The Gift of Hope

All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope. (Winston Churchill)

During the Yankees/Twins Game 2 of the AL Division Series, a pitch ricocheted off a Twin’s bat and came up hard under the home plate umpire’s chin. I mean it had the kind of force that threatens concussion and breaks jaws. In the space of a nanosecond, Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez jumped up to check on the ump, holding the man steady until help arrived from the dugout. It was a beautiful moment—an utterly reflexive move on Sanchez’s part: Someone is hurt/I must help them.

It gave me hope.

Hope, the “thing with feathers.” The last and only positive item in Pandora’s box of horrors (a misogynistic tale in Hesiod’s original, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water). The tiny ripple Robert Kennedy spoke of, a ripple sent out with every act of kindness. I search always and everywhere for hope. At a time when much of the world and its fate rests in the hands of despots who make the Allstate “Mayhem” guy look benign, hope is much more than a nicety. It’s a necessity. This Turkey Day, I’d like to mention a few people who give me hope. I’m grateful for them.

José Andrés and World Central Kitchen

While TheRUMP was tossing out paper towel rolls to the victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico—to people without shelter, food, or potable water—one man was packing his suitcase and heading for the storm-ravaged island. Renowned chef José Andrés is no stranger to jumping into adversity and flying by the seat of his pants to help those in need. In the wake of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, he organized World Central Kitchen, a non-profit devoted to providing healthy meals when natural disasters strike.

Credit: Eric Rojas

While FEMA was fumbling for excuses about why they didn’t have enough generators and how it was impossible to acquire more (Seriously? You’re the U.S. agency in charge of disaster relief and you can’t get your hands on more generators?!), Andrés and his team of volunteer chefs established a communications network, brought in food supplies, commandeered every available space with electricity and water, including the Coliseo de Puerto Rico in San Juan, and started serving nutritious hot meals. In four short weeks, they served over one million meals, more than the American Red Cross. 

Fast forward to 2019 and the total destruction of the Bahamas by Hurricane Dorian. While Florida governor Ron DeSantis was making excuses, claiming no shelters existed in his state for Dorian victims—that was a federal concern, not his problem—and TheRUMP was sounding off on the need to be wary of allowing Bahamians into the country—they could be “very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very very bad drug dealers,” Andrés and his WCK team were on the ground in Nassau, setting up their kitchens and rolling out the meals for the 70,000 newly-homeless Bahamians. 

Under Andrés’s amazing energy and devotion, World Central Kitchen has grown from a small organization, with total assets of $119,000 in 2016, to one with total assets of $16.3 million. Along with other humanitarian orgs, WCK is now helping small farmers, ranchers, fish co-ops and other food-related businesses to rebuild Puerto Rico’s agricultural economy. Andrés wants to make the island more food secure and help it recover faster when disaster strikes.

Hope is not about everything going your way, but tenacity in the face of adversity . “WCKitchen has kitchens ready to go and shelters mapped out,” Andrés  tweeted as he prepared to feed Bahamians in the first hours after Dorian hit. “If kitchens are destroyed, we build one and cook in big paella pans!”

Greta Thunberg and School Strike for Climate

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words… People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing,” Greta Thunberg told world leaders at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit in New York. “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

The 16-year-old Swedish climate activist doesn’t mince words when it comes to speaking truth to power: “For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.”

Credit: Gastivists

Hard to believe now, but Thunberg came to world attention just over a year ago, after she started spending her days outside Sweden’s Riksdag (national legislature), demanding stronger action on global warming in the wake of widespread wildfires during Sweden’s hottest summer in over 260 years.  

Inspired by the student activists from Parkland, Florida who organized March for Our Lives in support of stricter gun laws (after a mass shooting at their school), Thunberg tried to convince the kids she knew to join her climate protest. Her initial efforts failed, but “nevertheless, she persisted” as the saying goes, passing out leaflets demanding the government reduce carbon emissions, explaining that “I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future.”

The leaflets and the sign she carried “School strike for climate” began to attract other kids who took the protest to their own communities. With Thunberg, they also organized a school climate strike movement in Sweden, “Fridays for Future.”  In December, Thunberg traveled to Poland to address the 2018 UN Climate Change Conference, after which student strikes began occurring every Friday in locations across the globe.

Thunberg still spends Fridays on strike for her cause. On two of those Fridays, September 20 and 27 of this year, she was joined by some seven million people in more than 160 countries. La Repubblica reported that a million activists hit the streets in Italy alone, a claim I can believe because the 27th was the day Ed and I struggled to roll our suitcases through wall-to-wall throngs of protesters in Florence to reach the Santa Maria Novella train station. It was tough. And inspiring.

Hope is not a substitute for action. You can’t just keep tossing tons of plastic cups and bottles into the ocean while saying, “I sure hope climate change doesn’t end life on earth.” Hope must be an active verb. As the title of Thunberg’s recently-published climate action speeches stresses, No One is Too Small to Make a Difference (Penguin Books, 2019). Unlike some self-aggrandizing characters on the global stage, the profits from Thunberg’s book are being donated to charity.

Oona Holcomb, Madeline Huse, Zaachila Orozco-McCormick, Natalie Hoffman, and Scott Warren

If you were to ask me what is the highest moral principle, I would say it’s this: You don’t throw another human being under the bus. You don’t turn a deaf ear to cries for help or a blind eye to the suffering of others. If you can do anything, you do it, and if you’re not sure you can, you still try.

That is what the five aid workers named above, all members of an Arizona relief organization No More Deaths, were charged with—putting humanity above the politics of TheRUMP’s war on immigrants—and four of them received sentences of up to six months in prison for leaving water jugs, food, and blankets in Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge shares a 50-mile border with Mexico, and No More Deaths says that at least 155 migrants have died there in the past 17 years.

The four women were also charged with failing to get permits for “expanded access” and going off the designated travel routes. In the judge’s view, they were guilty of violating “the national decision to maintain the refuge in its pristine nature.”

Seriously? “The national decision to maintain the refuge in its pristine nature”??? I sign a gazillion petitions every week to prevent our government from selling off pristine federal lands and national parks to their buddies for drilling and fracking. TheRUMP announced plans just this past month to gut protections against logging and road-building in the Tongass National Forest that will enable logging companies to bulldoze roads and clear-cut this old-growth temperate rainforest in Southeastern Alaska. Next to that, how much “damage” can a few jugs of water and a can of beans do??? 

The issue is bigger than one wildlife refuge. Increased numbers of armed border agents and more walls have forced migrants away from relatively safer crossings like El Paso and Nogales, into the vast, hard-to-navigate desert lands. It takes six days to walk through the Arizona desert, anthropologist Jason De León says. “There’s no way you can carry enough water.” Many who try die of dehydration and exposure.    

The fifth aid worker, Scott Warren, a college geography instructor, is facing up to 20 years in prison for providing medical assistance (as well as food and water) to migrants crossing that desert. United Nations human rights experts and humanitarian orgs around the globe have railed against this inhumane prosecution. At this writing, Warren’s fate is up in the air. His June 2019 trial ended with a hung jury. A new trial is scheduled for November 12.

In its complaint, the government notes that Warren was seen talking to two migrants near Ajo.

Such a crime.

The Unknown Train Passenger

Hope doesn’t just come from acts played out on a world stage. Often, it can be found in the people we pass every day—standing in line at the supermarket or sitting next to us at a café. Or, in this case, a fellow passenger on a train.

In prepping for our recent trip to London and Florence, Ed bought two round-trip train tix from the official Gatwick Express website. The train runs every fifteen minutes between Gatwick Airport and London’s Victoria station. On the way out, we had no problems. Using the barcode from the e-mail, we retrieved our tickets—both out and return—from the machine at the station. A Gatwick Express employee on the tracks, visibly annoyed at my question, “Is this the right train?”, nodded. “Yes, yes. Just get on.” Fine. We got to the airport without incident.

BUT, the return trip, three weeks later, definitely featured incident. About ten minutes into the half-hour ride, a ticket collector entered the car. When we handed him our tickets, he said, “Oh, you can’t use these on this train. This is for another train. A different company. That company doesn’t do Express trains. You’ll have to buy new tickets for this train.” (Note: The company on our ticket is listed as one of the three companies running the GE trains.)

What can you do at such a moment? We showed him our receipt. We argued our case. I believe I mentioned that things were a lot better before Thatcher privatized the railroads. We were not alone here. An Italian family with three children, and very little English, was getting the same treatment.

Ed was digging out a credit card for the new tix ($65), when a man two seats down stood up and addressed the ticket collector. “You do this all the time on this line,” he said. “Charge people twice. Look, your train’s more than half empty. These people have tickets. They’re choosing to come here and spend pounds in this country on their holiday and you’re harassing them.”

He and the ticket collector argued back and forth for several minutes, the man repeating that he’s witnessed this scam act regularly on the Express, and pointing out the many empty seats. Of course, we still had to pay, but I was deeply moved. This passenger, a British citizen, did not have to speak out. That he did, and so vehemently, gives me hope. I thanked him then and I thank him now.

 Hope is not a calculation of gain vs. cost. Not a person weighing up the situation, asking “What’s in it for me?” or “I’ve got mine Jack, so everything’s alright.” It’s about standing up for each other. It’s about standing together.

The Humane Society International and All Who Rescue and Protect Animals

As hard as climate change, industrial pollution, deforestation, and wars have been on human populations, I would argue animals have fared worse, and they lack any power to change the conditions under which they are being poached, starved, slaughtered, and brutally abused. I won’t go into the gory details of violence against animals that daily fills my Inbox, but the constant, senseless abuse of helpless creatures is both enraging and distressing. So I am especially grateful for the organizations and individuals who both rescue and give sanctuary to non-human creatures.

If you follow me on Facebook, you know I often post videos of animal rescue efforts. I figure we need to be reminded, in the midst of worldwide mayhem, that all is not indifference out there. That good people go into difficult situations daily to rescue and heal those without voice, without choice. I’ll share one of those videos here at the end of this post, a recent successful rescue carried out by the Humane Society International. It’s short, so be sure to watch to the end. I guarantee it will boost your spirits.

Hope is believing we can all do something to improve the lives of others and steer the world in a better, kinder, more just direction. Hope is being inspired by others and then passing that inspiration along.

Cast Ripples On the Water

In June 2013, Barack Obama spoke at the University of Cape Town. He reminded his audience that he was standing in the same spot where then-Senator Robert Kennedy had delivered his famous “ripples of hope” speech in 1966, speaking of the struggle against Apartheid (the speech I alluded to at the top of this post).

“[I came to believe that] I could be part of something bigger than myself,” Obama said, talking about his youth. “That my own salvation was bound up with those of others.

“That’s what Bobby Kennedy expressed, far better than I ever could, when he spoke here… He said, ‘Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.’”

With stress levels soaring, the Amazon burning, families being torn apart, and insulin users dying for Big Pharma’s greed, we all need hope. We need to create hope. We need to share hope. It is the gift of life.