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Powerful ideas, practical actions
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Yesterday, students at Columbia University lay sprawled on College Walk, many of them wearing red blindfolds intended to erase their identity and show solidarity. The event was organized by the university's Native American Council; Columbus Day is no cause for celebration for them and for indigenous groups and nations throughout the Americas. In Chile, more than 15,000 indigenous activists and their supporters took to the street demanding a return of land and sovereignty.The re-imagining of Columbus Day is an opportunity to understand the history and legacy of colonialism.
Max Fisher of the Washington Post has suggested that those uncomfortable with Columbus Day can celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving instead. Yet even when masked with a maple leaf, this holiday still glorifies the process of colonization. Luckily, a third option has risen from the grassroots of indigenous activism, one that celebrates neither a perpetrator of genocide nor the colonial takeover of Turtle Island. That's Indigenous People's Day.
In July 1990, as the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the Caribbean approached, indigenous groups from around the Americas gathered in Quito, Ecuador, for the first Continental Meeting of Indigenous Peoples. In a written declaration to the world, they repudiated the celebration of Columbus Day and reaffirmed their enduring resistance to colonization. Columbus Day, they said, would be turned "into an occasion to strengthen our process of continental unity and struggle towards our liberation."
Since then, the movement to establish Indigenous People's Day has slowly gained ground in the United States. Alaska, Hawai'i and South Dakota do not celebrate Columbus Day, and South Dakota now observes Native American Day instead. Several cities in America have also changed the name of the holiday; Berkeley observes Indigenous People's Day every year with a powwow and market on October 5. A bill currently in committee in the California legislature would rename Columbus Day as Native American Day and also reinstate the day as a paid holiday for state workers. On the religious side, the Unitarian Universalist church has committed itself to activism and education on the subject, with an entire web page dedicated to Indigenous People's Day.
The re-imagining of Columbus Day is an opportunity to understand the history and legacy of colonialism, honor the cultures and lives of First Nations peoples, and move forward in the struggle to end oppression.
Rachael Stoeve wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Rachael is an editorial intern at YES!
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has removed coal-related educational sections from its website, less than two weeks after the launch of a grassroots campaign demanding that the pages be taken down.
The website sections were supposed to educate children about energy, but had been widely denounced because they focused on misleading pro-coal messages.
It wasn't just environmentalists who objected to the way Illinois was talking about coal to kids. Last month, a state-commissioned evaluation of the Illinois coal education program determined that the curriculum, including the website, was "biased towards a positive image of coal."
As pressure increased on the department to take action, staff members initially claimed that they were too broke to fix the problem. Then the pages disappeared from the site on Monday. Earlier screen shots show sections called "Education" and "Kid's Site," neither of which was visible when YES! checked the DCEO site today. (See image above.)
"This is a victory for our children and schools," said Sam Stearns, a former coal miner who helped to organize for the site to be changed, "and a first step toward refashioning an energy education program that tells the truth about the health and environmental impacts of coal mining and burning."
In the CREDO petition Stearns launched, along with former country music singer and environmentalist Mark Donham, the two criticized the website's downplay of environmental impacts and safety issues among miners, especially black lung disease.
They also singled out the use of a cartoon figure that told children that land reclamation efforts after strip-mining return the land "the way it was or better than before mining."
Along with CREDO, Stearns was joined by national children's groups such as Rethinking Schools, the Zinn Education Project, and the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which led a successful campaign two years ago to expose the "United States of Energy," a curriculum published by Scholastic but bankrolled by the American Coal Foundation.
"It's not surprising that a desperate industry would try and win children's hearts and minds," said Josh Golin, the campaign's associate director. "But it's beyond disappointing that state education officials would help dirty coal with this dirty mission."
Bill Bigelow, curriculum editor at Rethinking Schools magazine and co-director of the Zinn Education Project, found the outcome encouraging.
"They can only get away with this because people haven't demanded that it stop," he said. "Now, they have."
Jeff Biggers wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Winner of the David R. Brower Award for Environmental Reporting, Jeff is the author of Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland, among other books. His website is www.jeffbiggers.com.
Writer and Farmer Wendell Berry on Hope, Direct Action, and the "Resettling" of the American Countryside
Wendell Berry, a quiet and humble man, has become an outspoken advocate for revolution. He urges immediate action as he mourns how America has turned its back on the land and rejected Jeffersonian principles of respect for the environment and sustainable agriculture. Berry warns, "People who own the world outright for profit will have to be stopped; by influence, by power, by us."
The most censored story of our lifetime is hiding in plain sight. We humans are disrupting the climate of the planet to the point at which the world our children and grandchildren will inhabit may be unrecognizable.Stories that explore the depth of—and solutions to—the climate crisis are essential.
The risk we are taking is not something discussed in polite company, much less in the corporate press. Instead of covering the many facets of this impending crisis and the options for mobilizing a response, the corporate press has largely served up a diet of distortion and distraction. Even the progressive media has a mixed record on covering the climate crisis.
Yet stories that explore the depth of—and solutions to—the climate crisis are essential to any prospect that we will respond at the scale needed.After years of record-breaking fires, droughts, heat waves, and storms, public opinion is beginning to move toward greater comprehension, although at a rate that is still dangerously slow. While 97 percent of peer-reviewed scientific studies conclude that the Earth is warming because of human influences, just 42 percent of the general public in the United States believes the world is warming because of human activity.
And though journalists cover the stories of particular wildfires, droughts, megastorms, floods, and other events exacerbated by the shifting climate, until recently the corporate media have neglected to explore something that scientists are warning about and that many people perceive with their own senses: that these are not isolated incidents, but signs of a long-term and accelerating disruption in climate stability.
The hard truth is that scientists predict a temperature rise of six degrees Celsius by the end of the century unless we take action. This level of heating will hobble agriculture, deplete water supplies, and move shorelines. It will make many areas uninhabitable and cause famine, widespread extinctions, and massive movements of climate refugees. And it will be largely irreversible for centuries thereafter.What corporate power means
Why have we been unable to take action in the face of a threat larger and more long-lasting than terrorism? The climate crisis highlights a systemic flaw in human society today: the power of large corporations over our economy, governance, and way of life overwhelms other forces.
Corporations dealing in fossil fuel are among the biggest and most powerful on the planet. Together with other large corporations, as well as the think tanks and lobbyists they fund, they have undermined efforts to reach international agreements on climate change, and to get government action on renewable energy and energy efficiency, smart transportation options, and other policies that could counter the threat of climate disruption. With a focus on making the most money possible for shareholders and executives, the fate of human and other life on the planet just doesn’t show up on the quarterly balance sheet. With billions of dollars in profits and a Supreme Court friendly to the power of big corporations, corporate influence on government goes largely unchecked.
An economy that concentrates more wealth and power each year, while undermining our world's capacity to support life, especially goes unquestioned when the media is owned by big corporations that rely on corporate advertising.
We also have a cultural flaw. Influenced by billions of dollars of advertising, popular culture has come to equate having lots of stuff with success and happiness. Those at the top can accumulate with abandon and without considering the implications for the future. Meanwhile, people in the 99 percent increasingly struggle just to get by. Other values that are just as much a part of the founding culture of the United States—frugality, community, neighbor-helping-neighbor, contribution to the whole—have been pushed aside by the advertising-driven impulse to buy. The production and eventual disposal of all that stuff exacts a price on the finite resources and energy capacities of the planet, and the bill is coming due.Climate coverage: the good, the bad, and the ugly
Facing the dire reality of a destabilized climate is not easy, and some of the country's most influential media don't even try. The Wall Street Journal's notoriously right-wing opinion section published a column on May 9, 2013, titled "In Defense of Carbon Dioxide." The piece celebrates rising levels of carbon dioxide as a boon to plant life. Columbia Journalism Review columnist Ryan Chittum, who is a former Wall Street Journal writer himself, called it "shameful even by the dismal standards of that page."The result of this distorted coverage is that precious years have been lost to confusion by so-called "objective" journalism.
According to a January 2013 Media Matters report, not a single climate scientist appeared as a guest on the influential Sunday morning television talk shows during the previous four years, nor were any climate scientists quoted. Most of those invited to speak on global warming were either media figures or politicians, but, among the politicians, not a single one was a Democrat. Climate change deniers on the shows went unchallenged. The nightly news shows had somewhat more coverage, and most of that was driven by extreme weather events, according to the report. But this coverage, too, was biased: 60 percent of the politicians on the air were Republicans.
Most journalists want to be perceived as objective, and so for years much of the climate reporting included an ersatz balance: climate deniers were given equal time even though they were a tiny fraction of the scientific community; the fact that many were funded by the fossil fuel lobby was rarely mentioned. The New York Times is among those that now explicitly reject this he-said-she-said approach.
The result of this distorted coverage is that precious years, during which a well-informed people might have acted, have been lost to confusion produced by so-called "objective" journalism.
There's an additional, less recognized flaw with journalism as currently practiced. Journalists are considered objective when their reporting accepts the dominant worldview as a given, without questioning beliefs and assumptions that may or may not hold up to scrutiny. The good journalist, in other words, goes along with the worldview of the powerful. Today, that worldview includes the assumption that all growth is good and can go on indefinitely, that a rising tide will lift all boats (an ironic phrase in this time of sea-level rise), that technology and free enterprise will solve any problem, and that the Earth will provide all we need.
Real objective journalism would question these assumptions, especially those contradicted by the evidence on the ground—and in the glaciers.
Although some of the media has flouted their responsibility to truth-telling, others have been extraordinary. Rolling Stone published a game-changing piece by Bill McKibben on the math of climate change, which shows that most of the world's fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground if we are to avert climate catastrophe. And among Project Censored's Top 25 stories is Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed's article from the Guardian on the likelihood of food shortages becoming the new normal, in large part because of the impact of climate change on crop yields. The Guardian’s coverage of the climate crisis has been among the best and most consistent among the large newspapers. (Full disclosure: I occasionally write a column for the Guardian). And there are some extraordinary blogs like InsideClimateNews, Grist, Climate Progress, ClimateWire, and Real Climate, which are out in front on climate coverage.The implicit view that environmental issues are for middle-class white folks is outdated and dangerous.
Project Censored has highlighted some of the key climate stories of the last decade. Among the project's annual list of the censored stories over the past years are independent journalists' reports on the disruption to marine species resulting from global warming, the role of excessive consumption in the climate crisis, and the flaws in World Bank cap-and-trade schemes, which result in the displacement of indigenous farmers.
Still, there is a mixed record among the progressive press on climate coverage. Perhaps this is a reflection of a split within the progressive world, which until recently was divided between those who focus on the environment and those who focus on politics and social justice. Much of the progressive press has left climate change to environmental magazines.
The implicit view that environmental issues are for backpackers, conservationists, and middle-class white folks is outdated and dangerous. The climate crisis is changing everyone's life—especially the poor and vulnerable.Making solutions visible
More truly objective reporting on the climate crisis and its systemic causes would be a huge improvement over what we find now. But still it would be just half the story. The other half is the solutions. We need much more reporting on solutions, and not just to keep despair from sending us screaming into those rising seas.
We need solutions journalism because it is the only way we can develop the global consensus we need to take action and the knowledge base that makes that action effective.
Over just a few hundred years, we clever humans have transformed our world, creating a vast fossil fuel–driven industrial economy that permits high-consumption lifestyles (for some). Until recently, we lacked an understanding of what industrialization was doing to the prospects for our children and their children.
But we have the smarts to create a world in which the climate is stable, diverse species thrive, and all people have a shot at a good life. The means to do that are as diverse as the factors that cause the problem. Renewable energy can displace carbon-based fuels. Buildings can be built or retrofitted for super-efficiency. Organic fertilizers can build the fertility and resilience of the soil while safely storing carbon, replacing the chemical fertilizers that are a major contributor to the climate crisis. Fuel-efficient vehicles, fast trains, and bicycles can replace gas guzzlers. A greater appreciation of time well-spent with family and friends, and of the satisfaction of meaningful work, can replace an obsession with owning and using up stuff.
Each of these shifts improves our chances of stabilizing the climate, and most of them have multiple benefits: they improve health, clean up air and water, improve community life, create new economic opportunities, and promote equity. And some do all of these at once.
But the potential of these solutions can't be fulfilled unless people find out about them. That's why the media is so important.These new shifts are rarely covered, but with all that’s at stake, these responses deserve to be front-page news.
With international talks at a standstill and little national leadership on this issue, the focus of action has shifted, becoming much more bottom-up. Local and state governments (and an exceptional few national governments) around the world are instituting policies, like carbon taxes, that help shift the market toward cleaner energy sources. Policy makers are rethinking the use of economic growth and the gross domestic product as a measure of progress. Inventors and entrepreneurs are coming up with new ways to produce clean energy or to cut the inefficient use of energy.
Importantly, there is a climate justice movement happening that few know exists—a movement founded in the grassroots and especially in communities that are often ignored by the corporate media: Appalachia, indigenous communities, youth, farmers, fishermen, and small businesses. It's a movement that doesn’t separate environmental concerns from human concerns, but that recognizes that they are one and the same.
At the forefront of this movement are young people, ranchers, tribal leaders, people living near refineries, those resisting hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking), and others who are most affected by the fossil fuel industry. People are using their bodies to block the building of tar sands pipelines, to stop mountaintop removal, to prevent drilling in their communities—both to protect their land, water, and health, and to protect the climate.
The 350.org campaign, headed up by Bill McKibben, is spurring actions around the world, including civil disobedience in front of the White House aimed at convincing President Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.
Others are responding to the climate crisis through changes in their own lives. Many are finding much greater satisfaction in ways of life focused on community or personal development. Young people are seeking out livelihoods that allow them to contribute to a more sustainable planet and to ride out the storms they see on the horizon. There’s extraordinary interest in developing local food systems. These deeper cultural shifts offer another part of the solutions matrix.
These new policy initiatives, innovations, social movements, and lifestyle shifts are rarely covered, but with all that’s at stake, these responses deserve to be front-page news. We need this sort of reporting to seek out the many solutions, investigate which ones are working, and tell the stories through the media now available. Out of those many stories and many solutions, the answers can emerge. If these answers spread, are replicated, and inspire others, we have a shot at preserving a healthy planet and our own future.What solutions journalism makes possible
The truth is that there is no shortage of solutions—whether it's Germany's turn to solar power or the carbon-storing power of restored soils. But given the shortage of stories about solutions, it's little wonder that so many people—once they understand the implications of the climate crisis—leap right from denial to despair. When stories of people taking action are censored, when the innovations that could help us tackle the greatest crisis humanity has ever faced go unreported, when the ordinary people and grassroots leaders working to build a sustainable future go unquoted, people are left isolated and feeling powerless.Solutions journalism must investigate not only the individual innovations, but also the larger pattern of change.
That's what makes solutions journalism so important at this point in human history.
When the myriad efforts to build a sustainable world are covered, the rapid evolution of our society toward solutions becomes possible. The best innovations can travel quickly and build on one another—bike lanes in one city become a linked system of bike lanes and public transit in another. A public food forest, where all are free to harvest fresh fruits and nuts, sparks the same idea in another community. One city sets out to be carbon neutral, to reduce asthma and heart disease, and inspires other cities to follow suit. If they encounter these sorts of stories, people don't feel alone, powerless, or foolish when they pick up a shovel and plant a tree, start an urban garden, or risk arrest blockading a tar sands pipeline. They see their work as part of a much larger fabric of change—one with real possibility for a better world.
So here's where solutions journalism is at its best. Just as an individual coal plant is not the whole picture in terms of the climate crisis, the individual windmill is not the whole solution. To meet its potential, solutions journalism must investigate not only the individual innovations, but also the larger pattern of change—the emerging ethics, institutions, and ways of life that are coming into existence.
Here are some examples of headlines that are focused on problems and others focused on solutions:Un-Censoring Solutions Journalism Problem-Focused Headline
Corn Belt Fears Large Crop Loss from Heat Wave, Drought Conditions Germany Swaps Nuclear for for Solar and Wind Power
News Stories Old Ways of Life Are Fading as the Arctic Thaws Why We're Putting Ourselves on the (Pipe)Line with the Tea Party Methane Emissions Higher Than Thought Across Much of U.S. How Bicycling Is Transforming Business Climate and Capitalism in Copenhagen How Thoughtful Farming Could Curb Climate Change, Feed the World Stories with Context, Analysis, and Implications Western Lifestyle Unsustainable, Says Climate Expert Rajendra Pachauri Less Work, More Living The World Bank and Climate Change: Sustainability or Exploitation? Religion, Science, and Spirit: A Sacred Story of Our Time
The change will not happen from the top down—most of the leaders of big government, big business, and even big religion are too entrenched in the status quo to offer much help on this score.
Instead, it is the actions of millions of ordinary people that have the best chance of transforming our society to one that can live within its ecological means and meet the needs of humans and other life forms. To do that, we need evidence-based stories of practical, feasible innovations. But we also need to see the larger picture that they are a part of, the new ways of doing business that are rooted in community and work in harmony with our ecosystems, along with the emerging values and ways of life that create genuine well-being without compromising the life-sustaining capacity of the planet. We need to experience the democratic impulse, which, at times, can overcome the top-down power of giant corporations.
Journalists, it has been said, write the first draft of history. In that spirit, discerning these patterns of change—which ones have promise, which ones are taking hold—is an inexact science. But a bottom-up global process thrives when the first draft is available, and all of those with a stake in the future can see that they, themselves, are its authors.
Sarah van Gelder wrote this article as the forward to the book Project Censored 2014: Fearless Speech in Fateful Times. Sarah is executive editor at YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practice actions.
Edward Snowden's leaks about the National Security Agency seem to be inspiring the Obama administration to crack down on both journalists and their sources. But they have also inspired increasing numbers of intelligence professionals to go public about abuses, according to the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit organization that has provided guidance and information to more than 5,000 whistleblowers since its founding in 1977."Courage is contagious, and I really think he has had a wonderful effect for the U.S. and for the world."
This Wednesday, several other whistleblowers from the intelligence and national security communities met with Snowden in Moscow, including former NSA executive Thomas Drake, former Department of Justice Ethics Advisor Jesselyn Radack, and former FBI agent Coleen Rowley. They presented him with an award from the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, a group of former CIA operatives.
In an interview with RT.com, Jesselyn Radack spoke of a "Snowden Effect," which she said was emboldening potential leakers in the intelligence community: "We have more and more whistleblowers coming to the Government Accountability Project than we have had before," Radack said. "So I think if the U.S. is trying to clamp down and send a message by making an example, courage is contagious, and I really think he has had a wonderful effect for the U.S. and for the world."
I asked Kathleen McClellan, National Security and Human Rights Counsel at the Government Accountability Project, just how Snowden's example is changing the way intelligence professionals think.
"The real issue here is that there's all of these people seeing waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement," she said. "Mr. Snowden's disclosures and the attention they've gotten have made people say, 'I'm not the only one who has a problem with the government violating people's rights in the name of security.'"
That's especially notable given the hard line the Obama Administration has taken in regards to leaks. A new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists pointed out that the Obama Administration has brought charges against six government employees under the 1917 Espionage Act, while all previous administrations did so only twice.
James Trimarco wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. James is web editor at YES! and you can follow him @JamesTrimarco.
When Ted Smith looks at a smartphone, he doesn’t see a multipurpose gadget. He sees faces. He sees the face of the Indonesian or Ugandan miner who unearthed the raw materials. He sees the face of the factory worker who lives on a corporate campus in China and works long shifts, exposed to hazardous chemicals while assembling miniscule components. He sees the face of the salesperson at Best Buy or Target, and the face of the customer. He sees the faces of those who encounter the product after it’s been jettisoned and shipped halfway around the world to regions awash in electronic waste.Imagine a phone that’s made using conflict-free minerals and is encased in a shell made of nontoxic chemicals.
Smith, 67, began tracking the electronics industry in the early 1970s. Seemingly
overnight, a swath of California morphed into an epicenter of new technology. As massive semiconductor and consumer electronics manufacturers sprang up and churned out cutting-edge products, Smith rounded up community members to take a stand against the industry’s lack of transparency about the chemicals used along the production line and the threats these substances posed to workers, the environment, and nearby residents. In 1982, Smith founded the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. Twenty years later, he expanded his activist scope and co-founded the International Campaign for Responsible Technology.
“We realized early on that this industry was going to be a major engine of the future,” Smith says. “And we had broad-based concerns. It wasn’t just environmental. There were labor-rights issues, health issues, the need to preserve neighborhoods.”
Over the past 40 years, Smith’s worries have manifested on a global scale. The consumer electronics industry is now a multibillion-dollar juggernaut that churns out new products year-round. In 2012, sales of electronics in the United States topped $200 billion, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, an industry group that represents 2,000 companies, including Sony, Samsung, and Apple. The average American household now owns 24 electronic products, many of which will be rendered obsolete within a few years.
So it should be no surprise that consumer electronics is the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. waste stream, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2009, the most recent year for which the EPA has data, 2.37 million tons of electronics were ready for “end-of-life management,” yet only a quarter of them were collected for recycling.It doesn’t just disappear
Every year, heaps of American e-waste, from smartphones to computers to stereo systems, are shipped to India, China, Ghana, Pakistan, Peru, and other developing countries. By some estimates, 80 percent of the U.S. e-waste collected ends up on foreign shores, where regulations are lax and incentive for risk high.
The goods are generally auctioned off in bulk to scrap companies and smelters. These companies pay locals—often including children—meager wages to strip smidgens of gold, copper, and palladium from the discarded devices. Sometimes, this involves concocting a noxious stew of cyanide and nitric acid, then burning the remaining plastic in crude firepits. Throughout the process, workers are exposed to lead, mercury, and cadmium, among other toxic substances.
One place our waste ends up is Guiyu, China, a port city of 150,000 on the South China Sea. As documented by the Basel Action Network, Guiyu is home to more than 5,000 small, mostly family-run businesses that trade in e-waste. A study published in the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives found that children living in Guiyu had significantly higher levels of lead in their blood than children from Chendian, a nearby city with no e-waste processing.
Meanwhile, the ill effects of e-waste may be circling back to U.S. dinner plates. Researchers at Monmouth University released a study this spring that found high levels of lead in U.S. rice imports. One possible cause is the electronic waste industry, the lead author said in an interview with the BBC.Benign by design
But to make meaningful progress on the e-waste crisis, Smith says, we can’t just focus on the waste. From mining to manufacturing to recycling, consumers, corporations, and governments need to rethink the life of our devices from beginning to end.
Imagine a phone that’s made using conflict-free minerals and is encased in a shell made of nontoxic chemicals. Imagine if that same phone, which looks and works like every other touchscreen smartphone on the market, was manufactured under the supervision of labor-rights organizations and in close collaboration with an established, reputable e-waste recycler that made sure every reusable and recyclable component was recovered safely.
That’s the ambition of Fairphone, a Dutch startup that’s currently producing its first batch of 20,000 phones—half of which have already been pre-ordered. The Fairphone is one of the most palpable examples of “benign-by-design,” a school of thought that aims to make products less harmful throughout their entire life cycle.
So far, the most significant benign-by-design achievements have been in the field of green chemistry, buried in academic journals. A small tweak in how a plastic is produced could make a product safer to build and disassemble. Fairphone is an instance where the benign-by-design mentality is helping meet a blossoming demand for sustainable electronics.
While Smith sees promise in Fairphone’s approach and the sustainable electronics movement, major manufacturers “living under the dictate of the quarterly profit” remain the largest obstacle. He says, “To really develop benign-by-design, we have to change the business model.” And that includes compelling manufacturers to devise effective take-back programs that are widely publicized and easy for consumers to access.States lead the way Wisconsin’s program, launched three years ago, has already collected more than 100 million pounds of e-waste.
One persistent barrier in the United States, however, is the lack of federal legislation to make sure e-waste is properly recycled. Compare that with the European Union, which last year imposed a strict directive requiring that by 2019 member countries collect 65 percent of the weight of all electronics put on sale in the preceding three years or 85 percent of all e-waste generated per year. Under the EU’s policy, retailers will be required to take e-waste from consumers. Companies—retailers, manufacturers, and recyclers—found to be in violation could be hit with stiff fines.
Further complicating matters is that the United States isn’t a signatory of the Basel Convention, an international treaty regulating how hazardous materials, including e-waste, are transported and disposed of. Fortunately, a growing number of states are implementing e-waste recycling programs. If done properly, they can steer millions of pounds of potentially harmful electronics into sustainable, regulated channels rather than overseas where there’s minimal oversight.
“Every state is very different and poses unique opportunities and challenges for increasing electronics recycling,” Sarah Murray, coordinator of E-Cycle Wisconsin, said in an email.
Wisconsin’s program, launched three years ago, has already collected more than 100 million pounds of e-waste. With budgets tight across the country, however, she warns that some states may not have the resources to staff and implement an e-waste program. “We were … fortunate that the legislation gave us dedicated positions for this purpose. That has meant we’ve had enough manpower to do necessary administrative tasks, educate stakeholders and the public, provide compliance assistance, and conduct inspections.”
As the piecemeal push to alleviate the effects of e-waste becomes more cohesive, Smith and the International Campaign for Responsible Technology are homing in on a handful of specific objectives that could usher in a future of sustainable electronics. One of their biggest ambitions is to see a requirement that companies disclose all of the chemicals used in a product’s lifecycle.
“Nobody I know knows the number of chemicals used in the manufacturing of electronic products. It’s probably in the range of several thousand. Some are very standard, run-of-the-mill chemicals, but others are exotics … and many are extremely hazardous,” Smith says. “We need disclosure of the entire chemical footprint. Until we understand that better, it’s difficult to push.”
But perhaps the biggest catalysts for change are the faces Smith sees. He mentions the possibility of building an app that shows the faces of all the people who’ll encounter the phone along the supply chain, from the miners to the factory workers to the smelters.
“I do believe if people could see the harm, they wouldn’t support it,” he says.
Chris Sweeney wrote this article for The Human Cost of Stuff, the Fall 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. Chris is a Boston-based writer interested in global health and science.
Dr. Jane Goodall is famous for her work with the chimpanzee, but these days she's focused on a problem that affects all animals on earth—climate change.
She came to New York state last month for the International Women's Earth and Climate Summit, where she was part of a series of meetings designed to create a unified women's agenda for action on the issue of global warming.
She met with YES! in her hotel room in Suffern, N.Y, and kept a toy chimpanzee she calls "Mr. H." next to her on the couch the whole time we spoke. What struck me was the conviction of her posture, the humility in her eyes, and her gift for inspiring other people to follow their passion (something she's doing these days through her Roots and Shoots program). She doesn't pretend to have all the answers, but instead seeks to elevate all the people in the world who are part of the answer.
Katrina Rabeler: What was it about the International Women's Earth and Climate Summit that made you want to attend?
Jane Goodall: Because a lot of the people coming I admire greatly and many of them I know—like Vandana Shiva and Sylvia Earle and Mary Robinson and Maria Silva. Traveling around the world, I certainly found that so often it is the women who get it and who want to see change and who want to work for change. And it's also unquestionably true that climate change is harming women and children in many of the developing countries.More than any other living creature, we have the ability to control our biological instincts and most of what we do.
Rabeler: Your research has taught us that we're more similar to animals than we like to admit. In creating a better future, should we be embracing our animal side or working against it?
Goodall: It depends. Chimpanzees are so like us. They have a dark side. They can be violent and brutal and even form a kind of primitive war. They also have a loving and altruistic side.
Some people will say that we can't help being aggressive and nasty—it's part of our inheritance. But I say that's not true. We're not the same anymore. We have developed an intellect that dwarfs even the brightest chimpanzee, and, more than any other living creature, we have the ability to control our biological instincts and most of what we do.
So there are some aspects of our animal nature that we should treasure and cherish and enhance. And there are others that we should suppress.
Rabeler: One of your most famous observations was that chimpanzees make tools. Have we gone too far or are tools going to be part of the answer?
Goodall: We're going to have to make them [be part of the answer]. We've used them to a devastatingly bad effect. Certainly, one of the tragedies for children is that everything is virtual—they're not out in nature anymore. They're separated from the trees and the grass and the birds.We've lost the wisdom of the indigenous people who make decisions based on asking, "How does this affect my people generations ahead?"
And a lot of people don't understand what an environment is. They think it's just birds singing in trees. They don't understand that if you're in the inner city, then that's your environment and you need to be out and find out what's there. You'll find all sorts of amazing insects and spiders. That's what we're doing with our Roots and Shoots program. Go and find out about all the biodiversity in your city.
Rabeler: What do you think it will take to bring out the best of our diverse humanity?
Goodall: It takes a change of mindset. You know, we've lost wisdom. We've lost the wisdom of the indigenous people who make decisions based on asking, "How does this affect my people generations ahead?" And now we make decisions based on asking, "How does this affect me and my shareholders now?"
We have to free our governments from this. They're basically owned by multinationals.
Rabeler: What do you hope the outcome of this week's summit will be?
Goodall: Well, we're signing a pledge. I hope the outcome will be to empower women—especially somebody coming from the heart of the Congo forest—to go back to their communities and say "Hey, come on women."
There is a very strong movement out there and we can be part of it and that's hope for the future.
Katrina Rabeler wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Katrina is a freelance reporter and writer.
On Tuesday The Daily Show welcomed Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani crusader for women's rights who was shot in the head by the Taliban on her way home from school last year. Host Jon Stewart told her he was "humbled" to have her on the show.
Yousafzai was targeted by the Taliban because of her push for better education for girls in Pakistan. Her story, which she shares in her new memoir, I Am Malala, sparked outrage both in Pakistan and around the world and a much-needed conversation about the role of education for girls today. (Fun fact: Yousafzai tells Stewart that she first learned that she was on the Taliban's hit list in her remote Swat Valley home when a friend told her to Google herself).
The Taliban, Yousafzai told Stewart, oppose education for girls because girls grow up to be women—and educating girls means more powerful women. The Taliban, she said, have "blasted" more than 400 schools in the Swat Valley since 2007. She describes waiting for the government to intervene and help until one day she thought, "Why don't I raise my voice? Why don't we speak up for our rights? … I raised my voice on every platform that I could."
Perhaps more remarkable than her tenacity in refusing—still—to back down, is her straightforward pacifism. She told Stewart that when she thought about what she would do if the Taliban came for her, first it was: "Malala, just take a shoe and hit him." But then she said something that left Stewart speechless:
"If you hit a Talib with your shoe, there is no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others that much with cruelty and that much harshly." (And this, remember, coming from a teenager who was shot in the face). "You must fight … but through peace, and through dialogue, and through education. Then, I said, I’ll tell him how important education is, and that I even want education for your children as well. And I would tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'"
To which Stewart responded, " I know your father is backstage and he's really proud of you. But would he be mad if I adopted you?"
Yousafzai is one of 259 nominees for this year's Nobel Peace Prize. If she wins, she will be the youngest winner ever. Earlier this week, she told a Pakistani radio station, "I think that I still need to work a lot. In my opinion I have not done that much to win the Nobel Peace Prize."
The prize will be announced Friday.
Christa Hillstrom wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Christa is web managing editor of YES!
Domestic workers have had some breakthrough wins over the past two weeks. Up until then, these workers were excluded from protections such as a guaranteed minimum wage, paid breaks, and overtime pay. On September 17, the Obama administration announced new rules extending the Fair Labor Standards Act to include the 800,000 to 2 million home health workers—who help seniors and others with self-care tasks like taking medications, bathing, and shopping—under the federal government's wage and hour protections.Having campaigns at the local, state, and national levels gave the NDWA the flexibility to focus where victory was most likely.
Next, California governor Jerry Brown signed into law the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights on September 26, allowing the full spectrum of domestic workers—including live-in nannies and housekeepers—to benefit from the same gains as the home health workers.
For the first time ever, these employees will be guaranteed the federal minimum wage and will earn overtime pay. And their victories have implications for a much larger portion of the workforce, including independent contractors, nontraditional employees, and those on temporary assignments. The domestic employees' wins are helping to chart a path forward for the growing number of employees who work outside conventional office settings.
Much of the credit for these historic wins is due to the tenacious organizing of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, a group of workers in this field who advocate for their own rights. Led since 2010 by the dynamic young organizer Ai-Jen Poo, the NDWA has grown from a single chapter in New York City to a nationwide organization with campaigns for domestic workers' rights in 19 cities and 11 states.
Here are five lessons that the wider progressive community can draw from the victories.1. Local struggles can have national impact.
Before the creation of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the New York-based organization Domestic Workers United started by organizing locally. After winning passage of the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights in New York state, the group took their campaign on the road. The alliance won a second state-level victory in Hawaii, and then began organizing nationally with the message that those who care for elders and people with disabilities deserve respect. (It helped that this message was already reverberating across the globe after the International Labor Organization ratified its Convention on Domestic Workers in 2011.)
Having campaigns at the local, state, and national levels gave the NDWA the flexibility to focus where victory was most likely. Massachusetts is likely to be their next state-level target, Poo told Nation columnist and YES! Magazine Local Economies Reporting Fellow Laura Flanders.2. Crunch your own numbers.
Rather than defensively responding to reports by business groups and state agencies, the NDWA created its own, from-the-ground-up reports and analyses on the working conditions domestic employees face in America.
Developing the capacity to contribute to the research around domestic work allowed the alliance to set the terms of debate. Other groups can use the same technique to frame the public agenda--whether around city planning, state budget priorities, or federal reforms.3. Put working people front and center.
The NDWA used Caring Across Generations to shine the spotlight on caregivers—who are often only seen publicly pushing a client in a wheelchair—and to show how much they do for their clients.
When Ai-Jen Poo appeared in cable news shows and magazine articles, she constantly pointed to the stories of domestic employees and thus kept the spotlight fixed on them. Putting real people's stories forward as the basis for the campaign's argument created public sympathy and understanding.4. Find allies beyond the usual ones.
Although groups that hire home care employees could be seen as "the enemy," the NDWA partnered enthusiastically with them. In New York and California, for instance, the alliance worked with Hand in Hand, a national association of caregiver employers who were willing to take a stand on behalf of their employees' right to fair pay and labor conditions. Hand in Hand's website even offers a toolkit for employers, with guidance on how to become a better employer.The movement's relevance isn't just the fact that they are winning; how they fight matters, too.
Employers like Hand in Hand join the campaign not out of an impulse to charity, but because they know that fair national standards for home-care employees helps ensure better care for their loved ones. As Ai-Jen Poo said recently in a video for the PBS series Makers: "When it comes to human dignity, there is no such thing as an unlikely ally."
Another way that the NDWA cultivated alliances was through the careful coalition-building that went into forming Caring Across Generations, a campaign that seeks to ensure that seniors receive the heath care they need from workers who receive a living wage. Launched in 2011, the coalition's unusually broad range of member groups includes organized labor, seniors, faith-based groups, women's rights organizations, and anti-poverty groups.
The different members have come together around a unifying vision for improving the lives of those who serve our youth and our elders. By joining across different organizing traditions and constituencies, they created a far-reaching effort that goes beyond the typical single-issue campaign.5. Victory begets more victory.
Small victories can be an effective motivator on the road to bigger ones. By stringing together a series of international, national, and local victories—none of them complete in themselves—the NDWA showed that change is possible and created momentum for ever-greater wins. And the NDWA's campaign for a Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights is still moving forward, with active drives in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Washington, Illinois, and Oregon.
The NDWA's record of steadily organizing with their eyes on a clear prize of policy solutions, recognition, and respect should serve as an inspiration. The movement's relevance isn't just the fact that they are winning; how they fight matters, too. Any movement that can transform adversarial employee-employer relations into a unified force for public policy change is worth learning from.
Amy B. Dean wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media project that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Amy is a fellow of The Century Foundation and principal of ABD Ventures, an organizational development consulting firm that works to develop new and innovative organizing strategies for social change organizations. Dean is co-author, with David Reynolds, of A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement. You can follow Amy on twitter @amybdean, or she can be reached via www.amybdean.com.
My wife and I brought home Rhodes, our first child, four months ago. Here's what I remember most about those first weeks: the smell of his skin and breath as he slept on my chest in our bed—small, warm, and fragile, like an egg. I breathed in the scent of the newest life I’d ever encountered as he slept.
He wasn’t undersized, but still I marveled at how tiny these newest of humans come. We, the most dominating creatures on Earth, start out so helpless and red and beautiful. I knew, as he lay curled against my heart, that I would do anything to protect him, love him, and bring him up right in the world.We've created a world of great beauty as well as great terror. Would I rather send a young man into it, or a young woman?
Last month, four men in India were sentenced to death for a rape and murder of such brutality it can scarcely be believed. The week prior, four Vanderbilt University football players were charged with raping an unconscious woman (much like last year's events in Steubenville, Ohio). And during the previous spring, just before Rhodes was born, Ariel Castro was arrested in Cleveland for imprisoning three women—kidnapped as young girls—in his house for ten years.
These and similar stories constantly fill our network news, cable opinion shows, newspapers, social media, blogs... It's nearly impossible to avoid stories of violence, rape, and domination. Living rightly is hard enough on your own, and now I must raise a son to do so in a world that is, in part, characterized by men's violence against women.
Louis CK sums it up best: "There is no greater threat to women than men. We are the number one threat to women. Globally and historically, we’re the number one cause of injury and mayhem to women." And I worry that he’s right.
Now that I am a father, this question constantly sits before me: How do I raise a son of compassion and dignity? A man who respects women?Boy or girl?
Early on during our pregnancy, my wife and I discussed whether we preferred to raise a boy or a girl. It was completely beyond our control, but the conversation stuck with me: boy or girl? We've created a world of great beauty as well as great terror. Would I rather send a young man into it, or a young woman?
As I awaited our child, my awareness of news about sexual violence reached new heights, and influenced how I thought about raising a boy or a girl.
A girl, my early thinking followed, could be protected. I worried about her safety, but I thought I could shelter her from the particular threats made against young women.
But a boy, that really scared me. Boys are the particular threat to young women. If we had a boy, we would have to raise a man. And what kind of man would he be?
I have difficulty imagining my infant son as anything other than the innocent person he is today. My assumption is this: I’ll be a good dad and he’ll be a good boy. But I cannot see the future. I love him and want him to love others, to be kind, to be aware of his actions, and to treat people with respect. I want him to learn from the men who have chosen these things instead of power and abuse.Men as Peacemakers
"It is the social air that youth are breathing as they’re growing up," he told me. "The media, the athletic environment, the jeans, the adults who market the jeans, the parents, the teachers that we have in school, the religious leaders—all create an environment that normalizes the domination and the control of women." He chose the right word: endemic. "It’s been that way for some time and will remain that way until something in the social environment changes."
Men as Peacemakers was founded in Duluth, Minn., after the community was rocked by a series of murders committed by men in the 1990s. When citizens gathered to discuss addressing violence in their city, most of them were women. This concerned some of the men in the community, who convened a retreat with 55 men from the area to discuss their roles and responsibilities when it came to alleviating violence. One of the initiatives born of the meeting was Men as Peacemakers, whose mission is to teach men and boys that there are alternatives to violence, and that violence is unacceptable.
I had called Heisler with an honest question: How do I raise my son to be a man who will do his part, too, to change the social environment that subjugates women?
Men as Peacemakers attempts to counter this environment by embedding its role models and mentors throughout the community. For example, The Best Party Model, a program in coordination with with College of St. Scholastica, attempts to reshape the party culture in America to one that is safe and equitable for women. They do this by placing mentors in schools, colleges, youth organizations, and other places where young people can have honest conversations about sexuality and partying. And it turns out that language and conversation have a lot to do with shaping young men's attitudes toward women."New dads have an opportunity and responsibility to very proactively think about how to shape and provide an environment for that young person ..."
I mentioned an anecdote from this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo. During Microsoft’s demo for the new Xbox One, the male player and emcee gave a virtual gaming beatdown to a female player before a live audience, telling her, "Just let it happen. It’ll be over soon."
In a culture where dominance and abusive rhetoric are socially permitted (video gaming), this is dominating language—and the language we use matters. Language can both empower and objectify. (Just compare the results of "college women" to that of "college girls" in a Google Image search, and you get the point).
The Champions Initiative, another Men as Peacemakers initiative, pairs college athletes with youth and works directly with athletic associations and coaches to ensure that the prevention of violence against women is part of these associations' missions.
Since the Steubenville rape trial has focused an eye on sports culture and sexual violence, Heisler believes this outreach is critical. He uses the Steubenville case in a guided imagery exercise that asks boys to "think about that young man from Steubenville as a little boy" and to consider what his environment looks and sounds like: "Somehow that kid learned what his sense of humor was or that women were objects for men’s pleasure—things that don’t matter, you can pee on them, use them, do whatever you want with them and it doesn’t matter. That was not the way he was born."
So perhaps men are the worst thing that ever happens to women, but we are not born that way. We learn it. Even well-intentioned, responsible young men are capable of making terrible decisions if they are not taught, prepared, and encouraged to do otherwise.
So I asked Heisler directly: You’re talking to a new dad. What’s the most important, fundamental advice you can give to make sure that the children we’re raising are not going to add to this human rights problem?
His answer? Create a wholly new environment for young men:
"New dads have an opportunity and responsibility to very proactively think about how to shape and provide an environment for that young person, [one] that is going to role model and display and set expectations for equality and dignity and respect between men and women."
This means not just being a model in how we treat mothers, partners, and strangers in public, but also in how we think about our homes and the spaces we inhabit.
"We’re trying to create a world where dads—men—are taking it a step further and really thinking about how they creatively shape an environment that promotes gender equity and respect for women," Heisler told me. "We have a tide pushing in the opposite direction. It takes every effort to create an environment that will stick with our young people."Turning the tide Sensing our self-satisfaction, Luke said: "We pat ourselves on the back because we find exceptions in ourselves, only to go on and enjoy our privilege."
A few days later, I had a beer with Todd Bratulich and Luke Freeman. After all the research on violence and domination, I wanted to unwind. Todd is a youth pastor at First Covenant, an urban Minneapolis community church; Luke, a high school teacher. More importantly, both, like me, have young sons.
We talked about how to be good men who love our partners and families and friends, and who want to make a warm and welcoming environment for our sons to grow into. We all felt good about our commitment to these issues, thinking we were doing our part—we weren't party to the culture of violence against women.
Then, sensing our self-satisfaction, Luke said: "We pat ourselves on the back because we find exceptions in ourselves, only to go on and enjoy our privilege."
And I realized, I hadn’t really done my part after all. Not yet. Treating my wife with love and kindness is vital, of course. But it also is only the minimum.
We must be active, creative, and purposeful in extending this behavior to every moment of our lives if we are to become peacemakers, to push against the tide and create the space needed to raise sons with empathy and compassion.
We three dads raised our glasses to the challenge, and went home to our sons.
Christopher Zumski Finke wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Christopher blogs about pop culture and is editor of The Stake. Follow him on Twitter at @christopherzf
In Tuesday’s press conference, President Obama got it right: The flood of big money into our elections has enabled more extreme politics to influence decisionmaking—and that leads to impasses like the current government shutdown. The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision is one big reason for our money-soaked elections.
Here’s what the President said today:
I continue to believe that Citizens United contributed to some of the problems we're having in Washington right now. You have some ideological extremists who have a big bankroll, and they can entirely skew our politics. And there are a whole bunch of members of Congress right now who privately will tell you, "I know our positions are unreasonable but we're scared that if we don't go along with the tea party agenda or some particularly extremist agenda that we'll be challenged from the right."
But the flood of money in politics is likely to get even worse. As of now, there remains a thin veil between big money and candidates: There are limits on how much a person (or corporation) can contribute directly to a candidate’s campaign or political party.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard a case that could tear away even that thin veil: McCutcheon v. the Federal Election Commission, a case brought by Shaun McCutcheon, a Republican donor from Alabama, seeking to abolish limits on the amount of money donated to candidates.
Under Citizens United, anyone—including giant corporations—can contribute as much as they want to so-called “independent” organizations, like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS. If McCutcheon prevails, the same unlimited amounts of cash will flow directly to candidates and their political parties. It’s the last step toward shredding any form of restriction on election contributions.
But here’s the good news: By a wide margin, Americans don’t like this legalized form of political corruption, and they are taking action. Since the Citizens United decision, groups like Move to Amend, Public Citizen, and Free Speech for People have been at the forefront of campaigns to pass a constitutional amendment that would bring back our ability to regulate money in politics.
Constitutional amendments are hard to pass. That didn’t stop the suffragettes in their quest to get women the vote. And it needn’t stop us. Already 16 states and more than 300 towns and cities have passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment. Many more legislative bodies have such calls in the works.
As the outrage grows over campaign spending and the gridlock that ensues, the momentum for change also grows. Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules in McCutcheon, you can bet that in towns, cities, and states across the country we will see more calls for a constitutional amendment. Stay tuned. This fight is far from over.
Fran Korten wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Fran is publisher of YES!
Scientists with the Water Protection Division of the Environmental Protection Agency in Atlanta may be out of a paycheck for now, but they're not giving up on service. On Tuesday, 15 staffers from the agency's Atlanta office headed down to a trash-filled urban stream that a local business owner had complained about, and cleaned it up."It may sound sappy, but all of us really believe that our life's work is to protect and restore rivers and streams."
"As we planned the cleanup, we had to exchange cell phone numbers because we usually use our work email and phones to communicate in the office—and, well, all of that was going to be shut down, too," said Lisa Gordon, biologist.
Because of the shutdown, 94 percent of the 16,204 total EPA employees have been placed on indefinite furlough, according to the agency's contingency plan. Agency investigations of toxic air emissions, water contamination, and waste-dumping have been suspended.
The Water Protection Division staff began planning the cleanup as soon as the furlough was announced, according to Gordon. One of the office workers who had experience organizing cleanups pitched the idea to those who owned kayaks, which the team anticipated needing to access the river.
By the next day, several employees were posting the plan on Facebook.
"The response was quick and unanimous," Gordon said.
The group had planned to go to the Chattahoochee, one of the larger rivers in the area, to remove trash from the water and shoreline. That plan was hindered by another result of the government shutdown: the boat ramps maintained by the National Park Service were not in service.
The volunteers gave up on the Chattahoochee and decided to clean up a stream that "needed some love," as Gordon put it. The small, unnamed tributary to the South Fork Peachtree Creek leads right into a nearby nature preserve.
The EPA staffers also proposed that other furloughed workers join them in declaring Tuesday "Federal Furlough for Public Service Day." The employees donated their time in what they're referring to as a meaningful, positive service project. Furloughed staff members at the nearby Centers for Disease Control and Prevention joined in the effort.
"It may sound sappy," Gordon said, "but all of us really believe that our life's work is to protect and restore rivers and streams for people and animals that rely on them—paid or not."
Cynthia Daniel wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Cynthia is an education intern at YES!
Tucked behind brick homes and manicured lawns in suburban Maryland, Rosa's Linarez's two-acre farm is a lush agrarian sanctuary. Just 10 miles outside of downtown Washington, D.C., the small plot hosts a diversity of crops—from brightly colored summer squash to rows of medicinal and culinary herbs.The Crossroads market provides a place for immigrants to share knowledge and memories about food and farming.
As a young girl growing up on her family's land in El Salvador, Linarez helped her parents care for their crops and animals. Their harvests were plentiful enough that they needed little food from the store.
"Since I was a girl I have worked clearing weeds there," Linarez said. "My mom had eight girls and no boys, so we had to work helping my father. I have always spent time on the land and because of that, I love it."
When she first came to the United States, Linarez worked cleaning homes, saving money to bring her family to join her. After decades of work she was able to buy her house in Maryland and retire from housecleaning. Four years ago, her eldest son bought the abandoned lot next to her house for her to use as a garden.
After successfully growing produce for her family and friends, Linarez started looking for a place to sell her crops. That's when she found the Crossroads Farmers Market.
"She started here by just selling out of a basket with an umbrella," market manager Michelle Dudley said. "And we thought, 'Hmm, this isn't really within our market guidelines, but this is what we're about.' So we just worked with her."
The Crossroads market is located at the border between two communities, Langley Park and Takoma Park. But it also represents another type of crossroads, providing a place for immigrants to share knowledge and memories about food and farming. The mission of the market is to support local minority farmers and other regional food producers, while also providing low-income consumers with access to local, healthy, and affordable food.
The vendors set up their booths in a horseshoe-shaped loop every Wednesday, in the parking lot of a small pharmacy. A savory smell wafts from herb-stuffed pupusas, an El Salvadoran dish made from stuffed corn tortillas. Even though the market seems small with its five booths, the atmosphere is filled with bustling market-goers laughing and talking, and kids running around the maze of structures.Making food benefits go further
The Crossroads farmers' market is known statewide for being the first farmers market in Maryland to electronically accept various types of nutrition benefit programs: food stamps, known federally as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); as well as senior food assistance vouchers. Dudley explains that the market committed to accept electronic food stamps after paper vouchers disappeared in the late 1990s.
Crossroads Farmers Market was also the first in the country to launch a financial incentive program for individuals who use federal nutrition benefits. " Fresh Checks" are dollar-value coupons that stretch the purchasing power of SNAP, the Fruits and Vegetables Coupons offered as part of WIC, and vouchers of the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program. Fresh Checks may be used to purchase additional fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, honey, and herbs at the seasonal farmers market. Over the course of 7 years, the Crossroads Farmers Market has distributed over $210,000 in Fresh Checks to more than 5,000 low-income families. The market provides these services through funding from the Kellogg Foundation, the Wholesome Wave Foundation, and other sources of support.
According to Dudley, about 80 percent of the market's customers are Latino, mostly from Central America and Mexico. This has provided a unique opportunity for immigrant farmers like Linarez to sell specialty crops such as fresh cornhusks for making tamales and herbs such as mora and chipilin that grow wild throughout Central and South America.
Many customers stop by Linarez's stand, excited and surprised to see produce from their home countries. One woman explains to another how cornhusks are used in Guatemala, while another asks Linarez her recipe for rue, a bitter herb used to make herbal cough syrups, among other things.
Mora is used to cleanse the blood and treat anemia, Linarez explains, and she says she has given it to family members and friends to treat symptoms of cancer. Linerez offers her knowledge of traditional medicine as a gift to customers at the market.A place for Latino farmers
Although there is a growing population of Latino and Hispanic farmers in the United States, they often struggle with linguistic, cultural, and legal barriers. According to the Agricultural Census of 2007, Hispanic farmers are the fastest-growing population of new farmers and grew 14 percent from 2002, as compared with a 7 percent overall increase in farm operators.
Yet this population has historically faced inequity, especially from the United States Department of Agriculture. The Department has been charged in two separate lawsuits with racial discrimination—against Hispanic farmers in Garcia v. Vilsack and against African American farmers in Pigford v. Glickman.
Although Latino and immigrant farmers in the United States face disproportionate challenges because of cultural, economic, and social factors, many are determined to overcome these obstacles and become successful farm owners. Linarez's farming is driven both by the financial reward and her love of the land. She says that working on the land gives her the feeling of being back home.
Markets like Crossroads support immigrant farmers by connecting them with other immigrants, making it easy to exchange knowledge, and helping them find a way to return to their agrarian roots.
Sarah Meade and Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Sarah and Laura-Anne are researchers with the Environmental Studies Department at Goucher College.
Marie Hogan spoke to a crowd outside the Hershey’s store in Manhattan about the children who harvest cocoa for Hershey’s chocolate. “Hershey is forgetting,” she announced, “that every time they create memories of ‘Hershey’s happiness’ for one kid, they’re creating memories of Hershey’s misery for kids in Africa.”
Marie was only 11 years old when she spoke at the “Raise the bar, Hershey!” rally in 2010. She’d seen videos of children in Ivory Coast and Ghana lugging around heavy sacks of cocoa beans and wielding machetes to open cocoa pods. She heard that these malnourished children in forced labor are often whipped or beaten. And she knew that wasn’t right.
So Marie started a Fair Trade group at her middle school in San Francisco. She began telling everyone she could about the chocolate farmers who don’t earn a living wage, and the children kidnapped to work on plantations. She went guerilla labeling with Global Exchange, taping labels on supermarket chocolate about the realities of most cocoa harvesting. She did outreach at festivals, farmers markets, and film screenings. Speaking up was scary at first, but Marie had an impact. She says that now it’s almost annoying how many kids at her school brag about buying Fair Trade chocolate.
Using their power as consumers is just one thing kids have done about exploitation in the cocoa industry. They’ve gone “Reverse Trick-or-Treating” at Halloween to promote Fair Trade and distribute chocolate samples. Students at Penncrest High School in Pennsylvania organized to become the first Fair Trade public high school in the country. Girl Scouts are pushing to make the chocolate in their cookies Fair Trade.
Children and teenagers, with the innate sense of fairness many adults have given up on, seem to be having an impact. Hershey announced in October 2012 that it will transition by 2020 to 100 percent certified cocoa sources that address labor and environmental issues.
Marie believes Fair Trade certification should be more comprehensive, but she welcomed Hershey’s announcement. “It’s empowering,” she said, “but it means I have more work to do.”
Katrina Rabeler wrote this article for The Human Cost of Stuff, the Fall 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. Katrina is a freelance reporter and writer.
- After Rana Plaza: Let's Bring Humanity Back Into Our Stuff
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When I was little, my grandfather fed me chocolate, mostly to keep me quiet—Hershey Bars, Three Musketeers, Kit Kats, Rolos, hot fudge sundaes. These chocolates of my childhood, fluffy candies molded into clever shapes and wrapped in colorful packaging, told no story beyond their branding, and while my grandpa’s quieting strategy worked, it also created a lifelong fixation with this luxuriant food. By adulthood, my love for chocolate had grown into such a fascination that I enrolled in a Ph.D. program to study its origins, trade, and politics, traveling the world to discover where chocolate comes from, who makes it, and the true costs behind everybody’s favorite sweet.
I first tasted cocoa beans in Hawaii, the only state in America that’s in the tropics, where cocoa can grow, and among the few locales where chocolate is actually produced on the farm. In the hills above Kona, I found the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory and marveled at the trees—short and crowned with oblong leaves, football-sized pods bursting from their trunks. I ran up and greeted one as if it were an old friend, laying my hand on the rough bark, tracing the grooves with my fingertips. Chocolate Factory owner Bob Cooper casually plucked a wine-red pod and hacked it open with a machete. Inside, lay rows of thick, pearly beans. Having longed to see the genesis of my favorite food, this was practically a reverential moment for me. But it is daily labor across the tropics, where millions of farmers pick ruby, orange, or bright yellow pods to satisfy the worldwide appetite for chocolate—a global market worth $100 billion.Poverty and Cocoa
Cooper and his wife, Pam, can support themselves by making chocolate, but life is very different for cocoa farmers in West Africa, source of 70 percent of the world’s supply, where growers in Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon cultivate it exclusively for export.
Unfinished beans command a fraction of the value of processed chocolate. One sack (138 pounds) earns a Ghanaian farmer about $106, but can flavor more than 100 pounds of candy. Put another way: Ghanaian cocoa farmers are getting about 77 cents per pound, where a high-end maker selling 2-ounce chocolate bars for $9 apiece earns $72 per pound. Even your basic $2 bar brings in $16 per pound, about 20 times what the farmer gets. According to the Fairtrade Foundation, cocoa growers in West Africa earn, on average, about 6 percent of the final cost of a chocolate bar.
One of the most illuminating stops on my journey was Southeast Asia, where I got an up-close look at the labor involved in chocolate farming. In the lowland forest of Malaysia, a whip-thin grower led me through groves of lush green plantain and graceful coconut palms. They swayed above us, providing both fruit for the farmer and shade for his fragile, shade-loving cocoa trees. Such quiet walks were rare, however. Most of the farmer’s days were spent pruning, weeding, fertilizing, spraying, and grafting hybrids to ensure the highest-yielding trees, then studying his cocoa pods for the exact moment of ripeness. Neither he nor any of the other farmers I interviewed had ever savored the bittersweet taste of a chocolate bar. Fresh cocoa, often too bitter to swallow, has as much in common with the candy of my youth as a sunflower or blade of grass, and its transformation into a delicacy requires a chain of production so elaborate that the end product is far too expensive for most farmers to buy.For their labors, most cocoa farmers I met in West Africa earn between $2 and $4 a day and struggle to meet basic needs. Many are barely literate. They live in mud huts or tin-roofed shacks, eating subsistence crops—cassava, yam, plantain—supplemented by white rice and processed foods like tomato paste from a can. Working conditions are generally miserable. In Ghana, for example, the average high is a humid 90 degrees during the prime growing season, when farmers walk forests laced with thorns, snakes, and scorpions.
After witnessing such poverty up close, my initial response was to search for solutions friendly to both chocolate lovers and cocoa farmers. I’d long been familiar with the blue-and-green, yin-yang label of Fairtrade International, sometimes referred to as FLO (acronym of the organization’s former name, Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International), which unites various certification efforts under one umbrella. The largest ethical-trade organization on the planet, FLO certifies producer groups in 58 countries and requires that farmers adhere to rigorous production standards, including a democratic cooperative structure, environmental stewardship, and non-discriminatory labor practices. Individual farmers, however, are not certified; they form cooperatives, which are granted the Fairtrade imprimatur after paying an annual fee to the organization. It is the cooperatives’ responsibility to ensure that each member adheres to Fairtrade standards.
Ethically minded chocolate companies—including some who use FLO’s label—have raised questions about this and other aspects of the Fairtrade system. At present, the organization sets minimum prices on each commodity it certifies; for cocoa, that’s $2,000 per metric ton. FLO-certified cooperatives receive this minimum, or the world-market price, whichever is higher. However, FLO does not detail the thinking behind its pricing standards, except to note—rather vaguely—that they are intended to cover the cost of “sustainable production.” In other words, despite the implications of its name, “Fairtrade” prices do not necessarily cover any of the basic costs of life—like housing, food, or education—for growers.
Moreover, the Fairtrade minimum barely differs from the current world market price, which since 2005 has generally been higher. And as large corporations like Mars and Cadbury (owned by Kraft Foods) increasingly jump on the bandwagon, using the Fairtrade label, long-certified firms worry that FLO’s standards may weaken—if they haven’t already. After all, the organization was established to promote more equitable trade than the world market provides, not as a stamp for multinationals to continue exploiting cheap agricultural goods.
Fairtrade-certified cooperatives do receive an additional $200 per metric ton of cocoa, known as the Fairtrade premium, some of which is paid to farmers as a cash bonus. Most growers I met, however, were more appreciative of the development projects—wells, pumps, schools—that a majority of the premiums go toward, and which benefit entire villages.Better Than Fair Trade
While FLO standards provide an ethical-trade foundation for certified cooperatives, some companies using the label do more than others to support growers. The Ghanaian cooperative Kuapa Kokoo, for example, has a long and unique relationship with Britain’s Divine Chocolate that goes far beyond typical Fairtrade requirements. Most producers have little to do with the final product, but members of Kuapa Kokoo own nearly half the shares in Divine, which is publicly traded, and they benefit from the dividends. Kuapa Kokoo also promotes equitable distribution of cocoa income between women and men, and women farmers who participate say this has improved their standing at home, as well as their ability to support their children.
Divine Chocolate regularly invites members of Kuapa Kokoo to tour Britain and, increasingly, the United States. They meet with chocolate lovers, give public talks, and are often stunned at the abundance of chocolate in shops. Where these farmers live, a family would have to save up food money for three days to buy a single Cadbury bar. The closest most will ever come to tasting chocolate is a flavorless mug of Nestlé cocoa.
In 2001, when I began my chocolate studies, there were few sources of detailed information on the whys and wherefores of this delicacy; I had to travel to actual cocoa farms to learn about the industry. But by the time I returned to the United States in 2006, a burgeoning artisanal market was connecting consumers to cocoa growers in new ways. Oil-glossy and snapping into bite-size pieces with a pleasing crack, bars by Amano Artisan Chocolate, Rogue Chocolatier, Askinosie Chocolate, and Fresco Chocolate tasted of wildflowers or mushrooms, licorice or hay—nothing like the Hershey’s Kisses of my youth. Some artisanal makers were paying up to eight times the world market price for beans with unusual flavor profiles, shifting the socioeconomics of the cocoa exchange. And unlike multinational companies, artisan chocolate makers actually knew their growers. They featured farmers’ stories on their candy wrappers, putting a human face on cocoa production.
This was a focus they shared with the new, direct-trade chocolate companies, which wanted to cut out exporters and distributors. Small-scale coffee roasters were already doing this, but Taza Chocolate in Somerville, Mass., pioneered it for chocolate. Alex Whitmore, a Taza founder, had been intrigued by Mayan chocolate-making methods, and he envisioned a company that would honor this ancient culture while cultivating long-term relationships with growers. Unlike FLO, whose production standards and premiums are fixed for all certified cooperatives, Taza negotiates individual prices with each cooperative through ongoing dialog about quality and best practices.
Most of Taza’s cocoa beans have come from La Red Guaconejo, a cooperative in the Dominican Republic. Their first shipment, in 2006, was taken straight from the farm to a nearby airstrip, where it was loaded onto a plane headed to Logan Airport in Boston, and then driven the few miles to Taza’s factory. Without any middlemen, the entire payment for those cocoa beans went straight to La Red. Direct trade thus bypasses the standard supply chain and, in doing so, offers a meaningful alternative to business as usual.
There is today a far wider, more exciting range of chocolate bars available than we knew even a decade ago, and consumers can exercise a certain amount of ethical practice in buying them. Putting faith in a blue-and-green Fairtrade label alone is, perhaps, too simple. Through their different models, Fairtrade-certified companies, direct-trade companies, and artisanal producers are pushing each other to rethink standards for the entire chocolate industry.
We can encourage this by demanding that chocolate makers and retailers provide straightforward information about their products. Ask some hard questions about the chocolate on your store shelves—how much did farmers earn for the cocoa in this bar? Was it higher than the world market price, or about the same? What country did the cocoa beans come from? Expect to get correct information, and if someone answers you, “Switzerland,” start shopping somewhere else.
Kristy Leissle wrote this article for The Human Cost of Stuff, the Fall 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. Kristy is a writer and professor of Global Studies at the University of Washington, Bothell, where she researches the cocoa-chocolate trade.
The 4.6 million English language learners in the United States public school system are in trouble, according to poet Dylan Garity. Calling them "good organs in a sick body," he believes that their ability to succeed in the U.S. school system is endangered by policies around English education and he's using the power of the pen—or, in this case, the poetry slam—to get the word out about it.In 2002, Massachusetts residents voted to replace transitional bilingual education with an English-only curriculum.
Garity, assistant director of the nonprofit organization Button Poetry, performed the piece "Rigged Game" for the 2013 National Poetry Slam competition in Boston. The poem pairs a personal narrative about Garity’s sister’s experience as a teacher in Boston with a critique of No Child Left Behind’s impact on students trying to learn English.
The poem derives much of its power from its comparisons:
Learning to read in a new language when you can't even read in your own is like trying to heal a burn victim by drowning them.
We are telling these children who have spent their whole lives in the deep end that they'll learn how to swim if they just float out a little farther.
Though the individual children Garity names in his piece do not exist, they reflect the real experiences of his sister's students. Many of them come into her fourth-grade class lacking the ability to read in their native language, or with no knowledge of English whatsoever.
Garity believes that education in the students' native language is the best place to start, but a new law actively prevents that. In 2002, Massachusetts residents voted to replace transitional bilingual education with an English-only curriculum, which meant that ESL teachers like Garity's sister are no longer allowed to help students with their Spanish in any way. Yet the students are still expected to perform at grade level by the end of the school year.
"She has to prepare them for these test that they have no possible way of being prepared for," Garity told YES. "Even with the best resources available, it's impossible for these students to achieve those standards."
Garity's performance shows how a poet can cut through confusing legal language and bring out the human rights issues that underlie behind it.
Nur Lalji wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media project that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Nur is an online reporting intern at YES!
Chokwe Lumumba was an unlikely candidate for high office in Mississippi. But last June, the former Black Nationalist and one-time attorney to Tupac Shakur was elected Mayor of Jackson. He’s now in hot pursuit, not of big box stores or the next silver bullet solution to what ails the state’s capital city. He wants to create worker-owned cooperatives and small-scale green businesses and to invest in training and infrastructure. It’s the program of change he ran on in the election: local self-reliance.
Jackson’s population is 80 percent black, 18 percent white, and the rest largely immigrant, with heavy concentrations of Indians, Nigerians, and Brazilians.
“Without question, the ideas of economic democracy that we want to propose come from the Southern context,” says Kali Akuno, a member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and a coordinator of special projects for the Lumumba administration.
That Lumumba won the election came as a surprise to some, but not to Akuno: “There exists an audience in the black community that is way more willing than others to experiment with distribution.”
Self-reliance “is in our history. It’s had to be,” he continues. “People know about Fannie Lou Hamer organizing black voters to fight segregation, but do they know she also helped to start cooperatives with retail distribution across Mississippi that are still around today?”
Far from Mississippi, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, indigenous entrepreneur Mark Tilsen has just begun the process of turning ownership of his local food products company over to his workers. Tilsen founded Native American Natural Foods with his partner Karlene Hunter in 2006. Five years later, they won a Social Innovation Award from the Social Venture Network. Today, they’re innovating again: joining a cohort of Native American leaders in a program to strengthen the local economy by democratizing wealth and ownership. The program has been developed by the Democracy Collaborative and the Northwest Area Foundation.
Tilsen and I talked via cellphone in August, as a hailstorm pelted down on the reservation. For many years, Pine Ridge has ranked as this nation's poorest place according to the U.S. Census. Eighty percent of the residents are unemployed; 49 percent live below the poverty line. In 2007, life expectancy was estimated at 48 for men and 52 for women. “Why co-ops?” I asked.
“The goal of our company is wealth creation and self-determination on the Pine Ridge Reservation, so we want our employees to own the wealth they’re creating. We didn’t make this company to sell or flip it,” answered Tilsen. “In tribal communities, traditional methods of production were based on ‘tiospaye’—the Oglala word for extended family structures,” Tilsen explained. “That’s how we survived and how we took care of one another, organizing points of production in a cooperative way. It’s nothing foreign.”
Tilsen hopes to have Native American Natural Foods in employee hands by June, 2014.Commonomics Commonomics will focus on the gatherers, those who are working to foster economic growth from within. We’ll be asking what’s working, what isn’t, and by what standard are our local economies to be judged?
Welcome to “Commonomics,” a new collaboration between YES! Magazine and GRITtv. Starting this month, we’ll be traveling the country asking the question: what makes for a strong local economy? It's not a question that produces easy answers.
Farmer-philosopher Wendell Berry defines economy this way: “I mean not economics but economy, the making of the human household upon the earth; the arts of adapting kindly the many, many human households to the earth’s many eco-systems and human neighborhoods.”
Beyond GDP: Measuring What Matters
Aggregate counts of economic activity like gross domestic product, or GDP, give all activity equal value. The cultivating of an urban farm, which may involve little paid work and consume few bought materials, is less “productive,” in GDP terms, than paving that farm over.
“When grain prices go up, that’s good for GDP but terrible for hunger," says Joshua Farley, a professor in community development and applied economics at the University of Vermont. "GDP is an excellent measure of cost; a terrible measure of benefit.”
To even start a new conversation, we need new measurements. As the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) puts it, it’s time to start “measuring what matters.”
Farley’s been involved in studies of Burlington, Vt., using a Genuine Progress Indicator, a version of the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare that looks at a community's overall well-being. There are many variations of these alternative indicators. Though most still equate value with consumption and growth, some include factors that GDP leaves out—like the value of unpaid household and volunteer work—and factor in the cost of pollution, depletion of resources, and the consequences of uneven distribution of wealth.
We don’t yet measure the real costs of these problems in the United States, because, for example, we tend to underprice energy, transportation, and education, and pay no tax on environmental pollution.
According to Robert Reich, former U.S. Labor Secretary and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, “A true tally of all that might reveal the value of being more local."
By now, we know the signs of a "household" that’s been hollowed out. We’ve seen the food deserts and the chronically vacant homes, the ghostly downtown storefronts and the municipalities in hock to the last sweet-talking corporation to suck up public subsidies and then run away. We’re familiar with the tension in a city where the only thing the rich and poor districts have in common is a subway line. We know what it’s like to be close, everywhere, to the same chain coffee shop and two hours away from the “local” hospital. We’ve seen the sprawl that ate the woodlands and the floodwaters that steadily rose.
In Commonomics we’re going to look at communities that have had enough of all that; places where, by choice or by crisis, people are trying to figure out how to transform what they’ve known into something better for all.
There’s no consensus on the meaning of “local,” let alone agreement on what makes an economy “strong.” Ask 25 people with expertise in the topic, and you'll hear 25 different answers. (I know because that's what I did.) But there is history here, and a breadth of experience we can draw on if we pay attention, especially to those for whom “self-reliance” is not a lifestyle choice.
Wealthy communities, let’s face it, aren’t famous for their embrace of togetherness and sharing. The wealthiest “local” economies are surrounded by locking gates. In Commonomics, we’re going to talk with some of the people and groups who, when it comes to sustainability and localism, have often been excluded from the policymaking and the debate, and yet who may have the most rooted and innovative ideas for building strength.
I’m reminded of the words of J. Bob Alotta, executive director of the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, referring to the disproportionately low-income LGBT groups she funds: “To be unsafe inside your own skin can be isolating but it is also a value proposition…It begets the possibility of building community in ways that may seem old fashioned.”
Nevertheless, even the best community builders need structural support. Policymakers and economic developers typically fall into two camps: “hunters” and “gatherers.” The former look to tempt big businesses from elsewhere to move to where they are by showering them with tax breaks and benefits that simultaneously siphon money out of a local area. Commonomics will focus on the gatherers, those who are working to foster economic growth from within. We’ll be asking what’s working, what isn’t, and by what standard are our local economies to be judged? Environmental health, unemployment, social mobility; there are many relevant metrics. We’ll prioritize poverty reduction and quality of life. (See sidebar at left.)What is a local economy, anyway?
"Local" has become a buzzword. There’s “Eco-localism,” local food and local farming, local media movements, and regional, state, and even national ad campaigns urging us to “eat local," "buy local," and "put local first." Local's gone global, but what exactly does it mean?
I bought the desk I’m writing on on eBay. I’ve saved a pretty antique from the dump and spared the environment the cost of a bit of fresh manufacturing. I’ve helped some eBay merchant’s “local” economy. But compared to the closest furniture factory, is that nice eBay seller in Oklahoma contributing more or less in terms of jobs and taxes? The mind boggles.
Stacy Mitchell, director of independent business and community banking initiatives at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, says “local” varies by sector of the economy. Retail and banking businesses can be considered local if the owners are within a certain geographic area. But every village is not going to start making its own jet aircraft. “Talking manufacturing, you may need to be talking regional or statewide,” says Mitchell.
Geography matters less than goals, she continues: “The goal is having community-led, community-controlled economies where the decision-making is by those who are feeling the effects of the decisions that are made. [We need] humanly scaled systems both in economics and politics.”
At the American Sustainable Business Council, David Levine talks about the “triple bottom line” of social, environmental, and economic impacts.
“Within that frame, local by itself is not enough,” he says. Levine does not want people buying “local first” from a locally owned sweatshop or toxic chemical plant. To avoid that, what’s important to business owners and consumers alike, he says, is that there be “transparency around values.”
“The so-called local economy is really best understood as a regional transaction,” says Anthony Flaccavento, a family farmer, community leader, and small-business owner from Abingdon, Va.
“You need to think regionally. What does your region support ecologically and where are the markets? The hyper-local focus, within five or 100 miles is foolish. Most goods travel 2,000 miles. If you can build something [to substitute] within 500 miles you’ve made a major impact.”
To Flaccavento, who built a nationally recognized nonprofit, Appalachian Sustainable Development, a critical indicator of a strong local economy is what he calls “synergy”—how much one positive action ignites another. A few large employers help anchor a community’s economy, for sure, but when a community is depending on one or two entities to keep a place ticking over, it’s vulnerable to devastation should that single employer move out. That company may get a better deal somewhere else in tax breaks or community services.Buying local is not enough—we have to change the rules
To make the substantial shifts that we need, it’s going to take more than consumers buying local, says Michael Shuman, research director of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE). It’s going to require tilting the policy landscape toward local businesses. Rather than simply lecturing consumers on buying local, government will have to lead by doing likewise. The government’s purse is a whole lot more powerful than Joe and Jane Consumer’s. There are many things cities and states already do to benefit business—like offering subsidies, grants, and loans. Cities are experimenting with different ways to direct those public benefits to locally owned businesses that benefit the public, and through government contracting and procurement. Some, like Cleveland, award extra points in the contract bidding process to businesses that are locally owned, or green, or pay prevailing wages, or hire local workers, or all of the above. But so far, policymakers have generally been reluctant to cut the multinationals off. Charging discrimination, internationally owned firms have been known to challenge local preference rules under international trade law and the fear of lawsuits puts an effective chill on legislators.
But, says Flaccavento, “If you’re promoting downtown revitalization and supporting small business, you can’t simultaneously build a big box development on the outskirts of town. One will undermine the other."
Shuman wants government to move its money—all of it, “including everything that requires city staff time and energy, from non-local business and refocus it instead—laser-like—on local business.”Who is part of a strong local economy?
Which brings us back to Wendell Berry’s idea of the “household.” There’s not a lawmaker in America who thinks he has more money than his community needs. Deploying that public purse is all about making choices. How are you going to manage the household? And who’s seen and heard in your economic “house”? The human household is a many-faceted thing, not to mention multinational, which can make the language of “local” contentious. Can disparaging non-local businesses spill over into discriminating against non-local workers? Just whom do we call a “local” anyway and do they have to speak our language?
Local arts ...
“It’s important to do the right kind of asset mapping,” says Sam Miller, director of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Communities with robust local economies create environments where artists can thrive and work. Artists “hire workers, rent space, make stuff, sell it,” says Miller. Good arts policy is good development policy, and vice versa. Don’t fetishize artists, fund them: “When you’re defining a economic cluster, do you include artists in the same way you’d include web developers?”
... and local media.
The strongest local communities have local independent media—think Berkeley, Boulder, Tampa (all are community-radio rich). “People need to be well informed about what’s happening where they live and how it relates to what’s going on around them. People need to get to know each other and be shown a way to respond to the challenges they face,” says Jo Ellen Kaiser, executive director of The Media Consortium, a collaborative organization of independent media outlets (both GRITtv and YES! are members). Put an independent media center in your downtown development district and you give it voice.
Artisanal crafts and local produce are attractive. But if you're going to serve everybody, scale matters. Wealthy communities can afford to do a lot of sexy things that poor communities cannot because no money is coming in. That’s why Dan Swinney believes manufacturing needs to be part of the strong local economy too.
A former machinist who established Manufacturing Renaissance in Chicago, Swinney works in communities that have become job-poor due to globalization and the closure of local businesses for lack of next-generation owners and managers. “A lot of people ignore the material aspect of things,” he said.
“You can have jobs that build people or destroy people but you need an employment base.” Swinney would prefer ownership of his company be local and democratic. He's all for ESOPs (Employee Stock Ownership Plans) and is in favor of co-ops with worker ownership and worker control. But, he says, “There’s a sequence from lower to higher value.” Swinney’s first priority is on getting people into jobs.Getting institutions on board
What’s exciting about getting people engaged in local community-building is getting people engaged in how their community works. But if and when people want to change that, “locals” need not just local shops and arts, but institutions that influence policy.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is, at last, no longer the only business group at most negotiating tables. “I think it’s fair to say there’s a blossoming of alternative economic development models and business associations,” says Greg LeRoy, of Good Jobs First, a group that debunks what it calls the business lobby’s “pseudo-science” around what’s good for the “business climate." There's also—among many others—BALLE, the Independent Business Alliance, the Main Street Alliance, and the American Sustainable Business Council.
“There’s much broader thinking now, more rooted in the local community, that’s able to weigh in on development debates such that the Chamber doesn’t have a monopoly any more,” LeRoy says.
On the worker side, “a strong local economy would have to have collective organizing of workers in order to be fully democratic,“ says Michael Lighty, policy director of National Nurses United, based in Oakland, Calif. “Unions are the key institutions that give individuals collective power.”
Still, “The new economy for us is not simply about peppering the landscape with groovy models, but is part of broader economic justice organizing and political action,” says Sarah Ludwig, founder and co-director of the New Economy Project in New York. Unless there's broad institutional change—breaking up big banks, effecting some semblance of corporate accountability, getting money out of politics, "you know, just for starters," Ludwig says—"The creation of model institutions will take us only so far."
The most participatory local budgeting process isn’t going to stop the crisis in public schools as long as the budget the community’s participating in is an austerity budget. Which brings us to the question of power.So how do ordinary people get power in this economy?
From Mississippi to Pine Ridge, allies abound for policymakers, entrepreneurs, and those who want to build strong local economies. But how do those potential allies build power enough to have an influence?
On the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Saket Soni works with guest workers. Arriving in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he saw firsthand the decimation of an entire local economy and the eradication of local control—and he watched, up close, the consequences.
“The logic of the corporate model after Katrina was to create a predatory community that could funnel local people into low-wage work with a revolving door to deportation or prison without creating a single stable job or career path for the most vulnerable," says Soni. Guest workers from other countries were brought in on temporary visas with virtually no rights in a labor supply chain that left local workers out. Antagonism between groups grew just as plans for the area’s reconstruction were being decided, and low-income communities suffered as a result. Over time, immigrant and local reconstruction workers organized together, and started demanding of Congress that the labor abuses be stopped. After some of their demands were met and fines were levied by government, some of those same organizations got involved in housing and local development planning too.
“The other side [of the crisis]," Soni says, "was that at the center of the ruin, a core of resilient people, who were in crisis long before the recession, had the vision and relationships to make a set of economic demands and organize to win them.”
What holds people back from doing more themselves is need, he adds. The low-wage workers he organizes don’t plan their lives more than a week or two in advance. They’re not allowed to by the economy. “They don’t know their next shift, their next job, even the industry they’ll be working in next week.”
In Soni’s world, the measure of a strong and rooted local economy lies in families' and communities' ability to imagine, and plan for, their future. That affects everything, including organizing, he says.
“No one wants a sustainable future and a shareable economy more than the low-wage workers we organize.”
You’ll be seeing more reports, from Jackson, New Orleans, Pine Ridge, and other frontlines of the “strong local economy” movement right here in Commonomics. And we hope you’ll contribute your news and ideas at: www.yesmagazine.org/commonomics.
Laura Flanders wrote this article for YES! Magazine's Commonomics project. Laura is YES! Magazine's 2013 Local Economies Reporting Fellow and is executive producer and founder and host of "GRITtv with Laura Flanders." Follow her on Twitter @GRITlaura.
This article originally appeared at Waging Nonviolence.
In his complaints against the wing of the Republican Party that engineered the present government shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid derided his opponents as "Tea Party anarchists." It's hard to decide who should be more annoyed—the Tea Party or the anarchists.Historically, the so-called libertarians of the Tea Party and anarchists have common roots.
In any case, Reid's remark is revealing of how the long tradition of anarchist philosophy has been thrown under the bus of U.S. political discourse, then rolled over, then dragged along in mangled form so as to be pointed at when doing so seems expedient.
Many may be surprised, for example, that actual anarchists aren't necessarily rejoicing over the U.S. government's latest form of self-annihilation. What they see taking place is a transfer of power from one kind of oppression, by a government that at least pretends to be democratic, to another that has no such pretensions. They point out that the shutdown won't stop the NSA from spying on us, or police from enforcing laws in discriminatory ways, or migrant workers and nonviolent drug users from being imprisoned at staggering rates. The parts of government that the shutdown strips away are among those that bring us closer to being a truly free, egalitarian society: food assistance to ensure that everyone can eat, health care that more people can afford, and public parks where some of our greatest natural treasures are held in common. Meanwhile, ever more power is being handed over to corporations that are responsible only to their wealthiest shareholders.
Historically, the so-called libertarians of the Tea Party and anarchists have common roots. The origins of both can be traced to certain freedom-seeking strands of the Enlightenment —including thinkers like Edmund Burke and Thomas Jefferson, as well as ones not normally taught in U.S. classrooms like William Godwin and Peter Kropotkin.
It's an oddity that in the United States, the main current of libertarian thought has been twisted and inverted into a kind of monstrous stepchild. Rather than seeking an end to all forms of oppression, our libertarians want to do away with only the government kind, leaving the rest of us vulnerable to the forces of corporate greed, racial discrimination, and environmental destruction. The legacy of one firebrand Russian émigré, Emma Goldman, has been traded for that of another, Ayn Rand. The result is that, in this country, what was once the mainstream of libertarian thought—socialist, democratic anarchism—has become so forgotten that the word "anarchist" can be mishandled for the sake of a congressional jab.
If anarchism were really just a preference for the absence of government, as many are led to assume, Reid's usage would've been basically correct; the right-wing libertarians he's up against would be thrilled to see our government become less of an obstruction to profiteers. But, since at least the Enlightenment, anarchism has meant much more than that. The rule—the–archy—it seeks to dismantle is also the rule of those with too much property over those with not enough, and of those whose privilege of race or gender gives them priority over others. Anarchists seek a society in which ordinary people can freely and democratically govern themselves, organizing to meet everyone's basic needs.
Until that comes to pass, anarchists today disagree about how to relate to institutions like the pseudo-democratic U.S. government. Some, much like their counterparts on the libertarian right, advocate total withdrawal and nonparticipation, refusing to do things like vote or pay taxes. Others believe that for now government can be a means for pursuing anarchist-friendly ends; "it's completely realistic and rational to work within structures to which you are opposed," writes Noam Chomsky, "because by doing so you can help to move to a situation where then you can challenge those structures."Harry Reid's utterance is a symptom of the amnesia that has befallen libertarian political thought in this country.
Most people with anarchist tendencies fall somewhere in between. They're less fixated on debating whether government is good or bad than on rebuilding political life from the ground up, starting in local communities connected through global networks.
When the anarchist-inspired Occupy movement sprang up two years ago, commentators were quick to compare it to the Tea Party—and to judge it by whether, like the Tea Party, it elected politicians to office. But this standard seemed beside the point for Occupy participants, who tended to hold a different strategy for making change. The more useful right-wing analogue would be not the Tea Party but churches, whose massive political power stems from being effective centers of mutual support and community. Megachurch pastors generally keep aloof from elected office, but nobody can deny their influence.
Harry Reid's utterance about "Tea Party anarchists" is a symptom of the amnesia that has befallen libertarian political thought in this country—an amnesia that helps the capitalist class grow stronger with each sequential fiscal crisis and each shrinkage of the social safety net. He might do well to reconsider his words. While in the long run the anarchist tradition seeks to cast mighty men like him from their thrones, in the short-term effort to ensure basic necessities for more people, Reid might find himself sharing a common cause with anarchists.
Nathan Schneider is the editor of Waging Nonviolence, where this article originally appeared. His most recent book is Thank You Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse.
Last month, after dropping off his wife and infant son at home, Dr. Prabhjot Singh went for an evening walk with a friend near Central Park in New York City. Minutes later, he was attacked by a group of young men who grabbed his beard and beat him while yelling "terrorist!" "get him!" and "Osama!"They prayed for their perpetrators, seeking not revenge but compassion.
The attack resulted in several lost teeth and a fractured jaw. At a press conference two days later, when asked what he might say to his perpetrators, Dr. Singh replied:
Even more important to me than my attackers being caught is that they are taught. My tradition teaches me to value justice and accountability, and it also teaches me love, compassion and understanding. This incident, while unfortunate, can help initiate a conversation to create greater understanding within the community.
Dr. Singh and his wife, Manmeet Kaur, are Sikhs, part of an independent religion founded 500 years ago in northern India. It is the fifth-largest religion in the world, with over 25 million adherents. Sikhism is based upon principles of service, social justice, freedom, and equality for all. Through my work with the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), and through my friendships and associations with Sikhs, my respect for this community continues to grow.
Among the more prominent indicators of faith for Sikhs of both genders is the turban, which has resulted in many misperceptions. Two weeks ago, I attended a seminar at Stanford University titled "Turban Myths," which unveiled a study of the same name sponsored by SALDEF and researchers at Stanford University. The study indicated that:
- 70 percent of Americans surveyed misidentified turban-wearers as Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Shinto, when in fact, 99 percent all men in the U.S. who wear turbans are Sikh Americans.
- Americans tend to associate turbans with Osama bin Laden, more so than with other named Muslim and Sikh individuals, and more than with no one in particular.
- Misperceptions have led some to target Sikh Americans with hate-based crimes such as the Oak Creek, Wisconsin tragedy of August 5, 2012, when six Sikh Americans were killed at their temple.
In the wake of Oak Creek and the attack on Dr. Singh, I have witnessed SALDEF, their affiliates, and the greater Sikh community embrace their crises with a clear message in alignment with their values of seva (selfless service), nimarta (respect and humility), sanghat (community), and most especially chardi kala (maintaining optimism and high spirits, even during times of adversity).
They prayed for their perpetrators, seeking not revenge but compassion and awareness. They did not speak against Muslims, with whom they are mistakenly identified, but advocated for respect and understanding of all faiths. They did not surrender to rage in defense of their freedom of religion and expression, but welcomed questions about their faith. These are actions and values that are inherently Sikh. They are also inherently American.
As pundits pummel us with headlines about appropriate responses to the crisis in Syria, the government shutdown, or the ongoing crises of violence in our own neighborhoods, I hope we can remember the examples of our Sikh friends, and their capacity to embrace a crisis.
In commemoration of the first anniversary of the Oak Creek tragedy, the Sikh community called not for marches and demonstrations, but for a national day of service. Seventy-two hours after he was attacked, Dr. Prabhjot Singh returned to work in Harlem, serving his patients. In Dr. Singh and in the greater Sikh community, I offer examples of fine Americans that all of us can look up to.
Kevin Fong wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Kevin is a nationally recognized and respected facilitator, trainer and speaker in leadership and executive development and organizational systems, philosophy and design.
I noticed an interesting trend while reporting recently on #Fearless Summer—three months of direct actions targeting the fossil fuel industry, with more than 50 events and almost 500 arrests. Every person I interviewed said that direct action was on the rise. They couldn't necessarily quantify it, but they felt it.Increasingly, direct action is seen not as a fringe tactic but as the next logical step when other avenues fail.
There's a clear trajectory, too: away from "Big Green" groups who placed their hopes in electoral politics, and toward creative, high-stakes actions in the communities that have the most to lose. Increasingly, direct action is seen not as a fringe tactic but as the next logical step when other avenues fail. "When people see each other confronting power, their fear goes away," says Joshua Kahn Russell, a campaign strategist and direct action trainer with the Ruckus Society and 350.org. "People are willing to take risks when they know their community has their back."
I wondered if we might be on the verge of a Montgomery Bus Boycott moment—one where a movement comes into its own. I decided to put the question back out to movement leaders: How has grassroots direct action transformed the climate movement in the United States over the last 10 years? This timeline reflects those stories and the ever-present hope that, this time, we're on the cusp of something big.
We're used to seeing history as written from a distance. This is a little different, an attempt to tell a story as it unfolds. What this timeline offers, I hope, is a chance to look up from our frenzied Twitter feeds and take a broad look at the past decade; not only to appreciate how far we've come in a relatively short time, but also to help us think about how to steer the course of the future. A little perspective can be pretty useful.
I'll admit right now that there's a lot missing. I tried to get input from lots of different sectors of the movement—frontline organizers, direct action trainers, volunteer activists, Big Greens. I realized pretty quickly, though, that it would be a lot more complex than I'd thought. Case in point: What is the "climate movement," anyway? It's more a worldview than a single entity, an ethos that links Brazilian rainforest campaigns with fights over coal plants in poor Texas neighborhoods and oil drilling in Alaska. It unites them all under a common language and a shared threat.
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But what about parents in the refinery towns who are fighting a coal plant because it gives their kids asthma? Yes, the coal plant contributes to climate change. But that's not their immediate concern. Do those parents consider themselves part of the climate movement, too?What's clear is that this movement goes way beyond NGOs and tree-sitters.
A visual like this is most useful for the big stuff—events that can have their own notch on the line—but it leaves out the smaller stories: the sustained direct actions, the ones in poorer communities that maybe aren't as well-publicized or aren't seen as having a big impact. Or maybe it's just easier to wrap our minds around big, single events than more sustained and subtle trends.
What's clear is that this movement goes way beyond NGOs and tree-sitters. It includes frontline communities, labor groups, healthcare workers, and immigration activists. I'm still not sure how to define it—much less how to tell its story—but I do know that it's big and getting bigger.
So I put the question out to you: What's not on here that should be? What stories are untold? How do we tell this story in a way that does justice to how broad and varied this climate movement—whatever that means—really is?
Kristin Moe wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media project that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Kristin writes about climate, grassroots movements, and social change. Follow her on Twitter @yo_Kmoe.
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Erin Sagen and Nur Lalji contributed research for this feature.