Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Chemical Lobbyists With No Soul, Have Got To Go!

I woke up once again to chirping birds, wonderful sunshine, freshly brewed coffee, and homemade yogurt. My legs are almost not ghostly white anymore too! I've got a sweet deal here in California. The only thing that damped this Oakland morning is a story about EPA's toxic standards for cities being 10 years late.

In my very short journey as a chemical reform activist, I've realized just how naive I am. I took my little government class in elementary school, where I learned about EPA and immediately began my 20 plus year fascination with politics and history. Introduced by a Republican, dedicated to protecting the environment, out to defend people like me and my family, the EPA seems almost magical in light of other government authorities. But the story I'm learning outside of James S. Hunt Elementary room 212 has been a bit different.

The lack of action by EPA is complicated, like everything the government does. Maybe a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. Congress has to charge the agency with mandates and then agree to its funding, not to mention the head of the agency changes with each Administration.

If you have seen the news, you already know that getting Congress to not fall to the ground yelling and screaming and thrashing about like a 5 year old isn't always possible. So hearing that EPA is 10 years behind schedule in releasing toxic standards for cities because of lack of funding and political will isn't incredibly surprising. They are also two years late in releasing guidelines on Safe School Siting in order to help communities prevent the building of schools on top, near by or inside sources of pollution. Yes, schools are often built inside old factories or chemical facilities.

EPA was suppose to release toxic standards for cities in 2000. Though the most recent risk assessment came from 2002 data and reports on hotspots around the country that have lingering air pollution problems have yet to be updated as mandated by Congress when the Clean Air Act was amended in 1990. Many states have laws saying that state standards can not be more strict than EPA's guidelines. Without any standards states can't even begin to pass their own.

I'll try to get this right:

(1) EPA is suppose to protect our health and environment
(2) States depend on EPA standards to create state laws on protecting health and the environment
(3) The chemical industry has enough influence to greatly pressure EPA in the standard setting process

Therefore: The chemical industry has an unfair influence over state environmental and health standards at both a federal and state level.

I don't know for sure that one of the reasons for EPA's toxic standards for cities has been slowed down, if not come to a complete halt, because of the chemical industry. Maybe that's a stretch. But if the reason they are siting is the lack of funding from congress and the chemical industry is a large influence on capitol hill, then it's safe to say that throughout the past 10 years there have been many discussions between law makers and those that make the chemicals that might be included in these standards and that these discussions led to a lack of funding.

The New York Times is reporting that between 2001 and 2002, funding for air toxics work in EPA dropped 70%. This lack of funding is continuing to impact children attending schools near highways, factories, coal fired power plants, dry cleaners, gas stations, and anywhere else where air pollution is high. Our economic future continues to be impacted by the rising chronic health problems of our children, while chemical lobbyists schmooze with our lawmakers.

I hate writing about this stuff without offering something to do. I don't have something directly related to these air toxics standards but congress is in the process of trying to pass Safe Chemical and Water Facilities Act. Send an email to congress urging them to pass this precautionary and much needed legislation.

This legislation will help chemical and water treatment facilities switch over to safer technologies that do not include toxic chemicals like chlorine. One thing we can learn from BP fucking up the livelihoods of the people of the Gulf, is that we must act with precaution. We can not say that accidents won't happen. Accidents will happen and toxic chemicals will needlessly destroy communities unless we do something about it.

Renee Claire

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday Gumbo: Pride

For Being Free To Be Yourself: To quote a woman on 16th St yesterday screaming out the window of some bar, "It's pride bitch! PRIDE!!!"

For Standing Up For What's Right: The International Whaling Commission met last week in Morocco. This is a yearly meeting where countries and environmental organizations debate the issue of whaling. This year, Greenpeace ocean's campaigner and activist, Junichi Sato, attended for the first time since being arrested in Japan in 2008. Junichi and Toru Suzuki, fellow Greenpeace activist, are facing 18 months in prison for exposing embezzlement within the Japanese whaling industry.

For Where You Come From: I recently started reading Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America by Frederick Douglass Opie. It's an interesting read that follows the food pathways from Europe to Africa to the Carribean to America and back.

The premise is described in the book's introduction: In the course of my research for this project, I have arrived at multiple definitions of 'soul' and 'soul food'. As I understand it, soul is the product of a cultural mixture of of various African tribes and kingdoms. Soul is the style of rural folk culture, Soul is black spirituality and experiential wisdom. And soul is putting a premium on suffering, endurance, and surviving with dignity. Soul food is African American, but it was influenced by other cultures. It is the intellectual invention and property of African Americans. Soul food is fabulous-tasting dish made from simple, inexpensive ingredients. Soul food is enjoyed by black folk, whom it reminds of their southern roots. This book argues, then, that soul is an amalgamation of West African societies and cultures, as well as an adaptation to conditions of slavery and freedom in the Americas.

Renee Claire

Monday, June 21, 2010

From Holly to Alice

A friend and I went to see the film "Homegrown: Hip Life in Ghana" created by Brooklyn based artist and documentarian, Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi. The film documents Eli's travels with a local hip hop troupe V.I.P (Vision in Progress) in Ghana over a 10 year time span. After the film Eli spoke about his experiences and invited some local musicians from Ghana to speak about their experiences in living and working in Oakland.

It was an interesting film that doesn't necessarily speak about the political impacts of American hip hop on places like Ghana, though instead tells a story of three men's journey from ambitious teenagers to celebrated international musicians.

Eli also directed a film "Inventos - Hip Hop Cubano". Inventos follows hip hop musicians through their journey of creating something out of nothing. It really goes into Cuba's current political landscape as well as the indestructible nature of creativity, of what creativity means to those that explore it's possibilities. There were many in the audience that night who were greatly influenced by Eli's first film.

Eli studied at Berkeley and received his masters in film from NYU. Check out this interview from 2007 of Eli talking about his first film.

I find it interesting people's need to tell other people's stories. Not fiction writing (because that is the writer's story) or political writing (because that is mostly the corporations story), but the documenting of artists on why and how they create. People's need to document artists journeys mixed with artists', often, inability to tell their own stories seems to create a cycle of miscommunication. Even when artists are capable of telling their own story, they aren't often given the space to do so in as large a breadth as those who are simply documenting the artist story.

There are several anthropologists and journalists who are around the art collective trying to understand the people and their roles juxtaposed against the at large Oakland community and its moving boundaries. With so much work needed to be done, it's odd to know that there are people around who are writing a masters paper on other people's dreams. This is something that I've noticed more in the Bay area than in any other area that I've lived. Art can feel very academic and less primal at times near Berkeley. Of course, I've only just arrived.

The art collective is pretty close to a long time dream of mine for an art community center. I'm still pretty shocked that I found it. It's this seed that I can see becoming a larger community organization that pushes the boundaries of creativity and community space while nurturing young people. One of the major differences is that most art produced is done illegally though the mission and quality of art is often enough to pursued any business owner to allow it to stay.

On Sunday, the Washington Post published an article about Cesar Maxit, an Argentinian-born artist living in DC, Graham Boyle, and Faviana Rodriguez. Cesar has created many many many pieces of art for environmental organizations in the DC area as well as national and international organizations like RisingTide North America and Greenpeace US. Faviana is one of the coordinators for Trail of Dreams, a walking protest of 4 undocumented students raising awareness for the need for immigration reform.

It's an interesting article that details how artists like Cesar are mixing the lines of art and activism. Maybe there are people out there that didn't know most artists are also activists. Not sure. The article discusses the artist collectives that are popping up with renewed strategy and enthusiasm.

Ok. I'm starting to ramble, which is normal, but I'm noticing it at the moment. I watched the new Alice in Wonderland. It was incredible! I watched it twice in one day. Tim Burton is . . . I don't know a word that can capture how I feel about his work. Maybe you have a suggestion. In any case, you should watch it. It's beautiful, stunning.

Renee Claire

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I'm Confused

You can't see me right now, but I'm raising my hand and I have a very puzzled look on my face. You know the one, where my head tilts to the left and my eyebrows furl up and my left cheek kind of raises a little bit. Well, it seems that the discussion of whether gay couples should have the right to marry is still being discussed.

I'm confused.

Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) is finally being phased out of the military with high ranking officers speaking to Congress about how its time has passed and shows like Glee have a gay teenage character's father give emotional speeches about the importance of ending anti-gay language among male friends and every social group is celebrating pride weekend this month with their token gay best friend. So, isn't the discussion over? Because you know our country has something called equal protection under the law, often referred to as US constitution amendment 14.

But it seems that this Wednesday is a really big day in California. It's the day the judge overhearing that lawsuit to overturn Prop 8 will heard closing arguments.

What is Prop 8?

Remember that night back in 2008 when we were all working towards something bigger than ourselves, when people danced in the streets until dawn with strangers, and there was a sense that maybe if Ohio and Florida can vote for a black Harvard law professor with a funny name that was raised by a single white mom, than maybe anything was possible? Now do you remember that same night in November when California passed something called Prop 8 that amended CA state constitution to prohibit gay couples to marry?

Yeah that was a bizarre evening.

Soon after election night a lawsuit was brought to the California Supreme Court called Perry v Schwarzenegger. It states that by amending California's constitution to ban gay marriage, California is discriminating against parts of its own population.

I'm confused

This is where I become confused. Why the fuck are we still having this conversation? The whole necessity to have this argument is beyond my grasp of . . . I don't know the right word here. But seriously why the fuck are we having this conversation as a society? I don't understand.

People are equal. It's what we believe. Freedom, equality, Americans are better than anyone else because we have freedom and equality. But then a good portion of our population isn't allowed to love another portion of our population because they have the same sexual organs? I'm so confused.

Bush v Gore

One of the most interesting parts of this case is that the lawyers arguing for the gay couple that sued the state are the same lawyers that argued in Bush v Gore. One of the lawyers argued for Bush and one of the lawyers argued for Gore. Interesting.

Protesting Gay Soldier Funerals

Freedom. Equality. Democracy. With us or against us. I seem to remember all of those words foaming out of the mouths of many many people across the country over the past 8 years. So, why the fuck are conservative wingnuts protesting soldiers funerals with hate speech? Because they are in love with someone of the same gender? What? I'm confused again.

Something that I find extremely interesting is that 48 states have signed on to a lawsuit gearing up to be heard in front of the supreme court banning this disgusting practice due to emotional distress it causes the families of fallen soldiers.

29 Questions

Last week the Judge gave each side a list of 29 questions that are suppose to help each party focus their closing arguments. The list includes questions like:

"What empirical data, if any, supports a finding that legal recognition of same-sex marriage reduces discrimination against gays and lesbians?"

"Even if enforcement of Prop 8 were enjoined, plaintiffs’ marriages would not be recognized under federal law. Can the court find Prop 8 to be unconstitutional without also considering the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act?"

"Until very recently, same-sex relationships did not enjoy legal protection anywhere in the United States. How does this square with plaintiffs’ claim that [same-sex] marriage is a fundamental right? What is the import of evidence showing that marriage has historically been limited to a man and a woman? What evidence shows that that limitation no longer enjoys constitutional recognition."

I have flirted with the idea for many years to go to law school, but when I read about cases like this I realize that is not the place for me. If I were one of those lawyers I don't think I could say anything besides 'are you fucking kidding me?'

If you haven't already checked out Prop 8 Trial Tracker to read up on how the case and crazy people that don't understand that the rest of the country has moved on from this issue because gay people are in fact just people, then you should.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Sop It All Up

I discovered this Oakland political artist (Favianna Rodriguez) while I was still in Amsterdam and just now found this video of her and a local DC artist (Cesar Maxit) discussing Art as a Political Tool. Watch here to listen to Cesar and Favianna discuss Shephard Fairey.

I have gravitated to Chicano art since I was in college where I would sit on the floor of my library (the basement) and turn page after page after page of books on Chicano and Chicana art. I just couldn't drink, inhale, sop, love it all in enough, which led to the giant skull and garden that is now permanently on my body. And the drafting of my next piece. Being in Oakland and meeting local artists have helped made what I fell in love with on those pages real. It has also allowed me to envelope my activism into my journey as an artist, which I've never had the faith to do before.

In just two months I've come to love Oakland more than any other city I've lived in. I've met so many people who are going for it, who aren't held back by what they are told they should be doing, but are doing what they are meant to be doing. I feel very grateful and inspired for it.

This week has been especially lovely sprinkled with the very not lovely, like all good moments. I reconnected with some old friends, met many new friends, participated in conference calls for work while laying in the sunshine in my own backyard, and took 7am hikes plus many other wonderful things I wasn't able to do or even think about less than a year ago.

I took an incredible chance on my ability to land on my feet last September and though I'm still tending to some bruises gained along the way, I'm rather proud of the experiences I've had over these 10 months.

Enough sap. Check out this video on the mayor of Tirana, Albania. The New Yorker had an excellent piece on him last year. He is this incredible artist who worked in the student democracy movement and used color as a way to empower the citizens of his town. My favorite quote of his: "Poverty should have a dignified face. It should look beautiful. It should look towards the future."

Renee Claire

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Community Rejuvenation Project Bay Area

Hello Kids,

I've been running around for the past month and I apologize once again for not updating you all on my works in progress. But lately I've really gotten into this great Oakland arts project that is quickly becoming my new obsession.

Check out this video we produced yesterday on a bunch new murals that the project put up across from Lake Merritt. We walked around the neighborhood yesterday and asked people what they thought of the work and reminded them about the block party that is happening on Saturday to celebrate Oakland pride.

Check out their website too. One of the student artists, Leo, is the most adorable 16 year old on the planet! I hung out with him yesterday at a new wall in the deep east (MacArthur and Seminary). He named this new mural and garden they worked on all week, Life Garden. Its going to be amazing!

There is a community meeting on Sunday to discuss what they want to do with the huge space. It used to be a gas station so its unlikely that they will be able to grow veggies in the dirt but the idea of raised beds are appealing to everyone as well as a seating area where people can hang out.

Of course, there is always the politics of making sure this actually gets finished. And the property owner may still need some convincing. I find it's better to ask forgiveness than ask permission. Sometimes people just need to be shocked into being part of something instead of convinced in the first place.

Here is another video about a different wall the group painted not too long ago.

In the summer they host a Summer Youth Project, where students get credit for helping to paint city commissioned murals. Don't worry you will get tons of updates all summer on this year's project. But take a read about an article that was written on my 30 birthday about the summer program.

Good stuff in Oakland!!
Renee Claire