Making Use of Idle Time

March 28, 2010 at 11:22 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’m not sure what to make of the “tea party” movement. Much of it is rantings by reptilian-brained, hate-filled dupes who are being used as cover by the nation’s hidden plutocracy. And in our country’s dire situation it often seem to fit into the category of comic-relief, like the goofy, hapless character inserted into an intense action movie to relieve some of the tension. However, I think most tea party participants are attracted into the fold by the populist ideas that are sprinkled throughout the rhetoric. So the sensible, beneficial, and humane ideas act like a “gateway drug” that leads to acceptance of the accompanying dangerous, spiteful, and down-right crazy ideas. For instance, in this New York Times article, frustrated unemployed citizens are taking their tea with a mix of sane & insane beliefs. I think there is a very good chance that, at some future point, the populist-leaning, sensible tea-partiers will take a good look, see they are elbow-to-elbow with many who are Krazy with a capital K and they will go start their own real grassroots movement. Then, I suppose, the racist, Social Darwinist tea-partiers will go ahead and merge back into the Republican party.

Like those unemployed tea-partiers above, Myrtle & I are trying to put our time to good use. We have a non-profit charity which collects & distributes food, clothing, furniture, & information to needy members of our local community. We have done this for a number of years with a loose-knit group of like-minded friends, coordinated by Myrtle who is a dynamo. We always paid the expenses out of our own pocket because we had a comfortable income and we deeply believe in this effort. And at one time (before the presidencies of George Bush II & III), the number of people needing help was small and decreasing.

But each year of this past decade has found us steadily financially worse-off. The forces of downsizing, various bubble-bursts & market crashes, inflation/deflation, credit-crunches, and white-collar flim-flammery have taken their toll and left us nearly as destitute as those we help. But in the midst of job-searching (which will likely be the subject of a future posting), we set-up as a formal non-profit organization, called “A Voice for the Commonwealth” and have been working to expand our efforts.

All the above was a long-winded introduction to explain why Myrtle & I, last week, attended a seminar on procedures for non-profit organizations to apply for grants. And during the lunchtime break, we hobnobbed at a large table filled with volunteers and staff from those other associations- mental health advocacies, food pantries, and the like. It was uplifting to be among people who passionately devote themselves to improving the world. And although everyone in attendance readily agreed that our society’s problems are snowballing at an alarming rate, they all exuded optimism that we can make a positive difference. What I find most inspiring about this group is that, in spite of their own problems, they find time & energy to give to the community. What I find most disconcerting is something commented upon more than once during the seminar: there wasn’t one person there under 50 years of age.

Time and again I have found: Ordinary Americans from all walks of life carry the burden of this ruined economy on their shoulders. They stoically keep slogging through their problems. The churches, the media, and the companies they work for all teach them to blame themselves rather than the larger forces that exploit them. And when they look around them they think they cannot believe their own eyes. They personally know many people who are getting the life squeezed-out of them by insurance, their employers, and their mortgage company (likely all at the same time). But, on the other hand, the media shows a faux America where very few struggle, most everyone drives a brand-new car, and no one is stressed-out about paying bills. When they meet someone who breaks the silence by openly talking about what is really going on they react first with shock, then relief when they realize they aren’t alone. Then they start talking.

For instance, at our lunch each of the dozen people told about their organization and how they had gotten involved. At my turn, I started by prefacing with a very short version of the business ruin I have recently experienced thanks in-part to our nation’s beloved banksters (see my December post, “Then the Financial Tsunami Hit” for that story). I segued into mine & Myrtle’s conclusion that our hearts had always really lay in our charity work and the needs have increased enormously in the past few years. Myrtle interjected that we are now helping many of the formerly well-off who used to be giving charity not receiving it. And, she added, many of the struggling former middle-class are ashamed to ask for help. But there is no shame. They are victims who have been robbed of their jobs, their retirements, their homes, and their peace of mind.

A lady in her mid-50’s was sitting across from us. I will call her Stella. Stella admitted she had a business experience similar to ours. She and her late husband had owned an art framing & art sales business. Late in 2008, just after the economic melt-down, her husband suddenly died. Being unable to run the business by herself, sought to sell it. A number of people attempted to buy her business but could not because the banks would not loan money for the purchase. So her friends helped move-out the store’s inventory one carload at a time. Stella is now has her inventory stored in her garage in hopes of eventually selling it. She is in a deep financial hole because of the amount owed on the remainder of the store’s lease and other debts. She said her late husband observed business had never recovered since the September 11, 2001 drop-off (I agreed. Things have been getting worse for most Americans for many years). Since her husband’s death, Stella has volunteered at the local mental health agency.

Beside Stella sat Barb. Barb is Executive Director of a group that helps troubled youth by teaching them to care for and ride horses. She is of retirement age and supplements her small pay from the non-profit with investment income. Stella’s tale of vacating her store reminded Barb that she (Barb) owns a number of commercial properties in the city’s business district, all of which sit empty as a result of the economic collapse. She commented that she gets no income from them yet still must pay real estate taxes, which is becoming increasingly difficult.

If you are having financial troubles, remember you are far from alone.

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