Category Archives: Media

Plug the Holes or We Won’t Go

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zIxlsDZOmM]

We will return to the Arco station every week to peacefully block the Fell St. entrances until BP plugs the holes in the Gulf and until the City plugs the dangerous driveways on Fell and makes it safe for people to live less oil dependent lives.

Fridays 5:30pm-8:30pm Fell and Divisadero San Francisco

Special thanks to Janel Sterbentz for producing this video- if the BABC won’t put her talents to use then we certainly will!

Full text of speech available here.

Fell St. ARCO Closed For Total Rethink

What an incredible, inspiring protest yesterday in San Francisco.   Truly in awe at the raw energy from the neighborhood residents who have clearly had enough of this dangerous and awful situation that the city has failed to correct- where cars lined up for cheap (BP) gas obstruct the only level east west bike lane in the city, forcing cyclists directly into speeding traffic.   It would be hilariously ironic if it weren’t so tragically awful.  We got a ton of media responding to our press release, including all the local TV stations, SF Weekly, the Guardian, Streetsblog, Indymedia, SF Gate, KPFA (starting at 13:50), Pirate Radio, and others.   Video will be up here shortly in the next couple of days.

People are discussing coming back and shutting the entrances every week until the holes are plugged- both the one in the Gulf, and the entrances on Fell St. that drive the fear of cycling and demand for oil.  Updates will be posted here.

Here is a copy of my speech yesterday, with the help of El Arbol, Fossil Fool‘s amazing pedal powered mobile sound system:

Thank you to everyone who showed up today, and to those who spread the word and made this happen.  This was truly a grassroots effort, not organized by any official non-profit organization, just a few of us from the neighborhood concerned about the way things are going.

We have succeeded in (at least temporarily) shutting down a toxic business that threatens the neighborhood, threatens the Gulf, and ultimately threatens the world.   The presence of this Arco station endangers cyclists on Fell St. and finances a criminally negligent corporation.

Before we go any further, let’s have a moment of silence to remember the victims of this terrible catastrophe.  The eleven men who were killed on the Deepwater Horizon and their families.  The millions of Gulf residents- both human and wild who are suffering as we speak.

As we remember these victims, let’s not forget the other victims of car culture- those motorists who do not have viable alternatives to driving alone, and whose health is suffering as a result.  People on bikes, on foot, and in cars who have been seriously injured or killed by cars- over 1.2 million of us throughout the world every year.

Let’s not forget all those elderly people living out the last of their days in isolation because their streets- streets like Oak and Fell have become nothing more than traffic sewers.

We must remember all those children growing up deprived of any connection to the natural world, surrounded by speeding steel and asphalt, getting to know the world only from the backseat of a car.

Now I am not pointing the finger or blaming those who drive cars- for many years I was one of them, and occasionally still am.   Drivers are as much victims of this inhumane system as the rest of us.

Somehow, we need to rethink our cities as safe and pleasant habitats for human beings.   The fact that they are NOT is an indication that something has gone deeply awry with our culture.

These days, cars are supposedly such a part of our lives that we are not allowed to question their dominance.   But when California’s cars are the number one source of carbon emissions.  When our cars are the number one killer of our children.   When our thirst for oil drives the kind of disaster we are seeing in the Gulf, I think we need to begin to ask questions.  These realities point to the fact that we are dangerously, hopelessly addicted to our motor vehicles.

We now know that over ONE MILLION gallons of toxic crude are leaking into the Gulf of Mexico every day.  An Exxon Valdez of oil every 8-10 days.

The most advanced technology humans have is INCAPABLE of stopping what our technology has unleashed.

Just as if we continue to emit more than 5 BILLION tons of greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere every year we will be incapable of closing the Pandora’s box we have opened.

The oil companies and the government have reassured us they have the situation under control.  They say “TRUST US” we know what we’re doing.  Well you know what?   We DON’T trust you anymore.

If the United States government, controlled by multinational energy giants- continues to undermine climate justice on an international level and endanger the future of life on this planet for selfish, short term profits, there will be social unrest like we have never before seen in this country.   It may be next week.   It may be in 20 years.  But I cannot accept that the people in this country will accept the sacrifice of this planet without a fight.

From individual citizens reporting what is happening in the Gulf, we know that BP IS STILL IN CHARGE, despite what Obama says.  BP defies the EPA,  pumping tons of chemical dispersant into the sea, not to reduce the environmental damage but to hide the extent of the spill from the public- to keep the damage UNDERWATER away from the lens of the media.

According to the New York Times, BP is ordering the US Coast Guard and local police forces to keep the media away from areas filled with dead and dying wildlife, bagging the bodies and stashing them out of view the same way we do with the bodies of civilian casualties in Iraq.

Today in San Francisco, we say NO.  WE WILL NO LONGER BE SILENT IN THE FACE OF THESE BRAZEN ATTACKS ON OUR HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT.

Today, we bear witness to the connection between unsafe cycling conditions and our own fatal dependence on fossil fuels for transportation.

Future generations will learn about how our society treated people who opted out of car culture- how we continue to design streets that cause deaths and injuries of vulnerable road users- just to maximize traffic flow.   Streets that scare people into lives of inactivity and oil dependence, and they will recoil in horror.

In response to the mentally ill man who mowed down four innocent people on bicycle the other day, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition tells us that “OUR STREETS ARE SAFE.”  Well you know what? THEY ARE NOT SAFE.   And they are very rarely pleasant.   Riding a bike in the city could be paradise.   But right now, for most of us it is a scary experience.

Instead of giving us tired old platitudes, they could have used this horrific incident to condemn the countless acts of intimidation of people on bicycles throughout the city every day, people who use cars as deadly weapons to threaten vulnerable road users, revving their engines like a predatory animal.   Incidents that the San Francisco Police Department responds to only with a nod and a wink.

Our fossil fuel dependent society is neither advanced nor civilized.   All the luxuries and unrestrained mobility that we take for granted are an historical anomaly made possible by a finite supply of cheap oil.

We are literally being kept alive by large multinational corporations like BP and Safeway.   When the cheap oil runs out as it inevitably will, our civilization will collapse as surely as those human civilizations of the past have done.

BUT TODAY WE STAND UP TOGETHER AND REJECT THAT FATE.   We know that another world is possible.  A future of humans living in a reciprocal relationship with nature, not an exploitative one where we take and take and take.

A future where health and the environment are prioritized over profit.  A future with networks of safe green routes for walking and cycling, lined with trees and plants, connecting the whole city, the whole bay area.  Where clean, quiet, and frequent public transit connects cities.

Where we have leisure time to spend with our families and friends and we are no longer forced to waste our lives under fluorescent lights at jobs we hate just to keep ourselves and our families alive and feed our cars.

A sane world where we can feed OURSELVES without resorting to factory farms, tortured animals, poisoned fields, and genetically modified crops.

A world where we are reconnected to our fellow human beings and to the natural world.

Money is NOT REAL.  It is a construct- ultimately only paper and metal.  What IS real are plants, human beings, and other animals.

The love between a mother and her child.   That is real.  We must build a new world based on that, or we will end up destroying this beautiful planet and the living beings who inhabit it.

If any good can come out of this catastrophic situation in the Gulf, it can be an OPPORTUNITY for people to come together and start building a better world, the way we have built up this little green park here today.

Power is not taken- it is given.  And if the powers that be will not face up to their historic responsibility to quickly wean us off fossil fuels, we will have to STOP GIVING THEM OUR POWER.

We solved this longstanding neighborhood problem here ourselves.  We didn’t ask the government to do it for us.   We didn’t give money to a non-profit to lobby for us.   WE JUST WENT OUT AND DID IT OURSELVES.

It really IS that easy.

Women who Ride: The “Lost” Interview with Janel Sterbentz

Janel Sterbentz, not afraid to be outspoken about the negative impacts of motorized traffic on our quality of life

While Bike NOPA declined to publish the following interview with Janel Sterbentz, on account of the fact that she dared to mention how unpleasant, stinky and dangerous cars are, On the Level is happy to publish Janel’s words.  As you know if you are a regular reader, On the Level is not afraid of coming out of the closet with our opposition to the automobile.  If you are a woman cyclist, please submit your answers to these questions and On the Level will post your words here.   Even if you are in love with cars and think they have really improved our cities, please send us your answers to these questions and we will be happy to publish all points of view.

1.  What kind of cyclist are you?
Bold  |   carefree  |    Aggressive |  racer   |   foot down at stop signs   |   careful   | ETC -

Fast yet cautious. When I ride I prepare for all the possible directions motorists, pedestrians or other cyclists will take, it is like I am always picturing in my mind three seconds ahead in the future. I bike like I am invisible because many times cyclists are invisible to motorists who have limited visibility or are distracted in so many ways. I thrive on being so aware of my environment, I am most present and in the moment when cycling. I also feel hyper-connected to all the street life around me. Always wear a helmet and flashing front and back lights.
2.  Do you bike frequently and for what purpose?

I bike every day to stay mentally and physically fit. I don’t want anything to do with the oil industry’s wars, carnage from motorists hitting pedestrians/cyclists, or the air and noise pollution. To me cycling leads to a positive future and pleasant street environment while driving leaves destruction and unpleasantness in its path. Also, it is just so much fun to bike.

3.  What measures could be taken in San Francisco to get more women, including teenage girls, to cycle?

I think some women feel cycling is too dangerous and aggressive, especially biking in fast traffic and over uneven pavement. They may feel like it is not feminine, especially if they think they won’t be able to wear dresses, high heels, and purses; or that it will mess up their hair and make them sweaty. I think these concerns can be overcome by showing women the best routes to take, saying it is ok to bike slowly and on a more upright bike. When you compare figures in the US where only 1/3 of the bicycle commuter population are women versus The Netherlands or Copenhagen where it is more like half, you can see that when there are separated paths on safer routes more women, children and elderly bike.

4.  Have any of your friendships or relationships begun with cycling? Fun anecdotes you can tell us about?
I have to say, nearly all my friends are cyclists and don’t own cars. Some of my best friendships resulted from being in a bike dance group The Derailleurs (http://derailleurs.wordpress.com/). I always meet great people helping out with local bicycle coalitions.
5.  I shock others when I cycle by
Politely telling people who are parked in the bike lane that this is a space I need, otherwise I am forced into fast moving traffic.
6.  I tell other women who want to start cycling:

Get together with a friend who bikes, or if you don’t know anyone who bikes, volunteer at your local bicycle coalition, there are so many friendly cyclists who are eager to have others to bike around with. Bike to Work Day May 13th is a great time to start biking (http://www.youcanbikethere.com/). SFBC has commuter convoys where groups meet up and bike the best route to work (http://www.sfbike.org/?commuterconvoy). They also have street skills and bike maintenance classes. Bike in Golden Gate Park on JFK Drive on the weekends when the street is closed to cars to get used to it.

The Subtle Censorship That Defines Acceptable Discourse

People suffer when the horrors of our transport system are obscured by well meaning activists

A friend of mine- Janel Sterbentz- recently volunteered to be featured on the San Francisco based Bike NOPA blog in their “Women who Bike” series.   She submitted her responses to the questions, but the editor of Bike NOPA, Michael Helquist (also the winner of the SF Bike Coalition’s 2010 Golden Wheel Award), didn’t like her answer to question number 2, and requested that she change it if the piece was to be published.

This was the question:
2.  How often do you bike and what for?
And this was her answer:

“I bike every day to stay mentally and physically fit. I don’t want anything to do with the oil industry’s wars, carnage from motorists hitting pedestrians/cyclists, or the air and noise pollution. To me cycling leads to a positive future and pleasant street environment while driving leaves destruction and unpleasantness in its path. Also, it is just so much fun to bike.”

She declined to remove the offending paragraph and now her interview won’t be published as a result.

When viewpoints like Janel’s are intentionally kept out of public discourse, it does a major disservice to the political debate around our transport policies.   First, it allows people who habitually drive to continue to insulate themselves from the very real impacts of their mode choice on other people, particularly vulnerable road users.   Second, erasing voices like this one leaves the impression that if you are irritated by the noise, air pollution and danger caused by car traffic then you are somehow unusual, marginalized, or radical in some way.  A fear of marginalizing oneself actually helps perpetuate that marginalization.

The reality is that millions of regular people around the world- people who drive, cycle, walk, take the bus, or whatever- are irritated and their quality of life is diminished by transport policies that make car traffic- not human life or the environment- the primary consideration.

It’s no surprise that people wrongly believe that they are alone in these feelings or that there is no recourse within acceptable political debate to resolve them, when even bicycle advocates are afraid to reflect the truth about the environmental and social devastation caused by motor vehicle dependence.

The bicycle is wonderful for what it is (a liberating, fun, and healthy vehicle for the masses), but it is also wonderful for what it is not (a car) .  As the bicycle increases in popularity and organizations that promote its use gain political clout, they should not fail to remind people of the facts of car and fossil fuel dependence in some misplaced politeness or reluctance to confront.  Yes we need carrots- they are sweet, succulent, and attractive.  And god knows the bike is that.  But we also need the sticks of reality to wake people up who have been driven to excess by an insane, motorized world.

This is what the editor of Bike NOPA- Michael Helquist- told On the Level when reached for comment:

“I felt that a few of the comments made in this one submission were a bit doctrinaire and negative (with descriptions of the “carnage from motorists hitting pedestrians and bicyclists” and the “destruction” that comes with driving), and these were not a good fit for the series. As I mentioned to Janel Sterbentz today if I was interviewing her about larger transportation issues, about hazards that accompany biking, and the serious impacts of people relying solely on individual automobiles when other options are feasible, then her comments would certainly fit the context as reflecting her personal opinion.

I’m sure this wasn’t the way it was consciously intended, but effectively what Michael is saying is that he wanted to run a happy-go-lucky series about smiling women on bikes.  Forget that there are often complex reasons why women ride, or that women suffer disproportionately from car culture or that cycling itself might be a deeply political statement against the pain and destruction caused by cars.  When those issues arise, they are too often erased from the record because they might make people feel uncomfortable.  This is not an isolated incident, but a reflection of the larger dilution and creeping corporatization of the cycling movement and society at large.

We didn’t make smoking socially unacceptable by tip-toeing around the feelings of nicotine addicts- we showed them diseased lungs and confronted them with the scientific research.  What makes those who purport to seek social change in the transport arena so afraid of leveraging the growing body of evidence of the catastrophe of car addiction in order to change behavior?

Put simply, individuals are not going to make the right decisions about their transport habits or support sensible transport policies if they don’t have the facts.   And where are they going to get those facts if they aren’t disseminated by bike advocates and organizations dedicated to sustainable transportation?

Sustrans Stonewalls Again

Almost a year and a half after I posted it, Sustrans has still not publicly or privately responded to my article, The Problem with Sustrans: How a Grassroots Phenomenon Has Turned into a Private, Unaccountable Corporation.  The piece generated thousands of hits and dozens of readers from all around the UK have chimed in and confirmed my observations. My friend Chris Hutt- one of the original founders of Sustrans and an incredibly knowledgeable bicycle advocate, sadly died without warning a couple of months ago, and had this to say as part of his Sustrans Sussed post on the Green Bristol Blog last year:

“The current wave of criticism is not merely negative carping. It is a vital part of the dynamic environment within which we all function and will in due course bring about change. How quickly we see the necessary change depends on how far gone Sustrans is. Will they bury their heads in the sand and carry on currying favour with those with the money bags or will they recognise the need to re-engage with their core constituency, Britain’s cyclists?”

Sustrans started as a grassroots DIY organisation- people from the community getting out there with a shovel and pickaxe and restoring a neglected rail line between Bristol and Bath into a linear green haven. This bottom up effort came from visionaries who believed they could change transport. Back then with a tiny budget and a rebellious attitude, Sustrans accomplished some amazing feats of engineering and land preservation for which we should all be grateful.

Now though, there is growing concern about the direction of the UK’s “leading sustainable transport charity.”

The questions people are asking about the organization haven’t gone away, but have only intensified in response to Sustrans’ reluctance to engage, particularly glaring after they refused to even acknowledge questions posed two weeks ago on the Guardian’s You Ask- They Answer series.

Common threads to what people are saying are:

-Sustrans has become self-serving and opaque, often failing to work with and empower local people and local ideas.

-Sustrans spends millions of public money with inadequate public oversight.

-Sustrans has compromised its original vision of a high quality UK cycle network, settling for long detours and steep hills just to add mileage.

Sustrans is hardly unique amongst charities (on either side of the Atlantic).    Many have adopted the worst characteristics of corporations- cozying up to the government agencies they are meant to influence, and bickering with each other for increasingly scarce resources.  While Sustrans absorbs millions of pounds from concerned people in the UK to (not) campaign for a bicycle network, organizations like NRDC and EDF convince well meaning American environmentalists to support the Kerry-Lieberman climate bill backed by big oil, coal, and gas and the Nature Conservancy takes millions from oil companies currently wiping out sensitive wetlands.  As the title of Nick Seddon’s 2007 book asks after looking at the state of charitable organisations in the UK, “Who Cares“?

Photo courtesy Bikeradar

Here is a sample of comments received on the original article:

“Like you Josh, I applaud a lot of what Sustrans has achieved. But they know nothing about building links with other cycling orgs or engaging with the cycling community. Sadly I think they’ve become very arrogant, remote and self-centred.”

-Anonymous

” I know they have a job to do and that their projects are their priority — but honestly, their degree of self-interest is truly staggering. In many years of cycle campaigning I’ve never seen Sustrans try to work with other groups or simply to give something unconditionally.”

-Hector

“Perhaps the charity commission needs to look into Sustrans (if it has jursidiction)?”

-Paul Harris

“Tell me it’s not true! Quite a read, even a year on, it has the ring of truth about it…..

Democratic process is by now long passed. When an unelected, charitably constituted organisation can hold a whole village to ransom, what hope is there?

-David Shields

“Sustrans is no different to a whole host of NGOs charities and non profit making organisations who may establish themselves with altruism to meet a particular or perceived need but then find themselves as part of the establishment and find it difficult to separate social responsibility from self preservation.”

-Alan Gillard, architect, Cardiff

“Glad to see this finally come out – they have had far too easy a ride, and boy do they love riding roughshod over people.”

-”Snail”

“Sustrans most certainly aren’t a campaigning charity. I found my local sustrans office in Newcastle rather unsupportive when I started a campaign to improve cycling in Newcastle’s city centre (which is in dire need of improving). I have now cancelled my monthly donation with sustrans, written to sustrans’ chief exec to describe my disappointment and become a CTC member! Visit http://www.katlayout.co.uk/ for more on the safe cycling petition.”

-Katja Leyendecke

If no change is forthcoming from the charities that are meant to be bringing about the change we so desperately need, perhaps the best solution is for all of us to pick up a shovel and start digging. As Virgil said:

“They can do all because they think they can.”

It’s time for all of us to start believing another world is possible. It is.

D.I.Y. N.C.N.

Chevron in Vain Struggle to Save Face on Social Media

So a few weeks ago Chevron- one of the biggest oil companies in the world- took the plunge and set up shop on Facebook, spinning yarns about its corporate social responsibility and how it is helping the world in so many ways.   But a funny thing about social media is that it generally isn’t filtered through the tightly controlled lens of the mainstream media.   After a few weeks of getting pounded by growing populist anger over climate change, oil spills, and especially the failure of the company to take responsibility for their environmental destruction in Ecuador, the top executives at Chevron must be asking why they ever ventured onto Facebook in the first place.

At first, the wizard behind the curtain- Chevron itself- was responding to comments and it felt- almost dirty- to be able to speak directly to this mega-corporation, a little like skyping with Dick Cheney over morning eggs and coffee about the latest Halliburton coup.  But as it became clear that comments were bringing up uncomfortable realities about the oil industry, it seems that Chevron has directed its employees and surrogates to engage with the public, in that sort of painful, forced, cringeworthy denialist corporate- speak (like Sarah Hughes’ comment above).  As Upton Sinclair once said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on him not understanding it.”

I almost feel sorry for Chevron.  Almost.   To add to their troubles, a couple of weeks ago they lost a court case brought by Communities for a Better Environment that has halted their expansion of the Richmond refinery to be able to process dirtier crude from the Alberta Tar Sands.

It’s not like Chevron employees are all bad people- I even know a few of them.   It’s just that their paycheck happens to come from a corporation that is responsible for the largest source of CO2 in California, has poisoned countless Ecuadorans and is refusing to take responsibility for it, and several decades ago was found guilty of conspiracy to destroy public transit systems that would now be worth trillions of dollars.

The on the level blogger has been pointing out such things on Chevron’s page of late.  If you want to join the fun, you’re going to have to hold your nose and sign up to “like” Chevron before you can post comments.  The goal is not to drive the company back into its corporate bunker mentality, but to share the deep and widespread discontent out there about oil and fossil fuels- a discontent that has ballooned in the last couple of weeks after the spill in the gulf.  Activists are now calling for a day of action and night of mourning about the spill this Friday May 14th where pent up anger is bound to be spilled.

The disaster could easily have been caused by Chevron- like BP they contract with Transocean for deep water drilling.  And like BP they have been working to water down federal safety and environmental regulations for decades.     We all need to pull together and stop the madness.   We need to Change Chevron.   And ultimately we need to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels and move to a system that puts the priority back where it should be- on human health and the environment- not short term profits.

We’re all still figuring out how individuals, governments, and corporations are going to interact in an age of online social media.  When a corporation like Chevron wades into Facebook chit chat, it’s an opportunity to voice our discontent, perhaps injecting some clarity into a world whose waters are increasingly murky.

The Sky is Not For Sale

PROTESTERS DISRUPT SAN FRANCISCO CARBON TRADE CONFERENCE- ONE ARRESTED

THEIR RALLYING CRY: *THE SKY IS NOT FOR SALE!*

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 16, 2010

Contact: Joshua Hart- joshuanoahhart [at] gmail.com

San Francisco- A new direct action group calling themselves “Offset This!” today disrupted the “Navigating the American Carbon World” conference taking place at the Marriott Hotel in San Francisco to protest carbon trading and offsets, false solutions that distract attention from the urgent need to reduce our carbon emissions.

More than a dozen sessions were disrupted by protesters calling for real and immediate cuts to carbon emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.  One protester was arrested after causing a ruckus during the plenary session. The activists condemn the conference agenda as a distraction to the urgent need to end our addiction to fossil fuels and explore real solutions to the climate crisis. One of the largest carbon trading events in the country, the conference draws hundreds of bankers, speculators, fossil fuel companies, and mainstream environmental organizations who are working together to promote carbon markets.

Far from promoting a fringe opinion, the group opposing the conference finds itself in agreement with renowned climatologist James Hansen, who (as a private citizen), issued a statement of support for a protest against the same conference organized by the Mobilization for Climate Justice on April 15.

“Cap-and-trade with offsets will have little effect on business-as-usual– indeed, with the help of “offsets”, it is designed to perpetuate business-as-usual.  It not only fails to put us on a path towards ending our fossil fuel addiction, but squanders the precious time needed to prevent the crossing of disastrous “tipping points”, said Dr. Hansen

“The same corporations and individuals that brought us to the brink of financial collapse now want us to trust them to set up a market to protect the climate.   The stakes are too high to allow this to happen.  Nature- unlike the federal government- doesn’t do bailouts,” said Carling Sothoron, a local community activist.

In an ironic twist, the Marriott has been hosting the annual meeting of the American Society of Addiction Medicine at the same time as the Carbon Trading Conference.  “There’s never been a better time to harness the best minds in addiction research to help treat those who are hooked on obscene profits from the fossil fuel economy,” said Joshua Hart, a professional transportation planner who was arrested at the conference.  “Denial is one of the most common symptoms of addiction, and this conference is in serious denial, believing that we can somehow ‘offset’ our emissions somewhere else rather than reduce them here at home.”

Carbon trading markets in Europe have been plagued by scandals, reported abuses and even outright fraud. It was reported by Reuters on April 13 that Spanish Police have busted a multi-million dollar carbon trading fraud ring. There is also evidence that large polluters have been increasing their emissions in order to be awarded free credits with which to sell when they subsequently “reduce” their emissions.

“Cap and trade may enrich the few but it is a demonstrably ineffectual approach toward averting climate disasters for young people.  Protesters drawing attention to this injustice deserve our gratitude” said James Hansen (speaking as an individual).

Photos and videos of the protests, and interviews available upon request.


###

More Traffic, More Weather

I saw this in front of the KRON building on Van Ness the other day. I’ve gotta say I think it’s just great that Channel 4 has finally come around and is now publicly identifying the cause of climate change, on a banner in front of their HQ no less. Shouldn’t it be the other way around, though?

Howard Zinn, American Hero

In case you missed it, Howard Zinn the American historian died yesterday.  The New York Times has an obituary here.

For some reason, it took me until December 2009 to finally get around to checking out A People’s History of the United States. I borrowed it on CD from the library and listened, fascinated, while I did mundane things like washing dishes.  You know, the good kind of multi-tasking.   Even if you live outside of the U.S. this book is of critical importance in understanding how we got where we are today, given American influence abroad. Particularly fascinating are the chapters on the Civil Rights Movement.

Zinn describes his role as a historian:

“America’s future is linked to how we understand our past.  For this reason, writing about history, for me, is never a neutral act.  By writing, I hope to awaken a great consciousness of racial injustice, sexual bias, class inequality, and national hubris.  I also want to bring into the light the unreported resistance of people against the power of the Establishment: the refusal of the indigenous to simply disappear; the rebellion of black people in the antislavery movement and in the more recent movement against racial segregation; the strikes carried out by working people all through American history in attempts to improve their lives.”

Zinn was unrelenting in his expose of the abuse of power- particularly corporate power in the U.S.  It is particularly ironic that he died only a week after the Supreme Court expanded corporate power on an unprecedented scale.

From his  A Power Governments Cannot Suppress:

“Our political leaders would prefer us to believe we are one family- me and Exxon, you and Microsoft, the children of the CEO’s and the children of the restaurant workers.  We must believe our interests are the same.  That’s why officials speak of going to war “for the national interest,” as if it were in all our interest.”

Thank you Howard Zinn- you are a true hero.  May your writings be read even more widely following your death.  May they shed light on our history so that we may be empowered to confront the injustices of our own time.

Trust Us. The Problem is Under Control. Go Back to Sleep

Shell thinks the impossible is possible, which I believe is called doublethink.

Leading up to the Copenhagen conference in December, Shell ads like the one above dominated not just any newspaper, but the online version of the UK Guardian, the bastion of progressive and liberal thought in Britain.  The only paper with the chutzpah to publish George Monbiot and the only paper to print a halfway decent analysis of my research in September 2008.

So I started to wonder why.   What was Shell’s strategy here?  Why did they not also flood other papers with the same, misleading ads claiming to be on top of the climate change problem, claiming that CO2 can presumably be caught with a butterfly net?  The cogs started whirring, the juices started flowing, and I think I may have finally come up with some sort of answer.   An answer that perhaps provides us with a glimpse into the inner workings of one of the largest corporations on the planet.  Or maybe I’m way off base.  Or maybe it’s obvious and I’m just venting sequestered CO2.

——————————————————————————

Memo (Top Secret)

From: Derrick Leavussum, Marketing Director, Shell

To: Jeroen Van der Sneer, Chief Executive, Shell

Re:  Our Copenhagen Strategy

As I’ve been telling you, it’s like everything else in advertising, Jeroen.  It’s about market segmentation.  Take readers of the Daily Mail, the Sun, and the Times.  We’ll allow them to relax in the knowledge  (or at least creeping doubt) that climate change is a left-wing conspiracy to take away our second homes and 4×4′s.  Boy, those hackers we hired to break into the computers at the University of East Anglia sure paid dividends, didn’t they?  Not such a bad plan after all, eh Jeroen?

It’s those pesky Guardian readers that have the potential to really rock the boat.   If enough of them mobilize to go to Copenhagen, they may not disrupt the conference, but there’s a strong likelihood that the brutal suppression of protest we are planning with the Danish Police will radicalise them even further. And you know what will happen then.  The same thing that happened to the Kingsnorth power station.   The same thing that is about to happen to Heathrow’s Third Runway we’ve been so excited about, Jeroen.   The same thing that is happening to the public perception of our beloved market-based climate solutions.   It seems that wherever this “Climate Camp” go, they destroy our financial interests.  I’ve told you before that there’s not much we can do to re-sedate individuals once they’ve been exposed to this lot.   And our research shows that the biggest pool of malcontents they’re drawing from are Guardian readers.

Jeroen, we’ve already tried telling the truth, and that just got our sponsorship deal yanked.  If we could somehow convince these people that we are concerned about climate change and working on solutions, then maybe they will just stay home and watch telly.  We could have ads with butterflies and a cool seventies lava lamp theme.   What do you think of my idea, Jeroen?   Can I go for a ride with you in your sports car?

Love,

Derrick

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OK maybe I went a bit overboard, but it’s just disturbing to me when an oil company puts out ads not so that people will buy their products, but because they are engaging in psychological warfare against those who would be most likely to get involved in massive grassroots action to save the biosphere from continued devastation.  They should call it sedative advertising.   And the Guardian, despite its platform for revolutionary thought, goes right along with it.

After that SF Bay Guardian article about the Green Festival, I got Derrick Jensen’s books out of the library and have been tearing through them.  I think the following quote describes exactly what I’m getting at.  He’s talking about a book that was put out by US govt. agencies to ostensibly examine the benefits of removing dams.  I think he’s absolutely right.  We have to stop them ourselves.

“The primary purpose of Dam Removal was to convince people that something is being done about the murder of the planet.  If the interests and their experts were doing nothing, then we would know we have to stop the murder ourselves.  But if they are doing something-anything- then both they and we can relax, because the experts are taking care of the problem.  ‘See,’ they can say and we can hear, ‘we put out a book on dam removal.  We’re working on it.  Have patience.  Trust us.’

I no longer have patience.  I no longer have trust.  I no longer have time.  Nor do salmon, sturgeon, or the others.  It’s a rigged game.  It is now, and within this culture it always has been.  So long as this culture stands it always will be.   The primary basis for dam removal decision-making by the powers that be is cost-benefit analysis, and the analyses are always- always- stacked in favor of the powers that be.  If you are one of them you count.  If you’re not, you don’t”

-Derrick Jensen, Endgame vol. II: Resistance

(any resemblance to persons living or dead in this post is purely coincidental)