Wednesday, March 31, 2010

It Really Is Spring!

Next Tuesday I will be on my way to Miami for a week for holiday and then headed to San Francisco, my new home. I was quite confused/unsure/freaked out for a while about this plan, but the closer it gets the more excited I am.

Little ol' Amsterdam has had many sunny wonderful days this month and I'm really happy to have been around to see them all. It would have been very disappointing to have only experienced the coldest, dreariest, most horrible winter of my life to never enjoy actual spring like sunshine in this little charming city. Very similar to my traveling days in 2004 of Eastern Europe - all winter, no sunshine, then a brief week in jail when I returned home only to end up living on a friend's floor for two months before finding a place in Brooklyn where I worked at a swanky NYC restaurant while moonlighting at film festivals where Alec Baldwin hit on me over his own concern for Burmese political prisoners. Ah, the life of a 20-something!

But I'm no longer a 20-something, so that must all come to a halt, except for the adventure parts. I don't think I will ever stop wandering about searching for the next adventure. I plan on being a wild haired, traveling, cursing, loud laughing, wine drinking grandmother one day. . . with a home of my own of course.

Throughout the darkest days of winter here (late January until the end of February) everyone kept explaining that the best part of this city is when the sun finally shines and you get to sit in the park enjoying the hours and hours and hours of sunlight. I'm leaving too early to watch the sunset at 11pm, but for a girl who grew up in south Florida I finally understand the wonder of Springtime. It's hard to appreciate an April afternoon of sunshine when every afternoon is filled with sunshine. But I finally get it!

I stumbled onto this article from 2008 about James Lovelock, a climate scientist. The article is about enjoying your life while you can . . . because we are passed the point of reversing climate change destruction and are only in a position to adapt to it. In a moment where the word green appears on everything from toilet paper to pet food to oil company adverts, Lovelock's words have a devastating and inspirational quality to them. He sits tearing down what you have been told you can do to help the world while building back up the opportunities we must now begin to recognize as the world's next great adventure.

At one point the article states: "He dismisses eco ideas briskly, one by one. "Carbon offsetting? I wouldn't dream of it. It's just a joke. To pay money to plant trees, to think you're offsetting the carbon? You're probably making matters worse. You're far better off giving to the charity Cool Earth, which gives the money to the native peoples to not take down their forests."

and: " . . . recycling, he adds, is "almost certainly a waste of time and energy", while having a "green lifestyle" amounts to little more than "ostentatious grand gestures". He distrusts the notion of ethical consumption."

then akwarkedly explaining the period of leading up to World War II: "Humanity is in a period exactly like 1938-9, he explains, when "we all knew something terrible was going to happen, but didn't know what to do about it". But once the second world war was under way, "everyone got excited, they loved the things they could do, it was one long holiday ... so when I think of the impending crisis now, I think in those terms. A sense of purpose - that's what people want."

I'm not sure 'one long holiday' is the right choice of words there, though I understand his meaning, but I agree that being proud that you are doing your part of save the planet by buying Seventh Generation and recycling is not the sense of purpose we are looking for. The same can be said for our need to find new opportunity in our economic circumstances as many of us are being forced to find new purpose in our lives that does not include buying new shiny things to make us happy. In a moment where the control over our lives feels out of our hands, we must take new actions on new paths to reclaim our sense of who we are and what we want. Devastating and inspiring.

It must be the springtime. . .

Take care,
Renee Claire

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Two Videos of Women Talking Climate Change

Annie Leonard, a former Greenpeace Toxics campaigner, released her first animation The Story of Stuff a couple years ago and recently appeared on The Steve Colbert Report to promote her latest release and discuss how our economic downturn is a good opportunity to re-evaluate how we prize possessions instead of protecting our communities. She just released The Story of Bottled Water on World Water Day.

Also, if you haven't seen The Story of Cap and Trade, you should check it out. It's a really good animated film about something you've been hearing on the news for a couple years, especially in relation to the US climate bill that was argued about in the Fall of 2009.

Speaking of women talking about climate change, Green For All has been celebrating Women's History Month and released this video of how women are playing a role in the new green economy. Green for All was started by Van Jones, you might know him from such moments as Republican Target Within the Obama Administration 2009. He was appointed by Obama to help find workable, innovation solutions to moving the US to a greener and more fair economy but resigned over vicious attacks from the far right.

In case you didn't know and haven't read Van Jones' book released in 2008, Green for All also has a campaign called Communities of Practice that joins together those working on climate change and finding ways out of poverty through green collar training. Read a little more about it.

Alright, I am off to another writing workshop that I'm hosting in the Pijp, that's where all the young hip kids hang out in Amsterdam. I do not live there.

Renee Claire

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Little More on My Climate Movement Skepticism

Not surprisingly, I’ve gotten mixed reactions from my last post. Some comments were that what I said speaks for many people who are struggling on how to use their role to empower others in the US climate movement and other comments about how passive I am in suggesting community empowerment, which takes a long time, can solve a problem that needs drastic action today by those in national and international power. I want to explain myself a little more about why I feel that those leading the climate change movement are not making room for the average person that cares about this issue and how by doing so they are losing out on innovative, workable solutions and a very large mobilized base of activists.

First, in my experience those with established careers in the current environmental movement are often the least likely to truly empower communities as part of their work. They do not reach into communities beyond signing their petitions and making phone calls for their campaigns, even though they understand intellectually that communities fighting locally have great impacts nationally. I’m specifically talking about national organizations here since most state and regional organizations are started by local volunteer community groups, who’s sole purpose is to improve their own community. Also, it seems that national and international organizations are the leading (as in covered by media) voices for climate change.

Second, climate change is a messy issue. The lines are not as clear as other environmental issues on the where, what, when, why, and how. The messiness comes from having too many answers to those questions. There is no one simple message that can be printed on a bumper sticker and will resonate for most audiences. Climate change encompasses issues related to industries with tailpipes, superfund clean up, product packaging, and cleaning supplies to name just a few - not a simple campaign.

Third, those leading the climate movement are people who intellectually understand injustices but did not come into their current position through leading and participating in a community fight. Instead they found their activist legs while in higher learning or through having a specific knack for causing trouble. (Both of which are true for myself, though I have often found myself working for community justice issues) This often makes their natural approach less inclusive and more dismissive of the true power of those suffering injustices first hand and are often uninterested in overcoming.

This disconnect is a messy mix of not knowing how to empower communities, being too impatient to work one on one with communities, believing that big enviros are more aggressive in demanding change and finding radical solutions than community members are, and possessing an inflated ego that makes them think they just know better than stay at moms, school faculty and gas station attendants. There is also a weird mix of idolizing community leaders to a point where they are unable to truly envelop their skills and connections into the movement because they are placed on a pedestal instead of in a position to roll up their sleeves while being listened to in a sincere way.

Fourth, I don’t believe that organizing communities to pass local ordinances and finding solutions within the frame of your own community is passive. People having to stop the contamination of their own community and find workable solutions are often much more radical than anyone getting paid full time to speak to politicians and business executives.

For one, they are often unwilling to compromise. If they did the true fall out of a bad deal is their childrens’ future, not just losing one fight in a long series of career fights. It is also because those fighting for local change are usually up against their own family members and the friends they went to elementary school with as well as the single largest employer in the area. That is something that people in those big organizations have never and probably will never come up against.

They are also without budget, have to become extremely creative to gain the support of those who wouldn’t normally consider themselves activists, and must face those against them at their children’s school, the grocery store and church. That is nothing short of radical.

Finally, we only know what we know. Those living steps from a facility with a belching smokestack that must wipe down their windshields before driving to work in the morning have solutions that those who use the stories about people who live near facilities with smokestacks to lobby politicians will never come up with. Similar to other local movements, local climate change movements are creative and innovative in ways that those working only on IPCC meetings and corporate campaigns are not. We will never expand the solutions and workforce to develop a greener economy without nurturing different types of innovation. That means making room for local climate change movements and people that do not speak or look like us. Since we only know what we know, we must make the table large enough to fit people who know the other parts.

I want to share some stories of people taking action in their own community and how they are changing the national landscape on those issues. But this post is already too long, so it will have to wait.

Take care,

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hello Climate Change Movement, What About Me?

I am not climate change skeptic. But I am a climate change movement skeptic. When people talk about the climate change movement, it’s usually by people with inflated egos with the ‘I’m the only one who can save the world’ complex that throw around unnecessarily complex statements about IPCC meetings and percentage cuts of emissions by 2015, 2020, or 2050, depending on the country, spokesperson, or organization. It is very rare to find someone who is working in the climate change movement that is able to speak simply, thoughtfully, and passionately about why I should care about climate change and what I can do to help my community.

Given the wild throwing around of various numbers, percentages, exotic city names, and almost unbelievable impacts, it’s difficult for me to find my place, my spot where I get to do something. (And I sit less than 3 feet from about 15 people who have the word climate change in their job title.) I’m not a save the polar bears or polar caps or anything else with polar in the sentence kind of girl. I’m a the-front-yard-of-my-childhood-home-is-going-to-be-under-water-if-we-don’t-do-something-really-fucking-fast kind of girl. And a toxic-chemical-contamination-in-the-Gulf-coast-will-only-poison—more-communities-when-hit-by-the-next-hurricane-so-we-should-really-be-trying-to-find-safer-alternatives-because-we-all-know-hurricane-season-starts-EVERY-june kind of girl.

Those things make sense to me. My family, my town, the state I grew up in, makes sense to me. I also happen to have all of my family living just feet from the ocean and just a few miles from the Gulf, so maybe that's why. But this winter, all families saw such unpredictable weather across the country and Europe that at some point we thought ‘FUCK!’ So now that we are thinking ‘FUCK!’ and everyone who wasn't snowed or flooded in is about to be pounded by hurricane season and heat waves, what do we do?

There are at least three bills in congress that every 'climate expert' has an opinion about, but I have to admit I kind of think our governmental officials in Washington are in the midst of a pretty intense who has the biggest dick contest, that I hate to interrupt to see what is happening with those bills. It is very difficult to juggle measuring tapes and zippers and other bits and think about constituents all at the same time, it seems.

So, I'm wondering why more communities aren’t simply passing their own climate change policies, especially those that live in areas like Miami and New Orleans. Some things that are happening that impact your community is that there are over 30 communities around the country that have passed a policy related to climate change, several states are basing legislation on California’s emissions reduction policies and EPA is trying to help by regulating emissions through the Clean Air Act that directly affect impacted communities, especially those living near industry with smokestacks.

I feel that a community coalition of stakeholders (small business leaders, students, nurses, emergency responders for example) that helps to expand the knowledge of their own community on their town’s climate change impacts could be an effective approach. This way members of your community can have a voice in deciding how to mitigate impacts and create a plan of action, while also pressuring your state to take action, where the federal government is failing. Creating a coalition like this only works when it is truly for the empowerment of the community to find real solutions, which if successful can also help place additional pressure on strategic members of congress to stop spending so much time trying to read that measuring tape. 

Of course creating a coalition of people is just one step. I think creating a community values statement could also be powerful. A statement that lays out what the community thinks is important in confronting the social and environmental injustice of climate change. A list of community principles. This would require community discussions and roundtables and an expansion of the coalition to even more people. Also, the policy itself needs to be written with these values in mind by the people who are participating. And then it needs to be passed, which often requires lots and lots of talking with neighbors and knocking on doors and maybe a BBQ or two. People working that hard gots to eat.

If I lived in one place and did not have my life’s possessions scatted throughout soon to be 4 cities, I think this is one way how I could find my place in the climate change movement. 

[update: Check out a story about Davis, CA, Rochester, NY, and 50 cities in MA taking on climate campaigns.}

Renee Claire

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Sun. The Sun. The Sun.

Oh my goodness!

The sun has come out of hiding in Amsterdam. Not everyday, mind you. That would be like . . .  living in a normal city where people are not grumpy all the time. We have had full sunshine 6 days in the past two weeks!! Yesterday, I cycled through the city and sat in Neuwmarkt drinking a latte and reading my new book (A Moveable Feast). Today I've already discovered a new park near my apartment. Not only sunshine but it's also warm. I've even switched to my spring coat!

Alright, well I have big plans to lay in the park today, but I wanted to share this article with you.

Residents stop fishing after increase in contaminants

Katie May
Northern News Services
Published Monday, March 15, 2010

RADILIH KOE'/FORT GOOD HOPE - Fort Good Hope residents are renewing their push for a new drinking water source after a federal study found increasing levels of contaminants in fish near the community, causing some residents to stop fishing and start buying bottled water.

Climate change has led to higher concentrations of mercury, DDT and PCBs in some fish in the Mackenzie River near Fort Good Hope, according to a Department of Fisheries and Oceans study. The study, completed in December 2009 and published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, found as temperatures in the region get warmer, less ice forms on the river and microscopic plant-like life, such as algae, multiply. Particles of harmful chemicals in the water - left over from southern air pollution more than 20 years ago, before DDT and PCBs were banned - stick to the algae. The fish then eat the algae and the contaminants work their way up the food chain.

Keep reading . . . 

Renee Claire

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Gumbo: Community Arts Project

Washington DC: A couple weeks ago I talked to you about my friend Josef's new arts foundation in Columbia Heights called CHARTS. So, I wanted to tell you about a project that he is working on. Every couple months CHARTS hosts a Salon Series and the next one is on May 22. Josef and his co-conspirators are creating an art installation of our obituaries. And they need submissions.

Here what Josef says:
Please help me create a new art installation to be exhibited at the next Columbia Heights Salon Series, presented by my new community-based arts foundation, CHARTS, by sending your handwritten obituary to me. The theme for the event itself is based on creation/life due to the spring season, which is why I find it intriguing to challenge people to think about death as an inevitable component to life, rather than something that's stigmatized or not openly discussed. You can write, not type, your obituary on anything — a page from your Moleskine, a cocktail napkin, a painted canvas, anything — and I'll assemble my installation on a wall to be displayed at the upcoming Salon Series on May 22.
You can send your submission to directly to Josef at josef.palermo[at]gmail[dot]com.

Amsterdam: Next Sunday I'm hosting a drinks and writing games at my favorite local bar with a bunch of Amsterdam based writers. I asked everyone to bring a writing exercise with them and I'm going to bring the obituary one as mine. A local writers magazine offered to print our final pieces from Sunday's event, which I thought was pretty great.

I managed this internship program a couple jobs ago and one of the pre-written questions I had to ask during interviews was, "If the New York Times wrote an article about you in ten years, what would it say?" I ran into a former intern a couple months back and he brought that up to me. He said he still thought about how he should have answered it. I'm not sure it's worth a couple years of thought, but it might be another good writing exercise. Except maybe for Sunday's event, I would change it to how would the headline of a New York Times article about you in ten years read.

Oakland: As I'm on the job hunt these days, I recently discovered this arts community center in Oakland called Community Rejuvenation Project. It's mission is:

The Community Rejuvenation Project cultivates healthy communities through beautification education, and celebration. We achieve this mission through experiential programs that promote professional development, artistic, and cultural expression and community empowerment. 
They paint murals with local artists to pretty up neighborhoods. It's pretty amazing stuff! Check out the webpage, there are videos and photos. This is one of my favorites.

Trail of Dreams: There is a really great blog by Favianna Rodriguez. She is an artist and social justice advocate and received notice this week that she will be inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame in Alameda County. Established in 1993, the purpose of the Women's Hall of Fame is to recognize outstanding women for their achievements and contributions to the overall well being of our county and its citizens. In addition to honoring outstanding women, in the past, the event has generated funds to help provide comprehensive breast cancer prevention, education, and treatment services in Alameda County.

I first read about the Trail of Dreams on her blog. The Trail of Dreams is a 1,500 mile walk from Miami to Washington DC by four undocumented young people. They are hoping to raise awareness about our broken immigration system and the reality of talented and hard working young people slipping through the cracks while undocumented in the US. You can follow their journey here.

They are currently in Gwinnett County, Georgia. A county known for its fierce (not in the good way) Sheriff who under the 287-G program is being called dangerous by the local community. The 287-G program trains local law enforcement to enforce nation wide immigration laws. But has proven in recent years that all this power easily goes to some local authorities heads, especially those of the xenophobic variety. Most notoriously used by that swine Sheriff in Arizona. His qualifications were taken away in the Fall of 2009 because of severe abuses, racial profiling, violence, and harassment of the latino community.

The three Latinos and one Latina on this journey is planning on talking with the Georgia Sheriff and are being met by hundreds of activists along the way. Just before entering Atlanta they were also met by a KKK anti-immigration rally. Oh, America . . .  you're disgusting at times.

And just because I have a huge tattoo of a skull. 

Renee Claire

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Purl. Tink. Fushia. 5.00 mm.

Several years ago while living in Park Slope, Brooklyn, I took up knitting with my roommate. We would drink sangria, smoke Newport Lights, and knit while trying to share the space in front of the one window air con unit we had in our third floor apartment. I wasn't very good and gave it up after almost setting my project (and the apartment) on fire with my Newpy.

Yet, I'm giving it another go. Luckily, I thought this might happen and brought my gear with me to Amsterdam, just in case. You never know when you're going to want to start a new craft. This time around, I am not mixing it with sangria and Newport Lights - I'm so adult like these days!

If you too are thinking of taking up this old lady hobby, use this youtube lesson to help get you started. I really like they there is no talking, just video footage with house music dropped over it. To save time, keep your cursor over the mark :30, you will watch it more than once.

This is as far as I have gotten.

In the last several months several state legislatures have passed bans on BPA (bisphenol-A) and this week we saw one more, Washington. If the governors in Washington, Maryland, and Massachutes sign these bills, coupled with Connecticut and Minnesota, it will make five states limiting BPA. It almost looks like all this happened quickly, but many people have been working for years to help make this happen.

Action likes this is much more complicated than it seems. It is often comprised of public hearings, letters to the editors, public pressure on corporations to show leadership, impacted communities speaking out, industry 'experts' flying in to speak to politicians, rallies, health and environmental reports, product studies,  and of course one on one conversations we all have with our families, friends, and co-workers about the issue. Behind all of these activities are people dedicating their time and energy in putting on events, writing articles, and thinking up ways to get the message out over all that noise we are surrounded with everyday.

I realized recently that I traveled 21 countries in the past 10 years. In many of these countries I volunteered for some community organization while in the area. It just helps me to understand where I am and what I am really seeing and experiencing while in the country. Also, I can't sit still and I need to do something with my time besides drink beer and visit museums and volunteering allows me to meet people and learn things you can't at a bar.

But I also spent a good amount volunteering in towns where I live too. I've sang songs with 6 year olds in Washington DC, organized an event with student groups and 8th graders in a park on my college campus,  edited a report in Budapest, taught a Burmese boy how to take pictures on my ditigal camera in Thailand, and made phone call after phone call to try to elect the next mayor of Orlando, Fl.
Eliminating toxic chemicals from our homes, bodies, and planet doesn't just happen. It takes a whole bunch of people showing up everyday trying their best. Here is a list of organizations that need your help, money is good, but so are time and skills. 

Speaking of time . . . my time in Amsterdam is winding down. Only four more weeks, so I'm taking advantage of having a part time job and trying out new places. I'm hanging out in the main Amsterdam library today and it is pretty amazing. Here are some photos:

And there is a bar on the first floor. I love this place!

Renee Claire

Monday, March 8, 2010

Strikes and Gutters.

No, I didn't watch the Oscars, but I did check out some fashion blogs this morning to see what everyone wore. Yes, I read fashion blogs regularly. Here are two of my favorite, though they didn't cover the Oscars.  Did you know that Joel Madden was the official Oscars DJ? That's weird.

Anyways, the sun was out in full force this weekend and I cycled throughout the city stopping in bars for some hot chocolate and cointreau to get out of the icy wind that was too wild for me to stay in the sunshine the whole time. Thank goodness I'll be in Miami in just four weeks. Equator here I come! Strikes.

Have you ever heard of Citizens for Fire Safety? They claim on their website to be, "Citizens for Fire Safety is a coalition of fire professionals, educators, community activists, burn centers, doctors, fire departments and industry leaders, united to ensure that our country is protected by the highest standards of fire safety." But many communities around the country fighting to eliminate toxic brominated flame retardants from their states know them as an industry front group that has been lobbying big time against chemical reform at the state level. It must suck to work for one of these groups.  Gutters.

My reading roll has continued. I just finished Audicity to Win. It was really good! Even though I knew exactly was going to happen on every page and it didn't highlight events that were particuarly meaningful to me in the same way that I felt about them (such as the race speech and the last rally in Manassas, VA) , I was still enthralled. Strikes.

Off to the next stop on my Monday tour of reading spots.
Renee Claire

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Schiele. Vienna. and Phil.

I have only a couple hours until I'm back in Amsterdam. I've spent the past four days enjoying Vienna, Austria with a friend of mine. This is my second trip here.


I could easily spend my retired days in this town, roaming neighborhoods, drinking coffee, reading newspapers, and snacking on desserts. Some of my favorite artists lived in Vienna and I've read so much about Klimt and Schiele that I feel an inauthentic and superficial connection to the city, as one often does when wandering for a while I've noticed.

Having spent several months in Amsterdam, I'm really enjoying the messiness of Vienna. No perfectly planned routes, no carefully commissioned front doors, no perfectly coiffed humans (well  . . . only a few) and lots of unruly nightlife. I didn't realize it until a day ago or so, but the style in Amsterdam, though absolutely beautiful, has become quite predictable at this point.

I'm sitting at Phil's. A little cafe that is very similar to one of my regular spots in the district, Tryst. I worked the graveyard shift for two years next door to Tryst at the Diner and spent hours and hours reading and drinking there, that Phil's feels very much like home to me, right down to the nearly invisible wait staff.

And what I love most about my new sweets, is the name. Phil. As in bibliophil, audiophil, cinephil, altrabergutphil . . .

Alright . . .  plane. Amsterdam.
Renee Claire