Tuesday, September 12, 2017



Like most Americans, I have dreamt of having my own home with room for hobbies and family. Like many Americans, I was downwardly mobile, and rather than finding a productive place in the world which would afford me the home I wanted, I have found myself getting behind on the rent, behind on my bills, and homeless. While I respect and admire those with a modest home their achievement, I have not understood how my poverty makes me undeserving of respect and aid. How have I become not a member of my community? I have always believed that it is in the interest of the community to ensure that the floor of poverty includes an adequate home, health care, a decent education and opportunities to be self-sufficient – generally in the form of employment. The homeless are members of the community, people who would like a safe, dignified place in the community, and a job, who have had bad luck, ill health, trauma, or mental illness. That our society fails to provide this floor and fails to respect the humanity of these poor, is the basis of my advocacy.

I became an advocate for the homeless in the spring of 2016, when I was invited to bring “lived experience” to the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance, where half of my advocacy energy is spent advancing these values. Our major project right now is “Coordinated Entry”, which endeavors to house homeless clients with the least hassle possible. I have also proposed a project I call “Everyone Known by Someone”, to create a network of local committees across Chittenden County to know and help the homeless members of our communities. The other part of my energy goes to being in the homeless community, and helping individuals when I can.

Besides being a voting member of the CCHA, I am active in the Governor's Council on Homelessness. I currently work at CVOEO, where I provide customer service, and have previously worked at Burlington's Community and Economic Development Office.

Stephen Alrich Marshall 9/12/2017

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Everyone Known to Someone: A Proposal to the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance

September 7, 2017

A proposal to the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance to develop a network of local committees to reach and assist the homeless members of the communities to get services, find housing, be registered in the HMIS, and be counted during the PIT Count.

The vision of ending homelessness is a bold and audacious one; in the context of a society which uses hard-wall housing and property to promote security and stability, it proclaims the right of every person to security and stability, through housing that is safe and confers dignity, a right that has never previously been achieved in American history. Such an audacious goal deserves an audacious plan.

Core Vision: Everyone is Known To Someone
Every homeless person in our county will be known to at least one other member of the community, who as a member of a local Everyone Known to Someone Committee, is a human face from the community, inviting the homeless person into a fuller relationship with the other members of the community, its resources, and the opportunities that are available. Denominated by respect and compassion for a fellow community member, these relationships provide the possibility of a dignified passage for the homeless person back into full membership in the community, including having a safe, secure home.

Core Model: The local committee
To provide support and structure to those who would be engaging with homeless persons and families, local committees would be recruited or created. These local committees will be town-specific, autonomous and self sustaining. They will be drawn from the local pool of compassionate persons who are willing to volunteer their time to cultivate and maintain these relationships. There are many ways to find these volunteers, and many of them are already organized and serving the homeless community. Being locally autonomous, local committees could engage in local publicity, make their own decisions about how to identify and how to approach homeless persons, and build on their existing systems of supports, such as meals and food shelves. Our task would be to create a clear structure and provide supports to achieve their goals and ours. They in turn would have a relationship with us, and help us to deliver services, get folks into the HMIS, and do the PIT count. The “Everyone Known to Someone” group would strategize with the local committees to connect the homeless candidate with an HMIS licensed provider for data input and case management, and give them training in how to do the PIT count.

Time Line and Action Sequence
Timing in the initial stages of the outreach effort will be significantly impacted by recent events in Burlington. The Burlington City Council has passed motions to address issues attached to homeless persons, setting up a study group to propose ways to address these issues. It has been proposed in Alliance meetings that the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance might wish to respond to these motions.

Outreach to establish the town-based committees and to address the opportunities of the study group, in some cases, would be congruent and for identical purposes. We will want to be alert to unexpected opportunities and unanticipated obstacles, avoid being distracted from our plan by racing events, and yet be mindful of how to advance our plan if circumstances seem propitious.

When the pace of events slows, we will need to revisit our intended time-line and action sequence.

Building on existing relationships
The strategy for building this network recognizes existing networks and relationships. To build a sustainable network we will need and want the buy-in of the existing political structures of each community, so that they can validate our work to the members of their communities. We will have demonstrated respect by going to them with our plan first, and build respect between the Alliance and the towns we are mandated to serve. So while members of the Alliance can provide informal notice to members of their own networks, including those in the towns in which they live, the Alliance, as a county-wide entity, would formally approach the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission, and establish a relationship with it, first. Then through its relationships, the CCRPC will connect the Alliance with town Select-boards, police departments, rescue services, and libraries. The police and rescue teams are very likely to know the homeless members of their communities, so it will be helpful to the local committee to have working relationships with these public safety entities. The libraries are hot-spots for activity of the self-sufficient homeless, so their participation in the local committees will be essential.

With these relationships initiated, at least at the elected official level, we would begin out reach to those who are delivering, or would like to deliver, services to the homeless. Candidates include fraternal organizations and churches. There are many people of compassion who would welcome a structured relationship with homeless folks and the Alliance, especially with a promise that the homeless would get services, because it will provide an enhancement of their own mission-driven efforts.

There are many ways to reach volunteers. The Alliance members will have more ideas than comes to the mind of this writer. Certainly, we could ask local media to tell the story of our outreach, we could possibly get VPR to do a radio segment about our outreach, and we can post on FPF and Craigslist, just to name a few. Alliance participants themselves could be part of local committees, providing a live connection between the committees and the Alliance.

PIT Counts
PIT counts (Point In Time counts) punctuate the implementation of this plan. The time before the next PIT count in 2018 is now less than five months, an amount of time that could be sufficient for: review, revision and passage of this plan; initial outreach to the CCRPC; development of a web presence for this effort; and possibly beginning to reach out to some of the Chittenden County towns. Since most of these actions are sequential, we will do what we can and review the Action Sequence at a future date. A corollary activity not dependent on this sequence is upgrading the PIT count technology. More on this below.

The year between the 2018 PIT count and the 2019 stands up the remainder of the work proposed by this plan. The “Everyone Known to Someone” working group will be charged with managing relationships with the towns. With guidance as needed from the Steering Committee, the work group will make strategic decisions about when to reach out to a given town, and what resources to commit. Resources will be mostly in the form of members of the Alliance using their time to contact, engage, and develop relationships with towns, police and rescue departments, libraries, churches, fraternal organizations, and who ever else steps forward. This proposal envisions some participants of the Alliance assisting the working group in the towns of their residence. The working group will be charged with negotiating these relationships, and developing the local committees, which will provide the sustainable and self-sufficient group for interacting with the Alliance.

Presuming a successful introduction from the Planning Commission to the towns, the work group will want to act quickly to solidify its contacts at the town level, and presuming that the work group cannot move forward with all towns simultaneously, maintain living relationships with the towns with which it will plan to engage later. Development of the local committees will most likely follow a “low-hanging fruit” pattern, in which small investments from us will result in some strong and active local groups. The committee must take advantage of such opportunities, and be mindful it does not ignore less ready towns. It might set goals which include development of committees at different places on the scale of difficulty. However, these are strategic decisions that belong to the working group.

If committee development proceeds very quickly in some towns, by 2018 a local committee might be ready to do a PIT count, but this would be a precocious development. By 2019, however, we would expect many of the local committees to be equipped to do the PIT count. In the meanwhile, Coordinated Entry will have been implemented, and many of the homeless persons these committees get to know will have been entered into HMIS. (As an autonomous decision making body, some committees might report having housed some of their homeless without passing through Coordinated Entry. As a method for building relationships and community, this would be a good outcome.)

Training for the committees will include: social-emotional education from experienced outreach workers, on how best to develop relationships with persons who are un-housed or precariously housed; what information is needed for the HMIS, with the possibility of pre-collection; and how to execute the PIT count. It is hoped that through coordination with the HMIS data base, the PIT count can be simplified and made more accurate. Discussions are underway with ICA employees on how this can be done.

Coordinated Entry
According to the emerging Coordinated Entry process, a simple screening tool will be used to direct homeless clients to a “Hub”, where they will receive assessment and prioritization. Local committee members will be trained to screen homeless persons for which assessment hub to use. Committee members can also be asked about resources available in their communities, to incorporate into the Coordinated entry system.

Youth, Veterans, DV, Families
Members of local committees can be trained to recognize members of these groups, how to offer aid, and how to provide initial screening. Referral to professionals in these fields can be as slow or quick as the client seems to need.

Local committee members and homeless persons will need protection by a code of ethics. Examples include compulsory anonymity, prohibitions against inviting the homeless person into a private home, and prohibitions against providing loans or grants. This system of ethics can be developed from recommendations from the existing street outreach team and in reflection on the differences between street outreach and local committee services, in an active conversation during the development phase of the local committees. Ethics will also evolve from experience.

The Maintenance Phase
Depending on the experience of the working group, the year following the 2019 PIT count could be the year that relationships with the local groups reach equilibrium. We must expect these relationships to be dynamic and in cycles of growth and decay. The “Everyone Known to Someone” (EKS) working group can be expected to have developed its operational tool kit, literature, website, visitation patterns, support tools, etc., and be settled into its routines of training and support of the local groups. Hence, the development phase of this plan would feather-off sometime in 2019. The plan then enters its maintenance phase.

Once local committees are established, each town and local committee in Chittenden County will be in relationship with the Alliance through its local committee. This proposal contemplates: an annual conference of the local committees to discuss best practices and to develop relationships; participation in Alliance meetings by some members of local committees; and local committee members being active in the “Everyone Known to Someone” working group. The EKS group will: maintain relationships with local and county authorities sufficient to achieve the goals of the Alliance; monitor the needs of local committees; provide training as needed; and facilitate collection of HMIS and PIT count data. This proposal envisions collaboration between autonomous entities who share related or congruent goals, and presumes that these relationships will be in flux and require ongoing attention from the EKS working group.

Local Committees will largely have their own identification. The Chittenden County Homeless Alliance will facilitate their work and its own by providing a badge or icon the local committee can add to its literature, store front, library, church or other publicity. Combined with Alliance marketing efforts, the local committee identified by the icon or badge will be understood by the community members, homeless and housed, as the place to go locally to get help.
The paper and input technology currently in use for the PIT count is slow, labor intensive and allows poor quality of data. I propose to adapt our technology to allow, in 2018, data to be input directly into a smartphone version of the existing questionnaire. I further propose that, with BoS, we investigate new technology to make the PIT count efficient, and accurate, and in full accord with HUD requirements, to be implemented in 2019 or 2020.

Housing Precarious
In its discussions, interest has been expressed by Alliance participants to understand the volume and nature of the precariously housed population. How and whether to do this is a larger conversation, but the local committees can be expected to provide important support to any effort we devise.

Local Committees In Burlington
While this proposal aims to organize across Chittenden County, in an effort to provide human scale relationships to members of the homeless community where they are more dispersed, it may be Burlington where this effort is most needed. Since it is Burlington where the most resources are concentrated, the “Everyone Known to Someone” strategy may need to be modified. I propose to learn from the experiences of the local committees, to understand best practices, and turn this strategy toward Burlington at some unknown future date, when lessons from this strategy seem ready and helpful.

We do not know how many homeless persons are populating the rural and suburban domains of Chittenden County, and this effort will help us to ascertain that number. However many there are, this effort will: fulfill our mandate to deliver services with equity across our assigned geography; assure us that, to the extent possible, someone has reached out to homeless persons and families where ever they are; provide a tool for assaying the precariously housed population; and create, in communities which may be hostile to homeless persons, an institutional device to extend compassion, impelling the local communities to become familiar with the human dimensions of homelessness and poverty, potentially altering cultural attitudes toward this population. While our goal is to “End Homelessness”, this plan reaches further, to “End Community-less-ness”. Each implies the other, each supports the other. We can strive for both.

Monday, August 28, 2017

What to do about the homeless

August 28, 2017


The Promise of America is prosperity for everyone who is willing to work for it, that with a strong work ethic and responsible citizenship, a person can live a secure, fun, comfortable life. An implied promise is that a prosperous economy can afford to take care of its less fortunate. Thus the incantation, “So let us all pitch in, work hard, participate, and prosper together!” If you are sick, a divorce divides your property, you are a veteran with PTSD, you suffered persistent childhood trauma, you suffer from schizophrenia, someone hit you with a bat and left you with permanent brain damage, the prosperous economy can afford to keep you in that minimum of safety, dignity and comfort which might command your loyalty and love of the community in which you live. It is to this that the Pledge of Allegiance bonds us.

So here we are. We have that prosperity. Burlington’s economy is hot. Everywhere we shop there is a need for cashiers, wait staff, and salespersons, and we hear of companies which have hired someone who cannot find a place to live because the rents are so high. And the unemployment rate is below 2.5%.
But something is wrong. Whose life feels secure? Who feels happy that their business is safe from the broken and destitute members of the community? Who can afford another dollar of taxes and who can really afford to raise the family they have or dream of? Who among us celebrates that there are members of the community whose lives have fallen to such disrepair that they live on the streets and salve their pain with alcohol and narcotics? Who among us wishes for a life so at risk, that they feel a need to carry and use weapons? What happened to the promise that a prosperous economy would work for people throughout the economic spectrum? 

Here is my riddle: How is it Burlington is so prosperous, yet people feel so uncertain? Who in fact benefits from this prosperity? At what point and in what manner is this prosperity harvested to meet the needs of those who are not at its apex?


In 1987 McKinney-Vento was passed with a mandate to house the homeless. The fact that homelessness was seen as a problem is a great step forward toward a just economy and society. Today, the goal is to end homelessness. Imagine this vision in its totality: All people would be housed. Through whatever means are required, everyone will be inducted into possession of a secure dwelling. Has America ever seen a day when there were not unlucky, sick, broken, men, women and children treading the streets and back-woods in search of a secure place to dwell? What an audacious vision! The end of homelessness! Imagine! An America that is one community, in which everyone is welcome. Astounding and historic in its potential.

But let us remember what that means: The broken and sick, the formerly criminal, the unlucky and those who are victims of domestic violence, need help. They must be assisted, and some of these members of the community must be supported for the remainder of their lives, because damage to their psyches or bodies is so severe. It is the promise of assistance and support, the promise of the dignity of membership in the community, indeed, the promise of love, which gives us, the mentally ill, the sick, the unlucky, the alienated, the once incarcerated, reason to love our community, and seek its tranquility. It is the promise of assistance, safety and dignity, in ways that are sustainable for everyone, that generates healing, that calms the social soul, that induces the communal tranquility which our constitution promises, and is our shared aspiration.

In a narrow conception, the end of homelessness is seen cynically as a simple bribe: “We (the responsible citizens) will give you (the destitute and dangerous) housing, and in exchange, you will stop committing crime, you will stop threatening us and our comfortable lives.” But in fact, being welcomed into housing, housing which is safe, secure, sustainable and imparts membership in the community, undermines this cynical interpretation.  When we make the effort to initiate our destitute into community, we remove the causes of alienation, anger, and hate. So it is not merely a bribe. Housing is a treatment for divided community.

Mandate of the CJC

In fact, the city of Burlington already embraces the principles of One Community. In its contract with Vermont’s Department of Corrections, the City agreed, through its Community Justice Center

To develop community capacities for addressing crime, conflict and dispute resolution [and] strive to enhance community safety, improve quality of life and increase citizen participation in the criminal justice process. 

Based on principles of restorative justice. In fact, the homeless many times occupy the position of victim, and we can reasonably include the homeless, and the impoverished, as citizens whose participation is to be lauded. Thus since

      The Grantee will champion and incorporate the following restorative justice principles:
      •    Place those who are harmed affected at the center of the resolution process
      •    Seek to understand the harm done
      •    Work to repair the damage
      •    Re-build relationships, to the degree possible, with all people involved
      •    Recognize the solution as a community responsibility
      •    Give choice and opportunity to speak and be heard, especially for victims
      •    Recognize that stakeholder participation is voluntary
      •    Use collaborative methodologies to resolve conflict and crime

The city has already agreed to principles whose purpose is to build community, invite healing, and emphasizes the responsibility of the community to implement these principles. And again, most homeless members of the community can be placed on the victim side of this equation, not automatically as victims of a crime, but as victims of the human condition. In a list of methodologies, the contract includes:

citizen panels, group conferencing, family group decision making, circle processes, mediated dialogues, Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA), mentoring, etc.

Which all emphasize the compassionate response to injuries to persons and the one community, and again, can be applied to healing the lives of the homeless.  Given that most homeless people are not criminals or former criminals, these principles may seem not, at first, to apply to the homeless. But the homeless are stigmatized, and the recent crimes in the downtown contribute to the impression in the larger community that the homeless community is a group of dangerous people, the proper response to whom is more control. In fact, this is an uneducated conclusion. Homeless people are largely people who would like to participate in the life of the community by having a safe home and a secure job. These principles of compassion and restoration can be extended to everyone who is homeless, understanding the homeless person as the victim who is in need of restoration to secure, dignified housing. Whether a homeless person has committed a crime or not, the goal is and remains restoration to full, dignified membership in the community.

Vermont, Freedom and Unity

From its founding as a republic in 1788, the people of Vermont have held to a unique and paradoxical vision: we would respect each other’s freedom, while responding to each other in need. As a result, the people of Vermont demand from their government uniquely compassionate policies. As an advocate working inside the system, I have seen this compassion in operation, and observing the policy making in Montpelier from a distance, I feel proud that the legislature decided to fund services for the homeless. We, the people of and the State of Vermont, have largely chosen the path of taking care of each other and of building one community. This is in marked contrast to most of the rest of America, where the poor are not helped, homelessness is criminalized, and an aspiration to living in one community is absent. I ask you to stay focused on the principles which have made us a compassionate people who strive for justice.

The Proper Response of a Compassionate People

There is no good response to the recent crimes and violence. We live in America where we do not put enough  resources into the social safety net, and inevitably there are people who are angry, alienated, and have not learned how to live with the tensions of conflict and betrayal without recourse to violence. But violent assault is already a crime. The perpetrators of these crimes get arrested and will be subject to our justice system. Our best response, as a community,  is not to apply more police power, in an attempt to disperse the perpetrators, an effort which cannot succeed, but to double up our commitment to social healing.
As a response, social healing is slow answer. But it is the only response that holds the promise of maintaining freedom next to unity in the structure of our community. Is the only response which holds the promise of healing, and building one community, in which everyone can live with dignity, with as much freedom as the community can afford, for everyone.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

One Community, One Home.

August 16, 2017

Property and its holding has been the source of human conflict and misery from the first moment anyone was jealous of another for the food they were eating. Yes, the desire to possess land is intrinsic in the order of nature, and in our instincts

But to say that our drive to take land, and the taking of land, is fate, is necessary, implies we have no choices, no power to alter our values, and no power to alter our behavior. To say we must follow the pattern laid out for us by nature is to say we have no free will. To say that the holder of wealth has a right to use it to control the resources that another people needs - the definition of fascism - is mere self aggrandizement. Convenient for you if the ability to grab land from others is within your reach. To say that competition for land is the only way to allocate that essential resource is to say that humanity is a simple species with no imagination, with no alternative social instincts, and no desire for a better outcome

So you may be accustomed to driving at seventy miles per hour on the interstate, with a powerful engine at your command, and enjoy all the benefits of getting quickly, in comfort, to where ever you are going, but if you are heading for a cliff, you may prefer to change your behavior. And if you find there are no more roads and there is no more fuel, you will need to abandon the luxury of this form of transportation.

So the drive to accumulate property and wealth is not unnatural. It is not automatically wrong. But as we experience the world as full, as we contemplate the ecological destruction of the Earth, as we ponder the fates of our families, communities, humanity, and our planet, we have to ask whether there is a better way. In human history, despite the ravages and misery wrought by our wars, the Earth and its ecosystems have persisted. Ozone has protected us, Oxygen has been generated, fish have filled the oceans and forests have regrown when we allowed them to. The Earth's ecosystems are not identical to what they were before humanity, but never before have human depredations threatened to extinguish civilization and most of the life we know. In an existential crisis, existential values come into question. And the root existential question is whether we will compete or share

I am a student of history, of ecology, of anthropology, among other subjects. The time scale for these subjects is hundreds and thousands of generations in depth. We see patterns at these scales that we do not see in our ordinary lives. One of the most profound, to me, is that humanity evolves, innovating new strategies for survival to accommodate changing conditions. Already, we have invented agriculture, the concept of evil, plumbing, and writing and reading. We have invented health care, and made large families unnecessary. Already, people who raid, rape and pillage are marginalized in the international system, being accused of “war crimes”. Already we have established an international system of sovereignty which upholds the principle that nations are not allowed to invade each other and take each other's land. No, it doesn't work well enough, and the raiders now use money and corruption to do their dirty work, but humanity, and civilization, have come a long way. And we can do this. We can change the root values of the global human experiment.

We now enter that phase of human history in which we choose between a world in a perpetual state of war and destruction, and a world at peace, in healing. If you want to change the world, if you want to live your life on a healthy planet, if you want to have children who grow up in healthy communities, and have children of their own, consider this your charge: Value all children, not just your own, value every life, not just those you consort with, value the ecosystems of the Earth that sustain us, not just the neighborhood you live in, value solutions which benefit the global community, even when it costs you more. Value sharing. Value cooperation. Value doing things together. Ultimately, we must make property available to all for personal well-being, and available to none as an investment.

Don't be a martyr. There are cheats and selfish people who will take advantage. But keep your eyes open for opportunities to change how we think, and explain ourselves to each other, and look for ways to make all lives better. Look for opportunities for healing.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Central Formulation

August 13, 2017

Humanity faces crises brought on by a full Earth and by its failure to view humanity and the Earth as one community. Too many people believe that the solutions to their problems require hoarding of resources and too many others lack any, and feel ignored and unvalued. Hoarding is ultimately going to fail as a personal strategy (thus it is a waste of effort!), and by definition is not a community strategy, and so will help to destroy the Earth.
The most visible incarnation of this hoarding is the continuing process of the wealthy getting more wealthy while the poor get poorer and the middle class gets hollowed out. The law is written to support the preservation of wealth, for those who have it, even when it means driving the unlucky poor further into debt. The economy is organized to foster the upward migration of wealth, to those who are already wealthy, while limiting the obligation of the most wealthy to share their wealth with those who have none. It is a self-ratcheting process of wealth begetting wealth, through the power the wealthy have to demand laws which protect them, while the poor have little such power, and the community barely arouses itself to protect them from the effects of their systemic vulnerability. The benefits of this system go to only 20% of the population. As the wealthy get wealthier, there is less and less revenue to the government to support the inadequate patchwork of social safety systems, because the middle class pays taxes, and middle class is over stretched, balking at more taxes, and simply shrinking.
The failure to act in the common good and put our community wealth to work to build healthy communities and a healthy planet, results in the entropic default, ecosystem collapse. Another obvious incarnation of the permission we give to hoarding wealth is our continued devotion to the principle that individuals have a right to get ever more wealthy without limit. As if the communities in which they live, the nations which claim their allegiance, and the planet which is their only home, can sustain their demands for resources, without limit. As if the planet were limitless. As if every one of seven billion people could prosper while some “statistically insignificant” number of individuals holds more wealth than, essentially, the other seven billion people. Unlike the past, when chiefs, kings and emperors engaged in diplomacy, politics, war and betrayal, to gather wealth and power, and the Earth could absorb the blood of human beings killed in service to their ambitions; Unlike the past when wealth builders could exploit workers and their families without risk to themselves; Unlike the past when the Earth could scoff at the ecosystem and habitat destruction of the wealth seekers because these depredations were always local and it, the Earth, was so large; Unlike the past when the dangers of natural human ambitions for status, wealth, power and fertility, for all of the miseries they caused, would not threaten the life of our planet – today they do. Today we couch the violence of the past in the invisible systemic violence of a body of law that protects private property hoarding, over the value of the people and the community. Preservation of life on Earth, in any form familiar to us, or that includes us, is at risk, while we continue to devote ourselves to the principle that the needs and wants of the individual take higher priority than the health and well being of the communities they belong to and Earth on which they live. Only those most wealthy individuals actually have a vested interest in protecting this system.
While individual rights are held in higher esteem than the obligations of individuals to the community of humanity, while ecosystem degradation proceeds unchecked, while the injustice of the wealth of each community being siphoned off by a few, persists, we are on the path toward global economic and climate chaos that makes the ravaging of the Earth inevitable. Yes, I am connecting wealth hoarding with global ecosystem collapse. The resources exist for us to address the needs of humanity and the planet, but we give permission to some few to hoard those resources, while we fail to hold them accountable, and we fail to change our expectations. Chaos follows from hoarding, and in Community, the eternal strategy of sharing makes it possible for us to act on behalf of the life on Earth. Human communities have always thrived by learning to share. This is our ultimate test.
Indeed, wealth is really only an act of faith, the faith that there is a system that will honor that claim to wealth. If the system collapses, all that will remain will be natural, wild human communities. And then power will be back in the hands of the war-lords and armies. And our dystopic fantasies allowed to flourish.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Check out Sustainable Economies Law Center

July 23, 2017 
I want to help to "change the narrative". I believe that culture building is the foundation for lasting, sustainable change. We must introduce new stories for people to tell each other about how and why things are the way they are. New stories with different outcomes.
I today stumbled on a group that is doing what I advocate doing, so I am putting up a link to their website here. http://www.theselc.org/ 

This is their graphic for one of their blog posts.
Can you say "Global Enslavement"? 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Principles for the next stage of human history

July 8, 2017

I have consolidated and commented some thoughts I put on my Facebook profile. They are presented here for access.
I need to confess to a tone of certainty. I do not speak with the modesty of self-doubt. But I do not assume you will believe me. I assume you may agree with me, or not, but that you will reflect on your own experience when you evaluate the validity of these ideas. I make no apologies for having clear ideas, forcefully expressed. I am equally capable of listening to arguments of elaboration, difference and contradiction. I trust you will use these ideas as a foil against which to express your own ideas.

Key principle #1: I understand that for me to be safe, I must make the world safe for you.
Corollary 1: Fences, walls, guns, police forces, armies, and other forms of violence, create safety for some at the expense of safety for others.
Corollary 2: We are only truly safe when we conduct our affairs as members of a single community, in which the safety and well being of every member is a core value.
Corollary 3: There is only one thing we need to agree on: We don't hurt each other. Everything else can be by majority rule.

Key Principle n-4: If you want to avoid fascism, you need to use democracy. You need to convince a majority of the people that your ideas are the right ideas.

Key principle n-3: Revolutions are anti-democratic and typically are used to install power-hungry people, who are willing to kill people, increase misery, destroy the systems we need to produce food and housing, and destroy the institutions we need to make things happen. Revolution is acceptable to those who prioritize their own needs over the needs of others, and are satisfied with relationships defined by violence.
Privilegism began to operate early in human history. From the earliest roots of humanity, the dependence of each person on the intact social fabric, and the lack of significant differences in wealth, kept in check the selfish who would use their advantage to gain more advantage. Privilegism was controlled by the community through social processes.
But at some point, when farmers began to control their own land and more food than other farmers, and have larger families; when nomadists could increase their own herd or flock,and have larger families; when riders of horses could steal from non-riding peoples, and have larger families, the way of privileged action could not be resisted, and those who adopted Privilegism dominated their societies. Early in the history settled communities, the many remained part of the community decision making, but as the wealthy and powerful were able to use wealth and power to take more and make more, they hired goons and built armies, and used coercion to control and ultimately exploit the many who did not have the wealth, status, or resources, to resist. History is replete with examples of people using their resources to acquire resources by taking them from others, and examples of peaceful peoples being attacked and exploited by those who would use violence.
Thus today Privilegism is ubiquitous and persuades even those whose lives are made worse by it. Some societies control it better than others do. But to resist it is to resist natural selection, nature’s own mechanism for choosing winners and losers. The question, for those of us who choose to resist it is “Why we would choose to resist a force of nature?” We might also ask, “Why do we resist Privilegism?” What is the aspiration that arouses us to fight such a powerful force? And “From what equally powerful principle do we get our energy and ability to appeal to the consciences of others?” “What change in the course of history do we think we can make?”.

Key Principle N-1: There is sufficient wealth for every person to have their needs met, and for communities to be healthy and places of joy. 

Key principle N: Let us say that the wealthiest members of the community have been entrusted with the wealth which represents the productivity of the community, and that that wealth is owed to the community, and must be used to bring up the quality of life for every member of the community. Wealth implies an obligation of care and stewardship.

Key principle N+1:
The "normative income". This idea declares that the preferred economic status of every person is in the middle range of all possible wealth and income. It is a range of incomes defined by their ability to support a family which can pay a reasonable share of taxes, in comfort, with adequate health care, education and housing, It provides enough wealth to allow people to take vacations without fear of losing their homes, and to participate in the economy as fund-holders, but leans against that much wealth that permits a second home (while others are homeless), or to avoid ever needing to take a job.
The key idea of Fascism, of the left or the right, is that those who have power are entitled to use it for the benefit of what ever cause happens to be their cause. This key idea produces the idea that wealth belongs to the wealthy, poverty belongs to those who are poor, and there are no responsibilities of individuals for the other members of their communities. The Fascists were most explicit about the right to use power for the benefit of those who possess it, so their label is the label I use, but don't forget Stalin. Stalin used power fascistically.
In America, the most familiar expression of this principle is the individual accumulation of wealth for retirement. We do have Social Security, which the fascists would love to destroy, but there is the constant drumbeat in the media of Planning Your Retirement. We rely so much on the personal retirement system because we do not have an adequate social safety net.
Hence, in this principle, everyone is supported toward a middle income through good community planning, and everyone who is uber rich is hampered from being super rich through good community planning.
Hence there is one community, not a rich one and a poor one.

Key principle N+2: An economy built on a single model doesn't work. You need conflicts. For example:
A1: All wealth belongs to the community.
B1: Wealth is controlled by individuals.
We need to mix these ideas
A2: Pure Capitalism results in Tyranny
B2: Pure Socialism results in Tyranny
We need to mix these ideas
A3: The community is the source of all well being.
B3: The community is where freedom and self-expression reside.
Which is worse?
A4: Tyranny of the few?
B4: Tyranny of the many?
I could go on.
This principle draws on the observation of ecologists that diversity improves the resilience of the system, and on the political theory idea of “checks and balances”. I am trying to invoke the idea of the mixed economy. We need multiple levels of government with degrees of sovereignty, and degrees of accountability. We need large scale businesses to perform large scale projects, and small scale businesses to meet the needs of people. We must strongly advantage common ownership, to limit how much wealth any one person can acquire*. Their degrees of privilege must be regulated to prevent them from exploiting the advantages of wealth and power. We achieve this control through active legal and economic systems of checks and balances.

*This idea deserves elaboration. A way to distribute wealth is to raise investment funds in small bits from many people. We can limit the ownership of any business to one share per person, as co-ops do. When an ambitious and energetic person builds their private business up, they can reduce their wealth taxes by sharing their profits with their employees. There are many ways to correct the effects of privilegism. All who oppose these corrections must remember that everyone benefits from a healthy community. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

I am revealed


[Friends arriving here for essays on economics are welcome to skip this, which is quite personal. But public, and they are welcome to read this also.]
If I had not this tortured, fragmented consciousness, if where cruelty, anger, and despair cascaded down from prior generations there had been respect and comfort, there had been love for the legacy that children are, the powers of my mind would have been applied to the grand mysteries of the cosmos. I might have applied myself to any of physics, philosophy, political science, sociology, economics, ecology, the human condition writ large or small, in articles, novels, book-length essays, by teaching at university or running for political office. Instead I disassociate. I decline to experience the comradery of my peers, I cannot sort out my priorities, my mind cannot absorb the meaning of words as I read them, and those mysteries filter slowly into my mind where they are malnourished, finding a habitat riven by trauma and a desperate, hostile hyper-vigilance. Because I cannot attach, feel friendship, think clearly, offer love, I am shunned and deprived of the social stimulation that might help me. For three decades of adulthood, I anguish over my isolation, insecurity, rootlessness, and raw self-loathing. I long for love and don't know how to receive it. I don't know that my “traumatic stress reaction” is real. Is more real than I imagined. Is the description of my mental illness, and the reason I have foundered. To have a name for it and to know this, is the first time I feel hope of recovery. 
A decision in the last decade to engage socially has altered this trajectory. Those who know me may feel the person I am describing is not the person they know. I have done much healing work. But I continue to feel pain, fear of people, unable to attach, and a fragmented mind. I am old enough to compound the cognitive dysfunctions of Post Traumatic Stress with the actual effects of aging. Or are these memory lapses the effect of staring into the eyes of trauma? I don't care. I want , with what is left of my life, to repair my damaged self, and release into the world that mind that might have cracked some of nature's secrets, but wishes today just to do the work I might still do. With love and tranquility. 
I ride the growing wave of awareness of trauma. I see myself in it and I want to act boldly, because with a long life behind me, life ahead looks short. I have contrived to get an evaluation at the Trauma Clinic in Brookline Massachusetts. The cost is $5900. I cannot imagine earning and saving this much money in a timely way. It feels unachievable, and I must achieve it. Thus, I ask for help. 

Of this cost, I expect to contribute $2000 out of personal savings. I hope to get some siblings and friends to contribute. And I am trying to raise money on the crowd funding sites. I will need to see the money before I can schedule the evaluation, and I need to discuss with them how much in advance they need to schedule, but I picture this as something I do in the fall of 2017. 

I am expecting the evaluation and diagnosis to be a significant healing event, in its own right. The number of therapies offered, and their effectiveness, is quite astonishing, given the nature of the injury, and this evaluation will propose which of these is likely to be the most productive. So my companion goals are 1) to engage the deep process of healing, through the evaluation, and 2) to leave with a confidence in my therapeutic pathway. Of course we don't know the outcome, but I trust in my ability to respond positively to treatment, and to build a future lived in love and not fear. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Marginal Economy - When is there too much wealth?

June 24, 2017

[Originally posted on Facebook]

Think about Burlington Vermont. 3% unemployment. New "affordable" apartments going for $1000. Homeless people who work who can't afford a room. Is it possible to have an overheated economy? Can we consider the possibility that there is too much demand to live in Burlington, that with employers unable to fill jobs because the qualified people can't find a place to live, that the demand for housing forces prices up and it's the property owners who are winning?
Let's try this, at the risk that the economy might cool down a little: Tax the highest rents and mortgages, progressively higher, as they rise above the median. The overheated high end of the market cools off a little, and the money can be used to build infrastructure to make down market housing more attractive to developers and more affordable to build.
It is said this will drive the rich people out. I want to know why we are protecting the rich people (see below "dream hoarders"). if they are not paying into the budget enough to actually help other members of the community have decent lives, why do we want the super wealthy in the community to start with?
The argument goes on. The reason that Burlington's housing, like most of Vermont's, is so expensive, is that year after year, each time a property is sold, the seller takes a capital gain. The value of their property grew faster than the wealth of the working people who might buy it or rent it. This is supply and demand run amok, where the property owners accumulate wealth, with thanks to an otherwise healthy economy, while the rest of us have to give it up.
Wealth through property is the original American Dream, the motivation of British entrepreneurs, our own Ethan Allen, and uncountable opportunists since the first European settlement of this continent. Property is the original security, the only investment guaranteed to grow in value decade on decade, century on century. How does wealth continue to flow from property for so long? How is that the population of Vermont has been stable for two centuries, but the value of land has risen from something a a broken dirt farmer from Massachusetts could afford, to something most of us only dream of? 
The law has always protected the right of an investor to take a capital gain. It was taxed, but viewed as a public good. Especially since the writers of law tend to be property owners, and operators of businesses, all of them living in a frontier society where opportunity was super abundant, and benefits of the system were spread widely, scrutiny of this logic was never likely.  But let's look. I'm tempted to discuss monetary policy, but I'll try to dodge that issue. 
Supply-and-demand dictates that when a resource is scarce the price for that resource will rise. Once all of the land is owned, and none is available for free, new purchasers will pay a premium (an amount in excess of the seller's investment) to acquire the property. Hence property owners take a slice of the wealth away from people who are trying to live their lives and might otherwise spend that money locally, and the value of the property has risen relative to the community productivity. When this happens incidentally, the owner of a home to a new owner, the transfer of wealth is invisible because both remain in the community. But most property is handled by large investors, and the transfer of wealth is not incidental. Large volumes of wealth are accumulated by a few, and this wealth no longer circulates in the community. It is not being used to stimulate the economy. It is being held and managed to further increase the wealth of the property speculator. Banks are used to under write mortgages, but the money that enters the community to pay for the property immediately goes to the seller, who is most likely to take the wealth our of the community, and will only invest in enterprises that further concentrate wealth. Meanwhile, the interest on that mortgage flows only out. It leaves the community. It cannot be used for local economic improvement.
But let's look again at "cooling off the economy". What do you think the impact would be if the cost of housing were actually adjusted to the incomes of the residents of the city? They would have disposable incomes, and homes to live in, stability and a mind for the future. Quality of life enhances economic vitality, and if there are rich people making a living here in Burlington, they will surely prosper with the rest of us.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


[Here I address the members of the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance, after it's Quarterly Community Meeting, 2017-06-06.]

The Alliance is wide and the Quarterly meeting could not have supported more Alliance people than came. And I am so grateful to those who did. The challenges of planning a meeting to which homeless folks would come and feel safe were met. Enough came and we met leaders. We have introduced the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance to the community of the homeless. We have initiated relationships. What remains is to do the work it takes to help people live in the dignity and safety of their own homes.

That work is intrinsically difficult, because we live in and work in a world where the injustice of unfairly distributed wealth is structural. The economy is healthy enough. It produces enough for everyone's needs to be met. But it does not adequately circulate that wealth. Through the exponential growth of wealth, property ownership, laws that tax investment income at lower rates than wage income, through low tax rates for the wealthy and wages below the minimum needed to survive, the productivity and wealth of the community is channeled into the hands of those who need it least, while those who need it do not have enough. The rhetoric of our society is that those who have deserve and those who do not have do not deserve. The old framing is that if you play the system and bring home the wealth, it is yours, and giving it to the government to spend is a wasteful drag on the economy. The claim, made since the Reagan era, is that wealth is necessary to capitalize the economy, but this is merely self-serving. Without concentrated wealth, there could be distributed wealth, which would benefit far more people, while yet inducing far more economic activity. 

But we know that no one deserves to live in fear of losing their home, no one deserves the trauma of an unstable and unsafe home life. No one deserves for their mental illness to be multiplied by the dangers of living outdoors, no one deserves the hopelessness of a life without productive employment and a place to live. Let us say instead that the wealthiest members of the community have been entrusted with the wealth which represents the productivity of the community, but that that wealth owed to the community, and must be used to bring up the quality of life for every member of the community. Through whatever means. I can think of many. 

I will not belabor my point by making specific proposals. The essential point is this: everything we are trying to do is defeated by the structure of the economy. We are defeated because we worship wealth as our source of personal security, and argue to protect the accumulation of wealth, even when the benefits go to the super wealthy. We are defeated because we admire the super wealthy and try to emulate them, and defer to them when they want more privilege. But the greatest benefit to everyone comes when wealth circulates, when the community has that wealth to spend and when it is spent to meet the needs - housing, education, health, employment - of the people, not when it accumulates. Nothing could be a greater stimulant to the production of wealth than to spend it producing well being. 

And those are our jobs. To produce well being. But the aspiration is at risk. The productive value of our communities continues to be claimed by a few, who grow increasingly impatient with the taxes that pay our salaries. The path we are on takes us to a condition like that of Pakistan or Somalia, lawless places where justice comes from the barrel of a gun, where just to meet needs people wend their way through the alleyways of desperation and violence, and criminal corporate and government greed. People who love democracy and  want to live in peaceful, healthy communities, must challenge the old ways of thinking about wealth. And then demand that our lawmakers change how we treat the accumulation of wealth. So that not only we, but all of our neighbors, will have homes to live in. 

The key notion to  this change is the "normative income". This idea declares that the preferred economic status of every person is in the middle range of  all possible wealth and income. It is a range of incomes defined by their ability to support a family which can pay a reasonable share of taxes, in comfort, with adequate health care, education and housing, It provides enough wealth to allow people to take vacations without fear of losing their homes, and to participate in the economy as fund-holders, but leans against that much wealth that permits a second home (while others are homeless), or to avoid ever needing to take a job.

Public policy would operate to push people toward a normative income. Up from underneath, down from above. Not to make great wealth impossible, but to make great wealth ephemeral, and to make great poverty unnecessary. This public policy would not control incomes, but through incentives and taxation, living wages, sound housing and property policy, free health care, and free education, make wealth accumulation ever more difficult as incomes go up, unnecessary in any person's life plan, and poverty a religious vocation no one needs to choose. This public policy declares huge accumulations of wealth to be as unhealthy and unproductive, as is poverty. 

Wealth bifurcation today is eviscerating the middle class, (that's you) leaving the super poor and the super rich. We cannot do our work as healers in the lives of the unlucky, unwell and unhoused, and have our own lives, while we tolerate structural inequality. The result of structural inequality is structural insecurity, structural violence, and structural poverty. The homeless we met tonight are not poor and out of work by choice. Their fates, and ours, are structural. We must change the structure.

Monday, May 15, 2017

My Job as a person with Lived Experience

May 14, 2017
The homeless community is diverse and I do not represent every person who is homeless. Many don't know who I am, or ignore me. Some seem hostile towards me. And I do not impose my curiosity on anyone. I listen to those who seem to need a listener. I help those who reveal their need to me. I try to be the friend of anyone who needs a friend. But that is how they help me. I learn from and am educated by the homeless and the near homeless. They strain my credulity and challenge my sense of humanity. They explain vulnerability, pain, misanthropy, anger, cynicism, love, generosity, and sociopathy, to me. I have learned about the special vulnerability of being a woman.
What I do for the homeless and the impoverished – as the boundary is barely visible – is speak truth to power. Being homeless can be a trap. Being poor and being uneducated are traps. Being without work is a trap. Being disabled can be a death sentence. Having a mental illness is made 10 or 100 times worse by homelessness. Being an ex-con is a trap. Living in a camp makes alcoholics drink more, invites addicts to shoot more, opportunes socio-paths to use others and take what is not theirs. Living in a shelter may be little safer, and then much more constrained, and therefore an assault on the dignity of the person for whom the rules are not intended. For some, bad luck brought them down, and good luck helps them to rise again. For most – the tenure of the unlucky homeless is usually short – homelessness is just one of their traps. My job is to understand these traps and argue for ways to unlock them. My job is to learn how to escape these traps, and try to help as many people, as I can, to escape them.
I have a life-long history as an activist. Not to say I have moved any mountains, but I have stood beside Nuclear Freeze protesters, circled with objectors to the nuclear submarines in Groton Connecticut, made plans and friends among Occupiers, taught English to Migrant workers, and now I bring the lived experience of homelessness to the Continuum of Care in the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance. But working for the homeless is different – I am not on the outside trying to make plain the wrongness of public policy to those whose choices are already forged in steel. I am invited to work from the inside, I am asked to share personal knowledge of homelessness, and to remind the gathered of the humanity of those whose lives we discuss.
There is among those who embrace the goal of ending homelessness the idea that if we have enough housing the problem will be solved. But enough housing does not remedy childhood trauma or aging out of foster care, and the mental illness that follows, it does not give a job to an ex-con who wants to do the right thing, it doesn't end violence against women, it doesn't get health care for everyone who needs it, and it doesn't provide recovery for those who need it! And even if providing enough housing ought to improve the lives of those who are precariously housed, or un-housed, housing doesn't correct the structural flaws in our economy which makes having and keeping a home, and a job, staying healthy and whole, and staying out of trouble, so difficult.
So really we are not talking about homelessness. We are discussing poverty, wealth inequality, privilege, and the opportunity gap. We are mulling racism, misogyny and bigotry, the internalized hatreds that forms as people try to explain their misery to themselves. We are alluding to the broken promise of wealth as a source of meaning. If we think we can shut down our operations on the day that the last camp is cleaned up for good, that the shelter has no tenants, and there is no one sleeping in a doorway, we are victims of our own privilege.
Homelessness is just the convenient label of the moment for the most obvious sign that life is dukkah, that we all fall and all are made of flesh and feel pain, that every one of us needs the infrastructure of community to survive, and that homelessness is eternal. Homelessness is a metaphor for the mortal terror which we keep at bay only with the help of loving friends, family and community. There will always be “homeless” people, because there will always be bad luck, trauma, and economic hardship. Homelessness is just the label of the moment to remind us that the best remedy to life's chaos is a a healthy community, a coherent vision of community, and a choice by the community to guarantee to everyone the opportunity to practice self care, and to share, socially, in the community which makes those choices possible.
This is my job. To remind you, the institutional actors, that our jobs are the ephemeral expressions of work that is profound, eternal, and necessary, that we are the healers of the communities in which we live, the humanizers of those whose humanity has been damaged, taken, or destroyed, the nurturers and the shamans in suits, who will, over and over again, for the remainder of all time of which humanity is conscious, work to make human society a healthy and nurturing nexus for community, family, and personal expression, for all of us.

Monday, April 3, 2017


April 3, 2017

The Trump era is not of Trump's making. The financial stress, promised to us as Conservatives, finally in charge of the purse strings after fighting the New Deal for 80 years, rewrite the social policy priorities of our country, will destroy many of the gains against poverty we have made, and leave millions of Americans and a hundred thousand Vermonters, in a Social-Darwinist gutter. I can't bring myself to imagine the picture that results.

Of course we enter what is for us a new world. Where we are no longer Post New Deal. We are now Old Deal. That very old deal. Where privilege begets privilege, and all of the gains which have been made to bring people out of poverty and improve the health of every person, are under threat. Where democracy, which made the elites subject to law and the will of the people of central concern to those who wield power, is at risk. And because climate change can reset the entire course of life on Earth, and what we choose will determine how that unfolds, the future of humanity and life, is in play, and this is a civilizational moment. Do not take this choice lightly.

As we face the impacts of the “conservative” vision in our individual spheres of interest, I hope that everyone will speak loudly and as one voice, that the problem is not that there isn't enough money, that the problem is not that our group deserves money and the other group does not. The problem is that those of privilege, those who are in control of the wealth, are unwilling to share it. There is plenty of wealth to do what we need to, but the people who control the wealth also control the people who write the laws and govern the people. We must set them straight. They are not entitled to hoard the wealth that the community produces.

The idea that wealth is created through investment is not wrong. But investors, properly, are stewards of the community's wealth, and the work of producing wealth is not done by the investor. The entire community, working as an enterprise, including the law, the labor, the natural legacy of the community, and the social fabric, participates, and the fact that the law is written so that the investors reap the rewards and are able to accumulate that wealth for personal hoards, while others live with too little to meet their needs, is a flaw in the structure of the economy. Such a harvest of the wealth by the wealthy undermines the vigor of that economic engine, and damages the lives that are its purpose. Wealth, the abstract representation of the productive output of the community, must be circulated to bring well-being to its producers, or the society will fall ill, decay, and destroy itself. We are witness to this process now.

Americans seem to regard the acquisition of wealth as the best way to create personal security, and the right to get wealthy as an intrinsic right of self-care. It is elemental in the American Dream, and it is a profoundly mistaken logic.
  1. Only a few people can ever be wealthy, and only a fraction of people can ever achieve life-time well-being and security, in this model. If it were truly possible for everyone to be wealthy, and they were, no one would be wealthy, because the mere ownership of money means nothing if the owner cannot spend the money to get simple things done. Hence the economy and the law are organized to create winners and losers, and to prevent the majority of people from accumulating enough wealth to be secure and comfortable. Private wealth as security opposes community security.
  2. Wealth in a silo is inherently insecure. Every person, no matter how wealthy, depends on the health and well-being of everyone else, and the community, to be safe and comfortable. If you hoard your wealth, you are a target. You resort to guns, increase oppression, become callous to the loss of life, witness the destruction of our planet, and descend into a social-emotional oblivion.
  3. Wealth in a silo ignores the eternal human strategy of sharing to ensure personal well-being. People instinctively reject selfishness on the part of others. If you have nuts, meat, land or money, you are expected to share. Sharing creates long-term stability and security for everyone, and hoarding (including wealth) is damaging to the community. Imagine I have caught game and I hoard it. Before I can eat it, it rots. Others have not enjoyed the benefit of my catch, nor have I. And when another hunter brings home a catch, I go hungry because I did not share when I might have. The difference today is in the immediacy of the harmful effects. The wealthy rationalize that these costs can be avoided.
  4. The most secure and stable societies, in which everyone gets their needs met, value sharing, and the result is a rich and meaningful life. When the social fabric is healthy, there is no poverty, no matter how little wealth there is.
  5. Wealth disparity in itself is a signal of decay. (See "The Spirit Level" by Wilkinson and Picket.) Social, political and economic sustainability are reduced by increasing wealth disparity. We can improve our chances of social and cultural longevity and sustainability by creating institutions which enforce the circulation of wealth from the wealthy back to the poor and marginal.
Since the normal functioning of the economy transfers wealth from the poor and marginal to the wealthy, policies that transfer the wealth back to the underprivileged merely balances the system, creates a circulation of wealth which improves all lives. The question we are compelled to ask is "Will we allow those who are privileged and control the wealth to continue to increase their wealth forever, leaving the rest of us to become poorer and poorer, more and more desperate, and the society ever more divided and combustible?", or "Will we decide that the well-being of the community and its members, is important, that living in one community in which everyone is valued is important, and will we find ways to capture the wealth of the society to correct its ills?"

The change we must make in our thinking is from "wealth=security" to "sharing=security". When we achieve illusory security through wealth, we divide our fates from the fates of our fellows, and make the world more dangerous and more prone to self-annihilation. When we decide that the entire society must be secure and healthy to promote personal security and wellness, then sharing is the logical course of action. This is the civilizational choice we have: whether to share our planet and its resources, or to hoard them, fight over them, and threaten the life of the planet over them. Sharing is the only choice that offers us survival.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

As funding panic washes over us.

March 22, 2017

The Vermont State Legislature is considering whether to reduce funding for the Cold Weather Exception, and share what remains into the General Assistance Fund. I wrote this letter to the legislators who are considering this bill.

We are all in for some shocks, and the proposal to close a budget gap by reducing funds to the Cold weather exception program is a shock to me.
I work directly with people who are using the cold weather exception. I try to imagine them being outside when the weather is below zero, and the image devastates me.

On Saturday morning this week, I spoke to a man who, because he was "late" to claim his CWE room at Harbor Place, spent the night sitting upright in the lobby of the Burlington Police station. I can imagine people heading to the emergency room to sit out the night. Already, people are sleeping in ATM lobbies, where they can get in. Some, intrepid and feeling uncared for, continue to sleep in tents outdoors, or without tents with as many sleeping bags as can be rounded up. Some, not intrepid but truly desperate, subject themselves to a violent boyfriend.

The Trump era is not Trump's making. The financial stress, promised to us as Conservatives, finally in charge of the purse strings after fighting the New Deal for 80 years, rewrite the social policy priorities of our country, will destroy many of the gains against poverty we have made, and leave many tens of thousands of, or a hundred thousand, Vermonters in a Social-Darwinist gutter. I can't bring myself to create in my mind the picture of what we are contemplating.

You have a choice now to steer a new direction. Are we going to design a state that adheres to the motto, "Freedom and Unity"? In which we take care of each other? Or are we going to collapse into the conservative idea of each individual, with what resources they have, for themselves?

There is plenty of wealth in this country, and there is plenty of wealth in Vermont. The challenges faced by the middle class are the challenges of people desperately trying stay out of the impoverished class. When we demand more from the wealthy, we also improve conditions for the middle class. I have a long list of strategies to capture wealth for the benefit of the society and community of Vermont. Failure to attempt any, and take the funds away from the poorest and most vulnerable, is just a concession to the upward migration of wealth into the hoards of those who do not truly need that wealth. You have a choice. The choice to take money from the vulnerable is the choice to perpetuate the downward spiral to economic collapse and the end of American democracy.

Please do not make that choice. Begin by refusing to defund CWE, and continue by rewriting the agenda for the State of Vermont. We can do better.

Stephen Marshall, Homeless Advocate at the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

What does calm feel like?


I am driven. My energy and my focus do not match my expectations. I need
always to be improving, making, doing. What makes me so compulsive? So
demanding? So malcontent when I am staring into space?

I think it is fear. Fear of being forgotten, of having nothing, of
regretting at some future time that I might have been preparing and
there was time for me to prepare and I was doing nothing. I think I fear
the blank mind which slows down until it is numb. I fear that I did not
live my life completely and as fully as I was able. I fear not having
done the work that would advance my plans, bring me praise, raise my
status, and infuse the world with good memories of me. I fear losing a
chance to have feelings that might bind me to life and living things and
the love of the cosmos. I want to die with a full mind, a full heart,
after a life lived fully.

Is this a necessary emotional logic? The yogis of India teach methods to
overcome the wants of the body and the ambitions of the heart. Buddha
taught us to live for others and want nothing. These methods teach us
not to fill time with business and productivity, but to fill our time
with NOTHING. To exercise, feed and clothe ourselves, and meditate.
Those who do, they tell us, will escape the rat race of material want,
appetite, and ambition. The living beings on Earth now are trapped in a
cycle of unhappy suffering - "samsara" - suffering that only those who
train their minds and bodies can escape.

Trauma has driven me to fear - to fear loss of control over myself, to
fear the intentions of others, to fear the actions by which I might
prove myself competent or improve the lives of others. Trauma has
confused me, complicated my mind and my heart, and has compelled the
anxiety which drives me. Trauma and calm oppose each other.


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Friendly Fascist

January 4, 2017

In this excerpt of an interview by Al Letson from Reveal, (https://www.revealnews.org/episodes/a-frank-conversation-with-a-white-nationalist/) Richard Spencer discusses his aspiration for a white ethno-state. We can be grateful that he has spoken so clearly and candidly, because before he demands respect and fairness for his point of view, he has already declared his disdain for fairness and love of domination. Has anyone not heard the story of the scorpion and the frog?

Richard Spencer:
Fairness has never been really a great value in my mind. I like greatness and winning and dominance and beauty. Those are values. Not really fairness.
I think whites are going to be, they're going to have an amplification of their consciousness of being white. That this whole process we're experiencing is not going to bring about racelessness. It's going to bring about a new consciousness amongst white people that actually wasn't there before.
But I think the only way forward is through identity politics. And the only way forward for my people, for us to survive and thrive, is by having a sense of identity. And I don't know what the future is going to hold, but we need that.
I don't know how history is going to unfold. What I do know is that for my people to survive we have to have a sense of who we are. We have to have identity. And we don't always have it. We don't have an ethnic racial consciousness. Now in terms of an ethnostate, I don't know how that will be possible.
What the ethnostate is, is an ideal. It's a thing, it's a way of thinking about we want a new type of society that would actually be a homeland for all white people. All European people. So that would include Slavs, that would include Germans, that would include Latins, it who would include people of all ethnicities that we would always have a safe space. We would always have a homeland for us.
But the thing is, I know that in my lifetime I'm going to have opportunities to fight for the survival of my people and my civilization.

Al Letson: What's the difference between you and the Klansmen that burned crosses on peoples lawns? What's the difference between you and you know, the people who don't look at me, an African-American man, as a full human being? Like what's the difference? …  to me it just sounds like the same old thing that I've heard before in a different packaging.

Richard Spencer: Well, I don't think it is the same old thing we've heard before. I think you just said that it's not. That you're actually intrigued by it. I don't, you know, look I'm not going to comment about you know some hypothetical Klansman or whomever.

Al Letson: There's no such thing as a hypothetical Klansman because the people that I'm talking about exist. They have gone out, they have burned crosses on people's lawns. They have lynched people. They've done horrible horrible things. They are the first American terrorists. So it's not hypothetical. I'm not comparing you to this thing that I'm just dreaming up. I'm comparing you to history. And I'm not intrigued by your ideas. I'm saying to you that like your ideas sound just like them, except you wear a nice suit and you can speak to me directly. And I respect that about you. I respect that you and I can have this conversation, that you're not wearing a hood, but it's the same thing. And that's so that's what I'm asking. Like what is the difference?

Richard Spencer: I'm sure there is some commonality between these movements of the past and what I'm talking about. But you really have to judge me on my own terms. Like I am not those people and I don't fully know, I don't know in the specifics of what you're referring to. Like I am who I am. And you, if you're going to treat me with good faith, you have to listen to what I'm saying and listen to my ideas. I think someone who would go down the path of becoming a Klansman or something in 2016, I think that is, those people are very different than I am. It's, it's a it's a non-starter. I think we need an idea. We need a movement that really resonates with where we are right now.
If you ask your average white person in America, "Who are you?" they are going to probably never get around to talking about their European identity or their heritage. They're afraid of it. They know it. Everyone's kind of racially unconscious. They know it in their bones but they're not conscious. They don't want to really talk about it and explore it and think about how that inflects their life. So that's what I want to bring. I respect your identity. I respect the fact that you think about it seriously, that you take it seriously. I want white people to take it seriously. In terms of what I was talking about of like we're going to do this together. I think that I want to see an identitarian future. I want to see people, different peoples, different civilizations having a sense of themselves and finding out ways to live together.

Al Letson: But a white ethnostate is not people living together. What you're saying to me now is different from what you said before because what you said before would basically mean that I would live in one state and my son, my white son, would have to live in another state. You know, for me when we talk about like my blackness and me saying that I'm an African-American man. It's true. I am proud of my blackness but I'm not advocating for ethnostate. So I want to respect you as a white man. I see that. I understand that history. I want you to respect me as a black man and see that and understand that history and then figure how we move forward together. That's the difference between me and you is that I want to move forward together. And you feel like those fissures that are between us are too big to pass over.

Richard Spencer: I have to be honest. I think we actually kind of hate each other. And that is a very tragic thing. And that's a very sad thing. And we don't trust each other. And we can talk about how one day we're going to all be holding hands, or we can actually be realistic about this and we can actually look at the power of human nature and the power of race.


I heard his ideas, and he is happy with the idea of dominating other people. So how does he deserve to be respected for who he is, when he does not offer the same respect to others? How is he entitled to be taken for his ideas when he is asking us to do so as a distraction from the similarity between his ideas and the ideas of the Klansmen and people who lynched black people? How can we have "ways to live together" when he has already told us that as soon as he is able he is going to come and obliterate us?

Richard Spencer is from that breed of humans who have no interest in a common humanity, a sustainable culture, the idea of a social  contract, or a healthy planet for all of life. He sees only a hostile world around him and therefore we garner pure hostility. Given a chance, he will come for people with peace in their hearts, who would happily share their wealth with anyone, not to share but to take, killing them-us. We cannot negotiate with him or his ilk. If they come to kill us, passivism will not win the day. We will have to take up arms and answer his hate with hate. It might kill us. But would you leave the planet to such a man?

I do not advocate preemptive anything. That such sentiments have currency is deeply disturbing, but we can put some trust in the reasonableness of most of humanity, and try to avoid increasing the numbers of his followers, by working for sustainable, meaningful lives.