Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How escapism, white privilege and warm fuzzies are destroying the social justice movement

Posted By on Wed, Sep 3, 2014 at 9:58 PM

I am heartbroken. Disappointed. Distraught. Despite a couple decades in the social justice trenches and being witness to legacies of heroes much longer and broader than my own, here we are again. Marching and rallying for justice in Ferguson, petitioning the rich to help feed the poor, bantering about partisan politics and globalization, watching neocolonialism ravage Mother Africa. History is on repeat like an old record stuck on-a-on-a-on-a track. Or maybe it's more like a radio with no signal, the static now the only sound coming through. 

We bounce from the funniest and cutest baby animals to the most shocking and appealing incidents as we casually scroll through Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or the news. We do just enough to protect those closest to us and starve the others from our compassion. But, of course we don't think of it that way. No, once in a while, the best of us throw a crumb of surplus energy/money/time to that person whose struggle is foreign to our own. It makes us feel better and becomes the lubrication for our continued socioracial patriarchal capitalist masturbatory lifestyle.

But what does it all matter? Our charity, our organizations, our churches, our clubs and causes? Do they only amount to the warm fuzzies of a few success stories plastered on our fundraiser fliers or "meaningful" conversations over coffee at Lindaman's? Am I the only one who was not only surprised but also disturbed by the sheer number of do-gooder postings in the “Give Guide” in August’s Inlander? What's wrong with a society that has this many outreach groups and yet no shortage of need and deficit on the streets or in family homes throughout the area? Are we scratching our own backs or really creating social transformation?

As protesters continue to march in Ferguson, what are we doing that is really bringing about a more just and equitable society in Spokane and North Idaho? As millions of dollars are raised in the ALS Ice Bucket challenge, how many people are dying without clean water or with the Ebola virus? What will be the next Twitter #trend? How quickly we moved on from the #bringbackourgirls campaign, the fevered pitch of need now a distant echo in memory? Something about girls from Nigeria being kidnapped. Not our daughters. Forgettable indeed. Who else is forgettable in time? Otto Zhem? Isamu Jordan? All of us? Stories of struggle that once shook our fair city fade into insignificance as we move to the tempo of the latest dance vine and blog thread. We fast-tracked through summer burgers and beer, retail weed stores opening, entertainment and camping, kayaking and huckleberry picking, and now it's back to school for the kiddos. Soon, we will be winterizing our homes and hitting the ski mountain. Just to do it all over again next year?

I asked my son yesterday if he is all ready for seventh grade. Without hesitation, he said, "Ya, pretty much. I've got basically everything except white privilege." His words have been haunting me ever since, with the memory of last year starting out with him getting a concussion, followed by other bullying incidents and social challenges at school here. What exactly does white privilege mean to a 12-year-old embarking on seventh grade …at Sacajawea Middle School? What does white privilege mean in Spokane, or North Idaho in general? I think of him turning 13 this October and feel powerless to spare him from the daily reminders of white privilege, or maybe more accurately white supremacy... the school curriculum, the school staff demographics, the student body, the national news stories. In case you’ve missed them: more young Black males being beaten, shot, arrested, or killed, while their white counterparts get away with… yes, sometimes murder.

How do I prepare him, how do I prepare myself, how do we continue to live and move in a society that is rewinding at warp speed back to the days of the "I am a Man" Civil Rights era? Do we just keep our heads down, get that bread and send our kids to school, hoping for the best? Do we stand on street corners, wave flags and protest? Do we go back to boycotts and sit-ins and not quit… until the Nigerian girls are rescued, the Ebola virus is cured, and justice is served for Mike Brown's family? Or until our own children legitimately have a fair and equal chance at self-determination and the pursuit of happiness in America and in Spokane? How far does our compassion reach: across the hallway, down the street, to Pullman, to Seattle, to Ferguson, to Nigeria or Sierra Leone? Are we living and loving too casually, or why is so much left undone with aborted attempts at realizing equity and justice?

The noise of injustice is what I hear turning up right now, and the volume of all of this is getting too high. The levy might not hold. Everything might not be ok. It all might not really be happening for a (good) reason. The apathy around us, the materialism and consumerism and self/now mentality is but a mutation of the disease of white supremacy, running amok in our limbs as a cultural body. History is repeating, and this time it will take a headshot to kill the monster preying on our people, because we are on a quick sprint to becoming the walking dead.
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Friday, August 22, 2014

The real people using transit and the STA Plaza

Posted By on Fri, Aug 22, 2014 at 8:55 AM

I sometimes wonder if the people in charge of and concerned about downtown Spokane live in the same downtown Spokane that I do. If you based your knowledge of Spokane on the comment threads of local news outlets, letters to the editor and the loudest opinions within business leadership, you’d probably believe that our core is positively overrun with hoodlum youth, aggressive and dangerous panhandlers, and all-purpose chaos. On the contrary, while I do get asked for money during maybe 15 percent of my outings downtown, I don’t witness any of this behavior at a noticeable level. I notice that there are people around, on a good day, who are up to all types of things. There are business men walking five abreast on the sidewalk with coffees, people on cell phones, shoppers laden with bags, young people cradling either guitars or puppies, skaters, people in electric wheelchairs dodging through the sidewalk traffic.

In short, there are a wide variety of humans co-mingled in one space. They don’t all look the same, they don’t all share the same values, and the day-to-day of their lives vary wildly. This is as true next to River Park Square and in Riverfront Park as it is at the STA Plaza. However, the characterization of the Plaza’s inhabitants and users casts bus riders as dangerous, poor (which is bad and probably also their fault, right?), and a nuisance to polite society. I have a hunch that the critics of the Plaza are comprised of the group least qualified to have an opinion on the matter: people with cars who almost never ride the bus. I tend to agree with what Bruce Nourish pointed out in his Seattle Transit Blog post about the Plaza feud: “What really ails Spokane’s retail plutocrats is not the people of the Plaza, but their own ignorance."

Part of my ongoing frustration as a decades-long STA patron is people’s attitude toward bus ridership. Their complaints about slow service, or a lack of service in their area, or lack of connections make up a self fulfilling prophecy. Without the patronage of more people in Spokane, equalling more money for STA’s operation, the services cannot improve. More people ride the bus than ever before in Spokane now and it’s due to many factors. And they are all kinds of people representing a cross section of the bottom 80 percent of income earners in the area. Here are some photos and short interviews that I conducted on Wednesday, Aug. 20 around 3 pm on the south side of the Plaza. I hope that for those who are ignorant about bus ridership in Spokane or in general, these examples can show you that there really isn’t anything to be afraid of. After all, can you read while driving or have an undistracted conversation with your kids or friends?


Jarrod commutes to Cheney for both work and school. He said that, “The only bummer [about taking the bus] is that it takes longer... but that’s what books and smartphones are for.” Overall he describes STA as a good transit system. “They stop frequently. You don’t have to walk too far to find a spot.” As for the Plaza’s downtown location, he wouldn’t change it. “It is literally in the middle of everything.”


On Wednesday, Scott was heading out the the VA. He said that he takes the bus at least six times a week, mostly to appointments. His favorite aspect of riding the bus? “It’s really convenient, pretty close to where I want to go.” He, too, had a book with him for company on the ride. Other than putting up with the occasional crying baby, he doesn’t mind taking the bus. He was familiar with the concerns about the Plaza. “A lot of kids and homeless come here, but they will be around no matter what, no matter where it is."


Khaled takes the bus to and from work every day. “I have a good time and the people are fun," he said. “This is a good place, because you can learn how to go anywhere from downtown." 


When I told Traci I was taking pictures to show that bus riders are just normal people, she laughed and agreed. “It’s just a big pot of everyone here,” she said. On Wednesday, Traci was on her way to the Maple CHAS clinic, but she takes the bus anywhere she needs to go for the most part. I asked her to describe the Plaza in three words. “Not that bad!”


Steven was on the way home from taking the placement exams at SFCC when I talked to him on Wednesday. He doesn’t take the bus often, but said that the downtown location “seems to be working.” His only complaint was that the bus takes a while, but that he’s glad it’s “fairly cheap to ride."


Mohammed takes the bus anywhere he needs to go in town. On Wednesday, he was even getting ready to move from an old apartment to a new one using the bus. He didn’t seem discouraged by this task and said, “It is a great bus! I love to be able to use it every day.”

With Mohammed was Mahadi, who didn’t want his photo taken. He was on his way to his school, just across from the Riverside entrance of the Plaza, the Spokane College of English Language. He doesn’t have a car, like many other bus riders and me. He said, “It is a great thing that this city has the bus because all the people depend on it."


Sam was about to catch the bus into Browne’s Addition to go to Rosauers, one of the only grocery stores near downtown, when I asked her about STA. She takes the bus almost every day and described it as loud. “It can be kind of sad sometimes. But it also opens people up for conversations. Like, do you want to talk for 20 minutes? And I guess that can be a good thing."


Bret has been riding the bus for 10 years. On Wednesday, he had just finished up working downtown. He was very familiar with the ongoing disapproval of the Plaza from certain business interests in the city center. He said, “Moving it isn’t a solution. It’s just an easy target. [The critics] have to blame their poor business acumen on something and right now it’s the homeless and the street kids. But where else do they have to hang out?” He pointed out that as a business person, he likes having the Plaza right in the middle of things because it brings people, many of whom are customers, to the businesses who rely on them for success.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love Spokane," he said. “But in some ways, Spokane is still really in an early 20th century mindset. The 1950’s aren’t coming back."

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Some tough days for America's journalists

Posted By on Tue, Aug 19, 2014 at 5:54 PM

Every year another survey shows that Americans view journalists as residing somewhere between bottom-feeding lawyers and pond scum. Not that some members of the media don't deserve our scorn. Certainly, some journalists, or what passes for a journalist on cable TV, are in part responsible for the divisive state of American politics, where noise and volume are esteemed above reason and compromise. 

But at its heart, journalism is about serving the public — first, by going where average people have neither the time nor the inclination to go. To city council meetings. To crime scenes. To war zones. And then: relaying what was learned as honestly and candidly as possible. There is something worthy in that endeavor, and the sacrifices of our journalists can be enormous.

Just today, news broke that militants from the Islamic State claimed to have beheaded American journalist James Foley, who was kidnapped two years ago in Syria. The same group claims to have another captured journalist, Steven Sotloff, who it intends to kill if the United States continues airstrikes in Iraq.
The man being held is believed to be journalist Steven Sotloff.
  • The man being held is believed to be journalist Steven Sotloff.

Meanwhile, New York Times reporter James Risen is fighting the Obama administration's efforts to force him to reveal his sources for a story in his 2006 book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. He could end up in prison if he doesn't relent, but the charge against Risen isn't about lying — it's about revealing secret truths.

And in Ferguson, Missouri, reporters are stocking up on gas masks and bullet-proof vests, while 11 cohorts have been arrested covering the protests.

Journalists aren't saints. Many are jackasses. But the vast majority believe in what they do, and do it despite the pay scale or the public's disdain or the very real dangers they may encounter.


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Thursday, August 14, 2014

White people playing “devil’s advocate” are part of the problem

Posted By on Thu, Aug 14, 2014 at 6:10 PM

The devil really doesn’t need any more advocates. It seems that whenever a news story breaks that manifests the underlying imbalances in our society, beneficiaries of that imbalance come out of the woodwork to defend the status quo by derailing discussion, postulating unhelpfully about hypothetical situations, and generally missing the forest for the trees. Reactions to revelations of sexual assault on college campuses in which women — the overwhelming targets of such violence — are blamed for their attacks by a group overwhelmingly comprised of men who have not been sexually assaulted are one recent example of this phenomena. Another is the portrayal of Palestinian and Gazan people during the most recent siege, where the responsibility for ending violence is bizarrely placed on the displaced and 60-years-occupied population in the West Bank and Gaza, rather than on the military aggressors in Israel. This line of thought violates not only common sense, but also international law

Now, we can observe the same pattern unfolding in news stories and on comment threads everywhere in the wake of racially-tinged police violence and a community’s reaction to it in Ferguson, Missouri. From the first protests where multiple media outlets mistakenly printed that protesters were heard chanting “Kill the police” when they were in fact chanting “No justice, no peace”, to the dozens of tangents that distract from the fact that yet another unarmed, black young person has been killed by police under questionable circumstances. Just as the bulk of those blaming women for sexual assault are men, and the people criticizing Palestinians for not being submissive enough to occupation are people who have never lived under occupation, mostly white and especially white middle-class people seem to be levying most of the criticism of Michael Brown’s life before he was killed last week or of his community’s reaction to yet another of its children dying in such a manner.

The rabid denial that racism is a major part of U.S. institutions and daily life belies how ingrained it is in society and how effectively it entrenches itself. Evidence of white privilege is everywhere, yet pundits and bloggers amass an audience who believes that there is an honest to goodness “war on whites” or the more subtle arguments that “political correctness” is ruining lives everywhere. You don’t see racism, you say? That’s because, if you are a white person reading this, you are not meant to see it. The privileges that come with being part of a racially favored class in society run in the background as a default in your life. If you think that’s nonsense that I just made up for fun, how do you explain the discrepancy between policing of and reaction to open carry “activists,” who are mostly white, and the frequent pre-emptive violence taken against unarmed people of color? This, despite the fact that mass shootings which have so captivated the American subconscious have been carried out by white males. Yet, a white man can walk into a shopping mall with an assault rifle and be considered a possibly goofy, but ultimately nonthreatening, advocate for rights.

Any literate reading of history shows that racism is both institutionalized in this country and also far from over. As the protesters demanded in Ferguson, there cannot be peace without justice. Justice doesn’t demand that we create two equal sides in every conflict. It doesn’t demand that we seek justification for police or other protectors of the status quo when they unleash the violence that is normal in an unequal system. It demands that we demolish the systems that entrench inequality and eradicate the problems at their roots. Without equality, we can’t expect peace. The least that white people in this country can do when black Americans stand up and say “Stop killing our sons” is to not argue against that demand. To not seek out reasons why maybe their sons deserved it. To stop playing devil’s advocate in every argument. What might be a purely academic thought exercise for you, or a what-if scenario, is and has been real life for people at the receiving end of daily violence.

By listening to what the residents of Ferguson are saying about systematic, racialized violence by police and ongoing inequality, we can begin to identify solutions. We can’t expect police to police themselves when we have so many stories like Michael Brown’s to show us that it isn’t a problem of a few bad apples spoiling the bunch. We can’t expect solutions from the same institutions that have helped to keep racism, colonialism and sexism alive and thriving for centuries. These institutions have only changed at the demand of the people at the receiving end of repression, and it’s helped historically when people who benefit from the violent status quo break ranks and show basic empathy and solidarity with people directly in the struggle. If you aren’t helping more people to be treated like human beings, or if you are actively dehumanizing people and trivializing the real violence in their lives, then you are part of the problem.

If you want to help our society move toward equality, there are many ways to do so. The first step is to listen. To join the conversation locally, come to a meeting put on by Don’t Shoot tonight at Liberty Park at 7:30 pm, followed by a vigil to show solidarity with the people of Ferguson at 9 pm.

Taylor Weech, who hosts the weekly public affairs program Praxis on KYRS-FM, is a Spokane writer and activist. She shares writing, photography and her podcast at

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Battling feelings of empathy, guilt and relief as wildfires burn across the region

Posted By on Mon, Jul 21, 2014 at 2:42 PM

The scene yesterday near the Watermelon Hill fire, which is still burning about 7 miles southwest of Cheney. - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • The scene yesterday near the Watermelon Hill fire, which is still burning about 7 miles southwest of Cheney.

The hazy, smoky air still makes my stomach curdle with fear.

I was 4 when the regional disaster known as Firestorm torched the Spokane area. On Oct. 16, 1991, heavy winds downing power lines sparked more than 90 separate fires around the Inland Northwest, burning more than 100 homes and blackening the land all around. I vividly recall Firestorm’s terrifying uncertainty, and now view it as one of the most impactful events of my childhood, growing up on 20 wooded, rural acres in Stevens County.

After the first flames ignited and sent embers flying, my parents quickly packed up our valuable belongings — antique furniture, family heirlooms, photographs and important documents — and rented a storage unit in Spokane. My mom packed clothing and we made the short drive to my grandparent’s 80-acre farm above our home on a hill. It was safer there, with more routes out if the fire moved in. One night during the fires, my dad took me outside, lifting me up on his shoulders. There, in my striped nightgown, I saw the mountain vista in front of our homes glowing with orange flames against the black night sky.

We were lucky. The firestorm burned for days all around the region, but our land and our homes remained untouched. It was the first memory I’d have of many more fires to threaten our rural community. Each one filled me with more terror than the last. Just as anxiety-causing were summer’s hot, dry spells, lightning storms and windy days that all meant high fire danger. The fires alone didn’t make fear course through my body, but the materialistic thought of losing everything in a fire’s wake.

As residents across the Inland Northwest woke up this past Friday morning to a brown sky blocking out the rays of a blood red sun, the dense ashy air left a fine, grayish-black powder on everything it touched. Street lights stayed on long past sunrise, and the world was cast in an ominous, yet eerily beautiful, goldish glow. These remnants of wildfire stirred up my long-dormant feelings of dread. I tried to imagine the emotions of residents of Central Washington — the people in Brewster and Pateros who lost everything in the still burning Carlton Complex fire. In place of a desire for empathy was something stronger — guilt. Guilt that here I was, conjuring up old childhood fears of losing my home to a raging wildfire when they just had.

When natural disasters — tornadoes, hurricanes, mudslides, earthquakes, tsunamis and forest fires — strike, our collective reaction is to consume breaking news reports. We become almost morbidly fascinated by the images and stories of destruction fed to us, all so accessible on our social media accounts. At the same time we ache for the losses of others due to what’s largely attributed a random event. The Carlton fire was sparked by lightning; the whims of changing winds paired with the intense summer heat propelled it toward towns with little warning.

Every region of the world comes with its own set of natural threats. Those who choose to call these places home do so with some understanding of the chance they might be affected by a mostly unpredictable disaster. But until one happens to or close to us, that probability doesn’t dominate our thoughts.

Most of us will never lose our homes to wildfires. But when we see it happen on such a tragically large scale like the Carlton Complex fire, we’re reminded of our vulnerability to the odds and also comforted by it. Homes can be rebuilt and things replaced, but the scars of any disaster will live on in the landscape and its victims memories forever.  ♦

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

10 Ways to Afford Extra Summer Expenses (Spoiler: No. 10: Stop Paying Bills)

Posted By on Sat, Jul 19, 2014 at 9:58 AM


Not yet half way into summer vacation, families like mine are starting to feel the pinch of added expenses, restless kids and less income. In fact, the mental stress of financing the months of summer can become so all-consuming that our relationships turn tense and we risk losing the enjoyment of the season.

Here are a few ways I’ve tried to make or save money to fund that kids’ camp, movie night, Silverwood excursion, evening date, camping trip or kayak rental when I’m empty in the pockets:

1. Dig Deeper. I found an extra $25 just by going through winter coat pockets, looking under the seats in my car and digging in the sofa. That’s dinner or a movie for two.

2. Babysit Pets.
My 12-year-old would love to own and breed all kind of animals, but I am not a big pet fan. Our compromise is that he can babysit non-vicious dogs and cats at our home. He’s already earned enough to pay for two Silverwood trips, snacks included.

3. Sell Your Stuff. I admit, I have no patience for sitting in the sun all day running a yard sale or managing ads on craigslist, but I am trying out currently for selling clothes and have found some of the local shop-and-swap networks to be quite effective.

4. Use Your Body. I’m not suggesting organ donation or red-light-district activity, but plasma donors are always needed here in Spokane, and there are medical research teams looking for test subjects for products you might already be using, like allergy meds or nasal spray.

5. Rent What You Own. I’m not a big fan of having random roommates, although we do host international students on occasion. But, renting out a garage or toolshed for storage is less invasive to your privacy and can add enough supplemental monthly income to cover a road trip by fall.

6. Tap Your Talents. Making a summer camp out of your skill set, teaching a few private (art, music, dance) lessons, or teaming up with a friend to trade your expertise are all great ways to turn a profit. I am trading art lessons for guitar lessons and have also taught with Spokane Art School and other organizations on a class-by-class basis.

7. Be Exotic. Yes, this area has its limits, but there are some fun ways to explore and express in Spokane. I participated as a vendor in the new outdoor art event, Bazaar, and will be spicing up things in August as a model for the Blackwood Art Clothing line at Runway Renegades. Participating in events that pay in excitement or networking can bring fresh ideas to your life.

8. Go Hastings. Buy-backs aren’t hugely lucrative, but if you have upgraded to BluRay or no longer have an Xbox 360, why keep the archaic stuff around? Entertainment and gaming stores usually buy back or trade consoles and games.

9. Pawn It. Sometimes you will get just as much or more for your equipment, electronics, musical instruments or jewelry at a pawn shop as you will sitting in the hot sun (or rain) all day running a yard sale. My kids pawned enough of their outdated items to purchase a couple hundred dollars of new entertainment gear.

10. Stop Paying Bills. Maybe you don’t really need that iPad on your phone line anymore or aren’t using Hulu Plus or tanning and going to the gym during the summer. For some companies, you can temporarily put your services on hold, revise your plan or eliminate your membership altogether. I saved about $85 a month by revising my services this summer. ♦

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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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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