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 “environmentalism”

The Left – Cohesion or Division?

Some recent controversy around my posts on feminism and flag day have served to re-focus my mind by reminding me of an important mission that remains not only unfinished, but largely untouched.

This mission is untouched because it is dangerous. Why is it dangerous? Because it involves the risk, the heavy risk, of turning one’s own “teammates” against him (or her). The team I’m talking about is known as: The American Left.

Why does the Left have so little power in the United States, when the Left (in its many forms) is so strong in other, “advanced” countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway, France, Italy, Japan, and even (despite what we’ve been told by the media lately) Germany? Well, many have commented on the fact that the American left is splintered, un-cohesive, and disorganized. But I think it’s much worse than that… I think we are self-destructive – we undermine our own interests and our own “team.”

Few of us on the left are “team players”; not only does this team have no coach, but there’s no way it will ever accept a coach. In fact, all too often we do not accept each other as teammates. We want to play on a team made up of clones. You want the left to look just like you; I want it to look just like me; some guy standing on the corner at Haight and Ashbury wants it to look just like him, and so on.

Some people (men and women) think feminism is the most important thing and everyone should agree. Some think that it’s the environment. Some think it’s racism. Some think it’s nuclear (not nucular!) weapons, and so on and so on. Each of these (and many I didn’t mention) are very important. But none of them is, by itself, so important that the others should take a back seat or just “realize” that my issue is more important and more urgent than yours.

It’s true that I see an order of importance to some issues. The examples are not important here. What is important and urgent is that we play like a team. Let me tell you about another team – a team that had a coach, but still faced similar problems…

Herb Brooks was the coach of the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team. Before the competitions began, he faced many difficulties with the team, many off the ice – politics, divisiveness, questioning the mission and the methods, etc. He later said that he united his team – against him. He punished them with brutal physical drills. He toyed with their heads. He picked on popular players, even humiliating them at times in front of their teammates.

Why would a coach do such crazy things? Because that was all that was left. His team would never have believed in themselves enough to challenge Romania, much less the Soviet Union. And if they didn’t believe in themselves, they wouldn’t work together as a coherent team. Without team unity, they would not have accomplished anything. To be certain, making your team hate you is a technique that is only appropriate under the rarest of circumstances. Those circumstances may not apply to the American Left, but the lesson does.

As does another innovation that Brooks made: he hybridized two distinct styles, combining the best elements of the North American (at the time still pretty much completely Canadian) style hockey with the best of European style. He called it “American Hockey” and it was brilliant.

Before you get bored with my hockey stories, I’ll get to the point. This is exactly what liberalism, as a social/political movement, needs to do: combine our strengths and leave out our weaknesses. But just as importantly, we need to stop shunning those with the guts to challenge our assumptions and our dogmas (dogmae?). Herb Brooks turned the anger and resentment he deliberately generated into the seemingly impossible – a U.S. Gold medal in ice hockey and a defeat of the “unbeatable” Russians.

His crazy techniques built and focused the energy of his players. They united by fitting the pieces of the puzzle (players’ different talents and abilities) together and they showed the Russians something they hadn’t seen in years – a team with not only the skill, but the will to defeat them. They did this by making their differences into strengths.

Liberals also face an “unbeatable” opponent: the American corporatocracy.

We need a shift in our (the Left’s) internal criticism. Instead of picking each-other apart because of mismatches in our styles of liberalism, we should analyze our positions, our philosophies, and our principles for coherence and consistency. We should debate and play “devil’s advocate” in order to ferret out weaknesses in our ideas.

Our tendency to see problems is a good thing; that’s how we are so sure that our government and maybe our culture need improvement. But we turn that same microscope on our cohorts and colleagues – and often in ways that are far from constructive. We crush criticisms of our sacred cows – both from outside and from within. Some of us seem to wake up in the morning, go out and actively search for the day’s first sign of sexism, racism, or whatever “ism” we’ve chosen. With this mindset, it doesn’t take long. And if that first example comes from one of “us”, then we turn our fierce ire on that person. Reveling in our own superiority and purity.

In this process we often engage in intellectual cowardice by refusing to even discuss our positions, our snotty attitudes making it clear that our righteousness is so obvious that the other person must be an inferior idiot not to see – no, not to SHARE – our point of view. This is where cowardice turns to tyranny as we actively suppress the words of others who we deem as imperfect liberals.

This internally divisive practice does not help any of us to achieve our goals. Through these actions we become THEM – the haters of those with different thoughts, principles, or ways of living. I do not accept this as my creed. Although I may get snotty, defensive, offensive, and critical myself at times, I vow to work with my teammates to create a better world for all of us.

-Tom Rossi


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


Living Without a Car in Berkeley – RhondaJo Boomington

Since moving to the Bay Area, for the first time in my life, I am living car-free. I love riding BART though I don’t particularly love AC transit and MUNI. I feel deeply grateful to live in an area that makes car free living relatively painless much of the time.

Car free (from vancitybuzz.com)

And bless the hearts of my friends, with cars, who help out occasionally with some of the heavy things I can’t negotiate without a vehicle.

In Berkeley, however, I have become accustomed to a certain degree of discrimination when people learn that I don’t have a car. Often there’s a certain look that comes across their face. A judgment.

And, incredibly, it’s often the most vocal environmentalists who seem to have this reaction.

Last year, I was at a well attended meeting at a church that I had attended regularly.  A very middle class, “oh so environmentally friendly,” progressive church who “welcomes diversity.”  A drenching rainstorm began.

I had injured my ankle that afternoon, and for the first time ever,  I asked if there was anyone who may be able to give me a ride home. I lived about a mile away.

There was absolute dead silence.

I was very wet by the time I limped home in the torrential rain.

Drenching wet (from cbsnews.com)

Maybe their disdain was simply because of my Southern accent, the fact that I’m not slim, not hip and am happily frumpy?

But now, I have witnessed similar reactions in various places – to others who live a car free life.

And, right before it went out of business , I was in the beloved Elephant Pharmacy, and my worst fears were confirmed.

While buying my monthly AC transit pass, the guy working behind the counter asked if I had a car. I said “no.” He went on a pained, quiet tirade about the discrimination he experienced in Berkeley because he didn’t own a car. And the most blatant slights seemed to be from the most fervent environmentalists.

Hmm. And – he had no accent, was quite young and slim and hip and styled perfectly for Berkeley.

I wonder why (from info.gtilite.com)


RhondaJo Boomington is a Southern transplant from North Carolina. She landed in the haven of Berkeley six years ago and never plans to leave. Formerly a fundamentalist who voted for Jesse Helms many times, she now relishes her liberal lesbian life in the Bay Area. She has earned a J.D. and a Masters of Divinity, and  enjoys performing in the Bay Area as a stand up comedian and solo performance artist.

Fly Fishing and Philanthropy

Richard Goldman passed away on November 29, 2010. He was a great man who amassed considerable wealth and used that wealth to help enrich the lives of so many others. Richard had three passions when it came to philanthropy: San Francisco, Judaism and the State of Israel, and environmentalism.

I owe him a lot. He promoted green causes before it was fashionable to be an environmentalist, including in Israel, a country consumed with surviving today, and unable to look ahead to tomorrow. When helping to build the green framework on my Kibbutz, Kibbutz Lotan, his name topped the list of people to go to for support. When I became Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, he provided the resources to help us match the growing needs of the city’s Jewish students.

His memorial service was a fitting tribute. in the packed synagogue many leaders and dignitaries from our city and Jewish community paid eloquent and fitting tributes, But I was most impacted from the stories shared by his surviving children: John, Doug and Susan. I think that being a father, hearing how others pay tribute to their parents is profound. What will my sons say about me when my time comes?

They related how their father was a tough, no-nonsense kind of guy. He lived by excellence and appreciated it in others. I think this might be why he fly-fished. Having fished for most of my life, I took lessons while on vacation this summer to learn how to fly fish. This was inspired a great novel, The Trout Whisperers by Pete Bodo, and perhaps from 20 years of studying martial arts. I feel that I can really appreciate the beauty in fly fishing’s elegance and style.

One son recalled how Richard loved to be out on the McKenzie river, rod in hand, and how he became a softer man as he gave himself up to the rhythm of the fly and the flow of the river.

I get it.

There is something humbling about being a part of nature, if only for a few hours. This summer I  met an elderly angler who rents a cabin for two weeks every year and his sons come from wherever they are to join him and fish. He spends 50 weeks a year waiting for that time of the year.

But the magic I heard at Richard’s memorial service came from it being recounted by his son. It was special to hear how a child, now a man, had found a special way to connect to his father on the river. Ernest Hemingway’s son, Jack, tells a similar story in his memoir Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.

Mr. Goldman, thank you for all you did for me, our city, and the Jewish people. Through your generosity you gave many of us fish so that we could eat, and taught many to fish so that we could sustain ourselves. Someone once surprised me in a workshop by adding an additional line to the famous saying:

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.

Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.

But teach a man how to teach others to fish, and you begin to feed the whole world.

This, Mr. Goldman, you did not achieve with your fly rod, but your philanthropy and your vision.

“May you find a seat waiting for you in heaven.”


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


Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: