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June/July 2002
Ten Symbols of What’s Right in the World

By Claudette Silver


Yes indeed, it is way too easy to point out what’s wrong in the world. Anyone working toward a sustainable future knows what I am talking about. The world is awash with toxic waste, slave labor, and issues of racism, classism, sexism and speciesism…I could go on and on, but in this article, I won’t. This article is meant to be an indulgent account of ten things that make the world okay.

Why is it so hard at times to focus on the positive? For one thing, we have all been raised with media teaching us that, “If it bleeds, it leads.” So car crashes, sex scandals, disease and war are what we have learned to accept as news. I have heard the logic asserting that the media presents news this way because it’s what we want. If we didn’t want it, some say, they wouldn’t give it to us this way. I think it’s simply what we have gotten used to—and why so many of us have tuned out, burned out, or buried our heads in the sand as a way to deal.

It’s true, feeling down does no good—not for you, nor the animals, nor the situation you are hoping to change. I am reminded of the words of Dorothy Day, peace activist and co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement: “No one has the right to feel down and hopeless,” she said, “There’s too much work to do.” Sometimes it’s pretty hard to recognize, but positive things are happening, my friends. We are making progress. Take a look—and make your own list.

Okay, in no particular order, my Top Ten Symbols of What’s Right in the World:

Women in Black
This incredible group of peace activists began in 1988 during the first Palestinian Intifada, with a small group of Israeli women who wore all black and held signs that read “Stop the Occupation.” Since then, Women in Black have expanded to several countries and now encompass many issues in addition to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. I can’t imagine saying this any better, so straight from their Web site: “The Women in Black stand in silent vigil to protest war, rape as a tool of war, ethnic cleansing and human rights abuses all over the world. We are silent because mere words cannot express the tragedy that wars and hatred bring. We refuse to add to the cacophony of empty statements that are spoken with the best intentions yet may be erased or go unheard under a passing ambulance or the wound of a bomb exploding nearby.”

Women in Black hold silent vigils around the world every week. Check their Web site for activities in your area:

If you haven’t seen this movie from last year starring Ben Stiller, put this magazine down and run to your video store. It is ridiculously funny with a biting commentary on the American fashion world and the sweatshop conditions that make the industry thrive. Based on the sketch Derek Zoolander, Male Model that Stiller performed at the 1996 VH1 Fashion Awards, this movie typifies the absolutely vacuous nature of high fashion. Though I don’t think any anti-globalization groups used this movie to its fullest—it was released shortly after September 11—it is an example of how we can seize pop culture to draw attention to issues we’re already working on. I won’t give away any more of the plot, but if you appreciate good satire, you will probably laugh yourself silly.

White Minority

According to the 2000 Census, white Americans are no longer the majority in California. As someone who is part of the 46.7 percent white populace in the Golden State, I am here to say hallelujah. Yes, perhaps I am being selfish and like to be on the cutting edge of things, but the multiracial society we are becoming is unprecedented, and it’s right in front of us, folks. Make no mistake, I am not sitting here humming “We Are the World” or “Kumbaya”—we are up for a huge challenge to learn how to coexist and thrive in this complex arena, and our track record isn’t so hot. With the internment of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans during WWII, Cesar Chavez’s fight to organize and protect farm workers and the L.A. riots all within recent memory, we must proceed with care. Here’s hoping that California can become a model of true power sharing, self-sufficiency and sustainability for other parts of the country.

Surf Diva
This group is a true delight for any woman or girl wanting to learn to ride the surf. I came across the Surf Divas a couple summers ago in San Diego. My first thought as I felt the wave beneath my belly was “Wow, I see why people get hooked on this.” The gals at Surf Diva also conduct surf clinics for teenage girls—and what better way to build self-confidence than to learn how to ride the crest of a wave! They offer lessons year-round and hold special workshops several times a year in Mexico. Contact Surf Diva at (858) 454-8273 or visit

The West Wing
Here is a bit of trivia for those of you who don’t live in San Francisco—nowadays, only folks with cable can watch NBC. In January of this year, NBC in San Francisco switched affiliate stations and now broadcasts from about 35 miles away. Luckily, our cable providers pointed out that all one needs is cable to get the new station. (Oops, this was supposed to be a positive article with no cynicism—sorry!) I am the sort of person who will probably never get cable now just on principle, so The West Wing goes on without me. Sigh. The good news is that regardless of whether I watch or not, it still sits high atop the ratings. Take an episode from April that addressed the problem of nuclear waste storage. Said President Bartlett, played by activist/actor Martin Sheen: “We pack this stuff in two inches of stainless steel, four inches of lead. We’ve rammed it with trains and dropped it from helicopters and it still isn’t going to protect us from the thing we haven’t thought of.” I don’t know about you, but I would love to have a president who thought like this. Overnight ratings showed that this episode of The West Wing was the most watched show at 9 p.m., drawing 17.3 million viewers. Those of you lucky enough to still get NBC for free, please think of me when you watch, okay?

Dischord Records

Whenever I need a reminder that integrity and self-sufficiency can thrive within the music business, all I have to do is listen to anything put out by the D.C. label Dischord, and I remember. This year marks their 20th anniversary, and Dischord continues to kick ass despite the pervasive expanse of corporate music. From Ian MacKaye of Dischord Records:
“In the early ‘90s there was a sudden and intense interest in underground and independent music...Fugazi, the band that I started with Brendan [Canty] and Guy [Picciotto] (from Rites of Spring) and Joe Lally in 1988 was one of the largest in the underground, and soon attracted the interests of many major labels. The band’s decision to remain on Dischord led to offers from the majors to buy the entire label, but selling it was never even a consideration. We understood the value of self-determination, and because the label was so well established we weren’t faced with the same circumstances as many other bands and labels at that time…

Because we have tried to approach the label as a mission of documentation as well as a community-based entity, we have managed to avoid many of the industry-standard practices. The fact that we are able to help support the people who work for us as well as pay royalties to the bands seems to be proof that such an approach is possible.”

Fugazi still performs for $5 only at all-age venues, charges ten bucks for their CDs, and has never sold T-shirts or any other promotional items. For those of you who have never had the thrill of listening to Fugazi or any of the other bands supported by Dischord, check out their Web site at

The Internet
I just conducted a search for the word “vegan” on one of the more popular Internet search engines. What an incredible tool. In .08 seconds, I came up with approximately 449,000 pages. Stop and think about that for a minute. That’s half a million pages that mention something about veganism. You can order vegan goodies online, find cruelty- and sweatshop-free shoes and learn everything you ever wanted to know about how tempeh is made. My personal favorite is the Dr. Bronner’s home page where you can actually download a PDF file with one of their famous “All-One” soap labels.


Did you know that the technology currently exists to run a diesel engine on discarded vegetable oil? Biodiesel is the generic name for an alternative, liquid fuel produced from renewable resources, typically vegetable oil.

The most popular method of making this alternative fuel is to blend 20 percent biodiesel with 80 percent petroleum diesel, a mixture known as B20. Although this ratio makes driving in the winter a problem because vegetable oil congeals in cold weather, biodiesel is already common in Europe and its use is now growing in the U.S. According to the National Biodiesel Board, nine states are considering laws that would require a mix of two percent biodiesel in all diesel fuel sold, and more than 100 government and municipal fleets use it to run vehicles.

For more information, contact the non-profit environmental organization Chewonki at (207) 882-7323 or visit their Web site at

Rents are going down in San Francisco. I recently overheard a friend talking to her landlord about the two units available in her building. When she asked what they were going for, her building manager paused. “Well, about $1,000 a month,” he said, “but we are going to have to lower the rent because we just aren’t getting offers.” It is the first time I have heard the words “lower” and “rent” in the same sentence. I understand that the economy turning south has had a lot to do with rents going down, really I do. However, the “dot-com” boom was what pushed the prices up to begin with, pushing so many out of their homes at the same time. With many of those businesses now defunct, let’s hope that people who are earning well below six figures will have a shot at somewhat affordable housing.

Canine Rescue
I was so inspired when I heard about this I could hardly sleep. Ever heard of the Canine Underground Railroad? Paws Across the Northwest? Helping Hands? All across the country, networks of activists are working to locate companion animals living in abusive situations or in shelters that have a “kill” policy. Once located, then the real work begins. First, they find a new home through their network. Then there’s the question of how to get the dog homebound. A route is planned, drivers solicited and the journey begins. Everyday folks actually get in their cars and drive the dog from point A to point B, where the next activist drives to the next stop along the road...and so on until the doggie arrives at his or her new home. What an awesome group of people. Maybe we can get the biodiesel folks together with the Canine Rescue team. Now wouldn’t that be a real revolution? There are a lot of organizations out there. For more information, start with the Basset Hound Rescue at or the Canine Underground Railroad at


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