Blog posts by Ryan Hollon.
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
In Chicago today, there is a lot of discussion about violence. In particular, there is a lot of discussion about youth violence, about the incredible difficulty of growing up safely in some of our city’s most under resourced areas.
To our credit, some beautiful solutions have been on the rise. Restorative justice efforts have been gaining steam, dynamic mentoring projects have been getting the spotlight, and an ambitious summer jobs project is underway.
Slowly but surely, Chicago is stepping up. Of course, we are still spending incredible sums of money to lock up black men and women by the tens of thousands every year. And these are typically the same people who were pushed out of school just years – or sometimes weeks – prior.
But, little by little, we are stepping up.
A Conversation with Angela Caputo
Angela Caputo is an award-winning journalist with years of experience. Yet in many ways, she feels like she is just getting started, just beginning to learn the ins and outs of her craft. Despite her humility, she has gained a reputation for some of Chicago’s very best reporting on issues of race and poverty, focusing on the criminal justice beat since joining the Chicago Reporter in 2010.
In the following conversation, Angela talks about one of her superpowers that makes her an awesome narrator of the city and shares what it takes to gather and deploy large amounts of data.
How did you learn to work with data? At what point did that happen?
During my early reporting jobs, I did very little work with data. While at one of my first jobs, I remember going through files at the County Clerk’s office and reviewing them one tax payment at a time, calling them up by pin and logging them into a spreadsheet. It was very different than getting huge sets of data and doing analysis.
Most of my learning happened after joining the Chicago Reporter –– now I work with datasets that contain literally hundreds of thousands of entries. It is a big part of what our publication does.
I have learned a lot in the office. We teach each other what we know, and then just kind of muddle through projects. That’s really how I’ve learned. Somebody will introduce you to something, but the only way to learn it and get better is to make a lot of mistakes and to practice.
When you get a big database, how do you make sense of it?
Just playing with it, decoding it, cleaning it up, making sure that you’re not counting duplicates, figuring out the categories, breaking out the variables so that they line up into one thing. Simple data cleaning, getting rid of parenthesis, crunching it down to basic numbers, so that you can really compare the same thing. That’s all part of the process.
What’s an example of a really cool dataset?
One example is LEHD data, [Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics], which is really amazing. It has a geocode, which links it to a place, and it goes down to the census block, so it zooms in pretty deep. That data shows you what jobs are on each block, and where the people in those jobs come from. You can see how old the people are that work in the jobs, what they make, and the type of sector that they work in.
I used that data in a story on jobs and economic development in the heart of Chicago, in the downtown area, where one in 3 jobs in the city are located. There has been huge public investment in the downtown, so I looked at who is working there. I found that 86% of the job losses between 2002 and 2008 were among people who live south of 41st street.
The communities that already have the fewest number of jobs per resident; also lost almost all of the jobs that were lost in and around the Loop.
I like to think that my writing journey is just getting started, that my greatest growth and development is still ahead of me. My novels are yet to be written, my most truthful poems are yet to be drafted, and my dissertation is only just now starting to fall into place. Yet although I am still early on my path, I do believe I’ve learned a few things about how to communicate in the written form. What follows are my top 5 lessons as a writer, each obtained slowly over time, and largely without realizing it:
1 Writing is a way of exploring the depth and breadth of my awareness.
We all have unknown known’s in our lives, fields of knowledge that go largely beneath our own radars. Writing – whether crafting an outline or just throwing words on a page – is a way to get in touch with those fields of knowledge. It is an exercise that allows us to explore exactly how much we really know about a topic, revealing levels of feeling and awareness that often operate at subconscious levels. As we discipline ourselves to write, we are probing this awareness, testing these feelings, and become more conscious of this knowledge.
Climate change is a big, scary topic. It’s not always easy to talk about and it can be almost impossible to convince people to do something about it. Movies like An Inconvenient Truth have taught us that we cannot ignore the mounting changes in our planet’s weather patterns, we cannot simply sidestep our responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to our changing reality. Yet we have apparently not gotten the message. We emit, ignore, and sidestep. Still. More than ever.
So what is to be done? Well, we can learn some great lessons from a recent graphic novel developed by The Field Museum’s division of Environment, Culture, and Conservation. This piece – The Amazing Adventures of Chicago’s Climate Action Heroes – takes some very scary information and turns it into fun and enjoyable reading (click the link to download).
How do they do it? They use light, humorous, and accessible dialogue to show the ways that a diverse cast of characters is being impacted by the destabilization of our climate. Written and illustrated largely by Lisa See Kim, a communication specialist at the museum, the story merges the journeys of residents from four very different Chicago neighborhoods, showing how their everyday actions make them environmental leaders in their communities.
“The structures of society need to be transformed, but the hidden motivations and assumptions on which the structures rest need to be transformed as well.”
No matter how many movements are launched, campaigns are won, or revolutions are deemed victorious, real fundamental social change remains elusive. Why is it that exploitation persists in our world? What is it that prevents widespread human empowerment from taking root? According to Vimala Thakar, it is partially because social activists have historically failed to shift their most fundamental patterns and beliefs, thereby allowing the arrogance and vanity of the ego to corrupt the ways in which we strive to birth new realities.
While world-changing organizations and movements have been built, they have failed to thoroughly challenge the mental conditioning imposed by the dominant worldviews of their time. Consequently, although the reigns of state power have transferred many times, even the most successful revolutionaries have been bound to ego energies that tainted their motivations for power and transformation. These are the types of insights that animated much of Vimala’s work, allowing her to her continually innovate on both the political and spiritual fronts.
Born in India in 1921, Vimala spent the majority of her life as a social activist, starting in the Land-Gift movement where she helped promote the redistribution of land from the rich to poor would-be farmers. In her late 30’s, Vimala’s movement work took an enlightening turn. After connecting with the teachings of the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, she began her life’s work of integrating the long isolated traditions of spirituality and social action. Guiding her efforts to integrate these traditions was the idea that humans could create a more holistic, compassionate, and fulfilling reality for themselves. Yet in order to do so, a new era in the history of human development was necessary.
What makes a neighborhood an awesome place to live? Is it proximity to cool coffee shops? Or to lovely public parks? While those are beautiful additions, what really makes a neighborhood awesome is deceptively simple. It’s neighbors. People you know will have your back if an emergency strikes. Elders who hold local history on their tongues. Families whose children learn to strut on shared sidewalks. Even those dog owners who visit with one another on their daily walks.
The more connected people are to one another, the more beautiful a place becomes. This is a basic fact of urban life, one that we all know intuitively and that has been confirmed by prominent sociologists like Robert Sampson. Healthy human connections stabilize residential blocks and enhance the possibilities of those who live on them.
So how do we foster healthy human connections? One key, in my opinion, is to ensure that individuals and families can live safely in an area for long periods of time. Sustained residency gives people the chance to stay in a place long enough to make it their own, without having to uproot their home every few years. While certainly not a given, sharing a place over many years allows for the possibility of developing trust, solidarity, and communication. It is a necessary, though not sufficient, variable for creating truly awesome neighborhoods in our cities.
While Chicago hosts the NATO summit, where military leaders and their like-minded political counterparts turned conference rooms into war rooms and exhibit halls into transatlantic strategy centers, my thoughts wander to the notion of democratizing security.
Like all NATO summits, this one came without a suggestion box. Nowhere during the weekend could the general public contribute to the conversation. And so thousands of people took to the streets to make their voices heard, whether or not the generals choose to listen.
In the decades that have passed since its founding in 1949, NATO has shifted from a mutual self-defense organization to a global military alliance that advances aggressive invasions and preemptive wars. In it’s current form, NATO is representative of a military-political partnership that runs on elite exchanges and excludes everyday voices. It is controlled by decision makers who tightly control the narratives of war, guarding their legitimacy even when public favor fades away. So that when bombs fall on common people and missile strikes take the lives innocent civilians, they are the causalities of war operations that are deemed ‘necessary’ for the future of freedom. And – following the public relations catastrophe of Vietnam, where cameras laid bare the tragic truth of war - media cameras are now clearly forbidden to cover destruction in detail.
This story is about how we learn to not see, how we are conditioned to ignore the harsh realities that structure our surrounding world. It shares key moments on my journey to greater awareness about racial injustice, moving from a world of whiteness to the ability to recognize patterns of social exclusion and do something about them.
In April of 1992, I was living in Prairie Village, Kansas. We had moved there years earlier from Finchville, Kentucky, a small farming town on the outskirts of Louisville. We moved for my father’s job, so that he could lead a Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri and apply the pastoral skills he had just refined in seminary.
Prarie Village was no Kansas City. It was a white, wealthy suburb with low-crime and nationally recognized public schools. Despite weekly journeys into the big city for church, my childhood consciousness was totally disconnected from the realities of Kansas City proper. In my first nine years of life, I have nearly no memory of recognizing homelessness, poverty, or other forms of social exclusion. Instead I was learning basic mastery over reading, writing, math and science at Belinder elementary, a school with hundreds of students, dozens of teachers, yet only a handful of people of color in all. As I recall it, my universe in those years was almost exclusively white.
Given this background, what do I remember about the LA riots? What memories do I have the spontaneous uprising that drove national news and congressional hearings for months? Almost none at all. I have a vague memory that it happened. And that’s about it. Read More…
Reality needs fantasy to render it desirable, just as fantasy needs reality to make it believable.
Great movies and novels tap into our dreams and help bring our deepest desires to the surface. Even not so great movies accomplish this task. They provide a break from reality and an entry into imagined worlds, often giving life to our most absurd and explicit fantasies. So why should Dr. Pop celebrate these avenues of escape? Is not delusion an enemy of transformation? Isn’t Dr. Pop all about helping people to face reality? And to actually do something to make it better?
The short answer is: Yes and No. We at Dr. Pop are 1000% committed to positive social transformation. There is no question about that. Yet we believe that in order to be 1000% committed to anything requires radically embracing our fantasies, our dreams, and our deepest desires. In fact, we believe that ethical illusions can be used to draw people closer to their actually existing surroundings. This means embracing storytelling and seeing fiction as more than just a form of weekend entertainment. It means creating and discovering ways to bring the world of fantasy into our political lives.
This is precisely what Stephen Ducombe calls for in his book Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy. In the book, my latest favorite work, Ducombe challenges progressives to embrace spectacle as a way to manifest our ethics of fairness, justice, and equity. The ballot box, conventional protest, and enlightening panel will never be enough to transform our world, precisely because these political methods largely fail to tap into our dreams the ways that movies and novels so easily do. Instead, Ducombe argues, our politics must take on bolder and more fantastic forms. Our streets must be reclaimed, our stores must be occupied with song, and our imaginations must be channeled in ways that well-reasoned arguments will never achieve alone.
Among his key points, Ducombe claims that truth and power belong to those who tell the better story. To make his point he frequently points to the Bush administration which was able to maintain incredible power for eight years despite its obvious lies and deceptions. Yet what the Bush administration clearly understood is the need to entertain and to create spectacles that can be exploited for political ends. If these methods are bound to be used, the question then becomes – toward what ends?
Make no mistake, Ducombe is aware of the dangers of such fantastic methods and he cites Nazi Germany as a clear example of how political spectacles can facilitate real-life horror stories. Yet just because stories and spectacles have been used a vehicles for hateful destruction in the past is no reason to abandon such methods outright. Like Dr. Pop, Ducombe asserts that imaginative political acts can actually be filled with enlightened ethics and expressed in ways that expand democratic participation rather than augment dictatorship. For beautiful examples of these possibilities, look no further than Antonus Mockus, the former superhero mayor of Bogotá and unofficial muse of Dr. Pop.
What Mockus understands – and what all successful progressives must come to grasp – is that politics cannot be separated from human motivation, from the actions and events which speak to our inescapable irrationality and satisfy our emotional needs. And so we must learn how to mobilize human motivations in ways that increase transparency, expand social consciousness, and deepen participation. Only then can we expect to build a social movement whose events are deemed a better use of people’s time than NetFlix, Twilight, and Gossip Girl. Indeed, only then can we help people to find the courage to face reality by diving into the romance, honor, sacrifice and mystery of social change efforts.
In summary- Accomplishing goals as lofty as justice for all, means being comfortable with lofty methods. It means organizers becoming unafraid to don superhero capes, politicians daring to share fantastical visions, and everyday activists creating new, risky ways to shine light on the worlds around them. If you know of great examples of such courageous dreams in action, please share them through your comments below.
What makes people powerful? Is it the level of resources they wield? The amount of knowledge they possess? Or, perhaps, is it their ability to get lots of different types of people to come to a party they are throwing?
In this interview with Valdis Krebs, founder and chief scientist at orgnet.com. you will learn about the power of informal networks and personal relationships in shaping our world. Through a quick introduction to network analysis, Valdis shares powerful ideas that can help us understand society as well as our ability to change it.
As Gilda explains in the DIT video below, these ideas can lead to serious breakthroughs in everything from neighborhood organizing to global movement building.
Valdis, how did you become a social network analyst?
I actually started in human resources, as a systems person. From there I got into technology and began to notice how new technologies were changing society. They were shifting both what and who were important. And as society grew more complex, I saw that we increasingly needed technology to analyze society.
The software I developed was originally created for IT project management. Only later did it take on its current use. After working for a series of large corporations, I started my own business in 1995.
What keeps you excited about doing this work?
I really like taking on new and different applications for the work. For example, one day I received a call from a CDC epidemiologist. He thought that the TB data he had could be visualized through my network analysis method. So we worked together to see if that was true. Ultimately, his data was presented at a major public health conference and the room loved it.
Calls like that are the best, where someone says “I’ve got this situation and wonder if your method can help.” This is how I originally met Gilda, aka Dr. Pop. She wanted to map organizations and nonprofits working on housing in LA. Eventually one of her staff members, Andrea, got into the conversation and the original focus changed to understanding how LA slumlords were working. By analyzing slumlords’ connections and networks, Gilda and Andrea got a new research approaches to fuel their organizing.
This points to what I see as the secret of innovation –– taking something that’s known technology in one area, and applying it to another area where it is currently unknown.
Marie Kennedy is a transformative community planner who often draws upon participatory action research (PAR) methods to advance her work. In this interview, she shares stories about the impact that PAR can have on both urban and rural communities.
Unlike conventional approaches to research, PAR is built on the understanding that everyone has the desire and capacity to create knowledge. This simple fact – that we are all seekers and potential producers of truth – is at the core of Marie’s work, as well as the work of many other great community builders, known and unknown.
What’s typical of the participatory action research method?
Raising all voices really describes it. It’s about helping people to get in touch with what they already know, to get in touch with the problems they want to address, and with the strengths they can draw upon to address them. PAR is a good way to get at that. It provides an opening that can draw that information out.
In general, this is also what I try to achieve in my planning work. There is a fine line between what transformative community planning and participatory action research do, and I am not always sure where that line is.
Years ago I was asked to work in the Cambridge area by a Crime Watch Group. This is not a group I would typically work with, but they were at a special place. They realized that they needed to work with the youth in their neighborhood. They saw that these youth weren’t simply problems, and that the youth actually had problems. So, I agreed to work with them on the condition that the youth were in charge of the process.
Prisons provide different things to different people. For some, they ensure a far-away place to send people who have done harm to someone you love. For others, they offer jobs and a way to put food on the table. And for others still, they are simply warehouses, where loved ones, neighbors, and friends are sent in historically unprecedented numbers.
What’s clear is that prisons have become an immense part of the US political economy, incapacitating over 2 million Americans every year, at an annual cost of $50 to $60 billion. With only 5% of the world’s population, the land of the free has roughly 25% of the world’s prison population.
So what sustains our prison system? What beliefs and messages are used to justify such an enormous financial and human expense? More than anything, prisons are said to make us safer. They are the foundation of America’s current public safety paradigm, and have been since the early 1980s when the great prison expansion began.
Yet how often do we ask if prisons actually make us safer? More often than not, we simply assume that the answer is yes. However, a vast body of research has started to challenge this fundamental assumption. Taking in this growing evidence requires that we look beneath the popular “tough on crime” narratives that have helped to elect so many politicians, and that we honestly assess the condition of our neighborhoods and towns. Read More…
LISTEN to the Conversation
READ the Transcript:
Ryan interviews Janette Bulkan, who has worked on issues of poor governance, corruption, and their negative impacts on people, the economy, and the ecology in highly forested countries for many years.
Ryan: Will you tell me a little bit about your work, globally, around issues of environmental justice?
Janette: Well, that is an ambitious way of putting it. My work is actually just a tiny piece of it. I did my doctoral research on forestry concessions in Guyana. And I started off looking at the differences between forest law, forest policy, forest regulations, on the one hand, and forest practices on the other, for large-scale and small-scale forest concessions. So I was basically looking at what the law said and what the practice was. I was actually interested in a technical study to understand what kinds of harvesting practices, or at what levels, would make sense for the very fragile forests of Guyana. Because these are forests that are located in the poorest soils, globally,land with just a tiny, like a quarter inch of soil, on the Guiana Shield, which is occupied by Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana, parts of eastern Venezuela and northern Brazil.
But I quickly realized that, and this was back in 2006,that my study wasn’t really about law, regulation, policy vs. practice –– because those laws and regulations were adequate, actually. Or really thoughtful in many ways. But my study was about governance and corruption.
I graduated and I went on to teach and I am now at The Field Museum, but I’ve maintained an interest in how these processes play out and affect the most marginalized peoples who live in these frontier areas as in Guyana and in Suriname.
So last year, this initiative called the LDPI –– the Land Grab –– the Land Deal Politics Initiative –– invited me to do a paper on the role of Chinese companies and the state of China, the government of China, in resource grabbing in Guyana. And I completed that paper, of course, before I came to the Field Museum. After that, the LDPI, this Land Deal Politics Initiative, which is a consortium of the Futures Agriculture Unit in the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, Cornell University in the U.S.A., the Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands, and I think the University of South Africa. This consortium raised funding to have a three-day conference on resource grabbing and land grabbing. They made it possible for me to attend that by covering the cost of my airfare. And that took place between the 8th and the 10th of April at the University of Sussex in England.
And it was really a moving experience, an intellectually very stimulating experience, but also an experience, I think, where scholars at different places in their career trajectories came together to think about these issues, globally and locally. So I think the conference had accepted 120 papers for presentation and they had to turn away over 250 excellent papers because of the limitations of time and the actual venue that was chosen. It’s a very small space in which to have a conference. And it was only really possible because of excellent administrative arrangements by the University of Sussex, IDS.
Of those 120 papers, they represented people, researchers from 69 universities and 29 independent institutions. And 17 of them were Africa-based scholars. So this was all facilitated, in doing this work, by the LDPI, the Land Grab Deal Politics Initiative. And I think it cumulatively began to address an issue that is happening very quickly, which is the consolidation of land under long term lease arrangements between governments and large corporations in parts of our world in which there are no immediate possibilities of questioning –– what are the mechanisms under which this is done, who benefits, who are the winners, who are the losers, what does the State gain, is it really about food security at the local level, or does something else play out.
So that conference, the LDPI Conference of 6th to 8th of April, isn’t meant to be one off. There’s a website, on which all the papers are posted. It’s meant to be a website in which you can upload other things, you can upload other papers and continue a conversation around these issues, because this phenomenon of land grabbing –– a new enclosure movement –– globally, is happening fast, and happening in a way that it is not on the radar screen of many people.
So we’re thinking about what are the implications of this land grabbing for us, wherever we are globally. And what are the implications for the most marginalized peoples in these far-off places, who are experiencing that new phenomenon in their daily lives. And what does all of this mean, in our globalized world which is also subject to rapidly changing climate? Are we, in fact, thinking about these things deeply when we allow corporate decisions to determine land use and access.
Ryan: So, what exactly is land grabbing?
Our climate is destabilizing, and we are drastically unprepared. As of October, the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide levels were at 388 parts per million, higher than anytime in the last 650,000 to 800,00 years, depending on how you count. Consequently— the earth is starting to seriously heat up, weather is growing more unpredictable, and extreme storms are more frequent. Nine out of the ten hottest years on record have occurred since 1990, and the impacts of these shifts are starting to hit cities hard. The recent earthquake in Japan is only the most recent example. According to UN Habitat, the number of natural disasters that have impacted urban areas has climbed over four-fold since 1975.
Yet Japan is especially uncanny because nature’s havoc is amplified by a crisis in the production of nuclear power, one that has already lead to the radioactive contamination of tap water for the tens of millions of people living in and around Tokyo. Following the March 11th earthquake, vital nuclear reactors near Tokyo were breeched and radioactive plumes started to make their way across the country, as well as across the Pacific Ocean. So the devastation that was initially triggered by Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, has been multiplied many times over by the ways that one of the world’s greatest cities was generating its energy.
While our cities are full of beauty and promise, they are also a battlefield of interests. City officials are often more concerned with downtown development than neighborhood survival, yet grassroots leaders refuse to be silent amidst the challenges facing their communities. Protests, marches, and creativity are all a part of their fight for a fair distribution of resources and opportunity.
The video above highlights some of the key organizing efforts of Chicagoans in recent years, with images from the cityscape as well as the frontlines. It features music from Grant Buhr, moving images from Sarah Jane Rhee and Jo Guldi, along with lyrics from Ryan Lugalia-Hollon.
What does hip-hop legend J-Live have in common with the billionaire ultra-conservative Koch brother?
Not much. Expect perhaps that they both work hard and are here to stay.
J-Live’s “Give It Up” is basically a hip-hop anthem for the climate action movement. It runs through the core concepts of climate change, warns that if we don’t wish to live on Mars then something serious has to change.
You can listen to it here, and I highly suggest that you do. Through powerful lyrics, flow, and production, the longstanding indie MC boils down everything you need to know about global warming into 5 minutes of eye-opening entertainment. It’s art meets science at its highest.
Ok, so where do the Koch brothers fit in? They are wealth meets politics at its lowest. While J-Live deploys the power of hip-hop to inspire people to protect mother nature, David and Charles Koch are busy deploying the power of their incredible wealth to fund attacks on any environmental regulations that might threaten their oil regime. In a recent New Yorker article, investigative journalist Jane Myer exposes the downright nasty funding strategy of a family that gives philanthropy a bad name. A real bad name.
Since BP’s Deepwater Horizon explosion this spring, over 5 million barrels of oil have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. Animals, humans, states and entire industries have been devastated. Meanwhile, the conditions which lead to this catastrophe have gone largely unaddressed.
Off shore drilling is still seen as a legitimate way for us to meet our energy needs, and we continue to burn through unbelievable amounts of this finite fuel. What does this tell us about the world we live in today? For starters, it shows that the real crisis goes much deeper than any single disaster.
Our entire economy runs on the consumption of fossil fuels, a dependence which places us at the mercy of companies like BP and endangers the sustainability of life as we know it. This last oil spill is one overwhelming indicator that this way of life cannot last, that our culture and economy must change.
Fortunately, the change that we need so badly can begin in our homes, and it can begin with us. According to experts like Energy Savvy, the energy lost in the BP spill is roughly equivalent to the energy wasted every year by 75,000 homes. By weatherizing our homes and retrofitting our neighborhoods, we can start to take meaningful actions that reduce our dependence on oil. And weatherization is only one example.
In this video explaining the BP oil spill, Lisa See Kim and Ryan Hollon illustrate alternative routes to meeting our energy demands. Crude Awakenings points to changes we can make as a society to reduce our dependence on oil, whether that means changing where we get our food or investing in solar and wind power.
Whether these actions are supported the government or come from grassroots coalitions, what matters most is that they happen. For the more energy-efficient our world becomes, the less power Big Oil has over how we live our lives.
For more information on the problem and solutions check out:
Gulf Spill is Largest of It’s Kind, Scientist Say, New York Times
Energy Action Coalition is a coalition of 50 youth-led environmental and social justice groups working together to build the youth clean energy and climate movement.
Chicago’s Energy Action Network expands winter heating assistance services in neighborhoods and encourage residents to save money year-round through energy efficiency measures and programs.
Alliance for Climate Education educates high school students on the science behind climate change and inspires them to take action to curb the causes of global warming.
Farm Together Now is a new book (December 2010) by Amy Franceschini and Daniel Tucker who visited 20 urban and rural farmers around the country to provide a vision of real alternatives to oil-dependent industrial agriculture. We’ll let you know when the book is available, but meanwhile, you can check out Amy and Dan’s website.
Everyone agrees that Chicago Public Schools have to change. Yet there are fierce disagreements over what kinds of changes must be made, who should lead that change, and how it should be administered. At the helm of the warring parties are Karen Lewis, the new president of the Chicago Teacher’s Union, and Ron Huberman, the CEO of CPS installed by Chicago’s Mayor Daley.
These two opposing leaders are fighting a serious battle, one that will determine the extent to which public schools remain publicly owned and operated. It is a fight with tremendous implications, ranging from the future of charter schools in the City of Chicago, to how success is defined and evaluated.
In the backdrop of this battle, there is another struggle going on in Chicago Public Schools. This is the fight to protect the life of Chicago Public School students. As a recent New York Times article identified, 218 CPS students were shot in the last school year, and 258 the year before. The article, provocatively titled “Graduation Is the Goal, Staying Alive Is the Prize,” highlights efforts to improve the safety of simply attending public school. They focus on an unfolding intervention strategy which targets the most “at-risk” students and connects them with adult mentors and support services. Created by CEO Huberman, a former police officer, this $60 million intervention is also geared to strengthening communications between the police and school administrators. While this intervention brings in deeply needed resources, the police dimension of the program strengthens a disciplinary approach that relies heavily on law enforcement to run daily operations at schools.
The next bubble is bound to be green. Stock markets will rise and fall based on how people relate to new energy technologies. So why not learn to master these technologies ourselves? This post reviews a few promising trends in the renewable energy sector, and talks about how ordinary folks can learn to master our own energy futures. Only a few short examples are highlighted here, so please leave comments with inspiring examples of your own.
Make Your Own Windmill At the age of 14, William Kamkwamba built his own windmill to power his house in rural Malawi. After discovering a book called Using Energy, he simply started experimenting with discarded local materials and designed an energy solution to help meet his family’s needs. His story was quickly picked up by NGOs across Africa, and celebrated at global thought forums like TED. William’s story teaches us that you can control your own energy future, and that you don’t have to have much money to do it. You don’t even have to be an adult! Sometimes, you just need the basic knowledge, a knack for experimenting, and the ability to find leftover materials from the area where you live.
Here is an excerpt from the work-in-progress documentary about William’s story:
Find out more on the Moving Windmills site.
How much energy does it take to power internet usage in the world? A whole bunch. Getting connected, powering communication and searches, and storing information online all require tremendous energy resources. When we think about the internet’s billions of users, where this energy comes from starts to matter in a major way. As more people get connected every day, we need to be creative with how we power our lives online. One emerging example of powering our web time with renewable energy comes from Project Focus , a group that is partnering with leaders from rural Uganda to build a solar powered internet café.
Check out their short video.
New Tools for Living Off-the-Grid
Getting our energy from the sun and wind will mean that people no longer have to be dependent on major electricity companies to live our lives. Rather than plugging into a privately-owned network of energy providers, technology is emerging that can help folks light up their own lives, literally. The Solar Pebble is an awesome demonstration of how people anywhere in the world can harness the sun’s power by day, to bring light to their night-time activities. As more technologies like this emerge, it will be vital for people to learn how they can develop and reproduce them on their own. Check out Shervin Saedinia’s story about the Solar Pebble on four-story.
Read & Listen
If Only Cleverness Could Sustain Her
The Earth is unconvinced by our arguments
That She’s doing just fine,
The ice caps remain skeptical
Of our witty reasons and rhymes,
The rising oceans do not wait
As we take our sweet time.
This world is in the cross-fire
Of our denial, and it’s the fearless storms
Who’ll speak most clearly at the trial.
Mother Earth has a crazy fever
And we just let her moan,
Like a long-forgotten parent
In a nursing home alone.
click image to hear poem
This month Dr. Pop is all about sports and politics, about the ways that the love of the game gets mixed up with the love of money and power. Celine examines the “rules of the games” in the upcoming London Olympics, Gary comments on a recent drive for professional football in LA spearheaded by a local power broker, and Andrea turns her eye to the collateral consequences of the 2010 African Cup of Nations. Each story deals with the tension between sports for the sake of enjoyment, and sports for the sake of enhancing market values or securing political futures. They address the ways that athletic competitions have become a key fixture in the contemporary global political economy.
This unique mixture, between the politics of sports and the economic game of politics, comes into play every time a city faces a decision about building a new stadium or a country attempts to host a mega-event like the FIFA World Cup. At stake in these decisions is the deployment of scarce public dollars and vital urban lands. As the future of these resource get decided, a broad collection of stakeholders must debate: What kinds of benefits might an expanded sports infrastructure bring to our city? Who will get to enjoy these benefits and for how long? And because these are tough questions, these debates can set off fierce competitions between opposing groups, competitions which make many championship games seem like little-league. To read more about how these questions are being answered in South Africa, check out this recent NY Times article: “Cost of Stadium Reveals Tensions in South Africa.”
At the heart of these debates is the issue of who has the right to access and to enjoy the city. This often becomes a clash between the use value and the exchange value of urban space, between the ways that city dwellers make the most of city lands and the ways these same lands are controlled by outside investors, as well as commercial and government interests. The 2008 Beijing Olympics offer a clear example of what happens when the concern with building a new sports infrastructure becomes more important than the human rights of urban dwellers. In addition to the seven gold medals won by swimmer Michael Phelps, the Beijing Olympics also featured the displacement of roughly 1.5. million people from their homes.
For a general introduction to the theory and practice of restorative justice, check out:
Restorative Justice online.
I sat next to an astrophysicist on the flight to South Africa, one who was on a mission to observe the first stars as they formed. How does one look back millions of years to the moments when stars were first coming into being? Well, apparently you just need a very sophisticated radiotelescope in an area with very little interference. My neighbor in the aisle seat, a scientist and professor at Berkeley, was taking advantage of a much larger project called the Square Kilometer Array. By tuning into certain frequencies, this man and his colleagues would be able to gain key insights not just on how stars form, but on the dawn of the universe itself.
In order to understand this project at all, I had to change the way I understand time and space. Here is the thought exercise I was given on that flight: Think of the universe as a balloon. As more air goes into the balloon, it expands. What we experience as time is the expansion of the balloon, moving everything outwards as it goes. Earlier moments in history, like when stars first formed, are really just points that are further out on the balloon. By looking outwards towards those points scientists can capture information that has taken millions of years to travel back to us. This information can then be analyzed, put into equations, and used to fill out our contemporary understanding of the expanding universe, its origins, and perhaps even its future directions.
The balloon metaphor is an imperfect one, but it’s a start. I like it because it challenges me to think about my travels, and my life, in a totally different way. I am not growing older. Time, at least in the traditional sense, is not passing by me. Rather I am moving outwards, with a first-class seat in an expanding universe. Of course, none of us is on this journey alone. All of existence is in it together, at different phases and stages of becoming. Once I landed in Johannesburg I began to enter a new phase in my own unfolding life, one marked by political education and peer learning, by the fruits of other people’s struggles and by my own bonds with a group of trouble makers who call Chicago home.
I was heading to South Africa as part of a restorative justice delegation from the Windy City. Our group brought with it a diverse history of activism, action, and hustling for change. Some of the delegates were working to transform the disciplinary culture of the public school system, others were community leaders deeply rooted in neighborhood life, several had been working for decades to reform the ways our society responds to domestic violence, and many in the group had dedicated their lives to working with young people to shift power in their communities. All of us were practitioners of conflict resolution methods like peace circles, and all of us shared a basic belief in the power of groups to come together to address difficult issues, to deal with the conflicting forces in our lives.
For 2 weeks we meet with like-minded folks in Capetown and Johannesburg, interacting with an incredible array of people, places and projects. We connected with students, principals, teachers turned into police, preachers turned into organizers, community groups, and a whole host of amazing folks. We were there for the 20th anniversary of the release of political prisoners during apartheid (February, 2nd 1990). We were there as South African cities scrambled to ready themselves for the FIFA World Cup. We were there as much of the world heard about the marital and extra-marital exploits of the current ANC leader. We were there to listen to the Soweto Youth Choir, and to hear Hugh Masekela and Sibongele Khumalo perform together live at the Market Theater. But mostly we were just there, riding the balloon together, taking things one van ride and one conversation at a time. Read More…
In US cities today, our public safety officials typically respond to violence by locking people up, by moving the offender far away from their families and their communities. This process of removal is almost always handled by the police, the only government officials that many US residents will ever see. And whether the people involved in the incident are youth or adults, the official response is roughly the same.
Alternatively, there may be no real response to violence at all. This is especially common in cases where weapons are not involved. Neither of these two extremes –police-led removal and inaction – does anything to address the underlying causes of violence. Neither accounts for the pain, neglect, or stress that can drive people to harm one another. Moreover, neither extreme deals with the hurt caused to others by an act of violence, the survivors, victims, witnesses, and loved one whose lives are forever changed by the event .
This begs the question, what is so public about public safety? Is it just that criminal justice employees are paid with tax payer dollars? Can real public safety be achieved without meaningful public involvement? Restorative justice is a philosophy that emphasizes the critical importance of involving parents, brothers, sisters, lovers, friends, children and other community members in the peacemaking process following a violent incident. It focuses on repairing the harm caused by crime and conflict, healing broken relationships, and addressing the underlying reasons for any offense.
A common saying in restorative justice circles is that “hurt people, hurt people.” This phrase suggests that healing is, in and of itself, an act of violence prevention. Like a wild fire that can only spread when surrounded by dry conditions, violence can only thrive when hurts go unhealed. Extending this belief, restorative justice supporters argue that our streets can be made safer simply by creating community spaces to lovingly confront past pains. For restorative justice folks, healing is prevention.
It was precisely this understanding that guided Chicago’s first “Day of Healing” on December 8th of 2009. Called by the Community Justice for Youth Institute, the day was initiated as a response to the more than 50 youth killings that happened between January and November of 2009 (see map below). Thanks to the work of over 30 community organizations and schools, the day was organized in a matter of weeks. All across the city, from the South Side to the Wild West to the North Pole, these groups brought together youth and adults whose lives have been seriously impacted by violence.
Map by Andrew Greenlee
More than 40 peace circles were successfully organized on that day, each one providing a safe space where people volunteered to sit down with one another and to share whatever was in their heart. Some circles explored the root causes of school fights, some provided a safe place for people returning from prison to share about their personal journey, while others brought together community leaders to reflect on the peacemaking work they’ve been doing for years. Since that day, all of the circle organizers have met again and are planning to coordinate similar days of healing on a regular basis throughout 2010.
Chicago’s “Day of Healing” model offers a prime example of what peace and safety can look like when neighborhood leaders take charge. Whether you are a high school student, a teacher, a grandparent, or a non-profit worker, you have the ability to organize and facilitate peacemaking circles. You have the power to change the culture of justice at your school, on your block, and in your neighborhood. It is not enough to outsource safety to the police, or to simply ignore violence when it occurs. Real public safety requires the regular involvement of the real public. And that means us.
To learn more about peacemaking circles, restorative justice, and Chicago’s “Day of Healing,” go to:
What makes mathematicians good mayors?
They solve problems!
People using too much water? Taxi drivers taking folks to the wrong locations? Too many men acting violent at night? Frustrated drivers unable to communicate with each other? Urban dwellers crossing the street in dangerous ways?
In this videoblog urban planners from Colombia tell the story of two creative independent mayors who found new ways to address old urban issues. The mayors – Antanas Mockus from Bogota and Sergio Fajardo from Medellin – worked to change the way that residents relate to one another and to public space. With the help of mimes, super hero costumes, and artistic interventions, they helped to create a ‘culture of citizenship’ in their respective cities.
As you listen to Catalina Ortiz and Diego Silva tell the story of these two mayors, you’ll learn how former mathematicians became some of the most innovative politicians in Colombia’s recent history. And their efforts are far from over. Amidst Colombia’s unfolding presidential race, Mockus and Fajardo are both trying to bring their alternative messages to the national stage. While Fajardo’s campaign has been gaining steam in the mainstream, Mockus is focused on fueling a new grassroots movement built on trust between informed citizens. What is his campaign slogan amidst the violence plaguing the country today? “Life is Sacred.”
For more on Mockus and Fajardo check out the links below:
Fajardo in Medellin:
Who Let All These Housing Folks Into the Federal Reserve Bank?
It was a real event. Gathered together at the Federal Reserve Bank, just a few floors above vaults containing 7 to 10 billion US dollars, were representatives of nearly every major sector invested in the future of housing in Chicago. On the one side there were tenant leaders, directors of grassroots and advocacy organizations, service providers and a host of affordable housing developers. On the other side of the equation was the coalition of powerful institutional actors working for or in partnership with the City of Chicago, those bearing the most responsibility for current housing conditions and trends. Their ranks included representatives from the Chicago Housing Authority, the Department of Community Development, and the Local Initiative Support Council.
Everyone in the large auditorium was there to hear results from the release of ‘The State of Renters in the City of Chicago,’ a new report by the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO). The report officially confirmed what many in the room had known for years, gentrification has dramatically changed the face of the Windy City. Armed with data from both the census and their high-volume housing hotline, MTO analysts demonstrated how Chicago’s rental housing market has been pushed away from the central city and the North side. As the report demonstrates, renters have been forced deeper into the South, West and Southwest sides, where they have less access to vital amenities like jobs, healthy food, and public transportation.
What made the report unique was not just what it said, but how it said it. Amazingly, the primary data was compiled from over 150,000 calls from tenant’s to MTOs housing hotline. Why is this amazing? Because it shows that powerful research can come from providing direct services to people in need. When organized correctly, the service work going on in the city can systemically inform how people understand what’s going on in the city. That is pretty cool, though without real follow-up action it does not give renters the affordable options they so desperately need. What matters now is how we all use this research to improve the housing outcomes for the thousands and thousands of Chicagoans who’ve been pushed away from the city’s center.
Here are some other reports on the event:
Chicago Renters Spending More of Their Paychecks On Shelter (Chicago Tribune)
Renters Caught in the Housing Collapse (Chicago Public Radio)
A Renters Nightmare (The Chicago Reporter)
Rent Key to Chicago Economy (Chicago Tribune, letter-to-editor)
State of Renters Here: Insecure (Chicago LISC)
What’s behind a neighborhood? What’s going on beyond?
In those corridors of power where they birth all the new dawns?
Whose making these decisions about resources on my block?
Whose fixing all these potholes and setting all the clocks?
Chicago is a beautiful beast that breaths with the wind!
But pours more money into Buckingham Fountain,
than health clinics on its South End,
So while there’s much to celebrate, there’s also much to mourn,
For every pot of gold that builds downtown
There’s babies being born who’ll never make it to see the lake,
Because this crazy City is torn— Read More…