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Talking and Making News

We had our second Spring Talk last night, featuring Greg Gaar and his unmatchable slide show of pre-urban and natural San Francisco. Standing room only, we were regaled by a systematic tour of the great sand dunes that once covered the entire peninsula from the breakers to the bay. One photo I was really struck by was taken in the late 1850s from Mint Hill looking due east, and just to the east of Valencia still stands some really tall (70-100 ft) sand ridges covered in scrub. The whole area from apx. 8th to 14th streets was characterized by a series of sand ridges with fresh water ponds in the gulleys. This was one of the first photos I’ve seen that showed it so clearly.

Last week’s inaugural Spring Talk on general strikes went really well too, drawing about 45 people, and much to my surprise nearly everyone stayed to the end and we had a very stimulating conversation. We touched on the problems of organizing, whether based on existing jobs and workplaces or in some new way on the basis of new(er) freely chosen associations. One woman smartly brought up the problem of the new globalized reality we’re in, and that solidarity today means connecting to the workers of China, who apparently staged over 6,000 strikes last year. (We’d love to host a forum on China and the connection to the local economy and political scene in the fall… if you’re interested in helping organize it, please contact me.)

We tried to illustrate the distinction between the theory of the General Strike as a political action versus a general strike as act of widespread class solidarity and sympathy. There is also the problem of the term ‘general’ which gets applied to region-wide strikes that cross many occupations, but also to simply industry-wide strikes in which, e.g. all coal miners strike. The San Francisco strike of 1934 was clearly more of a solidarity/sympathy general strike, and the Oakland strike of 1946 was even less of an overt political movement at the time. The choke point at Telegraph and San Pablo where one or two streetcar conductors stopped their cars led to a huge shutdown that turned into something of a three day party in downtown Oakland, surrounding the struck department stores (Kahn’s and Hastings). Fascinating stuff.


Fantastic spring weather has erupted here, and I’ve been cycling over the hills again. Can’t bear to sit at home in front of the computer these past sad weeks, so glad to be getting out and seeing old friends and new ones too! Had the great pleasure of sitting at Hippie Hill for 2 hours on Monday, and then another couple of hours at the Lombard Gate of the Presidio on Tuesday, finding out about “The Abundance League”… a full report on that will appear here after I attend a gathering next week. It’s very exciting to discover a whole group of people who are apparently trying to create community outside of the logic of the market, and I didn’t already know them! Could it be that the wacky ideas I’ve been pumping out for all these years are actually, as I’ve always felt they must be, really already in everyone’s head, and now beginning to erupt all around, quite independently? So it seems, or I hope so!

The last couple of days on FireDogLake there’s been quite a tempest over various wingnut books they’ve helped review badly on Amazon. Now they’ve joined with a bunch of liberal, widely read blogs (like Dkos and Digby and others) are campaigning to censure Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball for comparing liberals to Osama bin Laden… sheesh! It’s a perfect example of how lame things are. Of course I like the idea of bringing a lot of popular pressure on the Echo Chamber and make them squirm, if at all possible. And that does seem to be happening, between the successful torpedoing of some book marketing campaigns, and the turmoil around the Washington Post’s “ombudsman” Deborah Howell, who has been blithely repeating White House talking points as fact (“Abramoff scandal is ‘bi-partisan'”). A major (minor) fight broke out on their blog and comments section, with thousands of people writing in to protest the blatant falseness perpetrated by Howell. She couldn’t deal, they shut the comments down, then they had a rather manipulated open on-line discussion with editor Brady. You can read all about it on FireDogLake if you’re interested.

I’m only interested because there is so little else going on in terms of bringing down the univocal echo chamber. I’m amazed every day that the media continues to repeat whatever the government says as though it has any credibility whatsoever. As Digby put it in the last few days, this is bizarro world. I took a moment to add my own disgust to the anti-Chris Matthews chorus at that earlier cited website. But I didn’t ask him or MSNBC to apologize. I just asked them why they don’t see the huge market they could take over immediately by simply becoming a legitimate news source, citing reports from a wide diversity of other countries, other news wires, other points of view, including a real spectrum of opinion (not just ultra-ultra rightwing to tepid right-of-center as the supposed ‘left’)… why not? Some media mogul could get awfully rich by filling the huge void empty in the mediascape in the U.S. right now…

Given the rich history of vicious newspaper wars that used to be the norm, in which the news was just as insanely propagandistic as it is now, but at least there was a whole range of different editorial slants, you would think some board of directors would see the huge opportunity and jump on it…. wouldn’t you?

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