Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Penguins

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_47e

Today most Americans are observing the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. It is also Penguin Awareness Day and at first glance there seems to be no connection. There is a through line between the justice Martin Luther King, Jr. sacrificed his life to achieve and the existential threat facing penguins. Allow me to make my case.

I have a new travel guide for creating your own civil rights crawl in Alabama. It explains how Martin Luther King Jr. was a preacher’s son from Atlanta. He married Coretta Scott, who was from Marion, Alabama and he was the pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery when he became politically active. You can visit the church parsonage and learn more about his early adult life. You can see the bomb damage on the porch from an explosive (no one was injured, thankfully).

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a7cYou can also travel to the the Safe House Museum in Greensboro, Alabama and learn about an incident when the black community members kept Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. hidden while the Klu Klux Klan terrorized their neighborhood looking for King. This was just a few months before he was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee. At this time in his career King was preaching about the need to address poverty and structural economic inequity. Just as old testament prophets were not popular, King and his message were unpopular. He was asking people to look beyond the gross injustice of sheriff’s with dogs and fire hoses to see the injustice we are all complicit with everyday in our economic interactions, which are shaped by our laws and regulations–all within our power to change.

The “march continues” as long as we continue to ignore the ways in which we externalize the real cost of our choices. There is a terrific interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross interviewing Bryan Stevenson about the Legacy Museum. You can listen to it as a podcast or on the website (1/20/2020). The Legacy Museum, featured in the travel guide, helps visitors to interact with the horrific human rights violations that happened during slavery, afterward as Jim Crow laws were solidified, and then with mass  Alabama is celebrating Martin Luther King/Robert E. Lee Day today, so there is still a dialogue needed.

“Until we reckon with history we are not going to get free. I actually think we need an era of truth and justice in this country; we need to have truth and reconciliation; we need to have truth and restoration. And it’s not because I want to punish America that I want to talk about these things. I actually want us to be liberated. I want to get to a better place. I think there’s something better that’s waiting for us that we can’t get to until we have the courage to talk honestly about our past.” Bryan Stevenson, Fresh Air, 1/20/20 (around 28:00)

The climate crisis is similar in that we externalize the real cost of our choices. Someone else, usually someone poorer than me, pays the price for my lifestyle. I drove to pick up my mail today and the fossil fuel in my gas tank contributed to the global warming that is increasing the intensity of fires in Australia, warming the ocean and making it more difficult for penguins to find food. I have a bumper sticker that says I love Penguins, and I have done so little to curb my own greenhouse gas emissions.

And yet penguins continue to make us smile and to live their quietly heroic lives.

IMG_1216

Whatever you may have heard of the The Green New Deal, it is rightly linking the need for  a whole sale change in how we power our economy and social justice. I hope we have the vision in 2020 to elect new leaders and write new policies that give us and penguins a shot at a livable future.

Imagining Life at the South Pole

South Pole thumbnailLoving most movies, books and blogs about Antarctica, I was strongly attracted to South Pole Station on a best books of summer reading list. I read about 4 nonfiction books in a row and needed something fictional to absorb my attention. Picking up the book yesterday I found myself reading it obsessively until I finished it a few minutes ago.

The NPR book review recommended reading South Pole Station a debut novel by Ashley Shelby on July 4, 2017. As Heller McAlpin writes:

“In this unusual, entertaining first novel, Ashley Shelby combines science with literature to make a clever case for scientists’ and artists’ shared conviction that “the world could become known if only you looked hard enough.”

I enjoyed the vivid detail of the life inside the small community of 105 beakers (scientists), nailheads (construction and maintenance) and artists. The world and the oddballs who inhabit it was so precise that I thought perhaps the author overwintered herself on an NSF fellowship. Apparently her creativity was supplemented by a sister who worked as a cook and a lot of research. Emails with her sister may have been the inspiration for the heroine’s emails with her sister Billie. I especially liked how she provided the backstory for main characters and still moved the plot forward–the mark of a good storyteller.

The story is driven not by the extreme environment as much as the people and their passion for science and for the strange community they create at one end of the world. It resolved a couple of things for me. I really want to go to Antarctica. I don’t want to go to the South Pole or work overwinter for pay or fellowship. Though I do admire the people who have.