Saturday, October 13, 2007

Hold the dew!

Before we get all dewy-eyed about Al Gore’s richly deserved Nobel Peace Prize and wallow in what might have been had it not been for hanging chads and butterfly ballots, we should consider four words:

Vice President Joe Lieberman.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Capturing the fleeting fall

Fall always has a way of escaping me. I need to force myself to stop my preparations for winter. I need to pay attention, to feast on its color, to rustle around in its leaves, to breathe in its edge of briskness.

I took my camera on my walk to the post office today. My aim was to illustrate "the news" of the neighborhood. A new building here; a needed crosswalk there.

Somewhere along the way, I decided that Fall in its flaming fullness is the "news." A time to cherish; a season to share.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

In the Dark

We’ve had a couple of power outages in the neighborhood recently. I’ve discovered them waking up at around 6 a.m. I can’t be more specific about the time because the first sign of the outages was that the red digital numbers on the alarm clock had vanished.

The outages lasted no more than a couple of hours, just long enough for me to feel twinges of ignorance about preparedness. The big Aladdin lamp needed its wick trimmed. Where was the trimmer? The flashlight battery was too low for me to conduct a search for the wick trimmer. The battery-operated radio was in the basement — somewhere.

If I lived in Baghdad, God forbid, at least I’d have my outage and disaster routines down cold.

So it was that I encountered my neighborhood’s emergency guru, Sally McLaughlin, today at the Southwest Community Center where we both challenge our bodies in the exercise room.

Sally has taken it on herself to organize the two or three blocks around our houses — disaster-wise. She and her husband, Larry, are members of the Hillsdale Neighborhood Emergency Team (NET), a perspicacious organization if ever there was one.

Three or four years ago, about 16 of us met one evening in Sally’s living room to talk about emergency preparedness and, by implication, our lack of it. I can remember at most two tips from that night: Fill the bathtub with water as a reservoir and know where the shut-off valves and switches are. We also walked away with a telephone tree chart, which I can no longer find. It's probably next to the wick trimmer.

The rest of that evening is a fog except I recall Sally's offering us chocolate chip cookies, which were excellent.

So today when Sally suggested that we hold another meeting, I thought aloud of how we might make it all more memorable. Drawing on my recent outage experience, I suggested that after we got seated, Larry might go to the basement and throw the master power switch, creating a simulated power outage.

Sally would wait a little for the astonishment and tittering to end before explaining what Larry had done — and why. We’d remain in the dark. She would bring out four or five candles, and we would discuss emergency preparedness in the flickering dimness.

Sally could lead us through the preparedness topics. She might say, “What if we were in this situation for three days? What might cause that? What might happen? What would we do? What would our concerns be? How might we help each other?“

I’m not sure what we’d say or what else she might ask, but I'm sure of one thing: I'd remember what it was, and what if felt like to discuss disaster — in the dark.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A witness at Sunset and Capitol

The same small group of protesters gathers each Friday evening at the busy corner of Sunset Boulevard and Capitol Highway. We are there to remind commuters that our country is engaged in a wasteful, tragic war, and that we visibly and fervently oppose it.

Our vigil bears witness to our opposition. It is an act of conscience.

I’m surprised that our numbers are so small, although I suppose I shouldn’t be. A family member recently asked what good I thought I was doing standing on the corner with my peace placard. (I’ve upped the ante; my sign now calls for impeachment.)

Her skepticism was obvious. I sometimes ask myself the same question. Do people think me mad, or at least mildly deranged?

Does our public, weekly reminder bother them, even though they may agree?

But then, last Sunday, out of nowhere, a friend came up to me at the Hillsdale Farmers Market and said, “I just want to tell you how much I appreciate your vigil on Fridays. It always makes me feel good to see you there. And I always honk.”

I appreciate both comments because they force me to think again about what we are doing— in Hillsdale, in this country, in Iraq and in the world.

My time on the corner with my sign always hooks me back to protests of 40 years ago. I protested then against an equally tragic war in Vietnam. The anti-war movement was raucous but focused. Through its own non-violent, political insurgency, The Movement, as we rightly called it, forced Lyndon Johnson out of office (It also gave us Richard Nixon, but that’s another story.)

Above all, ours was a youth movement.

Today, in Hillsdale, our vigil consists of a cadre who are mostly seniors and were part of that long-ago struggle for peace.

Sometimes I feel that I stand at Sunset and Capitol almost as a gray specter. Mine is a ghostly call to today’s youth to take a stand — or else suffer the consequences.

Often during our vigil, Wilson High School students wander by. Some carry skateboards. Some text message, noses to the screens. They playfully push and shove each other. They don’t pay us much attention. Occasionally one will thank us, but mostly they see right through us.

Joining us is out of the question. Not cool.

What keeps them so distant? I often think it is the absence of the military draft. In the ‘60s, we protested an unpopular, distant war that threatened to swallow us. Fear and outrage were motivators.

The Iraq War inspires neither in these frolicking students with their cell phones, skateboards and iPods. Indeed, they seem to devoid of fear and outrage, although our generation has left them an outrageously fearsome world — of war, of global warming, of massive debt, of grotesque inequality, of messianic terrorists, of an American democracy in a shambles.

Where is their fear? Where is their outrage? Are they sleepwalking through youth?

What do they learn in school? Are their courses so bound to benchmarks and testing that they’ve become divorced from the real world? Is the school culture so dominated by sports, by getting into college and by ambient coolness that there is no room for social concerns beyond who’s hooked up with whom?

Then there is their time beyond the school. In today’s New York Times, columnist Thomas Friedman writes about the “Q generation”, (“Q” is for “quiet”) which may be “too quiet, too online, for its own good, and for the country’s own good.”

I’m not concerned about a generation being on-line. You are on-line now. I may be. I’m concerned about the part of technology that turns time into games and sucks kids away from a world that desperately needs attention, their attention — their serious, immediate attention.

All of this is why I stand at Sunset and Capitol on Friday evenings. My reason obviously isn’t apparent to those driving and walking by. If my message is “awake up!” it isn’t getting through. My vigil isn’t working.

But I’ll return, if only to spend 30 minutes thinking about how to make it work, or to inspire an occasional honk, and perhaps change a mind.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

An avenue named “Justice,” a road named “Freedom”

I got a phone call the other day from one of the proponents of renaming Interstate Avenue for Cesar Chavez.

Apparently defeated in North Portland, the renamers were looking at Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway as a thoroughfare to honor Chavez.

I was cool to the idea.

First — but, as you will see, not foremost — is that “Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway” has been a modest plus in Hillsdale’s effort to establish its identity. Ungainly yes. Misleading, yes (little Hillsdale is hardly a counterbalance to bulked-up Beaverton). But the name literally puts Hillsdale on many maps.

Next — and this is far more significant — history does strange things to the names of our heroes. We celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a national holiday, but the King we celebrate each year is a caricature of the King so many of us remember. In the holiday tributes, I, for instance, see only a glimmer of the King who inspired me to go to Mississippi in the spring of 1964 to work on voter registration.

King has become some kind of gauzy, harmless dreamer, thanks to one indelible speech. The King I knew was passionate about justice and change. He was a masterful agent of change who should be remembered for the urgency of our rallying cry, “Freedom Now!”

Today we have Martin Luther King Boulevard, but who associates the name with King’s tenacity, with his moral outrage, with his commitment to non-violence, his struggles for justice, with “Freedom Now!”?

No, we are left with a street of a dreamer.

Chavez is a less well defined figure in American history, partly because his speeches haven’t become part of American lore. He was the champion of the poor and the horribly exploited, specifically those who harvested our food. In November 1960, Edward R. Murrow made a searing documentary called “The Harvest of Shame” about the plight of the farm workers. It should be viewed before each Thanksgiving meal.

Chavez bravely sought to expunge the shame of those harvests. Despite his efforts, we still consume harvests shame. Those Chavez struggled for are now everywhere, still vulnerable to exploitation.

Why shouldn’t we honor Chavez and King — and Gandhi and Mandela, and Susan Anthony and Henry David Thoreau by naming streets and bridges and schools and even entire cities and states after them?

Because their actions and ideals are their legacy. If we truly want to honor them, we should celebrate and perpetuate those deeds and ideals. Unless we can be assured that King and Chavez will be known accurately and well to future generations those street names will become hollow vessels.

Who today knows the Barbur* of Barbur Boulevard? Who knows about the Macadam* of Macadam Avenue? And who 50 years from now will know the Naito of Naito Boulevard?

Yes, there are far better names for Interstate Avenue and Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. If we change those names, let’s name them for what King and Chavez stood for.

Is that not what they would want?

Honor them and inspire us by changing Union, Interstate, Beaverton-Hillsdale and Macadam to Justice, Dignity, Freedom and Peace.

* Anthony L. Barbur (1861-1941) served 10 years as Portland city auditor and then as commissioner of Public Works for 16 years. (The Oregon History Project)
* Macadam is the name of the mixture of sand, gravel and tar used to pave roads. Macadam Avenue was the first in the city to be surfaced with the mixture.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Whole Foods seeks views of Hillsdale store closure

If you want to comment on Whole Foods' closure of the Hillsdale Wild Oats, there is a $50 gift certificate in it for you. You may also come to your own closure about the, well, closure.

Riley Research Associates is holding a focus group this Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at the Lloyd Center for 15 patrons of the store. Whole Foods has hired the firm to gather comments. Kind of a last minute check-in before checking out, but better late than never.

The store closes this Saturday (20 percent off all wine).

If you want to be part of the group, call 503 222-4179.

I can't make it (I'd love to go), but I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who does.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Culturejamming for Measure 49

Somebody in the pro-Measure 49 campaign should seize the culturejamming opportunity presented by the anti-49 land developers and their big lie “a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” campaign.

If there was ever a wolf in sheep’s clothing is was Measure 37, which Measure 49 seeks to amend. You recall that Measure 37 presented itself as coming to the aid of little old, land-heavy ladies, when in fact it turned out to be a bonanza for timber companies and land developers.

So what’s this about culturejamming? Our friends at Ad Busters in Vancouver, BC, came up with the term a few years back. Culturejammers co-opt corporate ad campaigns costing millions to develop by turning them on their heads. The best example is what the anti-smoking people did to Joe Camel, turning him into a gaunt, cancer-plagued Joe Chemo.

The “Wolf in Sheep’s clothing" campaign, which is clever and “sticky” in its perverted way, is similarly vulnerable.

Right now the bland pro-49 campaign, painted in blues and greens, is out matched.

It needs an edge.

How about culture jamming the wolf/sheep theme with “Don’t let them pull the wool over your eyes. Save Oregon. Vote for 49!”?

In the meantime, if you want to put up a pro-49 lawn sign, as lame as it is, you can find the nearest distribution point here.

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