Category Archives: politics / society

Well, since it doesn’t speak for itself…

hashtag letters twenty-fifteen

hashtag letters: Black lives matter
yellow all caps
against a background of Black
clarion call to a people under attack
rousing all nations to stand up, fight back

time’s of the essence
the Center cannot  hold
Black girls portraits on the walls,

tack tack

Black boys struck down by
the Blue

Whack Whack

hundreds slain already,
they can hardly keep track.

and when will my white sisters and brothers just step out of the Trap?

BLM sweatshirt



Partial News Round-Up on the Ferguson Movement

Hands Up Dont Shoot


1) Movement HQ in Ferguson has released a formal movement update. (12/15)

2) Samuel L. Jackson makes a video request of celebrities to stand for racial justice.

3) Check out this link for the bedrock list of demands, again straight out of Movement HQ.

4) “Dear White Allies: Stop Unfriending Other White People re: Ferguson

5) Systemic Racism Running Rampant (also check out articles here and here)

6) Good old Democracy Now! on everything Ferguson

Black Lives Matter

For didactic purposes, I use the word “American” below to refer to the United States and its people. I do so in recognition that (1) the original land, more appropriately known as Turtle Island, is under indefinite occupation; and (2) Latin Americans refer to North, Central and South Americas jointly as “America.”

Two weeks ago, I heard that the Ferguson grand jury had decided not to indict the white policeman Darren Wilson for shooting the unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown. I was immediately filled with a seething rage. Eleven shots, including one to the head; the boy’s body left in the street for 4 1/2 hours. Racism and its injustice, if they could be conceived of as a hidden network of mycelial fibers penetrating every last square meter of American society, had produced a poisonous, oozy mushroom cap that night. That cap was the #FergusonDecision.

I had to do something to challenge this <<poisonous mushroom cap.>> 

One thing led to another, and I found myself among the demonstrators in downtown Oakland. We marched through the City, throngs and loads and heaps and a plethora and lots of us – many visibly privileged, but fairly diverse – continuing along the deserted Grand Avenue. I witnessed trash cans being lit on fire.  “No Justice, No Peace! No Racist Police!” I saw broken windows in corporate and local businesses. “Peaceful Protest! Peaceful Protest!” I saw other protesters’ facial expressions, often necessarily cold. For in that kind of social setting, it’s not always evident who’s on your side, who’s not, and worse, who’s deliberately trying to sabotage the action (although the latter typically dress to mask their identities).

The following two points must be said in regards to the burgeoning social movement’s activities:

  1. although there is no excuse for property damage to local businesses, unless I suppose they’re owned by racists, media hype about protester “violence” is almost always misleading because it often conflates peaceful protesters, who usually form the majority of the protest, with the destructive minority responsible for causing damage to city and other property. Moreover, such coverage slanders the movement as ‘rioting,’ as if it isn’t rational for extremely oppressed, socially excluded people with no other recourse to express themselves in such ways. This brings me to another point:
  2. Co-optation of this movement, especially by whites, is probably a grave threat, most of all in predominantly non-white communities. Although we need to be creating as broad-based, multicultural movement as possible, we must not lose sight of reality: the past two weeks have been about about Black people; the emerged movement a challenge to the white supremacist American system that promotes state-sanctioned violence against black and brown people. Therefore, the time is now for white people to steer clear from leadership positions, listen, and ask how we can support leaders of color in this fight. Here’s a good place to start.
  3. attempts to invalidate the struggle as violent are patently absurd. Why? Because the capitalist, patriarchal, racist, white supremacist, ecocidal system we’re challenging – you know, the one responsible for enslaving millions of Africans and annihilating millions of Indigenous peoples;  the one whose police forces kill hundreds of people per year, far surpassing the death toll from the 9/11 attacks; the one that’s killing off dozens of species every single day; the one that has ignored public opinion to allow 1% of Americans to possess 40% of the country’s $54 trillion in wealth; the one that is literally destroying the biosphere‘s ability to sustain human life – is the global Elephant in the Room, the real culprit at play here.
  4. The take-home message here: The system we oppose commits violence on global scales at orders of magnitude greater than any damage, whether collateral or intended, that social movements commit against the aforementioned system. Do I think we need to remain non-violent? Yes! That said, it’s important to keep the above perspective when reading about reports of protester violence/rioting. Violence against police officers should not be condoned, except, as always, in self-defense. In the end, though, I would probably defer to the ethical judgments of Black leaders on organizing matters since this movement is about them.

That said, let us return to Ferguson Decision Day One.

We were on route to the intersection of Lake Shore and Lake Park Avenues. Down Grand Avenue, the trafficless streets became prettier, the orange streetlights imbuing old buildings with a sepia-like glow. No people? No problem! my shameless internal introvert remarked. I appreciated this new aesthetic, the architecture on Grand newly accentuated. It felt old again.

We were headed for the 580 freeway.

*                *               *

A trait linked to immense patience, my tendency not to get angry easily is something I take modest pride in. It takes a lot to anger me, but this night was just too much. My eyes widened, bulging with intensity; my jaw clenched, adrenaline coursing through… the organs do that when I’m hungry, anxious, alert, or otherwise anticipating belligerent law enforcement. Beyond the initial reaction in my head, I felt a deep sense of foreboding. This country is so incredibly fucked up, I couldn’t help but admit to myself.

It was a conclusion I had made already, before I brought my distraught corn-fed self to leave on a leprechaun-laced Hiatus from Life in the Belly of Empire (to – you guessed it! – post-colonial Ireland, no less) some 3.5 years ago.

It was a conclusion whose bitter, strange fruit – a cruel legacy, an aberration – were rearing their rotten skins once again.

*            *             *

Mike Brown and Eric Garner… in that order. Two lives, elided over, curtailed, indignifed, squashed, systemically spat upon, discarded. Racism will stop at nothing to maintain white privilege, snuffing out as many black and brown bodies as it cares too. Power concedes nothing without a demand. American power, still the most sinister, potent type of political poison, will need a hell of a demand to be recalibrated…

To ignore or half-ass this task is to condemn the United States of America to continuing its racist, anti-Black, white supremacist trajectory of stagnation into social oblivion.

The time is now.

#BlackLivesMatter #EricGarner #Ferguson #ShutItDown

:|: Journey to New York City: The People’s Climate Train and March, Part 2 :|:

Nighttime Conversation between Ann, Myself

I first saw Ann at the Connect the Dots Refinery Corridor Healing Walks that Idle No More San Francisco Bay organized earlier this year. Our friendship really kicked off at the Our Power Richmond Convening Day of Action this summer, when she revealed that she’d lived in Brazil for 20 years. I was astounded! Another gringa who had learned Portuguese, having had extensive contact with Brazilian culture; not to mention she’s also a climate justice activist. Little did I know we had so much in common!

This was the third night on the train, I think. Ann was telling me epic stories of her past – living in Mexico, Brazil and Peru. Attending a feminist conference in Central America. Working the land in the Brazilian countryside for decades. What an incredible life, I thought to myself. One worthy of emulation. She continued: a diatribe on regional enviro-justice politics, the early LGBTQ Movement in the United States, Latin American/Brazilian histories, her life story, and so on. I was truly touched by her humility, grace, humor, etc.

Ann Puntch at left with Global Exchange's Shannon Biggs

Ann Puntch at left with Global Exchange’s Shannon Biggs


On Alyssa and Rosalyn

I’m a big believer in the power of massage in augmenting well-being. So on the first day of the trip, I put up a sign hanging over my seat on the train, reading “MASAJES GRATUITAS | FREE MASSAGE | Safe space. No strings. Reduces systemic inflammation. Makes you more chill.”

That same night, two people approached me to request a massage: Alyssa and Rosalyn, both San Diego-based black women activists who were in Stephanie Hervey’s group (Stephanie was leading the contingent of young people of color, who were mostly from the SF Bay Area and California). They were super-forward, and eager to get rubbed down! I gladly massaged them both, and they really enjoyed it.

My massaging them was the perfect overture to our budding friendships. We have a strong connection now, having spent just a few days of interaction (I was honored to earn their respect as a homeboy). They had really taken to me, and I to them. I’ve heard their stories in full; I have immense respect for their histories, struggles, and ultimately their triumphs over significant hardship. Also, they’re intelligent, humorous, talented and fun people. What’s most exciting about that relationship is that they have, if I’m not mistaken, christened me as a white ally, without ever having had to say it outright. They can see that I “get it” as a white man, or that at least I am working hard to try to “get it” better all the time.


Day 4

Yesterday was momentous! We stopped in Chicago for delicious deep dish pizza. Shy-City was windy alright, its downtown cleaner than San Francisco or Oakland. I wasn’t too impressed with the overall vibe of the place, although granted, I didn’t get to see too much of it.

Two days ago, Rosalyn invited me to participate in something called a “Fish Bowl” exercise. It’s comprised of two conversations about perspectives on the root causes of global warming and how it is affecting participants’ communities. The first discussion is had by an “inner” circle of people of color (POC)/representatives of the worst impacted communities, behind whom a group of white people sit, observe, and process. Then, the POC group steps back while the white people from their own circle and reflect on what they’ve just heard.

I think that the exercise went very well indeed. It was emotionally charged with several people coming to tears at hearing each other’s sincere remarks. We each had two minutes to speak. I decided to open with the following quotation by Alice Walker:
If we have any true love for the stars, planets, the rest of Creation, we must do everything we can to keep the white man away from them. They who have appointed themselves our representatives to the rest of the Universe. They who have never met any new creature without exploiting, abusing and destroying it. They who say we poor and colored and female and elderly blight neighborhoods, while they blight worlds.

That prefaced the rest of my share-out, which was a message to American white people everywhere in four points:

1) Step back to let indigenous people and other oppressed communities take the lead.

2) Learn to listen well and genuinely with the end goal of truly understanding the experiences of non-white individuals.

3) Dismantle white privilege.

4) Always acknowledge and retain the fundamental truth about the United States of America: that it is founded on colonialism, the slavery of blacks, the genocide of indigenous and black people, the ecocide of the North American continent, imperialism, and patriarchy; and insist on this reality informing your life, activism, organizing work, etc.

Some people applauded me for what I had said, as did fellow white folks. I told them that what I said was genuine, that it’d come from the heart. Nevertheless, I think number 3 was a mistake. Although I feel that white privilege is ultimately evil, I neglected to acknowledge the fact that white allies have a potentially powerful role to play in utilizing their privilege to bolster the struggle for social justice – that is, if and when they are called upon or requested to do so by frontline communities / people of color.

From the Unsettling America website.

I advocate for a decolonized climate justice movement, as well as a decolonized United States. Why? If we don’t decolonize, then the European supremacist anthropocentric mentality will remain unchanged, and hence indigenous people’s voices will remain unheard–their grievances, written off. That is not an acceptable path for our society, or any for that matter. Indeed, the only way forward is through a POC/indigenous-led decolonized movement for social justice and climate justice. Keep in mind that by decolonization I don’t advocate for the return of all non-Indigenous people back to their ancestral continents (whites to Europe, blacks to Africa). Decolonization is more about changing the culture such that the zeitgeist gives Indigenous peoples the respect, authority, and legal power that they merit as the original, deserving inhabitants of Turtle Island (North America). For more on this, read up the goodies on the excellent website Unsettling America, starting with their Allyship Guidelines.

Getting back to the trip, now… before the exercise last night, I accepted Stephanie’s invitation to dinner with her and her posse. As the only white person in a group of people I didn’t yet know, and who probably didn’t yet trust me, I definitely felt a bit of tension at first. But partly thanks to the delicious deep-dish grub (great food almost always seems to produce great conversation), a couple of juicy conversations erupted. In one of them, I explained how I often don’t feel comfortable in all-white spaces because it feels like I’m being held back. The reality of American white social spaces is something I’m well-versed in, and frankly a bit tired of, because all too often, ignorance plagues them. There’s still so much for white people to learn about their own whiteness and associated privilege; about people of color. And due to the fact that my understanding of whiteness, privilege, power, racial justice and social justice goes farther than most whites’, I don’t want to have to be that guy who feels compelled to engage them when they slip up, such as when they say something subtly racist, or insensitive, or when they appropriate another culture with impunity. I also don’t want to be silent when such perturbations occur. Partly due to that fact, I prefer the company of people of color. I’m not saying that POC are immune to prejudice. Rather, I’m acknowledging the fact that POC’s realities are frequently less delusional because they have experienced and continue to experience first-hand the reality of this country/world, which is characterized by intense structural oppression. Their experience has endowed them with a greater, more thorough understanding of the world. Another way to think about that is that I, as a gay man, have a more complete picture of male sexuality and masculinity because I have been ensconced in the subtle world of male-to-male sexual attraction. I see many things that most heterosexual men and women do not perceive.

Now, contrast the aforementioned experiences of POC with the average white suburbanite, the majority if not entirety of whose friends are white, limiting their experiences to the most sinister, narrowest extent. And that is where the tunnel vision of supremacy-privilege that white America maintains, under-girded by farcical ideas, namely of the poor not working hard enough and thus being responsible for their squalor, is sourced from. I must mention that it’s not all about skin privilege, race. Class is extremely important to acknowledge. Millions of white people are poor in the United States, and it must be said that they have suffered severely, but in their totality not as severely, as poor people of color.

This is somewhat of an inside joke. Check out the following link to see what I mean.

It is becoming clearer by the day to me: white America exists in a delusional maelstrom of racism, prejudice, media propaganda, entitlement, denial, cultural marginalization, societal deterioration, and collective inferiority complex. As far as I’m concerned, the more non-white this country gets, the better off it will be.

I’m encouraged by the fact that the hay day of white America has passed. Its privilege is threatened by the changing face of the United States, whose birthrate of nonwhite babies surpassed that of white babies for the first time last year.  Indeed, white supremacy is facing a brooding threat: a younger generation that is more progressive than its predecessors. A generation that, to a greater extent than before, “gets it” when it comes to racial justice. Unfortunately, there has been a backlash as US-based racist hate groups have multiplied in the past decade. If the predictions are correct, there will be more brown and black
People in the US than whites by the year 2042. What a joyous moment that will be to witness!

The second conversation at the pizzeria was with several activists. Tall, strong Isaac – a Chicano from Denver – was unafraid of expressing his anarchist/radical viewpoints. Isaac mentioned something uplifting: the fact that the dinner space was the most diverse activist crowd he had ever participated in. He said that since white people occupied the leadership positions in virtually all environmental organizations back home in Denver, the onus was always on him to call them out on their shit. I added to the conversation the following observation: white activists often have inflated egos. The group seemed to agree.

That’s the thing: I insist on being up-front, sincere, and direct with people, especially when it comes to fighting against raical injustice, I can do nothing less than to call out my own people on their shit. Unfortunately, it turns out that there are shit tons of such shit out there.


Workshop on the Rights of Nature

As I write this, I am reeling from today’s event, the Bay Area Tribunal on the Rights of Nature, which was held at Laney College this morning. Discussed at the Tribunal and Climate Train workshop were some of the following issues:

If we have human rights, where do those come from? Are they gifts from government, or higher law?

Corporations are a fiction on paper, yet they’re construed as persons by governments.

“There’s a circle of life that we humans often ignore, and we ignore it to our peril.”

The circle of life is not about stockpiling resources. Industrial civilization has claimed ownership over the natural world instead of acknowledging our need to coexist with natural systems.

Human laws are very arrogant, and folly, by treating nature as something separate, something to be exploited.

Human laws are new in the Earth’s history. Our laws pretend to be above nature. However, nature’s laws are supreme, and have been there since the origin of life on Earth.

Human rights come with responsibilities.

Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature

What if the Gulf’s Ecosystem had rights? What would have become of BP then?

Pennie spoke on the original instructions on how to live in balance where they are on Earth. We all had that at one time. We operated on those original instructions for much longer than we’ve deviated from them.

Privatization of nature has taken all of the sacred out of nature.

Earth as property = very dangerous

Two ways to think about this:
1) Rights of Nature
2) Rights of Mother Earth

Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth
-important as an aspirational document

Law is a vehicle for how we use power to enforce values.

Ecosystems have the right to exist, persist, and regenerate themselves. Climate change is related to our relationship to Mother Earth.

Rights of nature has a place in all of our work

Website Reference: The workshop facilitators recommended watching the videos on the Tribunal.

Rights are higher law. The only purpose of legal systems is to defend those laws


Workshop on Fossil Fuel Divestment.

Social movement art just keeps getting prettier! *Glossy Eyes*

I just wanted to mention one memorable statement from the workshop’s facilitator:

“Saying fossil fuel divestment is not effective is like saying one man recycling is not effective.”

I couldn’t agree more that one person recycling is ineffective! One of the most powerful things that the philosophy of Derrick Jensen, a radical ecological thinker has to offer, is that lifestyle changes are insignificant. They’re not going to stop the raping of the biosphere and exploitation of human beings writ large. What’s needed is a resistance movement – social movements – to dismantle unjustifiable, ecocidal systems, creating alternative economies and legal frameworks in the staid of such systems.


On White Allyship

What does it mean to be a White Ally? Well, it means many things. I wanted to share here just a few things I did over the course of the trip that I believe may illustrate a bit of white allyship:

1) Accept the offer of your colleague/leader/friend of color to be housed with her POC group for the duration of the weekend’s social justice activities; hang out with and make an effort to connect with said group interpersonally; navigating  open, honest  conversations about racial justice; eagerly accept delegated tasks such as hauling luggage for the group and risking your ass transporting luggage through Times Square in a rental car (“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” “Motherf*:#@!$%s!”).

2) Utilize what conversational Spanish you have to translate for and interview Venezuelan activist who doesn’t speak English.

3) Give up your seat at a climate convergence to said activist who did not manage to register.

4) Intentionally speak less than you may be compelled to during an anti-oppression workshop in order to open up the space to others, namely  POC.

I’m working on it…


The Statue of Theodore Roosevelt in front of the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan

During a foray into the Upper West Side of Manhattan, we came upon the Museum of Natural History, located right next to Central Park. Fastened to the cement in front of the place is a statue of Theodore Roosevelt. Immediately, every person in my group was struck by how racist the statue seemed. On a horse sat Roosevelt, pistols in hand and fully clothed, with predictably massive forearms. To his right, a stereotypical statue of an Indigenous man – in headdress, armed with a rifle and also looking pretty ripped. On Roosevelt’s left-hand side, a Black slave: replete with loin cloth and rifle.

What?! All of us were annoyed, in disbelief. According to once source, this statue was constructed during a racist period of the museum’s history.

All three characters are portrayed looking ahead – proud, strong. The Indigenous guy and Black slave both look totally subservient to the white man in power, as if they were natural allies of Roosevelt’s in his various racist, imperialist exploits. Fascinating, albeit unsurprising that the statue remains! You would think it would’ve been voted down or vandalized from top to bottom by now…

Burn it down! Or something.

Burn it down! Or something.


Saturday at the World Trade Center with Reverend Marina, her daughter Oriana, and Nancy

From left to right: Oriana, Nancy, and Rev. Skinner

From left to right: Oriana, Nancy, and Rev. Skinner

I had some casual conversations about racial justice with professor and Chair of the Colorado NAACP, Rev. Marina Skinner. The take-away points were to check out the Institute for Dismantling Racism (IDR), and secondly that building relationships must be intentional; therefore, to diversify your organization, it is necessary to make an effort–a strategic effort.

Later that day I went to hear Bill McKibben’s speech at The New School. For those of you who don’t know him, Bill McKibben is the untouchable Holy Guru of the climate movement; arguably one of the most public figures in the world when it comes to climate change issues.

McKibben said that he thinks we’re not going to win–at least not fully. “Even if we do everything right, the climate will still warm by 2C,” he opined. The speech was characterized by a mild air of resignation, presumably because of the reality that this century is going to be extremely difficult for humanity. I do appreciate the leader’s realism. Another revelatory comment of his was the following statement: he said that we must pressure the leaders enough so that they start to take action to relieve some of that pressure.

The memorial consists of two massive square fountains that constantly pour water into a large square basin in the middle. Powerful stuff, I must say.

The memorial consists of two massive square fountains that constantly pour water into a large square basin in the middle. Powerful stuff, I must say.

That statement seemed to be articulating no challenge to the current socio-political and economic orders. Either McKibben doesn’t think that the current  systems are the root problem, or he does, but hesitates to address them directly for political reasons.

Those were my original thoughts on his speech. In retrospect, in light of the marvelous success we had at the People’s Climate March and Flood Wall Street, I have immense respect for Bill McKibben’s organizing work.

One of the new world trade center towers. It was spectacular to behold, although I wonder about the ecological/social costs of constructing it...

One of the new world trade center towers. It was spectacular to behold, although I wonder about the ecological/social costs of constructing it…


#Frack Off

After McKibben’s speech, I was privileged to hear a 5-person panel of North American Indigenous women talk about their personal struggles against expanding fossil fuel operations in their respective nations. One woman spoke of the North Dakotan fossil fuel industry developments of recent years. Trucks upon trucks now speed through her reservation, increasing air pollution and traffic deaths. Entire fabricated housing complexes have popped up, populated by male workers, and dubbed in rather Orwellian terms as “man camps.” Any collateral damage from that? You bet: sexual violence on the local native people. That woman even spoke of radioactive shoes that had been contaminated by some uranium unearthed in the fossil fuel extraction process.

It’s important to note that the panel was comprised entirely of women, in the spirit of Idle No More’s emphasis on female energy in leadership to counter the imbalanced world that destructive male leadership (see: lack thereof) – patriarchy – has wrought. Another memorable quote from one of the speakers: “It’s not just about changing the system; it’s about changing the way we think.” With that she speaks to the importance of culture, of values. To actualize the new world so many of us are collectively envisioning, the deepest changes must occur in ordinary people’s minds.

“Let us all come together and be of one mind.”

For the #FrackOff Media Kit, visit this webpage.


Morning of the People’s Climate March – Sunday, 9/21

Sunflower Parachute - Frontline Communities Bloc

Sunflower Parachute – Frontline Communities Bloc

As we discussed the March in our group that morning, one of our members who had been incarcerated voiced concern about the event: “I don’t like being in situations like that, ’cause I’m the one who always — you know what I’m sayin? I done been to jail too many times.” He was highlighting the fact that because of how he looks and carries himself, he’s often the first to be targeted by police, especially in a protest setting.

I’d like to tell you briefly about the most underwhelming, saddest sign I saw in the whole demonstration. On it read the 3 Rs Narrative: “Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!” The dude and his posse of a few other college students were chanting the 3 Rs over and over again. I thought to myself,

For real?

Come on, folks. That was so the 1990s. Please join most of us, who have now recognized that lifestyle choices will neither save humanity, nor the biosphere. Read this article to see a bit more what I mean by that. KTHXBYE.

One of my favorite signs from the entire day.

One of my favorite signs from the entire day.

Certainly one of the most dynamic, engaging and entertaining conversations I had during this trip was with a Puerto Rican grandma named Sandra. She hit up the Artisan Hub table – chair in hand. We asked about that chair. “I brought it in case I needed to sit down.” She’d carried it for the entire duration of the march, at least a few miles. In flip flops. Dang, grandma! You go!!

In any case, Sandra told me a lot about Puerto Rican politics and US-Puerto Rican relations. She traced her life story as a bicultural/bilingual person, including the challenges she faced growing up. I was even able to get some romantic advice out of her pertaining to Rican men.

It felt like we were kindred spirits, since the conversation flowed easily, punctuated by lots of laughter and levity. In true bittersweet fashion, efforts to keep in touch have failed, so this will likely have ended up being a single cathartic interpersonal experience that can never be repeated. Saudades, Sandra!

Quote of the day Saturday:

“You two are my favorite allies” — friend of Ann’s and mine.


Heading Home on the Train, 9/23/2014

On Tuesday night as we chugged along past grain fields – grain silos – ancient buffalo territory – a man came down give me some company as I ate my super highly-processed Train Food Dinner (gods help me). He was Indigenous and from Omaha – I knew that much. I attended a workshop he’d given on board the People’s Climate Train about Indigenous issues.

John Pappan, founder & coordinator of the Indigenous Council of Nebraska.

John Pappan, founder & coordinator of the Indigenous Council of Nebraska.

I forget why exactly he approached me, but he said something to effect that it was his intuition. I interpret it this way: he somehow perceived that I was on a similar wavelength (an ally-in-training to Indigenous peoples, of sorts), that I was what you might call a sympathizer.

He told me at length of how the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has executive authority over any decision a Tribal Council makes in US territory. Talk about fry-bread republics! He spoke of immense corruption in local Indigenous institutions; of how much lack of accountability there seemed to be between the State officials and the local officials in Omaha. Due to such rampant incompetence, John founded the Indigenous Council.

Our conversation drifted far and wide, from the Navajo necklace gifted to me by a dear friend to the concept of “fry-bread republics,” to Ancient Babylon. “Truth is stranger than fiction,” I remember him saying. I couldn’t agree more! The one book he urged me to read: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown. The one thing he urged me to do: keep a dream journal.

I was delighted by how warm and down-to-Earth John is. He took quite a bit of time out of his night to tell me about his story, the story of his people. I am grateful for that.


The Last Conversation

As we traversed the Sierra Nevada passes, an intense haze from lingering forest fires flooded the air. We were fortunate enough to encounter a small rain shower, the cotton candy clouds floating gently among the conifer armies – almost like ephemeral spirits that had taken a deep breath and never exhaled.

The last memorable conversation I had on the return train ride began over lunch with a Coloradan man – middle-aged, white, trained in biology. He had a unique way of speaking; calmly, hushly he went on about a range of topics (this seems to be a characteristic of most of the good conversations I had on the trains). He started by describing how the local economy in his hometown used to entail a cannery, butcher shops, and various local stores, but then Walmart came through and smashed them all. The evolution of steel processing had culminated, he claimed, with the Germans, who had streamlined the system to peak efficiency. This man’s disposition, a tad morose, but authentic, subdued me in the way an elder should. Our chat culminated in a discussion about ecology, about technology.

“When you introduce too many changes into an ecosystem, it usually can’t adapt fast enough. Then, the ecosystem is destabilized.”

And my favorite line from the exchange:

“Technology is not something we get to vote on. Maybe we should.”

*                        *                        *

 I’m full of appreciation and gratitude at having had the opportunity to attend this historic event. I got a lot out of it, and it was wonderful to be able to see a lot of the US by land for the first time. A thousand thanks to all of you reading this, and to those of you who contributed your presence/energy to the journey. 

Many thanks for reading!


:|: Journey to New York City: The People’s Climate Train and March, Part 1 :|:

View from inside a Rocky Mountains Valley.

View from inside a Rocky Mountains Valley.

Salutations, readers! It’s taken a bit of effort to synthesize 13 pages of journal entries into something cogent, which is why I’ve decided to break this up into parts. Anyhow, I hope that you’ll find this one interesting and check out Part 2!

Entry 1

I composed this astounding, mind-blowing (!) short prose perched on a ledge just outside my apartment building on the morning of our departure…

I chose to sit and soak it up,
The birdsong from a single tree
Contrasted by the cars and trucks —
Their sounds: competing energies

The Choo-Choo Train
of Climate Cool
Will “All aboard” shortly
And we’ll start using our Collective Tool

To rub the Capitalists Coarsely…

Or will we?

Entry 2

The energy on the train, both creative and positive, is having a strong effect on me. I’ve decided to take on a mini-project of interviewing a few climate train riders. On this trip, something notable happened within me: my talent as a listener and question poser came into an existential spotlight. I realized that I could definitely see myself as a journalist – someone who combines strong listening skills with incessant inquisitiveness (I’m notorious the latter – so much so that “Please, stop asking questions” has most definitely crossed the minds of loved ones) and an enthusiasm for writing.

Also worth mentioning was my spontaneous connection with Santiago Obispo, the Coordinator General of the Amazon Cooperation Network (REDCOM) in Venezuela. He had traveled all the way from South America to be on the train representing traditional communities in his region. I decided to dive in and offer to serve as de facto translator, along with my dear friend Ann Puntch. Since I’m all about connecting with Indigenous / underprivileged communities, I was also interested in his story, so I asked if he would be interested in being interviewed.

To make things a tad shinier and more – ugh, dare I say it – professional, I was able to borrow a high-tech professional recording device from my buddy Matt Fu, founder of Hollow Earth Radio up in Washington State. He was very supportive of this spontaneous interview project.

In the spirit of maintaining a critical perspective that does justice to both oppressed peoples and ecosystems globally, I was inspired to pose the following questions about the People’s Climate March that we’re about to undertake, not to mention the climate justice movement. Here’s my rough outline of the process, including a (rather shady (see: quite awful)) Spanish language version:


-introduce yourself, what you’re doing, date, location, destination

-introduce interviewee: name, place, org,
-what are your top 2 strengths and top 2 weaknesses?
–>main Eco challenges in their community
–>vision for the climate justice movement

1) what are some outcomes you would like to see from the People’s Climate March? Do you think that those outcomes are likely or not? (Why?)

What would an effective People’s Climate March look like or result in?

2) what are some of the main issues you feel the climate justice movement is dealing with at this time?

3) does the current leadership of the US climate justice movement <<reflect and effect>> the priorities and voices of indigenous communities and communities of color?

4) do you think that global warming is the root problem we face, or is the root problem something else?

Interview with Shankar Balasubramania, software engineer based in the San Francisco Bay Area

Preguntas en español para la entrevista de Santiago Obispo

1) Hola para todas los usuarios y usuarias del mundo entero! Me llamo Colin Murphy, y estoy aquí en el Tren Climático de los Pueblos haciendo una serie de entrevistas. Nosotros ciento y setenta activistas estamos a camino de Nueva Iorque, donde vamos a participar en la mayor evento mundial sobre los cambios climáticos en la historia, la Marcha Climática de los Pueblos, aconteciendo el domingo, 21 de setiembre.

La hecha es 18 de setiembre, y estamos cercano a nuestro destino.

Bueno, estoy honrado a estar aquí con Santiago Obispo, líder indígena de la Amazonía. Buenas tardes, Santiago!


–De dónde es usted originalmente? De cuál pueblo tradicional es?
–Por que empezó a trabajar con los movimientos sociales?
–Cual es su profesión? Que actividad económica desempeña?
–Cuales son dos fortalezas, y dos debilidades?
–Cual es su visión por el movimiento de justicia climática ?


1) Cuales son las cuestiones principales que el movimiento de justicia climática está confrontando ahora?

2) Cree Ud que el liderazgo internacional del movimiento de justicia climática – por ejemplo Bill McKibben de, o Kumi Naidoo de GreenPeace – refleja y efectúa las prioridades e voces de pueblos indígenas, comunidades tradicionales y afro-descendentes?

3) Piensa Ud que el problema de raíz que enfrentamos es los cambios climáticos, o son otros problemas?

4) Hay algunas palabras que le gustaría a decir para resumir?

By the end of the trip, I had interviewed Kad Smith of The Ecology Center (, Shankar M. of Sunnyvale, and Santiago Obispo.

We were greeted by lots of people in Reno, Glenwood Springs, Denver, and Chicago along the way. Reno and Denver had the best energy, IMHO.

We were greeted by lots of people in Reno, Glenwood Springs, Denver, and Chicago along the way. Reno and Denver had the best energy, IMHO.

Entry 3

Frankly, I believe that the climate justice movement is not decolonized just yet. The leadership remains mostly white and male. Patriarchy reigns, as the movement’s leadership indicates, at a time when female leadership is most direly needed to steer – no, jerk – the species off of its course of suicide, and biocide.

Interestingly though, a wave of female leaders, both seasoned and new, have emerged who are keeping it real when it comes to what needs to be done to save the biosphere/humanity. The likes of the founders of Idle No More, including Pennie Opal Plant of the SF Bay Area, as well as renown intellectuals Arundhati Roy, Naomi Klein and Vandana Shiva are so important precisely because they really seem to get it; they actively support indigenous rights to water, land, food sovereignty, and cultural integrity. They also have a way of inspiring us with truthful words about the political economy, and about the state of affairs on Earth.

Conversation 1

Participants: Eddy, Matt, Colin

Topics discussed: decolonization, bioregionalism, anti-civilization, Cascadia, local ecojustice politics, tribal politics

This conversation featured three men, all white. I was pleasantly surprised – relieved, in fact – at how sophisticated the politics of Eddy Uri and Matt Fu are with regards to social justice. They were informed and seemed to be fully supportive of decolonization. Moreover, they’re wonderful people; warm, not pedantic, but eager to share their knowledge. 

Morning meditation with two Buddhist nuns. It was grounding.

Morning meditation with two Buddhist nuns. It was grounding.


Day 2

Workshop: Transsexual/queer allyship

First of all, I’d like to remark that I’m grateful this workshop is taking place. As a non-heterosexual man who knows his stuff when it comes to queer theory/LGBTQ issues, it’s always comforting when someone opens up a queer-friendly space for dialogue. The advantage of having a transsexual/queer allyship workshop is that we queers have the opportunity to clarify some very complex terms, ideas, realities for those activists on the train who may not be familiar, let alone have any contact, with them.

Some of the topics we discussed were gender identity, cis-gender, gender expression, gender queer, queer, sexual orientation, transsexual (mostly clinical term; indicates that you’ve transitioned physically from one sex to another) v. transgender (no physical sexual transition), transvestite, cross-dresser, internalized homophobia, asexual.

Conversation 2

Participants: Rosalyn, Colin, Dara, Milo

This was a memorable conversation indeed. I remember Rosalyn seated on the table in the Observation Car, with gorgeous Rocky Mountain ridges passing behind her as she slung words with an intense passion and elocutive skill not too common among young people. In retrospect, I think to myself: Hers is the face of the climate justice movement – dark-skinned, female, from an oppressed community, with a difficult history; intelligent, cunning, charismatic, and already taking necessary action to avert disaster.

We conversed about two organizations still fresh in my mind from the Our Power Convening: the Climate Justice Alliance (CJA), the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJA), the Our Power Campaign, and the need for intercultural healing/racial justice in the climate movement. I brought up the harsh reality that segregation along racial and class lines persists, perpetuating and exacerbating many societal problems in the United States.

What comes to mind when I recall my experience of this conversation and others is a feeling of connection via intellectual cross-pollination. Our minds were juicing the fruits of their labor, eking out “liquid” nourishment, each one of us imbibing the other’s, leaving everyone nourished and more satisfied.

During this chat, Rosalyn planted the seeds for what was to be a remarkable event – the fish bowl discussion of the People’s Climate Train ridership in the suitably glorious Great Hall of Chicago Union Station.

Conversation 3

Participants: Emily, Colin

Emili Abdel-Ghany and I, Colin Murphy

Emili Abdel-Ghany and I

At the suggestion of Stephanie Hervey of The Artisan Hub, I decided to descend into the cafe car to bater o papo with Emili Abdel-Ghany, lead organizer of the California Student Sustainability Coalition (CSSC). I remember her sitting at the corner of the booth, poised right up against the window. The timing couldn’t have been better for the conversation, as the Rocky Mountain valleys began rolling past us. The timing couldn’t have been better seasonally, as the leaf-fall trees’ leaves began to pre-fall, turning a gorgeous yellow. Meanwhile, the sun – ideally poised, like so many other things on this trip – garnished the pre-fall leaves with a glistening that instilled in me an immense sensation of beauty and interconnectedness. When nature presents itself in its pristine beauty like it did in those valleys, through people on that Train, I feel a sense of release – an emotion that combines being unafraid to die, satisfaction with life, gratitude, and joy. Perhaps it’s time to create a new word for that emotion…

On to the conversation itself. Like the queer allyship workshop, it made me feel more at home to reconnect with someone whose involvement in the CSSC had forever changed them. We started out the chat with my story. I gave Emili the nutshell version – how I became chair of the CSSC’s UC Irvine chapter, my attendance at various leadership retreats and convergences of the group. I recounted how I facilitated a coalition of student groups, including government, to get The Green Initiative Fund passed on our campus, and so on and so forth. Most importantly, I recalled how much CSSC had taught me how to be a better communicator, a more compassionate organizer, and basic facilitation / consensus decision-making skills.

A view of the Rocky Mountains eastern slopes...

A view of the Rocky Mountains’ eastern slopes…

Emili impressed me with her rather stellar record, having moved quickly up the ranks of the CSSC to be Organizing Team Chair, Convergence Coordinator, etc. Similar to the conversation I had with Eddy and Matt, the white guys who turned out to be extremely not too shabby, I was very satisfied that we’re both more or less on the same wavelength politically. Namely, we agree that the mainstream climate movement’s narratives of “Do the Math,” focusing more or less exclusively on the scientific and logical aspects of the issues, are flawed because they don’t put people of color and Indigenous communities front and center. Implicitly, narratives to date that leaders have been using to convince the public of the urgency of global warming have failed because they’ve largely relied too dearly on logos, or logic, whereas the Koch Brothers and others have utilized pathos much more effectively to appeal to people’s hearts and minds. In other words, the climate justice movement must put forth narratives that appeal to more than just people’s logic, since we need to move people’s hearts and minds. We’re fighting a war of narratives here; logic and science are already on our sides. For a more intricate explanation of this, check out the Oakland-based Center for Story-Based Strategy’s website.

Many, many thanks for supporting this citizen journalism by yours truly, and do stay tuned for Part 2!

We passed by several fossil fuel-laden trains on the way to and back from New York City.

Black gold!? Get it! Get it! Get it!

Book Review: The Making of Americans by E.D. Hirsch


The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools

Written in 2009 by education reformer E.D. Hirsch, The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools proposes a unilateral curriculum for all students in the US educational system. E.D. Hirsch is credited with inventing the concept of cultural literacy — “the idea that reading comprehension requires not just formal decoding skills but also wide-ranging background knowledge.” Hirsch makes the argument that the so-called “anti-curriculum” movement – which in his mind is the same thing as progressive education – in American schooling, which took off in the latter half of the 20th Century mostly in the K-8 grades, has largely failed our country. It should be noted, too, that this man helped to create the Common Core Movement – which proposes the same set of standards for all students in the US – now undergoing adoption by many states all over the country.

Throughout the course of the book, Hirsch makes a few arguments:

1) Coupled with any language is a large body of knowledge that is essential to utilizing the language properly and succeeding in the society at large, the author says. Schools are therefore charged with teaching a large body of coherent “tacit” knowledge that language users draw from, in this case, English language users. For example, Hirsch argues that it is pointless to teach reading comprehension skills for days, weeks, and months at a time, because what use is that if the students don’t understand the content of the passages they are required to analyze? As he articulates on p. 157 of his book, reading comprehension “is not a universal, repeatable skill” as is pronouncing words correctly or kicking a ball into a goal. Rather, “‘reading skills’ is an over-generalized abstraction that obscures what reading really is,” a set of “separate, content-constituted skills” – for example, the ability to read about the Great Plains or the ability to read about Industrialization. Because reading about every subject entails a different set of knowledge, “…proficiency in one reading-comprehension task does not necessarily predict skill in another” (p. 156). As he asserts in this article, which I cite for the purposes of providing a primary source, “A lack of knowledge, both civic and general, is the most significant deficit in most Americans’ education.” In his book, he states that “Commonality of language is commonality of knowledge” (p. 114). Foreign language educators know this, as they’re required to teach about the cultures with which their non-English language is connected.

Hirsch is not without his critics on this point. According to Claire Andre and Manuel Vasquez over at Santa Clara University, “force-feeding bits of information taken out of context (which Hirsch calls ‘culture’) to children who have not yet developed their capacity to critically evaluate information results in cultural indoctrination, not cultural literacy.” Critics allege racism and sexism on Hirsch’s part, argue Vasquez and Andre: “Forcing every student to accept the ‘national culture’ that Hirsch advocates is a subtle form of racism and sexism. It is an attempt to force on all citizens the values implicit in the culture of the dominant social class. As such it is unjust.” This makes sense to me, for wouldn’t it be cultural homogenization if we constructed a single (indubitably Eurocentric) narrative of US/Western culture, and then imposed it unilaterally on this nation of 315,000,000 individuals? I encourage you to give your feedback on this critical question in the comments below.

2) Language is power; the ability to use language properly is empowerment. In the United States, the language of power is Standard American English. Teaching different dialects of North America English (Ebonics, Chicano, New York, Southern, New Orleans, etc.) is therefore unwise, because although it ostensibly honors the histories and backgrounds, it ends up reproducing oppression by failing to teach (especially underprivileged) children how to speak the language of this country’s business and mainstream cultures. This logically leads to disempowerment and economic disenfranchisement, because white-dominated workplaces often look down on and thus disfavor those who do not speak “proper” English. United States schools thus have a critical mandate to ensure all of their students are learning the form of English that will maximize their social upward mobility. I do agree with this contention.

He points out that, ironically, the very same proponents of teaching dialects in our schools make their cases utilizing Standard American English. That is no accident. The proponents thereof know well that the version of the English language they’re using is the only one that the Establishment – academic, scientific, economic, political – takes seriously.

3) The anti-curriculum movement of the 20th Century, focused on “child-centered” and “how-to” methodologies, has failed because students from content-rich, often well-to-do homes, argues Hirsch, succeed much more than those from less well-off homes. This perpetuates injustice because poor students often are receiving in school the kind of background knowledge that wealthier, whiter students receive at home. “Language is not a purely enclosed system. It is a tool we use to name, describe, and understand physical, social, and psychological realities. Advantaged children experience not only richer vocabularies and syntax but more of what that language refers to” (p. 140). Such a situation suggests the need for a content-based curriculum in the early grades in order to build up the base of background knowledge needed by every student to understand each class. Hm.

From p. 160: “…it is far more fruitful to teach children the broad array of domain-specific knowledge to become mature readers than to practice reading strategies such as ‘finding the main idea,’ ‘clarifying’ and ‘summarizing.'” Not only is focusing on such strategies tedious and undynamic, it reinforces the corporate-fueled, test-obsessed culture of education in which we’re embroiled.

“The general knowledge and vocabulary required for effective learning at the high school level are slow-growing fruits of a long process. The way to reform high school is to prepare elementary students to thrive there” (Hirsch, 163).

4) Our three biggest educational problems: “(1) our decline in basic academic achievement, (2) our failure to offer equality of educational opportunity, and (3) our failure to perpetuate… A strong sense of loyalty to the national community and its civic institutions.” (p. 133)

Although I feel that the first and second educational problems he delineates are reasonable enough, the third is specious. Why would the long-oppressed Black, Latino and Indigenous communities of the United States want to cultivate a strong sense of loyalty to a national community and concomitant civic institutions that have oppressed them for centuries? Would doing so lead to their further empowerment or would it be a betrayal to their respective struggles? This illustrates somewhat the situation of oppressed communities in the US: they often have no interest in investing faith or loyalty in certain nationwide institutions, let alone in the imagined national community, that for centuries have put them down, mistreated and abused them. These institutions are usually inherently racist, classist and sometimes white supremacist. And this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Hirsch’s philosophical shortcomings.

Indeed, his work is laced with an unsettling patriotism that evinces at least a few problems with his politics. On page 124, Hirsch casually decries the entirety of one of the most influential political philosophies of all time: “Marxism, another failed system of ideas, is readily blamed for the poor economic performance of the former Soviet Union…” This is a shoddy, curt, unfair treatment of a highly influential system of ideas — sure, it has not succeeded in sustaining any convetional government thus far (the “governments” of the Zapatista-occupied territories in Mexico and the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil seem to be influenced by Marxism), but certainly it has survived and remains very alive among radical, diverse, oppressed groups all over the world. Its intellectual coherence and influence cannot be understated, and therefore, it cannot be deemed a failure so hastily.

The first example comes from the front cover. The subtitle “Democracy and Our Schools” is patently misleading, because in the first place, Hirsch makes the outright antiquated and false claim that the United States is a democracy. A number of excellent arguments exist against the notion that the US is, or ever was for that matter, a democratic country. Here is one from “the most important intellectual alive (1),” MIT Professor Emeritus of Linguistics Noam Chomsky. He asserts that roughly the lowest 70% of the population in terms of income exert almost no influence on policy whatsoever. “As you move up the wealth/income ladder, you get a little bit more influence on policy.” And if you occupy space at or near the top, you essentially get what you want; that is, they make the policy. The proper term for this, says Chomsky, is a plutocracy, not a democracy. This is due to the fact that a democracy is governed by the people, whereas a plutocracy is governed by a minority.

Perhaps the most telling reality is this: public policy consistently fails to reflect the will of the American people. For decades public polls show that Americans desire one thing, Congress tends to do the opposite. On taxes, the professor argues, the public has been saying it favors higher taxes on corporations, even though corporate taxes have been declining and massive tax loopholes persist (2, 3, 4). Another revelatory conclusion of Chomsky’s? The US is essentially a one-party state: the ruling party is the business party; its two factions the Democrats and the Republicans.

Secondly, on page 76 Hirsch continues to perpetuate the myth that the United States has been a success with the following passage: “Students need to leave school with a good understanding of the civic principles under which the US operates and with an emotional commitment to making this political experiment continue to work.” To claim that this country’s political experiment is “working” not only sustains the denial that the US was founded on anything but injustice, including the participation in two holocausts: the first of Indigenous American peoples, and the second of blacks (4.5, 4.75).

Furthermore, Hirsch fails to explain for whom this experiment is working. Indeed, it certainly isn’t working for the 46,000,000 US citizens living in poverty – that’s approximately one sixth of the population (5). It isn’t working for the working class, which since 1978, has seen stagnating wages just as executive wages have skyrocketed (6).  It isn’t working for our infrastructure, long defunded by Congress at the cost of billions per year (6.5), which the American Society of Civil Engineers rated a “D+” last year (7). To assert that this “great” political experiment has succeeded is to forget the atrocities, genocide, and annihilation committed by the US government against people of color for centuries, most notoriously, against the Indigenous peoples here. Ever since the US federal government relocated Indigenous peoples to remote reservations – for better or worse – it has abused in myriad ways. It has long failed (8, 9) to empower, let alone acknowledge the dignity of, Indigenous (also known as Native, American Indian) peoples.

There are many questions about Hirsch’s politics. Does he really believe that by imparting sufficient content knowledge and a foundation in Standard American English to all US citizens, we will achieve social justice? Somehow I believe he’s more intelligent than that. Racism and inequality of opportunity can’t be eliminated that way. Structural and systemic racism, patriarchy, white supremacy and the resultant oppression cannot be undone through a stronger elementary school curriculum. Nevertheless, I do not doubt that a mastery of Standard American English and extensive background knowledge are empowering tools for anyone (not just in the US). The happy-go-lucky patriotism that infuses the book is unconvincing. Indeed, it is alarming, because it illuminates Hirsch’s contradictory stance: yes, America is a glorious thing – a success – and the Founding Fathers were rather benevolent demigods who had the best interests of everyone in mind (let’s just forget about the fact that they were mostly wealthy slave-possessing landowners who had set out to write a Constitution that maintained their considerable power). Let’s just forget the inconvenient truths – that the United States is an illegitimate country in the first place; it should never have existed because without a land-grabbing genocide of Indigenous Americans, it could never have existed. Without capitalism and its initial dirt-cheap labor force, slaves, the US probably wouldn’t have been able to achieve the kind of power it now has, at least not as quickly. 

In light of those realities, I will rescind my evaluation of Hirsch as a patriotic man. Indeed, by omitting mention of the US as a country founded on serious atrocities, power inequities, inequality, and oppression, and by leaving out concepts such as structural inequality/oppression, racism, patriarchy, and other systemic problems, he fails to put forth an academic solution for elementary schools that is either comprehensive enough or fully informed from a social justice perspective. This makes his few mentions of the desire (perhaps not his own) to produce social justice through his proposed reforms as, at best, dubious. Finally, the cursory mentions of social justice come off more as placating statements to the politically progressive readers of his book, such as myself.

For other critiques of E.D. Hirsch’s educational philosophy, see below.

Grant Wiggins

Thomas R. McCambridge

Santa Clara University

Many thanks for the read! I warmly welcome your constructive criticism and other comments below; in fact I can hardly improve as a writer without them!

The element of mystery in human interaction

For some reason, since I’ve begun working this new restaurant job in San Francisco I’ve started noticing Everything That Goes Unsaid. Of course, that’s absurd. It’s technically impossible to do, because we can’t read each other’s thoughts… yet!

What I mean by that is, especially in work situations, most coworkers’ personal lives remain mysteries to you; there’s usually not the interest let alone time to hang out and get to know one another, so the chatter centers on what needs to get done.

“What kind of sports do you like?” E-man asked me last week.
“Capoeira,” I replied, adding “I was never really into field sports, just dance and martial arts.”

This was a rare instance of someone initiating a conversation about me, taking interest in my life.

I would do more of that with others, but after 16 long, well-spent and hyper social months in Ireland/Spain, I’m frankly tired of getting to know people. I would rather keep to myself, do what I need to do, and – very selectively, very seldomly – get to know people as I please.

This all has to do with the element of mystery in social relationships. It fascinates me, partly because as one friend put it recently, “each person is a window into a different reality.” Word up to that! I would add that each culture and country is too, as you can feel if you go abroad to really simmer somewhere.

Yes, we can never know everything about someone, save perhaps the very best of friends or life partners. It gets at a quote I first read in another friend’s Facebook profile, of all places: “the more I learn, the less I know.”