Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Blindness and Betrayal

I am thinking about blindness and betrayal. I am working on this courtroom drama  based on a true story about a jury case I tried in Federal Court in 1997. The first time the phrase 'predatory lending' was used in court. I read the whole manuscript of the trial when I started working the play and I have to tell you I come across as kind of a racist on the spectrum. I mean we won so there's that, but I have been thinking about my blindness in that time. I am not claiming to have perfect vision now, but at the time, I had been deeply acculturated into thinking that a hoop jumping Harvard Lawyer working at a top firm really did know better than everyone else.  I dismissed a certain percentage of what my client Mr. Williams told me as fanciful. As untrue. Or an exaggeration. 

For instance he used to tell this story (which may not make it into the script) 

EARL:          Where I live more of a war zone.

RUBEN:         Objection.  Relevance.

JUDGE:         Sustained.    

EARL:          (Oblivious) I remember one summer, some crack heads took over a tore-up housing project over to N Street.  It was a Friday night. Police try to shoot them out.  Now that don’t work. Those crack heads in a concrete bunker!  So the National Guard they sent in some tanks plow right in there and they set up these lights, these real bright lights like they use for the Oriole night games. Shined it in to drive the crackheads crazy. And they played music. They played some white musicall hours. (SINGING) “IT’S THE FINAL COUNTDOWN ---- da-da DAH dah, dada dah dah dah; dada DAH dah, dada dah dah dah. ”   

REBECCA:       Earl, stop. Sorry, Mr. Johnson, the objection was sustained. That means you’re supposed to stop talking. Remember? What happened at the money places on Georgia?

I used to think he was making this up. Tanks? In a neighborhood? I mean come on.  Surely that would be in the papers! That's what I thought.  No! He’s making that up.

A month ago I watched the opening sequence of Straight Outta Compton which takes place the same year (but in L.A. not Washington).  It is exactly what Mr. Williams described. I sat in my living room alone shaking my head for a long time. There was a tank. I mean the whole thing. So you know, I really had no idea how bad it was out there for some people even though I thought I was this do-gooder. Now that I have some marginally greater level of insight that comes with age and reading The Economist  I still am pretty blind. The trick may be to know your own understanding is limited, and what other people tell you about reality should in fact be taken as helpful in understanding it. This is of course a pain in the ass. But if you want to be a good human, that’s really the only deal on the table.

If we can start with the logs in our own eyes that might be good.

Betrayal. I recently read a quote from a French philosopher (not really sure of the source) who said that moving forward in life requires that you say goodbye to things and people and projects, and viewpoints and habits. That everyone should daily practice this painful art of making room for the new by saying goodbye to the old.

What I see in this is that it is time to say goodbye to the things that do not serve us, and honest to God, that includes the current UK government.

It may be that it can be fixed, but honestly, we must betray the government in its current form for the sake of the people we are blind to.  Not because we don’t love our country but because we do. For the sake of our children. Out of love for pure justice and the rule of law. Because this is the land of the Magna Carta.  

Betrayal hurts, it feels ick, it is frightening, you are depriving yourself of something that was once a part of you, but if we want to move forward as good humans, this is what we have to face.

Because the earth is ill and sixty-five million have no homes and we are mired in endless war, serving at all and every instance not the needs of our humanity and our planet but shareholder return. Corporate interests. Growth.

I watch this election in the States and the refugees and it is increasingly unbearable for me to benefit as I do from the bank-serving state while the victims of the state are unaided. I don’t have enough Rawlsian faith in the system. Why are we putting up with it? How can we put it behind us and make room for something new – something reformed – something that serves the earth and the humans.

We see where we are blind and we betray what is to make room for what we want to be.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Nick as an Inspiration

I met Nick in 2001. I was a trial lawyer in Washington when I fell in love with Rhys and Nick was one of the first people Rhys introduced me to.

Nick was reassuringly a fan of my future husband. He was an incredible asset as a friend, present in the hospital, at weddings and funerals- as Kate said- Nick was really a stickler for being a good friend.

He was generally a real stickler. Nick may have been seduced into the glamorous world of journalism as a youth but he matured into – in my estimation-  a great ethical thinker. He brought big thoughts into everyday matters. A practical justice. Should you thank someone for a thank you note? (yes but it had to end there).  Could we bring about a society that embodied the true socialist message of Bagpuss? (he went back and forth on this one) Should you ever buy towels that are not white? (no you should not).

When our son was born and I went back to work, I confessed to him how horrible I felt. He told me that his mother had worked, and that some of his warmest memories were sitting on the couch watching TV with his mom after work.  It’s good that you work, he said. It’s right. Nick enjoyed finding practical justice. 

In the early days of Facebook – 2008 -- he posted a quote attributed to EM Forster.

 We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

There is a graciousness here and Scottish practicality. Pure Nick. The life that was waiting for him became his art. That’s what he told me. And it was mostly the art of having as much fun as he could get away with in the circumstances. He was still dancing when I met him- he danced with ideas.  He would leap and flirt, ditch his partner for a more attractive one, race away only to circle back,  striking poses, endlessly engaged and endlessly engaging. He had a lot of dance moves. He had the prism of his legal education. He had his journalist background. He had this natural inclination to art. He had his encyclopedic mind. 

Nick was one of the most open-minded people I have known. I mean, I think of myself as quite open-minded but he was a radical dancer in that regard. I remember showing up for a Halloween party in Midhope House dressed as Groucho Marx and he loved it and was sort of prodding me about this male persona and didn’t I love it and did I want to come back next week in the same outfit. Very open-minded. His own ethics created this obligation to truth. No idea was above humour, and no idea was beyond consideration.

To me the subtext of his friendship was a mandate. Find the truth of who you are – that’s what he was saying- look fearlessly and then celebrate it.

He once said to me at a Gaylords party that he didn’t know what he had done to deserve such wonderful friends. I said some lame thing at the time but last night it occurred to me what he had done to deserve such wonderful friends. He had found them wonderful.  

To be loved by Nick was to be believed in. He had an intuitive understanding of art coupled with a stockpile of good judgment and the patience to – at least with me – sift through scenes and scenes and scenes and help me find the truth worth noticing, worth dancing with, worth celebrating. He rejoiced in my successes and said never mind when I failed. He saw the best of me and I wanted to be who he could see. 

Whatever situation you have in your life, whatever burdens you are carrying, however you are living the life that is waiting for you it should be of some consolation that Nick found you wonderful.

This past Saturday I was at his flat to help clean it out and the first thing I saw  - on the floor - printed out in large font - was this quote from Martin Luther King:  

The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists, who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood.  The trailblazers in human, academic, scientific, and religious freedom have always been nonconformists.  In any cause that concerns the progress of mankind, put your faith in the nonconformist!

He loved to dance with those big, magic, show-stopping ideas of justice and peace and to play with the big energies that you must play with to imagine how to get to a secure and liveable world. 

The last time I saw Nick really dance with these ideas – that now popularly fall under the heading “human rights” was when David Knott  - a true nonconformist - came back from Calais this winter and we met in Nick’s flat. Nick knew in his bones what it was to be vulnerable to the State, and he knew the fragility of humans already and when we heard David’s stories there was a resonance. An understanding of suffering.  That understanding gave him a depth of wisdom and empathy. That depth of empathy infused his mind and made the merely clever profound. To me that was the most beautiful dance of all.  That’s what human rights were to him, the vision of a possible world. Practical justice. 

Nick saw that further shores are reachable from here. The quote I found on the floor starts with hope. The hope of a secure and liveable world. Maybe a way to be inspired by his memory is to keep hope for justice alive.  With graciousness and practicality. For hope does come from the same place as jokes, as mischief, as dancing, as Nick.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The After Party Manifesto


We are human beings.

1. The Introduction
We live on a living planet with other living beings.
We have infinite worth and infinite ways of expressing our worth.
We must no longer sacrifice our boundless potential to profit.
We are told we are worth what we are paid.
We are told we are just consumers.
We are told there is no other way but capitalism.
We live in a toxic system based on greed and inequality.
A system where the majority of benefits go to the fewest people, while more than 20% of our kids live in poverty.
We are told to follow rules. We must conform. We must work longer hours for less pay.
We must serve the markets as if that’s what makes sense.
We are told lies.
We are told more lies.
We are not for sale.
We are not machines for the making of money and buying of things.
We are not consumers.
We are creators.
We are human beings with dignity.
We have had enough.
We are taking over. 


We are not represented.
We have been usurped.
We have been usurped by millionaires and billionaires and banks and corporations.
We have been usurped by CEOs, hedge fund managers, corrupt politicians, Wall Street, defense contractors, lobbyists, the Federal Reserve, the IMF, the World Bank and the NSA.
We have been usurped by profit-seekers.
They write our laws.
They control our senators, congresspeople and president.
They have looted and continue to loot our wealth.
They take our homes.
They sell our privacy as data.
They spy on us.
They appropriate our most precious land so they may sell us oil.
They make “free trade” deals with each other that rob citizens in many countries of their economic freedom.
They use war as a tool for economic expansion in the name of democracy.
They imprison, torture and murder innocent civilians around the world.
They poison our water and contaminate our food.
They gouge us when we are sick.
They steal public money for private profit.
They use the drug war to imprison and exploit the labor of young black and latino men.
They use a militarized police force to occupy their neighborhoods.
They call themselves Democrats and Republicans.
They buy our votes through advertising.
They think we are stupid.
We are not stupid.
We were asleep.
But we are waking up.


Every human being is entitled to food, shelter, education, employment, and healthcare.
By food, we mean food that nourishes.
By shelter, we mean clean and safe.
By education, we mean empowering and unfiltered.
By employment, we mean fulfilling and sustainable.
And by healthcare, we mean equal, free and accessible.
They say we can’t afford it.
Of course we can.
But not if we allow the greediest banks to gobble up our wealth and get bailed out.
Not if we let them make billions and sit on their mounds of cash.
Not if we let them stash trillions of dollars in offshore bank accounts.
Not if we let their lobbyists write the tax code.
We’re not broke.
It’s not a matter of money.
It’s a matter of commitment.
Now, we are committed.


Clean water and air are the rights of all people.
Our resources are not commodities.
We acknowledge the state of our planet.
The acidification of our oceans. The destruction of our wetlands and forests. The extinction of one third of all species. A rise in temperature we have not seen in thousands of years.
If this continues, what will remain?
What will the survivors say of us?
As we stood by?
We must change.
We must change as drastically as the situation is drastic.
We must stop drilling and fracking.
We must stop fucking with our food.
We must stop recklessly growing our economy at the expense of our ecology.
We must get back to the land.
We must respect the Earth like we must respect each other.


We have much to learn.
We listen to each other.
We listen first to those whom we’ve ignored.
Blacks, Latinos, Arabs, Asians.
Gay, bi and trans.
Children--with their simple wisdom.
We listen to those whom we’ve forsaken.
Native Americans who knew, so many years ago, what we must learn today.
We must coexist.


We are on the margins now.
But we move the margins to the center.
We run for school boards and city councils and mayorships. We take over local governments with believers in these principles. We change the government from within.
We protest and we stand behind protesters. We join with unions and workers fighting to unionize. A few of us have the courage to throw our bodies against the grinding corporate machinery. The rest of us offer our humble support and solidarity.
We form worker-owned cooperatives and fight for worker ownership of existing businesses.
We want alternative currencies based on sharing.
Most importantly, we serve each other.
We feed those who are hungry.
We educate those who wish to learn.
We care for the sick.
We house those whose houses have been taken away.
We are lucky.
We have arrived at just the right moment.
Every struggle in the past led to this one.
This is not ironic.
This is serious.
This is our country.
This is our planet.
This is our moment.
Another world is possible.
We are making it.
Join us.