For those who follow the ebbs and flows of history, the 2016 election came to a came to a predictable end, though many of us were too close to see it coming.
But some of what happens next is also predicable, and therefore we can harken to our history books for answers, and try to map an end run around the things we can predict with surety.
These events include:
• Climate change disrupting everything from the economy to political borders, food security, and even more massive migrations of people.
• Racism, xenophobia, hate crimes, and attacks on civil liberties becoming more overt.
• Agent provocateurs mixing the message.
So we have to respond accordingly:
If Washington under Trump is going to gut environmental protections, we have to gut the businesses who will profit. We have to make it materially irrelevant that environmental agencies are weakened, or that the Paris Agreement gets tossed out the window.
If the Affordable Care Act is dismantled, we have to look for alternatives in the form of radical medical access. Can we do that? I have no idea. But we have to spitball any and all ideas, and then approach the interests who can implement change.
If “news agencies” promote false narratives and hateful rhetoric, we have to hit their advertisers where they live. Dig into how web advertising works, create counter-narratives. Create campaigns to pull money from companies that thrive in the toxic stew. They can't have it both ways: freedom of “speech” in the form of lobbying and SuperPACs but freedom from prosecution when their speech is filled with hate and irresponsibility and blithe indifference. If corporations are given the rights of the individual, we have to make them behave like individuals and adhere to the rule of law or suffer the consequences of not being a responsible citizen.
And if we can't get change from the inside, we have to make it financially difficult for them to function. Continue hitting big oil where they live. Agribusiness is a huge polluter and inefficient consumer of resources; we have to radicalize the industry. Find the hidden uses of fossil fuels and make them irrelevant by shifting funding into their alternatives (fertilizer is one hidden fossil fuel, and of course the ubiquity of plastic doo-bobs).
Move money on massive scales. Take stocks out of huge portfolios. Go to universities and demand they pull assets away from toxic businesses. Ask Apple to take its billions of dollars in the bank and start financing clean water tech, solar roads, investment in the infrastructure of Standing Rock and other Native American lands. They need to diversify; let’s figure out how to make it sexy to do so in the areas we're concerned about. What’s George Soros up to these days? Let’s get him on board for direct action.
There are organizations who already address these issues. I've donated to many of them. Some of you work for them. We can volunteer with them. But I also know that the smartest guys in the room often aren't guys and aren't anywhere near the room. We need to pull together this amazing brain trust and figure out new paths.
Let's make everything we hold dear financially imperative to those with the fattest pockets and longest reach.
These are massive actions, and the size of them can make us feel tiny, especially when staring at the enormous cyclops that just hit you over the head with a giant mammoth bone. But revolutions come in all sizes, and there are small ways that add up if enough people participate:
1. We've learned convenience trumps everything in the United States. So let’s create stores that sell nothing but bulk goods and generate virtually no waste. Yes, we can all shop at the co-ops and farmers’ markets, but it's inconvenient for most people, especially in working class communities where time (and money) is limited. Bulk sections are nice, but I want bulk everything, from oil to beer, crackers to ice cream. We can scoop stuff into tiffin carriers, pre-weighed aluminum storage, or cotton bags. Make To-Go food that isn't packaged: bring your containers, or have pre-sized containers that you trade. This is what the "TARE" button is for on all those deli scales; let's use them.
Let’s create neighborhood-bulk-purchase programs where major goods and staples are purchased in shares: olive oil, toilet paper, soaps. Once a year a barrel of maple syrup shows up and it's divided between the owners of the share; money goes directly to the producers of the maple syrup, and there’s no packaging, a reuseable barrel, and no store at all. A truck (or cargo bike!) delivers your neighborhood’s wine or oil; bring your jugs and fill them ROMAN STYLE! (I'll bet we'd get to know our neighbors better, too.)
2. The racket that is the “beauty and hygiene” market is one I've dramatically toned down in my house. I use bamboo toothbrushes, homemade skin products, things that aren't packaged, like bars of soap. For lotion I refill a jar with coconut oil once every couple of months. Oil and baking soda toothpaste? Sounds freaky, but not nearly as freaky as all the crap in your Colgate, not to mention the tube which ends up as landfill.
And whatever crazy health benefits are touted for wooden combs doesn't matter to me nearly as much as the fact that they decompose. I found a place on Etsy (DixieCowboy) that not only makes them here in the good ol' USA, but cheaper than the ones from China. I use an old-style safety razor. (“Safety" is a misnomer: the first time I shaved, I nicked myself pretty good; my husband accidentally removed all the skin from his scalp, and we decided he wasn't "exfoliating" as much as "defoliating." But on balance, not disposing of hundreds of plastic razors that will end up in the Pacific Garbage Patch is better than an occasional minor flaying.)
Ban anything with micro-beads, antibacterial soap, triclosan. Decide how much you need another wrinkle cream that probably works as poorly as the last one you bought, and surely has hidden ingredients that are finding their way into groundwater, the food chain, and soil, not to mention YOU.
3. Withdraw from junk clothing. The fashion industry is one of the worst polluters in the world, (it's second only to the fossil fuel industry) and has a ragged track record of human and worker rights, so removing both my cash and my clothing out of the consumer waste stream is fairly satisfying on the "righteousness" scale. I bought an almost-new cashmere sweater (not crappy cashmere, either–a really soft, tight weave that is cooking me to death as I write this); a couple of men's button-up shirts with good labels; two women's tees in a Breton stripe, and a silk "Theory" brand camisole before I left on a trip for under 100 bucks. (The cashmere sweater was the most expensive. I just looked up how much the Theory camisole cost new: well over two hundred bones; I got it for 7 bucks.)
I’ve bought jackets off of Etsy because I wanted a silly style that was 2 katrillion dollars new; it was only 100 bucks when I bought it from the 70's. Cruise your local vintage stores when you need something. Trawling the aisles of Goodwill makes you both financially practical and surrounds you with people of all races and classes. I love it there. My son loves it there. Adjust your mental space to frugality and economy, re-use and living lightly. Think like your Depression-era relatives thought: nothing is wasted, everything can find a second life.
This is not a quick way to shop. I understand that whole-heartedly. But I look at it like being a hunter-gatherer: most of the time you find twigs and bugs to eat, but sometimes you'll nab a whole bison and a bunch of ripe strawberries for your efforts. The net effect is that your style is absolutely yours and your alone, which, in an era of Kardash-fash, cheap labor, and processes that poison the earth, is something to make you proud.
4. Laziness is actually good environmental practice: leave your leaves on the ground so that birds and backyard critters have all the necessary components for hanging out through the winter. Leaves are food for worms. Worms for birds. Birds for seed delivery and insect control. Happy toad homes. Natural compost.
Xeriscape. Nature-scape. Let those leaves lie. Plant a meadow. Grow a field of weird sedums and ground covers.
Do our neighbors think we're lazy? Probably. And we are. BUT WE'RE A BENIGN LAZY.
5. Stop buying landfill. Buy off Craigslist. Think about whether that damned Schmørff table at the SwedishSøøperSenter is going to end up in the garbage in a few years. (Yes.) Look for alternatives to the often abhorrently toxic particle board and MDF that's poisoning our houses and poisoning the workers who create it. Our kitchen island is from the ReBuilding Center, a charitable organization that pulls architectural elements out of the waste stream. Our kitchen tile came from a company that recycles old porcelain and glass and makes new tile. Use reclaimed wood. Refinish old pieces. It's taken our family years to come out looking slightly more mature than college dormers, but we have little in the way of future landfill furniture.
If you’re buying new, save up and buy products from crafty people that are built to last; I got an absurdly well-made bag for under 200 bucks which will outlast me by decades; I hope my grandkids will use it for books in college.
Cruise thrift stores for pots, pans, utensils, planters. There’s always a nice collection of mason jars at the one I visit. I kitted out our camping gear with used kitchen-wares. Not sure you need that gewgaw or frippery? Look for it in charitable tag sales first. Always look at the object in your hand and ask yourself, “Is this thing likely to end up in the gullet of a sea bird, the bottom of the junk piles in my basement, or as a broken piece of plastic cultural detritus in the landfill?” If the answer is “yes,” don’t buy it unless you really need it. (I still can’t figure out how to get my medical prescription in anything but those annoying one-use non-recyclable amber bottles. I HATE IT.)
6. Teach kids to see the world, including the harsh parts.
This one is brutal. Our job as parents is to get our kids to adulthood feeling confident and strong, right? But the realities are not always pretty. So with our own son, we watch the news. We read the paper. We talk about sexism. We talk about racism. We talk about class. We talk about climate change. We talk about pollution. We try to answer questions honestly–which sometimes means we have to explain really rotten truths–and to admit that we don’t always have answers, and then encourage him to seek them out.
We also try, as best we can, to provide him with the tools to evaluate the media, to question the messages it's often very difficult to filter out. If he can't filter out the noise, we hope that at least he can see things from a variety of positions, and that there is rarely one clear path to a solution.
In an age when the humanities are considered superfluous, and schools have been hamstrung by hypersensitivity on the one hand and the bottom line on the other, I suspect this might be the best thing we are doing to better the world. If we encourage our children to be critical thinkers rather than consumers of junk narratives and sloppy journalism, to be conservative in their consumption of resources, but generous with their time and their concern, we have one more bit of hope for our collective future.
These are brainstorms. Some of them might be viable, some of them not. But we'll come up with others. We’ll be the think-tank that finds interesting solutions to these profound problems. We can't do it all today, but a little every day and with tenacity.
Is this idealistic? Yes. But I can't be motivated only by fear. I have to be motivated by hope and belief in our better angels. And you are our better angels.