7- Getting an education in empathy – a student grapples with Berkeley’s streets

By Alexis Murilo Amezcua

As a new entering undergraduate student at UC Berkeley a few months ago, the first piece of advice I received about living in Berkeley was “DO NOT GO BY PEOPLE’S PARK!” The park situated between the Unit 1 and Unit 2 dorms has become a place of gathering and housing for the homeless population of Berkeley, but to the already anxious undergrads, it has become memorialized as a scary and dangerous place, one that should be avoided at all costs.

Prior to entering UCB, my personal relationship with homelessness was slight. In the small East Bay city of Oakley, where I grew up, homelessness was few and far between. It wasn’t like Oakley itself did not have socioeconomic differences, there were certainly unhoused folks who one would witness, but their frequency was scarce. Likewise, the agricultural roots and conservatism that centered itself in Oakley killed any political action towards homelessness before it even began. Homelessness was an idea rarely discussed, and for a new student entering the Berkeley area, it would leave many questions unasked and unanswered.

So as my first semester began, I had to quickly think of a way to incorporate myself into an exciting street culture that included many of the “crazies” and “weirdos” people would talk about. Morally, I knew that I couldn’t do what many others did, keep your head down, pull out a phone, ignore. Should I strike up a conversation? How can I be helpful without showing pity or being condescending? Can I even do that? Should I just keep my head down, maybe that’s easier???

Regardless if I even had a remote answer to any of my questions, the general sentiments created about homelessness by the university community I was entering did not make it any easier. I began to educate myself about the history of homelessness in Berkeley and People’s Park. I discovered that the University itself has continued to play an active role in the displacement of the unhoused population and has become a key aggressor towards People’s Park basically since its foundation.

I’d had my first “aha” moment. This made so much sense. A reason as to why the sentiments regarding homelessness at the University had not changed, or rather the reason why’d they confine themselves to be so negative, was because the University did not care to have them change. The institution thought and portrayed itself as highly liberal and progressive. It was a quality I’d hear constantly on first-week tours and read on pamphlets, but in reality, it was an excuse to overextend jurisdiction on the surrounding city and its issues.

So, what now? I understood that I couldn’t trust the opinions of the University and I, well I was too new to the issue to have any substantive input. I was unsure how to continue. But I guess I could continue by doing what I knew best, calling out bullshit. Wrap my head around that any sort of City/University-sponsored initiative was probably going to be, what many call a “bandaid” on the wound. Systemic change is needed to solve homelessness, anything else acts as a time holder for the problem.

Yet, there still existed an abhorrent rhetoric around homelessness and community spaces like People’s Park. On a person to person basis, how does one extend empathy and give sympathy? This wasn’t, isn’t, a question solely about homelessness now, but rather of solidarity and acknowledgment of a struggle. How does this translate into the everyday? Creating eye contact, giving money? How do I absolve the rhetoric I had created? And how do I extend this practice to my family, friends, peers?

The more I informed myself about the issue, the more questions I began to get answered. I realized that this wasn’t just an individualized issue and so there were groups of activists from all backgrounds in Berkeley concerning themselves with actively responding to the issues I had seen too. Showing my support to these groups, while educating myself, seemed like the best starting point for me.

By the time I wrote this, I had finished my first semester at UCB. Unsurprisingly, I’ve learned the University hopes to build new student housing on People’s Park Property, announced August 2019. It’s possible that announcements like these may never change, and the majority sentiment of UCB towards homelessness may not change either, but for a student who has come from little experience of such an issue, I can ensure that I will be ready to respond with direct action and stand in solidarity with those who are leading the fight, as well as support others in my community to actively do the same as well.

7- Getting to the root of toxic masculinity

By Tia Mo

When my son was born, he was just a human. He was helpless and warm and adorable, and immediately the world began treating him like a boy. Masculinity in western cultures centers on stoicism; it is essentially a libertarian reality. Domination is possible; exchange is possible; but vulnerability is dangerous and punished from a very early age. Even the sweetest men I know, from the kindest families, got less care and emotional training than the woman-socialized folks I’ve talked with.

There is a wonderful discussion of this in “Raising Cain” by Michael Thompson on the ways our culture isolates and armors boys. Getting through the gauntlet of adolescence requires callus that few men ever shed completely, or ever.

None of this detracts from the fact that people who are masculine socialized cause harm due to their callous conditioning, or that their intentions have nothing to do with the pain caused from social domination and violence. What I’m focusing on here is not culpability, but origin. Where does this all come from?

Men I love have been taking years in their 20s, 30s and 40s to identity and undo the harmful stories that are tangled up in masculinity. They want to keep the playfulness, persistence, and power but leave aside the manipulation, coercion, and entitlement that were served up together in their gendered training.

So if, as Thompson suggests, boys are generally emotionally abandoned around kindergarten age, and they start living in their minds instead of their hearts, is it so surprising that by the time they are men they are so full of pain that they cannot handle anyone else’s? Other cultural factors that add to that pain include the conditioning to be strong, stoic, dominant, and virile. The fragility of (white, but all) masculinity, might not stem from power, but from loneliness and abandonment. Men don’t know how to socialize in the complex way that women and queer folks learn, and they need care that they  likely cannot articulate. Empathy, being vulnerable, is forbidden.

None of this can be addressed until a man decides he wants out of his cage. Even then, he is likely to find a toxic men’s rights advocate who convinces him that what he needs is more entitlement. If he can, however, see that the only way out is to unlatch it from the inside, can we, in community and private spaces, safely incorporate those who are learning 30 years of social skills? People of color and poor people make this call all the time with wyte folks and rich people, and I honestly believe that the answer is, sometimes for some people. We get to communicate our boundaries and consequences with the expectation of respect, and to require that men observe and practice with each other before trying to participate where women and queer folks have established safety.

If you are a man reading this, I’m sorry for your exhaustion at always being on guard. I hope there are places where you can take off your emotional armor and feel relief. Doing the work to learn about emotional regulation (sensing and defusing the physical sensations that accompany feelings) will open the world to you. You might find this through somatic coaching, studying compassionate communication, meditation, or simply listening and reflecting silently when other people speak. Men have often been taught to physically care for others and this skill is wonderful, but not as a replacement for self-care. Emotional regulation is a crucial tool for both autonomy and for mutual aid.

It is culturally more acceptable in masculinity for men to feel anger than sadness, and so while men need to explore the origins of rage/anger/frustration, they also need to deeply explore the buried sadness/disappointment/loneliness that is often ignored or shamed.

We all share the human capacity to do this work, from wherever we are beginning. I invite you to expect it of your sons, brothers, and lovers, and to seek it for yourself, however you were trained in the world. It has been my great pleasure, to have a son and not believe the stories about his self-reliance or dominance. We work hard together to filter the stories about gender and power so that he gets to choose the aspects that reflect him and let go of the pieces that don’t. I can’t protect him from the whole world, nor would that be helpful, but I can make community with men who are doing their work to invite him into a different vision of masculinity. This is a call for men to care for each other, and for themselves.

6- What is roadsteading? how vehicle communities inhabit the commons

Bethany has lived in various types of living arrangements all over the US, including many different vehicles in all states of living conversion. Roadsteading has been her focus since 2015.

By Bethany Jolly

Although caravans have long existed, modern vehicle communities are new and growing. These communities are defined by their shared living style, one that includes those living in sedans, minivans, trucks, RVs, unattached trailers, homemade pods, and everything in between. They are taking up more and more space in the commons, a type of space that many places in the USA have in short supply. Since the population of humans without secure and stable housing is presently on the rise, so too will the number of vehicle dwellers and other non-traditionally housed individuals increase. Without different management of public spaces, this puts vehicle communities at odds with traditional homeowners and cities. Many see roadsteading as a step above pitching a tent when out of traditional options and some chose to live a roadsteading life purposefully, with plenty of others falling in between these two extremes. Indeed, the financial resources that a person has at their disposal determines major outcomes for comfort, safety, reliability, and location. Additionally, once exposed to the particular challenges of this type of living, people find there are skills and knowledge required that they might not otherwise know or need. This can be both an advantage and a drawback, depending on the resourcefulness, finances, and abilities of a particular individual, community, or location. Over time, people can also begin to realize the benefits of this lifestyle. However, the majority of these folks are living this lifestyle isolated from each other, bringing about the need for shared spaces and new types of community to replace or supplement traditional ones.

Americans are now less likely to move from their hometowns than ever, but with current events and policies, the financial realities of income inequality, and especially the climate crisis, this will be less and less true in coming decades. Climate change is already causing extreme fires, flooding, hurricanes, and other acts of nature. Existing homes are being destroyed or rendered uninhabitable at much faster rates than before. Building more homes isn’t the answer; according to the US Census Bureau, there are a current estimated 30 empty homes for every unhoused individual in the USA. Of course, counting unhoused people is difficult, and official numbers seem woefully low. Still, even with 3 times the official homelessness numbers, the math would show that lack of dwellings isn’t the root cause. Barring a radical approach to the ways in which all people live, some will continue to choose, or be forced into, alternate ways of life.

An increase in unhoused folks can be a crisis for everyone, including the cities and neighborhoods where they are from or live now, the services and governments that attempt to help and provide for them, and especially for those who are unhoused. Many people find themselves homeless after a series of surprise or unforeseen events. Others see it coming, and do their best to mitigate and prevent the worst of outcomes; families split up, no shelter of any kind, nowhere to keep their belongings secured. On the other end, there are some who transition to non traditional housing intentionally. Many do so with years of savings and planning, but also there are those who can afford very little and have less of a plan. Often, those who choose a vehicle dwelling lifestyle do so because of the ability to move easily, save the money they would otherwise spend on exorbitant rents, and experience something other than the traditional ideal of homeownership. The shape of these mobile dwellings is hugely varied. Vehicles of all ages and origins are represented as well. Though these folks can and do come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, all people who engage in a roadsteading lifestyle must deal with the realities of living largely in the commons. This highlights the need for a radical approach to space and how it is used.

In and around major cities, vacant or underutilized space is uncommon, and yet these are the places that necessarily have a higher population density, including those of curbside communities. Often, these communities spring up in any unoccupied spaces possible, such as large medians, the spaces between highway interchanges, parks, and other state lands. In the case of vehicle dwellers in particular, these occupied spaces most often are parking spaces and parking lots, land that is either owned by cities, companies, or private individuals. This leaves them vulnerable to cops, citations, unhappy neighbors, people who can’t find parking spaces as easily, and bad actors in general.

In fact, there has been a noted increase in terrorist attacks against curbside communities, in the forms of intentional fires set to tents and vehicles, improvised explosive devices thrown under RVs, and physical attacks on the humans who live in these situations. Additionally, neighborhood groups and municipalities have been creating lists of vehicles known or suspected to be homes. These lists often include personally identifiable information, such as photos of vehicles and people, license plate numbers, and locations they are known to park. Local governments, as part of their stated efforts to understand and combat the issue of growing numbers of vehicle dwellers in their cities have also been engaging in data collection practices, often going door to door and attempting to find where people are coming from, only to realize that many of the people they speak with live very close to the places where they were previously housed.

However, many cities choose not to support these folks and their requests for things like dumpsters, portable bathrooms, and parking spaces, though some locations have taken steps towards doing so. Recently, several cities are establishing sanctioned parking locations. However, there are lots of restrictions on who, what, when, and how these spaces can be used. Most only allow parking during overnight hours, only allow registered participants to park, disallow vehicles without current state registration or emissions certifications, and prohibit cooking, as well as other activities necessary for daily life.

Even with an increase in aid from local cities, towns, churches, and other advocates, the challenges of isolation are real. Especially for those who are newly houseless and just learning to live a vehicle dwelling life, it is hard to know where to be, where to park, who to avoid, who to talk to, and where to find resources. Learning from each other and trading skills and resources is common among those who do find a semblance of community.

While some physical roadsteading communities exist, they seem to be rare. In the ones that do, folks rely on each other for support. They facilitate collecting trash and running it to the dump together, can have shared contracts with mobile pump out trucks to empty waste water from RV septic systems, and maintain really really free market exchanges where folks can trade no longer needed items. They will also have potlucks, shared holiday celebrations, and child care collectives. Many engage is security watches and have text or phone trees for communicating vital safety information. They will help each other with vehicle sourcing and trading, offer mechanic help, or assistance in buying and installing solar panels, batteries and other electronics. They even attempt emergency aid for immobilized vehicles. These shared services can be invaluable for those living in poverty, which includes many of those who call a vehicle home.

There can be plenty of benefits to roadsteading. In the course of living this life, people often learn invaluable skills on their own or from each other. There is often a reduction in services needed and used by vehicle dwellers compared to those in traditional homes. Often they use less water, provide their own off grid energy, take up less physical space, and have the ability to evacuate quickly. Having people on the street can also provide neighborhood security. There is the potential for developing new types of collectives, and also connections with more traditional style curbside communities. For example, due to the availability of onboard solar panels and batteries, vehicle dwellers are in a unique position to provide power to charge laptops, cellphones, mobility scooters, and other essential electronics. They can also provide a feeling of more security by parking near these communities. Many of the challenges of living in a vehicle overlap with those of living in a tent or small shelter, and the burdens are made easier when shared.

Sharing burdens is what community is all about. While living on the road isn’t a new phenomenon, with a marked increase in people who do so in their own communities, there are many unanswered challenges to be met. With careful consideration, humane treatment, and sharing of skills and resources, these challenges can be overcome and may even prove roadsteading to be a viable way of life, not just for those who engage in it, but for the places they inhabit, as well.

5- Corporations off campus: time to expel BP and Monsanto

By Emma

Fossil fuel corporations are notorious for buying up clean energy patents.  After buying the patents, they will claim “We now have people working on clean energy.” The problem is: the few “clean energy” projects they actually roll out are so small and at such a slow pace, they are meaningless.  This is called green-washing, and it is a trick invented by PR firms to allow polluting companies to fool people into thinking that the company is “green” now, even though they can continue to pursue their carbon-based bottom-line.

Beyond buying up clean energy patents as a part of green-washing efforts, big oil has worked relentlessly to derail clean energy research on university campuses.

At UC Berkeley, for example, after the $100 million Energy Biosciences Institute Contract was signed in 2007, the BP Oil Company moved its operations onto the UC Berkeley campus. There is now a whole floor of a building where only BP Oil staff are allowed to go.  Also, according to the contract they signed, BP Oil’s staff gets to decide 100% of which clean energy research grants get funding at UC Berkeley.  BP Oil also gets to keep 30% of the patents that the grad student workers produce—the top 30% of BP’s choosing!

Was BP really trying to profit from developing biofuels, or did BP seek power to hide clean energy patents away and to stop that technology from getting into people’s hands?

Many UC Berkeley professors were outraged by the BP contract—they had no consent in its signing—but the Board of Regents, a group who un-democratically run the university based on an oligarchical model—forced the contract upon the UC.

UC Berkeley really should no longer be thought of as a research university, but rather, it is simply the Research & Development division of BP Oil (as well as the dozen or so other corporations that have taken over the UC’s various research-based departments). Monsanto/Bayer has done the same thing out at UC Davis, where Monsanto/Bayer uses cheap graduate student labor to create genetically-modified seeds and organisms, with the corporation keeping the patents and deploying these organisms in a way that creates company profit without regard to massive starvation and farmer suicides in India, Africa, and around the world.

This specific pattern, within a larger pattern of university privatization, is happening because corporations are eager to avoid paying their own workers, so, by diverting their R&D to universities, corporations can replace their engineers with cheap graduate student labor to do their R&D. At the same time, they get to put the processes in place so they can thwart universities from producing/releasing alternatives to the supply chains these capitalists have already secured.

Last autumn, after years of pressure from students and faculty, the Regents of the University of California finally voted to divest the university’s endowment from fossil fuel companies. However, this is an empty gesture until the oil companies themselves are removed from the UC.





5- Reclaiming soil relations: notes towards decolonizing South Africa and de-financializing the web of life

By Lesley Green (Cape Town South Africa)

The word “human” derives from humus: the soil. The words “economy,” “ecology” and “ecumene” all derive from ecos, Greek for household. To “attend to” is to tend. The word “culture” comes from cultivation.

Our linguistic inheritance testifies to something that the knowledge economy has long forgotten, which is that people are not separate from planet; that nature is not separate from society. This separation, however, is hardwired into the global university system, leaving us without common ways to share knowledge about this planetary emergency.

Some academics, including myself, have found Critical Zone (CZ) research as a promising space for scholarship that attends to earthly flows rather than the territories defined by artificial borders. In following fluxes through air, life, soil, rock and water, CZ research has much in common with the Environmental Humanities, a field that is also interested in following flows of molecules, life, and commodities. Both fields offer a “big picture,” and very importantly, both work with imperfection instead of imposing an ideal system (since pure systems theory in life and earth sciences is problematic, as without society that system is often illusory). Both follow flows despite national borders and trade agreements. But nowhere in the current CZ models, are bodies. A question I am asking is how do we add human bodies to critical zone biogeosocial science?

A starting point for critical zone biogeosocial science is in the shift from studying things to studying relations. A biogeosocial approach to the critical zone traces the flows and relations that compose life: humans as humus. In this perspective a society is the totality of its relations of cultivation, it’s ecological partnerships, its capacity to cultivate and partner with life, its production of a technosphere.


The African concept of being “sons and daughters of soil” links the fecundity of soil to the wellbeing of people. Soil is part of families: the place where one’s placenta is buried is home. At death, the hope is that one returns to the soil that your placenta has joined, and there is a reverence for the place where ancestors become earth. Birth and death meet in soil.

Composting, tending seedlings, seed-sharing—these are activities that link people across generations. Seeds are the product of collectively composed fields: cow pats that nurture the soil, the work of planting and tending and harvesting, the work of families in seed saving and seed-sharing across generations. This kind of humus-making is low-cost, multi-species, kindship-based, and exchange-based. It is not financialized; it is relational. Activities and practices like these nurture a sense of kinship with soil that is its own form of environmentalism.

One of Africa’s most loved venerations of [a person] who has passed away is to say they were a son or daughter of the soil. Being a son or daughter of the soil is not some quaint indigenous knowledge but a powerful resource for unmaking the Anthropocene, in which the critical zone of life is under threat.


In response to the planetary emergency we have witnessed the rise of “climate-smart” agriculture that depends on patented drought-resistant seeds, an approach that attempts to make agriculture sustainable—particularly in Africa. However, genetically-modified (GM) seeds come with a legal regime of patents that assert ownership over pollens and seeds, inserting a whole new regime of relations and control into the critical zone.

To those who advocate for GM seed regimes for Africa’s climate future, I ask: Is food production sustainable if a farmer is in jail because she participated in traditional, non-financialized seed exchange? Does patented DNA have a greater right to life than unpatented DNA? When international aid stops and small-scale farmers have dust for soils because of using chemical fertilizers instead of manure, is that “climate-smart”? The relations surrounding GM seeds are a problem.

A drought resistant seed may be a wonder if it is demonstrated to produce more food under harsher conditions—but the legal regime, the relations that go with it; the curtailing of a seed’s reproductive capacity, constitutes an ecocide that reproduces the Anthropocene rather than overcoming it. It is the insertion of financialization into the web of life.


The critical political necessity in the Athropocene, to get action, is to relink the human body to the planet in people’s imaginations. Showing people how nutrients and toxins flow through ecologies and bodies may be more effective than showing them how money may move through their wallets. Taking trees out, deforesting the land, makes soil vulnerable to drought; more vulnerable to the new heavy rains such as the two cyclones that hit Mozambique in 2019.

Wangari Maathai, Kenyan Nobel Prize Winner, built her green belt movement by planting trees because she understood deforestation reduces water tables, dries up streams, and, affects women, for men go to the city in search of cash.

In protecting the critical zone, we are protecting not only flows but the fecundity that makes society possible. How society protects ecological fecundity is the basis of its wellbeing. That deep linking of home, humus and humanity, as it is told differently in different places around the world, may be the best protection the earth systems have.

These notes are based on a talk given by Lesley Green in San Francisco in December 2019 for the American Geophysical Union.


Lesley Green is a professor at the University of Cape Town, and deputy director of Environmental Humanities South. Her book “Rock | Water | Life: Ecology and Humanities for a Decolonial South Africa” is forthcoming in 2020.

—–separate article by different writer below—

Join the Conversation on the Critical Zone (CZ): Webinar Series

By Hayley

Right now, we have a huge problem in the sciences because scientists are too narrowly focused on one thing. The scientists who study weather aren’t talking to the scientists who study soil. And the scientists who study animals aren’t talking to the scientists who study temperature. This overspecialization makes it harder for scientists to address complex problems that threaten the habitable part of this planet, also called “the critical zone.”

Critical Zone (CZ) research looks at the complex cycles and flows between water, rocks, soil and life. It allows big picture thinking, which empowers scientists to better address the most dire ecological problems of our time—problems that can only be understood if one is trained to look at everything, whether it’s the molecular structure of chemicals or the biology of the creatures whose bodies absorb them downstream.

CZ is an approach that allows scientists to connect the dots, and it’s a way to fight the dangerous siloing of knowledge that disempowers scientists from being able to address the full set of scientific systems that might be at play in a single ecosystem or watershed.

This February, you are invited to join in for a webinar series for anyone who would like to familiarize themselves with CZ research and join the network. This webinar series is called “Introduction to the Critical Zone: Growing the Critical Zone Research Network” and it will be held online every Wednesday from Feb. 5-26th, 2020 at 10am PST. These webinars are free and open to the public. To sign up, go to: www.cuahsi.org/education/cyberseminars/winter-cyberseminar-series

4- Help make the 2021 Slingshot organizer

If you want to help draw art or otherwise create the 2021 Slingshot Organizer, contact us now. We include the work of over 30 artists from all over — it could be you this year. This year as an experiment we’re going to make the organizer 2 months earlier than usual so the work doesn’t happen right in the middle of summer traveling season… Please contact us by April 24 to draw a section of the calendar. Art is due May 29.

We’ll be editing and adding more historical dates during March and April so please send suggestions and let us know if you want to help proofread. (You can do so remotely.) We also need corrections and suggestions of new radical contact list spaces by May 29.

We will put the organizer together by hand May 30/31 and June 6/7 in Berkeley. Please drop by and join us if you’re in town.

There are still copies of the 2020 Slingshot organizer available. Selling the organizer enables our collective to print and distribute this newspaper for free, so if you like what you’re reading, please buy the organizer for yourself and as gifts.

In mid-March, we will get returns from bookstores, so if your organization can help distribute unsold copies for free to youth, immigrants or others who wouldn’t otherwise have access, please let us know how many copies you can handle.

4- Planetary Harm Reduction

By AppleJax & P. Wingnut

Everyone can agree that putting carbon into the atmosphere is really, really bad.  But we need to be strategic if we want to actually successfully steer humanity away from this behavior—and steer us away fast enough to make a difference!

The trouble with the abstinence approach.

For many years, I’ve been part of activist efforts to combat climate change, and a lot of our organizing energy has been directed towards what I call the “abstinence approach” to carbon emissions.  When we use the abstinence approach, we spend all of our organizing energy trying to get people to stop doing things.  For example, efforts to convince people to stop driving, stop flying, etc.

This approach fails to take into account the complexity of human behavior and is similar to other knee-jerk abstinence approaches, such as when religious people demand full sexual abstinence, or people who demand that drug addicts immediately quit cold-turkey.  “Stop, stop, stop,” is the message we’re sending out.

The trouble with this approach is that sociological and psychological studies show that it simply doesn’t work.  Doctrines that push for abstinence are ineffective at best, and backfire at worst.

For example, abstinence-only sexual education has been shown to increase the likelihood of teen pregnancies and the contraction of STIs.  Additionally, abstinence-only approaches to drug users tend to lead to riskier behavior and higher rates of addiction.

Likewise, the heavy-handed “abstinence” approach to carbon-emissions that myself and many others have tried to use over the last few decades doesn’t seem to be working. Case in point:

— Based on the most recent data, 92% of American households still own a car.  So, even after decades of activists urging everyone to stop driving—and even with millennials supposedly driving less—over 90% of American households are still driving!

— A majority of Americans still purchase goods every week that are shipped from over 100 miles away, meaning carbon had to be burned to get those goods to them.

— There are more airplanes in the sky now than there have ever been.

We need better, smarter, more strategic approaches that factor in human behavior. This is why I would like to suggest that we take time to learn from the activist communities who have been working on an approach regarding drug addiction known as Harm Reduction. This has a more realistic chance of leading to a swifter end to carbon emissions once and for all.

About the Harm Reduction Approach

Rather than just commanding someone to quit, harm reduction tries to make drug use safer. This does two things: (1) discussing drug use more openly reduces the stigma surrounding drug use, which ultimately makes it easier for the person to take responsibility for their own behavior or ask for help without being judged, and  (2) it reduces the harm to the person and others caused by the drug usage.

For example, in the case of someone addicted to heroin, this might mean making sure they have access to clean needles, and that they have NARCAN available so if they overdose, someone can hopefully save their life.  The clean needles help prevent the spread of disease. Reducing shame may help remove the automatic-ness of a behavior, and creates more emotional room for a person to make more nuanced decisions.

The harm reduction model is wildly effective.  The country of Portugal serves as a great example of how effective harm reduction is: in July 2001, Portugal made all drugs legal, and public harm reduction centers were established where individuals could get clean needles, test their drugs, and talk to a clinician about their drug usage. The result: addiction rates fell dramatically!  Today, Portugal’s drug-induced death rate is 5 times lower than the European Union average, and on top of that, the country’s HIV infection rate has plummeted from 104.2 new cases per million in year 2000 to 4.2 cases per million in 2015.

What’s wild about this is that in the 1980s, Portugal was using an abstinence approach to drug use, and during that time, it had one of the highest addiction rates in the world: an estimated 1 in 10 people were addicted to heroin while the government was issuing shame-based statements like “Just say No!” and “Drugs are Satan.”


Shaming people often backfires. Harm reduction and non-shaming approaches are the way to go!

How to apply the harm reduction model to planet

There is no safe level of carbon emissions — the world has to get to zero emissions which requires changing almost all current technological and economic systems. But just like how it is better to be using clean needles in a supervised injection site while you’re addicted to heroin, to kick carbon its best to start with reducing harms, which may open possibilities for greater change down the line.

A lot of carbon dependence is determined by corporations, governments and the economic system and it’s not about individual choices. For changing those systems, the only path is social uprisings and movements.

Nonetheless, some emissions are based on individual choices which are strongly structured by cultural norms as well as the economic / political system. For those choices, carbon dependence is addiction-like. An able-bodied person casually driving alone in an SUV a short distance on a sunny day is like an addict using a dirty needle because it’s an unnecessary and reckless danger to yourself and others.

Driving a smaller car, driving it less often and only for harder to access destinations not accessible by bike or served by public transit reduces the harm. The very process of thinking about these changes reduces the stigma of talking about and thinking about carbon dependence — like when clean needles are made available. Maybe eventually we’ll kick carbon altogether.

This isn’t a perfect analogy but the crux is avoiding abstinence / extreme thinking about carbon use. Its causing a lot of people to shut down and tune out rather than change. Rather than trying to convince people who currently don’t know how to live without cars and flying and factory farming to change all their habits at once, its better to make fossil fuel dependence less harmful.

Some tips for transitioning to a harm reduction approach to carbon emissions:

— Avoid shame and shaming language about specific tech usage. This makes it more likely that a person will disengage from dialogues about their usage.

— Use compassionate language about carbon-burning. This can be hard, especially when you see so clearly how harmful carbon-burning is to everyone on this planet. But approaching a carbon-user with compassion and forgiveness helps create the emotional and social space for them to navigate away from their usage.

—Just like giving out free condoms and free needles, lower carbon alternatives need to be free and/or cheaper than any carbon-burning options.  This is the strongest, fastest way to get people to switch.

— Remove conditions that are preventing free/cheap distribution of alternatives. There is important work to be done in removing any and all social systems that are preventing the cost-free replacement of all carbon-burning tech with carbon-free alternatives.

As we enter the 2020s, I hope we can spend this decade ending all carbon emissions, or at the least, slowing them to a trickle. I am done working hard without results. I’m ready for a smarter approach.


3- Subverting the system from Within: Life of a paper wrencher

By Charles Winston

When I say the word “activist,” what image comes to mind? People locking arms around a pipeline? Protesters being hosed down in Birmingham, Alabama? Hippies occupying a tree canopy with signs to protect the forest? When I hear the word, I think of Greenpeace oil rig blockades, the Zapatista guerillas, large plumes of teargas funneling through a metropolis, and a million other things. About the last thing I think of is a business suit at City Hall.

I’m here to hopefully spark your interest in the least exciting form of activism of all: pencil-pushing, time-wasting, form-submitting, “diplomatic” floor-debating, legal-posturing, civic-engaging monotony. Or what one friend has recently described as “paper wrenching.” This phrase was published in the Earth First! Direct Action Manual in 1997. The very idea, the very imagery itself, is about as exciting as a W-2 form. I’m here with the hope that you might find enlivening activist work within this strange bureaucratic web of nonsense that I navigate. Although it’s not for everyone, I hope to inspire your curiosity, or enlist your support for the work that myself and others do.

Not everyone can (hashtag)occupy the federal building, the oil refinery, or smash a window (if that’s your thing). In the egoist culture of one-ups-manship it’s easy to judge each other for not “going all the way” and becoming the ultimate martyr for the cause. Self-care, preservation, and activism look different for different people, though.

Some activists may prioritize raising a child as a single parent, others might be on parole or dodging a warrant. Some might be overcoming addiction or have debilitating PTSD (especially from police abuse), some might be disabled and some might be just plain scared. Whatever the reason, I share a deep respect for all of my comrades. I love the people that are out there “defacing” property (wait, property has a face?) and challenging authority in the streets just as much as I love to know people phone banking. Smashing the state takes on 1,000,001 forms.

When I look at the activist community today, I see a large divide between the paper wrenchers and the direct-actioners; between the people locking their arms to cement blocks and the people that block the arms of the State. My goal is to get these two groups to work and support one another: to love and respect each other so that we can fight for a better world together.

Being a paper-wrencher is an entirely different reality of activism than the yelling-in-the streets-at-police-barricades kinda work that I used to do. I love both equally, but personal circumstances have made the later kind of activism a lot more unlikely. For a time, I thought I would quit being an activist, since I never believed that paper wrenching (going to City Hall meetings, filing forms, etc.) was really “activism.” It seemed like a façade and a tool of the oppressors, which it often is.

However, I’ve also grown to appreciate paper wrenching in ways that people might not realize or know much about. So much of the deplorable and draconian laws that are passed, so many of the drastic changes made in policy that affect our everyday lives are done with such an incredibly small amount of bureaucratic resistance. When I first started going to meetings at City Hall, I was amazed to find how few activists (zero) attended them. Day in and day out I found a panel of council members deciding the fate of the community without so much as a peep of public comment opposition. It makes sense, as City Hall is designed to be imposing, uncomfortable, and to feel like a complete waste of time. I expected all of these things, but what I found was also something very different…

Facing down the enemy, you get to learn a lot about how they think and operate. At the end of the day, these are people too- they have their own lives and agendas, their own loves and hates, and their own vision of “progress.” What I’ve learned to do is to simply be a translator. To speak their language and to communicate radical opposition within that language. I work as a translator between City Hall and the community itself, publishing information and fighting for transparency. I work to expose the idiocy of “public” policy, the disenfranchisement and marginalization of people’s, the lack of outreach, and the lack of inclusion. Most of all though, I guess I’m just a giant thorn in the ass of all the bureaucrats. Most of them had a clean slate and a blank check before I arrived on the scene.

The beauty about engaging through these (often tedious) paper wrenching processes, is that it’s often irrelevant whether or not you “win” or “lose” at a particular hearing. The goal of bureaucracy and the job bureaucrats is to induce apathy and depression. To wear you down with paperwork and make you mush through a bunch of nonsense so that, on the outside, it looks like you just didn’t care enough to use the “democratic” process. If you abandon the process they have available, then they (City Hall and nonprofit bureaucrats) get to act like the “good guys” holding the door open – you’re just too lazy to go through.

One of my goals as a paper wrenching is to expose the facade of this false Western “democracy.” In truth, the door is actually behind several feet of infrared lasers, barbed wire, security cameras, and attack dogs. Just ask women like Angie E. and Kylie A. who spoke out against sexual violence in the film It Happened Here by Lisa Jackson. This documentary, released in 2014, covers the painfully sociopathic response of the bureaucrats at Amherst, Vanderbilt, and other Ivy League universities in response to reports of sexual assault on campus. In disgusting public relations pencil-pushing fashion, their meetings were kept secret, unrecorded, and swept under the rug as much as possible. It wasn’t until these brave women came forward, along with many others exposing the bureaucrat smoke screen to create a community movement that things began to change.

I translate “legaleez” jargon for the community and relay how people can be more engaged in civic life, letting them know which meetings are a complete waste of time and which ones are not; which ones to protest at and which ones to send a single representative. I’m that chameleon on the inside, looking like the next idiot in a business suit but giving the politicians and the pencil-pushers a lot of hell every step of the way.

For whatever reason, I found myself highly adaptable to this environment. My background has given me the tools to “infiltrate” this pseudo-democracy to try to turn it into real democracy. In the process, I’ve learned to appreciate the things I used to hate without compromise. I’ve learned to appreciate some of the things that government *gasp* does correctly, to appreciate some of the benefits of our activist forefighters’ gains. I learned to see what America can be, if it really had a chance to live up to the ideals that some people believe in.

As an internationalist, it’s a strange way to feel. As someone who has mocked patriotism at every opportunity, it’s an interesting new lens of compassion. Not that I’m about to go marching in the Fourth of July anytime soon (I prefer to read Frederick Douglass’ speech to the abolitionists on that day), but I can see why other people do. As a translator, I feel like I can sometimes see the intricacies beneath the conflicts that wage everywhere in this class war and environmental siege. Sometimes, you find out things can improve by opening a dialogue. And sometimes you just get to clog up and work to defuse the ticking time bomb that is the PTB (Powers That Be).

Bureaucracy is a dangerous cloning machine though, I do have to caution people against that. Anyone that works in city government has to fight day in and day out not to be consumed by the legitimized exploitation of “public” policy. This applies to “nonprofits” as well, which prey upon the compassionate and very human desire to “do good while making a living at it”. These are nefarious systems that are constantly evolving (or devolving) to consume as many souls as they can. For this reason, and many others, people that work in this trite little necktie world are labeled as “sellouts” “hacks” and “spin doctors.” Most of them, of course, are exactly that. But the question is, which ones aren’t and which ones are capable of change?

One thing I’ve learned as a paper wrencher is that people that do this kind of work “on the inside” are extremely isolated from the rest of the activist community (including me). It’s tragic, really, because the people fighting this uphill battle (sometimes for decades) tap out and quit, resign, or otherwise retreat from the world. Bureaucracy is a desert without humanity breathing love, music, and passion into it. It’s like you’re playing CPR with your soul every day, knowing that you’re doing the right thing and that you’ll never be thanked for it, or feel the “Solidarity Forever” vibes that come from being in the picket line.

Working “on the inside” you learn about the ‘cheat sheet’ though – the people who are actually fighting against the bureaucratic madness in support of the community. These people are the rare few that I spend my time personally checking in with, emailing frequently, and strategizing for how to confront the rest of the beast. In the “nonprofit” world, these are the people that work in low-pay legal defense (i.e. National Lawyers Guild), privacy protection law (i.e. Electronic Frontier Foundation), tenants rights groups, homeless services, etc.. At City Hall, these people could be literally in any department and in any branch, doing their best to keep the insanity in check.

To say that these people are “unsung heroes” is an understatement to the nth degree. Imagine spending decades of your life confined to a soulless cubicle surrounded by coworkers that are bigots and racists, fighting day in and day out to protect the lives and well-being of the most oppressed and marginalized people, to work lethargic long-hours with a room full stacked paper and a computer screen, to see all your coworkers get promoted and massive public praise for their exploitative policies while you fight to barely keep your (increasingly agonizing) job, all for moderate to shit pay.

I’m not saying this is harder than the millions of sacrifices that activists make every day, but it is a sacrifice rarely ever thought of. An activist without solidarity can quickly rot and die, just like a bean sprout without a trellis. I share these thoughts with the hope that we can support all of our brothers and sisters who struggle against the machine, inside and out. Not necessarily because of some moralistic sentimentality, but because that’s one way that we keep the movement alive (and growing!)

I hope to encourage you to attend a meeting at your local City Hall sometime. Learn how your local government works, how it responds to protests and how it organizes itself. Learn your enemy. Learn who are the chameleons on the inside engaged in the complex theatrics of “public” policy, fighting for you possibly without you even knowing it. Spread the solidarity branches and intertwine the roots. Together, we can wrangle the weapons from our oppressors and make this world a more compassionate and loving place.

In the process, I’ve learned to appreciate the things I used to hate without compromise. I’ve learned to appreciate some of the things that government *gasp* does correctly, to appreciate some of the benefits of our activist forefighters’ gains. I learned to see what America can be, if it really had a chance to live up to the ideals that some people believe in.


2- Leap day Action 2020

Use your Extra Day to Declare Climate Emergency and keep carbon in the ground
Leap Day Action
extravagant spectacle, roving street party and blockade
For life, beauty and joy & against eco-destroying robber barons!
Saturday Feb. 29 
GATHER Berkeley BART station plaza 2 pm 

The earth is not dying – it is being killed.
The corporations killing it have locations near you
(including in downtown Berkeley)
*Roam downtown visiting, decorating and disrupting banks and corporations*
*Build zero waste compostable altars for the 1 billion dead animals at each target*
*Dress as an Australian or Amazonian animal*
*Marching band / mobile bike sound system*

Bring disguises, decorations, musical instruments, pogo sticks, your heart and dreams
To help create this event and for updates:
leapdayaction.org / leapdayaction2020@protonmail.com / FB: Leapday Action 2020 Berkeley

2- Protect Tsakiyuwit

By a Hoary bat

While we were on Rainbow battling bulldozers, our comrades were fighting hard against a proposed mega wind farm on nearby Tsakiyuwit (Bear River Ridge) and Monument Ridge. A broad coalition of indigenous folks, local residents, and environmentalists, led by Wiyot tribal elders, prevented the project from being approved by County officials through an outpouring of public opposition and thorough critiques of the corporate lies and greenwashing in the project proposal. One County Supervisor expressed fear that the project would incite a “Humboldt County Standing Rock”. This fight has sparked necessary discussions in our community about how we can transition toward decentralized, community-driven renewable energy.