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Peter Rothberg | The Nation

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Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

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

Remembering Becky Tarbotton

I only met Rainforest Action Network executive director Becky Tarbotton once. But once was enough to firmly shock me out of my holiday stupor when I heard the horrible news that she had died on December 26 at the age of 39 in a freak swimming accident in Mexico while on vacation.

Brilliant, young, dynamic, female environmental visionaries are hard to find so this loss is enormous. Tarbotton, a self-proclaimed “pragmatic idealist” was widely admired for her work protecting forests, articulating a clean-energy economy and defending human rights. She was the first female executive director of RAN and a strong female voice in a movement often dominated by men.

Under Tarbotton’s leadership since she took over in 2010, RAN achieved significant victories in preserving endangered rainforests and the rights of their indigenous inhabitants. Most recently, Tarbotton spearheaded the most significant agreement in the history of the organization: a landmark policy by entertainment giant, Disney, that’s set to transform everything about the way the company purchases and uses paper.

“Becky was an emerging star who was galvanizing an ever-growing movement of people demanding environment and social change. She believed that to protect forests and our communities we must protect our climate, and to protect our climate we must protect the forests,” said Nell Greenberg, spokesperson for the Rainforest Action Network. “RAN is heartbroken by our loss of Becky, but we are committed to continuing the course that she set for us. Focusing on our core purpose of protecting forests, moving the country off of fossil fuels and defending human rights through bold, effective, and innovative environmental corporate campaigns.”

Tarbotton is survived by her husband, Mateo Williford; her brothers Jesse and Cameron Tarbotton, and her mother, Mary Tarbotton, of Vancouver, BC. Her ashes will be scattered off of Hornby Island in British Columbia where her family owns a cabin and where she spent much time. Public memorial services will be held in San Francisco and in Vancouver. Dates are still to be determined.

RAN has set up a tribute page to help memorialize their fallen leader. This is a place to celebrate Tarbotton’s enormous contributions and share memories and feelings. All voices are welcome. And for those who wish to support Tarbotton’s ongoing vision for RAN, consider a donation in her memory.

Gift Guide 2012

If you’re well organized, you’ve already finished your holiday shopping. But if, like me, you’re just starting to scramble for presents, ideally those of the non-corporate variety, read on for ideas. (That is, If you can’t get away with a Buy Nothing Christmas which might be worth pitching to your friends and family.)

Heifer International holiday gifts of livestock for impoverished families is a venerable progressive holiday tradition. Heifer virtually pioneered the idea of alternative gift-giving in the early 1990s with its The Most Important Catalog In The World and has become a popular way for parents to impart some of the giving spirit to children awash in too many presents. The Heifer gift catalog allows you to purchase a farm animal for needy families around the world, which can 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 Sustainable Gifts Catalog is a project of Outreach International, a humanitarian organization currently working in thirteen impoverished countries around the world, assisting hundreds of thousands of children, women and men to overcome the effects of poverty each year. All gifts in the catalog grew out of the group's on-the-ground-projects and all proceeds go right back into funding the organization’s poverty-eradication efforts.

Back to the Roots was founded by Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora in 2009 during their last semester at UC Berkeley. Two months away from graduation, and heading into the world of investment banking, they came across the idea of growing gourmet mushrooms with recycled coffee grounds. Inspired by the idea of turning waste into fresh food, they experimented in Velez’s fraternity kitchen, ultimately growing one test bucket of very 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. (Order by December 17 to receive the kit before Christmas.)

Stark Thrist is a wine with a mission. A small company with one core product, each Stark Thrist purchase you make supports the nonprofit WaterAid’s vital mission to bring clean drinking water to those without. And there’s no compromise on the quality of the vino. Stark Thirst sources the best-quality grapes from vineyards that are committed to sustainable and organic practices. The wine is bottled in recycled glass bottles remade in the US, the aluminum screw caps are recyclable and the wine, a crisp, dry Sonoma County Chardonnay, is first-rate.

Kate’s Caring Gifts has a welcome emphasis on food, featuring things like organic fruit baskets from family owned Jerzy Boyz Farms; fair-trade Kosher treats for Hannukah; the very merry vegan basket, 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 Gift Guide offers links to small companies and collectives offering discounts to a wide range of products, services and opportunities. You can find calendars, cards, fair-trade food and wine, wooden toys, baby blankets, organic children’s products and much more. Check out 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 Green Gift Guide redefines luxury by delineating ten categories featuring more than 100 low-impact, thoughtfully curated gifts, each paying careful attention to quality, durability and respect for the environment.

For the musically inclined, the Citizens Band’s recent release, Grab A Root and Growl, is a musical call to action featuring sixteen tracks of classic interpretations and original songs in which the band declares war on apathy, and seeks to remind the country why democracy matters. The Citizens Band is donating a healthy portion of the profits to the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, a nonprofit association of community-based, free medical clinics in the US that serve Americans with little or no health insurance, while also performing public policy advocacy. (Click here to donate directly to NAFC.)

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. There are shirts with quotes from legendary Nation contributors like Kurt Vonnegut, James Baldwin and Molly Ivins, Nation logo merchandise, a mug featuring poems by the inimitable Calvin Trillin and subversive buttons and shirts designed by Milton Glaser. The popular “Thank a Teacher” pencil sets are an appropriate gift for educators or anyone else fighting to preserve public education. There’s also, of course, always a good old-fashioned Nation gift subscription — the gift that keeps on giving week after week!

Happy Holidays!

Pressuring Publix

Two weeks ago, as families across the US gathered for Thanksgiving, the Campaign for Fair Food released a powerful video highlighting the unconscionable poverty of our nation's farmworkers and calling on Publix to join the Fair Food Program—a growing partnership between farmworkers, growers, consumers, and retail food corporations. (Details here.)

The video reflected on a food system that marginalizes the very people who labor to produce our nation’s bounty, and on a supermarket industry that is turning its back on the first real solution in decades to the longterm crisis of farmworker poverty before concluding on an optimistic note, underscoring the common humanity uniting farmworkers and consumers in the campaign for fair food. “A Tale of Two Holidays” generated such strong interest and positive feedback that the savvy strategists at the CFF have re-cut it for a second run for a new holiday.

Watch and share the video, then add your name to this open letter to Publix imploring the supermarket giant to join eleven major food retailers including McDonald’s, Whole Foods and Chipotle in the Fair Food Program. It would require only a small increase in the price it pays for tomatoes, compliance with a new Code of Conduct and the implementation of a system of Health and Safety volunteers on every farm to give workers a structured voice in the their work environment. Even if you throw out morality, the PR benefit could be invaluable.

The Fair Food Program is viable, it’s working and, with our help, it could eventually fulfill its enormous promise as an unprecedented collaborative model for farm-labor justice.

Celebrate!

I’m slowly starting to realize that the election results were likely the best (i.e., most progressive) I've seen in my lifetime, certainly the best in my voting life. Now, of course, the real work starts. Without a strong left grassroots, we know there's no chance the president and his party will enact a progressive agenda on their own. But today is a time to celebrate the repudiation of a party of hysterical, deeply misinformed, mendacious white men.

Five Songs for Election Day

It’s going to be a long day. Here are some songs to help you through it. Please use the comments field below to let me know what I've missed.

1. Be Careful How You Vote, Sunnyland Slim

2. Christ for President, Billy Bragg & Wilco

3. I Swung the Election, Jack Teagarden

4. Electioneering, Radiohead

5. Presidential Election Blues, Mick Jagger & Jeff Beck

Bonus 2012 Track: Mutt Romney Blues, Ry Cooder

Don't Forget Haiti

On Tuesday, I posted some suggestions for how people could help the victims of Hurricane Sandy here in the United States. I neglected to mention the horrific suffering in impoverished Haiti, which was pummeled by Sandy’s devastating trajectory before she hit US shores.

Three days of fierce rain and wind flooded about 100 camps where some 325,000 people, still homeless from the 2010 earthquake, continue to live. Tents and other makeshift shelters were inundated by water, poorly maintained latrines overflowed, stored food was ruined and garbage and waste were strewn everywhere.

The storm also ravaged the Haitian countryside, massively destroying crops, which will likely send food prices skyrocketing, making it even more difficult for Haitians who are already struggling to feed their families. Jean Debalio Jean-Jacques, Head of the Department of Agriculture, estimates that Sandy destroyed 70 percent of crops in southern Haiti and caused significant livestock losses. Johan Peleman, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ in Haiti, said that “there are approximately 1.2 million people who are facing food insecurity in the country.”

As the massive relief and recovery effort forges ahead in the US, the stalwart NGO the International Rescue Committee is acting fast in Haiti, where hundreds of thousands of people still living in tent camps are in desperate need of help.

The IRC has been on the ground doing critical work in Haiti since the devastating January, 2010 earthquake destroyed huge swathes of the country. In the last few days, with limited resources, the organization has provided emergency kits with shelter materials and hygiene items to 4,200 victims of the storm and distributions continue apace.

Donate now to support relief efforts in Haiti focused on the most vulnerable populations and check out and share this list of non-financial ways you can support the IRC’s work.

How to Help the Victims of Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast late Monday and the record storm surge flooded towns up and down the coast; millions are without power and at least twenty-nine people in fifteen US states have been killed.

If you’d like to help, what’s needed most is money, blood and volunteer labor. It’s best not to donate things—after disasters nonprofits are typically bogged down with more stuff than they can process. Contribute money to a large organization that can handle the funds, like the Red Cross (which operates emergency shelters) or the Humane Society (which cares for stranded pets) and let them know it’s specifically for Sandy relief.

In New York City, recovery efforts are being coordinated by Occupy NYC and community organizations on the ground. You can volunteer time and money as well as ask for help.

In Brooklyn, volunteers are needed at several evacuation shelters near Park Slope.

New York Cares is signing up volunteers interested in being part of the relief response. They’ll have more details about specific relief efforts soon.

Nationally, Feeding America is taking donations for food, water, and other supplies for people throughout the affected area.

FEMA has a list of charitable organizations accepting donations in all the states hit hard.

Watch this space for updates and please use the comments field to recommend other relief efforts, especally in non-US countries, worth supporting.

And, after you make a donation to disaster relief, join 350.org in connecting the dots and calling on Big Oil to do the same by signing an open letter asking energy corporations to take the millions of dollars they’re spending to buy climate silence this election and donate it to climate relief instead.

Paul Wellstone's Legacy

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the terribly tragic and untimely death of Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife, Sheila, and their daughter, Marcia. Wellstone was a relentless champion of social justice and while his death, as Katrina vanden Heuvel’s tribute makes clear, was an enormous loss, his rich legacy remains vibrant and vital.

Wellstone’s political career began by organizing college students and low-income women to fight for anti-poverty measures, and mobilizing farmers to resist the efforts of utility companies to install power lines on their land. In his first campaign, he challenged a sitting Republican senator, Rudy Boschwitz, who outspent him seven to one. Nonetheless, Wellstone stormed across the state in a green bus, engaging young people and showing that, sometimes, people power and true organizing really can trump money.

So, it’s entirely fitting that the organization that bears his name and most forthrightly carries forward his legacy, Wellstone Action, isn’t a think tank, a PAC or an academic program but rather an activist training ground, a place not just to articulate progressive values but to do the hard organizing work that really makes a difference.

The best way to honor Wellstone’s legacy is to support Wellstone Action. Find out about its programs today.

Food MythBusters

Did you know that today is National Food Day? Created by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the goal is to strengthen the anti-corporate food movement, to bolster the cause of sustainability, and to expose and indict the American food system’s daily diet of salty, processed packaged foods, high-calorie sugary drinks, and fatty grain-fed factory-farmed meat.

A great way to start treating food with the respect it deserves is to check out Food Mythbusters, the brainchild of author, activist and sometime Nation writer Anna Lappé. Offering a wealth of online resources, the project seeks to expose the real stories behind the foods we eat and urge action on key food battles. It’s essentially a one-stop shop where your questions about food are answered through short films, Q&As with experts and links to essential research.

To wit:

The most urgent upcoming battle will take place in California on November 6 when the state votes on Proposition 37, which would ban the marketing of GE-tainted foods as “natural” and require Genetically Engineered foods to be labeled as such. Recent polls show a majority siding with the proposition but Monsanto, Big Ag, and the rest of the pesticide and junk-food manufacturers began flooding the California airwaves on October 1 with one million dollars a day in deceptive TV and radio ads, relentless messaging that will continue through the election.

Here’s how you can help: If you live in California, join massive leafleting campaigns at grocery stores over the next three weeks aimed at countering the corporate PR blitz. Sign up here. If you live outside California, volunteer for a national phone bank to call millions of California voters.

Meanwhile, everyone should share info about this new initiative, sign up for Food Mythbusters’s new email alerts and check back regularly at foodmyths.org.

Lip-Syncing Ladies Against Romney

In the 2008 election, 60 percent of voters were women. Despite this, female legislators comprise only 16 percent of Congress while women in all fields earn only seventy cents to each dollar men make. This year, pollsters are estimating that 10 million more women than men will vote in the upcoming election.

Given the respective domestic agendas of the two candidates, the gender demographics of this election should make it an easy race for the incumbent. Mitt Romney and the Republican Party are hostile to reproductive rights. Romney did not support equal pay for women (the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act). Romney has vowed to defund Planned Parenthood. Romney has vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Romney doesn't want healthcare to cover birth control.

To make this gender gap even clearer, the über-talented filmmaker/producer/musician Sarah Sophie Flicker asked some of her fabulous female friends, including Alexa Chung, Lena Dunham, Carrie Brownstein, Tavi Gevinson, Zoe Kravitz and Natasha Lyonne, to do an impassioned lip-sync to Lesley Gore's proto-feminist anthem, “You Don't Own Me,” creating what has to be the hippest election PSA ever.

At the end of the video, Gore, the former 1960s teen idol, now 66, says, “It’s hard for me to believe but we’re still fighting for the same things we were then. Yes, ladies, we’ve got to come together and get out there and vote and protect our bodies. They’re ours. Please vote.”

 

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