Elouise Brown, foreground, protesting the Navajos’ planned 1,500-megawatt power plant near Burnham, N.M., with her sister Victoria Alba. Image from nytimes.com

Last week Venaya, Esther and I had the great opportunity to interview Navajo activist Elouise Brown, founder of Doodá Desert Rock (Absolutely No Desert Rock), the group that started the wave of protests against a third major coal-fired power plant in the four corners area, The Desert Rock Power Plant. The movement has been successful in stopping the momentum for Desert Rock, but efforts towards resource and energy extraction creating extreme levels of pollution in the area continue at a rapid pace. It was an extremely emotional and moving interview, Elouise has dedicated her life to this cause and has endured many personal sacrifices to help not only the Navajo people living in the area, but all of us.

As she states in this article in Earth First:

Toxic emissions levels from industry are already lethal in the region. Local citizens and non-profit organizations have compiled statistics about health care, insurance, financial stability and environmental issues. They have looked at endangered cultural philosophies in an industrial existence. The people cannot afford another suicidal decision on a power plant with disputed benefits for the community. The price will be high for the Diné. We will pay with our lungs, our health, our descendents and the land that defines our people…As a resident of the Earth, you are involved. Maybe you are not directly involved now, but eventually you or your children will be. We extend our gratitude to our supporters for all of your contributions. We welcome all who wish to save sacred indigenous lands from corporate intrusion.

We will post the text and audio of this interview soon, to learn more about Elouise’s work, see this 2007 article in the NY Times.

Tanzanian farmer Mama Rehema Maganga using a smartphone to interview Mr. Hamisi Rajabu. Photo: Sauti ya wakulima

A current researcher in my doctoral program, Z-node, is Mexican artist and mobile phone developer Eugenio Tisselli. Eugenio’s latest project is Sauti ya wakulima (The voice of the farmers in Swahili), a smartphone communication system for farmers in Tanzania. Eugenio has written a ‘mobile message’ about this project for National Geographic where he says:

On January 2011, my colleagues and I traveled to Tanzania to conduct a series of interviews with farmers living near Bagamoyo, with the purpose of engaging them in the creation of a collaborative knowledge base about the effects of climate change, using smartphones as tools for observation and a web page to gather the recorded images and sounds. My mind was full of questions at that time. Was it technically possible? Did the farmers know about smartphones and the Internet? And, most importantly, would they be willing to get involved?

Although most if not all of the farmers Eugenio was working with had never even opened a browser because Internet connections are so rare in these remote areas of Tanzania, they were enthusiastic about using smartphones to upload images and texts. Eugenio continues:

The farmers at Chambezi not only struggle because of insufficient infrastructure and unreliable markets for their products, but also face challenges such as changing rain patterns, drought, scarcity of underground water and new pests and plant diseases. However, they know that by sharing their knowledge on how to cope with these problems they can find ways to overcome them. They also hope that, by communicating their observations to extension officers and researchers, they can participate in the design of new strategies for adaptation.

Eugenio from http://www.libroflotante.net/autores.htm

Sauti ya wakulima logo

Follow the twitter feed here:
Watch video and support the project on Goteo.org

I’ve been traveling through Navajo Nation with my collaborators Esther Belin and Venaya Yazzie to find two locations for our public art and media project: Yádíłhił ‘béé’as’łló (Bound Sky). This artwork will take audiences on an audio journey through the area to two lookout points along the roadside. These points, in addition to serving as resting places for people experiencing the work, will also provide comfort to the many hitchhikers and independent merchants who use these spaces.

Esther points out the extensive brown cloud that hangs over Ship Rock and the APS and San Juan power plants.

Cell phone towers crowding the Huefano sacred peak.

A ‘landfarm’ where contamination from gas drilling evaporates into the air.

Mike Eisenfeld

A few days ago I spoke to Mike Eisenfeld of the San Juan Citizens Alliance in Farmington New Mexico, where he lives with his family. I learned some sad but not surprising facts from him about the history of the power plants in the four corners area. According to Mike, there are many places across the country that are officially designated as ‘National Energy Sacrifice Areas’. This means that the extraction and production of energy in those areas takes precedence over any other concern including human health and the environment. Mining areas in Appalachia and Wyoming bear this designation, and in the 1970′s because of its coal and uranium deposits, Richard Nixon gave this unfortunate distinction to the four corners area.

In addition to the two major coal-fired power plants flanking the San Juan River, the APS/Four Corners Plant and the San Juan Power Plant, an additional plant called Desert Rock has been proposed. Thanks to the work of Mike and many others, progress on the Desert Rock plant has been stalled, but this is by no means the end of the story. Mike granted me an extensive audio interview for our project, and we will post excerpts here over the next few weeks.

Teri Rueb and Carmelita Topaha

I’ve been traveling through the Navajo Nation for the past two days doing research for a public art project, and during this time connected with my friend and fellow artist Teri Rueb and she introduced me to her collaborator, Navajo archaeologist and artist Carmelita Topaha. Yesterday Carmeilita generously took the time to show us some sacred places here including Fort Defiance, Window Rock and an incredible drive over the mountains through Crystal.

Carmelita and Teri at Fort Defiance, the place from which over 9000 Navajos were forced to leave on a long journey to Fort Sumner and permanently relocated. At Defiance, Carmelita shared some of the stories of her ancestors on the long walk that she was told as a child.

Carmelita is the granddaughter of Hosteen Klah, a famous Navajo medicine man. Frances Newcomb worked extensively with Klah in the 60′s and 70′s and published some of his stories in many books including Hosteen Klah: Navaho Medicine Man and Sand Painter. Because of Newcomb’s relationship with Klah, there is a place in Navajo Nation called Newcomb, and this is where Carmelita is from originally, although she spent many years in California and across the Southwest.

Carmelita and others told me about the political and bureaucratic difficulties and complexities of the reservation structure from a Navajo perspective. For example, she said that the Tribal Councils that were put in place by the US government to allow more effective communication between the two sovereign nations creates conflicts because the council forces a Western linear thinking, while the Navajo way of thinking is non-linear. Some also say the councils were put in place to make it easier for the US government to exploit native mineral and other resources.

While we were headed back to Farmington from Window Rock, we noticed the glowing lights of the APS and 4 Corners power plants in the distance and observed the ever-present plumes from the smoke stacks as they drifted to the South. So, we decided to try to get close and found ourselves almost inside the APS power plant. The plant seemed deserted yet was alive with churning and pumping sound and smoke. These plants will become a subject of the public work I will create in collaboration with Navajo artists Venaya Yazzie and Esther Belin.

The APS power plant, one of two coal-fired power plants that surround Ship Rock

Jack Loeffler in front of a drawing of one of his favorite birds, the Peregrine Falcon

I had the great honor to interview Jack Loeffler a few days ago. We spoke in depth about the history of the Black Mesa Defense Fund, an organization he helped found in the 1970′s with Hopi leaders and others to address the threat of coal extraction of Black Mesa and coal-fired power plants in the four corners area.

In Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, Dave Foreman cites the Black Mesa Defense Fund as one of the inspirations for later activist organizations like Earth First! The Black Mesa Defense Fund existed for about 3 years and in that time was able to gain international attention for the previously unrecognized environmental problems. Members of the Black Mesa Defense Fund went on to play important activist roles both locally and internationally, and the current Black Mesa Trust started by Vernon Masayesva remains active addressing water rights of the Hopi and Navajo. Jack moved on from the Black Mesa Defense Fund to extensively document and publish on a variety of environmental, social and cultural concerns in the area (see links in the previous post), which he continues to do today at a breathtaking pace.

Most of the full audio interview is posted here, some highlights for me besides getting familiar with the history was our discussion about how an individual should approach activism. Jack talked about how a full understanding (including an understanding of who you might consider your ‘arch-enemies’, who Jack often got to know well and became long-time friends with as you will hear) is necessary when you approach this kind of work. He defined the term consciousness for him, which clarified my confusion evident in the earlier posts. He also used the term conscience, which for me is something that helps to tie together a disconnect between the interior and exterior.

I will be heading out to the four corners area tomorrow for a few days to learn more.

Listen here (unedited, partial):

Inevitably, once I’ll write something on this blog, I’ll find that it doesn’t sit well with me and have to look at it from another angle. Such is the case with the previous post’s ‘most important commons may be consciousness’ statement. Although the idea might be evocative from a singularity point of view, it’s important to have a reality check. There are real, physical commons on this Earth that are in peril (for example, wilderness), and we should be careful of losing sight of this while glorifying human consciousness. In Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, environmental activist and co-founder of Earth First! Dave Foreman discusses ‘the arrogance of enlightenment’:

I have heard it said that a wise man can find wilderness in a courtyard garden, can see a Grizzly Bear in a hothouse flower. Perhaps…this kind of ability is undoubtedly healthy for modern people. It allows one to rise above the tawdry mess of civilization, to find unity with Nature…it prevents ulcers and high blood pressure.

But what does it do for wilderness? What does it do for the Grizzly?

Where is the real world? What is reality? Is it within ourselves – in our minds, our consciousness? Is reality only what we perceive? Are our minds paramount, with no reality apart from our heads?

No! The real world is out there – independent, autonomous, sovereign, not ruled by human awareness. The real Grizzly is not in our heads, she is in the Big Outside – rooting, snuffling, roaming, living, perceiving on her own. Wilderness is not merely an attitude of mind; it is greater, far greater, than ourselves and our perceptions of it.

pp. 51-52

In our work with social media and technology, we get caught up in idea of the ‘Internet as commons’, which is important for the free exchange of ideas (and ‘consciousness’), but we should remember that this is only a metaphor and that the original commons was and continues to be the land and its preservation through wilderness, as Henry David Thoreau said:

In wilderness is the preservation of the world.

Without which there would be no Internet, no consciousness and no humans. What to do? How to approach this crisis of disappearing wilderness? Perhaps first read Confessions of an Eco-Warrior and then to go further google Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching.

British artist, activist, founder of irational.org and urban climber Heath Bunting is presenting his project ‘Woman’ as part of the Tracing Mobility exhibition in Berlin this season. I had the pleasure of exploring the outskirts of Brussels with Heath a few years ago and learning about his work examining the edges of contemporary identity and urban mobility.

Image by Heath Bunting
‘Woman’ constructs an ‘identifiable being’ out of bits and pieces of data (like an identifiable mailing address, credit cards, etc.) as a way of creating virtual mobility through a new legal identity. One of his workshop descriptions explains:

Financial and environmental chaos will require flexibility and mobility to survive. Don’t die for the luxury and comfort of the socia-pathic rich! Acquire some solid assets, a weapon and an exit strategy. Disappearance requires good negotiating skills, strong social network and multiple identities. To help with your escape we can provide you with some useful maps and a new off-the-shelf identity with British nationality. Our workshop provided a building ground to create or obtain a new legal persona and plan an escape route. Don’t be content with rioting and looting, its time to really get even!

Creating these identities also allows him to create maps like this one showing a web of this ‘Woman’ in society:

His own data self-portrait can be seen here: http://status.irational.org/visualisation/portraits/self_portrait_of_heath_bunting.pdf

3 Days, 30 Twitter hashtags, and countless ways to understand the occupy movement. From 09 December 2011 to 11 December 2011, R-Shief, a lab that collects and analyzes Middle East content from the Internet, will hold its first hackathon with satellite locations throughout the world. The aim of this event is to give activists data collected from Twitter, as well as R-Shief’s machine learning analytics, in a collective effort to offer a public and shared repository for data and visualizations about the Occupy Movements. Register here to participate

Yesterday the NYPD used long range acoustic devices (LRADs) against protesters on the streets of NY. The device is capable of emitting sound within a range of 300 to 500 meters and, at maximum volume, it can emit sound 50 times greater than the human threshold for pain and cause permanent damage.

LRADs were first developed for defensive purposes, but by 2004 the device had already been used to threaten civilians- aimed at protesters at the Republican Party national convention in New York. I saw one of these at Union Square Park that year, but fortunately I did not hear it – according to reports it wasn’t deployed at that time.

Here’s a video of an LRAD in use in Pittsburgh

Two ways you can foil an LRAD:
1. earplugs (obviously!)
2. use a large, smooth, flat surface to deflect the sound back to the source

More information: http://rt.com/news/lrad-acoustic-weapon-zuccotti-383/
How LRADs work: http://www.tech-faq.com/long-range-acoustic-device.html
Wikipedia has a list of when LRADs have been used against civilians: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Range_Acoustic_Device