Thursday, February 5, 2009

Stuff, Stuff, And More Stuff



Tonight I went to my cross-class dialogue group, a pretty cool bunch of folks trying to wrap their heads around who they are and where they fit in relation to others. Class is the subject we don't know how to talk about. It's just not polite. So we gather in each other's homes once a month and politely transgress. Tonight's postprandial discussion centered on this, The Story of Stuff. A lot of information, brilliantly delivered.

A few hours earlier, I went on Kevin Cole's show at KEXP to talk about Real Change. We're their featured Audioasis group this month, which means we get a bunch of PSA's, a couple of interviews, and a benefit show this Saturday at the Sunset Tavern. The two-minute scheduled interview went on for ten. Kevin was cool, I was on, and the thing just flowed. I got to talk about the I-100 jails campaign, say we do "kick-ass organizing," and utter the phrase, "The more hell we raise, the bigger the checks people write." Which, actually, is true.



When I got back to Real Change after the interview, I found that a public defender had called about one of our vendors. He hasn't been around. Turns out he's been in jail for about two weeks after being arrested for standing while Black. Apparently, it's a criminal offense to loiter in a high drug crime area. You don't need to have drugs, sell drugs, or even be on drugs. All you need to do is have low enough status to get tossed in jail for nothing and be powerless to do a fucking thing about it. And no one has lower status than a homeless Black guy.

The volunter who took the lawyer's phone call gave me twenty bucks toward his $150 bail. Someone from my cross-class dialogue book handed me another twenty. I'm thinking that if I ask around, by noon tomorrow I've got his bail and we can spring him. He could, from what I understand, sit there for months over this matter of standing while Black. I think I'm starting to understand why Seattle thinks they need a new jail so damn badly, and why there are nearly ten times as many Black people on average jailed in King County than are represented in the population.

As I was writing just now, The Story of Stuff was playing in the background, and the narrator reached her conclusion:
There are people working on taking back our government, so it really is by the people and for the people. All this work is really important. But things are really going to start moving when we see the connections. When we see the big picture. When people across the lines get united, we can reclaim and reform this system into something new. A system that doesn't waste resources or people. Because what we really need to chuck is that old school throw-away mindset. ... Some say it's unrealistic, idealistic, and it can't happen, but I say the ones who are unrealistic are the ones who want to continue with the old path. That's dreaming. Remember, it didn't just happen. It's not like gravity, something we just have to live with. People created it. And we're people too, so let's create something new.
She was talking about stuff, but we throw away people as well. One leads to the other. And the mass incarceration system that has one in 99 Americans behind bars isn't mandated by natural law either. Just twenty-five years ago, that didn't exist either. We made it, and we can make it go away.

16 comments:

arikohn said...

So, Mr. Harris, what is your position on "revolution." Newsweek's sadly shallow fluff take on "revolution" ("Why there won't be a revolution") is at the following link:

http://www.newsweek.com/id/183718

My abbreviated thoughts about "Why there won't be a revolution" for the foreseeable future follow with my profound thanks to you for introducing me to the writing of Jonathan Raban (otherwise, I would know about "Air People," but not know about them):

There will be no revolution for the foreseeable future because, for the most part, Americans have become bought and paid for whores pacified and distracted by vacation homes and SUVs and boats, who have become the "Air People" about whom Jonathan Raban wrote in 1992. In fact, there are those who drive by the homeless, walk by the mentally ill, figuratively speaking, drive by a lepers' colony, and stay on their way to the golf course or party. On the other hand, there are the too few Che Guevaras (see "Motorcycle Diaries") who see poverty, leprosy, mental illness, people overcome by addiction(s), and stop and stay and help–those who would find it impossible to "drive on by" to the golf course, their 2nd home…. I don't know what it is going to take to move past today's complacency to 1789, but I hope it will not prove to be many more Wall Street bankers, Bernie Madoffs, Kerry Killingers, foreclosures, and lost jobs before Americans say "enough is enough" and do something about it. I used to ignorantly believe that when Raban's "Street People" outnumbered his "Air People" there would be a revolution, but now I see that the "Prison People" (who Raban did not name) + "Street People" far and away outnumber "Air People," yet we are still placated and inactive in the face of heinous circumstances too many to count. Even the seemingly most passionate of day-time fighters for social justice disappear into suburbia at quitting time–caught up by the desire to be mamas and papas and middle-class homeowners. Meanwhile, in a town thought to be full of "liberals,” in a county named in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we have more than 2,800 people unsheltered on cold winter nights, 18,000+ men and women in prisons, 96,600+ children whose parents are in prison or on “probation,” a governor who is attempting to cut from her budget the too few dollars that help people manage mental illness, overcome addiction, and a City Council focused on spending nearly a billion dollars for a tinker-toy trolley-car system. I listened to Silja Talvi speak at Seattle University: with a lot of passion she declared she is "embarrassed" by extant circumstances with homelessness, the prison population…. I also am "embarrassed." But, when will embarrassment and unemployment and homelessness and high numbers of people in prisons turn to meaningful action? Longing for 1789 and guillotines, I do not see it coming [unless, of course, Michael J. Fox can fit the "Prison People" plus Raban's "Street People" and "Air People" together in Back to the Future’s DeLorean and take us to 1789 when there were people who had not been bought off like whores, who had courage, who cared about others instead of only about either attaining or maintaining the position of "Air People," and who, facing extraordinarily desperate times, as we face today, took action–after which, for a short time, there were no “Air People.”].

So, where is that DeLorean?

Ari Kohn, Seattle, WA 98145-0007

Tim Harris said...

Revolution? I'm for it, but it isn't really for the lazy and bought off. King nailed it with his Riverside "Revolution of Values" speech. Here's something I wrote awhile ago that goes to your point, and also the pnt of this particular post.

http://apesmaslament.blogspot.com/2007/05/reason-for-revolution-347.html

Anonymous said...

how can i join your class discussion group?

maxahunter at yahoo dot com

Tim Harris said...

It isn't real open to new folks right now. Kind of a right mix and chemistry thing. Sorry.

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