I get by with a little help from my friends
by Jan Lundberg
I have finally "arrived" and achieved community: I participate in a support network that allows me to live a decent life on little money. I need help, I accept it, and I give it. I'm more self-reliant than if I were conventionally working to consume.
My own formula for being supported for working for the community is unusual: some of my key supporters I have never met. Nevertheless, with some minor differences it could well be a neighborhood-based support system. Most community-supported activists, however, are reliant on a whole town at least, in order to survive.
This is not all pure activism; some extra jobs are added in many cases, temporarily, at any time. Or there is often a stable part-time gig, to come up with some cash. Yet, Earth First!ers often get by for several months only on community donations and a tribal form of mutual support.
It would be nice if I could enjoy my liberated life more, but I have what amounts to a routine that is work-oriented. It's not the best thing for my body and soul. Yet it is a far better situation than John and Jane Commuter find themselves in. Their lifestyle trashes their bodies and tends to kill their spirit. If they are typically complacent they contribute to war for oil and global warming. Maybe they don't compost or even recycle! They may, however, assist in some community project and be very sweet people.
There is so much to do (or not do) to live well in just one day, that I was moved to write "Doing What YOU WANT To Do" for the first Culture Change magazine almost two years ago. There is a close relationship between how much money we have and how badly we had to pay for it. The simple life, when obtainable, has the least material things and least worries over wealth. Wealth in many cases impedes community involvement. A wealthy class means a divided "community." Managing and protecting material things is time- and resource-consuming. Graffiti seen in Arcata stenciled on sidewalks: You are not what you own. People actually walk and bike around here a lot, making it more of a community experience when you run into almost everyone you'd want to. No car helps this community experience.
As for my personal regret that I'm not doing daily yoga, swimming, hiking, songwriting, etc., this reality does not change the fact that I have sort of achieved a safety net, upon reaching "poverty level" in some years. I have a large number of people interested positively in my activities, ideas and welfare. So I am lucky and in large measure fulfilled. Realistically, due to others' past criminal behavior, I cannot now reject making money, and I must keep working and perhaps find new ways to support my family and friends. However, some day my fantasy may be fulfilled with a community that I help create or locate, that will be rather nature-based and thus more simple and supportive. I have formerly made large amounts of money and "enjoyed" making it and spending it. The experience made it easier for me now to see objectively the "value" of going for the big bucks somehow as an alternative to working for and with the community.
As an example of bartering to help get by, in the indirect way I often do, I "pay rent to Earth" with activism. Last week I played songs and spoke briefly at an observance at Humboldt State University for the two-year anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. When I took the stage I was just doing my job and spreading the word on oil. The rewards were in the pleasant reactions, new contacts, and a news report including some of my music that went out on the activists' favorite radio station, KMUD in southern Humboldt.
This is what my far-flung support network wants me to do. (Some would rather I appear more in the national mainstream press, which our office does accomplish a few times a year.) Not everyone trying to depend on a support network has the ability, as I have, to receive compensation via tax-deductible contributions. But there is more room out there for nonprofit work that yields various forms of community support.
Wes Roe, permaculture activist, told his wife-to-be that he did not work for a wage, but for the community. It makes an impression on people, perhaps satisfying our evolutionary backround (99+% of our being). Wes was written about in Culture Change e-Letter #22
What I contribute I get back. Friends and contacts help me live and work. (Notice how the phrase "live and work" contains a total distinction?) I will not starve or freeze. But because the support networks in materialist society are not often able to replace the dollar trade, one almost always needs to make cold cash for the dentist, mortician, etc. In Cuba and many other countries, you're all taken care of in health-care, unlike in the United States of Greed and Overwork.
Solidarity can be the rule of the day
We all have value to contribute; none of us is "meant" for mindless drudgery, even if it results in a loaf of bread as the pay-off. If we're going to work for a pay-off, that opens the door to be paid in other forms that may corrupt. Therefore, banned should be working for a capitalist. It breeds a class of "sheeple" who chafe and do not accept full responsibility for what could have been a life of discovery and pleasure. When one keeps his or her nose to the grindstone, that removes one from the opportunity to interact and share. A mob of unconscious consumers has been bred, weaker and less capable than serfs - who were tough. The human race has been going downhill, physically certainly, since civilization began, despite whatever knowledge, art and medical technology have brought us.
But here is hope: The question today is "What can you do in your own circumstance to start getting by with a little help from your friends and family?" Are you willing to clean somebody's house, work a garden, or go to the food bank to drop off or pick up donations for the poor who could include you? Even if you are "making good money," relying on human beings whom you know is the real ticket. And if someone else in your support network is also working for the community instead of a wage, this indicates a healthy tendency. It's like noting a viable population of top-of-the-food-chain predators in a natural habitat.
For now, we have a system dominating that is based on the opposite of solidarity and mutual aid. Although cooperation has been proven to be more productive than competition (in controlled tests in Russia in the late 1980s), the anti-solidarity and predator-like human is all too respectable and commonplace today, especially in the U.S.
Individually and to the world, the blunt message in and from this country seems to be, "I've got my black gold in my tank, more money than you, and I don't care!"
It's no mystery that the U.S. is the world's major bully, when the U.S. is the least solidarity-oriented culture in history. A group of thugs running the nation - nothing new in its history- is a form of solidarity for them. But they are really alone. The individual's fear of material insecurity, brought upon by lack of love in his or her life, precludes enjoying many friends and sharing talents for fun, love and survival. As for the "community of nations," it ought to be seriously attempted someday soon. Then we can get by on planet Earth with a little help from our friends - all peoples and all species.
Jan Lundberg formerly ran Lundberg Survey Incorporated which once published "the bible of the oil industry." He has run the Sustainable Energy Institute since 1988. It can use your assistance and generous help.
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