Blog posts by Gilda Haas.
In Southern California’s quiet Bell Park, there’s a war going on. Old guard commissioners from the town’s water board are making a bid to privatize the cash-strapped small municipality’s water supply.
But the resident’s smell a rat. They organize a special election to run candidates who will keep their water affordable and under public control. Hometown organizer Melinda Cruz finds herself at odds with her brother, Jaime, who works for Double Six, a multi-million dollar designer water label lusting to capture the town’s historic acquifer.
Political corruption, double-dealing, loyalties and betrayals, even the mysterious death of a city hall lobbyist, all unfold as forces contend for the most precious of resources.
Big Water promises that once you finish the story, you won’t take water for granted again.
Big Water was written by crime novelist and Dr. Pop blogger, Gary Phillips, illustrated by Manoel Magalhães of Rio de Janeiro, with an introduction by Hugo and Nebula award winning author Kim Stanley Robinson an afterword by urban farming advocate, Cyndi Hubach, and a preface by myself.
Big Water is Dr. Pop’s first graphic novel. You can buy it on Dr. Pop’s own store, on Amazon, or by giving us a call and letting us know how you prefer to make transactions. However you do that, please come back and let us know what you think.
The story of water is a story of struggle. In the following videos, three exceptional women explain why and what it will take to win.
Vandana Shiva on Water Wars
Annie Leonard on The Story of Bottled Water
Maude Barlow on the Human Right to Water
This Dr. Pop DIT [Do-It-Together] shows you how to make a low-tech TV story scroll out of a cardboard box, some artwork, and some wrapping paper tubes and then provides a great example by Simone Andrews and Ingrid Cruz about the green economy and South Los Angeles.
Originally posted June 13, 2010.
We were sitting around the fire. We were complaining. A lot. And then we decided that there was no other enemy that stood between ourselves and change but ourselves. We were the only enemy. So we decided to stop waiting for things to change and to do something about our community. Together. And together we created the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation…
I have paraphrased these words from the moving opening invocation that Lakota spiritual leader, Jerome LeBeaux (Oglala-Sioux), offered to the fifty or so technical professionals who had traveled from around the country to participate in a two-day charrette on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Jerome’s prayer moved from English to Lakota, from spoken word to song, carrying us with the sound of his high, clear, powerful voice to a shared and sacred common purpose.
Each day our nerdy explorations into housing density, R-values, septic systems, energy calculations and the even more arcane acronyms and regulations of public funding sources were punctuated with Lakota prayer, a constant reminder of where we were and why we were there. When realized, the “Regenerative Community” planned by and for Oglala Lakota people, will model what it takes to bring housing, infrastructure, jobs and hope to the Pine Ridge Reservation where housing is scarce –– 10 to 15 people may share a 2 bedroom FEMA trailer –– jobs are few, and suicide and alcoholism rates are tragically high.
There is a lot of history in the place. The nearby site of Wounded Knee stands in memory of the 1890 massacre of many Sioux people. It echos the occupation by the American Indian Movement in 1973 to protest the conditions of reservation life 40 years ago. The surrounding Badlands and Black Hills were once Indian country. And now they are not.
I have been blessed with a creative life, something that is not intuitively associated with urban planners.
But blessed I am with creative challenges, opportunities for collaboration, and frequent occasions when these two favorites are combined.
Over some decades I have gained skills and tools and accomplices that have helped me become a more sophisticated and creative problem-solver and facilitator. But along with that sophistication has come a greater awareness that my typically noisy, busy, and productive mind could greatly benefit from extended periods of quiet, focused presence, and receptivity.
Over the past few years, I have developed a few regular practices that help me move towards a more balanced relationship with my mind, which I will share with you here.
I first became acquainted with The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron in a fiction writing workshop led by Francesca Lia Block (highly recommended). It was one of those secrets of the universe with which everyone in the workshop seemed familiar except for me. I read the book and particularly liked her notion of “morning pages” –– three pages worth of daily, long-hand, free-writing as a means of clearing the mind and tapping into a less cluttered subconscious.
But I didn’t DO it.
It wasn’t until I found Buster Benson‘s 750 words.com website that I was hooked. And “hooked” means that I have been writing 750 words or more [almost] every morning for the past 931 days, adding up to a cumulative total of 761,313 words. The reason that I possess these numbers is because the website counts them up for me, as one means of encouragement to maintain the writing habit, eloquently summarized in the site’s tagline: “private, unfiltered, spontaneous, daily.”
There are many other encouragements. Badges. 750 words offers silly badges as rewards for continuous streaks of daily writing. You start as an egg. If you write three days straight, you become a turkey. Five days straight, a penguin. Ten days, a flamingo. Thirty an albatross. One hundred, a phoenix. I am presently on day 146, my longest streak being 176 a couple of years ago. I missed a day, and as these things go, went back to being an egg. But by then, I was well beyond hooked.
One of my major works-in-progress over the past few years has been figuring how to move and transform the popular economics work that has been a central component of my organizing and teaching for the past 25 years onto and into online platforms and communities:
- To reach people who I’ve never met.
- To figure out what “place” means in these new spaces.
- To transcend the debilitating nature of conference calls for people like me who think in pictures;
and, because I am so disposed…
- For the sheer joy of what this offers to get my nerd on.
The Dr. Pop website is one such experiment –– especially our Do-It-Together cartoons and posts. So are the collegial and inventive monthly skype calls with my fellow bloggers in L.A., Chicago, and London; the Kickstarter campaign that is crowd-sourcing our first graphic novel, BIG WATER; and the Blocks and Lots zoning game [which is being adapted, as we speak, for another iteration of SAJE’s People’s Planning School].
Experiments all. Every one a collaboration, a prototype of sorts, always as much about learning as about teaching. Each presenting a challenge of figuring out how to balance and complement the digital with the inescapable benefits of face-to-face, in-person, encounters –– breaking bread, taking time and walks and talks together –– all the while realizing that our online communications are just as real and offer unique benefits as well.
At our last Dr. Pop retreat, we decided that we wanted to experiment with important content in a story-telling way, and decided to create a graphic novel to get into one of the biggest environmental equity problems in the world….
We were inspired by our neighbors and friends in the actual town of Maywood, CA, where water comes out of the tap the color of iced tea, and the contrast between their struggle for water rights and the surreal economy of designer water. Gary wrote a script, the team weighed in, and soon we were ready to rock and roll with our favorite cartoonist, Mani Manalhães, to draw up some fierce sequentials. The next steps was to plug in a great foreward, an afterward set of resources, and then publish the fabulous results.
We figured out that it would cost about $6,000 to pay Mani for his handiwork; for ISBN, copyright, and miscellaneous fees; and to publish a run of the graphic novel in hardback.
We (very) briefly considered dividing up the costs, but that would have caused us to forego other things — like food and rent and care of loved ones.
So we decided to take our project to the people. We had all supported our friends’ projects in the past by making a contribution towards their initiatives. We decided to crowdsource our project by launching a Kickstarter campaign. For those of you who are considering the same, here is a step-by-step account of what we did and what we have learned so far.
WHAT IS KICKSTARTER?
Kickstarter is one of several sites that are structured to help you reach out to others and ask them to support your creative project with a financial contribution –– a social network for small amounts of venture capital. Typical Kickstarter projects, like ours, seek to raise less than $10,000 (although there are a handful that have raised a million or more).
Here’s how it works:
All of us are eternally grateful to all of you who provided us with love and support for our first-ever graphic novel project, BIG WATER, which was also our first-ever Kickstarter Campaign.
The official Kickstarter backer count is 106, but in reality, with you online-payment-adverse-check-writers and the crazy-pool-our-resources-to-buy-a-$500-character “Patrick Scones” team, there were actually closer to 125!
Stay tuned for an update of this blog post on how we did our Kickstarter Campaign. We really appreciated the advice we got from Beverley Keefe and Kristen Schwartz, who were successful Kickstarter campaigners from days gone by, so we will pass forward what we learned on to you. Soon.
In 1990, I organized a grassroots coalition against redlining and for community reinvestment. It was led mostly by women of color and a few very exceptional men. That was my job. We were called Communities for Accountable Reinvestment.
We did direct actions against banks, forced the Federal Reserve to hold hearings in the community, we negotiated with bank presidents, and we even created our own people’s bank, called the South Central People’s Federal Credit Union. We were, as my now-deceased comrade Clyde Johnson used to say, a raggedy coalition of determined folks.
All this occurred in the wake of the Savings & Loan crisis when the policy solution was a humungous bailout that favored the banks and hurt the people. We used the facts of that narrative to teach people that the government, aka the people, subsidized the banking industry with low-cost loans, insured deposits, and yes, when things got tough, bailouts for the biggest. For those reasons, we asserted, banking should be considered a right.
This all made sense to our members who had never received their proper measure of fairness or investment from banks that the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 (CRA) promised, but never delivered. But communicating the painful consequences of financial discrimination to others –– to the press, to politicians, to people who didn’t suffer discrimination –– remained an uphill battle. “Banks are businesses,” they would say. And as our country veered neo-liberally towards deregulation, we were constantly reminded to leave business to the business people and banking to the bankers.
And then the riots happened.
Gene Sharp’s slim volume, From Dictatorship to Democracy, outlines why and how non-violent struggle is the warfare of the 21st century, and builds a template for thinking and acting strategically to remove dictators and build democracy.
The book has been a powerful influence within movements that have toppled dictatorships over the past two decades.
Sharp, is the founder and senior scholar of the Albert Einstein Institution. He wrote the book (which you can download for free above) in the 90s for the democracy movement in Burma. It was first published there with the help of the Committee for the Restoration of Democracy in Burma.
If you had any doubts about the fact that social change is largely about the battle of ideas, at that time, Burma’s military dictatorship did not. They renounced the book and people were condemned to seven-year prison sentences for simply having it in their possession.
The book was translated into Indonesian by Indonesians. It was translated into Serbian by Serbians and became a major touchstone for Otpor, the Serbian student movement organization that led the nonviolent revolution that brought down Milosovec.
That struggle and Otpor’s actions and strategies were studied by the Egyptian student movement. Online. On youtube. Then Otpor leaders came to Egypt to meet with them. And Egyptian student leaders went to Serbia to receive training in non-violent strategy and action from the Serbian students.
And in the process, the book was translated into Egyptian and became a resource for actions that are now known as Arab Spring.
A more much longer volume on non-violent struggle and strategy by Sharp is Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential, which briefly describes over 20 nonviolent struggles of the 20th century, including the Russian Revolution of 1905, Montgomery bus boycotts of the 1950s, School boycotts in South Africa in the 1980s, and the removal of Milosevic in Serbia at the end of the century.
Sharp methodically assesses these events as a foundation for his argument and methodology of strategic thinking, planning, and action to create a more deeply democratic world.
Related stories: Water Wars in the Movies
The following video consists of a 2011 online presentation by Miriam Torres of the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, which helps local groups build a statewide movement for water justice and Leonardo Vilchis of Union de Vecinos, whose members in the Southeast Los Angeles city of Maywood, recently gained control of their local water company.
The presentation took place on Sunday, July 17, 2011 in my Urban Eco-Systems Thinking class in Antioch University’s new Urban Sustainability M.A. program, and goes deeply into the issues that prevent so many people in California from access to affordable and clean drinking water.
For more about the struggle for clean water in the city of Maywood, check out this video by Urban Semillas.
Today is the premier of the movie The Help, which places African American domestic workers at the center of a major motion picture – a first for Hollywood. It’s not every day that the stories of those who usually remain invisible move to the center of the screen.
But there’s another story, told in the above 2-minute video by the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Fifty years after the stories told in the Hollywood film, a workforce of over 2.5 million domestic workers go to work every day to take care of the most precious elements of their employers’ lives – their homes and families. But today, domestic workers still remain an unprotected workforce, without access to basic rights that other workers take for granted. Mostly women of color, far too few domestic workers receive overtime pay, meal and rest breaks, sick leave or vacation. And far too many of them work for less than minimum wage. Too little has changed.
Support the National Domestic Workers Alliance campaign for respect, recognition, and labor standards for all domestic workers, and all of us win.
And for you movie lovers, here is the trailer for The Help.
This cartoon was created by Dr. Pop and the Campaign to Restore National Housing Rights (CRNHR), a national organizing effort led by grassroots groups from the across the country who are fighting for a human right to housing in the United States. We also got great critical feedback and help from public housing members of the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) and Union de Vecinos in Los Angeles and Community Voices Heard (CVH) and the Red Hook Initiative in New York City.
A Clear View of Public Housing is a story about public housing in the United States. It takes place on a sunny day when three women of different economic classes meet up at a city park along with their young children and then get into a conversation about public housing.
A Clear View of Public Housing was made to be used as a springboard to conversations and actions led by communities organizing in defense of human rights and, in particular, the human right to housing.
The story is available in three forms:
The above Video which you can share by email, post to your website, or download. A Spanish Version is also available.
An Interactive Slideshow version of the video, for use in workshop settings, as suggested below. [request]
A Comic Book for door-to-door outreach or to hand out after a workshop [request]
Tips for Facilitators
Here are three simple ways that the Campaign to Restore National Housing Rights has used the story in workshop settings.
Ask volunteers from your meeting or workshop to take on a character’s role and read their speech bubble aloud to the rest of the audience. We found the results to be engaging and funny.
2. Practice: “What Would You Say?”After watching the video or slideshow, break up into small groups or pairs to practice answering one or two questions that came up in the story, such as:
What would you say, if someone said this to you:
Housing is a business and the government should stay out of it. They should leave business to the business people.
Public housing over-concentrates poor people into neighborhoods, and that is not good for anybody.
Subsidized housing takes away people’s incentive to work hard. No one should get something for nothing.
The burden is often on public housing tenants and housing rights activists to re-educate legislators and the general public on the issues that we face. This often means that we must engage in conversations that are full of myths and prejudices. You can use A Clear View as a tool to practice our side of these conversations, share the results with each other, and build the confidence we need to confront hidden myths and prejudices.
3. Make Your Own Story!
Before we created A Clear View, we took some time to break down the story that we are being told about public housing. We found that that exercise gave us a window into the assumptions and vulnerabilities of that story, and helped us get better at building one that reflects our own reality. To do this, we used the Narrative Power Analysis tool which you can find in smartMeme‘s really helpful book: Re-imagining Change.
It’s a place where volume matters.
It matters to the street vendors –– the “llamada” vendors who offer cell phones for use by the minute –– and the hawkers who shout out to lure you into a shop.
It matters to native son artist Botero who insists that he doesn’t paint fat things –– that “fat” isn’t the medium of his iconic style –– but that his medium is, in fact, volume.
It matters to the young Hip Hop performers who use attitude to produce volume when microphones are not available.
Albert Einstein once said that “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
But at this moment, as we stare, overwhelmed, at the perfect storm of economic and environmental degradation, we are doing just that.
We all seem to agree that our economy is in a big mess and there is a lot of consensus that Wall Street is to blame. But when it comes down to doing something about it, we are pretty much resigned to moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic, confining even those futile, if expensive, actions to the passengers in first-class. We continue to feed the propagators, starve the victims, and kick people with good ideas to the curb (like Elizabeth Warren).
This is bad, but not as bad as the fact that we don’t agree that the global climate crisis even exists –– a state of affairs that is so maddening to Australian climate scientists that they were compelled to bust out a rap song (I’m a Climate Scientist) in their own defense.
What we really need now are tools that can help us re-discover and re-invent the purpose of the economy; to understand its necessary dependencies and responsibilities to the planet; and to debunk, once and for all, the myth that economics is a neutral math-based science.
Hisham El Rouby is the founder and CEO of Youth and Development Consultancy Institute (YDCI), which helps young Egyptians develop technical and leadership skills and provides them with volunteer and job opportunities. Hisham like myself, is also a Synergos Senior Fellow. A few weeks ago, at the Fellows’s annual meeting in New York, Hisham led a discussion about social networks and the Egyptian revolution.
What follows is a recording and transcript of that session, which includes the equally interesting questions and comments by other Fellows from South Africa, Brazil, Tanzania, Jordan, Nepal, Turkey and the U.S.
LISTEN to the Conversation
READ the Transcript:
Hisham: I’m going to talk about the importance of social networking and the technology.
It might feel like a contradiction, but this is what happened during the Egyptian revolution.
I’m sure you all know about how it started — and by the way I think it is the first revolution ever planned before, in public. Everybody knows about the date. The timing. The route. It wasn’t hidden. It was public. On Facebook and everything. “We will start on the 25th.” And we chose the 25th because the 25th of January is the day of the police. It’s the Police Day in Egypt. A vacation. And the anger was very high regarding the police.
But I will talk about January 28th. From January 25 to January 28th we were thousands of people, going out in the street and talking about freedom, dignity, and justice. Only dignity and justice.
January 28th in the morning, the government cut off all communications facilities. Cut mobile phone. Internet. All communication tools. And this is why most Egyptians went out of their homes and joined the revolution.
So not because they have communication, but when they stopped. When they didn’t have any communication — they cannot talk with people. If I am a father or a mother and I want to talk to my son. “How are you? Are you doing good?” I don’t have this tool now.
So most of the Egyptians decided to go out and join.
Gary, Celine and Gilda on the question of spontaneity vs preparation.
LISTEN to the Conversation
READ the Transcript:
Gary: This is long running, at least in political circles. This has been a long-running battle or struggle over spontaneity versus preparation insofar as in Britain you’ve had these massive rallies opposing the cuts and the fee increases. I want to use that as a jumping off point.
Wasn’t a lot of that spontaneous? And then it grew and grew? I’m asking you, Celine, more than anybody.
Celine: Of course there are certain events that were organized. Ror example, tomorrow we have what’s probably going to be one of the biggest marches this country has seen in generations. We’ve been preparing for months, but there’s definitely been….
Gilda: We’re having a big march tomorrow too…
Celine: Oh, really? What are you guys marching for? Or against?
Gary: It was one of those things that was planned by the County Federation of Labor for some time and it was going to initially be in support of teachers and unclassified workers. And then Wisconsin and then all this other stuff. And then it also grew to include — actually, I’m sorry –– it was going to be for the private sector union folks, but then it grew to include public sector workers. It is an example of something that because of recent events had to obviously change course and expand.
Celine: Right. The student movements have been very interesting because the police have a very specific preventative techniques here – what they call preventative techniques — to control the crowd.
Celine: Kettling is the main one, which is basically: the police encircle protesters when they think violence is going to ensue, and its a way, supposedly, to contain the violence before it happens.
But realistically, what that looks like most of the time is — at least in these protests — we’ve been systematically punished, I guess. Every time we would go out and march we would be encircled by cops and then held there for hours on end, in the freezing cold usually.
So there’s been a huge level of spontaneity that has occurred as a result of that because none of us wanted to get kettled. So the student protests have actually become these sort of really, really fun kind of guerilla protests where we start a march and we just take over the streets and we don’t really know where we’re going. The decisions are made on the spot and the cops don’t know what to do and they end up just basically being traffic control, because we block the streets and occupy shops on the way and then other people join us.
Whenever I despair about our diminishing public sector, I reflect on The Library as a sacrosanct bastion of democracy. But now, even that is prey to the privatization beast.
This, my friends, has got to stop. Check out privatizationbeast.org.
Also, check out David Morris’ article on the Public Library inspired by the “rebranding” of the Fort Worth library which removed the word “public” from the name.
Like I said, this has got to stop.
For most of us, this wasn’t just a study tour. It was a Quest. We were on our way to visit the Bali Hai of cooperation, a place where the logic of “capital hires workers” has been turned on its head. A place whe workers have been hiring capital for the past 55 years.
We were on our way to Mondragon.
Twenty-five years later, while other “advanced” economies in Europe and the U.S. spiral into a tail-spin, there has been a revived interest in learning from Mondragon’s network of 100,000 workers and 100 worker-owned cooperatives which, in turn, own the Caja Laboral –– a bank that finances their current and future economic endeavors.
Back then, we pull up to the Polytechnic, where it all started, hoping to receive secrets of the universe. The lady who was starting a cooperative micro=brewery asked the instructor leading our tour:
“What do you teach here?”
“Accounting”, he responds, simply
Dissatisfied with this response, one of the educators probes further:
Last year I read The City and the City a sci-fi detective story by China Mieville, which takes place in two cities that are in some places adjacent to each other, and in others, actually occupy the same physical space. To manage and maintain the distinct existence of the two cities, their inhabitants have adopted a deep cultural practice of “unseeing” — the ability and requirement to recognize, but not-see, things in the other city. Things that are actually there, but cannot be. The inevitable infractions of this law are called a “breach,” which is the highest crime imaginable by either city. These crimes against the unseeable are managed by their own transborder police force, called the Breach.
It’s a great read, which I highly recommend for lovers of great fiction. But I bring it up here because of how well this idea parallels one of the most poorly understood resistance movements of recent U.S. history — the resistance by unions, employers, and elected officials to the actual enforcement of affirmative action, specifically and particularly in the building trades which, when accessible, provide some of the best-paying jobs to working class Americans. Forty years later, organized labor and employers still “unsee” the value of black workers in a manner that might even challenge the imagination of Mr. Mieville.
This history is reframed and ably presented in a recently published anthology edited by academics David Goldberg and Trevor Griffey called Black Power at Work: Community Control, Affirmative Action, and the Construction Industry. Each chapter offers detailed descriptions of events between 1963 and 1973 when redevelopment projects and affirmative action programs collided with complicated movements by black communities to control the development of their neighborhoods and gain the right to work. The leaders and citizens of these cities-in-the-cities were all African American.
The stories in Black Power at Work include inspiring accounts of the bold innovations that these movements produced to transform the distribution of opportunity between the races in the United States in a meaningful way. Those elevated moments are, however, tempered by the despair of possibilities that are to this day unfulfilled. It is this history, reframed and reproduced that explains the importance and common sense of the current initiative to create a Black Workers Center in Los Angeles. (an important a story, deserving its own piece, coming soon).
Black Power at Work is framed around some big themes that are elaborated in detailed case studies of key events in Brooklyn, Newark, the Bay Area, Detroit, Seattle, and Chicago, including: Read More…
Dr. Pop’s We’re-All-Ears Survey winner is:
who will soon receive a tiny, shiny, red ipod nano engraved with a special missive from Dr. Pop.
Anne’s question, summarized: Gentrification: What is reality and what is myth? Do we HAVE TO have it to grow and survive? How do global markets affect my city? When (and if) capitalism is crumbling and government collapsing?
Anne’s response to winning: Thrilled that an artist can win a contest about economics!
About Anne: Anne Bray is an artist, teacher, and the founding Director of Freewaves, a media arts organization and video showcase in Los Angeles. Anne now wants to start a neighborhood TV network on L.A.’s city buses.
We’re using Anne, Bob, and Steve’s questions as inspiration to plan for 2011. And don’t worry, we’ll give credit where credit is due on future work to remind you where our great ideas came from.
If you still want to send us your questions (or answers!) we would simply LOVE that.
Bob Hamilton of Glasgow edits the City Strolls website (AND he took me on a fabulous walking tour of Glasgow just last month!) asks about The Common Good….which means something specific in Scotland that resonates with all of us here, namely, let’s keep public assets public.
Steve Schnapp of Boston is the Education Coordinator for United for a Fair Economy, a smart organization and website all about what it will take to reduce inequality and make our economy more fair. Steve’s question was about how to simply explain the crisis of capital accumulation.
Both Bob and Steve received the rare (only 2 left!) and useful pill-shaped Dr. Pop flash drive.
Our favorite cuddly intellectuals do a damn fine job of taking on the Fed. And more…
On Sunday, October 24, all of the Dr. Pop core blogger crew (except for Ryan, who is celebrating his post-nuptials) assembled at Hanbury Hall in London for a panel at the This Is Not a Gateway festival.
MC Gary introduced us all and then Andrea presented 100 years of L.A. corporatization and push-back — in only 10 minutes.
I presented two of my favorite inspirations for urban transformation – namely the social engagement efforts of Antanas Mockus‘ 1990s mayoral administration in Bogota and Mel Chin’s current Fundred Dollar Bill Project.
And then Celine facilitated a brainstorm of London’s most vexing problems so that our participants could play with the material for a little while — not long enough — but to get a taste of what it means to open up urban discussions by injecting collective creativity into the process.
As though it were planned (and perhaps it was) all of us stayed on as audience- participants in the next workshop, which was a perfect case-in-point of artists who live in public housing and other public housing resident leaders combining their commitment, caring, and acumen to demand respect and housing as a human right.
Last week, I visited the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo Los Angeles. Two tiny elderly women were standing next to a reconstructed portion of barracks from the Heart Mountain, Wyoming concentration camp (official name: Heart Mountain Relocation Center), one of 10 used to intern 110,000 Japanese-Americans citizens and Japanese immigrants in the United States during World War II. The women were pointing and describing remembered features of the barracks’ construction.
See the spaces between the wood?
They used green wood that expanded and contracted with the weather…
That’s why the tar paper was so important…
I asked the women if they had lived in Heart Mountain. “No,” one replied. “Manzanar”, the other explained. Manzanar. Remotely located 230 miles northeast of Los Angeles and infamous for its harsh desert temperatures and wind storms that cover everything and everybody with dust.
I asked more questions about what they did there, what it was like. They told me. And then one of them said quietly, “You know, of course, this could happen again.” Wanting to share, I told her about my visit, about 20 years ago, to the Dachau concentration camp, now preserved as a museum. I am Jewish, and on train to my destination, I prepared myself to receive some kind of Jewish epiphany, revelation, or at least, experience.
But that is not what happened as I moved through the exhibits. The words that appeared in my head and my heart were “This could happen again,” followed by an “aha” moment, a reverie:
This is what the Salvadorans and Guatamalens in L.A. mean when they say that friends and family were “disappeared.” This why the “conflict” in the Middle East continues and continues and continues. This was the alternative story ending to apartheid. This horror is a human thing. It has no particular color or race or time.
But humans are capable of transcendence. We also contain luminous possibilities for good, beauty, and caring for each other. This tendency is the bedrock of all social justice activists and the movements that we embrace, hoping to advance history in the direction of the light.
After I told my new Japanese-American acquaintances my Dachau story, one of them nodded and smiled. “Since you brought up Dachau”, she said, “I’ll tell you another story.” She told me that the first American soldiers to liberate the prisoners from the concentration camp were G.I.’s of the segregated, Japanese-American 522nd Field Artillery Battalion. “They weren’t supposed to be there. They didn’t have orders to do what they did. But so many of them had family at home in camps like Manzanar. They had to do something.”
When Rebecca “Commie Girl” Schoenkopf saw the blurb for the Dr. Pop July event in Chicago where we showed the documentary Bogotá Change, she immediately facebooked me with a request for an L.A. event.
“Sure,” I said. ”If you help.”
And she did. Great commie girls think alike.
She and her partner Paul had just seen the film, and once Rebecca got her jaw off her lap, she evangelized about it on the Fourstory website, (where she and comrade-husband- Gary-Phillips blog together) with a particular focus on recent Colombian Green Party presidential candidate and former Bogoá mayor, Antanas Mockus. Rebecca only refers to the man as MOCKUS! – all caps, exclamation point, all the time.
So….yesterday afternoon Rebecca, Gary and I were joined by an eclectic group of interesting smart people (many of whom I met for the first time) who gathered to see the film at Busby’s East in my neighborhood (formerly the Conga Room, and before that, the Jack LaLanne fitness club) which proved to be a surprisingly great venue for our purposes.
We had some snacks (Busby’s makes a mean guacamole), I did a little intro on our “fun theory” and showed the Piano Stairs video to the uninitiated. Then we watched the documentary, followed by a really thoughtful discussion. Here’s a little taste of that.
Some people had been to Bogotá recently and were impressed by the character of the city. They told us a bit about their experience, and how they appreciated learning the story behind the story. Aaron was one of those, and he did a shoutout for CiccLAvia’s 10/10/10 debut, an L.A. prototype inspired by Bogotá’s bike and pedestrian-only rule for miles and miles of streets on Sundays. Lynda, who spent time in Bogotá in the 80s, before the period covered by the film (1990s), suggested that the city was so difficult and beaten down at that time, that middle class and poor people alike were ready and hungry and aligned for change. Earl got us talking about the distinction between a “thinker” mayor and a “doer” mayor brought up by characters in the film. Ginny expressed her conflicted response to an exciting vision of possibilities for change that was nevertheless packaged in what she found to be an unacceptable top-down process.
It is always such a pleasure to meet some of you in person. We enjoy it so much, and learn even more. A big thank you to those who came out.
Stay tuned for information about our next Dr. Pop event (this time in London) –– a Dr. Pop panel at This Is Not A Gateway ‘s third annual festival sometime between October 22-24.
Great librarians, pushing comics, graphic novels, and more.
I eased into Comicon’s hugeness with a panel on Comics in the Library, and just as I was feeling a little self-consciousness about my safe and school-marmish choice, I was rewarded by the sight of library-comic-lady Francisca Goldsmith’s turquoise hair.
It was a great panel, particularly for Dr. Pop people who think comics have a lot to offer the world of “complicated things, simply explained.”
The turquoise-haired Francisca Goldsmith, self-described as “pushing comics in libraries since the 80′s.”
Tuan Nguyen (Texas Maverick Graphic Novel List), library guy who is yet undefeated in Death Match.
Jill Patterson, Orange County Public Libraries (who can also tap dance.)
Joann Jonas, San Diego County Libary, a Comicon first-timer, who got a round of applause for that.
Merideth Jenson-Benjamin, Phoenix, Arizona teen librarian and a very funny person.
The discussion was largely by and for librarians, how and why to get comics and graphic novels on the shelves, how to promote them, how to overcome staff and parent resistance, how comics are such a great bridge for visual learners, and other such stuff.
Meredith explained that she was a big proponent of the “gateway drug” strategy — using comics that have some higher level of acceptance to get the library and its patrons hooked. Her examples include Book Hunter, a graphic novel mystery that takes place in a library; Jeff Smith’s Bone; the fantasy Unwritten; and Fables, whose characters are derived from fairy tales and folklore.
Along with the intelligence and passion the panel had for their subject, my favorite part was their personal favorites and recommendations, which along with some of the above lists will keep me busy and spending at Meltdown for a while (or maybe, I hope, at the library!?).
Maus, Art Spiegelman’s account of his Holocaust survivor father’s life
Persepolis, about a young girl’s coming of age during the Iranian Revolution.
And next, a range of favorites from the really great panel:
Dr. Pop was one of the lucky many, many thousands who attended Comic Con in San Diego, the mother of all comic book conventions, now celebrated and berated for going all Hollywood.
I hadn’t had the honor since the 80s, when Gary and I were probably dating, he was maybe the only black guy there and one of the few who wasn’t sporting pointy ears. (No offense! Vulcans are cool.)
So if I sound like any kind of former hater, please accept my apology and evangelism. Comic Con ROCKS! Thanks for the pass, comrade husband and friendly comic company!
Getting there was half the fun….
I had a grand time, which started with the train ride from L.A. to San Diego, packed mostly with Comic-Con-ians. Lots of pleasant energy.
I rode down with a nice guy from an advertising firm and his charming-beyond-her-years 13 year old daughter. When I happened to mention that I was working on a board game, a gamer-type sitting across the aisle, offered, “The Battle for North Africa. No one has ever finished it.” As I was taking that info in, he referred me to the guy sitting in back of me, and said to him,”Tom Baker, you’re Tom Baker, right?” I had to look it up later to find out that Tom Baker was one of the various actors who played Dr. Who, and apparently this guy was doing a good job at the costume, colorful scarf and all. (I’m soooo glad, I didn’t call the man Tom.)
Dr. Pop’s first event! In Chicago, a truly great city.
About 75 really diverse (and smart) people showed up at Decima Musa (a great old-school place in Pilsen) to see the inspiring documentary Bogotá Change and talk about the “fun theory” that:
1. takes a real thorny problem
2. applies collective creativity
3. makes problem-solving fun
Bogotá Change is about how two very different progressive mayors, Antanas Mockus, who recently pushed the presidential election into a run-off, and Enrique Peñalosa, who has become an international planners’ planner; and how they changed the social and physical dynamics of a city that, as a result of their intense commitment and effort, evolved from one of the more violent and dysfunctional places on the planet, to one that is held up as a model by urban planners around the world.
This week I read in the paper that the Los Angeles City Council was awarding $18 million to finish a project that has been a redevelopment site in my neighborhood for years. The goal? To build a Costco. Then to build a Costco with a Home Depot on top. Then when both of those pulled out, to build a Lowe’s home improvement store, which is a lot like a Home Depot.
And that same week I received an email from the Los Angeles Public Library (News You Can Use) with their new schedule consisting of shorter hours and no longer being open on Sundays and Mondays.
Libraries in my mind, are the last of the great public sector products. They are safe spaces for children, for homeless, for women, for families, and for the curious of all stripes — not to mention they are full of books. And they are free. You can stay there as long as you like. All day if you want. They are peaceful.
And as the public sector has crumbled around them, many libraries have stepped up to fill the gap. Last year I read a headline that was something like “Head Librarian Bans Shushing,” for an article about Chicago, I believe, where the head librarian acknowledged their last-public-sector-standing-role and explained “We are the last community centers. People need to talk. We can’t tell them to be quiet any more.”
Although I don’t generally follow architecture awards, which tend to favor the male divas of that profession, I am excited to see that this year’s European Prize for Urban Public Space, is shared, with one of the two winners being the inventive Open Air Library in Magdeburg, Germany that was created by the residents themselves, built out of the debris of a demolished building, and is open 24/7 for people to enjoy the space and borrow books.
The partner winner is an Opera/Ballet house in Oslo, Norway that includes a ramp up to the roof which serves as a public plaza.
It is still not too late. Maybe our neighborhood Lowe’s can support a public plaza on its roof (instead of parking) or a public library at its base. Or something else that engages the idea of a public in exchange for our hard-pressed public investment. Something of value besides shopping.
Every Sunday and holiday, about 80 miles of the main streets of Bogota are blocked off from cars for most of the day so that bicyclists, runners, skaters, and pedestrians can take over the streets. The ciclovias are used by about 2 million people – about 30% of the population and are surrounded by other events on park stages – concerts, yoga and aerobic instructions, and other performances.
And now, Los Angeles, the least likely suspect, whose endless concrete and streets have been the butt of urban critique for devoting most of the public space in the city to cars instead of people is on the verge of launching its own – CicLAvia – an event to be held on September 12 if all goes as planned.
“L.A. doesn’t have enough public space…of the largest cities in the U.S., L.A. is the most park-poor,” says Aaron Paley, CicLAvia advocate, in a video on Kickstarter, the social entrepreneur venture capital network. (What could be more Do-It-Together? Venture capital from anyone who can give $1 a more).
“But we do have these fantastic streets. And the streets already belong to us. And by turning the streets over to the people on a Sunday we create temporary parks overnight without any large investment.”
Aaron is a professional animator of public spaces and runs a company that is, ironically, called CARS (Community Arts Resources). He makes festivals, events, and turns concrete in L.A. into places where people dance, and, sing and play together. He’s a friend and we were Stanton Fellows together (a great program that helps social entrepreneurs create their own project – sorry, only in L.A.). He was researching and investigating and noodling about a new idea for public space, ended up in Bogota, and came back as a ciclovia evangelist.
Last month I wrote a post about Iceland’s economic (and political) meltdown which resulted from swapping out a successful fishing economy with a short-lived reign as the Wall Street of Western Europe – complete with U.S.-style excess and exploding financial bubble.
And now there’s something new.
Last month, Jon Gnarr, Iceland’s most popular comedian’s, and his Best Party won 34.7 per cent of the Reykjavik municipal election, and along with that, six of the 15 city council seats.
Gnarr is now the Mayor of Reykjavik, where two-thirds of Iceland’s population of about 300,000 reside.
The Best Party, whose leaders largely consist of punk rockers who promote an “anarcho- surreal” politics, was initially created as a satire.
But the people of Reykjavik voted for the the parody over business-as-usual as one way to vent their anger against Iceland’s ruling elite just two months after an official report accused the government and regulators of “extreme negligence” in the run-up to the crisis.
I’m writing this in the spirit of retraction.
Not for anything that I have posted here on Dr. Pop, but rather for things that I have posted on the facebook Wall of Life.
So here it is. For years, whenever anyone — particularly young people – would quote Woody Allen’s maxim that “90% of life is just showing up,” I would go into automatic rant-response about (a) how that is SO not true and (b) how preparation is everything.
This Gilda-rant-#357 typically continues on about how preparation is the key to great events, meetings, and collaborations. Etc., etc., etc.
And then, after all that preparation, if you don’t show up… well, then you’re just stupid.
But the other night at the lovely event that SAJE had organized to honor my “legacy,” I looked around the friendly room and was reminded that showing up has its own beautiful intrinsic value.
So here is my official retraction coupled with admiration for all of you who have” just showed up” for all those meetings, hearings, actions, events, and picket lines. Who showed up in New Orleans. Who showed up in Arizona. Who will show up in Detroit.
Just to show your solidarity and support.
Kudos to Jose Zamarripa who captured the actual event on this video in an entertaining way.
And… kudos to Tiny Team for completely capturing what it feels like to be an organizer surrounded by all that showing up, solidarity, and support in the picture that they drew for the invitation.
Most of us have a network of peers who do the same kind of work we do. Organizers know other organizers, teachers other teachers, non-profit directors other directors — you get the idea.
Sometimes its only those people who have walked more than a mile in our shoes whose opinion and ideas are the stuff we need to help us figure things out.
Even the fake mystery writer from the TV show, Castle, gets advice from real mystery writer poker buddies Michael Connelly, James Patterson and Stephen J. Cannell on how to solve his latest case.
I am fortunate and grateful to be part of a few such networks, including theSynergos Senior Fellows network which consists of people from around the world who have a lot of experience working on issues related to poverty and inequality.
Synergos has systematized an effective way to turn peers into advisers in a process that they call Real-Time Consulting. I have benefited from both sides of that equation (as a consultant and consultee) and I have also experienced the process face-to-face (at the Synergos annual meetings), as well as on a Skype telephone calls (and then, when the audio didn’t function well enough, in an online chat format).
Here’s a short video that describes the process. The article continues with some helpful links below the video.
In each of these cases, the same key factors made the system work, which I will share here in case you want to try it with your own network of peers. (Please let us know how it goes if you do).
The basic ingredients to Real-Time Consulting are:
1. A Peer Network
The first thing you need is a trusted network of peers whose experience and knowledge your value. This can be a formal network like Synergos, or an informal group of people that you pulled together to advise you on a problem. Trust here does not mean that you necessarily know the people well, but rather that you are confident that their knowledge and experience can inform your problem.
This year’s Community Scholars class is broken into five project teams, each working on some aspect of the theme of a green economy.
Last quarter we did a work-in-progress presentation to an audience of “clients” and other interested parties. All the content was great, but listening to five projects in succession is a little hard on an evening audience of people who have been working all day. People were engaged. But they were also tired and had difficulty sustaining attention to projects that didn’t involve their particular interests. Such is life.
So this time we are experimenting with a “gallery” approach, to create a more festive space that is more about conversations than presentations.
Here are the basic steps to the approach:
1. Start with a Clear Goal
Yesterday’s goal was for each team to get feedback from all of the other team’s in the class. The goal was to solicit constructive criticism to help us produce the best possible products for our clients — to give them the best possible value added.
This weekend was more infused with art and music than any other this year, and I’m hoping that this is the sign of a wonderful new trend.
Friday night: Heard the Chuck Boogie Trio at the Soul Sessions, Grand Star Jazz Club in Chinatown. Very, very nice.
Saturday afternoon: Wandered into the Folk Music Center in Claremont (photo right) after a friend’s graduation ceremony, a fabulous place, that lets you try out all their musical wares. And people do. The place is a friendly happy cacophony. It has history too – the store now has official status as a museum. It was started by Ben Harper‘s grandparents in 1958. Harper grew up in the place and you can easily see how it must have contributed to developing the soul of a musician.
This year I’m celebrating Mother’s Day with a mashup about Julia Ward Howe a founding mother of U.S. Mother’s Day, and the astonishing Hissa Hilal, the first female finalist on Poet of Millions, Abu Dhabi’s poetry version of American Idol.
Julia Ward Howe saw a natural connection between motherhood and the struggles to abolish slavery, achieve women’s suffrage, and win international peace. Her 1862 poem, written after visiting a Union Army camp, was published in the Atlantic Monthly and became the lyrics of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, a Union Army anthem.
Howe no doubt saw an alignment between the fight to abolish slavery and the idea of a “just” war. But that was hard to sustain. The Civil War was the bloodiest in American history, claiming more American lives (620,000) than any other U.S. wars from the Revolution through Vietnam.
So, in 1870, Howe proposed a “Mother’s Day for Peace” and wrote the Mothers Day Proclamation — a call to mothers everywhere to take a stand against war and for peace on an international scale. Howe organized a first “Mother’s Day” as an anti-war observance in New York on June 2, 1872. But it wasn’t until 1913 that Congress officially declared the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
Gilda’s Gaming Adventure continues…
Today I planned to share my experience with the 1970 board game, SMOG. But that’s not going to happen. For two reasons:
- I didn’t play the game. You would think an urban planner who lives in L.A. could just instinctively play something called SMOG. But I couldn’t figure it out! (Maybe one of you already knows how and can teach me?).
- Another game opportunity appeared! Tony Chavira – fourstory.org associate editor and Havana travel-buddy — and I had a little comment exchange on my post about Monopoly City:
Tony: Gilda! I’d love to help you take the game Risk and replace troops and cards with money and lobbyist goals.
Gilda: OK! Let’s do it. Just so you know….you will have to teach me Risk. I’m new at the game thing, but jumping right in.
Tony: Let me know when and we’ll put it together! i’ll even bring over my own version of risk and we can play. it’s essentially a world-war game where you’re given strategies on cards and actual military. i’d probably add another rule that you collect cards (more troops in the game, which will be government cash for redevelopment probably) when you lobby for it. but the game has strategy cards, so yeah… more fun to be had!
So that’s what happened.
James Rojas is an urban planner who devotes a lot of his time to translating the impenetrable maps and language of land use planning into a activities that are visual, tactile, and playful — the language of how we actually experience the world.
James’ basic goal is to create environments that elicit ordinary people’s ideas and solutions to urban problems.
“I’m always amazed by people’s ideas and solutions — its mind-boggling how many creative ideas people have.”
To James, ideas are the golden currency of city-building.
Here’s a 3-minute video that runs you through the process and its party spirit. A more detailed explanation follows as the article continues below.
Gilda’s Gaming Adventure continues…
Metropolis is another “German” game (see last week’s post which explains what German games are all about), that was released in 1984 by Ravensburger, a 125-year-old German company (actually based in Ravensburg).
The game was designed, however, by the very American Sid Sackson (1920-2002) a well-known game maker, collector, and writer. Board Game Geek offers a quote from Sackson, that nicely sums up what people like about “German” or “designer” games:
(A good game) should be easy to learn yet have infinite strategic possibilities, give you the chance to make choices, create interaction among players and take a maximum of one and a half hours to play.
Metropolis has all those characteristics. I bought it because it contains some urban planning ideas, the primary one being that the value of buildings goes up or down depending on what’s near them: Home values go down when a factory moves next door, or go up when a school is added to the neighborhood or if the building has a view of the park. The game includes some abstractions of zoning and land assembly. The game dynamics involve choosing cards that have the same number on them as squares on the board, claiming property with colored game pieces, and rules that limit what you can do on blocks where another player has assembled a lot of land.
There are a lot of opportunities for trading, dealing, and joining forces to get things done. And therein lies the strategy and the fun. I also got some good ideas about game mechanics for our zoning game (which was my goal) from playing the game. And I’m starting to enjoy this whole board game experience beyond that investigation.
Metropolis is out of print. I got my version from a trader on the Board Game Geek Marketplace, which is in German, Italian, and French. My seller included several versions of English translations of the instructions. Probably the most versions or translations of instructions I’ve every seen. Definitely got my money’s worth there.
The more I experience great board games, the more I realize that game design is truly and art and the more interested I become in learning about the designers themselves. If you share that interest, The Great Games of Sid Sackson is a nice little website that features an overview of Sackson’s work, descriptions of his games, a list of his books, and an interview.
Next week: Smog (yes, its a board game)
Gilda’s Gaming Adventure continues…
This game has nothing to do with the Havana of Che, Fidel, or the Buena Vista Social Club. “The revolution in Cuba is over. Now, many magnificent buildings are being built in the capital city Havana to make it gleam in renewed splendor,” explains the game. And that’s the story.
In the game, players collect building material, workers and pesos in an effort to produce the most valuable collection of buildings. At the outset of the game, each player receives an identical set of 13 (cool-looking) action cards, which they can only play two at a time to get the resources (material, workers, and pesos) they need to acquire buildings.
Each card, however, has a different value. More powerful cards have higher values. Whoever starts out with the least valuable cards gets to go first and thus has the first shot at the buildings.
After each round, more money and material are put out, and a new round begins with each player replacing one of the two cards, discarding the other, and then the turn order is determined again.
I like this game, Havana. It is really pretty. The game pieces have a nice look and feel. Even the box has a great look and feel. The game designer’s name is on the box (Credit where credit is due. I’m for that).
The game has simple rules, but it isn’t boring. It is engaging and involves strategic thinking. You need to figure out what the other players are going to do.
These all work for my non-gamer, easily distracted self.
It turns out that all of these things that I like are decided and deliberate characteristics of what is known in the world of board games (and the world in general) as German games.
Beautiful, bankrupt, volcano-spewing, Iceland should win the magical realism award of the century.
Iceland is a tiny country. It is physically the size of Kentucky, but its population of only 300,000, is roughly the same size as Pittsburgh.
In 2003, with a conservative government in power, the deregulation of finance markets came into full effect. At that time, Iceland’s three biggest banks had assets of a few billion dollars — about 100% of the country’s gross national product, and fishing was still the mainstay of the economy.
Within three years those bank assets ballooned to 140 billion, almost 1000% of the country’s gnp. Iceland had morphed into Europe’s largest hedge fund, and like those overextended funds in the U.S., the bubble simply burst.
But this time, the bubble was the country. Because it is so small, and such a high percentage of the population worked in the banking sector, the collapse affected every aspect of the economy.
Within days, Iceland was bankrupt and its currency was useless outside its borders. Icelanders mobilized in protest and ousted their government, which was clearly asleep at the wheel.
Now, 18 months later, Just days before the volcano erupted, an Iceland government “truth commission” released its 2,000 plus page investigative “Black Report” on what caused the country’s collapse and who is to blame.
In a unique move, the entire report was read aloud last week, page by page, by 45 actors who took turns reading 24 hours per day at the Reykjavik City Theater.
Even without knowing the language, it isn’t hard to tell that this isn’t gripping theater. And the event has certainly been eclipsed by the airline-disrupting Eyjafjallajokull volcano in the international press.
I, however, applaud the idea and effort of bringing the story to the people, of making the report accessible to all and bringing some comfort of understanding, however dull, to a country that is reeling from a an economic catastrophe that rivals fiction.
(added 5/22/11: Recent New York Times magazine article on Iceland)
For the reading-hardy, here is a link to a website that hosts the English version of the report http://sic.althingi.is/
There is also a documentary on the crisis, called “Maybe I Should Have.” Here is the English language trailer.
And finally, here is the the lovely (if odd) Icelandic musician, Eliza Geirsdottir Newman, performing her song for an Al Jazeera newscaster, teaching us all how to pronounce Eyjafjallajokull. Complete with bouncing ball.
Gilda’s Gaming Adventure continues…
Monopoly City is yet another variation of the classic Monopoly game, and it continues the time-honored tradition for winning: whoever ends with the most money and buildings wins. But there are some urban twists, which are:
Game board: The center of the game board is where you build your stuff — buildings, apartments and office buildings, etc. One unique building is a stadium, which requires some land assembly, but in the end makes you wealthier in general (stadium owners get more money when they pass Go). Sounds like real life. The gizmo in the middle of the game board does two things — it lets you know how many lots you can build on during your turn (between one and three) and it times (60 seconds) your negotiations with other players.
Hazards: The rent from your housing is devalued (eliminated, actually) if another player builds a hazard (power station, a sewage plant, a prison, and a rubbish dump) in one of your “districts.” Say it isn’t so! Even Monopoly recognizes that all development isn’t necessarily all good.
Conversely Bonus buildings protect your “districts” from anyone sabotaging them by putting a hazard on your stuff. Bonus buildings are good things like schools, wind farms, water towers, and parks.
Otherwise….very much in the spirit of the monopoly game. If you like playing monopoly, you will enjoy this game. My daughter, Chelsea loves playing monopoly, loved playing this game, and as usual, beat my socks off. It must have been the tiny addition of social value that did it.
Opinions, gamers? Game suggestions?
Next week: Havana (the game)
poster Seth Tobocman
While health insurance and bank lobbies vie for the comic-book-villain-of-the-year award, there is nothing more insidious than the invisible health threats that attack us daily without our consent or knowledge — through our water, our food, and our air.
For parents, the very notion that the homes in which our children play, eat, and sleep might be silently poisoning them, gradually causing nerve and brain damage to developing bodies, is a very hard pill to swallow. Yet for tenants who are trapped by high housing costs in slum housing, this is often the case. The cause is chipping and peeling lead paint, and the uber-villians are the slumlords who profit, often hugely, from dangerous, unhealthy housing conditions.
Although lead paint has been banned from the U.S. since 1978, existing lead paint that chips and peels in neglected homes flake into dust that contaminates the air that children breathe indoors and the soil where they play outside. (intact paint is not a hazard).
In Los Angeles, it is estimated that 48,000 families are living in extreme slum conditions and getting sick as a result, from exposure to lead and other hazards in their homes. In New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina washed chips of lead paint from the homes into the soil, where it remains as a constant threat to children’s health.
The ecological principle that “diversity ensures resilience” applies to the business of solving intractable urban problems. It is not simply a matter of how many eyes and brains are brought to bear on difficult problems, but rather,it is the diversity of those eyes and brains that lead to the best solutions. In the case of childhood lead-poisoning, the solutions are available, but hampered by lack of political will, commitment, alignment, and intelligent resource allocation.
What follows are stories about two efforts, the Healthy Neighborhoods, Same Neighbors Collaborative in Los Angeles and the New Orleans-based Fundred Dollar Bill Project that employ diverse methods and thinking to transforming homes and neighborhoods from sources of poison to healthy sanctuaries for our nation’s children.
The reason for creating a game is to make sure that the learning is interactive and fun. (As opposed to boring and dull, which, with all due respect to my chosen profession, is what comes to mind for most people when you say the word “zoning.”)
We needed to test our game ideas before we got too deeply into the time-consuming production work that online games require.
So we decided to start with a game that people can play face-to-face in a room. A board game.
After some back-and-forth experimentation we came up with a rough prototype and then play-tested it with a stalwart crew of smart, activist health promoters from Esperanza.
The results of that are best captured in the following conversation:
Rosten: So let me get this straight. You didn’t have any fun at all? Ever?
Enough said. So it was back to the proverbial drawing board. Or in this case — game board.
Unlike Rosten (and my daughter Chelsea, who beats me at any and all games) I am not a gamer. I like games like charades and scrabble because I like drama and words. So I clearly needed to get up to speed.
Banks or families?
This is the false choice that big banks and the American Bankers Association are offering Congress as they move to eviscerate the Financial Reform bill that is presently in the Senate, says Elizabeth Warren.
The banking lobby is willing to pay to get that job done — to the tune of $1.4 million dollars per DAY. I repeat. Big banks and their lobbyists are spending $1.4 million per day to make sure that meaningful financial reform does not occur. To make sure that an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency will either never come into being, or exist in name only. So we all need to do something about it. Now.
First I’ll answer the two questions that may be in your mind:
1. Who is Elizabeth Warren?
2. What can I do to support financial reform and prevent a future financial meltdown?
Elizabeth Warren is the fabulous, plain-speaking Harvard law professor who chairs the Oversight Board of TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program — aka the “bank bailout”). She has been telling-it-like-it-is since she got there (as in big banks are not on our side).
What can we do to get financial reform? Yesterday, Americans for Fairness in Lending and Americans for Financial Reform and allies co-hosted a great webinar featuring Ms. Warren for about 1,000 people to answer exactly that question.
And here is what to do:
- Write to your Senators and ask them to strengthen the financial reform bill in the Senate.
- Write a letter to the editor of your local paper about the need for financial reform. Click here for contact information for media in your area.
- Sign the petition on Change.org.
- Get other people to do the same.
Whatever you do, do it fast. The final vote may be as soon as May 3.
Here’s the webinar so you can listen yourself:
And here’s a clip of Elizabeth Warren with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
Here’s another little Havana/L.A. mashup about art and redevelopment.
One of my other favorite places in Havana is the Callejón de Hamel, a small alley near the University of Havana that is an explosion of color, afro-cuban imagery, and sculpture — produced by Cuban artist Salvador Gonzales Escalona.
Salvador started making murals and sculptures in the street in 1990, using scrap objects and whatever paint was available, including car enamel (good paint is in short supply in Havana).. Inspired by the support of local residents and visitors, he continued painting and sculpting and the street is now a jewel of a place that also serves as an active Afro-Cuban center. Children can take painting workshops there, and every Sunday Rumba musicians and dancers perform (it has become a tourist attraction, hence the nickname “rumba alley”).
The street is still Salvador’s artistic headquarters. Here is a lovely Havana Cultura video interview with the artist (sorry its just in Spanish, but even for people who don’t know the language, it is visually engaging, and gives you a sense of his personality):
I didn’t have to go far to see what L.A. has to offer along the lines of Callejon de Hamel. I live a stones throw from St. Elmo’s Village, which is now celebrating its 40th anniversary year as a live/work space for artists and as a community arts center.
The Village, as its residents call it, was founded by artists Roderick and Rozell Sykes and is run today as a non-profit by Roderick and his wife Jacqueline Alexander-Sykes.
City Mask by Roderick Sykes
Like Callejon de Hamel, St. Elmo’s offers art classes for children, and also hosts a weekly open house, frequent tours for local schools, and hosts the Poetry in Motion festival each fall.
Last month I had the privilege and rare opportunity to visit Cuba, traveling along with the FourStory crew, friends, and family. A dozen or so people – mostly writers, a few academics, artists, an architect, a developer, a high school teacher, a graduate student, and a lady barber. Good traveling companions.
I confess to tourist status. What I appreciated most from my short visit was the art, the music, and, of course, the people. As is often the case, one benefit of the trip was returning with a new lens that lets me appreciate some things at home with new eyes.
So here is one of my favorite Havana places, with a trackback to home.
This is a photo of our team entering the amazing home of José Fuster, a disneyland of colorful tile and whimsical comfort. It is also a deeply political location, in terms of the owner-builder’s idea and practice of art-as-redevelopment in the Jaimanitas neighborhood of Havana.
This is a followup to January’s DIT video and article on How to Make a Storyboard.
This time I’ll give deeper instructions by going into the details of a storyboard assignment that I used in my class. The information is provided in the short video below, as well as in a narrative form, which continues right under the video.
The assignment has three parts:
- Goals and Assumptions
GOALS AND ASSUMPTIONS
You can write out your goals and assumptions in a page or less. To do this, you will answer three basic questions:
- Rationale: What is the purpose, or rationale, for your project?
- Learning outcomes: What do you expect people to learn? What are the “takeaways?” The learning outcomes?
- Pre-Knowledge: Does your audience need any pre-knowledge — things they already need to know — in order to benefit from your product?
Here are examples of what a rationale might look like from three projects from the class:
One way to reduce inequality is to actually tax people who have lots of money and won’t be harmed by contributing it to the public good.
This practical concept has been drafted into a very simple and accessible policy proposal by the British Robin Hood Tax campaign, which is, in their words:
“A tiny tax on bankers that would give billions to tackle poverty and climate change, here and abroad.”
The tax consists of a .05% tax on transactions between financial institutions that could raise hundreds of billions of dollars for social needs.
Check out the very funny campaign video below featuring Bill Nighy as a banker.
Democracy is basically a system that lets people make decisions together.
The key to making that happen, besides lots and lots of meetings, is lots and lots of preparation.
The pay-off is: well-informed decision-makers, more effective meetings, and discussions that allow everyone to participate in the conversation.
Making informed decisions together is the ultimate Do-It-Together.
This post offers the first three in a series of faciltators’ tools designed to help you get this done.
There are 24 people in our Community Scholars class at UCLA. Some are students, some are faculty or staff, and some are community leaders and artists.
The purpose of the class is to produce popular education material related to “Green Jobs.” We spent our four weeks in lectures and discussion with experts about aspects of the problem. Now we need to break into working teams that will produce popular education products over the next fifteen weeks. Big commitment. High stakes for the participants.
To get those decisions started, last week we we had a three hour retreat where we engaged in the following exercises in sequence:
Instructions for these exercises are provided below, with their purpose and goal, necessary preparation and materials, and links and images to our experience. Read More…
Storyboards are a way to present the elements of a story in a sequence. They are used a lot by people who make movies and other media to help them “see” a story and how the pieces work together before they spend a lot of time and money on a project.
When you are working on a team, storyboards are one way to get people, literally, on the same page. Here is a 3-minute video on how to do that (the written-out version continues below the video).
As of December 15, these necessary demands are not doing too well at COP 15. Check out Gopal Dayaneni’s video blog from the Right to the City Alliance, which lays out the issues in a clear and concise way.
Dr. Pop is really about storytelling — about who gets to tell the story, how it gets told and how to figure out what the point is. In the economy and in life.
Here are the 5 Elements of Great Storytelling, presented with illustrations and examples from the Dr. Pop website and other favorites, presented in the videoblog below.
1. What does your character want?
2. What’s the hook?
3. Use dialogue and quotes.
4. The essence of drama is conflict.
5. Fulfill the promise.
For other resources on great storytelling, check out:
Smart Meme is an intriguing and intelligent organization for whom story-telling is the political strategy. Dr. Pop agrees. Their tagline? Changing the Story, of course. Smart Meme has a great website and a lot of good thinking to offer.
A Story is a Promise by Bill Johnson (who, according to Gary also does great workshops for fiction writers). Recommended here is the 1-hour DVD where Bill reads from a number of well-known books and talks about several popular movies “to take viewers into the heart of what a story is, a promise made to an audience, and a promise kept.”
Question: Will more people take the stairs if it is turned into a piano?
Question: Will more people throw away trash if the trash can sounds like a 1,000 foot well?
Check out these videos from VW’s new branding campaign.
Three artists help break the economic crisis down into things that we can see and touch and feel … and use.
1. Golden Globe by Ryan Hollon and LLuís Victori
In the last few years, our cities have been going through some very tough times. And because so much of today’s population, power, and money lives in cities, the tough times have spread all over the world. Big cracks have emerged in the global economy, cracks which reveal that today’s wealth has been built in the shadows of our success. Maybe the time has come to look beyond the shiny surfaces that make us think all is well, and to investigate the worlds beyond our financial centers and downtown skyscrapers? Ryan Hollon
2. Red Lines Crisis Learning Center by Damon Rich
This multi-media exhibit includes photographs, models, drawings and sculptural installations — including a large, three-dimensional wooden graph of interest rates over the past 70 years — that offer an explanation of how the private housing market works, beginning with the federal government’s involvement during the Depression.
Last month the exhibition was hosted at the Queens Museum, superimposing foreclosure information with neon-pink plastic triangles on top of the 9,335-square-foot Panorama of the City of New York that was built for the 1964 World’s Fair. Check out the New York Times article on the exhibit.
The exibition has received a lot of other coverage that you can check out here:
If you are interested in hosting the exhibit in your own town (on your dime) post a comment here or contact Damon directly at gro.tnempolevedpucrehtonanull@nomad.
3. Predatory Equity by the Center for Urban Pedagogy
Predatory Equity: The Survival Guide Is a beautifully useful product of the Center for Urban Pedagogy in NY’s Making Policy Public project that links designers with advocates in order to produce and distribute an artful and useful poster resource that will help advance grassroots campaigns.
Here is a description of this poster project in the Center’s own words:
During the boom, a new breed of speculator used private equity and oversized bank loans to buy up affordable housing. They tried to make a quick profit by converting it to luxury housing – putting over 65,000 families and their affordable apartments at risk. Post-crash, these predatory equity speculators can’t pay off their loans or sell their buildings. Foreclosure looms. Predatory Equity: The Survival Guide explains the financial mechanics of predatory equity and how to prevent it from happening again in the next boom. It provides tenants, advocates, and policymakers with information on tools like loan modifications and preservation short sales to save the hundreds of buildings in imminent danger of foreclosure.
Posters are available for purchase on the Center for Urban Pedagogy website.
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless named Los Angeles the No. 1 “Meanest City” out of 273 nationwide in a recent report. L.A. owes this dubious distinction to the controversial “Safer Cities Initiative” that puts policing over housing, criminalizing thousands of the city’s unfortunates.
The City can place this new negative accolade on its mantel next to earlier awards by academic researchers as the most economically unequal city in the country and the homeless capital of the nation.
Inequality, it seems, is a key condition that makes legislating “meanness” possible because the farther apart people are on the economic ladder, the more difficult it is for those on the top ladder to identify with those on the bottom.
Considerable genius has been applied of late to the business of making facts come alive in maps in ways that allow us to visualize inequality and inspire new ways of thinking about change.
Here are three of Dr. Pop’s favorites:
1. Million Dollar Blocks by the Justice Mapping Center
This amazing effort maps the largely undiscussed fact that our prisons contain people who are from discrete, specific neighborhoods. The maps illustrate the blocks in our cities and neighborhoods where at least a million dollars is spent to incarcerate people. The point, according to Eric Cadora of the Justice Mapping Center,” is to produce the conversations necessary to figure out what it would take to break the cycle of prison at the street level.” For example, what choices could and would neighborhoods make if they were give the millions of dollars that it cost to incarcerate their members? Read More…
This is a post from last September 2008, from Brazil. where I attended my first annual meeting as a Synergos Senior Fellow and had the privilege of spending time in discussion with about 40 social advocates from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Inida, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, U.S., and Zimbabwe.
Synergos is the brainchild of Peggy Dulany, a person who chose to turn her inherited wealth, influence, and networks outward to shape new alliances and tools to reduce world poverty and inequality. Steady work.
A high point of the week for me was a keynote address (transcribed below) by Brazilian industrialist, philanthropist, compulsive social entrepreneur, Oded Grajew.
Oded’s resume presents a counterpoint between power and social justice. A former toy manufacturer, and a succcessful one, he started the Abrinq Foundation for Children and Adolescents Rights while he was President of the Toy Manufacturers Association of Brazil. He is Chairman of the Board of the Ethos Institute of Business and Social Responsibility, and was instrumental in creating several other initiatives that promote education, accountable development, and responsible entrepreneurship.
Oded is the founder of the World Social Forum and still sits on its Board.
He is a special advisor to the popular Brazilian President Lula (Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — today Brazilian newspapers report a 77.7% approval rating — across all Brazilian classes). Oded is also a member of the Advisory Board of the United Nations Global Compact. Read More…
For comic book and funnies fans, the economic crisis has spawned plenty to educate and entertain. Here are a few:
First up, is the economic crisis 101 comic book by our friends at the Institute for Policy Studies (Institute? Comics? Yep…hard times require comics) and Jobs with Justice. Written by Chuck Collins and Nick Thorkelson, the book is a humorous and informative take on the Meltdown that walks us through the many factors that led to the current crisis. You can download a free copy here.
Lex Luthor asks for a Bailout
Very, very funny.
The most comprehensive, comprehensible, and up-to-date resource about where bail-out money is going, to whom, and for what purpose is the ProPublica site — tagline: journalism in the public interest.
In their own words, here is what you can find on their site:
- complete list of where the money’s going, from AIG to the smallest community bank
- map that charts all the bailed-out companies
- timeline of major bailout events
- running total of how much of the TARP bailout money has been committed
- graphical breakdowns and plain language descriptions of the Treasury Department’s bailout programs without confusing government acronyms
- list of the banks that have returned the bailout money
- snapshot of how mortgage servicers are performing in the foreclosure prevention program
ProPublica also tracks Stimulus program dollars in useful ways ranging from how quickly agencies are spending money, to stimulus projects near you, down to the per capita sending in your county — plus a lot more.
ProPublica is an independent newsroom, dedicated to investigative journalism, led by Paul Steiger, the former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal. Stephen Engelberg, a former managing editor of The Oregonian, Portland, Oregon and former investigative editor of The New York Times, is ProPublica’s managing editor.
Launched in January 2009, by the Pew Charitable Trusts in conjunction with the Sunlight Foundation, Subsidyscope‘s exists to make government subsidies transparent to the rest of us. They started with the financial sector, featuring subsidy maps (my favorite here), blog posts, downloadable data sets, key public documents, and more.
One silver-lining of the current economic crisis is the increased level of interest in teaching and learning about the economy. There is now some great stuff out there. Here are some of Dr. Pop’s favorites:
This American Life, in my book, has repositioned radio as the great American story-telling medium, getting up close and personal to find the universal in real life. Here are three really good shows about the meltdown, produced in collaboration with NPR:
Giant Pool of Money : A special program about the housing crisis. What it has to do with the turmoil on Wall Street. Why banks made half-million dollar loans to people without jobs or income. And why is everyone is talking so much about the 1930s. It all comes back to the Giant Pool of Money.
Bad Bank: The collapse of the banking system explained. What does “insolvent bank” actually mean and why are we giving hundreds of billions of dollars to rich bankers who screwed up their own businesses?
Another Frightening Show About the Economy: The same team explain what the regulators could have done to prevent this financial crisis from happening in the first place.
Planet Money: Alex Blumberg and Adam Davidson, the two guys from NPR who created the This American Life episodes went on to produce the Planet Money podcast and blog that continues to explain the crisis as it pertains to daily breaking news. Blumberg and Davidson even did a live road show to strong audiences. About the economy!
Marketplace Whiteboard: From American Public Media’s signature business show, Marketplace, Senior Editor Paddy Hirsch explains complex financial terms while drawing cartoons on a whiteboard. The results are edifying, entertaining, and charming — good for people who want a deeper understanding of terms like toxic assets or capital structure, to name a few. I liked the whiteboard of the credit crisis as an Antarctic expedition.
While focusing on the current economic meltdown, I came across this flier that I made about 20 years ago. Gone but not forgotten, is our last financial crisis — the big (at least for the 80s) S & L bailout. The flier was never used as was intended, to mobilize a demonstration against banking crimes against the community. However, it was actually distributed far and wide — published in a magazine, distributed at the highest management meeting at Bank of America, and was partially responsible for launching negotiations of a very successful community reinvestment agreement in L.A. between Communities for Accountable Reinvestment and Security Pacific, both of which are now defunct. Pretty good for a flier that actually used scissors and glue for cutting and pasting.
So, here is that story…. Read More…
Here is a short video of Cecil Corbin-Mark speaking at People’s Planning School: about working with planning professionals, the link between planning and health, and the importance of taking control of the land. (Los Angeles, SAJE, 2007)
And here is the transcript of his remarks, for those of you who want to know more about his experience:
My name is Cecil Corbin-Mark. I come from an organization called WEACT for Environmental Justice. Our organization has been around, next year, for 20 years, working primarily at the start on issues of environmentally polluting facilities and their siting in our communities. We started out that way as an organization being very reactive to the primary polluter in our community — that being the City and the State. And we were always waking up and finding out about a new facility.
And over the years we came to realize that there was a power that we weren’t using. And that was the power to engage in planning for the future of our neighborhoods. As our cities have grown up, one of the things that we have found has been that people in this country are completely more and more disconnected from what actually happens on the ground in their neighborhoods, with respect to the introduction of new facilities or stores or whatever it is. And we decided a long time ago that we needed to work on a model of being more proactive. Read More…
On March 30, 2007, SAJE kicked off its People’s Planning School by gathering people from other cities who were facing the same problems of gentrification, redevelopment, and expulsive zoning and who had already taken up the challenge to plan for themselves, claiming their history and rightful standing.
Here is a transcript of Terri Baltimore’s presentation along with some of the images that she showed us. It is longer than most posts, but well worth it — it is full of history, a people’s planning process, and Terri’s love for her neighborhood:
Before I start, I just want to apologize, because I have an awful lot of slides. And I’m going to try to get through them quickly, but a lot of people don’t know the Hill District very well, and I wanted to make sure that you understood the place where I work and the place that I love so much.
And before I get started, I just also need to say how honored I am to be here. But I couldn’t be here today without the elders in the community.
Pittsburgh is a really strange place. Most people kind of stay in the neighborhood where they grew up. And I grew up in an Eastern neighborhood of Pittsburgh called “‘Sliberty.” And for those of you who speak English well, that’s East Liberty. And so growing up I never spent a long time in the Hill District. And in 1992 I got a job there. And I was terrible. I didn’t know the neighborhood at all. And the reason that I was able to get inside the neighborhood, stay there, and learn to love it is was because elders taught me their stories. They taught me about places that weren’t there any more. They taught me about living through urban renewal and losing their homes. So they shared their lives with me. And what they did in the process was help me love the place that they loved. So I need to say, “Thank you,” to Miss Edna. Thank you to Miss Stella. And thanks to all the elders. Because without them I couldn’t tell you anything about ‘Sliberty.
The Hill District is a really rich neighborhood. And in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, if you wanted to listen to jazz, this was the place to be. And if you were a Black musician and played downtown, you came up to the Hill and played at clubs after hours. If you were a White musician and played downtown you came up here to the Hill and played after hours. So there is a rich cultural heritage in this neighborhood, and in addition to the music (Art Blakely, Lena Horne, Ahmad Jamal, Stanley Turrentine, George Benson), we also had August Wilson and the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Also, the Freedom House Ambulance Service. For a lot of people who don’t know, the whole paramedics movement started in The Hill with a really progressive funder and unemployed Black men and women who responded to a need in the neighborhood at a time when ambulances didn’t come.
The next few slides I’m going to show you were taken by who was a Pittsburgh photographer who took at least a hundred thousand pictures of Black life in Pittsburgh.