Occupy Wall Street

Project Censored 2014



Our oceans are acidifying — even if the nightly news hasn’t told you yet.

As humanity continues to fill the atmosphere with harmful gases, the planet is becoming less hospitable to life as we know it. The vast oceans absorb much of the carbon dioxide we have produced, from the industrial revolution through the rise of global capitalism. Earth’s self-sacrifice spared the atmosphere nearly 25 percent of humanity’s CO2 emissions, slowing the onslaught of many severe weather consequences.

Although the news media have increasingly covered the climate weirding of global warming — hurricane superstorms, fierce tornado clusters, overwhelming snowstorms, and record-setting global high temperatures — our ocean’s peril has largely stayed submerged below the biggest news stories.

The rising carbon dioxide in our oceans burns up and deforms the smallest, most abundant food at the bottom of the deep blue food chain. One vulnerable population is the tiny shelled swimmers known as the sea butterfly. In only a few short decades, the death and deformation of this fragile and translucent species could endanger predators all along the oceanic food web, scientists warn.

This “butterfly effect,” once unleashed, potentially threatens fisheries that feed over 1 billion people worldwide.

Since ancient times, humans fished the oceans for food. Now, we’re frying ocean life before we even catch it, starving future generations in the process. Largely left out of national news coverage, this dire report was brought to light by a handful of independent-minded journalists: Craig Welch from the Seattle Times, Julia Whitty of Mother Jones, and Eli Kintisch of ScienceNOW.

It is also the top story of Project Censored, an annual book and reporting project that features the year’s most underreported news stories, striving to unmask censorship, self-censorship, and propaganda in corporate-controlled media outlets. The book is set for release in late October.

“Information is the currency of democracy,” Ralph Nader, the prominent consumer advocate and many-time presidential candidate, wrote in his foreword to this year’s Project Censored 2015. But with most mass media owned by narrow corporate interests, “the general public remains uninformed.”

Whereas the mainstream media poke and peck at noteworthy events at single points in time, often devoid of historical context or analysis, Project Censored seeks to clarify understanding of real world issues and focus on what’s important. Context is key, and many of its “top censored” stories highlight deeply entrenched policy issues that require more explanation than a simple sound bite can provide.

Campus and faculty from over two dozen colleges and universities join in this ongoing effort, headquartered at Sonoma State University. Some 260 students and 49 faculty vet thousands of news stories on select criteria: importance, timeliness, quality of sources, and the level of corporate news coverage.

The top 25 finalists are sent to Project Censored’s panel of judges, who then rank the entries, with ocean acidification topping this year’s list.

“There are outlets, regular daily papers, who are independent and they’re out there,” Andy Lee Roth, associate director of Project Censored, told us. Too many news outlets are beholden to corporate interests, but Welch of the Seattle Times bucked the trend, Roth said, by writing some of the deepest coverage yet on ocean acidification.

“There are reporters doing the highest quality of work, as evidenced by being included in our list,” Roth said. “But the challenge is reaching as big an audience as [the story] should.”

Indeed, though Welch’s story was reported in the Seattle Times, a mid-sized daily newspaper, this warning is relevant to the entire world. To understand the impact of ocean acidification, Welch asks readers to “imagine every person on earth tossing a hunk of CO2 as heavy as a bowling ball into the sea. That’s what we do to the oceans every day.”

Computer modeler Isaac Kaplan, at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office in Seattle, told Welch that his early work predicts significant declines in sharks, skates and rays, some types of flounder and sole, and Pacific whiting, the most frequently caught commercial fish off the coast of Washington, Oregon, and California.

Acidification may also harm fisheries in the farthest corners of the earth: A study by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme outlines acidification’s threat to the arctic food chain.

“Decreases in seawater pH of about 0.02 per decade have been observed since the late 1960s in the Iceland and Barents Seas,” the study’s authors wrote in the executive summary. And destroying fisheries means wiping out the livelihoods of the native peoples of the Antarctic.

Acidification can even rewire the brains of fish, Welch’s story demonstrated. Studies found rising CO2 levels cause clown fish to gain athleticism, but have their sense of smell redirected. This transforms them into “dumb jocks,” scientists said, swimming faster and more vigorously straight into the mouths of their predators.

These Frankenstein fish were found to be five times more likely to die in the natural world. What a fitting metaphor for humanity, as our outsized consumption propels us towards an equally dangerous fate.

“It’s not as dramatic as say, an asteroid is hitting us from outer space,” Roth said of this slowly unfolding disaster, which is likely why such a looming threat to our food chain escapes much mainstream news coverage.

Journalism tends to be more “action focused,” Roth said, looking to define conflict in everything it sees. A recently top-featured story on CNN focused on President Barack Obama’s “awkward coffee cup salute” to a Marine, which ranks only slightly below around-the-clock coverage of the president’s ugly tan suit as a low point in mainstream media’s focus on the trivial.

As Nader noted, “‘important stories’ are often viewed as dull by reporters and therefore unworthy of coverage.” But mainstream media do cover some serious topics with weight, as it did in the wake of the police officer shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. So what’s the deciding factor?

As Roth tells it, corporate news focuses on “drama, and the most dramatic action is of course violence.”

But the changes caused by ocean acidification are gradual. Sea butterflies are among the most abundant creatures in our oceans, and are increasingly born with shells that look like cauliflower or sandpaper, making this and similar species more susceptible to infection and predators.

“Ocean acidification is changing the chemistry of the world’s water faster than ever before, and faster than the world’s leading scientists predicted,” Welch said, but it’s not getting the attention is deserves. “Combined nationwide spending on acidification research for eight federal agencies, including grants to university scientists by the National Science Foundation, totals about $30 million a year — less than the annual budget for the coastal Washington city of Hoquiam, population 10,000.”

Our oceans may slowly cook our food chain into new forms with potentially catastrophic consequences. Certainly 20 years from now, when communities around the world lose their main source of sustenance, the news will catch on. But will the problem make the front page tomorrow, while there’s still time to act?

Probably not, and that’s why we have Project Censored and its annual list:



Sexual abuse, children kept in cages, extra-judicial murder. While these sound like horrors the United States would stand against, the reverse is true: This country is funding these practices.

The US is a signatory of the United Nations’ Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, but the top 10 international recipients of US foreign assistance in 2014 all practice torture, according to human rights groups, as reported by Daniel Wickham of online outlet Left Foot Forward.

Israel received over $3 billion in US aid for fiscal year 2013-14, according to a Congressional Research Service report. Israel was criticized by the country’s own Public Defender’s Office for torturing children suspected of minor crimes.

“During our visit, held during a fierce storm that hit the state, attorneys met detainees who described to them a shocking picture: in the middle of the night dozens of detainees were transferred to the external iron cages built outside the IPS transition facility in Ramla,” the PDO wrote, according to The Independent.

The next top recipients of US foreign aid were Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan, Nigeria, Jordan, Iraq, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. All countries were accused of torture by human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Kenyan police in Nairobi tortured, raped, or otherwise abused more than 1,000 refugees from 2012 to 2013, Human Rights Watch found. The Kenyan government received $564 million from the United States in 2013-14.

When the US funds a highway or other project that it’s proud of, it plants a huge sign proclaiming “your tax dollars at work.” When the US funds torturers, the corporate media bury the story, or worse, don’t report it at all.



The Trans-Pacific Partnership is like the Stop Online Piracy Act on steroids, yet few have heard of it, let alone enough people to start an Internet campaign to topple it. Despite details revealed by Wikileaks, the nascent agreement has been largely ignored by the corporate media.

Even the world’s elite are out of the loop: Only three officials in each of the 12 signatory countries have access to this developing trade agreement that potentially impacts over 800 million people.

The agreement touches on intellectual property rights and the regulation of private enterprise between nations, and is open to negotiation and viewing by 600 “corporate advisors” from big oil, pharmaceutical, to entertainment companies.

Meanwhile, more than 150 House Democrats signed a letter urging President Obama to halt his efforts to fast-track negotiations, and to allow Congress the ability to weigh in now on an agreement only the White House has seen.

Many criticized the secrecy surrounding the TPP, arguing the real world consequences may be grave. Doctors Without Borders wrote, “If harmful provisions in the US proposals for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement are not removed before it is finalized, this trade deal will have a real cost in human lives.”



This entry demonstrates the nuance in Project Censored’s media critique. Verizon v. FCC may weaken Internet regulation, which Electronic Frontier Foundation and other digital freedom advocates allege would create a two-tiered Internet system. Under the FCC’s proposed new rules, corporate behemoths such as Comcast or Verizon could charge entities to use faster bandwidth, which advocates say would create financial barriers to free speech and encourage censorship.

Project Censored alleges corporate outlets such as The New York Times and Forbes “tend to highlight the business aspects of the case, skimming over vital particulars affecting the public and the Internet’s future.”

Yet this is a case where corporate media were circumvented by power of the viral web. John Oliver, comedian and host of Last Week Tonight on HBO, recently gave a stirring 13-minute treatise on the importance of stopping the FCC’s new rules, resulting in a flood of comments to the FCC defending a more open Internet. The particulars of net neutrality have since been thoroughly reported in the corporate media.

But, as Project Censored notes, mass media coverage only came after the FCC’s rule change was proposed, giving activists little time to right any wrongs. It’s a subtle but important distinction.



Bankers responsible for rigging municipal bonds and bilking billions of dollars from American cities have largely escaped criminal charges. Every day in the US, low-level drug dealers get more prison time than these scheming bankers who, while working for GE Capital, allegedly skimmed money from public schools, hospitals, libraries, and nursing homes, according to Rolling Stone.

Dominick Carollo, Steven Goldberg, and Peter Grimm were dubbed a part of the “modern American mafia,” by the magazine’s Matt Taibbi, one of the few journalists to consistently cover their trial. Meanwhile, disturbingly uninformed cable media “journalists” defended the bankers, saying they shouldn’t be prosecuted for “failure,” as if cheating vulnerable Americans were a bad business deal.

“Had the US authorities decided to press criminal charges,” Assistant US Attorney General Lanny Breuer told Taibbi. “HSBC (a British bank) would almost certainly have lost its banking license in the US, the future of the institution would have been under threat, and the entire banking system would have been destabilized.”

Over the course of decades, the nation’s bankers transformed into the modern mafioso. Unfortunately, our modern media changed as well, and are no longer equipped to tackle systemic, complex stories.



What’s frightening about the puppeteers who pull the strings of our national government is not how hidden they are, but how hidden they are not.

From defense contractors to multinational corporations, a wealthy elite using an estimated $32 trillion in tax-exempt offshore havens are the masters of our publicly elected officials. In an essay written for Moyer and Company by Mike Lofgren, a congressional staffer of 28 years focused on national security, this cabal of wealthy interests comprise our nation’s “Deep State.”

As Lofgren writes for Moyers, “The Deep State is the big story of our time. It is the red thread that runs through the war on terrorism, the financialization and deindustrialization of the American economy, the rise of a plutocratic social structure and political dysfunction.”

This is a story that truly challenges the mass media, which do report on the power of wealth, in bits and pieces. But although the cabal’s disparate threads are occasionally pulled, the spider’s web of corruption largely escapes corporate media’s larger narrative.

The myopic view censors the full story as surely as outright silence would. The problem deepens every year.

“There are now 854,000 contract personnel with top-secret clearances — a number greater than that of top-secret-cleared civilian employees of the government,” Lofgren wrote, of a group that together would “occupy the floor space of almost three Pentagons — about 17 million square feet.”



Nationally, law enforcement worked in the background to monitor and suppress the Occupy Wall Street movement, a story the mainstream press has shown little interest in covering.

A document obtained in FOIA request by David Lindorff of Who, What WHY from the FBI office in Houston,, Texas revealed an alleged assassination plot targeting a Occupy group, which the FBI allegedly did not warn the movement about.

From the redacted document: “An identified [DELETED] as of October planned to engage in sniper attacks against protestors (sic) in Houston, Texas if deemed necessary. An identified [DELETED] had received intelligence that indicated the protesters in New York and Seattle planned similar protests in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, Texas. [DELETED] planned to gather intelligence against the leaders of the protest groups and obtain photographs, then formulate a plan to kill the leadership via suppressed sniper rifles.”

Lindorff confirmed the document’s veracity with the FBI. When contacted by Lindorff, Houston Police were uninterested, and seemingly (according to Lindorff), uninformed.

In Arizona, law enforcement exchanged information of possible Occupy efforts with JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, according to a report by the Center for Media and Democracy titled Dissent on Terror. The CEO meant to evade possible protests, and local law enforcement was happy to help.

Law enforcement’s all-seeing eyes broadened through the national rise of “fusion centers” over the past decade, hubs through which state agencies exchange tracking data on groups exercising free speech. And as we share, “like,” and “check-in” online with ever-more frequency, that data becomes more robust by the day.



In what can only be responded to with a resounding “duh,” news analyses have found mainstream media frequently report on severe weather changes without referring to global warming as the context or cause, even as a question.

As Project Censored notes, a study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting found extreme weather events in 2013 spurred 450 broadcast news segments, only 16 of which even mentioned climate change. National news outlets have fallen on the job as well, as The New York Times recently shuttered its environmental desk and its Green blog, reducing the number of reporters exclusively chasing down climate change stories.

Unlike many journalists, ordinary people often recognize the threat of our warming planet. Just as this story on Project Censored went to press, over 400,000 protested in the People’s Climate March in New York City alone, while simultaneous protests erupted across the globe, calling for government, corporate, and media leaders to address the problem.

“There is a huge mismatch between the magnitude of the challenge and the response we heard here today,” Graca Machel, the widow of former South African President Nelson Mandela, told the United Nations conference on climate change. “The scale is much more than we have achieved.”



The US battle with Russia over Ukraine’s independence is actually an energy pipeline squabble, a narrative lost by mainstream media coverage, Project Censored alleges.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has drawn fire from the media as a tyrant, without complex analyses of his country’s socio-economic interests, according to Project Censored. As the media often do, they have turned the conflict into a cult of personality, talking up Putin’s shirtless horseback riding and his hard-line style with deftness missing from their political analysis.

As The Guardian UK’s Nafeez Ahmed reported, a recent US State Department-sponsored report noted “Ukraine’s strategic location between the main energy producers (Russia and the Caspian Sea area) and consumers in the Eurasian region, its large transit network, and its available underground gas storage capacities,” highlighting its economic importance to the US and its allies.



The United States’ legacy in Iraq possibly goes beyond death to a living nightmare of cancer and birth defects, due to the military’s use of depleted uranium weapons, a World Health Organization study found. Iraq is poisoned. Much of the report’s contents were leaked to the BBC during its creation. But the release of the report, completed in 2012 by WHO, has stalled. Critics allege the US is deliberately blocking its release, masking a damning Middle East legacy rivaling the horrors of Agent Orange in Vietnam. But Iraq will never forget the US intervention, as mothers cradle babies bearing scars obtained in the womb, the continuing gifts of our invasion.

Luxy! The dating app for the 1 percent is NOT a prank


I got a press release announcing a new app yesterday that immediately set off my “hoax” radar. Not only is Luxy not a prank, but actual people are signing up for it.

In the press release, Luxy is advertised (in all caps) as TINDER MINUS THE POOR PEOPLE.

Finally — an app guaranteed to ensure Greg Gopman’s pool of dating prospects won’t be infected with the grotesque human trash he so despises.

“Tinder was pretty awesome when it came out,” according to a quote from an unnamed user included in the press release, “but there’s a lot of riff raff on there.”

“It’s Tinder without low-income dating prospects,” according to the description. “In fact, the average income of male users on LUXY is over $200k and those who are unable to keep up financially are immediately removed from the service.”

So far, this doesn’t actually appear to be true. I downloaded Luxy to find out if it was real, and listed my income as above $1 million. So far I’ve managed to escape detection as riff raff.

Here’s the formal description from the (poorly copy-edited) website: “Our members include CEOs, entrepreneurs, investors, millionaires, beauty queens, fitness models, Hollywood celebrities, pro athletes, doctors, lawyes [sic] and successful people, juast [sic] name a few.”

“Haha good prank,” I wrote in response to the press release. “Who’s behind it?”

Darren Shuster of Pop Culture Public Relations responded almost immediately.

“Why a prank?” He wrote in an email. “It’s a dating site for rich folks — Have you ever heard of companies like MillionaireMatch.com, SeekingArrangement.com and SugarDaddie.com? These companies have been around for 10 years+ and this ‘Tinder-like’ platform just brings it too a whole new level.”

A whole new level indeed. “Sites / apps like my client’s are probably just a sign of the times,” Shuster mused. “While narrowcasting replaced broadcasting years ago (getting only the news you’re interested in receiving), maybe we have something happening like ‘narrowmatching’ where people only seek to match within certain population pools / segments (i.e., dog owners only, Conservatives or Liberals only, Christian only, rich only)?”

Interesting sociological analysis, Mr. public relations spokesperson.

All I can say is that I cannot wait to see what happens when the Occupy Wall Street set discovers Luxy.

The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger on going electric and the timeless combination of marijuana and Pink Floyd


By Rebecca Huval

The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger is out to topple everyone’s expectations. The two-piece band has rather public identities to overcome: Sean Lennon is the only child of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and his girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl is a world-class model who was the youngest covergirl on Britain’s Harper’s Bazaar.

With their latest release, Midnight Sun, Kemp Muhl has shown she has the pipes and songwriting chops to be taken seriously as a musician, and Lennon has proved he’s more than just his father’s ghost — rather, he’s the inimitable frontman of The GOASTT.

In the trajectory of Sean Lennon’s solo career and The GOASTT’s six-year history, Midnight Sun is their going-electric moment. Sean Lennon’s subdued and minimalist solo music paved the way for The GOASTT’s initial albums to be acoustic and saccharine in what Kemp Muhl now describes as “nerdy folk music.” This April’s album is oh-so-different. Inherited Beatlesque psychedelica meshes with modern-day indie à la Tame Impala and Deerhunter. Midnight Sun rocks in full-fledged electric, with synthy splashes and warped vocal reverb. The album ranges from trippy tracks such as “Devil You Know,” with prismatic texture and thick percussion, to thoughtfully orchestrated ballads such as “Don’t Look Back Orpheus” and Kemp Muhl’s graceful solo, “Johannesburg.”

Ahead of The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger’s show at Great American Music Hall on Tue/20, I spoke with Charlotte Kemp Muhl about meeting Lennon at Coachella, the aha moment listening to Pink Floyd that triggered the band’s psychedelic shift, and how she balances jet-setting modeling and music careers.

San Francisco Bay Guardian You met Sean at Coachella in 2006. How did you strike up a conversation?

Charlotte Kemp Muhl I don’t remember which one of us struck up the conversation, but we were magnetized to each other. We were talking about things like Stephen Hawking, whatever random thing we’d read that week, and claymation. I just thought he was so eccentric and wearing this suit in the middle of the desert. He was with his friend Vincent Gallo, who told him, “Don’t go for that girl, she’s crazy.” I just remember he was really enthusiastic about things and unusual and childlike, even though he was much older than me [30 years old]. I was 17 at the time. We connected immediately.

SFBG Have you put a pause on your modeling career to concentrate on music?

CKM Kind of, it tag-teams. I have to do modeling to support doing music. I would never be able to afford collecting instruments, and unfortunately, it’s really hard to make money as a musician. You don’t! I have to do modeling to do music, but I can’t wait until I can retire and just concentrate on music. In a way the two careers are complementary. Fashion and music are connected like Siamese twins. In the sense that rock n’ roll has been influencing fashion and fashion, rock n’ roll for a long time. They’re incestuous industries.

SFBG Who are some of your musical role models?

CKM Hendrix, Syd Barret, and Bach.

SFBG What have you learned about music from working with Sean?

CKM The area in which I’ve most grown is rhythmically. He’s taught me a lot about being funky and syncopation. He’s an amazing drummer, and I’ve been teaching myself how to play drums by watching him. I learned a lot about arranging. We’ve both influenced each other a lot. It’s been fun.

SFBG Why did you wait until a year after you were dating to share your musical talents with Sean?

CKM I was shy. Everyday someone comes up to him with a demo CD. I didn’t want to be like that. I never thought we’d work together. I thought he’d do his solo career. I showed him one of the childhood songs I wrote, and he loved the melody and insisted that we work together. He quit his solo career to work with his mom and work with me. I hope he goes back to his solo career, fingers crossed for that, but he’s very shy. It’s been fun doing heavier rock music because it’s forcing him to be more of a frontman. We’re not just doing Sonny & Cher melodies. I really want him to be a frontman. He spent so much of his life being a sideman.

SFBG As a solo artist, Sean seemed very minimal and moody. Then, it seemed like The GOASTT started out very sweetly and softly with your acoustic album. Now, The GOASTT is more edgy, percussive, and textured. What do you contribute to his sound?

CKM I pushed us even further into a Pink Floyd, psychedelic direction. When we were doing a tour in France, I discovered the pairing of marijuana and [Pink Floyd’s] Live at Pompeii. We were at some cheap hotel in France, and it was freezing cold. Something just clicked in my mind, and I wanted to be doing psychedelic music and not nerdy folk music. Sean had always been into that shit so he was into that direction. That’s the ultimate cliche, marijuana and Pink Floyd, but it worked! We were opening up for Johnny Hallyday and Matthieu Chedid. He’s huge in France, like the Michael Jackson.

SFBG What was at like playing at Occupy Wall Street?

CKM It was fun. A lot of our friends were doing that at the time, and we were excited that people were getting together to protest because people are placated by their gadgets and they rarely show interest and support. We just came to support anti-fracking and we didn’t even think Sean would get flack for supporting OWS. People online were saying he’s the one percent, which is ridiculous, he’s not in the one percent. I mean technically, anyone with a color TV is in the one percent of the world. We performed a bluegrass version of “Material Girl,” by Madonna. It was supposed to be ironic.

SFBG Have you collaborated with Yoko Ono? What is like working with her?

CKM I played bass for her for a while for her festivals and her shows. We’re around a lot. She doesn’t really collaborate with people, she’s like a singular, visionary person. Sean is much more into collaborating and working with people. She’s more of a leader of an army. She’s like a visionary. You just do what she says kind of a thing.

SFBG What has been your favorite part of working with Sean?

CKM I’ve been working with other musicians without him around. Sean plays every instrument like a virtuoso. In the studio, it’s like a super weapon. I send him in to overdub instrument ideas, and then I’ll edit them all together. We can cover a lot of ground that way. I’ve noticed with other musicians, they’re very limited. They only play one of two instruments, and don’t have a bird’s eye view of songwriting. Sean always have great ideas about rhythm and harmony. We both have a million ideas, and it’s frustrating when you work with someone who’s not that inspired.

SFBG I know you’re a multi-instrumentalist: What instruments do you play on Midnight Sun?

CKM On the record, I play bass, keyboard parts, guitar, percussion, and arranged harmonies. The main instrument I play is Pro Tools. I do all the editing and all that stuff.

SFBG It seems like the album switches between different settings: Xanadu, a missed flight to Johannesburg, traveling to the underworld with Orpheus. Where were you when you wrote these songs? What was your process for collaborating?

CKM I wrote the words for Johannesburg when I was in Johannesburg with a Pirelli shoot for Peter Beard. “Xanadu” and “[Don’t Look Back] Orpheus” we wrote upstate on his farm. We would stay up all night writing acoustic songs in his bed. We would walk down to his studio, which is by a lake, and jam it. Other than “Johannesburg,” I write a part and then he writes a part. It’s like one of those drawings when you fold up a napkin and each of you draw part of a monster.

With Syd Arthur
Tue/20, 8pm, $15
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF

Burning mouse



THEATER Mike Daisey is a talker. He can talk about a lot of things. Hell, he can talk for 24 hours straight (and did in All the Hours in the Day at Portland’s TBA Festival in 2011). This gift of gab has brought him acclaim as an artist in the theater, where he’s known as an eminent monologist of the desk-bound Spalding Gray school. In one case, it’s even brought him public scandal, to wit, NPR’s 2012 call-out regarding fabricated bits in The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs — an experience Daisey says has made him not only “wiser” but “a better storyteller.”

But Daisey doesn’t tell stories for the sake of talking alone. He chases after questions that intrigue him, and these, more than his comically barbed but affable stage persona, make his stories worth listening to. Occupying a fertile middle ground between high concept and low humor, his self-referential yarns confront issues he sees as central to how we live and — in a related, no less passionate way — to how the theater lives and dies in American culture. He directly essayed this latter theme in his 2008 show, How Theater Failed America, but it remains a lively concern, as he suggests below.

His latest, American Utopias, makes its Bay Area debut at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this weekend. Following the format he has been honing since the late 1990s, Daisey uses a few notes written on loose sheets of paper to re-create afresh each night a set of three intertwining stories about Disney World, Burning Man, and Occupy Wall Street, following all three down their respective rabbit holes to glean what, individually and cumulatively, they might teach us about ourselves.

SF Bay Guardian You grew up in a really remote corner of the country. When you consider what brought you to where you’re at now, how much of that do you attribute to this background?

Mike Daisey I grew up in a place called Fort Kent, Maine, which is on the Canadian border. It’s actually the end of US Route 1, which begins in Key West. To me, psychically, it always feels like this must be the most remote place possible because every piece of mythology about roads is that sort of Tolkien idea, “The road goes ever on!” Whereas I was like, “No, it doesn’t actually. It ends. Right here. This must be the furthest place from everything.” It’s a very interesting area, the St. John Valley, around the St. John River. The people are predominately French Canadian. It’s a very different place from what I’ve come to recognize as the rest of America.

I do think that there’s a storytelling tradition that grows up in Maine, that exists there, that informs the work I do now. I think partly it’s informed by years of speech and debate at a very tender age. I think it’s informed by a couple of years of playing Dungeons & Dragons at a formative time. And, layered on top of all of that, was a very earnest desire to discover a form that would allow me to create theatrical experiences that were new in the moment that they were spoken. I was really dedicated to that proposition, that there could be a form of theater that lives in the moment that it’s spoken, both for the performer and the audience. I was looking for a form that would allow both there to be rigor and precision in the structure, but at the same time allow true spontaneity, and allow discoveries to happen in the moment that could not be anticipated.

That’s what I love about the monologues, about all storytelling. I often think of jazz when I’m trying to explain it to people. In the Western tradition, it is hard for people to understand how it is that something is composed without being written. We’ve all become so mired in the tyranny of the written word that we actually come to believe that the act of writing is the act of thinking. The spoken work is actually closer to the thought; it’s a more primal form than the form that writing takes. We forget that. So it’s hard to explain to people sometimes how something [spontaneous] can have form and precision and texture and depth. People often want to know, “How long did you work on this monologue?” And there really is no right answer to give, except the one that the jazz legends often give, which is to say, my whole life.

SFBG Do you think that that fascination with the research and work that goes into a piece is part of the way art gets commercialized, packaged as discrete products?

MD Yeah, I think that’s true. You know, I just went to Cuba. I was in Havana for about two weeks. I’m working on what’s going to be a separate piece, from the show that I’m bringing to Yerba Buena, about the commodification of art. When art transforms into a good. As soon as it does, as soon as it enters that market place, we really want to know its provenance; we want to know that this piece was not just tossed off by the artist. We want to know that the artist was thinking about something, or dreaming about something. We want to know that the piece we’re holding is a piece of the artist’s greatness and is an important piece at that. A lot of what it’s about is really acquisitive in nature.

That’s one of the reasons my going to Cuba was so fascinating. Being in a culture where a ballet dancer is paid the same amount that a surgeon is paid is really fascinating for what it does to cultural priorities. I’m not even saying that we all should pay surgeons the same amount as ballet dancers. But coming from my own culture, which I think is anti-art — I think it’s heavily tilted against art because of a real grain of Puritanism that runs through the center of the American character — it’s really fascinating to think about different ways that lives could be lived. Watch me: I’m slowly dovetailing! That connects to American Utopias in a really direct way. A lot of that monologue is about the effort to imagine a different way of life.

SFBG Where does theater figure in that imagining?

MD Theater really needs to make more radical shifts if it wants to take back some ground in the cultural conversation. Not necessarily in a traditional way, opening large movies that everyone’s talking about, but in a quieter way. I feel like theater sometimes suffers from being neither fish nor fowl. I’m often struck by the difference between a play [that’s considered a success] with 400, 500 performances. But those numbers don’t compare to millions of page views on YouTube.

At the same time, there’s another unique number, which is one, like when I create a show that’s for one night only and only happens once. There’s uniqueness to that, which the American theater also has a hard time [working] with because the form involves playwrights and rehearsals — we have a hard time doing the unique event. So instead we have this weird compromise, where we create this unique event but we then do this unique event 23 times. There’s this very odd middle ground. I often feel a correspondence between those numbers: like a run of 23 or 31 performances and page views of seldom-visited pages on the Internet. It’s really hard to thrive when you’re not doing something that’s singular each time and, at the same time, you’re not doing something that’s digital and ubiquitous and anyone can watch anywhere.

I just wish theater would grapple with one world or the other. I feel sometimes like the theater is a little bit its own version of The Glass Menagerie. It’s ignoring the war, everything that’s going on outside, like Tom talks about in his opening monologue of that beautiful play. But then the whole play is in this apartment, in this world where everyone’s dreams become sort of curdled and small. I sometimes feel like we really need to break out of the apartment. We all need to be like Tom and we need to hit the road.

SFBG Given it has three very different strands to it, what is American Utopias ultimately about?

MD American Utopias is about how we create spaces. But not just in the traditional architectural terms, but how we create them socially. So it’s an examination of three very different types of spaces. In each case, the members of the community that have made that space think of it as a kind of utopia. They see it as a reflection of a more perfect world. In many cases they wish they could live there more of the time but they know it’s not possible. I have preferences among the three to some extent but, on the other hand, none of the three are really my utopia. As a consequence, my role, I feel, is to talk about the connections between them. What really interests me are the anthropological systems, how humans organize themselves and how we share dreams. That interests me a lot. *


Fri/16-Sat/17, 7:30pm, $30-$35

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater

700 Howard, SF



Happy May Day, San Francisco


Happy May Day, comrades, and what a fine May day it is even if the urgent mayday spirit on this International Workers Day doesn’t seem as strong as some recent years past in the Bay Area.

While Russia seems to be rediscovering its previous practice of massive May Day marches marked by anti-Western propaganda, spurred on by renewed nationalism from the standoff in Ukraine, May Day has never been very big in the US.

The holiday celebrated throughout the world with workers showing their strength and demanding their fair share of our collective wealth marks the anniversary of a labor demonstration that turned violent and triggered a harsh crackdown in Chicago in 1886. While the socialists of the Second International adopted the May Day holiday in 1889, the American holiday of Labor Day was adopted as a bland alternative meant to take the radical edge off of workers movements.

But many leftists in the US retained an affinity for May Day, and it was infused with a renewed spirit and radical energy by supporters of immigration reform and an end to deportations that divide up families, with massive marches in major US cities in 2006 catching the media and political establishment off-guard.

 Then, two years ago, fresh off of the Occupy Wall Street (and Occupy San Francisco, Occupy Oakland, etc.), some young anarchists rampaged through the Mission District, breaking windows, spray painting luxury cars, attacking a police station, and generally targeting what they saw as the forces of wealth and gentrification, albeit in a misguided and widely condemned way.

Today’s big May Day march in San Francisco starts at the 24th Street BART Plaza, again strongly emphasizing the need for immigration reform, but also marrying that cause with the anti-displacement and anti-eviction activism that are roiling San Francisco these days. [The poster for the event even features a photo of a recent Google bus blockade CORRECTION: The photo is actually of immigration activists blocking a deportation bus.]

Meanwhile, in the East Bay, the main May Day march begins at 3:30pm at the Fruitvale BART Street, also with a focus on social justice and immigration reform. So get on out there, comrades, you have nothing to lose but your chains.  

Left turn?



Dan Siegel, an Oakland civil rights attorney and activist with a long history of working with radical leftist political movements, joined a group of more than 150 supporters in front of Oakland City Hall on Jan. 9 to announce his candidacy for mayor.

With this development, the mayor’s race in Oakland is sure to be closely watched by Bay Area progressives. Siegel’s bid represents a fresh challenge from the left against Mayor Jean Quan at a time when concerns about policing, intensifying gentrification, and economic inequality are on the rise.

Siegel is the latest in a growing list of challengers that includes Joe Tuman, a political science professor who finished fourth in the 2010 mayor’s race; Oakland City Councilmember Libby Schaaf; and Port Commissioner Bryan Parker.

In a campaign kickoff speech emphasizing the ideals of social and economic justice, Siegel laid out a platform designed “to make Oakland a safe city.” But he brought an unusual spin to this oft-touted goal, saying, “We need people to be safe from the despair and hopelessness that comes from poverty and long-term unemployment. We need safety for our tenants from unjust evictions and … gentrification.”

Siegel voiced support for raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. He also called for shuttering Oakland’s recently approved Domain Awareness Center, a controversial surveillance hub that integrates closed circuit cameras, license plate recognition software, and other technological law enforcement tools funded by a $10.9 million grant from the federal Department of Homeland Security.

He spoke about pushing for improvements in public education “to level the playing field between children from affluent backgrounds and children from poor backgrounds,” and described his vision for reorganizing the Oakland Police Department to foster deeper community engagement.

Among Siegel’s supporters are East Bay organizers with a deep history of involvement in social justice campaigns. His campaign co-chair is Walter Reilly, a prominent Oakland National Lawyers Guild attorney who said he’s been involved with civil rights movements for years. “This is a continuation of that struggle,” Reilly told the Bay Guardian, adding that leadership affiliated with “a progressive and class-conscious movement” is sorely needed in Oakland.

Left Coast Communications was tapped as Siegel’s campaign consultant. Siegel’s communications director is Cat Brooks, an instrumental figure in Occupy Oakland and the grassroots movement that arose in response to the fatal BART police shooting of Oscar Grant, whose Onyx Organizing Committee is focused on racial justice issues.

Olga Miranda, an organizer with San Francisco janitors union, SEIU Local 87, also spoke on Siegel’s behalf during the kickoff event. “San Francisco has become for the rich, and we understand that,” she said. “But at the same time, Oakland isn’t even taking care of its own.”

Referencing a recent surge in Oakland housing prices due in part to an influx of renters priced out of San Francisco, she added, “Dan understands that if you live in Oakland, you should be able to stay in Oakland.”

Siegel’s decision to challenge Quan for the Mayor’s Office has attracted particular interest since he previously served as her legal advisor, but their relationship soured after a public disagreement.

In the fall of 2011, when the Occupy Oakland encampment materialized overnight in front of Oakland City Hall, Siegel resigned from his post as Quan’s adviser over a difference in opinion about her handling of the protest movement. Police crackdowns on Occupy, which resulted in violence and the serious injury of veteran Scott Olsen and others, made national headlines that year.

“I thought that the Occupy movement was a great opportunity for this country to really start to understand the issues of inequality in terms of wealth and power,” Siegel told the Bay Guardian when queried about that. “And I thought the mayor should embrace that movement, and become part of it and even become a leader of it. And obviously, that’s not what happened.”

Since then, his relationship with Quan has been “Cool. As in temperature, not like in hip,” he said during an interview. “I don’t want to make this personal. But we have a difference about policy and leadership.”

With Oakland’s second mayoral election under ranked-choice voting, the race could prove fascinating for Bay Area politicos. Also called instant runoff voting, the system allows voters to select their first, second, and third choice candidates. If nobody wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the last-place candidates are eliminated in subsequent rounds and their vote redistributed until one candidate crosses the majority threshold.

Quan, who ran on a progressive platform in 2010, was elected despite winning fewer first-place votes than her centrist opponent, former State Senate President Don Perata. She managed to eke out an electoral victory with a slim margin (51 percent versus Perata’s 49), after voting tallies buoyed her to the top with the momentum of second- and third-place votes, many gleaned from ballots naming Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan as first choice.

Early polling conducted by David Binder Research showed Quan to be in the lead with the ability to garner 32 percent of the vote, as compared with 22 percent for Tuman, who placed second. That’s despite Quan’s incredibly low approval ratings — 54 percent of respondents said they disapproved of her performance in office.

When Schaaf announced her candidacy in November, Robert Gammon of the East Bay Express opined, “Schaaf’s candidacy … likely will make it much more difficult for Quan to win, particularly if no true progressive candidate emerges in the months ahead.” But Siegel’s entry into the race means there is now a clear progressive challenger.

The Guardian endorsed Kaplan as first choice in 2010, and gave Quan a second-place endorsement. While there has been some speculation as to whether Kaplan would run this time around — the David Binder Research poll suggested she would be a formidable opponent to Quan — Kaplan, who is Oakland’s councilmember-at-large, hasn’t filed.

Siegel, meanwhile, cast his decision to run as part of a broader trend. “I feel that not only in Oakland, but across the country, things are really ripe for change,” he told the Guardian.

Indeed, one of the biggest recent national political stories has been the election of Kshama Sawana, a socialist who rose to prominence during the Occupy Wall Street movement, to the Seattle City Council.

“When you have a city like Oakland where so many people are in poverty or on the edge of poverty, or don’t have jobs or face evictions,” Siegel told us, “it’s no wonder that the social contract falls apart. It seems to me that what government should do is elevate the circumstances of all people, and particularly people who are poor and disadvantaged.”

Alerts: November 27 – December 3, 2013



Harvey Milk and George Moscone Memorial Harvey Milk Plaza, Castro and Market, SF. tinyurl.com/MilkMoscone. 7pm, free. A candlelight vigil and march will be held in remembrance of the 35th anniversary of the murders of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. The event is meant to honor their memories and bring people together. It is being co-sponsored by a broad coalition, including the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club.




Black Friday Roller Disco Party San Francisco Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF. (415) 820-3907. 8pm-12am, free. SF Indiefest and Black Rock Roller Disco present a Black Friday roller disco party inside the Women’s Building auditorium. Disco costumes encouraged! Skate rentals will be provided, or bring your own.




Citizen Journalism Symposium East Bay Media Center, 1949 Addison, Berk. 3pm, free. Live streamers, bloggers and social media mavens will converge for a series of conversations on citizen journalism, featuring those who helped capture Occupy Wall Street protests and a discussion led by host Clark Sullivan on ethics in citizen journalism. Bring your smartphone, laptop, curiosity, and enthusiasm.



World AIDS Day forum San Francisco LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market, SF. 6:30-8:30pm, free. This year’s forum, titled “Getting to Zero in San Francisco: How Close Are We?” offers attendees the latest news on San Francisco’s progress in fighting HIV/AIDS from experts in the field. They will also be informed about programs that are helping the city get closer to its goal of zero new HIV infections. The interactive town hall forum structure of the event enables it to be as informative as possible, and ensures audience engagement with the topic. TUESDAY 3 #GivingTuesday: Project Homeless Connect 3200 California, SF. (415) 292-1286 or sstickel@jccsf.org. 10am-8pm, free. People ages 12 and up are asked to come help put together personal hygiene kits for homeless people in San Francisco. Participants may come anytime during either of two shifts, which run 10am-1pm and 3-4:30pm. Afterward, everyone is invited to a Hanukkah Candle Lighting, which will begin at 4:30pm. The kits will be distributed by volunteers the following week at Bill Graham Civic Center Auditorium. This event is part of #GivingTuesday, which is a national day dedicated to charitable activities.

Debt peons, unite!



David Graeber is renowned among occupiers and idealists as an intellectual founder, or anti-leader as it were, of the Occupy Wall Street encampment that sprung up in Zucotti Park in the fall of 2011. He’s an organizer, an anarchist, a professor of anthropology and sociology at Goldsmiths University of London, a former instructor at Yale, and the author of several books, including Debt: The First 5,000 Years, a tome tracing the concept of debt back to the roots of Western civilization.

His latest book, The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement (Spiegel & Grau, 2013), chronicles the rise of Occupy, a leaderless economic justice movement Graeber unapologetically characterizes as a success. In honor of International Workers Day, May 1, the Bay Guardian caught up with him over coffee to talk about economic pressures facing today’s workers, particularly the young and marginalized.

Turns out, it’s not a pretty picture out there — but at least Graeber, who has a propensity to collapse into giggles between full throttle ruminations on the absurdity of global economic policy, has a sense of humor about it.

Below are some excerpts.

San Francisco Bay Guardian: Looking at the Occupy movement, the mainstream narrative seems to be that it was a short-lived, failed experiment and now it’s over. But in your book, you ask the question ‘why did it work?’

David Graeber: Let’s put it this way. When was the last time that the issue of social class was put at the center of American politics? Probably the 1930s. Social movements have been desperately trying to do this for 50, 60, 70 years and gotten nowhere. We managed to do it in three months. Um, that’s pretty impressive. … And I’m pretty sure that if it weren’t for us, we’d have a President Romney right now. That whole 47 percent thing? It would not have resonated had it not been for the 99 percent thing.

SFBG: Why do you think the idea of wealth inequality, of all issues, resonated so much?

DG: I think because there’s a basic change in the way capitalism works in America. It’s been going for some time, but it just became unmistakably apparent after 2008. People talk about the “financialization” of capitalism, and it sounds very abstract. Casino capitalism, speculation, they’re playing these games, they’re making money appear out of thin air, which is not entirely untrue. … It’s based on getting everybody into debt. The profits of Wall Street are — they now say a very small percentage is actually based on commerce — it’s now based on finance. But what does ‘based on finance’ actually mean? It means they go into your bank account and take your money.

I’ve been trying to figure out just what percentage of the average American’s income is simply extracted every month by the finance sector. …You count mortgages, you count credit card debt, loan debt, all the fees and penalties that you don’t notice… all that stuff put together comes to about 20 percent at least, and probably higher. For example, families that are in their early 30s, it’s often 40 percent. … I saw a poll the other day that said, for the first time since they’ve been taking statistics, a majority of Americans don’t consider themselves middle class. … And I think the reason for this is because it really never was an economic category. It has to do with how you feel you relate to basic institutions. What middle class first and foremost means is, if you see a policeman, do you feel safer, or do you feel less safe? … Then there’s more going on. For the first time, we found that there is incredible solidarity between students and workers, which have traditionally not been friends — go back to the 60s and it’s hard-hats beating up hippies. Now, the transit workers in New York are suing the police over taking their buses to arrest us [occupiers].

SFBG: How would you reflect on the economic condition that workers are facing, compared with how things were historically over the last several decades?

DG: It’s atrocious. One thing that’s happened is there’s been this disconnect between productivity and wages. This is kind of the deal they struck at the end of World War II in most of the North Atlantic countries: It used to be that you work harder, you produce more, you get a share of the profits. And that was worked out through mass unionization, it was worked out through negotiations, and it was tacit somewhat, but you know, it was understood.

Since the ’70s, that deal is off. So, productivity goes up, wages stay flat. So that’s why they say all profits have now gone to one percent of the population. So workers are working harder and harder, more and more hours, under more and more stress. …It’s all the more difficult because of education, because now it’s gotten to the point where if you don’t have a college degree, your chance of having any benefits at work is basically nil. If you want to have health care, you need to go to college. At the same time, if you want to go to college, you need to pay student loans. So you’re double damned. … You have all these people who are sort of trapped: I’d like to finish, I’m still going, I’ll take night classes — for five or ten years, while you have a working class job. So the line between the students and the proletariat blurs, and this is one of the reasons why the student loan issue actually spoke to people in unions.

And there’s also a shift in the type of work. Did you ever see the “We are the 99 percent” tumblr page? It was all these people talking about their jobs… their debts and difficult medical problems…. One of the things that fascinated me about that was that like 80 percent of the people on that page were women. …They were all doing something where the work was clearly to the benefit of someone else. And I think that those are the people who are the most screwed right now, ironically. The more obviously your work benefits other human beings, the less you’re paid.

SFBG: Going back to this idea of debt — your book [Debt: The First 5,000 Years] looks at debt through the ages of human history. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on debt as it relates to personal freedom.

DG: That’s one of the most pernicious things about the current debt regime in America. Being young is supposed to be a place where you can let your imagination run free and explore your sense of possibility. That’s what college used to be. In a sense, those students who are just out of college, I always call them post-students, they’re the kind of people who are activists, the kind of people who are thinking okay I’ll start a band, maybe I’ll be an artist. That’s where everything comes out of in a generation, where everything new and exciting emerges. What could be more stupid than taking all those people and turning them into debt peons? … I think of it like horror movies — what is it that’s so scary about monsters? It’s that they turn you into them, right? Vampires, werewolves. But you don’t get to be like the really cool super count vampire, you get to be a pathetic minion vampire, where you’re in debt for the rest of eternity, as a flunkie. In a way, that’s what’s scary about debt. It forces you to think like a capitalist, you have to think about money and profit all the time. But it’s even worse, because you’re a capitalist with no capital. It like totally destroys your ability to think of anything but money, and you don’t even have any money.

SFBG: Another thing we’re seeing increasingly is austerity measures and public sector spending cuts. What’s the root cause of these rollbacks, and what do you see as the most appropriate response from economic justice activists?

DG: I am in the peculiar situation at the moment that some members of the ruling class actually talk to me and even ask for my advice. Which, you know they’re in trouble if they’re talking to me, right? Part of the reason for that is that these guys are on a completely self-destructive course. I live in the UK most of the time. They’re going into a triple debt recession because of these austerity programs. Now what are you going to make of it? It has nothing to do with economics.

SFBG: So why is it happening?

DG: It’s moral. It’s political, and moral. Neoliberalism is not basically an economic ideology. It’s about politics … Always prioritize the political advantage over the economic advantage. Breaking unions, getting rid of job security, making people work more and more hours — that’s not economically efficient … So what does it do? Well, it’s the best thing you could possibly do if you want to depoliticize workers … The classic justifications for capitalism are harder and harder to maintain. … So what excuse do they have left? They can say, well, it’s the only thing that’s possible. Basically all they can do is hammer away at our imagination. The only alternative is this, or North Korea. And the amazing thing is that the only war they’ve won, is the war against the imagination.


GOP ‘dark wizard’ and Occupy ‘anti-leader’ to speak in SF on the same day

This coming Thursday, a central intellectual figure of the Occupy Wall Street movement will give a talk on “Austerity and its Discontents.” And across the city, at the very same time, powerful anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist will mix it up with an elite group of San Francisco Republicans (yes, they really do exist).

Graeber, an American anthropologist and anarchist who teaches at Goldsmiths, University of London, was dubbed “the anti-leader of Occupy Wall Street” in a Bloomberg BusinessWeek Magazine article published shortly after a determined band of committed activists staked a claim on Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, kicking off the global Occupy movement. Graeber’s tome on wealth inequality, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, recounts the ages of human history through the lens of the indebted, vis-à-vis their creditors. The book helped give rise to Occupy activists’ famous chant: “We are the 99 Percent!”

Norquist hails from the polar opposite end of the political spectrum. An influential lobbyist who leads Americans for Tax Reform, he was once described as “the dark wizard of the Right’s anti-tax cult,” in the words of Arianna Huffington. The fiery conservative is most well known for his role as keeper of “the Pledge,” which essentially asks Republican lawmakers to swear that they will never, ever vote to raise taxes for any reason. 

The Thursday meet-and-greet, billed as “Cocktails with Grover Norquist,” is being hosted by the San Francisco Republican Party – a political body that barely registers as a blip as far as local elections are concerned, but apparently has enough clout to make it worthwhile for a famed operative like Norquist, whose group is based in D.C., to dip into San Francisco for a visit. The cocktail hour will be held at The City Club, a financial district venue. It costs $100.

Just as San Francisco Republicans sip cocktails and discreetly await the chance to engage Norquist in a few moments of powerful face-time, an audience of lefties will gather to hear Graeber’s studious analysis of global austerity measures and anarchist organizing tactics. Billed as a forum that’s free and open to the public, Graeber’s talk is being hosted by the Anthropology and Social Change Department of the California Institute for Integral Studies, located at 1453 Mission Street.

In a recent interview about the round of national budget cuts known as the sequester, Norquist told The Daily Beast: “I’m for the spending cuts. Just let them take effect. … The only thing worse than the sequester would be not reducing spending.”

And here’s Graeber’s take on the underlying economic climate that gave rise to the Occupy movement: “It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the real priority of those running the world for the last few decades has not been creating a viable form of capitalism, but rather, convincing us all that the current form of capitalism is the only conceivable economic system, so its flaws are irrelevant. … The economic crisis of the 1970s never really went away. It was fobbed off by cheap credit at home and massive plunder abroad – the latter, in the name of the ‘third world debt crisis.’ But the global south fought back. … The debt crisis has come home to Europe and North America, replete with the exact same approach: declare a financial crisis, appoint supposedly neutral technocrats to manage it, and then engage in an orgy of plunder in the name of ‘austerity.’”

Fighting for patients, beyond the bedside


It’s no coincidence that the California Nurses Association has been the most active and effective union in fighting for a broad social and economic justice agenda, one that seeks to give greater value to caring and caregiving. Unlike many unions that fight mostly for their members’ interests, CNA is an extension of the nursing ethos itself.

“It’s not enough to advocate for patients at the bedside. We take it out into the streets and the community. That’s what nursing is,” Zenei Cortez, an RN of 33 years and co-president of CNA, told us. The CNA agenda has included support for increasing taxes on the wealthy to restore cuts to social services, advocacy for a single-payer healthcare system, affordable housing, and some of the best and sharpest opposition to the gubernatorial ambitions of Meg Whitman, who proposed deep cuts to state spending on education and other essential programs.

“We have a health care system that only cares about profits and nothing else,” said Chuck Idelson, who heads the communications staff that works for the nurses, “which is why you need people who value care over profit.”

And that’s the nurses, who have been growing in both numbers and political strength just as the healthcare profession has increasingly fallen under the sway of Wall Street and its values, making CNA an important political force.

“When I first started in nursing, we had a lot of time with our patients at the bedside,” Cortez told us. “But now, that human factor has disappeared.”

Nurses first began to flex their power early in Cortez’s career when “nurses were thought to be the handmaidens of doctors. But we were able to change that mentality,” one that was rooted in sexism and old domination-based models.

After the doctors, the nurses stood up to the healthcare corporations, winning statewide minimum patient care staffing ratios and contracts for themselves that gave them a stronger voice in patient care. As the Occupy Wall Street movement took root two years ago, CNA and its larger National Nurses United launched its Main Street Campaign to push people’s interests over those of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. “We have to have partnerships with our patients,” Cortez said. “The companies only care about the bottom line…We are not afraid to fight, particularly because we know it’s not for our own jobs, but for the good of our communities.”



Submit political events to be listed in Alerts at alert@sfbg.com or tweet us @SFBG_alerts.


Protest Obama fundraiser outside the Getty mansion 2870 Broadway, SF. tinyurl.com/c2mkope. 5:30pm, free. Environmentalists opposing the Keystone XL oil pipeline will protest in San Francisco’s wealthy Pacific Heights neighborhood, where President Barack Obama will dine with the city’s upper crust for a Democratic Party fundraiser. Credo Action – the advocacy arm of telecom Credo Mobile – is mobilizing the protest in tandem with the Sierra Club, 350.org and Friends of the Earth.

Community meeting to save City College Pitcher Room, City College Southeast Campus, 1800 Oakdale, SF. info@saveccsf.org. 6pm, free. Students and community supporters who are engaged in the ongoing fight to save City College of San Francisco as an affordable and accessible educational resource are planning major actions in coming weeks. Join them for this informational and strategy session to preserve this important institution.


Public forum with David Graeber Namaste Hall, California Institute for Integral Studies, 1453 Mission, SF. 7pm, free. An anthropologist from the University of London, author David Graeber is credited with helping to lay the intellectual framework underlying the Occupy Wall Street movement. His work includes Debt: The First 5000 Years, a tome exploring wealth inequality through the ages. Graeber’s talk will be on “Austerity and its Discontents.”


Panel talk on global affirmative action Room 132, UC Berkeley School of Law, 215 Boalt Hall, Berk. tinyurl.com/ckc6qdu. 4-6pm, free. RSVP. Many fear that an upcoming Supreme Court ruling will spell the end of affirmative action admission programs for public colleges and universities. This panel will discuss global affirmative action law, with presenters from the European Commission, the University of Sydney School of Law, and Berkeley Law.

Forum with Dr. Ignacio Chapela Niebyl Proctor Library, 6501 Telegraph Ave, Oakl. SpeakOut-Now.org. 7pm, $3 donation. Dr. Ignacio Chapela, Associate Professor of Microbial Ecology at UC Berkeley, has been studying the impact of genetically modified plants and the misuse of science and its impact on our planet. Join this Speak Out Now forum to hear Chapela’s vision for how science could be used for more positive ends.


Book talk: Beyond Walls and Cages Modern Times Bookstore Collective, 2919 24th St, SF. www.occupyu.org. 6pm, free. As part of Modern Times’ ongoing Occupy U workshop series, this book discussion will explore how prisons, criminalization and militarization facilitate wealth and power inequalities. Join editors Jenna M. Loyd, Matt Mitchelson, and Andrew Burridge in discussion of their book, Beyond Walls And Cages: Prisons, Borders, and Global Crisis.





Forum: What’s Next for Progressives

Unitarian-Universalist Center, 1187 Franklin, SF. tinyurl.com/pdasf-prog. 7-9pm, free. “Why wait years to challenge the rightward momentum coming from the top of the Democratic Party?” Author and activist Norman Solomon writes in a recent essay. “There is no better time to proceed … than right now.” At this public forum sponsored by the San Francisco chapter of Progressive Democrats of America, Solomon will join panelists Karen Bernal, chair of the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party, and Jodi Reid, executive director of the California Alliance for Retired Americans, in an exchange of ideas for advancing progressive ideals in national politics.


Rally to Stop Attack on Rent Control City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett, SF. tinyurl.com/for-tenants. 12pm, free. Join housing activists for a rally on the steps of City Hall to fend off proposed legislation that could result in an increase in tenant evictions to make way for condominiums. After the rally, make your voice heard at a public hearing of the Board of Supes Land Use Committee at 1 p.m.


Benefit for Strike Debt Roxie Theatre 3117 16th St., SF. tinyurl.com/no-debtBA. 7:30-9:30pm, $10. “You Are Not A Loan” is a fundraiser for Strike Debt Bay Area, a regional chapter of the Occupy Wall Street-affiliated Strike Debt, created to “foster resistance to all forms of debt imposed on us by the banks.” Featuring performances by the legendary Jello Biafra, comedians Sean Keane, Kevin O’Shea and others; drag star Lil’ Miss Hot Mess, and more.


Roe v Wade: 40th Anniversary Celebration Justin Herman Plaza, SF. 10am-noon, free. Join this community celebration for women’s rights. Featuring appearances by Dancing without Borders’ One Billion Rising Dance Flash mob, balloon twisters, airbrush tattoos, a facepainter, Bubble artist Sterling the Bubblesmith, live music by Trapdoor Social, pro-choice banners and speeches by legal abortion pioneer Pat Maginnis and other community advocates. Silver Ribbon to Trust Women coalition.

Peace corps



DANCE In a pre-rehearsal conversation at the ODC Commons, choreographer Robert Moses says that his newest piece, Nevabawarldapece (“never be a world of peace”– premiering at YBCA Fri/25-Sun/27), is “a dance about protest movements.” The evening-length work is set on ten dancers and is a collaboration between Moses and Obie and Bessie winning writer-performer Carl Hancock Rux; activist and singer-composer Laura Love; and MacArthur Fellow and blues musician Corey Harris. The trio will perform live during this weekend’s world premiere at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

The impetus for Neva, explains Moses, came less from the specifics of historic revolutions and contemporary challenges to the social order than from the people who gave their all attempting to bring about fundamental change — only to see their efforts dissipated, co-opted, or met with failure. “It’s about idealism, the loss of it, and then what you do? What are you left with if the rage, the energy, and all the sacrifices you have made fall by the wayside? Can you pick up and keeping moving forward? I don’t know,” he says.

Moses and Love, who is in town for her first look at the company, discussed leaders like Malcolm X, James Brady, and Nat Turner, but also contemporary movements like Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, and environmental activism. Referencing Sisyphus’ rock, Moses says, “When it falls, it’s hard to go down that mountain and pick it up again. It takes courage and energy to roll it and believe that this time it just might stay up.”

For Love the choice is clear. “I have moments of disillusionment, and moments when I believe that we can have justice. Right now I am more afraid not to act than to act.” She remembers a banner at a recent Freedom of Choice rally that said: “I can’t believe that we have to do this again.”

Neva had been in the back of Moses’ mind for a long time. “It’s a big idea,” he admits. So he was pleasantly surprised that when he called his now collaborators and described exactly what he wanted to explore, everybody agreed to participate. For Love, it was Moses’ willingness to not restrict her role. (Moses laughs, “I can’t do what she does, so why would I restrict her?”)

Love and Harris sent him musical suggestions; Hancock Rux emailed texts he had written. Moses has yet to determine Neva’s final shape. For instance, he has two versions of one of Love’s banjo tunes. He also wants to hear Hancock Rux’s voice reading text. “I don’t want to pin myself down, because when we get together I want to see how context and content push against each other.”

Heading into rehearsal, he chuckles, “Yeah, the piece is finished … and it is not.” A thread, he knows, will emerge when everybody finally meets in the studio a few days before the premiere. Right now, he explains, the dancers have between 30 and 40 choreographic sections from which choices will be made.

In the studio on this particular afternoon, the dancers work on three of these pieces. As other couples observe and copy, Moses refines small gestures — a handgrip, a leg stretch, an overhead lift — on tiny Norma Fong and lanky Brendan Barthel. Then Crystaldawn Bell, softly but intensely, talks the company through a section that she has developed based on a solo which Moses had created for senior dancer Katherine Wells. Finally, Moses gives newcomer Jeremy Bannon-Neches five minutes to keep teaching to the company a piece he had choreographed for him. “The teaching is good experience,” Moses notes.

Dripping with sweat, tired to the point of exhaustion, and throwing themselves with every ounce of their being into fierce, volatile, and ever-changing movement challenges, the dancers are an odd contrast to the studio’s serene and neutral environment. They are also unstoppable — just like those who are willing to commit whatever it takes to make their ideals come to life.


Fri/25-Sun/27, 8pm, $25-$50

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Lam Research Theater

700 Howard, SF



Oakland to decide on controversial stop-and-frisk advocate Bill Bratton

On Tuesday, Oakland City Council will consider approving a $250,000 contract for an outside security consulting team, which could include controversial roving police chief and private security contractor William Bratton. With Oakland’s understaffed police department facing a 23 percent rise in violent crime over the past year, the Council’s Public Safety Committee unanimously recommended last week that the full Council approve a new round of funding for Boston-based police consultant Strategic Policy Partnership LLC. The firm intends to bring on Bratton as part of a new team of private policing experts to advise OPD.

At the five-hour Public Safety Committee meeting on Jan. 15, Oakland activists crowded into the chamber to voice concerns that Bratton—a nationally known proponent of “zero tolerance” policing and New York City’s extremely controversial stop-and-frisk policy—would be tapped as a member of the consulting team. Pressure from the community prompted committee members to tack on a provision suggesting that an alternative to Bratton be considered in the final contract.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and Police Chief Howard Jordan both voiced enthusiastic support for Bratton’s appointment.  In a letter sent last Wednesday urging the Council to approve the contract, Quan wrote: “Bratton is uniquely suited to helping us perfect how that system works here.” She went on to promise that racial profiling would not be tolerated in Oakland.

Oakland attorney Dan Siegel, a former legal advisor to Quan, expressed dismay over Bratton’s possible consultancy to a lively group of protesters outside last Tuesday’s meeting. “Stop-and-frisk does not work,” he said. “Bratton is exactly what we do not need in the city of Oakland.”

Although Bratton did not attend last Tuesday’s meeting, he has publicly expressed interest in working in Oakland, despite the vocal opposition.  “I’m still very desirous of working in Oakland … I think the assistance that I can provide will be of value to the city,” Bratton told the Oakland Tribune following Wednesday’s protests.

From Boston, to Los Angeles, to New York, Bratton has implemented and championed a controversial mix of anti-crime measures, making him one of the nation’s most divisive and visible law enforcement officials. 

Lauded by supporters as America’s “Top Cop,” he has twice served as president of the influential Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), which was responsible for coordinating a police response to the Occupy Wall Street Movement. He also serves as vice chair of the Homeland Security Advisory Council.

Serving as police chief in New York from 1994 to 1996 and Los Angeles from 2002 to 2009, Bratton built a national reputation as an outspoken proponent of stop-and-frisk, a tactic often linked with racial profiling. According to data compiled by the New York ACLU, the procedure disproportionally targets black and Latino residents. Earlier this month, a U.S. District Court Judge in New York deemed stop-and-frisk to be unconstitutional and issued an injunction limiting the policy in the Bronx. In July, when San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee suggested exploring stop-and-frisk in San Francisco, local civil liberties advocates balked.

Bratton is also an unabashed supporter of zero-tolerance policing, a method that stems from the “broken-windows theory” and encourages police to make arrests for minor infractions such as graffiti, litter, panhandling, prostitution or other petty offenses which are presumed to create an environment that breeds serious crime.

Bratton’s controversial tactics have been credited with reducing crime rates during his tenure in New York and Los Angeles. His work to diversify the LAPD and build closer ties between police and the community also drew praise from the Los Angeles chapter of the ACLU.

But in Oakland, local police reform advocates question the long-term efficacy of Bratton’s methods.

Rachel Herzing, co-director of Oakland-based Critical Resistance, an advocacy group that is part of a coalition of local organizations mobilizing against Bratton, charges that he deals in “quick fixes.” In the long run, she argues, his methods do not reduce crime but rather relocate it.

Bratton’s “all cops, no services approach does not work anywhere, and will not work in Oakland,” Herzing told the Guardian. “The aggressive sweeps Bratton is known for in New York ultimately just displace people, and drive them away from essential services. [These tactics] aren’t appropriate policing responses.”

The public outcry at last Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting drew responses from new Council members Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Dan Kalb. McElhaney, whose District 3 includes some of the city’s lower-income neighborhoods plagued with high crime rates, told colleagues that Bratton may come with “too much baggage.” Ultimately, McElhaney said, his presence in Oakland might prove to be counterproductive.

Speaking to the Guardian on Jan. 21, McElhaney said she was not yet sure if she would vote to approve the contract. “We are wrestling with some very big issues here,” she said.  “I am clearly concerned about some of Bratton’s tactics but I am also interested in his results in some of the cities he has worked in. I do know he has lowered homicide rates.”

She added that the overarching goal of addressing crime in Oakland should not be lost in the debate surrounding Bratton. “There’s the totality of the contract I’m considering… in the end, I’m more interested in the outcome as opposed to the individuals.”

In an effort to diffuse controversy at the Jan. 15 meeting, McElhaney and Kalb successfully amended the committee recommendation to urge Strategic Policy Partnership to consider potential alternatives to Bratton.

But given Bratton’s national profile and controversial approach to policing, his inclusion in the consulting contract will likely take center stage at the full Council Meeting on Tuesday. Both Bratton’s opponents and supporters plan to arrive in force at Tuesday’s Council meeting, and as of yet it’s uncertain which side will prevail.

The end of the world as we know it



It’s easy to dismiss all the hype surrounding the auspicious date of December 21, 2012. There’s the far-out talk of Mayan prophecy and the galactic alignment. There’s the pop-culture lens that envisions the apocalypse. There are the extraterrestrials, about to return.

But even the true believers in Mayan folklore and its New Age interpretations say there’s no end of the world in sight. Time doesn’t end when the Mayan cycle concludes; it’s actually a new beginning.

And even some of the most spiritually inclined on the 12/21 circuit agree that it’s highly unlikely that anything of great moment will happen during this particular 24-hour period in history. The sun will rise and set; the winter solstice will pass; we’ll all be around to see tomorrow.

In fact, instead of doomsday, the most optimistic see this as a signpost or trigger in the transformation of human consciousness and intentions. Their message — and it isn’t at all weird or spacey or mystical — is that the world badly needs to change. And if all the attention that gets paid to this 12/21 phenomenon reminds people of what we have to do to save the planet and each other, well — that’s worth getting excited about.

Check out the news, if you can bear it: Global warming, mass extinctions, fiscal cliffs, social unrest. Now stop and turn the channel, because we’re also writing another story — technological innovation, community empowerment, spiritual yearning, social exploration, and global communication.

Both ancient and modern traditions treat the days surrounding the solstice is a time for reflection and setting our intentions for the lengthening, brightening days to come. And if we take this moment to ponder the course we’re on, maybe the end of the world as we know it might not be such a bad thing.


The ancient Mayans — who created a remarkably advanced civilization — had an expansive view of time, represented by their Long Count Calendar, which ends this week after 5,125 years. Like many of our pre-colonial ancestors whose reality was formed by watching the slow procession of stars and planets, the Mayans took the long view, thinking in terms of ages and eons.

The Long Count calendar is broken down into 13 baktuns, each one 144,000 days, so the final baktun that is now ending began in the year 1618. That’s an unfathomable amount of time for most of us living in a country that isn’t even one baktun old yet. We live in an instantaneous world with hourly weather forecasts, daily horoscopes, and quarterly business cycles. Even the rising ocean levels that we’ll see in our lifetimes seem too far in the future to rouse most of us to serious action.

So it’s even more mind blowing to try to get our heads around the span of 26,000 years, which was the last time that Earth, the sun, and the dark center of the Milky Way came into alignment on the winter solstice — the so-called “galactic alignment” anticipated by astrologists who see this as a moment (one that lasts around 25-35 years, peaking right about now) of great energetic power and possibility. The Aztecs and Toltecs, who inherited the Mayan’s calendar and sky-watching tradition, also saw a new era dawning around now, which they called the Fifth Sun, or the fifth major stage of human development. For the Hindus, there are the four “yugas,” long eras after which life is destroyed and recreated. Ancient Greece and early Egyptians also understood long cycles of time clocked by the movement of the cosmos.

Fueled by insights derived from mushroom-fueled shamanic vision quests in Latin America, writer and ethnobotanist Terence McKenna developed his “timewave” theories about expanding human consciousness, using the I Ching to divine the date of Dec. 21, 2012 as the beginning of expanded human consciousness and connection. And for good measure, the Chinese zodiac’s transition from dragon to snake also supposedly portends big changes.

In countries with strong beliefs in myth and mystical thinking, there’s genuine anxiety about the Dec. 21 date. A Dec. 1 front page story in The New York Times reported that many Russians are so panicked about Armageddon that the government put out a statement claiming “methods of monitoring what is occurring on planet Earth” and stating the world won’t end in December.

Here in the US, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was also concerned enough about mass hysteria surrounding the galactic alignment and Mayan calendar that it set up a “Beyond 2012: Why the World Won’t End” website and has issued press statements to address people’s eschatological concerns.

So what’s going to happen? There are authors, scholars, and researchers who have devoted big chunks of their lives to the topic. Two of the most prominent are Daniel Pinchbeck, author of 2012: The Return of Quetzacoatl and star of the documentary film 2012: A Time for Change and John Major Jenkins, who has written nearly a dozen books on 2012 and Mayan cosmology over the last 25 years.

“I never proposed anything specific was going to happen on that date. I think of it as a hinge-point on the shift,” Pinchbeck told me.

But there are those who hope and believe that the end of 2012 marks an auspicious moment in human evolution — or at least that it represents a significant step in the transformation process — and they seem fairly patient and open-minded in their perspectives on the subject.

“The debunking type isn’t some rational skeptic. They are true believers in the opposite,” Jenkins said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ve been filtering 2012 through some kind of Nostradomus filter.”

Jenkins and others like him have been clear in stating that they aren’t expecting the apocalypse. Instead, they emphasize the view by the Mayans and other ancient thinkers that this is a time for renewal and transformation, the dawning of a new era of cooperation.

“I think the Maya understood that there are cycles of time,” Jenkins said. “2012 was selected by the Maya to target this rare procession of the equinoxes.”

If the ancients had a message for modern people, it was to learn from our observations about what’s going on all around us. As Jenkins said, “They recognized their connection to the natural world and the connection of all things.


Many Bay Area residents are now headed down to Chichen Itza, Mexico, where the classic Mayans built the Pyramid Kukulkan with 365 faces to honor the passing of time — and where the Synthesis 2012 Festival will mark the end of the Mayan calendar with ceremonies and celebrations.

“It’s probably one of the most pointed to and significant times ever,” Synthesis Executive Producer Michael DiMartino told me, noting that his life’s work has been building to this moment. “As a producer, I’m very focused on the idea of spiritual unity and events with intention.”

DiMartino told me he believes in the significance of the galactic alignment and the ending of the Mayan calendar, but he sees the strength of the event as bringing together people with a wide variety of perspectives to connect with each other.

“We’re at a crossroads in human history, and the crossroads are self-preservation or self-destruction,” he said. “Synthesis 2012 is the forum to bring people together into a power place.”

Debra Giusti, who is co-producing Synthesis, started the Bay Area’s popular Harmony Festival in 1978, and co-wrote the book Transforming Through 2012. “Obviously, the planet has been getting out of balance and there is a need to go back to basics,” Giusti told me.

They are reaching out to people around the world who are doing similar gatherings on Dec. 21, urging them to register with their World Unity 2012 website and livestream their events for all to see. “We are launching this whole global social network to help develop solutions,” DiMartino said. (You can also follow my posts from Chichen Itza on the sfbg.com Politics blog).

Two of the keynote speakers at Synthesis 2012 are a little skeptical of the significance of the Mayan calendar and the galactic alignment, yet they are people with spiritual practices who have been working toward the shift in global consciousness they say we need.

“It’s more of a marker along the way,” Joe Marshalla, an author, psychologist, and researcher, told me. “We’ve been in this transition for almost 30 years.”

Marshalla said his speech at the festival will be about using certain memes to focus people’s energy on creating change, starting with letting go of the thoughts and structures that divide us from each other and the planet and replacing them with a new sense of connection.

“Everyone is waking up to the deeply held knowledge of the one-ness of all the planet, that we are in this together,” Marshalla said. “I think the world is waking up to the fact there are 7 billion of us and there are a couple hundred thousand that are running everything.”

Caroline Casey, host of KPFA’s “Visionary Activist Show” and a keynote speaker at the Synthesis Festival, takes a skeptical view of the Mayan prophecies and how New Age thinkers have latched onto them. “Everything should be satirized and there will be plenty of opportunities for that down there,” she said, embracing the trickster spirit as a tool for transformation.

But the goal of creating a new world is one she shares. “Yes, let’s have empire collapse and a big part of that is domination and ending the subjugation of nature,” she said. Rob Brezsny, the San Rafael resident whose down-to-earth Free Will Astrology column has been printed in alt-weeklies throughout the country for decades, agrees that this is an important moment in human evolution, but he doesn’t think it has much to do with the Mayans.

“My perspective on the Mayan stuff tends to be skeptical. It might do more harm than good,” Brezsny told me. “It goes against everything I know, that it’s slow and gradual and it takes a lot of willpower to do this work.”


The ancient Maya based their calendar and much of their science and spirituality on observations of the night sky. Over generations, they watched the constellations slowly but steadily drifting across the horizon, learning about a process we now know as precession, the slight wobble of the Earth as it spins on its axis.

Linea Van Horn, president of the San Francisco Astrological Society, said there is something simple and powerful about observing natural cycles to tap into our history and spirituality. “All myth is based in the sky, and one of the most powerful markers of myth is precession,” she said.

DiMartino said it wasn’t just the Maya, but ancient cultures around the world that saw a long era ending around now. “They each talk about the ending and beginning of new cycles,” he said. “Prophecies are only road signs to warn humanity about the impacts of certain behaviors.”

Casey’s a bit more down-to-Earth. “This has nothing to do with the galactic center,” Casey said, decrying the “faux-hucksterism” of such magical thinking, as opposed to the real work of building our relationships and circulating important ideas in order to raise our collective consciousness.

Van Horn has been focused on this galactic alignment and its significance for years, giving regular presentations on it since 2004. “The earth is being flooded with energies from the galactic center,” she said.

Issac Shivvers, an astrophysics graduate student and instructor at UC Berkeley, confirmed the basic facts of the alignment with the galactic center and its rarity, but he doesn’t believe it will have any effect on humans.

“The effect of the center region of the galaxy on us is negligible,” he said, doubting the view that cosmic energies play on people in unseen ways that science can’t measure. In fact, Shivvers said he is “completely dismissive” of astrology and its belief that alignments of stars and planets effect humans.

Yet many people do believe in astrology and unseen energies. A 2009 poll by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 25 percent of Americans believe in astrology. A similar percentage also sees yoga as a spiritual practice and believes that spiritual energy is located in physical things, such as temples or mountains.

This moment is really about energy more than anything else. It’s about the perception of energies showering down from the cosmos and up through the earth and human history. It’s about the energy we have to do the hard work of transforming our world and the vibrational energy we put out into the world and feel from would-be partners in the process ahead.

“If you’re a liberal person without a spiritual grounding, it does look pretty bleak,” Pinchback said, noting the importance of doing the inner work as the necessary first step to our political transformation.

And both Casey and Brezsny believe in rituals. “Humans have been honoring the winter solstice for 26,000 years,” she said. “Every winter solstice is a chance to say what is our guiding story that we want to illuminate.”


The world is probably not going to end on Dec. 21 — but it could end in the not-too-distant future for much of life as we know it if we don’t change our ways. Humans are on a collision course with the natural world, something we’ve known for decades.

In the last 20 years, the scientific community and most people have come to realize that industrialization and over-reliance on fossil fuels have irreversibly changed the planet’s climate and that right now we’re just trying to minimize sea level rise and other byproducts — and not even with any real commitment or sense of urgency.

The latest scientific research is even more alarming. Scientists have long understood that individual ecosystems reach tipping points, after which the life forms within them spiral downward into death and decay. But a report released in June by the Berkeley Initiative in Global Change Biology has found that Earth itself has a tipping point that we’re rapidly moving toward.

“Earth’s life-support system may change more in the next few decades than it has since humans became a species,” said the report’s lead author, Anthony Barnosky, a professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley.

While the Earth has experienced five mass extinctions and other major global tipping points before, the last one 11,700 years ago at the end of the last ice age, Barnoksy said, “today is very different because humans are actually causing the changes that could lead to a planetary state shift.”

The main problem is that humans simply have too big a footprint on the planet, with each of us disturbing an average of 2.27 acres of the planet surface, affecting the natural world around us in numerous ways. The impact will intensify with population growth, triggering a loss of biodiversity and other problems.

“The big concern is that we could see famines, wars, and so on triggered by the biological instabilities that would occur as our life-support system crosses the critical threshold towards a planetary-state change,” Barnosky said. “The problem with critical transitions is that once you shift to a new state, you can’t simply shift into reverse and go back. What’s gone is gone for good, because you’ve moved into a ‘new normal.'”

Barnoksy said he’s not sure if the trend can be reversed, but to minimize its chances, humans must improve our balance with nature and avoid crossing the threshold of transforming 50 percent of the planet’s surface (he calculates that we’ll hit that level in 2025, and reach 55 percent by 2045). That would require reducing population growth and per-capita resource use, speeding the transition away from fossil fuels, increasing the efficiency of food production and distribution, better protection and stewardship of natural areas, and “global cooperation to solve a solve global problem.”

His conclusion: “Humanity is at a critical crossroads: we have to decide if we want to guide the planet in a sustainable way, or just let things happen.”

Perhaps it’s not merely a coincidence that our knowledge of the need for a new age is peaking in 2012. “It’s not surprising the world is in a crisis as we approach this date,” Jenkins said. “I don’t know how it works, but there is a strange parallel with what the ancient Maya foresaw.”

But the change that we need to make isn’t about just buying a Prius, composting our dinner scraps, and contributing to charities. It requires a rethinking of an economic system that requires steady growth and consumption, cheap labor, unlimited natural resources, and the free flow of capital.

“Basically, we are going to have to have a rapid shift in global consciousness,” Pinchbeck said. “You would not be able to create a sustainable economy with the current monetary system. It’s just not possible.”

Yet to even contemplate that fundamental flip first requires a change in our consciousness because, as Pinchbeck said, “We have created a stunted adult population that isn’t able to think in terms of collective responsibility.”

Brezsny said humanity shouldn’t need a galactic alignment or Mayan prophecy to feel the compelling need to take collective action: “I can’t think of any bigger wake-up call than to know that we’re in the middle of the biggest mass extinction since the dinosaur age.”

What comes next is really about how humans use and guide their energies, or as DiMartino said, “We, through our actions and intentions, create the world and take the path that we are creating.”


It may be the end of the world as we know it, but sounding that warning may not be the best way to motivate people to action, according to a new book, Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth.

Two of the book’s authors — Sasha Lilley, a writer and host of KPFA’s “Against the Grain,” and Eddie Yuen, an Urban Studies instructor at the San Francisco Art Institute — recently spoke about the limits of catastrophism as a catalyst for political change at Green Arcade bookstore.

Christian conservatives have long sounded the apocalyptic belief that Jesus will return any day now. Yet Lilley said those on the left have had a long and intensifying connection to catastrophism — “seen as a great cleansing from which a new society is born” — based mostly around the belief that capitalism is a doomed economic system and the view that global warming and other ecological problems are reaching tipping points.

As committed progressives, Lilley and Yuen share these basic beliefs. “Capitalism is an insane system,” Lilley said, while Yuen said climate change and loss of biodiversity really are catastrophes: “We are living in an absolutely catastrophic moment in the history of the planet.”

Yet they also think it’s a fallacy to assume capitalism will collapse under its own weight or that people will suddenly — on Dec. 21 or at any other single moment — decide to support drastic reductions in our carbon emissions. These changes require the long, difficult work of political organizing — which has been underway for a long time — whereas Lilley called catastrophism “the result of political despair and lack of faith in our ability to take mass radical action.”

It’s tempting to believe that capitalism is one crisis away from collapse, or that people will be ripe for revolution as economic conditions inevitably get worse, but Lilley said that history proves otherwise. “Capitalism renews itself through crisis,” she said, whether it was the collapse of the banking system in 2008 or weathering the anti-globalization and Occupy Wall Street protests.

Sounding the alarm that capitalism and climate change will devastate communities doesn’t motivate people to action.

“It focuses on fear as a motivating force, but I think it really backfires on the left,” Lilley said. “It’s really immobilizes people…It’s paralyzing and deeply problematic.”

In fact, she said, “It’s important that we don’t succumb to what’s been called the left’s Rapture.”


So what if the sky doesn’t fall Dec. 21 — and solutions don’t fall from the sky either? Are we are just going to die?

Yes, we are, at least in old forms, a process that can be cause for celebration and empowerment.

“Really, what’s happening is a psychological death, an identity death of what it means to be human on the planet,” Marshalla said.

He compared it to the five stages of grief identified by author Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and then finally acceptance. Marshalla thinks humans are in the depression stage, verging on accepting that our old way of life is dying.

Part of that acceptance involves embracing new self-conceptions. When humans developed the prefrontal lobe in our brains, it allowed us to not only climb to the top of the food chain, but to achieve unprecedented control over the natural world.

But at this point, we’ve become too smart for our good, rationalizing behavior that our heart knows is out of balance, causing us to forget essential truths that we once knew, such as our power to create our reality and the humility to live in harmony with the natural world.

We learn apathy and competitiveness the same way we can learn empowerment and cooperation. “The goal is to bring on that peaceful, loving state of mind where we see all of us as equal,” Marshalla said, noting that it doesn’t really matter whether that’s achieved through traditional religion, meditation, political organizing, or belief in ancient prophecies and energies showering down from the galactic center.

“It’s less about being right than finding any way to lift us up, so whatever thoughts take us there,” he said. “It’s whatever causes us to realize that shift is upon us.”

Whether the universe and mythology have anything to do with it, the hold they have on human imagination, belief, and intention is still a powerful force — and maybe it can create self-fulfilling prophecies that a new age of global consciousness and cooperation is dawning.

“That’s the best thing the Dec. 21 date can be, a ritual of acknowledging that we’re in the midst of a fundamental transformation,” Brezsny said. “The activists believe this may be a good moment, a good excuse to have a transformative ritual and to take advantage of that. We need transformative rituals.”

The ancient Mayans and the energies of the galactic center may not deliver the solutions we need, although I’m certainly willing to wait a few days — or even a few years — to receive this moment with an open heart and open mind. Why not? Let’s all bring our own visions and prophets, mix them into the cauldron, and watch what bubbles up.

2012: Beginning of the End or a New Beginning


In recent months, I’ve been exploring the rabbit hole of 2012 prophecy and possibility, a beguiling mixture of myth, spirituality, and hope that humans will finally awaken to the global ecological and economic catastrophes we’re creating and make a fundamental shift in our approach, whether that’s sparked by cosmic energies or our own earthly intention.

When the Mayan calendar ends on Dec. 21 – a date that also marks the Winter Solstice and the peak of our alignment with the galactic center (Earth, sun, and the dark center of the Milky Way lining up for the first time in recorded human history) – it will be a day anticipated by millions of people around the world. Thanks to the modern amplification by pop culture and the Internet, it will be an unprecedented and potentially auspicious astrological, energetic, and cultural moment.

“The earth is being flooded with energies from the galactic center,” San Francisco Astrological Society President Linea Van Horn, who has been giving presentations for eight years on the significance of a cosmic alignment that occurs once every 26,000 years, told us. “That was the alignment that the Mayans were marking on their calendars.”

It isn’t just the Mayan Long Count calendar that indicates the current age is ending and a new one dawning. Some Aztec, Toltec, Indian, and Egyptian scholars and writer Terence McKenna (who used the I Ching to make the revelation in his book The Invisible Landscape) and various New Age authors have predicted we’re entering a new era, one many believe will be marked by enhanced human consciousness.

But one needn’t believe any of this to understand the pressing need for humans to wake the fuck up and start working together on issues ranging from global warming and the alarming decrease in the planet’s biodiversity to the many shortcomings of global capitalism and the escalating social unrest it’s creating. So why not use this grand mystical moment to spark that discussion, as many progressive activists and conscious community advocates have suggested.

“It allows us to have a stage for the question, a frame for the question. We have to ask very basic questions about our survival,” said Rev. Billy Talen, an artist/activist whose latest book, The End of the World, delves into the earth’s ecosystems reaching their tipping points. “We have the uncanny, mythic, prophetic calendar ending and beginning. And then we have scientists saying the same thing, so where does that leave you?”

There will be many epicenters and gathering points on Dec. 21, both real and virtual. Personally, I’m headed down into the heart of the Mayan empire to Chichen Itza, Mexico, where I’ll be attending the Synthesis Festival and doing daily dispatches through this website. Daniel Pinchbeck, author 2012: The Return of Quetzacoatl, will be in Egypt at The Great Convergence “celebrating the dawning of a new era.”

“Basically, we are going to have to have a rapid shift in global consciousness,” Pinchbeck told me, arguing that shift has already begun, as seen in movements from Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street. “It is happening in terms of horizontal, peer-to-peer, cooperative movements with no top down hierarchy…We can make a much more rapid transition than most people realize.”

Both festivals, and many others around the world, will be heavily attended by people from the Bay Area, where many of the concepts behind transformational possibilities and alternative organizing models have incubated and evolved for decades. The organizers of Synthesis have also set up a World Unity 2012 online hub where people can participate with livestreams from where they are and join in conversation about what’s next.

“It’s probably one of the most pointed to and significant times ever,” said Synthesis Executive Producer Michael DiMartino, who has been leading tours of Mayan sites for almost 20 years, establishing a close working relationship with the Mayan community in Piste Pueblo adjacent to the pyramids at Chichen Itza that he’s tapping for this event. “We’re at a crossroads in human history – and the crossroads are self-preservation or self-destruction…We create the future. As we make our decisions, we create the future now.”

While DiMartino and other festival organizers believe in the spiritual and energetic possibilities of this moment, they emphasize that it is an opportunity to bring together people with a variety of worldviews and belief systems and have a conversation about how the global community of people can work together on solutions.

“Obviously, the planet has been getting out of balance and there is a need to go back to basics,” said Debra Giusti, founder of the Harmony Festival and author of Transforming Through 2012. “We need to get back to the values of the indigenous people, but in the modern context making use of our technology.”

As I’ve interviewed people about 2012, from true believers to skeptics, mystics to scientists, a common theme has been that nobody knows what this intriguing moment portends. They have their hopes and their fears, their doubts and their desires. I’ll be looking at the 2012 question from a variety of perspectives in my upcoming coverage, and I’m open to your suggestions and observations as well.

But for now, for me, I’m maintaining an open heart and an open mind. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, that are dreamt up in your philosophy,” Shakespeare’s Hamlet said, a statement for ages that our modern minds, so rational and cynical, too often forget.

Maybe this metaphysical moment will be the anticlimactic New Age equivalent of Y2K, or maybe it will be an important signpost on the road to global transformation in consciousness, or something in between. Whatever happens, it’s bound to be interesting, and I hope you’ll join me on this journey.




People who get their information exclusively from mainstream media sources may be surprised at the lack of enthusiasm on the left for President Barack Obama in this crucial election. But that’s probably because they weren’t exposed to the full online furor sparked by Obama’s continuation of his predecessor’s overreaching approach to national security, such as signing the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the indefinite detention of those accused of supporting terrorism, even US citizens.

We’ll never know how this year’s election would be different if the corporate media adequately covered the NDAA’s indefinite detention clause and many other recent attacks on civil liberties. What we can do is spread the word and support independent media sources that do cover these stories. That’s where Project Censored comes in.

Project Censored has been documenting inadequate media coverage of crucial stories since it began in 1967 at Sonoma State University. Each year, the group considers hundreds of news stories submitted by readers, evaluating their merits. Students search Lexis Nexis and other databases to see if the stories were underreported, and if so, the stories are fact-checked by professors and experts in relevant fields.

A panel of academics and journalists chooses the Top 25 stories and rates their significance. The project maintains a vast online database of underreported news stories that it has “validated” and publishes them in an annual book. Censored 2013: Dispatches from the Media Revolution will be released Oct. 30.

For the second year in row, Project Censored has grouped the Top 25 list into topical “clusters.” This year, categories include “Human cost of war and violence” and “Environment and health.” Project Censored director Mickey Huff told us the idea was to show how various undercovered stories fit together into an alternative narrative, not to say that one story was more censored than another.

“The problem when we had just the list was that it did imply a ranking,” Huff said. “It takes away from how there tends to be a pattern to the types of stories they don’t cover or underreport.”

In May, while Project Censored was working on the list, another 2012 list was issued: the Fortune 500 list of the biggest corporations, whose influence peppers the Project Censored list in a variety of ways.

Consider this year’s top Fortune 500 company: ExxonMobil. The oil company pollutes everywhere it goes, yet most stories about its environmental devastation go underreported. Weapons manufacturers Lockheed Martin (58 on the Fortune list), General Dynamics (92), and Raytheon (117) are tied into stories about US prisoners in slavery conditions manufacturing parts for their weapons and the underreported war crimes in Afghanistan and Libya.

These powerful corporations work together more than most people think. In the chapter exploring the “Global 1 percent,” writers Peter Phillips and Kimberly Soeiro explain how a small number of well-connected people control the majority of the world’s wealth. In it, they use Censored story number 6, “Small network of corporations run the global economy,” to describe how a network of transnational corporations are deeply interconnected, with 147 of them controlling 40 percent of the global economy’s total wealth.

For example, Philips and Soeiro write that in one such company, BlackRock Inc., “The eighteen members of the board of directors are connected to a significant part of the world’s core financial assets. Their decisions can change empires, destroy currencies, and impoverish millions.”

Another cluster of stories, “Women and Gender, Race and Ethnicity,” notes a pattern of underreporting stories that affect a range of marginalized groups. This broad category includes only three articles, and none are listed in the top 10. The stories reveal mistreatment of Palestinian women in Israeli prisons, including being denied medical care and shackled during childbirth, and the rape and sexual assault of women soldiers in the US military. The third story in the category concerns an Alabama anti-immigration bill, HB56, that caused immigrants to flee Alabama in such numbers that farmers felt a dire need to “help farms fill the gap and find sufficient labor.” So the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries approached the state’s Department of Corrections about making a deal where prisoners would replace the fleeing farm workers.

But with revolutionary unrest around the world, and the rise of a mass movement that connects disparate issues together into a simple, powerful class analysis — the 99 percent versus the 1 percent paradigm popularized by Occupy Wall Street — this year’s Project Censored offers an element of hope.

It’s not easy to succeed at projects that resist corporate dominance, and when it does happen, the corporate media is sometimes reluctant to cover it. Number seven on the Top 25 list is the story of how the United Nations designated 2012 the International Year of the Cooperative, recognizing the rapid growth of co-op businesses, organizations that are part-owned by all members and whose revenue is shared equitably among members. One billion people worldwide now work in co-ops.

The Year of the Cooperative is not the only good-news story discussed by Project Censored this year. In Chapter 4, Yes! Magazine‘s Sarah Van Gelder lists “12 ways the Occupy movement and other major trends have offered a foundation for a transformative future.” They include a renewed sense of “political self-respect” and fervor to organize in the United States, debunking of economic myths such as the “American dream,” and the blossoming of economic alternatives such as community land trusts, time banking, and micro-energy installations.

They also include results achieved from pressure on government, like the delay of the Keystone Pipeline project, widespread efforts to override the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, the removal of dams in Washington state after decades of campaigning by Native American and environmental activists, and the enactment of single-payer healthcare in Vermont.

As Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed writes in the book’s foreword, “The majority of people now hold views about Western governments and the nature of power that would have made them social pariahs 10 or 20 years ago.”

Citing polls from the corporate media, Ahmed writes: “The majority are now skeptical of the Iraq War; the majority want an end to US military involvement in Afghanistan; the majority resent the banks and financial sector, and blame them for the financial crisis; most people are now aware of environmental issues, more than ever before, and despite denialist confusion promulgated by fossil fuel industries, the majority in the United States and Britain are deeply concerned about global warming; most people are wary of conventional party politics and disillusioned with the mainstream parliamentary system.”

“In other words,” he writes, “there has been a massive popular shift in public opinion toward a progressive critique of the current political economic system.”

And ultimately, it’s the public — not the president and not the corporations—that will determine the future. There may be hope after all. Here’s Project Censored’s Top 10 list for 2013:



President George W. Bush is remembered largely for his role in curbing civil liberties in the name of his “war on terror.” But it’s President Obama who signed the 2012 NDAA, including its clause allowing for indefinite detention without trial for terrorism suspects. Obama promised that “my Administration will interpret them to avoid the constitutional conflict” — leaving us adrift if and when the next administration chooses to interpret them otherwise. Another law of concern is the National Defense Resources Preparedness Executive Order that Obama issued in March 2012. That order authorizes the President, “in the event of a potential threat to the security of the United States, to take actions necessary to ensure the availability of adequate resources and production capability, including services and critical technology, for national defense requirements.” The president is to be advised on this course of action by “the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council, in conjunction with the National Economic Council.” Journalist Chris Hedges, along with co-plaintiffs including Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg, won a case challenging the NDAA’s indefinite detention clause on Sept. 1, when a federal judge blocked its enforcement, but her ruling was overturned on Oct. 3, so the clause is back.



Big banks aren’t the only entities that our country has deemed “too big to fail.” But our oceans won’t be getting a bailout anytime soon, and their collapse could compromise life itself. In a haunting article highlighted by Project Censored, Mother Jones reporter Julia Whitty paints a tenuous seascape — overfished, acidified, warming — and describes how the destruction of the ocean’s complex ecosystems jeopardizes the entire planet, not just the 70 percent that is water. Whitty compares ocean acidification, caused by global warming, to acidification that was one of the causes of the “Great Dying,” a mass extinction 252 million years ago. Life on earth took 30 million years to recover. In a more hopeful story, a study of 14 protected and 18 non-protected ecosystems in the Mediterranean Sea showed dangerous levels of biomass depletion. But it also showed that the marine reserves were well-enforced, with five to 10 times larger fish populations than in unprotected areas. This encourages establishment and maintenance of more reserves.



A plume of toxic fallout floated to the US after Japan’s tragic Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011. The US Environmental Protection Agency found radiation levels in air, water, and milk that were hundreds of times higher than normal across the United States. One month later, the EPA announced that radiation levels had declined, and they would cease testing. But after making a Freedom of Information Act request, journalist Lucas Hixson published emails revealing that on March 24, 2011, the task of collecting nuclear data had been handed off from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a nuclear industry lobbying group. And in one study that got little attention, scientists Joseph Mangano and Janette Sherman found that in the period following the Fukushima meltdowns, 14,000 more deaths than average were reported in the US, mostly among infants. Later, Mangano and Sherman updated the number to 22,000.



We know that FBI agents go into communities such as mosques, both undercover and in the guise of building relationships, quietly gathering information about individuals. This is part of an approach to finding what the FBI now considers the most likely kind of terrorists, “lone wolves.” Its strategy: “seeking to identify those disgruntled few who might participate in a plot given the means and the opportunity. And then, in case after case, the government provides the plot, the means, and the opportunity,” writes Mother Jones journalist Trevor Aaronson. The publication, along with the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California-Berkeley, examined the results of this strategy, 508 cases classified as terrorism-related that have come before the US Department of Justice since the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001. In 243 of these cases, an informant was involved; in 49 cases, an informant actually led the plot. And “with three exceptions, all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings.”



The Federal Reserve, the US’s quasi-private central bank, was audited for the first time in its history this year. The audit report states, “From late 2007 through mid-2010, Reserve Banks provided more than a trillion dollars… in emergency loans to the financial sector to address strains in credit markets and to avert failures of individual institutions believed to be a threat to the stability of the financial system.” These loans had significantly less interest and fewer conditions than the high-profile TARP bailouts, and were rife with conflicts of internet. Some examples: the CEO of JP Morgan Chase served as a board member of the New York Federal Reserve at the same time that his bank received more than $390 billion in financial assistance from the Fed. William Dudley, who is now the New York Federal Reserve president, was granted a conflict of interest waiver to let him keep investments in AIG and General Electric at the same time the companies were given bailout funds. The audit was restricted to Federal Reserve lending during the financial crisis. On July 25, 2012, a bill to audit the Fed again, with fewer limitations, authored by Rep. Ron Paul, passed the House of Representatives. HR459 expected to die in the Senate, but the movement behind Paul and his calls to hold the Fed accountable, or abolish it altogether, seem to be growing.



Reporting on a study by researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute in Zurich didn’t make the rounds nearly enough, according to Censored 2013. They found that, of 43,060 transnational companies, 147 control 40 percent of total global wealth. The researchers also built a model visually demonstrating how the connections between companies — what it calls the “super entity” — works. Some have criticized the study, saying control of assets doesn’t equate to ownership. True, but as we clearly saw in the 2008 financial collapse, corporations are capable of mismanaging assets in their control to the detriment of their actual owners. And a largely unregulated super entity like this is vulnerable to global collapse.



Can something really be censored when it’s straight from the United Nations? According to Project Censored evaluators, the corporate media underreported the UN declaring 2012 to be the International Year of the Cooperative, based on the coop business model’s stunning growth. The UN found that, in 2012, one billion people worldwide are coop member-owners, or one in five adults over the age of 15. The largest is Spain’s Mondragon Corporation, with more than 80,000 member-owners. The UN predicts that by 2025, worker-owned coops will be the world’s fastest growing business model. Worker-owned cooperatives provide for equitable distribution of wealth, genuine connection to the workplace, and, just maybe, a brighter future for our planet.



In January 2012, the BBC “revealed” how British Special Forces agents joined and “blended in” with rebels in Libya to help topple dictator Muammar Gadaffi, a story that alternative media sources had reported a year earlier. NATO admits to bombing a pipe factory in the Libyan city of Brega that was key to the water supply system that brought tap water to 70 percent of Libyans, saying that Gadaffi was storing weapons in the factory. In Censored 2013, writer James F. Tracy makes the point that historical relations between the US and Libya were left out of mainstream news coverage of the NATO campaign; “background knowledge and historical context confirming Al-Qaeda and Western involvement in the destabilization of the Gadaffi regime are also essential for making sense of corporate news narratives depicting the Libyan operation as a popular ‘uprising.'”



On its website, the UNICOR manufacturing corporation proudly proclaims that its products are “made in America.” That’s true, but they’re made in places in the US where labor laws don’t apply, with workers often paid just 23 cents an hour to be exposed to toxic materials with no legal recourse. These places are US prisons. Slavery conditions in prisons aren’t exactly news. It’s literally written into the Constitution; the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, outlaws  slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” But the article highlighted by Project Censored this year reveal the current state of prison slavery industries, and its ties to war. The majority of products manufactured by inmates are contracted to the Department of Defense. Inmates make complex parts for missile systems, battleship anti-aircraft guns, and landmine sweepers, as well as night-vision goggles, body army, and camouflage uniforms. Of course, this is happening in the context of record high imprisonment in the US, where grossly disproportionate numbers of African Americans and Latinos are imprisoned, and can’t vote even after they’re freed. As psychologist Elliot D. Cohen puts it in this year’s book: “This system of slavery, like that which existed in this country before the Civil War, is also racist, as more than 60 percent of US prisoners are people of color.”



HR 347, sometimes called the “criminalizing protest” or “anti-Occupy” bill, made some headlines. But concerned lawyers and other citizens worry that it could have disastrous effects for the First Amendment right to protest. Officially called the Federal Restricted Grounds Improvement Act, the law makes it a felony to “knowingly” enter a zone restricted under the law, or engage in “disorderly or disruptive” conduct in or near the zones. The restricted zones include anywhere the Secret Service may be — places such as the White House, areas hosting events deemed “National Special Security Events,” or anywhere visited by the president, vice president, and their immediate families; former presidents, vice presidents, and certain family members; certain foreign dignitaries; major presidential and vice presidential candidates (within 120 days of an election); and other individuals as designated by a presidential executive order. These people could be anywhere, and NSSEs have notoriously included the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, Super Bowls, and the Academy Awards. So far, it seems the only time HR 347 has kicked in is with George Clooney’s high-profile arrest outside the Sudanese embassy. Clooney ultimately was not detained without trial — information that would be almost impossible to censor — but what about the rest of us who exist outside of the mainstream media’s spotlight? A book release party will be held at Moe’s Books, 2476 Telegraph, in Berkeley, on Nov. 3. You can listen to Huff’s radio show Friday morning at 8pm on KPFA.

Fly, on the wall



DANCE Suspended by a single rope, Jennifer Chien’s bare feet gently push against the white wall of Zaccho Dance Theatre’s studio. The move propels her into space; perhaps she is swimming, perhaps flying, or just floating on Carla Kihlstedt and Matthias Bossi’s finely detailed score.

Chien is rehearsing the finale for Niagara Falling, Flyaway Productions artistic director Jo Kreiter’s latest site-specific outdoor work. It will be performed against the west wall of the Renoir Hotel on Market Street. The dance in the air feels quiet and ever so poetic, particularly for a work that originated in Kreiter’s sense of having been “stung and caught by that whole American economics story.”

Niagara is another of Kreiter’s socially conscious choreographies, in which she examines vital issues through art making. She has called herself a “citizen artist,” a person she describes as someone whose work is “essentially concerned about how we live in the world.” (Poet Adrienne Rich and musician-activist Pete Seeger have been guiding lights.)

“Actually,” Kreiter adds, “any artist does that — except that some of us are more able or willing to talk about the issues.” She has called Niagara Falling “an artistic response to the economic degradation of our current recession.”

As a citizen artist, Kreiter’s choreographies are most frequently performed in public places, free of charge. They are accessible to casual passersby, neighborhood folks, and dancegoers. This is art at the heart of the democratic ideal.

Her works also subtly alter the urban landscape and the way we perceive it. After Singing Praises: Centennial Dances for the Women’s Building, the owners of the Women’s Building confessed that before the piece, they had not even known their Mission District neighbors. Mission Wall Dances honored the old Garland Hotel, an SRO that housed disadvantaged people until it burned and was rebuilt as lodging for tourists. (Painter Josef Norris was inspired to add some of Kreiter’s dancers to the building’s existing mural.) With one of her earliest works, Sparrow’s End, Kreiter created an “urban fantasy” for one of the most drug-infested alleys in the Mission. I still remember its beauty and also the odor that pervaded that sad location.

Niagara happened because Kreiter had admired David and Hi-Jin Hodge’s video setting for Brenda Way’s 2009 In the Memory of the Forest. Talking with the artists, Kreiter realized that the three of them had much in common — particularly when she learned that the Hodges had documented the poverty and decay of David’s hometown, Niagara Falls, NY, by talking with its citizens. Some of what he said sounded all too familiar with what is happening to many people in San Francisco.

Both cities are also surrounded by beautiful but sometimes terrifying bodies of water. The imagery is as ancient as Noah’s bobbing ark and as recent as the videos of Japan’s 2011 tsunami. So it seems appropriate that the first two pieces of equipment Kreiter ordered were a lifeboat and life jackets. The boat is a commissioned steel structure; the vests came off the rack.

Hanging from the wall at the Zaccho studio for the last rehearsal there — the equipment would be moved downtown later that day — three dancers are buffeted by the video’s raging waters and a howling storm on the soundtrack. The women look ever so vulnerable as they try to catch and don the slippery life jackets. Yet gradually in all that chaos they find a common rhythm and can link arms in relative safety.

While Niagara is a piece that gives voice to the reality of the urban poor, it’s also a beacon of hope. The work happened because, Kreiter acknowledges, people — like the Renoir Hotel’s owners and Urban Solutions, the SOMA-based economic development nonprofit — have been supportive of the project. Pointing out that she started working on the piece before the advent of Occupy Wall Street, she observes that “everything is collapsing, and yet in some places there are people who try to pull things forward.” *


Wed/26-Sat/29, 8:30 and 9:30pm, free

West wall of the Renoir Hotel

Seventh St at Market, SF


Where is Occupy SF now?


On the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, Occupy San Francisco also celebrated its birthday.

Demonstrations throughout the day Sept. 17, focusing on a variety of topics, converged at 5pm at 555 California, Bank of America’s west coast headquarters. A lively march of about 600 became a street festival down the block. There, protesters stopped for a circus of birthday activities. In one corner, people saddled by debt wrote their debt information on pieces of paper, explained their situations to the crowd, and dropped the papers into a trash can for a symbolic burning. One person also burned cash. “Hell no, we won’t pay,” the crowd chanted.

A few feet over, protesters painted the street with a bright yellow sun declaring “democracy not debt.” Volunteers then fed a free meal to the hundreds in attendance and wheeled in a video screen to watch some recaps of the year’s best moments. Around 8pm, the group left as peacefully as they had come.

In the darkness, a few hundred headed east on Market. When they arrived in Justin Herman Plaza– or Bradley Manning Plaza, as Occupy SF has christened it, in honor of the whistle blowing soldier- a few police stood guard around the perimeter. Undeterred, protesters walked in, and shouts of “happy birthday” gave way to “welcome home.”

The birthday party continued with a night of music. Five tents were pitched, sleeping bags were brought out. Police vehicles carrying truckloads of barricades drove by, but police told protesters they would have to leave the park by 6am, the hour the park opens.

30 or 40 spent the night. In the morning police came back. As ukelele and drums continued to play, tents were dutifully broken down. A few went back to sleep.

Video by Eric Louie

Last fall, Occupy SF could basically be found here. The camp was at Justin Herman Plaza. The ever-expanding list of working groups sometimes met somewhere else, but Occupy was at camp. But after a series of police raids, from Oct. 5 to the raid that finally brought the camp down in December, this camp was no more.

Now, Occupy SF is found all over the place.

As longtime Occupy SF activist Vi Huynh said while celebrating the anniversary: “I think it’s good to honor these milestones because, unlike the mainstream media would have us believe, we haven’t gone away. We’re not dying either. They’re writing our obituaries, but we’re very much alive. And we’re doing things every day.”

Here’s an uncomprehensive list of active groups from Occupy in San Francisco.

101 Market. This is the old camp of Occupy, “re-occupied” in February in response to a national call. At least 30 sleep there every night, and the camp is a veritable fortress of furniture and belongings. They’re mere existence is a refusal to humor the concept of private property. General Assembly meetings occur at 101 Market Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7pm.

Action Council. Action Council is a forum meant to connect Occupy with unions, non-profits, and community groups. They played a big role in planning demonstrations like the Jan. 20 shutdown of the financial district and the May Day solidarity demonstrations. Action Council meets weekly, Sundays at 2pm at Unite Here headquarters, 215 Golden Gate Ave.

All Streets Yoga. Since last winter, All Streets Yoga, formerly known as Decolonize Yoga, has been transforming part of the sidewalk at the 16th and Mission BART station into a yoga studio free for all. Volunteer yoga teachers lay out rugs and lead personalized yoga sessions for anyone who chooses to join. They transform space and creating calm in the busy city landscape. Join them Fridays 5-7pm.

Community Not Commodity. Also known as Bay Occupride, this group formed to protest commercialization of the Pride Parade. On the Sept. 17 anniversary they did a march on the Castro banks and a sit-in to protest sit-lie at Harvey Milk Plaza. CNC describes itself as “a collective assembly of queer/trans-focused community groups with established reputations in the Bay Area that have come together to strengthen and unify our diverse communities. We have come together to confront the 1% within our movement. We work for complete liberation of queer and trans people!” They meet Sundays at noon at Muddy Waters Café, 521 Valencia. See more at www.bayoccupride.com.

Direct Action working group. Direct action is a central tenant of Occupy. It means taking action to prevent something bad or create something good without permission or help of those with political power. In a 1912 essay titled Direct Action, Voltairine de Cleyre cited the Boston Tea Party as an example and wrote that “Every person who ever had a plan to do anything, and went and did it, or who laid his plan before others, and won their co-operation to do it with him, without going to external authorities to please do the thing for them, was a direct actionist. All co-operative experiments are essentially direct action.” The direct action working group meets Wednesdays, 6pm, at the Redstone Building at 2940 16th Street.

Environmental Justice working group. The environmental justice working group keeps the pressure on the corporations that exploit the planet. They’ve protested hydraulic fracturing and the nuclear industry. They meet Tuesdays at 4pm at 101 Market.

Food bank of America. Occupy SF set up the first Food Bank of America to feed thousands of hungry protesters and passers-by on Jan. 20. A Market Street Bank of America branch locked its doors when volunteers set up a food table and passed out hot meals. Now, Food Bank of America continues in front of the mega-bank’s 23rd and Mission branch, where volunteers pass out produce, mostly donated from farmers’ markets, along with literature on switching to credit unions. They’re usually there Thursdays 5-6pm.

Ideological Liberation working group. This working group has produced pamphlets explaining Occupy, trading cards of especially greedy bankers, and postcards summarizing issues like the foreclosure crisis and the National Defense Authorization Act. They also created the Occupy SF Declaration. Brainstorm and write with them on Tuesdays, 7:30-9pm, at the decidedly ideologically un-liberated meeting spot of the Starbucks at 27 Drumm.

Occupy Bay Area United. Occupy Bay Area United spent the night outside 555 California on the eve of the Occupy SF anniversary, an occupation complete with tents and signs. They are “committed to non-violent direct action.” They meet on Sundays, 5-7pm, and post meeting locations on their website, www.obau.org.

Occupy Bernal. This neighborhood-based group is largely considered one of the most effective and desperately needed parts of the Occupy movement in San Francisco. Occupy Bernal is in the business of stopping foreclosures and evictions. “Since January no one we worked with has had an auction. People we work with who already had auctions, we’re stopping their evictions. We’ve stopped six of them so far. So we’re almost done with all the evictions, and we can go back to just stopping the auctions. We have 60 people in line to get loan modifications from Wells,” said Occupy Bernal organizer Buck Bagot. On the anniversary, Occupy Bernal hosted a rally highlighting the disproportionate effects of the foreclosure crisis and veterans and elderly and disabled people. “There were about 100 of us at the protest and five people, all over 80, veterans who are all at risk of losing their homes because they don’t have very much income,” said Bagot. Occupy Bernal meets 7-9pm on the second and fourth Thursday of each month at the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center at 515 Cortland Ave. See www.occupybernal.org for more information.

Occupy Forum. Occupy Forum started up in early June in the Women’s Building, and has since moved to Justin Herman Plaza. The well-attended forums, usually around 70 people, are a time to discuss issues that concern people in Occupy. From the beginning Occupy has been said to have “no focus”– maybe that’s because those involved saw that everything from greedy banks to income inequality to homelessness to discrimination in loans to healthcare to racism to wars were all connected. The forum is a chance to focus in on a different topic every week. Check them out Mondays at 6pm at Justin Herman Plaza, at Market and Embarcadero.

Occupy the Richmond. A philosophical Occupy. If you’ve ever gotten sick of decrying problems in society and yearned to discuss creative solutions, Occupy the Richmond may be your cup of tea. A philosophical Occupy. Saturdays at 4pm, Occupy the Richmond gets together at 11th Ave. in Mountain Lake Park “to talk about what kind of society we want to organize together,” according to Occupy the Richmond participant Alex Zane. “Occupy opens up the possibility for talking about that. Otherwise, people would be stuck behind their screens freaking out about what kind of society we should organize. We should get together and talk with real, living people about how we’re supposed to reorganize our society,” said Zane.

Outreach working group. A group that spreads the word about Occupy and speaks with people and community organizations about working together. They meet Wednesdays at 7pm at One Rincon Center, also known as 121 Spear.

This article has been corrected. Bradley Manning served as a soldier in the Army, not a marine

Still soaring



“I was 18 years old the first time they locked me up in a psych ward.”

So begins “The Bipolar World,” an article published in the Bay Guardian‘s literature section 10 years ago, on September 18, 2002. The writer, Sascha Altman DuBrul, tells the story of his life. He’d been arrested walking on New York subway tracks after the year he first experienced what would later be diagnosed as bipolar disorder.

In the article, DuBrul wrote that the ideas shooting through his head were like a pinball game and he was convinced the radio was talking to him and that the CIA was recording his thoughts via secret neurotransmitters under his skin. But when he was diagnosed and told that he would need to take daily pills for the rest of his life, he wrote“I wasn’t convinced, to say the least, that gulping down a handful of pills every day would make me sane.”

“I think it’s really about time we start carving some more of the middle ground with stories from outside the mainstream and creating a new language for ourselves that reflects all the complexity and brilliance that we hold inside,” the article concludes.

DuBrul was right—the time was ripe.

“Within a couple of days of it being out on the street, I got about 40 emails from strangers,” DuBrul told me. “And it wasn’t just one or two line emails that were,’ hey, great article.’ It was people pouring out their stories to me.”

One of those people was Oakland artist Jacks McNamara, and the two instantly connected.

“You know the myth of Icarus, right? It’s the boy who flies too close to the sun. It’s from Greek mythology. So we were two people who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and we were like, instead of seeing ourselves as diseased or disordered, we see ourselves as having dangerous gifts, like having wings,” DuBrul said. “And so, we put up a website that said, ‘The Icarus Project, navigating the space between brilliance and madness.'”

The Icarus Project began as a website, whose forums quickly filled with discussions as more people shared their stories and connected. Today, The Icarus Project has published three books, including a guide to starting support groups, dozens of which have sprung up around the country. More than 14,000 people have registered on the website.

The Bay Area-born radical mental health project celebrates its 10 year anniversary this year. An art show, concerts, spoken word, film screening, and skill share will take place this coming week. “Icaristas” will do what they do best: share their stories in language that feels right, building connections and community.

“When Sascha and I started it, we’d never seen anything written about bipolar that we could relate to. Everything was sterile and clinical and very mainstream, and didn’t really situate these sort of struggles within a larger political context,” McNamara recalls.

Now, there are Icarus Project books translated into six languages, and a huge collection of writing and art in what one zine editor, Jonah Bossewitch, calls the Icarus “sphere of influence and inspiration.”

“Our lives are made of fleeting moments, and to create documentation — whether in print or online or on canvas — is to make a fleeting moment into something to be shared. The Icarus Project and others who share similar ideas of liberation need to live our lives of beautiful fleeting moments, but also need to create documentation so that we can be heard,” said Laura-Marie Taylor, creator of Functionally Ill, an Icarus-inspired mental health zine now in its 13th edition.

We’re in competition with the loud voices of psychiatry, advertising, governments, and other forces that want to tell us who we are. We need to broadcast our stories far and wide in order to counteract the forces that want to tell us who we are,” Taylor said.

That was also the view of Ken Paul Rosenthal, whose film, Crooked Beauty, will be screened at the 10-year anniversary celebration.

“She who does not write is written upon,” Rosenthal told me. “Society’s narratives will overwrite your authentic self.”

“I think more than anything, Icarus is about hearing stories,” he said.

And that story telling is intimately connected to the building of community and networks.

Rosenthal first got acquainted with Icarus when he read a line Mcnamara had written: “The world seemed to hit me so much harder and fill me so much fuller than anyone else I knew. Slanted sunlight could make me dizzy with its beauty and witnessing unkindness filled me with physical pain.”

“We really wanted to create materials that were beautiful and inspiring and that people actually wanted to read,” said McNamara. “And that they could relate to if they came from more of a subcultural perspective or just had suspicions about the mental health industry and the ways that it diagnoses people and treats them. “

Icarus concepts also spread through means other than their support groups and publications.

“A lot of long-term Icarus members have gone on to become social workers, or to become therapists, or in various ways to have careers that are based in mental health and are bringing alternative perspectives,” McNamara said.

One such Icarista is Kathy Rose. She met McNamara at a screening of Crooked Beauty in 2010, and began participating in support groups and volunteering with Icarus. A teacher at Five Keys Charter School, which operates in San Francisco county jails, Rose said that the understanding and language of mental health she got from Icarus have been useful in her classroom.

“I see how many of my students are struggling with their own mental health, how they are treated, and how so much is related to the trauma they’ve experienced in their lives and lack of support,” said Rose. She said that she has used Icarus materials in the classroom and screened Crooked Beauty.

Those materials explore questions of over-medication and independence and autonomy in decision-making and question the role of institutions like psychiatric hospitals and prisons.

“Institutionalization in prisons and mental hospitals isn’t helping anyone and isn’t getting us anywhere,” Rose said.

The Icarus Project isn’t the first effort to resist the mental health establishment. The Mental Patients Liberation Front, and the larger Psychiatric Survivors movement grew out of civil rights efforts of the 1960s and 70s, as patients demanded an end to coerced and forced psychiatric interventions like electroshock. Today, Mind Freedom International and other groups continue that pressure; most recently, hundreds protested an American Psychiatric Associations meeting discussing new definitions for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition on May 5.

The Icarus Project is also intimately connected to activist movements, but plays a unique role.

“There’s support networks that get started in activist communities, but there’s a lot of ways that people have a really hard time being supportive of each other if they haven’t done the work themselves to be able to be supportive of themselves,” said DuBrul. “What happens in activist communities is that people burn out, which is kind of the ultimate Icarus project. I mean, that’s the Icarus myth.”

He called the Occupy movement, with its distinctive tent cities packed with people, many of whom were hurting financially and emotionally, a “test case” for implementing Icarus concepts.

In fact, Occupy has led to yet another Icarus-inspired book, Mindful Occupation, due to be released this year. The book “aims to address the need for attention to mental health, healing, and emotional first aid within Occupy and other movement groups.”

Mental health professionals, along with other non-professionals who were a part of Occupy Wall Street, formed the Support working group to intervene when people seemed to be in crisis and patrol the park at night. But Jonah Bossewitch, a member of the working group and one of the editors of Mindful Occupation, said that the broad critique of society and authority present in most of Occupy didn’t always extend to Support.

“Nobody was going to go to the cops after people got into a fight. Yet people were getting forced treatment and psych evaluations, ” Bossewitch said. “Folks are ready to critique the outside world — capitalism, banks — but it’s way harder to look in at their own profession.”

For DuBrul, the emotional tensions that played out at Occupy, as well as the trauma of police beatings, jail, and exposure to chemicals, proved the need to continue and grow The Icarus Project.

“If you know how you are when you’re well, it’s much easier to get back there,” said DuBrul said. “I’m telling you, a movement full of people, an Occupy movement full of people that have a sense of how they are when they’re well, then it’s much easier to work towards what it is that you want. If you’re operating from a place where you’re having a really hard time, it’s much harder to get to where you’re going.”

So where is Icarus going? They hope to formalize the mentorship and education that has already happened, borrowing in some ways from the “sponsorship” approach that groups like Alcoholics Anonymous take.

“We started with a vision of creating a new language and culture about what gets considered mental illness,” DuBrul said. “It’s alright to be ‘mad’ and still be brilliant.”

The schedule of Icarus anniversary events is available at www.theicarusproject.net/10thanniversary



Thursday 13

Coalition on Homelessness 25 years SomArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan, SF; www.cohsf.org. 5:30pm, $25-75. The Coalition on Homelessness has been working for the rights on the homeless for 25 years, always with a focus on people defining for themselves what their needs are and how to meet them. San Francisco has the Coalition on Homelessness to thank for more than a thousand supportive housing units, an expanded substance abuse treatment system, rental subsidy programs for poor families to access housing, and so much more. Show them some love back at their anniversary celebration., an art auction and benefit for the organization.

Friday 14

Human be-in Kezar Gardens, 780 Frederick, SF; www.humanbein.org. 3pm, free. Beginning Friday and spanning three days leading up the anniversary of Occupy on Sept. 17, this festival in Golden Gate Park celebrates coming together in pubic spaces and the commons. Musical performances are booked all weekend, a film festival will be screened in the evening, and workshops and skill-shares ranging from rainwater harvesting basics to bread baking to living without conventional currency fill the weekend, as well as yoga and meditation. But don’t just come to check out what the organizers and participants offer. As they put it, “you are invited to teach a workshop, facilitate a discussion, share a skill, play music, make art, cook a meal, or simply be.” They did it in 1967 — come create the modern Human Be-in this weekend.

Saturday 15

Odd couples Modern Times. Author Anna Muraco’s has done loads of interviews with “odd couples” — friends who don’t fit the norms of what genders go with which platonic and romantic relationships. “Odd Couples” examines friendships between gay men and straight women, and also between lesbians and straight men, and shows how these “intersectional” friendships serve as a barometer for shifting social norms, particularly regarding gender and sexual orientation,” say event organizers. So come here Muraco speak and examine the relationships and norms in your life.

Monday 17

Fight foreclosure Spear Tower, 1 Market Plaza, SF; www.occupybernal.org. 3pm, free. Occupy Bernal, Occupy Noe, and foreclosure fighters will rally at the offices of Peter Briger, board co-chair at Fortress Investment Group. These anti-foreclosure occupiers have zeroed in on Briger for involvement buying up distressed mortgage bond debt and selling it to turn a profit, a process Briger calls “Financial Services Garbage Collection.” As people resisting foreclosure with these Occupy groups put it, “we’re not garbage!”

Occuanniversary 555 California, SF; www.occupyactionsf.org. 5pm, free. One year ago, “Occupy the Financial District San Francisco” met at this spot, the massive Bank of America San Francisco headquarters and Goldman Sachs offices. The meeting was called in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, and the first San Francisco occupiers began camping out at 555 that night. Celebrate a year of resisting the 1 Percent and taking back power with a debt burning. Organizers ask that participants bring copies of debt papers to burn symbolically, and pots and pans for a loud casserole march. There will also be music and guerrilla movie screenings.

Community Not Commodity 18th and Castro, SF; www.bayoccupride.com. 2pm, free. Community Not Commodity came together to protest commercialization and corporate greed at Gay Pride this year. Join the group today to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Protesters will march on the banks, hold a sit-in at Harvey Milk Plaza to protest the sit-lie ordinance that forbids San Franciscans from sitting or lying on sidewalks during the daylight hours, then meet up with other occupy anniversary events at 555 California at 5pm.

Tuesday 18

Connie Rice book reading Prevention Institute, 221 Oak, Oakl; preventioninstitute.org. 4:30-6:30 p.m., free. Civil rights attorney Connie Rice worked to reform the Los Angeles Police Department, filing case after case in an attempt to end police brutality against LA’s communities of color. She’s also Condoleezza Rice’s cousin. She will speak and read from her book, Power Concedes Nothing: One Woman’s Quest for Social Justice in America, from the Courtroom to the Kill Zones.

Feeding a movement



Keith McHenry was in Tampa, feeding fed-up (and hungry) Republican National Convention protesters, when we spoke by phone. Next he’ll head to Charlotte to do the same for those protesting the Democrats, and then to New York for Occupy Wall Street’s anniversary on Sept. 17.

Everywhere he goes, he’ll feed the masses home-cooked vegetarian meals. But unlike the other protesters, McHenry helped invent the system that gets them fed. He helped to found Food Not Bombs, the organization that salvages food that would otherwise be thrown out, cooks it up, and serves free, tasty meals in public squares throughout the world.

McHenry served the first meal in Boston Common in 1980, then moved to San Francisco a few years later, bringing the movement with him. Now, there are 500 chapters in the United States and hundreds more throughout the world.

“We provided food for 100 days at the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine,” McHenry recalls. “We fed a two-year occupation in Sarajevo. We provided food at Camp Casey,” Cindy Sheehan’s anti-war stakeout at then-President George W. Bush’s ranch.

The FNB approach to hunger is pretty simple: There’s enough food to go around, it’s just not distributed right. So activists find ways to distribute food that would otherwise be thrown out. San Francisco FNB gets donations of extra, unsold food from places like Rainbow Grocery and Other Avenues food co-op.

It was started by anti-nuclear activists, thus the “Not Bombs” part. But there’s more to their analysis than a cry for peace. As the group states, “For over 30 years the movement has worked to end hunger and has supported actions to stop the globalization of the economy, restrictions to the movements of people, end exploitation and the destruction of the earth and its beings.”

A typical Food Not Bombs operation features a table with a vegetarian or vegan meal, maybe some produce, and anti-war and other leftist literature and banners. In 1988, this is what was on the table when the San Francisco Police Department cracked down on Food Not Bombs, arresting dozens for serving food at the entrance to Golden Gate Park at Haight and Stanyan.

“We had our sign such that when you walked in at the corner of Haight you would see the words Food Not Bombs for a block and a half,” McHenry recalls. “What was good about that was you had tourists, and local business people, and local workers, and you had the people in the Golden Gate Park, all coming together to eat at that place. It was really perfect.”

FNB still serves there on Saturdays, but that perfection was disrupted by a high profile series of arrests in 1988, then again a few weeks ago, when Parkwide, the Recreation and Parks Department’s new bike rental program, set up in their old spot.

Food Not Bombs still runs into conflicts with police and courts. Last year, McHenry was one of 24 arrested in Orlando, Florida, spending 19 days in jail after protesting an ordinance making it a crime to feed the homeless in the city’s downtown.

Last week, FNB held its world gathering at Occupy Tampa’s tent city, serving daily breakfast and dinner while planning the future of the movement. Occupy Tampa has only grown in recent weeks as it hosts people in town to protest the RNC. Sharing food and shelter, making art, and protesting politicians doing the bidding of greedy corporations is McHenry’s vision made reality — and one he got to see bloom last fall with the birth of Occupy.

As McHenry tells it, he and others from Food Not Bombs have been part of a decade-long buildup to the “occupy” tactics that erupted into the world in 2011. “I was promoting the idea of occupation ever since a meeting that was held in 2003 after Cancun,” he said. Protests at the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun were part of a growing trend of disrupting international conventions in which political and business leaders make agreements that further exploitation and neo-liberalism. But McHenry says that more was needed.

“There was a group of us that got together and said these one-off events, like summits, were just becoming more disempowering rather than successful,” he said.

After years of calling for occupations, the notion clicked last fall. “We had seen the Arab Spring, so that made it that much easier to imagine the occupation concept. And the Spanish occupations were just then happening.”

“That’s a common thing,” McHenry said. “People try all these different ways of organizing and then all at the same time, the same thing will start to click. And there’s no real way to say, ‘oh, it started here, it started there, this person started it.'”

When Occupy encampments sprang up, Food Not Bombs was behind many of the kitchens and food sharing efforts — it even had a guide to building a tent city kitchen at foodnotbombs.net/occupy_supplies.

“In the beginning of some of the first occupations like Chicago, DC, Wall Street, we made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, because we didn’t know if we would get busted,” McHenry said. “We ended up behind the scenes helping provide free meals to the occupations.”

McHenry said he hopes the spirit of occupying grows again. “It’s so important,” he said. “It would be great if we could regroup and retake public space.”


Deltron 3030 is back


After releasing their self-titled debut LP to cultish acclaim in 2000, Bay Area hip-hop supergroup Deltron 3030 mysteriously dropped off the radar for over a decade, resulting in borderline Chinese Democracy levels of superfan speculation. Now, with their follow-up, Deltron Event II, finished and slated for release this fall, the trio is going all out on their first North American tour since the project’s revival.

This Sunday, rap icon Del the Funky Homosapien (or Del tha Funkee Homosapien), producer Dan the Automator, and turntablist Kid Koala, will descend upon Mountain View’s Shoreline Amphitheater on their second Rock the Bells tour stop as Deltron 3030, for a homecoming spectacular determined to exceed their devoted fan-base’s already lofty expectations.

As demonstrated by the triumphant live premiere of Deltron Event II in Toronto this past June, and in the YouTube videos that circulated in its aftermath, the trio’s comeback tour is anything but a low-key affair. “We’re literally bringing a string section, a horn section, and a choir,” Dan the Automator told the Guardian over the phone from his SF studio. “I mean, rap doesn’t do that. We’re in our own lane. There’s no actual comparative group to deal with, except ourselves.”


Dan’s assertion would recall Mike Tyson’s infamous post-prizefight gloating, if he weren’t totally right. Truth be told, Deltron 3030’s ambitious live approach presents a striking departure from hip-hop’s bare-bones, DIY origins.

“It’s an experience,” Del said from his home in Oakland. “It ain’t the same old walkin’ back and forth, two turntables, yelling in a microphone, not really doing nothing… This is an extravaganza.”

Having produced, recorded, and engineered a vast range of musical projects, from Kool Keith, to Gorillaz, to Primal Scream, Dan is no stranger to ambitious undertakings. However, the logistical planning of Deltron 3030’s current touring lineup stands tall as the mightiest accomplishment of his career thus far.

“I came up with the idea, and everybody else helped pull it off,” Dan explained. “Then, we had to do charts, score the music, get all the people, find how we can get that many people to a place. I don’t want to say it was a stupid idea, because it was a great idea. [Laughs] It was an incredibly naive undertaking, but it’s awesome that we got to do it.”

Del was similarly awestruck at the depth of Dan’s achievement. “It’s amazing, to me, how he had this vision, and really made it happen. Of course, it took some work, but he’s up there with the tuxedo on, with the baton in his hand, conducting. And I’m like, ‘Wow! OK, this is really happening.’ Plus, for some reason, I don’t know where his power comes from. I guess, because he’s the Automator.”

Whereas Dan functions as Deltron 3030’s chief organizer, and the primary force behind the project’s aesthetic foundation, Del is largely responsible for the underlying mythology. Set in an Orwellian dystopia, 1000 years in the future, and filtered through the observations of protagonist Deltron Zero, Deltron 3030 evoked the structure of rock operas such as Tommy, Ziggy Stardust, and The Wall, in its insistence upon narrative drive and the establishment of a distinctive universe all its own.

Partly in response to tumultuous changes in the real world since 2000 (9/11; the ensuing police state, and wars in the Middle East; Occupy Wall Street) Deltron Event II illustrates a society that has only grown bleaker and more demoralized.

“It’s a Mad Max type of world,” Del philosophized. “Everybody went too far, so to speak. Everything is just trashed; there’s no law; criminals just took over the streets, basically, so you just gotta get in where you can fit in, just make it happen however you gonna make it happen. It’s like anarchy, basically. It’s everybody for themselves.”

From his home in Montreal, Kid Koala discussed Deltron 3030’s futuristic approach, and its capacity to address the zeitgeist of 2012 more effectively than a narrative set in current times.

“Even though it’s set in the future,” he explained, “it’s not really about us being on some crazy laser quest… it’s actually talking about real issues. The economy, the class system… but, I guess, had we set it in the actual present day, it would just come off as more preachy, or something.”

Given the largely personal, apolitical nature of Del’s solo material, and his much celebrated work with Hieroglyphics, his resistance to heavy-handed politicking is understandable.

“Deltron is kind of separate from what I do with Del. With Del, I try to be more direct, to the ground, to the earth, try to talk directly to people. And it’s usually about real life situations. Just being able to deal and cope with personal types of problems or issues… and just striving. That’s what that’s about. With Deltron, I just tried to make a novel and put it in a musical format.”

Outlining his literary approach, Del cited Orwell’s 1984 as having a major effect on Deltron Event II’s conceptual framework, but the project’s key influence behind might come as a surprise.

“My main inspiration came from Megaman X,” Del explained. “It was the same game, basically, but the graphics were stepped up: more glossy, more futuristic, just looked real spiffy. It wasn’t as bubbly and cartoony as the first one. It looked modern. You had modern types of weapons and stuff. It really sent [me] a message, like, ‘Ok, that’s how you can do Del, too: put him in this future world, and he’ll be the same Del, but he’ll be able to do different little things that the regular Del can’t do.’”

High gloss, modern weapons, and a world gone down the tubes: that’s the state of affairs in the Deltron universe, circa 3040. But, despite the hopelessness of the world they’ve created, Dan, Del, and Koala are confident in Deltron Event II’s ability to justify a 12-year hiatus.

“I think it crushes the first one,” Kid Koala proclaimed. “The three of us, individually, are just better at our crafts now. We just tried to raise the bar on ourselves, really.”

A glance at the Rock the Bells lineup reveals a wealth of esteemed artists, and genuine game-changers in the world of hip-hop: Method Man and Redman, Ice Cube, Nas, Common. However, Deltron 3030’s almost absurdly ambitious live approach puts them in an entirely different league.

“As far as the artistic aspect, intrinsically, there’s nothing like this,” Dan insisted. “There never has been, and I doubt there ever will be.”

Deltron 3030
Sun/26, 6:45-7:45pm
Paid Dues Stage; Rock the Bells
$265 for two-day tickets
Shoreline Amphitheatre
1 Amphitheatre, Mountain View