Fifty years ago I picked up a copy of Look magazine, which had in it photographs taken during the just completed voyage of Apollo 8 to the moon. Look magazine was the “also-ran” to the more famous Life magazine, both being large glossy magazines full of color photographs. I was then a fifteen year-old science fiction fan, so naturally I anticipated eagerly the photographs from Apollo 8 that I knew would be in the magazine.
There for the first time I saw the photograph since known as “Earthrise”, which shows the Earth in the distance, surrounded by an endless black nothingness, and in the foreground the desolate and forbidding lunar landscape. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. To a science fiction fan, Earth was the place you left, a kind of boring classroom globe, minus the national boundaries, of course. Instead, I saw something that sent a chill up my spine that I still remember.
Over the past half century, at times I’ve pondered why that picture struck me so. I’ve come to the realization that the best explanation is in an analogy. It is as though I had been blind from birth, and had at some point gained my sight. For the first time, I had seen the face of my mother.
And she is beautiful beyond words.
“Viewed from the distance of the moon, the astonishing thing about the Earth, catching the breath, is that it is alive.” So wrote the biologist Lewis Thomas, words quoted at the start of James Lovelock’s book “The Ages of Gaia”.
During the beginnings of the space program in the 1960s, Lovelock, also a biologist, had been hired by NASA to help with the search for life on Mars. While working on that, Lovelock realized that life on a planet could reveal its presence indirectly via its atmospheric composition. Earth’s atmosphere contains an enormous amount of free oxygen, which couldn’t be sustained over time without its being part of the life cycle. Why not? Because oxygen is a very reactive element, meaning that it sort of “wants”, very badly, to be combined with other elements into chemical compounds (the best example being water, H2O).
It is life that continually sustains the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere. And that isn’t the only way that the presence of life affects the Earth. Without here going into the details (plenty of books etc. out there on the subject), life doesn’t simply adapt to its environment; on a planetary scale, it also adapts the environment to itself, helps to render the Earth a place where life can not only exist, but thrive.
This view of the Earth and the biosphere as an inextricably bound-together whole Lovelock named Gaia, after the Greek Earth goddess. This idea was slow to gain acceptance, especially in the scientific community, and it remains controversial. What isn’t controversial is that, even in the minimalist view of the idea, the biosphere does exhibit feedback mechanisms that act to regulate the environment in ways conducive to life.
When people look at the Earthrise photograph, many tend to remark on how fragile the Earth looks, like some beautiful but delicate Christmas ornament (an appealing image perhaps because the picture was taken on Christmas Eve). It’s therefore unsurprising that the photograph was an inspiration to the budding environmental movement of the time. The Earthrise photograph helped to foster the idea that human beings with their out-of-control pollution were threatening the delicate biosphere depicted in the photograph, and that we needed to work to heal the natural world. Others mocked the idea that human activity was affecting the environment, or that we could threaten the existence of life itself.
I’m here to tell you that both attitudes are wrong, because both proceed from a flawed premise. Nature isn’t something that stands apart from us, because we humans ARE PART OF IT. Therefore, of course human activity affects the environment, our common environment.
But does human activity threaten life itself, as some environmentalists claim?
No, and here’s why. First and foremost, the fragility of the biosphere seen in the Earthrise photograph is illusory, a product of judging things by comparative size. In the Permian extinction event 250 million years ago, 96 percent of all marine species, and 70 percent of terrestrial vertebrates, were wiped out. Many scientists think this extinction event was caused by the unexplained release of massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (much larger than the current human contribution). Compared to the Permian extinction, the die-off after the asteroid collision that killed the dinosaurs was a mere blip.
And yet, in both cases, life survived. The biosphere, it turns out, is a lot tougher than it looks. And we humans are a lot smaller in the scheme of things than we like to admit. The biologist Lynn Margulis once remarked, “The planet takes care of us, not we it.” Far from the biosphere, Gaia, being something we need to protect, “we need to protect ourselves from ourselves … Gaia, a tough [expletive deleted], is not at all threatened by humans.”
Quite the contrary, and here’s the point of revisiting Earthrise a half century later, and both the insights and the illusions that famous photograph fostered. As we’ve seen just this past year with massive wildfires and monster hurricanes, global warming caused by our pumping of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is not only real, but poses an increasing danger, not to life on Earth, but to HUMAN life on Earth.
And that’s the takeaway point. We must stop pumping carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the environment, not because it will destroy life on Earth, but because it will ultimately destroy US.
Remember that Gaia acts, through feedback mechanisms, to foster the continuance of life. Not, it must be emphasized, human life alone.
Meaning, long before we humans are able to destroy life on Earth, Mother Earth WILL take care of us.
When I was in 7th grade in the public school I attended in the South, I was targeted for bullying – and worse – for being gay.
Thing is, I wasn’t gay. Not then. Not now.
But I was somehow “different”, mostly because I was an unathletic bookworm. (The best picture of the “reasoning” involved can be seen in the courtroom scene in the movie Idiocracy, a movie I cannot recommend highly enough.)
Did that make me sympathetic to non-heteros? Sadly, no, at least at first. In fact, it reinforced in me the latent homophobia imprinted in my psyche by the prevailing culture. In a story, sadly, all too common among gay people themselves, I was determined to show to others, and myself, that I “belonged”, that I wasn’t one of “them”.
What brought me out of that dark place was nothing special. It’s called growing up, and lived experience, and education. Looking back, the best way I can describe it is a certain enlargement of the heart, like what happened to the Grinch in the end.
That personal history informs my feelings about the race for Minnesota Attorney General. I really wish it didn’t. For one thing, that race has compelled me to read up on the history of a certain Doug Wardlow. That’s something I rarely do, since I usually try to steer clear of reading about Republicans, given that doing so nowadays tends to make me nauseous.
And it turns out it’s a good thing I hadn’t had to until now. Because when I did, because of my personal history I got a taste of what a lot of women felt listening to Brett Kavanaugh.
Now a lot of you know that some have tried to turn Wardlow’s DFL opponent Keith Ellison into some Democratic version of Kavanaugh. What I found in my research is that Wardlow fits that bill far better. In fact, not only are the allegations against Ellison pretty thin, the allegations against Wardlow are actually better attested than those against Kavanaugh (not that I don’t credit the latter).
Last Saturday the Pioneer Press reported that interviews with Wardlow’s classmates when he attended Eagan High School in the 1990s reveal him to have been a homophobic bully. He especially targeted his classmate Ryan Durant, who at one point attempted suicide (Durant himself doesn’t blame Wardlow for that, although he does call him the “worst” bully of the group that targeted him for his orientation).
According to the newspaper, Durant’s “account is corroborated by several other students.” They include a female friend of Durant, whom Wardlow attacked with lesbian slurs, “even though she was not gay.” Among Durant’s tormentors was a then friend of Wardlow … who it later turns out IS gay, and who has corroborated Durant’s account in every particular.
I think now you can see how this really, really resonates with me personally.
Durant admits that people can change after high school. Yeah, also sounds familiar. But Durant goes on to say that Wardlow’s public positions on gay rights show that his views have NOT changed.
Item: While clerking at the Minnesota Supreme Court, Wardlow authored a conservative blog which asserted that “marriage should be reserved for the union of one man and one woman.”
Item: Wardlow was elected to the Minnesota House in 2010, and there supported a Republican-led effort to amend the state constitution via referendum to define marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman. That referendum lost in 2012, and Wardlow lost his seat.
Item: And as if all that weren’t enough, Wardlow was recorded earlier this year as promising to fire every Democratic attorney in the AG office as his first official act if elected.
Naturally, Wardlow has denied everything except the last. He’s also tried to downplay – or refused to discuss – his earlier public record on LGBTQ issues.
In other words, Wardlow is just one more lying, hypocritical Republican.
Maybe I’m showing my partisan bias here, but in comparing Wardlow and Ellison, I have no problem identifying where the preponderance of damning evidence lies. And it infuriates me when I hear that some Democrats are considering not voting in the AG race.
Really? Is your memory so short that you don’t remember where the purity police got us in November 2016?
All you readers of this post, I’d like you to ask yourself, and anyone you know on Facebook or in person who is OK with such foolishness, the following question:
If, due to your “principled” refusal to choose in the Minnesota AG race, you help to elect him to the AG office, thereby turning that office into a bastion of hard-right Republicanism …
If you contribute by your action or inaction to that result, tell me, was your “purity” worth the price?
Democrats value diversity. Republicans want us all to be the same, a nightmarish version of themselves.
That’s why I say vote next Tuesday, not just to make a difference, but to KEEP a difference.
By Phillip Wynn, SD 41 member
The last two years have been an overwhelming trial for many Americans. It began with the surprising, and disastrous, election of a sociopathic criminal to the highest office in the land, a man – if we dare dignify him by such a term – as devoid of competence as he is of respect for our democratic institutions. His administration – if we dare dignify it by such a term – has since featured one rank indecency after another, while its “leader” and his fascistic enablers in the Republican party have celebrated each successive atrocity with sadistic glee.
The decent people of this country, including some Republicans, have regarded this carnival of depravity with mounting horror. As there seems no one able or willing to curb the madness, emotions among these decent people have run the gamut from shocked disbelief, to helpless anger, and, for many, hopelessness in the face of apparently unstoppable evil.
The last emotion has particularly affected many women who watched, horrified, as a man credibly accused of sexual assault was elevated to a seat on the highest court in the land, while his accuser was not only deluged with insult and vituperation, but even forced to flee her home with her family out of fear for her life. Her searing testimony before a kangaroo court of unsympathetic and hostile men reawakened in millions of women excruciating memories of their own past sexual traumas.
So it’s no wonder that many Americans, that many Democrats, feel depressed and angry as we count down to election day 2018.
All the more reason, I say … to ACT!!!
Action is the cure I promised in the title. Here I know personally whereof I speak. I have known both anger and depression – and a bit of past trauma as well.
And, as many a clinician will tell you, and as I am telling you now – based on personal experience – ACTION is one of the best treatments available to everyone.
But what can I do, you say? In a minute. But first, at the risk of rubbing your nose further in what is depressing you, let me remind you that YOU, all of you, are called to action not just for yourself. That is the Republican way.
No. You are challenged to look beyond yourself, to ACT because of:
The victims of sexual assault, whose reluctance to come forward has just now been shown to be fully warranted; the millions cruelly victimized by our health not care; the mentally ill and disabled, often cast aside like so much garbage; the millions who have to work two jobs, or more, in an often vain effort to check their slide into poverty; the people of color who can get shot, in their own homes, for the crime of existing; our own children – our CHILDREN! – who now at their school have to worry more about getting shot than passing a test; the children torn from their families by a fascistic police force motivated by a crude, nightmarish dream of white supremacy; and many, many other things, the last but not least being the climate ravages that are currently sweeping the globe, while our “leaders” stick their heads in the sand and muse on how much more money can be given to the rich.
THEY are the ones for whom you must soldier past your anger and your depression. THEY are the ones on whose behalf you must direct your anger in a good cause, a righteous cause.
So, for those in Senate District 41 who want to act, I have a suggestion. This Saturday, starting at 11 o’clock, at the home of our state representative Connie Bernardy (2810 Linden Drive in New Brighton), she and other DFLers running for office, including my representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, Betty McCollum, will be gathering for a door knocking in our district.
If this isn’t your thing, there are other ways you can contribute. For instance, my wife Pam will be cooking a dish for that event. You could do that, or something else. Because there’s always something a volunteer can do to help the cause, in this what is, beyond any doubt, easily the most important election year in my lifetime, bar none.
Don’t let the events of the last few weeks leave you so discouraged that you feel it’s too hopeless to do anything. That’s exactly what Trump and the Republicans want you to feel. Do you really want to do what THEY want you to do? That being … nothing?
Remember the words of Martin Luther King: “We must at times accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
If not this Saturday, find a way to act before November 6. Build up your hopes to overmatch the sum of your fears. You will be better for it … and so will your country … and so will your fellow Americans.
— Phillip Wynn
Primaries are over! Not all my candidates won, and I’m betting that not all of yours did either. But Minnesota saw an amazing election turnout, and we can now shift the focus from ourselves to our actual opponents. As a newcomer to the senate district DFL, I have been really energized by the excitement and commitment I’ve seen this summer. Here are a few of the ideas that I want to keep top-of-mind from now until election day.
Minnesota is super-duper competitive this year
I think this is one of the first years in recent memory that Minnesota is consistently making national political news. Four out of the eight house districts — the Eighth (around Duluth), the Third (Northwest of the Twin Cities), the First (along Minnesota’s Southern border), and the Second (Southeast of the Twin Cities) — could all feasibly swing either way according the FiveThirtyEight house election model. Our governor’s race, which is rated with a slight advantage for Tim Walz, is a must win for Minnesota Democrats, and the Minnesota House is the 2018 battleground for our state’s political power. I say this to emphasize that while November creeps into view, more people will be getting involved, tuning in, and ready to vote. And every neighbor, friend, or stranger with which I can share my perspective on the Democratic Party represents one more potential vote. What’s more, we have a lot to brag about this year: 2018 has fielded a more diverse and energetic set of candidates than ever before, and they are hitting the pavement and working the grassroots to sell our message.
Democrats are evolving with the times / Republicans are dancing to the same old song
Democrats are the Big Tent Party, which means Republicans will always win on simple messaging, but don’t let that get you down! We can walk and chew gum at the same time! As the folks at the Poor People’s Campaign point out, our society is due for a moral revival. They see a “complex relationship between and across the systemic racism, persistent poverty, the war economy, and its inevitable militarism, and ecological devastation.” And lest you think this is just a response to the venerable #45, this is a call for justice across society that includes the Democratic Party. Wrestling political power away from those who embody our worst instincts is priority number one but pushing for real reform requires empathy and compassion. These are values that Democrats should express in our conversations, debates, and policies and from which our political leaders shouldn’t run away. So, embrace the complexity and explain our values. This, I hope, will show voters we have a real passion for solving America’s problems.
Don’t let the Trump show keep you in the dumps, get involved!
As Howard Zinn notes, “It is the present that haunts a serious spinner of futuristic tales.” Certain days you can almost taste the dumpster-fire fumes emanating from the White House and it seems that the character of our national debate could seamlessly unwind into a dystopic science fiction novel. So, if some days our present feels a bit too unreal, than our answer must be people working in local communities, interacting and coalescing around the change in which they believe.
My involvement with the senate district has changed my perspective on the importance of grassroots, local groups. Not only do they provide a place to stay updated about various elections, but building local relationships pushes you to learn about what is important to other community members and expands your opportunities to get involved in ways that truly represent your ideals. I’ve also come to believe that many local issues affect you more directly than national ones. And yet, even while it can be impossible to tear your gaze from the daily onslaught, our moral revival will surely come from our efforts on the ground: canvassing, organizing, and listening.
The Minnesota legislative session closed recently with lots of finger-pointing, and surprise,
surprise… bad-faith negotiating from the Republican House and Senate. Election season will now get moving in earnest, but we Democrats may have to fight hard this summer to frame our policies after Mark Dayton was forced to veto a major bill sent to him by the Republican legislature, thereby ending the session in a fizzle.
Followers of Minnesota politics are excruciatingly familiar with the meltdown that has ended
each legislative session during the Republican legislature’s annual battle with Mark Dayton. The victim this time was a major tax bill. But this year seemed even more predictable than usual, due to the upcoming election. Our state politics increasingly resemble the all-or-nothing tactics modeled by the national Republican party during its showdowns with President Obama.
This tired scenario is wholly frustrating for progressives, who desperately want their
government to act on issues they care about. And plays into the hands politically of Republicans, who champion a message of broken government. That’s a fight that Democrats will need to push back
against to win state-wide races, especially the Governor’s seat, and to gain back the Minnesota House of
Representatives in November.
Parsing local politics is becoming increasingly harder, especially considering onslaught of daily
Donald Trump narratives. Local politics get less and less of our attention yet play an ever-growing role in
civil progress. Minnesota DFLers need a simple, bold message this fall to cut through the noise and
affirm can-do government.
In the twentieth century we were the party that spawned Medicare, Social Security, and the
minimum wage. In the 1940s a young Hubert Humphrey, the newly elected Minneapolis mayor, pushed
for the most progressive fair-employment ordinance in the country, twenty years before the Civil Rights
Act. The progressive tradition thrived under figures like Paul Wellstone, who committed himself to
achieving single-payer health care and publicly-funded elections and did that using community action.
Democrats have never been satisfied with the status quo. We have won and lost many battles for equity
and decent living standards, nonetheless we stand on the shoulders of those before us and expect
better things out of our leaders of tomorrow.
The Trump administration has epitomized a sharp reversal of many progressive ideas proposed
during the Obama years. Trump also made serious promises to fix complex issues in ridiculously simple
terms. Voters still want to fix those problems and I think the con has been shown to be just that. A
Democratic majority controlling Minnesota’s House of Representatives (which needs a twenty-seat
swing), and winning Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, and Auditor are essential in the
fight for progress.
Democrats alone have solutions to the real issues that people deal with every day, like cheaper,
easier health care, income equity, proper education funding, ditching our current campaign funding
system, protecting consumers, and maintaining strong labor practices. It’s up to candidates to be the
voices of the party, but for the rest of us in the Fighting 41 st , we are the legs of the party. Now is the
time to get involved and affect change on your most passionate causes.
Organizing icon Saul Alinsky wrote: “People cannot be free unless they are willing to sacrifice
some of their interests to guarantee the freedom of others. The price of democracy is the ongoing
pursuit of the common good by all of the people. Citizen participation is the animating spirit and force in
a society predicated on volunteerism.”
The swell of new Democratic candidates and volunteers gives me hope for the fall, but the work
is far from finished. `
Like many of my fellow Democrats, I was thrown into a tailspin on election night 2016. Like a rocket built with Trump steel struggling to reach orbit, the worldview I had constructed crashed. My news obsession peaked, and the severe consequences of the Hillary Clinton loss materialized into some ugly truths. How painful that tiny finger has become that Trump masterfully pokes into the eye of every progressive across the country with each Tweet, each policy brief, or each rambling interview on the nightly news.
But, while we agonize, there is also a deep sense for many people, here and around the country, that someone at the top is finally looking out for them. Even some long-time Democratic voters feel this way. I’ve spoken to a couple people who really hear Trump. They understand his logic, his vernacular, and his faux populism. The policy agenda that to me appears to be hurtling America toward a seventh Trump bankruptcy, feels to others like a righteous smite upon the bastions of power–those who relish political correctness, redistribution, and high taxes.
The release from my agony, I decided, was to divorce myself from the daily news cycle, to use my time more wisely by reading history and learning more deeply about the America that surrounded me. To hunker down, for a long, long winter, as we Minnesotans are forced to do.
Yet signs of spring began shortly after the election. Indivisible and other organizations broke through a horrendous Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and the Women’s March inspired my wife (typically an apolitical being) and millions more to action and into the streets.
And now, more effective than dissent in action, or a good book, votes are being cast! The caucus introduced me, in my thirtieth year, to the Fighting 41st and has broken down some of the barriers that I felt to voicing my politics.
My introduction to the nuts and bolts of the Democratic Party has been enlightening and fun. I don’t see people fretting and fighting about Bernie vs. Hillary, or obsessing over the Russia probe, I see a grassroots drive to elect people with progressive ideas that help everyday Americans. The choice to me is simple: the Democratic Party hears the American people.
Issue by issue, it’s clear: 74 percent of Americans want to raise the minimum wage, 63 percent support tying it to inflation. Fully 62 percent of Americans say it’s the federal government’s job to provide healthcare for every citizen. And 76 percent of Americans want the government to step up action on climate change.
Because of the chaos into which our current political arena has deteriorated, many young people see the dysfunction riddling American politics, and it scares them from interacting with the system. The Democrats have a chance to introduce a couple generations of young people to success at the grassroots and in their own lives. Just as the New Deal solidified many Democratic voters for a lifetime, I hope Democrats can solidify today’s young voters for their lifetimes. Personally, I have come to believe that change is so much less intimidating when you show up to the Fighting 41st.