Letter From Sausalito

Jane Sloane Coastline

Perhaps it was inevitable that my bohemian self would wend its way to Sausalito and to one of its boat communities. Even more fortunate was finding my heart-boat, which is called Sunrise and has been owned for 26 years by a woman  who comes from a boat building family and grew up in Tahiti.

Many friends have asked me what it’s like living on a boat and in Sausalito, so here’s my snapshot in response.

My boat is small and snug with porthole windows, so I can see seals popping up when I’m lying in bed. There’s a kitchen, desk, bed, shower, toilet and deck and the boat is situated at the end of the pier so I have an uninterrupted view of the bay. I’m also in what’s known as the ‘banana belt’ zone which means that winter sun hits my boat and thus keeps it cozy all year round. From the deck I can also watch the ‘anchor outs’, those people who live out on the water either due to free rent or free spirit or both. Each day I watch them row ashore, often with their dogs perched on their row boats as they head to land.

Inside ‘Sunrise’, my books and music and art capture an expression of my love of life and the world. Each day I return to the rhythm of my rocking boat and also to an eternal rhythm of poetic sensibility. My bears – Bear (big) and Boo (small) are my constant companions as we burrow deep through the winter nights. A couple of nights ago I collected a work called ‘Remember Who Loves You’ from a local artist called Emily Dvorin. It’s a basket with sewn squares of vintage fabric each capturing a word in the sentence, Remember Who Loves You. It’s a Christmas present to myself and I position the basket on a high perch so I can wake to it each morning.

I have a signed photograph of Pete Seeger performing with Arlo Guthrie in Topanga Canyon next to a small stereo with a cache of music. This is located next to my mermaid shower curtain that affirms each day the singing swimming nature of my being.

I wake at dawn each morning and catch a 6.15am bus to the city. I walk down the boat ramp, past the owners of Nancy Ann Flowers and to the bus that collects us. It’s like a luxury tour bus and passengers are asked not to use our cell phones, so the ride becomes a 25-minute meditative sweep around the coastline, over the Golden Gate bridge and delivering us into the financial district of San Francisco.

Often I’ll have a breakfast meeting at my favorite café, Caffé Bianco, with Banipal Warda (Bannie), the owner, always ready with a greeting and commentary on the state of the world. It’s old style San Francisco here and a safe haven to start the day. The Asia Foundation’s office is just a 5-minute walk away with a majestic entrance and doormen who are so welcoming. And so are the staff!  I love the organization, the intelligence and integrity of my colleagues and my role in advancing women’s human rights and gender equality in Asia.

Usually I’ll catch the ferry home and so I’ll walk 15 minutes to the ferry building and then ride what’s been called the prettiest ferry ride in the world. Feels about right. I get on that ferry and already feel a million miles from the issues of the day. It’s like the bay air and wavy ride rock you into a different world. There’s always a queue of people waiting to get on the ferry once we disembark in Sausalito, including many people with bikes who have ridden across the Golden Gate Bridge and catch the ferry back to San Francisco. From the ferry it’s an easy 10-minute walk back to my boat. Sometimes I’ll have a meeting at Taste of Rome, a café that has great live music most nights. Most days I’ll stop by Drivers Market, an organic market created by Adam Driver and business partner, Paul Geffner, and which has wonderful staff and delicious food and conversations.

Yoga of Sausalito staff - SausalitoJust 5 minutes from my boat is Yoga of Sausalito, where I go to restorative yoga classes on Friday nights and as often as I can during the week. Once a month the restorative yoga session includes a musician playing didgeridoo over us while we do relaxing poses. For me the didj sound evokes a primal connection to Australia, indigenous culture, land and spirit. Five minutes down the road is Soulstice Spa where I have a regular massage and go to meditation classes and which is owned by the wonderful Kayse who does so much to build community in Sausalito. Kayse’s now inviting some of us to speak at a regular Sausalito event series to connect great work and ideas to new audiences.

Across the road from Soulstice Spa is Sausalito Library, my favorite hangout place on the weekend due to the brilliant collection of books to borrow, the comfy chairs and spaces to occupy and also the intentional community created by the Library Manager, Abbot Chambers. There’s a regular speaker series featuring local authors and filmmakers, often presented in conjunction with the Sausalito Historical Society. Films such as ‘The Houseboat Wars’ that depicts the fight that boat bohemians took on against local and state government trying to claim back the water territory the boat people occupied. It’s a riveting documentary, made more so by the fact that the bohemians won! We now have protected spaces to occupy.

Other documentaries include ‘Sausalito after the Bridge’ that depicts life in Sausalito before and after the Golden Gate bridge was built. Then there’s the documentary on Alan Watts, ‘Why Not Now?’, from when the activist writer lived in Sausalito, and we also have a regular ‘Alan Watts Study Group meeting at the library with over 80 members. We also have other locals sharing their work, such as a couple who run a program called ‘The Kindness Project’ where they commit random acts of kindness each day, such as showing up in a rough neighborhood with an espresso machine and handing out free coffee for a day.

Heading home from the library I often stop into Waterstreet Hardware and Marine, owned by great guys who know their stuff and where I get my buckets, torches, equipment and gadgets for the boat. Living on a boat also inspires me to live simply. You don’t have a lot of room on a small boat, so whenever I buy something, I choose what I’m going to let go and then I’ll leave it on the communal boat bench. Over time I feel like I’m choosing to give more things away more often, rather than just when I buy something. I also like arranging them artistically and creating beauty with the colors and textures of items I leave on the bench. It feels like a kinetic act and I feel light and free each time I do this.

Christmas time is always special in Sausalito. One of my favorite rituals is the lighted boat parade where owners decorate their boats with lights and sparkly bits and sail them across the bay, right near my boat. The dark sky and water is a fitting backdrop and float foundation for the musical procession of boats that glide across the bay. It’s enchanting and wondrous.

Another night I take myself to Grace Cathedral and, from my front row seat, I experience the magic of Handel’s Messiah in the glory of performance by American Bach Soloists. Perched high on the hill in Sausalito is Christ Church, the Episcopal church where Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead married Deborah Koons on Valentine’s Day 1994. I love this little church, the rector, Fr. Chip Barker Larrimore, and the congregation who come together in community. On Christmas Eve there’s an organ recital followed by carol singing and then Midnight Mass. Toward the end of the service the church lights are switched off and we light each other’s candles as we sing ‘Silent Night’ before ending the service with ‘Joy to the World’. I carefully carry my candle all the way down the dark windy road to my boat, a flame torch to light the way. It feels like a spiritual act, and guide. I ring my parents and aunts on Christmas Day in Australia, and anticipate seeing my brother in a couple of weeks.

On Christmas Day I have a glorious time with my Sausalito family, Ariel, Sam, Juniper, Carol and Robert. We dance and sing with Juniper, who is one year and ten months old and whom I adore and love to eternity, and then Sam serves up a truly divine Ethiopian feast for all of us before we make more music together and have wicked treats for dessert. It couldn’t be more perfect. Ariel and Sam give me some photos they’ve taken of Juniper and on return to my boat I light a candle to Juni-bird, gorgeous girl in the world, as I position one of the pics of her inside a mini wooden boat on my table.

Beyond Sausalito lie the Muir Woods, the poetic coastline and my most favorite bookshop, Point Reyes Books, owned by Kate Levinson and Steve Costa. You can reach Pt Reyes on the Marin Stagecoach, a magical mystery ride bus with any number of fascinating passengers, from people living in the woods or on the water, to surfers to park rangers. After a donor event near Pt Reyes Books, I step in to a candlelit poetry night where Kate begins with Wendell Berry’s “To Know the Dark”

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wing

The bookstore is lit by tiny candles and local poets read their works, funny, poignant, fiery and beautiful. We listen as ‘Our highest glowing selves’, as one poet described it.

The night ends as it began, in silence, and in the dark as Steve read a final poem, fittingly from Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things”

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be.
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

And so from this joyful perch in the world, I send an exuberant embrace of life, nature, community, stars and sea to all on the eve of a New Year.

Jane Sloane
Sausalito / San Francisco / The World

Letter From San Francisco #22

sausalito boatI’ve just arrived back on my boat in Sausalito from being in Australia. A couple of days after my return I open my hatch and watch a man with a pirate hat rowing toward shore. Hi, he says with a grin, although in my mind it’s more har, har. I’m back in Sausalito, Grateful Dead territory.

And back on campaign turf. The Presidential campaign feels like a microcosm of what’s playing out in the wider world. At one end of the spectrum there’s fear and greed trumping all and at the other a genuine citizen powered movement for social justice. A hawks and doves kind of race, with the latest act being Sanders’ little green bird sparking a peace tweet frenzy. We’d better hope that this momentum for social justice wins out if we’re to have any chance of advancing women’s rights and righting history in the time ahead.

Sometimes it feels like there’s a lot of noise but not a lot of sense making when it comes to advancing women’s human rights.

Grass roots women’s organizations still receive so little funding in spite of all the noise of commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals and to all kinds of initiatives intended to engage women as leaders and peacemakers. Often, commitments get made to great fanfare without the tracking in place to ensure those donors step up and honor their commitments. Other times it seems that all the boxes get ticked for getting more funding to groups with women as beneficiaries without the power dynamic changing and without women stepping up to new positions of power, influence and engagement.

Women need to be able to influence informal and formal political processes and regulatory mechanisms and to connect this to their front line activism. They need to be able to tap political will and resources to address the issues they’re advocating for. At present, so many women are literally fighting to their death for the causes to which they are bound.

Berta Caceres stands at the Gualcarque River in the Rio Blanco region of western Honduras where she, COPINH (the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) and the people of Rio Blanco have maintained a two year struggle to halt construction on the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric project, that poses grave threats to local environment, river and indigenous Lenca people from the region.For instance, the recent assassination of Berta Cáceres, a Lenca Indigenous woman, and an internationally recognized leader, who was assassinated in her home.

I heard Berta speak at an agro-peasantry conference in Mexico last year and she was compelling in her message and oratory. Berta was an activist who worked at the frontlines in the struggle against the expropriation of land and water from her community by the construction of the Agua Zarca hydropower dam project in the Gualcarque River basin in Honduras, promoted by the company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA) and financed by foreign investors.  The kind of company that would be championed by a Trump Presidency.

There was neither the political will nor regulatory processes to hold DESA and its investors to account for the decimation of land and water; no formal systems in place to protect the wellbeing of communities. In the United States, we’ve seen the effect of efficiency processes trumping the right of communities to access safe water in communities such as Flint in Michigan where the governor’s representative decided to replace access to the community’s safe water supply with a  cheaper unsafe option. The devastating health consequences of that decision resulted in an ongoing inquiry and a class action for compensation.

The difference in Latin America is that those leading the protests are getting assassinated. The Global Witness report shows that Latin America has the highest rate of indigenous peoples being murdered for standing up for their rights, and many of those murdered are women.

During her 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize Award ceremony, Berta Cáceres shared these words:

In our worldview, we are beings who come from the Earth, from the water, and from corn. The Lenca people are ancestral guardians of the rivers, in turn, protected by the spirits of young girls, who teach us that giving our lives in various ways for the protection of the rivers is giving our lives for the well-being of humanity and of this planet… Let us wake up!

We’re out of time. We must shake our conscience free of the rapacious capitalism, racism and patriarchy that will only assure our own self-destruction. “Our Mother Earth – militarized, fenced-in, poisoned, a place where basic rights are systematically violated – demands that we take action.”

Conflicts over land and mining rights are exploding into dramatic battles.  Violent intimidation, assassinations and burning of houses of rural activists is widespread. 03-Bazookax480The most recent assassination of an environmental defender of land against a mining company is of Bazooka Rhadebe, Chairperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC), The ACC was elected by the affected communities to represent them in the fight against the proposed mining project at Xolobeni, Wild Coast of South Africa. The committee had managed to hold the Australian mining company, MRC, and the force of the state at bay for close to a decade. And then Bazooka Rhadebe was gunned down in his home by assassins posing as police officers while Bazooka protected his son and wife from also being shot.

Women and men are being killed as defenders of land and territory, and more often it’s women who are left to defend the land while men are further afield working. If women aren’t killed, they are often raped and violated for their stance and determination to protect their home, rivers and earth. The word ‘gendercide’ does not overstate the case when it comes to rape being used as a weapon of war in many countries, women still being burnt as witches in places like Papua New Guinea, women being killed in honor crimes, the ‘normalization’ of domestic violence, including in marriage, the kidnapping and forced marriage of girls as young as nine and the sustained mutilation of girls’ bodies through harmful traditional practices.

02-aboriginal girlYoung girls are also committing suicide in response to violence and despair, such as the 10 year old Aboriginal girl who committed suicide in the Kimberley in Australia last month. Growing criminal networks, militarization and corporatization add to the layers of violence affecting women and girls.

Most especially concerning is the rise and rise of religious fundamentalism and the devastating impact this is having on women and girls in all of its dimensions.

There’s been plenty of military money and might to support fighting wars in the world but not much money for combatting the world’s longest war of violence against women, whether it’s domestic violence, sexual violence, violence perpetrated against women’s human rights defenders of body and earth or the violence of fundamentalist beliefs and the impact on women. Why do we accommodate this sustained war against women and yet commit so much fight and might to address other major crises and wars?

If we are serious in addressing this gendercide there has to be a global compact by donors to ending violence against women. Important here is the need to dramatically increase funding to grassroots women’s groups to ensure they can continue to provide the services and support on the ground while advocating for policy and legal change.

For instance, at Global Fund for Women we provided a crisis fund grant to Berta’s group to support their continued fight for their land and for justice in Honduras and in Australia we’ve funded the formation of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s fund based in Darwin to support strategies and solutions led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. We need to be ramping up support on the ground to 1000 times the level at which it currently happens.

08-nonhle-mbuthuma-1-c2a9-the-shore-break-lrGlobal Fund for Women remains one of the few global organizations committed to providing core funding to support the work of women led groups focused on realizing women’s human rights. It’s critical to maintain this support as the opportunities for women’s groups to access funding is diminishing and the spaces for women’s organizing are shrinking. This is happening in many forms and for a number of reasons. In some countries, women organizing together are seen as a dangerous trend and the buildings they occupy are being burnt and razed to the ground.

In Egypt, the government is cracking down on women’s groups receiving funding from donors outside of Egypt and issuing officials summons to key staff of these organizations to attend interrogation sessions undertaken by government officials and freezing organizations’ bank accounts. Other cultures restrict women coming together for cultural reasons and so their isolation and disconnection from other women, community and organized action is acute.

Girls too are losing their gathering spaces as their parents choose to marry them off early in the name of security rather than allowing them to stay in school.

The number of donors pulling out of countries due to concerns over corruption, conflict and crises as well as changing strategic interests and approaches all contribute to women losing the spaces they’ve created for their organizing. The pressure against civil society and women’s human rights groups has been increased exponentially in countries in the Middle East in particular, with some donors deciding it is too hard to keep supporting groups in this region.

Funding is also being reduced for organizations working to support refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. This situation is now exacerbated by the fact that many European governments that were supporting organizations working in the refugee camps in the Middle East have now diverted this funding back to Europe to address the refugee situation there.

04-aptopix-mideast-lebanon-syrian-refugees-cpPublic attention has also swung from the Middle East to Europe where there appears greater interest in providing funding support for the refugee situation in Europe than to also maintain support for organizations and groups working in the Middle East.

And yet if we don’t support groups to be able to help families and communities inside the camps in countries in the Middle East then these women, their families and their children miss out on education, personal and economic security and an opportunity to realize their rights and potential. They may also become targets of fundamentalists and terrorist recruiters.

What is the solution, so many people ask? There is no one solution, there are many interventions and actions that will collectively contribute to real change. The work the women’s groups are doing in the camps is essential in supporting women to address violence, trauma, attend to their own, and their family’s health and education needs, for them to have a voice and self-esteem, to claim their own power, to earn an income and to influence policies and laws. Having spent time in the camps, I’m also convinced of the power of yoga, mindfulness and meditation and conflict resolution skills for long-term peace.

Nikita ShahbaziI’ve written previously about Nikita Shahbazi a yoga teacher supported by I Move Foundation, one of the women’s organizations working in the refugee camps that are funded by Global Fund for Women.

Nikita is a teacher with the grit and grace to help children survive in these camps by giving them an immersion in yoga that helps them reclaim energy, life force, hope, curiosity and the power to dream thanks to Nikita’s skilled and graceful teaching.

The arts also play such a key role in healing and peacebuilding – including children drawing, writing and dancing their fears and hopes while in the camps. Conversely, art can be a great community educator and peace builder. While I was in Australia, I was captivated by the theme of the Perth international Arts Festival which was empathy.

In responding to the refugee situation, we can’t just say their problems are not our problems, that they are the other, they are not us, that we’ll build walls and fences to keep refugees out. This is a global problem and it requires global, regional, national and local  leadership. Each country must take a quota of refugees rather than expecting those countries closest to the borders of Syria to assume the load. Moral leadership requires this commitment. Beyond this commitment by political leaders is the invitation to every person to walk in another’s shoes, it’s the invitation to an empathetic life and to the profound recognition that we are not separate, we are connected.

06-hr_pwf-family-day_cr-jessica-wyld_01In this same spirit of empathy and connectedness, there needs to be a recognition of the radical shifts needed to achieve gender justice so that we don’t lose another generation of women and girls, of men and boys – who are also profoundly affected by gender inequality and ideas of hyper-masculinity. Investing in women’s movements is critical. And so is the need to recognize that just supporting other social justice movements, whether they be environmental movements or racial justice movements won’t necessarily lead to changed conditions for women unless there is an intentional commitment to gender equality built into the equation.

Getting money to women’s groups and trusting their strategies and solutions for change, as well as ensuring they have a seat at tables of influence, is key to real change for women. For it is their rise that will rebalance the world and set us on a course of peace and justice.

While immersed in the big issues impacting women’s human rights I took time to fly back to Australia where I needed to spend time with my family and with close friends. When I was there I was dealing with a lot of change and so swimming in the sea was like an act of renewal; diving into the water felt like I was reclaiming a fearlessness I felt I’d lost. I danced, I spun, I somersaulted, I leapt.

I read an interview with surfer Leah Dawson and felt I’d found kin in the way she described her relationship with water:

“If I were to categorize myself, I’d say I’m a water woman in love with the sea, passionately exploring all crafts and waves of most sizes.

Most of all, I’d love to be considered a dancer of the sea, that’s what I am working towards on every wave I ride.

I want to feel that feminine elegance exude from me, I want to feel myself in unison with the wave, completely a part of the sea. If people do see me surf, I want them to see that I’m in love with the ocean.”

Walking the beach reconnected me to joy and laughter. The daily ritual of watching dogs bounding into the sea was sublime and so too the experience of seeing dolphins in the bay.

07henley beach dogOne day I watched an old Labrador walk slowly along the sand next to his owner. He suddenly stopped, plodded into the sea and sat down in the water. I laughed out loud. Nearby was another daily ritual in progress. A very large woman waded into the sea up to her neck, with just her face showing and her very big floppy hat waving in the breeze. Like the nearby Labrador, she was glad to soak her skin. Near her was a woman in a green bathing cap and swimmers relaying a mile from one jetty to the other, arms slicing the sea in sync. Like rhythmic points of light across the water.

Later, getting some fish to eat and sitting in the beach square, I watched a woman carrying a baby, with her male partner following her and a little girl trailing behind. The little girl turned and stopped when she saw me and then she curled her fingers in a slow wave several times. Then she smiled again, all dimples and ran on to join her family. Those littlest of moments can bring a great whoosh of joy.

It brought to mind that lovely song by Australian singer Sara Storer called “Long Live the Girls“. Storer, who has four boys, said she wrote this song for her four nieces. It seems to me it’s a universal song for all the girls in their fearlessness, potential and in affirmation of their rights.

Toward the end of my time in Australia I took a dreamy drive from Mt Gambier to Port Fairy – into faerie people land:

05cockatoosWhite cockatoos break across the sky
Gum studded roads
Scent of eucalyptus
Maggies cawing
Kookas cackling
My Australianness rooted in me
Deep like redgum roots
Shacks and ruins strewn across plains where the light bleaches out life
Stripped back stark
Glowing light
Meditative, memorable
Trees become creatures
Silhouettes sing to me
My country
Fella jump up
Sista sit on the ground
A gathering circle
To understand to try to

Jane Sloane
San Francisco


Letter from San Francisco #19

Life on the bayLiving on a small wooden boat feels like a metaphor for life writ large.

I go from bunkering down during a storm, feeling like I’m in a dodgem car bumping up on all sides, to the dreamy calm and eggshell blue of a new day.

During a recent night’s storm I listened to an interview with poet Mary Oliver who was talking to Krista Tippett (On Being) about her ‘insufficient childhood’ and that walking the woods had saved her life, as had poetry.

“I got saved by poetry and I got saved by the beauty of the (wild, silky) world,” Oliver said.
“Poetry is a life cherishing force…the way it’s written is communal – it has enticements of sound.  It’s easier for people to remember, own it, speak it, as you might a prayer, it belongs to you.  And it is the theater of the spiritual…utterly obedient to the mystery…”

TheOnesWhoWalkAwayFromOmelasOliver also talks of our need to focus on creating a moral planet.   Her invocation here reminds me of the article that David Brooks wrote in The New York Times last month called ‘The Child in the Basement,which draws on Ursula Le Guin’s story, ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.’

As David Brooks wrote, ‘it’s about a sweet and peaceful city with lovely parks and delightful music. The people in the city are genuinely happy. They enjoy their handsome buildings and a “magnificent” farmers’ market.’ Le Guin describes a festival day with delicious beer and horse races: “An old woman, small, fat, and laughing, is passing out flowers from a basket, and tall young men wear her flowers in their shining hair. A child of nine or ten sits at the edge of the crowd, alone, playing on a wooden flute.”

‘It is an idyllic, magical place’.

‘But then Le Guin describes one more feature of Omelas. In the basement of one of the buildings, there is a small broom-closet-sized room with a locked door and no windows. A small child is locked inside the room. This child looks to be about six years old, but, actually, the child is nearly ten. “It is feebleminded. Perhaps it was born defective, or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition and neglect.”’

‘Occasionally, the door opens and people look in. The child used to cry out, “Please let me out. I will be good!” But the people never answered and now the child just whimpers. It is terribly thin, lives on a half-bowl of cornmeal a day and must sit in its own excrement.

“They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas,” Le Guin writes. “Some of them have come to see it; others are content merely to know it is there. They all know it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children … depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.”

‘The deal in Omelas is that one child suffers horribly so that the rest can be happy. If this child were set free or comforted then Omelas would be destroyed.  Many people feel bad for the child, some hold their children tighter, and then they return to their happy lives.

‘But some go to see the child in the room and afterwards they keep walking away from Omelas. They choose not to be part of that social contract. “They leave Omelas; they walk ahead into the darkness and they do not come back.”

Reflecting on this story, David Brooks writes:

‘In one reading this is a parable about exploitation. According to this reading, many of us live in societies whose prosperity depends on some faraway child in the basement. When we buy a cellphone or a piece of cheap clothing, there is some exploited worker — a child in the basement.

‘We tolerate exploitation, telling each other that their misery is necessary for overall affluence, though maybe it’s not.

‘In another reading, the story is a challenge to the utilitarian mind-set so prevalent today. In theory, most of us subscribe to a set of values based on the idea that a human being is an end not a means. You can’t justifiably use a human being as an object. It is wrong to enslave a person, even if that slavery might produce a large good. It is wrong to kill a person for his organs, even if many lives might be saved.

‘And yet we don’t actually live according to that moral imperative. Life is filled with tragic trade-offs. In many different venues, the suffering of the few is justified by those trying to deliver the greatest good for the greatest number. Companies succeed because they fire people, even if a whole family depends on them. Schools become prestigious because they reject people — even if they put a lifetime of work into their application. Leaders fighting a war on terror accidentally kill innocents. These are children in the basement of our survival and happiness.’

David Brooks ends his article by saying

‘The story compels readers to ask if they are willing to live according to those contracts. Some are not. They walk away from prosperity, and they make some radical commitment. They would rather work toward some inner purity. The rest of us live with the trade-offs. The story reminds us of the inner numbing this creates. The people who stay in Omelas aren’t bad; they just find it easier and easier to live with the misery they depend upon. I’ve found that this story rivets people because it confronts them with all the tragic compromises built into modern life — all the children in the basements — and, at the same time, it elicits some desire to struggle against bland acceptance of it all. In another reading, the whole city of Omelas is just different pieces of one person’s psychology, a person living in the busy modern world, and that person’s idealism and moral sensitivity is the shriveling child locked in the basement.’

Ursula Le Guin coined the name Omelas as Salem, O spelt backwards, with Salem’s history of witchhunts and scapegoats. However we interpret the child in the basement, it gives cause for pause. Whether it’s the undocumented worker, political asylum seeker, farmer done over by GMO companies, woman raped, bound, disappeared, silenced, girl denied an education, a voice, or the freedom to dream, or the land itself as basement child, pillaged and plundered in the service of corporate profit.

Hence Mary Oliver’s invocation to work toward a moral world, with a poetic sensibility.

Ursula Le Guin seemed to embrace this idea in her remarkable acceptance speech for a Lifetime Achievement Award at the National Book Awards in the US last November.  In her speech, Le Guin said:

“We need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – the realists of a larger reality. Writers who know the difference between a market commodity and the practice of art.

Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable…Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of word…

We who live by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds; but the name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. Its name is freedom.”

What Le Guin urges here for writers is also true for those of us working for social movements, including for women’s human rights.  Our focus is freedom, justice and equality.  In these times of increased advocacy for corporate partnerships, it helps to remember that the profit motive is also often in conflict with the aims of those seeking systemic change to realize human rights.

In thinking about this, I’m reminded of this clip that one of my colleagues, Laura, shared, which turns the tables on corporations and consumerism in this brilliant video satire:

Those of us working in, and with, a global grassroots women’s movement rely on sustained support from funders who believe in the vision and work of women’s human rights groups. As Cindy Weisner from Grassroots Global Justice Alliance said recently when she spoke at Global Fund for Women’s offices, “Interconnectedness between a diversity of global feminisms is critical to reshaping the world and responding to colliding crises. ‘Building muscle’ at every level of collective organizing is critical to creating a just world where everyone can freely, fully and safely work, live, play and learn.”

Solidarity between groups is a key part of sustaining these movements for change such as linking the minimum wage fight of domestic workers in a city to a global movement for a fair wage.

The great feminist, Amina Mama, a former Global Fund For Women Board Member, provides a compelling analysis of the difference between women mobilizing and a women’s human rights movement.  For instance, there are many women’s mobilizations happening across the planet, however, there are many that don’t have a feminist agenda as their vision – such as those controlled by state-directed organizations and conservative forces.

As Amina Mama says ‘Feminist perspectives include demanding sexual and reproductive rights, and full and equal political citizenship, and transforming gender relations at personal and household levels and in public arenas and on the global stage, and claiming full autonomy… (intellectual as well as physical) that is grounded in respect and solidarity.’

In their Op Ed article in the New York Times on February 3rdTo Stop Violence, Start at Home, Pamela Schifman and Salamishah Tillet point to a landmark/seminal study published in the American Political Science Review in 2012, where Mala Hutun and S Laurel Weldon looked at 70 countries over four decades to examine the most effective way to reduce violence against women.  The researchers found that the mobilization of strong, independent feminist movements was a more important force in reducing violence against women than the economic wealth of a nation, the representation of women in government, or the presence of progressive political parties. Strong, thriving feminist movements help to shape public and government agendas and create the political will to address violence against women.

women-in-egypt-fight-back-against-sexual-harassmentWhat does this mean in practice?

It means that women’s movements have stopped wars, sparked democratic movements, secured laws and legislation for sexual and reproductive rights and other issues that have provided new protection to millions of people and brokered peace between warring factions and nations.

Women are on the frontlines and women’s groups serve as an early warning system.  Critically, they are often first responders, organizing underground movements and safe spaces for women escaping violence, rape as a weapon of war, sexual jihads and witch-hunts invoked by fundamentalists (remember Salem).  Women’s groups in Nigeria were alert to the kidnappings by Boko Haram long before they captured global attention and women are the first to be forced to cover up, on threat of death, when Isis militants capture territory.

Women are also the peace-brokers, conflict transformers and negotiators for a just peace when they are given the chance to do so (coda – UN Resolution 1325)

In spite of the impact on women and the critical role that women’s groups play during times of extreme crisis, so little money is getting into the hands of women’s groups to sustain their efforts and operation.  Women’s groups and movements remain chronically underfunded, as evidenced by AWID’s report on Watering the Leaves, Starving the Roots: Where is the Money for Women’s Human Rights Organizing, which showed that in 2010 the median yearly income of more than 140 women’s organizations worldwide was only $20,000.

Investing in women’s movements organizing is one of the best and boldest means to re-channel the focus on increased militarism, conflict and war to one of conflict transformation, radical justice and sustained peace.

Involving women as peacemakers, peacekeepers and conflict transformers is going to be essential in addressing what Thomas Friedman calls the forces of disorder – whether it be Boko Haram or the Islamic State – or other fundamentalist groups and gangs that play by their own rules with no regard for reason and rationalism. Addressing the forces that fuel displacement, despair, drift and barbarism is vital.  This includes people having ties to place, local economies, environments and communities where relationships and accountability build trust, loyalty and love.

Involving women’s movements in challenging, and working with men to overcome, the form of hyper-masculinity that ignites violence, murder, dehumanization, militarization and war. This is part of the long game required to transform systems, structures and society.

earth birthFunding women’s movements also means funding those most attuned to grassroots innovation that can spread like a brushfire for social change.  For instance, one of the groups that Global Fund for Women supports is called ‘Earth Birth Women’s Health Collective.’  This group created a beaded bracelet they call Heart Strings.  The bracelet has beads of different colors representing fetal heart beat patterns. Kits include a listening horn and Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) are trained learn to count heart beats against the Heart String to tell if the baby is in distress. The group has circumvented the constraints of lack of advanced technology including electricity, lack of infrastructure, and lack of access to lengthy education to ensure women have a safe pregnancy.

In effect, this group is helping to sustain a movement of Traditional Birth Attendants across parts of Sub Saharan Africa to support women to give birth safely and thus reduce maternal mortality. With the grant that Global Fund for Women provided, the group purchased 30 mountain bicycles to equip traditional birth assistants (TBAs) for mobile prenatal care and undertook a ‘train the trainer’ program of the Heart Strings bracelet and Midwives Manual with 36 TBAs who then conducted 23 workshops in Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, and Tanzania.

Mobile TBAs were able to fashion makeshift ambulances out of stretchers attached to their bicycles, creating the first effective way to transport women in distress from their rural homes to the road to be transferred to vehicles for transport to the birth center.

During the grant period, 3,136 women gave birth at Earth Birth. Of these women, 2,187 were provided with prenatal care in their homes by a mobile midwife. The majority of women trained were not able to read, write or count before the training. Now they are able to count using the Heart Strings and are respected as teachers and caregivers.

Additionally, the birth attendants provided with bicycles have experienced an increase in their status in the community and their ability to provide for their families.

Back here on the boat, a second storm has subsided.  Pelicans arrive, their immense wings overhead in a darkening sky…massive shrieks and splashes as they dive and glide as flowing and circular as a Ferris Wheel in motion.  An early moon appears and my mood moves poetic. At night here, the universe is laid out to infinity with stars – the infinitesimal power of creation.  A whole sky lit.

And soon again Dawn is at hand as the colors of the sky breaks over me and I’m lifted into the morning, feeling the currents of wind. The golden luminescence of sky greeting sun greeting me, and my illuminated self gives praise for the day.

[symple_testimonial by=”Mary Oliver” fade_in=”false”]

The Wild Geese
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.



I’m at peace on this rocking boat. It seems more a rock than land itself.  We come from water, we are of water, we return to water and so these feelings are so natural. Elements of water, and elements of play affirm the radical creativity and artistic expression that comes with staying put, going deeper, embracing rest and the sweet ever-afterness of community.


Jane Sloane
San Francisco

Letter from Sunrise #1

Moon’s up
Shane Howard, Gurrumul
…my country
I’m dancing light into night

microlights dotting the hills
this boat’s a rockin’
like dolphins are nudging it from underneath

outside, rowboat
oars slap, slap
darkness spills
nature, a universal home
touchstone to a defined home

boat speeding toward me
rippling water
birds divebombing

high tide, lapping waters
clinking of bells
rush of laughter
tiny boats
human sized

Jerry Garcia land
Church of the boaty waters
all the Jonathan Livingston Seagulls in the sky
sing my boaty throaty hymns

The joy of a working harbor
tiny boat motoring into the night
in the distance
a bolt of light
a boat of light

Look up at the sky
stars in slipstream
such a sense of aliveness
voices carry
beauty wherever I turn
the sweet clanging of
boat bells
the rhythm of the waves
slowly rocking me
there is a profound feeling
of oneness with the
world, completeness
rocked back to the
how I love this
long for this
even while I’m feeling this

oh transitory joy
transitory bliss
transitory life
the beauty, the
beauty of it all
rush of water
rush of wind
rush of air

and my feet
like rocks on a
tilting earth
I am alive

Deepening night
darkening night
jangle jangle
slow rock slap
howl of dog wolves
in distance
rumble on

waters of a connected
world – flow like
Blood through my veins

A flash of boat fire
surge of joy
of boats seen
leaning on my boat
head tipped to a
sky swept to infinity

I feel like I’m
on the roof of
the world here
on sunset’s bow
a misty rain
cloud crossing
a sickle moon
all alight, all aflame
in my soul

spirit sparked
jangle jangle
the lit world
I feel so alive
rushing water
rushing life
light and life
rushing air jangle

memory of the great birds
swooping, swooning low
as I step
outside my
boat into morning
that fierce
direct connection
to nature through
birds wings
flutter by
jangle jangle

Oh deep joy
slap slap
jingle jangle
that moon again
I am alive
the newness
fully awake and present
to this moment in
my life
rushing wind now

And all around
infinite stillness
energy vibrating
pulsing this world
clang clang clang
wake up
it’s now
it’s all now
our moment of aliveness
is now
clang clang
feet steady
head tipped
to the infinite sky

conversations carry
from waterfront cafes
caches of people

inky hills
dotted lights
I swivel round
constancy of
boats tucked up
to the sleeping world
voices carry
clang clang
lights striking through
the night sky
sweet rippling waters
sweet sleeping waters
is melodic
so too is the
changing tide

yellow moon
so big
lamp moon
hovering in the sky

mythic moon
boat lamps
twinkling winking
moon lamp
aglow in the sky

sky dark
tiny pinprick stars
show their faces
sky sparks
play their dance with
a low slung moon
moon river
could be playing
it’s a moon bay moony night
a swoony night
with that moon swinging low
sweet chariot
I am carried home
in my heart
in the lilt and tilt of the night
forever night

How magical it all is
here I stand
here I flow
tone and texture
music and art
voice and play

A night for creatures
emotional heart
of creation
kindred spirits
bound to that
yellow moon
so wondrous
above a
Sausalito tide



Jane Sloane