Recent Local Blog Posts

Local food distribution system needed

Works in Progress - Sun, 07/10/2016 - 11:55am


No one farm can afford to distribute to places where immediate point-of-purchase occurs

At this writing, I’ve just returned from the Olympia Farmers’ Market, now in full season. Although the Market was open all year on Saturdays, and open weekends from October through December, now four full days of local food, crafts, lotions and potions are ours to enjoy. We in Olympia are so lucky to be living in a place where over 40 farms, offering everything from vegetables to local meats, from fresh flowers to honey, bring their food, their amazing, tasty, grown right here, made right here, food, to us! We get to eat it, buy it, smell it and also listen to music, dance a little jig, and get our faces painted if we want, at the Market. Very patient Master Gardeners will tell us why we cannot and should not try to kill the moss in our lawns. Wise growers, who know something about trees and bushes, will tell us just the right pear tree varietals to plant (in pairs) in our back yard so that we can pluck our own pears on a late summer evening a few years from now—assuming the deer and raccoons haven’t done the job for us.

Life is good and growing in the South Sound.

So why is it that I can walk across a parking lot, or down the street, or just across town, from all this abundance and sit down at a restaurant table and not be able to order and eat that which is so obviously available at the many farmers’ markets in Thurston, Mason and Lewis counties? Why is it hard to find seasonally fresh and locally grown food in our grocery stores and restaurants in the greater Oly-Lacey-Tumwater area when the farmers’ markets are bursting with it? Good grief, we are over-run with kale all year round! When thousands of carrots, pulled from the ground hours before, are calling us at our many market stalls, why are we served frozen cubes of them, or old, shaved, “baby,” carrots grown in Texas last year? Why are carrots and kale grown far away and long ago served at the food vendor stalls at the Olympia Farmers’ Market when we can buy fresh just a few feet away?

As it turns out, that was a question I was asking local, small-scale, organic (or nearly so), farmers here over 17 years ago when I first came to this area. It’s a question the Thurston County Food Council grapples with annually, that frustrates local growers daily, and that elected county officials (except local farmer, E. J. Zita) and economic development agencies, ignore, because, they’re busy making sure Cabela’s doesn’t pay more taxes than the barristas at Batdorf & Bronson do. They’re much too involved in global trade agreements assuring that every tree with a trunk diameter exceeding 18 inches gets sold to China—quick-like.

The short answer? No local farm distribution system.

There is some local food distribution, of course—usually carried-out by the farmers themselves. They pack the produce on their trucks at dawn and drive it to the nearby farmers’ markets. Perhaps they drop off a few bushels and baskets and crates to the Olympia Food Co-op or Jay’s Farm Stand. Some have contracts with the optimistic and determined Tachira Farms: Farm Fresh Market! on Black Lake Blvd in West Olympia:

Larger, but still small-scale, local producers might have a contract with a couple of locally owned grocery stores (not the big-box stores, see sidebar on page 10) or restaurants. For example, Hart’s Mesa restaurant has a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) membership with Pigman Farms. Others buy from Kirsop, Wobbly Cart and Rising River farms. Many local farmers growing vegetables, fruits, flowers, and even those also producing chickens, turkeys, pigs, goats and cattle offer CSA memberships, where individuals and business owners buy-in to monthly rations of local food, in-season. In this instance, CSA members pick-up their box of local food at a designated spot every week/month. Check-out the Thurston County Farm Map:

Here’s the thing: Small farmers living near you spend most of their time, from sun-up to sun-down, growing food. Then, they stay up late filling-out forms explaining why and how they grow food, in order to submit those forms to someone who doesn’t grow food, so that person/agency can figure out how much the farmer should pay, to grow food. The best part of farming? You get to eat really good food!

The value of a food distribution system in the South Sound has been recognized by small-scale producers in Thurston, Mason and Lewis Counties for decades. It’s been of major concern to organizations like Washington Tilth, South Sound Farmland Trust, the local and state Grange, and many other organizations. Individually, no one farm or small-scale meat producer, can afford to distribute its produce, fruits, flowers, dairy and meat beyond the farm itself, except to places where immediate point-of-purchase occurs. Most get by with farmers’ markets & CSA’s. Those with a bit more operational cash (and land) contract with a few local grocery stores and a few restaurants. Some artisanal dairies in the South Sound pay drivers to deliver milk, cream, cheese etc. to stores and restaurants as far south as Portland and as far north as Seattle. Check-out Black Sheep Creamery in Chehalis:

Because the South Sound has no truly local or regional distribution system for its small-scale food producers, those organic (or nearly so) farmers who can produce enough food to sell beyond the markets available to them through individual customer sales via CSA’s, or at food co-ops, Jay’s Farm Stand, and farmers’ markets, contract with Charlie’s Produce Some local grocery stores and restaurants, and many South Sound institutional food services like those contracted to area schools, colleges, prisons and government agencies, “Buy Local” through food contracts with Charlie’s Produce.

Here’s how it works. Small farmers in the counties of the South Sound, especially organic growers, contract to Charlie’s Produce (CP). CP sends a truck to the farm and carries the produce away to Seattle, where it is sorted into bins of plant varieties. All the broccoli over there, all the lettuce over here, put the beans there . . . And then, grocery stores and restaurants and institutional food services at local schools, prisons and government agencies here in the South Sound buy it back, at a mark-up. In this way, the kale grown less than 10 miles from where I live here in Olympia, travels all the way to Seattle and back again, so I can eat it at the college cafeteria, at a handful of restaurants, or buy it at a grocery store. By the way, Charlie’s Produce has main distribution centers in Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and two in Alaska. That’s swell and hats off to a Washington State fresh food distribution company who made good focusing on some major cities in the Pacific Northwest and as far afield as Alaska and LA.

The point is, those cities where Charlie’s Produce has anchored its hubs benefit the most from what our local farmers produce in the South Sound. The employees and their paychecks connected to Charlie’s Produce fuel the economies of those hub cities, not the rural towns and small cities in the South Sound whose farmers sell to them. Only a few South Sound farmers, those who can afford to grow and sell for CP, make a little bit selling to CP. Incrementally, our farmers realize less than what the average worker at a CP distribution center takes home every month selling what our farmers produce. Our farmers would make more—and we’d pay less—if the Ports in Thurston, Lewis, and Mason counties would collaborate in supporting a local South Sound food distribution economic incubator. Many smaller farms in the area could then also afford to grow a little more if they could sell to a local distributor rather than to a mega-regional company like CP. Local restaurants and grocery stores would realize consistent and affordable local food delivery and we’d all find more locally grown food to buy and eat.

With over a hundred small-scale farms producing amazing, often organic, and heritage plant/meat/dairy food in the South Sound, shouldn’t you or I be able to walk down the street and buy or eat the food produced here? In fact, shouldn’t we expect that? People living in Seattle and Portland expect that. Guess what? Our big-city cousins are eating very well and affordably in those cities and enjoying tasty food raised nearby. Why aren’t we?

Liza Rognas is an academic librarian and a research professional, and has been a community food security activist and researcher for 20 years in Washington State.


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Evergreen students condemn Caterpillar, support Sakuma strikers and de-shelving Sabra

Works in Progress - Sun, 07/10/2016 - 11:52am

In support of Palestine and farmworkers

On May 31, 2016, students at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington voted overwhelmingly to endorse resolutions expressing support for freedom and equality for Palestinians and labor justice for migrant workers at Sakuma Bros farm in northern Washington State. The three resolutions asked students to (1.) condemn the presence of Caterpillar Inc. equipment on campus, (2.) to de-shelve Sabra hummus and (3.) prohibit the use of Sakuma Bros berries from campus dining services.

Support for the resolutions was widespread: 67.4% of participating students voted for the Caterpillar resolution, while 73.9% voted for de-shelving Sabra and an impressive 84.7% for the Sakuma question. The resolutions also garnered support beyond the campus. The campaign was endorsed by Olympia-based organization Economics for Everyone, Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and political scientist, Norman Finkelstein.

Both Caterpillar and Sabra are complicit in Israeli apartheid and occupation. Caterpillar sells armored bulldozers to the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) to conduct illegal house demolitions in the Palestinian territories, displacing around 100,000 civilians since 1967. One of Sabra’s parent corporations, Strauss Group, provides material support to elite units of the IDF, the Golani and Givati Brigades, that are infamous for human rights abuses, including during Israel’s latest assaults on Gaza. Sakuma Bros farm is notorious for its exploitative labor practices against a largely immigrant workforce, paying poverty wages in deplorable conditions.

Zayd Zaytoon, an Evergreen student and Olympia activist from Palestine speaks about what the resolutions mean to them, “As a Palestinian student, this vote reaffirms my school’s commitment to not support the oppressors of my family and my lineage and to use its tools to collaborate with other schools across the U.S. through the BDS movement.”

Victories in the first two initiatives continue a long tradition of Palestine solidarity organizing amongst the Evergreen and Olympia communities. In 2003, Evergreen student, Rachel Corrie, was killed by an IDF-operated Caterpillar bulldozer while defending a Palestinian home from demolition. In 2010, students voted overwhelmingly to divest from companies profiting from Israeli occupation and prohibit the use of Caterpillar equipment on campus. Evergreen’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter (formerly Mid-East Solidarity Project) has long been instrumental in educating students for years, hosting speakers, workshops, and displays commemorating Nakba Day, for example. Also in 2010, the Olympia Food Co-op made the historic decision as the first U.S. grocery store to boycott Israeli goods. Finally, downtown Olympia is home to the Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural, a multi-media and art project and collective effort of some 150 groups and individuals, that “builds relationships across movements, issues, cultures and great distances,” according to the project’s website.

The recent student resolutions were crafted in response to the 2005 global call to action by Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against companies and institutions complicit in Israeli apartheid and occupation. BDS campaigns have proliferated across campuses in the last few years. Sabra, in particular, was targeted at colleges such as Earlham, Wesleyan and DePaul. A similar call to action was issued from the Sakuma-based farmworker’s union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), to boycott Sakuma/Driscoll’s Berries. FUJ was formed as an independent union in 2013 with an initial membership of almost 500 mostly indigenous migrant workers from Oaxaca. The union is demanding an end to poverty wages, wage-theft and poor living and working conditions. Support for workers at Sakuma has spread rapidly, with solidarity committees burgeoning throughout the U.S. and beyond, advocating the Driscoll’s berry boycott.

While the impressive results of the resolutions are clearly indicative of general student sympathy with Palestinians and the farmworkers at Sakuma Bros farms, implementing the boycott measures may require further action. The Evergreen administration routinely disregards democratic student initiatives it deems not in its interest. For example, Evergreen refused to respect the 2010 BDS measures; the school’s endowment maintains investments in Israeli companies and Caterpillar equipment retains a presence on campus. Earlier this year, activists staged a sit-in at a Board of Trustees meeting to protest Caterpillar and students have consistently “defaced” Caterpillar machinery, by plastering them with educational flyers and removing black duct tape placed over the company’s logo—a pathetic attempt to disguise Caterpillar’s presence and quell student dissent. If this round of student democracy is also disrespected, students will have to adopt a direct action campaign accompanied by a consciousness-raising effort as the next school year begins. These strategies are necessary both to effect material victories and maintain an institutional memory of political activism in a space characterized by transience, as campuses tend to be.

For more information about the resolutions and boycott organizing at the Evergreen campus, please email:


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Requiem for a Pulse

Works in Progress - Sun, 07/10/2016 - 11:47am


 (for those departed and surviving in Orlando and everywhere)


I am struggling now to comprehend how I still have one

after all the opportunities I’ve had to die with my hands

at the wheel after too many drinks in bars while I waited

to become my uncloseted self. And now I have nothing to do but pulse

with crackling rage as I raise an empty glass,

mourning the fact that you, Orlando, lost so many hearts


and lips and hands, all wanting to give something to the other hearts

beating like hell on the dance floor before the clock strikes one.

You. Alive. You. Raising your drinks to the glassy

Air. You. Raising your brown Orlando hands

to the heavens in the heat of your last dance at Pulse.

And, of course, you don’t know this. Don’t know that death is waiting


around the corner like a drunk in a car. You are just waiting

for last call, for your early morning heart

to drum faster, to keep perfect time with its perfect pulse

as it moves closer to each slick body on the electric floor, to the one

you will leave this world with tonight, with your hands

pressing each other’s calloused palms in prayer, your glassy


eyes looking forward to the next time you raise your lover like a glass,

clutch them in the grace of everything that the body waits

to release when it releases the tenuous grip of hands

in the act. And doesn’t your Orlando always resemble the heart–

resilient, restless, eager to demonstrate how it is one

with the divine, how it yearns to live from within its pulse?


And now I am pondering the woman who sat next to me pulsing

on my porch steps before we kissed then shuffled our crazy hearts

back into the deck to hide in the shadows of the one

true thing I know that I have been waiting

to discover with another. And now all the pulverized bar glasses


resemble diamonds on the dance floor, and a pair of smeared sunglasses

sleeps in the massacre’s aftermath, inside and outside of Pulse.

Orlando, the world will wake Sunday morning with news of your murdered hearts,

and in the fifth stanza I’ve dropped a line in shock. My hands

go cold with grief. I don’t know if I can spare the time to wait

for the one who could be the one while everyone in Orlando is one


dance step away from their hearts shattering like blown glass

floats that hands once held precious, every ounce of sweat and blood, waiting

for love to pulse. Yes, pulse. And still, I have one.


Sandra Yannone’s poetry and book reviews have appeared nationally in Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, The Gay and Lesbian Review, Women’s Review of Books, Calyx: A Journal, Lambda Book Report, and Weave, among others. She currently is a Member of the Faculty and directs the Writing Center at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA.


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Loss of rights in Thurston jail

Works in Progress - Sun, 07/10/2016 - 11:43am

I want to provide some validity to the possible legal arguments of claims for Roger Calhoon and also Steven Wayne Tafoya, who is also waiting trial in our Thurston County Jail for driving without a license.

I first became intrigued by Roger’s plight due to the possible denial of a Probable Cause Hearing (PCH) and the County’s violations of other civil rights under the First, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments.  He was also not allowed to attend in his criminal and his mental health hearings, which lead one to think that hIs PCH did happen, but since Roger was not permitted to be present, who knows? Such actions hinder his case  and certainly prolongs it.

Revised Code of Washington for Mental Illness are:

  • RCW 71.05.240 Petition for involuntary treatment or alternative treatment—Probable cause hearing
  • RCW 71.05.250  Probable cause hearing—Detained person’s rights

On June 8, 2016, I attended Roger’s hearing where he spoke to the judge directly and asked to represent himself.  He was denied this right and a trial hearing was scheduled.  His next court date was Monday, June 20, 2016, and again, I attended but the hearing clerk told me that Roger Calhoon was not schedule that day but on July 20. What?

One of female clerks at the County Clerk Office stated to me early that morning Roger was scheduled for a hearing. Later when I was double checking, she confirmed it again.  Bottom line people like Roger and Steven have serious violations of civil rights and our community should rally behind them and support them.

The next hearing for Roger Calhoon is Wednesday, July 13 at 8:30 am with Judge Dixon. Following that, Wednesday, July 20 at 8:30 am and possibly again on Monday, July 25 at 8:30 am. Roger’s court case number is #15-1-01317-7.

Steven Tafoya’s next court date is Monday, June 27  (the judge and time to be determine).

His court case number is #15-100599-9.

Please, come and join us to support them as we supported and rallied behind Scott Yoos.

Carole Willey has been a local social justice reformer, civil and human rights defender, mental health legislative advocate, and an environmental healthcare activist since 1991.  She is a co-founder of Health Freedom Washington in 2007 and co-founder of face book group page Thurston Environmental Collective (TEC) in 2014.   Please, visit TEC to get the latest on environmental disasters, train derailments, protests, rallies, divestment campaigns, breaking news, etc. 

Those interested may contact her at




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Blood on the tracks

Works in Progress - Sun, 07/10/2016 - 11:36am

I might add a few words to Wes Prang’s “What we love…” [published in the June 2016 issue].  Not only is it for love of money that we must forbear, it is the addiction to power that serves its purpose. I speak not of the power of Government, although tattered and embattled still bears a measure of power of the people; it is the entitlement of power so readily accrues to those of wealth and privilege. A vestige of an Aristocratic power, an autocratic and closeted plutocracy. A power that wields the law through it’s army of lawyers, lobbyists, judicial and legislative allies.

We see ourselves besieged by the ceaseless assault on our right to those essential things that allow a decent life.  Our air, water, food, means of livelihood and ability to maintain well-being are all subject to the dictates of the bottom line. How else could it be that the average citizen now must endure threats thathave become common place fixtures in this American way of life? It seems we must be constantly engaged in the business of defending our families and homes from trespassers, exploiters of a synthetic state of war. Not foreign, not alien but homegrown and hell bent on conquering any resistance to their agenda and campaign.

We are exposed to poisons, toxins in our water and air, chemicals in our food and even seed stock. And it seems that now we have also become targets, caught in the cross hairs of actual enemies of the state and sanctioned by our own security apparatus. Rolling bomb trains transiting through our communities are targets of terrorists because they provide a unique opportunity for mass murder. Wherever the rails lay in proximity to large numbers of people, whenever a train carrying Bakken crude oil intersects with the lives of thousands of us, an opportunity exists to use that volatile force to destroy lives and property.

There are too many methods, too many ways to carry out a well-planned attack without the ability to prevent or defend against it. The oil tanker is a symbol of the ruthlessness of profit, the indifference to our common core values. It appears on the horizon as some immutable and unstoppable entity.  A conveyance of the authority we must yield to because it is Commerce and the law which sanctify their passage over our commons. We suffer the consequence when that authority fails to control itself, breaks down under an avalanche of physical demands, mechanical, schedules and nature itself. And it cannot control that which is destined to become a worse moment in our history than the events of September 11, 2001.

Imagine a warm summer day in Seattle at Safeco Field. Tens of thousands of sports fans are in the stands enjoying the game when the sound of a train horn can be overheard from the tracks just outside right field. Somewhere in the surrounding community a gunman awaits the moment when that train will pass close to the stadium with it’s load of Bakken crude oil. As long as he has a clear view of the train he could be as far away as a mile because the .50 caliber rifle being used has an effective range of 1800 yards.

As the trigger is pulled a single armor piercing incendiary round is fired and then pierces the steel plate of an oil tanker. The explosive component generates enough heat to ignite the vapors in the tank and cause a detonation with the potential force of one kiloton of TNT. The pressure wave generated by the explosion is transmitted through the structure and immediately ruptures people’s internal organs. Structural damage turns construction material into shrapnel and the ensuing fireball envelopes the field as it is channeled over people’s heads by the open roof which sits above the tracks. The carnage would be beyond comprehension and overwhelm any emergency response plans in effect.

The sacrifice of perhaps tens of thousands of lives would become part of the conscience of our society but not part of the conscience of the interests that refuse to compromise their bottom line.

In light of the indefensible, a sort of gallows humor is applied and so when a Mariner hits a home run we celebrate with the BNSF Blast, just to show we’re not afraid of some abstract catastrophe because, after all, the safety record defies such a possibility.

Don’t worry too much though because just as soon as the tracks are cleared of debris the trains will resume their ceaseless journey to the terminals for export. I suppose one might come to the conclusion that things are the way they’re supposed to be and worrying about it won’t change a thing.  I suppose.

Brian Grad is a retired electronics technician living in Sequim and active in MoveOn, Olympic Climate Action and the Sierra Club. He also writes songs about environmental issues and climate change.


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YWCA of Olympia seeks Women and Business of Achievement nominations

Works in Progress - Sun, 07/10/2016 - 11:34am


Annual effort honors South Sound women and a business making positive impact in the community

(OLYMPIA) – They have changed policy. They have increased access to education.  They have stood in the face of adversity. They have empowered women. They are Women & Businesses of Achievement.

YWCA Olympia is pleased to announce that nominations for their Annual Women of Achievement Celebration will be accepted in mid-July. Past honorees have included Barbara Clarkson (SPSCC Trustee, Co-Founder Black Alliance of Thurston County), Senator Maria Cantwell, Washington State Senator Karen Fraser, Marsha Tadano Long, and Olympia Federal Savings President & CEO, Lori Drummond. Three Girls Media and TOGETHER! have been named past Businesses of Achievement.

YWCA Olympia will once again honor women throughout the South Sound who have inspired and shaped the community. Nominees will be considered based how she models her life in line with the YWCA Olympia mission to eliminate racism and sexism to advance the political, social and economic status of all women and girls. Our vision is a world where all people are valued, live free from oppression and thrive in a just society.

The YWCA of Olympia also seeks to celebrate outstanding businesses that recognize that the value of women in the workplace is simply good business.  We welcome nominations for both private and public businesses and large and small companies in the South Sound (Thurston, Mason & Lewis Counties).

Nomination forms and an online application will be available on the agency website ( on our around July 5.  Nominations will be due to the YWCA of Olympia by 5:00pm on Friday, August 5.

Honorees will be formally announced to the community in early September.  The Annual Women of Achievement Gala will take place on Friday, October 28th at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts.

For more information about Women of Achievement, contact Cherie Reeves Sperr, Community Engagement Director at 352-0593 or



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Walt Whitman, Orlando, and the dance for poetic justice

Works in Progress - Sun, 07/10/2016 - 11:31am

For twenty-four years in a side yard in bucolic Ashfield, MA, my friend Jan Freeman has held a sacred ritual on the 4th of July outside her home, which also serves as the headquarters for Paris Press, a homegrown publishing mecca she founded for the sole purpose of putting and keeping Muriel Rukeyser’s 1949 manifesta, The Life of Poetry, back in print.  People gather in the early morning before the heat of the 4th gets too brutal in New England, break bagels together, and circle up for a reading of Walt Whitman’s epic poem “Song of Myself” first published in 1855 as the signature poem in his now canonical collection Leaves of Grass.

Jan always begins by having the group introduce themselves and their various affiliations with the world. It is an intergenerational gathering of people from all walks of life in space and time.  I usually travel there after a transcontinental flight from Olympia to meet up with my mother in Connecticut, and together we make the two-hour drive north in the early morning for a full day of poetic inspiration.

Generations of poets and friends in different configurations over the years add to the dimension that Whitman’s poem itself displays.   I meet up with other friends and mentors I’ve had the good fortune to accumulate like charms on a bracelet over the years.  Liz Ahl, one of my dear friends and now collaborator, from my MFA program in Boston and my PhD in Nebraska; Robin Becker, whose work inspired me to write openly as a lesbian; Kate Flaherty, another sacred friend originally from New Hampshire and currently residing there, but whom I met in Nebraska; Jeff Oaks, a dear poet friend from Pittsburgh.

Because Jan has held true to this ritual for twenty-four years, the group also has grappled with the changes in configuration of voices due to the untimely deaths of a number of regulars, transforming the ritual from a tribute to Whitman’s vision for a democratic coming together of all people to a sacred memorial.  We invoke the spirits of those we’ve found and lost on our travels, and we make new friends to look forward to seeing annually.  In the circle are current, future, and ex-lovers, parents and children,  teachers and mentors, community leaders, and friends.

This collective endeavor of voices alternating passages in a lyrical round takes about two hours to complete.  Jan reminds us of the sacred nature of poetry.  She encourages us to pay attention to our collective and individual alchemy born from whatever passages we are called to read when we play this game of poetic musical chairs.

I began writing this essay before Orlando, before the pulse of a machine gun that should be in no one hands, cut the legs and life out from under forty-nine too young people, many Puerto Rican, Latinx, and most likely members of the LGBTQ tribes, and injured irrevocably scores more.

The early morning of June 12 rang out in terror the likes of what we have seen on our various screens from 9/11, the plane tearing through the towers in the commuter light over Manhattan.  But September 11 and June 12 were not, unfortunately, our humanity’s worst hours.  They join an all-too-long chain of atrocities against the human spirit.  Our country was founded on this type of bloodshed on the plains, in the mountains, and the deserts of this continent with the erasure of its native people. The rise of capitalism was built on the backs of lives stolen from the shores of Africa.  Our civil liberties were silenced under the gun fire at Kent State, the bullets that took Malcolm X, JFK, and Martin Luther King, Jr., the struggle for labor rights in Centraila with the Wobblies. In 1925, in Greenwood, Oklahoma, supremacists burned down one of the most affluent of our African-American communities in our nation’s history. Ropes around necks have been too strong for the innocent to resist. The death penalty takes without reciprocating justice. Leonard Peltier remains in a prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, for not shooting an FBI agent on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1973.

“Song of Myself” is a clarion call for equity in a country that strives blindly for something it names democracy in the pursuit of happiness, but rarely embodies.  Whitman begins the poem with three lines that have come to identify his vision and voice: “I celebrate myself, and sing myself./And what I assume you shall assume,/For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” His “you” powers the poem with a litany of peoples and occupations and experiences that span the terrains of America as well as the intentions of the soul. His litany travels through day and night, work and play, love and sorrows. He speaks of love between men and women as well as between men.

As a nurse in the American Civil War, he tended to the wounded on the battlefield and spoke of his love of those men, in words and flesh. He documented all he dared to live.  Each dance, each open shirt collar bearing skin that he longed to touch with his lips, each kiss—all of it, and much, much more inhabits the 1,346 lines of his epic poetic quest. And when Whitman finally arrived at his final publication of the collection, this draft concludes with a nod to his own death, “[t]he last scud of day holds back for me, . . . I stop somewhere waiting for you.”

Whitman’s is an ecstatic leap of faith into the unknown, into the abyss of the future, into the realms of what he could not know and could not name. His lines embody all possibilities with little context of what would come after.  If living today, Whitman would understand Orlando as an sanctuary for earthly pleasures and revel in them then turn his witness to revile the dreams shattered by an unfathomable rupture against humanity.

Whitman published nine editions of Leaves of Grass during the course of his remarkable life of letters. The final edition appeared in 1892 as revision was what he demanded of himself and of his country. Over a century later, in all of its glory, Whitman’s “Song of Myself” implores each of us to join in his quest to live and to love, as well as to grieve, with the full capacity of our different bodies in every city we now recognize as Orlando.

Sandra Yannone is a poet, educator, and antique dealer in Olympia.  She is a Member of the Faculty and Director of the Writing Center at The Evergreen State College. 


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Posing race as a question instead of an issue to be solved

Works in Progress - Sun, 07/10/2016 - 11:26am

Evergreen Faculty Commencement Address — Spring 2016

Good afternoon, I would like to begin by sharing a poem. While I am not the author of this poem, the poem resonates with me in a particular way, I offer it today as a lens for understanding the content of what I will say as I stand here before you today.

Speak the truth to the people

Talk sense to the people

Free them with reason

Free them with honesty

Free the people with love and courage and care for their being.


This poem, “I am a Black Woman,” was written in 1970 by African-American poet, Mari Evans. As I begin, I would like to pay tribute to Maxine Mims.

Dr. Mims, it is an honor to be part of a commencement ceremony in which you are the honored speaker. Your words, actions, and work represent the very essence of Mari Evans words. Thank you for being the torch bearer, for preparing the space which enables me to stand on this stage today. On a more personal note, I would also like to thank you for the gracious hospitality extended to me as a new faculty member and even more so as a Black female faculty member…so very far away from home. Thank you for your wisdom and the gift and story of the octopus. To my faculty colleagues, thank you for this opportunity. I hope that my words today reflect our collective work. And to the 2016 graduating class of Evergreen State College, congratulations.

This year we witnessed on this campus how various student groups stood on the shoulders of their elders to change the discourse and social practices concerning race, gender, class, and sexuality. Your activism represents the many ways in which people can align the power of their ideas in service to social justice. Thank you.

Today, I will talk about race. My intent in talking about race is twofold—first, I hope to disrupt/dislodge a prevailing mindset which tends to situate race discourse in such a what that positions racialized others as problematic. Secondly, I wish to put forth a paradigm shift for talking about race. One which replaces the prevailing discourse and offers possibilities for new learnings.

First, we must move beyond seeing race as an issue to be solved. For when we place race as an issue to be solved, it renders people of color as being problematic. We are not problems to be solved! It is not the racists or the bigots who do this…for we all know where they stand. But rather it is well-intentioned folks who often see race as an issue in need of solving, this I believe is problematic. My aim here is not to make folks feel bad or point an accusatory finger, but rather name what I see as occurring and what I believe is in need of change.

So, I propose that instead of seeing race as an issue in need of solving, what if we situate race as a question? When race is posed as a question it challenges us to name it, talk about it, and do something about it. This requires us to move beyond a liberal self-congratulatory and incremental approach to race…for let’s face it…such an approach is not enough for the systemic change that needs to occurs. When we accept the challenge of seeing race as a question—then perhaps we can begin to envision the personal responsibility and sacrifice required to make real change to the deeply embedded acts of oppression engrained in organizational structures, routines and everyday practices. Yes, even here at Evergreen State College.

When we pose race as a question we can collectively engage in a conversation that focuses on equity, with equity goals as the center of our collective work. We can begin to equalize the quality of learning opportunities and focus on student outcomes. We can then begin to see the humanity of the students in front of us and the folks that work alongside us each day. As Dr. DeGruy stated, “I see you”. Such a move enables us to truly see one another.

So what are next steps? I believe we must follow the actions of the student groups. We must have courage. We must have the courage to face our fears when it comes to naming, talking about, and action upon race. Yes, our fears are real, but to be courageous means that one has to face one’s fears…because courage can’t exist without fear. My biggest fear is in not acting, for the consequences are dire, especially in our current climate where racist rhetoric and acts abound. This is the moment to step into the roar of our fears.

So how do we get there? I have no answers, but I do have some thoughts.

We must lean upon the wisdom of our elders who have traveled the road we are traveling for their strength and guidance. We draw upon the energy of a new movement where activism looks and sound differently, but if we listen carefully, we can gain learn new strategies. And lastly as a collective body of faculty, staff, and administrators we must act as professional knowledge producers—empowered agents to create change. To borrow from Patricia Hill Collins…we must “act as intellectual activists and put the power of our ideas in service to social justice”(p).

Phyllis Esposito, Ph.D, is a faculty member in Evergreen’s Masters in Teaching program.



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Summer: The season of discontent

Works in Progress - Sun, 07/10/2016 - 11:23am


Call from a tree

One of the reasons I supported Bernie Sanders’ bid to be president was the clarity with which he said we have to address climate change. In late June, a federal district judge in Wyoming, Judge Scott W. Skavdahl, overturned the Department of the Interior’s ban on fracking on public lands, ruling that the Interior Department doesn’t have the authority from Congress to issue regulation. The ruling will be appealed, but it’s a telling indicator of how far we have to go in terms of public policies to respond at all effectively to climate change. Sometimes it seems hopeless.

Vermont tree sit to protest pipeline

We get the phone message later that evening from our son/stepson who lives in Vermont. “Hi. This is Sam, and I’m calling to let you know that I’m up in a tree, I’m safe, I have food and dry clothing, and I probably won’t answer my phone. If you leave me a message, I’ll call you when I can.” We try calling. No answer, and no way to leave a message. He’s in a tree somewhere in Vermont, trying to stop the installation of a gas pipeline.

I check Facebook. Rising Tide Vermont has posted a series of items about this tree sit, and a photo.

Early Wednesday morning, Montpelier resident Sam Jessup climbed 60 feet into the treetops above an active pipeline construction site in Monkton. Sam has put his life on the line, as his platform is anchored to the hydraulic arm of a dynamite drill rig. Any tampering with the machine or the rope puts Sam in immediate danger.

Due to the nature of the blockade, extraction would be complicated and involved. Sam’s courageous action is preventing VGS’s hired destruction crews from blasting the hillside away and building the fracked gas pipeline.

Join Sam’s supporters for a march and rally on Thursday evening, June 9th, at 6:00 pm at 986 Rotax Rd in Monkton. (

Vermont was the first state in the U.S. to ban fracking. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, on April 12, 2012, the Vermont Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee “voted unanimously for a bill that would ban hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the state, as well as prohibit collection, storage, or treatment of fracking wastewater in the state.” The bill was reconciled—passed—by the Vermont House of Representatives on May 4, and was signed into law on May 17, 2012.

Even so, according to Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) reaffirmed its approval of the Addison Rutland Natural Gas Project on January 8, 2016—the construction of a pipeline that would bring gas produced through fracking from Alberta, Canada.

Drought resistance

Enrique, my husband, teases me each time the sky turns gray and mist or even rain comes down–“must be the drought.” I usually chuckle, sometimes uneasily, because even when it rains, I worry that we won’t get enough.

Last summer’s heat seared my imagination—it’s as if the climate models I’ve read about got branded in my mind as the long, hot, dry days paraded one after the other and I wondered whether our well would run dry.  I watched spruce needles turn brown and wondered how to water trees. I started watering blueberry bushes and rhododendrons that drooped, never thinking that the summer would get hotter. It did, and I found myself in turmoil because I’d already tried to rescue these plants—how could I let them dry out now? I thought about the story of the competition between the wind and sun about who is stronger. The wind blows and blows and although people get cold and wrap their coats and blanket more tightly around them, they still survived. The sun shone and people died from the dryness, the heat, the relentless sun.

Sunny days make me anxious for rain. Last year, we spent hours ringing the shrubs in our yard with a mixture of bark and compost, creating nutrient rich dikes to hold any water that came. Most of them survived—even thrived. This summer, we have another pile of mulch, but not the same urgency. It’s not been hot yet. I’m waiting.

Vermont State Troopers

Sam had been up in a white pine—tree-sitting—for six days when a Vermont State Trooper called our house. I wasn’t home. Enrique took the call. The troopers were looking for Sam’s sister Becky. Enrique took the trooper’s name, said that we supported what Sam was doing, and informed the trooper that we were monitoring the situation closely. When I heard about the call, I was relieved that I hadn’t been home. What if they had asked me whether I was worried about Sam? I’m not very good at thinking on my feet.

We knew that the troopers had been shining lights at night, and blaring sirens and honking. We knew Sam had been threatened.

We called the contact person at Rising Tide Vermont to let them know that the trooper had called and to ask how Sam was doing. Sam was fine, we heard, and the troopers had called in a negotiator. Because Sam was so high, they had no way to safely extract him. Because this was the third tree-sit this spring, they needed to get him down.

Part of the strategy behind these tree sits is that delays in the pipeline construction lead to cost increases. If the costs increase significantly, Vermont voters won’t want to pay. Delay works in favor of the climate change advocates.

A Vermont trooper called my 84-year old mom in Illinois. He told her they were worried about Sam, and wondered whether she was too. He told her they wanted to be sure Sam had dry clothes (it had been raining) and food. (He didn’t tell her that police had blocked earlier efforts by the Rising Tide support team to bring dry clothes and food to Sam.) She told him that she loved Sam very much. A second trooper called my mom, this time a woman. “Does Sam have any pets?” she asked my mom, who refused to answer.

Ultimately, the troopers blocked Sam’s cell phone so he had no way to connect with the people supporting him on the ground. Enrique called ATT, and the person there reported that Sam’s line must have been cut off.

Escalating responses to civil disobedience

According to Will Bennington, our contact with Rising Tide Vermont, the police are escalating their response to civil disobedience.

As we continue to effectively halt pipeline construction, we are seeing an escalation in tactics from the police in their response,” said Will Bennington, a spokesperson with the climate justice group Rising Tide Vermont. “AT&T has reported to us that Sam’s phone was disconnected from nearby cell towers, and state troopers confirmed that they had ‘other tricks up our sleeves’ to disrupt the action, including interfering with the cell phone.”

Chittenden County Sheriff’s deputies reportedly harassed Sam at night early on in the week, yelling threats to cut his ropes, banging on the tree and blasting sirens intermittently to keep him awake.

Jessup is currently being held at the Chittenden County Correctional Center in South Burlington, marking the first time someone has been sent to jail for participating in civil disobedience against the pipeline. (


I’m grateful that Sam sat in the tree in order to delay the pipeline construction. As I go about our yard, pulling invasive species and planting drought resistant, bird friendly native plants, I wonder whether I’ll know when it’s time to act, and I wonder whether I’ll know what to do.

Emily Lardner lives and works in Olympia, Washington.


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sound disruption: downtown strategy meeting

Works in Progress - Sun, 07/10/2016 - 11:17am

Recently (June 6), one of the Downtown Strategy Meetings that the City Council and Mayor do, was disrupted by us. We wrote this up as a way to explain why we did this as well as expand the narrative outside of the article that The Olympian put out.

The city of Olympia has a plan to displace the most vulnerable people in downtown Olympia; the poor, elderly, homeless, and people of color. The city calls it development, but we’ve seen what their capitalistic development brings; from Seattle to Tacoma, NYC to Detroit, San Francisco to Oakland. We’ve seen waves of “development” and displacement sweep across the nation, and now it’s here. Isn’t it obvious, in the way that more of the cities budget goes towards an ever militarized police forces, who harass and brutalize the homeless, the visibly queer and gender-nonconforming, and people of color, specifically black people, rather than towards social services and programs to help the most vulnerable and disenfranchised. We’ve already been feeling the effects of gentrification, the construction of the chic yuppy condo monstrosity on Fourth Street as the most visible example. As the property values start to rise, so does rent; it won’t be long before the city is unlivable for us.

The city council and mayor have made very clear what their priorities are, with how they have described homeless people as “street dependent”, as if being homeless is an addiction and not due to a lack of access to resources that the city refuses to spend money on, or how they described homeless as a problem because it might deter private investors with no connection to Olympia from investing in downtown; it’s obvious they’re more interested in selling off the city than making it better for the people that live and work there.

With this in mind, the city has been having meetings and workshops on “downtown development”; we decided to shut it down. We’ve seen the effects of playing nice with developers and gentrifiers, just look at whats left of the cities that we named earlier. Without resistance to gentrification there’s nothing left but a sterile, culturally devoid yuppie wasteland. The vision of the city they have in mind is one where we, the undesirables, don’t exist.  So we decided to confront displacement militantly, and to refuse to dialogue with the developers and politicians. They would rather us channel our anger about being displaced in to the right political channels, where we must be passive and polite so that we can be diffused and ignored.

They had their meeting in the Olympia Center. Eight of us with various items to make noise with casually rolled up into the building and made our way to the conference room, which was filled with around 60 or 70 people. We began banging on our our noise makers and blaring air-horns interrupting the Mayor as she addressed the group. We snaked round the room making our way towards the microphone and people began to get up and started trying to talk to us and blocking us and grabbing on us, but we kept going. Members of the city council and the mayor tried to talk to us as well, but we made it clear we had nothing to say to them.

They had left the microphone open as they came to try to talk to us, so one of us ran up to the microphone and began to shout in it; “DEVELOPMENT MEANS DISPLACEMENT! THE CITY OF OLYMPIA HAS MADE IT CLEAR THAT THEY DO NOT CARE ABOUT IT’S MOST VULNERABLE PEOPLES”, they promptly cut off the microphone. People continued to yell about displacement and how the city feigns at giving people choice in the development of Olympia, but is only letting us choose between prefabricated options that we have no say in.

A few minutes passed, the mayor got on the mic and said they were going to take a 15 minute break. During that time everybody was talking and many conversations were had between us and the audience; during that a member of the city council approached us to let us know they had called the police, though once the police came there they just stood off to the side as we had broken no law so they could not touch us. The mayor got back on the mic to announce to everyone that the meeting was adjourned; we had succeeded in shutting down the meeting.

We hung around talking to people for about 10 more minutes before we left; as we were walking an old white couple approached one our black comrades and tried to talk to them. The couple had been talking to our comrade in a very belittling and paternalistic way that was clearly racist seeing as the couple had talked to others differently and when our comrade checked them on that, the older man choked our comrade and slammed them against a wall; a short scuffle ensued which ended in one of our comrades restraining the man from behind so he couldn’t attack anyone else and another helping the comrade who was attacked away from the area. Both groups were detained for 20 minutes; there were no arrests.

The local news paper The Olympian, put out an article about the action and in it Keith Stahley is quoted as saying “They came in with no intention of participating.” They were 100% right; there is no participating in a process that is rigged from the start, we came in with no intention of dialogue because there is no dialogue with the forces of development and displacement; there is no dialogue with people who sit there with dead eyes and patronizing smirks when people come to their meetings to raise issue with racist police harassment and brutality, the problem of low wages, or the city spending extraordinary amounts of money on the police but skimping on social services.

At the end of the day, its about this; displacement isn’t coming, it’s already here and what starts downtown will quickly spread to the rest of Olympia.

If any changes are to come to downtown, or any neighborhood in Olympia for that matter, they should be decided on and implemented by the people for whom downtown is their home, not just the business owners and the land lords, and especially not private investors who have no connection to the neighborhood, but the renters, the workers, the homeless people who all call downtown their home.

Community control of our communities, not control by a city council who is more worried about private investors than the people who live in our community, who gives us the illusion of choice in these decisions by giving us prefabricated options, instead of letting us decide the options in the first place.

And let this be a notice to the city council; there will be resistance to your  development that is more focused on profits than people, we will not go peacefully or quietly. We will evict you before you evict us.

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Some good did come from the Tyson Seafood plant purchase

Olympia Time - Wed, 06/29/2016 - 12:07pm

We're all arguing about the real fault for the purchase and white-elephanting of the Tyson Seafood plant, but there's something worth pointing out. While the plant itself still sits empty, there was some good done on another piece of the property.

Quixote Village, an award winning and self governing homeless village, has called the site home for just over two years now. The history of Quixote Village is pretty interesting, growing out of a protest downtown and then riding the wave of local politics on homeless encampments and churches for a few years before settling down.

You can read a lot more about the Village and its history here.

So, yeah, I'll admit it. The Tyson plant has been empty and in county hands for going on 20 years now. Some people who first purchased it now support Gary Edwards for county commission. The folks that moved on to another solution support the same people I'd vote for.

But like most history, things are never really as simple as an easy retelling. The entire property the county purchased in the late 90s did not got to waste. Obviously.

EDIT: Emmett, do more research. Gary Edwards should tell the truth about who is responsible for the Tyson Seafood plant purchase

Olympia Time - Mon, 06/27/2016 - 7:22pm
Well, when I'm wrong, I'm wrong. I was wrong about this one.

From the Olympian in 1999.

My research stopped in 1998 soon after the purchase of the property when Oberquell and O'Sullivan both made steps to move forward and Edwards was largely silent. If I took one more step into 1999, I would have seen organized and vocal opposition by both commissioner O'Sullivan and Sheriff Edwards.
I still think there's a point to Commissioner Oberquell being involved in the original purchase of the old seafood plant. And, I think Edward's implies too heavily that the plant was purchased under the leadership of the current commission. But, that said, I was wrong.

Gary Edwards, now candidate for county commission, gives a long-winded interview to a local conspiracy theorist. It includes this small little gem about a listless county commission, stumbling into a multi-million dollar problem:


Gary, you're so smart. Only if we'd listen to you then. Or your supporters.

But, it turns out that not only was Edward's complicit in the purchase of the Tyson Seafood plant in the late 1990s, but two of his supporters help guide the purchase and early development.

First though, I should back up and say that Edwards glosses over the legal situation the county was in at the time, by simply saying "I was running an overcrowded jail."

Back in the late 90s, the Thurston County jail wasn't just overcrowded. It was beyond that, it was inhumane. To the point that the ACLU was pressuring the county to improve the conditions in the jail. Edwards was running a bad jail.

In a letter from that era from the ACLU:
As long ago as 1996, we reported to you some of the complaints that inmates relayed to us. These included:
  • severe overcrowding, with many inmates forced to sleep so close to toilets that they were stepped on or urinated on by other inmates
  • poor sanitation and lack of access to hygiene supplies
  • infrequent changes of clothing and linen
  • denial of prescribed medications and lack of treatment for health care
  • limited indoor or outdoor exercise areas
  • lack of access to a law library
  • inmate kites or grievances not answered
  • broken plumbing and poor ventilation
Most of these problems were directly attributable to overcrowding. We received complaints from corrections officers as well as inmates, who also expressed their concerns that the dangerously overcrowded situation made their jobs unreasonably dangerous due to the enhanced risk of injury from assault, fire, and communicable disease.So, as a way to push back against overcrowding, the county commissioners spent $3.8 million to buy an old fish processing plant only a few miles from the current county jail.

So, who was on the county commission then? Diane Oberquell, who is listed as an Edwards supporter, Judy Wilson and Dick Nichols (both Republicans). When Edwards was serving as county sheriff at this point, he was also a Republican.

And, since even satellite jails take time to develop, the Tyson plant (though purchased by this point) was still a topic in 1999. By this time Nichols had retired from the commission and had been replaced by Kevin O'Sullivan. Commissioner O'Sullivan was part of the county commission (along with Wilson and Oberquell) that continued to push for the use of the Tyson plant as a jail. O'Sullivan also currently endorses Edwards.

I can't find anything in the record during those years Edwards speaking up against the Tyson plant purchase. In fact, what I did find was advice by the sheriff's office to move forward despite growing public opposition to the plan.

Here is a portion of county commission minutes that show not only one of Edwards' undersheriffs pushing for the Tyson plant, but also Oberquell.

When it came time to decide whether to purchase the seafood plant that Edward's now criticizes, it was his supporters and employees were at the helm. Also, as county sheriff, he was in a choice position to publicly call out what he says now was a horrible waste of money.

By being vague about it now Edwards seems to hint that the current commission (the longest tenure of which didn't begin serving until 2000) is at fault. But, when you scratch the surface just a little bit, the people now surrounding Gary Edwards first dug the Tyson Seafood plant money pit.

Where an independent dies in Thurston County (part 1 of more than 1 hopefully)

Olympia Time - Thu, 06/16/2016 - 4:02pm

One of my favorite all time posts here is the one I did wrote about a year and half ago about how Bud Blake won in Thurston County.

It's my favorite because it showed something new and interesting to me.

For one, it blew up my idea of political party labels and how voters use them. In fact, I could see, voters really did react to a relabelling of a conservative local politician. In recent years a lot of Republicans have taken well funded runs at sitting Democrats on the county council, but have come up short.

But, Blake won, mostly it seems because he decided to label himself as an Independent and not a Republican. The data seems to bear this out. In almost every precinct, from the most liberal to the most conservative, a portion of voters who would not vote for a Republican would vote for an Independent who happened to be conservative.

Since the start of the new campaign season, I've heard more than a few times from liberal folks up here that: "We won't be fooled again. This time we know Independent means Republican."

There are also two new Independents running for county commissioner who seem like they'd probably be Republicans in another setting. Obviously since one of them used to run regularly as a Republican.

So, my question is, how far out from the central, more liberal, part of Thurston County does this story need to travel before an Independent (really Republican) needs to lose.

Turns out, pretty far.

What I did here was sort precinct results by usually most liberal to most conservative (based on 2012 election results) and started replacing the vote totals from Bud Blake's 2014 campaign with an aggregate for a Republican in 2012.

That's a really rough experiment, but it was an interesting practice. I assumed that the map wouldn't extend much further than the main urban core of the county, but it really did pick up most of the peninsulas (if I can call those neighborhoods that) and some precincts in south county (mostly around and in towns though).

And, here is why I think I can do a lot better than this map. I think turnout is going to have a big part to play. Not only was Blake's party label a factor, but turnout dropped a lot in 2014. For the next post I'm going to play around with trying to find out how an increase in turnout this year will change the dymanic.

Local activists stand up to Tesoro

Works in Progress - Sun, 06/05/2016 - 3:16pm

Olympians arrested in Anacortes opposing climate change and fossil fuels

By Olympia Confronts the Climate Crisis

Twenty-one Olympia area climate activists with Olympia Confronts the Climate Crisis went to protest fossil fuel expansion at Tesoro Refinery at Anacortes and support the Break Free: PNW effort May 12-15.  This was a call to break from fossil fuels.  Six Olympia activists, motivated by the urgency of the situation and need caused by the climate crisis, and lack of effective effort at state or federal levels, planned to do civil disobedience in the form of trespass to block the oil trains and risk possible arrests.  They had previously taken nonviolent direct action training.  Because arrests were made at 5 AM Sunday morning only three Olympia activists were on the tracks at the time the arrests were made.  Three others planned to be arrested but were at other locations in the action when the arrests were made.  The Olympia area activists arrested were Todd Davidson, Scott Goddard and Scott Yoos.  They face arraignment in Skagit County Superior Court on June 2.   Forty-nine others who refused to vacate the tracks were also arrested.

Olympia Confronts the Climate Crisis #1


The Northwest Regional Action took place at the Shell and Tesoro refineries near Anacortes, Washington, from Thursday May 12-Sunday May 15.  This included some pedestrian and kayak trespass civil disobedience actions but refineries were not shut down nor was there interference with refinery workers.  On Saturday, May 14, there was a family friendly protest and Native Water Blessing and rally with Indigenous Peoples at the facilities attended by more than 1,000 People. Sunday after the arrests there was another protest march down the refinery road. People from all around the west participated in this citizen effort to hasten the end of the fossil fuel era and bring about a just transition to 100% renewable energy.  [See video on the event:  Break Free PNW: Direct Action Gets The Goods]

This regional focus for the Break Free was selected for the action because of proposed oil train expansion projects and new xylene plant planned for the facility.  Already the Shell and Tesoro refineries near Anacortes are the largest source of carbon pollution in the Northwest and refine 47% of all the gas and diesel consumed in the region.  Our government and others have been unable or unwilling to stop expansion of fossil fuel energy projects in spite of scientific warnings that the lives of millions would be put at risk and life on our planet could end with the continued rate of use of fossil fuels.  Pope Francis even pointed out that climate inaction puts the planet at the point of suicide.  Canada just gave preliminary approval to a major oil pipeline and export expansion in British Columbia.  Tesoro plans on expanding oil train shipments and exports from their site at March Point at Anacortes.  Fossil fuel expansion and export facilities are also proposed along the Columbia River and in Grays Harbor.

Scientists, 195 national leaders at Paris UN Conference and world religious leaders have pointed out the need to end the fossil fuel era to reduce worst effects of climate change and have a livable planet. Our energy system must change within years not decades.  We have a moral responsibility to direct an aggressive change to sustainable, renewable energy to preserve a livable climate for our children and grandchildren.

Everything proposed by governments has been insufficient to stop the fossil fuels era or give our children a livable planet.  [See recent report: “Warming far outpacing climate action, as UN negotiators meet in Bonn”]

Citizen action is essential if we are going break free from our addiction to fossil fuels.   Accountability to create a stable climate falls to civil society–you and me!

Bob Zeigler’s notes

We began the March to Water Blessing Site at the tip of March Point with a moving call from Swinomish, Tulalip, Lummi and Lakota Climate Leaders on the deep need to protect our Mother Earth.  They sang songs and told us that violence against women and violence against the earth were part of the same dynamic.  Approximately 1000 Native and non-Native activists marched toward the water blessing site to the beat of Native drums and songs led by Swinomish Ronald Day.  A Native flute player also accompanied the journey with songs about the Sacredness of the Water and also a song about the birds in which you could hear the actual songs of various birds.  The songs of all the Native peoples made the long journey very rich as we walked along the edge of the coastal estuary on one side and estuary and oil trains and pipeline and refinery on the other.

Jewell James, Lummi Elder, Master Carver and Native Climate Activist Leader, told how it was the Native women who first felt the pain experienced by Mother Earth and told the Native men they needed to “Warrior-Up” and join them in placing their bodies in a way to protect the earth and stop the destruction.  He issued the call for more Native peoples to “Warrior-Up” and join the movement to protect the earth and its climate.  He said, Pope Francis issued a great letter on climate (Laudato Si) and everyone should read it.  He said Catholics need to follow the Pope and Stand Up to protect the earth as well as all people of all religions need to stand up now to protect the earth.

The Tulalip held a Water Blessing Ceremony at the estuary edge as eagles circled overhead at 2 PM.  This was at the same time water blessing ceremonies were carried out by indigenous peoples around the world.  A Lummi Canoe pulled by young Lummi men and women came to the shore and had a landing ceremony in which they asked the Swinomish for permission to come ashore.  They asked for assistance in lifting the canoe to the stage and two young non-Native women deeply moved went racing over to assist.  The young Native canoe team had attended the Paris Climate accords last December to give witness to the need for action.  They spoke on why they did this and sang and danced.

I spoke to one young non-Native woman, a student at Fairhaven at Western Washington University, who told me that May 14 was her mother’s birthday and that is why she was there for her mother and knew her participation would make her mother proud.

Native March Leaders

Notes from Bourtai Hargrove

Day One: After numerous meetings in the hot sun at Finney Farm near the Skagit River, we left at 5:00 PM in a caravan to blockade the railroad track. The site was excellent, a raised track clearly visible to traffic traveling into Anacortes on Highway 20. We had to park and quickly scramble up to the track with all our gear—sleeping bags, pads, chairs, and provisions, to occupy the track before we were stopped.  Bev Bassett, Don Coughlin and I sat next to the Seattle Raging Grannies at the head of the line; Rod Tharp was helping erect a large metal structure and our striking Break Free banners further down the track. It was exhilarating! Break Free had planned well; we had enough food and water to feed 150 people for three days.

Sixteen law enforcement vehicles with flashing red and blue lights arrived almost immediately. State Patrol Officers and Skagit County Sheriff’s Officers in full riot gear— ballistic helmets with tear gas visors, control batons and padded protective suits—stood conversing in groups, deciding what to do. As the sun set, we watched traffic on Highway 20 slow to get a glimpse of what was going on and Break Free organizers as they finished setting up camp.

We erected an information table, ten or twelve sleeping tents, and three small pit-stop tents in the tall grass with makeshift composting toilets inside.  At 11:00 PM, all the law enforcement vehicles, except one, left simultaneously.

The sharp-edged gravel around the tracks did not look very inviting to sleep on, so Bev, Don and I decided to sleep in our folding chairs. As night fell, it became cold, so we pulled sleeping bags around our legs and up to our shoulders. Bev gave her sleeping bag to a young activist without one, so she was exposed all night to 40 degree temperature and colder winds. She tried to ignore the cold by conversing with the many people walking by our site.

It was impossible to sleep. The flashing street lights, laughter and voices, drum beats from someone’s boom box, and our cramped legs kept us from dozing. Since law enforcement had apparently decided to let us stay until the next train was due, barricading the tracks became an exercise in endurance.  By morning, Bev was too cold to stay longer, so we decided to leave for our rented house in Anacortes to recuperate.

Special thanks to Sue Langhans, our support person at Finney Farm and for the invasion of the tracks. She tirelessly helped us with heavy bags and gear, drove my Prius to the invasion site, helped us up onto the tracks and then stayed parked within sight for several hours to be sure we were safe.

Day Two: Indigenous People’s Day. Break Free’s plans for family-friendly activities on Saturday were successful. KOMO News has great photographs of the four mile procession to the end of March point which show the colorful marchers against a backdrop of the formidable industrial structures of the refineries—smokestacks, cylindrical cooling towers and storage tanks, and the ubiquitous round waste water and sludge settling basins. [KOMO News: “Anti Oil Protests” and “Break Free: May 14Thanks also to our excellent photographers, Bob Zeigler and Bill Copeland. Kayakers had a difficult two mile trip across open water to the end of March Point and an even more difficult trip fighting the currents on the way back. Kudos to Donna Albert, who made it all the way and was exhausted when she arrived back at the rental house.  All the kayakers arrived safely, thanks to our kayak master, Jeff Snyder. Jeff conducted many of the kayak training sessions and planned the kayak safety measures. After the salmon dinner and the speakers, we had a magical luminary procession through downtown Anacortes, with glowing salmon and globes held high to illuminate the night. Rod’s beautiful Orca was part of both processions—the Indigenous march in the afternoon and the luminary procession at night.

Day Three: At 6 AM Sunday morning, Sue Gunn received a call that the rail blockaders were being arrested. All ten of us in the rental house scrambled to get dressed and out to the blockade site, hoping to join a support group or get arrested ourselves. We arrived too late, everyone and everything had been removed and law enforcement officials prevented access to the site. As our jail support person, Sue Gunn, went to the jail to see that our three arrestees—Scott Yoos, Scott Goddard and Todd Davison—were cited and set free. A meeting was held later in the morning at the Deception Pass camp site to decide on further actions. Those of us who still wanted to risk arrest drove in a bus and cars to the March Point Park and Ride. We marched as the thin green line, five in a row with locked arms, dressed in transparent jump suits each with a big green X on the back. All entrances to the refinery side of March Point were guarded by a phalanx of armed police and security officers. We sat down at the first gate, singing and chanting. Break Free has some great songs, including Rising Tide’s theme song, “We must rise like the tide”.  Here is one chant I remember:

We have a duty to fight,
We have a duty to win,
We must love one another and protect one another,
We have nothing to lose but our chains.

Later we traveled farther up March Point, stopping once on a bridge to wave at the kayakers coming to meet us, then sat down again at the second entrance gate. Members of the group rose to speak about the climate emergency, but it was the wrong audience—we were already committed to the cause. Maybe the rows of heavily-armed security guards and officers listened. Finally, we were told that the plan had been to sit-in at one the security gates until we were arrested, but the officers told us they would not arrest us that day and probably not for several days. We left, somewhat dispirited, to plan for greater demonstrations another day.  But we can be proud—all of the members of our small affinity group participated and we did our best. There was a debriefing on Wednesday night, 4:30 at Rod’s house.

Notes from Becky Liebman on the final day

Sunday came. Cops cleared the tracks shortly after 5:00 am that morning. Arrests were made. So a new plan emerged under the big firs at Deception State Park: to exercise a civil disobedient protest at the tracks closer to the refineries. We got our instructions, signed our forms with emergency contact information, made arrangements for our gear and cars, and readied ourselves, in body and mind, for possible arrest.

About 150 or 200 of us met at the park and ride near the refineries, locked arms in groups of five, and set off, not exactly clear of what to expect.

As we approached, we discovered we were blockaded from our goal. So… there we sat. We sang, we shared, we listened, clueless about what would happen next.

I burst into tears when, in the shadow of hulking cops in full black riot gear, the organizers said,  “Let’s declare victory and head back.”

Why the tears? In part, it was relief. Those police dressed in bullet proof vests and shields; we wore (over our clothes) papery white jump suits. They were burly middle-aged men, with a few women among them; we ranged in age from babies to octogenarians. They held batons, guns, cans of pepper spray; we held each other. They were there to protect the oil refineries; we came, as one protestor said to “put our bodies in the gears of the fossil fuel economy to demand a just transition to the post-fossil fuel economy.”  Gears can be painful.

But I like to think the tears gushed gratitude for the young organizers who worked for months for this moment, who somehow, in the fast pace of the day, had, behind the scenes, invented a plan, agreed upon it, and asserted it.

They juggled so many variables that day, like the diversity among us, not only in age but also in experience and tolerance for the unknown. We ranged from anarchists to law-abiding rule followers. The organizers needed to plan on the spot. Their choice? To celebrate what had been accomplished and look to the future.

They deserved to celebrate! They had drawn participants from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California, and Alaska, an estimated 2,000 of us during the course of the weekend. Tracks were held; people were educated and emboldened to act. All this during a weekend of volunteer food brigades, organized transportation, strategically placed composting toilets, solar panels for cell phone recharging, trained legal and medical at the ready. Throughout the weekend, participants were encouraged to “self-organize” for certain tasks as needed. Artwork and music lifted and unified.

Olympia Confronts the Climate Crisis     Olympia Confronts the Climate Crisis

We are not oblivious to the fact that we all used fossil fuels to get there.  Life as we know it moves by gears powered by fossil fuels. Nor are we oblivious to the data on climate change: record breaking temperatures; swings of drought and floods; ocean acidification levels.

Was it effective? Well, that depends on your criteria.

But I can definitively report that it made this old, retired librarian well with gratitude for the hearts and minds that planned the Break Free actions, for those who held the tracks on Friday and Saturday and allowed themselves to be arrested, for the company I kept throughout the weekend, all of whom made me want to stand a little straighter, walk a little longer, speak a little louder, and be a little braver.

All of which I will use as I work to pass the initiative on this fall’s ballot, I-732, putting a truer price on industrial carbon emissions and reducing the state sales tax by one percent. (The campaign is already a success, for it is generating heart to heart conversations on doorsteps.)

Civil disobedience and shoe leather: both are needed to deal with this inconvenient truth of climate change.

Olympia Confront the Climate Crisis is the Direct Action Committee of the Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation. Bob Zeigler, Bourtai Hargrove, and Becky Liebman are long-time Olympia activists and members of the Olympia F.O.R.

The Break Free from Fossil Fuels in the Pacific Northwest at the March Point refineries in Anacortes, Washington was part of a mid-May week of climate action across the globe initiated by in conjunction with a large number of groups.

For more information on the action: or contact Sue Gunn at 360 918-8012; Olympia Confront the Climate Crisis e-mail: web:

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Hoo-hah! The scent of a woman!

Works in Progress - Sun, 06/05/2016 - 3:04pm

Comments on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s malodorous feminism

By Enrique Quintero

Learning from others is anti-American, even if it could benefit women

Occasionally Hillary Clinton is inclined to tell the truth.  One of those sparse occasions took place in the early 90’s when she reassured Larry King that “there is no Left in the Clinton White House”.  Another, more recent, instance that unveils the ideological longevity of her neo-liberal values happened in February of this year when dismissing Bernie Sander’s idea that the U.S. could learn from other industrialized nations which are able to provide higher quality socialized services; she stated that although she loved Denmark,  “We are not Denmark, we are the United States of America! ”

The implications of statements like this oscillate and ultimately cover all the territorial space of political arrogance, stupidity about social learning processes, and unsubstantiated delusions about the superiority of American capitalism and U.S. exceptionalism. The progressive news organization “Common Dreams” commented on Clinton’s statement by reminding us that “ America’s twenty-first century ‘exceptions’ appear as dubious distinctions: gun violence, carbon emissions, mass incarceration, wealth inequality, racial disparities, capital punishment, child poverty, and military spending.” A sobering list meant to dissipate the conceited mind of American superiority.

From a feminist perspective, Denmark, among other things, has one of the highest levels of positive indicators regarding women’s rights and gender equality. In fact, Denmark even has a Ministry of Gender Equality that oversees the implementation of progressive policies in areas such as: equal participation in political and economical decision-making; equal promotion of women and minorities to the labor market; LGBTQ issues; gender equal pay and equal retirement pensions; reconciliation of private and professional life i.e. maternity, paternity and parental leave; and eradication of gender-based violence.  I believe that for American men and women, there is more than one idea worth considering and emulating from the Danish experience.

The rhetoric of American exceptionalism has had painful consequences on men and women of color around the world, particularly when wrapped around the logic of continuous expansion of American capitalism and the interests of the military industrial complex and its surveillance state.  In all of these areas, as senator and Secretary of State, Clinton played a central supporting role, not to mention her openly hawkish statements trying to destabilize Russia as well as elected governments both in Latin America and the Middle East, while keeping the accomplice silence of the collaborator regarding oppressive regimes in Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait—the last three notoriously famous for their repressive treatment of women.

Feminism has been known since its beginning for fighting for gender equality and it has always leaned towards the left of the political spectrum; also, historically, it has always been able to learn from other feminist, progressive, and revolutionary experiences around the world.  In other words, feminism has always placed itself on the left, and has never been parochial or culturally dismissive of others.  Clinton’s self-proclaimed feminism has the function of giftwrapping the perpetuation of existing structures of power which, throughout her political career, Hillary Clinton has been unable and unwilling to challenge.  It seems that for her the axis of feminism is exclusively centered in her persona.

Hoo-hah! So, what is the scent of this woman?

It is important to differentiate here between the ‘scent’ that Clinton is attracted to, and the ‘scent’ that transpires as result of her political actions and the company she keeps. I believe the late Christopher Hitchens captured the essence of Hillary Clinton when he stated that her main crime consisted in “the transmutation of public office into private interest and vice versa. ” Hillary’s good friend and soul mate Henry Kissinger would certainly approve her behavior since for both, power and money constitute the ultimate aphrodisiac.

There have been numerous articles written about the close ties between the economic ascendance of the Clintons and their political careers and associations with Wall Street.  According to Forbes, Hillary and Bill Clinton are worth $45 million (this is not counting the value of blind investments handled by third party financial institutions).  Robert Yoon, an analyst for CNN, reports that between 2001 to May of this year, the Clintons combined earned more than $153 million in paid speeches, averaging $210,795 for each address. The main ‘donors’ paying the fees are not of course philanthropic, humanitarian, or charitable institutions, but the usual suspects of high financial speculative organizations such as Goldman Sachs, UBS, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, and City Group among other Clinton benefactors.

According to the Center for Responsible Politics (Open Secrets), since the beginning of her search for her party Presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton’s campaign has been the recipient of over $289 million dollars, most of it a result of the agency of Super PACs and hybrids of the same nature.  As Senator Sanders put it, “ Clinton is funded by Wall Street! ” It would be utterly naïve to assume that these contributions are simple acts of generosity and not part of the rules of a game meant to perpetuate power and articulate the codependence between power and money, between politics and economics.

Hillary Clinton’s close ties with American corporations—past and present, from Wal-Mart to Goldman Sachs—are hard to reconcile with true feminist values, as Liza Featherstone suggests in her book False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton. “If feminism only concerns itself with the women at the very top of our society, it is not feminism at all. It’s just elitism.” In her book, Featherstone points out the following events of Clinton’s career that indicate the true character of her politics, and the negative impact on women, among others:

Clinton’s presence on the Wal-Mart in the board of directors never reflected any measures on her part to address Wal-Mart systemic sexism. In 2002 Betty Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores is the largest sex-discrimination action class suit in American history;

Clinton explicitly stated during the campaign that $12 per hour should be fine enough as a federal minimum (compare this to the amount the banks paid on average for each of her speeches before the members of her privileged class);

Clinton disavowed the single-payer care system, which would lower costs and ensure that everyone could have access to health care. In other words, she opposed socialized medicine, which would insured care independent from employment or marriage;

The well documented, active campaign on her part to repress and silence the various women who have accused her husband Bill Clinton of sexual abuse and rape, in spite of having stated once that “Every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believe and supported.”

  1. Clinton’s Simplistic Essentialism

A key point of Clinton’s campaign has been her self-declared feminism. Nonetheless, lacking a political platform able to link her claims against the multiple oppressions that women endure or the truly social emancipatory goals of socialist feminism as in Bernie Sander’s case, her feminist argumentation has been reduced to ask women and men to immolate themselves upon her identity as a woman, as if this condition was the central classifier of feminist theory and practice for the American people. In other words, if you are in favor of gender equality you must vote for me, I am your model! I am your muse!

Not everybody agrees with Clinton’s sense of entitlement. This is particularly evident among young women and men, a demographic group that in overwhelming numbers tends to favor Sanders; however, she does have some feminist followers on her new pilgrimage to the White House; they are mostly socially prosperous, upper-class, white baby boomers, plus a small group of disoriented liberal intellectuals like Katha Pollit, who in an article for the Nation, “Why I’m ready—and Excited—for Hillary”, after reminding us in the first line that she attended Radcliffe College, presents as her main argument for why we should support  Clinton what amounts to a simple knee-jerk case of gender solidarity. Pollit tells her readers that “racial and ethnic minorities can be extremely loyal to their own, but women are hard on other women” and appeals to this group to overcome their resistance because “Hillary will be the first woman president—and that is important”, and “Hillary is a feminist and is running as one”. Those are literally her arguments.  Given the previous paragraphs in this article, it seems clear that the gender identity of the president bears little weight if such an individual is an engaged and active participant in favor of capitalism as a system of social relations and specific political power. Ironically, in the current election, it has been a man, Bernie Sanders, who is the candidate with the most advanced feminist platform. Granted, it would be great to elect a true progressive feminist woman to the Presidency, but Hillary Clinton is clearly not socially progressive and her feminism is at its best opportunistic and shallow.  So, to parody a line of the famous Hollywood movie with name similar to this article’s title,  Hoo-hah! Feminism is not the sent of this woman!

If we are to take the faulty logic of gender and minority essentialism to its last consequences, people like me, a man, of Latin-American origin and cultural background, should be first and foremost loyal to my assigned minority condition and support the likes of Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both of whom happen to be not only men, but also men of Latin American ancestry. After all, to paraphrase Pollit’s arguments, one of them could become the first Latino president, and “that is important.”

On the other hand, feminism is very important and it matters. We must not allow it to be manipulated in the hands of self-serving women, or men.

Enrique Quintero was a political activist in Latin America during the 70’s, then taught ESL and Second Language Acquisition in the Anchorage School District, and Spanish at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He currently lives and writes in Olympia.

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Opportunity for Olympia: 1.5 percent income tax on the wealthiest 3 percent

Works in Progress - Sun, 06/05/2016 - 2:57pm

By Danielle Westbrook

This year, Olympia can seize the rare opportunity to address income inequality, increase revenue, and fund higher education for our community.

The initiative, Opportunity for Olympia, would provide at least one year of community college tuition, or the equivalent towards public, in-state university tuition for all high school graduates or GED recipients in the Olympia city limits. Nearly 2.5 million dollars in revenue will be raised through a 1.5 percent tax on household income over $200,000—95 percent of which would go to funding education, not administration.

While the tax only applies to the wealthiest 3 percent of households in Olympia, it would raise millions of dollars to enable high school graduates to attend community college for free. By investing in a better-educated workforce, we will be able to attract more businesses, create good-paying jobs and ensure a legacy of opportunity for our entire community.

Opportunity for Olympia has garnered broad support in Olympia, including endorsements from Olympia City Councilmembers Clark Gilman and Jessica Bateman.

“My own story leads me to support the Opportunity for Olympia Initiative,” Clark said. “I was the first in my family to go to college. I didn’t even fill out the financial aid forms my senior year of high school because we didn’t know a thing about higher education. I completed my freshman year at Evergreen, used up all my money and had to go to work. I returned several years later to complete the degree. A program like Opportunity for Olympia could offer students in my situation the support and encouragement to go on past high school.”

Opportunity for Olympia isn’t only about equal access to higher education. It also takes a step in the right direction to address income inequality. Washington’s tax system is the most regressive in our country. In our community, the lowest income families pay nearly 17 percent of their income for state and local taxes, while those in the top one percent pay only 2.4 percent. We’re leaving millions in much needed revenue on the table, and this is our opportunity to address this issue in Olympia.

“Without progress at the state and federal level on tax reform our local governments will increasingly be presented with initiatives from citizens trying to fix an inequitable and unsustainable system,” Bateman said.

“The fact is, the state of Washington hasn’t addressed tax equity. I’ve always believed that if no one is on the dance floor, it’s my personal responsibility to get something started,” Clark added.

“With so many families struggling to get by in our community it is more important than ever to ensure every student has the opportunity to thrive and earn a post high school education. We must also take steps toward progressive taxation in order to fund vital pubic services and decrease the cost of higher education,” Bateman said.

Opportunity for Olympia is a grassroots campaign. Volunteers have been on the ground collecting signatures since March. As of this writing, 1 in 6 Olympia voters have signed the petition. Over 4,700 valid signatures will be submitted to the Olympia City Council by June 21, with the initiative appearing on the general election ballot in November.

The campaign is seeking volunteers. To learn more, visit

Danielle, a local political consultant and campaign manager for Opportunity for Olympia, is a parent and teacher, and mentors at-risk youth. She knows first hand the life-changing potential of this important initiative.

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Farmworker solidarity grows across the U.S.

Works in Progress - Sun, 06/05/2016 - 2:54pm

After all the lessons history has taught us, people unthinkingly continue to trample the rights of their neighbors. Doing the right thing requires effort to learn what the right thing is. The struggle of any working people is a concern for all working people.

On May first, while all the media attention was focussed on the buffoonery of the Seattle Police Department, I.W.W. members from around our region marched in Bellingham, Washington. The ongoing struggle for union recognition for Familias Unidas por la Justicia continues.

Farmworker solidarity

Early in the morning, the farmworkers began their march from miles outside Bellingham. I.W.W. picketers met up with students from Western Washington University and supporters from Community to Community at the COSTCO on the north side of Bellingham around noon.

The intrepid farmworkers marched in and joined the picket around one o’clock. A brief demonstration commenced by the front doors of COSTCO and then the entire ensemble continued onward. Together the groups marched the last three miles to Bellingham’s Maritime Heritage Park.

The farmworkers claim that the work they do is drastically undervalued by their employer Sakuma Brothers Farms. They are the biggest berry supplier to Driscoll’s Berries, the world’s largest berry distributer. The farmworkers of Familias Unidas por la Justicia still face an uphill battle, but they have caught the attention of one national news broadcast, Democracy Now!

Democracy Now! reporters investigated on the following weekend and aired an excellent report on May ninth, which can be viewed on the Democracy Now! video archive. There, COSTCO members state that COSTCO should demand from its vendors the same basic dignity that the store shares with its employees.

The boycott of Driscoll’s Berries has grown across the continent. While the spotlight briefly shined on Bellingham, pickets at the Tumwater COSTCO and others across the west coast and across the United States ensued. The infant union Familias Unidas por la Justicia even has a branch in Baja, California, Mexico.

Remind your families and neighbors before going to the grocery store that “an injury to one is and injury to all.” Learn more about this at the website,

—Russ Frizzell

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U.S. Supreme Court delays decision on whether to hear Stormans vs Wiesman

Works in Progress - Sun, 06/05/2016 - 2:50pm

By Janet Blanding

Ten years ago this month, a boycott against Ralph’s and Bayview began after numerous Olympia women had prescriptions for Plan B refused at Ralph’s Pharmacy. Despite more than 20 complaints filed with the Board of Pharmacy, dozens of protests outside the store, the promulgation of state pharmacy regulations guaranteeing patient access to medication, and a court battle that has dragged on for nearly a decade, the owners of Ralph’s continue to insist that stocking and dispensing emergency contraception interferes with the free exercise of their religion. So insistent are they, that when the 9th Circuit Appellate Court did not see things their way, they appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

It was expected that the Supreme Court would decide whether or not to review the Stormans case in mid-April. And indeed, Stormans v. Wiesman was originally scheduled to be discussed at the justices’ conference on April 15. However, the discussion of the case was rescheduled, and rescheduled, and rescheduled again. Finally, it made it into the justices’ May 12 conference, but no decision about whether to review the case or not was forthcoming. Instead, Stormans v. Wiesman was relisted for the justices’ conference of May 19, after which the docket showed a records request. This means that one or more justices asked to see the court record, presumably from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, although no details are provided on the docket. According to Amy Howe of SCOTUSblog, this indicates that someone is interested enough in the case to take a closer look.  When Works In Progress went to press, Stormans v. Wiesman was once again scheduled for discussion during the justices’ conference of Thursday, May 26, meaning a decision on whether the case will be taken up by the Supreme Court could be announced as soon as Tuesday, May 31, when the SCOTUS orders list is released.  However, the possibility of the case discussion being yet again rescheduled or discussed without a decision being reached still remains.

Janet Blanding has been writing about the Ralph’s boycott and subsequent lawsuit since 2006, when her Plan B prescription could not be filled there. After a year-long investigation, the Board of Pharmacy dismissed her complaint without action against Ralph’s.

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So what should Bernie do next?

Works in Progress - Sun, 06/05/2016 - 2:44pm

Is the system working?
By Janet Jordan

Editorial note: The following is approved as a statement from the local Green Party.

Bernie Sanders has proposed the most progressive program we have heard in many years, including more taxes for the rich, taxes on Wall Street transactions, reducing the size of banks, free college tuition for all, big money out of politics, and on and on.  It has been fantastic to see so many voters, especially young ones, who feel that their concerns are being heard; there hasn’t been this much interest in a long time.

Bernie isn’t perfect; however, one can support a candidate with whom one does not completely agree. Hillary Clinton is less acceptable as she has supported the Iraq war, welfare “reform,” expanded prisons, more police on the streets, and so forth. Yet with at least one unusually honest candidate, people have been happy.

As time goes on though, and the Democratic primary process moves ahead, gloom is taking over. As I write this, following the Nevada convention, Hillary Clinton’s lead is considered by many to be insurmountable.

The problems

It looks likely that Hillary Clinton will be the nominee.  For all the emotions expended in Nevada, there were only two delegates at stake–not enough to change things. Bernie’s supporters said they were angered that the process was tilted to favor Hillary, but underneath, the anger and dismay was probably caused by a dawning recognition that their candidate just could not take control of the Democratic Party–it’s too entrenched– and what a waste that is. So many good ideas, indeed necessary ideas, and so much energy; and it’s all over, at least for this four-year cycle. We won’t get to vote for Bernie in the fall election.

When that happens, Bernie’s function will be to shepherd loyal Democrats into the fold of the winning candidate, in spite of her obvious flaws. He will encourage them to ignore better independent or minor party candidates.

Indeed that urging has already begun. He’s aware that many Bernie supporters say they won’t vote in the General Election if they can’t vote for him (thus creating a kind of third party of Bernie hold-outs), and he’s speaking out about how “stupid” that would be. He says it will ensure Trump’s election.

And party regulars want even more compliance than that. Even though he could still win (by earning two-thirds of all remaining delegates), he is being urged to quit the race for the sake of party unity.

The problems of a two-party system

In a two-party system, a party can demand that sort of knuckling under and both parties can work a sort of hostage deal on the rest of the country:  Those who don’t vote for the official party candidate will be delivering the country to the evil Other Party. The Democratic candidate holds the country’s well-being in front of her as a body shield.

Voters have fallen for this regularly over the years. Looking just at the years since Bill Clinton, we gave a few votes to Ralph Nader in 2000. It was not enough to change the outcome of the election, but the narrative of the Democratic Party has reduced support for third parties and so their candidates have come to expect that they will receive less than one percent of the vote. Pleading with third-party candidates not to run is standard these days.

For minor parties like the Green Party and the Bernie hold-outs, the hostage phenomenon is a problem. There is slight though unlikely chance that the Democrat establishment candidate’s chances might be harmed. It didn’t happen in 2000, but it could someday. It could only take one vote.

For this reason, you hear Green Party people saying now and then they will only run in “safe states”–only in states where they are guaranteed not to have any influence over the final scores. It might make the Democratic Party happy, but what a recipe for irrelevance!

There is talk among Green Party people that maybe Bernie will want to be a Green Party candidate after his Democratic Party run is over. No, he won’t.  He doesn’t want to throw the election to the Republican. Jill Stein has called him 12 times and he has never once picked up the phone.

No choice

So for the voter after the primary, the problem will be a lack of choice. From twelve Republicans, five Democrats and umpteen small party candidates, we’re down to only one Republican and one Democrat, and the likelihood that either one will represent your values are very small. As Works In Progress readers, the likelihood is much greater that the Green Party more closely matches your values; but you can’t vote for the Greens because of that hostage thing.

Over the years when voters have to vote for a candidate they don’t really like, it gives the candidate and the party the ability to move even further away from the majority’s values. Eventually neither party comes close to a reasonable platform for its base. This has already happened. The Democratic Party now takes in as much corporate money as the GOP and is sponsoring the TPP–the largest corporate giveaway in the history of the country.

How can the Democrats base take the party back? They have no leverage; they have “nowhere else to go.” After Bernie is no longer in the race, Hillary Clinton will have no reason to mention inequality, or student debt, or money in politics–Bernie’s issues. She will say those are important issues only for as long as it takes to get into office.

Numerous political commenters say the United States does not have a democracy anymore, that the wishes of the average person have zero weight in the eyes of elected officials and their parties.

This horrible predicament cannot be resolved by any kind of party politics. Voting for one candidate or another won’t help. If Bernie were to win, you’d be happy for as long as he is in office, but the same situation will await you on the other side. You cannot solve the problem while you are inside the problem.

In addition, getting “money out of politics” won’t solve it either. The influence of money cropped up worldwide in the 1970’s; some countries solved it; the United States didn’t. With only two parties, voters cannot demand any action from either of them. The countries that solved the problem were countries where more than two parties compete.

The answer, then, is outside the problem–outside the system.

A look at other systems

With the many critical issues in today’s world, we need a system in which leaders reflect the voters’ wishes, and that’s going to be one that allows more than two parties or two candidates to participate. This is necessary to encourage candidates to be honest. If a political party were to move too far from a platform the voters like, another party will come in and gain those voters’ support. Cause and effect! Accountability!

Examples include Iceland, Australia, and Brazil. Each has multiple parties and each has some type of two-step system: one step to pick a party that represents you and a second step to form a governing coalition.

Iceland has a parliamentary system. The steps here are first vote for your Member of Parliament, who is a member of some party or other; then you hope your party becomes a part of the governing coalition. To form such a coalition, a group of parties big enough to represent 50 percent or more of the people agree to act together. There’s a pretty good chance your party will be in the coalition.

The party with the most votes chooses the Prime Minister. That party can choose other parties have the most or the most important values in common. In Iceland, the two biggest parties are currently out of favor because of bad calls in the past–for example, the Prime Minister was implicated in the Panama Papers. It looks as if the Pirate Party has become the most popular with its issues of open government and accountability. It’s a tiny party that received just 5.1 percent in the last election, but that doesn’t matter. It has the same chance as any other party of being a member of the governing coalition.

None of the marginalizing tactics of the two major US political parties would work in Iceland. Each party has its own personality, its own values, and no party is considered the little brother of any other party. Bright Future at 8.25 percent is not the little brother of the Progressive Party (24.43 percent) and the Progressive Party does not own their votes. Nobody reproaches them for not supporting the Progressive Party in an election (or for just staying home).

Brazil has a two-round election system. In the first round, people say who they want, or who best represents their values. They can do that because it’s not the final vote.  It just ranks the parties by popularity.  Then all but the top two drop out and the people who were in them vote for the coalition-type party that can become big enough to take over the government. They either pick one of the final remaining candidates, or they stay home in protest.

That might sound a little like the Top Two system in Washington State, but it’s not. Our system selects the top two through the primary, an election that has no standing. Statistics will not record what your minor party won in that primary—only the two winners. It rewards the two largest parties and makes the smaller ones disappear.

Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s president is being ousted from office by the Far Right in a slow- moving coup. But her party, the progressive Workers Party, will remain. It will not be co-opted by any other party and it will be available for action as the movement regains strength.

Australia has an instant run-off system. That’s the same as a two-round election, except that the second choice party is already listed on the ballot (you check off your first choice, and then your second choice). Australia has 17 parties, including 12 with either 1 or 2 members in their legislature. Those parties had enough voters in their home districts to elect a representative or a senator, and that adds to the diversity of those bodies. The remaining five parties have 11 or more members.

These systems all have a common feature: they require two steps to electing a leader. One step lets the voter identify the party that best represents him or her; the next step encourages that voter to join in a bigger coalition—hopefully including that party—big enough to overcome the opposition. The voter’s first choice is still on record and remains to give validity to that party. If the coalition doesn’t perform, there are other parties to go to.

Any one of these three systems would allow us a choice of candidates and a probability that at least one of the parties would act with integrity and in the public interest.  Any one of these electoral systems would be better than the one that exists in the United States.

So what should Bernie do?

Article after article appears with advice for Bernie: He should continue as an Independent—as a Green; he should lead a movement, a non-political but powerful grassroots movement for the things we want; he should support Hillary.

All of these are choices from within the system and they are all bad choices. None of them will gain for us a government that is strong for the things the US wants and needs right now. Some of these choices will put us at risk of a Republican government with its 1800’s values, and one that will all but guarantee we get the second-rate Hillary as our leader.

We need to free ourselves from the dysfunctional voting system that delivers these bad results. If Bernie speaks up for a better system, it will go a long way towards a public understanding that the voting system is holding us back and that it can be changed.

We usually don’t question the voting system. It’s American so “it’s the best’ is the general thinking. Or at least, “it’s American so it’s what we’ve got, period.” But it’s not working for us. It’s at the root of our persistent horrible problems because it keeps us from choosing a better governing party—permanently, or until the system changes.

It’s a long path towards changing the voting system, with twists and turns impossible to predict, but it starts with recognition that it needs changing. Bernie can help with that.
NEWSFLASH, May 23, 2016:  Austria has just elected a Green Party President, Alexander Van Der Bellen, over Norbert Hofer, his far-right, anti-immigrant, neo Nazi opponent.  The Green Party only had about 12 percent of the Austrian Parliament but it was a viable and visible party, and in this election, its particular values were recognized. Salon Magazine reports this as a Sanders win over a Trump opponent.

It happened in a country with a parliamentary voting system.

Janet Jordan is a resident of Thurston County and an active member of the Green Party of South Puget Sound.

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The disconnect from poetry indicates lost connection to reality

Works in Progress - Sun, 06/05/2016 - 2:38pm

The Life of Poetry

By Sandra Yannone

“In time of crisis, we summon up our strength.” So begins the introduction to poet, activist, and journalist Muriel Rukeyser’s 1949 manifesta The Life of Poetry. Written from a series of lectures Rukeyser delivered at Vassar College, the California Labor School, and Columbia University before, during, after World War II, The Life of Poetry speaks from the frame of conflict to discuss the significance that poetry can bear on American culture’s need to reach always toward peace.

In Rukeyser’s experience, poetry existed as a vital, natural, human resource for a society’s people to reconcile their present fears and actively seek out hope either as poet or reader specifically because “[a]lways we need the audacity to speak for more freedom, more imagination, more poetry with all its meanings.” Conversely, Robert Frost, the 1962 Poet Laureate of the United States, who read at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, and who worked from a more individualistic perspective, cited that writing poetry served its author by making meaning through the creation of “a momentary stay against confusion.”

The two are not mutually exclusive. When written to communicate openly, American poetry of all colors has the capacity to cut through the static noise of its made-in-the-USA brand of manufactured chaos and enable each of us to experience some aspect of the elusive lyrical.  Some barely recognize the faint symphonic melody when we hear it over the din of traffic while others crave its discovery in unexpected places. A poem can arrest us as a snippet of melody on a radio surprises us or as a story stored in our bones that when released, when heard, connects us with a familiar knowing that we long to nurture by turning up the volume.  That song, that poetry, is our “momentary stay against confusion.”

Broken Hinge

But how can we sustain that ecstatic moment?  How can we open ourselves to listen for greater meanings? Every Thursday while in graduate school, I would scour and highlight the upcoming week’s poetry readings in the Boston Globe’s events insert.  The twin literary meccas of Boston and Cambridge, as well as the surrounding college towns in New England, provided an abundance of opportunities. My friends and I didn’t have the money to wine and dine our way through Beantown’s finer culinary establishments, but we could afford the price tag of poetry readings (often free) and intoxicate ourselves by drinking in the life poets breathed into their poems on the page.

Often after a reading, our eclectic dinner party would pool our money to purchase the poet’s book.  The litmus test: if we heard a poem that “killed” us.  We always agreed on the poem as we did on the quest for that ecstatic, lyrical moment when the alchemy of language and meaning and truth cut through the defenses we’d walled up and grabbed our hearts by our throats, grabbed our lapels and shook us down saying “See here, you are going to listen to something, get it?” That adrenalin rush from the experience often lingered well into the night and next day when we’d meet up at school and review the previous evening’s feast.

Poetry remains an endeavor of discovery for me as it did on those electric nights in Massachusetts, and I’ve also read enough now that I’ve curated a personal anthology of poems that I turn to in time of crisis or joy or anything in between.  Housed in a small, bound, cloth book that my best friend in high school instructed me to fill with things that mattered to me, the book honors our friendship with poems about love, loss, grief, and joy.  Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.” Emily Dickinson’s “After Great Pain.” Derek Walcott’s “Love after Love.” William Stafford’s “A Ritual to Read Each Other.”

When I rediscovered the book a few years ago by accident, I opened it up and marveled at the poems that my younger, emerging adult self had curated.  Captured by the fading ink in a book now held together by an elastic band were poems that spoke perfectly to my current sensibilities.  One poem, Philip Levine’s “Picture Postcard from the Other Side of the World,” speaks of sending messages ahead to a future self. I carry this fragile book with me everywhere  now, ready if the moment strikes when I need to share a poem.

Like the poets of witness that preceded and followed her, Rukeyser plead that a culture disconnected from poetry reflected “an indication that we are cut off from our own reality.”  She urged earth’s inhabitants to use poetry’s unique capacity to speak its truth through motion and image to reverse America’s imperialist penchant for disaster, its turn away from the star.

Those poems that killed my friends and me in graduate school, like all productive poems, built momentum line by line to arrive at a pivotal moment, a threshold, where the poem’s power burst through.  In poetry, that momentary stay against confusion is called the volta, a xxx word for turn.  Poetry allows each of us to turn toward the face of one we love, whether partner, stranger, plant, animal, country, or all of humanity, whether in the light of day or the hush of night, and offer this stay against confusion.   Poetry offers us the opportunity to quell the deafening silences that divide us. Poetry encourages us to imagine a place where the last word in Rukeyser’s poetry manifesta resides.  And that last word in her house of poetry is peace.

Sandra Yannone is a poet, educator, and antique dealer in Olympia.  She is a Member of the Faculty and Director of the Writing Center at The Evergreen State College. 

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