Sunday, September 14, 2014

Neighbors, Noises, What Then Must (Can) We Do?

Part of the "Peace Wall" ^ that separates Catholic and Protestant Belfast, Ireland, 1969–still in place. [Click on link for a slide-show and article about the wall and the people who live along it, who mostly want it to stay in place]

Sunday Morning, 52ºF/11ºC: too cold to sit on my porch for long, but this morning while I was shivering with my coffee out there, I watched my next door neighbor moving out. 
This is the neighbor whose friend (? or visitor, anyway) shot and killed another guy in the neighbor's apartment last month. 

Next door has been quiet since then, after three noisy summers. 
The landlord told me they––he's part of a management company––have been trying to evict their tenant for quite a while.
Part of the problem as I see it has been that he's an absentee landlord milking a cash cow––I'm guessing the neighbor's rent was  duly paid by Section 8. (And it's legally harder to evict Section 8 tenants. )

I feel mixed, now:
disgust toward the landlord who doesn't live with or care for his tenants, much less the people next door (he was very curt with me--I sensed I was just an annoyance in his eyes); 
pity and rage toward the neighbor who seems to be both a victim and a perpetrator (moving won't help him any); 
 grief about the murdered man, damped-down because I don't want to feel it in full; 
frustration with how society is divided as much as or even more than ever between black and white, rich and poor; 
doubt about my role ("What then must we do?")*...

But truth be told, mostly I feel happy, almost giddy with relief now that I don't wake up at 3AM listening to the neighbor and his girlfriend screaming awful racial & sexual epithets at each other right outside my window.

I've written about being unusually miffy this summer. The elevation of my mood in the past couple weeks, even after a murder, makes me think that miffiness was due at least in part to living in a kind of war zone––a small, limited war, but as events proved, a dangerous one.

The noise of angry people spreads out in anxious ripples. How soul sickening it must be to live with the noise of a full-blown war.
* "I sit on a man's back...."
---quote from Leo Tolstoy, What Then Must We Do?(1886) [links to full text]

I only knew the Tolstoy question from this exchange in The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), until I skimmed the original this morning. (Good stuff, Leo, except on women!)

[Mel, Mel... why did you turn out to be such an idiot?]

Searching for Tolstoy's book, I see it's also the title of a new book, What Then Must We Do?: Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution" by Gar Alperovitz. You can read his introduction here. Referring to the quote above, he says:
Most of us do not literally sit on men’s backs, making them carry us. We do, however, often uneasily look the other way, satisfying ourselves with modest changes that reassure us all is well while millions are in despair. “We’ve donethe best we can do,” we might say, “given the realities.” Still, many sense, as did Tolstoy, that to actually do something serious would require us to confront much deeper problems than we are commonly willing to.

“What then must we do?” is not shouted in the streets, but it is a question that more and more Americans—young and old, liberal, radical, and conservative—are quietly beginning to ask themselves in much more penetrating ways.

And here's an interesting article by Alperovitz: "What Then Can I Do? Ten Ways to Democratize the Economy".
Step one is "Put your money in a credit union – then participate in its governance. 


Zhoen said...

An assault among the screamers across and down the street slightly, last Saturday. One of those apartments, about 6 units, loud people, drugs, disrupted lives, alcohol. He was visiting, they were drunk, she slashed him with broken glass.

This is the neighborhood, homeless and dealers on up through the struggling with low pay jobs, or dealing with mental health, up to the bottom edges of middle. Nice people, mostly, really. Not so much owners of larger properties.

Fresca said...

"Disrupted lives"--yes.

Too much drugs, alcohol, mental illness, poverty---makes nice people not so very nice.

And bad absentee landlords? I guess in their case the disease is money.

bink said...

Reading so much lately about how we contribute to slavery/horror/war etc. with our electronics. All the minerals needed to make them coming from places like Congo, etc. Argh! It is so hard to do right and live a modern existence.

Fresca said...

BINK: Oh, yeah, our electronics are worse than blood diamonds.
That doesn't get much press though, does it?

I recently read that fine metal dust from polishing computer cases started a fire in a factory in China that killed at least one worker.