CommuniChi Spring 2021 Updates

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I haven’t written for a while, so I wanted to share an update on the clinic, and other actions I’ve been involved with. The clinic is open and I am safely seeing clients in a socially distanced manner. That’s it for the clinic update! If you’re on information overload and just want to skip to the beautiful pictures and mountain musings at the end, I invite you to do so. Actually, all of the pictures are beautiful if you’ve experienced the love and connection that arises during strategic action in defense of Mother Earth.

 

Spring Yard Work. It’s spring, my tomatoes are in the greenhouse, and the postage stamp of a lawn we have need to be cut. (I use an electric weed whacker that is quiet and energy efficient). One of my neighbors has a team of workers come  and work for hours, creating exhaust, dust, and a barrage of noise that assaults the mind. At 420ppm CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere, why are people still burning fossil fuels for lawn care? Do people not recognize just how damaging leaf blowers are to soil and insect ecology, as well as local air quality? If you have to use them, at least get a corded electric one. COVID has highlighted how vulnerable people’s respiratory capacity is. Bee and insect populations are disappearing, but no amount of reasoning seems to nudge people away of thinking of a lawn as a precious adornment for their “property” to feed their vanity. How many people with food insecurity in our community could we be feeding if we made vegetable gardens instead? How many bees, butterflies and birds could we create habitat for? How much carbon could we sequester by planting a tree or two? Also an issue is the deleterious health effects of gas powered lawn equipment on their users. (More info). Please wake up. Tear up your lawn – it’s one of the worse insults western civilization has ever created against our Mother Earth.

 

Earth Day 2021. By land and sea, people turned out to send a strong message to the Port of Seattle – No More Business as Usual. Dredging the Duwamish River will stir up tons of toxic sediment, adversely impacting tribal treaty fisheries, and all sea life. Our endangered orcas are at the top of the marine food chain. Toxins bio-accumulate up the chain, which is the primary reason that orca mothers like Tahlequah suffer extremely high rates of infant mortality. Tahlequah’s baby died within a half hour of birth. She publicly grieved, sending us all a message, pushing her calf for 17 days, across 1000 miles of ocean.

Port of Seattle was created as an economic development agency over a century ago. But as Chief Seattle warned us – all things are connected. We cannot eat money. With the climate emergency fully upon us, we must reduce our consumption which will lessen the need for gigantic container ships like the one that blocked the Suez Canal for 6 days. Similarly, we must eliminate non-essential travel – e.g. cruise ship vacations.  The average American is responsible for 30 tons of CO2 emissions annually. The average Indian is responsible for 2 tons of CO2 annually.  In order to leave a livable planet for future generations of humans and all of our relatives who swim in the ocean, walk on land, and fly through the air, we need to learn to live like people in India.

 

April 24, 2021. Interdependence and Our Ecological Crisis. Earlier this year, I was asked to co-write an article for Northwest Dharma News on what Buddhists are doing in response to the climate emergency. Here’s a link to that article.  Afterwards, my co-author, Iris Antman, and another climate activist, Ken Yasuhara, decided to launch an ongoing series, hosting guest speakers from a variety of backgrounds – Buddhist, Indigenous, Black, science – to discuss the climate and ecological crisis.   Our most recent event, with Kritee Kanko, Ph.D. Kritee outlined three interconnected traumas – 1) human trauma which often arises in childhood, 2) climate and ecological trauma due to reliance on fossil fuels, industrial activity, and patterns of human consumption, and 3) racial trauma.  “We can’t solve the climate (crisis) now and then come to racial healing when racial inequities are the cause of the climate crisis. You can’t do it in reverse order.” Our next event will be with Joel Levey, Ph.D. on May 22. Here’s the event page to learn more.

April 27, 2021. I was invited to give testimony at the committee table for the Sustainability & Renters’ Rights Committee to support two bills advanced by Councilmember Kshama Sawant. Here is a copy of my testimony:

My name is Jordan Van Voast, I am speaking on behalf of my older brother Henry who has mental illness and is facing eviction at the end of his 12 month lease extension for no justifiable cause. The landlord has merely asserted that he wants the space for his business partner. I invited my brother to be here today, but due to the impact and stress this turn of events has on his emotional health, he understandably has declined. I believe that Henry, as someone who lives with mental illness, is being targeted due to his condition. The building that he lives in has 4 units. The landlord claims that he has contacted all the tenants, though clearly he has identified Henry as a candidate for eviction, despite his assertion that he is seeking other options to insure “no disruption to current tenants.”  I requested to meet with him, on Zoom, or by phone, and discuss options, including renegotiating the lease, but his answers have been short, evasive, and non-committal.

Henry has lived at his apartment building longer than any of the other tenants.  The rent has never been late. Henry was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 19 and has experienced profound emotional trauma and social expulsion in his life. It’s difficult for a person who hasn’t directly experienced mental illness to comprehend the depth of rejection and oppression that frequently occurs from mainstream society. Finally, at age 64, he is beginning to heal his past and feel a sense of dignity and personal empowerment. He reads the Bible every day. Henry is an artist and has donated paintings to many area hospitals and psychiatric clinics. The cafeterias at Swedish Cherry Hill and Swedish Ballard both have several of his paintings hanging. He lives only one mile from where I live with my father, wife, and daughter and regularly walks over to visit us and share a meal. If he is evicted, of course, it will be difficult to find anything affordable within a 5 mile radius, and as someone with mental illness, living alone, he will again experience expulsion and extreme isolation.

Stable housing is essential to people with mental health issues. My brother won’t end up unhoused if the landlord evicts him because he has a supportive family, but what about others with severe and persistent mental illness who lack family and/or economic resources? How many of them are evicted without just cause, and then end up on the street, causing their mental-emotional well being to deteriorate further, creating net suffering and expense for the community as a whole? Furthermore, even though Henry has not been evicted yet, with the threat of eviction hanging over his head, he is experiencing mental trauma now due to the added anxiety and worry, which could ultimately destabilize his mental health, again adding stress to our already overburdened public health system.

Landlords shouldn’t be able to treat human beings like mere numbers in a business equation. It’s inhumane, unjust, and it doesn’t need to be this way. The COVID pandemic has given us an opportunity to build a compassionate world where no one gets left behind. As Chief Seattle said, we are all connected. It’s sadly ironic when settler landlords doing business on stolen land use their legal authority and power to treat another human being like they are a piece of property to own or discard as it suits their bottom line.  We are no longer living in medieval times and human civilization is already facing the consequences for our collective moral ignorance. It is time for  us to wake up and acknowledge our interdependence. If one person is suffering, and isn’t safe, then we are all affected.  Unless we can build a world based on compassion and equity, there is no hope to solve the climate emergency, or any of the other complex social and ecological crises that we face. Please advance legislation closing this loophole in landlord tenant law.

On a related note – CM Kshama Sawant, a Socialist who believes in fair working  is facing a recall election funded principally by right wing billionaires like the Nordstrom family. Kshama is a champion of the ordinary person. Unfortunately, our political system is still corrupted by money. The manager of the recall campaign is hoping to put this on the ballot during a special election (not the General election in November when voter turnout is much higher).  This is undemocratic and a form of voter disenfranchisement. If you care about worker’s rights, the climate crisis, fair landlord-tenant laws that protect renters, real police reform, racial equity, please oppose this power grab attempt by big money interests. Learn more.

April 29, 2021. We paid an evening visit to the CEO of Puget Sound Energy (PSE) who lives on a houseboat on Lake Union. (That’s me with my planetary justice warrior daughter in kayaks – luckiest dad in the galaxy. Our visit was respectful and peaceful. We brought gifts, flute music by Paul Cheokten Wagner, aerial salmon dance and theater, and prayer, and our vigil was strong. Many of her neighbors came out and obviously appreciated our presence, but the corporate titan did not appear, holed up inside perhaps, though there were lights inside her house. Justice for Mother earth! No Tacoma LNG! Justice and respect for Puyallup sovereignty! It was a sacred action with many prayers for healing – not only for the Earth and Indigenous people, but for those with confusion and greed polluting their hearts. Many humans have become numb to their own pain of living disconnected from the web of life – lost in tiny ego bubbles of money, power, and possessions. May they find connection and then make wise and compassionate decisions in alignment with all Life. Thank you Water Warriors for your leadership and helping us follow a path of truth. PSE began construction years before having key permits, ignoring formal Stop Work Requests from the Puyallup Tribal Government and without meaningful consultation–this corporate bullying should not be rewarded. Help us urge PSE to rescind their request to begin operation immediately, and stand on the side of justice instead of perpetuating systemic racism and genocide. Send a message at:http://bit.ly/messageCEOKipp.
Mount Teneriffe hike May 2, 2021. Okay, now to the beautiful nature pictures, with a reminder that to be healthy in today’s world, we need to not only come together in strategic resistance against the forces that are destroying the planet and oppressing human beings, but we also need to regularly fill our own cup. I find that regular trips out into nature, combined with daily meditation and service work, is the right balance. Enjoy!
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