Thursday, November 13, 2008

Obama can't save America. But maybe America can.

First: let me say this. I am not a complete cynic.

Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours" was a beautiful song to begin with. When I hear it now, it brings to my mind, instantly, the sight of thousands on their feet, tears running down their cheeks and proud, exhilarated smiles on their faces, Americans surrounding a young mixed-race man from a "broken home" who made this country deliver on the Dream. He rose to what may have seemed an insurmountable challenge, he spoke words that inspired Ordinary People to believe they could take on the powers that be. And They Can.
Si Se Puede.
He ran a strong campaign. He showed my generation what it feels like to be inspired by a speechmaker. We haven't had much of that. He respects knowledge, he thinks critically, he has courage and a sense of history. He understands that being a patriot runs deeper than flag pins.
But he can't save us; neither can hope.
"Hope keeps us chained to the system, the conglomerate of people and ideas and ideals that is causing the destruction of the Earth... When you give up on hope, you turn away from fear. And when you quit relying on hope, and instead begin to protect the people, things, and places you love, you become very dangerous indeed to those in power."
-Derrick Jensen

It has been a week since America voted Barack Obama in as the next President of our United States. We watched the results come in with friends last tuesday night, eating vegan "Americana" potluck [Black Bean Burgers, Fried "Chicken" (cauliflower), cornbread and tater tots and chipoltle aioli... recipes to follow later]. For months, Ryan has predicted Obama would win in a landslide, even when the pundits and the nervous progressives got caught up in the electioneering. I often thought he was right, but put little faith in my country's electoral system, which the past eight years (not to mention past three hundred) have revealed as something of a sham, blatantly rigged for the preservation of elite rule. A few weeks before the election, I watched an interview with Noam Chomsky. He agreed with George Will (something that I doubt happens too often) that American electoral politics is more about choosing which elite we want to rule us, than whether or not the elites shall rule.

If you live in a swing state, Chomsky said, vote Obama, but without illusions.

Even though pollsters claimed Washington wasn't considered a swing state, pollsters were also suggesting conservative sleazebag Dino Rossi might actually triumph in the gubernatorial race. Staring at my absentee ballot, I thought about fear, idealism, and the American way. Who do I really want running my country right now? Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente. Some might say my vote for Obama was a vote cast in fear. I believe it was a vote cast without illusions.

I shed a few tears as Obama gave his acceptance speech. I was relieved, and moved.
I honor the significance of the United State of America choosing a former community organizer, a young man, a dark-skinned man, to lead us. I believe he's a man of integrity and vision. And, while I respect Derrick Jensen's take on hope, I haven't given up on that sticky emotion yet. I am hopeful.
But I woke up the morning after the election feeling hollow, and weirdly, not proud. It made me uncomfortable, and I have been trying to sort out this feeling ever since. The election of Barack Obama is a milestone, yes. But it is only one kind of Change. And it is late in coming. And just because it has come does not absolve us for our collective sin. My America has shed the blood of hundreds of thousands since I turned 21. My America has spit on habeus corpus, tortured, lied, profited, desecrated holy books, cast our own people into the streets, starving and bereft of basic health care. My America has made its daughters in South Dakota criminals for demanding the right to control their own bodies. My America has deported legal citizens without so much as a by your leave. There is so much we must make right---and so many things we can never atone for.

The change we think we've created by electing Barack Obama is the kind of change this country should have demanded in November of 2000, when it was clear that George W. Bush had not actually won the presidency legitimately. It is the kind of change we should have demanded in November of 2001, when it was clear that George W. Bush's administration was bent on exploiting the September 11 carnage to precipitate war-for-profit. It is the kind of change we should have demanded in November of 2002. And 2003.

And then we "re-elected" him.

it took us SEVEN years to rescind the Bush doctrine?
I woke up the day after the election feeling embarrassed.

I love my country. I love its stories, I love its landscapes, I love some of its ideals, I love so many of its people. We have potential! But we also have genocide, slavery, internment, the dubious legacy of being the only nation to use the atomic bomb against another country. We shut out Jews trying to flee the repression that would become the Holocaust. We have Vietnam, Iran-Contra, inaction during the Rwandan genocide. But that's the past, people say. Get over it. We freed the slaves, didn't we?
The past isn't just some mythic territory, some two-dimensional timeline people'd by the Who's who. Its the sum total of who we have become. America's promise is just that: a promise. We have to hold ourselves accountable. We were never "the Greatest Country on Earth," and electing Obama won't restore us to that mythical condition. The only way forward, the only sustainable way, now, is True Change. Which means something different to everyone. Won't be easy, but it won't happen if all we do is complain and talk about H-O-P-E.

A few nights ago, Ryan and I walked with Assata through our quiet neighborhood. The air was warm with the promise of rain, and the lights across the Salish Sea [Puget Sound] reflected on still water. We passed a dozen Obama signs still displayed in the dark yards, plastered with wet maple leaves. I wondered what the owners of those signs thought about leaving them out. Are they victory decorations now? Seattle Lawn Hope Art? A few days ago, one of the Seattle papers noted that flag sales were skyrocketing, that people who'd never before displayed the stars and stripes were doing so now. It makes me uncomfortable. Those colors still fly over Guantanamo Bay. Just because Obama promised us change doesn't mean we get it.
A few months ago, Naomi Klein noted: "The campaign's most radical demand is the idea of electing Obama himself. It is Obama--and not his plans for the presidency--that is the ultimate expression of the "movement." If the process ends there, the Obama campaign will become more like the "lifestyle" brands-- the Nikes and Starbucks that captured the transcendent quality of past liberation movements, and our desire for meaning in our lives, to build their own brands."

What happens in six months when no one has universal healthcare? When American soldiers and Iraqi children are still dying in the streets of Baghdad? When another million Americans are out of work and the polar ice cap has shrivelled that much further into itself? Will we retreat again into our cynicism and our televisions and our despair?

I voted for Obama without illusions. On his own, he will be able to change very little---except, hopefully, our standing in the eyes of other peoples around the world.

But the change? That won't come from him.
We are the ones we have been waiting for.

If the American people stand up and Demand the kind of Change they have been claiming they want, Demand it instead of waiting for Obama to deliver it to them, Demand it,
Create it themselves,
we might just have a chance.

The time for a Great Mass Movement is Only Just Begun.

I am a student of American History.
Which means I am cynical.
And hopeful.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

ReThinking Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a constructed holiday.

Just like the rest of them... Christmas, Easter, Patriot Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Like the sediment that piles up underwater against a dam that is holding back a river, holidays are accretions of stories and rituals that pile up over the years. We celebrate holidays in particular ways because we have learned these stories and rituals, and we find comfort in their repetition. We look forward to them, we plan and prepare for them, we enact them and recall them with nostalgia. If we're willing to consider these stories thoughtfully, they can tell us a lot about who we are as Americans, and what it is we are truly celebrating.

Problem is, America's never been big on questioning her own stories.

When I was ten years old, I portrayed Queen Isabella in a 5th grade play that endeavored to offer some Thanksgiving backstory. Wearing one of my mother's fancy dresses, I tossed a handful of costume jewelry at another fifth grader dressed as Christoper Columbus. "Take my jewels, Christopher Columbus," I haughtily declared, "and find a New World." Not surprisingly, the play failed to illuminate how he did so, by accident, and heartily set out enslaving, killing off, and infecting with STDS and other infectious diseases all the kindly natives he found there.

Fast-forward a few years. Good, honest Puritan folk travel to Columbus's New World, seeking to start anew in the Americas, a blank slate for enacting values of freedom, liberty, and private ownership, and fleeing the occasional criminal record back home. They did so emboldened by the imperial doctrine of terra nullius, a 16th century philosophy that dictated that any land occupied only by savages (ie, those who failed to cultivate it) was the property of the European nation who claimed it (or, the European nation that won control of it by force). The Puritan Pilgrims weren't much prepared, tho, and some kindly Indian folk, headed by the genteel Squanto, came to the rescue with platters of corn on the cob and a giant roasted turkey.

Its a nice story.

Except, in actuality, it wasn't a nice story. While some indigenous peoples certainly extended their goodwill and local knowledge to the struggling settlers, they and their descendants would soon find that any generosity to the European arrivals was sorely misplaced, as it was rewarded almost universally by violence, new diseases, displacement, and the rapid destruction of the natural resources indigenous communities relied upon for their survival.

In later years, once native populations had been sufficiently decimated to offer no threat to the new United States, we demonstrated that our goodwill could often be as destructive as our outright hostility. In an effort to "teach the savages" about that most hallowed of American traditions, Private Property, we carved up the reservations we'd just confined them to in treaties, gave them tiny parcels, and sold off the remaining land to railroad companies and white settlers. We kidnapped generations of indigenous children from their parents and forced them to abandon their languages, traditions, and cultural identities in pursuit of assimilation. We caricatured indigenous women as squaws or sex objects, and indigenous men as noble savages, alcoholic bums, or cartoon sports mascots.

We gave one generation livestock to teach them about the agrarian lifestyle, then returned a few generations later to slaughter that livestock, chastising its owners for decimating the rangeland. We used alcohol as a weapon against them, then criticized them for not controlling their consumption. Liberals excoriate Native communities that permit logging or mining on their lands, accusing them of being "bad Indians"--- but fail to consider the crushing effects of generational poverty. Colonialism is alive and well in the U. S. of A., and brutal as ever: a mindset as much as a policy.

For many native peoples, "Thanksgiving" is observed as a National Day of Mourning, a tradition begun in 1970 when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts invited a Wampanoag leader, Frank James, to speak at a Thanksgiving event at Plymouth Rock---then uninvited him, when they learned he planned to address the oppression of American Indians.

(Indigenous activist Russell Means)

It makes sense that in the 21st century, we'd all prefer to gloss over that reality and celebrate a feel-good holiday where Indians and Pilgrims sit side by side and share things like turkey and cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pipe.

Except there wasn't actually pie---
the Pilgrims didn't have enough butter or flour to make the crusts.

The "First Thanksgiving" wasn't conceived of as a new American holiday at the time---it was a celebration of a good harvest, heading into the winter--- a ritual that's been practiced by cultures that procure their own food for millenium, in every part of the world. Oddly enough, the average American family sitting down to re-enact that harvest feast has no concept of gratitude for good harvests going into winter because we are completely divorced from the production of our food. We can buy what we want to eat year-round, without having to consider the fossil fuels, suffering, genetic engineering, soil depletion, and sketchy food preservation processes that made that January tomato or cheap turkey breast possible.

Thanksgiving offers us a rich opportunity to practice gratitude in the tradition of the harvest feast. Sitting down with family and friends and sharing a meal, lovingly and intentionally prepared, is an exquisite ritual with which to express that gratitude.

First, we have to divest the ritual of the weighted Thanksgiving mythology.

Second: lets reevaluate the traditional fare. Those meat-eaters who've tasted wild or heirloom breeds of turkey express astonishment at how bland the average thanksgiving turkey tastes. I'll admit it--- I'm one of those half-assed vegetarians who's happily made exception for thanksgiving turkey in the past. Don't plan to this year, but I won't judge anyone who does choose to partake. If you are going to serve up the bird, though, please consider a few facts about the industrialized production of turkey meat in this country. In the interest of true Thanksgiving.

Farm Sanctuary reports:

Modern turkeys have been genetically manipulated to grow twice as fast, and twice as large, as their ancestors. Comparing a turkey poult’s growth rate with that of a human baby, Lancaster Farming, an agriculture newspaper, reported: “If a seven pound [human] baby grew at the same rate that today’s turkey grows, when the baby reaches 18 weeks of age, it would weigh 1,500 pounds.” The strain of growing so quickly makes young turkeys susceptible to cardiovascular disease and can lead to fatal heart attacks. Although this rapid growth poses a serious threat to the animals’ health and welfare, the turkey industry continues to push birds beyond their biological limits.. This continual increase in growth causes commercially-bred turkeys to suffer from crippling foot and leg problems too. According the agribusiness newspaper Feedstuffs , “...turkeys have been bred to grow faster and heavier but their skeletons haven't kept pace..." Catering to consumer tastes at the expense of animals, producers also raise turkeys with abnormally large breasts which prevent them from mounting and reproducing naturally.... Completely unlike their wild ancestors not only in terms of physique but also in hue, commercial turkeys are white, the natural bronze color bred out of them so their bodies are pigment-free and more palatable to consumers....At the slaughterhouse, fully conscious turkeys are hung by their feet from metal shackles on a moving rail. The first station on most poultry slaughterhouse assembly lines is the stunning tank, where the turkeys' heads are submerged in an electrified bath of water. Stunning procedures are not monitored, and are often inadequate, leaving the fully conscious birds to continue along the slaughterhouse assembly line. Some slaughterhouses do not even attempt to render these birds unconscious, as turkeys and other poultry are specifically excluded from the Humane Slaughter Act, which requires that animals be stunned prior to slaughter. After passing through the stunning tank, the turkeys' throats are slashed, usually by a mechanical blade, and blood begins rushing out of their bodies. Inevitably, the blade misses some turkeys, who then proceed to the next station on the assembly line:, the scalding tank. Here, they are submerged in boiling hot water, and turkeys missed by the killing blade are boiled alive – a brutal end to an equally miserable existence on factory farms.

If the traditional Thanksgiving story is the gravy covering up the violence of American colonialism, then the turkey is... the turkey.

Its easy to create a decadent, cruelty-free, delicious meal to share with your loved ones. In doing so, you'll be investing the celebration with potent and sustainable values. Lip-smackin' good food, rich with conscience, humanity, and ecological integrity, does everyone good, and much less harm than the traditional spread.

Even if you only replace one traditional component of your Thanksgiving feast with a sustainable, vegetarian or vegan alternative, you're taking a big step.

There's lots of ways to do this. To that end, every few days I will spotlight a tried and true vegan holiday recipe favorite from now until Thanksgiving day. In most cases, you can make your traditional favorites---mashed potatoes, stuffing---with only minor modifications, and I can guarantee you, no one will know the difference. Vegan desserts? Scrumptious, and simple, and again---hard to tell the difference! I'll dish out vegan gravy recipes, and a great way to do that green bean casserole. And, you're feeling like taking the leap: Tofurkey is nothing to fear, Its delicious, and simple to prepare.
Check out Farm Sanctuary's Adopt a Turkey program:

Celebration FOR the Turkeys

Stay tuned for recipes!


I never thought I'd be one of those people who told a dog to go "get Daddy" or "say hi to Grandma and Grandpa."

It took about 3 minutes. We found her on a family farm in northern Oklahoma, precisely ten miles south of Kansas and five miles down a dirt road. The locusts were humming like power lines, and there was standing water in the fields from summer flash flooding. She was one of two Bernese Mountain Dog puppies left from a litter. They chased each other through the tall grass and quickly disappeared, only to be located under the barbeque, eagerly licking out the greasetrap. I despaired of ever choosing between them. Ryan didn't hesitate. "Look at her eyes," he said. "That's our girl."

(Assata and Ryan, ten miles south of Kansas)

We named her for Assata Shakur, a Black Panther and Civil Rights activist who was wrongfully accused of several crimes in the 1970s, and who escaped to Cuba, where she was granted political asylum. (Assata: The Autobiography of Assata Shakur). Not sure what Ms. Shakur would think about having a dog named after her, but its given us plenty of opportunities to tell folks about a woman of extraordinary eloquence and dedication to the American people. Once we've corrected them. "No. not like Carne Asada. Assata, like the Black Panther."

(post swim in the Sierra Nevadas, on the road trip home, July 2007)

The name means "She who struggles." Our girl doesn't, much.

(Washington state ferry headed into Seattle)

Mostly, we call her The Bean. It morphed out of Assata, honeybee. Which became Assata B, and then, somehow, Bean.
Yes, I am that dog-mom.
And Ryan is that dog-father.

(At Ghost Ranch, one of Georgia O'Keefe's favorite places in northern New Mexico)

And, while they may never have thought of themselves as those kind of people either,
our friends and family are those dog-aunts, and dog-uncles, and dog-grandparents.

The Bean is mighty hard to resist.(in west seattle)

(rallying for elephant rights at the Woodland Park Zoo)