October 01, 2008

Have You Changed Or Are You The Same? Activism  Politics

The last eight years have changed us all, or should have.

Sally Anthony reminds us of some of what has changed us — and why we desperately need change in our leadership — in this moving video. Go watch it.

[Thanks, Maurice]

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September 29, 2008

Our Shock Doctrine Moment Activism  Economy  Politics

The Right wants to use this economic crisis as a Shock Doctrine moment to take the country even farther to the right.

Digby asks the obvious question: why don't we turn it around and use it as a moment to move the country to the left? Republican policies have been so thoroughly discredited by the last eight years that if there were ever a time for advancing a Progressive agenda, this is it.

Go read it.

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February 03, 2008

Annie Leonard's Story Of Stuff Activism  Economy  Environment

Good chance you've already seen this, but if not go check out Annie Leonard's video Story of Stuff, viewable here. Much of it is familiar, but it's got some startling statistics and a great quote or two. Its real strength, though, is the way it pulls together some of the big picture. Recommended.

A teaser:

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January 30, 2008

Wendell Berry On The "Environmental Crisis" Activism  Environment

Had some time on my hands today as I spent the day hooked up to an IV, which gave me the opportunity to do something that's been on my to-do list for a while — type in a passage I love from Wendell Berry's essay "The Idea of a Local Economy":

The "environmental crisis" has happened because the human household or economy is in conflict at almost every point with the household of nature. We have built our household on the assumption that the natural household is simple and can be simply used. We have assumed increasingly over the last five hundred years that nature is merely a supply of "raw materials," and that we may safely possess those materials merely by taking them. This taking, as our technical means have increased, has involved always less reverence or respect, less gratitude, less local knowledge, and less skill. Our methodologies of land use have strayed from our old sympathetic attempts to imitate natural processes, and have come more and more to resemble the methodology of mining, even as mining itself has become more technologically powerful and more brutal.

And so we will be wrong if we attempt to correct what we perceive as "environmental" problems without correcting the economic oversimplification that caused them. This oversimplification is now either a matter of corporate behavior or of behavior under the influence of corporate behavior. This is sufficiently clear to many of us. What is not sufficiently clear, perhaps to any of us, is the extent of our complicity, as individuals and especially as individual consumers, in the behavior of corporations.

What has happened is that most people in our country, and apparently most people in the "developed" world, have given proxies to the corporations to produce and provide all of their food, clothing, and shelter. Moreover, they are rapidly giving proxies to corporations or governments to provide entertainment, education, child care, care of the sick and the elderly, and many other kinds of "service" that once were carried on informally and inexpensively by individuals or households or communities. Our major economic practice, in short, is to delegate the practice to others.

The danger now is that those who are concerned will believe that the solution to the "environmental crisis" can be merely political — that the problems, being large, can be solved by large solutions generated by a few people to whom we will give our proxies to police the economic proxies that we have already given. The danger, in other words, is that people will think they have made a sufficient change if they have altered their "values," or had a "change of heart," or experienced a "spiritual awakening," and that such a change in passive consumers will cause appropriate changes in the public experts, politicians, and corporate executives to whom they have granted their political and economic proxies.

The trouble with this is that a proper concern for nature and our use of nature must be practiced not by our proxy-holders, but by ourselves. A change of heart or of values without a practice is only another pointless luxury of a passively consumptive way of life. The "environmental crisis," in fact, can be solved only if people, individually and in their communities, recover responsibility for their thoughtlessly given proxies. If people begin the effort to take back into their own power a significant portion of their economic responsibility, then their inevitable first discovery is that the "environmental crisis" is no such thing; it is not a crisis of our environs or surroundings; it is a crisis of our lives as individuals, as family members, as community members, and as citizens. We have an "environmental crisis" because we have consented to an economy in which by eating, drinking, working, resting, traveling, and enjoying ourselves we are destroying the natural, god-given world.

I usually highlight the important bits in bold, but in this case that would mean highlighting the whole thing. It's a deeply considered and beautifully expressed set of ideas. Each sentence, each thought, is well worth savoring and reflecting on. That's what I think, anyway. I love it.

I don't take it to mean we shouldn't be acting politically to rein in the corporations, rather that just reining them in (or getting some leader to rein them in) isn't enough. We need to replace them with something better, something more on a human scale, something sustainable that nourishes us in the deepest sense of the word and that truly belongs in the "natural, god-given world."

There's a lot more that could be said — about the bizarre legal doctrine that grants corporations the same legal rights as persons, for example; or that they, unlike persons, can live forever, amassing enormous wealth and political power; that they don't need clean air to breath or clean water to drink, they're just machines programmed to maximize profit, and they behave accordingly; that they have almost limitless powers of persuasion via advertising and media generally, so the struggle of persons versus corporations long ago stopped being anything resembling a fair fight. Those are important issues. But for now, let's just read Berry's words and take them in. We'll come back to them.

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August 23, 2007

Foxtrot Tango Alpha Activism

I'm old enough to remember that the Sixties were a whole lot more political — tougher, more determined, more tumultuous, more dangerous and cataclysmic — but also more exuberant, more high-spirited, more giddily wild and joyous and free — than the sugar-coated image that has come down to us since. Political assassinations, urban riots, armed troops rolling through the streets, student rebellions worldwide, Black Power, mass mobilizations against the war — alongside free concerts, communal experiments of every kind, and of course sex, drugs, and rock and roll. And casting a shadow over it all: The War. But it was all political, all — dare I say it — revolutionary. An explosion of activism and a whole new culture, grass roots rather than corporate. We felt like we were creating a new world, and a lot of people put a lot on the line.

A lot of that history has been erased. One chapter that is almost completely gone from the collective memory is the very important, very determined and widespread GI resistance to the war. But Feral Scholar alerts us to the documentary Sir! No Sir! that tells that forgotten story in compelling fashion. The trailers are electrifying.

The theatrical trailer:

And a 12-minute extended trailer:

Watch them both.

The DVD contains the feature film plus another 100 minutes of extras. Read about it here. Then buy a copy. I did. Well worth supporting, especially in times like these. And if you have a place to host a showing, what are you waiting for?

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May 06, 2007

Premise Four 9/11, "War On Terror"  Activism  Ethics  Rights, Law

Footage of the LAPD attack on the peaceful May Day immigration rights rally in LA. I recommend you watch it. The LAPD decided it was time for the people to leave and go home — "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances" apparently having expired. They waded in with batons (i.e., clubs) and shotguns firing rubber bullets.

Bradblog (via Feral Scholar) has some amateur video, too, via the participatory panopticon. An LAPD helicopter flies over for a few minutes telling people to go home, then the black-uniformed lines of police march into the park and begin clubbing everyone within reach and firing rubber bullets at the almost universally peaceful crowd that included many families, women, children. You've probably read about it. But watch the videos.

It's food for thought on a number of levels.

For one thing, it's a stark reminder of the ongoing militarization of the nation's police forces. The police put on their black SWAT gear and inevitably their mindset is transformed. "To protect and to serve" becomes "to intimidate and to coerce." See also this — SWAT team deployments were once the last resort but are now happening more than 100 times a day, on average. Police forces everywhere want to play "war on terror."

For another thing, the usual rationale for the deployment of non-lethal weapons — that they will decrease the level of violence — clearly has it backwards. If the choice were between rubber bullets and real bullets, rubber bullets are better. Of course. But when it comes to domestic crowd control, that's almost never the choice. Instead, it's a choice between asking people to move along or opening fire with rubber bullets to force them to. Give a militarized police force non-lethal weapons and their use soon becomes the default. But "non-lethal" is light years away from appropriate, let alone harmless.

But the point I most want to make is this. In his masterful two-volume critique of civilization, Endgame, Derrick Jensen lists the twenty premises that inform his work. Here's the premise Jensen calls his favorite:

Premise Four: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.

One group of Americans puts on black uniforms and attacks another group of Americans who have done nothing to provoke the attack. But because the first group is directing its violence down the hierarchy, the violence is, at worst, regarded as a bit excessive. But imagine if the people in the park had attacked the police with clubs and shotguns firing rubber bullets. The response would have been apocalyptic.

Premise Four is such a fact of life that we scarcely notice it. But once it's pointed out to you, things never look the same again.

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April 16, 2007

Conservation Is Cool Activism  Environment

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February 16, 2007

Gore To Host World's Biggest Party Activism  Environment

Al Gore is promoting a 24-hour worldwide concert July 7 to raise awareness of global warming. MSNBC:

Al Gore, the former vice president and now hit documentary maker, on Thursday added rock promoter to his résumé, announcing plans for a 24-hour concert series on all seven continents to highlight, you guessed it, the dangers of global warming.

With a powerhouse lineup of acts from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Snoop Dogg to Bon Jovi, what's being called "Live Earth" aims to gather more than 100 of the world's top musicians on July 7 — and attract 2 billion viewers, most of them via television, radio and the Web.

It's easy to view this kind of thing cynically, but I choose not to. I think anything that lets the world's people connect, transcend cultural and political borders, and redirect their energies in a peaceful direction is welcome in a world where so many things push in the opposite direction.

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January 20, 2007

Making Their Point Activism

With a bang.

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December 17, 2006

Tell New Congress To Act On Global Warming Activism  Environment

Al Gore wants to deliver a million postcards to the incoming Congress, telling them that now is the time for decisive action on global warming. Go here and fill one out. Go!

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December 03, 2006

Bill O'Reilly's Question Activism  Iraq  Politics

Stan Goff is somebody worth reading and listening to. He's a veteran of the US Army Rangers, Airborne, Delta Force, and Special Forces, who served in Vietnam, El Salvador, Grenada, Panama, Honduras, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Somalia, and Haiti. Which is to say, he's seen imperialism up close in a way few of us ever will. Now he's a very determined, very smart, and very thoughtful activist, working against war, patriarchy, and empire. Here's a post of his on a question of Bill O'Reilly's:

There is nothing more tragically amusing than watching the right-wing catch liberals off guard.

Bill O'Reilly has caught the whole crew flat-footed with one of those trick questions: Do you want the United States to win in Iraq? Set aside for the moment that this ignores the fact that the US government has already lost in Iraq, and that the question is constructed a little like, "Yes or no, have you stopped beating your wife?"

This is pissing off the Democratic Party establishment because it is outing them, the same way Republicans outed John Kerry by stating, quite accurately, that Kerry supported the war when the national blood was up. Not a single public official will answer this question the way it needs to be answered if we want go on record saying that the lives of people from abroad are as valuable as American lives.

O'Reilly needs his bluff called.

Do you want the United States to win in Iraq?


The US occupation force in Iraq is there with a malignant purpose. It was sent there to install a puppet government and establish permanent US bases as part of the post-Cold War re-disposition of an imperial military. The invasion and occupation was illegal and immoral; and it has been characterized by the slaughter of innocents by US forces, by premeditated murder and rape, by prisoner abuse, by the systematic humiliation of the people who live there, by the destruction of whole cities, and at the material, mental, and moral expense of the people who — for a host of reasons — find themselves in the US military. The Iraqis have a right to defend themselves, and a right to fight invaders.

Moreover, the US reliance on the miltiary to prop up its domestic economy and justify the future employment of militarism against other people is a net negative in the world. It is also a net negative for the US people, as opposed to defense contractors and politicians. One way to inhibit the future use of military invasion and occupation as a tool of US control over other peoples' lives and economies is to learn the hard way — by accepting the humility that comes with divesting of our overweaning naitonalist pride, our self-delusion of superiority, and our belief that we have the right to direct the affairs of the whole damn world (using soldiers, of course...none of the engineers of these adventures suffer a day of discomfort).

Not only do I not want the US to "win" in Iraq — whatever that is supposed to look like. More importantly, Bill, the US has already lost. What I want is, I want the US to acknowledge its loss sooner than later. Because the Bill O'Reillys and George Bush's of the world are not paying the price; and neither are the Democrats who are wringing their hands when they are confronted with the terrible specter of their own inescapable national chauvinism.

You're acting like cornered rats. Oh me, oh my, yes, we want to win, but it's complicated. Your complication is your desire to further your shitty careers by avoiding the uncomplicated truth. I'm glad Bill O’Reilly put Democrats' asses on the spot. You are walking over the bodies of the dead when you equivocate.

The price of this standing defeat is being paid right now, today, by Americans and Iraqis inside Iraq. And the civil war there now is not being quelled by the American presence; it is being catalyzed by it.

Bring them home now. [Emphasis added]

Amen to that. Dennis Kucinich aside, where is the Democrat with the courage and heart to say such things?

(See also this, from a year and a half ago.)

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October 24, 2006

Cindy Sheehan Considers Forming A Third Party Activism  Politics  War and Peace

Joshua Frank interviews Cindy Sheehan at GNN:

Joshua Frank: Cindy, we are in the armpit of another election season and it seems that the mainstream antiwar movement is rallying behind the Democrats once again, hoping if the Dems can just recapture the House that the Republicans will finally be held accountable for all their horrible faults. Impeachment will follow and the war will end. What do you think? Where do you stand on all of this?

Cindy Sheehan: I hold very little hope that, due to the utter corruption of our electoral system, and the Republican reign of terror and fear against the American public, the Democrats will even take back one or more Houses of Congress.

Even if the Democrats take back the lower House, the potential Speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca) has already said that impeachment would not be "in the cards." Rep. John Conyers (D-Mi) has also backed off of impeachment rhetoric. Since Bush has said over and over again that the troops aren't coming home while he is president, it is up to us to make sure that his presidency is cut short.

We all know that the Vietnam War ended when Congress cut its funding. There is a bill that has been sponsored by Rep. Jim McGovern, (D-Ma) HR4232 that cuts funding to leave our troops in Iraq, but he has very little support and even a smaller chance of getting it to the floor for a vote. I believe that most representatives don’t support the bill because they will be accused of "not supporting the troops." I believe that it is not supporting the troops to leave them in that nightmare.

Although I admire the Democrats on many issues, when it comes to war and peace, most get their pockets lined by the same corporate interests.

No matter which party has control of Congress come November, we the people have to keep the pressure up to stop the current course our country is taking.

Frank: You are currently serving on the Board of Directors for the
Progressive Democrats of America, a pro-Democrat organization that calls for reform of the Democratic Party from within. The PDA consistently ignores progressive antiwar alternatives to the Democrats. Do you think that such a position could actually hurt the antiwar movement? Should we instead be supporting antiwar candidates who want to hold both parties accountable?

Sheehan: I think that the PDA endorses candidates based on their entire platforms. Of course, I only care about candidate's record on the war and what they say about peace. I prefer to call our movement a "peace" movement, because "antiwar" is too narrow.

I think it would be great if we didn't need a PDA, if all Democrats were progressive peace candidates, but we know they are not.

I would vote for a Republican if they were calling for the withdrawal of troops and for impeachment, and I definitely think a viable third party could rein in the "two" parties we have now.

We will never have a viable third party, though, as long as we vote out of fear and not out of integrity. Instead of voting for the "lesser of two evils" we should be voting for a candidate that reflects our "beatitudes" and not the war machine's. [...]

Frank: I've heard a rumor that you may be looking to start your own third party. Is that true?

Sheehan: Yes, it is true. I think that to save our democracy our country needs a viable and credible third party. This nation was founded on rule by a few rich white males, and for all intents and purposes, we are still ruled by a corporate elite.

We need a third party that will represent all the people, not just the wealthy. [Emphasis added]

Cindy Sheehan is the kind of figure who could mobilize the passionate support needed to make a meaningful third party possible. She's the closest thing we have to a Martin Luther King or a Gandhi.

Her energy is the energy of peace, not of angry opposition. It's what we all hunger and thirst after. It's what the world desperately needs. And it's time for a woman to lead.

I hope she goes for it.

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September 13, 2006

Taking The Long View Activism  Environment  Ethics

Somehow or other, we need to foster the mental and moral habit of taking the long view. We need to visualize humanity and the Earth as here to stay, not just for 7 generations, but for 7 hundred, 7 thousand, or 7 million. Consider this (from WorldChanging):

The KEO project aims to launch a satellite into an orbit which will decay over 50,000 years, eventually returning the capsule and its contents to Earth intact.

The capsule will contain what the folks putting together the project imagine will be an archeological treasure-trove for future generations: an astronomical clock; a diamond-encased set of samples (of sea water, fertile soil and human blood [before any genetic engineering], a library (with instructions for decoding), portraits of people from all the major contemporary ethnic groups (since the ethnic make-up of humanity will undoubtedly be completely transformed in 50Ks) and a bunch of messages contributed by supporters.

Like Stewart's Clock of the Long Now, Jaron Lanier's library written in cockroach DNA, or Jamais' Retrospect Project, the real value here is in getting us to think of responsibilities and continuities that extend 50,000 years. After all, when we think of building a future, we ought to be imagining a future that goes on a very, very long time, for simply conjuring the idea of our decendents living here on this planet fifty millennia hence changes the meaning of our lives and actions today. [Emphasis added]

A time capsule, yes, but more than that. It will be up there, overhead, not buried somewhere out of sight. I like the symbolism of it, and the implied optimism. When was the last time any of us seriously contemplated humanity 50 millenia hence? Consider the responsibility such a time horizon entails, the reverberations down the millenia of the choices we make today.

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September 12, 2006

Re-Greening The World Activism  Environment  Science/Technology

I must confess that things have sometimes felt pretty hopeless to me of late. But this is an antidote. It's positively brilliant. Do yourself a favor, stop what you're doing, and watch it. Excerpt:

We could re-green the Middle East. We could re-green any desert and we could de-salt it at the same time...You can fix all the world's problems in a garden. You can solve 'em all in a garden, you can solve all your pollution problems and supply-line needs in a garden. Most people today don't actually know that, and that makes most people today very insecure.

How's it done? Watch the video.

Anyone can do it; it's based on know-how, not massive capital investment. And it's based on humbly cooperating with Nature, not aggressively trying to dominate it.

I love this kind low-tech, common-sense solution to problems.

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September 09, 2006

Bob Fest Activism

Just got back from Fighting Bob Fest in Baraboo. A chilly afternoon for an outdoor event, but it was most inspiring nonetheless. Speakers included Jim Hightower, Amy Goodman, Senator Tom Harkin, and Greg Palast, all of whom were excellent.

Something Amy Goodman said really struck me. She was talking about women and the power of movements, and she got on the topic of Rosa Parks. She said that the popular idea of Rosa Parks is of an ordinary seamstress, tired at the end of a long day, who just spontaneously decided not to give her bus seat to a white passenger. In fact, Parks was an activist, the secretary of the local NAACP chapter, with some experience in strategizing for direct action. But US media seem to think that being an activist somehow de-legitimizes a person, when it should do the opposite. What could be more legitimate than devoting oneself to bettering the world.

But here was the striking thing. Amy Goodman said that the day everyone remembers, December 1, 1955, was not the first time Parks had refused to vacate her seat. But those other times, nothing much had happened. And then came the day that lit the spark that launched the modern civil rights movement. There's a lesson there. You never know what moment, what act, will become the tipping point. You just live your life according to principles of justice and speaking truth to power. And any moment of that life may turn out to be a catalyst that reverberates down through time, in a sort of activist version of the Butterfly Effect.

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September 04, 2006

Happy Labor Day Activism
Solidarity forever
Solidarity forever
Solidarity forever
For the Union makes us strong.

Solidaridad para siempre
Solidaridad para siempre
Solidaridad para siempre
Con la fuerza sindical.

Happy Labor Day.

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September 02, 2006

Fightin' Bob Fest Activism

Those of you living in the Upper Midwest, mark your calendars: this year's Fightin' Bob Fest is next Saturday, Sept. 9.

Speakers this year include Amy Goodman, Greg Palast, Jim Hightower, John Nichols, John Stauber, Tom Harkin, Tammy Baldwin, and more. It's a great event. Baraboo, Wisconsin. I wouldn't miss it.

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August 01, 2006

Bagram Activism


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July 22, 2006

Awesome Video Activism  Media

(For links, see the comments)

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July 07, 2006

Getting Started Activism

Lucy Borja is executive director of Generación, an organization that helps street kids in Lima, Peru. Here's how she got started. It's a beautiful and inspiring story. Sojourners:

One day back in 1992 Lucy simply felt compassion for two boys — neither older than twelve 12 — who feared to spend the night on the rugged streets of Lima. Lucy only recently had learned of the existence of a subculture of street kids in Lima. Parents sometimes abandon these children — in some cases selling them into servitude — while other young boys and girls flee severe abuse at home. [...]

[W]hen Lucy encountered two young boys who expressed a deep fear for passing the night on the streets, she invited them to use her office as a safe haven. She told them to extend the invitation to any other child who shared their concerns. Since Lucy already had plans to attend a family party that evening, she informed the office custodian to give entry to any child who arrived in search of refuge.

After the party, Lucy decided to check in with her young guests. She hoped that the custodian, upon meeting the ragged vagrants, had not balked at her instructions. She half expected to find the boys sitting on the curb in front of her office, locked out. [...]

Lucy had a puzzle awaiting her that evening at the office. The key unlocked the front door but, try as she might, she could not shove it open. It felt like someone had lodged a rolled-up carpet behind the door to block the entry. With the help of her sons, Lucy finally moved the door to create enough space to squeeze through and pass inside the building.

As she reached blindly in the dark in search of the light switch, Lucy tripped over the "carpet roll." She caught her balance and leaned her body against the wall. Holding her pose, her fingers continued to work the wall until they eventually found the light switch and flicked it upward.

Lucy initially looked down at her feet and discovered several young kids curled up on the floor, sleeping, their bodies jammed against the door. She then cast her vision around the room, though it was hard to register at first what she saw. Every nook and cranny of the office was covered with sleeping children. "I even found young kids snuggled tightly inside the cupboards where we stored our office supplies," Lucy said.

Lucy counted more than 600 children who slept in her office that night. The word had passed like wildfire on the streets of Lima. Found: a shelter from the storm.

At that moment, Lucy did not know all the details that caused these boys and girls to run scared. But she clearly sensed that her life would never be the same. "Those children, stacked one against the other asleep on the floor of my office, looked so defenseless and vulnerable," Lucy said in a slow, soft voice. "They had no one to be their advocate, to defend their rights," she added. "I knew then what path I had to take."

It started with one small act of instinctive kindness.

You start from where you are. You take one small step towards the world. If it's the right step, and if you're open to going where it leads you, you find the world takes ten steps toward you. You don't have to know where the journey will end. You just have to take the next step. Your reward: a life worth living.

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June 30, 2006

Bumper Sticker Activism

Seen in traffic:

Without dissent, it isn't America

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June 27, 2006

The Real WMD Activism  Environment

Parade Magazine, which reaches 75 million people, began its Sunday cover story "How Climate Change Affects You Right Now" with this bold sentence:

As we learned last year in New Orleans, weather can be a weapon of mass destruction.

Momentum is building.

Global warming: the real WMD. Pass it on.

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AIT Activism

Reaching the young. Yes!

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June 14, 2006

Robert Newman's History Of Oil Activism  Humor & Fun  Media  War and Peace

This is absolutely, bar none, the most brilliant piece of political video ever. Also the funniest. No contest.

Learn the real cause of the First World War. Learn what Salvador Dali's checkbook has to do with the Axis of Evil and the current invasion of Iraq. And many more things besides.

It's genius.

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June 11, 2006

Al At The Movies Activism  Environment  Media

Who wants to see an Al Gore documentary about global warming? Lots of people, apparently. Weekend box office (via Atrios), per screen:

MoviePer Screen
An Inconvenient Truth$12,073
The Break-Up$6,669
A Prairie Home Companion$6,146
The Omen$5,673
X-Men: The Last Stand$4,225
The Da Vinci Code$3,103
Over the Hedge$2,920
Keeping Up with the Steins$2,037
Mission: Impossible III$1,592

Not too shabby.

122 screens this weekend, 400 next. Opens here in Madison Friday. Be there or be square.

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May 14, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth Activism  Environment  Media

I know what I'll be doing June 16.

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May 10, 2006

Fritjof Capra On Sustainability, Part I Activism  Environment

From Transition Culture via Energy Bulletin, a two-part interview with Fritjof Capra, author of The Tao of Physics, The Turning Point, The Web of Life, and, most recently, of The Hidden Connections. Excerpts from part one:

On sustainability:

The key to [sustainability] is that we can use ecosystems as models. They are adaptive and sustainable, they support life, they recycle, they are solar powered.

In terms of creating sustainable human communities, our aim has to be to redesign them so that they don't interfere with Nature's inherent ability to sustain life. Our first step is to understand how Nature sustains life. The second step is then to introduce these principles into design, which we call "eco-design," to redesign our technologies, social institutions, commerce and so on. [So the] first step is that we have to help communities become what I call "eco-literate," there is really no way round this. It needs to happen at a very early stage in a relocalisation process. [Emphasis added]

On networks and community:

The 6 [basic principles of all living systems] are;

  • Networks
  • Nested Systems
  • Cycles
  • Flows
  • Development
  • Dynamic Balance

    Networks is...the first principle because it is it the defining characteristic of life. Wherever there is life there are networks, be they metabolic networks, food webs, human social networks...Nature sustains life by creating and nurturing communities. We all know what a community is, even if we don't have it...Community is visceral and real, and that is why I think it is central to a definition of sustainability. The experience of a living network is the experience of a living community. The network concept is important, as sustainability is the quality of a community, an individual cannot be sustainable. Creating communities is creating sustainability. [Emphasis added]

  • On economic globalization:

    [E]conomic globalisation [does not have a future]. It has peaked, in much the same way oil has. The current global capitalism has created a number of interconnected problems — increased poverty, alienation and pollution, destroyed communities, environmental destruction. In the human political realm, we have seen diminished democracy. Within the last year we have seen a turning point in perception. The model no longer works, even within its own perameters, never mind those that you or I might use. Opinion polls in the US show that people don't believe in it anymore. South America appears to be turning away from it as a continent. [Emphasis added]

    Can technology save the day?

    Technology has a big part to play, but if technology could solve the problems they'd already be solved. If it was only technology that is the problem we would already be there. I drive a Toyota Prius, and if everyone in the US drove one too, the US would be self-sufficient in oil, and not need to import anything from the Middle East. Wind power and biofuels are there and ready when we decide to use them. In the supermarket the organic food costs more than the non-organic, of course it should be the other way round. This is a question of taxes and subsidies. As a scientist I believe in human creativity and human discoveries, but the problem is not a matter of technology, but one of short-termist politics, vested interests, and so on. The solutions exist and make sense, sense that is clear to most people. If we feed our children good food they won't become obese, if they grow the food too they will be healthier and more cooperative, with the added benefit that they will be building soils which will be locking up carbon. There is no downside to this. [Emphasis added]

    I love his emphasis that the way to a sustainable life is to learn from and mimic natural ecosystems. I.e., the way to be a successful life form is to act like successful life forms act. Makes sense, eh? What are ecosystems like? "They are adaptive and sustainable, they support life, they recycle, they are solar powered." And, above all, they are networks, they are communities.

    As Capra says, we already know much of what has to be done, and it's not rocket science. We just have to do it. A better life awaits.

    (Capra is also a founder of the Center for Ecoliteracy. One of their projects is a program called "Rethinking School Lunch," which I'll have more to say about in a future post. Great stuff.)

    Part two tomorrow.

    [Thanks, Erik]

    Posted by Jonathan at 09:18 PM | Comments (2) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    May 04, 2006

    Brave New Films Reaches Its Goal Activism

    A little over a week ago, I posted a link for documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films, who made Outfoxed, Uncovered, and Wal-Mart. Brave New Films needed to raise $300,000 to finance production of a new documentary, Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers, so they can get it out in time for the fall elections.

    Well, they made it, and then some! As I'm writing this, donations stand at $351,517, thanks to donations via the Web. The Internet truly is something new under the sun.

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:04 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    April 30, 2006

    Peace Takes Courage Activism  Iraq

    Alabama native Ava Lowery, 15, has produced an excellent set of Flash animation videos against the Iraq war.

    WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) is a powerful piece that provoked a lot of positive response, but also death threats and other vicious emails, as reported by my friend Matt Rothschild of The Progressive. Undaunted, Ava pieced together many of those comments for a new video, The 32%. As Ava says, peace takes courage.

    Perhaps most poignant of all is No More Broken Promises, that looks at the heartbreak from American soldiers' families' point of view. Hard to watch without weeping.

    Be sure to have the sound turned on.

    [Thanks, Kent]

    Posted by Jonathan at 07:02 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    April 25, 2006

    Slobbering Honey-Baby Activism  Humor & Fun

    Five students, ages 7-10, wrote speeches they'd like to hear from President Bush, assuming he somehow came to see the error of his ways.

    Go here to hear them read by Bush impersonator Jim Meskimen. Great stuff.

    [Thanks, Kevin]

    Posted by Jonathan at 04:10 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    A Great Way To Spend $50 Activism  Iraq  Media

    Documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films, who made Outfoxed, Uncovered, and Wal-Mart, is starting production on a new documentary, Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers.

    This is from an email from Brave New Films:

    Hello friends and brave new supporters,

    Some exciting news at Brave New Films. We're ready to start production on Robert's new documentary: "Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers." Over the last few months we've recruited a core team, and with the help of our volunteer field producers, have uncovered some devastating and powerful material that hasn't been seen before. We need your help to make it, more about that in a minute.

    We can't tell you anything more specific about the film yet, but I can assure you it will have an enormous impact when it comes out shortly before the elections this November.

    War time is about sacrificing for the common good. So many soldiers and families have paid unimaginable sacrifices, and for some to profit OBSCENELY from that sacrifice is one of the worst crimes possible. It's a crime against all of us, not just as Americans, but as human beings.

    IRAQ FOR SALE: The War Profiteers will hold these corporations accountable for crimes against humanity. Watch the teaser trailer and a message from Robert here:


    To start shooting, we need money. Overall, the film will cost about $750,000. We can expect about $450,000 of it to be offset by DVD sales, selling foreign rights, and an advance from our retail store distributor, but we still need $300,000.

    A generous donor just stepped up and will contribute $100,000 if we can match it with $200,000 from someone else.

    That someone else is you! 4000 people giving $50 each. We'll put everyone's name in the credits. You can give these donations as gifts in someone's name or in memory of a loved one if you'd like.


    Imagine that. 4000 names scrolling by at the end of the film. Almost as many people as in the Lord of the Rings credits!

    More importantly, this is people standing up to corporations. It's a clear message... a beautiful thing and exactly what the film is about. Every newspaper article written will talk about how IRAQ FOR SALE was funded by YOU.

    This is 50 bucks well spent. I would love to see this film come out before the elections, and I'd love to know I helped make it possible. So I gave my $50, and I urge you to do the same.

    This is extremely important material. So long as people in high places make a killing off of war, they'll continue to see war as a good idea. The best way to stop them is to expose them.

    50 bucks. That's not even a tank of gas anymore. And how cool will it be to see your name in the credits (and on their web site). Go chip in.

    Posted by Jonathan at 02:53 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    April 10, 2006

    Un Día Con Latinos Activism

    I took the day off from work today to go to Madison's contribution to the nation-wide "Un Día Sin Latinos" demonstrations. It was glorious, a total blast. Many thousands of people turned out on an absolutely perfect spring day. For those of you who know Madison, the overwhelmingly Latino crowd filled one side of West Washington Ave. from Brittingham Park all the way up to the Capitol. It was something to see. Young people, whole families, high spirits, laughter and smiles galore. Lots of Spanish, always music to my ears.

    I looked around at the crowd, and I thought, wow!, what a great bunch of Americans! And what a shot in the arm to American democracy. I'd like to know how they pulled it off: simultaneous demonstrations in more than 140 cities in at least 39 states, according to CNN. They could teach the rest of us a thing or two about organizing. (But what's up with CNN's online headline: "Illegal immigrants unite to demand rights"? Are all Latinos "illegal immigrants" to them?)

    Alert reader Charyn (she likes it when I call her "alert reader" Charyn) sent me this photo. I'm the guy pretty much dead center with the red shirt over a black Democracy Now! t-shirt. Hard to tell, but I'll bet you I was smiling.

    ¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!

    ¡Sí, se puede!

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:31 PM | Comments (2) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    April 06, 2006

    Energy Execs To Senate: Cap Us! Activism  Energy  Environment  Politics

    In a Senate hearing Tuesday, executives representing a number of major energy companies actually requested federal legislation that would place caps on carbon emissions. Why? They're afraid of local and regional regulations that are gaining momentum. Grist:

    Tuesday saw a tectonic shift in the climate-change debate during an all-day Senate conference on global-warming policy. A group of high-powered energy and utility executives for the first time issued this directive to Washington: Bring on the carbon caps!

    The Energy and Natural Resources Committee heard statements from leaders representing eight big energy companies, including General Electric, Shell, and the two largest owners of utilities in the U.S., Exelon and Duke Energy. Six of the eight said they would either welcome or accept mandatory caps on their greenhouse-gas emissions. Wal-Mart too spoke in favor of carbon caps. The two outliers from the energy sector, Southern Company and American Electric Power, delivered pro forma bids for a voluntary rather than mandatory program, but they, too, broke with tradition by implicitly acknowledging that regulations may be coming, and offering detailed advice on how they should be designed.

    Many industry players are increasingly concerned about the inconsistent patchwork of climate regulations that are being proposed and adopted throughout the U.S., from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that seven Northeastern states put forward in December to plans for greenhouse-gas caps unveiled in California this week. Worried companies say federal regulations would bring stability and sureness to the market. [...]

    Senate hearings rarely manage to draw a crowd of 60, but for this one some 300 members of Congress, lobbyists, and advocates crammed themselves into the hearing room...and more watched via a live webcast.

    "It's the most widely attended hearing that I've ever been to for this committee," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), "and that shows the gravity of this issue."

    Said John Stanton, a vice president of National Environmental Trust, "I began the morning far more cynical than I felt at the end of the day." The conference was "remarkably devoid of the climate-skeptic malarkey that usually derails the debate at these sorts of events," he said. "You actually had real experts making real progress — hashing out the nitty-gritty of exactly how this emissions-trading system could be implemented."

    Of course, there are still plenty of energy companies that oppose caps, and the conference didn't hear from anyone in the auto industry, a major contributor to greenhouse-gas emissions and a major opponent of moves to curb them. [Emphasis added]

    Take note: local and regional activism matters! Getting local/regional regulations enacted forces the feds to act on the national level. That's the good news. The bad news is that federal legislation may turn out to be a watered-down version of what local/regional activists accomplished. Still, it's good to see the beginnings of movement on this front.

    Posted by Jonathan at 03:00 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    March 29, 2006

    Wombats Never Lie Activism  Environment

    Everything we need to know, in a nutshell. (Flash, with sound)

    Now we just have to learn it. While we still can.

    [Thanks, Carie]

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:19 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    March 06, 2006

    Question War Activism  War and Peace

    The new, improved yellow ribbon.

    [Thanks, Maurice]

    Posted by Jonathan at 12:32 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    March 02, 2006

    Denial, Despair — Or Activism? Activism  Environment

    From TedBlog (via TreeHugger):

    One of the more poignant points that Al Gore made in [February 22nd's] powerful speech about global warming was that a lot of people move directly from a state of denial about this issue to one of despair. People in the first state don't go out and try to change things because they don’t see a problem. People in the second state are often no more inclined to act because they think the situation is hopeless. The fact that these are the two most stable cognitive states on this issue probably explains why a lot of people do, in fact, remain in denial. It's human to avoid pain, and therefore perhaps natural to subconsciously choose a state of denial over the daily trauma of despairing for the future of humanity. [Emphasis added]

    My guess is that most of you who read PastPeak are too smart and too well-informed to choose denial: you already know better. Despair's not much of an option, either: it's not only self-defeating and pointless, it's no fun. That leaves activism. Activists are lucky. They get to interact with some of the brightest, most ethical and compassionate people on the planet. They get to look themselves in the mirror — and look their children in the eye — and know they're working on the side of the angels. And history is full of examples of movements that had miniscule beginnings against what seemed like overwhelming odds, only to triumph in the end. Forget denial. Forget despair. Activism is the only stance worth taking, if not for yourself, then for your children and the generations yet to come. It's part of the good life.

    Posted by Jonathan at 08:21 PM | Comments (2) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    February 03, 2006

    Iraq: The Musical Activism  Humor & Fun  Iraq

    The Scarlet Pimpernel of freewayblogger.com has posted an animated musical bit on Iraq, dancing Abu Ghraib figures and all.

    Go here and click on Iraq: The Musical.

    Posted by Jonathan at 04:27 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    February 01, 2006

    Cindy Sheehan's Side Of The Story Activism  Politics  Rights, Law

    You've probably heard that Cindy Sheehan was arrested in the House chamber last night before the SOTU address, and you may have heard various versions of what happened.

    Cindy tells what actually happened, here.

    Glenn Greenwald explains that US law is clear — wearing a t-shirt on Capitol grounds is specifically called out as not constituting a "demonstration":

    In Bynum v. U.S. Capitol Police Bd. (Dist. D.C. 1997) (.pdf), the District Court found the regulations applying 140 U.S.C. § 193 — the section of the U.S. code restricting activities inside the Capitol — to be unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds. Bynum involved a Reverend who was threatened with arrest by Capitol Police while leading a small group in prayer inside the Capitol. The Capitol Police issued that threat on the ground that the praying constituted a "demonstration."

    That action was taken pursuant to the U.S. Code, in which Congress decreed as follows: "It shall be unlawful for any person or group of persons wilfully and knowingly...to parade, demonstrate or picket within any Capitol Building." 140 U.S.C. § 193(f)(b)(7).

    As the Bynum court explained: "Believing that the Capitol Police needed guidance in determining what behavior constitutes a 'demonstration,' the United States Capitol Police Board issued a regulation that interprets 'demonstration activity,'" and that regulation specifically provides that it "does not include merely wearing Tee shirts, buttons or other similar articles of apparel that convey a message. Traffic Regulations for the Capitol Grounds, § 158" (emphasis added).

    I wish I had a t-shirt for every time Bush mouthed the words "liberty" and "freedom" in his speech last night. Orwell lives.

    Posted by Jonathan at 02:33 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    January 23, 2006

    That Day Shall Come Activism

    Matthew Klippenstein, a Canadian Green Party volunteer and PastPeak reader, sent me a link to a short speech he wrote for an election-eve Green Party rally yesterday in Vancouver.

    I love the positive energy of it. A welcome respite. Go check it out.

    Posted by Jonathan at 09:40 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    December 15, 2005

    Store Wars Activism  Humor & Fun

    This is priceless. Laugh-out-loud funny, and oh so clever.

    Go see for yourself.

    [Thanks, Carie]

    Posted by Jonathan at 04:07 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Occupy. Resist. Produce. Activism

    As documented by Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis in their excellent documentary film "The Take", there's a workers movement underway in Argentina where workers take over facilities abandoned by bankrupt companies and get them operating again, without owners, without bosses, under the motto "Occupy. Resist. Produce."

    Today, one of the most important of the recovered companies in Argentina, the Hotel Bauen, is facing a do-or-die moment, and they need your help. Here's a message from The Take:

    Today the International Support Campaign for the Hotel Bauen Cooperative is flooding the inbox of the head of the Buenos Aires city government.

    Please send the message below RIGHT NOW to this email address:


    **Please include where you're from (maybe in the subject line) to show the internationalism of the campaign. [E.g., the subject line could be: "Un mensaje de Madison, Wisconsin, USA" — substituting your own city and country.]

    **Please cc: apoyoalhotelbauen@yahoo.ca, so we know how many emails we generated.


    Señor Jorge Telerman:

    Hoy el destino del Hotel Bauen, recuperado por sus trabajadores, está en sus manos. Miles de personas en el mundo lo están mirando. Vete la ley que consagra la impunidad de los empresarios inescrupulosos y apoye a los 140 hombres y mujeres que todos los días están demostrando cómo construir trabajo digno en ese espacio que es modelo de eficiencia y solidaridad.


    [Your name, city, country]

    And now for some background and translation of the message...

    At 2 a.m. on Wednesday December 6, the Buenos Aires city Legislature passed a law that will in effect evict the workers' cooperative at the Hotel Bauen. This law, voted for by 29 legislators, "invents" a boss for a workplace without bosses.

    When the workers decided to occupy the hotel to demand their unpaid wages, the Hotel Bauen was bankrupt and the company had left behind millions of dollars in debt, including the purchase of the building at 360 Callao Avenue.

    As the ownership of the building was in dispute (the person who had bought the building paid only 4 of the 12 million dollar price, and the person who sold it promised to return the 4 million and never came through) the hotel was legally without anyone to take care of it. So the workers decided to put it back into operation.

    They started to work with nothing but the strength of their conviction. Now there are 140 men and women who work to keep the hotel running, 24 hours a day, also providing spaces for meetings, assemblies and social movement events entirely out of solidarity.

    Ignoring all of their efforts, the Legislature decided to pass a law that flies in the face of justice and is aimed at destroying all of the work that the cooperative has put into the hotel. When the voting began and the workers protested, the legislators ordered their eviction. They threw them out with batons and tear gas.

    Now, the workers demand that the mayor of Buenos Aires, Jorge Telerman, veto the law. The veto must take place within 15 days of when the law was passed.

    If Mr. Telerman does not veto the law, the workers may be evicted.

    For more background articles about the Bauen and other recovered companies, check out:


    Today, December 15th at 2pm, the workers at the Hotel Bauen are marching to Jorge Telerman's office to demand that this law be annulled.

    The email flood generated by this International Support Campaign is to show how many of us would be standing with the workers in person if we could.

    Mister Jorge Telerman:

    Today the future of the Hotel Bauen, recovered by its workers, is in
    your hands. Thousands of people all over the world are watching. VETO the law that grants impunity to the unscrupulous impresarios and support the 140 men and women who demonstrate every day how to create dignified work with such efficiency and solidarity.


    Sign the petition in support of the Hotel Bauen workers!

    The petition will be submitted as part of the campaign.


    Send an email to cerlac2@yorku.ca to get on the Zanon Alert list.

    Or sign up at www.thetake.org for The Take's mailing list

    Go ahead, send the email. And forward it to your friends. Do it now before you forget. And don't forget to cc: apoyoalhotelbauen@yahoo.ca.

    Please cc: jonathan@pastpeak.com, too. Thanks!

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:12 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    December 12, 2005

    Chinese Activists Take On The Environment Activism  Economy  Environment

    The Chinese economic "miracle" is going to seem a whole lot less miraculous when the environmental bill comes due. More and more Chinese agree, and they're mobilizing to do something about it. Boston Globe:

    Much of China watched in horror as work crews struggled to contain the recent benzene spill that polluted the northeastern Songhua River and disrupted drinking water supplies to about 12 million people in the region for more than a week.

    But even residents of Beijing watching the event unfold on television weren't entirely safe from the effects of China's increasing environmental decay.

    China's capital is one of the most polluted cities in the world and lung cancer is now the number one cause of death here, according to China's State Environmental Protection Administration. A thick cloud of sulfur envelops the city most evenings; a recent picture taken from NASA's Terra satellite shows the entire city covered by a nearly opaque band of gray smog.

    With more and more people finding themselves directly affected by China's endemic pollution, public awareness of and anger over China's deteriorating environment is growing. So is their willingness to take risks and do something about it, despite the strictures on organized political activity in this authoritarian state.

    "People are taking a stand," said Dai Qing, a political and environmental activist who was jailed during the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 and who emerged from prison to champion opposition to the giant Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, which she has called "the most environmentally and socially destructive project in the world."

    In the years since China's first environmental nongovernmental organization, Friends of Nature, was allowed to register in 1994, more than 2,000 grass-roots environmental nongovernmental organizations have risen all over the country, according to government reports. Once disparate, under-funded, untrained, and badly equipped, many of these groups are now learning how to organize and empower themselves. [...]

    [T]he view of many activists here [is that] foreign media coverage, money, and expertise is critical for China's budding nongovernmental organizations to grow. [...]

    One reason international nongovernmental groups and leaders are eager to assist the grass-roots ones in China is that while the economic ripple effect of China's booming economy is buoying global markets, the environmental fallout caused by the surge in economic activity also is spreading across the region and beyond.

    According to Dr. Tsutomu Toichi, managing director and chief executive economist of the Institute of Energy Economics in Tokyo, "A lot of sulfur dioxide and other pollutants from China are reaching Japan with the western wind and even the West Coast of the United States." [...]

    [M]ost Chinese power companies prefer to pay the financial penalties levied by the Chinese government against polluters since that's cheaper than installing the equipment. [...]

    Initially, Chinese nongovernmental groups and journalists had focused only on politically safe issues, such as tree-planting campaigns. But now many are engaged in fierce battles with authorities over the construction of dams and other mega-public works projects, and filing lawsuits against polluting factories.

    So far, they've had some success. A growing section of the Chinese leadership, led by Deputy Environment Minister Pan Yue, has been vocal in calling for China to make its economic policies more environmentally sensitive.

    Earlier this year, China's State Environmental Protection Administration took the unprecedented step of suspending work on 30 projects, worth more than $10 billion collectively, after they failed to meet environmental standards.

    On Friday, China's chief environmental regulator, Xie Zhenhua, quit and took the blame for last month's chemical spill, which shut off water to millions.

    ...[But there has] been little change in Beijing's overall economic and environmental policies, which continue to focus on creating the 7 percent annual growth that analysts say the country needs to avert domestic political turmoil.

    What also angers Chinese and activists is that the government, despite its rhetoric, continues to hide critical facts and information from the public. [...]

    [T]he government withheld news for 10 days after a chemical plant explosion on Nov. 13 dumped about 100 tons of benzene into the Songhua River near Harbin. The blast occurred at a company owned by a subsidiary of the China National Petroleum Corporation, a state-owned company.

    ..."China's top priority" remains political stability and economic growth...

    The Chinese government's development plans and economic policy remain dedicated to promoting cars instead of public transportation, burning fossil fuels instead of alternate energies, and pampering manufacturers with cheap resources instead of pushing them toward greater efficiencies. [...]

    [I]n Beijing alone 70 percent to 80 percent of deadly cancer cases are related to the environment, according to the State Environmental Protection Administration. [...]

    "There's this new sense of 'I can,'...[a]nd it's not just with the younger generation. Even older people here have a feeling, a passion to change things...This country's future is at stake." [Emphasis added]

    As I've said before, this is a perfect illustration of what is probably the single biggest blind-spot in "neoclassical" economics: the pretense that growth has no cost. Neoclassical economics (i.e., economics as it's usually taught in school) treats environmental damage, damage to people's health, etc., as "externalities" — costs that don't show up on any balance sheet and which therefore might as well not exist.

    An honest accounting that treated all such externalities as debits rather than mere footnotes would show that in many cases growth is actually uneconomic, costing more than it's worth. But since the cost is not borne by the people who profit from growth (but rather, in many cases, by people who haven't even been born yet), those who profit see growth as an unalloyed "miracle" as they take the money and run.

    Posted by Jonathan at 06:48 PM | Comments (3) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    December 01, 2005

    50th Anniversary Of Montgomery Bus Boycott Activism

    Today is the 50th anniversary of the arrest of Rosa Parks and the start of the one-year Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott led by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    It's a good day to reflect on the fact that positive change is possible — segregated public facilities are a thing of the past — but it only happens when people stand up, protest, and demand change.

    Posted by Jonathan at 02:53 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    November 30, 2005

    AK-47s, Rocket Launchers, And Tanks Into Plowshares Activism  War and Peace

    For that special someone on your holiday shopping list, Good Gifts (link via WorldChanging) lets you purchase an AK-47 (for £25), rocket launcher (£55), or tank (£1000) left over from the civil war in Sierra Leone. What happens then? Good Gifts:

    Enterprising blacksmiths and metal workers convert them into farm implements so that a Kalashnikov becomes hoes and axe heads and a rocket launcher transforms into pickaxes, sickles and even school bells. The indisputable heavyweight champ is a tank (or a heavy duty 16 wheeler) that can provide a year's work for 5 blacksmiths, turning it into 3,000 items vital to equip a farming village of 100 families. Jobs, tools, agriculture. It isn't everyday that what you long for comes true.

    WorldChanging says:

    Although the Good Gifts site provides few details about how it's accomplished (and how everyone's certain that the AK-47 goes to the blacksmith and not the local militia), the organization behind the site, the Charities Advisory Trust, is reputable, and several UK media outlets have profiled the Good Gifts program.

    Swords into plowshares, using money received from people all over the world, made possible by the Internet.


    Posted by Jonathan at 12:48 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    November 26, 2005

    Open Source Politics, Part I Activism  Essays  Politics

    A particularly significant evolutionary development enabled by the Internet is the "open source" phenomenon.

    First, there was open source software (like Linux), where a system's source code is published openly and a number of individuals scattered around the world — people who often have never met in person — collaborate loosely in its creation and improvement.

    To the surprise of many, it turned out that people are eager to contribute their efforts and expertise in projects of importance, with no expectation of profit beyond the emotional satisfaction of doing quality work and gaining the respect and appreciation of others. I.e., people jump at the chance to take part in the "gift culture", as opposed to the "exchange culture" of ordinary work and commerce. (Non-commercial blogs can also be seen as part of the gift culture, or free culture, phenomenon.)

    Maybe even more surprising, given the loose, largely decentralized organization of the average open source project, was the discovery that the results of open source development were in many cases of higher quality than what was being developed in closed, for-profit settings. In closed source development, a given section of code is typically examined by at most a handful of people, and often only by the author herself. In the open source model, hundreds or even thousands of people may inspect every line of code. The result, ideally, is that defects are quickly spotted and fixed.

    Most of you reading this are using Microsoft Windows-based computers, and you may think open source software like Linux has only marginal importance. But read what Tim O'Reilly says in an illuminating essay on what he calls the open source paradigm shift:

    I have a simple test that I use in my talks to see if my audience of computer industry professionals is thinking with the old paradigm or the new. "How many of you use Linux?" I ask. Depending on the venue, 20-80% of the audience might raise its hands. "How many of you use Google?" Every hand in the room goes up. And the light begins to dawn. Every one of them uses Google's massive complex of 100,000 Linux servers, but they were blinded to the answer by a mindset in which "the software you use" is defined as the software running on the computer in front of you. Most of the "killer apps" of the Internet, applications used by hundreds of millions of people, run on Linux or FreeBSD. But the operating system, as formerly defined, is to these applications only a component of a larger system. Their true platform is the Internet.

    In another article, O'Reilly explains further how the Internet is based on open source software. Here are a few examples among the many he gives:

    Every single internet address — both web and email — depends on the Domain Name System, or DNS. At the heart of the DNS is an open-source program called BIND...Given the importance of the Internet today, BIND is arguably one of the most mission-critical programs in the world.

    And that's not all. Virtually any email message sent over the net relies on sendmail, the [open source] mail transport server that serves approximately 75% of all internet sites (including many at large companies that don't even know they are using it.) Because email messages are always handled by at least two mail servers in going from one site to another, chances are very good that almost every message relies on sendmail.

    The Internet is based on open source software, developed for free. Open source software just works.

    [To be concluded in Part II, tomorrow]

    Posted by Jonathan at 02:49 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    October 25, 2005

    2000 Activism  Iraq

    US troops killed in Iraq as of today: 2000.

    And God knows how many Iraqis. For what?

    Events marking the 2000th US casualty will be taking place all over the country tomorrow. Find one near you and take part.

    Posted by Jonathan at 02:52 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    October 23, 2005

    2K Why? Activism  Iraq

    Reported deaths of US troops in Iraq are about to pass the 2000 mark (it's 1996 at the moment). Various actions are being planned to take place around the country the day following the announcement of the 2000th casualty.

    One of my favorites: FreewayBlogger has enlisted the help of hundreds of people who will post homemade "2K Why?" banners on freeway overpasses around the country. Go here for info.

    Lots of other events are in the works. The American Friends Service Committee has organized about 300 events around the country already. Go here for info.

    No doubt, many other groups will have events of their own. Find something that works for you. This will be an important opportunity for us to make a dent in popular awareness.

    People don't hear much about American casualties anymore, but the current month so far is running as the second most deadly month for Americans in a year and a half.

    Posted by Jonathan at 04:38 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 26, 2005

    Cindy's Courage Activism

    Cindy Sheehan was one of several hundred people arrested today at the White House. WaPo:

    About 370 war demonstrators, including Cindy Sheehan, the grieving California mother of a soldier slain in Iraq, were arrested today in peaceful protest outside the White House.

    The protesters planted themselves on the sidewalk outside the White House and refused to move, singing songs and chanting slogans while waiting nearly five hours for police to arrest all of them.

    From a distance, it may not seem like a big deal. Cindy Sheehan gets herself arrested, but no real harm will come to her.

    Watching Cindy close up this weekend, however, revealed something about her life now — and about her courage — that you can't see from a distance. At the Code Pink rally I wrote about yesterday, where Cindy Sheehan stayed around to talk with and meet anyone and everyone who wanted to meet her, she was constantly surrounded by three very professional, very alert bodyguards. They didn't do anything to call attention to themselves, but it was obvious who they were, and they were all business, scanning the crowd incessantly, constantly on high alert. They were obviously very fit, highly skilled, and highly motivated pros.

    That's what it has come to. Cindy Sheehan lives now in the eye of a hurricane. She is the target of endless vitriolic attacks from the Right. She doubtless receives numerous death threats. The rest of us have no idea what it must be like to live in her reality. And yet, as Molly and I observed her, there was never the slightest suggestion of hesitation, tension, or fear in her demeanor, her actions, her body language. For all one could tell, she didn't even know the bodyguards were there.

    And now today, she willingly takes an action that's only going to ratchet up the intensity of the Right's enmity towards her. As you read or watch the accounts of her arrest, think of that.

    What guts. An amazing woman.

    Posted by Jonathan at 06:44 PM | Comments (7) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 25, 2005

    The Mothers Of Us All Activism  Essays

    Back from DC. Yesterday was an amazing day, a feast for the senses and the soul, but the highlight for Molly and me was the hour or so we spent at a rally organized by the women of Code Pink. It preceded the main rally, at a site a few blocks away, so it was much smaller (just a couple of hundred people) and a lot more focused and intimate. Code Pink's energy is wonderful: playful, high-spirited, openhearted, joyous, humane. The crowd was mostly women, perhaps a majority of whom were dressed in Code Pink's trademark shocking pink. Lots of pink slips (as in lingerie) symbolizing the pink slip we'd all like to give to the Bush gang.

    The psychological effect of all that pink was tangible: it created a women's space, first of all, and it created a sense of high-spirited fun and playful rebellion. Smiles and laughter all around. A welcoming atmosphere that generated an island of peace in the heart of the Empire. The tongue-in-cheek playfulness kept one from taking oneself too seriously; that in turn fostered feelings of openness and peacefulness — and peace is what it was what all about, after all. The lesson: one can be determined, unwavering, without having to puff oneself like the warmakers do, without becoming the warmakers' mirror image. And it can be fun.

    A number of women spoke. Some, like Joan Baez, sang as well. But the woman I will always remember was Cindy Sheehan. Dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, she spoke for a few minutes and then stayed for another twenty minutes or so at the back of the low platform that was serving as a stage. The crowd was small enough that Molly and I had no trouble walking up to the side of the stage where Cindy Sheehan was standing, and we watched for a while as people came up to her to say a few words, to have their picture taken with her, to shake her hand or give her a hug. It was something to see. She is an extraordinarily grounded, warm, down-to-earth, considerate, generous-hearted woman. She gave each person who approached her her complete attention and regard. There wasn't an ounce of pretentiousness or artifice about any of it. And perhaps most striking of all was that there was something utterly maternal about the compassionate and generous way she responded to each individual person who approached her. My daughter Molly and I both got to speak with her, and Cindy was so exquisitely tender with Molly that it moved me to tears.

    What is becoming clearer all the time is that we men need to stand aside and let women step to the forefront. It's their time. Cindy Sheehan is the phenomenon she is because she embodies a grounded, open-hearted, unpretentious womanly wisdom. She's not one to shout slogans or meet anger with anger, but she's not going to let anyone turn her around either. She's determined, but she seems also to be at peace with herself. Of all the speakers and antiwar leaders at yesterday's rally, she's the one who captured Molly's and my imagination. It's not a question of personal charisma. It's a question of the grounded, wise, peaceful, womanly energy that she embodies. And there are many more women like her. It's their time.

    Posted by Jonathan at 06:49 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 24, 2005

    Checking In Activism

    Big day, impressive day, long day here in DC. Molly and I had the great privilege of meeting Cindy Sheehan this morning. It was clear that she's a person with an extraordinarily generous heart. A remarkable woman. I'm too tired to write more now, and we've got to get up in about five hours for the flight home, but check back tomorrow.


    Posted by Jonathan at 11:02 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 23, 2005

    Candlelight At Camp Casey Activism

    A solemn night in DC. Cindy Sheehan's Camp Casey has come to the capital and set up just a block from the Washington Monument. There tonight, in the breezy dark, with the brightly-illuminated Monument as backdrop, hundreds of us gathered with lit candles to surround the parents and family members of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, who one after another poured out their hearts — often tearfully, sometimes bitterly — about their loss and the need to end the war now. Many of us oppose the war with varying degrees of emotional investment, but listening to these people, all of whom have lost loved ones, and many of whom were with Cindy Sheehan in Crawford and have been "on the bus" with her ever since, one got an inkling what it must mean when the war touches you in the very core of your being. It was more moving than I know how to say.

    When all the many parents and family members had been heard from, we made our quiet way in a long candle-lit procession down Constitution Avenue to the Vietnam War Memorial. It was something to see, the candles stretching for blocks, winding through the darkness of the park. Meanwhile, all around us, final preparations were underway for tomorrow's march and concert.

    Tonight was a night for solemn reflection, and I am grateful to have shared it with my daughter Molly. Neither of us will forget it. Tomorrow the mood will be simultaneously more festive and more combative. More outward-looking. But tonight was the perfect preparation, setting tomorrow's events on the proper emotional foundation. Tonight, listening to those bereaved, betrayed, and sometimes angry parents and family members made it personal, made it real, gave it the depth and gravity it deserves. Real people are being killed. Real hearts are being broken. It's time to stop.

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:54 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 22, 2005

    Off To Washington DC Activism

    Posting will be spotty the next few days. I'm taking my soon-to-be 16-year-old daughter Molly out to Washington DC for Saturday's antiwar march. I'll be the guy in the Democracy Now! t-shirt.

    Posted by Jonathan at 04:32 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 09, 2005

    Fighting Bob Fest Activism

    For those of you who live in the Upper Midwest, here's a reminder that the annual Fighting Bob Fest (named for Fighting Bob LaFollette) takes place tomorrow, September 10, in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

    There's an amazing lineup of speakers again this year, including: John Conyers, Bernie Sanders, Amy Goodman, Jim Hightower, John Nichols, Russ Feingold, Gwen Moore, Tammy Baldwin, Dave Obey, and Ed Garvey.

    Go get energized and inspired. Schedule.

    Posted by Jonathan at 05:23 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    August 31, 2005

    Camp Casey Tour Coming To Madison Sunday Activism

    For those of you who live here in the Madison area:


    7:00pm, Sunday, September 4th
    Barrymore Theatre, 2090 Atwood Ave, Madison

    Featuring speakers from Camp Casey, on their way to the September 24th United for Peace & Justice protests in D.C., representing Gold Star Families for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Veterans for Peace. Music and more. Free to public (donations accepted).

    To read more about the tour, see: http://www.bringthemhomenowtour.org/


    Many people have offered to help make the Wisconsin stop of the Bring the Troops Home Now Tour a successful one. Want to know how you can help? Please:

    1. PUT UP POSTERS. Posters will be available at Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative at 10am, Thursday, September 1st. Stop by, pick some up, put them up. You can also print out your own PDF copies of the poster at http://madison.indymedia.org/usermedia/application/6/26025_1.pdf

    2. CONTRIBUTE FINANCIALLY. If you are prepared to make a financial contribution to the Wisconsin stop and to the rest of the tour, you can either make that contribution at the event on Sunday, or you can send a check made out to "Liberty Tree, P.O. Box 260217, Madison, Wisconsin 53726-0217," make sure to enclose a note in the memo blank that the contribution is for the "Camp Casey Tour." If you have questions about contributions, please contact Ben Manski at manski@green.org

    3. TELL EVERYONE. Forward this email, call your friends and family and coworkers, and urge them to come down to the Barrymore on Sunday, and to help out.

    4. TRANSPORT. If you are willing to help shuttle those on the tour to church services on Sunday morning, please contact Leila Pine at lpine@tds.net

    5. SET-UP & TAKE-DOWN. If you are willing to help with set-up and take-down for the event at the Barrymore, please contact Ben Manski at manski@greens.org

    6. UPDATE ON HOUSING. Due to an outpouring of offers to house people traveling on the tour, we have more than enough housing offers. Thank you! Those who have already volunteered will hear back from Stefania Sani as soon as we receive an accurate count from Crawford regarding who and how many are coming on the tour.

    All your efforts are making the difference - THANK YOU

    Hope to see you there!

    [Thanks, Jeanne]

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:19 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    August 27, 2005

    Say Cheese Activism  Media  Science/Technology

    As personal computers, the Internet, cell phones, and wireless networks have taught us, technologies that facilitate the capture, processing, and sharing of information can have enormous, profound global impact, impact that emerges in often unexpected ways from the uncoordinated actions of millions or billions of individuals.

    These kinds of effects are becoming ever more rapid and profound as the world becomes ever more networked. It may well be that the wired (or more appropriately, the wireless) world that is emerging is some unfathomable global entity that we can scarcely comprehend, just as the body is unfathomable to the cells that comprise it.

    Jamais Cascio of WorldChanging has written a fascinating — and more than a little unsettling — vision of a phenomenon that is only now getting underway. He calls it the Participatory Panopticon. It's a long piece, but I've tried to edit it down. It's worth reading and pondering. Excerpts:

    Soon — probably within the next decade, certainly within the next two — we'll be living in a world where what we see, what we hear, what we experience will be recorded wherever we go. There will be few statements or scenes that will go unnoticed, or unremembered. Our day to day lives will be archived and saved. What's more, these archives will be available over the net for recollection, analysis, even sharing.

    And we will be doing it to ourselves.

    This won't simply be a world of a single, governmental Big Brother watching over your shoulder, nor will it be a world of a handful of corporate siblings training their ever-vigilant security cameras and tags on you. Such monitoring may well exist, probably will, in fact, but it will be overwhelmed by the millions of cameras and recorders in the hands of millions of Little Brothers and Little Sisters. We will carry with us the tools of our own transparency, and many, perhaps most, will do so willingly, even happily. [...]

    This day is coming not because of some distant breakthrough or revolution. The breakthroughs are already happening. The revolution has already taken place. [...]

    You may not be aware of it, but the cameraphone in your pocket is the harbinger of a massive social transformation, one already underway.

    This transformation could be at least as big as the ones triggered by television and by computers... [...]

    Thousands of so-called "moblog" sites have sprung up, dedicated to cameraphone shots of whatever captures the photographer's eye at that moment. And increasingly, cameraphones can do more than just take still images. A growing number of cameraphones can record — and send — video clips. With so-called 3G networks, bandwidth is sufficient to send live webcam-style video from a mobile phone. [...]

    [E]arlier this year, the medical journal Archives of Dermatology ran a paper by the University Hospital of Geneva comparing the ability of dermatologists to diagnose skin ulcers by examining the patient in person with their ability to do so via cameraphone images. In the study, the diagnoses were identical in nearly every case, supporting the idea that cameraphones can be another tool for telemedicine in remote areas.

    A few universities and activist groups are experimenting with applications allowing cameraphones to read bar codes, functioning like mobile networked bar code scanners. Users can snap a photo of a bar code on a product and get back information from a variety of websites on whether the product was produced sustainably, whether the company making it behaved ethically, even whether there's a better price to be had at a different store.

    But the panopticon aspect is really most visible in the world of politics and activism. In the US, in last November's national election, a group calling itself "video vote vigil" asked citizens to keep a watch for polling place abuses and problems, recording them if possible with digital cameras or camera phones. In the UK, the delightfully-named "Blair Watch Project" was an effort, coordinated by the newspaper The Guardian, to keep tabs on Prime Minister Tony Blair as he campaigns around the country. The project was prompted by the Labour party's decision to limit Blair's media exposure on the trail; instead he was covered by more cameras than ever.

    Efforts such as these make it clear that every citizen with a cameraphone can be a reporter. Citizens can capture a politician's inadvertent gesture, quick glance or private frown, and make sure those images are seen around the world. The lack of traditional cameras snapping away can no longer be an opportunity for public figures to relax. All those running for office have to assume that their actions and words are being recorded, even if no cameras are evident, as long as citizens are present.

    This notion of individual citizens keeping a technological eye on the people in charge is referred to as "sousveillance", a recent neologism meaning "watching from below" — in comparison to "surveillance," meaning "watching from above." Proponents of the notion see it as an equalizer, making it possible for individual citizens to keep tabs on those in charge. For the sousveillance movement, if the question is "who watches the watchmen?" the answer is "all of us." [...]

    Things change when you can send your exposé over the Internet. Speed and breadth of access are the best ally for transparency, and the Internet has both in abundance. Once damning photos or video have been released onto the web, there's no bringing them back — efforts to do so are more likely to draw attention to them, in fact.

    These days, sousveillance can be summed up with just one image:

    [A]nyone, anywhere, with a digital camera and a network connection has enormous power, perhaps enough to alter the course of a war or to shake the policies of the most powerful nation on Earth. [...]

    Digital devices and network connections can allow individuals to bypass chains of command and control. [...]

    New York City police arrested nearly two thousand people during last year's Republican National Convention. Protestors were condemned by authorities for "rioting," "resisting arrest," and the like. The city provided video tapes to the press and to the courts taken by police officers that seemed to show protestors out of control. [...]

    But it turned out that the police weren't the only ones armed with video cameras. Citizen video efforts show people swept up without cause and without resistance. It's become increasingly clear that police officers misrepresented the events at trial, and that prosecutors selectively edited the official video record to prove their cases. According to the New York Times, of the nearly 1,700 cases processed by early April, 91 percent ended with charges dropped or a verdict of not guilty. A startlingly large number of them have involved citizen video showing clearly that the police and prosecutors were lying. [...]

    Video phones and higher-bandwidth networks will transform activism. The next time around, we'll see the transmission of dozens, hundreds, thousands of different views from marches and protests live over the web. [...]

    It's easy to alter images from a single camera. Somewhat less simple, but still quite possible, is the alteration of images from a few cameras, owned by different photographers or media outlets.

    But when you have images from dozens or hundreds or thousands of digital cameras and cameraphones, in the hands of citizen witnesses? At that point, I start siding with the pictures being real.

    Now it's all well and good to think about the value of always-networked personal cameras as a tool for sousveillance, for "watching the watchmen," but really: how often do we attend political rallies or visit military prisons? Cameraphones as tools of political action, while certainly important, will not in and of themselves lead to the participatory panopticon.

    Your spouse will.

    It's inevitable. You'll want to recall a casual mention of his favorite movie, or the name and year of the wine she loved so much, or what he *really* said in that argument. You'll want to be able to share the amazing flock of birds you saw on the way home from work, or the enthralling street musician you passed while shopping. In the past, all you could rely upon was imperfect memory and whatever descriptive skills you possess. Now, and increasingly as the technology progresses, these tools will make it possible to retain and share those moments with perfect clarity. [...]

    As we become more accustomed to using cameraphones to capture the fleeing and unexpected, the more they will become integrated into our social discourse and personal relationships.

    But the problem with the fleeting and unexpected is that, well, it's fleeting and it's unexpected. If you don't have your cameraphone out and at the ready, it's hard to capture those moments in full. [...]

    What' the answer?

    Get rid of the mobile phone. [...]

    It's likely that rather than carrying around your networked camera as a hand-held phone, you'll wear it, probably built into glasses. The phone would be built in, as well, perhaps evolved into a networked computer. Everything you say, whether to someone in front of you or over the phone, and everything you see, can be captured. The display can be shown on the inside of the glasses' lenses. [...]

    In their respective labs, HP, Microsoft and Nokia are all working on variations of this idea. [...]

    A bigger step comes from a company called DejaView.

    DejaView is now selling a hat or glasses-mounted camera and microphone system connected to a small portable PC. It constantly buffers the last 30 seconds of whatever you're looking at, and can save the buffer to permanent storage at the press of a button. In the few seconds it takes you to realize you're looking at bigfoot or may have just passed an old friend from high school, the moment may have passed irrevocably. But as long as it hasn't been more than 30 seconds, the DejaView device can save it to a hard drive, holding onto it for good. [...]

    These are the progenitors of what will amount to Tivos for your everyday life. You can think of them as personal memory assistants. [...]

    Wearable personal memory assistants will be linked to wireless networks, and for good reasons: to let others see what you're seeing (so that they can help you); to access greater computing power for image-recognition (including, eventually, facial-recognition routines so that you never forget a face); and for off-site storage of what you're recording, giving you far greater capacity than what you could have on-camera. [...]

    A company called Colossal Storage claims that they'll have 10 petabyte drives on the market before the decade is out. 10 petabytes is ten million gigabytes. You could store more than a year's worth of high quality digital video, plus high fidelity audio, plus assorted other data, in space like that.

    Nobody has put them all together yet. How long do you think it will take?

    Now if you're in the intellectual property business, you're probably squirming in your seat right now. If everyone (or near enough) wears some kind of video and audio capture device connected to the net, doesn't that mean that everyone will be making copies of the movies they see, songs they hear, articles they read?


    Now the obvious immediate response is "well, stop it!" ...and we'll undoubtedly see, initially at least, regulations demanding that people shut off their memory assistants while in movie theaters and such...[but] the more that people feel like these tools are extensions of themselves, the less they’ll want to have them restricted. [...]

    There are some deeply difficult user interface issues involved here. Recording everything is not the same as recalling something specific. It's a big question how you’ll be able to find the interesting stuff in your terabytes or petabytes of life archives. [...]

    We're constantly checking with each other for useful insights. You stumble across a new restaurant, and want to know if any of your friends or any of their friends have been there before. You learn about a new politician, and want to know if anyone you know has heard her speak. You meet a new guy, and want to know if someone in your circle has dated him before...[W]as it *that* restaurant that had the bug in the soup? Was it *that* politician saying something about prayer in schools? Was it *that* guy my sister dated and dumped for cheating?

    In a world of personal memory assistants and a participatory panopticon, those questions are answered.

    Tools for social networks will be the killer app of the participatory panopticon. Imagine layering a friendster or epinions on top of this, where comments can be given instantly, observations compared automatically. Or imagine layering a "collaborative filtering" setup, like the comment filters on Slashdot, or the product suggestions on Amazon.

    These tools will form the basis of a reputation network, a social networking system backed up by unimaginable amounts of recorded evidence and opinion. You look at the person across the subway car and the system recognizes her face, revealing to you that she just completed a business deal with a friend of yours. Or that she just met your cousin. Or that she's known to be a good kisser or a brilliant writer.

    Clearly, the world of the participatory panopticon is not one of strong privacy and personal secrecy. Paris Hilton is not going to be happy here. It's going to be hard to escape past mistakes. It's going to be easy to find unflattering pictures or insulting observations. [...]

    But the world of the participatory panopticon is not as interested in privacy, or even secrecy, as it is in lies. A police officer lying about hitting a protestor, a politician lying about human rights abuses, a potential new partner lying about past indiscretions — all of these are harder in a world where everything might be on the record. The participatory panopticon is a world where accusations can easily be documented, where corporations will become more transparent to stakeholders as a matter of course, where officials may even be required to wear a recorder while on duty, simply to avoid situations where they are discovered to have been lying. It's a world where we can all be witnesses with perfect recall. Ironically, it's a world where trust is easy, because lying is hard.

    But ask yourself: what would it really be like to have perfect memory? Relationships — business, casual or personal — are very often built on the consensual misrememberings of slights. Memories fade. Emotional wounds heal. The insult that seemed so important one day is soon gone. But personal memory assistants will allow people to play back what you really said, time and again, allow people to obsess over a momentary sneer or distracted gaze. Reputation networks will allow people to share those recordings, showing their friends (and their friends' friends, and so on) just how much of a cad you really are.

    In the world of the Participatory Panopticon, it's not just politicians concerned about inadvertent gestures, quick glances or private frowns. [...]

    [We cannot] avoid it by simply deciding not to take this particular technological path. This is not a world we can decide simply to adopt or to reject. As I've shown, many of the pieces are already here or will soon be in place; more will come about as a side-effect of otherwise attractive innovations. It's unlikely that someone will set out to build the participatory panopticon, but it's very likely it will emerge nonetheless. It will be the troubling and fascinating result of the combination of a multitude of useful tools and compelling utilities.

    Personal memory assistants, always on life recorders, reputation networks and so on — the pieces of the participatory panopticon — will thrust us into a world that is both painful and seductive. It will be a world of knowing that someone may always be recording your actions. It will be a world where official misbehavior will be ever more difficult to hide. It will be a world where your relationships are tested by relentless honesty. It will be a world where you will never worry about forgetting a name, or a number, or a face. It will be a world in which it is difficult or even impossible to hide. It will be a world where you'll never again lose a fleeting moment of unexpected beauty. [My emphasis]

    If everybody's watching, and recording, and sharing what they've recorded, we all may have no choice but to finally learn that honesty truly is the best policy. Lying will become increasingly impossible to sustain. And we'll have to learn humility as well. Nobody's perfect — and now everybody's going to have proof. No point pretending.

    In twelve-step recovery programs they talk about taking a fearless personal inventory, a clear-eyed look at the ways one has deceived others and oneself. In Cascio's world, our personal inventory will all be out there on the network. Denial's going to be tough.

    What will be the impact on our collective psyche as truthfulness becomes a necessary virtue? The typical politician's tactic of making nothing but plain vanilla utterances may well come to be rejected as a form of disguised lying, as an all-to-obvious attempt to escape the pervasive scrutiny that the rest of us are all having to live with. People may just have to start coming clean. One can hope.

    Posted by Jonathan at 05:14 PM | Comments (3) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    August 17, 2005

    Hope For Texas, Hope For America Activism

    Cindy Sheehan's protest has drawn a certain amount of flak from Bush's neighbors because the protestors' presence on the roadside is a nuisance to people driving by. But now one of Bush's neighbors has come forward to offer the protestors the use of his land. WaPo:

    One of President Bush's neighbors will allow use of his land by dozens [sic] of war protesters who have camped in roadside ditches the past 11 days, giving them more room and halving their distance from Bush's ranch.

    Fred Mattlage, an Army veteran, said he sympathizes with the demonstrators whose makeshift camp off the winding, two-lane road leading to Bush's ranch has angered most residents. Mattlage said the group will be safer on his corner 1-acre lot.

    "I just think people should have a right to protest without being harassed," Mattlage told The Associated Press on Tuesday night. "And I'm against the war. I don't think it's a war we need to be in." [...]

    Mattlage's Monday night offer, accepted by protesters Tuesday, will put them about a mile from Bush's ranch, said Hadi Jawad of the Crawford Peace House, which is helping the group.

    Demonstrators said they would start moving their tents, anti-war banners and portable toilets to the new site Wednesday and hope to have the new camp set up in time for a dusk candlelight vigil.

    The vigil will be one of about 1,000 to be held across the country, an effort organized by liberal advocacy groups MoveOn.org Political Action, TrueMajority and Democracy for America.

    Larry Mattlage, a distant cousin of Mattlage's who owns nearby land, fired a shotgun twice into the air Sunday but no one was injured. But Fred Mattlage does not share his cousin's frustrations with the group. [My emphasis]

    It's simple, decent, courageous actions like this that give me hope for America's future.

    Candlelight vigils will be held tonight all over the country. Go here to find one near you.

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:04 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    August 16, 2005

    Aaron Glantz Coming To Madison Activism  Iraq

    For those of us living in the Madison WI area: Aaron Glantz, author of How America Lost Iraq, will speak at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center, 953 Jenifer Street, at 7 PM next Tuesday, August 23. From the blurb:

    Aaron Glantz is a reporter for Pacifica Radio, who lives in Los Angeles. He wrote the recently published book, "How America Lost Iraq." According to a Publishers Weekly review, this book tells the story of how the U.S. government squandered, through a series of blunders and brutalities, the goodwill with which Iraqis greeted the American invasion and the elation they felt at the fall of Saddam Hussein.

    But as the occupation dragged on — as more and more Iraqis were thrown in Abu Ghraib without being charged; as the necessities of daily life, such as drinking water and electricity, went lacking; and as the American army failed to control lootings and rampant street violence — tensions began to rise.

    Then, with the spectacular killings and grisly display of four American contractors, those tensions exploded. Instead of negotiating, the United States made the fateful decision to attack Fallujah, a colossal mistake that would enrage even moderate Muslims and turn simmering resentment into armed resistance.

    With gripping eyewitness accounts, Glantz takes readers inside Fallujah and shows what embedded reporters failed to reveal — the deliberate killing of Iraqi civilians by American Marines and the devastating effects of American bombing in a densely populated city. Glantz shows that ordinary Iraqi civilians — men, women, and children — were shot and killed simply for leaving their houses, or for trying to rescue those who lay wounded in the streets. Even humanitarian aid workers who tried to take the wounded to the hospital in clearly marked ambulances were shot at by American snipers. We learn of one brave couple that held their marriage ceremony with bombs falling around them. When the fighting in Fallujah was over, after the relentless aerial assault and sniper fire had ceased, 600 Iraqi citizens were dead and America's status as liberators had been completely destroyed. [My emphasis]

    The event is free and open to the public and will include a Q&A session.

    [Thanks, Jeanne]

    Posted by Jonathan at 02:18 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Best. Title. Ever. Activism

    Haven't had a chance to listen to this yet, but I sure do love the title:

    He Who Goes Extinct With the Most Toys Wins

    Somebody make it into a bumper sticker and send me one!

    Posted by Jonathan at 01:58 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    August 15, 2005

    Keeping A Balanced Life Activism  Iraq  Politics

    President Bush seems incapable of realizing the utter grotesquerie of a lot of the stuff he says. From Cox News Service (via Digby):

    President Bush, noting that lots of people want to talk to the president and "it's also important for me to go on with my life," on Saturday defended his decision not to meet with the grieving mom of a soldier killed in Iraq.

    Bush said he is aware of the anti-war sentiments of Cindy Sheehan and others who have joined her protest near the Bush ranch.

    "But whether it be here or in Washington or anywhere else, there's somebody who has got something to say to the president, that's part of the job," Bush said on the ranch. "And I think it's important for me to be thoughtful and sensitive to those who have got something to say."

    "But," he added, "I think it's also important for me to go on with my life, to keep a balanced life."

    The comments came prior to a bike ride on the ranch with journalists and aides. [...]

    In addition to the two-hour bike ride, Bush's Saturday schedule included an evening Little League Baseball playoff game, a lunch meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a nap, some fishing and some reading. "I think the people want the president to be in a position to make good, crisp decisions and to stay healthy," he said when asked about bike riding while a grieving mom wanted to speak with him. "And part of my being is to be outside exercising." [My emphasis]

    A two-hour bike ride, lunch with Condi, a nap, some fishing, some reading, a Little League game. Yeah, that's what the people want from their president when the country's losing a pointless war.

    Just how juvenile is this guy? Could the contrast between Cindy Sheehan's dignity and seriousness of purpose and Bush's adolescent superficiality possibly be any more stark?

    Posted by Jonathan at 12:29 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    August 14, 2005

    A Test Of Wills Activism

    Mike Rogers is flying from his home in Tokyo to join Cindy Sheehan in Crawford. He urges you to do the same. If you can't go in person, send flowers (see below).

    Lew Rockwell (a conservative/libertarian site!) has a piece written by Rogers. Here's an excerpt (emphasis added):

    Fight for your country my friends...Fight for your country — do not fight for someone else's country. Do not die far off in some foreign land. Do not die for the greed of an emperor or king. [...]

    There is a test of wills going on right now in Crawford, Texas. It is a test of wills between a loving mother who lost her child — her child — in a war built on lies and deceit and a man who is representing the one we know as the supreme personification of evil. This man is a despicable liar. This man is a mass murderer — as well as those who associate with and support him. They must be stopped and they will be stopped. Need proof? Just look at this one woman's faith. As you know, faith can move mountains.

    Help support Cindy Sheehan in her efforts to stop this insane war. Help stop this war that is killing untold numbers of innocent children. Put an end to this disastrous war that is bankrupting you and your children's future — as well as destroying your country.

    Join with me as I plan on visiting Cindy and bringing a message of peace and support from the people of Japan. In spite of what the mainstream mass media in the USA says, the average Japanese thinks this war is just as insane as the man who created it. And I want to let the American people know about it. Please, if you can, join Cindy too and show your support. Show the criminals — and the king — that you will not tolerate the Land of the Free becoming an international pariah. [...]

    If you cannot come yourself and personally support Cindy how about sending flowers in lieu of your presence? It's easy. Amazon has a beautiful bouquet of red roses on sale now for $20 off at $19.99.

    So please friends, help Cindy to fight for peace. Help her as she fights for the truth. Help her to end this senseless, criminal killing. After all, in the end, she is not only fighting for her child, she is fighting for yours and mine too. Isn't that worth a small showing of your support?

    I can think of no nobler cause than saving the lives of children. Can you?

    Here is the information you will need to send flowers to Cindy in a show of support:

    The Crawford Peace House
    9142 5th Street
    Crawford, TX. 76638-3037
    Tel: 254-486-0099

    I've just sent flowers. Won't you?

    Let's turn the Crawford roadside into a sea of flowers.

    Posted by Jonathan at 01:04 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    August 13, 2005

    Thugs In Suits Activism  Iraq  War and Peace

    The incomparable Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States, writes in the Guardian that not only Iraq is occupied, the US is, too — by "thugs in suits". Excerpt:

    It has quickly become clear that Iraq is not a liberated country, but an occupied country. We became familiar with that term during the second world war. We talked of German-occupied France, German-occupied Europe. And after the war we spoke of Soviet-occupied Hungary, Czechoslovakia, eastern Europe. It was the Nazis, the Soviets, who occupied countries. The United States liberated them from occupation.

    Now we are the occupiers. True, we liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein, but not from us. Just as in 1898 we liberated Cuba from Spain, but not from us. Spanish tyranny was overthrown, but the US established a military base in Cuba, as we are doing in Iraq. US corporations moved into Cuba, just as Bechtel and Halliburton and the oil corporations are moving into Iraq. The US framed and imposed, with support from local accomplices, the constitution that would govern Cuba, just as it has drawn up, with help from local political groups, a constitution for Iraq. Not a liberation. An occupation. [...]

    But more ominous, perhaps, than the occupation of Iraq is the occupation of the US. I wake up in the morning, read the newspaper, and feel that we are an occupied country, that some alien group has taken over. I wake up thinking: the US is in the grip of a president surrounded by thugs in suits who care nothing about human life abroad or here, who care nothing about freedom abroad or here, who care nothing about what happens to the earth, the water or the air, or what kind of world will be inherited by our children and grandchildren.

    More Americans are beginning to feel, like the soldiers in Iraq, that something is terribly wrong. More and more every day the lies are being exposed. And then there is the largest lie, that everything the US does is to be pardoned because we are engaged in a "war on terrorism", ignoring the fact that war is itself terrorism, that barging into homes and taking away people and subjecting them to torture is terrorism, that invading and bombing other countries does not give us more security but less. [...]

    The "war on terrorism" is not only a war on innocent people in other countries; it is a war on the people of the US: on our liberties, on our standard of living. The country's wealth is being stolen from the people and handed over to the super-rich. The lives of the young are being stolen. [...]

    Our faith is that human beings only support violence and terror when they have been lied to. And when they learn the truth, as happened in the course of the Vietnam war, they will turn against the government. We have the support of the rest of the world. The US cannot indefinitely ignore the 10 million people who protested around the world on February 15 2003.

    There is no act too small, no act too bold. The history of social change is the history of millions of actions, small and large, coming together at points in history and creating a power that governments cannot suppress. [My emphasis]

    Find a way to act. Add your light to the sum of light. History needs you.

    Posted by Jonathan at 12:43 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    August 11, 2005

    Cindy Sheehan, Citizen Activism

    Sometimes, to really see something, you need to see it in contrast to something else.

    When we look back on this time, Cindy Sheehan's stand in the roadside ditch outside of Crawford may turn out to have been a turning point, one that, by its simple humanity and by the power of contrast, revealed the politicians in Washington (most of them, anyway, Dems included) to be the craven, unprincipled whores they mostly are.

    Sometimes even a simple gesture, made by the right person, in the right spirit, at the right time, can be the catalyst that awakens the conscience of millions. One thinks of Gandhi marching barefoot to the sea to defy the British Empire by simply making salt.

    Ex-Senator Gary Hart has a moving post on the subject up on Huffington that you'll want to go read. Highly recommended.

    Posted by Jonathan at 09:29 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Technorati: "Cindy Sheehan" Top Search On Blogs Activism

    Search engine statistics provide a kind of instant snapshot of what's on people's minds. As Marc Sandalow noticed today in the San Francisco Chronicle (via CommonDreams):

    The Web site Technorati.com, which monitors Web logs, listed "Cindy Sheehan" as its most frequently requested search.

    How cool is that?

    [Thanks, Kent]

    Posted by Jonathan at 05:42 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 24-26, Washington DC Activism

    Starting on Saturday, September 24, three days of protest, grassroots lobbying, and civil disobedience are planned for Washington DC to protest the Iraq war and the militarization of US society. Given the way public sentiment has turned against the war, this could easily turn out to be the largest pro-peace event in US history. The event is sponsored by United for Peace and Justice, ANSWER, and many other peace organizations from around the world.

    The schedule:

    Sat., Sept. 24 - March, Rally, and Operation Ceasefire Concert
    Sun., Sept. 25 - Interfaith Service, Grassroots Training
    Mon., Sept. 26 - Grassroots Lobby Day and Mass Nonviolent Direct Action and Civil Disobedience

    For those of us living in Wisconsin, bus trips (apparently for the Saturday events only) are being sponsored by PeaceNorth. To find other groups around the country offering similar arrangements, just Google "September 24 demonstration".

    It's great to see that the organizers are thinking in terms of action, not just expression. In that vein, I invite you to go back and read this post written in the aftermath of last September's march of half of million protestors in NYC. Food for thought.

    [Thanks, Kent]

    Posted by Jonathan at 05:29 PM | Comments (5) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    August 10, 2005

    Gold Star Families Joining Cindy Sheehan Activism  Iraq

    Other families who have lost family members in Iraq, or who have family members currently serving there, are traveling from around the country to join Cindy Sheehan's protest outside the Bush "ranch" in Crawford. US Newswire (via GNN):

    More members of Gold Star Families for Peace (GSFP) and Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) are traveling to Texas to join the protest outside of President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he is vacationing for the month of August.

    Starting today, Gold Star families from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Arkansas and other states whose loved ones have died as a result of the war in Iraq will be joining one of their members, Cindy Sheehan, at the protest. Ms. Sheehan, whose son Army Specialist Casey Sheehan was killed in Sadr City, Iraq on April 4, 2004, has been in Crawford since August 5th, demanding a meeting with the President. These families will be joined by military families with loved ones currently serving in Iraq or about to deploy or redeploy to Iraq. All of these families are coming to Crawford, Texas to share their stories about the personal costs of the war in Iraq and add their voices to the call for a meeting with President Bush. [My emphasis]

    Things could get interesting if the White House goes through with its threat to declare the protestors a "threat to national security" and arrest them tomorrow. Let's hope it turns into a PR rout for the White House. Hauling a bunch of bereaved moms off to jail as threats to national security while the president takes a month off — no way that looks good.

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:04 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    August 08, 2005

    Free Speech A Threat To National Security Activism  Rights, Law

    From Kos:

    Cindy Sheehan phoned me from Texas a few minutes ago to say that she's been informed that beginning Thursday, she and her companions will be considered a threat to national security and will be arrested. Coincidentally, Thursday is the day that Rice and Rumsfeld visit the ranch, and Friday is a fundraiser event for the haves and the have mores. Cindy said that she and others plan to be arrested. [My emphasis]

    The mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, peacefully exercising her constitutional right to free speech, is to be categorized a threat to national security. The outrageousness of this just leaves me sputtering. Does the Constitution count for nothing anymore?

    The extremism of this administration is a grave threat to America. The administration is the threat to national security. It's that simple.

    Posted by Jonathan at 04:40 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    July 22, 2005

    Raging Grannies Busted Activism  Iraq

    Some people have no sense of humor. AP:

    A group of anti-war senior citizens calling themselves the "Tucson Raging Grannies" say they want to enlist in the U.S. Army and go to Iraq so that their children and grandchildren can come home.

    Five members of the group — which is associated with the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom — are due in court Monday to face trespassing charges after trying to enlist at a military recruitment center last week.

    The group has protested every week for the last three years outside the recruitment center.

    "We went in asking to be sent to Iraq so our kids and grandchildren can be sent home, but rather than listening to us, they called the police," said 74-year-old Betty Schroeder. "It was their place to tell us the qualifications, but they wouldn't even speak to us. They should've said, 'You're too old.'"

    Schroeder said her group may approach the Pentagon to see if they could be sent to Iraq.

    Good old WILPF.

    In a related story, Reuters reports:

    Faced with major recruiting problems sparked by troop deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon has asked Congress to raise the maximum age for U.S. military enlistees from 35 to 42 years old.

    The Raging Grannies may not have long to wait.

    [Thanks, Charyn]

    Posted by Jonathan at 02:38 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    July 20, 2005

    Riots In China Over Environmental Damage Activism  Economy  Environment

    China provides a perfect example of the way mainstream Western economics ignores the "external" costs associated with economic "growth": everyone hails China's economic "miracle", and the enormous accompanying environmental damage is relegated to footnotes. China's citizens, however, see the environmental damage first-hand and have begun to riot in the streets to combat it. NYT:

    XINCHANG, China — After three nights of increasingly heavy rioting, the police were taking no chances on Monday, deploying dozens of busloads of officers before dusk and blocking every road leading to the factory.

    But the angry residents in this village 180 miles south of Shanghai had learned their lessons, too, they said, having studied reports of riots in towns near and far that have swept rural China in recent months. Sneaking over mountain paths and wading through rice paddies, they made their way to a pharmaceuticals plant, they said, determined to pursue a showdown over the environmental threat they say it poses.

    As many as 15,000 people massed here Sunday night and waged a pitched battle with the authorities, overturning police cars and throwing stones for hours, undeterred by thick clouds of tear gas. Fewer people may have turned out Monday evening under rainy skies, but residents of this factory town in the wealthy Zhejiang Province vow they will keep demonstrating until they have forced the 10-year-old plant to relocate.

    "This is the only way to solve problems like ours," said a 22-year-old villager whose house sits less than 100 yards from the smashed gates of the factory, where the police were massed. "If you go to see the mayor or some city official, they just take your money and do nothing."

    The riots in Xinchang are a part of a rising tide of discontent in China, with the number of mass protests like these skyrocketing to 74,000 incidents last year from about 10,000 a decade earlier, according to government figures. The details have varied from incident to incident, but the recent protests all share a common foundation of accumulated anger over the failure of China's political system to respond to legitimate grievances and defiance of the local authorities, who are often seen as corrupt. [...]

    In Xinchang, as with many of the recent protests, the initial spark involved claims of serious environmental degradation. An explosion at the Jingxin Pharmaceutical Company this month in a vessel containing deadly chemicals reportedly killed one worker, and previous leakages contaminated the water supply for miles downstream, said villagers and one chemical plant worker who was injured in the accident. [...]

    "Our fields won't produce grain anymore," said a 46-year-old woman who lives near the plant. "We don't dare to eat food grown from anywhere near here." [...]

    "They are making poisonous chemicals for foreigners that the foreigners don't dare produce in their own countries," the man said. Explaining why he had been willing to rush into the plant, despite signs warning of toxic chemicals all about, he said, "It is better to die now, forcing them out, than to die of a slow suicide." [...]

    In many of China's other recent riots, word has spread fast among organizers and protesters by way of mobile phone messages, allowing crowds to mass quickly and helping demonstrators to coordinate tactics and slogans.

    In Xinchang, however, residents say new technology, like the cellphone, has played little part. Instead, many residents say they were moved to action after years of unhappiness about industrial pollution by copies of newspaper headlines from Dongyang. That city, a mere 50 miles away, was the scene this spring of one of China's biggest riots, in which more than 10,000 residents routed the police in a riot over pollution from a pesticide factory.

    Despite tight controls on news coverage of the incident, the riot in Dongyang, where the chemical factory remains closed months later, has firmly entered Chinese folklore as proof that determined citizens acting en masse can force the authorities to reverse course and address their needs.

    "As for the Dongyang riot, everyone knows about it," a man in his 20's exulted. "Six policemen were killed, and the chief had the tendons in his arms and legs severed. Perhaps they went too far, but we must be treated as human beings." [My emphasis]

    Lessons in grass-roots activism and democracy from the citizens of communist China. We live in interesting times.

    Posted by Jonathan at 05:31 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    July 12, 2005

    Selling Out Africa Activism  Corporations, Globalization  Media

    The Live8 concerts were to music-based activism what embedded journalism is to war reporting: corporate/government PR disguised as the real thing. When anything is as warmly embraced by big media, big government, and big multinational corporate players as Live8 was, well, you can be sure it's toothless, non-threatening, thoroughly housebroken. Just another reality tv show, with the usual reality tv subtext that says that phony, dumbed-down, product-placement "reality" is better than reality itself.

    George Monbiot, writing from the English perspective, says it best:

    I began to realise how much trouble we were in when Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for International Development, announced that he would be joining the Make Poverty History march on Saturday. What would he be chanting?, I wondered. "Down with me and all I stand for"?

    Benn is the man in charge of using British aid to persuade African countries to privatise their public services: wasn’t the march supposed to be a protest against policies like his? But its aims were either expressed or interpreted so loosely that anyone could join. This was its strength and its weakness. The Daily Mail ran pictures of Gordon Brown and Bob Geldof on its front page, with the headline "Let's Roll", showing that nothing either Live8 or Make Poverty History has done so far represents a threat to power. The G8 leaders and the business interests their summit promotes can absorb our demands for aid, debt, even slightly fairer terms of trade, and lose nothing. They can wear our colours, speak our language, claim to support our aims, and discover in our agitation not new constraints, but new opportunities for manufacturing consent. Justice, this consensus says, can be achieved without confronting power.

    They invite our representatives to share their stage, we invite theirs to share ours. [...]

    The G8 leaders have seized this opportunity with both hands. Multinational corporations, they argue, are not the cause of Africa's problems, but the solution. From now on, they will be responsible for the relief of poverty.

    In the United States, they have already been given control of the primary instrument of US policy towards Africa, the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The act is a fascinating compound of professed philanthropy and raw self-interest. To become eligible for help, African countries must bring about "a market-based economy that protects private property rights”", "the elimination of barriers to United States trade and investment" and a conducive environment for US "foreign policy interests". In return they will be allowed "preferential treatment" for some of their products in US markets.

    The important word is "some". Clothing factories in Africa will be allowed to sell their products to the US as long as they use "fabrics wholly formed and cut in the United States" or if they avoid direct competition with US products...Even so, African countries' preferential treatment will be terminated if it results in "a surge in imports".

    It goes without saying that all this is classified as foreign aid. The act instructs the US Agency for International Development to develop "a receptive environment for trade and investment". What is more interesting is that its implementation has been outsourced to another agency, the Corporate Council on Africa.

    The CCA is the lobby group representing the big US corporations with interests in Africa: Halliburton, Exxon Mobil, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Starbucks, Raytheon, Microsoft, Boeing, Cargill, Citigroup and others. For the CCA, what is good for General Motors is good for Africa: "until African countries are able to earn greater income," it says, "their ability to buy U.S. products will be limited." The US State Department has put it in charge of training African governments and businesses. [...]

    Now something very similar is being rolled out in the United Kingdom. Today the Business Action for Africa summit will open in London with a message from Tony Blair. It is chaired by Sir Mark Moody Stuart, the head of Anglo American, and its speakers include executives from Shell, British American Tobacco, Standard Chartered Bank, De Beers and the Corporate Council on Africa. [...]

    Few would deny that one of the things Africa needs is investment. But investment by many of our multinationals has not enriched its people but impoverished them. The history of corporate involvement in Africa is a history of forced labour, evictions, murder, wars, the under-costing of resources, tax evasion and collusion with dictators. Nothing in either the Investment Climate Facility or the Growth and Opportunity Act imposes mandatory constraints on corporations. While their power and profits in Africa will be enhanced with the help of our foreign aid budgets, they will be bound only by voluntary commitments: of the kind that have been in place since 1976 and have proved useless.

    Just as Gordon Brown's "moral crusade" encourages us to forget the armed crusade he financed, so the state-sponsored rebranding of the companies working in Africa prompts us to forget what Shell has been doing in Nigeria, what Barclays and Anglo American and De Beers have done in South Africa, and what British American Tobacco has done just about everywhere. From now on, the G8 would like us to believe, these companies will be Africa's best friends. In the name of making poverty history, the G8 has given a new, multi-headed East India Company a mandate to govern the continent.

    Without a critique of power, our campaign, so marvellously and so disastrously inclusive, will merely enhance this effort. Debt, unfair terms of trade and poverty are not causes of Africa's problems but symptoms. The cause is power: the ability of the G8 nations and their corporations to run other people's lives. Where, on the Live8 stages and at the rally in Edinburgh, was the campaign against the G8's control of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations? Where was the demand for binding global laws for multinational companies?

    At the Make Poverty History march, the speakers insisted that we are dragging the G8 leaders kicking and screaming towards our demands. It seems to me that the G8 leaders are dragging us dancing and cheering towards theirs. [My emphasis]

    Superstars embedded with the multinational corporate music business, performing on a world-wide media hookup, are not to be confused with the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane playing free concerts from a flatbed truck in Golden Gate Park. It's natural that people make that kind of connection (or its more contemporary equivalent). After all, the music once stood for something.

    But we only have to stop and think. Western governments and multinational corporations hold all the cards; Africa holds none. There is zero chance that any deal with Africa will fail to reflect that power imbalance. Anyone who thinks otherwise knows no history. The notion that one day's worth of Live8 concerts exerted any sort of meaningful pressure on Western power centers, thereby altering the power equation, is a cruel joke. Sir Bob Geldorf, Sir Paul McCartney, Bono, Madonna, and the rest may even have believed they were doing some good. Who knows. There were probably embedded journalists in Iraq who thought they were doing real reporting.

    But as Gil Scott-Heron sang all those years ago, the revolution will not be televised. And it certainly won't be a worldwide media spectacle bankrolled by multinational corporate sponsors, featuring a parade of multi-millionaire pop stars.

    Posted by Jonathan at 03:20 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    July 11, 2005

    Quotes For Today Activism  Quotes

    From ICH:

    The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any. — Alice Walker

    Action is the antidote to despair. — Joan Baez

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:43 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    July 10, 2005

    Paymasters Of Carnage Activism  Iraq  Media

    This piece by John Pilger (via ICH) is an absolute must-read.

    It is the necessary antidote to the G8 coverage, to Bono and the other rock-star embeds, and to much else besides. Go read it, and clear your head. Go!

    Posted by Jonathan at 07:36 PM | Comments (4) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    July 05, 2005

    A People's History Activism

    The July Fourth broadcast of Democracy Now! featured excerpts from Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. First published 24 years ago, Zinn's book recently passed one million copies sold. To celebrate, Zinn and a group of actors, writers, and editors held a public reading from the book at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. The cast included Alice Walker, Alfre Woodard, Danny Glover, Kurt Vonnegut, and James Earl Jones.

    You can watch it online here. It's a wonderful show, very highly recommended.

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:09 AM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    June 02, 2005

    Saint Amy Activism

    The White House is fond of photos (also here, here, and here) where the Presidential Seal is positioned to make Bush look like he has a halo.

    Well, two can play that game.

    Here's Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! speaking at Northland College in Ashland WI last weekend.

    Amy Goodman
    © Kent Tenney 

    The difference being that Amy actually deserves her halo.

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:45 AM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    May 26, 2005

    Quote For Today Activism

    To be neutral and to be passive is to collaborate with whatever is going on. [Democracy is] not just a counting-up of votes. [Democracy is] a counting-up of actions. — Howard Zinn (source)

    Posted by Jonathan at 03:18 PM | Comments (3) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    May 25, 2005

    Against Discouragement Activism

    In 1963, the wonderful Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States, was fired from Spelman College, where he chaired the history department, because of his civil rights activities. This year, Spelman invited him back to give their commencement address.

    His speech was titled "Against Discouragement". It's a marvelous speech, well worth reading in full, but here are some excerpts:

    My first hope is that you will not be too discouraged by the way the world looks at this moment. It is easy to be discouraged, because our nation is at war — still another war, war after war — and our government seems determined to expand its empire even if it costs the lives of tens of thousands of human beings. There is poverty in this country, and homelessness, and people without health care, and crowded classrooms, but our government, which has trillions of dollars to spend, is spending its wealth on war. There are a billion people in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East who need clean water and medicine to deal with malaria and tuberculosis and AIDS, but our government, which has thousands of nuclear weapons, is experimenting with even more deadly nuclear weapons. Yes, it is easy to be discouraged by all that.

    But let me tell you why, in spite of what I have just described, you must not be discouraged.

    I want to remind you that, fifty years ago, racial segregation here in the South was entrenched as tightly as was apartheid in South Africa. The national government, even with liberal presidents like Kennedy and Johnson in office, was looking the other way while black people were beaten and killed and denied the opportunity to vote. So black people in the South decided they had to do something by themselves. They boycotted and sat in and picketed and demonstrated, and were beaten and jailed, and some were killed, but their cries for freedom were soon heard all over the nation and around the world, and the President and Congress finally did what they had previously failed to do — enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. Many people had said: The South will never change. But it did change. It changed because ordinary people organized and took risks and challenged the system and would not give up. That's when democracy came alive.

    I want to remind you also that when the war in Vietnam was going on, and young Americans were dying and coming home paralyzed, and our government was bombing the villages of Vietnam — bombing schools and hospitals and killing ordinary people in huge numbers — it looked hopeless to try to stop the war. But just as in the Southern movement, people began to protest and soon it caught on. It was a national movement. Soldiers were coming back and denouncing the war, and young people were refusing to join the military, and the war had to end.

    The lesson of that history is that you must not despair, that if you are right, and you persist, things will change. The government may try to deceive the people, and the newspapers and television may do the same, but the truth has a way of coming out. The truth has a power greater than a hundred lies. I know you have practical things to do — to get jobs and get married and have children. You may become prosperous and be considered a success in the way our society defines success, by wealth and standing and prestige. But that is not enough for a good life. [...]

    My hope is that whatever you do to make a good life for yourself — whether you become a teacher, or social worker, or business person, or lawyer, or poet, or scientist — you will devote part of your life to making this a better world for your children, for all children. My hope is that your generation will demand an end to war, that your generation will do something that has not yet been done in history and wipe out the national boundaries that separate us from other human beings on this earth.

    Recently I saw a photo on the front page of the New York Times which I cannot get out of my mind. It showed ordinary Americans sitting on chairs on the southern border of Arizona, facing Mexico. They were holding guns and they were looking for Mexicans who might be trying to cross the border into the United States. This was horrifying to me — the realization that, in this twenty-first century of what we call "civilization," we have carved up what we claim is one world into two hundred artificially created entities we call "nations" and are ready to kill anyone who crosses a boundary.

    Is not nationalism — that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary, so fierce it leads to murder — one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred? These ways of thinking, cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on, have been useful to those in power, deadly for those out of power.

    Here in the United States, we are brought up to believe that our nation is different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral; that we expand into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy. But if you know some history you know that's not true. If you know some history, you know we massacred Indians on this continent, invaded Mexico, sent armies into Cuba, and the Philippines. We killed huge numbers of people, and we did not bring them democracy or liberty. We did not go into Vietnam to bring democracy; we did not invade Panama to stop the drug trade; we did not invade Afghanistan and Iraq to stop terrorism. Our aims were the aims of all the other empires of world history — more profit for corporations, more power for politicians. [...]

    I am a veteran of the Second World War. That was considered a "good war," but I have come to the conclusion that war solves no fundamental problems and only leads to more wars. War poisons the minds of soldiers, leads them to kill and torture, and poisons the soul of the nation.

    My hope is that your generation will demand that your children be brought up in a world without war. It we want a world in which the people of all countries are brothers and sisters, if the children all over the world are considered as our children, then war — in which children are always the greatest casualties — cannot be accepted as a way of solving problems. [...]

    My hope is that you will not be content just to be successful in the way that our society measures success; that you will not obey the rules, when the rules are unjust; that you will act out the courage that I know is in you. There are wonderful people, black and white, who are models. I don't mean African-Americans like Condoleezza Rice, or Colin Powell, or Clarence Thomas, who have become servants of the rich and powerful. I mean W.E.B. DuBois and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and Marian Wright Edelman, and James Baldwin and Josephine Baker and good white folk, too, who defied the Establishment to work for peace and justice.

    Another of my students at Spelman, Alice Walker, who...has remained our friend all these years, came from a tenant farmer's family in Eatonton, Georgia, and became a famous writer. In one of her first published poems, she wrote:

    It is true--
    I've always loved
    the daring
    Like the black young
    Who tried
    to crash
    All barriers
    at once,
        wanted to
    At a white
    beach (in Alabama)

    I am not suggesting you go that far, but you can help to break down barriers, of race certainly, but also of nationalism; that you do what you can — you don't have to do something heroic, just something, to join with millions of others who will just do something, because all of those somethings, at certain points in history, come together, and make the world better.

    That marvelous African-American writer Zora Neale Hurston, who wouldn't do what white people wanted her to do, who wouldn't do what black people wanted her to do, who insisted on being herself, said that her mother advised her: Leap for the sun — you may not reach it, but at least you will get off the ground.

    By being here today, you are already standing on your toes, ready to leap. My hope for you is a good life. [My emphasis]

    Wise words from a wise elder who has practiced what he preaches and lived a good life.

    Read the entire speech here.

    [Thanks, Richard]

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:16 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    May 24, 2005

    Amy Goodman In Ashland WI Saturday Activism

    In the earlier post about the appearances by Democracy Now's Amy Goodman in Ashland WI this Saturday, I should have made it clear that the commencement speech in the afternoon is open only to invitees of Northland College graduates and faculty. The evening speech is the one that's open to the public. Details.

    [Thanks, Erin]

    Posted by Jonathan at 04:09 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    May 20, 2005

    Amy Goodman In Ashland WI May 28 Activism

    The indefatigable Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! will be in Ashland WI on Saturday May 28. Details:

    Northland College Commencement
    2:30 PM
    Alvord Theatre
    1411 Ellis Avenue
    Ashland, WI 54806

    Fundraiser for WNRC
    8 PM
    Kendrigan Gymnasium
    Northland College
    1411 Ellis Ave
    Ashland WI 54806

    Tickets: $10.00 general admission, $5.00 students

    The afternoon appearance is open only to invitees of Northland College graduates and faculty. The evening appearance is open to the public.

    For more information, visit www.northland.edu.

    Amy Goodman is a true American hero and a role model for us all. Whenever I find myself questioning whether one person can really make a difference, I just think of her. If you're in the area, do yourself a favor: go see/hear her — and be inspired.

    Posted by Jonathan at 04:12 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    May 09, 2005

    Consent Denied Activism  War and Peace

    Very much in the spirit of The Mother's Day Proclamation, a new campaign Consent Denied: Women Reject War invites women everywhere to sign a Women's Pledge to Protect and Resist:

    I am not raising/did not raise my son, daughter, or the other children in my life to wage war on or to harm the sons and daughters of women anywhere. Nor will I myself ever agree to fight in war.

    I will support and assist my spouse/partner, children, grandchildren, or other family and friends in registering as Conscientious Objectors and/or in refusing to serve in the US military.

    Here's a link to the pledge: http://www.pastpeak.com/docs/ConsentDenied.pdf. Print it out, sign it, and send it to:

    Consent Denied: Women Reject War
    118 ½ West 10th Street
    Duluth MN 55806

    And then pass it on. Send an email to your sisters, mothers, daughters, friends around the world. If each woman reading this passes it on to a half dozen other women, who pass it on to a half dozen other women, who pass it on...

    The organizers hope to accumulate thousands (millions) of signed forms in ever-growing stacks (truckloads) that will be used to demonstrate to political leaders and others that henceforth women's consent for war is denied.

    Every soldier and civilian killed or maimed — physically, psychologically, spiritually — in war is the daughter or son of a mother.

    Deny consent.

    Posted by Jonathan at 12:49 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    May 08, 2005

    The Mother's Day Proclamation Activism

    Mother's Day wasn't always the stuff of Hallmark cards. Its roots lie in a campaign by Julia Ward Howe, author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," to rally women everywhere to rise up and demand an end to war. In 1870, she issued a stirring proclamation and called for establishment of a Mother's Day for Peace.

    The proclamation:

    Arise then...women of this day!
    Arise, all women who have hearts!
    Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
    Say firmly:
    "We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
    Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
    For caresses and applause.
    Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
    All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
    We, the women of one country,
    Will be too tender of those of another country
    To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

    From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
    Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
    The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
    Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
    Nor violence indicate possession.
    As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
    At the summons of war,
    Let women now leave all that may be left of home
    For a great and earnest day of counsel.
    Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
    Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
    Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
    Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
    But of God -
    In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
    That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
    May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
    And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
    To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
    The amicable settlement of international questions,
    The great and general interests of peace.
    [My emphasis]

    A stirring moment in our forgotten history. Happy Mother's Day to mothers everywhere. May it be a Mother's Day for Peace.

    [Thanks, Erin]

    Posted by Jonathan at 05:33 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    May 02, 2005

    Diplomatic Times Review Activism

    Thanks to Eric Olson at Deep Blade Journal, I've just discovered an excellent site: Diplomatic Times Review, edited by Munir Umrani.

    For a broader perspective on the world, add it to your list of daily reads.

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:34 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    April 21, 2005

    Ratzinger On Peace And "Preventive" War Activism  Religion  War and Peace

    Whatever else may be true of the new pope, Catholic Peace Fellowship reports that as a cardinal he was a forceful critic of the Iraq war and Bush's doctrine of "preventive" war, and he intends to continue such criticism as pope. That intention, in fact, motivated his choice of the name Benedict XVI. Excerpt:

    The election of Benedict XVI as pope brings hope for the continuation of peacemaking as central to the papacy. Just as John Paul II cried out again and again to the world, "War never again!" the new pope has taken the name of the one who first made that cry, Benedict XV, commonly known as "the peace pope."

    The name is no coincidence. In fact, Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia said Tuesday that the new pope told the cardinals he was selecting Benedict because "he is desirous to continue the efforts of Benedict XV on behalf of peace ... throughout the world."

    As a Cardinal, the new pope was a staunch critic of the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. On one occasion before the war, he was asked whether it would be just. "Certainly not," he said, and explained that the situation led him to conclude that "the damage would be greater than the values one hopes to save."

    "All I can do is invite you to read the Catechism, and the conclusion seems obvious to me..." The conclusion is one he gave many times: "the concept of preventive war does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church."

    Even after the war [sic], Ratzinger did not cease criticism of U.S. violence and imperialism: "it was right to resist the war and its threats of destruction...It should never be the responsibility of just one nation to make decisions for the world."

    Yet perhaps the most important insight of Ratzinger came during a press conference on May 2, 2003. After suggesting that perhaps it would be necessary to revise the Catechism section on just war (perhaps because it had been used by George Weigel and others to endorse a war the Church opposed), Ratzinger offered a deep insight that included but went beyond the issue of war Iraq:

    "There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a 'just war'." [My emphasis]

    Doubtless this aspect of the pope's message will go pretty much unmentioned in US media, unlike his stands against abortion or gay marriage. Liberal media, blah blah blah.

    [Thanks, Kent]

    Posted by Jonathan at 04:56 PM | Comments (3) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    April 19, 2005

    Support ICH Activism

    Tom Feeley at Information Clearing House has put out a call for support. I urge you to chip in if you can. You can go here to contribute online. Make a one-time contribution or set up a recurring contribution on your charge card. I'm set up to contribute monthly; have been for some time. Or, you can send a check or money order to Tom Feeley, PO Box 365 Imperial Beach, CA 91933.

    ICH is an amazing resource, especially considering that it's a one-man operation. You can also sign up for a daily email digest here. Check it out. And chip in.

    Posted by Jonathan at 05:17 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    April 04, 2005

    MLK On War And Peace Activism  War and Peace

    Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 37 years ago today.

    This might be a good time to take a few minutes to listen to and/or read Dr. King's speech Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence delivered at Riverside Church, also on April 4, exactly one year before his death.

    It is a great, prophetic speech — prophetic in the sense of predictive, but also in the sense of worthy of a true Prophet — and one that has as much to say to us today as it did then. As King says so eloquently, anti-war activism is inseparable from activism in support of civil and human rights and social and economic justice. Excerpt:

    Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: "Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King?" "Why are you joining the voices of dissent?" "Peace and civil rights don't mix," they say. "Aren't you hurting the cause of your people," they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live. [...]

    There is...a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both black and white — through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such. [...]

    To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I'm speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the Good News was meant for all men — for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved his enemies so fully that He died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this One? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life? [...]

    And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the ideologies of the Liberation Front, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.

    They must see Americans as strange liberators. [...]

    At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called "enemy," I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.

    Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.

    This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words, and I quote:

    Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.

    If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately, the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horrible, clumsy, and deadly game we have decided to play. The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways. In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war. [...]

    These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.

    Now there is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter that struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing.

    The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing "clergy and laymen concerned" committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. [...]

    A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies...True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

    A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. [...]

    A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

    America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. [...]

    These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. We in the West must support these revolutions.

    It is an immortal speech; this is only an excerpt. It is unfortunate, though unsurprising, that this speech is so less well known than the far less militant "I have a dream" speech. It is also unsurprising, given the uncompromising nature of King's critique, that he was assassinated within a year. And if we substitute Iraq for Vietnam, we can see how little progress we have made in the interim.

    One is powerfully struck, listening to the speech, by the enormous moral weight and prophetic force of King's personality and vision. Can you imagine someone of King's seriousness and depth getting a platform from which to speak such uncompromising words in today's frivolous media climate? Now, when we need it most? I cannot.

    Read or listen to the speech here.

    Posted by Jonathan at 03:54 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    March 06, 2005

    None Of Us Are Free Activism  Iraq  War and Peace

    ICH hosts a moving video set to the great Solomon Burke song, "None of Us Are Free [If One of Us Is Chained"].

    Like the song says, "If you don't say it's wrong then that says it's right."

    Posted by Jonathan at 01:47 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    March 03, 2005

    Amy Goodman Returning to Madison Activism

    Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! is coming back to Madison WI this weekend.

    Saturday at 12:30 PM, Amy is the keynote speaker at the Midwest Regional Conference of the National Lawyers Guild, at the UW Law School at 975 Bascom Mall.

    Saturday at 7 PM, Amy's speaking at the Barrymore Theatre, 2090 Atwood Ave.

    Highly recommended. Amy is living proof that one person, acting with passion, determination, and courage, can still make an enormous difference. Guaranteed to inspire.

    Amy is also scheduled to appear on Hardball tonight: MSNBC 7 PM EST and repeated at 11 PM EST.

    [Thanks, Jeanne]

    Posted by Jonathan at 03:06 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    February 21, 2005

    Why Ward Churchill Matters Activism  Culture  Politics  Rights, Law

    Ward Churchill, as you probably know, is under attack for saying that many of the people killed in the 9/11 attacks were members of a "technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire" and "little Eichmanns."

    If all you know about the controversy is obtained second-hand via mainstream media coverage, Churchill sounds, at best, shrill. Comparing a bunch of stock brokers and commodities traders to Eichmann does seem a bit, well, extreme. As always, however, the lesson is not to accept uncritically the mainstream media's characterization of anything.

    What Churchill actually has to say is considerably more nuanced — and reasonable — than the caricature constructed by the media. Here's an excerpt from a recent appearance of Churchill's on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman:

    AMY GOODMAN: Good to have you with us. Well, can you respond to this firestorm now? But I'd like you to start off by you explaining your comments that have become well known now around the issue of the technocrats at the World Trade Center being like little Eichmanns.

    WARD CHURCHILL: Well it goes to Hannah Arendt's notion of Eichmann, the thesis that he embodied the banality of evil. That she had gone to the Eichmann trial to confront the epitome of evil in her mind and expected to encounter something monstrous, and what she encountered instead was this nondescript little man, a bureaucrat, a technocrat, a guy who arranged train schedules, who, as it turned out, ultimately didn't even agree with the policy that he was implementing, but performed the technical functions that made the holocaust possible, at least in the efficient manner that it occurred, in a totally amoral and soulless way, purely on the basis of excelling at the function and getting ahead within the system that he found himself. He was a good family man, in his way. He was loved by his children, participated in civic activities, was in essence the good German. And she [Arendt] said, therein lies the evil. It wasn't that Eichmann was a Nazi or a high official within Nazidom, although he was in fact a Nazi and a relatively highly placed official, but it was exactly the reverse: that given his actual nomenclature, the actuality of Eichmann was that anyone in this sort of mindless, faceless, bureaucratic capacity could be the Nazi. That he was every man, and that was what was truly horrifying to her in the end. That was a controversial thesis because there's always this effort to distinguish anyone and everyone irrespective of what they're doing from this polarity of evil that is signified in Nazidom, and she had breached the wall and brought the lessons of how Nazism actually functioned, the modernity of it, home and visited it upon everyone, calling for, then, personal accountability, responsibility, to the taking of responsibility for the outcome of the performance of one's functions. That's exactly what it is that is shirked here, and makes it possible for people to, from a safe remove, perform technical functions that result in (and at some level, they know this, they understand it) in carnage, emiseration, the death of millions ultimately. That's the Eichmann aspect. But notice I said little Eichmanns, not the big Eichmann. Not the real Eichmann. The real Eichmann ultimately is symbolic, even in his own context. He symbolized the people that worked under him. He symbolized the people who actually were on the trains. They were hauling the Jews. He symbolized the technicians who were making the gas for I.G. Farben. He symbolized all of these people who didn't directly kill anybody, but performed functions and performed those functions with a certain degree of enthusiasm and certainly with a great degree of efficiency, that had the outcome of the mass murder of the people targeted for elimination or accepted as collateral damage. That's the term of the art put forth by the Pentagon. [My emphasis]

    Makes perfect sense to me.

    Why are conservatives so exercised about Churchill? Why the concerted campaign to ruin him, to get him dismissed from his tenured faculty postion? James Wolcott:

    [A]nyone who's been closely watching the weathervane knows that it is the Israeli-loyal right led by Daniel Pipes and David Horowitz who are spearheading the ideological purges of professors. John Kasich's weekend Fox News show recently had a segment called "Firing Tenured Professors," and that's the goal of conservative pressure groups, to drive out those political targets who would otherwise be protected by tenure. They began by picking a mostly obscure minor offender like Ward Churchill in the hopes of bagging him and moving on to bigger trophies.

    There can be no doubt that conservatives have recently undertaken an organized campaign to target campuses to create a consensus mythology of "liberal bias" in campus life, just as they undertook, successfully, a generation ago, to create a mythology of "liberal bias" in the media. The goal is to drive liberal voices out of colleges and universities. Ward Churchill has been picked as an easy target for the purpose of establishing a precedent.

    Tenure is like free speech. It's there to protect the unpopular utterance. Popular opinions require no protection. Ward Churchill absolutely deserves our support.

    Posted by Jonathan at 03:22 PM | Comments (2) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    January 18, 2005

    A True Revolution Of Values Activism  Ethics

    Republican electoral success supposedly was based on their being the party of values. But here's what Martin Luther King had to say about values in his landmark speech at New York's Riverside Church, one year to the day before he was assassinated:

    A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies... True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

    A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: "This is not just."

    The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

    America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.

    A true revolution of values. Read the rest of King's speech, one of his greatest and most important, here.

    Posted by Jonathan at 02:36 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Sign Barbara Boxer's Petition Activism

    Sign a petition supporting Barbara Boxer's asking tough questions of Condoleezza Rice in the latter's confirmation hearings today and tomorrow.

    Sign here, and urge your friends to do likewise.

    Posted by Jonathan at 08:11 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    January 16, 2005

    Satyagraha Activism  Ethics

    [In honor of Martin Luther King's birthday, a re-post of an essay originally posted in July.]

    Reading, in Jonathan Schell's The Unconquerable World, a wonderful chapter on Gandhi's militant nonviolence — satygraha, often translated as "soul force", but meaning also "being steadfast in the truth" — I've learned some surprising and inspiring new truths about Gandhi's principles.

    Gandhi chose nonviolence as a tactic and as a way of life not out of any passivity or meekness. He was as fierce an activist as any who who has ever lived. "Non-cooperation is not a passive state," Gandhi said, "it is an intensely active state — more active than physical resistance or violence." As Schell says, "Satyagraha was soul force, equally it was soul force."

    In fact, says Schell:

    Asked to choose between violence and passivity, Gandhi always chose violence. "It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our breasts," he said, "than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence. Violence is any day prefereable to impotence. There is hope for a violent man to become nonviolent. There is no such hope for the impotent." "Activist" is a word that fits Gandhi through and through. "I am not built for academic writings," he said. "Action is my domain." Indeed, if he was a genius in any field, that field was action. "Never has anything been done on this earth without direct action."

    He chose nonviolence not just because it's a morally superior path, but because it works, because is the most powerful — albeit the most difficult — way of effecting real change — and it is the most powerful because it is morally superior. Gandhi said, "Nonviolence is without exception superior to violence, i.e., the power at the disposal of a nonviolent person is always greater than he would have if he was violent." And, "The practice of ahimsa [doing no harm] calls forth the greatest courage. It is the most soldierly of a soldier's virtues.... He is the true soldier who knows how to die and stand his ground in the midst of a hail of bullets."

    Gandhi knew that the people of India were no match for modern British armaments in a violent revolution. But he also knew, with absolute, steadfast certainty, that British rule would end if Indians withheld their cooperation.

    His understanding of this principle — that rulers can rule only so long as the people consent to be ruled — went very deep indeed. To Gandhi, because rulers rule by the consent of the people, the people are responsible for the rulers they get.

    "The English have not taken India," he wrote, "we have given it to them."

    Later, he said this:

    It is because the rulers, if they are bad, are so not necessarily or wholly by reason of birth, but largely because of their environment, that I have hopes of their altering their course. It is perfectly true...that the rulers cannot alter their course themselves. If they are dominated by their environment, they do not surely deserve to be killed, but should be changed by a change of environment. But the environment are we — the people who make the rulers what they are. They are thus an exaggerated edition of what we are in the aggregate. If my argument is sound, any violence done to the rulers would be violence done to ourselves. It would be suicide. And since I do not want to commit suicide, nor encourage my neighbors to do so, I become nonviolent myself and invite my neighbors to do likewise.

    Schell continues as follows:

    Liberal-minded people have often held that society's victims are corrupted by a bad "environment" created by their privileged masters. Gandhi was surely the first to suggest that the victims were creating a bad moral environment for their masters — and to preach reform to the victims. Even allowing for a certain raillery and sardonicism in these passaqes, there can be no doubt that Gandhi is in earnest. Here we touch bedrock in Gandhi's political thinking. All government, he steadily believed, depends for its existence on the cooperation of the governed. If that cooperation is withdrawn, the government will be helpless.

    Reading this, it struck me for the first time that "The Emperor's New Clothes" is a profoundly subversive political fable.

    Even more, it struck me what a powerfully and profoundly mature person Gandhi was. How extraordinary — and how challenging — to take responsibility for one's leaders. To take responsibility for one's oppressors. To take onto oneself so profoundly the truth that one must begin with changing oneself, and that by changing oneself one finds the true path of change. Not in some vague, mystical way — Gandhi was nothing if not concrete, specific, and fiercely activist. Gandhi would have us take responsibility for ourselves first — but never to stop there. He would have us go forth and help others — by example, word, or deed — find that there is another way. And going forth is part of what changes us. Not acting is another form of consent, and that consent must be withdrawn.

    Posted by Jonathan at 12:52 PM | Comments (2) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    January 15, 2005

    Words Of Wisdom And Hope From MLK Activism  Ethics

    Martin Luther King, from his book Strength to Love:

    [E]vil carries the seed of its own destruction. In the long run right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Historian Charles A. Beard, when asked what major lessons he had learned from history, answered:

    First, whom the gods would destroy they must first make mad with power. Second, the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceedingly small. Third, the bee fertilizes the flower it robs. Fourth, when it is dark enough you can see the stars.

    These are the words, not of a preacher, but of a hardheaded historian, whose long and painstaking study of history revealed to him that evil has a self-defeating quality. There is something in this universe that Greek mythology referred to as the goddess Nemesis.

    It is true, all tyrants fall in the end. King went on to caution, though, that we must not let the inevitably of evil's overthrow make us complacent. We have our part to play in seeing to it that evil is, in fact, overthrown. And, in the end, we act not just to change them, but to keep them from changing us.

    [Thanks, Kent]

    Posted by Jonathan at 02:11 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    January 04, 2005

    The People's Legislature! Activism

    I promised a regular reader (hi, Bonnie) that I'd try to mix in some stories of hope from time to time. Well, today I've got a great one...

    Here in Madison, Wisconsin, today, a coalition of progressives led by Ed Garvey and the folks at FightingBob.com (named for Fighting Bob LaFollette of Progressive Party fame) convened something they called The People's Legislature. The idea was simple. There are 803 registered lobbyists here in the Wisconsin capital, six for every legislator. What if progressives were to convene their own one-day legislative session to define an agenda for the incoming legislature? And what if the progressives outnumbered the lobbyists? Wouldn't this send a message? Couldn't it launch a new state-wide movement to take our democracy back from the lobbyists and the interests they represent?

    Did we outnumber the lobbyists? You bet. A thousand people showed up, standing room only, and the majority were still there and still going strong after 8 hours of brain-storming, discussion, and debate. It was a blast. So much good energy, so much intelligence, wisdom, and experience. Sprinkled through the crowd were many long-time activists and many elected officials (Lt. Governor, Attorney-General, State School Superintendent, many state legislators, county board members, city alders, etc.), as well as all sorts of just plain folks from all over the state. It was inspiring as hell, real democracy in action. It was entertaining, too (Ed Garvey, especially, is a very funny, very likable guy). One of the coolest things, for me, was seeing elected officials come in the doors at the back. They'd get this expression of wide-eyed amazement: what's this then? A major outpouring of energy and determination; grass-roots democracy at its best; people stepping up.

    Four resolutions were adopted (they'll be posted on FightingBob.com later tonight) and the groundwork was laid for a state-wide organization (called The People's Legislature) to continue to work on a number of issues aimed at taking government out of the hands of corporations and moneyed interests, making it democratic again. I'll keep you posted as things develop.

    For now, the main point I want to make is this: people are not rolling over and playing dead. Far from it. Today was one of the most positive, most inspiring, and most effective group sessions of any kind that I've ever witnessed. People are so eager to pitch in and help get things back on track. Yes!!!

    Posted by Jonathan at 09:02 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    January 02, 2005

    This Made My Day... Activism

    I gotta get me one of those buttons...

    [Thanks, Bonnie]

    Posted by Jonathan at 02:04 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    November 20, 2004

    Protest That Endures Activism  Quotes

    A friend of mine, in a moment of discouragement the other day, remarked that having put so much effort into this election and having failed, he didn't know if he'd have it in him to do it again next time. I was reminded of this quote from Wendell Berry:

    Protest that endures...is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one's own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.

    We work to change them, but we also work to keep them from changing us. You gotta be able to look in the mirror. Besides, where else are you going to meet so many good-hearted people?

    Posted by Jonathan at 04:36 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 17, 2004

    ACLU Update Activism  Politics

    In an earlier post regarding a couple who were arrested at a Bush rally in West Virginia for wearing anti-Bush t-shirts, I asked, "ACLU, where are you?"

    Well, the ACLU's on the case:

    The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit against the United States Secret Service and Greg Jenkins, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of White House Advance, on behalf of a West Virginia couple who were arrested at a Fourth of July presidential appearance at the state Capitol because they were wearing t-shirts critical of the president.

    "This is a simple case," said ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Chris Hansen, who is the lead counsel in the case. "Two Americans went to see their president and to express their disagreement with his policies respectfully and peacefully. They were arrested at the direction of federal officials. That is precisely what the First Amendment was adopted to prevent." [My emphasis]


    [Thanks, Mark]

    Posted by Jonathan at 04:31 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 12, 2004

    The Sixties Are Over Activism  Essays  Politics

    On one level, the mass march and the other demonstrations in NYC were glorious and heartening. I would have loved to have been there myself. On another level, though, it's not clear that they accomplished much of any real significance. A half million people filled the streets with color and spirit, and the next day little had changed. It seems clear that we need to find new methods and tactics.

    In that vein, here's some food for thought from Matt Taibbi (excerpted, with emphasis added).

    We are raising a group of people whose only ideas about protest and opposition come from televised images of 40 years ago, when large public demonstrations could shake the foundations of society. There has been no organized effort of any kind to recognize that we now live in a completely different era, operating according to a completely different political dynamic. What worked then not only doesn't work now, it doesn't even make superficial sense now.

    Let's just start with a simple, seemingly inconsequential facet of the protests: appearance. If you read the bulletins by United for Peace and Justice ahead of the protests, you knew that the marchers were encouraged to "show their creativity" and dress outlandishly. [...]

    And the New York Post and Fox were standing on the sidelines greedily recording all of this unbowed individuality for posterity, understanding instinctively that each successive t-shirt and goatee was just more fresh red meat for mean Middle America looking for good news from the front.

    Back in the 60s, dressing crazy and letting your hair down really was a form of defiance. It was a giant, raised middle finger to a ruling class that until that point had insisted on a kind of suffocating, static conformity in all things — in sexual mores, in professional ambitions, in life goals and expectations, and even in dress and speech. [...]

    [Now, however, the] vision of hundreds of thousands of people dressed in every color of the rainbow and marching their diverse selves past Madison Square Garden is... a great relief to the other side — because it means that the opposition is composed of individuals, not a Force In Concert.

    In the conformist atmosphere of the late 50s and early 60s, the individual was a threat. [...]

    That is not the case anymore. This current American juggernaut is the mightiest empire the world has ever seen, and it is absolutely immune to the individual. Short of violent crime, it has assimilated the individual's every conceivable political action into mainstream commercial activity. It fears only one thing: organization.

    That's why the one thing that would have really shaken Middle America last week wasn't "creativity." It was something else: uniforms. Three hundred thousand people banging bongos and dressed like extras in an Oliver Stone movie scares no one in America. But 300,000 people in slacks and white button-down shirts, marching mute and angry in the direction of Your Town, would have instantly necessitated a new cabinet-level domestic security agency.

    Why? Because 300,000 people who are capable of showing the unity and discipline to dress alike are also capable of doing more than just march. Which is important, because marching, as we have seen in the last few years, has been rendered basically useless. Before the war, Washington and New York saw the largest protests this country has seen since the 60s — and this not only did not stop the war, it didn't even motivate the opposition political party to nominate an antiwar candidate.

    There was a time when mass protests were enough to cause Johnson to give up the Oval Office and cause Richard Nixon to spend his nights staring out his window in panic. No more. We have a different media now, different and more sophisticated law-enforcement techniques and, most importantly, a different brand of protestor.

    Protests can now be ignored because our media has learned how to dismiss them, because our police know how to contain them, and because our leaders now know that once a protest is peacefully held and concluded, the protestors simply go home and sit on their asses until the next protest or the next election. They are not going to go home and bomb draft offices, take over campuses, riot in the streets. Instead, although there are many earnest, involved political activists among them, the majority will simply go back to their lives, surf the net and wait for the ballot. Which to our leaders means that, in most cases, if you allow a protest to happen... Nothing happens.

    The people who run this country are not afraid of much when it comes to the population, but there are a few things that do worry them. They are afraid we will stop working, afraid we will stop buying, and afraid we will break things. Interruption of commerce and any rattling of the cage of profit — that is where this system is vulnerable. That means boycotts and strikes at the very least, and these things require vision, discipline and organization.

    The 60s were an historical anomaly. It was an era when political power could also be an acid party, a felicitous situation in which fun also happened to be a threat. We still listen to that old fun on the radio, we buy it reconstituted in clothing stores, we watch it in countless movies and documentaries. Society has kept the "fun" alive, or at least a dubious facsimile of it.

    But no one anywhere is teaching us about how to be a threat. That is something we have to learn all over again for ourselves, from scratch, with new rules. The 60s are gone. The Republican Convention isn't the only party that's over.

    I'm not entirely sure how I feel about "300,000 people in slacks and white button-down shirts, marching mute and angry," but there's no denying it would send shock waves like nothing else could. The trick would be to get the energy right, so that white shirts don't become brown shirts — especially now, when there's more than a whiff of fascism in the air. In dark times, the power of psychological contagion should not be underestimated.

    That said, I heartily agree with Taibbi's main point. We have to think in terms of action, not just expression. We need to look beyond just trying to get on the evening news. For the most part, the NYC demonstrations didn't even manage to accomplish that.

    The march did look like glorious fun, and personally, I'd rather dance than march any day. But this isn't a time for self-indulgence. It's a time for dancing only if dancing works. It's a time for marching only if marching works. It's a time for what works.

    In the 60s, turning on the news and seeing images of other kids showing the way to a freer, groovier, more ecstatic and more activist way of being was electrifying in itself. Those images made millions of other kids want to climb aboard the Day-Glo bus and march in the tear-gassed streets. They were Ice-9, a lightning flash in a darkened landscape, the sudden catalyst that triggered the nascent collective moment.

    Such images no longer have that psychological or cultural power. We need new images, a new lightning flash. Something that says collective will and collective competence and seriousness. Something that says the people, united, are a match for corporate power. Something that says we won't take no for an answer.

    Put another way, it's time to put down Abbie Hoffman and pick up Gandhi. Not the Gandhi of Western imagination, the kindly old Hindu saint, but rather the fiercely activist Gandhi of mass boycotts and general strikes. Follow Gandhi, too, in our hearts, so that the 300,000 people in slacks and white button-down shirts marching mute and angry are not embodying some fascist mob impulse, are not burning with personal animosity, but rather are acting out of righteous indignation, anger at injustices and wrongs and the institutions that enact them. Fiercely resolute, not nursing a grudge. Determined adult human beings.

    Now that would be something.

    Posted by Jonathan at 01:46 PM | Comments (2) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 08, 2004

    Fighting Bob Fest Activism

    If you live in southern Wisconsin like I do, mark your calendar for the Third Annual Fighting Bob Fest (named for Wisconsin's Fighting Bob La Follette).

    Sept 18 — Sauk County Fairgrounds, Baraboo, WI

    Speakers include Jim Hightower, Bobby Kennedy Jr., Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb, Senator Tom Harkin, Rep. Tammy Baldwin, John Nichols, Bob McChesney, and many more, and there'll be music, festivities, and an energizing, fun day in the company of a whole bunch of wonderful, like-minded folks.

    See you there!

    Posted by Jonathan at 12:32 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    September 07, 2004

    "Stop Organizing — Do Something" Activism  Iraq  Politics

    I got the following email from the FreewayBlogger Monday. (If you don't know who that is, check here first before reading on.)

    Dear friends,

    Thanks for referring/linking to my site. People are starting to get the message and are sending in pics of their own freeway signs. Still, more work needs to be done. Tomorrow, Sept. 7th, I'll be putting up one hundred signs on the freeways of Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Alone.

    I figure if people know that one person can put up a hundred signs in one day, they can certainly get one or two out there by the election. [My emphasis]

    Feel free to inform your southern California readers to keep an eye out during their commute.

    Peace, Scarlet P. the freewayblogger

    The FreewayBlogger says, "Stop organizing — Do something."

    And be sure to check the FreewayBlogger's site in the next couple of days. The 100-sign blitz should be quite something.

    Posted by Jonathan at 01:14 AM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    August 29, 2004

    Bonhoeffer, Part 2 Activism  Essays  Film  Religion

    [Continued from Part 1]

    The Church had long since ducked the moral challenge of the Sermon on the Mount by taking the position that it set an unattainable standard for the purpose merely of making us see our sinful natures. Bonhoeffer, however, came to realize that Jesus' message was far more radical in its import: Jesus intends us actually to live the Sermon on the Mount, to put its precepts into practice and apply them to the moral challenges that come our way.

    Bonhoeffer had no illusions about the difficulty of so doing. In Discipleship, he wrote about the difference between cheap grace and costly grace:

    Cheap grace is grace without the Cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ. Costly grace is the Gospel. It costs people their lives. It cost the life of God’s Son. And nothing can be cheap to us which is costly to God.

    To me, a non-believer, those are electrifying words, as powerful as anything I have ever read along these lines. They reveal in a lightning flash a whole new dimension of the Crucifixion story: the Crucifixion is a moral demonstration of the profoundest possible sort. The radical principles Jesus enunciated in the Sermon on the Mount (blessed are the poor, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers, love thy enemies, and all the rest) are principles that worldly powers will resist even unto death. Putting those principles into practice can get you killed — even if you are the Son of God.

    They are radical principles. But Jesus, the ultimate embodiment of human godliness, shows us by his self-sacrifice how seriously he himself takes those principles and how seriously he means for us to take them. They are not just noble sentiments. They are not just pie in the sky. They are principles one must be prepared to die for. They are principles the Son of God was prepared to die for. They are principles God Himself was prepared to sacrifice his Son for.

    Notice that Bonhoeffer says costly grace — authentic grace — involves "the living, incarnate Jesus Christ." That is, it must be lived, it must be incarnated here on Earth, it is inseparable from what one does in this world. As Bonhoeffer wrote to his fellow conspirators after ten years of Nazi rule:

    We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated — in short, from the perspective of those who suffer. Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. Christians are called to compassion and to action.

    Notice also that Bonhoeffer says costly grace involves the Cross. I.e., it involves a willingness to take onto oneself struggle, self-sacrifice, and even death. Indeed, Bonhoeffer wrote, "Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death." Costly grace is earned the hard way.

    Let’s read those words again:

    Cheap grace is grace without the Cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ. Costly grace is the Gospel. It costs people their lives. It cost the life of God’s Son. And nothing can be cheap to us which is costly to God.

    Bonhoeffer’s grace was costly indeed, and therefore authentic indeed. His moral struggle unto death was a modern crucifixion; he lived the drama of the Crucifixion in his own life. For Bonhoeffer, to be a Christian was to follow Christ by being in this world, as Christ was, acting on behalf of those who suffer, as Christ did, and being prepared, as Christ was, to sacrifice everything.

    Compare that with the decidedly cheap grace claimed by many born-again Christians in present day America. The belief that all one has to do is accept Christ and one is thereby automatically Saved, that Christ died for our sins and saved us by His death, lets one escape paying any real cost at all. It is as if one is standing on the sidelines cheering for Jesus as he goes to his crucifixion, when what Jesus wants is for us to take up our own cross and follow him. That is, we are to follow Jesus’ radical moral example and not let even death deter us.

    "Nothing can be cheap to us which is costly to God."

    [Click here to view a photo of Bonhoeffer]

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:16 AM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    August 28, 2004

    Bonhoeffer, Part 1 Activism  Essays  Film  Religion

    In an earlier post, I wrote about religion as metaphor, and the considerable mischief that ensues when people insist on taking it as literal, factual truth. To say the metaphors are not to be taken literally, however, is not to say one cannot take them seriously. That is, one can choose to take them to heart and to allow them to resonate powerfully in one’s psyche (or soul, if you prefer) in a sort of willing suspension of unbelief, while remaining aware of their status as metaphors, and remembering that the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon. All of which is meant as prelude to suggest what I, a non-believer, can mean by the following.

    I've recently watched the excellent documentary film Bonhoeffer, the story of the Protestant theologian, teacher, and activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer of Germany. Bonhoeffer steadfastly and publicly criticized Hitler, then joined in the anti-Hitler Resistance, and finally plotted with others to assassinate Hitler. He and his co-conspirators were discovered by the Nazis and hanged.

    It’s a remarkable film that I recommend highly, not least because of its relevance to us in these dark times. Bonhoeffer was one of those rare individuals who refuse to absolve themselves in any way from the responsibility to confront the injustices of this world. He wrestled with the deep moral questions of his day with every fiber of his being, in a struggle that continued until his death. You can see it in his magnetic young face and you can hear it in his words, and his example is profoundly instructive, inspiring, and moving.

    A variety of influences made their mark on Bonhoeffer, from the Christ-centered theology of Karl Barth, to the nonviolent activism of Gandhi, to the heartfelt immediacy of African-American worship and spirituals. The bedrock of Bonhoeffer’s moral vision, though, was the Sermon on the Mount. As he wrote:

    I think I am right in saying that I [will] only achieve true inner clarity and sincerity by really starting to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously. This is the only source of strength that can blow all this [Nazi] nonsense sky-high.

    [Part 2 tomorrow]

    Posted by Jonathan at 11:01 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    July 28, 2004

    Satyagraha Activism  Essays  Musings

    Reading, in Jonathan Schell's The Unconquerable World, a wonderful chapter on Gandhi's militant nonviolence — satygraha, often translated as "soul force", but meaning also "being steadfast in the truth" — I've learned some surprising and inspiring new truths about Gandhi's principles that I'd like to share with you.

    Gandhi chose nonviolence as a tactic and as a way of life not out of any passivity or meekness. He was as fierce an activist as any who who has ever lived. "Non-cooperation is not a passive state," Gandhi said, "it is an intensely active state — more active than physical resistance or violence." As Schell says, "Satyagraha was soul force, equally it was soul force."

    In fact, says Schell:

    Asked to choose between violence and passivity, Gandhi always chose violence. "It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our breasts," he said, "than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence. Violence is any day prefereable to impotence. There is hope for a violent man to become nonviolent. There is no such hope for the impotent." "Activist" is a word that fits Gandhi through and through. "I am not built for academic writings," he said. "Action is my domain." Indeed, if he was a genius in any field, that field was action. "Never has anything been done on this earth without direct action."

    He chose nonviolence not just because it's a morally superior path, but because it works, because is the most powerful — albeit the most difficult — way of effecting real change — and it is the most powerful because it is morally superior. Gandhi said, "Nonviolence is without exception superior to violence, i.e., the power at the disposal of a nonviolent person is always greater than he would have if he was violent." And, "The practice of ahimsa [doing no harm] calls forth the greatest courage. It is the most soldierly of a soldier's virtues.... He is the true soldier who knows how to die and stand his ground in the midst of a hail of bullets."

    Gandhi knew that the people of India were no match for modern British armaments in a violent revolution. But he also knew, with absolute, steadfast certainty, that British rule would end if Indians withheld their cooperation.

    His understanding of this principle — that rulers can rule only so long as the people consent to be ruled — went very deep indeed. To Gandhi, because rulers rule by the consent of the people, the people are responsible for the rulers they get.

    "The English have not taken India," he wrote, "we have given it to them."

    Later, he said this:

    It is because the rulers, if they are bad, are so not necessarily or wholly by reason of birth, but largely because of their environment, that I have hopes of their altering their course. It is perfectly true...that the rulers cannot alter their course themselves. If they are dominated by their environment, they do not surely deserve to be killed, but should be changed by a change of environment. But the environment are we — the people who make the rulers what they are. They are thus an exaggerated edition of what we are in the aggregate. If my argument is sound, any violence done to the rulers would be violence done to ourselves. It would be suicide. And since I do not want to commit suicide, nor encourage my neighbors to do so, I become nonviolent myself and invite my neighbors to do likewise.

    Schell continues as follows:

    Liberal-minded people have often held that society's victims are corrupted by a bad "environment" created by their privileged masters. Gandhi was surely the first to suggest that the victims were creating a bad moral environment for their masters — and to preach reform to the victims. Even allowing for a certain raillery and sardonicism in these passaqes, there can be no doubt that Gandhi is in earnest. Here we touch bedrock in Gandhi's political thinking. All government, he steadily believed, depends for its existence on the cooperation of the governed. If that cooperation is withdrawn, the government will be helpless.

    Reading this, it struck me for the first time that "The Emperor's New Clothes" is a profoundly subversive political fable.

    Even more, it struck me what a powerfully and profoundly mature person Gandhi was. How extraordinary — and how challenging — to take responsibility for one's leaders. To take responsibility for one's oppressors. To take onto oneself so profoundly the truth that one must begin with changing oneself, and that by changing oneself one finds the true path of change. Not in some vague, mystical way — Gandhi was nothing if not concrete, specific, and fiercely activist. Gandhi would have us take responsibility for ourselves first — but never to stop there. He would have us go forth and help others — by example, word, or deed — find that there is another way. And going forth is part of what changes us. Not acting is another form of consent, and that consent must be withdrawn.

    Posted by Jonathan at 09:27 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

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