Happy New Year, from Fish & Bicycles!

As the remaining seconds of 2011 tick away, I find myself reflecting on this blogging thing that I do.

Unlike last year, when we had a new decade to celebrate — even though, as I wrote, most people had incorrectly celebrated the year before — this year we’re ushering in just another mundane set of 12 months.

Sure, there’s all the Mayan calendar 2012 ridiculousness, but let’s face it, things really won’t get fun again until the year 2020, because it’s such a cool number, or 2112, because there’s a classic Rush album by that name.

Um…where was I?

Oh, yeah, reflecting on blogging!

2011 has been an exciting year, here at Fish & Bicycles. I feel like I’ve really hit my stride, like I’m in the flow, that the blog is serving it’s primary purpose of acting as an outlet for my creative expression. I look at the content I’ve accumulated since I started in October 2009 and I feel very proud of it.

Icing on the cake: my monthly page views have tripled since this time last year, and it’s more thrilling than I can say, knowing that folks from all over the world have stopped by.

Now, not all of my reflective thoughts about blogging are so positive. There are times, infrequent as they may be, when I question the value of doing this. There are times when I have nothing really burning to say, but I feel a sense of obligation to try to produce something. On my good days, I see this as purely good writing discipline, for many a writing teacher will tell you that writing something, regardless of the quality, every single day is essential to being a good writer, as it keeps the creative juices flowing. On my not so good days, I wonder whether or not I’m in need of an ego-trip check, that perhaps, rather than a commitment to a writing regimen, I might really be more concerned with how the blog looks, updated as often as possible, which, experts preach, is essential for attracting more regular readers.

I’m sure that a lot of creative types wrestle with this from time to time, especially those of us who do not do it for a living. Really, it’s that age-old question: Is it art if no one but you ever sees or hears it?

While I believe it most certainly is, I also believe that a lot of artists do what they do because they want to share the fruit of their labors with others, to entertain, to provoke thought and emotion, to contribute something born of the human spirit to the world.

I could probably go on an on with this subject, but that’s enough reflection for now. We’ll see how this next year goes.

In the meantime, thanks, as always, to everyone who stops by, however briefly, for taking the time to consider my humble contributions to the blogosphere.

Happy New Year!

Occupy Bellingham Getting Evicted

As I type this, the Occupy Bellingham encampment in our Maritime Heritage Park is preparing for a forced eviction scheduled for 9am, a few minutes from now. Bellingham, Washington, a city of only 80,000, might not be a mighty metropolis and media hub, but our hearty occupiers have been camped out since October.

It is with deep regret that, for a variety of reasons, I am unable to join my fellow 99%ers this morning in person. And so, I offer up this blog post of solidarity, my humble effort to spread the word of this injustice, knowing, as I do from visitor stats and such, that I’m fortunate enough to have readers from all over the world, from the west coast of the U.S. to the east, from the west coast of Canada to the east, from England to The Netherlands, and all the way to India.

Lame Duck Mayor Dan Pike, whom I praised so highly for his stance against the coal terminal project, has ordered the eviction on the grounds that there have been complaints from neighboring businesses and reports of damage to park property, namely the grass where the tents are pitched.

I did stop by the camp before I went to work this morning, and was told by the brave souls there that they’ve been doing near constant outreach to nearby businesses, checking in with them to make sure that they aren’t disturbing anyone, and the occupiers have been planning on repairing any damage to grass or other park property, though they insist that the damage is minimal.

Meanwhile, Occupy Bellingham’s lawyer insists that the eviction is a clear violation of First Amendment rights, and he plans to take legal action against the city on behalf of the occupiers.

For anyone interested, you can follow today’s events via Ustream and on Twitter via #OccupyBellingham.

Stuff We Need: Scrapblasters!

I haven’t posted a Stuff We Need installment in a while, maybe because I’ve been too overwhelmed with stuff lately, like moving 20 years of accumulated stuff from one house to another, and having been immersed in those stuff-filled days we call the holiday season.

But when I saw this, I knew I had to have one:

Scrapblasters are two guys from Seattle, Brian Westcott and John Brink, who do upcycling with great retro taste.

It’s not that I have a thing for vacuum cleaners, it’s just that a vintage vacuum cleaner repurposed as a boom box TOTALLY works for me.

And yet, looking around the Scrapblasters website and checking other things they’ve made, I came up with an idea I’d like more than a boom box.

Back in April, they posted this:

That right there is a speaker and sub-woofer in a 1910 suitcase, and what I’d really like is to commission them to construct a home theater sound system inside a collection various retro items that would sit around the TV room.

THAT would be so rad!

Happy Holidays, From Fish & Bicycles!

Well, it’s that time of year again, when I’ll be heading over the river and through the woods, to grandparents’ houses for Christmas.

We’re halfway through Chanukah, had a great time lighting candles, playing dreidel, and eating latkes, but we’re an interfaith family, and now we get to load up all of our Jewish stuff to bring with us for the second half of the holiday, along with all of our Christmas gifts, and drive to Seattle for time with the goyishe relatives.

Typically, this means that I won’t be blogging much for the next few days, so things will be quiet here at Fish & Bicycles, probably until Monday.

While I’m indisposed, feel free to browse around Fish & Bicycles in any of the following ways:

  • Tags: In the sidebar, under Stuff About…, you can click on any of the Tags and see all the posts I’ve done that have at least something to do with those topics.
  • Recurring Series: At the top of the page, hover over the Recurring Series drop-down menu and select from options like Celebrating Eco-Progress, which applauds businesses adopting sustainable practices; Eyecatchers, a collection of photos, graphics, and videos that have, well, caught my eye; Video Fridays, my favorite video of the week pick; and more.
  • Archives: Towards the bottom of the sidebar, select a specific month to see everything I posted in that time period.

Cheers!

What’s Next For The Occupy Movement?

I came across a great and inspiring article at Good.is about these folks:

I’m sitting with an Afghan, a Bangladeshi, a Senegalese, a Bulgarian, some Italians, and a Turk on a bench in an abandoned lot in Rome. Last year, this lot was filled with half a dozen vats of marmalade made from wild oranges collected by Roman citizens for a fundraising effort to support a group of Malian immigrants. The decaying edifice that looms behind us was once a textile factory under Mussolini and now hosts several immigrant families who fled Rosarno, where they had been the victims of hate crimes. It also hosts kick-ass dance parties on weekends.

In front of us, an African man, who just taught us Bambara (the primary language of Mali), transcribes words on a whiteboard to help an illiterate Afghan teach us Pashtun via an Italian interpreter. It’s just a typical day at the Centro Sociale Occupato Autogestito Ex Snia Viscosa, fondly known as Ex Snia. In English, CSOA translates to Occupied and Self-Managed Social Center. “Occupied” because it’s run by squatters who took a government-owned space and turned it into a variety show of community ventures.

I’ll come back to this idea of a “self-managed social center” in a little bit, and shift attention to the Occupy movement here in the U.S.

As coordinated mass evictions of Occupy encampments and winter weather have combined to, at least temporarily, bump the movement out of the headlines and into a kind of hibernation, it seems a good time to take stock of what’s been accomplished, what’s left to do, and how to best go about doing it.

Accomplishments

It’s perfectly understandable, though ultimately inaccurate, to look back at the months of protests and conclude that absolutely nothing has changed. The 1% has been untouched, none of the incompetents and crooks behind the market crash have been held accountable, the Citizens United SCOTUS decision stands and continues to corrupt our electoral process, and our government is broken and gridlocked.

However, the very fact that “1%” and “99%” have become the de facto shorthand for income inequality, that the struggle made it to the headlines as long as it did, are significant and welcome accomplishments all by themselves. Change takes time, the movement is in its infancy, and the criticisms of the movement for not having clearly-defined demands, a criticism I’ve soundly rejected, is misguided and misses the forest (i.e. long-term prospects of a lasting movement that takes the time to really organize from the ground up) for the trees (i.e. knee-jerk, instant gratification desire for a ready-made platform).

Besides, there are thousands of people still occupying encampments all over the country, despite the impending cold, rain, and snow.

What’s Left To Do

Despite all the positives of the Occupy movement, in some ways I think the protests have had the unintended consequence of distracting the 99% temporarily from what might be a more effective way forward, which I’ll get to in a moment.

The expression of anger and desperation over the outrage of income inequality was inevitable, and it will continue to be welcome and necessary to speak out. I’d never advocate for letting up in this area. As I wrote back in October, the key to movements like this and the Arab Spring revolutions is staying power.

The 1% and the corrupt politicians who protect them have to know that we’re on to them and that we’re not going to let them get away with criminal greed forever. Starting with the current effort to amend the constitution in order to overturn the Citizens United decision, there’s much work to be done in the political sphere.

But, there’s something else we can do…

How To Go About Doing It

In June 2011 I wrote about a conference held here in Bellingham by The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), pointing out that when our local, state, and federal governments fail us, there’s no law against communities organizing themselves around the idea of living and banking and shopping locally, creating new markets and businesses and jobs locally, maintaining our infrastructure locally, educating our children and supporting the needy locally. And, as individual local living communities become more and more organized, they can cooperate and collaborate with other like-organized communities both on a regional and national level, which is the very work that BALLE tries to facilitate.

Of course, when peak oil and climate change really hit the fan, we probably are going to be forced the hard way to be more self-sufficient on the local level anyway, but there’s clearly so many things we could be doing now to prepare, reducing our dependency on government and imported goods and services.

Granted, there are enormous hurdles. Conducting a Buy Local campaign is a piece of cake these days, but developing a local economy that can fund its own education, health care, and infrastructure programs is a downright herculean task to say the least. And while you could say that it’s utterly impossible, I’d argue, with the help of Margaret Mead, that small groups of committed people, agreeing that local living economies are not only possible but imperative, absolutely can make it happen.

Now, Back To Italy

See, there’s something deliciously subversive about this idea. It essentially amounts to the creation of an independent, parallel society. And that’s what those folks in the self-managed social centers in Italy are doing when they occupy a space that no one else wants, when they build a community there, when they start helping one another, when they start to grow some food and teach each other languages and fix bicycles for free.

Here’s more inspiration:

“You can’t put an elephant in a little vegetable garden,” explains an impish old man who introduces himself as Signore Carciofo (Mr. Artichoke). He is one of the original founders of Ex Snia who revived the junkyard lot in 1995. Mr. Artichoke expands on his adage: When he was 14 and working for the Marshall Plan, he watched foreign dollars change his country from a sustainable society of small communities and small economies to an engorged mega-market entirely dependent on foreign finance. “The land is what gives Italy its worth,” he tells me. “To save Italy, we need to give the elephant back to the zoo and start planting to stimulate the garden’s regrowth.”

Lovely.