Women and Children

A few weeks ago, when my agency was doing it’s 3rd or 4th round of layoffs of the last 18 months, an ex co-worker and dear friend of mine sent me a text message that said, “Don’t know if you’re on the list, but if you get cut, I’m forming an ‘unemployed gals’ book club’ and you are welcome to join.” I laughed out loud. It was a completely wonderful gesture to get me through a very hard day. I was lucky to have kept my job that day. We lost a lot of wonderful people.

I work for a subsidized child care agency serving low-income families in Sacramento County. Like all other early childhood education programs in California and across the nation, we have seen our budget slashed and slashed again. Governor Arnold Swartzeneggar line item vetoed stage 3 funding for child care with the last signed California budget, eliminating access to quality child care for 55,000 needy children across the state. Stage 3 funding was for parents who are not receiving welfare assistance and who haven’t done so for at least two years. When a single mother has to go to work to feed her family and child care costs as much, sometimes more than, her housing, how does she pay for child care and still put food on the table? Without help, she more than likely cannot sustain a household. Subsidized childcare invests in a marginalized population and small business owners. It gives the parents access to viable jobs and quality childcare so that the parents can pay taxes and the children can have a safe place to go. Subsidized childcare invests in day care centers, family child care homes and trusted family members so that our youngsters are enriched while their parents are at work. Its benefits are many-fold.

Childcare is one of the safest investments a nation can make. According to a 2009 study on the economics of child care by Cornell University, “Every dollar invested in child care provides an economic impact of $3.50 to the economy in goods services and tax revenue.” Still, our elected officials don’t always make the smart decisions for long-term investments, especially when decisions are becoming as difficult as the choice between clean water and paved roads. Governor Jerry Brown and the new California legislature are facing some very tough decisions with the California budget; subsidized child care may face further detrimental cuts, making the most vulnerable echelons of our society ever more so.

I know that as our local, state and federal governments try and make up for the fact that they have been spending beyond their means for several years now, more and more programs that people rely on will get cut. I know that I may be joining my friend’s book club soon. I also know that I am in a lot better position than most.

My friend with the book club, I’ll call her Maya, is a mother of three. She was laid off over a year ago and her husband met the same fate shortly thereafter. Both she and her husband worked in the social services sector. Their entire family is currently receiving MediCAL. Maya explained that she applied three weeks after her husband was laid off, before he received his first unemployment benefits check. At the time Maya applied, the Department of Human Assistance counted only her unemployment and her entire family was able to qualify. Unfortunately, with the quarterly report that included her husband’s unemployment, they are being discontinued at the end of this month. For now, her kids will be placed on the “Healthy Families” program but that program faces deep cuts also. She and her husband, both of whom have chronic medical conditions, will get by on “prayers” despite still being eligible for COBRA through their former employers because the premiums are out of reach.

Like many American families, Maya’s family has moved in with elders, in this case her parents, in order to help absorb the impact of some of life’s living expenses. She loves her family and is a very proud wife and mom but explains that she thinks there is something unique to women in this current economic situation. “When we are employed, we take care of our households (groceries, cleaning, doctor’s appointments, school functions, etc.). Once unemployed, we continue to do them, however, we are expected to do ‘more,’ because we are ‘no longer working.’ In between laundry loads, cooking, dropping/picking kids from school, the day goes by quickly and we soon realize we have less time for job searching than our male counterparts.”

Maya worries specifically that women have faced lay-offs at a higher rate than men, observing, “Nearly two years ago, I joined a musical band of about 10 professional people. Eventually, many of us were laid off from our respective jobs. Out of those of us who were laid off, 5 of us are female and only 1 is male.” But even with her observations of inequality, Maya’s outlook is still very positive. On the subject of the book club I asked her if she had a specific focus. She stated, “I don’t think we’ll be reading Mead or Beauvoir, but definitely not Danielle Steele, either. For our first meeting, we chose “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant. A good read that will keep our minds busy but not fill it up with fluff, either!” When it comes to resilience, women and other marginalized populations have a thing or two we could all learn from.

Even if our nation maintains a positive attitude on the subject, however, the cuts to childcare, education, health services and other similar supportive services disproportionately affect women and children. While there is still a very long way for women to go in society, the leaps and bounds made in the last century have been critical to the equality of the sexes: for safety, health and equal opportunities for women. As the economy unravels and deep cuts are made, it is critical that our governments don’t turn back the clock on women and other marginalized communities. Unfortunately, based on what we’re seeing now, it looks like women and other marginalized communities will be the sacrificial lamb as the collapse of industrialized civilization continues. It is our responsibility to lay out our priorities and make those priorities known to our elected officials. As tough decisions are made all over this country about where to spend the remains of our resources, we have to decide if our priority is people or pavement.

State of the Union

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has said on more than one occasion that the American people are the most entertained and the least informed in the world. Listening to the mainstream media on Tuesday, leading up to the State of the Union address, I had a hard time figuring out if the story was about the State of the Union planned for the evening or the recent Oscar nominations. The airwaves were all aflutter with who was going with whom and who was bringing the popcorn. At one point my smart phone notified me that the minority speaker rejected the advances of some republican’s across-the-aisle reaching. First of all, gross. Secondly, I don’t care. I don’t care who Lieberman sits next to and whether or not McCain brought Goobers.

I’m all for the new the clamoring towards bipartisanship and launching a kindness revolution. I’m for talking with and getting along with neighbors. I’m for fostering community and building friendship. I am not for trying to reason with someone’s whose stance on climate change is Genesis 8. I am not for an energy policy launched by someone who has been blowing corporate oil for the past few decades. And I am not for the fanfare and party hats as our elected officials tell us that they will continue the path down the current paradigm—but they will do it holding hands.

Many parts of the speech made my stomach drop like riding a rickety rollercoaster at a state fair. If we think about international relations with any measure of social responsibility, our foreign policy is atrocious. The president’s mention of Tunisia’s recent upheaval, characterizing it as a great step for democracy and indicating that we’re supportive, was obnoxious. If we look at Iraq as an example, Americans know that we don’t get involved in other nations’ so-called democracy unless that nation happens to have oil reserves.

The Unites States of America built an embassy in Iraq larger than Vatican City but neither the Iraqi people nor the American people reaped any benefits from our nations’ conflict. The Iraqi people traded a dictatorship for a police state. The American people watched their sons, daughters and tax dollars go off to war and what returned, if it returned at all, came back forever changed. Ascertaining that we can conclude success in Iraq is ridiculous unless success is measured by how high we can stack dead bodies. The fact that we are finally leaving the sovereign nation we invaded almost ten years ago, so that the people there can fend for themselves and attempt to rebuild their toppled cities is not a cause for celebration. The whole debacle has been a terrible tragedy on any moral level.

But perhaps more glaring about the State of the Union address was not what was revered but what was glossed-over. The mention of Afghanistan hardly got two sentences. The organization Rethink Afghanistan published that, “During the time it took President Obama to give [the] State of the Union address, the U.S. spent another $13,764,244 in Afghanistan, according to the National Priorities Project’s Cost of War counter.” Even if our nation has no morals whatsoever, really doesn’t care about the human cost of war and has no regard for anything but the bottom line, Afghanistan is still a ridiculous endeavor. To reiterate the words of poet Jovi Radtke, “If we think about the war in purely economic terms, America has a credit card bill the size of Afghanistan.” Obama talked a lot about investing in America’s future. By anyone’s standards, building bombs and shooting Afghanis aren’t good investment decisions.

When it comes to foreign wars, our pockets seem to be bottomless. When it comes to investing in our own people, money suddenly becomes scarce. When Obama proposed that we freeze domestic spending, many people felt as though the buzz word in that sentence was “spending” and, perhaps, fiscal conservatives felt that this might be a good idea. I’m not a mathematician and even I can tell you that the way America has been borrowing against the future, with its massive deficit and outlandish spending, is not a viable approach to fiscal soundness. We have to cut back and I know that. But the buzz word was “domestic” Put another way, continuing to burn through hard-earned American money in Afghanistan is fine but money that goes back to the United States should be enforced with a mandatory stasis for the next four years, especially at a time when a record number of people are approaching retirement age and a record number of people are being born. It’s like someone sitting down to do their household budget and deciding to cancel the cable and the phone but still paying for the next-door neighbor’s dog food.

Sadly, all commentary about the economy, and how our money should be spent, is useless. The money doesn’t exist. It has been spent already. Nicole Foss, co-editor of The Automatic Earth (http://theautomaticearth.blogspot.com/), explains in her economic lectures that, for the last century, we have been spending what is essentially a global inheritance. The incredible amount of energy returned from oil production is from a source of sunlight and ancient fossils steeping for millions of years. We came across the incredible inheritance, divided it (usually by force) amongst the perceived more-deserving nations and we blew our wad in a little over a century. Many people still believe that we can continue the rape of the earth and that the economy will continue to grow the way it has for the last few decades. I am not the first person to point out: on a finite planet, there is no such thing as infinite growth.

Still, when I finally think that Peak Oil has hit the mainstream, and that the inevitable attrition and restructuring of how we use energy will start to develop with some level of common sense, an elected official or some other important decision-maker opens their mouth and gives me a delusion-check. Let’s pretend for a minute that there are enough resources and enough energy to build a completely new energy infrastructure and move into clean energy resources such as wind or solar. Even if this were true, Obama said himself that China has the largest solar research facility in the world. Even if there were resources to start a revolution toward sustainability, we are not heading in that direction. Our president gave us cute little allegories about people like the Allen brothers who turned their Michigan furniture shop into a solar shingle factory. Obama failed to mention that solar panel manufacturing companies in the US are being bought out by Chinese companies left and right and that our government has no real foundation to implement a plan for any sort of energy transition that might help us more from our dependency on oil to something more sustainable.

It has become more and more clear that the earth’s resources are finite, that growth is not perpetual and that the rate of our use of the earth’s resources are depleting them so quickly that we will face very serious consequences. Our elected officials could be truthful about this fact, reason with the American people and start a serious plan for the coming transition. Instead, they are maintaining the status quo and continuing down the harmful path that put us in this position in the first place. Rather than expressing the reality of our dire energy situation, Obama just furthered the infinite-growth fallacy and remarked, “We can have economic growth and use more energy while transitioning to ‘clean’ sources like nuclear and clean coal.” I think Richard Heinburg’s dissertation on said remark via facebook summed up my thoughts exactly: “Not.”

They never taught me to cure olives in Kindergarten

Sometimes you have to just try and fail. A few months ago my partner came home with a giant bag of fresh green olives from The Olive Pit off of Highway 5 in Corning, CA. I looked down at the bag tentatively, realizing the intention. “If we do this wrong, couldn’t we poison ourselves?” I asked, cautiously and let them live in their bag on the kitchen floor for a few days.

But really, there was no point in hesitating. We had the olives. So we set to the act of attempting to cure them. I got out my big steal pot I use for boiling canning jars or making tamales and filled it with cold water and the mass of olives. The recipe said to just change the water every day. Change the water I did. And every day the olives got…a little stranger looking. First with spots and blemishes and then with downright bruising. Eventually it was clear that we would never get to the step where we would add the vinegar and garlic cloves. And away went several pounds of olives, never to fulfill their antipasto destiny.

We had suffered defeat. But we were down-not out. I started asking around to friends. I wanted to know if anyone I knew had olive curing knowledge. (I actually updated my facebook status about it.) It was fun to discover that my friend Kristine, (the former catholic school girl, now lawyer, accidental owner of four cats, married to a pharmacist, whose parents have a pet cow after she convinced them not to slaughter the poor soul,) not only had access to 600 olive trees but was quite versed in olive curing. Hard core actually. She uses lye. And, after a short consultation, it was clear my folly. Olives need to be cured very, very shortly after being picked. Leaving them in a bag on the kitchen floor for a week causes bruising which will accelerate when the curing process is begun.

Olives have to be pressed into oil or cured to be edible. The store-bought kind are cured for you. (In Sacramento, my favorite are the fennel-orange olives at Taylor’s Market http://www.taylorsmarket.com and the bright green olives from the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op http://www.sacfoodcoop.com.) The skin of an uncured olive is tough and the meat is terribly bitter. Once cured though, they are a tasty delight. Olives can be cured a number of ways: using water, brine, salt or with lye. The first three processes take a dedication of time and require a measure of labor. The latter uses the chemical lye, or sodium hydroxide, to chemically puncture through the skin and leech out the olive’s bitterness. The olives then have to be rinsed several times and very thoroughly because lye is poisonous. But olives can be cured with a little patience using the other three methods. I very much recommend consultation from an educated friend or expert but if you feel confident: http://www.wikihow.com/Cure-Olives. As a side note, lye can be made at home as well: http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Lye.

You do not have to be a member of the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op to shop there. It is a wonderful store and I encourage everyone to browse their amazingly healthful selection. The produce is local and regional. Their deli provides a wonderful variety of healthy foods and specialty sweets. Their magazine racks are filled with progressive and/or interesting and informative literature rather than trite celebrity gossip.

I have been a member of the co-op for a number of years. I’m a member now because it’s important to me to support local, sustainable efforts. But that’s not why I joined. I joined because I wanted to invest in a discount on the co-op’s educational classes. Years ago I took classes on Indian Food for Beginners and Sushi Making. I opened the paper on this quarter’s offerings to a pleasant surprise: the co-op has an abundance of preserving, pickling and pressure cooking classes. The co-op has a wide-variety of classes from composting to Kambucha brewing. Most classes are centrally located at the downtown learning center, just around the corner from the store. Many are reasonably priced but most classes offer a helper-option in order to waive the fee (set up, dish-washing etc.) For those hoping to learn food-storage techniques, or just a new fun skill, the co-op is a great place to start. And yes, last Saturday, they even had an olive-curing class. In my closet I have olives set in three different kinds of curing solution: water, brine and salt. So far so good.

Reach Out

In a world where people are shooting elected officials, where people are setting themselves on fire in protest, where people are hungry and hurting and afraid, in a world that is going to get worse, the most valuable resource we have is each other. The most beneficial of things we can foster are our relationships. The greatest fortress we can build is our community.

I work for a private non-profit in Sacramento funded by grants from the state and federal government. I have no illusions about the security of my job situation. We’ve been getting pink slips every month for over a year. Some get rescinded. Some don’t. Last Friday our agency laid off 10% of its employees. A close friend of mine was on the list. She’s a single mother of two. When I asked her how she was going to get by, she replied, “Well. The kids won’t need new shoes for a few months. We won’t go out to eat. Maybe we’ll apply for food stamps. If worse comes to worse, we’ll move in with my mother.”

I’ve been stocking up food and water, collecting field guides and taking classes like the collapse is something that’s coming, that it’s on its way. But in thinking about my newly laid-off coworkers and my many friends that have been looking for work, (some for so long they are one of the millions of people whose unemployment benefits have run out,) what I’m realizing is that, for many, the collapse is here. Not having a job is a symptom of the collapse of industrial civilization. Making the choice between food and paying the electricity bill is a symptom of the collapse of industrial civilization. Having to move in with friends or family because you can’t pay your mortgage or rent is a symptom of the collapse of industrial civilization.

Many of us who discuss collapse, talk about it as though some major calamity will indicate that the collapse is here, that there will be some tell-tale sign letting us know that we can start using those field guides we’ve been stocking up on. Even if we understand that collapse is a process, in listening to the many whistle-blowers on this subject, it always seems like we’re waiting for something. Obviously I still have access to a computer and internet so I still have quite a bit of retooling in my life I can do before I’m faced with the very hard choices. But for the people sleeping on the banks of the American River, maybe collapse is already here. For the people on welfare, whose benefits will surely be cut, the end of the world is a lot closer.

When we hear about people who are in need, we have been given the opportunity to reach out to them and build a bridge. Take the opportunity every time you can.

If you are looking for a volunteer opportunity in the Sacramento Area, the River City Food Bank has a great one! They write, “Know a backyard gardener who is looking to get involved? We’re looking for someone with organizational skills and gardening interest/connections to coordinate our Growing Circle program as a volunteer. (We encourage people to grow and donate extra produce, which helps us provide nutritional groceries to people in need.)” For more information go to www.rivercityfoodbank.org