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This article originally appeared at the Huffington Post.
In the mid-1990s I moved to Mi'gma'gi to go to graduate school. I was expecting to learn about juvenile Atlantic salmon on the Miramichi River. I was naive and misguided. Fortunately for me, the Mi'kmaq people saw that in me and they taught me something far more profound. I did my first sweat in the homeland of Elsipogtog, in the district of Siknikt. I did solidarity work with the women of Elsipogtog, then known as Big Cove, as they struggled against imposed poverty and poor housing. One of them taught me my first song, the Mi'kmaq honor song, and I attended her Native Studies class with her as she sang it to a room full of shocked students.
I also found a much needed refuge with a Mi'kmaq family on a nearby reserve. What I learned from all of these kind people who saw me as an Nishnaabeg in a town where no one else did, was that the place I needed to be wasn't Mi'gma'gi, but in my own Mississauga Nishnaabeg homeland. For that I am grateful.Slowly but surely we get backed into a corner where the only thing left to do is to put our bodies on the land.
Nearly every year I travel east to Mi'gma'gi for one reason or another. In 2010, my children and I traveled to Listuguj in the Gespe'gewa'gi district of Mi'gma'gi to witness the PhD dissertation defense of Fred Metallic. I was on Fred's dissertation committee, and Fred had written and was about to defend his entire dissertation in Mi'gmaw (Mi'kmaq) without translation—a groundbreaking achievement. Fred had also kindly invited us to his community for the defense. When some of the university professors indicated that this might be difficult given that the university was 1,300 kilometers away from the community, Fred simply insisted there was no other way.
He insisted because his dissertation was about building a different kind of relationship between his nation and Canada, between his community and the university. He wasn't going to just talk about decolonizing the relationship, he was determined to embody it, and he was determined that the university would as well.
This was a Mi'kmaw dissertation on the grounds of Mi'kmaw intellectual traditions, ethics, and politics.
The defense was unlike anything I have ever witnessed within the academy. The community hall was packed with representatives from band councils, the Sante Mawiomi, and probably close to 300 relatives, friends, children, and supporters from other communities. The entire defense was in Mi'gmaw, led by community Elders, leaders, and Knowledge Holders—the real intellectuals in this case.
There was ceremony. There was song and prayer. At the end, there was a huge feast and giveaway. It went on for the full day and into the night. It was one of the most moving events I have ever witnessed, and it changed me. It challenged me to be less cynical about academics and institutions because the strength and persistence of this one Mi'gmaw man and the support of his community changed things.
I honestly never thought he'd get his degree, because I knew he'd walk away rather than compromise. He had my unconditional support either way. Fred is one of the most brilliant thinkers I've ever met, and he was uncompromising in his insistence that the university meet him halfway. I never thought an institution would.
All of these stories came flooding back to me this week as I watched the RCMP attack the nonviolent anti-fracking protestors at Elsipogtog with rubber bullets, an armored vehicle, tear gas, fists, police dogs, and pepper spray. The kind of stories I learned in Mi'gmagi will never make it into the mainstream media, and most Canadians will never hear them.Setting the willfully ignorant and racists aside, sane, intelligent people should be standing with the Mi'kmaq.
Instead, Canadians will hear recycled propaganda as the mainstream media blindly goes about repeating the press releases sent to them by the RCMP designed to portray Mi'kmaw protestors as violent and unruly in order to justify their own colonial violence. The only images most Canadians will see is of the three hunting rifles, a basket full of bullets and the burning police cars, and most will be happy to draw their own conclusions based on the news—that the Mi'kmaq are angry and violent, that they have no land rights, and that they deserved to be beaten, arrested, criminalized, jailed, shamed, and erased.
The story here, the real story, is virtually the same story in every indigenous nation: Over the past several centuries we have been violently dispossessed of most of our land to make room for settlement and resource development. The active system of settler colonialism maintains that dispossession and erases us from the consciousness of settler Canadians except in ways that is deemed acceptable and non-threatening to the state.
We start out dissenting and registering our dissent through state-sanctioned mechanisms like environmental impact assessments. Our dissent is ignored. Some of us explore Canadian legal strategies, even though the courts are stacked against us. Slowly but surely we get backed into a corner where the only thing left to do is to put our bodies on the land. The response is always the same—intimidation, force, violence, media smear campaigns, criminalization, silence, talk, negotiation, "new relationships," promises, placated resistance, and then more broken promises.
Then the cycle repeats itself.We can learn about why they chose to put their bodies on the land to protect their lands and waters against fracking.
This is why it is absolutely critical that our conversations about reconciliation include the land. We simply cannot build a new relationship with Canada until we can talk openly about sharing the land in a way that ensures the continuation of indigenous cultures and lifeways for the coming generations. The dispossession of indigenous peoples from our homelands is the root cause of every problem we face, whether it is missing or murdered indigenous women, fracking, pipelines, deforestation, mining, environmental contamination, or social issues as a result of imposed poverty.
So we are faced with a choice. We can continue to show the photos of the three hunting rifles and the burnt-out cop cars on every mainstream media outlet ad nauseam and paint the Mi'kmaq with every racist stereotype we know, or we can dig deeper.
We can seek out the image of strong, calm Mi'kmaq women and children armed with drums and feathers and ask ourselves what would motivate mothers, grandmothers, aunties, sisters, and daughters to stand up and say enough is enough. We can learn about the 400 years these people and their ancestors have spent resisting dispossession and erasure. We can learn about how they began their reconciliation process in the mid-1700s when they forged Peace and Friendship treaties. We can learn about why they chose to put their bodies on the land to protect their lands and waters against fracking because—setting the willfully ignorant and racists aside—sane, intelligent people should be standing with them.
Our bodies should be on the land so that our grandchildren have something left to stand upon.
Leanne Simpson wrote this article for the Huffington Post, where it originally appeared. Leanne is a writer, spoken-word artist, and indigenous academic.
The plaque was an initiative started by the university's Native American Council, as a way to draw attention to the native history of the land on which the University is built.
"There's an imperative to remember that this was once indigenous territory and it was appropriated by the colonial powers that came here," said co-president of the Council, Julian Noisecat, of the Shuswap and St'at'imc tribes. "The narrative of this place is not told in the architecture or the curriculum."
Along with his fellow co-presidents, seniors Megan Baker and Sara Chase, and freshman Michelle Crowfeather, Noisecat presented the case for the plaque to the student council on Sunday. The group also presented a petition signed by nearly 1,000 community members."This campus has many statues, monuments, and plaques celebrating a colonial heritage and legacy," the petition reads, "but neglects to mention the first inhabitants of this land."
Their presentation was positively received, the students said.
But the initiative is not without its challenges. "Nobody has ever asked for Columbia to install a plaque, so nobody really knew the process," Baker said. The students enlisted the help of Terry Martinez, Columbia's interim dean of student affairs, who agreed to be their sponsor and guided them through the process.
Because this is the first initiative of its kind, no one is sure how long the process will take. It could be one to three years before the process is completed and the plaque is installed, according to Baker.
For now, it's up to Dean Martinez to present the students' case to the various administrative committees who need to approve the request.
But the students still have their work cut out for them. Since most of the Native American Council’s leadership consists of upperclassmen, they will have to enlist the help of freshmen and sophomores in order to ensure that the initiative continues to move forward after they graduate.
And they still need strong support from the student body. "One of our main focuses is building a solid foundation for the university community to back us," Chase said.
That means raising awareness for their group and the issues they feel are important, which the group has been doing for several years.
"When I came here, there was a very small indigenous community," Noisecat said. "Since then we’ve tripled in size, and we’ve become a significant group on campus." The Council has also won a shared living space in a brownstone that the College recently acquired, and has started a mentorship program where indigenous upperclassmen provide support to freshmen as they transition into college life.
"The [plaque] is part of a larger push to get more recognition and support for indigenous students and indigenous narratives on campus," Noisecat said.
What will the plaque actually say? The words to be inscribed on it haven't been settled on yet, but Noisecat says they will be written both in the Delaware and English languages, and he's sure that they will be true to the history they aim to represent.
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!
In architecture, a keystone is the wedge-shaped piece at the crown of an arch that locks the other pieces in place. Without the keystone, the building blocks of an archway will tumble and fall, with no support system for the weight of the arch. Much of the United States climate movement right now is structured like an archway, with all of its blocks resting on a keystone—President Obama's decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.Putting President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the keystone of the archway creates a flawed narrative.
Once Barack Obama makes his decision on the pipeline, be it approval or rejection, the keystone will disappear. Without this piece, we could see the weight of the arch tumble down, potentially losing throngs of newly inspired climate activists. As members of Rising Tide North America, a continental network of grassroots groups taking direct action and finding community-based solutions to the root causes of the climate crisis, we believe that to build the climate justice movement we need, we can have no keystone—no singular solution, campaign, project, or decision-maker.
The Keystone XL fight was constructed around picking one proposed project to focus on with a clear elected decider, who had campaigned on addressing climate change. The strategy of D.C.-focused green groups has been to pressure President Obama to say "no" to Keystone by raising as many controversies as possible about the pipeline and by bringing increased scrutiny to Keystone XL through arrestable demonstrations. Similarly, in Canada, the fight over Enbridge's Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline has unfolded in much the same way, with green groups appealing to politicians to reject Northern Gateway.
However, the mainstream Keystone XL and Northern Gateway campaigns operate on a flawed assumption that the climate movement can compel our elected leaders to respond to the climate crisis with nothing more than an effective communications strategy. Mainstream political parties in both the United States and Canada are tied to and dependent on the fossil fuel industry and corporate capitalism. As seen in similar campaigns in 2009 to pass a climate bill in the United States and to ratify an international climate treaty in Copenhagen, the system is rigged against us.
Putting Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the keystone of the archway creates a flawed narrative that if we, as grassroots groups, work hard enough to stack the building blocks correctly to support them, then elected officials will do what we want. Social change happens when local communities lead, and only then will politicians follow. While we must name and acknowledge power holders like Obama, our movement must empower local communities to make decisions and take action on the causes of the climate crisis in their backyards.We must call for what we really need—an end to all new fossil fuel infrastructure and extraction.
Because of the assumption that the climate movement can trust even "sympathetic" politicians like Obama, these campaigns rely on lifting up one project above all else. Certain language used has made it seem like Keystone XL is an extreme project, with unusual fraud and other injustices associated with it. Indeed the Keystone XL project is extreme and unjust, as is every fossil fuel project and every piece of the extraction economy. While, for example, the conflict of interests between the State Department, TransCanada, and Environmental Resources Management in the United States, and between Enbridge and federal politicians in Canada, must be publicized, it should be clear that this government/industry relationship is the norm, not the exception.
The "game over for climate" narrative is also problematic. With both the Keystone and Northern Gateway campaigns, it automatically sets up a hierarchy of projects and extractive types that will inevitably pit communities against each other. Our movement can never question if Keystone XL is worse than Flanagan South (an Enbridge pipeline running from Illinois to Oklahoma), or whether tar sands, fracking, or mountaintop removal coal mining is worse.
We must reject all these forms of extreme energy for their effects on the climate and the injustices they bring to the people at every stage of the extraction process. Our work must be broad so as to connect fights across the continent into a movement that truly addresses the root causes of social, economic, and climate injustice. We must call for what we really need—an end to all new fossil fuel infrastructure and extraction. The pipeline placed yesterday in British Columbia, the most recent drag lines added in Wyoming, and the fracking wells built in Pennsylvania need to be the last ones ever built. And we should say that.
This narrative has additionally set up a make-or-break attitude about these pipeline fights that risks that the movement will contract and lose people regardless of the decision on them. The Keystone XL and Northern Gateway fights have engaged hundreds of thousands of people, with many embracing direct action and civil disobedience tactics for the first time. This escalation and level of engagement is inspiring. But the absolutist "game over" language chances to lose many of them. If Obama approves the Keystone XL pipeline, what's to stop many from thinking that this is in fact "game over" for the climate? And if Obama rejects Keystone XL, what's to stop many from thinking that the climate crisis is therefore solved? We need those using the "game over" rhetoric to lay out the climate crisis' root causes—because just as one project is not the end of humanity, stopping one project will not stop runaway climate change.The climate justice movement should have no keystone.
The fights over Keystone XL and Northern Gateway have undoubtedly been inspiring. We are seeing the beginnings of the escalation necessary to end extreme energy extraction, stave off the worst effects of the climate crisis, and make a just transition to equitable societies. Grassroots groups engaging in and training for direct action, such as the Tar Sands Blockade, Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, the Unist'ot'en Camp, and Moccasins on the Ground have shown us how direct action can empower local communities and push establishment green groups to embrace bolder tactics.
Our movement is indeed growing, and people are willing to put their bodies on the line; an April poll by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication found one in eight Americans would engage in civil disobedience around global warming.
However, before the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway mainstream campaigns come to an end, we all must recognize the dangers of having an archway approach to movement building. It is the danger of relying on political power-holders, cutting too narrow campaigns, excluding a systemic analysis of root causes, and, ultimately, failing to create a broad-based movement. We must begin to discuss and develop how we should shift our strategy, realign priorities, escalate direct action, support local groups and campaigns, and keep as many new activists involved as possible.
We are up against the world's largest corporations, who are attempting to extract, transport, and burn fossil fuels at an unprecedented rate, all as the climate crisis spins out of control. The climate justice movement should have no keystone because we must match them everywhere they are—and they are everywhere.
To match them, we need a movement of communities all across the continent and the world taking direct action to stop the extraction industry, finding community-based solutions, and addressing the root causes of the climate crisis.
Arielle Klagsbrun is an organizer with Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment and Rising Tide North America, and is a 2013 Brower Youth Award winner. David Osborn is climate organizer with Portland Rising Tide and Rising Tide North America. He is also a faculty member at Portland State University. Maryam Adrangi is a campaigner with the Council of Canadians and an organizer with Rising Tide Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories. Kirby Spangler works with the Castle Mountain Coalition and Alaska Rising Ride.
Morris LeGrande believes that, sooner or later, the bank's going to come for his house. The 57-year-old jazz musician lives in the largely African-American Park Plaza neighborhood of Richmond, Calif., and owes more than $400,000 on his mortgage. According to a recent assessment, his house is only worth about $130,000. LeGrande is current on his payments, but in 22 years he will have to make a single lump-sum payment of $194,000.
"At the end of the day, we will lose this home," LeGrande says. "There's no doubt about it."
LeGrande has become a de facto spokesman for underwater homeowners in a city where more than 40 percent of all mortgages are underwater, according to Zillow.
Richmond, a city of about 100,000 people (where the largest employer is a local Chevron refinery that made national headlines last year for a massive fire leading thousands of residents to sue for damages) is contemplating using an unlikely tool to rescue homeowners and help keep them in their homes: the power of eminent domain.
The city has become ground zero in a standoff between housing advocates and big banks, which argue that the unprecedented scheme could unsettle the market for complex mortgage-backed securities.Richmond's eminent domain plan seeks to stabilize its local economy by preventing foreclosures from taking place.
If the plan succeeds, it could set off a chain reaction among cities big and small. And it could transform eminent domain—a power that has long been used to displace residents, often in communities of color—into a tool to help stabilize neighborhoods.
Here's what has happened so far: In July, city officials sent letters to 32 mortgage companies offering to purchase more than 600 underwater mortgages for about 80 percent of their market value. (80 percent, the plan's proponents say, because some loans are at risk of default, though banks have countered that the markdown is merely a moneymaking scheme since the principal amounts will be adjusted to their full market value). Once the city obtains the loans, it will help homeowners refinance at more affordable rates. If the banks refuse to sell, Richmond is threatening to use eminent domain to seize the mortgages.The contagion of foreclosure
The idea of using eminent domain to this end is widely attributed to Cornell University law professor Robert Hockett. Under the plan, Richmond would use its power to seize the mortgages, write down the principal to its fair market value, and refinance them at more affordable rates through government programs.
Eminent domain is a power that cities have traditionally used to force people from their homes to make way for large public works, like highways and stadiums.
“[It] has become what the founding fathers sought to prevent: a tool that takes from the poor and the politically weak to give to the rich and politically powerful,” writes Dr. Mindy Fullilove, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, in the conclusion to her 2007 Institute for Justice report, "Eminent Domain and African Americans."Foreclosures have a "contagion effect" on neighborhoods. They significantly drive down the property values of nearby, non-distressed homes because of deferred maintenance, neglect, and vacancy.
Drawing on a decades-long history of seizure, Fullilove notes that from 1949-1973, more than 2,500 projects in 992 cities were carried out through eminent domain—displacing a million people. Two-thirds of them were African-American.
“What the government takes from people is not a home, with a small ‘h’, but Home in the largest sense of the word: a place in the world, a community, neighbors and services, a social and cultural milieu, an economic anchor that provides security during the ups and downs of life, a commons that sustains the group by offering shared goods and services,” Fullilove writes.
Remarkably, Richmond is looking to become the first city to use eminent domain to keep people in their homes—and in their "Home," economically anchored.
LeGrande, who is African-American, says that Richmond's initiative is " a use of eminent domain where for once we don't get the short end of the stick."
If LeGrande were to lose his home to foreclosure, he wouldn't be the only one affected. Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin says that foreclosures have a "contagion effect" on neighborhoods. They significantly drive down the property values of nearby, non-distressed homes because of deferred maintenance, neglect, and vacancy. According to one recent study, each foreclosure can also cost local governments upwards of $19,000 in lost property taxes, court fees, and in some cases, demolition costs.
Richmond's eminent domain plan seeks to stabilize its local economy by preventing foreclosures from taking place. According to a recent estimate by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, enabling underwater homeowners to refinance and preventing foreclosure can provide more than $37,000 in combined economic benefits to the homeowner, neighbors, local government, and lenders.
Mortgage Resolution Partners, a San Francisco-based investment firm, is partnering with the city in an advisory role. If the plan moves forward, the firm will search for funders who can lend the city enough money to buy the loans from their current owners. And for each mortgage that is acquired and refinanced through the program, MRP will earn a flat fee of $4,500.
There are billions of dollars in state and federal programs that are available to help homeowners restructure their loans, says John Vlahoplus, MRP's chief strategy officer. Once they obtain the loans, MRP and Richmond plan to refinance them through those government programs.
The loans Richmond made offers on aren't just any underwater mortgages. They're private-label securities, which have been pooled with other mortgages to back bonds. The trustees of these private-label securities have said that they can't sell or modify them, and that's exactly why Richmond officials targeted them: because homeowners with these complex loans are unable to get loan adjustments.Strong opposition
The aim is to prevent foreclosures, but big banks argue that the novel use of eminent domain could quickly destabilize the market for mortgage-backed securities because it would destroy the relationship between lender and debtor. Investor losses from the Richmond program alone could exceed $200 million, the banks have said. And if the plan succeeds in Richmond, it could open the floodgates to similar initiatives around the country.
Locally, the loudest critics of the program have come from real estate professionals. The Western Contra Costa Association of Realtors has blanketed the city with flyers warning that the scheme will drive down property values and make it harder for people to sell their homes.
At a public forum attended by several dozen Richmond residents in September, local realtor Jeff Wright said Wall Street investors stood to benefit from the plan, but that local homeowners would suffer. (Wright earned jeers at the forum by defending the banks' role in the mortgage crisis, offering loans to buyers who could not really afford them. "You can’t blame the banks for having a product and selling it," he said.)
In August, Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank filed a lawsuit to prevent the plan from going forward.
"If Richmond is allowed to proceed, other local governments would likely follow suit, with the result that losses across residential mortgage backed securities trusts and their investors would exceed billions of dollars," said Rocky Tsai, an attorney for the banks, in a court filing.Though critics of the program have framed it as a risky venture that could cripple Richmond's real estate market, to McLaughlin, the riskiest thing would be to do nothing at all.
A federal judge isn't buying the banks' argument, though—not yet, at least. In mid-September, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the banks can’t sue the city for something it hasn’t done yet.
So far, the only thing Richmond officials have done is send out letters to 32 banks and mortgage companies offering to buy the mortgages. The banks have responded that they don't have the authority to sell the loans. "If [the banks] have the authority to sue the city, it certainly sounds like they have the authority to sell the loan," Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said.
Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay says he still hopes that the banks will be willing to sell the loans. "We are still hopeful that we can implement the program without ever using eminent domain through negotiation with the lenders," Lindsay said on Monday. But if the banks refuse to sell and the city does invoke eminent domain, it can expect more litigation.
Other towns and cities battered by the mortgage crisis have taken note and are waiting to see what happens. If the Richmond plan succeeds, others will likely copy it. The Seattle City Council recently hired Hockett to study that city's foreclosure problem, and he suggested that Seattle also use eminent domain to keep people in their homes. And just across the bay from Richmond, San Francisco Supervisor David Campos recently revealed plans to propose similar measures to the County Board of Supervisors.
Though critics of the program have framed it as a risky venture that could cripple Richmond's real estate market, to McLaughlin, the riskiest thing would be to do nothing at all. Because of the impact that each foreclosure has on surrounding home values, she says the plan isn't just to help the owners of the 624 mortgages the city made offers on—it's to prevent entire neighborhoods from slipping into decline.
"It becomes a domino effect for the whole neighborhood," McLaughlin says. "The city's goal is to prevent harm to all of us, as neighbors and residents of Richmond."
Meanwhile, LeGrande and Richmond's other underwater homeowners are waiting to see what happens. Since he anticipates he will eventually lose his home, he questions the wisdom of holding on to his mortgage at all.
"This has placed us in a position where if it doesn't happen, then we will more than likely leave this city, because this is like placing money down a hole," LeGrande says.
For more on how Richmond's plan could impact other cities, check out this video from GRITtv on how eminent domain could be used in New Jersey, by YES! Magazine Local Economies Reporting Fellow Laura Flanders:
Mark Andrew Boyer wrote this article for YES! Magazine's Commonomics project. Mark is a photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His work has appeared in GOOD, Inhabitat, and Mindful Metropolis.
Indigenous activist Ellen Gabriel gives a message of support to the members of the Elsipogtog Nation, who mobilized this week to stop seismic testing, which they see as a precursor to fracking. Gabriel has most recently been active with the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Video by Clifton Nicholas.
Dear Internet: Thanks for the Advice on Sex and Drinking. It's Way Better than What We Get from Slate.
On Tuesday evening, Slate's "Dear Prudence" columnist, Emily Yoffe, posted this article, which linked women's alcohol consumption to sexual assault. In it, she charges that college-aged women should be advised to curb their alcohol use, because it is a "common denominator" in most cases of rape.The sheer number of responses to Yoffe indicates that we are starting to change the way we think about this issue.
"Misplaced fear of blaming the victim," she wrote, "has made it somehow unacceptable to warn inexperienced young women that when they get wasted, they are putting themselves in potential peril."
But as the increasingly numerous critics of her post have pointed out, women have repeatedly been told to modify their behavior in order to avoid such tragic consequences.
Yoffe herself addressed the controversy surrounding her argument in a new piece, saying, "Because of the strong evidence that intoxication and sexual assault are linked and that a kind of predator seeks out intoxicated women, I concentrated on informing young women that avoiding incapacitation could help them stay safe."
What Yoffe fails to recognize, however, is that the information she provided is not new. It's a classic example of victim-blaming. And her response continues to leave unchallenged the dominant framework surrounding this issue.
Yet the article has also led to positive dialogue—from both women and men.
Several writers have used this as an opportunity to bring up an important missing link in traditional discussions of rape and sexual violence: the role of men.
Here are a few of our favorite responses.
- Jessica Valenti, writing for The Nation, brought in the broader context of rape culture: "When we make victims' choices the focus of rape prevention, we make the world a safer place for rapists ... You know why rapists ... rape women? Because they know the victim's community and law enforcement will be less likely to believe them."
- Tyler Kingkade of the Huffington Post offered a male perspective. He wrote, "A woman should not have to fear that if she reaches a certain blood alcohol level, one of her friends, acquaintances or even boyfriend might sexually assault her."
- If you’re in need of some comic relief, BuzzFeed responded to quotes from the article through a series of over-the-top reaction shots in the form of animated GIFs depicting the rapper Drake. The author added, "Women should be able to live in a world where they can drink to their heart's content without having to worry about being violently assaulted." We'll drink (multiple drinks) to that!
- Amanda Hess, another contributing writer for Slate, had a few things to say: "We can prevent the most rapes on campus by putting our efforts toward finding and punishing those perpetrators, not by warning their huge number of potential victims to skip out on parties."
- The Atlantic Wire's headline put it succinctly: "Slate Forgot That the One Common Factor in Rapes are Rapists."
Rape and sexual assault continue to be a serious issue in our society. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network reports that there are more than 200,000 victims of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States. That's dire news. But the sheer number of responses to Yoffe indicates that we are starting to change the way we think about this issue.
We are far from being free from sexual violence, but by shifting our focus to the perpetrator's behavior, rather than the victim, and by constructively drawing attention to the failure of others to do so, it brings us one step closer to that goal. And the fact that we are seeing the media view it this way is a good sign.
If you want more information on changing the way we think about gender and violence, check out this TED talk by Jackson Katz, Ph.D.
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!
announced this week, and what a peculiar pick: The three who will share the award this year sit on two diametrically opposed sides of their field’s most critical debate.The winners of the so-called Nobel Prize for economics were
Are markets magic, efficient, rational, and in need of no regulation? Or are they irrational, hysterical, and error-prone, like the humans who bet on them? That’s the debate.
Splitting the prize between Eugene Fama and Lars Peter Hansen (two "magical markets" guys) and Robert Shiller (whose 1992 book, Market Volatility, was all about exactly that) is kind of like splitting the biology prize between Charles Darwin and the Tea Party Creationist Caucus. It makes no sense.
But the prize isn't even a real Nobel. The Nobels were around for 67 years before the prize for economics was created. The economics prize was invented, in fact, by Sweden's central bank in 1968 in a strategic attempt to bestow on the field of economics the same scientific aura and respect accorded to medicine and mathematics and physics. The Swedish bankers leaned heavily toward the magic of the markets idea: Persuade people that money matters are scientific and complicated and best left to them, and you tend to get government off your bank.
But here's the good news: The same week that the pseudo-Nobels were announced, we saw a nationwide celebration of regular people diving into economics. This week was New Economy Week."People are realizing, from a very high theoretical level to the level of the street, what is being offered to them is insufficient."
Day after day, people all around the country have been showing off their best ideas about stabilizing local businesses and building local democracy. They're considering what they can do to divest from big banks and fossil fuel, and they’ve marked all their activities on a big online map.
New Economy Week is a project of the New Economy Institute and the New Economy Coalition, a group that, after only a few months, already has 51 members. The organizers' goal was to map 40 events in one week. Halfway through, their map was peppered with 75 events in 17 states and two Canadian provinces.
"People are realizing, from a very high theoretical level to the level of the street, [that] what is being offered to them is insufficient," Bob Massie, President and CEO of the Institute, told me. "The system's broken."
“New Economy groups are emerging all around the country in response to local conditions: transition towns, sustainable business networks, the cooperative movement, local first,” added Mike Sandmel, New Economy Week coordinator. “They tend to live in silos. Our goal was to lift up the bigger picture.”
The online publication Shareable held a “sharing cities map jam,” the kickoff action of a new Sharing Cities Network. Shareable wants local people to collaborate to map all the sharing-inclined businesses and projects in their cities.
“We believe that making these oases of sharing visible will be an empowering first step for the network,“ wrote Shareable's Mira Luna.
What does all this national mapping mean for strong local economies?
“We talk about trans-localism” says Sandmel. "We don’t believe in doing things on a bigger scale than you need to, but we do live in an increasingly horizontal world and the new economy movement has a good chance of having an influence if it comes together.”
Coming together, talking about sharing, and meddling in money and market matters... Is it mad? Not madder than this year's economics prize. And if the pseudo-Nobels weren’t proof enough that something's wrong with leaving private interests to run public affairs, there’s always Washington.
What’s more crazy: setting up a local tools library in the name of helping struggling families, or, I dunno, closing down the government?
Find out more about New Economy Week here.
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 was a huge week for food politics, although you may not have noticed due to the brouhaha around House Republicans' shutdown of the federal government. From a judge in Mexico ruling that GMOs are an imminent threat, to the Food Sovereignty Prize ceremony in New York City, to Washington state's attorney general filing suit against a major opponent of GMO labeling for allegedly violating the state's campaign disclosure laws—food-related news kept popping up.
And, oh yeah, Wednesday was World Food Day. Here's a list of the week's more significant highlights.October 10: A Mexican judge rules that GMOs are imminent threat, bans the domestic production of GM corn.
Federal judge Jaime Eduardo Verdugo ordered Mexico's equivalent of the EPA to immediately "suspend all activities involving the planting of transgenic corn in the country and end the granting of permission for experimental and pilot commercial plantings."
From Food First:
[The judge] also ruled that multinationals like Monsanto and Pioneer are banned from the release of transgenic maize in the Mexican countryside as long as collective action lawsuits initiated by citizens, farmers, scientists, and civil society organizations are working their way through the judicial system.
The class-action lawsuit is supported by scientific evidence from studies that have—since 2001—documented the contamination of Mexico’s native corn varieties by transgenes from GMO corn, principally the varieties introduced by Monsanto’s Roundup ready lines and the herbicide-resistant varieties marketed by Pioneer and Bayer CropScience. The collection of the growing body of scientific research on the introgression of transgenes into Mexico’s native corn genome has been a principal goal and activity of the national campaign, Sin Maíz, No Hay Paíz [Without Corn, There Is No Country].October 15: Food Sovereignty Prize honors a national alliance that advocates for peasant farmers in Haiti.
The Food Sovereignty Prize was first awarded in 2009 as an alternative to the World Food Prize, a Big Ag-sponsored affair that is—no joke—honoring Monsanto's vice president and chief technology officer as one of its 2013 laureates. While the World Food Prize recognizes "contributions in any field involved in the world food supply," the Food Sovereignty Prize recognizes grassroots organizations "working for a more democratic food system."
On Tuesday evening they awarded their 2013 prize to a Haitian alliance called the Group of 4.
From the organization's website:
In 2007, Haiti’s largest peasant organizations—Heads Together Small Farmers of Haiti (Tet Kole), the Peasant Movement of Papaye, the National Congress of Papaye Peasant Movements, and the Regional Coordination of Organizations of the South East Region—joined forces as the Group of 4 (G4), a national alliance to promote good farming practices and advocate for peasant farmers. The G4, representing over a quarter of a million Haitians, invited South American peasant leaders and agroecology experts to Haiti to work cooperatively to save Creole seeds and support peasant agriculture. Together, the G4 and the Dessalines Brigade, as it became known—named for 19th-century Haitian independence leader Jean Jacques Dessalines and supported by La Via Campesina—have collaborated to rebuild Haiti’s environment, promote wealth and end poverty. The partnership also provided immediate and ongoing support to the victims of the 2010 earthquake, and the Group of 4 made global headlines when they rejected a donation of hybrid seeds from Monsanto.October 16: World Food Day ignites discussion around "future of food."
Wednesday was the thirty-second annual World Food Day, and was themed on "Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition." It produced an interesting discussion in digital media, and the debate around industrialized farming (read: GMOs) versus sustainable farming continued.
From Marc Bittman (my hero):
If we want to ensure that poor people eat and also do a better job than "modern" farming does at preserving the earth's health and productivity, we must stop assuming that the industrial model of food production and its accompanying disease-producing diet is both inevitable and desirable. I have dozens of friends and colleagues who say things like, "I hate industrial ag, but how will we feed the poor?"
Let’s at last recognize that there are two food systems, one industrial and one of small landholders, or peasants if you prefer. The peasant system is not only here for good, it’s arguably more efficient than the industrial model. According to the ETC Group, a research and advocacy organization based in Ottawa, the industrial food chain uses 70 percent of agricultural resources to provide 30 percent of the world’s food, whereas what ETC calls “the peasant food web” produces the remaining 70 percent using only 30 percent of the resources.
It’s great to hear Bittman remind us that our industrial food system is incredibly problematic. If it isn't working so great for us, why should it work for developing nations?
And from the Wildlife Conservation Society, via National Geographic:
So far food security and the conservation of biodiversity have largely been considered separately. In fact, they are intimately connected and hold out the possibility of producing powerful synergies that could boost food production and enhance biodiversity conservation. That is why farmers should care about conservation and conservationists should care about agriculture.
Yet while agriculture remains a critical industry in the United States, responsible for close to 10 percent of U.S. employment, we have been neglecting the health of our soils as if they were someone else’s problem. A narrow focus on the productivity of a few staple grains like rice, wheat, and corn, has left us dependent on a narrow range of crops and varieties.
I'm a little fuzzy on whether the Wildlife Conservation Society is vaguely advocating for GMOs here (they write, in another part of their statement, that the solution requires "more science, not less"), but I like the their point that our food system's future will depend on conservation and biodiversity, not industrial monocrops.October 16: Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson files suit against Grocery Manufacturers Association, alleging campaign finance violations
This is a big one.
The Seattle Times sums it up best:
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit today against the Grocery Manufacturers Association, alleging the group illegally collected and spent more than $7 million to oppose Initiative 522, the measure requiring labeling of genetically modified foods.
Ferguson's lawsuit, filed in Thurston County Superior Court, said the Washington D.C.-based trade association solicited big money from its members specifically for the anti-GMO-labeling campaign, yet illegally concealed the identity of those donors from the public by failing to register and file reports as a political committee.
As of this morning, the GMA has agreed to disclose the financing of its campaign to oppose Initiative 522.
Erin Sagen wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Erin is a recent graduate of the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Follow her on Twitter at @erin_sagen.
In a big week for food politics, a judge banned the growing of GMO corn in Mexico, while the attorney general in Washington state sued a prominent opponent of GMO labeling for failing to properly disclose its financial donors.Do leaked sections of the TPP's secret text suggest a ban on GMO labeling?
Just a few days earlier, however, negotiators met in Bali, Indonesia, and discussed a trade agreement that some observers believe could pull the rug out from under national and local governments trying to regulate the sale and import of GMO foods.
The agreement is called the Trans Pacific Partnership, or the TPP, and it's being negotiated in secret by representatives from 12 national governments and about 600 multinational corporations.
As the vote on Washington state's GMO labeling initiative approaches, the exact effect the TPP would have on GMO regulation has become the subject of increasing speculation, with some outlets reporting that the TPP would "outlaw" the labeling of GMOs.
Considering the fact that a former lobbyist for Monsanto, Islam Siddique, is the chief U.S. negotiator on agriculture, that claim seems plausible enough. But, as frequently happens when talking about the TPP, the answer turns out to be a complex one.
When asked if the pact would outlaw the labeling or banning of GMO foods, Tony Corbo of Food and Water Watch pointed out that because the text is being negotiated in secret, it's hard to say. Some chapters have been leaked—including 2,376 highly redacted pages obtained this week as a result of a freedom of information request by Australia's Pirate Party—but much of the text remains a secret (as do revisions to previously leaked sections).
So, do the leaked texts suggest a ban on GMO labeling? "We have no specific knowledge that that's actually happened at this point," Corbo said, "but the possibility is there."
A more likely outcome is that the partnership would punish countries for enacting GMO labeling requirements and bans because it considers them "non-tariff trade barriers." That's trade-speak for anything that's not a classic tariff (meaning a tax on imports) but could still stand in the way of a company who wants to sell a product—say, GMO corn—in another country.
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According to the text of a leaked TPP chapter that covers investment, the pact would empower corporations to seek financial compensation for non-tariff barriers to trade—except, importantly, for ones that are specifically exempted. This already happens under NAFTA: A company argues in an "investor-state tribunal" that a certain law or regulation has cut into their expected profit margin, and the country must then pay the foreign company for that lost money. (Currently, 15 claims are pending under NAFTA and seek a total of $15 billion in damages.)"We think of Monsanto as a big entity that's not afraid of us. But they are afraid of us."
"The tribunals that adjudicate these cases don't have the power to literally demand that a government change its policies," Arthur Stamoulis of the Citizens Trade Campaign wrote in an email to YES!, "but they can award payments worth millions and even billions of dollars, such that if a country doesn't want additional cases brought against it, it gets in line."
Colette Cosner of the Domestic Fair Trade Alliance noted that the TPP's potential impacts on GMO labeling are forcing labeling activists to think in a different way about their work.
"It's a testament to how long and hard the fight over labeling has been," Cosner said, "that even a rumor that all this work could be for naught is catalyzing people to think much more globally."
The issue also puts the secrecy surrounding the TPP process into sharp relief.
"We think of Monsanto as a big entity that's not afraid of us," Cosner said. "But they are afraid of us. They're afraid of leaking any text that could inspire people to participate in their democracy."
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.
Want to reduce the amount of stuff you have? Any minimalist can tell you how: multitaskers. These are household items and tools that can, with a little imagination, take the place of entire closetfuls of unitaskers—the Magic Bullet blenders, popcorn poppers, and other one-trick doo-dads. It’s a new way to measure the value of a thing: “How many ways can I use this? How many other things will I not have to buy?” Duct tape and clothespins are classic multitaskers. But the mightiest multitasker may well be the Mason jar.12 Things, One Jar
1. Baking ramekin
Bake single-serving pot pies, casseroles, and blueberry crumbles in it.
2. Ice pack
Freeze ice in it for injuries or portable coolers. Leave at least an inch of space at the top for expansion.
1. Ball traditionally sold jars east of the Mississippi River, and Kerr west of it.
2. Even though Ball and Kerr act like competitors, they’re actually both part of the same corporation, Jarden.
3. The DIY movement and recession reignited sales in the 125-year-old Ball line. Last year’s sales were up 20% and were the highest in history.
3. Measuring cup
Ball jars come with cups, ounces, and milliliters molded into the jar. No need to keep dry and liquid measurers.
4. Drinking glass
Perfectly matched, inexpensive, and easy to replace. Put a cloth cozy on it and it becomes a commuter cup for hot coffee.
5. Shelf-space saver
Glue the outer rings to the underside of a shelf, and you have organized storage for buttons and bobbins, screws and nails. Anything.
6. Leakproof to-go container
Pack a salad in a quart jar: dressing first, heavier things next, lettuce at the top. Shake it at lunch time.
Empty jars that held last year’s harvest can give you a head start on this year’s. Invert them over seeds or seedlings as individual cloches.
8. Vacuum-sealed storage
Pour your warm homemade yogurt into small jars. As they cool in the refrigerator, the air inside contracts, forming a vacuum seal that extends storage life.
The threads on mason jars fit directly onto most standard blender bases.
10. Bulk food container
Take it to the store to fill with bulk foods. Tip: half-gallon jars have a tare weight of 1.70 pounds.
11. Soap dispenser, light fixture, alfalfa sprouter, sauerkraut fermenter, oil lamp.
All depends on what you do to the inner lids.
12. And, oh, yeah. You can use it for canning.PLUS—FIVE BONUS POINTS!
1. Ball and Kerr jars are still made in the United States.
2. Companies like Classico and Anna’s Honey sell their products in Mason jars to cut down on waste by giving us an easily reusable jar.
3. No plastic chemical worries, microwave friendly, and naturally stainproof.
4. The standardized jar design allows companies to manufacture special lids so your Mason jars do even more. A Portland company designed a French press coffee maker that uses a quart jar. Another company makes a child’s sippy cup top for half-pint hands.
5. You can write on the glass and lid with a Sharpie pen. Wipes off for next time.
Tracy Loeffelholz Dunn wrote this article for The Human Cost of Stuff, the Fall 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. Tracy is creative director of YES!
I was 16 when my mom figured out one of her friends was being abused by her husband. Mom did what she could. She tried to talk to her friend. She gave her phone numbers for shelters and domestic violence hotlines. She proposed escape plans."Half your audience is from the Green Party and the other half is from the Tea Party."
One night we received a phone call from a women's shelter. Our friend had escaped. We rejoiced for her safety.
Two days later, she went back to her husband.
As a teenager, this choice bewildered me. How could she be living a nightmare, make her escape, and then choose to return?
In time, I have grown to understand. The new world our friend faced in leaving behind her life was scary. In the end, she chose to live her nightmare as a codependent rather than face the unknown.
This story has been popping into my mind a lot these past few weeks as I listen to the media, neighbors, and friends discuss the Affordable Care Act. In spite of the approximately 50 million Americans who are uninsured, I am hearing folks express a lot of fear of the unknown. Some who are uninsured are defiantly choosing to pay the tax penalties rather than purchase a policy. Some are seething with anger that their tax dollars will be paying for someone else's health care. Others are petrified that if they move forward and enroll in the exchange, they will suddenly be without coverage.
As a nation, we are being asked to take the first steps to leaving a cruel relationship. We are collectively confronting a big unknown. Suddenly, all the homelessness, suffering, and bankruptcy offered by our current system seems preferable to confronting something new and different. It is as if we've become codependents to our abusive health care system.
As I write this, I am keenly aware that roughly half of my readers will agree with me. The other half will be disappointed that I should take this stance. I once spoke at a large sustainability conference where the director observed to me that, "Half your audience is from the Green Party and the other half is from the Tea Party."
In truth, if I may be so bold, I'd say that most of you are more accurately members of what I prefer to call the "Green Tea Party." You honor the earth and sincerely feel that the surest route to securing a good life in harmony with the planet involves personal accountability and a degree of self-reliance, as well as a commitment to neighbors and community. Some of you will be keen on the Affordable Care Act; others probably detest it.
For all of us "Green Tea" folks, there are certainly elements of the Act that are detestable. Many of us resent that we will be compelled by law to give our money to corporations whose profits seem to be determined, in large part, by their success at failing to deliver a needed service. We don't like being compelled to pay into a system that does not honor our belief that health care starts with nourishing the body and spirit; one that fails to acknowledge the proven successes of less expensive, less invasive alternative care services.
I agree with both points. We are faced with an imperfect plan to escape the current situation. But we have to start someplace. Remember: The U.S. Constitution has had 27 ratified amendments. Perhaps we need to think of the Affordable Care Act as a first draft.
Meanwhile, it offers three important protections for self-reliant "Green Tea Party" types:1. Protecting your center of production.
Maybe it is true that you don't use the conventional health care system. If your back goes out, you use a chiropractor. If your kids have a cold, you use herbs and homeopathic remedies. But the conventional health care system is still responsible for broken bones, third degree burns, torn tendons, inguinal hernias, and bleeding wounds; all of which can happen easily to anyone who derives their livelihood from doing physical work (which describes most of you who read my writing).If you're trying to be self-reliant, you stand to lose more than your home in the event of a medical catastrophe.
However, many farmers and radical homemakers typically invest to make their homes a sustainable center of production. Bob and I started our life in a cheap little cabin assessed at $56,000. Over the years we fixed up the floor, got solar panels, built a passive solar addition, laid a brick floor for thermal mass, and got ourselves a workhorse of a kitchen that would let me can vegetables, make soap, and fix lunch while at the same time homeschooling my kids. We did everything slowly, paying cash along the way. And then, suddenly, we got a letter and a big fat bill from our homeowners' insurance company.
It doesn't matter if you did it on the cheap, using salvaged scraps and your own sweat. Suddenly, that inexpensive little slice of heaven takes on astronomical value, and it exceeds the threshold of protection offered by homesteading laws (state laws that provide certain protections for homes during financial difficulties).
Thus, in the event of a medical catastrophe, you stand to lose more than your home. You stand to lose your center of production and the foundation of your livelihood. The Affordable Care Act will eliminate that risk that by allowing self-sufficient homemakers to afford insurance.2. Freeing up income for true health care.
It was following this revelation in home ownership risks that Bob and I decided to purchase catastrophic health insurance. On our income, however, the cost was a tremendous burden. Our family grossed around $30,000 last year, with $13,000 in medical expenses. Out of that $13,000, $8,000 paid for the catastrophic policy and the deductible (which we would have to spend for insulin). The other $5,000 was stretched as far as possible to pay for dentists, eye doctors, and the alternative care that truly helped us to stay healthy.
Paying for insurance meant that we had to greatly reduce our use of alternative care. But the Affordable Care Act will change that. Next year, we will be able to greatly reduce the cost of conventional health insurance, which means we will finally be able to spend our health care dollars where we think they are most efficacious: on alternative health care.3. Creating Room for Sustainable Economic Development.
I think if you asked most would-be members of any Green Tea Party to articulate the best way to restore the economy and heal the planet, they would agree that locally owned farms and businesses are at the heart of the solution.Like an abusive husband, the existing health care system is familiar. That does not mean that it is safe.
In my opinion, the very best small business incubator we could possibly have is a national health plan (preferably single-payer...but that's not in the cards yet). I simply cannot count the number of stories I've heard about people who hate their jobs, who are being made sick by their work, but who continue to toil away in their cubicles, for fear of losing their health insurance.
My prediction is that, once we work out the kinks in this new plan, America will experience an entrepreneurial renaissance. People will have the security to strike out on their own. This is, after all, in our blood. Our country was not founded on corporate employment and steady paychecks. Our melting pot was built by entrepreneurs, risk takers, and independent and resourceful farmers. The Affordable Care Act gives us a chance to revisit that heritage.
I know change is frightening. There will be problems and glitches along the way, and as citizens, it will be our duty to fight for improvements. But the system we currently have is far worse. It is a true nightmare.
It is destructive to our homes, our families, our happiness. Like an abusive husband, just because it is familiar does not mean that it is safe. We must leave it behind, and face the unknown. This is the only way we can begin to heal and make a better life for ourselves.
Shannon Hayes wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Shannon is the author of Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, The Grassfed Gourmet, and The Farmer and the Grill. She is the host of Grassfedcooking.com and RadicalHomemakers.com, and works with her family on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in upstate New York.
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.