Shitty jobs that don’t exist

I don't think we can fully understand the appeal Trump without realizing just how shitty life has become for a lot of working class white men and their families. Stable, honest union jobs just don't exist anymore. It wasn't so long ago that you could graduate high school, work hard, and have a good life with a rancher and two cars in the driveway. You weren't living large but you had enough for a Disney vacation every couple of years and a nice TV on the living room wall. For a lot of working class families, that just doesn't exist anymore. Now it's astronomical credit card debits, defaults on mortgages, divorces from the stress. Saving for the kids' college or for retirement is just a joke. It's easy to get nostalgic for what's been lost.

A few years ago I wrote about the time when I worked the night shift at the local supermarket. The older guys there had decent-enough stable jobs they had worked at for twenty years, but for the younger guys, the supermarket was just another temporary stop in a never-ending rotation of shit jobs. Sometimes it'd be pumping gas overnight hoping you wouldn't get shot. Other times it'd be working the box store hoping some random manager didn't fire you because he didn't like the way you look. A lot just didn't last at any job.

There was a small core of long-time nightshift crew members and a revolving door of new hires. Some of the new people lasted only a day before quitting and some a week or two, but few remained longer. Many of these temporary employees were poster children for the tragedies of modern twenty-something manhood (night crews were almost all male). One twenty-something white guy was just back from Iraq; he shouted to himself, shot angry looks at us, and was full of jerky, twitchy movements. We all instinctively kept our distance. Over one lunch break, he opened up enough to admit he was on probation for an unspecified offense and that loss of this job would mean a return to prison. When he disappeared after two weeks (presumably to jail), we were all visibly relieved. (Our fears weren’t entirely unfounded: a night crew member from a nearby ShopRite helped plan the 2007 Fort Dix terrorist plot.)

Another co-worker lasted a bit longer. He was older and calmer, an African American man in his late forties who biked in. I liked him and during breaks, we sometimes talked about God. One frosty morning, he asked if I could give him a lift home. As he gave directions down a particular road, I thoughtlessly said, “Oh so you live back past Ancora,” referring to a locally-notorious state psychiatric hospital. He paused a moment before quietly telling me that Ancora was our destination and that he lived in its halfway house for vets in recovery. Despite the institutional support, he too was gone after about a month.

The regulars were more stable, but even they were susceptible to the tectonic shifts of the modern workforce. There was a time not so long ago when someone could graduate high school, work hard, be dependable, and earn a decent working-class living. My shift manager was only a few years older than me, but he owned a house and a dependable car, and he had the nightshift luxury of being able to attend all of his son’s Little League games. But that kind of job was disappearing. Few new hires were offered full-time work anymore. The new jobs were part-time, short-term, and throw-away. Even the more stable “part-timers” drifted from one dreary, often dangerous, job to the next.

You can read the whole piece here:

To be clear: I don't think Trump himself really gives a crap about these people. As I said yesterday, he's all about himself and his fellow rich New Yorkers. The millions of people who voted for him mostly got suckered. That's just how Trump works. He suckers, he raids, he bankrupts, then he moves on (see: Atlantic City). Eight years from now our country will be teetering in bankruptcy again, but that's not the point, not really, not now at least. The American Dream really has disappeared for a lot of people. They'd like to see American made great again.

Bike to Work 2016

May 20th was Bike To Work week, which I rode for the third time in recent years. This year I rode 32.1 miles, from 5:53 to 9:00 a.m., for a total time of 3:07 hours and speed of 10.3mph.

I had a phone with Google Maps direc­tions strapped to my han­dle­bar but didn’t need it much as I’ve learned most of the route by now. Every time it feels less out­landish to do this ride, to the point where I might just spon­ta­neous­ly do it again this sum­mer if I find myself awake ear­ly. This year I got an ear­ly start, nev­er stopped for snacks, and only occa­sion­al­ly stopped for pic­tures, which togeth­er brought me in far ear­li­er than I’ve man­aged before.

The route (minus the blocks right around my house for privacy):

Why I’m fasting with @eqat against mountaintop mining

On March 22nd, I joined the fast against moun­tain­top coal min­ing called by the Earth Quak­er Action Team.

“Old Zinc Fac­tory; Palmer­ton” by road_less_trvled on Flickr (cre­ative com­mons license)

When I was grow­ing up we’d make the trip from Philadel­phia to my grandmother’s house a cou­ple of times a year. As we head­ed north, the high­way thread­ed across farm fields and through rock cuts in the hills. About an hour in, we’d start notic­ing the thin blue band on the hori­zon. It would slow­ly get larg­er and larg­er until Blue Moun­tain loomed in front of us and we whooshed into Lehigh Tunnel.

My Nana lived on the oth­er side of that moun­tain. On this side the moun­tain­side was red. The forests that car­pet­ed the rest of the thousand-mile ridge had been ripped up by the decades of chem­i­cals pour­ing out if the smoke­stacks of the giant zinc pro­cess­ing fac­to­ries that book­end­ed the town of Palmerton.

When con­ver­sa­tion turned to adult mat­ters, I’d wan­der to the back porch and count the dirt bike trails going up the bar­ren moun­tain. When I tired of that I’d play in the stones of my grandmother’s back­yard. Even grass didn’t grow in this town. Ambi­tious home­own­ers would some­times make rock gar­dens for the space in front of each house that had been designed for marigolds, but most of the town had got­ten used to the absence of green. When the EPA final­ly got around to declar­ing the moun­tain a super­fund site we all snort­ed dis­mis­sive­ly. My grand­moth­er was actu­al­ly offend­ed, hav­ing long ago con­vinced her­self that the fac­to­ry effu­sions must be healthy.

The Palmer­ton fac­to­ries were fund­ed by New York bankers. Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty got mul­ti­ple multimillion-dollar bequests in the wills of the founders of the zinc com­pa­ny. I’m sure there are still a few resid­ual trust funds pay­ing out dividends.

Today we have Philadel­phia and Pitts­burgh bankers orches­trat­ing the removal of the moun­tain­tops in West Vir­ginia. As our tech­nol­o­gy has improved so has our capac­i­ty for ill-considered mass destruc­tion of our nat­ur­al surroundings.

All liv­ing crea­tures have an impact on their sur­round­ings. My com­forts rely on the coal, oil, and nat­ur­al gas that are brought into our cities and towns. But I do know we can do bet­ter. I’m opti­mistic enough to can find ways to live togeth­er on this Earth that don’t break our moun­tains or poi­son our neighbors.

Pho­to: “Old Zinc Fac­to­ry; Palmer­ton” by road_less_trvled on Flickr (cre­ative com­mons license)

Remembering George Willoughby

There’s a nice remem­brance of George Willough­by by the Brandy­wine Peace Community’s Bob Smith over on the War Resisters Inter­na­tion­al site. George died a few days ago at the age of 95 [updat­ed]. It’s hard not to remem­ber his favorite quip as he and his wife Lil­lian cel­e­brat­ed their 80th birth­days: “twen­ty years to go!” Nei­ther of them made it to 100 but they cer­tain­ly lived fuller lives than the aver­age couple.

1
George in 2002, from War Resisters International

I don’t know enough of the details of their lives to write the obit­u­ary (a Wikipedia page was start­ed this morn­ing) but I will say they always seemed to me like the For­rest Gump’s of peace activism – at the cen­ter of every cool peace wit­ness since 1950. You squint to look at the pho­tos at there’s George and Lil, always there. Or maybe pop music would give us the bet­ter anal­o­gy: you know how there are entire b-rate bands that carve an entire career around end­less­ly rehash­ing a par­tic­u­lar Bea­t­les song? Well, there are whole activist orga­ni­za­tions that are built around par­tic­u­lar cam­paigns that the Willoughby’s cham­pi­oned. Like: in 1958 George was a crew mem­ber of the Gold­en Rule (pro­filed a bit here), a boat­load of crazy activists who sailed into a Pacif­ic nuclear bomb test to dis­rupt it. Twelve years lat­er some Van­cou­ver activists stage a copy­cat boat sail­ing which became Green­peace. Lil­lian was con­cerned about ris­ing vio­lence against women and start­ed one of the first Take Back the Nightmarch­es. If you’ve ever sat in an activist meet­ing where everyone’s using con­sen­sus, then you’ve been influ­enced by the Willoughby’s!

2
The Gold­en Rule, 1959, from the Swarth­more Peace Collection.

For many years I lived deeply embed­ded in com­mu­ni­ties co-founded by the Willough­bys. There’s a recent inter­view with George Lakey about the found­ing of Move­ment for a New Soci­ety that he and they helped cre­ate. In the 1990s I liked to say how I lived “in its ruins,” work­ing at the pub­lish­ing house, liv­ing in a coop house and get­ting my food from the coop that all grew out of MNS. I got to know the Willough­bys through Cen­tral Philadel­phia meet­ing but also as friends. It was a treat to vis­it their house in Dept­ford, NJ — it adjoined a wildlife sanc­tu­ary they helped pro­tect against the strip-mall sprawl that is the rest of that town. I last saw George a few months ago, and while he had a bit of trou­ble remem­ber­ing who I was, that irre­press­ible smile and spir­it were very strong!

When news of George’s pass­ing start­ed buzzing around the net I got a nice email from Howard Clark, who’s been very involved with War Resisters Inter­na­tion­al for many years. It was a real blast-from-the-past and remind­ed me how lit­tle I’m involved with all this these days. The Philadel­phia office of New Soci­ety Pub­lish­ers went under in 1995 and a few years ago I final­ly dropped the Non​vi​o​lence​.org project that I had start­ed to keep the orga­niz­ing going.

3
George at Fort Gulick in Pana­ma (undat­ed), also from Swarthmore.

I’ve writ­ten before that one of the clos­est modern-day suc­ces­sor to the Move­ment for a New Soci­ety is the so-called New Monas­tic move­ment – explic­it­ly Chris­t­ian but focused on love and char­i­ty and often very Quaker’ish. Our cul­ture of sec­u­lar Quak­erism has kept Friends from get­ting involved and shar­ing our decades of expe­ri­ence. Now that Shane Clai­borne is being invit­ed to seem­ing­ly every lib­er­al Quak­er venue, maybe it’s a good oppor­tu­ni­ty to look back on our own lega­cy. Friends like George and Lil­lian helped invent this form.

I miss the strong sense of com­mu­ni­ty I once felt. Is there a way we can com­bine MNS & the “New Monas­tic” move­ment into some­thing explic­it­ly reli­gious and pub­lic that might help spread the good news of the Inward Christ and inspire a new wave of lefty peacenik activism more in line with Jesus’ teach­ings than the xeno­pho­bic crap that gets spewed by so many “Chris­t­ian” activists? With that, anoth­er plug for the work­shop Wess Daniels and I are doing in May at Pen­dle Hill: “New Monas­tics and Cov­er­gent Friends.” If money’s a prob­lem there’s still time to ask your meet­ing to help get you there. If that doesn’t work or dis­tance is a prob­lem, I’m sure we’ll be talk­ing about it more here in the com­ments and blogs.

2010 update: David Alpert post­ed a nice remem­brance of George.

August 2013 updates from the pages of Friends Jour­nal: The Gold­en Rule Shall Sail Again and Expand­ing Old Pine Farm.

Google Voice’s cavalcade of ringing phones

I once read an insight­ful obser­va­tion about the geo-location rev­o­lu­tion that came about with the pop­u­lar­l­iza­tion of cell phones: In the old days of POTS (your land­line, lit­er­al­ly “plain old tele­phone ser­vice”) when you dialed a num­ber you knew where you were call­ing but you didn’t know who was going to pick up. With cell phones that was reversed: you knew who you were call­ing but you had no idea where they were.

Only, this wasn’t quite true. To find some­one you’d have to call their house, their work­place, their cell­phone. What you were real­ly call­ing wasn’t the per­son but one of their phones. Much of the time you’d end up with voicemail. 

Well, the promise of the geolo­ca­tion rev­o­lu­tion has been tak­en to its log­i­cal con­clu­sion. I’ve final­ly got­ten my invi­ta­tion to Google Voice, for­mer­ly Grand Cen­tral, the per­son­al­ized tele­phone switch­ing ser­vice that the big-G is open­ing up to U.S. cus­tomers this sum­mer. It’s free and it gives you the ulti­mate in vir­tu­al­i­ty: a phone num­ber that is not con­nect­ed to any phone. When peo­ple call your Google Voice num­ber, any num­ber of phones start ring­ing. Which one you answer depends on your geog­ra­phy and convenience.

I have three phones set to ring on Google Voice calls depend­ing on the type of call: my cell phone, my home phone and my com­put­er (a Skype plan with it’s own incom­ing phone num­ber). If I’m dis­sat­is­fied with the phone I’m on I can press the star key to have all my phones ring anew and trans­fer the call seam­less­ly (a very addic­tive past-time).  It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing evo­lu­tion of the phone into a vir­tu­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion device.

Intrigued? You can sign up for a Google Voice invite from its site. It’s not a per­fect sys­tem. To use it most effec­tive­ly requires chang­ing your phon­ing habits and mak­ing a very seri­ous switch. I sug­gest Life­hack­er’s guide “How to Ease Your Tran­si­tion to Google Voice” as a good place to start.

Movement for a New Society and the Old New Monastics

Robin wrote a lit­tle about the New Monas­tic move­ment in a plug for the Pen­dle Hill work­shop I’m doing with Wess Daniels this Fall. 

Here’s my work­ing the­o­ry: I think Lib­er­al Friends have a good claim to invent­ing the “new monas­tic” move­ment thir­ty years ago in the form of Move­ment for a New Soci­ety, a net­work of peace and anti-nuclear activists based in Philadel­phia that cod­i­fied a kind of “sec­u­lar Quak­er” decision-making process and trained thou­sands of peo­ple from around the world in a kind of engaged drop-out lifestyle that fea­tured low-cost com­mu­nal liv­ing arrange­ments in poor neigh­bor­hoods with part-time jobs that gave them flex­i­bil­i­ty to work as full-time com­mu­ni­ty activists. There are few activist cam­paigns in the 1970s and 1980s that weren’t touched by the MNS style and a less-ideological, more lived-in MNS cul­ture sur­vives today in bor­der­line neigh­bor­hoods in Philadel­phia and oth­er cities. The high-profile new monas­tics rarely seem to give any props to Quak­ers or MNS, but I’d be will­ing to bet if you sat in on any of their meet­ings the process would be much more inspired by MNS than Robert’s Rules of Order or any fif­teen cen­tu­ry monas­tic rule that might be cited.

For a decade I lived in West Philly in what I called “the ruins of the Move­ment for a New Soci­ety.” The for­mal struc­ture of MNS had dis­band­ed but many of its insti­tu­tions car­ried on in a kind of lived-in way. I worked at the remain­ing pub­lish­ing house, New Soci­ety Pub­lish­ers, lived in a land-trusted West Philly coop house, and was fed from the old neigh­bor­hood food coop and occa­sion­al­ly dropped in or helped out with Train­ing for Change, a revived train­ing cen­ter start­ed by MNS-co-founder (and Cen­tral Philadel­phia Meeting-member) George Lakey It was a tight neigh­bor­hood, with strong cross-connections, and it was able to absorb relat­ed move­ments with dif­fer­ent styles (e.g., a strong anar­chist scene that grew in the late 1980s). I don’t think it’s coin­ci­dence that some of the Philly emer­gent church projects start­ed in West Philly and is strong in the neigh­bor­hoods that have become the new ersatz West Philly as the actu­al neigh­bor­hood has gentrified.

So some ques­tions I’ll be wrestling with over the next six months and will bring to Pen­dle Hill:

  • Why haven’t more of us in the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends adopt­ed this engaged lifestyle?
  • Why haven’t we been good at artic­u­lat­ing it all this time?
  • Why did the for­mal struc­ture of the Quaker-ish “new monas­ti­cism” not sur­vive the 1980s?
  • Why don’t we have any younger lead­ers of the Quak­er monas­ti­cism? Why do we need oth­ers to remind us of our own recent tradition?
  • In what ways are some Friends (and some fel­low trav­el­ers) still liv­ing out the “Old New Monas­tic” expe­ri­ence, just with­out the hype and with­out the buzz?

It’s entire­ly pos­si­ble that the “new monas­ti­cism” isn’t sus­tain­able. At the very least Friends’ expe­ri­ences with it should be stud­ied to see what hap­pened. Is West Philly what the new monas­ti­cism looks like thir­ty years lat­er? The biggest dif­fer­ences between now and the hey­day of the Move­ment for a New Soci­ety is 1) the Internet’s abil­i­ty to orga­nize and stay in touch in com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent ways; and 2) the pow­er of the major Evan­gel­i­cal pub­lish­ing hous­es that are hyp­ing the new kids.

I’ll be look­ing at myself as well. After ten years, I felt I need­ed a change. I’m now in the “real world” – semi sub­ur­ban free­stand­ing house, nuclear fam­i­ly. The old new West Philly monas­ti­cism, like the “new monas­ti­cism” seems opti­mized for hip twenty-something sub­ur­ban kids who roman­ti­cized the grit­ty city. Peo­ple of oth­er demo­graph­ics often fit in, but still it was nev­er very scal­able and for many not very sus­tain­able. How do we bring these con­cerns out to a world where there are sub­urbs, fam­i­lies, etc?


RELATED READING: I first wrote about the sim­i­lar­i­ty between MNS and the Philadel­phia “New Monas­tic” move­ment six years ago in Peace and Twenty-Somethings, where I argued that Pen­dle Hill should take a seri­ous look at this new movement.