The Common Good
March-April 1995

What Goes Around Comes Around

by Rachel Johnson, Aaron McCarroll Gallegos | March-April 1995


A recent article in The New York Times reported that environmental
consciousness and community trust in Portland, Oregon, can now
be found in the form of a yellow ...

A recent article in The New York Times reported that environmental consciousness and community trust in Portland, Oregon, can now be found in the form of a yellow bicycle. Inspired by a documentary about life in Holland, Joe Keating, director of the United Com-munity Action Network, and a friend started a bike project. Thanks to their ingenuity, people of all ages can be seen pedaling about the streets of Portland on yellow bicycles with signs that say, "Free community bike. Please return to a major street for others to reuse. Use at your own risk."

The bike project's beginning was aided by a non-profit center that teaches children the art of bicycle maintenance. The children helped reconstruct 10 bikes that were acquired by rummaging through neighborhood garages. The project has renewed interest in non-polluting forms of transportation and led to inquiries on how to launch similar bike projects in other cities.

Not one community bike has been stolen since the outset of the project in November 1994. In Portland, the yellow bicycle has become a symbol of civic responsibility. The question remains as to whether such a project could flourish in cities where yellow bicycles-and examples of community trust-seem few and far between.

Fashion Statements

Business Ethics magazine reports that Robert Dunn, formerly vice president for corporate affairs at Levi Strauss & Co., was named president and CEO of Business for Social Responsibility, an advocacy group that promotes socially responsible business. "What has given me the greatest pleasure in my position at Levi Strauss is the opportunity to work on issues of responsible business practices," Dunn was quoted as saying when he left the company.

Yet not everyone would agree that Levi Strauss has done very well in that area. Fuerza Unida, an organization formed by Latina seamstresses who were laid off by Levi Strauss nearly five years ago, has been doing its own work to hold the company to a standard of responsible business practices (see "Groundswell," September-October 1993).

While continuing a boycott of Levi's products, members of the organization also kept a round-the-clock presence at the front gates of the company for two weeks this fall, demanding fair compensation for the hardships caused by the massive layoff and the work-related injuries some of them continue to suffer from. "We are very strong women who are tired of witnessing human rights violations by multinational corporations like Levi Strauss," said Irene Reyna, a coordinator of Fuerza Unida.

Kids These Days

Newt Gingrich hosted a screening of the 1938 movie Boys Town to build support for the GOP's "Personal Res-ponsibility Act," which proposes using orphanages as a way to deal with child poverty. On the same day, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala presented figures that showed the Republicans' plan would only pay for orphanages for a few thousand children while taking away benefits from five million of them.

Shalala said, "The solution is not to send children to orphanages, it's to send their parents to work."

Meanwhile, Ms. magazine cited a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities study stating that the funds spent on the federal savings and loan bailout could finance Aid to Families with Dependent Children in all 50 states for five years.

BRIEFLY NOTED

On December 3, the Bhopal Gas Affected Women's Industrial Organization created a mock graveyard in Bhopal, India, to mark the 10th anniversary of the Union Carbide gas leak that was responsible for at least 7,000 deaths. Though Union Carbide agreed to pay more than $470 million in damages, the money has been tied up in legal appeals. Less than one-fifth of the 600,000 claims have been settled.

Those affected by the gas leak claim that they are being pressured to accept minimum settlements. "Everybody is exploiting the gas victims," said activist Abdul Jabbar in The Christian Science Monitor. "Whether it is the state government, or the claims courts, or the judges, or the doctors."

Newsweek recently reported that several experts in feng shui, the Chinese art concerned with the harmonious placement of constructed objects in nature, and a group of Native Americans visited the troubled Denver International Airport to offer their spiritual prognosis of its woes. They found the airport to be filled with "images of death and grief." That's in addition to the failure of the multimillion-dollar luggage system that has delayed the airport opening for more than a year.

As both the pastor of a Hungarian Reformed Church and the mortician of a small village in Serbia, Janos Kettos engineered a masterful plan to protect the lives of his congregation. In the span of a few months, Kettos smuggled 200 members of his church across the border into Hungary by pronouncing them dead and transporting them in coffins. Amid the conflict in Serbia, these transactions went relatively unnoticed; however, just after he had made his final delivery, word reached him that suspicions had arisen. Kettos then abandoned the hearse that had served him so well and escaped on foot to join his community.

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