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 “President”

Defining the Genre – Transformational What?

This weekend I was asked me what genre I write.  I replied: “Transformational fiction.”

“What’s that?”

I was asking for it, since I have adopted a phrase I heard from the presenter of a workshop at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference.

“I write about change – people who want to help change the world and in doing so experience a change in themselves.”

I began to explain about the books I have published and in process. In A Gardener’s Tale, the mysterious protagonist empowers a young outcast to transform into an important member of the community. In The Accidental Activist, my main character is not one of the activists sued by the oil company, but a self absorbed computer programmer who takes up the struggle against the multinational in order to get laid (well kind of), but discovers that he can harness his talents to help improve the world.

I have written three other manuscripts and, in each, the protagonist goes through a deep transformation. As I wrote my novels, I never realized that this was a common theme until The Accidental Activist was being critiqued.

The discussion progressed into which social causes we each work for, and what organizations we are involved with. When we finished, I felt that he wanted to buy my book because of his newly formed connection with me. Best of all, I never felt as though I was trying to sell him anything. I was being me and, passionate as I am about social injustices, I was being genuine.

Brian Judd, a book marketing specialist, recalled in a recent CreateSpace webinar  a man who had written a children’s book about bananas. He would dress up as a banana, which naturally became a talking point.I have tried to dress up my website fit that transformational flavor: the Richard Wright quote, the request to purchase my book at an independent bookstore and showcasing non profits and causes that I support.

This urge to advance a persona behind the book and author feels right. It wouldn’t work if it wasn’t genuine, but since I have been a political activist and community organizer (no I’m not announcing my candidacy for President) for most of my life, it fits.

And so I will go out into the world and introduce myself: Alon Shalev. I write transformational fiction. And maybe one day, the person I am being introduced to won’t respond: “Transformational fiction – what’s that?”

Maybe one day they will even say: “Alon Shalev? Yeah I read your novels. One inspired me to…”

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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).

Who’s Afraid of the NRA?

I’m stuck on the topic of arms control. In the massive news coverage that surrounded the tragic shooting rampage in Colorado, I heard one comment repeated at least three times by different reporters and commentators. It went something along the lines of: “No presidential candidate would dare take on the National Rifle Association (NRA) during an election year” with one pundit suggesting that no elected president would either.

I am a great believer in pressure groups to protect our rights and advocate in an orderly and effective fashion. Being relatively new to the US (and I feel it politically when gun control is being discussed more than most other topics), I am not aware of the power of the NRA.

Their website is very impressive. They have launched a campaign to “Go All In’ as they actively push to get their members voting for their people at the polls. Now my stereotype of an NRA member has them firmly committed to heading to the polls in November, but it does look to be a slick campaign.

There is nothing wrong with that, by the way. This is a democracy and there are more than a few nonprofits that I support who could learn a lot from the NRA. Their page on the ‘Right To Carry’ laws looks very professional.

But it seems to be more than that. The NRA succeed by embracing two marketing principles: Their message is simple and it is repeated, repeated, repeated. Craig Montuori, apparently a left coaster himself sums up the messaging:

“The NRA boils issues down to one point–pro- or anti-gun–and takes a stand for the pro-gun side. Sometimes these issues are extremely complex. For example, gun trace data takes ballistic data from criminal cases, matches them to a gun, and matches that gun to a dealer. Then, the dealer can be checked out for whether or not they’re following proper sales procedure–background checks, hold periods, and the like, and oftentimes, the dealers do not. The NRA opposes this to the hilt, and annually, the Tiarht Amendment is proposed and adopted with their heavy lobbying support to restrict gun trace data from being used by police and the ATF to dry up criminals’ gun supply. The issue is boiled down to “restricting gun sales = bad, NRA oppose bad restrictions.”

Mr. Montuori then goes on to explain how the NRA has an effective direct mail campaign (and probably online as well) to swamp legislators with letters from the NRA’s huge membership list, giving the politician the clear message that s/he is going against a large number of his/her constituents. Now what politician doesn’t listen to this sophisticated message?

Members sign and mail prepaid issue cards telling their representatives that they oppose H.R. ____ that will restrict their 2nd Amendment Rights. They invariably warn the representative that they will oppose him/her if s/he doesn’t oppose the bill too.

Again Mr. Montuori: “Because the issue is so ‘hot,’ the NRA has an oversized effect on Congressional races, and many Members toe the NRA line to keep their support and avoid their opposition, further enhancing their lobbying chops.”

Mr. Montuori’s final point is that the NRA have such a huge membership and are very efficient at mobilizing and fundraising quickly. Given the emotional sensitivity surrounding the issue … “among certain American sub-cultures, especially in the South, and supposed threats to those rights can whip up a huge frenzy of feeling that is effectively exploited to raise large amounts of cash.”

In truth, I preferred him as Moses

While I have no doubt that this is so true, I am still left with the feeling that Presidential candidates also have a professional network, huge supporters and plenty of money. I am left with the nagging question: Why are even those at the very top scared of taking on the NRA?

Your opinion?

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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).

Gun Control: Kill the Handgun – Roger Ingalls

In the wake of the shooting deaths in Aurora, Colorado, the roar to ban assault rifles can be heard all over the country. The President made a soft but responsible comment on the issue while Senator Feinstein was more direct.

Obama at the National Urban League: “I, like most Americans, believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms, I think we recognize the traditions of gun ownership that passed on from generation to generation. That hunting and shooting are part of a cherished national heritage but I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals. That they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities. I believe the majority of gun owners would agree we should do everything possible to prevent criminals and fugitives from purchasing weapons, and we should check someone’s criminal record before they can check out a gun seller.”

Senator Feinstein: “Weapons of war don’t belong on the streets. This is a powerful weapon, it had a 100-round drum; this is a man who planned, who went in, and his purpose was to kill as many people as he could in a sold-out theater. We’ve got to really sit down and come to grips with what is sold to the average citizen in America. I have no problem with people being licensed to buy a firearm, but these are weapons that are only going to be used to kill a lot of people in close combat.”

I am a firm believer in the Second Amendment – commonly referred to as “the right to bear arms”. The Second Amendment text: A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The amendment was provided for the purpose of deterring tyrannical government, repelling invasion, suppressing insurrection, facilitating a natural right of self-defense and enabling the people to organize a militia system.

If assault rifles are banned we’ll be left with hunting guns and handguns and we would then be out of compliance with the intent of the Second Amendment.

Guns kill approximately 30,000 people in the United States, per year, and less than 0.5% of those killed die from assault rifles. The political and media assault on assault rifles is way off target.

As defined in The Bill of Rights and in the context of the time in which it was written, I do not believe the Second Amendment guarantees the public the right to own or bear hand guns. Hand guns DO NOT satisfy the intended purpose of the amendment.  You cannot deter a tyrannical government or organize a militia with hand guns. I DO believe the public has the right to bear rifles, assault weapons and any equipment used by the military and government. This may be controversial but it is the true intent of the amendment.

Assault weapons make big headline when used for murder but they kill a fraction of the people relative to other weapons. Hand guns are designed for convenient and surprise killing at close proximity which is completely incompatible with the Second Amendment.

If politicians and mainstream media want to focus on a real problem without violating the Constitution, they should kill the handgun.

To Our ‘Gay’ President

Dear President Obama,

I have to admit you are full of surprises. As I am sure you are aware from your daily perusal of our humble blog, I am critically supportive of you. I worked for your election, cried when Jon Stewart called the election for Obama as part of The Daily Show and Colbert Report’s special live coverage of Indecision 2008, keeping the live show going a few more minutes in order to announce your/our victory, and praised your Obamacare, even if it was far from perfect.

I didn’t expect you to be so deadly cool and take out bin Laden like you did, when many hawks would be squawking at their roosts deciding if to or not.

Still, you will excuse me if I don’t jump up and down on your decision to support gay marriage, or the tribulations that have followed. You see, Mr. President, you simply did the right thing. That’s it.

I appreciate you having the guts to do it in an election year, but the President should do the right thing. You are the President of everyone – the blacks, the Jews, the Hispanics, the whites, the card-carrying NRA members, the religious and the secular. And you are the President of the gay community. You did the right thing.

So to thank you, here is a song that was brought out when it was difficult to come out as gay in Britain, sung by a singer who is not (I think) gay. But Billy Bragg wanted to be a representative of all progressive people and so he challenged us all with this song.

By the way Mr. President, I chose this version because it features the late Kristy MacColl who tragically died 12 years ago.

Thank you for reading this, sir. Always a pleasure. Here’s to another four years.
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).

Can Government Make the Gay Go Away? – Tom Rossi

Or teen sex? Or recreational drug use? Or wild dancing? Or people dressing weird? Or people choosing to change religious denomination or even drop out altogether?

No. These are elements of our ever-changing culture and are not under the influence of government. They are not the fault of “liberals” nor pseudo-liberals nor fake liberals nor accused liberals who were really conservative like Bill Clinton.

Neither Presidents, Senators, Representatives, nor Supreme Court Justices have anything to do with the choices that people make, nor certainly with things like homosexuality that are evidently not choices at all.

But returning our culture to the fifties (or at least the false images of the fifties that many hold) will not happen under ANY president. Not Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, nor Rick Santorum.

But this is what social conservatives talk about – in campaign speeches, in town forums, and all over TV. I can’t imagine what makes people believe this line of horse-hockey.

I wish I had saved the web-page, but I was reading the comments (back in the middle of the Obama – McCain election silly-season in 2008) for a political piece and someone had written that America needed to return to a small-town feel with old-fashioned values or something and that McCain and Palin would return us to just that. Huh? How, exactly, would this be accomplished?

I don’t know if the majority of social conservatives have leaked out as many marbles as this person had, but this comment still served as a window into the thought patterns that have become evident through so many channels.

There are things happening in our culture that I like, and things that I could live without. But I entertain no fantasies about a president standing up and saying, “From now on, no one will talk on their cell-phone while paying for their groceries.”

-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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The Third Choice – Roger Ingalls

We may have a legitimate third choice for President come November 2012. There’s an interesting movement underway giving all registered voters delegate power to select a candidate that will be placed on the presidential ticket. We’ll all have a chance to vote our choice during an online convention.

Before explaining further, I want to point something out about our traditional caucus/primary system that selects who goes on to the presidential ticket. California is the largest economy in the United States and if it were a country, it would be the eighth largest economic power in the world. However, California has no say when it comes to who should be on the Democratic or Republican ticket because the game is over before its primary takes place. For example: Mitt Romney is a virtual lock for the Republican Party but California’s primary is still six weeks away. The people behind the biggest U.S. economy have no choice… that’s ridiculous.

This new movement is called Americans Elect. Their goal is to nominate a presidential ticket that answers directly to the people and not a political system. Their slogan is, “select a president not a party”. To date, they have collected enough signatures in 25 states allowing the candidate selected during the online convention to be placed on the ballot in those states. It is forecasted that the signature quota will be met for all 50 states.

The concept behind Americans Elect is good. Our current process to elect a president is archaic and unfair to many regions of the country. Modernizing the process would save money, create election security and provide real choice and fairness for all. With that said, Americans Elect may be an elaborate setup to split votes in the 2012 election. Some of the original monetary backers behind the movement will not identify themselves. The Democratic Party’s demographic tends to be younger, more educated and open to change so they would be more likely to endorse Americans Elect. Conservatives may not recognize the true value of the movement or, in typical fashion, shy away from change. If only liberals and moderates jump onboard, it would fracture the Democrats and hand the election to the conservatives.

Conceptually, I like what Americans Elect is trying to do. It gives some power back to the people. Below are links to videos and their website. What do you think?

Website  http://www.americanselect.org/

Overview  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CuYKHnAVJ-Y

PBS Report  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXPLYCPJnWU

CNN Report  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYjnmpBwYd8

Creating Coalitions Pt. 2

Following on from Monday’s post, I have been summarizing Mark Bittman’s excellent article in the NYT. Mr. Bittman stresses the realization of “an oligarchy in this country, one that uses financial strength to gain political power, one that fights and bullies for its “right” to make money regardless of the consequences to the earth or anything on it.

Exxon will do all it can to prevent meaningful climate change legislation; Cargill and Pepsi will fight any improvement in agriculture or diet that threatens their profits; Bank of America would rather see homeowners go under than discuss changes in financial structures. And so on.”

Mass movements have begun to emerge as one method to break this ring of influence and the Occupy Bank Transfer Day is an outstanding example. To organize at both the personal and local level can have a resounding effect. 

The second focuses on voting. Very few Presidents, our present one might be an exception, initiate change. Again, Mr. Bittman: “Does anyone believe that Lyndon Johnson wanted to combat racism, or that Richard Nixon cared about American troops or Vietnamese citizens? No: they were forced, respectively, to support civil rights legislation and to begin ending the Vietnam War. Forced by masses of Americans marching, yelling, demonstrating, sitting in and more — Americans driven by their conscience, not by profits.”

This makes the organization and coordination of huge numbers of citizens absolutely critical. We need to identify politicians who are willing to shun corporate money and pressure in favor of reflecting the needs of their constituents. This is so much more difficult than taking several million dollars to support your campaign.

We can sit around and complain of the blatant undemocratic process of corporate sponsorship of politicians or we can focus on establishing a list of candidates that are true to their principles and will rely on mass support from the street. The alternative is to create our own big interest PACs, and this has its own scary elements to it.

A few weeks ago, I bemoaned the idea of ‘playing their game,’ but now I am not so sure that we can create a sustainable framework whereby politicians are elected and held accountable by their voters.

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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).

Creating Coalitions Pt. 1

An excellent article by Mark Bittman recently caught my attention.  While the Presidential elections and the circus that precedes it, captivates the media and offers us a measure of entertainment, the danger is that it is becoming more of a distraction.

 2011 was a pivotal year, whichever side of the fence you dwell. The Arab Spring, Tea Party and Occupy movements sent a clear message that the people have had enough and want change. Moreover, there is a wide understanding that coordinated, mass movements can effect change.

What is imperative now is to band together and organize so that the President and Congress take our claims seriously. The Republicans are tied up with their desperate attempts to find a candidate who is…well remotely Presidential.

The left, whether it be the green movement, the occupy movement, or the mainstay democratic party and trade union activists need to coordinate a clear rallying cry around those issues most critical tothe 99 percentand be ready in Mr. Bittman’s words “to garner enough political will and power to pressure the president and Congress to move resolutely on the issues that matter.”

This coalition will certainly include the environmental movement, the Occupy movement, the foreclosed homeowners movement, the indebted students movement, the food and health movement, or the unemployment movement, and I am sure there are others that I have missed.

Somehow, the plethora of movements worries me. Once you get individual leaders and proud movements there is inevitable competition for the microphone and the ear of the media. There needs to be a clear channel recognized by the President and government as a respected pulse of the people.

As Mr. Bittman says: “It doesn’t matter what you call the movements, or the people behind them. What matters is forcing the government to act in the interests of the sometimes-silent majority rather than its corporate paymasters.”

He also points to a recent Pew poll that found just about half of all young people now have a more positive view of “socialism” (whatever that is) than “capitalism” (we know what that is), as do nearly a third of all Americans.

How do we take this momentum and turn it into clear, measurable changes in policy? Mark Bittman lays out a course that I will present on Wednesday.

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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).

Shimon Peres – Rhetorics of Peace

There were a lot of comments about my Rhetorics of Hate blog post and my overriding pessimism. It is a time to be jaded as peace talks take a back seat to what might be a war with Iran.

I have shared in the past that there are some wonderful organizations trying to bridge the gaps and bring about a sustainable peace, often at a very grassroots level. One Voice are an outstanding example.

The day after I wrote the Rhetorics of Hate, I had the opportunity to hear Shimon Peres, the President of Israel, who was visiting San Francisco. As I walked past the demonstrators, I wondered if they even knew who this man is and what he stands for – or is enough to be an Israeli in order to be the enemy. A Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mr. Peres was reaching out to make peace with Israel’s Arab neighbors, long before anyone else dared risk their political careers to pursue peace.

But Mr. Peres reminded us of what might be his greater contribution to the region. He said (these are my words) that peace in the region will be motivated not by ideology or territorial compromise, but by poverty. With the vast majority of the inhabitants of the Middle East under 25 and, with an increasing number of them having access to the Internet, this is truer today that when Mr. Peres outlined his vision for a New Middle East.

Fifteen year ago, a long time if measured not by history but technology, Mr. Peres pointed out that the Middle East has the resources and technology to become the center of the world economy. Once the 99% (definitely my words now!) realize this, they will demand that their governments broker the necessary accords to allow for an economic entity to be established that will change the balance of wealth on the planet, and allow the people of the Middle East to share a quality of life that they have every right to demand of their leaders.

Speaking in San Francisco last week, Mr. Peres said that peace in the Middle East will be created from the mind not by the military. Possibly the most effective way that we can create that momentum is to get his book, The New Middle East, into as many hands as possible.

To do this we need to harness the technological advances that Mr. Peres spoke of, because the drums of war are pounding again, and they are getting louder.

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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).

Anytime, Anywhere

A writer’s life divides between three stages: creation (writing the book), editing (making it readable) and promoting (this might be looking for an agent, or social media, or even book signings).

When a writer has a number of books out, or with different publishers, or even in different genres, s/he rarely gets to focus on just one of these stages. Chances are, they are juggling between deadlines, commitments, and the drive to leave everything and do what they love best – write.

I’m in this situation right now, and like many of my colleagues, also have a demanding job and a wonderful family, the latter of which is, I am sensing, is fast becoming a passing opportunity as my sons grow up.

There was a recent article in The Writer Magazine wherein the writer suggested that for many people they needed a sense of ritual: a sacred place to write, certain music, etc. I am not like that. When I am creating the story, I can work anytime anywhere.

This theory was tested this week, as I have been on the road, spending most of my time in an intensive executive coaching program in Washington ‘DC (hence the blog focus on the President this week).

I wrote on an airplane with a disgruntled baby next to me, jet-lagged in a hotel room and sitting in freezing cold coffee shops. I wrote before I went to bed and when I got up. It is a tribute to the engaging workshops that I participated in that I didn’t have the urge to whip out my laptop and disappear into the world of elves, dwarfs and magic.

The ironic part of all this is that I hadn’t planned to start writing until later in the spring. I am working hard on utilizing Author Salon as a platform to market my epic fantasy novels and had expected Unwanted Heroes to come out at some point in the spring/summer.

But when the urges grab you, when the creative juices begin flowing, when the characters call out for resolution to their predicaments, an author can’t help but answer their call.

It’s all part of the wonderful world of writing.

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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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