5/10/2013 4:32:00 PM
The rise of
corporate-owned social media raises many flags about our online security and
the future of the digital commons. The solution, says theorist Michael Albert,
is a different kind of network altogether.
In many ways, social media seem almost designed for
activism. Efficient, user-friendly, and above all, inexpensive, sites like
Facebook and Twitter are invaluable communication tools for any activist.
Planning a rally outside a college president’s office? Create a Facebook group.
Find a nifty guide to protesters’ rights online? Share it on Twitter. Worried
about police brutality at an illegal march? Live-stream from your phone so more
people can see what you see.
No shock that, “Twitter revolutions” aside, social media
have undoubtedly played an important role in activism and social change over
the past decade. In Egypt,
the revolution in some ways began with Facebook groups like the 6 April Youth
Movement and “We Are All Khaled Saaed.” Here in the U.S.,
it was a “We Are the 99 Percent” Tumblr page that gave many future participants
their first glimpse of Occupy Wall Street—more than a full week before the
first encampment in Zuccotti
Park. Achievements like
the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street were of course about so much more than
Facebook or Tumblr, but without social media they would likely have been very
Which, when you think about it, is probably the exact opposite
of what the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world thought social media would do. So
much of what sites like Twitter or Facebook are designed for, how they’re
organized and governed, and how they make money, could not be further from ideals
like social justice or goals like ending student debt. Many sites, like
Facebook, even have a history of giving private data over to government
the U.S. and abroad.
But here’s the good news. It doesn’t have to be like this. There’s
no law of nature that social media need to be run by giant corporations or that
users need to put up with government spying and manipulative advertising. So,
what’s the alternative?
Michael Albert, social theorist and co-editor of Z Magazine, has come up with one solution—and
it’s worth taking a close look at. It’s called FaceLeft, and it embodies the
very best of social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, but emphatically
without the spying, concision, and commercialization users have long put up
with. Ad-free, substantive, and as open or private as users want to make it,
FaceLeft is the first social network designed by and for activists—or anyone who
feels uncomfortable with corporate-owned social media.
“Can social networking itself better reflect and address needs of people
who are trying to improve the world?” Albert asked in an email exchange. “I
think the answer is of course it can.” It’s just a matter of creating an
alternative space, one that “allows brevity but emphasizes substance, that
rejects ads but enhances mutual aid, that protects privacy and of course also
seeks to subvert spying.”
For a first time user, the site may look and feel a lot like Facebook. Users
can set up profiles, connect with others, join groups, and follow stories
through a news feed. There are also spaces for events and easy ways to share photos,
videos, and links from other sites.
But that’s where the similarities end. In countless ways, FaceLeft
delivers more substance and more genuine interaction than a typical social
network. News feeds include your contacts’ updates, but also RSS feeds from
media outlets like Democracy Now! and
Al Jazeera. Groups are built around actions
and topics like Food Not Bombs and Indigenous Activism, and facilitate informed
discussions that would be unthinkable on a more typical social media platform. Users
are encouraged not only to interact and comment, but to stay informed and ask
Even more importantly, with FaceLeft, there’s no hidden agenda. The
site’s hosts won’t catalogue your private information and sell it to
advertisers, or allow the government to spy on its users. To that end, users
are asked to subscribe to the site for no more than $3 per month. The idea,
says Albert, is to be upfront about how the site tackles operating expenses, as
opposed to a “free” site where users pay with their private data.
At the same time, FaceLeft is by no means meant to compete
with sites like Twitter or Facebook. Rather, it’s about creating more diversity
in an increasingly homogenous internet. When the web started, Albert recalls, users
relied on platforms like America Online to do pretty much everything. But within
a few years more people figured out how to navigate for themselves and the
internet began to blossom. With low costs and few barriers, users created a
uniquely free landscape to interact and share information.
The problem with sites like Facebook and Twitter, Albert
says, is that they’re “trying to get everyone back under one umbrella,” meaning Facebook and
Twitter. And they’re succeeding. Countless organizations, from local restaurants
to immigrant rights groups “now see their most important web presence as their
activity on and within the confines of Facebook.” What this means is that more
and more of the web is being mediated by private, commercial hands. It’s as if the
web itself has been suburbanized: Where once friends and colleagues could meet
in fairly public spaces—chatrooms, message boards, independent sites and blogs—now
the most important online meeting place is the equivalent of a digital shopping
“The issue is, do we want our own ways of doing important things,”
Albert asks, “or do we want to settle for what we can eek out of corporate
offerings?” It’s an idea that’s starting to take off. Already Utne Reader, Z Magazine, and the widely popular Greek party Syriza have created
their own sub-networks on the site (where users can create a profile and join
the larger FaceLeft system)—and Albert hopes there will be many more. For now, it’s
worth considering the potential of a social media alternative, of a more public
For a quick how-to on getting
started with FaceLeft, click
here. To join FaceLeft as part of Utne Reader’s sub-network, called UtneSocial, click here.
Image by NASA Goddard Space Flight
Center, licensed under Creative Commons.
5/3/2013 4:17:38 PM
Some of our best
online-only material from the month of April
While we may have shed our “Best of the Alternative Press”
tagline, Utne.com is still all about envisioning and realizing alternatives—whether
that’s a different kind of politics or a new way to collaborate on a DIY
science project. With that mind, here are some of our favorite blog posts,
articles, and book excerpts from the past month.
For Story of Stuff
filmmaker Annie Leonard, one big alternative begins with liberating ourselves
from overconsumption and recognizing the commons all around us. “We have to learn to
share more and waste less,” she says in an interview with former Utne editor Jay Walljasper. “The good news is that these changes not only will enable us
to continue to live on this planet, but they will result in a happier,
healthier society overall.”
In a similar vein, in “The Ideabook,” author Katie Haegele
explores how repurposing
vintage clothing—you might call it cross-generational sharing—can help us
connect with the struggles, changes, and styles of the past, especially if we
approach that past knowingly.
Sharing is also a big part of Dani Burlison’s post
on California’s Maker Faire, an annual festival of crafts, science
projects, and innovative ideas. With a strong emphasis on collaborative
learning and a DIY ethos, the Faire creates a unique space where experimentation
is encouraged and cooperation is essential.
For those who envision larger changes, Starhawk’s new EmpowermentManual and a new book of Howard Zinn speeches offer inspiring models
for making it happen. While Zinn explores the life
and enduring significance of activist, writer, and all-around awesome
person Emma Goldman, Starhawk’s blueprint
for social change gives us the tools to realize the kind of transformation
Goldman had long fought for. As Starhawk writes, the first thing such struggle
requires is a positive vision for change: “We are most empowered when we know
what we do want, not just what we don’t want.”
That’s certainly true of the teachers’ movement Nancy
Schniedewind and Mara Sapon-Shevin describe in Educational Courage. The
reform agenda may be powerful, they write, but it can’t stop them from envisioning
and working toward a truly democratic education system—one
where social justice and connection to a larger community are front and center.
We can also see some of that hopefulness in Jon Queally’s surprisingly
optimistic update on the climate movement’s anti-Keystone campaign. The
State Department’s official “comment period” may be over, writes Queally, but
the fight sure isn’t.
A little less hopeful, but no less informative, is Suzanne
gif blog on the history of corporate power in Washington—from the Powell Memo to corporate
personhood. “Nearly 80 percent
of the public opposes the Citizens United decision,” Suzanne writes. “That it hasn’t
been reversed goes to show how skewed the current balance of power is.”
Equally sobering are the campaign
finance stats Lawrence Lessig shares with us, from the time Congresspeople
actually spend begging rich folks for money (a lot) to the 132 Americans—that’s
the .000042 percent, if you’re curious—responsible for 60 percent of
Super PAC funding in 2012.
To realize real alternatives, it seems, we’re going to have
to confront the system of institutionalized bribery holding sway over Washington—or,
as insiders call it, politics.
4/25/2013 1:03:10 PM
The crisis in journalism today shouldn't obscure mainstream media's long history of masking the truth and acquiescing to power. From the Vietnam War to credit default swaps to climate change, in many ways American journalism brought crisis on itself.
This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.
Everyone knows this story, though fewer and fewer read it
on paper. There are barely enough pages left to wrap fish. The second paper in
town has shut down. Sometimes the daily delivers only three days a week.
Advertising long ago started fleeing to Craigslist and Internet points south.
Subscriptions are dwindling. Online versions don’t bring in much ad revenue.
Who can avoid the obvious, if little covered question: Is the press too big to
fail? Or was it failing long before it began to falter financially?
In the previous century, there was a brief Golden
Age of American journalism, though what glittered like gold leaf sometimes
turned out to be tinsel. Then came regression to the mean. Since 2000, we have
seen the titans of the news presuming that Bush was the victor over Gore, hustling us into war with Iraq, obscuring climate change, and
turning blind eyes to derivatives, mortgage-based securities, collateralized
debt obligations, and the other flimsy creations with which a vast, showy,
ramshackle international financial house of cards was built. When you think
about the crisis of journalism, including the loss of advertising and the shriveled newsrooms -- there were fewer newsroom employees in 2010 than in 1978, when records
were first kept -- also think of anesthetized watchdogs snoring on Wall Street
while the Arctic ice cap melts.
Deserting readers mean broken business models. Per
household circulation of daily American newspapers has been declining steadily for 60 years, since long before the
Internet arrived. It’s gone from 1.24 papers per household in 1950 to 0.37 per
household in 2010. To get the sports scores, your horoscope, or the crossword
puzzle, the casual reader no longer needs even to glance at a whole paper, and
so is less likely to brush up against actual -- even superficial -- news. Never
mind that the small-r republican model on which the United States was founded
presupposed that some critical mass of citizens would spend a critical mass of
their time figuring out what’s what and forming judgments accordingly.
Don’t be fooled, though, by any inflated
talk about the early days of American journalism. In the beginning, there was
no Golden Age. To be sure, a remark Thomas Jefferson made in 1787 is often
quoted admiringly (especially in newspapers): "If it were left to decide
whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a
government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter."
Protected by the First Amendment, however, the press of
the early republic was unbridled, scurrilous, vicious, and flagrantly partisan.
In 1807, then-President Jefferson, with much more experience under his belt,
wrote, "The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than
he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he
whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.”
Two Golden Decades
If there was a Golden Age for the American press, it came
in a two-decade period during the Cold War, when total per capita daily
newspaper circulation kept rising, even as television scooped up eyeballs and
eardrums. Admittedly, most of the time, even then, elites in Washington or elsewhere enjoyed the
journalistic glad hand. Still, from 1954 to 1974, some watchdogs did bark.
Civil rights coverage, for example, did help bring down white supremacy, while Vietnam and
Watergate reportage helped topple two sitting presidents, Lyndon B. Johnson and
Of course, press watchdogs also licked the hands of the
perpetrators when Washington overthrew
democratic governments in Iran
in 1953, Guatemala in 1954,
and when it helped out in Chile
in 1973. As for Vietnam,
it wasn’t as simple a tale of journalistic triumph as we now imagine. For
years, in manifold ways, reporters deferred to official positions on the war’s
“progress,” so much so that today their reports read like sheaves of Pentagon
press releases. Typically, all but one source quoted in New York Times
coverage of the 1964 Tonkin Gulf incidents, which precipitated a major U.S. escalation
of the war, were White House, Pentagon, and State Department officials (and
they were lying). In the war’s early years, at least one network, NBC, even
asked the Pentagon to institute censorship.
Nonetheless, the sense that the war was an unjustifiable
grind grew, especially after the Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive of
January-February 1968, startling the U.S.
officials, and journalists alike. When, in 1969, Seymour Hersh reported for the tiny Dispatch News Service that a unit from
the Americal Divisionhad slaughtered hundreds of Vietnamese civilians
in a village named My Lai, his story went
Still, the long bombing campaign that President Nixon
ordered in Cambodia and Laos did not
feature on television, and barely made the newspapers. And even when, in a
remarkable feat of reporting, it finally did in a major way, there was no
journalistic sequel. The “secret” bombing of Cambodia -- secret from Americans,
that is -- was reported on page one of the New York Times on May 9,
1969, and 37 years later, the reporter, William Beecher, said this about his story: “We're not talking
of some small covert operation here, but a massive saturation bombing campaign,
with a false set of coordinates to mislead the Congress and the public… You
would have thought that such a story would have caused a firestorm. It did
After Watergate, whatever hard-won, truth-bound
independence the mainstream press had wrested from its own history failed to
hold. In the run-up to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq,
for example, most Washington
journalism once again collapsed into deference, and so, too, did the financial press
on its own front. Washington’s
war-making might and Wall Street’s financial maneuvers were both deemed too
mighty, too smart, too hypermodern to fail.
Although the New York Timesand theWashington Postlater acknowledged flaws in their Iraq
reporting, neither paper nor other major outlets have owned up to the negligence
that led up to the great global economic meltdown of 2007-2008. We are far from
grasping how fully business journalism played cheerleader and pedestal-builder
for the titans of finance as they erected a fantastical Tower of Derivatives,
which grew way too tall to fail without wrecking the global economy.
Start to finish, financial journalism was breathless
about the market thrills that led to the 2007-2008 crash: the financialization
of the global economy, the metastasis of derivatives, and especially the
deregulation underway since the late 1970s that culminated in the 1999
congressional repeal of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act (with President Bill
Clinton blithely signing off on it). That repeal paved the way for commercial
and investment banks, as well as insurance companies, to merge into
“too-big-to-fail” corporations, unleashed with low capital requirements and
soon enough piled high with the potential for collapse.
A Proquest database search of all American newspapers
during the calendar year 1999 reveals a grand total of two pieces
warning that the repeal of Glass-Steagall was a mistake. The first appeared in
the Bangor Daily News of Maine, the
second in the St. Petersburg Times of Florida. Count ‘em: two.
On February 24, 2002, as the scandal of the
derivative-soaked Enron Corporation unfolded, the New York Times’s Daniel Altman did distinguish himself with a page-one business
section report headlined “Contracts So Complex They Imperil The System.” He
wrote: “The veil of complexity, whose weave is tightening as sophisticated
derivatives evolve and proliferate, poses subtle risks to the financial system
-- risks that are impossible to quantify, sometimes even to identify.” He stood
almost alone in those years in such coverage. Most financial journalists
preferred then to cite the grand Yoda of American quotables, Federal Reserve
Chairman Alan Greenspan. And he was just the first and foremost among a range
of giddy authorities on whom those reporters repeatedly relied for reassurance
that derivatives were the great stabilizers of the economy.
On March 23, 2008, as the bubble was finally bursting, Times
reporters Nelson Schwartz and Julie Creswell noted that “during the late 1990s, Wall Street fought bitterly
against any attempt to regulate the emerging derivatives market.” They went on:
“A milestone in the deregulation effort came in the fall
of 2000, when a lame-duck session of Congress passed a little-noticed piece of
legislation called the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. The bill
effectively kept much of the market for derivatives and other exotic
instruments off-limits to agencies that regulate more conventional assets like
stocks, bonds and futures contracts.”
“Little-noticed” indeed. According to Lexis-Nexis,not
a single substantive mention of this law appeared in the Times that year.
On October 1, 2000, Washington Post writer Jerry Knight did note ruefully,
“What's fascinating about the policy debate is the agreement on the guiding
principle: The government should not stand in the way of financial innovation.”
In a syndicated column on Christmas Eve,
way-out-of-the-mainstream columnist Molly Ivins was not so poker-faced. She called the new law “a little horror.” And in that she stood
alone. That was it outside of financial journals like the American Banker
and HedgeWorld Daily News, which, of course, were thrilled by the act.
That magic word “modernization” in its title evidently froze the collective
Or in those years consider how the New York Times
covered the exotic derivatives called “collateralized debt obligations,” among
the principal cards of which the era's entire international financial house was
built. These tricky arcana, marketed as little miracles of risk management, multiplied from an estimated $20 billion in 2004 to more than
$180 billion by 2007. The Times’sFloyd Norris
drily mentioned them in a 2001 front-page business section article about
American Express headlined “They Sold the Derivative, but They Didn't
Understand It.” He quoted the CEO of Wells Fargo Bank this way: "There are
all kinds of transactions going on out there where one party doesn't understand
it." From then on, no substantial Times front-page business section
article so much as mentioned collateralized debt obligations for almost four
In 2009, in an enlightening
article in the Columbia Journalism Review, Dean Starkman, a
former staff writer at the Wall Street Journal, looked at the nine most
influential business press outlets from January 1, 2000, through June 30, 2007
-- that is, for the entire period of the housing bubble. A total of 730
articles contained what Starkman judged to be significant warnings that the
bubble could burst. That’s 730 out of more than one million articles these
The formula was simple and straightforward: the business
pressserved the market movers and shakers. It was a
reputation-making machine, a publicity apparatus for the industry. In other
words, the job of financial reporters in those years was to remain fast asleep
as the most flagrantly abusive part of the mortgage industry, subprime
mortgages, was integrated into routine banking.
Meanwhile, thanks to that same financial press, a culture
of celebrity enveloped the big names of finance: CEOs of major banks, Wall
Street investors, operators of hedge funds. They were repeatedly portrayed not
just as fabulously successful tycoons doing their best for the society, but as
fabulously giving philanthropists, their names engraved into the walls of
university buildings, museums, symphony halls, and opera houses. They weren’t
just bringers of liquidity to markets, but wise men, too. In an all-enveloping
media atmosphere in which the press indulged without a blink, they were held to
be not only creators of wealth but moral exemplars. Indeed, the two were
essentially interchangeable: they were moral exemplars because they were
creators of wealth.
The Desertification of the News
Oh, and in case you think that the coverage from hell of
the events leading up to the financial meltdown was uniquely poor, think again.
On an even greater meltdown that lies ahead, the press is barely, finally,
still haphazardly coming around to addressing convulsive climate change with
the seriousness it deserves. At least it is now an intermittent story, though
rarely linked to endemic drought and starvation. Still, as Wen Stephenson,
formerly editor of the Boston Globe’s “Ideas” section and TheAtlantic.com
and senior producer of National Public Radio’s “On Point,” summed up the situation in a striking online piece in the
alternative Boston Phoenix: the subject is seldom treated as urgent and
is frequently covered as a topic for special interests, a “problem,” not an
“existential threat.” (Another note on vanishing news: Since publishing
Stephenson’s article, the Phoenixhas ceased to exist.)
Even now, when it comes to climate change, our gasping
journalism does not “flood the zone.” It also has a remarkable record of
bending over backward to prove its “objectivity” by turning piece after piece
into a debate between a vast majority of scientists knowledgeable on the
subject and a fringe of climate-change deniers and doubters.
When it came to our financial titans, in all those years
the press rarely felt the need for a dissenting voice. Now, on the great
subject of our moment, the press repeatedly clutches for the rituals of
detachment. Two British scholars studying climate coverage surveyed 636
articles from four top United
States newspapers between 1988 and 2002 and
found that most of them gave as much attention to the tiny group of
climate-change doubters as to the consensus of scientists.
And if the press has, until very recently, largely failed
us on the subject, the TV news is a disgrace. Despite the record temperatures of 2012, the intensifying storms, droughts, wildfires and other wild weather events, the disappearing Arctic ice cap, and the greatest meltdown of the Greenland ice shield in recorded history,
their news divisions went dumb and mute. The Sunday talk shows, which
supposedly offer long chews and not just sound bites -- those high-minded
talking-head episodes that set a lot of the agenda in Washington and for the attuned public --
were otherwise occupied.
All last year, according to the liberal research group Media Matters,
“The Sunday shows spent less than 8 minutes on climate
change... ABC's This Week covered it the most, at just over 5 minutes…
NBC's Meet the Press covered it the least, in just one 6 second mention…
Most of the politicians quoted were Republican presidential candidates,
including Rick Santorum, who went unchallenged when he called global warming
‘junk science’ on ABC's This Week. More than half of climate mentions on
the Sunday shows were Republicans criticizing those who support efforts to
address climate change… In four years, Sunday shows have not quoted a single
scientist on climate change.”
The mounting financial troubles of journalism only
tighten the muzzle on a somnolent watchdog. It’s unlikely that serious business
coverage will be beefed up by media companies counting their pennies on their
way down the slippery circulation slope. Why invest in scrutiny of government
regulators when the cost is lower for celebrity-spotting and the circulation
benefits so much greater? Meanwhile, the nation’s best daily environmental
coverage takes a big hit. In January, the New York Times's management decided to close down its environmental desk, scratching two
environmental editor positions and reassigning five reporters. How could such a
move not discourage young journalists from aiming to make careers on the
The rolling default in climate-change coverage cries out
for the most serious professional self-scrutiny. Will it do for journalists and
editors to remain thoroughly tangled up in their own remarkably unquestioned
assumptions about what constitutes news? It’s long past time to reconsider some
journalistic conventions: that to be newsworthy, events must be singular and
dramatic (melting glaciers are held to be boring), must feature newsworthy
figures (Al Gore is old news), and must be treated with balance (as in:
some say the earth is spherical, others say it’s flat).
But don’t let anyone off the hook. Norms can be bent.
Consider this apt headline on the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek after
Hurricane Sandy drowned large sections of New
York City and the surrounding area: “It’s Global
Warming, Stupid.” Come on, people: Can you really find no way to dramatize the
extinction of species, the spread of starvation, the accelerating droughts,
desertification, floods, and violent storms? With all the dots you already
report, even with shrunken staffs, can you really find no way to connect them?
If it is held unfair, or naïve, or both, to ask faltering
news organizations to take up the slack left by our corrupt, self-dealing,
shortsighted institutions, then it remains for start-up efforts to embarrass
the established journals.
Online efforts matter. It’s a good sign that the
dot-connecting site InsideClimateNews.org was just honored with a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.
But tens of millions of readers still rely on the old
media, either directly or via the snippets that stream through Google, Yahoo,
and other aggregator sites. Given the stakes, we dare not settle for nostalgia
or restoration, or pray that the remedy is new technology. Polishing up the old
medals will not avail. Reruns of His Girl Friday, All the President’s Men, and
Broadcast News may be entertaining, but it’s more important to keep in
mind that the good old days were not so good after all. The press was
never too great to fail. Missing the story is a tradition. So now the question
is: Who is going to bring us the news of all the institutions, from City Hall
to Congress, from Wall Street to the White House, that fail us?
Todd Gitlin, who teaches journalism and communications at
Columbia University, is the author of The Whole World Is Watching, Media Unlimited, and many other
books including, most recently, Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall
Copyright 2013 Todd Gitlin
Image by Jarapet, licensed under Creative Commons.
3/22/2013 11:05:53 AM
2013 marks a new chapter in the 24-year history of the Utne Reader staff recognizing and celebrating the best of what we read. Formerly called the Utne Independent Press Awards, we’ve decided to contemporize the name and call them the Utne Media Awards.
Considering the wealth of amazing new ideas, exceptional writing, and outstanding journalism taking place on the internet, we think it’s time the name of the award encompass every form of mass communication we come across each day from longform print journalism to video blogs. While we still love and will always celebrate the printed word, we’d be remiss not to recognize the democratization of information made possible by the internet. We think emphasizing the broad term “media” allows us to appropriately consider and recognize all of the ways people communicate with one another in the 21st century.
Of course, the best way to make that point is to simply refer you to the list of 36 nominees for the 2013 award, most of which have been featured in the pages of Utne Reader in one way or another over the last year. As has always been the case with this award, the selection process is arduous and sometimes even a bit contentious, but only because the staff wishes we could find a way to recognize every one of our favorites.
The winners in each category will be announced at the Magazine Publishers of America’s Independent Magazine Media Conference in New Orleans in May and published in our July/August 2013 issue. To all the publications and websites nominated, congratulations on yet another year of inspirational work. So without further delay, here are the nominees:
2/22/2013 12:30:25 PM
ethnic tensions over the coming Kenyan elections, one filmmaker sends his
message of healing through a well-established network of DVD pirates.
"Before the 2007 post-election violence occurred
my country was seen as an island of stability in a region of conflict,"
says Patrick Mureithi in his recent documentary, Kenya: Until Hope is Found. The election results he refers to—which many have since agreed were flawed—resulted in clashes that killed more
than 1,200 people and displaced another 500,000.
At the time, Mureithi had been filming a documentary, ICYIZERE:hope, about
a reconciliation workshop in Rwanda
that brought together survivors and perpetrators of the country’s 1994 genocide.
But in the years since Kenya
became the site of its own ethnic conflict, Mureithi has turned his attention
closer to home. With a new vote just a week-and-a-half away, tensions between
tribes have been rising. While many groups are taking steps to make sure the
elections are peaceful, the threat of violence looms.
Part of the problem, according to Mureithi, is that
people have not had an opportunity to heal from the trauma of the last election.
"In a country that has one psychiatrist for every half-million of its
citizens,” he says, “one of the most pressing issues to be addressed is that of
unresolved psychological trauma. As a nation, how can we heal in order to avoid
repeated cycles of violence, in order to ensure that our children have a secure
Hope is Found documents a three day
workshop called "Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities," with severely
traumatized residents of Kibera, a neighborhood that Mureithi describes as
largest slum and the epicenter of the violence."
But it was not enough for the men and women included
in the workshop to experience healing—Mureithi wanted every Kenyan to have
access to the same process. So when he finished his documentary last December, he
handed it over to his local DVD pirates. "My reasoning was that since they
have the most efficient distribution system in Kenya, then they would be able to
get the film into as many hands as possible," writes Mureithi. "As I
type, their vendors are selling the film country-wide for less than 80
shillings (approx $1)."
Video: Kenya: Until Hope is Found
To make a
tax-deductible donation to Patrick's February trip to Kenya and the continuation of his
work, visit http://josiahfilms.com/donate/.
1/24/2013 12:05:01 PM
This story originally appeared at WagingNonviolence.org.
are central to our existential job description: making sense of both the world
and ourselves. From creation myths to scientific explanations, from political
ideologies to the quirky narratives that knead our own amorphous lives into
some kind of distinctive shape, stories are essential — not only because they
nudge the disconnected bits of reality we face moment to moment into a
plausible and graspable form, but because they go to the heart of our identity
goes for navigating our lives. But it also goes for changing the world.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. says that life poses two fundamental questions —What
are we willing to live for? What are we willing to die for? — he presupposes
a story that makes these questions intelligible. For Dr. King, this story
centered on a harrowing and improbable expedition to what he doggedly called
the Beloved Community, a world where all human beings will one day sit at the
same table, live together in The World House, and make good on the hunch that
the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice. This story does not come
with a warranty or scientific proof. Instead its truthfulness depends on how
far we’re willing to go to embellish and inhabit it. This story’s power flows,
not from its lyrical metaphors, but from its ongoing, risky embodiment.
The monumental challenges we face
today — poverty and economic inequality, climate change, military intervention
and surveillance, unjust immigration policies, handgun violence, white
privilege and many others — resist transformation for many reasons, including
the stubbornly enduring frames that keep them in place. The monumental change
we need will hinge on a new way of looking at the world, and this in turn will
be spurred on by powerful stories that bring that new worldview alive.
draws life from the endless stories that push its power. But things can work
the other way too. Stories of the nonviolent option can unexpectedly seep into
our right brain, disturb the certitude of the violence operating system, and
open breathing space. We are living in a time when, despite the tsunami of
violence, we are hearing these counter-narratives more frequently. Part of the
reason for this is that there is more nonviolent action than ever. But another
is that we are on the lookout for these stories more than ever. When we put on
the nonviolence eyewear and start poking around — as this site does — we start
to see the power of nonviolent change everywhere.
of our most powerful alternative storytellers is Terry Messman. Messman is the
editor of Street Spirit, a
monthly newspaper published by the American Friends Service Committee that is
sold by 100 homeless vendors on the streets of Oakland, Calif. Reporting from
“the shelters, back alleys, soup kitchen lines and slum hotels where mainstream
reporters rarely or never visit,” the newspaper runs stories on homelessness,
poverty, economic inequality and the daily grind of human rights violations
that poor people face. But Street Spirit doesn’t simply deliver the grim
news of poverty. It also chronicles and raises the visibility of the movement
that is dramatically working for human and civil rights, challenging
inequality, and demanding — and winning — change. This month’s issue, for example, features stories
on the challenges and successes of the local anti-foreclosure
movement, a campaign countering the erosion of the human
rights of homeless people and on affordable
housing for the growing senior population. Month after month for the last
17 years Street Spirit has been getting the story out on the reality of
the structural violence and consequences of poverty, but also on campaigns that
are challenging this reality.
Street Spirit has highlighted the tools of powerful and audacious
nonviolent movement-building, with extensive coverage of the Occupy movement
and interviews with Erica
Chenoweth (on the ground-breaking research that she and Maria Stephan
published in their book, Why Civil Resistance Works demonstrating that
nonviolent strategies are twice as likely to succeed than violent ones) and
with nonviolent action campaigner and scholar George
Lakey. Last month the newspaper profiled the Positive
Peace Warrior Network and one of its key trainers, Kazu
Haga, who was trained by Bernard Lafayette and is organizing a growing
community of activists grounded in Kingian nonviolence. (Haga’s essay, “MLK’s
final marching orders,” was published this week by Waging Nonviolence.)
documenting injustice and building the capacity of the movement for justice, Street
Spirit not only spurs nonviolent action but also has become a form of
action itself. Its reporting was instrumental in shutting
down the East Bay
Hospital in Richmond, Calif.,
which was a dumping ground for homeless, poor and severely disabled people by
nine counties in the region and was responsible for widespread violations of
low-income psychiatric patients.
Messman has long integrated telling the story of nonviolent action with action
itself. In the late 1970s he was a reporter in Montana sent out to cover a civil
disobedience action at a U.S. Air Force base. A lone Lutheran minister had
crossed the line at the base and was sitting in the driveway, awaiting arrest.
Messman was so moved by this solitary witness that he dropped his reporter’s
notebook and sat down next to him. He netted six months in federal prison for
long after this I met Terry. He was leading nonviolence training at the
Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley,
where both of us were then studying. He and several other workshop facilitators
were preparing a group to risk arrest at Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory, a nearby facility that had designed 50 percent of the U.S. nuclear
arsenal. I was immediately struck by his vision of the power of nonviolence,
especially his stress on it being active, audacious, challenging and dramatic.
Struck by the picture he painted that morning, I shook off my hesitations about
engaging in civil disobedience and took part in the action at the lab, which
netted 30 of us a week in the county jail. For the next two years I essentially
put my studies on the shelf and took action with Terry and the action group he
had helped form named “Spirit Affinity Group” and, in effect, enrolled in
Nonviolence 101 with Terry as teacher. Terry vividly and actively shared with
me, and others, the story of nonviolent change, rooted in the vision of Gandhi,
Dr. King, Dorothy Day and a rebellious, law-breaking Jesus, whom the theologian
and activist John Dear would later characterize as a “one-person crime wave.”
But Terry’s story of the power of nonviolent transformation was rooted not only
in studying history but also in a series of actions he had taken throughout the
western United States.
This story — reinforced by the string of nonviolent actions that we organized
and participated in together — was gradually changing me.
years of anti-nuclear activism, Terry brought this spirit to his work
challenging poverty and homelessness in Oakland
in the late 1980s. He and others formed the Union of the Homeless that launched
an action campaign that included occupying — and winning — an unused federal
building and occupying a series of homes that the U.S. Department of Housing
and Urban Development had repossessed and was essentially turning over to real
estate speculators. They won these homes for poor and homeless families,
including a house that Terry and members of the movement (including myself)
occupied overnight one time. (I will never forget a large Oakland police officer at 4 a.m. kicking open
the room I was sleeping in and dragging me off with the others to jail.)
it all, Terry was telling the story. Two decades ago I interviewed Terry and
his colleagues about their campaign, which by then had mobilized government
support to build housing, a childcare center with a Head Start program and a
multi-service center supporting homeless people, all run by a nonprofit
organization whose board was predominantly homeless people. In one of the
interviews Terry said, “We did a four-year series of nonviolent direct actions.
And all we did in the early years was say, ‘We’re going to go to jail for two
or three years, and then we’re going to have housing.’ Which was a totally
magical prescription that we just said… And it was really something, that power
of belief. We just kept saying that all over the community.”
story — this magical prescription — was key to driving the dramatic actions
that created change. Now, all these years later, Terry is still at it as he
continues to call out the myriad of ways homeless people are dehumanized and
excluded, but also continues to report in a detailed and thoughtful way the
stories of the movement that is challenging this dehumanization and exclusion.
While Street Spirit is Oakland-based, all of us everywhere can all draw
new life every month from this
powerful platform that’s getting the story out for justice and nonviolent
12/7/2012 2:30:06 PM
This post originally appeared at Shareable.net.
The future of the cultural
commons looked dim in December 2002: Napster had been shuttered a year earlier,
while record labels treaded warily into selling DRM-locked music online. The
FCC dismantled regulations forestalling the consolidation of media ownership.
And as the housing bubble inflated, privatization — of media, public space,
scientific and technological research, even the military — became the
watchword of the day.
A decade later, the cultural
commons remains threatened, but stands on somewhat firmer ground. The record
industry abandoned its futile efforts to lock music to users or devices, a
costly lesson movie studios and book publishers seem determined to learn for themselves.
An emerging generation of cultural producers acknowledge that “good theft,” as Austin Kleon puts it, is
a fundamental part of the creative process. And Creative Commons — a once
heretical notion to develop a copyright system for cultural works based on the
principles of open source software development — is celebrating its tenth year.
Founded in 2001 by Lawrence Lessig, then a Stanford
Law professor, and a board of directors that included Duke
James Boyle and Eric Saltzman of Harvard’s Berkman
Center for Internet and Society, Creative Commons announced its first
copyright licenses on December 16th, 2002. In an announcement, the
organization’s Executive Director Glenn Otis Brown stated “One of the great
lessons of software movements is that the choice between self-interest and
community is a false choice. If you’re clever about how you leverage your
rights, you can cash in on openness. Sharing, done properly, is both smart and
The organization — and the
larger free culture movement in general — is not without critics, now and then.
Some are intent on rehashing arguments about the dubious economic and artistic
value of retaining inalienable and irrevocable rights to intellectual
property. Purists take exception to licenses that state “some rights
reserved.” More pointed critiques question the efficacy and impact of
Creative Commons, observing that the licenses remain untested in many courts,
are often embraced by creators as their careers are either on the ascent or
But anyone holding their breath
for the Rolling Stones or Michael
Bay to embrace Creative
Commons might want invest in ventilators. Meanwhile, the purists’ definition
and parameters of what constitutes free culture remain situated, as such
notions often do, at the fringes of culture and academia.
The pragmatic critiques hold
more weight: A decade in, the organization and its licenses has achieved only
modest success in the courtroom. Creative Commons has been ported to over
70 jurisdictions globally, it has only been upheld in a handful of
perhaps, is the cultural capital accrued by the principles that Creative
Commons champions. These concepts are taking root in the mass psyche, albeit
incrementally. They’re espoused by bestselling author Jonathan Lethem, whose Harpers essay “The Ecstasy of Influence,” a manifesto comprised of scraps
from other texts, makes a powerful case for the artistic value of preserving a
free, widely accessible, and endlessly mutable shared cultural heritage. Lethem
their surrogates who fall into the trap of seeking recompense for every possible
second use end up attacking their own best audience members for the crime of
exalting and enshrining their work. The Recording Industry Association of
America prosecuting their own record-buying public makes as little sense as the
novelists who bristle at autographing used copies of their books for
collectors. And artists, or their heirs, who fall into the trap of attacking
the collagists and satirists and digital samplers of their work are attacking
the next generation of creators for the crime of being influenced, for the
crime of responding with the same mixture of intoxication, resentment, lust,
and glee that characterizes all artistic successors. By doing so they make the
world smaller, betraying what seems to me the primary motivation for
participating in the world of culture in the first place: to make the world
The free culture movement that
Creative Commons helped kickstart has provided legal support and ample
publicity to struggling
creators like filmmaker Nina Paley. It’s been embraced by unlikely
institutions such as The World Bank, whose Open Access Policy requires that its
research papers are licensed under a CC Attribution license. News outlets such
as Wired and Al Jazeera release works of photojournalism to the commons, while
the likes of Naturerelease genomic research under the license.
As was the case a decade ago,
the future of Creative Commons and the free culture movement may be predicted
by developments in the open source community. In recent years, git, a
version control system for software development, has become a prevailing way
for coders to collaborate, share, and build upon each others’ work. The most
mainstream iteration is GitHub,
a public hub for developers to easily connect, collaborate, and iterate on
code. Using GitHub, modifying an existing project to serve your own needs or
goals is as easy as clicking the “fork” button.
Increasingly, GitHub is not only
hosting code. Designers are posting editable templates and Illustrator files to
the site, while GitHub Pages
hosts writing by forward-thinking bloggers, journalists, and authors.
The notion of a platform that makes it easy to create new
and modified versions of creative works, while retaining chains of attribution
back to those that have come before, may seem radical to some, untenably geeky
to others. But as Creative Commons has demonstrated for the past decade, software
development is a creative and collaborative process from which artists and
other cultural creators can learn much, to enrich their work by preserving and
building upon our shared cultural heritage.
Images by Tyler
Steinfanich and Dawn Endico, both licensed under (you guessed it) Creative Commons.
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