Several things to blog about, briefly, from today;
First, a famous stunt climber climbed the New York Times building in New York with a banner that said
Here's a totally awesome, bitterly furious rant by Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, a personal commentary on Bush's most recent ludicrous bullshit - our idiot commander-in-chief announcing that he gave up golf in honor of our Iraq casualties. This is the angriest intelligent anti-administration thing I've seen on mainstream TV for quite a while, if not ever. Bravo, Olbermann! You rock!!
I was surprised to discover this morning that Thomas Frank is today kicking off his new weekly Wednesday opinion column in the Wall Street Journal. The editors had this to say about his addition to their team: "Mr. Frank can help our readers understand what's on the mind of the American left as it bids to regain control of the federal government."
Hmm. I'm not sure what to think. Mr. Frank will be familiar to some of you as the once editor of the excellent cultural criticism journal called The Baffler, a periodical of irregular publishing cycle that nevertheless regularly skewered the right wing, capitalists, the rich and the powerful, taking up where the Frankfurt School left off to craft their own particular snarky brand of speaking truth to power.
Frank went on to write The Conquest of Cool, an excellent explication of how the advertising industry changed and was changed by the counterculture of the 60s. A couple books later he wrote the best-selling What's the Matter with Kansas?, an anti-heartland screed against the blue states, or against what makes blue states blue. that went over very well in red states, to which I've just recently read a really interesting and intelligent rebuttal to, a book called "Superior, Nebraska" (named after my stepfather's hometown).
Anyway.... I dunno. What's Frank thinking? Why is he helping the business class understand the Left? So far the column seems more suited for Mother Jones than the WSJ, and seems to be mostly an ad for his new book. Maybe that's his main motivation.
Last weekend I was in Birmingham, Alabama for one of the twice-yearly meetings of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee. I was there to film for the documentary on war tax resistance, and also to give people in the committee a status report of how the film is coming along and show them some footage. It went well, and it was nice to spend a few days in a really green and humid place, very different from Tucson.
David Gross was there too and has a pretty complete summary of the weekend on his blog. One thing he leaves out is a direct link to the local Fox News story covering the press conference the group had. In the clip they aired you'll see a split-second shot of me behind my video camera, filming the event for the doc.
I'm kind of baffled that the Fox cameraman would even shoot footage of me, much less that the editor would include it in the final piece. Why is it relevant to the story that someone else was there taping? He didn't shoot footage of the reporter from the Birmingham newspaper who was also there. Weird.
Well, at least the story itself was fairly neutral on the subject and didn't paint the group as some kind of unpatriotic wackos. Perhaps 2 years ago that's the angle that a Fox station would have taken, but opinion has turned so far against that war that maybe even they are moderating their gung-ho pro-Bush stance.
I've been reading an amazing new book called "The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex." It's a pretty eye-opening and provocative read, and would probably be for almost any activist, to varying degrees depending on how involved with or how much you've thought about being involved with social change institutions (for some definition of "institution").
The subject is really important to think about. The book is an anthology of different writings by different people, and some of them are from the academy and speak academese, but here is a great summary quote from one particularly clear and to-the-point and down-to-earth piece, by Madonna Thunderhawk, called "Native Organizing Before the Non-Profit Industrial Complex":
When we first heard about non-profits in the late 1970s and early 80s, it seemed like a good thing. We did not necessarily see what might happen if we started pursuing our work through non-profits; instead non-profits seemed to be just another way to raise money. But over the years, it has changed the scope of activism so that non-profits are just part of the system. The focus turned to raising money to keep the organization going, while the actual work of activism became secondary and watered down. And when the money disappeared, the work did too. Before, we focused on how to organize to make change, but now most people will only work within funding parameters. People work for a salary rather than because they are passionate about an issue.
The fundamental question that just reading the title of the book brings up for me is: What is "revolution," and how many people really want it, even those who call themselves "activists"?" Even "radicals"? In other words how many really even want fundamental systemic change? (Because if you don't, maybe it's not a big deal to you that the non-profit world is so fucked up as described by this book. As long as you, if you work in the non-profit world, have a job and you come out with a new membership drive every year, so what, right?)
How many instead are just working for some superficial, minor change? If, say, their city painted bike lanes on every street and reduced speed limits to 15 everywhere and banned cars on weekends, but everything else stayed the same about the world, or even a more extreme (maybe?) example, if we sent home all the troops from Iraq tomorrow but everything else stayed the same - how many would go home and be happy and stop "being active"?
I wish it were easy to bring this up and talk about it with everyone. How many even think about this? What is "revolution" to you, exactly? Do you want it? If not, what is it exactly that you want? How much change is enough? Would you give up your nonprofit activist job, in exchange for the issue you ostensibly work on just going away and being solved? Really? Would you give up your non-activist, just-to-make money job? Your car/tv/computer/nightlife/ice cream/refrigerator? Anything? What if you didn't even HAVE to give up anything, for your issue to disappear immediately, right now. Would you push that button? Really? Then what would you do? What IS this "other world" you keep saying is possible?
I wish I could have a conference where every activist I've ever met, or lets even say every thoughtful person I know who's ever voiced a complaint about any social ill, gets up and answers all these questions, truthfully. Or at least tries - cuz it's not like I have all those questions answered for myself, either, but I want to talk about it.
A few things have come to my attention lately concerning... well, concerning "doing the right thing" as just an individual. In other words, what do us normal everypeople do about our part in the wrongs of the world?
A very interesting philosophy professor from Auburn U, Roderick Long, has written a very well-thought essay about this (sadly only in Microsoft Word format, I'm not sure why it's not just HTML). In it he writes about collective responsibility and whether one citizen, consumer, or whatnot is obligated to do something, anything, about big problems like global warming or war. I urge you to read your way through the whole carefully crafted argument, but he ends up with the conclusion that we don't all have to do everything, but it is all of our moral duty to do something about some things, and it's up to each of us to decided which things you will work on. In other words, you may disagree with me and choose to continue paying for war, and/or you may choose to continue driving a Hummer H2, but you have an obligation to be doing something about some collective ills that you're a part of. He also concludes that it is moral and right for governments to compel their citizens to do their part to right collective wrongs.
Just a few days after reading that my attention was drawn to a piece in the New York Times magazine along similar lines but with more specific conclusion by the well-known cooking and agriculture writer Michael Pollan entitled "Why Bother?", something that I understand was going around the blogosphere and forwarding circuit a lot yesterday, so maybe you've seen it already. If not, you should read it. A key side-point that he makes is, when did the idea of "virtue" become something to ridicule and look down on in our culture?
Also in the grey lady was a teaser for a little video conversation about morality and citizen responsibility, the complete version of which is at an interesting little site called Bloggingheads, in which experts and pundits face off against each other and we get to watch it in split-screen.
It's too early to say but could this be a new mini-fad? Maybe this is wishful thinking but what if, somehow, doing your own little part to save the world became some kind of fashionable? What am I thinking... I fear that only if there's a way to frame it in terms of self-interest and greed will selflessness and altruism ever become that "cool"...
In the wake of Tax Day, I just want to mention and give kudos to David Gross's excellent blog The Picket Line, which focuses on war tax resistance and related issues. We visited David and talked with him in our documentary about WTR, btw. His blog is extremely thorough and almost every day has numerous links to a variety of relevant news bits and items of interest, as well his own personal musings and reasoning. He mentioned yesterday a few actions that took place around the country on Tax Day and it made me a bit sad that we don't have in Tucson an active group of WTRs that organizes any symbolic protests on April 15, despite the fact that I know a small handful of people here who are WTRs and more could probably be gathered, as well as sympathetic folks who haven't taken the plunge but would show up to a post office demo or something. A local group is also great support and an information source for people engaged in this sort of struggle or thinking of starting.
Of course this is a futile and symbolic gesture, but this is the letter I just mailed with my tax return:
April 14, 2008
Internal Revenue Service
cc: Congressman Raul Grijalva; Senator John McCain; Senator Jon Kyl; Senator Barrack Obama; Senator Hillary Clinton; (P)resident George W. Bush; Alan Gamble, Executive Director, Peace Tax Foundation
Dear Sir or Madam,
As calculated on the enclosed 1040 form, I am liable from tax year 2007 for 1,923 dollars in federal income taxes. This is quite a bit of money. In fact, it would be enough to pay for almost half a second of the wars that the U.S. is waging in various parts of the world. Yes, that's right, our country is spending about $4000, every second, to violently destroy other countries and murder the people in them. In fact, Joseph Stieglitz, former head of the World Bank, has calculated that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will, in the end, cost about 3 trillion dollars.
I cannot with good conscience be a part of this. Starting about 6 years ago, I realized this moral imperative that I had, and since then I can say that my tax money has not willingly gone toward this carnage or any other miliary ventures, and I'm proud to say that this is true once again for me this year. Sadly, 382 dollars of my taxes were already unwillingly seized from me last year via W-2 witholding. I can't do anything about that, and it fills me with despair that about 50% of those dollars (according to the War Resisters League federal budget calculations) are now paying for people to be killed. If I am to believe Ben Metcalf's excellent article, "Why I Pay My Taxes" in the April 2008 issue of Harper's magazine, a bullet for an M-16 machine gun costs about 30 cents. That means that I might have paid for about 600 bullets. I hope and pray that none of those bullets found their mark, and if they did, that they caused only a minor and temporary injury. Or perhaps my 191 military dollars only went to pay for 2% of a JDAM "smart bomb," (about $24,000, according to Metcalf) and that that particular bomb fell far from its intended target or any "collateral damage." I can only hope that the use of my taxes was a best-case scenario of some harmless waste such as these, but I fear far worse. I can only take comfort in knowing that I did not contribute even more to the carnage, and willingly never will; that the remaining $1541 that I owe will not go toward any further death, and that all the moneys I have withheld from this evil and unjust purpose in past years is also not paying for death.
Instead, these funds have been used by me to pay for peaceful and charitable causes in my community, both local, national, and global in scope. I do believe that a citizen of this country has the obligation to do his or her part, financially, to contribute to the common good. Hence, I do not just keep these withheld taxes for my own personal gain, but I donate them to socially beneficial purposes that the government should, in a just world, be taking care of.
I realize fully that this course I describe is not sanctioned by current law. I would gladly follow the law and pay my taxes if there were a way for me to also follow my conscience and do the right thing. One way this might happen is with the Peace Tax Fund legislation, which has been introduced to Congress repeatedly over the last few decades (currently H. R. 1921). I am encouraging my elected representatives in both the legislative and executive branches to work toward making this type of option available to the citizens of our nation so that they could decide to pay for good and peaceful works of the federal government without supporting killing. Until that time I will continue to refuse to fund war in the only way that I can.
In closing, I would like to note that there are more and more citizens (voters, consumers) who feel the same way as I do. More and more people are realizing that their government is committing horrible atrocities all over the world in their name and with their money. Furthermore, more and more of these people have had enough, and are deciding to do something about it by refusing to pay for this insane horror, for the violence that the U.S. government is committing on the rest of the world. You, whatever bureaucrat or policymaker who is reading this letter and the hundreds like it arriving in your in-boxes this year, you may be able to ignore it this year, or answer it with lip service and form letters, but someday this tide of resistance will be so great that there will be no way to ignore it without severe consequences. I urge you to do something: do the right thing, before that day of reckoning comes. Change not only the options for taxpayers, but change the homicidal, and indeed suicidal, course that this country is on, before it is too late.