From the Frontier of F$cked
Or: Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty Off the Wall in the First Place
Personal Charity is inherently inefficient and primarily self-aggrandizes the donors. (Is this where I put out a “Change My Mind” sign on a card table?) Also, an oz of prevention is worth a pound of cure, or some shit. Maybe “when life gives you lemons, fucking hurl them at all the kings horses and all the kings men…?”
On Wednesday I texted a friend who works in the housing justice sector and asked who I should support during the predicted heat crisis of the weekend. On Thursday she sent me a brief, not particularly good article, from our local corporatized news service that identified the county cooling centers and a local mutual aid group that was accepting donations. On Friday I gassed up my car, bought bottled water, sunblock, hand sanitizer, and searched at Goodwill for sun hats and coolers. On Saturday I got cranky (although really, when am I not), the heat ratcheted up, and I took the donations to @defensefundpdx. On Sunday I took more hats, period pads, water, more coolers, and rehydrating salts/pedialyte, because that’s what they said they needed. That and gatorade. Then I hid out in my house while the heat climbed to 113. On Monday I took more gatorade, more period pads, garbage bags, after-sun ointment, and more water — because I had it, although they had maxed out on water donations. Then I went home and hid out again, and sweated all over my couch even though I wasn’t moving. Because it was 115F.
All told I spent a couple hundred dollars of my and some generous friends’ money, I burned some gas, and I fussed over the volunteers as much as they’d let me (they told me they appreciated my “mom-energy” and I bought them bagels). I have no frikkin idea if I did any good. I’d like to think some of the water or gatorade or pedialyte kept someone, even just one person, from heat exhaustion. If I could do that, I’m glad. And it was the right thing to do. Lots of people were doing what they could, driving water and other supplies out to the unhoused camps, coordinating the deliveries and sorting supplies. But disaster relief is inherently reactive, not preventative. And in this case it’s also blisteringly inefficient and a symptom of extreme system failure across multiple fronts.
All the anxious, middle-aged, middle-class mums in Portland Oregon (which was hotter than the Sahara Desert this weekend), and all the energetic young activists in their adorable black shortalls, shouldn’t have to put Humpty Dumpty together again, because there is no bloody damn reason on earth that anyone in Portland needs to be sleeping outdoors and thus vulnerable to heat exhaution, sepsis, food poisoning, assault, and numerous other chronic and acute physical hazards. It is not at all difficult to run the numbers showing that housing is cheaper than hospitalization, incarceration, prosecution, and managing the sequelae of individual and social trauma. The State of Oregon and the City of Portland simply choose not to. The State Legislature *chooses* not to rebuild the tax base or implement fair housing legislation or invest in mental health. The City *chooses* to prioritize condo development over pretty much everything, including but not limited to affordable housing.
Mutual aid, small non-profits, large non-profits, personal charity etc can all have a place in a healthy social ecosystem, but a complex society should be able to realize economies of scale by creating a social safety net through equitable distribution of resources. So even though the mutual aid teams give my cynical middle-aged heart a lift, we’re basically doing the government’s job. This is a predictable outcome of electing Ronald Reagan forty years ago, and deciding as a policy to matter to give everything to the rich and hope weird little squeezings of left overs would leak or drizzle down to the rest of us. “Trickle Down” is not something that even sounds hygienic to me, much less a functional macro economic model.
What’s worse tho? That’s the smaller slice of fucked in this mess. The bigger problem is why it was bleeding 115F in the Pacific Northwest at all. We’re all running around like a kicked anthill over people dehydrating in two straight days of record breaking heat, which we should, because people shouldn’t cook alive in their tents next to the freeway. But can we also talk about how no one locally, regionally, nationally or globally has the stones to stand up to the fossil fuel industry, or reduce the carbon impact of 20 years of massive U.S. military occupations, or question billionaires air-conditioning casinos and yachts, or reduce the meat consumption deforesting the Amazon basin, or *or* OR….?!
The State of Oregon and the City of Portland consistently fail to regulate air quality or diesel consumption. And remember, we’re the state where the legislative minority decided to kill climate change legislation with the oh-so-democratic-tactic of running and hiding. Sort of like when one of my children has an episode of extreme behavioral disregulation. Except none of my children are grown-ass legislators elected to oversee the welfare of 4 million people residing on roughly 100,000 square miles of U.S. territory. In fairness, the generally under-resourced, underfunded, and/or under-educated government of Oregon can’t be blamed for the global climate crisis that results in extreme heat here, killing freezes in Texas, and near biblical floods in Detroit, all within months of each other. But I am 100% prepared to blame every narrowminded, willfully ignorant, lobbyist-humping, science-denying legislator in Oregon, Texas, Michigan, DC, and every place else for not doing what they each *can* do.
Climate change has been happening since the industrial revolution kicked off, but the pace has accelerated in my life time. I was nine when St. Ronnie of the Blessed Trickle was elected and sent the federal government into some weird autoerotic asphyxiation spiral. In the early 90s, when I was the age of the youngsters at Defend PDX, I was also wearing overalls in the summer heat. I was working in a recycling plant, bundling newspaper and stinking milk jugs because liberal Ann Arbor was trying to be responsible and develop recycling for end consumers. We know the biggest polluters and trash generators aren’t end consumers: its concrete plants, shipping companies, and the U.S. military. But by all means, lets condition the kids to sort each others’ trash and feel good about it. The activist, caring young citizens out there trying to protect the unhoused, protest police brutality, and survive being boiled alive were born around the end of the chaotic, neoliberal Clinton administration. A whole generation’s worth of U.S. presidents was focused on BJs and bombing Iraq while Earth’s atmosphere turned into a giant Instapot.
So here we are: we’ve handed the beautiful, brighteyed, energetic next generation a steaming, 115F shit sandwich. As a good GenXer, I will love you up as best I can, and if you want veggie cream cheese on an onion bagel, I will totally hook you up, but I will also howl my rage at my congressional delegation.
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