Tuesday, September 29, 2009

In Solidarity

I slept more comfortably last night than any other time that I had slept on the streets before that. Of course, I had never had the luxuries of an open sleeping bag and a camping mat (nor the warmth of a body next to me) any other night out on the sidewalks, either.

Yesterday was the third anniversary of Los Angeles' "Safer Cities Initiative", a program set in place by the city with the goal of "cleaning up Skid Row"(links lead to articles relating to the subject). It's a highly controversial initiative that has poured 50 more police officers (over 100, if you count undercover narcotics officers sent in to falsely arrest afflicted drug users under charges of dealing) into the 50 blocks of the Skid Row community of Downtown Los Angeles. It has led to sky-high numbers of arrests and complaints of police brutality. In the opinon of the resisdents of Skid Row, and the minds of friends of the homeless (such as the LACW and myself), it is an unfair shift in policing that has led to the ciminalization of the poorest of LA.

(The picture is from a different protest, same issue. I hope that pictures from Monday night's protest should be available soon).

The Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) held a protest that evening on the steps of the Central Division Police Station (the station that is in Skid Row) to show opposition to the SCI. Eric and I joined the LA Catholic Worker, many homeless people, and other supporters/activists (including attorney Jim Lafferty) in a rally and the following sleep-in on the sidewalk in front of the police station with banners that read things like "Still no room at the inn: LAPD stop persecuting the Homeless", "LA must repent for criminalization of the homeless", "Lofts for the rich, cells for the poor" and so on and so forth. It was a lively action with good energy.

(they also went on to protest at the city council meeting the next morning, which I missed due to kitchen duties, but you can read a blurb about it here)

For me, it was about solidarity. I have slept away from shelter before, just as voluntarily, and always with a mind on those for whom such action is not an option, but a necessity. Twice it was for a week-long "faith outreach" with the JCs and once it was a two month journey with the JCs and our moneyless friend Suelo. Those times, we started with nothing but the clothes on our backs, as a time of trusting in a God who "works things out" and as a measure of identifying with the poorer half of our global neighbors. Those times were adventures in themselves and probably need to be written about.

In the meantime, let us ponder on our treatment of the less fortunate and to remember that the system's broken; how are we going to fix it?

It's up to us.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Day in the Life

My lifestyle is perhaps a little unusual to some people who read this, so I thought I might give a very rough outline of what my friends and I do on a regular basis. Some of my old friends from Oregon have asked me on Facebook what it is I am up to these days. I'm not in college (no big debt or unwanted careers for me, thank you very much) nor do I work in a paid job. Instead I live in an intentional community, where I am a full-time volunteer. I was inspired by this little section of our website, which does a good job of explaining a "typical" kitchen (at left) day:

A Typical Day

Well, there are no typical days at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker. When one of your values is precocity, anything can happen. Our cars get stolen, our house gets broken into, our bank account runs dry, people die, get sick, lose their jobs, get arrested, or rip us off. But these are, hopefully, balanced by the times in which we are divinely surprised by that one thousand dollar check, the angry person who caused a fight yesterday coming back today to apologize, the person who once ate at the soup kitchen returning after ten years of sobriety to thank us for our work, or finding a wonderful gift of brie cheese in the food donation. By definition, being vulnerable to God’s grace and goodness means that we must be equally vulnerable to chaos and disaster as well.

With that said here is what we do on a typical day of serving lunch at our downtown kitchen. If you are on the early crew you arrive at the kitchen by 6:45 a.m.–the plants must be watered, the garden and sidewalk must be swept, the kitchen must be setup, and if you have time, you can grab some toast and jam before the real work begins.

The official day at the kitchen begins at 7:45 a.m. with the prayer of St. Francis "Lord, make me a channel of your peace, where there is hatred let me bring your love…" By 9:30 a.m. we, with the help of our volunteers, have finished chopping the salad, cooking the soup, buttering the bread, and after a brief prayer we begin serving.

By noontime we have served anywhere from one thousand to two thousand meals and if you are lucky, everyone who came to the garden to eat was in a good mood, or their mood improved when they got here and there were no altercations. By now you are pretty tired and you might like to take a nap, but you have an hour of clean up to do.

At the end of the day we gather around the chopping block for an agape service, breaking bread together and breaking open the Word of God. If it is Tuesday, you will go to our weekly business meeting which usually runs from 2-4 p.m. Then if it is not your house night, (meaning you don’t have to prepare dinner for the house), you can take a nap until 6 p.m. when dinner is served.

That little description is only of what we do on the first half of our Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. We also serve a small breakfast on the street on Wednesdays and Fridays, which is followed by a vigil of protest against the war (against all war, actually). We also have other community activities that take place throughout the week.

And besides all that, I like to do other activities outside of the community schedule, like hanging out with Eric and other friends through dumpster diving, meetups, and social bike rides.

For example, today I got up around 5:10AM because I had stayed in Pasadena (northeast of the kitchen) after a concert last night. I had to get to downtown (where the soup kitchen is in Skid Row) by 6:40 to help set up for the day's work. Taking the train, with the aid of my bike, takes almost an hour. Then, after the day at the kitchen, my weekend officially starts (at about 2PM) and so I head back to Pasadena (where Eric lives) until Monday morning.

I love the life I am leading. I feel that what we do is a great thing. We are more than just a service to the residents of the Skid Row community, we are their friends. Jeff and Catherine, the oldest couple in our house, have been helping to run this thing for almost 40 years. They know many, many of the homeless and very-low-income people in the area and are respected very highly.

And besides, it's all so fun!

I welcom any questions about things I may have left out or about anything.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I'm a Freeg-etarian

Vegetarianism (or veganism) is a great way to make a statement about a particular aspect of the atrocities of our economic system, in the same way that dumpster diving makes a statement about waste. I find that for me personally, my conscience is clear when it comes to consuming meat that was wasted ("rescued" meat from dumpster diving). The reason I feel okay with it is that I feel that the animal's life was taken in vain to tossed in a bin. In a way, I think my maknig use of it is redeeming its life somehow. Something I cannot stand is finding perfectly good lamb meat sent over the oceans from New Zealand. It shows not only waste of the life of a baby animal, but also waste of resources (i.e. the transportation costs such as fuel and storage of the "product").

The issue for me is not in the eating of the meat, but in the funding of the process. If people all stopped paying for meat, the giant agribusinesses would lose money and be forced to reconfigure their project. So my way of protesting the cruelty and the many other issues with the meat industry is in not consuming meat that was purchased, and in not purchasing meat myself. For it's in contributing financially to that system (personally or through others) that we perpetuate it. Just for clarification, I am also fine with eating meat of animals that were raised personally for food (or "home grown meat", I like to say). I do not see a problem with using animals for food if it is done on a need basis and not for profit. It is profit and greed that create the crazy systems that rape the earth and its creatures.

I thought that this Q&A from the UK Freegans website was very good for explaining my position.

4) Are all ‘freegans’ vegans?

Although freeganism grew largely out of the vegan movement, not all freegans are vegans. Some vegans no longer find that the same arguments (e.g. inhumane treatment of animals) apply when it comes to using animal products that have already been produced and are now being wasted.

The direct impact of a freegan lifestyle on animals, people and the environment is less than that of even the strictest vegan who buys their food, as often large amounts of energy go into the production of vegan products for the market place.

Many freegans continue to follow a vegan diet for health and/or ethical reasons.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Fair Play (an acrostic)

Here's another poem, this one an acrostic. It was written specifically for this month's issue of the Catholic Agitator, and hopefully it will be published.

Food is not a commodity, but a right
All are entitled to shelter at night
nequality is a curse to those with power
evealing the truth that money breeds cowards

eople deserve to be treated as equals
ay down all violence: the sword and the shield
re not all oppressed when few are free?
You have the power in what you choose to be

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Poem From Oregon

Below is a rather random poem I wrote whlile I was away in Oregon, sitting on the riverbank* with my mother. (*This joke is for a friend named Jeremy, and the funny thing is that it's true). As of yet, it has no title.


Life floats like a butterfly on the wing,
shifting direction at the blink of an eye.
In green places the birds still sing,
and like the breeze in the trees we sigh.

Blue skies, like the eyes of my lover, open,
embracing the fresh air that we breathe.
The water of poetry flows from my pen
to capture the moments, falling like leaves.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Gone Too Long

I don't know if anyone reads this blog enough to have noticed how long it's been since I last posted, but it has been a long while. I was on vacation to spend time with my family in Oakridge, Oregon. I tried to make a post during the visit, but due to slow internet connections (my parents still use dial-up!) and a busy time connecting with as many people as possible, I was never able to finish that post. A few things have happened since I stopped posting regularly, including the locking of Eric's and my favorite new dumpster spot here in LA.

An Oregonian at Heart

My visit to Oakridge was lovely, complete with swimming in the cold North Fork of the Willamette River and ending with a small town wedding for a cousin I hadn't seen in years. It was also the first time in almost two years that my three siblings and I (I am on the left of the age-arranged photo at left) have been together in one place.

One of the best things about being in Oakridge was the natural beauty. Somehow when I was growing up, I had taken for granted the scenery I had been placed in. The town of little over 3000 people is situated in the feet of the Cascade Mountains, on the edge of the Willamette Valley (about an hour east of Eugene). Mountians coated heavily with evergreen trees (mostly cedar) are so close that you can almost touch them. My parents' home is a minutes' walk from the river, which you can hear flowing at night from my old bedroom. Now that I live in Los Angeles, the landscape of Oregon is a treasure I will never forget. I do hope that someday Eric and I can move north, out of this city to crown all cities (also called "Hell-A" by some).

A Freegan Birthday Party

Now I will go back an entire month to make mention of my fantastic birthday party because I want to thank all the people who made it such a great time. We called the event "Bikes, Beer and Dumpster Diving" because it was spread over the weekend of August 14th to include a dumpster ride that provided the meal and snacks for the actual party. A lot of friends, new and old, showed up to mark my 21st year of life. I felt that it was also a celebration of a new direction in life and my "settling down" in Los Angeles. Friends from the JCs, Hippie Kitchen volunteers, my Riverside friends from the Rainbow Gathering and members of the Catholic Worker community all joined in on the fun, as representations of different journeys I have taken. And of course there was Eric, my Freegan partner. For more pics of the event, click here.

Freeganism and Dumpster Diving Meetup

Eric and I continue to host freegan meetups, such as potlucks and dumpster dives. Over the last few weeks, Eric has shown a few freegan-friendly documentaries at his place after potluck dinners, including "What Would Jesus Buy?", "The Story of Stuff" and, as of last night, "The Corporation". All three are worth taking a look at, and I recommend the book, "The Corporation", as well.

There is more, but I will save it for later. Don't we all love the leftovers? ;)