Monthly Archives: December 2011
In “Fuck Your Prayer, Show Me Solidarity,” posted 12-15 on killingthebuddha.com, Kristin Rawls tells her “coming-out story in an age of predatory credit…the story of a good girl from a quiet town who prayed, studied hard, said no to drugs, and otherwise did everything she was told,” then found herself – where she remains – living in a modern debtors’ prison.
“I grew up in an evangelical home, and was an earnest “liberal-evangelical” into my early twenties,” Rawls says. “Now I think that my former religious faith – not unlike my faith in the U.S. higher education system – gave me a warped sense of optimism about the way the world works.”
Issues of debt and default, Rawls notes, are so “cloaked in shame and humiliation that many of us stay silent…Financial struggle is associated with sloth in this country.” Because of her “low credit score,” Rawls has “trouble finding stable employment,” and has to work low-paying temporary jobs and spend all her free time writing “as many freelance articles as I can convince anyone to pay me for…I am thirty-one years old. I am not a drug user. I am not an alcoholic. My crime is that I went to school, and then I got sick…
I’m among America’s brightest and best educated. If you came across me in a social setting, you might mistake me for a middle- or upper-middle-class person. This is because I ‘pass’ pretty well. However, I’m not able to get jobs that match my skills, because employers assume based on my credit score that I’m lazy and incompetent. I’ve never done anything irresponsible except having gone to school. I’m the new face of financial ruin in this country…
I’m not telling you these things to facilitate a bonding experience or to bare my soul. I’m coming to believe that refusing to be silenced by shame is the first step in fighting predatory student lenders, that the only way to decouple financial struggle from shame is to normalize it, one person at a time.”
Rawls says that, growing up, her parents and mentors all encouraged her to “follow her dreams, no matter what they cost. So I took out loans,” and went to college and graduate school in international relations. “I decided I wanted to be a professor. I loved the academy, and I was good at asking tough, big-picture questions that got to the heart of things. I was at the top of my class, and I was physically healthy. I’ve never been a big spender, and I saw no reason why I couldn’t live on the stipend of $14,000 per year I’d be receiving from the Penn State PhD program that admitted me. I knew it was risky, but I saw it as a bet on myself. My intellect had never let me down before. I don’t come from a wealthy family, and there would be no cushion if I didn’t fast-track my way to tenure, but I thought I could make it…
Not long after I began my PhD program, I was diagnosed with lupus, a life-threatening autoimmune disease. I soon found that my health insurance was designed for young, healthy people, not people who develop serious diseases in their late twenties…For over a year, I suffered through a major lupus flare, unable to lift my arms for more than a couple of seconds without excruciating pain. I had trouble getting around, and often arrived late at the morning classes I taught. I had to borrow large amounts of money from Sallie Mae and Citibank, because my insurance didn’t cover all my healthcare expenses. When your doctors say you could have ‘vital organ involvement leading to premature death,’ do you worry about the cost, or about your vital organs? I didn’t want to die, so I took out as many loans as I had to, and before long, I had to drop out of school. Now I understand why so many people who are mired in this sort of debt contemplate suicide. I’m not suicidal, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to run on rage indefinitely.”
Rawls then relates her some of her experiences with evangelical Christians – and evangelical Christian groups – professing to care about economic and social justice, while ignoring issues of class. Many of them, she says, claim to be “sympathetic” with the Occupy movement, but concerned about the 1%, because “God loves them, too.” Here’s where we get to the part I struggle with, because spiritual beliefs back up what I say and do as well, and I strive for inclusiveness, nonviolence, love, etc.
Rawls again: “Occupy Wall Street isn’t perfect, but it’s the first sustained critique of class injustice in this country in my lifetime.” The problem of poverty is structural, systemic – not just a matter of creating more jobs. There are also billions of people around the world who’ve been struggling with poverty for generations, often because of first and second world vs. third world privilege. Donating to charities isn’t going to change that either. Rawls insists that only concrete action, real societal changes, will correct unjust balances of power – justice can’t be achieved just through love, prayer, and meditation, as many spiritual people seem to believe. As she says: “Notwithstanding the fact that ‘love’ is perhaps the vaguest, most unhelpful political prescription of all time, this kind of thinking removes any analysis of power from the conversation. It falsely presumes that we all enter the conversation on equal footing. Everyone is so busy preaching ‘unity’ and ‘loving one another’ that there’s never any interrogation of privilege or power.” The message Rawls feels she’s getting is “Love your oppressors. ‘Love’ rhetoric is less pronounced in secular society, but we’re accustomed to being silenced because we have a ‘mean tone.’ We’re asked to speak more respectfully so that we can earn a hearing. We’re taught to submit to our oppressors. We’re being angry and irrational, and it’s our job to make everyone comfortable.
Rawls refuses to be pitied or objectified, saying, “I’m unlucky…not ‘downtrodden.’ I’m pissed off. I don’t want your prayers or an invitation to your church, and I’m not interested in discussing ‘the poor’ as if they’re some kind of abstract concept…If it makes you feel better, go ahead and dismiss me as ‘bitter,’ but I’m not. I’m outraged. I want ‘fellowship’ with people who are outraged with me, and who practice solidarity by showing up when it matters and advocating for real economic justice – shutting down predatory lenders like Sallie Mae and Citibank…I want to turn the shame machine back on you, and I want to invite others like me to come out and stand up against your paternalism. You’re not helping me. You don’t speak for me. I’m the new poor. I did all the right things, but now I’m part of the systematic erosion of the bourgeoisie in America that started with home foreclosures and went on to student debt. Occupy Student Debt just released a video suggesting that one in five new graduates will default. We have no bankruptcy protection, usually meaning that our credit is ruined for life. And credit is tied to everything in this country. In some states, you can actually lose your driver’s – or professional – license for student loan default. We’re talking about a large segment of my generation losing its future.
And we’re being blamed. We had so many opportunities. How could we squander them, and then turn around and blame our lenders? Without them, we never could have gone to school! And we shouldn’t have, in any case, if we couldn’t afford it. We’re thieves! We’re irresponsible! I think these kinds of insults reaffirm our certainty that these awful things could never happen to us. One of my goals here is to show you that they can. If you feel that this is solely my fault, that I should have known better, and that the predatory lenders in question bear no responsibility, I invite you to stop calling yourself my ‘friend.’ Real friendship doesn’t come in the form of paternalistic charity from the powerful to the weak. I don’t want crumbs from your share of the non-profit industrial charity complex – I want you to fight with me for a world in which I don’t need charity. So, stand up and join the class war, please, or get out of my way. Don’t expect me to be grateful for your prayers. I have survival to worry about, literally.”
We’re told that when Mary and Joseph were looking for a place to spend the night in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, there was “no room at the inn.” They were forced to take refuge in a stable, where their baby, Jesus, was born, rekindling the light. I thought of this when I read yesterday on the Democracy Now website that 1.6 million children in the United States (one in 45 kids) were homeless at some point last year. The National Center on Family Homelessness, which released this study, said the child homelessness rate has jumped 33 percent since 2007. Wow — proud to be an American.
I’m also thinking about “no room at the inn” in conjunction with our local Occupy movement, which is apparently going to be evicted from its site — on public property — any day now, after bending over backwards to accommodate the requests of the police and City Council. They went so far, in fact, that glaring spotlights are now trained all night on the camp, and police are stationed there 24-7, turning the encampment of peaceful protestors and new-culture-modelers into a prison/gulag. If the police wanted to protect the camp against crimes committed by the homeless mentally ill and substance abusers attracted to it, they could have stepped up patrols in the neighborhood, but that obviously wasn’t their purpose. They just wanted to cast the camp in a negative light, preparatory to breaking it up.
The break-up will be a breach of the hard-won agreement between camp leaders and city council a few days ago that the camp could stay in place till January 11th. No reason or explanation given.
No room at the inn for the homeless, whatever their age or numbers, or for idealists willing to offer them a place in their midst, no matter how difficult that turns out to be.
A piece on last week’s “60 Minutes” showed bulldozers in Cleveland tearing down perfectly good houses no one wants to buy in hopes that the remaining houses won’t lose any more of their value. Apparently, the vacant houses attract thieves who strip them of anything of value on the ground floor, including plumbing and siding. If banks would renegotiate mortgages according to the current, rather than the previous value of these homes, people could afford to stay in them, but they won’t, so everyone loses.
Where have all those people gone? Have they found an inn?
Instead of taking these things on the chin as individuals — blaming ourselves for our “failure” to “make it,” we need to band together and put the responsibility where it belongs: on a failed system. Then refuse to be foreclosed, have our camps broken up, and just go off and die because the system doesn’t need us anymore.
Capitalism: how’s it workin’ for ya? The ones it is workin’ for will keep crushing the ones it isn’t workin’ for as long as we let them. Let’s ignore the dog and pony show of the election, Congress, and all that, and get together on this! Nonviolently if we can.
The bottom line is the inherent right of every man, woman, and child — whoever and wherever they are, and whatever they have or haven’t done — to respect and dignity. If you don’t recognize that right, in your actions as well as your words, I suggest you take another look at yourself. The practice is difficult, but it’s what that little baby grew up to preach, and it’s still the best ideal I know of.
May the peace and brother/sisterhood of the season touch you. Pass it on…
A friend has written a great blog post on the Occupy movement that I’d like to share. J. notes that our local Occupy encampment is being done in “by their desire to comply with the city and police,” who are planning to evict them from their current site regardless in a few weeks. She wonders what “of value will grow from their efforts,” and, by extension from the efforts of all the Occupiers.
“One of the biggest frustrations for those observing the Occupy movement is that it doesn’t appear to have an agenda, goals, or demands.” Some movement participants and supporters are also concerned about this. It’s okay though, J. says, because the movement’s not about reforming the current system from above, but a chance for all of us average people ‘down below’ to learn “how to create a society in which everyone has value, everyone is supported in achieving their greatest potential, ideas and resources are shared equitably, responsibilities are shouldered by all, and conflict is resolved to the benefit of all. In short, a society based on partnership rather than domination.”
J. says that while “many in the media or general population and even some in the movement” don’t see this, enough of the powers-that-be do, which is “why the movement is being shut down by violent means.” Allowing “a large group of people to become successful in creating a model society in which everyone works cooperatively to create equity and justice is a threat to the current paradigm. If the general citizenry stops being a tool for building wealth for a handful of individuals, if we begin to think for ourselves, and use our creativity to live in harmony with one another and in balance with the natural world without the help of experts and governments, the possibility for exploiting anyone is lost. Those who have benefited from this exploitation are willing to intimidate and even kill to end the experiment.”
J. suggests that rather than retaliating for the shutdown of Occupy sites (as was done 12-12-11 when West coast ports were shut down by Occupy activists), we should continue to create a better society where we are, even if we don’t have public sites on which to do it. Making “visible the possibility of living another way” was a good start, J. says, but “it had some drawbacks. It was about what all of us are against (corruption and exploitation) rather than what most of us are for – human rights. It’s a whole lot harder to create the necessary new social infrastructure that promotes human rights than to rail against the social infrastructure that denies” them.
The system thinks it’s “made sure that the citizenry has no place to assemble long enough to learn how to get along. It refuses the use of a place to allow people to feed and shelter themselves, to learn how to monitor all kinds of human behavior, and to develop their own methods of self-governance. The only way a large group can come together in such a way is to buy property and follow all the rigid rules and regulations that limit experimenting with what works for humans.” This “keeps everyone trapped in money making efforts, and robs them of time and energy to build the social and physical infrastructure necessary for self-sufficiency. This has been the tactic of [our local] authorities: make the occupants of the site comply with so many rules and regulations (or face bulldozing) that they have no time to accomplish anything of value.” I’d also point out that it keeps the effort private and largely invisible.
Thanks to “the brave souls who took to the streets so some of us might recognize what’s possible,” the nation’s “become energized,” and possibilities exist “with or without occupation sites. We can continue to be visible in ways that inspire and invite people across the demographic spectrum to participate in throwing off the shackles of oppression through nonviolent actions of community building. It’s hard for the police-state machine to threaten and imprison neighbors who get together for potlucks, grow their own food, share resources, develop their own ways to take care of their children and elderly, and incorporate the valuable skills and energy of their young adults. When the police and members of governments join their neighbors in building something that works for them, too, it’ll be hard to find anyone willing to enforce inhumane laws.
This is my goal,” J. says. “To find ways, with many others, to develop self-sufficient communities that bring about a natural demise of systems of exploitation, oppression, and violence.”
Yes! Petitioning, trying to change, voting within, and resisting the system give it energy and wastes yours. Ignore the current system — it’s in its death throes anyway — and create something better. Visit www.eugenemutualaidsociety.org to learn more about how some of us in Eugene, OR are trying to do this.
Occupy Oakland and organized labor have issued a call to the Occupy movement and workers to blockade the ports in San Diego, LA, Oakland, Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, and Houston on Monday, December 12th. At the same time, Occupy Anchorage, Occupy Denver, and Occupy Wall Street will target Goldman Sachs and Walmart.
Boots Riley, an organizer with Occupy Oakland explained that “Occupy Oakland called for this massive coordinated blockade as a way to strike back at the 1% after their attacks on the Occupy movement and their continued assault on working and poor people. Our action is aimed at Wall Street on the Waterfront and is in solidarity with the struggles of port workers in LA and Longview, WA.” Longshoremen in Longview are currently in a bitter fight with the multinational grain exporter EGT, and port truckers in LA are fighting to unionize against Goldman Sachs-owned SSA.
Organizers of the port blockade see the actions planned for next Monday as an important next step for Occupy. In recent weeks, Occupy activists across the country have expanded far beyond encampments and are now targeting large financial institutions, fighting foreclosures, reclaiming public space, and marching on valuable sources of profit for the 1%. “In shutting down the ports we act in solidarity, not only with trade unionists under attack, but with the 89% of the working class with no trade union to represent them,” said Mike King, an organizer with Occupy Oakland.
Scott Olsen, the Iraq War veteran critically injured by police during a November 25 attack on Occupy Oakland, said he looked forward to “standing tall with our longshoremen,” noting that, as union members say, “an injury to one is an injury to all. The only ones who will tell you otherwise are those that want to continue profiting off your backs.”
For more information please visit: westcoastportshutdown.org. For those who live here in Eugene, OR, though Occupy Eugene isn’t included in the above website’s list of participating groups, people from Eugene are driving up to Portland to participate in training tomorrow and the action on Monday. I don’t have contact info for anyone in this group, but, if you’re interested, you can go to the Occupy Portland website. Alternatively, you could drive down to Coos Bay and join Occupiers there, who will be gathering at the port offices at 10 AM on Monday in solidarity with the West Coast Port occupations and to protest the proposed coal export terminal.
Here’s a letter from the Eugene Weekly that I have to share with you, it hits all the points so well:
OCCUPY THE HEART
We may be the 99 percent of the U.S. population, but as American citizens, we are still the wealthy elite of the global population. We are among the 1 percent with access to a college education, highly quality health care and clean drinking water. As broken as our political system is, we still posses a great deal more political freedom than our brothers and sisters of the less “developed” nations of the world, the people whom we directly oppress through our daily support of the very same corporations we decry.
We buy shoes manufactured by abused children working in sweatshops in Asia. We use cell phones and computers containing rare and toxic elements controlled by guerrilla forces in central Africa, killing innocent civilians and endangered species in the crossfire. We eat bananas, sugar and chocolate grown on slave plantations throughout Latin America. We further desecrate and pollute our own land through resource extraction and the dumping of toxic waste.
We are collectively responsible for the resource wars being fought across the globe. We maintain our consumer lifestyle at the expense of all others. We are all conditioned by our parents, school teachers, government “representatives,” corporate media, etc. to accept this short-sighted and self-centered version of the American dream.
We could all use a bit more love and compassion from our friends and neighbors. However, if we are going to survive as a species (or evolve beyond our present circumstances), we are all going to need to make some very drastic changes in the way that we relate to one another and the more-than-human world.
The one thing I have discovered which has never failed is the willingness to listen to the heart. Through meditation and/or contemplative practices we are able to deepen our connection to a source of strength and clarity which is needed now more than ever.
Nathaniel Nordin-Tuininga, Eugene