10/24/2012 3:04:43 PM
This article originally appeared at Earth Island Journal.
In case you
didn’t get the memo, today is Food
Day. In more than 2,000 communities in all fifty states, people will be
taking a moment to step back and celebrate our food—and the growing ranks of a
food movement working hard to ensure that healthy, sustainably, and ethically
raised food, grown and produced by workers paid and treated fairly, is the norm
not the exception.
myself and dozens of partners including Corporate Accountability
International, Slow Food USA, the
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the Land Stewardship
Project are launching Food MythBusters—a series of short online movies to help you
detect truth from fiction when it comes to your food and how it’s made. The
first film takes on the myth that we need chemical agriculture to feed the world
and looks at the true costs of industrial agriculture and the power and
potential of sustainable food and farming.
Have a look!
years, I’ve been traveling around the country talking food. My talks must
sometimes feel like a withering assault of bad news: Did you know agriculture
contributes to about one third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions? Or, that
thanks to agricultural chemicals most of us have—at minimum—13 pesticides
detectable in our blood on any given day? Or that because of our broken food
system one in three kids born in this country will develop debilitating diabetes
in their lifetime? Bummer, right?
Q&A, invariably someone raises their hand and asks what difference it makes
to try to do anything to make any of this better—with things so damn dire. It’s
the moment I wait for all night.
difference can we make? A huge one. Just look at the big wins the food movement
has accomplished over the past fifteen years:
Farmer’s markets: Bell bottoms might have been big
back in the 1970s, but farmers markets weren’t. There were only a few hundred
still kicking by the mid-1970s. Thanks to hard work in communities across the
country, there are now 7,864
farmers markets across the United States, more than double from just a
decade ago, directly connecting folks to their food producers.
Farm-to-School: Fifteen years ago you wouldn’t have
found any big school districts partnering with their local farmers to get farm
fresh, regional food onto kids’ lunch trays. Today, there are farm-to-school programs in
10,000 schools—in every single state in the country.
Farmworkers continue to be among the most poorly paid and
exploited workers in our economy and yet, thanks to the hard work and organizing
by the Coalition of Immokalee
Workers (CIW), farmworkers in Florida are starting to see
wages and working conditions improve through the organization’s Fair Food
Program. This month, after six years of campaigning, Chipotle announced it will
sign the Coalition’s Fair Food Agreement to respect the rights and dignity of
farmworkers by committing to pay a "penny-per-pound" premium for tomatoes to
lift farmworker wages and only to buy from farms with fair labor practices.
The CIW is now partnering with other worker advocacy groups through the Food Chain
Workers Alliance, bringing
together workers from seed to plate.
Protecting our water and
farmland: Over the past decade, some of the biggest oil and gas companies in
the world have been working overtime to expand fracking, aka hydraulic
fracturing. Research is showing that fracking decimates farmland, generates
toxic waste, and pollutes our air and water. That's why California, Illinois,
New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New York have all passed measures against
this destructive, toxic practice. And, 250 communities around the U.S. have
taken action to stop fracking, thanks in part to the chutzpah and organizing
power of our partners at Food
& Water Watch.
Real food on campus: Started in 2008 to encourage
universities to shift some of the $7 billion spent annually on food purchases
toward “real food,” Real Food Challenge now connects students on hundreds of
college campuses. To
date, they’ve shifted $48.5 million of school purchases toward real food—that’s
a lot of local carrots! Today, 250 Real Food Challenge campus chapters
are hosting Food Day events.
And those are
just five examples – I could have picked fifty more.
perhaps the biggest food fight is playing out in California ballot boxes over a new ballot
initiative to label foods with genetically engineered ingredients. Food
movement organizers succeeded in getting one million signatures (one million!)
to bring Prop 37 to voters in November and have won major popular support. With
efforts like this one, and the ones like those I mention above, we can make a
thousand farmers markets bloom, get junk food pushers out of schools, encourage
some of the world’s largest corporations to do the right thing—and
still got a lot of work cut out for us. And sure, we’re still bombarded by the
marketing and PR spin from the food industry. By last count, biotech giant
Monsanto and many of the other biggest players in the food industry had poured
$40 million into the campaign to defeat Prop 37—and their well-funded
misinformation is making a dent in public support. In a recent New York
Times article, journalist Michael Pollan wrote about the fight over Prop 37
and suggested this vote will be a litmus test for the movement—a chance to flex
our political muscle. But with ad spending at this rate, it may become a litmus
test for how unlimited campaign funding distorts democracy.
face of big-budget marketing campaigns, we have the truth—and taste—on our side.
We can shout our story from the rooftops—or, rooftop farms that is—and make sure
that more of us know the real story about our food we eat and about the
successes of the food movement rising, not just the story the chemical pushers
and junk food juggernaut want you to believe. Check out my Food MythBusting series,
launching today, and join with us to spread the real story what we
Anna Lappé is a national bestselling author, sustainable food advocate,
and mom. The founding principal of the Small Planet Institute and Small
Planet Fund, her latest book is Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It (Bloomsbury 2010). Anna is also the co-author of Hope’s Edge, with her mother Frances Moore Lappé, and Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen
with Bryant Terry. She can be seen as the host for MSN’s Practical
Guide to Healthier Living and as a featured expert on Sundance Channel’s
Ideas for a Small Planet. An active board member of Rainforest Action
Network, Anna has been named one of Time’s “Eco” Who’s Who has been featured in The New York Times, Gourmet, O-The Oprah Magazine, Food & Wine, and Vibe, among many other outlets. Learn more and see where Anna is speaking next at www.takeabite.cc.
Image: "Red Spinach" by Stewart Butterfield, licensed under Creative Commons.
10/17/2012 11:34:01 AM
An Ithaca Hour
[Editor's note: Aside from looking cool, community currencies are a grassroots answer to economic uncertainty and the high concentration of wealth amongst a very few. They encourage local spending and remind us to consider where money goes after it leaves our wallets. If we buy a rake from the local hardware store rather than a franchise
superstore, for instance, we help sustain a neighbor as opposed to an already-rich
business owner several states away. By keeping money circulating amongst community members, local currencies reward businesses invested in the community and encourage a self-sustaining interdependence. Local currencies are not meant to replace the almighty dollar, but they do offer some assurance to small and midsize businesses facing a weak economy. As Joel Stonington noted in an Utne.com piece, "Local Currencies Aren't Small Change," money can be used to serve people rather than to rule them, creating abundance, stability, and sustainability. The article below
explains how to develop your own community currency
and was originally posted on Shareable.]
The Lewes Pound, a local currency in the town of Lewes, England. As Thomas Paine said, "We have it in our power to build the world anew."
“Banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties
than standing armies ... The issuing power should be taken from the banks
and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs." - Thomas
“Let me issue and control a nation’s money and I care not who writes the laws.” - Banker Mayer Amschel Rothschild
The centralized creation of money and credit has a profoundly
negative effect on local economies, sovereignty, and cohesiveness.
Bankers value profit at all costs, while locally-controlled institutions
tend to hold other values - like community, justice and sustainability -
Communities can regain control of the flow of money and credit by
issuing their own currency as a complement to conventional money, as
electronic barter networks, debit cards, mobile phone payments,
Timebanks, LETS, or old-fashioned cash.
By altering the flow of resources, community currencies take power
away from multinationals and put it in the hands of more accountable
local entities. While community currencies can't be too similar to or
compete with national money, most countries allow it and some, like
Venezuela and the E.U., support their development. Mediating
underemployment and poverty are often prime motivators, or specific
purposes like small-business incubation, caregiving for seniors,
community gardens, or providing healthcare for the uninsured, according
The Brixton Pound
Starting a community currency is not for the faint of heart. It takes
a dedicated team years of effort. Learning from others' experiences is
essential. Here are some tips I gleaned from the experts and through my
Find a group of people with common ground that are easy to get along with.
important to share goals and values with your core group, otherwise
your project will be pulled in many directions. You may split into
separate projects at some point; that's often better than trying to duke
it out with people who want to do their own thing. Focus on quality
volunteer recruitment. Don't get discouraged when people come and go.
Define your goals and prioritize them.
Do you want
to support local business or low income folks? Do you want encourage
ridesharing or reward senior care? You may have many goals - currencies
can have an effect on many problems - but be clear about your priorities
and target audience as this will shape all of your decisions, including
what kind of currency you use.
“A currency is never an end in itself, but has to be seen as a
facilitator of flows within the system of a whole community and
economy," said John Rogers, who teaches how to start currencies at Value for People in the U.K. "Its essential systemic role is to match underused assets and unmet needs.”
The community meetings I held attracted all kinds of personal agendas
and wingnut plans that had no practical application. Your goals will be
Pick your tool appropriately and make it easy to use.
Currencies are not one-size-fits-all. It is crucial that you pick the
right tool, with the option to expand into multiple tools later. It
should be as easy to use as the other kind of money. REAL Dollars of
Lawrence, KS ended because businesses didn't have an easy way to spend
them. Vermont Businesses for Social Responsiblity switched
to open source software for their business to business exchange to
customize their interface and make it as simple to use - a very smart
investment. The books at the end of this article can help you decide
what type of currency might work best.
Know your community.
If your tool is online, but your community is mostly offline, it won't get used. Bernal Bucks
of San Francisco chose a swipe debit card with loyalty points. A more
rural area like Corvallis, Oregon is more of an off-line community, so a
paper currency isn't too slow for this small town.
How does your community use money, what are its assets and what does
it need? Design a plan based on the reality of your community, not just
on your own ideals. Whether you are working with businesses, nonprofits
or community members, survey them or conduct focus groups to test the
new currency before you finish your design.
Do your homework and get a mentor.
Choose a group
that's done a project similar to yours. Look up case studies that have
worked (there are many mirages of success). Community Currency Magazine is a good resource for case studies and interviews and the Complementary Currency Database
can help you search for mentors in your area. Many people sail out on a
currency expedition without a map. Learn from others mistakes. Your
membership and partners will trust you more if you've done your
Define your governance and organization structure.
Like any project you need good governance. John Rogers harps on this
point: “Some people tell me off for going on about the importance of
governance in getting community currencies to fly. They say a
well-designed CC ‘should run itself’. That’s a nice theory, but I don’t
know any CC that has stood the test of time without some form of
governance at work, i.e. someone making decisions.”
People will expect responsible and transparent governance for a
resource as valuable as a currency - that trust determines its
value. Encourage diverse community participation and representation in
your governance, especially from your members. If you want to operate as
a volunteer or worker cooperative, see my article on worker coops.
Bay Area Community Exchange is a hybrid of a member and a worker coop,
though many currencies are either run as traditional nonprofits or
business bartering exchanges.
Your decision to be a business or nonprofit will be determined by
your goals, and currency type. Only entities that have charitable or
educational aims can be nonprofits. That's not to say your business
can't operate like a nonprofit, but you won't be eligible for grants and
donations, though you may be able to get small investments, like Sonoma Go Local did from its community and business members.
Define your geographic area.
It may be helpful to
incubate your currency in a smaller community, like Bernal Bucks did in a
small neighborhood of San Francisco. However, a wider geographic area
may provide the diversity of services and goods that makes a currency
useful. Too wide an area though, like the Southwest, may be meaningless
and not effective in building trust and solidarity. Ideally, it would be
an area diverse enough to provide most of the necessities of life, and
small enough to allow direct exchange, community-building and
accountability. Regional currencies, like the Cheimgauer in Germany and Berkshares
in Massachusetts have done well partly for this reason. If you don't
grow food in your community, you may want to expand your reach to
farming areas. If you haven't lived in your area for long, ask for
advice from long time locals who may have sense of the resources and
Outreach through events.
Hosting events to promote
your currency and attending other groups' events raises consciousness,
develops alliances, recruits members/users and volunteers, and builds
community. Think about your target user audience and meet them where
they are at. Swapmeets and skillshares are useful demos of the currency
that give a more concrete feel. Offer to speak, host a booth, or
organize trading at relevant conferences, festivals, markets and other
events to promote your currency to potential members that are allied in
Bay Area Community Exchange
organized a large sustainable living festival with over 40 workshops
and 300 attendees using member skills and hours. The event increased
trading and registrations by a factor of 10 or more for the month before
the event and a couple weeks after. A similar boost happened around its
Timebank Holiday Fair. Corvallis Hours,
a bastion of homesteading, hosts an annual Harvest Festival where
members have a market for “selling” their homemade goods for Hours.
Develop partnerships and take them seriously.
allied organizations to help recruit members/users, develop programmatic
partnerships and raise your status in the community. An ally may serve
also as a fiscal sponsor to bear the burden of organizational tasks
while you focus on organizing. Choosing partnerships should depend both
on your goals (e.g. pick an environmental organization to support
gardening or a social justice organization to reach low income groups)
and their ability to provide support, such as event space, outreach,
trainings or programmatic development. A good way to begin a partnership
is to do a presentation to their staff and then ask them if there is
one small thing they'd like to achieve by using the currency, like a
website upgrade, and help them do that. Partnerships work best as a
gained credibility and usefulness by partnering with local public
transit for bus passes. Berkshares partnered with local banks for
savings accounts and currency distribution. Hour Exchange Portland
and other successful timebanks have worked with local healthcare
organizations to accept credits from low-income members – a highly
valued service that increases the value of the currency.
Keep the circulation flowing.
Bernard Leitaer, who
is often considered the godfather of community currencies and helped
design the Euro, says “...this is where a lot of community currencies
have failed. They have neglected to close complete circulation patterns,
and as a result...it tends to pool in particular parts of the system.”
To keep the energy flowing, identify unmet needs and underutilized
resources in your community, especially those not served by the
conventional system. Be a match-maker. If seniors need companionship and
your pet shelter needs socialization for its animals, or you have
unemployed people without job skills and a nonprofit or business startup
that needs volunteers, you may have a match.
One of the biggest mistakes is assuming the currency will do
everything itself. One or more exchange coordinators are vital,
particularly in the beginning. Visiting Nurse Service of New York’s
Timebank has a bilingual or trilingual coordinator for each targeted
community. Regular communication through email, newsletter and your
website reminds members what's offered and needed, and the importance of
mutual aid. Otherwise, members forget and default to using money. Many
currencies publish quarterly newsletters with directories of offerings.
Working on circulation means creating ways to both earn and spend currency. Equal Dollars of Philadelphia
developed a food market, clothing store and bike shop. They partnered
with local nonprofits so members could earn hours by volunteering, paid
their staff partly in Equal Dollars, and made micro-loans in Equal
Dollars. MORE Timebank in St. Louis created a community college, where
people could spend hours by taking classes, and earn hours by teaching.
Another way to increase circulation is to target entities with high
demand goods like beer (Detroit Cheers
currency) or services, but make sure they don't over-commit themselves.
One popular health food store ended up frustrated with loads of hours
that they couldn't spend and quit. Set up limits to make it more
sustainable, like using vouchers during slow business hours only or on
Use your currency to fund your currency.
Hey, the government does it, why can't we? As long as members agree it's a good use of resources,
don't be shy about using your currency to pay staff, reward volunteers,
put on events, or do marketing. Ithaca Hours uses its currency as a
reward for attending organizing meetings and swapmeets. Bay Area
Community Exchange supports its volunteers by giving hours for outreach
events, trainings and tech projects related to its key functions. This
is controversial amongst community currency theorists, because the other
side of the coin is corruption and inflation. The Red de Trueque, a
currency used by a third of Argentina's residents during its economic
crisis, collapsed because of fraud and mismanagement due to a lack of
transparency and accountability.
Currencies are notoriously hard to fund. Relying on external
donations, as did Berkshares, can make the short-term sustainability of
your project slightly more likely, but the long-term more precarious.
Using your currency to fund your project is also good practice in
learning how to use it. Membership or transaction fees are also a good
practice. However, it's helpful to lower the barrier to entry as much as
possible in the first year or two so you have more members offering
diverse skills and goods to increase your currency's value (fees may
slow that process). Think about the option to pay member dues with
volunteer work to support your currency project. A sparse directory with
few members is not likely to encourage trading, as the now defunct
Berkeley BREAD discovered. One of its most active members realized the
currency she was earning with her counseling services, would not be
useful for anything she needed and she quit being a provider.
Alternatively, if you have lots of useful stuff in your store, people
will flock to it.
Don't give up but be willing to change directions midstream.
Currencies take at least a few years to establish. In the meantime,
you'll have fun, make friends and get some of your needs met. The Ithaca
Hour project was the result of diehard tenacity and a small Americorps
stipend that kept founder Paul Glover going for 3 years in the
incubation stage. Some made it by adapting their strategy as they went
along, like finding out the type of currency or organizing strategy was
not appropriate for the community context or goals and changing
directions. New Earth Exchange
in Santa Cruz went through several incarnations over the last several
years to find the right one instead of being stuck on their first idea.
Now they are pioneers integrating an online business bartering exchange
with a paper currency called Sand Dollars.
Have fun! It's a lot of work. Have fun doing it and you are sure to grow.
Community Currency - from Good Idea to Sustainable System by John Rogers
Community Currency Guide by Hallsmith and Leitaer
Community Currency Magazine
Complementary Currency Database
People Money: The Promise of Regional Currencies by Kennedy, Lietaer, & Rogers
Local Money: How to Make it Happen in Your Community by Peter North
Creating Wealth: Growing Local Economies with Local Currencies by Hallsmith and Lietaer
John Rogers http://www.valueforpeople.co.uk/
Paul Glover http://www.paulglover.org/currencybook.html
Mira Luna mira (at) sfbace.org
10/17/2012 9:24:28 AM
Since the dawn of the internet age, activists have been
talking about going digital. Some of them even pioneered tactics for electronic
civil disobedience. But it wasn’t until a subculture of hackers became
politicized that a popular movement took off. The result is a subversive,
unapologetic, and surprisingly powerful activism. Anonymous may have a
reputation for pranks and crime, but by early 2011 the group’s reputation as an
influential, if loosely organized, hacktivist collective was solidified.
Read Quinn Norton’s history of
Anonymous in Wired, and Molly
Sauter’s background on the Guy
Fawkes mask at HiLobrow.
Keep up with Anonymous at AnonNews.org
NYU Media professor Gabriella Coleman on Anonymous
Zuccotti Raid Footage shot by NYPD’s Technical Assistance Response Unit (TARU)
10/15/2012 3:03:57 PM
Occupying Zuccotti Park was nothing if not a long-shot, but
it was also the kind of long-shot David Graeber was used to taking. For more
than ten years, Graeber has juggled global justice activism with a
distinguished career in anthropology, work that has kept him bouncing across
continents, facing down riot police and tenure committees with equal poise and
determination. One of a handful of activists who imagined and planned the early
Occupy actions, Graeber has lent his considerable experience to the burgeoning
movement. In 2012, Graeber was named an Utne Visionary. Check out the video and links below to learn more about David
Graeber, his work with Occupy and Alter-Globalization, and his latest book on
the history of debt.
Below: Democracy Now! interview with David
Graeber on the beginnings and mechanics of Occupy Wall Street and the moral power of
debt (September 19, 2011).
David Graeber gives a short teach-in at Occupy Wall Street’s Free University on
democracy, sovereignty, and constituent power.
Debt Spark A Revolution?” The Nation,
September 5, 2012.
Liberation From Liberalism: The Real Meaning of May Day,” The Guardian, May 7, 2012.
“Of Flying Cars and
the Declining Rate of Profit,” The
Baffler, No. 19.
Position,” The New Inquiry,
October 8, 2012.
Graeber, the Anti-Leader of Occupy Wall Street,” Businessweek, October 26, 2011.
Direct Action: An
, AK Press, 2009.
Debt: The First 5,000 Years
, Melville House,
Image by David Graeber, licensed under Creative Commons.
10/15/2012 2:53:20 PM
Traveling by UnDocuBus from Phoenix to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, the undocumented activists behind No Papers No Fear knew the danger they were facing. But by refusing to give into fear, the UnDocuBus riders signaled a new era in immigrant rights activism, one that places human dignity at the forefront. The activists behind No Papers No Fear were named Utne Visionaries in 2012. Check out the video and links below to learn more about the No Papers No Fear campaign and the future of immigrant activism.
Below: UnDocuBus riders Latecia Ramirez and Rosi Carrasco on Democracy Now! at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte (September 4, 2012).
Video: “Reclamar tu Libertad,” NoPapersNoFear.org, August 8, 2012.
“If We Can Overcome Our Fear, So Can Anyone,” NoPapersNoFear.org, July 25, 2012.
“In Defense of Civil Protest,” NoPapersNoFear.org, September 20, 2012.
“Selma: Crossing Bridges, Building Puentes,” NoPapersNoFear.org, August 23, 2012.
“Barrio Defense Committees: How Arizona’s Immigrants Are Standing Up to SB 1070,” Yes! Magazine, June 21, 2012.
“Riders of UnDocuBus Have ‘No Papers, No Fear,’” In These Times, September 5, 2012.
Puente Arizona movement
Main site: NoPapersNoFear.org
Image by Chandra Narcia. Used with permission.
10/15/2012 2:25:47 PM
Barbara Lubin is a lifelong activist who has fought for human rights and civil liberties on a number of diverse fronts. From antiwar work in the Vietnam War era to disability rights and human rights campaigns in the U.S. and abroad, Lubin has struggled on behalf of the oppressed from more than 40 years. In 1988, she cofounded the Middle East Children’s Alliance with journalist Howard Levine, and since then has shipped millions of dollars worth of food, medical supplies, and art supplies to children in war-torn Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. MECA is a 2012 Utne Visionary; below is our interview with Lubin from August 2012.
Sam Ross-Brown: What was it about your experience in Palestine that prompted you to get involved?
Barbara Lubin: I grew up in a very right wing Zionist home. We supported the policies of the State of Israel blindly. And it was only after I had been elected by the board of education in Berkeley, California, that a group of young Palestinian students from San Francisco State came to see me and said to me, “you go to El Salvador, you’re involved in Nicaragua, and in the anti-Apartheid movement in Berkeley around South Africa, and you say nothing about Palestine and Israel.”
I said I was Jewish, and they said, “What does that have to do with it?” And for me it had everything to do with it, but little by little, these guys from San Francisco State educated me and made me realize what was really happening and what the founding of Israel and Zionism really meant. And when the first intifada began I decided to take a delegation of locally elected officials from around the United States. One of us was a Catholic priest, two of us were Jewish, and were the first internationalists to be in Palestine after the intifada began a week later. And it was that trip and really those young students who really made me understand what was happening and changed the whole way I look at this issue.
When I came back we had a press conference at the San Francisco Press Club. Howard Levine—a friend of mine and the East Bay stringer for the San Francisco Examiner—covered it and we went out to lunch. He said, “What are you going to do now?” And I said, “I’m definitely going to do something on this issue. I’m just revolted by what I saw in Palestine and Israel.” And he said, “I’ll do it with you.” And two months later we opened our office, and since then, we’ve delivered over $13 million in food and medicine to the children in Palestine and Lebanon and Iraq. We’ve built playgrounds and preschools. We’ve been doing this work around the clock for 25 years.
SR: Where have you seen the most success? You mentioned the playgrounds and medical equipment.
BL: Yes, actually I’m trying to get information about a playground we completed this year in Syria, but I’m not having much luck with that. And in fact, I’m getting ready to visit the camps on the border in Jordan and Lebanon and all over to talk with the Palestinians who are fleeing from Syria. It’s like a second Nakba—catastrophe—for the Palestinians. In 1948 they fled their homes inside of Palestine when the State of Israel was founded, and many of them ended up in Syria. Now, once again after all these years, they thought they had found a safe home, but are now on the run again and being forced into camps in these other countries. So I’m going to see what’s going on.
I don’t know if I can say what has been most successful. I’d like to think that the project we’ve been working on for the past three years continues to be an important and successful project. We’ve been building water purification and desalinization systems at the UN schools in Gaza. The water table has been lowered to such an extent because Israel over the years has been stealing the water from the West Bank and Gaza. And it lowered the water table to such an extent that the water is undrinkable and many babies get blue baby syndrome, children have died from this water, and the salt content is so high that it’s undrinkable.
And when our project director in Gaza went to a boy’s school in Bureij refugee camp, she asked what MECA could do for them. And they said what they wanted more than anything else was to be able to come to school and have a clean glass of water to drink. And that’s really what our main focus has been for the last three years.
SR: That’s the Maia Project, right?
BL: Yeah, that’s the Maia Project. Maia means water in Arabic.
SR: One of the most public campaigns that MECA has been involved with has been Let the Children Play and Heal, which focuses on traumatized children expressing themselves through art. What is it about art that has a healing potential?
BL: It does have a healing potential. That program came about because I was in Egypt throughout Operation Cast Lead in 2009, when close to 1,500 Palestinians were murdered within four weeks. Close to 400 of them were children. And the last two days of the bombing, after all of our aid went in—we sent in five tons of baby food and milk, wheelchairs, beds, all kinds of things that kids needed, truckloads of supplies. After that went in from Egypt, I went across the border and went into Palestine and Gaza and was there the last two days of that bombing. In some communities—in one neighborhood there’s a family called the Sammoni family and over 40 people were murdered in that one family.
After I came home, they contacted Dr. Mona El-Farra, our project director in Gaza, and said that they wanted MECA to set up some sort of summer camp or program for the kids to help them deal with the emotional problems that they were dealing with. They were wetting their beds, they were unable to sleep, they were acting out, all over Gaza after that bombing.
So Dr. Mona El-Farra, along with some psychiatrists, set up Let the Children Play and Heal. It was training 400 mothers and women, most of them uneducated, ordinary women, and they trained them to go work in the schools and work in homes to help kids deal with their emotions around that horrendous attack. And part of that project was an art project that took place. And the kids were encouraged to draw pictures of what they saw and what they felt. As a matter of fact, a woman from Philadelphia several years after that was in Gaza and she saw the pictures and brought them back to the United States.
When the art exhibit came to Berkeley, we had made arrangements and had worked with the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland (MOCHA). And we worked for them for six months on showing the exhibit. And it was a very graphic exhibit. A lot of tanks, drawings of people dying. But we had worked with people at the Museum, and we worked with teachers and a lot of public and private schools who were going to go visit the exhibit. And two weeks before the exhibit was to open, the head of the Museum came to see me at MECA and said that they had changed their minds. That they were not going to show the exhibit.
I just couldn’t believe it. I sent out an email to our list saying that MOCHA had refused to show the exhibit, but we were committed to showing this exhibit. We said that we had sent out all of these emails, we worked with the press, and we sent out another email saying that we’d be out in front of that museum, with the art, holding the art on September 24 of last year. During those two weeks, I went around and tried to find space for this show.
And outside the Museum, I found an open storefront and it was right around the corner from the Museum. We spent all night hanging the exhibit. And the next day, over 500 people showed up to see the exhibit that we were holding. We held a copy of the exhibit outside the Children’s Museum, and we marched around the corner. Over 1,000 people came that day to see the show, and over the two months that we had that exhibit up, thousands of people came to see the exhibit. School buses were showing up everyday, kids were coming in. They would look at the exhibit and then we’d have them sit down on the floor, and we would talk about the exhibit and what they felt about it and what was happening. And it was an incredible thing.
People from all over the world wrote to me. They were outraged that children’s art would be censored. They were furious. Right before we took the exhibit down, I said to Howard Levine, my partner and MECA cofounder, “You know, we should do a book about what just happened.” And 28 days later, the book was done. It was published. It’s really amazing: within four weeks, we had the idea, our artist Josh Sampson put the book together, and it was published. Twenty-eight days. The proceeds from this book all go to the children who did the drawings and art centers in Gaza.
SR: The exhibit also traveled around the country. Did you get a similar response in other places?
BL: No other place had the response that we had here in Berkeley. Nobody. I gave a talk in Vancouver about the exhibit and people were very open to it. Only in Berkeley, the home of free speech, was it shut down. That’s a pretty remarkable thing.
SR: The idea that an exhibit of children’s art could be controversial is amazing.
BL: Oh no, it’s not amazing. It’s sad. I remember in 1991 I had just come back from the Middle East during the Gulf War, and Noam Chomsky was going to give a talk at the Berkeley Community Theater. And the Zionists here in the Bay Area sent out letters telling them to boycott bookstores that sold Chomsky’s books and sold tickets to this event. And 17 professors from University of California, Berkeley published a letter saying that Noam Chomsky and Barbara Lubin were self-hating Jews, that we supported terrorism, and people should boycott the stores and boycott the talk. And 3,200 people showed up to hear Noam speak that night. Most of the people here were furious about it. But the art exhibit is not the first time that MECA has had this kind of thing happen to us.
The same thing happened with another art exhibit we did with 12 artists about 10 year ago. It was called Justice Matters, and we did it at the Berkeley Art Center. It was beautiful. It was a portfolio we did about Palestine. And 12 rabbis went to see Tom Bates, the mayor of Berkeley, and demanded that the city stop funding the Berkeley Art Center, and they demanded to have the exhibit taken down. Fortunately, the mayor said, “No, we won’t do that,” and the exhibit stayed up. It’s a funny town. They’re for free speech, but when it comes to Palestine, there’s a very strong Zionist community here in the Bay Area and they have been very vocal, and it’s very difficult doing the work here.
SR: It’s such a strange mix there. At the same time, you have people like Rabbi Michael Lerner and Tikkun magazine doing very different work.
BL: Well, Michael Lerner has had many death threats. This is the place where Mario Savio stood on top of an automobile at the University of California and kick-started the Free Speech Movement. And yet his wife, and all those people from the Free Speech Movement wrote a letter condemning me and MECA when we did a demonstrated against having Netanyahu speak at the Berkeley Community Theater. They said we were shutting down free speech. It was unbelievable. So it’s hard to do the work, but it just makes us work that much harder.
SR: Are you hopeful about a changing atmosphere around Palestinian issues? Are you hopeful about the Freedom Flotillas or the BDS movement?
BL: I feel mixed about it. So many of the people doing this work now—so many of them I went over these 25 years and begged them to speak out about Zionism and speak out about what was happening to Palestinians. And they refused. And they’ve been doing it now for the last six or seven years, which is great—better late than never. But the BDS movement is very important, and it is growing.
I’m actually just reading as I’m talking to you that the Israeli courts have ruled—just this minute—that the State of Israel is not responsible for the murder of Rachel Corrie. So on one hand, the movement is growing, but on the other hand, the State of Israel continues to support murderous activities. It’s shameful.
SR: Yesterday, the UN released a report called
Gaza in 2020: A liveable place?
According to the report, by 2020, Gaza will need double the electricity provision and hundreds of new schools and housing units.
BL: Yeah, I just came back from Gaza. I’ve been working with the UN in Gaza on our schools and it was just impossible. I was just there in February for three weeks and then I was just there for three weeks. It was impossible to do the work. The electricity was only on for eight hours—and in the night usually when you’re asleep. And then it’s off. So you can’t use your computer, you can’t use email. And when I was there in February it was one of the coldest winters they’ve ever had. We couldn’t have any heat in any of the homes. It was freezing and it was raining and it was windy. It was just impossible.
I don’t know how Palestinians continue to struggle in the way that they do. I have a lot of respect for them. Life is very tough. People talk about how, “now we’re going to have a nonviolent struggle.” Well 99 percent of the Palestinian population has been struggling nonviolently forever. The fact that you would go to a checkpoint—one of the hundreds and hundreds of checkpoints—and stand there in the hot sun or the freezing cold winter with your children and have to wait for hours and hours and hours until some 17-year-old Israeli soldier says you can go to your home. And you do that. And you do it quietly. And you just stand there. That is nonviolent struggle. They have been doing nonviolent struggle forever.
I just hope it’s not too late. I’m not real optimistic. I’m very worried about Israel and all of this talk about Iran and working it up for God-knows-what they’re going to do, and that’s very frightening. You know that whole region is changing. It’s very interesting to me that the new president of Egypt was meeting today with all the nonaligned countries, including Iran. It’s all changing over there. The treaties Egypt has had with Israel—who knows what’s going to come of those? It’s a very, very tricky time. I think we should all be worried, and we should pressure our congresspeople.
You know, almost every congressperson has been taken—U.S. congressperson—to Israel by the Zionists. And they’re shown all of the Jewish sites, and they’re told one side of this story. They never get to see Palestine; they never get to hear what the impact of the founding of the State of Israel has been on the Palestinian community. We need to do the same work. We need to get them there to go to Gaza, to go to the West Bank to see what life is like living under the longest occupation in history. But I don’t know how much time is left. I really don’t.
And on the other hand, the dynamics are changing. Just looking at how many Palestinian children are born, and how many Israeli children are born—it’s all changing. The demographics are going to be such that in five years, there will be more Palestinians living inside the 1948 borders—what’s called Israel—than outside. And who knows what that’s going to mean? I think time is running out. I think Israel has to come to some just resolution soon or all is lost.
SR: What keeps you going in the face of all that?
BL: Oh, I don’t now. I’m 71 years old now, and I dropped out of high school in 11th grade, and I’ve never gone back. Everything I learned has been on the street. I was president of the board of education in Berkeley. I ran as a high school dropout in 1981. But I grew up in a home where you took care of people. Where you helped people. If someone was ill in the neighborhood, my mother went and made sure there was food and helped take care of people. I think what carries me on is my anger at injustice. I know a lot of people say it’s not good to be angry, but in reality, it’s the anger at the unfairness in this world that just spurs me on.
I have four children and seven grandchildren, and one of my children has just turned 43, my son Charlie. And Charlie has Down syndrome, and lives with me. When he was born, there were no programs, there were no laws for people with disabilities. I was in the first generation of parents who got involved and helped write the laws that forced the school systems to close the special education schools and put our kids on the regular school site and integrate them into the classroom. And I think it’s that kind of fighting for Charlie and fighting the system and making sure he has the right to go to school and be in the regular classroom. And even before, I was very involved in fighting against the Vietnam War, and going to jail all the time. Being involved in demonstrations.
I remember the first flotilla, when Sloan Kaufman and myself and a few other people, we organized a peaceful pillage to go out and try to stop the USS New Jersey from going back to Vietnam to kill innocent Vietnamese people. And it was a six-story warship and we were in these little catamarans and canoes. And they overturned our boats and we were taken into the Philadelphia police station in leg-irons. It’s just been a long history for me of being outraged by all of these things. So it’s that anger that spurs me on.
Sometimes I get really tired. I don’t know. I’ve lost a lot of friends. I used to be the sweetheart of the left in Berkeley. I helped save our soda fountain, and I helped write the first commercial rent control law that was for two blocks in Berkeley to save the fountain. This was many years ago. The US had never had commercial rent control ever outside New York City during World War II. But Berkeley had it for three years before it was overturned.
When I think something is really wrong, I’m not going to be quiet. I get up and I fight and I try and change it. And I’ve been really lucky to meet the people that I’ve met. I’ve met kings and queens. But most of all, I’ve met the real royalty, Allen Ginsberg (who did events for us), Gore Vidal. A lot of them are gone now, and it’s very sad for me. Every week somebody else that I love and adore and that has helped us has died. I remember being the youngest person in the movement, so many years ago, and now I’m one of the oldest people. I just don’t know how it happened so quickly.
SR: Do hold out hope for movements like Occupy to put some of these issues back on the table?
BL: Well I think there are a lot of young people who are now getting involved, but you know this is a tough time for young people. We were just talking about this last night—my niece and nephew were here from the East Coast. There isn’t the movement anymore. It’s too hard. This country has become so sick and so right-wing. I just don’t see it. I don’t see new leadership coming up. I think there are some wonderful, terrific young people doing things, but it’s much harder for them today than it was for us. It was so much easier back then for us to struggle; it’s much harder today. There’s so much out there that’s against kids speaking out and making change—things like anti-terrorism laws. For a minute I thought maybe the Occupy was going to happen and that was encouraging, but even that faded out. So I don’t know where it’s going to go. Of course there’s going to be young people who are just as angry as I was and make change.
But it’s not as easy today. Look at these people—these Republicans and Democrats. It’s really frightening, the kinds of things that they’re saying. It’s like 1950 all over again. To talk about a woman’s right to an abortion. To talk about the right to speak and say what you think. All of these rights are being taken away from us. I really think young people have got to wake up and realize that if they don’t get out there fight this, we’re finished. I’m worried for my grandchildren. I look at them and think, “My God. What is going to happen to them? What is it going to be like for them?”
SR: In terms of MECA’s future, do you plan to continue Let the Children Play and Heal?
BL: Yes we do. In fact, we have a new project. We also have 150 young people that we send to college in Gaza and in the West Bank. And many of the women who had graduated from the university there have started a new project. They are working with battered women who are having problems with their husbands. And they’re working with children—this is so fascinating to me—they’re working with children whose parents were collaborators with the Israelis. These children have been isolated and other children don’t want to play with them, and don’t want to be around them, and life is very difficult for them. And about eight young women who have come through the Play and Heal program and college are now working with the children and working with the women who need help. So it’s continuing the next generation.
When I was there in Gaza last time I had a meeting with 75 of the women who came through that program and they all begged us to start the program over and do it for the men, for their husbands. They say the men need to be trained in the way the women were trained. So we’re trying to figure out how to do that.
SR: That kind of resilience is so inspiring. In her introduction to A Child’s View From Gaza, the book of children’s drawings from Let the Children Play and Heal that appeared last year, Susan Johnson told a story of children creating their art even through rolling blackouts, sometimes working by candlelight. It’s inspiring, but you have to wonder, where does that come from?
BL: They’ve never known anything else. I look at children all over the world who are suffering and I wonder, how can they do that? I can’t believe this is happening. These children have never known anything else. These generations of kids in Gaza, this is all they’ve ever known. All they’ve known is occupation, oppression, lack of electricity, being beaten, their parents, their fathers in prison, children in prison. So this is all they’ve known. We look at it and say, “Well how do they do it?” They look at it and say, “Well it’s all we’ve ever known.” And it’s very sad.
But there is a resilience. Palestinian people amaze me all the time, because they have not given up. They’re angry, sometimes they feel furious and their hope isn’t there, but they don’t give up. And they will not give up. And there is not a Palestinian alive in the West Bank or Gaza or inside 1948 that doesn’t say, “This is our land, and we are not leaving, and we are not dying.” And they use this one word—I’ve heard it for 25 years from the mouths of thousands of Palestinian people—the word is steadfast. Sumud. They use it and they mean it. “We are steadfast. We will not be moved.” They’re incredible people.
Image by Middle East Children's Alliance. Used with permission.
Middle East Children's Alliance: Where to Learn More
20 Years of Caring for the Children from Middle East Children's Alliance on Vimeo.
Video: Drawings from Let the Children Play and Heal, along with some background on Operation Cast Lead.
Video: PressTV covers MECA’s Maia Project and the Water Writes mural campaign.
“Middle East Children’s Alliance Launches Campaign to Provide Clean Water for Children in Gaza to Honor the Legacy of Howard Zinn,” Common Dreams, January 27, 2011.
“Oakland Museum Cancels Palestinian Kids’ War Art,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 9, 2011.
“‘You Never Know What’s Next’: An Interview with Barbara Lubin,” Electronic Intifada, October 7, 2006.
“No Justice for Rachel Corrie,” The Nation, August 31, 2012.
“Gaza in 2020: A liveable place?”UN Country Team, August 27, 2012.
A Child's View from Gaza: Palestinian Children's Art and the Fight Against Censorship. Edited by Howard Levine. Pacific View Press, 2012.
Main site: MECAforpeace.org
10/12/2012 2:16:28 PM
Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about what would happen if we reach the fiscal cliff (or slope or obstacle course) later this year. Unless Congress acts before January 2, the argument goes, large-scale automatic cuts in government spending will likely trigger a new recession, whether or not Obama is reelected. A handful of programs like Medicaid, Social Security, and SNAP, are exempt from cuts, though Medicare will take a hit. Some of the bigger cuts will be in defense, farm subsidies, and student loan assistance. If all this happens, says the CBO, look for unemployment to rise above 9 percent, and the economy to plunge into deep recession next year.
How would sequestration affect state budgets? Check out this infographic from the Pew Research Center to find out. States are where some of the worst pain will be, says Pew’s Jake Grovum, especially in education. Oddly, while big-ticket safety net programs like Social Security and Medicaid are off-limits at the federal level, automatic cuts will slash state services like WIC, and some may cease to exist. Special education will see a $1 billion cut nationwide.
So why aren’t we more worried? Because it’s probably not gonna happen, says Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum. At least not all once. Whether or not Congress can ultimately reach a deal, the problem won’t come to a head in January. This is a “fiscal slope,” not a cliff, Drum says, and big changes like these take a lot of time. Congresspeople are great at procrastinating, but thankfully, they probably have until sometime in spring to avert disaster.
Economist Dean Baker agrees. “Contrary to the image conveyed by the metaphor, pretty much nothing happens on January 1, 2013 if there is no budget deal in place,” he writes in Beat the Press. In fact, concern over impending (but completely avoidable) doom makes the deep cuts Republicans are pushing that much more palatable. Waiting until the Bush tax cuts expire (also January 1) would put the Democrats in a far better negotiating position, says Baker, and would not lead to immediate recession.
And sequestration is by no means the only economic disaster we need to avert this year, says Josh Bivens and Andrew Fieldhouse at the Economic Policy Institute. A handful of big stimulus measures are also set to expire at the end of 2012, and that loss would be even greater than a sequestered budget. On January 1, emergency unemployment benefits, along with tax credits for students, parents, and low and middle income workers (all powerful fiscal multipliers) are set to expire. If Congress averts sequestration but lets these programs go, about 1.6 million Americans would lose their jobs by 2014. What we’re dealing with, says Bivens and Fieldhouse, is not so much a fiscal cliff as a series of potential—but not inevitable—pitfalls. Hence, the “fiscal obstacle course” metaphor.
And whether or not sequestration actually kicks in, there’s a more immediate reason to be concerned about the automatic cuts, says Policy Shop’s Katherine Stone. With sectors like defense on the chopping block, private contractors are already planning to make cuts of their own. Lockheed Martin has floated the idea of laying off more than 100,000 workers by the January deadline, and other contractors are not far behind. If that happens, the companies are required by law to issue notices to their workers 60 days in advance—and that just happens to be November 2, the Friday before the election.
That hundreds of thousands of workers could get a pink slip four days before we go to the polls could be a disaster for the Democrats, says Stone, and they know it. Already, leading Dems have urged companies not to issue lay off notices on November 2, and the Office of Management and Budget has even offered to pay employers’ legal fees, should they be penalized for doing so (arguing that sequestration still may not happen). Not long after, Republicans including John McCain and Lindsey Graham fired back that the government had no right to condone violating the law, and threatened legal action against recalcitrant firms. “All this is ironic given that sequestration was a bipartisan compromise,” says Stone. Whether or not the lay-off notices turn into an October, or November, Surprise, we’ll have to wait and see.
Image by Powerruns, licensed under Creative Commons.
10/4/2012 2:45:24 PM
The granddaughter of a
Southern Baptist minister, Krista Tippett approaches faith from a unique
perspective. “Both science and religion are set to animate the twenty-first
century with new vigor,” she writes in Einstein’s God,
her latest book. “The dialogue that is possible—and that has developed
organically, below the journalistic and political radar—is mutually
illuminating and lush with promise.”
It’s that organic
dialogue Tippett has sought throughout her career. For more than 10 years,
Tippett has hosted
, a Peabody-award winning NPR program that explores
the “big questions at the center of human life, from
the boldest new science of the human brain to the most ancient traditions of
the human spirit.”
In 2011, she launched
the Civil Conversations Project, which
aims to create space for constructive dialogue around some of the most pressing
social and political issues we face today. On September 26, 2012, Tippett led a
discussion on life, choice, and women’s rights between pro-choice activist
Frances Kissling and pro-life scholar David Gushee. You can check out the video
On October 10, Tippett will moderate “The Future of Marriage,” the final
installment of this year’s Civil Conversations Project series. The conversation
will include gay marriage advocate Jonathon Rauch and former same-sex marriage
opponent David Blankenhorn.
Below is our interview
with Tippett, following the September 26 Civil Conversation Project discussion,
“Pro Life, Pro Choice, Pro Dialogue.”
Sam Ross-Brown: What role
does religion or faith play in the Civil Conversations Project?
Krista Tippett: Religious voices and
religious perspectives on moral and social issues have been some of the most
polarizing voices in the last 30 or 40 years. I think it’s really important
when we take up these issues of abortion or same-sex marriage that we also try
to create a different kind of conversation with those perspectives, and also
show what’s possible because media and our political process have completely
given the spotlight to those very strident voices that make for really good
soundbites and are entertaining. But it’s not really the whole story of
religion and it’s certainly not the whole story of how we can talk about these
very intimate moral issues that we all have a stake in, whether we are religious
or not. So it’s really claiming that discussion back—and also leaving a place
for people with religious conviction to create a new voice in that discussion
in our common life.
of where I started coming from as I was putting this together was the irony
that in an election season we have all these huge issues, all these open
questions in our common life, and this becomes the most unlikely time we can
talk with any rationality or even courtesy about these things. I also think I’m
not alone in thinking that our civil society is really fractured, and like many
people I myself feel really unrepresented in the really polarized and narrow
way that important subjects are discussed, whether it’s the nature of marriage,
or what economic recovery might really mean or not mean.
so what I wanted to do in creating this project is create an intellectually
hospitable place where we don’t walk the same tired old path of doing a “for or
against,” you know, “pro/con,” but instead try to have the discussion that many
of us have been longing to have. So we’re doing something very different with
the discussion about marriage or the discussion about abortion, or the
discussion of the economy. You know, I’m looking. What I know is not being
reported in the news is that there are bridge people out there who are reaching
across these boundaries, that there are new generations who are not being
heard, and that there are actually really interesting areas of moral consensus
across the partisan divide, but that our attention simply hasn’t been drawn to
those things. So I’m trying to put them out there and put a spotlight on them.
SR: I was struck by
something Frances Kissling said during last week’s discussion that “if you
don’t want to change, don’t go into dialogue.”
KT: [Laughs] And she also
talked about how hard dialogue is, right? It was really clear when we set the
framework for the project that we were not going to rehash all the old
platitudes and irreconcilable positions, and we started talking about things that
were really uncomfortable and difficult to discuss in public. So you started to
understand that dialogue is really hard work. But I really think that so many
of us are longing for that. We’re even open to some kind of vulnerability to be
changed. But the screaming—it’s not just talking heads we have now, it’s
screaming heads. Most of us can’t find any point of entry in that, and we’re
dismayed and disgusted by it and just turn away.
one point you asked both participants to locate something in their positions
that gave them trouble as well as something in the opposite position that they
KT: Yeah, it was really interesting, wasn’t it? We just
have so few opportunities to see people reflect on something, or even just to
reflect. There was space and time for them to answer a counterintuitive
question. If you’re listening to that, you take that in and it becomes a moment
of self-reflection and it’s good for us.
SR: It’s kind of a sense
of humility, that we’re willing to be changed by what we’re hearing and what
KT: Yeah. The goal of these
civil conversations and for civil society is not really about changing each
others minds or thinking that we can talk for an hour, or ten hours, or 100
hours, and not have diverse perspectives on these things. We can change our
conduct towards each other and I think we can create conditions for dialogue
and we can create relationships, so that change that we might not foresee now
can be possible. To me, it’s about living together differently, even while we
hold passionate disagreement. That has to be the immediate goal, but I think if
you listen to these people who have given themselves over to this, you see that
down the road, things do begin to soften in interesting ways.
SR: It’s like what David
Gushee said at one point, that out of discussions like this, he feels stronger
about his position, but at the same time, he feels stronger that the other side
is coming from a more humane place.
KT: Yeah, that they have
integrity. So the immediate effect, even if it’s not to change positions, is to
stop the demonizing. This is a story I know from talking to people about this
over the years, but it’s the kind of thing I feel our public life doesn’t know.
There’s no headline that says, “Abortion Activist Changes His View.” But he
goes back to his community, and it becomes this infectious softening—a loss of
SR: And certainly for the
listeners and viewers too. Just somebody like David Gushee coming from an evangelical
progressive perspective—the fact that someone like that exists in the universe
is somehow amazing.
KT: Exactly! That’s the
thing: that people don’t even realize that someone like David Gushee exists. The
truth is there’s a lot of diversity in that world, but again, they don’t get
the light shone on them. It’s a hopeful thing. Even if you totally disagree
with everything he stands for, the world feels like a more generous place. And
maybe there’s some room in our political life for you and he to coexist peaceably,
maybe even creatively.
SR: Do you feel like that
that room, that space, is growing?
KT: I know the longing is
out there. These things we’re doing are a small seed. It’s a couple hundred
people in a room. I’ll tell you, the very first event that we had was with the
head of Focus on the Family and young evangelicals—it was called the New
Christians. That event was taking head on the fact that Christian voices have
been some of the most polarizing voices. We wanted to shine a light on these
new generations of people who do not fit the stereotype, and actually within
their own worlds are really working to counter it. James Dobson was the famous
head of Focus on the Family, and he left years ago. But everyone still
associates James Dobson with Focus on the Family and with the worst kind of
Christian stridency. His successor, Tim Daley, is this really interesting
person of integrity who’s charting a new path and still holds many of the
positions that James Dobson does, but with humanity and nuance and a willingness
to learn and to change.
I was very gratified that night: we had one of the most conservative columnists
in Minnesota—arch-conservative, who writes for one of the local newspapers—who
was one of the first people to come up to us afterwards and tell us what a good
and important event he thought it was. And we also had the head of Planned
who was a very powerful woman, and she and Tim Daley had a conversation that
night and exchanged phone numbers. You could say, how do you quantify that—it’s
only three people. But I feel like if you plant seeds like that, you send them
out into the world. And I’m not in control of the effect, but I feel like
something happened. I feel like something happened in the room, and I feel like
something happened when you put the radio broadcast out. You know, when you
write an article, you do something to the best of your ability, and you send it
out. You do set things in motion, and I trust that process.
SR: What was your
experience with faith growing up? I understand that your grandfather was a
KT: Yes, he was a Southern
Baptist minister, and I’ve actually been really glad that that’s part of my
background coming to this. I think it’s a little bit counterintuitive for
public radio, but the whole world of evangelical Christianity is such an
important part of American culture. You know my own grandfather was very much
about rules and much more about hellfire and damnation—especially in how he
preached. He was much more about how you could mess up than how you could live
a life of flourishing. But he modeled that life of flourishing. He was funny,
he was smart. There were contradictions, there were human contradictions in
what he preached and the way he led his life. In some ways I carry that image
of my grandfather and it forces me to look deeper than headlines, and to know
that there are human beings behind these positions and these arguments, and
then to search for that, to want to see that, to make that visible, that
complexity. Because in that complexity there is hope. We’re all more alike than
SR: Did your experience as
a journalist in Germany
during the Cold War make you more aware of the dangers of polarization?
KT: Well, it’s kind of
interesting that you ask me that question, because I hadn’t thought about that.
And recently I thought, how interesting it is that I spent most of the decade
before the wall came down working at the fault line of this absolute
geopolitical divide. One of the most important experiences of those years for
me was having friends on both sides of the wall—having friends in East Berlin
and having friends in West Berlin, and always
seeing the human beings behind the conflict. And just really knowing that was
important, and that the story was always bigger than the news story would tell
you. So interestingly I kind of find myself paying attention to that again in
an American moment.
SR: You write in Einstein’s God about the ability to accept two seemingly
contradictory things as “simultaneously true,” such as the truths of Darwin and
and paradox are things we tend to avoid, especially in politics. But what do we
gain from it?
KT: Well, reality is about
contradiction and paradox. So to the extent that we avoid those things, we are
avoiding the fullness of reality. Reality is much more demanding than
flattening things out. But I don’t see a way forward for our civil society, I
don’t see a way forward on these big issues we have to grapple with, whether
it’s marriage or the economy, if we are not dealing with the fullness of
reality. David Gushee said it well. He said, “Nuance is not rewarded.” There
are very few spaces or media spaces where you can have that. But I guess what
I’m trying to say with this project is, nuance may not be rewarded, but it’s
essential. We have to carve out those opportunities. We have to make it happen.
And the great thing about the world now with technology is there’s much more
power to starting something where you are. That’s the upside.
SR: You also write that
Albert Einstein’s “cosmic religious” outlook is little known today, but is
“intriguingly resonant with twenty-first sensibilities.” Are you referring to a
decline of organized religion, or a way of seeing science with “religious awe,”
as Einstein did?
KT: Religious identity is a
much more fluid thing now than it was when Einstein was around. And he
certainly lived uncomfortably with his Jewish identity—it was complicated in
his mind with the Holocaust and the fact that he had to leave Germany. But I
think that his discomfort with his religious identity is for very different
reasons something that people now experience. The impulse to make sense doesn’t
go away just because you’re not going to church or synagogue. So I think that
while organized religion is declining by many measures, I’m just aware of a
real curiosity and energy out there. And I think that Einstein was about
nothing more than curiosity, this unbridled curiosity. He didn’t have any kind
of traditional faith in God, but he always kept asking questions, and he talked
about how he was animated more by inklings and wonderings than by certainties.
And I just experience a lot of people to be like that these days. Einstein had
the largest possible understanding of our place in the universe, and how
mysterious and wild and unpredictable reality is. And I think here, generations
later, that knowledge is becoming something the rest of us are aware of. Maybe
it takes this much time for culture to catch up with science, and of course
science itself keeps being surprised. This side of Einstein probably was not
that magnetic or comprehensible in his age, when the world was really
segregated in terms of religious identities. But I think it’s a very
interesting model for us now.
SR: It’s interesting that
he would have such humility about these very large questions. That’s another
thing you don’t think of when you think of Einstein.
KT: Yeah, that’s the thing:
he had no need to pin it down. He would say that he had this sense of awe and
mystery, and he would speak in terms of the intelligence behind the universe.
But he had no requirement to say definitively that he knew what that meant,
that that was God. He was very willing to bask in the mystery.
SR: It seems almost alien
today—there are so many certainties and false certainties floating around.
KT: Yeah, although I do talk
to a lot of scientists in my work, and I find that there are a lot of scientists
who live like that, who just rejoice in mystery. That’s another story that’s not
being told, and it’s very intriguing and inspiring when you listen to that.
SR: Do you find a
corresponding humility in religious communities, or is it missing these days?
KT: You know, one thing I’ve
found is that scientists do mystery better than a lot of religious people. Mystery
is a birthright of theology and faith, but you often do find religious people grasping
for answers that shut things down and narrow what is possible. And so, I talk
to scientists who are not at all religious, but who are so drenched in mystery
and the excitement of what they don’t know and what there is yet to discover.
And I think that it’s almost holy ground, however you want to define that. And
then, what if theologians could learn from them?
Photo by Matt M. Johnson/On Being/Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
And be sure to check out Krista Tippett's Civil Conversation with Frances Kissling and David Gushee.
10/3/2012 2:35:49 PM
It was the
greatest education system the world had ever seen. They built it into the
eucalyptus-dotted Berkeley hills and under the
bright lights of Los Angeles, down in the valley
in Fresno and in the shadows of the San Bernardino Mountains. Hundreds of college campuses,
large and small, two-year and four-year, stretching from California's
emerald forests in the north to the heat-scorched Inland
Empire in the south. Each had its own DNA, but common to all was
this: they promised a “public” education, accessible and affordable, to those
with means and those without, a door with a welcome mat into the ivory tower,
an invitation to a better life.
Then California bled that
system dry. Over three decades, voters starved their state—and so
their colleges and universities—of cash. Politicians siphoned away
what money remained and spent it more on imprisoning people, not educating
them. College administrators grappled with shriveling state support by jacking
up tuitions, tacking on new fees, and so asking more each year from
increasingly pinched students and families. Today, many of those students
stagger under a heap of debt as they linger on waiting lists to get into
the over-subscribed classes they need to graduate.
California's public higher education
system is, in other words, dying a slow death. The promise of a cheap, quality
education is slipping away for the working and middle classes, for immigrants,
for the very people whom the University
of California's creators
held in mind when they began their grand experiment 144
years ago. And don't think the slow rot of public education is unique to California: that state's
woes are the nation's.
Baltazar lives this grim reality. In 2010, after a decade working as a
preschool teacher and a teacher's assistant, the 28-year-old Baltazar went back
to school, choosing De Anza,
a two-year community college near San
Jose. She remembers the sticker shock when she first arrived
cost per class had spiked startlingly since she graduated from high school in
2000. She would live lean, pick up side jobs, sacrifice what she could to get a
degree. "I was willing to be poor and not know if I'm gonna make it,"
she told me on a recent morning, her roommate's cat meowing in the background.
"I wanted that degree so I could have a better future."
She squeezed 20
units of classes into a quarter (not the 12 to 15 of the average student). She
worried each week about having enough money for rent, books, food. Still, she
thrived. She founded De Anza's Women Empowered Club, won the school’s
President's Award for overcoming adversity, and planned to transfer to nearby Santa Clara University to double major in psychology
and women's studies—until, that is, a state-funded "Cal Grant"
She met all the
qualifications, she told me, but Cal Grant officials informed her that she was
too old. The likely culprit, whatever they claimed: the endless state budget
cuts that had forced officials to scale back the Cal Grant program. The experience, she said, shook her
fundamental belief in the promise California
made to its students: "The impression you have is, 'I do a great job at De
Anza and I'll get to the next level.' The reality is there might not be a place
something new in what was once known as “the golden state.” For nearly as long
as colleges and universities operated in California,
there was a place for every student with the grades to get in. Classes were
cheap, professors accessible, and enrollments grew at a rapid clip. When my own
fatherstarted at Mt. San Antonio College in southern California in August 1976, anyone 18 or
older could enroll, and a semester's worth of classes cost at most $24. Then,
like so many Californians, he transferred to a four-year college, the University of California-Davis, and paid a similarly
paltry $220 a quarter. Davis's
tuition price: $4,620.
education in California
is ever less public. It is cheaper
for a middle-class student to attend Harvard (about $17,000 for tuition, room,
and board with the typical financial-help program included) than Cal State
a mid-tier school that'll run that same middle-class student $24,000 a year.
That speaks to Harvard's largesse when it comes to financial aid, but also the
relentless rise of tuition costs in California.
For the first time in generations, California's
community colleges and state universities are turning away qualified new
students and shrinking their enrollments as state funding continues its long,
slow decline. Many students who do gain admission struggle to enroll in the
classes they need—which, by the way, cost more than they ever have.
"We're in a new era," says John
Aubrey Douglass, an expert on the history of higher education in California. He’s not
exaggerating. Not a bit.
the Valley with the People"
California would not exist as we know
it today without higher education. At its peak, the state's constellation of
community colleges and Cal State and University
of California campuses
had no rival. It was the crown jewel of American education.
launched the college-building craze when, in 1862, as the bullets flew and the
bodies fell on the battlefields of the Civil War, he signed
the Morrill Act, giving every state a huge tract of federal land with which
to build a public university. In 1869, California
joined the craze by opening the University
of California. One
newspaper editorial hailed it as "the perfect structure, a magazine of new
thoughts and new motives, ready for the new and bright day of the future."
Another supporter declared that it would be a "mighty anchor in the stream
Yet not until California's
trust-busting Progressive politicians claimed power in the early 1900s did the
populist promise of the state's higher education system begin to take shape.
The Progressives saw higher education as a path to the middle class—and with
an educated middle class they were convinced they could loosen the stranglehold
corporate powers like the Southern Pacific Railroad had on the state. "The
university was their Progressive dream come true," historian Kevin Starr
for the University
of California soared from
a few hundred thousand dollars in 1900 to more than $3 million by 1920. As
future UC president Clark Kerr would write, "The campus is no longer on the hill with
the aristocracy but in the valley with the people."
Down in that
valley, more and more people wanted an education. New campuses sprouted
statewide before World War II, and then in its wake were flooded with returning
GIs and former war workers. Governor Earl Warren used those colleges and
universities as "shock absorbers" when the state’s wartime
economy-on-steroids slowed. He put his money on a novel concept: California would educate
its way out of any post-war slump.
system exploded in the 1940s and 1950s. Students poured into classrooms. But
not until Kerr became president did he and other education leaders attempt to
create a systemic blueprint for growth with what was called the "California
Master Plan for Higher Education." Under this plan, the brightest
students were to attend a flagship UC school, the next-smartest group would go
to a Cal State school, and the remainder would
start at a two-year community college with an eye toward transferring to a
The Master Plan brought order to a rapidly growing system.
It was hailed around the world as a stroke of genius when it came to educating
young people. In 1960, Time magazine even put Kerr on its cover, bestowing on him the title of "master
planner." (Kerr was a complicated figure. He later clashed with
UC-Berkeley's famed Free Speech Movement, yet FBI director J. Edgar Hoover
believed he was too close to campus activists and secretly pushed
for his ouster. The college's board of regents unceremoniously fired him in 1967.)
This was the
heyday of California
higher education. Enrollment grew by 300 percent between 1930 and 1960, and the
state's share of college funding kept pace. But that all started to change on
June 6, 1978, when California
voters approved Proposition 13, a ballot measure that limited property tax
assessments. More importantly, it handcuffed state lawmakers by requiring a
two-thirds supermajority any time they wanted to increase taxes, and made a
two-thirds vote among citizens necessary to raise local taxes. Prop. 13 kicked
off California's "tax revolt" of the 1970s and 1980s,
a slew of ballot measures that choked off revenue for state and local
governments and left lawmakers scrambling to fill the gap. It was the beginning
of the demise of public higher education in California.
Just Getting Chainsawed"
Schrag describes what followed as the "Mississippification" of California. Hot with the fever of an
anti-tax, small-government movement, Californians began the long, slow
burn-down of the state's higher education system. As Jeff Bleich, a former Cal State trustee and former counsel to President Obama,
put it in 2009, California
higher education "is being starved to death by a public that thinks any
government service—even public education—is not worth paying for. And
by political leaders who do not lead but instead give in to our worst,
tell the story. In 2011, public colleges and universities received 13 percent
less in state money than they had in 1980 (when adjusted for inflation). In
1980, 15 percent of the state budget had gone to higher education; by 2011,
that number had dropped to 9 percent. Between the 2010-11 and 2011-12 state
budgets, lawmakers sliced away another $1.5 billion in funding, the largest
such reduction in any high-population state in the country.
Dianne Klein, a
spokeswoman for the office of University
of California president
Mark Yudof, couldn’t contain her dismay when reacting to recent cuts.
"Here we have the world's best public university system, and we're just
getting chainsawed," she told the Daily Californian. "Public education
is dying, and perhaps we are reaching a tipping point."
to a 2010 report by the Public Policy Institute of California, young adults
are less likely to graduate from college than their parents. Among the 20 most
populous states, California ranked 18th in 2010 in its rate of students going
straight from high school to college; factor in all states and California
ranked 40th. According to the institute, this crumbling bridge between high
school and college means California
could face a shortfall of a million skilled workers by 2025.
And what awaits
the students who do make it into the ivory tower? Let me paint you a grim
picture. Colleges are filling the gap in state funding by leaning ever harder
on students and their families to pay more in tuition and fees. Thirty years
ago, the state accounted for nearly 70 percent of public higher education
funding; today, it's 25 percent. In the last five years alone, student fees
for University of California and Cal State
students. For community college students, they've leapt by 80 percent.
increasingly hunt for grants and scholarships to cover some part of their
growing share of the tab, but far more often their only option is to take out
loans. According to the Project on Student Debt, in 2010 nearly half of all
graduates of public and private four-year schools in California were saddled with an average debt load of $18,000. Nationally, a record one-in-five
college graduates has student loan debt, and in 2010, the national average for
debt owed was $26,682, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center.
In California, community colleges have always been the most
democratic of California's
higher education options. They educate the majority of students, offer the most
classes, and provide students with job training or a launching pad to a
four-year college. They have, however, taken a Mike Tyson-esque beating in California's budget
crises, losing $809 million—or 12 percent of their state funding—since
reduced class offerings, fewer sections of the classes that remain, and the
laying off of faculty and staff. At the start of the 2012-13 school year, 85 percent
112 community colleges had waiting lists of students trying to get into
overbooked classes. In all, 470,000 community college students were stuck in
such a situation. Eighty-two percent of these colleges said they weren't
offering any winter semester classes at all. Enrollment is down at community
colleges by 17 percent. "We're at the breaking point," Jack Scott,
the recently retired community college chancellor, told the Los Angeles Times in September.
Tirado, a student at Los Angeles Trade Tech, told the Times that class
shortages meant it could take her three to four years to get her two-year
associate's degree. Tirado’s situation is increasingly commonplace. "It's
hard to explain to my mom that I'm trying to go to school but the classes are
not there," she said.
The budget cuts
have also hit faculty and staff hard. Seventy percent of community colleges said in a recent survey that they'd cut hours for support
staffs. On Cal State campuses, the faculty-student ratio has jumped from 21
students per faculty member in 1980 to 32-to-1 in 2010—and the
same trend can be seen among the system’s elite schools, with the
faculty-student ratio there inching up from 16-to-1 to 21-to-1 over the same
period. As faculty members deal with larger class size, more papers to read,
more tests to grade, their pay has failed to keep pace. Salaries for Cal State
professors haven't budged from the $75,000 to $93,000 range for the last 30
years. Adjust for inflation and CSU professors earned less in 2010 than they
did in 1980.
So where did
all that money go? Here's a hint: Look for the men who wear orange jumpsuits, sleep stacked atop each other in
triple-decker bunk beds, and each year gobble up an ever greater share of
California's ever scarcer finances.
higher education and prison systems are a study in opposites. The prison system
saw its state funding in dollars leap 436 percent between 1980 and 2011. Back
then, spending on prisons was a mere 3 percent of California's budget; it's now 10 percent.
According to the
nonpartisan transparency group California Common Sense, the prison
population expanded at eight times the growth rate of California’s population. In May 2011, the
U.S. Supreme Court ordered the state to immediately shrink its prison
population because its treatment of prisoners constituted cruel and unusual
punishment. At the time, its 33 prisons held 143,321 inmates (official capacity: 80,000).
If money talks,
message is plain enough: prisoners matter more than students. Put another way:
college is the past, jail is the future.
disillusionment over California's
abandonment of its students, teachers, and staff boiled over in 2011. Protests
sprung up at campuses across the state. Students shut down a meeting of the University of California’s Board
of Regents, walked out of classes at San Francisco State, and clashed
with truncheon-swinging police in Long Beach and Berkeley.
But the most
indelible of these protests unfolded on the campus of UC-Davis, an hour's drive
northeast of San Francisco.
Student protesters there disobeyed campus rules by staging a peaceful sit-in on
a footpath in the campus quad. For their efforts Lt. John Pike, a
barrel-chested, helmeted, mustachioed campus cop, doused
them with pepper spray. He did so in a manner so nonchalant that it
triggered immediate shock and outrage; photos and videos of the incident shot
across the globe in meme form. There was Lt. Pike pepper-spraying God in Michaelangelo's "Creation of
Adam," soaking the Declaration of Independence in John Trumbull's
1817 painting, feeding the raging flames that swallowed up the Buddhist
monk Thich Quang Duc after he had set himself ablaze in Saigon in 1963.
A rallying cry
for the dozen or so students who occupied that path was the price of an education.
In just eight years, tuition at UC-Davis had more than doubled.
did not show up for fall classes at Santa
Without the state grant she'd hoped for, she returned to De Anza for a third
year. She's starting a paid internship in which she'll school students in how
to better navigate the world of college financial aid. "I want to try to
help people understand what their options are," she told me. "I don't
want somebody else to be in my shoes. It was so hard."
Baltazar and a friend traveled down the coast to Santa Cruz. She stopped in a tourist shop,
and a postcard on a rack caught her eye. It listed a smattering of facts from
1981, the year she was born. Her gaze settled on one particular figure: Harvard University tuition was then $6,000. The
nation's oldest and most prestigious university had cost just six grand. That's
$15,206 in today's dollars. She couldn't believe it. At De Anza, Baltazar said
she spent $18,000 a year in tuition and living costs.
me that she's still set on getting her bachelor's degree. She'll try again for Santa Clara, and also
apply to state schools. She's not picky; she can't afford to be. "I will
apply to anybody who will take me and help me pay for it," she said.
Like a lot of
young people in California,
Baltazar clings to the dream of public higher education, but in her life, as in
those of so many others across the state, it’s curdling into something more
like a nightmare. "I went to school in California because I knew there
were more financial aid options, I knew about the Cal Grant, and I thought, 'I
should be able to get these things,'" she told me. "In California, the
education system is great—if you can afford it. If you can't afford it, it's kind
of a moot point."
California once led the way into a
system of unparalleled public higher education. It now seems determined to lead
the way out of it.
is a staff reporter in D.C. bureau of Mother Jones magazine. He's the
son of two graduates of California's higher
education system, and he himself graduated from a public institution, the University of Michigan. An associate editor at TomDispatch, he writes
about politics, money, and the economy, and can be reached at akroll (at)
motherjones (dot) com.
Image by Hank Chapot,
licensed under Creative
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