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 “hunger”

A Meaningful Christmas

I will never forget Band Aid, an initiative of British and Irish (and later US) music artists who came together to form the ultimate supergroup in 1984. Best of all for me, it was founded on the energy of bad boy Bob Geldof, lead singer of the Boomtown Rats, to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia by releasing the record “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” for the Christmas market that year.

Geldof became infamous for swearing on stage whenever the rate of donations began to drop. Phil Collins performed first on stage at the UK concert and then boarded a Concord plane, flew to New York, and played there. Okay, it was cool at the time to an idealistic 20-year-old (and passionate Genesis fan).  

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” surpassed the hopes of the producers to become the Christmas number one on that release. Two subsequent re-recordings of the song to raise further money for charity also topped the charts.

– the live version.

– the recording

Here are all the artists wishing you a Happy New Year – back at you people. It was an amazing moment when people of privilege and fame made a stand. 

The struggle still goes on, the hunger and poverty a shame on humanity. But to return to my Jewish roots: “It is not for us to finish the task, but neither are we free to desist from it.

Happy Holidays to all humanity.

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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). Hang out with Alon on Google+

Grass – Roger Ingalls

john-james-ingalls

Grass must grow in my blood; it inexplicably and constantly waves through my mind. To be clear, I’m talking grasses and not lawns. The appalling manicured green carpets in front of our houses are a waste of valuable water and the chemical runoff is deadly to a balanced ecosystem. But grass, real grass, is the essence of life.

Rice, corn, wheat, rye and sugar cane are just a few grasses that feed humanity. Oats, prairie, tundra and hay are varieties for the rest of us animals. We should never underestimate the importance of grass; it’s the unsung hero of nature.

In Praise of Grass, published in the Kansas Journal just after the Civil War was written by John James Ingalls, a Senator and founder father of Kansas. Below is one of my favorite paragraphs from that essay. You can plow the grass under but it still geminates in the blood.

Grass is the forgiveness of nature — her constant benediction. Fields trampled with battle, saturated with blood, torn with the ruts of cannon, grow green again with grass, and carnage is forgotten. Streets abandoned by traffic become grass-grown like rural lanes, and are obliterated. Forests decay, harvests perish, flowers vanish, but grass is immortal. Beleaguered by the sullen hosts of winter, it withdraws into the impregnable fortress of its subterranean vitality, and emerges upon the first solicitation of spring. Sown by the winds, by wandering birds, propagated by the subtle horticulture of the elements which are its ministers and servants, it softens the rude outline of the world. Its tenacious fibres hold the earth in its place, and prevent its soluble components from washing into the wasting sea. It invades the solitude of deserts, climbs the inaccessible slopes and forbidding pinnacles of mountains, modifies climates, and determines the history, character, and destiny of nations. Unobtrusive and patient, it has immortal vigor and aggression. Banished from the thoroughfare and the field, it bides its time to return, and when vigilance is relaxed, or the dynasty has perished, it silently resumes the throne from which it has been expelled, but which it never abdicates. It bears no blazonry or bloom to charm the senses with fragrance or splendor, but its homely hue is more enchanting than the lily or the rose. It yields no fruit in earth or air, and yet should its harvest fail for a single year, famine would depopulate the world.

Imagine No Religion

I am writing this post on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It is a festive occasion, but I am having trouble getting in the mood, despite the beautiful service, music and wise words of our leaders.

 Last week was a shitty week. While addressing a group of students on Friday night at Hillel (SF Jewish student center where I work), I found myself talking about the violent events that were still going on as I spoke.

We have enough to worry about in this world – overpopulation, global warming, violence, hunger, natural disasters… do we really need to intentionally add any?

That  a few people made a movie that they knew would be deeply offensive to a large group of the population is plain stupid. It is okay to be controversial if you have a point that needs to be made, but there are some lines that don’t get crossed.  Anyone associated with this movie and intentionally knew of its controversial nature have blood on their hands. I hope they are not sleeping at night. 

I understand that many of those involved did not know what they were participating in. Here is a link to a statement made by actress, Anna Gurji on Neil Gaiman’s website (thanks to reader Christopher Wright).

It is natural to be angry when your religion has been deeply offended and to express that anger in demonstrations, but to take the steps needed to violently attack and kill a fellow person, innocent bystanders who are there to create bridges of understanding with your people, shows a woeful lack of comprehension of your own religion’s teachings. Where were the religious teachers teaching the sin of violence and murder? If religious men were leaving their mosques in an angry and violent mood, bent on murder, what were their Imams preaching? And if they were preaching peace, understanding and taking the higher moral road, why weren’t they being listened to?

Finally, the rumor, no – the lie – that this movie was produced and funded by Jews was not only baseless, but anti-Semitic. It traveled around the Internet at an intense speed, and took a long time to be disclaimed. It was too easy.

Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

In times like this, John Lennon’s lyrics make sense, but it doesn’t have to be like this. I want to live in a world where we celebrate diversity and without everyone being the same. I want to celebrate Chanukah, and join my neighbors for Diwali, and my good friends around their Christmas tree, secure in my own religions identity. I want my Israeli-born son to continue sitting at the same school table with the Palestinian child, and I would prefer that child bring his own food to my son’s birthday party, rather than not come at all because his parents fear offending me.

Last week, Muslims were offended, Christians murdered, and Jews blamed. It is not a question of moving on: we must learn the lessons that have haunted and tainted all our histories.

There is no religious justification for hate, violence and murder.

Wishing everyone of all races and religions, a peaceful and hate-free new year.

Shana Tova L’Kol Bnei Adam.

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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).

 

The Lawn Dilemma – Roger Ingalls

The season has finally turned and California’s dry heat has arrived. The lawn in front of our house has not tasted a deep drink for several weeks and it’s starting to show. Frankly, the grass looks like crap. We are rapidly becoming the scourge of our suburban neighborhood; the lawn cancer of picturesque Yupsterville.

This lawn-thing has me conflicted. Should I waste water and fossil fuels to keep the hood uniform and neighbors happy by maintaining a useless lawn? Or…do I color outside the suburbia sidewalks and transform the yard into an eco-friendly oasis of indigenous plant life along with an edible garden? Basically it comes down to fitting in or doing the right thing.

What is America’s fascination with two-inch tall carpet-like grass? Do we feel so culturally inferior that we must emulate manicured croquet gardens of eighteenth century aristocrats? Let’s get real…Marie Antoinette isn’t going to walk out my front door and say, “let them eat cake.”

There are 76 million home owners in the United States and that distribution of property sets our culture apart from every other civilization. Widespread land ownership should not be taken for granted; it is a historic anomaly. We should set our own lofty examples of how to use and protect it by saying no to home lawns that are environmentally disastrous and a huge resource waste (water, oil for pesticides and natural gas for fertilizer).

Let’s look at this differently. The U.S. lawn and yard market represents close to $30 billion a year. If we spent the same amount on growing edible gardens and returning indigenous plants to our yards, less water would be consumed and our waterways would be less polluted.

More importantly, hunger would be wiped off the planet.

The lawn dilemma has been resolved…let the transformation begin!

Happy Birthday Kiva!

 Dealing with global issues can sometimes seem so overbearing because of the sheer size of the problems -world hunger, AIDS, population explosions, natural disasters…the list is endless, and it involves billions of dollars needed for billions of people. It can be daunting and lead to paralysis.

The solution is really on two levels. We need to lobby our governments to take on such issues. The United Nations, probably best suited for such a task, is in desperate need of an overhaul, but that isn’t going to happen soon.

On the personal level, we can get involved, in a proportion that we can identify with. I have written a number of times about microfinancing, where for just $25, you can help a father of four in Tanzania set up a coffee shop, or a woman in India establish a juice bar. It is truly inspiring.

This brings me to KIVA, a non-profit microfinance bank that raises money through small gifts to help people invest in family or community enterprises. KIVA has just celebrated its 6th birthday and is growing in both scope (different countries) and size. 

You peruse the list of individuals who have been approved and invest by donating small increments of money. These are essentially loans, and you will receive notice as the money is being repaid. When it does, your ‘account’ with KIVA is credited and you could take the money back, though donors often reinvest the money back into helping another person through KIVA. For more on microfinance, click here.

The Jewish teacher, Maimonides, taught of eight levels of giving. The highest level is to offer someone the opportunity to become financially independent. For the last six years, KIVA have been doing just that. With six very successful years behind them, I hope we can go on saving the world together, one person at a time.

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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/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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