it's the latest edition of
The Recommentunde Newsletter
For the week that began September 29 2019
Dear learning machines of a biological and non-biological origin,
I had never shed so many tears during a lunch before. A brave and eloquent human put words to the experience of life in a courtroom, where she was expected to re-live her most traumatic experience with super-human levels of precision and clarity. The 13 of us listened intently, grateful to be in the private dining room of this Manhattan restaurant as the speaker opened her heart and all of ours. The “us” included Gloria Steinem, Anita Hill, former Glamour Magazine editor Cindi Leive, founder of Rise Justice Labs Amanda Nguyen, Ilana Glazer, New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino and several other powerful women whose words and work have helped bend this world toward justice. The only other man at the table was friend and fellow writer/agitator Anand Giridharadas.
For years, the speaker had been known as Emily Doe, the sexual assault survivor of Brock Turner whose victim impact statement shook the world. Last Thursday, I got to meet her as Chanel Miller.
Chanel has come forward with her name and her story in an epic book titled Know My Name. It is a must-read, and the lessons in it are must-live. I’ve only read the introduction and first chapter, but I can already say it’s one of the most beautifully written tales of horror and humanity I’ve come across in a long time. There are many terrifying statistics about sexual assault and many flagrant signs of misogyny all around us, but stories are more powerful than data, and Chanel tells a story that exposes so much of the systemic oppression present in our world better than any list of facts ever could.
I remember the moment I realized that the cost of anti-black racism in the United States wasn’t just paid by black people but created an opportunity cost that affected everyone. My grandmother told me she was denied education, forced to drop out of school after eight grade, because the powerful white people in town made black children leave school and work the fields. That didn’t just affect her and her descendants. It also affected the town.
Yes, black Americans were given less to work with and hurt physically, spiritually, and economically by America’s policies, but all of America paid when it forced so many of its citizens to waste their time just surviving instead of actively contributing to society. All of America paid by losing out on the genius of black people because America convinced itself black people were incapable of having good ideas. How many dollars weren’t pumped into the economy because of this waste? How many books went unwritten? How many communities were left uninspired? What does it do to the soul of a nation to carry such pain for so long with no healthy outlet? To carry such crimes for so long with no accountability?
So I return to sexual assault particularly and misogyny in general. Sexual assault is an abuse of power, and it comes at an extremely high price, not just for victims who often have to rebuild themselves on their own but for all of us. How might the lives of victims be different if something weren’t so grossly stolen from them? Who would the little boy have become if his life trajectory hadn’t been diverted by the local priest? What might the woman have dared to pursue if her sense of confidence hadn’t been so broken by the fraternity bro? Where might we all be if we had not so committed ourselves to the systemic exclusion of roughly half the population? We would be better.
History is littered with examples of our ability to be cruel to each other and of systems of power to do everything they can to hoard and protect that power. I look back and get overwhelmed at the size of the cumulative ugly history our world rests on. But I also see that history is filled with examples of our ability to be loving to each other and that systems of resistance, justice, transformation, and creativity do everything they can to distribute that power and hold it accountable. I look back and get overjoyed at the size of the cumulative beautiful history our present rests on.
Chanel’s story reveals the ugly and the beauty, and we are better for it.
Now, for your regularly-scheduled content.
Everything you should read about this impeachment situation:
The reconstructed transcript of the US president’s call with Ukraine’s president (spoiler alert: it’s bad).
Find out how impeachment even works.
Refresh your memory on just how high criminally minded this US president is.
Now you’re all fired up and ready to scale to even bigger problems, like the climate crisis.
So you watch all five minutes of Greta Thunberg’s U.N. climate speech from last week.
But wait, there’s more.
If it feels like our world is being ripped to shreds, it may be because that can literally happen. Like for real, check out a black hole absolutely shredding a star.
And you’re shocked to discover that the first ever labradoodle wasn't a designer dog, he was a guide dog.
Finally, an experiment.
I was really moved by Greta Thunberg and have been trying to make more commitments of my own to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis. I’d love to know how you’re responding. Please reply with your answer to the following:
What are you thinking of doing to be part of the climate solution? What more would help you make such a commitment? That commitment could be political, lifestyle, economic or something else.
Here’s my own answer to these questions:
I know I fly too much. It's my big climate crime. In the short term, I'll offset this entire year's worth of flights and try to find the best, most credible service with this imperfect solution (still looking; open to suggestions). In the mid term, I'll work to reduce flying altogether. And where I have more positive power largely with my voice on various platforms I'll regularly promote climate actions and awareness. I’m also committed to getting the US House, Senate, and White House in the hands of Democrats in 2020 because the allegedly pro-life Republican Party has proven itself committed to our destruction in this, the biggest crisis facing our species. They gotta go!
And so do I.
Peace and Love to you.
PS. Thanks for those who took the time to explain why it's worth watching Fleabag. We will pick up the series again and finish it off.