Betsy DeVos is the new Cathie Black

Now that Betsy DeVos has successfully bought herself a Read more

prayer // fasting \\ vision

Today I fast. A simple, ancient act. As it Read more

How Bernie inspired me to learn Yiddish

Posted on by admin in Blog post | Leave a comment
Yiddish children protesting against New York City's lack of child labor laws in 1909.

Yiddish children protesting against New York City’s lack of child labor laws in 1909.

Friends,

It’s almost too easy to become cynical about the state of politics today, but a little while back I read an interview in – of all places – the Christian Science Monitor that made me think:

As a child, Sanders said, being Jewish taught him “in a very deep way what politics is about.”

“A guy named Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932,” the senator said. “He won an election, and 50 million people died as a result of that election in World War II, including 6 million Jews. So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important.”
(Source: ‘Bernie Sanders: ‘I’m proud to be Jewish‘)

I often think that my generation, brought up in a time of relative world stability when compared to the ravaging world wars of our elder generations, forgets just how fragile democracy can be. During the rise of the Third Reich in Germany, most would believe that country to have been practicing the democratic principles of the Weimar Constitution: historian William L. Shirer described the Weimar Constitution as “on paper, the most liberal and democratic document of its kind the twentieth century had ever seen”. Hitler’s rise to power happened within a democracy, not by outside forces or a coup d’etatElections have effects.

And what happens between elections also has effects. I yearn to understand how the Holocaust began, and that question is wrapped up with the history of my ancestors: Jews from Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and all of Eastern Europe. I went to the library and picked up books on the history of modern Jewish politics: the bund ( Jewish worker unions), and the concurrent birth of the Zionist movement for a Jewish nation with the convening of the first Zionist Congress at Basel, Switzerland in 1897. My mind started racing.

I realized that I had learned much about Theodor Herzl and the founding of the state of Israel, but I hadn’t learned much about what happened before that, and the plight of the so-called diaspora of Jews that in the 19th century had spread across the world. Most importantly, I hadn’t learned about the most important historical political conflicts within Judaism – the fights for the soul of what it means to be Jewish. The two I’ve spent the most time working to understand are: (1) nationalism (Zionism) versus localism (Bundism) and (2) assimilation (the Haskalah movement and the Reform movement, for example) versus non-assimilation (preserving tradition, the Orthodox movement, etc.). They both led me to the realization that to truly understand the history of my faith, I would have to learn an old (but new for me!) language: yiddish.

So here I go, learning the mamaloshen (literally, the mother tongue). Visiting my Bube’s (grandma’s) yiddish club each week. Going to the schvitz (traditional Russian bathhouse). Watching the hilarious web series Yidlife Crisis. This is such a beautiful language, full of down-to-earth and domestic phrases, each revealing a popular culture of a very different time and place.

And yet – with modern politics beginning to show signs of repeating itself – maybe not that different…

Peace,

Justin

PS – If you have any suggestions or resources for aspiring yiddish speakers, please don’t hesitate to reach out!  Zay gezunt – Stay well!

Why It’s Time to Move On To Bernie

Posted on by admin in Blog post | Leave a comment

bernie_2

UPDATE – The vote is now open. Anyone who has ever signed a MoveOn petition or signed up on their site is eligible. VOTE here!

Allow me to recap a little history for the new year. The progressive organization MoveOn.org began 17 years ago when two software engineers passed around an email petition to  “censure President Clinton and move on” from the uber-partisan attacks against Bill. Today, MoveOn has a membership (really an email list) of over 7 million members and is an influential player in the Democratic party. Today, MoveOn made a very big announcement: they’ll be holding a presidential endorsement vote starting this Thursday at noon. If one of the democratic primary candidates captures 66.7% of the vote – open to all who’ve signed up (for free) on MoveOn.org before noon on Thursday – that candidate will capture MoveOn’s endorsement and a major boost in the 2016 Democratic primary election.

This is really good news for Bernie Sanders. Bernie’s still sailing on the momentum of his Democracy for America endorsement, another organization founded by a Clinton supporter – Howard Dean. MoveOn’s endorsement of Bernie would be game-changing, just as it was for Obama in 2008. It would also symbolize the beginning of the end of the Clinton dynasty, and a move to a more progressive era of politics in America.

There’s no doubt the Clintons have left their mark on Democratic politics, but it’s time to close the book on their era. MoveOn’s endorsement of Bernie would do just that.

The Democratic party is moving to the left, just as the Republican party is sprinting to the far-right. The days of centrism and neoliberal, soft-on-Wall-Street policies are over: the latest financial crisis and its stalled recovery show the need for bold economic action akin to FDR’s New Deal. The Clintons can’t provide the grassroots energy for that movement, but Bernie can.

That’s why I’m asking you to help make Bernie the MoveOn.org endorsed candidate for president. Sign up at MoveOn.org (their emails aren’t actually that bad, and you can always unsubscribe later if they bug you) before Thursday if you haven’t already and spread the word: Let’s #MoveOnToBernie!

Killer Mike + Bernie Sanders Talk Capitalism and Socialism

Posted on by admin in Blog post | Leave a comment

A beautiful short video showing the kind of intelligent discourse that the #FeelTheBern political revolution is provoking. And in barber shop chairs at the Swag Shop in Atlanta nonetheless! 

What I’m Thankful for This Year

Posted on by admin in Blog post | Leave a comment

I’m thankful (in no particular order) for

  • The sun and the moon
  • Moving escalators
  • The Detroit riverfront
  • #BlackLivesMatter
  • The India Arie Pandora station
  • My mother
  • Carrot cake
  • My father
  • The Bundists, and Yiddish
  • Compassion
  • Awkward activist interventions on presidential speeches
  • Disagreement, controversy
  • Not making lists
  • A girlfriend who makes lists
  • Love
  • My sisters
  • My uncle, even when we disagree
  • Collard greens
  • #SyrianRefugees
  • Latinos
  • People who make fun of Donald Trump
  • Bernie Sanders
  • Sunsets
  • G7(♯11♭9) (G-B-D-F-A♭-C♯)
  • Harmony
  • A moderate amount of chaos
  • Good sleep
  • Life

‘Bern It Up’ REMIX by DJ Steve Porter

Posted on by admin in Just 4 Fun, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Gotta tip my hat to DJ Steve Porter on this one. Also, Bernie doesn’t sound too bad for a Jewish boy from Brooklyn…

1000 Days Since Sandy

Posted on by admin in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
brooklyn-hit-hurricane-sandy

Residents of Red Hook, Brooklyn during Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge. (Photo: Brokelyn)

This week marks the third anniversary of a moment that changed so many lives – including mine – forever. On October 29th, 2012 Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge hit New York City and for days poured destruction onto the city and the surrounding states. Thousands of people were displaced, homes flooded, nearly $100 billion in damage caused, and the lives of already poverty-stricken people were thrown once again into even deeper disarray.

Those were the weeks when my youthful idealism slowly alchemized to a hard, burning realism. Poverty is easy to ignore for too many of us: we build highways over immigrant and working-class neighborhoods to move quickly from the suburbs to the city. With perhaps only the best of intentions, we fund police to criminalize poverty and homelessness into jails. Then we fund foundations, religious institutions and non-profits to provide for the needs of those who aren’t served by our deeply-rigged economic system. All of this is done with white gloves on, and we congratulate ourselves when “official” rates of joblessness and homelessness decline slightly – not because we’ve built a more humane, equitable society but because government rigged the metrics to exclude those too hopeless to even search for work. Still, the poverty endures.

It’s only when the flood waters come in that the deep trenches of the class and racial divides in our cities are fully revealed, and Sandy did just that. Sandy revealed the deep and systemic poverty that lives in the shadows of Wall Street in New York City: the Rockaways, Coney Island, Red Hook, Chinatown, and Long Island, Bergen County in New Jersey. Like Hurricane Katrina before it, Sandy’s destruction carved out the already-existent contours of abandonment in our country.

And the response was … absolutely beautiful. #SandyVolunteers from across the region, even the country, heeded the call of the almost-defunct Occupy movement reincarnated as a people-powered, grassroots disaster relief network. Some 70,000 volunteers braved weather, closed-down streets, gas shortages and mental and physical exhaustion to ferry supplies and expertise to the hardest-hit areas. From my little vantage point holed up in a makeshift relief center in a church, the whole city seemed to be activating to come to the aid of the neediest. It was truly solidarity in action.

For months, I dedicated my life to the relief effort – turning down paid work and nearly driving myself into financial ruin without a thought in my mind of doing anything else. Like the occupation a year early, this was the most important thing happening in the world at the moment. I know I wasn’t the only person to feel that way. So we toiled away to set up dispatches and registries and shuttle people and supplies to the front lines while working with unions and advocacy groups to demand a more just and equitable recovery. Arguably, we succeeded in some respects though there is still so much work ahead: today, we have an administration much more committed to the hungry, the homeless and the displaced from Sandy. But vigilant we must remain.

As I sit in my office in downtown Detroit today, a thousand miles away from the storm, I reflect on all the ways that Sandy changed me. The Detroit Water Brigade was deeply-informed by our Sandy work, and I continue to think of Detroit as a “disaster without water” that demands the same kind of broad humanitarian relief effort to recover and again become a world-class city. Still, I think of how disasters affect the poor the harshest. And how a culture that values people over profits will never be able to respond to disaster like one that truly values human lives above all. It’s reassuring to feel that today so many others feel that way like me, many more than did before Sandy.

Keep fighting, and loving,

Justin

PS – Will you join me in pitching in $10 today to support The Action Center of Far Rockaway on the front lines of Sandy recovery work?

The Last Days of the Water Wars

Posted on by admin in Blog post | Leave a comment

This fictional story takes place in the not-so-distant future in Donbartville™, Michigan. This thriving downtown core of the failed city of Detroit was annexed in 2021 in a hostile corporate takeover precipitated – according to Donbartville™ CEO Dean Donbart – by the raging civic unrest that prompted business leaders to band together and erect a large wall around the city center. Chapter 1 of many… 

Photo: Paul Sancya / AP

Photo: Paul Sancya / AP

The traffic is heavy on I-75 North as Bob, an Uber driver, slowly crawls towards Flint. Exhaust fumes ricochet around the tunnel walls that surround him, recently-erected to protect the vital trade route from civic unrest in the suburban streets above. He is carrying cases of plastic PureMichigan Water® bottled in Donbartville for distribution across Southeast Michigan. The bottles swish back and forth in the stop-and-go traffic.

Bob is under orders from the United Way of Donbartville® to deliver this water to thirsty families in Flint as part of the Everyone Drinks! campaign. He has his own private opinions about the city’s water charity program, but ever since Nestle® took over all water extraction from the Great Lakes in a multinational deal with U.S. and Canadian trade officials, the water dollars have been pouring in for drivers like him. Residents of poor communities like Flint were offered free bottled water for life delivered to their door weekly if they’d agree to turn off their taps and sign contracts  not to sue the city for lead poisoning or protest at all in the future. Most residents happily complied: PureMichigan Water® is so tasty with its trade-secret vitamin supplements. Only meager opposition came from middle-class suburban ratepayers, who asked why they would have to pay for their weekly rations of Water® while poor residents got it for free. Their concerns were quickly assuaged by United Way representatives in community meetings highlighting the Christian imperative of helping the poor. For those who were more business-inclined, a simple argument of free brand advertising in poor neighborhoods swayed most.

Of course outstanding issues remained, and Bob would be the first to acknowledge if pressed the difficulty of showering and cleaning with bottled Water®. City officials in neighboring Detroit ensured residents that, although the 120-year old corroded municipal pipes were irrevocably damaged, the city was designing a drone-based Water® drop-off system that deposits clean bathing water into rooftop water tanks at an affordable price. For low-income families, Affordability Plans were being designed with simple requirements like 2-minute maximum shower length and 1 bowl of cooked rice per meal. For the neediest families, an innovative public-private partnership with The Coca-Cola Companywould provide free bathing water to families in exchange for minimally-intrusive advertising space on exterior house walls and front lawn signs.

The brake lights of the car in front of him jolted Bob out of his rebellious political thoughts and back into the reality of bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic to Flint. He was anxious to get to Flint to deliver this water, knowing that there are still families in the city without safe drinking water. But more than that, Bob was getting tired and dreading the long drive back to his home in suburban Detroit and his water-insecure neighborhood. He looked forward to the weekend, since he’d been invited by his wealthy friend Dave to sail Lake St. Claire. He hadn’t told Dave, but he planned to bring a few jugs with him on the boat. Though Nestle had worked with Donbartville executives to ban all private water extraction from the Great Lakes, he knew he could sneak a few gallons if he was discreet and Dave played along. He had even smuggled a water purifying filter into his home, one of the last on the black market since the state of Michigan began stockpiling them several years ago.

As he crawled along I-75 North towards Flint, the sun began to set over Lake Michigan. Bob sighed.

“These our HOMES — y’all can’t take em”

Posted on by admin in Blog post | Leave a comment

I’m moved by this song by Detroit artist Mic Write. Bold and beautiful defiance in the face of a foreclosure monster. Come out and support The Tricycle Collective with me tomorrow night — buying back homes to save them from auction for families.

 

H.O.M.E.S. {{{LYRICS}}}

[INTRO]:

Where I’m from

we wear our scars like verses

they tell stories.

We are walking chapbooks,

poetry galvanized into our skin

like Big 3 automotive steel

through proud assembly line palms

 

We seem to break ourselves down

just to handcraft our own resurrection

like life is just some shattered engine block,

and picking the pieces up ain’t hard no more

It’s hobby

 

(we put it down like)

 

[MIC WRITE]:

Ni66a this that Rock’N’Rye/

Ice cold, front porch, scorching

Ni66a this that dotted eye/

Pissed, Joe Louis fist still punching

Ni66a this that Spotify/

We don’t play that shit, you done opened Pandora

tryna occupy/

My city, my block, my street/

Why pity my stock I eat/

I read, I learn, I care

I think your data is obsolete/ (look)

Ni66a this that miss me with your savior complex/

Ni66a this that school aint got no budget why we paying Congress/

Ni66a this that,

artist sharpened in the heart of hardened environments/

Ni66a this that parking in the dark & christening Belle Isle/

This that,

Eastern Market where we often walking & we bargain shopping/this,

this that coughing from the coffin- we still alive/

This that,

Kayser Soze of locations, standing ovation/

from coming back from the dead for the umpteenth time,

we don’t die, we do re’/

mi fa so la ti do over Titos holding back our Jacksons/

Me I’m Mic, I put Motown on my back to get it back

HOMES

 

[HOOK]:

These our HOMES

These our HOMES

Y’all can’t take em, Y’all cant take em

These our HOMES

These the places we grew up

These the sets that we threw up

This our crib, This our rib,

Y’all can’t take what I aint gone give

 

Ni66a this my Heaven Of My Everyday

Heaven Of My Everyday

Heaven Of My Everyday Surroundings (2x)

Ni66a these our HOMES

 

[DOSS THE ARTIST]:

Ni66a this that neighbor done lost his home cuz his taxes late

Ni66a this that student with no school to go/

so he don’t go to school no mo/

he out on Joy road selling “achoo”, that blow/

maybe sticky green, Coppers gon watch him if he sneeze/

government watch him if he tweet/

streets do watch him if he Bling

over dem watches, over dem choppers, open up two shoots till he bleed/

aint no one stop them,/

and still he survive, it’s no surprise he opens his eyes and ask for me,/

and is there heaven for a G?/

And I just laugh when they get mad at the rose from the concrete/

fix yo roads- shouldn’t no rose ever be growing from these streets/

shouldn’t even be no concrete/

nigga this want my seeds free/

like son it’s Go Time, in Motown, it’s yo time eat/ ya see

The higher you leap the harder you fall/

but right now, Imma leap so high I don’t need no bungee at all/

See I’m just drift from a star/

I’m leave y’all blinking in awe/

as you watch this Detroit (D-twa) Heavyweight/

reaching for heaven every day/

 

These our H.O.M.E.S

 

[[HOOK]]:

 

[OUTRO]:

Ain’t no big bad wolf, no hungry breath gone/

blow my heart down, give me home or give me death/

they

thinking we built this thing from straw & sticks/

naw

3rd pig law: only build your love in bricks

3rd pig law: only build your love in bricks

3rd pig law: only build your love in bricks

Building a Truly Global Platform

Posted on by admin in Blog post | Leave a comment

Global Platform banner mosaic III w text

This blog post comes on the Fourth Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street and the launch of The Global Platform, a collaborative project I directed with Occupy activists, German political foundation Freidrich Ebert Stiftung and boutique data visualization agency Two-N.

 

We are ies living a unique moment for humanity. The future of democracy and self-governance will be decided in our generation.

 

In early June of 2013, the world was blanketed with a thick and righteous indignation. I sat in a small flat in Paris, shifting my lazy gaze from the Eiffel Tower outside my window to the flurry of images cascading down my laptop’s Twitter feed like a waterfall of revolt. What had begun as a trickle of political slogans a few years ago had slowly transformed into a mighty river of online dissent, its rapids busting through the damns of conventional political representation.

 

I had come to Paris that summer by invitation of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), one of the world’s largest non-governmental organization created by the Marshall Plan in the rebuilding period after World War II. Today, however, the OECD struggles with the growing legitimacy crisis confronting governments around the world in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis. I had been asked to represent Occupy Wall Street, one such movement that erupted in September 2011 in a small park in New York City. I would be speaking to world business and civic leaders about how social media could make government more responsive to its constituents. Given the political tumult surround them, leaders seemed eager to listen.

 

My gaze drifted back onto the computer screen. A thousand miles away, in a small park in Istanbul, Turkey government forces had raided a small protest camp of environmentalist activists protecting trees from bulldozers. A beautiful woman in a flowing red dress was pepper-sprayed at close distance by a police officer in riot gear. The tweets rippled out from Gezi Park and picked up speed as they ricocheted across the corners of the Internet.

 

LADYINREDDRESS_2585063k

The now-famous ‘Lady in Red Dress’ in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, 2013

 

 

The next day I found myself standing in the multitude of #DirenGezi (roughly translated to #OccupyGezi! or Resist Gezi!). It was a diverse assemblage that, like other occupation protests I have visited, reflected a growing trend of globe-trotting social activists ready to pop up at a moment’s notice wherever people perceived their undemocratic government to be failing them. I had come not to take up arms — which in Gezi really meant bandanas, Guy Fawkes masks sold on the street by local vendors, and milky homemade anti-tear gas concoctions — but rather to observe and document the birth and growth of a 21st-century protest movement. What I saw truly shocked me.

 

Global protest has become deeply interconnected. Youtube videos recorded by anti-austerity protesters in the streets of Greece are uploaded and streamed by young radicals in the back alleys of Istanbul. They show bandana-masked people in gardening gloves retrieving police tear gas canisters and defusing them in buckets of water set down at door-fronts by high-rise apartment neighbors in a kind of symbiotic act: residents don’t want tear gas smoke wafting into their homes, a desire that puts them into tentative alliance with street protesters against the government’s police.

 

It isn’t just street protest tactics that are shared instantaneously, but entirely new forms of governance that challenge institutional power at the ground level. A guidebook on peaceful non-violent resistance from Occupy Hong Kong inspires youth in Santiago, Chile and Newark, New Jersey. This is an unexpected outcome of globalization: the same technologies developed for global military power and corporate hegemony have been re-appropriated and reverse engineered for global solidarity movements.

 

We are living in an era defined by two seemingly-contradictory trends: (1) the rise of technologies that facilitated instantaneous, universal communication across geography, race, class, and nationality, and (2) a steady erosion and decline of the democratic ideals of self-governance and the rule of law in the face of the growing power of unaccountable political elites and international finance capital. This is the defining crisis of our time — the future of democracy itself hangs in the balance.

 

The frequency of global protest has increased steadily since 2008. The ‘World Protests’ study, from which The Global Platform is born, revealed that the most common demands are: real democracy (meaningful political participation), economic justice, and human (and environmental) rights. Much more than a random cacophony of voices, these demands are co-mingling and co-evolving with each other as global social movements connect on the Internet.

 

I believe this growing call for change shouldn’t be ignored. I believe that elected officials, civil and business leaders, public intellectuals, social activists, and all concerned citizens will benefit from a sharp look at what is transpiring across the globe today.

 

This is the global platform. I hope you you’ll explore it with us.

 

Edward Snowden is a Hero

Posted on by admin in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

snowden-profile-pic-675x1024In the digital age, things happen so friggin’ fast that sometimes it’s worth slowing down amoment to reflect on how far we’ve come. Nowhere in our culture is that as clear to me as in our understanding of mass surveillance. A little more than two years ago, in May of 2013, almost nobody was talking about the NSA spying on our emails, our phone calls and our metadata. Heck, that word was so geeky it glazed eyes on arrival!

May of 2013 was the same month a little-known security contractor named Ed left an NSA facility in Hawaii with a few thumb drives packed with the secrets that would bust open the seal on one of America’s best-kept secrets. He fled for Hong Kong, ultimately Russia, and the stuff he shared unleashed a furious debate about government overreach and privacy around the world. John Oliver called for an end to the government’s ‘Dick Pic‘ program, a feature film and graphic biography were made about him, and scientists in Germany named a new crayfish species after Snowden.

Everybody seems to be talking about Snowden, except our government. 

I think that, too, will change. Recently, Democratic presidential hopeful Larry Lessig called Snowden “a hero”. The White House finally responded to a petition signed by over 120,000 people to pardon Snowden — albeit with the wrong answer. This is becoming the elephant in the national room that nobody can ignore.

My simple view is that Snowden shouldn’t be extradited back to the U.S. to face trial, he should be paraded through the streets of D.C. and New York as an American hero. Yes, a hero. Like Thomas Paine, who ignited the first American Revolution and then found himself imprisoned in France for helping ignite a popular revolution there, too. And just like Snowden, Paine found no sympathy from President George Washington, who ignored his appeals for safe transport back to the country he had served because he had alluded to secret negotiation underway with France in his pamphlets.

And so, like New Yorkers did for Paine, we the people must organize to bring Snowden back safely. 

When Paine was ultimately brought back to New York, he was greeted by the masses with celebration. The political pressure they applied ultimately earned Paine $3,000 from the nascent U.S. Congress in recognition for his services, plus an estate in New Rochelle, New York – all probably negotiated by Paine’s friend on the inside Benjamin Franklin.

Let’s get more of the 2016 presidential candidates to speak out in support of Snowden, and make this an issue on which we judge all of them, Democrats and Republicans and independents.