Monday, October 26, 2009

From "Hi, I'm the white girl in 312" to Zeeburgerpad

The last two months have been a whirlwind of decisions, packing, airplane tickets, and the promise of a new adventure. Somewhere between waiting tables, staff retreats, and campaigning on safe school siting, I forgot that my first love has always been exploring the world around me. That is what wakes me up and the reason I want to be exhausted at night.

The past three years has been an accelerated course in how change happens at both a local and international levels. And I'm a better person because of all the people I've met and all the things I've accomplished and helped other people accomplish. But 12 hours a day at the same desk, 3 hour commutes, and an office in suburbs, doesn't make me a more fulfilled or useful person, it makes me tired and annoyed. And not exploring the world around me.

So in early September I decided to take a jump and see where I land. I wrote this post while sitting in the Dublin airport. Surrounded by tag parties to Prague, families on holiday, and newly graduated kids off to travel for a while. My goal right now and for the next year or so is to see new places, meet new people, and have many new adventures. Is this selfish? Do I feel like I'm letting down people in contaiminated communities that I could be helping? Of course it is and of course I do. But as leave my 20's (thank fucking god!) I'm realizing that I'm useless to the people I care about if I'm not taking care of my own life first.

Somewhere along the way I realized that I might one of the luckiest people on the planet. A friend offered her couch for as long as I need it, another friend helped me get a job for a couple months, and my former employer said that my job is still open if I decide to return next year. I'm pretty much waiting for everything to fall apart any moment, but as a friend explained, "Renee, sometimes things just work out." I'm don't necessarily believe that, but I do think that opportunities present themselves at the right time because of all the decisions you made just before. Opportunities are always right in front of you and all those poor and good decisions just allow you see them more clearly.

Happy Trails

Renee Claire

p.s. I'm in Amsterdam. And there are a lot of white people. A little strange I think.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


As most liberals who woke up listening to The Morning Edition on NPR this past week, what is happening in Pakistan . . . scares. the. fucking. shit. out. of. me. I should have paid more attention to this region of the world long before 2001, but I've always been more interested in South East Asia. Selfishly because I've had the opportunity to travel and work there some 7 times over the past 10 years.

In 2005, while I was restlessly exploring and living in New York City, I worked as a production assistance in a couple film festivals and worked for Rubina, a Pakistani woman who was raised in the US. At that point I had traveled to the Thai-Burma border three times, spending something like six total months doing crap work for the people who were doing real work in trying to bring democracy and end violence against the more than 30 ethnic groups in the country.

Just after Pakistan suffered a devastating earthquake that shut off communication and supplies to some of its already poorest and most isolated areas, Rubina told me about her desire to bring supplies into those areas and asked my advice on how to get around as an American woman without knowing anyone or where to go or how to do it. My advice to her was to get as close to where you want to go and then hang out in the tea shops that seems to have other foreigners who could also be relief workers. Be personable and start asking questions. Ask them for contacts and don't take the language barrier to getting what you need as a stumbling block. There is always a path around these types of problems, you just have to be dedicated to finding them.

Over the next couple months she gathered donations, bought a ticket to Pakistan, rented a helicopter, bought supplies with the money she raised, and then flew it all in. I'm a very lucky person and I've been able to meet some really amazing activists, Rubina is definitely included, even if she did make it me cry at the Hamptons International Film Festival one afternoon. Even besides the only 3 or 4 hours of sleep that we were able to get and the batshit crazy directors we had to deal with, I loved working that festival, Walk the Line premiered and I deescalated a potentially violent situation with 300 retired New Yorkers who lived south Florida who almost beat the shit of me because we over sold some shitty movie about retired New Yorkers who live in South Florida. But working for Rubina has been one of my biggest highlights. As a shy and not always strong woman, I love being able to work alongside really dedicated and extremely strong women.

The news coming out of Pakistan is usually shocking and full of violence. I have to say I never really hear anything good, unless its in a book that is specifically about something good. But this week really shook me. Each morning my radio turned on at 645am and I layed in bed listening to hostage taking, bombings, and audacious attacks on boys training to be police officers. I met so many brave and committed Burmese people who have taken up arms in a way to save their families and maybe one day their country and I think of them when I hear about attacks on the Iraqi, Afgahni, and Pakistani boyas who have choose to take up arms.

I believe that non-violence is a tactic not a lifestyle, a tactic that 99% of the time is the only tactic. I support the men and women in Burma who carry weapons with them and who fire on the Burmese military when they enter their villages. And I support the men (and women?) who are choosing to join the police, military or otherwise in South Asia to fight against the Taliban.

I understand that it is much more complicated issue than this. As in most conflict areas where government sponsored armed resistance are in the process of building up, it is not cut and dry that the boys being trained are there on their own accord. There is poverty, corruption and ignorance in play in building an army during wartime. I believe attending school would solve more problems, but somebody has to make sure students aren't murdered in their classrooms or schools shut down completely like in Zimbabwe. Or in the case of the over 25,000 Wahhabi madrasahs in Pakistan, taking it further, and make sure that students aren't being indoctrinated into an extremist and violent ideology. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this is the military's role, but the deescalation of violence would help close these madrasahs in the long run.

I have marched in anti-war rallies, worked for anti-violence organizations, and told a friend of my aunt's inside a catholic church in the deep south in 2007 when she congratulated my aunt for her sons serving in the military during wartime that I didn't see anything to be happy about and we'd much rather my 18 year old cousins stay home and go to college. I believe that she mumbled something about me going to hell, which I'll give her, but I was too angry to hear anything she had to say after that. Given all that I do in my life in the name of peace and education, I'm not sure that at this time we should pull completely out of Afghanistan or end our help to the Pakistani army.

Before 2001 the Taliban could barely get boys to join them and could be found in only 20% of Afghanistan, today the Taliban rules over 70% and are organized enough to pull off several brazen attacks that killed 150 people in a matter of just a couple days this week. I understand that there are reasons the Taliban has been so successful in the past few years and the US actions are the biggest ones. But what do we do now?

One thing is to put real resources into education and economic and social development of women and in children in the area. Because as we all know from conflicts the world over, when women are healthy, all of society is healthy. But I'm not convinced that is the only answer. It's a huge piece of the answer for long term stability, but what about for today? What's the answer for protecting the students and teachers against violence so they can go to school today and tomorrow and the next day and not get caught in some fanatics backpack bomb or specifically targeted because she is a little girl going to school?

There is no reason to take me seriously in this conversation. I barely know what I'm talking about the majority of my waking life after all. I just believe that as activists we shouldn't be so quick to say that no violence ever is the answer. In 2001, those of us that protested against the occupation in Iraq were right. Today is a different situation. I don't know what the answer is, but I do think we, as people who believe in peace, should be more thoughtful in our call to action right now. I also believe that having people who say 'no violence ever' is an extremely important part of making sure that us in the middle don't swing too far out of our league.

Happy rainy and freezing Saturday,

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday Gumbo: What Other People Know

Gumbo is a piece of my history. Though I've never learned to make it myself, I love to listen to people talk about it and love to read stories about the people who know how to make it. As Leah Chase from New Orleans and the owner of Dooky Chase Restaurant says, gumbo is just a mixture of all the things you know and all the things the people before you knew. Since I'm a cajun who doesn't know how to make gumbo, I accept that I don't know too much, so here are a few things other people know.

"I look at life, honey, and everything you do should be a learning experience. I learned a lot of things working for this lady in her—in a little boarding house from cleaning up a house. You learn about people and there's nothing—no product more important than human beings. I don't care who they are; there's nothing in the world more important than human beings. And you learn about those people. You take some things that you can use, and then things you think you can't use or your mother wouldn't allow you to use, you don't take. And that's how you grow and that's how things should be with people's lives. That's what I'm trying to tell young people today. They're moving and they're moving good, and I'm proud of those who can move. But are you stopping to help somebody else? Are you stopping to see how you can make another person feel his worth?" Leah Chase

" Yet we must always remember that as our country, in these changing times finds immense new challenges and opportunities, whatever work we do, whatever goals we have – and no matter how these may change in this changing world – ultimately without peace, security and happiness we have nothing. That is the essence of the philosophy of Gross National Happiness. Our most important goal is the peace and happiness of our people and the security and sovereignty of the nation." King of Bhutan

'Chasing the Rising Sun' is a book about the travels to find the origin of the song House of the Rising Sun. It looks like it could make those that love folk, jazz, blues, and the deep south happy.

'Changes' by Seu Jorge of Brrrrrrazzilll

In 1909 22 year old Alice Ramsey gathered her husband's two sisters and another friend and set out on a road trip, becoming the first woman to drive cross country. I find it curious why people set off to accomplish certain things like this. As I was reading her story, I found several other stories of women throughout the last 100 years who have set off to recreate her long journey.

"Route finding was tricky, especially after the women crossed the Missouri River. Maps were incomplete. There were no road signs. Directions in guidebooks often read as such: “Turn left at the red barn with the yellow house,” which worked as long as the farmer had not repainted the home blue, which happened in one instance. Often, Ramsey navigated by following telegraph lines or railroad tracks. Roads turned into wagon trails and what Ramsey calls “mere horse trails” in Wyoming. Though Ramsey referred to Salt Lake City as a highlight of the trip, road conditions were still primitive there."

Stumbling across youtube videos of a friend's band is funny. I met Tim while traveling through Poland almost exactly 5 years ago, in the Fall of 2004. Tim is from Boston though has lived in Poland for 6 years or so. 2004 was a very special Fall for Tim as well as our friend Bo (the only republican in the group of 12 travelers). We all cheered for Tim the morning after that World Series and we all drank ourselves passed out the night Bo celebrated November 4, 2004. Tim is the dude in the brown sweater and white sunglasses. He once tried to start a fight with a bunch of Polish guys in an effort to defend my honor (He may be the only boy to ever do that). What he thought was my honor anyway. After realizing that he had simply misunderstood an already hostile situation, we quickly made it to the next bar and no one got punched.

I think my cousin and I have the same laugh. We definitely don't have the same singing voice though.

"You learn from everybody; you take a little bit from everybody and that way—and that's what I have done. So nobody becomes—no one person becomes my role model. I may look at these people across the street from me and I look at them and I said, “You know look at that; that's pretty smart what they're doing. I can do that. I can learn to do that.” And then everybody becomes your role model because you take what's good from everybody. You take whatever good they have, you take it and you—you move on it, and that becomes your role model. And I think people should do that—pay more attention to other people. You might think a person has nothing to offer, the way he looks. He might look—but if you talk to him long enough, you will find that he can offer you something." Leah Chase sure knows a lot. It's probably the gumbo.

Happy Sunday
Renee Claire

Friday, October 9, 2009

People Are Strange . . . Or . . . . Am I Crazy?

(1) Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize
(2) NASA bombed the moon
(3) The DNC grew some balls

"The Republican Party has thrown in its lot with the terrorists -- the Taliban and Hamas this morning -- in criticizing the President for receiving the Nobel Peace prize," wrote DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse. "Republicans cheered when America failed to land the Olympics and now they are criticizing the President of the United States for receiving the Nobel Peace prize -- an award he did not seek but that is nonetheless an honor in which every American can take great pride -- unless of course you are the Republican Party. The 2009 version of the Republican Party has no boundaries, has no shame and has proved that they will put politics above patriotism at every turn. It's no wonder only 20 percent of Americans admit to being Republicans anymore - it's an embarrassing label to claim."

(4) Senator Bryd (a lackey for mountaintop removal) wrote a letter to Massey Energy about protecting the children attending school at Marsh Fork Elementary (an elementary school built 300 feet from a coal ash sludge wall
(5) Marge Gets Nude for Playboy, Web-Savvy Simpsons Fetishists Yawn
(6) Jeb Bush came out in support for Obama's stategies
(7) Vince Vaughn looking forward to marriage (as the CNN headline states)
(8) A woman had her 2nd set of twins in just 10 months
(9) McDonald's opening in the Louvre
(10) Americans pay attention to the Jon and Kate divorce media junket

Hmmm . . . good thing today is Friday. I need time to pack my apartment into a storage unit and get out my passport.

Much love,
Renee Claire

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Successful or Not Successful?

I can't decide if the past 8 years were so painful that I can't possibly be disappointed in Obama's performance or I'm in still in shock from the election that my perspective is a little off about what he has accomplished or I'm so jaded from the last 8 years that the seemingly lack of progress is nothing compared to the Bush years or our country is such shit that hearing nothing is better than hearing something (daily bank closures), but has Obama been successful or not successful? I just have no idea right now.

The only agency I know about these days is EPA. And I have to say Jackson has been moving and shaking pretty well. There is much better access and long time employees have come out of the woodwork to help push things along that were once stalled on an empty desk somewhere. Administrator Jackson has committed to investigate 6 chemicals of high concern and set out a platform for national chemical reform, one of the most important issues in making our communities, bodies and planet safer and healthier. The agency also held 73 permits for mountaintop removal coal mining projects, good for the people of Appalachia who are suffering and whose communities are being violently pulled apart because of this destructive practice. EPA also announced they would be requiring companies to report their greenhouse gas emissions for a national greenhouse gas emissions report in 2011. This of course has industry allllllll riled up. Which is always good.

Also, the White House quietly announced in September a rule stating that no federally registered lobbyist can sit on government panels. A nice little spot that has been giving corporations access to overwhelmingly influence our public officials for their clients. Doesn't that sound so DC? I've lived in DC for 7 years, give or take many months in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia and Brooklyn. And this is exactly what DC is. The first question you are asked anywhere in this town is what do you do and then do you know blahblahblah. Even the hipsters up in Columbia Heights ask these questions, of course they are looking for drugs or new music not seats at the table. But not much difference really.

So this new policy has people really angry. Congressional Quarterly stated: "A tide of anger and dismay is rippling down K Street as the Obama administration implements a new policy limiting the roles of lobbyists on federal advisory committees." A tide of anger rippling down K st? And this is about seats on a government panel, not DC's AIDS crisis (3% are infected) or the 200 public school teachers that were fired last Friday or the fact that DC residents don't really have congressional representation, right?

I feel really bad for the Starbucks baristas who are having to listen their whining on 17th St. Polluting corporations have been getting away with so much over the years that now you ask them to behave themselves, they are throwing themselves on the ground and crying for their mommas.
The White House actually had to say that lobbyists were not irreplaceable in defense of their own policy.

EPA also announced on September 30
". . . a proposal requiring large industrial facilities that emit at least 25,000 tons of GHGs a year to obtain construction and operating permits covering these emissions. These permits must demonstrate the use of best available control technologies and energy efficiency measures to minimize GHG emissions when facilities are constructed or significantly modified."

I distinctly remember this conversation I had with a health care worker in Mae Sot, Thailand right after East Timor became independent in 2002. He said there is no way that Xanana Gusmao could have been elected if he wasn't a little slimy and we don't really want to know what happened to make all of that possible. That's kind of how I feel about Obama. He isn't really progressive. He's inspiring, but he isn't progressive. Take gays in the military for instance. That would be a no brainer for a progressive president. But he hasn't even addressed gay rights at all. But I believe that he can do some great things and I want to believe that he is. That all of the things that I don't see or want to see are really going to land us in a better spot. I want that.

I'm really interested in reading more about the Great Depression. I'd like to know more about the differences and similarities between than and now. I do love when Elizabeth Warren starts talking about the trends of how we got here and the policies that were set because of the impacts of the Great Depression. She's kind of amazing to listen to. Do you know of a good book or article that I can read?

I really hope that things are progressing, that everything is getting better, that I will live in a country that I am proud of its leadership, but right now I'm just not sure. And I'm still living off of that election elation to want to dig too deep into it.

Happy Wednesday
Renee Claire

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Another Great Quote

Since I haven't had time to finish my next real post, I'll add this quote from Three Cups of Tea:

"I was alone. I was covered in mud and goat blood. I'd lost my luggage. I didn't speak the local language. I hadn't had a meal in days but I felt surprisingly good," Mortenson says. "I felt like I had all those years earlier, riding on top of the Bedford up in the Indus Gorge with my supplies for the Korphe School, having no clue what was ahead of me. My plan for the next few days was vague. And I had no idea if I'd succeed. But you know what? It wasn't a bad feeling at all."

Happy Tuesday.
Renee Claire