I Am Because We Are

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.’

Eric Utne is founder and editor-in-chief of
Utne Reader.

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