Last week I missed writing this column, planning to be gone. When my plans changed, I worked instead on a “little” book that I’ve been encouraged to write about land and why we need to be connected to it—and what happens when increasing numbers of people are disconnected from it.
Then comes Labor Day, the national holiday celebrating all the work that is done by people who no longer make their living from the land, but who work for others to earn enough money to feed themselves and have a place to lay their heads. The fact that we’ve turned it from a holiday celebrating producers into a consumers holiday doesn’t change the original purpose, just distracts from it.
The topic of land is huge, but the principles are simple. Land is the source of all wealth, as well as all sustenance. Land is limited, and so demand automatically increases as population grows, raising land values. This is one of the larger (but frequently unnamed) sources of inflation. We’ll blame everything else first—energy prices, the lack of affordable housing, interruptions in the food supply, along with pandemic and war. To look square-on at the limited nature of land would be to shake our faith in everything from democracy to God.
Avoiding this fact of life, however, has made it easier for us to blindly accept the mythological explanations of agribusiness that everything is better when food is grown in huge orchards and fields worked by peasant labor and managed by guys in pickup trucks at the behest of people in office buildings far away who wouldn’t know the difference between burr clover and puncturevine. These guys and gals don’t know why it’s better to be there when you turn on the irrigation water because the lines get clogged and sometimes blow out, wasting that precious resource. Or how pumping from their wells in mid-day depletes their neighbor’s wells unnecessarily, contributing evaporated water to the atmosphere where it will not return to our over-tapped aquifers for many years.
Some Americans, from before the Revolutionary War onward, have worked to limit the amount of land any one person can have in recognition of this primary, essential resource. Their efforts have largely failed because, as a people, we have not (yet) distinguished between the right to become a millionaire and the right to have a home, a place to lay one’s head. We’ve converted the wealth of the land to money, and now assume that money collectively allows us to buy whatever we need from anyone anywhere around the globe. But our faith in that money is not warranted and unconsciously we know it. It’s a power trip we hide under the concept of “the free market” and back up with warships and airborne armaments.
This brings me to homelessness. Last week I ran into an old acquaintance at Save-Mart. I remembered his name from when I worked at Mt. Whitney Mini-Storage, where his mom was renting a unit. She was one of the people who vacated shortly after McDermont Field House opened in order to give the money she spent on storage rent to her grandchildren for McDermont memberships. My friend asked “Are you still a Democrat?” then proceeded to tell me Gov. Newsom was responsible for San Francisco’s runaway homeless population, so we need to get him out of office.
I was just there for milk, so I didn’t try to download his set of facts. But what occurred to me later was that one reason why homeless people are such an affront to many of us is that they are defying a belief most of us hold tightly: that you have to labor in order to have a place to lay your head. By living on public land like parks and sidewalks, under bridges, at freeway on-ramps and along riverbanks, the homeless people are asserting that they have a right to some place to lay their heads, regardless of their status as laborers.
On some level we might think of them as pioneers, perhaps even a little like the first settlers at Woodsville—who were perceived as intruders and got scalped, by the way.
My hope is that a little book on land might help us start to think afresh. Stay tuned.
Trudy Wischemann is a grateful owner of a little piece of land who writes. You can send her your thoughts on landless labor c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.