Really long spoons

Things could go either way

Rainy Day, Boston, 1885, Frederick Childe Hassam

In 2017, a three-year campaign by housing justice advocates to curb Boston’s eviction crisis culminated with a tenant rights bill called the Jim Brooks Act being quietly shuffled into a corner of the legislature to die. It had been whittled down to two basic protections—informing tenants of their rights and tracking the number of evictions, but ultimately that proved too much for real estate lobby. 

Advocates were both “defiant and despondent” in the aftermath, left with a sense that there was little hope for progress when it came to slowing mass displacement in the city. Even though it did pass City Council and ultimately died in state legislature (it needed to pass both because of some Massachusetts law it’s like dungeons and dragons here), I remember sitting in one contentious council hearing and watching my district’s councilor Tim McCarthy contributing nothing and ultimately voting against the act, and thinking, man this mfer has to go. 

So I was excited when a 32-year-old public defender named Ricardo Arroyo, from a well-known family in Boston progressive politics, announced he was going to challenge McCarthy in the next election. I think the incumbent saw the writing on the wall because he dropped out, sparking a crowded race this year that ultimately came down to Arroyo and one of McCarthy’s staffers, who basically ran on the status quo.

From the time Arroyo threw his hat into the ring, I would run into him around town and chat and he was so nice and you could just tell he had that fire for the job. He came out with a strong platform around justice in housing, the environment, education, and more, and before long he was the front-runner. Lo and behold, after many doors knocked and conversations had, Arroyo won the election by a healthy margin on Tuesday night. 

It was a big night for the Boston City Council overall, as for the first time in history, both women and people of color will hold the majority of seats next year, with candidates running on progressive platforms not unlike Arroyo’s. It’s a dramatic shift for a city that has been dominated by white men who haven’t represented the makeup of the city in a long time, and have fallen behind the politics of its residents and even the mayor in many cases. Winning candidates told the Bay State Banner that they’re predicting the new council will take up issues like rent control, housing affordability, transit equity, zoning reform, things that could never get traction in past councils. All of this change swept in on a wave of increased activism in the city during recent years.

But this isn’t a newsletter about Boston politics, exactly, so my point in talking about the election is this—you just never know how things are going to go. 

It can be so easy to become depressed or hopeless about whatever issue it is you’re working on or following in the news. This week, for example, the federal government served official notice of intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. A report on the agreement also came out the following day, finding that three-quarters of countries in the agreement are falling far short of their commitments. That piece of diplomacy, on which so much of people’s hopes around climate action hung, is feeling increasingly like a failure. 

But these things happening in local politics all over the country and even in the national climate debate are a reminder that change can accelerate at speeds you would never have imagined and far larger opportunities can open up than previous failures would have suggested. Historian John D’Emilio describes progress as moving in ebbs and flows, alternating cycles of “creeping and leaping.” It feels like we’re in a leaping period right now.  

And who knows tomorrow something totally messed will happen these things are chaotic and non-linear after all. But I think back to just two years ago, and how hopeless it felt after the Jim Brooks Act failed, and then fast-forward to Tuesday, how it felt like an entirely new landscape. Watching an exciting political newcomer take the stage (amazingly, to Jay Rock’s WIN) to make Boston history, in front of a crowd as diverse and full of hope as the city is right now.

“Think about the folks who are going to have voices now,” Arroyo said on election night. “Think about the issues that are going to be lifted up. It’s honestly more than I can even take in right now, it’s something that gives me so much pride to be part of.”


Links

  • This climate justice plan in Providence is really impressive, as is the process behind it. One key ingredient? No traditional environmental groups involved.

  • The Tsilhqot’in First Nation just opened British Columbia’s largest solar farm. Entirely indigenous owned and operated, it will generate $175,000 in annual revenue and can power 135 homes.

  • Democrats are getting serious about climate change but are basically ignoring policies that would reduce driving which makes getting serious about climate change kind of impossible.

  • Witch houses of the Hudson Valley. People keep finding symbols and artifacts like dismembered dolls, children’s shoes, and bottles of human hair concealed in old houses, thought to be a form of spell casting to keep evil out. (read everything by Geoff Manaugh)


Music

Here’s a song I like by Paul Chambers, in which he is playing an upright bass with a bow.


Podcasts

I love the band The National, though I’m very cognizant of the fact that their middle-class, middle-aged depression rock is maybe a little too on brand for me. I’m catching up on a podcast from earlier this year called Coffee & Flowers in which they dissect the band’s music song by song including interviews with the band and I’m obsessed with their unpacking of Boxer one of my favorites of all time.

(Here’s a fun fact, there’s a similar podcast about Tori Amos that Jamie (Borat my wife) listens to and she has been a guest on that podcast multiple times and I even got to be a guest once so we are basically famous.)

Anyway in one of the episodes about The National, singer Matt Berninger refers to this old parable that I had never heard of before about long spoons. It basically goes like this, God shows a person heaven and hell, and in hell, people are sitting at a table around a pot of stew but they can’t eat the stew because they only have these really long spoons that make it impossible to feed themselves. They are like, ah this sucks so bad I wish I could eat that stew. Heaven is exactly the same scenario, only the people have figured out how to use the really long spoons to feed each other so everyone’s really happy. I thought a funny end to that story would be that person telling god that he doesn’t really like stew.

But anyway, that parable struck me as a very Crisis Palace kind of parable, in the sense that, you know these things could really go either way.


Watching

I’ve been watching Portlandia lately, a season from 2016, which I find soothing. All the shots of Portland remind me of when I used to live there, and watching something that is just a few years old is fun like a kind of micro-nostalgia. Although there is one episode that, I’m not even joking a tiny bit, is about Louis CK and a vaping store, so some things don’t hold up so well.

There’s this one character named Doug who I like to think of as the worst possible version of myself.


The other day I was at a coffee shop and this guy next to me said, do you want to hear a poem. What do you even say to a question like that but he said, no I’m actually a poet and I wrote this poem can I read it to you. So I said yes and he did and then we started talking about writing etc and turns out he didn’t become a poet until he was 43 years old.

Before that he ran a company that made steel and iron fixtures in buildings. I figured that must have been gratifying in its own way. He said no he hated it, but admitted that writing can be very difficult too. “Some days it’s shit and some days it’s genius and some days it’s maybe good enough to entertain a stranger in a coffee shop” and then he left.

Thank you for being my stranger in a coffee shop today, reader, and remember it’s not too late for you to start writing poetry if you want to.

Tate

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