What if normal is the problem? And other coronavirus questions

The pandemic diaries

Eleven months ago, I flew home to Sea-Tac as coronavirus dug its claws into the flesh of the world. Shelves emptied, businesses closed, panic began to set in. In March 2020, I wrote in my notebook a snippet of conversation I overheard in the grocery store:

“Are we going to die?” A young woman asked.

After a long pause, from behind his mask a man reassured her with two words: “not today.”

In my notebook, I added:

Apocalyptic thoughts rush forward when uncertainty is the only certainty.

Nobody knew how bad it would get. Sitting at the gate for the flight back to Reno, I listened to my pilot talking to a flight attendant:

The media is freaking out about the virus,” the pilot said.

For twenty minutes, he described overreaction that was hurting the industry. On the flight back to Reno, I crouched over the tray table to write a few more anxious pages.

Suddenly, life is no longer normal. How did we get into this mess?

I didn’t share my thoughts back in March. The pandemic felt too fluid, evolving, unknown. My reaction felt too, well, reactionary, to be accurate. Maybe I was overreacting. I needed patience, perspective.

We’re nearly a year in. But looking back at that notebook, I’m shocked by how little has changed:

US leads the world in coronavirus cases by far. We haven’t even seen the worst of it. The virus is underscoring so many pre-existing problems in the country and stressing every aspect of our constitution.

Today, over 100 million people have contracted the virus. Over 2 million have died. The United States still leads the world in both categories.

This irrefutable proof could—should—spread the realization that we can’t ignore our connection to each other, everyone, and everything.

bright orange beach at sunset
Distant strangers on a beach in Washington in December 2020.
Continue reading “What if normal is the problem? And other coronavirus questions”

Black Lives Matter in Enumclaw: Letter from Constituents

I’m writing a letter to my hometown city council to show support for Black Lives Matter and demand change in the ways our public institutions approach policing and racism.

I tailored this letter to my rural community that lacks much of any diversity, but you can download this template to craft your own.

Dear Enumclaw City Council,

Today, Enumclaw is overwhelmingly white, but it is not insulated from police violence and systemic racism. The murders of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor or numerous others—those could happen here.

As Enumclaw grows—seemingly by the day—our community will become home to more Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). It is our responsibility as a community to ensure that Enumclaw is safe, welcoming, and committed to dismantling the racist structures that have oppressed BIPOC and taken away their livelihood and lives. It’s in all of our best interests to build a more inclusive community and we all must take the responsibility to do so.

We are in a moment of nationwide action to fundamentally redesign our public institutions. Voicing concern about recent acts of police brutality or showing support for Black Lives Matter is not enough. Citizens of Enumclaw, your constituents, expect that our community leaders will rise to the occasion. 

Here are some actions that the Enumclaw City Council can take to dismantle systemic racism in our community:

  • Make racial bias education and training mandatory for all City employees and coordinate community trainings and regular forums for Enumclaw businesses, nonprofits, and the public

  • Conduct an independent review of all government programs and procedures to identify those that disregard or disproportionately affect BIPOC

  • Redesign police training to emphasize de-escalation and eliminate the use of force in all but the most extreme situations while establishing a more stringent policy to remove officers that abuse their power

  • Thoroughly evaluate past behavior of all hires, especially in the police department, for any signs of toxic actions or attitudes toward BIPOC

  • Re-allocate City funding to a wider range of community programs that address drug addiction, mental health, affordable housing, and inequality in Enumclaw and seek out community partnerships that can leverage funding to do the same

In this time of action, these steps are the minimum for any municipality. Enumclaw is not too small, too rural, nor too white to address the racist policies and practices that pervade policing and American government at all levels.

We all need to do more to make our community better. The time is now.


Sign the Enumclaw Letter

This petition is now closed.

End date: Jul 15, 2020

Signatures collected: 20

20 signatures

The legacy of violence and unjust treatment of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in this country shows that oppression will not improve without the unwavering commitment of people of all backgrounds—especially privileged white people like myself—to demand real changes to make our communities safer, more just, and more equitable places to live.

Join me by signing this letter if you’re an Enumclaw citizen or downloading a copy to send to your city council. This is only one small step for regular citizens to have their voices heard. Together we must abolish the failing status quo and create a better world.

Conditions for Collaboration

In January I moved to Northern California to work for the Sierra Institute for Community and Environment. Below I’ve included a snippet of a short piece I wrote for the Sierra Institute blog on March 2nd.

Before arriving in Taylorsville, I thought I knew what to expect. I had lived in a few small towns and traveled through many others. But in the northeastern Sierra, I found a character all its own. 

On chilly early morning walks, pouncing pumas are a primary concern. On twilight drives, it’s rare to see fewer than two dozen deer, a skunk, and a fox. (I consider myself lucky if this encounter is anytime except when they’re staring back at me through my headlights.) In valleys nestled in mountain arms of manzanita and pine—studded with snowy peaks—ouzels dip in rushing creeks and owls sit on wires, listening for mice. 

Read more.