You Don’t Forget

 

images-1

by Karen Topakian

You don’t forget. The unwanted hands covering your body. Their laughter. The grinding hips. The thrusting. The smell of alcohol. The faces so close. Bearded. Shaved. Stubbled. The fear. The embarrassment. The humiliation. The guilt.

You do forget the date. The time. The make and model of the car but not how your bare calves feel pushed repeatedly against the vinyl seats. You do forget the story you made up to explain your disheveled clothes and hair to your parents.

You tell no one. You lock the secret in your heart. Push it down deep. You try to shake it off.  You convince yourself you dreamt it. Imagined it. You tell yourself. You’re ok. You can handle it. It doesn’t matter. You tell yourself it never happened. Until it happens again.

We Should Be Afraid NOT TO MARCH For Climate Jobs and Justice

by Karen Topakian

images

Recently a friend told me she knew people afraid to march on Saturday.

But she didn’t know why.

I speculated maybe they never marched before and didn’t know what to expect. Maybe they worried someone might drive their car into the march to injure or kill people. Maybe they were afraid for their job or career, if they were seen taking to the streets.

I mentioned this to my friend and colleague, Annie Leonard, who said, “We should be afraid NOT TO MARCH.” And she was right.

If we don’t march for climate justice, I’m afraid our leaders will think we support the status quo – drilling for oil and gas, laying pipelines and burning fossil fuel.

If we don’t march for climate justice, I’m afraid we will regret not taking action to mitigate the planetary destruction while we still can.

If we don’t march for climate justice, I’m afraid for the people who live in low-lying coastal communities around the world who will lose their land, their culture and their way of life because we didn’t do enough to stop the seas from rising.

Let’s face our fears and MARCH!!

Mangroves – Nature’s Hero

 

IMG_3414

by Karen Topakian

On our recent trip to Senegal, Peg booked us a three day stay at this restful spot, Ecolodge Simal, located on the banks of the Sine Saloum River, home to a wealth of mangrove forests.

IMG_3539

We stayed in this traditional house, which we fondly referred to as our “furry hut.” A round thatched mud hut. Spacious, comfortable. With the bathroom open to the sky.

IMG_3386

On our first morning, we hopped into a pirogue, a long narrow canoe made from a single tree trunk, for a tour of the mangrove swamps/forests.

IMG_3463

On the second morning, we paddled out ourselves in a double kayak to explore the mangroves up close.

These short shrubby trees deserve hero status. It not only manages to survive in salty conditions, it thrives. Plus it traps sediment and colonizes mudflats.

IMG_3442

According to the Livelihood Funds: Mangroves protect vital arable land and serves as effective filtration systems that prevent the influx of saline water which renders soil unfit for agriculture. Without mangroves, the salt content of water increases, impeding the growth of rice. Lastly, it boosts depleted fish stocks along with shrimp, oysters, and mollusks that mangrove forests harbor.

 

 

IMG_3432

Mangroves store carbon, provide breeding grounds and nurseries for fish, prevent erosion during tropical cyclones, and help cleanse waters of pollutants, says Earth Observatory.

What more do you want from a plant?

The male plant forms a pod, a propagule, which falls into the salty water, floats on the current before dropping to the muddy bottom and taking root far from its parents to establish a new mangrove colony. Roots form and others join the fray to form a swamp or forest.

IMG_3449

Once again, nature proves resilient, if we humans would just step out of the way and let it perform its miracles.

Thank you Daniel Ellsberg for Naming My Religion

IMG_3861

by Karen Topakian

On a warm August 6th morning, Daniel Ellsberg stood next to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and publicly declared his religion as nonviolent resistance to nuclear weapons.

I too announced my commitment to this religion.

After his declaration, I participated in one of my religion’s annual rituals – commemorating the August 1945 nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by joining a die-in at the gates to the Lab. (The Lab tests and designs nuclear weapons.)

My commitment to this August ritual started in 1982, when I protested at the entrance to the Pentagon and at the National Air and Space Museum next to the exact replica of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” the bombs dropped on Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. Thereafter in Rhode Island, I protested at Electric Boat, which manufactures Trident nuclear-armed submarines.

For more than 10 years, I have faithfully made a pilgrimage to this Lab to mark the moment that occurred long before I was born but has dominated the world ever since.

I claim these days as holy days to recall the horror the US unleashed on Japan and the world.

Holy days to reflect on the cascading events that have led to environmental destruction and loss of life.

Holy days to invigorate us to re-double our efforts to end this chapter in human history.

I hope in my lifetime my religion will no longer need practicing because we will have abolished all nuclear weapons. Until then, my religious practice will continue.

Tomorrow, I will visit a place

IMG_0976.JPG

by Karen Topakian

I visit every year to commit an act I commit almost every year to mark an event that many have forgotten.

The U.S. bombing of Hiroshima, Japan on Aug 6, 1945.

I will go to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory because the Lab is the place where the US government continues to test and design nuclear weapons.

Tomorrow, I will listen to Daniel Ellsberg and others speak at a rally. I will march to the Lab gates. Lie on the ground when my colleagues sound the alarm at the time the US dropped an atomic uranium bomb, 8:15 a.m.

While I lie there, I will think about the terror that this one bomb unleashed on the world. The wars fought over which countries may have one. The wars threatened against the countries that want to have one or may have one. The lives lost on all sides from the radiation poisoning, from the testing, the uranium mining…. The dollars spent  protecting, designing and testing nuclear weapons.

I will cry at some point as I contemplate the enormity of the problem. The ability for nuclear weapons to destroy all life forms.

And I will laugh at myself wondering how lying on hot pavement in Livermore, CA could change anything about this global nightmare.

But I will stay down on the pavement until the police come to take me away because in this moment, at this time, lying down to block the gate is what I must do to ensure I never forget. Humanity never forgets. And we abolish these weapons forever.

In Senegal, Women Carry Everything

IMG_3317

by Karen Topakian

While traveling in Senegal, I intentionally paid attention to women, noting what they wore, did and carried.

Clad in bright colored tunics (boubous) with matching head wraps or in long skirts with matching blouses, women walked with perfect posture.

IMG_3186

Women work in fields. Till the soil behind a horse or donkey. Sell clothes, jewelry, bottled water, fruits and vegetables and fish in make shift stands on the sides of dusty roads or in the market place. Care for children. Pull water from the well, Tend to goats and sheep. Work in hotels. Clean.

Women often work in groups, Sharing the shade under the broad canopy of a baobab tree. Eating communally from a big metal bowl.

IMG_3029

Women carry children. Mostly on their backs tied with an mbotu, a broad piece of soft cloth, like a sarong or pareo that keeps the baby close to the woman’s back.

IMG_3188

Or they walk hand in hand with a child.

Women carried everything, often on their heads.

IMG_3160

Empty gourds full of greens. Plastic buckets full of water. Pans of fresh fish, whole mangoes. Or cut up mango pieces parceled into small plastic bags. Shelled peanuts in small plastic bags.

IMG_3193

Women carry everything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Look Away

images-2

By Karen Topakian

It would be easy to look away from the frightened faces of young children ripped from their parents’ arms because it’s too painful.

It would be easy to look away from the EPA Administrator’s plans to roll back environmental protections because it’s too scary.

It would be easy to look away from the news about the thousands who died in Puerto Rico from neglect and racism after Hurricane Maria because it’s too horrific.

But don’t…look away.

As humans, when we encounter a threat to our health and safety, our animal brain gives us a choice. Flight or Fight.

I implore us to not pick flight but to fight – nonviolently, of course.

Of course, it’s uncomfortable. Of course, it’s painful. Of course, it’s horrific.

But it’s much harder for those whose lives are directly affected by these events. They can’t look away. They can’t ignore. They can’t turn the page.

If you’re not affected or immediately threatened, I implore you to stay focused. Raise your voice. Open your wallet. Call. Join. Volunteer. Sign up. Show up.

And if you are affected or immediately threatened, tell us what you need, how we can help, what we can do.

If we pick flight we may lose our chance to fight.

“I understood that the best way to prevent violence is to be nonviolent,”

 

flag2-1024x578

by Karen Topakian

said Nikol Pashinyan, the newly appointed interim prime minister of Armenia.

When this 42-year old former opposition member of Parliament, former newspaper editor and political prisoner, saw President Serzh Sargsyan wanted to continue his national leadership by becoming prime minister after his 10-year term as president had ended, he knew he had to stop him. (Recent constitutional changes made the prime minister position the most powerful in the government.)

Inspired by Nelson Mandela and Gandhi’s famous 1930 Salt Walk across India to oppose British taxation, Pashinyan, began a village-to-village walk on March 31 across 75 miles of Armenia organizing his fellow citizens to oppose the president’s power grab.

Pashinyan’s call for an end to Sargsyan’s oligarchy, corruption and nepotism resonated deeply and quickly with young people and students. But people of all ages joined the call to oppose the president’s move to seal his own power.

By April 13, Pashinyan arrived in Yerevan, the capitol, along with tens of thousands of people and joined the students already protesting against the parliamentary vote of Sargsyan’s appointment.

The nonviolent protests brought central Yerevan to a standstill by blocking metro entrances, squares and central streets and by dancing in the streets.

On April 17, the Parliament voted to appoint Sargsyan as prime minister. Five days later, on April 22, he detained Pashinyan in an effort to decapitate the movement. Instead, it had the opposite effect. The street protests intensified and grew in number but never with violence.

The government released Pashinyan and on April 23, Prime Minister Sargsyan resigned in a concession to the opposition. (Sargsyan resigned on the eve of a historic day in Armenia, the commemoration of the Armenian genocide on Armenian Martyrs Day.)

Pashinyan understood the need for his supporters to remain peaceful to win. So he urged them to raise their hands if the police used force. And he reminded the police that they were all Armenians.

Pashinyan appeared before the Parliament on May 1, with an offer to serve as interim prime minister. When the Parliament voted down his offer, he called for a nationwide strike on the following day.

On Tuesday, May 8, the Parliament met again, bowed to the pressure and chose Mr. Pashinyan as the interim prime minister. He vowed to make his first act the calling of fair parliamentary elections.

Victory achieved without firing a gun, spilling blood and the military taking over. A truly magnificent testimony to the power of nonviolence.

###

https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/emil-sanamyan/saint-nick-of-armenia-how-nikol-pashinyan-rescued-armenia-and-made-it-merry

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/08/world/europe/armenia-nikol-pashinyan-prime-minister.html

image

 

Losing a species

thumbnail

photo of Sudan taken by Jana Hajduchova

by Karen Topakian

In case you haven’t heard we lost the last white rhino male, Sudan. And I mean we. The human race. The species that thinks it’s in charge.

Now only two females roam the planet. Two.

In the 1960s, there were approximately 2,000.

According to the New York Times, “War, habitat loss and poaching for rhino horn have decimated populations, and by 2008 researchers could no longer locate northern white rhinos in the wild. But a number of the animals — including Sudan, who was captured in 1975 — remained at zoos around the world.”

We, humans, bear the responsibility for their decline. We start wars. We encroach on their habitat and we kill these majestic creatures to grind up their horns as a mythical cure for cancer.

And we show no signs of stopping. Since we don’t assign a dollar amount to our natural world, we don’t value what nature does and provides. In a capitalist world, no financial value truly means no value at all. Therefore, we don’t know how to assess the “cost” to the planet when we lose a species.

Because white rhinos eat grass, they have changed the ecology and structure of the grasslands. According to Business Insider, “Although seemingly counterintuitive, grazers, like rhinos, increase biodiversity by selecting certain plants over others, giving other species more ability to grow.”

The loss of this one species can alter this ecosystem in profound ways.

If we lost these five species, humans could not survive on this planet – ants, termites, bats, frogs and birds. These creatures decompose plant material, stir up soil, aid in seed dispersal, pollinate plants, serve as bio-indicators of our ecosystem, recycle nutrients and provide pest control. Try getting along without these free services!

Until we value these creatures’ lives, defend their right to live and protect their homes and habitats, we will reduce biodiversity. Disrupt the intricate web of life and place our food sources and clean drinking water at risk.

Now back to Sudan.

My friend and colleague, Jana Hajduchova, knew Sudan since she volunteered for the Czech zoo in Dvur Kralove before he was transported to Kenya in 2009. “I met him several times, last time about three weeks ago. He was still doing well, although I could see that it is already painful for him to walk. He was such a darling… Well, all rhinos are, but he was very kind and a nice animal.”

 

 

 

 

 

Heartbreaking and Heartening

 

by Karen Topakian

I bolted out the door a few minutes before 10 this morning to cheer on the students at Mission High, whom I thought would be walking out to support gun control.

Before I could cross Dolores street, I found a lively group of about 30 8th graders from the Children’s Day School, occupying the median strip on Dolores Street.

They chanted and held up signs with vigor and seriousness. They asked me to sign their petition, which they will deliver to Rep. Nancy Pelosi on their class trip to Washington D.C.

I asked permission to stand with them and hold up my RESIST banner. They agreed. After a few moments, I decided the students needed to own this event, so I crossed to the corner to join other adults, mostly parents and teachers, standing in solidarity.

Horns tooted from passing trucks and cars. Pedestrians chanted along and dog walkers remained for a moment or two in support.

As I stood watching them capture our hearts and minds, I found myself feeling two disparate emotions: a heartening spirit and a heartbreaking reality.

These students were not protesting actions and activities in a foreign land or to support a big concept like science. They were protesting to protect their own lives.

Though gun violence in schools, accounts for a small proportion of gun deaths. One is too many. These people are the target audience.

I don’t go to work in fear that someone will burst into my home office with a gun and shoot me. However, students may and do. It’s real for them. Very real. This is the part I find most heartbreaking – this reality in which they live. In which, we have not protected them.

The heartening part lies in their actions. Their organizing. Their use of social media. Their passion and solidarity. Their commitment to solutions. Their hashtag #NeverAgain.