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 “community”

Pagan America – Hellaween!

A couple of times a year, I feel compelled to ooze love about my newly adopted motherland (parentland?). I realize that many of the blog posts that I, and my esteemed colleagues at Left Coast Voices, are critical of one thing or another. But there are certain times that everything fits, and you feel the real America. I love the freedom, the liberty and Halloween. 

I know this ancient, spiritual festival is now commercial, sugar and additive prone. I know these are the hazy remnants and perhaps denigration of the customs and culture of a religion systematically destroyed by monotheism. But I love how, for a few hours, everyone throws on a costume, get all excited and friendly, and for a few hours share the sandpit together without squabbling over toys or Obamacare. Oh, and I enjoy the kids celebrating Halloween too!

Perhaps it’s something unique to The People’s Republic of Berkeley, (I have never lived anyway else in the US), but when whole neighborhoods get into the swing together, something very special happens, if only for an evening.

My first novel, A Gardener’s Tale, illustrated the struggle between the Pagan religions and Christianity in rural England. It follows two years in the lives of the villagers and a mysterious stranger who comes into their community. One of the elements felt by the villagers is the breakdown of their community, how they are becoming increasingly estranged from their neighbors.

Through reigniting the Pagan religion that once united them, the protagonist offers an opportunity to reclaim their community. We need this today more than ever. How many of us really know our neighbors and those living across the road? My neighborhood began a community initiative to get to know each other after a woman was attacked by a man who tried to steal her purse. As she screamed for help, there was a spontaneous outpouring of people from their houses. Out of nowhere, that street became a community. But it lasted only a year or so and we returned to our own little connected/unconnected worlds.

We need Halloweens to bind us together rather than crimes. With so much violence and conflict in the world that sees to revolve around religion, perhaps we also need the gentler, older religions. The earth certainly does.

So here’s to candy and spontaneous celebration. Happy Samhain, everyone.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

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Veterans Village – A Story for the Season of Goodwill

My novel, Unwanted Heroes, offered a solution for one PTSD war veteran, but what if we had a model that could help many, across the country. In Los Vegas, not exactly the city with the image of community and volunteerism. But an army of wonderful individuals, supported by the Home Depot Foundation, created a village that can answer the special needs of war veterans, totally renovating an old dilapidated motel. 

Got 7 minutes? Check out this video. This is the season of goodwill – these amazing people are showing the way, reaching out a hand to amazing people who served their country. And let’s not forget the support of a corporation – Home Depot

There is a way to change America. 

Veterans Village

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, 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 and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Fast Track to Hell: Paul Ryan – Roger Ingalls

I’m from the great state of Wisconsin and proud of it. It’s the home of the Green Bay Packers; the football team that’s won almost twice as many world championships than any other team. It’s a team owned by the community while all other teams are private hobby organizations for fat-cat Wall Street insiders. There’s something sweet about a community team that’s more successful than the bankers’ dream teams.

Wisconsin is also known as the home of Harley Davidson, historic development center for electrical power tools and machining, an original leader in electron-beam microscopy, super computers and, of course, organized labor. It is even rumored that a thousand years ago the Knights Templar buried the Holy Grail somewhere in the Dairy State between the Virgin apex of Green Bay and the Kensington Stone in Minnesota. This is why Wisconsin is often referred to as God’s Country.

Wisconsin does have its embarrassments: Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein and four out of the last twelve gun related mass murders (in the last twenty years) have been committed in the state. However, the biggest embarrassment was republican Senator Joe McCarthy who was responsible for massive civil rights violations during the 1950s. Current Governor Scott Walker is a rights violator too but is considered a pantywaist by comparison to McCarthy.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has selected Paul Ryan (republican representative for WI 1st congressional district) as his running mate for the 2012 election. Paul Ryan goes beyond embarrassment for the state; he is pure evil. He is an agent for Wall Street and is pushing an agenda that continues the transfer of middleclass wealth into the hands of the one-percenters. Here are a few of his ideas:

1)      Privatize Social Security – he wants to turn your social security money over to the same bankers and Wall Street companies that crashed the world-wide economy in 2008 and stole the common man’s wealth and gave it to the 1% fat-cats.

2)      Eliminate Medicare for those who earned it – he wants to give us a partial coupon and then make us buy healthcare plans from Wall Street backed insurance companies. For profit insurance companies don’t care about people’s health, they care about making money for their shareholders. The only competition Wall Street’s insurance companies have is Medicare. All insurance companies offer essentially the same coverage so there really isn’t a free market choice other than Medicare. Once Medicare is gone, the people will be powerless and under the thumb of for profit-only Wall Street. Under his plan, getting the medicine and treatment we need will be a bigger fight than we have now.

It’s my opinion that Paul Ryan is pure evil and is trying to fast track the American middleclass into a hellish existence for the benefit of his Wall Street backers. Why does he have to come from my state of Wisconsin? I guess in a Biblical sense, the Antichrist must originate from God’s Country.

It’s OK to be Food Secure – Roger Ingalls

Have you seen or read the weather reports coming from America’s heart land? Heat and lack of rain are playing havoc with the crops. The prices for corn, soybean and wheat have jumped over the past two days (5.5%, 3.6% and 3.1% respectively). This may seem like a small increase but when you consider that 70% of everything we consume uses these three commodities in some way, it is a significant jump. Hot, dry weather is expected to stay with the nation’s breadbasket for awhile which may further impact crop yields and prices.

Picture from Standeyo.com

To those who understand our so-called modern food system, it’s obvious that we, the consuming public, have lost control of the basic necessities we need to sustain ourselves. The enticement of farm subsidies has created a corporate rush to drive out traditional local farmers. We now have consolidated and centralized mega-farms all practicing similar techniques. This lack of diversity exacerbates weather related events leaving the public at risk (food shortages and high prices). In addition, food prices are no longer solely established by supply and demand. Since deregulation under the Bush administration #2, it is now legal to speculate on food commodities in ways similar to stocks, hedge funds and oil which further drives the price of food. Yes, Wall Street is now gambling on our food. Lastly, corporatized or industrial farming is fossil fuel intensive so food prices are tied to oil and natural gas.

So how do we take back control of our food? This is really an economic and marketing question. We need to develop a substitute food system with value that will motivate consumers to switch.

It just so happens that an alternate food system does exist and has been successfully implemented in an American country very close to our border. Cuba had a farming system similar to the US, Europe and other industrialized nations but they relied on imports from the Soviet Union for oil-based pesticides, natural gas based fertilizers and diesel for transportation of goods from farm to city. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, Cuba’s supply of fuel and fossil-derived chemicals dwindled to near extinction. Fortunately for the Cuban people, their government saw what was coming and developed a smart strategy to replace industrialized chemical farming. They rolled out a farming system based on biological fertilizers, biological/cultural pest control and implemented it right in the cities. Essentially, they created organic urban farming out of necessity. Here are a few amazing statistics and other information:

1)       With a workforce of approximately 4.8 million, they’ve created 350,000 new jobs.
2)       Local production of fresh vegetables increased a thousand fold, yields per square meter increased from 1.5 kilograms to 25.8 kilograms.
3)       Food production is local so transportation is eliminated, food is fresh and harvested when ripe and not chemically gassed to ripen as with industrialized farming.
4)       Diets and health of the Cuban population improved, food is nutrient rich and free from toxic petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers.
5)       Urban farmers earn more than government workers and are as respected as doctors.

By duplicating something similar to the Cuban urban farming method we can take local ownership of our food, create jobs and enjoy healthier, tastier food. Just as important, we reduce the risk of shortages and high prices by decoupling food from the oil industry and speculative gambling by financial institutions. Urban agriculture is formed on multiple locations and managed by many small companies or sole proprietors. This creates additional diversity in produce and farming methods, thereby further improving food security.

Take a few minutes and really think about this organic local food system. It’s not a backward approach; it’s scientifically progressive with a thorough understanding of biology and how a living ecosystem really works. Imagine the positive benefits this would bring to your community: healthy food growing in every available space, people working and food secure, produce businesses or co-ops within walking distance for most everyone, a thriving self-made community.

It’s OK to say no to 1940s industrialized chemical farming practices, it’s OK to say no to market manipulation by financial institutions and IT’S OK TO BE EMPOWERED!

Lior Tsarfaty and The Prayer Songs Project Recording CD

I love the concept of Kickstarter – a grassroots start up opportunity wherein people donate as little as $5 to a project and only pay if the project reaches its financial goal. A friend of mine, a talented musician, Lior Tsarfaty, is trying to raise $12,000 (he has over $8,000 pledged) to record a project that includes music with Hebrew, Arabic and Sanskrit. He must complete the fundraising by Wednesday. Please take five minutes to check out his project and consider joining me with a small gift.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xc5DCo184bQ

In his own words:

“…record a musical collaboration CD where Hebrew and Jewish music, Arabic prayers, Sanskrit chants and English poetry intertwine in a sacred space of art and community. I play with an ensemble of international musicians that bring together prayers, art and music with the intention of creating healing. The CD will be mainly based on songs that I wrote and composed in Hebrew and then other musicians weave in their languages and music.

After 3 years of many concerts, rehearsals and after playing with many musicians almost each of my songs found an Indian chant, or an Arabic prayer or a poem, or a Bossa Nova melody from Brazil. One song combines Hebrew and Portuguese, another contains English, Arabic, Sanskrit and Jewish melodies, and some of the songs are songs in which only I am singing. Some songs preferred to stay simple – with my voice and Hebrew lyrics. Some of the songs in this project are coming from a deep place of healing, some to promote peace and justice and some to create a personal musical connection between different cultures and musicians from around the world.

I have finalized the list of songs I will be including on this CD, I have contacted all the musicians that will be a part of this project and they have all agreed to be a part of the recording. The money will be for paying the recording studio – studio time, editing mixing and mastering, and paying the musicians that are participating in the project, and for all the expenses of designing a cover and manufacturing the CD.

You can help take part in this project with any sum – the reward list is on the right. This is an open invitation to join me in this project and help reach the goal of raising $12,000.

Thank you very much for your support,
Lior

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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 http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Bill McKibben and the Durable Future

The other night I attended an interview of Authors Bill McKibben and Paul Hawken. I had just finished Bill McKibben’s excellent book, “Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future,” and was anxious to meet him and hear what he had to say. I had not read anything by Paul Hawken and he sounded interesting, but I’ll concentrate on McKibben’s work here.

Bill McKibben has written several books, but what he talked about in the interview was pretty much what was in Deep Economy. Mostly, McKibben advocates for smaller scale, more local economies and against globalization. His arguments take several forms.

As can be seen in many books of this general class, McKibben points out the waste involved (fuel, carbon output, etc) in global transport of food and other goods. In fact he talks about food quite a bit and gives many points to boost local farmers’ markets. He talks about something that is known to students of sustainability, but not the general public: that large, so-called “factory” farms actually produce considerably LESS food than smaller farms tended to closely by individual farmers with smaller-scale machinery. This is largely due to intimate knowledge of the variations in the land and to the ability to “intercrop,” or to plant one crop alongside or maybe in the shade of another. Large-scale machine farming makes both of these impractical.

But what is unique (or at least uncommon) about McKibben’s perspective is his attention to the social costs of globalization and the benefits of returning to local economies. He points out how our mobile economy has led to less socialization among neighbors, and people in general.

I can’t do it justice here, but Deep Economy is well worth reading. There’s a lot more to it but it’s not too difficult. Don’t be put off by the title, it’s written for non-economists. Bill McKibben is the founder of 350.org (focused on climate change and actually doing something about it) which is organizing a huge, worldwide day of action called “Moving Planet” on Saturday, September 24th. Go to the website www.moving-planet.org and find out what’s happening near you.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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Devorah Major – Defining an Activist

A post from Devorah Major, over at Red Room, caught my eye. I have written extensively about the place of literature and fiction for addressing social injustices. Ms. Major makes a great point by adding poetry to the list. She also challenges how we define an ‘activist’ and comes up with a far more inclusive definition than I had ever considered.

My ignorance with regard to poetry is pitiful. Ms. Major was the Poet Laureate of San Francisco between 2002-2006.  She is the author of Brown Glass Windows, which is the story of a multi-generational African-American family, living in San Francisco’s vibrant Fillmore District, and shares both the many layers of the family and of the city.

I don’t usually cut and paste someone’s article or post into my blog. I tend to summarize and add a quote or two. But I just cannot see how to do that here. Below is Ms. Majors post in full. There is nothing that I felt I could leave out.

“I have been chewing on what it means to be an activist about the many ways we can and do act in our lives about when and how those ways are political as well as purposeful if there is a difference between those two things or if, as is more likely,  one’s purposeful acts are defined by ones conscious or unconscious politic of life and politic of community.

Certainly one sows seeds and ties up young sprouts and further nourishes small saplings through teaching and though it may seems as only an evolutionary act there is a point when the act of helping young people to see that they can think and should reason and giving them tools to do so while helping them to not only look at but see their world, themselves in these times of “dumbing down” and blurring and testing but not evaluating, training but not educating, in these times as much if not more than, ever teaching can be a revolutionary act.

Letter writing, marching, witnessing, giving money to a cause are all kinds of activism- but front lines taking over buildings for the homeless, striking and shutting down industries, seem to me to be a deeper kind of activism.  But then again, when I look at Egypt I see that for them just showing up is a far more revolutionary act than it is for me. Poetry is very much a revolutionary act. http://revolutionaryfrontlines.wordpress.com/2011/02/03/egypts-revolutio…
There, as in much of the world, writing a poem, making a speech, releasing a blog entry can lead to beatings, prison, death.

I know some real revolutionaries.  People who don’t just bandy about the word but live their lives forwarding people’s struggle in word and deed.  Kiilu Nyasha kiilunyasha.blogspot.com/ was struck by a degenerative disease which has left her in a wheel chair for over two decades.  Despite the extreme weakness in her limbs she continues to teach, write, produce radio shows, connect people, make sure that struggles for people’s liberation are moved forward.

Yet what of those who spend most of their time holding family together, caring for elders, seeing that children are fed, guiding teens- is this not also a kind of activism?  In a country where we are constantly told to go for self, where radio and television ads actually applaud and celebrate selfishness is there a kind of activism that exists in just doing for others, caring for others, tending to the needs of others?

What of those elders who in the 70’s would not dream of becoming a member of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense but would, and sometimes did, hide a member in their home, protect a member, stand guard.  Were they not activists, maybe even revolutionaries?

In these times I think we all, and when I say we I am saying me and thee, need to become more active in the greater world.  But I also think that we need to be broad in what that definition of activism is.  Yet as a writer, as a poet who is a member of the Revolutionary Poets Brigade, I am sure that writing the poem, reading the poem, however clear the political thrust, however skillful the craft, however profound the vision is simply not enough.”

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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/

Happy Samhain

I love Halloween ever since coming to America. I know it’s commercial, sugar and additive prone, and the denigration of the customs and culture of a downtrodden religion. But I love how everyone can throw on a costume for a few hours, get all excited and friendly … and I enjoy the kids doing it too. Perhaps it’s living in Berkeley (I have no experience outside of cold, awkward England), but when whole streets get into the swing together, something very special happens, if only for an evening.

My first novel, A Gardener’s Tale, illustrated the struggle between the Pagan religions and Christianity in rural England. It follows two years in the lives of the villagers and the stranger who comes into their community. One of the elements felt by the villagers is the breakdown of their community, how they are becoming increasingly estranged from their neighbors.

It is happening today more than ever. How many of us really know our neighbors and those living across the road? My neighborhood began a community initiative to get to know each other after a woman was attacked and a man tried to take her handbag. As she screamed for help, there was a spontaneous outpouring of people from their houses. Out of nowhere, that street became a community.

We need Halloweens to bind us together rather than crimes. With so much conflict in the world focused around religion, perhaps we also need the gentler, older religions. The earth certainly does.

So here’s to candy and spontaneous celebration. Happy Samhain, everyone.

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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

Two Worlds Converge

Tomorrow I will be selling my book, Oilspill dotcom, at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center Book Festival. I am excited. The festival is about Jewish literature, and not Jewish authors, and since Oilspill dotcom doesn’t have any Jewish content, I count myself lucky to be there.

I have been allowed in through the back door because my full-time job is as the head of a Jewish non-profit which is seen as a vital component in the Jewish Community – The San Francisco Hillel provides educational opportunities and support for Jewish students in a part of the US where it isn’t always easy to be openly Jewish on campus.

My claim with the bookseller at the festival is that I am a recognizable figure and plan to hang out by the book table.

This is true. But it also brings up another issue. I have never exploited this circle of influence to market myself as an author of political fiction. When I launched the book, I certainly told everyone and have received varying degrees of support from students, fellow staff and stakeholders. I could have pushed for more coverage, for readings, and included more plugs in my correspondents and updates.

But generally I have kept the worlds apart. I’m not sure why. I doubt that even those who might take issue with my view of multinational corporations would hold it against me in my work at SF Hillel.

I do believe that part of my drive to write novels that spotlight and challenge social injustices comes from the emphasis that Judaism puts on Tikkun Olam – fixing the world.

So on Sunday I will wear my smarter work clothes to ensure I am recognized and will discuss political literature alongside Jewish identity, look for common ground, and hopefully sell a few books in the process.

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

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