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Everyone, therefore No One (#ME TOO)

October 18, 2017

*Trigger warning…

 

A former colleague contacted me on the weekend, inquiring about my thoughts on #ME TOO, the status update women are using to show the world how ubiquitous sexual harassment is in our society.

No one who has worked with the victims of sexual violence is surprised that almost every women on social media has shared the hash tag. Along with Statistics Canada and all three levels of government, we have known the numbers on sexual harassment for a very long time.

It’s an avalanche.

Sexual predation sits on our collective cultural bookshelf alongside child abuse, violent pornography, lynching, and a whole host of sexual maledictions. We push it into the shadows. Best to believe that we have that Beast locked in a cage. Imagine how socially disruptive it would be to bring it out, into the light, to see that it is everywhere, all of the time, and what are we now going to do about it?

The last time we had such a social revelation, the Church locked Galileo in the Tower for the rest of his life. There is just too much riding on the lies.

Best leave it alone.

What is different about the #ME TOO phenomenon is women are sick and tired of men not doing anything about sexual harassment/assault,  and then justifying our collective inaction with #Wedidn’tknow! Women are stepping forward, putting the numbers in our face.

When my teenage Facebook contacts #ME TOO, when my middle-aged and senior-aged friends #ME TOO, when my daughter, and her friends #ME TOO, I can’t avert my eyes.

Women are calling men out, highlighting by their sheer numbers, just how much sexual harassment continues to creep through our society.

Now we all know the numbers. We can put faces to the numbers.

Now it’s #Whatarewegoingtodoaboutit?

~~~~~

#ME TOO allows so many more women the opportunity to come forward in a safe way than was ever possible in the past. Within that safety, the overwhelming number of women who have stepped forward reveals to everyone how sexual harassment cuts across age, race, background, career, neighborhood, religion, class, queer/straight; across any label you choose to apply.

It is estimated that only 3-5% of all sexual assault victims will ever report their assault to the police. Yet, despite this flaccid percentage, 500,000 sexual assaults were still reported last year in Canada.[i]

This averages out to almost one reported sexual assault for every minute of the year.

There are only 390,000 people living in Halifax. You would have to combine the populations of Regina and Saskatoon to get 500,000 people.

It should also be noted that those 500,000 reported sexual assaults are only for 2016. Add another 475,000 from the year before, and add another 500,000 for this year. And don’t forget, next year is just around the corner.

Is it a surprise that our women’s shelters operate at capacity? In many cities women have to wait more than a year for support therapy after being sexually assaulted. The vast majority of rural women get no support at all.

Now multiply that number by a hundred, by a thousand places in the world, and you start to get a full-scale understanding of the situation women live with. It’s almost impossible to comprehend.

Women are being sexually harassed and/or assaulted, everywhere, pretty much all of the time.

The math speaks truth to power.

Sexual harassment is the silent epidemic. The white elephant in every room of every house in the nation.

What #Me TOO does is put that math squarely in our face.

II

I Samuel 15: 2-3: “Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”

Isaiah 13: 15-16: “Every one that is found shall be thrust through; and every one that is joined unto them shall fall by the sword. Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished.”

Ezekiel 9: 5-6: “And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and woman: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary.”

III

In the mid-nineties I got a call from a woman who worked at a Toronto teen-pregnancy center. She had heard about my anger management work I was then doing with a group of 18-24-year-old young men.

I had been co-facilitating groups for a couple of years, and some of us working in the field were starting to make some real juice around the issue.

We had broken out of the old confines of traditional anger management workshops and their surface rejoinders of “learning how to count to ten”, “how to take a deep breath”, “how to turn the other cheek”. Young men had continually complained to me that they found this anger management solution a waste of time. I argued that these tools were useless without comprehension. We started mining down into childhoods, abuse, violence, what it meant to be a man. We were looking for the roots of our anger. I had told the young men that this approach  was going to get nasty. It was going to hurt. But they would have the opportunity to come out the other side clean, with a better understanding of who they were, and why they acted the way they did.

There was a lot of crying, a lot of screaming, a lot of holding hands.

The pregnancy center had heard we were doing good things, and would I be interested in starting a young father’s support group at the center?

100% of their funding was going to support the mothers, and it had finally occurred to this staff member: “What about the fathers? Who was helping them?”

IV

I once counseled a fifteen-year-old girl (whom I’ll call Sarah), after it had been discovered by the police that her father had been pimping her out to feed his heroin addiction. Worse still, he had been doing so, since Sarah was nine. When little nine-year-old Sarah resisted, when she screamed in pain and cried for the man on top of her nine-year-old self to stop, Sarah’s father shot her up with a tiny dose of heroin as well. After that she was kept in a heroin complacency stupor and could not resist whatever her father and his associates did to her. The police finally got to him when the video he had made of her being gang-raped at twelve surfaced on the Internet. Sarah estimated that she had been raped at least 250 times over those six years.

V

In 1998 I got a call from Toronto Public Health. Would I be interested in helping create a Toronto Men’s Health Network group? This was to be a first for Public Health.

They wanted to bring men together, any men, to look at what it meant to be a man. And why do men behave the way they do? And what could we do about it?

The White Ribbon Campaign was interested, the United Way was interested, a local non-profit offered us free space, a couple of psychoanalysts got involved.

As far as anyone knew, the Men’s Health Network was the first attempt in the city to bring men together to talk about what it meant to be a man, and why were men acting so badly?

Why were men working too much? Why do we ignore our health? Abandon our children? We are abusive. We are filling prisons. What was wrong with us?

We poured over studies, academic research, popular literature. We brought men together to talk about their experiences. We listened to men discuss how they saw their place in the world.

But, our uncomfortable findings fell mostly on deaf ears and the funding for the project petered out after only one funding cycle.

Somewhere our report sits, gathering dust.

VI

All of us boys are lied to when we are growing up. We were lied to in ways that young girls are not. Sure, just as a young girl is told she is a Princess, I was often led to believe that I could be a Prince. But the little girl is taken aside by the women and told of the monster who often likes to tag alongside the prince. She is made to understand that it is a monster that can hurt her. It is a monster she must always be on her guard against. A monster who could show up anywhere, at any time: in the candy store, in the schoolyard, at church, in the backseat a police car, at the movies, in her park playground. In her bedroom.

She has no idea really what her mother and the other grown-up women are endeavoring to tell her when they strive to get her to understand that she has something the MonsterPrince wants. She doesn’t know what it is that she has; she examines herself in the mirror and cannot see it. But as she grows she will come to appreciate that it must be something terribly important, or precious, for she will be made to understand that the MonsterPrince will often do anything to get it. She will be offered candy and puppies and gifts. If she refuses, she must then be on her guard, for some MonsterPrinces will get quite mean about not getting it from her, and some princes may even kill her to have what he wants.

As boys we do not know we may be that MonsterPrince. Many of us will never be that MonsterPrince, even though we feel it lurking quietly in the corner of our soul, buried in the many shadows of our subconscious. We were never told to look for, how to describe, or who to tell about the monster when we saw it. We were not trained in any sort of combat readiness for when the monster appears.

Society has many names for this shape-shifter monster. We know him as father. Or as uncle. Or meet him disguised as a teacher. Or a priest. A co-worker. A brother. Or as your neighbour.

VII

I am reminded of a young woman I had met when I had been asked to do a presentation at my local university’s rape crisis clinic. She had been no more than eighteen or nineteen at the time and had been attacked on her way home one night from the campus library. After much talk, she asked me why I thought men did such things. “I don’t know” I said to her uncomfortably. “Because we can, I suppose.”

Perhaps I should have tried to give her a more learned answer regarding gender socialization, or misdirected anger, or of a man’s fear of impotence, his mortality, vaginas. But I felt that such thoughts were only half-truths. I just looked at her and said “men do what they do because they can. It’s as simple as that.”

~~~~~~

Is it really as simple as “because we can?”

Therefore we do.

But why choose sexual violence? Why not choose something else?

What is it about the violence, the lack of consent, that attracts us?

Many men I have worked with have equated it to a sexual fetish. Power. Domination. Revenge. They are looking for some sort of control.

Other men say they learned it from their fathers, or grandfathers, or whoever was the adult male supervising their childhood existence.

Others have talked about their inner sense of failure, hating their mothers, having been abused in their childhoods, needing to prove themselves.

The more sophisticated among us talk of how the perpetuation of male violence is inherent in our core cultural values. That in a global capitalist predatory situation, where it is corporate nation-state versus corporate nation-state, all of our boys are necessarily taught to be predators.

Men are imprisoned from an early age – bigger, faster, stronger!

What else could they teach us?

VIII

It’s in our DNA.

It’s in our upbringing.

It’s in our culture.

Where would you like me to hide? Where do our boys seek shelter from this storm?

IX

Why does the mainstream media seem so surprised at a man like Harvey Weinstein? When we know that for at least the last two decades his behavior has been an open secret in Hollywood. My wife says she heard about him in a Grade 10 film class back when she was in high school.

Everybody knew. Reporters twice went to reputable newspapers with Harvey Weinstein revelations of alleged sexual harassment, assaults, rapes. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times said no thanks.

Now everyone falls all over themselves in their indignation.

There is a porn sub-genre dedicated solely to the “casting couch audition”. The plotline is always the same. Hopeless girl thinks she’s coming to an audition, is talked into taking her clothes off, has sex with interviewer.

The more innocent the hapless girl appears to be in the video, and the more we – the viewer – can be in on the joke that she isn’t ever getting anything out of this audition, that the audition is purely a pretext to making her fuck someone, the hornier some men get.

There are many men who believe that it is outrageous that they could be charged for raping their wives. I have told some men that they can’t rape their wives. They don’t understand the question.

Until last year, freshmen at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax were taught a rape chant by members of the student council as part of their official initiation into the university. It was revealed that SMU’s student’s council had been using the rape chant for at least ten years. A dozen other universities were subsequently caught using the same chant.

India, only this last week, caved to international pressure and formerly stated that sex with a child bride would be considered rape.

Tell us something we don’t know.

X

For the last year my partner and I ran a small café in an art gallery in rural Ontario.

When one of our young baristas told us she was being sexually harassed by a couple of the older men who frequented the café, I went up to the men and demanded they apologize to her.

“Who gave you the right to take charge like that?” my partner asked me.

“Why did you assume it was your problem to solve? Did you think to ask — first, see if this was what she wanted?”

“Your thoughts may have seemed honorable, but you assumed that as a man, you could solve the problem. That you should solve the problem without any input from either of us.”

Patriarchy runs so deep we can hardly fathom its murky depths. Its ubiquity is almost incomprehensible.

It is invisible.

It is the water we swim in.

It is the air we breathe.

PART II

#ME TOO is a wake-up call to men. But I doubt anything will happen. Based on my thirty years experience, what men will do with this knowledge will play itself out along two main lines of male thinking.

First, there are men who actually believe in gender equality, accept that people are trying to muddle along together as amiably as possible, and that we should have zero tolerance for sexual harassment. They believe that there needs to be a fundamental re-educating of society, from junior kindergarten through high school, from workplace transparency to a complete re-examination of our sex assault laws. We should treat sexual harassment the same way we treat smoking.

This group of men is in the minority.

The second much larger group falls along a broad spectrum, beginning with “women are reactionary cunts!”  and moving through “Liberal-lefties have skewed the numbers”, to “give that man an honorable discharge” apologist types who want to blame our genes, or the Bible.

It’s not our fault. That’s just the way God made us.

Whatever energy there seemed to be in the nineties for challenging the patriarchy and its assumptions about the sexual behavior of men, it seemed to lose a lot of steam by the early 2000’s. After 9/11, our men were expected to be tougher, not weaker. End of story.

In academia, gender studies has increasingly became obscurantist, and has retreated further and further up the ivory tower. They have nothing that a regular person can relate to or use in their daily lives. When I hear students talk about kyriarchical intersectionalities in a post-binary world my eyes glaze over.

Men are retreating from jobs in teaching, social work, coaching, and a whole host of occupations where male role models are badly needed.

Victim blaming and victim shaming are still the rules of the game when it comes to reporting sexual harassment. Women can’t be trusted to be telling the truth. Victims must be prepared to lose their jobs, their dignity, their value as human beings, should they step forward to accuse a man of sexual assault. What did you wear? What did you say? Why did you go to his room? Why did you have a drink with him?

All women are still Eve, Lolita, whores; they are the cause of the Fall, men just can’t help themselves.

XI

If we are going to be serious about solving the sexual nightmare so many women have to live with, the solution must be multi-pronged in its approach.

First and foremost, the solution must involve men and women equally.  A separate camp approach will only lead to vilification and apologetics, which will only lead to further entrenchments.

It needs to involve an adaptation of the principles declared in Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.[ii] How do we learn from the past to address the present? How do we move forward, together, safely, into the future?

  1. The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights will be the framework for reconciliation at all levels and across all sectors of Canadian society.
  2. Women have constitutional, and human rights that must be recognized and respected.
  3. Reconciliation is a process of healing of relationships that requires public truth sharing, apology, and commemoration that acknowledge and redress past harms.
  4. Reconciliation requires constructive action on addressing the ongoing legacies of sexual violence that have had destructive impacts on women’s health, child welfare, the administration of justice, and economic opportunities and prosperity.
  5. Reconciliation requires political will, joint leadership, trust building, accountability, and transparency, as well as a substantial investment of resources.

New parents, daycare workers, teachers, primary caregivers, must all have access to gender training which reveals the biases and contradictions our current approach upholds and supports. Notions like boys need to be tough and girls need to be nurturing need to be thrown in the garbage.

We need to have honest discussions about the role of socialization – how we raise our boys, and how we raise our girls. These explorations need to start at every intersection of our lives: in the home, at work, in government, in junior kindergarten, little league sports, after school programming.

It needs to be included in parenting classes, public health initiatives, and in how we support victims who come forward.

Best practice models need to be introduced into the workplace, into the classrooms, into our various levels of government.

There needs to be opportunities for teenagers to openly discuss sexuality, consent, power, self-esteem, peer pressure, and a whole host of ingredients that go into our sexual behaviors.

It will take more than our Prime Minister writing an essay on why he is raising his boys to be feminists. He needs to do more than talk. Our various levels of government need to implement and enforce policies that support gender equality. The Prime Minister needs to implement a full-scale review of the judiciary system as it pertains to dealing with sexual violence, and actually implement the recommendations that come out of that investigation.

Men must accept that real change must come from within ourselves. And this starts with listening to what women have to say about what they have experienced, how harassment affects their lives, how it affects our children.

We need to shut up, and listen.

Susan Faludi, in her landmark study of male behavior (Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, 1999), noted in her conclusions that “Social responsibility is not the special province of masculinity; it’s the lifelong work of all citizens in a community where people are knit together by meaningful and mutual concerns…[If] men struggle to free themselves from their crisis, their task is not, in the end, to figure out how to be masculine – rather, their masculinity lies in figuring out how to be human.”

I feel like I have heard a collective sigh from all my female relations, friend and family, coming out of #ME TOO.

Not because women now believe something will be done, but from the collective unloading of a burden, from the solidarity of numbers, knowing that they are not alone.

Maybe what I heard was my own wishful thinking. Projecting more of my #gentlerkinderpatriarchy onto the situation.

History shows us that change – real change – is painfully slow at coming. For many generations it never comes at all.

And I know that the idea of a linear progressive History is a fallacy – one only has to look at the current counter-reformation situation the world is in to see how empty the notion of a purely progressive history is.

But it’s the only fallacy I have. It’s the only thing that gets me out of bed some mornings.

[i] http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/10/30/sexual-assault-canada_n_6074994.html; https://www.sexassault.ca/statistics.htm

[ii] http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Findings/Principles_2015_05_31_web_o.pdf

 

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The Las Vegas massacre…and coincidences…

October 15, 2017

So, in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, some weird “coincidences” have arisen.

  1. A concert survivor, 28-year-old Kimberley Suchomel, who has insisted to anyone and everyone who would listen, that there was more than one shooter at the massacre, was found dead in her home last Monday. Cause of death is still unknown.
  2. Long time Mandalay Bay Hotel valet parking attendant, Chad Nishimura, gave a TV interview contradicting the “lone wolf” scenario for the shooting, stating that the Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock checked in with the normal amount of luggage,  nor seemed to be carrying not an ounce of stress about him. Chad, and his TV interview (aired once), have both disappeared.
  3.  The “hero” security guard who helped locate Paddock’s room, and who was to appear on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show to discuss what he saw happen when they kicked in Paddock’s hotel door, has also disappeared. He did not appear on Hannity’s show, nor was he ever mentioned on the show. Officially, according to Fox News, Jesus Campos, did not show up for his interview, so they decided to do something else that night. He is not being re-scheduled.

 

Don’t you just love coincidences?

They are such peculiar things…

Our first American shooting…(updated)

October 14, 2017

For those of you who don’t know, for most of the last 25 years I have been a crisis youth counselor working in Toronto and Halifax with homeless youth, imprisoned youth, gang-involved youth, and young men needing anger management support. In that time I developed a pretty good sense for abuse, potential violence, a broken spirit, and such things. Like a seasoned cop, I can feel something not right in a situation, before I even know “what’s not right”.

So, today, when I cycled down to Morse Street (north Chicago) to go to the grocery store and my spider senses suddenly started tinkling, I instinctively looked around to see what was happening.

Any street worker who has been in their job for any length of time will tell you, that you develop spider senses for “bad vibes” on the street. Most people never have any street sense because they are merely going about their business, lost in thought, never giving the people around them two seconds worth of thought. Because people are busy living their urban lives, they rarely see even 5% of what is happening on the streets at the best of times.

But it is often the “street” that I see first. I’m not saying this to be righteous or anything, it’s just a fact of my many years at a particular job where I was trained to see the streets through the eyes of the marginalized.

Morse Street is an otherwise inconspicuous north-end Chicago street that was at one time quite tough, but is now about 95% gentrified and therefore an otherwise innocuous place.

When  the news popped today that Chicago has been ranked as one of the safest cities in the world, it was with streets like Morse that they must have had in mind. It now has cafes, restaurants, trendy food markets, a weekend farmer’s market, a refurbished theatre house, art shops, a subway stop, tons of pedestrians – all the things that a regular and safe city street has.

So it was with this nothingness in mind, that I was locking my bike to a stand outside a café on a beautiful sunny 26C Friday afternoon and I was thinking of little else but the iced latte I was about to get before walking across the street to the market (to get some ricotta cheese) when my spider sense started to tingle.

I looked up just as 5 or 6 young men – maybe 18 to 23 years of age – came walking around the corner of the street opposite the café. At first glance, they were just a bunch of young men who could be going to one of the sports pubs on the street. They were jovial, at ease with the afternoon.

But I realized that they weren’t actually going anywhere. They were milling. They were congregating actually. Others soon joined them. The one standing in the middle of the group was obviously in charge. He was dressed better, he was being deferred to. I then watched as other young men came over, greeted the man in the middle, and then they went to various corners on our block and stood watch – sentinels.

Gang-bangers I thought to myself. What are they doing on Morse at 4 o’clock on a Friday afternoon?

Two possibilities: they are either waiting for something, or someone.

When I come out of the market I see that they are still there, standing and laughing with each other across the street. I scan the length of the street and see that the sentinels have not moved. I watch as people walk right past them, no clue or thought that they are even there.

Not my problem, I think to myself, and there’s nothing I could do anyway, even if I did know what they are, or might be, up to.

~~~~~

There is a second level of interpretation I can also bring to this scene.

They were all Black young men. They were not dressed in any particular gang-affiliated way that one could readily access. To my untrained eye they were dressed as typical young men we see everywhere in Chicago. (I know absolutely nothing about the gang situation in Chicago.)

So I run a litany of self-questions through my head. Am I attaching stereotypes to this group of young men? Am I projecting? Where’s my privilege?

So what wasn’t right about the scene?

What struck me was that they all had a casual comfort with owning that particular spot on the street where they had grouped that you wouldn’t see from typical young  men of their age. This is hard to explain, but makes more sense when you get older. Their comfort told me that they knew they had each other’s back, that they moved and reacted as a group, that they did not need to worry about anything from anyone.

As young men we are usually just not that comfortable with ourselves, or with the public spaces we are in. It’s mostly just part of being that age: awkward, horny, angry, fidgety, in competition with ourselves, with our peers, with everyone else around us, that we usually don’t know how to relax. Triple that for young Black men. They are watched more closely, they are exponentially hassled that much more by authority figures, no on trusts them.

These guys, however, were way chill.

Too chill.

Anyway, I got on my bike and I came home.

And by the time I had put my bike away, I had forgotten all about them.

~~~~~

An hour later my partner gets a text to meet some university cohorts for a drink. They happen to be in our neighborhood and come meet them at a pub on Morse for a beer.

Sure, why not, she says, and I agree to walk with her to the bar, and then maybe I’ll walk over to the boardwalk – it’s a great night for a stroll.

We are three blocks from Morse and Glenwood when we see 3-4 cop cars and their swirling blue lights. A helicopter appears overhead, shredding the early evening air, hovering over everything like a giant insect.

When we get to Morse, the subway underpass is taped off, cops are yelling at pedestrians to stay back from the red crime scene tape, plain clothes detectives are looking around and taking notes. The ambulance has already left. There are little numbered markers beside the numerous bullet casings. Our first instinct is to look for cameras, as it looks like a scene straight out of NYPD, or some such TV cop show.

I overhear someone ask what happened, someone else responds that there had been a gang shooting.

People who must have witnessed it are talking to police officers. They have those vacant eyes one gets at such times of trauma, and they have that far-away stare, like they are looking down into Middle Earth or something. “There but for the grace of God”… their eyes seem to be saying.

On adjacent side streets other cop cars buzz this way and that.

Coincidence? Statistically possible, but I doubt it.

~~~~~

Everyone stops to gawk for a few minutes, then realize they were going somewhere. They snap out of the moment and realize they have to get on with their business. What else can you do in a city of 5 million? People are expecting us.

I hear people complain that they now have to walk to the other subway entrance as this one has been taped off. Cars angrily honk at each other because drivers are quickly confused as to how to get around the suddenly taped off street. We wonder aloud if the pub might be still open, or did it have to close? My wife checks for any text updates. I see an old Black woman crying under the street light across from us. Another woman stops and hugs her.

This whole drama plays out amongst total strangers.

~~~~~

Ironically, I had just posted to Facebook that ridiculous Economist Intelligence Unit article that had proclaimed Chicago to be one of the safest cities in the world (who the hell is the EIU anyway? Chicago actually ranked 19th of 60 cities surveyed. Toronto was #4).

I assume that their findings do not include the south side of Chicago. (That’s okay, because we have learned already that for most people south-side does not really exist. Well, except for University of Chicago, or maybe Soldier Field. Otherwise it may as well be on another planet.)

Coming to Chicago, the general advice we got was that you want to avoid the south-side as much as possible. Sure, there are neighborhoods there that are gentrifying, and have some groovy new restaurants, but generally speaking, cab yourself directly to where you want to go down there, and cab yourself out. For, as we are led to believe, vast stretches of it are a wasteland, are gang controlled, and where the Boogie Man lives.

The south side is considered a non-space – both physically and psychically – a nothingness, a shadowland, the dark side of the moon for most other Chicagoans.

~~~~~

It’s a different tingle one gets from the air in the aftermath of a violent crime. I have read of how empaths are overcome with a deep sense of sorrow; sensory overload from all the fear and trepidation and sadness that permeates the people in the vicinity.

The air is a little bit like just after a lightning blast – it smells and tastes different. It is quiet, because there are no passing cars (the street has been closed), yet people speak in murmurs. Some mothers are crying. Children look up at their parents in confusion.

~~~~~

The helicopter is still smashing at the air as I leave my partner at the bar with her new friends, and I go for a walk along the boardwalk.

I notice that 12 and 14 year olds playing basketball occasionally stop and look up at the helicopter.

An elderly Black lady, sitting on a bench watches it to. As I pass she asks “Is that what I think it means?”

I stop and look at the helicopter. I nod affirmatively. “Yea, there was a shooting outside the Morse Station,” I say to her.

“Awh, that’s too bad,” she says. She goes on looking at the copter.

“The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, don’t he?” she says quietly, almost as if she was speaking to herself.

“Yea, I suppose He does… Have a nice evening,” I say to her and walk on.

“Thank you. And you to,” she says to me as I walk off.

South-side homicides barely make the news here. A recent quadruple daylight execution only got about two inches of coverage on page 15 of the daily newspaper.

I think to myself that I should pick up a newspaper tomorrow, see how they spin this.

I doubt that they will care much about the Black men involved, but I bet people will be plenty pissed that it happened up here.


The morning after update: It seems the intended targets were at least three youths. Two of the targets escaped in a car, the third, a 13 year-old boy, though in serious condition, is expected to survive. However, a 64 year-old White woman, a area resident and long-time teacher at the local Waldorf school, who was walking to the subway with her husband of 29 years, was fatally shot in the spray of bullets from the automatic weapon used in the attack (thank you NRA). She died almost immediately in her husband’s arms. This is the story now. There is no other story. (Oh, and these were just two of ten shootings that occurred in Chicago between 3:30 and 6:30 pm Friday evening…3 people dead, 7 wounded. )

Chicago’s waterfront…

October 10, 2017
o-LAKE-SHORE-DRIVE-CHICAGO-facebook.jpg

Stock photo – coming into Chicago from the south-east

The very first time we drove into Chicago, back in August, coming in from the east as one would arriving from Toronto, it was about 8 o’clock in the evening, and we drove up Lakeshore Drive, going north to Roger’s Park, driving alongside Lake Michigan.

We were driving alongside Chicago’s much vaunted lakefront trail system.

Being from Toronto (Chicago’s sister city), we had heard much about how Chicago had done a first-rate job developing its waterfront and how Toronto had let a similar opportunity slide through its fingers.

But at the time, driving in as we were, it reminded me of the Martin Goodman Cycle Trail along Toronto’s waterfront in the west end.

“What’s the big deal,” I said to my partner, “we may as well be driving into Toronto along Lakeshore Blvd. It looks exactly the same.”

Well, now I have been here a couple of months, let me tell you how many ways I was wrong.

lakeshoredrive.jpg

Lakshore Drive – looking north

At its finest hour, Toronto could not have ever dreamed to build a lakefront park and cycle system to match Chicago’s.

It is so far beyond the very scope of a Canadian  politician’s small ways of thinking.

Torontonians may be famously polite – which is often seen as a good and nice way to be in the world. But it comes at a cost. Toronto’s cultural politeness (itself, a story for another day) means that as a group Torontonians think small, are too eager to give developers absolutely everything they want,  has too much of an inferiority complex to envision itself on a grander scale.

And it’s not just the politicians, most urban Canadians – rich or poor – would never dream of paying the cost of such a park. We’d rather go to the cottage for the weekend.

Toronto is just too impossibly conservative for such a park system to ever be anything more than a Jane Jacob fantasy project sitting on a shelf in some academic’s office.

To put it in terms a politician would understand: Toronto does not have the balls to pull off what Chicago did.

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heading south on the cycle path – Roger’s Park

To give you some perspective: imagine if, from the west of Toronto, from Kipling and Lakeshore in Etobicoke, all the way to Bluffer’s Park in Scarborough in the east, there was one unbroken park system along Lake Ontario – 29kms of unbroken strolling, cycling, beaches, baseball diamonds, soccer pitches, basketball courts, tennis courts, football grounds, a golf course, wildlife sanctuaries, picnic grounds, children’s playgrounds, off leash dog parks – imagine 18 miles in the order of something along the lines of what Toronto now has along the cycle path from Leslie Spit to the Beaches – only, that this type of waterfront stretches all the way across the entire waterfront face of Toronto, from Etobicoke to Scarborough.

If you are a Torontonian reading this, you can well imagine how hard it is to think of a park this big. Take Trinity-Bellwood Park and lay it end-to-end about 100 times, from Kipling to the Scarborough Bluffs. Does that help?

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the view of the downtown (still another 5 miles of cycling away) from Lincoln Park

It is impossible to fathom just how hard Toronto dropped the ball on this opportunity, until you cycle through the Chicago system on a sunny Saturday afternoon in October – with hundreds of little league games happening – soccer, football, baseball, basketball – and everywhere cyclists, walkers, golfers, tennis players, tourists (so many tourists!), lovers, swimmers, sailers, strollers, readers, and picnic’ers – and languages from every corner of the world.

Green grass, blue waters, blinding beaches!

The entire system readily accessible by walking tunnels that cut under the Lakeshore expressway, connecting with major adjoining streets, with many of those tunnels painted and tiled magnificently.

From the poorest neighborhoods in the south of Chicago, to the upper-middle class regions in the north end – all of it connected by one waterfront park system.

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IMG_8778.jpgOne of the most significant contrasts between having lived in Toronto for 20 years and now just coming to Chicago, is that Chicago understands grand in a way that would simply make a Canadian blush.

Chicago has no problem with grand! Look, Toronto cannot even build a subway system adequate to the city’s needs. Compare Toronto’s woeful 2-line system, to Chicago’s multi-lined approach. It will make you weep!

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Toronto subay

 

0c754342d042887acc4b75feafc14f1c--underground-tube-london-underground.jpg

Chicago’s subway

Whether its the Art Institute (currently rated the best in the world), the Magnificent Mile of restored early 20th century skyscraper architecture (stunningly beautiful), the opera house, the churches, or the Lakeshore Trail: Go Big, or Go Home!

~~~~~

There were 50,000 people out using the park last weekend. But, it was not like I felt closed in, overwhelmed with people. It’s just too big for that.

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looking north (5 miles from the end)

It was a glorious crazy-hot sunny October Saturday and everywhere I looked people were drinking it in, sucking on every last drop of golden manna, before the real fall weather arrives next week.

It was a beautiful day to be on a bike.

 

 

those pesky homeless people…

October 6, 2017

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/homeless-camp-gardiner-1.4342246

“It is fatal to look hungry. It makes people want to kick you.” 
George OrwellDown and Out in Paris and London

A CBC Toronto reporter tried to grapple yesterday with the strange idea that some homeless men said they would rather live on the streets – rain-or-shine – than spend the night in a homeless shelter.

Why would they say such a thing? It baffles our middle-class notions of comfort and practicality. Surely, to be indoors is better than to be out in the elements?

Here is what I can offer as insight from my 25 years as a crisis counselor working with at-risk and homeless youth.

As you might guess, a homeless shelter is a horrible place to have to stay. No matter how much a shelter Executive Director tries to put a decent spin on the situation, shelters are chronically underfunded, understaffed, and overcrowded. Their clients are coping with severe PTSD, addictions, depression, mental health issues. The shelter staff deal with a multitude of often violent crisis per shift.

The environment is dystopian, fragrant with street smells and disease, rife with anger.

If I was homeless, I’m not sure I’d want to use one either.

While 99% of politicians will lament the sad state of homelessness in (insert your city name here), the reality is that only about 25% of them really care, and even less will actually support putting any money into the problem.

No level of government wants to spend money on the homeless. The public resents it when they do. “Why put money down a black hole?”

But they have to spend at least a little lest the homeless begin to run amok. So they fund homeless issues at the very minimum of what their conscience and latest polling results tells them to. And while this adds up to many millions of dollars, it is less than a city will spend on office supplies.

Shelters, therefore, are forced to run on shoestring budgets, cram as many people into a room as legally allowable, and the non-profit shelters (who deal with the bulk of homeless people) pay their staff about $15 an hour to look after a problem no one wants to deal with.

If you want an example of when words aren’t worth the paper they are written on, look no further than our homeless problem. There is a hundred years of homeless reports, there are multiple best practice examples from Europe for solving the problem, there are professors and frontline workers who will tell you the same thing: we (society) could solve the homeless problem tomorrow if we wanted to. We know how to do it. But where tire meets highway, we don’t want to do it.

Instead governments play dumb, say the issue needs more study.

Why don’t we solve this problem?

The “why” is a very ugly answer. It speaks to an unspoken dark side in our society’s nature. Some have argued that it speaks to our Christian nature, to our deeply seated Old Testament notions of crime and punishment.

Others argue that it is an evolutionary impulse: cull the herd, get rid of the weak and the broken. It is in our DNA to turn our back on them.

Don’t worry – we’ve all done it.

I had a homeless alcoholic get in my face just this morning as I was walking into my neighborhood barbershop. “No, I don’t have any money. No, I won’t buy you a drink. Okay, now you’re taking it too far. Listen, someone will call the police on you, if you keep being so aggressive.

We prefer to bury it under a blame-the-victim mentality. The homeless are lazy. They are bums. They are nothing more than addicts who mooch off the system. Don’t waste any more money on them.

We pass the buck onto our politicians, or our police forces to solve.

I have sat in Toronto City Hall, or at Queen’s Park, and I have listened to city counselors, hospital administrators, United Way Directors, mayors, and premiers, talk about how they have a new and dynamic plan to end homelessness by the year 2000. Okay, by 2010. Absolutely by 2022.

In three years a new mayor or premier or United Way Executive Director will be voted into office and they will have an even newer plan to solve homeless issues and so the old plan is wrapped up, the clients dumped back into the streets, new people will be hired (or re-hired as is often the case), new directives will be pursued, new reports will be written, new cutting edge data will be collected.

All the while the $25,000 shelter frontline worker – who has just been spit on, or punched, or threatened with rape, will try to decide whether it’s worth it to go on. Maybe she should take that job as a barista at the cozy cafe at the end of her street. It pays the very same wage.

But until that decision is made she will have a cry in the office with her co-workers, put a brave face back on, and go back to work. I’ve seen it a million times.

Solving the homeless problem is really very simple. Put the homeless in homes, and then support them in their homes until they can support themselves. Accept that some of them will never be able to support themselves. Accept that this is the reality of mental health, intellectual disabilities, and the end result of childhood abuse issues that you cannot imagine ever happening in your city.

To do this housing properly you need to house people in real functioning apartments – not rat infested rooming hovels. They need to receive a guaranteed basic income that will pay their bills, they need health and dental coverage, housing support workers, enough addiction counselors to work almost one-on-one with those people who need it, empathetic trauma counselors, good maintenance staff (and funding to fix things when they break), support for apprenticeship and job training.

It sounds like a lot of money, and it is. Which is the main reason politicians won’t touch it. But it’s all up-front money. Housed people are healthier people. The savings to healthcare alone, through emergency services, medications, hospital stays, surgeries, run into the millions. Police interventions also drops. Neighborhood crime rates drop. Prostitution rates drop. Drug addictions drop. It just goes on and on.

Simon Fraser University conservatively estimates that it costs $55,000 a year to the system for each homeless person. (I’ve seen estimates much higher, in the $100,000 to $175,000 range.)

Simon Fraser estimates that it would cost about $37,000 to house that same person. That is a 33% saving over the current approach. Multiply that by the estimated 225,000 homeless people in Canada and you get into some serious savings. Millions of dollars that could then be re-directed into schools, public transit, infrastructure.

The numbers are all there. The United Way has them. City Hall has them. The province and the federal government has them. Everybody knows.

Yet nothing gets done.

And so we place the latest homeless report on a back shelf in some administrator’s office. And we close the door behind us. And we give the police some extra money to go down to the Gardiner Expressway once a month to clear out the homeless camp.

For the next day or two suburban commuters and tourists won’t have to look at them as they drive into the city.

And we can sleep comfortably, smug in the notion that we have solved the problem.

 

A river of tears in Vegas today…

October 2, 2017

http://abcnews.go.com/US/58-dead-515-injured-las-vegas-shooting-suspect/story?id=50223240

Well there it is. Las Vegas. October 1, 2017.

We didn’t know when or where it would be, only that it would happen.

The biggest fear our families had for us moving to the United States was that we would die in a mass shooting.

We promised that we would avoid large crowds of any sort – concerts, rallies, sporting events, the Navy Pier on a Sunday afternoon.

It was easy for us to say, and do, because we don’t have – as they say – any skin the game. It’s not my country. I’m not getting killed by some lunatic, when I want to get out of here as soon as we can after the Ph.D. is complete. The rest of the world knows that America is bonkers when it comes to gun control and anger management.

But how else could it be? How else would their empire run?

To condone any type of gun-control behavior would be to acknowledge that we (America) were no longer at the top of the global food chain.  It would be to admit that we had grown soft, lost our touch, beaten at our game by some other pugilist like Putin.

But Americans – everyday Americans – they have all their skin in the game – and they have to get on with the business of being regular Americans doing regular American things. They want their kids to go to kindergarten, to a dance hall, or to a country music concert.

And so Vegas, that fake city in the desert that is “America-on-steroids”, likes to do things big, or not at all. So, a 64-year-old man with a handful of fully loaded automatic weapons, sat in a hotel window and let it blast at what essentially was a group of kids and young adults dancing at an outdoor country music concert across the street. The largest mass shooting in America. So far.

~~~~~

_DSC9463No one can do “America!” like Americans can do America.

Riding my bike through the streets of Evanston is to be riding in/through a lush, thick, sweet , warm,  early October amber. The ghost of Norman Rockwell venerated in almost every house in the neighborhood.

The 125 year old tree-lined streets, the American flag at a perfect 45° angle, the flag-pole off a wrap-around porch of Adirondack chairs and hanging plants, the Cubs playoff chances being discussed on the radio.

~~~~~

In a sane world, if when we left our apartment this morning after such a domestic massacre, there would be prayer vigils everywhere. On campus, in the parks, on street corners. But it seems that everyone else was also just getting on with the business of getting on.

Numb. Hollowed-out.

Sorrow.

The Las Vegas victims will be mostly young people, I assume. Young-ish, at least.

A music concert,

a sniper with multiple automatic rifles.

In the video it sounds like a string of cheap firecrackers going off while everyone keeps dancing to the music, not yet realizing what is happening.

Now there is also the deeper sadness, at the realization that nothing will change.

No automatic alt text available.75% of Americans want gun control, but the NRA has both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party in its back pocket, and so darker forces will continue to rule the day.

By today’s 6 o’clock news the NRA had yet to make a statement, only offering via Twitter that the gunman was an evil man. Better wait, for the crowd to simmer down, lest there be a lynching.

Hilary Clinton, I see, is immediately slammed on all sides for her incredibly insensitive remarks (she continues to be so fucking tone deaf).

“Imagine how much worse the tragedy could have been, if the gunman had a silencer?” she asks in a Tweet. “The NRA wants Washington to legalize silencers.”

How about this Hilary? Try very hard to imagine you are one of the family members of the 600 dead and wounded in last night’s tragedy?

Why would you want us to try to imagine a tragedy of even worse consequences? Why insult the victims and their families – ignoring them really – with a comment suggesting that “it could always have been worse?”

Why say this on the day family members across the nation have already been brought to their knees?

People didn’t vote for you Hilary simply because you are a woman. They didn’t vote for you because – like Al Gore – you are politically tone-deaf and, like your husband, you are a parasitic narcissist political opportunist who thought so little of the people that they were little more than an abstraction in your never-ending climb to power; all the while already seeing your beaming head on Mount Rushmore.

~~~~~

The world looks at America, again from afar, stunned by its brutishness, its ignorance, and its violence.

Besides Vegas, 350 other people will also be shot today in America. Another 350 tomorrow. And 350 the day after tomorrow. Right through the weekend, and next month. And so it goes.

Last week a toddler in a Detroit daycare somehow got his hands on a handgun and shot two other toddlers. It barely made the news.

To what purpose does the gun serve, we outsiders ask of Americans?

Why are automatic weapons allowed outside of military operations?

We don’t do it? Why do you?

~~~~~

The Pavlovian response is the second amendment. “A well relegated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Sure, the 2nd amendment meant something, back in December of 1791, when it was signed into law. But that was only fifteen years after America won the war for its independence over Britain. The Brits were still threatening to return. The French also had an eye for new territory. The only real weapon available to the Founders of America in defense against European powers were “the people”, and their muskets (which take about a minute to reload before firing).

To what purpose then a hand-held machine gun that fires 60 rounds a minute. Why do these need to be in the public’s hands (or any hand, for that matter)?

If you think you have a right to these guns in order to keep the government sufficiently libertarian, and that you can force this on the government is absurd! If it ever gets to the point where Americans are fighting their own army in hand-to-hand combat, America will have much bigger problems at that point than our 2nd amendment rights.

American spends more on its military machine than the next twenty countries combined. Do you think you and Bob and Jim, in your little Idaho militia will be successful – gunz-a-blazing against the largest military juggernaut in World History should Washington ever decide to turn on its own people?

~~~~~

From the outside it seems almost to be the gang mentality writ large. A twelve-year-old conceptual tribal thinking of how one defends home and family. But a defense against what?

Against rage! Against hatred? Against Fear itself.

I have never seen a people more angry and distrustful than is expressed in everyday American culture. But I have also never seen such concentrations of wealth, such intense western poverty, such inflammatory hated of Black and Brown and Red people. And the corruption! I thought I knew corruption working in Toronto, and dealing with politicians in Ottawa. What did I know?

Chicago reeks of corruption. The city is famous for it! The Washington Stench – ten times as thick – can be smelled in every state in the union. There is just too much money for heads not to spin in delirium.

SImage may contain: 2 people, texto who supports the NRA; in turn, putting money in politicians pockets to maintain the current gun frenzy in America? The NRA only has about 4.5 million members (in a country with a population of 330 million. That’s less than 5% of the population. Yet, such power.)

There are many, but there is also really only one.

The gun industry.

And who do suppose the gun industry is tied to? Military contractors. Who are also tied to politicians.

Sure, you can focus on Chuck Norris, or Tom Seleck, and other such NRA celebrity riff-raff.

But the fundamental fact remains: America is the largest arms producer in the world. For both domestic and military use. Billions of dollars are at stake.

End of story.

Image may contain: textNow you understand? The NRA is nothing but a façade – a ruse – an organization with less than 5% of the population’s support, yet more powerful in Washington than big pharma or the oil industry.

~~~~~

So what’s the end game that they pursue? Is it to perpetuate a general chaos while they plunder? Conspiracy theory? The Lords of Empire?

And why don’t the 75% of the population who want gun control say “Enough!” and demand – by their sheer numbers – that the law be changed, that these weapons of mass destruction be taken away and melted into plow shares?

Why don’t 5 million Democrats get memberships to the NRA, go to its next AGM, and vote to put the NRA out of business?

Seriously? Why don’t they?

Know you enemy…

September 30, 2017

https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/groups

For a long time now – at least since the mid-’90’s – I (and many others) have been arguing that liberals and progressives who believe in Human Rights, multiculturalism, gender rights, sexual rights, etc need to start moving out of their progressive urban enclaves and roll up their sleeves to work with, educate, and support movements that are challenging fascist movements that are beginning to pop up all over North America.

No one really wanted to listen, for in those days, fascist-oriented thinking was still very much perceived as marginal, or rural, or hillbilly movements and no one needed to take them seriously. More than once I remember being thought of as hysterical when I would mention at a dinner party what some of us were hearing and beginning to see on the streets.

The explosion of social media access has shown all of us that while these people may still be a minority political voice, they are not as marginal as we once wanted to believe, nor are they shrinking in size with time. Their numbers are, in fact, only getting bigger.

Many would argue, that in a slightly watered down version, they have now made it all the way to the White House.

And while their growth is inevitably tied into national and regional economics and the flow of global capitalism out of North America and into cheaper wage markets – we cannot ignore what the political impact of economic dispossession of millions of white Americans is going to be on the country.

Yes, this is specifically a “white” issue. History has already past sentence on the white treatment of Blacks, Aboriginal people, Latinos and all people of so-called “color”. Slavery, genocide, the World Bank, the support of dictatorships throughout Latin America – History has found those in power who have tried to maintain the white power dynamic status quo as guilty, guilty, guilty.

But as the Black Lives Matter movements tries to highlight and fight back against institutionalized racism and institutionalized violence against Black communities, increasingly we are coming to see that it’s not necessarily that Black lives don’t matter, it’s that No Lives Matter – only Money Matters.

And, increasingly, those millions of white Americans who once thought they were part of a larger tribe that would look after all white interests, are now coming to realize that they too are being hung out to dry – economically speaking – just as easily as anyone else.

Economics is a bitch that way. You can start out by marginalizing minorities, throwing them under the carpet in order to maintain your dominant group. But the internal contradictions of global capital then force the power elites to turn on their own tribe – to cannibalize it’s own perceived people. (And don’t think this only happens here. There were more than 60,000 protests last year in China against their current economic system that is displacing millions of people – and that number is only the protests that had at least a million protesters – the government doesn’t even bother to keep track of anything smaller.)

Unlike marginalized people of color, however, there are those in the white community who have inherited massive family fortunes, or who have made billion dollar fortunes in the current capitalist system who are deeply racist, who have no problem funding and supporting fascist movements.

There are billions of dollars behind the growth of the “alt-right” movement in America. There are similar – though smaller – movements happening in Canada as well.

(There is a neo-Nazi parade happening today in the little city of Peterborough, in eastern Ontario. I have a great deal of close friends who are going, in order to support an anti-fascist counter march.)

But when I talk to anyone over 40, it still seems very hard for the majority of them to see the rise of neo-Nazi groups as little more than a fringe movement. It’s still hard for Boomers to take this shit seriously.

Sadly History has a short memory. WWII was in the last millennium. Studying fascism is that boring shit you had to read about in a Grade 10 history class. Snore!

But it’s back – and it will get worse before it gets better. The seeds we saw planted during the economic collapse of the American heartland industrial belt are now in the full bloom of spring as the 1% has de-regulated, and/or priority regulated their own financial interests – leaving more and more white people on the margins of economic potential.

Who do you think the white unemployed-increasingly debt ridden-economically marginalized – but once part of the majority political/economic structure – are going to blame for this?

And who do you think their financial supporters are going to want them to blame for this economic mess? Blacks. Latinos. Catholics. Jews. Chinese.

Anyone who can be perceived as “the other” can be easily constructed to be the straw dog in this narrative.

Unfortunately, it is 1% of the white Boomer elites who now control 95% of the wealth in North America – and they are not giving up this privilege without a real struggle.

To combat fascism – we first need to combat the economic infrastructure and dominant white ideology that perpetuates this economic system of mass economic marginalization for huge minority wealth.

These people are fertilizing – perhaps unwittingly, or through ignorance, or denial – a growing fascist movement in America.