Friday, April 25, 2008

Nader in 2008

I just received an update from the Nader/Gonzalez webteam and I must say it was bold. In it, they link directly to the DNC asking people to "give them some more money," if you believe they are the solution to an ailing nation. That's pretty ballsy -- typical email fundraising strategy is pretty clear on NOT linking to your competitor's website. Nader's email pretty much just puts it all out there.

Two weeks ago the Nader team called progressive democrats who had supported the pro-war, pro-Patriot Act, anti-labor, and anti-environmental candidate John Kerry in 2004, "shameful" for selling out. Of course, Medea Benjamin responded on the Nader blog (because Medea is never one to shy away from confrontation, be it detrimental to overall campaign goals or not) stating that everyone should respect each other's choices when it comes to supporting a Presidential candidate. Honestly, if I was Medea I would have left this one alone but she has now given fuel to the fire.

Nader's team responded by having Peter Camejo, his running mate in 2004, write an essay about how the Democratic party lost its soul and began simply curtsying to an unchecked Bush administration. Its a good essay and one that I think ties in the larger questions and concerns that many in this country have about the current 2-party political system.

But at the heart of this disagreement between Nader and Benjamin is the question of whether Progressives can change the Democratic Party from the inside out or whether they can force it to move left by flanking it with candidates like Nader and the Green Party. Benjamin, unlike many people I know, has tried both. Kudos to her for understanding the challenges with both strategies. Nader has tried both as well -- though he's only ever run for office independent of both major parties.

Personally, I feel that its easier to change an entrenched system by getting inside and changing it one artery at a time. Rarely do strategies based on outside pressures work, and I would argue that even those strategies included inside efforts that not everyone knew was going on. I agree with Nader that Democrats caved to status-quo assumptions and pressures from Bush and Co. (which is why I worked for Howard Dean in 2004 -- he was about the only public figure against the war in Iraq from day one). I also respect Medea (and many other progressives) who are working on changing the party from the inside the belly of the beast.

One element that bothers me about Medea's strategy is that assumes the system that we are working within (be it for Republicans or Democrats) is sound and efficient. In reality, we have a system that is completely archaic and not serving the people of the country. This is why so many people have disengaged from the political process -- no one has been able to answer the question, "Whats in it for me?" We have two Presidential campaigns that treat voters as consumers and adopt corporate marketing techniques just so they can communicate with them. Instead, we need candidates who can step back and realize the system itself needs to be more than just tinkered with and actually overhauled. Nader understands this but he's too busy telling us what's wrong instead of taking action on real solutions that are occurring all over the country.

I believe that great change starts from the bottom and trickles up. Well organized efforts often started with one person taking action -- be it suffrage or civil rights. All movements start with one person taking a simple but ofttimes powerful action. Medea knows this, and I'm curious to know her thoughts on working within the Democratic Party at the highest levels and whether that is going to be a successful strategy when it comes to creating long-standing, sustainable change in the party and country. Or maybe DC is where you go after working in and around local and state politics for so many years? I certainly hope not. Career politicians are exactly what we need less of in our leadership.

A Real Grocery

I lived in Berkeley for about year in 2005. I got to know parts of Oakland through friends that lived there and events and activities going on around the East Bay. The poverty of West Oakland is real and yet can seem distant and far off when you're being whisked through it on a BART train.

The People's Grocery
is in that part of West Oakland where dozens of liquor stores are always two blocks away, multiple fast-food joints are around the corner but the closest grocery store, selling fresh food and vegetables, is a 15 minute drive. The community is depressed. The folks are struggling. The People's Grocery is changing all that.

Using a tri-fecta of cooking classes, urban gardening and local ownership, the grocery store of the future is being born before our eyes.

Not reliant on the big truck that brings "organic" food to Whole Foods or on the millions of acres of farmland in the San Joaquin Valley (and elsewhere) the local neighbors that turn out to buy the food from the People's Grocery are getting their own food from a mere few miles away. Not only are people learning how to cook simple, healthier meals but they are changing the community dynamic by bringing people together, keeping money within the community (instead of handing it off to some nameless national grocery corporation) and teaching skills that bring joy into people's lives.

This reminds me of another local-empowering project I heard about last week from my friend Zephyr. Up in Burlington, Vermont (my hometown) Michael and Valerie Wood started the Front Porch Forum dedicated to giving neighborhoods a place to communicate and share information online. Before you say, "Oh, great another Craigslist!" remember that the best online communities have a real world impact or tie-in. Front Porch Forum has that. They've launched test communities in five different cities across the U.S. and are experiencing exciting growth as more and more people join up to become a part of it. I just joined my (former) community "Meadowood Farms Neighborhood" and was shocked to find about 20 other people already engaging. Needless to say, it felt really good to join in.

The focus on local empowerment is not about "thinking globally, acting locally," though its a catchy saying and may have been over-used in the past decade. Its about the ability to see the impacts of your actions quickly and fervently. What you do in your community has real and rapid ripple effects on your neighbors and community members. Spending your money at a local grocery store like The Peoples Grocery immediately benefits a local business and local business owner, whereas dropping $100 at Whole Foods seems to disappear beneath the beast of the company.

More on loconomics soon...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Texas-Sized Problem

Some of you may have heard about the garbage patch of the Pacific ocean discovered recently by scientists examining water quality between California and Japan. Its an astounding story of the actual imprint we are leaving on our world and how its coming back to haunt us in more ways then one.

Some folks over at, as part of their Toxic Series, took a 3-week trip with scientists studying the garbage patch and have a brilliant video series documenting their experience.

Here is a part 9 of 12:

"I'm bummed," says Meredith Danluck of VBS TV, "I mean we are in the middle of nowhere, you know, maybe no one has ever been in this spot. And its filled with our trash...we've really screwed up and are all going to hell."

Kudos to Thomas Morton and his crew for this incredible peek into an unknown but devastating problem in the Pacific. Its not heavy on science and instead shows, from a typical American perspective, the impacts on each individual as they deal with the what they're seeing. "There is definitely a shift in understanding going on for the people on this boat..."

"Basically, we've consigned ourselves to eating our own shit. We've been tossing out plastic for years and its come back to bite us back in the ass already."

What's incredible about this video series is that it unearths a deeper problem in our society concerning not just how we dispose of waste but the real threat of unchecked production of plastics and those effects on our health. I am continually amazed at how little connection is drawn between cancers and other illnesses and the environmental devastation going on worldwide. Morton and VBS make a pretty air-tight argument for why we need to rethink the entire system before it really is too late.

Also, VBS has a similar series on the Tar Sands of Alberta that is incredibly well done. My former organization, Rainforest Action Network, has been working on this issue for over two years now. Check it out.

Oh, and the soundtrack with indie band Brighton, MA is ideal for the mood of the film.

Friday, April 18, 2008


This guy is amazing. I'm sad his outstanding platform is being buried by Obama and Hillary bickering about who's more bitter. At least this guy keeps his eyes on the prize when it comes to fighting for universal healthcare, solving poverty and the working and middle class of America.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

China, the Olympics and Tibet

I've heard some interesting arguments over the past two days on why we should allow China to host the Olympic Summer Games in a few months, effectively ignoring their human rights record. I thought I'd address some of them here:

"We shouldn't make the Olympics political"
It's easy not to make the Olympics political when the host country isn't guilty of human rights abuses. It's easy when the host country is becoming the world's largest consumer society. But, at its heart, Olympism is not about politics. Its about showing the universality of common good and ethics. Human rights abuses are happening everyday all around the world. Its an unfortunate fact. The difference here is that the world has chosen to reward a country, guilty of oppression and cultural assassination, with an international commendation (The Olympic Games). This is not what the Olympics were founded on and challenging this type of political and cultural oppression is actually elemental to the Olympic spirit. From the Olympic Charter:
"Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles."
Last I checked, human rights are a fundamentally ethical principle that we all agree on, and one that we have to continually enforce.

Principle #2:
The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.

China is hardly advocating the "harmonious development of man," nor are they "promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity." If they were, you wouldn't be seeing so many people in the streets. And if they were, the Dalai Llama wouldn't have been exiled to a foreign country after thousands of years living in Tibet. That the International Olympic Committee is permitting China to host the Olympic Games this summer actually goes against its own principles.

Principle #5
Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.

It's nice that the Olympic Charter stands against discrimination when it comes to sports, but what about religion and free speech and a free press in one's own country? This is a contradiction if the IOC chooses to ignore the political state of the countries involved in this display of "harmonious development of man." What would the IOC do if Rwanda or Somalia were to host this summer's games?

The Role of the International Olympic Committee: Under the mission and role of IOC, articles 4, 5 and 6:
4. to cooperate with the competent public or private organisations and authorities in the endeavour to place sport at the service of humanity and thereby to promote peace;
5. to take action in order to strengthen the unity and to protect the independence of the Olympic Movement;
6. to act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement;

I would argue that Chinese abuse of human rights (even rumors of such actions in Tibet and other parts of their country) is enough of an argument to show that China has broken their commitment to the IOC and, as a member, should be investigated or temporarily barred from the IOC and therefore not eligible to host the Summer Games in 2008. The Olympics in China, if they are held, are not promoting peace and will not serve humanity when hosted by a country that has avoided international investigation around human rights and political freedoms. #4 speaks directly to the unity that the IOC loves to talk about but fails to activate when tenuous issues arise. Never has the IOC suggested dropping the Olympic Games during these moments - Germany in 1936, Moscow in 1980 - instead, the effort was led by other coalitions of countries.

to oppose any political or commercial abuse of sport and athletes;

This one seems pretty self-explanatory. If I'm a Tibetan distance runner and I am forced to where China's flag when I don't identify as Chinese, shouldn't the IOC advocate and support the athlete?

to encourage and support a responsible concern for environmental issues, to promote sustainable development in sport and to require that the Olympic Games are held accordingly;

This is less about the athletes and more about the history of Chinese environmental degradation. If the IOC were serious about this commitment they would demand China make much more significant reforms in cleaning up the air and water for the world's top athletes.

"The protests were violent"
This is, as always, relative. Some people might call the Iraq War violent, and they would be right. These protests were not all. The most dramatic moments were when non-violent protesters were forcibly removed from blocking streets. There were many heated debates, screaming advocates on both sides of the issue. But not violence. However, I would argue that police used some violent tactics to "remove" these folks, including myself. I don't mind being dragged (I actually expect it as I'm not a small person to carry) but being punched was something I had to raise an eyebrow at. The police are people too, and are just as susceptible to emotional reactions resulting in "violence." I understand that -- and being yelled at and even pushed (hard) by police is not surprising in these situations. The problem is, they're the ones carrying guns, billy clubs, cuffs, zip-ties and wearing helmets, so the balance of power is clearly in their hands, not those protesting. And when a policeman drags you to the curb, puts a knee in your kidney and then picks you up by the collar and throws you into the curb, its ironic to remember that you are the one paying their salaries. "Hey Sergeant, that was well done! I'll be sure to tell the chief to give you that holiday bonus this year. You got an extra band-aid?"

These protests were hardly violent. If the media and those looking to blame free-speech for "their day in the sun" want to push that story, its extremely unfortunate. If anything, the response from the police and security force was violent, not the protesters.

"Protesting the torch is an insult to the rest of the world community"
I have a hard time believing that any type of free-speech is an insult to the world. After all, thats what this country was founded on and is what western democracies and governments are most proud of: our freedom organize and speak freely. The Boston tea party was called an insult to the world by the British sympathizers in the colonies during the beginnings of the American Revolution in 1773. Now, here sit the very same status-quo members of society shaking their heads at protests that are more than (imagine this) standing still with a sign. Martin Luther King didn't stand still. Susan B. Anthony didn't drop her sign when heads shook. Neither should we.

At the heart of this comment, though, is the belief that some things just shouldn't be politicized. But the problem with that perspective is that no "thing" cannot avoid politics. Its ingrained in our lives and cultures and is a part of everything we do. You could argue that schools shouldn't be political, but we know that some of the most fiercely debated issues occur in PTA and school board meetings every week. More importantly, it isn't bad! Politics and discussion isn't going to hurt us and if anything we need more of it not less. Protests like this one, bringing to light the issue of Tibetan freedom and right to exist without Chinese domination, are simply there to elevate the discussion and bring it to the forefront of the international conversation. And clearly, a discussion needs to be had -- from Paris to London to San Francisco and Beijing.

Heres to hoping for an honest discussion and challenging the assumed status of Olympic Games in a country that ignores human rights and freedoms that we say we fight for.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Parade of the Vanishing Torch

Just got back from a long day chasing the "disappearing torch" across San Francisco. There were over 6,000 protesters that turned out and about as many ethnic Chinese countering. It was a victory for those of us involved in shedding more international attention and light on the human rights abuses China has committed, without any real consequence, over the past half-century in Tibet. The BBC Radio called it "The Parade of the Disappearing Torch," while the Toronto Globe and Mail called it a "hasty tour."

In the end it was just that. Going to elaborate lengths to make sure as few people actually saw the torch as possible, San Francisco city officials were, in the end, unable to avoid protesters who were in constant communication via text messaging and able to re-deploy along the last-minute altered route.

I myself was lucky enough to be part of a team of people trying to hang banners along the parade route that would visually support the protests going on at street level. Thanks to a crackerjack Communications team we were all informed of changes to the route and quickly figured out how to get back along the buses carrying the torch.

Here are some quick observations from the day:
- There were as many if not more China supporters as Tibet supporters.
- There were an amazing amount of extra-large Chinese flags flown in just for the event. Regardless, the impact of hundreds of large, bright red flags aligning the parade route had a visual impact that is hard to beat. Classic Communist tactic?
- Once the parade route changed, the "non-partisan" crowd thinned dramatically. Thousands were left stranded along the original route by the Embarcadero.
- Police presence was overwhelming especially close to the torch.
- Media was in the dark -- most had no idea where the torch was or were jockeying to catchup. This is why I think you will not see a lot of pictures or video of most of the actions taken by protesters.
- One runner dropped out two days before the parade, and another pulled a Tibetan flag out of her shirt-sleeve as she handed off the torch but was quickly grabbed by police and Chinese officials before being shoved back into the crowd.

Overall, I was amazed at some media had chosen to paint a rosy picture of the day's events. I was even more amazed at how incredibly, flat out wrong other new stories were. It made me wonder if they were being written by someone actually in San Francisco or by someone back in London or New York.

I was part of a group of about 10 people that tried to stop the torch caravan (which included about 50 riot police, 30-40 police on dirt bikes, two buses, 4-6 motorcycles from the SFPD and a whole host of police cars and unmarked vehicles). We were able to slow it down and deploy ourselves and a banner across the width of a four-lane street but were "absorbed" by a flock of police in a matter of seconds. No arrests were made but trust me when I say we were all kicked to the curb, that that's exactly what the SFPD did. I'm guessing that most of these officers were not trained in negotiation tactics (unless by negotiate you mean bruise and pummel). I'd like to know if I can trade in my brand new grated elbows and torn clothes for the ridiculous parking tickets SFPD LOVES to hand out.

Here is a decent video of what was happening on the ground. More on this later...

Monday, April 07, 2008

Bomb It

"This is the biggest art movement in the history of human kind." I bet you don't know what the medium is.

"Bomb It,"
the new documentary about the rise of the graffiti movement in urban regions throughout the world, shows the explosion of underground "tagging" as both an art, and a form of communication (some would argue that any art is a form of communication, which I would agree with). Be it Barcelona, New York, Jo'burg, Berlin or Chicago, this movement has gone way beyond the cultural name-tags ascribed to it years ago yet is still true to its roots. Nor is it dominated by criminals, drug addicts, or delinquents. The artists are legitimate and their work is magnificent.

While I do question the painting of personal property (like cars and homes) I agree that the public space available for this type of art is actually extremely limited since so much of public space is actually reserved for advertising (sides of public buses, highways, etc). So, like any American people are taking it back. I don't blame them.

On a whim, I actually caught one of the original graffiti culture/ hip-hop flicks from 1983 called "Wild Style" last weekend. It should be fun to do a comparison of the two after seeing Bomb It.

I'll be checking it out this weekend and maybe you will too.

Friday, April 04, 2008

40th Anniversary of MLK Memphis Speech

The last two minutes of Dr. Martin Luther King's are shockingly prescient. An incredibly powerful speech that is always good to go back to periodically. He was assassinated hours after this address.