Tag Archives: california

Writing for Rain

A photo my friend's wife took of Lake Shasta, back in June.

A photo my friend’s wife took of Lake Shasta, back in June.

California’s in the middle of a drought. Did you know that? I knew it, in a weird, quasi-intellectual way, but I didn’t really connect with it until earlier today when I read an article about a family that literally cannot flush their toilet in the night without a bucket of water.

I was in NYC during Sandy and we had water through that entire miserable experience. (Not everybody did, but we – me and my roommate – did, so.) We could flush the toilet. It was far from pleasant, but I could heat water on my gas stove and play Little House on the Prairie or Downton Abbey or whatever, and wash my hair.

A few years ago, myself and some other writers contributed to a book called HOT MESS, and the only one of us to tackle the idea of water issues looked at it from a perspective of a drowning Venice – in other words, a place where too much water was the problem, rather than too little.

California is in the third year of a drought, folks. And I’m not talking LA or SF or any of the other major metropolitain centers, though they’ve certainly had their share of gross weather. I’m talking about families that can’t take a shit without filling their toilet with a bucket, first.

I grew up on the Great Lakes, so my water anxiety has always been about how the lakes might be exploited by people who had less access to water, and what that might mean for the Great Lakes region. I’d read about places like Las Vegas, or other Southwestern cities, and wonder why someone “out there” might think they had a right to go somewhere so inhospitable, create a city that needed more water than they had, and then turn around and deplete the resources of another part of the country just to sustain their unsustainable consumption.

Of course, now I realize this could be argued for almost any natural resource in almost any region on earth (Oil? Food? Lumber? Fish? Natural gas?) and more importantly, I realize it doesn’t really matter. I read this piece about water last week. Does it matter that the mother the article talks about asked her kids to take shorter showers? Does it matter that they didn’t?

Not really.

There’s nothing – I mean, NOTHING – that I know to suggest that might help the current situation in California. But my friend, who runs a farm, who’s had a couple bad years and whose situation could get a whole lot worse if the drought doesn’t break, asked that I pray, dance or write in hopes of getting them more water. I don’t pray, and my back situation is still too tenuous for me to be much of a dancer for social justice.

So I’ll write for water.

Between writing this blog and posting it, courts in Detroit ruled that residents there have no human right to free water. While I recognize that water access in cities must be paid for, willfully depriving human beings of a substance that is literally necessary to life seems to be a cruel solution that has no place in a country that professes to be concerned with human rights. Shutting off efficient delivery of water to individuals does not seem to me to be a reasonable reaction to individuals’ inability to pay for it.

Turning the Tables on Banks

forclosuresSome interesting stories have been coming out recently about how citizens and municipalities are trying to flip the script on banks and financial institutions, and I thought I’d share.

First, a Russian man who wrote his own credit card rules is now in the middle of suing the bank that signed off on his altered terms.

Second, and perhaps more interesting: this story about how a California town is using eminent domain as a way of helping residents who are in danger of losing their homes.

These stories break the mold of the financial industries/private citizen narrative; the California situation goes a step further and shows how the government can use regulations to help its citizens in times of need.

Will other municipalities take the opportunity to examine their relationships to banks? Will citizens of Richmond and other Californian towns have this reading of a law that’s generally used to kick people out of their homes as a resource going forward? I don’t really understand how the vaguely-termed “Wall Street” – the banks, I would assume? — can sue the government for exercising its right to eminent domain – after all, corporations are people, aren’t they? Are individuals allowed to sue when the government takes over their home to build a highway?

These two cases show individuals dissatisfied with the status quo fighting back on their own terms. In the case of the Russian man and the credit card terms, he used the inflexibility of the corporate system against them: he knew that nobody was actually going to read the terms he altered and sent back (and I don’t get why the bank in question thinks he’s guilty of fraud; it’s not as if he tried to hide what he was doing), and now it appears he may stand to make a profit from his strategy.

In Richmond’s case, the idea that a municipality can use eminent domain for the public good in ways that alleviate stress on an entire community is a very attractive one. What if cities took the approach that a stable neighborhood with homes owned by individuals was better for the community than one where homeowners were drowning under debt, and what if they acted on that notion?

It’s worth keeping these cases on your radar while they’re debated and decided; depending on how they’re resolved, there could be some extremely interesting repercussions in the future.