The Joy of Revolution: Time for millennials to take control
Fifty years ago America stood alone on top of the world. Americans had most of the world’s best jobs and cars. We had the strongest money: our wages bought us the coolest toys, warmest homes and cheapest food. The minimum wage bought six gallons of gasoline. We lived longest of any people.
Today many other countries have more manufacturing jobs and stronger money for better quality goods, better education and health care, tastier food and longer lives. The federal minimum wage buys two gallons of gas.
Your grandparents — baby boomers — were raised in luxury by hardworking parents. During the Sixties, boomers rebelled against war, materialism, greed and environmental destruction. Then most gave up and joined the consumer parade. Good people, they wanted to enjoy life, raise kids, fly the flag and feel normal. They committed their lives to mortgages and cars, made investments, bought you hamburgers and vacations.
But their failure to prepare a new American way of life, after the 1974 oil embargo, leaves you with fewer jobs, higher fuel prices, tougher mortgages, weak dollars, student debt, national debt, crummy cars, narrow ballot choices, poison rivers, bulging prisons, barren soils, costlier food and health care, higher taxes to pay for their old age, no Social Security or Medicare for your own future, and shorter lives. They’ve given you everything but a society and a planet.
Typically, younger generations learn from wise elders, then gradually take power. Today, however, because their elders have stripmined America, Gen X and Gen Y leaders need to rebuild their futures and their childrens’ futures. Young leaders can completely and joyfully defy nearly everything normal, to make America’s cities more beautiful, secure, creative and fair than any the world has seen. We’ll take risks, to invent new systems that serve us: green jobs, solar power, community money, nonprofit co-operative health care, energy efficient housing, urban orchards and farms, independent media. As Obama says, “Change comes not from the top down but from the bottom up.” That’s you, on the bottom, pushing forward.
Culture, law, technology, money and jobs will follow. But they won’t follow without being shoved. Corporate headquarters fly big flags, but when forced to choose between public benefit and profit they will choose profit, regardless of the damage to America or Americans.
Most of America’s institutions have become vastly anti-American, in fact, existing primarily for maximum bucks. For example, health insurers are not in business primarily to give us peace of mind. Mortgages are not issued primarily to shelter us. Commercial banks do not exist primarily to keep our money safe. Electric companies do not exist primarily to brighten our lives. Gas companies do not exist primarily to keep us warm. Grocery stores do not operate primarily to nourish us. School districts do not operate primarily to excite children about learning and prepare them to create the best communities they can imagine. Prisons do not operate primarily to deter crime or prepare people to return to society. Government does not exist primarily to balance competing interests or fairly distribute resources. The military does not exist primarily to defend America from invasion. Television shows do not broadcast primarily to entertain us. News media do not exist primarily to help us comprehend our world and become effective citizens. These institutions exist to keep themselves alive, make some people rich, and control the rest of us.
Currently, they employ millions of us to help weaken America. So Millennials can choose: live twisted to screw everybody else, live small to hide, or live big to build a healthy world. Some new college graduates will become managers of America’s continued decline. But history will honor those of you who enact radically healthy communities.
Many adults think obedience is safe, that current systems are practical, and that compromise with injustice is mature. Some adults will laugh at you. Others will welcome your leadership. Martin Luther King said it this way,”Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But, conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.” Changing the world has always been a big challenge. It’s the most fun too.
Several profound shifts are needed, to create a green and just civilization. They require courage. They give life.
1. LIVE FREE. Want freedom? Live simply, so that you can simply live. You don’t own stuff — stuff owns you. Consumers are consumed by advertising. Turn off TV, rely on independent media. Reside and work where you don’t need a car. Travel light. Bike instead. Live non-taxably. Create art, music, dance, theatre. As Benjamin Franklin said, “They who would give up essential liberty for a little security deserve neither.”
2. LIVE HEALTHY. Eating healthy food and exercising are acts of rebellion. Check labels: high fructose corn syrup causes diabetes and cancer. Eating factory-farmed meat is the fastest way to get sick and fat while destroying the planet. New veggie recipes taste and chew better than flesh.
3. GET A MISSION BEFORE A CAREER. What do you want to contribute to life and Earth? The world needs you to do that. And you do too. You’ll revolt or be interns forever. Don’t wait for business or government to give you a job. Create your own green jobs helping each other. Create your own nonprofit health insurance (see below). Learn from life directly: “If you want to truly understand something, try to change it,” says social psychologist Kurt Lewin.
4. OWN YOUR FUTURE: MAKE SAFETY NETS. Washington and Wall Street have ripped you off. When you’re old government help will be gone. So get together and create local and regional safety nets the American way. Member-owned grassroots co-operative organizations empower us to directly meet basic needs: food, fuel, housing, heating and healing. These create jobs that serve people, community and the environment. They efficiently fix problems and make life easier. They prove wealth rises from networks, not dollars. Begin with a few friends. Every big thing started small. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
5. STUDENT LOANS. Ordinarily, people should repay loans. But you have no moral obligation to repay student loans. Why? The game is rigged: irresponsible bankers who lent you the money defaulted and got bailed out by the federal government. They spent your future on their mansions. Your greater moral obligation therefore is to provide your best skills to family and planet. Do not chain your life to bad work to repay student loans. Loan defaulters don’t go to jail. Common debtors are not able to purchase homes or cars in their name. Rich debtors are rewarded by Congress. Remember, many countries provide free college education, to keep society smart.
6. FEED COMMUNITIES, STARVE CORPORATIONS. Shopping is Voting. So buy local goods and trade with one another. Rather than serving Wall Street we’ll serve each other. Some of you will inherit money or win the lottery. Please start and invest in local stock exchanges. Create your own ecology money, your own justice system. As Henry Thoreau said, “Voting for justice is as ineffective as wishing for justice; what you need to do is to actually be just.”
7. UNDERTHROW THE GOVERNMENT. When it becomes illegal to fix society, follow your conscience, not law. Remember that all social progress, to end intolerable injustice, comes through rebellion. Defying bad law started the United States, ended slavery, gained votes for women and the eight-hour workday, social security and civil rights. So civil disobedience is all-American. Thoreau also said, “In a constitutional republic like the United States, people often think that the proper response to an unjust law is to try to use the political process to change the law, to obey and respect the law until it is changed. But if the law is itself clearly unjust, and the lawmaking process is not designed to quickly obliterate such unjust laws, then the law deserves no respect and it should be broken.” Antislavery leader Frederick Douglass put it bluntly, “Power concedes nothing without demand.” As Thomas Jefferson declared, “”God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion.”
8. START LAND REFORM. Private property is more sacred in this country than any religion. Owning property gives the privilege to use land, but not to destroy community and nature. One way to keep land available for public benefit is to start land trusts. When land is vacant 5+ years it should be transformed to orchards, gardens, parks and green housing. Start now: take empty lots by “adverse possession.” When bankers crushed small farms, union organizer Mother Jones told farmers, “Raise less corn and more hell.”
9. THE BEST PART: NEW CITIES. Ultimate nonviolent revolution through the power of good examples. Vacant land for agriculture, earthbermed ecolonies need no fossil fuel. Tools of the future Big problems need little solutions. Put them together and we’ll have cities as beautiful as our children.
Glover consults for grassroots economic development. He is founder of Ithaca HOURS local currency, Citizen Planners of Los Angeles, Philadelphia Orchard Project, the Ithaca Health Alliance, and other groups. Author of six books on grasroots economies, he taught urban studies at Temple University http://www.paulglover.org