Occupy: D.C., New York, Davis or where-have-you

I’d hate for my readers to think that my few comments about the Occupy movement suggests I’m uninterested. Far from it. Indeed, I’m very mad and deeply concerned about yesterday’s pepper-spraying of student demonstrators at University of California Davis. Google for it, if you’ve not seen this now-iconic photograph.

But I comment mostly by Twitter, Identi.ca, Google+ and Facebook.  And if you have the means to support your closest Occupy encampment, I encourage you to do so.

Preparing for "Buy Nothing Day"

Is a lingering sense of disgust that makes “Buy Nothing Day” so especially appealing this year? That is, the deliberate decision to not shop on the Friday (or whole weekend) following Thanksgiving, in preparation for a trimmed-down or even shopping-free Christmas holiday. Certainly the campaign, long supported by Adbusters magazine, has special resonance because this is the same source of the poster that inspired the Occupy Wall Street encampment and movement. (They also do an anti-branding and “digital detox” campaign that I’ve seen many allusions to.)

And I won’t fight the “but don’t you need food” canard. Peeling back impulse shopping, therapeutic shopping, class-positioning shopping and stress shopping is the key. I’d buy oatmeal at any time, but am training myself to avoid so-called status goods always.

First step: get off of catalog lists. Even in these web-web-web days, I get many catalogs and I don’t think I asked for any of them. Fortunately, most catalog merchants seem to know that bearing the cost of the printing and postage for no return is useless and so give you an easy out. I used to recommend calling the catalog centers, but increasingly you can opt-out by the same web. Plus, it’s such a waste of paper.

Overwhelmed by them? You can start by going to Catalog Choice and opting out. I did, and suspect it has helped. (It can also help clear out the catalogs you get.)

Welcome baby â„– 7,000,000,000

So, the seventh billion human being alive was born today — more or less — the U.S. Census estimates the world will reach seven billion next March. Not much of a difference to me.

There were just over half that many when I was born, and in four decades time there could easily be more than nine billion.

Even if one is skeptical about human-generated climate change, peak oil or environmental degradation, just the amazing heft of that many people demanding the current level of resources seems an improbable effort with that many more people. And shouldn’t the poorest and most vulnerable reasonably demand easier and more reliable access to food and water? energy and communication? housing and just government? education and health care? And just plain old peace?

Orienting resources and talent to this problem seem like key questions — and questions that persons of faith should take seriously. An aesthetic or esoteric faith fails morally when it treats the welfare of billions as an added optional extra.

The new national weight loss plan

Over the years, I’ve tried to lose weight and am fully aware of what works for me (eating high-fiber, low-fat vegetarian food; counting and recording calories) and what doesn’t (everything else).

My reasons for trying to lose weight, however, have changed. The vain reasons of youth have become the health-preservation demands of middle age. Why, to you the reader, might this matter?

Because it meshes well with one of two ideas I have about the Occupy movements. On the one hand, by pushing the political expectations of the country (I can’t speak to how it plays out overseas) to the left, and by encouraging activists, I think there is more possibility for an equitable political solution. (The main line of the Democratic party isn’t going to do it.) What does that have to do with weight loss? Nothing.

The other hand suggests that the fight is going to be generations-long and that the reliable help that comes will be softer, smaller-scale and sometimes insufficient. Encouragement over aid. Solidarity over programs. Pig-headedness, perhaps, over leadership. It means we’re going to have to take care of our own health, finances, social affairs and even religious needs even while others profit unfairly from our labor and government remains unresponsive to citizen demands. It means preparing ourselves bravely and creatively to have less. Sounds very tiring, but this situation has been decades in the making.

So I’m trying to lose weight to stave off diabetes and coronary disease, and rely on the support of a few good friends to make it happen. It may not be enough, but If that’s as much health care as some people have. Time, I think, to consider self-care — not in that sickly-sweet way ministers once talked about among themselves — and solidarity action. And if that works, then why not housing, food, tools, education and religion? I would rather starve the forces that try to control us than surrender.

Let’s start with the “too big to not be bailed out” banks. Then move to abusive multinationals and the producers of goods who finance the corrupt system we see. That I’m hungry for.

Being better than valueless, worthless

Today, I read an interesting and compelling article in The Atlantic magazine website called “The Bitch Is Back” by Sandra Tsing Loh. If you’re menopausal, perimenopausal or know someone who is, do read this because it asks — with women’s lifespans being so much longer than they once were — what hormonal or nuturing normality is. In the middle of the article, she throws out, this:

On the one hand, as a longtime veteran of the nonprofit world, I can no longer afford to humor the endless requests to do everything for free, particularly because no one treats you worse than the penniless.

Well, ain’t that just true, or at least true enough. With the caveat that those organizations that think they’re penniless are just as bad, while some people who have little can be remarkably giving and realistic about money. On the one hand, I think there’s the legacy presumption that if you volunteer or contribute to a lean nonprofit then you are supposed to understand and forgive shortcuts and rough manners. Also, I suspect (without evidence) that lean nonprofits — including churches — are full of people who serve and serve and serve, and don’t have much left to give. And then there’s simple forgetfulness and inertia.

No great thoughts, except that

  • perhaps church people shouldn’t be so quick to make services or events free of charge,
  • that a deposit (returned in part or full) is an incentive to take activities more seriously,
  • that plans are made that undervalue the time and expertise of volunteers, and
  • that there should be budgets to support (transport, feed, train, say) volunteers, to hire help or both.

Because nobody can — or should have to be – nurturing or giving all the time.


Having banks on the brain

A person I respect — wise, patient and politically savvy — asked me credit unions today. It seems the excesses of the large, national banks, epitomized by their recent collective fee increases, led him to consider a credit union in place of the large national bank that he uses.

I mention this, not to suggest that everyone would join a credit union or that he is cheap or petulant, but to consider how we choose to give over power, in this case financial and social power. These banks are “too big to fail” both in their political power and their hold — as impressive, important institutions — in our own consciences. And so it’s easy for them (at least easier than what you and I) to extract government support, defense from industry and — at the end — profits from customers. But if you remember that there are alternatives to the banks — or Facebook, or particular retailers or even churches — even if the best alternative is “none of the above.” And once you realize you can live without something, you’re in a better position to choose how your money, effort and influence works to what you believe in. A simple thought, but worth repeating. And one of the reasons I buy American-made clothing and don’t eat animals.

For the record, if you live, work, study or worship in the District of Columbia — one of their membership classification — I can recommend Signal Financial Federal Credit Union. And here’s my last blog post on local credit unions, at the beginning (2008) of the current economic crisis. Read it for the comments.

Three thoughts before . . .

Later. Not tonight — a delay — but not a stay.

Troy Davis will almost certainly be executed tonight in my home state, Georgia. It seems improper not to say something, but I will keep my thoughts brief.

  1. There’s no reason to think Troy Davis has to be a saint. He needn’t be a saint, only innocent of the crime and there are enough people I esteem who challenge his guilt for me to pay attention.
  2. The fatalism of those content — or willing — to see the execution take place undercuts the very idea of justice.
  3. I have long been uniformly opposed to the death penalty, but have been taken by those who uphold it to take exception in this case.

This execution is one of several episodes in recent months that makes me wonder if the United States is irrevocably damaged. I hope there’ll be an eleventh-hour stay, but I’m quite doubtful and rueful.

Righting the bad news from Somalia?

There’s nothing good about the news coming from Somalia. Or the Somaliland area. Or whatever you want to call that drought-stricken place that’s among the most lawless in the world, the transitional government notwithstanding. But serious, concerned people have an interest in knowing what’s happening there and helping, so far as within us lies.

Much of the food aid is being stolen and resold. That makes the starving children — 400,000 are a risk of a starvation death, per the UK development minister (video) — the hostages of those hoodlums who, in essence, holding them hostage before a starving world. (And in essence, the same thing done by that most repressive of governments, North Korea. Let’s not forget them.)

Leads one to despair.

So I’m asking if anyone has heard a good analysis of the situation, or better, know of a group that has been more effective in securing food for vulnerable, hungry people. Understamd, then act.

Distracted by the news

I’m not one of nature’s optimists, but these last couple of weeks have been worse than usual. The national political theater has become, if anything, farce. A double-dip recession seems likely. The Arab Spring is rotting on the vine.

I’m upset and distracted. Making plans is difficult and suffering fools almost impossible. I’m trying hard to not fall into selfish concerns and betraying my stated faith. I know I’m not the only person who’s tetchy.

Feel free to comment if you need to vent.