No Justice, No Peace

This is what the majority of people in the streets were about.

This is what the majority of people in the streets were about.

Baltimore, Ferguson, Staten Island, and the list goes on and on. Black men murdered with impunity and then reduced to “thug” status. Rather than looking at the crime of policemen killing people whose only crime was walking in the road or looking at a cop the wrong way, the victims become posthumously guilty of their own deaths. Communities come out to protest and it turns to violence. Is it unjustified? I don’t condone violence, but it seems violence gets attention the way a peaceful protest never can.

In the Baltimore case, the media has been gleefully present for the violence, but conspicuously silent about the crime.

This is the narrative that the media chooses to promote.

This is the narrative that the media chooses to promote.

Only days after the death of Freddie Gray whose spine was nearly split in two, there been no word from the police as to the crime for which he was arrested, and there has been no examination in the media of the system that is playing out in city after city.

According to Talking Points Memo:

Baltimore police initially said Gray was taken into custody after he made eye contact with multiple officers … and ran away from them.

These are no longer “isolated incidents.” They are a pattern of abuse that is crying out for a solution. And that solution needs to be system wide. Not town by town, but this country has to come to terms with racism and poverty and the militarism of our police forces that only exacerbates the feeling of us vs them. There is so much work to do that calls for a movement, that calls for a leader, that calls for a revolution.


I saw The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution at Full Frame Documentary Festival last month. It is the heartbreaking history of the rise and fall of The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. So much of it feels decidedly déjà vu. From its beginnings as a reaction to the police targeting black men for walking while black, and the larger system keeping their communities poor and undereducated, and as a part of the larger youth movement that brought revolutionary ideas to the streets, the Party became an amazingly powerful national organization for black empowerment. The film weaves together the history through archival footage and interviews with surviving Panthers, their supporters and some of their detractors. It shows just how scared the establishment was of this uprising and how far J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI CoIntelPro program went to infiltrate and undermine them, even when in those early days they were using their organizing efforts to feed and educate their communities. There is a quote from J. Edgar in the film that feels very apt for today’s law enforcement, “Justice is incidental to law and order.” The film doesn’t gloss over the Panthers’ radical and at times violent agenda, but it shows that in the context of the times, their talk of fighting for their lives wasn’t just rhetoric. It also points to problems many organizations face, the egos of their leaders. Perhaps the most charismatic and best strategist they had was Fred Hampton, who was assassinated in his bed by the police. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution chronicles the Panther’s story from its founding in Oakland in the 60s through its leadership infighting and eventual disintegration in the early 80s. More than anything I came away from it wishing that another organization with the energy and reach could bring together the black community today to finish the fight. It is a film well worth seeing and I truly hope when it has a wider showing, that a lot of people see it and are inspired to act, again.

At the end of the day, the question is how do we make it better? Does it come down to divergent narratives? We all know something is very wrong, but as long as the narrative from some is that “the poor” are that way because it is their own fault, how does it get better? Is it somehow better for those who think that way to let things continue as it is? Is there a way to change that situation and make it worth their while to create an inclusive community that thrives together? Is the world getting worse or is media just shining a light on the dark places more? So many questions and time is ticking away.

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How do you change the world?


One of the ubiquitous BIG ideas du jour is that we need a “paradigm shift”, a global change of consciousness away from the eternal growth, more money trumps sanity cycle of human development, and towards a sustainable culture with an equitable relationship towards each other and the earth.  But change is hard and slowing the machine that is running the world seems impossible without a major shift in thinking about our relationships with it.  As a media maker, my question is: what is the (a) message that people will hear and heed? 

People around the world, non-profits, NGOs, progressive politicians, academics, civil society groups are all calling for a change, but for the most part it is a change within the existing framework, not the radical shift that we need to take on the enormous forces of neoliberalism.  “Save the Whales!” “No to War!” “Stop Citizens United!”  Each of them is aimed at one piece, one symptom of the increasingly commodified world. Few are looking at the root cause of it all. 

Is everyone’s idea of utopia the same?  If you are wealthy, does the plight of the poor in a utopian future even enter your picture? Does great wealth even figure in a utopian future?  For me, people would all have plenty, creativity would be valued as highly as intellect, and concepts of class and race would disappear.  How do we get there? 

Movies about the future are mostly about dystopia, since that’s where the conflict is.  And in many ways we are living that dystopia. So how do we turn this into utopia without a superhero? 

If most people believe that wealth is the be all, end all, how do we show them a better future to strive for?  Media is everywhere these days.  We are bombarded with messages whereever we go. TV, magazines, movies, billboards, cell phones, the Internet. For a great majority of people they are being hit most of their waking life with messages try to sell them something: all kinds merchandise, normative ideas, the truth from someone’s perspective.  The stories that we hear are curated by people with an agenda, usually not in our best interest. 

How could we take back the media and sell people on the ideas that will make life better for us all? 

One way is through alternative media, be it low power radio, streaming Internet, and tactical media. The reach may be smaller, but we are the gatekeepers. But one of the drawbacks is that now that we have so many ways to receive our information, people tend to go to sites that reflect already held opinions, so having a media site that challenges the status quo does not mean that the people who need to hear it will.

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Who has access?

This is a great infographic! Just a few of the findings: Global Internet Usage Statistics 2013 Infographic Highlights:

44.8% of the world’s internet users are located in Asia.
21.5% of the world’s internet users are located in Europe.
11.4% of the world’s internet users are located in North America.
South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong are the 3 countries with the fastest average internet speed in the world (the US is 12th).
Hong Kong, Tokyo and San Francisco are the top 3 cheapest cities in world when it comes to purchasing a 200mpbs internet connection.
The top 3 countries in the world when it comes to fast and cheap internet service are South Korea, Finland and Sweden.
In Finland, it is a constitutional right to have access to broadband internet.
94% of the people in South Korea have access to a high speed internet connection.

Global Internet Usage Statistics 2013 InfographicView more infographics from

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International Public Enemy #1

2 days ago a video went viral. For a few hours people were inspired, but quickly it turned into vitriolic critique not only of the film but the concept. Many of the negative critiques have been targeted at Invisible Children’s practices as an organization, not whether Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, is a war criminal. It has drawn a line between optimists and pessimists. Between people who want to believe that they can help make the world better and cynics who see this kind of thing as useless and manipulative. It has quickly devolved into a discussion of whether clicking on a link can help and whether this is a money making scam. The criticisms break down like this:

This is called slacktivism – the self-deluding idea that by sharing, liking, or retweeting something you are helping out.

It would be great to get rid of Kony. He and his forces have left a path of abductions and mass murder in their wake for over 20 years. But let’s get two things straight: 1) Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn’t been for 6 years; 2) the LRA now numbers at most in the hundreds, and while it is still causing immense suffering, it is unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality.

Yes, the guy behind this campaign acted with a lot of hubris. And probably did not think about the amount of scrutiny that an idea this big would have to go through. Some are calling it a a scam because the heads of the non-profit are paying themselves ninety grand  /yr., which doesn’t really sound unreasonable to me.

For me it is a cautionary tale about dealing with a huge international issue with a simple media message. You need to craft it well, have a kick-ass communications person ready for the back-lash, and think through all the ways that you could be misunderstood. My take on this is that they thought that their concept was so good and so simple that everyone would jump on board and they would save the world.

But now I am not sure whether people think Kony or Jason Russell, Invisible Children’s founder, are the worst.

And some of the criticisms from “experts” are a bit hyperbolic on their end. For instance the leap like this:

One of the biggest issues with a simplistic “Stop Kony” message is that discussions of Navy Seals or drone strikes are inevitable when patience runs out with Ugandan-led efforts. But what about the dozens or hundreds of abducted and brainwashed kids? Should we bomb everyone?

Many of the criticisms are coming from other relief workers in Uganda who think that Invisible Children should have a different agenda. But I got tired of reading lots of bloggers and opinions and decided to go to a non-blogger for some clarification and found a UN site that stated the following:

[This was written several months ago, before Invisible Children’s video] Economic and social recovery in northern Uganda has been slow, despite more than US$600 million having been spent in foreign aid in the years since the LRA was active there. According to development agencies and local communities, many are still living in abject poverty and in constant fear of a return of the LRA.

Development agencies and local communities cannot envisage economic and social recovery in northern Uganda until the LRA is disbanded and stability is brought to the whole region. “The fear of the LRA returning is affecting development,” said Bishop John Odama.

Lobongo Eromoja, a survivor of April 2005 LRA attack on the town of Atiak, in which some 200 people died, said: “When I hear that Joseph Kony is arrested or killed, only then will I know peace has returned… until then, we can’t rule out the possibility of them returning.”

And not all report are negative. The NY Times reports:

In this case, some experts said Invisible Children’s campaign, while oversimplified, could help add to the international resolve to stop the killing.

“It’s ultimately a good thing,” said Pernille Ironside, a senior adviser for child protection at Unicef who is an expert on the Lord’s Resistance Army. “It’s not just one organization in the United States who has discovered this issue,” she said. Still, Invisible Children “is essentially distilling a very complicated 26-year war into something that’s consumable and understandable by mass media.”

And so at the end of the day, there are many shades of gray in this scenario. If it helps the traumatized people of Uganda, and focuses attention on the other child soldiers in Africa, and catches a despicable war criminal, then it is successful. It has certainly gotten millions of people across a wide spectrum talking.

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The New Old Hatred of Women

Oklahoma Senator protests "personhood" bill

To paraphrase a male friend — “Mandatory transvaginal ultrasound, restrictions on contraception, being forced to bring your rapist’s child to term and simply accept it as “a broken gift from God”, demonizing Planned Parenthood, Rush Limbaugh calling woman who want contraception to be covered by health care “SLUTS”, WOW … these Republicans are a bunch of weird and repressive (repressed?) characters who would undoubtedly have been more at home in the 15th Century telling people how to pray and when and whom they could screw …

I find it extremely difficult to believe that all my conservative girlfriends are okay with this kind of idiocy. I get that we can be on opposite sides on a lot of issues, but in this case I can’t see it at all. Why aren’t they up in arms? And the contradictions are almost too twisted to believe.  The old white men don’t want the government in our lives, yet they want to mandate that women can be denied medicine prescribed by a doctor because your boss doesn’t want to you have it.  Don’t like death panels?  They bring us rape panels. Forcing doctors to do unnecessary and intrusive procedures (we won’t even discuss the extra costs) and in some states to read from scripts written by non-medical bureaucrats. And who is getting between women and their doctors?  The Grand Old Party itself, mostly a bunch of old white farts.  This has gone too far!  What will it take to stop them? 

THE NEW AMAZONS. 13 October 2011. Inna Shevchenko, 21, is one of the leaders of Femen. The feminist Ukrainian protest group organizes topless protests against sex tourists, sexism and social problems. Photo by Guillaume Herbaut.

These women in Ukraine have the right idea!

This photo, recognized on Friday with a World Press Photo award, is bound to grab attention, as breasts often do, and the Ukranian feminist group, FEMEN, clearly plays to that reaction.

The Stance: Shevchenko’s pose, with the raised fist, speaks of her mission to teach women to be more assertive. The figure of the ‘Amazonian’ is a central reference FEMEN utilizes. If the identification is to the “other,” suggesting the marginalization these women feel, it also points to ‘Amazonians,’ in the cultural imagination, as a matriarchal tribe made up of fearsome and fearless women.

The Headdress and Tattoo: The headdress is another a reference to the Amazonians, as well as political protest as public theater. This actual garland and brightly coloured ribbons also suggest femininity, something which the group is keen to display in contrast to some feminist groups in the past. As for the garland tattoo, it shows how Shevchenko’s cause is so essential it is physically mapped to her, her body as both cause and message. The strategy overall involves the reversal of signs: if femininity is seen to equal weakness and vulnerability, Shevchenko and FEMEN demand that it equal strength. What could be the crown of a beauty queen is willed to equal the headdress of a tribal warrior.

The Location: Shevchenko is depicted in open grassland on the edge of what seems to be a cluster of Soviet-style apartment blocks. This speaks of marginalization as well as the groups Ukrainian and urban environment. The grassy field upon which Shevchenko stands is another clever double symbol representing both marginalization and pastoral freedom. It reveals a dream of an Eden, a renewed innocence directed at and by the female body in contrast to the body’s exploitation by mainstream culture.

What this portrait also tells us is that, exposed or hidden, women’s bodies are a hot topic. (I mean, see all the worry over the fact that the woman in the World Press winning photo is wearing a burkha).Veiled or on display, the female body is defined by sexuality in a way that male bodies are not. (It is worth pointing out that if a man walked down the street topless he would not get arrested, and neither would he attract much extra attention at a protest). With this simultaneously innocent and knowing revelation of the female torso, I think Shevchenko is also asking us to realize how “exposed” or “hidden” are false distinction — that it is the human form and, as such, represents identity, physicality and power.

FEMEN considers it a risk worth taking to draw attention to the problems women face in their society. This picture as a photographic object must undergo the same difficult process of interpretation – is it a kind of pornography or a protest item that raises the awareness of FEMEN’s cause? It is highly reliant on context. But in a world where the female body is so often appropriated by others, especially by visual media, it’s also FEMEN’s statement and demand to use their bodies as visual tools to further the cause of equality. Full article here

American Women Unite! We can take back our power, too! Lysistrata, Amazon Women, good old Frontier Women. We do not have to take this crap!!!

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Time for the Paradigm Shift

This guy is fascinating. And thought provoking. I am ready for the revolution. What do I bring to it?

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A Masters in Arts in Cultural Sustainability? (via A Chesapeake Journal)

This is what I have been up to lately. And why I am tired in a really good way.

A Masters in Arts in Cultural Sustainability? Yup. Wow. Think about that for a minute. Cultural sustainability. It includes identifying ways to protect, enhance and support the cultural traditions of local communities, wherever and whatever they are. Critically important work in a country where day by day, minute by minute, our communities are looking more and more the same, our neighborhoods and lifestyles are looking more and more the same, kids are doing the same stuff from sea to shining … Read More

via A Chesapeake Journal

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