29 march 2018: by public transit...

This week, I have found myself in multiple conversations about public transportation. 

First, on vacation last week, Hannah and I remarked how trains, trams and buses made tourism so much easier. We walked 30 miles, but we rode way more than that, and were able to see sites all over Amsterdam, and even an iconic windmill in Haarlem, 10 miles away. 

Second. You know that each year, I oversee a summer intern program for the Disciples of Christ, and each year it is tricky to match applicants with sites across the country -- each applicant, each site with its own gifts, needs and quirks. 

One site, located in a large southwestern city, does its Disciple outreach among an urban population with the unsurprising list of urban needs: food, shelter, health care, community. This week, the site director called to say that they were not able to accept the intern candidate we'd sent because the candidate has no car. To live and work in this major American city, you have to have private transportation, because public transportation is inadequate. 

Then, third. This week, Woodsider Judy Luke told me about her experience with public transportation right here in Flint. 

I was just going to a moving sale. No big deal. Maybe I find a couple things I need, maybe something with sentimental meaning. The church would get a little change, a couple things not headed to the dumpster or had to be moved to new place. End of story. Then, I try and get on the bus....

Among other things, I bought a garden shovel. When I went to get on the MTA bus to go home, I was told I couldn’t bring it on the bus as it could be used as a weapon. I am 69 years old. I asked the driver what would have happened if I had bought it at a mall, or the like. He said I would have to call someone to come and get me. Wonderful! First, I don’t have a phone. Second, who would I call? None of my friends have a car. I am on a limited budget so a taxi would not be feasible.

I ended up walking downtown carrying my shovel and pulling my shopping cart. In years past, I have made that walk in about 35 minutes. Friday, it took me about 1 hr. 20, as I kept having to stop and rest. I left my shovel at a downtown store, saying I would be back the next day, and took the bus the rest of the way home.

When I got home, I crawled in bed and turned on my electric blanket. I wanted to cry, but was too tired and too sore. As I lay there, I thought how ironic it is that anyone with a concealed weapon permit can ride the bus with ease, but I am too dangerous to be allowed to ride. I also thought about how MTA is limiting what I can own, as anything I buy must be able to be carried on the bus.

Among "banned" items, Judy learned from a driver, are tool belts. It's worth noting that I found nothing on the MTA website that banned any items, except food and drink. I did learn that "MTA is a great way to save money by commuting." Unless you work construction and have to carry a tool belt, apparently. Or landscaping and need shovels and whatnot.

Biggest problem I have, Judy wrote, is that the ones at the top making the decision don't comprehend what a rider goes thru getting around. (Like what happens with so many things affecting an average person.) I should be free to buy what I want, not what MTA says.

There are laws in place. First, there is a law of unintended consequences. And there is a zip code tax. Neither of these is an actual law, you understand. But they are always in play for folks of fewer resources. Maybe we don't intend to penalize people without cars; perhaps we don't mean to make people with less money pay more for daily basics. But here in Flint, more than 7500 households have no access to a car. And that only counts people who live in houses. How are we helping? How are we making it worse? 

Going on vacation is an adventure. Providing transportation for a summer  intern is a short-term challenge. But what about the people who live in that city? The ones who live in this city? The ones who work, or want to work, who need to take kids to doctors or go to parent-teacher conferences, who need groceries, want to attend church, go to school, have a life?

We at Woodside in our time of transition have been pondering basic questions: Where are we going? How will we get there? What do we need to take along? But even in our asking, we know the answers will come along, stuff will get done, and the need will soon go away. 

As we figure it out for ourselves in the moment, let's keep in mind the dire urgency of the questions for people all around us. It matters that cities have adequate public transportation. Changing things begins with understanding things. My thanks to Judy for keeping us mindful.  

Sunday, we're processing to our new place from our old place. If you're not inclined to walk, consider taking the bus. But be prepared: You have to have exact change; and we're not sure what carry-ons may get you removed. And don't expect to be on-time; the buses don't run that early on Sundays. 


8 march 2018: Flint Town (thoughts from a Woodsider)

Flint Town — a new miniseries. 

Flint Town is an 8-episode docudrama that hit Netflix last week. Created by the filmmakers who produced T-Rex, the award-winning documentary about Claressa Shields, Flint Town depicts the city through the eyes of law enforcement; it was shot in 2015-16, the height of the water crisis and the presidential election season. (Woodside footage is included, FYI.) 

There is no doubt that the attention Flint has gotten these past couple of years feels different depending on proximity. Those far away may see the city as a metaphor or cautionary tale; those closest to Flint may experience grief in the reality, frustration that any depiction is incomplete, or, as below, anger that the city is being exploited again for someone's profit. This series is certainly sparking conversation. 

Vogue calls Flint Town "a Mesmerizing and Troubling Portrait of Police and Race in Small-City America." 

Charlie LeDuff, a Detroit-based writer for The New Yorker, calls it and Flint "a story of the struggle to survive....How does law enforcement work in a place in constant crisis? The answer is that it doesn’t, not really."

The Detroit Free Press quotes one of the filmmakers: "We just saw firsthand the toll it takes on a person when living in a place like Flint, with poverty so high and crime just being a part of everyday life."

The Daily Nebraskan comments:"Everyone is stuck. Whether they are held here through a job promising a better future, or the fear of leaving what you have always known, each individual in this documentary is a prisoner of Flint."  

The Chattanooga (TN) Pulse calls it "a hard look at a failed city," but comments that "Flint Town is a series that looks unflinchingly at a serious problem and offers no solutions. Political leanings aside, we can all agree that Flint is our collective responsibility."

Perhaps that is the hopefulness we can find in the production — collective responsibility. (disclaimer: I've seen only one episode. -ed)

Woodsider Desiree Duell, brought her own proximity to a review of the series, and consented to having her thoughts published here. If you would like to offer your thoughts, we'd be happy to print them also. Please note: This is intended to represent Desiree's opinion only, and we make no representation to the accurate assessment of Netflix' or the producers' protocols. (Warning: Spoiler Alerts)  

Flint Town: Representation, Audience, and Aesthetics 

I was away on a graduate residency when the documentary series, Flint Town was released. As I am an artist who uses art as tool to disrupt dominant narratives about poverty, and seeks collective agency in the community, a friend wanted to know my opinion.

Flint Town is a classic example of 'poverty porn.' Poverty porn objectifies those living in poverty and their suffering for the media/arts/entertainment to elicit an emotional response and generate a profit. Poverty Porn helps no one except those making money off of it.

The series tells a very singular story about the Flint Police Department. Flint police and community officers do need funding to keep community-policing going, to keep out state police. The film failed to mention that state police patrols were increased in the City of Flint in summer of 2015. 

There are no trigger warnings indicating there are highly graphic images of violence in this series. I almost threw up watching the first episode. Trigger warnings should be at the beginning of every episode. 

The stereotypical poverty tropes of liquor stores, black on black violence, abandoned buildings, churches, and cops is neither complex nor interesting. Flint has rich culture that makes it distinct (and I'm not talking about downtown). Erasure of our culture is dehumanizing and this representation furthers shame and negative images of our city. 

One mother watched the series to unknowingly have to relive her son’s murder. I have spoken to others who lost loved ones, who were not notified about being represented in this film. Victims of violent crimes and family members should have been asked, and consent to have their images represented in the film. No mother should have her son's death memorialized for public entertainment. 

The over-representation of police shootings and very little representation of police brutality in the context of the national narrative only reinforces systematic racism. Due to Netflix’s national audience, this film is more than a representation of Flint. It will be read as a representation of all predominantly black urban areas.

Aesthetically, the over-stylized glossy images almost make the movie seem fictionalized; this is very dangerous as we as a culture love to consume violence. The mothers, children, youth, and adults that were victims of violence and those who committed violence are real people. The aerial shots of Flint made it seem like a large urban city; this is a town, a small town with big city problems. 

Our pain should NOT be for public consumption. Our pain should NOT be someone's Sunday Netflix binge. Our pain should NOT be for someone else's profit. All proceeds of this film should go back directly to the Flint community. 

15 february 2018: standing for something

This week, I was called by ABC12 to offer an opinion on conversion therapy, that discredited pseudo-scientific practice of trying to make people conform to "normal" sexual orientation and gender identify. Specifically, the desire to make gay people straight and make transgender folks accept anatomy as identity (even when anatomy is ambiguous). 

The reporter's call was prompted by a bill in the state legislature that would make it illegal for mental health professionals to attempt to change the sexual orientation of minors. Michigan should pass this. (But I'm not holding my breath.) 

Part of the reason this has been in the news is because a Detroit area church has been offering seminars (for just $200!) to young girls trying to figure out their lives, girls who may be awakening to a lesbian or transgender self-understanding. This church certainly isn't the only one; the practice of attempted conversion continues across the country, causing harm to a lot of people. Only 9 states and DC have outlawed it, and even then, churches get wide latitude to despise anyone they want to, and to do pretty awful "faith-based" things. And why this Detroit Church is targeting girls is a mystery, except as part of our society's general disdain for women and ongoing attempts to control every aspect of our lives.

Part of why it has been on my mind is that, in the past week, I've watched two mainstream television shows address the experience of transgender folks and the surgical aspect of transition. On Grey's Anatomy, now introducing a new transgender character, what we once called "sex change" surgery, and later called "gender reassignment" surgery, was referred to as "gender affirmation" surgery; in The Good Doctor (about a surgeon with autism), the procedure was called "gender confirmation" surgery. Both of these phrases express what we know to be true: for the person with gender dysphoria (no longer called "gender identity disorder"), the reality is clear, and the surgery is undertaken as a step in helping someone live more fully who they already are. 

I applaud progress in human understanding and in human kindness, and I hope our legislature passes this bill, as protection for a quite vulnerable class of people we love. So, call your state rep to support the bill. 

But that's not the end. Because, while we work for laws that honor and protect people, we also have to challenge the other oppressive systems in our culture. Including church. And that's the other reason this is on my mind. 

Woodside is part of the American Baptist Churches, and you've heard me lately express anger and frustration that the relatively new General Secretary of the denomination is openly anti-gay. He has called us immoral, not fit to be leaders, and has reiterated his belief that marriage is just for straight people. Our Chicago region is more open, but so far lacks prophetic fire for calling out the national body. Woodside is responding, so far, in writing.

But our new friend, Wendell Griffen, our guest preacher last month, has offered a different approach. His denomination, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, has decided that, while they are open to LGBTQ married folks in lower-ranking positions, the upper echelons of leadership and ministry are only for the straight (or LGBTQ unmarried?). Wendell has written a biting denunciation of that denomination, and is inviting his congregation to consider leaving the CBF. He writes: 

"Plainly, CBF and New Millennium Church disagree about LGBTQ equality and inclusion .... I will not support continued funding or involvement in CBF initiatives. CBF has chosen love of its purses above love of God's LGBTQ people. I am unwilling to follow that path as pastor of New Millennium Church. If our congregation is to keep faith with the love and justice imperatives in the gospel of Jesus, we should not be seduced...by a body that consciously and proudly celebrates a decision to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, and marital status .... Some people will disagree with or disapprove of my position. No one should be unsure about it."

I'm not always as articulate as I wish to be when news channels call. But however well or poorly, it matters that we speak -- all of us; the gospel imperative is that we speak. Who in our lives is unsure of our love and welcome? Who in our community feels alone in the struggle, and how can we communicate solidarity? How can we bolster our solidarity into something far greater than words? Woodside has committed for years to being in the struggle, alongside the folks most likely to get battered in our world. Are we doing all that we can? And what to do about this one of our denominations? Wash our hands? Live as a thorn in their side? There are questions. There are opportunities.