We Beat Walmart

Last year, when Walmart threatened to build a super center in downtown Sarasota, many said it was a done deal. Based on the number of citizens that seemed to completely acquiesce to the idea and liked the idea of the convenience it would offer whenever they got a 2am craving for a tub of gummi bears, several months later, the fight still goes on.

After whizzing through the planning board, it seemed for awhile that the Walmart mega-store would be built without a hitch. The citizens, however, had other plans. Led by former mayor Kelly Kirshner and other residents of the Alta Vista neighborhood that lines the disputed property, an appeal was filed stating that the planning board misinterpreted the zoning and that the proposed 97,000 foot store was not appropriate for the property.

The appeal process was extended to a second meeting due to the number of citizens wanting to weigh in on the project. And of course I was one of them.

Although the argument put forth by Walmart in the first week was that Walmart isn’t a department store, which is prohibited in the zoning code, they still cannot prove how one store is a shopping center. I stated as such and added that Sarasota has been designed to foster individuality, cultivate creativity, and support entrepreneurialism, all important values that will be forever lost should this shopping center become one store.

I also added that with franchises like Whole Foods, Brooks Brother, Trader Joe’s, and the upcoming P.F. Chang’s, Sarasota is no slouch, and that with as much opportunity offered by the location in question, we need not roll over on our backs and spread our legs for the first suitor that comes along. I’ve never had a gavel banged at me before.

After over three hours of comments by members of the Sarasota community, it seemed that, among those that showed up for the special meeting, the population is largely against it. There were some who liked the idea do a Walmart in the location, but it was largely due to the fact that the vacated storefronts are an eyesore. Perhaps the owner of the property shouldn’t have cut the former tenants leases short until Walmart was actually approved.

The city, the appellants, and Walmart’s lawyer were each given time for rebuttals, and the commissioners asked some questions for clarification. Willie Shaw motioned to decline the site plan with a second by Terry Turner. I don’t know who cast the third vote, but on Tuesday, February 26 at roughly 10:30pm, we beat Walmart, and I can’t even describe how good that feels

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One Store Does Not a Shopping Center Make

Last Tuesday at City Hall, musicians and music lovers filled the city commission chambers to provide a united voice against the enforcement of the city’s controversial sound ordinance and outdoor music ban. Mayor Suzanne Atwell opened the second part of the day’s commission meeting by announcing that the commission had agreed unanimously in the earlier session to not enforce the ban, an announcement met with applause by the tightly packed group. Those who had signed up to speak on the issue thanked the commission for their decision, and reminded them of how vital music is to a community wishing to thrive. Though some left the meeting afterward, the majority of the participants remained, awaiting the appeal to Walmart’s inclusion in the downtown infrastructure.

Walmart’s legal representative began his argument by stating that the electronic appeal was illegitimate and that none of the appellants qualified as aggrieved, asking that the public hearing be dismissed. After the commissioners let the crickets chirp for a little while, possibly in fear of being lynched by the crowd that had gathered, City Attorney Robert Fournier waved off Walmart’s attempt at an easy out, and encouraged their lawyer to continue.

Five different representatives, the architect, engineer, et al, shared the work that had been done by Walmart to fit into what they thought was the proper zoning. I have to admit that it was impressive. They do very good work. Which is why I don’t mind asking them to do more.

During the rebuttal, the appellants’ lawyer was sure to point out, through a roundabout lawyer’s tactic, that none of the testimony given by Walmart’s squad of professionals had anything to do with the zoning of the property at hand. Although they had shared the work they had done, citing sustainability issues, areas screened with concrete, and how they hoped to make the gargantuan structure more aesthetically pleasing through the addition of foliage, knee walls, and places for murals, the Walmart team still did nothing to prove how their structure was suitable for a CSCN (Commercial Shopping Center Neighborhood) zoning.

Walmart did make many appeals to the idea that the worlds largest department store was not truly a department store, since that type of use is prohibited, and since Walmart doesn’t actually man each of its many departments with qualified individuals, such as a Macy’s or Dillard’s. The zoning does allow for a hardware store, a convenient store, a clothing store, and a variety of other uses, each confined to a footprint of less than thirty thousand square feet. Walmart’s response is to offer all of those smaller entities under one ninety-six thousand square foot roof.

Yet although they may attempt to use tricks of semantics to prove that Walmart is not a department store, the argument for its ability to conform to the required zoning still has one major flaw. Based upon the plans they offered, it is, in no way, shape, or form, a shopping center.

A shopping center consists of a variety of stores to accommodate the multiple needs of the neighborhood. Shopping centers not only provide for the needs of the consumer, but also the artisan and the entrepreneur. A single store is not a shopping center, regardless of how many departments, I mean “sections,” the store offers.

Should Walmart be allowed to create their monolithic entity of unbridled consumption in this area that has been designated as a shopping center for the last several decades, the property will lose its ability to offer any entrepreneurial ventures, small businesses, or locally owned stores. It will certainly be commercial, but will never again be a shopping center, and will never again be able to fully serve the neighborhood. The designated zoning was created because Sarasotans have historically cared about such things as independence, individuality, and entrepreneurialism. If we care about these aspects of our community, if we wish to respect the foresight of those who have gone before us, we must realize that a Walmart superstore is not an appropriate fit for this location.

That is not to say that Walmart cannot have a presence there, but they are going to have to be much more creative and truly care about what will benefit the neighborhood. Like the Neighborhood Market recently opened on 41 and Myrtle, Walmart has been expanding its services in order to fit into smaller niches and corner a bigger share of whatever possible market they are able to. If Walmart wishes to infiltrate every last nook and cranny of American society, we, as the people that comprise that society, must ensure that our needs are being met in the process. Basically, if Walmart wants to come play in our sandbox, they are going to have to build a much more suitable sandcastle.

The commission meeting adjourned after the appellants made their case. But with 44 citizens signed up to chime in with their thoughts on the decision to let Walmart build in spite of the zoning, Mayor Atwell stated that the hearing would be continued in a special session on Tuesday, February 26 at 6pm. Come take part in participatory democracy and let your voice be heard.

Inventorying Morality

It’s been awhile since I’ve addressed the steps of the Unbroken Path. According to the outline I put together, I’ve been sort of stuck on the Searching Fearless Moral Inventory of the 12 Step program. I’ve been hesitant to address it fully for a couple of reasons, but I figure I’d better get moving on because I’ve got a lot of things to do and really don’t want to get bogged down on it.

I’ve talked to some people who have overcome addictions, and a few of them really scorn the 12 Step program citing that acknowledging one’s self as an addict sets up a pattern whereby we are continually shamed due to the habit’s we have gained as a result of our defense against the insane world we live in. Ok, so I’m paraphrasing that a bit because it sort of represents what I believe. Every time I have labeled myself as an addict, I have felt it to be largely disempowering, and I spent an inordinate amount of energy disparaging myself for my weaknesses, which usually makes me succumb to a fuller onslaught of whatever I feel that I am addicted to.

Although I have struggled with tobacco addiction mostly, and at times have chided myself for being too much of a pothead, I think that my biggest addiction, like most people’s, is my ego. I realize that tobacco, especially industrialized tobacco, has its share of chemically addictive properties, I find that it is often my attachment to the character I’ve played in the past, and his penchant for reckless behavior and selfishness, that most hinders my living up to the character I would most like to be. In other words, I don’t push my weaknesses off on substances, but recognize that I, more often than I’d like to admit, use those substances to keep myself from engaging in more beneficial activities.

For all of the years I have labeled myself as an addict, I beat myself up pretty bad for it, so much so that I have often found myself feeling as if I don’t deserve anything better. But it’s not just the substance abuse that brings this attachment to being less than I am capable of. It is also the remembrance of all of the times I have fallen short, the times I did not do my best, the times I did not live up to my full potential, and the times I have operated out of the lower stages of consciousness. It is the reminder of those times and the fallible human being that has muddled his way through them, that have historically kept me from rising to the heights that I imagine. Basically, I’m addicted to my self, or at least the memory set that I call self.

When I took off to write The Rucksack Letters, and found myself searching for life’s greater meaning, I heard many mention that on an expedition such as mine there is a tendency to succumb to a “Christ complex.” Combined with my evangelical upbringing and the dodgy dogmas and doctrines that compelled me to weed through the religion of my youth, it’s easy for me to admit that I’ve felt a compulsion toward this complex. I’ve even been told on a number of occasions that I resemble Jesus, not only for my long hair and occasional facial hair, but also for my heart.

Being Christlike is scary. Not only because of the way that it ended for the man who inspired the movement, but for the fear of what I might leave behind should I give myself over fully to this higher consciousness. Like most people, I think I freak myself out over both the possibility of missing out on fulfilling some of the fantasies I’ve conjured in my head over the years, and the fear of failing in my endeavor for greatness.

I think sometimes I act like Bill Murray’s character in What About Bob? During his initial interview with Richard Dreyfuss’ psychiatrist, Bob fakes Turrette’s Syndrome and a heart attack under the supposition that if he fakes them, he won’t get them. Sometimes I feel as though I intentionally fall short so that I can own my own failure instead of having it drag me down against my will. Sometimes it feels as though tending to my own addictions is the only control that I have.

As I’ve considered this step over the last couple of months, I’ve felt that, beyond the tempestuous substances that steal the moments that could otherwise be used for peace and productivity, it is this addiction to fear that has done the most detriment, both to myself and to my relationships. Because I have spent so much energy settling for less instead of striving for better, I often find myself caught in this pattern of being less than I am able and giving less than I am capable.

Perhaps it has taken me so long to write about this step because I have not wanted to face the shame for the many people I have let down. For my family, my friends, and whatever celestial beings are hovering around hoping that I would find my way though I continue to wander around in a hazy oblivion of self sabotage, I am deeply sorry for my shortcomings. Recognizing my patterns, I am making a much more concerted effort to realize the vicious cycle when it begins at the point of thought, and stop it with the understanding that we are all deserving of more than we have allowed ourselves in the past.

For those that I’ve hurt in the past, I know that forgiveness is there for me, and perhaps it is that knowledge that has helped to perpetuate my acting upon behaviors that would inspire such forgiveness. However, for forgiveness to truly have power, I realize that I must forgive myself, and with that forgiveness comes the possibility to move beyond the role of wretched sinner I have played upon so many occasions. Although I am most indubitably an addict, I know that it is within me to be an overcomer, and to live a life of much less drama than I have known in times past. Thus, we are all reborn.

Hoping to Stick Around for Awhile

I went to a funeral yesterday at the Sarasota National Cemetery for a friend of the family that finally succumbed to her fight with cancer. I’ve never been really big on funerals, especially Baptist ones where they’re inclined to talk about how I need to be “saved.” However, in spite of the altar call, it was oddly warming to celebrate a life that touched so many.

As I stood there listening to what family and friends had to say about Sharon Monteau, I imagined for a moment what would be said at my funeral. Considering what people say about me now, I imagine I’d have some people with some good things to say. Nevertheless, I think I’ll just continue accepting whatever praises or scorn come with life as I keep moving through it and enjoying the process of living.

Considering how well my guardian angels have guarded me against my own life-on-the-edge folly, I’m pretty sure that there’s a lot that I’ve still got left to do. Perhaps that’s why I have so many unfinished projects, like it’s some subconscious hope that the Grim Reaper will continue to let me play for awhile, even if it’s just for the entertainment value for those who watch on from the celestial realms. Yet I think that my life provides its own merit, and I intend to live each day as if it were my last.

Each day always brings a hearty helping of beautiful banality and the richness of unexpected delights. Although I’m not always as successful in my endeavors as I’d like to be, as if either I’m trying to catch up with the world or the world is trying to catch up with me, I still manage to usually go to be fulfilled and wake up with plenty of purpose. So, if it’s up to me, I think I’ll keep sticking around awhile to ensure that the memories I create for myself and others bring more smiles than frowns, and that at the end of it all, the world will be a better place for my having been here.

Acclimating to My New Life

I don’t imagine I will ever lead a life deemed “ordinary,” however, I do seem to be getting closer. While my current residence is again temporary, it offers no necessary end date and is reliant only upon my desire to continue the job required as caretaker. The owner and I have no legitimate contract, not even a well-established agreement. However, I feel that as long as I’m living here, I should be of service, and since we have outlined his vision for the space, I feel that it is my duty to take the necessary steps to bring that vision into manifestation.
I prepared my living and working quarters a few weeks ago and moved in full time two days ago. In the loft of the warehouse, next to the nursery, I have a private bedroom, freshly painted, and a crudely carpeted living room complete with a 4×8 white board and writing table, which I am currently putting to good use. The living area looks down upon the rest of the warehouse, where the more daunting work awaits. This space has been used for a myriad of things over the years and still holds remnants of each of its endeavors. The task before me is to clear the space of this debris and help turn it into a community “third place.”
The plan is to install a climbing wall along one of the walls, open up a sort of raw/vegan cafe, and use the rest of the area for a variety of community events, including classes, performances, and other repurposing projects. Creating a space with such flexibility also requires some economic flexibility, more than is offered through the Federal Reserve Bank alone. In order to get the most value out of the space and give the most value to the community, each of the operations offered through what I have come to call “The Flow Factory” will come with a choice of currency, allowing participants the opportunity to use money if they like, but also Time Dollars, Growbucks, and bartering if those work better.
I call it The Flow Factory for two reasons. One, flow denotes the movement of currency, and by opening up to a variety of currencies, we will be more able to continue operations regardless of the economic stagnation that might come with a faltering single currency. Also, Flow is that state of optimal enjoyment written about by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, where a person gets actively involved in their unique skills and talents, getting into that zone where time, worry, and ego dissipate as the person completely engages with what they are doing. It is our hope to create more opportunities for more people to get into that flow in order to help cultivate a community of people living the highest possible version of their lives.
To get to that point, I’ve got a lot of cleaning to do.

Interview Preparation

I have an interview scheduled today for 5:30 on Momma J Speaks. I texted Momma J this morning and she gave me a little pre-interview warm up. I thought I´d share my answers with you. I hope you listen in to the show.

Me: This is Steve McAllister. Misha set me up with an interview today, but I can’t make it up physically. Can you Skype? 8:07 AM

Momma J: Aww… its all in Divine Order-:-) will have to check With head engineer of Studio s…if not the next best thing is Call-In.:-) 9:45 AM

Me: I can probably work that out. I’ll just have to find a phone to use. I’m a bit off grid if you haven’t heard. 9:47 AM

Momma J: Yes. Which is interesting.:-) yet you work correct? Your not just a typical homeless Guy or anything…cause from what I understand you give back to the community often…right?? 🙂 9:49 AM

Me: Oh, I work quite a lot 9:52 AM

Momma J: What made you decide to get off the grid? What had you done previously? 🙂 9:54 AM

Momma J: Did you feel it to be a “calling” or just an “experience ” you wanted to choose?:-) 9:55 AM

Me: It started in 2001 when I decided to hitchhike across the states to write The Rucksack Letters. 10:01 AM

Me: With the economic recession, the war against the homeless, and this country’s insatiable consumption, I guess it felt like a calling. I saw what needed to be done and knew I was the only dude that could do it. 10:02 AM

Me: But now I’m discovering that I’m not the only one. 10:03 AM

Momma J: Had you participated with Occupy Movement at all??:-) 10:04 AM

Me: A little, but I didn’t feel it was a good use of my energy to protest what is. I want to create what should be. 10:05 AM

Momma J: Amen to That Brother!:-) So you have a creative background correct? Or Had you been a professional executive at one time? I detect a spiritual or universal awareness.:-) Where did it initiate from? 10:08 AM

Me: I have a creative and caregiver background. Written a few books, produced a few videos, written a few songs. The spiritual awareness came from transcending my ego based traditions and opening up to a greater understanding of what Is. 10:12 AM

Momma J: Fascinating … 🙂 And family? Do they support and understand what your doing and why? Are you doing this all on your own with just the people u are connected Or do you also have a life partner and offspring to assist in your endeavors?? 🙂 10:20 AM

Me: My family supports, or at least doesn’t deride, but I’m not sure they understand. I got divorced in 2011. We didn’t have any kids and the separation helped enable me to continue the vision I’d had all those years earlier. Since I decided to cultivate my community instead of travel like before, I’m never alone. Though I may not get, or ask for, direct support from my bio family, it’s always there in my extended family of humans and other living things. 10:38 AM

Momma J: Beautiful! 🙂 10:47 AM

Momma J: Such a Precious Soul you are and all of Humanity is however most are unaware. And that is where I am wanted to do the work to create that along with many other positive life affirming possibilities. 🙂 10:49 AM

Momma J: Do you get donations from events? What is your view on the U.S. dollar, foreign currencies and the gold backing that will be occurring in near future??:-) 11:07 AM

Me: The way I’m structuring the Flow Factory is through a truer sense of free market economics. If someone wants to participate in whatever activities and negotiations we offer, they can use Federal Reserve Notes, but they can also use Time Dollars through the Common Wealth Time Bank or Growbucks through GrowtoGive.com. We also barter and encourage the Gift Economy to be the highest form of economic game playing. In the Gift Economy, the abundance is just too great to be accounted for. However, until humanity opens up to that and embraces the fullness of their Identity, we can play these other educational games like dollars, hours, and other shiny things. They’re all just shared delusions. The tragedy of our time is that we give our beliefs so much control over us. The promise of our time is that we no longer really have to. The question of our time is if we are willing to accept our role as cocreators. 11:31 AM

Momma J: Gift Economy? Hmm. Ok so what services or products be able to get if perhaps I was using my gifts like being a massage therapist or spiritual facilitator or online radio personality be able to give and receive?? 11:46 AM

Me: Time dollars are excellent for things like that, as well as Growbucks. With those, there are a variety of services and products that you can cash them in for. They don’t really cover fossil fuels since the Federal Reserve Bank has a monopoly on that market, and it has the potential to work fine for limited resources like that. However, to even attent to account for the limitless nature of human ingenuity, creativity, compassion, and healing, not to forget the abundance of the planet from which we are all created, we really need to start developing a more open market than the myopic greed of corporate America and its make-the-rules-up-as-you-go destructivity. We are capable of so much better than that. We need only to realize our true value, both individually and collectively. 12:46 PM

Momma J: Skype can be used to call in. However the video wont come up just audio.:-) 2:28 PM
Me: No worries. I´ve got a phone coming. I put it out on Facebook and got three offers. I gots some good people. 3:34 PM

Steve McAllister is the author of The Rucksack Letters and How to Survive an Estralarian Mind Meld. He posts regularly at InkenSoul.com and is currently the Director of Operational Development for the Common Wealth Time Bank in Sarasota, Florida. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

First Super Bowl Since 2005

After getting my living space set up at the Flow Factory, I spent the last nine days cat sitting at Gail’s in Laurel Park. She’s got a great second story villa with vaulted ceilings and a front porch that feels like a tree fort. I feel fortunate to have cared for the cats quite a few times over the last year as each one has been somehow transformational.

To celebrate my last night before officially moving into my new living space and accompanying lifestyle change, I’m going to watch my first Super Bowl since 2005. I’ve sometimes watched the commercials online the following day, but professional sports has never held any kind of interest for me. Nevertheless, I do appreciate free beer and food, and I wanted to share a new dish.

I emancipated a bag of golden potatoes last week, and got some hot peppers from the gleaning. For working at Green Door Organics, I got a red pepper, cilantro, and tomatoes. With the onion I snagged from the Factory and a bit of Gail’s garlic, it’s really quite good.

I also emancipated some strawberries, and juiced them for lunch with the blueberries, apple, orange, and lime I got from Green Door, and some kale and collards I got from gleaning. I’m about three days into a vegetarian diet, but I don’t think I’ll be able to pass up wings tonight. Fortunately, I’m going gleaning again in the morning and move into the Factory after noon.