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 “McLibel”

Why It Has To Be Fiction

Last month, I was invited to address a very politically aware audience about my novel, The Accidental Activist. I spent considerable time describing the McDonalds’ libel trial that transpired in London throughout the 1990’s This is the the court case upon which The Accidental Activist is based.

I was deeply inspired by the trial at the time and meticulously researchedMcLibelas it became known. My fictional timeline corresponds exactly with the real trial and many of the events in The Accidental Activist parallel what transpired in the real court case. In fact, many of the more infamous quotes from real-life witnesses just happened to find their way into the mouths of my characters.

I allocated a fair part of my talk to the idea of writing for social justice, to help empower people to create a better world. This is a consistent theme throughout my books, and here on Left Coast Voices – so it begged someone to ask the question: Why fiction?

My answer was not very impressive. I mumbled that John Vidal, a journalist for The Guardian in the UK, had done a great job of writing the definitive book on the case and even had a copy on hand to show them.

But there is more. I believe fiction allows the writer to reach more people and on a deeper level than non-fiction. We open ourselves to the emotions of the characters, the smell of the place, the textures of color, food, or wine. We become invested in their challenges.

But most significantly, we read fiction to identify with the characters, particularly the protagonists. Often we align through gender, life experience, fears, or loves. I have heard from women who were deeply affected by my character Suzie’s ideological drive for a better world. Men can understand how Matt felt driven to step outside his comfort zone and find a way to defend his woman.

If we can create a bond between character and reader, we open the opportunity for the reader to create an environment in which to undergo a similar transformation in their own life.

I believe relationships are what drive people to step outside their safe space. I believe people were able to relate to then-Senator Obama’s (and/or Michelle’s) drive for a better America, for change we can believe in. This was what motivated so many to get involved and head to the polls four years ago and, I hope, what ultimately will bring them out to vote again in November.

When we relate to a person we admire, whether in fact or fiction, we consider on a conscious or subconscious level whether we can emulate that person and make a similar, courageous decision. Perhaps this will empower us to believe that our actions can create a better world.

Have you ever been inspired by a book to take action? Has a fictional character ever helped you change your life? If so, please share in the comments below.

Good Writing,

Alon

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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).

 

Save a Cow, Save the Planet

A while ago, I suggested that obesity and wrong food production is the core to our sinking economy. It seems to have resonated with many people and I feel a need to explain myself. In the first of two articles, I want to focus first on the effects on our planet and then on our economy.

However, allow me to begin with a disclaimer: While I was vegetarian or vegan for most of my life, I am not now. It is something I struggle with regarding my own health and have been eating fish for a few years. I have also been known to eat rather than cry fowl.

It’s not just the remains of the animal dead on our plates, but the energy and resources involved putting them there. As John Vidal, a reporter for The Observer in England, and the author of the McLibel case that The Accidental Activist is based upon, once said: “It’s time to think of waste as well as taste.”

When we look for major ways to lower the impact we are having on the earth, where to cut energy, and become sustainable, eating less meat seems to be one of the clearest and most attainable. Note that I said “eating less meat” and not becoming vegetarians. Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes of the veggie movement has been this all-or-nothing approach, meaning that those not ready to make such a radical switch are likely to dismiss it.

But there is a more telling reason to cut meat consumption. With a billion hungry people and three billion more mouths to feed in the next few decades, this argument is far bigger than being nice to animals. People are dying of starvation, our planet is exhausting its ability to feed us, and we have the knowledge and technology already to turn this around.

If we really want to reduce the human impact on the environment, the simplest and cheapest thing anyone can do is to eat less meat. Vidal says: “Behind most of the joints of beef or chicken on our plates is a phenomenally wasteful, land- and energy-hungry system of farming that devastates forests, pollutes oceans, rivers, seas and air, depends on oil and coal, and is significantly responsible for climate change. The way we breed animals is now recognized by the UN, scientists, economists and politicians as giving rise to many interlinked human and ecological problems, but with 1 billion people already not having enough to eat and 3 billion more mouths to feed within 50 years, the urgency to rethink our relationship with animals is extreme.”

Millions of hectares of trees have been felled for cattle ranching in the Amazon. Photograph: Paulo Whitaker/Reuters

Vidal lists 10 environmental concerns that curbing the meat industry would help turn the situation around.

1. Global Warming

2. Land Use

3. Water Supplies

4. Deforestation

5. Waste Management and Harmful Chemicals

6. Ocean pollution

7. Air Pollution

8. Pathogens from animals making humans ill.

9. Depleting the Oil Supply

10. Other Costs – This tenth point is what I will focus on in my next post. There is so much environmental information available now, one needs to make a conscientious effort remain uninformed!

The average American consumes about 200 pounds of meat a year – that is about 1/2 lb a day assuming that everyone eats meat. We don’t. About 7.3 million Americans don’t eat meat at all, while just fewer than 23 million eat a vegetarian-inclined diet. I am not sure what this means, but I doubt they eat vegetarians who are known to be lean and bad tempered when someone sticks a fork in them.

How does this effect our economy? That’s for another post.

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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).

What Inspired The Accidental Activist?

I was asked this question at the Book Review site: Rainy Days & Mondays and want to share my response with you.

Every novel I write begins with a personal catalyst. The Accidental Activist was inspired by a chance meeting with an old friend from my childhood in England, who I met in the desert in the Middle East, and that I wrote about here in the US.

I was a tour guide and the group leader turned out to have attended a youth center I had worked at in London, ten years before. He remembered how passionate I was about grassroots activism.

“I’ve been working on something you have to see,” he said, whipping out his laptop and bringing up a website.

I was enthralled, since in the early ’90’s, both a laptop and a website were cutting edge! But this guy had something more important to show me. He explained how a multinational corporation (McDonald’s) was suing two friends of his for distributing leaflets highlighting many of McDonald’s’ practices. There was no legal aid for libel (this has changed now because of this case) and so they were defending themselves.

This guy and some friends had built a website to help garner support and information. I was fascinated. At that time, I used the Internet to write emails and get soccer results (I am British). I didn’t know then of the potential the Internet had. Few people did, McSpotlight.org was, I believe, the first interactive advocacy website.

The McSpotlight Website

As word spread, the website began to receive evidence from as far as experts working in the rainforests in South America and trade unionists in Australia.

I was fascinated by the impact of the Internet as a tool for social change. As the case unfolded, a number of amazing incidents that highlight the behavior of multinational corporations kept my attention. I won’t mention them here because they are in my book.

I became intrigued by the transformation of a number of individuals impacted by the case. I decided to write a fictional account, not for the sensationalism because almost everything in the book is based upon something that really happened, but because I wanted to highlight the role of the website and the role of an empowered individual.

Most of us can identify with my protagonist, Matt. He is the guy you work with, have a drink with and watch the football games with. But he is also a guy who is personally affronted by the bullying tactics of big business when it challenges a close friend, and he is galvanized into action when he discovers he has the skills to fight back.

Steel and Morris showing the website

I loved writing The Accidental Activist because I was excited by the court case, the potential of the Internet and eventually the trials and tribulations of my characters, who became good friends.

But I have also become enthralled by the idea of Transformational Fiction, where ordinary people are drawn into fighting a social injustice and in doing so experience a life-shifting internal change.

I want my writing to inspire people to stand up for what they believe in. I want it to be an empowering experience. One of my favorite quotes is from Richard Wright: “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.”

Using the form of novels enable me to try and inspire, not though political speeches, but identifying with characters who are similar to you and me.

I have written three other manuscripts and, in each, the protagonist goes through a transformative process. In A Gardener’s Tale, the protagonist helps a young outcast become a meaningful and respected member of the community. In The Accidental Activist, as mentioned, a self absorbed computer programmer takes up the struggle against a multinational corporation who is trying to silence protestors in order to get laid (well kind of), but discovers he can harness his talents to help improve the world.

Unwanted Heroes will be released in the spring of 2012  and tells the story of a young man who befriends a mentally disturbed war veteran and uses his talents to help the old man come to terms with his past and rebuild his life.

I never consciously wrote these novels with this common theme until The Accidental Activist was being critiqued. But now I feel very comfortable and inspired to follow this path. And if it can inspire a few readers along the way, I will feel I am doing my part in creating a better world.

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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).

Interview with Professor McGoughen

The following post is a post by Professor McGoughen, a fictional Scottish law professor who plays an important role in The Accidental Activist. On Sunday, I gave a brief explanation of my desire to revisit the characters of this story, a tale that continues to be as relevant today as the real McLibel trial in the 1990’s on which the story is loosely based.

I would like to say that what follows are the words and opinions of the writer himself and his alone. Given that he is a product of my imagination, I’ll skip it. Over to you, Professor.

Steel & Morris demonstrating at the McLibel Trial

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“I’m really excited tae be com’g tae California for the book launch of The Accidental Activist  in a co’ple o’ weeks. Once I finish the semester teaching law at Oxford, I had planned tae visit ma wee grandchildren in Edinboro’, but I could nae resist seeing the book o’ the trial an’ how yoo Americans perceive such a shenanigan.

Ma role in the trial was a wee one. I can nae believe that computer wiz kid got me soo wound up as tae bring me out of retirement. I spent ma whole life fightin’ the multinationals. As an Oxford University law professor, I still can nae imagine how two young scrufs could have pulled it off.

Certainly the Internet was a powerful tool that I nae had in ma day. But the way that laddie harnessed it to involve so many people from all o’er the world was amazing. He deserves all the credit that this wee book gives him.

The real McSpotlight website

An’ I hope it gives a new generation o’ lasses ’n lads the inspiration tae fight for what’s right in a way that’s relevant for them. Your President, Mr. Obama, understood this ’n that’s why soo many people got involved in his campaign that had nae done soo before. I hear he still sends out updates to his supporters, still keeps them informed via the Internet.

I want this t’ be the message that y’ people will take from The Accidental Activist: that it’s possible to effect change, that y’ can influence what is happening. Ya need to know what is going on. When them corporate types know som’n is watching them, they might think twice ’bout their actions. I hear that in America, they don’t even pay any taxes.

An’ remember: this trial mae have happen’d in England, but many o’ these multinationals operate outta the US. This is as relevant for yoo as it is for Britain, Africa or Asia. Our world is connected now an’ we noo got much time. This Internet might just be the tool to change everything – an’ this is what young Shalev is tryin’ t’ tell us in his book.

Read the book. I reckon that you’ nae look at the Internet in the same wae again.

Alistair McGoughen
Professor at Law, Oxford University

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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).

Interview with The Honorable Henry Wilkins QC

The following interview is with The Honorable Henry Wilkins QC, the fictional judge of The Accidental Activist. On Sunday, I gave a brief explanation of my desire to revisit the characters of this story, a tale that continues to be as relevant today as the real McLibel trial in the 1990’s on which the story is loosely based.

Where it all transpired - in the novel and real life

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Interview: The Honorable Henry Wilkins QC – sitting judge of the Oilspill Libel trial.

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 – and see how he positions the role of the law and, I have to admit, my role as the sitting judge.

Interviewer: Let us begin with this aspect of the court case. Did you ever imagine when the two sides stood before you on 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 website, Oilspill.com, would have such a profound effect or such worldwide appeal.

Int.: 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.

Int.: 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. Secondly, 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 continued to learn and stay abreast of these technological advances.

It was the website that enabled Steel and Morris to compete in the real court case

Int.: How did you feel when you saw Professor McGoughen enter the fray?

HW: Ha! That old cad! I think that 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 Oxford University sanctuary. 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. But I won’t specify until I check if it is in Shalev’s book.

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

HW: Hmm. Firstly, that the law makes everyone accountable, no matter how powerful or wealthy they might be. It must fulfill this role. Secondly, 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.

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

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

His Honor, Mr. Justice Rodger Bell, the real judge at the McLibel trial

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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).

Matt Fielding – His own words

The following post has been written by Matt Fielding, the fictional protagonist of The Accidental Activist. Yesterday, I gave a brief explanation of my desire to revisit the characters of this story, a tale that continues to be as relevant today as the real McLibel trial in the 1990’s upon which the story is loosely based.

I would like to be able to offer the following disclaimer as I do with all guest posts that what follows is the words of the writer himself and his alone. Given that he is a product of my imagination, I’ll skip it this time. Over to you, Matt.

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Thanks, Alon. I am truly humbled. I knew Alon Shalev was writing this novel, The Accidental Activist, and I knew he had aspirations to one day see it published, but I kind of had my doubts about the whole project.

Don’t get me wrong. The decision by Global Energy Development Corporation to sue my girlfriend, Suzie, and her colleague, Bill, was pretty stunning. That the British judicial system didn’t see fit to provide them with legal aid is still hard to believe; and, of course, the astonishing fact that this court case went on to become the longest trial in British history, is all worthy of being recorded.

What I find humbling is the fact that Shalev saw fit to make me his protagonist. Certainly my role as the web designer was significant. The fact that the Oilspill.com website was probably the first ever interactive advocacy website, that it became a conduit for the free flow of information on a global level, and that it enabled Suzie and Bill to act and respond at the necessary legal level without any formal training, is all amazing, especially to geeks such as myself.

The real website - McSpotlight.org

But Shalev goes a step further. He is not content with the mechanics of the Information Highway and the work our Dream Team undertook. He seems fascinated with me personally and the process I went through.

Let me be honest: Before meeting Suzie, I couldn’t have told you the names of our government’s cabinet members. I knew more about Arsenal Football Club’s reserve side than our shadow cabinet and, being in opposition meant Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona, and Liverpool, not the Conservatives, Liberals or the Green Party.

I’ll be perfectly clear (I have been asked this many times in interviews): I only got involved because I fancied Suzie (love came along, but much later) and wanted to date her. I can’t tell you at what point I became politically aware, or at what point it went beyond personal.

This reckless multinational corporation, like so many today, hurt many people I loved and respected. My friends became victims to a business model that cannot conceive of the pain and destruction left in its wake, the devastating effect these companies have on the individual who willingly or unwillingly gets in the way of their profit margin.

Today I remain involved: being with Suzie, how could I not? My consulting agency is selective about which clients we take on and we have an internship program where we not only mentor students, but also have them work, pro bono, on projects that advance social justice and sustainability.

Not bad for a self-absorbed yuppie who was only out to get laid, huh? But it was when I read The Accidental Activist that I understood the personal transformation that I underwent. I guess for this I should thank Shalev for writing the novel and giving me the chance to become who I am today.

And if my story can in any way help someone else make the personal changes necessary to help this embattled world of ours become a better place, well, I am proud to have been the protagonist of The Accidental Activist.

Matt Fielding
Oilspill.com Webmaster.

The real heroes - Helen Steel and Dave Morris

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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).

Food Justice San Francisco Style

Our City (capital C intended) by the bay has a proud history of food justice and environmental policy. We are perhaps one of the first cities to make the connection between low academic scores and nutrition.

Banning sugar-saturated soda in the school grounds or plastic bags from groceries is one thing. Taking on McDonald’s, however, now that is brave. McDonald’s have no compulsion to take on anyone and everyone, threaten them with court action and intimidate them until they back down. There is a roll call on the McLibel DVD of all the newspapers, magazines and talk shows that have crossed swords with McDonald’s. All have meekly sheathed their swords and mumbled an apology rather than go to court.

Of course, there were two young people who refused to back down and embarked on what became the longest court case in British history. Click here for the factual account, and here for the fictional one.

Back to San Francisco and a city ordinance has been proposed that will ban McDonald’s from offering a toy with the purchase of a Happy Meal unless there is a limitation on calories and the addition of fruit and vegetables. This proposal is, by the way, aimed at all fast food chains, but McDonald’s Happy Meals seems to have provided the impetus for the initiative.

McDonald’s, naturally, aren’t impressed with a Left Coast concern for growing childhood obesity or the plummeting school grades that are becoming common around our country. When Supervisor Eric Mar proposed the law, McDonald’s Corporation sent a team of executives to City Hall to protest.

The rest of us should feel grateful to McDonald’s – you can fight City Hall. McDonald’s claimed that this proposal would deny their customers the freedom to chose and is an attack on their and other businesses models of marketing.

To be fair, McDonald’s are not the only business exploiting children. On the other hand, City Hall is not just going after the fast-food industry. Our Mayor, Gavin Newsom (Link) has signed an order banning sweetened sodas from vending machines on city property, broadened a ban on tobacco sales in pharmacies to include grocery stores and big-box stores that also have pharmacies.

But with election season looming, the mayor has slowed his support. His opponent in the lieutenant governor’s race, Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, has accused him of trying to be the food police.

Karen Wells, who is McDonald’s VP for Nutrition and Menu Strategy claims that it is the responsibility of the parent to decide what their child should eat. Fair point. She also claimed that it would be difficult to implement. Now you’ve lost me.

“It’s different from what we’re doing today and different from what we’ve done for 25 years, successfully,” Wells said.

Now you really have lost me. It is a generally accepted principle that the companies who survive and thrive for decades do so because they are able to adapt to changing consumer consciousness and demand. While a multinational corporation is governed by the bottom line, surely there must be some acknowledgment of society’s need. In fact, if we all die of obesity connected disease, who will buy the burgers?

McDonald’s nutrition director, Cynthia Goody, points out that there is no evidence suggesting childhood obesity would be reduced by requiring a fruit or vegetable with all meals. It doesn’t deserve a comment…

…But I can’t resist.

If children see McDonald’s as an amazing place to go to and eat, couldn’t McDonald’s provide an educational example, a role model, for healthy nutrition? If children get used to eating fruit and vegetables at such cool places as McDonald’s, won’t it make eating fruit and vegetables at home easier?

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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

 

 

 

Bumper Sticker Wisdom: Food Justice

Following on from the post about McLibel DVD, I want to focus a few blog posts on the need for food justice.

It just seems that if we could be more accountable for what we put in our mouths, we could significantly change the world: economically, environmentally, with regard to health, and perhaps even the way we  treat ourselves and otherl.

We all live downstream. Here’s a great take on food justice from the superb Dana Lyons.

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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

 

 

 

McLibel DVD

I can neither confirm nor deny that The Accidental Activist has any connection to the astonishing McLibel trial in England in the 1990’s, despite the almost identical time line and similar characters.`

In an earlier post I discussed the trial itself. I want to take the opportunity to promote the documentary which shows many behind-the-scenes exchanges.

Enjoy this 3 minute trailer:

The story of McLibel is also the story of the Internet evolving into a tool for social advocacy, something that a decade later we activists now take for granted. In The Accidental Activist, I focus on this aspect by making my protagonist the computer programmer who sets up the Oilspill website. I remember meeting the real person in the early ’90’s just after he had  put up McSpotlight.org and enjoying his unbridled enthusiasm for what was unfolding.

But the real heroes are Dave Morris and Helen Steel who were modern day Davids standing up to a daunting Goliath. The whole advocacy world owes them a debt. ——————————————————————————————————-

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

 

 

 

Books that Matter – McLibel: Burger Culture on Trial – John Vidal

McLibel is the story of the remarkable trial wherein McDonald’s sued two young activists for libel in London during the 1990’s and, unlike every newspaper, magazine and TV show, they refused to back down. Due to archaic laws, libel is the one area of law where there is no legal aid offered.

A friend of mine put up what became the first interactive advocacy website at a time when most of us were still using telephones and letter to communicate with each other. Both the David .v. Goliath aspect of what became the longest court case in British history and the role that the website took on, fascinated me.

John Vidal records an accurate account of what transpired in the Royal Courts of Justice in his book – McLibel: Burger Culture on Trial, and there is also a DVD by the same name produced by Geoffrey Giuliano.

KIRKUS REVIEW (McLibel: Burger Culture on Trial)
A lively account of the food fight that became the longest trial in British history. When a flyer entitled “What’s Wrong with McDonald’s” circulated around London, the burger giant took umbrage and sued Helen Steel and Dave Morris, members of London Greenpeace (an environmental group not affiliated with the international organization Greenpeace), for libel… see below for full review.

My latest novel, The Accidental Activist, is a fictional account of the trial. I keep very close to the true time line, but I have substituted an oil company in place of McDonald’s (so as not to get sued for libel myself!). I tell the story from the perspective of the guy who put up the website. I have a common theme throughout my novels to spotlight the transformational potential that we each possess to effect positive change.

A self-absorbed, successful computer yuppie goes out on a few dates with a woman who suddenly gets arrested and charged with libel. He utilizes his talents, initially to help her, but gradually gets more involved in the issues and the need to hold big businesses accountable.

While the court case closely resembles what really transpired, the characters and sex are all from my overactive imagination.

KIRKUS REVIEW – McLibel: Burger Culture on Trial.
A lively account of the food fight that became the longest trial in British history. When a flyer entitled “What’s Wrong with McDonald’s” circulated around London, the burger giant took umbrage and sued Helen Steel and Dave Morris, members of London Greenpeace (an environmental group not affiliated with the international organization Greenpeace), for libel.

Here Vidal, who covered the trial for the London Guardian, recounts some of the issues addressed and the difficulties faced by the two underdogs who, without benefit of a court-appointed lawyer or funds from legal aid, acted as their own attorneys in facing the corporation’s crack legal team in a bench trial (they were denied a jury). British libel law required that Steel and Morris prove the accuracy of virtually every statement made in the flyer.

The company may since have come to regret their suit: The pair, assisted by a network of volunteers, did a very credible job of tracking down information in support of the flyer’s claims. This effort leads Vidal to discussions of the nutritional value of McDonald’s food; whether or not that food contained any beef raised on former rainforest land; the corporation’s treatment of workers; and its reactions to employees’ efforts to unionize.

By the time Vidal is finished with such subjects, the Golden Arches look a little tarnished. But his account would have benefited from waiting for the verdict that was handed down this summer, and from concluding with more rumination on the case and less grandstanding on the evils of multinational corporations. Still, Vidal’s blend of human interest and sheer outrageousness make this a ripping legal yarn. If the case itself hasn’t already given Ronald McDonald indigestion, this book might. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen) — Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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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

 

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