In the first three weeks of this trip, I have recorded nearly eight hours of stories about water and climate change in New York City, New Orleans, Rosedale, Clarksdale, Oxford, Memphis, and, most recently, St. Louis and Ferguson. The processing of this audio is slow going, but it’s a work in progress. I am looking forward to uploading and sharing these stories with you when they are ready.
I’m learning to become a better listener. Recognizing rhythm is a huge part of that.
In her book “Talk to Me,” Anna Deavere Smith writes:
“Character, then, seemed to me to be an improvisation on given rhythms. The more successful you were at improvising on language, the more jazz you have, the more likely you could be found in your language, that is, if you wanted to be found in your language. Some people use language as a mask. And some want to create designed language that appears to reveal them but does not. Yet from time to time we are betrayed by language, if not in the words themselves, in the rhythm with which we deliver our words. Over time, I would learn to listen for those wonderful moments when people spoke a kind of personal music, which left a rhythmic architecture of who they were. I would be much more interested in those rhythmic architectures than in the information they might or might not reveal.”
What am I listening for this week? I’m listening for rhythm in a storyteller’s speech––iambs and trochees and spondees. I’m listening for patterns and the moments where those patterns break down.
This is especially relevant in light of the protests in St. Louis and Ferguson that I am participating in this weekend as a part of #FergusonOctober. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last year, it’s that racial injustice and climate injustice are inextricably linked. I am in the area because on-the-ground leaders have asked for support. All our grievances are connected, and no one will win until we all win––racial justice IS climate justice.
I am still processing the events of the last 24 hours. Last night I participated in a march from the neighborhood where Mike Brown was shot to the Ferguson Police Department alongside members of Mike Brown’s family. This is a world far outside of my own experience as a white woman from Boston, and I recognize that. I worry about what will happen after this weekend’s events, when the crowds of outsiders (not all are white, but many are) leave. This thought makes my heart hurt.
While we walked, we chanted:
“NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE. NO RACIST POLICE.”
“HANDS UP. DON’T SHOOT. HANDS UP. DON’T SHOOT.”
“INDICT, CONVICT, SENT THAT KILLER COP TO JAIL. THE WHOLE DAMN SYSTEM IS GUILTY AS HELL.”
There is power in hundreds, if not thousands of voices speaking as one. Even when the chants fractured and there were different groups saying different words at once, the energy was electric. Thank god for bullhorns.
The march ended at the Ferguson Police Station, where there was a POLICE: DO NOT CROSS line reinforced by some fifty police in shields, helmets, and riot gear holding batons in one hand and tear gas in the other.
I am nervous and eager for Monday’s civil disobedience. I am all ears.