They stopped speaking Spanish with her. Insisting on English or nothing by ignoring her “hola!” No one in produce smiles back at her now. Her enchiladas suizas order got very hot, which she loved–and she knows that it wasn’t the intended effect. Her favorite raspberry danishes disappeared, the ones she raved about in the review. Everyone has taken a side, and no one is standing where she stands. This is one of the costs of speaking up in an everyday authoritarian culture.
She loves the little town up the road. Except for very similar experiences with a few businesses, this little town is not like the other little town. There is money here, and resources for those who qualify. And, in California, laws protect the most vulnerable from the most egregious of power-stealing “professional” practices.
But this town is fed by the white men and women who live up the street; her neighbors. The ones who decide it’s okay to kill hedgerows and down redwoods and cut grasses to soil and slowly prune away all the shrubs, for aesthetics and sales. Who approve of destroying the homes, shelter, safety, and food of the other animals who live there. All the lives of those who live in the little town depend on the rich, mostly white folks: her neighbors, who profit from a slogan and an idea that they no longer embody. They have forgotten the foxes and the owls and the crows and the bees.
All those tree guys and “landscapers” and contractors with cash in their pockets can feed their families, pay their bills, maybe get something extra, take a day off. Their whole lives are in her neighbors’ hands; whatever they say, goes. The customer is always right. Just cut until they tell you to stop. They shut down any connection to the one making the noise, making waves about lost worlds and other animals. They all say, “We have nothing to do with her. See? Nothing. She does not exist. We’ve shown you who has our loyalty.” And everyone forgets the deer and the quail and the raccoons, and the bobcats.
And everyone says, “She’s crazy! What’s wrong with her! The trees will grow back someday! The grasses will grow back eventually! We’re just pruning so it grows bigger! It’s all for fire safety because California’s burning up! We’ll show her what really matters: JOBS, MONEY, FEEDING OUR FAMILIES, NOT MAKING WAVES, NOT CHALLENGING, NOT QUESTIONING. GETTING ALONG. NO DISSENT.” And everyone forgets the rabbits and the bats and the big birds and the monarch butterflies.
(She hears them. No hurt feelings. They have their jobs, and she has hers. She’s been documenting all of it, all along, and the patterns are damning in their lack of democratic norms and practices. The same power-stealing and hoarding she found in the other little town are here, just on a bigger, easier-to-see scale.
She thought she could limit her scope to the poisonous power relations of the oversized homeowner’s association, to her neighbors who mindlessly destroy habitat. Leave the little town out. They weren’t relevant, anyway. She was wrong. By trying to shut her down, show her who’s boss, they showed her their roots and where they lead. It now becomes a different story.)