To Blackout or Not to Blackout?

Yesterday, a message started going around to women asking us to replace our photos on Facebook with solid black for one day “to show what the world might be like without women.” But almost at the same time messages started popping up from friends and acquaintances about how this was just a way to silence women. Messages of, “That’s what they want. People are so stupid.” or “We have been silence and invisible enough. Be loud, be present, and be courageous.”

My take on this is that changing your photo doesn’t silence you. Blanketing FB with black squares in a show of solidarity is a powerful visual protest. I’m still posting all the political posts I have every day. I’m not sitting silent. I am participating in a one day action. That is all. And the angry rhetoric of many women claiming to know how we should all protest is counterproductive. It should never be either/or. It should be both/and. We need to throw everything we have at the toxic patriarchy. This might seem to some to be the wrong thing at the wrong time, but since I’m sitting in a small town, calling my Senators (who will not be moved), writing postcards to GOTV, and eagerly awaiting the next women’s march, it’s something I can do today to feel connected to millions of other women. And I won’t apologize for it.


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The Fall of Male Privilege

male-privilegeIt feels like a watershed moment. Beginning with Weinstein, or maybe farther back with Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, powerful men are being brought down because of a pattern of behavior as old as time, but not to be tolerated any longer, I hope. Ailes’s and O’Reilly’s departures did not open the floodgates though. It was Weinstein’s disgusting drama that pushed women in Hollywood, in Washington, in New York, famous women, women in industries with power to finally come out in droves to say that men had been groping and harassing and sexually assaulting them and that they were not going to stay quiet any more! [The Spacey story demonstrated that powerful men are equal opportunity predators.]

The #MeToo moment has shown a lot of unwoke men the pervasive disrespect women have put up with and the dystopian world we all navigate, whether it’s as an A-list actress or a fast food worker, on the job or just in our everyday lives. We all have our stories.

It has reminded me of early in my career when I was still in NY and still very naive. I went for a “job interview” with a very famous director (Wax on, Wax off). He answered the door wearing only a towel and then handed me a glass of wine and a joint, and told me to make myself comfortable while he got dressed. He pretended he’d just lost track of time, but then said he wanted me to accompany him to a screening so he could see how conversant I was about movies. It turned out to be a private, just the two of us, screening and an extremely uncomfortable couple of hours with him in the semi-darkness.

After the movie, there was no discussion of the film or the job. And when I did not agree to continue on into the evening with him, since he’d already taken up half my day and I had plans with friends for dinner, he got truly pissed off, as if he never considered that I could want to be anywhere but in his company. Needless to say, I did not get the job. And when I told another industry friend all about it, she said, “He does that all the time. Everyone knows that.” I didn’t.

All these powerful men are resigning or being forced out and yet we still have an admitted sexual predator in the White House and another running successfully for the Senate. And no doubt thousands (millions?) more who are probably hoping they can just ride it out and continue their misogynist ways.

And then there is the way Charlie Rose “apologized”: “I always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings, even though I now realize I was mistaken.” Really? If that’s not the pathology of male privilege, I don’t know what is. Or Jeffrey Tambor’s: “I’ve already made clear my deep regret if any action of mine was ever misinterpreted by anyone as being aggressive, but the idea that I would deliberately harass anyone is simply and utterly untrue.” Two words stand out here: misinterpreted and deliberately. The implication is that he did not understand that his actions were wrong. Again, male privilege pathology.

It seems that men cannot fathom that a) women probably don’t want to see you masturbate, b) we don’t appreciate being groped or kissed by people we don’t feel close to, even if you are famous or powerful, c) we may put up with your disgusting behavior if we think that reporting it will get us in trouble, and d) the days of Don Draper behavior being acceptable were over a long time ago.

I’ve heard some men (and women) referring to the current climate as “a witch hunt,” with the implication that women are coming out of the woodwork to unfairly take good men down. I’ll admit, that that could be happening in a few instances, but I doubt it’s pervasive. Also I’ve heard, “It’s sad that men have to watch what they say and do, because they might get called out for sexual misconduct.” Well, women have been watching what they say or do for a very long time because they might get raped or groped because they were being too friendly. See how that works?

I think this may be a great moment when men start to be a more aware of their actions towards women in general and that’s a great thing. They won’t be changing overnight, but it is an opportunity to move towards that ERA utopian future we’ve been dreaming about. Baby steps.

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Biking Biltmore

Asheville is a big biking town and last year my brother gave me a bike. It sat for a year in my entrance hall, used now and again as a coat rack, until spring cleaning took hold of me last month and I took it in for a tune up. Then it languished again waiting for its inaugural ride for a month. Every time I passed it, I made a mental excuse for not getting on. But the exercise Goddess was not going to let me get by that easily. My season pass for the Biltmore Estate was up for renewal and they made a note on the email about getting the upgrade for biking as well. Just another 20 bucks and you can come on the estate any time and bike around. So when the pass came in the mail, the guilt began to build. And today I finally succumbed.

First thing this morning I headed over. I’ve seen the bike paths running along beside the road on the estate for years and always planned to take advantage of them “someday.” Now, I have not really been biking for a number of years (and that number is in the double digits.) Just riding back from the bike repair shop to my house nearly killed me. (There was a hill.) I knew that most of what I’d seen from the road was pretty flat, so I was only a bit worried. What else was there that I couldn’t see? Nevertheless, I mounted my bike and before I knew it was feeling “Born to be Wild,” the wind rushing through my hair, free and cool. Once on the path, it was absolutely lovely. Big fields spread out before me. _CTV0085The French Broad River ran by to my right. Sometimes the path was beside the main road, but for much of it, it took me through the trees. No traffic, though I ran into other bikes, the occasional horse, a hiker and a fleet of Segways.

It was hot today, muggy, but flying down hills, through shady groves by the river, you’d never know it. I was riding on cool air. But then, coming out of the trees, the path headed uphill and suddenly I had two problems. First, I forgot how to use the gears to make it easier. And second, I had no idea where the path would go. So I turned around and headed back to Antler Hill Village where I’d parked and the Bike Barn where they have maps and people who know their way around the estate. On the way there, I passed the Lagoon where the resident geese were terribly busy corralling their adorable herd of goslings. It was a great ride for the first time out.

BiltmoreThe Biltmore Estate has changed immensely since I was a child. Then, there was just The House surrounded by a acres of beautifully landscaped grounds. Now, there is an inn, a winery, various restaurants, and since last month, Antler Hill Village, a grouping of bistros and shops. I wonder what George Vanderbilt would think? He wanted his estate to be self-sufficient, a feudal fiefdom and it seems to be turning into a Disney-esque park. Nevertheless, it is the best place in town to bike.

So now I have a map. I will return. There are a lot more trails to explore. I just need to figure out that gear thing and I’ll be a biking rock star!

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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’s 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.

TheBlackPanthers_OfficialPoster_WebI 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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