polotics Alt Fuels Pioneers

Currently residing at Mercy Hot Springs, an off-the-grid spot east of Hollister (just off the I-5). Didn’t think I’d make it here yesterday due to several delays in SF and Oakland. After numerous hours waiting for my ride, the Big Tadoo Puppet Crew veggie-fuel bus, to show up (rain and load-in delays), I got picked up at my place on 17th Street around noon. We went shopping, fueled up via veggie oil from a local Vietnamese restaurant, and stopped by CELLspace briefly to pick up some things.

Jonathan filters and pumps veggie oil into Vegenius’ second tank

After the three hour delay, we hit the Bay Bridge on our trip south and stalled on the bridge. Jonathan Youtt, main Big Tadoo driver and mechanic, quickly went to work troubleshooting the problem. I meekly suggested calling 911 to get a push off the bridge, but Jonathan found a blown fuse that a new fuel pump most likely caused. Replacing the fuse got us over the bridge, where we stalled a second time in the right lane of an exit.

Jonathan scurried over and under the engine as I turned the ignition on so he could try to listen to the new fuel pump turn on. He couldn’t hear it, so quickly unhooked it and prayed that the standard fuel pump, tired from pumping veggie oil, would get us to an exit in Oakland to find fuses, filters, and diesel (no biodeisel was available and must be used to heat up the oil). We hit Broadway’s motor mile and drove up and down to various auto parts places to find what we need (the filters and deisel proved to be harder to find). In a more quiet spot, Jonathan still cannot hear the new fuel pump, and thought that it has been blown due to a too-powerful fuse (one of the auto parts places told him the pump runs on a smaller ampage than he started out with).

Finally, around 4pm, we left the Bay Area and headed south to the first-ever Alternative Fuels Summit at Mercy Hot Springs. On the way, we easily switched over from diesel to veggie, and only stopped once to change the veggie filter. I photo-documented the step-by-step process that Jonathan went through to make the change, and realized that your average soccer-mom wouldn’t dream of going through all of this for free fuel. At least for the time being.

Filter Change
Jonathan shows the difference between a new and yucky used filter

What I have discovered today at Mercy is what a workshop leader called the “Pioneers of Alternative Fuels”. A community of people like Jonathan, and his partner Emily, are all here this weekend to share knowledge about veggie fuel, biodeisel, ethanol, hydrogen, and other sustainable forms of power that can make automobiles go. Biodeisel autos of many kinds (buses, trucks, SUVs, Mercedes-Benz, and brand new VWs) sit with their hoods up and their owners networking and skillsharing. A truck that runs on hydrogen has a windmill attached to it for extra off-the-grid power. Buses with converted veggie oil engines show off their filtration systems. Their crews share on-the-road stories and talk about the future of the used oil as a source of free fuel. All these machines are owned by people consumed with ending petroleum dependency and creating systems that will allow communities to convert their own autos.

I sat in on workshops that dealt with ethanol issues, veggie oil issues, making your own ethanol stove out of a beer can, and even a permaculture introduction. This summit is all about DIY sustainability, including growing food. Tonight, Jonathan, Emily, and I will perform our puppet show, a circus medicine show that means to give away veggie oil for fuel. After that, and some other performances, Hot Buttered Rum String Band will play a couple of sets. All the artists performing have toured extensively in veggie oil buses. Tomorrow there will be workshops on getting funding and discussing legislative issues.

These pioneers are hippies, farmers, artists, and everyone in between willing to learn the basic skills to convert their autos. Like Jonathan, they troubleshoot on their own, without the millions of dollars in research and development that the auto industry puts behind their engineered machines. These pioneers have put maybe hundreds or several thousands into thier R&D. Most of the equipment is off-the-shelf and maybe modified by DIY and trained mechanics who believe in bringing down the current multibillion dollar oil, gas, and automobile industries. Biofuel refinery is DIY too, and communities around the United States are organizing to brew their own.

And these people are excited about their movement. The Alternative Fuels Summit can only get bigger and better as the United States slowly wakes up to higher fuel costs. The Washington Post just reported on a group of conservatives who are trying to convince Pres. Bush that alternative fuels are better than petroleum. That’s old news here at the Summit, and most people here don’t want corporations getting involved in alternative fuels. Decentralized and non-GMO are buzz words here this weekend.

Interesting that the mainstream medi missed this weekend. An indy Toronto-based crew videoed all weekend, hoping to score a deal with the Discover channel (they have connections). This blog entry may be the only written documentation of the event. Guess media is too busy covering the Pope’s funeral to notice this amazing aggregation of brain and will power that’s amassed here at Mercy. Guess the hottubs, beautiful vistas, clean air, and starry sky didn’t entice them either. For now, the alternative fuel pioneers will remain on the down low, but as these pioneers continue to organize communities on the grassroots level, this knowledge will only get more mainstream.

dreams Chairman Mao

Just a fragment from a dream I had in Truckee: I refused to pay respects to Chairman Mao because I had open-toed shoes. I felt that it would disrespect him, and, since he was visiting my family’s funeral home, I insisted on leaving to find better shoes to suit the prestige of his visit.

create Recent Pics

Finished Mural
A mural that I made with Josh MacPhee and some other friends. Took about a week to design, cut, and paint.

Yummy large stencil cutouts that we used on the mural.

Tahoe Ducks
My childhood friend Mark coaxed me up to Tahoe for a few days. This is during sunset on the first night there (might post a few more from a great hike we did).

Leaving Something Behind

If you’re a lefty, liberal, or radical (insert another label here if those three don’t cover you or refuse to be labelled), then you’ve probably hit the pavement for a good ole’ march or two. I imagine that most of the population of San Francisco has done some form of protest marching in the streets, even the folks up in Pacific Heights have probably done pro-dog marches, or one of the many many other marches that happen in the City (permitted or not). Coming from an area of the world that barely walks on the sidewalks, let alone the streets, and only protest when Starbucks gets their latte order wrong, I look forward to expressing myself in public with folks who tend to agree with my opinions.

Marching United States style is also an empty form of protest for making actual change in the world. More than once I’ve felt that my efforts in a march did little to actually chang things. I have imagined the thousands of people in the streets, taking that extra step that Ghandi would’ve done, and causing large-scale civil disobedience. At the RNC march last year in New York City, we had the potential to really give a message to the world, and our country. What if we ALL got arrested for our beliefs, not just the radicals who were planning smaller- scale civil disobedience. I mean tens of thousands of people celebrating life and bogging down the system for a solid shout to the world.

Getting arrested is a little bit above empty at this point too in the US. Arrest numbers in the hundreds make great headlines, but do little in the long run except the usual: jail solidarity, lawsuits, and endless ranting about brutality and the system. Don’t get me wrong, that story needs to be heard, but I’ve heard it over and over for the last 8 years of my life and shit still stinks in the United States.

If there is one march I look forward to every year, it’s the annual St. Stupid’s Day March. For a remarkable 27 years, Bishop Joey (aka Ed Holmes) and the Subgenius/Cacophony crew have created what is intentionally the most stupid march of them all. Simply, freaks of all stripes dress up, meet up, and act stupid in a procession which hits the Financial District on weekday April Fools and goes up into North Beach on weekend April Fools. It is literally a rare chance to make fun of ourselves, mock the system (church, banking, working, etc.), and create a very creative form of civil disobedience (I’m not sure if the march is permitted but know that folks in the march are definitely pushing the limits of public expression).

This year, I wore a pirate’s costume and held a sign that had three different messages. Side one said “Will Loot for Fool;” side two said “Where B Yar Booty?;” and side three stated “ARRGH!” I held plastic dynamite and walked up to gawkers asking them where the nearest bank was. I also walked up to retail windows and tapped the glass with my dynamite. I also intentionally planted a small amount of cannibas seeds in the nicely landscaped flowerbeds along the route.

This year, I thought about the act of leaving something behind. The seeds were a physical item I left behind. All the pennies thrown at the Bankers Heart sculpture are left behind (and Bank America returns them to Bishop Joey every year), as are the lottery tickets that get thrown out at the Federal Reserve Building. Oh, and there there are the socks at the Pacific Sock Exchange.

But looking deeper, what are the less tangible things that St. Stupid’s march leaves behind? Certainly confusion (since nothing is begin protested, many spectators don’t know what the march is about), and definitely video and photos (people came out of stores with phone cameras to shoot the freaks) for the folks back home to laugh over. I saw one group of tourists clicking away and wondered what they’d do with those images (read the signs closely, see the deeper more radical parts of the march, etc.)

On the day when activists get to make fun of themselves, when the main chant is “No More Chanting,” what St. Stupid’s truely brings to the world is a fresh way of recreating reality. People don’t really gawk at the mainstream ANSWER marches because the spectacle isn’t there to pull them in and intrigue them (unless it is a huge march). Imagine if the scale of the creativity of St. Stupid grew like Critical Mass. Imagine dozens of cities having their roving freak show that protests nothing except getting out of the banalities of your cognitariat existance.

Would this make an actual change in the world? Maybe or maybe not. But every April Fool’s Day, on the streets dressed like a freak, I see kids of all ages get sucked in. This year I left something behind for the kids with my “ARRGH!” sign. Almost every kid I arrghed to arrghed back. They read my sign and the subtle anti-war messages that were on there (anti-capitalist too). Subliminal juice for the overstimulated mind to soak in when they get back to their hotel rooms. And maybe remember for the rest of their lives.

polotics Precariously Not Rich

Two weekends ago, I attended a night of stencils, cement scrawls, and Precariousness at ATA’s Other Cinema. Chris Carlsson showed some videos from Greenpepper Magazine’s “Precarious” DVD, and then started a discussion on the new European movement. The DVD clips he showed were amusing creative civil disobedience for the most part, based upon a new definition of where we all fit into this crazy capitalist world. One clip showed Italian citizens discussing what made their lives precarious and I instantly related to alot of them. The idea of being precarious hit home when a few immigrants spoke about how hard it was for them to make a living under the threat of not having papers.

As the discussion, which didn’t really go anywhere, progressed to nearly midnight, I lost concentration. Afterwards, I headed to El Farralito with Josh MacPhee and some other friends. Along the way, we joked about how precarious our existence was, and that that was a big word to swallow as a name of a unified movement against capitalism. It was too intellectual. At one point in the walk, I realized I wasn’t joking, and then started to seriously think about this new language coming out of Europe.

Chris mentioned that Greenpepper magazing and the Web site, Metamute, had articles about Precariousness. The next day, I went to the site and tried to read an article. Staring at the tiny type crossed my eyes. I took it as a signal to meditate upon my own personal precarious existence for a while and print out copies of the Metamute articles for future absorption.

Just what does precarious mean? According to WordPress’ dictionary, precarious means:

  1. Dangerously lacking in security or stability: a precarious posture; precarious footing on the ladder.
  2. Subject to chance or unknown conditions: “His kingdom was still precarious; the Danes far from subdued” (Christopher Brooke).
  3. Based on uncertain, unwarranted, or unproved premises: a precarious solution to a difficult problem.
  4. Archaic. Dependent on the will or favor of another.

Putting the meanings into plitical cotext made me exclaim, “No shit. We’re all precariously existing in this system!” I realized that I knew almost no one who doesn’t live close to some form of capitalist edge of oblivion. Also, I knew many folks going through various hard times right now, and we were all creating support networks and mutual aid to get through it. The basic conclusion I drew, without reading any text on Europe’s Precarious movement, was that there are two classes: the Rich, and the Not Rich. This fit in with Chris’ statement that the working class was a misnomer and that language needed to create a new phrase for 21st century dwellers to actually relate to one another. In capitalist terms, almost the whole human population is Not Rich.

Put that in your solidarity pipe and smoke it. Chris was interested in trying to get the attending activists to somehow relate to the blue and white collar workers, and the discussion didn’t really create any juicy leads on how to do this. My time spent in the Corporate sphere showed that white collar workers do indeed live precariously, yet they strive to live in what is either a delusional lie or a dream. While I worked in that environment, I had a hard time relating to my coworkers. I was a prole admin employee, getting paid at the bottom of the scale, yet I lived better and maybe richer than the top-paid executives. How? Well, they worked their asses of for one thing, and consumed at a larger quantity than I did. I’d say that their money concerns, commutes, mortgages, and desire to have more and be more got in the way of the fact that they worked stupid jobs and lived with little real security.

Yet most of them would probably agree that they lived precariously if I had discussed it with them. This ties in nicely with the Coop research that I’ve been doing. I’ve recently discovered that Argentina’s middle class has sided with the unemployed masses on and off for decades! A teachers union started the picket tactic (blocking roads, bridges, etc.) that the piqueteros have used since the 1990s to degrade the capitalist system there. Why, do you ask? My guess is when a corporatist government makes white collar workers feel really precarious, then they’re out in th e streets fighting over it.

So my brooding is over, and the Metamute articles have been printed. Once the Coop research is done, I’ll dive in and see what this movement is all about. I hope to have more things to say about the Not Rich Class, and I hope to discuss precariousness further with people who don’t know that there are terms and philosophies being developed around the idea. That’s where I hope to find some fresh perspectives on what tactics can unite us all to try to make some tough changes. But these changes need to be made, and systems of mutual aid need to be set up in the future.

polotics Coops in the Americas I

I mentioned in an earlier post that I would try to follow up on the coop movement in Argentina. Watching the documentary The Take came at a good time as forthcoming information on what is happening in all of the Americas soon followed from diferent sources. At the monthly NoBAWC (Network of Bay Area Cooperatives) meeting, not only did I get a reportback on what is happening in the United States, but there was also a reportback on the coop movement in Argentina and Venezuela. On top of that, I just scoured the Anarchist Bookfair for books en Ingles on the Argentine coop and peoples movement and only found an article and two pamphlets. Since this research is ongoing, I will continue to post entries about what I’m reading.

Locally, the recent NoBAWC meeting proved to be a watershed moment for the growing coop movement in the Bay Area. NoBAWC just restructured their model to rely on incoming dues from the member coops. Members pay a sliding scale fee that is based upon what their annual income is. One smaller-sized coop, and another larger one, voiced concern over justifying to their paying dues for a larger organization that doesn’t really do anything.

This was my first meeting with NoBAWC, so I listened intensely as other members voiced their concerns about getting future approval from their members to pay into an organization that only provided a card that gives members discounts within the network. The larger organization is currently loosely organized, with a steering committee and a part-time employee. It is not currently a nonprofit and has been trying to go there for a few years. NoBAWC also doesn’t currently produce any content other than the discount card (I’ve seen posters done from the recent past). No other services currently exist, and no information is posted on how to create a coop (something several members mentioned in the recent meeting).

One person attending the meeting summed up the next step when he stated that coops work best in a committee form (or clusters as CELLspace calls them). NoBAWC needed to put an item on their next meeting agenda to address the need to create smaller working groups to begin to set up tasks and follow through on creating services in a Bay Area-sized, and even national, scale. Everyone at the meeting seemed overworked and booked out with their various businesses and causes, but all agreed that it was time to step up and get the region organized.

This intense discussion started when a member of the NoBAWC steering committee gave a reportback on a few other regional coops and on the formation of a United States coop federation. Sadly, I did not take any notes on the reportbacks, but can say that the other regional organizations were charged with energy and already beginning to eclipse NoBAWC in services and action. On the national level, The U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives recently formed in May of 2004. The reportback said that the Federation was in the process of creating bylaws for nonprofit status, membership processes, smaller regional state federations, and was created in response to other countries wondering why the U.S. wasn’t working to unite coops on a national level.

Summing up, the meme of coop organization that I feel sparked a fire in South America in 2001 has come home to the belly of the corporate capitalist beast that is the United States. As you will see, the fire of hunger and desperation that created the horizontal organization of neighborhoods and businesses in Argentina, ripples in the liberal enclaves like the San Francisco Bay Area and on a national level. Options other than “clearcut and sell” need to be given to the public, and as the Not Rich class continues to slide into precarious existence in the United States, the coop model proves to be a testy power rising from the cracks of mainstream consumerism. With the Bay Area getting off its ass to organize, and the United States beginning to organize, there’s a chance that different options mean better living and freedom of choice.

If not now, when? If not you, who?

to be continued…

stencil Stencil Pain

Just so you know, my life tends to revolve around stencil art. You know, those sidewalk paintings that you see all over the Mission (or maybe a street in your hometown). I make them, collect photos of them, have friends who make and collect them, and even go through withdrawal if I don’t carry my camera with me everywhere. I love them so much I tried to sell a book idea to several publishers back in 2001. No one took the bait, so I taught myself how to make a Web site and created stencilarchive.org. Don’t bother checking out the link right now; the site is down once again.

Lately, stencils have been a painful part of my life. Before November of last year, I was working with a designer on a new redesign of the site. He assured me it was easy, is an activist, so gave me a great deal for his labor. I watched him design the new site and work the code. He sure as hell knew more than I did. All the features that I wanted, he found as “modules” with an open source code called PostNuke.

We worked weekly on the site. I watched him more than helped him, but eventually started uploading content to the new sections that I’d thought up. It was looking good, moving along, until the designer couldn’t make the album module work with my current host server. He suggested that I move the site to someone he worked with. The new host would work with us on allowing permissions that my old host wouldn’t open for security reasons.

I wanted the site to go live in October to crossover with the street art show I was co-producing. “For the People” had great art on the walls, and the scene showed up. It made no money and [content deleted due to accusations of defamation of character by the co-producer] So I never contacted him.

Stencil Archive went live on the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday for celebrating loved ones who’ve passed into the shadows. The site was live for a few days and then went down. It took my new host’s other sites down as well. They wouldn’t let my site up for weeks while they upgraded their server and security shell. At one point, it went live and was instantly hacked via the PostNuke source code. A temporary headache, but another headache nonetheless.

While down, I had to beg my designer to work with the host admin to make changes. I wouldn’t hear from him for days, and then he’d pull an allnighter to try to get the site up again. I can understand his reluctance. I wasn’t paying him much (the site makes very little money), and he’s got other things in his life going on. He was very supportive when he responded to my pleas and actually got the site up again about three months after it went down.

Stencil Archive went live again with little fanfare this time. It was about 80% complete, so I had to reinstall the FAQ and some links. I had hundreds of stencil pics backed up to upload and didn’t have permission to access the albums. I had to ask my designer to help me with permissions, and he finally responded with another allnighter. It took the host’s server down again.

Last week my new host admin officially took over Stencil Archive. Though I was impressed by my desingers coding skills, he is not a coder. Now my bill for hosting and design just got higher. The admin called Stencil Archive a hobby site, though I’ve always wanted to have a store on there to at least break even on the price I pay to support it. It’s still down, and now the admin is trying to contact the designer to see what changes were made to the code. So the pain continues.

About the same time last week, the For the People co-producer [content deleted due to accusations of defamation of character by the co-producer]

Soon after that, the co-producer started [content deleted due to accusations of defamation of character by the co-producer] I called him on it.

He threw [content deleted due to accusations of defamation of character by the co-producer] Just isn’t my thang.

Anyway, [content deleted due to accusations of defamation of character by the co-producer]…terminated.

So the moral of this story, and the story has only been partially laid out here, is to try to get things in writing. This isn’t the first or second time I’ve been burned by supposed verbal agreements. CELLspace learned this the hard way and I guess I am too. When money is involved in shady underworld art scenes, a handshake is usually the beginning of a road to pain. If you don’t get things in writing, at least save every last e-mail and typed notes you have. It may clear things up down the road, or in small claims.

dreams Stencil Board

I go to a local art store to buy some stencil board. The worker tells me that they have regulated that product due to its misuse by street artists. To buy some, I’ll have to sign a waiver saying that I won’t use it for illegal reasons. I agree to sign, thinking of a fake name (Wayton?), and the worker tells me that I have to sign with a manager.

I find the manager outside near a pick-up. I ask her what I need to sign and she hands me a piece of scrap paper. She isn’t paying any attention to me when I hand the paper back to her. “Excuse me, here’s the paper.” “What? Oh, sorry. How can I focus with that going on over there.” She motions to the street behind us, and I look over my shoulder.

Someone has be brutally run over. A rolled-up, mangled body lies in the middle of the road, and possessions are strewn about. I think it may have been a homeless person, and turn away in horror. The manager has walked out into the street, well away from the accident, and is crouched down, bawling and talking to herself.