Thursday, November 02, 2006

Get some rest. Plug On.

Just finished Jimmy Carter's book, sent to me by a friend through BookCrossing and now released to find a new home. Just started Jeffrey Sachs' book The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time. And this morning, I went to a breakfast fundraiser for HomeFirst, a local organization that works to help homeless people in Union County.

Piled on top of Michael Gecan's book about organizing to create power to take on power, and the low turnout at the lectures and voter rights teach in and peace concert, it's all making me wonder what would get a critical mass of people motivated to vigorously pitch in and actually really fundamentally change all the assumptions about wealth distribution and resource use and population growth that make these problems go on decade after decade.

Why can't we choose communal priorities and pull together? Why are there so many different groups working on so many different things, so that even well-informed, deeply committed people can't figure out who to support with dollars and time, and get more and more frustrated with every additional request for money and volunteerism?

And why do so few of the groups who perform acts of charity - using money donated from wealthy individuals - make bold, articulate public statements about the structures of inequality that continue to permit the wealthy to give small portions of their wealth to the utterly destitute, and then feel good about themselves for doing so? Well, the answer to that one is fairly obvious, I guess.

What would Jesus have done if his e-mail Inbox and his paper mailbox were full, every day, of requests for money and food from small children halfway around the world, whom he would never meet? Is that the problem: that the scale of suffering and the geographical (and psychological) distances between people make it much, much harder to translate giving a damn into making a damn bit of difference?

What if we could link up every family in the world with one other family, and recognize that the materially well-off families have just as much to learn and gain from connecting with the poor families as the other way around? More importantly, what if we could persuade the materially well-off of their basic security, so they'd stop agonizing about the mortgage payments, take comfort in their full bellies and warm beds, and finally, finally, turn their gazes and their full attention outward to the rest of the world.

One thing I found fascinating about Carter's book is his point that increasing health care and nutrition for developing countries actually lowers their birth rates: women who aren't terrified that their children will die before age 5 feel more comfortable limiting their family size.

One thing I find fascinating about Sachs' book, so far, is that it is apparently a practical, informed blueprint - from a guy with a ton of experience - about how our generation could be the one to truly end poverty in our lifetimes, and that we are the first generation in the history of humankind to even have that opportunity, should we choose to enact it.

One thing I find fascinating about all the things I've been working on these past few years is that, bad as things are, they are better than they were in key ways. Three years ago, only peace activists were yapping about the mess in Iraq and civil liberties - now everyone is. Ideas about non-violent conflict resolution and the peace dividend to be gained from genuine sustainable development aid are getting wider circulation every day. Despite the BushOstriches, most of the world is truly ready to tackle global warming in a serious way, and will likely outstrip the national and international leadership in doing so.

Get some rest. Plug on.


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