothing to do except embrace the sadness and anger just so you can find more people before the hot meals get too cold and the supply of socks and handwarmers run out.

We've been serving a younger couple on our regular route for a few weeks. He's a more or less fresh out of a detox program. They say they want to get to Florida, closer to family. Last night was a White Flag night here in Louisville, which means the temperature is cold enough that shelters will open up and allow more than the usual number of people in to get out of the dangerous temperatures.

Unless you're on the Permanent Ban List.

And when we mentioned that it might be a good idea to get to a shelter, even it meant being separated (because none of the shelters here have facilities for couples or families, which means that couples are separated and fathers have to sleep in a different space than their wives and children). But he told me that since he was on the permanent ban list, he couldn't go in. Not even on a White Flag night.

As far as I know, this couple made it through the night. But the temperatures this week aren't going get better.

Later that night we met up with other outreach volunteers near a new encampment. Another couple.
They had a tent, at least, but no blankets, no sleeping bags, no kind of heat. And meanwhile, outside of the Wayside Mission on Jefferson Street, people were sleeping on the sidewalks, some without blankets, and a few with no shoes.

There's nothing worse than feeling like you fell short even when you do your best. And even if there wasn't such a thing as a Permanent Ban List that includes White Flag Nights, the fact is there isn't even enough beds for people willing and able to get into the shelters. The number of homeless folks on the street are up and it only breaks into the public conversation as something unsightly that people don't want to see through their NIMBY sunglasses.

There's nothing like the sick brick I get in my stomach when I see someone out on outreach knowing they may not survive the night. There's nothing like the dread of knowing that the odds are someone will find them in the morning, dead.

And someone finds them... anger and sadness doesn't quite cover it. Not by a longshot. And when they're found footsteps from a place that, in theory, should have been able to prevent it

Anger and sadness don't feel like nearly enough.



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05 November, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Politics and the Phenomenon of Craving






A.A., like any other organization dedicated to a single idea, has it's own mantras and jingoisms. The Serenity Prayer has been co-opted by our culture -- especially the part about asking for courage to accept those things we cannot change, since it pretty much feels like no one has control over anything pretty much all the time. One Day at a Time and  Easy Does It get tossed out at regular intervals by a fairly large cross-section of people -- larger even than the cross-section of people who are among the 10% of people who have that particular allergy to booze that makes us one day either get to a meeting or crawl into a ditch. 

As a culture, we like mantras and jingoisms. They reduce complex ideas  down to sound bites that are easier to chew on. We like to be able reduce our moral, ethical, and spiritual life down to easily marked and remembered catch phrases that will rise above the one-liners advertisers throw at us to get us to buy the Next New Shiny Thing.

And since is a Political Season -- November 6 being an election day -- we have been further bombarded, traumatized, and had our central nervous systems cauterized by political ads. Incumbents who want to keep their jobs. Up and comers who want to unseat the incumbents. And we are being extolled, ONE MORE TIME, that this election, is The Most Important Election of Our Generation.

If you're wondering why I started with Alcoholics Anonymous and led into the election, it's pretty simple. It's what we in A.A. call The Phenomenon of Craving. An alcoholic drinks and the craving kicks in and there is no common sense that will make us stop.  Politics, and the emotional urgency its dealers push on the American people -- nearly all of whom are drunk on one brand of politics or another (that includes the politics of apathy) -- kicks in that Phenomenon of Craving. We can't help ourselves. We drink in that sweet, intoxicating moral urgency and sense of mission that will disappear as soon as the election results are in and we are all, once again, pressed with our individual tyrannies of the present that will drive back into the intoxicating arms of mantras, jingoism, and name-calling -- 

all while the Laughing Boys who are in charge and will most likely continue to be in charge regardless of which political party you hang your hopes on carry on making us hate one another so we're too busy seeing what the hell they're doing. 

Common sense, in both cases, is roundly ignored.

My politics of choice and experience tends to fall somewhere near the Far Left -- though not far enough to swallow every last drop in the bottle. My politics and my world view are probably best described by old radical standard (that fewer and fewer radicals know anymore),  The Internationale:





I've sang The Internationale drunk in a room stock full of well-intended liberals who fantasize about fighting fascists but never will. I've sang The Internationale sober with all the sad passion of Amazing Grace, waiting for God to tell me if I really need to fight, if this cup is really mine, or if I'm just one more vainglorious sap who is hoping for victory against the cyclical tide of historical implosion. I've sang The Internationale in a room full of unionists who barely knew the words and who probably would have refused to sing if they'd known where the song actually comes from. I've sang The Internationale with friends, drunk on bourbon and dizzy on didactic rhetoric -- only one of whom I actually believe could take on the fascists as a personal mission for the Almighty... and woe to them if that ever actually happens. I have sang The Internationale but I have never seen the collective fraternity, community, or egalitarianism it is supposed to represent... certainly not on the Left and never, ever, in all my years (including the ones growing up in the ultra-conservative Rust Belt) on the Right. 

And that is why the Radical Left is losing and why, if they don't rethink strategies that isolate them along ideological lines so tenuous that the lists of enemies is longer than their lists of friends and comrades, they will continue to lose. 

There is no moral urgency to this New Wave Fascism. The sense of inevitability people feel -- and believe me, people on all sides feel it, especially those that cry out against it from every social media corner of the country --  that causes them to call this election one more Most Important Election of Our Generation comes from something much deeper, something more dangerous, and something more profane. 

It springs forth from the shadow heart of us all, the evil that will not die until the last trumpet sounds and against which we have been fighting since man's evolutionary ancestors developed enough cognitive ability to dream darkly and to commit their hands to making those dreams happen.

So drink up, my friends. I'm not saying not to vote. If you still have the right to vote then you should, if for no other reason than to prove the cynics and oligarchs wrong. But Easy Does It. We need to take these days One Day at a Time, but it helps to be on the look out for that hangover. Because in spite of the jingoism, life will march on after this election is in the books.

And.. get to a meeting.

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24 October, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Invisible City, Part 3

Letters from Trumplandia
Part of outreach means we end up seeing some the same people over and over. Sometimes we don't see certain folks for a span of time because they went inside, or got sober, or started getting treatment for their mental or addiction issues.  And that's always a good thing. I'm always happy to see our folks, but there's a few that I would be happier to never see again, if only because they need to get off the street for their own safety or health.

But sometimes we don't see people and we feel the dread in the pits of our stomachs.

The area around Wayside Mission is a heavy population area, not just because of the homeless shelter, but because of the large homeless population that lives adjacent to the shelter. Some of them won't go in -- concerns over safety, petty street feuds that spill over or are exacerbated by the shelter's policy of giving some residents the job of policing the others, regardless of their capacity to be able to do so, and the shelter's policy of splitting families --  and some of them can't because of legitimate bans due to violence or drug use that endangers other people.

Amanda and I hadn't served down there in a while because of shifts in the population and changes in the routes over the last year that we hope does a more effective job of serving as many of the community as possible. Historically, people have been run off from the downtown underpasses and around the shelter at three watershed moments here in Louisville: before Derby, before the State Fair, and when cold weather sets in. The motivations for these are different, but not really. The city likes to "clean up" it's image for big money events like Derby and the Fair, and whitewashing the city's homeless community is one way, besides planting more rose bushes and cutting the grass along the highway, that the city does that.

LMPD annually engages in a more focused harassment of the city's homeless at the onset of cold weather, apparently for the benefit of the homeless. By all accounts, the thought is that by putting pressure on the community to move on, the city is helping push them to the shelters or other services.

Mick Parsons, blog, TrumplandiaThis sort of thinking is an example of the staggering disconnect between the bean counters in Metro Council Chambers and reality.

But as the official and unofficial sweeps continue, it never ceases to amaze me who is able to fall through the cracks. This past week, Amanda and I went with the route that currently serves the underpasses as extra support and to make it easier to pass out meals and supplies.

We were also tasked with finding a family that had been in the area the last few weeks -- a couple with two small children. Usually, we serve them in their vehicle, but they have insisted to outreach workers in the past that they go into Wayside at night. This isn't the first time we've heard this, or seen it in practice. The city has very limited resources for homeless families. So when they do go to shelters, families are split up.

This is one of those cavernous niches that the homeless fall into; because even when there aren't any children involved, and even if they can prove they're married, couples are separated -- effectively isolating them from the one person they count on for mutual aid and survival. And while this can sometimes help vulnerable people escape dangerous situations, the families are collateral damage.

We didn't find the family. Their vehicle was not even parked out front, in spite of the fact that it was spotted earlier that afternoon when the kids were riding their bikes on the street. If we had seen their vehicle, that would have meant they were at least in the shelter waiting room before the staff at Wayside split them up for the night. Because it wasn't there, there is no telling where they were on a night when the overnight temperatures were going to reach freezing.

Sometimes it's who you don't see that gets to you.

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10 October, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Invisible City, Part 2

[This is Part 2 of a series that I'll add to intermittently. It may come in waves of two or three posts in a row, or it may be weeks or even months in between. The focus of 'Invisible City' is my experience working with and around the homeless community. The first part is here. Thanks for reading.]

In addition to the usual route paperwork, I carried a list of 100 or so names. 

These are the names of people whose camps were scheduled to be cleared as of Monday October 8th. As of this writing, the three camps in question are cleared. Although there's a certain inevitability to this, it's hard for me to ignore the timing. Not only is it running up to an important mid-term election, with the mayor up for re-election, but -- more importantly -- cold weather is coming. And although not everyone had moved as of last Sunday, I wanted to carry the names of the people we will need to look for -- our organization and every other outreach organization that serves the Louisville's homeless community. 

With cold weather coming, the main thing at the front of my mind is that once again, there will not be enough beds, even for those willing to enter the shelters. The city will say there's enough, because they always do... or actually, they say nothing and point to the various shelters with an inferred, collective shrug that allows them to pass the buck. After all, the homeless don't vote.

But we didn't find anyone on that list this past week. We may when we go back out to serve. While there are some factors that make how camps disperse somewhat predictable, the truth is it's hard to predict what any one individual will do. We did find a guy in the middle of a seizure. We saw him on the sidewalk on a side street, and when we checked on him, my wife realized she knew him from her job at a local men's shelter. He was prone to seizures, and because the homeless in Louisville no longer have someplace to store their things.

While we were there with him -- he was in the process of trying to stand up and get his bearings back
-- one woman yelled down to us that he was on spice... which he clearly wasn't. Another drove by and asked if we needed him to "dial 5-0" and we assured him we did not. The only reason we hesitated in dialing 911 was because the man was in the process of getting back up on his feet and would have turned down transport to the hospital, anyway. As if being out on the street in Louisville isn't scary enough, he's got to deal with frequent seizures that leave him incapacitated for short periods, increasing his vulnerability. He's in the process of trying to get disability, but there is no streamlined process. And, because he's homeless and has no where to store his stuff, he has to carry his entire medical history with him ALL THE TIME.

Then, adding insult to injury, the default position anyone might take in seeing him is that when he's in the midst of a seizure -- a condition that is not his fault -- he will be mistaken for a drug addict. Because that's where people's minds go, almost every single time.



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04 October, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Invisible City, Part 1

Trumplandia, Mick Parsons, Dirty Sacred River
Bone thin and tiny even before she tried to fold herself into the air, her eyes were large, dark, and brimming.  She looked young; too young to be living under an underpass or in a camp that is slated for clearing by the city. It was Sunday night and she looked like she needed to be somewhere rushing through homework she'd put off all weekend instead of looking towards one more night in a homeless camp.  Her eyes told me she was almost as scared of being found as she was of whatever led her to where she was at. She hadn't found short term ways to coping -- the shit spice (lately mixed with Fentanyl)  available on the street for 50 cents a hit, or booze, or the needle. The outreach workers who found her said she wasn't alone. That some guy had been hanging around and disappeared when they approached.

I'd seen her some downtown, and she was rarely alone.  Some of the other outreach workers wanted to try and find out if she was, indeed, underage. And even if she wasn't underage, we were all concerned that she was a victim of trafficking... or that if she wasn't then, she would be soon enough. It wasn't just idle. The camp where she was staying has been the root of several reports of what looks like trafficking. But stories aren't proof and proof is hard to come by.

The city's recourse is to clear the camp, which it has started the ball rolling to do. The outreach
Louisville homeless compassionate city not
organization I volunteer with and other small organizations try to work with the Coalition for Homelessness and the city to find them resources, fast track them for housing (if possible) and at least keep in touch with them so that when they move, we can find them.

People who don't know that I do homeless outreach talk about the increase in Louisville's  homeless population. Part of that is due to some recent, temporary, policy changes on the part of the city. The annual clear outs for Derby and the State Fair did not happen this year thanks to a ton of negative press the city garnered for razing a camp with no warning last year. But that sort of thing doesn't last. Politically rooted compassion lasts as about as long as the news cycle -- which here can only bear so much content that verges somewhere near actual news before it implodes under the weight of college sports, and whatever new that falls under the flag shadow of Trumplandia. There are a fair number of people here that want to complain more about bike lanes that aren't really bike lanes and play partisan politics rather than actually fix things... and several of them keep getting elected to Metro Council.

There was no way to prove she wasn't underage, and CPS rarely, if ever, works on a Sunday night anyway. I suppose we could have called LMPD, but it's crap shoot with them. If we get a good cop, they will try and help. If we don't, they'll just slice and dice people's tents and ticket them for littering. We were able to at least get this young woman to agree to go find the resources we pointed her to.

Most of the time, that's the biggest win we get in those situations.


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30 August, 2017

Retreat, Renewal, and Arrival: From Gethsamani to Trumplandia

The Wild Man doesn’t come to full life through being “natural,” going with the flow, smoking weed, reading nothing, and being generally groovy. Ecstasy amounts to living within reach of the high voltage of the golden gifts. The ecstasy comes after thought, after discipline imposed on ourselves, after grief.― Robert Bly, Iron John: A Book About Men 


It's good to get away. It's good for me and it's good for my family, too. It's not that they don't love me or that I don't love them. But sometimes I go away for a bit BECAUSE I love them, and I'm very lucky that they understand this part of me that has cost me jobs, relationships, and respect.

Not that I've gone out on a proper jaunt in a while. I haven't, really. And it's not that they would hold it against me  (much) if I did. But it's difficult for me to plan a jaunt with an end point. Jaunts, for me, are by nature open-ended.  Sure, there's some kind of end point -- or a break point, I should say. Generally when I jaunt, it's simply a way to amble between stops, as I traditionally break up traveling with visits. And while the visits are always wonderful, my jaunts more about the motion. Travel is it's own kind of meditation.

But there are other forms of meditation. At least twice a year, I try to get out to the Abbey at Gethsemani, outside of Bardstown, Kentucky. If you're not familiar with this Trappist monastery's significance, beyond the religious, it was also the monastery where Thomas Merton lived and worked and wrote. His hermitage is still off limits to non-Religious folk. But as a retreatant there, you can walk the same woods, soak in the same silence. It's not necessary to be Catholic, or to be particularly religious at all. They operate the retreat house based on the Benedictine Rule of Hospitality. This rule is one of five Benedictines base their daily spiritual practice around.

I go there for the silence. There's a special quality to the silence there. While the monks don't actually take a vow of silence, they do try to cultivate silence as part of their practice of  active listening and worship.

There are some kinds of silence that are empty. This kind of silence works like a vacuum, a black hole in the brain and in the heart just eating everything around it, never to be sated.

Then there's another kind of silence. This silence fills and pushes out the constant white noise that seems to fill every part of contemporary life. I go and wander the west trails, or sit in the chapel during the singing of the The Hours or when it's empty. There's a rejuvenative quality to the silence that I find helps remind me of things. Like how important daily practice is. Like how important it is to work to cultivate silence in my daily life... not just for the sake of practice, but so that I can actively listen. The Benedictine rules of prayer, work, study, hospitality, and renewal aren't as easy to apply to life here. But I think they're good rules to live by. They echo the language I've read from other spiritual leaders, including Buddhists like Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

The challenge for me be active in my practice, especially when I feel so pulled by events out in larger Trumplandia. I left for retreat watching people fight over unnecessary monuments to people who were not heroes and should not be treated as such, and wondering if the solar eclipse was itself going to be eclipsed by nuclear war with North Korea.

It made a certain amount of sense to me, since Trump doesn't do anything new. It's natural that he would take up an old war to make his own (and to avoid possible impeachment) because that's how he's made his way in the world -- copying other people.

I came back to find out that he's decided to make Afghanistan is war -- which actually makes more sense because North Korea, while a credible threat, doesn't quite measure up to his hubris. He made some noise towards Venezuela, too. But that, too, doesn't have the grandiosity that, say, stating his intention to march into Afghanistan does. This puts him on par with every other deluded historical leader who has had the same intentions.

Whether a person is religious or not, whether a person is spiritual or not, whether you don't believe in the historical existence of Jesus, the fact is that the idea of a Living Christ (in the vein discussed by Thich Nhat Hanh in Living Buddha, Living Christ) isn't a bad one to use as an example. The monks at Gethsamani practice the elements they see in the life of Jesus as an active, spiritual practice. And even if you're not spiritual, there's nothing wrong about being mindful (a kind of prayer), as well as focusing on good and useful work, practicing hospitality, and being open to renewal. As a writer, I see a lot in common between renewal and revision. Life is constantly under revision. If it isn't, then it's not a life. It's a dead, useless monument.



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22 May, 2017

Letters from Trumplandia 10: Peace, Violence, and Understanding

 The battleline between good and evil runs through the heart of every man. - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

I'm not a pacifist. I feel that there are situations where fighting is inescapable, but we don't go looking for those things. - Bruce Cockburn

It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence. - Mahatma Gandhi


Growing up, I was not much of a fighter. On some level, I think violence confused me. It made no sense that other people would want to hurt me when I had done nothing to them. None of the petty violence that made up a fair portion of my early school yard experience had any of the real urgency of the scenarios I watched on television. When I lost my first fist fight in 5th grade to Terry Peters in the boy's bathroom, there was absolutely nothing at stake. When Byron Combs punched me in the locker room in high school because I answered his passive bullying remark with a joke and a refusal to apologize for standing up for myself,  I understood better that something at stake. I simply did not want any part of it. I took the Biblical admonishment to turn the other cheek seriously -- at least where physical violence was concerned.

When Vince Lancaster, who managed to fight everyone in our class and lose finally got around to challenging me our Senior year by making comments about my Dad who had just died, I fought him and won, though I was horribly confused as to why I won.

I figured out later on that it was less about asserting my dominance as much as it was the social judgement that my anger was justified and giving into it met with crowd approval.

Violence confuses me less now than it used to. It's not so much that I've developed an intellectual framework to understand it. There is no rational explanation for violence. But I understand that violence is as much a part of the human experience as love, and as powerful a motivator and action.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately because of an argument I see coming up over and over again in
social media threads. The argument is most often used by far right wing apologists and New Wave American Fascists. They claim that liberals and the left are truly the fascists because they really don't want to "coexist" with people who want to silence social justice groups, terrorize the LGBTQ and Black Communities , make "blood and soil" arguments about culturally and ethnically cleansing the United States, and hold parades to celebrate Adolf Hitler's birthday. They make this argument because of a simplistic and generalized view of the left. Nearly everyone on the right -  whether they are moderate republicans, Tea Party hold outs, alt-right Nazis, or GOP party base one percenters - is buying into the alt-right (AKA New Wave American Fascist) rhetoric that everyone on the left is 1) a liberal; 2) a Democrat, and 3) a "snowflake."

This reductionism -- which many rank and file liberals and far left radicals are also guilty of when referring to opposing culture war factions -- is less a sign of a failing political and educational system as it is a well-thought-out strategy to keep opposing sides from having any meaningful conversation. It's an old strategy. It's also a really effective one that has been used time and time again by every and all political parties to maintain their base supports in the face of cultural and social change.

The basic problem with the New Wave using "coexist" and "tolerance" arguments is that when they make the argument, they are ignoring the fact that they feel their violence is justified while any potential or actual violence on the part of others in unjustified. They act as if theirs is a rational framework in which violence is a legitimate answer. There are folks on the far left who have made this determination, too.

But then, violence has a special kind of vernacular. Nearly anyone can embrace it, which only goes to prove that no one ever fights a war believing they're wrong.

I'm not saying there aren't times when violence is inevitable. Actually, I think it's naive to assume we can simply stop being a violent society by rejecting self-defense. Personally, I've found that seeking peace sometimes means confronting violence. Sometimes confronting violence means rejecting it. Sometimes it means answering with violence. Each approach will have consequences. I think part of the problem is that, in a culture built on a false dichotomy of ideas (either/or) we are supposed to choice either pacifism or violence. If people were less complicated monkeys, that might even work. 

It's possible to desire and work for peace while refusing to tolerate or coexist with evil -- which what the New Wave of American Fascism, with all of it's masks (like the TWP, the American Vanguard, alt-right apologists, and Trump supporters in denial) represent. The first mark of any failed political argument inevitably involves some flaccid misunderstanding about the difference between being peaceful and being a doormat for someone who wants to abuse you and your generous spirit by whining about "coexistence." Not only is it possible to desire and work for peace without tolerating evil, it is absolutely mandatory. Like violence, peace does not simply create itself. Like violence, peace requires time, energy, and determination. 

The key difference is that peace requires a longer view and more attention. 

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