On Walden Politics

I’m signing the petition that is currently circulating in Walden, Vermont that calls for a reconsideration of the school’s budget vote that passed by a very narrow margin of 116-113 on Town Meeting Day.

Frankly, I am not all that upset with the budget itself – but that could be because after last year’s initially proposed 17% hike anything looks more reasonable in comparison. The school board seemed to be getting the message – after five votes – that the people of Walden are beyond the point of simply struggling over the ever-increasing tax burden.

But while the school board was telling us with words that they were “hearing” the voters, the Town Clerk, Lina Smith, and the School Board Chair, Judy Clifford, pushed forward a proposal to make it harder for the voters of Walden to be heard. Specifically, they proposed to increase the percentage of voters needed to call for a reconsideration vote from 5% of the electorate to 20%, a huge increase.

The “reconsideration vote” was the tool used last year by the Walden voters when successfully forcing the school board to cut their enormous budget increase.

At Town Meeting, however, they were met with stiff opposition from the floor and quickly offered a compromise seeking an increase to 10%. It worked (for them), as the 70-or-so voters who were still hanging around after four and half hours passed it.

“Take that!” was the clear message. But while celebrating this obvious attempt to make democracy a whole lot harder for the voters, they failed to realize that they were taking one, big, menacing swing at the hornet’s nest that be the Walden voters – especially when they’re feeling pushed around.

Before this vote, the cantankerous mood that had settled on the town during last year’s five acrimonious votes was mellowing. People on both sides were more than a bit fatigued by it all. Moreover, the school board said it was listening and the voters seemed willing to trust them based on a much, much lower increase in this year’s budget.

Like I said, then they took a swing at the hornet’s nest. So here we go again.

I’m signing the petition that seeks a reconsideration of the school budget vote as a protest of this collaboration between the town clerk and school board chair. And, next year, I look forward to working with voters to petition the school board to reinstate the 5% reconsideration threshold.

Oh Walden.

Walden, Vermont will be celebrating Town Meeting Day tomorrow by considering a proposal that would seriously undermine democratic participation: raising the percentage of voters needed to reconsider a vote from 5% to 20%. It’s clearly a kindergarten-like payback for the school budget fights last year, where upwards of 65% of the voters said “no, no, no” in a series of re-votes before the school board started to listen. Oh wait, are they saying “no”?

But now – after reducing the budget, as requested by 65% of the voters – the school board is both claiming that they are “listening” AND trying to make it harder for the citizens to speak in the future. Can you hear me now?

The 5% of registered voters needed for a recall vote to happen is a long, long Vermont tradition. It’s been in Walden’s charter for generations and generations. And it’s a good threshold. It takes a fair amount of work to get 5% of the voting population to put their names on a public petition to call for a reconsideration of a vote already approved by their fellow neighbors. In Walden, that meant getting nearly 40 signatures last year – in a town with no store, no post office and no high school. Like I said, it takes some effort.

This is clearly an effort fueled by the frustration of the school board. They proposed a budget increase of more than 15% and then sleepily tip-toed to a town meeting vote that squeaked by with only a few votes to spare amongst the mere 160-or-something votes out of our town’s total 600+ registered voters.

And then 5% of the voters asked for a reconsideration, resulting in votes of vast majorities (65% or so) saying no, no, no to the radical increases.

Finally, the school board decided to listen. And they chopped the budget to a level that was – by vote – congruent with the Walden population.

And then they told us how they “heard” us. And they told us how they were “listening.”

And then they put forward a change in their bylaws that would make it harder for these kinds of efforts to occur again. Here’s the board’s proposed question to the voters attending its next meeting at Walden’s Town Meeting:

“Shall the Walden School District increase the percentage of voters required on a petition for a reconsideration or rescission from 5% to 20%?”

If that’s not a big FU to the voters, I’m not sure what else is.

But, they’re listening, remember?

This whole effort is about trying to make it a lot harder to question their decisions and for the school board to be able to identify people who oppose them – a powerful tool in the world of small-town politics.

It’s sad, really.

Please, if you’re a Walden voter and you attend Town Meeting: Vote “No” on the roadblocks to democracy.

And to the Walden voters who won’t be attending Town Meeting, stay tuned for a re-vote.

I love you.

Outstayed. As in:
You are welcome.

It’s a figure of speech.
A ballerina, for sure.

This volume. Right here.
In the now, me and you.

I love you.

And your technology.
So smooth.

You wear it well.

It’s like hardly knowing it’s you.

Winter 2013.

The man at the corner store seems tired.
All the people running corner stores seem tired.

Even Vermont winters become stale.

Poor souls, the cold draft from everyone,
– in and out — for months,
barely paying for the heat loss.

Yeah, he’s tired. They’re all tired.

Even the customers are tired.
It’s just tiring sometimes.

It’s March in Vermont.
And I’m tired too.

Put a Label on It

Oh people. I’m sorry. I left the room again and forgot about your lingering persistence. Or is it your persistence in lingering?

I have been busy perfecting the fine – and all-too-misunderstood – art of split-personality existence (SPE). I have been this and I have been that. And I have, at all times, also taken my duties as a father of a soon-to-be-fourteen-year-old very, very seriously (read: really, ANOTHER horse ride). I am a team player, you know.

But you have other places to go if you want something from me. Go. Find them.

As for this old cabin, make me an offer.

Dinner.

Michelle Obama is in Vermont today. For $5000, people can have dinner with her. I was going to go but then I remembered things like the war(s), the economy, Guantanamo, tax-breaks for the wealthy, the Patriot (sic) Act and Wall Street handouts. Oh yeah, and there was also the lack of an extra $5000. Maybe next time.

This Just In.

Whoa, whoa, whoa.

Back the fuck up.

That’s better.

Now stay there. Real still.

Perfect.

Hold it. Hold it.

There. Right there.

You’ve got it.

Now go. Run with it.

Do whatever the hell you want with it.

Just stop being an asshole.

On Schwan’s & the Irradiation of Filth.

Okay, the weirdness of food safety activism is coming back to me. As in, realizing the kind of dreadful food that is being irradiated and then actually calling on people to avoid it because it’s being treated with radiation. Um, people, you shouldn’t be eating this dreck in the first place.

It reminds me of when we learned many years ago that the Hormel Corporation was thinking about irradiating SPAM. So what? was my first thought. How much worse can a little radiation make its dreadful contents? But a campaign is a campaign and, more importantly, more carcinogens in SPAM are still more carcinogens in SPAM. We won’t bother with the nutritional arguments here.

Well, it’s déjà vu all over again here. Because my new irradiation research has revealed that one of the biggest supporters of meat irradiation in the U.S. is Schwan’s, the home-delivery company whose yellow trucks should be familiar to anyone who’s spent time in the suburbs.

Let’s be clear: Schwan’s food equals dreck. Period. End of story.

So, in that case, it’s not surprising that Schwan’s would see a need for a little radiation-cover-up. Imagine, for example, where their beef comes from? Hint: The largest and most industrial (read: cheap and filthy) sources. And then imagine the factories where tens of thousands of pounds of this fecal matter-riddled beef gets processed into the pre-formed patties and other products that should very loosely be considered “meat” in the first place.

It’s a recipe for disaster (pun intended).

But for corporations like Schwan’s, the solution to their dirty food problems isn’t to clean it up. Hardly. Instead, they reach for one toxic-quick-fix after another that only makes the underlying problem (dirty food) worse.

They try more antibiotics. They try chemical rinses. And now, they’re trying irradiation. Worse, they’re employing all these gimmicks on the same hamburger patties. Hmm, I wonder what irradiated antibiotics and chemical rinses taste like? More importantly, I wonder what they do to your health? No one knows, because the Food & Drug Administration has never bothered to ask or study or, apparently, care.

But let’s get back to the “radiation-cover-up” theme. It’s the marketing Achilles heel of the technology. Corporations employing irradiation are doing so because they know they’ve got a filthy product. In the case of meat, the filth is fecal matter. But they are counting on their consumers to be so uninterested in the contents of what they eat that they won’t care that irradiated fecal matter is still…well…fecal matter. Yum.

While avoiding Schwan’s foods should be one of the easiest things to do, avoiding the precedent of Schwan’s use of irradiation is a different matter. By contracting with irradiation corporations, Schwan’s is keeping the technology alive, endorsing the further industrialization of the food supply, and stymieing critical efforts to move the food supply in a safer and saner direction.

Stay tuned.

The State of Things

Different around here, huh? New look and all. And content! Well, I guess I shouldn’t push it.

Here’s the deal: I’m working on another site right now. I’ll give you the url when it’s ready. But it involves a semi-revival of my previous life: Food & Water. Yeah, the organization.

My return was inspired – if going backwards in your life can be an “inspiring” move – by some serendipity.

Last April marked the 15-year-anniversary of the death of my mentor, Dr. Wally Burnstein. His death rocked my world. For nearly ten years, Wally and I created and ran a kick-ass activist organization – Food & Water – that nearly-single-handedly stopped food irradiation and put the fear of boycotts in the hearts and minds of many corporate food honchos. Better yet, we had a blast doing it.

But cancer claimed Wally in 1996. And with him – for me and many others – went the joy of activism. And activism without joy cannot succeed. It can only be avoided.

Oh sure, I’ve had my fun (thanks, Boots), but it’s been far from organized and consistent. Worse, it hasn’t paid. And there is nothing wrong with a good activist job as long as the activist with the job knows that the top priority is to succeed to the extent that your job is no longer necessary. Hint: You are not an institution. And if thoughts of your 501(k) or a dinner-party invitation trump your desire to stick your metaphorical finger in your opponent’s eye…well….get another job. Or cause.

Wally and I thought we had organized ourselves out of existence shortly before his death. We had successfully defeated fruit and vegetable irradiation, chicken irradiation and meat irradiation, leaving many corporate food giants like Perdue, Hormel and Kentucky Fried Chicken humbled by their encounters with us.

Done, we thought. Let’s move on.

I did what Wally always wanted to: I moved to the great woods of the Northeast and pursued the joys of homesteading. A successful activist life, Wally counseled, must also be rooted in the hopes and possibilities beyond what you are fighting against.

If unhealthy food is what you’re against, demonstrate a path to healthy food. And live it. And be it. And, for crying out loud, find joy in it. Otherwise, shut up about it.

I apparently found too much joy in it of late – the homesteading part, that is. Because it dwarfed my activism. Which leads me to: now.

A week or so ago I got an inquiry from a European journalist working on an article about food irradiation. The article was obviously precipitated by the E.coli crisis that has gripped the region. It happens fairly frequently: E.coli outbreak = calls for irradiation = calls for a comment about why I would oppose a technology that could save death, pain, and destruction.

But this time it was different. Because this time it was the “worst” case of E.coli contamination ever. And it is, indeed, terrible. Thousands of people have become seriously ill from the novel germ with the not-so-novel prefix: E.coli.

And then another call came. And then a few emails. And then a letter in the mail (imagine that?), all wondering the same thing: Where’s Food & Water on this?

The answer: We’re here. And we’re ready.

But, be warned, I have a keen sense for joy. I’m not getting in the ring with you nuclear and industrial food fools without a very true commitment to laugh my ass off while I kick yours.

It’s not personal. It’s just what I believe in.

Game: On.

Join me, friends.

Food Irradiation: Blast from the Past

Yep. Food irradiation is in the news again. Here’s an advertisement we ran in the New York Times in 1996 as part of our anti-irradiation campaign.