Support Your Local General Assembly

Adbusters Occupy Wall Street Poster: This Occupy Wall Street poster from AdBusters was a part of the early Internet buzz that helped make Occupy Wall Street a reality.Freedom and democracy are our birthright. As human beings, we are born with the potential for both great individual achievement and great social cooperation. This is why freedom and democracy go hand in hand, inspiring in us a new vision for a better society.

This vision of freedom and democracy played a role in the founding of the United States of America. Now, this vision is being reborn in the streets of America. I’m writing this message today to explain my understanding of our new democratic uprising and call on you to join us in the streets in support of a new development in the American practice of freedom and democracy.

Oddly enough, this most recent chapter in the history of American democracy was sparked in large part by a non-profit organization with its roots in Canada. AdBusters describes itself as “a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age”. The subtitle of their magazine is “The Journal of the Mental Environment”. For over two decades, AdBusters has been publishing their magazine and challenging corporate dominance of our economic, political, and mental environment in a variety of ways. Now, their “Occupy Wall Street” campaign has grown from a call to action on their website into a national [and increasingly global] Occupy Together movement.

This genuinely grassroots movement is grappling with the question of how to respond to the ways in which transnational corporations have looted our economy and corrupted our democracy. As a long-time advocate for environmental and social justice, I’m well aware of the fact that large corporations often tamper with our democracy and make life harder for the rest of us. In the past, this behavior on behalf of corporate criminals has often only sparked a public response from a relatively small group of activists. The difference at the moment, though, is that a majority of Americans are feeling the crunch in a personal way and now seem to be connecting the dots between their personal struggles and the consequences of corporate malfeasance on American society.

So what do we do about it? Whether you’re a Real Life Superhero or just an everyday citizen who’s tired of being ignored by politicians and left behind by a faltering economy, it’s time for you to make your stand. Wall Street banks and other transnational corporations have swindled this country out of trillions of dollars by bullying or buying our politicians, getting increasingly rich off of the deepening poverty of hard-working Americans, and leaving nothing but pollution and illness and shattered dreams in their wake. If we love our communities, if we love our country, if we love this nation and the principles of freedom and democracy that it was supposedly founded on, we will find a way to stand up to these transnational corporations and reclaim our economy and our society from their grasp.

Right now, at this moment in history, that way lies in the streets with Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Together.

If you don’t usually goes to street protests, you may be reluctant to participate in something like this. At first, you may not like the idea of going out in the streets to demonstrate against the economic and political policies of a government that claims to be your government. But consider this: these demonstrations going on right now are more than just a bunch of protests. They are living experiments in direct democracy that are intended to respond to our shared economic and political politics democratically and serve as an example to members of Congress, to the American people, and to the world of what a real democracy looks like.

How are these demonstrations models of democracy?

At Occupy Wall Street and many of the other demonstrations springing up around the nation, the people in attendance are holding what is called a General Assembly. These General Assemblies are opportunities for everyone present to talk about the problems we face, make proposals about different courses of action, and decide together on what actions will be taken by the group. The General Assemblies in NYC and elsewhere are using this democratic process both to organize their ongoing occupation of public spaces and to come up with a list of concrete demands for Congress that are intended to address the root problems of our current economic and political crisis.

When you see news reports in the corporate media about how demonstrators are getting arrested and how they supposedly don’t have a clear set of demands, it may seem like people are just upset or just out there to complain about a variety of different issues that don’t have any clear relationship to one another. But these General Assemblies have helped these demonstrators to organize numerous committees to distribute food and supplies to people, keep the public space that they’re occupying clean and safe, coordinate interaction with the media, explain the process to newcomers, and discuss complex economic and political topics in an open forum where everyone’s voice is heard and everyone can make a difference in deciding what courses of action are taken to remedy our nation’s problems.

Yes, it’s a messy, complex process. But it is clearly a democratic process, and it deserves the support of everyone in this country who loves freedom and democracy. These demonstrators are asking some of the hard-hitting questions that members of Congress ought to be asking. They’re coming up with solutions that Congress ought to implement, and they’re doing it in a way that Congress could learn from. Honestly, what members of Congress should do is come out onto the streets with the demonstrators and take notes on what a real democracy looks like!

This is why I’m asking you to support your local General Assembly, whether it may be on the streets of New York City or in the heart of Small Town USA. Here in Carbondale, Illinois, we’ve started an Occupy Carbondale movement that has already seen tremendous success, especially for a city of our size. We had about 50 people at our first meeting and about 75 at our first demonstration. If you live in Southern Illinois, I invite you to join us for our next meeting where our nascent General Assembly will decide on the details of if, when, where, and how we will start up an ongoing 24/7 occupation of public space like the ones going on right now in NYC, Washington D.C., and other cities across the nation.

Whichever General Assembly you support, and however you choose to support it, you’re playing an important part in a movement that has the potential to change America and the world. Nobody knows exactly where all of this may lead. But since it’s an opportunity to challenge the corporate takeover of our society and learn more about democracy along the way, it’s definitely worth it.

Support your local General Assembly today! Visit Occupy Together to find a General Assembly or other related event near you. If you can’t find one, start one. Other General Assemblies will help you. Together, we can make our vision for freedom and democracy a reality!

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Beyond Coal

Beyond Coal: This is the logo of Beyond Coal, a national effort in the U.S. to move beyond coal as a fuel source.I live in the city of Carbondale, Southern Illinois, a university town of about 25,000 people. I came to this city as a student of Southern Illinois University Carbondale, but I stayed in the area because I like the city and the region. Ever since receiving my Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, I’ve gradually been focusing more on community issues and less on campus issues. However, I’d like to take a moment now to talk about the Beyond Coal campaign that has come to the SIUC campus.

Beyond Coal is a national campaign here in the U.S. to move beyond coal as a source of our energy. This involves shutting down existing coal plants, stopping the construction of new ones, and promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency as ways of replacing or eliminating the energy currently supplied by burning coal.

There are a lot of people in this country and this region who still want to meet our nation’s energy demands by burning coal. When viewed from a historical perspective, this passion for coal is understandable. In its heyday, coal was a tremendously powerful and abundant resource. With seemingly limitless power at our disposal, we rocketed through the Industrial Age and into the Information Age in just a little over a century. Now, however, we’ve come to realize that the tremendous power supplied by coal [and other fossil fuels] also comes with a tremendous cost to the health of our people and our land. From the mercury poisoning our air, soil, and water, to the carbon dioxide altering our climate patterns, the cost of coal is simply too high. It’s time to stop using coal and start using other fuels

At this point, I’m not even going to waste my time saying much about the unabashedly pro-coal argument. They say we need coal jobs, but there are better green jobs to be had. They say it’s cleaner than it used to be, but the only clean coal is unmined coal. They say renewables aren’t ready, but renewables are sweeping the nation and the world because they ARE ready. Coal is bad news, and renewables are ready, so let’s do this.

What do I want to respond to, however, are a few questions raised by people who support Beyond Coal in theory but are reluctant to support it in practice because they’re concerned about practical details such as where SIUC is going to get its energy, how the budget crisis of the University/State/Nation will effect the situation, etc.

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Spontaneous Street Patrol

I decided to go on a spontaneous street patrol tonight. As you may know, my RLSH work is focused on community service rather than fighting street crime, so unless you count my late-night walks across town, I rarely do anything resembling a street patrol. Tonight, however, I heard about a major disturbance over at Brush Towers, a set of three seventeen-story-tall concrete dorms near my house. So, I decided to look into it.

I started by tuning in to the local police/fire audio feed online. One of my friends shared with me an excellent site called Radio Reference that lets you find the audio from local police and fire frequencies:

We had actually just been talking about this site today, so when the power went out on the south side of town, my friend heard about it and sent me the link to our local feed.

We won’t know the full story until the newspaper comes out tomorrow, but the situation sounded very serious. A section of town was without power, including these tall towers on the south side of town that are home to hundreds of undergrads, many of whom have only been in town for a few weeks. Once the power was out, it sounds like a riot broke out, with a group of people fighting outside of these towers, numerous police and ambulances on the scene, some disturbances on neighboring streets, extra police called in from a few surrounding towns, etc. At this point, I was still at home, but it sounded pretty bad over the police scanner.

Of course, I have no great desire to get my head bashed in, or to get in the way of the police. So I wasn’t sure at first if I should go out there. But I decided I should at least make sure none of the violence or vandalism was spilling over into my neighborhood, which is a few blocks away from these towers. So I decided to go out on patrol. I tend to wear a minimal version of my costume [utility belt plus shirt] every day now, so all I had to do was throw on a jacket and head out.

At first, everything looked normal for an average weeknight: quiet streets, one or two cars going by, one or two people walking by, etc. Then, I came to the part of town where the power was out. It’s a part of town with a few blocks of houses, a big student recreation center (a.k.a. gym), and a homeless shelter, so I decided to check and be sure no one from the dorms had wandered over here with trouble on their mind.

It was odd walking down streets without any power late at night. I had my flashlight out and looked around a bit for signs of trouble. But it was actually a very quiet and peaceful walk through the neighborhood.

When I reached one of the bigger streets without power, there were several clusters of people heading away from the towers, presumably wanting to avoid any trouble while the power was out. Since the power was completely out, I went and checked a few nearby storefronts and started heading toward the towers.

The towers had emergency power only. This means that the stairway lights [visible from the street] had power, but not the rest of the building [i.e people’s dorm rooms]. This being the case, I walked along the street along the far edge of the big field in front of the dorms [East Grand] to assess the situation and decide if I should check out the street immediately next to / beneath the towers. From what I could tell, some of the emergency vehicles were leaving already, indicating to me that any immediate rioting that had been going on had run its course while I patrolled my neighborhood. There was still activity outside of the towers, but the situation seemed more stable than it had sounded on the scanner. I also decided that any police left in the area would probably frown on a non-resident of the towers needlessly loitering at the base of the towers, so I decided to stick to far side of the big field and keep going past the towers.

[This is an important point that any people who are new to neighborhood patrols should really note: if the police have it covered, there’s no need to get in the way. It was more important for me to go and explore the areas the police didn’t have covered because they were busy dealing with a riot.]

Shortly thereafter, the power came back on for everything but the towers and campus. I decided to check on the community center I work at [Gaia House Interfaith Center] to be sure the power was back on and everything was fine. Things looked good over there and at the other community center across the tracks [Newman Center], so I headed home. Along the way, I saw about a half dozen police cars all together in a parking lot, with some of the officers standing around and talking casually. I don’t know what they were saying, but judging by their tone/demeanor, they were hanging out in case they were still needed and joking around with each other to shake off any remaining tension from dealing with the situation at the towers.

I did one last walk-through down a couple of streets in my neighborhood to ensure that the power was back on and that nothing had been vandalized during the outage. Everything was fine, so I went home.

On the one hand, this was a fairly uneventful patrol. I basically just went for a walk around town and saw some extra people walking and some extra police cars and ambulances in the area. But I definitely feel it was worth it to keep an eye on the neighborhood while trouble was brewing a few blocks over. And I definitely feel like it was worth writing about since it’s not something I do every day. I do plan on doing street patrols here in Carbondale later this fall, though, once I’ve got a local team together, so this was a good preview and left me with plenty of food for thought about the future.

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Gaia House Interfaith Center

Gaia House Interfaith Center: This is a photo of Gaia House Interfaith Center in Carbondale, IL.

Gaia House Interfaith Center is a community center located at the heart of Carbondale, Illinois. Ever since my freshman year of undergraduate studies at SIUC, I’ve been involved in this unique center in a variety of ways. This place is one of the main reasons why I ended up staying in Southern Illinois after receiving my Bachelor’s degree. Therefore, I’m pleased to announce that this Fall, I’m serving as the interim Program Director of Gaia House Interfaith Center.

So what is Gaia House? Honestly, that’s a question we explore just about every day. One answer is provided by our mission statement:

“With a mission to SIUC students and an outreach to the wider area, we are a welcoming community committed to spiritual awareness that integrates peace, justice, and ecological sustainability.”

This sentence goes a long way to describe why we do what we do. But you can only understand Gaia House fully by learning more about the people who come here and coming on by sometime to experience it for yourself.

Gaia House is a place where people of many faiths, beliefs, and cultures meet. We are an eclectic mix of independent thinkers, spiritual seekers, ecological activists, and a wide variety of other everyday folks who enjoy meeting new people in a friendly environment and taking the time to get to know them. At Gaia House meetings, dinners, and other events, we eat good food, cook and clean, meditate, do yoga and tai chi, watch movies, celebrate holidays, and talk about questions of faith and reality. This is one of the few places in Southern Illinois where you can meet and spend time with new people regardless of your different beliefs and backgrounds.

Gaia House means something a little different to everyone who comes here. This also means that Gaia House has something for everyone, allowing us to expand our horizons by learning what we have in common with other people in our community.

The Gaia House website explains more details about some of the different groups, events, and individuals that call Gaia House home. The front page includes a Like Box that shows the latest news from Gaia House on Facebook. The Gaia House newsletter, Happenings in Faith, Peace, and Justice, offers a weekly overview of what’s going on at the center and in the community, including a description of this week’s dinner themes and any special events and news.

As the new Program Director, I’ve already had the good fortune of working with other people in our community to restart old Gaia House programming from last Spring and develop new programming at Gaia House for the Fall. There’s already plenty going on over here, and always room for new and exciting ways to meet new people and learn new things at Gaia House!

If you live here in Carbondale, are going to school in Southern Illinois, or are just passing through the Carbondale area, here are just a few of our regularly scheduled programs that you can check out while you’re in town:

  • InterVeg is a vegetarian potluck that happens every Thursday at 6 pm. It’s an opportunity for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians to eat healthy vegetarian and vegan food and share a delicious meal in a community environment. When local veggies are in season, we get fresh veggies once a week from Hollow Pumpkin CSA to use in the meals.
  • Rice and Spice is an international slow foods dinner that happens every Friday at 6 pm. People get together to prepare and eat a meal together with a different theme each week. Our themes often feature the cuisine of a particular country, allowing everyone to learn more about the delicious food of the world each week. When local veggies are in season, we get fresh veggies once a week from Hollow Pumpkin CSA to use in the meals.
  • Questions of Faith and Reality, a popular new series that started in the Spring, offers you a place to search for wisdom with other students and community members. Pradnya Dharmadhikari and Maurine Pyle will be facilitating this ongoing conversation about love, faith, uncertainty, and other questions raised by the participants. The group will meet on Monday nights at 6:00 PM in the library beginning August 29th.
  • Free Wifi and Comfy Couches. The building is open Monday through Thursday from 10 am to 4 pm and Friday from 11 am to 4 pm. Feel free to come on in, have a seat, drink some water or coffee/tea, and make use of our free public wifi. Feel free to stop by the office to say hi to me or our Operations Director, Jon-Paul Diefenbach, or just take some time to yourself to relax, do homework, meditate, or walk in the Carbondale Labyrinth and Peace Garden out back.

If I sound excited about everything going on at Gaia House, it’s because I am! I’ve been going to Gaia House for a long time now, and I feel very excited and blessed to be playing a new role in developing our programming and keeping our doors open. Let me know if you have any questions, comments, or ideas for new programming. Thanks for listening, and if you’re here in Southern Illinois, I look forward to seeing you sometime at Gaia House Interfaith Center!

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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