Tuesday, June 28, 2016

#155 Escape

Dear all,
Two big worrisome unknowns have resolved this month, with very hopeful outcomes.  My director of nineteen years at work--and partner and friend--has retired, and I'm thrilled to be liking everything about the woman who is taking her place.  Then, the co-director of the urban farm whose board I lead resigned this spring, amidst a thicket of thorny problems, and the woman we were finally able to hire brings more promise than we had dared hope for.  Two big sighs of relief!  My summer schedule is also beginning to open up a little, and I'm enjoying cool early morning time in the garden or park.  Two great gifts.


Two narratives of escape were colliding in my brain.  I was reading an account of life in the conflict regions of East Africa, including harrowing stories from people who had escaped to the Kibera refugee camp in the Congo.  At the same time, many of my co-workers had taken advantage of a conference in Orlando to escape from the daily grind and go to Disney World.  They were worlds apart and totally different, of course. Or were they?

What do I know about escape?  As a woman, it’s been easy to notice how many men seem to use sports as an escape.  I’ve sometimes wondered if the energy and passion they put into being on top of the sports news is a safer alternative to being on top of the much more troubling news of the real world.

It was a humbling moment when I realized that I had my own gender-based escape in reading feel-good novels. Other women choose shopping, or immerse themselves in the pop culture, becoming experts in the lives of others.  With more gender neutral choices—many of them involving screens—the impetus is similar:  I want out of the real world and into a place where I have no responsibility and can be sure that nothing problematic will intrude.

Then there is escape that is less benign.  Many try escaping seemingly intractable problems—poverty, oppression, pain—through drugs or other damaging addictions.  Which brings us to the refugees in Kibera who are escaping for their lives.

Clearly it would have been better if the people in Kibera camp had not had to flee, if the perpetrators had not committed the initial atrocities, if they could have been stopped.  Indeed, some people in the camp were trying to escape from that they had done, and wondering how their lives could ever be whole again.  Similarly, it would be better if those who escape to dangerous addiction could find another way, if the resources could be found to deal with the pain or if their other needs could be met. In both situations there is immeasurable and tragic waste.

Yes, yes, you may say, but where do sports, fiction, shopping and Disney World fit into this grim picture?  By all appearances, they are totally different.  Our lives are not ruined as a result of such escapes.  On the contrary.  We have simply laid down the yoke of obligation and given ourselves a little break.

But what does a need to escape say about the lives we are living?  What are we escaping from?  Could it be related to some basic lack of connection or meaning?  Could it be something that is killing us?  I can’t help but wonder if we were more closely connected with those people in Kibera whether we would see our choices in a different light.

When is escape an expression of our power and life-affirming determination, as in escape from abuse or confinement into a future that is different and better?  And when is it the opposite—an expression of lack of power, a coping mechanism for endurance in a life-draining situation that we can see no way to change?

I wonder if we can make a clearer distinction between refreshment and escape.  Let’s be refreshed by all means.  Let’s take the vacations that invigorate us, rest deeply when we need rest, do what’s needed to get a new perspective when ours is getting stale.  But let’s question the pull to escape.  Let’s asks what we are escaping from, then try deciding to stay, to gather the resources to face down the dragons, and put our energy into looking for real meaning and joy in our lives and those of others around us.


Part of me
(the old part)
is sharp with impatience.
I could do this transaction
in a quarter of the time
a tenth.
There’s work to be done
I haven’t got all day.

The other(newer)part
would extend this moment
buying dry-root strawberries
(five kinds)
from the young man
at our new neighborhood nursery.

We chat.
He gardens across the river
volunteers at the same
urban farm I love
with the same black farmer.

I have visions of
young black men
from all over the city
finding this farmer
soaking up the lore
of earth and growing things,
reclaiming their roots.

We knit a connection
while he takes his time
sorting and packaging
strawberry roots.
Why would I ever
want it to end?

Imagine:  A new economy is possible!

Building a circular economy

Reverse logistics is the process of moving post consumption goods to their ultimate destination: remanufacturing, refurbishing, reusing or recycling.  Much of this involves incentivizing users to return them. Lush, a cosmetic company, exchanges empty cosmetics pots from its customers with new products; once collected, empty pots are recycled into new ones. Caterpillar links used engine cores to a deposit and discount system to maximize the capture of used components into their remanufacturing operations.

Heineken’s distribution company in France has installed equipment at its customer sites that crushes and stores up to 20 kg of glass. This equipment reduces the space required for empty bottles, lowers transportation costs, and minimizes health and safety risks. Because recovery of their products can be challenging, Apple and the telecom company O2, lease phones to their customers to ensure their return.

By closing the loop of product lifecycles, reverse logistics plays an important role to transitioning to a circular economy.  Products can also be designed from the start with resource recovery and recycling in mind, but that’s a different part of the story!


Some things that have made me hopeful recently

Diébédo Francis Kéré, an architect from Burkina Faso, who has created a beautiful naturally air-conditioned school in the village he grew up in, all with local materials and labor.

Hand in Hand, a group of schools in Israel where Jews and Arabs learn and grow together.

D.C.’s Retirement Board, that has divested its $6.4 billion city government pension fund from the 200 largest publicly traded coal, oil and gas companies.

350.org’s campaign in Vietnam to raise awareness about the devastating health effects of coal-fired power plants, leading to Vietnam’s Prime Minister halting new coal plant development and reviewing the country’s national power development plan.

More resources

Resource from my friend Daniel Hunter, Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow; An Organizing Guide.  http://www.danielhunter.org/books/building-movement-end-new-jim-crow-organizing-guide

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:

In http://www.classism.org/gifts-american-dream/, Pamela Haines locates her family's homey DIY celebrations on a class spectrum of different connections to upward mobility.



Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  https://www.trainingforchange.org/publications/muscle-building-peace-and-justice-nonviolent-workout-routine-21st-century (or just google the title)

faitheconomyecology.wordpress.com, a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives)

www.ourchildrenourselves.com, a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years.  NOTE THE NEW URL.

www.startguide.org. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to www.pamelascolumn.blogspot.com.  I'm currently posting at pamelalivinginthisworld.blogspot.com.


Pamela Haines

To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.