Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Millennials and the Commons

Posted by Caitlin Endyke

As an early-twenty-something reading through the New York Times this morning, one headline in particular caught my eye- “Do Milliennials Stand a Chance in the Real World?”  The article, written by Annie Lowrey, goes on to talk about everything I’ve heard before- as a generation that entered the workforce during the depth of the recession, we are likely to continue to experience the effects of the economic downturn for the rest of our lives, both emotionally and economically.  We are the first generation since the great depression where our earning potential as individuals is likely to fall below that of our parents’.  It’s nothing we haven’t heard before.  

Yet this piece did bring up an interesting thought- is the millennial generation, because our most formative years were spent under the shadow of 9/11, the collapse of the housing market, and the subsequent recession, most affected by income inequality? This article alleges that Milliennials, more than any other generation, think American economic policies only benefit the wealthy. Consequently, they have caught up the “We are the 99%” rallying cry perhaps more than any other group.  

Because of this, could the millennial generation, even for all they’ve been often criticized for, become the generation to most support commons-based policies?  They’ve grown up in a time where the profit-driven market clearly did not serve them well, so could they imagine a different and more inclusive model?  When contemplating an audience that is most primed for the Commons-based argument, perhaps those parents' basement-dwelling, student loan-paying, over-stressed twenty-somethings would be the most receptive.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Organizing+Education+Service+Policy = Profound and Lasting Change

Posted by Kim Klein

The Christian Science Monitor of Feb 25, 2013 has an article titled, “US Domestic Violence Falls:  It’s down 64% between 1994 and 2010.”  I read this article with great interest because I started my fundraising career in the domestic violence movement.

I was a seminary student in 1976 and had to do a field placement as part of my studies.  I did it at La Casa de las Madres  which was (and remains) the domestic violence program serving the county of San Francisco, CA.  They had just opened a shelter which was the first in California and the fifth to open in the United States.   We were then called the “battered women’s movement” which started in England when Erin Pizzey and others opened the first shelter  in Chiswick in 1970.  The first shelter in the USA opened in St. Paul, MN in 1973 and the movement got quite a bit of publicity when Erin Pizzey published the groundbreaking, “Scream Quietly or the Neighbors Will Hear” in 1974. 

La Casa was in a large funky house and  was chaotic and badly run.  (La Casa moved a few times when the address of the shelter would become too well known, but I mostly worked in one location.)  I would arrive for my shift and be told we didn’t have enough food for the residents for whatever the next meal was and I needed to find some free food fast.  Having no idea how to do that, I would go from church to church to see if they had food in their pantries they could give us.  Thus dinner might be all kidney beans and ketchup or breakfast might be apple juice and canned spaghetti.  We always seemed to have a lot of kids and they actually liked the food but it was not nutritious or well balanced.  

The women we were sheltering were, of course, traumatized and sometimes took it out on each other or their kids.  Kids were spanked or yelled out way out of proportion to their offense. The women themselves occasionally came to blows.   The shelter workers (like me) had little training and at age 23, little in the way of experience to bring to bear on the situation.   

While others tried to figure out how to actually manage the shelter,  I  started raising money from churches and synagogues, then from individuals.   Fundraising took me away from the day to day work of domestic violence, and I watched as this feminist movement transformed into a social work discipline.   I didn’t go into any shelters for many years, and then in the last ten years, I have toured several and been amazed by them.  Well furnished, lovely kitchens, childcare spaces, and sometimes even play equipment in yards!   Trained social workers and counselors know what to do.  It is a far cry from where we started.   Second stage housing, job training, anger management workshops, and so much more is now de riguer in domestic violence work.

In reading the article referenced above, I feel some pride.  I was one of thousands of people who helped start this.  We can document, finally, that we have less domestic violence than we used to.  Organizing and fundraising played a big role.  But also research on the nature of this kind of violence including the twin realizations that men were sometimes battered by women and that violence amongst gay and lesbian couples was not uncommon, led from “battered women”  to  the current and more accurate “intimate partner violence” or IPV.

From the 1970’s to the early 1990’s, IPV did not go down.  Some years it went up, reflecting mostly that people were reporting it more often and that it was becoming much less tolerated by everyone in the community.  However the incidence of domestic violence began its slow trajectory downwards in 1994, which is the year Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  Joan Meier, professor of clinical law at George Washington University says , “I am willing to speculate that VAWA had a direct impact on reducing violence.”  VAWA was a federally funded approach to domestic violence which particularly took into account the role of law enforcement in dealing with this issue.  It provided sensitivity trainings for police, funded  legal services for victims, and encouraged states to adopt mandatory arrest laws.  The latter are controversial in their impact but the fact is that we wouldn’t be able to know what is good and what is problematic about mandatory arrest if we didn’t have 22 states requiring it. 

What does this have to do with the commons?  To me, it is an example of a small movement that became a bigger movement that become a social service and an academic area of research, and by being all those things, many times all at once, became a force for advocating that the government of the country do one of its most important jobs which is to protect the residents  from violence.  Only large federally funded programs can really address these kinds of problems and hope to make lasting change.  (It is ironic that VAWA ‘s reauthorization was opposed by 130 Republicans, but this is proof we still have work to do!)  If we continue to have the progress we have had since 1994, we could see an end to domestic violence in the next two generations.  And that would be a major step toward rough social equity and a commons based society.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Shaming on the Subway

Posted by Caitlin Endyke

On my commute home last night, my subway car had one of the ads mentioned in this CBS piece- ads produced by the City of New York in an effort to curb teen pregnancy.

And I was about as irked by them as the people mentioned in that article (the piece spells out a pretty good argument for why they are insensitive and ineffective, which I won’t repeat here, but it’s worth a read).  But after ranting to my roommate about them, I thought about how these ads were also indicative of how we talk about issues like these in society, in general.  

What these ads do is place blame squarely on individuals (and not even adult individuals, at that), without offering any concrete solutions or positive examples.  They essentially say, in provoking imagery and language, “Don't Do This”, or even, “The Situation You're Already In Has Ruined Your Life”, yet they do nothing to offer constructive alternatives or get at root causes of the issues that might be leading people to find themselves in these situations in the first place.  This, I think, is the kind of discourse that really needs to be taking place both on the local and national levels in this country.  On both sides of the political spectrum we spend so much time denouncing the efforts of the other side, and so little time offering alternatives or speaking to what got us here in the first place.  I think one of the first steps towards a commons-based society would be to stop blaming the people around us and start having real conversations about how we can best help our fellow citizens. We need to do more than try to scare or intimidate people.  We need to provide our communities with information, resources and examples of how we can all support each other in leading more fulfilling lives. 


Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities

Posted by Caitlin Endyke

At the Building Movement Project, we do a lot of work in Detroit, partnering with key neighborhood groups and community activists throughout the city in order to unite Detroiters around common issues.  The picture for Detroit residents can be bleak- the city and state government continue to cut vital resources to Detroit residents who most need them. What’s been in the news most recently is Gov. Rick Snyder’s passing of the controversial Emergency Manager Law, which was defeated by popular vote a few months ago and which gives innumerable government powers to one appointed individual with few democratic checks in place. 

This is why the issues raised in this piece, featured in the New York Times this week, are most disheartening.  While the government claims financial straits dire enough to resort to an Emergency Manager system, the private sector in Detroit is on the rebound.  Downtown neighborhoods are thriving with independent coffee roasters and boutiques.  The three big auto manufacturers are reporting massive gains, for the first time in years.  There is money in Detroit.  The problem is that money is not going to the public.  It’s circling around the private sector, allowing businesses to flourish while city residents, especially those located out of key downtown neighborhoods, are left behind to fight for basic rights (though they certainly are fighting). 

In a Commons-based society, I’d imagine that there is still a place for business and the private sector.  But what we can’t allow is the creation of a real-life Tale of Two Cities- one where private corporations thrive and another where every day citizens suffer as the public sector is drowned in debt and a massive lack of resources.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Common Sense

Posted by Kim Klein

A late friend of mine attended mass regularly.  During the mass, someone reads a series of prayers, then asks the congregation, “For what and for whom shall we pray?”  People are free to call out prayer requests which can vary from personal and specific, “for Mary to recover quickly from her accident” to global, “for the civil war in the Congo to end.”   The format is to say the prayer request and then end it with “Let us pray to the Lord.”  The congregation then replies, “God, hear our prayer.”  My friend would often say, “For the speedy return of common sense” and with surprising vigor the congregation would respond, “God, hear our prayer.” 

I have been thinking of her, or actually of her prayer, as I read the news which is full of a word that, for most of us, is a quite recent addition to our vocabularies:  sequester.  A quick search through the thesaurus find an interesting sample of words that are synonyms:  confiscate, requisition, appropriate, impound, seize.   These are all words that we should not use in a discussion about a budget.   
The threat of the sequester and the uncertainty surrounding when a budget will be approved has already caused damage.  Government workers who may be laid off are not doing their best work right now.  Some are looking for other jobs.  Ongoing projects which require funds caught up in the sequester are on hold or slowed down.  The news is full of threats of long lines at airports, no rangers in the parks, delays in all kinds of payments. 

At issue is “saving”  $85 billion, but many of both sides of the aisle acknowledge that what will be saved in the short term will cost more in the long run.  Take, for example,  Internal Revenue Service.  According to Gregory Korte, writing in USA Today March 1, 2013, “the sequester will take $436 million out of the IRS’ enforcement budget this year.  Given the widely accepted belief that the IRS generates $4 in tax payments for every $1 in enforcement, the government may lose $1.7 billion.” 
The military has chimed in that the sequester is already causing maintenance to be delayed on 25 ships and 470 planes.  Because these are used so heavily, even a small period of time without maintenance will mean more serious and expensive repairs later. 

So a person with a healthy dose of common sense might be forgiven for asking “Why are we in this discussion at all?”  It hurts ordinary people, and it doesn’t advance any agenda of saving money . 
The sequester is one in a long series of things that simply don’t make sense.   For example, the people who deny that the climate is changing may be right.  It will be hundreds of years before we know absolutely and for sure that there is human caused climate change and that it is just not some very long cycle we are in.  But, as many people have pointed out, why take a chance?  If those of who believe in climate change are right, not taking action has cataclysmic results.  If we are wrong, we are still engaging in behavior that we should be engaging in—looking for sustainable energy sources, addressing poverty and hunger, making sure communities are prepared for natural disasters
It is very difficult for activists to address nonsense and to organize people to fight that which simply doesn’t make sense.  So we try to name it as evil, or benefitting the very wealthy, or call it an obscene power struggle.  We cannot wrap our minds around the lack of logic in what we are fighting against.  These Republicans have children and grandchildren.  They are as likely to be caught in a superstorms or die of environmentally caused cancer as anyone else.  How do they not see this?   

Possibly one of the most important struggles in social justice movements today is coming to terms with the fact that our greatest opposition is irrational and delusional.  John Boehner ended the negotiations about the sequester saying, “taxation is theft.”  Boehner works for the government.  His salary is wholly derived from taxes.  Is he admitting that he is a thief?  Trying to understand him and the people like him is futile.  Common sense  tells us that we must out-organize, out vote and out number in order to bring any semblance of social justice to our national scene.