Global Citizen: January 2008 Archives

It is important to remember that, while universally praised and honored in America today, during his lifetime, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a deeply controversial and divisive figure.

Fringe views that still exist today (which I won't dignify with links) condemning King as a dangerous radical, a socialist, and a communist, were the views of much of the mainstream press during the 1960s.  King was viewed as such a disruptive force by the U.S. government that Attorney General Bobby Kennedy disgracefully authorized J. Edgar Hoover's FBI to wiretap King's phone.  Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Hoover's FBI worked to undermine and destabilize civil rights groups like King's SCLC, all in the name of national security and American unity.   

This was originally posted on my Think profile for Street Team '08 at

U.S. citizen youth vote for more than themselves, they vote for the betterment of others. When it comes to issues like income inequality, social stratification, the environment, human rights, and multilateral foreign policy, looking out for the people around us is high on our generation’s list of priorities. Voting altruism is a revolutionary idea. Voting selflessly, not selfishly, might even seem counterintuitive. But in a flat world strange things start to make a lot of sense. 

In researching a forthcoming post, I stumbled across this remarkable video about rural Kenyans who have gotten the rights from the corporation that owns the Simpsons to produce and sell handmade soapstone carvings of characters on the show.  They receive $6 for each carving, which they use to support and educate their families.  The spokesman from the group is very pleased about the work and the impact it has had on the community. 

But then we find that the carvings can be sold in the UK for ten times that amount, $60 a piece.  Does it really cost $54 to ship a small bust of Homer Simpson from Kenya to Britain?  Perhaps, but I am skeptical.  But I’ll refrain from complaining too loudly since if the project were ended for some reason, the Kenyan artisans would clearly be worse off than they are now. 

As an educated Westerner, objectively I have little to complain about compared to most people in the world.  But when thinking about the trenchant problems people in the Global South face and will likely face for the rest of their lives, lately I’ve been dangerously short on optimism.  It’s just so depressing.  It’s easy to understand why often the first response to such widescale suffering is to pretend that these challenges don’t exist or that they’re primarily unsolvable and of people’s own making. 

So it lifts me up to see people like videoreporter Ruud Elmendorp, who made the piece I’ve embedded here, publicizing daily life in Kenya and elsewhere on his website.  He has some reports on the recent unrest in Kenya.  Check it out

Update: I'm still working on the embed here--sorry to all inconvenienced by the automatic start on the video. I need a tutorial or something ...

Later update: Ok, hopefully it'll work now through YouTube.  Embedding the clip through Typepad proved to be beyond my meager abilities. 

  Thumbnail image for thomas paine.jpg Some anti-immigrationists point to what they like to call the early "forefathers" of the United States of America as examples of the kind of people we want to represent -- so different, they tell us, from those who leave their homelands to come here today.  Consequently, I found it interesting to read that this week in 1776 marked the publication of Thomas Paine's "Common Sense," a pamphlet that is largely credited with being responsible for selling the idea of breaking away from Great Britain.  The vast majority of the colonists at the time, if not totally loyal to the crown, were disinterested in becoming an independent nation.  Nevertheless, Paine's arguments were so persuasive that he managed to sell 120,000 copies of his treatis, going from tavern to tavern in town after town to do so.

So who was this Thomas Paine, this "forefather" we should emulate?

Everything makes sense when I go back to Guatemala.  I've gotten increasingly interested in local politics here in Massachusetts, but going back to Guatemala puts everything in perspective.  While I still have yet to be able to fully articulate it, I think I'm finally starting to get a feel for what matters for the billions of people that inhabit the earth. 

When I put it that way it might seem simple.  But in the world of new media, where it's theoretically possible to make an impact anywhere in the globe, at any time, prioritizing makes the difference between change and keeping things the same. 

It's never been enough to say, "do good", because almost everyone, at least in their mind, feels they are a good person at heart.  It's certainly not enough to say all each of us needs to do is help a few other people, because those with the privilege to do so are too few and those that need help and support are too many.  The question has always been when and how to better the world, and the answers certainly aren't always and however.  That leads to burnout. 

I think my mind is finally grasping the necessary nuance that has always allowed me to prioritize between issues like Boston's rat problem or a "virus of potholes", and malnourished children in Guatemala.

The Four Freedoms

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justice for all - nezua.jpgThe following words were Franklin Delano Roosevelt's address to the United States Congress on January 6, 1941. That was fifty-seven years ago today. Looking back over all that has come to pass since then and remembering the history of this nation from its beginning -- including the genocide of the indigenous peoples, the brutal desecration of Africa and its children through exploitation and slavery in all its forms to the present, the commitment to disproportionate wealth reserved for specific groups to and by the exclusion of others, and the relishing of the use of global warfare to amass and maintain power -- it is hard to imagine that he could have been sincere. Would that we could take these words down from their airy perch in our history and boldly implement them now. Before it is too late.


This is the first day of a brand new year. And in this sparkling new world of a year, I expect to stretch my wings and fly into several new arenas. For one thing, I have been invited to begin cross-blogging occasionally here at Citizen Orange. I'm both honored and excited about this new alliance and anticipate it being a productive one for all concerned. I'm joining a very adept and savvy team here and will work hard to live up to their expectations as we fight together for justice for all people in the United States and around the world.

In addition to this lovely development, I just learned a couple of weeks ago that a major academic publisher wants to include one of my blog posts from Why Am I Not Surprised? in a reader on social problems this spring. Needless to say, I'm very excited about this for several reasons and frankly long to dance through the doors that it may open for me.

To further complicate my already sometimes overwhelming commitments to teaching, research, and the writing I do other than blogging, there are, believe it or not, several other new projects I very much want to bring to fruition, as well. So I enter this year rather like Dorothy tip-toeing down the yellow brick road toward the Emerald City, the principle difference being that Dorothy wanted to go back to Kansas eventually and I have no idea where I'll wind up.