A fuller story?

Friends, this evening on Twitter, Jake Tapper posted an article from reason.com that suggested the media had it all wrong regarding the interaction between the Native elder, Nathan Phillips, and the Coventry Catholic boys, and specifically, the grinning boy in the MAGA hat. If you click on that link and watch, the first hour is largely of five Black Hebrew Israelites (BHI) antagonizing pretty much everyone. Their behavior was disgusting, heinous. But the new story is that Phillips antagonized the students. In fact, the author wrote, the high school boys are owed an apology.

On one side of the BHI men were the Coventry kids, and on the other, some of the people from the Indigenous People’s march. An hour and twelve minutes in, Nathan Phillips walks in front of the BHI and towards the kids, beating a drum all the while. He is slow and steady. The BHI are, at this point, screaming things to the kids like “You’re future school shooters” and appalling crap like that.

I asked the Twitterverse this: “I am very confused. I watched the video three times and see no evidence of Mr. Phillips antagonizing the kids. The BHI were acting in appalling fashion. Why isn’t their behavior part of this story?”

In addition to your typical ugliness, two people shared links to different videos, one of which does seem to show MAGA kid telling his peers to cut it out. One of his classmates was carrying on with stupid, offensive commentary like “Just go back to Africa” and another boy said “land gets stolen; that’s how it works.” Imbecilic. I’m not suggesting these kids don’t need to learn some history, decorum, and respect or that they shouldn’t face consequences for their behavior. Also, I hate their hats and all they stand for. And I hate that Coventry Catholic wouldn’t let the valedictorian give a speech because he’s gay. That school  seems to have an enormous and ugly cultural and toxic male problem that preferences white, heteronormative, aggressive behavior at all turns.

But I can’ t ignore what seems to be a much fuller story than we got yesterday, and I’m sharing this with you both to try and hold myself as accountable as possible and to urge all of us to read well beyond headlines, to keep our early understandings malleable enough to take in new information, and to demand better than click-baity shit from the media. It’s a reminder that there are often multiple sides and strands and varying degrees of fault and bad behavior. And some of it shouldn’t be quickly forgiven, but the assessment should be as fair as possible.

This story very much alarms me because it demonstrates the power of who controls the narratives that most Americans have access to. Yes there are enormous problems with social media and how users are targeted and what they’re shown. But it is also enormously worrisome because without any real, trustworthy places to get news, what happens to democracy? Not everything is real, but people are increasingly confused about what is and where they can find truth. It’s hard to know how people who are currently so polarized will ever trust each other again when full stories are rarely told, most people don’t read past headlines, and too many only read what reinforces the beliefs they want to hold. 

World Central Kitchen and generosity; the flip of ugliness

The pace of a busy commercial kitchen is thrilling. Add to it a shared sense of purpose, compassion, generosity, and smiles, and you’ve got José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen pop-up on Pennsylvania Avenue, here in DC. I arrived just before 8am yesterday morning, donned a WCK hat, and was put to work stripping mint leaves from stems in the rear of the kitchen. Chef Elsa, a volunteer from Lake Tahoe who was overseeing the dip, sauce, and sandwich station where I worked, was all smiles and all business. The requisite black chef pants, a few tattoos, a knit cap. I loved her completely and immediately.

Other volunteers arrived as eager to work as I was, and we quickly slipped into a rhythm. Amanda must have sliced 2,000 fresh rolls, Kay plucked anything brown from fresh lettuce leaves before laying them in orderly fashion on sheet pans, Kristin diced tomatoes and added them to the tzatziki. I delivered the enormous mountain of mint to the guy making aioli with an industrial-sized immersion blender, stirred four vats of the tzatziki with a paddle so large you could have rowed a boat with it, and then moved into sandwich prep. We were in and out of the walk-in. Someone brought around homemade cinnamon rolls.

By 10:45, we heard a line had formed out front. The doors opened at 11, and we were off to the races. At one point, Elsa moved me up to the front line to bag warm steak sandwiches as quickly as the meat guy could get steak from the grill and lay it generously atop the aioli, lettuce, and tomato-prepped rolls we’d just made in the back. Kay squeezed them shut, I took them firmly and gingerly nestled them in the bag.

“Sandwiches, sandwiches! We need more sandwiches!”

We struggled to keep up. Next to me, Hillary scooped steaming quinoa into boxes and drizzled it with meyer lemon sauce before letting the falafel guy add to it.

“Fire soup, fire soup!”

Everyone was smiling, thankful -to give and receive- and so very kind. Many of the volunteers were furloughed workers themselves; Hillary hasn’t been at work or paid since before Christmas. A single mother of three asked if she could have extra food for her children. Of course.

the line out front of WCK; it went around the block.

the line out front of WCK; it went around the block.

It was cold outside, and the line snaked around the block (see above photo). One incredible DCer, set to retire next week, brought $640 (what she had in her wallet + what she could withdraw from the ATM) to the line and started handing out $20s. Many people just asked for a hug. She said, ““These are people that I owe a debt to because they’re doing a job on my behalf and they’re not being paid…At the core of it I’m a human being and I live here. I know how hard it is to get back up the economic ladder. We’re pushing people out of their economic social status as we speak. And it’s not going to take a week or two for them to recover.”

WCK served 4,400 meals on Wednesday, 5,568 or something on Thursday, and I later found that we did more than 6,400. I’m sure today was no different. Chef Andrés has just announced that #ChefsForFeds will be expanding across the nation to help feed our citizens until the shutdown is over. If you can donate or want to help, visit https://www.worldcentralkitchen.org/

Yesterday in DC was also the March for Life. During it, in my opinion, we saw some of the ugliest and most exclusivist of humanity. Concurrently, the Indigenous People’s March peacefully protested environmental degradation, genocide, and violence against Native women. My heart was wrecked and my fury was orbital to find teenage boys, led by fellow student Nick Sandmann, from Covington Catholic school in Kentucky mob and ridicule a Native elder (himself a Vietnam vet who  holds a regular ceremony for Native American veterans at Arlington National Cemetery ). The boys, March for Life participants, were wearing red Make America Great Hats, in case you haven’t seen their heinous behavior (video in the attached link), grinning with such ugly, evil, disdain and cheering each other on that I actually feel sick each time I see the footage. Here is Nathan Philips’, the elder, response.

It also emerged today that a recent Covington Catholic grad this past weekend held a woman down, choked and ignored her pleas to stop, and raped her until she bled. He has been charged with one count of rape and two counts of sodomy. This was not his first sexual assault offense.

I struggle to hope for the future if kids like these are part of the youth coming up. They are disgusting bigots, examples of toxic masculinity and entitlement, the worst sort of smug “Christians” who fancy themselves Christ-like but are everything but. Think Brett Kavanaugh! Who must their parents be? Why didn’t the school chaperones, who were at the March too, do something? Should you wish to reach out to Covington Catholic School, its phone number is 859-491-2247. Its address is 1600 Dixie Highway, Park Hills, KY, 41011. The principal’s email is browe@covcath.org, and the superintendent of the district, who was a trip chaperone, is Mike Clines. On Twitter he is @supmikeclines.

I will try to focus on people like Chef Andrés, on the volunteers who came from all over to help, on the woman who handed out $20s and hugs, on all the Facebook friends -some of whom I’ve never even met IRL- who donated to World Central Kitchen since I shared my experience there yesterday. I will hope that there are more fine young people than awful, cruel ones. I will celebrate the good in the world, including all the amazing people who marched today, and hope that we can vanquish trump and his grotesque divisiveness and craven mean-spiritedness before our democracy crumbles. It’s hard to stay hopeful sometimes.

The shutdown, and kindness

This past weekend brought us DC’s most substantial snowfall in years. We got nearly a foot, and it was so beautiful and such fun. I made it to the Open Discussion Project meeting but on my way home, things were getting dicey. Monday was a snow day and the boys delighted in hours of sledding and snowball fights and hot chocolate.

Meanwhile, the Trump shutdown continues; it’s now, on day 26, the longest in history. Federal workers received paychecks for $0.00 last week. Can you imagine the gall of pulling the rug from people suddenly, not paying them, and then reminding them of that by paying to send zero balance check stubs? Furloughed people are pawning jewelry and other belongs, selling their kids’ toys and household items, and being sent notices of pending eviction. They are responsible for nothing and everything while McConnell is hiding, Graham sounds rabid, and Trump is feeding young athletic champions lukewarm fast food.

I am so deeply ashamed and furious beyond compare.

Although I’m not a believer, I adhere completely to the tenet that we are each other’s keepers. One of Quakerism’s main pillars is that of community stewardship. Actually, community and stewardship are distinct Quaker values but if you tend and nurture community, you are a steward of it, so I’m going with the compound right now. For the past eight-and-a-half years, I have been a part of a Quaker community because my sons attend a Friends school. I feel gratitude pretty much daily for this gift, imperfect as it sometimes is. Communal stewardship seems especially crucial right now, and what’s keeping me heartened right now is just how much of it I’m seeing around here.

José Andrés, the chef and restaurateur and World Central Kitchen head who has been feeding Puerto Rico since Maria slammed it, has just opened a WCK in downtown DC. #ChefsForFeds gave out 4,400 gorgeous, free meals today -double what they anticipated- and will be open from 11a-6p until the shutdown ends. I am volunteering in their kitchen on Friday and cannot wait to serve. If you’re local and would like to try and snag a shift, you can do that here. If you aren’t in the area, but would like to support Chef Andrés’ work, please donate to WCK.

The veterinary group that saved Nutmeg after he was hit last year, Friendship Hospital for Animals, is waiving emergency exam fees and offering deferred/extended payment options for furloughed Federal employees. Local bookstores, salons, wellness centers, and restaurants are offering discounts to furloughed workers, and folks in need of diabetic supplies can message @Alt US Press Secty on Twitter.

A dear friend in Minnesota’s twin cities area works for a homeless youth organization. Many of the people it serves need access to WIC -the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children- to help feed their families. Due to the shutdown however, WIC is closed, and neither taking new clients nor able to provide benefits to those on their rolls. My friend set up an amazon wishlist for baby formula to meet her organization’s interim needs, spread the word on social media, and by this evening, she had what she needed.

Earlier today, a friend was near the National Zoo waiting for her daughter to finish an appointment. The Zoo is closed because of the shutdown, but my friend saw caretakers heading in to feed animals and clean their habitats. They aren’t getting paid. It was really cold today, so my friend walked into a tiny shop, Baked by Yael, to get a coffee. I’d like to share this exchange she overheard between Yael and a man who seemed to be a higher-up at the zoo.

He said, “I heard about how generous you have been with our employees and I came to thank you. Some of our younger employees can’t afford to feed their families and you have saved them.” The owner replied, “of course, I can’t imagine not helping them; we were lucky to get donations so now we are able to give them not only free pastries but free soups and sandwiches too.”

Amidst a temper tantrum of epic proportion by people elected to serve us, regular folks are stepping up to ease hardship and keep the wheels on the bus. It is so moving but also so worrisome and sad. Please, in any way you can, be and do good. This isn’t just a DC issue. 800,000 federal works didn’t get paychecks last week. They live all across this country and come from all backgrounds. They are members of the coast guard and the TSA, they are caretakers of our national parks and the wildlife and safety features within, they work for the IRS, they run shelters for victims of domestic violence. This shutdown hurts all of us, especially those who aren’t being paid.

This coming Monday is the Martin Luther King, Jr holiday. If your area is anything like mine, service opportunities will be aplenty. Find a place to get involved- the boys and I are going to the service day at school; one friend is hosting a sandwich-making party at her house for an area shelter.

Be kind, give in all ways you can, hold your representatives accountable, and please, for the love of everything, vote the bad people out.