(This posting was originally written by hand as I waited on rain underneath a rural railroad overpass just west of Cologne, Germany on June 23, 2012. Feeling a moment of great clarity and personal insight, I sat writing long after the rain had passed.)
Many of you surely wonder why I continue to live and struggle with almost nothing. The reasons have become more defined over the years and I’ve finally composed them into this dedicated writing……
My very first venture into intentional homelessness took place some ten years ago. The only reason I could give then was just a general dissatisfaction with the life I knew in general. Everything was fine according to the common definition of what a good life is supposed to entail, so I could not pinpoint the problem at the time. Things just didn’t seem right, a feeling that had grown over the years into something that I could no longer ignore.
After some months on the road I finally decided that going back to school was the answer, that life might feel right with a “real” job that provided lots of money and travel opportunity. I spent the next 3 years studying the Chinese language and international trade, knowing that my more advanced classmates were graduating to find exactly what I thought was the answer.
Then I made an impulse decision to postpone my very last semester to instead live and work in China, leading to unfathomable consequences. The original idea was to put me above the competition, to graduate with actual Chinese fluency instead of just a classroom knowledge. But during the next 9 months in China I got much more than I bargained for. A simple question became hopelessly stuck in my head for no particular reason, ‘What good does shipping great masses of pencils from China do for the world? The Chinese work under sweatshop conditions to produce the pencils for a sub-living wage, then huge amounts of fuel is used to send towering shiploads of pencils away by sea. Why not make pencils where pencils are needed, and as they are needed?’
It’s possible, and indeed fact in my case, to absorb huge amounts of world news for years on end without ever really experiencing true empathy. For me it required living very, very far outside of my comfort zone. Something was happening in those Beijing months that finally offered a clear and honest view of the world. The pencil thought evolved as I applied the same simple logic to bigger and bigger affairs . The news back then in 2007 was more or less the same at it had always been, very tragic, but for the first time ever I was truly disgusted. Sitting behind my desk each morning at an English language school, I became haunted by online reports about the US drone aircraft program. Were people really sitting behind screens in Nevada pressing buttons to kill people in Afghanistan?
The first way I seriously dealt with these newfound feelings was to drop out of US society as much as possible. Had my friends and family not been in the US then I may not have ever returned. After some months of visiting and a couple half-hearted attempts at finding work, I put on a backpack at my brother’s comfortable McMansion in Southern California and started walking north up the coastal highway without a cent.
An awesomely amazing coincidence happened at this time that locked in the new unknown course of my life. Just a week into the walk I met a curious young woman living with a group of street kids on a beach in Santa Barbara. Her few possessions were organized almost obsessively, there was a microphone hidden in her purse, and she was constantly writing in a notebook. You might know her as Sarah Handyside.
I had been thinking to myself since the start of the California walk, that maintaining such a vagabond lifestyle and still having the energy to write would require a companion who also wanted to live this way for the same reasons. Such a life just felt too hard to continue all by myself, but now like magic, here she was. This may be the best argument for fate that I will ever experience.
Sarah and I took our shared feelings from Santa Barbara and ran with them. We found in each other not only the will to continue living minimally, but also to fight every serious injustice we encountered no matter what the consequences. The rest is history.
If I can ever come close to pinpointing a specific moment that has radicalized me the most, it’s when I first watched Bradley Manning’s now-infamous Iraq Wikileaks video from a US attack helicopter, in which the pilots gunned down reporters and civilians while conversing with one another as if they were playing a video game. I feel that those few moments of footage have made it morally impossible for me to ever even consider altering course.
Read this and understand that I do not write the details of my life here to indirectly seek donations or to find fame and glory. At the same time I also understand that completely rejecting money or popularity would be foolish, as these things can help provide the critical mass of readers necessary to invoke real change. I write under my own name to add legitimacy to the stories and so that they may be shared with those I know. Also, it is quite easy to “out” anonymous bloggers. It would simply be counterproductive to go that route.
I would be locked away for the rest of my life or even die if doing so ever offered a real opportunity to share truth and empathy with a critical mass of people. My online publications are not and never will be simply about me. I am but one of many activists now spreading the same simple message all over the world in many different ways, ‘We must obtain necessities, comforts and luxuries together and by sustainable means, otherwise we shall all destroy ourselves in the great environmental disaster that ensues from mass warfare and increasingly destructive industry.’
I write to you about what it is like to struggle with poverty in the hopes that the words summon the emotions necessary to eventually comprehend this simple message. More recently I fight police profiling of the poor and “foreigners”, not because I chose those important battles but because they chose me. I fight to tell the stories first-hand, so everyone knows before it’s too late, before we are all hopelessly subjugated by the “authority” of our dead-end socioeconomic system. I know how it feels, and you’re not going to like, but feelings aren’t really the point.
What now seem like small compromises for the sake of “security” are just more steps towards an unimaginably evil territory that we will likely never be able to return from. I fight our society’s progression towards a self-destructive fascist state of the rich, now until the day I die, because in such a world that is the only logical thing to do. These coming years are our only chance to get it right. The cliff is coming up fast and we have yet to grow wings. The essence of this fight is not for the meek or against the rich. This is a fight to save us all and I am not alone, but billions of us must become dedicated to save the future.
As difficult as my current lifestyle may be, at least it feels right.