Against the Odds: Conversation With Darryl Cherney, Earth First! Activist And Producer Of “WHO BOMBED JUDI BARI?”

by Margot Pepper
First published by Canada's The Scoop, April 2012 and the Free Venice Beachhead, April 2012

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Before global warming permeated contemporary consciousness, Earth First! activists Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney popularized protests against clear-cutting in the 1980's. On May 24th, 1990 in Oakland, California, a bomb exploded in Judi Bari’s car and the former union organizer suffered debilitating injuries alongside Cherney. "Who Bombed Judi Bari?," a new compelling and poetic documentary film directed by Mary Liz Thomson and produced by Cherney, explores attempts by the FBI and Oakland Police to accuse Bari of planting the bomb herself and the subsequent lawsuit against the agencies that attempted to silence both environmentalists. The film, which plays out like a Hollywood drama, offers a surprising and uplifting resolution: in 2002, a federal jury found that 3 FBI agents and 3 Oakland officers were guilty of violating Bari and Cherney's civil rights and ordered the law enforcement agencies to pay $4.4 million. Yet, like the killing of J.F.K, the film reveals an unsolved mystery: who then, is the actual bomber of Judi Bari? In 2011, their legal team secured a stop order preventing the FBI from destroying evidence that could contain the bomber's DNA and ordered it turned over to an independent lab for testing. The FBI is appealing the order. The following interview with Cherney offers his thoughts as to the bomber’s identity, as well as insights about perseverance against impossible odds, lessons for today’s Occupy movement.

New Deal Vs Rotten Deal

A look at the Hobos to Street People Exhibit and Catalogue

by Margot Pepper
Hobos to Street People Exhibit
Freedom Voices Books

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The last thing one would expect an art show and catalogue focusing on poverty to do is inspire, particularly during such challenging economic times. Curator, artist and author Art Hazelwood has masterfully juxtaposed art created during the Great Depression of the 1930s to the daring perspectives of artists interpreting similar themes today. Hobos to Street People: Artists’ Responses to Homelessness from the New Deal to the Present is empowering because it validates our experience of an “America” denied us by mainstream media. Laws have been won, agreements signed to ensure that the widespread levels of poverty of the Great Depression won’t reappear. But these laws and agreements have slowly eroded. The hope comes from the artist as historian, as a witness to these broken promises, like the heart-breaking photographs by Robert Terrell, whose ironic title draws attention to the failure of the US to live up to its obligations under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted by a committee chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control." (Article 25, Section1, 1948.)

The Costs of the Embargo

The 47-year-old blockade now costs the United States far more than it costs Cuba.

by Margot Pepper
First published by Dollars & Sense, March/April 2009
Common Dreams March 7, 2009

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On January 1, Cuba celebrated the 50th anniversary of the revolution against the U.S.-backed Batista regime. For 47 of those years, Cuba has suffered under what U.S. officials call an “embargo” against the Caribbean nation. Cubans’ name for the embargo—el bloqueo (the blockade)—is arguably more apt, given that the U.S. policy also aims to restrict other countries from engaging in business with Cuba.

Embargo Costs U.S. Economy More Than Cuba's (750 word version)

by Margot Pepper
First published by Canada's The Scoop and Berkeley Daily Planet

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The U.S. blockade is causing more economic damage to the United States than it is to Cuba. A December letter signed by a dozen leading U.S. business organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, urged then-President-elect Barack Obama to initiate the process of scrapping the 47-year old embargo. The letter pegs the cost to the US economy at $1.2 billion per year. Other sources project up to $4.84 billion annually in lost sales and exports.

TV Selfishness and Violence Explode During “War on Terror:" Second graders discover new trends in TV since 9/11

by Margot Pepper
First published by Rethinking Schools, Spring 2008

Six years into the “War on Terror,” my second grade Spanish immersion students found that aggression, selfishness and insults have exploded on national television.

For the last decade, I’ve had my students at Rosa Parks Elementary in Berkeley, California analyze television shows preceding National TV-Off week organized by the TV-Turnoff Network, which this year is April 21-27. I ask the seven and eight-year-old students to collect all the data themselves, since I’ve never owned a television. For seven days, students study a random sampling of about 35 English and Spanish-language children’s television shows—and one or two soap operas or reality shows.

The Drive to Oust the Middle Class from Inner City Public Schools

by Margot Pepper
First published by Race, Poverty & the Environment, Fall 2007

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No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was signed into law in 2001 by President George Bush, backed by both Democrats and Republicans. The backbone of the program, allegedly designed to hold schools accountable for academic failure, is standardized state testing for students and educators. Rather than improve public education, however, there is now ample evidence that NCLB testing is part of a systematic effort to privatize diverse urban public schools in the United States. The objectives of privatization have been threefold: first, to divert taxpayer money from the public sector to the corporate sector; second, to capture part of the market, which would otherwise be receiving free education; and third, to drive out middle class accountability, leaving behind a disposable population that won’t have a voice about the inappropriate use of their tax dollars, nor the bleak outlook on their futures.

Seven-Year-Olds Lead A Strike

by Margot Pepper
First published by Race, Poverty & the Environment, Fall 2007

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For over a decade I’ve been teaching my six-, seven-, and eight-year-old students to strike against me in the classroom. I drew the inspiration from “the Yummy Pizza company” labor unit1 and my own experience in the Berkeley Federation of Teachers and National Writer's Union. Instead of producing pizzas, students at “Pepper Ink.” produce laminated bookmarks of the best poem they’ve written in a year-long study of the genre. This year, however, the experience took a different turn when one of our potential Pepper Ink. workers was forcibly removed from the school.

Festival of Light

by Margot Pepper
From forthcoming book, the Acrobat and Other Stories for Dark Times

In memory of Rachel Corrie

The swans knew the sun had set. They retreated under the bridges to tuck necks under wings in slumber, and it was another exodus of light: the departure of brilliant white leaving only the dismal colors of dusk—the mercurial river, clouds like coals long since burned to ash. The scene was etched in metal, cold, colorless, hard; the red, ochre and olive houses, lusterless, mildewed.

Then came droves of dwellers rushing sea-side streets, in spite of the weather, and despite the fact that the last intimations of light would soon vanish. There must have been thousands. Who’d have believed it?--past nine on a Sunday night, Kira thought. Families pushing prams along sidewalks with clear vented plastic encasing babies, parents holding umbrellas over the heads of older siblings or allowing them to skip alongside bundled in rain hats and slickers. This was why the roads had been jammed for days, and the couple’s cramped little B&B, the last vacancy in the village.

The Acrobat

by Margot Pepper
From forthcoming book, the Acrobat and Other Stories for Dark Times

For Piri Thomas, living muse to so many of us

The Bay surrounded the runway on three of four sides, agitated, black as obsidian with reflections of moonlight like the small fingernail carvings in an ancient arrowhead. Across the expanse of darkness, the bracelet of lights of the San Francisco Bay bridge glittered, accentuating the silhouettes of the Transamerica pyramid in North Beach and financial buildings beyond. The cumulous clouds created by the fog hovered over the base, trapping in the smoky color of the circus’ gold lights. The tremendous beige canvas tent rose up, out of the ruins of the closed base like the chimera or hallucination of a city.

New Orleans, Old Story

by Margot Pepper
Watershed Festival Reading August 18 at noon

I.
They came shackled, scarred, half-drowned on Yemayá’s back:
queen mother of the sea;
children like limbs, severed,
settled by Oshun, the Mississippi river;
clandestine gods and shells stowed behind catholic crosses:
vadu, voodoo, santería.
Where once sweat lodge smoke smudged the view
an auction block now stood.

And so, the great city rose up, multiplied--
cries of birth pains muffled in traffic,
throaty blues and hypnotic jazz,