Save Gaia House

Gaia House Interfaith Center: This is a photo of Gaia House Interfaith Center in Carbondale, IL.Gaia House Interfaith Center is a community center that means many things to many people. For over half a century, this unique building has been a place to meet new people, share meals with friends and neighbors, get involved in environmental and social justice projects, and explore a wide variety of spiritual practices and philosophical teachings. There are many people and groups that call this place home, and many ways in which this Center serves the Southern Illinois community. However, Gaia House is on the verge of closing due to a lack of sufficient funding. Without your support, our doors will close sometime within the next month or two, and this community treasure will be lost forever.

The bad news about the situation at Gaia House is funding. Earlier in the Center’s history, we were funded primarily by several churches that supported our interfaith work. Over time, however, the annual funding from these sources has diminished. We’ve been able to generate some income by charging rent for office and meeting space, asking for donations at our programs, teaching a variety of classes, and holding fundraising events. Our income, however, has not been enough to match the basic expenses of keeping the building open. This has lead to deficit spending which has gradually eroded our savings.

We knew that the budget was in crisis. But when we received our financial reports from 2011, we realized that we didn’t have enough money to make it to the end of Spring Semester, much less the start of Fall Semester. Unless we receive enough short-term funding to make it through the next few months, our doors will close before we have time to implement our mid-term and long-term fundraising plans.

The good news is that we have many people in Carbondale, Southern Illinois, and beyond who are passionate about Gaia House. Some of them belong to groups that rent space or hold meetings here. Some come to the two weekly dinners or other events. Some simply like to experience and support a place full of independent thinkers who welcome people of all faiths, beliefs, nationalities, identities, and orientations. Regardless of why people come here, many of them have already started expressing a willingness to put their valuable time, energy, and money into the effort to save Gaia House. If you feel the same way, I urge you to join us in doing everything we can to keep Gaia House open!

The other good news is that our Board of Directors meeting on Wednesday was well-attended and brought many good options to light. Some of these are short-term efforts like our new fundraiser on Facebook. Others are mid-term or long-term efforts like teaching language classes, holding dinners and bake sales, having a Spring fundraising party in March, pursuing more grants, and starting a new membership program that would allow us to hold a membership drive and offer special benefits for people who choose to become Gaia House members.

There’s definitely a lot of energy, passion, and support for this place. There are also some clear plans about where to get started and room for more ideas from creative individuals who want to make a difference. Your support will ensure that we have the time, energy, and money that we need to get through this budget crisis and make Gaia House the best community center it can be!

Here are just a few examples of how you can get involved:

  • FundRazr on Facebook: FundRazr is a service that combines using PayPal to donate to Gaia House and using Facebook to spread the word. This will help spread the word quickly and bring in some funding to keep us going while we organize other efforts. It’s also a good way to let people know about the campaign who haven’t been to Gaia House in a long time, or who haven’t been here at all but enjoy supporting community causes. If you don’t use Facebook, you can also visit the Gaia House Donations Page.
  • Stakeholder Retreat: Gaia House Interfaith Center is holding a Stakeholder Retreat on Saturday, February 18 from 1 pm to 5 pm. This is an opportunity for everyone who likes Gaia House to come together in one place to learn the latest news, talk about the budget crisis, and explore the overall mission and vision of this Center.
  • Stay Connected: Gaia House has a weekly newsletter called Happenings in Faith, Peace, and Justice. This is an opportunity to learn more about what goes on here as well as stay informed about the latest fundraising efforts. We also have a Gaia House Facebook Page with regular updates about the Center.
  • Be Creative: What we need most right now are creative and passionate people like you to share your energy and your vision with us! We hope to meet our short-term funding goals through this fundraising drive, but our long-term success will depend on the involvement of community organizers and social entrepreneurs. We’re looking for creative proposals about new programs and services that Gaia House can provide that fulfill our vision of community service while also generating the funds that we need to keep the doors open. Come to our events, get involved, and share your brilliance with us today!

Gaia House Interfaith Center is definitely in a moment of crisis. However, with every crisis comes an opportunity. Everyone involved in Gaia House now has the opportunity to reflect on what this Center is, what it means to us, and how we can organize the operations and programming here in a sustainable way. And you have the opportunity to find new ways of getting involved in Gaia House! This includes fundraising, but it also includes simply talking to the other people and groups who come here and coming together in a supportive community. We’re facing some difficult times, but together, we can make it through and come out the other side better for the experience.

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Stop the Swap

Stop the Swap: The U.S. Forest Service is considering a "land swap" that would give 384 acres of land in Gallatin County, Southern Illinois, to a subsidiary of Peabody Coal so that it can be strip mined. Stop the Swap!

“And daddy, won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking
Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.”
— John Prine, “Paradise”

The U.S. Forest Service is considering a “land swap” that would give 384 acres of Shawnee National Forest land in Gallatin County, Southern Illinois, to a subsidiary of Peabody Energy so that it can be strip mined. I encourage you to learn the facts about this issue and join me in opposing the land swap.

American Land Holdings of Illinois, LLC, is offering to give approximately 831 acres of land spread out across 3 parcels to the Shawnee National Forest (SNF) in exchange for 384 acres of land currently held by the SNF. On paper, when you examine the U.S. Forest Service’s Proposed Action document, the land swap sounds like a pretty good deal. The SNF is gaining a significant amount of acreage, much of which is wooded and adjacent to existing SNF land. However, American Land Holdings of Illinois is a subsidiary of Peabody Energy, and their intention is to mine the land for coal. In essence, the purpose of this deal is to give Peabody free rein to strip mine on 384 acres of what is currently public land.

The proposed land swap is a terrible idea for several reasons:

  • Peabody Energy has a long and sordid history of endangering workers, exploiting indigenous communities, polluting the air and water, and actively spreading misinformation about human-caused climate change. There’s a reason why John Prine wrote his famous song “Paradise” about the destructive business practices of Peabody! They’ve supposedly been making improvements to safety and taking efforts to decrease their environmental impact — but given their track record, they simply can’t be trusted. If we give them this land, it will be ruined, and surrounding land [and communities] will suffer the consequences.
  • Land swaps should be done for the good of the forest and the public that makes use of it, not for the profit of a large private energy corporation. On paper, the Forest Service is making it look like this deal is being done for the sake of adding additional land to the SNF. The Peabody subsidiary has acquired some land that is potentially a quite valuable addition to existing wilderness areas and other natural areas, and they argue that this is the reason for the proposed action. In practice, though, the real reason for this swap is to let Peabody Energy get at some coal that is currently unavailable due to the fact that it’s on SNF land.
  • The land that Peabody desires is adjacent to the Saline River. Even in the hands of a “responsible” corporation, strip mining next to a river creates additional impacts on adjacent land and the surrounding watershed. Yes, there are regulations in place to prevent such pollution, and yes, Peabody will hopefully be monitored and fined if they violate these regulations. But by then, the damage will be done
  • Yes, Southern Illinois is in dire need of job opportunities, and mining this site has the potential to provide additional work for some people in Southern Illinois. But mining this site for coal would be a short-term solution for a small number of people, and it has long-term consequences for a large group of people. There are many other options that promote rather than detract from the health of local communities and global ecosystems, including but not limited to ecotourism [including the regional wine trail], renewable energy, energy efficiency, ecological farming and wildcrafting, ecological education, ecological research, and low-impact commercial activities such as outdoor recreation.
  • Human-caused climate change is the most urgent ecological issue on the planet today. We are already observing the effects of climate change; our greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase; and the consequences of human-caused climate change are severe. Letting Peabody mine this coal on this land would be extremely irresponsible, turning a public resource into a private source of incredible public harm.

There are surely other reasons, too, but any one of the above reasons is enough to challenge this land swap. Together, they paint a clear picture: Peabody wants to mine the Shawnee National Forest, and it’s up to us to Stop the Swap!

One quick and easy way to speak out against this land swap and spread the word to your friend is by visiting the Credo action page about the Peabody land swap. When you sign the Credo petition, Credo will forward your comments to the Forest Service. You can also visit the U.S. Forest Service site for more information on how to comment on the ALHI-Shawnee NF Land Exchange Proposal. Even if you disagree with my perspective on this issue, I encourage you to contact them and submit your own comments. All of our voices deserve to be heard, and the more people who comment, the more seriously they will take this decision.

Reading about this proposal was a “triple whammy” for me. Number one, I’ve lived in Southern Illinois for over 15 years now, and the natural areas of this region are one of the major reasons why I call this land home. Number two, I’m very familiar with Peabody’s history of abuse toward the people and the land, and the thought of them expanding their operations here in Southern Illinois greatly concerns me. Number three, human-caused climate change is the single most important ecological issue facing the world today, and letting Peabody extract and sell large amounts of coal will only further accelerate the process.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for more news on this story as it develops. In the meantime, I encourage you to let the Forest Service know how you feel about this issue. Stop the Swap today!

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Carry This Movement Through The Winter

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.“Carry this movement through the Winter. Carry this movement through the bitter cold and into Spring. Shake off your morning dew, youth, for you are many, they are few.

“Washington: We have no bombs. We have no weapons. We have no threats. But behold the power of the quill and ink.”

— Anonymous
“A message from Anonymous to the 99%”

In my previous entry, Support Your Local General Assembly, I talked about the Occupy movement and its General Assemblies. Less than a week later, on October 15th, there were hundreds of Occupy events in over 80 countries around the world. This was also the day that Occupy Carbondale started its 24/7 occupation of a spot of public land near the metal Bucky Dome on the SIUC campus. So much has happened since that day that it’s hard to believe that it was less than a month ago! And there’s still so much happening that I don’t have much time tonight to write this entry. However, I want to write at least a few words tonight because I feel the movement may be reaching another turning point.

Winter is coming. In some parts of the U.S., Winter is already settling in, bringing with it freezing temperatures and the promise of several months of ice and snow. Here in Southern Illinois, the weather has fluctuated wildly between sunny 70 degree days and nights of icy rain where the cold sting of Winter truly chills us to the bone, if only for a day or three.

Between the fluctuating weather and my resulting bout of severe bronchitis, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the coming of Winter. As I consider the details of strategy and logistics for both Occupy Carbondale and the broader Occupy movement, my mind keeps going back to a quote from an Anonymous video about the movement:

“Carry this movement through the Winter. Carry this movement through the bitter cold and into Spring.”

Occupy Wall Street and the various other Occupies initially had much of the energy and spirit of a demonstration that you might expect to arise in the blossoming warmth and sunny vitality of Spring. They appeared suddenly and grew rapidly; they were full of energy, artistry, and daring; their message offered a profound challenge to the economic and political institutions of our day. If they had arrived in April, they could have spent months flourishing in the warmth and light, spreading like wildfire and laying down deep roots across the nation and the world.

Instead, they came during Fall in the Northern Hemisphere. Occupy Wall Street started in mid-September, and the first global Occupy event happened in mid-October, a time when the warmth and the light is already visibly slipping away. The fact that the movement experienced such explosive growth even in the midst of this seasonal transition is a testament to how many of us among the 99% are truly ready for a change. However, that said, the season is changing, and it’s time for us to figure out what this means for our movement. With that in mind, I have two important thoughts to share on this subject.

My first thought is that this movement really must carry through the bitter cold and into Spring. Occupy Wall Street and the other Occupies have captured the public imagination, inspiring millions of people spread across at least 80 countries to occupy public spaces in the name of challenging the corporate takeover of our democracy and ultimately the world at large. We must follow through with the spirit of this popular uprising, occupying public space until the 1% have been driven out of power and progress toward a true democracy of, by, and for the people has begun.

Sure, there are many ways for us to challenge that corporate takeover and create a more direct democracy. If Occupy fades away, we will find other ways to take action together. But if we give up on Occupy now, I worry that we will settle into a deeper rut of apathy and inaction than we were stuck in before the Occupy movement started. Removing corporate money from our political process is perhaps the single most important issue on the table right now, and we currently have 24/7 encampments in every major city and many smaller cities that are organizing in pursuit of real action on this issue. The pressure on politicians created by these demonstrations has even lead to a group of U.S. Senators proposing an amendment to the Constitution that would effectively overturn the Citizens United decision by allowing both Congress and individual States to place limits on the amount of donations made by corporations.

Rather than patting ourselves on the back for this rapid and dramatic influence on the popular culture and the political process, we need to keep pushing for change, seeing this Constitutional amendment and other specific legislative goals as small first steps toward the creation of increasingly democratic process at the local, state, and national level. We must let our passionate rebellion against Wall Street be refined into a passionate vision for a genuine people’s democracy, one in which local government is run by something akin to General Assembly, and the state government is run by State Assemblies composed of delegates from the many General Assemblies. This deep level of change will take a long time and a deep level of self-education and soul-searching by the people of our communities and our nation. And in order to buy ourselves that time, we must carry through the Winter and into the Spring in whatever form we can.

That brings me to my second and final point: the form of our continuation of the Occupy movement.

This movement was by and large inspired by a single 24/7 demonstration called Occupy Wall Street. Because of this, the many subsequent Occupies often sought to model themselves off of the original. For the most part, this was a good thing. This ensured that they would each adopt a General Assembly style of governance and adopt the broadly defined issue of corporate dominance of our government and society as their central focus.

However, each community is different. The strategies and logistics that work for Occupy Wall Street may not work as well in other communities. This is especially true as Winter approaches and the Occupy encampments face a variety of diverse challenges based on their local climate, local government, local population, etc. If the Occupy movement is to carry through the Winter and emerge into the Spring stronger for the experience, each Occupation must carefully examine its local circumstances and contemplate what strategy is most likely to allow their local movement to make it through the winter.

These strategies may not be what we initially expected. They may also not match what other Occupies are doing. For example, smaller communities with fewer people and fewer resources may want to reconsider a full 24/7 Occupation style, instead opting for a series of “micro-occupations” outdoors that move from location to location and take breaks from the elements while continuing the General Assemblies, teach-ins, and other indoor organizing efforts 24/7. Larger communities, on the other hand, may be able to adopt the opposite strategy, hunkering down for winter in their public venue by gathering sufficient supplies to stay out there for the long haul. Either way, the important thing is to keep pushing the movement forward, including but not limited to the holding of General Assemblies where people can explore and model a genuinely democratic process while also organizing direct action in the service of challenging the corporate takeover of our society.

This entry ended up being a lot longer than I intended it to be! And it would be longer still if I’d taken the time to share more of my personal stories and experiences here in the local Occupy Carbondale movement. It’s getting late, though, and this entry is already far too long, so it’s time for me to go to bed. Thank you for reading this, and thank you to everyone who is participating in the Occupy movement, whether that may be by living out in a public space, gathering supplies for those who do, or helping to spread the word. Together, we will make it through the Winter of corporate plutocracy and into the Spring of a new democracy.

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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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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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