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 “McSpotlight.org”

Guest Post: Matt Fielding – The Accidental Activist

The following post has been written by Matt Fielding, the fictional protagonist of The Accidental Activist. The struggle by two young people not to cower to the bullying of a multinational corporation (the real McLibel trial) upon which the story is loosely based, is as relevant today as it was 15 years ago.

Over to you, Matt.


Thanks, Alon. I am truly humbled that an author would stil feel so connected to his characters years after he finished writing The Accidental Activist. I feel that after the Democratic Party Convention (and the Republicans, last week) that our message is just as important today as then.

Don’t get me wrong. When the multinational sued my girlfriend, Suzie, and her colleague, Bill, I was stunned. How could the British judicial system not protect their rights, not provide legal aid,  not come to their aid. The reality is that this astonishingly became the longest trial in British history because many, many people got involved. This was always a grassroots campaign.

Shalev saw fit to make me his protagonist, not just because my role as the web designer was significant (the Oilspill.com website was probably the first ever interactive advocacy website, a conduit for the free flow of information on a global level,  that enabled Suzie and Bill to act and respond at the necessary legal level without any formal training), but because of who I was – a regular guy, just like you.

The real website – McSpotlight.org

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 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, but it did.

This reckless multinational corporation, like so many today, hurt many people I loved and respected. My friends became victims to a business model fueled by 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.

I admit I was a self-absorbed yuppie out to get laid. But it was when I read The Accidental Activist that I understood the personal transformation that I underwent. 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.

The conventions were pretty, slick, and occasionally amusing. But they were made for TV, for the passive viewing of a population who have become desensitized to real advocacy and are willing to allow the politicians and mass media to spin whatever message they want. Accountability is almost non-existant as politician after politician,  who in any other work sector would have been fired a long time ago, continue to pass the blame and hide behind pretty rhetoric. The debt crises didn’t happen last night, neither did the social security fiasco, diminishing education and healthcare and…well you get the picture.

And the media lap it up. Why not? It makes their life easier. The Internet offers a chance to break this conspiracy. It has helped bring down dictators – it can change the face of our political system – but only if we the people want it bad enough.

The Accidental Activist is as relevant today as it was in the 90’s.

Matt Fielding
Oilspill.com Webmaster.

The real heroes – Helen Steel and Dave Morris


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 ahttp://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.


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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