Let’s get to work

Saturday, November 7 it rained in LA in the early hours of the morning.  I stepped out later as the sky cleared and the sun was breaking through. This mail van had parked across the street as it does just about everyday.

But that day I felt like taking its picture.  To me it’s a symbol that represents the heroes that go unnoticed, whose names we won’t know, whose jobs are usually tedious and not in the least bit glamorous.  A public institution seldom celebrated, much less romanticized.  But it does work, and like anything worthwhile, it gets better the more we prioritize and invest in it.

More broadly then, it represents those who volunteer to work the polls and register voters, who carefully and laboriously counted every vote this year under extraordinary pressure. 

It represents those who stood in line for hours to cast their ballot and boldly defy the pervasive and relentless notion that their voice didn’t matter.

It does matter.  And we proved it this year.

USPS - Mail Delivery Van - Postal Service- Quinby & Co.
USPS Mail Delivery Van. That morning I felt like taking its picture.

No, perhaps the work is not all that glamorous or glorified.  But that’s not why we do it.  

We do it because it’s necessary, because it amounts to something bigger than any one person.  We do it because it makes our community stronger and more inclusive of everyone no matter what they look like, how/if they pray, who they love or who they are.        

In America, we’ve long valued individualism typically expressed through personal ambition and prosperity; and while it seems a natural impulse, I’ve come to appreciate how and why service to oneself and to our community must go hand-in-hand.  It’s necessary to keep a democracy real.     

I am thankful for our public institutions which honor and embody that.  I am thankful for our schools, our roads, our libraries, our public transportation, our national parks and public lands, our postal service and (hopefully soon, with more work) our healthcare.  

And I am thankful for those who’ve worked hard to keep these institutions strong.  Institutions of the people, for the people, and by the people that will–like democracy itself–only grow the more we invest and participate in it. 

It’s most definitely worth voting for.  I believe it’s worth fighting for and living for. 

America, I see you.  Let’s get to work. 

 

Why We Are Voting Blue in 2020

When we started out in February of this year, we didn’t imagine we’d be making too many direct political or social statements.  We did hope to shed light on the deeper ideas and underlying philosophies that typically steer American politics, such as the size and scope of government or the importance of voter participation, or constructive ways to have a discussion about politics.

The intention was to try and distill the current political landscape from the corrosive, long-established binary model of “Republican and Democrat” or “Red and Blue” into a set of specific issues, complex at times but no less manageable, all of which are more universally relevant than we might realize—whether it’s climate change, racial justice or immigration.

We wanted to make sure the writing never felt like a lecture or came across as preachy in any way.  This was due not to any lack of enthusiasm on our part, but rather what we felt was an understanding of more effective communication, of understanding that nobody likes a lecture unless maybe they already agree with it.

However, this year more than ever before, it seems the virtues of fairness, decency, critical thinking, compassion and listening are on the line.  The deeper underlying principles that govern how we communicate with one another, far deeper than those we hoped to talk about, are themselves at stake.  

This is an election on what we normalize in our collective character and consciousness for generations.     

In the Presidential Election we have one candidate who has demonstrated a fairly consistent philosophy throughout his career while the other demonstrates no real philosophy outside his own brand and the hyper-inflated paranoia he thinks will elevate him politically, beginning almost ten years ago with his crusade to have President Obama prove he is a citizen.

We have one who trusts science and empirical data; while the other says “I don’t think science knows,” in response to what a broad, worldwide coalition of scientific research concludes as a climate crisis caused and further aggravated by human activity.

The reason that listening, critical thinking and empiricism, open discussion and compassion are all at stake is because our current president has proved to be their walking antithesis.  Equally, and quite successfully, he has labeled anyone calling out his vulgarity as too politically correct or sensitive, which has only encouraged a growing culture of not listening, unfounded conspiracies, bigotry, sexism and delusion.  

Examples of his oafish and repulsive behavior include but are certainly not limited to a gross imitation of a reporter with a disability, and saying that John McCain “is a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”  

The will to survive and maintain one’s honor in the face of overwhelming despair and torture is indeed heroic; and anyone who has heard the story of John McCain’s five and a half years in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp must recognize Trump’s statement as not politically incorrect, but simply indecent, heartless and foolish.  Donald Trump never served in the armed forces.  He’s never tasted real danger in his life.  

Other examples include drawing an equal degree of blame between white supremacists–some of whom Trump declared to be “very fine people”–and those who stood up to them in Charlottesville, Virginia; and then most recently, the mocking of those taking COVID-19 seriously as he continues to hold open rallies with no social distancing or requirements for masks while the pandemic has now claimed over 200,000 American lives.

To that point we’ve provided a tweet posted by Donald Trump 23 hours ago as of this writing, drawing a comparison between one of these rallies, and a speaking event for Joe Biden in which people are exercising responsible safety measures and social distancing.  Yes indeed, there is a stark difference.       

Joe Biden has demonstrated a personal and political philosophy founded mainly on compassion, critical thinking and facts.  Donald Trump evidently isn’t deep enough to think about anything other than himself.

Beyond the scope of the Presidency, we are witnessing the mutation of a political party into a warped and twisted cult of personality that seems to honor and endorse whatever Donald Trump tells them.   

In 2013 the Republican-led Supreme Court voted to cut a critical component of the Voting Rights Act which required districts with a history of voter suppression to get federal approval before making any changes to their election laws.  This ultimately led to the closure of more than 1,600 polling places throughout the South, typically in Black communities and communities of color.  House Democrats passed a resolution to restore the Voting Rights Act, but it has yet to be passed in the Senate.  It still sits on the desk of Mitch McConnell, the Republican Majority Leader, as it has for over 200 days.    

In Texas meanwhile, 750 polling places closed following the Court ruling.  Most of these closures took place between the 2014 and 2018 mid-term elections. 

Just weeks ago, the state’s Republican governor issued an order to limit the number of places voters could hand-deliver their mail-in ballots to a single location per county—clearly problematic for the populous Harris and Travis Counties for example, which had previously designated a dozen and four drop-off locations respectively.  

Of course, the Republicans’ latest egregious attempt at holding onto power regardless of popular will reveals itself in the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.  She was confirmed three days ago by the Republican-led U.S. Senate—eight days before our election.  In 2016, a whole 293 days before the election, the Senate, still led by Republicans, refused to hold a hearing for President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.  Their reasoning for delaying the vote four years ago was that it was too close to an election, and that the American people should have a say on the selection of the next Justice.  

Of course, with a dim fraction of that time remaining this year, that reasoning somehow no longer applies in the confirmation of their own nominee.  The double-standard and hypocrisy is loud and clear. 

The Republican Party itself has been morally declining for years, as they have proven to care strikingly little about actual democracy and equal representation than they do about holding onto their power.  They know the majority of eligible voters don’t stand with them.  The people don’t stand with them.  The country doesn’t stand with them.  And consider this additional fact.  In the last 30 years, a Republican candidate for President has won the popular vote just one time.  The Democratic candidate has won six times. 

Yet the Supreme Court now has a 6-3 conservative majority.  Something’s not adding up.  Given one party’s long enough history of suppressing the vote—alleging voter fraud whenever they can, in a country where less than half of eligible voters even vote at all—it should be pretty clear why that is. 

We can debate all day the size and scope of government in our lives, the strengths and pitfalls of capitalism, and a host of other ideas that invite different points of view.  But the modern-day Republican Party and their chosen leader and champion have long outstayed their welcome.  It’s time to vote them out.  

We are voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, along with Democrats up and down the ballot; though not just because they are, quite simply, everything the Republicans are not.  We cannot vouch for every candidate individually, but we can say that as a whole, over the past twenty years, they have done far more to expand voting rights and access to affordable health care, they’ve worked far more to cultivate a cleaner and more sustainable environment, and they’ve fought far more for equal justice. 

In this election, more so than ever, there is really no comparison.  

We are voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.  We are voting Blue up and down the ballot.  We encourage you to do the same.  

Please vote.  And if you can, vote early and in-person.  

Thank You.   

In-Brief: On Parks and Wildness

Save Our Home, Save Ourselves

I recently applied to a job that asked me to select the best pic of myself in the outdoors. It sounds like it could be an exciting one, a job where I’d be spending time in some of my favorite places, or one place depending on how you look at it. That is, the National Parks or in the broader sense, in nature.

To that point, I’ve come to see them less as individual places and it more as one larger whole.  Our planet.  I like that approach more.    

It’s hard to say which picture could ever be the best, but this is the one I felt like posting–taken almost exactly four years ago.

Ren Michael - South Kaibob Trail - Grand Canyon - Grand Canyon National Park - Arizona - National Park - Quinby & Co.
Ren Michael on the South Kaibob Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

Much has happened since then both in my life and throughout the world, and I’ve been fortunate to have gone on many adventures in the time in between. Hopefully I’m a strong sum of those experiences, as each was its own unique reminder of my connection to both land and people.

I’m not unique in that respect, since I know many who have turned to the outdoors and felt a similar way. Restored, replenished, readjusted to the point that their day-to-day ambitions either suddenly feel silly, or are just given renewed purpose in light of the bigger realization that they are a part of something bigger than themselves and their possessions.

While I can only hope it’s enough to help us recognize the importance of preserving these places—since all of us deserve to experience the land in equal measure—above all, I hope we each begin doing our part in preserving the integrity of our environment, for the health of our planet, our one true home, for our physical health, and ultimately for our sanity.

I look back on recent years and I think about people marching against gun violence, or against corporate greed on Wall Street.  I think about people marching for Black lives and for our government’s full recognition of their humanity. 

And I think about two weeks ago, when everyday I stepped out and saw a smoke-filled sky blotting out the sun due to devastating regional wildfires.  In the back of my mind, the fire’s reach had far exceeded the limits of the west coast where I make my home.  Indeed, the larger symbolism was hard to miss.      

The issues of violence, racial justice, environmental justice and economic inequality are, I believe, inter-related.  The dangers of climate change for example pose the most immediate threat to Black and Brown communities, a disproportionate number of which fall below the poverty line in the United States and throughout the world–a reality most clearly demonstrated in food and water shortages not just in third-world countries, but here at home.  

Tackling the threat of climate change will not automatically close the gap on income inequality or accomplish comprehensive racial justice.  Still you cannot adequately address problems in your house when your house is, quite literally, on fire; and truly, the fight for a healthy planet has the power to bring people of different backgrounds and beliefs together, likely more so than any movement we’ve ever witnessed.  More to the point, it’s the understanding of our interconnectedness that will ultimately save us in virtually every domestic and global conflict we experience; and nowhere is that realization more critical than in the necessary global effort to mitigate climate change by cultivating a cleaner and more sustainable world for all people.  

The act of getting outdoors, spending time in our public lands and in the broader wilderness of the world has the unique power to reinforce the fundamental reality of our interdependence and dependence on the land.  It’s just one of many reasons why it’s so important they stay preserved and protected.    

I often reflect on whether it will just be an ongoing battle for every generation between people committed to preserving our wilderness for the public benefit, and the people who seek to exploit the land for their own profit. 

I hope that it won’t.  Maybe the dual threats of climate change and a global pandemic will convince people of their stake in each other’s health and the health of our planet, and the influence will carry over through generations to come.      

I only know that the need for such a realization has never been so urgent.      

As for our wilderness, and it’s unmatched beauty and healing power, for now there’s little more I can say, other than to simply go, as soon as you can, and experience it for yourself.

Let’s please take care of our home.  I am committed to doing my part and I hope you will join me.  The Sierra Club is one of our nation’s most enduring and influential forces for environmental action and awareness.  I’ve been a member for a couple years now and I urge you to consider joining and lending your support as well. 

Let’s get to work.   

 

*Take Action –> www.sierraclub.org

Friends of the Earth Action https://foeaction.org/

Natural Resources Defense Council https://www.nrdc.org/

National Parks Foundation https://www.nationalparks.org/

Quarantining Solo

We’re all in a similar situation right now regardless of where we are in the world. Stay at home orders are in place, we’re practicing social distancing and patiently waiting for the world to get back to some form of normalcy.

In the spirit of honesty and vulnerability, which can be scary and even physically difficult for me, I’m here to admit that, after seven weeks into self-isolation, when I thought I was totally fine and could handle it all alone, I had a debilitating panic attack. 

Let me preface by saying I’ve never had a panic attack or anything remotely close to one before.  I have even judged others for saying they’ve had one because I never understood the severity of it until now.  It was, by far, the scariest day of my life.  

I’ll spare you the play-by-play details of the experience and sum it up for you like this:

After beginning to feel out of breath while driving, I pulled over to try and slow it down. Then, all at once, I couldn’t control my breathing at all, my heart was pounding harder and faster than I’ve ever felt, my vision began to blur and I could barely feel my body.

For the first time in my life, I thought, “something is terribly wrong and I might be dying.” I began to think about my life, all the people I love the most, my dog waiting for me at home,  that this might be the end and that I was going to be found alone in my car on Vermont Ave. 

Clearly that was not the case, and I later understood the reality of what had happened. I suffered a panic attack.

Thankfully, my boss was nearby and was able to drive me home where I proceeded to stay on the couch for the rest of the day, feeling completely drained and weak. 

This is all difficult for me to admit, and I honestly didn’t really take time to process much of the experience until the next day, after some much needed rest.

For one thing, I’ve always considered myself the “strong friend.” The person my loved ones can seek out to fill their cup, to consult for advice, to whom they can vent whenever they’re going through a bad time.

Even now, with the stress of a global pandemic changing our lives, I’ve had friends and family tell me how “brave” and “strong” I am to be handling everything on my own, but I never really felt like it was that big of a deal.

“I’m fine,” I thought.  “I can handle this, I’m strong and independent and this is all temporary anyway.”

Though this whole experience was definitely a surprise for me, it’s not too hard to understand why it happened. I realize now that I’ve been overburdened and stretched so far thin that my body just broke down. I’ve been doing this whole quarantine alone for the last seven weeks, separated from my partner, my family and my closest friends.  In the midst of these uncertain times, I’m still working full-time, maintaining a home, taking care of my dog and still trying to take care of myself and my own mental health. Reality check, I DON’T GOT THIS LIKE I THOUGHT I DID.

It pains me to admit that I can’t handle it all, that I can’t be superwoman all the time, that maybe sometimes I have to say, “I need help, I need support.” Being in quarantine alone–that is, with no other person or people to be alone with–is really hard.  So now, I realize how essential human contact is for someone like me. I love to love on my people.  I love hugging and holding hands and being held and cuddling and affection and who knew that not touching a single person for over seven weeks for the first time in my 32 years of life would push me over the edge?! Definitely not me. 

Me in ‘Park Avenue’ at Arches National Park, Utah

So now what? What did I learn from this experience that might keep it from happening again?

Well first off, I had an extremely vulnerable conversation with my partner. I opened up to him emotionally in a way I’ve always been too afraid to do, and I immediately felt an immense weight lift from my shoulders.  As obvious as it may seem, I am not quite as infallible as I thought, and simply admitting this fear both to myself and to my loved ones has alleviated that self-inflicted judgmental pressure, the kind that says I need to have everything under control at all times. Ironically enough, admitting that is actually allowing me to take more control than before. I can look at my situation far more objectively, and give myself the break I didn’t know I needed. 

A key to self empowerment is admitting your weaknesses. When you face a fear or personal judgment head-on, you remove its power over you. I’m sure you’ve heard this before but, “what you resist, persists,” and if there’s one lesson I can take from this whole thing, it’s to quit the resistance, let go of expectations and learn to surrender. 

We’re all in this together, so ask for that help when you need it, set those boundaries that give you a break; and for goodness sake, listen to the cues your body is giving you. 

Going forward, I know I will.

 

Issue #4
Q&Co.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Washing Our Hands

The COVID-19 outbreak leaves me with more questions than revelations about human nature. 

I’m wondering what effect it will have on the world beyond people’s physical health or the global economy, and whether it will change the way we think. If so then how?

Like many people, I’ve long been convinced that the root causes of the world’s most pressing problems are systemic, and not exactly the kind that can be resolved through any sweeping piece of legislation.

That’s not to say the solutions aren’t simple. However, systemic change requires everyone making individual changes not because they are being made to, but because they have internalized, often through personal experience, how and why they should be making the change at all, because they are personally invested in doing so, because they realize they are a part of something bigger than themselves.

That universal realization would most definitely require a shift in the current collective consciousness; and while the shift itself might be simple, how we go about creating it has always proven complicated, because it has less to do with the laws we pass and more to do with how we educate ourselves with respect to the human experience, how we contextualize that shared experience and reinforce it to ourselves on a daily basis.

We’ve always seemed to know theoretically that compassion and respect, listening and sharing each help to create happier, more healthy relationships, and a more sustainable environment for everyone. It’s only in the practical application where we seem to have difficultly.

What’s more is that it only seems to get harder for us as the world’s population grows. How do you get everyone, everywhere, so suddenly and simultaneously, to internalize deeply enough just how tied they are to the person next to them? That the idea of each of us going at it alone, with little to no regard for the other person’s welfare and prosperity, is and always has been a delusional fantasy, especially as the world’s population grows?

It’s likely an easier concept to grasp, say, for crewmen on a ship, or people in a village, or a family in a home. Anyplace where the physical space is smaller and interactions more frequent and visibly consequential.

On the ship you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who ever questions the point in doing their part, or who gives up on the rest of the crew because they’ve suddenly grown cynical and bitter and tired. They do their part because they know if they don’t, the operational integrity of the ship will suffer.

Yet whether it’s the age-old global issues of war, poverty and racism, or the more recent and very real threat of climate change, the problems we continually face seem directly attributable to the fact that we as a planet lack any real sense of investment in one another.

One might be compelled to look up toward the heavens now in surrender, as if only some sudden, cataclysmic event might serve as the last remaining instrument in creating such sweeping behavioral change.

You’ve probably guessed it by now, but that is exactly what the coronavirus can be; and though it has left many of us justifiably worried, I can’t help but see it as a critical opportunity.

‘2020 Reboot’ by Ren Michael

As the world’s population has skyrocketed over the past 100 years, so too have our technologies.  With our additional advancements in medicine, it’s safe to say that we have grown more inclined to simple solutions for complicated problems, more or less adopting a ‘magic pill’ solution–be it legislation or an actual pill–for problems that can be more effectively, if not even permanently, remedied through fundamental changes in our lifestyle and our collective point of view. 

As technologies have made our daily lives easier and done more of our work for us, whether it’s in how we obtain our food, care for our bodies or solve our geopolitical differences, we have grown less accepting of complication, ignoring the fact that complication doesn’t necessarily mean ‘more difficult.’

And though technology has long been replacing manpower and, by extension, increasingly reducing human interaction and cooperation, the consequences of that trend only seem to grow more evident and critical with every year, leading not just to the atrophy of basic, interpersonal skill sets but more so to the already broadening disregard of our own basic interconnectedness, understandings which are no more spiritual than they are practical and essential to the long-term sustainability of any society or ecosystem.  

Sure enough, that disregard has filtered out to virtually every sphere of public life in the industrialized world.  Remember only a month ago when you’d go out to a restaurant and likely see people at the table looking at their phones instead of each other? 

Remember when images of people walking around in face masks seemed like some distant reality, like something that could never and would never happen here? 

Remember the last time you walked amongst a crowd of people not giving it a second thought?  Without ever considering that someday soon, and for the immediate days following, you suddenly wouldn’t be able to do that?

How often and easily we took our daily lives for granted, our extraordinary privilege to walk alongside each other as friends, strangers, lovers, brothers and sisters.  Personally, I can’t wait to stand in a crowd again without worrying about getting sick and simply walk as just another citizen, another human being, one of many throughout the world who live under one sun, inhabiting a very precious and unique planet.   

I can’t help but feel that physical isolation from one another in recognition of a greater good, in which we are so suddenly allowed time to ourselves if not with the people we love, is exactly what we need at this pivotal hour in our history.  For in taking away something so essential to everyday human life, we may yet learn to appreciate and utilize it more.

In Barcelona, every night at 8:00, residents stand outside their balconies and look out over what is typically a congested street and applaud the country’s healthcare workers. 

While Spain has long been marked by tension between its autonomous communities and the national government, any sort animosity people once felt toward each other, and particularly toward their government, is now gone.

They applaud in Madrid, Seville, Valencia and Pamplona, and in many other cities throughout the country, in a sudden and resounding show of support and solidarity.  

Things have changed.  Circumstances have dramatically altered what once seemed to be an indomitable perspective. 

More than once I’ve pictured myself locked in some conflict with a person I love, with whom it seems there is no conceivable reconciliation until that person is thrust into danger.  An accident occurs and they lie in a hospital bed, at which point all our past disagreements are suddenly revealed to be petty and ridiculous.

Our planet faces a turning point now.  We stand at a crossroads unlike any we’ve encountered before.  Indeed unlike crises of the past, it involves all us, everywhere.  It pays little attention to race, religion, rich or poor, left or right.  East or West.  No, it comes for us all and we can face it together or we can continue as we’ve been, divided. 

So long as there is one good person out there in the world, then there is hope for it.  Fortunately, there is more than one good person.  Fortunately, there are millions, and they form the oldest silent majority in history.   

I’m sure you’re one of those people.  I am one of those people.  Our brothers and sisters are in trouble.  They’re sick.  They’re suddenly out of work.  They’re overwhelmed.  They need us.  I need you. 

We can do our part by staying home not only for ourselves but for others, for those who are in hospitals, and for everyone out there every day because they have to be. 

We can remember that we’re in this together, and that our actions do indeed affect one another. 

If we each do our part, we can and we will get through this.  

Truly now more than ever, there is no them, no they

There is only us.  

Issue #3
Q&Co.