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”

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).

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).

Guest Blogger – Suzie Thornton

I couldn’t help it. Someone has to stand up to multinational corporations and who better than me? Well maybe many people who are smarter, more articulate and strategic. But 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. I was ready.

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 thought 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. 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 simply gets 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.

The real website. It changed everything.

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 (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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