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A young college student in San Diego just asked for my help on a class project about activism. Below are her questions and the food for thought they inspired, from my perspective.
Thank you for your time, this are the questions:
- what were the factors that led you to become an activist?
- why did you feel the need to take action?
- what cause/causes have been the focus of your activism and why?
- what has been the strategy (or strategies) of your activism?
- what forms of action do you think are the most effective as an activist and why?
- what do you feel are the results of your activism and the social movements you have participated in?
- how to you feel the larger goals of your activism have been/will be met?
- what did it take/what will it take?
I appreciate it so much. Thank you.
Well Jessica Sandoval, you've given me a nice afternoon project, and made me think. Hope this helps.
What were the factors that led you to become an activist?
Political Activism can generally be divided into two divisions: working within the existing systems of power and justice, and working outside these systems. Whenever there are adequate, equitable, and sufficient systems in place, working for the vast majority of people, activism is by and large unnecessary. The period in the USA from 1975-2001 was such a period, and as one of the privileged class of Americans, I was comfortably unaware of our history or our policy actions in the world outside our borders. However, there are always forces that wish to create asymmetries in the power structure, to obtain advantage for themselves and their "special interests". I was generally satisfied with life and my place in the system as long as I was a student with opportunities for future success, and then the 2000 election was stolen by the Bush family, the events of September 11, 2001, affected our national psychology, and out of fear and wrath we went to war with Iraq in 2003. That's when I found it necessary to become politically active.
Why did you feel the need to take action?
The unjust invasion, and unnecessary war between the USA and Iraq in 2003, was an obvious war of empire and aggression for resources, and a violation of international law and United Nations standards of conduct. The UN invaded Iraq in 1991 because they attacked the small nation of Kuwait, a kingdom which belonged to the UN Treaty with the USA. That first Gulf War was a necessary, short police action, and we left the region after achieving known objectives. Then, 12 yrs. later, the U.S. did the exact same thing, invaded Iraq under false pretense.
To me at the time, it was not clear that the US Administration was lying about WMD, but they had obviously used the 9/11 events to change U.S. law and manipulate public opinion. It was later found out that Bush's administration had selectively and incompetently used CIA intelligence to justify the invasion, using General Collin Powell at the UN without ever having an exit strategy. The costs to both human life, the economy, and our future security, were too high to remain silent.
At the same-time, I was being exposed to and educated about the aquatic environment. I had a lifelong love of the ocean and a naturalist's interests combined with benefit of a university science education. I began to discover the level or our ignorance and the destruction of our oceans. I spent more and more time attending conferences, training myself in oceanography, reading books and reports, watching documentaries, and discovering the damage we are wrecking on the seas. Ocean-acidificaiton
, nitrogen pollution, over-fishing, coral bleaching, and oil-spills, will likely destroy the world's food source.
What cause/causes have been the focus of your activism and why?
I've chosen a number of issues and subjects to become active on based upon my own interests and what I believe to be the core problems associated with the Iraq war: Media, Education, Economics, Environment, Justice & Political Philosophy
- 2006 I started my first Blog to educate people about history, politics, and the government secrets - http://libertas.name/
- 2007: The movie ZEITGEIST inspired my anti-war blog, I exposed the truth about the war, conflict economics, and the real costs: http://315pm.org/
- 2008: I worked hard with the Democratic Progressives to get Obama Elected, campaigning in Miami, FL: http://www.barackobama.com/#get-the-latest
- 2008: I soon realized that the public was uninformed, and the key to mass education was broadcast media, but just six corporations own the public air-waves, and thus they control our attention. The media oligarchy makes it's profits from corporate and political advertising, so they have a fundamental conflict of interest. The only solution was alternative media. Thus, I began producing it: http://www.sdspeaks.com
- 2009: As the son of an educator, I believe the failure of our public education system is a key to why people lack critical thinking skills and basic understandings of science, politics, and history, that allows us to repeat the mistakes of our past. The Obama Education Plan is a good solution. Local activists came together in San Diego to educate our local representatives about these solutions: http://obamaed.blogspot.com/
- 2009: When G.W. Bush left office, he left a global economic crisis that nearly destroyed our economy, some of us worked on these issues of economic justice, to educate people about financial issues like banking: https://www.facebook.com/pages/San-Diego-Task-Force-for-Economic-Justice/110121265740929
- 2010: Energy/time = power, the USA invaded Iraq for 'national security' (i.e. their oil resources), but these carbon fuels are finite and unsustainable. To create a secure future for everyone we need a to reduce our energy waste and use renewable energy sources, to create a sustainable economy without carbon fuels: http://www.sdsustainablefuture.com/
- 2011: I joined the board of Activist San Diego to help organize for social justice by building a local non-commercial radio station: http://www.knsj.org
- At Present: As a former San Diego Lifeguard my experience of the environment makes me uniquely qualified as a naturalist and environmental educator, each summer I volunteer & teach classes: http://www.sddivers.com/3rs.html
- Today: I work with the World Resource Simulation Center (WRSC.org) and the Global Energy Network Initiative (GENI.org) to prepare for the future.
What has been the strategy (or strategies) of your activism?
I've tried to work within the systems of power when possible, and outside them when necessary. I've walked precincts for candidates, volunteered to work for campaigns, made calls, traveled to other states to monitor polls, participated in local party politics, even ran for a minor position in the local county Democratic Party. I've attempted to use alternative press, blogs, produced audio/video multi-media, podcasts, social-networks (online and community groups), political clubs, social events, concerts, projects, non-profit and for profit businesses, picketing and non-violent protests, marches, seminars, fundraising events, think-tanks, guerrilla marketing, etc.
What forms of action do you think are the most effective as an activist and why?
Different issues require different tools. Activism is the right of every American Citizen under the 1st Amendment. Freedom of speech, the press, and association, being the foundations of functioning democracy. Sometimes working within the system is enough to influence the change you desire, or just make the system aware of the problem. But sometimes the power-structure requires 'motivation', you need a critical mass to break the ice, and the political system needs a good shake-up.
Those willing to invest their time and energy to participate in politics over the long-term are usually successful to some extent. But for those who are less patient, I prefer to use the broadcast media as the most effective way to criticize existing power structures and educate the public. This can be done with mass demonstrations, or by simply writing a letter to the editor, the exact tactic depends upon the situation.
Non-violent Revolutions are the most effective strategy, using organized groups in public demonstrations, but they must be carefully documented and recorded, publicized, and this strategy requires group training, organization, and serious personal risk and commitment. This is leadership on a level most people are unmotivated to commit to, until there is a crisis.
Simply holding a sign, or speaking as an expert at a community meeting is enough to move people. Narrative stories of individual struggle, such as through literature or film can be a huge and effective tool to reach a mass of people. The key is to effectively control your message, while gaining the spotlight of the press. Unfortunately, the most effective messages are emotional in nature, but most of our complex social problems of political injustice and environmental destruction are dry, require time and intelligence. So, emotional messages tend to be self-defeating, and are ultimately a form of manipulation. To be effective you need to use multiple strategies and good timing.
Given the ability, the privilege, of people's attention, is it ethical to use that power of the press to manipulate them with propaganda? Even if it is for their own good? I don't think so, but many activists do want to manipulate the public, by controlling the media.
What do you feel are the results of your activism and the social movements you have participated in?
Within the Party Structure, some have fallen flat, on deaf ears, even generated back-lash. For example, all our work on the Obama Education Plan was rejected by the Teachers Unions, and since they control the California Democratic Party and all the Democratic Representatives on the School Boards across the County, none of the Obama reforms were implemented and thus public schools have continued to decline in San Diego. I continue to inform Democrats about their culpability in this failure, but the Teachers Unions have too much money and influence.
Other efforts have been more successful, Obama was elected in 2008, winning FL, including Dade County where I worked to get out the vote. in 2012 the Pacific Beach Coastal Democrats successfully elected every Democrat on the ticket, even Bob Filner as San Diego Mayor. Now, due to the scandal, we are fighting to keep the progressive policy reforms by electing another compatible Democrat. Generally, democratic politics is difficult and frustrating unless you have lots of money.
The Occupy Wall Street movement was largely successful in bringing awareness of the Financing, Banking, and Economic Justice issues, but failed to have tangible results due to design flaws. Their lack of leadership, and inability to focus upon specific actions, made the movement impotent. But the result is a new generation of activists who are better educated and aware because of their participation. Now people are aware and working on actions that will have tangible results. Recently, I helped organize a screening of "inequality for All"; http://www.inequalityforall.com
My biggest disappointment so far has been the near inability to infiltrate the broadcast media. As long as corporations control public attention and the narrative, nothing will be achieved. There are glimmers of hope, like 'Democracy Now' or the show Broadcast News on HBO, or the mild success of KNSJ.org
, but the victories are too few and far between. http://www.SDMJS.org
The best work I do is direct communication, classes and seminars, educating people about the environment, economy, or science. Each summer, I volunteer of the coast of La Jolla with the San Diego Council of Divers. It seems that, once you put people in an environment where they can experience the facts for themselves, see the effects of driving their SUV upon the shell-life at the base of the food-chain, and how that starves the seals that they think are so cute, that direct, experiential education, life experience, can no longer be ignored.
How to you feel the larger goals of your activism have been/will be met?
Most of our battles have mixed results. We end the Iraq war, only after a decade of destroying both Iraq, and the Bill of Rights. We Occupy Wall Street, yet the banks have record profits, avoiding accountability, while real unemployment increases. The struggles are all worthy, the audience generally isn't. In our democracy the majority of people are invested in the systems of power, and thus culpable on some levels. They don't like to hear that their military income comes from unjust means, or that driving their car destroys the sea life. People can't justify giving up their job and income to solve problems that haven't reached crisis level. Thus, the larger goals have been almost universally ignored and unachieved.
Things seem to be getting worse. Due to the recession, financial concerns have taken control of people's lives, and they are willing to sacrifice most of the social and environmental justice issues just to stay employed and keep their home. They work harder than ever, and that leaves little time for self-actualization, education, or thinking long-term about the world. Thus, we slave for the very systems that destroy the future. But you can't stop fighting. If there is to be justice we must create it. if anyone is going to survive, if there is to be a future, we must create hope, and never give up.
What did it take/what will it take?
Something like the internet, or artificial intelligence, could change the game and alter the economic or political landscape so fundamentally and irreversibly, that even 'human nature' becomes irrelevant. We may still win the future, and save the world. We must prepare and be ready if the opportunity presents itself. So be realistic about the realities, meanwhile, develop alternative systems of banking, food production, communication, education, and prepare for the coming crises.
Historically, power concedes nothing without demand. We must demand. The only way to fix the problems I'm struggling with is for all of us to cooperate and take action, hold each-other accountable, create something worthy . Unfortunately, that kind of project is usually motivated by a common enemy or problem in a moment of crisis. It will likely take a fundamental system crash, and it's likely coming soon. Unfortunately, we will all suffer, many lives will be cut short. We are living in interesting times.
The cataclysm should have been avoidable, but there is a inertia to the systems of power. We have already started a chain reaction in the environment that will likely destroy 50% of the Earth's species in the next few hundred years. Unless we can come up with some technological fixes; solutions to remove carbon and GHGs from the atmosphere and the seas, bio-technology to save the plant and animal life, mass education solutions to penetrate the darkness, new political technology to streamline direct-democracy with transparency and accountability; then this next millennium will be the human equivalent to the K-Pg event.
That, or I win the lottery.