Marginalized groups in XR: Will you come or will you go?

Macrocosm

Storm winds are surging within the climate justice movement Extinction Rebellion. Just as in a physical storm the clouds and waves are occupied with their own internal turmoil and any given droplet of water within them is both ineffective and blameless by itself.

In October, a small group in London claiming to be part of Extinction Rebellion mounted an unpopular action, blocking a subway station by gluing themselves to trains and climbing on top of trains during rush hour. The rationale behind such actions is similar to the actions blocking bridges and road traffic. The point there was not so much to be against cars as an unsustainable form of transportation. It was simply to sound a high, loud alarm.

The message of XR blockades is “STOP! Just stop business as usual! Pay attention! There is nothing as important as the climate crisis now!”

The reasoning behind it is that the warnings given by scientists, saying that we have a very limited amount of time left in which we can realistically avert massive disaster and uncountable deaths from hunger, storms and extreme heat, are real.

And we either believe that a consensus among ninety-nine percent of the world’s scientists is a serious matter, that facts are real and the laws of physics actually do apply to us, or we don’t. If we believe those things, there isn’t really any other common sense response than to do whatever it takes to bring about changes that might just be able to save millions of lives.

Photo by Arie Farnam

Photo by Arie Farnam

That’s the intention. Extinction Rebellion hasn’t distanced from the group of activists who carried out the London subway blockade because the rules of the movement are also real. If someone subscribes to the ten principles of XR, including non-violence, refraining from shaming, mutual support and challenging power structures, they can call themselves Extinction Rebellion. That is what the London subway blockaders did.

But the vast majority of XR members voiced vehement objections to the action. Some simply felt that the movement shouldn’t target reasonably carbon-light transportation alternatives, such as rail transport of any kind. After all, subways and light rail are the kind of things we need to be moving toward, even if Extinction Rebellion refuses to put out exact specifications for solutions.

The movement insists that a people’s assembly—chosen through a jury system, rather than through a heavily financed election—should decide how we move forward to solve the climate crisis. But rail transport is one of the non-controversial assumptions about what that solution will have to entail.

Others have more complex reasons for their complaints. The trains blocked in this particular action happened to come from some of the poorest parts of London, full of immigrants and ethnic minorities on the way to minimum wage jobs with harsh tardiness policies.

Extinction Rebellion is not immune to the accusations leveled at most environmental organizations that it’s a place for middle-class white people to work out their rebellious streak and generalized anxiety. Extinction Rebellion has made an effort since the beginning to keep a permanent focus on inclusion, but this action felt like a slap in the face to a lot of people of color.

One of the ten XR principles is “We accept everyone and every part of everyone.” It’s supposed to be inclusive and the small print talks about inclusion of every kind of vulnerable group. But some people of color have expressed that they don’t feel nice and cozy and safe when they hear this principle. Instead they immediately wonder if the white supremacist parts of some people might be included in that blanket acceptance statement.

There are other principles that point toward inclusion and much of the in-depth but technically non-binding structural documents that make up the DYI systems to set up XR branches in every city around the world go into detail about cultural sensitivity, inclusion and recognizing the different experience with police that people in vulnerable groups may have. Extinction Rebellion tries, but it is still an attempt at sensitivity by a bunch of white people.

“Rebels”. (as XR members call themselves) have employed a popular chant over the past year when police intervene to force an end to a blockade. “Police, we love you! We do this for your children!” has echoed in every English speaking country as well as quite a few where the words are foreign. In Prague, the Czech rebels at our October blockade yelled it in thickly accented English, while police hauled away 130 of our friends, injuring some.

And yet, black people back in the UK, where Extinction Rebellion started, and across the water in the US have said essentially, “Ahem, that’s not going to work for us.” Love just isn’t happening in the relationship between black people and the police in the UK or the US, where random police interactions with black people wind up with way too many black people dead. Most black rebels in these countries are not even sitting on the blockades and getting arrested.

While white rebels risk a night in jail, a fine and a misdemeanor record, black people risk their lives just walking or driving, let alone poking the police bear. It is less that black rebels don’t want to say the chant as it is that it sounds like white people wallowing in white privilege.

Now, after the Autumn Rebellion, many XR groups online and off are tackling the issue of inclusion. I’m glad they are because I see this as the Achille’s heel of this movement, which has achieved a great deal in one short year. If Extinction Rebellion fails to fuel massive public demand for climate justice at every political level, it will be because we fail the inclusion part.

That isn’t just because we should be good people or that we need the numbers that vulnerable groups could provide by joining us. It is most importantly at the core of what has made XR successful so far. We should include people of color, people with disabilities and all the other vulnerable groups not for their sake, but for everyone’s sake. Everyone has some vulnerability and it is when we see those more vulnerable than us truly included that we can fully commit our energy, time and resources to this kind of effort. Inclusion isn’t just for those we shouldn’t exclude.

When it is there, it permeates the entire culture. When it isn’t there, no one is safe, and social interactions are a constant battle of individuals trying to stay in the center of the herd, furthest from exclusion.

Microcosm

When I first joined XR, I was glad to find that no one made much of my disability. They were happy to try to accommodate my vision impairment by letting me know who was who, and I was so grateful to be treated a bit better than the immediate social stereotyping and dismissal that I encounter on a daily basis in society.

But as time went on and more and more people joined XR, I have watched that early focus on inclusion fade and thin. New people often come from a non-activist environment and they bring with them the exclusionist assumptions of the wider society. Those who have been there longer are tired and desperate to reach some kind of tangible goal. Inclusion starts to feel like a luxury we can’t afford.

I have been reticent to write openly about the difficulties I’ve run into with exclusion within XR over the past few months, because i too am focused on the ultimate goal. But the events of recent weeks around the world have convinced me that we must talk about these things openly. Because it is exclusion that will take us down.

It is not a luxury. It’s the heart of the matter.

There may be a few exceptions, but by and large the people who join XR are open-minded and informed. They are people who believe in science enough to put their regular lives on hold and do something about a crisis that for most of us—in white-majority countries at least—is still largely theoretical. They are also demonstrably people who take personal responsibility and eschew laziness, because rather than simply talking about the crisis, they are doing something.

These factors mean that even though XR has people from both the political left and the political right, most are already tolerant, nice people. They don’t think of themselves as racist, ablest or otherwise exclusionist. Many even consider themselves actively anti-racist or anti-ableist. And a lot of them feel like this should be enough.

But as with the London subway blockade and the police chant, it clearly isn’t. For me, as the only significantly disabled person in my local XR group, I have to agree. My group has been wonderful in consciously working to include me. I truly appreciate that, and yet I know that most people with disabilities in my place would have left long ago and I am constantly close to leaving the group myself.

I asked a friend who uses a wheelchair to join and she just laughed ruefully. I couldn’t really argue. The group says they want a person in a wheelchair at the blockades because it would make for good press photos, but no one has ever even mentioned the fact that we’ve never held a meeting in a place that was even remotely wheelchair accessible. They want a person with a wheelchair as a prop, not as an organizer.

There are two categories of issues I can identify that cause me to feel excluded in the group even without the issue of physical accessibility. which given the conditions isn’t really their fault.

First, there is a tolerance for intolerance, as that principle about accepting all parts of everyone implies. While most people are inclusive and welcoming, there are those who are not and the group not only tolerates them but insists that I must tolerate them. If I speak up, even very discretely about exclusion and hate directed toward me, I am told that the urgency of our goal demands that I tolerate it and don’t rock the boat.

Second, there is a lack of understanding about the effects that exclusion in the wider society have had on me and a marked lack of tolerance for any reaction I have to social exclusion.

In one prominent example, a person in a position of power in my group decided early on that she did not like me. Her explanation focused primarily on communication issues, specifically that some of my texts were too long. Being a writer, I can be a bit wordy, but when I can, I go back and edit. Written communication usually isn’t a problem for me.

But in this case, we were using a phone app for daily communication within the group. I can’t type on the tiny phone screen very well because it is too small for me to see, so I was dictating my texts. This meant that my texts were especially long. When we speak, we naturally use more words than when we write. To add to this, editing on my phone in extremely small print is next to impossible for me. Yes, blind people use audio interfaces that make it technically doable but it is excruciatingly slow. Sometimes i do spend literally hours editing a few texts for the group to make things readable. But most of the time, with my work, household, children and all, I didn’t have time. I just dictated texts and sent them, oral vagueness and all.

So, the dislike this person initially developed toward me was based on something that was a symptom of my disability. She is a person steeped in European good manners and social justice thinking. I am certain that she would never intentionally exclude a person over a disability or some other irrelevant trait. But she did—likely obliviously—develop her antipathy for me over something that was part of my disability.

She and the rest of the group chose to call it “a difference in communication styles,” and despite my explanations, refuse to see it as disability related or reconsider her conclusions. When she initially adopted her negative view of me, I was utterly confused. We had, only one day before, had a wonderful conversation in which she told me that I would be working with her closely and expressed a lot of support for my work in the organization. And then suddenly, I was cut off from communications and told that she no longer wanted to work with me.

She later said that my reaction shocked her. After a lifetime of social rejection and even complete isolation for years at a time, I don’t take abrupt, unexplained rejection well. My first reaction was to cry, then to try to defend myself and later to bargain. For so many people with disabilities social rejection is a real visceral danger and I am no exception in that.

It is understandable then that my reaction came across as out-of-proportion and overly pushy to someone who felt she was simply setting some boundaries with an annoying individual who writes overly long texts.

But here’s the thing. After many months of informal exclusion, I was forced to accept an agreement in which we would be sensitive in our communications with each other and I would stay away from powerful roles within the organization in order to minimize contact between me and this person in power. This was the only way i could stay in the group at all.

That may sound like a reasonable compromise, and it did to most of the local XR rebels. But imagine if this had been a black person instead of a person with a disability. Imagine that someone expressed dislike of a black person because of the way they spoke or dressed or some other cultural attribute and started excluding that person. Imagine then—it isn’t hard at all—that the black person got intense and up in that person’s face because they have been excluded and dismissed way too often by white people, and subsequently that the those in power limited the black person to low-level roles as a means to avoid further conflict.

Realistically, most black people—and most people with disabilities—would not get intense. They’d just leave. That is ONE of those reasons that there are so few people from marginalized groups in XR and similar organizations. But it is not at all difficult to imagine this scenario, because like me, some black people stay and fight.

Now, in the scenario with the black person most anti-racist white people are now educated enough to see the problem and to call this exclusion. We aren’t perfect yet and i’m sure this does happen in Extinction Rebellion to black people. But very few abled people are informed enough to see the same situation clearly when the issue is disability. For whatever reason, that’s just the dynamic.

The end result is that, if I want to continue to be part of Extinction Rebellion, I have to constantly bump up against the antagonistic walls set for me, where I am not allowed to take on national roles in the group. And I have to constantly see the XR messages urging us to put people from marginalized groups in positions of power and to feel their hypocrisy.

There are a very few people of color in our local group as well and none of them have significant roles. I don’t know them well enough to discuss the reasons why personally. But the fact is that our group has the option of putting people with disabilities or people of color in visible and/or powerful roles and it doesn’t. In fact, it has barred a person with a disability from national roles, based on symptoms of the disability and post-traumatic responses to social exclusion.

We’ve got a problem.

And I—like many other rebels from marginalized groups—now have to decide day by day if I stay and fight for the soul of this movement I believe holds our best chance for the future or if I let it go and take care of myself.

Doing poverty well: How to actually deal with clutter

I’ve run across at least a dozen blogger responses to Marie Kondo’s new Netflix series on fighting clutter for a less stressful lifestyle. Several of these have already pointed out that the show is deeply classist.

I’m not going to belabor the point. It is. Getting rid of everything you haven’t used recently and assuming you can just buy one later if you need it is a choice only viable for the economically privileged. Berating people who don’t currently have or recently didn’t have that privilege for “clutter” is classist. And environmentally unsustainable to boot.

These are the shelves directly on my bed and they combine active bookshelf with cosmetics and jewelry stations, spiritual practice supplies and things I really need to hide from my children. - Image by Arie Farnam

These are the shelves directly on my bed and they combine active bookshelf with cosmetics and jewelry stations, spiritual practice supplies and things I really need to hide from my children. - Image by Arie Farnam

I’m sure the show and its advice is helpful to some. There are people who senselessly horde or acquire stuff without planning or a focus on reusing and upcycling. There probably are middle class people who have a lot of junk they really legitimately don’t need and will never use. The show may well be helpful to them and might result in less stress in their lives.

That’s a good thing and if there was any indication of compassion or understanding that we don’t all have this luxury, I wouldn’t be even mildly irritated at the show. It’s the support of the bubble of privileged comfort that some in the western middle class, which is actually in the top one percent of the world’s wealthiest people, dwell within that bothers me and a few other bloggers. The show doesn’t mention that it is only designed for a very select group, because some in that group don’t feel comfortable when they are reminded of their privileged status in the world. It’s just a thing you don’t say if you want their approval ratings..

The show irritates those of us who stumble across it, but don’t fit into its demographic. And yes, some of us have a broad definition of the word “family” when it comes to both the dinner table and Netflix family passwords and thus some of us occasionally have Netflix.

But I digress. This post isn’t so much about the show as it is about solutions for the rest of us.

You see, clutter is a problem for those with modest means. In fact, it is likely to be a bigger problem for us than it is for the middle class.

First, let me define “us.”

Some will rightly complain that I’m not “poor enough” to talk about doing poverty well. I live a reasonably comfortable lifestyle after all. My children have never gone to bed hungry, except for those couple of nights when they went on strike from regular food in a desperate bid to force a one-hundred-percent noodle, ketchup and candy diet that simply didn’t pan out with Mama bear in the kitchen. So what am I complaining about?

I’m not. Complaining, that is.

My family lives well below the US poverty line in a middling Eastern European country, where we’re actually pretty middle class. I grew up more genuinely poor and in my twenties I went through some winters where cabbage and potatoes were really all I could afford. But my point isn’t to bemoan “poverty.” I, in fact, hold that if most of the world lived close to our consumption level, we could be environmentally sustainable and comfortable enough.

My goal isn’t to become wealthier but rather to live better with what we have. And dealing with clutter is part of that. My solutions are just different from Marie Kondo’s.

When you live close to or below what has been arbitrarily (but in this case handily) designated as the US poverty line, you are in a situation where you can usually buy one small item that you need at a time or save up for a larger item, but you can’t simply acquire what you need when you need it. If you have lived this way for long, it is unlikely you “throw away” anything that isn’t actually useless. You most likely have a running mental list of those who could use, recycle, upcycle or re-enliven something you no longer want.

This is my office and writing nook. Shelves hold reference materials, taxes and official documents, daily office supplies, electronics parts, paper, tea pot and a few display books. There is a fold-out table that hides my ESL teaching center and doors on the bottom cover the household herbal pharmacy and herbalist supplies. - Image by Arie Farnam

This is my office and writing nook. Shelves hold reference materials, taxes and official documents, daily office supplies, electronics parts, paper, tea pot and a few display books. There is a fold-out table that hides my ESL teaching center and doors on the bottom cover the household herbal pharmacy and herbalist supplies. - Image by Arie Farnam

You may well store a lot of things that you don’t need immediately. Your first thought when finding an odd castoff mechanical part is more likely to be, “I wonder what this could be useful for?” than “Why is this old thing still around?” You plan and save and put together what you need.

And there’s another thing. Your entertainment is more likely to be self-made. You don’t go on distant vacations. If you go on vacation, it usually requires a lot of stuff—like tents, sleeping bags, cooking equipment and so forth. And if you don’t go on vacations, you have other interests, many of which entail making things, which requires supplies and equipment.

Your job likely also requires supplies. You likely fix clothing, cars, furniture and other things when they are broken rather than throwing them out, which means your home may well have the necessities for sewing, auto work and carpentry. You are actually more likely than the middle class to own your own cement mixer, sewing machine, towing cables or power saw. I own all four. Lacking a home of your own, you may not own these things, but you very likely own a sewing kit and a set of tools, no matter how makeshift.

And all these things are clutter when piled up into a small home, apartment, car, backpack or whatever you live out of.

Does that mean you should take Marie Kondo’s advice and get rid of anything you haven’t used recently and then every object that does not give you joy. The toilet plunger would be top of the list for me… and how would that go?

The worn-out clothes I garden in aren’t comfy old favorites. They are very specifically, clothes I hate that I expect will be torn and dirty beyond repair in a rough season or two. My cracked mismatched dishes don’t bring me joy. The set of nice dishes brought out only for holidays and adult company do. And the reason they are still nice and joyful is that we don’t use them for everyday.

Nope. That method isn’t going to work for dealing with our clutter.

This is a topic near and dear to my heart. I live in a small, compact house. There isn’t an inch of space that isn’t in planful use. I run a business out of my home that requires me to meet clients in my home daily. My home has to be neat and tidy. Local social norms require it for such a business. Beyond that, I’m ninety percent blind and a pile of junk is truly a problem for me to wade through. Things need to have places.

But all the above still applies. I cook all of my family’s meals from scratch because instant food that won’t kill you is expensive. Thus I have a fully stocked kitchen and a jam-packed pantry. I also have a vegetable garden and that means I have a shed full of tools and supplies, window sills full of seedlings and a cellar and freezers full of produce.

My business requires extensive teaching supplies. I also have kids and they have stuff. We live hours from the nearest English-language library, so we have our own library shelves, particularly full of children’s books. Modern technology has meant some slimming of our bookshelves, DVDs and CDs but subscription services cost money and reference books get used a lot around here.

Beyond that, there is my mental health. Like most people in my situation, I don’t have relaxing vacations or spa treatments or even weekends away. I have interests instead. I study medicinal herbs and recently I’ve taken up candle and soap making. These also require stuff—materials, supplies and storage space.

So it goes for many of us. I go through my pantry regularly from top to bottom every six months and reorganize a bit every month or two. I am always weeding through clothing hordes, swapping out tattered and laundry-shrunken clothes for clothes from the hand-me-down network or bought at an amazing second-hand shop we hit on a trip two years ago that finally fit my kids.

This is my ESL teaching center. The messiest paper part is covered by this fold-out table which can be lowered to accommodate students or paperwork as necessary. - Image by Arie Farnam

This is my ESL teaching center. The messiest paper part is covered by this fold-out table which can be lowered to accommodate students or paperwork as necessary. - Image by Arie Farnam

My kids each have a few drawers for the clothes currently in use. There are are also three bins in their closets that contain clothes. The lowest, easiest-to-reach bin contains still-useful, only mildly tattered clothes that are too small for my kids. These are fed back into our hand-me-down network on a regular basis. The second bin contains off-season clothes—winter clothes in summer, summer clothes in winter. The final bin contains the hoard of clothes that don’t yet fit my kids. Most of these are a year or two from fitting but a few particularly nice bits are being hoarded for a distant future.

That’s how I handle clutter. Or at least it’s one example.

Mostly handling clutter well when you live the way I do means organization, labeling and taking periodic inventory..

I have bins for tools, wire, glue, rope, rubber bands, nails, small boxes, plastic bags, art supplies and plenty of other categories. The skeptical will inevitably remark that there is a lot there that we will never actually use. It’s true that about a third of it eventually gets cycled out when its usefulness is determined to have been overestimated. But all of these things are things acquired free, extremely cheaply or by mistake, as everyone sometimes acquires things. We don’t seek them out but when they come in, if they might be useful, we store them rather than fill the landfill.

Once I observed a middle-class American doing an art project and gaped in surprise at the clean-up, which was apparently routine. Not only were the drop clothes not washed and hung to dry. They were simply bundled with all the scrap material inside and tossed into the garbage can—unused paints, barely opened glue tubes, brushes and all. In my world, only a few stray scraps would have ended up in the garbage, and even then only if they couldn’t conceivably become confetti, decoration for children’s projects or… fire starter.

Yup, there’s a bin for tinder as well, containing candle drippings, soiled wax baking paper, nutshells and paper scraps free enough of chemicals to be deemed compost-safe once burned.

The crucial thing is to be able to find what you need when you eventually do need it. That’s where storage systems, labels and bins come in. Last year, I had what is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in my class. I got to design my own work space and actually see it built. The photos in this post are from my new space, which features many small shelves and storage compartments. Some of the storage has doors to cover it. But much of it does not, in order to allow quick and handy access.

These are my teaching supplies for both homeschooling and my ESL classes for children. Some bins have been labeled with Norse Runes because of a memorization project I was doing. They ended up coming in handy keeping children out of bins they shouldn’t be dumping out.

These are my teaching supplies for both homeschooling and my ESL classes for children. Some bins have been labeled with Norse Runes because of a memorization project I was doing. They ended up coming in handy keeping children out of bins they shouldn’t be dumping out.

I learned valuable organizational principles during this process and here is my advice to rival Marie Kondo’s.

Before you shop, always take inventory and organize:

  • Categorize items by type and label clearly.

  • Store categories near where they are most used. Have at most two places where the same category is stored. (Glue may be in the wood shop as well as the office.)

  • If an item has a single use only, store it with the items used with it rather than with it’s type. (Gardening sheers are stored with gardening things, not with scissors.)

  • Use up one package or container of a material as much as possible before opening another, even if it isn’t convenient. Recycle or re-purpose the packaging.

  • Be creative in finding storage space. Not everything must be stored in heated rooms of your home. Building raised beds or hollow kitchen benches with lids for seats will often dramatically increase your storage space. If you are able to build your own shelves, carefully plan out what you need to store where and plan the depth, width and height of shelves with the storage containers you have and are likely to have in the future in mind.

  • While building a separate pantry or walk-in closet may seem like it significantly shrinks your living space, if you can line it with shelves and store what you need inside it, it will significantly decrease clutter and increase the usability of the space you have.

  • Designate a storage space for repourposed materials like boxes, bags, building scraps and paper supplies. Containers which the given material won’t quickly overflow out of are ideal. When space is limited, consider carefully the storage needs of given materials. Paper boxes must be kept in a dry place, but heat and cold don’t matter. Cans of paint can tolerate occasional moister but cannot tolerate great differences in temperature or any frost. Some materials, like cloth, are susceptible to pests.

This is half of my herbal pharmacy which is normally covered by doors. - image by Arie Farnam

This is half of my herbal pharmacy which is normally covered by doors. - image by Arie Farnam

Getting rid of things you don’t need

  • Certain types of supplies tend to accumulate more quickly than others. Cardboard boxes and water-proof bags (usually plastic up until recently) are essential for many activities and expensive to buy when needed. They can accumulate quickly, depending on your activities. Keep a supply of a dozen smaller boxes and several larger boxes. Keep a plastic bag full of plastic bags of similar size. If you have more than that and don’t need them for a specific reason, recycle those that are getting tattered.

  • Keep spare parts together. If you really have the skills to use a spare part to fix something later, it is okay to keep spare parts which are in good condition. Recycle parts that are damaged or which you would not be able to use given your skills and tools.

  • Fix broken tools when possible. If it is not possible to fix a tool, it is best to separate it into materials to be recycled.

  • Store craft, cooking and gardening supplies well, usually in air-tight containers. Don’t throw out half-full packages unless the contents are damaged. If the packaging is damaged, repackage and store for later use. If the material itself is damaged, dried up or spoiled, dispose of it in the most conservationist way possible.

  • The hierarchy of disposal should be: 1. Repair/reuse/repurpose, 2. Channel to those who can repair, reuse or repurpose in your network, 3. Give to charity, 4. Use as or give to others for animal feed, 5. Use as compost, mulch or construction material, 6. Burn as fuel, 7. Breakdown and recycle, 8. Landfill. An item that you don’t need or can’t use starts at the top of the hierarchy. You assess its possibilities for usefulness and put it in the first category in which it can be truly useful.

  • The upper part of the hierarchy is focused on disposal which will benefit someone else. Some of this may be actual charity. Much of it is not charity at all. One of the key elements of doing poverty well is to have a hand-me-down network, and hand-me-downs are not all clothes by far. Lettuce scraps are a welcome hand-me-down to a chicken owner or gardener.

  • There is often not a direct return of the favor but those who give into such a network also receive when others have a surplus or an unneeded-but-still-useful item. I calculate that about 30 percent of my family’s food supply comes free or very cheaply from our network and it is all top quality organic products. This is one of the main reasons I can claim to live quite well below the US poverty line. As a result, not a day goes by when I don’t find myself considering if an item or materials I need to dispose of could be used by someone else in my network.

  • The other methods in the disposal hierarchy get as much residual use out of materials as possible and minimize both the costs of acquiring other materials and the harm to the environment. There is a stereotype that poor people don’t care about environmental issues. Sometimes people have been misled to misunderstand what “environmentalism” means, but people of modest means are also more vulnerable to ecological disruption, whether we are urban or rural dwellers. In the same way that you feed and protect your hand-me-down network for your own benefit, it is in your interests to nourish and protect your environment.

Restocking

  • When you live with modest means, it is good to be on the look-out for items or materials that you may need in the future that are being offered free or extremely cheaply. Stocking this way is an imperfect science or even an art. You will inevitably misjudge some things and end up storing something you will never need. The most important consideration is making sure that getting rid of something will not be an undue burden before you acquire it. Secondly, think of where you will store it while you are considering acquiring something. And finally, make sure there is actually a reasonable likelihood you’ll need what you’re acquiring. Ideally you’ll turn down far more than you bring in.

  • Each person’s needs are quite different. If your job requires you to dress in an expensive fashion, you may have to store a fair amount of clothing to make it work. This is different than simply hording clothes for fun, although that can be a hobby for some. Inventory and reassessment still applies, unless you consider this a hobby.

  • When new disposable items come in, place them UNDER or BEHIND older or half-used equivalents and use the older and half-used equivalents first. (If you acquire new tape very cheaply before your supply has run out, do not place it on top of the old supply.)

  • Some people will become so good at this that they will become a network hub and acquire things they don’t personally need in order to feed them into their network. As with many other parts of this barter economy, there is a fuzzy line between the skilled networker and the out-of-control pack rat. The difference will be in both organization and generosity.

I hope my experience may be helpful, whether you are voluntarily or involuntarily living on modest means. These are some of the ways to both contain clutter and organize materials to be both sustainable and useful.

Best wishes to all!

Put down your burdens and breathe in the spring

The first day when the vibrant green of new grass shows through, the first moment when the sun really warms your back again--it may be unseasonably early but spring is still good.

In some ways, this spring feels better than any I can remember. It's partly because I have two functional greenhouses--an investment of two years of physical labor and financial scrimping. Now they are already full of leafy young greens, radishes, carrot tops just poking through and young cucumber vines braving the still chilly mornings. I also have chickens laying smooth eggs that fit perfectly into the palm of your hand and impart a sense of comfort and security. 

Creative Commons image by Song River - CowGirlZen 

Creative Commons image by Song River - CowGirlZen 

That makes this spring particularly lively and the changing weather gives me reason for a bit of joy. But more than that I am thankful for the contrast from the rest of life. My work necessitates sitting at a computer for hours on. A few more hours are spent in on-line, telephone and graphic design activism to help civil rights and democracy-oriented organizations back home in the US in this difficult time. . 

I'm heartened to see the surge of interest and activism in the United States over the past few months after what felt like decades of apathy and disinterest on issues such as climate change, the undermining of our democracy, structural racism and rule by corporations. But the activist work still often feels insurmountable and i am like a kid getting out of school when I get up for a break and go to work outdoors. 

Old wisdom has it that you often love the time of year in which you were born and I suppose that might explain part of it. But there is no period when the air is cleaner or better than it is in early spring. The coal smoke of fall and winter has blown away on brisk winds and washed away with the gentle, misty rains. Summer dust and heat has not yet come. Now and for the next month and a half, it is delight to take big lung-fulls of the air, even in town. 

Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

I know there are people who suffer from pollen allergies even this early in the year. That seems like a particular injustice. And I do mean injustice. Rates of allergies and rates of chemical pollution and use of pesticides are closely correlated. I count my blessings having grown up far from industry and large-scale agriculture. Thus I find myself allergic to almost nothing, except hypocrisy and money (including m own oddly enough).

My hands are a bit cracked and dry from all the digging in garden soil, but I have herbal salves for that. I hung wind chimes on the back deck, so the song of the wind and the soft clucking of the ducks follows me as I water and coax the young plants.  

Meanwhile, on-line there seems to be a campaign to divide Democrats from supporters of third parties or independent options. Many on both sides will defend their perspective at all cost, but the hand of corporations such as social media and internet companies in gleefully promoting the acrimony is also clearly evident.

Even I have been cut out of two of the largest on-line activist organizations, though I refrained from negative comments, never used crude language and only rarely posted articles at all. The official reason given in one group was the scandalous discovery (found by browsing my page and history, rather than through my comments) that I had volunteered to help a local Green Party chapter. I never knew that was against the group rules as it was supposed to be a progressive activism group, and the other large progressive group banned me though I had not made any recent comments, most likely due to shared administrators with the no-Greens-allowed group.

Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

It is actually not that hard to shrug off my momentary resentment at this exclusion from the largest on-line activism groups. It is less easy to banish the fear that wells up inside me. We have this a slim chance to resist tyranny and we seem to be letting it slip away for the most banal of reasons--infighting between those who should be allies. And worse yet, while some of this infighting appears to be organic, some is spurred on by precisely those interests that stand to lose if democracy wins the latest arm wrestle with fascism. 

My heart is heavy after an evening spent on my publishing work and a discussion with the Google content removal department, which despite the filing of official complaints refuses to remove links to pirated copies of my books. Google's official policy continues to state that they will remove such links and no reason was given in their official refusal letter, except that they believe since i published the work, I agreed to its "public" use, despite copyright laws. 

It appears that the corporate behemoths will always flatten you in the end, even when you think you've found a crack in their glass ceilings. My professional work is fragile and completely at the mercy of companies like Google. And if all life was contained in their computerized world, it would truly feel hopeless.

The morning sunshine blazes through my windows, greeted by a wild chorus of birdsong from the tangle of brush in the empty lot next door.. I don't know what the future holds. But for now I skip outside, giddy the way I was hopping off the school bus long ago, and sink my bare hands into the earth. It is a time to put down your burdens, breathe out your sorrows and take time to be one with spring.

You belong on the earth

I doubt there has ever been a time in history when more people in more varied walks of life have been labeled and told they are unwanted or don't belong. 

I know many people are hurting deeply right now for reasons of life and death, separation from family and elimination of basic freedom. It can feel like other groups who have merely been mocked, degraded or threatened are not in the same boat and that they do not understand the gravity of the situation. 

Creative Commons image by Matt Drobnik

Creative Commons image by Matt Drobnik

We don't all understand every part. We don't all know what it is to stand in one another's shoes. But we do have more in common than we have misunderstandings. 

Your experiences are real and you are not alone. 

And yet it has become unfashionable to have a group identity. We love individuals and we don't like being pigeon-holed. We may be part of one culture, ethnicity, faith, group or class but we are rarely "typical"  of that label and we simultaneously belong to others.

Our media culture idolizes the person who refuses to associate with a group. We have also become educated enough to know that each identity is unique.

I love non-conformity as much as the next person, but too much exceptionalism has its costs. Now when so many of us are truly threatened, we spend precious energy arguing among ourselves and debating who has a greater right to outrage.  We disagree about trivial things or the specific solutions to our problems and thus we don't address immediate threats together. 

At least that's how it has gone down in the past.

Right now there are many groups forming and fluctuating. Membership in both the KKK and the ACLU have skyrocketed. Lines are being drawn and often they are based on an ideology or a particular identity. I personally support the ACLU and other organizations like Greenpeace, the NAACP and Doctors Without Borders. But the point isn't exactly which groups I want to support (as long as it isn't a racist, terrorist or otherwise harmful group)..

We also need broader places where all those who have common interests can belong. 

It isn't so much the strength in numbers that I want. We need a sense of common cause and solidarity. True belonging comes not from the accident of your birth, culture or label, but rather from your choices, values and convictions.

It is time to set down the most basic tenants of what we belong to, the lines which we won't cross and which enclose all of us. This must be at once broad enough for all and clear enough to mean something.

Here are some ideas of where we belong:: 

  • We are open to all races, religions, ability types, sexual orientations, nationalities, ages and appearances.
  • We recognize the right of people to express their identity and culture, to have a voice in public and a connection to their land and people.
  • We know that power entails responsibility.
  • We speak up when we or others are prejudicially attacked or stereotyped.
  • We are concerned about ecological issues and we respect the earth which we depend on for our lives.
  • We take whatever action is feasible and effective in our personal situations to protect the earth, water, air, other species and one another.
  • We recognize that facts exist and can be documented, while context can consist of many facts.
  • We believe that people have a right to true information and that money and incorporation should not accord greater rights to any individual or group. 
  • We insist that the resources of the earth are held in common and must not be exploited for the profit of a few.
  • We believe each person has the right to freedom that does not harm or restrict others.
  • We strive to be kind and welcoming toward newcomers and to work out differences respectfully.
creative Commons image by Matt Drobnik

creative Commons image by Matt Drobnik

There will necessarily be some who haven't explored all of these issues in-depth. But we should be able to agree on the basic values of inclusion and protection of that which sustains our lives.

Still there will be some who choose to reject these values. I have been part of many ecological or earth-based groups and some of them do not hold the same values of openness toward people of different paths and backgrounds that I demand. On the other hand, there are also many groups that are concerned with social justice but don't take the immediate crisis of climate change seriously.

:Environmental concern and the love of diversity are deal breakers for me--two things I simply cannot do without.

Don't get me wrong. Groups can specialize. Not every parenting group must be focused on environmental issues as well as parenting. But I can't feel truly loyal to a group that openly expresses their disregard for environmental concerns, anymore than I can feel welcome in a group with borderline racist statements, no matter how good they are on something else. These are life and death issues that can't be compromised. 

I have no problem with the fact that Facebook groups connected to Black Lives Matter are unlikely to be regularly posting about climate change. Many groups accept these values but focus on one particular need.

I don't demand that environmental groups spend time and attention on anti-racism stuff. However, I could not very well put my loyalty in a multicultural group that irrelevantly professed disdain for tree-huggers and climate scientists, anymore than I can feel comfortable in an earth-centered group that occasionally throws up closet racist posts.

This isn't to say that I will only join groups that agree with all of my opinions. Far from it.

I have an abundance of opinions. I still love Star Trek after all these years, my favorite pizza involves lots of really hot peppers and seared garlic, I think J. K. Rowling is a damned good writer but the seventh book had some issues, And I think dish rags should be changed about every three days.

Those are opinions. And I don't expect members of a group I'm in to agree with them. And that extends to more relevant opinions too. I have my views on economic systems, health care and electoral processes. But these are things we can work out. What level of gun regulation we should have is debatable. I can and have had informative discussions with people who disagree on things like that. 

Therein lies the distinction perhaps. I don't think there is room to casually debate whether or not we'll believe in science and facts or whether we will accept all people of every religion and color. Those who agree on these things need a place to belong where we can learn from the rest of our differences without being constantly bogged down by an inability to agree on ground rules.

That is why I have founded a group called Belonging on the Earth. It is small and not diverse enough as of yet. I hope you will join and find it a welcoming community. Currently the group is starting on Facebook. You can join it here. I am the administrator for now and I can ensure that it is a safe and respectful place. This is a group for those who agree on fundamental values but may not agree on many other things. As the group grows other administrators will be added who can help to foster the openness of the group.

Not everyone is into Facebook and eventually there will be other ways to belong to this community. If you can't join the Facebook group, I encourage yo to join my hearth-side email circles below and keep in touch through the comments on this webpage.

You belong on the earth. Your experiences are real and you are not alone.

Stand with those under attack: A simple gift you can give for free

There are a lot of messages out there at this time of year aimed at getting you to give to good causes. And many of those causes really do help people--ensuring that hungry people eat, refugees receive shelter and sick people get care. 

It is very gratifying to have enough to give materially. But maybe you are not one of the people who can. Or if you do give materially, you may want to give in other ways as well.

Creative Commons image by Fdecomite of Flickr.com

Creative Commons image by Fdecomite of Flickr.com

Right at the moment, many people are feeling that the future is bleak. There is sorrow at every turn and a looming sense of potential disaster. It is easy to become pessimistic and resort to hunkering down in our own homes, hoping the storm will pass us by.

I've been feeling that way myself and fighting for inspiration in my writing. It's humbling that the answer came to me from my younger brother.  And he probably has no idea he proposed something so actionable. 

Here's how it happened. My brother said he was going to write a letter to the local newspaper. I'd heard him saying how concerned he is about the rise in vocal racism and the apathy of many others to respond. He used to be quite idealistic and recent events had brought him nearly to tears. He's also living out in a rural area that voted nearly 70 percent for Trump, so what options did he have?

I thought I knew what to expect of his letter to a local paper. He's diplomatic, but still I thought he would try to talk some sense into his neighbors one way or another.

He did a bit but he also put something else in his letter: "I invite immigrants into this community. I will protect you physically and emotionally... People of color, people who look different, act different, are different are welcome here in this valley."

I've heard many people say they want to stand by immigrants, people of color or Muslims. And that's nice and all. But mostly we are saying these things in our bubble, whether it's on Facebook or among friends. 

We're not only not persuading anyone not to be racist, we aren't even telling the people in need of support about this. But my brother hit on a good idea, a new spin on writing letters to local newspapers. Don't write to persuade people who probably won't listen to an opposing view. Don't write to officials who aren't going to change their policies.

Instead write your letters to the people who are now living with the greatest uncertainty and fear. Address them directly.

Think of Christian refugees from Syria celebrating their first Christmas in the United States while being harassed for being Arabs. Imagine a Muslim child learning to read English opening up the local paper for homework and finding your letter. Then write with that audience in mind.

Creative Commons image by the Oregon Department of Transportation

Creative Commons image by the Oregon Department of Transportation

Tell your friends and imagine a flood of such letters. 

I welcome you. I stand by you. I am a friend. I want to have people of color, people speaking different languages, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Pagans. Hindus, people of varied gender identities and people of all shapes, sizes and talents in my community. We would miss out, if you were not here. We would be poorer and our town would lack its interest and sparkle. I want you here and I will say it openly. I won't be silent if there is hate speech or hateful policies. I am sorry for these terrifying times. I, for one, stand with you. 

There are a great many of us who agree with these statements, but we mostly say them to each other. Let's say them to the people who feel excluded and attacked. Let's start a campaign of letters to our communities, rather than to officials. 

Go ahead and make it specific. Write to foreign students or immigrants or women who have undergone an abortion or people with visible and invisible disabilities or the quiet people of non-Christian faiths who repeat "Merry Christmas" cheerily without ever hearing their own holidays mentioned. 

You will touch someone deeply, almost certainly make someone's day or week. And if enough of us do it, you will also open the hearts of others who may need to look beyond their personal experience to believe in good people of every kind. It doesn't matter if you are also personally one of the people affected by the uncertainty. There is still someone out there who will be glad to hear you stand with them.

A holiday letter seems like an overly simple thing to give. But under some circumstances it can be a great gift.

And thank you for reading my writing this year. I wish you comfort, simple joy and shared love in this season.

Surviving the new reality

Rain drums on the roof as I write. I am on enforced rest. Doctor's orders. I could cry for joy over the rest, except that the eye surgeon has forbidden me to express intense emotions. 

But you get the idea. I don't feel sick but I'm supposed to stay inside, keep warm, not work much and be at peace. I know, I wish I could spread it around a little too.

The only downside of this is a feeling of vulnerability that comes with the isolation.  I hesitate to venture out much, even on-line. I am a bit breakable and the world has suddenly become doubly harsh.

Creative Commons image by Sepp Schimmer

Creative Commons image by Sepp Schimmer

I saw a post from an old work colleague about attacks against people of color in the US. I wrote in a quick reply of support and bittersweet humor. And instead of solidarity, my old office-mate lashed out at me, labeling me an "sheltered white expat." 

I instantly had the urge to fight back. I'm not one who takes things lying down or turns the other cheek. Sure, I'm white and I know better than many white people what privileges and protections that entails. I am highly aware when I meet police officers that I am wearing the backpack of white privilege--then and many other times. I also know that when any country is in the grip of fear that there is an understandable anger toward emigres--those who left, no matter how good their reasons. 

On the other hand, I'm also a person with a significant physical disability. I'm up against the wall in this too. My children are not white and they are newly naturalized citizens. Will we ever be able to go back to visit my home and family again? That is not an idle question in these post-election days. We are also in a country (the Czech Republic) that Donald Trump has pledged to put a military base in. We are isolated for the moment, but far from off the hook. 

Still, I bit my lip and said none of that. I know well the furious emotions raging in my colleague's post. I replied only to express more simple and direct support for her. I told her I am an ally and I understand her words. She and another friend continued to express anger and rejection toward me. There was no reconciliation. 

I am worried.

I'm saddened to lose a connection to someone I enjoy simply due to these terrible times. But I am even more worried by what this negative interaction among allies means for our people--the people of our country, citizens and non-citizens, all cultures and all backgrounds. We're stuck in this together, after all. 

My home county in Oregon reportedly voted 67 percent for Trump. There are people I call friends who did and likely even a few only moderately distant relatives. And if I cannot meet a friend who agrees with me in support and solidarity, if we are so divided that I am the enemy even when I am not across the political divide, how... oh gods, how will we live with those who really do hate and choose a hateful leader? 

Let's take a moment to forget that Trump even exists. 

Sigh. Now doesn't that feel better? 

But wait a minute. There's a problem. We've made Trump disappear but we haven't made the many people who vehemently support him disappear. Sure, we can say they are a minority, as few as 20 percent of the nation and not even most of the voters. But they are enough and we have to live with them, Trump or no Trump.

I have always felt this because of where I grew up, far from the cosmopolitan and high-thinking coasts. I love visiting Portland, Seattle, New York or Francisco for precisely this reason. Our bubble of acceptance and freedom feels so good. 

But we forget that this is not all of the nation at our peril. We ignore rage at our peril. We belittle politically incorrect antagonism at our peril. We've seen that now.

I know it is hard to think about surviving the next four years. But we will... most of us at least. And here is how I propose to do it:

Creative Commons image by Peter Roome

Creative Commons image by Peter Roome

  • If there is a registry for Muslims, get on it. I'll be a Muslim on paper.  If we're all on the list, the list will have no teeth.
  • Talk to Trump supporters. Really talk and listen. Listen to what motivates them, what they are upset about. Share your thoughts with respect and without contempt.  They are people and most people are susceptible to change, even if slow change.
  • Promote facts, everywhere, over and over again. The media will not help, so we have to do it. Talk about facts, post them, remember them, make lists. Don't let up about climate change.
  • Explain white privilege, primarily if you're white. Explain it again and again and again until you're sick of it and then explain it to more people. There is no way we're as sick of explaining it as Black, Hispanic and Native American people are.
  • Talk to the person no one is talking to at a gathering. Invite the disabled colleague or classmate to whatever. Connect. 
  • Make your circle bigger. Whatever it is you can give easily, put it in. Got a neighbor with younger kids who could use some of your nicer used clothes? Got extra veggies from the garden? Got wood or materials or whatever? Buy less, trade more, reuse more. Gain your security from community.
  • Take care of your own basic needs with as little resources as possible. Reduce plastics and fossil fuels in whatever ways you can. And remember you'll do more and better if you're rested, healthy and fed. Don't wait to be taken care of. Stand strong, think ahead, link arms.

My hope is with you. 

"I don't have to be friends with everybody!"

It's so common that many people might consider it normal. A group of kids are playing with a soccer ball and one boy--a bit taller than most and with a forceful personality--gives orders. The others follow the orders gladly and one of the orders is that they don't play with "that kid." 

But common isn't necessarily okay.

I was always afraid my kids would be "that kid" because they're different from the other kids in our town, visibly and controversially. But when it happened, it was at a support group for kids like them, kids of a minority background who were supposed to be their best allies. And my kids weren't the one left out. 

Instead it was one of my people. The kid with a significant physical disability. It wasn't due to his behavior or personality. He's a fun kid. Because he was booted out of the boys' fun and he loved card games, I played Uno with him. I could wish my kids were as quick with Uno. 

And no, there is no excuse. This was not one of those situations where the child left out was too timid or too aggressive, didn't ask to be included or just felt offended and left. He was told to leave.

The others chased him with sticks because they wanted to play cops and robbers and he was handy as a robber. If he was near them the game was always everyone against that boy. It was all in fun. They never hurt him physically, but they absolutely would not play WITH him. 

Creative Commons image by Guilherme Jofili

Creative Commons image by Guilherme Jofili

I sat my kids down privately to understand the issue. 

"The leader doesn't want him to play," my daughter said

Why does he get to decide?

"We want him to be the leader. He knows how to make fun," she explains.

My son, younger and less verbal, just shrugs. He admits he doesn't feel great about leaving that one boy out, but he wants to play with the boys. He'll go along with whatever, even if it makes him feel a bad sometimes.

Finally, I directly witnessed the ringleader directing kids to gang up on the boy with a disability. So, I told the ringleader he was in time-out. He went to time-out but told me, "You can't make us play with him." 

The mother of the ringleader arrived shortly and took over. She told him, "That's not nice," and let him go. 

I gritted my teeth and started another Uno game. 

It wasn't really a new issue in this group, except before the issue had been me among the grown-ups. We have come to this group for four years now. During the third year, I was extremely frustrated. The same group of people met each time, and I still did not know who was who because people were never introduced again and I couldn't see their faces. When I asked, I was given awkward answers and then avoided.

Other parents formed little groups of friends within the support group and I was left on the outside. Once I was even explicitly told to give up my seat at a lunchroom table because a large group wanted to sit together and I wasn't invited. I was directed to sit outside the lunchroom in an area where there were large tables but also wasps that made the area less desirable. 

It was far from a "support group" for me. I only went for the kids to be with peers like them. But then one of the organizers decided to make the theme of this year's meeting be "the inclusion of people with disabilities," because her friend with the disabled child would be attending for the first time. 

I was asked for ideas for a disability awareness program. They wanted me to develop a blindness simulation, so people could see how rough it is to be blind. But the only ideas I am particularly interested in have to do with the social aspects of disability.

It isn't that rough to be blind. It's occasionally inconvenient. But it is rough to have people react to you being blind. 

The organizers weren't happy. My suggestions were ignored and the theme went ahead with little physical demonstrations of blindness and deafness. Gritting my teeth, I focused on the one thing I could explain in this context--that is the difficulty of recognizing faces when you are visually impaired. And somehow I managed to get through to the adults for the first time. By the end of the week, I knew everyone's name and could identify most by voice, stature or idiosyncrasies. It was a vast relief and I was even included in some conversations after that. 

Still, the child with a disability in our midst was left out and forced to play card games with the grown-ups. 

Toward the end of the week-long workshop, a guest came to give a presentation to our group. He was a man of the same minority background as the children in the group. Most of the guests to such a group are women, people in "caring" professions. So, having a male guest was a big deal.

The little boys were agog at this role model. He was buff, brash and a man. He had grown up in the ghetto and become the first minority city counsel member in his good-sized town.

He quickly noticed the disharmony among the children. As it turned out, once the disabled boy had been fully rejected from the pack of kids, the leader needed another target. And this time it was my son--quiet, not too well coordinated and younger than most. 

He joined me at the Uno table and pretended he didn't care much.

Our male guest gathered all the kids who had been involved in the shunning of the boy with a disability--and most of them were boys in this case--out on the soccer field and talked to them. The dynamics quickly became apparent. 

"I don't have to be friends with everyone," the ringleader said. "My father says I've got to be assertive. It's his problem if he's too weak to be in our club."

The man tried to reason with them and talked about compassion. He asked how they would feel if they were left out.

"I won't be left out," the ringleader said. "I'll make sure of that."

The other kids watched their leader and he did not back down. They learned. The adults were unwilling to lay down a law on this. Shunning may not be nice, but it isn't explicitly against the rules.

Creative Commons image by Duane Storey

Creative Commons image by Duane Storey

The session on the soccer field broke up without any resolution. But I held back from leaving because I wanted to get an email address from the guest, who I greatly admired, although he seemed a bit lost being called in to help mediate this conflict among the children.

As the others trailed away, the ringleader among the kids and one of his closest friends stood with the man from the ghetto, their admired role model. I waited patiently for him to finish with them, so I could ask for his contact information.

"My father says there are people called Neo-nazis who might hurt me because I'm not white," the leader of the kids' pack admitted to the man, his voice still strong but his stance clearly seeking some reassurance or support from this strong mirror of himself.

The man told him, "That's true. Some people are like that, but here is the thing you need to remember. Not many people are like that. Only a few. Most people are good."

I have a hard time with my big mouth. The man hesitated. He rocked from foot to foot, obviously struggling for words.

And the words popped out before I could stop them, "And that is a good reason, why you should be friends with as many people as you can. You never know when you'll need them at your back." 

The man jabbed his finger at me. "Yes! That is the thing! That is it!" 

He was clearly grateful to be rescued from an awkward issue of teaching morals to children--particularly a moral concept that adults don't actually observe all that well. We grinned at one another. A pact of the grown-ups with a quick comeback.

I do mean it though. Sure, no one can force you to be friends with the less cool, the ones who take a bit of extra effort--whether it's a kid on the playground who you have to work to communicate with or a grown-up who can't recognize faces. But hard times are coming and you may need just such friends. There is no friend more steadfast than those who have been on the outside.

Still. I acknowledge that mine was an easy answer, given to kids. I think back to my own childhood, when I struggled with social ostracism on a daily basis. There is a part of that memory I don't like to think on. There was a kid in my school for a time who was very strange in appearance due to a physical deformity.

He was smart and nice, but he looked strange even to my weak eyes. He was also not cool. He didn't have the kind of forceful personality that can negate physical difference. And so, even though I said "Hi" to him on the street and in the halls, I was never really friends with him. I yearned always toward the kids who were moving and doing things. Even I, who should have known better. did it. 

Now I swear I'll do better. Instead of looking around for who I want to be with, I'll look around for who is there and ready. 

She said it in 2016

My predictions for the next four... or ten years

I don't particularly want to be political on my blog, but this election was a call to all of us. It is past time we look at how this happened.

I know you're probably sick of politics at the moment. Frankly, so am I. It all seems too depressing and also confusing. It feels like talking about it does nothing but dig us into despair and negativity.

Here's the thing though. I have seen every part of this coming. When I was in my twenties and organizing international anti-war protests and one of my best friends was from Syria, I shocked her by predicting that her country was next. I could have been a bit more gentle about my horribly accurate prediction, but I saw the writing on the wall--wiggly, magnifying-glass eyes or no. 

A year ago, I also predicted Trump as president. I was confused all winter and spring about why people thought there was any contest in the Republican primary. I never had a moment's doubt about the Republican nominee.

Creative Commons image by Joseph Delgadillo

Creative Commons image by Joseph Delgadillo

Still if Donald Trump wasn't here, it would be someone else. This year or next time. This moment was a long time coming. I say that because I understand on a gut level the frustrations and alienation that led many Trump supporters to support him and to accept and even wallow in such hateful and bigoted statements, as well as to applaud irrational and extremely vague economic proposals. 

I am from Oregon, but the eastern, rural, Christian, conservative part of Oregon. My family were weirdos there with our internationalist, counterculture and often leftist thinking. But still. I understand Trump supporters. Partly because I grew up near them. Partly because I share their most basic root frustrations.

No, of course, I don't agree with them on everything or support Trump. But when you look under the racism, bigotry, fear-mongering and undefined-corporate economic concepts, you find people who feel disenfranchised because they never had anyone to vote FOR. They always had to choose the lesser of evils in a broken two-party system in which candidates never talk about the real issues.

Social media changed that this time; that, and Donald Trump's private media empire.. Let's face it. This election was not about who looked better or who had better speech writers and snazzier campaign ads as it often has been. This election, for the first time in my life, was about issues. It's sad that it was about racism, fear of foreigners and taxes for poor people, but there were real issues raised, issues that were previously taboo. 

Trump supporters in the parts of the US that I know well--that terrifying red swath through the middle of the country--are people struggling with the same root fury I have felt for years. But they were struggling with much less access to information and education, struggling in a society that never let the world (I mean the world beyond US borders) in.

Clinton supporters I know are out on social media right now bemoaning the election of Trump and yet repeating the very strange conviction that "America is still the best deal on earth," as if most of Europe, parts of the Middle East and good parts of Asia didn't have better education, health care, standards of living and just about everything else. Barack Obama convened congressional debates on health care early in his presidency and would not allow members of Congress who supported European-style single-payer health care to even participate in the debate.

And we are surprised that many Americans lack information and their frustration turns to bigotry?

If we limit choices to two parties which officially predetermine which issues can be brought up in televised debates, if we keep our school system focused on our own country's history and political system alone, if we allow news media to be controlled by a few naturally self-interested corporations, if we allow corporations to run almost every aspect of our society, we should not be surprised at the results.

Yes, this election was real democracy (except for the part about Bernie Sanders, the candidate with the most vehement supporters, being artificially cut out). This election reflects the frustration and lack of choice and the segregation of information that is rampant in our society.

Don't blame Trump. And don't blame Trump supporters. There are reasons for this.

As for Bernie Sanders, he is the only political candidate I have ever fully supported. That is primarily because I have known and closely watched him for twenty-odd years and I am convinced he was the real deal. I loved those months when Sanders looked like hope, but deep down I feared that the leadership of the parties would never stand for it. I also predicted that the next president would be a Republican. Sanders made me wonder for a while there because of the unpredictable influence of social media, but that was really only wishful thinking, given the impact of corporate media.

Where do all my predictions and statements about society come from? I am not a pollster or even a media junkie. I have been accused of almost never watching the news lately.  But I do keep up and follow important events. I observe the emotions of groups of people. My original profession was journalism and I was most known for drawing out the views of all sides in controversies. I heard out the fears of Czech Neo-Nazis and then walked across the street to a Romani ghetto and heard that side of the issue.

It isn't so much about knowing facts and polls, as it is about listening to people.

So, I have a few things to say in 2016 that I don't think you will want to believe. That's fine. I'm going to say them anyway and in four or five years, I'm going to dig this post out again and check how I did.

  1. Trump will be very bad for us and life will go on. Most of us will live and I will probably not be homeless in four years.
  2. Trump supporters will be told that their economic woes and feeling of disenfranchisement is not improving because of foreigners, Black people, the very poor (including people with disabilities) and other groups they should be against. For that reason, they probably will not be disillusioned with Trump as fast as we would hope.
  3. But their underlying frustrations, which stem from a lack of true choice in US politics and the heavily consumerist, corporate-led society, will remain unsatisfied. Unless something in the media changes radically, most Americans will continue to confuse the systems of corporations with the concept of "big government."
  4. Climate change is the most important threat to our survival. Extreme authoritarian religious groups are the other major threat--be they fundamentalist churches in the US or Islamic extremism (i.e. Trump or ISIS).
  5. Putin is not nearly as bad as Trump. He is in power and will generally stay there. If he has to imprison a few journalists to stay in power or keep his picked successor in power, he will, but he will use intelligent international and military strategies that are good for Russia and only incidentally good or bad for anyone else. His main concerns are what is good for Russia and his power in Russia.
  6. There will be other extremist groups that look like ISIS. There will be many refugees. There will be famine and huge waves of millions of refugees within ten years. Europe will build walls against them. And the US will shut down immigration from those areas.
  7. Climate change will not produce very many Hollywood-worthy disaster moments. Oh, there will be ever worse hurricanes, but mostly the dry lands will get drier. Violence will become more and more "normal." Resources will be more and more stretched. Life will become harder slowly enough that most people will not realize that much of the hardship is caused by climate change. But for the next ten years at least, we will keep struggling on. 
  8. History books will one day remember that a very important and dire world event happened in November of 2016 and it will have to do with the Dakota Access Pipeline and the many other pipelines being laid for frantic fossil fuel projects, not the election. I'm serious. In the long-run, that will probably be more historically important and our generation will look back and wonder why we were so distracted and didn't see it. 
  9. And after all that, I predict we'll still be here in 2030. I think life will be hard and we'll look back on this as a time with simpler problems and easier decisions. Our kids will not understand why we couldn't do better. But we will not live in a post-apocalyptic world. We will live in a stressful daily grind in which resources are limited and the cost of poverty is very high in terms of disease and mortality. There will never be a moment--more than now at least--when we can say the apocalypse has come. 

And we'll have to deal with all of that sooner or later. The sooner we start to take it seriously the better prepared we'll be.. 

Now is the time to put your energy into what you believe. Now is the time for solar panels, for learning self sufficiency and for building local communities. Now is the time for preparing for hard times and making sure we have the skills to survive.

This is the time to be serious and think hard about what we spend our time and money on. Is it TV and Facebook or is it learning to grow food and overcome antibiotic resistant bacteria with complex natural compounds? Is it buying another new car or is it about putting twenty percent of your income into one thing that might make a long-term difference.

This isn't about a catastrophe scenario. This is about right now. Live what you believe. If what you believe is not consumerism and TV (i.e. supporting corporations), then don't do it. There is much to be done.