Friends and colleagues. Each year I write an essay reflecting on the Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange and the state of the world that calls us to put on this event. 20 years ago a few of us started this event because we wanted to shine a light on the damage consumerism and the cult of more and more for the rich does to our communities and the planet we live on. We needed to find something that was a bit humorous, and did some actual good in the community, as well as shine the light on greed. We decided to collect and give away winter coats on the official start of the Christmas shopping season.
We have built quite an event. Something like 14 sites will be actively participating on November 25, and thousands of people donate and or receive winter coats on that day in Rhode Island, with a few other sites around the country based on our model.
On the other hand, the war machine continues eating the planet, the amount of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere continues to skyrocket, as do the temperatures and strange storms, democracy is failing, the planetary ecosystem is collapsing, and the answer to every question seems to be cut taxes for the rich, bail out the bankers, and give more subsidies to the landlords so they can drown the coastline faster with their economic undevelopment policies.
Poverty has not gotten better in the US. If anything we have more poverty than 20 years ago, since bailing out the bankers has done nothing to revive the economies of our communities. But facts seem to be irrelevant in America, with a prime example being the absolute belief that giving tax breaks to the rich and reducing environmental regulations creates jobs, without one shred of evidence that this is true. In other parts of the world many people are less poor, but the cost in terms of deforestation, climate change, pollution, desertification, cultural destruction, and genocide has been extraordinarily steep. The places that have made the leap forward have built giant cities and forced people out of the countryside while creating air pollution that kills millions each year and poisons the rivers. The economic transformation of China means fewer are hungry, fewer can breathe, and the forests of Asia have disappeared.
Close to home I have to give a shout out to the people of Burrillville for steadfastly resisting the Invenergy Fracked Gas power plant. It is only their resistance, aided and abetted by the resistance of the FANG Collective and all of the other people from all over the state who have lent support, that has kept us in the struggle The FANG Collective opened up the political space that all of us could help fill.
That the governor insists that putting us in debt for a plant that we know should not be built if we want to actually stop climate change is a good thing. It shows just how out of touch the 1% is, and how little the policies they tout will do for out communities.
The opposite of the resisters in Burrillville, one of the villains of this story, is found among the downtown Providence landlords who still think that giving them tax breaks to redevelop downtown buildings is useful for the community. The evidence is overwhelming. Tax breaks for the rich do not do one bit of good for communities. In fact they make it harder for communities to do the right thing. And when these beneficiaries of the public largesse start trying to force the poor out of the center of the city so their real estate would be even more valuable, we are rapidly progressing through oligarchy to despotism. You would think the owners of downtown real estate would know that the first law of cities is that they are magnets for the poor and displaced and efforts to remove them so that real estate will be more valuable are doomed to failure. Maybe the clowns who own downtown need tyo take their monopoluy money and buidl the kind of housing we really need in RI rather than just offices and condos for the 1%.
For a long time I have been thinking of democracy and how it is melting away under the power of money. And the richest candidate of all says he might not abide by the election because it is rigged. Clearly he has no clue about the fact that the only thing that is rigged is that the winners all kowtow to big money.
I have started to understand democracy as existing only when communities can decide that they can not be run over by big business. If communities can not say no to being sacrifice zones for money for the few under the cover of economic development, then we do not live in a democracy. We seem to be losing our rights to protest just when we need it most.
Which is why we have to give away winter coats each fall. The rest of us are being made obsolete. We seem to live in the throw away society that eats its young and the planet faster and faster in a futile effort to keep the economy growing so the banksters will not lose all their money. But face it, econmic growth that beneifts communities is dead, and never coming back. That we keep getting sold that bill of goods is just part of the big lies of the rich so they can keep stealing. As nobel Laureate Bob Dylan noted in one fo his songs “Steal alittle and they put you in jail, steal a lot and they make you king”.
I guess community destruction and the end of democracy is what one must come to expect from a government and a 1% that spends more and more on new and better ways to kill so that it will have enemies and therefore can justify ever greater expenditures on new and better ways to kill. In response sometimes I help give away winter coats, sometimes i speak truth to power, sometimes i build gardens and compost, sometimes I stand on street corners with petitions and signs and help a presidential campaign based on truth and honesty and good policy for the 99% reach the voters of Rhode Island (Jill Stein Green Party for the curious) . Then i go make videos of tadpoles and turtles and great blue herons because they help me learn to see.
We do what we can. And hope that it moves the needle towards justice and healthy communities. Do it with joy and thank you for participating in the Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange