With Thanksgiving fast approaching, I’m thankful I overcame my bias for inaction and did some things. We seem to be wired for inaction. Unless there’s a good reason to do something, we’ll stick with the status quo and do nothing. Even with good reason, we often need strong feelings, like fear or desire, to get off the recliner.
In one week, I overcame inertia, voted early, listened to Rhiannon Giddens re-sing history at Cucalorus, and listened to eco-journalist Bill McKibben speak at UNCW about the long-term forecast of climate change.
My vote allowed me to be part of the winds of change that unexpectedly blew through New Hanover County. It left us with a democratic majority in the commissioner chambers and on the board of education. After the results were tallied, a friend cautioned me to set realistic expectations. With the more progressive side of ourselves in the majority for the first time in decades, he fears people of New Hanover County will now expect and experience 100 percent wise and sustainable development, with all kids getting scholarships to Carolina, Duke, or one of the service academies. The not-so-bright kids will be forced to attend Ivy League schools. He’s got a point.
In more good weather news, fairer winds were blowing in Maine. Jared Golden unseated the incumbent in the first test of Maine’s constitutional ranked-choice voting system. Our national obsession with the red-blue rivalry is killing democracy—and us. We’ve got a lot to do before everyone’s voice is heard, but ranked-choice voting is a step toward a fairer electoral process and perhaps a more harmonious democracy.
I’m grateful I skipped a Sunday afternoon nap to get down to Thalian Hall for one of Cucalorus 24’s premier events, “When the Battle’s Over: Songs of 1898,” Rhiannon Giddens’ vocal range should be measured in decades and centuries rather than notes and octaves. Her grace and authenticity transported me back to the Wilmington of 130 years ago, when black voices were silenced in a political process more flawed than ours, with white supremacist rage far more violent. When I moved here in 1996, I heard stories about the 1898 Riots and a black rebellion. I don’t hear that tale much anymore. Rhiannon Giddens reinforced that with facts, feeling, and time—that we are capable of healing, of correcting our course. Sometimes we don’t have a century to get the story right and correct it.
I’m thankful I left my comfort zone and made the trek to UNCW to listen to environmentalist and author Bill McKibben give us the not-so-bright forecast about climate change. Nearly 30 years ago Mr. McKibben wrote “The End of Nature,” the first book to bring the idea of global warming to a general audience. He also started 350.org, a global grassroots organization advocating for reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million. UNCW’s local Thoreau, David Gessner, brought in Mr. McKibben for a chat in the wake of Hurricane Florence. Mr. McKibben said, “Climate change is the first timed test for our species.” Most of the rest of the world has gone beyond denial and irrational doubt, making some effort to pass that test. Here in the U.S., seeds of doubt have been sown for decades by those interested in maintaining the status quo. They tell stories of, “It’s a hoax” to “there’s nothing we can do”—which exploit our natural tendency to do as little as possible.
Even a little doubt justifies doing nothing.
Sounding an optimistic note, Mr. McKibben said, “Non-violent movements are the most powerful technological invention of the 20th century.” When I look upriver at the Titan Cement plant that’s still not there, I can see his point. When I hear Rhiannon Giddens and see the efforts to have every voice heard in our democracy, I can see his point.
“If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes”: It is a catchy and accurate saying here. Mostly the weather changes on its own, but sometimes we have opportunities to change the weather a little ourselves. I’m grateful for those chances.