Saturday, July 12, 2014

Israel’s hypocritical claim of “self defense” goes largely unquestioned in U.S. media

Posted By on Sat, Jul 12, 2014 at 9:43 AM

Protesters express outrage at an impromptu demonstration in Spokane on Monday. - MARIANNE TORRES
  • Marianne Torres
  • Protesters express outrage at an impromptu demonstration in Spokane on Monday.

Five days ago, when I interviewed Ayman Nijim, a Gazan masters student working on his degree in Vermont, the bombardment of his neighborhood and other major population centers in Gaza had barely begun. Since then, he has posted updates that tally the numbers of dead and wounded in his town and others in the besieged area and memorialized specific friends killed in the bombing. While the news we see here might portray the success of Israel in targeting Hamas specifically, the stream of images coming directly from Gaza tells a different story. An ambulance carrying wounded to a hospital that can’t sustain electricity for more than 12 hours a day targeted and destroyed; homes, churches, and stores bombed without warning; children dead in their parents’ arms or missing entire pieces of their bodies. 

Mention of the tunnel economy is only made in reference to the weapons that can be brought in and neglects the fact that the tunnel system is also one of the only ways that Gazans receive any supplies whatsoever (food, construction equipment, medicine) as they live under siege. Americans hear the argument that Israel withdrew its troops and all military presence from Gaza in 2005 and therefore, Hamas supporters and civilians have no reason for their rage at Israel. What many people don’t comprehend about this so-called withdrawal is that it was replaced with an arguably more brutal blockade of the 139-square-mile strip, including restriction of access to the Mediterranean Sea that comprises its western edge. This restriction of movement and supply lines began when Hamas won the election in Gaza in 2007 and has degraded conditions in Gaza since then to nearly unlivable levels.

Over half of the population in Gaza, one of the most densely populated places on the planet, are children. For children over the age of 5, this week marks the third time in their lives that they have experienced major military strikes on their homes, schools and neighborhoods. As a result of this daily reality, the majority of people treated for psychological trauma and PTSD in Gaza are children who exhibit symptoms ranging from changes in appetite to loss of speech and permanently stunted brain development. These facts and the humanity of people living in the open air prison that Gaza has become are swept under the rug in favor of more militarism, calls for holy war and scrambles to justify Israel’s actions as self-defense.

Violence, in my mind, has no role to play in a functional human society. As we struggle toward realizing a better world, the attacks from the brutish mentality of war, colonialism and racism remain real threats to their victims. Self defense and nonviolence are complicated philosophies that every political group grapples with as they promote their visions of the world. International law supports the right of occupied people to defend themselves, but Israel’s government consistently shows little regard for those standards. (People interested in the legal technicalities at play in the case of Gaza can read Noura Erakat’s comprehensive piece here.) I can’t endorse the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel, but even less can I endorse the dishonest and chilling reaction from Israel, funded by the U.S., to level entire neighborhoods and put vast resources toward propagandizing the world into believing a lie.

Barack Obama said this week, “Budgets in Washington are tight, but our commitment to Israel’s security remains ironclad. The United States is committed to providing more than $3 billion each year to help finance Israel’s security through 2018.” That $3 billion a year keeps Israel flush in advanced weaponry including their much-touted Iron Dome missile defense system and the bombs and shells currently falling on Gaza. Americans who do not support the U.S. policy of supporting Israel’s actions and “right to exist” as a brutal occupying force based on apartheid policies have little to gain from their lawmakers, it seems. Breaking the normally sluggish pace of policymaking in Congress, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate have already passed resolutions reaffirming unconditional support for Israel and repeating the idea of self defense, casting Hamas as the instigator of current attacks.

In our interview Monday, Ayman Nijim focused on his belief that Americans will soon come to understand our role in this violence and remedy our past actions. He said, “I understand it’s very hard, especially in the U.S. because of the Zionist lobby, but I believe there is deep knowledge now of the atrocities against their brothers and sisters in Palestine and [Americans] will spare no effort to break this lobby.” If you wish to express your support for justice in Palestine as a means to reach peace for everyone involved, the options may seem limited. Corporate and special interest control of our government is, in practical terms, total. The best hope for undoing the apartheid system in Palestine and Israel lies in the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is currently gaining steam internationally and in congregations and campuses here in the U.S. The power of stories is also key. At every opportunity, we must learn to question the dominant tales of the culture and replace them with those that are accurate, fair and in service of humanity.

For those seeking an opportunity to express their outrage at this latest expression of militarism and violence funded by the U.S., the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS) invites you to join in a rally and march this coming Thursday, July 17 at the Rotary Fountain in Riverfront Park at 5:15 pm. More information available at ♦

Taylor Weech, who hosts the weekly public affairs program Praxis on KYRS-FM, is a Spokane writer and activist. She's advocated, among other things, for environmental sustainability and all-ages access to the arts. She shares writing, photography and her podcast at
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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Put a pot shop in every center

Posted By on Wed, Jul 9, 2014 at 5:11 PM


As much as my chest swelled with pride when Al-Jazeera — Al-Ja-frickin-zeera! — covered the first day of legal recreational marijuana sales in Washington state from the vantage point of my ancestral homeland of North Country Homes Boulevard, the story troubled me.

Not because the scene, of a strip mall in our northern ‘burbs, described beautifully by my former Inlander colleague Leah Sottile, was so exactly what you’d expect that it verged on self-parody.

What troubled me was the location itself, and what the location says about the way our city council and other deciders in Spokane have chosen to stunt the full bloom of possibilities, including the massive economic upside of legal, recreational marijuana.

Legal weed could transform our neighborhoods economically, and we’re forcing it to the hinterlands.

I know the strip mall in question well. It’s exactly at the Y where Division splits to become Highway 2 and Highway 395 — a convergence of suburbs, and the very nexus of everything we as a city are trying to move away from. Very little of cultural interest happens for a half-mile in any direction. There’s a Ford dealership, a Rite-Aid, a handful of national fast-food restaurants, and many, many lanes of high-speed traffic.

That’s not just the hauteur of a city slicker talking. My parents live northwest of the Y, near Pattison’s. My grandpa lives southwest a pace, down Country Homes. I have coworkers and friends who live on Five Mile, Wandermere and points beyond. No one drives to the Y unless they’re trying to get somewhere else very, very quickly.

It’s a tangle of arterials, not a hub of culture. And yet it will soon host not one, but two marijuana stores. Satori — just across Division — will open soon.

Meanwhile, the entire South Hill has not a single legal weed store. Nor does Kendall Yards. The only licensed store anywhere west of Division or south of the freeway is basically in Airway Heights.

Part of this far-flinging is state-mandated. The law itself requires a 1,000-foot-buffer zone from schools, parks, libraries, child-care facilities and a bunch of other places, which cuts down on options.

But that wouldn’t have stopped a pot shop near 14th and Grand, one the city’s much-touted CC1 “centers,” the pedestrian-focused commercial zones that Spokane’s master plan decrees shall be the nodes around which to build our next several decades of culture and commerce! CC1s are those special little places inside our hippest neighborhoods where we want people to put art galleries and restaurants, spas and hard cideries. Garland is a CC1, so are South Perry and the International District.

CC1s are the ideal place for something progressive yet commercial like one of America’s few legal pot shops to go. That is, if we viewed pot as a cultural experience like craft beer and local wine.

But the city council has decided that, no, pot is more like strip clubs and porn than it’s like alcohol and ramen burgers. In September of 2013, acting on the hand-wringing of concerned citizens in the Garland neighborhood, the council voted to prohibit marijuana stores, processors and grow operations from CC1 zoned areas. Take a moment and think about the wisdom of the city council letting “a small group of Garland residents and business owners” decide our entire city’s policy on marijuana. Does it make sense to you? It doesn’t to me.

When I cried out to Facebook about the injustice of zero weed stores on the South Hill, Councilman Mike Allen responded: “There is a spot up on Regal that qualified as a potential location. We only had one state liquor on the Hill.”

He’s right about that liquor store thing. But that only points out how the council’s weed policy is actually more restrictive than the old liquor laws. The one store Allen speaks of was at 29th and Grand, next door to what’s now Manito Tap House. Grand and 29th is a CC1, though, so weed is prohibited.

Right now, the only approved location even close to one of our vibrant, or even potentially vibrant, tourist-attracting centers is a location near East Sprague on Ralph Street. But even that is far removed from the International District, closer to Axel’s Pawn Shop than Sonnenberg’s Deli.

Here’s the economic reality: illicit marijuana use is the second-biggest illegal drug market in America, bringing in an estimated $100 billion dollars (in 2010 dollars) every year since 2000. That’s a huge pile of black market money, and guess what? We’re one of only a handful of interesting places in America where weed is now legal. Think of how that money might fit into the mix of an area like Perry, or the section of Sprague we’re so keen to revitalize with all those directed development dollars! People buy some weed, get high “in private” (read: behind the building they bought it in) as the law decrees, and then stick around to sample liberally the neighborhood’s restaurants and whatever else catches their attention.

And think of the tourism! America’s a big, populous place. That’s a captive audience of stoners I’m sure would be eager — stoked, even — to get high and ruminate on just how Near Nature, Near Perfect we are. Quick aside: Visit Spokane, love you guys, but if you aren’t planning a “Weed in Spokane, Washington” tourism campaign, someone needs to lose their job.

But first, we’ve gotta get smarter about what legal pot is and how it can fit into the vibrancy we’re trying to create in this increasingly interesting city. We need to start treating marijuana as a consumable for connoisseurs, not as an obsession for degenerates.

And what a coincidence! We are now — right this minute! — actively incubating, to sometimes stunning effect, connoisseur markets in food, beer and wine, with interesting offshoots like hard cider, liquor at Dry Fly and on-tap Kombucha in Coeur d’Alene. We used to be 10 years behind the times. With on-tap Kombucha, we’ve cut that gap to like 4 years, tops. That deserves a round of applause!

So why, then, do we continue to be so behind-the-times about weed? And why are we relegating a 100-million-dollar connoisseur culture to the hinterlands of our community?

Spokane is the best it’s been in my lifetime, and I’m incredibly excited for the future, but the kombucha-on-tap thing is an apt touchstone: We’re still mostly catching up in the culture game.

We have an opportunity with weed to lead the national conversation, rather than follow it.

Such opportunities are rare, and we should seize it. ♦

Luke Baumgarten, a creative strategist at Seven2 and former culture editor of the Inlander, is a co-founder of Terrain, which organized Bazaar on June 21 in downtown Spokane.

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Monday, June 30, 2014

How the Supreme Court put corporate rights above your health

Posted By on Mon, Jun 30, 2014 at 4:47 PM


When does a corporation become human? Does it happen at conception, when the articles of incorporation are filed? Is it when the final member joins the Board of Directors or when they make the final change to the bylaws? The day they go public? Or does it happen when five out of nine Supreme Court justices decide that an obscure piece of the Constitution could be interpreted to mean that corporations are, and have always been, basically human in their function? Since the Citizens United decision in 2010, this absurd idea has become legal reality with effects that empowered the U.S. oligarchy to run rampant with no meaningful consequences.

As of this morning, the situation is even more strange. The Supreme Court defended the religious freedom of employers to deny birth control as part of their health benefits offered. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote in her dissent, “The exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities.” She is consistent and correct in noting that a corporation is an artificial legal entity. It does not breathe, eat, reproduce or get sick. One would hope that this point wouldn’t require clarification, but this is a world where a CEO’s imaginary friend’s feelings just became more important than my health, your health, and the health of your daughters, wives, sisters and friends.

All laws are a fiction to some extent. They are written by people in an attempt to give structure to the unpredictability and danger of life, but often backfire and eventually, as is true in this case, become so detached from real reality that they’re rendered meaningless. Sure, the federal government will likely adjust to provide the contraceptive coverage that’s been exempted from these few companies, but the point here is less about the specific instance of absurdity and more about the size of the pile of absurdity it’s landed on.

The decision also highlights one of the main issues with large scale indirect governance. Power is shared equally within the power structure regardless of expertise, background or understanding. Predictably, the majority who supported this decision are all men. Once again, men make decisions about women’s bodies and health from the comfortable distance of legal abstraction in the same way that the overwhelmingly wealthy seem to find it easy to cut so-called entitlements for the working poor while also destroying opportunities to leave those programs.

In such an unbalanced system, where millions of people can be affected by the bad decisions of a few, being accurate doesn’t even appear to matter. Justice Samuel Alito, who authored today’s decision, claimed that it would not “provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.” When women are the only group directly targeted by a law, it is a discriminatory law on the basis of sex. This type of discrimination is illegal. Imagining that an individual’s religious practice should have any bearing on any other person’s life is bizarre and disturbing. Despite the dissonance, that’s just the way things work around here, unless we decide to stop giving our power away to the most delusional among us. ♦

Taylor Weech, who hosts the weekly public affairs program Praxis on KYRS-FM, is a Spokane writer and activist. She's advocated, among other things, for environmental sustainability and all-ages access to the arts. She shares writing, photography and her podcast at

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Raising wages in Seattle has reanimated old conversations about the value of work

Posted By on Thu, Jun 5, 2014 at 4:22 PM

  • Jan Treecraft

Lazy, entitled, uneducated burger flippers, the latest menace to society in Washington state, are coming to shut down every small business and inflate prices until no one can buy anything at all. They refuse to get better jobs, they refuse to go back to school, and they want more money. They exemplify the entitlement society we hear so much about in the media and now they want $15 an hour for work that, let’s be honest, could be handled by machines. Earlier this week, Seattle passed a plan to phase in a $15 minimum wage over seven years and depending on who you consult, it’s either the beginning of the end of capitalism, or further proof of an insidious socialist takeover of our beloved free market democracy.


In case your sarcasm filter is shut off, I don’t actually feel this way about minimum wage workers, particularly since I have spent the majority of the past two years as one. The relatively low cost of living here and the lack of financial constraints in my life have made this a fairly comfortable choice for me. I left the better-paying, benefit-providing professional world to make coffee and freelance part time because, frankly, I want to work as little as possible for money. I am in a position where I have the luxury through my circumstances (no car, no kids, no debt) to be much more comfortable in this class than many others are. Technically, I am making poverty wages, but it’s easy to stretch them out in a place like this. On the flip side, it means that I don’t have savings to speak of, need to carefully scrimp and save if I want to travel, and that my health plan involves crossing my fingers and taking lots of vitamins.

Given comments I’ve seen online responding to Seattle’s wage hike and the prospect of it spreading to other cities, there are some misconceptions about minimum wage workers. The dominant perception of the minimum wage worker is the burger flipper referenced above, a person in high school or without college plans supporting their personal expenses, but in fact she is more likely to be college educated, a parent, and over 20 years old than ever before. With over three job seekers for every open position and with the majority of new jobs created since 2010 in the low-wage category, ignorant calls to “get a better job” fall on frustrated ears. It would seem that the only people making this tired argument about burger flippers are people who are insulated from this problem, generally privileged, or retired.

We divide along class lines, but only on the micro level. Small business owners, many of whom are barely scraping by or actually operating at a loss or in debt, are pitted against their own poverty-wage workers. Meanwhile, large corporate monoliths like Walmart and McDonald’s fight to frame their franchises as small businesses, too, despite their incredible profits and CEO pay at 1,000 times (or more) than of frontline workers. The professional class, people who already make a living wage and scrape by more comfortably than we do in the service and retail industries, get offended that a burger flipper or barista should make as much as they do, ignoring their reliance on the cheap labor that gets them their daily latte, dry cleans their suits and cares for their children. We see this misplaced animosity rear its head during conversations about unions, too, while corporate media and corporate-bought policy ignore the real roots and outcomes of incredible wealth inequality.

A fascinating conversation has begun in the wake of the 15 Now! campaign, which has spread to other cities including Spokane in recent months. It has more facets than are possible to cover in one short article. It seems that, for the first time in my lifetime, serious conversations about the failings of capitalism are taking root. As a person whose political views are marginalized by the limited dialogue in this country, I welcome the renewal of a 100-year-old conversation about labor, ownership and the role of work in our lives. At the turn of the 20th century, what is now remembered as the vague “labor movement” was largely split between socialists — who advocated for similar policies that we see their new breed fighting for today — and anarcho-syndicalists who were more interested in radically altering the role of work, technology and ownership altogether. These were not wholly separate philosophies and there was enough overlap in belief that the groups worked together to achieve labor gains, including the eight-hour day, the weekend, paid vacation and sick leave, and safety for industrial workers.

During this time, the same debate we hear today was unfolding regarding the role of the state in regulating the market. Both free market fundamentalists and the new Keynesian intervention believers foresaw a future in which either the market alone or with help from the state provided broad prosperity and advances in technology that relieved most people from the sweat of prolonged labor. John Maynard Keynes predicted in 1930 that the biggest problem of the following decades would be boredom and a failure to know how to appreciate our extensive leisure time. He guessed that “we shall endeavour to make what work there is still to be done to be as widely shared as possible. Three-hour shifts or a fifteen-hour week may put off the problem for a great while. For three hours a day is quite enough to satisfy the old Adam in most of us!”

Thirty years later, at the World’s Fair, Isaac Asimov shared his thoughts about work in our time. “The world of A.D. 2014 will have few routine jobs that cannot be done better by some machine than by any human being. The lucky few who can be involved in creative work of any sort will be the true elite of mankind, for they alone will do more than serve a machine.

“Indeed, the most somber speculation I can make about A.D. 2014 is that in a society of enforced leisure, the most glorious single word in the vocabulary will have become work!”

Both predictions could have come true by now, I think, were it not for increased consumerism fueled by aggressive advertising and cheap goods, and a new category of jobs that emerged in the vague category of administration, management and general bureaucracy maintenance. These jobs represent the shift from an economy focused on creating stuff, to one that largely manages data, strategizes about ways to keep consumerism growing, and endlessly perpetuates itself through consulting, training and brainstorming. The people in these relatively new fields work long hours and generally receive more than minimum wage. They support those in the service industry including restaurant workers, fast food, retail, child care and building maintenance, most of whom make minimum wage. Were they not working so much to maintain their lifestyles, they would have the leisure time to cook for themselves, brew their own morning coffee and tend to their own children. The cycle continues forward instead as people strive to outpace their student, housing or credit card debt while wages stagnate and inflation soars. The family of 2014 requires the equivalent of three 1960s breadwinners to make ends meet. This means both parents at work and a credit card, a single mom working three part-time jobs (a situation George W. Bush once lauded as “uniquely American”), or living on less than a technically livable amount each month.

Ongoing economic desperation has been so normalized that college graduates in my generation simply expect to work for free for a significant time in order to earn the opportunity to work for pay. I have observed my peers cheering a new service, SponsorChange, which pays down student loan debt in exchange for volunteer hours with various nonprofits and charities. To a population already convinced that they need to work for free, and take on tens of thousands in debt before earning a spot at the job market table, this sounds like a sweetheart deal. On second glance, though, the arrangement is a literal reboot of the indentured servitude that brought so many to the U.S., rather than into the job market debt-free, three hundred years ago. This phenomenon is part of the broader issue of the important work that some of these groups do, like environmental restoration and direct level human services, being undervalued by market forces. There is work to be done, but finding a paid gig that helps people is a complicated undertaking. It turns out that in a system that values growth at all costs, undoing the problems created by the growth is the work least valued by the mystical market.

The next few years promise to be an interesting time to be alive and to be working. I hope to see a mass shift in priorities and a disillusionment with the man-made ideas of debt, labor and the dignity of work. Sure to be called an irrational idealist, I believe we can have more wealth, more equality, less destruction, fewer hours spent working and more fun. Perhaps the arguments and conversations and, above all, the results of raising wages in Seattle and across the country can continue to spur us into different modes of thinking and acting at work and in the public sphere. ♦

Taylor Weech, who hosts the weekly public affairs program Praxis on KYRS-FM, is a Spokane writer and activist. She's advocated, among other things, for environmental sustainability and all-ages access to the arts.

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

One of the billion tales that yes, all women, can tell about sexism

Posted By on Thu, May 29, 2014 at 2:14 PM

  • Ruth Orkin's "American Girl in Italy"

Before #YesAllWomen started trending on social media in response to men’s (but not all men’s!) response to feminists’ response to the mass shooting in Santa Barbara this week, and before the shooting itself had occurred, I had completed a draft of the following essay about street harassment. I worried while writing about the reactions that I would receive in the comments. Maybe people will perceive my observations as whining about something relatively unimportant, they’ll think I’m too stuck up to give nice guys a chance, that I am projecting violence onto behavior that’s really innocent, that I need to learn to take a compliment. I felt a lot of pressure from past conversations to pre-empt the commenters in proving that street harassment is not flattering, that it is one of many disturbing expressions of male entitlement to sex and women’s bodies, and that it is part of a continuum of disrespect for female autonomy that too often culminates in severe or even deadly violence.


In an unfortunate twist of fate, the proof of that statement became the most visible news story of the weekend when Elliot Rodger completed his stated desire to bring “reckoning” to women who have denied him the pleasure he felt was his birthright and any men who might ally with them. Reactions from women online prompted a defensive reaction from men (and some women) clamoring to stifle the talk of misogyny in favor of discussing mental illness or gun control. What I hope the #YesAllWomen campaign can continue to show men is how commonplace many of Rodger’s remarks really were, how many of us have experienced firsthand the effects of widespread violence against women, and how quick our culture is to normalize it. By sharing our stories, especially with men who will listen, we can change the culture and begin to take gender inequality and gender-based violence to task.

Here is the essay I was working on, unamended except to add that, yes, all women have days like this one and too many have far worse days, but they’re all part of the same story. Let’s work together to write a new one in which women are respected, men are respected, and everyone has better relationships and a better chance to thrive, love, and grow as a result.

I am walking quickly because I have barely enough time to walk across downtown from Browne’s Addition and make it to the event on time. It’s one of the first days with more than a hint of summer in it and I get to admire the later blossoms on the trees, the slight breeze that is finally refreshing after the chilly winter. Walking has always helped me process my day and connect with nature and with the people around me. I enjoy it so much that I never bought another car after mine met its end seven years ago.

The first honk, accompanied by a simple “Yeah! Nice!” from the passenger seat, jostles me out of my late spring nature reverie, but I recover quickly. A simple honk-and-yell after 10 years of being accosted on the street isn’t enough to enrage me the way it would have as a teenager or as a newly minted (and brimming with righteous indignation) feminist. I make it to the Spokane Club with my confidence and good mood intact, and exchange smiles and nods with my fellow pedestrians. As I cross Monroe, the second honk-and-yell is hurled my way. I cut up to Riverside to avoid waiting for the light and it’s there I get my second “compliment” of the day. Walking past the businesses across from the STA Plaza, a young man is leaning against the bricks listening to music.

“Very nice!” he says, à la Borat, while making direct eye contact with me and smirking. I turn away and keep walking, the best solution I’ve found so far to these kinds of encounters especially when there’s no time for a confrontation and you’re on the verge of being late already. When he’s a few steps behind me, he yells, “Bitch!” and the single syllable is packed with disdain and loathing.

On a feisty day, I would flip him off or yell something back, but today I am determined to let it all roll off and stay in control of my mood. Being insulted on the street is just a reality I’ve learned to handle without a great deal of fanfare by this point in my life. I now have seven minutes to reach my destination and think that I am on target to avoid lateness if I hustle. I cut across a big surface lot, taking the diagonal to save time getting to Sprague. Since I’ve been primed for confrontation on this walk, I am paying more attention to the people around me than I did when I first left the house. Up ahead, between Mootsy’s and the corner at Washington, I see three men talking with each other. They see me and stop their conversation entirely, all turning to wait for me to pass.

“Great,” I think, “a tunnel.”

One is on the building side of the sidewalk and the other two are smoking by the parking meters across from him. The apparent leader of the pack looks to his buddies, and then back at me as he steps out into my path in the sidewalk. He puts one hand out in a request for me to slow down and says, “Hey, girl. You know you crazy hot, right?” It’s a strange rhetorical question and it’s the last straw of my mile or so of patience so far, so I just shrug dramatically with my hands out and yell, “Well!?” as I keep walking. They don’t call me a bitch, but I can hear the slap of high fives and a general noise of approval as they watch me leave.

I share this story here to give an example of what many women go through on their daily commute, particularly if they aren’t in a car. These encounters were fairly tame and on their own don’t prove much about gender-based power dynamics, but I should also mention that they occur in the context of ongoing gender and appearance-based harassment and violence. The context is what makes these instances so much more than what they’re usually characterized as when I share them with male friends, compliments. In addition to comments or expressions of approval about my physical traits on the street, I have also been followed on foot and by men in cars. I have planned or changed my route specifically to avoid being bothered. I have been late to work due to diverting my route away from people I perceived as threatening. I have had trash thrown at me from a car after flipping off a catcaller. I have been groped by a stranger in public. I have been photographed against my will in public and among people I believed to be friends. I have been vilified for putting “nice guys” in the “friendzone” rather than sleeping with or dating them as a reward for their kindness. I have been stalked, harassed and threatened by some of these “nice guys” after I rejected them. I feel lucky to have not been raped, beaten, or killed by a partner or stranger because the odds are not in my favor as a woman. The knowledge my biology endangers me has been ingrained in me since childhood. My experiences are not unique and are, in fact, far better than what a large proportion of other women have dealt with in their lives.

Despite all of this, and though I’ve been slandered as one, I am not a “man-hater.” I hate, well, hate. I hate inequality and injustice and unfairness. And I understand that while men benefit disproportionately from patriarchy, it still doesn’t give them justice or fairness. Men are taught that in order to be manly, they must vanquish other men in their chosen field, dominate physically, intellectually and sexually wherever possible, and gain power over the previously uncontrolled circumstances of their lives. These ideas lead to bullying among boys, a great deal of anger either turned inward or outward, and at the macro level, to destroying life on a mass scale through waging war. Obviously, there are men who fail or refuse to conform to these twisted notions of what it means to be a man. They are often punished for their non-conformity by their peers, by women who believe hyper-masculinity is normal or desirable, and by authority figures. This punishment still pales in comparison to the threats of daily life that come with being female.

Men, as the leaders of our institutions and as the far and away most frequent perpetrators of violence, have the power to end gender inequality and systematic violence against women and they don’t do it. If you are a man and you dismiss women’s concerns on these topics without considering how you fit into the picture, you are part of the problem. If you are a man and you harass women, feel entitled to our time or bodies, or commit other acts of violence or coercion, you are definitely part of the problem. If you are a person who makes excuses for this type of behavior, you are part of the problem. If you think that feminism means women dominating the world in the way men do now, or that it means anything other than ending sex/gender based oppression, your lack of research is part of the problem.

Are men so afraid of being treated like women that they won’t stand up against blatant violence? Though it’s less overt than murder or rape, street harassment is violence. Rather than being treated as part of a continuum of disrespect, dehumanization and violence, it’s treated as a harmless recreational pursuit and dismissed as “boys will be boys” behavior. This summer, I call upon the men who want a better world to stop “complimenting” women on the street, and to call out other men’s disrespectful behavior. If you have children, talk to them early and often about sexism, racism, inequality and justice. Kids seem to have a natural aptitude for identifying unfairness — have you ever given just one of your two children a treat in front of the other? — and if they learn about how it’s structured into our society, they will be better equipped to dismantle it. Perhaps your daughters won’t grow up with boys who have harmful ideas about who or what she is, and your sons will be stronger and better for learning the lessons, too. ♦

Taylor Weech, who hosts the weekly public affairs program Praxis on KYRS-FM, is a Spokane writer and activist. She's advocated, among other things, for environmental sustainability and all-ages access to the arts.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The work three Spokane kids are doing in Africa can help Spokane get better at helping itself

Posted By on Wed, May 28, 2014 at 12:44 PM


A few weeks ago, I went to talk to Kohl Crecelius — co-founder of the lifestyle brand and poverty-fighting nonprofit Krochet Kids — hoping to figure out why he doesn’t live in Spokane anymore.


Kohl and his other co-founders — Stewart Ramsey and Travis Hartanov — all grew up here, in the vicinity of Colbert and Chattaroy. Stewart used to play soccer with my brother, for what that’s worth.

They began crocheting in high school, mostly to have the best hats on the local slopes. Later, in college, volunteering around the world — and especially in East Africa — brought them into intimate contact with desperate poverty. The trio hatched a plan to teach impoverished women in troubled countries to crochet amazing-looking hats and clothing they could sell to other brand-aware, socially conscious people, and they’d pay the women a living wage and get them out of poverty. The rest has been well-documented by many media outlets, including this one, so I won’t rehash it needlessly.

Except to say they had a powerful idea that became a transformational nonprofit. Starting around the same time as companies like Tom’s Shoes, Krochet Kids was on the leading edge of our current wave of social ventures — companies that try to take the best of the for-profit sector and the nonprofit sector in order to generate revenue while making the world a better place. KK is a nonprofit, but only 15 percent of their revenue comes from traditional fundraising — a staggeringly low number. The rest comes from selling awesome clothing to cool kids.

That’s some innovative shit.

So, with all that as background, I went to talk to Kohl hoping to find out why, although Krochet Kids has its origins on the mountains of Eastern Washington, its office is in Costa Mesa, California. Did they find a mentor? Investors attuned to social ventures? A culture of innovation that inspired them?

The answer is pretty mundane: sun, surf and snow-type stuff. They have great things to say about Spokane, they host some of their biggest fundraisers here, and Kohl still calls it “home.” The more interesting story, it turns out, is what’s happening in Uganda. Specifically, what happened after they started paying that living wage.

It quickly became clear that money wasn’t enough. The women needed an education, so Krochet Kids created an education program to teach economics, budgeting, business plan creation, health and wellness, disease identification, “and, you know,” Kohl says, “just helping them understand their rights and privileges as human beings.”

It’s designed as a three-to-five-year course. They’ll graduate their first 50 women — who Kohl says have now become teachers, community leaders and business people — this year. For every success, though, he says they identified another need.

Before a person can formulate a business plan, they have to identify their community’s needs, figure out which of those needs they are well-suited to impact, and develop the solution. That’s a complicated calculus. So they began employing local women as mentors, “people who are college-educated — teachers, counselors — but who still understand the local struggles.” Kohl says they look for people who “will care for the whole person. People who can just love on the women, but then help them contextualize the things they’re learning. It takes visionary leaders.”

The needs kept coming. With education and mentorship, interesting, important business ideas began to form, and Kohl says they realized something else was missing: investment capital.

So they started a credit union, self-capitalized by the women in the program, and able to lend money to start-ups at lower rates than commercial banks. SACCO (the Savings and Credit Cooperative) is now the largest credit union in Northern Uganda, financing the startups that will create more good jobs and, the hope goes, create a beneficial cycle that radiates outward from KK and touches entire communities.

Taken together, Kohl says what they’re doing transcends employment, education, entrepreneurship and capitalization alone: “It’s giving people permission to have dreams.”In the last decade or so — roughly the time Krochet Kids has been operating in Africa (they’re also now in Peru) — Spokane has given itself permission to dream, too.

From ballsy municipal projects like the Riverfront Park plan to our town’s young chefs taking our city seriously as a place to create a real culture around food, we have set increasingly lofty, increasingly ambitious goals for ourselves to change this region and, increasingly, a young generation of smart, educated, idea-and-conviction-driven people are wanting to accept those challenges.

But when I talk to smart, young people about the obstacles they’re facing, it sounds a lot like the problems Krochet Kids encountered in Uganda. And if the problems are the same, it stands to reason the solutions would be similar too.

Maybe what we need in the Inland Northwest is more of what Kohl and his team have begun to build in Uganda: mentors to help bright young leaders plan for the long game, and courageous institutions willing to stake the funds to get them there.

I believe deeply that the sooner that happens, the faster Spokane grows. The longer we wait, the further behind we fall. ♦

Luke Baumgarten, a creative strategist at Seven2 and former culture editor of the Inlander, is a co-founder of Terrain and the founder of Fellow Coworking. He tweets @lukebaumgarten.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How race plays a role in white-on-white crime

Posted By on Tue, May 27, 2014 at 1:05 PM


Just before our nation’s holiday to honor the departed, a twisted shooting spree brought an end to seven lives in California. People say acts of horror and crime leave us wondering why? Social media outlets spark with the latest ideas on our quest to unearth the reasons for the tragedy and possible solutions to prevent similar incidents in the future. But is it really so hard to decode what’s going on?

In a country with enough guns to arm every man, woman and child, gun violence hits the news hard and often. The recent slaughter in Santa Barbara is just one more incident in a long list of homicides. And, thank our lucky stars, the shooter isn’t a black guy.

As black families, we brace ourselves watching news like this, waiting to see the killer’s picture on the screen. In America, you can be sure if there is no picture of the killer, the suspect is white. If the shooter is black or even if there is an unconfirmed “suspect” who is black, the photo will jet to the screen like lightning. And then the race talk ensues with words like “thug,” “criminal,” “ghetto” and “black man” loaded side-by-side like a round of hollow points, aimed to dehumanize and vilify black people. Conversations get tense at work and school, where colleagues let racist statements slip before filtering and kids repeat the commentary they heard at home. Or, some places like our own lily-white Spokane, a black nonprofit received hate mail after a young suspect’s picture hit TV; the letter demanded that black women should be sterilized because it’s in their children’s nature to be violent.

But what happens when the killer is white? Where is the race talk and hate mail? Well, that’s absurd to expect any race talk, right? Part of white privilege is immunity from race critique; isn’t that essentially at the core of white supremacy anyways? No, instead of deploring the horrid condition of “white men,” these stories unfold in one of three ways: 1. He is mentally ill; 2. He was feeling isolated or having a hard time; or 3. He was abused as a child and therefore is just repeating the violence perpetrated on him. Scenario 1 is how Elliot Rodger is already being described and treated in the media and in the psyche of the American people.

But in the case of this Santa Barbara shooter, why are we not looking at the role of assumed white innocence in the death of his six victims? The police officer who interviewed Rodger prior to the slaughter said he was “polite and kind” and didn’t search his residence because there didn’t appear to be any weapons or cause for concern. Recall when one of Jeffrey Dahmer’s victims escaped and, running bleeding and naked to police, sought protection. Against the pleas of two black women standing by who were convinced the victim was in distress, the police turned the youth over to blonde-haired blue-eyed Dahmer who proceeded to rape and kill him. He looked innocent (read white), so that’s all they needed to know. And if a third story is the charm for understanding this concept, in Atlanta a white man pulled up to an elementary school and breezed through an elaborate security system while packing multiple guns, including an AK-47 and 500 rounds of ammunition. America still operates on the basis of assumed white innocence, and it is quite literally an issue of life and death.

Equally alarming is the persistence of assumed black guilt. Researchers at Stanford University conducted studies where police and others, cued with an image of a black person, quickly deciphered very blurred images often associated with crime such as a gun and determined a threat almost instantly. We see this play out in the courtroom and forensic lab, not just for perpetrators but for victims as well. In 2013, 600 percent more white-on-black homicides were deemed justifiable than white-on-white homicides. Even when black youth are shot, their corpses are often examined in search of “evidence” that may implicate them for sharing responsibility for the crime. Will the bodies of the white sorority girls be tested for substances in the Santa Barbara slaughter, and if they had alcohol in their system, will they be assumed partially responsible for their own murder? In the case of black victims, we are responsible — not the killers, not the laws, not the gun culture, not the racism, not our schools, not our community, not you.

So, when do we initiate discussion about the lack of moral fiber in white men? When does it become politically correct to address the connections between racism, sexism and violence in the white community? Maybe we could start with George Zimmerman, Michael Dunn, Theodore Wafer, Randall Kerrick … or Elliot Roger. ♦

Rachel Dolezal, formerly of the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d'Alene, is an award-winning artist and activist who teaches courses in art, Africana history and culture at area universities.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Marriage Equality comes to Idaho, but we’re not done yet!

Posted By on Wed, May 14, 2014 at 11:45 AM


Pending a stay of the court decision, county clerks in Idaho will begin to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples this Friday. Finally, all Idahoans will be given the freedom to marry.

It’s a big deal and it should be celebrated. Even if the decision to overturn Idaho’s marriage ban is delayed, we’re now much further down the road to justice for all our citizens.

But the scary thing is that in too many parts of Idaho, once a couple gets married and sets a picture of themselves on their wedding day on their office desks, they could be asked that same day to clean out their desk and never come back. When they got home, they could find that their landlord had decided to end their lease based solely on their love for their new spouse.

This is because Idaho has failed to expand our Human Rights Act to protect people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

For years now, the legislature has failed to even give the issue a public hearing. They have closed their eyes and covered their ears to the discrimination faced by too many Idahoans. And without seeing and hearing from the people affected, it has been difficult for them to open their hearts.

Yesterday, Idaho Governor Butch Otter filed a preemptive request to stay the decision to allow the freedom to marry in Idaho. I believe he already knew that history, the law and our Constitution would require the ruling from Chief Magistrate Justice Candy Dale to come down in defense of ensuring equality for all of Idaho’s citizens.

But today, the Idaho Statesman reports for the first time that I can recall, that Governor Otter believes the legislature should finally hear from the public about the need for an expansion of the Idaho Human Rights Act. Even as he tries to hold progress back, he admits that it is time to take the next step forward.

Some local cities haven’t waited. In Sandpoint, we took that step at the end of 2011, prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment and public accommodations. We were followed by Boise, Coeur d’Alene, Moscow and others — including the City of Pocatello.

The immediate battle to protect the rights of all Idahoans is taking place next Tuesday in Pocatello, where a small group of residents are trying to take away the rights so many have fought so long for. The city’s anti-discrimination ordinance is on the ballot and its fate could determine the momentum and the politics for expanding protection across Idaho.

Standing up for their city and its values is the group Fair Pocatello. They want to make sure that someone isn’t fired from their job or denied housing just because they are gay or transgender. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve actively supported and donated to this campaign — so should you, by the way!)

This is a battle we must win on the road to justice. For as Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” It’s amazing to be alive at a time when we can watch that bending take place and add our own weight to more swiftly point it in its ultimate direction. ♦

John T. Reuter, a former Sandpoint City Councilman, is the executive director of Conservation Voters for Idaho. He has been active in protecting Idaho's environment, expanding LGBT rights and the Idaho Republican Party.

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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Silver bullet from Seattle

Posted By on Thu, May 8, 2014 at 10:53 AM


One of the authors of the new $15 minimum wage that seems to be taking the West Side of our state by storm was in Spokane Wednesday, talking about how most of what we think we know about the economy is wrong, about the welfare queen that is Wal-Mart and about demand for soft, fluffy pillows.

Nick Hanauer shared his thoughts on income inequality to more than 100 people at the Davenport Hotel — ironically, pointed out event sponsor and local business owner Ron Reed, in the Marie Antoinette Room. Hanauer is a surprising messenger, since he’s a card-carrying member of the 1 percent, having helped the startup of, among many other successful businesses.

“I am the problem,” he said, “rich guys like me.”

Hanauer — a devoted capitalist and noted TED talker — worries that too much greed is shrinking the middle class and will spell doom for many American businesses, like our own Coldwater Creek, which recently closed. He talked about his family’s first business, Pacific Coast Feather — makers of fine pillows. He says business is tough right now because fewer people can afford a high-quality headrest. “Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, they just need one pillow,” he said. A healthy middle class, however, needs lots and lots of pillows.

Last June, after five years of working the issue, his silver-bullet solution was published in a story in Bloomberg News: The $15 minimum wage. Crazy. Insane. Un-American. That was the reaction among the usual Forbes/Wall Street Journal/Republican Party axis. But guess what? The City of Sea-Tac passed the idea into law, and Hanauer says it’s looking 95 percent likely the city of Seattle will do the same very soon.

With more money to spend, lower-wage workers can buy more pillows — and taxpayers can stop buying food stamps for workers at Wal-Mart, which pays their employees below a living wage and leaves it to all of us to fund the difference.

Bill Clinton used to say the best social program is a job, but in recent years, as the chasm between the rich and poor has become ridiculous, there’s been a pretty big caveat added to that sound-bite. A crappy, low-paying job creates even more social problems, but a well-paying job is, indeed, a very good social program.

In an expensive place to live like Seattle, that means $15 an hour; or, as Hanauer put it, “maybe $12 an hour here in Spokane.”

OK local progressives, a citywide $12 minimum wage: You have your mission, should you choose to accept it.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The meaning of May Day and our responsibility to stand with “lawbreakers”

Posted By on Wed, May 7, 2014 at 12:50 PM

  • Taylor Weech

Spring dresses or police barricades? Maypole dance or march? In school, May Day was all about making some type of paper cone receptacle for flowers to be anonymously left on neighbor’s doorsteps. There was a schoolyard-appropriate dance involving a pole. As students grow out of seasonal craft projects in their curriculum, the day fades back into obscurity.


Many countries celebrate May 1 as a public holiday focused not on spring, but on workers’ rights. The U.S., which is not one of those countries, put significant effort into rebranding International Workers Day throughout the 20th century with efforts including Americanization Day, Loyalty Day and Law Day, while redirecting the focus on labor issues to September’s Labor Day. Despite those efforts, workers have kept the origins of May Day — which is placed at the beginning of the month to mark the Haymarket Affair in Chicago in 1886 — in mind when planning observance through general strikes, public demonstrations and other collective actions in defense of workers’ rights.

In 2006, the focus of activists and workers shifted to highlight the struggle of immigrants, particularly those from Mexico, in the U.S. Among low-wage workers in this country, Latino immigrants face all of the hardship visited on other workers, plus the threat of deportation and the racist and xenophobic fears of their neighbors, pushed hard by the corporate-owned conservative mass media. That year, immigrant activists promoted the Great American Boycott, also known as “A Day Without An Immigrant,” to highlight the value of the work done by people coming here from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin and South America.

Demonstrations cropped up all over the country, concentrated in California and other agricultural areas that most heavily depend on migrant workers, including Eastern Washington. That year, MEChA de EWU organized a march in downtown Spokane to bring the issue of immigration reform and its intersection with workers’ rights to light. This video shows some of the ignorant attacks they faced and shares the message of human rights and dignity that the marchers wished to express.

This year, student leaders with MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán) de EWU partnered with organizations throughout the community to march, as they have in years since 2006, to continue spreading their message. To my knowledge, there were no attacks on the marchers, verbal or otherwise, like the ones shown in the videos. There was no counter-protest and bystanders on the sidewalk were overwhelmingly supportive, lending cheers and applause, raising fists and peace signs, and in at least one case, joining in the march. Perhaps in this case, common sense is beginning to triumph over fear-driven nationalism among the general public. I hope it is true.

One group of people who can help undo the damage done by the aggressive, racist rhetoric around Mexican immigration is the media. The only media mention of this event was a story the day before on KREM, which repeatedly referenced the “worry that violence could come to the Lilac City,” based on police attacks and vandalism at May Day demonstrations throughout the Northwest in the past. Fears were allayed by citing the number of police officers who would be present at the march. This sensational focus takes the story back to the realm of fear and overshadows the message of peace and equality. While it’s good to shed light on a story like this, and to interview organizer Jackie Vaughn about the reasons for marching, it is also unhelpful to continue to use the phrase “illegal immigrant.”

How can a person be “illegal”? Seeing the vitriol of the Spokanites in the video from 2006 coupled with the nonsense on cable news focused on the danger of “illegals,” we can at least conclude that the phrase resonates with some. As a nation built by European immigrants, it’s ridiculous to restrict further movement of people into it, particularly the movement of those who are actually indigenous to the continent. Free trade only worked out for the employing class in the U.S. and for global capital as a whole. The fine print in the concept of free trade is that only the money gets to move around freely; the people, the labor force that generates the profit, still get borders and harsh penalties for crossing them.

But when the economic policy creates a situation in which you can’t work in your own country, and extraction industries and cities have made it impossible to survive the way your ancestors did, what other option do you have? A simple definition is that an “illegal” is one who breaks a law. At last Thursday’s rally, SEIU organizer Isaiah Day invoked Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s agreement with St. Thomas Aquinas, saying, “A person has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. Unjust laws are out of harmony with moral laws. What is a just law? Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”

It is certainly degrading to human personality to detain and deport half of the members of a family. It is degrading to be forced to work in a privately run holding facility for immigrants while you await deportation. It is degrading to be separated arbitrarily from your family by borders for years — or forever. People degrade themselves when they invest energy into believing a border is real, especially when they strive to make it more physically real with militarized walls. Talking to the young activists at this rally, I believe that their long-term goals are compatible with mine: equality, restoration of the Earth, real self-governance and freedom. In the short term, many are working to protect their family members who are undocumented. While President Obama granted permanent residence to young people in school under the DREAM Act, that doesn’t go far enough, and rings hollow when his administration’s deportation record is also considered.

Amy Núñez, a leader of MEChA who danced and spoke at the march, shared the story of her parents’ struggle to work in the U.S. and raise her and her siblings here, providing them with education and food on the table while being separated from their parents, her grandparents, who were still in Mexico unable to get visas to visit. She asked at the end of her speech, “It is because of my parents that I am here, so why not offer them a path to citizenship as well?”

A “path to citizenship” immigration reform approach can be one part of a path forward for a more sane humanity. The more that workers in the U.S. who claim the benefits of citizenship by geographical lottery can have solidarity with our sisters and brothers who ended up on the wrong side of the line when the elite classes decided a little more freedom might line their pockets, the more effective we can be at breaking down systems of inequality. ♦

Taylor Weech, who hosts the weekly public affairs program Praxis on KYRS-FM, is a Spokane writer and activist. She's advocated, among other things, for environmental sustainability and all-ages access to the arts.

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