Where have all the funds gone? fee hikes, layoffs and wage cuts spark rebellion on campuses throughout CA

The shockwaves of reduced state funding for public education are felt in sickening lurches throughout California, across all levels of public education, from the university and community college system down through high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools. Education has been under attack for over a decade as undergraduate studies are pushed into the background and “research” becomes about student tuition financing development, and student labor being harnessed for a private corporate research agenda. Yet, the solution to the current crisis, according to the powers that be, is to privatize more, and to raise tuition. This not only affects the quality of education, but also the accessibility of it, which more directly affects low-income students and students of color.

Actions across the state express outrage at the overtures towards privatizing what has long been held as a public good, responding to the human impacts of the layoffs and fee hikes, as well as highlighting long-standing reluctance on the part of the UC to give answers or listen to anyone.

“It’s now a toll road”

President Yudof and Chancellor Birgeneau play the blame game with legislators in Sacramento to cover up their inability to manage the University’s budget. Managers who pull in six figure salaries say they have no choice but to cut the pay and hours of University workers who are already living on poverty wages. The administrative class at UC is expanding and growing, up 293% since 1992. In 2008, 21% of student fees went to pay the salaries of management. By comparison, only 8% of these fees went towards instruction. The current budget crisis is not a lack of available resources, but a crisis of priorities.

Many students raise concerns about increasing privatization of a public university, and recognize this trend coursing through the K-12 system as well. They beg poverty in a year where the University received $23 billion in endowments. Where is the money going?

The University of California is run like a multi-billion dollar corporation, with the governor-appointed Board of Regents with extensive connections to the banking, real estate, and media industries serving as chief financial decision-makers. Their goal is to eventually privatize the university system, tying tuition paid by students to loans for capital construction projects that keep the lucrative contracts flowing to their business partners. Transparency and democratic representation are desperately needed if this privatization is to be averted.

Mismanagement and outright theft is the real story behind this so-called budget crisis. Why is the football coach the highest paid employee in the UC system? Who did they think they were fooling when they awarded UC Police Chief Victoria Harrison a $2 million retirement package and then rehired her with a raise? There is no public accountability or transparency because budgetary decisions are made behind closed doors and any public comment is ignored. Public awareness occasionally generates enough shame to change policy or force tactic shift, and because the University is vaingloriously obsessed with their image, now is the time to call them out.

Occupy Everything

“Freedom for everybody! Occupy everything!” Is spelled out on the ground in green Easter eggs outside the occupation of Wheeler Hall at UC Berkeley. Pride softened my throat and moistened my eyes as the most ordinary of days exploded with a vitality no one anticipated and for which everyone yearned. In the days surrounding the student walkouts of November 18, 19, and 20, occupation fever swept campuses across California. 150 students at UC Santa Cruz called for the creation of a sanctuary campus during an occupation of the administration building that lasted three days. At UC Davis 53 arrests were made during the occupation of Mrak Hall. At UC Berkeley, 43 students occupied Wheeler Hall as a crowd well over 2,000 by the end of the day surrounded the perimeter of the building, preventing police in riot gear from taking the protestors to jail. Administration officials later issued an apology for unnecessary police force used against the Wheeler demonstrators. An occupation and picket of the business school at SF State electrified the campus with revolutionary spirit and supporters blocked the streets when occupiers were evicted at gun-point by riot police.

Through this flurry of activity students learned the picket line is an education unto itself, the best way to learn the subtle intricacies of democracy where everyone is entitled to a piece of bread and we help drag each other bruised and bloodied from the barricades. To learn what it means to hold the hand of a stranger and weep with joy, shame, grief for our inheritance, tinged with cautious expectation for our telekinetic ability to electrify the world. There is a growing understanding that only by uniting in struggle with K-12 educators, middle and high-schoolers, parents and workers can provide the continuity and base of support necessary to radically transform the status quo.

This is the start of statewide grassroots movement coordinating actions cohesively to disrupt business as usual in an increasingly corporatized and repressive system. It’s an uphill fight against a system controlled by the nation’s corporate elite but one that has massive appeal to millions of working class Californians struggling with student debt, foreclosures, crumbling schools, wage cuts, unemployment, and higher costs of living. This is an issue with interest not only to students currently enrolled in school, but graduates who wish to see their children educated, and working class would-be students who could never afford private education. The forces of privatization have pushed too far and they may see themselves buried in a wave of popular uprisings as people struggle for the survival of their class, communities, children, and livelihoods.

What began as a reaction to worsening conditions is evolving into a vibrant and vociferous demand for a complete renegotiation of the way the education system is administrated. A growing macro-analysis acknowledges the relationship between massive spending on imperialist wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now potentially Yemen and the lack of money for basic services like education and housing assistance. As President Eisenhower said, “Every gun that is made, every warship that is launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”

What has been a tremulous murmur of dissatisfaction on campuses and at meetings is building up into an explosion of student militancy as students come to realize only decisive, disruptive action will give them the leverage they need to hold the University of California accountable to its original purpose of providing affordable, quality education for all eligible students. The response to this latest round of fee hikes, furloughs, and layoffs has reflected the urgency of their livelihoods at stake. As class consciousness among the student population bubbles to the forefront of their political discourse this group of students, faculty, and workers endeavors to address issues of racial and economic injustice as integral to the dialogue on liberating the education system. Through conferences, listservs, meetings, potlucks, concerts, teach-ins, and speaking tours students are deepening their connections across the state, sharing evolving experiences and perspectives on the most strategic way forward. Many educators are committing themselves to extended general strike actions, breaking from corrupt union leadership if necessary, supported by teach-ins, volunteer kitchens, and sympathy strikes.

The student walkouts of November 18, 19, 20 at Berkeley and around the state gathered national media attention. Some hard lessons were learned about the inherently oppressive force represented by state violence. But students who feared disapproval from their parents
were surprised to hear delighted and proud responses from their parents and family members.

Maricruz is a professional organizer for AFSCME, the largest public employee and health care workers union in the United States. She’s seen many a roaring picket line, and stared down more than one profit-driven asshole at the negotiating table. Her passionate articulation of the need for organized labor to return to its militant roots has mobilized fellow workers to march against increased workloads, imposed furlough days, and layoffs.

“The last strike it was only workers, this time the students are turning out with us and you can see the numbers growing day by day, month by month. The struggle will continue to grow as long as the Regents hold onto their power and legislate pay raises for themselves. Our message is students and workers are united in making enormous changes to the university system, and we’re not going anywhere. We won’t rest till we eradicate poverty from the UC.”

Campus labor unions AFSCME and CUE paid for 1000 students from all over the state to converge on the Regents’ closed-doors vote to raise fees at UCLA. The Regents hold another meeting behind closed doors as we go to press where more layoffs and cuts are likely to come down. The coming showdown promises to be epic no matter what happens.

MARCH 4th is not just a date, it’s an imperative! It is a day when people across the state of California will participate in decentralized direct actions to shut down the public education system with teach-ins, rallies, dance parties, marches, and the creation of liberated space. Our unity of purpose will strengthen the interconnection of our struggles and send an unequivocal message to the robber baron bureaucrats that their days of thievery are numbered.

March 4th student strike

On March 4th, students and workers across the US will join in a coordinated national day of actions and student strikes to demand prioritization of education and human needs over bureaucracy, rich corporations, prisons and war. While the call for a national student strike came at a mass meeting in Berkeley, planning is already underway for actions in New York, Illinois, Ohio, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Massachusetts, Maryland, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado, Connecticut and North Carolina, as well as at schools and communities all over California. You can participate in an action, strike or protest near you on March 4.

The action protests extreme education fee increases, budget cuts, layoffs and privatization schemes in public school and higher education systems across the country at a time when bankers and Wall Street have received hundreds of billions of dollars in aid. The governing board of the University of California increased student fees 32 percent at a meeting November 19.

A powerful labor-student-faculty coalition to defend public education formed across California in the aftermath of a September 24, 5,000-person-strong mass student walkout and university workers’ strike at the University of California, Berkeley organized around the main demands of “No Budget Cuts! No Layoffs! No Fee Hikes!” On October 24, 2009, more than 800 students, unionists and activists from more than 50 cities across the state gathered at UC Berkeley and issued the call for a March 4, 2010, Strike/Day of Action to Save Public Education.

The attacks on public education and all public-sector services are deepening in California as a result of the growing state budget deficit and the recession. Similar scenarios are playing out across the US: tax revenues are down and public service cuts are targeting those least able to afford them. While the March 4 action is being called from California, the underlying issues apply everywhere.

In California, public education workers are being pitted against other public-sector workers with the threat of increased privatization of services, and with more so-called “reforms” aimed at gutting union contracts and destroying essential services. While much attention has been paid to the cuts at the elite University of California level, cuts to California State University system and community colleges have a deeper impact on working class students of color; with 40,000 CSU students to be shut out in Spring 2010 classes and an estimated 250,000 community college students denied access because of funding cuts and dramatic fee increases.

California is not just suffering a budget crisis but also a crisis of priorities. For example, 2009 was the first year the state spent more on the racist criminal justice system than on higher education. In building for March 4th, we are building a popular base to demand that the state tax rich people and corporations to pay for essential services.

A more unique issue for California is the need to reinstate majority rule over state spending priorities. Currently, each year’s budget and any new taxes have to be passed with a 2/3 vote, which gives an extraordinary amount of power to a minority of voters who elect conservative representatives who pledge “no taxes.” Another California obstacle to adequate public funding is a state law called Proposition 13, which severely limits tax revenues by taxing some property (particularly that owned by corporations) at 1978 levels.

There are many ways to get involved in the March 4 actions, from talking to your neighbors or family about the attack on the public sector, to organizing at your school or workplace to join in March 4 actions. For more information visit www.defendeducation.org.

Studying alternatives to state controlled education

Around the world the demand for education is growing exponentially because of the projected need to have a good job within the first world service economy, but the money that is being appropriated by any government supporting education is not matching the need. Dwindling tax money is funding the global war machine and is sucking itself into bureaucracy. In California, state supported institutions of higher education like UC Berkeley, SF State, and Laney Community College are being hit by budget cuts. Students are protesting fee hikes, workers are raising their voices about layoffs, and faculty are uniting against pay cuts; the budget crisis is heavily affecting education. There is a call to action on March 4 across the nation for schools to Walk Out in opposition to cutting school budgets.

However, as this issue of Slingshot is being created, the East Bay Free School is already tirelessly producing an alternative to state and business controlled education. Instead of fighting the system to profit from the system in the form of free education, a group of people can assume control for their own desires and needs for information. Comrades all across the East Bay have signed up to teach classes about their favorite topics including and not limited to: permaculture, Spanish, homebrew, knitting, and astrology/astronomy. Education is a human entitlement that we all ought to have access to, but in attempting to create viable alternatives to capitalism we can create our own paradigm in which to learn useful skills and information.

The East Bay Free School (EBFS) is similar to other free schools around the country in that people sign up to teach classes, then the classes are listed on a calendar, which is widely distributed for people to attend. A lot of organization goes into setting up the infrastructure for the EBFS, like finding free class space and course offerings. Free School classes are all ages and, of course, all free!

I went to a Free School class about Solar PV Installation. The class was being offered every Saturday for four weeks; it allowed for the ‘teacher’ and the ‘students’ to go into as much or as little depth as they wished; together they decided their curriculum. Thus Free School is a definite way one could obtain comprehensive knowledge for free, and in a friendly, autonomous setting.

It does take a lot of effort and cooperation to put together a formal Free School calendar, and sometimes resources are scarce, so the first stages to creating an alternative educational structure might be to spontaneously get together with your friends and simply share your skills. This form of information exchange usually involves practical usage and experimentation. Most of the time institutionalized learning is heavily lacking in practice and does not end up equipping folks with useful skills but rather rhetoric information. The red tape of institutionalized school can stand in the way of someone who wants simply to learn and to pursue passions. Students must often spend extra time and money in a required class having no genuine interest. Through learning about the topics we want to learn about and exchanging information with our friends, we create a new world outside of the capitalist institutional structure for people to exist strongly together without the pressure of needing a degree for a better job because we find our needs fulfilled. In ensuring our own human rights to education we also empower ourselves to do what we love and to be really engaged in our lives as they are lived.

To contact the EBFS: eastbayfs@gmail.com or visit www.eastbayfreeskool.wikia.com. there are also meetings at the Long Haul on Mondays at 7:30 pm.

Infoshop beats FBI court motion – trial set: May, 2011

The Long Haul community space in Berkeley beat a government motion to dismiss its federal lawsuit November 30, 2009 meaning that the government defendants have to answer the lawsuit and a trial is now scheduled for May 16, 2011. Long Haul filed suit a year ago against all law enforcement involved in an August 27, 2008 police raid on the space by a joint terrorism task force composed of University of California police, sheriffs and the FBI. 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 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 organization 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 at 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 police searched and copied hard drives from the seized computers.

The lawsuit, filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU of Northern California, seeks relief against law enforcement using the data from the seized computers for improper purposes. While the legal process has so far moved very slowly, the struggle goes on to push back against big brother police tactics against activist spaces.

End of an Era?

“Horrible news – its like someone dying – i can’t help but feel every minute i spend on this fucking computer is helping to destroy wonderful things such as HAND LAYOUT”

— 1:51 a.m. email from Eggplant

This issue marks the end of an era — it is the first issue that Slingshot has had to be “processed” through a computer before it reached your hands. In early January, Slingshot’s newspaper printer since 1988 told us that they had gotten rid of their camera and that they were only accepting newspaper copy in digital form. Until this issue, we would make a “camera ready” layout by hand, the printer would take a photograph of it on a huge camera, create a huge negative, and use that to burn printing plates that would then print the paper. Without a camera, the printer now burns the plates directly from a computer print out. [Note: the printer for the Organizer still has their camera so that publication is still old school.]

This is basically a symbolic loss; our friend Sandi offered to help us continue doing hand layout by scanning our camera-ready originals and emailing them to the printing press. But like Eggplant says, this is another step in the march of progress which always brings us more technology and allegedly more efficiency, but which never considers whether we want to actually live in the homogenized, soulless world that is emerging. It’s easy to get caught up in the march of progress and excited by each new shiny gadget and forget that you’re an animal — a living thing — with needs and desires far more complex, interesting and meaningful than making everything fast, efficient, easy and cheap.

The process of making Slingshot is different from how most printed publications are made these days — we still do it mostly by hand, using computers as little as we can. We physically cut, manipulate and glue back together pieces of paper to make a collage — text, artwork and headlines — that become each page of the paper. This is how publications were designed before computer layout, and after the demise of setting type on pieces of lead. Our production method means we have a collection of scissors, razor blades, pens, a waxer to glue stuff together, rolls of line tape, and huge piles of art we can cut up.

Some of these hand-layout tools are now endangered — they are no longer being manufactured and you have to become something of an antique collector if you want to continue to use all the tools that used to exist to do layout this way.

So, we’ve decided to officially become antique collectors by asking everyone to send us their un-used hand-layout tools: particularly border tape, clip art books, waxers, zipatone film, rub-on letters or other cool hand-layout stuff we may not even know about yet. We want to build a living archive of these materials — to preserve tools as well as skills as we continue using them for their intended purpose.

How you do something and the tools you use help shape your experience and your thinking while you’re using those particular tools. We think that our use of these old-fashioned publication methods is both a product of our political and counter-cultural thinking, which is skeptical of the de-humanizing effects of the high-techization of our lives, as well as helping us develop these ideas in the first place.

Computers isolate people in front of their personal screen and divide them by rewarding ever-more division of labor and specialization in particular micro-specializations. Some people have special skills while everyone else is disempowered because they lack those skills. This process of stratification promotes individualism and competition and frustrates people building community, cooperation and equality.

When we use ancient tools to make Slingshot, these tools permit a more inclusive, cooperative and equal relationship between members of the collective since everyone has a more equal knowledge regarding the means of production. Everyone can cut stuff up and glue it back together — you learn this in grade school.

As a bonus, we achieve a diversity of style within the paper, rather than the drab standardization you see in a lot of publications these days. Even a lot of radical publications look like they are trying to imitate the slick computerized style of the corporate machine they are presumably opposing — how sad. These days more than ever, we are starved for forms of expression that haven’t been sterilized and computerized — that look like they were made by living human beings rather than machines.

When we make Slingshot, each person in the collective usually does 1-3 pages, so the look of the paper changes from page to page. We do it all together in a chaotic room — sort of like a party with razor blades and scraps of paper. This environment is engaging and cooperative — breaking down the loneliness it is so easy to feel in the standardized world of sitting in front of a computer screen. Unlike computers, other human beings tell jokes, give you a hard time, challenge your ideas, teach you things and help you when you need help.

They’ll give you a hug if you need one. Creating the paper becomes much more than a means to an end — it expresses a model for how we would like to reorganize the whole world.

You always hear how the internet is turning everyone into the media and opening up new opportunities for community, creativity and access — and maybe that is true in some ways — but this isn’t the only side of the story. People are in “community” sitting alone looking at a screen. Their creativity is expressed in narrowly constrained technological forms of media expression.

The mainstream society always seeks the newest technology and the most efficient tools. But you don’t have to use these gadgets just because they exist — newer and more efficient is not always better. It is crucial to ask how each technology, tool or method makes you feel and how it impacts your relationships with others and the earth. When you start asking these questions about every technology, you start realizing how often new technology exists not to benefit the user, society or the earth, but just to enable a corporation to sell stuff.

The whole idea of efficiency is suspect — why do we always want to do everything faster? Maybe the joy of doing something slow and really engaging with it and experiencing the process is the essence of being alive — is the key to leading a meaningful life. Processes that are tough and complex can make you feel way more alive, competent and satisfied than stuff that seems easy because it has been pre-digested, computerized and managed for you by a corporation. And having everything easy can come with invisible environmental and social costs — using lots of oil, chemicals, transnational transportation and cheap labor from the third world.

If you fly an airplane across the USA, you will not know the USA. If you walk, bike and hitch, you will have really traveled. Who wants to make love as fast as possible when you could spend a lazy morning at it?

So in the spirit of slow lovin’, send us your clip art books and bordertape. Or better yet, figure out how to use them yourself and step back from computerizing every last bit of your life.

Eat the 30 year old Souptstock – food for the poor spills into a class insurgency

Food Not Bombs has won, it is more commonly accepted than hated. Despite intense police repression, terrorist watch lists, and the stigma that is common fare towards homeless and the poor — most people who have heard of it think it is okay to feed people for free. It has a simple straightforward model that can be replicated all over the planet — and it has.

Bay Area Food Not Bombs may be a model organization that other places can look to with envy. It’s located in an intelligent and active urban environment that has a largely sympathetic population. It is close to excellent farms and food producers who donate plenty of eats. Long-running and consistent servings further solidify its place on the streets and in our hearts.

Oakland Food Not Bombs now has one more day of hot meals cooked and dished out to folks. This is at 32nd & San Pablo Ave. and has been going strong for 6 months. Despite initial concerns that this would detract from getting help for the Berkeley People’s Park serving that happens at the same time, so far it hasn’t. There is also a food give away on Thursday mornings in Downtown Oakland, which initially had the difficulty of getting the large crowd not to push and shove for the food — behavior that our enemies mislabel as “Anarchy.”

Also coming down the line for the East Bay chapter is a move to make the organization a stand-alone non-profit. For the past 16 years it has been under the umbrella of the Long Haul non-profit, which enables many places to legally donate to it. There is some reluctance from people who shun any paper work dictated by “THE MAN.” Now it is time for the organization to stand on its own feet. This may be a good time too, because funding from a major source has just been hit by the hard times that everyone is talking about. The Berkeley Flea Market has made a cut in the monthly donations it gives that helps to pay for essentials such as bulk grains and beans. This does not rule out the traditional means of grassroots fundraising. There is talk of doing benefit shows and a self-published cookbook that has a focus on making meals for large numbers of people — as well as an angle of food security. But it is a small miracle of daily creating a way out of no way that testifies how money can’t replace people power.

Then there is San Francisco Food Not Bombs. They have as an impressive long run of serving since January 1988 — which is after the whole thing started in 1980 in Boston. The 30th Anniversary celebration will take place in Boston on the weekend of May 23, but celebrations will happen in just about every city the organization operates out of — which is over a thousand cities. Now some people have set out to put together the San Francisco celebration of Soupstock. We must have food to live, and we must celebrate to mark the season change and to break from our work. Help is needed in planning the Anniversary. The thousands of details to be addressed are now being examined. Last year was poorly attended. But if people know it’s coming maybe more excitement will be generated. How much activity can you imagine? Stop by on Thursday nights at Station 40 (16th and Mission St.) to informally talk about it. People gather at 5pm to cook for the night’s serving. For further info you can also call Diamond Dave at 415-240-0286.

San Francisco faced the most brutal repression in the first few years of serving. The thinly veiled war against the poor did not convince the courts or the general public that food could not be given away for free. Nor has the FBI deterred the grassroots by claiming Food Not Bombs as a terrorist organization. We have something to learn from this. Even here in the city where the first Human Rights charter was signed, just as many human necessities are blatantly disregarded. Not that anarchists give a fart over the UN, but issues like shelter and peace have to be wrangled out of the hands of the lying-ass of government and brought back into our hands — as Food Not Bombs shows us with food distribution. Today is very dire with people living without shelter — without homes. 2009 saw over 100 deaths of homeless people in the state of California alone. Unnecessary suffering while a large amount of houses and buildings remain vacant. The most practical solution is to make squatting as common as giving out bread. Other problems facing our communities would be the need to have conflict resolution that isn’t administered by the police. Having a locally controlled alternative to Law Enforcement seems more necessary in view of the fact that the present structure has its roots in vigilantes organized by the ultra-rich. Police have not evolved much from terrorizing runaway slaves, and recently immigrated workers organizing themselves. These problems can be seriously looked at when the 30th Anniversary comes around with the conference and the dozen micro-gatherings that grow around the main event. And of course once we’re together the possibilities of our ideas and dreams can get collective help in actualizing them.

The East Bay Foot

BOOK REPORT: When Cody’s Books closed in 2006, everyone rushed in to point fingers and make self-serving claims. The owners lamented about how no one reads anymore, the media bemoaned “the end of an era,” and politicians blamed the homeless and demanded more cops on the beat. But no one did anything to save Cody’s or find something to fill the space. The building, located at the crossroads of Berkeley culture–and in some ways symbolic of it–stood vacant for years. Enter Ken Sarachan, local mogul of schlock, who already owns half a dozen businesses on the Telegraph. Since he has likened my writing to the National Enquirer, I feel it’s safe to say that that he’s a fat jerk who has made his fortune marketing the worst aspects of hippie and college cultures. His evilness is legendary and oddly lovable, like a wound you can’t help but pick at. According to informed sources, he is a zit. A tenant had finally been found for the Cody’s building: Brainwash, the South of Market laundromat and live music venue–when Ken bought it out from under them. That was the surprise news of 2009, arriving unfortunately two days after last issue’s deadline, thus depriving me of the scoop. Ken’s first move was to evict the adjacent flower stand that had been there 35 years–but what would be next? Word on the street spread: the old Cody’s would soon be Rasputin’s Books, another link in Ken’s ever-expanding chain. Ace Backwards heard the news and knew that his days selling paperbacks on that corner were over. But Ken is as unpredictable as he is evil. “Why leave?” Ken asked him. “You should stay.” Ace took that as a sign and left anyway, heading to southern pastures. He will be missed.

MORE BOOK NEWS: The millionaire man-boy from Connecticut who “rescued” Black Oak Books has found a new way to turn the once-proud business into a joke and a financial loss. Too cheap to pay the North Berkeley rent, he purchased a dilapidated nightclub in the no-man’s land of San Pablo Avenue and relocated the store there, reasoning that “plenty of parking” will lure bibliophiles right in. Veterans of 80s Hardcore fondly remember the building as the former location of seminal punk club Ruthie’s Inn!…On the 86’d list at Book Zoo: Fat Bob, Bird Sound Paul, Drunk Ethiopian Guy, and One-eyed Rodriguez. Try your luck at Black Oak instead.

FOOTNOTES: The recent police crackdown of street kids in the Haight has sent many over to this side of the bay, making for a noticeable change. Telegraph feels surlier and seedier than usual. “Spare change for alcohol? Fuck you then!” That sums up the traditional American attitudes we’ve spent our lives trying to escape–or replace–yet it’s hard to make it from Durant to Dwight without hearing it at least once. Don’t get me wrong: I like loitering, don’t mind drug dealing, and panhandling is a business like any other kind. But it’s bad enough to walk through frat row and get threats and catcalls–now it feels like fucking Fleet Week on Telegraph too. Berkeley should be a haven for everyone, yet we should be wary of predators and thugs who drain our energy and take advantage of the institutions we’ve helped to create and sustain…Latenight bites: The Burrito truck on International Boulevard by the lake is good if not great, and open til 2:30. Further towards Fruitvale are the 24-hour trucks, but those can be prohibitively far for those on foot or bike.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Berkeley’s Wingnut Economy shows signs of recovery after November’s crash following the closing of Semifreddi’s Bakery. Dumpstered bread remains at a high premium, even the universally despised and inedible Ezekial 4:9. The day-old bagel is stable. Peet’s “Free Coffee” cards were somewhat devalued with the CaffĂ© Med issuing its own competing currency, but Peet’s “Any Drink” cards continue to be a hot commodity. Stale Luna Bars are still the Gold Standard, acceptable as currency anywhere in town or for three Clif Bars or six day-old bagels in trade. Persistent rumors of a hidden, hoarded Aileen Street-area Food Not Bombs Luna Bar cache threaten to destabilize the whole market and throw the exchange rate into chaos, but FNB spokespeople have sought to soothe public fears by issuing reports that the Luna Bars in question are all Chocolate Peppermint Stick flavor anyway.

FRESH INK: The enthusiasm I’ve expressed for new local mags in this column seems to be the kiss of death. Both Asscactus and Coupons ceased publication right after my glowing reviews. Perhaps my praise was premature, since both rags had more personality than actual content. Diamonds in the rough, I looked forward to seeing them develop–to watch the mags and their editors grow up. Alas, the world of self-publishing isn’t for everyone. Evicted from their HQ in front of Peet’s, the Asscactus editors chose to pursue music instead. The Coupons crew succumbed to the traveling itch (and I don’t mean scabies, in this case). Luckily, several new mags and their editors have arrived to take their place. I’ll keep my descriptions short, lest I continue the curse and have no one to keep me company at Kinko’s and to commiserate with over deadlines. No Gods No Mattress, though barely a year old, already has seven issues out. Editor Enola manages to be playfully whimsical and painstakingly honest at the same time, tackling difficult subjects as well as the mundane, all with an engaging, disarming grace. Later Daze is more music-oriented, but not impersonal in any way. The editor’s essay on his Polio in the latest issue is as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking. Medatrocity is all about the Med, Berkeley’s oldest and wisest cafe. A hundred people share the same room for years, yet each has their own story to tell, and each has a completely different perspective on the place. Hell Times, the house organ of dystopian community Hellarity Ensues, is the same, but with a hundred people and twenty dogs sharing a much smaller space.

POST-COLONIAL CONFLICT: A man in a khaki uniform and pith helmet boarded the SF-bound BART, and soon an irate voice could be heard. “You think that’s funny, do you? You think it’s a joke? The Boers wore outfits like that when they beat my grandfather! People who looked like you forced my family into the mines!” It was a man from Kenya talking, and he was struggling to hold back his rage. The suburban passengers grumbled, shaking their heads. “One more crazy guy,” they said. “Even on the train, there’s always some homeless person who wants your money or your sympathy–I’m sick of it!” The man in the pith helmet appeared to be from Pleasanton, out for a drunken night on the town. He and his friends laughed at the Kenyan. “It’s Halloween,” one patronizingly explained. “It’s just a costume, man.” Instead of taking the Kenyan seriously, everyone either ignored him or called him crazy, which made him understandably pissed. “That’s the same as wearing a Nazi uniform!” he yelled. “You’re a Nazi! Do you know anything about colonialism? Do you know anything about history?”

THAT WAS TOO MUCH for the liberal passengers. Nazis are pure evil, as everyone knows, to which nothing else compares–not even colonialism, whatever that is. All at once, everyone started yelling. So I joined in. Too often I’d kept my mouth shut in public transit situations when someone was being threatened or sexually harassed. I always worried that by stepping in I would make the situation worse, but afterwards I felt cowardly and wished that I had taken the chance. Now people were yelling at the Kenyan, saying he was an idiot and he didn’t know what a Nazi was. Comparisons are never perfect, but his was close enough. So I stood up and yelled, not very eloquently, that Kenya had concentration camps too, in the 50s, with racist guards dressed exactly the same as the pith helmeted man. Of course, I may as well have been yelling about Bigfoot or Atlantis, so ridiculous was the idea of Kenyan concentration camps to the other BART Passengers. The people sitting near me fidgeted or just got up to move. Great, another crazy guy–who knows what he’l
l do.

THE KENYAN CAME and sat next to me. “I have to ask you a favor,” he said. “Hold my hand.” And so, as the train rumbled through the tunnel underneath the bay, the Kenyan and I held hands tightly as he tried to calm down and everyone else on the train looked on in terror. A woman behind us made an attempt at empathy. “Everyone has a story like that about their family,” she said. “You can’t let it get you down, or take it personally.” Was she Asian-American, perhaps? Or from one of the tiny handful of Italian-American families who also got interned? No, she was as white as me. What family experience did she have that was “like” that? Her sympathy was as bad as the rest of the passengers’ ignorance. In fact, it was the same: a refusal to listen and understand that other people’s experiences shouldn’t be casually dismissed. When the Kenyan and I both got off at Powell, those seated near us breathed a huge sigh. That made me happy. For once, I wasn’t the only crazy guy. I was riled up, but not left feeling isolated and alienated, like I so often do on the commuter train crossing the bay.

Have a tip for the Foot? Tie it to a brick and throw it through the window of B of A. Write it on a grain of sand and leave it on the waterfront. Give it a paint job and some overpriced pies and call it Temescal.

Zine review – Breakfast #1 zine by Nathan Tempey

This zine is written as two stories at once, which could be either slightly confusing or a unique style and way to multi-task. One story is about the past–a childhood in Michigan, written in italics, that describes the segregation of neighborhoods and dealing with race issues growing up in a small town. The other story is more present–about moving to New Orleans as a young, white kid possibly pretending to be poor, mingling with activism, and getting a taste of “not my battle” when the people he’s fighting for seemed apathetic. These two eras intersect as short segments that are mostly sincere, honest, interesting, and a little heart-breaking. Connections between the two defog in certain instances like how experiences of random violence in his youth gave the writer the conviction that no place is more dangerous than another.

Break Fast is written as the experience of the author and not in a way that assumes how other people may have felt and what was “really going on”. It presents feelings of displacement, frustration and real problems that maybe no one will ever be able to offer solutions to, but are important to discuss nonetheless.

This is a personal zine, and it’s written as a personal zine should be–with honesty and a little embarrassment–and very well written. Some technicalities like spelling errors may just make other zinesters feel better about their own work.

Paradigm shift pronto to tender loving science

While scientists at our universities frantically try to crack the secrets of life in the service of financial profit, there is blindness to the crisis at hand. A crisis arguably created by the thoughtless embrace of advancing technology, leaving torn ecosystems, toxins, cancer and other new diseases, pollution, loss of topsoil, extinctions, climate change, and dying fish in its wake. Science, as it is practiced now, is not going to get us out of the fix it has gotten us into.

We need a shift in our understanding of “nature”. It is difficult to conceptualize and articulate what is missing from inside of the paradigm we inherited. It has something to do with relation, wholeness, spirit. We have lost part of the hoop of wisdom and it is hard to know what is still recoverable.

It’s not just that science needs to look at different things; we need a whole new approach to understanding our world. Scientists are the priests of the current religion of the world elite and have so narrowed their means of understanding that they are now missing the whole. It is not only that science is currently under the employ of capitalism; it is that science has discovered how to manipulate parts of nature but is woefully ignorant of the depth of the Weaving of Life. This is the web of life unraveling. To understand it we need to know ourselves as part of this whole and embrace the mystery as integral. The science that believes itself to be objective and rational leaves out poetry, magic and beauty and cannot lead us to the reweaving we need to survive.

Science has generally approached nature by capturing, manipulating, dissecting. Nature will not reveal her beauty and truth this way. How many hawks do you have to trap in your net and shackle before you understand the magnificence of their soar? How can we discover the wonders of nature by observing it in freedom? How must we be free ourselves to do so?

My heart aches to know what is happening to the animals in laboratories. How have we come this far astray? Are experimenters trapped in the same way, deprived of natural light and air? Do rats heal with love? How are they different when they are living free…running through tunnels of a nest of different plant branches collected and placed for decades by their ancestors? Can you hear them? Does their spirit talk to yours? What if you were both free and wild? What would you say to them? How about ants? Slow down and watch them communicate. What are they doing? How are we connected? How are we kin? How shall we live together?

Wake up humans! What matters is the soil that grows the food and the health of the life in the soil. We got lost down the microscope, discovering the world of small and seeing — then manipulating — nature’s building blocks. How miraculous. Nature has patterns but, tunneling to decipher the codes, we are lost; we forget where we are. We need to stand up from the microscope, stretch and reconnect, remember, reunite with the whole of which we are part and breathe. We need to notice the beauty in nature, observe her rather than dissect her, court her with respect and patience.

Science went awry, following the cold logic of Bacon and Descartes that saw nature as separate and inanimate, as something to control. In a different history we might have followed Novalis and Goethe, who approached nature respectfully, enticing her as a lover, to reveal some of her mystery. Can we find a way to re-embrace nature as beloved kin? Can we unhitch from the track of logic that leads to our predictable demise? What would it look like, this wooing, courting of nature to work with her?

It would look like free time to sit in nature, still, listening, watching, smelling, feeling. Listen, listening, lightening the load. Observing, protecting, enhancing wild places, creating space for diverse species to thrive and adapt. It would look like permaculture, living systems; like wild, diverse poly-cultures, and wetlands to revitalize water we have pooped in. Localized diverse agriculture, rooftop gardens, compost, and bio-remediation. It would look like prayer and sacred respect, honoring, participating in the cycles. It would look like simplifying, slowing and deep remembering.

Open yourself to evolve with life on earth. Let birdsong in your heart.

Action: the antidote for despair – stepping out, healing the climate . . . and our lives

The climate change protest in San Francisco on November 30, 2009 — a coordinated global protest prior to the Copenhagen UN Climate conference — was more heartwarming than I had anticipated. It was a little hard dragging myself out of my routine and to the protest, and at first the chanting and signs felt forced and ritualized, but in the end the action succeeded and I left feeling energized. The climate crisis — rising greenhouse gas emissions, etc. — feel so overwhelming and disempowering. When you’re considering going to a protest like this, it seems utterly hopeless to believe that a few hundred people with signs in San Francisco could make any difference at all. Why waste time with the effort?

But there is something mysterious about actually participating in activism vs. just thinking about it. On paper, trying to change really complex, massive structures seems hopeless, but in practice, it feels one hell of a lot better to at least try something than to just give up. We marched down Market Street and to the Bank of America high-rise tower. My friend Kristi asked “why the B of A?” and it was a really good question. They are one corporation amongst thousands, all trying to maximize profits and willing to sacrifice the climate and the earth in the process. Like many others, they have lobbied against strong action on climate and for false solutions (clean coal, biofuels), and they invest in all kinds of disastrous activities. This are hardly unique.

But when we got there, the real reason became obvious. It really helps to personalize the struggle, if only to a huge concrete office tower. We rushed and blockaded the doors and even though it was just another symbolic protest — requiring a paragraph to link to the actual issues, which themselves require several paragraphs to explain — the action made the underlying conflict easy to understand. Confused business men tried to get through the door, and the looks on their faces were priceless. You could see the clash of worldviews. Are money and status, routine and order our real goal in this life? Or do our lives connect to something much deeper, which ultimately relates to the health of the planet that made our lives possible in the first place?

I’ve been to so many of these types of protests before — there is a certain routine and you can easily get jaded. But this time I didn’t feel like that at all. To the contrary, my regular life of going to work etc. has been making me feel bored and stuck. This feeling of the streets — the riot cops, the community struggling together, the closeness of being with other people willing to stand up whether it makes any damn difference or not — it felt strangely real, intense and sharp, as opposed to so much of normal life which feels like an illusion in slow motion.

We very thoroughly although briefly shut down that building and brought joyful chaos to the corporate canyons. Dancing and color and silliness and live music made the grim seriousness and “adultness” of the businessmen and the police look absurd. And it was impressive how few people it took to create such a big disruption — business as usual in a dense, modern, industrialized system is fragile and already right on the edge of collapse into chaos, requiring just a tiny push.

But I have no illusions. A tiny action like this alone can’t change the course of events. To do so will require a much broader popular uprising and a fundamental re-organization of the values and priorities that structure how things work.

What I think we accomplished was perhaps a tiny step in that direction. While maybe the people in power didn’t hear our protest, actually getting out in the streets changed those of us who participated. Maybe that change in mood, outlook and spirit can be infectious, spreading to those we’re connected to, and gradually moving the spirit of the whole community from one of resignation and depression to the kind of courage, inspiration and hopefulness we need to turn things around.

When I think back to my own life, I realize that what “normal” people consider success — getting ahead in terms of status and acquiring a bunch of possessions — is really on a fundamental level failure. It’s a failure to realize what is important and put that realization into action by living for the things that actually matter, which aren’t material things. Meaning is about experiences, relationships and having mental and emotional space to be aware of life going on around you. So many “successful” people forget to stop and notice their lives, and in the process they miss the whole thing.

Since what “normal” people consider success is really failure, then for us to achieve success on a human level may mean that we’re considered failures on a social and economic level. All the stuff you’re supposed to do — achieve status, secure material comfort — you risk giving up if you take pursuing a meaningful life seriously. If you really go for it and put your heart into alternatives to this dying system, it means giving up the types of comfort it has to offer in favor of pleasures that are off the grid.

One thing I noticed about the November 30 protest was how small it was. The organizers picked November 30 because it was the 10th anniversary of the huge protests that shut down the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999. I was in Seattle for the WTO protest and it was one of the hugest, most inspirational uprisings imaginable. “Normal” life was completely displaced by a massive demand for a future beyond more economic growth. But N30 in 2009 didn’t carry on the spirit of Seattle.

Looking around at the few dozen protesters dwarfed by the thousands of workers and shoppers in downtown San Francisco, my friend Sandi and I wondered why the climate crisis didn’t draw a bigger outpouring of concern. In fact, if the global climate significantly changes, disrupting all ecosystems on earth as well as all human societies which ultimately fundamentally depend on natural agricultural production, the climate crisis will make injustice related to globalization and the WTO look like small potatoes.

Something about the enormity of climate change is throwing people into a sense of defeat or denial — the problem is so overwhelming that we’re becoming paralyzed. Perhaps it’s because we’re all tied to climate change — we’re all responsible because there’s no way to exist in our society without constantly consuming fossil fuels. Do people feel that since they’re “unpure,” they can’t demand alternatives to fossil fuels? Are we unsure we’re ready for a fundamental transition which may up-end the privilege to which we’ve grown accustomed as members of rich, developed countries?

Or perhaps we’re numb because climate change is a long-term problem and a gradual process. Psychologically, we’re better able to react to sudden and dramatic disasters like the earthquake in Haiti than to creeping catastrophes. Perhaps the very vastness of the danger itself makes effective action difficult — the human brain can understand a specific problem like a sick cat or a traffic accident, but tends to zone out when it tries to think about millions of species going extinct because of the millions tons of CO2 people add to the atmosphere each day. Our minds haven’t evolved to really understand millions or billions or trillions.

A better understanding of the psychology of climate change is desperately needed. Hopefully some smart radical psychology folks are working on this right now . . .

Just two weeks after the November 30 protest, the UN Climate change talks in Copenhagen ended in failure. But even the most optimistic goals of the UN conference would probably have been a failure. The governments at Copenhagen — all tied to and representing economic and political elites — were pushing gradual, market-based, essentially business friendly solutions.

Given the limited choice between denialism/inac
tion on one hand and gradual, modest, sensible, “adult” reform on the other, we’re still generally at a stage of denial and paralysis.

It is still up to the people on the streets — the people who aren’t sensible, who aren’t tied into the realistic institutions of power, who aren’t burdened by success — to try to figure out a third way. This isn’t necessarily a new technology or a new political coalition or a new tactic or even a new set of values or ways of thinking — it may be so big as to be hard to recognize now when we’re in the middle of it. When people sort it out (or fail to do so) future historians will give it a name.

We have to create these new ideas — this transition — from scratch and put it on the table ourselves from outside the established channels. The structures of power and the status quo maintain their control by marginalizing any sense that people can define our own priorities and our own future. They like to pick the options — multiple choice, not essay.

Direct action in the streets — getting off your computer and out of your living room and outside your comfortable peer group of friends — isn’t just a tactic or a tool to pressure the outside world. Direct action is most important because of what it teaches us and how it changes us. It nourishes us, gives us courage, gives us hope and helps us see that there are options beyond the “objective” and “realistic” ones we can see before we step over the line. Something about actually participating and doing — not just thinking or discussing — is key. It feels almost hopeless to write this because you really have to experience it yourself in your own life to know what I mean.

And of course direct action isn’t the only way to acquire these insights. The direct action scene has its own pitfalls and limitations, and can devolve into its own isolated peer group.

Everyone in this society — from us to the people who work for banks and industries — have a range of choices. We can all be held accountable for looking at the climate and the future and changing, or figuring out how to try to maintain the status quo.

After Copenhagen, it is unclear what the next step will be — not just to regular people, but to the people “in charge” who organized Copenhagen. The sense of inaction, paralysis, and denial are in themselves powerful — they hide building social, ecological and psychological pressure, like a huge spring winding up and getting tighter. The tighter you wind a spring, the more energy it stores up waiting for release.

Trying to turn away or go about our business as if we can’t see what is happening isn’t a long-term solution. We all know that our planet is endangered and sagging under the weight of too much industry, too many emissions, and too many human beings always wanting more more more stuff.

I’m looking forward to the next climate change protest. On a good day, I’m feeling less afraid and less discouraged. I’m hopeful that staying engaged with what’s really important and connected to other people with similar awareness will give us all the inspiration to create something different and sustainable.