Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"We're Taking Our Country Back" Short in Chicago Video Contest

"We're Taking Our Country Back" is a short documentary a friend and I worked on for the "One Chicago, One Nation" Online Video Contest. It takes a look at the challenges communities face culturally, politically, and socially as a result of a growing faction in America known as the Tea Party. It asks communities to consider how they plan to confront the growing threat to public services and social safety nets in communities as a result of an agenda that cries out against Big Government, which is being pushed by Americans who despise America's first African-American president.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mission Statement for "Black Chicago"

Mission Statement

The film will follow individuals and leaders in two Chicago communities and take a look at what led these individuals to participate in a coalition with a campaign to force the coal plants in their communities to clean up their plants. By following these people, we will see how necessary it is for members of communities to take action to preserve their community because, especially with matters related to the environment, unless people take action, there’s no guarantee that generations and future generations will live in a clean, healthy city.

"Black Chicago" Treatment

A PERSON AFFECTED BY COAL appears in her home. The person discusses how long she has lived in the area and how long she has known the coal plant nearby was affecting her or her family’s life.

The person’s home is shown. The Fisk coal plant can be seen not too far from where the person interviewed lives. Smoke emanates from the power plant and a NARRATOR explains this is one of the two coal plants in Chicago.

MEMBERS of the Clean Power Chicago coalition meet in a room. Individuals sit around tables planning and discussing how they will pass a Clean Power Ordinance in Chicago that will clean up the power plants and prevent them from further polluting the air in Chicago.

Sierra Club member PAM RICHERT explains the motivation for launching the Clean Power Chicago coalition. Richert goes on to share how this local issue impacts Chicago residents.

Maps of wards in Chicago are shown, which provide statistics on the level of pollution that exists in each of the wards. Wards nearby the two coal plants are highlighted. The narrator introduces the Crawford coal plant.

The neighborhood nearby the Crawford plant appears. A FEW INDIVIDUALS appear on screen leading a “toxic tour” of the area. PRESS and CITIZENS listen and follow the individuals around as they show the impact of the coal plants on the community of Little Village in Chicago.

A leader of the “toxic tour” explains what it is like to live in Little Village giving special attention to the impact the coal plant has on the health of members of the community.

At a press conference at City Hall, EXPERTS and LEADERS stand behind a microphone explaining why the coal plants in Chicago must be cleaned up.

An ORGANIZER discusses in an interview why it is important for Chicagoans to take action to keep the air clean.

The coal plants appear. A NARRATOR describes the fight that organizers and Chicagoans will face but closes with a call to action.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Midterm Presentation on MTR

I. Intro

II. What Is MTR and Why Is It a Problem?

a. Process of Mountaintop Removal

b. Myths Believed, Why They are Untrue

III. Why MTR Is an Injustice

a. Why I Care About It

b. Why We Should Care About It

IV. What People Are Doing to Challenge It

a. End Mountaintop Removal Lobby Week

V. Conclusion


Myth: Mountaintop removal mining increases employment.

Fact: Mountaintop removal strip mining is so profitable for the coal companies precisely because it replaces most of the need for labor with highly destructive, but nonetheless efficient, explosives and machinery. Although coal production rose 32 percent between 1987 and 1997, mining jobs dropped by 29 percent over the same period.

Source: Citizens Coal Council

Fact: The number of people employed by the coal industry in West Virginia peaked around 1940 at over 130,000 people employed, producing approximately 130,000 short tons of coal annually. By 1997, less than 20,000 people were being paid by coal companies to produce over 180,000 short tons of coal annually.

Source: Coal Productivity, WV Office of Miners Health, Safety & Training

Myth: Mountaintop removal mining improves local economies.

Fact: Tourism pumps far more money into West Virginia economy each year than does the coal industry.

Source: Citizens Coal Council

Fact: Surface mining (which includes MTR mining), accounts for only 1.2% of jobs in WV and brings in just 2.6% of the state’s total revenues. The counties where surface mining predominates are some of the still poorest counties in the country.

Source: 2002 economic census data;

Myth: All surface-mined land is reclaimed equal to or better than it was prior to mining.

Fact: The Appalachian Highlands are characterized by some of the best and most diverse forest habitats in the world. Current reclamation practices are unable to restore native mixed hardwood forests, but rather replace these ecosystems with fields of non-native grasses. These changes in habitat may significantly impact neotropical bird populations, native salamander populations and other sensitive species.

Source: Trial Lawyers for Public Justice

Fact: The “Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act and the Clean Water Act do not require that sites forested prior to mining would be reforested as a part of the post mining reclamation requirements.”

Source: US Environmental Protection Agency

Myth: Coal Companies do all they can to reduce the negative impact mountaintop mining has on the environment.

Fact: Reclamation is usually done late in the mining process for ease of operation. In order to reduce the size of valley fills and reduce reclamation costs, coal companies should reclaim the land contemporaneously with mining.

Source: Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

Fact: Valley fills are built from the top down. If valley fills are constructed from the bottom up, they will shrink in size due to leveling and compaction.

Source: Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

Fact: Slurry produced by coal mining contains dangerous heavy metals, including: Antimony, Beryllium, Cadmium, Chlorine, Chromium, Cobalt, Lead, Manganese, Nickel, Selenium, Arsenic and Mercury.

Source: US Geologic Survey

Fact: In the Appalachian Plateau, iron and manganese concentrations exceeded US Environmental Protection Agency drinking water guidelines in at least 40% of the wells, and about 70% of the wells near reclaimed surface coal mines.

Source: US Environmental Protection Agency

Myth: The coalfields of Kentucky and West Virginia need more flat land for development purposes.

Fact: Over 300,000 acres of West Virginia have received surface mine permits. Less than 1 percent of mined land is currently reused for any development purpose.

Source: Razing Appalachia, by Maryanne Vollers, Mother Jones: July/August 1999 Issue

Fact: At the present rate of development, this is enough developable land to last 3,000 years. As of 2002 in the Coal River Basin area of West Virginia alone, there were 95,000 acres of flat land lying 600-800 feet above the existing infrastructure. This is enough land to build:

10 One hundred acre prisons

5 Five thousand acre parks

50 Shopping malls

400 Fifty acre schools

100 One hundred acre trailer parks

Source: Rick Eades, Speech at the Coal Summit, Charleston, WV, June 2002.

Myth: Appalachian coal reserves are large enough to provide coal for another century or more.

Fact: “In the northern and central Appalachian Basin coal regions… Sufficient high-quality, thick, bituminous resources remain in these beds and coal zones to last for the next one or two decades at current production.”

Source: US Geologic Survey

Independent Lens: RAZING APPALACHIA , Mountaintop Removal Strip Mining | PBS

-Mountaintop removal mining is the practice of blasting off the tops of mountains so machines called draglines can mine coal deposits. Coal mining companies dump the mountaintops into nearby valleys and streams to create "valley fills," converting mountain landscapes covered in hardwood forests into fields of sparse grass. Coal companies are stripping off the tops of mountains in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia. Tennessee has three inactive mines.

-More than half of the electricity in the U.S. today is generated by coal-fired power plants.

-Demand for electricity in the U.S. has increased by 136 percent since 1970.

-In the 1999-2000 election cycle, the coal mining industry contributed more than $3.6 million to federal parties and candidates.

-West Virginia has 4 percent of the coal in the world. The U.S. has 21.1 percent of the world total.

-The U.S. is responsible for 22.3 percent of the world's coal-related carbon emissions.

-52 percent of U.S. energy is powered by coal.

-Over 1000 miles of streams have been buried by strip mine waste in Appalachia.

-In 2000, almost 170 million tons of coal were mined in West Virginia, with 60 million tons coming from strip mines.

-In 1950, West Virginia employed 143,000 miners. By 1997, that number was down to 22,000.

-75 percent of West Virginia's streams and rivers are polluted by mining and other industries.

-300,000 acres of hardwood forest in West Virginia have been destroyed by mountaintop removal mining.

-St. Louis-based Arch Coal is the nation's second-largest coal producer and accounts for about 6 percent of U.S. energy.

-In 2001, Arch Coal reported revenues of nearly $1.5 billion.


Arch Coal, Inc.

National Mining Association

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection

West Virginia Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Art, Access & Action" Summit Interview Project w/ Students

Growing Belief in the Power of Action

The world of uncertainty that lies before us is daunting. Many of us cling to the tangible forgetting visions of something different that could make life better. Some communicate that the tragedy of society is that too many focus on self-interest and the short-term and not enough on future generations or the long-term and how we are all interconnected.

What we seek is a life that is viable yet there is often a reluctance to maintain stubbornness that could bring forth imaginative and traditionally idealistic solutions to the deep problems that are becoming more and more entrenched in society--problems that could in effect make life unworkable.

On my twenty-second birthday, as I believe all individuals should do, I am assessing who I am as a human being. My reflection involves my spiritual evolution, the actions I have taken and not taken, the effect and impact I have had on others, how I have succeeded and failed to get to a point where I can transition from college into the world after I graduate in May, etc.

What I am finding is more and more I believe in the power of action.

More and more, I am seeing that it is we the people (and those who surround us) who hold the keys to the future.

We ensure the futures that we will get and we harbor fears that will either imperil, paralyze, and smother us or move us to act to rid ourselves of the chains which limit what we are willing to do as individuals.

The political realities that unfold before us demand that we seek to understand how action can be powerful to organizations, neighborhoods, communities, etc especially those who see suffering, injustice, inequality, illogical, and unexplainable policies plaguing society.

Rep. Eric Massa, a Democrat, recently suggested Democrats were "allegedly conspiring to remove him from Congress," described how his opposition to the House health care bill was becoming a "huge thorn," and detailed a situation he had with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in the shower.

Massa said, "I am showering, naked as a jaybird, and here comes Rahm Emanuel, not even with a towel wrapped around his tush, poking his finger in my chest, yelling at me."

Meanwhile, we have senators like Jim Bunning blocking measures for unemployment benefits to Americans. We have Republicans claiming the health care summits are "setups" while they refuse to offer plans to help Americans.

The Democrats perpetuate this idea that 60 votes are necessary to stop this madness. Sen. Harry Reid & Rep. Nancy Pelosi seem content to kick the political health reform football around as long as possible instead of going after 51 votes in the Senate, a majority, to pass health insurance reform.

Not that it really matters because at this point the reform is sure to empower greedy insurers, entrench in the system the very problems that drove us to allow politicians to inundate us with hoopla on how they are for reforming health care, and make it harder to add additional reforms in the future by increasing private insurance corporations' ability to manipulate the political process.

Of course, our politicians also extend the PATRIOT Act without regard to how it infringes on our civil liberties and haven't the moral fortitude to publicly vote on measures to criminalize extreme forms of so-called enhanced interrogation (Cheney's word for torture) and provide "stiff sentences for intelligence officers or medical professions who engaged in them."

And, Congress doesn't have the capacity to truly take on the reality that war is not a solution to the problems the U.S. has created in Afghanistan.

This is political buffoonery on a scale and level that can only be compared to the buffoonery on display in a recent film nominated for an Academy Award, In the Loop. And, we as Americans seriously cannot be content with leaving the decision-making up to these people.

Not only do they fail to make the proper decisions but they also fail to make any meaningful decisions at all.

If you had asked me at 16, I would have told you a person votes and politicians then go and get things done. At 18, I would have told you that I could now vote and I am glad I was able to help elect a Democrat to Congress. At 19, I would have told you I thought a person should take independent action and vote. At 20, I would have suggested that we need more voices and choices in elections and much more independent action.

And now, as I turn twenty-two, I tell you I believe in bold independent actions that are the product of a seven generations ahead approach to taking on social problems.

I find there is a great need for us to put any and all business entrepreneurial skills to work. There is a necessity to take our skills, values and faith in something greater than ourselves (if we possess such faith) and come together with members of the community, possibly friends or family.

We all have to consider contributing in some way to the formation of structures and organizations that can sustain us locally and also shift the consciousness of people to affect change on a state and federal level.

Consciousness shifting must come from campaigns from community artists and community media makers. It must come from supporting community and neighborhood organizations, places of faith, and even journalism operations that will enrich our democracy.

Action must come from advocates for social justice and people who believe in the history of nonviolence and its pragmatic ability to affect change.

The framework of an image-based culture with megalomaniacal clowns running the show bears down upon us.

Possessive individualism, the cult of celebrity, and unbridled competition threaten our will and ability to think and act outside of preconceived notions of politics.

The capacity of citizens to turn private concerns into public conundrums that a people must collectively tackle is jeopardized and the possibility of turning Americans into those willing to openly confront each other on matters of political and social importance dwindles.

Now, bartender, get me another. I'm gonna be here awhile.

An Evening with Gil Scott-Heron: There is Joy in the Struggle

I had meetings all week. I spent time going from phone call to phone call without much of a breath. Pitching, talking, and discussing organizational plans for an upcoming media summit on Columbia College Chicago's campus, I didn't have time to eat much, didn't have time to drink much, didn't have time to think and reflect much either.

The days blurred. What I did Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and even Thursday I couldn't remember but I knew I did something. I could feel it in my mind and body that I had done quite a lot. I was working my fool head off to break down barriers, to get rid of divides that were making it difficult to organize on my campus.

Thursday night was my opportunity to bring this screeching train to a halt. It was my chance to think about art in a way that I had not done for a long time.

At Stage Two on Columbia's campus, I lined up for a seat to see the great sociopolitical musician and lyrical poet Gil Scott-Heron. With a new CD out, reports indicated that Heron had become rejuvenated with energy and a renewed desire to perform.

The energy was palpable. I sat in a room that could seat about 200 people waiting for Gil to come out on stage. Scheduled to go on at 7 pm, it was getting late.

Who knows how many people thought Gil wasn't going to come out--that he wasn't going to show up. I never thought he wouldn't show up. And at 7:20, Gil Scott-Heron's presence filled the room.

His voice, its deepness, reverberated throughout the room. He spoke and essentially did stand-up comedy for a good half hour. Joking about how he was getting behind a new cause called Give Back February (GBF), he led people through good-natured jokes about how black people want to get another month other than February to be Black History Month (or if you go to Columbia College, African Heritage Month).

After time spent playing with language and making an audience of many generations laugh, he sat down at the keyboard. The microphone was pulled down. And, the keyboard began to give off a groove sound that laid the foundation for Gil's first song.

Gil's deep voice transformed into the voice I had heard on "Winter in America" or "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." Throughout the performance, I noted his ability to go from spoken word to singing to spoken word and back as he played the keyboard without ever really leaving the song. He was able to communicate abstract and non-abstract ideas and weave history in between choruses and verses of his songs.

The rhythm and good spirits behind the beats made me think of the wholesome nature of the performance I was attending and long for more acts like Gil.

The connection Gil had to history became wholly evident; I imagined there was a lot of pain and struggle in Gil's mind but that he had the personality to make audiences stand up on their feet and take notice of joys in their life that they may not normally notice as a result of fear, anxiety, or exhaustion.

Gil and his band played many classics that I only wish I had been more familiar with. He played a tune after his band came on stage to play with him, which led into the latter part of a song that I found out later was called "Work for Peace." The opening was stripped away, unfortunately. So, the audience was not privy to the military & the monetary lyrics and the profound poetic words describing the way media handles war. But, Gil and his band turned "Work for Peace" into one of the most rousing numbers of the night.

With two keyboards musically going back and forth with each other in a bluesy rhythmic fashion, Gil called out a line and his female keyboardist responded. The audience was caught up in the energy of the song and eventually the song was like a gospel protest song that could have given life to any people's movement.

"If you believe in peace you gotta go to work/Ain't gonna be no peace unless you go to work/I don't wanna hurt nobody/Nobody can do everything but everybody can do something/If you believe in peace time to go to work."

I hadn't had the time to fully explore Gil Scott-Heron before sitting down to listen to him Thursday night. I had no idea he would play a song that so encapsulated many of thoughts I experience regualarly. Or, that he would play other songs that reflected the ideas and emotions in my mind that stemmed from the apathy, inaction, and beliefs in action and reaction that I experience daily.

How refreshing it was to know that younger generations found reason to laugh, love, and enjoy Gil Scott-Heron. One could say the future remains bright so long as people like Gil Scott-Heron can be invited to bring his band and his spirit to universities or colleges.

What was expressed in Gil's music (and what he has expressed over the past decades) hit me that night. Each of his songs detailed many woes and struggles of black people. The lyrics touched on many of the predicaments of working men and women. And, each song had a hint of joy and a few words to tug at your soul and make you feel like fighting on.

There right in front of me I saw clearly. So long as we have the fundamental right to creative expression, so long as we can fill venues or rooms with people who share our struggles and know the exhaustion we experience, so long as we have people we can say are dedicated to love and concerned for the future and who have reason to pause and enjoy themselves through the power of music, society essentially will remain free.

You can't teach the value of creative expression in school. You can't tell someone they have to use their art or media for the greater good. But, you can envelope someone in events with people like Gil Scott-Heron who believe in what they do and show them an alternative to the art and media we consume on a regular basis that seems to be far removed from the issues we experience and the lives we live every single day.

What Gil Scott-Heron shows is that people can find a voice in art (especially music). Movements need people like Gil Scott-Heron to open people's minds so that people who are not creative, not humorous, or not artistic can then present people with some truths that might compel them to act.

Yes, we've got to work for peace. There ain't gonna be no peace unless we go to work. But, peace isn't just taking down the military or breaking up the monetary and the military. It isn't just finding confidence in fighting for what some deem a lost cause, something unrealistic.

Peace is having soul. Peace is unleashing that soul in the company of others. And, peace is having the fortitude to push on and do what you believe needs to be done so that the next day you can have high spirits and maintain high hopes for a brighter day.