Caught in the Web: Since September 11, many of us have remained glued to our television sets in growing horror — not only at the devastation but at the clamor for a war of revenge and the media’s rush to sell us that war. Yet when we shut off the TV and log on to the Internet, a very different world of thoughtful inquiry and deep soul-searching emerges. San Francisco Afghan-American writer Tamim Ansary’s quick e-mail response (now posted at www.salon.com/news/feature/2001/09/14/afghanistan/) was forwarded from friend to friend so widely that by the weekend he had become a celebrity. Doctor-turned-spiritual-teacher Deepak Chopra’s response (www.yourwriters.com/our_writers_and_the_national_cri.htm) showed up again and again in forwarded messages, as did historian Howard Zinn’s comments (www.progressive.org/webex/wxzinn091401.html). If the frequency at which these messages pops up in your e-mail constitutes some sort of grassroots poll, the will of the people is not exactly what it looks like on TV. Zinn says of our political leaders’ first reactions: “They have learned nothing, absolutely nothing, from the history of the 20th century.” Ansary points out that a military response would play into bin Laden’s plan for a world war between Islam and the West. Chopra begs us to notice the “deep wound at the heart of humanity,” and wonders, “If all of us are wounded, will revenge work?”Meanwhile, dozens of Internet sites provide ongoing news of more heartening scope than that found in the corporate media. Here’s a sampling:
www.alternet.org — AlterNet provides an index of stories published in many alternative venues.
www.commondreams.org–the nonprofit Common Dreams News Center is both broadly progressive and decidedly hopeful.
www.indymedia.org — The Independent Media Center includes information on Bay Area antiwar events.
www.counterpunch.org — This self-described “muck-raking newsletter” focuses on “the stories the corporate press never prints.”
www.tompaine.com — A nonprofit Web-based journal of opinion calmly considers “ideas overlooked by mainstream media.”
After shock comes the desire for action. The Friends Committee on National Legislation (www.fcnl.org), “A Quaker Lobby in the Public Interest,” offers easy-to-send e-mail letters to public officials. There’s a petition to sign at www.moveon.org/justice/, and more action-oriented ideas at www.globalexchange.org. San Francisco-based Working Assets, www.workingforchange.com, includes up-to-date possibilities. A religious initiative at Sojourner magazine (www.sojo.net) already has thousands of signatures of clergy — Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist. And the International Action Center founded by former Attorney General Ramsey Clark reports on its new antiwar coalition, ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) (www.iacenter.org). The only thing we haven’t found yet is a source for that great new bumper sticker — “Barbara Lee Voted for Me.”
Dont kill your television … yet. Documentarian Stephen Talbot is about to release his newest project, The Celebrity and the City, a portrait of how Mayor Jerry Brown’s starpower has raised the profile of Oakland politics. Although the program notes that accompany advance copies of the documentary are rife with references to Brown’s celeb status, including his former relationship with Linda Ronstadt, his work with Mother Teresa, and a quote from City Manager Robert Bobb saying “Traveling with Jerry, it’s like traveling with a rock star,” the documentary itself is really less about Brown’s famousness and more of a recap of timely Oakland issues and the mayor’s take on them — the Riders case, downtown redevelopment and gentrification, the opening of the Oakland Military Institute, the way the police are dealing with “the sideshow,” or the huge groups of people who gather on Oakland streets at night to cruise, play loud music, and do doughnuts. It also contains some truly choice moments that will no doubt be savored by veteran Oakland watchers: NAACP president Shannon Reeves straightening the mayor’s tie, developer John Protopappas showing up at a construction site only to find that the crew had already gone home by 3:10 in the afternoon, Brown describing his position on the city’s increasingly tense landlord/tenant relationships as one of “agnosticism,” a salesman for a live/work loft development practicing his pitch on a passing homeless man as he bicycles by, dragging a shopping cart full of trash bags. The Celebrity and the City airs on KQED television at 9:00 p.m. on October 5, and repeats at 6:00 p.m. on October 7.
Apocalypse on-screen: From anti-nuke group Tri-Valley Cares comes a sobering game called “Thwartnuke 1.0,” which pits you, in the form of Albert Einstein, against Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility, in the form of a puce crater-pocked planet. The mission: to thwart B61-11 and B83 nuclear bombs heading toward planet Earth by shooting paper cranes at them, thus turning them into harmless sunflowers. The game features an all-star cast of characters, including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Sen. Pete Dominici, and LLNL Director Bruce Tarter, the smiling visages of whom pop up and rain down on Earth along with the warheads (extra points if you pop one of them in the kisser with a paper crane). Disturbingly, the game only lasts a matter of seconds — let one paper crane miss its target, and — game over — the Earth suddenly turns into a giant fireball. Get it at www.igc.org/tvc.
For two days last week, the fifth floor of Berkeley City Hall — where the mayor and City Council have their offices — was armed with more than political rhetoric. A gun-toting cop stood guard after Mayor Shirley Dean received dozens of threatening phone calls over the city’s ill-advised order that firefighters remove American flags from their trucks. Dean started getting the phone threats after right-wing radio host G. Gordon Liddy urged his listeners to call and berate the mayor for her unpatriotic order. “What we got were a number of nasty calls,” says Dean’s chief of staff, Jennifer Drapeau, “saying, you should be blown up, you should have been in the World Trade Center, you don’t deserve to live.’ After a few days of getting those calls, you get worn down. The staff was quite shaken.” In order to ease their anxiety, Drapeau asked City Manager Weldon Rucker to bring a cop over to keep an eye on things.The irony, of course, is that Dean never ordered the removal of the flags. That was Rucker and Fire Chief Reg Garcia’s brilliant idea. Dean actually supported the firefighters who wanted to brandish Old Glory. Nonetheless, as mayor of the People’s Republic, Dean got the blame from Liddy and Rush Limbaugh.
Drapeau says that things have calmed down and the cop has returned to his normal duties. Councilwoman Betty Olds says she’s glad the cop is back out protecting the streets and not the politicians. Besides, she says, “I’m not going to [work] in an armed camp.”_Much is made in the press about the inability of the Berkeley City Council to agree on anything. But last week the council voted unanimously to pass a resolution commending Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) for her refusal to back the President’s war on terrorism. But upon closer inspection, the council’s unanimity was more fragile than most observers realized. Originally, the language presented by councilmembers Mim Hawley and Maudelle Shirek commended Lee for her “wise and courageous” vote. But a few members who disagreed with Lee’s vote objected to the word “wise,” and so Hawley quietly removed the phrase before the meeting. Thus, the council ultimately only commended Lee for being “courageous.”
“Most people recognize she has taken a lot of heat for her vote,” explains Councilmember Polly Armstrong, “so calling it courageous’ was not a stretch. But if you didn’t agree with the vote, you didn’t necessarily think it was wise.”_As the US turns its attention to Afghanistan, its sudden, uneasy ally Pakistan has found itself caught in a sitzkrieg that may last for years. Small wonder, then, that a cursory reading of letters to the editor of the Dawn, Pakistan’s largest English-language daily newspaper, reflects that anxiety. “My country is now one of those banana republics which stand up when they are asked to stand up and sit down when they are asked to sit down,” wrote Khurshid Anwer on September 28. “The country of the Quaid has now become Bush Country.’ Our masters are preparing to flatten a neighboring Muslim country, change around its government at will, and here we are gleefully counting the goodies, in cash and kind.”