The Hotel Experience

So we stayed Friday and Saturday nights at a hotel. Our friend James flew down to meet us from Seattle and decided it would be fun for all of us to stay together in a room at the Holiday Inn Express. We did have fun, but there was also horror.

Horror at the Holiday Inn, just in time for Halloween? You betchya. There was the kid who got stuck in the elevator, and his panicked screams. There was the television in our room, which replaced the Red Sox game with multiple channels of FoxNews, and the television in the lobby, whose flickering screen showed a painful Game 3 defeat on the eerie, rare call of obstruction. But things really went crazy Sunday morning.

At the end of a better than average continental breakfast, I threw the old “That’s not going in the trash is it?” at the nice woman taking away the huge trays full of scrambled eggs, sausage, gravy, muffins, and pastries. Knowing that most hotels give what’s left of breakfast to the workers at the hotel, I expected that kind of satisfying, non-wasting answer. But no! I hadn’t prepared myself for the worst. The scariest of answers pushed through her lips, warbled through the air, crashed into my inner ear, and sent a signal up the 8th cranial nerve that my brain understood and wished it hadn’t.

“Oh yeah, I have to throw all this out. They don’t let the workers touch it, and we can’t donate it to the homeless shelter a block away.”

Upon immediate, shaking inquiry, I realized management had again produced the canard that there was some sort of liability associated with donating extra food. This is not true! There is only a complete lack of willingness to bother to do anything that is not profitable. I rescued as much of the food as I could carry, with the help of the very friendly worker, on two large trays for the hot food and a bag for the pastries and muffins.

On my way upstairs, the full horror of this place of profit and inhumanity came into clear, ghastly view. One of the workers, Hispanic like all but the front desk staff, entered and without my needing to ask told me what a hard day of work this was. I asked him if they paid him well. He laughed and told me… (wait for it)(wait for it) …they did not! Shocking.

After placing the comestible bounty in our room, I sought out a housekeeper to inform her that there was food-a-plenty for her and the other workers in room 333. She was glad, and she herself brought up the injustice of delicious medium-quality food being thrown away while sometimes hungry, always underpaid people cleaned rooms and smelled the food without ever knowing what was on offer. She didn’t forget to mention that we live in a world where, “hay gente que no tiene para comer.” There are people who don’t have anything to eat.

I sat in the hallway to read while Jesse, Jess, and James slept in the room, but I was feeling shaken by the obviousness, stupidity, and absurdity of the wastefulness, so I got into more detailed conversation with the housekeepers. I learned some things. Most of them are single mothers and immigrants from Mexico. They are paid $8.45/hour, in which time they are expected to clean three rooms. The average nightly rate in each of those rooms? $210, though they charge up to $400/night when they can get away with it. So the housekeepers are paid 1.3% of the revenue from the rooms they clean. (Also, it seems the average tip for hotel housekeepers in the U.S. is less than $1.) A living wage for an adult with one child in San Diego County is $22.83/hour.

Now, obviously, the hotel company has other expenses beyond housekeepers’ wages, but they did make $989 million in profits in 2012, with $2.945 billion in revenue. That’s 34% of revenue as profits. If that ratio holds true at the Holiday Inn Express in downtown San Diego, that’s $71 of profit per room. That’s right, the company’s owners make $71 for every $2.82 they pay the housekeepers who actually do the work. Which means they could increase the wages they pay the housekeepers by $6/hour (to the still insufficient but WAY better $14.45) by reducing their profit per room to $69.

[Jesse: Of course, the owners are surely working 25 times as hard as the entire housekeeping staff combined, and thus deserve so much more. (<—sarcasm)]

Amazingly, their profit per room at this particular Holiday Inn Express is probably even greater. $210 per night is much more than most Holiday Inns, and there’s a Motel 6 a couple blocks away that manages to get by charging only $88/night. So either the Holiday Inn has WAY bigger profit margins, or its use of resources is so inefficient that their expenses are more than twice as great per room as the Motel 6. [Jesse: Maybe when they’re done throwing away pounds and pounds of food they burn all the bedsheets! (<—seriously)] And we know that high wages aren’t driving up their expenses. Actually, they couldn’t if they tried. According to the math here, they could pay the housekeepers $60/hour and still make $54 of profit per room!

One last way to think about the huge gap between corporate profits and worker wages here is this. If the hotel raised the nightly rate on the rooms by $10, to $220, and gave that raise entirely to the housekeepers, their wages would go up to a life-changing $38.45/hour. Yeah.

But the seeds of change are present. The workers are not content. They have not been tricked into thinking their poverty wages are fair. The middle class of this country, with their monthly student loan payments and giant mortgages, might have been convinced that our economic system distributes wealth fairly, that the wealthy have earned their power, whatever. And maybe that’s why the elites in Washington only ever mention the middle class while failing to acknowledge that a lower class must exist for there to be a middle. But tens of millions of workers have to choose between paying the rent and buying actually healthy food, between paying off medical bills and getting their kids clothes that actually fit, or between making enough to live and actually having the time to live. And these workers, who don’t make a living wage, or work three jobs to scrape by, or don’t have a job at all, aren’t hoodwinked.

They know the system is painfully rigged in favor of the wealthy and powerful. This is especially true of those immigrants who didn’t grow up with the constant pro-capitalist, pro-wealthy propaganda of the United States. Their ability to fight back is limited by their immigration status and by the presence of a large unemployed and underemployed labor force desperate for work, but we can fix that. The millions and millions of us who care about each other, about social and economic justice, can change those factors. We can make this a society where every job pays a living wage and everyone willing and able to work has a job.

The market’s not going to do it for us. We have to organize for real progressive change. And I think we have to change the way we think about our responsibilities to each other and the morality of the systems we’re a part of. What if exploiting workers was as socially unacceptable as mugging? What if we felt a responsibility to call people out on participation in these systems (as owners, managers, customers) the way we’d say, “Hey, that’s not cool,” to a friend who pockets a candy bar at the supermarket register? And then we’ve got to act according to those conclusions and convictions ourselves. Maybe, if we’re willing to throw $210, or $88, at a corporation for a place to stay for a night, then that’s a sign that we also have enough to leave a $50 tip for someone who really needs it. Or maybe (especially in a world with CouchSurfing) we shouldn’t stay at Holiday Inns that pay their workers $3 for work that makes the company 25 times that amount.

Maybe someday the scariest thing about Halloween in San Diego will be the guy in Pacific Beach dressed like a bush who jumps out from a tree to scare the people walking from bar to bar.

bushman San Diego

– Adam (w/ Jesse)
from Chula Vista, California

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It’s not just about the money

Money is just the means by which we allocate private property. Private property itself is the thing that allows some to accumulate so much and exclude others from the basic necessities. Its accumulation is the thing that gives the accumulators enough power to shape the system toward their own further gain, at the expense of others.

So we haven’t just given up the use of money. We’ve abandoned private property for ourselves. We still have toothbrushes and we still eat food. In fact, we believe that everyone should have, at a minimum, access to the big 6: water, food, shelter, education, health care, and a significant say in the decisions that affect their lives. The use of these things is not private property. Private property is the ability to control the use of things beyond your own need or use. Private property is the ability to own a second home, and either profit off of that property by charging rent or exclude others from using it entirely with locks and police.

It makes sense to have your own underwear or your own place to live, if you want it. In fact, we’d say that if most of us agree that everyone should have these things, then it doesn’t make sense to charge people money to have or use them.

But our society makes money a necessity to obtain these necessities. And thus we grant to the holders of wealth the ability to make us do what they want in order to obtain those necessities. And generally what they want is for us to do things that get them more private property, or the means for acquiring more private property (money). And so, we have a system where we all work on behalf of those with the most private property. Those who aren’t needed by the holders of wealth are superfluous, and starve to death or die of preventable diseases.

The only reason our world isn’t completely ravaged by this arrangement is that we’ve created some moderately successful counterweights to the dominance of private property. In the first world this includes social safety nets like unemployment insurance, welfare, social security, and guaranteed health insurance (except in the U.S.). These things exist because working class and middle class people have fought for them to counter at least some of the privations and precarity inherent in the private property-based capitalist system. Those in poorer countries haven’t been able to achieve the same security because the centers of wealth aren’t within their governments’ jurisdictions. The working class of Canada could demand higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy to pay for universal health insurance. The people of Senegal can’t demand the same, because most of the people who benefit from the system that keeps them poor live someplace else.

Other defenses against private property’s effects existed before capitalism. There’s the family, where we feel obligated to help each other have decent lives whether we receive anything in return or not. And there’s solidarity. The idea that at least some of the time we stick up for one another. And so, millions of people devote their lives to helping others instead of seeking profit. And hundreds of millions more give at least some of their time, money, or votes to things outside of their self-interest. We know not only that injustice anywhere in a threat to justice everywhere, but that even if it weren’t, we’d want to do something to stop it.

Jesse and I believe that we, as a society and as a species, can strengthen these forces of collective action and solidarity to the point where they become not just a counter to the injustice created by private property, but a focal point for building a better system without it. In order to commit ourselves as fully as possible to that ideal, we’ve given up private property, and the money that goes along with it, for ourselves.

– Adam
from San Diego, California

What’s This Aboot?

Sometimes we write aboot ideas we consider worth spreading and sometimes we write aboot ourselves. Like a selfie snapped in sepia, today’s blog entry is a wonderfully self-indulgent, self-referencing nugget begging to be bumped down with haste to the dark depths of an ever-shrinking scroll-bar. So if you’d like to hear our newly revised thoughts on us, complete with our favorite links to stuff we wrote, then click that little mousey mouse on this here linky link.

Generally, we aim to help you think about (hopefully important) things in ways you might not have before. And we want to share our experiences with you, to whatever degree that’s possible through cyberspace. That’s right, cyberspace. (Later, we can co-troll a chat room and if your screen name is clever enough, we’ll add you to our Buddy List. Oh, teh lulz. We AIM to please.)

Please don’t hesitate to comment or email us with something almost surely more insightful than the above paragraph, eh?

xo,
bigsur

from Jun’s living room in Chula Vista, CA with a photo from Big Sur

Is This Place Revolutionary?

SF Northeast

I look out over the gorgeous, unique, progressive cities of the Bay Area and I wonder, is this place revolutionary? I don’t mean that I’m not sure whether or not the people are plotting an armed uprising against capitalism and/or the state. They’re not, and it probably wouldn’t be a good idea. But, knowing that this area has soundly rejected the Republican Party in favor of the policies and principles of the pro-equality, anti-war, pro-environment, and anti-hate part of the Democrats, I wonder how far it goes.

What portion of the population here supports or would support a fundamental restructuring of our society to end massive global inequality, war profiteering, environmental devastation, mass incarceration, and governance by and for the wealthy and powerful? And what portion is satisfied enough to reject such change, preferring reforms only as long as they’re guaranteed not to challenge their existing privileged and prosperous position? Would they prefer to end poverty or just stop thinking about it, if ending it meant giving up their car, or a third of their income?

I think we’ve encountered some of both in our societal conversations here. But those are anecdotes, with a small sample size and the selection bias of those willing to talk to us, and I don’t think Pew or Gallup or FoxNews has asked people about fundamental societal reconfiguration lately. Any thoughts?

– Adam
written in San Francisco/San Leandro, California
posted in Venice Beach, California

SF City 3 SF Ocean SF Golden Gate

¡Vamos a México!

Silly us! Up til’ now, this blog has lacked any kind of itinerary as to where we’re going. The route we’ve taken so far looks roughly like this.
Screenshot 2013-10-20 at 12.44.00
And now we’re fast-approaching the end of our exploration of English-speaking North America. We’ll stop in San Diego to visit Alain, Andrei, Fabiola, Ismael, Fiore, Jun, and Uncle TJ.

Then it’s Latin America, starting with Mexico, where we’ll likely turn this into a permanently bilingual blog to make it accessible to new friends south of the over-militarized border as well as our older ones in the 49 U.S. states and 10 Canadian provinces we’ve visited in our collective 83 years.

It’s important and telling to note that we won’t have any problem crossing the border and staying as long as we want in Mexico. We won’t be detained in a privately-run, privately-profiting detention center. We won’t have to cross in the middle of the desert to avoid the Border Patrol. Just like every other of the couple dozen times I went to Mexico while living in or visiting San Diego, we’ll walk right in without any check whatsoever.

This is a differential advantage we don’t want. We don’t buy the idea of a “free country” with “free markets” when 11 million people live in fear of deportation, separation from their families, and work place exploitation and workers cannot migrate to where jobs pay better. We build walls to trap people in poverty, then pay them the lowest wages we can get away with and call it free trade. The immigration reform bill currently trapped in the House of Representatives by the pro-business, anti-human being Republican Party has been overshadowed by the ridiculous and damaging shutdown and near-default, but it’s not dead. In fact, it would pass with almost all Democrats and a few reasonable Republicans voting for it if John Boehner would just let it come to a vote.

The current bill won’t solve global labor inequality or make our immigration system entirely humane and rational. In fact, it would further militarize the border and create a windy, almost booby-trapped path to citizenship. But it would end years of living in fear for almost all of the 11 or so million U.S. residents who are no different from us except in their immigration status and place of birth. And it would eventually (in 13+ years) lead to U.S. citizenship for a significant portion of these brothers and sisters of ours.

So, dear readers, friends we’ve met on this journey and friends from back homes, call or write your Representative to show your support for those who share our country but not its freedoms. And stand up for immigrants in your conversations. Tell your mother why you feel solidarity with the janitor from Senegal, the strawberry-picker from Oaxaca, and the would-be 4th-grade teacher stuck cleaning and re-cleaning rich families’ homes in the Bay Area. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And we know, increasingly, that though the powerful and self-interested may try to divide us with imagined threats, playing on our base fears of change and difference, we are ultimately all in everything together and we’re going to build a better world by looking out for each other, not turning on each other.

– Adam
from the patio of the River Inn, Big Sur, CA

El pueblo unido jamás será vencido
(The people united will never be defeated)

El Pueblo Unido wall

Tunisia 2011

Tunisia 2011

Madrid 2011

Madrid 2011

Athens, GA 2011

Athens, GA 2011

Little fish, big fish