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 “Sociology”

Introducing RhondaJo Boomington

Left Coast Voices is proud to share that our Saturday slot will now feature RhondaJo Boomington. RhondaJo brings a sharp Southern wit to the team. In a recent post, I asked what we could do to improve Left Coast Voices and the lack of a woman’s voice was what seemed to be most prominent.

RhondaJo Boomington

RhondaJo hails from North Carolina and relishes her liberal life in Berkeley. The past decade has been a series of adventures as she transitioned from a fundamentalist Southern wife to a Bay Area single artist.

Though she never went to a movie theater until she was 30 years old (because it was perceived as sinful), she is now building a reputation as a stand-up lesbian comic and performance artist in Berkeley and San Francisco.

She tells me that she voted for Jesse Helms a number of times and now, though an Obama supporter, finds herself increasingly frustrated  because he’s not liberal enough.

RhondaJo grew up in an extremely conservative independent fundamental Baptist blue collar world – and remained within it until she was in her mid-30’s. Bucking the trend, she earned a BA in Sociology, and later a J.D. (she is a member of the North Carolina Bar) and a Master of Divinity degree.

She hass worked in the legal arena focusing on children’s rights, custody issues and domestic violence. As a chaplain, she’s worked in trauma hospitals, specializing in intensive care and the psychiatric units. As a counselor she’s worked in residential settings with young teenage girls who have worked in the sex trade and have been incarcerated for drugs.  Young men who are HIV positive and seniors dealing with mental health issues while transitioning into assisted living.

After an injury sidelined her a couple of years ago, she told me that she spends considerable time pondering how fundamentalists and liberals are so diametrically different but yet sometimes so weirdly similar. The only thing that she’s certain of is that she’s too Berkeley for North Carolina – but maybe too North Carolina for Berkeley.I am sure that she is quite Left Coast enough for our blogging community.

With not quite both feet in the Bay Area, RhondaJo is clear that she n ever plans to leave her beloved Berkeley. I know how you feel. Welcome Aboard, RhondaJo. I’m excited that you have joined our team.


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).

Accusing From Afar

Living in England, you learn that the British Empire was something positive. It brought roads, education, medicine, and culture to the masses. You see movies of the aristocratic class in India, Africa, and just about everywhere else. “The sun never set of the British Empire,” was said as an expression of pride, if not wistfulness, as I grew up.

One of the biggest shocks to my social conscience occurred when I began studying sociology at London University. I had been political as a teenager, advocating for human rights in the Soviet Union, Tibet and South Africa. I was about to receive a rude awakening.

I arrived late to university as the semester opened on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The class was discussing a book, A Savage Culture, by Remi Kapo. A black, English sociologist was describing how many of the violent, classist, and racist facets of British society, were entrenched as part of the psyche of the British Empire, even though the British Empire was now a largely inactive Commonwealth.

I thought I was just missing something. I raised my hand and asked whether his premise was that the British Empire was wrong and evil. You could have cut the tension with a chainsaw.

The professor looked at me for a moment trying to decide, I imagine, whether I was being a smartass. Seeing that I was trying to disappear from embarrassment, he took pity and explained everything, feeding off my willingness to be honest about what I had learned growing up.

I remember wanting to tell him and the other students how I considered myself a political activist and brag about the campaigns I had participated in. This was a group of very politically aware students and it was a while before they accepted me as a friend.

It is easy and convenient to see evils from afar and confer rapid judgment on what others are doing. Here on the Left Coast we are especially good at doing this. However, are we doing this to feel good with ourselves because we are unable to solve the injustices in our own backyard? Does it not feel more righteous to accuse others (usually well-deserving), rather than admit when we fail to achieve the values and ideologies that we preach?

The age of the Internet has made it possible to help others in any part of the world. My novel,  The Accidental Activist, tells this very story, highlighting how the Internet was utilized by a small group of activists to fight a multinational corporation in court (It is based on the McDonald’s libel trial in England in the 1990’s).

But while today there is no excuse for being uninformed about world events, it also makes it easier to avoid injustice on our own doorstep. It is simply more convenient to go online than onto the streets.

When I look at the inequalities here in California and the potential that we have to correct them, I wonder whether we can perhaps teach the greatest lesson by being the greatest example. ——————————————————————————————————-

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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