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 “sexism”

Join The Party

Left Coast Voices celebrates its third birthday this month. We are approaching 700 posts, have been viewed nearly 36,000 times, have over a hundred loyal followers, and have generally had a good time, offering our opinions without annoying too many people along the way.

What I enjoy about Left Coast Voices is that we attract people with a variety of views who can articulate their opinions. You can be a liberal but here that doesn’t mean you have to support everything about our president. Just because you are excited by the potential of the Occupy movement, doesn’t mean you agree with every action.

Our readers think. Our writers think. 

I want to take the opportunity to thank Roger Ingalls and Tom Rossi, who have become regular partners, tying up the Tuesday and Thursday slots. My only regret is that we have not hung out more often at Jupiters – micro-brewed beer, serious pizza, and great conversation. Norman Weekes has joined us on a less regular basis, but we are grateful for his contributions. You are always welcome, Norm.

I believe the diversity of writers is what makes our little community special. You never quite know what article or topic you are going to get and who is going to agree/disagree with whom.

I feel ready to offer up a slot to a fourth person. The criteria are that you write weekly (each contributor gets a consistent day: Tom – Tuesday, Roger – Thursday) and observe the three NOs – no racism, sexism, or homophobic comments. If you wish to write on a specific theme – gender, local grassroots, food justice, environmental, occupy etc., that would be great. If you prefer to choose a different topic each week, that works too.

I will teach you the mechanical aspect of blogging on WordPress and you will find a supportive team behind you. Along with the collaborative nature, there are other advantages. Left Coast Voices has its platform and following. We feed off each others followers  – you are not blogging for your mom and best friend (though they are both very important!). If you have a book or cause to promote in your signature, you are welcome to do so.

If you are interested, let me know in the comments below. If you have something to say, we can help you say it.

Have a great weekend, everyone.



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 American Left Part 2 – So What’s Important and What To Do?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a critique of the American Left. I think these criticisms are valid and I stand by them completely. However, my own negativity has sunk into my brain and made me realize that I have only said half of what needs to be said – and maybe the less important half.

Here’s the other half…. or at least a decent start.

I was not specific about what I meant by “teammates” and our failure to accept them – and the consequences. I also complained that we have no coach, and yet I offered hardly a word of direction or encouragement myself. So let me say a little more about why we need to work together, and then I’ll do my best to say how we might start to do it.

Right now, we have many groups striving to be treated like human beings, or like human beings of equal stature to the almost mythical “great white male”. Of course this really refers to a very special class of white male – a class to which I do not belong.

Some of these groups represent different races, religions, or even ages, body-types, or sexual preference/status/identity. And let’s not forget the other class that is being thrown under the bus these days – workers. Some workers are members of unions, others are not. All are being downgraded in our economy. The worth of the American worker is at its lowest point in decades. Teachers and police officers (among others) are being “asked” (forced) to make sacrifices in order to avoid raising taxes on the rich by 3% or taxing corporations at all.

Each of these groups fights for recognition as “real” Americans and “real” human beings – and rightly so. But their fragmented, uncoordinated attacks on the status quo have made moderate gains on a time-scale measured in decades. This is because of a simple and obvious fact: when group A fights for group A, and group B fights for group B, each group is small and almost powerless. They have even been played against each other at times.

Aren’t all of these groups really fighting for the same thing? Don’t we ALL want to be treated like human beings and not animals nor robots? Don’t we all want fairness? Don’t we all want to live in peace, without fear of prejudice? Don’t we all want not to be stepped on by the police, nor by corporations, nor by our government? Don’t we all have a reasonable expectation that we should be able to provide food and shelter for our families? Don’t we all want the security that comes from our own hard work? Don’t we all want some assurance that our children and our grandchildren will live in a decent world with drinkable water and breathable air?

Then let’s work together!

Let’s get started. Today, I want every one of you to go out of your way to shake hands with someone different from you, but who might be a potential teammate in the battle against the status quo. Smile. Ask a question about his or her job, family, opinion on catsup vs. mustard, the weather, whatever! These people are your teammates. None of them is perfect and none of them is exactly like you, nor do they have exactly the same goals or abilities. Great! We NEED lots of different kinds of people.

Next, we need to break free from the superficial games that our elections have become. We can no longer vote for or against someone because of the way he or she looks, because he or she smoked a joint a couple of times, nor even because he or she cheated on his or her spouse. These things are irrelevant. And we can’t be scared off by the anti-tax boo-birds. Nobody is talking about raising taxes on the middle class… NOBODY! We cannot be scared back into the status quo! We need to send a shockwave through our election system… We are here, and we won’t be screwed anymore!

I’m not nearly qualified to serve as this team’s coach. But maybe this team will have thousands of assistant coaches, and I’ll volunteer for one of those jobs. We all just need to keep it in our minds that, together, we can improve the situation of each and every one of the aforementioned groups – and each group will do BETTER FOR ITSELF as part of a larger team than it ever would on its own.

The mixed bucket of crises that we have all faced and are facing has bred a fair amount of fighting and blaming within our team. The opponent is not within. Let’s focus our efforts. Together, with some reasonable changes, we can have comfortable, secure lives in a sustainable world. It’s easy to see how a unifying set of principles could incorporate the goals of groups concerned with the issues of race and gender and such. It might prove more difficult to create a unified philosophy and calls-for-action which combine these types of issues with the imperative of managing our planet and its resources sustainably, but the potential is there and it must be done.

As it now stands, the resources of our country and of the world are being stolen from all of us and used up at a phenomenal rate in order to enrich those who are already very, very wealthy. The fight for the rights of minorities, or women, or whoever will be meaningless if most of us are living (and dying) in extreme poverty in the middle of a colossal toxic waste dump.

The process of taking our resources (unless we can slow it down) will further oppress those who are already oppressed. We’ve seen, recently, how crises are used to justify increased oppression of the lower and middle classes. We must re-prioritize PEOPLE OVER PROFITS. We must reject the lie that profits benefit everyone. It may have once been true in this country, but no longer.

If we can advance this simple set of principles, we will all benefit.

That black man, that white woman, that Chicano, or that Vietnamese woman standing behind you at the grocery store is probably your teammate. That “hippie,” that nerdy-looking scientist, or that artist sitting near you on the train might have some ideas you would be interested in – or might be interested in some of yours. Meet these people. Start talking. Start a movement.

-Tom Rossi


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.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com


The Left – Cohesion or Division?

Some recent controversy around my posts on feminism and flag day have served to re-focus my mind by reminding me of an important mission that remains not only unfinished, but largely untouched.

This mission is untouched because it is dangerous. Why is it dangerous? Because it involves the risk, the heavy risk, of turning one’s own “teammates” against him (or her). The team I’m talking about is known as: The American Left.

Why does the Left have so little power in the United States, when the Left (in its many forms) is so strong in other, “advanced” countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway, France, Italy, Japan, and even (despite what we’ve been told by the media lately) Germany? Well, many have commented on the fact that the American left is splintered, un-cohesive, and disorganized. But I think it’s much worse than that… I think we are self-destructive – we undermine our own interests and our own “team.”

Few of us on the left are “team players”; not only does this team have no coach, but there’s no way it will ever accept a coach. In fact, all too often we do not accept each other as teammates. We want to play on a team made up of clones. You want the left to look just like you; I want it to look just like me; some guy standing on the corner at Haight and Ashbury wants it to look just like him, and so on.

Some people (men and women) think feminism is the most important thing and everyone should agree. Some think that it’s the environment. Some think it’s racism. Some think it’s nuclear (not nucular!) weapons, and so on and so on. Each of these (and many I didn’t mention) are very important. But none of them is, by itself, so important that the others should take a back seat or just “realize” that my issue is more important and more urgent than yours.

It’s true that I see an order of importance to some issues. The examples are not important here. What is important and urgent is that we play like a team. Let me tell you about another team – a team that had a coach, but still faced similar problems…

Herb Brooks was the coach of the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team. Before the competitions began, he faced many difficulties with the team, many off the ice – politics, divisiveness, questioning the mission and the methods, etc. He later said that he united his team – against him. He punished them with brutal physical drills. He toyed with their heads. He picked on popular players, even humiliating them at times in front of their teammates.

Why would a coach do such crazy things? Because that was all that was left. His team would never have believed in themselves enough to challenge Romania, much less the Soviet Union. And if they didn’t believe in themselves, they wouldn’t work together as a coherent team. Without team unity, they would not have accomplished anything. To be certain, making your team hate you is a technique that is only appropriate under the rarest of circumstances. Those circumstances may not apply to the American Left, but the lesson does.

As does another innovation that Brooks made: he hybridized two distinct styles, combining the best elements of the North American (at the time still pretty much completely Canadian) style hockey with the best of European style. He called it “American Hockey” and it was brilliant.

Before you get bored with my hockey stories, I’ll get to the point. This is exactly what liberalism, as a social/political movement, needs to do: combine our strengths and leave out our weaknesses. But just as importantly, we need to stop shunning those with the guts to challenge our assumptions and our dogmas (dogmae?). Herb Brooks turned the anger and resentment he deliberately generated into the seemingly impossible – a U.S. Gold medal in ice hockey and a defeat of the “unbeatable” Russians.

His crazy techniques built and focused the energy of his players. They united by fitting the pieces of the puzzle (players’ different talents and abilities) together and they showed the Russians something they hadn’t seen in years – a team with not only the skill, but the will to defeat them. They did this by making their differences into strengths.

Liberals also face an “unbeatable” opponent: the American corporatocracy.

We need a shift in our (the Left’s) internal criticism. Instead of picking each-other apart because of mismatches in our styles of liberalism, we should analyze our positions, our philosophies, and our principles for coherence and consistency. We should debate and play “devil’s advocate” in order to ferret out weaknesses in our ideas.

Our tendency to see problems is a good thing; that’s how we are so sure that our government and maybe our culture need improvement. But we turn that same microscope on our cohorts and colleagues – and often in ways that are far from constructive. We crush criticisms of our sacred cows – both from outside and from within. Some of us seem to wake up in the morning, go out and actively search for the day’s first sign of sexism, racism, or whatever “ism” we’ve chosen. With this mindset, it doesn’t take long. And if that first example comes from one of “us”, then we turn our fierce ire on that person. Reveling in our own superiority and purity.

In this process we often engage in intellectual cowardice by refusing to even discuss our positions, our snotty attitudes making it clear that our righteousness is so obvious that the other person must be an inferior idiot not to see – no, not to SHARE – our point of view. This is where cowardice turns to tyranny as we actively suppress the words of others who we deem as imperfect liberals.

This internally divisive practice does not help any of us to achieve our goals. Through these actions we become THEM – the haters of those with different thoughts, principles, or ways of living. I do not accept this as my creed. Although I may get snotty, defensive, offensive, and critical myself at times, I vow to work with my teammates to create a better world for all of us.

-Tom Rossi


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.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com


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