T330: The People

This image is from changethethought.com. Since the election on November 4th I have been in a drifting mode. Nationally, the people of this nation thrilled me with the high turnout numbers and the vote for Obama. Locally, the people of my community voted two worthless incumbents and the people of my state voted in favor of bigotry in the H8 proposition against legally approved marriage between gays.

Consciousness or conscience or awareness or perception – whatever one calls it – I am fascinated. This is central to why I blog, why I write.

This morning I woke with an idea of how my local City Council might act to engage an awakened community in confronting the issues of our time. I start with the premise of a consumer culture that markets this consumption message 24/7 all year every year. We are soaking in it, to use the Palmolive commercial of my youth. When I was a child this command to consume was more heavy-handed. My belief is that the 60’s counter culture was possible only because the ad men were stupid about young people, mistakenly not realizing how to harness and distract youth energy into consumption. Once the capitalist marketer grasped the youth zeitgeist, this rebelliousness has been diffused into consumerist model. Add to this the targeted markets of African Americans and Women. Attention: I believe there is no crisis, tragedy or human injustice that can’t be utilized for profit in the existing capitalist structure.

How people, real people who seek sustainability, justice and the commonwealth (using an old fashioned but appropriate term) take back the power? Today I can’t speak to the national, to the entire federal government and the US as a whole, because I believe that wresting control of the media from corporate control is fundamental. And for this to happen huge numbers of citizens have to be awake and demanding. So, today I write about the first step – engaging the people, educating the people. The goal is to rouse the sleeping giant that is the people. Following the election energy of wonderful turnouts, we should keep people awake. I start with my community. Here is the hook. Bribe them. Look, it sparkles!

Damn, I know I could candy coat that. I invite anyone to steal this idea and pretty it up for the press and the precious. The thing is, marketing is about pretending something is being given for free or for a low price: stuff, information, caring, dignity, patriotism, beauty, image, friends, altruism and love. Yes, even altruism. Look at that mendacious ‘Run for the Cure’ campaign as just one example. Those hundreds (if not thousands) of corporate sponsors spend billions on pink labels, ads and gimmicks to sell their $hit. What is to stop those corporations from simply giving? All of their advertising could say they are supporting this or that drive or fund or foundation. No, they are seeking brand loyalty. Wave pink labels at people who have been ravaged by breast cancer or have know someone close lost to breast cancer or simply are moved by the need for this cure. Now that is cold.

Obama’s team figured branding out at the earliest moment following the Democratic Primary victory and there was a big roar and much mocking. Now the amnesia has kicked in and the “over-the-bright-red-hill -into-the-clear-blue-sky-O” triggers hope and change. It elicits positive associations with the fields of the plains, the rising sun, the flag, moving toward the light, and the inclusiveness of the circle, the organic and feminine shape. Done. We have been trained.

I am not pointing this out to disparage the President-Elect. It is an example of utilizing these potential specious tactics to DO THE RIGHT THING. For the rest of this post 'do the right thing' is the concept but WE NOT ME will be the label, the placeholder for my imaginary community project to engage the people in sustainability and the activism that used to simply be call citizenship. None of the bribes below specifically addresses homophobia. What it does do is show real people and their opinions more respect. The LGBTQ community is all around and a part of this town and every other. Just respecting real people moves us closer in eliminating hate and homophobia.

I believe we can utilize this consumerist model that people respond to so well. I can imagine a challenge to the community to come up with the logo for making our community WE NOT ME. A prize of several thousand dollars and public recognition would keep this from being completely exploitive. The City Council’s Environmental Committee could offer the criteria based on the City’s stated goals for 2009. The local media and a website poll could facilitate reaching as many people as possible. The schools are a must. I still remember coloring poster for anti-litter campaigns, “you too can prevent forest fires” campaigns of my childhood. Graphic designers could be a round 2, to take the winning image and compete with other graphic designers in the community for branding proposals. Among these would be the stipulations about creating only how to utilize a logo without creating more useless stuff, destroying more natural resources or encouraging waste.

Bribe 1:
We are soon to begin the first phase of banning plastic bags in our community. This is a perfect start for the first bribe. Let’s just say $6,000 is earmarked for this kick-off project. Everyone who shows up to a Council meeting gets a WE NOT ME bag. Local businesses will be given bags to give to their customers. This first bag will be higher quality and a limited number will give the first one’s some status. No out of town, corporate owned, big box store will be given bags. (Another version that is smaller in size and in a puce color? And maybe a variation on the branding like, TRYING TO DO THE RIGHT THING can be bought by these outlets on the condition they not be sold to the public, but given away).

Any and all Council workshops and votes related to the plastic bag ban will be special invitations to all who are carrying the WE NOT ME bag. Prior to any of these this group will be asked to comment first if only to fill out polling questions to be gathered at each meeting pertaining to this theme. This isn’t just marketing. These are real people with real experiences with changing the way they shop. The community needs to hear these voices, not the Council or the Staff or the Business Lobby. The goal is to help real people WE NOT ME, not listen to vested interests or officials who believe their personal experience is what is supposed to guide their votes.

Another event related to the bags could be taken to the schools, senior centers and domestic shelters. A ten year old came up with his own business of making bags from t-shirts and named his company t-bags. A person should be hired to visit each school with a stack of t-shirts (used would be best) and the kids at the school will have brought a shirt from home. They will be taught how to make a t-bag and encouraged to make more and give them as gifts to family and friends. They will be given WE NOT ME logos to sew onto their bags. Incidentally, learning to sew and re-purpose clothing, fabrics is a basic sustainability skill that is part of the education.

Bribe 2:
Our town gives lip service to biking. The Council makes one week a bike to work week like so many communities. I insist that a real commitment could be launched with bike bonanza giveaways. We are a beach community. How many bikes could be purchased for the ubiquitous $6,000 bribe? My own personal vote would be to give 500 mothers bikes on Mother’s Day with a WE NOT ME basket. (Note: Give in to your guilt, but buy a bike for mom instead, its guaranteed more useful than jewelry.) The only request that will be made is to encourage participation in any community activities including Council voting related to biking. And, secondarily to pass the bike to another if it isn’t being used.

Just as above, these mothers’ voices of the people are the newest and most vital focus for our media and our decision makers. They will become the WE NOT ME corps – or core group of engaged citizens. It will be important to be vigilant that the focus doesn’t become the bike (product for consumption) over the biking as an alternative to driving. Imagine, the message might be to drive with care there are mothers out there.

In the schools the adjunct activity might be bike swaps, bike maintenance, bike adoption. Just as a trained seamstress visited the schools for the bag project, a bike technician should be hired to visit each school for a bike bonanza day(s). This is an opportunity to educate for bike safety, to show how money doesn’t define the biking experience and to learn new skills.

Bribe 3:
Give away native fruit and nut trees throughout the community and create a feral food map. Again, $6,000 can go a long ways in engaging the community. The kids can be involved in mapping, but also planting native nut and fruit trees at each and every school location. Every native fruit and nut tree will have a WE NOT ME border and sign. At the beginning stage there could be a call for local arborists, landscape designers, etc. to be invited to participate. Their opinions and contributions should not be discouraged. This idea is lifted from Transition Towns.
The idea stems from a previous project of the Bristol Permaculture Group that was trying to promote biodiversity, food security and traditional agriculture within the city limits. When investigating the site for a potential community orchard in the Easton area, and coming up empty handed, members suddenly realized they were thinking too literally – land was all around them, only it was parcelled up into small lots in people’s back yards etc. They ordered a large number of local-variety fruit trees in bulk, and then organized discount sales, as well as tree-care workshops, for Easton residents. Over the course of a couple of years, the group arranged the distribution of hundreds of fruit trees, significantly increasing the amount of food grown in the neighbourhood while providing habitat for pollinating insects, and preserving some traditional apple varieties. The city-wide initiative will follow similar lines, and the group is looking for volunteers to help coordinate the effort – especially those with admin skills.

Bribe 4
Water is key for our drought now and for the future. This is where those now controlling our City Council votes have been most egregious in granting unsustainable growth – for the precious water tables alone. I see several different projects, but the first would be to spend $6,000 on stainless steel water bottles to replace the one time use plastic bottles. Naturally the WE NOT ME logo will be affixed on the pitcher. I also see rain barrels and eaves to catch the precious half inch of rain that might fall at a typical rate for Southern California. WE NOT ME has the most important education task in combating water waste. I believe the local water district (which the council sit on) should give free water service to any household using only 10% of the local average. That would be the highest goal of 90% reduction and I suspect the water district wouldn't have to grant too many of these.

These are just a beginning. I believe the food waste bribe might need to be developed even prior to these 4, because that is really our easiest way to start saving our communities. The four though, modified to make them work however they can with the $6,000 allocated for each (or a higher number for each with some research) is a minimal $24,000. This paltry sum could be secured in one decision by the City Council; that is, taking it from the city’s generous vehicle and fuel perks or one consultant. Last year I raged that a mobile home consultant was brought in to do a study. It was a really shamefully shallow piece of drek with self-fulfilling eyewash that didn’t begin to address the real people living in the mobile homes or attending the workshops. But, this shill (a mobile home park owner himself) was paid $32,500. Gah. He was one of dozens the city has hired in the last several years. All have given the same low standard.

We in the United States have drifted very far from a true democracy. Sometimes I wonder if we ever had one as I discover so many, many Myths America. We are consumers who are offered consumer choices at our polling places. How candidates make us feel, the look, the bearing, the voice, the repetition of the name in the news . . . are the rationale for choosing. We consume, it’s what we do. What a candidate’s words evoke more than what is said or true facts have won the day so often. So, in spite of this or because of this I propose we utilize the magic of people’s self-involvement and acquisitive habits to help people relearn citizenship. The toys, the tricks, the shiny things and branding can be used to DO THE RIGHT THING if we keep sustainability, the resilient community goals at the center.

Bribe Tally

A tally from a self-serving, grasping wanna-be citizen here. I could score a grocery tote, a bike, an native fruit and/or nut tree, a water bottle, rain barrel and free water service. I could learn sewing, make my own bags for fee, learn bike repairs and bike safety, learn the edible plants to forage in my neighborhood, save lots of money by drinking tap water, utilizing rain water and set an example to all those I interact with and my neighbors. All this and a respected, sought after voice at City Hall in four major areas of my communities commitment to sustainability and resilience.

A disclaimer. . . I have the good fortune of having a Deputy Mayor and one Councilwoman who are anxious to do the right things. The three others, including the Mayor (labeled the Bully Boys in the local blog) defeat the best actions and champion the toxic. The loss in this election of a third vote to end their reign was huge. There is one Councilwoman in my community who is a true public servant. She sends emails each week to anyone who wants to be informed. In these emails she gives links to news articles of importance to our community. Her website is filled with resource links of the most progressive themes in the state and the nation. Prior to City Council meetings she sends a link to the agenda and staff reports as well as her own summary of what is important. Unlike the majority of the Council, she does her homework prior to each meeting. She weighs any and all business of the Council against the community’s General Plan and Specific Plan. She attends training sessions all over the state on California laws, codes and issues of importance. Sometimes I feel she carries the weight of this small town on her back. She is loved, especially for bringing sunshine to the City Council chambers through live feed videos of Council and planning meetings. She is up for re-election in 2010, so all that I am writing today is with her campaign and governance in mind. I won’t link to her website, show a photo or name her because my endorsement is not official or approved by her. I have not sought her out to discuss this. I am simply a grateful citizen.


Anonymous said...

Lots of good ideas.
But rather than giving away native fruit and nut trees throughout the community make people pay for them or give them out after a completed master gardeners course. Anything but free. Free means too little is invested in them and they will likely die of lack of care.


katecontinued said...

That is one perspective. In fact, the master gardeners, master composters in our community could be honored this way. The one thing the WE NOT ME campaign should foster is public ownership and common good. The idea of trees bearing fruit or nuts that are free to all flies in the face of private ownership.

So, I think there should be a strong component of gifting - just because. We all have the right to clean air, adequate water, etc. without proving we earned it or bought it. It is part of the thought changing process. A few dead trees would be sad and money lost, but possibly a powerful metaphor for citizenship and the common good. These require tending.

Rosa said...

This is a beautiful idea. Though EM's right - most giveaway trees die. Maybe the gift part should be the service of caring for the trees, after someone earns the tree some other way? We lose a good chunk of the new trees the city plants every summer, mostly because people don't realize they even need care.

I think, as self-centered and trivial as they sometimes seem, that one of the real benefits of the make your own curtains/socks/cheese/bread part of the green women's movement (as ani says - every move I make is a woman's movement) is that it is a way of constructing identity through what we make instead of what we buy.