Spring is here. The clocks have changed and days are getting longer. The thicker coats have been shoved into the closet for hibernation until the Fall. It’s the season of love, the season of new beginnings, at least that’s what it’s supposed to be, isn’t it?
I always hated Spring, and in many ways I still hate Spring. I know what you’re thinking, this person sounds miserable. I grew up in the desert, and Spring only meant that the oppressive heat was lurking around the corner, minutes away from pummeling you in the face. Spring also brought terrible allergies, the kind that forbid my eyes from opening when I stepped outside into the full brightness of the sun. Maybe I am miserable.
As I attempt to rid myself of the sentiments that portray me as a miserable person, I immediately hit a roadblock in trying to forge my own new beginning, and that is the term new beginnings itself. Like New Year’s resolutions, the new beginnings that are associated with springtime often bring with them problematic aspects, such as the notion that we can just start fresh by leaving behind the problems of yesterday while hoping that will be enough to create a better tomorrow.
We attempt to drop the weight of yesterday’s baggage, believing that we can move fast enough to create distance between us and the problems of the past, only to realize we keep tripping over the same potholes that have somehow gotten bigger since the last time we traveled this road. Repeating the same mistakes over and over again doesn’t need to be tradition.
To learn from the past means to bring with us the lessons from past struggles, as opposed to pretending like they either don’t exist or are no longer connected to the struggles we will face tomorrow.
We really need to assess how bad the soil is before we figure out how to plant the new seeds today in order to flourish in the garden of tomorrow. To help reframe the idea of new beginnings, it might be helpful to discuss the reasons why this is important for us to envision the world that we need to build today, the first of which is avoiding the complacency that comes with forgetting. So, take a deep breath and rest assured that once we sift through the weeds, we can get a better understanding of how to really foster a new beginning.
It was springtime 20 years ago when former President Bush landed a jet on the USS Abraham Lincoln and delivered a speech with the stars and stripes banner with the words “Mission Accomplished” showing in the background. The irony was not lost on anyone as the war in Iraq went on officially for another eight years. This example of a premature celebration often goes hand in hand with complacency, that thing that happens where we say, Hey, it’s a new day, a new year, a new administration. Things are looking up! We did it!
This example is nowhere more obvious than that of the complacency that has occurred since Joe Biden became President, magically wiping out the memories in so many people’s minds about a lot of policies they hated from the Trump era that are continuing under the new administration.
When Trump-era Title 42 ends this May, though it has already been extended twice, Biden plans to instill his own policy that will limit asylum seekers that looks more like an attempt to swap out some of the ingredients to make it more palatable. It’s still the same cruel flavor, but the chef with the blue hat made it so it must be better.
It was springtime back in April 29, 1992 when four officers were acquitted of all charges after they violently beat Rodney King a year earlier, sparking justified unrest that lasted for five days in LA. Jump forward 31 years to where we are now and police are not only receiving more training and money than they ever have before, but they killed more people in 2022 than they ever have since the data has been tracked on a national level. Our current President wants $13 billion on hiring 100,000 additional cops over the next 5 years.
It’s not just the privileged and harmful pursuit of wanting to increase anything related to policing and prisons, the Biden Administration’s proposed Pentagon budget for the next fiscal year is $335 Billion, $19 Billion more than the current budget. He also made the baffling promise of being the most pro-worker president we’ve ever seen, before siding against the rail worker unions who just wanted more than the zero days of sick leave they had.
We just saw how our own city handles less than a foot of snow, so when it comes to environmental disasters, we need to think about how Portland will handle it if something happens here like in Flint, MI—which still doesn’t have clean water— or East Palestine, OH. Maybe the city can convert the 144 new PPB vehicles that they spent $10 million on and turn them into snow plows. They could even reallocate funds to fix the 243 lamp posts in Portland Parks that they are going to remove, a baffling decision for a city that claims to care about safety, but it makes sense when we realize that park lights don’t appease the downtown businesses they care so much about.
The reason I point all of this out is that it is so easy for people to call out the harms of one party, while completely falling into complacency and ignoring the harms that are intrinsic to our entire political system. Once we can acknowledge that even if one party is worse, they are both ineffective in helping while also both being effective in causing harm, we can start to build new beginnings ourselves.
If we don’t do anything to get off of this train, and do it fast, it’s literally going to kill us all in its quest for money and power.
Rebuilding Something New
We need to seek and build alternatives within ourselves and with our communities. Not by reforming and legitimizing the current systems and institutions that are already causing so much harm. Destruction of the current systems is necessary, but it needs to be paired with building something new, something better for all of us.
What does that look like? Getting to know your neighbors, including your houseless neighbors, would be a great start. While our city’s solution to those experiencing homelessness is to force them into camps, or Rene Gonzalez’s predictably heartless decision to ban distribution of tents and tarps, maybe we could force the city to address rising rent prices by severely reducing rent and freezing it for several years. Voting yes on ballot measure 26-238 this May to help Eviction Representation for All will help prevent evictions.
Talking to your neighbors and getting organized would be a great start as well. Workplaces aren’t the only places you can unionize in. We need to dream big if we are actually going to change things. Saying that “at least it isn’t as expensive as Seattle or Northern California” does nothing but deflect the problems that are only growing.
If you are concerned about the sight of needles, you can always help out with harm reduction organizations or needle exchange programs. Training on how to use narcan is also quite simple and could save someone’s life. Pushing for more criminalization and dehumanizing policies is never a compassionate decision and only causes more harm.
Do you possess a skill or desire to learn a skill from someone else? Talk to people and do a skillshare. If you know how to work on a car and have some free time, let your people know the next time you change the oil or the brakes so that they can learn to do that themselves. Maybe they can teach you how to do something that you don’t know how to do.
The next time we have a brutal heatwave, maybe you can help drive people to cooling shelters if you have a car. Talk to neighbors and friends and discuss what you will do if a fire or earthquake happens. You don’t need to wait for someone to tell you to help out others, and building community by lifting everyone up is a whole lot better than the symbolic gestures that so many people gravitate to.
Maybe you can learn some de-escalation skills. Provided you have consent, it’s a whole lot better to listen to the person having a mental health crisis and see what they need, rather than laughing with your friends and calling the police, possibly turning things into a deadly situation. Of course that comes down to your personal comfort level, but speaking from personal experience, just listening to people and asking for consent before assisting them with their needs can cool down a tense situation. If a local drag show is facing online harassment, show up with some friends to support the event and help them feel safe.
Opportunities for mutual aid exist everywhere. If you don’t feel like seeking out established mutual aid groups, set up your own. Get some like-minded friends together and do weekly food or supply distribution. More people are struggling than you may think, and many more people are on the brink of not having a roof over their heads than they would like to believe.
It’s imperative that we build power from below through collective struggle and solidarity. We need to look to the struggles happening elsewhere, both nationally and internationally, to learn and grow from.
I am also aware that not everyone has the ability or resources to do some of these things and that’s fine. There are plenty of options for everyone of different abilities to have a role. We can’t keep hoping that someone else is going to provide the new beginnings for us, especially as conditions worsen in every area of our lives.
Due to the burnout that will inevitably happen when you actually want to make tangible change happen, the connections we make and the communities we build will become increasingly important. We need to crumble the walls, fences and all other barriers that are only causing more harm and division. The rugged individualism that is intrinsic to this country needs to die so that it can stop causing harm.
Although I’ve always been drawn to the aesthetics of cyberpunk, let’s heed its warnings about the path we have yet to deviate from. One where we oppose the extractive methods of our current systems and institutions that are continuing to gaslight and greenwash everything in their path, leading us toward a future of desertification and increased suffering. A future of increased suffering, even with cool neon lights and body mods, is still a future we need to make irrelevant.
A new beginning can be as simple as an idea and a new way of thinking and analyzing the world around you. An idea that leads you to believing that things don’t have to be this way, that they can actually be better, can be empowering. While an idea may start off as something small and intangible, it can grow into something beautiful.
The chance to grow something new, to build something outside of the systems we currently have, won’t be easy. It will require getting your hands dirty and working with the soil, but it’s the only way forward if we want to create a new beginning for everyone. A springtime that sees the flowers grow out of the ashes of the old.