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N“Social Project #4: Find a way to end global warming. Make it work.” Social Project #5. Find a way to end poverty. Make it work.” Prompts #16 and #17 by Ruth Ozeki in the Preface to Choices (Borderline Press, 1916). She attributes these projects to Jackson Mac Low who published The Fluxus Performance Workbook in 1963.

On  Friday, March 4th of this year, Ruth Ozeki addressed 800+ IMG_3771people at the Mt. Baker Theater in Bellingham, Washington. Her novel A Tale for the Time Being was the 2015-2016 choice for Whatcom READS!, the community book club.

When her formal address was over, several members of the audience stepped to the microphone, including me. I referenced her prompts in the preface to Choices, an anthology of local writing, and said “How would you carry out the prompts relating to ending poverty and global warning?” She hesitated. “Of course, it’s something that individuals must think about and do what they can.”

I will do my usual when coping with difficult political questions: avoid a specific answer (eliminating one topic, global warming altogether) and substitute background research.

I’m interested in the guy who came up with these social projects: Jackson Mac Low, whom I had never heard of. Low (1922-2004) is known for his “chance poetry”–generating random lines from previously published sources–and for performance poetry. For example, he produced a play, Verdurous Sanguinaria, by sourcing 26 different dictionaries, which, incidentally, was performed in the home of Yoko Ono.

His Social Projects are crudely typed on post cards. Whether the project is to “end war,” “produce everything everybody needs and get it to them,” or to “live without employment,” the directives all begin with “Find a Way to…” and end with “Make it work.” (See Low’s The Fluxus Performance Workbook published in 1963. Fluxus is the art movement he co-founded.)

Norm Ornstein, a contributing writer for The Atlantic, deals with practical, cogent  solutions to poverty. “One thing should be accepted universally: If Americans lose the sense of the American dream–that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can rise to the absolute limits of your own abilities–and if Americans gain a sense that the rich get richer while the rest of us get screwed, our national unity will be imperiled, and the opportunities for real demagogues to emerge.”

He supports KidSave whereby the government puts $1000 in a savings account for every child born. The account, using various levels of bonds, would grow, via compounded interest, to $700 K when the individual turns 65. At certain crucial junctures, money could be withdrawn to pay for college, home down payments, etc. The desired result would be to assist with the the difficulties facing middle and working class families in a timely manner while producing a significant nest egg for retirement. Read the whole article which ends “KidSave is an idea whose time has come. Any takers.”

And meanwhile, I recommend that we study the societal issues that afflict us because ” individuals must think about and do what they can.”

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