"Beauty confronts us with the requirement that we place ourselves among...the redeemers, the leaders in the protection of life. Once you have seen the bush on fire, you are not going to get out of the assignment unless you close your eyes to the beauty.... [You] either have to close your eyes or go back to Egypt and set the people free." - Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, "Rising to the Challenge of Our Times"

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Set up like a bowlin' pin

Went to a county General Plan Citizens Advisory Committee meeting tonight. First presentation was on sustainability. What it means, how it should impact planning considerations, and so on. No information or ideas that were new to me but I knew as soon as I saw a particular powerpoint slide that the presenter, a geology professor from CSU Chico, was likely to catch hell from somebody for it. Little grumbles of concern and disapproval rose from various corners of the room. The offensive comment was "Capitalism concentrates wealth and power." Other than that I didn't hear anything I thought would be controversial. Wrong!

Several times in her presentation I was pleased to hear her talk about poverty as an environmental as well as a social problem, and that racial and economic equity (thank heavens she didn't suggest gender) are key components of sustainability...that environmental justice issues (i.e. the historical tendency for heavily polluting industry and poor people / people of color to be sited together) must be addressed in sustainable development. Yep. She even talked about affordable housing and ways of increasing the supply of it, such as by adopting inclusionary zoning ordinances. I love it when people use those words in public places of their own free will. Hmm. I suppose I wondered if somebody would take exception to the inclusionary zoning reference too, as I've been in other public meetings where it was an inflammatory idea, but she didn't dwell on it very long.

Listening to all this I felt like I should try to think of a question to stand up and ask her, or some way of saying "Hear hear! Jolly good!" when she was done, or some relevant comment that would galvanize all this in public consciousness and make the Committee to go out and demand affordable housing or something. I was having a hard time formulating a question, and a couple other people had already stood up mostly to comment, not to inquire. Then a gentleman stood up and said, "In all your talk about protecting minorities I didn't hear you say anything about protecting religious groups." Ah, here we go, I thought. Because medical waste incinerators are so often opened next door to white people's churches. He had taken many notes and was going over them point by point. "And illegal aliens? Are we going to protect THEM too??" My eyes started rolling uncontrollably. "And you said Capitalism concentrates wealth and power! Capitalism is what made our country great!" Duh. Absolutely great, in wealth and power. That's why slavery was / is a hard habit to break. "Our traditional values are being destroyed by all the liberalism!" (Dang, no more slavery.) "There's no such thing as affordable housing because somebody always has to subsidize it! Doesn't equity just mean SOCIALISM?" Oh please, don't let it mean that. Etc. etc.

He was just on a roll, all but accusing the poor geology professor of advancing a godless Communist agenda, and I felt it was my duty as the legal aid lawyer with the little ACLU button on my bag to stand up and at least express some support for the speaker. I don't feel good about impromptu speaking. I had a few things I was rehearsing in my head, and hopefully they came out making more sense to other people than they did to me. I got up and said I found her presentation quite timely because it happened that I would be attending a summit in New Orleans next week on Regional EQUITY and SOCIAL justice. (Hmm...) That regardless of one's political views or preferred coping strategy, poverty is an environmental and social problem that we have to address. I recommended some books on the synthesis of capitalism and sustainability. I misspoke, though, by saying that capitalism and sustainability can "coexist." It would have been more correct to say that since capitalism is the economic reality of the world, it has to adopt the principles of sustainability or it will put the world out of business. All the externalized costs (such as the inner city kids with asthma from the medical waste incinerator) are really bad accounting in the long run. Maybe he'll read Paul Hawken's books and learn all that anyway. Ha.

And I realized that all my buttons, including the ACLU button, had been pushed by some ignorant fool, and I was annoyed that it was so easy to do. But it was a good exercise for me to stand up and try to say something, and I might not have done that if I hadn't been all riled up and eye-rollin'. At a Buddhist retreat center I visited a couple years ago, a sign said that the person who is the most irritating / difficult for you is your greatest teacher. So many great teachers in the world.


Allie said...

I love the response to "Capitalism is what made our country great".

A really likes the cartoon "Super Why", in it they magically change words in stories to make them less scary (Like the Big Bad Wolf, becomes the Small Kind Wolf, Humpty dumpty has a great slide instead of fall....)

Sometimes I think we need to do that with comments like the capitalism one. Maybe it should be changed to Humanity, Compassion, Hard Work.

Too bad changing the word in the sentence doesn't change the way things are...

adam said...

That was an entertaining read. Maybe better than the Da Vinci Code. The only difference being you didn't run out of there being chased by some mad cops...