Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Where Do You Sleep?"

I just got an email from a reader that asked where one would sleep as a freegan. I think there was a misunderstanding with my last post, in which I mentioned times that I have voluntarily been homeless. Freegansim is about living simply to reduce our impact on the world, but it's not necessarily practiced by voluntary homelessness. People accept the precepts of freeganism in different ways, and adjust their lives accordingly.

Just to clarify the statements I made earlier, I do live in a house. It is a community house, shared by 20 people, but it's still a house. I have lived in an RV with Freegan friends, and I have lived on the streets for short periods of time. (In that case, to answer the reader's question, one would sleep in the same places that less fortunate souls have slept in for many years: under bridges, in trees, on the sidewalks.) The place I live now is an intentional community focused on simplicity in solidarity with the poor, and we do not get paid, nor do we pay rent. It's a live-in volunteer situation, a place of full commitment and an attempt at living out the ideals we believe in.

More on this later, I am late for a community meeting. Ah, community life.

A freegan is someone who tries to live simply, reducing their consumption and the pressure they place on the environment, through such things as recycling, sharing resources and using one’s time to help others.

Freeganism is about climbing out of the socio-economic system and living with a new motivation. Rather than working for money, as in the current system, freegans occupy their time giving and receiving for free. -
From Uk Freegans website

Monday, November 16, 2009

Why I am a Freegan

 Here's another letter (electronic mail this time) that I wrote recently. It's a reply to a lady who is looking for Freegans for a report she is doing on food consumption and waste. I thought my answers to her questions were appropriately Freegan for this blog. Perhaps it will answer some questions you all might have, too.

Hey Anne,

First, though I would like to say that Freeganism has, in my opinion, grown out of movements that were active long before the 90's. I think that Freeganism takes bits and pieces of movements and ideologies from many different sources and fashions them into a unique perspective on the same issues that we have all been concerned with for decades. With that said, the environmental awareness movements of the 90's are a huge part of the Freegan philosophy.

My journey into Freeganism started with my parents. I grew up in a small town as a part of a lower-class family. My parents are products of the 60's and were dumpster divers "before it was cool", my father likes to say. They taught me the value of treating our environment with the respect it deserves, and gave me guidance in the reusing of all kinds of waste, including the throw outs of supermarkets. As you can imagine, when I was growing up, I was embarrassed by our second-hand clothing, our curb collected items, and the occasional thrown out food. But after I left home and began to travel in a radical Christian community, of all things, I came in contact with the ideals of Freeganism. Then all the things my parents tried to teach me began to make sense and I embraced a simple lifestyle, which includes minimizing the necessity for spending money (and consuming) through such things as dumpster diving. I am a Freegan for environmental, philosophical and humanitarian reasons. This has been a long background, but if you want me to go deeper, just let me know.

I have traveled a fair bit, and had varied experiences with people in different places. Most of the stigma I have received has been more focused on the fact that I am "poor" (voluntarily living in an RV for three years, spending time purposefully money- and home- less with a small group of friends a year and a half ago) than it was on the fact that I eat from dumpsters. When I explain freeganism and dumpster diving to the average person, they are often shocked and ask a lot of questions, but do not shun or stereotype me. In the context of casual conversation, they see bin-raiding as the act of protest that it is for a freegan. It's more intellectual when you tell people. It's when they see you on the street that the stigma comes. Freeganism itself is a popular concept. It's poverty that the world is afraid of. It's exactly that fear that Freeganism in its anti-consumerist focus seeks to challenge and eradicate.

The Los Angeles freegan movement seems to be almost non-existent to me. I came to live in LA about 7 months ago, taking a break from the nomadic lifestyle I had lived for 3 years. The first thing I went to look for was a group of freegans that I could identify, and possible live, with. I found the Los Angeles Dumpster Diving Meetup, and thought that it would be a significant group of freegans. I was disappointed when I  attended a meetup to find that Eric was the only person who identified as a Freegan and that many of the poeple who come to his events have never dumpstered before. I have since come to see this as an opportunity for education, and have partnered with Eric to try to bring more exposure to the practices and purposes of Freeganism. If you know of any other groups of Freegans in this area, I would very much appreciate being hooked up with them. Eric and I have met a lot of people through our work with the Dumpster Diving meetup, and introduced many to the ideals of freeganism and the practice of dumpster diving. However, very few become dedicated to the practice and fewer ever identify themselves as freegan.

Freeganism is a much larger movement on the East Coast of the US (where the term was first coined), and is especially getting attention in Europe in the past few years. I really enjoyed dumpster diving in London last year! There, most people you run into have heard of freeganism. In LA, it's rare to meet someone who knows what the term means.

 I have a load of resources I can direct you to. The easiest way to do that is through my blog, which has a list of related links on the right hand side. [link removed]

You may already have these links, but I think you may find them helpful.

The essential freegan websites are, of course: (New York Freegans) (UK Freegans. I know several freegans in the UK)

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I apologize if this is too much stuff!

Good luck on your project.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hippie Kitchen Reflection (Letter to JJ)

I was writing a (paper!) letter to my 18-year-old sister, who lives in Oregon, the other day and I thought that a small part of what I was telling her would be appropriate for this blog, as it is a reflection on the work that I do at the Hippie Kitchen. Yes, amazingly enough, people do still write paper letters to one another! My sister is an anomaly of this tech generation; she won't have anything to do with computers and barely knows how to use the features on her cell phone. The only other gadget she uses is her iPod, which is a fairly user friendly piece of smart plastic. If only more people could live without constant internet access [cough, cough].

Here's what I wrote to my sister JJ in my real-life paper letter:

I'm very happy with my life. Living in community is my lifeblood. I love sharing food, space and time with other people. I think it may be a part of my innate personality (I have been reading a bit about psychology and personality typing lately). I also love my "job", which I don't get paid for. These days I have been "working" behind the counter of our small clinic, where I pass out generic medications and hygiene needs, like soap or toothpaste. Today is dentist day, so I get to hear the exciting high pitched drone of his drill.

The soup kitchen I am a full-time volunteer for is called the "hippie kitchen". At least that's what everyone calls it. Officially, it's the "Catholic Worker Hospitality Kitchen", but nobody refers to it that way. It's been around for almost 40 years and some of the some of the original founding members are still here. Catherin is 75 years old and works hard, like someone 20 years younger than that. 

We have a beautiful garden space at the kitchen, an oasis in the heart of this grimy concrete jungle. This is called "Skid Row", this part of downtown LA. The name "Skid Row" is synonymous everywhere with filth, homelessness and suffering. The Hippie Kitchen is a break from that, in a way, with its tall, lush trees and pretty picnic tables. But it's also a display of the sad conditions of this place and its oppressed people. We do what we can to share with them our resources and to relieve them, for a while, of the hardships of the sidewalk. But, beyond the meals, shopping carts and painkillers, all we have to give is our smiles and our patience. 


Friday, November 6, 2009

"All We Want is Medicare For All"

The foggy mid-October air was charged with a certain excitment as the twelve of us approached the office building in hopes of making a strong statement for our cause. For many of us in that group, including me, it would be our first civil disobedience arrest. Several police officers were waiting for us on the corner as we went to cross the street. They were there to warn us that the building was on lockdown in anticipation of our planned action. Therefore, we would not be able to enter the Blue Cross insurance office on the third floor. That was fine with us. We were there to get our point across in whatever way we could. At least a hundred people participated in the Mobilization for Health Care for All demonstration that morning.

At a time when healthcare reform is in the national spotlight, our participation is an important part of the process. Not only does it show the politicians what is important to the American people, but we are also making the issue more real to the average citizen. It is criminal that a nation that can afford to be the number one military power and presence cannot provide adequate health care to its residents. It's not that we can't afford such a system of service. Instead the problem lies in the fact that taking care of our health has become a business like any other. Medical service has become a commodity to be bought, rather than a human right.

In such a business, the goal is not the well-being of the "customers", but a maximization of profit. Insurance companies have found that they can make more money by finding ways to deny care, even to the very people who are paying them (the less money they spend on actual care, the more they can keep in the bank). For example, at the rally on October 15th, Hilda Sarkisyan spoke the the gathered crowd and surrounding policemen about her 17year old daughter Nataline. In 2007, Nataline was denied a doctor requested liver transplant that would have saved her life, because the insurance company claimed that it was an "experimental" procedure (a claim that the doctors faught hard against). Her family was fully covered by insurance giant Cigna. If the Sarkisyans had lived in a country like Canada, perhaps, where health is not a means of making money, but a service, maybe Nataline would be here now. Perhaps she would be in college at this time. And if the transplant did not work, as it was a "high risk procedure", at least she would have been given a chance.

On the fifteenth of October, we were there at Blue Cross to fight for the rights and lives of people like Nataline. Our arrest that day was symbolic, a picture of people willing to sacrifice their own freedom in order that change might come. The organizer of the action, our friend Sam Pullen, took that sacrifice a step further. He refused to cooperate in a way the would let him be released that day. Sam's mother was denied a life-saving bone marrow transplant by Blue Cross many years ago and he wanted to carry her story with him to jail. She eventually got the care she needed because she fought the insurance company to get it. Sam's efforts last month were successful, landing him 5 days in jail and the eventual dropping of all charges. More than that, he brought awareness to the issue through news media interviews and brought a "cause" to the inmates that weekend. He speaks of the experience with a rightful sense of pride.

What I will never forget from my first civil disobedience action on October 15th is the unity I felt with the others who were arrested that day. While the cops were organizing themselves to take us away, we sat in a large circle, blocking the doors to the building. We sang songs of justice and held hands, brandishing our bright orange T-Shirts which screamed in purple capitals,"PATIENTS NOT PROFITS! MEDICARE FOR ALL!" There was some fear and apprehension (especially in those of us for which this was a new experience), but we stayed strong throughout, never losing our voices. Along the way, we made friendly with the authorities who dealt with us and found support for our cause in the places you may not expect to find it. Though the ordeal was over by mid-afternoon for most of us (we were released by 4:30), it is far from actually over. Not only does it live on in the memories of many and in the news stories it generated, but the fight for health care for all goes on. The Mobilize for Health Care for All campaign has continued since its grand beginnings on the 15th of October to include at least twenty other cities, over 60 more arrests and more action in Los Angeles, as well.

And even if the Health Care reform bill turns out to be a huge disappointment (as it looks to be right now), we will continue to push on and to sing, "all we want is Medicare for all!"

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"Patients not Profits"

Here are some belated pics, from both healthcare actions:

For more pictures, at least of the first event, check out this album.