Let me state from the outset that I am taking the risk of seeming self-serving writing this article. I say this because I am finger to keys out of frustration more than hope at this moment. So bear with me as I vent a little bit because I am realizing more and more that the root cause of societal suffering belongs at the feet of the very same bottom 99% who are being pillaged by the system. We are our own worse enemies; we at once rage against the system of inequality and inequity all the while feeding into it.
If we wanted to, we could end the paradigm of injustice and economic unfairness at a snap of a finger. The answer is right in front of us; instead we keep on marching and protesting acting the part of a thoroughly defeated people. In the process, we feed into the divisiveness that the status quo needs in order to sustain itself. We would rather point fingers instead of extending a hand of friendship and cooperation with fellow victims of this economic terrorism which has been unleashed upon us. Think what I write is hyperbolic, let’s see how you feel this afternoon as you step out of your cubicle to get a sandwich and pay $12 for a club and a bag of chips.
Let me state what served as the catalyst for this article. This morning, I had every intention of writing a piece about Wall Street and how the Dow Jones hit a record high at yesterday’s close. I was more than a tad annoyed when some of my “republican” friends were gloating about this “achievement”—as if the wealth of Wall Street has a flow through effect on the health of Main Street. We have been so thoroughly conditioned by false media narratives that we readily swallow the idea that our economy’s fitness is best gauged by multi-national companies and the stock markets. This is how we quickly accepted the bunk that Obama had to prop up the banks by giving them over $14 trillion dollars of our money. Multi-national companies have become the beasts we are all forced to bow before. We have become a nation of franchised states and licensed slaved—utterly dependent on corporatism even as corporations thrive at the cost of society suffering.
But then all changed this morning when I got a response from a mass text I sent out last evening. From my “community organizer” days, I have a vast repository of phone numbers I have accumulated and once in a while send out texts to those whom I’ve known in the past. One particular response made me shake my head, the level of indignation that an innocuous text sent baffled me. What made it even worse was that the response came from a fellow Ethiopian. Perhaps I am judging it from my shoes. Whenever I see a mass text I ignore it. Unless something catches my eyes, at which point I check it out. Because of my affinity for my Ethiopian heritage, whenever I see a group text that mentions Ethiopia, I immediately check it out because I have it in my heart to support “my own community”.
It is this one notion of communal reinvestment and community empowerment, that has been at the core of my drive over the past 9 years. To my dismay, and eventually to my demise, I found myself over and over again pouring water onto dry rocks. Bracketed by a consumer base which would rather patronize a corporate stores then their own community markets and by too many business people who would rather compete than collaborate, I drove myself into exhaustion multiple times trying to change this paradigm. To be honest, I personalized it because the Ethiopian community I am a part of has so much potential if only they worked together instead of working against each other.
Let me pivot for a minute and praise the Jewish community for it is the “Jewish model” which I have been preaching to Ethiopians and “African-Americans” alike for close to a decade. Jewish people understand the notion of communal wealth and mutual success. An integral aspect of Bat Mitzvah is for a child, when he/she reaches 12 years old, to be introduced to the community. At that moment, the child is taught the concept of communal responsibility and concurrently the community takes an oath to be accountable for that child’s success. This is why the Jewish community thrives; they understand the notion of community and togetherness in ways few in this world do. So maybe instead of criticizing the Jewish community for the level of financial and political clout, we should actually emulate them.
But who has time for community when everyone is out for self. YOLO! Get yours because everyone else is trying to get yours! This is our version of Bat Mitzvah as we are told to focus on self-success more than we are on communal prosperity. The talented tenth, whom DuBois once mentioned, have abrogated their responsibility and accountability to the community. Instead, those who have he means escape to a life of vacuous materialism and pointless consumerism as the masses wallow in cyclical poverty and perpetual hopelessness. Everyone is flossy thinking that is what makes them a boss. Meanwhile, more and more shackle themselves into a life of perpetual economic bondage as debt has become a new form of slavery. Whereas the Jewish community reinvests a dollar endless times in their own community, the rest of us—with few exceptions—give back the same money we worked for immediately by spending our money elsewhere. Money in; money out. Money, this is how we stay bankrupt!
But I realize now, after being apart and disconnected from the Ethiopian community for the past two years, that this virus of selfish pursuits at the cost of collective progress is almost a universal cancer. The bottom 99% are being played for fools and turned into tools of the 1% because we allow injustice to take place. My dogged determination to make a difference in the Ethiopian community prevented me from understanding the broader picture of just how much the wider society has become the useful idiots of the powerful. It’s sad really, the way to turn this whole system of economic unfairness around resides right at the tip of our fingers and at the soles of our feet. All we have to do is use our wallets and our legs as votes and patronize local businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs. Instead of going to Walmart, Starbucks, or even reading endless drivel on CNN, we could instead go to local markets, small coffee shops, and read independent journalists.
I’m writing this article at a local coffee shop called Tia’s Coffee and Eatery. I wrote about Tia last week and how she was mulling going out of business. I love this place, I’ve been coming here weekly since I had the honor of meeting Tia and each time I walk in, she treats me like I’m royalty. Tia does this for everyone that walks in, when I asked her why she is so kind to everyone who walks in, she said “because you can change someone’s day with a smile”. What corporations blabber about caring for their guests, small businesses like Tia’s Coffee and Eatery practice as part and parcel of their business DNA. Tia has a loyal customer base as a consequence of her sunny demeanor and the way she treats her guests like family. If there was any justice in this world, Tia’s Coffee and Eatery would be overflowing with customers on a daily basis. Instead, remaining a going concern is a struggle as small businesses everywhere have to try their level best to keep their noses above water. Meanwhile, a few blocks down the street, Starbucks is poppin’ as people sit in intentionally uncomfortable seats being treated like customers and daily statistics.
Maybe we deserve exactly what we are getting. In politics we worship the rich and powerful, depending on Democrat and Republican elites to lead us out of the wilderness when in reality their wealth depends on us remaining mired in adversity. In business we commit this same level of self-malfeasance as we support corporations even as our continued patronage is leading to more lost jobs and more communal indigence. At the root cause of most of society’s ills is economic injustice, the only way we can tackle this blithe is to empower our localities and communities instead of sending our money and resources to bureaucrats in DC and corporations on Wall Street who don’t give two shits about us. To save a few dollars by going to Walmart or the extra status one gets by having a Starbucks cup, is that worth the pain and misery of outsourced jobs, deflating incomes and inflationary theft that corporatism begets?
Maybe instead of protesting all the time and marching for justice, we need to look inward. Protesting is for a defeated people. No change will come from the banal gatherings that keep taking place for all we are doing is preaching to the choir while the sinister pharisees rob us clean of our little wealth. As for me, I’m finally understanding it. No longer do I take the negligence of my fellow Ethiopians as a personal affront. You see, proximity breeds indifference. This kind of made sense to me when I was reading the bible not too long ago and ran across this verse. “A prophet is without honor only in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his own household.” This was a response that Yeshua gave when he was responding to a vitriolic statement that someone made at Him. I am not sure why, but it seems that society would rather pray at the alter of the pharisees (powerful) than they would walk in the steps of those who actually are of them and care for them.
We keep honoring scoundrels because they are rich and famous and we keep patronizing companies who already have billions. But we do these things at our peril for the 1% thrive by building their fortunes right on our backs. So I humbly submit to you, maybe more and more of us should start supporting local businesses, aspiring entrepreneurs and community based companies for it is in our best interest for the community that we live in to thrive. It’s simple really, we have a choice, communal success or corporate theft. So as Wall Street pops champagnes celebrating the new highs, let us take time to reflect on a new way forward or else 2017 will turn into 1929. If that happens, we will finally have the equality we have been waiting for–we will be equal standing at soup kitchens enveloped by poverty. Where we have dust in our hands, they can become diamonds if only we commit to holding hands with our fellow neighbors and community businesses. Reinvest of perish #ChooseCommUnity
Our choice is simple, we can thrive collectively or become slaves globally.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
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