1-2 September, USA, Chicago
I woke up this morning and had a chat to Carly about the state of the economy. We talked about health care here. There apparently are some issues concerning private health insurance and the right to choose. In Australia we have universal health care. My feeling is concern for those who don’t work and can’t get insurance, that fear was born out today when I was faced with so much need both spiritual and physical.
I walked along the river through the cityscape. I observed people as I walked and noted they don’t smile or make eye contact. If you stop to get directions they are helpful, I am not sure if that is because I am a foreigner or that the mask comes down. I noticed the food outlets were mostly fastfood and disposable packaging. It appears unhealthy food still is being served up, I felt that when I was in the US 25 years ago. Reminds me of the film about MacDonalds ‘Supersize me’. It is a culture of fast food it seems. There are more healthy choices appearing but still laden with packaging. I would have thought the US would be more advanced, but it is very much reflective of profit not social benefit. Capitalism isn’t able to factor in the social good if there is a cost to it. In economics externalities are costs such as pollution that impacts on the community, that the company does not pay to clean up, I would add health costs to this. Another interesting thought is the BP clean up which they must pay. This is an externality that companies are responsible for. This is important as it teaches them corporate social responsibility which many espouse, but they have to see themselves not as separate economic units, but part of a social fabric within which they affect. More and more companies are picking up social roles of medical and schooling. This is a result of their corporate power and influence.
Oil Spill Issues
The environmental issues appear by some people to not be of major concern. For myself the oil spill in the Gulf was a disaster, equivalent to a nuclear explosion, I felt that intuitively, of proportions you can’t imagine. My friend felt the oil would be absorbed by the ocean and therefore there is no problem. I didn’t challenge her assumption but chose to just listen to different views. According to PBS America there are estimate ranges of between 2,520,000 gallons per day (BP worst case) to 4,200,000 (experts worse case). The Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 in mid-June totaled 11 million gallons. A barrel of crude oil contains 42 gallons. It is estimated by September 2 that 190,011,555 gallons have leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. The toxins of oil, the sludge, the loss of visible light, the lack of oxygen all have huge impacts on both flora and fauna in the ocean. The oil residue affects swimming and causes sickness. Bird life get the oil on their feathers and cannot fly. According to wikipedia the damage is as follows. The oil penetrates into the structure of the plumage of birds, reducing its insulating ability, thus making the birds more vulnerable to temperature fluctuations and much less buoyant in the water. It also impairs birds’ flight abilities to forage and escape from predators. As they attempt to preen, birds typically ingest oil that covers their feathers, causing kidney damage, altered liver function, and digestive tract irritation. This and the limited foraging ability quickly causes dehydration and metabolic imbalances. Hormonal balance alteration including changes in luteinizing protein can also result in some birds exposed to petroleum. Most birds affected by an oil spill die unless there is human intervention. Marine mammals exposed to oil spills are affected in similar ways as seabirds. Oil coats the fur of Sea otters and seals, reducing its insulation abilities and leading to body temperature fluctuations and hypothermia. Ingestion of the oil causes dehydration and impaired digestions. Because oil floats on top of water, less sunlight penetrates into the water, limiting the photosynthesis of marine plants and phytoplankton. This, as well as decreasing the fauna populations, affects the food chain in the ecosystem. So it is very serious and impossible to undo the damage.
I wonder about the media here and haven’t had a chance to have a listen but I suspect there is misinformation and still an adherence to the capitalist style of life ‘business as usual’ as there appears little leadership or willingness to live differently. This of course is a first impression, however I suspect it is close to reality.
Begging on the Streets of Chicago and Unemployment
On my walk on the streets I saw many African American men begging. I was approached by one who said he worked part time and they just lay staff off when they want to. He said it is hard to survive. His name was Michael and he said needed $10 to go home to his children. We discussed the fact that people could be laid off without notice and the casualisation of the workforce, I felt concern about the US system and how vulnerable people are, I felt particularly African American. He asked if he could show me around the city and was open about thinking I was very pretty. I did agree, I am soft, oh well but he said he needed to go to his kids first and asked for a cell phone. I don’t have one so we said goodbye. I did see him later down at the park so assumed he may do this to supplement his income, I do think he saw me and left, I think he may have felt some shame. . It is hard to tell what is true or not. However, unemployment is quite high as the Chicago business website contends:
February unemployment in the broader metro Chicago market stood at 11.3%, up from 9.1% a year earlier. The Chicago-Joliet-Naperville area employed 137,500 fewer people in February than the same month in 2009, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security. Chicago’s unemployment is eighth-highest in the state, according to figures released Thursday by the department. “The national recession’s impact on every job sector is directly reflected in this local data,” Maureen O’Donnell, IDES director, said in a statement. All 12 metropolitan areas tracked by the state agency saw a higher jobless rate than in February 2009, marking the 33rd consecutive month that the monthly unemployment rate has topped the previous year’s figures. Rockford logged the highest rate in February with 18.6%, while Bloomingon-Normal recorded the lowest at 9.5%. The jobless rate is 12% for Illinois and 10.4% for the nation.
This is the official rate if people don’t get State ID’s as they can’t afford them, then it may be underestimating. It would be interesting to look at demographics of Afro Americans unemployment rate. As there seems to be social issues here with some of them. I asked an Afro women if there were racial problems, she seemed to think not, so I am unsure. Psychologically begging is a problem whether they need it or not, the preference to sit on the street and shake a tin rather then engaging in life, suggests some deep issues. I had many people justify not giving as some earn so much money, I think that is more myth covering the reality of a social problem, I suspect work and insecurity around work and the realisation of no career prospects may disempower people. I am not sure but just a reflection. I certainly developed racial concerns in a few short days, I don’t consider myself racist but I found myself more wary of the Afro Americans as I was not comfortable being approached for money every corner. As I am not an endless pot of gold and I don’t like to refuse help if it is genuine.
As I walked I saw big skyscrapers and the American flag everywhere. I see this constant reminder of nationalism, but I do feel this is waning in the US. It is a strategy to keep allegiance to the flag and as a result of being a superpower. I have seen government attempts at nationalism in other countries and I see it as a sign of dictatorship. I observed many unhappy people and no spontaneity. I saw people smiling with friends but no-one had a peaceful expression as they walked. I wondered if this was a result of fear and control. It could be the population size and a function of city life, to be wary and not trust people too much. I was approached by beggars and felt uncomfortable with it. I find it hard to say no, I am soft hearted.
I was approached by a young man in his 20’s who sheepishly told me he needed money. He said he had left his ID, money in a backpack in a cab. His mother told him he would have to beg for money. He found this very difficult and was very nervous. He said he had to catch two trains back home and would send the money back. I said don’t worry about it. I initially gave him $20 then realized he needed $44 more for the train. He told me it had been his birthday the day before and he was feeling upset about it. He told me his mother said to approach women he would have more luck getting help. He was a Christian and said he didn’t like asking. I did believe his story and decided to just go with it. I ended up giving him $80. I gave my card, so it will be interesting to see if his mother writes to me. My attitude is that I am honest, even if I am being taken for a ride, I can only go on what I know in the moment. It seemed genuine. He seemed relieved. I walked away and laughed, I gave more away to Americans then I did in India. I felt somehow they needed it.
People not smiling
I sat down at a restaurant and had a coffee. I sat watching the people go past. I watched them not make eye contact. It was like robots. I found it strange and I could imagine this lack of interaction as very isolating for people. I saw an African American guy drink milk out of a bin in front of me, he had a problem with his leg and his eye was closed. He was in real need. I saw an old lady quite well dressed with a beret to my surprise she was begging, I saw her red eyes. I watched people to see if they gave to her. Such a hard life it seems for some, perhaps that is why they are not smiling. Smiling and goodwill reflects quality of life.
Found a Trainee Clown
I went down to the park and saw the silver bean that reflects the city. I saw their outdoor concert area, I felt they had so much yet their society appears so detached. I try not to judge and just accept cultural differences, but I was not lost on the emptiness pervading my thinking. I ended up walking to the Institute of Art and was able to meet a lecturer there, I asked if I could invite a student to clown with me the next day. I spoke to the class and got a volunteer. I have emailed him to come to the apartment tomorrow and I will deck him out with a clown suite. I really feel these people need a clowning presence, without begging. I am interested to see how they react or indeed respond to a clown, I want to see if they can meet my eyes, I know my accent will intrigue them, so it is not a pure test. However, I will have an American with me, so it will be interesting to see what happens.
I walked back and found another girl approach me saying ‘pretty please’, I am a softy, there is no doubt. I talked to her about the amount of African Americans begging and asked why, she said work is hard to get. She said her mother died recently and she seemed to cry. I just wasn’t sure if this was acting or for real. Had a half smile, but not sure. I asked why she couldn’t get welfare, she said she needed a State ID to work and couldn’t get the money for one. She said she wanted to work in construction. I asked how much an ID would cost, she said $20. So I gave it to her. I could be a sucker, but I decided to trust and just give. I asked her to do that. I don’t have an income and I really am giving from my heart. It is so hard to say no to people. Somehow India was easier, I don’t really know why, perhaps the fact it is so common there, whereas in a rich city like Chicago, it seems so out of place.
My friends who I am staying with by contrast took me out tonight as they looked at two condo’s. Apparently they were seeking an investment property to rent out at $1,700 or more per month. The place was three levels of apartments but the train line was very loud.
After condo inspecting, my friends took me on a bit of a tour in the car. My friend had her window open and an African American woman looked distressed and crying saying she had no money and had a friend and baby in the car. She needed money to drive to Wisconsin, again, I can’t say no, my friends allowed me to offer money. I gave her a hug and could see her detachment. Again, I felt it was genuine need. I laughingly told my friends I have given $130 away to people in need today. I just felt to do it. I laughed that even in the privacy of a car, I still gave money. So after tomorrow clowning I keep away from the city, I will end up with nothing.
I can’t judge who is playing me who is not, I just gave what I can. I do believe in life what goes around comes around. I see such a poverty in Chicago in spirit and economic/social problems beneath the surface. When I look into my own life I am fortunate, I am traveling and I feel wealthy even though my money has limits and I am not receiving additional income from investments. What I have is all I have. I do know there is magic in life and tried to convey this to a few people, to encourage them to follow their dreams. It seems I paid to give them the advice, but hopefully they felt some light in their lives. Perhaps that was my role, I don’t know.
Anyway, I must get to bed, feeling tired, will clown tomorrow, a big day awaits. Somehow it feels better to err on the side of compassion. If I am to the be the change, that is who I am, kindness.