a boots-on-the-ground view of the change that's a-foot

Posts Tagged ‘activism’

Music Matters

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

What came first – the music or the muse?

Since the sixties and perhaps earlier, music has been linked to revolution, counterculture, the dawning of a new age. Unlike Hollywood celebrities, musicians are also referred to as artists and you know what they say, Make Love Art. Not War. Todays musical artists are no less restless, enraged and willing to speak and sing out for Change.

Grist lists 15 Green Musicians of 2007 as: Pearl Jam, The Root, Sarah Harmer, Green Day, Jack Johnson, Thom Yorke, Willie Nelson, KT Turnstall, Guster, Perry Farrell, Sheryl Crow, Bare Naked Ladies, Cloud Cult, Bonnie Raitt, Moby. How and why? Go here. This list is only a short version of the many performers playing a new green tune. In fact, late in 2007, Peter Garrett, the former lead singer of rock group Midnight Oil, was named Australia’s environmental minister.

Live Earth spotlighted this voice for change and perhaps tipped other artists into a greener arena. When you live by using your voice, your gift and your passion, it’s only a matter of time before the [CFL] light bulb turns on.

Peace, Love and Rock ‘n Roll.

Epilogue: Above is a post i wrote in 2008. I had just tapped into the idea of how much “Music Matters”. Live Earth had just happened. More and more artists were arriving on the music scene all over the world. Older mainstream artists were resurfacing (some straight out of rehab) with the same passion and energy to share and show the world.

There are still more local music shows and festivals. There is more acceptance and integration of different styles and musical genres. What I think is different is that some of the rage has been transformed to a more authentic love and lightness. Kind of a surrender to the journey. Although the world needed and still needs practical measures to bring change and healing, the music seemed to become the place to go to refuel the sacred activist within. And, I know i needed refueling.

As I said back then, this is not new phenomenon. But it is interesting that what I thought was a peak in the musical world then has risen to higher and more meaningful depths 2 years later. We continue to seek what is transformational – looking for the creative energy in the midst of chaos.

All I can say is thank the Universe.

Need Some Traction? — Meet-ups Ignite Change

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

I’m enthralled by the way people are coming together. It gives me hope for the future and reminds me to share the love and share what’s new with the people around you.

Here’s a group that formed a couple years ago in my area: = “a social network of left-leaning 20- and 30-somethings who are spicing up progressive activism by throwing fun, issue-based events that inform, inspire and connect us with other savvy Gen X & Yers.” They call themselves “Tractivists” and that’s just the start of the fun.

They host really fun socially-minded, events big and small – and they’re getting more creative about it all the time. Here’s an example – a potluck-“turned freezer stock-up party”:

It works like this: You bring a big dish to share (like a soup or casserole), the recipe, and empty tupperware containers. You taste lots of other dishes made by fellow Tractivists and take home the ones you want, along with the recipes. (We’ll have PB&J to supplement the tasting so you don’t go home hungry.) The next time you’re too busy or tired to cook, voila! you have healthy, homemade options right in your freezer.

Homemade means healthier regardless, but everyone is encouraged to use sustainably-grown ingredients when possible. Add your own twist – a kombucha brew-how and share? – and the possibilities are endless.

In another part of the country, a friend told me about a group he meets with called, “Socrates Cafe”. They get together to discuss a variety of topics, such as the pros and cons of technology over the last 50 years, and other bigger, broader topics – something like,  “What is LOVE?”

Sure, we can sit on the WWW for hours soaking up information, but bringing faces, voices and ideas together is where the real inspiration lives.

Cyber-Shopping Decreases Energy Use

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I’m finally coming into holiday spirit this year and thinking about the consumables and thrift finds for friends and family – it’s more fun than ever to holiday shop when the giving is local and light on the planet.

I don’t buy much new stuff, but when I do, I’ve always liked online shopping. It’s fast and easy. However, I’ve been nagged by the thought that my new stuff has to travel many miles to find me and I can’t say, “I don’t need a bag” when checking out, like I would at a local store. I need to know, by the bottom line, is online shopping more eco-responsible than shopping at retail stores?

Much to my relief and surprise, I’ve heard some good news through Ideal Bite and Cool-Companies. A report by the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions, a non-profit organization that helps companies and public institutions reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, show that internet shopping has significantly decreased energy demand since 1998 and could have an even larger impact on energy and resource savings into the future.

Despite their size, e-commerce warehouses use 1/16th of the energy used to operate retail stores. More e-commerce equals less need for retail space and the resources used to build and maintain it. This, of course, means saving open space and trees through both less construction and the decrease in paper use – a savings of as much as 2.7 million tons of paper per year. What about the environmental costs of shipping? More good news: ground shipping uses 1/10 the energy of driving yourself to the mall and even shipping 10 pounds of packages by air, uses 40% less fuel than the same purchase made by car.
Of course, all these energy savings means less power plants and less greenhouse gas pollution. And less driving and shopping means more free time for us. It’s becoming obvious that the balance of our future depends on our willingness to change our habits and perspective. It can be a win-win for our lives, our environment and the economy. Now that’s something to celebrate.

Shades of Green – Catalystic Living

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

We all know the green-speak of the times. It’s a user-friendly way of denoting our different lifestyles and commitments to the environment. It starts in one way or another – recycling, reusing, turning off the lights, turning down the heat, rethinking travel and commuting habits – but what keeps many of us strolling, washing or even dashing down the path towards more intensive methods of conservation?

It depends on your personality, making every path worthwhile and illuminating. For the analytical minds, it comes down to simple logic. Others are watching the savings of pennies and dollars add up. For parents, it’s a futuristic approach. Yuppies boil it down to “style” and attitude, the x-ers may find their greeness in a natural instinct to revolutionize while we pagans keep coming back to mama earth – the most literal treehuggers.

Then there’s the fun and happiness which seeps and creeps stealthily into your life when you start becoming more conscious, more aware, more deliberate in your life and relationships. That’s the one that keeps me going and growing, keeps me excited and hopeful for the future. And, most all of the changes I’ve made have brought more health to my body and mind – I feel strong, capable and “awake” and there’s not much else like that for helping you move through all parts of life – even the difficult ones.

So, don’t keep your deep dark green life to yourself – share the bliss! While at risk of being called, extreme or “carborexic”, most likely, you will inspire and motivate those around you. David Gershon, the author of “Low Carbon Diet” and founder of the Empowerment Institute says what we are doing “is fantastic, needed and catalytic.” We can show help others dwell in possibilities.

X-Stream Cleanup – Update on Chad Pregracke and Living Land & Waters

Friday, September 19th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

It’s a time of Heroes – courageous, creative and determined And, man, do we need them. Fortunately, they are stepping up come all walks of life artists, musicians, designers, writers, photographers, athletes, small farmers, business owners, students, you’ll even find them in Hollywood. Every one of them moves and inspires me. Some of them bring tears to my eyes.

That was the case when reading the story of Chad Pregracke, one dedicated river keeper dude. About 10 years back, as a skateboarding college student broken-hearted about the state of his beloved Mississippi River, he dropped out of school to spend his days in a flat-bottomed boat dragging out trash. He didn’t have a master plan or hoards of people to join him. “It was just something I knew should be done and needed to be done and nobody was doing it.” (That gave me the first gulp). It can be that simple, yes?

After being discovered by roving reporters and curious eyes, Pregracke himself discovered a wealth of enthusiasm from friends and strangers, some longing for a chance to get involved. “You gotta create an opportunity for people to do something.” he said.

True to his word, he soon founded Living Lands and Waters, a non-profit with 12 employees. With a fleet of barges, he and his crew travel down 6 rivers, including the Missippi, Missouri, Ohio, Anacostia, Potamac and the Illinois as part of the annual event, X-Stream Cleanup. The latest and 4th annual expedition covered 31 sites, involving over 1,500 volunteers. To date, they have hauled in over 4 million tons of garbage, recycled much of it and stirred up interest in concerned communities along the way. Rivers get a shot at restoration as they remove numbers of tires, metal scraps and barrels still partially filled with toxic chemicals.

Corporate sponsorship has helped grow the group’s budget, allowing them to extend their efforts and influence into educational workshops and other local programs. Yet, when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Chad dropped everything to be part of the relief efforts. Planning to stay 4 weeks, Chad and his crew stayed 10. To learn more and get involved, go to


IN 2006, Chad and his crews executed 64 cleans ups and hosted the first Big River Workshop, on the Mississippi River.

In 2007, Chad and LL&W founded the Million Trees Project. With the help of communities collecting acorns, a nursery was established with the goal of planting a million trees within the following 5 – 10 years. Chad and National Geographic release, FROM THE BOTTOM UP, the story of the creation and evolution of his river passion and his non-profit organization.

Chad continues to write a weekly column in the Quad City Times in Iowa and has delivered over 300 presentations to corporate, public and student audiences worldwide.

The workshops expand to the Missouri and Illinois Rivers and the LL&W crew plants over 20,000 trees in a five-state area.

LL&W keeps on doing what it does best until Hurricane Katrina strikes the Gulf Coast.  Within days, LL&W cancels aall projects, doubles the crew size, unloads the barges of garbage and fills them up with building supplies.  The fleet and crew head to New Orleans to assist with the relief efforts.  Planning to stay for 4 weeks, the crew stays for nearly 10.

LL&W continues to make an impact, hosting 64 community-based cleanups along seven of the nation’s largest rivers.  Working with over 30,000 volunteers to date, LL&W estimates total refuse collected to be over 3 million pounds!

LL&W’s Big River Workshops host their first excursions–taking 60 teachers on a 3 or 4-day voyage up the Mississippi River.

LL&W expands Adopt-A-River Mile program to include the Illinois River.

Chad releases From the Bottom Up, with National Geographic–the story of the creation and evolution of LL&W, its successes and challenges.

LL&W launches its newest endeavor—The MillionTrees Project.  By starting its own nursery and soliciting the assistance from the community to collect acorns, this project aims to plant a million trees within the next 5 to 10 years.

Practice Anyway

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I hope that you are still following the blog of No Impact Man. He has a lot to say about changing the world. He also talks a lot about how change can make us happy. Lately, he’s been asking us to not just talk about change or to simply give up some of our excessive consumption habits, but he’s asking us to take the next step – to be pro-active. So, if you have already changed your lightbulbs, stopped eating meat and driving your SUV, but don’t know what to do now – read this post where NIM says, “When It Comes To Saving The World, Just Try, Try, Try.” (Then search the word, “happy” and see how often his efforts have made him feel that way.)

It’s something that’s been in my thoughts a lot lately. I’ve been teaching some new yoga students and I’m reminded of what it’s like to be a human trying to do something new – something that we know will benefit us in the end, but in the moment it mostly seems inconvenient, awkward and/or difficult. Because I’m the old-school trained teacher, I emphasize the importance of using discipline and will to move through the hard parts.

In fact, by watching and listening to many yoga students over the years, I’ve written my own account and philosophy of the 3 stages that we all go through. The first stage is Arrrgh  – the hard part, the second is Ah-ha, when things start to make sense, and the 3rd is Ahhh, when you find the ease in the effort – the happy. I’ve also emphasized that without the struggle, yoga would be useless. For example, one student thought she was simply not cut out for yoga, coming to me to say, “I’m not strong, I’m not flexible, and I can’t focus. I don’t think yoga is for me.” My response went like this:

“If you came to me and said – I want to do yoga because I’m strong, I’m flexible and I have great focus – I would tell you that you don’t need to be here.”

I’d also like to share one simple definition of yoga that comes from the ideas of the great and enduring teachers. Yoga is simply doing something you could not do before.

So, yoga, as life, is about growing up and out and not just accepting change, but making it happen – whether it’s within ourselves, within our communities or in the world. It is about the work. It is about simply trying. And in the end, it’s about the freedom and happiness that comes with discipline. That’s why when my students come to me with all the reasons they cannot fit yoga into their lives, they hear two words – “Practice anyway.”

So, I want to point out that maybe this changing the world stuff is not supposed to be easy. What we can gain – personally and otherwise – just might come from the fact that we had to try. If you struggle to drive less, try anyway. If you struggle to use less water and electricity, try anyway. If you struggle to do something you haven’t done before, like talk to your congressman about change, try anyway.

What you learn from a yoga practice translates directly into how you are in your life. And how you are in your life translates directly into how we are in the world. It’s up to us to make change happen and to make ourselves happy along the way.

Instant Messaging – Wear it Well

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Words matter. What your read online, in the news, in magazines and books, what you see on signs, or scrawled, graffiti-style, on brick walls. It all becomes part of our consciousness and eventually, part of our belief systems and actions, whether we know it or not.

Now, we can wear our messages on our chests (hearts?) since the printed t-shirt is still alive and well. Here are some favorites that I like to wear, but it’s my sister who sports quite a collection of green and other message T’s. She wears them when waiting tables early mornings in Tahoe (where she works to support her singing and acting habit) and says they prompt customers to strike up interesting conversations (and sometimes extra tips). Beth thinks it gives everyone the opportunity to talk about things they may not be aware of yet.

That’s the important part – being aware. Being Awake. And now there’s people out there making T-shirts to inspire us to do just that. My Time To Wake Up says to Be Aware or Beware”, one of the many reasons they offer these cool mens, womens and childrens t-shirts made from organic cotton and bamboo. Supporting the organic textile industry is a wake up call in and of itself – as we try to conserve water, and save nature, wildlife and ourselves from dangerous pesticides – but their web site offers much more than that. Some of many inspirations from :

“Our goal is to do our part in bringing about urgently needed change in our world by highlighting the need to Wake Up to the problems that exist, but more importantly to Wake Up to the need to take action.

We humbly look at our earth friendly clothing as small beacons of light. When you wear it you are saying that you woke up and got involved in something that you believe in that helps your fellow man and that you are urging others to do the same. A small effort by many can mean a huge change for all.”

(The shirts in the photos are not from MyTimeToWakeUp. To see their shirts, go here. Be A-Wear!)

Terminator meets Billy Jack

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

According to an article in the NY Times, Arnold Schwarzenegger is planning on traveling the world to promote clean energy after his tenure as governor of California. The Republican has dutifully endorsed presidential candidate, John McCain, but when asked whether he would answer a call from Democratic candidate, Senator, Barack Obama, the well-known “Terminator” responded, “I’d take his call now and I’d take his call when he’s president – anytime.”

I can’t help it. I like Arnold, despite his fleet of Hummers (now all hydrogen-powered). I’m drawn to the superhero in him. Perhaps I’m especially moved because I recently watched another former film hero kicking butt for justice when I rented the re-release of the independent movies, Billy Jack and its two sequels, The Trial of Billy Jack and Billy Jack goes to Washington. The movies, originally released in 1971 – 1977, address many social issues of our time – then and now – including prejudice, education, child abuse, violence vs. pacifism and political corruption.

The title character is Billy Jack, a half-breed American Indian who, after dissenting from the Vietnam war, goes back to the reservation where he quietly but forcefully protects the wild Mustangs and the Freedom School, a creatively alternative school for troubled youth of all ages and races. Billy Jack is the imperfect hero, with a deep commitment to ethics and honor who struggles with the shadow of anger he feels towards injustice.

Tom Laughlin, raised the funds, wrote, directed, produced and starred in all three movies. His wife, Delores Taylor, co-produced and played the supporting role of Jean, who runs the Freedom School.

Known then and now as one of the most successful independent filmmakers ever, Laughlin is also an author, psychologist, social/political activist who ran for president as a Democrat in 1992 on a platform which included tax cuts, Universal Healthcare and alternative education. Despite his reputation as a political radical, he received 2% of the vote in the New Hampshire Primary. He ran again as a Republican in 2004 as an opponent of the Iraq was with a “realistic” exit strategy, one of the many topics you can read about on his website at

From movie review by top reviewer, Jan Peregrine, “My appreciation for a husband/wife team that goes to such lengths for us, the public, knows no bounds. Tom Laughlin was a pioneer in Independent filmmaking and a creative dynamo with the guts to say what he saw happening in the United States…we desperately need more people like the Laughlins in the world.”

This excellent review reveals more about the movie series plots, which actually began with the lesser known film, Born Losers, of 1967. Here, we are first introduced to the character of Billy Jack who confronts the abuses of a motorcycle gang.

I’ll be renting that this weekend.

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