Happy July 4

ConvergenceRI will be taking a two-week break and resume publication on July 20

Photo by Richard Asinof

In a time of darkness, the forces of light can prevail if we take the time to engage in conversations and convergence and learn to listen in 10 different ways.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 6/29/20

PROVIDENCE – ConvergenceRI will be taking a break for the first two weeks in July, in concert with what once was a long observed Rhode Island tradition. The digital news platform will resume publication on Monday, July 20.

The first two weeks in July were once the time when industrial manufacturers shut down, repairing and retooling their boilers, as a Rhode Island labor historian explained it, creating a calendar-driven schedule of vacation for workers. That tradition still holds, if somewhat tenuously, even if the state’s economy has mostly shifted away from its former manufacturing base. Tradition!

During the upcoming break, ConvergenceRI plans to sharpen the saw, tending to the garden of new ideas, trying out new recipes, tuning in to new conversations, trying to keep my balance and not stumble while walking, and listening to new voices.

What ConvergenceRI has done, hopefully, in its seven years of publication, is to create and support an engaged community of readers, where content is shared across networks and platforms, information that is unavailable anywhere else in the Rhode Island. 

ConvergenceRI will continue to promote conversation and convergence, to break down silos, to ask the questions that need to be asked, and to report on the success of engaged communities in Rhode Island. Let us plan to renew our conversation on July 20. Talk to you soon.

A time to reflect, a time to act
This year, entering a designated time of recharge and reflection, there are so many questions to ponder, as Rhode Island begins to plan for further reopening in a post-pandemic world, attempting to map out uncharted territories that keep shifting shapes, including the projected start of in-person classes at schools in the fall.

Many of the questions posed last year by ConvergenceRI are still relevant in the summer of 2020:

• What kind of economic niche Rhode Island will carve out for itself in the future regional innovation ecosystem remains an open question, worthy of conversation and convergence. What priority will be given to protect and replenish the human enterprise, the workers, as this new engine of economic prosperity evolves? What does it mean to be deemed “an essential worker and how does that translate into a higher hourly wage?

• Equally important, in health care, in education reform, in climate change, in research and innovation, in how the news is covered, the question is: whose voices will be heard? As much as many of the corporate voices of news media have adopted the branding of their product as “preserving local journalism,” too many important community voices keep getting left out of the conversations.

• When it comes to future statewide health planning or the proposed creation of a new academic medical enterprise that will control 80 percent of all medical facilities in the state, a veritable monopoly, whose voices will be heard? Where do health equity zones and neighborhood health stations fit into the equation? Will nurses and patients have a seat at the decision-making table?

• When it comes to improving education outcomes, how will the efforts to reform the state’s approach include access to safe, affordable, healthy housing as part of the equation? What is the strategy for promoting place-based health? Whose voices will be heard?

• When it comes to the threats from climate change, when will it become part of the future economic development equation to address the stench emanating from Allens Avenue as a toxic hazard? Whose voices will be heard? Will it be community residents living under the under toxic health threats, or the corporate lobbyists with the ear of legislative leaders? In a time of pandemic, will there be an appetite to push ahead with the luxury Fain towers?

• Who will have a seat at the table when decisions are made? What will happen when the bottom-up approach to innovation, driven by community needs, collides with the top-down approach?

Darkness at the break of noon
We live in perilous times. We have entered a strange new world, darkened by the coronavirus and divided by political invective. The choices we face are stark and growing starker.

“War, children, it’s just a shot away/Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away/Love, sister, is just a kiss away,” as Merry Clayton sang with the Rolling Stones in their 1969 epic, “Gimme Shelter.” [See link to YouTube video below.]

When the President retweeted a video of a man shouting “White power!” what is the proper response?

The coronavirus has exposed not the just the racial and economic inequities but the limitations of many of our news platforms to cover these disruptive times. All the charts and models and projections and data analyses do not tell the story; it is as if too many journalists are busy trying to watch the scoreboard, much as Pentagon analysts once attempted to track U.S. success in the Vietnam War by comparing body counts and kill ratios for the Viet Cong and American soldiers.

The Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., has more than 58,000 names etched into the black marble walls, covering more than a decade of strife. In 2020, more than 123,000 Americans have lost their lives in the last four months, a toll more than double that of the Vietnam War, and the projected death toll may reach 250,000 lives lost by Election Day.

Who would ever have imagined that wearing a mask to protect the public’s health would become the great cultural divide in the nation? The failure of the President and the Vice President to wear a mask in public, as if it is an affront to their manhood, is disturbing.

Who would have believed that the President would not respond to an intelligence briefing that told him about the Russians paying bounties to Taliban forces in Afghanistan to kill American servicemen and women?

Who would have ever believed that the Vice President would purposely seek to mislead and distort the data around the spread of the coronavirus, claiming that things were getting better?

“The grim reality of the novel coronavirus continued to batter the United States this weekend, with a record 44,782 new cases reported Saturday, the second day in a row that new cases have risen above 40,000 and the fifth consecutive day setting a single-day record for cases,” The Washington Post reported on Saturday, June 27. “Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Nevada hit new highs in daily cases reported, while Arizona set a record for current hospitalizations.”

A pivot toward hope, the forces of light
This story’s headline wishes everyone a “Happy July 4.”

Last week, on Saturday, June 20, we arrived at the solstice moment when, as a result of the tilt and spin of the Earth, the northern hemisphere celebrated the longest, lightest day of the year, a chance to embrace a rebirth of wonder and the lushness of our lives together, even in the midst of a pandemic.

There are always a plentitude of positive vibrations to celebrate, when community voices were proud, resolute and successful:

Just as monarch butterflies and milkweed have evolved into a beneficial, symbiotic relationship, so, too, have good reporting and analysis become the crux of citizens taking action to change the dynamic around political decision-making. Call it a convergence, a breaking down of silos.

Forces of darkness
We have arrived at an inflection point in our nation’s 244-year-old democratic experiment.

Some things bear repeating: Last year at this time, ConvergenceRI wrote: Yet, it seems, at this moment of expansive light, our democratic values are becoming uprooted, the bones of our democracy eaten away by radioactive greed, darkness, lying, greed, and more lying.

The forces of tyranny have become more pronounced, threatening to dissolve the American democratic experiment. The importance of conversations occurring in the public square have become paramount in efforts to preserve our democracy – the courage and willingness to stand up, to speak out and to say no.

To be blunt and direct and perhaps impolitic: as citizens, we are being forced to confront an elected President who regularly lies and distorts the facts, news networks such as Fox and Sinclair that parrot those lies and deceptions, and Congressional leaders who dissemble the truth with impunity, refusing to stand up to a bullying President and say: the emperor has no clothes.

The underlying currents are racism and misogyny: the disliked fact by some that America will no longer have a white majority ruled by men. Those who are angry, fearful and threatened by such changes are being stoked by the use of language describing migrant women and children as being animals and vermin infesting our nation, requiring them to be separated and detained indefinitely in, not the euphemism of summer camps, but federal concentration camps. 

At the same time, journalists are being labeled “the enemy of the people,” vilified by the President and his band of sycophants. These are dangerous times for truth-tellers.

Our nation’s independence
There is the long-observed tradition of celebrating our nation’s independence with fireworks and parades and family gatherings, a celebration rooted in the rebellion against the tyranny of a British king, many of which will not be held this year in a time of social distancing.

Some ideas bear repeating. As ConvergenceRI wrote two years ago: In 1776, news of the Declaration of Independence, which redefined the social contract between the government and the consent of the governed, was first shared in printed broadsides and then read aloud in public gatherings, including to General George Washington’s troops in New York City.

The document was then reprinted in newspapers in the 13 colonies. It was not printed in British newspapers until more than a month later.

Today, 244 years later, in the digital world we live in, the news is a constantly flowing, instantaneous source of filtered information, entertainment and advertising, far removed from conversations in the public square.

Amidst all the noise, self-evident truths are much harder to identify or to recognize in the slipstream of competing narratives, monetized and weaponized by big corporate money.

Call this holiday an important time for talking, face-to-face, in person, because our nation has reached an inflection point in the battle against authoritarianism.

A sense of value
My apologies if this entry point into my planned two-week break, [one of the smartest things I designed as part of my initial business plan], has gone on far too long and been far too jumbled and rambling.

The last part of this is the hardest to write. As observant readers of ConvergenceRI may note, I have been afflicted by an unknown malady that is eating away at the myelin in my spinal chord in my thoracic region. The good news is that most of the bad things about what it could be have been ruled out – it is not cancer, it is not a brain tumor, it is not MS or Parkinson’s disease, it is not related to previous spine surgeries, and it is not Lyme disease.

The bad news is that I am struggling to be able to walk, which has restricted my mobility. I still can drive. I still have managed to keep my sense of humor as well as to maintain my mental acuity in producing ConvergenceRI. [When asked how I am doing, I respond by saying: I am practicing the rutabaga yoga pose, firmly rooted, breathing in and breathing out.]

During the next few weeks, I will be engaging in some difficult conversations with friends and family and colleagues about what happens if and when my disabilities worsen.

Some would consider it a mistake to share such vulnerabilities in public. I see it as a sign of strength, to be honest and direct. Avoiding such conversations and pretending that everything will return to a sense of normalcy is not, in the long run, I believe, helpful.

I read about someone who attempted to run the length of Rhode Island in one day, and I think: climbing up and down three flights of stairs, more than five times in one day, is an amazing feat of endurance for me.

Olga’s is no more, but I welcome the opportunity to talk with folks, outside, in a social distant manner, at the L’Artisan Café in Wayland Square. I look forward to our next conversation.


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