Category Archives: Political Action

Acting

Last year, a group of people raised a bunch of money for me to benefit from. I didn’t ask them to, or know that I would benefit from their work when they raised the money. They took action because they believed that what they were doing was worthwhile, and that one day I would want to thank them. They were right.

I’ve been attending weekend-long seminars called the New Leaders Council (NLC) since January. I’ve written about these seminars before (here, and here), and this past weekend was again spent inside rather than out, and once again, it was worth it. I came to Missoula with big talk about “community” and “local action,” yet my action was small. Talk << Action.

NLC has been about getting connected, and connecting is the first essential piece of acting in the community. I’ve met local leaders, built business and personal relationships, and gotten to know this community on a level that in some ways is much deeper than my involvement with “community” in Portland. Attending the seminars has made me more aware of social justice issues that haven’t been on my radar, and put me in touch with a compassionate, engaged, and intellectually stimulating people that I probably wouldn’t normally get to know via the adventure circles I usually travel in. I leave each conference feeling more alive, and more aware of what needs doing, and I’ve found that invaluable.

NLC is free if you are selected to participate, and that comes with the responsibility of raising money for next years conferences. It costs ~$500 per person to put on in Missoula. We’re having a fundraising event in Missoula this weekend and it should be a very good time- please stop by the Stensrud Building (314 N. 1st St.) between 6-8pm for live music and refreshments. If you can join me in making a donation so that someone next year has this opportunity, that would be rad (click here and select “Missoula Chapter”). If you can’t (and I understand that you can’t), I’ll ask you to consider what you might do to make yourself more alive and connected to your community.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” (Howard Thurman)

Thermodynamics

I got a letter yesterday, and while the content was important, I noticed something different about the envelope:

Freedom, forever? I am very afraid not.

It was the way the American flag and the words below it were crossed out.  We in America (‘merica!) seem to care so much about our freedom, but what “freedom” is really about is energy- the energy to put food on our tables, to stay warm, and also to have fun.  In essence- the energy to live.  Yet, when people talk about freedom in America, they rarely talk about energy, and when I think about our energy situation, it makes me think freedom is surely on the way out.

Some people who even like to talk about things like “sustainability” generally don’t get the picture about how much energy matters.  “Sustainability” is all the rage in the building design community, it’s even (slowly) taking hold here in western Montana- but it tends to result in wheatgrass fiber wall paneling and bamboo floors rather than energy conservation.

Sustainability is not about your wall finish, riding your bike to work, or your office-wide recycling program.  A fair look in the mirror: sustainability is also not about my patagonia clothesmy used Jetta TDI, or the fact that I don’t have kids to provide for.  Sustainability is about thermodynamics, plain and simple.  Thermo-what?  Thermodynamics- the science of energy.  It’s an abstraction, it can seem hard to understand, and it is such an essential part of our everyday life.  These things are all great, and in some small ways, parts of the solution- but really its going to take a lot more.

Buildings are an amazing opportunity- everyone uses them, they all have utility bills, and almost all of them could benefit from design and/or retrofit work that would make a significant difference in energy consumption.  If your utility bill isn’t zero (seriously!), then it needs work.  Am I an elitist?  Does it matter?  It doesn’t matter if we have 40 years of oil and coal left or 400 years.   We aren’t living right and each of us needs to play a part of changing that.  What do you want to know about energy?  How can we make energy consumption more visible?  What does a real plan for “freedom” look like?  I look forward to your thoughts in the comments.

“Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or a politician.” (Miklos S Dora, paraphrasing Kenneth Boulding)

Don’t Suck Today

Don’t suck today- it’s been a common mantra lately, even though life is very full, I’m still battling the “routine”.  Low writing motivation, plenty of time at the office (or on the construction site), and relatively few adventures have kept me away from my writing, from training, and from some of the bigger things I care about.  That’s not the general idea for this space, but life happens.

The tail end of one a coal train that I happened to catch from the bike bridge. Life keeps rolling forwards.

A few links that have managed to catch my attention:

Big company invests in “small” people (thanks Kurt)

Reminding me of the Scotland love (thanks Nate)

Things are not always as they appear (don’t remember where I saw this).  A strong reminder about living on your own terms.

I’ve also been working really hard on my cello playing lately, gearing up for two events that will garner more space here soon.  One- I’m campaigning for Kimberly Dudik for Montana House District 99, please come to her kickoff party on April 11 at the Burns Street Food Co-op.  I’ll be playing cello from 5.30-8.00pm.  Also, I’ll be playing some at the NLC Fundraiser at the Stensrud House on April 27th- more details to follow shortly.

The daily reminder- do what you have to do, support what you want to see in the world, keep chasing your dreams, don’t suck today.

IWD

My last post was about how hard my job is sometimes.  I’m a white, able-bodied, well educated male living in the United States.  In every job I get, and most of the human interactions I have- the truth is, I probably couldn’t have it easier.

In honor of International Women’s Day, I need to recognize so many of the incredible women that have been some of my most important teachers, mentors, role models, climbing partners, friends, and inspirations.  To my Mom- thanks for setting the standard of womanhood so damn high, and to many many others, thank you for meeting and exceeding that standard.  I am unbelievably grateful there are too many to name in this post.

Some men might accuse me of putting women above men or furthering some measure of male-guilt about the position we’ve put women in.  I’m looking for nothing other than unbiased equality and fair recognition, things we are a long way from yet.
(Note, this holiday is NOT official in the USA, but IS official in such “notorious” places as China, Afganistan, and Uganda)

Silver Wattle. Traditional IWD gift. Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Acacia_dealbata-1.jpg and Eugene Zelenko.

“I believe that it is as much a right and duty for women to do something with their lives as for men and we are not going to be satisfied with such frivolous parts as you give us.” (Louisa May Alcott)

Re-Blog: An Open Letter to Those Who Hate

This is one of the best things I’ve read on the internet in a long time. I’m scared of what I see in political discourse in our country, in conversations I hear on the street, and where I hear people cite information from.  I’m all for people having different ideas, different feelings, different priorities, and different motivations.  Fine- but every day I see and hear a deepening chasm of hate and ignorance that frankly scares the shit out of me.

Recently, I was asked what I felt it meant to be “progressive,” a word I am not afraid to use to describe myself. To me, being progressive is being humble, willing, and interested in taking a look in the mirror at yourself and learning from what you see.  It is virtually synonymous with being accountable.  I answered honestly, and realized after the fact that my answer has nothing to do with supporting traditionally liberal values- I’m sure there are folks who espouse traditionally conservative values that would aspire to that same reasoning.

That said, I think it does have something to do with basic human decency, responsibility to our whole communities (including the natural resources that sustain us, the diversity of our citizens, and the many resources that we indirectly benefit from), and a commitment to thinking carefully.  We need this, we need it now- how can you help?  How can I help (feel free to post ideas to comments)?

Violence

I am reblogging something for the very first time in this space.  I no longer accept violence to be a valid response to anything, but especially not in an academic environment.  Maybe this is old news because I was away for the weekend.  I don’t care. Some might say that if violence continues to happen, our civilization is doomed but I’m quite sure that it is simply a sign that those who use violence will only find the end of their time faster at the hands of the action they inspire.  Police brutality or protestor rioting- it doesn’t matter.  Despite the absolute outrage I feel in reading this tonight, violence is violence and it is unacceptable.  I invite you stand with me in protest of it.

http://bicyclebarricade.wordpress.com/2011/11/19/open-letter-to-chancellor-linda-p-b-katehi/

Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi

Posted on November 19, 2011 by 

18 November 2011

Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi

Linda P.B. Katehi,

I am a junior faculty member at UC Davis. I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, and I teach in the Program in Critical Theory and in Science & Technology Studies. I have a strong record of research, teaching, and service. I am currently a Board Member of the Davis Faculty Association. I have also taken an active role in supporting the student movement to defend public education on our campus and throughout the UC system. In a word: I am the sort of young faculty member, like many of my colleagues, this campus needs. I am an asset to the University of California at Davis.

You are not.

I write to you and to my colleagues for three reasons:

1) to express my outrage at the police brutality which occurred against students engaged in peaceful protest on the UC Davis campus today

2) to hold you accountable for this police brutality

3) to demand your immediate resignation

Today you ordered police onto our campus to clear student protesters from the quad. These were protesters who participated in a rally speaking out against tuition increases and police brutality on UC campuses on Tuesday—a rally that I organized, and which was endorsed by the Davis Faculty Association. These students attended that rally in response to a call for solidarity from students and faculty who were bludgeoned with batons,hospitalized, and arrested at UC Berkeley last week. In the highest tradition of non-violent civil disobedience, those protesters had linked arms and held their ground in defense of tents they set up beside Sproul Hall. In a gesture of solidarity with those students and faculty, and in solidarity with the national Occupy movement, students at UC Davis set up tents on the main quad. When you ordered police outfitted with riot helmets, brandishing batons and teargas guns to remove their tents today, those students sat down on the ground in a circle and linked arms to protect them.

What happened next?

Without any provocation whatsoever, other than the bodies of these students sitting where they were on the ground, with their arms linked, police pepper-sprayed students.Students remained on the ground, now writhing in pain, with their arms linked.

What happened next?

Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.

This is what happened. You are responsible for it.

You are responsible for it because this is what happens when UC Chancellors order police onto our campuses to disperse peaceful protesters through the use of force: students get hurt. Faculty get hurt. One of the most inspiring things (inspiring for those of us who care about students who assert their rights to free speech and peaceful assembly) about the demonstration in Berkeley on November 9 is that UC Berkeley faculty stood together with students, their arms linked together. Associate Professor of English Celeste Langan was grabbed by her hair, thrown on the ground, and arrested. Associate Professor Geoffrey O’Brien was injured by baton blows. Professor Robert Hass, former Poet Laureate of the United States, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner, was also struck with a baton. These faculty stood together with students in solidarity, and they too were beaten and arrested by the police. In writing this letter, I stand together with those faculty and with the students they supported.

One week after this happened at UC Berkeley, you ordered police to clear tents from the quad at UC Davis. When students responded in the same way—linking arms and holding their ground—police also responded in the same way: with violent force. The fact is: the administration of UC campuses systematically uses police brutality to terrorize students and faculty, to crush political dissent on our campuses, and to suppress free speech and peaceful assembly. Many people know this. Many more people are learning it very quickly.

You are responsible for the police violence directed against students on the UC Davis quad on November 18, 2011. As I said, I am writing to hold you responsible and to demand your immediate resignation on these grounds.

On Wednesday November 16, you issued a letter by email to the campus community. In this letter, you discussed a hate crime which occurred at UC Davis on Sunday November 13. In this letter, you express concern about the safety of our students. You write, “it is particularly disturbing that such an act of intolerance should occur at a time when the campus community is working to create a safe and inviting space for all our students.” You write, “while these are turbulent economic times, as a campus community, we must all be committed to a safe, welcoming environment that advances our efforts to diversity and excellence at UC Davis.”

I will leave it to my colleagues and every reader of this letter to decide what poses a greater threat to “a safe and inviting space for all our students” or “a safe, welcoming environment” at UC Davis: 1) Setting up tents on the quad in solidarity with faculty and students brutalized by police at UC Berkeley? or 2) Sending in riot police to disperse students with batons, pepper-spray, and tear-gas guns, while those students sit peacefully on the ground with their arms linked? Is this what you have in mind when you refer to creating “a safe and inviting space?” Is this what you have in mind when you express commitment to “a safe, welcoming environment?”

I am writing to tell you in no uncertain terms that there must be space for protest on our campus. There must be space for political dissent on our campus. There must be space for civil disobedience on our campus. There must be space for students to assert their right to decide on the form of their protest, their dissent, and their civil disobedience—including the simple act of setting up tents in solidarity with other students who have done so. There must be space for protest and dissent, especially, when the object of protest and dissent is police brutality itself. You may not order police to forcefully disperse student protesters peacefully protesting police brutality. You may not do so. It is not an option available to you as the Chancellor of a UC campus. That is why I am calling for your immediate resignation.

Your words express concern for the safety of our students. Your actions express no concern whatsoever for the safety of our students. I deduce from this discrepancy that you are not, in fact, concerned about the safety of our students. Your actions directly threaten the safety of our students. And I want you to know that this is clear. It is clear to anyone who reads your campus emails concerning our “Principles of Community” and who also takes the time to inform themselves about your actions. You should bear in mind that when you send emails to the UC Davis community, you address a body of faculty and students who are well trained to see through rhetoric that evinces care for students while implicitly threatening them. I see through your rhetoric very clearly. You also write to a campus community that knows how to speak truth to power. That is what I am doing.

I call for your resignation because you are unfit to do your job. You are unfit to ensure the safety of students at UC Davis. In fact: you are the primary threat to the safety of students at UC Davis. As such, I call upon you to resign immediately.

Sincerely,

Nathan Brown
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Program in Critical Theory
University of California at Davis