Archive for the 'Activism' Category

To remake the world


I saw Paul Hawken give a talk at the 2006 Bioneeers conference, The Other Superpower (you can download an iPod version here). He recently scribed a book based on the ideas he presented called, Blessed Unrest. His basic argument, which is highlighted below in an article for Orion Magazine, is that there is a massive, unparalleled movement of unofficial organizations around the globe that are working for justice and environmental causes. To make his point during the Bioneers talk he made a video that listed all the organization names in his database and ran them like a movie credit roll. He said that it would have to play continuously for several days to run the entire list.

What he describes reminds me of the international day of protest when over ten million people around the world contested Bush’s efforts to attack Iraq. I recall how astonishing it was that so many people could coordinate on the same day in a singular voice to stop the war. Clearly these people were far more correct than the warmongering pundits paraded on television, and the fact that they could all do it simultaneously around the world on the same day still astounds me. So don’t give up hope, my friends. Please read Hawken’s book and article for further inspiration.

To Remake the World | Orion magazine:

Historically, social movements have arisen primarily because of injustice, inequalities, and corruption. Those woes remain legion, but a new condition exists that has no precedent: the planet has a life-threatening disease that is marked by massive ecological degradation and rapid climate change. It crossed my mind that perhaps I was seeing something organic, if not biologic. Rather than a movement in the conventional sense, is it a collective response to threat? Is it splintered for reasons that are innate to its purpose? Or is it simply disorganized? More questions followed. How does it function? How fast is it growing? How is it connected? Why is it largely ignored?

After spending years researching this phenomenon, including creating with my colleagues a global database of these organizations, I have come to these conclusions: this is the largest social movement in all of history, no one knows its scope, and how it functions is more mysterious than what meets the eye.

What does meet the eye is compelling: tens of millions of ordinary and not-so-ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world.

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Let the children speak


Not to belabor the point, but sometimes adults could use a good metaphorical spanking. Watch and listen as this child speaks from the heart about state of the world to a UN panel of so-called grown-ups.

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Vote for “A Community is Not a Demographic”

One things I miss about the good ol’ days of modernity is the massive output of manifestos that artists and activists churned out to contest the prevailing ideas of their world. With names like Futurists, Surrealists, and Bauhaus, people seemed to care a lot about having clear and strong opinions. With the advent of the postmodern world in which all values and morals are relative, it seems as if the Age of Manifestos transmuted into the 30 second sound bite and became solely the province of marketing. Not necessarily so. ChangeThis has a cool project in which people can send manifestos to their Website and readers then can vote for whether or not the manifesto gets published. The goal is to spread useful ideas. I submitted a proposal, “A Community is Not a Demographic,” with the following summary. You can vote here to encourage them to publish it.

In The Forest People Colin Turnbull recounts his experience of living among the Pygmy. He described an uncorrupted dreamworld where the number one crime against the community was hording food from the hunt. The punishment was temporary exile until the offender learned his lesson. Likewise, the memory of my high school punk years has a similar halcyon quality in which the single most significant crime against the scene was selling out. Unfortunately our culture has devolved into a marketing style. So if we are to rescue anything from punk beyond fashion, than it must be the demand for ethical behavior when marketers appropriate “indie culture.” Principles make a real community, because we acknowledge that our behaviors affect each other, just as the Pygmies identified hording as a socially destructive. We need to discard the lamest excuses of the 20th Century, “It’s only business,” and come to terms with the notion that a community is not a demographic.

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From empire to earth community


I’m a big fan of solution oriented thinkers. Thus it’s refreshing to hear the clarity of David Korten‘s ideas and his overview of history. His book, “The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community (BK Currents)” (David C. Korten) comes highly recommended. Please, if you have time, watch this video.

“The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community (BK Currents)” (David C. Korten)

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Moyers’ keynote


I couldn’t make the Media Reform conference this year (click on the link for video, blog and pictures), but it can be experienced vicariously via YouTube. Here is Bill Moyer’s giving his keynote.

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Digital Media Marketplace: The Next Frontier for Media Reform

“Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy” (Jeff Chester)
I’ve mentioned Jeff Chester before. He has done remarkable work on the issue of media mergers and mass marketing. His darkest views focus on the “brandwashing” of America, but he also has innovative ideas for a progressive media, which are highlighted in the following Alternet piece:

AlterNet: MediaCulture: Digital Media Marketplace: The Next Frontier for Media Reform:

Progressives will need a steady influx of cash to help pay for all the organizing that must be done and also to underwrite the costs for multimedia production. Ultimately our new media system is about the production and distribution of multimedia content. If we are going to change the hearts and minds of the public, the key 21st Century place to do so will be via digital media. That’s why it’s urgent now that we place ourselves squarely within the emerging digital enterprise to help harness its media and financial power for social change.

Imagine, a progressive Web 2.0 service owned and controlled by low-income residents of New Orleans. It could be a powerful independent media force serving as an agent for justice, while offering a variety of programming revealing what the mainstream media continues to ignore. Such a service would also be a place for community conversation, and a networking hub that could help generate revenues. It would help make more visible, especially through local online search services, the array of progressive voices.

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Greening Apple


As the hype machine salivates over Steve Jobs‘ announcement of the the new iPhone (at a whopping $400 price tag!), Greenpeace is pushing for a better ecology policy at Apple. At issue is the continued built-in obsolescence of Apple’s products (as a Mac user, you can imagine the frustration of the constant equipment upgrades that have leapfrogged me over the past few years), and the toxic by-product of used computers and batteries. The trailer above is for a movie, Digital Dump, which documents the journey of hi-tech junk. So while I love my Powerbook, at the same time I have to keep in mind that the consumption of electronics and their attendant dream world have a direct environmental impact, from toxic waste to the carbon emissions by-product of the electricity I use to produce media. For more information about digital dumping, go to the Basel Action Network. Also, you can read this great article from, “Where computers go to die– and kill.”

The photo below is from a Chinese computer scrapyard where poor people extract precious metals from computer parts.


Exposing Apple’s Core | Greenpeace USA:

Getting to the Core

As this year’s MacWorld expo kicked off in San Francisco, we wanted to show the participants what’s really beneath the skin of their favorite Apple products. Greenpeace activists projected giant images of the Asian scrapyards where many electronic products – including those made by Apple – end up at the end of their lives. Images of electronics being melted down, taken apart and releasing toxic chemicals were displayed above the front of the Apple store.

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New Save the Internet video


The folks at Save the Internet have released this nicely produced video into the googlesphere that explains the issues of “net neutrality.” Granted , this is not an objective presentation of the materials, but I still like how the CEOs of communications companies are portrayed as aliens. If you are convinced that you should take action, then click on the following link:
Save the Net Now

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Radio heads

Jose Ignacio Lopez Vigil and the Radio Venceremos crew (nice hair!)

More from the ACME summit. It was fun to reconnect with Jonathan and Susan from Reclaim the Media, folks I met several years ago in New Mexico at the first ACME conference. They are radio and indy media activists who told me of a really awesome concept, radio barnraising, a community project for creating popular radio. Essentially activists and volunteers gather to build a local radio station and to train producers in remote communities of typically under-served populations, such Mexican migrant workers.

Among those in attendance was Jose Ignacio Lopez Vigil, a Central American radialista who I’ve admired from a distance. He is co-author of one of the best books I’ve read about guerrilla warfare and media, Rebel Radio, a history of the FMLN’s Radio Venceremos that broadcast in the midst of El Salvador’s bloodiest fighting during the Civil War of the 1980s. It’s a gripping tale, and makes punk zine publishing seem like kindergarden. What follows is a snip from his thoughts concerning a production pedagogy. It has good lessons for any media activist out there trying to develop a credible approach to popular media.

Saludo Radialistas! a message from Jose Ignacio Lopez Vigil | Reclaim the Media:

Friends, I will take this opportunity to share three ideas, three challenges that I find fundamental in these diffcult times that we are living today. As alternative community radio people (radialistas), as women and men passionate about the radio, I think we have to achieve three combinations, three fusions, the first being the fusion of content and form. Making a stupid, superficial program, void of ideas, is easy. It’s also easy to make a program that is profound and full of ideas, but cumbersome. The first is entertaining and done in an enjoyable, cheerful fashion, but it doesn’t say anything. The second may have great content, but it is boring, and lacks wit. And if it doesn’t have charm, it’s lost, because if it is informative and educational but boring, nobody will listen to it. Even if it has great content, nobody will listen to it. Therefore we have to fuse form and content. Sometimes we say that since we are community based one does not have to worry so much about the quality, but the contrary is the case: only the best for the people. An educational program has to be cheerful, attractive, and seductive, precisely because of what it is it needs to be of excellent quality.

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Brain hemispheres united, will never be defeated

brainwashAs a mentor (no, not a member of that gawd-awful trash metal band of the ’80s who wore executioner hoods when performing live), I work with youth to guide and support their media activism. (You can read about it in the article I wrote in Clamor Magazine called, “School of (Punk) Rock.”) I hear many reports from younger people about feeling stifled by the corporate regurgitation of youth culture, and also the stagnant atmosphere engulfing post-9/11 activism. I feel their pain. Still, I was very impressed by the young activists I encountered at Bonnaroo (such as Clean Vibes) and have noticed a high level of media savvy among college activists these days.

Compared to my university days when all we had were those horrible inky blue mimeograph machines, activists now have blogs, downloadable PDFs, news conferences, Web sites, viral media and so on. They are plugged into an unparalleled vast, global network, something Paul Hawken lovingly calls, “The Other Super Power” (I highly recommend this podcast of Hawken and the Dalai Lama, and this article by Bioneers co-founder Kenny Ausubel, “Heeding the Law of the Land“). When 10 million anti-war/pro-peace marchers gathered and protested on the same day months before the US invaded Iraq, it was an unprecedented planetary event. I get shivers thinking about it.

Thankfully The Nation (a magazine I still read and respect) sponsored a contest for young activists to write about the issues that concern them. The five winners can be read here. “Project Corpus Callosum” by Sarah Stillman of Yale University was the top prizewinner. It’s beautifully written and is worth a gander. As she states, it’s all about networking our brain hemispheres:

“We must begin rebuilding the intricate connections between our collective left brain (where we house our analytical critique of twenty-first-century woes) and our collective right brain (where we harbor our dreams that another world is possible). Already, young people are building this cross-hemisphere bridge–performing guerrilla theater, conducting counter-recruiting workshops, creating community-policing initiatives, writing feminist blogs and building transnational ties with youth activists around the world. Before long, we will hit our stride with Project Corpus Callosum: a much-needed mission to restore the space within our collective conscience where our radical imaginations meet our commitment to everyday action.”

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The future looks bright (and shiny)

averting climate changeA friend once said that if you don’t envision a future, you will live in someone else’s. This is why I like the following piece of media produced by Free Range Studios (the folks who made The Meatrix). It’s a news dispatch from the future on how we averted climate catastrophe, albeit some of the reportage is quite silly, claiming a presidential ticket of McCain and Obama had won the ’08 election. And there is a doctor named Yosemite White (she is white, of course) and another guy sporting a Nehru shirt and natural cotton vest. Yes the future looks like a Northern California Buddhist retreat. Yet, in principle the thought is a good one, and I would encourage others to make media from the future on how we survived this huge mess. My one complaint (yes, just one), is that the video is not set-up for viral deployment. It should have the same kind of embedded distribution mechanism that YouTube smartly has so people can send this thing around to like-minded amigos.
You can view it here and here.

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All and all it’s just another brick in the… toilet?

“We don’t need no ed-u-cation…” (disco guitar);
“We don’t need no thought control…” (disco guitar);
“No dark sarcasm in the classroom” (you get the idea);
“Teachers leave them kids alone” (yeah, you);
“Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!” (chorus of cool kids);
“All in all it’s just another brick in the… toilet.”
“All in all you’re just another brick in the toilet.”

OK, so Roger Waters is a bit of a cynic. But you don’t have to be. The folks at MySpace have a really cool feature, A Brick in the Toilet. There’s lots of little, practical features to get your ecology on. Plus you can see a preview of El Presidente Gore’s new missive: An Inconvenient Truth. Speaking of which, I haven’t seen the film, but I wonder about the disaster film aesthetic. Can anyone tell the difference between The Day After Tomorrow and an infomercial on global warming?

I suppose many people are only motivated by fear, so the dramatic strings and timphony drums will certainly get a rise out of some folks. But I’m still searching for a way to focus on the positive efforts of people (hopefully the movie will propose solutions, as I suspect it will). There is a tendency among media activists to believe that just by opposing something, by default it makes society more democratic. What gets me are the fear tactics of media like Democracy Now! The example of MySpace’s Brick in a Toilet is a good way to feel like you can actually do something today to alleviate climate change. I hope my little critique is not self-contradictory, but I’m really hungry for solutions, not fear. I believe most would agree.

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Ain’t no TV holiday in Cambodia

TV-WeekIt’s that time of year for the international holiday for freaks, TV Turnoff Week. Sponsored by Adbusters, this has become a calling card for school librarians (yes, they are feeing the pinch) and is a good time to reflect on our addiction to media. A few questions, though. What is a TV anymore? With TiVo, V-cast telephones and Web TV it seems like TVs are very old school as a thought process. It has always been my contention that TVs are structures, not objects. When I suggested to Jerry Mander (author of Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television) that environmentalists start using media literacy, he said: “It’s a good idea, except that it makes media more interesting, so I’m against it.”
tv-smashIn a past life when I was a student at Berkeley, we used to have a TV smash party on Sproul Plaza. It was quite dangerous, actually. Did you know that tube TVs hold enough of an electrical charge to kill a human? (This is so you can fire it up on demand!) But we put on our goggles and had cathartic fun anyway. What will you do for TV turnoff week? I’ll be recording all my favorite commercials, so I won’t miss a thing anyway.

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Meme: A day without Mexicans

Day-without-mexicansToday there will be national demonstrations against revised efforts to “reform” immigration law that are expected to draw over a million folks. This is great news. In an effort to explain why this sleeping jaguar has awakened, some in the mainstream media have finally examined the debate from a Latino perspective. In particular CNN profiled the producers of A Day Without a Mexican (watch the trailer here). The film spoofs the immigration debate by depicting a hypothetical event in which all Mexicans disappear from California. The resulting chaos is predictable and kinda funny. The film itself is a bit of a one trick pony. It tries to extend the one-liner into a feature-length movie when a short would have sufficed. Still, the idea is a great meme that deserves circulation. Indeed our entire system would likely collapse without immigration, and especially from hard-working and industrious Mexicans who for our economy, in the words of Enterprise caption Jean-Luc Picard, “make it go.” So though I personally found A Day Without a Mexican a so-so movie, I’m glad it’s getting revised interest. The title itself should get our brain melons picked.

Visit the filmmaker’s site.

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polar map

Polar Bears On Thin Ice:

“Perfectly at home in one of the world’s most forbidding environments, polar bears spend their summers roaming the Arctic on large chunks of floating ice. They drift for hundreds of miles, finding mates, hunting for seals and fattening themselves up for the winter. Without these thick rafts of sea ice, the world’s largest bear could not survive. Yet at this moment, the polar bear’s Arctic habitat is literally melting away beneath it due to global warming.”

(Take action Via NRDC.)

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Remixing Chevy – Check out before it’s too late!


This whole Chevy thingy is going crazy viral.


Democracy can be dangerous… to car commercials. You can remix the Taho ad at Chevy’s Web site. But if you blink, it may be too late. Catch these unwitting culture jams before they get tossed down the memory hole:




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Old Schooling Chicano Power

Democracy Now! devotes its show to the student walkout in SoCal.

Talk about extracurricular activity! Apparently many of the high school students who walked out of class on Monday in Southern Califaztlan to protest the proposed draconian immigration bill (HR 4437) had been inspired by the film, Walkout, which taught the kids a lesson they probably wouldn’t learn in school about Chicano power. Glad to some new homies carry the torch!

Blog | Max Blumenthal: Walkout! | The Huffington Post:

“Many people I talked with around the city yesterday questioned whether Edward James Olmos’ newly released documentary about mass Chicano student protests against discriminatory educational policies in 1968 East L.A. high schools, ‘Walkout,’ influenced yesterday’s events. In an interview yesterday with Hoy, an L.A.-based Spanish language paper, Olmos refuted this idea by claiming the conditions that precipitated the protests against HR 4437 were drastically different than those that animated Chicano life in 1968. However, a student demonstrator from Manual Arts told Hoy, ‘Before I saw the movie, I didn’t think we could do something like that. I didn’t understand how you could affect change. But after I saw it, I felt in my heart that I could do something.'”

(Via Huffington Post.)

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$200 sneakers I want bad!

BrancoThis is slightly old news, but it needs to be said again that Brinco shoes are slammin’, and it is one of the few occasions when conspicuous consumption is in order. Commissioned by inSite-05, artist Judi Werthein designed these for border crossers who face real dangers, but for me they appeal to my inner-alien (I like this better than “illegal”). What attracts me is not the little pocket for pain killers, but the awesome Aztec eagle inlay and border map sole.

Trainers for border crossers:

“The shoes are named Brincos for the Spanish verb ‘brincar,’ which means ‘to jump,’ as in, across the border. They includes a compass, a flashlight because people cross at night. The pocket in the tongue hides money or some Tylenol painkillers because many people get injured during crossing.

Illegal immigrants’ primary mode of transportation is their feet. ‘If they go through the sierra, they walk eight hours. Their feet get hurt. There’s a lot of stones and there are snakes, tarantulas. So that’s why it is a little boot,’ Werthein says. The Brinco is an ankle-high trainer which is green, red, and white – the colors of the Mexican flag. An Aztec eagle is embroidered on the heel. On the toe is the American eagle found on the US quarter, to represent the American dream the migrants are chasing. And on the back ankle, a drawing of Mexico’s patron saint of migrants. A map – printed on the shoe’s removable insole – shows the most popular illegal routes from Tijuana into San Diego.

The artist first passed out trainers for free to migrants, then sold limited edition of them at a hip store in San Diego for $215.”

(Via We Make Money Not Art.)

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Bordering Photography and Activism

migrant-minuteman.jpgWhat happens when you give to seemingly oppositional social forces disposable cameras? Hopefully a more humanized image of conflict, in this case the Minutemen vs. illegal border-crossers coming from Mexico. The Border Film Project supplied disposable cameras to immigrants in Mexican shelters and asked them to document their journeys. The vigilante Minutemen group who are patrolling the US-Mexico frontier were given a similar opportunity.

Although the process would seem neutral, one cannot help but see more clearly power relations between racial groups and nations. Sadly, the largely white Minutemen appear no better than emasculated males who are “playing army” in a situation of greater chaos in which they feel powerless. (View a chilling anti-immigrant ad by one of the Minutemen founders, Jim Gilchris- requires Windows Media Player.) Of course I am biased and feel inclined to empathize with the plight of the immigrants who face tremendous stress in their environments as well. The band Control Machete from Monterey remind us in their lyrics that it is the US, after all, that keeps beaming images of prosperity and magic through the media. Are we not Oz?

Border Film Project:

To simplify the complexities of immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border, and to show the realities on the ground. To date, we have received more than 1,500 photographs and more continue to arrive everyday. The pictures speak for themselves. They capture the humanity present on both sides of the border. They tell stories that no news piece or policy debate or academic study could convey. They are non-partisan and inclusive”

(Via Huffington Post.)

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