Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

on Memorial Day
Commandos storm a humanitarian convoy
while friends prepare a memorial service
for a young woman split by war
divided from herself
prescribed into illness

I met her once. Her gaze was sure.
Tattooed on the outside
About the inside, I learned more today
although I will never know enough

She loved children and animals, they said
She was also angry, "my sister enraged through the end,"
read her poet friend
"She was the single most bad-ass person I knew,"
said another.
In pain, she cared more about the pain of others.

I was told that she was with Tomas Young when he was injured
giving him cigarettes until help could arrive
later, she was shot
and discharged
hurt inside and out
she sent care packages to those still in

We leave Killeen after the Memorial Service
on "Phantom Warriors Highway"
worried about our friend on the boat
who also has traveled this road

A ghost accompanies us, an electric charge
which, as Hart says, never dies and runs through everyone
She is part of us now
powering us on

photo of Lisa Morris and Ann Wright from Under The Hood's flickr site

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Earth call

I like this photo, taken by Jay Janner of the Austin American-Statesman at today's rally for immigrant rights at the TX capitol.

It was good to be there. The Aztec dancers blowing the conch horns made me think about our oceans and the enormous variety of life they contain. My Dutch ancestors were fisherpersons on the North Sea. They came to the US as immigrants and became farmers.

The sea, the land and we immigrants on the planet are interdependent. No Arizona law can deny that, and the Gulf oil catastrophe only confirms it.

Friday, May 28, 2010

What happens to the oily mess and those who have to mess with it?

This is the last paragraph of an AP story about President Obama's visit to the Louisiana Coast today:

Early in the morning in advance of the president's arrival, hundreds of workers clad in white jumpsuits and rubber gloves hit the beaches to dig oily debris from the sand and haul it off. Workers refused to say who hired them, telling a reporter they were told to keep quiet or lose their jobs.

Can this be investigated further? What kinds of protections do these workers have other than jumpsuits and rubber gloves? Who is doing the work? Why are they being threatened? And where does the oily debris get hauled off to?

More on the BP protest

Really good article by Medea Benjamin posted on The Rag Blog and Common Dreams about Monday's BP protest in Houston.

Following on concerns expressed in my previous post, there was an article in the Austin American-Statesman online yesterday about 7 oil cleanup workers being hospitalized due to exposure to oil and chemicals, but I didn't see the article in today's print version. I think it's an important part of the whole picture to be aware of what cleanup actually entails and the effects on the people who do it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

In the oil "clean-up," who does the dirty work?

When BP CEO, Tony Hayward says, "We will clean every last drop" of the beyond-disatrous oil contamination of the water and shores of the Gulf Coast, I wonder who he means by "we". The front-page story in the Austin American-Statesman that features this quote, along with a photo of a "devastated" Hayward also features a photo of "a worker" using a hand-held mop to sop up an oil-soaked section of sand on Port Fourchon Beach. The worker is not named and he is not a white man.

Who is doing the dangerous, back-breaking work of "clean-up"? How much are they getting paid? What if they get sick in the process of handling oil sludge? Are they US citizens with health insurance?

I would like to see the clean-up work being done by the executives of BP, beginning at the top. Also, stockholders, as owners of the business, share responsibility for the accident. They took known risks by drilling so deep into the ocean floor. Do they feel it's fair to transfer the messiest consequences of those risks onto the backs of others?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Exposing the Naked Truth about Drill, Baby, Drill

Congratulations to the CodePinkers who followed Diane Wilson's lead in organizing the "Exposing the Naked Truth About Drill, Baby, Drill" demonstration in front of BP headquarters in downtown Houston today. Several CodePink Austin and Dallas activists joined the protest.

Check out this interview with Diane on MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan Show.

The Houston Chronicle also has a good story and video here.

Diane, as a fourth-generation shrimper, knows her beloved Gulf Coast better than most, and she has engaged in numerous acts of civil disobedience in defense of the ecosystem there. As Medea Benjamin says, this horrendous spill may be the planet's last straw. We humans must, in every way we can, support alternatives to an oil-based energy system.

All photos posted above are from the CodePink flickr page, except for the top photo (of our own Heidi Turpin and her remarkable fish costume), taken by AP photographer, Pat Sullivan, as posted on the site of today's Houston Chronicle.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Biking for Life

[A piece honed from this post is published on The Rag Blog, and on Common Dreams, May 22,2010]

May is National Bike Month, highlighted by National Bike to Work week, which begins today and culminates on Friday, May 21, National Bike to Work Day. According to the League of American Bicyclists, the first Bike to Work Day took place in 1956!

Reading more about the history of this event on the League's website, I learned that this bicycle advocacy group was founded in 1880 and was originally called, "League of American Wheelmen." The reason for organizing around bicycling was because then, as now, bicyclists were often marginalized by other road users -- even pedestrians. And, in 1880, roads were rutted and difficult for bicyclists to navigate, so the group pressed for the paving of roadways. According to the organizational history described on its website, "The success of the League in its first advocacy efforts ultimately led to our national highway system."

Whoa. Didn't the dominance of our highway system ultimately lead back to the marginalization of alternative transportation systems, including bicycling? And yet, it's true: most cyclists rely on smooth, paved roads if they are regular commuters.

Figuring out how to share our paths of transportation will likely always vex us. Austin's new communter rail crosses many roadways, slowing traffic, including buses trying to move other public transportation users to their destinations on time. Concerns about the rail line and its long delay in start date centered around safety issues at all its road intersections. Despite the intensive focus on safety, accidents are still possible. And, when cars and bicyles must share space, accidents are inevitable.

When my father was a boy growing up as a work hand on his parents' dairy farm, his first real accident happened off the farm on a dirt road nearby as he was riding his bike to school. A driver of a Model-A Ford accidentally clipped him and knocked him and his bike to the ground. Fortunately, he was not badly hurt, but both he and the driver were shaken. Had the road been paved, would that have prevented or worsened the accident? Without a bike lane, the driver likely would have been traveling at a greater speed, and the possibility of a more serious injury would have increased.

Keeping bicyclists and drivers separated by bike lanes became a key goal of bicycle advocates, but I wonder whether bike lanes were discussed back in 1880. If, beginning then, bike lanes had been consistently included in every road project as roads were paved and widened, how different things would be now. The US might look a lot more like Holland, with a large biking population riding on dedicated pathways. Surely, the US would have been far less reliant on oil and gas. Offshore rigs might have been completely unheard of.

Speaking of my dad, he has a bike history that is quite rare, I think. Despite his early bike accident, he became a regular rider as an adult soon after he began his teaching career at a small college in Wisconsin in 1958. My dad bought a used Schwinn 3-speed from a student, and he has ridden that bicycle to and from the college and around town to do errands ever since. He is now 82 and continues to use the bike for his local business whenever weather allows.

When I visited my parents last month, I asked my dad more about the bike, as we figured it was about the 50th year of their rather remarkable long-term relationship! He said he'd replaced the tires a few times, the brake pads maybe once and the pedals once. But, the simple gear system was original -- he'd just kept it oiled. Yes, the frame is rusty, but that probably has helped keep the bike from looking attractive to a thief. My Dad has never used a bike lock. Even parked along a busy road near his office almost every work day during his 35 years of teaching, the bike remained untethered and unstolen.

When I read about Schwinn on wikipedia, I learned that my dad's black and white cruiser was probably manufactured at the company's original plant in Chicago sometime in the 1950's. According to its wikipedia history, Schwinn was founded in Chicago in 1895 and reached its peak of production around 1900, when 30 factories in the city were busy producing bikes for eager commuters. Just 5 years later, however, production had dropped by 25% as the auto industry gained momentum.

Schwinn held on to its brand, but the company had its ups and downs and finally was bought by larger businesses. Manufacturing was moved to Mississippi and later outsourced to China and Taiwan. Schwinn is now owned by a Canadian company.

I suppose that, if every bike customer rode the same bicycle for 50 years, the bicycle company would not long survive. On the other hand -- think of the great environmental savings if many people could transport themselves with one zero-emission product for a lifetime...

I'm proud of my dad for his consistent and distinguished bicycling history! I am sure that pedaling up and down hills on his trusty steed is partly what has preserved his good health. And, he has helped preserve the planet at the same time. Ride on, dad, and Happy Bike Half-century!

Photo: my dad, Glenn Van Haitsma, on his Schwinn, April 2010

Friday, May 14, 2010

Victory Over Sin

Speaking of art cars with a message -- see this interview from yesterday's Victoria Advocate about art car artist, David Best's winning entry in this year's Houston show. Titled "Victory Over Sin," his car is a tribute to immigrants and a rejection of the racist legislation just passed in Arizona. "Victory Over Sin" won both the Best of Show and the Peoples' Choice awards in Saturday's parade. What an excellent art car and message.

(above) art car detail, photo by Ed Schipul, Orange Show

(below) from the Victoria Advocate by Bill Clough

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Loving our Mother via the Houston Art Car Parade

There's a social mixer exercise where people in a group tell each other, in turn, something they think others are unlikely to know about them. For me, the idea is not just to learn more about each other, but to be reminded that we are all deeper and broader than we will ever know. One aspect of empathy is the happy surprise.

Sometimes, I do a version of this exercise in my head when I am with some people I know and others I don't -- thinking, that is, about the remarkable qualities and circumstances I know about folks, and wondering whether, if others knew those things, would it change the ways they think?

I was doing this last Saturday in Houston as I rode along with our CodePink Austin Peacemobile entry in the fabulous Houston Art Car Parade. Our theme was "Love Your Mother," -- since the parade is held the day before Mother's Day -- with "Mother" meaning our common planet as well as all moms everywhere. We also meant: peace is green, and war is not.

Four of our group rode in the Peacemobile, and six of us rode our bicycles alongside the car as part of our entry. This year, because we had held a fundraiser in Houston the night before for the GI Coffee House, Under The Hood, our group included the UTH director, her two daughters, and two young US Army veterans from Killeen.

The parade, the largest of its kind in the world, is lined with thousands of spectators. I thought about my friends in the Peacemobile. Would the crowd guess that in the passenger seat was a soldier who is going through the process of filing as a Conscientious Objector? Would they know that in the back seat was a woman who worked for years at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and also felt so strongly about the wrongness of US policies in Central America that she spent 6 months in prison for an act of civil disobedience on a US Army base? Would they guess that the child sitting next to her was the daughter of a Ft. Hood soldier who did three tours of duty in Iraq, even after a serious head injury during his second?

I think the people exchanging peace signs with us would have been surprised to learn that one of us on the bikes was just recently released from the military brig in Ft. Lewis, WA after serving a term for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan. They might have seen his t-shirt with peace sign and just assumed he was a "peace-nik" since day one. Would they guess that he hails from Kentucky, plays and sings 90's country, and is a devoted Christian?

As I thought about my companions, I was full of wonder. What were the chances that each of us would find our way to this moment, sharing this parade?

As we rode along, I also watched the crowd. Making eye contact with as many people as I could, I called out, "Happy Mother's Day!" Lots called out in response, "You, too!" or "Love Your Mother!" as they read the messages on the car and my bike. When I looked into their faces, I could catch only a glimpse of the mysteries they contained.

To me, that's the essence of why war must end. Every person is a universe of experience and potential. How could we destroy such a deep well, a vessel of possibility? How could we kill someone who we might find, one day, tooling along beside us in a parade?

When President Obama campaigned on the "Change" theme, I thought most about how individuals can change, rather than how things change. We evolve over the course of our lives. If lives are cut short, denying us the opportunity to change, then evolutionary progress on a larger scale suffers, too.

The Houston Art Car parade is all about creation and transformation. We're outlandish, unique and beautiful, rolling forward together. Happy Mother's Day, everyone!

from top, moi on my peace bike, from bubbaofthebubbles' flickr site (Bubba is my neighbor, Robert, he of yard art fame)
the Peacemobile, with globe engineer, Heidi
the Peacemobile on parade, from Boptimist's flickr site
my favorite other biker, from Barry D's flickr site

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Si, se puede

The Austin-American-Statesman estimates 10,000 people at the Immigrant Rights rally and march today. It felt good to be part of such a large, friendly and spirited crowd that included lots of families with children. There were many signs and banners carried in response to the backwards legislation in Arizona. Thanks to Sylvia Thompson for taking great photos, including those above.