Category Archives: Activism

Garden for Your Life: Five Exciting Reasons—and One Downright Scary One—You Should Learn to Grow Food This Year

Just in time for Earth Day on April 22, guest writer Ellen LaConte suggests digging into the gifts of gardening. Learn why growing your own veggies and fruits may be more than a richly rewarding pastime—it may be, literally, a lifesaver.

Spring has sprung, and Earth Day is almost upon us. And if you’re looking for a good way to “go green” this year, here’s a suggestion. Don’t stop at planting a tree, attending a rally, or giving to your favorite conservation fund. Instead, make 2011 the year you move beyond symbolic gestures and engage with the Earth in the most primal, profound, and productive way possible: by learning to grow your own food.

It’s interesting to me that people work so hard to acquire the skills we need to make a living, yet most of us neglect the most basic, essential, and valuable skill of all: the ability to feed ourselves. We depend almost totally on other people to provide the nourishment that keeps us alive.

When you ponder the implications—especially in an economy that seems to be hanging on by a thread—you can see it doesn’t make a lot of sense. For this reason and many others, I’d love to see more people commemorate Earth Day by vowing to experience firsthand the miracle of growing food.

Plenty of people dabble in gardening, of course. A survey by the Garden Writers Association revealed that 38 percent of Americans grew some of their own vegetables in 2009, a number that reflected a growing percentage of under-40s, many of whom dragged or coaxed their kids to get down and dirty, too. And apparently something like 37 percent of food gardeners aim to expand their gardens this year.

While these aren’t bad numbers, I would rather see that 38 percent reverse itself into 83 percent. Growing your own food brings with it a huge variety of benefits. Even if you discount the ever-more-plausible specter of economic collapse (more on this later), it’s hard to deny the gifts that gardening brings to your life:

1. It’s a source of fresh, delicious, wholesome food. Guess what most people list as their first and primary reason for growing some of their own food? That’s right: the food itself. Fresher, healthier, tastier—especially if it’s grown organically, without toxic chemicals—homegrown food is just closer to what food is supposed to be about. It doesn’t just keep you alive; it makes life worth living. And it keeps your body as happy as your taste buds.

What’s especially pleasing is that so many young people still have a taste for fresh and homegrown, for live and soil-born, hand-harvested and heirloom. Contrary to what modern taste mavens have written, the young haven’t all gone over to the artificial strawberry-flavored column.

2. It helps us get mo’ satisfaction. Seventy-one percent of young people, and at least that many older vegetable gardeners, spend hours on their hands and knees in proximity to earthworms and ants because they get some kind of satisfaction out of it. Part of that satisfaction is doubtless chalked up to tasty food and bragging rights. But a large part of it is owed to the ancient, unshakeable, bred-in-the-bone sense of competence and self-reliance that comes from providing for yourself and your loved ones and friends something that you and they absolutely need.

These are feelings most Americans have lost since they’ve come to depend on “the economy” to supply them with food. They are bone-deep feelings we share not just with those hearty, self-reliant colonial Americans we’re so proud to trace ourselves back to but also with the first humans that figured out that maybe if they left those apple seeds where they lay, maybe scuffed a little dirt over them or scattered a handful of those self-sown wheat seeds where the light and soil were better, why, darn, miracles would happen over which they had some control. On-demand food, 10,000 B.C.-style.

3. We’re up for downtime, and digging in the dirt supplies it in (pun alert!) spades. Gardening’s hard work. It takes concentration and focus. But for most Americans, the break from artificial lighting and air, plastic plants, a chair that may or may not be ergonomic, multitasking, 24/7/365 exposure to interruption, and other demands is more like a vacation than work. Sixty percent of the young vegetable gardeners in the Garden Writers Association survey said that’s why they gardened: It relaxed them.

When you’re in the garden, you’re working on plant and wind and sun and rain time, not clock time. If you let yourself be fully present to what the garden needs from you, you’re automatically attuned to Life’s more leisurely time frames, not the customary frenetic human ones.

4. It’s a spiritual thing. The original sacred texts of most of the great spiritual traditions begin in or refer to some sort of garden. Most of the world’s spiritual teachers have taught us how we should live in the world and with each other by using gardening metaphors and parables. So is it any wonder that for many, the garden, even one created in pots huddled on a patio on the fifteenth floor above an urban street, triggers a spontaneous, instinctive connection with that larger Life within which we have our lives and that ineffable Source of all that is, which makes new life arise out of something as unprepossessing as a seed?

Gardening makes us partners in the ongoing Creation. Like other forms of what feels like playing and praying at the same time, gardening is something that can be done alone. Its depths and pleasures are, however, amplified greatly by being shared.

Where I live in the Bible-belt south, it would be safe to say “the family that breaks clay together, stays together.”

5. It keeps us fit and healthy. Bend and stretch, bend and stretch. No doubt about it, gardening is one of the best ways to get and stay fit even before it offers up bounties of food that, if we eat them instead of what we pick up on the way home or have in a box in the cupboard or bag in the freezer, amplify fitness. Whole muscle groups you didn’t know you had get worked out at least seasonally in the process of digging, turning, hoeing, raking, sowing, weeding.

“Infamous twentieth century homesteader, vegetarian, and gardener Helen Nearing liked to say “gardening is an adult sport.” It’s also an aerobic and isotonic one. And, since she didn’t have children, she couldn’t have known that they take to gardening like doctors to golf courses, too.

6. And last—but certainly not least!—it might someday save your life. Here, without a doubt, is the most compelling reason of all to get proficient at growing your own food. As I explain in my book Life Rules, the entire global economy is too big not to fail. Dwindling resources, climate instability, skyrocketing prices, and other red flags point to a future in which the cheap, abundant, and readily available food we currently enjoy may no longer be there for us.

As hard as it is for most Americans to imagine, there may come a day when grocery store shelves are bare. If and when that day comes, the ability to grow your own food will no longer be a hobby but a survival skill.

Even if the worst doesn’t happen (I fervently hope we’ll get on top of our converging problems so that it doesn’t), a society that’s not disconnected from its food production is a healthier one in general. And when you consider how easy it really is to grow fruits and veggies—in backyards, on vacant lots, in community gardens, and in patio pots—there’s certainly no reason not to.

Gardening well takes skill, but seeds, soil, earthworms, more billions of soil microbes than you can count (if you don’t kill ’em with inorganic chemicals), rain, and sun do most of the work. The food is built into the seed and is called out of the seed by the other five. To take charge of our food supply again, we just need 83 instead of 38 percent of Americans to bring seeds into contact with them, love ’em a little, and wait.

Sounds like a good way to get up close and personal with our particular places on Earth this April 22.

Target May Not Be a True Friend to LGBTs… But Is MoveOn?

I’ve been wary about MoveOn, the liberal behemoth activist network, for a very long time. A look at the group’s annual members’ polls explains why: Issues surrounding gay equality are consistently considered a low priority in the hearts and minds of most of the (mostly mainstream and definitely not what we think of as “progressive”) MoveOn faithful.

Most recently, the 2009 polling shows MoveOn members’ priorities:


1. Universal health care 64.9%
2. Economic recovery and job creation 62.1%
3. Build a green economy, stop climate change 49.6%
4. End the war in Iraq 48.3%
5. Improve public schools 21.6%
6. Restore civil liberties 16.8%
7. Hold the Bush Administration accountable 15.2%
8. Gay rights/LGBT equality 8.6%
9. Increase access to higher education 7.6%
10. Reform campaigns and elections 5.7%

Let me reiterate:  Only 8.6 percent of MoveOn’s membership considers equality a priority.  Boo, MoveOn members!

Continue reading

Target Targeted by MoveOn

If you’re inclined, help MoveOn send a message to retailers.

Help High School Students Become Radio Pros

The radio bug hit me during my last year of high school and led me to two great college broadcasting experiences, at the University of Maryland’s WMUC and at Towson University’s WTMD. I’ve worked in radio and media ever since — to this day, the debt I feel to those two institutions and to college radio in general is infinite. And I am proud to know that both schools are still hard at work creating the next generation of quality broadcasting professionals.

Right now, WTMD is going public with a cool new effort to give invaluable hands-on experiences to kids attending high school. Here is the info:

We all know that arts education in schools is under pressure–and that includes teaching kids about radio.
WTMD wants to help one high school buy the equipment they need to make sure their students can learn about how important radio and music are in people’s lives.

KLIK, a high school Internet radio station based in Ft. Collins, Colorado, teaches students from five schools in the community. This revolutionary project is looking to upgrade its equipment and the Pepsi Research Project is willing to fund it–as long as the public votes for it.

KLIK is ranked #28 among Refresh grant candidates; however, only the Top 10 will receive a $5,000 grant when the voting ends on May 31st.

It just takes a few clicks to help KLIK crack the Top 10. Thanks for helping out and maybe some day someone graduating from KLIK will be on the air at [a station near you]!

Isn’t that the coolest? You know what would be cooler? Give to the college radio station nearest you. These efforts — usually local in nature, listener-supported, and grassroots-progressive-public in format —  perform a valuable and necessary service for up and coming radio people. But college radio’s greatest beneficiaries are the communities they serve. All the stations are getting around to their big spring pledge drives — now is your chance! Do some good.

Goodbye, Right-Wing Friend, Goodbye

An interesting and sad day:  I lost a friend.

goodbye right wing friend

This morning, I found out that a longtime meatspace pal, a once thoughtful individual who over the years has become more tightly connected to the vicious anti-LGBT Right, secretly unfriended me on Facebook. Talk about a kick in the solar plexus. I am sad about this, but not angry. First of all, it is his right to do as he sees fit. I respect that. This is not the first time this has happened and it surely will not be the last. Also, let’s be real: Is it moral for me to be friends with a person whose main vocation in life is ensuring anyone’s inequality under law? Is it healthy for my heart, soul, and mind? Can a human who embraces progressive ideals and a far-right person maintain a friendship or relationship as equals without driving each other crazy?

Well, after years of trying to build bridges with right wingers via  journalism and activism — generally to the detriment of my personal well-being — I am close to concluding that the cultural divide between right wingers and people of justice is perhaps just too vast. No, I am not throwing in any towels or turning my back on people I love who tragically choose the side of hate and injustice. I will always love them. But  if those conservative people I love believe my being me is  tragic and sinful, can they really be my friend, someone who loves me for me? Can a real friend be OK with my being discriminated against? Would a true pal approve of my growing old alone or dying within a dangerous and dysfunctional opposite-gender union? I do not think so.

Progressives and right-wingers don’t speak the same language (and the Right insists that everyone speak theirs and live under its rules and worldview). When I resist that, I AM THE BAD ONE. If I get angry at inequality, something obviously is wrong with ME.  Of course, I reject that notion wholesale: Each of the two sides sees the other’s view as completely immoral, not merely as “misguided” or “wrong.” Our value systems and the things we cherish are all too often diametric opposites. Sometimes it seems our actual DNA must be different: Compassion chips go missing so often from those on the side of the Party of NO, the side of those who believe God hates many of those she created and insists they live in misery.

Should progressives ultimately see justice finally established under law — for example, should marriage equality win, as it must — the reactionary right, having lost in all nonviolent arenas, likely will stage a bloody Onward Christian Soldiers kind of insurgency, a new Crusade of sorts that replaces their incendiary hate speech with actual guns. Think about that for a sec: Teabaggers and homophobes, bitter, scared, clinging to their god and guns, led by Fuhrer Palin and her band of Real Amurricans.

Mark my pessimistic words, though I pray my fears are wrong. But if that is what it takes to be equal, bring it on. And if losing friends is the price of equality, to quote Kurt Vonnegut, so it goes.

Not that I am giving up on bridge-building: It seems clear to me that if we start with kindness, we perhaps can make inroads on creating a unity that can cross ideological lines. For that to happen, though, the nation must be kind — everyone must be equal under law. Until that basic unkindness is addressed, expect unending war. And if you have friends on the far right, be prepared to lose at least some of them.

Hate Kills: The Tragic Tale of Clay & Harold

What a country. Yes, the good old Yew-nited States is the land of the free, the home of the brave, the bastion of equality under law for all. Unless you’re gay, that is.

The story that follows is so outrageous and features such cruelty and evil that it literally made me retch.  Even while writing this, tears are streaming down my cheeks. But write I must: The level of man’s inhumanity to man and the assault on basic decency portrayed in this real-life nightmare is so overwhelmingly offensive that however disgusting it is, it must be told. People need to know the reality of 21st century life for LGBT people in the US — and folks, it isn’t pretty.

In case you didn’t watch the video, here’s the gist:

Clay, 77, and Harold, 88, were a devoted pair for more than 20 years. As we queers were warned to do in the 1990s, the couple attempted to protect their relationship and family from hateful hets. They spent thousands and thousands of dollars in government and legal fees to draft wills, powers of attorney, medical directives, etc., to ensure that no one could violate their union or dispute their family status. As time passed, the men aged, and Harold’s health began to deteriorate. And when Harold fell ill, those legal protections turned out to be nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Despite the couple’s carefully prepared documentation, California’s Sonoma County methodically put Harold into a nursing home and forced Clay — who was healthy — into a different facility. Their rented home was seized, all their worldly possessions sold behind their backs. Clay was forbidden to see his longtime love (after all, according to the law, these men were strangers, and certainly not family). Harold ended up dying alone shortly thereafter.

Now, Clay is mourning by fighting: He is suing Sonoma County and other entities involved in taking away his home and goods and in keeping him away from his lifemate, his partner, his love — the person who would have been his husband, save for hate-filled, fearful, and  ignorant Californians.

My assignment to you: Tell everyone you know. Attention must be paid to the story of Clay and Harold. This sick, twisted tale illustrates quite clearly that marriage equality is a necessity, not tomorrow or next week or next year, but yesterday. It demonstrates exactly why “the people” cannot be trusted to make decisions about what rights other citizens are allowed to have. That we are still unequal under law in 2010 is unacceptable to any decent human.

Yes, I am saying flat out — if you don’t support equality under law, you are not a decent human being.

Don’t give me the religion crap: Being religious doesn’t mean one must agree to uphold or demand inequality in law. If your deity has a problem with queers, he, she, or it does not need your help or your government’s help to punish us. We are talking about civil law; your god has no power here.  At least, he or she or it should not. Don’t the religionists get juicy tax exemptions and a whole passel of governmental kissing-up: the pledge, the prayer breakfasts and invocations that communicate that good Americans are godly Americans, the money, etc.?  That isn’t enough? Apparently not, which means that these ignorant bigots have yet another sin for which to atone:  greed.

It’s time for all good people to come together in honor of Clay and Harold and all the people treated in such horrific fashion. How? By saying goodbye to complacency and apathy. By putting a stop to this injustice. By taking action.  How can you not? People are dying because of this hate!

Please, share the story of Clay and Harold with everyone you know, particularly lawmakers and the right-wing, antigay folks with whom you must deal. Our bigoted brethren must know the results of their hateful actions, philosophies and doctrines. They must be told:  Harold and Clay loved each other for more than 20 years. Now, Harold is dead and Clay is alone, all because they dared to love each other and the state of California just could not stand it.

Enough with the bigotry already: You’re making the American people look like hateful killers. Natalie Maines rightly was ashamed of being from the same state as the bigot and war criminal George Dubya Bush. I am ashamed to have been born on the same continent as those who had a hand in destroying Clay and Harold’s home, their family, and their lives. Contradicting David Bowie, this is America — a land of hate, a land that would rather gays be dead and alone than equal.

I’ll repeat that, because people need finally to get what I’ve been bitching about my entire adult life: The US is and chooses to be a land of hate, a land that would rather LGBT people be dead and alone than equal.

How sick is that?

How to Help in Haiti

Forget Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson, who apparently made separate pacts with Satan: Haitians are good people who live in, as CBS describes the island nation, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. They are our brothers and sisters and they are in crisis: The American Red Cross estimates that 50,000 people may be dead as a result of the 7.0 quake that hit Tuesday near Port au Prince. We MUST help them — that is what family does.

How to help (info gathered by WJZ-TV Baltimore):

If you would like to help with the recovery effort in Haiti, there are dozens of organizations accepting donations to help get aid directly to the people. Here is some detail about a handful of such groups, followed by links to other sources.

The Red Cross – To help with relief efforts, text “HAITI” to “90999” and $10 will be given automatically to the Red Cross, charged to your cell phone bill.  You can also give online, via phone or even through wire transfer. Donate to the Red Cross

Yéle Haiti Founded by musician and U.N. Goodwill Ambassador Wyclef Jean, Yéle’s is “a grassroots movement that builds global awareness for Haiti while helping to transform the country through programs in education, sports, the arts and environment.” Donate to Yéle Haiti

Doctors Without Borders – DWB is an international medical humanitarian organization founded by doctors and journalists in France in 1971. The organization currently has staff on the ground in Haiti working to stem possible loss of life. Donate to Doctors Without Borders

Mercy Corps – Mercy Corps is described as hodgepodge of about 3,700 professionals working to help millions in crisis around the world. The group is sending an emergency team to Haiti to help provide food, shelter and other aid. Donate to Mercy Corps

Other Ways To Help Haiti: