Peter Rothberg | The Nation

Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

Opposing war, racism, sexism, climate change, economic injustice and high-stakes testing.

New Film Takes on Komen Foundation and 'Breast Cancer Industry'

With the most fortunate timing a political doc can ever hope for, Pink Ribbons Inc. opens in Canada today and will soon be slated for US dates.

A feature documentary based on Dr. Samantha King’s book Pink Ribbons Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy, the film takes the Susan G. Komen Foundation to task for its fiscal management and marketing alliances with multinational corporations and argues that the devastating reality of breast cancer, which marketing experts have labeled a “dream cause,” has been hijacked by a shiny, pink story of success.

As the doc recounts, breast cancer has become the poster child of corporate cause-related marketing campaigns. Countless women and men walk, bike, climb and shop for the cure. These days you can row and jump for the cause. You can be a warrior in pink by driving a Ford you’ve pumped with pink gasoline, tote a pink hand gun, bake a pink cake in your pink stand mixer and, later, wipe yourself clean with pink premium toilet tissue.

Each year, these efforts raise millions of dollars in the name of breast cancer, but where does this money go and what does it actually achieve? The film takes on these questions and argues that it’s time to take off the rose-colored glasses and repoliticize the discussion.

Challenging Arizona's Ban on Ethnic Studies

In January 2011, Arizona state Attorney General Tom Horne declared the Tucson Unified School District MAS (Mexican American Studies) program illegal. This despite the curriculum’s astonishing success in graduating 100 percent of its students from high school and obtaining college placement for 82 percent of its alumni.


Over the past year, teachers, students and administrators have come together to challenge Horne’s ruling, but on this past January 10, the TUSD school board voted four to one to immediately cease all MAS classes.

Horne’s decision entailed the widespread removal of select books that were used in the curriculum. The list of banned books is extensive, includes important Latino authors and activists’ books that were banished from the school system and has provoked particular outrage in Arizona and beyond.

Adding insult to injury, officials recently went into schools during the school day in front of students and “confiscated” seven books from the classrooms deemed to promote “ethnic resentment.” Among them were several best-selling classics including Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire, and Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, by Bill Bigelow.

My colleague Habiba Alcindor penned a good post detailing the furious and forthright responses of numerous activist groups to Arizona’s efforts to censor ethnic studies.

The Education for Liberation Network and its affiliated Teacher Activist Groups (TAG) have been particularly active. Starting today, February 1, the first day on which the TUSD must comply with this law, TAG is coordinating a month of nationwide teaching workshops about the banned MAS program.

TAG has pulled together a wealth of resources on its website, including sample lesson plans from the MAS curriculum as well as creative ideas for exploring this issue with students of all ages. Pledge your support, tell your own story and download and share the curriculum. Whatever happens in Arizona, we can keep the ideas and values of MAS alive by teaching them in our own classrooms, community centers, houses of worship and homes.

At the same time, politely implore Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and Attorney General Horne to rescind HB 2281 banning the indisputably successful MAS program.

Help Peaceful Uprising Rebuild

Peaceful Uprising is the group founded by Tim DeChristopher, who was hauled off to prison for speaking out against the corrupt relationship between our government and the fossil fuel industry. The group was absolutely critical to the success of the anti-Keystone pipeline protests this past summer. In fact, because foundations demand a credible “fiscal sponsor” when a group is small and with none of the larger environmental groups wanting to be seen as officially endorsing civil disobedience, all the funding behind the Keystone protests went through PeaceUp, because it was willing to take the risk.

Its reward? Peaceful Uprising recently discovered that it was one of 200 nonprofit projects, under the fiscal sponsorship of something called the International Humanities Center, that have been financially wiped out in an astonishing act of apparent fraud. (This post has the details.) In short: International Humanities Center, (a 501(c)(3) non-profit based in California) spent the money donated to Peaceful Uprising on its own, highly suspicious operating costs.

For the last few weeks, Peaceful Uprising has been reaching out to as many other IHC projects as possible (some of which are working to bring basic needs to people in war-torn countries in the global South) in order to lead a unified response. A coalition has now submitted a request for an investigation to be conducted by California public officials.

With little hope of recovering the stolen money, the group has moved under a trusted local nonprofit umbrella, Living Rivers, and is in the process of researching what it takes to become its own autonomous non-profit structure.

With our support, Peaceful Uprising will rebuild and continue to push harder in the fight against climate change. An extremely transparent organization, here’s what the group plans to do with whatever funds it can raise in 2012:

1. Continue work with the Occupy movement.
2. Continue working with organizers of upcoming escalations of the movement, bringing a voice to PeaceUp’s Core Principles.
3. Keep pushing the fight against the tar sands on the ground in Utah.
4. Continue to educate our community in Utah on the tyranny of Rio Tinto’s Kennecott through our Rio Tinto Truth campaign.
5. Continue to bring song and street theatre as tools for creating social change and building communities of resilience and solidarity.

DONATE here!

More ways to help right now:

Spread this post via Facebook & Twitter and blast it out to your networks via email.

Implore friends, family and colleagues to donate… any amount is helpful.

Brainstorm and email any creative ideas to grow the movement.

Join the group’s mailing list.

Finally, watch this video with DeChristopher, filmed in 2011 by my former colleague Kevin Gosztola, in which Peaceful Uprising’s founder explains how environmental activists are using civil disobedience techniques learned from earlier American social movements to take bold action to resist the anti-environment status quo.


Occupy Congress on #J17

In its first direct engagement with the federal government, the Occupy movement will take its collective national might to Washington, DC, on Tuesday, January 17. People are planning to mass at West Front Lawn at Capitol Hill at 9:00am, followed by a rally, teach-in, vigil, protest action and, of course, an evening Occu-Party. There are also concurrent meetings with individual members of Congress throughout the day. Organizers are encouraging people to contact their own legislators directly.

“If you would like to meet with your member(s) of Congress it is best if you request to schedule the meeting. Folks who are doing logistics for Occupy Congress are available to help, but the most powerful tool to help get a meeting is the fact that you are the constituent and the member of Congress theoretically represents you. It is best to schedule Congressional meetings sometime between 9:00AM and noon on January 17th since that is the time period specifically set aside in the Occupy Congress schedule for direct Congressional meetings.” (This nifty guide details exactly how to go about arranging appointments.)

Check out this page for details on ride-shares, charter buses, lodging and other necessary logistics as well as ways to make your voice heard whether you can get to DC or not.

Occupy Our Food

On this past December 4, food activists from across the country joined the Occupy Wall Street Farmers March for "a celebration of community power to regain control over the most basic element to human well-being: food."

The rally began at La Plaza Cultural Community Gardens where urban and rural farmers talked about the growing problems with the industrial food system and the solutions based in organic, sustainable and community based agricultural production. This was followed by a three-mile march from the East Village of Manhattan to Zuccotti Park, the birthplace of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

This video by Anthony Lappe offers an inspiring glimpse into this new movement. Check it out and then go to Food Democracy Now, a grassroots community dedicated to building a sustainable food system, to find out how you can help.

Top Ten Christmas Songs

Many thanks to everyone who read this blog in 2011. I greatly appreciate your support, insightful comments and commitment to bettering our world. I’ll get back to music about making change in 2012, but for now I hope you enjoy this alternative Christmas playlist, presented in random order. Happy holidays!


The Ramones, Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Merry Christmas Baby  

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, All I Want for Christmas

Amy Winehouse, I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus

Belle & Sebastian, Little Town of Bethlehem

Weezer, The Christmas Song

Bob Dylan, Little Drummer Boy

Bob Marley and the Wailers, White Christmas

Blink 182, I Won't Be Home for Christmas

Smashing Pumpkins, Christmastime 

Remembering Vaclav Havel

“There is only one thing I will not concede: that it might be meaningless to strive in a good cause.”   —Vaclav Havel, Summer Meditations, 1993

Vaclav Havel rose from a persecuted life as a dissident playwright hounded by secret police to a symbol of freedom as the leader of Czechoslovakia’s 1989 Velvet Revolution and then the Czech Republic’s first President. He died Sunday, after a long illness, at the age of 75.

During the Prague Spring reform movement, which ended with the 1968 Soviet invasion, Havel became chairman of the free-speech Circle of Independent Writers. The next year, his writing was banned and he moved from Prague to a rural town, where he got a job in a brewery but continued writing. His plays became famous in the West and, later, behind the Iron Curtain, and he became a symbol of the world’s political conscience as the co-founder and spokesman of the human rights movement Charter 77.

In this short clip, Lou Reed and Havel talk about music’s relationship to the politics of social change and the very prominent role artists played in Czechoslovakia’s own Velvet Revolution, including the inspiration provided by Reed’s Velvet Underground.

This 2008 interview with Sir David Frost, Havel’s last extended conversation with a Western journalist, offers insight into what he considers the enduring issues of his life.

Remembering Christopher Hitchens

When I was a Nation intern, Christopher Hitchens was, by far, our group’s favorite writer for the magazine. Beyond being a spellbindingly brilliant orator and the most prolific and incisive writer any of us had ever seen, on a very basic level he treated us well and with respect. He also treated us to numerous rounds of drinks, including one memorable group visit at 11:00 am to his apartment on Connecticut Avenue in the Adams-Morgan section of Washington, DC. He must be respected, he should be forgiven and he will be dearly missed.

Check out these very incomplete video highlights demonstrating the majesty of Hitchens’s persuasive abilities.

On the invasion of Grenada (1983):

On Socialism and Iran (1988):

On unemployment (1990):

Debating William Buckley on the 1960s (1998):

On the cult of Ayn Rand (2004):

On Mother Teresa (2006):

Debating Sean Hannity on God (2008):

On his favorite scotch (2009):

Progressive Gift Guide 2011

If you're well organized, you've already finished your holiday shopping. But if you're like me and just starting to scramble for presents, ideally those of the non-corporate variety, read on for ideas. Everything below can be purchased and shipped before Hanukah and Christmas if you act (reasonably) quickly.

Heifer International holiday gifts of livestock for impoverished families is a venerable progressive holiday tradition. In fact, Heifer virtually pioneered the idea of alternative gift-giving beginning in the mid-1990s with its “The Most Important Catalog In The World.”

The Heifer gift catalog allows you to purchase a farm animal for needy families around the world, which can act as a life-line and help them achieve a degree of sustainability. A pig can be bought for $120 (or chip in $10 to help share the cost of one), three rabbits are a bargain at $60 total, a flock of chicks costs only $20, and, if you can afford to change a family's life, a $1,500 donation provides two sheep, four goats, a heifer and two llamas.

I think of outfits like Heifer as offering the opportunity for the world's comparatively well-off to voluntarily redistribute a bit of their incomes to those that need the money much more than we do.

The pioneering political blog, FireDogLake has established an "OccupySupply" store, in which every purchase you make is matched with an identical donation of union-made gear to an Occupier-In-Need. So if you want to make a gift of a fleece, blanket, liner gloves or other cold-weather items to someone in your life, buy it through FDL and help the Occupy movement in the process.

In a similar vein, the unsung graphic artist Molly Crabapple is donating a portion of her proceeds of all holiday sales of her Occupy Wall Street art to OWS itself. This print, paying tribute to the destroyed OWS library, is my favorite of her Occupy work, but check out her affordable and impressive portfolio for yourself. A great gift for that art-history radical in your circle.

Back to the Roots was founded by Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora during their last semester at UC Berkeley in 2009. Two months away from graduation, and heading into the corporate world of investment banking, they came across the idea of growing gourmet mushrooms entirely on recycled coffee grounds. Inspired by the idea of turning waste into wages and fresh food, they experimented in Velez's fraternity kitchen, ultimately growing one test bucket of tasty oyster mushrooms. With that single bucket, some initial interest from Whole Foods and Chez Panisse and a $5,000 grant from the UC Berkeley Chancellor for social innovation, they decided to forgo their corporate futures, and instead, become full-time urban mushroom farmers. They soon created the Grow-Your-Own Mushroom Garden which lets anyone, anywhere, grow their own exotic mushrooms. Great gift for the foodie in your life that has it all.

Kate's Caring Gifts has a welcome emphasis on food, featuring things like fresh organic fruit boxes from family owned Jerzy Boyz Farms; fair-trade Kosher treats for Hannukah; the ultimate Organic Chocolate Fantasy Gift Set and the "We're all Organic Fruits and Nuts Gift Set," a cornucopia of exotic and organic nuts, preserves, butters, and dried fruit.

The Green America Green Gift Guide offers scores of links to small companies and collectives offering discounts to a wide range of products, services and opportunities. You can find everything from calendars and cards to fair-trade food and wine to wonderful wooden toys, lovely baby blankets and organic children's products. There are cosmetic cases created by the Lisu Tribe of Northern China and Burma, hand-stitched quilts from India, teddy bears from Sri Lanka, rugs from the Philippines, gift bags flush with fair-trade chocolate, and awesome coffee from Grounds for Change. (I've tried it!)

TreeHugger's extensive Low-Impact Gift Guide redefines luxury by delineating ten categories featuring more than 100 low-impact gifts, each packing a high-impact punch in terms of thoughtfulness, quality, durability, and respect for the environment. Making the guide even more useful is the editors' insistence in identifying sustainable gifts that aren't very expensive.

The Fair Indigo label was created to make much more than a fashion statement. The mission is to create high-quality, yet affordable styles without the exploitation of workers and the environment that too often goes with the territory. Every item with the Fair Indigo label is made in a facility that pays fair and meaningful wages rather than the minimum wages that dominate the industry. Find stylish clothes for men, women and children plus a wide range of gifts for less than thirty dollars.

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation's Peace Store has many meaningful gifts for friends and family, especially clothing and books conveying a message of non-violent resolution of conflict.

Finally, my boss might be mad if I don't plug The Nation's own online store, Nation Mart, run in partnership with a quirky group called the Unemployed Philosophers Guild. Nation Mart offers great gifts for activists and Nation fans. We have t-shirts with quotes from contributors Molly Ivins, Kurt Vonnegut, and James Baldwin, Nation logo merchandise and subversive buttons designed by the legendary Milton Glaser. Our popular “Thank a Teacher” pencil sets are an especially apt gift for educators or anyone else fighting to preserve public education and there's also, of course always a good old-fashioned gift sub -- the gift that keeps on giving week after week!

Please use the comments field below to recommend good gift ideas that I've neglected.

Happy Holidays!

Defeat of the XL Pipeline Is a Signal Achievement

Anyone despairing over the immense power of the corporate sector to dominate world affairs should watch this video documenting the power that grassroots protest can still muster in the face of mass injustice. To me, the successful effort to forestall the XL Keystone Pipeline was the signal achievement in a year of significant activist efforts.

Thank you to the 1,253 nonviolent, direct action heros who took arrests to underscore the fervid opposition to the ecologically devastating project and to the unprecedented coalition of ranchers, indigenous groups, environmental organizations, labor unions and students who united to stop this dangerous pipeline.


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