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Our fall fundraising drive ends on Friday, and we very much need to hit our $250,000 goal by then. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation of any amount today. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a big 400,000 gap to fill.
Each Friday, we bring you an article from our archives to propel you into the weekend.
In Santa Cruz, California, earlier this week, the unthinkable happened: Someone pooped in the pit. At a show for Turnstile—who released a new record, Glow On, this week—someone, um, yeah, they took a literal poop in the mosh pit and within the melee the feces was reportedly flung about!
Turnstile is known for crazy shows. There’s an old Washington Post article about how they wrecked a new venue; that includes a fantastic two paragraphs about moshing/slam-dancing as juvenilia but also beautiful. My initial reaction was basically in that vein of an adult giddily re-finding a single pulsing emotion in modernity: That’s really funny that someone pooped in the pit because poop is funny! Others have pointed out it is unsanitary. Oh, yes, I shake my head. Yes. I see that, too. Poop is gross.
Here’s my recommendation for how to get through this crisis of “How to think about poop in the pit”: Read more about feces. There’s a lot of stuff in our archives (kinda weirdly) about it. We’ve got explainers on whether it’s OK to poop in the woods; long pieces on fecal transplants; and an old report about how there is poop in hamburger meat(!). Another you should read about: bidets.
So, first, everyone listen to the Turnstile album. Former MoJo writer Matt Cohen and I were chatting about it and realized both of us listened to it over a dozen times in less than 48 hours. (As a local DC guy, he sent me the WaPo link.) This record is an unstoppable machine. It’s like I am a 13 years old again and just playing the same music until it’s engraved in one part of my brain instead of a memory of my friends and/or family. A good analysis is over at Pitchfork, about how the album fits into the broader hardcore landscape—and what it means. Or, you know, just watch their live sets, especially the one in Baltimore, filmed for some reason like someone teleported back to the 1990s.
And read our genuinely interesting and high-impact coverage about poop while you do.
I hope that helps you out when thinking about the national crisis of Poop in the Pit 2021. I’m sorry I said poop so much.
Oglala artist Michael Two Bulls' new mural in Rapid City, South Dakota, in a screenshot from Indian Country Today's televised interview with him by anchor Patty TalahongvaIndian Country Today
Teeming with intensely colorful imagery and rich layers of Indigenous Oglala symbolism, the new mural by Michael Two Bulls in Rapid City, South Dakota, is a gripping sight. His 40-by-25-foot mural was commissioned by the city’s Racing Magpie arts organization with CARES Act funding.
In an interview televised yesterday by Indian Country Today reporter Patty Talahongva, he spoke about the mural’s imagery of a spiraling set of DNA strands with interlocking alphabetic letters: “I added the DNA strands to remind Indigenous people that we are from the land, and that’s blood memory. That’s with us regardless of where we are.”
See the striking mural and hear his conversation here.
More than 400 construction workers in New York City are recouping $7.5 million in wages after a city investigation found that dozens of contractors had ripped them off. The office that made the announcement, the Bureau of Labor Law, has also debarred 60 of the contractors.
“Contractors who cheat workers and cut corners can never be tolerated, and especially not during a global pandemic,” said Kyle Bragg, president of the Service Employees International Union, echoing the statement by City Comptroller Scott Stringer: “During the economic hardship of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever that workers get the wages they are rightfully owed.”
A city website has been launched with a directory of affected workers for anyone unsure of whether they’re entitled to the millions in wages, and a phone campaign is picking up pace to contact as many of the workers as possible.
Forget the idea that Black cinema primarily depicts a singular set of storylines and themes centered on shared trauma, says screenwriter Maya Cade, who spent a year cataloging more than 250 currently streaming Black films from between 1915 and 1979. Her effort to make that rich history easily accessible culminated in the launch of the Black Film Archive last week. From silent films to horror flicks to blockbuster comedies and romance, Black cinema spans ever-expanding genres and generations, now archived on her site.
In her introductory note, Cade writes that the films in the archive “have something significant to say about the Black experience; speak to Black audiences; and/or have a Black star, writer, producer, or director.” The intentionally broad criteria is an attempt to expand the ways Black films are framed. “I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that the act of making Black film history accessible is the act of transforming collective memory,” Cade told me. “To intentionally preserve is to remember, and to remember is to reimagine what the future can hold. Here, the films can be many things, and among those things are being remembered, treasured, and seen.”
Beyond archiving, Cade is also one of the vanishingly few people to use Twitter to spread joy, bringing snippets of cultural history—and countless gems from cinema as a whole—to her followers’ feeds every day. She’ll continue updating the archive monthly and maintaining a supplemental newsletter. Explore the rich range of Black film: If you find yourself with an hour to spare, pick a movie and start streaming.
As Afghanistan starts the week with dire developments, 23-year-old Zakia Khudadadi is forging ahead against a backdrop of unfolding crises at home: The taekwondo athlete is the country’s first woman to compete in the Paralympics in almost two decades. She’s in Tokyo now, set to appear on Thursday after having safely left Kabul on the strength of a videotaped appeal to international officials: “I request from you all that I am an Afghan woman and as a representative of Afghan women ask for you to help me” get to the Paralympics, she said in a recording that galvanized support.
“That announcement kickstarted a major global operation that led to their safe evacuation from Afghanistan…and now their safe arrival in Tokyo,” International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons said in reference to Khudadadi and 26-year-old sprinter Hossain Rasouli. Their journey from Kabul to Paris to Tokyo came as officials scrambled to move them through a network of fixers. More from the New York Times this morning:
Many details of their journey have not been disclosed, and officials have said that the athletes will not be speaking to the news media during the Paralympic Games. Several attempts to evacuate the athletes failed, and Paralympic organizers have said that their eventual arrival in Japan involved multiple steps and the assistance of many organizations and governments.
As one athlete on the US wheelchair basketball team said, Paralympic Village is “one of the most accepting places on the planet.” For a bigger-picture look at the historical forces and rapidly escalating scenes facing women in Afghanistan right now, our colleague Madison Pauly has a sharp overview. And Mariel Padilla at The 19th has an insightful glimpse with more context.
“I remember her coming up in Detroit, where I’m from,” the pianist Geri Allen told me in 2007, one day after Alice Coltrane had made her exit from this world and one year after Allen herself had composed a towering, timeless suite, For the Healing of the Nations.
Coltrane was—much like Allen—a spiritually searching, universally acclaimed pianist and educator “who musicians would refer to at the time: They would speak of Alice McLeod and how much respect they had for her talent. Her technique was fleet and fierce,” Allen said.
That legacy, and Coltrane’s devotional drive, continues to expand: Her recordings from 1981 were newly released this summer, and her impact reverberates across countless chords. “What that person with an instrument is doing,” Coltrane told me in 2006, “is portraying, or rendering, what’s in your heart, what’s in your spirit, what’s in your mind—what is in your soul. So do you call that music? If we have to name it, let it be ‘music,’ but it really isn’t music for music’s sake. What is coming out of that person’s heart is your life’s experiences, your life’s tests, your life’s challenges, your life’s hopes, dreams. It’s everything. It is everything.”
“Being a mother now, I have three children and I saw Alice a number of times with her children,” Allen said. “That had a big impression on me—what she represents,” not just in strides for justice and equality in a field historically framed for and by the reverence and reporting of men in jazz, but also as a pioneer whose impact spans genres, generations, and continents. “I first saw her perform in Europe. It was beautiful watching her daughter Miki make sure she had everything she needed. I saw her in Detroit recently and I needed to connect with her. Ravi and I have played together for years and he graciously took me backstage to meet Alice. She was a spiritual avatar.”
As singer Abbey Lincoln put it to me that year, “Alice Coltrane now…There’s a song I wrote and I want to say a few of the lines: ‘There are some folks I used to know / who used to smile and say hello / and spin the world and turn the page / entertaining from the stage. Father Time forever true / love its own and me and you / disappear just like the sun / when the day is done.'”
Coltrane’s legacy, like Lincoln’s and Allen’s, evokes an aspect of American history summed up in the words of Farah Jasmine Griffin, the jazz educator and author who told me, “We always think of Alice in relationship to John but I think of her in relationship to Dorothy Ashby as well—that whole Detroit-woman harp-player scene. I saw her when she and Ravi were in New Jersey. It was like greeting royalty who’d been in exile. From the moment Alice walked onstage, she could do no wrong. The crowd was a range of devotees: Amina and Amiri Baraka were there, Cornel West.”
“With the exception of Abbey Lincoln, whose audience is always captive, Alice had a palpable love that almost no one else really has.”
As the bassist Reggie Workman said of Alice, “If you listen to the album we did at UCLA, Transfiguration, it’s hard to hear it without hearing the special way she dealt with harmony. She brought strings into an improvisational trance…Alice was a special spirit.”
“I first saw Alice when I was with Dizzy Gillespie,” the saxophonist Yusef Lateef recalled. “We were in southwest Detroit at the Westin Hotel after-hours session, and she would come and sit in. Her brother, Ernie Farrow, worked with me too. Sonny Stitt was there. Barry Harris, Paul Chambers, Hugh Lawson. The object is to find your own voice. And Alice did.”
An essential feature of Coltrane’s framing in the media was distilled vividly by the artist and author Thulani Davis, who told me, “Alice Coltrane is the only person I have ever seen who initially received obituaries that bore the picture of a deceased spouse instead of herself. I suppose that says it all, as far as how this culture was able to perceive her. Alice’s music was sacred music. So the fact that she is seen primarily as John Coltrane’s widow also speaks to the fact that creating sacred music made her somewhat invisible in a culture that does not know what to do with the truly sacred.”
Alice McLeod Coltrane, also known by her Sanskrit name, Turiyasangitananda, was born 84 years ago today. She grew up in an era when Detroit was the epicenter of spiritually expansive jazz and soul. She wove up-tempo arpeggios with cascading, trancelike ragas and a sweeping use of octaves to build layers of color and harmony. But as her contemporaries and listeners point out, to stop there—to isolate her style—is to overlook the underlying reason her sound endures: Through her music, she gave listeners a revealing look into her character as a boundary-pushing spiritualist.
If you want more, email email@example.com and I’ll share an excerpt of the podcast I recorded with Alice Coltrane—her last—with Ornette Coleman, McCoy Tyner, and Pharoah Sanders, all in one, in honor of Alice.
About 40 cleaners of high-rise windows in Minneapolis saw their demands met after 10 days of striking. Their new contract is the culmination of a yearslong fight for safer working conditions, pay raises, increased sick days and disability support, and a life-saving apprenticeship program. High-rise cleaning is a risky industry made harder and more hazardous by the lagging promises of employers before and during the pandemic. Half of the workers had contracted COVID while working during the pandemic, according to their union.
Their action was closely reported by In These Times’ Hamilton Nolan, Minnesota Reformer’s Max Nesterak, and a growing group of labor reporters who see in local action a national model for driving results. As our Mother Jones colleague Bryan Schatz wrote two years ago, “Workers strike when they see that strikes work,” an assessment borne out in recent months. Revisit his interview with veteran labor organizer Jane McAlevey in “Why the Labor Strike Is Back.” And send more recharges on labor action to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As evacuation efforts and the safe passage of girls and women in Afghanistan are increasingly imperiled under Taliban control, there was a big note of good news yesterday and this morning. The country’s all-girls robotics team, winner of international awards, has safely relocated. Several members landed in Mexico, where humanitarian visas run for up to 180 days with the option of extension, and others in Qatar, made possible by an extensive international effort and coordination from a volunteer group.
“We are happy to be here,” team member Fatemah Qaderyan said. The team gained fame last year by developing a low-cost ventilator for coronavirus patients using old car parts. Their story of evading Taliban searches was published yesterday with permission in vivid detail by Variety’s international editor, Manori Ravindran: “On the way from Herat to Kabul, we were very scared. Every hour, the Taliban would enter the car and check the inside of the car,” one of the girls said. “I myself was in a tent in the car so that they would not recognize me. My father is worried about us, because our lives are in danger.”
The team of girls and women, as young as 14, is also pressing ahead on a documentary. Their forthcoming film—Afghan Dreamers, named after the original team of six girls—is in post-production. Read the full story. Share encouraging updates when you have them, of the team’s or your own, at email@example.com.
“You were a champion and still are. You’re always gonna be a champion to me,” the saxophonist Wayne Shorter told the drummer Roy Haynes in our Mother Jones tribute on Haynes’ 96th birthday this year—and the recognition runs both ways. Shorter, who turns 88 today, is, as one listener summed up in a quote highlighted by Michelle Mercer in her biography Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter, “jazz’s all-around genius, matchless in his field as composer, utterly original as an improviser.”
Shorter is a pillar of the postwar canon and an evolving adventurer, from hard bop to fusion to operatic ballads boundlessly open with space and time. For his 88th birthday, start with the classic “Footprints.” Herbie Hancock, who’s on there, gets straight to the heart of Shorter’s music in the foreword of Mercer’s book: “Wayne has gleaned deeper meaning from a question by using it as a springboard for an answer that will ‘knock your socks off’ and perhaps change your life for the better.”
For a live listen, spin “Free for All” by Shorter and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. If you’re looking to tussle, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to spar over whether Shorter’s version of “Free for All” is more electrifying than, or equally as jolting as, Bobby Watson’s “Free for All” on Blakey’s own birthday at Bubba’s in Florida on October 11, 1980.
Also in today’s birthday lineup is Linda May Han Oh, the fast-rising bassist who turns 37 and who was named 2021’s bassist of the year by the Jazz Journalists Association. Her vital, expansive music is extraordinary in settings with pianist Vijay Iyer and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, most recently on Uneasy, an album that traces the contours and connections of jazz, justice, and social change.
For the past seven years, Working Class History has been a Twitter feed, podcast, website, and gallery of images and information in labor rights across the world. It’s a trove of multilingual milestones in collective organizing and worker action, mining the archives and not-so-public records. And the project is growing fast. The team at WCH is crowdfunding to launch an app.
The place to start, if you’re new to @wrkclasshistory, is “On This Day,” a series that in the past few days has commemorated one of the most iconic strikes of the 1970s, when a workforce of predominantly South Asian and East African Asian women in London banded together and walked off the job for nearly two years, and marked the 97th birthday yesterday of Madeleine Riffaud. The French resistance fighter, at 20 years old, in 1944, overtook a Nazi supply train with three other resistance fighters. She also wrote poetry and became a journalist, and Picasso drew her portrait for her poetry collection. Here’s an inspiring interview with Riffaud when she was 92 years old; hat tip to historian Anne Sebba.
Hello. Today is Monday. The last time we said that, this newsletter began with a bang of destruction and wall-to-wall crisis in Afghanistan, Haiti, the United States, and around the world. Each continues, and the fires have not abated. The pandemic stretches on. So, um, let’s dip out of the news cycle for a minute for the daily dose of good “news.”
Monday gets a bad rap, largely deserved, but it’s not categorically bad, as NBC News reported under the headline “Sorry, There’s No Such Thing as a Case of the Mondays.” The article’s controversial claim: The case-of-Mondays line from Office Space “embodies what most of us believe about Mondays: that it is the worst day of the week. [But] it turns out that while we feel happiest on Saturdays and Sundays, most of us don’t feel much bluer on Mondays than we do on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.” The article cited a Gallup survey by a team of researchers, led by a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science, who authored a study of mood patterns by days of the week in the Journal of Positive Psychology.
More than 340,000 respondents ranked moods by day, and most said Monday was a “bit blue,” but here’s the kicker: They said so in hindsight and differently in real time. Respondents “don’t experience Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday as different in real time, and when you ask them in the past there is a discrepancy,” the researchers found. “It probably has to do with how people judge things in the past.”
It all depends on who, where, and how you are, but I’m game to grant the comparative claim that Mondays get judged through the same prism of priors other days do, and shaped accordingly. Here, if you need them, are three good facts about Mondays:
2. Monday is the only day of the week named after the moon: Mōnandæg, Old English, or Mōnandæg, Middle English, or the Latin dies lunae, for “day of the moon.” And without the moon, this planet would spin off its axis. The moon has better claim to a day than the god of war Thor, whose grip on Thursday taints his more than the moon’s.
Here’s a measure of hope after an excruciating week: The Biden administration is waiving $5.8 billion in student loan debt for 323,000 borrowers with severe disabilities, a significant step in a disability rights movement gaining momentum across the United States.
The action “removes a major barrier that prevented far too many borrowers with disabilities from receiving the total and permanent disability discharges they are entitled to under the law,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement Thursday.
This deserves parsing for how far it goes and doesn’t, how delayed but welcome it is, and how politically energizing it is for advocates of education as a human right. (More on that here.) But after a news cycle as acutely felt as this—the disintegration of Afghanistan, the earthquake in Haiti, wildfires’ surge, anti-vaxxers’ obstinance, Karl Rove’s resurgence—this is certainly good news.
Share more at email@example.com. And be sure to visit the National Center on Disability and Journalism’s page for periodic posts on how disability experiences and outcomes are affected by the pandemic, including Susan LoTempio’s excellent summary the other day of how outdoor dining—on the rise—can crowd city sidewalks that are vital to a range of people with vision and mobility disabilities. Challenges remain, but chronicling them is expertly done by the team at NCDJ. Bookmark away.
Naomi Osaka, the 23-year-old four-time Grand Slam champion, is pledging whatever winnings she makes from the Western & Southern Open to earthquake relief in Haiti, where her father is from. If she takes the title, she’ll donate more than $250,000. It’s nowhere near sufficient for the scope and scale of need, but she hopes the pledge will mobilize more sustainable steps.
The death toll from the earthquake has risen to nearly 2,000, making it the deadliest in a decade. Half a million children are left with limited or no access to drinking water, food, or shelter. Hospitals are at capacity. Rescue workers are hampered by heavy rains. And the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban is dominating major US media attention. But aid efforts are advancing in Haiti.
Her pledge shines a light on two axioms of action: Donations can work, but only because political systems don’t. The imperatives and half-life of media focus aren’t keeping pace with need. It’s a point best made by our Mother Jones colleague Nathalie Baptiste, who wrote just weeks ago, after the assassination of Haiti’s president, that crisis is too often the engine of attention: “My mother wishes she could spend more time talking about Haiti when there isn’t a crisis,” she wrote in an essay that casts a long light on the political, historical, and cultural dynamics of Haiti. “Only when there’s a disaster, that’s when people want to know about Haiti,” her mother tells her. “The questions always sound the same too. Why is there constant turmoil? Why are institutions continually failing the people? Who will decide Haiti’s future?”
Ah, Mike Pompeo. Back in the news for his stage-setting role in the run-up to Afghanistan’s fall. Accountability could be coming, but as questions mount, don’t forget last week’s revelation that the State Department is investigating the disappearance of a $5,800 whisky bottle gifted to him by the Japanese government, with watchdogs wondering whether he or his staff is hiding or hiccuping something. Time will tell. Pompeo says he has no recollection of the bottle and no knowledge of its whereabouts.
As the New York Timesunderscored, officials are not allowed to keep gifts valued above $390: “Under the Constitution, it is illegal for an American official to accept a gift from a foreign government, and gifts are considered property of the U.S. government.”
As Fred Kaplan over at Slatecalled it back in January, Pompeo is “the worst secretary of state” in history, or second to John Foster Dulles, the disgraced diplomat who’d offered France two nuclear weapons to use in Vietnam. But apparently the bar does get lower: Pompeo shrugged off the whisky’s whereabouts by saying, “I have no idea where this thing [is]…I wouldn’t know the difference between a $58 bottle and a $5,800 bottle…Had it been a case of Diet Coke, I’d have been all over it.”
There you have it. The nation’s former top diplomat would gladly throw back $5,800 in gifted Diet Cokes without reporting that either. Yes, this week’s “good news” bar has scraped the floor. There’s your recharge. (And you did notice that “whisky” forgoes “e” in Japan, Scotland, India, and many countries other than the United States and Ireland.)
The picture in Afghanistan couldn’t be more devastating: vulnerable communities facing imminent threats, including in “the homes of two female journalists [who] were visited by Taliban fighters on Sunday,” CNN reported.
Which is why there’s crucial context to call up. Fariba Nawa has long seen the stakes. She’s a resilient, powerfully justice-driven Herat-born refugee and journalist, host of the documentary podcast On Spec, and author of Opium Nation, who you should follow @faribanawa if you haven’t already. Her Mother Jones reporting from 2001, in the immediate aftermath of the invasion, is eerily prescient: “Advocates for Afghanistan’s women are increasingly worried that the rights and freedoms of women will once again be left off the negotiating table” and “are pushing to ensure that women’s freedoms are protected under a post-Taliban government,” she wrote. “Leading women’s activists, however, are unimpressed by the promises.”
Revisit her story, “Demanding to Be Heard,” written 20 years ago. As more investigative light is cast on the forces of corruption taking hold in the region, the broader diaspora of Afghan voices and storytelling continues to expand. Share your stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vaccine hesitancy is declining, and incentives for changing our minds are growing. So what changed yours? Or how did you change someone else’s? Convincing a vaccine-hesitant or anti-vax friend to get the jab takes more than citing stark statistics and chilling facts about COVID death. It takes motivating and persuading, appealing to mindsets as much as medical evidence. What tipped the scales for you?
Tell us below what worked. Was it a trusted doctor or persistent friend? The scare of a close one getting sick? Work requirements or back-to-school mandates? $1 million lotteries and free beer and gift cards? Also tell us what failed to budge you, and what backfired so badly that it hardened your hesitation.
Share your story, and let us know if you want anonymity or naming in a potential highlight:
A treacherous week, and only halfway there. Accountability on the horizon, at least, courtesy of a certain US representative from Georgia. Full story here. A taste:
Twitter has suspended Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene for one week after the first-term representative from Georgia falsely claimed COVID-19 vaccines were “failing” and ineffective at stopping the spread of the virus, violating the company’s rules on spreading COVID misinformation.
This marks Greene’s fourth strike from the platform since she arrived in Congress, an impressive feat built upon a record interwoven with conspiracy theories, racism, and misinformation. According to Twitter’s policy on medical information, Greene’s next violation would get her permanently suspended from the platform.
A year ago this week, artists and activists staged a commemorative photo to celebrate the day, in 1958, when dozens of jazz giants gathered in New York City for an immortalizing reunion that became an Esquire cover spread. “A Great Day in Harlem,” the original, features more music legends than any photo before or since, from Mary Lou Williams to Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, Charles Mingus, and many others. The day is still getting its due: This Thursday, 126th Street between Fifth and Madison will be co-named after the photo.
Place names, or place-names, can uncover and recover the past, a way of mapping meanings. That’s the rich terrain of the new book Names of New York: Discovering the City’s Past, Present, and Future Through Its Place-Names, by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, whose publication is well-timed as a backdrop to the street’s naming. Two saxophonists from the original, Rollins and Benny Golson, both in their 90s, have prepared remarks for this Thursday’s naming ceremony.
• The National Endowment for the Arts has named its 2022 Jazz Masters: Billy Hart, Cassandra Wilson, Stanley Clarke, and Donald Harrison Jr. Revisit our conversation with Hart in tribute to Roy Haynes’ 96th birthday.
• The team behind Bodeguita bar in Bushwick is renaming it Ornithology Jazz Club, co-owner Rie Yamaguchi-Borden tells me. The no-cover venue’s grand opening is planned for August 29, the birthday of its namesake, Charlie Parker.
The deep state is coming for National Happiness Happens Day this Sunday, observed every August 8 since 1999, according to senior government officials with knowledge of the matter, who say the day is in jeopardy.
Five independently corroborated whistleblowers at the highest levels of office warn of a cabal of conspirators operationalizing a plot to torpedo happiness day and replace it with National What’s the Fuss Day, National Go Back to Bed Day, and National Don’t Even Bother Getting Out of Bed Day. The plan’s adherents, according to screenshots from an internal slide deck posted on encrypted anti-happiness message boards, obtained by Mother Jones’ Recharge editors, claim that “more happiness for more people would destabilize our designs on the consolidation of capital and power.”
But a Justice Department official, on condition of anonymity, tells us, “Don’t rush to conclusions. There are even-deeper-state countermeasures underway to interrupt this lurid anti-happiness plot by expanding National Happiness Happens Day to two (2) days a year. Three (3) is also on the table.”
Jordan Chiles and Simone BilesMother Jones illustration; Patrick Smith/Getty
Scrolling through my news feed this week, I saw a whole lot of grim headlines about COVID outbreaks, wildfires, and the federal eviction moratorium whose expiration, if not for a last-minute extension, would have been disastrous for already vulnerable tenants and deepened housing inequality. But there was a bright spot in the chaos for me: moments of solidarity and hope at the Olympics.
As an athlete heading into my junior year of high school, I’ve been watching the Olympics with a mix of relief and remorse: Simone Biles, undeniably gymnastics’ GOAT, pulled out of the finals and her teammate Jordan Chiles stepped up for her. What some viewers might not realize is that they’ve been best friends for years, with Biles acting as Chiles’ mentor. Three years ago, Chiles was close to pulling out entirely due to her fading passion for competition and the grind’s impact on her personal time and space. But Biles convinced her to leave an intense coach and train at Biles’ own gym, where coaches Cecile and Laurent Landi emphasize giving gymnasts rest to balance their strict workouts and lives outside the gym. Chiles quickly regained her love for it, and her comeback landed the team a silver medal. “I discovered that gymnastics doesn’t always have to be about strictness and being so hard on yourself and having so much doubt. I realized this when I saw Simone compete. She looks like she’s having fun out there…I was like, ‘You know, I’m going to try that one of these days and see how it turns out.’”
Intense competition also saw spirit-lifting friendship when two high jumpers agreed to share gold for the first time in history. After tying at 2.37 meters, instead of a jump-off, Gianmarco Tamberi and Mutaz Essa Barshim prized mutual respect. Solidifying their bond was the fact that they had survived similar injuries before the Olympics. “I respect all the high jumpers…but Mutaz passed through the same problem as me, and I know what it means to come back from that injury.”
His words struck a chord with me as an athlete who recently returned to soccer from a serious injury. Being sidelined from the sport you love can be taxing physically and emotionally, no less hard for a high schooler than an Olympic medalist, and I know the satisfaction of recovery. The only bounceback more inspiring than overcoming an injury is returning with your best friend at your side, scoring gold together.
As Biles and Chiles supported each other and Tamberi and Barshim lifted each other to greater heights, I saw more overlap between competition and friendship than the pressure of performance used to have me believe. I’m not heading to the Olympics anytime soon. But I’ll take that with me into my next semester of school, soccer season, and everything else that lies ahead.
—Maya Mukherjee is a Mother Jones intern entering junior year of high school. Share comments and Recharge boosts at email@example.com.