Tag Archives: activism

David Letterman’s Frack You To Fracking

Fracking is, by now, old, terrifying news.

Grassroots efforts to combat fracking have been struggling mightily and losing frequently, but when a mainstream media legend like David Letterman takes a stand on his show, watched by millions, perhaps the tide is turning.

Thanks, Dave!

And folks, please consider clicking on the “Stop Fracking Now” graphic below and adding your name to this nationwide petition.


Best of Fish & Bicycles: Phil Ochs: Is it ever ok to give up?

Originally Published: August 9, 2011

I try really hard to keep things positive here at Fish & Bicycles. There are already plenty of blogs and websites out there wailing about how bloody awful things can get in this world. I should know. I used to write one of them.

That’s why I go looking for positive news (e.g. my Celebrating Progress series) to write about, or for the latest on less overtly political topics like the arts.

And yet, I’ve been thinking a lot about the 1960s and ’70s lately (Post 1, Post 2), feeling pretty sad about how, despite the cultural revolution of that period, we still have a world dominated by corruption, war-mongering, environmental destruction, and plutocracy.

So, what do I do? The other night, in a kind of masochistic impulse, I watched a documentary on Netflix, Phil Ochs: There but for Fortune, that just broke.my.frickin’.heart.

I’ve known some of Phil Ochs‘ music for years, knew he was a folk singer from the Greenwich Village glory days, and I even knew he descended sadly into alcoholism and madness before killing himself at the age of 35.

But I didn’t really understand the depth of his passion for and commitment to social causes until I saw this film, and it was nothing short of brutal to watch as Ochs’ dreams were violently dashed, over (Medgar Evers), and over (JFK), and over (Malcom X), and over (MLK), and over (RFK), and over (1968 Democratic National Convention), and over (1973 Chilean coup d’état), and over again (Victor Jara).

How is anyone expected to withstand that kind of relentless defeat? Can you really blame Ochs for trying to soothe his aching soul with alcohol? Is it ever ok to give up?

What Part Of Equality Don’t You Understand?

LoveSeriously, I don’t get it.

The Supreme Court of the United States started to hear arguments today concerning the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages until the proposition was deemed unconstitutional by both the Federal District Court in San Francisco and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Consequently, the social interwebs are abuzz with activity on the subject, and many of my Facebook friends and I have temporarily changed our profile photos to the marriage equality symbol you see above, as sign of solidarity with our LGBTQ friends.

Still, one of my “friends” posted on Facebook that he disagrees, accompanied by this graphic:


And you know, I find that absolutely stunning.

I mean, what kind of people come right out and say that they are in favor of discriminating against a certain other group of people and believe that said group of people do not deserve the same rights as everyone else?

Exactly! And so, I wonder how my “friend” feels about being in that company.

Whenever I think about this issue, I always think of that document that means so much to so many Americans across the entire political spectrum, irregardless of party affiliation, the Declaration of Independence, which famously states:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Now, I’ve researched this, and I’ve been totally unsuccessful locating that other draft of the Declaration, where that quote continues, “…except for gays and lesbians.”

Video Fridays: Benjie Howard’s Latest

benjieI’ve written twice before about my friend, singer/songwriter Benjie Howard, once at the completion of his new album, Secrets Like Bones, then again, when the album became available for purchase online: iTunes, Amazon.

Benjie’s, been out doing shows, promoting Secrets Like Bones, and, shout out to all you Bellinghamsters out there, Benjie and Gentri Watson are playing in town this week:

When: Wednesday, January 30th, 9:30pm
Where: The Green Frog, 1015 N. State Street

Additionally, here’s a new video that Benjie’s just released, a song, Arizona, performed here in collaboration with his New Wilderness Project partners, Maketa Wilborn (percussion) and Wade Colwell-Sandoval (vocals).

In keeping with the New Wilderness Project’s social justice mission, to quote Benjie, “This song…speaks to the crazy injustice that has been and continues to be perpetrated in that state.”

Have a good weekend, everyone, anda locals, go and see Benjie on Wednesday if you can.

Tweet of the Day: @inhabitat

A truly remarkable, inspiring story!

Waste Land: Vik Muniz & The Catadores

Last night I had the pleasure, better late than never, to see the 2010 documentary Waste Land, a deeply moving, sometimes hard to watch, yet ultimately inspiring and hopeful account of Brazillian-born artist Vik Muniz‘ three-year project at the world’s largest landfil, Rio de Janeiro’s Jardim Gramacho.

Muniz, who had already become known for using found objects and other unusual materials, such as peanut butter & jelly and chocolate syrup, took these ideas to a whole other level at Jardim Gramacho, fueled by a wonderfully idealistic and altruistic mission, stated at the outset of the film: Now that he has achieved worldwide artistic and material success, it was time to give something back, to create art that changes people’s lives.

The heart of the film is the community of Catadores — workers who pick through the garbage in the dump, gleaning recyclable materials — with whom Muniz forges a real collaboration. After spending time on site, talking to and getting to know some of the Catadores, a handful of them are chosen to be the subjects of portraits by Muniz, with all eventual proceeds from the works to be donated to the subject Catadores and the ACAMJG (the Association of Recycling Pickers of Jardim Gramacho). The working conditions are practically unimaginable, the lives of the Catadores are extremely difficult, but they work hard and are proud that they have chosen to be pickers rather than drug dealers or prostitutes.

Now, when I say that Muniz collaborated with the Catadores, this collaboration went way beyond their becoming subjects for portraits. (The portraits were produced from photos of the subjects that were projected, giant-sized, onto the floor of a warehouse, the images were then filled in using all manner of refuse, and high-resolution photos were taken of the finished pieces. Click on the photos included here and zoom in to see what’s really going on.)

From collecting the materials to be used in the portraits to actually helping assemble the pieces under Muniz’ direction, these people imbued the work with their very lives and experiences.

The most moving scenes of the whole film centered on just how connected the Catadores became with the portraits, all of them brought to tears upon seeing them in their completed state from the scaffolding above. They never dreamed they’d be the subject of something so incredibly beautiful, or that something so beautiful could be born from the ugliness of Jardim Gramacho. Later, one of the subjects, Tiaõ, travels with Vik to London for an auction of his portrait, where it sold for $64,000, and he weeps while telling his mother the news over the phone. Likewise, when Tiaõ and the other subjects are brought to the Museum of Modern Art in São Paulo for the opening of an exhibit of their portraits, they are all similarly moved to tears.

As New York Times film critic Stephen Holden puts it:

It is the first confirmation from the world outside the dump that their lives matter.

Having been born lower middle class in Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, Muniz describes at one point that many of the Catadore families were from a similar background, but ended up in Jardim Garmacho due to unfortunate circumstances.

As a result, the film has a palpable there-but-for-the-grace-of-God undercurrent.

And so, you might ask whether or not Vik Muniz met his goal of really, meaningfully changing lives.

There’s a key scene in a cozy, modern home where Muniz and his wife are arguing about the long term implications of the project. Muniz mentions that some of the Catadores have asked to keep working for him after the project is over, stating that they don’t want to go back to just being pickers. Additionally, at this point, the decision had not been made as to whether or not to bring Tiaõ to London. Muniz’ wife seems to feel that there is an unintended cruelty to exposing the Catadores to a better life only to return them to the misery of the landfill when the project is over, but Vik says that if he was in their shoes and was offered a chance to have this experience, he’d still want to have the experience even if he knew that it was a taunting and fleeting glimpse.

Ultimately, at the end of the film, we learn that most of the subjects, thanks to the royalties from the portraits, are successful in leaving Jardim Garmacho, and that other monies raised have helped the ACAMJG found a library, medical clinic, day care center, and a skills training center to help the Catadores transition to better jobs.

Really, there’s no question that lives were changed.

The Question of Celebrity Obligation

The Argument is legendary amongst a circle of friends I’ve been lucky enough to know since grade school. We’re all from New Jersey, where arguing is a pastime rather than a friendship-threatening conflict, we’re all very passionate about music, the arts in general, politically several shades of liberal, from far-left to center-left, and The Argument has resurfaced many times over nearly 30 years.

But the instance of The Argument that I remember most vividly took place sometime in the late 1980s, in our favorite pizzeria, Taverna Della Pizzeria in Spotswood, NJ, and it started when someone asserted the opinion that Bob Dylan, over the course of his long, illustrious career, should have leveraged his celebrity more to support important social causes; that he abandoned his activist roots and the legacy of his hero Woody Guthrie to be just another vain rock star celebrity.

This position was strenuously attacked by another from the group, who argued that it is actually oppressive to musicians, actors, dancers, painters, etc., to demand that they have any obligation to anything other than the pursuit of their art; that once you impose any “shoulds” on them you are interfering with the free flow of their creative expression.

Over the years, The Argument expanded beyond Dylan, to include pretty much every other form of celebrity, but when I read this morning that Dylan has authorized the use of his music for a just-released 4-CD set of covers, by 80 artists of 75 of his songs, with proceeds going to Amnesty International, memories of The Argument came rushing back, and I found myself jumping to Bob’s defense.

While it certainly is true that Dylan abruptly abandoned his activism roughly around the time he abandoned purist folk music in the mid 1960s, it is not at all accurate to argue that he abandoned it entirely or forever.

After his famed 1966 motorcycle accident, which I wrote about back in November, and which seemed to wake him up from an intoxicating celebrity binge, the first live appearance he made in twenty months was for a Woody Guthrie memorial concert, clear proof that he still valued the protest tradition. The photo I include here is from three years later, at the 1971 Concert For Bangladesh, later that year he recorded a song mourning the death of Black Panther George Jackson, and four years later he recorded the song Hurricane, a passionate defense of boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, whom he felt was wrongly imprisoned on murder charges.

In the years since, Dylan has appeared at other benefit concerts, lent his songs to benefit albums, and now we have the Amnesty International collection, which will raise thousands and thousands of badly needed dollars for an essential civil rights advocacy organization.

As for the broader topic, whether or not celebrities have an obligation to use their fame for good, I’m inclined to see valid points from both sides of The Argument. The idea that they need to “give something back” is overly simplistic, and it really doesn’t work, as they’ve already given of themselves via the production of their work. Personally, I treasure the work of artists, much of which has meant so much to me over the years that I can’t imagine a world without it. These are true gifts, regardless of the financial rewards earned by their creators.

Additionally, I do believe that it’s important for creative freedom and development to not put artists into confining boxes, demanding specifics from them, but I do admire artists who do add their voices to worthy causes.