Category Archives: Spring, 2009 (1/30/2009)

DUUUDE! Surf’s up on the West Coast Airwaves

Today we see most people’s creative urge and imagination go into forums like Indymedia and blogs, but radio still provides a vital spark in creating change. A brief look at the West Coast of the United States reveals the on going work put into unlicensed radio.

The Bay Area: In Berkeley pirates have started a torch from the smoldering ashes of Free Radio Berkeley and it has been burning since 1999 on 104.1 FM. Berkeley Liberation Radio (BLR) hasn’t had an easy road with multiple studio relocations over the years, and the loss of good shows that comes with that. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has paid numerous visits over the years including, on one occasion, breaking into the studio with sheriffs who held a DJ at gunpoint before confiscating equipment. Currently the station is working 150 Watts adjacent to the Revolution Café in West Oakland and is in need of more shows to fill out its 24 hours/ 7 days a week broadcasting. The station is also streaming online. Incidentally BLR has had so many locations in Oakland that they are seriously considering changing their name to Free Radio Oakland (FRO). What to check out: One of the oldest running shows is Liberation of the Wretched on Sundays at Noon. There you get DJ Adversary’s street-smart perspective on global crisis and the resistance, set to hard rock-punk-soul-funk records.

Also in Oakland a Jazz-focused pirate station has been broadcasting for close to 40 years on 103.3 FM. They have had some visits from the FCC, but they have not been shut down. (Stations can operate for years and years if nobody bothers to complain to the FCC. Stations with political content often get more scrutiny and are repressed immediately.) They may have broadcasted for so long because nobody has heard about this station.

San Francisco holds not just the West Coast office for the FCC, but a bold pirate movement too. For years San Francisco Liberation Radio ran a strong grassroots operation and even challenged the FCC laws in court. They lost an appeal in the 9th Circuit Court, yet people did not give up. Radio heads went on to build Pirate Cat Radio, which broadcasts 1200 watts at 87.9 FM. The signal boasts getting out over the city of San Francisco and at times as far south as Gilroy. Pirate Cat is streamed on the web and the signal is rebroadcast in Los Angeles and Berlin. But what is most impressive is that the studio is housed in a café in the bustling Mission district (21st and Mission St.). People are welcome to buy a drink and sit and listen to live radio as it is being made in an adjacent room separated by a window. Often events scheduled to fill out the cafe are broadcast — live music, films, public forums, plus the rare personalities that inhabit the city pass by throughout the day. The FCC has made numerous visits, sometimes once a week, but Pirate Cat has claimed an emergency exemption. Pirate Cat has also sent a $10 check to apply for a license, which the FCC has cashed. A rare show to check out: Diamond Dave does Common Threads from 4-6PM on Fridays. Dave was partying with Bob Dylan back when he was a teenager known as Robert Zimmerman — and has since kept abreast with the counter culture.

Santa Cruz: Another long running station under the name of Freak Radio has been broadcasting 24/7 on 101.1 FM. The FCC raided them but they have overwhelming community support. Currently they are need of money to help with rent, a reality of the awful high cost of living in California.

Arcata/Eureka: In far Northern California there is Humboldt Free Radio Alliance at 99.9 FM. They broadcast 24 hours a day from Thursday to Sunday nights. The range is about eight square miles with their 40-Watt signal. They have had a few visits from the FCC and have had to move locations because of it. People have been broadcasting since 1995 in the Arcata area but this current operation has been at it for close to ten years now. Shows to look out for: Friday from 3-5pm The Reggae Revival with DJ Down Beat plays old school music with a lot of it on vinyl. Also a rock n’ roll lifestyle show that was formerly known as the Mustache Ride is now called “Inappropriate Displays of Swaggering Machismo”. It is hosted by DJ Skull Shrinker on Sundays at 8PM.

Olympia: Free Radio Olympia (the real FRO) broadcasts on 98.5 FM with 100 Watts. They are on the air 24 hours 7 days a week. Since 2001 three hundred and fifty people have gone through this collective-run station in either programming or fundraising, and the station has gone through four different call numbers. They have been at 98.5 FM for two years now. The FCC sent a letter a little over a year ago but that hasn’t scared the pirates. Shows of note: Lucky Charms is an epic public affairs program on Saturday mornings from 9AM to noon. The show updates developments with the State Capitol that shares Olympia with the pirate station. Raccoon Radio is a long running public affairs show that reports on local activism using engaging interviews mixed with music.

Seattle: Letters to the long running Studio X were returned citing that they were no longer at that location. Activists who were involved have made a really impressive documentary movie called Pirate Radio USA, which makes a great effort to go into the heartland of the country and interviews the stations there. The movie is low budget in the best possible way — using creative props to help the narrative, and is full of humor, struggle and intelligence.

The story of pirate radio is one that shows people constantly seeing their project receive government harassment, fall apart organizationally, and lose momentum — yet still managing to not give up. The pirates collectively strive to grow against the consolidation of mass media has made a couple of hands hold 99% of the resources.

The unlicensed (pirate) radio movement is a long way away from the early 1990′s when Free Radio Berkeley would broadcast once a week from the side of a hill. An impressive movement grew once the technical knowledge to put a low-wattage FM station on the air cheaply became widely available. Some licensed broadcasters preferred the term “low powered community radio” to the term “pirate radio” because they didn’t feel like they were stealing anything — the airwaves belong to the people, not corporations who license bandwidth from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) through an expensive, legal process designed to keep the public from communicating in a grassroots fashion.

The 1990s movement of unlicensed, micro-powered stations gained such momentum that the FCC was forced to create a new category of Low Power FM (LPFM) to try to co-opt the movement. The corporate radio lobby got congress to pass a special law eviscerating LPFM by raising artificial technical constraints to prevent new community stations in major markets, and although a handful of LPFM stations made it to the air, the situation is much as it was prior to LPFM. There are unused spaces on the radio spectrum all across the country that can be used for low-powered community radio signals, but the FCC won’t issue licenses for these spaces.

Radio is a dynamic tool; on one hand it is simple to learn and it literally amplifies what is brought to it. It can be fun and at the same time it can be deadly serious. The quality of people that is attracted to radio is just as dynamic. A big boon is how the medium naturally draws in people who have little interest in politics. Stations like the real FRO often have to explain the need for politically tinged programming, and explain it’s collective process to people who would otherwise have little contact with such ideas. Pirate radio, then, both from the inside and from the outside, is a great way to get out of the activist bubble.

Motherfucker Walks Through Walls – Berkeley Radical helps us through the Labyrinth with his book

Osha Neuman: radical street fighter, outlaw artist, and lawyer for the homeless and activists, is now an author. He has known resistance since he was a child growing up in a home of Jewish intellectuals who fought against fascism and irrationality. He cut his teeth as a young adult in the new left with an anarchist-like action group The MotherFuckers. They were so underground their name couldn’t be printed in most papers. He never abandoned the movement over the subsequent years. Though he maintains a low profile around town his presence is felt — by helping keep Berkeley seem “Bezerkely” to the Straights.

The most public part of Osha is the mural he painted at the center of Telegraph Ave. It depicts real revolution as it was being played out globally and locally. One may see his sculpture at the Albany Landfill or his massive mural across the face of La Pena Cultural Center. Inside the Long Haul is an impressive four panel painting depicting the post-industrial forces of death in opposition with the forces of life.

With the release of his new book UP AGAINST THE WALL MOTHERFUCKER: With Notes For Next Time, we had several chances to see him read and speak around town. He even came to the offices of Slingshot and spoke on a rather warm January day.

In his presentations Osha will often cite that, “I never wanted to write a nostalgic memoir. Capitalism is in a crisis, but it’s not a terminal crisis. It’s not quite clear what the Alternative is.”

When I share with Osha that I felt the Clinton era was depressing, how no one seemed to care how bad capitalism was then, he agreed.

“Clinton for me is part of that whole counter-revolutionary period of the past forty years. It was awful. Made more distasteful by the way he represented some counter-culture progressive kind of lifestyle — like he’s one of us. Yet somehow he pushed through the most nauseous [policies] — he aggressively consolidated the multi-national corporations. Destroying the safety net. He’s done major damage. Plus the war, the blockade [of Iraq].”

During our talk, he examined a book on Franz Fannon, left out at the Longhaul. Fannon was championed by people worldwide, and inspired those willing to go from protest to resistance. With the countless stories sparked by Fannon, Osha doesn’t even need questions to get him started up.

“When you read this now you realize how all that revolutionary momentum was defeated. [You see] how all those movements were crushed or compromised. Look at Algeria, the forces of liberation was defeated, They were not as strong as we thought they were.”

When Osha speaks to a crowd of baby-boomers, he speaks of their own defeat in a poetic yet pragmatic way. “We were surfers of the wave that we were creating, and unbeknownst to us, we landed in the present. We became hyphenated radicals; Radical-doctors, radical-lawyers, radical-teachers, not revolutionaries.”

“The 60′s may not have fundamentally changed the power balance, but a profound cultural change did happen. Though that change could be turned into commodity capitalism and used to sell commodities, that is clear. You can go to a supermarket and hear 60′s rock n’ roll as muzak. They can do that and there’s still a sublimation. The 1950′s are over and done with. There’s much more diversity today in terms of race and gender, yet the system has been able to absorb that. The issue then is how do you link again to a vision of a radically different world, a vision that confronts the worst aspects of capitalism.”

But Osha is not one to get caught in negative thinking, nor does he dwell in false hope.

“It’s really an extraordinary time. To me there’s been a forty-year counter-revolution bookended by the sixties, and whatever is coming now which seems [to be] different. How different we don’t know. I think Obama was brought in to save capitalism basically. The previous administration was not good for business. They are hoping that Obama will put the ship on course. Now the question is; to what extent will capitalism keep it’s basic structure … There needs to be some resistance. There will come on the agenda a more radical transformation of genuine social control of capital. And a diminishing of free market sector where government takes over and provides basic rights or needs. I don’t think it’s going to happen unless it comes from a strong movement from below, from the streets, from poor people. I don’t think it’s going to be easy. I think right now there’s a fan club for Obama.”

Yet Osha is not entirely dismissive of the Obama fever getting people out and together.

“I think there’s a lot there that’s genuinely compelling. He’s a person that has compassion. I think Dreams of My Father is a quite amazing book from anybody much less from someone with the power that he has. The question is can the person with that consciousness remain that way while dealing with a foreign policy, or whatever they have to confront. He has a job to do and it’s not a pretty job.”

Osha wrote an op-ed piece in our local paper the Berkeley Daily Planet about the occupation of Gaza and slaughter of over thirteen-hundred people in the days leading up to the inauguration of Obama. In it he rallies against Obama’s silence on the matter: “What’s happening in Palestine, in Gaza to me is unacceptable.”

You’ve been to Palestine — what part? “I’ve been three times. Both West Bank and Gaza with the Middle East Children’s Alliance. I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was like living with a pressure that pushed all the air out of your lungs so you couldn’t breathe. Living under that occupation there’s no escape even for a moment. It was amazing that people could live that way for an hour, much less all the time.”

Did you see a noticeable difference with your subsequent visits there? “Well of course, there was in the sense that the first Intifada was a popular uprising in which all sectors participated. With children throwing stones at tanks. After then it became more professional.”

In the book you mention a protest you went to in London as a youth that protested a massacre that happened in SharpVille South Africa. Was this your first protest? “Yeah, another long ,drawn out struggle. It was one of my firsts. It was my first arrest. We have not produced that kind of movement and those kinds of leaders. It was inspiring because that ability to continue that resistance and keep your society together in the face of that. In the U.S. a few casualties can destroy a movement, but they had suffered innumerable casualties.

“One of the issues in the left in the U.S. is continuity. You don’t have depth without continuity and that keeps getting interrupted over and over again. There was a break with continuity with the old left and the new left. And also there’s been no organizations that’ve been built. There’s been a counter-culture that continued. There hasn’t been a development of institutions.”

And why is having institutions important? “What structure they have is an open question. Somehow we haven’t been able to create those and sustain them. Just have to keep working them to the next stages. It isn’t that tradition gets echoed back. I think we know a lot. What’s good about the 60′s was that the liberation movement was global. Despite the fact there wasn’t an internet, there would be sparks that started in NY, Chicago, Paris, Czech, Japan — there were influences that went back and forth. It wasn’t coordinated. You couldn’t do this intentionally. There was a contagion. Now it’s almost the opposite. The problem isn’t so much information, there’s an astounding amount of information. The problem is how to break out of bubbles and reach people. It’s very hard to get outside of those bubbles organizationally. Much easier to stay inside your little world and not go out, than to confront and encounter people.”

Osha is even starting to imagine how we can create a new movement that would snowball in the best possible ways.

“Where I work we do sort of a legal self-help. We get people who give a human face to the economic crisis. We get every kind of person facing eviction, being sued for their credit card debt. They’re facing all kinds of desperation. I would love to see someone, say who is disabled and the bank wants to foreclose and kick them out of their house, go to their house, move her belongings back in, prevent the sheriff from taking her out, prevent the house from being sold. That would be a very exciting intervention at this point.”

A lot of Osha’s book poses many-tiered reflections on the nature of rational thought.

It is what the subtitle of the book gets at: “Notes for Next Time.” The rest of the book is tied to the question of rational thought, how during his upbringing he took it for granted that he would grow up to be an intellectual. Being raised by professors he thought he would surely become one. Then for a short time he studied art, but quickly found it only heightened the isolation he felt as an intellectual.

The book spends much time observing this tension and how it was ample fuel in his days with the MotherFuckers influencing the practice of confrontational politics. Their influence was seen in higher profile groups like the Yippies and Weather Underground. But the Motherfuckers were the first to take their message into the comfort zone of unchecked power. When a peace protest came to the Pentagon, they were the only ones to break their way into the Hall of War. They squared off with hip rock promoter Bill Graham and cornered him into doing free community events at the Fillmore East. And when their neighborhood suffered under a garbage strike they took their trash to the posh Lincoln Center, exchanging garbage for garbage culture.

The book spends about equal time with his formative years and the years around the MotherFuckers days of 1967-1969. Then it goes for a short time into the experimental communities of New Mexico and California’s Black Bear Ranch. He then found himself settling in Berkeley where he took up practicing law and looked again to making art. “I found a way to do art that didn’t isolate me in the studio and that was to do murals. And the Albany Landfill is a fairly incredible story in itself.”

After the book was printed did you realize that you left anything out that you would’ve liked to have put in? “Initially when I wrote the book there’s a whole section about art that was just too long. It’s where I’m thinking about art, its role in the world and what art does, why there’s obstacles in making art these days. Now I think that’s a separate book. That had to go. There was lots of other stuff in there. In the course of finding a publisher it got paired down.”

On speaking of his most high profile piece of work, the People’s History of Telegraph Ave, Mural, “1976 was the bicentennial of the American Revolution. I thought ‘where was any public memorial or monument to the revolutionary period in Berkeley’ — there wasn’t any. So we approached the Villa Hermosa Restaurant. We didn’t ask anybody for money, we didn’t ask anybody for approval. We didn’t go through any design reviews. We put a can in the street and just painted it. Then we started an arts organization called Common Arts.”

Another mural Osha worked on is a few blocks down on Telegraph on a building at WiIlard Jr. High. It was partially painted over a few years ago and that story may indicate the story of Berkeley. A few die-hard radicals push to make a mark in this world. A few other people are annoyed by this and work to erase the gesture. Then there is the rest of people new to town who are confused by the outcome.

You painted Willard Jr. with them? “With Willard the way I got in there was because the junior high was closed. They tore down the old building and they were in the process of putting a new school there. The arts magnet school was temporarily there so nobody had control of the site. So basically I got to do whatever the hell I wanted. Generally since then it has been pretty difficult — because partly you have to get a community that’s going to support you, and you have to get an institution that’s willing to be identified with the content that you put there. Usually looking at the public art in Berkeley, by the time you go through the design review part, pretty much what you end up with is crap.”

And it’s true most of the art in Berkeley today is crap.

So you were working on the People’s Park Mural around the same time the park itself was going through a rebirth. After the years it was fenced in 1969-72, around that time the garden people really started to open it up as a free space again. Were you aware of them? “I was. That was a period — it always was a battle. The University has never been happy — they never accepted not having control of it. The battle the last upteen years has been over homeless people. It’s still going on. An endless fight.”

Many people new to town and ready to live in a radical new way ask me about the paradox of progressive Berkeley not having a simple food co-op. But we used to have one until the mid 80′s. Just as the once-thriving co-op was a representation of Berkeley as a hub of revolution in the USA, the plastic alternative of today’s Berkeley signifies Osha’s theory of counter-revolution. When I ask about its demise he cites the usual response about the co-op’s poor choice in over-expansion. But adds, “They had lousy vegetables, I don’t know. I think they were stuck in a bad contract.”

Seeing Osha speak, he will reveal as much of himself as he does when you read the book, except in concentrated form. He is at once vulnerable, frank, intelligent, yet he’s still a Motherfucker as he deconstructs it and reveals the wrong headed thinking behind their actions — the pompous quick impulse for violence, the male posturing. The movers and shakers of the 60′s often only lead to revolutionary egomaniacs — not revolution. Yet he doesn’t entirely denounce their struggle, and more importantly he shares with us that it’s still essential to act.

When speaking to an audience at the Neibyl Proctor library, Osha swims in a water he knows well. Much of the audience expect to hear theory and he can talk the talk. A young anarchist (pushing 40!) among the grey haired Marxists grew impatient. During much of the Q & A time, the old-timers gave long speeches using words that teem in old Marxist books. Osha often just smiled when they would raise their hand and talk for five minutes, usually without asking a question. At one point he called the intricate brain puzzles being raised another version of the Labyrinth — his book’s main metaphor for the system. But the young Anarchist in attendance raged. He raised the issue of today’s generation gap. The people in the room splitting hairs over theory do not interest people his age. What is worse, they interest those who are younger than he is even less. What was happening this day in the library soon may be a thing of the past. Osha agreed, “We’re just a room full of old men, we’re not out there in the street.” (Actually there were several women in attendance) “I’m not interested in the theory of doctrinaire anarchism, but in the power of the deed, in direct action.”

This Motherfucker used to go up against the wall in a naked gesture of exposing the oppressive nature in our reality. Now with vision and wisdom, Osha suggests other options. Perhaps we will decide to walk through the walls that have loomed for so long — that are seemingly untoppable.

Pushing Back vs. cop raid – the Long Haul may have trouble doing its dishes but it sure can SUE the FBI

By Jesse D. Palmer

In response to an August 27 police raid on the Long Haul community center in Berkeley by a joint terrorism task force composed of University of California police, sheriffs and the FBI, Long Haul filed a lawsuit in federal court on January 14 against all law enforcement involved in the raid. The police seized all computers at Long Haul after breaking in with guns drawn to execute a search warrant as part of an investigation of allegedly threatening emails allegedly sent to UC Berkeley animal researchers from a public-access computer connected to the internet at Long Haul.

Long Haul is a non-profit that publishes Slingshot and operates an infoshop and library at 3124 Shattuck in Berkeley. It is clear that the police never would have gotten such a broad search warrant to seize every computer at the Berkeley Public Library if the email in question had come from the public library, rather than from a radical Infoshop. While the police perhaps intended their raid to intimidate local activists, Long Haul was able to reopen the night of the raid. The public-access computer room reopened a month later with new (used) donated computers. The Long Haul community has ultimately not been distracted from the real struggle for freedom and ecological sustainability, and by filing suit, Long Haul is pushing back against police repression.

The lawsuit, filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU of Northern California on behalf of Long Haul and East Bay Prisoner Support Group, which had an office at Long Haul and had their computer seized in the raid, seeks an injunction against law enforcement using the data from the seized computers for improper purposes. The lawsuit also seeks “to prevent any retaliation, monitoring, or surveillance enabled by the seizure of” the computer data.

The suit contends that the search warrant was improper because it “authorized searches and seizures of areas and effects for which the affidavit failed to provide probable cause” and because it “did not specifically describe the place to be searched or the things to be seized.” The lawsuit alleges that the statement of probable cause supporting the search warrant “established no reason to suspect Plaintiffs of any wrongdoing and presented no evidence to the issuing magistrate alleging Plaintiffs were involved in any illegal acts. Rather, the Statement of Probable Cause only alleged improper use by an unknown member of the public of a public-access computer located at Long Haul. Despite this, Defendant Kasiske requested and obtained a warrant applying to all the rooms at Long Haul, even those inaccessible to the general public, and all electronic processing and storage devices, even those not used by or accessible to the general public.”

The suit charges that the police violated the first and fourth amendment (freedom of assembly/speech and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures) as well as the federal Privacy Protection Act, which protects publishers from search and seizure except in the most narrow circumstances. The lawsuit claims that the Slingshot and East Bay Prisoner Support computers should have been protected from police search under the PPA because each were used “with a purpose to disseminate to the public a newspaper, book, broadcast, or other similar form of public communication.”

Despite skepticism about the mainstream, bourgeois legal system and the whole concept of “rights” granted by government entities, Long Haul folks decided that it was essential to take a stand in court so the police won’t conclude that they can raid infoshops and take computers used to publish the alternative press with impunity.

Since the last issue of Slingshot, police returned all of the computers seized in the raid, presumably after copying all information contained on the computers. As a result, law enforcement have had unrestricted access to private data relating to the Infoshop, Slingshot and East Bay Prisoner Support as well as anyone who might have used the public access computers prior to the police raid. Luckily, it does not appear any address records of Slingshot’s volunteer distributors were on the computers seized.

So far, as Slingshot goes to press, no one has been arrested related to the police raid or regarding threats to UC Berkeley animal researchers. At least to our knowledge, the police have not attempted to contact or question anyone associated with Long Haul regarding the raid. The initial fear and stress surrounding the Long Haul scene right after the raid have been replaced by a sense of increased energy and unity at Long Haul. There’s nothing like a police raid to shake a project out of its sense of complacency and stagnation and to reduce infighting. The Long Haul raid was quickly followed by numerous house raids in Minneapolis designed to squash resistance to the Republication National Convention. Let’s hope all of us who have suffered police raids can figure out ways to push back, both in the court room, and in the streets. Long live the Long Haul!

The East Bay Foot

Don’t mistake this for an Eastbay Ear column. Martin Snapp–after years at the Oakland Tribune–is now writing his chatty gossip for the decidedly un-Berkeley Berkeley Voice. Though the Trib has become such a joke that it’s known in local circles as the West Coast Onion, Snapp himself has yet to lower his standards far enough for the pages of Slingshot. And so, while we wait for his eventual fall from grace, I will attempt to take his place.

BEST BIKE REPAIR IN TOWN, hands down, is Cloud Nine, a one-woman shop located in a shack behind the Berkeley Musical Instrument Exchange, one block from Ashby BART. Cloud Nine has expert service, cheap prices, and a casual setting. Sit under the tree playing with her tyke instead of being bombarded by the usual machismo and bullshit attitude that comes with having to fix your bike (yes, even when you do it yourself). 2923 Adeline Street.

MUCH SPECULATION has been made about the emergence on Telegraph of two different–and often overlapping–ethnic business districts: Little Ethiopia and Korea Town. Official recognition from the city of O-town is rumored to be in the works for K-town, though not E-town, and the Foot wonders why? The neighborhood takeover, by both, is near total, and largely beneficial (with Ethiopians and Eritreans now running many area markets and liquor stores, and every Japanese sushi place on Telegraph being secretly Korean-owned). Besides matters of culture and language, the only real difference between the two–and it’s a big one–is that most E-town patrons and business owners live in the neighborhood, while much of K-town’s business is from commuters coming in from the ‘burbs. At least, such is what my admittedly unscientific research has uncovered. Give ‘em both their due, I say.

NEW MAG ON THE BLOCK: Asscactus. This rag gives Absolutely Zippo a run for its money (sic), with its barely legible–yet thoroughly charming and insightful–take on Berkeley punk life. Stories include the epic tale of a stolen golf cart joyride through the El Cerrito Hills. After reading the first issue, I dreamt I was at the Ashtray, storied punkhouse of yore. The Asscactus staff had taken over the place. I tried to act nonchalant while stepping over them, sprawled out in varied states of consciousness on the floor. “I’ll show these young whippersnappers that I know my way around,” I thought, but entering the bathroom I found myself–with pants down–right in the middle of the Asscactus office! They had replaced the toilet with bedrolls and moldy bagels! No toilet–that was taking things too far. That was too punk. I felt evicted. Abandoned. Upstaged. I woke up, confused by the metaphor and badly needing to piss. You can buy Asscactus at Collector’s Realm on Telegraph, or find their crew hanging out outside of the nearby Peet’s . . . Runner-up on the rack is the (recent if not hot-off-the-presses) fanzine Feedback, with concert reviews done as episodic comics. Keep an eye out for it!

HAPPY ANNIVERSARIES: The Book Zoo beat the odds by turning five, showing that even the least likely to succeed in an already dying breed stands a chance, and should still fight to the last! The Gilman Street Project turned twenty-two, according to author William Saroyan “the best year of every man’s life”, but perhaps not so for a club. The private celebration–involving a game of Go and a bag of stale chips–was more fodder for the club’s detractors who’ve groused for years that the spark, spunk, and pit have long been missing from the once-seminal spot. Still, like People’s Park, Gilman remains a valuable resource and a counter-cultural landmark (though the primary life of both may now be on the basketball court). As Gilman’s head of security laments, “It’s easier to start something than to keep it going.” Conversely, the Purple House (nee Pink) recently turned one hundred, and shows no sign of slowing their embrace of full-on freakdom. True, the current residents have only occupied the premises for the last two decades, but, as anyone who’s set foot inside can attest, the fact that the house still stands is a miracle in itself. The Purple House has taken ten plagues at a time–two to each room–for years on end, yet still manages to thrive. Let it be a model to live by.

PLEA BARGAINS: Two riders in the recent, post-riot Eastbay Critical Mass were arrested in Oakland–and then unarrested just as fast, with these magical words: “Set them free and we’ll turn around and go back to Berkeley.”

FLIER WARS: Tensions are simmering between the rival forces that bring beauty and public discourse to the telephone poles of our sleepy town. “Stop sabotaging your success,” say the handbills for a local men’s self-help group which Cool Kyle and Uncle Fun found regularly covering up their own fliers–for the Down Low, a nightclub in the basement of Indian restaurant Pasand. Finally, they took the number and called. “Yes, do you have a problem?” asked the soothing voice on the Men’s Club hotline. Kyle lost his cool. “No,” he yelled, “but you’re gonna have one if you don’t stop covering up our motherfucking fliers!” Ever since, the Men’s Club man has kept his postings at the bottom of the pole, far below eye level…The conflict between promoters of Ashkenaz and Gilman has yet to be resolved as peacefully. Ashkenaz booker Space Nug was seen confronting one of Gilman’s Staplegun Army on Fourth Street, threatening turf war over the ever-shrinking public space for posters. “Tell your peeps that Space Nug has Berkeley on lockdown,” he warned. “This is my ‘hood.”

JUNK PIRATES got an unexpected bounty when Fantasy Studios shut down. Known to locals as “the House that Creedence Built”, Fantasy was a monument to dishonesty and greed–paid for by the royalties that Fogerty & co. never got to see, stolen from them in one of the most infamous bad contract deals in music history. We here at Slingshot were glad to see it go–but not as glad as the lucky fucks who found Fantasy’s master tapes when they filtered into Urban Ore from the city dump! Original Metallica reels were reported to be among the loot–but lawyers for our West County acne-faced heroes put a quick stop to some scavenger’s attempt to turn that particular trash into Ebay gold.

LASTLY, and on that same note, an old pal recently came to me concerned about our mutual friend Cauliflower. “I saw her digging through the trash cans at Ashby BART,” he confided. The news worried me, too–obviously Cauliflower was on to something good that she was keeping to herself. When I found her at the Trader Joe’s dumpster she admitted as much. “You can trade in all the change left over on BART cards that people throw away,” she said, “Wednesdays at Downtown Berkeley.” Cauliflower and I sat together in the new shelter built for the dumpster (and dumpster divers) at the E-ville Trader Joe’s, eating a four-course meal while we waited out the rain.

Got an item for the Foot? Write your own damn column. I’ve got dishes to do.

Killing our Communities – Cops, guns and racism

Our World of Dreams Does Not Include Police Carrying Guns

Or this title: Time to feel the Momentum of the Movement: We Must Unite to Stop Police From Carrying Guns

or The Breeze of Revolution… No More Cops With Guns

or any title that the Slingshot Collective Chooses.

or An Open Letter to the World Regarding the Worldwide Police Killings of Unarmed People:

By T. Love

After seeing the video of Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officers shooting and killing Oscar Grant, a completely unarmed Black man who was down on the ground while other police officers held him down, I had difficulty breathing, I cried, and then I wiped my eyes and I pulled my self together to try to sound coherent, to write clearly and civilized…civilized.. so surreal. Because the entire event was captured in a video tape, there is no mistake of the events. Was this an isolated incident?

No, because just a few hours before Oscar Grant was killed in California, another unarmed African-American, Bobby Tolan, was gunned down by police in Texas.

I feel the momentum, like a breeze of revolution, of people all over the world who are tired of police carrying guns! It is a breeze that cannot and should not be ignored. There is a storm coming. All over the world people are taking action as a result of Police killing unarmed people. In Greece there were riots for weeks, in Oakland the people took to the streets for many days and even here in Olympia, the heavily policed capital of Washington state, activists have dared to take to the street.

In January 2009 in Olympia, about 45 people came together and wanted to show solidarity with the actions with Greece and Oakland. At first, the torch lit march against the police killings was silent and full of quiet emotion and anger about the increase in killings; then after walking around downtown Olympia some folks joined in and began playing the banjo, singing action orientated songs and Woody Guthrie songs. Several people pulled out road flares, held them up and then threw them onto the street and flipped over dumpsters to block police cars that began tailing them. Some held signs that said “Fight Back”, “Fire All Cops” and much more. Some of the marchers screamed “Beneath the Concrete Lies the World of Our Dreams” and “Destroy Misery” and instead of fading off into nothingness as many marches often do, after looping around the downtown Olympia area, picking up more people, the march then headed towards the police station on the Westside of Olympia! The police quickly dispersed them with 3 people arrested and over 9 people detained. These are actions people are taking to let the world know: people are fed up with police carrying guns.

It does not take great skill and resources to show your opposition to police carrying guns. Much like most of you reading this, I am of few resources as I am a severely disabled, financially disadvantaged, Black feminist living on the West coast who happily writes with lots of typos and a blatant disregard for the grammatical rules of the Colonized English language. I watched the video of several different angles available online and what I saw was far more chilling than watching Rodney King being beat by Police Officers, in which Rodney King was fortunate to live through his hellish ordeal.

I considered Rodney King “lucky”, because I used to live in Portland, Oregon, where three completely unarmed African-Americans were actually killed… by Portland Police within 25 months; Byron Hammick in 2002, Kendra James in May 2003 and James Jahar Perez shortly afterwards. James Philip Chasse, Jr. was not African-American, but was a mentally challenged unarmed person who was literally beaten (not shot) to death and killed by Portland Police officers in September 2006.

Many of you will never know what it feels like to be an African-American, financially disadvantaged, disabled person and walk the streets of a city knowing at any time you might be the next unarmed African-American male to be killed by Police. It’s like the Black man’s lottery that none of us wants to win. The only way that we, people from all backgrounds win in this crisis is join together to solve this crisis that divides us and speak out together.

Long ago, I researched every aspect of the Amadou Bailo Diallo killing, in which an unarmed Black man was killed in a barrage of 41 bullets fired by Police officers, and yet I still can’t make sense of it. But I told myself it couldn’t get worse than that. After all, the police said it looked like Diallo drew a gun, but it turned out he pulled out his wallet to show them the Photo ID because they requested to see it even as their guns were drawn. Whenever police harass me with racial profiling and ask me for ID, I move slowly, carefully and remember Diallo.

And then on November 27th, 2006 Sean Bell, an unarmed New Yorker was killed just hours before his wedding. I thought to myself, surely it couldn’t get worse that…it’ll get better. The police said they thought a fellow police office yelled ‘Gun’ but it was just a mistake.

But it is not just an American issue of social class of our failed system. On Saturday December 6th at around 10 pm, two Greek policemen engaged in a verbal argument with a small group of teenagers in the center of Athens. During the argument, one of the cops pulled his gun and shot 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos (Greek: ?????????? – ??????? ?????????????) ). Riots broke out across Greece and the world from the event. The police always cite mistakes being made.

I know it is not about social class. Bobby Tolan was a reserve outfielder during his years with the Cardinals, with whom he won a World Series title in 1967. Bobby Tolan has a son Robert (Robbie) Tolan who plays professional baseball in the Washington Nationals. On December 31, 2008, Robbie was shot by a Bellaire, Texas policeman after an altercation occurred and Robbie’s mother was slammed against the garage door by an officer. According to Tolan’s uncle, “Her son was on his back at the time, and he raised up and asked, ‘What are you doing to my mom?’ and the officer shot him — while he was on the ground.”

In October 1995. Jonny Gammage, a 31 year old African-American was driving in the mostly-white Pittsburgh suburbs of Brentwood, in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The car that Gammage was driving, a Jaguar, belonged to National Football League (NFL) player Ray Seals, Gammage’s cousin. After a routine traffic stop Sgt. Keith Henderson and Patterson asphyxiated Gammage, who was completely unarmed during the entire incident, while he begged for his life. Court reports state his last words were: “Keith, Keith, I’m only 31.” Officer John Vojtas, one of the police involved in the traffic stop, was found not guilty by a jury with no minority members. He was permitted to return to work as a police officer in the Brentwood department and received a promotion.

In May 1997, Shiloe Johnson was walking his bicycle across a bridge late at night. He was unarmed and wearing a Walkman and could not hear what was going on around him. A police offer approached his friend and started yelling. The cop then jumped Shiloe from behind and several seconds later the cop shot Shiloe point blank in the head. The cop had been dismissed from the LAPD for brutality. At last record, he is still employed as an officer in Napa, CA.

In August 1997 Abner Louima, a male, unarmed immigrant, was assaulted, brutalized and forcibly sodomized with a broken broomstick by a number of New York City police in a bathroom at the 70th Precinct police station house in Brooklyn. They did all this while Louima’s hands were cuffed behind his back.

In May 2003, Ousmane Zongo a Burkinabè arts trader living in New York City, was completely unarmed and yet shot and killed by a New York City Police Department officer in a case of mistaken identity during a botched police sting. The shooter, officer Bryan Conroy, was disguised as a postal worker and shot Zongo four times, twice in the back but did not receive any jail time. Zongo is survived by a widow and two children.

In October 2008, newlywed Julian Alexander, completely unarmed, was shot and killed outside his California home by police in a case the police called mistaken identity. Alexander’s wife and her 15-year-old sister looked out the window during the incident and saw the police flip Julian’s limp and bleeding body over… and then handcuffed him while he bleeding, in the exact same manner that Oscar Grant was handcuffed after being shot by the Police.

It didn’t just happen to Oscar Grant, Julian Alexander, Jonny Gamage, Diallo, Kendra James, James Philip Chasse, Jr., Alexandros Grigoropoulos or all the countless other unarmed people all over the world killed by police… it is happening to people as a whole, everyone of all backgrounds in our society, who are more frequently being placed into a position where we are being killed by police… even after begging for our lives.

It is time to stop begging for justice! It is time to rise to action!

I was born in Philadelphia and I know there is crime and I have been mugged many times and had a mugger put a gun to my head… but the police have tasers, pepper-spray, rubber bullets, dogs, riot gear, batons, asphyxiation and a few dozen other kinds of unethical forms of weapons that are even against the Geneva Convention like broken broomsticks at their disposal so why must they carry guns to continue killing unarmed people? If authorities can use tranquilizer guns to stop wild animals why are we as humans literally executed by police with guns and bullets?

Police killing unarmed people has become so routine that people ignore it and try not to think about it. I am hoping that you will not remain silent about police killing unarmed people anywhere in the world and you will take action and let people know that the system of armed police in our communities needs to end.

It is time to start feeling the momentum of action, the breeze of revolution, and start working on a new way of life for people worldwide.

The Streets Shout! Riot for Oscar Grant!

By I Steve

If you’re picking up this issue in the near or distant future (from 2009 AD), let me refresh your memory. Late New Year’s Eve, BART police came to the Fruitvale station responding to a report of groups of youth fighting. While they detained many suspects, one BART policeman, Johannes Mehserle, pulled his revolver, waited, and then fatally shot Oscar Grant. Over the next week, people from many paths realized “Whoa! What the fuck!” and a protest happened, which turned into a march, which became an outburst of property destruction and disposal container abuse with over a hundred arrests. This awakened and actualized the natural human capacity to realize another world is possible. Hopefully anyway. Most rational observers acknowledge that the militant protests were the key factor in getting the system to take the killing seriously.

The media (and we assume the police) have noticed a substantial presence of perceived anarchists. This includes everyone who engaged in direct action and covered their faces, and many of those people probably were anarchists. The protest was demonized by the media. Many anarchists feel threatened because times like these are the only time that mainstream media notices anarchists.

People who read between the lines may wonder, who are these anarchists? Are they real? Such a one might consider looking at an anarchist publication from the East Bay to understand such a perspective; perhaps that’s you.

Elements of bullshit regarding the Oakland riot and anarchists:

A powerful, orderly protest was hijacked by anarchists, radicals and/or gangsta youth

The corporate media and the government have two preferred responses to protest; downplaying and ignoring, or demonizing. Only when these fail will they consider appeasement, negotiation, or concession. When, because of lack of opportunity or finesse, only the first two outcomes are available, condemnation is all too often better that irrelevance. Wasn’t it P.T. Barnum who said, “The only bad publicity is no publicity?”

There were no good protesters and bad protesters. A broad variety of views exist among both the community and the protesters, and even the rioters as well. Some thought the basic idea of riotous protest was good, but found the vast collateral damage regrettable. A hefty faction thought an in-your-face aggro march was good but would prefer no trashing or scuffling. Some thought there wasn’t enough destruction. Many wished we had never left Fruitvale BART. A lot of people thought everything turned out the best way possible, but I’m not sure how many of them always think that.

The anarchist and “Berkeley radicals” were outsiders and/or opportunists

Yeah yeah, fuck you too. Oakland probably has more anarchists per capita than any mid-sized American city. And outside of what? Oscar Grant lived in Hayward, Johannes Mehserle wasn’t from Oakland, and only a few of the kids on the BART platform probably were. Are we native to the BART system? We use public transit hella more than the assholes who call us outsiders.

They say that anarchists and “Berkeley radicals” were using the shooting to push another agenda. Why yes actually, we do believe events like the BART shooting illuminate the need for a better society. Despite our idealism, there is also a very practical concern that is the basis of solidarity with youth of color and other oppressed communities. Police don’t like anarchists (they especially don’t like anarchist youth of color). If police can kill people with impunity we’re in an awkward situation.

Those wacky anarchists don’t know what they want

We is me and a couple friends but…

We want people to look at the shooting as part of a social problem. The pigfucker media has been portraying this as “did the cop somehow accidentally shoot the guy, or did he blink and become a murderous zombie for a moment?” Every step of the way BART stalled for ways to find an alibi. The state exists to institutionalize incompetence, alienation and cruelty.

Reading the bathroom-wall comments on SFGate comment boards, we read overt racists saying “Why the big fuss about a police killing, but nothing about all the gang-banging shootings?” The covert-racists liberals avoid this question because the answer is so obvious: the police presence in marginalized communities is consistently oppressive, and petty police murder is too much icing on the cake, a sledge-hammer that breaks the camel’s back.

We want a massive overhaul of how our society deals with personal and social justice,

We want a broader appreciation of the powerful idea of a coherent strategy for reclaiming, seizing and transforming public space. This involves many elements; a cohesive plan for grass-roots community security, the procurement of free territory by many ways that create spaces of freedom from ambient atomizing paranoia, and the liberation of anyone connected to such land. This involves communicating a shift of tactical fantasy from random destruction to liberated utopia.

All you who dared to bust loose, what is thy vision?

Justice in Action – Cops, media & results

On January 1, 2009 Oscar Grant was murdered by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) cop Johannes Mehserle. The killing of Grant was captured on cell phone videos by other passengers on the train. It is important to note that the police attempted to collect all the cell phones that had recorded the incident, as “evidence.” In fact, it was a part of a failed attempt to cover-up the murder. We are lucky that not everyone was slavishly obedient to police demands of their personal property. The videos were posted on the Internet and broadcast on TV news making it crystal clear what had happened. The people were justifiably angry. This was not a time for the pacifist gibberish about loving your enemy.

Almost 1,000 folks came to the funeral for Grant in Hayward on January 7 and over 700 rallied at the Fruitvale BART station to demand “Justice for Oscar Grant”. Following the rally many of the demonstrators marched to downtown Oakland.

This was not the first time a BART cop has killed an unarmed citizen: Back in 1992 Jerrold Hall, an African American youth, was killed at the Hayward station by BART cop Fred Crabtree [who was white]. Hall was shot in the back in broad daylight. Crabtree got away scot-free. At 4 a.m. May 28, 2001 Bruce Seward, a car salesman, was shot and killed at the Hayward BART. This African American citizen was clearly going through a severe psychological crisis, as he was found naked when confronted and killed by BART cop David Bentancourt. One would think in a decent society “public servants” would be prohibited from killing mentally ill people for being mentally ill. Bentancourt walked.

Here is something you will never read in the “mainstream press”: the activities of those who were protesting the murder of Oscar Grant forced the authorities to arrest BART cop Johannes Mehserle on a fugitive warrant and charge him with murder. All the other BART police have walked.

The Role of the Corporate Media and the Police

After the January 7, 2009 rally, the corporate media went into full effect. They reported that over 300 businesses were destroyed and that hundreds went crazy in the streets. These reports were grossly exaggerated. The actual damage: about 40 store windows were smashed, a couple of dozen garbage cans thrown in the streets, and significant damage to a few vehicles. Hardly the end of human civilization. Nevertheless, the indiscriminate nature of some of the property destruction did not help our cause and made it easier for media to depict the demonstrators as psychos and sociopaths. Thus the people who oppose this wanton murder are turned into their opposite in the minds of people who know little of the struggle except what they see on the TV. When the “mainstream” media reports inaccurate information or outright lies they are not making a mistake. The role of the corporate media is to create and regenerate false-consciousness.

In regards to the police, media loyally promotes the necessary illusions that the police maintain law and order in the interests of all. “Serve and Protect” is the motto of police departments throughout the country. But who did the police “Serve and Protect” by murdering Oscar Grant? Certainly not the public.

To place this senseless murder in its proper social context it is useful to explain what kind of society we live in and how it operates. We live in a capitalist society. The big bosses, bankers and landlords constitute the ruling class in this society. As such they are a tiny minority of the population. Working people, the overwhelming majority of the population, own very little of consequence while the capitalists own the lions’ share of the national wealth. This is why the capitalists must maintain a repressive state apparatus, i.e. the army, police and prisons, to impose their will on society.

The role of the police, as a part of the state, is to “serve and protect” the capitalist class and their interests.

On December 6, 2008 in the district of Exarchia in Athens, Greece a 15 year old student, Alexandros Grigoropoulos, was murdered in cold blood — shot by a police officer. Spontaneous resistance, including a General Strike, exploded in Athens and Salonika, spreading to the rest of Greece. Compare this to demonstrations and unrest that have occurred here after the killing of Oscar Grant. Why the difference? The level of social awareness and solidarity, class consciousness, and regard for human life are obviously higher among the Greek working people. At this moment in history our Greek brothers and sisters are better organized that we are, which is reflected in their massive resistance. This, of course, is subject to change.

Everything the BART officials did revealed a desire to cover-up the killing of Oscar Grant. First they refused to release the cop’s name. they neglected to interrogate the officer. Then district attorney Tom Orloff refused to meet with Black clergy and politicians about the case. By every utterance and action made by these officials it appeared that business as usual was the order of the day, until the protesters made it clear that they would raise the social and economic cost of injustice.

The capitalists will never give up anything unless they fear losing everything.

Simple steps to clean toxic soil

These instructions are mostly taken from The New Orleans Residents’ Guide To Do It Yourself Soil Clean Up Using Natural Processes, published by the Meg Perry Healthy Soil Project (2006). The handbook includes great info for general soil cleanup, condensed here for space reasons.

Step 1: Soil evaluation and testing

Research historical contamination on/near the property using city/county records, aerial photographs, building permits, Sanborn fire insurance maps, property deeds, and EPA databases. Get your soil tested by a local agricultural extension or by UMASS Amherst.

Step 2: Soil preparation

If the soil is dead or compacted begin by aerating the soil. Pierce the soil with a garden fork or shovel but don’t turn the soil because this may bring toxic substances to the surface. If grass or other plants are already flourishing you may not need to aerate the soil. Wear at least a paper respirator when working if it’s dusty. Then spray compost tea to increase the amount of beneficial bacteria.

Compost tea: Fill a 5 gal. bucket with non-chlorinated water. (Let city tap water sit out over night to let chlorine volatilize. If your area uses chloramine, like the East Bay, add some citric acid to break it down.) Put an aquarium bubbler in the bucket to aerate the brewing tea. Suspend 1 cup of worm castings or aerobic compost in the water in an old stocking and squeeze it gently. After an hour, add 1/4 cup of food: molasses, humic acid, or fish hydrolase (ideally a mixture). Let the brew bubble for 24-36 hours, not longer or it will go anaerobic and smell! Apply it to damp soil within 4 hours before it goes bad, using a watering can or sprayer.

Step 3: Treating for High Levels of Metals like Lead and Arsenic

Different soil conditions are needed for the removal of metals such as lead (cationic metals) and metals such as arsenic (anionic metals)–that is, they cannot both be removed at once. Soil must be acidic (low pH) for removal of lead and other cationic metals. Soil must be basic (high pH) for removal of arsenic and anionic metals. This means that if you have both lead and arsenic in your soil, you will need to remove the toxins in several steps, rotating between acidic soil conditions and basic conditions.

Start first with the metals that are most highly concentrated. If both arsenic and lead are present, with higher concentrations of lead, for example, lower the pH and plant lots of sunflowers and Indian mustard to absorb lead. When these plants are fully-grown harvest them and throw them away. The next crop of Indian mustard should be in beds of high pH to treat for arsenic. Raising the pH to extract arsenic will also help immobilize lead.

Lead, Antimony, Barium, Cadmium, Copper, Mercury, Thallium, Zinc (cationic metals):

When trying to extract this group of heavy metals, lower the pH level by adding coffee grounds, organic sulfur or pine needles. The best lead absorbing plants are Indian mustard and sunflowers. Indian mustard will also uptake selenium, cadmium, nickel, and zinc. Sunflowers will also uptake cadmium and zinc. Plant seeds as directed, covering the area thoroughly; water and tend normally. When plants are grown spray compost tea around each plant a week before harvesting because this makes metals available to be absorbed by plants. Harvest and carefully discard in plastic bags that will go to the dump or be treated as toxic waste. Do not eat the mustard greens!

Arsenic and Chromium (anionic metals):

Grow Indian mustard in more basic conditions. Use thinly spread Phosphorous in some organic form such as bat guano or agricultural lime to raise the pH.

Step 4: Retesting and Repetition

Retest soils after each harvest or as often as you can. It is impossible to predict how long this will take because of ever-changing soil conditions; it will probably require many repetitions.

Personal Health and Safety:

Avoid direct contact with sediment. Touching sediment with bare hands, getting it in your mouth or eyes, or breathing the dust could be hazardous. Do not bring young children into contaminated areas, where they might touch sediment and then put fingers into their mouths.

Grow mostly fruiting crops (peas, beans, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, cucumbers, corn, etc.)–these are safest because most plants don’t store toxins in their fruits. Avoid eating the roots, stems or leaves of plants if your soil has high toxin levels. Do not plant greens–broccoli, kale, mustard greens, spinach and lettuce are some of the common greens that take up toxins. Cabbage is the safest of leafy crops.

Comparing Captivities – the predicament of human and nonhuman prisoners

By Dortell Williams

The Los Angeles City Council is intertwined in a dusty ruckus as challenges loom against their decision to continue with a $24 million, 3.6 acre “Pachyderm Forrest” at the city zoo.

Animal rights advocates say the zoo exhibit is inadequate in size and makes for excruciating lonely days for the single elephant named Billy.

This controversy is interesting in view of the concurrent controversy regarding the medical condition of crammed and crowded California prisoners. Human rights advocates have prevailed in proving that the bustling concrete behemoth is so swelled that it infringes on the basic health rights of the captives.

Zoo officials lament that 12 elephants have died at the exhibit since 1968. Experts believe past care practices contributed to the demise of the creatures, but those practices — such as concrete floors and tight enclosures — have now been replaced with soft dirt courtyards laden with trees and greenery.

Human rights advocates cite an average of one prisoner death a week due to neglect or malpractice in the state prisons. That was until Thelton Henderson, U.S. District Justice for the northern district intervened by taking over the prison medical system in 2006.

Following an embarrassing early December trial before a three-judge panel, including Justice Henderson, it was determined that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is desperately overcrowded. The prison system was designed to hold 100,000 by an expanse of 33 prisons. However, the current population is a fluctuating 172,000 at it’s zenith, causing deaths, mental health deterioration and the rampant spread of diseases.

At the zoo, the geographical ethnicity of the most recent elephants to expire, Tara, a friendly 39 year old elephant who died in 2004; and Ruby, a careful 47 year old elephant who passed on to elephant heaven last year, was African. Then there was Gita, a gentle 48-year-old Asian elephant who slipped from life in 2006. Billy, the only remaining elephant at he zoo is a young 23-year-old Asian stud.

In contrast, the majority of California’s prisoners are of African American and Latino descent. As a result of a long held practice of state sanctioned racial segregation, a bloody froth of ethnic tension has developed, spilling over into innocent communities and making carnage of uninvolved citizens and their blameless children.

Hate-filled prison shanks are replaced on the streets by indiscriminate high-powered, rapid-fire semi-automatic weaponry. And while the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a straightforward cease and desist on the vile practice of racially segregating prisoners in a 5-3, 2005 vote, many believe this violent community cancer has already seriously escalated gang rivalries that have spread nationally and even internationally.

Critics of the zoo exhibit argue that 3.6 acres is not nearly enough for a half dozen or more elephants planned for the sanctuary. Some would like to see a 35-acre elephantine spread to be shared by as many elephants. Zoologists say the 3.6 acres is enough and will be furnished with a deep pool for swimming, fallen trees, a waterfall and rocks for the creatures to push or walk around.

Still, animal rights advocates explain that elephants are natural roamers and need to trek miles not acres to achieve optimum health and happiness. They also cite a high rate of infant mortality in captivity because without the opportunity to learn social skills from others the new mothers are ignorant of how to care for their young.

In the prison system there is such a thing as “social overload”. Overcrowding forbids prisoners the room to move about, resources are scarce and rationed, and privacy is almost non-existent because someone is always around. Paradoxically, loneliness still prevails because so many people are brought in and out of the system — in a constant cycle of recidivism and transfers — that people are rarely allowed to engage in meaningful friendships.

Indeed, the American Correctional Association recommends that prisoners — people incarcerated — be afforded a minimum of 60 square feet, and for those confined in their cells for more than 10 hours per day, 80 square feet.

Animal experts complain that elephants like Billy who show a neurotic habit of repetitiously bobbing their heads are signaling bouts of depression. Meanwhile, as the three-judge panel now contemplates how to remedy the gross inadequacies of the prison system, Justice Henderson has expressed concern about prisoners being subjected to extreme idleness and lack of productive rehabilitation programs that lead to mental deterioration and an inferior existence.

Dr. Joyce Poole, an animal behaviorist who has studied elephants in Africa for decades says that elephants bob their heads ” because they’re frustrated and bored and have a life that has no meaning…”

Perhaps people and pachyderms have more in common than we ever thought, yet only time will tell who’s right.

The author is a California prisoner. Write him at Dortel Williams #H-45771, A2-103, PO box 4430, Lancaster, CA 93539.

Looking back at the tipping point

I had a revelation recently that we are beyond the realm of “politics” and more into “evolution”, that the scope of what is set in motion is beyond our human wills to turn around. And yet of course, it still seems relevant what we do; as the day of action, the decision what to eat, the words sung, may be the straw that carries a species through.

I find myself strangely at peace to accept the larger cycles of life that include extinctions. Nothing breaks my heart more than to imagine the disappearance of such beautiful and amazing creatures as Sand Hill Cranes, Sea Otters, Checker-spot Butterflies, all the birds and salamanders, insects, fish flowers; life people know so little of as it disappears forever. Are we alive on the planet with the last pair of Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers? How many other species will we see the last of? How many will we not notice?

And yet. These are the generations of Mother Earth. She has three times already raised a planet full of amazing beautiful species that have come to cataclysmic ends. And some species made it through and new life came again. It seems we are in the third major species die-off on the planet. Now. Kinda a lot for a mere human psyche to wrap around. But hey, I remind myself, there are lots of agents for mutation that will hasten new life to evolve and fill the niches; chemicals, radiation, biotechnology, nano-tech. And whatever does live, I was reminded by Dan, “will have a lot of available carbon.”

So just try not to be so attached to the beautiful world we know now.

And then there are the humans. I have to say some days I’m rooting for us but other days I feel this foolish species has caused enough trouble. ‘Spose it’ll be determined by if we can wake up and adapt or not. Humans sure are fascinating and creative. What other creature has come up with tapestries, orchestras, ipods? Thousands of unique languages. Cathedrals, plastic, poetry? What would it all mean without us?

And what does a human do with the precious day in these times? Enjoy it? Try like hell to save wild places? Awaken the Brethren? Grow gardens? Carry on like we don’t see?

Seems to me it would help if we would wake up and protect the diverse life on earth and that which sustains it. Stop using anti-bacterial soap for goodness sake and all those toxic chemicals in our “products.” Simplify. Slow down. Walk. Reconnect with the earth, with food, with community. Wash with water. Detach from stuff. Sing. The adaptation required is profound. People lived for a long time without all the toys that surround modern Americans. Make decisions in light of the whole, and listen to your heart. Care and Share. We children of the changing times, surf the waves of change with beauty. Adapt. Can we tip human consciousness?