Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Wangari Maathai, Dining for Women & LA

I have a confession to make. I didn't want to jinx it, so I didn't mention it in my book review of Wangari Maathai's memoir, Unbowed, but I finished the book last week because on Friday my husband and I flew to Los Angeles to hear Maathai speak at a fundraiser organized by the African Millennium Foundation.

Marsha Wallace, the founder of Dining for Women, contacted me after reading some of the posts I had written about Dining for Women here and on BlogHer, and invited my husband and I to be Dining for Women's guest at the event. Dining for Women was one of the evening's sponsors. They are donating the proceeds from next month's dinners to Maathai's project, Women for Change.

The event was held at Inner Gardens, a lush garden showroom filled with plants and flowers. After sampling all of the tasty appetizers from JAR and the Bombay Cafe, including the most delicious coconut cupcakes ever, we settled in to listen to Dr. Maathai.

She started the evening by saying, "When I started this work, I wasn't starting a movement." In June 1975, during the the International Women's Year, governments and women from all over the world met in Mexico City for the United Nation's First International Wonmen's Conference. At the time, Maathai was a member of the National Council of Women of Kenya (NCWK). During the two years leading up to the conference, the NCWK met to discuss what issues they thought should be included on the agenda. Mathaai describes the membership of NCWK as elite and urban, with an interest in issues particular to their situation, but when they reached out and heard what women from rural areas had to say--that they needed clean drinking water, nutritious food, firewood, and cash in their pocket (instead of having to ask their husbands for it)--their priorities changed. Mathaai suggested that they plant trees that would supply firewood to cook, provide wood to build fences for farm animals, and protect the soil and watersheds, which would allow the women to grow more food and have clean drinking water. The Green Belt Movement was born.

Originally she thought that the project would last a few years, and then they would move onto something else, but as they worked, they learned that environmental degradation was linked to government degradation and corruption, and that if you had too many inequalites and resources were badly managed, sooner or later you had conflict. The Green Belt Movement evolved into a pro-democracy movement resting on the beliefs that governance and management of resources needed to pre-empt conflict and that by sharing resources equitably, more people felt that they belonged.

Maathai closed by saying, "When a flower is ready to bloom, it blooms without reservation. It does not say, 'Today I will not bloom, I am moody.' It just blooms. Even when people are unhappy, it just blooms. Even if you are sad, when you see it, you smile. Those of us who care about the earth, we need to bloom."

After she finished reading an excerpt from her book, a staff member from Million Trees LA, a project of the City of Los Angeles working to plant 1 million trees, presented Maathai with a certificate of welcome from the city.

I felt really fortunate to hear and be in the presence of such an amazing woman, especially after reading her book. Big thanks to Marsha (pictured here with Malena Ruth, President of the African Millenium Foundation) and Dining for Women for including us.

The San Francisco Dining for Women group that I belong to met last night and we had a yummy dinner where I tasted my first banana cream pie, wow! Our donations this month will go to Women for Women International, an organization that helps women survivors of war rebuild their lives. For $27/month you provide one woman with the funds for basic necessities for her family and for job training. As her sponsor you also exchange monthly letters, which will hopefully provide emotional support as well.

I've really enjoyed all of the Dining for Women dinners I've been a part of and feel like our combined giving does make a difference. If you are interested in starting your own Dining for Women group, joining an existing group, or just want to host a one-time dinner click here for more info.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Kiva on FRONTLINE World & the Big Vision Podcast

I just posted my interview with Jessica Jackley Flannery on the Big Vision Podcast. Jessica is the co-founder and a board member of Kiva, a nonprofit that is using the Internet to connect people through loans to alleviate global poverty. Jessica has worked in rural Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda with the Village Enterprise Fund and Project Baobab on impact evaluation and program development. You can listen to the podcast either on your MP3 player by subscribing to the podcast's feed, or by going to the podcast's web site and clicking on the icon that says POD.

I'll have the transcript of the interview up soon for those of you who are not big podcast listeners, but I wanted to let you know about it sooner than later because you can also watch a documentary about Kiva on FRONTLINE World on Tuesday, October 31st on PBS, or on the FRONTLINE World web site via streaming video a few days after the broadcast. Here's a link to a brief preview of the October 31st show on Google video. If you are not sure of your local PBS station, Click here to search for your local PBS station on the PBS website. Also note that your local station may list the program for that evening as "Burma: State of Fear" which is the headlining story.

Full disclosure: I'm friends with the Editor for FRONTLINE World, David Ritsher.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Why Solutionary Women Blog: Green LA Girl

Can do * good bloggers change the world? I hope so. To inspire more Have Fun * Do Good readers to start their own blogs, I asked one of my fav do * good women bloggers, Siel, or Greeen LA Girl, why she started blogging. Siel writes about all things green in LA and in particular about The Starbucks Challenge and Fair Trade coffee and chocolate.

Why did you start blogging?

I started blogging because I knew that California and Los Angeles were both doing a lot to encourage environmentally friendly practices -- but often, these efforts were unknown to the public. My very first post was about recycling a DVD player -- something I had to do HOURS of research for, to figure out where I could take the broken DVD player, at what time, etc. Once I did the research, I knew I couldn't let that info disappear without letting others know about it. Thus, the blog.

How has your life changed since you started blogging?

I've met many amazing environmentalists in the Los Angeles area via blogging. I've also found a way to channel my environmental and social consciousness through a medium that feels productive :) Also, I get a lot of free coffee.

What blogging tool do you use and why? What are its pros and cons?

I use Wordpress, mainly because it's open source. Yay open source! I really don't see any downsides to Wordpress.

What advice do you have for new women bloggers?

I would encourage them to 1) consider what readers might find useful and interesting, versus what the writer herself might find interesting (i.e. details of her own life, which often tends not to be interesting to people other than herself), and 2) blog regularly, worrying more about the quality of the content than the quantity of readers.

Photo courtesy of Green LA Girl.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Book Review - Unbowed by Wangari Maathai

What people see as fearlessness is really persistence. Because I am focused on the solution, I don't see the danger. Because I don't see the danger, I don't allow my mind to imagine what might happen to me, which is my definition of fear. If you don't foresee the danger and see only the solution, then you can defy anyone and appear strong and fearless.
-Wangari Maathai, Unbowed.
She has been in jail four times and beaten on the head twice. Not a very peaceful life for a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Her new memoir, Unbowed, is the kind of book that you put down every 50 pages and say to whomever is listening, "You're not going to believe what happened next."

The beginning of the book is peaceful and slow-moving, a description of an African girl growing up on a farm in Kenya, but education changes everything. Unlike many African girls at that time, she was given the opportunity to go to elementary and high school, and in 1960 she was one of hundreds of Kenyans who were sent to study at colleges in the United States as part of the "Kennedy Airlift." She went on to earn a B.S. in Biology from Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas, an M.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Ph.D in Anatomy from the University of Nairobi, where she became the Chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy in 1976 and an Associate Professor in 1977. It was at that time that she started the Green Belt Movement, which facilitated women planting trees in their communities to combat deforestation, soil erosion and lack of water.

Then things get crazy. Unable to handle having an extremely educated and increasingly powerful wife, (he was quoted as saying that she was, "too educated, too strong, too successful, too stubborn and too hard to control"), her husband left her in 1977 and proceeded to publicly accuse her of adultery and cruelty. At the time, divorce could only be granted in cases of adultery, cruelty, mental torture or insanity. After the divorce proceedings, when Maathai told a reporter that, "the only way the judge could have granted a divorce on hearsay was that he was either incompetent or corrupt," she was charged with being in contempt of court and thrown in jail. She writes about her divorce:
"[A]s I like to tell people, 'Failing is not a crime.' What is important is that if you fail you have the energy and the will to pull yourself up and keep going."
For over thirty years, Maathai's life has been devoted to fighting for human rights and environmental justice in Africa as the Coordinator of the Green Belt Movement, as a member and Chairman of the National Council of Women in Kenya, as a founding member of GROOTS (Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood), and as a Co-Chair of the Jubilee Africa Campaign. In 2002 she was elected to Kenya's Parliament and was appointed Assistant Minister in the Ministry for Environment and Natural Resources. In 2004 she was the first African woman, and first environmentalist, to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Because of the Green Belt Movement's work, more than 100,000 women have planted 30 million trees across Kenya.

Maathai closes her book by saying,
I am one of the lucky ones who lived to see a new beginning for my country. Others were not so fortunate. But I have always believed that, no matter how dark the cloud, there is always a thin, silver lining, and that is what we must look for. The silver lining may come, if not to us then to the next generation or the generation after that. And maybe with that generation the lining will no longer be thin.
In these times when many of us feel that we are living in a dark cloud, Maathai's story is a hopeful one because she made a positive impact not because she is a super heroine, but because of her persistence and her focus on solutions, skills we can all cultivate.

Full disclosure: I requested a review copy of Unbowed from Alfred A. Knopf. I am not receiving financial compensation from Knopf to review this book.

Photo Credit: Professor Wangari Maathai plants a tree with Senator Barack Obama in Nairobi by Frederick Onyango.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Artivist Film Festival & Awards

I have said in the past that I believe art does not exist only to entertain but also to challenge one to think, to provoke, even to disturb, to engage in a constant search for the truth.--Barbra Streisand.

The 3rd Annual Artivist Film Festival & Awards' mission is to strengthen the voice of international activist artists and raise public awareness of global issues.

This year's festival is November 9-12, 2006 at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, California. I would love to go, but the p.units will be in town visiting me and we'll be going to the Green Festival in San Francisco that weekend.

If I was going, I'd go see:

Freedom Fuels/Sustainable Table on November 11th at 6:15 PM, tix $12.

"FREEDOM FUELS (0:40) Dir - Martin O'Brien
This documentary takes an in-depth look at biofuels from a global perspective and explores how the petroleum industry and alternative fuels have interacted over the last 150 years.

SUSTAINABLE TABLE (0:52) Dir - Mischa Hedges
Sustainable Table is a feature documentary that takes an unadulterated look into the food you eat. What's on your plate? Where does it come from? What effects does it have on the environment and your body?"
And I'd see Shape of Water/Diana's Story/Tibetan Nun's Project on November 12 at 3:45 PM, tix $12.

"DIANA'S STORY (0:06) Dir - Listen Up! Youth Network

My country was at war for 36 years and community structures and resources have been destroyed. While a gang can protect you, it's all too easy to get hurt. I know because I was raped by one of the members of our gang. My healing comes through my involvement with the Iqui Balam Theatre Troupe.

TIBETAN NUN'S PROJECT (0:05) Dir - www.channelg.tv

The Chinese communist takeover of Tibet in 1959 forced more than 100,000 Tibetans to flee into exile. Over 6,000 monasteries were demolished and religious practice was deemed illegal. The Tibetan Nun's Project supports nuns in six different nunneries, two of which we have built from the ground up.

THE SHAPE OF WATER (1:10) Dir - Kum-Kum Bhavnani

The Shape of Water, narrated by Susan Sarandon, interweaves the contradictions and joys of everyday life for Khady, Bilkusben, Oraiza, Dona Antonia, and Gila in Brazil, India, Jerusalem, and Senegal. The women spearhead rainforest preservation (rubber-tappers in Brazilian rainforest): sustain a co-operative of 700,000 rural women (world's largest trades union, India): promote an end to female genital cutting (Senegal): oppose war and the occupation of Palestine (Women In Black, Jerusalem): maintain the Navdanya farm (Himalayan foothills) to further biodiversity and women's role as seed keepers. Fresh insights are offered into the tensions between new traditions and old cultures as it portrays these unsung visionaries creating a more just world.
Send me a review if you go!

Hat tip to Elisa Camahort of Hip and Zen Pen for the story.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Soap and Self-Esteem

OK, ladies, who here hasn't flipped through a magazine and thought, I wish I looked like her. If I just bought a new outfit, got a haircut, lost weight, bought new makeup, exercised more, etc., I would look like her. As part of their "Campaign for Real Beauty," Dove Soap has produced a pretty amazing one-minute movie that shows the "Evolution" of an "everywoman" into a supermodel. Wow, they get a lot of help.

Dove has also created the Dove Self-Esteem Fund which funds the uniquely ME! program for Girl Scouts in the United States, the BodyTalk program in the UK, and the Beyond Compare photo exhibition in Canada and the Netherlands.

Do I know that they are doing this to sell Dove soap, yes. Am I happy that some girl's or woman's self-esteem might be positively affected while they are selling soap, sure, why not?

Hat tip to the GOOD magazine blog for the story.

Photo credit: Screenshot from the Dove site.

I've Started a New Blog: Basic Blogging for Women

Whew! I worked all day today and yesterday to create the beginnings of a new blog, Basic Blogging for Women. Sadly, the Basic Blogging for Women workshop that I was planning to teach this upcoming weekend didn't fill up so I've cancelled it, but I will be working one-on-one with some of the women who signed up. In preparing to work with them, I wanted to create an online resource that they can refer to as they work on their blogs and where I can post links to interesting posts about blogging. I won't be updating it as frequently as Have Fun * Do Good, just when interesting pieces about blogging come my way. Please pass it on to any women you know who are interested in starting to blog. I hope it is helpful to them.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Two Short Films for a Laugh

It is a dreary grey Monday morning here in the Bay Area. If you need a laugh over your coffee or lunch break today, here are links to two Internet movies that are good for a chuckle.

Ha-Hoa Dang, the Web Assistant for EMILY's List wrote me last week to let me know that EMILY's List, a political network for pro-choice Democratic women, has partnered with the September Fund, a 527 group set up by former Clinton advisor Harold M. Ickes, to post the Fund's video "Vote for Change." As you can see from the screenshot, there are some folks talking to a bush . . . I think you can see where this is going. You can watch it with Quicktime or Windows Media here, or watch it on YouTube.

Last week I went to NetSquared's monthly San Francisco Meetup and talked with Japhet Els, Rainforest Action Network's Online Organizer. He told me about their recent Internet movie, "Petrolius: The Oil Habit," a spoof oil commercial. You can watch it on RAN's site, or on YouTube.

As of this writing, 104,168 people have watched the September Fund ad on YouTube since October 12th and 13,688 people have watched "Petrolius" since September 5th. It is pretty amazing how viral videos have become an integral part of outreach for political and social change organizations.

If you are interested in tools and examples of nonprofits using vlogging and digital storytelling to do their work, check out my notes from last week's NetSquared Meetup in San Francisco.

Friday, October 13, 2006

And the Nobel Peace Prize Goes To . . .

Friday the 13th is a lucky day for the Grameen Bank and its founder, Professor Muhammad Yunus, who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize today.

According to the organization's web site:
The Grameen Bank provides credit to the poorest of the poor in rural Bangladesh, without any collateral. . . . As of May 2006, it has 6.61 million borrowers, 97 percent of whom are women. With 2,226 branches, GB provides services in 71,371 villages, covering more than 100 percent of the total villages in Bangladesh.
When Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé wrote their book, Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet, they met Professor Yanus who told them about how he started the Grameen Bank. In the mid-70s, there was a famine in Bangladesh while Professor Yanus was the Head of the Rural Economics Program at the University of Chittagong. Yanus told the Lappés,
"I came to the conclusion that these theories were useless for these dying people. . . I realized that I could help people as a human being, not as an economist. So I decided to become a basic human being."
Through talking with poor people, he came to realize that most of them did not own land and that to earn money they made things. To make things, they had to borrow money to buy materials, but once they paid the lender back with interest, there wasn't enough to live on.

Yunus' first loan was from his own pocket, $27 for 42 people. When he went to a bank to ask if they would help, he was told that the bank wouldn't give loans to people who didn't have collateral, even though Yanus showed the bank evidence that the loans he was continuing to give out of his own pocket were being repaid.

So he decided to start his own bank. He told the Lappés,
"People always ask me, 'How did you get these ideas about lending to the poor?' I say: I knew I had to change the institutions themselves, and whenever I didn't know what to do I would look at the banks, and whatever they did, I did just the opposite. Every time I got into difficulty, I would just reverse the way banks do things, and that became the Grameen Bank."
You can learn more about the Grameen Bank and Muhammad Yunus watching The New Heroes, a PBS series that profiles 14 social entrepreneurs and is available on DVD, by reading Yunus' memoir, Banker to the Poor: Microlending and the Battle Against World Poverty, or watching this video by the Grameen Foundation USA on YouTube.

Photo Credit: "With Grameen borrowers preparing yarn for weaving" from the Grameen Bank web site.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Volunteer with Shunku Llacta and Visit the Rainforests of Ecuador

In June 2005, my friend Abby Jaramillo, the Executive Director of Urban Sprouts, brought six international volunteers to two rural communities in the rainforests of Ecuador, Guayabillas and Santa Rosa, with the organization Shunku Llacta. While the volunteers were there, artisan groups in each community, the Comite Artesanal de Guayabillas and the Grupo Artesanal “La Ilusion” de Santa Rosa, hosted them, which gave both communities skills in eco-tourism. The volunteers helped to construct public bathrooms and worked in the communities' schools.

January 10-24, 2007, the artisans' communities will host eight Shunku Llacta volunteers for two weeks. The two communities are located in the rainforest of northwestern Ecuador and are so remote that they can't be reached by car. Volunteers will work with community members on projects like building a community center, working with children in local elementary schools, and practicing sustainable forest management work. They will stay with residents of each community and have opportunities to explore the rainforest with its diverse native plants, waterfalls and swimming holes.

The volunteer requirements are:

* Be at least 18.
* Fluent in English or Spanish, and at least basic knowledge of Spanish (equivalent of at least two college semesters).
* Interest in community development and cross-cultural communication.
* Other topics of interest may include sustainable agriculture or forestry, production of artisan handicrafts, eco-tourism, education, health, or rural economic development.
* Good health and willingness to stay and work in an extremely remote and rural location.
* Experience living or working with diverse communities.
* Desire to create a community action project which you will implement on your return home, involving your home community in communication and suppport with the communities in Ecuador.

The cost of the trip is $350 and does not include airfare to Quito. The cost includes all in-country travel, room, board, and program expenses during the trip. You are responsible for obtaining your own travel insurance. Two partial scholarships are available.

To apply: Send a resume and cover letter explaining why you are interested in the project, how you meet the requirements, and any related experience you have to Abby Jaramillo, Project Coordinator at shunkullacta@yahoo.com.

Photo: A volunteer helps to harvest fruit.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Sam Suds and the Case of PVC, The Poison Plastic

Did you know that new car smells and new shower curtain smells are from poisonous chemicals off-gassing from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic? Or that children can be exposed to phthalates, poisonous chemicals that PVC releases, by chewing on vinyl toys? I sure didn't. Even more disturbing, PVC plants are disproportionately located in low-income communities and communities of color.

The nice folks at Free Range Studios whose Principal, Jonah Sachs, I interviewed for the Big Vision Podcast, wanted me to let folks know about a new 3-minute movie they've created for the Center for Health, Environment and Justice to teach people about the dangers of PVC called, Sam Suds and the Case of PVC, the Poison Plastic. Like The Meatrix and Store Wars, Free Range uses humor and fun to get their message across.

Sam Suds is a bar of soap in charge of protecting the Johnson family from dangerous toxins. His next case is to find PVC, and he's not making a lot of progress until a rubber duck he calls "Duckface" tells him,

"It's this rubber duck I've been seeing, he seemed nice enough at first, but I'm starting to suspect that he ain't made of rubber. . . I think he's PVC." She shows him a B&W photo of the duck and a boy.
"Yeah, it's little Timmy Johnson chewing on your boyfriend's head. So, what of it?" Sam asks.
"Look closer," she says.
"Hey, what gives? There's a three on this duck's butt." Sam says.

As Sam searches for his suspect, he finds out from a shampoo bottle that the three with arrows is the mark of PVC. When he finally finds the PVC duck and threatens to flush him down the toliet the duck tells him, "What good will it do you? This bathroom is full of PVC."

For more information about PVC, and to watch Sam Suds, go to www.pvcfree.org. They are also asking folks to sign an online petition to ask Target to phase out PVC in products and packaging. Apparently, Wal-Mart has committed to phasing out private label PVC packaging in two years and other companies like Nike, Microsoft, Ikea, H&M, and Johnson & Johnson are phasing out PVC as well.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Have Disrespect * Do Bad : Angry Commenters on This Blog

Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way - that is not easy.

Yesterday I had my first angry commenters on what seemed like an innocuous post about women speaking at the Green Festival:

Will Joan Blades also tell her audience how Jews control the media, Jews manipulate U.S. foreign policy, the Jews and/or Bush blew up the World Trade Center on 9/11, and African-American soldiers are all potential mutineers who should be segregated and disarmed?

Every single one of the above positions were stated at MoveOn's Action Forum, and they received overwhelming approval from the other participants.

More at today's Washington Times


Eli Pariser of MoveOn.Org told Mr. Foxman of the ADL that the MoveOn.Org forum was open to anyone and that they didn't control the posts. This is a lie.

Back in April, 2004, I complained on the Forum and in letters to MoveOn.Org that they were allowing anti-Semitism. (Note: saying Jews control the media is not anti-Israel, it is anti-Semitic.)

So, what happened? My posts were erased and I was banished. The anti-Semitic posts and posters were allowed to stay.

So, if you like anti-Semitism, support MoveOn.Org and accept support from MoveOn.org.

I was humored and saddened. Humored because it's not like this blog is Talking Points Memo and the idea that someone took the time to vent their anger here seemed like misplaced advertising--like trying to sell bikinis in Antarctica. Last week I wrote about Blogging for Chickens and Halloween candy. We're just not that hard core here.

What saddened me was the tone. It would be pretty exciting to have more discussion on Have Fun * Do Good, but only if it is written in a respectful tone. I've created Have Fun * Do Good to be a respite from the negative news we hear most of the time. If readers want to challenge some of the stories here and reveal the dark side of do * good ventures, I welcome it whole-heartedly, those stories are important to hear, but please do so with respect.

Every argument has two sides. To get the other side of this one, I emailed my friend Ilyse Hogue, who is the Campaign Director for MoveOn.org. Here was her response:

MoveOn's ActionForum is an open forum. Anyone can post comments and many of the comments identified were not, in fact, made by MoveOn members.

MoveOn removed the comments as soon as they come to our attention.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) welcomed the responsiveness of MoveOn. ADL believes the matter has been resolved satisfactorily [link is mine].

Anti-Semitism is a serious charge. Six out of the eight members of MoveOn's executive team are Jewish, and we are personally very aware of the ongoing reality of anti-Semitism. We also know that fabricating charges of anti-Semitism as a political smear does real damage to the cause of tolerance, because it undermines the credibility of those who identify anti-semitism where it does occur, and reduces our collective ability to combat it.
Whew. I'm tired now. I'm going to go back to looking for some have fun * do good stories for y'all for tomorrow and leave you with this quote:
Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners.
--Lawrence Sterne
Photo credit: Sad Puppy by Geoff Stearns.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Powerhouse of Solutionary Women Speaking at the Green Festival

I've been to the Green Festival in San Francisco for the past four years and each year I look forward to it. It's affordable, the tickets are $15, and it's super fun. I took my parents last year and they are coming out again this year to go again.

The Green Festival is October 14-15 in Washington DC, November 10-12 in San Francisco, and April 21-22, 2007 in Chicago.

There are tons of amazing speakers at all of the events, including some fabulous visionary, activist and social entrepreneurial women.

Check out some of the women speaking at the Green Festival in San Francisco:

* Alice Walker will be speaking about "We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For."
* Alisa Gravitz, Co-op America's Executive Director, will be talking about "Solar Future: Making It Happen Now."
* My friend, Alli Chagi-Starr, will be talking about arts activism and her organization Art in Action.
* Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! will speak about "Independent Media in a Time of War."
* Joan Blades, co-founder of MoveOn.org, will speak about,"Motherhood: The Next Political Movement."
* Lisa Day of Participant Productions is on a panel entitled, "Changing Minds Through Media."
* Medea Benjamin, Founding Director of Global Exchange will talk about Code Pink, which she co-founded.

If you live on the West Coast, East Coast or in the Midwest, it's worth the trip to check out your local Green Festival.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Fight Hunger Viral Video Contest

In 2006, 760,000 people in 118 countries and 420 locations walked as part of the Walk the World campaign. Now FightHunger.org (a project of the UN World Food Program and partners) is launching a Walk the World Viral Video Contest. They are looking for an, "upbeat viral video that spreads the word about ending child hunger by 2015."

Here's how to enter:

"Create your video (no longer than 120 seconds) and submit it to your favourite online video service (such as YouTube.com or Google Videos). Read the contest rules before you submit your entry. The closing date for entries is 15 Dec 2006. Winners will be listed on this site on 29th Dec 2006.

To enter the contest first register and login to the site. Then submit your entry using this webform. If your video is accepted we will send you a confirmation email."

The WFP has a lot of groovy stuff going on on their site:

A blog (except, I can't seem to find its feed to add it to my Bloglines account), a news aggregator (although I'm not sure why this article about The World's Wackiest Hotels is in it), the online game, Foodforce where winning means feeding millions of hungry people in "Sheylan," and a YouTube channel.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Blogging for Chickens: Using Your Blog to Raise Money for a Good Cause

Darren Rowse celebrated ProBlogger's second birthday by raising $1100 (AU), or about $830 US, to buy 110 pairs of chickens for impoverished families via Oxfam Australia. He put a percentage of his weekly blogging income into buying chickens and invited his readers to contribute as well.

Readers could give in one of two ways: donate to Oxfam Australia directly, and send Darren an e-card during the purchasing process to let him know how many chickens they had purchased, or send him a donation via PayPal with a note saying that it was for the "chickens project."

He put up a "chook-o-meter" in the sidebar which tallied the number of chickens that had been donated (pictured here). When Oxfam contacted Rowse, they said that Blogging for Chickens was, "one of the more interesting fundraisers that they’ve seen."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Have Fun * Do Good Halloween Chocolate

According to Professional Candy Buyer Magazine, here are the Top 5 Halloween Chocolate Vendors, and what I think are their sales for 4 weeks ending November 6, 2005:

THE HERSHEY CO. $246,451,200
MASTERFOODS USA $157,794,100
NESTLE USA INC $60,222,940

As I mentioned in my "Pink M&Ms and Fair Trade" post, Global Exchange reported that:

In 2001, the U.S. State Department, the International Labor Organization and others reported child slavery on many cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast, source of 43% of the world's cocoa. Subsequent research by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture revealed some 284,000 children between the ages of 9 and 12 working in hazardous conditions on West African cocoa farms. Of these children, it was reported that some 12,000 child cocoa workers that had participated in the study were likely to have arrived in their situation as a result of child trafficking.
Improvements have been made, but not to the extent they need to be, so if you're giving out Halloween candy this year, considering giving out Fair Trade Chocolate from Art Bars, Dagoba, Equal Exchange and Divine, or order Global Exchange's Trick or Treat Chocolates ($7.95 for 42 pieces).

I ordered some last year, but no trick o' treaters came to our door so I err, ate them myself . . . I think I went a little over my 8 teaspoons of sugar that day . . .

Update 9/28/10:  Here's a more recent post about Fair Trade chocolate, Nine Fair Trade Chocolate Bars.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Make Cupcakes, Not War

I know yesterday I was bemoaning the amount of sugar Americans eat, but I do LOVE cupcakes, and Marnie Webb sent me the link to this cute blog that I had to share.

5 year old Isabella Lamb is running for the presidential election in 2040. Ok, really, her parents have set up the campaign as a statement for campaign finance reform. As her father, Paul Lamb, says in his August interview on NPR's Marketplace:

"I nearly cried when I heard presidential candidates spent $880 million during the 2004 election. That's about $3 for every man, woman and child in the United States.

Not only is it a ridiculous waste of money, but it means that only the super-rich or super-connected can even begin to contemplate a run for the presidency.

Well, I for one am not waiting around for real campaign finance reform any longer. I have decided to take matters into my own hands and those of my daughter's.

I am taking my $3 and investing it in a presidential campaign to elect my oldest daughter, currently age 5, to the presidency in the year 2040."
Her campaign platform is based on what she learned in kindergarten:
1. Play nice
2. Don't cheat
3. Help out without being asked
4. Raise your hand before you talk
5. Share with everybody
6. Don't lie
7. No yelling
8. No fighting
9. Pick up after yourself
10. Don't take things that aren't yours.
And she has a slogan: "Make Cupcakes Not War."

You can order t-shirts, coffee mugs or bumper stickers here.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Nutrition and Education Go Hand in Hand

Abby Jaramillo, the Executive Director of the school gardening nonprofit, Urban Sprouts, recently posted about an experiment she did with some of her students from June Jordan, a San Francisco public middle school. Each student kept a 24-hour food diary and wrote down the nutrition facts for all the foods they ate. At the end of the week they totaled the percentage of calories from fat, the total grams of sugar eaten in one day, and how much dietary fiber they were eating.

"One Jamba Juice finished a student for the whole day, and another student needed to double bag his sugar collection," Abby writes.

According to NutritionData, a 16 oz Coldbuster Jamba Juice has 70 grams of sugar, a 12 oz Starbucks Caffe Vanilla Frappuccino, a popular drink with Abby's students, has 42 grams of sugar, and a 12 oz Child Size McDonald's Beverage Coca Cola Classic has 30 grams of sugar. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that a 2,000-calorie diet allows for 267 "discretionary calories" or 8 teaspoons (32 g) of sugars.

One woman working for better nutrition for young people is Chef Ann Cooper, author of Lunch Lessons: Changing The Way We Feed Our Children. Check out her list of Tips for Healthy Eating with your kids on her blog. You can see a video of Chef Ann on the site of two other food activists, Amy Kalafa and Susan Rubin, who are making a movie about school cafeteria food called, Two Angry Moms.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Online Storytelling & Cause Marketing: An Interview with Jonah Sachs of Free Range Studios

Before I left for Peru, I did an interview for the Big Vision Podcast with Jonah Sachs, the Principal of Free Range Studios, an advertising and marketing firm with offices in Washington DC and Berkeley, California that specializes in non-profits and socially responsible businesses. They created the award-winning film, The Meatrix, about factory farming, and the hilarious film, Store Wars, about the importance of organic farming.

I thought I'd share the transcript of the interview (done by CastingWords) with you.
Jonah Sachs: We were founded as Free Range Graphics, but we are actually called Free Range Studios now. Free Range Studios is an advertising and marketing firm that specializes in progressive non-profit and socially responsible businesses, but we are best known for our online storytelling. We do a lot of print design; we started in website design; what we do that people see the most is online storytelling.

As we've grown up with it, and we've been doing it since about 1998, it has suddenly become the sort of thing that everybody is talking about now, is how do you do online advertising content that is entertaining and engaging. We've been doing that in the non-profit and social activism space for this whole time. Up until now, we've really found that it is an advantage that cause marketing has over traditional marketing, just in that people like to pass along educational or cause-related messages more than they do traditional advertisements. With so many new people entering the space, hopefully, we'll be able to keep that edge. I know that corporations are really desperate to get into it as well.

We have offices in Washington DC and in Berkeley, California, and there are about 25 of us now. We work for clients across the board from non-profits like the ACLU and Greenpeace to more political causes. We did John Kerry for President, before that, Howard Dean for America. We also work with some socially responsible businesses like Green Mountain Coffee Roasters; we are working with Annie's Organic right now, and so a broad mix of people who are trying to make the world a better place.
Britt: How did you get started?
Jonah: I started Free Range with a friend of mine, Louis Fox, when we were 22 years old. We've been friends since we were seven, so we already had a very long collaborative history. Louis is a traditional artist and I was in the journalism field. We wanted to combine our talents and felt graphic design would be a good place to start. We had been working on films as kids for a long time; we liked the kind of mass communication. We also were both committed to social activism and felt shut out of the advertising world because we felt it was a really interesting medium, but we also felt that it wouldn't be right to spread messages that we did not believe in.

When we started in Washington in 1998, we had an idea that we would just give it a shot. We put up a website; we did not even have any practical experience in the field, but we put up a website and said that we only serve progressive non-profits. We hadn't started political or socially responsible businesses at that point. We just sort of put it out there, and it's a very small community and a very loyal community, especially in Washington, of progressive people. People really responded well to that, and that has been our niche ever since. We've stayed true to that even though some opportunities have come up to leave that, but that is what really gets us excited.
Britt: One of your most famous campaigns is "The Meatrix." Can you talk a little bit about its evolution?
Jonah: Well, I forget now how when we did it. 2002? When we first got together to do The Meatrix, we actually had this idea to do a Gratitude Grant to our clients as a way of just saying thank you and also getting more known in the field, so we put out this call for grant applications and said, we'll give away a free flash movie. We also did it because we wanted creative control over our project. We hadn't really had full creative control over a project yet, so we figured if we gave one away to a worthy cause, we could really get our creative thinking completely unfiltered through it.

We got about 75 applications and one of them came from Global Resource Action Center for the Environment, which is called GRACE. They wanted to do something about factory farming, and that has really been an issue that has been close to Louis' and my heart for a long time. It really combines so many different problems in society, from environmental concerns, labor concerns, animal rights concerns, health concerns and we just saw it as this great nexus of all these different things that if we could solve this problem -- which we probably never could completely solve it, it's so endemic to our society -- but if we can address it, then we are addressing a lot of different issues.

We said, "All right, let's take on this issue," both, because it's really important from an intellectual, social point of view, but also it's a great challenge creatively because it's such an unappealing, difficult message to get out there and groups in the past have really struggled to get people to look at this issue because it's unappealing, it's gross, it's ugly and so we said, "Let's take on this greater challenge and see if we can come up with something that talks about the issue in a different way."

We spent about three months really digging through tons of different ideas that we had and kept running into the same roadblock, that it was just kind of a downer. You were not giving anybody anything by telling him or her their food came from a terrible place; you were just kind of bumming them out. Maybe the hardcore people who are into this issue would be interested, but no one else would.

One day, we started talking about how important it was for people to realize that factory farming was so bad, that we had to create this fake world in which food comes from a happy farm. You were looking at food labels and how it has nothing to do with the reality; it's so bad we cannot even really look at it, and so we started saying, "Oh, you know that's a little bit like The Matrix. That got us thinking about that scene where Keanu Reeves is plucked out of that pod when he was first woken up, and I thought, that is like a factory farm.

One thing that we've gotten to learn over the years, is that when you start trying to build metaphorical bridges between an issue and a piece of pop culture, which is the best way to move anything anyway, if the bridges start getting built in a "meant to be" way, there is no reason that one bridge should also lead to another because maybe it's like The Matrix in this way, but why would it be like The Matrix in five other ways, too? When they start falling into place like that, and even down to the name, The Meatrix, was actually the last thing we came up with.

I remember sitting in a concert, we had everything done except the name. I don't know why, but we just couldn't think of the right name for it. When the name came, it was like it was pre-made and meant to be that way. It just felt right that there were so many metaphorical connections between the two and I think that people saw that.

We get instant feedback about how successful our stuff is because the web provides numbers, hard numbers about who sees what you do. We often know when we hit something just right; it will resonate with other people. We knew when we put The Meatrix out, in a lot of ways that we had hit something that resonated and was just meant to be. I think that we really succeeded also in making it kinds of consumable, fun and funny without trivializing the issue.

We've been trying since then to learn all those lessons and continue to make more stuff like that. Sometimes it's very successful, and yet there is no real formula for it. Each issue need its own creative thinking, and a lot of times we aren't able to come up with something like The Meatrix, but sometimes we are, and that is what is really fun.
Britt: That is one of your best known success stories. What's a lesser known success story?
Jonah: One of the really early ones that we did was a piece for Amnesty International about conflict diamonds. Amnesty was trying to push a bill that was in the House of Representatives trying to stop what they were calling "blood diamonds" or "dirty diamonds" or "conflict diamonds," which come from parts of the world where there is civil war and people are enslaved and tortured to bring diamonds out of the ground.

This was back in '99 when Flash was pretty rudimentary, you couldn't do a lot with it. We put together a Flash movie that was a spoof of the famous De Beers Shadow Hands commercial that took you back and not only showed the ring being put on the finger, but went in reverse and showed where the diamond came from.

This was in the days where anything that moves on the Internet was exciting, so we had a real leg up. We put it out there; we also put it on CD and ran a whole campaign to distribute it on Capitol Hill. It got into the hands of every member of the House of Representatives and that ultimately was part of the successful campaign that Amnesty ran to get a Clean Diamonds Act passed. That really changed the way the diamond trade worked in this country. That was a really good example of not just raising consciousness, which The Meatrix did, but actually kind of making change happen on the ground.

We also do some much more traditional kind of activism stuff. We design the home page and the website for the ACLU. Just in some really subtle ways that only maybe web designers can really appreciate, change the structure of how people are lead through that experience so that they can more easily take action and more easily become involved. In this world the name of the game, in a lot of ways, is collecting email addresses, getting donations and that is the metric by which a lot of these non-profits measure themselves.

Hopefully, they're not doing that at the expense of measuring the change they are making in the world too and some do, but a lot of the work that we do is really to help our clients build the organization, not just the message, so that they can get more signatures, get more on the email lists and hopefully build them into big supporters. You have to make all kind of different tools that do that, whether they are storytelling tools or just regular web tools. Now we are starting to combine a little bit more of the community web stuff with the storytelling stuff so that we can not only bring people in, but also give them stuff to really do online. That is what everyone is trying to do now, of course, with the Web 2.0 stuff.
Britt: What has been the biggest challenge of this work?
Jonah: In the eight or nine years that we've been doing this, it has been a hard time in terms of concrete victories for progressive causes and progressive ideas. I think that in terms of consciousness raising, in terms of pop culture adopting a lot of stuff that was maybe thought of as environmental fringe or as progressive, civil rights kind of fringe, I think it has penetrated pop culture a lot more. You can look at the covers of Vanity Fair, Newsweek or Time and everyone wants to run the next story about Al Gore or about global warming becoming accepted as fact. As far as real change on the ground and real political victory, it has been a really hard time, and keeping staff motivated, keeping ourselves motivated, sometimes it just feels like it's a losing battle.

At the same time, we've always felt that if you can raise consciousness and if you can get people familiar in speaking the language of progressive politics, then eventually it will come around. In a lot of ways, conservatives built their base starting on the real cultural and not necessarily political level. That's what we're trying to do now.

I definitely see the most hopeful thing that has come about since we've started doing this is just that everyone is now on the Internet and something like The Meatrix can be seen at the level of a primetime television show without being filtered through corporate interests. We kind of have the means of production now in our hands and the means of distribution, which is really amazing. We tried to make a documentary film in 1994 and we needed another $45,ooo just to work on the editing machines. Now, we've have it all in our laptops and we can make anything we want to make.

I think that there is a democratization that is going on despite the big losses that we've suffered on the global and political scale. There has been a real democratization and a diffusion of power. People are starting to talk to each other, spread ideas, spread issues, and hopefully, if that doesn't get hijacked by corporate advertising and stays true and real, people will raise their consciousness further and further and momentum will keep building, and this work will be worth it.
Britt: How do you keep inspired and not get burned out?
Jonah: I think in some ways a lot of the food for our souls comes from just the creative process. Everybody that works here is creative in some way, and many people in the traditional way that you think of creativity; coming up with fun ideas and coming up with fun visuals. In a lot of ways, taking each challenge in a little bit of a vacuum and saying, "Okay, maybe we're not going to save every endangered species at the moment, but let's really work on this particular species. How can we tell the story in a way that's never been told before?"

Meeting that small creative challenge is very nourishing. Then seeing your solution to the creative challenge being seen on a grand scale, see it come up on CNN, watch it get 100,000 views on the Internet or something like that, that's very fulfilling. It doesn't necessarily mean that you have changed the world the way that you ultimately hope to. Every once in a while, maybe once a year, we'll get a major victory and we'll feel like, "Ah, we've really changed something here." I think it's kind of a balance of both keeping track of the change that we are actually making in the world and just feeding our own creative spirits and having fun and coming up with fun story ideas.
Britt: What advice would you give someone who wants to use their design or marketing skills for positive change?
Jonah: First of all, there is definitely a large industry out there and a large potential client base of non-profits and socially responsible businesses, who are doing this kind of work, and there is whole industry that exists to serve that. I think a lot of people think there is no money whatsoever in a non-profit field or that non-profit means non-funded. Yes, it's not funded at the same level and a company of our size in the corporate world would certainly bring in a lot more money than we are. But I think the work is out there.

Penetrating the communities and the groups that you are interested in working with, as a volunteer or networking through those people and being truly passionate about the causes that you want to work on does buy a tremendous amount of credibility with the potential clients that you're working for. That's really what we did; we did a lot of really cheap, free work at the beginning for causes that we could speak passionately about. We weren't like every other design firm because we understood the issues and we really cared. You can't fake that kind of passion.

I think, if you really want to use your creativity for things you believe in, it's first really important to figure out, "What do I believe in? What's the one thing that I could work on?" Maybe you're working on corporate advertising stuff, but you want to do one pro bono project, or you want to do one cut-rate project a year. Find the one that you're most passionate about and really learn to speak that language of the people that you want to work with. I think that's really appreciated, because everyone in this world is taking some kind of financial hit for their passion, so they're very loyal to others that share their passion. That would be my main advice for it.

I think, also, whether or not you are able to do full-time cause-related work, the other thing that could help keep the creative soul alive is to make sure that the work that you are doing is not necessarily doing harm. Maybe you're not totally psyched about every piece that you're working on, but when a flag does go up in your conscience that maybe I'm spreading a message that's actually harmful, or is untrue or manipulates people in a way that's not helpful to the audience, just start taking small stands where you can to not do that kind of work. Funnel your creativity to something that at least you feel is neutral to begin with.

We've always advertised ourselves as simply working for progressive politics and non-profits. But at the beginning to get going, we definitely picked and chose some small, local business and stuff like that to keep ourselves sustained. It's all about making compromises and making sure that you're staying afloat, but also staying at least on a neutral level where you feel that you have integrity in what you're saying.
Britt: Is there anything else you would like people to know about your work or the work of Free Range Studios?
Jonah: The one thing that I've been thinking about a lot lately is how when we started doing this we always dreamed of a time where people wouldn't necessarily tune into primetime television and see their show with the advertisements that supported those shows, but they would actually tune into any station on the Internet that was completely free of corporate control. And one day that would be so mainstream that people wouldn't even be thinking of it as an alternative kind of thing. We hoped that we would become part of the vanguard of the alternative network.

Amazingly, much faster that I thought it was going to happen, it has begun to happen. But nobody is at the vanguard of it. Everybody is doing it and everyone's creating their own stuff, and the best stuff is rising to the top. That's both really exciting to see that the dream is coming true so quickly, but also it's scary too that we can't control it in any way and we can't stay on top of it, maybe saying The Meatrix or Store Wars comes out and is very popular, but we can't promise our clients or promise anybody that we can consistently repeat it because it's inherently a chaotic, democratic world out there of entertainment now.

I kind of regret that we don't get to be the dominant player in it, but then no one does. But also, I think that this is just the best time there has ever been for everybody to just jump into the mix and start using their social networks to promote the kind of message that they have that they're interested in getting out there -- cutting something together quick and dirty, making it fun, putting it out and experimenting with different messages.

I've found that it's not that difficult to get thousands of people, if not millions of people, to see your piece if there's some decent entertainment and some social value to it. I think this is just the best time anyone's ever had to sit down at their computer and get the word out there about whatever they happen to be thinking about. There's really nothing to stop it from diffusing on the Internet. It's a really good time, certainly, to be creative.
For more information about Free Range Studios, go to freerangestudios.com.