One Thousandth U.S. Execution Averted... For Now

Instead, the one thousandth execution in the United States since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976 will take place on Friday, December 2nd. Today, Robin Lovitt was granted clemency by Virginia Governor Mark Warner. The scissors he had used (Lovitt, not the governor) in the murder he was accused of were discarded, casting doubt onto the accusations. The decision is commendable, but the thousandth execution is still imminent and inevitable. With determination and hard work, however, we will hopefully never reach the 2,000th execution in this country. The death penalty is state murder; a brutal form of legitimate revenge that inevitably puts innocents to death, offers no emotional relief for the victim's family, and is grossly racially biased. Capital punishment does not function as deterrence. The United States is in the company of nations such as China and Iran as modern practitioners of capital punishment. I'm inclined to spend the rest of tonight typing out a long post, speaking against the death penalty in a very in-depth fashion. I have other commitments, though, so I'll leave you with these online resources:

1000 Executions
NCADP (National Coalition Against the Death Penalty)
TCADP (Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty)
Amnesty International and the death penalty
Abolish the Death Penalty blog

Resist 'Black Friday'! Buy Nothing Instead...

This morning I heard wind of 'Black Friday' on NPR News 91. However, I also heard the editor of Adbusters Magazine describing the alternate for November 25th, 'Buy Nothing Day.' I smacked my head as I remembered the significance of today, not because I was on my way to work instead of on my way to the mall, but because I hadn't blogged about 'Buy Nothing Day'! I've observed this rejection of American consumerism before, and today was no different. I didn't spend a penny.

Sure enough, when I arrived home from work, I noticed buzz in the blogosphere about 'Buy Nothing Day'. I thought I'd join in by showing you where to read more on the holiday:

Happy Buy Nothing Day! (

Buy Nothing Day: Ignore Black Friday (All Facts and Opinions)

Buy Nothing Day (Official Page from Adbusters)

Buy Nothing Day UK

Google search for 'Buy Nothing Day' if the above links don't satisfy you!

War Is A Force That Gives Me Meaning

While delivering flowers today, in the midst of a soupy fog that caused me to turn on my headlights at two 'o clock in the afternoon, some gears in my mind started turning. I was listening to the This American Life podcast. A handful of American soldiers in Iraq who told their stories in blogs were reading those stories on the show. I was entirely consumed by the combat stories told by two of the soldiers. My reflexes took control of the van as the road I barreled down disappeared. These stories transported me to the battles. Two weeks ago, as an American-raised Afghani teenager spoke out of my radio from the midst of an ambush against US troops in Afghanistan, the same peculiar transcendence had occurred.

I realized then that war is a force that gives me meaning. Bear with me. I read a book just over a year ago called War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning. It is written by Chris Hedges, a New York Times journalist who has lived in war zones that some of us never even knew existed. His book is about the hell that war is and the myths that cover up that hell to enable those in power to wage their wars. His title is all too true. For those that put their body and soul behind the war, the war gives them meaning and purpose- a rhyme and reason behind the dreary day-to-day task of existing. For soldiers like the ones that were heard on This American Life and others living war, such as Chris, war is a drug that destroys mundanity and provides a dangerous, but addicting thrill. For people like me, war is a force that gives us focus by opposing it. How could pacifism be so deeply ingrained in my being if there weren't such a counter weight as war to give my position strength? Pacifism would be an empty concept without war. Without pacifism, an immensely important piece of my existence would be gone. Life would be duller. War gives me meaning.

Its true that I abhor war. But it is just as true that I ingest this drug. I don't marvel at the machinery; the guns and the tanks and the bombs. I don't aspire to discard my ethics in order to hunt a faceless enemy. I do, however, imagine the excitement of breathing in war from within it. I imagine war filling up the emptiness of my life, translating every moment into a struggle for existence. I imagine war sharpening my mind and my resolve against it. I imagine living through the hell to come home and then devoting every ounce of my being to stopping this force that has benefited me so wholly. It's a paradox that I'll never escape. Opposing war gives me meaning. I will lose that meaning if I ever prevail.

The Gaping Hole in Downtown Boise

I recently received an email from a website launched to express frustration over the gaping hole in downtown Boise. If you don't live in Boise then you probably haven't heard that we have such a hole. A few years ago construction began on what was supposed to be the tallest building in Idaho, the Boise Tower. It would include condos, business space, stores and restaurants, parking, and more. However, construction never made it above the ground. For years now there has been a hole at 8th and Main, smack dab in the middle of downtown, with ugly metal foundation structures jutting out. Small walls have been built around it to keep it as much out of sight as possible, but out of sight doesn't translate to out of mind. One can still see the hole, and it doesn't help that on an adjacent building a giant poster proclaims that the defunct Boise Tower is "whats going up downtown!" Visit the The Boise Hole website to read more and express your own frustration over this eyesore and wasted space in our beloved downtown. If I had the power, I'd turn the hole into a public park to add a bit of natural beauty to downtown. Post a comment with your idea, if you feel so inclined.

Local Happenings - Global Write-a-thon

It gets discouraging. Two weeks ago: myself and one other at the weekly Amnesty International meeting. Last week: just me and four empty walls staring back at me. Tonight: I was once again joined by one other fellow activist, but no one else. Even though we are determined to do our small part in changing the world, it is disheartening when support and community are so scarce. But we'll press on, and here is what we are working on.

Amnesty International annually organizes the Global Write-a-thon on International Human Rights Day, December 10th. We'll be taking part, hopefully on a grand scale, by inviting the entire community to join us in writing letters of hope to human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience around the world for the holiday card action. We'll also be taking action on behalf of those same individuals, urging their governments to respect human rights. 

If that isn't enough, there will be actions pressuring the United States, China, and the UNHCR to protect North Koreans seeking asylum in China (see Seoul Train) - plus live music and some food and drink. Don't miss it: Saturday, December 10th in the Hatch Ballroom AB at BSU from 3 to 6 pm. I'll keep writing about this event as it approaches. In the meantime, if you live in Boise and are interested in Amnesty International, help us out! If you don't live in Boise, get involved in your local activist scene. This world isn't going to change on its own.

Local Happenings - Seoul Train

This evening I attended a screening of the film Seoul Train at BSU. The movie documented the plight of North Koreans fleeing to China for political asylum. China views the asylum-seekers as illegal immigrants moving between borders for economic reasons. That couldn't be further from the truth. The Chinese government refuses to grant asylum to North Koreans and forcibly repatriates them. They are not even permitted to escape to nations such as Mongolia, Japan, or South Korea, which would most likely grant them asylum. When these people are forcibly repatriated they face, at the very least, arbitrary detention. Many are presumably tortured and some are even executed (it is hard to be sure of all of the repatriated individuals' fates, due to the secrecy of the Kim Jong-il regime). The movie utilized footage from activists that have constructed an underground railroad of sorts, bringing North Koreans through China to eventual freedom in Mongolia or South Korea. It was a very emotionally effective film, crammed with both stunning stories of the journey these North Koreans face and in-depth insight and analysis of the issue. Check it out at

Upcoming Events:

  • Thursday, November 17th, Amnesty International will meet in the Foote Room of the Student Union Building at 5:00 pm.
  • Saturday and Sunday, November 19th and 20th, the Idaho Progressive Student Alliance will be in the parking lot of the Albertsons on State and 17th street collecting non-perishable food items, clothes, blankets, hygiene items, and water for victims of Hurricane Katrina. The collected goods will be trucked down to Baton Rouge later this month.

Our Damn President

This sort of talk from our commander and chief twists and churns my guts (from the BBC):
US President George W Bush has said too much is at stake in Iraq for politicians to make "false charges" about the reasons for going to war.

Amid new questions in Congress about the intelligence used to justify the invasion, he said it was "irresponsible to rewrite history".

Irresponsible to rewrite history? Are you kidding me? This isn't a president who is defending his policies, this is a president who is villanizing credible, reputable political dissent during wartime. Legitimate questions have and rightly should be raised about the road to war. The stakes for both the United States and Iraq are very serious, but we can't make good decisions now without understanding what brought us to this point. Bush's attacks are simply a refusal to gain a deeper understanding and frankly, this type of thinking from our commander in chief is a dangerous disease during war.

(check out the book War Is A Force To Give Us Meaning by Chris Hedges for more information on poisonous thought such as this during wartime)

Fair Trade Part I - New Shoes

(the following information on fair trade is severely limited to what i know. i am no expert on the subject. i am simply trying to provide a resource for people who are interested in fair trade, but don't know where to turn for information.)
"Fair Trade is a trading partnership based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalised producers and workers... Fair Trade organisations (backed by consumers) are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade." -from FINE (Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, International Fair Trade Association, Network of European Worldshops and European Fair Trade Association).
As I gradually developed in high school from a state of naivete and apathy to an active engagement with the world, I became increasingly concerned with the impact my money was making. I became a vegetarian in an effort to remove my money from the cruel and environmentally unsustainable meat and seafood industries. Eating organic always made me feel good, even though I couldn't reasonably accomplish that on a regular basis. Clothes, however, became my most urgent concern. There was no way of knowing whether or not my threads were manufactured in sweatshops, but I desperately needed reassurance that my money wasn't contributing to the oppression of poor people halfway across the globe.

A friend of mine had seemingly found a remedy by strictly buying American made clothing. In theory I had found a solution! It became apparent, though, that buying American made apparel is much more difficult than it sounds. I quickly discovered that almost every item of clothing I needed was made somewhere else! Though overseas factories aren't necessarily sweatshops, using this rationale to buy overseas clothing is shaky at best. I might be buying union made, socially responsible clothing, but it is just as likely I'm not. I'm not comfortable with the chances. I've been reduced to buying used clothing for two years now.

Though the used clothing option isn't really that bad (here in Boise there are plenty of great thrift stores and even a trendy boutique of used clothes called The Lux) it does present a few problems. Namely, shoes. Two years ago a friend gave me his shoes. They'’ve brought me everywhere, but it has been raining lately, and my feet never stay dry. Finding good shoes at a thrift store is near impossible. Until just recently, I didn'’t know where to turn.

Just a few weeks ago, a solution fell into my lap. At the weekly Idaho Progressive Student Alliance meeting at BSU, fair trade information was distributed and discussed. I learned more about what fair trade is, where to find fair trade coffee, and about fair trade organizations such as the clothing company No Sweat Apparel. Most importantly, I discovered how to walk in new shoes without, as No Sweat states, "“stepping on the worker who made... [my] shoes."”

My shoes are union-made in Jakarta, Indonesia. A card detailing the wages and benefits of the workers was included with them. Compared to regional labor standards, the people who manufactured my shoes are treated very fairly. With their wages and benefits, there is no doubt they are able to achieve a healthy, comfortable life. (click here to see the wages and benefits of the workers who made my shoes) Not to mention my shoes are comfortable, vegan-friendly, and even trendy!

Check out these websites to learn more about fair trade, or to buy fair trade products:

No Sweat Apparel
FairTrade Labelling Organizations International
Responsible Shopper

In the next installment of this series on fair trade, I'll report on my experience with Ten Thousand Villages, an organization that "provides vital, fair income to Third World people by marketing their handicrafts and telling their stories in North America." In Boise's Hyde Park there is a Ten Thousand Villages store that relies on volunteers as staff. I'll write about my experience volunteering there as well as generally about the organization. To visit their website, click here.

Local Happenings

I spent most of today at BSU for the POV Conference on human rights. Turnout was painfully low, and the Amnesty International table I was at received a miniscule amount of attention. It wasn't really discouraging, though, because it was obvious that the organization of the event was sub-par. However, I did learn of some upcoming events:
  • Seoul Train. On Tuesday, November 15th, as part of the Diverse Perspectives film series, the ITVS Community Cinema will show the film Seoul Train in the Barnwell Ballroom of the SUB at 5:30 pm. The film documents a humanitarian crisis as North Koreans attempt to escape their country. Parking is free in the SUB visitor lot. (The film also shows on Nov. 16th at Boise State West in Nampa at the same time in the 2nd Floor Lounge.)
  • "War, Peace, and Transformation." The Idaho Peace Coalition is sponsoring this presentation from Iraq War Veteran and Conscientious Objector Aidan Delgado on Veteran's Day. Come to the Bishop Barnwell Room of the SUB on November 11th at 7:00 pm.
Upcoming meetings:
  • Amnesty International. Thursday, November 10th in the Gipson Room (downstairs in the SUB) at 5:00 pm. Thursday, November 17th in the Foote Room (upstairs in the SUB) at 5:00 pm.
  • Idaho Progressive Student Alliance. Sundays at 5:00 pm. There should be a sign on the door of the Boyington Room (upstairs in the SUB) that tells you where to go.

Don't Just Vote!

Well. I didn't vote. Turns out I live a little less than a mile from the city limits. Even though I work in the city, go to school in the city, spend most of my free time in the city, and will move to the city fairly soon, the law says I cannot vote for city council members. I'm disappointed, because I wanted to vote, but I'm not angry. It makes sense. Instead of voting today, I will urge all of you who did vote to do more. Voting is just the beginning of active involvement with the world. There are a wealth of actions you can take after your vote that are capable of changing the world.

I've never been able to vote. But I possess a burning desire to change the world, so I've had to rely on other methods of effecting change. Though I can't wait until I can finally cast my vote, I doubt it will provide me with the same satisfaction that, for example, volunteering does. Here are some actions that you can take to make a difference outside of the ballot box:

  • Volunteer. There are countless opportunities everywhere. Here in Boise, I've volunteered extensively with Idaho Fish and Game. The work has included re-vegetating the riparian zones of Idaho's streams and rivers that have been decimated by cattle grazing, which is immensely important work.
  • Write a congressman, or even the president. Just pick an issue that stirs your soul and write. You can also utilize the resources of organizations such as Amnesty International if human rights concern you or if progressive politics concern you. Just search the web. You can find online actions everywhere!
  • Engage in grassroots activism. If there is some issue that deeply affects you, hit the streets. Some of the most profound change has happened due to people sitting where they are prohibited to sit or from thousands, if not millions, of people flooding the streets to demand change.
  • Discuss. Engage the people around you in real discussion about the problems that face our world. There is nothing wrong with open-minded discussions and arguments- they help us understand our world.
  • Be creative! I fasted last summer to raise awareness about the plight of refugees in Africa. Though I didn't actually change anything on a large scale, I did open a few eyes wider, including my own.

Bright Eyes in SLC

Last night I saw Bright Eyes live at Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City. It was an incredible show! In the quiet between songs someone shouted, "Conor Oberst is Jesus!" Though I'm not quite that fanatical, Bright Eyes is just that epic. Oberst was bursting with passion as he played his songs. The band backed him up with a fabric of surreal music coming from an interesting mix of instruments, from a harp to a steel guitar to a trumpet. Oberst's poetry filled fans' minds with rich stories and profound observations that spilled out onto my pillow that night. There is an unquestionable otherworldy greatness to Bright Eyes that is undeniably evident live.

Bright Eyes, however, doesn't fit very well into the context of this blog. To make this post more relevant, I'll suggest that you check out the following video: Conor Oberst plays "When the President Talks to God" on Jay Leno (click the 'Watch Now!' link)

Local Happenings - POV Conference

The POV (Point of View) Conference at Boise State University will take place on November 8th and 9th next week. The theme this year is human rights. I actually don't know too much about this event. I am connected to it through Amnesty International. We will be tabling for the event on Wednesday, November 9th in Hatch AB of the SUB. I do know, however, that there will be some interesting workshops and film showings. Workshop topics include the death penalty, immigration and the dream act, the hague war crimes tribunal, and community arts and human rights. The films The Corporation and Hotel Rwanda will also be shown. I'm expecting an interesting event, and I recommend checking it out. Find out more at the POV website, or check out the full event schedule.

City Council Elections

Next Tuesday's elections will be the first time in my life that I vote. Last year I turned eighteen one week after the elections. While there is less at stake this time around, I'm plenty excited to cast my vote.

Before I vote, I'll add my two cents to the discussion. The prospect of Brandi Swindell being a city council member is ridiculous for too many reasons. She has no college education nor any experience related to the job she is applying for. While I am not crazy about Maryanne Jordan, she possesses extensive experience related to her job- a college education, co-owning a small business, and serving on the Boise City Planning and Zoning Commission, as President of the West Valley Neighborhood Association, and as Facilitator of the Boise Neighborhood Alliance. She has been involved with organizations relevant to a city council position, whereas Swindell's experience with organizations such as Generation Life, a religious right-wing organization, is completely irrelevant to a city council position. Regardless of Swindell's radical views or either candidate's out-of-state campaign donations, it just makes more sense to elect Jordan. This job should be approached in a pragmatic fashion, not an ideological one. Swindell certainly possesses an ideological fervor, but Jordan is very clearly the practical choice.

That said, I encourage everyone to vote on November 8th! Even though the ballots are small this year, voting is important. Of course, voting is only part of active involvement with the world. Vote, but don't just vote! (I'll write more about doing more than just voting next week...)

Profiles of the Candidates
Precinct Map (scroll down to 'Precinct Locator')
Boise guardian Story About Campaign Funds
Dan Popkey Article
Brandi Swindell's Website
Maryanne Jordan's Website

Local Happenings - Tunnel of Oppressio

I've been quiet for a few days, partly because I've been busy but mostly due to a tough break-up. I'm not going to waste your time writing about the break-up, not because it hasn't affected me deeply- because it has- but because this blog isn't a forum for that type of writing. That said, I experienced exactly what I needed yesterday. The Tunnel of Oppression happened very successfully on November 1st in and around the Hatch Ballroom (for a description of what the Tunnel is, refer to my earlier posting on the subject). From 9:00 am to 7:30 pm I was there as a Tunnel guide and with Amnesty International at the coinciding Social Justice Fair. Those long hours kept me busy- talking and walking- and therefore forced my mind to wander from the sorrow, loneliness, and self-pity that had taken up residence in me. The emptiness in my heart was eased by a community of engaged and caring individuals who are committed to changing the world, slowly but surely.

The Tunnel began with a scene depicting soft racism in the wake of Katrina. Three white middle-class folk sipped martinis and discussed their frustration at seeing poor black people receiving sympathy and government aid after the hurricane. Their language was no doubt incensing, but a bit unbelievable. However, the scene remained effective and provided an emotionally simple way of beginning the tour and easing into the next scene.

Four or five actors dressed in casual military attire and sporting pipes, knives, and cameras viciously attacked another actor dressed in a black robe and hood in the second and most effective scene. There was no question that the atrocities committed at Abu Ghraib were unfolding here, and even though this was acting, it was severely disturbing. Audience members were encouraged to take part in the abuse but could only muster blank stares and sometimes tears. The actors recreated the photographs from Abu Ghraib with an eerie accuracy. After the scene, the audience shuffled their feet quietly away, taking with them an intimate understanding for the scope of atrocities committed in the War on Terror.

In the next scene a small group of immigrants struggled to cross the border amongst graves marked ‘unidentified’. Their struggle was amplified by an insensitive television journalist and armed militia men who beat back the immigrants. The depiction of the immigration struggle brought to life an issue that everyone knows of but no one really understands. The tour then meandered into a makeshift bathroom that provided the stage for different sorts of gender related oppression: two girls taunted a “dyke”, one of those girls then threw up in a stall in an effort to lose weight, a boy tried hard to be a man by using steroids, a young couple worried about an unwanted pregnancy, and a rape was attempted. We don’t know whether or not the rape was committed- we just heard her scream from behind a bathroom stall door. With the screams echoing the tour rushed through a brutal episode of Native American assimilation. As the audience exited the Tunnel, they became the victims of fierce anti-gay fury. Demonstrators shook hateful signs in faces and shouted dangerously at each and every member of the audience. Their hateful frenzy, albeit acting, caused one to know the pain of being hated for being homosexual, even if one is not.

The entire experience was tremendously effective. Though I wasn’t present in the post-Tunnel debriefing sessions, I gathered that public response to the tour was positive. Eyes and hearts opened to better understand modern forms of oppression that are often overlooked. It is difficult to deny these oppressions while they are staring you down. Oppression is evident when we hear the facts about its many forms today, but when our heart is involved oppression is not only undeniable, but is an affront to everything human within us. The Tunnel of Oppression very much involves the heart.

(If you wish to learn more about the Tunnel of Oppression, I recommend conducting a simple google search for it. I did so, but could not find a central website for it. It appears that the Tunnel is simply an idea that is interpreted differently by different universities around the nation.)

CD Review: Emmanuel Jal and Abdel Gadir Salim - Ceasefire

(CD review originally written for the Boise Weekly)

Ceasefire is stunning. This collaboration between Emmanuel Jal, a Christian from southern Sudan, and Abdel Gadir Salim, a Moslem from northern Sudan, sends a powerful message throughout the country in the shadow of war. For more than twenty years the Moslem north had battled the non-Moslem south until a peace agreement earlier this year. Sudan’s future, however, remains uncertain. Ceasefire is a powerful and symbolic cry for lasting peace that is urgently needed at this crucial moment in Sudan’s history.

The music lives up to the historical backdrop. Jal is a rap sensation whose popularity has exploded from Nairobi to all of Africa and beyond. Salim is a respected and popular composer, singer, and oud player whose songs reflect the musical traditions of Sudan. He is absent from about half of the songs, which are written and performed by Jal. The remaining songs are written and performed by Salim and his band but feature occasional bursts of rap by Jal. The result of this unlikely and eclectic collaboration is a vibrant and diverse fabric of sound that incessantly stirs up the soul.

Emmanuel Jal’s rap is soft but solid, and his talent is unquestionable. His warmly mellow voice flows over lively, energetic beats. Like his message, his rap stands in sharp contrast to the harsh American variety, and Jal’s style is much more listenable, despite the language barrier. He alternates with grace between each of the five languages (there are translations) on this CD, sometimes multiple times in a single verse. In between verses, joyous and hopeful choruses explode over the music, adding an exotic dimension that accents Jal’s laid-back rapping.

Though most of the songs concern peace for Sudan, one stood out for its address of another urgent issue in Africa. ‘Nyambol’ tells the story of a young girl who suffers abuse and then escapes a forced marriage to ultimately achieve an education and become “an important person” and “important leader” in her village. The song showcases both Jal’s rapping ability and his understanding that peace in Sudan, though extremely important, is just one of the many issues in Africa deserving the world’s attention. He shows definite promise for being both a musical messiah and force for social change in the future.

The ultimate lure of the album is Abdel Gadir Salim’s music. Jal’s tunes heavily emphasize a pop sensibility that is no doubt great, but Salim generates a deeper, more mature sound that is quite unlike any popular music in the States. His rich, textured voice gives off a wisdom that is only developing in Jal. When Jal jumps into Salim’s songs, however, Salim and his band help Jal achieve a clarity that isn’t as evident on his own songs.

If the historical backdrop, eclectic music, and important message of Ceasefire don’t cause your jaw to drop, then the personal histories of the musicians surely will. At the age of seven Emmanuel Jal lost his mother and was taken to a camp in Ethiopia where he was trained to be a soldier. In 1991, along with scores of other child soldiers, Jal was forced to walk hundreds of miles to join a rebel group. Abdel Gadir Salim once survived a brutal stabbing while attempting to hold a concert in Khartoum. Both musicians endured this unimaginable adversity to become important figures, not only in Sudan’s future, but in Africa’s future. I can image that Ceasefire is only the beginning.

(visit Emmanuel Jal's website)

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