Friday, December 1, 2017

No, Honey, Eat Your Boots!

This picture is the topic of criticism today on Facebook.


The picture was posted with the comment: "Anti-Rich Democratic Socialist" protesting in a pair of $450 boots.

How dare she want to fight for greater income equality, since she is clearly not poor, and given the knowledge that she is at a Democratic Socialist rally, we can make all sorts of character assessments about her, about exactly what she means by that sign, about her obvious (based ONLY on that picture) sense of entitlement.  Clearly, she is just a lazy millenial who wants the world handed to her on a silver platter and through no effort of her own deserves to live in a big house and drive a Maserati.  


Such were the nature of the comments being made about the picture.   


There are a lot of assumptions being made about this woman and her plight.  What I said was that we can't make those assumptions, because we have no idea what her back story is.

The danger in focusing on the appearance of the woman in the above picture is that we miss the message, which, in my opinion, has to do with a lot more than just those very few words.  

Maybe there's something there that's too big and too complicated to put on a sign.  Maybe we should look deeper at that underlying issue, which isn't that she's wearing $450 shoes to a Democratic Socialist rally where she is protesting the super rich by saying, essentially, that if they won't feed the masses, the masses should eat them.  Maybe it's not about food, at all, or about poor people coveting the belongings of the rich, or desiring to have what those rich people have.  


Maybe the problem is not that we want all of the stuff that rich people have, but rather that we are being forced to maintain the same standard of living as rich people without the income to support that lifestyle.


In 2014 a widow named Robin Speronis made the news, because she was attempting to live off-grid in her urban home in Florida.   As with most things, there was probably a little more to the story than that the town just targeted this poor woman, but if we focus on what we know, the bottom line is that her house, which was completely safe and habitable, was condemned, because she had disconnected from public (and costly) utilities.  


She was collecting and filtering rainwater.  She was composting her humanure.  She had a garden in which she was growing most of her own food.  She was living this way, comfortably and safely, happy and healthy, but the Town said that she couldn't live that way.  It was illegal to *not* be connected to the city water supply and sewage lines.  When she refused to comply, her house was condemned, and she was forced to move.  


But understand that they didn't tell her how she was going to pay for these services on her fixed income, and they certainly weren't going to give her financial assistance.  She had devised a way that she could live her life without having to ask for handouts.  Unfortunately, her desire to be self-sufficient was deemed illegal.  


Her story seems radical and very specific to that one situation, and it is, but it isn't.  There are so many stories in which individuals are penalized because they can not afford (or do not desire to have) some amenity that our society has decided is required.

In many parts of this country, we are in a housing crisis.  There aren't places to live that people can afford, and so some people are trying to get creative.  This couple in Oregon built a tiny home in their parents' backyard.  A neighbor complained, which prompted the town to investigate.  The town decided that the house did not meet their codes.

The house was not an eyesore.  It wasn't in anyone's way.  It wasn't blocking the driveway or the ocean view.  The article doesn't say why the neighbor complained.

But that couple can no longer live in their parents' yard.  Where should they live?

What we are allowed to build on our land is highly regulated and subject to the whims of the people who are in control of our communities.  Houses must be a minimum square footage.  Most tiny homes don't meet the minimum, and so are illegal.  We are being forced to meet a minimum standard that ultimately costs more.

Not only do our houses have to be a minimum size, but they must also include sanitary waste disposal, water and electricity.  Get that?  In today's world, here in the US, one can not build and live in a house that is not wired for electricity.  It's in the standard building codes.  Either we connect to the grid or we purchase and install an alternative energy system, but not having electricity is not an option.

Unfortunately, it doesn't end with our houses.  The are also ordinances that govern what kind and if we can have animals on our property.  Want to raise chickens for eggs, because eggs are crazy expensive?  Better not live in a community where "farm animals" are illegal.

Those laws even extend to what plants can be grown.  This woman wasn't growing marijuana.  She was growing tomatoes.  Tomatoes.  According to the article, if she was convicted, she would have to serve 93 days.  Three months.  In Jail.  For growing tomatoes.

We can't raise our own food, because it's not legal, but in the same breath that they are denying our right to feed ourselves, they are blaming us for our diet-related health issues.  Damned if we do and damned if we don't.

In short, we are being forced to adhere to a set of standards that not all of us can afford, and then, we're being blamed for failing to meet those standards.  It's like the education model. We blame a fish for being unable to climb a tree.

We have poor people in this country, many of whom receive government aid - aid that is funded by our collective taxes.  Many of those people would be just as happy to NOT receive that government aid, but without it, they can't eat, because they can't grow their own food; they don't have a place to live, because it's illegal to live in a tent; they can't heat their homes, because the code requirements for low-cost heating options can be incredibly costly (and aren't always just about "safety" - although that's what they'll tell you).

Maybe we should stop giving both handouts and hand-ups.  Maybe we should stop pretending that one size has to fit all, and we should allow some people to live without electricity - if that's their choice.  We should allow young couples to live in tiny houses in their parents' backyards - as long as their tiny house doesn't impose on the neighbor's property (good fences make good neighbors).  Maybe we should not allow laws governing keeping animals - as long as those animals are well managed and given adequate room, shelter and food.  Maybe we shouldn't allow laws regarding what plants can be grown in our yards.

Maybe it's not the incomes that are the problem, but this idea that everyone needs to have all of the same stuff, and anything less is illegal.

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