Final Speech

Posted: 21 June 2018 in Uncategorized

Here is the final speech I gave as Mayor of Davis.  I gave it in French to the Board of Directors of Limagrain, a French seed cooperative with a local subsidiary named HM Clause.  I include the English and French versions here.

Think globally act locally. Perhaps in our days this aphorism, largely adopted by the environmental movement, has been so overused that it has lost all meaning. Penser globalement agir localement. Peut-être que de nos jours cet aphorisme, largement adopté par le mouvement environnemental, a été tellement surutilisé qu’il a perdu tout son sens.
Despite this, I would like to consider it today and, perhaps, rediscover the meaning the person who originally developed it had in mind about it. It is generally agreed that the person who coined this phrase was Jacques Ellul a French jurist, environmental activist, and theologian who wrote volumes on what he referred to as the problem of technique in our world. Malgré cela, je voudrais le considérer aujourd’hui et, peut-être, redécouvrir le sens que la personne qui l’a développé à l’origine avait en tête à ce sujet. La plupart des commentateurs seraient d’accord que la personne qui a inventé cette phrase était Jacques Ellul, un juriste français, activiste environnemental, et théologien qui a écrit des volumes sur ce qu’il a appelé le problème de la technique dans notre monde.
Ellul argued that society’s challenges can seem insurmountable because they occur within complex systems and that the only way to really face them was to seek locally adapted solutions to them.  He critiqued attempts to find global solutions for two broad reasons. Ellul a fait valoir que les défis de la société peuvent sembler insurmontables parce qu’ils se produisent dans des systèmes complexes et que la seule façon de vraiment y faire face était de chercher des solutions adaptées localement. Il a critiqué les tentatives de trouver des solutions globales pour deux grandes raisons.
First, he doubted that it is possible to solve problems of a global nature at a global level given the complexity of the systems that give rise to them.  And he believed that any attempt to do so could only lead to an over reliance on technique, which he defined as the attempt to find the one best way to solve each problem in a very narrow way. Premièrement, il doutait qu’il soit possible de résoudre des problèmes d’ordre mondial à l’échelle mondiale, compte tenu de la complexité des systèmes qui les engendrent. Et il pensait que toute tentative en ce sens ne pouvait conduire qu’à un recours excessif à la technique, qu’il définissait comme la tentative de trouver la meilleure façon de résoudre chaque problème d’une manière très étroite. Ce qu’il appelait « the one best way »
Second, he believed that reliance on technique leads to a focus not on the ultimate ends of the human endeavor but rather to an increasing focus on the means to accomplishing the ends. He stated the following in one of his earliest writing on the subject: Deuxièmement, il croyait que le déploiement de la technique conduit à ne pas se concentrer sur les fins ultimes de l’activité humaine, mais plutôt à mettre davantage l’accent sur les moyens d’atteindre les objectifs (mal-définis). Il a déclaré ce qui suit dans l’une de ses premières publications sur le sujet:
The first enormous fact of our civilization is that today everything has become means, there are no longer any ends.  We don’t know towards what we are walking.  We have forgotten our collective goals, we possess enormous means, and we put into action prodigous machines to go nowhere. Le premier fait énorme de notre civilisation, c’est qu’aujourd’hui tout est devenu moyen. Il n’y a plus de fin. Nous ne savons plus vers quoi nous marchons. Nous avons oublié nos buts collectifs, nous disposons d’énormes moyens, et nous mettons en marche de prodigieuses machines pour n’arriver nulle part.
Keep in mind that Ellul was writing in the immediate post-World War II world. The time when he and other writers such as Albert Schweizer and Ivan Illich lived had seen the incredible technical accomplishments such as the splitting of the atom turned to the end of destroying tens of thousands of innocent lives.  They were horrified by the deployment of these prodigious means without reference to the ultimate ends to which they should be deployed. Gardez à l’esprit que Ellul écrivait dans le monde immédiat après la Seconde Guerre mondiale. L’époque où lui et d’autres écrivains comme Albert Schweizer et Ivan Illich vivaient avaient vu les incroyables accomplissements techniques tels que la division de l’atome se transformer en la destruction de dizaines de milliers de vies innocentes. Ils ont été horrifiés par le déploiement de ces moyens prodigieux sans référence aux fins ultimes auxquelles ils devraient être déployés.
Ellul understood that our challenges are global and systemic, and so thinking globally was absolutely critical to understanding them.  But he very much doubted the efficacy of global solutions, ergo, act locally. Ellul a compris que nos défis sont globaux et systémiques, et donc penser globalement était absolument essentiel pour les comprendre. Mais il doutait beaucoup de l’efficacité des solutions globales, ergo, agir localement.
Today, I would like us to consider together “think globally, act locally” in relation to food. Aujourd’hui, j’aimerais que nous considérions ensemble «penser globalement, agir localement» par rapport à la nourriture.
What is the end we seek in relation to food; the goal, if you will, of our food systems? Quelle est la fin que nous recherchons par rapport à la nourriture ; l’objectif, si vous voulez, de nos systèmes alimentaires?
Is the end merely greater global food output?  Increased yields per hectare?  Greater efficiency of land and water use?  The widespread deployment of sustainable farming practices? The availability of robust and resilient seed varieties? La fin est-elle simplement une plus grande production alimentaire mondiale? Augmentation des rendements par hectare? Une plus grande efficacité de l’utilisation des terres et de l’eau? Le déploiement généralisé de pratiques agricoles durables? La disponibilité de variétés de semences robustes et résilientes?
Or is the end something more? Are these important things that I just named ends, or the means to something else? Ou est la fin quelque chose de plus? Est-ce que ce sont des choses importantes que je viens de nommer les fins, ou les moyens d’autre chose?
It is in considering the true ends of our food systems, I believe, that we begin to realize how critical it is to act locally. C’est en considérant les véritables fins de nos systèmes alimentaires, je crois, que nous commençons à réaliser à quel point il est essentiel d’agir localement.
For me the end we seek in relation to food are not merely greater output or increased yields but rather food security for human beings; our neighbors who live in our neighborhoods, in our cities and in our bioregions. Pour moi, la fin que nous recherchons par rapport à la nourriture n’est pas simplement une production plus importante ou des rendements accrus, mais plutôt la sécurité alimentaire pour les êtres humains; nos voisins qui vivent dans nos quartiers, dans nos villes et dans nos bio régions.
But we need to think globally about food security. We need to understand that food security is a complex matter that has as much to do with our nearly complete integration into global food markets as it does with our ability to grow food locally.  This is how we think globally about food and food security. Bien sûr, nous devons penser globalement à la sécurité alimentaire. Nous devons comprendre que la sécurité alimentaire est une question complexe qui a autant à voir avec notre intégration presque complète dans les marchés alimentaires mondiaux qu’avec notre capacité à produire de la nourriture localement. C’est ainsi que nous pensons globalement et à la nourriture et à la sécurité alimentaire.
Despite our integration into the global food system, I believe if we are to overcome the problems of food insecurity we must act locally.  Act locally, vis-à-vis any problem. Ellul never suggested it is a panacea, that it is straightforward to accomplish, that it is without risks. Malgré notre intégration dans le système alimentaire mondial, je crois que si nous voulons surmonter les problèmes d’insécurité alimentaire, nous devons agir localement. Agir localement, vis-à-vis n’importe quel problème. Ellul n’a jamais suggéré que c’est une panacée, que c’est simple à réaliser, que c’est sans risque.
Parenthetically, now that I arrive at the end of my mandate, I have come to understand just how much local government is, in fact, an exercise in decision making within severe constraints. Those constraints come from the reality that our local economy is inserted into a global economy. They come from the fact that many of the things that were required to do within our local jurisdictions are dictated to us by state and federal government. The constraints are fiscal and political, as well as environmental and social. Entre parenthèses, maintenant que j’arrive à la fin de mon mandat, j’en suis venu à comprendre à quel point le gouvernement local est, en fait, un exercice de prise de décision soumis à de sévères contraintes. Ces contraintes viennent de la réalité non seulement que notre économie locale est insérée dans une économie mondiale. Ils viennent aussi du fait que beaucoup de choses que nous devions faire dans nos juridictions locales nous sont dictées par l’État et le gouvernement fédéral. Les contraintes sont fiscales et politiques, environnementales et sociales.
Indeed, I often think of local action as working within the interstices of the possible. En effet, je pense souvent à l’action locale comme travaillant dans les interstices du possible.
Homelessness here in our city is a good example of this.  We have several hundred homeless people at any time living in and around our city. The causes of homelessness are extremely complex as we know. They have much to do with untreated mental health problems, substance abuse, and our inability to provide for physical spaces for people to live. All of these things are the result of many very rational and well-considered decisions that have been made over many years.Homelessness cannot be solved at the national level but here in Davis we have had and continue to have some important success because we confront it locally with a very relational approach to those living in the streets.  Our successes depend on us understanding the complexity (the global) but acting in the context of individual encampments around our city (the local). Le problème des sans abri ici dans notre ville en est un bon exemple. Nous avons plusieurs centaines de sans-abri qui vivent à l’intérieur et autour de notre ville. Les causes de cette réalité sont extrêmement complexes comme nous le savons. Ils ont beaucoup à voir avec les problèmes de santé mentale non traités, la toxicomanie, et notre incapacité à fournir des espaces physiques pour les gens à vivre. Toutes ces choses sont le résultat de nombreuses décisions très rationnelles et réfléchies qui ont été prises au cours de nombreuses années. Le sans-abrisme ne peut être résolu au niveau national mais ici, à Davis, nous avons eu et continuons à avoir un succès important parce que nous le confrontons localement avec une approche très relationnelle à ceux qui vivent dans la rue. Nos succès dépendent de notre compréhension de la complexité (le global) mais en agissant dans le contexte des campements individuels autour de notre ville (le local).
And so, in like manner I would argue that achieving food security requires local action.

The food system that is evolved in the United States over the past 50 years is a perfect example of the confusion of means versus ends. We have, arguably, created one of the most prodigious food producing machines that the world has ever known here in United States but in doing so we’ve created a brittle food system that over produces basic commodities and under produces a varied macro- and micronutrient rich diet for people. The results of these prodigious means are over processed food-like products (which are not really food at all), the consumption of empty calories, the overconsumption of refined sugars that lead to obesity, the precursors of diabetes, and general poor health.

Et ainsi, de la même manière, je dirais que la réalisation de la sécurité alimentaire nécessite une action locale.

Le système alimentaire qui a évolué aux États-Unis au cours des 50 dernières années est un parfait exemple de la confusion entre les moyens et les fins. Nous avons, sans doute, créé l’une des machines produisant des aliments les plus prodigieuses que le monde ait jamais connues ici aux États-Unis, mais nous avons créé un système alimentaire fragile qui surproduit des produits de base et qui sousproduit des macro et micronutriments variés qui donnes une régime riche pour les gens. Les résultats de ces moyens prodigieux sont des produits transformés semblables à des aliments (qui sont pas du tout de la nourriture), la consommation de calories « vides », la surconsommation de sucres raffinés qui mènent à l’obésité, aux précurseurs du diabète et à une mauvaise santé en général.

And despite the “success” of our system to produce more and more, we have not solved the problem of food insecurity in our nation, or even in our local region—one of the most productive agricultural regions on the planet. This is because our food system is focused on means and not ends

This is because our food system is focused on means and not ends

Et malgré le «succès» de notre système à produire de plus en plus, nous n’avons pas résolu le problème de l’insécurité alimentaire dans notre pays, ou même dans notre région locale, l’une des régions agricoles les plus productives de la planète.

 

C’est parce que notre système alimentaire est axé sur les moyens et non sur les fins

Fully 22% of children in this county live in households that are food insecure. From this reality, we have come to understand that food security is not merely a function of food availability. We see also that food security is a function of accessibility. Can people access sufficient quantities of quality food? And of course, food security is also a function of the body’s ability to utilize the nutrients people take in. The general poor health of members of our community impedes the uptake of nutrition within their gut. Au total, 22% des enfants de ce comté vivent dans des ménages en insécurité alimentaire. De cette réalité, nous avons fini par comprendre que la sécurité alimentaire n’est pas simplement fonction de la disponibilité de la nourriture. Nous voyons aussi que la sécurité alimentaire est une fonction de l‘accessibilité. Les gens peuvent-ils avoir accès à des quantités suffisantes de nourriture de qualité? Et bien sûr, la sécurité alimentaire dépend également de la capacité du corps à utiliser les nutriments que les gens absorbent. La mauvaise santé générale des membres de notre communauté empêche l’absorption de la nutrition dans leur intestin.
My point in all of this is to acknowledge that our food system does achieve certain means—notably the production of large quantities of food. But it does NOT produce the end of food security. Tout ce que je veux dire, c’est reconnaître que notre système alimentaire atteint certains objectifs, notamment la production de grandes quantités de nourriture. Mais cela ne produit PAS la fin de la sécurité alimentaire.
Well, at this point you might reasonably ask: What does all of this have to do with us today? To answer that I will return to a concept I developed when I had the privilege of inaugurating this site back in 2015.  At that time I used the image of a chain that links all actors in the food system to solve the problem of food insecurity. Eh bien, à ce stade, vous pourriez raisonnablement demander: Qu’est-ce que tout cela a à voir avec nous aujourd’hui? Pour y répondre, je reviendrai sur un concept que j’ai développé lorsque j’ai eu le privilège d’inaugurer ce site en 2015. A cette époque, j’ai utilisé l’image d’une chaîne qui relie tous les acteurs du système alimentaire pour résoudre le problème de l’insécurité alimentaire.
I like the concept of the chain because it shows a sense of temporal, geographical, and social connectedness. This chain has, as its end, the creation of food security.

 

So perhaps it begins at one end with fundamental scientific research into things like how enzymes can be used to increase yield, or to protect seeds, or to enhance certain characteristics of seeds to make them robust (research that is now carried out by several firms here in Davis). The chain continues to those who work within field testing to ensure the quality of the seed product. Other parts of the chain include production of food, harvesting techniques, food processing that preserves, nutrition education, cooking classes and others perhaps at the other end of the chain are those like my friend Michael Bisch who works for the local food bank distributing excess food to those in greatest need with the fewest economic resources.

J’aime le concept de la chaîne parce qu’il montre un sens de la connexité temporelle, géographique et sociale. Cette chaîne a, comme fin, la création de la sécurité alimentaire.

 

Alors peut-être commence-t-il par une recherche scientifique fondamentale sur des choses comme la façon dont les enzymes peuvent être utilisées pour augmenter le rendement ou protéger les graines, ou pour améliorer certaines caractéristiques des graines pour les rendre robustes (la recherche qui est maintenant effectuée par plusieurs entreprises ici à Davis). La chaîne continue à ceux qui travaillent dans le cadre d’essais sur le terrain pour assurer la qualité du produit de semences. Les autres parties de la chaîne comprennent la production de nourriture, les techniques de récolte, la préparation des aliments, l’éducation nutritionnelle, les cours de cuisine et d’autres à l’autre bout de la chaîne sont ceux comme mon ami Michael Bisch qui travaille pour la banque alimentaire locale qui distribue excès de nourriture à ceux qui en ont le plus besoins, vivants avec le moins de ressources économiques.

All of these together work as a chain linked from one end to the other from basic research to education to those that distribute food to the neediest in a way that enable us together to address the issue of food insecurity in our local situation. Tous ces éléments fonctionnent comme une chaîne reliée d’un bout à l’autre de la recherche fondamentale à l’éducation à ceux qui distribuent la nourriture aux plus nécessiteux de manière à nous permettre ensemble de résoudre le problème de l’insécurité alimentaire dans notre situation locale.
Limagrain, from what I can see models a commitment to this concept of the chain and in being a critical link in this chain in at least two clear ways. First of all in your very governance structure and the way you go about doing your business you bring different members of this chain—different links in the chain—together.  You combine researchers, with farmers, and those with business minds to try to create comprehensive solutions for your company that will enable you to produce high-quality products that can meet human needs for food. Limagrain, d’après ce que je peux voir, modèle un engagement envers ce concept de la chaîne et constitue un maillon critique dans cette chaîne d’au moins deux manières claires. Tout d’abord, dans votre structure de gouvernance et dans la manière dont vous menez vos activités, vous amenez différents membres de cette chaîne – différents liens dans la chaîne – ensemble. Vous combinez des chercheurs, des agriculteurs et des gens d’affaires pour essayer de créer des solutions complètes pour votre entreprise qui vous permettront de produire des produits de haute qualité pouvant répondre aux besoins alimentaires des humains.
But second you also demonstrate your commitment to our local food system and solving the problem of food insecurity locally by contributing excess food produced from your field trials to our local food bank that serves the poorest members of our community.  And in doing these things you demonstrate a deep commitment to dealing with the most vulnerable members of our local community. Mais ensuite, vous démontrez également votre engagement envers notre système alimentaire local et la résolution du problème de l’insécurité alimentaire au niveau local en fournissant de la nourriture produite à partir de vos essais sur le terrain à notre banque alimentaire locale qui dessert les membres les plus pauvres de notre communauté.
Yours is a company that is privileged to see and operate at the global while remaining linked to local action in many ways.  You understand not only how to increase yield sand productivity but you also enable our local community to solve our local food insecurity problems. Votre entreprise est privilégiée de voir et de fonctionner à l’échelle mondiale tout en restant liée à l’action locale de plusieurs façons. Vous comprenez non seulement comment augmenter le rendement et la productivité mais aussi vous participez avec notre communauté locale pour résoudre nos problèmes d’insécurité alimentaire locale.
We are honored to have you thinking globally but acting locally, with us, in our local food system. Nous sommes honorés que vous pensiez globalement mais agissiez localement, avec nous, dans notre système alimentaire local
We are honored that you have come here to be part of a local conversation on what it means to create food security. Nous sommes honorés que vous soyez venus ici pour participer à une conversation locale sur ce que signifie créer la sécurité alimentaire.
And we are honored that you’ve chosen our town to bring your workers, your expertise, and your generosity to help solve the problem of food insecurity. Et nous sommes honorés que vous ayez choisi notre ville pour apporter vos travailleurs, votre expertise et votre générosité pour aider à résoudre le problème de l’insécurité alimentaire
I am thankful that we are working to think globally but to act locally together. Je suis reconnaissant que nous travaillions à penser globalement mais à agir localement ensemble.
Thank you very much, and welcome to Davis. Merci beaucoup, et bienvenue à Davis.
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Flo (a mother)

Posted: 13 May 2018 in Uncategorized

She stands by the sink creating or cleaning up after a creation

(usually sweet, always lovingly made)

A useless arm

(crippled by something we never understood–most people never knew)

Later, she speaks of unspeakable abuse

At the end, her mind struggles to understand

How the man before her is the baby she just bore (as she now remembers it)

 

She stands by the sink

Describing how privilege works without that word

How the rich screw the rest (without THAT word)

How nothing is given, everything must be fought for

When you are poor

When you are trash

 

She stands by the sink

Listening to the stories of the hobo

(Yes, that is what we called them)

The single mom, the divorcee, the one shredded by mental illness, the abandoned child…

The “other” (the otherized). And she just listens

 

She stands by the sink

Washing dishes.  And my daughter watches

The grandma who washes dishes

And who cries over a soul lost

 

She stands by the sink

Head spinning in prayer to an angry God

Who saved her man (and whom she can never abandon (despite the anger) because of that)

 

She stands by the sink

Steam creating that halo for a woman too good for a broken world.

 

She stands by the sink.

 

(I miss you mom)

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you have read or listened to me speak over the past 3-plus years, you know that a significant influence in my life is the French sociologist and jurist Jacques Ellul.  Ellul, who died in the 1980s was a prolific writer best known for his writing on technique, propaganda, money, and ethics. He was a Marxist Christian who embraced the contradictions between the two, believing that dialectic tension should not lead to “synthesis” but should remain as what it is: a tension. But that tension could and should form our approach to the world because it recognizes the complexity of the world and our approaches to dealing with it.*89-79-PB

In Ellul’s writing on technique, he frequently dealt with the tension that technique was both a normal part of human advancement as well as a power that had enslaved humanity in a pernicious search for “the one best way,” or the most efficient means to achieve something.  The problem, for Ellul, is that humanity’s quest for the one best way left us enamored with means but bereft of a clear sense of where we are headed (the ends).

He spoke of our deployment of prodigious means which enable us to hurtle full speed towards… nowhere.

An Uncomfortable Dialectic

I have returned to Ellul over and over in these times and pondered his thought and what it means for the problem of homelessness in our community.  First, I know any discussion of homelessness is replete with contradictory statements–I make them myself.  I will say that homelessness is not just about finding housing for people, even while I work to provide housing. I will say we must provide a “housing first” solution for people, even as I know many will not avail themselves of that housing. I will state we must solve the challenge of homelessness even as I acknowledge that we cannot end it.

These real tensions send a message to those with whom I speak that I really don’t have a clue about what is going on, that I lack a way forward, or that the problem is simply too big for a City the size of ours to deal with. At the limit, some view my statements on the challenges of and plans for dealing with homelessness as contradictory, inconsistent and even dishonest.

But, like Ellul, I have moved towards the conviction that these tensions cannot be resolved.  There is no synthesis to be found.  We must live with the contradictions and seek a way through them to change our current reality.

I understand these contradictions/tensions to be a function not only of the complexity of the problem itself but because the word “homeless” \does not lend itself to a consistent definition or description.  The tensions around homelessness exist because we have chosen to define a syndrome as a simple and simplistic identifiable outcome–people living without permanent shelter, a fixed address, or a known place to raise their heads.

The tension abounds because this “thing” is actually many things at once and so one can say almost anything about homelessness and it is probably true in at least one case.

But drawing on Ellul, I am choosing to remain within the tensions to better, more honestly, deal with the complexity, the multiple causes, the difficult results, the uncertain outcomes of our efforts to deal with it.

The “Ends” of our Efforts Related to Homelessness

Over the past few months–as discussions of programs to deal with the challenges of homelessness have spiked in our community, due to a proposal to use taxation as a means to fund services–I have heard many “proposals” about what the ends of our efforts should be.

These have run the gamut from providing “tiny homes” for all homeless people to doing what is necessary to make Davis inhospitable for anyone who is homeless.  The latter set of “recommendations” has been extremely troubling for me, both because dozens have written to me (often in anger) to suggest it, but also because it so profoundly dehumanizes the people who find themselves in this situation.

Letters in this vein often begin or end with some variation on “I am a tax paying citizen, why do you care more about someone who does not pay taxes (not demonstrably true), than you care about me.”  These letters go on to demand that I “take action” against these people but almost always include the caveat “don’t expect me to pay for it.”

To be honest, I am writing this piece today to deal with the grief I am feeling right now about all these emails and discussions.  I have gone through several stages of grief–including a persistent anger–but can’t understand what direction I am being given.  I have referred to this call as a call to “social cleansing” and I will stick with that for now because what I hear and perceive is a call to “move them along,” “get rid of them,” or “make them leave.”

But these statements have forced me to re-examine the “ends” I am trying to achieve in all the efforts I am supporting to deal with the problem. And while it may be far too vague for programmatic purposes, I have settled on the following as the “ends” statement of what I am trying to accomplish. I believe that the end

I believe that the ends of our efforts should be to “provide a homecoming” for those who are on the streets.  Providing a homecoming implies a “welcome back,” a “reintegration,” a “return.”  More than anything (and I want to be careful not to dehumanize the many people who find themselves in this condition) I see homelessness as a form of alienation: alienation from society, from healthy relationships, and ultimately (I fear) from oneself.

I am not going to say, as many suggest, that this alienation is a choice; or perhaps more accurately the inevitable outcome of a series of choices.  To me, the evidence is clear that “choice” has very little to do with it and maybe never did.  But even if there was a choice in there at some point, today, in the moment, we see folks who are adrift, dis-integrated, on the margins.  Though they are in our midst they are the “other” in a way that causes fear.  Though we see them, we do not–indeed, cannot–look at them.  Though we know they are without a home we do not want to imagine the places in which they lay their heads.

And what I am saying is that our goal should be to bring them home.

Now I realize that this can sound paternalistic or condescending and please forgive me if it does, but what I am trying to convey is that we need to reel them in, to send out a message, to find a way to communicate that we want them not just among us, but with us; not just present, but included; not just housed, but home.

What this homecoming will look like varies by the case, but it will certainly mean a return to mental and physical health, a roof, a job if that is possible, meaningful and healthy relationships (even if not with kin), and a sense of peace about where one will go the next day to take care of life’s basic needs.

The Means by Which we Will Achieve these Ends

Though I never knew him, I hope that Ellul would be happy to see an elected official (he himself held local office for a time), focusing on ends. I realize these ends are not fully articulated but if we can grasp the concept of the need for homecoming then we will have taken an important step on the long path towards constructively dealing with homelessness.

But what of our means.  Well, the foregoing should point the way to the kinds of programs, approaches, processes that will probably be necessary: mental health and addiction treatment, housing, job training, and supportive services.

But I would like to focus on what I believe to be the means that will make all these other means actually work.

I believe that the means by which we must approach this challenge is best defined as “pursuit.”  We must doggedly pursue the people whom we wish to welcome home.

Again, I write the foregoing with a bit of trepidation.  I am never certain how my words will be taken and so I need to hear how you hear this–I do not wish to offend.

What I mean by “pursuit” is that we must not give up in our attempt to welcome people home.  We must not grow weary because of the failures, the flameouts, the inevitable disappointments.  We must be determined to continue.

But pursuit has another sense: we must commit to the relational.  We must never see homelessness as a “technical” problem to be solved, a condition that lends itself to “dose/response” type input, or left to a cadre of professionals who deliver programs.  No, we must pursue loving and longstanding relationships as simple folks with the simple commitment to “press on.”

I realize that not everyone is gifted to be a “pursuer.”  I know that others must stand alongside or stand aside as the pursuit continues.  That’s okay.

But for those who are gifted (and I suspect you know who you are); for those who were made, or who have grown to do this work, we must be relentless in our pursuit of the relationships that result in the homecoming of these, our brothers and sisters without homes.

Happy MLK remembrance day.

*See Garrison, Kevin “Jacques Ellul’s Dialectical Theology: Embracing Contradictions about the Kingdom in the New Testament.” in The Ellul Forum.  Issue 60, Fall 2017.

Some thoughts on the topic that cannot leave my mind at the end of 2017.

Less than a week ago the Sacramento Bee ran an article about my push for a $50 per year parcel tax in Davis, to raise money for services for homeless individuals in Davis.  We already have a program in place that has moved 7 homeless individuals into permanent housing over the past year.  It has also provided jobs for 6 previously unemployed homeless individuals.  Will there be some who drop out?  Yes, there will.

But the results are clear, and in a city of our size, they are considerable.

The only problem is that the resources we are using to support local non-profits to run these programs is a short-term (3-year) grant and if we are to continue it we will need a longer-term revenue stream.

But… based on the emails I am receiving, the posts on a local newsblog, and some postings on my own Facebook site, it is clear that $50 dollars is simply too much for local property owners to pay for these vital services.

Some thoughts, quotes, observations.

The median closing price on a Davis, CA home is $615,000.

One (apparently respected) business leader in the community has written that “Davis needs to determine how many homeless people it can serve and get rid of the rest…”

I am, according to what people have written, taking other people’s money to deal with a problem that is not theirs.  This shows that I am merely a “tax and spend” politician who penalizes “makers” at the expense of “takers.”  (Ayn Rand lives in the hearts of far too many Davisites is my take home message on this one).  Apparently, people should be able to decide whether or not they want to contribute to this problem but no one should have the temerity to require them to do so (did I mention that the proposed tax is $50 per year and that the median home closing cost is $615,000?). One CA columnist held out Houston’s mayor as an example of creative problem solving without taxation and then blithely added that Beyonce gave a cool $7 million to efforts to end homelessness there.  Hey, I will take that, and if Beyonce gives that amount I will bank it and run a full program on the interest…

One resident wrote that we must make Davis so inhospitable to homeless people that they leave.  Another suggested that if we spend money on the problem that another 100 or 1000 homeless people will flood our community.  Another said we cannot “solve” homelessness and so he will actively campaign against a tax.

(Note: In the annals of human history only one significant public health problem has ever been “solved.”  That would be smallpox.  All the others, from measles to malaria, are still with us (polio may be on its last legs but don’t bet on it).  So… the fact that we can’t “solve” them implies we should not spend money dealing with them?  I am just trying to understand the logic here.  Tell that to the hundreds of thousands of African children who are no longer dying of malaria since we decided to spend money on it.  And make no mistake, homelessness is first and foremost a public health problem.  It is not about moral turpitude or “bad decisions.”  Two hundred years ago cholera could not be solved but then safer water systems were put into place…)

Another local “leader” suggested that we need to (essentially) intern the “occupying army” (his words) of homeless people in camps on the City’s edge and make them work cleaning up the City.  (I am NOT going to comment on the implications of this)

Someone wrote to tell me that this is not “our” problem but that the state needs to step up.

Another said that this is a problem that requires a federal response (good luck with that).

Someone called homeless people “the animals that get into our trash cans.”

Davis went 75% for Dems in the last election.

Look, I get it.  Your lives are hard.  You are overtaxed and underappreciated.  You worked for yours and others should not suck off your teat.  Right?

Except… no…

  • Let’s talk about childhood trauma
  • Let’s talk about drug companies that facilitate the slide into opiate addiction
  • Let’s talk about the cheapness of meth (oh my god it is so cheap… cheaper than a movie for two and dinner and that will get you a week’s supply).
  • Let’s talk about felony convictions–the scarlet letter of our age.
  • Let’s talk about our collective decision to underfund mental health services for a generation and then we can discuss chickens coming home to roost.

So, here we are.  Lost souls living on the edges, in ditches, under bridges…  Do we really believe that this is “lifestyle choice” or the result of “bad decisions”?

Maybe…

But standing at the end of 2017 I must say that I would have thought that we would be far more enlightened at this point in time.  Instead, we have retreated into the gospel of personal peace and security where our savior is our sacred right to consume without guilt, live without social responsibility, and blame our social ills on the bad choices of a coddled population.

All the while, on the edge of your town a human being is reaching the end of a long road that was not at all like the road you had the privilege to walk.

Weddings as Reconciling Events

Posted: 1 October 2017 in Uncategorized

There are several issues in this particular mix:

  • A brittle, if not already shattered, social landscape
  • A somewhat “old-fashioned,” even passe, rite
  • A resurgent nativism–politicized beyond imagination
  • A couple captured by an unlikely love
  • Three innocents who melt hearts and bring smiles to even cynical faces

I had no idea what the marriage ceremony would be like.  I attend so few of these (at my age).  I had a sense that my very creative and thoughtful daughter would put together a simple, yet meaningful and thoughtful ceremony.  And I was not disappointed on that score.

But it was more than thoughtful, more than meaningful.  It pointed a way forward out of the brokenness of our times and gave me hope.  For, despite some of the issues named above, and, perhaps because of some others, the event turned into a time of true wonder at what might be if we can stop taking positions and merely agree to be human with each other.

In the simple, even spare, space of the East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church, a group of people, so diverse, so different, so differing, so unlikely, met to celebrate the marriage of a young white woman and the undocumented father of her three children.

The diversity was political, social, ethnic, racial, sexual orientation, theological, age… This was, quite frankly, lion and lamb stuff.

People who would agree on very little; people who would not normally break bread (or tacos in this case), with the other folk present sat side by side smiling, singing, reflecting, eating (and later drinking and dancing) together.

Aware of the differences I could only sit and marvel at how this event–this traditional, age-old ritual–could act as a catalyst to unity.  For there was unity present.  At the end of it all we joined voices in affirming our commitment to this improbable couple.  We found our agreement in the simplicity of a promise to support them in any way we could.

Let’s pause on that point for a moment: we, in all our diversity, all our latent disagreement, all our commitment to excluding the “other;”  we found a way through the morass of that which divides us and AGREED to give ourselves to this couple in order that they might succeed.

This gives me hope…

There is a post-script to this happy event and it is the place of three children in making it all possible.  Because, at the end of the day our differences remain.  We can easily enough retreat to our positions and our commitment to mutual destruction (at least of ideas), rather than back down and continue to humanize the other.  But what we cannot do is ignore these children born of the implausible partnership.  Because while the commitment to the couple could be perfunctory and somewhat pro forma, our exultation in the simple goodness of these children could really know no limits.

They were the reminder that difference can and does yield a beautiful outcome.  In their innocence, they took us to a place where our anger and narrow commitment to “principle” could only seem petulant and small.  They reminded us of the depths our love can attain when we are committed to protecting and caring for the powerless in our world.  It was the children who helped create the space for the enlargement of our hearts and the melting away of all our fears.

20. The Why of it All

Posted: 25 September 2017 in Uncategorized

Twenty days ago, I launched this process, mostly to create a bit more discipline in my life, but also because I had some things that had been lurking in my mind that I thought I should get on paper. Some of that you have seen here if you have read any of the 20/20. Other ideas found me in the course of the days and helped me discover a few things that I needed to give some more thought to. 

Perhaps the most surprising thing to me during these 20 days is how often I have been thinking about my mom. I have mentioned her, I think, in only three of these postings but she has been with me for the last 20 days and, of course, a lot longer.

Is that the why of it?

Did I need to remember my mom—gone these 12 years? Did I need some time to remember her in light of everything I am experiencing today?

(On the train last night we had dinner, as one always does on the train, community style. The woman across from me was in her 80s [heard her say that], and she was clearly forgetting a great many things in these days. She could not remember what a baked potato was, and she confused sour cream with coffee cream. Her husband shepherded her through the meal but her look told me everything I needed to know—she was losing grasp of the near past [most likely Alzheimer’s]. She looked at my shirt with the City of Davis logo and said, “Nice town—but I know I already told you that.” No, she hadn’t. But that is just what people do when they know, THEY KNOW, that the near past is slipping from memory [the distant past, especially the emotive parts, are much more concrete than what happened five minutes ago]. I know this because that is what happened to my mom. Alzheimer’s stole her mind furtively over 10 years and when I last saw her, sitting at the end of her bed in a nursing home from which she would never exit alive; and I told her “I am your son;” and she looked at me and said, with no irony at all “you can’t be my son, my son is just a baby, he was just born,” I realized how terribly sneaky that disease is.)

So, was this all—these 20 days—about my mom?

I am starting to think it was.

In nearly every reflection—especially the ones about brokenness and pain—I sought the face of my mother. I have always felt that the world needed more people like her: people with a winsome belief in the general goodness in people; people who assume the best; people who are willing to sacrifice what they want for the common good; people who desperately want peace to prevail; people who feel the pain of the hurt in others.

As I walk through these days and see the meanness and the anger, I feel naïve to continue to believe that good will prevail.

I always felt my mom was naïve.

She was not highly educated (though she was perceptive and smart in a way that people who have not lived through the Great Depression, an alcoholic father, and a sexually abusive great uncle cannot be), and she could be perceived as someone who could be taken advantage of—and she probably was. I feel the same way. In these days, I feel I am out of my depth, missing something essential, and being “taken for a ride” by people who are much cleverer and savvier than me.

Maybe that is why I am thinking of mom.

I guess what I am trying to say is I would rather be taken advantage of, duped, considered a bumpkin, laughed at as naïve, or taken advantage of by the cognizati, than fail to believe, as my mom did, in the potential for good to prevail. That is what drives me forward.

If someone who faced everything my mom did (see Great Depression, alcoholic father, and sexual abuse, above) could look on the world and proclaim peace and reconciliation, and healing and justice as inevitable (and she did), then who am I to complain about the transitory discomfort I feel from the tensions in my oh-so-privileged community.

Is this why I started 20/20? I am not sure. But it is where I end up after 20 days: wanting more of my mom, more of her love, more of her grace, more of her simple naiveté about the ordering of the world.

 

 

19. Notes from the Train

Posted: 25 September 2017 in Uncategorized