RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Don't Buy from Big Boxes

It's utterly impossible to figure how even one voter supports this administration. Human service programs like Social Security, Medicaid, USDA school lunches and even schools themselves are threatened and forgotten as Iraq looks more and more like Vietnam. We cannot look at the losses in life and tax dollars without wondering if investment in diplomacy, the Peace Corps, education, our own disarmament, would not have garnered better results.

Our nation is becoming a place where the military and those who outfit them are the only growth industries. We have deluded ourselves into thinking that military solutions that result in the creation and enforcement of borders between political entities, work.

They don't. Think about the division of Korea, or the creation of Israel.

False political borders don't take into consideration the dynamics of people and what people need.

In the US, raising the minimum wage, which should be a federal priority, has been turned into a state or local issue as citizens petition to get it on the ballot in their jurisdictions. And, again, it's utterly impossible to figure how even one voter chooses to vote against raising the minimum wage from the federally mandated $5.15 per hour.

The major winners in the 2006 elections have been the corporate media. Candidates have spent money on TV, newspapers, mailers and automated phone calls. After the political rumpus that keeps corporate media in business, what will the ad sellers do with all that time?

Answer: We'll have the annual brouhaha from sellers trying to convince us that the best remedy for winter days is in the well-lit malls. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and he's named ____________ (fill in your name here).

In the next six weeks, somebody will try to convince you to buy something you don't want and don't think anyone else should want. And, if you turn off one medium, you'll get the "buy-this" message from somewhere else. It's the ultimate test for the local-is-best booster.

Maybe you've been diligent about finding things at art fairs and farmers' markets, and you have the things you want to give your beloveds: An interesting clay pot for Nanny, a handmade felted-wool cap for Drew, a selection of jellies for Miss Laura who always helps when you need it. Within a mile of your house there is an entrepreneur trying to launch a new business -- and you can help.

There's no reason to go to the big-box store, especially in these gloomy times. The bare-bones warehouses, all gray concrete and chill, are making somebody else rich while impoverishing our own community. You can't get away from the idea that we're mailing our money away instead of keeping it at home where it can build community.

On the day after Thanksgiving, the bonus day reserved for shopping, you can spend time with your family and friends rather than going to the mall. If the peeps won't hang out with you, just spend time with a good book or plan a community service project.

The day after Thanksgiving is "Buy-Nothing Day" for increasing numbers of folks. At our house, we have a big music party. This year, for the first time, we've invited a group of save-the-earth types to come early and plant trees along the edges of the pastures. We hope this will become an annual part of our Buy-Nothing celebration, which we've celebrated since its founding.

So, stay out of the mall. And, for heaven's sake, don't turn on the TV set. A casual click around the channels turns up relentless numbers of terrified actors running from disaster. We clicked into Lost one evening and learned that the world may or may not end if a secret computer in a locked-down bunker deep underground, run by a mysterious power source on an inexplicable island, crashes. Who would sponsor such a program? And who would buy from somebody that thinks this is a good story line?

The enemies on these programs are often unseen, which is politically correct, but just as often they're people from other places. Others. And, unless you've been lost on that island you know there's a big fuss going on in Congress about how to get rid of people from foreign places.

You may believe that we don't need any new occupants. That's a popular misconception, but, without them, our population is aging. Visit a pal in a nursing home or hospital and check out how many staff are from far away. Ask a hotel owner who cleans the rooms or a farmer who picks the apples.

It is possible that Americans would fill those jobs if pay was decent, but Congress isn't interested in raising wages. Instead, they propose militaristic "border security" measures. The Senate suggests 370 miles of new "triple-layer" fencing and 500 miles of vehicle barriers between the US and Mexico. They also want to double the number of Border Patrol agents. The House asks for 700 miles of "double-layer" fencing.

All these suggestions may be good for the fence-builders and the military, but they cost lives and tax dollars, and they don't work. It's time for plans that work on a human level.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2006

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