therestlessnest

where life's not empty, it's restless.

Archive for the tag “Jay Inslee”

This Large Light

Image 1Driving west up Union, we could see taillights stretching ahead in a long, slow column. We crossed 23rd Avenue, turned onto a side street and parked. As we walked uphill towards Seattle’s storied Temple de Hirsch Sinai, my husband and I fell in step with a few others, then a few dozen. And then suddenly we were part of a stream of a few thousand, or more. Volunteers directed us to the ends of the long lines that circled the temple block in every direction.

The quiet was palpable.

The announcement soon went out that the synagogue, which holds 2,000 people, was full. Police blocked off the street in front and encouraged the hundreds of us who couldn’t get in to gather outside. Loudspeakers were set up. Someone began to strum a guitar and lead us in song. I stood behind a tall man in a fedora with a voice like a deep, clear bell and tried to pick up a few of the Hebrew words.

One of the rabbis came out and spoke to us. He told us God’s tears were mixing with ours, as we stood together in remembrance of the eleven people murdered two days ago at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. He talked of planting a new Tree of Life, where love can—no, must, he said—have the last word.

I thought of a film I saw this weekend, at the Friday Harbor Film Festival, that was all about how trees communicate with each other, underground; how the roots of wholly different species nurture each other, helped along by micro-organisms in the neighborhood.

Governor Jay Inslee came out from the service inside to offer a few words. Oh no, I thought. We don’t need a politician right now. But he was not a politician in that moment, he was our governor, grieving with us about a horror that he knew did not seem far away, not in a city and a state that has seen its own share of anti-Semitic violence, including murder.  Inslee spoke of how we must stop fearing and hating people who we perceive as Other. “There is no other,” he said.

Earlier that afternoon, unable to focus on anything resembling work, I had signed up at Vote Forward to send letters to specific people urging them to vote. There was a template, with space to add your own hand-written words about why you vote. “Because I believe in democracy,” I wrote, trying hard to be legible, “and voting is the beating heart of democracy. Without our votes, democracy will die.”

I sent ten letters to voters in the 13th District of North Carolina, which happens to include Greensboro, which happens to be the first place I ever visited in the South. It was 1977. I don’t know what Greensboro is like now, but my memory of seeing it then, at the tender age of 20, is of a city starkly and deliberately divided. Rich/poor; white/black. Split-levels in subdivisions; weatherbeaten cottages on streets without sidewalks. Forty years have passed. But as I addressed my letters, I pictured voters old enough to have grown up in that earlier Greensboro, and how much work they have had to do—unless they were white—simply to vote.

Standing outside the Temple de Hirsch, I thought of those names I wrote out so carefully on each envelope as the guitarist launched us into “This Little Light of Mine.”

Screen Shot 2018-10-30 at 8.26.09 AMAre you remembering summer camp? Maybe squirming a bit at the corniness of that song? Don’t. On an October night, outside a Seattle synagogue, it rang out loud and strong. Everyone knew the words—hooray! And I could feel all our little lights adding up to one large light; coming from similar gatherings in other cities, reaching Greensboro and Pittsburgh and a million other corners of this country we live in; this democracy where we have to keep getting together and shining our lights and reminding ourselves, in dark times, that there is no Other.

 

 

 

 

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Leakers

DSC00865Leakers: They sound like something out of the Walking Dead. And, in some frightening version of the future, they could be. “Leakers” are what the people who work at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation call the nuclear waste storage tanks that have been leaking. According to Crosscut journalist John Stang, there have now been 69 confirmed leakers at Hanford, including six currently believed to be leaking.  About three to six gallons per tank per day of radioactive waste, leaking into the ground, 7 to 10 miles from the Columbia River: especially unnerving now that, thanks to the federal sequester, Hanford may have to put the brakes on its efforts to stop the leakers.

What a poster-child the Leakers are for everything that’s wrong with the blunt instrument, across-the-board, Sequester approach to budget cutting: more than half the staff at Hanford could be furloughed or laid off on April 1st. Once the shining star of our cold war defenses; Hanford is now the dark star of the world’s most delicate, most important cleanup dilemma: what to do with all the waste we generated building all those warheads? And now we’re going to lay off the people who are actually willing and–God willing–able to figure this stuff out?

Governor Inslee says he’s on it. He told longtime Hanford reporter Anna King he views the leaking tanks as a problem as “urgent as if they were spilling out into his front lawn.” But Hanford is much, much more than a Washington state problem. Just ask New Mexico, where the Feds plan to ship some of the Hanford waste. There are conservationists there who are pretty upset about that plan, and who can blame them? Especially with these new Leakers stalking the news?

Our state’s poet laureate, Kathleen Flenniken, has written a chilling, beautiful book of poems about Hanford called Plume. Flenniken grew up there during the Cold War years. Her dad was a Hanford engineer. The poems are a stark testament to how far we as a country will go in demanding patriotism. At Hanford, in the 1940s, fifties, sixties, seventies, the ultimate patriotic act was silence. Silence about what was being produced there—how much, how powerful, how dangerous; silence about known levels of radioactivity in fish, milk, soil and the bodies of the people who worked on the site. Silence about consequences. About cancer. About death.

Even children were called to the cause of silent patriotism, when their own radiation levels were calculated by MRI-like scanners.  In a poem titled “Whole-body Counter, Marcus Whitman Elementary,” Flenniken writes:

“and the machine had taken me in

like a spaceship and I moved

slow as the sun through the chamber’s

smooth steel sky.

I shut my eyes again and pledged

to be still; so proud to be

a girl America could count on.”

Hanford workers paid a high price for the silent loyalty of those years. Now, a new generation is being asked to figure out what to do with what they left behind: 56 million gallons of nuclear waste, much of it so highly toxic it can only be handled by remote control.

In a poem titled “The Cold War,” Flenniken concludes:

“We called it the arms race

and there were two sides.

It was simple.”

But now it’s not. Cleanup never is.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

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