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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Notes from the American Nightmare: the Southwest

I have been traveling across these marginally united states of America, a marginal citizen, given that most of the states I travel through wish that people like me would move to France. This is one of the few things on which I agree with them: I too wish I would move to France. Another belief we share: life is hard for the poor and we wish it were different. Where we diverge is that they actually admire and vote for the people and philosophies that make them poor, whereas I vote for the kind of people who could save them: the socialists. After all, so much of what is beautiful in this land is a direct result of socialists. How can that be, you say, having grown up as you have on a steady diet of Associated Press reports on Venezuela and Cuba. The national park system was largely built under the aegis of New Deal programs such as the WPA and CCC. Today we swam in a facility at Lea Lake, one of the “bottomless lakes” in New Mexico. This facility, like most at national parks, was built by New Deal workers. We all know that the New Deal was a structurally a socialist program. In fact, the late thirties into early forties was a politically socialist time in America. Why? Because we were facing hitherto unknown mass poverty.
Today, the rich-poor gap is higher than ever, the deficit is higher than ever, unemployment remains sky high, and millions of Americans suffer under inadequate health care and inept public schools, good education being affordable mostly for the middle class and up. And yet we have legislated no New Deal. I drove through Pecos, Texas today, a ramshackle town that rises coweringly out of a long stretch of flat desert scrub heading south from New Mexico. The town boasts the world’s first rodeo, the grave of the ‘gentleman outlaw’ (hmm, back in 1999 they told me there was no such thing), excellent cantaloupe, and the legend of Pecos Bill. In fact, the national monuments and western museum are about all that remain functioning in this all-too-common outpost in the most intense segment of the American Dream-cum-Nightmare: Texas. As we drove into town, we were greeted by scores of decrepit, gutted, boarded up, and collapsing houses. Where the houses were still occupied, the occupants seemed to be fighting a losing battle against economic and natural entropy. The sidewalks have lost out to the weeds, the churches have lost out to the bottle, and of course the businesses have lost out to the dogmatic religion of capitalism. About 25% of the businesses on Main Street remain functional. The rest are a motley collection of dirty FOR SALE signs, boarded up and broken windows, and long-since accurate town clocks, thermometers and celebratory signs. We stopped in for a Horchata shake at a fly-infested shop run by a 26-year old single mom, returned from San Antonio, TX to care for her ailing father. Therein I read the tiny Pecos Independent, with its bravely positive accounts of the Cantaloupe Decorating Contest and the rising unemployment. The opinion section was dominated by a ‘guest opinion’, whose credentials are a mystery, insisting that the “enviro-wacko, Marxist, liberal democrats”, assisted by the “biased mainstream media” (this mantra appeared three times), party line that high gas prices are good for us is in truth yet another totalitarian gesture designed to strip us of our independence. He also maintained that the battle to allow offshore oil drilling and to build refineries is the ‘battle for America’s soul.” Glad we straightened that out—‘soul’ has always been an elusive concept for me.
If Pecos, TX is independence, reduce my independence, please. Give me back generous funding of National Parks and life-saving preventative medicine. Give me an electric car at an affordable price to drive into the Joshua Tree National Park, so that the number of stars doesn’t fall by another eight thousand or so (last few decades). Give me that strong American collective spirit of activism not marshaled towards saving fetuses—cf. highway sign activism in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas—but towards saving single mothers in their thirties.
I should mention that as I am writing this, a fearless skunk is strolling past me, tail high in the air like a burgee of skunk identity. I am at a campground in Ft. Something, Texas, typing in a cactus garden while my laundry finishes. I should also mention that I love how much empty land is left in this massive country: the bracing sense of possibility driving across these “wide open spaces” that the Dixie Chicks sing about. The sense of possibility once you reach the towns themselves, on the other hand, the towns where the Dixie Chicks records were burned for their exercise of the freedom that enviro-wackos want to take away…well, that sense is barely alive, mostly in the form of a possible afterlife. There, the sky is the limit when it comes to standard of living. Let’s first work on the standard of living down here, where 1/8 of Americans live below the poverty level, where 1/3 of Americans are classified “low-income”, and where the architects and town planners don’t even try to echo nature’s beauty.
I’m sounding… who out there will echo me?

The Sacred Dice - A Revolutionary Salon

The Sacred Dice is a salon of musicians, scholars, poets, sound sculptors, activists and artists of all kinds committed to art that is committed.  That could get us committed (to an asylum).  That disdain's art for art's sake and artists who have no idea why they do what they do.  We know why we do what we do--to create and celebrate community in a country still stuck in capitalist fantasies of individualism.  If you want in, you're in.  If you want out, don't worry--you already are.