Rejecting “Us versus Them” in the Aftermath of Paris

Französischer Dom in Berlin Nov 2015

The day after the attacks on Paris, I had a spaghetti dinner in Prenzlauerberg (a neighborhood in the former East Berlin) with a German man I am just getting to know. We talked about our concerns that these deaths would lead to more escalation in political violence, especially actions by the U.S. and member states of the EU that could lead to more deaths.

But we are an unusual pair of people to be having this conversation. He is a former member of the Red Army Faction (RAF), and I am an American whose only brother was killed by the Red Army Faction in 1985 as part of an attack on the US airbase on Rhein-Main (my dinner partner was already serving time in prison for other deaths at the time). Continue reading “Rejecting “Us versus Them” in the Aftermath of Paris”

Pleading for a father’s life after a mother’s murder

I felt such a sense of horror when I read about a 14-year old girl who petitioned the state of Missouri asking them not to execute her father for the gruesome murder of her mother and sister. Her petition was turned down, and the state executed Richard Strong this week. The state willfully orphaned her, saying that this is what “justice” looked like, with the vocal support of some of her relatives.

It’s like a scene from some movie about a king or queen executing a peasant to show how powerful he is, and a child begging for mercy to no avail. Except that this is real. Continue reading “Pleading for a father’s life after a mother’s murder”

No one Should Kill or Die for my Smartphone

Even though I have a fair amount of gadgets (MacBook Pro, G1 smartphone, Lumix camera, Flip, the list goes on…), I have not done a great job tracking the impact of buying and using them. Well, it’s time for me to make sure that my enjoyment of these things doesn’t cost other people their lives.

I just got to see this new video explaining the problem of “conflict minerals” in my electronic devices:

This video is from Raise Hope for Congo, a group working to end the long-running war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A war whose course is shaped by the ability of armed people to enslave people to extract highly-profitable minerals that Western companies buy and use in our phones and gadgets. There are some great resources to explain the connection, including a recent NY Times editorial and this resource page on the raisehopeforcongo.org site.

I’ve taken the pledge to stop my purchasing of devices unless I can get them conflict-free.

If my smartphone dies before a new, conflict-free Android phone is out, this should get interesting for me. But as much as I love having fun with my smartphone, no one should be killing or dying for me to have it.

I Almost Bought the Story of Stuff at Powell’s Last Night

Story of Stuff Book CoverWhat a treat to see Annie Leonard at Powell’s last night talking about the new The Story of Stuff book. Powell’s ran out of copies for sale, so I left empty-handed even though I was all set to buy it. I’ll have to trot down there later for a copy.

Leonard’s approach to engaging people on this complicated issue — a straightforward animation that explains the problem of over-consumption — now has over 8 million views online around the world and has been translated into 12 languages. This is a great example of how effective communication is key to pushing for any deep change. The video keeps it simple and relevant to our daily lives. Watch the Story of Stuff if you haven’t already.

At Powell’s, she touched on so much, but the hour just flew by. Some highlights from her talk:

She opened by explaining why we should buy the Story of Stuff book for $8 more from Powell’s than from Amazon: local jobs, and an independent businesses that our community loves (she mentioned a fleeting fantasy about getting trapped in the store for weeks by an earthquake).

www.ban.org: the Basel Action Network. The Basel Ban is an international set of agreements to eliminate the trade in toxic waste. Left to our own devices, wealthy nations would just turn less-wealthy nations into our landfills. “No” says the Basel Agreement. But there’s a lot to do to stop our international toxic dumping.

March 22, 2010 was also World Water Day and the same day that The Story of Bottled Water was released. Another great animation explaining a deep idea. In this case, the idea of a “manufactured need.” Bottled water empires, beware! Soon you may have to start picking up after yourself.

GoodGuide.com, a guide to products that have been rating along different social responsibility scales including the environment, the supply chain and labor.

But what I love is that Leonard talks about taking individual action, and she pairs it up with a commitment to systemic change. It’s not enough for us to change our own individual shopping habits, we need to press for broader changes. This is apparently what she digs into in the book. The Story of Stuff video, after all, explains more about the problem of over-consumption than the solution. But the book has it all.

So, I’ve signed up for email from them, and fully expect to wind up engaged somehow with this project. Over-consumption is choking the world, and like many other U.S. exports, is harming the world and ultimately making us less safe. We need to figure out a solution — as individuals, communities, and as a part of a global community.