Letter to Amerika – Circa 1997
These days are quite full. With Sales trips, and communities conference, and Mockupy prep and preparing to go to europe, being a stand up dad and the TCLR roof and more. My self help practice for these days is to separate how much i love my life and the particulars i am engaged with, for the stress and fear around a number of these projects crashing out of control. Mostly i am succeeding, but it feels a bit like an anti-gravity project.
And trying to find an old fingerbook, i bumped into this letter i wrote 15 years ago, when i was much more busy than i am these days. It is a shameless piece of self promotion, so if that bugs you this is a good piece to skip. And it was also when i was perhaps most politically effective in my life. It also consists of dreams for new types of organizations, which still feel compelling to me today. And it predicts we will stay in the US, including Twin Oaks for 9 months – we are running up on 15 years now.
Letter to america:
Near the beginning of the brilliant 1950s film, A Thousand Clowns, Jason Robarts explains to his young nephew Max that he has not looked for work on this day because it is his own personal holiday:
“You have to make your own holidays, giving everyday its own name – because otherwise you end up on the stuck in traffic going to work not knowing if it is Thursday or Tuesday and it does not even matter if it is Thursday or Tuesday.”
i always liked this idea, but never seemed to have time to make or name my own holidays. Instead, i have adopted the proud tradition of computer programmers (and lifestyle terrorists) around the world – i steal them.
i will celibate “New Years” three times in these few months – Halloween (Pagan), “western” and Chinese. So on this train from Berlin to Prague returning from the middle of these 3 celebrations, here are my pondering on the division of time between past projects and progress and future facts and fantasies. Trying to reach across the big pond to my many comrades in the untied snakes – with this reflective and highly immodest holiday greeting.
It has been a full year. We started with the failed campaign to create a national referendum to close early the nuclear power plant (NPP) in Slovenia (part of former Yugoslavia). A clever politician got the needed signatures from other parliamentarians to create a binding national referendum on closure within 10 years of the Krsko NPP. But then Westinghouse took advantage of this same politicians foolish move of leaving the ruling political party to set up his own trying to take credit for the referendum with him. Westinghouse convinced 10 of the ruling parties parliamentarians to illegally withdrawal their signatures, which collapsed the governmental referendum. And when this same politician then tried to gather 40,000 signatures for the campaign, we got dragged into a huge frustrating campaign. Tragically, polls indicated if we could get the signatures we would win the referendum. But the bizarre multi-step registration laws in Slovenia made the task nearly impossible – despite film festivals, raves, TV appearances, several articles in print, our first campaign webpage and numerous inspired actions.
Adam, Ben and i camped out in our office in Ljubljana for several months, working hard but also enjoying charms of the richest country of the former communist states. [And according to one UN study, the best educated country in the world.] i appreciated that in this small country the president still mows his own lawn. We frequented the Matelkova squat which in 1990 had been the scene of a 100,000 person demonstration (in a country of only 2 million) forcing the Yugoslav army out and taking over the barracks as public space. We also spent a bunch of time “geeking” at the Kud cyber cafe (my first).
The Krsko campaign over lapped the Chernobyl 10th Anniversary (C +10) campaign, which was also less than a dream come true. The problem was that we were unable to realize the plans of our initial big Kiev mtg, where we brainstormed some excellent ideas, but lacked the commitment and funds to make most of them happen.
What did happen, was scores of national based actions, lots of propaganda production (including our anti-nuclear fingerbook in 10 languages), music (including the Chernobyl No More CD that Ben and i sparked, with 16 Punk Bands and spoken word by Noam Chomsky, Jello Biafra and Amory Lovins in an amazingly eclectic mix) and a very large conference.
i dont like conferences as a rule, but i must confess this one was enjoyable. Some 250 of the most interesting and most experienced anti-nuclear analysts and activists from across Europe and around the world converged on Kiev the week before the April 26 disaster anniversary. Some vital new alliances were formed and the Ukraine was added to my list of countries where i have spent time in jail. This time for preventing the entrance of technocrats to the unapologetic Ukranian Ministry of Atomic Energy.
This day in the Kiev prison gave me some more time with my most unusual new ally – Vladimir Sliviak (our previous longest conversation was in jail together in Berlin, after locking our heads to the bottom of buses taking US Oil and Car industry executives to the UN Climate Conference). It takes a very special kind of person to do direct action in Russia, especially if one is daring enuf to start this kind of work before the revolution. But when you meet Lucifer (as he jokingly calls himself), you begin to understand why someone might do it – and as you get to know him better, you begin to see why for some people there is no other choice. Tall, thin, long wavy hair and eyes like Rasputin, this seemingly melancholic Russian has several claims to fame, but results are the ones most people understand. And for him and his Russian anti-nuclear comrades, 1996 was a very good year.
Kaliningrad is physically disconnected from the rest of Mother Russia, resting between Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic Sea. Yellow Cake (unfinished NPP fuel) shipped from St Petersburg to the west must come thru Kaliningrad for permissions and provisions. Vladimirs group, EcoDefense!, wanted to block on shipment going to the US – but the military city nature of Kaliningrad made a Greenpeace Navy style blockade impossible. Instead they blockaded the administration building making it impossible for the boat to get permission to land. After several days of waiting and over a million dollars of costs the boat returned to St Petersburg and suit was brought against EcoDefense! for their actions. But EcoDefense! not only won the suit, it also went on to push legislation which will block all radioactive transport thru Russia’s only cold water port.
But direct action is not the only tool. EcoDefense! has also helped convinced the local authorities in Rostov (Russia) to halt construction of a nuclear power plant until there is a binding public regional referendum. And a similar referendum at Kostroma in Russia, just stopped the construction of a nuclear power plant, with 89% of the populace voting against the plant and 60% of the eligible voters participating – without a turn out of over 50% it would not have been binding. (What did Clinton get again ?). Karen and the fine folx from Greenpeace International can take significant credit for this first democratically halted reactor in the east.
i made friends with a philanthropist. It is an unusually alliance between someone who works at having as little as possible, and someone who takes responsibility for controlling great wealth. But clearly Hermann and i have messages for each other. Thru him i learned the first principals of radical forestry: “do as little as possible” which is how he manages his 16,000 acre estate outside of Koln. Unfortunately, it is not enuf to stop with first principals and the second principals (which deal with reducing the damage already done by humans) requires him to employ 60 wise forest people full-time. Thru my eyes, he has been able to see places to put small but strategic amounts of money to push to anti-nuclear effort forward. Hermann, with the force of his personality (and not his money) made the Kiev C+10 conference happen, while i tried to organize the int’l campaign – he was more succssful than i.
The big success of the year was the blockade and trespass action at Temelin. Many of you have seen the article which i wrote for POZOR (Warning) magazine. It chronicles the fireworks we launched from a top the cooling towers, maps of the plant we managed to steal from their poorly secured buildings and the drama of 300 people dedicated to stopping the beast. But for those of you who did not read it, i will clip my favorite part for the story.
“There were comic moments as well, particularly when the PR officer of Temelin tried to use our symbols against us. Standing in front our many banners and the trash blockade we had built in front of the main gate, Mr. Novak calmly explained to the TV Nova audience that the protesters were not affecting the operation of the plant, that everything was under control, and that the security of the plant was in no way violated.
Then, in a priceless piece of good luck, three of our trespassers who had jumped the fence appeared on the other side of the main gate running full speed with plant security in hot pursuit. The TV camera moves away from the confident PR man and onto the sprinting intruders. Two jump through the fence, but the last is grabbed by a security guard and stopped two meters inside the plant. With the TV cameras still running, the last escaped trespasser, turned around went back thru the gate onto the plant, pulls the security guards’ hands off of his captured comrade, pushes the guard to the side. And they both rush through the gate to freedom. The 70 blockaders break into wild applause and shouting and the TV camera returns to the plant PR person whose confidence is shattered. Everything is not under control.”
The Temelin action was a watershed. The press moved distinctly away from the official position, DUHA (the group i work with in the Czech Republic) decided to make Temelin the top priority campaign for the next year and even the Financial Times put our action on the front page. The spirit of the camp was incredible.
After Temelin was Mochovce. The Slovak NPP where we are fighting even harder opponents, but have made great progress (having already knocked out some of the worlds largest banks, utilities and nuclear contractors). Unfortunately, the Slovak government has followed the lead of the British in passing a highly repressive “Criminal Justice” Bill, designed to crush opposition to unpopular policies by outlawing critical expression and press. The difference is that the secret police in Slovakia are so powerful that they can kidnap the Presidents son, drug him, throw him over the Austrian border and never get punished. [The president is a political enemy of the Prime Minister, who controls the secret police.] When witnesses were to testify against the government in this kidnapping, they seemed to die in mysterious car explosions.
The action camp near the Mochovce plant focused on the “positive action” called the Clean Energy Brigades (CEB). These are groups of volunteers working in individual houses installing energy efficiency materials to demonstrate that efficiency really is an alternative to nuclear. We have done CEB for a number of years in the Czech Republic, but this is the first time we have done it in Slovakia. The direct action of the summer was to block the nuclear utilities headquarters in Bratislava. This was a surprisingly successful action from the press angle as well, with over 10 articles appearing on it the next day (even in the sports newspaper). This action employed the SET team (Sustainable Europe Tour), who brought music, theatre and circus acts to political topics around the continent. My guess for the reason the normally aggressive utility negotiated a settlement with the blockaders is that they were not quite sure how they were going to arrest the people on stilts who were blockading without getting someone (possibly the police) hurt.
One of the other projects we started in 96 was the enabling legislation for nationally binding referendums in the Czech Republic. The post revolutionary Czech constitution guarantees the right for referendums, but the details of how to make this happen have never been fixed. When the moment is right, we hope to use the referendum as the final tools to kill the Temelin project.
The final summer event was my last Ecotopia. Organized by my magical wife and her partner JanH, Ecotopia Czech Republic was a chaotic, comic and cosmic affair. I was asked to facilitate (is that the right word?) the marriage of 21 people and a dog – that is all of them together at once. While this event created a bit of controversy and head shaking, it also sparked a number of significant relationships between people who had not previously known each other well. i was honored to be asked to be part of it. But it is my last Ecotopia, in part because i take up too much space, several people were critical of my role in meetings where i seemed to be shadow facilitating, in their eyes. It is also a good time to move on, the thing i most enjoyed contributing are now being well done by others. In part of our always interesting connection, LU has wonderfully replaced me in giving the workshop on jealousy and open relationships. i will miss Ecotopia (the next one is in Scotland), but after 7 i can retire quite content.
[i returned to Am*dam for the end of the summer and lived briefly with the lovely Stephanie who was manically organizing the Hunger Gathering in Rome. This was the counter event to the UN official Food Summit and employed a wonderful very low cost, high shock value action technique. At the final press conference of the official event our folx (who amazingly are still able to get press accreditation) infiltrated and three women stripped naked to reveal slogans written on them while others held banners. We are probably lucky we did not give aging Fidel Castro, who was attending, a heart attack. The pictures are righteous.]
We wrestled with giants at the end of the the year. We organized a boycott of Siemens for their work on Mochovce and i was responsible for the international work. It was quite fun actually and lots of people did actions, press work and in the end over 600 groups from 70 countries signed the call for Siemens to withdrawal. i met twice with the directors of Siemens, who were strikingly uninformed. But what was amazing was the amount of control Siemens has over the media. Our work was virtually invisible in Austria, exactly because Siemens is such a large advertiser – reporters would tell us that they were not coming to our press events because they knew the editor would kill the story. Still we managed to have fun with it. 400 activists landed on the “SiemensCity” doorstep in Berlin the day before New Years. And Anti Siemens Santas were part of the month long boycott motif. i even wore a Santa costum hitching across Germany. The first person who stopped said “look i am a woman driving alone – normally i never pick up hitchhikers, but am i going to be able to sleep tonight if i leave Santa by the side of the road freezing, 3 days before Christmas?”. I made it in record time.
1996 had its serious tragedies as well. Anissa was raped in Germany and this put her (and our relationship) thru incredible strain. I grew in this painful process – and especially learning about making conscious choices to heal yourself. Anissa read lots of feminist stuff, she did her rituals, found her safe places, we both cried our eyes red. Part of healing for her was to becoming more wise, she radicalized more – ultimately deciding not to go to the trail (they caught him, convicted twice before of rape), because it is simply the wrong way to deal with the problem. In the end, we unraveled a bit, Anissa left for a community in Spain, did not like it and is now in London with her gentle lover James, strengthening. I miss her spark.
It was a year of important beginings. We started an anti-nuclear university called FAIRE (Free and Applied Internships in Renewables and Efficiency). We have selected the first nine students (from Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Georgia (the one without Atlanta)). Who are now learning English at a quick rate. We will also do campaign training, media and fundraising work wiht them and then will spend 3 to 6 months in the west at a group actively working on nuclear in their region. I taught three classes last week (the first week of the FAIRE courses) – Fundraising, WWW and places they might intern (Greenpeace, the Oko Institut, NIRS, the Institute for Risk Research, etc). Because they are just starting the language work, my rants were translated into both Russian and Hungarian. As i write this, Lucifer has them hanging from trees by ropes in Budapest, learning technical climbing for actions. A sweet high class problem we have – deciding what is important to teach.
The other new born is PIANO (for the Prague International Anti-Nuclear Office). Krist@, emily, Sarah, Stevie, Katka and Nadia – six wild women from as many countries working to make the Temelin blockade of 1997 an irresistable event. It is very intentionally an all womens office, because that is an important part of what is missing here in the movement. Slightly problematically, the idea came from a boy, this boy. i hustled the money (with some help from Hermann) and selected the “players” (as they are often called) most of whom had not met each other before. At the initial party one observer described it as the largest blind date in history. And to be honest the project has had a bit of trouble landing. But it has gravity on its side. There are some great women coming to the office (to add to the amazing ones already there), they all are inspired by the idea of an all women’s office and they are already well into creating the better party – a key to the revolution. PIANO is building on the power of last years Temelin actions but focusing internationally. And this year by July 6th, just about everyone is convinced they will have created something irresistible. You will likely be able to watch it on CNN or MTV, but you will regret not being there – i promise.
i added another title to my absurdly fractured job. Lead Nuclear Campaigner for Friends of the Earth International (FOEI) network. It sounds more grand than it is, but i was quite pleased to be offered the position at the FOEI annual general meeting in Leeds, UK. It was the first and possibly the last Annual General Meeting i will attend (they tend to require airplanes to get to – next two are in Uruguay and Australia). But i had a blast and with my Czech comrades, we lobbied up quite a storm, pushing the entire 57 nation network to take more radical stands on a number of issues. The job also reconnected me to Chernobyl.
Looming huge is the Chernobyl replacement power scandal. Using your tax money (if you come from just about anywhere) the EU + G-7 are planning on finishing two dangerous and totally unneeded Russian reactors in the Ukraine to replace the two operating ones at Chernobyl. We have a good chance at this one, and the story is breaking right now actually. I will spare you the details, but if banks and bureaucrats try to push ahead (ignoring the results of their own expert studies which advise against the project) then after Temelin and Mochovce this summer it will be on to the Ukraine in August for more fun.
On the non-nuclear propaganda front, the Consensus fingerbook made it into German, Polish and Hungarian. The Open Relationship Fingerbook made it into Czech and German and has a web presence (www.t0.or.at/~C+10/fpp.html). There are rumors of Esperanto, Dutch and French translations, which i will believe when i see. Ben and Erikk made the graphics better and sharper, we printed lots of them and distributed them to the many folx who asked for them. Loosing money hand over fist.
Some people have daughters and ex-wives. In my odd way i seem to have ended up with a wife and an ex-daughter. There is no provision in Czech law for the husband not to be that father of a child when s/he is born. So in one of the more comic court appearances of my life, JanH sued me and Adela for possession of his child. It was all a very friendly affair, except i stumbled badly thru translation when i was not sure why the judge was asking the last time i had slept with Adela (i feared she might be trying to prove ours was a real marriage). The ensuing confusion of answers and wild looks caused the court recorder (who apparently spoke english better than the judge) to loose her ability to keep track of the proceedings because she was laughing so hard. Perhaps it is better there is no official record. Adela is now off to Belgrade, to watch the most likely next revolution, and i am on a train in the wrong direction – damn.
The other more interesting family configuration in my life is that i have been asked to be the biological father for a child i will not be responsible for. An old lover of mine (we are still negotiating, so she shall remain nameless for now) and her partner (who is sterile) very much want to have a child. He (also a friend of mine) was actually first to suggest me as the biological father – i was flattered to be asked and then struck by the myriad of questions it posses. The advice of most of my lovers and intimates is to do it and i am leaning that way. Interesting times.
Crossing the Atlantic. After this summers actions, Hawina (formerly Helmi) and i will take a (hopefully sail) boat to the untied snakes. It is envisioned to be a longish visit (since it is so hard to get there). Stops include my favorite intentional community Twin Oakes (Virginia), Santa Cruz, San Francisco and Seattle of course. Hawina will spend time in Texas, with her lover Joe. After about 9 months of the “home of the free” we plan to return to mama Europa, but “retiring” for me is not totally out of the question.
Dangerous Ideas Department: Rabbit was once fond of saying about computers that they were “A force so powerful they could only be used for good or evil”. The same thing is true, only much more, so for the World Wide Web. Inspired by some of the literature, the idea which is roaming thru my head is to create temporary buying clubs facilitated by the Web. The Website organizers would negotiate with the vendors and get group discounts for bulk purchases. People could add there name to a list which was growing in size to meet the number required for the discount. When the list was long enuf the bulk purchase would be made and the list would start again. The Website organizers (read “some of us”) would go on and act in the benefit of the buyer – creating and advocacy . Moving power away from corporations.
There are a number of political aspects wrapped up in the idea [Which is tentatively called OPTEC for Open Public Trust and Equity Corporation]. The first being that this Web base business give back to the community (via some independent charity) funds equal to half of its profits (or perhaps half of its commissions, which would be higher). The idea is corporations (and this would be incorporated) need to change their relationship between taking from the community and giving to it – this is a somewhat rough solution, but it seems the right order of magnitude.
The second is transparency. There is no reason why the entire accounting for the the company can not be displayed on the Web as well. One of the principal problems with corporations is the way they hide money and make covert decisions. Besides the accounting, the decisions of the organization and their rationale would be posted daily. Plus there would be facilities to promote politically superior production processes, boycott those folx we do not like, some kind of electronic democracy running the evolution of the whole thing. More interesting than watching the tube.
i am excited by another project which is just starting, a set of revolutionary tales which i am crafting with Alyson (the gifted English teacher for the FAIRE project). Tentatively called “Fairytales, Fables and Myths” it will be a fingerbook of radical inspirational short stories, designed for kids age 18 and above. If we do it right it should be a tear jerking, side slapping, money loosing, best seller. Watch for it in fine propaganda outlets near you (a better chance is to drop me a card in 6 months).
i made a New Years resolution to come up with a good idea each day (on average). But an idea is nothing if you do not try to turn it into action, so this gets rolled in as well. One thing i quickly learned is that good ideas often take more than a day to mature to the point where they should be acted on, but generally i am happy with this self imposed creative pressure. So far it has resulted in the changing of countries where some people work and live, hiring our first spy, additional radical virtual schemes (like a Web based artificially intelligent bartering system and the on-line Gaya University (of Sustainability)), risk sharing agreements around fundraising between projects and some integrating new intimacies.
So, this is perhaps too long and still incomplete, but it gives you some sense as to what i am doing instead of regretting not having made it to business school.
Dream Wild Dreams,
Paxus on the border
20 Icy 97
c/o Hnuti DUHA
Jakubske nam 7
60200 Brno, Czech Republic
About paxusa funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.
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