Welcome to Week 13 of Be the Change!

This week I discuss the overlapping crises we face and the danger of bringing a watering can to a five-alarm fire when it comes to tackling these crises. I also share a poem called Reichstag, which I wrote in February 2019 amidst the tumult of the Trump presidency but which, as the GOP tries to whitewash the 1/6 Insurrection, still feels relevant; and, in honor of the immigrant children who suffered separation and internment under the prior administration, a poem called The Machinery of the State, which I am proud to say was nominated for the 2019 Pushcart Prize in Poetry.

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Don't Bring a Watering Can to a Five-Alarm Fire

Don't Bring a Watering Can to a Five-Alarm Fire
Justice can only be achieved by the judicious application of power. Yet all around me I see emergencies--climate change, a Republican party rapidly descending into full-on authoritarianism, a shockingly unequal global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines--and good people failing to use their power to respond appropriately. Put another way, people who care about these issues are bringing watering cans to five-alarm fires.

The examples are myriad. Congress has been trying to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the Trump-inspired insurrection on January 6, 2021. After Democrats agreed to nearly all of the Republicans' demands, only 35 House Republicans voted in favor of the bill, and it seems likely that Senate Republicans will filibuster it. This Lucy-and-the-football dynamic happens over and over again: Democrats water down their proposals in the hopes of winning Republican votes, only to neither pass the legislation nor garner additional support.

Appeasement is a garbage strategy, as Churchill warned and Neville Chamberlain learned far too late. For instance, Obama became known as the Deporter-in-Chief because of the millions of immigrants he deported during his presidency. I believe the reason he did so was in the hope that it would give him a better bargaining position when negotiating immigration reform: See? I'm not one of those crazy left-wing open-borders Democrats! Look how many people I've deported! Of course, no immigration reform was passed: the Republicans never intended to support anything he did, and so the only result of his attempt was cruelty towards millions of human beings.

In the environmental realm, the more we learn about climate change and the fossil fuel industry's role in it, the more clear it becomes that a relatively small group of businesses and people--Exxonmobil, the Koch Brothers, etc.--are responsible for the planet being on the verge of a catastrophe. It is morally reprehensible to in any way support this industry, and yet so many elected officials, mostly on the Right but also on the Left, bend over backwards to coddle them. Financial institutions lend trillions of dollars to Big Oil; insurance companies insure their projects; and legislators renew implicit and explicit oil subsidies.

Back in the Obama era, the natural gas industry, which had just begun a boom driven in part by fracking--a horribly polluting practice--convinced most of Congress that natural gas was a bridge fuel, getting us from coal to clean energy. What they didn't mention was that, a) the climate crisis was such that we couldn't afford another decade of building fossil fuel infrastructure; b) renewable energy would soon be cheaper than natural gas; and c) natural gas isn't that clean. In fact, due to lax regulation and the industry not giving a shit, methane leaking from gas pipelines is a major contributor to climate change, because methane is a far more potent greenhouse.

Let's not forget that in 2008, Democrats held the House, Senate, and White House. They could have used their power to create a public option in health care, if not Medicare-for-All; pass a carbon tax; implement immigration reform; and more. But they didn't, and so we were left with the Affordable Care Act, which, while better than what was before, clearly wasn't enough--millions are still uninsured, costs haven't come down, and the insurance industry continues to rake in profits at the expense of families. We were also left with unchecked greenhouse gas emissions and a broken immigration system--one which a certain Donald Trump used as his primary rallying cry on the way to victory in 2016.

We find ourselves in a moment of great danger and opportunity. If we do not pass the For the People Act and the American Jobs Act, for instance, we may very well squander our last chance to save American Democracy and prevent runaway climate change. It is that simple and that serious. There is no doubt in my mind that if we do nothing and in 2024 a Democrat wins the election but Republicans control the House of Representatives, they will refuse to certify the election, triggering an unprecedented Constitutional crisis. The Supreme Court, stuffed with three despicable Trump appointees, is likely going to severely restrict a woman's right to choose. And emissions are just going to keep on rising.

As I always say, we know how to solve these problems. What we have to do, however, is to treat what's happening as a five-alarm fire and not some sort of minor disturbance. We are on the precipice of everything we hold dear disappearing beneath our feet or going up in flames. But if we act with urgency, and most importantly, demand that our elected representatives in Congress pass urgent legislation, there's no reason why the future can't be more prosperous and just than the present. It's simply a question of whether or not we are going to make full use of the power we have, while we have it.

To get more involved, I highly recommend check out Indivisible's campaigns here:


It does not matter who lit the flame
that burned the Reichstag down,
only that it burned and so few
considered what cremation means
to those who long for proper burial.

Were there citizens to witness
the arsonist at work?
Could they have his intentions doused?

No matter. The economy was bad
and it felt good to scream
“Reichstag! Reichstag! Reichstag!”

For days the embers lingered
like a bee in nectar drowned.
For days the ashes flowed
like the violent undertow of waves
of people marching the streets,
where it was a relief to chant
“Reichstag! Reichstag! Reichstag!”

Soon they would find employment
In factories for tanks, planes, bombs,
like so many ceramists shaping bleak urns
at minimum wage—

But it did not matter
because the economy was bad
and there was cruel solidarity in singing
“Reichstag!” long into the torchlit night.
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The Machinery of the State

A relentless South Texas wind poses impossible questions,
flaps the smirking flags until they are upturned,
mists the mown grass with evil's sputum,
ripples the lone unarmed security guard's shirt
as he waves concentration camp employees
in and out of the unremarkable office park parking lot.

Outside the Casa El Presidente tender-age detention facility
where children as young as one-month live in cages,
I wonder: How durable is the machinery of the state?
How many of us would it take
to brush past the guard in blue short sleeves
and blue shorts set against a darkening blue sky,
and set free the children?
One? Ten? One hundred?

Does America's strength reside in this man's
minimum-wage-routine, his indifferent pacing?
Do they that hired him have children, believe in love?
How does he feel standing there as darkness falls
and he becomes an inhuman shape silhouetted
against an inhuman panorama of wind-tossed stars
and a low-slung office building where little children
sleep the sleep of those who have lost everything?

I came here to bear witness.
I came to take a sabbatical from business-as-usual.
What I've found is the unimaginable-turned-banal,
like a nuclear detonation mentioned in passing
before CNN cuts for a commercial break.

The sun disappears. No one bothers to reach for a flashlight:
Nothing to see; the office curtains are drawn.
The night-shift staff arrives to relieve the day-shift
like nameless mechanics just doing their job,
for in America we all have jobs, we do them well
and without complaint,
and we quiet our minds with the faith
that hard work can set us free.

Sunday, July 29, 2018
Keep up the fight!

- Andy