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Bernard Weiner's Blog -- 2010

February 3, 2010

The Building of Community in a Recession

Four observations that helped encourage me over the weekend:


I always look forward to Saturdays. Early in the morning, my wife and I head down to our local Farmers' Market. (We live in the Bernal Height district in San Francisco.)

There are other, more tony farmers' markets in the city, but the one near us, called the Alemany Farmers' Market, is an especial delight.

It's like wandering into a United Nations project. You can hear a wide variety of languages spoken -- Tagalog, Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, English, Russian, French, Italian, German, etc. -- and often see ethnic garb worn by both customers and farmers, and, of course, there are innumerable exotic (to us) fruits and vegetables on display. (All you have to do is ask the farmer how to prepare the food, and you get instant advice -- sometimes from a fellow customer who also knows how to prepare the dish.)

And, though the prices are slowly rising as more and more organic produce is brought for sale, one pays quite a bit less than at the other, more trendy farmers' markets. I'd estimate close to a third to half as much.

But the thing I like most about our local farmers' market is that all these ethnic groups -- thousands of folks bustling and bumping into each other -- mix with no rancor or disputes or animosity. It's an oasis of peace. It's American diversity at its best.

There are those on the far right who try to stir up ethnic and racial divides in this country. Just being near some of those rallies, filled with hate and fear, makes my body rigid with nervousness. But our local farmers' market gives the lie to all that demagoguery and division.


A few hours later, we meandered over to our local public library. It's been closed for two years for seismic and other repairs, and this was to be the grand re-opening.

Hundreds of neighbors were lined up outside, waiting for the festivities to begin. Everyone was excited to have our local library back in operation. We had missed it terribly, especially the kids who relied on the library for programs, computer use, books and magazines, a safe place to hang out, etc.

The ceremonial opening kicked off with a very San Francisco-kind of ritual: a Chinese Lion Dance, complete with taiko drumming, and an Aztec dance of blessing. Then the hundreds, and then thousands, of Bernal Heights residents swarmed inside to see the transformation and to warmly welcome the librarians back.

As I wandered through the beautifully-restored building amid thousands of friends and neighbors, I felt: "Yes, this place is throbbing with the positive energy that a village brings to its beloved institutions. The library is a symbol of, and a key element in, building a community. I'm so happy to be part of this warmth and community."

As I wandered through the beautifully-restored building amid thousands of friends and neighbors, I felt: "Yes, this place is throbbing with the positive energy that a village

brings to its beloved institutions. The library is a symbol of, and a key element in, building a community. I'm so happy to be part of this warmth and community."

Our local library had been built in 1940, as the pre--war U.S. was climbing out of the Great Depression. Funds to build it came from Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration, a federally-funded program that gave laborers and artists jobs to help build and re-build America's superstructure: bridges, schools, libraries, roads, murals, etc.

It seemed apt that the grand re-opening of this structure should happen 70 years later in a period of great economic distress, when once again millions of workers are without work. If Obama and the Congress had the guts and wisdom, another WPA-style program would be initiated tomorrow to build and re-build our current, much-neglected infrastructure: schools, bridges, freeways, libraries, etc.

But alas, Obama and his fellow Democrats seem afraid of their own shadows these days, and often bow to those Republicans who have no concept in their philosophy for "the public good." Instead, Obama is going after the deficit (much of it caused by Republican policies of the last decade) rather than focusing on putting people back to work.

It's the jobs, stupid!


We have one car in our household, which we use when public transportation will not suffice. Tonight, it turns out, both my wife and I need to use the car. I have to go across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin for a playwrights' meeting; my wife is going to her music class in the city.

The solution: She borrowed a friend's car.

It occurs to me that this is not just a one-off kind of situation. As the economy continues to decline -- I think we may hit the bottom sometimes in 2010 or maybe 2011 -- sharing tools and vehicles and foodstuffs and appliances will be the norm for how friends and neighbors help each other get through this economic mess.

Our parents and grandparents did something similar during the Great Depression of the 1930 -- sharing, bartering, helping out those in need -- and now it's our turn.

Welcome to the real world.


Finally, some thoughts about the hit George Clooney movie, "Up in the Air."

There is a segue here, because the story being told about the Clooney character is that of a businessman/narcissist who can't, and doesn't want to relate to, the larger community. He lives in his own world of sensual pleasure and comforting isolation.

But, as he approaches middle-age, he is forced to realize that he doesn't really have any deeper emotional and spiritual supports in his life. When things start to fall apart, he has an epiphany -- just as he's beginning his motivational talk about how to avoid commitments -- that he wants and desperately needs love in his life, or, at the very least, as a starting point, someone to share his life with.

Most of the reviews I've read of the film do not mention the closing moments. Clooney's character heads for the airport, where he presumably will grab a plane for his next job-assignment (he's a hired gun who fires people from their jobs when the management doesn't have the guts to do so). But as he's reading the Destinations board, he takes his hand off his carry-on suitcase. The implication I took from that gesture was that instead of falling into his comfortable job- routine, which is no longer providing him emotional sustenance, he's decided to make the leap into the unknown by going somewhere on his own.

It's a moment of absolute liberation, or at least one can choose to interpret the closing moments that way, and I came away uplifted by them in a film that, in so many ways, is a downer (despite its dark humor and sensuality). It's a rich film; check it out, and let me know what you think.


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