I Am Because We Are

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By the time you read this there will be little more than a year to prepare for what I have come to believe will be the social equivalent of a worldwide earthquake. The exact date and time of this earthquake is already known--the stroke of midnight, December 31, 1999. What we don't know is where the earthquake will fall on the Richter scale. Will it just be a little hiccup, barely noticeable as the world wakes up on the morning of January 1, 2000, as some knowledgeable people of goodwill predict? Or will it be cataclysmic, causinggenuine hardship to millions around the world, as increasing numbers ofothers are now saying?

This guide hopes for the best while planning for the worst. We have cometo believe those who say that the world's energy, transportation, food,banking and communications systems, and other basic infrastructure are sothoroughly dependent on interlinked computer networks and embedded computerchips that there is no way we can fix all of them in time to avoid somedisruption. We hope they are wrong, and that we look foolish whenY2K passes.

National Public Radio reported in October 1998 that a Harris Poll ofSilicon Valley computer programmers and engineers found that over 60 percentof them anticipate 'serious impacts' as a result of Y2K, 62 percentwill avoid air travel at the turn of the century, 20 percent of them planto withdraw all their money from their savings accounts and one in 12 plansto move to safer quarters before January 1, 2000. On October 15, 1998, TheNew York Times reported that '10 percent of the nation's top executivesare stock-piling canned goods, buying generators and even purchasing handguns,' because they are concerned that 'the nation's computerinfrastructure will go on the fritz.' Senator Robert Bennett, chairmanof the Senate's Special Committee on the Year 2000 Problem, said recently,'I cannot be optimistic and I am generally concerned. It's clear wecan't solve the whole problem. Pay attention to the things that are vulnerablein your life and make contingency plans.'

The Y2K Citizen's Action Guide doesn't engage in the debate overwhether or not to be concerned about Y2K. The following pages focus insteadon what you can do to prepare for possible disruptions; as a public citizen,as a member of a neighborhood, as a householder, and as an individual. Theguide is filled with checklists and inventories to help you take stock ofyour assets and your liabilities, the skills and supplies you have, andthose that you need, to help you and others get through a crisis. It showsyou how to bring your neighbors together, how to help them face the issue,and how to get them working together. And it offers ideas and guidelinesfor communicating with public officials and others who need to be addressingY2K in their spheres of influence. The operative watchwords are: 'Beprepared'

As we prepare for Y2K, something surprising and unexpected and quitewonderful is going to happen. We're going to get to know our neighbors.Possibly for the first time in our lives, we will begin to know what itmeans to live in real community. Most Americans these days live in networks,not communities. We tend to work, study and hang out with people who arelike ourselves. We rarely associate with people who are not similar to usin terms of education, income, age, race, physical characteristics, andworldview. We put our old people in nursing homes and our young ones inday-care centers. Lawbreakers are kept behind bars and the physically disabledand the mentally ill are kept out of sight. We pay trained service personnelto handle these 'others' for us so we can get on with our careersand our personal growth.

Y2K is an opportunity to change all this. Y2K is the excuse we've beenwaiting for to stop making so many compromises in how we know we should,and want to, live our lives. Y2K is our opportunity to stop our pollutingand wasteful practices, and start living more sustainable, environmentallyfriendly lives. Y2K is the conversational gambit that can lead to discussionsthat begin to knit webs of affiliation, care, and mutual support. Y2K canbring a family feeling throughout the community.

Perhaps, through the conversations started among neighbors because ofY2K, some day our children will come to know the experience of communityconveyed by this common phrase of the Xhosa people of southern Africa: 'Iam because we are.'

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