The Biscayne Times

Aug 11th
Essentially, We Are All Essential PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kim Ogren, BT Contributor   
May 2020

Think what you can do at home

HPix_GoingGreen_5-20onestly, right about now, my job does not feel essential. I work from home, and I’ve been doing Zoom calls with people across the country for years. It’s often hard to describe what I do. It usually starts off with a phrase that rolls off the tongue: “Since environment, equity, and economy are inextricably linked....” I take these linked ideas and translate them into action so people can exert better-informed and greater influence on decision makers and we can build more harmonious communities.

The important conversations I am a part of seem far removed from what has been deemed in political circles as “essential” work amid the COVID-19 pandemic. So Florida’s awkward attempt at legislating essential services really grabbed my attention.

Essential for what, and for whom? How is fishing essential but walking on our beaches is not? The “great pause” we’re taking across our overcommitted planet is giving rise to this examination of essentialism.

In an ode to the Great Outdoors, New York Times columnist Margaret Renkl, herself recently recovered from illness, observed that “nature is wide open for business.” It’s true. To my delight, the nesting bald eagles, Harriet and M, and their eaglets on the Naples-based live webcam ( haven’t stopped gouging the eyes of freshly caught fish, offering bleeding entrails, and a stuffed animal to their babes in the enormous nest, teetering 60 feet over the traffic whizzing by on I-75 below. “The natural world’s perfect indifference has always been the best cure for my anxieties,” Renkl writes.

My husband and I have logged some significant time watching the eagles, but on a community level, how can we stay focused on what is most essential to our well-being under the barrage of negativity and bad news? California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently declared that “localism is determinative” in his plan to resuscitate a shuttered California. Here in Miami Beach, in a humane and elegant gesture, the city government found a way to allow Raven (Robert Kraft) to continue his unbroken streak (since 1975) of daily eight-mile beach runs while the rest of the state’s beaches were absolutely closed to walkers and sunbathers (but not fishermen).

On the national level, Denis Hayes, a lead organizer of the first Earth Day in 1970, isn’t lamenting the evaporation of the 50th anniversary last month. The pandemic has given the planet a break from pollution and resource depletion, and he recently reminded us that the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act rose from the ashes of President Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia and police killings of students at Kent State.

What sets successful people apart in their dealings with planetary and human health in a moment of crisis? We know successful business people stick out their necks and speak up more than others. They’re the pleasantly persistent doers. There’s also the Zen Buddhist quote that has become my own personal mantra during challenging times: Chop wood. Carry water. As a repetitious process, it brings humility and a slightly dissociative feeling to the mundane tasks in a way that helps form healthy habits. And from psychology, we know that habits are the key to overcoming over-reliance on will.

Achieving what is essential for the public interest is often tedious, even brutal work. Done repeatedly like a habit. With vision. With wisdom from leaders, both current and past. With the humility of a Buddhist monk. As compulsive as the Raven’s run. As biologically indifferent as a bald eagle.

I can think of a number of essential people, with essential character, doing essential work over the past few months, including environmental activist Maggy Hurchalla, fighting for her First Amendment right to petition her government in opposition to Martin County mining operations , and has delivered a how-to video for others on dealing with strategic lawsuits against public participation, also called SLAPP suits.

Michelle Garcia was willing to file a suit against Miami-Dade County so that negligible traffic improvements and critical environmental damages from a westward expansion of State Road 836 were known to everyone. Miami Waterkeeper’s Kelly Cox is working on getting a fertilizer ordinance passed in every municipality in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. And Kristin Jacobs, mother, local community leader, Broward County commissioner-turned-Florida legislator who tragically died of cancer last month, endured more than anyone really knows, and initiated the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact more than ten years ago.

In a recent interview, jazz artist Wynton Marsalis alluded to a moment like we’re in with the loss and suffering: “We have to be even more process-oriented and more deliberate. And that’s how you master a moment of chaos. And that is also the strength of jazz.” In a jazz band, everyone is essential. All citizens willing put in the work, on our behalf, when no one is looking, will always be essential.


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