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The Truth About Vegetarianism on Mother Earth News

The Vegetarian Myth tells us that not eating meat leads to a sustainable diet. But eating plants won’t solve the planet’s problems.

By Lierre Keith
June/July 2010

I was a vegan for almost 20 years.

I know the reasons that compelled me to embrace an extreme diet, and they are honorable — even noble. Reasons such as justice, compassion and a desperate, all-encompassing longing to set the world right. To save the planet — the last trees bearing witness to ages and the scraps of wilderness still nurturing fading species, silent in their fur and feathers. To protect the vulnerable, the voiceless. To feed the hungry. At the very least, to refrain from participating in the horror of factory farming.

These political passions are born of a hunger so deep it touches on the spiritual. They were for me, and they still are. I want my life — my body — to be a place where the Earth is cherished, not devoured; where the sadist is granted no quarter; where the violence stops. And I want eating — the first nurturance — to be an act that sustains rather than kills. This is an effort to honor our deepest longings for a just world. And I now believe those longings — for compassion, for sustainability, for an equitable distribution of resources — are not served by the philosophy or practice of vegetarianism. Believing in this vegetarian myth has led us astray.

Factory Farming is Not the Only Way

The vegetarian Pied Pipers have the best of intentions. I’ll state right now that everything they say about factory farming is true: It is cruel, wasteful and destructive. But their first mistake is in assuming factory farming — a practice that is barely 50 years old — is the only way to raise animals. In my experience, their calculations on energy used, calories consumed and humans unfed are all based on the notion that animals eat grain. You can feed grain to animals, but it is not the diet for which they were designed. For most of human history, browsers and grazers haven’t been in competition with humans. They ate what we couldn’t eat (cellulose) and turned it into what we could (protein and fat). But our industrial culture stuffs grain into as many animals as it can. Grain will dramatically increase the growth rate of beef cattle and the milk production of dairy cows. It will also kill them. The delicate bacterial balance of a cow’s rumen may become acidic and turn septic. Chickens get fatty liver disease if fed corn exclusively. Sheep and goats, which are also ruminants like cattle, shouldn’t touch the stuff either.

Not only that, but large portions of the world are utterly unsuited for growing large grain crops. And not just mountaintops in far distant Nepal, but close by in, say, New England. Cows are what grow here. So are deer, in their forest-destroying abundance. The logic of the land tells us to eat the animals that can eat the tough cellulose that survives here.

Considering Entire Ecosystems

Life isn’t possible without death, and no matter what you eat, something has to die to feed you. The truth is that agriculture is the most destructive thing humans have done to the planet, and more of the same won’t save us. Today’s industrial agriculture requires the wholesale destruction of entire ecosystems.
I want a full accounting, an accounting that goes way beyond what’s dead on your plate. I’m asking about everything that died in the process, everything that was killed to get that food onto your plate. That’s the more radical question, and it’s the only question that will produce the truth. How many rivers were dammed and drained? How many prairies plowed and forests pulled down? How much topsoil turned to dust? I want to know about all the species. Not just the individuals, but the entire species — the chinook, the bison, the grasshopper sparrows and the gray wolves. And I want more than just the number of dead and gone. I want them back.

Despite what we’ve been told, and despite the earnestness of the tellers, eating soybeans isn’t going to bring these plants and animals back. Ninety-eight percent of the American prairie is gone, turned into a monocrop of annual grains. Plow cropping in Canada has destroyed 99 percent of the land’s original humus. When the rain forest falls to beef, progressives are outraged and ready to boycott. But our attachment to the vegetarian myth leaves us uneasy, silent and ultimately immobilized when the culprit is wheat and the victim is the prairie.

The vast majority of people in the United States don’t grow food, let alone hunt and gather it. We have no way to judge how much death is embodied in a serving of salad, a bowl of fruit or a plate of beef. We live in urban environments — in the last whisper of forests — thousands of miles removed from the devastated rivers, prairies, wetlands and the millions of creatures who died for our dinners. Many inhabitants of urban industrial cultures have no point of contact with grain, chickens, cows, or — for that matter — with topsoil. We have no idea what nourishes plants, animals or soil, which means we have no idea what we ourselves are eating.

Hard Questions About Agriculture

What’s looming in the shadows of our ignorance and denial is a critique of civilization itself. The starting point may be what we eat, but the end is an entire way of life, a global arrangement of power, and with no small measure of personal attachment to it. I remember the day in fourth grade when Miss Fox wrote two words on the blackboard: civilization and agriculture. I remember because of the hush in her voice, the gravitas of her words, the explanation that was almost oratory. And I understood. Everything that was good in human culture flowed from this point — all ease, grace and justice. Religion, science, medicine and art were born, and the endless struggle against starvation, disease and violence could be won, all because humans had figured out how to grow their own food.

I believe that agriculture has created a net loss for human rights and culture: slavery, imperialism, militarism, class divisions, chronic hunger and disease. “The real problem, then, is not to explain why some people were slow to adopt agriculture, but why anybody took it up at all, when it is so obviously beastly,” writes biologist and author Colin Tudge. Agriculture has also been devastating to the other creatures with whom we share the Earth, and, ultimately, to the life support systems of the planet itself. What is at stake is everything. If we want a sustainable world, we have to be willing to examine the power relations behind the foundational myth of our culture. Anything less and we will fail.

Questioning at that level is difficult for most people. In this case, the emotional struggle inherent in resisting any hegemony is compounded by our dependence on civilization, and by our individual helplessness to stop it. Most of us would have no chance of survival if the industrial infrastructure collapsed tomorrow. And our consciousness is equally impeded by our powerlessness.

I don’t have a “10 Simple Things …” list for you because, frankly, there aren’t 10 simple things that will save the Earth. There is no personal solution. There is an interlocking web of hierarchical arrangements — vast systems of power that have to be confronted and dismantled. We can disagree about how best to do that, but do it we must if life on Earth is to have any chance of surviving.

Mutual Indebtedness

I have stopped fighting the basic algebra of embodiment: For something to live, something else has to die. In that acceptance, with all its suffering and sorrow, is the ability to choose a different way — a better way.

Consider the cow, a prey animal that has evolved to do one thing exquisitely: take cellulose — ubiquitous grass — and turn it into mass and motion. Like all members of a healthy biotic community, the cow produces food for someone else. Her manure feeds soil, plants and insects. The mechanical action of her hooves and her teeth helps the grasslands stay diverse. Her digestive processes free up nutrients — and not just for her, but for the whole community. Her body will become a meal for predators, scavengers and degraders of all sizes. Life is ultimately a cooperative process, unitary in its goal: more life.
The grazers need their grass, but the grass also needs the animals. It needs the manure, with its nitrogen, minerals and bacteria. It needs the mechanical check of grazing activity, and it needs the resources stored in animal bodies and freed up by degraders after animals die. The grass and the grazers need each other as much as predators need prey. These are not one-way relationships. They are not arrangements of dominance and subordination.

In his book Long Life, Honey in the Heart, Martin Prechtel writes of the Mayan people and their concept of kas-limaal, which translates roughly as “mutual indebtedness, mutual insparkedness.” Pretchel writes that “the knowledge that every animal, plant, person, wind and season is indebted to the fruit of everything else is an adult knowledge.”

This is a concept we need, especially those of us who are impassioned by injustice. The only way out of the vegetarian myth is through the pursuit of kas-limaal, of adult knowledge. If we choose to live in tune with nature, we won’t be exploiting each other by eating. Instead, we will only be taking turns.

This article is excerpted from The Vegetarian Myth (PM Press, 2009). While we expect that not all of our readers will agree with the opinions expressed in this article, we think it's a valuable perspective on food and farming that we hope will spur further discussion. We invite you to comment below. — MOTHEREARTHNEWS

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First Earth review on Ecovillagenews

First Earth: Uncompromising Ecological Architecture
By Diana Leafe Christian,

First Earth: Uncompromising Ecological Architecture, by filmmaker David Sheen, knocked my socks off. A “why-to,” not a “how-to,” this evocative and beautiful documentary shows why building with earth — cob, straw clay, adobe bricks, rammed earth — works well structurally, lasts a long time, compels the eye and heart, is healthier for builders and dwellers than most other construction methods, and feels good to live in. And can even spiritually uplift and inspire the builders.

Filmed on location over four years on four continents, First Earth features curving art-poem dwellings in the Pacific Northwest in Canada and the US; thousand-year-old apartment-and-ladder architecture of Taos Pueblo; centuries-old and contemporary cob homes in England; classic round thatched huts in West Africa; bamboo-and-cob structures now on the rise in Thailand; and soaring Moorish-style earthen skyscrapers in Yemen. It engages the left brain as well, with brief appearances by renowned cultural observers and activists (Derrick Jensen, Daniel Quinn, James Howard Kunstler, Richard Heinberg, Starhawk, Chellis Glendinning, and Mark Lakeman, among others) speaking on what’s not right with our society and how building with earth addresses some of these ills, and major natural building teachers (Michael G. Smith, Becky Bee, Joseph Kennedy, Sunray Kelly, Janell Kapoor, Elke Cole, Ianto Evans, Bob Theis, and Stuart Cowan, among others).

”Earthen Buildings Are Best”

The film proposes that earthen homes are the healthiest housing in the world, while stick-framed housing and conventional buildings are soulless rectilinear sources of resource depletion and pollution. That curvilinear buildings elevate the spirit and cultivate the heart. And further, that since it takes a village to raise a child, one of the best things we can do for humankind and the natural world is to transform suburban sprawl into cozy, curvy earthen ecovillages. “In the age of environmental and economic collapse, peak oil and other converging emergencies,” writes David Sheen on his First Earth website, “the solution to many of our ills might just be getting back to basics, focusing on food, clothes, and shelter. We need to think differently about house and home, for material and for spiritual reasons, both the personal and the political.”

David Sheen, whom I had the pleasure of meeting and visiting with for a day recently, is a lively and stimulating young Renaissance man (check out his Anarchitecture website), who started out as a designer and graphic designer. (As I watched First Earth I thought, “Oooh, this is how a film looks when it’s put together by a graphic designer. All filmmakers first should be graphic designers!” )

David began studying, designing, building, and filming natural buildings in 2001. He apprenticed with natural building masters Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley at the North American School of Natural Building in Oregon, and Michael G. Smith at Emerald Earth Community in Northern California. He studied biomimicry, the study of nature's design principles and its application to human habitats, with renowned architect/designer Eugene Tsui. Born and raised in Toronto, David lived for several months in urban and rural intentional communities in the US, and for the last three years in kibbutzim in the south of Israel.

But Is This Always True?

I loved the film and recommend it highly. Yet I disagree with its premise.

Another traditional earthen building in Africa.
For example, one of my friends at Earthaven Ecovillage, where I live, is building a 12’ x 12’ x 12’ stick-built, shed-roofed dwelling with wood, and concrete, rebar, R-Foil building wrap, recycled cellulose insulation, and earth-plastered walls inside and out. As a rectilinear hybrid structure built mostly of wood, you could argue, based on the film’s premises, that it’s a soulless box whose materials and construction method harm the Earth. But is it really? The 2x6s were felled by the builder himself from onsite trees to clear fields for an organic farm, and milled less than five miles away in a sustainable sawmill. As a hybrid building, with both conventional and natural building materials, it’s contributing less pollution than a conventionally built building of the same size. As a passive-solar building, it has a slab-on-grade poured concrete floor (insulated against any winter cold from the Earth) and poured concrete countertops — both for thermal mass — and radiant floor heating for back-up.

It’s tiny, because my friend wants a simple unpretentious home that doesn’t cost a bundle or take long to build — given that construction time equals money. It’s mostly rectilinear because this shape is much cheaper to build in terms of labor and time than curving shapes, whether of wood or earth. Natural building is not necessarily cheaper than conventional building, contrary to popular belief. If you take into account the amount of labor time, which means either the owner-builder is taking off work (which costs the builder) or hiring labor or housing and feeding work-exchangers, it all adds up. The same friend built a similar 12’ x 12’ x 12’ home a few years ago in another part of the community, mostly by himself, and only on weekends and evenings after work. It cost him $8,000 in materials and about $8,000 in labor at his then-current rate if he had charged for it. (Another friend in another community is building a beautiful two-story, one-bedroom cob, strawbale, and adobe-brick home. Mostly because of labor, his construction costs are estimated to be almost $300,000 by the time it’s finished.)

My friend is also building tiny, square, and cheap so he can minimize the energy he puts into his own home so he can get on with what ’’else’’ he does at Earthaven — operating a business which provides a needed onsite service and employs other members who need jobs; operating a small farm, which produces food and other products for the community (and in the future will employ others); and focalizing the new alcohol co-op. (See Will Earthaven Become a “Magical Appalachian Machu Picchu”?) He’s not putting much energy, time, and money into building the kind of beautiful home the film advocates because he’s putting it into building the community itself.

So this is why the idea that building with earth, and curvilinearly, is the ecologically sustainable way to build (“uncompromising!”) does not convince me. David and I talked about this briefly, and he gets it, of course. He knows the film paints a complex subject with overly broad brush strokes to make a point. And it does, beautifully.

Buy First Earth (DVD) | Back to David Sheen's Page

First Earth on

First Earth: Watch this Earthen Building Documentary Online
by Brian Loloia,
February 4, 2010

There’s a growing ecological awareness in all aspects of daily life, but some of our newfangled environmental actions have already been in practice for hundreds (or thousands) or years. “Green building” is an architectural movement that attempts to take the environment more closely into account in designing buildings, but the movement is generally very commercial.

Natural building is another form of more ecologically sensitive building techniques that is practiced by owner-builders and is even more spiritually focused on building healthy houses out of local and natural materials, including straw bales, adobe, cob, and other forms of earth.

However, building natural homes out of earthen materials is nothing new, as it has been practiced all over the globe for many hundreds of years, and David Sheen’s documentary, First Earth: Uncompromising Ecological Architecture traces some of the history of earthen architecture up until the present day, in places where people are attempting to bring sustainable forms of building back into mainstream consciousness.

FIRST EARTH is a documentary about the movement towards a massive paradigm shift for shelter — building healthy houses in the old ways, out of the very earth itself, and living together like in the old days, by recreating villages. It is a sprawling film, shot on location from the West Coast to West Africa. An audiovisual manifesto filmed over the course of 4 years and 4 continents, FIRST EARTH makes the case that earthen homes are the healthiest housing in the world; and that since it still takes a village to raise a healthy child, it is incumbent upon us to transform our suburban sprawl into ecovillages, a new North American dream.

Building eco-friendly homes with natural materials has a long history and First Earth does an excellent job of highlighting some of the history of earthen building. Building with straw bales, cob, and adobe are making a big comeback in more industrialized cultures, and it’s exciting to imagine a future where more buildings are built from local and natural materials, instead of materials that are manufactured in factories and shipped great distances, causing huge amounts of ecological damage.

This documentary is an exciting introduction to the hows, whys, and wheres of natural building.

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Historian questions W. Va. museum's coal displays

Historian questions W.Va. museum's coal displays
By Lawrence Messina
The Associated Press

June 5, 2010

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A slim, steel object resembling a rusty bayonet juts out of a wall in West Virginia's new state museum, a part of a series of exhibits meant to portray the history of coal mining in the Mountain State.

Known as a "Stickin' Tommy,'' it holds a stubby candle in a loop at its midpoint. Long before the days of carbide lanterns and helmet lamps, miners jabbed these into the seams they were working to light their way as they dug coal. The museum's artifact is stuck into a display meant to resemble the inside of an underground mine tunnel.

But according to labor historian Wess Harris, it is also upside down.
Harris explained that a hook that rises up above the candle loop should actually be facing downward. Miners would hang the shared wick of homemade candles on the hook as spares, he said during a recent tour of the museum.

The placement of the Stickin' Tommy is one of several errors in the coal-related exhibits alleged by Harris, an author and state Labor History Association board member who was named last year's "West Virginia History Hero'' for his work. He believes they mar the museum's attempt to tell a critical part of the state's history.

These concerns put Harris at odds with the state Division of Culture and History, which oversees the museum and has dismissed the questions he's raised about the displays.

"I cannot answer you why Mr. Harris still does not think that the facts as we have presented them are correct. We continue to believe they are,'' said Jacqueline Proctor, the agency's deputy commissioner.
Harris objects to the exhibits as the museum prepares to celebrate its first anniversary on West Virginia Day, June 20. The state spent five years and nearly $18 million to design and build its 24,000 square feet of exhibit space beneath the Capitol Complex's Culture Center. Replacing a previous museum that closed in 2004, the new museum's scope spans from prehistoric times to the present. It displays more than 2,000 artifacts plus more on a rotating basis from the state's 60,000-piece collection, Proctor said.

"It really represents West Virginia extremely proudly and well,'' Proctor said.

Some of the issues raised by Harris are similarly as technical as the Stickin' Tommy. The walls meant to mimic a mine tunnel, for instance, have sections above the coal seams meant to resemble rock. No such mine would look like that, Harris said.

"You weren't paid to dig rock,'' Harris said. "If the coal was three feet [high], you would only have three feet to stand up in.''

But Harris also sees a political bent to several of the coal exhibits. He disputes language in the narrative that accompanies the mock-up of a coal company store. It reads in part that most of these stores "offered necessities at affordable prices.''

The record does not support that, Harris argues, and he cites studies that found companies adjusted prices to control wages. He similarly bristles at the exhibit's treatment of the now-infamous scrip by which coal companies paid miners in lieu of U.S. currency.

"Your treatment of scrip as some sort of favor to the miners is an insult to the people of our state,'' Harris said in a March letter to Culture and History officials.

Other exhibits miss interesting elements of the events they seek to portray, Harris said. Several involve the trials that followed the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, where miners seeking to unionize the southern coalfield fought the forces of mine owners and Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin.

Miners played baseball in between court sessions. While described in one exhibit as a way to pass time, Harris said the evidence shows the games were instead a public relations ploy. Besides being a beloved American pastime, Harris said the miners played to raise money for charity.

"There was a huge effort to influence the jury, and to make friends,'' Harris said. "Good historians know that.''

Harris also takes issue with aspects of the portrayal of William "Bill'' Blizzard, the longtime union organizer who led the miners at Blair Mountain and was acquitted at his subsequent trial. One exhibit calls Blizzard a Socialist. He was instead a Republican for most of his life, Harris said.

Harris' sources on that include Blizzard's late son, who with Harris wrote "When Miners March.'' The 400-page book chronicles the unrest in the coalfields that culminated in the Battle of Blair Mountain. Its recently released second edition includes several of Harris' criticisms of the museum's coal displays.
The Culture and History Division reviewed 10 of Harris' objections in March, aided by several historians who helped shape the new museum. They ultimately rejected his allegations, while giving ground on some points.

They found that calling Blizzard a Socialist was imprecise, for instance, and that the exhibit about his trial could clarify that he was charged with treason against West Virginia rather than the United States. But they also noted that the company store exhibit is meant to span an era both before and after the 1930s labor laws greatly improved conditions for miners and their communities.

"There are positions that historians take and museum developers take regarding presentation of the facts,'' Proctor said. "We do not believe that the information needs to be changed.''

But Harris persists. He regularly leads tours of college students and other groups of the exhibits at issue. He said state Education and the Arts Secretary Kay Goodwin, whose department includes the Culture and History Division, recently joined in on one of them and afterward offered to help arbitrate his concerns.

"They don't have to change the exhibits a whole heck of a lot,'' Harris said. "Overall, the visual content is good. It's a wonderful presentation.''

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The Fate of Child Soldiers:

A Review of Abe in Arms

As anyone who has bought a Kindle or iPad knows, things are changing in the publishing industry. Twenty-five years ago, when I started a small press to publish young adult fiction on cutting-edge social issues, I had to print large quantities of books and find a place to store them until I could sell them. Today, print-on-demand technology has eliminated the need for small and self-publishers to stack boxes of books in their basement or garage, because books can be printed quickly and relatively inexpensively to fulfill orders as they come in. Electronic books require no printing time or storage at all.

This is encouraging news for a new generation of small press publishers who seek to provide alternatives to Big Media. Several months ago, I received a thick catalog from one of those new publishers, PM Press. Founded in Oakland, California, in 2007, PM Press and its associated imprints and co-publishers now have more than 100 titles in print, including fiction; poetry; books on music, art, film, history, and current events; and children’s books.

I was particularly interested in PM Press’s first young adult novel, Abe in Arms by Pegi Deitz Shea, published under PM’s children’s imprint, Reach and Teach. Shea has written a number of award-winning picture books and titles for older elementary age readers that present the stories of immigrants, refugees, and historical figures who changed the world. Among her distinguished books are the biography Noah Webster: Weaver of Words, the stories of Southeast Asian refugees The Whispering Cloth and Tangled Threads, and the fictionalized account of the life of Pakistani anti-child labor activist Iqbal Masih, The Carpet Boy’s Gift.

Released this month, Abe in Arms is the story of 17-year-old Abraham Elders (born Abraham Odo), adopted from a refugee camp in Liberia at the age of 13 by a well-to-do African-American family living in Maryland. In his senior year of high school Abe seems to have the perfect life—a loving family, a brother to whom he is close, an adoring girlfriend, good grades, and the possibility of a Division I track scholarship. But as the book opens in the backseat of his girlfriend’s car, Abe suffers a flashback to his old life in Liberia, where he witnessed unspeakable horrors during the country’s long civil war.

Abe and his adoptive father, Dr. George Elders, thought that a year of counseling after his rescue and adoption were enough to quell the traumatic memories, but as Abe’s flashbacks become ever more frightening and violent, those who love him don’t have the answers to help him. A new round of therapy opens the floodgates, as Abe recounts the life of his best friend in Liberia, Steven, and the heartless “James,” whose worship of the rebel commander Grant leads him to undergo and then commit horrible atrocities as a child soldier.

Abe in Arms is a gripping tale that takes its place in the sad but necessary literature of Africa’s child soldiers, joining such classics as Ishmael Beah’s memoir of fighting in Sierra Leone’s civil war, A Long Way Gone; What Is the What, Dave Eggers’s fictionalized story of Sudanese child soldier Valentino Achak Deng; and the late Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah Is Not Obliged, set in the Ivory Coast. Shea’s novel will have special appeal to teen readers because of Abe’s daily concerns in the U.S.—his adopted brother Niko’s habit of drinking and driving, his ambivalence about having sex with his girlfriend, not-so-friendly competition with his track teammates. Teen and adult readers will be drawn in by the question of how a young man, whose childhood has been stolen from him by war, struggles to live a normal life.

The situation in Liberia is particularly relevant for readers in the United States because in the first half of the nineteenth century, many abolitionists saw the U.S. colony as a potential home for enslaved African Americans; however, those who returned through the efforts of the American Colonization Society disrupted the lives and livelihoods of the indigenous people, sowing the seeds of later ethnic conflict. In the past two decades, many refugees from Liberia have found refuge in the United States, with sizeable populations in and around New York City, Washington, D.C., Boston, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Liberia’s rebel leader and former head of state Charles Taylor is currently on trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity committed in neighboring Sierra Leone. With the trial currently taking place (for more information, visit The Trial of Charles Taylor: A Project of the Open Society Justice Institute), Abe in Arms offers a powerful depiction of the conflict’s impact on the people of the region and its repercussions years later.

Disclosure statement: Reviewed from the finished book, received by the author.

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PM at the U.S. Social Forum

Join PM Press at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, June 22-26, 2010. You can hit us up at the PM table for some radical literature and good conversation, or meet some of the authors of your favourite books and hear them speak.

What is the U.S. Social Forum?

The US Social Forum (USSF) is a movement building process. It is not a
 conference but it is a space to come up with the peoples’ solutions to the 
economic and ecological crisis. The USSF is the next most important step in our
 struggle to build a powerful multi-racial, multi-sectoral, inter-generational,
 diverse, inclusive, internationalist movement that transforms this country and
 changes history.

We must declare what we want our world to look like and we 
must start planning the path to get there. The USSF provides spaces to learn 
from each other’s experiences and struggles, share our analysis of the problems 
our communities face, build relationships, and align with our international 
brothers and sisters to strategize how to reclaim our world.

World Social Forum to USSF - Globalizing the Resistance

A global movement is rising. The USSF is our opportunity to prepare and 
meet it! The World Social Forum (WSF) has become an important symbol of global 
movement convergence and the development of alternatives to the dominant
 paradigm. Over the past nine years, the WSF has gathered the world’s workers, 
peasants, youth, women, and oppressed peoples to construct a counter-vision to
 the economic and political elites of the World Economic Forum held annually in
 Davos, Switzerland.

After gathering 100,000 people in Porto Alegre, Brazil in
 2005, the International Council (IC) decided that in 2006 there would be
 regional social forums to culminate in a WSF in 2007. The IC delegated
 Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ) to help shepherd the US Social Forum 
process, stating that it was strategic to hold a gathering of peoples and movements within the “belly of the beast” that were against the ravages of
 globalization and neoliberal policies in the US and worldwide. GGJ is an 
alliance that grew out of people-of-color-led grassroots groups who
 participated in the first WSF. These grassroots leaders initiated a process to 
create the first USSF National Planning Committee (NPC) and Atlanta was
 selected as the USSF host city. In early 2009, the NPC selected Detroit as the
 second host city for 2010.

Learn more about the World Social Forum and social forums happening around the world.

Who Will Be There?



Big Noise

Richard Rowley and Jacqueline Soohen are members of Big Noise Tactical Media, a New York based radical media group. Their groundbreaking feature films, Zapatista (1998), Black and Gold (1999) and This Is What Democracy Looks Like (2000), have won top honors at hundreds of film festivals from New York, Toronto and Los Angeles to Berlin, Seoul and Bogota. They have also produced television and video reports from the front lines of struggles around the globe. In 1999, as founding members of the Independent Media Center video team, they collaborated in cutting the historic daily satellite feeds from the WTO protests in Seattle. They have reported for national television news programs from Argentina, Afghanistan, Iraq, Mexico, Ecuador, Brasil, East Timor, South Africa and Palestine, where they were the only media to break the siege on the Church of the Nativity.

Buy DVDs | Read more


CASA Collective

Teaching Rebellion / Ensenando Rebeldia: "Once you learn to speak, you don't want to be quiet anymore," an indigenous community radio activist said.  Accompanied by photography and political art, Teaching Rebellion is a compilation of testimonies from longtime organizers, teachers, students, housewives, religious leaders, union members, schoolchildren, indigenous community activists, artists and journalists--and many others who participated in what became the Popular Assembly of the People's of Oaxaca. This is a chance to listen directly to those invested in and affected by what quickly became one of the most important social uprisings of the 21st century.

Acompañada de fotografías y arte político, esta compilación poderosa de testimonios de organizadores, artistas, amas de casa, periodistas, estudiantes, maestros y otros que participaron en la Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca provee un vistazo abierto y honesto de las protestas oaxaqueñas del 2006 contra la situación política en el estado mexicano--protestas que se convertirían en una de las revueltas sociales más importantes del siglo XX1.

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Josh Macphee

Paper Politics: Socially Engaged Printmaking Today is a major collection of contemporary politically and socially engaged printmaking. This full color book showcases print art that uses themes of social justice and global equity to engage community members in political conversation. Based on an art exhibition which has traveled to a dozen cities in North America, Paper Politics features artwork by over 200 international artists; an eclectic collection of work by both activist and non-activist printmakers who have felt the need to respond to the monumental trends and events of our times.

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Carlos Martinez, Jojo Farrell, Michael Fox & Silvia Leindecker

Venezuela Speaks!: For the last decade, Venezuela’s “Bolivarian Revolution” has captured international attention. Poverty, inequality and unemployment have all dropped, while health, education and living standards have seen a commensurate rise. The international mainstream media has focused predominantly on Venezuela’s controversial leader, President Hugo Chavez, who has routinely been in the headlines. But without the active participation of large and diverse sectors of society, Chavez’s moment on the scene would have ended long ago.

Venezuela Speaks!: Voices from the Grassroots is a collection of interviews with activists and participants from across Venezuela’s social movements. From community media to land reform; cooperatives to communal councils, from the labor movement to the Afro-Venezuelan network, Venezuela Speaks! sheds light on the complex realities within the Bolivarian Revolution. These interviews offer a compelling oral history of Venezuela's democratic revolution, from the bottom up.

Beyond Elections: What is democracy? Freedom, equality, participation? Everyone has his or her own definition. Across the world, 120 countries now have at least the minimum trappings of democracy---the freedom to vote for all citizens. But for many, this is just the beginning not the end. Following decades of US-backed dictatorships, civil wars and devastating structural adjustment policies in the South, and corporate control, electoral corruption, and fraud in the North, representative politics in the Americas is in crisis. Citizens are now choosing to redefine democracy under their own terms: local, direct, and participatory.

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Re:Imagining Change provides resources, theory, hands-on tools and illuminating case studies for the next generation of innovative change makers. This unique book explores how culture, media, memes, and narrative intertwine with social change strategies, and offers practical methods to amplify progressive causes in the popular culture.

Re:Imagining Change is an inspirational inside look at the trailblazing methodology developed by the non-profit strategy and training organization, smartMeme. Founded in 2002, smartMeme offers tools, training, and strategy support to organizations and movements working for justice, ecological sanity and transformative social change. Re:Imagining Change is a summary of their approach, and a call to innovate our strategies for collectively addressing the escalating social and ecological crisis of the 21st century.

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Movements become apparent as “movements” at times of acceleration and expansion. In these heady moments they have fuzzy boundaries, no membership lists--everybody is too engaged in what’s coming next, in creating the new, looking to the horizon. But movements get blocked, they slow down, they cease to move, or continue to move without considering their actual effects. When this happens, they can stifle new developments, suppress the emergence of new forms of politics; or fail to see other possible directions. Many movements just stop functioning as movements. They become those strange political groups of yesteryear, arguing about history as worlds pass by. Sometimes all it takes to get moving again is a nudge in a new direction... We think now is a good time to ask the question: What is winning? Or: What would--or could--it mean to “win?” 

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The events

Story-based Strategy: How Grassroots Organizers Can Win the Battle of the Story
Event Date:  Thu, 06/24/2010 - 10:00am - 12:00pm

Cobo Hall: DO-03D

SmartMeme's training will focus on updating the timeless skills of storytelling and social change strategy for our current context of media-saturation, hyper-branding and 24 hour news cycles. This multi-media, interactive training will provide participants with hands on tools for framing their issues and useful frameworks to integrate messaging and storytelling into their organizing and campaigning. We will explore what it means to apply a "narrative analysis of power" to social change work and approach strategy through the lens of storytelling. We will share some of the story-based strategy approach for linking traditional organizing and movement building efforts with values based messaging, narrative concepts and creative action. This will include discussion of the relationship between meme theory-the study of how ideas spread and replicate-and movement building. Participants will get a chance to share some of their stories and unpack the "control mythologies" at play around the issue they work on. The training will cross issues and organizing experiences, use interactivity, small groups and skilled facilitation to help participants integrate messaging and storytelling into grassroots

Collaborative Investigation (Co-Razonando) in Times of Crisis: Bridging North and South, Activism and Academia.
Event Date:  Thu, 06/24/2010 - 1:00pm - 3:00pm

WSU Manoogian

This workshop is part of a collaborative effort between activist-researchers and researching-activists in the Americas to develop new concepts and practices adequate to the multiple, intersecting crises that characterize our times. We recognize that the inadequacy of old concepts and theories of social change contributes to crisis. While most in the mainstream look to policy experts, scientists and academics for solutions to the ecological, food, energy, economic, and political crises of our day, we believe that social movements are producing the most creative responses. Building on our different experiences within movements as well as international projects of militant or collaborative investigation, we will discuss the importance of spaces and projects to cultivate new conceptual and practical frameworks for pursuing activist work. The panel will combine the diverse experience and approaches of our presenters with collaborative media projects including Turbulence: Ideas for Movement (a critical transnational magazine) and community gardening projects in rural and urban areas (North and South). Following brief presentations the workshop will use small group work to explore other potential sites for collaborative investigation.
campaign work.

Re:Imagining Change Book Release Party
Thurs. 6/24 6-8 pm
Free food & cash bar!

Celebrate smartMeme's Re:Imagining Change @ the Majestic Cafe
4120 Woodward Ave between Mack & Warren, Detroit 48201

Josh MacPhee and Dara Greenwald
Re-animating Social Movement Histories Through Visual Culture
Event Date: Fri, 06/25/2010 - 3:00pm - 5:00pm

WSU Cohn: 224

In this workshop, participants will learn about the importance of culture in social movement history. The presenters (Dara Greenwald and Josh MacPhee) have done extensive archival research to unearth the history of social movement cultures through posters, video, sound, and other materials. This will be a multi-media presentation with case studies of moments in which cultural production played a crucial role in movement development (including Anti-Apartheid, Anti-nuclear, and others). A participatory discussion will follow the presentation about the possible role that culture can/is playing in movements today and the ways learning history can activate and inform present struggles.

New World from Below Collaborative Book Party
Date: Friday, June 25, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.
New World from Below Convergence Center
The Spirit of Hope Church, 1519 Martin Luther King Dr.

Participating Authors: Benjamin Holtzman, Cindy Milstein, Jeff Conant, Jordan Flaherty, Josh MacPhee, Justseeds Artists' Cooperative, Seth Tobocman, Team Colors Collective and the Turbulence Collective.

Sober Living For the Revolution on

By Stefanie Knoll
Friday, May 7, 2010

I learned about Gabriel Kuhn accidentally - a comrade of mine met him at the London Anarchist Bookfair in 2009 and told me about this book on his return to South Africa. Excited about the book, I googled it and discovered that Gabriel was not only born in the same small town as I was - Innsbruck in Austria - but that he's also an anarchist (there aren't many in Innsbruck) and also straight edge (there are only three of us in Innsbruck as far as I know)! Excited as I was about this I got in touch with him and, after some e-mails sent back and forth in our Alpine dialect, he sent me a free copy for review, something which I must say I'm very happy to be able to do.

As soon as the book arrived (which, with the postal service in South Africa, can take ages) I forgot about the PhD I was supposed to write - I just couldn't put Sober Living for the Revolution down. It was just what I had been longing to read in these last years that I've been living in South Africa; in my circle of friends I'm the only remaining straight edge person, and possibly the only one in South Africa who is not Christian. Because of this I always have to defend why I'm straight edge and how this is connected to my politics (which I think it is) and this book does a great job in providing all the right arguments.

The hardcore scene in South Africa is lame - it's mostly white (in fact most shows are exclusively white), male and tough guy. Most bands are Christians and dedicate their songs to Jesus, and those few international bands that make it out here are almost always tough guy bands without any message...the usual commercial hardcore bands that have enough money to tour the world. There was one exception to this rule last year: Have Heart. I screamed my lungs out and wore the X on my hand with pride (I was the only one wearing it in the audience). Have Heart are not particularly political and I didn't watch them when I had the chance to in Europe, but hey, at least they're not Christians!

Back to the book. First off, it looks fantastic! Maybe it's our straight edge aesthetics, but I really like the design, and the back cover photo is amazing. Because of this, I made an effort to read it in public spaces so people could see it. Unfortunately, no one commented on it. The sadness of living in a place where drinking and driving is a national sport and seen as a great accomplishment (well, for those who can afford to have cars)....

Another thing that struck me immediately when I looked at the table of contents was that Gabriel really made an effort to interview a wide range of people of different nationalities, genders and sexual orientations. This kind of diversity is welcome in a scene that is too often focused on what's happening in the United States. The South African hardcore scene, for example, is completely oriented towards the US, and most bands sing in a fake American accent.

It's also interesting to note that most of the interviewees don't see themselves part of a straight edge movement any more; instead they distance themselves from it, with many not even attending shows any more. I guess they've grown out of it and have become disgusted by some of the prevailing attitudes, but at least all of them are still straight edge and none of them are dogmatic. They make an effort to show that straight edge isn't a puritanical position and distance themselves from conservative elements like hardline (a tendency which developed out of the militant vegan straight edge scene in the 1990s). The distancing from hardline is obvious, because such views don't go well with radical politics - the focus of this book - and especially not anarchism, the ideology most of the interviewees subscribe to in one way or another.

The book is structured as a selection of interviews and articles, with an overall introduction written by Gabriel as well as short introductions to each of the interviews/texts. It also contains a very helpful timeline graphic near the beginning that puts the straight edge scene into perspective. The book is divided into 5 sections: Section 1. Bands - in which famous radical straight edge bands known to everyone in the scene are interviewed. This begins with the band any discussion on straight edge has to start with: Minor Threat. In fact, all the other bands/interviewees/texts refer back to Minor Threat. Section 2. Scenes - interviews with various people from around the world talking about their local scenes. Section 3. Manifestos - a selection of three radical straight edge texts with follow up interviews. Section 4. Reflections - interviews with queer activists and feminists, as well as one straight edge crusty and one anarcho-primitivist. Section 5. Perspectives - five more personal articles.

Gabriel makes the scope of the book explicit in the introduction by stating that he's not claiming to represent the whole straight edge movement, only its radical fringe. He's looking at people who are, “engaged in political struggle and social transformation, but not judgmental, belligerent, or narrow-minded” (page 14).

What was not surprising to me, but is important for anyone who thinks that all straight edgers are conservatives, is that most of the radical bands were/are, apart from a few Marxist bands like ManLiftingBanner (who are interviewed in Section 1), anarchists! In this vein, there is a reprint of the CrimethInc pamphlet “Wasted Indeed: Anarchy and Alcohol”, another article titled “Towards a less fucked up world: Sobriety and anarchist struggle” and an interview with someone from Anarchists Against the Wall in Israel. Additionally, many of the interviewees explicitly state that they are anarchists.

Many interviewees also talk about veganism and the importance of animal liberation, while drawing a clear distinction between their views and those of the militant vegan straight edge (hardline) scene that started with the worst named band ever - Vegan Reich - and that now often uses the even more nauseating term “vegan jihad” to describe their views.

As already mentioned, the book opens with an interview with Ian MacKaye, singer of Minor Threat, the guy who created the term “straight edge” in order to encapsulate his personal policy of “don't smoke, don't drink, don't fuck, at least I can fucking think”. These lyrics, unfortunately, led many to believe that straight edgers are against sex but, as Ian tells us, this is a misunderstanding; he was simply referring to the prevailing attitude of the time of going to shows to get laid without caring about people's feelings. Many now interpret this as not engaging in promiscuous sex, only religious folks use it to justify their celibacy. Iain also mentions that he never wanted to create a movement, but hey, neither did Marx! He tells us about Rock against Racism concerts the band organised, and about Revolution Summer 1985, where, amongst other actions, they organised an anti-apartheid protest in front of the South African embassy. As he says, “Straight edge was just a declaration for the right to live your life the way you want to. I was not interested in trying to tell people how to do that. I mean, obviously things got pretty crazily perverted over the years.” (MacKaye in Kuhn 2010: 34). Finally, Iain also explains that straight edge is not a lifestyle. It's life - we're born that way.

Moving ahead, many interviewees point out that sobriety is crucial for those who want to help bring about revolution. In this regard, the example of how the US government brought drugs into African American communities to destroy the Black Panthers and criminalise poor communities is mentioned a few times. We also learn how Native Americans deal with the divisiveness of alcoholism in their poor communities. South Africa provides another example of the ravages of alcohol abuse: Soweto is full of alcohol advertisements and on weekends the only sober people you find in townships are the kids.

Facing the problems instead of escaping them seems to be one of the main rallying cries from radical straight edgers. Many of them also point to the lack of ethics in the alcohol and tobacco industries - huge corporations that clearly don't give a shit about their consumers (millions of whom die every year from alcohol and tobacco related causes) – and some also note that tobacco ingredients are tested on animals and a lot of alcoholic beverages use animal derived ingredients. As if these facts weren't enough of an indictment, tobacco companies have often chased away indigenous peoples to grow tobacco, or even tricked them into selling away their land for a pittance.

For me, however, the most beautiful article in the book was definitely Point Of No Return's “Bending to stay straight”, in which the connections between being straight edge, vegan and anarchist are looked at, as well as the the need for a sisterhood in this male dominated scene. If you only read one piece in the book, read this one! The interview with Frederico Freitas of Point Of No Return that follows the article talks about the connection between straight edge and anarchism in Brazil. He mentions that many working class and anarchist movements at the beginning of the 20th century viewed sobriety as important. The FAI in Spain before and during the Spanish Revolution of 1936 is one such example: FAI members did not drink or smoke (and many were vegetarians).

In the same spirit there is a great picture on page 127 of a Mayday march in Sweden that shows a banner reading, “Don't drink away the class struggle: drug-free organizing!”. I can definitely relate to that!
Another article I really liked was “The Antifa Straight Edge” manifesto, published by Alpine Anarchist Productions. I'm especially fond of this piece because it reminds me of a similar manifesto (against hardline) my best friend (the other vegan straight edge anarchist from Innsbruck) and I wrote in 2006 without knowing about this one.

Further along in the book are some articles and interviews with “queer edgers” followed by two interviews with feminists involved in XsisterhoodX. Both of these sections highlight the challenges queers and women face in the scene as well as the need for safe spaces; they also show how women are often central to the running of shows, etc.

One thing this book highlighted for me about the straight edge scene - especially the more political, vegan part of it - is that we are a relatively close-knit community. All of us seem to know one another directly or indirectly. For instance, while I've met some of the people interviewed in the book personally, I also have good friends who are good friends with many interviewees, from the US West Coast to Israel.

This book did also remind me of a sad realisation I've had a few times though, something I experience on a daily level in a circle of friends who are all pro-drugs: it's not them who have to defend themselves for taking drugs, it's straight edge people like me who have to defend our views, and this is especially true in the political and alternative scenes. To me, especially when I think back to what Ian MacKaye points out – that straight edge is not a lifestyle, it's life – this is a sign of just how upside down this world is. I hope readers of this review and book will consider this; hedonism seems to be our present paradigm and it fits all too nicely into the American dream/myth and into an individualistic neoliberal world.

In conclusion, I want to say that I learned a lot from this book. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in political hardcore and the political straight edge scene. It demonstrates conclusively that we are not a bunch of conservatives...Far from it!

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On sundays we'd watch the soldiers march at Windsor Castle,
With their drums & their busbies, er Majesty's Coldstream Guards,
& my mum would say how it made her feel so proud to be British,
& sometimes I still find the loss of that childhood land hard.

Changing the Guard
Changing the Guard
All that they're doing is
Changing the Guard.

But I clenched my fist & played rhythm for world revolution,
Though in Paris & Prague the same writing both sides of the Wall.
On sundays we'd meet in Hyde Park for each great demonstration,
But whoever you vote for the government wins after all.

Changing the Guard
Changing the Guard
All that they're doing is
Changing the Guard

Changing the Guard
For the sake of appearances,
Changing a few of the names,
Changing the Guard
For the tourists
& more of the same...

But I'll give you this song & the bag of old bones that goes with it,
There's some potcards of castles, some badges & maps you can't trust
Cos they're well out-of-date but the problem's still: how do we change the world?
& in all of this shit there's still one or two things that don't rust.

We're changing the Guard
Changing the Guard
All that we're doing is
Changing the Guard.

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Oliver Twist, who doesn't exist, apparently now,

Sits at the back picking his scabs in my Literacy Hour,

But he's dreaming such dreams...

The Minister says: these are the ways we raise standards.
But which box do you tick when Oliver Twist's thinking in rainbows?
& dreaming...

His Grandad Tim Winters, 2 teeth left like splinters, says: well I was the same.
So it's nobody's fault, if you're on income support, you've got yourself to blame
for dreaming...

In the canteen, there's cabbage & beans & the odd dead samosa,
But you have to choose between a pudding & a juice if you're on free school dinners,
Both would be dreaming...

Oliver Twist, now you just look at the state you're in.
There's a box you can tick for a new nuclear submarine.
There's a box you can tick for some Olympic Games,
But pudding & juice, that would be dreaming.
That would be dreaming...

Oliver Twist, now you just look at the State we're in....

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We ride the train to work & read the news

The news is bad again, what else is new?
The pensioner who’s murdered on page 4
Page six has more bombs in a far-off war.
But then you see the skyline & the river in the sunlight
& every day, it takes your breath away,
& you look at all the faces with their stories and their secrets
Getting through another working day.

& our leaders making speeches,
They’re very good at making speeches,
How our soldiers have to be there,
& how we will not surrender,
But you never see them riding on your train.

We ride the train back home & read the news,
There’s not much on TV, what else is new?
The beggars hold out hands to catch the night,
The smart hotels and cafes shine so bright.
But then you see the skyline & the bridges with their lamplight,
& even now, it takes your breath away,
& you look at all the faces with their stories and their secrets
Winding down another working day.

& our leaders making speeches...

We ride the train to work & read the news,
You thank your lucky stars it wasn’t you,
It wasn’t you in Baghdad or Madrid,
Or on the train from King’s Cross when the bombs came home.
Picking up the pieces, picking up the pieces,
Picking up the pieces, picking up the pieces,

& our leaders making speeches
How our soldiers have to be there
& how we will not surrender
& you’re picking up the pieces
But you never see them riding on your train
When the bombs come home.

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