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April 2013 Roundup: Social Change, DIY Science, and Too Much Stuff


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 Empowerment Manual 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 Lindgren’s excellent 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.