As many of you lovelies know, Broke-Ass has friendly feelings toward The Environment (even though she loathes the imprecision and jack-off-y-ness of that term). Many of these feelings are, however, motivated by the wish to provide a wholesome and inexpensively-run household for her family. To tell the truth, this is pretty much Broke-Ass’ motivation to do anything. If The Environment is not harmed by her using baking soda and vinegar to clean; raise her own veggies; keep her own chickens for eggs; etc.; well, then, hooray.
Because of this, Broke-Ass was asked to write stuff about her life, and while the vast majority of the response to her humble foray into environmental writing (or whatever you’re supposed to call it) has been really lovely and identifying, the pointy barbs that have been smugly poked into her side have served as rather hurtful reminders as to why poor people often fucking hate eco do-gooders: They’re smug and mean-spirited. Or they sure as hell can come off that way.
For example, when Broke-Ass recently wrote about feeding a family of five for under ten bucks, she received a response chastising her for even having three children in this age of overpopulation and that it would be easier to feed one or two people. Oh, shoot–you’re right! Broke-Ass will definitely decide which child to feed and starve the other two: It’s the environmentally thoughtful response. And it sure will make dinner time easier! Hey, thanks for the tip!
Asshole. When she wrote an innocuous article on why raising chickens in the city is cheap and and cool for kids because they can see that–in spite of inhabiting a rawther broke household–there are inventive ways to be self-sufficient, someone wrote in to make fun of Broke-Ass’s “ability to get so much rhetorical meat off of poor, asthmatic, miserable city chicks,” before going on to write: “What wonders could you perform with a Ostrich or better yet a Dodo?”
What wonders indeed! Oh me, you clever little dickens! Broke-Ass reckons she’ll just light up her corn-pipe, lower NPR’s “All Things Considered” a tad, and quietly strum a 19th Century sea shanty on her mandolin as she ruminates on what a smug fucking prick you are.
Seriously. When people who have no money are lectured about how they’re doing everything wrong already, and are then, in the lightning round, told they don’t have any consideration for anyone other than themselves and their appallingly bloated families–much less for “the planet”–it’s one of many daily slaps in the face they have to endure. And are then asked to be grateful for the chance at enlightenment.
Most people struggling to get by are simply trying to do what they can for their families today, and maybe, if things are going slightly better, a week or two ahead. There is no time, no mental energy–no fucking money–to consider the aerial environmental view. Criticizing people under egregious stress is not only an ineffective tactic, it frankly lacks even baseline compassion.
Hydrofracking, for example, is clearly extremely bad for a whole host of reasons, the most salient of which have been well-documented by excellent news outlets. However, she often notes that while opponents know about the people most affected by this industry, they either don’t know them personally–or waited until the crisis reached critical mass before making efforts to get to know them. By then, even activists have said, it was kind of too late. Because most often, those people need money, and the industry gives them work or buys their property. To be suddenly and insultingly bossed around by a bunch of yoga studio owners and downstate media types in their own hometown environs–where they and their forebears have lived and eked out a living for generations? What else would you expect but a big “fuck you”? It’s why the townies have always hated the college students.
“Community outreach” has a condescending smack to it. It conjures up visions of “the community” being lured into marketing come-ons with free donuts and stale sandwiches so that they can be forced to listen to all the smart, educated people talk to them about things like “value of diversity” and “environmental impact.” You think people don’t know what this means? It means they are, as always, being reminded that they’re so damn broke that they have to exchange their dignity for some free fucking donuts and lunch meat because they know that you don’t want to know about the realities of their lives: You just want them to shut up and do what you say.
Broke-Ass’s very awesome friend Annie had this to say:
The Yoga “people” are often just as bad–coercive denial artists with an uppermiddle class desire to just have the powerless and the angry shut up. … It’s really time for another French Revolution, and the yoga people can all be re-educated as inner-city bus drivers and McDonald’s fry cooks. Let’s see how “positive” they are then!
It is hard to have no money. It sucks having to do shitty jobs that don’t pay well. It makes people angry and defensive. You want to do “community outreach”? Hang out with your neighbors! Shoot the shit! Get to know them over time! Invite them over! Open your heart: Their world is very different from yours.
You might discover in due course, for example, that your neighbor grew up in central Mexico and that his mom is a famous midwife there. He thus knows a ton of herbal remedies that you’ve never heard of but that, when he thoughtfully offers them to you, work splendidly. You might also discover that he knows a fuckload about raising chickens and civil engineering and can give you a hand building coops, though he does not show up with some regularity. When you say, “So, where the hell were you?”, you learn that he had to move out from the apartment with his wacko girlfriend and into a studio apartment with a ton of other guys, that he drinks too much on the weekends, that he is constantly harassed by the cops, and that because he has super long hair and his English isn’t great, they make proof-less presumptions and fuck with him because they can. You might get so mad that you start dialing the precinct and then hang up because he’s illegal, and you don’t want to get him in trouble. You tell him to call you if this happens again, and you will come bail him out.
You might grow to understand that he has several kids with a woman whom he did not treat well, and that woman is remarried and that though she has barred him from contacting his children, he also hasn’t made much of an effort. You might say to him, “Stop being such a pussy, and find a way to see your kids–you’ll be sorry if you don’t!” You might tell him you had an alcoholic asshole for a dad and that, after your parents’ divorce, he never really tried to see you and that even though he died a few years ago, you still have his number on your cell phone under “Dad.” He might then tell you about his own alcoholic, cheating dad, start to get sad, and then tell you to mind your own damn business. But you also note that his eyes light up when your kids come home, and that they love playing with him. When he offers to watch your toddler when you have a surprise meeting and no child care, you are about crying with gratitude, and when you return, he has the baby on his hip and is frying up eggs he collected from the chicken coop.
He might tell you that his mom’s household was like yours–eating homegrown veggies and eggs–that he’d never eaten anything with pesticides on it until he came to this country, that it’s outrageous how expensive chemical-free food is. You two might rant about this regularly for years to come, but in the meantime, you might tell him that the only reason you do all this DIY shit is because it’s cheaper than buying all that stuff at the market. He might tell you that you’re lucky that you have a house with space enough to pull it off, and you’ll agree.
You might tell him that if he wants to fix up the garage with your help, he can live there for free because over the past several years he’s become like a brother to you, and you want to be clear: He is not alone. He might look at you for a moment and then turn away, crying. You might tell him that if you have to eat another egg, you’re going to kill yourself–can’t he just make a cheese tamale or something? He tells you that you know he hates spicy food and that you don’t have cheese anyway. You might both howl loudly.
You might also discover, for example, that the person you thought was a loudmouth, entitled yuppie masquerading as a dirt farmer in South Brooklyn actually never has more than $57 in her bank account after basic bills have been paid–and sometimes, not even then, after which the phone rings incessantly with calls from threatening creditors–and that she went though a divorce that left her all but bankrupt and that her divorce agreement precludes her from moving out of the city, though she clearly cannot afford to live here anymore. You might discover that her own parents’ divorce impoverished her mother, that this person started earning a living as a reporter at 18-years-old to pay for college–that writing is the only thing she’s ever done for a living, and she loathes herself for not having learned a practical trade and for being such an errant failure for her kids.
You might discover that birth control doesn’t always work, even when correctly deployed. You might discover that stress and not great nutrition can bring on miscarriage–or, in rarer cases, the appearance of one. You might discover that when people are struggling and panicking and have no health insurance, they can’t spend days waiting in line at the free clinic because they’re terrified of losing their jobs. You might discover that when people in such circumstances learn that they are, in fact, well into their second trimester of pregnancy, they are riven by fear and panic and a sense of hopelessness. You might learn that they are now just trying to do what they can to enjoy and support their children, to give them as dignified and industrious a home as possible–in as toxin-free an environment as South Brooklyn permits.
Reserve judgement. Then talk about the environment. And listen.