By: Priscilla Hayes
I think that there should be a participatory democracy bucket list of trips every citizen has to take at least once so they begin to understand how our society and culture work within the context of the bigger and “real” world. By real world, I don’t mean our financial system, which to me, at least, has always seemed to place value on things more derivative and uncertain than real—futures, predictions of stock values. The real world is our planet, the world that includes us and all our human created systems, as well as all the natural resources and systems, which we and other organisms depend on for food, water, air, shelter—the basics for every living thing.
What’s on this bucket list? Being the “trashy” person I am, the first tours I would recommend would be 1) a landfill, 2) a facility where recyclables are sorted (otherwise known as a Materials Recovery Facility or MRF, and the subject of an entire post to itself), 3) a sewerage plant, and 4) maybe a drinking water treatment plant. This would lay bare the apparent Star Trek-like magic that whisks away our waste to somewhere where it will never trouble us again. Hopefully, in particular, it would give the viewer the motivation to learn exactly how not to waste and what should be recycled, and, perhaps more importantly, the motivation to be consistent about both avoiding waste and recycling wherever they are—not just at home.
The sewerage plant and drinking water plant would hopefully impart a bit more respect for the system that delivers water straight into all of our buildings with little to no effort and labor on our part (except for those cases of bottled water), and just as easily, zips “wastewater,” aka sewage, out and away.
What’s next? Everyone should do some food system field trips. Arrange to visit your local farm, and see what it takes to create the food that none of us could live without. Luckily, in my part of the country, we are blessed by a number of local family farms that grow delicious produce and raise animals for meat on a scale that doesn’t seem to merit the word “factory” in a scornful way. Some of these farms sell “agro-tourism” along with the produce, so you can take the family here to see some chickens, a few horses or cows. The fact that the farmer is providing you with some entertainment shouldn’t distract you from the serious business of farming, so just look a little closer. Look at the crops pushing up through the earth, maybe try to time your visit to a time when some picking, either by hand, or with a machine is being done. You could even ask the farmer, if you can find him or her free from chores, about the hours they keep and when was the last time they enjoyed a vacation.
Finally, I also think everyone should have to visit a prison. During my first year of law school, my criminal law class took a field trip. We visitors were afraid to look at these people in cages, either because they were scary or because it had the feel of a zoo, except there were people locked up. Like a zoo, it will inspire mixed feelings about what has led to so many living things locked away.
Any of these visits can help inspire you to step back and think about how the choices we make for ourselves project onto the world around us even if we don’t realize it, and how we always have room to improve.