Our American Friends
by Stan Shaffer
At a Zine meeting in mid-July, two inspiring young activists from Indianapolis, Indiana, Zander and Helen, joined our group. They had flown to Vancouver, retrieved their bikes, and spent a week meeting people of kindred spirit. Then they’re riding slowly to Portland and on the way primarily visiting co-operative and intentional living groups in Bellingham and Seattle.
After only one week, they were impressively well informed about housing and food issues in Vancouver and had already visited the Oppenheimer protest, bringing bread and greens. They met the main organizers and listened to media interviews. Helen was spot on when she stated, “people in Oppenheimer just want a home.” During his exploration of Vancouver, Zander noted “lots of produce in dumpsters in the Lakewood/Commercial Drive area.”
Although food security is a key issue for them, collective housing and cooperative living are vital interests because of their lives in Indianapolis. They told us that Indianapolis used to be a thriving industrial city that has seen better days since its industrial core moved off shore, creating a “rust belt” shell of its former self. While not as badly deteriorated as Detroit, it nevertheless has plenty of poverty and related social problems. Ironically, its main industry now is convention and sports tourism, partly because the downtown core has many museums and monuments, which creates plenty of minimum paying, part-time service sector jobs to support the tourists.
“How many paychecks and a credit card are you away from homelessness?”
What environmental, family and personal factors influence young people to seek a life of communal living and social justice?For Helen, who is “passionate about family background,” it was growing up poor with parents who travelled around the US mid-West looking for work and living informally, coop style. She knows firsthand that there’s “security in food.” Her parents became obese because of their dependence on processed food, and her father was recently hospitalized. Fortunately she loved fruits and vegetables and is a rigorous vegetarian. Her Food Not Bombs group in Indianapolis feeds 160 people, fundraises, and is connected to a worker’s justice center movement. Although her parents had no money for college, she’s currently finishing a degree in fine arts specializing in bronze sculpture at the Herron School of Art and Design.
Zander (short for Alexander), who’s astute and articulate, was wearing a tee-shirt with a “Food Not Bombs” logo and is a Community Outreach Intern for the group. He has wide knowledge about US housing legislation and food justice. His father was an environmentalist and labour union representative who lost his job after protesting labour cutbacks in Wisconsin. Zander quoted someone at the Oppenheimer protest who asked, “How many paychecks and a credit card are you away from homelessness?” Although he ignores electoral politics in his state because of a “super-majority”— meaning the government is controlled by Republicans—he’s a leader in many Food Not Bombs projects. Zander has almost finished his degree in mechanical engineering.
Sometimes we Canadians have a jaundiced view of our Southern neighbours, believing many are bullheaded capitalists mainly concerned with personal financial well-being. Well, not so fast. Helen, Zander and the activist group they represent are committed to creating personal lives with a communal social purpose. More power to them!
Zander Update: He reports that “Bellingham’s Food Not Bombs was a very different scene, conjoined to the ‘longest running peace vigil’ in the U.S….I enjoyed how Bellingham’s FMB bridged the gap between folks facing serious struggles in their own daily lives with the macro-issues the peace vigil was bringing to light. I think they brought two distinct audiences together and created great dialogue that way.”
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military programs than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
Martin Luther King, Jr