when the dust clears

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Archive for the ‘Sustainable living’ Category

“Whatever Happened to Occupy?”

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The Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew Episcopal in Ft. Greene, Brooklyn, has turned over the entire building, spaces sacred and less so, to Interoccupy, the network of Occupy groups coordinating an astoundingly big Sandy relief effort.

It’s a hub for training, donations, and distribution. Vans and cars pull up, drivers check in and get their assignments, vehicles get loaded with donated supplies—from water and warm clothing to tools and cleaning supplies—and volunteers roll out.

The question “whatever happened to Occupy” passed more than a few lips around the first anniversary of the original Occupy Wall Street at Zuccotti Park. This, it seems to me, is at least one answer. Its grassroots have been growing, enabling it to execute something truly remarkable and desperately needed.

Class War, not Nuclear [Power] War!

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Last week I attended what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission calls a “public meeting, open house” about its annual assessment of the Indian Point nuclear power plant—Indian Point Energy Center to its owner, Entergy.

Entergy supporter wearing the company colors before NRC “public meeting” on Indian Point, May 17, 2012

The NRC, which concluded in its report (pdf) that Indian Point operated safely during 2011, is not required to take any action based on feedback from citizens at these meetings. All that the six inspectors and administrators behind a table at the front of the packed ballroom had to do was weather two-plus hours of withering invective, quirky performance, and, straight, often impassioned, comment—some of it quite surprising. One gentleman who said he worked at the plant offered highly technical and damning testimony, complete with photos, about what he said was an ongoing “operating leak” at Indian Point. (He refused to tell me his name.) “We did write a violation,” an NRCer responded meekly. Apparently, writing violations doesn’t fix (alleged) leaks.

Man speaks about ongoing safety problems at Indian Point, May 17, 2012

I went because I smelled the potential for a second installment of my Colorlines story on Entergy’s astroturfing, the practice by major corporations of creating, funding, and controlling “community organizations” to push an agenda while hiding their parentage. A young antinuclear activist had contacted me to tell me she had met a group of people of color affiliated with an Entergy front group called SHARE at a hearing a few months before. The woman leading the SHARE entourage told members not to speak to her, the activist told me.

Marilyn Elie, cofounder of Westchester Citizens Awareness Network, hammers NRC administrators for granting excessive safety exemptions to Entergy—and for not doing business transparently, May 17, 2012

No such luck this time. There were very few folks of color assembled at the DoubleTree in Tarrytown, NY, for the May 17 meeting. One African American labor union member spoke in support of Indian Point, touching on the core argument of all pro-planters: Indian Point equals jobs. An African American antiplanter spoke in the cadences of a Baptist preacher to stress the dire safety issues associated with Indian Point. Yuko Tonohira, dressed in a white Tyvek hazmat suit with the Japanese character for death pinned to it, spoke of Fukushima, as did others, like Yuki Endo, who stepped up to the mic.

NRC’s Bill Dean responds to a question/accusation, May 17, 2012

Immediately, nakedly apparent was the class divide. Supporters of Indian Point, similarly clad in neat polo or t-shirts, some with labor union logos, and slacks or jeans, filled a pocket of seats on the left side of the hotel ballroom. The more diversely, even wackily, attired antiplanters sat to the right—and everywhere else. (There were also contingents of business suit-wearing local government officials and legislators who fell on both sides of the divide.) There was ample heckling, with the antis winning out because of their numbers and vehemence. But there was also listening, particularly to the sober presentations delivered by folks like Clearwater’s Manna Jo Green and New York state assemblyman Tom Abinanti (both anti) and many of the union workers.

WestCAN member and Clearwater board member Susan Shapiro addresses the meeting, May 17, 2012

Entergy’s spirit was invoked, to praise and damn, but Entergy as a corporate entity did not present itself. Odd, given that Jerry Nappi, Manager of Communications at Entergy/Indian Point Energy Center, attended the meeting. Instead, Entergy let their working-class proxies duke out with the lefties in what amounted to a largely pointless, in terms of impact, though cathartic event. Who needs to worry about astroturf when you aren’t even compelled to step onto the field?

99 Percent Spring in East Harlem

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VOCAL and Community Voices Heard held a training for the 99 Percent Spring at the Children’s Aid Society on 101st Street. By my count, 100+ people gathered in CAS’s auditorium. Many were members of established groups. Others found out through MoveOn.org.

A VOCAL member speaks at the 99 Percent Spring training at the Children's Aid Society, April 14, 2012

Spring kicked off with a letter released in February, signed by a who’s who of prominent progressives, union leaders, and community organizers. Its goals:

  1. Tell the story of our economy: how we got here, who’s responsible, what a different future could look like, and what we can do about it
  2. Learn the history of nonviolent direct action, and
  3. Get into action on our own campaigns to win change.

And that’s what I saw and heard: HIV/AIDS campaigners, advocates for domestic workers, immigrants, and low-income folks (many of whom ARE low-income folks), plus the unaffiliated of all races, ages, and orientations gathered to take the next Occupy Wall Street–inspired step.

Charles Young at Counterpunch, a left publication, calls 99 Percent Spring a “front group” for MoveOn and a Trojan horse for the Democratic Party. He claims that both aim to coopt and neuter the movement, suck all the radicalism of out it.

Young slams the effort based on an event he attended at the Goddard Riverside Community Center on the “Upper Left Side” of Manhattan.

“Inside the hall, it looked like an alumni reunion for the 1966 Fifth Avenue Vietnam Peace Parade. Almost all the 150 or so people were 55–80 years old. The ones I talked to expressed curiosity about Occupy Wall Street and enthusiasm about ‘nonviolent direct action’ but didn’t have the knees or the ears for full participation in OWS activities in the financial district,” he writes. Just a few weeks ago I attended a reading by author Fred Jerome at Goddard Riverside attended by several dozen people. At 47 years old, I was probably the youngest person in the room. Journalist Young might have considered that Goddard serves a heck of a lot of seniors, and they turn out, regardless of the event.

Will genuine direct action for social and economic justice grow out of the 99 Percent Spring? The proof will be on the streets. My bet is, after a year spent following VOCAL with camera and pen—witnessing arrests of its members at OWS demonstrations and its in-your-face protests against drug company execs—at least some of these Spring trainees will deliver.

Members of Adhikaar hold up a sketch of a model community @ 99 Percent Spring Training, April, 14, 2012

Danielle Howle’s Unadorned Heart

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Almost 20 years ago, I was living in DC, working as a staff photographer for US News and World Report and spending entirely too much time at the Clinton White House and on Newt Gingrich’s Capitol Hill. On a whim—and a desperate need to get out of my District of Corruption rut—I veered away from my usual watering holes to hear some live music by Ani DiFranco, a performer I’d heard some buzz about. I knew little about her, only that her style might challenge my taste for world music, noisy stuff (from X and, I must admit, Pantera), and (intelligent) hiphop. I knew absolutely nothing about the opening act, a young lady called Danielle Howle.

A waifish, unglamorous, unaccessorized Howle stepped into the tiny pool of light in the dark space, started strumming her guitar, and sang. Her voice was powerful, soulful, and countrified in an honest, not affected way. Howle’s songs were rich—but not sweet—and even old-fashioned, in spirit, though not in style. Howle could sound hurt in a song, but never victimized; there’s wound-licking, but no supplication or defeat. She was rock, C&W, folk, gospel, and it all sounded organic.

Howle told funny, sometimes self-deprecating stories between songs. The audience laughed. I laughed. But mostly I smiled, throughout the set, and as I walked home—no disrespect to Ani, but I left before she and her band hit their stride—less beered-up than usual and so much happier. Howle was a rarity—musically gifted, humorous and humble, plus ground-truth, open-your-heart-to-strangers real.

She played a few gigs in NYC, at CMJ and in East Village clubs. Howle was dead last on a lineup of young indy singers at the Fez, a performance space under the long-gone Time Café on Lafayette Street. It was a Sunday night. The show was running annoyingly late. I watched the crowd. More than a few people glanced at their watches, polished off their drinks, and started toward the door. Howle took the stage, opened her mouth. Music came out; they stopped in their tracks. I knew this would happen.

I met Howle a few times, even asked her to write some songs for my documentary. That didn’t work out because her music was too good—and by “good” I mean the opposite of evil, bleak, hopeless, which is how Iraq made me feel, how coming home to political posturing and saber-rattling made me feel, how turning on my computer and reading about dead and wounded made me feel. At the time, I believed that such goodness and soulfulness had no place in my film. I didn’t have a whole lot of space in me for it.

We lost touch, but she’s still making music, laughing, and being poetically nuts. She’s nurturing up-and-comers, living and making music sustainably (look here to see what I mean). I just watched a video of Howle singing about the Lake Murray Dam while strolling along a highway and playing her guitar. A couple of speed-walking ladies taking care of some cardio business dip into the roadway to make a wide loop around her. A motorcycle, most likely a Harley, rumbles and farts in the background. And Danielle sings. It’s all of a piece, and she’s the heart of it.

Listen and watch when you have a few moments.

Written by bxpnyc

2011/12/10 at 11:07