Sunday, January 19, 2014

High Praise for Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

I just finished Michelle Alexander’s fine, fine book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. I missed Alexander when she spoke in Youngstown, but was riveted by her interview with former YSU professor Sherry Linkon. You can find and listen to the interview here.

The title might seem like a movie trailer that gives away too much, but don’t be afraid. Alexander’s book is very readable, and will evoke a tremendous response, no matter who you are.  She walks us through a careful study of the social, economic and political forces that have led us to this place, where we are spending $200 billion every year to incarcerate (almost entirely) black and brown men for non-violent offenses.

It won’t be easy getting out of it. Some of the assumptions that underpin the War on Drugs are deep and widely believed, and the erosion of civil rights has been upheld time and again by the Supreme Court. And some of that $200 billion funds a massive army of individuals and communities. But whatever we have to do, we have to do it. Sure, that pile of money is draining resources away from everything that’s important. But more essentially, it’s deeply unfair to continue to oppress one single group of Americans. Unfair? What a mild word. It’s a tragedy, a travesty, a hypocrisy, a horrible way to run a country built on lies. Private prisons just add salt.

Even in a place like Youngstown, Ohio, where so much of our money-making schemes are in the misery industry: fracking, pawn shops, pay-day lending, demolitions, gambling, and, yes,  incarceration and post-incarceration; even here, we have to take a stand. Enough. We can’t afford to throw our rhetoric of equality and freedom under the bus any longer. We can’t afford to lose the bright minds of black men who have committed the same non-violent offenses millions of white men and women have committed (without consequence), and we can’t afford to employ people to house them in cages.

Michelle Alexander says we need a stronger America for everyone. She’s a good voice, a true public intellectual, and we will be a better country for what she has to teach us.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Youngstown Cash Mob Keeps the Trees Trimmed

Brrrr! I hope you’ve weathered the storm! But do you suddenly have trees that need to be trimmed or limbs removed? You’re in luck! The January Cash Mob is a month-long event featuring Drop N Chop LLC, a tree-trimming service owned by Ryan Bielobockie. For a free estimate, give Ryan a call at 330-881-2173. Ryan has done work for me and several other cash mobbers, and we all agree his work is excellent.

No trees? You might belong to a church or organization that could use this service, and if a few of you pooled your purchases, this would be a thoughtful gift that would also boost a local business. Or your neighborhood association may want to help a neighbor in need, or your pocket park.  

It was exciting to see a business like a tree-trimming service nominated on the Facebook page. It’s easy to imagine cash mobbing a restaurant or resale shop, everyone coming in to spend $20. But many of our local businesses don’t fit the model. Imagine a cash mob at a local podiatrist, muffler shop or swimming pool store. Yet they’re all deserving of our support! I’ve offered space on our Facebook wall for businesses to advertise. And I’m seeing more people post queries on the wall, such as where to find a local mat-and-frame store. We also get notes of high praise, like the recent plug for a pastry shop and a car repair service, both new to the cash mobber.

I like that about the cash mob, keeping things fresh, trying new and different kinds of businesses. We’re keeping our m.o. nimble, too--we just had a men-only nomination day. We’ve visited several women’s clothing resale shops, and I wanted to give our male mobbers a chance to get their ideas in. The nominations are terrific! and they represent a wide geographical area and a great variety of goods and services.

1.              Flutterby Books
2.            Touch the Moon Candy Saloon
3.            Re Arrangements
4.            Gordy’s Specialty Markets
5.             Friends Roastery
6.            Geo’s Music
7.             William Leonard's Extraordinary Gentlemen
8.             Bob the Barber
9.            Scarcella Restaurant
10.           Happy Buffet

We’ll vote this weekend. The winner will be “cash mobbed” in February.

The new year countdown includes lists of top 10 this and that. What are your top 10 locally owned businesses? Make a resolution to visit them soon. We are 4 members shy of 3,000—think of the impact we can have, together.
Cash Mob, like flash mob, only the singing is optional.