Wednesday, June 23, 2010

From Hummer to handlebars

It's been good riding my bike longer distances this week. Longer daylight, longer miles and longer looks at the scenery. In this spirit, I like this piece by Medea Benjamin about the burial/transformation of the Hummer during the US Social Forum in Detroit.

The Hummer Is Dead. And We Buried It

by Medea Benjamin

On the eve of a gathering of over 25,000 social justice activists in Detroit called the U.S. Social Forum, environmentalists and peacemakers led by the group CODEPINK converged to bury the symbol of the American hubris: the Hummer. One month after the last Hummer rolled off the production line, the activists gave the hulk of steel a proper burial.

The resting place chosen for the Hummer was the Heidelberg Project, an artistic community in downtown Detroit where dolls and plastic toys and shoes and shopping carts are transformed into street art. People come from far and wide to view the wild and wacky creations by artist Tyree Gupton. Heidelberg Street's message to Detroit and global visitors is one of renewal and hope in a city devastated by hard times and unemployment. The activists used the Hummer's demise to mark the end of a Rambo-like era, culture, lifestyle, and political philosophy. A converted military tank first sold to civilians in 1992 thanks to the promotion of action hero/Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hummers represented an increasing militarization of our society and the glorification of war. They were also an energy sinkhole that helped fuel wars for oil and global warming. The Hummer's dreadful gas mileage of 8-10 miles per gallon was less than half the mileage of the Model T Ford 100 years ago! Hummers emitted over 3 times more carbon dioxide than average cars and they give off more smog-producing pollutants and dangerous particulates. But because they had been categorized as light trucks, they were exempt from meeting emission or fuel-efficiency standards.

While the $50,000-$150,000 Hummer models were advertised as the coolest, fiercest car on the road and a patriotic way to "support the troops", activists tried to label the Hummer an unpatriotic car that fueled war and warming. For years, CODEPINK women would do guerrilla theater at auto shows, climbing atop the vehicles and draping them with messages such as: "Real soldiers are dying in their Hummers so you can play soldier in yours." They held anti-Hummer actions at auto dealers, surrounding the monstrosities with bicycles and Priuses. They handed out traffic violation tickets, signed by Mother Earth.

Campaigns like that of CODEPINK raised awareness and shamed many a consumer from driving a Hummer. The Hummer also took a blow when the resistance movements in Iraq started blowing up Humvees with primitive IEDs. The burned shells on the side of the Baghdad roads tarnished the image of the "invincible King of the Road".

But the real blow came with the rise in oil prices. Sales plummeted when people had to cough up over $100 to fill the gas tank. The generalized economic crisis in the past two years put the nail in the coffin. And with the news that the Hummer was officially off the assembly line, CODEPINK made plans for the burial.

The H-3 Hummer that was buried in Motor City was bought from a parts yard for $500. The spanking new vehicle had been leased from a dealership but when the leasee discovered he owed more money then he had, he had the bright idea of torching the $100,000 tank and claiming it was an accident. The story didn't go down well with the dealer or the police. The macho man is now spending time in prison for arson and fraud, while the burned-out hulk of the vehicle became the centerpiece of CODEPINK's art installation.

With the help of a backhoe and a car carrier, the activists dug out the final resting place and slowly lowered the shell into the ground. They painted it bright pink with vines and flowers. John George, founder of Motor City Blight Busters brought four brightly painted butterflies to add to the emerging greenery. They filled the insides of the Hummer with dirt, and then festooned it with live plants, a rainbow of flowers and a pear tree bursting through the sunroof. The macho machine was suddenly transformed into a giant flower pot.

Just ahead of the buried Hummer, rising out from the ground, was a pink bicycle with an arrow pointing "To the Future." And off to the side, a car hood became the Hummer's memorial tombstone, lettered to read:

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
We bury a Hummer here to rust
And from these ashes, we recreate
A world of peace, an end to hate.

At the close of a long work day, the group held a solemn ceremony where they individually pledged to do more to help heal our planet. Then they sang, danced and rode bicycles on the Hummer's grave.

"I always wanted to dance on the Hummer's grave," said CODEPINK activist Tighe Barry, who directed the project and grew up in Detroit. As he bid the Hummer a formal farewell dressed in a pink Marine uniform decorated with peace symbols, he said, "For us, burying the Hummer is letting go of the macho ways of driving and dominating our streets, our economy and our foreign policy. It's time for a new trend of green jobs and renewable energy for all. We see the demise of the Hummer as a positive sign of the clean, green, peaceful planet we're determined to build."

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Speaking out, spoking out

I'm thinking about Diane Wilson today. She stood up to BP CEO, Tony Hayward as he began his address during a Congressional hearing in DC this morning. Smeared with artificial oil, she called out that Hayward should be prosecuted for his company's crimes against nature. She was handcuffed, taken out of the hearing room and jailed. Mr. Hayward proceeded to speak as a free man.

I have met Diane and have read her remarkable writings. She knows the waters and the sealife of the Gulf of Mexico intimately. She has made a living as a solo shrimper. She knows what she is talking about.

Here is an article that Diane wrote recently about the gulf and what she knows about the contamination it suffers at the hands of corporate polluters. The article begins this way:

I'm a fourth-generation fisherwoman from the Texas Gulf Coast, on a boat since I was eight. Over the last two decades, I've become a self-appointed watchdog of the chemical, oil, and gas corporations that are decimating the Gulf.

I hate to say it, but what I'm seeing now in the Gulf ain't nothing new. The toxic releases, the lies, the cover-ups, the skimping on safety, the nonexistent documents, the "swinging door" with regulators, the deaths. Same ole same ole.

What is new is the massive nature of the oil gusher and the fact that it can't be covered up because it's ongoing and being videoed. This elephant can't be swept under the carpet, but I'm sure if BP could, BP would.

There are politicians out there -- we've all heard them -- who say this oil spill is just one accident and one accident does not a case make. Heck, one plane crashes and you don't stop flying, do ya? Well, this isn't just one accident. This is the biggest flame among the thousands of fires set by Corporate America on its Sherman-like march across the Gulf.

and it concludes this way:

The bottom line is that the Gulf of Mexico dies a little every day from the tens of thousands of chemical plants, oil refineries, and oil and gas rigs that pockmark the Gulf and its coastlines. It's a death of ten thousand cuts, and many of these offenses don't get reported at all. We, the public, really have no way of knowing. The companies and the agencies certainly aren't going to tell us. They've proved that time and time again. The truth of the matter only becomes clear when something monstrous like the BP oil spill comes along and wakes us up to the nightmare.

It's hard to take in the immensity of the harm inflicted on our planet. Being aware of the barrels flowing every moment into our beloved Gulf of Mexico is like being ever conscious of the monetary and human costs of war accruing every moment. How can we stop the bleeding?

I admire Diane's courage in going right to the source. She can back up her nonviolent, dramatic protest with expert knowledge of the situation at hand.

My response to the catastrophe is less dramatic, but I feel in solidarity with Diane. For the past month, I've been walking or riding my bike more often than using the bus, which is one small way for me to accept some share of responsibility for living in an oil-dependent society, and to "be the change" I want to see in the world.

I haven't owned or driven a car since 1990, partly because of that oil war, so most in-town travel since then has been by bus -- which I love because of its community-building aspects. But now, I'm trying the further step of transporting myself more frequently by human power. Yesterday, for example, I biked for the first time to and from the job I have that is the furthest distance from my house. I biked about 15 miles total, which is not a lot compared to many bicycle commuters, but, for me, it felt like a good stretch in 95 degrees. What I enjoyed, as well as the scenery and the exercise, was being out there on my decorated "love your mother (earth)" bike. Passersby seemed to appreciate the sentiment.

The bicycle revolution that has been sparking the world in recent years is a big part of the solution to our energy crisis, I believe. This gives me encouragement and a way to act in the face of our planet's dire circumstances.

AP photo of Diane being taken out of the hearing room today after speaking out on behalf of the Gulf of Mexico she knows so well

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Austin Pride

Some of us CP-ers went out to the Pride Parade in Austin last night. We stood at Congress and 3rd St. and it was great to see all the people there, both in the parade and along the route. The Public Library entry was especially cool. Lots of positive response to our signs, too, from paraders, including everyone from the police chief to the roller derby girls.

photos above by John Pesina, posted at Austin 360

Photojournalist, Alan Pogue, joins Austin Arts Hall of Fame

It's great to see local photojournalist extraordinaire, Alan Pogue, honored with one of this year's four Austin Arts Hall of Fame awards. Here is the column about Alan written by Michael Barnes from today's story in the Austin American-Statesman:

Austinites think of Alan Pogue as someone who records reality. Yet he also transforms that visual record into art. And, in an unfaltering way, into social justice.

Working in black and white, Pogue is best known for covering social and political movements, culture and conflict, around the world: migrant workers, prison conditions and victims of violence in Texas, Cuba, Pakistan, Haiti and Iraq, among other places.

The Corpus Christi native and Vietnam War veteran was the main photographer for the Rag newspaper from 1969 to 1977. His images appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Texas Monthly and Kyodo News Japan. He has served as staff photographer for the Texas Observer for 38 years.

He has won several international awards and worked with groups such as Veterans for Peace, Global Peace Campaign and Voices in the Wilderness.

Pogue captured the essence of such Texas personalities as John Henry Faulk, Sissy Farenthold, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Ann Richards and Jim Hightower.

"The art of photography is part intellectual and part instinctual," Pogue says. "I select what I choose to photograph for its social significance, but in the act of photographing, intellectual considerations subside, my sense of hearing is muted and I move in an emotional/visual environment, not thinking in words."

— Michael Barnes

Austin Critics' Table Awards

When: 7 p.m. Monday, June 7

Where: Cap City Comedy Club, 8120 Research Blvd.

Cost: Free

photo of Alan, c. 1967, when he was a medic in Vietnam
photo from his site