Pick Up America found Laura along the route in southern Indiana during the second year, and was lucky to incubate such a talented, young mind with the idea of picking up trash across the country. She breaks down why Americans are such consumers and the decision to break free of the corporate illusion of wealth and security, which ultimately, led her to a better way of living.
It’s been said that I’m the exception to the rule. People across America often express an interest in joining our campaign, and then life gets in the way. The long-term Pick Up Artists see it all the time. Maybe I was just lucky that I met them in the early years of the trip, with only 1 year of college left for me to complete. A lucky coincidence of sorts. I’m certainly not trying to boast that I’m the queen of commitment, but regardless, I said I would come. I came. Simple.
Too many times I’ve seen people compromise between their desires and perceived reality. We often try to make our decisions logically, grounded in comfort. And this applies to more than just whether or not you can drop everything and jump on a bus for a few months. I’ve often heard the phrase “Life is what you make it,” and while I agree, that kitschy saying sure could use some expansion. Life is what you make it, but an awful lot of other forces are pushing on it, and they’re pushing on you too.
Today, the largest, heaviest force of all is corporate capitalism. Through the course of Pick Up America, I’ve become very aware of the presence of corporations in the modern U.S, and the breadth of their reach is concerning to say the least. Corporations dominate our landscapes, our media, our thoughts, and our habits. They teach us that the products they invented have always been essential. They build the suburbs that isolate us from true community and sell us not only the stuff to fill them with, but the idea that wealth is a thing to be hoarded and displayed. Of course the physical byproduct of all of this is the litter we find on the side of the road, but there’s garbage in our heads as well.
With the corporation as the role model, we learn nothing of personal responsibility. Extract, sell, discard, and repeat. We use all this talk of the economy and jobs and paying back debt as an excuse not to deal with the real issues. It’s been going on for so long that we don’t have a collective memory of any other way. We are caged in by the notion that money makes the world go round. Brands have taken the place of trusted neighbors filling a vital, local role. And more than that, we’ve been sold on the idea that being a consumer with options is what it means to really be free. Who wouldn’t want to be able to have anything they want whenever they want it, provided they have the cash? But it doesn’t have to be that way. You decide. And when you purposefully separate from that ideology, it’s amazing what you can find.
The current university system in place encourages students to graduate quickly and then line up for corporate positions in order to pay off all the debt they accumulated over the past four years. We’re just another commodity in demand, another well-placed gear ensuring a functioning economy. As a film student, I’ve seen first hand how many folks are willing to jump into an industry without considering the role in society that it plays, or what values it supports.
In the world of entertainment, distracting from reality is the name of the game. Worth is shown to be gained from aesthetics, it takes obscene amounts of money to produce decent content, and the people at the top make decisions for the masses. This is not a good model for developing ethics in an individual, and that’s a pretty tame example compared to the teachings of the advertising or banking industries.
By choosing to work for Pick Up America instead of navigating the corporate sphere or letting it rule my worldview, I’m taking a stand. Money isn’t the underlying factor in how I structure my life anymore. I’m attempting to discard my dependence on centralized currency in favor of a more harmonic existence with my surroundings. And while this will likely be a source of discomfort in the near future, it must be done. I believe that the human experience is about following your passions, learning from one another, and treating the earth with the utmost care.
I know that I can put these values first and still get by, because I’ve done so for the past five months. I wake up in a room full of friends every day, and I see that I don’t have to live in a big, plush home to be joyful. I spend most of my time working for the greater good, but I still find myself with a full belly every evening. I buy nothing new, and still I have everything that I need. Becoming part of the machine is not the only way to make a living, and this trip verifies it. It has been an honor, a pleasure, and often a challenge to live with so many people in such a small space and still be productive, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to learn how. It’s a skill that our ancestors understood well that doesn’t have as much weight these days. At least for now. But rapid change is underway, and we just might need it again before too long.
I’m fiercely thankful for the fact that after this journey ends, I can make my way back to my home: a place that embraces me and my radical leanings, where I can roll up my sleeves and keep up the dirty work. When I think about the future, my eyes glaze over with images of gardens, co-ops, harvest festivals, protests, craft nights, bicycles, and deep conversations with dear friends. It hasn’t been easy for me to be away from my perfect little world in southern Indiana all this time, but I know that the experience here has colored my life in so many beautiful shades, that I would never want it any other way.
You know, my first thought upon meeting Pick Up America was, “How lucky am I, to have crossed paths with these crazy kids?” and here at the end of the voyage, I stand by that statement. I have so much love for this environmental movement, this social revolution, that I feel full of purpose every day. If anyone wants to try and sell me a world other than the one I’ve come to discover, just try me. I ain’t buyin’ it.