Student Teacher Barbie prepares for her new role
SACRAMENTO--California governor jerry brown today announced new funding for schools, made possible by the recent voter-approved initiative. "This funding is entirely designed to reduce gun violence," he said.
"I know people thought the money from Prop 30 would go for books, teachers and fixing up the broken down schools, but safety must be our number one priority. As Mayor of Oakland I recognized the need for weaponizing our schools by establishing the public Oakland Military Academy. The funding made available by this voter approved initiative will go entirely to purchase guns for teachers and principals, and bullet-proof vests and backpacks for students."
Charlton Heston, president of the newly formed American Teachers Federation -- National Rifle Association, said that teachers certainly should have the right to conceal firearms. "For decades, thrown chalk has just not been a sufficient deterrent." Calling for "armed teacher cells," Heston explained that the new organization had formed after the American Federation of Teachers had announced opposition to arming school personnel, which Heston said "leaves our teachers as sitting ducks."
"Our schools are right on target. If our projectile teaching tools are concealed, it means our students will be sharper," Heston said. Teacher Laurie Better said "it is a shame that the underfunded schools aren’t providing enough guns for all teachers, but with conceal laws, they’ll think we’re all armed."
San Francisco teachers were less receptive to this move. "I suppose if they’re going to give me a gun, it’s a good thing the students will have bullet-proof vests," said former second grade teacher Miss Brooks contemplatively. "But I’m not sure how I could carry it when sitting on the floor during story time. And I’m not sure how fast the first and second graders would be in getting on their vests in case of an emergency."
Toy makers have also announced an initiative in response to school shooting. Mattel will be modernizing their "student teacher" barbie to reflect the new school environment. It will come complete with ammunition bandolier and high-capacity clips. The assault rifle will be extra, and available in pink, sky blue, and plum.
Mrs. B, as her students often called her, wondered whether teachers would be responsible for providing their own ammunition, as they currently provide all pencils, books and other school supplies. "Maybe we could have a bake sale," she suggested. "And when would teachers have time for target practice, given that they are already grading papers, developing materials, and planning lessons during their evenings and on weekends, " she asked, starting a sentence with a conjunction. "Will they be restoring some of the professional development time?"
Mrs. B then wandered away, muttering, "school shootings really aren’t that funny, you know."
SodaStream is a product that makes plain water fizzy. It’s manufactured in illegally occupied Israeli settlements, though it says "made in Israel" so it can get a tax break in the U.S.
There is now an international boycott against SodaStream. As part of the boycott, QUIT (Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism) first called Cliff’s Variety store on Castro St. in SF in mid-January 2012 when we found out they were selling SS to talk to them about our concerns and set up a meeting with them. We were told to send our information to the housewares buyer, Jim, who called back and said he’d read the SS info but only wanted to talk on the phone because he didn’t want to get "bogged down." We spoke in mid-February and I briefly explained our concerns about Cliff’s carrying SS. He said he would look at the information.
When we spoke again in early March, Jim said he had read the info I’d sent him about SodaStream and that he had also looked at their website. I told him that based on the info QUIT had sent, we were hoping Cliff’s would honor the international boycott of the product. Jim said he didn’t see that there is an international boycott, just a few European countries. He said they’ve carried SodaStream for a couple of years, that it sells a lot, that it’s a very important line for Cliff’s, there is no alternative, and customers like it a lot – it keeps growing as a product.
Jim asked about my involvement in the issue. I said I was a queer activist who’d been working on social justice issues for many years and on the intersection of the queer struggle with other liberation issues and I made the connection between boycotts of South Africa and Israel. Jim said, "I don’t see it that way. SodaStream is working within a framework that Israel allows." I talked about that framework being part of an illegal occupation and Jim said, "Ohhh, THAT whole issue goes back to the crusades, in that whole area."
Jim said that "Israel seems to be working within the relative rules of an occupying country." [!!!] He said his customers aren’t interested in where the product is made, that it seems more like a political struggle than a manufacturing struggle, that SodaStream has been glommed onto because it’s a successful company.
I told Jim that I thought he was probably right that a lot of Cliff’s customers didn’t know about the SodaStream issue and connection, and that’s why we would be reaching out to Cliff’s customers to inform them. Jim paused when I said this. He asked if we were only doing this at Cliff’s. I said Cliff’s among other stores. He said "If you’re planning on doing something detrimental to Cliff’s, I’d suggest you call the owner." Jim said "I don’t see it as a civil rights issue. The information you sent me is highly refuted by SodaStream." I said that was to be expected. He said that the info that I gave him and that SS gave him were so different that he didn’t think either was true. He said, "Cliff’s isn’t into making political statements. If we had to answer to every question about ‘why are you carrying this’ we’d slowly not be carrying anything. We try to buy local and from responsible companies but we’re also trying to keep the store going." Jim said he makes the decisions about what housewares items Cliff’s buys. He said it would hurt the store if Cliff’s stopped carrying SS. Jim somewhat reluctantly said I could send him a link to further explain why more and more queers see the necessity to support the boycott. (See http://www.queersolidaritywithpalestine.com/)
I didn’t hear back from Jim after that. QUIT’s first action at Cliff’s was on April 1, with a few of us leafleting. From the start, we were always VERY careful to tell people we were NOT urging a boycott of Cliff’s but rather that Cliff’s be pressured by customers to stop carrying SodaStream. We leafletted after that a couple of times, and then we had our first "Taste Test" street theater on August 18, in conjunction with Cliff’s 76th birthday celebration. In late October, we did a great Halloween script (search for cliff’s sodastream Halloween on youtube) and then on the day after Thanksgiving, after Israel attacked Gaza, we did a fake "Bomb the Children" fundraiser outside Cliff’s. Each time we were there with our taste-test table (Bloodstream vs Palastream), Cliff’s employees called the cops with complaints such as that we were blocking THEIR sidewalk, interfering with customers, and illegally videotaping in public. (That one still makes me laugh.)
On December 24, we joined a flash mob at Cliff’s organized by some other Palestine solidarity activists. They had modified some Christmas carols with lyrics about SodaStream. I went to this, planning to stay outside and leaflet rather than go inside the store because I thought it would involve a dance number. But since it was just singing and the lyrics were clever and I like to sing, I went in. Also we in QUIT had cancelled our Cliff’s SodaStream street theater for that same weekend because we had planned to use our Bomb the Children rap and we really couldn’t stand on the street yelling that less than 2 weeks after the Newton Conn. shootings, so I was up for a SodaStream protest. In we went to Cliff’s, maybe about 15 of us, mostly middle-aged women, mostly people I didn’t know.
We went to the SS display in the back of the store and began singing our alternate Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Within minutes, several Cliff’s employees surrounded us screaming and then pushing, shoving, and grabbing us. We were doing a "mic check" statement about SS but were stopped from that as we were forcibly grabbed, pushed, and shoved out of the store. People’s phones/cameras were grabbed. I must say, I was shocked by the level of verbal and physical violence the employees were using. This was a level of violence I have seen and experienced at the hands of the cops in demonstrations, but not when I’ve demonstrated in other stores/banks/malls, etc. where employees usually tell you to leave, might yell at you, and call security. (The only other time I could remember this level of being under physical attack from "the others" in a demonstration situation, was when Stop Aids Now Or Else disrupted opening night at the SF Opera in 1989.)
After being shoved out the Cliff’s door (I was shoved from behind, I might add, as I was going TOWARD the door), we carolers regrouped in front and began singing again. The employees were standing at the doorway of Cliff’s, screaming at us and shoving any of us who got "too close." I asked one dyke who’d been doing a lot of shoving what her name was (not that it mattered; I think it was part of me trying to regain some sense of control after having been physically violated). She showed me her nametag while she screamed at me "Have you ever been to Israel???!!!! Well, I HAVE!!!" I didn’t bother with my "I never needed to go to South Africa to know apartheid was wrong and work against it" line, which is what I usually respond to that, since I haven’t been to Israel. But I found her tirade very interesting in terms of QUIT’s anti-SodaStream work at Cliff’s. Before this incident, I had thought that Jim the houseware’s manager had probably run the issue by some management person after I first contacted him, and that they didn’t want Cliff’s to get in the middle of a hot political issue and didn’t want to lose any profits in the situation. When we began our campaign of demonstrations outside the store, the level of response from Cliff’s employees seemed fairly hostile, but I chalked it up to annoyance at having to deal with us and be the focus of bad PR. When we were in the store being literally thrown out, I thought "Wow, the Cliff’s employees have really been bottling up (no pun intended) their anger at us over all our street theater and protests." But then, with this employee screaming at me about Israel, I realized that there was the personal zionist-under-attack syndrome at work at Cliff’s, not just "business concerns." (Why, for all we know, the Israeli Consulate, in conjunction with Frameline, has organized a trip to Israel for Cliff’s employees!)
After this incident, a follow-up vigil/demo was organized a few days later outside Cliff’s. About 40 people came to this. No Cliff’s employees set foot outside the store and the police were not called. One of the flash-mob organizers saw this as a victory for us; I thought it was a sign that Cliff’s management/legal firm had given some clear instructions to employees. I don’t think of that as a victory for us particularly. There has been some talk of getting CUAV and the police involved and meeting with Cliff’s. I am hesitant about using that as part of a strategy because I see it as somewhat of an energy sap from our main goals around Palestine support. But, each to their own in how they want to respond. QUIT will continue our SodaStream campaign, using obscure yet hilarious humor and drama to educate Cliff’s customers and others in the Castro about why it’s important to boycott SocaStream and why Cliff’s should stop carrying it. Fizzy water is nice but it can’t wash away the bloody stains of occupation.
By Charlie Hinton
From November 12th to 21st, I participated in a delegation to observe human rights in Honduras. We were there to observe the primary elections held November 18 to select party candidates for the general elections, scheduled for November 24, 2013.
One of the candidates for Deputy in the national congress was a gay man named Erick Vidal Martinez. I met Erick when he visited San Francisco in October. He replaced his namesake, Erick Martinez Avila, as a candidate after Martinez Avila was kidnapped and murdered in May, 2012. Martinez Avila was one of more than 70 LGBT people who have been murdered since the coup d’etat against the government of Manuel Zelaya in June 2009.
On June 28, 2009, a military coup overthrew the democratically elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, kidnapping him and flying him to Costa Rica. His wife, Xiomara de Castro, stayed behind and helped lead 100 days of protest that saw tens of thousands of people in the streets daily. Out of this movement to oppose the coup, the National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP) formed, a broad grouping including organizations of peasants, workers, women, indigenous groups, and LGBTI people. The Front continues to build a broad mass movement.
In a deal struck in the Organization of American States (OAS), President Zelaya was allowed to return to Honduras in 2011 in exchange for diplomatic recognition of the coup government, and he was elected General Coordinator of the FNRP. In September 2011 the Front decided to form a political party, called LIBRE, to run candidates in elections. LIBRE means "Free" but also stands for the Party of LIBeration and the REfounding of the country based on a new constitution. Honduras’ profoundly undemocratic constitution was put in place by a military government in 1982. One of the main reasons Zelaya was overthrown was his support for a vote to gauge if the population wanted to begin a process to rewrite the constitution. The coup took place the day of the scheduled vote.
As LIBRE formed, at least five tendencies developed in the party. Some advocated a more grassroots/revolutionary position, and others were more closely allied to the politics of the traditional Liberal Party, from which Zelaya came. All tendencies agreed they wanted Xiomara de Castro, Zelaya’s wife, to be their presidential candidate, but four different tendencies ran candidates for Deputy, so these primary elections determined which LIBRE candidates will compete in the general elections in November. Since this was the first election in which LIBRE was participating, they asked for our delegation to come down as human rights observers in the context of these primary elections. We received thanks and gratitude for our presence from many people we met.
LIBRE has protested the announced election results, claiming many of their presidential ballots have not been counted. Since it was not a contested election, with Xiomara the only candidate, this matters mostly because LIBRE is hoping a large turnout for their new party will give it credibility and momentum for the 2013 campaign.
The announced loser of the National Party presidential primary has also contested the vote count, and many observers believe that Liberal Party counts were inflated. Given the party’s betrayal of Zelaya, a former Liberal, after the coup, most people expected their turnout to be very low. With the suspected irregularities in these primary elections, there’s great concern for the integrity of the 2013 general elections, and LIBRE is requesting observers from all over the world to come to Honduras in November to monitor the election, and more importantly, the vote count. They have great concern that Xiomara will win the vote, but lose by fraud, as many people think has happened to the most progressive candidate in the last two presidential elections in Mexico.
Hondurans showed great courage in voting for LIBRE, since they had to publicly declare themselves and sign up as LIBRE voters in order to receive a LIBRE ballot in the primary, with their names publicly displayed on LIBRE voting lists at each polling station. Many government workers were threatened with loss of their jobs if they voted for LIBRE, which might help account for the National Party, which controls the government, receiving several hundred thousand more votes than LIBRE and the Liberals in these primary elections. LIBRE leaders believe many more people will vote for their party in the general election, when voters don’t need to declare a party to receive a ballot.
In general, it takes a lot of courage for Hondurans to get through daily life in a country known for the highest murder rate in the world. More than one woman a day is murdered. We ran into a demonstration protesting the impunity and lack of investigation of these murders. We met a mayoral candidate who has been under death threat for more than 10 years, since she started prosecuting police corruption as the head of police internal affairs before she was fired.
We met two campesinos who had been ambushed just three days before but managed to escape. They came from the Bajo Aguan region, where more than 70 union and community leaders have been murdered since the coup, in efforts to prevent the wealthiest man in Honduras, Miguel Facussé, from taking over their communal lands for African palm oil/biodiesel plantations.
We met a teacher who has been fired, along with more than 1000 others, for protesting the Teacher’s Union pension fund being taken out of their autonomous control and placed in banks, as the Honduran government attempts to privatize education and destroy the union, whose members have been among the most militant opponents of the coup and organizers of the resistance.
We were also told that Israeli soldiers train 70% of the Honduran police and 30% of Honduran soldiers, and that many Hondurans go to Israel for training. Honduras also buys weapons from Israel, and there is a long history of collaboration between their militaries.
In all we had a wonderful and informative trip. Despite the violence and killings we found a lot of hope and enthusiasm for LIBRE, although some people we met had a more sanguine view of things. Some people are concerned that participation in elections will undermine the grassroots social movements of the FNRP. They point out that neither LIBRE nor the FNRP have been active enough in supporting the fired teachers. We met two feminist activists who were critical of the way LIBRE was formed, critical that Xiomara is only a surrogate for her husband, critical that none of the four tendencies had a woman among their top five candidates, and only one of 92 primary candidates was LGBT identified. (Erick, the LGBT candidate, did not do well in the election.)
Most people we met were amazed that in just 16 months the LIBRE candidate for president received almost as many votes in the official count as the Liberal Party, and they are determined to unite around the primary winning candidates and build towards a more just and democratic future.
Workers at the Mi Pueblo grocery store chain are embroiled in an intense battle for their rights. This chain of some thirty Latino grocery stores al over Northern and central California is owned by Juvenal Chavez, a formerly undocumented immigrant turned multi millionaire. Workers have for years been under attack, telling stories of at will firings, sexually harassment ,not being paid over time, safety violations, and racial discrimination. I have heard that as many as 80% of the work force is undocumented. The Oakland mi pueblo and the mi pueblo chain in general are notorious for blatantly not hiring African Americans.
For several years, the workers have been attempting to unionize, which has enraged the company and Juvenal Chavez. About a year ago the San Jose store peremptorily fired 300 workers during one such unionizing drive. In August mi pueblo requested participation in e-verify, a government database that would allow mi pueblo access to information about workers’ legal status. Participation in e-verify is entirely voluntary in California; Chavez likely did this in retaliation for unionizing attempts. Immediately after, mi pueblo announced the government was starting an I-9 audit or "silent raid" which would identify undocumented workers leading to their firing and possible deportation.
The Dignity and Resistance Coalition, which organized the May Day march last year, has taken on organizing community support for the Mi Pueblo workers in Oakland. Dignity and Resistance includes people from Decolonize Oakland, The Left Party, The Green Party, Occupy Oakland Labor Solidarity, Oakland Education Association, Workers World, Pacific Steel Workers, LAGAI - Queer Insurrection, Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism, and many others. There is an active Spanish speaking caucus which meets and produces a Spanish language newsletter. The coalition had struggled to continue after May Day but had lacked a clear purpose. In September the group was approached by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) local 5 asking for community help because they were actively getting mi pueblo workers in Oakland store to sign cards to get a union election. To further pressure mi pueblo, the union called for a boycott starting October 8.
Dignity and Resistance first sought to talk directly with workers. One woman who had been fired from mi pueblo came to our meeting. She spoke of how early in her employment she was pegged as a trouble maker without ever having actually done anything. There was a fire in the food preparation section of the store. She had the presence of mind to grab a fire extinguisher, putting out the fire, only to be blamed for the fire and terminated. This woman was somewhat shy to be talking to our group but did it anyway. Hearing her talk made me understand just how vulnerable workers feel in these stores. If they speak up about any single injustice they risk not just losing there jobs but being deported. And yet even with that being true they are finding ways to resist. Several members of the coalition were present when union organizers talked with current workers at the Oakland store. The workers were enthusiastic about are group doing a demonstration at the Oakland store.
Dignity and Resistance called for a big noisy demonstration at the Oakland store on October 20th. We did outreach in the Fruitvale community with a sound truck with theatrical public service announcements, created by Claudia, spoofing radio marketing done by Juvenal Chavez. We had an art party and made cool spraypainted signs under the artistic direction of Rebecca. We leafleted at the store Sundays leading up to the demonstration. On October 20th close to 300 people showed up for a marvelous loud militant action. At first the aggressive security force tried to keep us at the perimeter of the parking lot, but the 67 Sueños (67 dreamers), a youth group marching with signs saying, "Sin papeles y sin miedo, Undocumented and unafraid!" "We are not illegal," and "We all have a dream!" bravely rushed the parking lot, disregarding security guards. The resistance was on. The market was playing loud music in hopes of drowning out the demonstration. At one point store manager Carlos Balon became so heated he threw eggs at demonstrators. We marched/danced around the store, led by the Brass Liberation Orchestra. LAGAI Queer Insurrection carried our QUEERS FOR OPEN BORDERS banner, which was very popular. When demonstrators chanted "Mi Pueblo workers under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back", we added some queer history by changing it to the original ACT UP version, "ACT UP FIGHT BACK." The whole demonstration was fabulous and uplifting!!
The demonstration ended with ex mi pueblo workers speaking from a sound truck, giving moving testimony to the egregious working conditions. When we leafleted, many people said that they would honor the boycott and we heard later that the market was slower than usual. UFCW Local 5 was able to collect the 60 signed cards needed for a union election at the Oakland store.
As soon as mi pueblo caught wind of an impending union election they began a repressive crack down on union activities, complete with a special room built in the Oakland store just for the purpose of anti-union indoctrination. Furthermore, Juvenal had been hiring massive numbers of new people who knew nothing about the union drive, to undermine the potential union election.
Dignity and Resistance called another demonstration on the Wednesday before thanksgiving. This time, in addition to the rowdy picket line there was an excellent street theater consisting of a wrestling match in which El Diablo Juvenal Chavez was vanquished by the Super Mercado Worker. Again, much to the distress of the aggressive security guards, there was a vigorous rally in the parking lot in front of the store..
On December 23, Dignity and Resistance did one last direct action in which Berta dressed as a delightful Santa delivering our most recent set of demands in a long scroll, as an xmas present. While this was taking place other people were surreptitiously tucking little messages which said NO E-VERIFY/I-9, YES (SI) UNION, in various places, into key products in shelves throughout the store. Everything came to an abrupt halt when Berta and others were grabbed, pushed and roughly ejected with hands-on by the ever-ready mi pueblo pseudo-police force (a.k.a. security guards).
Dignity and Resistance demands:
1. Stop participation in E-Verify, which is a voluntary program
2. Stop collaborating with the I-9 audit, which is against the law during a labor dispute
3. Stop racist hiring practices
4. Stop union-busting/intimidation tactics, respect workers' right to organize and form a union
5. Stop abusive managerial practices, including sexual harassment, and other poor working conditions.
UFCW Local 5 has filed an Unfair Labor Practice claim with the National Labor Relations Board, because of the union-busting activities at mi pueblo. The Oakland store has purposely and illegally hired many new people past the allowed deadline when an application for a union vote is in progress. UFCW is worried that they could not win a union vote at this moment. They’re hoping that the NLRB will rule in their favor, and direct mi pueblo to bargain with the union. I-9 audits are also illegal when a there is an ongoing labor dispute and UFCW has filed with the federal government to stop them.
The next step for the coalition is to plan a combined march from mi pueblo to walmart in an effort to connect two similar unionization efforts. People involved in the walmart campaign have attended our meetings.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
As the western media smirked at the end of the Mayan calendar (which they described as a prediction that the world would end), 40,000 people of the Zapatista Mayan communities in Chiapas marched silently through the rain to five cities of Chiapas. The cities -- Ocosingo, San Cristobal de las Casas, Las Margaritas, Comitán and Altamirano – are the same cities in which the Zapatistas announced their movement in 1994.
On December 1, Enrique Pena Nieto of the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) was sworn in as Mexico’s new president, promising increased privatization of the energy sector though denying he plans to privatize Petroleos Mexicanos, the state oil company also known as Pemex. On December 22, 1997 paramilitary forces associated with the PRI murdered 45 people in a church in Acteal, and the army assisted in covering it up.
On behalf of the Zapatistas, Subcomandante Insurgete Marcos issued the following communiqué:
December 21, 2012
To Whom It May Concern:
Did you listen?
The day that was day, was night.
|From the Mountains of Southeastern
For the Clandestine Indigenous Revolutionary Committee – General Command of the EZLN
In February 2012, four young women wearing unusual clothing staged a theatrical protest against their government. They were dragged away by security police and imprisoned – two of them remain in prison today. Their youth and beauty, along with their courage and the harsh treatment they were subjected to, made them an international cause celebre, endorsed by the likes of Madonna, Aung Sang Suu Kyi and Paul McCartney. It didn’t hurt that they called themselves Pussy Riot and showed a lot of skin.
Almost a year later, in November 2012, four young women wearing unusual clothing staged a theatrical protest against both their government and the armed groups fighting their government. They were dragged away by security police and remain imprisoned today, along with over 30,000 other political prisoners held mostly without charge or sentence. 45 days into their imprisonment, I haven’t heard any pronouncements from Madonna or Sir Paul, though Amnesty International has initiated a prisoners of conscience campaign around them.
Rima Dali, Rowa Jafar, and sisters Loubna and Kinda Zaour are known as the Syrian Brides of Peace. On November 21, they walked out into a main street in Damascus dressed in full bridal gowns and veils (the bridal kind, not the hijab or headscarf). They held banners that said, "Civil society declares – stop all military operations. 100% Syrian." "Whether you’re tired or we’re tired, we all want to live. 100% Syrian."
Rima Dali is a 32-year-old lawyer and initiated the Stop the Killing protest movement in April of last year. She is ethnically Alawite, as is president Bashar al-Assad, and her activism angers the regime because one of the justifications for their brutal repression of the opposition movements is that they are protecting the Alawite minority. 23-year-old Rowa Jafar is an artist and teaches art to special needs kids. She is from the predominantly Ismailia city of Salamiya. Kinda and Loubna are Druze, from Suwayda. They had never taken part in any demonstration before this one.
[Ed's note: On January 7, Rima, Rowa, Loubna and Kinda were released as part of a prisoner release negotiated by rebel groups. About 2500 of the 30,000+ political prisoners were released in exchange for 43 Iranian hostages held by the Free Syrian Army.]
Left, Right and Wrong
The international left has been slow to embrace the Syrian pro-democracy movement, seeing it as a U.S.- and Zionist-led coup against a socialist government. Here’s an announcement of a forum hosted by the International Action Center in New York in October:
"For over a year and a half we’ve been hearing about what's going on in the Middle East, and the so-called ‘Arab Spring’™. Yet with all the proclamations of ‘free press’™ we seldom hear the voices of those most affected by war and terrorism..
Please join us for an afternoon program that includes representatives who will speak from the Syrian government's reality, along with anti-war voices who oppose the U.S./NATO PROXY WARS IN SYRIA AND IRAN."
The speakers at the event were: Ramsey Clark, Former U.S. Attorney General; Dr. Mazen Adi and Mr. Asaad Ibrahim, Permanent Mission of the Syrian Arab Republic to the United Nations; Lizzie Phelan, Independent Journalist; Larry Hales, International Action Center; Ardeshir Ommani, American Iranian Friendship Committee; and Brian Becker, National Coordinator of ANSWER Coalition.
Now ANSWER has done a lot of very good work over the years, especially in support of Palestinian liberation, but since when are government representatives "those most affected by war and terrorism"? They did not have one single Syrian who was not affiliated with the government speaking, and I can’t help believing that’s because they can’t find one who agrees with their position.
Syria is complicated`
Even people like UK Parliamentarian George Galloway, who has often been accused of being an apologist for the Assad regime, wrote in August 2011, "To describe the mass uprising in Syria, day after day for months and undaunted by the steadily rising price in blood being paid by the protestors, as the actions of ‘terrorists’ and ‘gunmen’ is a gross distortion. In fact the regime itself looks more and more like the terrorist."
Journalist Robert Fisk inspired the wrath of many Syrians when he embedded with the Syrian military to issue his controversial report saying that the massacre of 450 civilians at Daraya in August was the work of "US-backed" Free Syrian Army rebels." I still can’t figure out whether it is positively known if the FSA or the regime perpetrated the massacre, or whether the FSA is actually "US-backed" in anything but name. But Fisk has criticized both the "West and the East" for hypocrisy on Syria, saying, "For 30 years, Hezbollah has defended the oppressed Shias of southern Lebanon against Israeli aggression. They have presented themselves as the defenders of Palestinian rights in the West Bank and Gaza. But faced with the slow collapse of their ruthless ally in Syria, they have lost their tongue. Not a word have they uttered … about the rape and mass murder of Syrian civilians by Bashar’s soldiers and "Shabiha" militia." (my emphasis)
Says Galloway, "I am not with the Syrian regime. I am against their enemies, because their enemies are worse than them. I was not with Saddam Hussein, but I was against his enemies, because his enemies were worse than him."
For many on the left that’s good enough. But for Syrian leftists, who have relied on writers like Fisk and Galloway over the years for trustworthy information about Palestine and Iraq, it’s a betrayal. When I interviewed Syrian-born poet and scholar Mohja Kahf in November, she said, "I marched against the US war in Iraq. I marched for the Palestinian intifada when it began. There are Palestinian progressive activists who are right in step (with the Syrian revolution). But then to turn around and long-time friends and colleagues, to find them not in support … what, we don’t have rights? I don’t understand why Syrian rights are not as important."
In fact, although the Assad regime was allied with the Soviet Union, it was never particularly left-wing. According to a pretty good summary on Socialist Web,
[Hafez al] Assad was born in 1930, when Syria was still a French protectorate. He was a member of the small Alawite Shi'ite community in a country of predominantly Sunni Muslims. The Alawite clans were viewed by France as potential tools in the old divide-and-rule strategy of colonial government, and were given privileged treatment. Assad became the first to leave his village to go to secondary school in Latakia, where he was soon caught up in the political maelstrom that eventually drove the French out of Syria in 1946.
Assad joined the Air Force and was sent to the Soviet Union for training. At age 16, he joined the secular pan-Arab nationalist Ba’ath party (Saddam Hussein belonged to the Iraqi branch of the same party), and later became part of its socialist left wing, which seized power in 1966.
Despite his initial relations with the left wing of the party, Assad's rise to power was bound up with a right-wing reaction to the initial radicalism of Ba'athism, in the aftermath of the disastrous defeat of the Arab forces in the 1967 war with Israel. … This defeat strengthened conservative forces within the Ba'ath party and the military, for which Assad became the spokesman." After taking power, the Ba’athist regime instituted martial law, justified by the threat from Western colonialism.
Hafez became known for fierce rhetorical support of the Palestinians along with some spectacular betrayals in deed. In an incident much less well known than the massacres at Sabra and Shatila, he colluded with the Falangists to carry out a massacre of Palestinian refugees at Beirut’s Tel al Zaatar camp in 1976.
In 1989, when the Soviet Union began to collapse, it cut off arms to Syria. At that point, Syria became more closely allied with the U.S. and Israel and sent troops to join the first Gulf War in 1990. In exchange, the U.S. sanctioned Syrian intervention in Lebanon.
It's Democracy, Stupid...
What’s not complicated is that the Syrian people, just like the Egyptians, the Tunisians, the Bahrainis, the Oaklandish, the Wisconsonians, want freedom. They want democracy.
Bashar al Assad succeeded his father in 2000. Initially, he promised liberal reforms, much like Bahrain’s Hamad ibn Issa, who also succeeded his father in 2000. A spurt of activities in support of reform were mobilized in 2001 has been dubbed the "Damascus Spring." Its leaders included feminists, student activists, nonviolence educators, and secularists. By the next fall, nearly all had been arrested. A group of intellectuals and civil society organizations at that time issued the "Damascus Declaration for National Democratic Change." They were not calling for regime change, but for moderate democratization and human rights. In December 2007, after a meeting of 163 Damascus Declaration signatories, 40 were arrested, some of whom remain in prison today.
The current revolution began, in March 2011, with hundreds of local committees, many led by women, engaging in nonviolent, often very creative forms of civil resistance. Youth activists, calling themselves Generation Freedom, were inspired by the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, as well as their Palestinian cohort, and bolstered by the ability to publicize and communicate using the internet and social media. Villages would compete for the most dramatic and creative protests on Fridays after prayers. One of the most colorful was organized by schoolgirls, marching in formation to create the national flag with the colors they wore.
When national organizations began to form – not easy because the regime has always been extremely repressive – two were led by women. One of those two women, Suheir al Atassi, was elected in November 2012 one of two vice presidents of the new unity government-in-exile, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.
This coalition was in part mandated by the Obama administration, which was frustrated with the Syrian National Council, which it felt was unduly influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood. Interestingly, though, the governments of Britain, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have recognized the coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people, while the U.S. has not. They are apparently hedging their bets.
The Syrian uprising was initially overshadowed in the international press by the events in Libya. Syrian activists told me that members of the international media openly said that Libya was "sexier" because it was war and violence, and that nonviolent protest was not newsworthy. Consequently, a lot of us never heard about what was happening in Syria before the Free Syrian Army and other armed groups began to engage the army. In many cases, the FSA came into villages that were having demonstrations, announcing that they were there to protect the protest, but refusing to leave even when the organizers asked them to. Many villages felt that the presence of armed groups would give the regime an excuse to attack them, which did turn out to be true. The FSA was formed by former Syrian army officers based in Turkey, and has received funding from Qatr and Saudi Arabia, as has the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra. This definitely fuels the charge that the FSA is an outside force and a proxy for the U.S. They also have been joined by fighters from Lebanon and North Africa. At the same time, as the regime responds with air assaults and tank fire, wiping out people’s cows and burning villages to the ground, more and more young men are joining the FSA. More and more generals are defecting, taking with them more powerful weapons. Of the estimated 60,000 people who have been killed, about half have been Syrian army soldiers.
Until recently the primary political opposition group was the expatriate-based Syrian National Council. One of the initiatives of the SNC has been The Day After project, which brings together civil society representatives of diverse organizations to plan for a post-Assad transition. Though the SNC is dominated by members of the Sunni Muslim majority, at its most recent meeting, George Sabra, a Christian leftist, was elected president. Unfortunately, at that meeting as well, no women were elected to the executive council, which enraged some feminists who have been active in the SNC. Afraa Jalabi, a Canadian journalist and member of the SNC, says this should not be taken to mean that women are being deliberately excluded. She said that there were a lot of concerns, including making sure that ethnic minorities and youth are represented, and voting took place by secret ballot over a full day. A lot of people didn’t realize, she said, until late in the day that no women were being elected.
The SNC in December called for international military intervention, including a no-fly zone and arming the FSA. Also in December the Syrian government for the first time bombed the Yarmouk Refugee Camp in Damascus, killing at least 25 Palestinians. The Obama administration remains on the fence.
It’s unlikely that any intervention, whether officially led by the united states or not, is going to result in more democracy for Syrians. Most opposition activists I’ve spoken to say that any involvement by the u.s. or any groups identified with the u.s. and israel will merely fuel the perception that the opposition is Zionist and not Syrian. That understand has given rise to the slogan "100% Syrian" featured on the Brides of Peace banners.
Being neutral isn’t an option. Being retro and glorifying a repressive government because it used to be a Soviet client is ridiculous. We need to develop a form of solidarity that means supporting grassroots activists on the ground. Stop the Killing, a facebook page building "English-language support for the nonviolent Syrian grassroots in the uprising" is a good source of information about these activities, including campaigns to free political prisoners.
By Chaya and Deni
Perks of Being a Wallflower (review by Deni): It was hard to believe the main characters in this film were really "wallflowers" since all were pretty, rich, and thin. Where were the real outcasts? The fat kids? The poor kids? Set in a wealthy suburb of Pittsburgh, maybe there weren’t any poor kids in this school. The film was ok, enjoyable even in parts, when I could ignore the feeling that these kids were not like any "wallflowers" that populate most schools I’ve been in. One of the best things about it was the character of Patrick, an out gay teen well played by Ezra Miller. (Online, Miller describes himself as "queer" but not gay and has been attracted mostly to "she’s." Okay… He also wants to make a trip to Israel. Somebody send him some pinkwashing info!) The movie could’ve been a lot worse, but could’ve been better, more real, deeper, less pretty. It was uplifting in a somewhat trite, after-school special way.
Chasing Mavericks (review by Deni): What, you didn’t know I went to surfer movies??? Yes, it features the famous surfer Mavericks beach, south of San Francisco, which happens to be the beach that Julie and I go to once a month to observe birds and other things which Julie documents for a coastal environmental organization. So we went hoping for shots of our beach (very few!) and instead mostly got a heartwarming sappy surfer movie. But according to a surfer I know, it was very realistic and got the sound and feel of being out there in the ocean. Skip the movie though, and go to a real beach instead.
Brooklyn Castle (review by Deni): This was an excellent film, though it barely played anywhere or for long. Odd because it got a whopping 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. Not odd because it was a documentary about Junior High School I.S. 318 in Brooklyn and the mostly kids of color and their families who are part of the award-winning chess team there. 65% of the students at the school live below the federal poverty level. The film focuses on the amazing students on the chess team and their commitment to chess because of and/or despite the challenges in their lives. There’s even one young woman on the team, Rochelle Ballantyne, whose goal is to become the first African American female master in the history of chess. Her grandmother taught her to play when she was in third grade. It's been four years since filming of this documentary started - Rochelle is now a high school senior - but her name is still at the top of I.S. 318's list of best players. Surprisingly, the film even included the issue of education budget cuts that could have decimated the chess program, and how the community organized against this, winning enough to keep the club going despite the cuts. The sequel of my dreams will be one in which these phenomenal kids organize to revamp the entire educational and social/economic system of this country and turn it around. I’m sure if I played chess, I could give a queens, kings, and pawns analogy, but alas… See this film (if you can find it).
Roadmap to Apartheid (review by Deni): This documentary looks at apartheid as it existed in South Africa and at the conditions that exist in Palestine/Israel today. The film was made by Ana Nogueira, a white South African and Eron Davidson, a Jewish Israeli, and is beautifully narrated by Alice Walker. It has won a number of awards at national and international film festivals. The film is a long one, complete with much historical information and current analysis. Its use of split screen footage to contrast/compare the two situations is effective in developing an understanding of their similarities and differences, and I think the film would be useful in creating a mind-change for viewers stuck in the "it’s-a-religious-war-it’s-been-going- on-forever-what-can-we-do-anyway" response to the occupation of Palestine. Ok, that was really hard to write because what I really want to say is FUCK Israel and why can't all you chickenshit movie stars/performers come out against THIS apartheid too. Yes, Stevie Wonder pulled out of performing at a fundraiser for the Israeli army that was scheduled to take place December 6, but it is sad that we have to look at that as a victory. It should have been a given, no? (It did seem odd that the IDF needed a benefit with all the $$$ the U.S. gives Israel…) Maybe it’s time to honor Vanessa Redgrave again for being such a long-time and outspoken protester of Israeli policies and supporter of Palestine, beginning with her 1977 documentary "The Palestinian." And kudos as well to Alice Walker who recently protested Israel’s treatment of Palestinians by refusing permission for an Israeli publisher to translate "The Color Purple," her most famous book, which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1983. So get off the stick and buck the zionists, all you progressive stars and performers out there. The Mocha Column is watching YOU.
Life of Pi (review by Deni): Cinematically lush in 3D with some trippy ocean shots, but way too long, too much about god, and generally kind of annoying despite a few interesting scenes and storytelling. I don’t usually quote other reviews but particularly liked this one by Drew McWeeny: "I found it to be a heart-breaking experience to see this much good work used in service of a story that is, ultimately, nothing but empty calories, a spiritual shell game." Skip the film unless you can just watch the diaphanous jellyfish.
Silver Linings Playbook:
Deni: Some cute parts but I didn’t like how they played mental illness for laughs and brought up issues about it that they never went back to, and how the "problems" seemed to almost disappear by the movie’s end. I usually really like Jennifer Lawrence but in this part she seemed forced.
Chaya: Good actors can only do so much with uneven writing and a predictable storyline (but keep your eye on Jennifer Lawrence, the best actor of her generation). Fairly entertaining to sit through with some nice moments, many annoying moments, and an ending that I saw coming from early on. Could’ve been much better.
Promised Land: This movie was co-written, produced by, and stars Matt Damon as a "company man" fronting for a natural gas land-grab company. We like Damon. He had a long association with Howard Zinn, quoted Zinn in Good Will Hunting and performed in the stage reading of A People’s History. He’s been active for a long time in environmental and human rights issues. Because we appreciate his politics, we really wanted to like this movie about fracking, but found it lacking. Directed by Gus Van Sant, it was cinematically ordinary and slow in parts. Despite skillful acting by Damon, Frances McDormand, John Krasinski, Hal Holbrook and Rosemarie DeWitt, only McDormand’s and Holbrook’s characters felt real. Let’s turn to our environmental reporter, Lisa, for her comments, and don’t miss her article on fracking in this issue of UltraViolet.
Lisa: Promised Land? WTF?? I was really surprised how little it dealt with the health issues, science, etc. The enviro guy was never believable to me. Hard to believe it’s based on a story by Dave Eggers. Hal Holbrook was way more believable as the science teacher/retired engineer. And I don't know if it was the writing or the acting but the Matt Damon character seemed pretty flat and not that smart. Did he ever even use his computer?
Django (guest review by Ralowe): this review is a synthesis of my rants from a nigh-ubiquitous social networking website: in the context of unending black death...: between red tails, lincoln, tyler perry, john singleton's 'abducted' starring taylor lautner, the bush administration sentimental fantasy apologia of 'beasts of the southern wild' and spike lee's navy commercials, there's a sizable drought of fare likely to satisfy black radicals. for a racist misogynist asshole, trying as best as we can to overlook grievous masculinity issues, and trying to think about black radicalism in popular culture (assuming that in itself isn't always a contradiction in terms), i actually enjoyed the fuck out of django. "d'artagnan, motherfuckers!!" is there any continuity between mookie's "hate!" (i.e. 'do the right thing')? is any comparison pointless? are they mutually exclusive? most black folks watching the shit that's available know that you kind of have to take what you can get, and seeing jamie foxx's freed slave character waste rednecks in gorgeous slow-mo accompanied by stuttering crunk hi-hats is fucking exhilerating. it was an easier bit of wheat-from-chaff separation that i had to do to enjoy quvenzhane wallis' genderqueer performance amidst the katrina + 'where the wild things are' trip through post-racial nationalist sentimentality of 'beasts'. there's nothing very sentimental in django. it's not a perfect film, but i felt like it was another chapter in what i consider is tarantino's ongoing inquiry into the killable body and violence as commodity spectacle. here, as in saidiya hartman's 'scene's of subjection,' you get a real sense of how the past shapes the present. that's probably the most triggering part of the film: how it shows the origin of the black deathworlds of today.
BITS AND PIECES
AWAY IN WHAT MANGER?: Recently the pope wrote a book using "every minute of his spare time" (somehow we thought pope-ing was kind of 24/7). In the book, he says that at the manger there were no animals, wise men, or angels singing (however, we saw and heard them everywhere in the recent xmas season and, just to clarify, the singing angels became xmas carols). But the atheists at Stanford University, with their own atheist chaplain, recently tweeted the pope to say that atheists must take issue with the pope’s declarations: "We believe that there were animals at the scene, but there was definitely no god." Regarding the Wise Men, the atheists discredited this patriarchal dogma, instead providing evidence that Mary was there with Wise Women as part of a lesbian land collective. Let’s hope this conflict does not get brought to trial in Arkansas, which has a law that bars an atheist from testifying as a witness at a trial.
WE WERE HOPING TO SAY GOODBYE AND GOOD RIDDANCE: We were so sorry to hear that Sheriff Joe Arpaio got reelected in Maricopa County, AZ. We heard that his goal now is "getting closer to the Latino community." Good luck with that, Joe. La lucha continúa.
YOU’VE COME A LONG WAY, BABY: We were thrilled to see that a new boy-friendly "Easy Bake Oven" has been developed by Hasbro. When her little brother wouldn’t use an Easy Bake Oven because the colors were too girlie (ok, you guessed it: pink and purple floral), a young woman organized an on-line petition on Change.org to make Hasbro create the oven in colors her brother would use. 40,000 people signed her petition. That’s 40,000 people who really got the message of the women’s liberation movement that the main goal was to open up equal opportunities for boys and men. So Hasbro has created a new model in boy colors (black and silver) that little brother likes. Now he will be free to develop himself and become a great chef. Wait, what’s that you say? What about Charlotte Druckman’s new book "Skirt Steak: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat and Staying in the Kitchen," which shares the perspectives of 73 women chefs on what life is like for females in the food industry. Druckman reveals the issue of inequality in pay between female and male chefs (no!!!) and how sexism affects women’s opportunities to be chefs (really?). But we’re sure the new boy-friendly Easy Bake Oven will fix all that.
AND SPEAKING OF CHANGEFOROPPORTUNISM.ORG: We guess we weren’t paying attention last fall when change.org did a 180 degree change of its politics (oops, we mean rebranding). Originally launched in 2007 as an online social movement networking site for non profit organizations (although it has always been a for profit business itself), it has accepted ads only from progressive organizations that shared its values (Amnesty International, the Sierra Club, etc.), and users created or signed petitions on progressive issues. But last fall, seemingly jealous of the profits of Google, it yielded to the siren call of capitalism. Internal documents were leaked that revealed a new policy of accepting ads "based on the content of the ad, not the group doing the advertising. If Google will allow it, we would allow it." This includes ads from mainstream corporations, the Republican Party, anti-abortion groups, anti-union groups, and other nauseating sources. Since then, the number of users has skyrocketed, and it proclaims itself the "fastest-growing site of its kind." Benjamin Joffe-Walt, director of communications for changeforopp.org, says "the company never intended to pitch itself as strictly progressive." Joffe-Walt added, "Hahaha, all you bleeding heart liberals out there! We’re waiting to hear back from the NRA." Sounds like changeforopportunism.org is getting closer to its goal of "true empowerment [through profits for us] everywhere."
WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF
As John Stewart remarked regarding the so-called war on christmas – Xmas has now grown big enough it is eating other holidays, specifically, thanksgiving. And so at 9 p.m. that Thursday, after the less than spectacular thanksgiving movie (Life of Pi – see Mocha column) some LAGAIers joined a small bunch of activists called out by Occupy Oakland, wandering the parking lots of the Oakland walmart to support the national strike on "black Friday." Eventually a small vigil formed outside one of the driveways, to wait through the night for strikers to appear. We went home.
So imagine our surprise to wake up to footage of walmart actions from sea to shining sea, involving walmart workers and community supporters, including flash mobs and mike check actions inside the stores, and large pickets and theater outside. Although we missed the Walmuerto skull and crossbones protest on Friday in Oakland, we made it that afternoon to San Leandro, where hundreds of local labor activists, communists, anarchists and a dragon supported walmart workers in demanding better wages, working conditions, health care and rights on the job. When all was said and done, the OUR Walmart/Making Change at Walmart campaign announced there were 1000 protests during the 24 hour period, involving over 500 walmart workers.
Walmart had filed an unfair labor practice charge against United Food and Commercial Workers, and attempted to get an injunction against the protests, but the injunction was denied. The NLRB has yet to decide on the broader charges. Who would know more about unfair labor practices than walmart, which shut down the meat cutting department in a Jacksonville Texas store in 2000, because the meat-cutters voted to organize. (It took 3 years for the nlrb to decide that was an unfair labor practice and order walmart to resume meat-cutting at the store). Not to mention closing an entire store in Jonquière Canada in 2005 because employees had certified the UFCW through the Canadian card-check system (a system that requires union recognition and collective bargaining if a majority of bargaining unit members sign to certify the union).
Walmart has long-since replaced the u.s. postal service as the largest civilian employer, and currently employs one out of every 100 workers in the u.s. – that is 1.4 million people. Walmart has been repeatedly found in violation of overtime and other labor laws.
Fast Food Forward
One week later, on November 29, hundreds of fast food workers in New York City struck Burger King, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and restaurants owned by Yum! Brands (KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut), demanding a raise to $15 per hour and the right to organize a union. McDonald’s and Yum! are the second and third largest employers of low wage workers, after the above mentioned walmart, which is first. The campaign, Fast Food Forward, is supported by New York Communities for Change, United NY.org, The Black Institute, and Service Employees International Union. In Chicago, a similar campaign has been organized including fast food workers and car-wash workers.
Unite HERE Local 2850 continues to try to organize non-union workers at concessions in the Oakland airport. A demonstration was held on October 26 to support a fired Jamba Juice worker. An agreement at the port between the main concessionaire and Unite HERE provides for employer "neutrality " in union organizing drives, but 8 subcontractors, including Subway, Jamba Juice, Burger King, and See’s Candy, have not signed on. Meanwhile, SEIU local 1021 maintenance and custodial workers at the Oakland airport and port of Oakland picketed the port for a one-day strike starting at 9:30 p.m. on Monday November 19. The International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) honored the picket lines at the port, and the port was shut down. The planned strike was ended a few hours early to resume negotiations, and on December 7, the agreement was ratified.
Meanwhile, the California Nurses Association continues its campaign to win fair contracts from Sutter Health and HCA hospitals. Most recently, the CNA conducted one-day strikes against 9 hospitals in the Bay Area and San Jose on December 24. On January 3, the CNA, and the National Union of Healthcare Workers announced that they have affiliated. The NUHW left the SEIU/UHW (United Healthcare Workers) in 2009.
It is downright depressing that at the end of 2012 michigan, the birthplace of the United Automotive Workers (UAW) and the 1937 sit-down strike, joined indiana as yet another "right-to-work [for less]" state. But workers are organizing despite often (but not always) confusing or incompetent unions, hostile courts, the non-profit industrial complex, and a national labor relations board who couldn’t find (much less correct) an unfair labor practice if we gave them a GPS and a magic wand. As it has been for over 100 years, the spark of organizing has come from immigrant workers, workers of color, women, and other low wage workers. Workers’ rights are not granted by the government or the corporations, they are won from them.
As another new year begins I’m fielding calls from friends worried about whether 13 is an unlucky number and sharing their impending sense of dread. As to numerology, there are 13 moon cycles in a year so to me it seems like a good number in harmony with the sun and the planets-- but I am no expert, just an atheist wishing I had a good telescope.
The impending sense of dread is more up my alley. Climate change and the chaos it is spawning are finally "front and center" in the news but time for "easy" solutions is long past. Many scientists confirm that we have already lost the fight to prevent climate change, now the fight is try to slow down its acceleration—a much harder project particularly when WE JUST KEEP BURNING FOSSIL FUELS!!
We all know now that coal is a killer, not only for the CO2 burning it dumps into the air, but also kills the mountains, streams and communities near the mines (as do the piles of coal ash waste after its burned). THERE IS NO CLEAN COAL, that’s just another industry lie.
Oil and gas extraction worldwide is changing radically, increasing the damage both on the ground and to the atmosphere. UV readers will remember my earlier rants about tar sands -- companies use an enormous amount of energy to extract and process it, killing forests and polluting the atmosphere even before the oil is ready to be used – when it burns and emits even more CO2. The Keystone XL pipeline would carry this dirty tar sands oil from Canada to the gulf coast—one segment already under construction has met with fierce and fabulous opposition from local land owners and environmental activist who have "locked down" in the pipe segments, and set up enormous webs as part of tree-sits in the path of the pipeline. James Hansen, a much quoted NASA scientist, called the XL pipeline the "fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet." But the tar sands aren’t the only "carbon bomb" lurking.
I know that some of you are wondering "what ever happened to "peak oil" that would have forced industry to find alternative energy sources and limit future CO2 emissions?" Well, the theory of "peak oil" assumed that once the oil reserves that were well documented and "easy" to exploit were used up, oil and gas development and use would have to decline. Fracking technology (and the lack of environmental controls which make it cheap to pollute), changed the equation pushing "peak oil" out decades or even centuries longer.
So what the frack is going on? Fracking (or hydraulic fracturing) which has gotten lots of press recently comes in many forms—all of them bad. Fracking for gas deposits is generally done with a "proprietary" (read "secret") blend of noxious chemicals, sand and water—a lot of water, millions of gallons per well. The mixture is injected at high pressure into deep wells causing the surrounding rock (usually shale) to crack and fracture and releasing gas. The gas fields strewn across the landscape from the intermountain west to the northeast have destroyed a lot of land and fracking in many of these wells is polluting water tables as they spread with the usual toxic suspects NOx and VOC.
The new movie "Promised Land" tells a small part of the story, in a Hollywood kind of way. I was very disappointed that the film glossed over the real details of the destruction of land, water, and health and used as a weak stand in a photo of a few dead cows. The academy award nominated documentary "Gasland" www.gaslandthemovie.com was far more informative, but the production values were certainly not as high!
Of course, like any really bad idea that the oil and gas industry comes up with, fracking is happening now all over the world. For example, in South Africa’s Karoo semi-desert region where fracking was initially banned, the corporate powers (Shell at the front of the pack) are now pushing to move forward with exploration despite local and international opposition.
A similar process is also now being used for oil fracking in shale formations -- what industry likes to call "tight oil" (a cringe-worthy name for sure!). Oil fracking is set to explode across the landscape of central California over the next few years (pun intended). A lot of that oil is in the Monterey Shale, a geologic formation that underlies much of the Central Valley into San Benito and Monterey counties. The Monterey shale may hold as much as 15.5 billion barrels of recoverable oil, which would make it the largest shale oil formation in the country. And when that oil is burned, it will spew more CO2 into the atmosphere and keep the pedal to the metal on the climate change trajectory—it is literally a climate bomb beneath our feet that industry is determined to release.
California’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources recently released a woefully inadequate "discussion draft" of proposed regulations for fracking in the state. You can read the draft at http://www.conservation.ca.gov/dog/Pages/Index.aspx and send comments. Among the many flaws in these weak proposed regulations, a few are:
Lack of meaningful protection for air, water and climate. The draft regulations do nothing to protect people living near fracked wells from air pollutants (that increase risks of cancer and respiratory illness), from exposure to, or contamination by, the large volume of toxic wastewater fracking produces. The proposed regulations do not require well operators to use devices to capture methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is often released or flared as a waste produce. The regulations also completely ignore seismic risks, although studies increasingly show fracking can induce earthquakes.
There is no requirement to collect and disclose baseline data on air-quality and water-quality data prior to fracking. This information is clearly needed for effective analysis of impacts and regulation.
The regulations would provide a "Trade Secrets" loophole and allows companies to avoid disclosing the toxic chemicals used in fracking fluids. (The regulations even propose that health professionals would be required to sign a confidentiality agreement before obtaining the information to treat patients harmed by fracking chemicals!).
The regulations fail to require notification to people with homes or drinking water wells near fracking wells.
Once again, we can’t count on the government to protect our land and water and health from corporate greed and we will have to get out in the streets to try to stop the madness. And hope that renewable energy and local control can someday stop the oil and gas industry juggernaut (of course the oil and gas industry is hedging its bets by investing in solar and wind projects—but that is a tale for another newsletter). The struggle continues in "lucky" 2013.
The June 2013 issue of UltraViolet will feature writing by LGBTQI prisoners.
If you have a story to tell about the unique experiences and conditions of being an LGBTQI prisoner we want to hear from you! While UV can not get into the details of anyone’s individual case, personal stories are particularly welcome.
Please send submissions of 500 words or less by March 1 to:
3543 18th Street, Box 26
San Francisco, California 94110
If you have access to email, you may email it to email@example.com. If you email, please put "prisoner submission" in your subject line.
We may need to edit submissions for length or other reasons. If your story is selected for publication, we will try to contact you about any edits if time allows, but it may not be possible. We will print as many of the stories as we can. We look forward to reading your work.
Patricia Jackson, moves from an isolated childhood through a closeted young adult life- a journey out of those early years from shame into defiance which evolved the way people come into our own, through movements for social change.
Takes An Uprising will inspire LGBTQ youth with stories of hope, encourage elders to set down their own personal journeys as activists who witnessed cultural, social, and political changes of the time. Sharing our stories anchors our herstory/history for youth and connects us in kinship.
Write your stories. Make history alive and relevant to today.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org