It’s Not About The Mascot

vikingWhen I began writing this post Monday, it was a VERY different post.

I’d read the news that some students and a professor at Western Washington University (WWU, Western), my place of employment for the past 15 years, were calling for a change of the university’s mascot, the Vikings, claiming it conflicts with Western’s commitment to diversity.

And so, I was going to write a casual exploration of the topic, reflecting on the fact that the mascot at the junior high school I attended was also the Vikings, half joking about how the current graphic of the Viking, included here, whether or not you believe it a barrier to creating an inclusive community for people of color on campus, is so freaking scary he looks like he very badly wants to pillage my village, rape my women, and impale me on his horns, and then, maybe, I’d lightly touch on the topic of political correctness vs. free speech.

But Tuesday morning, before having any time to complete this post, an email was sent to the entire Western Washington University community by WWU President Bruce Shepard, announcing that classes had been cancelled for the day in response to hate speech on social media, directed at students of color at Western because of their opposition of the mascot.

So, I needed to take a break from writing and regroup, I needed to read the coverage in the media, and I even masochistically subjected myself to reading the reader comments on the article in the Bellingham Herald and on Western’s Facebook Page.

Then, shortly thereafter, I read the news that five Black Lives Matter protesters were shot in Minneapolis.

And what became abundantly clear to me was:

It’s not about the mascot.

It’s about racism.

What kind of country do we live in where this happens?

  • A handful of students of color state publicly that they oppose a university mascot because they feel alienated by it, and they are met with hate speech and threats, AND…
  • This same handful are told, with derision and anger, that they shouldn’t be offended and scared, that they are “cry babies” and “pussies”, and that this is just political correctness run amok, AND…
  • The president of the university is attacked for cancelling classes, which he did because he understands that students of color might be scared, given that racism and violence on college campuses is a national epidemic, and that the whole university needs time to process the awareness that racist threats were made to our students.

In April 2014, President Shepard, in a convocation speech, said:

“ … if in decades ahead, we are as white as we are today, we will have failed as a university.”

…and he swiftly came under fire for those comments.

I suspect that many who found fault with what he said then are likely the same people angrily criticizing the opposition to the mascot and the decision to cancel classes.

Racists have a glaringly obvious tell: Even hint about taking away a symbol of white power — a maniacal Viking, or, let’s say, the Confederate flag — and they doth protest too much.

Listen, I’ll take a politically correct overreaction over a racist overreaction any frickin’ day!

Tweet of the Day: #noKXL

Great news for a change!

And I can think of no other organization that fought longer or harder to oppose the pipeline than

They deserve enormous praise and thanks.

Video Fridays: Democracy Waking Up: Black Lives Matter & Insurgent Candidates

schuffmanRemember this quote from Bernie Sanders, from my post back in May?

“One of the greatest tragedies that we face today politically is that most people have given up on the political process. They understand the political process is stacked against them. They think there is no particular reason for them to come out and vote — and they don’t.”

Well, there have been several signs lately that people haven’t fully given up, and I’d like to highlight two promising examples here.

Black Lives Matter
On August 8th, three Black Lives Matter activists disrupted a Bernie Sanders campaign event in Seattle.

It was courageous and brilliant.

Anyone who thinks the activists were rude or barking up the wrong tree — because Bernie has an excellent record on civil rights for people of color — simply doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand the depths of the problem, the ugly persistence of institutional racism, the daily struggles of Black Americans, the daily degradations, the enduring discrimination and the lack of opportunity.

The Black Lives Matter movement clearly has not given up, and we should celebrate that they were successful in getting Bernie to meet with and listen to them, to strengthen his support for their work, such that when he was initially asked if black lives matter he gave a qualified answer — “black lives matter, white lives matter, Hispanic lives matter” — and when he was asked in the first Democratic Presidential Debate this past Tuesday he included no such qualifier:

Black lives matter. And the reason those words matter is the African American community knows that on any given day some innocent person like Sandra Bland can get into a car, and then three days later she’s going to end up dead in jail, or their kids are going to get shot. We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom, and we need major, major reforms in a broken criminal justice system in which we have more people in jail than China. And, I intended to tackle that issue. To make sure that our people have education and jobs rather than jail cells.

THAT is getting it!

Insurgent Candidates
I don’t know the origin of the term “insurgent candidate”, it certainly predates its current use, but I absolutely love it. And yes, even when it’s referring to candidates I vehemently oppose, because a true Democracy should provide a real opportunity to anyone who wants to participate in government by running for office, and no one should be deterred by a lack of money, by a political party that favors establishment players, or by a rigid 2-party system that breeds polarization and gridlock.

Getting more specific, I see as a very good thing insurgent candidates who do not fit, and defiantly refuse to fit, the media-perpetuated definition of “presidential”. I and millions of other Americans are sick to death of highly polished, highly coached, highly focus-grouped, politicians. They are the reason why so many of us had given up.

If insurgency allows for a loudmouthed, racist poster boy for capitalist greed like Donald Trump to reach Republican front-runner status, it’s worth it if at the same time it allows plainspoken, SuperPac-less, unapologetically Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders, to be a serious challenger to Wall Street darling Hillary Clinton.

Mark Hertsgaard nails this and calls it Bernie’s “secret weapon” in The Nation.

Anyway, I’m running out of time, it’s Friday, that means a Video Fridays installment is due, and so here’s the brief story of another insurgent candidate, Stuart Schuffman, who is running for Mayor of San Francisco, and whose campaign website is refreshingly called: Broke-Ass Mayor.

I LOVE this guy, I love his “I don’t give a shit. I don’t care if I don’t win, I’m doing this to make some fucking noise.” attitude. Being polite and asking the government nicely to help the homeless, to address income and wealthy inequality, to battle climate change, etc., will NOT cut it.

Go Stu! And, Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: Happy Birthday, John Lennon!

lennonSo, John Lennon would have turned 75-years old today if some lunatic with a gun hadn’t taken him down nearly 35 years ago.

Don’t get me started again on guns.

Lennon was a polarizing figure for sure, a flawed human being like everyone else, but there’s no question that his is one of the greatest stories in music history, and I’ve got to say that he’s been a huge influence on me, musically and otherwise.

John Lennon, the Beatle, seemed to have everything: superstardom, adoring fans, a critically acclaimed body of work, a loving wife, and a beautiful son. He could have coasted the rest of his life on that wave, but he chose to evolve as a musician and a human being, gradually drifting from the relatively clean-cut guy who wrote Please Please Me, to psychedelic poster child, to hippie activist, and beyond, never looking back.

He alienated his fans, he alienated his songwriting partner, he left his wife and son, and he left the greatest band the world has ever seen.

Like I said, one helluva story.

I’ve never been one to argue who the best Beatle was, as is common amongst fans, and I never disliked any of them, though I’ve not always liked all over their post-Beatles material.

And yet, there’s no doubt that John was my favorite. I’ve always, on the whole, loved his music more than the work of the others, ever so slightly more in some cases, and yet it was his emergence as a peacenik activist in the late 1960s that won me over completely. That he was willing grow out his hair and beard in the face of stifling and oppressive conservatism, that he was willing to leverage his massive celebrity to promote love and peace at a particularly volatile period of history, moved and influenced me deeply.

Yes, you were not and still are not the only dreamer, John.

But like I said, he was no angel. He was part hippie and part raunchy Rock&Roller, kinda like me!

And so, for this Video Fridays installment, I thought I’d show both sides of John Lennon, starting with his first overtly peacenik song, All You Need Is Love, a song that, in it’s message, however naive some may call it, still makes my eyes drip; and followed by one of my all-time favorite live performances, the White Album track Yer Blues, performed with Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Mitch Mitchell at the 1968 Rolling Stone’s Rock & Roll Circus.

Happy Birthday, John, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Guerrilla Grafters: A Refreshing Conflict

Photo: Tom Levy,
Photo: Tom Levy,
With all of the acute conflicts going on in the world — the Haves vs. the Have-Nots, climate change deniers vs. science, gun control advocates vs. the NRA, Caucasians vs. people of color, Jews vs. Muslims vs. Christians, etc. — conflicts of such great and often terrible consequences, how refreshing it was to read this morning about a conflict going down in San Francisco that is wonderfully small-scale, at least for now, and while some might call it trivial, I’d prefer to think of it as quaint, but not at all in a bad way.

Via the San Francisco Chronicle:

Hui and Goldberg are members of the Guerrilla Grafters, a loose-knit band of undercover orchardists blending farming and urban activism as a way to spark debate about the use of public space. For the past two years, the Grafters have been secretly attaching fruit-bearing branches, known as scions, to non-fruiting plum, pear and apple street trees.

City officials in San Francisco call their actions unlawful. Urban architecture connoisseurs call it groundbreaking: The grafters’ subversive project is being featured in the U.S. pavilion at the prestigious Venice Biennale’s 13th International Architecture Exhibition opening Wednesday.

Now, on the property of a house I used to live in, we had a couple of ridiculously prolific Italian plum trees, a pear tree, and an apple tree. As a result, every year in late summer and fall, so much fruit dropped in our yard, more than we could have ever consumed, we were never into canning, and so walking around the house was like navigating a minefield, one step, two steps, three steps, squish!

So, I kinda get the concern of SF city officials who worry, as the article states, of slip hazards from fruit falling on sidewalks and streets, BUT I tend to agree with the Grafters who argue:

“With grafts you only have a few branches that are bearing, and it’s really very manageable,” said Goldberg. The Grafters also say that stewards and gleaners can ensure that ripe fruit from trees they graft is safely harvested. They say they can also help maintain trees needing pruning, propping or watering.

This conflict says so much about urban life in the U.S. these days. A simple, natural and historically nourishing occurrence — fruit growing on trees — is seen as undesirable while poverty persists and gentrification pushes lower income residents out to the margins of the cities.

It’s not that middle and upper class urbanites don’t like fruit. It’s that they want it picked for them and neatly arranged in colorful displays at their local farmers market, evident by a 76% increase in the number of U.S. farmers markets from 2008 to 2014.

First World problems, indeed.

Video Fridays: Marriage Equality Edition

marriage-equalityThe news this morning, that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states can no longer deny same-sex couples the right to marry is a major breakthrough for justice and civil rights.

We still have VERY far to go, so many areas where inequality — racial, gender, age, ability, economic, etc. — remains, here in the U.S. and around the globe, and yet today’s victory feels particularly poignant.

After all, as one of the catch phrases of the marriage equality movement points out:

Love is Love

I’m still one of those dreamers, though not the only one, who truly believes that All You Need Is Love, and we need LOTS more love to overcome the remaining inequality challenges, to end violence and war, to save the planet from global climate change.

Let all people love each other and make lifelong commitments to each other and tell me how that can have any other effect than to heal the world?!

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Tweet of the Day: @BillMcKibben

My new favorite made-up word: Kayaktivist

I don’t think many people thought, when the kayak-based protests over a Shell Oil arctic drilling platform in Seattle’s Elliot Bay started a month ago, that the protest would still be going on today.

Kayaks have such an iconic presence here in the Pacific Northwest, and though I’ve never owned one myself, I’ve had the pleasure of paddling quite a few times over my 20+ years living here. As a result, and given my radical treehugging tendencies, I can’t help feeling solidarity with the protesters.

Paddle on, brothers and sisters! Paddle on!