Monday, October 14, 2013


Jobs. The rhetorical rallying cry heard throughout the last election cycle, perennial talking point rebuttal of every policy put forth by the other party. While I think the fixation on Jobs is a misdirection of our attention in and of itself, it may be useful to point out the absurd hypocrisy buried beneath the shutdown narrative. At the height of the financial crisis the US economy was losing around 800,000 jobs a month. After five years of ginned up outrage with Republicans labeling every Democratic legislative effort “job-killing,” 800,000 federal workers are furloughed (and a million more are asked to work without pay) through a Republican led shutdown of the government. Obvious irony aside, how can this be seen as anything but a big fuck you to the American people struggling through an ongoing recession? Conservative ideology supports this action as a necessary reduction of government living well beyond its means, a narrative that pits worker against worker, replacing the virtue of promoting the general welfare with the vice of living off the backs of hard working Americans. But this isn’t just about personal responsibility, it’s rooted in the free market myth that the private sector does a better job managing the economy than the government could ever do. Really? Still going with this even after the financial crisis? We all know that 1% isn’t hiring. He would rather line his pockets with gold made off your debt than pay your salary, but even so, the rich benefactor myth continues to permeate our culture. One day when our American Dream comes to fruition, we’ll be able to look back on these dark days, having pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps, and be able to furlough and fire workers of our very own. Oh wait - government workers ARE our very own - after all, our taxes (and theirs) pay their salaries. “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” and all that. So then if these folks work for us, why are we letting 1% (cloaked in congressional costume) make the decisions - decisions that adversely affect so many lives? If congress thinks all our workers should work for free - then why is congress still getting paid? When they give thanks to the Capitol Police for keeping them safe during an incident at the Capitol days after the shutdown starts, the irony could not be more clear. Thank you for your bravery and heroism - and thanks for working for free. These officers are not being paid during the shutdown.
Something to consider if you’re planning to sign that no work/no pay petition - does 1% really care if he gets his congressional paycheck? There are plenty of other opportunities for financial gain that political office affords. He’s certainly not counting his pennies at the kitchen table when he gets home from a hard day at the mill. Plenty of politicians have bought into office at great expense aware that financial gain is but one reward of secured influence and power. Congressman Rick Nolan recently introduced the “No Government – No Pay Act” saying “It’s time for Congress to start living in the real world – where you either do your job, or you don’t get paid.” Sounds pretty righteous at face value - do your job or we’ll shut you down! But does this reinforce the “government inefficiency” narrative that provides the core reasoning behind the shutdown to begin with? And what about that “real world” Nolan is referencing? The real world I’m living in commonly involves working for less, ocassionally for nothing at all - just to secure a job (and the most basic of health care benefits). This is the work ethic elevated to a whole new level and it is fast becoming the new normal. Rather than focusing on how this kind of callous disregard for the welfare of our citizens is unacceptable, cutting jobs and dismantling the safety net when so many are already underwater, we will be joining the battle to play the repressive bossman role that has been laid out for us. As the engineers of this dynamic, 1% is well aware of this. What better method to keep you in line than placing your livelihood under constant threat in a bad economy? You must prove that you are not a freeloader looking to cash in at the taxpayers’ expense. You should be happy to work for next to nothing so as not to cut into your employer’s profit margin, making just enough money (or perhaps not quite enough - credit!) to consume the very goods and services you produce on the job (1% has us all working for free). On top of this you should dutifully pay your taxes to support government programs (more and more of which are being “serviced” through the private sector often resulting in them not being serviced at all) which can then be put on hold indefinitely (shutdown). Who is shirking their responsibility here? Who is getting that free ride at taxpayer expense? To be clear, I am not ideologically opposed to working “for free,” but there must be some method in place to value that work beyond compensation, to provide for the dignity of the worker. The 1% has no interest in making that a reality.

You decide to make some vegetable soup. The recipe calls for Thyme, but all you have on hand is Oregano. You could always switch the labels on your spice bottles. Of course renaming your spices will not change the flavor of your soup. But then sometimes soup is like that - made out of whatever is on hand. Now, if you switch the label every time you need another spice, you’re just going to end up with a big pot of Oregano Soup. Not a particularly desirable outcome unless you’re in the business of selling Oregano. Politics is like that. Lots of politicians in the business of selling Oregano (or weapons, or oil, or debt, or indentured servitude, or some other damn thing), constantly switching the labels to make it more palatable to the public, but no matter what you call it - Oregano is always Oregano. This political switching of labels isn’t just about not having the right spice, it’s about making sure that no one uses any other spice. That’s what we used to call a monopoly, and we used to have anti-trust laws that guarded against it. Switching labels is also great strategy for keeping constituents off balance and dependent on “knowledgable” leadership. After all, how can you hope to make your own soup when you can’t tell one spice from another? With all this label switching can you tell Republican Soup from Democrat Soup? With so many of the same ingredients can you taste the difference between Neo-Liberal and Neo-Conservative Soup? Switching labels ultimately makes the selection process meaningless. You never know what you are going to get in that bottle. More importantly, it makes dialogue concerning the process equally meaningless by removing any common point of reference. This obfuscation is the real objective 1% is after, a complete disruption of your ability to make any political decision for yourself. He’s not just looking to discourage you from choosing what kind of soup you want (voting), but looking to make it impossible for you to write your own recipes - grow your own spices - make your own soup.

Some years back I worked with a vision therapist to remedy eyestrain I was experiencing at my job. There was one particular exercise that went far beyond alleviating my discomfort. I encourage you to try it for yourself as I have found the results to be quite profound.

Walk down the street focusing on some object in the distance. As you walk, let your field of vision open to encompass the things that pass you on either side. Imagine you can still see them as they fall behind you.

What did I learn? Well, I found that the original object I focused on was no less clear when I relaxed my vision to see more broadly. Selectively focusing, squinting and straining my eyes, was not actually helping me to see more clearly. As I released my focus I was astounded by how much more I could see. The leaves on the trees and their motion, the smiles on peoples’ faces, even the sounds became more vivid. An example, you are on a street corner and cars are rushing by. You focus on the opposite corner, your destination, in order to prepare yourself and relieve any anxiety you might have about crossing the street. Are you more safe focusing selectively on the opposite corner, decisively choosing when it is best to make your mad dash across the street; or are you more safe broadening your field of vision to include the cars, the street light, the traffic cop, etc.? The state of perpetual fear and crisis that has been a staple of our political landscape over the last decade relies on this type of selective focus, deliberately elevating our level of anxiety to keep us from seeing more. This is how talking points and the echo chamber work, systematically shutting down any alternative thread that might lead you to recognize linkages and connections which prefer to remain unseen. Selective focus is also used to give the impression that all the issues we face are separate, that each challenge must be surmounted in some pre-determined sequence; forcing us to prioritize our needs over the needs of others or, more commonly during the current administration, to prioritize the needs of the country over our own in “shared sacrifice.” Each new crisis an opportunity to extract another pound of flesh from our citizens under the guise of “compromise.” Every bad deal another shrug of the shoulders, another “what can you do,” another fading memory. This narcissistic spectacle of constant crisis in DC, complete with a new cast of characters each and every news cycle, is designed to keep us focused on the minutiae of party politics, the grandstanding and name calling on display more schoolyard squabble than actual governance. Washington often speaks of US economic policy as if we were an isolated entity, with no relationship and no responsibility to global economic well being. The multi-national corporations dominating our political system are free to act independent of national identity or party affiliation; as non-persons, they have no capacity for empathy. Indeed, there is a whole world around us full of joy and pain that DC never acknowledges. Our “representatives” may consider themselves separate from that world, above it, beyond it - but we don’t have to follow their lead. In every leaf, in every voice, in every smile - relax your focus and see more.

*No offense Oregano - you’re a wonderful spice!

Sunday, September 22, 2013


I went to experience the James Turrell exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum yesterday. I couldn’t believe how badly this show was botched - the wonder and awe and majesty sucked out of this magnificent art by a wrong headed presentation of the work. I understand that this may not be the fault of the museum, the curators, or any of those who likely worked very hard preparing the show; but having seen Turrell’s work twice before under better circumstances, I felt really bad for James (and the folks who were there to experience his work for the first time). It is the discovery and the transcendent quality of this work that makes it such a powerful experience. This was made all but inaccessible at the Guggenheim show, in multiple instances forcing one to experience the work solely through the description of museum guards rather than through one’s own individual exploration. After waiting close to an hour in an interior line (after waiting as long outside the museum) we were allowed a minute or two to view the last piece before the guard explained to us that Turrell was an “illusionist,” explained to us what we were supposed to see (and not see), and why we could not approach the piece ourselves - because someone had gotten hurt falling through an opening in a piece in another show…

The piece in the rotunda (Aten Reign - one of only five light pieces in the show) was gorgeous, but even there we were told to get up off the floor (“on the mat or on the benches only”). Thank goodness they are keeping us safe from James Turrell.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Chemical weapons don’t kill people...

The gun lobby (weapons industry) has pushed the phrase “guns don’t kill people - people do” so hard that it has become a common axiom in American culture, shifting responsibility away from those that manufacture and sell weapons to those who use them. Talking with friends and neighbors, I find many folks are disturbed by the prospect of standing by while a leader gasses his own people. But when I ask them the simple question “who manufactured the chemical weapons in question (and who has manufactured chemical weapons in the past)?” they have no answer. If I take this line of questioning a bit further asking “how are chemical weapons acquired?” I find they don’t seem to have much information beyond that which has been provided to them by the Obama administration (and the media) as justification for a military strike. My third question will not seem unfamiliar to those who read my blog with any frequency - “who stands to profit from (the continuation and escalation of) the crisis?” I asked this question repeatedly in the run-up to the Iraq War, hoping that Americans would be outraged by the prospect of an administration filled with those who stood to profit from the war seizing the power to go to war (unconstitutionally and unilaterally). I have written a number of posts of late pointing out similar failings with referencing the gun lobby, weapons industry, and the politicians that represent those interests as separate entities. In the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting, many people questioned how the outcome might have been different if Zimmerman did not have a gun, the choice to use a gun limited by whether one has a gun to use. The Geneva Protocol prohibits the use of chemical weapons, but it does not address their production, storage, or transfer. The Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits the development, production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons. Syria is a signatory of the Geneva Protocol, but not the CWC. The United States and Russia (and other countries) continue to have stockpiles of these weapons despite being signatories of the CWC. When John Kerry condemns the use of chemical weapons as “moral obscenity” is he also condemning their production, storage, and transfer (sale)? Would such a blanket condemnation point fingers at other players outside of Syria? Is this developing into a US vs Russian national interests proxy war? If that is the case, are we concerned about “our” leaders capitalizing on the crisis in Syria at the expense of the innocents they claim to want to protect? Perhaps we should take a few steps back to focus on how and why proliferation of chemical weapons occurs rather than relying on our standard conditioned response - using weapons to destroy weapons to make sure that weapons don’t fall into the wrong hands.

Photo by Michele Equality Kaplan

If there was a gang war going on in your neighborhood, putting your family in danger, and the police suggested that the only way to stop the violence was to attack the gangs and rid them of their weapons - would you go along with their plan? What if you found out that the police were supplying weapons to the gangs, making a profit at both ends of the pipeline collecting tax dollars to pay for weapons to battle the gangs they themselves had armed?

Can we really afford to discount the possibility that the events we see unfolding in the media have been specifically designed to influence our course of action? Even if the events themselves are real, the narrative concerning those events may be fabricated. The most persuasive lies always have some truth embedded in them...


Related articles:
Dennis J. Kucinich - Top 10 Unproven Claims for War Against Syria
David Kashi - Syria Chemical Weapons Program Helped By Western Companies Selling Precursor Nerve Agents
David E. Sanger, Andre W. Lehren and Rick Gladstone - With the World Watching, Syria Amassed Nerve Gas
Josh Lederman and Seth Borenstein - In U.S. Arsenal, Lessons For Syria Chemical Weapons

Saturday, August 10, 2013


“And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these ‘stand your ground’ laws, I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.” 
Barrack Obama - President of the United States

“The attorney general fails to understand that self-defense is not a concept, it’s a fundamental human right. To send a message that legitimate self-defense is to blame is unconscionable, and demonstrates once again that this administration will exploit tragedies to push their political agenda.”
Chris Cox - Executive Director of the NRA-ILA

While it is unlikely that the Obama quote is intended as an endorsement of Trayvon Martin’s right to stand his ground, it does call into question the hypocrisy of the implementation of the law. But does the statement, perhaps unintentionally, play into the narrative that Trayon Martin was, and black men (teens, boys) in general are, a potential threat? Whether self-defense is a “concept” or a “right” or some other thing yet undefined by the narrative, the basis for Stand Your Ground laws is FEAR. Fear that one is under threat becomes the motivating factor for using deadly force and more importantly the deciding factor in determining whether that deadly force was warranted. Who is controlling this fear narrative and what is there to gain from it? I have seen the Obama and NRA statements presented in the media as two sides of an argument, but they seem strangely congruent to me in that they both focus on self-defense, rather than on violence or justice. Imagine for a moment how the case might be different if Trayvon Martin were 5 years of age when he was shot and killed rather than 17. Would the Obama statement still make sense if the boy who was shot was clearly incapable of defending himself from a violent assault - incapable of standing his ground? Does the burden of guilt shift here? And to whom does it shift? Are our laws written to protect this boy’s life or to protect the one who takes that life?

The circular logic of this “self-defense” (fear) narrative sees individuals as monsters, violent by nature, incapable of reason, justifying a violent (“defensive”) response. Through this logic, even if Trayvon Martin felt threatened by Zimmerman and acted in self-defense (which would have to be be proven, not simply assumed to be true), Zimmerman’s violent response would still be warranted. It is through this logic that a trial to determine Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence in the shooting of Trayvon Martin is transformed into a case determining the guilt or innocence of the boy who was shot dead. Has Stand Your Ground circumvented presumption of innocence in this case, effectively making Zimmerman judge, jury and executioner? What crime has Trayvon Martin committed here? Unlike other interpretations of self-defense law where an individual must be in imminent danger, it would seem that the Stand Your Ground law in Florida may accept a provoked assault (the person claiming to have acted in “self-defense” has actively provoked the confrontation) as justification for the use of deadly force.

Three things come to mind:

One) The gun industry stands to profit regardless of how this scripted narrative plays out, whether young black men are cast as the threat or they are made to feel that they are under threat. As I pointed out in an earlier post - presenting the narrative as a conflict (cynically capitalizing on existing racial tensions) ultimately serves to reinforce the perception that gun owners are under attack, and strengthens any defensive argument the gun lobby makes. The righteous indignation that follows serves as validation of what I believe is essentially a coldly calculated business decision. Escalating violence and fear insures repeat customers, and the weapons industry is happy to sell to both sides of the conflict. This isn’t about “gun control,” it’s about violence. This isn’t about “self-defense,” it’s about justice.

Two) The NRA did NOT (through intensive lobbying and campaign contributions) create Stand Your Ground to fill some sort of self-defense law void as one might be led to believe. Self-defense law has been common throughout the United States for more than a century. The main difference in these new laws is an expansion of the justified use of deadly force outside of one’s home (the so called Castle Doctrine) to any place that one is legally allowed to be, removing the duty to retreat and codifying civil immunity for the person using this force. In other words, the shooter cannot be sued for damages in a civil lawsuit so long as they are not found guilty of homicide. It remains to be seen if this new legislation will provide civil immunity in cases where victims’ families pursue legal action seeking damages from the gun manufacturers themselves, similar to cases brought against the tobacco industry in the past.

Three) The common presentation of Castle Doctrine as defense of one’s home (someone breaking into your home is clearly up to no good!) seems misleading to me. This perspective seems to shift the purpose of the law from defending one’s life to defending one’s property. Will “self-defense” under Stand Your Ground ultimately be applied to property in the way that personhood rights have been applied to corporations? What does the Libertarian defense of the right to bear arms look like in this context? Are they fighting for liberty or to secure immunity for those who would steal it from them? As more and more of our public spaces and resources become privatized, we should be vigilant not to allow the “protection of property” to trump our civil rights.

In my previous post I noted how the term “looters” and other similar terms have been used time and again to dismiss the legitimate concerns of people in need, to vilify those that rise up against social and economic injustice. Those who struggle against oppression must be cast as a malevolent force in order to make a defensive response seem reasonable. If they can be successfully cast as a threat, then their oppression appears warranted - the narrative presents this action not as a choice but as a necessary defensive response. When faced with the dualistic framework of fight or flight, there really is only one acceptable option encoded into our (USA) culture - to stand your ground. The mass incarceration of young black males fits into the “self-defense” narrative as a strategy to keep blacks off the streets and off the voter rolls. But it is an offensive strategy as well, generating enormous profit through prison development and maintenance, while supplying cheap labor (less than a dollar an hour) to participating corporations. Are these young men being sold into slavery?
Occupy Wall Street was relentlessly attacked in the media on two fronts, cast as a dangerous threat while being simultaneously marginalized as a bunch of do-gooder trust fund kids with nothing better to do than camp out complaining about their first world problems. The first strategy clearly relates to what I stated prior having been widely used as justification for the forced eviction of Occupy camps, but the second strategy is related as well. One of the central tenets of an OWS occupation is that everyone is welcome to speak, and all voices are honored, no matter what their viewpoint is. This is in stark contrast to a status quo that reinforces conformity by punishing us if we stand out, if we make waves, if we “complain” about (resist) our circumstance. Through the narrative of personal responsibility (another popular one), individuals are made to feel that their problems are theirs alone to deal with. If the problems are too much for them to handle individually, then they are at fault; they are weak, lazy, or unwilling to do what is necessary. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, quit your whining and man up! When individuals get together to share what is on their minds they commonly find that others share their concerns and circumstance, that they are not alone. Through this process we can let go of the idea that our problems must compete for attention, that we must prioritize at the expense of the minority, that we must do battle for the limited resources that are left after most of the pie has already been eaten. We find out that solidarity is not a threat to our individuality but an ally; allowing us to support one another, and be supported, for who we truly are. Most importantly, we can push back against the idea that one must agree with the majority or already be in a position of power to feel justified in speaking out. This knowledge is dangerous, dangerous to the status quo, because it has the potential to redefine the narrative.

Sık bakalım, sık bakalım
Biber gazı sık bakalım
Kaskını çıkar, copunu bırak
Delikanlı kim bakalım

Shoot it at me, shoot it at me
Shoot some pepper gas at me
Doff your helmet, down your baton
Then we’ll see who’s ready to flee

When I first heard this chant/song in Liberty Square it was explained to me as a call for the Turkish police to put down their armor and weapons and join the protestors - a test of their standing as “real men.” What is interesting to me about it is that it seems to celebrate resistance in the face of oppression as a measure of masculinity rather than the machismo that we associate with the concept of “real men” in the United States. I have seen this sentiment brought forward in communities seeking to deal with violence; older men teaching younger men that true strength is not measured through force or dominance, but through taking responsibility for one’s community, as a caretaker for one’s brothers and sisters. I don’t believe the Turkish chant is concerned with self sacrifice, as we seem so obsessed with in our culture, but with an understanding that true freedom cannot be taken away by force and cannot be threatened by oppression.

I had a conversation with a police officer in my dentist’s waiting room the other day. He was talking to me about his son, explaining that he had to be hard on him to prepare him for the adversity that he would encounter later in life. He seemed pretty convinced that this was the only course of action available to him. Here again, as in the self-defense narrative, the action (reaction) appears as a necessary defensive response rather than an actual choice. I inquired, as tactfully as I could manage, if he could somehow change the situation his son would be exposed to (rather than change his son to suit the situation), would he prefer to have a different type of interaction with his son? Perhaps he could choose to be his son’s ally rather than a stand in for a future adversary?

I am reminded of this passage from Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly:

“The perception that vulnerability is weakness is the most widely accepted myth about vulnerability and the most dangerous. When we spend our lives pushing away and protecting ourselves from feeling vulnerable or from being perceived as too emotional, we feel contempt when others are less capable or willing to mask feelings, suck it up, and soldier on. We’ve come to the point where, rather than respecting and appreciating the courage and daring behind vulnerability, we let our fear and discomfort become judgment and criticism.”

Friday, June 7, 2013


Diren Gezi is Gezi Resistance. Taksim (Taksim Gezi Parkı) is the park that is being occupied in Istanbul, Turkey. Not to be confused with Tayyip (Recep Tayyip Erdoğan), who is the Turkish Prime Minister. Tayyip Istifa! is a chant for him to resign. Çapuling is chapulling. If you are unfamiliar with the word chapulling, that is because it is a new word. Tayyip (remember him?) has taken to calling the demonstrators ayyaş (alcoholics) and çapulcu (looters). Rather than defend against this, the demonstrators chose instead to reappropriate the term çapulcu. The urban dictionary defines the term as “to resist force, demand justice, seek one’s rights.” The term “looters” shouldn’t be unfamiliar to us here in the US. We have heard it and other similar terminology used time and again to dismiss the legitimate concerns of people in need and those that rise up against social and economic injustice. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina the US news media was rife with stories casting desperate victims of Katrina as marauding bands of “looters.”

Last Saturday I attended the Occupy Homecoming in Liberty Square. I had heard ahead of time that there would be an “Occupy Gezi” solidarity rally happening in the park that day. I anticipated that the OWS presence might be light, aware that there was a Bradley Manning march at Fort Meade that same day, but I still thought the park would be filled with people. All of the solidarity rallies I have been to in the past have mobilized large numbers of folks from the local community. A common culture and a common language go a long way when trying to get people active, especially if their country has a history of popular protest. The familial dynamic, the ability to come together as sisters and brothers, that I have witnessed in many other cultures doesn’t comfortably fit into the core American identity. Declarations of United We Stand are common in times of hardship, and we have seen acts of tremendous empathy in response to natural disasters and other tragic events in recent years, but the core American identity continues to prioritize competition and self reliance over solidarity. In an earlier post I wrote about how the emphasis on independence and personal liberty has created a kind of “culture of doubt,” where people find it necessary to strike a defensive posture even when they are in agreement with others. Many of the conversations I had on Saturday dealt with this dynamic. Seeing the Turkish people come together so strongly had many asking why it was difficult to create similar dynamics here in the US among the 99%.

It got me thinking about the mythical guy (does this guy really exist?) who is outraged that he has to push 1 to continue in English. In fact, most of those phone systems no longer ask you to push a number at all, but you may be forced to pause momentarily to listen to someone ask Spanish speakers to push numero dos. Ok - stop for a moment - think about this. We live in a society that prides itself on being a “melting pot,” with a national motto of e pluribus unum (out of many - one), and yet we cannot seem to recognize this momentary pause as a simple courtesy extended to one of the many cultures that make up this rather amazing place. When I see the folks that speak Spanish as my sisters & brothers, this pause is not an inconvenience, but a teeny tiny little acknowledgement that they are just as welcome, valued, and essential in this country as I.

On Saturday the Turkish people in Liberty Square were chanting and singing mostly in Turkish. I took it upon myself to inquire from people I was standing near what some of the chants were, and what they meant in English. When a number of flags were raised and the crowd cheered I found out that the fans of rival teams that usually fight it out on the football field, had come together as Istanbul United to fight police brutality. It was amazing to me that everyone seemed familiar with each of the many songs that were sung. I found out that many of the songs were modeled after football chants/songs that were commonly known, that words were substituted using the same melody, and some were even sung verbatim. On the following day an effort was clearly made to do more chants in English and I availed myself of the opportunity to participate more fully.

Photo by Mickey Z.

I felt that the solidarity rally taking place in Liberty Square was both a tremendous acknowledgement of the significance of that space and of OWS, as well as a wonderful opportunity for us to connect with and learn about the people at the heart of another occupation. While the evidence of solidarity was clearly visible in the crowd that had gathered as well as in the SOLIDARITY - OCCUPY GEZI / OCCUPY WALL STREET banners that were present, the rally never seemed to me to coalesce fully. I don’t believe that it was about willingness to participate as much as it was a function of the ability to participate. As I mentioned above, solidarity is easier when you speak the same language. At one point a young man approached some folks I was talking with concerned that there was a right wing sign near one of the OWS banners. He thought there was the possibility that a photo of this could create the impression of an OWS endorsement of the message on this sign. He proposed moving all of the OWS banners away from the main group of Turkish people to avoid this. I asked him if he read Turkish - if he had read the sign in question. He replied that he had heard this information from someone else. The OWS banners, mostly held by the Turkish people themselves were not removed from the group, but I mention this is an example of how the language barrier can potentially limit our ability to connect. Mic check and move check were on my mind after writing about them in my last post, and I wondered why someone (including myself of course) didn’t mic check to welcome the Turkish people to Liberty Square, to express how powerful it was to be there in solidarity with them and the people in Turkey. I had hoped that participating in a mic check with the Turkish people might provide us a way to develop a deeper connection, to build empathy through internalizing the feelings that came up. Perhaps this happened earlier when I wasn’t in the park, or perhaps it happened between individuals, but even when we later bridged to the People’s Assembly, I felt that we were largely missing out on hearing and speaking (through mic check) the voices of the Turkish people present.

The People’s Assembly began with music, song, and an informative performance about Monsanto and GMOs by The People’s Puppets. Afterward a man got up and mic checked (paraphrasing here) that music and puppets were fine & entertaining, but that we needed to be more serious about the issues at hand. After he spoke another man mic checked that his family had been part of what he referred to as a “singing revolution” in Estonia. I believe that the inclusion of expressive performance at the beginning of the assembly was both an attempt to make the segue into the assembly go more smoothly, as well as an attempt to speak in language that was not simply based in words. There it is again - language. Translation. On a day that was filled with song and chants in Turkish, here we were encountering resistance to another language, a language based in artistic expression rather than linguistic precision. Do we all speak the same language? How can we express our solidarity even when we don’t? If we are in fact building a culture of resistance (as opposed to the fore mentioned “culture of doubt”), how can we be more mindful not to misdirect this resistance toward our sisters and brothers?

 Photo by Phoebe Berg
Tomorrow (Saturday), June 8th, there will be another Solidarity Rally in Liberty Square beginning at 12pm. March to Times Square scheduled for 4:30. Everyone is invited!


POST MARCH UPDATE - The rally and march on Saturday was well attended and well received. A powerful and beautiful showing of solidarity by all involved! Chanting “Resist Turkey - You are not alone!” “Resign Erdogon!” and “The people united will never be defeated!” we marched from Liberty Square to Union Square. At both Liberty and Union Square mic checks were done in Turkish and English so everyone could participate fully. Earlier on Sunday a Greek contingent joined the rally at Liberty, warmly greeted with loud cheers from the Turkish people. When people who have been made to distrust one another can come together, to recognize their common struggles and common aspirations: for freedom, for justice, for peace - the people united will never be defeated.

Check out these beautiful photos by Resa Sunshine of Saturday’s rally and march.

Friday, May 17, 2013


SPACE. When we occupy we are not really taking space as the word usually implies, we are instead making space: for dialogue, for ideas, for alternatives, for all voices to be heard. Space is where movement happens. And it is the movement that transforms the finite space of Zuccotti Park into the infinite space of Liberty Square (which is of course everywhere). Whether a park, a community center, a classroom, or the limitless expanse of the heart and mind; it is up to us to reclaim this common space, to recognize that we need not ask permission to reclaim what is already ours.

The raid on Zuccotti Park, the Cabaret Law, and online education - are these related? Well, let’s say one wanted to restrict the right of the people to peaceably assemble without appearing to do so, one could simply privatize all the spaces where people might choose to assemble. New York City enacted the Cabaret Law in 1926 to stem interracial dancing in Harlem Jazz Clubs. From 12,000 licensed dancing venues in the 1960’s down to less than 135 today. Perhaps it was not really dance that was being restricted, but movement. When people get together to explore their freedom, there can be unforeseen consequences. Along the same lines - it’s much more convenient to have students stay at home and learn through a virtual portal than to have them actually meet other students and potentially stray from the curriculum. Who knows what kind of trouble they might get into - who they might vote for or what state they might smash?! We must reclaim our common space in order to exercise our freedom, but also to invite others to do the same.

When I originally conceived of Occupy Dance I thought of it as political movement in a literal sense, as well as an occupation of the dance world by those who already considered themselves dancers. In a society where dancers perform and teach dance in order to make a living, how can we liberate dance so that it is accessible to all? How can we release it from commodity status, an art form only to be enjoyed as spectacle for the wealthy? But the single most important aspect of Occupy Dance was the idea that ANYONE can reclaim their own body - the space that is you. You don’t need to be qualified to dance, know the steps, have the moves, or be a “good dancer” to express yourself and explore your world.

The movement is you - Occupy Dance!

Photo by Andy “Fluffy” Beck

Connect with Occupy Dance on facebook or meetup

Please sign and share the petition to repeal NYC’s Cabaret Law


May 29 - Post Parade Update

MOVE CHECK! The human microphone (mic check) has been written up as a way to amplify voices, circumventing restrictions on the use of amplified sound at demonstrations, but there is another aspect of the practice that I have personally experienced time and time again. Participation in a mic check allows people to temporarily embody (in a very literal sense) the views of others. Key here is that one is not selectively choosing which voices to repeat, but simply repeating all that is said. There is something profound about feeling the idea resonate through your own breath, using your body to give voice to an idea that did not originate in your own mind. This simple act is akin to the kind of translation that dancers and other artists practice regularly; taking a concept, a thought, an idea and giving it a form that can be received by others. When Ilona Bito explained/demonstrated the concept/process of move check to me, I could immediately see how this dynamic was being expanded upon. As a dancer,* I have had the experience of watching others dance and feeling their movements in my own body. This is quite a bit different than simply watching them dance. It’s a kind of vicarious echo, drawing on experiential knowledge of what their movement would feel like were I to perform it myself. Of course, this mental exercise is also quite a bit different than doing the actual movement. As mic check repeats voice, move check is a repetition of movement. To begin - one calls out “move check,” which is repeated back in mic check fashion by those participating. We added a simple movement to this - a hop with arms straight up. This physical cue can be particularly helpful in focusing attention when one is in a larger group. The initiator then shares a movement with the other participants who then repeat the movement themselves. The practice is not intended to teach a particular step, but rather to share the feeling, the knowledge, and the sense of freedom that the movement embodies. As I mentioned earlier, dance can be an exploration of your world and move check offers an opportunity to share your discoveries.

After the Dance Parade I wrote a short note to the group about how the entire day felt like an extended move check to me (as Occupy often does), each of us sharing our movements with the group, each of us having the opportunity to experience the movements of all involved. When people get together to explore their freedom, there is always movement.

Photo by Jeremy Schaller

* I cannot count the number of times I have been asked “do you dance / are you a dancer?” It took many years before I stopped replying "not professionally" and simply started saying "YES!" 

Monday, April 15, 2013


When I wrote Are we courageous enough to face the why? I was responding to how we categorize those who take actions we find unfathomable as “crazy,” their actions as “senseless.” In the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy I have read, and responded to article after article that simplify the larger issue of violence in our society (and the world) to a singular conflict over “gun control.” Each side of the conflict seems quite content to call out the opposition as “extremist,” “out of touch,” etc. Despite the enormous amount of attention dedicated to the issue, I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen the weapons industry and gun manufacturers referenced in connection to the NRA and other gun advocacy groups. Instead the emphasis has been on the outrageous “polarizing” comments of individuals, and the “fringe” interests they represent. The rhetoric on both sides seems to have so many common terms it’s becoming progressively unclear to me just who owns this conflict narrative. There are, however, several things that do seem clear to me. Presenting the narrative as a conflict ultimately serves to reinforce the perception that gun owners are under attack, and strengthens any defensive argument the gun lobby makes. The righteous indignation that follows serves as validation of what I believe is essentially a coldly calculated business decision. Seen from this perspective the “extremism” is actually quite sensible: the more guns on the streets - the more violence we see - the greater our fear - the more weapons are sold. Any regulation of guns amounts to a restriction of gun sales, and less guns sold means less weapons industry profit. I am not implying that this business decision is an ethical one, but it is a rational one, and our insistence on categorizing it as extreme, crazy, senseless is only providing cover for an industry acting in its own best interest.

The other conflict dominating the news? Proposed Social Security and Medicare cuts to stem the deficit “crisis.” Similarly here, “extreme” positions mask the underlying dynamics. I do hear some talk about the deficit being a function of lost tax revenue due to massive cuts for the rich (and straight up tax evasion) coupled with high unemployment (of folks who would otherwise be paying taxes on their income). What I rarely hear is a critique of the wholesale looting of the treasury that has been pulled off by private “defense” contractors and... you guessed it... the weapons industry. Possibly a passing reference to the costly execution of two wars, the waste and mismanagement (“incompetence”), but never an actual indictment of war profiteers themselves. In Money Out of Politics, I brought up the specter of corporate leadership buying into office and then legislating for their own profit. Borrowing from the Social Security Trust Fund to pay for the Iraq War and then sounding the alarm on program insolvency should raise a little skepticism over the sincerity of those who are clearly looking to cash in on these programs through privatization. Like “gun control” the issue will be tethered to the big government/small government (no government) narrative, but again this is only to inspire outrage and provide cover. The actual objective is to funnel government money, and ultimately the resources of our people, into the coffers of a select few. Until we free ourselves from the illusion of separation between the corporate elite and “our” government leaders, the prevailing idea that politicians are merely influenced by lobbyists and not directly connected to the corporations themselves, we will continue to be trapped inside their scripted narrative. As I wrote in Visions of Peace, “As weapons dealer to the world and our own best customer, is it any wonder that American cultural promotion of war (violence, conflict, competition) is second to none?”

Tax day. How much are you paying for war?

Take Action - Global Day of Action on Military Spending

Related articles:
The Atlantic - Paying the Costs of Iraq, for Decades to Come
Reuters - Iraq war costs U.S. more than $2 trillion: study
Tom Engelhardt - The Enemy-Industrial Complex

Thursday, March 21, 2013


March 22, 2003 - ten years ago tomorrow: denied a march permit for Feb 15, United for Peace & Justice organizes a march expecting 50,000 participants. Just days after the initial assault of Shock and Awe - 300,000 people flood the streets of New York to say No to War. “What do you want? When do you want it?”

Tomorrow I’m going to reclaim this power. I’m going to reflect on the feeling of freedom that came from standing in solidarity with millions around the globe. I am going to renew my vision of peace.

And I am going to march. Perhaps you will pick up a sign or a banner and join me?

On Facebook, Twitter, your blog - you can wrangle an entire banner with just one person! Feel free to swipe the sign and banner images below and share them widely. You can also find the images on Facebook. Use them to share your thoughts and your feelings. Take this opportunity to reclaim, reflect, and renew. “Peace - Now.”

Friday, February 22, 2013


“What do you do?”

“I’m a Graphic Designer.

For years, this was my response. I had been developing my own definition of graphic designer ever since I came across the term in a high school careers workbook. It wasn’t the same as artist, and it had a $25,000 salary attached to it. It was not simply about self-expression, but about communicating information, and it dealt with people called clients. In college my definition expanded exponentially to encompass every new artistic discipline I could get my hands on. Photography, illustration, typography, art history - all servants to design, all simple tools to realize my larger vision. Massimo Vignelli’s spoons told me that design could be anything and everything (or was it that everything could be designed?). So imagine my surprise, after a semester long project designing a style guide, when my most cherished professor asks me if I wouldn’t be better off in fine arts? Pick a company, design a logo, select typefaces, pick colors, etc. and define how all these variables will be applied to insure a consistent identity across a multitude of applications (referred to as branding nowadays). Anti-authoritarian rule breaker that I was, I didn’t pick a company - I picked Greenpeace. Visiting the Greenpeace Action office in New York, I could see the singularity of the Greenpeace identity, but I could also see power in the diversity of ways that the group represented itself. So I set out to create a modular, customizable, identity system - rather than restrict their identity to a single symbol. This didn’t go over too well at my critique, but more importantly, my selection of a social awareness organization seemed to call into question the very nature of graphic design itself. Many of my peers were enormously critical of my choice, believing that expression had no place within graphic design. That my chosen client clearly had a great deal to express apparently had no bearing on this. One of the first promotional pieces I designed for Forth Position was a mock style guide, subverting and redefining the objectives of the format.

Hitting the streets of New York after graduation, I charmed my way into meeting after meeting with the designers who had inspired me in college. When I had the opportunity to talk face to face with these talented men and women, I became increasingly aware of the gap between the vanguard design work I was familiar with and the day to day grind demanded by the industry. This didn’t come as a total surprise, but I had imagined that there were certain designers (certain studios) that had been able to free themselves from this duality, to somehow integrate their design production and do only good work. Along the way I had the distinct pleasure of working ever so briefly with the brilliant Marlene McCarty and Donald Moffett at Bureau, and of being offered a job at M&Co (which sadly dissolved due to lack of funds). Many of my top choices were struggling through the economic recession, so I felt quite lucky when Emily Oberman, then at M&Co, referred me to her close friend Bonnie Siegler, then Art Director at VH1 On-Air Graphics. Over the next four and a half years I gained first hand experience working with all the newly emerging tools of non-linear production and motion graphics, none of which were available while I was in college. My severance bought my first Mac (clone) and my apartment was transformed into a motion graphics studio quite literally overnight. Cable network identity and movie channel promotion was certainly not part of my original design brief for Forth Position, but the work was preferable to pimping for Nike and Coca-Cola. Having written a paper in college critical of the consolidation of media, I had no illusions that in the end I was ultimately working for the same interests. I was able to command a higher day rate freelancing motion graphics, and could therefore afford to work less often. This allowed me to devote more time to political organizing, and come 2000, I went all in.

“What do you do?”

“I’m a Peacemaker.

A stolen election, another Bush’s recession, and the war on terror - the next several years were a blur of political organizing for me. Protesting* to stop one war, protesting to prevent another, protesting the dictator himself. Hitting the streets again, this time for Peace & Justice, I was overwhelmed by the palpable feeling of freedom that came from standing in solidarity with millions around the globe. Marching with 300,000 in New York City was like being part of a river - it wasn’t about resistance, or conflict, it was about the inevitability of our momentum. The numbers were amazing, but did placing such emphasis on turnout diminish the power, the significance of other smaller rallies and marches? Why did it seem that the only way to be heard was to get thousands of people to show up? Did more people make the message more diverse, or just louder? Where did this emphasis on turnout come from? The media was insistent on the event having a singular message, a sound bite answer to the question of “what are they protesting?” There was no allowance made for multiple perspectives on the same issue, or for interrelated issues. The whole thing struck me as some kind of absurd competition orchestrated by the media and the interests they represent. The success or failure of the protest was to be measured in seconds of airtime, number of columns, size of the photograph… Time and time again we found ourselves in competition with the conveniently leaked government news event of the day. But the competition didn’t stop there. Awareness organizations, each with their own particular issue, were made to compete with each other to get their messages heard, to raise funds, even to find staff and volunteers to do the day to day work and necessary outreach. The status quo excels at provoking the conflict, escalating the argument, making the situation seem desperate - they don’t have to work so hard silencing us when they can get us shouting over the top of one another to be heard.


If I wasn’t on the street leading a chant, wrangling banners, organizing buses, getting signatures, I was likely in a meeting discussing how to go about it. Paying work was harder to come by, with the occasional larger job affording me the resources to pursue my own independent projects. Notobush was one such project, and while it was a success, it was not a money maker. I still hadn’t found a way to make prioritizing awareness, over profit, pay the bills. For the first time in my career I felt that I had a project that should be in the design annuals that had been such an inspiration to me as a young designer. So I entered the project into the AIGA 365 competition. Taking a line from the Forth Position Design Style Manual, and in the spirit of protest/demonstration that the work had derived from, I entered the entire project under the category “signage.”

The outcome of the 2004 (s)election had many within the movement switching back to strategies of damage control. Having to argue with the tax man over notobush related fees wasn’t punishment from on high, but it sure felt like it. Most of my paying work now no longer came from the networks themselves, many relying heavily on in-house designers or contracting out to a few larger studios.  Subcontracting through another studio meant less control over the specific jobs I worked on, and refusing a job due to ethical concerns wasn’t the best way to insure your spot on the short list for the next job. After the 2008 crash, many of the folks who had been keeping me busy were out pounding the pavement themselves. In the absence of any work to speak of, a producer friend of mine and I joked about pooling our resources and starting a lemonade stand. Television and the internet now offered a virtually limitless number of “channels,” an exponential expansion in real estate to split their resources among. The rise of reality TV ushered in a significantly lower threshold (and significantly lower budgets) for quality design. Marketing shows based on other successful shows had clients looking for “design” based on prior successful designs. While there were still plenty of designers doing beautiful work, I was seeing a glut of what I began to refer to as template design: 3d typography exploding from the center of the screen - light effects and lens flares at no extra cost! As I wrote in an earlier post, it can be challenging and frightening facing the prospect that the work you have spent most of your life doing may simply no longer be necessary, but these moments also bring the opportunity to reassess what it is that you truly want to do. In my early years as a designer, I thought of the concepts of design and innovation as inseparable. Within this new market driven repetitive design model, innovation was more often an unacceptable risk. I would go as far as to say that the model was actually pitting recognition of design that was tried and true directly against appreciation for anything new. Central here is the idea that the consumer (and the client) is more likely to buy that which they already recognize, so we should give them what they “want.” Of course in an industry where the very basis of desire is fabricated, who is to say what people really want?

So if I get paid to make shit smell great, to repackage the same old thing in the pre-approved newest freshest way - what am I? Am I really still a designer at all? Perhaps I was mistaken and this is what graphic design was always about? I purchased the domain with the intention to explore this a bit. My original thought was to send out t-shirts emblazoned with an Industry Whore “logo” to everyone I know in the design industry, and perhaps a few others others I haven’t had the opportunity to meet personally. I started thinking about the responses I might get from my peers. Would they feel insulted by this? Would they feel liberated by someone finally stating the obvious? Would they struggle with whether or not to wear such a shirt? Would they wear it proudly, having accepted the role and the monetary reward that goes with it? Would my critique open up space for us to have a dialogue about such things or would it only provoke conflict? I’m still on the fence about all of this. When my two closest design comrades and I were in school we pledged to “burn the design world to the ground,” but I have no desire to hurt others who are doing their best to survive within a system they feel powerless to change. I must ask though - what if all of us, with our tremendous collective creativity, skill, and experience in communications, were to redirect our energies toward the change we wish to see? If this sounds too ambitious, maybe we have different ideas about the change we wish to see or have trouble imagining how we can make this change while still making a living, perhaps we could start smaller?

When I was starting out I wrote to a potential client deconstructing the pro bono process, pointing out that the firm designing their environmental campaign free of charge would likely turn around and use the work to promote themselves, ironically to score future work from the oil industry. I was attempting to position myself as an ally and a valuable resource, one that was not working simultaneously for and against the interests of my social awareness clients. Was this worth something to my clients? My friend Noah Scalin, founder of Another Limited Rebellion, writes:

It's extremely frustrating that many non-profits expect that design work should be done for free. They pay for rent, electricity, photocopies, etc. but when it comes to branding/marketing they assign no budget, and by extension no value, to it. Obviously the primary goal of an organization should be providing their products/services, whatever they may be, but if they are to have any impact at all they need to let people know that those products/services are available! It doesn't matter how great an organization they are, if no one hears about them or what they're up to, then no one will benefit from the work they're doing. And design is the primary tool by which an audience is reached with an organization's message.
When non-profits expect work done for free they're also expecting that the designers they are hiring should make a living doing something else. And there's the rub, since many times they end up working with larger ad agencies who make their profits from the very roots of the problems they're trying to resolve. And the agency's goals are generally to make award winning pieces that elevate their own status, rather than actually focusing on the success of the non-profit. If an organization truly wants to make the world a better place, they need to also consider all of the vendors that they choose to work with as well. By supporting designers that are also working for positive social change they are going to make a bigger aggregate difference.

As in my earlier example concerning turnout at a protest, I find myself asking where the emphasis on work for hire comes from? Perhaps it is intrinsic to graphic design? After all we are providing a service. But I think it is more than just this. Corporate design, advertising, design that makes money has long been prioritized within the field, even to the extent of dismissing other less profitable forms of design. Is work I am financially compensated for in competition with work I do for free? Is it possible to shift the imposed hierarchy beyond compensation, so that the values we embed in our work comprise the value of our work? What does this graphic design look like? How will it, and the designers who create it, be supported?

Lately I am finding it more challenging to answer the “what do you do?” question. I’m still in love with design, but the grand ideas and the precious details that once made it so alluring to me are easy to miss in our current culture of information overload. The systematic elimination of this preciousness by powerful interests seeking to own and propagate their singular (saleable) visions is disturbing to say the least, but my feelings are more complicated when it comes to the loss of preciousness as it relates to the rise of democracy. Throughout my organizing I have seen how important it is to allow space for dialogue, to make room for all voices to be heard. This process often requires letting go of the specific way I think something should be done, allowing the process to move forward to reveal unknown outcomes rather than predicting and controlling the result. I have spent much of my career looking for the next big idea, the quintessential project that will bring fame, fortune, and notoriety. And similarly questioning - which grand idea, which specific catalyst, will make all the difference and shift the paradigm in an instant? It occurred to me recently that this thought pattern is perhaps a product of connecting my artistry to my livelihood early on, and that giving it so much head space was blocking me from seeing other possibilities for myself. What would I do if money were no object? What would I do if the struggle was over? Can we set aside the superlatives and honor the intrinsic value of all living beings for just being alive? When I was little, people would ask “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Teachers would encourage me to “be somebody.” Of course, I already was somebody. And so are you.

Submit a post to continue the dialogue on the Industry Whore forum!

*I prefer the term demonstrating, but am using protesting for the sake of clarity: demonstrating an alternative path rather than simply protesting against injustice.

March 22, 2003 World Says No to War banner photo by Diane Greene Lent