Before my family moved, my girlfriend and I went to visit the town where I used to live: Glen Burnie, Maryland. We went to the local Super Walmart where my brother once worked as a cart pusher. Brenda looked at me with a fierce confusion in her eyes and said, “this feels truly miserable.”
I believe that when you’re in a circumstance like corporate America where you don’t have regular public spaces, adequate public transportation, or community-centered arts and culture, you don’t necessarily know what you’re missing. Perhaps I just didn’t like living in Glen Burnie. But there’s something to it. The United States is becoming a wasteland of abandoned businesses and houses/buildings constructed for profit with little regard to how people will feel about the environment in which they live or work. This isn’t a new concept: It’s capitalism.
So why can’t I stop complaining? I’m one of the lucky ones. I now live in an awesome city, right?
Not only do I live with the anxiety of growing up in wasteland after capitalist wasteland, here in Boston we are also under attack. For example, today I attended the 3rd annual Allston Do it Yourself (DIY) Festival. This festival has a great line up of music, group discussions, skill shares, artists, and zine makers, and it’s all free (unless you spend 5 bucks on a T-shirt like I did but even that goes to support a local artist).
I spoke to one of the main organizers who explained how an organization called the Allston Village Mainstreets (AVMS) has wanted to take over this event and charge each person 25 dollars to enter. AVMA has discussed this possible take-over “under the table,” so it cannot be found in their meeting’s minutes. The website describes AVMS as a local non-profit organization that works to make Allston Village a better place to live, work, dine, shop, play, and own a business. The Main Streets’ programs are funded by the mayor’s office, so that’s your tax dollars going to fund a program that can turn around and take advantage of you, transforming a free community-wide event into a for-profit industry that brings in outsiders willing to pay the higher price.
Thankfully, the nonprofit, The Parents and Community Build Group, Inc that organizes and fund-raises for this event is committed to keeping the DIY festival a community focused event that remains free and open to the public. In order to ensure this mission, the Parents and Community Build Group, Inc had to go through a legal process of trademarking the event so no other group could take it over for profit.
The fact that community groups and passionate activists have had to fight so hard to protect our ability to come together freely in the park without being branded consumers is a sad sign of the despicable nature of capitalism. In Ecology and Socialism, Chris Williams explains that:
“Since capitalism’s survival depends upon the endless expansion of markets for capital and consumer goods, we are inundated with the ideology of consumerism; democracy is equated with the freedom to buy and every possible opportunity is taken to ensure that this message gets rammed home.”
Folks this is a Do it Yourself festival, run by and for people who tend to have anti-capitalist leanings (at least this is my general impression of the people today) Yes, we still buy corporate products. We have to. That is the nature of the capitalist system. Yes, we also have longings for greater freedoms and sometimes a festival like this gives us the opportunity to explore a little taste of what could be.
This should be a lesson that our public space, our freedom to assemble, and our vitality within our own communities is under constant threat and attack by the crazed economic system. This is why I am a radical leftist to the core. Yes, I moved to Boston for a better quality of life. To some extent, I escaped some of the misery that I felt growing up as a brooding poet but as the saying goes, “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.” Just because I haven’t shopped at WalMart in the last three years doesn’t mean I am free from the widespread absence of non-corporate community space. I am one of the lucky ones, but I am not satisfied, and I will not be silenced in this frustration.
I love this perspective that Williams puts forward in Ecology and Socialism:
“What constitutes a good quality of life? A rational answer would surely include: adequate and nourishing food, access to high-quality housing, efficient and accessible public transport, clean air and water, lots of green space, aesthetically pleasing architecture and town planning, creatively rewarding and dignified work, and most importantly, the free time to enjoy all this and engage in a full range of sporting, leisure, and cultural activities.”
If you have these things, they are at risk of being taken away (unless you’re one of the super rich). And if you don’t have these things, I’m not surprised because even in a city like Boston, even in a festival like DIY, people are not free from losing what we have. The solution, you ask? I met many amazing leaders today who have an invaluable effect on life in Allston/Brighton. To all of you, I say never give up. Keep fighting. Never forget to witness your own oppression. As unreal as corporate America makes you feel, you are so real, so alive…