If I cannot remember the days when Mom and Dad fought with each other--blamed each other--because they were afraid and poor, then I have no business offering solutions to others who struggle now.
If I cannot remember how necessity bred creativity--with the food we ate, and the clothes we found to put on our bodies, the places we lived, and the fearful noisy streets we walked to gather those things that kept our family together--then I have no right to play at theories and philosophy.
But if I can remember those times, then I will be able to imagine how people today who feel powerless and out of control hope for larger social systems to represent their interests, and to equalize the power gap between private citizens and hugely wealthy transnational corporations. And maybe, just maybe, if I remember my immigrant parents and their struggle to make a life in this country, I will be able to persuade others to awaken their own resourcefulness and courage at a time when existing systems are unlikely to help them at all.
Looking carefully at the situation our family knows, I see that we enjoy a certain amount of personal freedom. My husband and I have jobs and bring income into the family. We are free to apportion that income as we think best for the family. We are citizens of the United States, and as such have the right to voice our opinions--even when those opinions are very critical of existing social and political structures. We are free to mistreat our bodies by eating and drinking in ways that abuse our systems. And we are free to choose the doctors who will "cure' us of the ills we have brought upon ourselves. We are free to worship as we choose, as long as those of us who make minority choices in that regard don't make too much noise about our practices. And we're free to have as many children as we want, even if our household finances won't support them, or our choices to have five or six kids will increase the human burden on the planet. We are free to vote in elections, though increasingly those we elect seem incapable of addressing current drastic realities. These overt freedoms are truly ours.
Continuing my careful examination, however, I find that in many ways we are not free. We must purchase car, home and health insurance, even if we know that the insurance companies enjoy far more profit than they will ever pay out to their policyholders. If we have retirement accounts, we must leave the money there, or in similar accounts, until an age specified by law--or pay significant tax penalties for withdrawing the funds before retirement age. In this country, internet service is not provided by the government, so we must pay for that access or go without the vast amount of information available through the medium. Television is no longer free, and to have channels with even a modicum of quality requires high monthly fees. We must pay for costly phone service, sometimes to multiple providers, if we want to have dependable access to this connecting technology. Increasingly, even our children's education is not free, as fees increase at public schools, or we opt for private schools, or we worry about how to pay for higher education. Our energy supplies, and perhaps soon, our water supply have been privatized and we must pay for even these basic necessities of life. And usually we must buy our food from large corporate entities often unwilling to provide us with healthy choices.
In so many ways, our social freedoms are undercut by the economic costs we must pay in order to be part of this ever more privatized system in which we try to find meaning and a dignified life.
The parts of our lives that are circumscribed by forces beyond any political voting right we might wield must also be examined. Our civil rights largely disappear during those hours when we work for a corporate entity--to speak our mind plainly at work would cost the vast majority of us our jobs. And these powerful entities, our employers, direct their resources toward transnational efforts to control what we eat, how we clothe ourselves, how we build our dwellings, how we define and promote human health, and how we ignore the interface between human choices that emphasize short-term profits even as the choices foul our planetary nest. As private individuals, we have little chance of effectively thwarting the aims and methods of transnational corporations focused on the bottom line. They operate largely above a nation's political system. So in the world of work, we become part of systems that are racing to put all life on the planet in peril--whether we agree with those systems or not. And there seems to be no political activity at this time that can effectively make these rapacious corporate entities accountable for the harm they bring to us all.
We have basic social freedoms, but not economic freedoms that would allow us to truly express our views in the way that corporations understand best--in terms of profit and loss.
Or is that conclusion accurate? Maybe we could take actions that would disentangle us from the suicidal course that is business as usual.
I have, from time to time, become involved in activist efforts to stymy corporate aims. The work reminds of David and Goliath, only I sometimes feel these groups lack the excellent aim with their slingshots that David wielded. So this work can be discouraging, take a very long time to effect change, and require living a double life: work an 8+ hour day and then work another four to six hours trying to influence the very institutions that pay our wages. And sometimes I feel that the activist's internal position implies that some power "out there' will see the light after our protests and letters. That some large corporation or branch of government will admit how poorly it is behaving and devise a solution that will improve the lives of the vast numbers who live within its sphere of influence. Always the focus is on fixing what is "out there.' And, truly, there is little will in the majority of those businesses and government agencies to make the significant changes that are needed right now. I do this work in spite of my misgivings, but I also believe there must be other choices I could make.
What occurs to me is that large power structures are only powerful because there are so many of us willing to play their game. If every single person in Oz, for example, had seen the little man behind the curtain, they could have quickly or slowly begun to change how they lived their lives. And as they did so, the power of the little man behind the curtain would have--slowly or precipitously--been diminished. The people of Oz kept the little man in power because they did not bother to look behind the curtain. And in a myriad of ways, their choices propped up the illusion of the little man's power. The people of Oz were complicit in keeping the little man in power.
So how might we make new choices that revealed how little men are truly all that exist behind powerful sounding corporate names? How could we put our effort and our resources toward lives that gradually or instantly unplugged from corporate institutions? If our governments won't reclaim the ability to control corporate entities, how could we stop waiting for someone "out there' to rescue us from these powers on paper and find ways to walk away from them right now?
If you own a home with a mortgage, sell it and buy a very small home outright, or one that will significantly lower your mortgage payments.
If you are not healthy, and it is in part the result of lack of exercise and a poor diet, change those behaviors and reap your right to a healthier body.