A Diatribe on the Backyard Economy aka Dear America

backyard economyDear America,

Sitting in bed with a migraine that could could bring a Republican to decorate his home with red, white and blue donkeys, I thought I’d peruse the news a bit. In days of yore, I’d open the paper and read what the press said was pressing, but the internet brings wider access, and all with a few keystrokes. Some of today’s top stories:

  • Amy Winehouse kicked it. This is apparently shocking and front page news.
  • The Norwegian terrorist suspect is “surprised” he killed so many people.
  • Neither Obama or Boehner are backing down on the “debt crisis.”
  • People are already filing lawsuits against New York’s new gay marriage law.
  • Netflix customers are pissed. But Jimmy cracked corn and doesn’t care.
  • Glenn Beck is, once again, making real Republicans look shitty by lipping off about “Hitler youth.”
  • Some school in Arkansas appointed a co-valedictorian when the actual valedictorian turned out to be black (out of fear of upsetting a mostly white high school).

On a day where I wake up, migraine and all, and understand that I have plenty, I’m a bit perplexed about all of the hullabaloo and where people choose to spend their time and attention.

Yes, I said choose.

To start, I’d like to talk about the paint on your house. Anywhere. If you live in a home that you didn’t purchase new, there are bound to be a few coats on the walls, bricks and windowsills. You don’t really understand what’s on the sheet rock because, well, you can’t see it. Everyone who’s lived in that house had made a paint contribution. You don’t know if they used latex or acrylic, lead-based (oy) or non. If you keep pouring on the layers, the paint will eventually start to crack, peel and shed because there are too many layers and nothing will stick. That’s pretty much where our country is at.

We have a President leading our nation who walked into an inheritance of shit following the Bush administration. Political parties be damned, it’s time to have some common sense. It took a lot longer than four years to screw this country up and those of you who expect it to be fixed in four years are undeniably delusional. And if you think that the President actually runs this country, you’re also delusional. Ever heard the phrase “it takes and act of Congress?” Yeah. It really does. If you’re pissed about the state of things, it’s time to start in your own backyard.

The Backyard Economy

Many of us forget that there are state and local governments in that backyard. We ignore them. We skip elections for them and then we get pissed when things don’t go the way we’d like. And I’ll be the asshole and go ahead and say that change begins in our backyards and it’s not a concept that trickles down from Washington. If you think your city’s public schools suck so much, why don’t you take the $10 to $20k you’re oh-so-willing to dump into private schools and help make the public schools a better place? Get on the school board. Join your city council. Volunteer. Yeah, that takes time, but it’s action.

We’ve somehow arrived at being a culture of people who want to go around problems instead of work through them. And it’s diversionary tactics that have gotten us where we are today: bitching about everything except what’s happening in our own backyards, when that’s the one environment we can change. And now.

I understand that it’s easier to yell. Lord knows, we’re a nation of yellers. But for all the energy spent yelling, we could be doing. We scream for better health care yet scream for lower taxes (completely ignorant to the fact that our taxation rates, on a global scale, are quite normal and those countries with national health programs pay a hefty tax price in exchange). We run to Walmart and other big box retailers to get the best prices and then have the audacity to be shocked when we hear about corporations paying less taxes than we do.

I have an idea, and it’s pretty ballsy. Look in your own backyard.

We live in a hyperlocal to local community system. Dollars spent in your community stay in your community. That means you might pay more for a burger at a one-off restaurant, but McDonald’s isn’t getting your dough and sending it elsewhere. Spending locally supports other business owners who spend that money they earn in the community. That’s the strength of the backyard economy. When we begin taking care of our own instead of yelling, shit gets done. You have the temerity to mock those who stand on street corners asking for help, but you’re all too ready to send money via text to support Japan. We’ll help Haiti rebuild but you won’t contribute to a local politician’s campaign. And before you get all in a tizzy about tax deductions, most people don’t understand that a $100 donation isn’t a dollar-for-dollar deduction on your return (I know, shocker).

I wonder when we got to be so out of whack. We look to do all of these big things yet ignore the little ones in our own backyard that truly make a difference.

Rainbows and Shit

If we paid more attention to our own backyards, we’d be less apt to waste time on shit like keeping people from being able to form a legal union. Like gay people. While I’m confident that most of my readers have a firm grasp on the concept of separation of church and state, there are hordes that don’t. If you’re so concerned about the Big Gay Mafia coming and stealing your chickens and kissing at your garden party, don’t invite them. What’s funny is that they don’t want to be invited. Just like you, they’re capable of choosing their own friends, building their own careers and much to the damning’s dismay, building their own families. They don’t want to hang somewhere they’re not welcome. And frankly, if you’re like that, I’m straight and I don’t even want to come to your garden party. For all the groups putting their efforts into blocking gay unions, I want you to think about your backyard for a minute.

Marriage licenses create revenue that can be used to improve roads, build schools, fund parks and pools, maintain civic common areas and keep other civic programs up and running. So what you’re saying by opposing gay marriage is that your beliefs supersede the well being of your community and you’re so fucking selfish that you want to make your community suffer from this lack of low-hanging revenue.

For all that’s holy, why do you care who marries? They’re not going to hump in your bedroom and get Gay all over your 600-thread count sheets. My life is blessed because of my gay friends being a part of it and I’ll tell you this: I’ve learned more about how beautiful a marriage can be from my gay friends than my straight ones. Why don’t we stop wasting taxpayer dollars and start paying attention to our own backyards a bit more – stop hating and discriminating because of the people we love? That’s the beautiful thing about this nation of ours – we’re a culture that’s free to love by choice. Unfortunately, the hate boils over and its the taxpayers like you and me who bear the brunt of the shitty actions of others.

Get Your Own Shit Under Control

Pissed that you’re out of a job? Find a new one and stop thinking that you’re above certain types of labor. Do what you need to do to get by while you keep hunting for the next big thing. I’ve been there and done it – and this September will mark the two year point from the day where I sat on my sofa with less than $200 in the bank because another employer had gone belly-up. Once I stopped blaming people for the world of shit I’d gotten myself into, the most incredible thing happened: I realized that I was the only one who was capable of getting things done. So, I started getting things done.

It’s not the government’s fault you don’t have a job or are riddled with credit card debt. Blame is useless and energy draining. The Backyard Economy begins with you and if we put as much effort into ourselves and things we can change as we do yelling about the things we cannot, I think it’d be fair to say that we’ll find ourselves in much different positions than the yellers.

Quit spending money you don’t have. Credit limits aren’t double dog dares. How about this: if you can’t pay for it in cash, don’t buy it. I’ve done that for nearly three years now and lemme tell ya: it’s awesome. By getting my own shit under control, I’m able to do so many more things I want to do. And I have to do a whole lot less to achieve them.

I can’t fathom why my government is torn about a debt ceiling when I’m sitting here paying cash for everything. It’s the credit asshattery that led us here in the first place, so why do we, on a individual basis, continue to contribute to the problem? Learning to live with less – people do it all over the world. Certain people have the means to live with more. Let them. We owe it to ourselves to understand our respective tipping points, when we go from controlling our expenditures to letting them control us. An unpopular thought, I know.

So I Ask…

What are you willing to do to effect change and how will we each make our Backyard Economies thrive? I can’t think about the last time there was something passed in Congress or a decision made on the federal level that affected me and how I live in my day to day. Can you? While that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention, I think it does mean that we should be more cognizant of the beauty sitting right out of our back door. People need food, shelter and jobs here. There. Where you live.  And no one likes getting India on the other end of the phone when they call customer service – but that’s their backyard. They’re doing what they need to do as well.

Can we set aside donkey and elephants, signs of protest and rolled-up car windows for a certain period of time and rediscover our own backyards? Tell our servicemen and women that you appreciate them when you see them. Find out who your representatives are in your state and local governments. Identify what you don’t like and take an active step to change it instead of yelling. Hug your kids, spend time with your friends – after all, that why we’re on this ride: for the stuff that means more than the stuff we yell about.

If you stay out of my vagina, I’ll stay out of your church. I’ll run my business and you can run yours. Let’s be more human and less hateful and start cultivating what’s rich – those areas right outside our doors. And the damnedest thing is, those areas are accessible and waiting (begging) for us to put our feet in the grass, wiggle our toes and remember what a real community feels like. Community isn’t Washington DC and it doesn’t live in a big white house. It’s what we make of it, build from the resources around us. Resources we’ve ignored for entirely too long. So that means less attention paid to celebrity and sensationalism and more to people. We’re incredible creatures – let’s start acting as if.


Erika (and anyone else who wants in on this)

41 replies
      • Anonymous
        Anonymous says:

        This is one of your best writings on a very important subject. We do need to get off our butts and do something and quit bitching. Let’s just do it! I am self employed and do not borrow money to run my business. If I do not have the money to purchase business items, I do not purchase them. Is this too logical for government and people who use credit cards that put them in debt! Keep up the good work. Love your writings.

  1. Scott Jones
    Scott Jones says:

    Best. Article. Ever.

    Seriously, if you write like this (clear headed and to the point, not just the topic) all the time, I’ll read everything you have to say.

    It scares me more than a little to hear people moaning about how they are just waiting for things to go back to the way they were before the credit collapse…completely ignoring that “…the way things were…” is why we HAVE the credit collapse…

    Leadership by example…and you’re setting an example worth following.



      • Kate
        Kate says:

        this statement, right here, this bothers me.  you say to take action, volunteer, DO SOMETHING! (which i completely agree with) but half the reason we have such nitwits in office is because they are the only ones RUNNING FOR OFFICE.  So you have skeletons – put them out there on day one and change the way running for office works. if more people would take the risk, those skeletons would stop being such a big deal. 
        So many people i know don’t vote because they don’t like the candidate choices. ( Of course i lecture them and tell them i want to hear ZERO complaining  because no voting = no complaining). 
        I’m just tired of hearing passionate smart people falling behind the scenes because they are scared…
        ok stepping off my soapbox! 

  2. Ben Anderson
    Ben Anderson says:

    Great article. I didn’t agree with all or even most of it but the things I did agree with are things that I can get behind. Localize. Become part of your community and forget the assholes in Washington DC. Those morons couldn’t run their own families without advisers.  I do agree with doing something about your own backyard. If things suck and you have something to say about it then get out there and say it and maybe even do something.  Let’s focus on what we can do for ourselves rather than what we can ask the Government to give us on someone else’s dime. If you have a problem with taxes ask for less from your Government. If you don’t have a job…create one. Everything hasn’t been done. Inventions are not a relic. I love your diatribe even if I can’t swallow the pill whole I’ll take the parts I can stomach and run with it. 

    • The Redhead
      The Redhead says:

      But that’s what intelligent people do in a world where we’re not going to agree with everything: we take what we can get on board with and find ways to apply those things in our own lives. And for the better. Dear lord, if everyone on this site agreed with me, I’d run screaming. Stage 5 Sycophant! 😉

    • David Young
      David Young says:

      Unfortunately, we can’t forget the assholes in Washington D.C. – We’re the assholes that put those assholes there in the first place. All politics is local, so the saying goes…and that means we have to start by looking in the mirror.

      That being said, I happen to agree with both you and Ericka on the various points. And like you, I take what speaks to me and what I feel passionately about, and I’ll run with that.

  3. Mari Kurisato
    Mari Kurisato says:

    i’d hazard a guess that anyone mocking the poor on the street are probably also mocking the japanese, calling it pearl harbor “karma.” i suggest a two pronged solution that’s pretty easy;  donate to the Denver Rescue Mission, or a local charitable org that helps the poor of your choice, AND donate to japanese relief aid efforts.  OH, and don’t mock the poor, or the helpless. 
    sorry you’re having such a migraine day, E.

  4. Sherree W.
    Sherree W. says:

    That is some migraine you have. Superb post. I agree with just about everything you wrote.

    I live in a town that has the “NIMBY” attitude. Everytime something decent is suggested to make the community better, it is voted down. People bitch and moan about the lack of leadership, but re-elect the same bunch of idiots everytime. Heck, my State (CA) is probably one of the only States that did NOT make any changes overall in the last election. *sigh* 

    I can only change what I have control over and I’m trying.

  5. Benjamin Kohl
    Benjamin Kohl says:

    This is why I am a libertarian.  I’ll keep my hands out of the private lives and wallets of others and I expect the same courtesy in return.  Individual liberty is the only way to keep the hands of the masses from controlling one another and robbing one another through legislative tyranny.

  6. Michele Bunn
    Michele Bunn says:

    Erika – you have nailed it on every aspect and I mean every aspect!  I worked for a State governor many years ago and am very aware of everything you have said..Presidential Power is an oxymoron – he is a figurehead only.  The real work is done at the state and local level – – especially to make change.  I’m sharing your piece with everyone I can find and then I’ll share it again tomorrow and the next day so people read, listen and learn.  Thank you for your  honest and forthright rant! 

  7. Angie D
    Angie D says:

    Incidentally, when are the real Republicans going to stand up to the Glenn Becks of their party? These folks make the whole bunch of them look so…goofy. It would be really nice to see a well-informed, moderate, reasonable Republican take a stand against these crazies. I could at least respect that.

  8. Alex
    Alex says:

    Speaking as someone who ran for state legislature and lost–not once, not twice, but three times (yeah, I’m a glutton for punishment)–I say “Hear hear!” Erika.

    When somebody tries to shout me down for my opinions, I look ’em in the eye and say “I put my money where my mouth is…three times. So what if I lost. I had the guts to try, not just flap my lips. So why don’t you try shutting up?”

    And yep, I still vote in every election and volunteer in my community.

    Good slap, E.

  9. Chris Tucker
    Chris Tucker says:

    Thank you:) I’m at a bit of a personal crossroads in many respects, and I’ve decided to place my focus on my backyard. I hadn’t quite articulated my resolve as eloquently as you, but I’m all-in. In my back yard. No donkeys or elephants allowed – just real people with real brains and the real ability to think for themselves. And we don’t all agree either. 

    You have a way of putting things (and people) in their place. Thanks again!

  10. Jenn Brockman
    Jenn Brockman says:

    “It’s not the government’s fault you don’t have a job or are riddled with credit card debt. Blame is useless and energy draining.” And for all those who blame, why aren’t you fixing the issue? Why haven’t you done something to make the situation better? You know, when your spouse is an asshole, you leave and find something else (or take care of yourself). Divorce the government like that lazy ass ex of yours!

  11. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    I think I’d kill to be that articulate when I get a migraine!  (Seriously, though, sorry to hear you were dealing with one.  They suck ass.)

    That whole “Pay attention to your backyard and community” thing?  OMGTHIS!  I’ve been ranting about this for years.   (Most of what’s going on in Washington is why I’m no longer allowed to read the news before I’ve had my coffee in the morning, and I’m also not allowed near the people bitching about the unemployed, well, ever for fear I’ll end up being brought up on assault charges.)  This is why I joined a CSA this year and try to buy as much local as I can.  I like my neighbors, I like my community, and I like doing what I can to improve the small pocket of humanity I inhabit.  So, yes.  Thank you for venting this in a place that lots of folks will read.

  12. Kellie J. Walker
    Kellie J. Walker says:

    Wait! What? Personal responsibility? Clean up my own backyard? Stop whining about how everyone else is messing things up and fix what I can fix? Let full-grown, legally competent adults make decisions about their own lives as long as those decisions don’t violate my Rights?

    Hell, yeah.

    Sign me up. Oh, wait. I was already on that train. 🙂

    Thanks for inviting others to join us!

  13. Patrick Reyes
    Patrick Reyes says:

    Erika, great post and like Ben, I didn’t agree with some of the issues but the overall premise I LOVED!  If people are so quick to criticize then get off your coach or get up from behind your computer and do something in your community.  Many think that by acting globally can change locally but I think it’s quite the opposite.  Acting locally can impact globally because what you’ll find (in theory) is that movements are created when small groups of people band together and do something.

    Thanks for being you!

  14. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Erika, I have to take exception with one part of your article (no, I don’t agree with everything else, don’t worry!), that’s where you say that countries with a national health program pay a hefty tax in exchange. Having lived and worked in a country that’s world-champion of taxes (it’s right at the bottom of that chart), I can assure you that you get nothing — at least, health insurance-wise — in exchange for those extortionate taxes. Michael Moore is a liar. Therefore, I totally agree with people who question tax rates if they have to pay through the nose with nothing to show for it.
    Your backyard is also dependent on the weather and other not-quite-local factors.

    • Hugo Skoppek
      Hugo Skoppek says:

      Sarah, allow me to supplement your anecdotal evidence:  I have lived in Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdon and now in the Netherlands.  All countries with a (substantially) higher tax rate as the US.  I do not mind making this contribution to society.  In return it provides me with a great infrastructure, including schools and health services.  Based on my experience I can only corroborate Michael Moore’s statement that you don’t loose the family farm in Europe, when you want to send your children to school (including university) or fall seriously ill. 

  15. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this. I needed it so much in the darkness that is Black Friday (and now Cyber Monday, and buy lots of useless crap Tuesday, and whatever). This is the piece that made me sign up for you newsletter after lurking around Twitter and your blog for a while.
    And damn, usually the best I can accomplish when a migraine is a nap.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and persona with us – keep fighting the good fight!


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