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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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

More parents are speaking out about bullying in Spokane Public Schools

Posted By on Tue, May 6, 2014 at 11:25 AM


Despite over a decade of increased national attention to the issue, countless awareness campaigns and the establishment of National Bullying Prevention Month, Washington state schools are still plagued by bullying and harassment. In addition to being shoved into lockers and beat up at recess, kids are also experiencing an unprecedented wave of social profiling online. There is no sanctuary. The impact is devastating, and it’s hitting Spokane hard. With lawmakers giving it little attention, perhaps failure to improve student outcomes isn’t a surprise. But for parents who are forced to send their children to a psychologically and physically unsafe environment to get a public education, the situation is unbearable.

“It’s so political right now,” says Lisa Hanson, a parent of two bullied daughters in Spokane. “There isn’t a lack of bullying but a lack of reporting and investigating.” She believes that Spokane schools are minimizing harassment and covering up evidence of bullying cases to score higher image points rather than doing anything to effectively curb maltreatment of students. “They are basically putting power in the hands of the bullies, and we are just along for the ride.”

Hanson’s daughters, Kathryn and Kari, are 19 and 9. For Kathryn, Spokane wasn’t her first experience with victimization. When living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, she was terrorized by her peers to such an extent that she considered violence. “I knew that if I kept going to that school, I would bring my dad’s guns to school. I just stopped caring,” she remembers. “Having those thoughts of violence was actually the most terrifying thing to me.” Hoping for a new beginning, Kathryn enrolled in Rogers High School when she moved to Spokane.

The jeering and physical aggression quickly resumed where it had left off in Iowa. Due to a medical condition that affects her appearance, Kathryn says students incessantly teased her. She followed the process of reporting incidents to school officials, but things only got worse. In addition to harassment for her appearance, Kathryn was scorned for being a snitch. Hopelessness and helplessness began to shut down her social interests and deteriorated her academic performance.

In a desperate cry for help, Kathryn told her school counselor, “If something doesn’t change, I am going to hurt myself or someone else.”

She was removed from the school campus immediately and admitted to the youth psychiatric center at Sacred Heart, but she says there were no consequences for her attackers. After returning to school weeks later, she collapsed in the bathroom stall one day. Curled up with severe cramps, Kathryn held her phone to her chest and braced herself against the pain. Other girls came into the bathroom and began taunting her. As a sick joke, they told school staff she was spying on them under the stalls. As soon as her cramps stopped enough for her to stand, Kathryn was rushed to the principal’s office, her phone was confiscated, and she was suspended for two days (although there were no bathroom pictures on her phone and the girls later recanted their story, saying she hadn't been spying on them).

Humiliated and deeply hurt, Kathryn stayed out of school for two weeks. Shortly after returning, she became overwhelmed and quit school altogether. Now that she has completed her GED, Kathryn hopes to get a degree in business and someday own a dessert shop that will help fund programs for victims of clinical depression.

Rogers High School Assistant Principal Brett Hale says, “We try to not let things get to the point of a student having to drop out of school, but sometimes they wait too long to report [bullying], and then they are too emotionally upset and feel like they can’t come back to face people who are aware of what happened.”

But it isn’t her oldest daughter’s memories that have Lisa Hanson all fired up today. Her 9-year-old, Kari, is experiencing verbal and physical violence this year at her elementary school, and she is worried that the school’s unresponsive and unconcerned approach is causing Kari to internalize the oppression. The once-bubbly 9-year-old now is withdrawn and muddles through her school days with self-doubt and anxiety.

“Kari used to love school and got great grades, but now she feels like giving up,” says Hanson. In response to a recent incident where Kari was repeatedly attacked on the school bus, she says the school has recommended that she find alternative transportation for her daughter. As with too many victims of bullying, the burden of advocacy seems to be dumped on the targeted kids and their families rather than being mitigated by the institution claiming to have a zero tolerance policy on the issue.

When Hanson recently started sharing her daughter’s experiences on social media, other mothers came forward to tell how they too had no luck with justice in Spokane Public Schools. One mother went the legal route and got a restraining order served on her child’s bully. Other families have also taken matters into their own hands, moving out of the district, resorting to online curriculum, homeschooling, or putting their kids in private schools.

Kevin Morrison, the district’s director of community relations, tells me, “This is handled at a building level. The principal talks to students to determine what is going on.”

He adds: “From a district level, we take these cases very seriously. But from a parent’s perspective, can we always get the results they want? Well, that can’t always happen for the greater good.”

Nevertheless, some students, like Kathryn, believe that if she hadn’t removed herself from the situation, she could have been another school shooter. In fact two-thirds of school shooters have shown a history of being bullied, and bullies themselves who are recognized as young as 8-10 years old are eight times more likely to have a severe criminal record by the time they are 30.

“I want people to know that I have a different outcome because I chose to walk away,” Kathryn says. But, she can’t stand to watch the ongoing mistreatment of kids like her little sister. “There has to be some form of justice in schools.” ♦

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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Monday, April 28, 2014

“The Talk” on growing up black in the Inland Northwest

Posted By on Mon, Apr 28, 2014 at 4:34 PM


About the same time most parents get around to telling their kids about the birds and the bees, parents of black children in America sit their kids down for “The Talk.” This talk almost always includes the standard DWB and SWB (Driving While Black and Shopping While Black) components, but as a mother raising two black sons in North Idaho and Spokane, I had to draft a prologue, several chapters, a glossary and footnotes to the standard monologue. And while “The Talk” is traditionally an annual event or coming-of-age moment for many families, it is not a special occasion in our household, but rather a daily corrective for living in the Whitopia of America.

It was after they had already encountered biased incidents at ages 4 and 5 that I began an at-home remedial curriculum for surviving life as a black boy in a white community. I tried to prepare them for a wide array of styles and methods of institutionalized and individual racism, but I failed to anticipate some of the extremities our family would face.

One Saturday morning, my kids burst into my bedroom. “Mom, there's a rope hanging in the backyard; it looks like a noose!” I raced outside as my mind instantly tracked back to the parting words of a colleague at Howard University when we left Washington, D.C., en route to Idaho. “Don’t go there; you’ll get lynched!” I remember brushing off her comment with some theoretical statement about not living in a culture of fear. But that day my sons found the noose really broke my heart in a certain kind of way. I hadn’t told them about all the other incidents of harassment toward us before that day; I wanted to be their shield against the wave of terror that kept me awake at night. And now they were faced with a symbol of death when picking garden strawberries for breakfast. The police came. They interviewed all three of us, mumbled something about us getting security cameras and logged the incident as a hate crime. Our house was burglarized not once, but several times. There were nooses, swastikas and death threats.

Over dinner one day, my son asked, “Do those people who harass us have kids? Because I think I met one of them at school today.” He had been taunted at recess, being called names like “monkey” and other racial slurs. When reporting the incident, he had to educate the supervising staff about why “monkey” was offensive to black people. Thankfully, we had already been having “The Talk” for four years by then, so he knew how to back up his statements with historical references. He was asked to give the school’s only Black History Month presentation the next year. Educating educators and doing the job of professionals at 9 years old; gosh, they grow up fast these days.

On the first day in second grade, my son came home with a despondent face. Never mind the fact that he was stung by a bee inside his ear that day; what was really on his mind was that he was the only black kid in his class again. Perplexed, I said that two of the other kids in his class looked black. “They don’t know they’re black,” he said matter-of-factly. At 12, he still distinguishes himself as the only black kid at his school actually being raised by a black parent.

Living in this area, “The Talk” is much more than a primer on what to do when you get pulled over by a cop, or how to steer clear of the school-to-prison pipeline. It’s about making a midnight run to buy a set of headphones for your son to wear in between his classes so he doesn’t have to hear the “N” word as he walks down the high school hallway every day. It’s about protecting your kids from the psychological disorders which can result from growing up labeled as the “other” in their classroom and being presumed guilty until proven innocent.

We must tell them that, amid all the constant reminders of what the supra-dominant culture sees as normal, acceptable and healthy, they have a rich legacy, a hidden history that begins with the origins of humankind and civilization itself. And when they are mocked, demeaned, and even injured, to hold onto the belief in their own worthiness.

After opening a dialogue, maybe some of their questions will be hard to answer — like why our state and their elementary school is named after former slave owners, or why they will never see their best friend again because his parents pulled him out of public school once they found out about their interracial friendship — but we have to begin somewhere. Developing a responsive and open dialogue is a great place to start. ♦

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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Friday, April 25, 2014

Starting at square one necessary to cure what ails us

Posted By on Fri, Apr 25, 2014 at 4:51 PM

You are here. - NASA
  • NASA
  • You are here.

Happy belated Earth Day from a recovering save-the-world evangelist. I used to think that it was my job to save the world. That if we just recycled and composted hard enough, that everything would be OK. Today, I tend to find more truth in George Carlin’s words on the topic:


“We’re so self-important. So arrogant. Everybody’s going to save something now. Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save the snails. And the supreme arrogance? Save the planet! Are these people kidding? Save the planet? We don’t even know how to take care of ourselves; we haven’t learned how to care for one another. We’re gonna save the f—-in’ planet? And, by the way, there’s nothing wrong with the planet in the first place. The planet is fine. The people are f—-ed! Compared with the people, the planet is doin’ great. It’s been here over four billion years.”

Comedians are among the only people in our society who can hold up the truth without getting shut down or labeled as crazy. Meanwhile, in the “real world,” absolutely ludicrous values reign unchecked. Our consumer culture has destroyed a hearty portion of the planet while most are still married to the ideals of capitalism, which by its design must expand to consume the rest. In the meantime, we in the so-called First World can’t seem to consume enough to fill the void left inside us. The vacuum of meaning in our death culture becomes more pronounced all the time. Pop culture fascinations include volumes of end-of-the-world lore, starring zombies and their hapless human counterparts alongside dramatizations of the day-to-day cycle of buying and selling — reality shows about pawn shops, cake baking, real estate, you name it.

“How come of all the creatures that bump or jump or swim on this sequined, spangled garden called Earth, we’re the only ones dumb enough to pay rent?” Jeffrey Stonehill asked this question at some point during the documentary Back to the Garden and it stuck with me. The more I explore the problems my generation has been tasked with solving, the more frustrated I become with the simple solutions that hang just out of reach. We have inherited a narrative in which jobs and the mystical, invisibly handed economy are the key and that without the complex global market, the planet would descend into chaos. When I look around, it seems that chaos has won out as a result of our economic system and its social effects rather than been staved off by its miraculous power.

Ours is a culture simultaneously repulsed by death and drawn to ultimate destruction. Politicians, pro-life until you’re born, supported by street corner zealots praying for the end of days abound. Under the constant cry of “Jobs! More jobs!” we assent in our desperation to do any job, even the kind that actively destroy the planet we call home. Unhappy people in this culture gobble down more drugs, illicit or prescription, than any society in history because they are afraid both to die and to live. What would it mean to really live? To be part of a society radically, rather than selectively, “pro-life”? How often do we stop in a day to just take in how incredible it is that we are flying around in infinite, majestic, cold, fascinating space on a rock that happens to host conditions favorable to what we call life? Do we then consider that all of the stuff on the rock, and beyond it, has been recycled forever? There is no new stuff. Perfect circles of interdependent systems ripple out throughout the universe and through you in every cell of your body. In short, it’s pretty epic! It’s easy to forget when we’re just trying to pay the rent.

So how do we use that knowledge to save ourselves and, perhaps, the world? I don’t have all of the answer to that, but here are a few ideas. One opportunity to take part in the whole list is this Saturday’s Earth Day celebration at Riverfront Park.

Make and share good art. Art is often the quickest way to connect to what another person feels, and we can’t build a better society without empathy. It also has the symbolic flexibility to question the status quo without being openly antagonistic.

Connect with nature. In the Northwest, we still have some amazing wilderness to explore. Particularly for children, it is so important to get out into it and internalize the value that we want to protect. It isn’t just the habitats and resources that need to be protected, but the experience of being part of the awesome whole of life referenced above.

Rebuild community. A shift away from the destructive systems of civilization and capitalism would not be smooth if we dove right in today. People in our society don’t have the connections to one another, nor the practical skills to rebuild self-sufficient community. The good news is that most people like making friends and everyone feels safer and more fulfilled when we work together to meet our mutual needs.

Listen to yourself. So many messages are crafted for us to consume every day (including this one!) that it’s easy to lose track of your own thoughts and your own truth. Finding any way to slow down and cultivate the memory of who you really are couldn’t do any harm at all. ♦

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A zombie apocalypse years in the making

Posted By on Tue, Apr 22, 2014 at 10:30 AM

NxNW founder Rich Cowan: "Over two years ago, we said this was going to be the new direction for the company. Television." - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • NxNW founder Rich Cowan: "Over two years ago, we said this was going to be the new direction for the company. Television."

The call for a horde of zombie extras that went out two weeks ago was the culmination of a journey North by Northwest began in 2012.


“Over two years ago, we said this was going to be the new direction for the company. Television,” says Rich Cowan, NxNW’s founder. It was a somewhat dark time to be dreaming big. Washington state had lost its film tax incentive amid legislative wrangling in May 2011, and much of the feature film work NxNW was accustomed to began to dry up. When the incentive was reinstated in April of the next year, the definition of “film” was expanded to include anything meant to be viewed on a screen, including television and, conceivably, web-based series. Cowan says they leapt at that revision.

And though the casting call heard ’round the region somewhat short-circuited their victory lap, tomorrow at a 10 am press conference, North by Northwest will officially announce a partnership with SyFy and the Asylum — the production company behind Sharknado — to bring Spokane its first scripted TV series, Z Nation.

We’re in the midst of what many critics are calling a golden age of television, so scripted dramas are creatively appealing. Cowan, though, says the decision to pursue the small screen was more pragmatic. “It was always about the jobs,” he says. “Feature [films] are good, but you never know when the next feature is coming, so when are we going to take the kids to Disneyland?”

Z Nation’s budget is rumored to be around $500,000 per episode. Cowan says Syfy is specifically not releasing the per-episode budget, but he says the money will finance over 12,000 worker days for the production crew, almost a half-year’s worth of work. Cowan characterizes these as “good, solid, family-wage jobs.” (It should be noted that Cowan is currently running for state Senate, challenging Michael Baumgartner.)

Just as encouraging for our creative scene, the jobs don’t stop with grips and best boys. Cowan says they pitched North by Northwest — and Washington state — as a studio and region fully capable of supplying all production needs, including actors and directors, and Syfy bought it. The showrunner, Karl Schaefer, is a Hollywood veteran who has done offbeat, enjoyable work like Eureka and Eerie, Indiana, but much of the cast will be local-ish.

When I first chatted with him in March, Cowan said he hoped to cast at least half of the series’ eight featured actors (the starring roles, effectively) from within Washington state. Casting was still ongoing as of press time, but when we spoke yesterday, Cowan told me, “We’re tracking about half the leads from in-state. That’s an awesome thing. The showrunner and the network are loving our in-state people.”

Syfy has ordered an entire 13-episode season, which means somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 day players — roles that last an episode or two — will join the featured actors. “We have a lot of wonderful actors here, so we’ll be able to pull a lot of actors from here, and they’ll almost all be from within the state of Washington,” Cowan says. “I’m thankful we have that kind of talent pool. You can’t do that in every city, but we can.”

He also hopes to get one or two local directors episode credits in Season 1, but nothing is set in stone yet.

It’s important to note that Z Nation will not be The Walking Dead, either in terms of tone or budget. Schaefer has been quoted as saying his show will offer “a sense of hope to the horror of the apocalypse.” And while a half million bucks is a nice number, it’s well off the industry average. In figures cited by the New York Times in 2010 and Slate again earlier this month, the average cable drama costs $2 million per episode, about four times Z Nation’s budget. A blockbuster episode can cost many times more than that. Game of Thrones’ now legendary “Blackwater” cost around $8 million.

Still, Cowan believes Z Nation is an important first step in getting more work in serial drama. At the most basic level, if Season 1 goes well, there’s always Season 2 to look forward to. It’s about building a reputation for success, and then expanding upon it. “We have good actors here and good directors and a great crew,” Cowan says. “More series are the goal, and it’s a step at a time, but we’ll get there.”

Z Nation and its 1,300 zombie extras will begin groaning its way around the area in May. ♦

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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Thursday, April 17, 2014

How Coldwater Creek helped build a community

Posted By on Thu, Apr 17, 2014 at 1:01 PM


Coldwater Creek is going bankrupt. For most people around the country, that’s not a big deal. Coldwater Creek is just a women’s clothing store, which has failed to keep up with the times and consequently seen its sales dwindle — especially with the recession.

But to Sandpoint, Coldwater Creek is foundational to the area’s economy and culture. With over 500 jobs at their corporate headquarters, which often pay well above the county average, the financial impact is hard to miss. It will be a painful hit for a community that is still reeling from the housing crash.

Coldwater Creek is also a major philanthropic force in the community. They are key supporters of the arts, education and economic development — even when it wasn’t directly connected to their interests.

Several years ago, Coldwater Creek’s founder proposed building a U of I campus in Sandpoint. Right after the proposal was announced, Coldwater Creek’s stock cratered, and the plan was put off. The demise of Coldwater Creek also likely puts an end to that dream.

Perhaps most significantly, though, is the impact that Coldwater Creek employees have had on the community, independent of their day jobs. A lot of creative people have been able to afford to live and live well in Sandpoint and the surrounding area because of their jobs with Coldwater Creek. These people are also artists, musicians and patrons of the arts (sometimes all three). Sandpoint’s arts community will suffer from the loss of supporters and even more so as some of the people who make it what it is are forced to move to find good jobs.

All of this adds up to one big sad mess, but it’s worth remembering that there was never any reason why Coldwater Creek had to exist and few companies last forever. I wish the ride had lasted (decades) longer, but I am grateful for the impact it — and the people who work there — have had on the community I love. ♦

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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