Tuesday, April 23, 2013 2:53 PM
The end of Keystone XL's public comment period won't stop climate activists from fighting the pipeline.
This article originally appeared at Common Dreams and is licensed under Creative Commons.
The 45-day period for public comment on the State Department's draft supplementary environmental impact statement (SEIS) for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline comes to end on Monday.
As groups opposed to the project wrapped up campaigns urging their members to write, call and otherwise voice their objections to the State Department's draft, the broader climate movement is also gearing up for the possible next stage in their protracted fight against the project. And with so much believed to be at stake, the movement hopes to leverage its human energy, financial muscle, and political acuity to fight back against the full court press of the fossil fuel industry and their army of lobbyists in Washington.
Despite last month's dramatic tar sands spill in Mayflower, Arkansas—which many activists point to as visual proof of the damage tar sands is capable of—there have been no distinct signals from the White House that President Obama is leaning towards rejection of the pipeline.
As BusinessWeek reports, the anti-Keystone movement has a few deep pockets in addition to the boisterous and committed activism coming from youth-fueled groups like Tar Sands Blockade, the growing and nimble 350.org, and more traditional environmental groups like Sierra Club and NRDC.
Led by Tom Steyer, the founder of hedge fund Farallon Capital Management LLC, a group of wealthy Democratic donors are using their money and status to "draw a line" against the pipeline.
Betsy Taylor, a climate activist who worked for Obama’s election and then was arrested outside the White House protesting the pipeline, said the group of about 100 Democratic contributors and activists, including [Susie Tompkins Buell, who founded clothing maker Esprit], aims to show Obama “if he does the right thing, he is going to get so much love.”
“People are giving it everything they can,” said Taylor, who is helping to organize the donors. “This is a line-in-the-sand kind of decision.” [...]
“We’ve got to step up our game and make our case -- it’s not going to make itself,” said David desJardins, a philanthropist and former Google Inc. (GOOG) software engineer who attended the fundraiser at Steyer’s house.
One former Obama donor has shifted from insider to activist.
Guy Saperstein, a California venture capitalist and onetime president of the Sierra Club Foundation, said while he gave to Obama’s campaign in 2008, he became disillusioned. Rather than attend the fundraiser at Steyer’s house, Saperstein chose to join Keystone protesters camped out nearby.
“The indications I got back from the people who were inside suggested that he was not very persuadable, but you know politics is a funny thing,” Saperstein said. “If people are in the streets, being loud and making the case, things can change.”
Of course, money has never been the true strength of the climate justice movement. That's why a collection of groups, regardless of Obama's decision, hope to leverage the financial support they do have with continued grassroots mobilizations and a renewed commitment to resistance, civil disobedience and public actions.
Groups including CREDO Action, Bold Nebraska, The Other 98%, Hip Hop Caucus, Rainforest Action Network, 350.org and Oil Change International have launched the 'Keystone XL Pledge of Resistance,' which hopes to galvanize the movement ahead of a final White House decision.
The coalition hopes that, "If tens of thousands of people stand up as President Obama mulls his final decision, and commit to participate in civil disobedience if necessary, we can convince the White House that it will be politically unfeasible to go forward. That is, our goal is not to get arrested. Our goal is to stop the Keystone XL pipeline -- by showing enough opposition to Keystone XL that President Obama will reject it. But if he shows clear signs he that he is preparing to approve it, we will be ready."
The pledge itself reads:
It is time for us to pledge to resist. That is, we are asking you to commit - should it be necessary to stop Keystone XL -- to engage in serious, dignified, peaceful civil disobedience that could get you arrested.
Will you join us in pledging resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline, including - if necessary - pledging to participate in peaceful, dignified civil disobedience?
Acknowledging that since the State Department's release of the draft SEIS there have been two tar sands spills in the United States, including one that poured 84,000 gallons of tar sands into Arkansas backyards, the Sierra Club argues that the stakes are too high and said there "is no excuse for the White House to approve" the project Keystone XL.
"It's impossible to fight climate change while simultaneously investing in one of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fossil fuels on the planet," the group said in a message.
As Climate Progress illustrates, making a comment to the State Department is the easy part:
Anyone can submit as many comments as they wish. Some created a compelling video about why Keystone is “all risk, no reward,” but not everyone has to do that. Some protest President Obama to let them know that this decision matters for the climate, but that tactic, while important, is not for everyone.
Once the public has spoken, however, the bigger questions are these: Will the Obama administration cross the clearly marked Keystone XL line? And if he does approve the project, what comes next for those pledged to resist it?
Photo: Flickr / tarsandsaction
Wednesday, March 06, 2013 11:13 AM
Environmental activists can easily come off as preachy, but Reverend Billy keeps it fresh with street theatre and the occasional dose of irony. Here's a glimpse into what's goes through his head as he protests mountaintop removal—from his new book,
The End of the World
originally appeared at Reality Sandwich.
There are about 80 of us, Savitri and myself and an eclectic mixed up group of
Europeans, South Americans and Russians.
First, we gather in the courtyard of Barcelona's
Museum of Contemporary Art. Amen? Savitri
announces that the name of our action is "Naked Grief," and that we
will have to learn how to cry energetically -- with tears all the better! -- in
public. We'll do this in Deutsche Bank -- a bank that finances CO2
emissions. As we sob and moan, we will remove our clothing. Then we will
rub ourselves with coal and cry even harder.
So -- we practice crying in that courtyard. Savitri coaches us in our
exercises in public wailing. It is easy for a few seconds, but
out-and-out crying, sobbing, retching, really sorrowing for ten minutes?
It is hard to do. We have to start crying over and over again.
To help the people who are having trouble crying on purpose, we go down into
the politics of this act. Deutsche Bank is among the banks that finance
Mountaintop Removal (MTR). Do you want to cry? Imagine a mountain
in Appalachia. The coal company inserts
dynamite into deep holes, then lifts the whole ecosystem into the air to
die. The cries of surprise and pain range across the mountain.
Nests fall from trees, deer try to run but catapult dead through the air, the
creatures on the forest floor are crushed, the mountain is uprooted and
broken. Then bulldozers with wheels 40 feet high begin to push the dead
"over-burden" into the neighboring valley, into the pristine mountain
streams below, where the fish lay their eggs and the delicate frogs sing
courtship songs. Where Mountain Laurel drops its petals and ferns grow from
hundred year old beds of moss.
Do you want to cry? MTR is a highly profitable but deadly coal-mining
practice. Long sequestered chemicals like selenium, arsenic, and mercury
float down wind, cancer clusters along their flight path. Toxins seep
into the water table... it goes on and on. Do you want to cry?
Yes, we cry, and with ever more feeling, until we are ready to walk to the
bank. Savitri leads us in her tan trenchcoat. We walk through the
narrow streets of the old city, full to bursting with mopeds and bikes and our
throng. When we get to the Deutsche Bank I hold the door open and Savitri
walks out of her coat, emerging all white skin and freckles and dark red
hair. We are weeping. People disrobe to varying degrees. We are
extremely naked, for a German bank.
The inconsolable wailing has a strange power. Among us are many Spanish
folk who know all about cante jondo. They can hurl down the betrayal
of the heart like no rightwing televangelist ever could. The bank
managers walk down to the first floor to see what all the trouble is about.
Read the rest of this post at Reality Sandwich.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013 10:29 AM
After news reports and books raised awareness about the link between commodities trading
and starvation, food justice advocates took action and big bank Barclays responded.
This morning I opened my
email to a note from journalist Fred Kaufman that read, “Yes, a book can make a
difference!” Attached was a report that Barclays, a large UK bank, had announced
that they would stop trading in food derivatives markets.
This was good news. Fred and
I had spoken last fall about his new book, Bet the Farm, which
exposed the connection between agricultural derivatives markets and price spikes on staples like wheat—with impacts around the world ranging from
starvation to riots. In the interview, I picked his brain on topics from deregulation
in commodities markets to what everyday people can do to stop unethical trading
schemes. I wrote about it all in “Spinning
Wheat into Gold,” but one big takeaway was that rallies and political
action are going to be the most successful way to get banks to change and to
get tougher governmental regulations back. Looks like he was right.
activist campaigns in the UK
raised awareness about the human cost of speculation on food, Barclays chief
Antony Jenkins announced today that the bank would stop doing it, writes Miriam
Ross for the World Development Movement.
Until now, Barclays
has been the UK’s
biggest bank to buy and sell on the food derivatives market. While the
bank’s agreement to end such trading is a victory, one campaigner with the
World Development Movement emphasized that it is not enough for banks to opt
out of agricultural commodities markets. There must be increased regulation so
that they don’t start again.
Here in the
states—where wheat speculation was born and the commodities index was
invented—we have yet to see a strong movement emerge to end such trading.
theatre at a Barclays protest rally, photo by World
Thursday, February 09, 2012 10:55 AM
The Nature Conservancy is taking a new stripped-down approach to environmental protection: The green group is teaming up with the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and online luxury retailer Gilt to raise money for beach preservation in an unholy mashup of sex, commerce, marketing, publishing, and environmentalism.
Why the green tie-in? “Because everyone benefits from pristine tropical beaches. Especially when they’re occupied by gorgeous women in bathing suits.” That’s according to promotional prose about the partnership on the Gilt website, in an announcement that is no longer posted. (Though you can still buy a $1,000 ticket to a New York launch party where you can hang out with the swimsuit supermodels.)
Gilt will be selling Sports Illustrated-themed swimsuits, surfboards, photos, and other merch on its site, with all ecommerce sale proceeds going “to preserve the beaches SI features in its pages,” reports Folio magazine.
Not everyone is sold on the mission. “What’s next for The Nature Conservancy?” wrote a commenter on Folio. “Partnering with porn sites?”
I understand the writer’s sentiment. The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue has long been an overhyped exercise in sexual objectification and anorexia induction, and I’m not sure why The Nature Conservancy thinks it will benefit from hitching its green message to the marketing machine that cranks out this cheeseball, throwback brand of softcore year after year. The association seems to risk putting off every potential supporter who doesn’t think Mad Men is a look back at the good old days.
Environmental writer Derrick Jensen of Orion already saw this sort of thing coming, having penned a prescient column in the current issue titled “Not in My Name.” Go ahead and call him a killjoy, but I think he pretty much nailed it:
Let me say upfront: I like fun, and I like sex. But I’m sick to death of hearing that we need to make environmentalism fun and sexy. … The fact that so many people routinely call for environmentalism to be more fun and more sexy reveals not only the weakness of our movement but also the utter lack of seriousness with which even many activists approach the problems we face. …
Unfortunately, the notion that activism … has to be fun and sexy pervades the entire environmental movement, from the most self-styled radical to the most mainstream reformist.
Sources: Folio, Gilt Groupe, Orion
, licensed under
Wednesday, November 09, 2011 9:56 AM
It’s been an uplifting several days for anyone who’s opposed to the massive Keystone XL oil pipeline, which had seemed to be rapidly steamrolling toward presidential approval.
First, on Sunday, an impressively large crowd of 10,000 to 12,000 protesters showed up to encircle the White House and pressure President Obama to give the pipeline a thumbs down. On the same day, the Los Angeles Times reported that the administration may now put off the Keystone XL decision until after the election. On Monday, Think Progress reported that the State Department’s office of the Inspector General would conduct a review the pipeline approval process, which has been dogged by accusations of inadequate environmental review and potential conflicts of interest.
All in all, it’s a remarkable turnaround of Keystone XL’s prospects, offering some hope—remember that word?—to environmentally conscious Americans who might have started to think that green activism is no more effective than video-game playing in changing the world.
There may be more than a little political calculus in Obama’s move to delay a pipeline decision until after the election. Last week, Reuters foreshadowed the delay when it reported that some of the president’s advisers were uneasy about the support that a Keystone XL approval could cost the campaign—especially among young, enthusiastic, door-knocking volunteers.
The situation may be a sign that times are changing. Conventional pundit wisdom holds that the environment is a minor player at presidential election time, writes Keith Kloor at the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, taking a back seat to “kitchen table concerns like the economy, health care, and war.” But the current political environment, with Keystone raising a ruckus and virtually all the Republican candidates rejecting climate-change concerns, writes Kloor, has
Juliet Eilperin, a Washington Post reporter, thinking that global warming may yet be a big issue in the 2012 election. Just yesterday, in a talk at Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment, Eilperin said:
“I actually think this is a really interesting moment. It is a moment that is challenging a position I’ve held for a long time, which is that the environment doesn’t play a role in elections.”
She added that climate change “has the potential to become a wedge issue. What is so interesting is whether it will be a wedge issue for the left or a wedge issue for the right.”
Still, for pipeline backers, hope—unlike oil—springs eternal. Reuters now reports that the State Department is considering rerouting the pipeline to avoid ecologically sensitive areas of Nebraska and improve its chances of success. This is despite the fact that “TransCanada said last month that it was too late in the federal approval process to move the proposed path for the line.”
Sources: Inside Climate, Los Angeles Times, Think Progress, Reuters, Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media
Image by Emma Cassidy and
, licensed under
Monday, October 24, 2011 4:57 PM
In America, more than 49 million people—including nearly 17 million children—go hungry every day. That’s a heartbreaking one in five kids who will go to sleep with bellies growling tonight. In honor of National Food Day, The Daily Meal has compiled 44 things you can do to fight hunger. Writes the food and drink site:
Some are as simple as clicking a link; others are as time-consuming and collaborative as planting and tending a garden. There are products to buy, places to donate, things to watch. You can even make a contribution by going bowling, getting a haircut, eating a candy bar. All these actions will, to a greater or lesser extent, put food on somebody’s table.
Some of the most compelling endeavors include City Harvest’s Skip Lunch Fight Hunger, which asks people to take their lunch to work and donate the money they save to hunger initiatives; Food Forward, a Los Angeles program to glean and distribute unused local fruit from private homes and public spaces; Schools Fight Hunger, which enlists students and teachers to plant gardens and donate the harvest to local food banks; and Move for Hunger, a service that picks up nonperishable food items that might otherwise be thrown away in a move.
If you’re looking for something off the beaten path, try grape stomping or skateboarding to eradicate hunger. And did you know that Meals on Wheels is still in going strong and looking for folks to prepare or deliver meals? According to their website, this group—numbering between 800,000 and 1.7 million individuals—is the nation’s biggest volunteer army.
Check out The Daily Meal’s full list for more ideas on combating food insecurity, and don’t miss their slideshow “10 American Cities That Are Going Hungry.” Then be thankful when you sit down with your fork, knife, and spoon at the dinner table tonight.
Source: The Daily Meal
Image by whitneyinchicago, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, October 17, 2011 10:21 AM
Tim DeChristopher is the only person to have been named an Utne Reader visionary while in prison: He’s serving a two-year sentence for disrupting a federal oil and gas lease auction in Utah in an act of environmental protest.
One reason I nominated DeChristopher as a visionary is because he became a hugely inspirational figure to other environmentalists as he wrote and spoke about his principled act of civil disobedience right up until he was led to his cell. But make no mistake: He is in prison mainly because he dared to continue speaking out.
Utah environmentalist and author Terry Tempest Williams writes in The Progressive about the farcical nature of DeChristopher’s four-day trial, which she attended along with a legion of other supporters:
It was a shattering display of politics on the bench, beginning with jury selection. The judge [Dee V. Benson] delivered a lengthy lecture on the importance of impartiality, after which he said to the entire jury pool, “And there should be no discussion between you and the ‘kumbaya’ crowd in the courtroom.” …
But the most egregious remarks were made by Judge Benson himself during the sentencing hearing.
He reprimanded DeChristopher for speaking out after his conviction in March. He stated that DeChristopher might not have faced prosecution, let alone prison, if it were not for that “continuing trail of statements.”
This “continuing trail of statements” is called freedom of speech, your honor, not “anarchy.” The criminal is not DeChristopher but our justice system.
Judge Benson actually stated during the sentencing hearing, “The offense itself, with all apologies to people actually in the auction itself, wasn’t that bad.”
DeChristopher himself, in an August letter from prison published by Grist, showed that he understood all too clearly the connection between his ongoing outspokenness and his sentence:
Judge Benson said that had it not been for the political statements I made in public, I would have avoided prosecution entirely. As is generally the case with civil disobedience, it was extremely important to the government that I come before the majesty of the court with my head bowed and express regret. So important, in fact, that an apology with proper genuflection is currently fair trade for a couple years in prison. Perhaps that’s why most activist cases end in a plea bargain.
Source: The Progressive, Grist
Tuesday, October 11, 2011 4:29 PM
In an essay published by The Nation magazine on September 19, journalist and pacifist Colman McCarthy reports that in 1970 only one American college offered a degree in peace studies, but that now, according to the Peace and Justice Studies Association, there are more than 500 undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs available on U.S. campuses. “Nationally, the peace education movement is growing—some say surging—because of the continued failure of military solutions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the belief that alternatives to violence do exist,” McCarthy reports.
A regular columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, McCarthy co-founded the Washington D.C.-based Center for Teaching Peace with his wife in 1985 and, by his own estimation, has taught more than 8,000 students to examine their choices regarding violent reaction versus nonviolent response. “Instead of asking questions, be bolder and question the answers,” he writes. “What answers? . . . Those that say that if we kill enough people, drop enough bombs, jail enough dissenters, torture enough prisoners, keep fighting fire with fire and not with water, we’ll have peace forever.”
While the good news regarding the growth of diplomatic scholarship is both welcome and encouraging, what makes “Teaching Peace” especially compelling is McCarthy’s ongoing struggle to make the subject not just a collegiate elective, but part of the core curriculum in secondary education; a move too many public school boards still view as somehow subversive and private schools dismiss as academically insubstantial (read: unnecessary in the pursuit of Ivy).
“I’ve been accused of teaching a one-sided course,” McCarthy writes. “Perhaps, except that my course is the other side, the one that students aren’t getting in conventional history or political science courses, which present violent, militaristic solutions as rational and necessary.”
As partisan activists have proved again and again over the past 20 years, lasting political movements begin and end on the local level. McCarthy’s tale is a reminder that citizens who wish for a more peaceful future should take the fight to their neighborhood’s next school board meeting.
Source: The Nation
Image by crazebabe21, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, October 06, 2011 5:06 PM
It’s true: We’re covering the Occupy Wall Street movement to death over here (and yes, there’s more to come), perhaps because it was granted so little coverage in the first days of its contentious life. Need a primer-cum-rallying-cry? Read Tom Engelhardt’s essay on the movement’s importance. Pointing to a counter argument by political activist and cartoonist Ted Rall, our editor-in-chief David Schimke asks us to consider if Occupy Wall Street is pushing hard enough. Also, we’re trying keeping you up to date on our Twitter and Tumblr feeds.
Occupy Wall Street is straight up the most vocal, progressively populist demonstration in years—yet from the get-go has suffered from poor media portrayal and position articulation issues. OccupyMN’s April Lukes-Streich, answering via e-mail, tries to clear up a few things before the protest occupies the Minneapolis Government Center Plaza on Friday, October 7, and turns it into the People’s Plaza.
Utne Reader: The participants in the Occupy movement often come from either a background in local activism or a background in Anonymous, the hacktivist group. What is your activism background?
April Lukes-Streich: I’m unaffiliated with any activist group or organization, but have been a longtime political activist and blogger.
:What personally draws you to the Occupy movement? What are your personal motivations?
ALS: I was inspired by the recent occupation of the Madison, Wisc., Capitol building, and realized at that point that with the erosion of our voting rights by way of gerrymandering congressional districts, changing electoral college procedures, and voter ID laws—not to mention the corporate and moneyed influence in politics on both sides of the political aisle—that being present together is really the only chance we have to reclaim our voices to ensure meaningful participation in our political and economic system and the democratic process. I am continually personally inspired by a desire to reform our economic system in a way that ensures fairness for all participants. I cannot speak for all participants and know many to disagree with me, as we come from varied political philosophies, but I am strongly critical of the capitalist economic system and wish to see reform.
: The media has portrayed the Occupy Wall Street movement as somewhat directionless, lacking a central message. In your words, what is the central message of Occupy Wall Street?
ALS: That our movement is seen as directionless or lacking a central message is something that confuses a lot of participants, and I believe rightly so. As many have noted, if it’s unclear to anyone why we’re protesting, they’re not paying attention. Our economic system is in shambles, people are out of work and deep in debt with no discernible solution in the foreseeable future. The unified message of OccupyMN is “People Before Profits,” and we are continually working on lists of common goals. But because we wish to give voice to the 99 percent of Americans who do not currently have a meaningful voice in politics and economics in America, we are unable to present a list of cohesive demands in the way that many people seem to think we should. Ordinary people of all political persuasions are part of the 99 percent; what we want is not to all agree on policy or legislative issues, but to bring voice to the people to engage in meaningful, constructive debate about these issues without moneyed interests influencing the process and manipulating ordinary citizens.
This is a different kind of movement than any other we’ve seen. The process is new to everyone, participants and observers alike.
: Another criticism of the Occupy movement is that it has largely been the pursuit of well-educated, middle-class, white people. Has OccupyMN reached out to groups with cause for concern—minority, unemployed, disabled, etc.—to engage them with the movement/issues?
ALS: OccupyMN is very aware of these issues that are all too often present in activism and of the criticism. We are making every effort to reach out to all minority communities and ensure that folks from privileged backgrounds—namely white, middle-class men—are not dominating the conversation and direction of the movement. Our group is unified in this attempt and we expect to achieve the goal of making sure that everyone has a chance to speak and be a part of the decision-making process through our daily General Assemblies that we will have on the Plaza.
: What are some specific reforms that you’d like to see come about as a result of the Occupy movement?
ALS: I can’t speak for the entire group, but I would personally like to see election financing reform, an end to corporate personhood, and an overhaul of our tax system, including fairly taxing capital gains and instituting a nationwide corporate income tax. I would also like to see an honest conversation about the effectiveness and fairness of the capitalist system.
: Downtown Minneapolis is home to many corporate headquarters and business campuses of large banks—Wells Fargo, U.S. Bancorp, etc.—as well as a Federal Reserve building. Why is OccupyMN demonstrating in Government Plaza with all of these symbolic institutions around?
ALS: Our group voted during our first public forum at Stevens Square Park to move the occupation from the Federal Reserve to the Government Center Plaza for mainly logistical reasons. While occupying the area surrounding the Federal Reserve would be appropriately symbolic, we do not expect that we would have been allowed to remain there. The Government Center Plaza is public property, does not require a permit, and is in the heart of the financial district. We are not protesting at a bank because, beside being private property that we’d surely be arrested for occupying, rendering the movement effectively worthless, we are not protesting any one bank. We’re protesting the entire system, which leaves us without a meaningful voice. We believe that public, taxpayer-funded property is the most realistic place to achieve this goal.
: Is non-violent protesting the only course of action that OccupyMN is taking in the movement, or are there any plans for behind-scenes-work like lobbying and community outreach?
ALS: Many members of our organizational team, as well as countless other participants, are individually involved in lobbying and community outreach, but as a group/movement, we have not yet made plans for behind-the-scenes action. We are compelled to occupy primarily because our exhaustive efforts to lobby and outreach are not working. We need to be heard before we are able to change policies.
: What does success—either immediate or long-term—look like for you?
ALS: I will see success when I see meaningful reform to our economic and political structure. How this will happen, we have yet to know. First, we simply demand to be heard. I believe that, because of this widespread movement, we will be.
Monday, October 03, 2011 2:58 PM
How short does a woman’s skirt need to be to justify rape? It sounds like an idiotic question, but victims of sexual assault are regularly asked what they were wearing, what time of night they were walking home, and if they had been drinking. Now protest marches called SlutWalks are bringing attention to an epidemic of victim blaming.
The first SlutWalk took place in Toronto in April, in response to a police officer who told the audience at a safety talk, “I’ve been told I shouldn’t say this, [but] women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” The Toronto march drew 3,000 women and men, outraged at the culture of blame perpetuated by their local precinct. Since April, there have been more than 120 SlutWalks around the world—in Singapore, Mexico, India, Australia, Germany, Hong Kong, Brazil, South Africa, and more—with tens of thousands of participants.
Much of the media surrounding SlutWalk focuses on the fishnets and deliberately saucy outfits some participants wear and the divisiveness that using the term “slut” has caused within the feminist movement. But Heather Jarvis—cofounder, with Sonya JF Barnett, of the first SlutWalk—believes using the term highlights the importance of language in the fight against sexual violence. In an interview, she said:
One thing that I think has been missing from conversations about rape culture and victim blaming for a long time has been language. People wouldn’t be blamed and shamed as much as they are without the language people use against each other. We really need to look at that. Whether it’s “she asked for it,” or name calling, or degrading ideas about who deserves what and what you’re worth. So, we wanted to put language front and center and talk about it.
SlutWalk came to our hometown of Minneapolis on October 1, with the battle cry “No means no, yes means yes!” following marchers across the Mississippi River. To me, it wasn’t the provocative clothes that stood out, and the word “slut” wasn’t distracting. Most powerful were the signs carried by the survivors of sexual violence—some just kids when they were assaulted—and the fierce, unified support of their fellow walkers.
Images by Alan Wilfahrt, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011 5:09 PM
Given the corruption that crashed the American economy (again), and the current administration’s unwillingness to seriously address class issues or corporate greed, it’s hard to find fault with Occupy Wall Street.
The “leaderless resistance movement,” which started in New York City on September 17 and continues to attract protesters to Zuccotti Park near Wall Street, is viewed by many, including Noam Chomsky, as courageous and honorable.
“Anyone with eyes open knows that the gangsterism of Wall Street—financial institutions generally—has caused severe damage to the people of the United States and the world. And should also know that it has been doing so increasingly for over 30 years, as their power in the economy has radically increased, and with it their political power,” Chomsky says. “[The protests] should serve to bring this calamity to public attention, and to lead to dedicated efforts to overcome it and set the society on a more healthy course.”
On the Washington Post’s editorial page, staffer James Downie concludes that “as long as the sluggish economy continues to hit Americans—and especially young Americans—hard, expect more and bigger demonstrations like Occupy Wall Street—unfocused, sometimes excessive, but fundamentally justifiable.”
Not everyone who agrees with the protesters’ principles is impressed, however. In an essay posted on Ted Rall’s website on September 26, the political cartoonist, commentator, and author says that “for me and other older, jaded veterans of leftist struggle, [Occupy Wall Street’s] failure was a foregone conclusion”—and that “yet another opportunity to agitate for real change was being wasted by well-meant wankers.”
This is not to say Rall doesn’t believe in the cause. The author of Wake Up, You're Liberal!: How We Can Take America Back from the Right, acknowledges in the first sentence of his critique that Occupy Wall Street “is and was important.” If only because it represents the first major repudiation of the Obama administration by the American left. But, he argues, good intentions are not enough, especially when the stakes are so high.
“Michael Moore complained about insufficient media coverage, but this non-movement movement was doomed before it began by its refusal to coalesce around a powerful message, its failure to organize and involve the actual victims of Wall Street’s perfidy (people of color, the poor, the evicted, the unemployed, those sick from pollution, etc.), and its refusal to argue and appeal on behalf of a beleaguered working class against an arrogant, violent and unaccountable ruling elite—in other words, to settle for nothing less than the eradication of capitalism.”
Rall desperately wants the protesters to be better organized, and points out that a number of those who did get interviewed by the mainstream media lacked a central message and the ability to articulately unpack key issues. To hammer home his point, he implores the kids in the park to “lose the clown clothes.”
“It’s not the early 1960s; you don’t have to wear a suit like the civil rights marchers did,” he writes. “But how about showing up on national TV looking decent, like it’s Casual Friday?”
Rall is a provocateur, and a few progressives have already taken him to task both for his hyperbolic prose and for his failure to support the troops. Fair enough. There’s a lot to chew on in this tirade, however, and when everyone goes back to their lives and Wall Street continues its run toward ruin, it demands a dispassionate revisitation.
Sources: Occupy Wall Street, Ted Rall, Washington Post
Image by Carwil, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011 4:45 PM
Paul Chappell still lives by the examples his Korean American mother set when he was growing up in Alabama: “Don’t talk too much; be stoic; be calm; be respectful; be on time; don’t gossip; keep your word; fulfill your promises; dress conservatively.” The 31 year-old West Point graduate and Iraq War veteran is neither soft-spoken nor passive when it comes to his decidedly progressive convictions, however.
A peace activist and author of two books, including The End of War: How Waging Peace Can Save Humanity, Our Planet and Our Future, Chappell now lives by the words of civil rights leader James Lawson, who said that the “difficulty with nonviolent people and efforts is that they don’t recognize the necessity of fierce discipline and training, strategizing, planning, and recruiting.” And, having seen combat up close and personal, he believes that that a world without war is not only possible, but that “what’s naïve is to think that wars can continue and humanity will survive.”
In a wide-ranging interview posted online earlier this year by KoreAm—a monthly magazine that covers and analyzes the news, culture, and “people of Korean America”—Chappell engages on a wide-variety of subjects: The racial challenges of his childhood (his father is white-and-African American); the seeds of terrorism, which grow in the soil of hopelessness; and the strategic importance of seeing things through the eyes of both your opponents and those you hope to persuade.
In a particularly thought-provoking segment of the conversation, Chappell compares war to slavery, both flawed institutions based on inaccurate assumptions and opportunistic lies.
“Today, many of us believe that human beings are naturally violent, so war is inevitable,” he tells interviewer Leslee Goodman. “Look at who benefits from that myth. If human beings are naturally violent, politicians can’t be held responsible for making war; they’re just trying to protect us from the violent people all over the planet. Weapons makers can’t be held responsible; they’re just trying to help us defend ourselves. But in truth humans aren’t naturally violent, so we’re all responsible. War is a choice. General Omar Bradley, a veteran of World War II, said, ‘Wars can be prevented just as surely as they are provoked, and we who fail to prevent them share in guilt for the dead.’”
Image by dewwww, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011 4:33 PM
“Save the whales” may have become something of a schoolyard taunt for anti-environmentalists to hurl, but make no mistake: Some activists are still out there, saving whales. Foremost among them is the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which has harassed, butted, and even boarded whaling ships in its mission to deter illegal whaling.
Sea Shepherd founder and leader Paul Watson is described as an “anti-Ahab” in Prospect by writer Philip Hoare, who explains that the bold group managed to put a large dent in Japan’s whale take last season:
In February, the Japanese fisheries minister announced that Sea Shepherd’s actions, which include boarding whaling ships, forced the curtailment of the 2010-11 season on safety grounds. As a result, many fewer whales were caught. Sea Shepherd put Japan’s catch at 30, compared to the country’s fleet’s self-declared quota of 900. Campaigners quickly claimed a victory in the making.
Loare notes that soon after this, one of Japan’s four major whaling communities was devastated by the tsunami, “knocking out a pillar of the nation’s whaling industry,” the New York Times reported.
It remains to be seen if the one-two punch of Sea Shepherd’s campaigns and the tsunami will have a lasting effect on whaling by Japan, which often skirts legality by falsely claiming to be whaling for scientific reasons. In the meantime, a documentary about Watson and his merry band of whale savers, Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist, is opening in Germany and heading for U.S. release. View the trailer here:
(article available to subscribers only),New York Times, Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
Wednesday, August 17, 2011 5:27 PM
Community singing—gathering with a group of acquaintances and strangers to belt out songs from across the eras—was a big deal in the Twin Cities in the first half of the 20th century, drawing crowds of up to 25,000 people to local parks. Today community singing does not, necessarily, sound relevant or revolutionary. In fact, it might seem completely schmaltzy. But singing together has more political and personal impact than first impressions reveal.
Minnesota Community Sings director and activist Betty Tisel is heading up a community singing revival, reports Jim Walsh in MinnPost, and her motivations go far beyond warming hearts. “Doing this work has meant my doing less political activism, but I feel OK about this because the payoff for community singing is that people get refueled for the struggles we have to keep working on together,” she tells Walsh. Tisel continues:
If we’re going to draw others into the work of building a just, sustainable world, that world’s gotta look like a place we would also like to live in. We need joyful, local, participatory culture….This is eat local, buy local, sing local. It helps me “keep on keepin’ on,” and people who have attended the sings tell us that it helps them a lot, too.
The gathering I attended at MLK Park in Minneapolis last night was nothing if not joyful, inclusive, and connecting, and it didn’t have a drop of unintended schmaltz. The 150 people in attendance (a smaller crowd due to stormy weather, Tisel says) ranged from toddlers to the elderly, and whoever sat next to you became your newest, dearest friend. Consummately lead by Minnesota Community Sings executive director Bret Hesla and artistic director Mary Preus, we sang American standards like “This Little Light of Mine;” international songs in Arabic, Italian, Spanish, and Swahili; and antiwar songs including “Tenting Tonight,” which was sung by soldiers on both sides during the Civil War. The lyrics hold up after 150 years:
Many are the hearts that are weary tonight
Wishing for the war to cease;
Many are the hearts that are looking for the right
To see the dawn of peace.
Before the event, which was my first community-sing experience, I invited another uninitiated friend to join me. Her jaded, if good-natured, two-word reply was: Hells no. After participating with the smart, ardent crowd in South Minneapolis, I enthusiastically say: Community singing: Hells yes!
If you’re still not convinced of the power of the community sing, watch the ever-cool Odetta talk about her love of singing with others:
Image from Library of Congress.
Thursday, June 30, 2011 4:06 PM
You’re at the Salvation Army looking for a lamp, a canoe paddle, or a new old shirt when you hear something rustling in the clothes rack next to you. If you’re in Miami, it might be artist Agustina Woodgate, who is on a mission to spread poetry to the masses with a renegade needle and thread.
Woodgate is poetry bombing thrift stores, says Booooooom, a creativity-celebrating Vancouver website. She prints lines from Sylvia Plath and Li Po onto clothing labels, pre-threads a number of needles, nonchalantly enters the targeted second-hand store, and stealthily sews the labels into hanging garments. One tag features these lines from Po’s poem “Waking Up Drunk on a Spring Day”: “Life is a huge dream / why work so hard?” Woodgate hurriedly attaches it to a shirt collar, periodically looking over her shoulder for security guards.
Part of the poetry festival O, Miami, Woodgate’s guerilla-style project aims to surprise and inspire with verse out of context. She says:
Sewing poems in clothes is a way of bringing poetry to everyday life just by displacing it, by removing it from a paper to integrate it and fuse it with our lives. Sometimes little details are stronger when they are separated from where they are expected to be.
Watch the inarguably fetching video of Woodgate in action at Miami’s Community Family Thrift Store here:
Tuesday, June 21, 2011 5:33 PM
Where does the story begin? Perhaps in the delivery room, when the doctor hands the newborn baby, still slick with blood and mucus, to the ecstatic parents but isn’t able to say definitively, “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl.” Or it could start earlier, in the womb, when the cells are dividing like mad to create the many complicated and wondrous parts of a new human being. Perhaps the story really gets going later, when the surgeon slices into the baby’s phallus—considered either a micro-penis or an overlarge clitoris—in the first of many treatments to cosmetically assign a crystal-clear gender. Or maybe the heart of the story is the slow cultivation of shame that comes from the years of secrecy and misinformation that follow infant gender reassignment.
By far the happiest place to dive in, for this particular rendition of the story, is when Jim met Alice Dreger a few months ago and told her: “You saved my life.”
Jim is a 50-year-old man who was born with a disorder of sex development (DSD), formerly known as intersex, formerly known as pseudo-hermaphrodism. Alice is a bioethics professor and advocate of the basic human rights of DSD patients: the right to grow up without devastating cosmetic surgeries that take away sexual sensation or, in some instances, the ability to experience orgasm; the right to know one’s own medical history; the right to make one’s own medical choices.
Alice tells Jim’s story in Bioethics Forum (02/14/2011):
[Jim] was born with ambiguous genitalia—with hypospadias (where the opening of the urethra is on the underside of the penis), with a smaller-than-average penis, and a herniated testicle. Against doctors’ advice, his parents raised him as a boy. The docs of course had recommended sex reassignment, as was standard. His parents did not resist because they were radical; they resisted because they were terrified and young and I’ll bet they didn’t understand why you would take a baby with testicles and make him a girl.
Of the 2,600-some babies born with ambiguous genitals each year in the United States, Jim is among the rare few from his generation who escaped having his sex organs resculpted to look like a vagina. And because of social activists such as Alice and others with Accord Alliance (previously the Intersex Society of North America), he eventually learned that he was not alone—a priceless gift.
Today Jim has some really beautiful things in his life: A wife. A daughter. A doctor who listens to his concerns and helps him make the right choices for his body. And he had the honor of meeting Alice and telling her his story:
He said that he knew, from my Web site, that some people had objected to the move from talking about “intersex” to talking about “disorders of sex development.” But, he said, “I love the new term, DSD.” He said it captured his experience—that what he has is a medical condition. He doesn’t have double sex, or double gender, as people seem to think when they hear the term “intersex.” He has a DSD.
Source: Bioethics Forum
Image by clevercupcakes,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011 12:29 PM
Have a shocking, injustice-exposing statistic that you want to share with your neighborhood? Thanks to arty designer Golan Levin, it’s now easier than ever. That is, if you’re willing to put on a black stocking-cap and go spray paint your activist data onto private property.
Levin created a downloadable, customizable stencil called “Infoviz” that resembles a pie chart-style infographic. Infoviz comes with an adjustable dial (to change the pie graph’s percentage) and an alphabet (to say what you need to say). Although the stencil is meant to be laser cut from a piece of acrylic, at a minimum you’ll need a large piece of cardboard, a bolt and wing-nut set, and some scotch tape. Then you can get all Banksy on that new Pew study.
Images courtesy of Golan Levin.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011 9:32 AM
I’m an environmentalist. There, I said it. Now why is it so hard for so many people to make this simple proclamation?
It’s not just clear-cutting, oil-drilling, emission-spewing right-wingers who reject the label. I’m constantly encountering well-meaning folks, even progressive and generally earth-friendly ones, who start sentences with “I’m no environmentalist, but …” or “I wouldn’t call myself an environmentalist, but ….”
Now why is this?
Being an environmentalist, to me, simply means you care about the environment: maybe a little, maybe a lot. It doesn’t mean you place it above all else. It doesn’t mean you can’t still identify yourself as a Christian, a businessperson, a farmer, a parent, a queer, a golfer, a juggler—whatever. It doesn’t mean you’re an environmental activist or extremist, and it doesn’t mean you’ve been initiated at a Starbucks window-smashing workshop and accepted into the Anarchist Order of Tree Spikers.
I’ve come to learn that saying, “I’m no environmentalist, but … ” is a lot like saying, “I’m no racist, but … .” When you hear it, you know that what follows will inevitably be support for an environmental stance.
The thing is, racism is inherently abhorrent to the rational mind. Environmentalism is not. The label has taken on a negative cast because the right wing has successfully demonized it, and by running away from it we allow the demonization to continue and even to deepen. We need more, not fewer, people willing to call themselves environmentalists. It’s hard for me to envision a habitable world, 100 years from now, in which the vast majority of people do not do so.
Ultimately, I take heart in the fact that when people say they’re not environmentalists, it often means they’re grappling with the issue of just what an environmentalist is—and they may suspect, deep in their hearts, that they are one. It often means that they’ve been complacent about environmental issues but have suddenly confronted one that demands their attention. It often means they’re trying to save face, because they’ve previously stereotyped environmentalists as unreasonable and now find themselves, much to their surprise, agreeing with them. Psych!
It doesn’t take much Googling to figure out what these non-environmentalists are all about. They’re about protecting the environment. Here are a few of my favorite statements from, well, whatever these people are:
I’m no environmentalist, but maybe we need to stop cutting down so many trees.
I’m no environmentalist, but … we don’t need any more development on the barrier islands along the coast of South Carolina or Georgia.
I’m no environmentalist whacko, but I do support those people who are down there in Albany protesting hydro-fracking.
I’m no environmentalist, but calling a place “Rolling Meadows” when it’s clearly a landfill seems slightly insulting to intelligent people.
I wouldn’t call myself an environmentalist, but I am concerned about what we’re doing to the environment and what kind of environment will be left for our kids.
I wouldn’t call myself an environmentalist. I am a swimmer who wants clean water, and a dad who wants his kids to grow up in a healthier world.
I wouldn’t call myself an environmentalist, but recently I’ve become aware of something that may be linked to the environment and it concerns me greatly: breast cancer.
While I wouldn’t call myself an “environmentalist” or “tree hugger,” I am concerned with how we are trashing our environment, wasting precious resources and the disbelief of global warming.
I’ve got just one thing to say to all these perceptive though not entirely self-aware folks: Welcome to environmentalism. You’re going to do just fine.
, licensed under
Wednesday, April 20, 2011 1:28 PM
Equal parts utopianism, dissent, and grassroots activism, “tactical urbanism” is the latest trend in city improvement. Strong Towns Blog calls it “a do-it-yourself mashup of Jane Jacobs thinking and the Sons of Liberty tactics.” Intervention is the name of the game for tactical urbanists. Before federal, state, and municipal budgets are entirely eviscerated, the renegade city-advocates intervene “in their blocks and neighborhoods to experiment in building stronger towns.” Strong Towns Blog’s Charles Marohn elaborates:
While it can be a touch counterculture at times, it is also quite pragmatic. Interventions are typically low scale and low budget, creating a low-stakes model for broader future change. Where local governments embrace the approach, a flood of positive interventions can occur on a limited budget.
Gee-whiz, right? It all sounds perfectly fine and dandy, so it’s good that Planetizen’s Mike Lydon reminds us that change—especially on the city-level—comes slow. “But while progressive planning efforts continue to revive a normative trajectory of city building—one found before the meteoric rise of petroleum-based planning,” Lydon writes, “it’s increasingly obvious that translating great principles, design manuals, built projects, and innovative zoning codes into truly great places is still not done easily.”
Despite activist rhetoric and borderline illegal methods, tactical urbanism initiatives are typically community-oriented. “Most involve partnership with government agencies or local business owners,” writes Sarah Goodyear over at Grist, “but they are almost all things that ordinary folks can initiate.”
I’ve written about one such initiative before: seedbombing, lobbing a ball loaded with wildflower seeds into an abandoned lot like a fertile grenade. Spinning off of that neologism, “chairbombing” is the latest subversive idea to get community members to sit around and, you know, talk to each other. Check out the video below and find out how one group in Brooklyn got their neighbors to shoot the breeze.
DoTank:Brooklyn - Chair bombing at North 5th and Berry from Aurash Khawarzad on Vimeo.
Sources: Grist, Planetizen, Strong Towns Blog
Image by saragoldsmith, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010 3:44 PM
In January 2004, the infamous “Hi, How Are You” frog mural in Austin, Texas, was set to be destroyed and replaced with windows for a new Baja Fresh chain restaurant. And Dan Soloman needed to stop it.
The mural, which at first glance appears to be just lazy graffiti, was painted by the musician and artist Daniel Johnston in 1993. Johnston, a schizophrenic, became somewhat of a cult hero, having his songs covered by the likes of Beck and Tom Waits and amassing a large underground following.
Writing for The Texas Observer, Soloman insists “the frog mural represents a lot of things to people in Austin. To me, it’s a monument to a time when there was no point to cynicism, and street protest was the most viable form of activism I could imagine.” And guess what? He ended up saving the frog (also known as Jeremiah the Innocent), because, he claims, exerting change upon your immediate environment is infinitely more productive than attempting to affect change across the world.
“Street protest gets a bad rap these days, and for good reason,” Soloman writes:
Despite hundreds of thousands of marchers during the lead-up to the war in Iraq, despite more than 1 million demonstrators nationwide rallying for immigration reform, despite even more people in London, Pittsburgh and Toronto protesting the G20 summits, the result was: a war with Iraq, a failed immigration bill, and agreements among G20 nations that took no account of the masses in the street.
Ultimately, Soloman and some of his friends saved the mural by approaching the owner of the Baja Fresh and explaining how important the mural was to all of Austin and to the thousands of Johnston fans across the country. After initially refusing, the owner finally agreed to redesign the restaurant around the mural—costing him $50,000 in architect fees and lost revenue.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything that needs reform in our world. But, as Soloman points out, admitting that mass protest usually doesn’t do anything to help isn’t cynicism; it’s just reality:
The late House Speaker Tip O’Neill famously said that “All politics is local.” Most of the demonstrations held up as proof that protest doesn’t work have been about big national and international issues. A group in Toronto isn’t going to change what leaders in South Korea and Turkey and Australia decide about the G20; amassed immigrants in Chicago and Dallas aren’t liable to effect change on an issue that’s so divisive throughout the country; a bunch of people with signs down in Texas aren’t able turn heads in the Pentagon.
If I were still in my early 20s, that might sound like cynicism to me. When it feels hopeless, though, I just have to go back to my old neighborhood to see that big, googly-eyed frog to remember that when you keep your focus on your immediate world, you can be a lot more powerful than you’d have thought.
Source: The Texas Observer
Image by tibbygirl, licensed under Creative Commons
Tuesday, November 09, 2010 5:34 PM
Mongolia is famed for its vast, open spaces, but calling it “empty” would be a misnomer. Not only does the country host a rich and largely pristine environment, but beneath the steppes and desert lie mineral riches worth an estimated $1.3 trillion, reports Eurasianet.org. A host of global mining companies want a piece of this resource prize, writes Ulaanbataar-based correspondent Pearly Jacob:
A landlocked nation of steppes and desert, Mongolia is now known mostly as a country of nomadic herders. But vast and sudden changes could be in the works for the country’s roughly 3 million inhabitants. … Some call it the “Saudi Arabia of Central Asia.” Analysts at Eurasia Capital have predicted the country’s GDP could swell from $5 billion to $30 billion by 2020, based on its mineral resources alone. The pressure on Mongolia—or “Minegolia,” as some investors call it—to develop is intense.
The country has a nascent environmental movement that is bent on protecting it from harm, and tensions are already surfacing. Jacob reports that in early September, four rifle-bearing activists fired on gold-mining equipment owned by foreign firms.
The shooters, members of the United Movement of Mongolian Rivers and Lakes, caused only minimal property damage, just a few dents in a bulldozer tread and a busted radiator. But they sent a powerful message: Puraam, a Chinese firm, and Centerra Gold, a Canadian-operated company, aren’t welcome in the area, one of Mongolia’s few forested regions.
While no one was hurt in the incident, Eurasianet points out that some conflicts are more serious, and one confrontation this year even turned fatal.
One of the accused mining-site shooters, Tsetsegee Munkhbayar, is a former herder turned conservationist and the recipient of a 2007 Goldman Environmental Prize. He could face up to five years in prison but defends his taking up arms, saying the mining companies’ actions threaten to pollute a rich forest and the headwaters of two important rivers.
He tells Jacob: “Exploiting everything is not development.”
, licensed under
Friday, August 13, 2010 12:10 PM
Roundup is one of the best-known herbicides, but it’s not just for farmers and groundskeepers—the logging industry also pours tons of the stuff on forests. Canada’s This magazine brings this issue vividly to light in a profile of Joel Theriault, a feisty outdoorsman, activist, and lawyer who is campaigning against herbicide spraying in Ontario’s northern forests. Writes Ashley Walter in This:
The most widely used glyphosate-based herbicide in forestry is Monsanto Canada’s Vision, more commonly known by its agricultural brand name, Roundup. Ninety percent of the forestry market sprays glyphosate-based products, affecting approximately 70,000 hectares [173,000 acres] of Ontario’s forests annually.
Mind you, that’s just Ontario’s forests. Glyphosate products are widely used in the United States as well, chiefly to suppress competing vegetation when replanting trees after clear cutting. Theriault, who was raised at a remote lodge, took up the issue while working as a fly-in fishing guide:
As a pilot he began to notice changes in the landscape. Once-familiar swaths of greenery, shrubs, and dense, dark forests took on a sickly yellowish-brown hue. From the air, vast clearcuts gave fallen trees the appearance of twigs strewn over patches of mud. Forests quickly became barren, marked by the occasional patchwork of brown brush. Theriault was horrified by the transformation and felt a personal responsibility to prevent its further destruction. “If you spend enough time somewhere … you start to claim some ownership over it,” he says.
Theriault believes that he and some friends were poisoned by eating wild game from sprayed areas, and in the 1990s many others hunters, anglers, foresters, and aboriginal leaders testified to damaging effects in a Canadian environmental hearing. But neither that case nor Theriault’s long, lonely battle has brought about significant change. He’s frustrated but still committed, he tells Walter: “I’m still plowing away at it.”
Source: This (article not available online)
Image by jesssloss, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, June 25, 2010 12:04 PM
Ecological Internet is the most radical green group you’ve never heard of, and for years it has been achieving “major successes … below the radar of big conservation groups and mainstream media,” writes Jeremy Hance on the rainforest conservation site Mongabay. The organization harnesses the power of the Internet to run online campaigns that have hindered or stopped unsustainable and/or illegal logging in the South Pacific, Madagascar, and Papua New Guinea, and it also provides IT services to other groups for “global grassroots advocacy.”
Ecological Internet leader Glen Barry and his group earn their “radical” tag in part because of their unsparing criticism of greenwashing in wood certification programs, especially the widely used Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label, and of the green groups who support FSC, such as Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network. Ecological Internet estimates that 60 percent of FSC-certified products come from primary forests, the most ancient and biological diverse type of rainforest. “The FSC, for its part, has not released data related to this issue,” writes Hance.
Barry tells Mongabay:
“[The] whole idea of certified forestry was completely usurped and the term made relatively meaningless, much like sustainable development has become, by the industrial logging as usual […] FSC logging is still the first-time logging of primary forests that are ancient ecosystems that contain the genetic and biodiversity materials that are very important for our and all species’ survival,” explains Barry, who has seen the process firsthand while working as the Papua New Guinea World Bank rainforest specialist for four years.
“I just reached a point personally where if I was going to work on this for any longer, I was going to work to end this desecration of 60-million-year-old rainforests for, in some cases, toilet paper and lawn furniture.”
Mainstream environmental groups like the World Wildlife Foundation, Greenpeace, and the Rainforest Action Network “embraced” the Forest Stewardship Council in the early 1990s, says Barry, “and then the sort of dirty secret that no one would ever talk about is that FSC is primary forest logging. We challenge Rainforest Action Network, we challenge Greenpeace, to sit down and have a debate on this.”
Barry says Ecological Internet takes a “deep ecology, or biocentric approach” and describes what drives the group:
“[Ecological Internet] is very, very concerned about the state of the planet. It is my analysis that we have passed the carrying capacity of the Earth, that in several matters we have crossed different ecosystem tipping points or are near doing so. And we really act with more urgency, and more ecological science, than I think the average campaign organization.”
Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention in this forum that Barry says he was the first blogger. Take it from him:
“I was the inventor of blogging. I was the first person to comment upon other web materials, link it, and then list it reverse chronologically. There is some debate over who the very first one was, but I maintain that I am. It’s still on the web, and has been there since 1995; it’s very clearly there. But if not the first one—there may have been someone musing about their personal lives—at least I was the first political blogger: the first instance of an individual citizen harnessing the power of the internet for political commentary, and being able to publish that just like any large corporation could.”
Sources: Mongabay, Ecological Internet
Image courtesy of Ecological Internet.
Thursday, June 24, 2010 12:35 PM
The good vibrations rocking the World Social Forum, which has already brought over 10,000 spirited activists to Detroit, will no doubt be trumped by expected protests this weekend in and around Toronto at the G8 and G20 summits, host to the world’s financial power brokers—including U.S. President Barack Obama, who penned a letter last week urging member countries not to weaken global economic recovery by focusing too much on debt reduction.
While it’s a good guess the politicians will be droning on about interest rates and trade agreements, various activist groups—working on a wide-range of issues, such as AIDS reduction, child labor, and maternal health—will aim to provide reporters with something a bit more colorful. In anticipation of criminally riotous behavior, in fact, more than 5,000 cops and security personnel are on hand in Ontario. And yesterday morning, some of them got a little action when a Toronto man was found to be in possession of explosives and suspected of planning a summit-related spectacle.
It’s a good guess the alleged perpetrator, reportedly a licensed private investigator named Byron Sonne, was too busy stockpiling common household chemicals to read the May-June issue of This Magazine. In a short “how to” section titled, “Civil Disobedience isn’t for Dummies,” the Toronto-based bi-monthly doled out advice on how to survive a G8/G20 protest in “style (and safety).” Getting arrested before the summit starts was not on the list.
Among other things, activists are encouraged to travel with people they trust; educate themselves on the history of civil-disobedience, as well as current tactics employed by various groups; and decide beforehand what tactics fit your personal convictions. (Y’know, like, are you happiest while singing “We Shall Overcome” or when tossing Molotov Cocktails.)
As for wardrobe:
Pack protective shoes you can run in; heavy-duty gloves; shatter-resistant eye protection; clothing that covers most of your skin; a gas mask or goggles with a vinegar-soaked bandana for protection from chemicals; and noisemakers. Optional: rollerblades and a hockey stick to shoot back tear gas canisters—Canadian-style.
Yeah, that’s right you politically correct American progressives, in Canada sports fanaticism knows no boundaries.
Check out Utne Reader’s current cover story, “The New Face of Activism.”
Source: This Magazine
Wednesday, May 19, 2010 2:34 PM
From New America Media, a report on the courageous activism of immigrant students in Arizona:
Dressed in blue graduation caps and gowns, four students were arrested Monday evening at Sen. John McCain’s office as they called for passage of legislation to assist immigrant students wanting to attend U.S. colleges.
Tucson police arrested and booked the youth on trespassing charges, but they were released after several hours. Federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued an order for them to appear in court.
“We’re putting ourselves on the line, for people we really believe in,” said Mohammad Abdollahi, 24, an undocumented immigrant from Iran, who was arrested. He lives in Ann Arbor, Mo., and is the co-founder of DreamActivists.Org.
“This is not about us,” he said. “This is about the hundreds of thousands of young people who have the same dream, and we want to provide them with the same opportunity.”
The protestors were calling on McCain to support the Dream Act, a bill that would allow youth who enter the country illegally before age 16 to legalize their status by continuing to pursue higher education or enrolling in the military.
Source: New America Media
Friday, May 14, 2010 3:54 PM
In These Times has a great interview in which lifelong social activist Joanna Macy shares her four-step process for creating a sustainable future. Macy teaches workshops on “The Work that Reconnects” to show people how acknowledging gratitude and grief can lead to a new way of seeing the world and moving forward. She feels we’re at the crossroads of a third revolution (akin to the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions), and there’s a great opportunity to unite and push our industrial society into a “life-sustaining” one. I like her observations about recognizing our collective “grief for the world.”
People aren’t thrilled to have you tell them how terrible things are. At first I thought there was this big public apathy, but I learned that it was not that people were indifferent and it’s not that they didn’t care and it’s not that they didn’t know—they did know and they did care but it seemed too painful and too enormous to do anything about.
The repression of painful information is particularly widespread in the United States. We don’t want to look at the inequalities that our lifestyle has generated. We don’t want to look at the ways that we’re endangering the future of life on earth. This is a phenomenon that some people call “psychic numbing” and others call denial.
For life to continue, we must invent a whole new way of supporting human life on earth. That change is coming. It’s not visible to many people because it is not being reported by mainstream media—written press or electronic. But it’s happening and that’s what I see as the third revolution.
Source: In These Times
Thursday, May 13, 2010 2:31 PM
James Cameron is funneling some of his energies into a new role: that of environmentalist and indigenous rights advocate. But he’s finding that this can be tricky territory for a blockbuster director.
Nikolas Kozloff, the author of No Rain in the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects the Entire Planet (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2010), writes at the rainforest conservation website Mongabay about Cameron’s recent forays into the activist realm:
To his credit, Cameron has sought to address not only fictional struggles in the virtual world but also the real-life plight of indigenous peoples fighting to preserve their ancestral lands from hydropower development. Recently, the Hollywood director toured the Brazilian rainforest in association with Amazon Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based NGO [nongovernment organization] which is performing valuable environmental work in South America.
After meeting with the Kayapo Indians, “real life Na’vi,” as Cameron put it, the director got inspired and has been campaigning for indigenous peoples. Cameron says the Belo Monte boondoggle dam planned for the Amazon is a “quintessential example of the type of thing we are showing in Avatar—the collision of a technological civilization’s vision for progress at the expense of the natural world and the cultures of the indigenous people that live there.”
On a tear in New York, he spoke before a United Nations committee on aboriginal rights and even launched an environmental scholarship at Brooklyn Tech high school. Not content to stop there, he updated the Avatar website to keep fans informed about environmental issues and sponsored the planting of a million trees around the world as part of Earth Day.
Kozloff writes that “Cameron has done more than many other Hollywood directors to bring environmentalism into the mainstream.” This is certainly a more charitable view of the director than many on the left seem to hold. Critical theory heavyweight Slavoj Zizek, for example, recently raked Cameron over the coals in Britain’s New Statesman in a commentary that purported to expose the “brutal racist undertones” lurking under the director’s “superficial Hollywood Marxism.”
Zizek might have been impressed (OK, probably not) to see Cameron checking his allegedly Amazon-sized ego and addressing this sort of critique head-on during his New York tour. Cameron spoke on a panel about indigenous issues at the Paley Center for Media in Manhattan, and Kozloff notes on Mongabay that the director deferred to indigenous representatives in answering many questions.
A smart move, given the climate observed by New York City’s Indypendent newspaper:
While the film was well-received by the largely indigenous audience, Cameron did field some tough questions.
[Mohawk journalist Kenneth Deer] pointed to large Hollywood films, such as Dances with Wolves, Little Big Man, Wind Talkers and Avatar, where the hero who saves the indigenous people is always a non-indigenous person. He asked Cameron why he also chose this narrative, and instantly received a large cheer from the audience.
Cameron responded, “That was one of the backlashes against the movie, that the so-called main character was not an indigenous leader himself.” However, he said that the goal in making the film was not to try to “tell indigenous people how bad things are for them,” but rather to “wake up” people who play the roles of economic oppressors or invaders in real-life. “I understand the white messiah argument,” he said, “but in this movie, I am trying to make everybody a white messiah, for everybody to have the sense of responsibility to help with the problem. I think it is such absolutely courageous how you are fighting for your rights … But it is going to take people from the other side meeting you part way and taking responsibility for what has happened in the past and the way we need to live in going forward.”
Sources: Mongabay, New Statesman, The Indypendent
Image © 2010 Atossa Soltani, courtesy of Amazon Watch.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010 5:43 PM
In the campaign against mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia, many of the leading organizers are women. There’s Judy Bonds of Coal River Mountain Watch, whom we named an Utne visionary last year (and who is pictured here with another Utne visionary, Majora Carter of Sustainable South Bronx ). There’s Maria Gunnoe of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, who along with Bonds has won the Goldman Environmental Prize for her efforts. And, reports make/shift, there are front-line activists like Zoe Beavers, who did grunt work on a ground support crew for tree-sitters at a West Virginia mine site last August. (She was rewarded with trespassing charges.) Make/shift puts the work of these women in historical perspective:
Today’s activists are part of a long tradition. In 1965, Ollie “Widow” Combs laid down in front of the bulldozer readying to strip-mine her Kentucky farm. In the courtroom where she was sentenced to 20 hours in jail, the 61-year-old expressed her desire simply: to go back to her hollow and live out the rest of her life in peace. Contemporary activists take this demand a step further: they don’t want coal-related industries devastating anyone’s home.
Source: make/shift (article not available online)
Image by James Chase, courtesy of Coal River Mountain Watch.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010 12:32 PM
“Imagine trying to teach a young person whether the word 'compromise' is positive or negative.” That’s the quandary Carlin Romano tackles in an essay for The Chronicle Review on compromise.
The piece is a review of Avishai Margalit’s book On Compromise and Rotten Compromises:
Margalit explains that he’s mainly concerned with a specific question about political compromise that concerns him as an Israeli: When is it acceptable to compromise on claims of justice in order to secure peace? Nonetheless, his insights into the larger concept enlighten.
He dubs the kind of compromise that no one should ever make a “rotten compromise,” and defines it as “an agreement to establish or maintain an inhuman regime, a regime of cruelty and humiliation, a regime that does not treat humans as humans.” Margalit justifies its rejection “at all costs” on the ground that inhuman regimes “erode the foundation of morality,” the very assumption of shared humanity that we need to get along with one another.
This excerpt in particular hung with me:
…there’s a strain in Margalit's observations that packs a realist punch. Recognizing that we are “forced by circumstances to settle for much less than we aspire to” on issues of justice, we ought to be “judged by our compromises more than by our ideals and norms. Ideals may tell us something important about what we would like to be. But compromises tell us who we are.”
In taking that line, Margalit shines light on a truth about real-world justice that few theorists acknowledge: It’s impossible to correct all the injustices done in this world since time immemorial, let alone all injustices that might be open to correction. We lack not just means of implementation—we lack data on the uncountable injustices that have ever taken place. Meanwhile, life rolls on.
Source: Chronicle Review
Wednesday, April 14, 2010 9:53 AM
Archbishop Desmond Tuto has written a letter of support to students at the University of California in Berkeley who have been working to get the school to divest from "companies that enable and profit from the injustice of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and violation of Palestinian human rights." The student senate recently voted 16-4 in support of the measure, but that decision was vetoed by the President of the Senate.
Here's an excerpt from the letter:
It was with great joy that I learned of your recent 16-4 vote in support of divesting your university’s money from companies that enable and profit from the injustice of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and violation of Palestinian human rights. Principled stands like this, supported by a fast growing number of US civil society organizations and people of conscience, including prominent Jewish groups, are essential for a better world in the making, and it is always an inspiration when young people lead the way and speak truth to power.
I am writing to tell you that, despite what detractors may allege, you are doing the right thing. You are doing the moral thing. You are doing that which is incumbent on you as humans who believe that all people have dignity and rights, and that all those being denied their dignity and rights deserve the solidarity of their fellow human beings. I have been to the Ocupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.
In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. Students played a leading role in that struggle, and I write this letter with a special indebtedness to your school, Berkeley, for its pioneering role in advocating equality in South Africa and promoting corporate ethical and social responsibility to end complicity in Apartheid. I visited your campus in the 1980’s and was touched to find students sitting out in the baking sunshine to demonstrate for the University’s disvestment in companies supporting the South African regime.
Today the senate will vote again on divestment.
Source: Salem News
Friday, April 09, 2010 1:25 PM
The film documentary William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe is about a remarkable man’s life and career: Kunstler, a defense lawyer, fought on the legal front lines of key civil rights and antiwar court cases in the ’60s and ’70s. The movie, directed by his daughters Emily and Sarah Kunstler, chronicles his unlikely trajectory from low-key family man to wild-haired radical, representing the Chicago Seven after the foment of the 1968 Democratic Convention. It also follows him as he takes on other less noble causes including that of avowed terrorist El-Sayyid Nosair, who was convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the murder of Israeli politician Rabbi Meir Kahane. (See a full article about the film in the May-June Utne Reader.)
The movie manages to be several things at once. It is an ode to a father’s life, yet it dares to question his motives. It is a documentary, but also a biography of a firebrand lawyer and a family memoir. And it traces several pivotal episodes in U.S. social history without feeling like a lecture.
I spoke with Emily Kunstler in March in a phone conversation that Sarah Kunstler later joined—Sarah having been delayed by a court appearance as, yes, a defense attorney. They discussed their unusual childhood, their deeply ingrained sense of social justice, and their cinematic portrait of their dad:
Your father was at the epicenter of some of the biggest cultural moments in modern U.S. history. When did you begin to get a sense of his importance and fame?
“Well, I don’t think we understood it in a larger context until much later, but when we were kids we certainly had an understanding of how he felt about himself. You know, we remember going around the corner with him to buy all of the major newspapers so we could bring them home to see if he was in them. (laughs) Or turning on the family television in the kitchen to watch him on the local news. So we knew something was different—but you know, when you’re a kid, it’s your only experience. You have no basis for comparison. It just sort of felt normal.
“Also, when he would walk us to school in the morning, you know, which was five blocks from our home, it would take us half an hour to get there because every 10 feet someone would stop him. As kids it was more of a frustration.” (laughs)
You say in the film that “when he spoke about his past, he was like a hero from legend.” Did you and your sister also believe for a time that he was a hero? And when did doubt begin to creep in?
“Well, the stories of the work that he did during the civil rights movement or the antiwar movement were our bedtime stories. And I think like most young children, you have this sense that your parents are all good and can do no harm. And it’s this real moment, I think, in adolescence when you realize that your parent is a human being.
“But I think that experience was a little bit exacerbated for Sarah and I because our father lived so much in the public eye. It wasn’t just something that was happening privately in our home. You know, when he started taking cases that got a lot of negative public attention was when Sarah and I started to question the choices that he was making, because of the impact those choices were having on our family. I mean, particularly the cases that made our lives the most difficult were the Central Park jogger case, which was a big case here in New York and in part nationally. It was when race relations were really polarized and a group of five adolescents, black kids, were accused of brutally raping a white woman in Central Park. And it played on a lot of the fears and cultural stereotypes of that particular time. So our father ended up defending one of these young men, and it just—no one really understood why he made that choice. No one was really supporting him during that period. But for him, he really saw that case as a throwback to the rape trials in the South; he saw the Central Park Five as the new Scottsboro boys.
“It turns out in the end that his position was vindicated—they were all exonerated, actually, after my father passed away, sadly. But I think for him it wasn’t really about innocence, it was about standing up for the unpopular, and protecting the rights of someone who had been vilified in the media and convicted before they ever saw the inside of a courtroom. So that trial was difficult for us, and maybe even more so than that was his defense of El Sayyid Nosair, because we had protesters in front of our house for over four months. Coming and going as a kid, with that experience, was pretty heavy. You know, we had our windows shot out, my father received bullets in the mail, he had death threats regularly. We couldn’t walk to school by ourselves; we were escorted.
“The most important thing for a kid, I think, for a young adolescent, was to feel that they are safe in their own home. And we certainly didn’t have that during that period.”
At that point in your lives, did you ever wish your father had a low-key, uncontroversial profession?
“I think definitely. I don’t know how specifically we thought about it. We were definitely raised with a belief in right to counsel. We thought that everybody deserved a lawyer. We really felt that. I mean, we believed in innocent until proven guilty. We had an unusual education from a young age about the inner workings of the criminal justice system. But we didn’t know why our dad had to be that lawyer—especially when it made our family so uncomfortable. And he was an established attorney—I’m sure he could have found something else quite easily. (laughs) So yeah, it was less like a political difference that we had with him at that young age. It was more just not understanding why he would make choices that would put the family at risk.”
You say in the film that your father became “radicalized” by the Chicago Seven trial. Why did this event radicalize him?
“It was one of the first trials where politics were really brought into the courtroom. I think before that trial it was really the lawyer who would dictate how the trial would run, would impose their theory of the case. This trial flipped it on its head—our father teamed up with his clients, and they really directed the show, and he allowed them to put their politics on trial. So it was a revolutionary period in general, but it was also this sort of revolutionary concept in the courtroom, to try a case this way.
“He was in his 50s, and he completely embraced the hippie movement, the antiwar movement, and I think probably began to feel like himself for the first time during that period.”
Was it the way that trial played out, with Bobby Seale being bound and gagged in the courtroom, that radicalized him?
“Oh, yeah. It was that—it was the binding and gagging of Bobby Seale, it was utterly shocking to him. More than that, it was the assassination of Fred Hampton. I think that he really—he had seen the government participate in great harm in the past, but I think that moment really brought it home for him, to see that the government would really stop at nothing. I mean, he saw how they were trying to do it inside a courtroom, but to have that happen in the middle of the trial, in Chicago, was pretty heavy.”
“I mean, there’s the clip in our film of our father saying, ‘I killed him. I killed him. All of the white people of America killed Fred Hampton, because we stood by, racists all of us.’ I think he really felt that. He really felt like we’re all responsible for the world that we live in, and that if we’re not working to improve the situation we are complicit in it.”
When Sarah confronted your father on local television, what was the pretext of that interview? Did he know that she was going to confront him?
“You know, I don’t remember exactly how it happened. I think they asked him to be on a television show, and he just brought us with him to the show. And they thought it sounded like a fun idea. (laughs) So I think it was kind of casual the way that it all came together. I certainly didn’t know that she would confront him. But it’s not as if he didn’t encourage us to question him, and to question the world we lived in. We did all the time. He loved when we would show any interest in the work that he was doing, whether it was positive or negative. It wasn’t as if that was an unusual moment, but it certainly was unusual in the sense that it was broadcast to millions. (laughs) I think she was referring specifically to the Nosair case when she asked him that question, and you know, probably what she wanted to say was a lot stronger, but that was what she was able to ask. I believe she asked if he ever wanted to get out of a case once he committed himself to it.
“She also in that clip says that she’ll never become a lawyer.”
I was going to bring that up. So what happened?
“Well, I think we all say a lot of things when we’re 15 that maybe don’t remain true into adulthood. But we were raised with a sense of the importance of having a deep commitment to social justice, and the value of that, and the value of that work. We didn’t know how that would manifest in our own lives, but we knew that whatever paths we took, that would be our focus.
“So Sarah saw that a great way to be an advocate is within the legal system, and we also saw that a great way to be an advocate is through making movies. Sarah and I for the past 10 years have been making documentaries, short films, about injustice in the American criminal justice system.
“So, essentially, our father taught us how to use the media—our father taught us the importance of being a good storyteller, whether it’s with a video camera or inside a courtroom.”
Had Sarah previously confronted your father in private with the sort of questions that she raised in the televised interview?
“I think we would more ask questions about the cases he was taking and didn’t necessarily—I can’t remember a time. But I didn’t remember that happening until I saw the footage. So it’s hard to say. But we always gave him a hard time. I do remember that. I remember more a general theme than the specific moments.”
There are some moments when interview subjects are clearly a bit unnerved a bit that they are speaking to the daughters of someone they’re criticizing. Did you face difficulty in getting some of these subjects on camera and convincing them that you were making an even-handed film?
“Everyone who participated in the film did so enthusiastically, even if they had reservations. I mean, there were people who refused to participate, period, and that was more of a difficulty. We realized early on that we couldn’t disguise who we were. We had this idea that we wanted to make this film with this sort of journalistic balance, you know, have this even split between the positive and the negative and have the audience decide for themselves. And then people started saying no to us. I mean, being our father’s daughters was sort of a blessing and a curse in this process, because it gave us tremendous access to a lot of people who wouldn’t have spoken to us otherwise, but it also closed some doors. So we thought, well, maybe we can send in our producer, who can do the interview, because people give interviews to other people, just not us. (laughs) But then we realized that it was important that people were speaking to us, that this was our journey and the most important criticisms and questions were going to come from us.”
Did you learn new things about your father, or reach new understandings about him, in the process of making the film?
“Definitely. Well, first of all we got to build an adult relationship with him, which is something that we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do otherwise. And I don’t think we’ll ever agree with every choice he made, but we definitely have a greater understanding of his motivation. I think toward the end of his life, when he was taking the cases that we were most critical of, he’d gotten to a point in his career where he really had absolutely no trust in the government and in the court system—at all. I mean, he had seen his friends assassinated, he had suffered many defeats. And some victories, but you know, he felt that basically the system just chewed people up and spit them out, and that the role for him to play was to stand up next to people who were either brutalized or ignored and make people pay attention to them in a different way, in the hopes that their rights would be protected.
“He really saw his unpopular clients as sort of canaries in the coal mine. He thought that rights were most likely to be violated when people were vilified, and that where their rights were violated everybody else’s rights could be violated, and that it would set a legal precedent for that to happen and continue to happen.”
Even when he took on questionable clients, it seems that it was still mainly about principle, not money. Is that your perception?
“Oh, it was never about money. Maybe it was about fame. A combination of fame and principle, I think. There were some cases that he took for money. When we were interviewing Jimmy Breslin—Jimmy Breslin’s been around in New York, covering a lot of our father’s work for years, so we asked him about the mafia cases, because Sarah and I were a little obsessed with those for a while. And he got really frustrated with us, because we were so interested in these mafia cases, but that’s what bought us sneakers, that’s what put food on the table—Larry Davis wasn’t paying. (laughs) He was a provider, and he did have to take some cases that paid. But none of his political work and most of his criminal work did not pay. Our family was primarily supported by his speaking engagements.”
There are a lot of important historical moments in your film—the Freedom Riders, the Chicago conspiracy trial, Attica, Wounded Knee—that I’m afraid have fallen off the radar for a lot of Americans, or never made it onto their radar in the first place. Do you have some hope that your film provides a window into this history?
“We really hope so. It’s one of the reasons that we’re doing such a big educational push with the film, because the stories that you mentioned are not typically taught in public high schools across the country. And if they are mentioned, they spend like an hour here or a day there and it’s not really part of the history. So we’ve been working to put together together some educational companion material and are really trying to get the film in any way we can in the hands of high schools, colleges, and law schools across the country.”
Frankly, it educated me a bit to be reminded of these episodes in history.
“It helps to see it all together and to draw connections between those movements. At the very least our father’s life is a great storytelling vehicle for these major moments in American social history of the last 60 years. He moved in and out of these worlds.”
What do you think your dad’s reaction would be to your film?
“I mean, he was his own favorite subject, so I think in that sense he would be happy about any film that focused on him. But I think that he would love that we made the choice to commit four years of our lives to getting to know him better and understanding him—and in a sense sort of bringing him back to life, and bringing his story to generations of people that have never heard of him. So I think he’d be thrilled. I think he would have loved to be at all of our Q&As across the country.
“His favorite thing was talking to young people, and inspiring young people, and really motivating people to make choices in their own lives, to take personal risks to stand up for what they believe in. So hopefully this movie will continue to do that for him.”
You’re doing Q&As across the country?
“Yeah. We’ve been in over 35 film festivals; we opened theatrically in over 25 cities. So in the last year there’s been a lot of travel with the film."
What were some of the common themes at the Q&A sessions?
“It brought some of the most interesting people out of the woodwork. We’ve had former FBI agents come to screenings. We’ve had clients of our father’s, long-lost relatives—it’s been really a mix. It’s interesting, because our father, although he toward the end of his life was deeply suspicious of the government, he always had faith in the jury system. He always had faith in people, in humanity, and he really felt if you exposed people to a truth that they could change their mind, they could evolve and come to a different conclusion. So we hope that our film can reach people on a similar level, that people can come to it—I mean, our father is someone who provoked extreme feelings in everybody. People liked him or they hated him. And we hope that this film will help people get a nuanced view, and maybe have their own transformation in their thinking.
“We’ve experienced this with audience members. People have really been grateful that we were able to tell such a balanced film from such a personal perspective. I think the greatest fear is that being his daughters, we wouldn’t be able to do that. But Sarah and I felt like it almost gave us the power to do that, because if we can be critical and we can raise questions, then we can raise questions that other people can’t. And in doing that we give the audience permission to have their own questions and to see shades of gray—to not have to see things in these broad strokes.”
[At this point Sarah Kunstler joins the conversation.]
Sarah, what type of law do you practice?
Sarah: “I practice primarily criminal law in federal court in Manhattan.”
When did you decide it was OK to become a lawyer? On television as a girl, you said you’d never become one.
Sarah: “I think at that point, for Emily and I, we just wanted to be nothing like our dad. We wanted to forge paths that were completely independent of his. So saying we weren’t going to be lawyers, we were going to be people who act, was like ‘We’re going to have independence from you and do our own thing.’ But at the same time we learned social responsibility from our parents. We were imbued with a sense that we still have that it’s our responsibility to go out into the world and fight for justice and make change, and I think that somewhere along the way I figured out that being a lawyer was a way to do that. I mean, I could do it on my own, separately from him. I don’t know exactly when I decided—it was definitely long after he had died. I know that I applied to law school around the time that Emily and I made a film about a racist drug bust in Tulia, Texas.
“Our first film exposed a racist drug bust that imprisoned over 20 percent of the black population of this town in the Texas panhandle. ... How a town that tiny needed 46 drug dealers is beyond me. But it ended up that the basis for their arrest was the work of one undercover officer whose story and credibility kind of unraveled.
“They initially received sentences of 99 to 300 years in prison—Gov. Rick Perry eventually overturned all the convictions. Emily and I made a documentary about it that helped expose the injustice. It was simultaneously kind of the beginning of our film career and part of my decision to go to law school and be a lawyer. To me, the two things are linked—they’re both different forms of advocacy. They’re different ways of telling a story and bringing a truth either to an audience or to a jury, and trying to right a wrong. It led me to pursue social justice work as both a filmmaker and a lawyer.”
Emily, you say in the film that you and Sarah have “always been a team.” Did making this film and digging deeper you’re your shared family history bring you closer?
Emily: “Oh, definitely. I think Sarah and I have never been as close as we are now. It’s a very difficult and painful process in any artistic endeavor—and having gone through that with my sister was a really wonderful experience. I mean, it’s not always peaceful here. There’s screaming, there’s yelling, we’re very emotional like our father was, but at the end of the day we always end friends, and it’s very important for us not to sustain conflict. And you know, it’s great, because who can you trust more than your sister who’s been your co-conspirator since birth? So we really had complete trust in the other one throughout this process.”
It’s clear from the film that you were already playing with film and media as kids. Did either of you have early inklings that you wanted to be a filmmaker?
Sarah: “You know, we didn’t remember making those videos until we were amassing material to make the film. But when I look at that, what I see is two little girls engaging their father in the way they see him engaging with the world—and also making fun of it. I think more than anything else it kind of shows our awareness of The William Kunstler, and a kind of humor at who that person was.”
Emily: “In addition to the stuff that’s in the film, we always had recording devices, we always had cameras, we were always interested in documenting things. There’s one photograph in the film where we each have like three voice recorders and a camera, so I think it’s definitely something that we were interested in. So I definitely can see a common thread of interest from that period. And all of his major press conferences he did on the front stoop of our house. So we saw how important it was to communicate a message to the outside world, and what kind of power that gave you. I think we definitely took that to heart, and you can see that in the work we do today.”
William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe will be shown on the PBS documentary series POV starting June 22, and it is available on DVD from New Video. www.disturbingtheuniverse.com.
Image by Jesse Ferguson.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010 11:00 AM
The design studio Big Ant International earned themselves a big award for their antiwar poster series “What Goes Around Comes Around,” designed for the Global Coalition for Peace.
The message ain’t too difficult to grasp. Here it is:
(Thanks, The Inspiration Room.)
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Thursday, March 04, 2010 9:28 AM
The celebrated dissident Aung San Suu Kyi is not the only woman dissident suffering unjust punishment in Burma. Reporting for Inter Press Service, Marwaan Macan-Markar reports that “the jails in that military-ruled country continue to be filled by lesser-known women dissidents being held on a range of questionable charges.”
Mid-February saw the latest group of female political activists thrown into jail with a two-year prison term, including hard labour, for a “crime” they committed four months ago—donating religious literature to a Buddhist monastery, an act that the junta deemed as “disturbing the peace.”
At the time of their arrest in October 2009, Naw Ohn Hla, Myint Myint San, Cho Cho Lwin and Cho Cho Aye had also been conducting regular prayers at the landmark Shwedagon pagoda in Rangoon, the country’s former capital, to secure the release of opposition leader Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for over 14 of the last 20 years.
...The four women prisoners bring to nearly 190 the number of female activists among the estimated 2,200 political prisoners now in Burmese jails. The women who are paying a steep price for their political beliefs include Buddhists nuns, journalists, labour rights activists and members and sympathisers of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party that Suu Kyi heads.
Nilar Thein, a former university student leader, is among them. She was condemned to a 65-year prison sentence in November 2008 for her prominent role in a peaceful protest movement in September 2007 that saw thousands of Buddhist monks come on the side of the oppressed and launch street protests.
Hla Hla Win was given a 20-year-prison sentence on Dec. 31 last year for her work as an "undercover journalist" who fed information from inside Burma, or Myanmar, as it is also known, to the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), an Oslo-based news organisation of exiled Burmese journalists.
Others such as the 54-year-old Cho Mar Htwe, who was released in September 2009 after languishing in jail for 11 years, was condemned for something more simpler – bringing to the NLD office a faxed letter from Japan that called for the release of Suu Kyi and all political prisoners.
For more on women dissidents in Burma, read Marwaan Macan-Markar’s interview with women’s rights activist Hseng Noung.
Source: Inter Press Service
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Thursday, March 04, 2010 9:03 AM
In her latest collection of essays, novelist and essayist Arundhati Roy turns her critical eye to her home country of India. Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers is published by Haymarket Books. In this UtneCast conversation, Roy challenges the mainstream media story of "India shining" and describes the recent laws and military operations inside the country that she says challenge India's image as a great democracy.
Download the UtneCast interview with Arundhati Roy
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Image by Pradip Krishen.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010 1:13 PM
When I started thumbing through the special “War Torn” issue of New Youth Connections (“the magazine written by and for youth”), I fully expected to find blog fodder. After reading the issue, I can't decide on just one article to single out. If only the “adult” press (get your mind out of the gutter, dirtbag) had the courage to approach the issue of war from so many angles and so unapologetically. The issue feels like one long, really important conversation.
There's the young woman writing about eavesdropping on her brother's late night calls to mom from the Iraq war and the guide to helping friends and family members with PTSD. There’s a full page fact sheet on resisting military recruiters (“If you come from a troubled home, you already have an idea of the psychological damage that an environment like that can have on you,” writes a teen who organizes against recruiters, “and it’s probably going to do even more harm to be in a war.”). Then there’s a full page dedicated to the testimonies of teens who have enlisted already or are leaning towards it (“I'm worried that what [the recruiters] say is bulls--t,” writes one teen. “That’s why I ask the soldiers what the military is really like.”).
It’s not all about America's wars. A young man from the Ivory Coast writes about the ways “a civil war divided my crew.” Elsewhere in the magazine a young Palestinian defends Al Jazeera: “I never watch Al Jazeera without my eyes getting teary.”
Want to see the staff of New Youth Connections in action? Here you go:
Source: New Youth Connections
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Friday, February 19, 2010 9:09 AM
“The Public Domain is not some gummy residue left behind when all the good stuff has been covered by property law,” wrote Duke University professor of law James Boyle in 2008. “The Public Domain is the place we quarry the building blocks of our culture. It is, in fact, the majority of our culture.”
These words make up the preamble to The Public Domain Manifesto, the collaborative work of scholars, activists, and other citizens concerned about the international trend towards increasingly strict and punitive copyright laws. Initial signers of the manifesto include organizations like Creative Commons and the Open Knowledge Foundation.
More from the manifesto:
The Public Domain as aspired to in this Manifesto is defined as cultural material that can be used without restriction, absent copyright protection. In addition to works that are formally in the public domain, there are also lots of valuable works that individuals have voluntarily shared under generous terms creating a privately constructed commons that functions in many ways like the public domain. Moreover, individuals can also make use of many protected works through exceptions and limitations to copyright, fair use and fair dealing. All of these sources that allow for increased access to our culture and heritage are important and all need to be actively maintained in order for society to reap the full benefit of our shared knowledge and culture.
Read the entire manifesto and, if you are so moved, sign it at publicdomainmanifesto.com.
Tuesday, February 09, 2010 10:13 AM
"I like Minneapolis," the Iraqi oud player Rahim al Haj told an audience at the Walker Art Center on a recent blustery February evening. "It's a very progressive town. I can curse Bush and nobody will call the FBI." Cursing George W. Bush may seem benign these days, but for an Iraqi who has only recently gained his American citizenship, it still counts as truth to power—a variety of dissent that has marked the two-time Grammy nominee his entire life.
Al Haj had to flee Iraq in 1991 after years of public opposition to Saddam Hussein's brutal and blundering regime. He was tortured in Hussein’s prisons, and after his second sentence his mother sold what valuables she had and bought him a new identity. He left Baghdad, his country, and his family on a fake passport. His epic refugee's journey took him to Syria, then to Jordan, and finally to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where his United Nations settlement counselor tried to talk him into the wisdom of flipping burgers at a fast food joint. He wasn’t having it. He got right to the work of establishing himself in America (as he had already in the Middle East and Europe) as a virtuoso musician and storyteller. He still lives in Albuquerque with his wife, Syrian journalist Nada Kherbik.
Just as he resisted Saddam Hussein’s regime in Baghdad, he became an early and very public opponent of George W. Bush’s war to finish the dictator. When I first met Rahim in 2002, his English was elementary at best but still he was taking every opportunity to tell stories about Iraq, speak out against the war, and play the beautiful compositions he was writing about the place he had such desperate affection for.
At the Walker in Minneapolis, Rahim was premiering a collaborative work, commissioned by the Walker and also featuring jazz guitarist Bill Frisell and violist Eyvind Kang. The three were performing their Baghdad/Seattle Suite, a genre-bending composition so quiet it could be interrupted by a whisper, though nobody in the Walker's McGuire Theater dared. The musicians will record their suite later this year and I'll be sure to blog about it when it's released. If you want to know more about Rahim, watch him perform, listen to his music, and read about his life at the Smithsonian Folkways website. Or watch this bit of footage from the recording sessions of his album When the Soul is Settled: Music of Iraq:
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Image by Douglas Kent Hall.
Thursday, January 28, 2010 11:30 AM
Rhonda Mahony over at Wild Bee has posted a fine introduction to TOR, open-source software that allows you to volunteer your computer for global privacy.
We've written about TOR before. Here's how David Talbot described it in Digital Dissent Sidestepping Censorship:
In a place like Zimbabwe, where saying the wrong thing can get you killed or thrown in prison on treason charges, you take precautions: You’re careful about whom you talk to; you’re discreet when you enter a clinic to take pictures. And when you get to the point of putting your information on the Internet, you need protection from the possibility that your computer’s digital address will be traced back to you.
Maybe, at that point, you use Tor, one of several Internet anonymity systems that encrypt data or hide the accompanying Internet address, and route the data to its final destination through intermediate computers called proxies. This combination of routing and encryption can mask a computer’s actual location and circumvent government filters; to prying eyes, the Internet traffic seems to be coming from the proxies. At a time when global Internet access and social-networking technologies are surging, such tools are increasingly important to bloggers and other web users living under repressive regimes. Without them, people in these countries might be unable to speak or read freely online.
Unlike most anonymity and circumvention technologies, Tor uses multiple proxies and encryption steps, providing extra security that is especially prized in areas where the risks are greatest. Paradoxically, that means it’s impossible to confirm whether it’s being used by the Zimbabwean bloggers.
(Thanks, Boing Boing.)
Source: Wild Bee
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Tuesday, January 05, 2010 4:52 PM
Jesus was an activist, according to many activists. He fought for the poor and stood up to authority. But after Jesus was crucified, the Romans were not deposed, and poverty and corruption among the Jews remained. “If Jesus is a model for activism,” Will Braun writes for Geez, “he seems to be a model for failed activism.”
Braun’s interpretation isn’t an attack on Jesus as an inspirational figure. It’s an effort to see him as he was, rather than trying to turn him into a mirror for the qualities we admire. Braun writes, “The story of Jesus did not hold for her the promise that the bad guys would be overthrown but that there were certain things that live on beyond the reach of the destructive powers.”
Friday, September 18, 2009 1:15 PM
The latest word on the sexual cleansing of Iraq is that militias have been scanning internet chatrooms used by lesbian, gay, and transgendered Iraqis as part of a grotesque and tragic campaign of kidnapping, torture, and murder.
There was an endless parade of celebrities speaking out on behalf of Iraqis in the months leading up to the bombardment and invasion of Iraq in 2003. Nearly seven years later few raise their voices for the welfare of people in Iraq (not to mention the estimated two million who have fled the violence there).
Enter Antony Hegarty, the achingly beautiful voice of Antony and the Johnsons who posted an article about the killings, followed by a desperate declaration, written in all-caps:
ALLAH TREASURES HIS GAY AND TRANSGENDERED CHILDREN, HIS PRECIOUS HOMOSEXUAL CHILDREN.
JESUS ADORES HIS GAY CHILDREN AND RESERVES A SACRED PLACE FOR THEM IN THE FOLDS OF HIS CLOTHES.
IT IS A SIN TO HURT A GAY OR TRANSGENDERED PERSON. YOU HURT ALLAH WHEN YOU HURT ONE OF THESE MEN OR WOMEN, BOYS OR GIRLS.
Make a tshirt. Tell your friends.
love from Antony, crying
If you want to learn more about the situation for gay and transgendered Iraqis, here are a few resources:
Sexual Cleansing in Iraq (Utne Reader, May-June 2009)
The Sexual Cleansing of Iraq Intensifies (Utne.com, May 5, 2009)
Exterminating Lesbian, Gay, and Transgendered Iraqis (Utne.com, August 17, 2009)
Iraqi LGBT, an organization that publicizes hate crimes in Iraq
They Want Us Exterminated: Murder, Torture, Sexual Orientation and Gender in Iraq, a report published by Human Rights Watch
Source: Antony and the Johnsons
Sunday, August 09, 2009 7:31 AM
Religious Americans are up to four times more likely to be active in their communities than nonreligious Americans—and the link is causal, according to new research from Robert Putnam and David Campbell. The scholars have observed increases in civic involvement that come after individuals join a religious group.
“The reason for the increased civic engagement may come as a surprise to religious leaders,” the Christian Century writes. “It has nothing to do with ideas of divine judgment or with trying to secure a seat in heaven. Rather, it’s the relationships that people make in their churches, mosques, synagogues and temples that draw them into community activism. . . . The theory is if someone from your ‘moral community’ asks you to volunteer for a cause, it’s really hard to say no.”
Source: Christian Century
Thursday, July 16, 2009 3:32 PM
Activist and Utne Visionary Derrick Jensen has never been the sentimental type. I’d go so far as to call him pathologically unsentimental. In his essay "Forget Shorter Showers," published in Orion, he takes on the activist phenomenon of simple living as a political act.
Simple living as a political act, he writes, “accepts capitalism’s redefinition of us from citizens to consumers”:
By accepting this redefinition, we reduce our potential forms of resistance to consuming and not consuming. Citizens have a much wider range of available resistance tactics, including voting, not voting, running for office, pamphleting, boycotting, organizing, lobbying, protesting, and, when a government becomes destructive of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we have the right to alter or abolish it.
“The endpoint of the logic behind simple living as a political act,” he adds, “is suicide”:
If every act within an industrial economy is destructive, and if we want to stop this destruction, and if we are unwilling (or unable) to question (much less destroy) the intellectual, moral, economic, and physical infrastructures that cause every act within an industrial economy to be destructive, then we can easily come to believe that we will cause the least destruction possible if we are dead.
So what do we do? Jensen never signs off without a call to revolutionary action:
We can follow the examples of brave activists who lived through the difficult times I mentioned—Nazi Germany, Tsarist Russia, antebellum United States—who did far more than manifest a form of moral purity; they actively opposed the injustices that surrounded them. We can follow the example of those who remembered that the role of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible, but rather to confront and take down those systems.
Image by Robert Shetterly.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009 1:23 PM
Yarn graffiti artists wrap, weave, and hang their knitted and crocheted creations on doorknobs, car antennas, street sign poles, or even trees. These “yarn bombers” are part of an international guerrilla knitting movement.
In a book to be published in September 2009, Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain write about the activism and art of knitting and crocheting.
Yarn bombing can take many forms, but most yarn bombs are handmade items that are attached to street fixtures or left in yards. Members of the group Knitta have left “bombs” all over North America, South America, and Europe. One left a yarn bomb on a stone in the Great Wall of China.
For many yarn graffiti artists, yarn bombing is simply a fun and creative act that allows for self-expression. These “bombers” see yarn graffiti as a way to “take back the knit,” challenging the idea that knitting and crocheting are only useful for garment creation. Knitting should instead be appreciated for artistic value.
To others, the act of creating something is a protest against mass-produced goods and corporations. “Acts such as knitting and crochet, which traditionally have been devalued by society as domestic work, are now considered by many to be political statements,” write Moore and Prain.
Interested in becoming part of the yarn bombing revolution? For great photos, stories, and instructions, check out Moore and Prain’s book Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti (to be published by Arsenal Pulp Press in September).
To meet other yarn graffiti artists, join the online communities knitty.com or ravelry.com. Also, check out the Utne Reader article about Pretty Knitty Titties and Broken Pencil editor (and knitter) Lindsay Gibb's recent guest blog.
Source: Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti
Image by Candescent, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, March 27, 2009 10:17 AM
Alt Wire is a morning digest of links and information collected and explained by a different guest blogger every weekday. Today's guest is writer and media activist Jen Angel
. Five amazing activist organizations you've probably never heard of (but should check out right now):
Reclaim the Media: A small Seattle-based non-profit, Reclaim the Media is one of the best sites for news on media policy issues and activism.
SmartMeme: For the last five years, SmartMeme has been developing story-based strategy—understanding how narratives and stories work to aid campaigns and social movements.
Courage to Resist: Courage to Resist supports members of our military who oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military opposition to the war in Vietnam was a critical element in the anti-war movement, and it can be again.
Rising Tide North America: An up-and-coming environmental activist group, known for their creative direct actions and no-compromise stance opposing fossil fuel use.
The Beehive Collective: This group of talented artist-activists useintricately detailed murals as vehicles to educate the public about the history and implications of complex political, economic and social issues, from Pan Pueblo Panama to mountain-top removal coal mining.
BIO: Jen Angel is a writer and media activist, currently helping others promote their work through the cooperative publicity and tour management group, Aid & Abet. She is the former publisher of Clamor Magazine and a founding board member of Allied Media Projects. She blogs at http://jenangel.wordpress.com.
Previous Alt Wire Guests: Will Braun, Regan Hofmann, Josh Breitbart, Andrew Lam, Jessica Valenti, Jessica Hoffmann, Noah Scalin, Rinku Sen, Paddy Johnson, Melissa Mcewan, Fatemeh Fakhraie, Joe Biel, Anne Elizabeth Moore
Friday, February 27, 2009 6:18 PM
Amid all the talk about what the stimulus bill will do for homeowners facing foreclosure, the latest issue of Left Turn contains a timely observation: “In the 30 years since the federal government’s move to deprioritize low-incoming housing led to the modern homelessness epidemic, homelessness has become a separate issue from housing.” The insight is part of a great, manifesto-like article (not yet online) coauthored by “a bunch of folks” at Picture the Homeless, a grassroots advocacy group founded and led by homeless people in New York City.
The stigma attached to homelessness, the coauthors argue, only serves to segregate the very poor into two groups—those who have housing, and those who don’t. “Frequently, we find our demands at odds with organizations. . . who on the surface would be our allies,” they write. “Housing groups organize tenants to fight eviction and block rent increases, but their demands for the creation of ‘affordable housing’ are targeted at income ranges well above the poverty level. . . . Long-term community residents fighting against gentrification and displacement frequently fail to feel any solidarity with homeless people who already have been displaced from those communities.”
As the feisty folks at Picture the Homeless tell it: “There is not a homeless crisis, but there is a housing crisis, with homelessness being one result.” It seems like their approach is gaining traction, too. Over at Change.org, Shannon Moriarty chronicles some of the decidedly housing-oriented ways that cities plan to spend their share of the $1.5 billion allotted to homelessness prevention.
Sources: Left Turn, Change.org
Thursday, February 26, 2009 5:24 PM
If I were a coal company executive, I’d feel like I was getting beat up on: The entire month of February has seen big coal being pummeled by politicians, environmental groups, and activists as if it were something dirty. But if I had any sense I’d realize I deserved a beating for shamelessly propagating the most polluting energy source we use—and I’d prepare for another thrashing next month.
Let’s recap. On February 4, the New York Times’ Green Inc. blog chronicled “A Tough Week for Coal,” but that was just the beginning. On February 17, Grist reported on a crowd of coal foes who marched on the Kentucky State Capitol to listen to speakers including actress Ashley Judd and novelist Silas House demand an end to mountaintop removal coal mining. The same day in Washington, writes SolveClimate, the Obama administration’s EPA said it would reconsider whether carbon dioxide should be regulated as a pollutant, a move that would target big coal burners. And yesterday, the anti-coal Reality Coalition released a new mock ad (below) directed by Joel and Ethan Coen that ridicules the spin-speak behind the phrase “clean coal.”
So that was coal’s bleak February. Its March starts off with another doozy, a civil disobedience march Monday on the coal-fired power plant that Congress owns. Among the marchers at the Capitol Climate Action event will be high-profile figures such as Bill McKibben, who writes for Yale Environment 360, “Why I’ll Get Arrested to Stop the Burning of Coal.” We wish him the best of luck in both endeavors.
UPDATE (3/2/09): Despite a late-winter D.C. snowstorm, more than 2,000 protesters turned out at the Capitol Climate Climate Action event Monday and blockaded the three main gates to the Capitol Power Plant, according to Jeff Biggers at Huffington Post. No arrests were made. See McKibben's account of the protest at Mother Jones' Blue Marble blog.
Sources: New York Times, Grist, SolveClimate, Reality Coalition, Capitol Climate Action, Yale Environment 360, Huffington Post, Blue Marble
Friday, February 13, 2009 11:24 AM
Dan Leonard is an activist with all the right credentials: he’s been to Palestine, he’s worked with the poor in Uganda, he could claim roots in a notoriously poor neighborhood of Philadelphia. Leonard’s father is a “middle class, Republican, suburban evangelical.” In an essay in the latest issue of Geez, Leonard dissects his years of “empire toppling activities,” an exercise inspired by a transformative moment on a bridge with his father:
“On my most recent trip home, fresh back from Palestine, I met my father outside the train station. The bridge leading from the train station to my father’s office is home to many homeless folk, and as we approached bridge I reached in my pocket for change with the intention proving something to my dad. But as we crossed the bridge, I noticed that each homeless person we passed greeted my father by name.
“He was a celebrity on the bridge. And not a single person asked him for money. It occurred to me that he did something few activists do—walk the same path five days a week for 30 years.
“We stopped and talked to one woman, Rona. My dad introduced me and she mentioned that she had heard all about my upcoming marriage and my work with the church. She was not particularly interested in my work with the poor, but instead told me how wonderful my father was.
“I realized later that for all the times I had protested in support of the poor, not one poor person in Philadelphia knew me by name.
“It teaches me to stay in one place. Transience is dead. Activism belongs to those who have committed their lives to people and who have learned to stay put.”
Friday, January 16, 2009 10:47 AM
The first known maps were carved into stone some millennia ago. Still, the map as a tool for social justice and environmental activists is a relatively new phenomenon. Google Earth has been something of a novelty since its release in 2006. Bloggers post images of their neighborhoods, roadside attractions, sunbathers, even suspected UFOs. But for communities stretching from the Amazonian rainforest to a Santa Cruz Canyon, Google Earth is seeding a revolution.
This month’s issue of Conscious Choice profiles the work of Google’s Rebecca Moore, who used Google Earth to spark a successful campaign to stop a utility company from obtaining logging rights in the Santa Cruz Mountains near her home. “When Moore turned to her new employer’s software to identify which parcels of land the utility company owned,” reporter E.B. Boyd writes, “she was acting only as a private citizen concerned about a local land use issue. But her effort to understand what was happening in her own backyard led to a breakthrough that has had worldwide ramifications for environmental and humanitarian organizations seeking to communicate the significance of their causes.”
“Moore dumped her parcel information into the software and looked for the utility company’s land. The results alarmed her: it was a six-mile swath jutting straight up the canyon, right below private homes, schools and churches. The roads the loggers would take were a mess of hairpin turns. Just recently, a local woman’s car had been crushed after logs had rolled off another logging truck. These are the roads kids use to walk to school, Moore thought. There will be more accidents.
“The creek at the base of the canyon provides water for 100,000 people living in the mountains and in nearby Silicon Valley. Soil erosion from the logging would surely degrade water quality, Moore thought, if not gum up the filtration machinery altogether. Plus landslides were already common; the removal of so many trees would certainly precipitate more slides.”
Moore took her Google Earth map to a meeting of Neighbors Against Irresponsible Logging (NAIL). Suddenly, the organization’s fight had a potent tool to fight the utility company.
Moore’s work led to the creation of Google Earth Outreach. The project website says its purpose is to “give nonprofits and public benefit organizations the knowledge and resources to reach minds and hearts.”
Google Earth Outreach has a YouTube page and features a striking eight-minute documentary chronicling Moore’s work training over 20 indigenous tribes in the Amazon on using the Internet to preserve their land and their way of life.
Here’s the video:
And here are a few more places you can go to learn about social justice and environmental activists using maps as an organizing tool:
Raising Global Awareness with Google Earth, by Rebecca Moore
Green Map System
Google Earth Outreach case studies
Ogle Earth blog (don't miss the Gaza map collection)
Friday, January 02, 2009 10:02 AM
Scraper bikes began as low-budget analogs to the colorful, big-rimmed cars—also called scrapers—often seen cruising around east Oakland. Tricked-out scavenged frames with foil, colored tape, and candy wrappers, the bikes are a resourceful homage. Until recently they were a purely local phenomenon. But after a cameo in a YouTube rap video, prominent placement in the first-ever solar-powered hip-hop festival, and support from Bay Area businesses and museums, the bikes are garnering worldwide attention. Many people see potential in the maturing scraper bike movement; they hope the enterprising youth behind it can be a positive force for change in Oakland.
Tyrone Stevenson, the “Scraper Bike King” who pioneered the bikes, has played an energetic role in popularizing them. He sells them to places as far away as Germany, and teaches people to build them in the informal workshops he holds in his backyard. Andre Ernest, director of the Super Innovative Teens nonprofit, believes Stevenson has already made an impact. “He’s helping the kids who would otherwise be on the street,” Ernest told the Christian Science Monitor. According to Wiretap, Stevenson recently applied for a small business grant and is working to patent his design. He hopes to open a shop where he can continue to teach bike-building skills. “If we had a center, where a lot of kids could just come, I feel deep in my heart that would really reduce a lot of the crime,” he says.
Take a look at this slideshow of scraper bike photos, and watch the video that catapulted the bikes into the limelight below:
Image courtesy of Green Jobs Now, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, November 03, 2008 11:56 AM
Kate Bornstein didn’t go through with her sex change operation with the intention of tackling gender theory. “No, I went through my gender change with the intention of being pretty,” the artist and author said at a performance last year at Virginia Commonwealth University. “I never set out to deconstruct a gender binary. I didn’t have a clue of what that is. I just wanted to be a pretty girl.”
But 22 years after going under the knife, Bornstein has four books, countless performances, an entire system of postmodern gender theory, and a new coalition of sex positivity to show for her work, as highlighted in the Summer/Fall issue of Shameless.
Bornstein’s performances focus heavily on pleasure and joy, and avoid excluding those of us who might not relate too closely to a “transsexual polyamorous sadomasochistic dyke pornographer,” as she calls herself. Though her entire audience isn't always queer, Bornstein acknowledges everyone's identity despair in her perfomances and books, most notably in Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks & Other Outlaws, now in its third printing.
The article’s author and Shameless editor Megan Griffith-Greene tames the tone of Bornstein’s lectures for the magazine aimed at teenage girls, and focuses mostly on the artist’s credo: “Don’t be mean.”
“The world needs more kind people in it, no matter who or what they do,” Bornstein writes on her blog. “The world is healthier because of its outsiders and outlaws and freaks and queers and sinners. I fall neatly into all those categories.”
Shameless took a chance in celebrating such a subversive figure among essays about summer camp and female inventors, but it’s a positive sign that the indie publication is filling a much-needed niche, and that Bornstein’s refuse-to-be-silent words are being heard.
“I’m giving myself permission to feel sexy,” Bornstein said at the VCU performance. “and that’s making life a whole lot more worth living for me right now. It’s giving me some time for myself that’s not all about politics and art. It’s just about joy. So do you feel sexy?”
Image courtesy of Kate Bornstein.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008 4:34 PM
The political yard signs that pepper front lawns across the country are a huge waste of time, Organizers—the people out there killing themselves to win this election—hate yard signs with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns.”
Instead of focusing on yard signs, people should make phone calls, knock on doors, register new voters, write a check, or do something more useful, if they really want to influence an election. Sure, signs make people feel good, but while organizers are forced to deal with yard signs, Quinn writes, “There’s a walk list sitting in a campaign office not being walked and knocked, and a newly-registered voter who projects as .45 of a vote for Obama is not being registered.”
Image by Matthew Trump, licensed under GNU.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008 1:56 PM
The words “music festival” invite rain, and Tuesday was no exception as Ripple Effect, a drizzly but celebratory arts and activism festival, took shape on the Minnesota State Capitol lawn, in jubilant defiance of the convention happening at the bottom of the hill.
The local jam band Wookiefoot was first, featuring the Orthodox Jewish rapper Matisyahu guesting on vocals. Until Tuesday I had been under the (grateful) impression that jam bands fell out of vogue when Phish broke up, but the fervent crowd emphatically proved me wrong, and I was suddenly surrounded by a magnitude of dreadlocks and hemp clothing I haven’t experienced since my college days.
During one break between songs, the lead singer addressed the Wookiefoot faithful thusly: “You have heeded the call … the call for all Jedi to galactivate!” Whatever language he was speaking, the audience took it to heart.
Still, my uninitiated tastes and the intermittent rain were not about to dampen the spirits of the festival participants. There were a number of tents offering political and spiritual shwag, and numerous artistic assemblages, such as this flower art that passerby were invited to help sculpt:
There was also an elegant and affecting memorial comprising some footwear of those killed in the Iraq war:
And not just fallen soldiers, but civilians too:
All told, Ripple Effect seemed a tentative success. The crowd I observed was well short of the 7,000-10,000 people Substance had anticipated, but after I left things apparently gained momentum, as the crowd swelled and the Establishment crashed the party.
For more coverage of the event and links to featured artists, speakers, and groups, visit the Ripple Effect website.
Images courtesy of the author.
For more of Utne.com’s ongoing coverage of the Republican National Convention, click here.
Tuesday, September 02, 2008 12:36 AM
I arrived at the Minnesota State Capitol on Monday shortly before 1 p.m., when the march on the Xcel Center was scheduled to begin. Things were already in full swing, with protesters assembling on the capitol lawn and making last-minute adjustments to their signs, costumes, and props.
The march began roughly on time, with a slow but determined mass moving down the capitol’s hill toward downtown Saint Paul. I began walking next to an anti-capitalist black bloc. An exuberant young man with a megaphone led protesters in chants of “No war but the class war!” and “A … Anti … Anti-Capitalista!”—after which last chant I heard a Bloc member behind me confide to his friend, “I don’t even know what that means.”
I really, really hoped he was kidding. After Megaphone Guy announced that protestors had smashed the windows of a bus full of delegates and the people around me cheered, claustrophobia began to set in and I decided to peel away from this group and observe other portions of the march.
The Revolution will be exhaustively photographed …
… and merchandized.
Police in riot gear appeared at several intersections to control the flow of the march. I overheard one policewoman in the front line say to a protestor, “I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”
As the march neared the Xcel Center, it was herded through a metal fence.
After emerging from the fencing, the march appeared to be doubling back on itself. From the median in front of Mickey’s Dining Car, I was able to observe it headed both ways.
Code Pink and the Backbone Campaign along with some other very theatrical groups, lending the march a parade-like aspect.
What I saw next had a way of putting everything in perspective. On the other side of the median, marching past Mickey’s, I was suddenly confronted by a huge delegation from Iraq Veterans Against The War, joined by older veterans of other wars in a powerful and dignified procession.
Not to diminish the efforts of the many protest groups which turned out in powerful numbers, but this segment of the march seemed the most—well, real. And certainly the most moving.
I was not witness to the clashes between police and protesters that occurred; from where I was standing, things proceeded in an orderly fashion. There was, however, another Utne writer caught up in the commotion and tear gas, and her perspective is unfortunately very different from mine.
Images courtesy of the author.
For more of Utne.com’s ongoing coverage of the Republican National Convention, click here.
Monday, July 28, 2008 4:16 PM
The folks organizing the Republican National Convention are touting it as “the greenest ever.” The radical environmental activists at Earth First are planning to show up for the event, but not to cheer on the recycling program or the use of flex-fuel and hybrid vehicles. They’re coming to “demonstrate alternatives to both lobbying and voting for environmental action,” according to the July-August issue of Earth First Journal (article not available online).
In other words, they’re going to block traffic.
“The most direct way to oppose this dog-and-pony show is just to stop it,” reads the article under the nom de plume of “the RNC Welcoming Committee.” “Stopping the convention won’t stop the election, but it throws a big fuckin’ wrench in the GOP’s public relations machine, and the GOP needs that machine to survive.”
The authors exhort eco-activists to set up blockades of all kinds. “Anything from a lockdown to a pile of materials, from a theatrical performance in an intersection to a good old-fashioned traffic jam will help create the desired effect,” they write. The ultimate goal? “Denying delegates access to the RNC.”
Their strategy is built around the mnemonic catch phrase “Swarm, Seize, Stay”: “Basically, 3S means: Move into/around downtown St. Paul via swarms of varying sizes….Seize space….Stay engaged with the situation.” The article notes that an “action camp” will be held in southern Minnesota the first weekend of August to prepare for the RNC.
Earth First’s call to arms is certainly part bluster. The authors admit that their movement “suffers from being small and stretched thin,” and their stated goal of stopping the convention is probably but an activist’s dream. But the fact is that Earth Firsters and others of their ilk would love to turn RNC 2008 into a street-protest legend like WTO 1999. The authors even name-check that event: “The World Trade Organization protest of 1999 was successful in no small part due to Earth First!ers bringing proven techniques and skills from the forests into the city.”
Because there’s nothing like burning a dumpster in the street to show that you love the planet.
Image by J. Narrin, licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008 10:43 AM
Catholics are no strangers to schisms, but breaking secular ties is proving tricky, reports the Catholic newsweekly America (subscription required). When Amnesty International announced its policy supporting the worldwide decriminalization of abortion in August 2007, affiliated Catholic chapters had to decide whether the nonprofit’s work against torture and the death penalty outweighed its stance on abortion.
Unsurprisingly, America found that many Catholic chapters disaffiliated from Amnesty International. “It’s disappointing,” says Monsignor Robert McClory, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Detroit. “On particular cases, we can work together. But the kind of in-depth collaborative work of the past would be stifled by the decision they’ve taken.”
In spite of the controversial policy, some social justice–minded Catholics are finding it difficult to abandon Amnesty International's work completely. Notre Dame’s campus chapter changed its name to “Human Rights Notre Dame” but continues to rely on information from Amnesty’s “Urgent Action” alerts. Across the Atlantic, the predominantly Catholic Amnesty Northern Ireland has struggled with breaking ties, reports Ireland’s public service broadcaster RTÉ, and is considering letting Catholic schools re-join Amnesty International if they can be sure funds raised won’t help support abortion.
Catholic human rights groups may continue to seek new affiliations. America speculates that some may look to abortion-neutral human rights organizations such as the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.
Image by Takoma Bibelot, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, June 19, 2008 11:04 AM
It’s an unrelentingly grim global forecast for activists and protestors worn down by decades of recurring injustices. But thanks to the human rights website New Tactics, activists needn’t rely on stale techniques to create change. Coordinated by the Minneapolis-based Center for Victims of Torture, New Tactics helps human rights defenders share stories of successful strategies, like text messaging to stop torture, an action by the human rights group Amnesty Netherlands that mobilized thousands of young people to demand the release of an imprisoned journalist in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Activists can also discuss how successful techniques can work in other countries and communities.
Starting June 25, New Tactics members will discuss the use of video in human rights advocacy, which, incidentally, was the subject of a recent Utne Reader story on creating participatory video to combat gender-based violence.
Also check out Utne.com's new special project, "Tracking Torture Coverage," a regularly updated roundup of the best torture coverage from around the globe.
Monday, May 12, 2008 10:47 AM
Quakerism, which entails sitting silently as its standard form of worship, may seem like a passive denomination. But the religion's activist streak is far from docile, as shown in a Friends Journal piece about how to provide pacifist alternatives to military recruiters in high schools. The authors—Nancy Howell, a retired sociology professor, and Judy Alves, a retired lawyer—detail their counter-recruitment efforts in Lee County, Florida, from deciding which materials to give students, to regularly attending school board meetings, to defending their right to counter-recruit to the school district attorney.
The volunteers didn’t want to harass enlisting students or military recruiters; they wanted students to know what they were agreeing to. The Friends say that simply examining the enlistment document with students can be persuasive, showing students that they are committing to eight years with the military and “the government is entitled to change all the conditions of the contract at any time, while the recruit is committed to every aspect of the contract, under penalty of law and prison.”
Howell and Alves' counter-recruitment efforts led to changes at the institutional level: standardization of recruitment policies at all the county's high schools, and restrictions on military recruiters, who can now meet with students only in guidance or career counseling offices and only when the students request interviews.
Monday, April 14, 2008 5:15 PM
It was only a matter of time before yoga became EXTREME.
Monday, April 07, 2008 1:42 PM
is a most welcome addition to our library: a feminist magazine that reaches beyond DIY crafting tips and media deconstructions. Feminist discussion is best when it’s fresh, feisty, and includes diverse voices, and make/shift goes into enough depth to bridge the gap between the predictable coverage of established magazines and the relentless pace and sometimes cursory coverage of the feminist blogosphere.
In its third issue, the 2007 Utne Independent Press Award nominee for best new publication highlights feminist activism ranging from doulas working in a Washington state women’s prison to Men Can Stop Rape discussion groups in Washington, D.C. Of particular note is an elucidating interview with Mia Mingus (article not available online). As codirector of Georgians for Choice, Mingus speaks convincingly of the need to expand the discussion about reproductive choice beyond the divisive battle over abortion. For Mingus, reproductive justice is about “reproductive health, bringing sex education to the table, talking about prenatal care. Right now for us, adoption is really important.”
At first, Mingus’ concerns seem far flung. But it makes sense that Mingus—a queer, disabled, Korean transracial adoptee—thinks about reproductive justice in broad terms. She urges us to examine the global inequalities—“ableism, racism, capitalism, and a legacy of white supremacy”—that create the circumstances in which women feel obligated or compelled to give up children. Throughout the magazine, make/shift devotes much needed space to such complex and underrepresented feminist voices.
Thursday, February 14, 2008 1:56 PM
Vegetarian converts can be won without employing the ubiquitous mantra of “meat is murder.” Functional and affordable products are key, argues Silicon Valley Metro Active food columnist Elisa Camahort, which is why she embraces big-box organics along with neighborhood co-ops.
“Like anybody else,” Camahort writes, “I want the fact that a product or service meets my personal ethical requirements to be the bonus, the cherry on the sundae. I don’t want it to be the reason I have to put up with below-par quality or service.”
Increasing the availability of veg products is the modus operandi of “vegan culinary activism,” which Post Punk Kitchen co-creator Isa Chandra Moskowitz outlines in the vegetarian magazine Satya. Attracting the omnivorous masses starts with convincing your mom to use a vegan cookbook or your neighborhood 7-Eleven to stock seitan sandwiches, which they do in Philadelphia. Moskowitz challenges animal libbers to tempt the taste buds of omnivores as a form of activism.
“Every time I hear animal rights activists engaging in heated debate,” Moskowitz writes, “I want to shout, ‘Shut the hell up and go invent a good-tasting soy cheese!’”
Wednesday, December 19, 2007 10:27 AM
Much commentary on rap music has asserted that funny, amusing hip-hop is a moribund sub-genre. In 2005, for instance, Slate reported on the then-popular “Narnia rap” from Saturday Night Live, musing that its goofy style offered what was missing from popular hip-hop. The article’s provocative subtitle—“It won’t save Saturday Night Live, but it could save hip-hop”—suggested that this brand of hi-jinks might serve as a corrective to the genre as a whole. But wasn’t Busta Rhymes goofy? What about OutKast? And, although he is not widely known, the popular indie artist MF Doom did happen to release an entire album about food. All of which is just to say that hip-hop isn’t the unilateral thug advertisement we might pretend it is.
In the Nov.-Dec. issue of Mother Jones, Jeff Chang makes the case that mainstream hip-hop could be poised to re-embrace the socially conscious and politically informed attitudes that mark its history. Detailing some of the politics that have motivated hip-hop artists past and present—he includes a get-acquainted-with-the-facts timeline—Chang argues that hip-hop’s potential as a genuine, widespread social movement faltered when corporate rap evolved into a “monoculture”—“a bland array of hosts and hostesses for the Bling Shopping Network.”
While Chang doesn’t delve into whether hip-hop lost or retained its political flavor at the local level, he does emphasize the focused activism of various local groups that have tapped into hip-hop culture, such as Boston’s Youth Organizing Project, Brooklyn’s Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and Milwaukee’s Campaign Against Violence, which blend politics and culture, activism and rap. Observing the impact of these organizations and the more obviously political gestures of artists such as Kanye West, one wonders when we might stop imagining what hip-hop is and actually hear it.
Thursday, November 29, 2007 5:19 PM
It was only a matter of time before those computer-kid Millennials found a way to engage in issues outside their Facebook communities. And they did it without ever leaving their keyboards. The technology blog TechCrunch reported last week on The Point, a social networking site launched in September that allows armchair activists to force change through petitions and ultimatums without risking arrest or discomfort. Users join campaigns—anonymously, if they choose—promising to take action once a certain number of other people agree to do the same. This tipping-point strategy enables safety in numbers, negating the possibility that you’ll be the only one pelting your boss with dead rats from the picket line.
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