Archive for January, 2012

image from CBSnews

It’s that time of year again for my fingers to lead me in a raging rant about the state of our disillusioned union. Courtesy of tonight’s address from the President.  So forgive me, and proceed at your own risk.

Before I begin, I want to clarify that my disgust doesn’t fall in quite the same vein as what these misguided #OccupythePolls activists are feeling, having been disappointed by Obama and now retaliating by abandoning him completely and handing their protest votes over to the GOP circus.  No, I am behind him 100%  in the polls . I’d rather cut off my left arm than hand the country over to the alternative. In addition, I respect what he has accomplished and the impossible role he stands in. But, I most certainly am disgusted with the seemingly steady and inevitable decline of this country and the fact that our captain seems more than happy to go down with the ship. (no pun intended for the Italians)

Number one, Obama spoke about how things are looking up for our economy because companies are starting to return to the States to create jobs, as opposed to slinking off to China or India for legal slave labor. Well, first off the exploitation of foreign workers still far exceeds any new jobs being created here, and that will continue as long as it remains cheaper for them to do so. But Obama commented that this trend was occurring because it makes business sense for these companies. So my question is, is that because the economy here has crashed and unemployment is at an all time high so these multinational conglomerates can finally afford to pay Americans again? If so, is this is something to applaud? Hooray! We’ve finally hit rock bottom so that the corporations who have profited off of our demise now have financial incentive to employ us again!! We are now worth their time and attention, things are looking up!

Whatever happened to the incentive to just invest in people? To do the right thing and create jobs in the country that gave you your opportunity? Not to exploit the poor in one country only until it makes more sense to exploit them in another? But these questions are silly, I know, because of course we only value the market dollars. Obama affirmed this in his next bold statement of the night, “I will make sure to open as many markets in other countries as possible for American products.”  To reiterate from last year’s rant, I think this statement hides the fact that there is nothing “fair” in many of these international trade agreements. The more we flood other countries, particularly impoverished countries, with our products the more damage we cause to their local economies and the more dependent we make them on the global power teet. So the whole scene of Obama shouting phrases like “America will always win!” while the entire Congress stands up in applause, is just nauseating. Does that make me less of an American? Is winning so important? Do we have to win all the time? I would have much more pride in my country if we just played fair.

Fairness, in my opinion, extends beyond civil rights and into environmental, animal and land rights.  And when I say “land rights” I’m not talking about who owns what dirt and what we think we’re allowed to do with it. I’m talking about the way in which we should be treating the land and the ecosystem on which we all survive.  These rights should be based on nature’s economy and the principals of the lost commons, which are wonderfully explained by seed and soil sovereignty advocate Vandana Shiva.  These rights were clearly far from Obama’s (and Congress’s) mind tonight as he excitedly advocated for more gas drilling and offshore drilling. But fear not, as the bold print on the bottom of the screen while he spoke assured us, the President is requiring that the drilling companies disclose all the chemicals they are pumping into the earth while they drill.  Phew, thank God. At least we will know now the precise type of damage being done and won’t be left wondering which toxins exactly are in our drinking water, killing our livestock and breeding cancer in our loved ones.  Continue poisoning us, please, but don’t keep the chemical list a secret. Because that would be criminal.

There were some positives for the food movement though. Obama said the word “farmer” and “healthy food”! But, that was about as far as that went.

Next he spoke about our soldiers. He celebrated the fact that we no longer have soldiers in Iraq, but omitted the fact that it’s because now they’re all in Afghanistan. OK, that’s not entirely true. We have far less soldiers there than were in Iraq and yes, we are happy to no longer be loaded in both countries. He also mentioned how many thousands of troops have been able to return home, and that is great to hear, but he failed to mention the state in which these soldiers are returning home.  Are we taking care of them? Are they able to find work? What about the soldiers getting away with disgusting behavior which only further tarnishes our reputation abroad, while the good soldiers come home unemployed and troubled? I wish Obama would have spoken about the amazing programs we’re starting to see now, where farms are training veterans in sustainable agriculture in an effort to  simultaneously re-skill, employ and heal all of these men and women.  My fellow TedXManhattan Challenge finalist, Howard Hinterthuer of the Veteran’s Food Production Project, spoke about such innovative and brilliant programs this past weekend at the TedX “Change the Way We Eat” conference.  Maybe next time he can be one of Obama’s special guests tucked away in the audience somewhere for that timely, positive reference to all the progress Americans are making.

As things wound down, the President’s kick-off speech to his incumbent election campaign – which this most definitely was more than a SOTU address –  took a turn for the better. It began to show a glimmer of truth. That sparkle in Obama’s eye, the one that reassures me that he is smarter than so many that reside in our nation’s capital, showed itself momentarily. He admitted to knowing – and knowing that we know – that Washington is broken.  After my initial thanks Captain Obvious thought, I thought it was very nice to hear him speak about how archaic our political system is. He then went on to teach a sorely-needed lesson to his audience. One that I thought he did very cleverly.

Obama’s closing statements were not only powerful on the surface, but brilliantly wrapped into a delivery that held the perfect analogy. It was the one piece of his entire speech that I could nod my head to. While stroking America’s ego by recounting the unity it took from the men and women who killed Osama bin Laden to get the job done, our President basically laid our dirty laundry out on the table and let Congress and America know that in continuing to act like schoolchildren, and doing nothing but bickering on the playground, we will continue to destroy every opportunity we have to come up with solutions to our many problems. In that solid close I heard, America let’s stop talking and start doing.  I got the sense that everyone in the room got the message, whether they absorb it or not will be the question.

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Last night I played Tetris with all of my worldly possessions. I sorted, discarded, organized and packed for hours in an effort to fit everything I think I’ll need on the road for the documentary trip into a manageable collection. I’m not hitting the road yet -at least not to start the interviewing – but I am making my way up to a friend’s farm to work for the winter and will get on the road from there come spring. So, unfortunately, the packing has to come now.

I used to love packing. In fact I loved it so much that as a kid I would pack my bags all the time, pretending I was going somewhere.  And sometimes I would leave, just to cause a dramatic scene. I would go all the way to the local park and sit in the tree… until it got dark or I got hungry. But still, I liked the thrill of packing and not knowing where I would end up. I also used to love organizing my stuff. I would rearrange my room at least every six months. I would make lists while packing for a real trip. I was a true daughter after my mother’s heart – she is one organized woman…borderline OCD.

But I kind of lost all of that once I got older and actually started traveling. I morphed into the opposite of organized and became a free spirited, i.e. messy, person. In my work life I was still on top of things, but in my personal life, I threw all organization out the window. Planning ahead, itineraries and packing were never priorities while going anywhere. Being and doing were my only priorities – and they still are important spiritual philosophies of mine. But I was a mess most of the time.

One benefit was that I never had too much stuff. Traveling so much taught (and forced me) to live lighter; simpler. Everything had to fit in one backpack…maybe one I could barely walk with as it exploded with stuff from every crevice, but it was one moderately sized space where I could fit all my posessions, and that felt good. I still continue to try and live my life this way. As most people do, I somehow acquire things after lingering in one place for a while. But it seems every year or every time I am on the move again, I get the chance to sort and slim down my “stuff”.  Annie Leonard of “The Story of Stuff” would be proud.

Yet in all of this coming and going, sorting and discarding, there’s still been no organizing.  At the turn of this new year, I’ve decided to change that. Maybe my old childhood ways have caught up with me again or maybe I’ve learned that disorganization creates twice as much work. Or maybe I’ve finally chiseled my “stuff” down to a manageable enough collection that organization seems less daunting.  Whatever it is, I’ve made the theme of the first weeks of 2012 to Organize. Not like “organize” for food justice, but “organize” my life so that I can be a better advocate for food justice, so I can be a better farmer down the road and so that this year, I can launch and implement a successful documentary project on the road.

It may seem trivial, but I believe that our “stuff”, whether it be too much, too messy or too negative, can weigh us down, consume us or distract us from really living.  Organization results in better work. The most successful farms I’ve seen are extremely organized, with streamlined processes. Organization gives some people peace of mind. Peace within allows peace to radiate without.

Maybe that’s why I was so at peace as a kid, I loved playing Tetris with my “stuff”.  I think 2012 will be the year to get that peace back.

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