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Breathing through this pandemic 

Posted on July 22, 2020 by Stephanie Hiller

Writing about anything has become just short of impossible for me lately, partly because I am not publishing daily. Issues seem to flare up and stay current for a week or two before our champion showman comes up with some new attack on all we hold dear, whilst the pandemic continues to do somersaults across our lives; and by the time I gather my wits and do the research, the frame has shifted and a new movie is playing, grimmer than the last and portending a darkening, more dismal future.

Lately, it’s the secret police kidnapping protestors in Portland that should alarm us all, juxtaposed with our comedian in chief’s insistence that schools re-open five days a week with or without masks. Insanity has become the norm, and what can we say or do but wring our hands and wince in pain. Or in fury! I avoid looking at that face for fear of nausea at the mere sight of him; but now the White House Press Secretary, and Secretary of Ignorification Betsy DeVos, have stolen my rage; I want to strangle them.

My intention in writing this blog is to examine the emerging new paradigm sparked by the arrival of the pandemic and the devastating blow it delivered to our lives, upending the economy and riddling our mental screens, if they haven’t been entirely replaced by computers, where images of the nasty little bugs remind us constantly that they are lurking on every surface and behind every masked smile. Everything, including our very lives, is up for grabs since Covid.

Despite the madness, the past several weeks hosted a number of intelligent analysts brought virtually to my desktop, introducing some provocative ideas of what good might come out of the disruption we are witnessing.

Vicki Robin, best known for the catchy title of her bestselling book Your Money Or Your Life, published in the more optimistic ‘90s, hosted a series of short interviews sponsored by the Post Carbon Institute (formerly of Santa Rosa), with a diverse group of visionaries, each asked the same question: Can anything possibly go right?

Perhaps the most reassuring was Bill McKibben talking about the imminent demise of the fossil fuel industry, and the triumph of decades-long opposition to the three massive pipelines planned for Indian country. He is not the only spokesman conveying this promising news for the climate. I am struggling through a book by Jeremy Rifkin, The Green New Deal, in which he explains how the market is working in the favor of the environment (imagine that!), with the declining cost of solar and wind driving the slow redirection of pension funds and other investments, leaving fossil fuel companies marooned on their stranded assets. Fossil fuels are in trouble.

But for now, atmospheric carbon levels are still rising.

An African-American woman who runs the nonprofit Young Women Empowered was not so sanguine. Her eyes shining with the pain of the people she is serving she was not about to deliver reassuring words to this white woman and her liberal audience; to her credit, Robin responded without offense that her question had not prompted the optimism she was looking for.

Other talks were also deeply affecting. I can’t do them justice here, and encourage you to watch them, https://www.postcarbon.org/what-could-possibly-go-right-series/. Carolyn Raffensberger, the brilliant Precautionary Principle warrior was inspiring, and hopeful.

Tim De Christopher, the young man who went to jail for outbidding oil companies for parcels around Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in Utah in 2008 in a novel form of protest, spoke feelingly about his current life in a rural commune in Vermont surrounded by Second Amendment locals. Most powerful were the words of Rev. Lennox Yearwood: “2020 is the year of truth.”

There were numerous other conversations online, including one by Yes! Magazine, and another featuring business leaders, which I’ll discuss in another blog. Closer to home, Sonoma-based PraxisPeace held a virtual meeting as part of its “Planetary Pause” theme, in which members reflected on their own experience of these changing times. The mood was not optimistic.

Director Georgia Kelly led off by asking what members would like to retain from the pandemic experience. I should note that this took place on July 10, some days before California went back into closure mode, reversing the premature opening which nevertheless had lifted our spirits. The reply was quick but brief – we’d all like to keep those blue skies and the clear air of April.

But talk quickly moved to the difficulty of projecting the future through the “overhanging gloom” and the politicization of everything, including masks.

Kimberly Blattner, Sonoma’s honorary “alcaldessa”, spoke of feeling embarrassed about her relative comfort, working in her garden every day and not having to worry about food or shelter, while she witnessed so much suffering at La Luz, where she is President of the Board, and how real estate prices are rising at the same time.

Others, too, reflected on how they could better serve during this arduous and alarming time by facilitating more productive forms of dialogue.

Philip Beard, retired Sonoma State professor, said that what keeps him going is his work for public banking. “We’re all feeling threatened,” he said, “by the scarcity. The thing we can do most about is the monetary system.”

A bill before the California legislature right now, AB 310, would, if passed, create a public bank for the state.

I talked with Philip afterwards by phone, to ask him to explain why a public bank would make such a big difference.

“Scarcity is the problem. It’s written  into the bank system. If you look at a document by the Federal Reserve called “Modern Money Mechanics,” on page 2 you will find, ‘Money like anything else derives its value from its scarcity relative to its value.’

“The system injects new money in the form of debt.” Whenever it makes a loan, it puts the number of dollars loaned into its ledger as a credit. “And that money is burdened by interest. That is not created by the bank, we have to make that interest payment from the profit we earn.” So we are always in competition over the scarcity of money produced by debt.

Public banking is based on a different principle, said Beard, more like the idea of a gift economy; “things we can’t do without, like sun, air, water, these aren’t scarce.” Similarly, public banking is not debt-based; “it is created by transactions, not scarcity.”

Loans are made from the public bank’s assets, which are funded by a percent of local taxes. The bank does not make a profit from the money it lends at little or no interest. “It can do this because it is owned by the public, to see that publicly necessary work gets done.”

Public bank advocates are hoping the Santa Rosa City Council will lead the way to endorsing AB 310 July 21 at its regular meeting. Will Sonoma follow? If you want to know more about public banking, check out Ellen Brown’s site, publicbankinginstitute.org

By the way, PraxisPeace, now in its 20th year of putting theory into practice, hosted Ellen Brown about a year ago.

We have plenty of work ahead of us. To quote Rev. Yearwood again: “We’re now beginning to break down the silos in our movement and now begin to work together. I think once we do that, we will be successful.”

Black people have broken through the silence around race and are leading the way. More about that next time.

Stephanie Hiller has been writing about local movements for many years. You may reach her at [email protected]

The opinions expressed are those of the author.



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