The Jobless Blues
– Michael Hulter
Nestled in the vibrant Willamette valley just a hundred miles from Portland, we find the endearing and amiable experience of Eugene, Oregon. Neither urban nor rural, Eugene houses a population which manages to be neither isolated nor overwhelmed. This population in turn creates and enables a thriving community experience which is readily available to those willing to seek it out. As we weather this shifting economic landscape, (the economic landscape seems to be following Eugene’s weather patterns!) we return to certain community rituals which revive faith in our fellow man and remind us that we may be struggling but we aren’t alone. Still rooting for the ducks, but from the couch instead of at Autzen Stadium, and no longer in HD. Or we still go to Saturday Market, we just get a loaf of bread instead of a sandwich.
The most obvious and extreme experience of shared purpose is found in the Duck Fans who set records with 24 consecutive sellouts in Autzen’s 54,000 seat house. (that’s over a million tickets) The success of Duck Sports brings to mind Ancient Rome’s way of coping with its own economic slump. The Colosseum and its gladiator sports served as a diversion and an outlet for the angst of the suffering lower class. Considering the fate of Rome, this concept gives us cause to pause and ponder, but modern football focuses on the redemptive experience of teamwork and discipline, reinforcing the ideals that our nation was built on, rather than the gladiator tradition of blood and anarchy.
Ten blocks west we find another expression of community through shared labor: Saturday Market. Founded by Lotte Streisenger in 1970, 8th and Willamette hosts America’s oldest weekly open air crafts market. Starting with a mere 29 vendors, the market has grown to house on average 300 vendors per market. This setting is more reminiscent of Ancient Greece rebounding from its own recession with a revival of the arts. This happened again with the rennaisance as Western Europe clawed its way out of the dark ages. I suppose Saturday Market was Eugene clawing its way out of the sixties.
“The Market was once the object of some resentment because it represented a deviation from the usual form of retail merchandising in the U.S. It did and does indeed, and we think this is one of the Market’s greatest strengths. Here you get to meet the person who made the object you are buying. You can find out how she or he made it, you can bargain, or perhaps put in a special order. It is a totally different shopping experience than in the usual supermarket or department store, and most people, once they get used to it, really like it.” (Lotte Streisenger, Market Founder and advocate, 1974)
Eugene truly is a rare cross section of humanity. Its diverse gatherings are one expression of rarity, but if we zoom in a bit more and examine individuals running privately owned businesses, we find surprisingly similar ideals and philosophies. One example is Glory Bee Foods, named for the founder Dick Turanski’s faith in God. Family owned and operated, they are very straightforward about what they think has brought them success and longevity: “Our unique relationship with you is why we exist.” Family, Faith, and Fellowship are the standards that this local business has set, and it would be folly not to follow.
What if we choose to avoid these ideals? What if isolation and alienation are too deeply ingrained in us, or too newly emphasized by prolonged unemployment, foreclosure or other economic hardship? Oregon has a suicide rate 35% higher than the national average; our State seems to have an aggravated reaction to the nation’s economic instability. The strongest tool of prevention is awareness, and perhaps the dispossesed who hasn’t left the living room in two years needs a nudge. Eugene is a thriving network of micro-communities, maybe its time to try and expand our respective ones and invite the neighbor to a Duck game.