Collectively addressing mental health – it's not all in your head

“You are not alone”, is a popular saying that can be found all over the radical scene, in punk band lyrics, the Icarus Project propaganda (Icarus is a radical mental health support web site and group made for and by people with bi-polar) and DIY drawings/patches etc. I believe this slogan reminds one to draw friends and loved ones close as you seek to find people you can relate to. People that you relate to through politics, art, etc. Those who have an anarchist ideology and/or lifestyle, people who understand deep ecology and believe that right now the stakes are high and the progress slow for reshaping the current political trends that are destroying the planet and all its abundant life forms.

I am pleased and excited to find that many young collectives and organizations are putting mental health on the table as an important part of sustainable political work. Its been all too often that projects, campaigns and organizations collapse or become stagnant due to poor communication among members or underdeveloped skills for dealing with personal and group mental strain. If someone you knew was home sick with the flu, you would understand that they need certain things to get better — but what if someone is home depressed or anxious, then what? It is more difficult to determine how much hot tea and sleep to suggest for various mental influxes. The fact is that we just don’t know. There are very few models that are available for people to support each other with out the involvement of a “professional.” However, here are some helpful tips that I can share which I have compiled over the last 6 years that I have been interested in radicals and our relationship to mental health.

So let’s say your friend, housemate, lover, etc. is exhibiting behaviors or feelings that begin to concern you. As an ally of someone dealing with a mental health issue, it’s a great first step to ask them about their medical and mental health history. Ask them if they have noticed a shift in their behavior, get a feel for the situation. What are things you should look out for? Often times people who struggle with mental health issues will know what early warning signs are for them, i.e. lack of sleep, no interest in things they used to like to do, too much sleep, isolation, over or under eating, etc. Find out who their main support people are. Do they have a parent, friend or doctor that they trust? What is helpful/harmful in their healing process? Avoid belittling the problem, making fun of them, telling them everything will be ok or adding pressure.

I suggest finding other people who can help you support your friend so that you do not get drained in the process. I also suggest helping your friend find a therapist or counselor who they can see weekly just to have that extra outlet to talk. I am biased here because I do believe that many talk therapists, life coaches, counselors, peer counselors, or somatherapists will be very helpful for most people looking to broaden their understanding of themselves. When getting involved with someone who is coming from a past which may include trauma, abuse, or mental “illness” it is your responsibility to educate yourself about the issues. It’s important because it will allow you to be a better friend and support person, even if you have not had the same experiences and can’t understand their emotional reactions. It may feel like a huge leap to ask someone to disclose their most vulnerable parts and stories, but doing so may deepen your bond and lead to that person being more directive in receiving the care and support they need and want. It may also allow for you to start building support for yourself in the likely case that you will need it in the future.

If you are the person who is dealing with mental distress may I suggest making a list of all that has worked in the past and what has not worked. Look at your own medical and mental health history. What are your patterns, your family patterns, what triggers you and what calms you down? Set some goals for your self and monitor your feelings. If you use the internet, there are many helpful sites including the Icarus site — a radical site created by bi-polar folks where you can post and dialogue with other “crazy” people about what’s going on for you ( Write about your experience and read about other people’s experiences. Find support behind every door you can, look for a therapist or healer you can relate to. Finding someone who has interest in helping you discover and change the behavior and thought patterns that you’re finding destructive or disabling while be most beneficiary. Many towns have sliding scale centers for counseling services (you can always stop if you don’t like it). You can order, download and submit Radical Zines and other literature at There is nothing more soothing and satisfying for me than to sit down with some good reading that I can relate to.

Healthy group dynamics

What about if you’re in a collective house or working on a collective project and you’re finding aggressive, depressive, explosive, unbalanced behaviors and emotions? This is probably the hardest topic to tackle. Along with addressing everything mentioned above, I would suggest having a check-in at the beginning and ending of every meeting or gathering just to start getting the juices flowing and building trust. I have also participated in and observed feelings/process meetings. These feelings meetings can be a bi-monthly mental health check-in meeting, where each member is not under the stress of getting through a collective task agenda but can just share what is helping or hindering them and the collective in working smoothly. It is here that you can talk about power dynamics, what each member needs to feel comfortable, how to distribute the work load, and a space where you can learn and share more of the complex parts of you. Although it will take up more of your time initially, I do believe that in the long run with the collective working with better understanding your work will get done faster and there will be better group dynamics.

I believe that by building better communication skills and support systems we will be more effective and have greater longevity in not only our personal relationships but our political work as well. The hope being that we will lift each other up through knowing ourselves and taking the time to build thriving personal, community and political structures.

These suggestions are just the tip of the melting iceberg. There are many ways to tackle the overwhelm, shame, disappointment and fear that comes along with emotional, spiritual and physical stress.

One last thing I would like to address is somewhat of a current pet peeve. Attention folks: Being “crazy” is not “cool” or chic.

As radicals have begun addressing mental health issues more, I’ve seen a rise in people who get excited about being insane or nuts or crazy and are ready to use those “dangerous gifts”. Having chronic, long term or acute battles with mental health is nothing to speak lightly of. It is very easy to glamorize the idea that people with mental unrest are “special” and more in tune with the out of balance universe. Really it’s just extra hard to make it through the day and nothing feels good or glamorous about that. So while it is important to debunk the straight jacket stereotypes of crazy people, I think it is more important to seek stability, support and balance for radicals so we can continue to swim within and ride against the currents so that we may play our role in altering the course of history . Building the support that we need in our communities will take time and a grand effort on our parts. We can not expect to scrape the pieces of our bulldozed souls off the ground and hop right on the good time train to mental health and wellbeing. That said, I do believe that only when we have created systems within our own counter-cultures to provide respite and support will one have the capacity to
maintain in their work standing up next to the trees, the oppressed peoples, the brutalized animals and each other as we enter new battles for the earth and a new dawn.

Critical Mass Rocks the Bay: there's a bike party every week

Critical mass bike rides around the San Francisco Bay Area have been expanding dramatically this spring — perhaps serving as a barometer of popular concern over climate change — or maybe just reflecting that people want to have fun at the best party on wheels in the galaxy! There are now critical mass rides almost every Friday of the month for folks in the Bay Area — the first Friday in Oakland (gather at 14th & Broadway), the second Friday in Berkeley (downtown BART), the third Friday in Walnut Creek (at WC BART) and the last Friday in San Francisco (Justin Herman Plaza at Embarcadero BART). All of the rides are gathering by 6 p.m. and leave around 6:15. In months with five Fridays, there used to be Emeryville critical Mass (Macarthur BART), but it just got moved to the last Saturday of the month at 5 pm. One participant suggested that soon, there could be a critical mass ride every day of the month! Hell yeah! See you there?

I’ve been riding on as many critical masses as I can because no matter how I’m feeling when the ride starts, I’m totally exuberant and inspired by the end. The rides are such a perfect response to so many of the scourges of modernity. We replace the noise, pollution and danger of car-filled streets with joyful, zero-emissions bikes. Critical mass rides are leader-less, spontaneous, un-organized, free and participatory in sharp contrast to the daily reality of hierarchy, managed lives, alienation and the commodification of everything.

The April Oakland mass was the biggest ride yet in Oakland. There were two sound systems, circus bikes, a few police cars, and a mixed age and race group of riders — everyone from cyclists with spandex and fancy bikes to crusty punks riding 35 year old Schwinns. Someone brought a bike trailer with their 6-year-old kid and two huge pink boxes of vegan doughnuts. At an intersection mid-way through the ride, doughnut guy got off his bike and handed out free doughnuts to everyone. I got a chocolate one — yummy — thanks! On the San Francisco ride, there is a “cookie guy” who hands out free cookies at several points during the ride and on the April Berkeley ride, Wynd had a bike basket full of vegan cookies.

What if more and more people started bringing food and drinks to the rides and handing it out for free? That would help deal with the attrition rate the ride seems to suffer as people get hungry at around 7:30. Visualize a full-scale gift economy on wheels that might develop: free clothes, books and zines, haircuts while riding a tandem, free skool classes and backrubs on trailers carrying massage tables! If you’ve been to the massive San Francisco mass and seen all the unusual bike vehicles and crazy costumes, you’ll know what I mean . . .

Speaking of the San Francisco ride, it is still — as far as I know — the largest and most amazing critical mass bike ride in the universe. I try to take visitors to the ride and they always leave transformed. If you haven’t been for a while, give it a spin — it will cheer you up.

On the March ride, a huge group rode to the Southern reaches of the city towards Daly City to a neighborhood I had never visited before. Then we rode fast along Allegheny to get back to downtown. The road was very smoothly paved and gently curvy like a roller coaster — 3 lanes wide and designed for fast car travel so there were no stop signs or lights. It was amazing to be in a group of hundreds of bikes flying along this road together! I clocked our top speed at 28 miles an hour — that is fast for a bike!

I left at 8:30 before an incident at 9 p.m. when there were only 30 cyclists left (out of maybe 1,000 at the start of the ride) in which an impatient mini-van driver drove at high speed through the crowd and hit and threw a cyclist, running over and crushing the bike, and then fled. Riders gave chase, surrounding the vehicle at a red light and then, unfortunately, a cyclist broke the back window of the mini-van. Unknown to the cyclists, there were 5 kids in the mini-van. This incident received incredible hype in the media which made it sound like rabid bicyclists were attacking innocent citizens and trying to hurt their children for no reason.

It sucks that the window got broken — someone over-reacted in anger and fear after they saw a fellow cyclists intentionally hit by an irate car driver. Video of the incident shows that the windows were tinted so there was no way to see the kids. The incident was used to smear critical mass when bicyclists know that in most road incidents between cars and bikes, it is the bicyclists who are at risk. The reason people love critical mass is that for a few hours, we can ride in relative safety because of our numbers. When we ride to work or to the store, we’re isolated and vulnerable. Some car drivers are very disrespectful of our choice to bike and of our lives — cutting us off, bumping us, pushing us off the side of the road, yelling insults or throwing stuff.

Critical mass has learned to react calmly to most incidents of car/bike conflict — emphasizing dialogue, de-escalation and mutual respect — and videotaping when incidents occur. The ride works best that way — our goal in riding on the mass is to ride our bikes, not get into shouting matches with drivers. It is usually best to avoid a fight, smile, wave and keep riding.

I also rode on the March Emeryville critical mass ride. It was small and needs more support! Emeryville is a fake city — an almost perfect representation of un-restrained capitalist development in which commerce and cars have swallowed human needs. Even with our small numbers, it was intoxicating to ride through the fake shopping mall “main street” lined with chain stores yelling “stop buying — you don’t need that stuff!” People in the stores looked at us like we were space aliens — not only were we not shopping, we weren’t even in cars! The city is a maze of freeway-like roads and massive parking lots with knots of irate, impatient drivers — totally unfriendly to bikes. How can Emeryville exist a mile from Berkeley and escape frequent protests and disruptions? I don’t know, but at the moment, Emeryville critical mass is our best chance to shake up Emeryville. The next three Emeryville rides are May 26, June 30 and July 28 — write these dates in your calendar and see you there if you live in the Bay Area!

Strange Bedfellows: pro-sex activists, pharmaceutical companies, conservative christians and HPV

The issue of the HPV vaccine is complex, there are different ‘authorities’ asserting different facts and people on both sides of the debate that we, as radicals, vehemently mistrust and disagree with. As a collective, we are deeply divided on this issue. Some of us come down on the side of doubting the merit and utility of the vaccine and discouraging its use, while others ultimately believe that the benefits of access to the vaccine outweigh the potential dangers of its use and our misgivings about Merck. Because of this we are running two articles on the issue. Conflict and differences of opinion can be difficult to work through, but its better than conforming to a party line. As always, If you take issue with anything we publish, let us know about it. Write: Slingshot Collective, 3124 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley, CA 94705.

Article #1:

By PiratePrentice

Sometimes, people can respond appropriately to situations for completely the wrong reasons. One of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world is facing the loss of between $8 and 25 billion dollars in over 96,000 separate lawsuits. It is attempting to recover its losses by lobbying state governments for the mandatory vaccination of pre-pubescent girls with a new vaccine. By the company’s own admission, this vaccine is only partially effective and the cancer it is designed to prevent is easily curable if detected early. It is obscenely expensive, has been inadequately tested, and numerous cases of severe side-effects have already been reported. This company is forced to abandon its lobbying efforts, not for any of the obvious reasons listed above, but in response to a formal coalition of the righteous Christian fanatics who believe it is against God’s will to force children not to get cancer without their parents’ approval as well as a loose association of individual Christian fanatics who believe that the vaccinations will cause young girls to have sex…

This scenario isn’t imaginary. Merck Pharmaceutical (whose painkiller Vioxx was discovered to have caused heart attacks and strokes after long-term usage) recently was forced to abandon lobbying for the mandatory injection of their new HPV vaccine, Gardasil, for all 12 year old girls. Merck’s mandatory vaccination scheme was opposed by numerous Christian conservative groups such as Focus on The Family and The Family Research Council because (according to the FRC’s official website), “it would infringe upon parental rights to decide their own children’s medical care, without sufficient public health justification… our opposition to mandatory vaccination is rooted in a concern about parents’ rights, not about sexual behavior.”

This is a direct contradiction of the views expressed earlier by the FRC and other Christian ‘abstinence-only’ sexual health groups when Gardasil was being tested/developed in 2005. Then Bridget Maher of the FRC stated that “giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex.” (This opinion which is widely held among the ‘abstinence-only’ circles regarding everything from free condoms to needle distribution, is called ‘disinhibition’.) But after over 100 lawmaker wrote letters to the Center for Disease Control (doubtlessly urged on by Merck lobbyists) requesting that the CDC avoid playing politics with scientific judgments, and assurances (+$$$?) by their local Merck representatives that “no evidence of sexual disinhibition had been found during trials of the vaccine”, the FRC and other Conservative Christian groups reversed their position and decided that vaccinating pre-pubescent girls against HPV would not necessarily lead to rampant promiscuity. However, they were able to see far enough past the Merck hype (and $$$?) to realize the very direct dangers and doubtful benefits that the HPV vaccine offers. For this we all owe a very tiny debt of gratitude to all these conservative Christian groups despite their wacko beliefs. Because Merck’s HPV vaccine Gardasil might turn out to be some truly evil shit and mandatory injections could result in a disaster.

Calling Gardasil a potential disaster is no exaggeration. This vaccine was rushed into the market by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) using their ‘fast track” process without adequate testing. For instance Merck has published clinical test results for only one other vaccine (hepatitis B) in combination with Gardasil. Many vaccines react adversely with each other and as you probably painfully recall from childhood visits to your doctor or public health nurse, multiple vaccinations are the rule and not the exception.

What’s worse is that Gardasil may actually re-activate the latent HPV virus in patients already exposed to one of the HPV strains which the vaccine was designed to act against. Clinical trial results for Gardasil showed that , “…trial subjects who had already had exposure to the four strains showed higher rates of cervical neoplasia (abnormal cancer cell precursors), raising questions as to whether the vaccine impairs immune response under such circumstances, …”.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has already reported over 540 complaints of adverse reactions from Gardasil. Between the introduction of Gardasil on June 8, 2006 and mid-February 2007 the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) reports that over 385 distinct case reports concerning the adverse effects of a Gardasil injection were reported to the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). Five of these VAERS incidents were described as life threatening and 6 as disabling. Two hundred ten (or 61%), had not yet fully recovered. Hospitalization was reported in 12 cases and two-thirds sought additional care in an emergency room or doctor’s office. Adverse reactions included: pain of various types, fainting (55), dizziness (41), Partial loss of sensitivity to sensory stimuli (32), rash (33), itching (31), dilation of blood vessels(19), headache (19), and vomiting (16). There were also several reported cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a serious disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system, potentially resulting in temporary paralysis or even death.

Gardasil was designed to prevent HPV which causes many genital warts and can cause cervical cancer. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STD) with more than 50% of the sexually active population becoming infected sometime in their lives. There are over 100 strains of HPV with between 30 and 40 strains that are sexually transmitted and 15 associated with cervical cancer. Genital warts can be very painful, particularly in women, but most of the time the warts are benign, with any ‘cure’ being more painful than the disease. As noted in the previous sentence, 15 strains of HPV can lead to pre-invasive lesions, which can lead to cervical cancer. Fortunately, these pre-invasive lesions develop slowly, so virtually 100% of all cervical cancers can be prevented with regular Pap smear screening and prompt treatment. Virtually all of the recent cases of cervical cancer, reported in the U.S., have been among women who have not had regular pap-smears.

Gardasil can’t even accomplish the task for which its manufacturers designed it. According to the Food and Drug Administration, Gardasil is effective against only 4 strains of HPV. Currently, these strains are responsible for 70% of the HPV infections which lead to cervical cancer and 90% of the infections which cause genital warts. 70% and 90% sound like pretty good numbers, but remember that over 100 strains of HPV exist and that any one of these relatively benign strains could rapidly evolve to replace one of its more harmful cousins.

Why was Merck pushing so hard to have a vaccine that is only partially effective and potentially dangerous mandated for young women in the United States? Well, Merck would have no legal liability for the vaccine’s side effects if it were mandatory.
Also, the cost of the vaccinations (it’ll take three of them) is estimated to be $360 per patient. Multiply that by the number of girls entering middle-school each year and you’ll have an answer to that question.

It is a shame that Merck was so greedy to get the fast buck (but expecting a large pharmaceutical company not to be greedy is like expecting to find fur on a fish). A safe, effective HPV vaccine would have eliminated the need for painful procedures to remove pre-cancerous and cancerous lesions in American and European women. More importantly, it is a vaccine that would have saved the lives of about 200,000 women per year in the developing world where women do not have access to regular cervical examinations and pap smears and cervical cancer remains their leading cause of death from cancer. Unfortunately, Gardasil is not that vaccine.

Article #2

By PB Floyd

The first time I became personally aware of HPV (human papilloma virus) was when I started dating Jenn and she told me she had been treated for it. She had caught it ten years before from a boyfriend and had to endure painful, embarrassing and invasive treatments. She hadn’t had a re-occurrence since then, but the virus was likely present in her. Since condoms don’t protect you from HPV (it is found in genital skin areas other than the penis and vagina that a condom doesn’t cover) it meant that if I slept with her, I would be exposed, even though we were going to use condoms. At the time, in the heat of passion (don’t these conversations always take place in such heat?) I didn’t think clearly and I didn’t have enough facts about what this meant. Over the next few months when I looked into the details, it started to hit me that now that I had been exposed, I would always have to tell any future partner about the risks if we shared a bed. It was really emotionally awful to come to grips with this — I felt dirty and my future sex life felt ruined. Even though I never developed symptoms, I became extremely aware of HPV.

It was around that time that I learned that scientists were working on a vaccine that would prevent people from becoming infected with some strains of HPV. There are 100 kinds of HPV — about 40 that are sexually transmitted. Some varieties can lead to cervical or rectal cancer. Other varieties only cause painful, embarrassing genital warts. About 5.5 million new genital HPV cases occur each year according to the American Social Health Association — about 1/3 of all new STD infections. The personal trauma associated with each and every one of the these cases — the doctor’s visits, difficult talks with partners, feelings of loss and dirtiness, and physical pain associated with treatment — is very considerable. If you’re a guy, you don’t get pap smears so you don’t really know what you may have unless you see a wart, but you can infect your loved ones through your ignorance. Many varieties of HPV that cause problems for women have no symptoms whatsoever in men.

I felt excited at the possibility that the vaccine would soon be released. I knew I didn’t have all 40 strains of HPV, so I figured if I got the vaccine, I might be protected against some strains I hadn’t been exposed to. Also, I figured future partners who got the vaccine wouldn’t be infected by me. Whew — maybe my future sex life wasn’t ruined . . .

The vaccine (Gardasil) released last year doesn’t quite live up to my hopes and expectations, but it still offers some protection. According to tests with 11,000 women, it was virtually 100% effective in preventing infection by four of the 40 strains of HPV (types 6, 11, 16, and 18), including 2 strains that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers, and 2 strains that cause 90 percent of genital warts. The clinical trial found “no serious side effects” according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Controversy about the vaccine began almost immediately from Christian conservative groups. The vaccine will only work if you take it before you are infected with HPV and thus it is most effective when taken before a person is sexually active. Therefore, it is recommended that girls between 9 and 26 years old get the vaccine. Some fundamentalist Christians couldn’t handle the idea of giving a vaccine to young girls designed to protect women from a sexually transmitted infection.

These Christians believe that the best way to prevent sexually transmitted infections is for people to remain virgins until they get married, marry a virgin, and then not have sex outside of marriage. Since the vaccine is only really necessary for people who violate those standards — people with multiple, non-virgin partners — the Christians apparently reasoned that a vaccine would “encourage” immoral behavior. This is the same type of reasoning some Christians use when they oppose sex education and access to birth control — that “immoral” sexual behavior is a result of insufficiently harsh penalties for sex, like unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. This kind of fundamentalist Christian thinking is, at its base, anti-sex. Fundamentalist Christians, not content to pursue their private, religious and moral beliefs themselves, seek to impose these beliefs on others. These Christians — not all Christians, by the way — are happy to put their version of morality ahead of women’s health, and general human enjoyment of life and sex.

Perhaps because the federal government — which approves drugs like Gardasil — is under the sway of conservative Christians, the FDA put strange restrictions on the use of the vaccine. Most glaringly, the vaccine is approved for women, but not for men, even though both men and women get infected with HPV and can transmit it to others. My hopes of taking the vaccine myself were dashed! Another odd restriction is that the vaccine is only authorized for women 26 years old and younger — even though many women older than 26 are sexually active and have not yet contracted all of the targeted strains of HPV.

Finally, because the drug was developed by the pharmaceutical industrial complex, the vaccine is extremely expensive: $360 for a course of three shots over six months.

Merck, the company that developed Gardasil, spent millions to promote the expensive vaccine by trying to get states to make vaccination mandatory for school age girls. There is no doubt that Merck’s greed-based, heavy-handed manipulation of the public health process is deplorable. Merck’s efforts caused a backlash from Christians and anti-vaccination activists such as the National Vaccine Information Center.

NVIC, a private advocacy group, has never met a vaccine they didn’t dis-like. It is true, as they contend, that some people will have bad reactions to every vaccine. With Gardasil, the CDC has found primarily very minor, non-dangerous reactions such as “soreness at the injection site” and infrequently dizziness or nausea. There is no credible data showing worse side effects — just fear, speculation, and hype. If there were worse side effects, they would have been identified during the clinical trial with 11,000 women, the results of which were carefully tracked and published for all to see. While Merck’s marketing campaign was clumsy, there is no reason to think that the medical science behind Gardasil will cause a “public health disaster.”

As with any medical procedure, the key in analyzing whether the vaccine does more harm than good is weighing the seriousness and frequency of negative reactions against the seriousness and frequency of the medical problem the vaccine is intended to address.

Each person has to make their own decision, but in my opinion, the minor negative reactions to Gardasil are totally outweighed by the protection the vaccine provides against HPV infection. In 2006, over 9,700 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer and about 3,700 died from it. Even according to the NVIC, no one has died from being inoculated with Gardasil. Many more women
who never develop cancer have abnormal pap smear results after being infected with HPV and these abnormal results take a huge emotional and mental toll on the women who have to undergo treatment and further tests. (See Cara’s article in Slingshot # 86.) Telling women that they should just be treated for cancer or HPV — rather than avoid getting cancer or HPV in the first place — is not justified given the minor and rare reactions associated with getting the vaccine.

I don’t want the vaccine to be mandatory. To the contrary, I just want the vaccine to be made available, cheaply and widely, to everyone who can benefit from it — men and women, young and older. People concerned with medical safety have to be careful not to play right into the hands of conservative Christians who are against treatments for sexually transmitted infections because consequences for “immoral” sex are “God’s Will.”

A room of one's own

When I’ve been homeless, the hardest part has been the lack of privacy. The “privilege of privacy” is something many take for granted, but for those of us who have experienced homelessness firsthand, privacy becomes a mindset, rather than a physical reality. And that fortress of privacy within one’s mind adds to the wide chasm between the housed and the homeless, often making homeless people seem “crazy” to housed folks. And when one has been forced to make mental doors that shut, since physical doors to shut for safety are nonexistent, it is as if there is a change to one’s soul.

Homeless people are burdened with an obligation to hide, while given no privacy. Often homeless folks learn to “hide” mentally, like an ostrich hiding its head in the sand. It is a sanity tactic, even if it appears “nuts” to people with privacy privilege. The ability to shut a door with 4 walls is something many take for granted. Such privacy affords a human a moment to let down his guard, emotionally and physically. Physical privacy allows a person some rest, a moment to rejuvenate. But homeless folks never get that moment to relax, let down their guard, and rejuvenate. Kept on alert at all times, guarding all belongings, and self, in public, is exhausting, both physically and mentally.

To many people who have been homeless and lived on the street, getting away from people is their greatest dream. Already tainted as untouchables or the unwanted, people have collectively left a bad taste in many homeless people’s hearts. And the constant exposure to other people is as eroding as any physical weather elements. Honestly, I found the constant exposure to people to be much more dangerous to my mental and physical health than the exposure to cold, rain, etc., when homeless.

This human need for privacy to regroup, to heal and recover from life’s traumas, to feel safe, emotionally and physically, is something the “housing first” movement understands. A movement to HOUSE the homeless, with no strings attached, is a big step forward, being promoted by organizations such as “Pathways to Housing.”

Pathways says it is inhumane to hold homeless people “hostage” with a laundry list of obligations to get stable BEFORE receiving help with housing. And it is true that many people WITH housing, and large incomes as well, cannot conquer their drug addiction and mental health issues. So to ask low-income folks who are homeless to conquer those demons FIRST, as a prerequisite for housing, truly is cruel and inhumane.

Pathways believes “only housing cures homelessness.” That sounds so simple, but it is quite profound. They are saying that the issues of drug abuse, mental illness and homelessness are separate. They are saying those 3 issues entail separate remedies, and that the remedy for homelessness is actually quite simple compared with the other issues. Curing homelessness merely entails providing stable and secure housing for the homeless. “Pathways” provides permanent housing of the tenant’s choice, and then offers voluntary, not mandatory, programs to help tenants with other issues, such as drug addiction or depression.

“Pathways” understands that when homeless, survival is first and foremost. Self-improvement tales a back seat to survival, when homeless. By giving homeless people some privacy, some alone time, and some safety, and by giving them a “physical” door, so they can open the “mental” doors they shut long ago, “housing first” programs are healing the souls of homeless folks.

Often privacy is the most necessary missing element for the recovery of a homeless person’s hope and faith, and a return of their dignity. Often privacy is the missing prerequisite for peace in the souls of many homeless people. The privacy becomes a symbol of safety, even. We come to know we are safe, because we have privacy.

Although many homeless people appear to be anti-social, due to shutting emotional/mental doors to compensate for no physical doors to shut, I think there is a process to opening back up to people, to trusting again, to re-integration…and ironically, getting alone time, and privacy, can be the first step to overcoming anti-social behaviors.

I was a homeless kid: in institutions, foster care, as a homeless teen. The message I got was I was an unwanted party crasher on this planet. I was taught to hide myself in this society as a child. I have been homeless as an adult in my past, as well. I have reoccurring nightmares involving doors. I will rent an apt., move in, then realize the front door has a 10 inch gap under it, between the floor and its bottom, making it easy to enter under the door, even when locked. Or I move into an apt. and the front door literally falls off when I shut it, as if it has no hinges, etc. My father broke down my locked bedroom door in a drunken rage in my teens. As a child in MacLaren Hall, a torturous holding place for unwanted and severely abused children in Los Angeles, I had no privacy, no doors to lock out the violent guards and children who were acting out what they had seen adults do to them. Doors are a big thing to me….and many others like me.

“What is a room without a door, Which sometimes locks or stands ajar? What is a room without a wall, To keep out sight and sound from all? And dwellers in each room should have, The right to choose their own design And color schemes to suit their own, Though differing from mine.” – Pete Seeger

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Getting your power from the sun – sustainability calls for simplicity, not more technology – a personal account of do-it-yourself solar power and its discontents

By PB Floyd

I’ve been fascinated by solar energy as a futuristic technology since I was 7 years old. Solar energy is locally produced, makes people independent from huge centralized oil and power companies and avoids burning fossil fuels. When I started a group house in 1998, I looked into putting solar power on the house right away because I hated the idea of our house contributing to the pollution and corporate domination that we are trying to stop. Unfortunately, at the time, it wasn’t financially realistic. This spring, I finally had time and money to install a professional quality solar hot water system on the house. But putting in the long-desired solar system didn’t turn out how I expected it to.

Do It Yourself (DIY)

Over the past 10 or 12 years, I’ve become increasingly personally worried on a day-to-day, psychological level about climate change caused by burning fossil fuels. At this point, I talk about it in therapy. As a result, I’ve tried to reduce my personal consumption of fossil fuels in various ways — biking not driving, using a clothes line not the drier, bundling up in the winter instead of using a heater, and keeping lights off when no one is in a room, etc.

Five years ago, I decided that I could use a camping solar shower to heat my shower water during the summer. You’ve seen these things: they’re a plastic bag that is black on one side with a nozzle on one end. You fill them with water, set them in the sun, they get hot, and then you hang them from a tree and take a shower from the nozzle. I started using one at home — heating it on the front porch and hanging it in my bathroom’s shower stall.

I quickly fell in love with it. It got me in touch with the natural rhythm of the sun. When it was cloudy, I wouldn’t shower. I originally intended to use it just during the summer, but I ended up using it all year long for the last 5 or so years. I became fanatical about it, absolutely refusing to take a fossil fueled shower. If it was cloudy for more time than I could tolerate not bathing, I would take a cold shower. After a couple of years, I got tired of the flimsy, expensive camping solar showers so I designed and built a permanent one out of ABS plumbing pipe for about $25. (See the design in Slingshot issue #80.)

My personal solar shower was simple, cheap and cut fossil fuel use, but it had a fatal flaw: I couldn’t convince anyone other than me to use it — or rather it wasn’t practical for other people. The main problem is that five gallons of water — about a 5 minute shower — weighs 45 pounds and is quite bulky. Once the water gets hot in the sun, you have to lift the heavy water over your head to hang it on hooks in the shower stall. My housemates said they weren’t strong enough to lift it and carry it up two flights of stairs. Also, the DIY shower is only hot when the sun shines so you have to time your day around the shower to some extent and you can never shower in the morning, only the afternoon or early evening. (In the winter it will be hot on a sunny day at 3 p.m. – in the summer it can be hot anytime between 1 – 6 p.m., and it can easily get too hot to use if you don’t watch it.) These restrictive hours are okay for me now since I work at home, but before this gig I worked 9-5 and I had to shower before going to work.

Despite the problems with my DIY solar shower, it did prove that solar power is a fantastic way to heat water for home use. On a psychological level, this started eating away at me. Someone would take a fossil fueled shower on a hot sunny day and I just knew that those CO2 emissions were unnecessary. I learned that in some areas (Israel for example) all domestic hot water was solar heated.

When we started the house, I got a bid for installing solar hot water: $12,000. That was too much money when you consider that our annual bill for natural gas (used for cooking and heating water) is only about $400 a year. So the key to installing solar now, in 2007, would be to do the labor myself to save money.

Basic solar hot water heating

Heating water with solar energy is fairly simple. You install panels on your roof, pass cold water through them, and then store the resulting hot water in an insulated tank so that when you need hot water when the sun isn’t shinning, you’ll have it. In the panels, water pipes are connected to metal fins that are painted black. The black metal absorbs the light and gets very hot and transfers the heat to the tubes of water. The panels have insulation on the bottom and glass on the top to keep the heat in.

The kind of system I just installed is called an open loop system. (If you aren’t interested in technical details, skip down 2 paragraphs.) That means that cold water from the city water supply flows into the storage tank and directly up into the solar panels on the roof. The system has a differential controller which means that when a thermometer in the solar panel detects a temperature that is 16 degrees F higher than the temperature detected by another thermometer in the storage tank, a circulating pump turns on to move water from the storage tank up through the panels. The differential controller and the pump work on grid power, but they only consume about 15 watts of electricity when the pump is running or about half a watt when the controller is on. So for all practical purposes, running the system doesn’t consume fossil fuels.

There is a fossil fueled hot water back up for periods when there is no sun. After water leaves the storage tank, it passes through a standard gas hot water heater that will heat the water unless it is already hot going in. To prevent the solar hot water (which can reach temperatures of 200 degrees) from burning people, there is a mixing valve to mix cold water in whenever the solar hot water exceeds 130 degrees.

While the basic design of the system is simple, actually manufacturing and installing such a system is not such an easy matter. First, even though I did all of the work to install the system myself (and thus for free) the components I had to buy for the system were damn expensive. The 120 gallon storage tank, three 4X8 foot solar panels, circulating pump, differential controller, valves, plus 150 feet of cooper pipe and fittings and insulation cost about $8,000. That $8,000 actually represents . . . burning fossil fuels. Ironically, in my attempt to avoid burning fossil fuels, I had just purchased huge amounts of copper, aluminum, glass, plastic foam insulation — even some high tech microchips to run the differential controller. These are all items I generally try to avoid. The environmental damage associated with mining and smelting copper and aluminum and glass and making foam insulation are striking — what was I doing?!?

And then there was installing it. It took me pretty much every waking moment for 2 weeks. Our roof is at a 45 degree angle so a nice guy who is working on our local tree-sit trained me on using ropes and harnesses so I wouldn’t fall and kill myself. The three 4X8 foot solar panels each weighed 125 pounds and they had to be lifted up 35 feet to the top of our 45 degree angled roof! I lost a number of nights of sleep thinking “how can it be done?” It took 4 of us and a lot of creativity, but we got those panels up there. Once the panels were on the roof, the work had only in a sense started. I had to install pipe from the storage tank up to the panels and back, install the pump, valves, etc. Because I’m not the greatest plumber, after I was all done there were some leaks. I would fill the system to test it, find a leak, have to drain the system, go up on the roof to fix the leak, and repeat. (It finally worked!)

The fallacy of Solar energy

At some point during this extremely difficult and sometimes dangerous process, I was sitting on the top of the roof and I realized that I had made a mistake:

I had spent $8,000, used a lot of environmentally d
amaging resources and a bunch of time and energy to accomplish what I had been doing simply, cheaply, locally and easily with my $25 DIY solar shower for the last 5 years.

I had fallen into a very classic human mental trap. In the US, we grow up with hot water flowing out of the tap — and we don’t have to think about how that happens. We don’t have to see the gas fields or all of the environmental destruction that makes that possible. So we think that hot tap water is in some way “normal” and “natural” and we get stubborn and feel entitled to that convenience. When our society runs up against the reality that the ways we’ve been living are not sustainable — that having all this convenience was never normal but instead was always the exception to how people have lived and evolved over the ages — and that this convenience has been bought by burning fossil fuels, oppressing people and destroying the environment — it is hard to give up the conveniences we’ve grown up with and change.

So to avoid change — to avoid having to admit that the way we’ve been living is out of balance with the earth — human beings think of all kinds of fancy ways to achieve the end result of having things operate “the way we’ve been living” by using a different technology. But this is like a cat chasing its tail. Just because you’re not directly burning fossil fuels everyday to heat your water doesn’t mean you’ve stepped outside of our society’s earth killing machine. High technology has extreme environmental costs. And most “alternative green” technologies currently being promoted are high technology. Hybrid cars, ethanol and biodiesel — these are very centralized, high tech solutions designed to permit continuation of an unsustainable, car based existence. Living local and riding a bike or walking is how you reduce your impact — switching one type of high tech for another just trades one problem for another.

In the end, we need to look beyond how a particular technology is powered and instead recognize that global warming is caused not just by the wrong fuel, but by the wrong type of thinking — lifestyles that are too convenient, too speedy, too dependent on technology.

Taking a bath

So now that I’ve put in the solar hot water system, I still think it is a good thing within the context of the very unsustainable society within which we live. There is a cool little read-out that shows how hot the water in the storage tank is, and I feel good when it is 160 degrees — that means the morning showers the next day are covered. But I’m going to keep using my $25 low tech solar shower even though it is a little more work and sometimes I don’t get a shower when it rains. I’m still looking for a better balance between DIY solar and high tech solar. After all, I’m a fanatic.

Fossil fuels cause ocean acidification – it's not just global warming anymore . . .

Ocean acidification is another catastrophic form of environmental damage that is resulting from the continued burning of fossil fuels — one that is only now being understood by scientists. Since the industrial revolution, people have added two hundred and fifty billion tons of carbon to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. This has changed the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air. The air now contains 380 parts per million CO2, which is 40 percent higher than prior to the industrial revolution. This change in the chemistry of the atmosphere causes the greenhouse effect.

Scientists have recently understood that the increased concentration of CO2 in the air is also changing the pH of the oceans. About half of the total carbon dumped into the air by humans in the last 150 years has been absorbed by the oceans. If not for oceans acting as a “carbon sink” the concentration of CO2 in the air would be as high as 500 parts per million, not the current 380 ppm. Because 70 percent of the earth is covered with water, up to 90 percent of the CO2 humans pour into the atmosphere will eventually be absorbed by the oceans.

When CO2 dissolves into water, it forms carbonic acid (H2CO3). This process has already changed the pH of the water near the surface of the oceans by .1. Seawater is naturally alkaline, with a pH ranging from 7.8 to 8.5. (A pH of 7 is neutral, neither acid nor basic.)

Changing the pH of the oceans risks causing a collapse of life in the oceans, since a wide variety of ocean life is sensitive to the pH of ocean water. Many ocean creatures — from clams to coral reefs — build their shells out of calcium carbonate — CaCO3. The oceans contain massive amounts of calcium carbonate dissolved in the water. When the pH of the ocean goes down, it reduces the supply of CaCO3 dissolved in the water (the saturation rate), and makes it harder for animals to build shells. If the CaCO3 supply in the water gets too low, existing shelled creatures and reefs actually begin to dissolve. Scientists forecast that if carbon continues to be released by humans at the current rates, CO2 in the air could reach 650 parts per million by 2075, which would reduce the supply of CaCO3 in the ocean so much that all shelled creatures would dissolve. Since the ocean food chain is largely dependent on creatures built out of CaCO3, the disappearance of these animals could lead to a collapse of life in the oceans.

There is historical precedence for what humans are currently doing to the climate. About 50 million years ago, for reasons that are not currently understood, huge amounts or carbon was released into the atmosphere. This event is called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). As a result of the extra carbon, temperatures rose dramatically and there were mass extinctions of animals. In the oceans, many shelled animals also went extinct because the pH of the oceans changed and dissolved shelled creatures. The ocean floor is normally covered with the shells of dead, shelled animals. At the time of PETM, however, no shells are found — core samples during this time are a band of clay between thick layers of CaCO3. Scientists believe the PETM took place over one thousand to ten thousand years — by contrast, carbon is now being released by humans as much as thirty times faster than during PETM.

The key to avoiding this future is a zero emissions future. Any carbon humans release into the air by burning fossil fuels goes somewhere. There is now wide understanding that CO2 in the air causes problems with the climate. But most of the carbon will eventually end up in the ocean — keep your mind on the coral reefs next time you turn on your space heater or put your clothes in the dryer. . .

Blockade I-69 – now is not the time to build a new freeway – Southern Indiana mobilizes vs. NAFTA highway

With construction beginning in 2008, and evictions beginning this summer, folks in southern Indiana are stepping up resistance to Interstate 69. Long time residents, farmers, small landowners, and eco-activists all show up at the Indiana Dept. of Transportation’s public meetings to barrage them with complaints and insults. Office demos have continued, in Indiana and further along the route. A month long roadshow recently returned after speaking in cities on the route from Indiana to Texas about I-69 and road resistance. A lawsuit is in the courts over the contested Patoka National Wildlife refuge, where I-69 is planned to cut through. And this summer’s national Earth First! Round River Rendezvous will be in southern Indiana, with much of the trainings and discussions focused around resisting road construction.

Introduction to I-69

I-69 is a massive superhighway planned to facilitate increased trade between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. It is currently built from Ontario to Indianapolis, via the Port Huron border crossing in Michigan. National planners hope to see the highway extended through southwest Indiana, then into Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, where it will connect with the highways of the Plan Puebla Panama (PPP) in Mexico.

Given that the existing I-69 crossing in Michigan handles about half of all NAFTA traffic between Canada and the U.S. and that the proposed crossing in Texas will handle over half of all Mexico-U.S. NAFTA traffic, its obvious that I-69 is an extremely important artery for globalized trade and for capital. This artery will be constructed at an enormous cost to the land community across the center of the U.S. The Trans Texas Corridor (the road-building project in Texas which encompasses I-69) will gobble up hundreds of thousands of acres. I-69 will destroy and disturb much of the remaining wilderness in southwestern Indiana and evict 400 rural families, not to mention the devastation caused in the other five states it will go through. Furthermore, I-69 is projected to handle more than nearly 12,000 new trucks every day through Indiana alone, meaning a vast increase in air pollution and the emission of greenhouse gases in our state.

The Fight Continues

The kind of destruction that I-69 promises to wreak means that is has been strongly opposed ever since it was first seriously put forward, at the same time NAFTA was being passed. Most of the states that it will affect are waiting to see if Indiana and Texas will even be able to start construction because of the many barriers that have been set up to construction, including ongoing community mobilizations, lawsuits, and a history of militant resistance.

In fact, a combination of these tactics won a major victory in Indiana on March 24, when Indiana’s governor, Mitch Daniels, announced a cancellation of two major roads connected to I-69. Just a few months prior, he had announced the construction of these two new toll roads, one of which would connect directly with I-69, and which would be sold off in the immediate future to a multinational corporation in order to fund the rest of I-69’s construction. However, in his press conference at the end of March, he was forced to admit that it was the overwhelming public opposition and growing resistance that forced him to withdraw these proposals. Now, although the state remains committed beginning I-69’s construction in 2008, it faces a growing financial crisis that might lead them to re-conceive I-69 itself as a private toll road, a move that would lead to even more resistance and anger across Indiana.

Expanding resistance

RBEF! is only one specific group within the wider anti-I-69 resistance community. A number of other organizations are continuing old initiatives or starting new ones as construction approaches. These range from the continued campaign of home and office demonstrations against those involved in planning to the filing of a new comprehensive lawsuit challenging the way that the environmental studies were rigged by INDOT.

Local Earth First!ers are contributing to the growing momentum in a number of ways. Besides continuing to be an antagonistic presence at INDOT-sponsored public meetings, RBEF! members are working with other local organizers to start a Listening Project, a concept borrowed from anti-Mountain Top Removal struggles. Earth First!ers are also organizing bike rides and camp-outs along the proposed route so that as many people as possible can get to know the bioregion that is being put at risk. Other recent projects have included restarting Bloomington’s Critical Mass bike ride to help highlight the connections between road-building, car-culture, and global warming; a new newsletter called the “Roadblock Report” to help co-ordinate different elements of the struggle and improve communication between the threatened communities; and speaking/performance tours across Indiana and the national I-69 route to help build resistance to the road.

There has also been an increase of activity against I-69 beyond Indiana. Farmers in Texas continue to organize, with some of them forming a Direct Action Network. Meanwhile, office demonstrations have spread up and down the route, with actions in Lexington against Wilbur Smith Associates, a global infrastructure planner that has also been involved in the PPP, and in Austin against Cintra, a Spanish multinational involved in dozens of highway construction and privatization schemes. We have also heard that an ongoing No I-69 graffiti campaign in Little Rock, AR has received attention from both the police and mainstream media.

We will never let them build this road

Over and over again media pundits in Indiana have claimed that I-69 cannot be stopped – and that as it gets closer to final approval it will become futile to fight against it. In their world view, ordinary people can only have a voice in the process by calmly submitting a comment to the bureaucrats at INDOT during the approved public comment period. Our struggle has proven them wrong again and again. Indiana’s governor was just forced to admit that popular resistance killed his plan to build separate toll roads to fund I-69. Momentum against the superhighway is growing at just the time INDOT officials were hoping people would learn to accept the “inevitable.” But how could it be any other way? We all know just how much is at stake: the future of our bioregion, the integrity of our communities, and the success or failure of one of their most important free trade infrastructure schemes. We will never let them build this road.

Roadblock Earth First! can be reached at Contact us if you are interested in getting involved in the fight against I-69.

I-69 News is a new resource set up by an autonomous collective. Visit them at or submit content at

For info about the 2007 summer Earth First Round River Rendezvous, to be held in southern Indiana check or email

No tree is illegal! – Midnight insurgent arborists seek to reclaim wasted urban land – direct action vs. carbon offsets

In Slingshot #93, I wrote about how my housemates and I harvested, processed and distributed hundreds of pounds of fossil fuel-free urban backyard fruit last summer. At the end of the article, I proposed that cities with nice growing conditions (like where I live in Berkeley) could grow a lot of our own fruit locally — eliminating the need to truck in fruit in fossil fueled trucks — if fruit trees could be planted on un-used urban spaces, such as the little strip between the street and the sidewalk known as the “parking strip.”

With this idea in mind, we agreed at a housemeeting this winter to plant 2 trees in the parking strip in front of our house — a plum tree and a persimmon tree. We don’t own this land — it is owned by the city. And we knew that there was a law against planting anything on this land — especially against planting a fruit tree. The city prohibits fruit trees because they are worried that people won’t pick the fruit and it will cause a mess.

When we moved into the house, this piece of the earth, about 45 feet long by about 5 feet wide, was covered by weeds, dead grass, and garbage. In other words, it was a mess — but apparently not as bad a mess as fruit trees would be. Since then, I’ve planted drought tolerant flowers on it each spring and it has been dead flower stalks the rest of the year. We try to clean up some of the garbage.

Planting the trees was the type of fantastic, hopeful act that planting a tree always is. When you plant a tree, you’re thinking far into the future, trusting and hoping that the future will hold a place for you, your friends and community, and the tree. You imagine the delicious fruit you may someday enjoy. It is a leap of faith.

I gently set the tree into the earth, watered it in, and began waiting the 2-5 years it would take to mature enough to produce a lot of food. It was an act of civil disobedience and a calculated risk that the city wouldn’t bust us for “nurturing an illegal fruit tree.” Since we’re anxious to pick the fruit, we weren’t worried that the tree would make a mess. In walking around town, I’ve noticed several dozen other “illegal” fruit trees on parking strips in the neighborhood — lemons, pears, oranges, apples, figs, olives, plums — so I thought that we would probably get away with it.

The Bust

Nope. Within just a couple of weeks, a truck from the city was out in front of our house and the city forester was knocking on the door. “These are fruiting trees. You have to remove them.” But she didn’t actually cut them down herself . . . we were supposed to do it.

Before the bust, every day on my way out of the house, I watched the bare trees looking for signs that it was spring — waiting for them to leaf out and begin to grow. And when the leaves came out, it was the kind of natural miracle that makes life amazing.

But after the bust, seeing the doomed trees growing everyday was sad.

Mass-produced agriculture and trucking food around is a major consumer of fossil fuels and a major contributor to global warming. As recently as 100 years ago in the USA– and still in many areas around the world — food is grown, picked and used all in the same place informally without money or markets by the people who are going to eat it.

While mainstream political leaders talk about “carbon offsets,” “alternative fuels” and other high-tech, corporate based “solutions” to reduce fossil fuel use, what is really needed is direct action — figuring out how to simply avoid fossil fuel use by living in ways that don’t require it.

So say you want to eat some fruit. The direct action way to do so is to plant a tree, take care of it, pick the fruit, share it with your friends and neighbors, and eat some of it yourself.

The mainstream/capitalist way to meet this need is for a corporation to own a vast tract of land somewhere out in the country and use fossil fueled machines and under-paid farm workers to plant and grow the fruit. In most cases, the fruit is grown with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, but even organically grown fruit generally uses various non-local inputs for fuel as well as hired labor. When the fruit is ready, the best ones are picked, boxed and put on trucks. All the fruit that has defects is usually thrown away. The boxes are driven on a truck to a warehouse where they are bought and sold by some more corporations. Even if you get your food from a farmer’s market, the food reaches you by truck. Finally, you work a job doing what someone else feels is important to get money to buy the fruit. And after work, you go to a market and buy the fruit.

The capitalist/mainstream way of dealing with the fossil fuels consumed in this process is first to have years of reports and meetings to discuss how it would be nice to not use so much fossil fuel. Slingshot first published articles about global warming in 1995 — there was enough evidence then to know it was real. At that point, Al Gore was vice-president with a real opportunity to do something about the problem, but I guess he was waiting for something . . . .

Since 1995, the amount of fossil fuels burned on earth each year has only increased, year after year.

The capitalist/mainstream meetings and reports on controlling climate change suggest solutions like carbon offsets or cap and trade systems which create a global stock market in carbon credits. These are very complex, market based, non-local strategies that often don’t actually prevent fossil fuels from being burned, but rather figure out ways to justify continuing to burn fossil fuels as usual. For instance, carbon offsets mean that the farmer (or liberal driving an SUV) purchases the right to burn fossil fuels from a company that would take the money and spend it — probably not to reduce the burning of fossil fuels — but on projects to reduce other human emissions of greenhouse gases. For instance, to cap garbage dumps with a cover so as to collect methane gas (another potent greenhouse gas) so that it doesn’t escape into the atmosphere. Granted, capping garbage dumps is a great idea — but shouldn’t the garbage dump company pay for that?

Carbon offsets are ideas invented by politicians and businessmen to sound like something is being done about global warming but they generally mean that fossil fuels continue to be burned — business as usual — by people who can afford it. They are a fake solution.

By contrast, growing our own food on the streets where we live is a real solution — every piece of fruit we eat that doesn’t have to travel by truck thus reduces demand for trucks and the burning of fossil fuels to run them. Such solutions empower individuals and local communities rather than corporations and governments. Such solutions emphasize simplicity and working with the earth, rather than hyper-complex, high-tech new structures designed to clean up the mess made by the current hyper-complex, high-tech structures.


As of this writing, our illegal fruit trees are still there. The city told us to take them out, but they didn’t follow up and we won’t do their dirty work. The city may come and take them at any time, but we’re hoping that they’ll forget about them — after all, the dozens of other “illegal” trees in our neighborhood are still there. Now whenever I walk around town, I spot more and more “illegal” trees quietly defying the Law. I also planted an illegal Fuji apple tree in front of a nearby abandoned house as an experiment to see if it would be possible to plant stealth parking strip trees in various forgotten urban spots. The apple tree has so far gone un-noticed. When you think of direct action, you often think of a logging road blockade, a treesit or a masked figure disabling construction equipment in the middle of the night. In corporate America, even growing food outside the market system requires a mask.

DIY Rat Patrol

Domesticated rats make great pets. A day is enough to earn the loyalty and affection of a rat. They bond very quickly with a friendly human. They are trainable and can learn to respond to their name. Rats, unlike most other rodent pets, are gentle and friendly when being held by people they know. However, if someone they do not know startles them, rats will bite out of fear. When new people come over, the rats in my house take an interest. They seem to find our natural habits as entertaining as we find theirs.

Despite this, people have always been scared when wild rats take up residence in human dwellings. Here’s some tips for dealing humanely and respectfully with rat infestations in your home.

The best way to handle a rat infestation is to prevent access to the inside of your building. It is a mistake to try to close up every hole in the outside of your building, since the idea is not to trap the rats in the walls. You want to focus on the inside of the building. Move all your furniture away from the exterior walls and look for holes near the floor. Cover any holes you see, even small holes, with 1/8 inch or 1/4 inch wire mesh. Wood is okay if you have to use it, but remember that rats enjoy chewing on wood. Then, look at your ceilings, especially closets. Close up any access from the roof.

Clean the entire kitchen of any debris especially behind the stove and refrigerator, which are places where rats like to nest. When you look for holes in the kitchen, try not to worry about the interior walls between the rooms of the building. Again, your objective is to avoid trapping the rats in the walls to starve.

Normally rats have a territory where they move around, hugging the walls, looking for holes to enter and search out food sources. Once they go over the same route a couple of times, that path gets saturated with their scent and becomes a “rat run.” Different rats follow these rat runs in their busy search for food and shelter.

Another important step to take is clearing away any vegetation or debris that has accumulated against the outside of the building. If rats have to be out in the open to inspect your building, they are more likely to give up and move on.

People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) suggests the following on their website : “If the rats are in a place that cannot be ‘rodent-proofed,’ such as a car engine, you can prepare a deterrent. Rats and other small animals cannot tolerate the scent or taste of pepper. Make a mixture of salad oil, horseradish, garlic, and plenty of cayenne pepper. Let this mixture sit for four days, strain it into a spray bottle, and spray it under the car’s hood. This is completely safe for engine interiors, and it won’t harm curious animals. Mothballs and peppermint oil-soaked cotton balls are also great rodent repellents and can be tucked into an engine to prevent rodents from chewing on electrical wires.”

There’s one house I’ve been to where wild rats try to come in when the front door is open. I can’t think of any perfect way to stop the rats entering through an open door. However, keeping the floor and the ground outside the door cleaned of rat scent (which just attracts more rats), and then spraying the salad dressing on the door step may deter the little guys. This strategy, if successful, would wear off quickly so repeating frequently would be important.

I’ve seen rats get inadvertently trapped in apartments after the holes are all closed. Then, it is necessary to trap them. I noticed that a garbage can, emptied except for a little water, when pushed up against the kitchen counter would succeed in trapping a rat looking around for leftovers. To make it more irresistible to rats, try putting some peanut butter or oatmeal at the bottom of the can, to make it fragrant.

The trapped rats will be panicked and noisy but it may actually be less harmful to their psyche than the humane traps sold at hardware stores. If this works for you and you catch a rat, you’ll get to see first hand how high a rat can jump from a stationary position. It really is amazing. PETA’s website suggests a 50-gallon drum and building a ramp out of bricks or other stuff from the ground up to the edge of the drum. Never try to handle a caught rat unless you are wearing really thick protective clothing.

When relocating a rat, chose a place where there is no rat control program in place. Here in Berkeley, the Marina would likely be a good place since there is a good number of small animals there. Food is plentiful all year round. If you can’t think of a safe outdoor place to release your new little buddy, drop him/her off at your local humane society or SPCA. Only use these organizations as a last resort, since many probably have no way to relocate the little creatures.

Glue traps can be a hassle for even the most heartless human. An acquaintance of mine once complained of the noise a rat made when caught in a glue trap. She described the animal squeaking and crying loudly for two consecutive nights, disturbing her sleep. I asked her “did your sleep improve after the rat starved?”

Greenscare sentencing: support eco-activists

Nine people charged in federal court in Eugene, Oregon with involvement in a number of Earth Liberation Front-claimed arsons against eco-destroying targets — victims of Operation Backfire and the so-called greenscare — will be sentenced to prison terms in May and June after all accepted plea bargain deals. Daniel McGowan, Jonathan Paul, Joyanna Zacher, and Nathan Block bravely held out for plea deals under which they do not have to cooperate with the government investigation and won’t have to snitch on any fellow activists in exchange for their plea deals. These four agreed to prison terms of up to 8 years.

Despite the fact than none of the defendants in the case were ever charged with the crime of terrorism, federal prosecutors are also seeking terrorism enhancements of up to an additional 20 years in prison against the defendants. No human being was injured in any of the ALF/ELF arsons and labeling these acts as “terrorism” shows the government’s willingness to use fear generated by 9-11 against domestic political radicals. While the government argues that the nine are “terrorists,” the snitch who turned all of them in — Jacob Fergeson — walks free even though he took credit for setting over 15 arsons in a span of 10 years begging the question, “why, If the defendants are indicted and convicted and have to fight the terrorism enhancement, does Jacob get a free ride and a pat on the back?”

The defendants need support to get as lenient sentences as possible. As Slingshot goes to press, the sentencing dates are: May 15: Oral arguments to determine if the Terrorism Enhancement can apply to any of the defendants — the Court could throw it out completely or consider it in each individual hearing later; May 22: Cooperating Defendant/witness (CW) Stanislas Meyerhoff’s sentencing hearing; May 24: CW Kevin Tubbs; May 25: CW Chelsea Gerlach; May 29: CW Darren Thurston; May 31: CW Suzanne Savoie; May 31: CW Kendall Tankersley (1 pm); June 1: Joyanna Zacher and Nathan Block; June 4: Daniel McGowan; June 5: Jonathan Paul. All hearings are in Eugene; Oregon at 9 am except where indicated.

Support Information

Joyanna Zacher, and Nathan Block have remained in jail since their arrest and need support. You can write to them at the address below or contact their support committee:

• Nathan Block #1663667, Lane County Jail, 101 W 5th Ave, Eugene, OR 97401

• Joyanna Zacher #1662550, Lane County Jail, 101 W 5th Ave, Eugene, OR 97401

Daniel and Jonathan are out on bail. Direct support to them at:, Family and Friends of Daniel McGowan, POB 106, NY, NY 10156, friendsofdanielmcg@, Friends of Jonathan Paul, PMB 267, 2305 Ashland Street, Ste. C, Ashland, OR 97520,

For more information about the greenscare, check out, or

Briana Waters on trial

Briana Waters is now facing a September 17 trial in Washington for alleged involvement with an arson attack on the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture in 2001 that was claimed by the Earth Liberation Front. She faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 35 years in prison if convicted. A number of the defendants who agreed to cooperate with the government in the Eugene, Oregon greenscare cases (see related article, this page) are expected to testify against her. Briana — a mom and violin teacher — maintains her innocence and needs powerful support from the environmental community.

Briana needs help raising funds for her September 17, 2007 trial as well as statements of support from those who know her. She is free on bail. Contact for more information. Think about having a benefit for her case and mail checks to: Briana Waters Legal Defense Fund c/o Eric Waters, P.O. Box 1689 Old Chelsea Station, New York, NY 10113.