Category Archives: Summer 2008 (4/25/08)

against soap and nightmare

Hand sanitizers represent the exact wrong direction humans should be going. Wake up People and smell your nature. Okay I’ve seen some bad product ideas catch on; bottled water, drug advertising, antiperspirant, green machines, botox, air fresheners, blowers, car alarms, things that just don’t make life better, but hand sanitizer is topping the list.

It is becoming common practice to slather children’s hands with hand sanitizer before they eat. Great. Now picture what goes into their mouths as they eat; dirt, chemical residues, dead bacteria and toxic chemicals designed to kill life. Hand sanitizers are a horrible replacement for washing hands.

Sanitizers are not actually safer. A Purdue University study concluded that “while alcohol-based hand sanitizers may kill more germs than plain or triclosan-based soaps, they do not prevent more infections that make people sick. Instead they may kill the human body’s own beneficial bacteria by stripping the skin of its outer layer of oil.”

Rolf Halden, an environmental scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, contends that “the introduction of the hundreds of antimicrobial products has had no discernible impact on the rates of infectious disease in the United States, Not a blip on the radar screen, “he said.

Indeed studies done on hand sanitizers’ effectiveness seem to focus on their ability to kill germs, without considering other toxins that may be on our hands, or any long term toxic effects from the ingredients of the sanitizers themselves on our overall health. Of course those selling, and often testing, have a vested interest in keeping you in the dark about chemical toxins while hyping the dangers of nature.

In fact, hand sanitizers may be dangerous to our health. According to the non-profit group Beyond Pesticides, laboratory studies have found a number of different strains of mutated bacteria that are resistant to triclosan and to certain antibiotics. The organization also cites reports of triclosan converting into a carcinogenic class of chemicals known as dioxins when exposed to water and ultraviolet radiation. Besides cancer, dioxins have been linked to weakening of the human immune system, decreased fertility, altered sex hormones and birth defects.

We have been sold this product by advertising up a fear of “germs”. Well there are a whole lotta “germs” out there that we live with all the time, most harmless, some helpful. Even most of the ones that can make us sick are common and we only succumb to illness when our natural protections are down. It is a foolish path to imagine that humans will be safe by killing all life that may have the potential to harm us. It is a whole different paradigm than trying to build up our health by building the health of the ecosystem that sustains us.

Hand sanitizers endanger our children by exposing them to toxins, lessening their actual hand-washing, removing the natural oil protection of their skin and potentially creating bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics. There have also been poisonings associated with the high alcohol content in sanitizers that have been ingested by children. (I would be concerned with long term affects of the ingestion of triclosan and other ingredients as well!)

There are also dangers to the environment. What effects will sanitizer run off have on our water systems? Two of the ingredients in antibacterial soaps, triclosan and triclocarban, have been found in waste water, fish, and breast milk. The chemicals kill beneficial organisms in the soil and waterways that break down debris and are the foundations of the food web. There is very little known about long term effects on the ecosystem. As well, there is the known detriment created by millions of little plastic bottles filling landfills for a product that is worse than unnecessary.

Just say no. Stick with hand washing. Hand sanitizers endanger our health, our environment and our interpretation of the world around us. Good ole soap (and I’m beginning to wonder if bar soap creates more helpful friction and therefore cleansing) and water (nothing cleaner than plain water!) is the better choice. A panel of experts and industry representatives convened in 2005 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said “plain soap and water, when used properly, are the preferred tools to rid germs from human hands.”

Customize your bike – think outside the same old frame

I love bikes and I want everyone to experience the joy, freedom as well as ecological and health benefits of bicycles. Over the years, I’ve realized that the standard bicycle designs aren’t comfortable for me — they make biking harder than it has to be and sometimes they’ve caused me pain. So I’ve gradually customized, rebuilt and re-designed my bike to overcome these problems. Through this 15 year process, I’ve finally come up with what (at least for me) is the “perfect bicycle.” It isn’t an expensive bike — you can do this stuff with cheap or old bikes. Last summer I biked 4,000 miles across the USA on this bike — I was comfortable the whole way and finished the trip fast, in only 50 days. Of course, everyone is different so all of these suggestions might not work for you. But if you’re riding a bike that you haven’t customized, if you’re experiencing pain while biking, or if biking seems hard to you, you may want to try some of these suggestions and see if they help.

1. Raise your handle bars

Most of the bikes sold in stores are designed for racing even though most people use their bikes for pleasure riding or just getting around town. That means that the handle bars on most bikes are so low that the rider is crouched over when touching the handle bars. This is supposedly good because the rider has less wind-resistance this way. The problem is, this posture is ridiculously uncomfortable and unnatural if you’re just trying to get around on your bike. When you’re bent over like this, your head is looking at the ground unless you twist your neck backwards to look ahead. Your lungs are crunched up so they can’t expand fully so you can’t breathe easily. A lot of weight rests on your wrists and arms and hands which can cause strain. Your back is bent funny which can hurt your back.

So you see a lot of riders with low handles bars trying to avoid these problems by sitting straight up and either not touching the handle bars at all or just touching them lightly with one finger. I wondered what would happen if I just put tall handle bars on the bike so I could easily hold onto the handle bars while at the same time sitting up straight.

My first bike tour with tall handlebars — 700 miles from Eugene, Oregon to San Francisco — was in 1995. Since then I’ve happily biked with tall handlebars almost every day, including many thousands of miles touring and around town biking. I’ve never felt like I wanted to be more aerodynamic — after all, you can always crouch down if you need to once you have tall handlebars. What you find out is that you never feel the need to do so.

It is easy to make this transition. You can buy tall handlebars at most bike stores. If they don’t have any, ask them to order them — my favorite brand for steel bars is Wald. Sometimes they’re called “ape hangers” — they look like bars for a chopper motorcycle. You want the bars to be tall enough so that you can sit straight up in the seat — that means about 6-10 inches on most bikes. You can achieve some rise by installing a really tall stem on your bike, but it is easier and cheaper to just buy funny bars.

Once you put on the new bars, you’ll have to lengthen the brake and gear cables that were attached to your older handle bars, and you may have to buy new brake levers and shifters if you had “drop” handlebars. Many bike stores sell used brake levers and shifters for $5-$10. I usually save the longer cables from the back brake and derailer and use them for the front brake and derailer — that means you have to buy two new cables and maybe 10 feet of brake and derailer housing. The whole transition takes about an hour and will cost $30 or so if you do the work yourself.

2. Get a noseless seat

The problem with regular bicycle seats — even fancy ones with holes cut out of them — is that much of your body’s weight rests on a part of the body that doesn’t carry weight in any other human activity, and is thus not evolved to carry weight. This area between your genitals and your anus is called the perineum. In theory, when you ride you’re supposed to put your weight on your “sit-bones” and avoid putting pressure on this area. In reality, it is hard to avoid putting any pressure on the perineum — if you don’t pay attention, you quickly slide on the seat and put pressure there.

For years, I would get sore and sometimes numb in my genitals if I biked a lot. I tried lots of different seats to try to make this better — I figured some discomfort was normal and just a necessary part of biking as much as I do. But getting a sore butt doesn’t have to be part of biking if you get a noseless seat. The one I rode on my 4,000 miles cross-USA trip was a $30 Easyseat from Hobson seats. Not only didn’t I have even the slightest bit of pain on that long bike ride, but I was able to bike without thinking about my ass at all.

It turns out that humans have a major blood vessel and nerves that run along the perineum. That there is some evidence that when regular bike seats compress this area, men can experience loss of erectile function. This area is also sensitive for women. Some bicyclists deny that bike seats can cause sexual dysfunction and claim that people who have problems are just sitting wrong or that the benefits of exercises and increased heart health cancel out any problems caused by damage to the perineum.

By using a nose-less seat, you don’t have to choose — you can keep the heart health, avoid numbness and (possible) damage, and in any case avoid pain. I can’t say for certain that I lost sexual function because of injuries caused by regular bike seats. I can say that for whatever reason, I noticed an improvement in function after I switched to the Easyseat. And in any case, avoiding pain and numbness are rewards enough.

A noseless seat takes getting used to and doesn’t seem to work well if you’re crouched over because you have low handlebars. So if you want to try an Easyseat, you have to raise your handlebars first. When you put on the noseless seat, you’ll feel a bit less stable for the first 2-4 weeks — sort of a sensation of always sliding forward off the seat — and then suddenly you’ll feel just fine and notice no loss of stability or control. With an Easyseat, you’re holding more of your weight on your legs — which eventually feels very natural since you’re used to holding up your weight on your legs when you’re walking. For stability, you balance with your hands. At first I was worried I would strain my wrists because of this feeling, but since you’re using your hands for balance, not to support your weight, it doesn’t seem to be a problem after you get used to it.

When you first install the seat, you have to experiment with how far it is tilted forward — too much and you slide off, too little and the backs of your legs hit the seat when you peddle. But when you get it right, it is an amazing feeling of freedom and comfort. It makes you wonder what the world would look like if kids started out riding on a noseless seat — they would get used to it when they learned to ride a bike so it would never feel strange. It is unfortunate that you can’t currently buy a bike with an Easyseat pre-installed.

3. Adjust your seat height

The main thing to look out for is whether your seat height is correct — your knee should be just slightly bent on the down stroke. Riding with the seat too low means you lose power and you’ll hurt your knee. Even though this is an easy thing to get right — for many bikes you don’t even need a tool to adjust your seat height — this is the most common problem I see when I’m out biking around. I want to tackle people I see riding by with absurdly low seats and adjust it correctly.

4. Get some gears & learn to use ‘em

If you were driving a car, would you start out from a stop sign in fifth gear? Would you try to go down the freeway in first gear? Would you buy a car that only had one gear? Would you treat your only set of knees worse than you treat a disposable car?

Gears for bikes make biking easier — you can go up hills without working too hard or go fast on a flat stretch of road. You don’t need fancy gears although it is great to have a “granny” gear — a very small third chain ring on the front derailer that can make going up even the steepest hill easy. The goal with gears is to keep the number of times you turn over the peddles per minute — your cadence — about even at all times. That means you start in a low gear and shift up as you speed up. If you hit a hill, you shift down.

I mention this not just because people don’t use gears they have, but because fixed gear bikes are getting so popular. If riding a fixie is fun for you, then go for it. But for the average cyclist, for moving groceries and riding over a lifetime protecting your knees, gears are pretty reasonable.

5. Put on a bike rack and take off your backpack

Bikes are ideal to carry around loads — from groceries to books to kids. Let the bike — not your spine — carry the load. You can cheaply install a bike rack and use removable panniers (cloth bike bags) or you can install a basket or a milk crate and put your backpack in there. Carrying a backpack on your back while you’re biking, rather than putting the bag on the bike makes biking harder and can hurt you. When you carry a backpack, the weight is carried on your spine, your ass, your legs and arms, straining all of them. Your skin under the backpack can’t breathe and gets sweaty. Yuck. The bike doesn’t notice when you put weight on it, so let it carry that stuff for you.

In my next article for “advanced” bike maniacs, I’ll discuss bike trailers for hauling cement, lumber, manure, sound systems, etc.

6. Pump up your tires!

Riding on under-inflated tires increases friction, making biking slower and more difficult, and means you’ll get more flat tires. It is so easy to properly inflate your tires and it makes a massive difference.

7. Decorate & add noise makers

Okay, this won’t make it physically easier to bike, but it will make it feel easier because you’ll be surrounded by a joyful, great looking ride. A bell or horn isn’t just for using when a driver cuts you off — its primary use is for spontaneous ringing because you feel fantastic. You can also greet other cyclists this way and spread the joy. They’ll wonder “do I know her . . .?” You can decorate your bike with stickers, paint, fake fur, flags, plastic or real flowers, shiny stuff, toys, stuffed animals, lights, etc. etc.

Let a thousand bicycles bloom!

In my experiments of trying different bike designs, bike stores have been pretty unhelpful and dismissive, telling me things I was trying wouldn’t work or would be uncomfortable — when they had never actually tried them. Experimenting with different bike designs like a mad scientist is a great metaphor for playing with different ways to live our lives in general. Not everyone needs a racing bike or a mountain bike — and not everyone needs to live in the suburbs or to be a train hopping punk kid, either. We shouldn’t have to conform our lives to the few sizes and shapes manufactured in a factory — we can build own lives — and our own bikes — to fit our own unique shape, size and uses.

Fossil Foolery – global warming is not a joke

April first was fossil fools day around the world — thousands of people participated in de-centralized direct actions and protests for a sustainable world and against foolish emissions of green house gas from burning fossil fuels. Such emissions are causing global climate change with potentially disastrous consequences to natural ecosystems and human cultures alike. There were creative and humorous protests against coal mines, coal fired power plants, banks that invest in the fossil fuel industry, government offices, gas stations and a wide variety of other targets across the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. A few of us threw together a protest in Berkeley.

Fossil fools day pointed out the absurdity of trying to address the massive dependence on non-sustainable fossil fuels by asking people to merely screw in a few new lightbulbs and otherwise continue shopping as usual. The massive threat of global climate change has to be met with a massive response. Governments and corporations won’t address the problem in time because to do so would threaten short-term profits. Mobilization, direct action, and grassroots revolt against all the fossil fools is crucial.

Anatomy of an action: the Berkeley incident

Last issue in Slingshot we published a call to action for fossil fools day. Would we, ourselves, heed the call? Less than a week before April 1, someone sent out an email wondering if we shouldn’t get together with some friends and protest at a gas station. A little discussion followed and a call went out to the Berkeley critical mass email list calling people to meet at 5 on fossil fools day to bicycle around and visit local fossil fool industries.

It was all chaotic, improvised, unplanned and yet focused — sometimes funny and light-hearted and sometimes intense. We rode on major streets tangling rush hour traffic holding signs like “cars kill polar bears” and “burning fossil fuels is not a joke.” A few of us were dressed like soldiers, some others held Viking swords — black flags were duct taped to bicycles.

We went to a number of gas stations and lightly fucked shit up, applying stickers to gas pumps, duct taping gas nozzles to the pumps and re-arranging the price signs so that gas that cost $3.49 before we arrived cost $9.43 when we left. At three car dealerships, bikes rode through the showrooms scattering shoppers and glitter. We rode through downtown slowing traffic and calling out on a bullhorn “don’t worry, you can keep driving and shopping — there’s no problem – April fools!”

In pulling together micro-actions like the Berkeley ride, the key is maximizing impact and disruption while minimizing bureaucratic, organizational deadweight — keeping the time and energy spent on meetings and preparation very low. The Berkeley action tied up traffic and disrupted business as usual at numerous targets for two hours. It required almost no time, money or structure to pull off.

What did we hope to accomplish? Actions like ours help raise the cost of fossil fuel addiction. Under the logic of capitalist economics — which structure corporate, government and individual decisions — fossil fuels are extremely cheap and easy solutions to many problems because the cost of using fossil fuels doesn’t include the cost of so-called “externalities” — the term economists give to costs not captured by the market. (This is true even as gas pushes $4 a gallon.) So when you buy a gallon of gasoline or throw your clothes in the dryer on a sunny day — or when the whole civilization is built on fossil fueled transport, agriculture and electricity — the cost doesn’t include the cost of global warming. Thus, using fossil fuels seems “rational”, efficient, easy, labor-saving and cheap — as long as you only look at the short-term, which is all the current economy can comprehend.

But the Earth is finite and long-term — we can’t simply find a new planet if we ruin the climate on this one. Frequently, fossil fools accuse bicyclists or environmental activists of being unrealistic or even utopian when we suggest a quick transition to a fossil free, zero emissions world. In fact, it is utopian to suggest that humans can continue to burn fossil fuels without threatening our very survival.

On April 1, it wasn’t faster or easier to jump in a car to get around. Our goal can’t be to impose guilt against drivers — a lot of us drive from time to time and guilt doesn’t work — it only raises defensiveness to change. And yet disruption — subtracting the ease, raising the costs, increasing uncertainty — can be part of internalizing the real costs of fossil fuels.

Social change doesn’t come from above — well-funded campaigns, Hollywood movies, cautious government programs. Social change comes from below — riots, strikes, mass movements — when the status quo can no longer continue. The world is in the early stage of a historic transition away from fossil fuels and regular people and our actions are part of this change. Our actions can provide models for a different, more joyful, engaged, sustainable world. May we can ride with a smile on our face, a smile in our heart and each year more folks on bikes surrounding us.

Fossil fools day around the world

By world standards, the Berkeley action was tiny. If you’re taking action to move away from fossil foolery, you are not alone! Here’s a tiny sample of actions:

• In Edinburgh, Scotland, a group of clowns invaded two supermarkets to try to locate the elusive Scottish banana. They urged other shoppers to see if they could find any produce in the store from Scotland to point out the absurdity of using fossil fuels to fly food to Scotland in the middle of winter.

• At the Cliffside coal plant in North Carolina, 8 people locked themselves to bulldozers at a Duke Energy Corp coal-fired power plant to stop construction of a new 800-megawatt plant, resulting in their arrest.

• In Madison, Wisconsin, the above-ground fossil fools celebration was a critical mass bike ride and demonstration in front of the local Hummer dealership. In a more controversial middle-of-the-night action, persons unknown indiscriminately let the air out of the tires of all the cars on three university-area streets — hitting several dozen cars including many economy-sized cars in the bike-friendly neighborhood. They left notes that read, “Happy fossil fools day.”

• In Durban, South Africa, residents protested the Engen refinery with flower wreaths.

• In Leamington Spa, England, about 50 people demonstration against a proposed Shopping center. “There were fairy outfits, a polar bear, 3 jesters, 2 people dressed as death with oil drips, and more face painting. We had 4 banners, several placards and we handed out 4 different kinds of leaflets. There were two musicians playing a fossil fool’s song written specially for the event. There were 4 people on bikes, and one bike and trailer with kids in. There were decorated umbrellas, and helium balloons with fossil Fool’s day written on. Nothing like this ever happens in Leamington. We passed a flower stall and the owner was so supportive he gave us 5 or 6 free bunches of flowers.”

• In Portland, Oregon, the Greenwash Guerrillas went after Portland’s Climate Trust, one of the new breed of climate off-set companies that allows people to “offset” their actual greenhouse gas emissions by paying the Climate Trust money to supposedly avoid emissions by someone else. This sneaky idea is increasingly popular with privileged people who want to continue their polluting life-styles unchanged, but not feel so bad about it. In Portland, the Greenwash Guerrillas took to the street to sell infidelity off-set credits. These Cheat Neutral credits allow people in monogamous relationships to cheat on their partners, but then offset the cheating by paying single people not to have sex. Just like carbon credits — no more guilt! April fools!

Portland activists also dropped a four-story banner off the downtown Burnside Bridge protesting a proposed Liquefied Natural Gas project. (See Slingshot Issue #95 about LNG.)

• In Boston, four activists were arrested after locking down to a Bank of America to protest coal financing. In New York City, the Billionaires for Dirty Energy blockaded Citibank on similar grounds, leading to two arrests.

• A number of actions involved curious apologies from corporations or public figures. In Norwich, UK, a Norwich Union (insurance) company official announced that “The company has realized that investing £6.1 billion worth of insurance premiums in BP, Shell and other major oil, coal and car companies is unsustainable in the current climate. I’m sure our shareholders will agree with me that protecting our common future is certainly more important than protecting our bottom line.” The company distributed 50 Norwich Union ‘Apology Sandbags’ in view of recent climate change-related floods in England.

• Protesters blockaded access roads to the Aberthaw power station (UK) which emitted 7.4 million tons of carbon dioxide last year.

• In Hastings, UK, The Jesters of Hastings challenged Ronald McDonald to a Showdown! The Jesters won after McDonalds forfeited!

• In Bacton in Norfolk, UK 19 people were arrested after blocking for 4 hours the main access road to the UK’s largest off-shore gas terminal, which handles 40% of the UK’s gas supply.

For more info or for the 2009 action, check fossilfoolsday.org.

Compassion & confrontation – breaking the cycle of anger starts with you

I biked in Critical Mass a couple of months ago here in Berkeley, child on my back pumping my legs to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden as 35-40 of us paraded our alternative transport model around town. I was having an excellent time that within moments developed into an angry assault and an a reactionary extravaganza.

We were blocking an intersection in the heart of the Telegraph strip when an irate motorist drove head-on into three stopped bicyclists. I was witness to a driver react with rage in a physically violent manner that could have seriously injured 3 or more people who were directly impacted.

Following that I watched as a slew of people reacted violently, trying to chase down and kick the car. The group then moved on, fueled by adrenaline and anger and behaved in ways that isolated many other people who were hoping for a bike ride not a battle. In the end rather than raising awareness in the community we alienated ourselves and distorted our message.

This chain of events epitomized the lack of empathy and the disconnect between effective communication skills and political engagement. It crystallized anger as an issue of vital importance for me personally, but also as a significant issue for the larger radical community and society at large.

We should all be angry and outraged at the injustice and violence that is killing our kin as well as the ecosystem. From that anger we need to grow something useful, we need to use it as an energy source for anti-capitalist struggle. If we don’t try to bring about change from a place of compassion we are only going to replicate the same dynamics as those used by our oppressors. Learning to know ourselves and to deal with our difficult emotions of despair and anger in healthy ways in combination with learning to communicate with others in emotionally responsible ways is a necessary step in creating a cohesive and positive social change movement.

This is not to say that I have always interacted in non-violent ways in my activism, nor that I am advocating non-violence as the only effective means of change. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I identified as militant and fought in front lines like we were going to have a new society tomorrow goddammit! My words were volatile, my spirit was screaming and my actions reflected this. I have no regrets. What I remember more precisely is the quality of the feeling inside of me: despair, rage, destruction, adrenaline, and idealism all mixed up in this maelstrom totally lacking self-discipline and internal balance. Coming from a place of anger fueled positive action but in many ways I blew my load everywhere, too early without much forethought. Speaking of blowing my load, let’s consider gender as it stands in relation to anger.

Everyone gets angry but there are often differences in how men and women experience and manage anger. Our culture plays a major role in shaping our behaviors. An angry woman, a loud woman, an assertive woman can easily be invalidated as a crazy bitch or emotionally unstable, but a man with these same qualities is often seen as a powerful champion of an important cause. It is in line with our cultural norms for men to exhibit toughness, violent words and actions, and to seek revenge. Anger in men is often viewed as “masculine”. Women often learn to internalize their anger, creating an unhealthy stew of pressure-cooked emotion that eats away at mental health and self-esteem.

In social situations such as critical mass, demonstrations, meetings, and the like it is common for men to externalize aggression while women draw back. While this is not true for every person it tends to be a common manifestation in group behavior. In ten years of activism I have seen woman after woman driven away by overbearing male figures in the movement (including myself). I have been thanked many times by women quieter than myself for being an assertive and fiery voice in situations where they felt uncomfortable or silenced.

It seems that the majority of events and actions in our radical communities that are direct action oriented are often treated as parties or opportunities for reactionary explosions. They are not strategic or thought out attempts to communicate a message or challenge the system, but the expression of feelings and ideas that have not been very well processed or articulated. If we are to educate or inspire or even dream of making a substantial dent in the system we need to start considering what that takes.

What would a less reactionary, more compassionate movement look like and what would it entail? In my vision of a more cohesive and effective movement I see people who have spent a lot of time learning to be emotionally responsible, how to communicate in non-abusive ways and how to manage conflict and stress. I see strong community support for people invested in this type of work. There would be a communal validation of our human experience as scary and confusing in a world that seems to be on the verge of collapse. It would entail individuals working very hard in support groups or with mentors to address issues of privilege, socialization and communication. It is not enough to advocate for issues that are a symptom of capitalism — it is integral to address the deterioration of community engagement and that is directly related to the erosion of trust for one another.

What does that mean for me right now? I think a great deal about anger, my actions, thoughts and their implications. I try not to allow my anger to propel me forth into action without thought. Most importantly I aim to act out of compassion. Sometimes it’s the only thing I can do to create positive change and break the cycle of violence that is consuming our lives, our society and our planet.

Bike tribe caravan – peddling to confront the Republican National Convention

Calling all Bike Tribe Family far and wide! Madison, Wisconsin will be host at the end of the summer to two exciting Democratic National Convention (DNC) and Republican National Convention (RNC) resistance events: the People’s Networking Convention August 15-17 and then a bike caravan from Madison to the site of the RNC in St. Paul — a Gathering of the Streams to Form a Giant River of Bikes to the RNC. Streams flowing into a river are known as “tributaries” — you can be a “contributary” to this river!

You know who you are! The ones who would hop trains, build boats, learn bike mechanics, collect wild herbs, eat garbage and fly with abandon down by the sea. And you know that we can change the world. You know it because you’ve felt it and lived it. Real life is better than fiction — this land of make believe the Empire Builders would have us believe is real. We know it’s a lie and it’s up to us together to free Ourselves, Earth, Water and Sky. We can.

People’s Networking Convention

From August 15th-17th, join radicals and concerned people from around the country to participate in skill shares, workshops, games, speeches and performance at the People’s Networking Convention. The PNC is our answer to what the Democrats, Republicans and mainstream media try to sell us as real democracy. We are countering their conventions by claiming our own space to organize democratically outside of the electoral political system.

Madison is the perfect place to do this because of our long history of activism and cooperative organizing. We believe real change comes from the grassroots and that politicians are never going to be able to fix what ails us. You can find our registration form in our pamphlet at: www.infopnc.org. We are asking people to fill it out by August 1st so we can find housing for everyone and get an idea of what kinds of workshops and events we will be offering.

GrassRoutes Bike Caravan

After the PNC, the GrassRoutes Caravan will leave Madison on August 18th and travel 300 miles for twelve days by bicycle to St. Paul for the RNC protests. Our mobile village will stop and stay in communities along the way in Wisconsin and Minnesota. We will plug into local struggles offering our people power to help out with 2007 flood relief, community gardens, and by doing volunteer projects that locals tell us they need help with. The organizers of the ride are contacting communities along the route to set up camp sites, water access, bathrooms, volunteer service and performance venues ahead of time so you don’t need to worry about where all of us will stay each night. We are also seeking performers for the ride who can delight local audiences as well as other members of the village with puppet shows, music, dance and creative expression.

If you are interested in attending the PNC and/or riding on the GrassRoutes Caravan, you must register ahead of time. The Caravan only has space for fifty riders. The organizers of the ride are emphasizing self-sufficiency which means that the ride is only going to be awesome if everyone gets their shit together before we take off. That’s why we have set an early registration deadline of July 4th. The PNC and the GrassRoutes Caravan will be non-violent and legal spaces so you cannot bring weapons or drugs to these events. We will be putting a list of the things you should bring, like a tent and sleeping bag as well as food preparation kits and utensils, on our website to be found at: www.pnc2rnc.org. Also, it will be good to practice ahead of time attaching and carrying everything you need to your bike to avoid having to deal with annoying details once in Madison.

It may also mean preparing some performance or short skit or learning how to video record or making sure you have a good camera or a million other things that will occur to you if you just start imagining NOW, months before the political conventions. Imagine yourself the most beautiful you can see yourself being in your mind’s eye and then begin to create that You in time for the bike ride. If everyone does that, just think about how amazing we will be.

You get extra-super-major points if you ride all the way to Madison, from wherever you are reading this from, be it Maine, Austin, Boston or Mexico City. ALL are welcome. You do not have to be a US citizen to enjoy the free breeze on your cheeks and the joy of participating in community-building on bikes.

The time is now for us to come together and demonstrate our people power in the face of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. Register by July 4th for the GrassRoutes Caravan and by August 1st for the PNC and we will see you in Madison this August!

Or just show up, lackadaisically, like you always do, cool and smooth at the last minute. Fashionably late and disheveled. I will always think we were better than that. I miss you. I love you. I really want to know you.

Drawing the end – book review of As the World Burns: 50 things you can do to stay in denial by Derrick Jensen

Jensen’s graphic novel As the World Burns propels the reader into thinking about what would it take for us to get off our lazy asses and salvage the planet. The story centers around the invasion of Earth by aliens who want to eat everything. All the beings who oppose ecological destruction must find a way to counter this affront, and Jensen makes it clear that neither letter-writing nor meditating for peace are effective strategies.

The readers are encouraged by a young radical who convinces her friend that seeing the reality of corporate destruction isn’t reason to despair — it’s the only way to fight back. There’s the non-profit worker who realizes that fundraising doesn’t save trees, and the boy who listens to his friend, a crow, in order to find a sustainable way of living. The animals of the (former) forests rally their domesticated counterparts to help in the battle.

Leading the dark side, a slick, greedy, politicking idiot trades the US for a few bars of gold. He comes into trouble when his corporate bosses realize they’ve been double-crossed and the resources they’ve exploited are now in someone else’s coal train. Corporations don’t like competition, and the aliens drive a hard bargain.

Jensen takes the complexity of anti-civilization philosophy and distills it down to one important message. If we can’t stop destroying everything, soon we’ll have destroyed everything. The only way to ensure the survival of biodiversity as we know it (including humans) and to prevent total ecological devastation is to end civilization now.

The subtitle, a play on the book 50 Things You Can Do to Save the Earth, highlights that green consumerism is like using a fire extinguisher in a volcano. Nice try; no dice. The protagonists have several conversations about how personal action (including reducing your ‘footprint’) is necessary, but that the larger havoc is wreaked by our collective, corporate, and industrial activities. Mining, agriculture, forestry, fishing, urban sprawl, and of course, oil cause the majority of environmental carnage.

The piece also calls attention to the ineffectual nature of reform politics. Asking the powers-that-be to end the slaughter is like asking a predator not to hunt. Civilization and its institutions are agents of destruction that must be dismantled, because they cannot be mitigated or reasoned with. There is nothing polite about saving the world, nor does there have to be. No one will get re-elected, make a profit, or win a Nobel Prize for their efforts.

So, if you’re looking for a wholesome introduction to anti-civ ideas, or need a break from his longer tomes, Jensen’s graphic novel is a great addition to the genre.

Living in a black hole: Hellarity House

Hellarity House in Oakland, CA, though frequently mistaken for a squat, is actually a house that defies ownership or legal status of any kind. For fifteen years it has been a group living experiment, providing a space where people could live, create art, music, direct action, and filth utterly unfettered by money or the need to pay rent. No one thought it would last as long as it has — all because long-term residents stood up to defend their home when it was threatened by a landlord’s bankruptcy and because they consistently ignored the certainty that the legal system would crush them. In so doing they gleaned loads we could all learn from about life in an anarchist collective and life in the court system.

In these days of nationwide forclosures and evictions, ask yourself: what if everyone facing the loss of their house were to stay and continue to live in their houses despite bank orders? Hellarity demonstractes that with legal creativity, tenacity, and community, people can go on living in their houses for years. The struggle might be scary and contentious at times — it might make those who stand to profit from your eviction irrationally angry and they might resort to physical intimidation or even arson to try to get you out. But if hundreds or thousands assumed the risks to defend our homes,we could declare independence from the oppressive system and live free, not working a job to be robbed for rent.

The name “Hellarity House” came from a phrase coined by Steve Wingnut, who was playing with a devil puppet while ad-libbing a commercial for a sitcom starring Satan and two lesbians who move into a house together, Three’s Company style. Wingnut, slumped on the couch behind the puppet, had everyone in stitches. The tag line for the made-up sitcom was “… And Hell-arity ensues!” The joke fit the scenario of the house in a way everyone there understood implicitly. The name stuck.

The history of the Hellarity House started in the mid-nineties when an activist known as Sand bought a handful of houses throughout the Bay Area with money from an insurance settlement. He had a vision he called “Green Plan” that involved creating a network of eco-cooperative houses that would be oases of alternative living, gardens, and healthy food in decaying urban landscapes. He even envisioned creating a micro-economy within the movement, and therefore encouraged people to earn their stay by doing work on the houses and in The Little Planet, the cafe he helped start on Adeline Street in Berkeley. He occasionally collected membership dues, but he did not see himself as a landlord and did not collect “rent”.

Sand bargained for eco-minded people who were willing to follow his lead, but what the house bred was anarchy, and with it a myriad of ideologies and critiques of anyone seen to be too much in control. However, Sand could not recoup money loaned by creditors, so eventually, driven deep into debt and disillusioned by his experience as an eco-visionary property owner, he declared bankruptcy, at which point the federal courts took over his properties and sold them off.

The official, court-sanctioned story of Hellarity is that Pradeep Pal, the owner of a Berkeley garage, has been suing named defendents of Hellarity since March 2005 for quiet title, court acknowledgment of his sole ownership of the property, and ejectment of residents.

Pal bought the house in late 2004 at auction by outbidding a group that put money together to buy Hellarity and keep it a cooperative, which it had been for nearly ten years prior. Residents brought protests signs and chants to the auctions, warning everyone who bid what they were threatening to destroy, and successfully got the auctions postponed twice, but in the end the courts, with their “procedural biases” that amount to unapologetic discrimination in favor of the socio-economically powerful and well-connected, allowed Pal to turn in his down payment over a month late instead of disqualifying his bid when it became clear he didn’t even have the money.

The house was united in protest against the bankruptcy court’s attempts to sell the house at auction without considering the rights of the people who lived there. There was a constant feeling that the house was under siege after an incident involving real estate agent, who was barred entrance when he came to show the house to a prospective buyer. He forced his way onto the property and assaulted a housemember, then left, vowing to find someone to buy the house and “make sure you get kicked out.”

Hellarity’s case survived a day in court when Pal failed to appear at the hearing on February 28, 2008 and was denied a civilly uncontested claim to the house. The victory however was followed by someone downstairs discovering a fire upstairs at 3:30 in the morning. Residents started to fight the blaze while the fire department was called, they came with hoses and chainsaws to bust open the doors, walls, and floors.

When the immediate crises was over, remnants of two earlier fires were found. One, under the sink in the bathroom ,had melted the flush bucket, still full of water, which had extinguished the fire and dripped through the ceiling downstairs. The other was discovered in a bedroom locked with a padlock. There was a charred broom inside, burnt matches on the floor, and a gas can outside on the lawn. All clear signs of arson.

In the wake of the fire, there may be increased beat cop “awareness” of the existence of Hellarity, and the fact that it is a condemed building, so being seen on the premises is risky. There is reason to fear reprisal from legal authorities who do not appreciate the subtle distinctions between Hellarity and a squat, or the completely unsubtle distinction between people with radical ideas and people who endorse violence and the reckless endangerment of human lives. The cops were cooperative in investigating the possible arson until one such cop saw Hellarity referred to online as a squat and thus had a change of heart. But as ever there is still a collective community struggling to make Helllarity habitable, beautiful and free and clear of legal entanglements.

To this day Sand harbors a special resentment for the residents of Hellarity. Nevertheless, some of Sand’s vision was adopted. People cooked and shared a meal on Tuesday nights and kept the kitchen vegetarian. There has never been a TV in the common areas. There has frequently been a vegetable garden in the back. Hellarity has provided badly-needed greening in the midst of urban decay and personal sanctuary for people with no place else to go, but from the start Hellarity had some particularities that made it less than the stuff of Utopia.

Of the social experiment that was living in the Hellarity House, one long-term resident commented that, “It was inspiring to see that people could exist outside of the capitalist system, because people weren’t paying rent and didn’t own the property and there was an open door where people could show up. On the other hand it was very disillusioning to see people not able to agree to anything, and to see just how parasitic people could be.”

But in the meantime, a flourishing community had developed around the opportunity he was affording people — albeit not the community he had quite envisioned.

Formulating the guest policy was the first of many important learning experiences for the collective. “We made mistakes in the beginning — by assuming everyone would have vegan-friendly skills, were not going to smoke crack in the living room, were going to be quiet after midnight, and were not going to be listening to gangsta rap that says bitch every third word in the common areas,” remembers one former resident. “But that gave me an appreciation for process more than just the end results of things — sometimes things come from process that will have an effect maybe a year down the line — including making mistakes and having to correct them.”

Eventually the house evolved into a community space, a space for forming alliances, working on collaborative projects, and sharing skills. The collective transformed what was zoned to be a private home into a commons.

Almost structurally there was a tension between those living upstairs and those living downstairs, as if the slapdash roof-raising the owner before Sand perpetrated without a permit before he sold it had created two different houses hopelessly entangled in the fact that they had to share a shower, since the only shower was downstairs, and share a stove, since the bottom-story addition project had punctured the gas lines upstairs and gotten them shut off. The guests mostly stayed downstairs, and the upstairs residents could never shake the desire to cloister themselves away from that madness.

But process, according to Nightshade, might be the most positive lesson he has taken away from that tension, too. He remembers when Gnome built a room in the upstairs common space that closed it off from the rest of the house, prompting an epic eight hour meeting at which housemates shared the stories of where they had been before they came to Hellarity House in order to explore more deeply what their underlying assumptions were about the house.

Later, the house faced a more divisive challenge – how to respond to the lawsuit being filed by Pal to get them evicted. There was the argument, both ideological and practical, for not participating in government processes in which your cause seems predetermined to lose. On the other hand, it is only because of the efforts of those who took on the legal fight that Hellarity still has a chance of surviving today.

For the last three years plaintiffs and defendants at Hellarity have been exchanging paperwork. Court documents from the discovery process, all available online, document some extremely brilliant DIY legal work that prevented the suit from succeeding on the grounds of procedural default – e.g. because the defendants failed to file paperwork properly – and the case goes on. The next legal hearing for the suit against Hellarity is set for [May 28]. Come if you want, or if you or someone you know is facing eviction or foreclosure, take all you can from what has ensued at Hellarity and start a résistance movement all your own.

UC’s Dirty Laundry – vivisection researchers are afraid

The campaign against science experiments on animals at the University of California continues to grow stronger, but not without opposition. Over the last several months, activists have been conducting frequent demonstrations outside the homes of UC animal researchers — a handful of people with signs, a bullhorn and some literature to hand out to neighbors. The university’s response has been over the top raising the question: “why are they so afraid of the public hearing about animal research?”

At the state level, the University of California Regents have won restraining orders on behalf of researchers at UCLA that not only restrict protesters from engaging in home demonstrations, but also restrict us from posting addresses and other information about animal researchers on the internet. The vivisectors are pushing AB 2297, the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, through the California Assembly which would block activists from sharing info about animal researchers on the internet. Here in Berkeley, in response to the restrictions on internet postings, the “Stop UC Vivisection” website has been taken down.

Police have also had a more watchful eye on recent home demonstrations. UC and Berkeley police are choosing to chase protesters around all day, sometimes with as many as three cars. At one demonstration, an activist’s car was impounded for a minor infraction. When police came to cite the driver, the car’s passengers and driver were photographed by a plain-clothes officer. One of the cops joked that the photos would be sent to the FBI.

At another demonstration, a Berkeley Police Officer followed protesters long after the demonstrations had ended; first to a vegan pizza place (where the officer accepted an invitation to come in and try a slice and later admitted he liked it) and later to the Berkeley infoshop, where he waited outside until dark for them to come out.

In the minds of the police and the legislators, it seems there is no question of who is a greater threat to civil society — underground facilities where animals go to get their eyes sewn shut or be fed cocaine, or people with protest signs who bring attention to it on residential streets and the internet. For the rest of us, AB 2297 and the heightened police surveillance are yet another blow to civil liberties afforded by the media-hype called “The War on Terrorism.”

UC Berkeley spokesperson Robert Sanders has raised the absurdity level to orange by commenting to the press that, “We need to prove a pattern to show the court these people should be banned from harassing people in their homes. They are domestic terrorists, and the FBI has started treating them just as they would Al-Qaida.”

Statements such as these demonstrate the paranoid, power-drunk logic of the state and its organs. The amazing thing is the way that a few protesters on a Sunday afternoon have struck fear into the hearts of research-industrial bureaucrats.

This university, which touts itself as the birthplace of the free speech movement has made it clear that they don’t want their dirty laundry hanging out to dry. UC Berkeley is getting ready to build the Li Ka-Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences which will include a basement-level vivisection laboratory and will extend Cal’s existing Northwest Animal Facility by seventy percent. We must continue to personalize this struggle if we stand a chance at preventing these horrors.

Redwoods in the dumpster ?

Trashing the Old Growth Redwoods Again

I saw my third dumpster full of old growth redwood tonight. Large splintered boards of it. You cannot buy this stuff anymore. There are no more old growth redwoods to log anymore, anywhere, unless you mow down a few California parks. Redwood is extremely valuable lumber. It is pest and rot and fire resistant. This wood is priceless, and yet somehow in our economy it is cheaper to send it to the dump. How messed up is that? My 6 year old housemate and I dragged four long 2×4′s (real 2x4s) out of the dumpster and in less than an hour had completely de-nailed them. How can it not be worthwhile to pay someone to save this wood for reuse? There were also quality bricks in the dumpster — bricks the workman explained were also of a quality not cheaply found.

The San Francisco East Bay Hills had extensive redwoods in the creek valleys — probably the biggest in the world — until they were completely logged in the 1850′s. They cut down all the old trees, some 2000-3000 year old. They were magnificent. They cut them all down. Then they began heading north. They built houses with the clear, fine grained wood. The wood has aged in dry houses for 100 years or more. It remains a precious resource, not nearly as valuable as the living forest, but still a treasure.

It is environmentally sensible to care for and continue using these precious wood buildings we have in the Bay Area. Or if they must be changed, they should be carefully dismantled for reuse. It creates jobs and makes so much more sense than destroying far away forests and using petroleum with its carbon exhausts to ship lumber from far away. What will it take till the economy reflects true costs? There are a few heroic efforts to salvage construction materials from the waste flow — Urban Ore in Berkeley for instance — but far too much usable materials are still landfilled. If construction companies were responsible for the true costs of transporting, landfilling, and logging virgin wood, there would be thriving recycling businesses greatly limiting the wanton waste of a false economy.

A voice in the wilderness -

At Slingshot’s 20th birthday party, the Slingshot Collective awarded our third annual Award for Lifetime Achievement — the Golden Wingnut — to our comrade Karen Pickett. A short autobiography of Karen appears below. Slingshot created the award to recognize direct action radicals who have dedicated their lives to the struggle for alternatives to the current system.

Direct action radicals generally lack awards and recognition, and that is sad. While sometimes awards are part of systems of hierarchy, a complete lack of recognition for long-term activists robs us of chances to appreciate and learn from the contributions individuals can make during a lifetime of organizing, disruption and wackiness.

Thanks, Karen, for all you do!

Autobiography of Karen Pickett

By Karen

Has it really been over 30 years that grassroots activism has defined my life? With forest and species preservation at the core, the array of issues in that span also includes recycling, native rights, corporate dominance and alliance building with the labor movements. Good ride so far, I’d say.

Recycling was my gateway drug into environmental activism in the mid-70s, and back then, it was an unpopular and radical thing to ask people to touch their trash. After cruising around Berkeley on old trucks rented by the Ecology Center, throwing in newspapers to be made into egg cartons (locally!), I ran the recycling center at Merritt College, smashing glass between classes.

In the early 1980s, I ran into Dave Foreman, who told me about this “new organization” that subscribed to a different analysis that held evolution as sacred and didn’t believe humans were necessarily at the top of the priority heap. That philosophy was biocentrism and the group was Earth First!, and in I jumped, with both feet. We organized an affinity group in Berkeley to go up and stand in front of the bulldozers punching a road in a wilderness area in southern Oregon — the Kalmiopsis — and that blockade — my first civil disobedience — was an epiphany for me as the power of direct action became real. Earth First! was young and we were few, but we organized direct action campaigns in the Sinkyone in California, against the World Bank, at Burger King (with a cow on the sidewalk eating “rainforest” and pooping out burgers), against an East Bay Municipal Utility District dam, and lots more.

I was drawn to direct action not much for the excitement but because my pragmatic personality predisposed me to a hands-on approach. Earth First! also awakens an inner wildness that supports the boldness that direct action embodies. (But! she says with a smile, the street theater and irreverent humor sure make for a good time.) Since the mid 80′s, I have been driven mostly to defend my relatives the trees, particularly the redwoods, an ecosystem whittled down to scraps and remnants.

Lack of infrastructure and hierarchy has allowed Earth First! to experiment. Redwood Summer in 1990 was an experiment in mass organizing for direct action for the forests, an anomaly, then. That was punctuated by the horrific bomb attack on my good friend and comrade Judi Bari, and that incident and the FBI round-up of EF!ers in Arizona around that same time for monkeywrenching opened our eyes to the threat the state and corporations perceived was posed by this small but scrappy group who refused to buy into anthropocentrism and lobbying. Power increases not only via numbers but through boldness. Burying ourselves in roads in Idaho, erecting tri-pods at Watts Bar nuclear plant, and dancing the polka, dressed as caribou, in a fountain in New York: boldness and a willingness to embarrass oneself.

That heavy hand of the state has been squeezing people harder recently, evidenced by the Green Scare grand juries, but it’s another sign we need to keep evolving. I believe that just as the antidote to despair is action, the antidote to this kind of repression is the movement’s rollicking spirit that keeps us dancing around the campfire, singing outrageously irreverent songs and howling at the moon. I’ve been sued by corporations three times and arrested lots, but the only conclusion that grows from those experiences is an understanding of how much more there is for us to do.

I believe not so much in myself as I believe in the regenerative ability of Mama Earth, in the grassroots and that evolution will prevail even in the wake of our enigmatic species.