Marching instead of complaining

Savannah Morning News sunday column, Aug. 10, 2014


It’s so easy to be cynical and say nothing will ever change, what’s the point of protesting, who is listening anyway, why bother getting up off the couch.

It’s so easy to sit in front of the TV and grouse and grumble, kvetch and carp, fuss and flutter.

It’s so easy to dismiss all manner of news, to stick with your own kind, as that lyric from “West Side Story” says.


Maybe. But once in a while, if someone else does all the planning (can you say the Sierra Club?), if someone else gets the food and makes the arrangements and foots most of the bill (can you say Michael Bloomberg, the left’s answer to the Koch brothers?), it’s kind of satisfying to “hop on the bus, Gus,” which is exactly what 51 people from Savannah did a few weeks ago in the late-afternoon heat of July when we left our air-conditioned homes, climbed the three steps, said hello to James, the affable driver, found a seat next to a stranger and began the monotonous Interstate 16 trek to Atlanta for the EPA hearings on carbon pollution from power plants.

Of the 51 people, one was 95 years old who lives at Buckingham South, at least two were newcomers to Savannah who had never been to Atlanta, and 20 were from six different nuclear family units, as in mother/daughter, father/son, grandmother/granddaughters, husband/wife. Apparently, people who play together stay together.

We don’t know what will they remember from what turned out to be a blessedly cool day of this, a political march in Georgia. It might be the first time they carried a banner and walked in the middle of a downtown street with the proper permits while people in automobiles and construction workers with jackhammers stopped and stared. It might be the free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream they got if they showed they were in Atlanta for the hearings. It might be, as one bus member said on the trip home, the first time they heard how much global warming – now called climate disruption – is affecting their lives.

Maybe it will be the testimony of a nine-year-old child who walked up to the stage with her father, a fourth-generation coal miner, in front of three EPA officials for their individual five-minute testimonies. The nine-year-old, reading from her paper, spoke clearly about hoping for cleaner waters and better conditions for herself and her family.

Also memorable? The testimony from a small town mayor in Tennessee who gave figures of how many jobs would be lost if the power plants had to follow the proposed limits on carbon pollution and how much money it would cost his city, a dollars and cents plea that was followed by a school counselor who said one in 10 children in Georgia now have asthma and that as far as she was concerned the proposed restrictions did not go far enough, that the savings in lives and health were most important.

Or maybe it will be the speech and presence of Rev. Gerald Durley, a mountain of a man with a doctorate in psychology from the University of Massachusetts who calls climate change – or as he prefers to say ‘environmental justice’ – the new civil rights issue of the day. As a student at Tennessee State University, Durley, 73, marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. when King gave his “I have a dream” speech; allied with union organizers; joined the first wave of Peace Corps volunteers with a two-year stint in Nigeria, and then, when he was not allowed back in the United States “because of my organizing” played in the All-European Basketball League in Switzerland.

Maybe it will be hearing the words of worry from the mother of one of the organizers.

“I’m worried about her,” this woman confided about her able and capable daughter, Yeou Jih, as Yeou corralled the 51 Savannahnians back and forth between the hearings and the rally at Centennial Olympic Park, coordinated with the bus driver, and negotiated in the hotel. “She’s so smart,” her mother said. “She graduated from Emory and Oxford, No. 1, and has a master’s degree in research psychology and is working as a waitress (at Elizabeth on 37) and is now doing this. But what can I do. She told me, ‘Mom, I ‘m happy.’”

We should be happy too. It’s good to see passion. It’s good to see principles over paycheck. Right now, this is where her daughter’s supposed to be. And this is where the rest of us fellow travelers needed to be too.

A loose screw on Tybee Island

Savannah Morning News column

Aug. 17, 2014

This is what happens to a person after coming home from a week of house-sitting on Tybee Island where your most serious decision is whether to steam, sauté or boil shrimp – or to avoid dishes and cooking altogether and decide to have the outfit up the street do it all for an extra few bucks:

First, a recorded phone call from a popular local pet groomer where trying to line up an appointment for your dog in the summer months sometimes seems to take an act of Congress (ps, that used to be a joke; now it’s a matter of course): “Are you on your way with Charlie Elizabeth? Please call if you’re not coming.”

(Of course, you don’t call back; you grab the grungy dog, who starts to shake and protest because your behavior is so suddenly quick and desperate, throw her in the car, which you hope will start because these days it turns over three out of five times, and dash to the salon, rehearsing any number of white lies about why you are late, hoping they haven’t given away her precious slot).

Then, when you get home, there’s another ring-a-ling. This time it’s the dentist. I had forgotten about an appointment to deal with a “loose screw” from an implant (“loose screw” is a serious matter, by the way, despite the Looney-tunes sound of the diagnosis): “Miss Fishman, shall I assume you’re on your way?’

It’s not as if both appointments were not on the calendar. They were. But that’s the problem. Instead of starting at Sunday, my old-school, hold-in-your-hand, analog-like calendar for the year, the kind you can write on and scribble around the corners and sneak your new password on, starts on Monday. When did this happen, I ask? Never mind, the nitpicking, internal dialogue continues, I can handle this. It’s good for the brain to try something new, something other than fish oil, pumpkin seeds and more blueberries. It’s good to come at an object from another direction. I can be mindful and focused enough to remember that on this particular calendar the first day on the left will be Monday and not Sunday. Except I can’t. And I didn’t.

It’s hard to come back from an island. I love my neighborhood but somehow I can’t just walk out the door, find a path through the quivering sea oats, amble into the sea, flop on my back and spot a nearly full super moon sneaking through the clouds in the east and a lingering summer sun just starting her descent in the west. That just ain’t going to happen in town. Yes, I can sit and dunk ginger snaps into my cup of coffee at either location. Yes, I can walk into the middle of Daffin Park and see both sun and moon, but no way, no how can I just walk the beach, feel the sand between my toes and squint to see where that big old freighter making its down the channel is coming from. Yes, there are some oddities in our coffee shops, on our blocks, but no one named Breezy, a regular at the Breakfast Club counter that everyone seems to know who only drinks tea.

Even after you get home, it’s hard to rid yourself of that Tybee feeling. It’s a surreal sensibility that falls somewhere between day and night, summer and fall and the double rainbow we saw that day of the rains when a loud speaker echoed over the island to take cover, a storm was a’comin’. It’s a lingering sensation, kind of like last Sunday afternoon’s televised golf tournament from Louisville, Ky., a tournament that wouldn’t quit, a competition that bled into twilight with two or three players still in contention even though they couldn’t see to putt or blast out of the sand trap. I didn’t want the tournament to end, either, the same way I didn’t want the see the end of a Sand Gnats game I went to the following night on Dollar Monday, where for the first time in history I stayed for the full nine innings, even though the game went into extra innings, a result I had to read about the next day, where the Sand Gnats got the win.

I blame it all on Tybee, the land of shifting sand and loose screws and men named Breezy.