Category Archives: Community

New project

As alluded to the other day, I am starting yet another project.

I’ve been an avid supporter of mom-and-pop businesses since I got involved with Route 66 a few years ago and started to see the impact of the big-box mentality on American culture — and on people’s livelihoods.

Two films I’ve watched recently — Shut Up and Sing and Independent America — have reinforced for me the importance of keeping the little guys alive and breaking the throttlehold that corporations seem to have on this country.

Almost a year ago, I spent a month trying to shop exclusively at mom-and-pop stores. In Tulsa, we’re blessed with a great many such stores of every imaginable type, so it’s possible to find just about anything you need without ever setting foot in a big box. While there were a few inconveniences involved in the all-indie-all-the-time approach, I found I could get by quite comfortably without the big guys. In a lot of towns, such an endeavor would be impossible, because the chains have killed all the mom-and-pops.

I’ve wandered back into the chains since last year’s experiment, but I do find that I’m more aware of the little stores and more inclined to shop there after spending a month familiarizing myself with their products and their hours.

My new goal is to expand that awareness — for myself and others.

To that end, I am starting a separate blog, called Indie Tulsa, for the express purpose of reviewing independent businesses in Tulsa. My initial goal is to review one business per week. Depending on how successful this project turns out to be and how much time I have to work on it, I may authorize additional users to post their own reviews, and I may do more than one review per week.

The first review will go online sometime in the next few hours, so stay tuned. The site may not look pretty right off the bat (I need to shoot some photos and put together a header, blogroll, about page, etc., etc., etc.), but I expect it to grow and improve quickly over the next few weeks.


Why indie is important

I finally got around to watching Independent America this evening. It’s the third documentary I’ve watched in the past week, and it’s the third time I’ve been motivated to DO something.

In the film, married couple Hanson Hosein and Heather Hughes — both successful broadcast journalists — set out on a 13,000-mile, 55-day road trip to find out what’s behind the recent backlash against big-box stores. Taking only secondary roads and spending money only at mom-and-pop businesses, they travel cross-country, interviewing everybody from a professional Wal-Mart shill to a couple of kids who organized a campaign to try to keep Hollywood Video from putting their local mom-and-pop video store out of business.

While Wal-Mart’s P.R. flack makes a valiant attempt to spin the story in her company’s favor, her efforts ring hollow in the face of outrages such as the company’s expensive push for a referendum on a Flagstaff ordinance that would have been detrimental to Wal-Mart’s growth in that city (the campaign — which ultimately succeeded — included a tasteless ad comparing city leaders to Nazis and claiming the proposed ordinance was anti-American) and Wal-Mart’s chilling effect on city leaders in Yelm, Wash., who banned the words “Wal-Mart” and “big box” from regular meetings, effectively silencing protesters who spoke out against a proposed Wal-Mart. City leaders cited fear of litigation as the motivating factor behind their decision to revoke citizens’ First Amendment rights during public meetings. (Apparently Wal-Mart only supports your freedom when it’s good for business.)

Wal-Mart isn’t the only villain in the film, but it comes across as one of the more egregious symptoms of a parasitic corporate mentality that seems to be infecting communities and killing its hosts all over the country.

Ultimately, though, Hosein and Hughes remind us that if we don’t like what big chains are doing to our communities, there’s a simple solution: Don’t fund them. Think about what you’re buying, where you’re buying it, and who’s going to benefit from your purchase. Take some responsibility for your purchases, and figure out what you’re underwriting when you shop.

It’s a simple solution, but it’s one a lot of people won’t take, because it’s easier to sit around wringing their hands and grumbling about how somebody should do something.

I value my freedom far too much to place control of what I see, hear, eat, drink, and enjoy in the hands of a few monopolistic corporations.

To that end, I am working up a new project, which I will unveil in the next couple of days. Stay tuned….


Do you hear the people sing?

We went to the Circle Cinema tonight to watch an indie documentary called Shut Up and Sing, about the way a handful of thoughtless reactionaries manipulated country radio (which was all too willing to be manipulated) in an attempt to torpedo the Dixie Chicks’ career after Natalie Maines made a comment that 72 percent of the American population apparently agrees with today.

The Circle is great. It’s an old movie theater that’s undergoing restoration. It has a gorgeous neon marquee out front and an artsy, countercultural vibe that reminds me of U. City’s wonderful Tivoli. It’s a great centerpiece for the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood, which is undergoing a revitalization effort kind of like the one they’re hoping to pull off here in Red Fork.

Regardless of your opinion of the war in Iraq, the current occupant of the White House, or the Dixie Chicks themselves, the film we watched tonight is alarming for one very important reason:

It demonstrates the enormous power of corporate America to control our access to information.

A handful of executives control the music that is played on the radio. In the film, the station owners claim their decision not to air the Chicks’ music was simply financial — they were supposedly being inundated with phone calls from angry listeners threatening to boycott the station if they played the band’s songs — but if you’ll recall, at the time, many of those stations’ DJs went to great lengths to trash the Chicks on-air, and some even went so far as to organize parties at which fans were encouraged to bring their Dixie Chicks CDs to be destroyed, either by burning or (in one notorious example) being backed over with a tractor.

Think about that a minute: Radio stations organized CD-crushing parties. That’s like a library hosting a book burning. The stations claimed they were simply responding to public demand. Nice try, but I don’t buy it. Quietly taking the Chicks off the playlist would have been a response to public demand. Holding a party at which guests were invited to participate in the most offensive form of censorship known to humanity is not responding to public demand. It is pandering to the lowest common denominator in a tasteless attempt to milk free publicity out of another’s misfortune. And I won’t even bother to comment on the subtext involved in taking a tool of the hardworking, resourceful American farmer and using it as the centerpiece of a tasteless display of ignorance and hate, except to note that the phrase “beating plowshares into swords” comes to mind.

In an odd coincidence, I came home from work this evening to find Ron watching a DVD called Independent America. It’s a documentary about a couple who spent 55 days on the road, visiting mom-and-pop businesses and researching the impact of corporations on the American culture and economy. I watched a few minutes of the film with Ron. What I saw was sobering and left me grateful for my experiment of a year ago — in which I spent an entire month shunning big-box stores (and didn’t miss them much) — and eager to turn it from an experiment to a permanent lifestyle choice.

I intend to watch the entire film in the next couple of days and will probably have a full review when I finish.

In the meantime, I’m sitting here listening to KDHX online and enjoying fond memories of afternoons spent in my neon instructor’s shop, listening to Fred Friction’s show above the purr of the blower and the occasional shrieks of the bombarder.

I think maybe I’ll send them a donation in honor of Ron’s birthday in a couple of months.


Good vibes

Someone found my blog while searching for “little five points hippie store.” I had no idea what that was, so just for fun, I Googled it. Lo and behold, I found out about an intriguing area of Atlanta called “Little Five Points,” which is just exactly the kind of place where one could reasonably expect to find a “hippie store.”

This article about Little Five Points reminded me of some places I love to visit. A lot of people are working on efforts to revitalize the Route 66 corridor through Red Fork right now, so I Googled five of my favorite haunts — Nob Hill (Albuquerque, N.M.); Austin, Texas; the University City Loop (St. Louis); the Washington Avenue Loft District (St. Louis); and the Makanda Boardwalk (Makanda, Ill.) — and sent the links to the girl who runs our neighborhood association.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I found a spiritual lesson in my research.

In thinking about these vibrant, eclectic communities, I noticed they shared a few important qualities:

1. Acceptance. The folks I’ve met in Austin, U. City, Washington Avenue, Nob Hill, and Makanda were all very friendly, very respectful of others’ backgrounds, beliefs, and cultures, and very indulgent (and even appreciative!) of others’ quirks. That outlook creates a fertile breeding ground for expressions of …

2. Creativity. Artists, musicians, and writers of all stripes are encouraged to express themselves in these communities. For instance, the revitalization of Washington Avenue began with artist/real estate investor Bob Cassilly’s amazing City Museum, which is essentially a seven-story assemblage of mosaic, sculpture, architecture, and everything in between.

3. Generosity. Just about every business in these districts will have a flier or ten in the window, advertising some good cause, whether it’s a photo of the humane society’s pet of the week or an invitation to a Habitat for Humanity project. Volunteerism is valued and encouraged. Looking around, you get the feeling that you’re surrounded by Good Guys … and you really want to be one of them.

You could argue that those qualities are just good business sense — after all, any business owner knows that in order to make money, you have to make your customers feel welcome and appreciated, give them the sense that they are experiencing something unique that they can’t find anywhere else, and present a community-minded image that makes them feel good about giving you their hard-earned money. But I think there’s something even bigger at work here.

Acceptance, creativity, and generosity are all spiritual qualities — expressions of God’s goodness. Those expressions make us happy. They give off what some of us hippie types like to refer to as “good vibes.”

The good vibes that fill a really cool business district are nothing less than the presence of the Christ, finding expression in thousands of tiny actions that radiate through the area and bless all those who are touched by them. Such neighborhoods are full of “reflection(s) in multifarious forms of the living Principle, Love,” as Mary Baker Eddy says. No wonder we enjoy them so much!

I’m excited about the effort to revitalize this part of town.

I want people to recognize Red Fork for what it is: a fascinating area full of interesting, talented people. I want to see our historic buildings restored and used as engines of economic development.

But most of all, I want people to come to Red Fork to feel the good vibes that are found in places where expressions of goodness are valued, cherished, and cultivated, and where Love is encouraged to thrive.

It’s a time-honored formula for success: Seek ye first the good vibes, and all these things shall be added unto you. 😉