Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Apartheid”

Denying The Denial in Durban – Neil Goldberg (Guest Blogger)

You would think that when high level delegations from 200 countries, as well as thousands of civic organizations (NGOs), and countless scientists descend on a conference to inform, discuss, propose and negotiate factors widely believed to be a threat to human existence, it would be newsworthy. Thousands of people gathering to build social and intellectual networks so that they can be prepared with proposals for solutions – in policy, funding, infrastructure, technology and programs to deal with the threat.

Such a gathering is in fact going on at this very moment at the U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa,   and has been for over a week. The shocker is, I can barely find mention of it anywhere in the MSM (main stream media), let alone screaming from banner leading headlines as I would expect it to be.

After all, whether one agrees that global warming is human caused or not, even most rabid right wingers and deniers are coming around to accept the evidence that the earth is in fact warming up. And to such a degree that it appear almost inevitable that it will cause major disruptions in the world economy and possibly an epochal shift in human culture.

I’ve been looking around for coverage, and finding very little. Certainly no screaming headlines in the vein “LARGEST THREAT TO HUMAN SURVIVAL SINCE NOAH RODE OUT THE FLOOD”. or, “OOPS”.

Not a single mention in my Yahoo newsfeed, which includes an AP feed (10 stories), NPR (5 stories), USA Today (5 stories), SFGate (5 stories) and The (British) Guardian (8 stories). And when I clicked through to the home pages of each of these venerable media outlets, I found – you guessed it, not a single mention of the conference. Not a single mention of global warming. Not a single tear jerking human interest profile of people struggling and winning against adversity. Not a single hero story. Not a single story about the massive amounts of money to be made on climate change generated business opportunities.

Of course there is room for stories of earth shattering import like “With His Past an Issue, Gingrich Spars and Parries” (NPR), and “Megachurch’s Future Uncertain After Pastor Leaves” (AP) and “Cain Accuser Bialek Say She Feels Vindicated” in the “Nation and World” headlines on USA Today. It’s such a busy newsday that important discussion about the imminent upending of human society just can’t make the cut.

I did a Google search for “Coverage of  climate conference, Durban”. Top item is an Adword (paid advertisement) for “Knowledge.Allianz.com”, the blog site of a major insurance company with extensive coverage on things like “Climate”, “Energy”, Mobility”, “Microfinance”, etc. But not a major journalistic organization.

Second was a piece called “What can Durban Climate Conference Achieve?” from ABC Online (their blog); a piece from Reuters India, one from Environment and Energy Publishing and another from a Canadian blog site called rabble.ca – News For the Rest of Us.

The first major news forum represented in my search is a story from LA Times who are reporting on…oh wait a minute. They’re reporting on what NPR previously reported in a story titled “NPR reports Kyoto Protocol in trouble in Durban”. I guess LA Times didn’t see fit to actually send their own reporter to Durban. What I particularly love about this story is in the opening paragraph, which sort it all:

“You may have noticed that news coverage of the U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa, has been minimal, at best, and that’s clearly because -– just like in Copenhagen last year -– there has been almost no mention of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which was put in place to set reduction targets for important greenhouse gases. Without a big, juicy target, the conference lacks the drama to merit mention on even the eco-blogs.”

So there you have it. Not worth reporting on because nothing is happening there. But I would guess, nothing much is happening there because by now, everybody believes the issue has gone away due to, well, lack of attention in the main stream media.

How DO you spell D-E-N-I-A-L!

————————————————————————————————————————

Neil Goldberg developed his political perspective growing up in apartheid South Africa which he left in 1982 when it seemed that democratic change was impossible. He is a designer of a wide array of products, environments and services. This experience has taught him that the limitations of imagination are the only thing standing in the way of just about any problem. Since becoming a father 12 year ago he has become convinced that a loving heart is the ultimate spur to imagination.

Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, Yemen,

I have spent a while trying to decide what I want to write about these major upheavals. It would be easy to say that they are far away from our Left Coast by the Pacific and ignore what is happening. This never stopped me commenting on the Nobel Prize debacle and other political prisoners in December. But something is gnawing away inside and I am feeling threatened by what I see as a rise in extremist ideology.

Let me begin by stating that I value my freedom and my democracy very highly. I have never lived in a country where this has been seriously challenged (though I did campaign against the rise of the British National Party – a fascist movement – back in the 70’s), but I would like to think that I would be out there on the streets, shouting, demonstrating and, well, blogging.

I have campaigned to free Jews from the Soviet Union, to bring down apartheid in South Africa, and to free Tibet from Chinese oppression.

But I feel equally threatened by extremists, whether from the left, the right, or from religious fundamentalists. If I value my freedom of choice and expression, I should be trying to stop the advance of such political movements.

But what happens when a nation supports an extremist ideology? What right do I have to prop up an equally or more oppressive regime? Do I even have a right to try to impose my democratic doctrines on another country?

The problem is that no country is an island, no ideology limited to a single country. When the Internet defined itself as a world-wide web, they meant world-wide. It doesn’t take much for an ideology to spread across continents.

What is missing from public debate is what is the best environment to avoid extremism and violent change? When such symptoms as low education and poverty are prolific, there is an easy framework to influence or stir people to fight for vague hopes or instant solutions.

When revolution was spreading through Europe in the early 1800’s, journalist William Cobbett said: “I defy you to stir a man on a full stomach.”

I would add to that. Give a person an education, a meaningful job, and respect, and s/he will seek a middle path. We badly need more middle paths today and no one is discussing how to really create such an environment through education, health, professional skills, and sustainable infrastructures.

People shouldn’t need to take to the streets to seek their own dignity, and to provide for their families. And they shouldn’t need to break their country’s laws when expressing their desire for freedom.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com

 

Accusing From Afar

Living in England, you learn that the British Empire was something positive. It brought roads, education, medicine, and culture to the masses. You see movies of the aristocratic class in India, Africa, and just about everywhere else. “The sun never set of the British Empire,” was said as an expression of pride, if not wistfulness, as I grew up.

One of the biggest shocks to my social conscience occurred when I began studying sociology at London University. I had been political as a teenager, advocating for human rights in the Soviet Union, Tibet and South Africa. I was about to receive a rude awakening.

I arrived late to university as the semester opened on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The class was discussing a book, A Savage Culture, by Remi Kapo. A black, English sociologist was describing how many of the violent, classist, and racist facets of British society, were entrenched as part of the psyche of the British Empire, even though the British Empire was now a largely inactive Commonwealth.

I thought I was just missing something. I raised my hand and asked whether his premise was that the British Empire was wrong and evil. You could have cut the tension with a chainsaw.

The professor looked at me for a moment trying to decide, I imagine, whether I was being a smartass. Seeing that I was trying to disappear from embarrassment, he took pity and explained everything, feeding off my willingness to be honest about what I had learned growing up.

I remember wanting to tell him and the other students how I considered myself a political activist and brag about the campaigns I had participated in. This was a group of very politically aware students and it was a while before they accepted me as a friend.

It is easy and convenient to see evils from afar and confer rapid judgment on what others are doing. Here on the Left Coast we are especially good at doing this. However, are we doing this to feel good with ourselves because we are unable to solve the injustices in our own backyard? Does it not feel more righteous to accuse others (usually well-deserving), rather than admit when we fail to achieve the values and ideologies that we preach?

The age of the Internet has made it possible to help others in any part of the world. My novel,  The Accidental Activist, tells this very story, highlighting how the Internet was utilized by a small group of activists to fight a multinational corporation in court (It is based on the McDonald’s libel trial in England in the 1990’s).

But while today there is no excuse for being uninformed about world events, it also makes it easier to avoid injustice on our own doorstep. It is simply more convenient to go online than onto the streets.

When I look at the inequalities here in California and the potential that we have to correct them, I wonder whether we can perhaps teach the greatest lesson by being the greatest example. ——————————————————————————————————-

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

 

 

Movies That Matter – Invictus

One of my defining episodes as a teenager exploring social activism was the anti-apartheid movement. I attended my first demonstration with them, asked people to sign petitions, and had a Free Nelson Mandela sticker on my pencil case. When people were asked to play their favorite song at the local youth center, I offered up Biko by Peter Gabriel.

I always get excited for the soccer World Cup. This year was different. It was not just for the once-every-four-years’ festival of my favorite sport, but the recognition of how far South Africa has come. In a world of hate, corruption, violence and extremism, South Africa is a beacon of what can be achieved.

The overthrow of a brutal, racist system did not spiral into the bloodshed and vengeance that so many feared. The brave and difficult decision to heal memories and move on are a tribute not only to Nelson Mandela, but to every South African who committed themselves to this part.

Invictus was a landmark movie. It is a fictionalized the true story of South Africa hosting the rugby World Cup, as they exited the dark ages of apartheid. In the year leading up to the tournament, the team comes together to be an example of unity that trickles down through society. In an interesting parallel, Mandela needs to deal with integrating his personal security detail with the South African police detail.

I am not usually much of an actor/actress observer, but both Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon are awesome in their roles. I was skeptical that anyone could possibly ‘play’ a man who is truly a living icon, a larger-than-life inspiration for me. But Morgan Freeman is terrific.

It might be a sign of age, but there is something urgent in wanting to share a historical period of time that you lived through and ensure that generations to come will never forget it. I feel this sense of urgency when I talk with Holocaust survivors.

Invictus helps to fill this role. I will buy the DVD, and will sit my sons down to watch it. They will enjoy the movie, as it is a great movie. And then I will share my own story with them, and try to pass on my memory to the next generation.

——————————————————————————————————-
Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

England Forever, South Africa As Well

One of my defining episodes as a teenager exploring social activism was the anti-apartheid movement. I participated by attending demonstrations, asking people to sign petitions, and I had a Free Nelson Mandela sticker on my pencil case. When people were asked to play their favorite song at youth club, I would offer up Biko by Peter Gabriel.

I am writing this blog 48 hours before the soccer World Cup in June 2010. I am excited, not just for the once-every-four-years’ festival of my favorite sport, but the recognition of how far South Africa has come. In a world of hate, corruption, violence and extremism, South Africa is a beacon of what can be achieved.

The overthrow of a brutal, racist system did not spiral into the bloodshed and vengeance that so many feared. The brave and difficult decision to heal memories and move on are a tribute not only to Nelson Mandela, but to every South African who committed themselves to this part.

I am a Brit. I will support the English soccer team no matter what. But I sincerely hope that South Africa, by some miracle, have a great run in the World Cup.

They deserve it.

Good Writing,
Alon
http://wwww.alonshalev.com/

Post Navigation

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: