Long Battle Fought for Keystone XL Rejection

22809782906_62a3a2862e_zEnvironmentalists celebrated a major victory over Big Oil on Friday night at the White House after President Obama officially announced he would not approve the Northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline. The 1,700-mile TransCanada project triggered a seven-year battle joined by scores of environmental groups who worked to defeat it.

Obama’s announcement on November 6 came four years to the day after 350.org, Sierra Club and many other organizations held a major protest against the pipeline at the White House.

The victory marks the first time people power of a grassroots movement leveraged political power to defeat a major fossil fuel project. It is likely to embolden green groups to step up efforts to convert energy policies to renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

Had the Keystone XL pipeline been built, it would have resulted in a daily capacity of 860,000 gallons of Alberta tar sands bitumen being transported to Gulf Coast refineries.

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JFK Gave Baby Boomers Responsibility to Protect Our Freedom. They Failed.

Eternal_Flame_Next_generation

The Eternal Flame has burned continuously since Jackie Kennedy lit it in Arlington Cemetery on November 25, 1963 during her husband’s state funeral. Today, fifty years to the day after it was lit, hundreds have come to take photos of the flame flickering in a cold breeze, while others stand silently watching flowers laid at its granite base.

At his inauguration, President Kennedy spoke of a “torch” passed to a “new generation”:

Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

Fifty years after his assassination, this torch has been neglected, and the flame has nearly gone out.

Since JFK was killed, the Civil Rights movement has achieved important successes. But the present state of freedom and human rights in the U.S. is like a wound left unattended, and every day the hemorrhaging grows worse. Our government is systematically eviscerating our freedoms and those of people around the world. There are several signs of this: the police state, the huge numbers of citizens incarcerated, illegal NSA surveillance, and drone warfare. Continue reading

Dispatch from Federal Workers’ Protest: Government Shutdown Day 4

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On the morning of the fourth day of the U.S. government shutdown, Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and hundreds of union and non-union federal workers came to the Capitol to protest. Some traveled from faraway states like South Carolina and Florida, and they represented various departments of the government, such as the U.S. Treasury, IRS, Departments  of Commerce, Education and Defense, the Food and Drug Administration, and NASA. Scientists, analysts, technicians, park landscapers, drivers, and inspectors continue on an indefinite furlough.

At the rally Colleen Kelly, president of National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), spoke about the need for federal workers to get back to work–for their families and the millions of people who depend on vital government services. Other speakers demanded Congress put aside differences and pass a balanced budget to put 850,000 people back to work.

As the week progressed, federal workers became less reluctant to picket the U.S. Capitol while Congress continued to be embroiled in the budget debate. The international press was there recording the spectacle. Continue reading

Dispatch from Federal Workers’ Protest: All Hell Breaks Loose at the Capitol

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Thursday was the third day of our U.S. Federal Government shutdown protest, which drew far more protestors and media than before. But the peace at our protest ended abruptly at 2:20 pm.

I heard sirens and saw six police cruisers chasing a black Infiniti down Pennsylvania  Ave. past the reflecting pool towards us. At first I thought it was an escort but then realized it was a chase.

The driver was trying to evade police, but rammed into the barricades at the West Lawn in an attempt to come up the sidewalk toward the Capitol.

The car backed up, hitting a cruiser. As if it were a movie, the police pulled guns and fired 5, 10, 15 rounds at the driver’s window. The tinted glass blew out, but the car turned around and fled back towards Pennsylvania Ave. I heard what I thought was an explosion from behind the trees. It turned out to be a collision with a cruiser.

Within seconds, the U.S. Capitol emergency announcement system warned us to evacuate the grounds. I thought it was a terrorist attack. My heart pounded. Continue reading

Dispatch from Federal Workers’ Protest: Government Shutdown Day 2

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We returned to the Capitol steps for the second day of the government shutdown. We carried the same signs and spoke the same message, but there were changes from the previous day. Some Capitol Police officers expressed solidarity with our cause, and tourists joined our protest. Both police and tourists are being affected by the shutdown.

A Capitol Police guard walked up to me and jokingly said, “Keep one of those signs for me, I may join you next week.” Surprised, I asked him if he was for real. He said he was dissatisfied because he was working but without pay, a “mission essential employee” caught between the power players in the marble building above him he was guarding.

I asked another cop if he was being paid and he said no, they had to work but they’d have to wait for backpay. “People are getting a little salty around here,” he said. “I may need to take your dollar after this week,” referring to the dollar bill I had taped over my mouth.

All day I watched the police come and go with less suspicion than usual. It felt strange to consider them brethen in the shutdown, although they are. I regarded them with a kind of respect. Here they were guarding the U.S. Capitol from people like us, peaceful protestors (protesting on their behalf too), while the members of Congress they protected discussed our fates. Capitol Police were not getting paid for it, yet they reported to work anyway. Of all the ironies I’ve heard this week, this was one of the most contemptible. Continue reading

Dispatch from Federal Workers’ Protest: Government Shutdown Day 1

On October 1, the first day of the government shutdown, I joined 50 federal workers in an impromptu all-day protest at the U.S. Capitol. Just hours before, we were indefinitely suspended from our jobs. We reported to work, signed papers acknowledging the furlough and left. We had been preparing for a shutdown for several days, so wasn’t a surprise. It’s the second time I’ve been furloughed this year. The first time was due to the sequester.

The few of us who went to the Capitol didn’t know what to expect. I went there thinking I would be the only one to show up. Several others showed up with the same mindset: disgusted and worried about how being effectively unemployed would affect us.

Most carried signs to express their frustration, but I taped a dollar bill over my mouth as a metaphor for what I believe is the root cause of problems in our government. I believe that money has silenced the voices of reason, voices which should serve as the basis for a functional government. Continue reading

Occupy Wall Street Turns Two

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Sunday marked the return of Occupy Wall Street to New York City as preparations got underway to celebrate its second birthday on September 17.

There were free teach-ins at Washington Square Park in many subjects, including the Trans Pacific Partnership, Green Living Principles, Economic and Banking issues, Immigration, Climate Change, and Money In Politics. Several hundred people joined the classes which ran throughout the day. People were there to learn and enjoy themselves.

Later there was a walking tour of the financial district around Wall Street. The tour began next to the Wall Street Bull in Bowling Green where people reminisced about their experiences in Zuccotti Park in 2011.

Many spoke about how the movement changed and inspired them to dedicate their lives to activism and change in their communities.

There was nostalgia in Zuccotti Park as people told stories and reminisced with old friends about personal experiences and why they believe the issues underlying the social movement are still relevant.

There was one big difference, however: things were a lot less tense compared to last year at S17. At least, the people were relaxed, although police persisted in closely monitoring the walking tour its entire length. Somehow they seemed to expect law-breaking. Some things haven’t changed much.

The week promises to be more eventful as more rallies in labor, money in politics and tax on Wall Street are scheduled for the anniversary of OWS, September 17.

Silent deterrent to war, Peace Vigil keeps watch over White House

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The White House Peace Vigil takes up only a little sidewalk space on Pennsylvania Ave. but leaves a big footprint. For 32 years, two six-foot yellow signs with a white tarp between them have warned us about the dangers of nuclear weapons. This iconic statement for disarmament almost came to an end today.

In the middle of the night Park Police disassembled and carted off the vigil’s tent and signs when its watchman left. Vigil supporters contacted the police, with Eleanor Holmes Norton following up, to restore the vigil this afternoon.

Thousands of tourists have seen it, taken pictures of it, and talked to Concepcion, the co-founder who’s been there since the beginning–Chinese tourists from Shanghai, Koreans from Seoul, Germans on their way to Philadelphia, gay rights activists from Africa, and school groups from Iowa.

Peace Vigil was removed temporarily
Peace Vigil reinstated today

Hundreds of volunteers have invested over 282,000 hours of labor staffing the vigil, sitting through rain, snow, cold, heat, thirst–and boredom. During Hurricane Sandy three people held it in place for hours as the wind screamed.

There’s a bathroom nearby but it closes early. Someone has to man it 24 hours a day, so volunteers are organized into shifts and bring their own food and water. They have to wait for their replacements, even if they come late.

Facing the north portico of the White House, the tattered tarp and yellow signs present an image of the powerless confronting the all-powerful. Undoubtedly every president since 1981–five of them–has seen it and knows its history, yet none have ever acknowledged it. Continue reading

Miranda case shows, anti-terrorism laws used against us, not terrorists

Journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, was held on August 19 for nine hours of questioning at London’s Heathrow Airport under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. Although it was clear that Miranda posed no terrorist threat, his cell phone, laptop, game consoles and camera were confiscated. Under the UK’s controversial Terrorism Act, anyone can be detained for up to nine hours of questioning before they clear customs.

A spokesperson for the Guardian said, “We were dismayed that the partner of a Guardian journalist who has been writing about the security services was detained for nearly nine hours while passing through Heathrow airport. We are urgently seeking clarification from the British authorities.”

According to the UK’s Home Office, “The government and police have a duty to protect the public and our national security.”

Translation: “Protect the public,” “national security” and variation “keep you safe” is doublespeak for “we’re watching you.”

International Big Brother is usually more discreet, but the Snowden revelations have driven him out of the shadows. The security services of the US and our allies are driving us inexorably towards the dystopian society predicted in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The rationale for anti-terrorism laws is public safety, a trade-off between protection and rights. Yet the anti-terrorism laws which empower security authorities are being abused. The NSA often violates even the secret regime of law established by the FISA Court. GCHQ used the Terrorism Act as a pretense to detain David Miranda at Heathrow. Glenn Greenwald calls it “a failed attempt at intimidation.”

Disregard for the law is not only a betrayal of trust and principle, it nullifies hundreds of years of struggle to secure our civil rights. And what’s more, it’s not keeping us safe either.

In reality, protection and surveillance have little to do with each other. In the military, we learned that there is a difference between guarding and surveilling. Guarding is providing that no harm will come to who or whatever you’re protecting. Surveilling is watching, observing and recording.

The NSA and GCHQ maintain that surveillance is a tool to protect the people from terrorists, when in fact they watch the people like we are the enemy. The laws that our government has put into place serve more to shield itself from public scrutiny than to protect the public.

The question is, when will we recognize that laws disguised as protection from terrorists are actually being used to surveil, gather unlimited information and track us? Lost rights can’t be regained when those in power believe no one is willing to fight for them.

McPherson Madness Reveals Struggle Between Mother and Revolutionary

Kelly Canavan, author of McPherson Madness, pulled away by U.S. Marshals
Kelly Canavan, author of McPherson Madness, pulled away by U.S. Marshals in June 2012

In McPherson Madness, playwright Kelly Canavan revisits a moment in recent history and shows how the drama of revolutionary movements can draw out the drama in one’s personal life. When she joined the Occupy movement in November 2011, she did not know it was setting the stage for a play she would later author.

In October 2011, when Occupy Wall Street was taking to the New York City streets, a small group of people started a sister encampment in Washington, DC. Within weeks, it grew to several hundred tents covering the entire park.

Like Occupy DC on which it is based, McPherson Madness is set in a public park near the White House, McPherson Square. Its main character, Dreama, is a mother on a journey in a social movement, struggling to balance the extremes of two lives. She’s a character split into two separate personas. “Info Dreama” (Jen Bevan) exists as the dominant role, pulled in by the gravitational energy of the Occupy DC movement, while Dreama (Tina Ghandchilar) internalizes the conflict with her family life outside the park.

Her obligation to participate in what she sees as a necessary revolution in society is pitted against her duty to take care of her son. As the play unfolds, she must come to terms with this conflict.

She lives almost schizophrenically, vacillating between separate worlds. There’s no peace for her as she skirts between the charged energy of the park and her son’s home life she has temporarily escaped. The audience never meets him, and only learns about him from her cellphone calls.

The ghostlike appearance of her doctor (Jean Miller) coaches her through her issues with sexuality, motherhood, and health, through dialogues with her two personas.

The play was artfully directed by Lynnie Raybuck, a perfect fit for this production, who finds “people more interesting than right or wrong.” The art backdrop, a 10’x20′ acrylic poster depicting a grand scene of McPherson Square, was painted by Ray Voide, who has previously painted dozens of protest posters.

Cast member Sha Golanski on set. Backdrop by artist Ray Voide.
Cast member Sha Golanski on set. Backdrop by artist Ray Voide.

McPherson Madness achieves authenticity since it was written by someone who actually lived and documented her journey within Occupy in a personal way. It pulls the audience into Dreama’s struggle while showing the harsh consequences of a society broken by its troubles and failings–and those who try to fix it.

It speaks to social issues of alcoholism, poverty, homelessness and the extraordinary efforts of people to “fight back” against oppressive social and economic ills. There may be stereotypes, but each is treated with a great amount of respect, each given a central role of dramatic importance. It shows that in the midst of complete chaotic breakdown people can still find humanity in how they treat others. In this production the issues of political correctness remain silent: it is about people.

McPherson Madness is a must-see  exploration of a woman evolving through a modern revolution, torn between complex worlds revealing the personal lives of its players, on display for everyone.

McPherson Madness is part of the Capital Fringe Festival, www.capitalfringe.org. It shows Sunday, July 21, 2:30 PM at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Streets NW (corner of P Street NW) Washington, DC and Saturday, July 27th, 6:30 PM.