Trading Trash for the Pearl of Great Price
NOTE: The opinions and commentary expressed in this essay are those of the author and are an exercise of free speech. They do not necessarily represent the views of Free State Project Inc., its Directors, its Officers, or its Participants.
Trading Trash for the Pearl of Great Price
by Nixicat Chesnavich
Just over two years ago, my husband Robert and I bought what was literally once an abandoned crackhouse in a bad neighborhood. Not only were we able to own a home for less than most people pay for a car, but we had this idealistic vision of being a force for good in our city.
We put in long hours of hard work reclaiming a house that by all rights should have been leveled, slowly turning it into a comfortable place to live. We bought a how-to book at Home Depot, and it became our bible for the next few months. We literally removed pieces of broken furniture from the walls and patched the gaping holes. The front yard was turned gradually from an impenetrable mass of shoulder high weeds into a slightly disorganized flower and vegetable garden. Other people in the neighborhood expressed shock that anyone had been able to save this house, and we had done it on a minimal budget and with no idea what we were doing.
We were certain that if we set the example, showed people that it could be done, that others would want to join us. There are around 70 abandoned houses in this and surrounding neighborhoods, and we really felt that young couples could be convinced to do what we had done and own their own homes rather than renting. We planned on going out and picking up the trash on the surrounding streets, to show people who had given up on this part of town that some of its residents still cared.
My plan was especially ambitious. I decided that the best way to help the little welfare-recipients-to-be develop an appreciation for capitalism and entrepreneurialism was to help them participate in it. I was going to start a privately funded urban garden on one of the vacant lots, and recruit local children to work in it for their own benefit. Each child would get a portion of the lot and instruction in how to make some kind of vegetable or flower grow, with the intent of letting them take home food for their families or to help them sell their produce at the local farmers markets. The idea was that they would come to value work, personal property, and their own ability to produce wealth.
I was taking the trash out the other night when I looked around my neighborhood and saw it much as it was two years ago. An abandoned car has sat on the street just a few yards away since spring. Another car hit it a few weeks ago, leaving the scene without reporting the accident. My husband has seen neighbors in a nearby apartment building tossing armfuls of garbage into the alley that we share with them from a third floor window.
And those lovely children I was going to teach to garden? Well, earlier this year, some of them tried to break into our basement through the window while making a candy bar sales round and discovering that we weren't home. Ironically, I believe they were selling candy for either their government school or for the after school program that is supposed to keep them out of such trouble.
And I just got a notice from the city that the "high weeds" in my front yard were a public health hazard, as they could attract rats. The high weeds were broccoli plants that were still producing despite the recent cold weather.
We are tired of playing martyr in a place that does not appreciate us. We have come to realize that the reason this neighborhood is so bad is that the people who live here like it this way. They enjoy living in rubbish-lined streets and depending on tax payer funded programs to save them from themselves. And honestly, it would be entirely unlibertarian of me to try to force them to live differently. Better to be a Porcupine, and leave them alone while I go tend to my business elsewhere.
My friends and acquaintances here in Pittsburgh are mostly either socialists or politically apathetic. They break the laws that don't suit them, depending on their ability to not get caught to protect them from retribution, rather than making a stand for their own freedom. And they seem to like the nanny state that would punish them. Some have even said that they are glad that their activities are illegal, because it would be dangerous if people were allowed to do the things that they choose to do. Of course, they are responsible enough to be allowed to do such things, but no one else would be.
And so I realize that we are already emotionally divorced from this house, this neighborhood, this city. It isn't home any more, only a holding area where we may sit while awaiting the vote that will determine where our home truly lies. The very house that we put so much work and love into is no longer something in which we have any desire to invest my time and money. We will keep it at its current standards, and unload it to someone else without much sentimentality when it comes time to leave here for Free State.
That is how Rob and I have been referring to the state that has yet to be chosen: Free State. Every time we learn of a new affront to our liberty or a new program designed to help us if only we would sign over a little more of our autonomy, we just look at each other and say, "Free State!" We can't wait to get there.
We have begun to conserve resources that we might have spent trying to effect change here in this city, preferring to use it strategically in a place where people want our help. It is all about Free State now. All of our hopes and ambitions, all of our love, all was completely transferred to a place we have never seen before as soon as we set our names down as members.
I am planning my greenhouse for construction in some cold northern state. My coffeeshop will be a great place for some of us transplantees to meet and talk and work on political endeavors. I hope to take on a second job in the next few months to earn more money to eliminate our debts so that we can enter Free State with a completely clean slate and build such a life for ourselves.
We do not belong here anymore. We have both been craving a community of people that have enough courage in their convictions to make a serious gamble on them. I have found that in my fellow Porcupines. I would give my life for this hope that we can carve out a place for ourselves. And I think enough others feel the same way that I do that we have a real shot. Tears flow free down my cheeks when I stop to contemplate what we can accomplish if we only dare.
Perhaps because I was raised by Southern Baptists, much of my metaphor is derived from religious symbolism. I am reminded of the New Testament parable of the man who finds a field with a great treasure in it. He goes out and sells everything that he has, his every possession so that he can go buy that field, and thus possess the pearl of great price.
I feel as though I have been shown such a field, and my liberty is buried in it. My children's future is buried in it. The hope of my nation, of my forefathers, of our entire species rests in a little plot of dirt that we haven't picked out yet, and all we need do is have the courage and the wisdom to reach out for it. How could I make any choice but to give up everything that used to matter to me to claim so great a prize?
And I wonder how many others feel like we do. It is my hope that some who are sympathetic but have not yet committed to join us there in Free State will feel encouraged to do so by my words. And that those who have joined will be persuaded to redouble their efforts to recruit the rest of our future neighbors. We can only do this together, but together, we CAN do it. And we will.