While the internet has been very important in recent protest movements in Tunisia and Egypt, the internet is also vulnerable to central control, as when the Egyptian government all but shut down the internet within Egypt. We need an online world that’s genuinely free. Eben Moglen, a professor at Columbia Law School, has been advocating the need for a Freedom Box, a little server you could plug-in to a wall socket that would allow us to conduct online business outside the confines of Facebook, Google, and the rest. Here’s a New York Times story about Moglen and his idea. Here’s Moglen’s Freedom Box Foundation, and here’s the Kickstarter project that’s getting it funded. If you want to volunteer to work on the Freedom Box or follow the work, go to this wiki at debian.org.
We are musical beings, born to groove. It’s music that a bunch of clever apes used to turn themselves into human beings. But we’ve been losing those skills over the last century of recorded and broadcast music. Everyone can make music; it’s not a special skill that’s only for those who have ‘talent.’
I wrote the following piece eight years ago, just after a big anti-war demonstration in Manhattan. There was lots of spontaneous music making in the streets, most of it by ordinary ‘no-talent’ (ha!) people who just wanted to have fun while expressing their political will. Here’s how it went down.
* * * * *
It was Saturday, March 22,2003, the day of the big peace demonstration. I got off the PATH train in mid-town Manhattan at about 12:30. Five minutes later I was in Harold Square, home of Macy’s, checking out the demo. I’d agreed to hook up with Charlie between 1 and 1:30, so I had a few minutes to get a feel for the flow.
People filled Broadway from side-to-side for block after block. Here and there I heard drums and bells and a horn player or two, but no organized music. Shortly after the Sparticists passed (they’re still around?) I noticed a trombonist standing on the sidewalk. Just as I was about to invite him to come with Charlie and me he headed out into the crowd. I let him go his way as I went mine.
I arrived at 36th and 6th – our meeting point a block away from the demo route – at about 1. Charlie arrived about five minutes later, with two German house guests. We were to meet with other musicians and then join the demo, providing some street music for the occasion. None of the other musicians had arrived by 1:45, so we waded into the crowd searching for the drummers we could hear so well – one of our musicians arrived about ten minutes later and managed to find us in the demo. We made our way to the drummers and starting riffing along with them, Charlie on cornet and me on trumpet. I could see one guy playing bass drum, another on snare, a djembe player or two, and various people playing bells, a small cooking pot, plastic paint cans. Then I heard some wild horn playing off to the left. I looked and saw the one-armed cornetist I’d seen playing in Union Square in the days after 9/11. Charlie and I made our way toward him and joined up. Then I noticed two trumpeters and a trombonist a few yards behind us.
So there we were, a half dozen horns, perhaps a dozen percussion, all within a 20-yard radius. We’d come to the demo in ones, twos and threes, managed to home-in on one another’s sounds, and stayed in floating proximity for the two or three mile walk down Broadway to Washington Square. Sometimes we were closer, within a 5 or 6-yard radius, and sometimes we sprawled over 50 yards. The music was like that too, sometimes close, sometimes sprawled.
When the march slowed to a stop, one of the djembe players would urge the percussionists to form a circle. The horn players executed punctuating riffs as one person after another moved into the circle’s center to dance their steps. These young women clearly had taken African dance classes. When the demo started to move, the dancers dispersed into the crowd, the circle dissolved, and we starting moving forward.
Sometimes the music made magic. The drummers would lock on a rhythm, then a horn player – we took turns doing this – would set a riff, with the four or five others joining in on harmony parts or unison with the lead. At the same time the crowd would chant “peace now” between the riffs while raising their hands in the air, in synch. All of a sudden – it only took two or three seconds for this to happen – a thirty-yard swath of people became one. Horn players traded off on solos, the others kept the riffs flowing, percussionists were locked, and the crowd embraced us all. You walked with spring and purpose. Even as the crowd chanted “peace” I was feeling “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in my mind and in my step.
The tribe was rising.
Things got jammed up as we got to Waverly Place – the street that runs just north of Washington Square, the demo’s end. One of the cornet players looked off to the side. I followed his gaze and saw the trombonist I’d passed when I’d first reconnoitered the demo in Harold Square. His horn was pointed to the sky, slide pumping away, as he worked his way toward us. He settled into “All You Need Is Love” and the other horns joined him in sweet, crude, rough harmony. I was hearing John Lenon in my mind’s ear, along with the sardonic horn riffs answering the treacly refrain.
Leaving us wanting more, that’s how it ended.
A Letter from Charlie
The Great Transition is being made as we speak. In Lakeville, Connecticut the Great Transition to sustainability, permacultures, resilience in everything that matters (highest standards of humor, musicality, plenty of mighty trees to admire, excess energy in the local grid, etc,) has been ongoing for over a century!
150 years ago all the trees had been turned to charcoal for local iron making furnaces (and then the first Bessemer steel?), smoke, soot, grey skies everywhere, desolation, fires burning 24-7 in the hills making the last piles of charcoal. Then it went to Pittsburgh and Lakevillians began to make a long, slow, recovery that has culminated in recent decades with the reappearance of all the animals, pileated woodpeckers, too many geese, too many turkeys, too many deer, bear, a moose came through our yard a few weeks after my father died and took a swim in Lakeville’s lake. We have a sawmill in Falls Village, for local timber. My wife Angie calls them Potempkin forests but they are real enough, old growth enough, for those giant pileated woodpeckers.
We just need to tap the streams with “small hydro” put up some old fashioned windmills, use the “factory brook” again, inventory and expand orchards, greenhouses, permaculture some stands of nut trees. We can be an exemplary “transition town” very quickly because we have been in recovery from Western civilization since before the early 1900s.
As it got prettier in mid 20th century Wanda Landowska, the world’s best harpsichordist came to live here. And so did the world’s most productive writer, eventually the world’s most profitable writer, Georges Simenon, spent the 5 happiest years of his life here. We’ve been chock full of well-being pace setters since the 1950s. More recently the reincarnation of Tromboncino gave us a lakeside recital.
And so it goes in Lakeville, once known as Furnace Village, and now an emerging leader of The Great Transition.
If a town of less than 2000 people, most big houses empty most of the year, can do it, then so can your town, neighborhood, or block of a city.
Q. How do we get there from here?
A. One step at a time. And keep your eyes on the prize.
The New Economic Foundation is calling for and envisioning a new KIND of economy, one based on “stability, sustainability and equality.” Citizen-activists can guide and drive the Great Transition to this new world through a seven-fold way:
• Great Revaluing
• Great Redistribution
• Great Rebalancing
• Great Localisation
• Great Reskilling
• Great Economic Irrigation
• Great Interdependence (aka InterdepenDANCE)
We start by making “social and environmental value . . . the central goal of policy making”: the Great Revaluing. Both private and public decision making must take full accounting of things we make: “We need to make ‘good’ things cheap and ‘bad’ things very expensive.”
In the Great Redistribution we can fund modest Citizens’ Endowments and Community Endowments through an increased inheritance tax. Working hours and tasks need to changed so as to “create a better balance between paid work and the vital ‘core economy’ of family, friends and community life.” And company shares can be gradually “transferred to employees in a resurgence of mutual and co-operative ownership forms.”
The market sphere “needs to be more tightly drawn and rebalanced alongside the public sphere and the ‘core economy’– our ability to care, teach, learn, empathize, protest and the social networks these capacities create”: the Great Rebalancing. A facilitating state will work with citizens to produce well-being in health and education.
About the Truth and Traditions Party USA
In response to peak oil, climate change, and continuing economic crises, we’re organizing a Truth and Traditions Party in all 50 states this year, 2011, so that we can hold primaries and run or endorse candidates in all 435 Districts for the US House of Representatives in 2012. Our modest aim is to become a “decisive” or log-jam breaking party in the House. If, for example, there were 214 Republicans elected and 209 Democrats, our 12 TNT Representatives could exert great leverage for Truth, Traditions, Transition legislation – and against the tremendous waste encouraged by big corporations feeding at the trough of big government.
Dumbeks along the Mississippi
The people of Egypt are writing a new chapter in the book of revolution. The story is by no means complete. We have no way of knowing how deep the changes will go. Mubarak has stepped down. But just what it means that the “higher council of the armed forces will lead the nation,” as Mubarak’s hand-picked VP has said, we don’t know. Nor, I suspect, does that higher council, or the protesters.
What does that mean for US here in the USA? Yes, it means the Middle East and Northern Africa are in transition and we’ve got to change our foreign policy. But that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is here, on the ground, in the USofA. What do we do about OUR government?
No, we’ve not been living under a state of emergency for three decades. And, yes, we do have democratic elections, local, state, and federal. But one can’t help but believe that the fix is in. Writing in The New York Times (of all places), Bob Herbert observes:
While millions of ordinary Americans are struggling with unemployment and declining standards of living, the levers of real power have been all but completely commandeered by the financial and corporate elite. It doesn’t really matter what ordinary people want. The wealthy call the tune, and the politicians dance.
We are being ruled by a class of people that is out of touch with life on the ground, and that has enough money that they need no longer walk the same soil with the rest of us. They look like us, talk like us, and walk like us. But more and more, they are less and less like us. They are becoming aliens. Our alien overlords.
How do we get out from under them? We don’t want violence, we don’t want bloodshed. But we want to turn the country around and march to the future, not admire our accomplishments in the mirror of the past. Those accomplishments were built on abundant resources and those resources are becoming scarce. Even as the oil runs out, the peoples of Asia, Africa, and South America are calling for their just share of the world’s resources. The world is changing and the Democrats and the Republicans in the USofA don’t know it. They’re doing their damnedest to keep the old machines running.
What happens when those machines run out of oil?
We can’t wait for them to wake. What can we do now to reclaim our lives and our future? And how to we regain control of our political system? The Egyptians have made their move in a political system that has far less room for movement than our system has. Let’s not let our relative freedom trick us into believing we can rest secure in business as usual. To quote Bob Herbert again, “the Egyptians want to establish a viable democracy, and that’s a long, hard road. Americans are in the mind-bogglingly self-destructive process of letting a real democracy slip away.”
The Egyptians have begun the arduous, but fulfilling task of rebuilding their society from the ground up. Let’s take their new beginning as a call for us to emulate them and do the same in our world.