Pain and notes in a parking lot: the healing properties of community solar

I’m sitting in a parking lot on a cold, gray January morning waiting for my daughter to come out of a doctors appointment. I couldn’t go into the waiting room thanks to coronavirus rules. So here I sit scanning the scene for the vibe. As I tune in, I see a dialysis center straight ahead and a pain clinic to my left, but what catches my eye is a frail man walking to his car. His steps are painfully slow and each one precarious. Although he didn’t have far to go, it felt more like an epic traverse across the single lane of pavement to his car. His face told a story of pain so vivid I could feel it grayer than the dark morning wait in the comfort of my heated seat in my parked car.

Coffee shop in
Boulder. Talk and action.

This heavy feeling got me thinking about the pervasiveness of pain. It comes in lots of forms. Pain has become so normalized, overt expressions of pain in our hyper-masculine culture are seen as weakness, but events like the Texas blizzard[1], deadly tornadoes on the Carolina coast, Covid’s continuing evasiveness, the opioid crisis, and the capital insurrection last month are a few recent signs that we’re convulsing with pain. Tim Snyder, a Yale history professor says that we as a society can’t be well until people are free to be well.[2] And what I felt in that parking lot that day told me that we aren’t well.

Vast numbers of families are freezing in Texas and the economic crisis has cost many their jobs and their critical electric service. Of course, hubris and faulty logic have cut power off in Texas too; the storm was just the last straw. Connecting those dots as I’m prone to do, a piece by the journalist Chris Hedges caught my eye. In Cancel Culture, Where Liberalism Goes to Die, he writes about a white civil rights activist from Mississippi named Will Campbell, talks about Campbell’s deep understanding of racism in the south and how economic marginalization helps explain horrible and seemingly opposed things by revealing the deep (socially constructed) bedrock it all rests upon.

“When the town Campbell lived in decided the Klan should not be permitted to have a float in the Fourth of July parade Campbell did not object, as long as the gas and electric company was also barred. It was not only white racists that inflicted suffering on the innocent and the vulnerable, but institutions that place the sanctity of profit before human life.

‘People can’t pay their gas and electric bills, the heat gets turned off and they freeze and sometimes die, especially if they are elderly,’ he said. ‘This, too, is an act of terrorism.’”[3]

Because energy is such a basic need, whether it’s staying warm, staying cool, having light to do homework, electricity to power home internet so kids can do remote learning or the elderly can do telemedicine, or to power a life-saving medical device, it’s worth understanding the wave of bill delinquent utility disconnects.[4] Being well requires, among other things, having access to electricity. Access, in turn, requires freedom from or at least a significant and genuine benevolence from the big investor-owned utilities who reap billions in annual profits with the aid of corporate socialism. It should also mean producing one’s own electricity by renewable means.

Burton Street and the new wave of solar for people
These national disasters are overwhelming, but local resilience efforts by local people are everywhere. They are certainly dealing with powerful structures that limit the scope of immediate responses, but their brilliance and determination in the service of community needs do lift and inspire. Pastor Charles Martin’s congregation is feeding the hungry, giving neighborhood kids and elderly a safe, warm computer lab space for homework and keeping in touch with relatives and medical appointments during Covid. Dewayne Barton keeps moving toward a goal of healing community trauma and building resilience, even if it means having to “crawl” and is adding solar to the community garden and a device charging station at the community center. Here’s more about these new solar projects and how they’re designed to heal. These are great works and you can help.


[1] Jeff Goodell’s account of the Texas grid failure

[2] Snyder was speaking in the context of the January 6th capital insurrection. Here’s a clip from his interview:

“One of the things which has been clear for a long time in the U.S., and it’s only been clearer — it’s even been clearer in the last year, is that if you deny people healthcare, you’re making them less free. If you put people in unnecessary risk and make them more subject to disease or the fear of disease, you’re making them less free. You’re also making them more vulnerable physically and mentally to various kinds of demagoguery.
So, what happened on January 6th is partly the result, I would say, of a sick country. When you look at the people who carried this out, I mean, when you have a hard look at their comportment, at their faces, at the way they carried themselves, I mean, apart from all moral judgments, you’re not looking at a healthy society there.”

For the full interview, see


[4] Multiple drivers are forcing the increase in non-pay utility disconnects up as job loss, extreme weather, Covid, medical and student loan debt, and the ever-expanding wealth inequality. See

Leave a Reply