Monday, October 3

Transition and Occupation

I'm starting to see the not-so-diaphanous threads between the Transition Movement and this recent Occupy Together movement. The Occupy movement is a rising up of the people against those robber barons who've been sucking us dry for the past few decades. The Transition Movement is about voluntary simplicity across a network, its about becoming more reliant on your own skills within a community and its about community building.

What can be said against stronger communities in which to live? Strength does not come from unchecked growth. Strength comes from exercising the members you have to reach their maximum efficiency. Those who want to see their empires of wealth grow exponentially have sold us the lie that exponential growth is not only possible, but preferable.It is only a possibility for a few, not for the whole.

This movement is not socialism. This is not communism. This is capitalism at its best and a more healthy form of capitalism than what has been sold to us over the past 40 years.

In the past in have spoken about my "forced choice" to go carfree. However, its more accurate to say I choice between the lesser of "forced" choices. In going after my own so-called American Dream I followed the approved socioeconomic conventions. I graduated college. I got a job. I got a mortgage. I have student loan debt. I have no savings for my childrens' future. I have no retirement.

In seeking my path I made concessions I would rather not have made. I had to allow myself to be shackled to huge student loan debt. I moved 1200 miles from my hometown and my extended family to work. And I bought a modest house that I could barely afford, much further from my place of employ and the town where I work than I wanted to. Ten years ago my preferred choice would have been to find a good paying job in my hometown where I could raise my kids in relative safety and comfort while enriching my own life as I had opportunity.

Ten years ago I would have sworn a blood oath that I'd never work in an office. And today I sit in a cubicle writing this rant on an office computer sipping Starbucks coffee. My 27 year old self would punch my 37 year old self in the face and demand an explanation. There are days I want to shuck off the button up shirt and walk out. I want to work outside under the sun, tilling the earth to be rewarded with a tangible product from my day's labor.

Before I graduated college I lived in a place with a low cost of living but no decent jobs. It's a quiet town with basically good values and a bounty of natural beauty and resources. There is potential there for a thriving recreational economy, but there is little willingness to expand and explore that option. There is potential there for a thriving organic food movement. But again, little willingness and little vision to make it happen.

There were a few clear options left to me: no education meant minimum wage and poverty. Education meant student loan debt but no job prospects. Education plus staying put meant bankruptcy.

And so we moved west, to a metropolitan area that cannot naturally sustain its population. Water is pumped over mountains to keep the masses from being thirsty. The cost of living is high. And there is a tradeoff, as many of the things we would like to have seen as a part of the community we moved from are found here in spades. We like the social environment, but the costs are high, both socially and individually.

I landed in the Denver area in the winter of 2008. And I've been trapped here ever since. My dream was to get an education, get some experience and then find the BEST spot for my family to thrive. While we could have done much worse, we stay here largely because we have no other choice at this time.

That brings me back to the Transition Movement and how it has threads to this fledgling Occupy movement. I discovered Transition in my readings. I began a few years ago with "Your Money or Your Life" and moved on to "Affluenza" and some others. I eventually discovered James Howard Kunstler, first through a seeming planning tome called "The Geography of Nowhere" but then moved on to "The Long Emergency" which opened my eyes to the reality of Peak Oil. Once you break into Peak Oil, Transition is just around the corner. I think the best Peak Oil/Transition book I read was Richard Heinberg's "The Party's Over."

For awhile I believed I was just following some conspiracy theory thread about Peak Oil and the push to transition the American Way of Life into something more sustainable. I believed in it, because it sounds like the right thing to be doing, but I was skeptical that the movement had any credence. But I wanted it to be true. I have been so frustrated that my supposedly "good" choices in life have thwarted financial and social stability in my life.

And then I see people putting in "victory gardens" in their quarter acre suburban plots, I read about the wisdom of buying local organic food, when I hear people asking about backyard chickens in the suburbs or in the city...I see people exercising their freedom over their food. I see people who are concerned about the choices that have been taken away from them over the last few decades and wanting to make a change back to more sensible ways of doing things.

This whole movement, and group of movements, is all about people taking back their freedoms. People are sick and tired of being told that the market has dictated their choices when they know well and good that THEY ARE THE MARKET and they demand something else altogether. Profit has been dictating our choices for so long. Corporations do not heed the market's wishes. They only pursue the most profitable paths; even if that means lying, deceiving and coercing the average citizens of this country to buy things they do not need or want through devious methods. The deception is aimed at getting us to buy the objects that provide the corporations with the greatest profits possible.

People are taking back their freedom to choose healthy food over the poisoned and processed crap we've been handed. People are taking back their freedom to choose a more sustainable lifestyle, moving into cities and denser areas so they don't have to commute by car 100+ miles a day just to make ends meet. People are choosing not to shop at Walmart.

My wife and I find ourselves embracing this lifestyle because it makes sense. We're intelligent individuals and as a couple we can reason through just about anything. As we discuss the merits of growing our own food, raising chickens, rabbits and now the idea of a we discuss these things we pare away all of the fluff and we adapt the idea to our own situation and fit the pieces together in a way that makes sense for us.

We've never been apt to follow fads, and as we get deeper into the Transition Movement I am more and more certain that this is no hipster trend. While hipsters may participate, they are by no means the driving force behind the movement. It is people like us: parents, professionals, retirees, Boomers, twentysomethings, thirtysomethings...we're only a generation or two away from our forebears who lived through the Great Depression and a time of severe austerity, which was only punctuated by World War II.

Maybe our Depression era ancestors felt as if fate owed them something after WWII and they began paving the way toward our modern day cultural crisis. That's my theory anyway. The GI s returned home from defeating evil in the world and they were given this new thing called "suburbia" as their reward. No more toiling on the farm. No more struggling in poverty and scraping a living in the Dust Bowl. They were victorious over the trials of their generation and they settled into their Laz-E-Boys to savor TV dinners and forgot the horrors of the '30s and the War to End all Wars. I can't really begrudge them that.

There's no reason we can't rebuild those quaint communities we so love to see in movies, y'know, the ones that are all Victorian Homes along streets lined with huge oak or elm trees, where people can walk just down the block to the corner store for a newspaper and a gallon of fresh milk. We can have our backyard gardens. We can be healthy and live long lives because modern medicine has advanced so greatly in our lifetimes. We can throw off the shadows of cancer and heart disease. We can set aside a nest egg for our goals and dreams. Our kids can move to the other side of town instead of the other side of the country.

But the past two generations in this country have allowed Corporate interests to dictate our lives. Maybe we older generations don't really have a right to protest like the latest adult generation is. I think we should support them wholeheartedly. I don't think we have a right to pretend like we have no responsibility for the way things are today. I've been a legal adult for almost 20 years. I kept my head buried in the sand for a full ten of those years. I feel somewhat ashamed, even though I've been duped along with the rest of the country. I should have decided long ago to stop taking it with no protest.

I avoid thinking about the truly overwhelming aspects of my future. I'm not financial stable enough to take care of my parents as they age. And they have nothing in the bank to protect against aging and retiring. About the same time my parents will hit their 70s my children will be graduating high school and looking to my wife and I to help them get on their feet and get started with their lives outside our home. Today we live paycheck to paycheck. I only have ten or so years to prepare to take care of both my children and my parents.

I need opportunities NOW to increase my pay and move up the career ladder if I'm going to play along with the script I've been handed. And since it doesn't look like that's going to happen for (literally) years, as my boss continually reminds us, I have to start thinking hard about how I'm going to survive financially into my own elder years. I'm going to need my health, my energy and the knowledge and experience to carry me (us) through some hard times.

On Saturday I stood at the foot of the Colorado State Capitol steps and watched as a crowd of a few hundred multi-generational protestors demanded a change in the way things are. I applauded their sentiments. I almost wanted to add my own to the voices already raised in protest, but I held back. I'm not good in front of crowds. In my cowardice I silently began composing blog posts. But Dear Readers I do what I can.

My cycling is a part of my desire to be free from corporate plutocracy. My cycling is an exercise of my freedom to choose the path that's best for me and my family in this country. My bike has given me freedom to continue fighting for my own version of the American Dream. It has staved off individual financial hardship and collapse. My bike is the vehicle that will help me and my family Transition to a better place.

It shows us possibilities. It provides a greater margin of income for us. It inspires us to more resilient and sustainable practices for our home and the benefit of our future, as a family and as a part of our community. The bike plays a part in this for me and I know it must also play a part for many others.

If you're tired of the status quo, look to those who have been running the show for so long. Demand a change. Remember the lies we've been told. You know the truth. You can see it, feel it and hear it every day, hidden behind the advertising, behind the multitude of distractions that have been crafted to pacify us into submission.

It sounds like conspiracy theory, but you know in your heart that what I am saying is true. So they pump us full of chemicals without concern for our health? What can we do about it? So they lobby our leaders to pass laws that favor the rich over the average working class citizens? What can we do? So the economy is in the tank and no one has the answers to fix it? What can we do?


And this.

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