The Case For Economic Sustainability
Baca Grande Membership Vote Update. See Baca Blog. . .
By Larry Joseph Calloway
The anti-government passion that animates politics nationally was echoing off the walls at Jillian’s studio, where I have experienced yoga classes, a Sufi zirka, a feng schui talk, a sales pitch for ionized water, and such. Crestone is not where Republicans bother to campaign. It voted overwhelmingly for President Obama in both the primary and general elections three years ago.
But here before about 50 residents on folding chairs the speakers, backed by PowerPoint slides on a big screen, were saying we cannot depend upon government – federal, state, county – for relief in the coming upheaval. The main speaker was Vickie Helm, known to most of the gathering, whose only apparent motive in organizing the discussion was to inspire the community to work toward what she called “economic sustainability.”
That title does not convey the spirit of the gathering, just as speaker probably is not the best word for Helm, who was more like an evangelist than economist. She ran back and forth placing imaginary buckets under imaginary sudden leaks in the imaginary roof until, panting and exhausted, she made her point: namely, we’re running around containing leaks without realizing the roof is about to cave in.
OK, call it the sky. Call her Henny Penny. It don’t matter to her, I thought. “In a short period of time we’re going to be going through the same thing that Greece is going through,” she predicted. In other words, our national sovereign credit card is maxed out. “The inconvenient economic truth is this: the United States is broke.” There will be inflation and devaluing of the currency, but no more funding (federal, state, local).
She said somewhere in Kansas a school board proposed charging parents $40 a week to have their kids bussed to school. (I guess that board would never consider a small general tax increase for the general welfare. Oh, no! Forget the communal spirit that used to prevail in rural America if it costs money. Similar problem in Crestone, I thought: Here an emergency services district to replace the endangered private fire department was created by a thin margin of voters this month, but a peculiar switch of only about 20 of the voters defeated the tax to support it.)
What if everything collapsed by natural disaster or by bankruptcy of the various corporate entities that sell services here but don’t care about the community? Who ya gonna call?
How to weather the coming storm? Up flashed some PowerPoint points: Support community businesses. Community businesses support each other. How many folks in the audience had businesses? A dozen raised their hands, and she had them stand up. How many would like to learn how to make money on the internet? Two dozen hands went up. “If I get nothing else across to anybody, it is this: The most important thing is where you spend your dollars.”
And, Helm proclaimed the importance of supporting the non-commercial collection of community efforts she called “infrastructure.” Namely, that unfunded Crestone Emergency Services District, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, the various youth programs (thank you, Lisa Bodie and others), the food bank, the charter school (building under construction), the newly consolidated library district. These things, to me, are signs of a young and enthused community with a spirit of American volunteerism.
To the infrastructure she added two information-age essentials that bind the community to itself and to the world: the Crestone Eagle, a successful monthly newspaper in a time when mass circulation dailies are falling like trees (and saving some) and, the fledgling effort to bring high speed internet to this digitally disadvantaged rural area.
Internet. Now here was a cause worth urgent consideration. Cheered on by some in the audience, Mayor Ralph Abrams of Crestone took the floor. He has been working for a year to create a community internet company, and he said it’s going to happen – to begin to fire up in the next few weeks. The company, which he will head, is called Crestone Telecom. It will bring in high-speed internet service with state of the art equipment.
This was the most hopeful project to come up at the meeting (not to dismiss the many undeveloped suggestions for green technology) because it is concrete and ready to go. Problem: the effort is being undermined by a distant corporation. In a word (or maybe two), FairPoint. The sudden unannounced competitiveness on the part of a phone company with more apparent interest in the bankruptcy code than digital engineering is a good preface for the concept economic sustainability. This is probably going to be a test of standard corporate capitalism versus Abrams’ community capitalism.
Further, the year-long drill that Abrams and company were put through by the USDA in applying for a grant under a program that was cancelled at the last minute (budget problems?) is a good case history in support of the argument that we can no longer depend upon government.
Discouraging, this distrust of corporate America and American government (might as well add the corporate media). I stood to say that for reasons of practical politics including the obvious intent of some Republicans to purge all political opposition by driving the economy into the ground, I could not endorse the increasing cynical distance from government. I grew up as a student of the New Deal, which saved America from some of the terrible mistakes made elsewhere (Germany, Italy, even Russia where the mistake began) in reaction to Great Depression I. But that was long ago in a different world.
Anything on the bright side? Jeff WishMer, a bright young man who works for Chokurei Farm Store, married with a home in the Baca, received a warm applause when he stood to include home-grown food in the infrastructure against the Collapse. He is running for the POA board against an incumbent, Robert Garnett, who opposes the new EMS district and almost anything else that might cost money. WishMer is being criticized by some of these oldtimers because he has said he hates the POA, at least the way it is.
Distrust of government is in the American grain. I became atuned to it not long ago when I went searching in rural North Carolina for family roots. My father’s people were subsistent farmers (and, some of them, moonshiners). These Scot-Irish folks were responsible for the Whiskey Rebellion and many other insurgencies in our history. They’re still around. Take Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., the writer-soldier who won an astonishing victory in 2006, defeating an incumbent Republican to give Democrats control of the U.S. Senate. My grandparents on my father’s side were born just 70 miles over the mountains from his grandparents.
Webb has proposed that this Scot-Irish minority, southern in origin but without a history of slavery, has a lot in common with the African-American minority, which goes back almost as many generations. Together they could form a populist force that would revive the Democratic party and its historic principles, particularly in the Republican South (which includes Texas).
Similarly, it occurred to me that the communal sentiments expressed at the meeting in the yoga studio might be wedded with the anti-government sentiments of those angry folks who seem to support the Tea Party. They might want a divorce, I supposed, once they realize they are being used by corporately funded professional politicians to defeat the many and strengthen government in the interest of the few. Perhaps Crestone is not that far from Kansas, Dorothy.