Photo credits, clockwise from upper left: Time Magazine, Wikipedia, CBC, The Boston Globe
by Michael McDermott
It’s Spring and we wonder what will grow
It’s spring, time to wonder about new growth and new opportunities. That’s still possible but it will take some doing. One crisis or event replaces the one before and yet they all simmer ready to go or have gone to full boil. War can begin to take attention from racist attacks and promotion of beliefs that we live in a country that was a white and wonderful frontier country won through just conquest. Liberty for all, not quite.
I grew up in a steel town, Lorain, Ohio. When I left for college almost 60 years ago, the plant, as we all knew it, had 18,000 union workers. Even before I left, there were signs of avoiding modernization there and doing such at factories being built in other countries. Now there are 330 or so workers maintaining some equipment. The town never recovered, and now the nearby area has Jim Jordan as a rabid divider in congress.
What happened in Lorain became the standard for the country and beyond. Industry didn’t just disappear along with those jobs, it was meticulously planned and some of our problems are a result. White racism was always there but conditions and politicians promoting hate and ignoring the cause became the norm. The color of the country changed and those often left behind blamed people of color and immigration became another dividing issue.
The ongoing war is truly a clash of empires and while the massive slaughter of people by the Russian military is to be righteously opposed, two empires are really clashing, it’s that simple and complex. Russia, or at least Putin, is resurrecting the kind of imperial expansion, a force operating for 1000 years, under Dukes, Tsars and commissars alike. Putin’s push to recover lands historically assimilated into Russia leads to conflict locally and with the other major empire, the United States and its supporters of Europe, they once of empires, mighty but now secondary. The US empire is built on an essence of colonization, originally colonizers from Britain, but soon including many of what then was seen as the other races of Europe along with the essential element of African slavery.
This means that the Russian war is to be exposed and opposed but at the same time seeing that the expansion of NATO contributes to the clash. Glorifying increasing the military only plays into the clash. All this and the fear of nuclear disaster make the days hazy to see the decay of the US at home.
It really is the rise of white supremacy and exactly in those words. Now white supremacy is linked to whatever issue can instill fear, division, and hate. This includes book burnings of lessons of race and slavery but also of those of gender differences and even seeing women as witches and burning those as well. White supremacy is truly driving voter suppression. Police violence and murders speak for themselves.
And, if war and white supremacy were not already demanding our bodies and our art, the earth is being wrecked. All of this is linked. Colonization demands war as peoples with less destructive lives and economies are replaced with colonizers who then tame what was seen as a wilderness and a savage land and develop a different civilized economy that only accelerated the harm to the earth. There is an urgent need for work that shows the civilization that came before and learning from the people is key to how we redefine society and live with the earth.
The earth can be a place of watching, feeling, and living destruction; but also a place for healing and comfort so sorely needed to build new community, provide inspiration and see new ways of building justice. Respect, relation and community can come from living closely to the earth in sustaining and healing ways.
Social justice work is needed with our bodies and minds. What are often separate areas can and should be brought together. Inequality is often ignored and yet it may be a driving force behind divisions. Violence in the cities is not often linked to living a life closer to the earth and yet they are connected. The efforts for social justice by art can speak to all these. Justice on the streets and on new forms of living close to the earth all need art and art that speaks to both. Environmental justice is an aspect of social justice but only one form, justice based on societal injustice, whether war or white supremacy, demands a specific response that is often different from what is seen as environmental justice. Even justice for all living things, human and nonhuman alike, is called for.
There is joy and beauty in the world, cities, suburbs, and countryside to inform, comfort, and bring us together. We need to highlight and experience these to give us strength and direction.
Art can speak to beauty and togetherness; to building communities; to seeing places of comfort and retreat; we need lots of this for our hearts and bodies in all their varieties. Art can speak to damage to the earth, to cities destroyed by missiles, to Black bodies murdered, to restrictions on voting, to attacks on transgender people and anyone different.
Some are calling for civil war and the triumph of white supremacy, we need to answer with art that speaks to the beauty as well as the threats. The days of burning books and marching with swastikas and those battle flags of the lost cause are upon us.
We need the beauty to bring us together to give strength and clarity to go against the ugliness. We need to find beauty and clarity and strength in the mission.
It is spring and we will see all month how we are doing this and how we see the future.
“Art is not a mirror held up to reality
but a hammer with which to shape it.”― Bertolt Brecht