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 “McDonald’s”

An Open Letter to Fast Food – Tom Rossi

To whom it may concern at McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, etc.:

I am writing in support of your armies of workers. The people entrusted with the preparation of people’s food should not be treated nor paid poorly. But that’s exactly what has been going on for decades. Ever since the first McDonald’s was erected, fast food workers have been on a downward spiral.

US-ECONOMY-WAGES-PROTEST

I want to know that the preparers of my food have some sense of dignity. I want to know that they take some pride in their work and in making a good product. I want to know that they can afford health care and are not carrying some sickness into work because they can’t afford to take a day off.

When I was 16 years old, I worked at McDonald’s for a few months. It was a lot like I imagine a “sweatshop” to be. The other workers and I were constantly pushed to work harder and faster, and for a tiny paycheck. And contrary to the beliefs of some people, we did not really “choose” this. We all needed money – that’s the cold reality. And there are always more workers than jobs, out there. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, it’s not easy to get a job. That’s the only reason anyone would ever “choose” to work fast food – out of necessity.

kansas_city_fast_food_workers_strike

The giant corporations that control fast food always ask if we want to pay more for our hamburgers. I would (and do, at better establishments) pay a little more for a sense of security in the quality of my food. And I certainly wouldn’t mind if there had to be some cuts in massive corporate profits, toward the same purpose.

Fast food workers are human beings and Americans. They don’t deserve to be driven like oxen for starvation wages. And the excuse that a fast food job isn’t meant to be a career doesn’t hold water (nor Coca Cola) either. If a stepping-stone job pays so little and exhausts workers terribly, it becomes a trap. How can a person get ahead or get an education when they can barely pay their rent? Education costs money. Families cost money. Food costs money. Transportation costs money. And fast food jobs leave workers choosing what bills to pay each month – leading them deeper and deeper into debt. That’s no way to get ahead.

It all comes back to money. What I am asking of fast food corporations is that they prioritize human dignity and health over an extra dollar in profit. Here is my pledge: Until these corporations start to treat their employees like human beings, I will not patronize them. They will not persuade me with PR campaigns, telling me how happy are their employees, because I know the truth. I also know the truth about paying rent, and other expenses.

Workers-Strike-at-70-NYC-Fast-Food-Restaurants-Protestors

Having once been a fast food worker myself, I know for a fact that these are real people – not to be treated as inferiors… as if they were just not smart enough, or good enough, to have a better job. America’s greatness will continue to slip away as long as so many of us are treated like beasts of burden. Make a stand with me. Make America great again… for everyone.

-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.

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Love Actually – Roger Ingalls

Christmas is a crazy stressful punctuation to the close of a year. Like most, I turn more and more cynical with each passing holiday season. It’s truly a high pressure economic season spun, puffed and sold as a religious event. But…if you look closely, there does seem to be light shining from the hearts of many.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of Christmas chores, my wife arm-twisted me into watching one of those sappy holiday chic-flicks, Love Actually.

The opening dialogue by the leading man, Hugh Grant, really stuck in my head. So much so that I had to go online to find the text:

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion… love actually is all around.”

(picture from fanpop.com)

(picture from fanpop.com)

As a blogging activist, the natural tendency is to focus on the world’s wrongs while putting the good in the back pocket. The more I thought about the opening lines in Love Actually, the more I realized that there is a lot of kindness amongst us. Within the past week I’ve seen a policeman roll down his patrol car window to hand a dollar bill to a guy holding a cardboard sign on a corner, a middle-eastern woman take a white homeless-looking kid hanging around the front door of McDonalds inside for a meal, and I a saw a young girl let go of her mother’s hand to run back to a store’s door in an attempt to hold it open for a handicapped elder.

If you look, love is actually all around us. I guess it is my holiday duty to keep a happy heart for, at least, another week or so. And I must thank my wife for making me watch that sappy Christmas love story. Actually, it was a pretty good movie.

Happy Holidays.

In Praise of Editors

I have adapted this post from my elfwriter blog because I am aware that a large proportion of the faithful from Left Coast Voices are either writers or people interested in the writing world. I have made a few adaptations from the original post. 

No blog post this weekend. 

Two weeks ago, I received the manuscript to At The Walls of Galbrieth, my first foray into the world of Young Adult Epic Fantasy, back from my editor. Like many authors, I thought I had sent her a pretty clean story. I had gone over it several times myself, had it scrutinized by the venerable Berkeley Writers Group, and put it through the laundry with softener (I think you get my point).

At first, I was a bit dismayed to see all those little boxes in ‘Track Changes’ fighting each other for space along the right-hand side of my page. But after following and accepting her changes for the first three chapters, I am in awe of what an impact the eye of an independent professional can have, how much s/he can discern, how a few changes can add such clarity.

My last novel, The Accidental Activist, is a social justice-themed novel that fictionalized the McDonalds libel trial in England in the 1990′s. To show how thwarted and depressed my protagonist felt, I had used an English soccer game of my favorite team, Arsenal, as an analogy. My editor had written to me and, while expressing that she did not follow soccer, had researched a bit and thought that I could use an actual game from 2004. She had been right. The game was perfect.

With Tourmaline Press working hard with a gifted cover artist in St. Louis, an ISBN number (or three) assigned to the book, everything is taking shape. On Friday, I wrote the dedication at the front of the book with tears in my eyes. But that is a story for another time.

This update is just to let you know why there is no blog post this weekend. Here let me click the button…. Okay – posted!

Have a great weekend and if you know an editor – give ’em a hug.

Elfwriter

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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 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).

Business Mensch

On Monday, I wrote about taking the Mensch Pledge, a desire to see a new code of business ethics which, had they been in place, might have prevented the current, painful recession we are experiencing. The inspiration for this came from the founder of Noah’s Bagels – Noah Alper – and his book – Business Mensch.

What’s important is providing for your family, conducting yourself with integrity, and living a life of meaning. Noah Alper – Business Mensch.

I am somewhat skeptical when I read memoirs of successful businessmen sprouting ideals and values. Probably I feel a pang of jealousy. It’s easy to take a shot at people who have made it financially – they can afford to take the moral high ground.

I certainly have little time for Sam Walton (Wal-Mart) or Ray Kroc (McDonalds). Exploiting workers, abusing animals, destroying the world or creating unhealthy lifestyles just doesn’t cut it. Perhaps working in the non-profit world balances the lack of acquiring wealth with a healthy dose of narcissistic self-righteousness.

Noah Alper began and built up Noah’s Bagels from a single bagel shop in Berkeley. Having read his book, I think he is different. He instilled a code of values that begins with his own actions. Being an observant Jew, Alper anchors his moral business code in Judaism. This certainly excited me as a Jew. In a time when so many people’s lives were ruined by a greedy and unethical businessman who happened to be Jewish, it is important for a few Tzadikim (righteous men and women) to stand up in the business world.

Since coming to the US I have found my managerial style questioned on a number of occasions. Many times in this thin treatise, Business Mensch, I found myself nodding in agreement with his values and principles and remembering similar scenarios.

I found it strangely validating that Alper, an unapologetic entrepreneur, believes in living by such values in his daily practice. And values are only worth something if they are truly upheld on a daily basis.

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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.

Exclusive Interview: The Honorable Henry Wilkins QC

The following interview is with The Honorable Henry Wilkins QC, the fictional judge of The Accidental Activist. Last Friday, we heard from Suzie Thornton and the week before from Matt Fielding – all of whom agreed to sit with me for coffee, even though none of them really exist.

 

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Henry Wilkins QC: Let me make it clear before we even begin this interview. I will not answer any question specific to the ruling of the Oilspill Libel case, as it is now known. I am a judge, a Queen’s Councilor, and proud to serve at Her Majesty’s Royal Courts of Justice. I am somewhat suspicious of blogs, of what one can or cannot write, and I am anxious to read this book by Alon Shalev – The Accidental Activist – I’ve read his other book and, frankly, I’m perturbed.

Interviewer: Let us begin with this aspect of the court case. Did you ever imagine when the two sides stood before you that first day in court that the case would last for so many years and become the longest trial in British history? Or that it would attract such a high-profile?

HW: Certainly not. The mere notion that two amateurs could take on a legal heavyweight like Jeffery Sithers and fathom their way through the complex framework of British libel laws is baffling. Of course, no one imagined that the websiteOilspill.com, would have such a profound effect or such worldwide appeal. It was the first of its kind and possibly the most impactful element when history looks back on this trial.

Interviewer: Did you ever feel that you wanted to help or advise the defendants because of this blatant inequality?

HW: Hmm, a tough question. With regard to the actual issues, I never felt a desire to support either side. I am most comfortable with the gown and wig that I wear and understand my role of objectivity, of ensuring that the law is respected.

But then I sat there for two years seeing two exhausted and frustrated young people, clearly committed to what they perceive as a better business and world model, but always outflanked, out-resourced and, certainly out-briefed – not that such a word exists.

Then at the other table sat Jeffery Sithers, the most famous libel lawyer in Britain, with seven legal aides, all dressed up in their pin-striped suits, and always prepared for what was unfolding. Did you know that the company actually provided Jeffery with a young caddie, whose sole responsibility was wheeling all their documents in and out of the courtroom every day? It made me appreciate the lad at my golf club.

Interviewer: What was groundbreaking about this case?

HW: Hmmm, I think there are two significant aspects. Clearly, it exposed the need to update the British libel laws, which, I believe, have been left untouched for 500-600 years. Second, the whole aspect of the growing role of the Internet: that such a global informational conduit could be leveraged in such a fashion, well let me tell you, it was fascinating. And, between you and me, I have tried to stay abreast of these technological advances.

McSpotlight, possibly the first interactive advocacy website was the game changer.

Interviewer: How did you feel when you saw your old nemesis, Professor McGoughen enter the fray?

HW: Ha! That old cad! I think the only time I allowed my emotions to show was the first time I saw the old fox sitting up in the galley grinning. I never thought he could be lured out of his academic palace at Oxford. He might seem eccentric to some, but let me tell you, he was a legal titan in his day. He pursued the multinationals and big businesses with a vengeance. I clashed with him many times during our careers and I hold him in the highest esteem. Still, I can’t say I was too happy with him when he pulled that stunt on me at the end of the trial.

Interviewer: Without getting into the court case itself: what lessons can we all learn from what transpired in your courthouse?

HW: Hmm. First, that the law makes everyone accountable, no matter how powerful or wealthy they might be. It must fulfill this role. Second, that the Internet has an important role of keeping things in the open, so that we all make informed choices and have the information at our fingertips.

And one effect I would like to share that this case had on me, personally. We only have one world and we are all responsible for what happens to it. It is a fragile world and getting frailer everyday.

Interviewer: Do I detect a value judgment of the court case?

HW: Good Heavens! No! Strike that from the record!

Justice Rodger Bell presided over the McLibel trial almost from the beginning. He has never offered a personal opinion on the case.

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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 h and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Guest Blogger – Suzie Thornton

Suzie Thornton is the female protagonist in The Accidental Activist. Being a fictional character has never stopped her expressing her own opinion.

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I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t stand by and watch big business trample over individuals, communities, and villagers. Someone had to stand up to the multinational corporations and who better than me? Well many people actually, who are smarter, more articulate and strategic. But back then I was a young, single woman, with no assets that anyone could threaten to take from me. I was working part-time in a bookstore. And maybe, just maybe, I was looking for a fight.

Or so I thought.

Helen Steel – the real heroine

No one suspected that the Oilspill court case would become the longest in British history. No one imagined that I would be denied legal aid and forced to defend myself against the most accomplished lawyer in British libel history. It took a huge chunk of my life away from me, something I will never get back. But I had to do it. I simply wouldn’t be me if I had ignored or buckled to the threat. And I got to know Matt in a way that I doubt would have happened.

It’s funny but one of my friends who read The Accidental Activist claimed that it is a romance novel. Of course it isn’t (and don’t tell the author – he might try and sell more books this way). The Accidental Activist is a courtroom drama wherein a multinational corporation tries to crush a tribe in South America and anyone who tries to stop them, or highlight their injustices.

I studied Political Science at London University, but I never learned as much as I did taking on the big guys. You can never understand how the legal system helps the multinationals until you are on the inside. And then it is simply frightening.

I’m glad that The Accidental Activist focuses on Matt. He was an unsung hero, a man who not only changed the outcome of our court case, but changed the face of political advocacy. I’m glad Alon Shalev was able to get inside of Matt’s head and show his transformation from a self-absorbed yuppie to a man who was ready to harness his talents to fight social justice.

But the sex! Did you guys have to get so explicit about it? You know my mother will read the book, right?

This blog post is dedicated to Helen Steel – the real heroine in the real McDonald’ Libel case upon which The Accidental Activist is based.

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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 Economic Burden of Overweight

My plane was delayed. I sat exhausted in the airport in Texas, sipping a coffee. There was a line of customers forming into the McDonalds about 30 feet to my left. I began to doze. In the haze of fatigue everything blurs a bit. It suddenly felt as though I was on a different planet (I had just seen the movie Planet 51 with my boys). People weren’t green, but they were…well huge.

People walked past me in families or groups of four or six, almost all seriously overweight. I do not know where the line crosses between overweight and obese. Paul Zane Pilzner once defined it as people who no longer control their weight or lifestyle. This is not an anti-obesity post. I respect anyone who is taking steps to ensure their body is healthy, but i fear the repercussions that we all face.

I remember my first trips to the US. Admittedly, they were to California and the beach, surf, and multiple gyms beguiled me. Now not everyone in California is healthy by any means, but that seemed to be the perception.

Last Wednesday, I wrote the first part of a post suggesting that a sustainable planet needed changes in what we dish onto our plates and into our bodies. Today, I want to propose that there is a direct correlation between our health and economy.

The U.S. budget is just over $15 trillion (as is our debt apparently). In 2009, health care costs reached $2.5 trillion—nearly 17 percent of the GDP – and Paul Zane Pilzner suggests that there is a further $1 trillion dollars in the Wellness industry (‘health’ food, fitness, vitamins, and other therapies).

Gallup estimates that we lost over $153 million in lost productivity. But enough with the statistics. I don’t really think that anyone questions the fact that an unhealthy society cannot be an economically successful company. In fact, how many countries where disease and ill health are prevalent are doing well economically? On the contrary, if you look at the more successful nations (Scandinavian and Japan), they score highly on both the economic and health categories.

The question that I am stuck with, and I think at the core of Obamacare, is how much can the government intervene in how people choose to live their lives? There a re two points that I feel we need to realize:

1) When more that half the nation are overweight, it directly impacts everyone’s finances.

2) I don’t believe these people are making choices or feel that they can turn their lives around.

The battle against harmful transfats in fast food is an example of how we can make the necessary changes.  I applaud First Lady Michelle Obama, who has taken on the fight against childhood obesity.

We have messed up the economy for our children and their children. Perhaps we can be more of service to them if we can educate them to live a healthy and productive lifestyle. And this just might right some economic wrongs we have inflicted on them as well. 

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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 Power of the Internet – SignUp

I am intrigued with the potential of the Internet to mobilize grassroots activism. My novel, The Accidental Activist, is a fictitious account of the McDonald’s libel trial in England in the 1990’s. The role of McSpotlight.org, the first interactive advocacy website, was integral in enabling two young activists to negotiate the maze of the British libel laws and take on one of the most famous law companies in the UK.

Twitter and Facebook were central tools utilized in the Arab Spring and China is putting considerable resources into controlling the Internet, at least within its borders. Shi Tzu, a journalist, found this out and languishes in jail.

Today, I walked past a few young people standing at the main thoroughfare at San Francisco State University, canvassing people to sign a petition supporting an environmental initiative. It was cold and I felt sorry for them. Despite their enthusiasm. students passed them by. I am sure it was not the issues, rather the desire to escape the cold and make it on time to class.

I thought there must be a better way to do it. Guess what? Apparently there is. Allow me to introduce you to SignOn.org. This is a new initiative that came to my attention when I wrote about Whole Foods and one of their (previous) Muslim employees.

The goal is to allow busy people to create and promote a petition. Though sponsored by the (thought of) left-wing organization Move On, the service is for any citizen to create a petition.

I want to applaud MoveOn for this initiative. It is efficient, time-saving and reaching people where they have discretionary time – on-line rather than on the street. Of course, there is always the loss of the human interaction as with all social media, but in terms of practicality and effectiveness, it seems like a great service.

And the fact that SignUp can be used by those with political views that do not fall in line with the MoveOn folks is also commendable. It elevates the core values of democracy and freedom of speech that we all talk about and forget often .

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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 Internet Cost Him His Freedom

My novel, The Accidental Activist, illustrates the empowerment of the Internet in the face of great power. Unfortunately, in the real world, it doesn’t always work that way. Though the two individuals who stood up to McDonald’s in England (the real story that The Accidental Activist is based upon) were able to use the Internet to defend themselves, it can be a double edged sword.

Shi Tao, a journalist in China discovered that and is still paying the price. Here is his story in 30 seconds.

In 2004, Shi Tao sent details of government plans to restrict the activities commemorating the 15th anniversary of the pro-democracy rally in Tienanmen Square. Apparently he sent the information through his Yahoo email account, and Yahoo gave the information to the Chinese security forces. Shi Tao is now in prison for 10 years.

In 2007 he received the Golden Pen of Freedom award by the World Association of Newspapers. Tao’s family is apparently suing Yahoo and they are not the first. While I wish to condemn Yahoo, we do need to focus our attention on China and freeing Shi Tao.

Suggestions of how to help can be found at Shi Tao’s Amnesty International page. I plan every year, during Chanukah, the Jewish festival of Freedom to blog about Shi Tao until he is released. I ask that you help because the only hope that Shi Tao has is that we do not forget him.

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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).

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