I don’t mean the kind you’re talking about when your friends invite you to go shopping or for a night out and you say, “No, I can’t. I’m poor right now.”
I don’t mean the situation when you’d like to get a nicer car but decide you should just stick to the one you have because you don’t have a few thousand for a down payment.
I don’t mean the scene at the grocery store when you decide to get ground beef instead of steak.
I’m talking about when you have already done the weird mismatched meals from your pantry that are made up of cooked rice, stale crackers, and a can of peaches, and you’ve moved on to wondering what on earth you’re going to feed your kids.
Or when you get an eviction notice for non-payment of rent, a shut-off notice for your utilities, and a repo notice for your car and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about any of those notices because there IS NO MONEY.
If you’ve never been this level of broke, I’m very glad.
I have been this broke. I know that it is soul-destroying when no matter how hard you work, how many part-time jobs you squeeze in, and how much you cut, you simply don’t make enough money to survive in the world today. Being part of the working poor is incredibly frustrating and discouraging…
Challenging economic times call for ever more creative survival strategies. Food costs have exploded across the land, forcing families to squeeze every last penny from their rapidly devaluing dollars. Housing costs are another matter altogether and a home mortgage can be a terrible burden to bear. Just ask anyone who has lost their home through random hardship or the disappearing job. At times it seems a most unsolvable puzzle.
A man named MC (“Radiator Charlie”) Byles of West Virginia had a solution to these type of problems in the early 1940’s. In this case his answer was large and red and proud, and particularly delicious on a slab of steaming homemade bread with salt and mayonnaise.
A homespun gardener and inveterate tinkerer, he wanted to build a better, and bigger tomato. And build it he did. After several years of propagation his tomato plants could produce, mild, meaty, and delicious fruit of immense proportions. People flocked to his door for a look at a 3 pound tomato, and he was happy to accommodate them. Never one to miss an opportunity, he sold his seedling plants for $1 each and paid off his $6,000 home mortgage in a few short years. He named his new creation “the mortgage lifter”, and a backyard gardening legend was born.
That legend lives on today, and for good reason. Imagine paying off your property with the fruits of your backyard labor. Think about what life would be like without a house payment, or a weekly grocery bill large enough to choke a horse. It’s an inspiring and encouraging idea. It gives me hope. It can be done. Marshall Cletis Byles would tell you so, if he could.
I tip my gardening hat to him, and to the unbounded energies of his creativity. I’d say it’s time for many of us to take another look at his game changing idea. Perhaps it’s possible to follow his example and do our very best to lift the grinding weight of the mortgage from our backs. It may be an overly ambitious or unrealistic plan, but like him, I must try.
There are many ways to get there, and perhaps you have already begun or are well on your way. Our version of the “grocery lifter” comes in the form of rabbits and squab. Others beat back their bills with a small flock of geese, which possess the marvelous ability to efficiently convert grass to many pounds of tasty meat. The addition of a few pigs can provide miraculous results for your larder, particularly if you are a fan of pork and pig fat. Pigs, like tomatoes, have often been refered to as mortgage lifters. My neighbor has added a couple of steers to his small pasture and plans to keep one for the freezer and sell the other to cover his costs.
You may have an entirely different idea, but the intention is the same. I think it can be any animal or plant that works for you and fits your particular set of circumstances or comfort level.The important thing is that we all do a little to help ourselves and contribute to a more self-sufficient life. Every bit of food we can produce at home takes power form the corporate controlled food model. It gives us a reason to get up in the morning and keeps us grounded in the small satisfaction of a job well done.
So let’s hear it for the backyard gardener, the keeper of hens, the canner, and the prepper. Give thanks to the independent farmers and agricultural workers everywhere. Let’s revel in the joys of animal husbandry, fish farming, or beekeeping. Put a little bit of the farm and the old-fashioned barnyard back in your everyday life. You won’t regret it.
We can do it. We are doing it. Let’s decentralize, and unplug from the controlling grid. We must put our heads together, and our families and communities will follow. Let’s keep our friends close, and our enemies at bay. It’s the mortgage lifter revolution, because the very definition of mortgage is death and we must throw off the chains of that grim and unforgiving reaper of sorrows.
The spirit of MC Byles, like his seeds and giant heirloom tomatoes, live on. It can be seen in the successes of backyard entrepreneurs across the continents. Sometimes the path to independence and the bounty of a joyful life starts with a simple seed, planted in the welcoming and living earth of a backyard garden.
Long live the mortgage lifters and the backyard heroes, and the unlimited promise of a new day!
———-Do you have a backyard hero? Tell us your story…
“There’s nothin’ in the world that I like better than
Bacon, lettuce and home grown tomatoes Up in the morning and out in the garden Pick you a ripe one, don’t get a hard ‘un Plant ’em in the springtime eat ’em in the summer All winter without ’em’s a culinary bummer I forget all about the sweatin’ and the diggin’ Every time I go out and pick me a big’un
Home grown tomatoes, home grown tomatoes What’d life be without home grown tomatoes There’s only two things that money can’t buy That’s true love and home grown tomatoes
You can go out and eat ’em, that’s for sure But there’s nothin’ a home grown tomato won’t cure You can put ’em in a salad, put ’em in a stew You can make your own, very own tomato juice You can eat ’em with eggs, you can eat ’em with gravy You can eat ’em with beans, pinto or navy Put em on the side, put em on the middle Home grown tomatoes on a hot cake griddle
If I could change this life I lead You could call me Johnny Tomato Seed I know what this country needs It’s home grown tomatoes in every yard you see When I die don’t bury me In a box in a cold dark cemetery Out in the garden would be much better Where I could be pushin’ up home grown tomatoes”
From “Home Grown Tomato”, By Guy Clark, Sugar Hill Records, 1997.
Today I ate a homegrown cherry tomato, and I liked it. It was perfectly ripe, bursting with flavor, and it did not travel 1000 miles or more to get to my mouth. In fact, I picked it from my sun room, just a few steps from where I write this.
I ate it because it was good, and I could.
To eat it supports a system in which I believe, one that is right in so many ways. It is a local transaction, of that there is no doubt. More than that, it is a conscious and personal act. I tended and nurtured that small plant, and I studied it’s growing fruit with hope and anticipation.
To eat a tomato from the supermarket more than likely supports a system that I do not believe in. That tomato depends on chemicals, the corporate model, and long distance transport, steeped in diesel. It rarely tastes like a tomato either.
Thus, I so protest. I pop it into my mouth and I eat my cherry tomato which was just a second ago still attached to the vine. It is an inconsequential act, I suppose, but it still holds power. It makes me feel better. It may not change the world in any significant way this day, but it did change my world, and for the moment, that is enough.
In reality, however, we are only as free as a government official may allow.
We only think we live in a constitutional republic, governed by just laws created for our benefit.
Truth be told, we live in a dictatorship disguised as a democracy where all that we own, all that we earn, all that we say and do—our very lives—depends on the benevolence of government agents and corporate shareholders for whom profit and power will always trump principle. And now the government is litigating and legislating its way into a new framework where the dictates of petty bureaucrats carry greater weight than the inalienable rights of the citizenry.
We’re in trouble, folks.
Freedom no longer means what it once did.
This holds true whether you’re talking about the right to criticize the government in word or deed, the right to be free from government surveillance, the right to not have your person or your property subjected to warrantless searches by government agents, the right to due process, the right to be safe from soldiers invading your home, the right to be innocent until proven guilty and every other right that once reinforced the founders’ belief that this would be “a government of the people, by the people and for the people.”
Not only do we no longer have dominion over our bodies, our families, our property and our lives, but the government continues to chip away at what few rights we still have to speak freely and think for ourselves.
If the government can control speech, it can control thought and, in turn, it can control the minds of the citizenry.
The unspoken freedom enshrined in the First Amendment is the right to think freely and openly debate issues without being muzzled or treated like a criminal.
In other words, if we no longer have the right to tell a Census Worker to get off our property, if we no longer have the right to tell a police officer to get a search warrant before they dare to walk through our door, if we no longer have the right to stand in front of the Supreme Court wearing a protest sign or approach an elected representative to share our views, if we no longer have the right to protest unjust laws by voicing our opinions in public or on our clothing or before a legislative body—no matter how misogynistic, hateful, prejudiced, intolerant, misguided or politically incorrect they might be—then we do not have free speech.
What we have instead is regulated, controlled speech, and that’s a whole other ballgame.
Protest laws, free speech zones, bubble zones, trespass zones, anti-bullying legislation, zero tolerance policies, hate crime laws and a host of other legalistic maladies dreamed up by politicians and prosecutors are conspiring to corrode our core freedoms purportedly for our own good.
For instance, the protest laws being introduced across the country—in 18 states so far—are supposedly in the name of “public safety and limiting economic damage.”
Don’t fall for it.
No matter how you package these laws, no matter how well-meaning they may sound, no matter how much you may disagree with the protesters or sympathize with the objects of the protest, these proposed laws are aimed at one thing only: discouraging dissent.
In Arizona, police would be permitted to seize the assets of anyone involved in a protest that at some point becomes violent.
In Minnesota, protesters would be forced to pay for the cost of having police on hand to “police” demonstrations.
Oregon lawmakers want to “require public community colleges and universities to expel any student convicted of participating in a violent riot.”
A proposed North Dakota law would give drivers the green light to “accidentally” run over protesters who are blocking a public roadway. Florida and Tennessee are entertaining similar laws.
Pushing back against what it refers to as “economic terrorism,” Washington wants to increase penalties for protesters who block access to highways and railways.
Anticipating protests over the Keystone Pipeline, South Dakota wants to apply the governor’s emergency response authority to potentially destructive protests, create new trespassing penalties and make it a crime to obstruct highways.
In Iowa, protesters who block highways with speeds posted above 55 mph could spend five years in prison, plus a fine of up to $7,500. Obstruct traffic in Mississippi and you could be facing a $10,000 fine and a five-year prison sentence.
A North Carolina law would make it a crime to heckle state officials. Under this law, shouting at a former governor would constitute a crime.
Indiana lawmakers wanted to authorize police to use “any means necessary” to breakup mass gatherings that block traffic. That legislation has since been amended to merely empower police to issue fines for such behavior.
Georgia is proposing harsh penalties and mandatory sentencing laws for those who obstruct public passages or throw bodily fluids on “public safety officers.”
Virginia wants to subject protesters who engage in an “unlawful assembly” after “having been lawfully warned to disperse” with up to a year of jail time and a fine of up to $2,500.
Missouri wants to make it illegal for anyone participating in an “unlawful assembly” to intentionally conceal “his or her identity by the means of a robe, mask, or other disguise.”
Colorado wants to lock up protesters for up to 18 months who obstruct or tamper with oil and gas equipment and charge them with up to $100,000 in fines.
Oklahoma wants to create a sliding scale for protesters whose actions impact or impede critical infrastructure. The penalties would range from $1,000 and six months in a county jail to $100,000 and up to 10 years in prison. And if you’re part of an organization, that fine goes as high as $1,000,000.
Michigan hopes to make it easier for courts to shut down “mass picketing” demonstrations and fine protesters who block entrances to businesses, private residences or roadways up to $1,000 a day. That fine jumps to $10,000 a day for unions or other organizing groups.
Ask yourself: if there are already laws on the books in all of the states that address criminal or illegal behavior such as blocking public roadways or trespassing on private property—because such laws are already on the books—then why does the government need to pass laws criminalizing activities that are already outlawed?
What’s really going on here?
No matter what the politicians might say, the government doesn’t care about our rights, our welfare or our safety.
How many times will we keep falling for the same tricks?
Every despotic measure used to control us and make us cower and fear and comply with the government’s dictates has been packaged as being for our benefit, while in truth benefiting only those who stand to profit, financially or otherwise, from the government’s transformation of the citizenry into a criminal class.
Remember, the Patriot Act didn’t make us safer. It simply turned American citizens into suspects and, in the process, gave rise to an entire industry—private and governmental—whose profit depends on its ability to undermine our Fourth Amendment rights.
Placing TSA agents in our nation’s airports didn’t make us safer. It simply subjected Americans to invasive groping, ogling and bodily searches by government agents. Now the TSA plans to subject travelers to even more “comprehensive” patdowns.
So, too, these protest laws are not about protecting the economy or private property or public roads. Rather, they are intended to muzzle discontent and discourage anyone from challenging government authority.
These laws are the shot across the bow.
They’re intended to send a strong message that in the American police state, you’re either a patriot who marches in lockstep with the government’s dictates or you’re a pariah, a suspect, a criminal, a troublemaker, a terrorist, a radical, a revolutionary.
Yet by muzzling the citizenry, by removing the constitutional steam valves that allow people to speak their minds, air their grievances and contribute to a larger dialogue that hopefully results in a more just world, the government is deliberately stirring the pot, creating a climate in which violence becomes inevitable.
When there is no steam valve—when there is no one to hear what the people have to say, because government representatives have removed themselves so far from their constituents—then frustration builds, anger grows and people become more volatile and desperate to force a conversation.
Then again, perhaps that was the government’s plan all along.
As John F. Kennedy warned in March 1962, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
The government is making violent revolution inevitable.
How do you lock down a nation?
You sow discontent and fear among the populace. You terrorize the people into believing that radicalized foreigners are preparing to invade. You teach them to be non-thinkers who passively accept whatever is told them, whether it’s delivered by way of the corporate media or a government handler. You brainwash them into believing that everything the government does is for their good and anyone who opposes the government is an enemy. You acclimate them to a state of martial law, carried out by soldiers disguised as police officers but bearing the weapons of war. You polarize them so that they can never unite and stand united against the government. You create a climate in which silence is golden and those who speak up are shouted down. You spread propaganda and lies. You package the police state in the rhetoric of politicians.
And then, when and if the people finally wake up to the fact that the government is not and has never been their friend, when it’s too late for peaceful protests and violence is all that remains to them as a recourse against tyranny, you use all of the tools you’ve been so carefully amassing—the criminal databases and surveillance and identification systems and private prisons and protest laws—and you shut them down for good.
As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, once a government assumes power—unconstitutional or not—it does not relinquish it. The militarized police are not going to stand down. The NSA will continue to collect electronic files on everything we do. More and more Americans are going to face jail time for offenses that prior generations did not concern themselves with.
The government—at all levels—could crack down on virtually anyone at any time.
Martin Luther King saw it coming: both the “spontaneous explosion of anger by various citizen groups” and the ensuing crackdown by the government.
“Police, national guard and other armed bodies are feverously preparing for repression,” King wrote shortly before he was assassinated. “They can be curbed not by unorganized resort to force…but only by a massive wave of militant nonviolence….It also may be the instrument of our national salvation.”
Militant nonviolent resistance.
“A nationwide nonviolent movement is very important,” King wrote. “We know from past experience that Congress and the President won’t do anything until you develop a movement around which people of goodwill can find a way to put pressure on them… This means making the movement powerful enough, dramatic enough, morally appealing enough, so that people of goodwill, the churches, laborers, liberals, intellectuals, students, poor people themselves begin to put pressure on congressmen to the point that they can no longer elude our demands.
“It must be militant, massive nonviolence,” King emphasized.
In other words, besides marches and protests, there would have to be civil disobedience. Civil disobedience forces the government to expend energy in many directions, especially if it is nonviolent, organized and is conducted on a massive scale. This is, as King knew, the only way to move the beast. It is the way to effect change without resorting to violence. And it is exactly what these protest laws are attempting to discourage
We are coming to a crossroads. Either we gather together now and attempt to restore freedom or all will be lost. As King cautioned, “everywhere, ‘time is winding up,’ in the words of one of our spirituals, corruption in the land, people take your stand; time is winding up.”
On an early morning in mid-March 2013, a middle-aged man of character and fair standing in his community, free from warrant or criminal history, walked into his local Walmart store in Western Colorado and attempted to purchase a resident fishing license at the sporting goods counter. His honest and best efforts were categorically denied, with prejudice.
It just so happens that I have direct knowledge of this unfortunate yet otherwise insignificant event, and I can attest to the fact that the man was deeply disturbed by such a troubling outcome.
He was told that said purchase was denied because he failed to present upon demand the necessary documentation needed to prove his state residency beyond any shadow of doubt, and the proceedings stopped right there. This determination came as a great surprise, as the man had purchased a Colorado resident hunting or fishing license of one kind or another each and every year since escaping the all too restrictive confines of the east coast in 1976.
I can assure you that the refusal of service and accommodation by the vendor was taken quite seriously by said confused citizen, and the deal did not go down without discussion and argument. It did not help this agitated individual to know that he would soon miss his carpool connection, and that he would have to drive a second vehicle by himself for two hours as a result. He would undoubtedly miss the early bite too.
For him it was no small matter, and it left him shaken and angry beyond simple proportion. Of that I am quite certain, and as you may have guessed by now, I possess such first hand and intimate knowledge of it all because it happened to me. I can tell you what I know.
My issues really began when I attempted to purchase an annual fishing license at another agent one week earlier, and suddenly realized that I had never purchased a fishing license in 2012.
This is no big deal of course, but I had forgotten that a few years ago the State of Colorado had adopted a “season year” fishing license, which was valid from April 1 to March 31. This is different than the more traditional “calendar year” license of old, which renews on January 1st of every year.
At that point I opted to buy a one day fishing license, because it did not make sense to pay full price for an annual license that would be valid for only three weeks.
I had no problem purchasing my one day fishing license, which is to be expected, because it is not supposed to be difficult to purchase a hunting or fishing license in Colorado.
After all, a complete representation of my personal information and recreational histories are already stored in the “central computer”, as the state developed a Total Licensing System years ago. It already knows my Driver’s License Number, my Social Security Number, my height and weight and eye color, my current and past addresses, and all of my license purchases throughout the years. Who knows what else it knows, and who it shares it with?
I just know that I was always told that the computerized system was designed to make everything more streamlined and carefree for us mere mortals of the public domains.
So why then, the problem, which is exactly what I wanted to know?
I had not planned to fish again until April 1st or after, so when my friends asked me to fish on short notice I decided to purchase an additional fishing day. The Walmart store was on my way.
I presented for inspections a current and valid Commercial Drivers License, which is not easy to acquire by the way, complete with photograph, background check using CRB Direct, and current medical clearances. In addition I also provided the one day fishing license that I had purchased the week before, my elk license from last fall, and a Colorado Hunter Safety card issued in 2006. I freely admit that I was not prepared for an interrogation, and that I did not carry a satchel full of identity papers to prove my validity.
I simply wanted to add an additional fishing day to a one day fishing license, and I was willing to pay. My driver’s license and photo ID confirmed my identity. My one week old fishing license provided evidence that I had supplied the necessary residency documentation at the time of that purchase. It should have been enough. In fact, it was more than enough to satisfy all legal requirements.
But it was not so in the vendor’s eyes. As it happens, my driver’s license had been reissued five months before, and listed only the reissue date. This seemed to cause insurmountable roadblocks. Colorado requires that you live in the state for at least six months to qualify for residency, and the sales clerk took one look at that…and stopped all proceedings. He flat-out refused to continue with all the conviction of a loyal and dedicated foot soldier.
I have some knowledge of the inner workings of the licensing system. I explained to him what I knew, and that all of my paperwork when added together was reason for him to attempt to issue a license. After all, the necessary information was readily accessible on the fully integrated licensing terminal hovering just outside his reach.
He simply refused, citing policy and procedure while staring intently at a handout sheet, and literally threw up his hands before heading for the back room to search for reinforcements.
A couple of clueless sales clerks, a department manager and one store manager later, I was resolutely denied service and emphatically asked to leave the premises. For the record, I must acknowledge that over the years I have been thrown out of places with much more inspiring views and tasteful decor. But that is a story for another time.
I just wanted to go ice fishing. I wanted to escape the data control grid for just a few hours and feel the fresh air on my face in a desire to remember why I moved to the west in the first place. I wanted to hook up with a primal and pulsating creature, drawn from the depths of another world held far beyond the grasp of the social engineers and the prying, electronic eyes and ears of a robotic spy drone. I wanted to pretend for a brief time that I was a free man in a free state doing what I do best and enjoy the most, without some lingering and disturbing aftertaste of heavy-handed experience hanging on my breath. Is that too much to ask?
What does one do when faced with such a circumstance?
Well, I chose to take the matter to a higher authority, and in this case that was the licensing division of Colorado Game, Fish, And Parks. I had no doubt that they would like to comment on the heart of the matter, and indeed they did. They were quite happy to provide some guidance in this regard.
Vendors who wish to sell hunting and fishing licenses in their retail outlet can apply for and become license agents. They then become official representatives of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and they have a duty to provide courteous and efficient service as their agent. It also means that they need to know the licensing laws and regulations far better than you or I, and how to apply them correctly and fairly. Failure to do so can have serious consequences.
Public complaint can trigger a letter of disciplinary action from Colorado Parks, and contribute to a “three strikes” rule. The vendor can be required to attend classes on the proper procedures and protocols of licensing and agency, and to properly retrain all staff. If the abuses continue, the agent’s agreement can be revoked and their ability to sell hunting and fishing licenses discontinued.
I have filed a formal complaint through appropriate channels. It would appear that some of Walmart’s staff at this particular store will be “reeducated” on my behalf before the storyline of our little encounter has ended.
It is comforting to know that a private citizen has some ability to effect change, and possibly prevent someone else from suffering the same humiliations and indignities from fools such as these. Still, I have some concerns.
Once accepted, a first time license application creates a “lifetime” customer identification number, and hence a customer record, or “profile”. I had always been under the impression that this electronic database and total licensing system was supposed to make it easier for me to purchase a license, without having to continuously provide documentation over and over again at every turn. I can only wonder who this system is really designed to help, because apparently it has not been put in place to help me. If it was, it does not seem to be working as promised.
One eventual truth with centralized and technocratic systems is that they are eventually turned and used as a weapon by people who do not have your best interests in mind. They inevitably become jury, judge, and executioner, and they can never seem to forgo the opportunity to play god with the imperious flick of a wrist.
I refuse to be treated like a common criminal and dismissed like useless chattel by sales clerks who have failed to demonstrate the respect required to master some of the basic communication skills of the english language, particularly those who work for the ultimate purveyor of cheap plastic and Chinese slave goods. I will not let them use the color of law to ruin my day without returning the favor in full.
At the very least, I have a small but focused voice, and I will use it. I am also quite capable of managing a hair-raising scream or two when the occasion calls for it.
Impose your will unjustly, and you may gain my full attention. Make it personal, and you will know that I have been there.
For now, I stand horrified in the knowledge that the information miners and the privacy thieves have penetrated so far into the remote and protected corners of my everyday life. I am left to gauge the parameters of the nightmarish, Orwellian uber-reality in which I have been fully imprisoned. You may witness me there, restlessly casting about for some remnants of my peace of mind, hot on the scent of my lost country. I pray that I can occasionally find it in the unspoiled wilds at the edges of our memory.