Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Recession Proof Idealism

From Wall Street to Main Street to some violent American street named After MLK, you have heard this words " Man, we are in a recession." Everyone's talking about it. Jeezy even wrote an album about it. And frankly, I think that it has been quite the scapegoat lately. It has been to justify/explain lousy customer service, smaller meal portions at restaurants, even back payments in child support. (And that's for people who HAVEN'T lost their jobs). Not that our wallets have not taken a beating since the government dropped the R bomb and fear clinched every fiber of our being, it's true. They have. It's just now, we have an excuse to rest comfortably on.

I'd ask for a moment to think of all of the things that the recession has stolen from us. Our jobs, our "stable" financial institutions. In some cases, our dignity. In a very similar, yet introspective way, think of all of the things that it hasn't. Family, Virtue, Innovation, Nature...somewhere on that list (if you track long enough) you'll find CREATIVITY and IDEALISM. We've allowed fear to stifle our expression of such things. Instead of panicking and stuffing money under a mattress we should be thinking of ways to create the stability that we crave. Fear is a monster that is never satisfied. Unfortunately, it knows that the quickest route to your sanity is through your pocket. Every time we act our of fear, we impair our ability to recover. Further impairing our ability to recover is our failure to prioritize. I know countless people who have made the wrong type of sacrifices in this recession. They sacrifice their donations to churches and local outreach orgs to secure their money for clubbing. They refuse to spend money on summer enrichment for their kids so that they can waste money on the new iPhone 3G. They sacrifice countless hours of potential activism so that they can spend them staked out on their couches, clutching their lucky rabbits foot, watching Lou Dobbs tell you how much worse it's going to get.

I applaud churches, community organizations, non-profits, that have not yielded their outreach efforts because of the perceived and real effects of the recession. I also commend those who have not stopped giving to such organizations in the face of "hard times." For a summer camp coordinator who has learned the millions of uses of colored construction paper, there is a certain personal innovation that is at work in us when we choose to focus not on what we have lost, but what we have gained. In some (few) ways, I am thankful for the recession. It has humbled the whole world. It has forged the hand of creativity in our lives. Not just in our innovative design of spaceships and hybrid cars, but in our everyday interactions with one another. We learn that the face of compassion, goodwill, altruism and perseverance have stayed the same thorough it all. The means by which we accomplish them have changed. The recession has been a reality check to anyone who thinks that throwing money at a problem will solve it. The recession serves as a reminder that whether our paychecks, families, or aspirations are big or small, we are all linked in a string of fate and that only our loyalty to one another and our dedication to creativity and idealism will survive such things.

I guess this all comes on the heels of my recent wave of campaign nostalgia. Back then (year ago), we were in an undeclared recession. People hadn't REALLY started panicking yet. I had tons of volunteers who were between jobs, had just lost jobs or were overworked on the jobs that they had. They still knocked on doors, they still made phone calls. They still won elections. Ordinary people, extraordinary power. I guess it's a double edged sword. The campaign taught me to see the condition of communities and the people who live in them in a new way, but also caused me to have a lower level of tolerance for people who think that the world changes itself for the better and that money is all we need.

I'm not saying that we should not recognize the recession and its effects, I'm saying that maybe we shouldn't reach for it as an excuse for our inability to recognize what makes communities and families and individuals strong to begin with. That realization, that diagnosis, doesn't require a community organizer, a blogger, a rocket scientist or even an economist.

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