A LOW INTENSITY war is underway between Mendo law enforcement and Meredith Ford, the County's Auditor/Controller over Prop.172, a sales tax measure from the 1990s designed to help fund “public safety.” The money is earmarked for law enforcement but some goes to fire agencies. And some goes, County administration maintains, to the general fund as “a required maintenance of effort,” which seems to mean the County's take for administering the money to a state-set standard. If the County meets that standard it gets the revenues beyond what is devoted to public safety. Ms. Ford has been battling cancer and has been out of her elected office a lot, which makes resolution of the dispute more difficult than it need be.
REPORTING on the hospital strikes, particularly the ones at the UC hospitals, hasn't explained the nut of employee beefs, which boil down to continued layoffs, which means more work for fewer employees and a generally deteriorated quality of care for patients. The boss at UCSF, for example, was paid $1.3 million last year as he laid off 300 people last year.
PERSONAL NOTE and observation from my experience visiting Family and friends who've been patients at UCSF: The level of care at UCSF seems all right but ragged around the edges because doctors, nurses and ancillary staff are asked to do too much. The patient presses the buzzer for help and help maybe shows up, maybe shows up twenty minutes later, maybe doesn't show up at all unless your friend or relative jogs out to the nurse's station to state the prob directly. The staff at UCSF needs more help but aren't getting it.
FROM MY OWN emergency stay at St. Mary's a couple of years ago, also in San Francisco, I couldn't help but see how much more efficient St. Mary's was compared to UCSF, and how much less harried staff was at St. Mary's. Of course as a wheeze covered by MediCare I had a choice of hospitals, and I'm here to tell you St. Mary's offers a level of care that's far and above UCSF. If you've got to go under the knife, St. Mary's is the place to do it.
WE KNOW WHERE WALDO is,
but where's Glenda?
Glenda Anderson, the Press Democrat's
one-person “North Bay Bureau”
hasn't filed a story out of Ukiah in months.
ALEXANDRA STILLMAN has been appointed as Arcata's rep to the North Coast Railroad Authority. As reported by Hank Sims of Lost Coast Outpost, Ms. Stillman said of her appointment, which was resisted by the area's mossbacks, “I just figure it’s important because Arcata has so many rail lines going through it, and we have the rail-with-trail project… Arcata is very affected by rail.” Or eternal lack of. Ms. Stillman told Sims she want's to focus on feasible projects like rails with trails for the publicly-owned but rail-free rail line.
LAST MONDAY at about 2pm Scott Walecka and his daughter Hilary Walecka of Santa Cruz were returning from a day on the bay practicing in their 38-foot sailboa Animal for today’s (Friday’s) Spinnaker Cup race from San Francisco to Monterey when Hilary saw someone jump off the Golden Gate Bridge.
Within seconds they heard over their radio that the Coast Guard had been alerted that someone had jumped and that a cutter and a CHP chopper were being dispatched. Hilary saw the chopper hovering over the area where the jumper landed and directed her father to the spot. Upon arrival Scott Walecka threw the man a life jacket on a rope. “He was alive and wanted to be rescued,” Scott Walecka said. His legs were broken, but he grabbed the life jacket and pulled himself to the boat. Mr. Walecka described the man as apparently homeless and 31 years of age. Besides his broken legs, he seemed otherwise in good physical condition. The man said he was from Alabama, but was in too much shock to say anything else, Walecka said. The Waleckas took the jumper to the Sausalito Coast Guard station where he was turned over to fire-rescue personnel and taken to Marin General Hospital but his condition in the hospital has not been reported.
LIKE MANY SUICIDAL BRIDGE JUMPERS since 1937, the 31-year old homeless jumper probably regretted his nearly fatal decision as soon as he left the bridge. It’s not clear what prompted the man to jump on Monday, but those involved said he was lucky that the Waleckas were in the area and on the alert because most jumpers die a grisly death, with massive internal injuries and broken bones, on top of shock and lung failure leading to drowning in the Bay’s frigid waters. The bridge authority’s board of directors has approved a nearly invisble metal net system to prevent suicides.
The final design for that project is expected to be completed by the end of the year. However, the system would not be funded with bridge toll revenue, but by private donations and it is currently $45 million short of its $50 million budget.
Do you know what a roadway “Level of Service - C” means? It's the reason that Caltrans is wasting more than $300 million of our money on a huge new freeway to handle a miniscule amount of traffic. It's the reason that more than $30 million of local transportation money has been stolen from us and committed to a bloated project that even industry-written highway design manuals caution against. It's the reason that Caltrans will level scores of century-old oak trees, cover hundreds of acres of prime farmland in asphalt, and destroy more wetlands than any other project in northern California over the last half century. It's the reason that smaller, safer, cheaper, and less-impacting solutions for our traffic problems were never taken seriously by Caltrans.
It's all because of a simple phrase that Caltrans wrote into the purpose and need statement for the bypass: “[the bypass must] achieve a minimum Level of Service (LOS) 'C'.” These seven words are responsible for all this.
If you don't know what LOS “C” means, you're not alone. None of the regulatory agencies that approved the bypass understood what LOS “C” meant either, even though they signed a statement agreeing to the purpose and need statement years ago. None of them had the slightest clue that they had just been conned by Caltrans into committing their agencies to approving the massive destruction that will besiege our valley for eternity.
Level of Service (LOS) is a rating system that highway design engineers use to figure out how many lanes are needed on a new roadway to handle the traffic volumes projected to use it. The rating system attempts to estimate a driver's perception of the quality of their driving experience during near worst case, peak-hour traffic conditions, and is derived from a complex series of calculations. The calculated LOS ranges from “A” (very low traffic) to “F” (bumper to bumper traffic). Highway design manuals recommend that engineers aim for something in the middle of the range - LOS “C” or “D"- when designing new roadways in order to balance functionality with cost and environmental impacts.
The same design manuals strongly advise against building roadways that will operate at LOS “A” over their design life because the roadway would be overbuilt, wasting public funds and causing undo and unnecessary environmental damage. In the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the bypass, Caltrans declares that “A four lane bypass would provide LOS “A” upon construction, as well as throughout the 20-year design period.”
In contrast, Caltrans states that a generic two-lane bypass “would provide a LOS 'D' at peak hour upon construction, as well as throughout the 20-year design period.” If you want to experience LOS “D” yourself, drive the stretch of Highway 101 from the north city limit to Reynolds highway at 5pm. Or, simpler yet, log on to Caltrans' website (http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist1/d1tmc/1_cam.php?cam=27) to see real-time photos taken near the truck scales north of town. With a recent peak-hour traffic count of 860 vehicles per hour, this stretch of highway is well into LOS “D” according to the calculations.
But, as one recent editorial writer asked, aren't we getting a two-lane bypass? The answer, unfortunately, is a resounding “NO.” The ultimate project is and always has been a four-lane freeway. What we are getting now is 2/3 of a freeway, a Frankenstein version with nearly the same massive footprint and impacts as a four-lane freeway. The same high-speed design as a freeway without the safety benefits of lane-separation. Six miles of inaccessible pavement, suspended 20 feet in the air, with interchanges too far from town to provide any local benefit.
If you dispense with the rigid constraints of a freeway, better alternatives suddenly become feasible. For example, numerous people have suggested the unused railroad corridor as a potential route. Even though it would clearly reduce delay and improve safety, the other goals listed in the purpose and need statement, Caltrans says it won't meet LOS “C.” As a result Caltrans cast it, and all other non-freeway alternatives, aside as not meeting their own arbitrary LOS requirement. A railroad route could have completely avoided wetland impacts thereby forcing the Army Corps of Engineers to reject all the freeway alternatives from further consideration under the Clean Water Act.
Caltrans has always wanted a freeway. Be it 1950s thinking, hubris, money — but it's certainly not traffic volumes, that's been well established. They knew the purpose and need statement couldn't just plainly state “we want to build a freeway,” agencies and the public would have questioned that. So, they did the next best thing. They added seven words; a benign sounding requirement that they knew no one would understand or question. The result is the same.
Richard Estabrook, Brooktrails
ON MAY 21 at about 1:50pm deputies from the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched to a reported fight between two adult males at the Long Valley Lumber Yard in Laytonville, California. A 49 year-old adult male victim with significant injury to his face and head was transported by ambulance to Howard Memorial Hospital. He was treated for a left orbital fracture, multiple facial contusions and a laceration above his left eye. The other involved party, Jimmy Leroy Dykes, 42, of Willits had fled on foot from the scene prior to the deputies’ arrival. The victim told deputies that he was at the Long Valley Lumber Yard when he saw Dykes approaching him on foot. Dykes was making derogatory statements directed at the victim based upon a work related dispute the pair had approximately a year ago. Dykes challenged the victim to a physical fight and shortly thereafter punched the victim without provocation. Dykes thereafter placed the victim in a rear choke-hold position until the victim began to lose consciousness. As the victim lay on the ground, Dykes then struck the victim several times in the face with his elbow and forcefully hit the victim's head against the ground. The victim believed Dykes had training as a mixed martial arts fighter. Deputies later located Dykes in the Laytonville area and he was subsequently arrested for battery resulting in great bodily injury. Dykes was transported to the Mendocino County Jail where he was to be held in lieu of $30,000.00 bail. (Sheriff’s Department Press Release)
COUNTY REACHES AGREEMENT WITH MENDOCINO COUNTY MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATION — On May 14, 2013 the County of Mendocino and the Mendocino County Management Association received approval from the Board of Supervisors for a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that extends through September of 2014. Negotiations formally began on January 24th of this year and included a series of six meetings. The Management Association and the County essentially reached a tentative agreement in March, and have been working diligently since then on non-material contract language cleanup issues. The last MOU between the County and the Management Association was signed on January 24, 2012. Management was among the first four bargaining units to take a 10% reduction in October of 2010 in response to the economic crisis facing the County. The current MOU adopted by the Board of Supervisors last week largely extends the prior agreements, and the 10% reduction, through September of 2014 with no enhancements to benefit or salary levels in the contract. County and employee share of health insurance costs (75%-25% respectively) are anticipated to increase over the term of the contract, pending results of cost containment activities. County costs associated with market losses or bad assumptions (100% County) are also expected to rise over the term of the contract. — Kyle C. Knopp, Assistant Chief Executive Officer
AT THE END OF THE LINE
To the Editor:
Today I did something I've never done before. I stood in line at Social Services. My disability payments were discontinued. I'm not eligible for unemployment. I lost my job in August 2011, collected until June 2012. Then I was put on disability for anxiety. Since I haven't worked in 19 months, unemployment payments were denied; one month too late. In the month of April I have received $207 period.
I'm not eligible for emergency rent funds because I have no children in the home.
I applied for CMSP to get a second opinion on my disability three months ago. I'm waiting in line because they are understaffed (Social Services). As I stood in line for food stamps, the only thing I'm eligible for, I listened. Young adults are eligible for help with rent, schooling, food stamps, monthly stipend, etc.
You are young and have children therefore here are all your benefits.
You are a baby boomer in your late 50s, mid-60s and you are not eligible for anything but food stamps.
I have worked since I was 12 and paid for all of the programs through my taxes, but all I can get is $200 a month in food stamps.
I guess my point is this: I worked for 46 years. No alimony, no child support and no public assistance. These 30 year-olds “or less” have children, little job experience and the state will cover everything. On the other hand there are people like me who worked all their lives, paid their dues, and no one cares if I can't pay my rent or end up homeless.
I worked hard and put money in the state-federal coffers. I'm a baby boomer. We are all getting older and disabled. There are a lot more of us coming around, needing help. I don't want young families to starve, but I do want them to pay their dues.
We are the transients in Ukiah because we've lost our homes and can't get hired because of our age or limitations. We baby boomers are looking for work. We are trying — raised with ambition. We are not all alcoholics or drug dependent. We are surprised that we have landed where we are. Standing in line at Social Services. We stand at the food bank, buy our clothes from Goodwill, look for jobs, give what we can now and we get tired.
I'm your mother, your daughter, your sister, your aunt. Are you proud to stand in line at Social Services and take from me like no one cares?
You are young. People will hire you if you ask. Go ask. Try. Work. Contribute. Because your mom and grandma are close to homeless everyday. Step up.
I wrote this letter a week ago. I didn't send it because I'm ashamed and embarrassed. I didn't want to advertise my situation. I still don't. It needs to be said. I'll take the embarrassment.
Bottom line is $207 to live on in April. Six weeks later, I've got food stamps but might have to live in my car. No gas. I hope I can park it somewhere I won't get towed. I wasn't too proud to ask for help. I've asked, I've done, I'm humiliated and my government isn't helping and doesn't care.
Nobody will steal my identity because I don't think anyone would want to be me.
Cynthia Jeremiah, Ukiah
THE DEFENSE OF LITTLE LAKE VALLEY:
Dispatch From 70 Feet Up A Valley Oak — by Will Parrish
On May 14th, I ascended roughly 70 feet into a 100-foot tall valley oak that stands in the path of the California Department of Transportation's proposed six-mile freeway (“The Willits Bypass”) through Little Lake Valley. This tree, which has a nearly six-foot trunk and is covered from top to bottom with an intricate tapestry of lichens and moss, stands amid hundreds of ash trees in a lustrous grove in the north Little Lake Valley wetlands. The tree is certainly older than the State of California. It may be older than the United States of America.
This mighty oak stands like a sentinel at the southern edge of the ash grove. In its life, it has experienced a great deal. It has experienced the gridding, platting, and draining of its wetlands home for cattle ranching and the construction of Highway 101. It has experienced Euroamericans' destruction of the Central Pomo people, who referred to the valley by the evocatively intimate name Mto'm-kai – a name that closely translates to “Valley of Water Splashing the Toes.” It has experienced the wetlands as they existed when the Pomo and early Euroamericans lived here, as an incredibly vibrant and life-sustaining ecosystem (for a rare picture circa 1905, see the AVA's website.)
The mighty tree's days are likely numbered, though, as are those of the entire ash grove and nearly 90 acres of these wetlands, which CalTrans intends to drain, fill, and pave over to build its highway. It would be the most extensive destruction of any wetlands in Northern California in more than a half-century.
Two days before I scaled the tree, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 400 parts-per-million – a profound milestone in industrial civilization's relentless heating of the planet. The scientific consensus is that any level above 350 parts-per-million will spell catastrophe for life on earth, as it entails the continued melting of the Greenland ice sheet and exponentially increasing methane releases from melting permafrost in Siberia and Alaska.
Even with all the world at stake, the dominant society's institutions remain fixed in business-as-usual mode, continuing to expand their consumption of a finite planet at a rapid rate. In CalTrans' case, that means forging ahead with the monument to waste and folly that is the Willits Bypass, which would belch an estimated 380,000 cubic tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere just during its construction process – a process that has only barely begun.
The final cost of the Bypass is likely to be a half-billion dollars. The project's greatest accomplishment would be to bind this region's transportation infrastructure further to car culture, in large part to allow increased and unrestricted access for the largest and heaviest commercial trucks on the road, STAA trucks.
Even before its handiwork is done in Willits, CalTrans would move on to widening Highway 101 at Richardson Grove, widening Highway 199 and Route 197 in far northern California along the Smith River, and constructing a bypass around that utterly traffic-paralyzed megalopolis known as Hopland. For institutions like Big Orange, as CalTrans is oft-referred in these parts, there is no such thing as enough.
Climate change is one aspect of the planetary ecological unraveling. There is also the matter of topsoil loss. About one percent of this nutrient-rich matter – the foundation of terrestrial life, which sustain all of our food – around the globe is destroyed annually.
There is the matter of watershed and aquatic habitat destruction. Watersheds across the planet are in crisis. In California, for example, nearly 90 percent of wetlands that existed 200 years ago have been destroyed. There is the matter of biodiversity loss. Anywhere from 100 to 200 species on this planet go extinct every day, as part of the largest mass extinction since the Jurassic Era.
I have detailed the specific ways in which the Willits Bypass is part and parcel of these planetary crises in precisely a dozen previous articles in the Anderson Valley Advertiser.
We should make no mistake about what we are up against. CalTrans is an extremely powerful agency of the state. Its officials have the ability to buy off, intimidate, manipulate, and cajole, and to experience little accountability for doing so.
We have seen this dynamic at work with regard to the Willits City Council, some members of which are afraid to oppose the Bypass partly out of fear that CalTrans will retaliate by henceforth neglecting city roads. In recent weeks, we have seen CalTrans dangle a vaguely proposed $6 million Sherwood Road improvement in front of the Brooktrails Board of Directors as a quid quo pro for their endorsement of the Bypass.
We have seen CalTrans flagrantly violate the conditions of its environmental permits. We have seen it concoct any utter sham of a plan to “mitigate” the damage it is causing to the wetlands, as I detailed three weeks ago in the AVA piece “The Bypass Mitigation Charade.” The Army Corps of Engineers and politicians like Wes Chesbro are doing their level best to prop up the charade. We have seen CalTrans receive permits to do damage that never should have been granted in the first place. We have seen the alphabet soup of regulatory agencies allegedly involved in regulating this project roll over time and again.
We have seen CalTrans install itself as a veritable occupying power in this Valley. In the last several years, it has used the threat of eminent domain -- both explicit or implied -- to gobble up 2,000 acres from valley ranchers to use for its sham “environmental mitigation” projects. Today, Big Orange is Little Lake Valley's largest landowner.
The system has failed Little Lake Valley and the people of Willits. Senior citizens are locking themselves to heavy machinery with metal pipes, as Willits resident Bob Chevalier did last week, for that very reason.
Younger people like me are living in trees for the same reason. Currently, I am dangling 70 feet in the air on a 4'x8' platform. Many of the trees around me are tied together with traverses so that fellers cannot aim them accurately. If any of these trees were cut under these conditions, it would endanger my life.
I am taking this course of action because I love this tree, as I love oak trees in general. I love how it is starting to grow cavernous and gnarled with age. I love the invisible work it carries out in the world, tending secret gardens of mushrooms and lichens. I love the feeling of strength I get when I rest my back against its mighty trunk. I love the Western Meadowlark and the Northern Flicker that visit its branches every day, often at exactly the same time. I admire the lushness of this grove, and I care greatly for the wetlands of which this grove is part.
More than that, perhaps, I am sitting in this tree because I agree wholeheartedly with the celebrated Indian novelist Arundhati Roy, who wrote,
"If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate change change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings. It lives low down on the ground, with its arms around the people who go to battle every day to protect their forests, their mountains, and their rivers, because they know their forests, their mountains, and their rivers protect them."
I would only add that this hope can also high up in the canopies of trees, with people who are willing to put their bodies on the line with these trees that they love.
For nearly two months, starting with The Warbler's tree sit, people in Willits proudly embodied Roy's sentiment by delaying the start of the Big Orange juggernaut's destruction of Little Lake Valley through direct action. The first five times CalTrans' contractors attempted to start work, people sat or stood in their way. All five times, the contractors packed up and went home without getting their work done.
During this period, the political climate surrounding the Bypass shifted. As one measure of that shift, politicians such as Noreen Evans, Dan Gjerde, and Dan Hamburg came forward and demonstrated the courage to oppose it.
This is where the intimidation comes back in. In an effort to break the back of the opposition, CalTrans called upon roughly 60 California Highway Patrol officers from throughout the state.
Though the Little Lake wetlands have been badly damaged across the past century and-a-half, they remain a vibrant and crucial ecosystem. They function in a manner akin to kidneys: absorbing the valley’s waters and slowly releasing them back into the system. As water flows through them minerals, sediments, and contaminants are absorbed and transformed by the plants, animals, and bacteria that occupy the many ecological niches therein.
They may not continue to function that way for long. In the week that I have been in this perch, CalTrans' private construction contractor, FlatIron Corporation (a subsidiary of Germany-based HOCHTIEF, the world's largest construction corporation) has steadily converted the lush wetlands meadow that formerly expanded out below me into a graded, gridded, and brown moonscape.
As I sit here pecking away on my SmartPhone (a tree sitter with a SmartPhone – the real deal), on May 20th, FlatIron is preparing to install the first wick drains in an area below me. These drains are poles an average length of 80 feet that are engineered to wick moisture out of the ground. The purpose is to harden up the soft, moist wetlands characterized by extremely fine sediment, and thereby make this area suitable for 18-wheelers bouncing and careening through the valley at highway speeds.
CalTtrans intends to install roughly 55,000 of these drains. According to the bid package Caltrans advertised to engineering companies in 2012, roughly 1.35 million meters of plastic drainage wick material would be required for thus torturing and draining this area of land. Translated: 839 miles of drains driven into Little Lake.
Earlier today, though, I was vividly reminded of the spirit captured so eloquently by Arundhati Roy's words. At 6:45 a.m., Travis “Condor” Jochimsen (who occupied this tree for 12 days immediately before me) and Jamie Chevalier locked down in a black bear device on the wick drain boom, paralyzing the machine and much other work FlatIron planned to do that day. They remained there for several hours. The California Highway Patrol were flabbergasted. They were not prepared to deal with the situation. Roughly two-dozen FlatIron workers stood on the outskirts of the area, watching and pacing.
The workers eventually went home without completing any of their planned wick drain installation. This terribly destructive activity was delayed by a full day by the courageous action of two people, who were cited and released by the Mendocino County Sheriffs after negotiating to unlock themselves voluntarily.
In the more than three years that I have been a journalist in Mendocino County, I have made it a point to chronicle and oppose the most destructive industrial projects to come along in our region: forest-to-vineyard conversions, destruction of rivers, widespread herbicide spraying, forest clear-cuts, land and water grabs, etc. The Willits Bypass is the most destructive project I have written about so far.
Largely for that reason, I have elected to take direct action of my own against the project (participatory journalism at its finest). My friend Amanda “The Warbler” Senseman, whose 65-day tree sit south of Willits in the route of the Bypass galvanized opposition to the project as never before, put it this way: “The Bypass is our local version of the Tar Sands. It's our local version of the Keystone Excel Pipeline.” The Bypass is representative of those projects and many more.
Conversely, however, the resistance to the Bypass can be representative of an altogether different outcome for the planet. Here in Little Lake Valley, we do not live in a vacuum. If we stop stand up and stop this project here, the impact will ripple out. The greatest gift that people in this region could possibly give at this time, not only to Little Lake Valley, but to people fighting for their forests, mountains, and rivers all over the world would be to do exactly what it takes to stop this project.
By definition, that means we must at times depart from the same legal system that condones and enables the destruction of the Little Lake wetlands, just as it has condoned and enabled all of the destructive projects that have collectively created the ecological crisis at large. There has never been a better time to withdraw our hope from the conference rooms and tall buildings, and the people within them.
In doing so, we turn away from fear, and we take a true stand in solidarity both with the ancient ones – and those future ancient ones not yet born.
MEDIA'S CLICKING CLOCK
More Exposés, Less Action — by Ralph Nader
There must be reasons why people are weary of the flood of excellent documentary films, books and articles showing us what the corporate state – that is, the fusion of big business and government to constantly serve the former against the peoples’ interest – is doing to our beloved country.
We are in a golden age of exposés, detailed revelations about out-of-control polluters, corporate tax escapees, corruption of government, cheating of consumers, abandonment of workers, freezing or reduction of wages, and a general hijacking of America for perpetual wars, militarism and profiteering. Even from mainstream television, newspapers and magazines, these exposés pour out in numbers that far exceed our weakened democracy’s ability to respond.
Why does so little change when the truths, the facts and the grim realities are available on request? In the past more prosecutors, legislators, and regulators would be informed and goaded by exposés. The wider media would echo such responses which further encouraged these enforcers to challenge wrongdoing. A cycle of public agitation and official responses kept things moving.
But there were fewer exposés and therefore less information overload. Today, exposés are running into each other and receiving smaller audiences. The shrinking mass media does not give the authors and producers the time that was afforded their predecessors.
Nothing has replaced the Phil Donahue Show that reveled in showcasing injustices. The Today Show and Good Morning America have fewer authors on their stages. Charlie Rose is heavily into entertainers, favored columnist Tom Friedman, and business celebrities. Once welcoming radio talk show hosts are off the air, replaced by curled lip ideologues or soft, fluffy commentators. Local daily city television talk shows that made author tours successful and often would jump-start investigative reports are nearly extinct, replaced by syndicated programs featuring touchy-feely or sadomasochistic fare.
This new media landscape is more hostile to the civic community and discourages the younger generation from believing that change is truly within our grasp. As the years pass, our examples of national re-directions, as if people matter, come from the 1960s and ’70s. There are dwindling illustrations from more variously-troubled, recent decades, even as the information revolution should have accelerated the pace of change.
There may be proportionately as much civic activism today, though the smaller marches and rallies and much less mass media coverage do not demonstrate that there is as much public protest. What is certain is that there are now far more problems, declines in livelihoods, and other deprivations and lockouts from participating in our legislative and executive governments and courts. It doesn’t help that there are far fewer differences between the two major parties and far more gridlocks, garnished by far more campaign cash, resulting in chronic avoidance or postponements of remedies.
Let’s go back to the exposés. What can documentary film makers, for example, do beyond putting out a fine product for theater audiences and DVD purchasers?
An ongoing development pushing the envelope toward change comes from Eugene Jarecki’s documentary “The House I Live In.” Saturating the country with his public and private showings, action meetings with prison wardens and lawmakers – urban and rural – and continuing media coverage, he seeks to make his film “a widely-recognized and galvanizing tool for a national rethinking of America’s drug control policies.” His two-year plan of coalition building and direct legislative pressure is breathtaking in its scope, depth, agility and strategic thinking (for more information visit the website here).
Mr. Jarecki is plowing new ground through relentless follow-through – an extension more authors, capable of doing so, should undertake. After all they have proven themselves as knowledgeable, interesting communicators.
Another contemporary documentary receiving serious follow-up by its production team is “The Invisible War” – the story of rape and other sexual assaults within the U.S. military. This film, directed and written by Kirby Dick, is being taken seriously by the Pentagon which is showing it to commanders and high-ranking military leaders. Attendance is often required thanks to a few enlisted commanders and constant prodding from the filmmakers.
Realistically, many reporters and producers are unable to pursue their findings into the realms of action. Often they are onto their next investigative project and are economically hard-pressed. Here is where some farseeing foundations or enlightened wealthy persons can make a difference by funding small civic groups taking the findings and recommendations into the public policy arenas backed by civic mobilization. After all, civic advocates have proven their worth over the long run.
Or existing groups, such as the anti-nuclear steadfast organizations – Beyond Nuclear and Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) – can be the beneficiaries of funders viewing documentaries such “Knocking on the Devil’s Door: Our Deadly Nuclear Legacy.”
Maybe we need a 24/7 documentary cable channel with a citizen action focus so that fortuitous rendezvous can occur among all these parties at any given time around the ticking clock.
(Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.)