Saturday, March 31, 2007

Running the Numbers

GreenDaddy is away for the weekend and I've been chasing BabyG around all day...except for the two and half hour nap we stole together. We don't usually do that. Well, she does, but I don't usually go down with her. It's napping weather today though: strong rains, humid.

I don't usually get to spend so much time with BabyG, alone. It's been very lovely, and I have all these things to brag on her about, but I'll save that for a time I'm less lulled by the weather. I'll write a more proper post tomorrow.

Today I thought I'd share images from this art series by Chris Jordan that I've admired for a few weeks now. Just like GreenDaddy, he's running the numbers on consumption...but clearly in a very different way.

Cans Seurat, 2007
60x92" archival inkjet print

Depicts 106,000 aluminum cans, the number used in the US every thirty seconds.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Skin Deep: It's in the Details

Little Scotty Meek announced one day, out of the blue, that Vaseline is made of petroleum, just like gasoline. I was seven and he was nine. His information launched a heated conversation in which I reminded him that Vaseline neither smells nor looks like gas, and that if it was at all related to it my father surely wouldn’t put it on my lips when they were chapped.

Then came the quest for the bottle of Vaseline, which he pointed out, is also called: “petroleum jelly.” Since we lived in oil country, I knew petroleum was a fancy name for gas, but the new knowledge didn’t trip me up. Plenty of words, I told him, sound the same, but have different meanings. I couldn’t pull the word homonym from my pocket, but I did have examples: board/bored, write/right/right, and every child’s favorite: but and butt.

He wouldn’t concede, so we took the matter to my grandfather, a mechanic, and of course, I lost the argument. After that I refused to use gasoline jelly. No matter what people said, my child’s brain would not allow for the dual use of petrol in our car and on my lips. Lucky for my dad that Scotty didn’t know pajamas, toothpaste, or baby oil, vitamins, and bubble bath were also petroleum products or I’d have had the excuse I’d always needed to be in actuality the naked, dirty, deficient little varmint with rotting teeth that I’ve always been at heart.

Lucky for BabyG, in the last couple of decades knowledge about not only the petroleum, but a host of other chemicals used in bath and body products has almost become mainstream. The likes of the world’s hippies, old-fashioned-recipe-traditionalists, new agers’, yuppies, and power-yoga-enthusiasts expressed so much distress at using these sorts of products that a number of new, more “natural,” often organic products had been called into being.

Of course, plenty of people working in the beauty industry did not relish being left out of the new order of environmentally-friendly upstarts. They realized many people weren’t even sure what they wanted when they bought 'natural'…that the word itself had become a fad. They hired ad executives who concluded something like: petroleum comes from old dinosaur bones: what’s more natural than that?, and then stuck the word natural on all sorts of dangerous, healthy, and not what I would consider "natural" products.

As a green consumer, I thought one simple way to ensure I get more “natural” products, is to shop at stores that are geared toward environmentalism. So for awhile, after our family decided to go green, we shopped at Whole Foods, and bought the exorbitantly priced lotions and toothpastes and shampoos there. But I couldn’t get it out of my mind that just because it’s at Whole Foods, doesn’t mean it’s natural. That’s like thinking buying a product at Safeway’s or Randall’s means its safe. You would like it to be so, but experience suggests you need to take the quest a few steps further.

I googled around until I found recommendations from environmental-friendly sources. But I was dismayed that while many of them told you what major-consumer-brands to avoid, why to avoid them, and what to use instead, they rarely if ever explained what products were used in the making of the ones they touted.

So I got online and researched the sorts or chemicals I definitely wanted to avoid. You’ll note the length of that list if you click on the link. It was a little much for me to carry every time I went to the grocery store, so I settled on just a few of them.

Enter the Environmental Working Group, “a non-profit research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. focused on safeguarding public health and the environment.” This group spent two years compiling information on almost 15,000 products, and they offer up their findings in an online database called Skin Deep. If you want information on a beauty product not already in the database, you can send the brand in and get it added.

Skin Deep has an incredible database that not only includes information on brands like Crest or Suave, but it covers alternatives like Tom's of Maine, Jason, and Avalon Organics.  It analyzes the numbers of toxins, the number of ingredients that haven't been studied, and the known risks of the toxins that have been studied and comes up with a level of safety: 0 for products that pose no risks, 5 for extraordinarily toxic products.  You can search the database by typing in a brand name you're interested in, or by searching via a general area, like baby shampoos.

Below, I entered "Jason toothpaste," which I switched to when we first went green.

If you click on the product name, you get a long page detailing the particular products analysis, as well as a side bar glance that sums it up.  To the right, is the sidebar that came with the Jason Sea Fresh Spearmint Toothpaste my family has been using awhile.  It took awhile to get used to Jason -- it's a clear gel with a tingly taste totally unlike any toothpaste I'd tried before -- and I wasn't looking forward to switching brands.  I was relieved that although the Sea Fresh Spearmint we were using rated as moderately unsafe, the Sea Fresh Plus Coq-10 rated a whole point lower (go Coq-10!).  The lowest rated toothpaste, Fresh, is made of Umbrian Clay and costs $20 for 4 oz. -- I can get a 4 pack of my Jason Sea Fresh Coq-10 for that.  Its safty rating ties with Burt's Bees, but and lags only behind Fresh, Dr. Bronners, PeelU, Accelerade and Garden of Life. One day I might get sick of shelling out money for toothpaste and revert to using Baking Soda like my dad (but what about fresh breath!?)...but until then, I'll enjoy the days dappling in the oddities of health food toothpastes.

For those of you dying to see a general topic search, the first one I looked up was baby shampoo.  Because while GreenDaddy and I have gone no-poo, Lila is an Aubrey Organics girl.  Here's what I found:

Clearly, I was pleased to see BabyG's was the least toxic on the list...of 18 shampoos, it was only one of two with a low concern rating.  But one thing I like about this list is the surprises: Johnson and Johnson was in the lower 2/3...but still ranked about the same as the "green" brand, Desert Essence.  However, Desert Essence signed a cruelty-free compact, and Johnson & Johnson didn't.  The worst rated shampoos are Gerber, Mustela, and Modern...they got actual red, high risk dots.  

Admittedly, obsessing over these sorts of things can be loony-bin-making material.  I'm still not sure how bad moderate is, really, or how good low is.  When I look up one of my favorite products and get a long list of the toxins it contains, the ingredients nobody knows anything about since they haven’t been studied, and the final analysis of its safety, I am slightly flummoxed. I am no scientist. I don’t really understand the analysis, but the spirit of the site: which is free, which sometimes recommends big-named-brands over the health-food store brands, I trust. And in this era in which the numberless amount of labels claiming to be natural finally suggests the word "natural" itself has crossed into homonymuous terrain, this might be the closest I’m going to get to understanding what I put in or on my family’s bodies.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Recent Interview with My One Year Old

My Baby: Daddy, I’m not so sure about the narrative of progress and justice that I gave you in our last interview.

Me: Why not?

My Baby: Last weekend when we stopped by your office, I looked through a copy of the 2007 UNICEF report (pdf download). Just the picture on the cover made me so sad.

Me: I’ve spent a lot of time looking at that picture. That poor mother with her two kids and in the background a train is leaving, like global prosperity is leaving them behind. India’s growth rate may be 9%, but they don’t seem to be benefiting.

My Baby: What’s wrong with the baby in the mommy’s arms? He doesn’t look right to me.

Me: He's underweight. The report says that 78 million children in South Asia alone are underweight.

My Baby: Do you think it is because of the way our global economy is structured so that governments can’t provide social protection for the most vulnerable groups even if there is the political will? Or do you think it is a legacy of colonial exploitation? Or do you think that there is some kind of cultural problem and it’s the values in our South Asian communities that need to change?

Me: I don’t know BabyG. I don’t know. I do know that mommy wants to feed her children well.

My Baby: The girl in the yellow dress looks like she could be my friend. Maybe if we were friends, I could help make sure her family has enough food. We could form an organization that overturns the economic order. Children for a Revolutionary Economic Order – CREO.

Me: That girl is probably very nice. Her dress looks pretty doesn’t it? But I’m not sure you could ever be her friend. There are oceans between you and her. The Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and the ocean of difference in your class. She doesn’t have a basket of toys or three shelves of books like you do. And you don’t speak her language either.

My Baby: But things have to change now. I’ll learn her language. Teach it to me.

Me: The UNICEF report says that putting resources into gender equality is the best way to raise children out of deprivation, because women are generally responsible for childrearing and they are more likely to invest in their children’s education and health. If resources are put into achieving gender equality, they say we can get closer to the Millennium Development Goals.

My Baby: Get closer? That family deserves justice now!

Me: So much has to change BabyG for that family and all the families like theirs to have justice. Kofi Annan said it takes time to train teachers and build clinics.

My Baby: Are you crying daddy?

Me: Daddy cries about this kind of thing all the time.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Is Al Gore a Hypocrite? Am I? Are you?

The Fox News people seemed to enjoy reporting on Al Gore’s utility bills. The source of their reports was the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, a conservative non-profit that obtained the past two years of Al’s electricity bills. They are high. His twenty-room home and pool house consumed nearly 221,000 kilowatt-hours in 2006, more than 20 times the national average of 10,656 kilowatt-hours. Apparently his pool is heated. An Al Gore spokesperson offered a number of defenses on his behalf. He and Tipper work out of the home. They have to maintain electric security systems. They bought an old house and it takes time to increase its efficiency. They have plans to install solar panels. In the meantime, they buy their energy from green sources and purchase carbon offsets. So he’s not really a hypocrite.

I wasn’t surprised that the Fox News report on Al’s utility bills was unfair and unbalanced. I am surprised about the heated pool. Surely Al can exercise or enjoy himself some other way in the winter? I’m glad he was called on it. The lifestyles of public figures should be scrutinized if they claim special authority. Another example would be a gay-bashing gay preacher. He should be outed. Likewise, Al Gore’s heated pool is news.

What about us? How do DaddyG, MaGreen, and BabyG compare against the 10,656 kilowatt-hours average? I pulled out MaGreen’s electricity file and added up the figures. The bill lists our “KWh Electricity Used” very plainly. Our total electricity usage for 2006 was 7,802 kilowatt-hours – three-fourths of the national average. In your face Al! We win, you lose. You, Al, are a hypocrite and we are the high priests of green. So what if your documentary helped establish a public consensus on global warming? We walk the walk. I haven't even mentioned yet that we buy our electricity from Green Mountain Energy, a wind energy company.

I guess it helps that our home has four rooms not twenty. We have a gas stove and water heater. We keep our windows open and the air-conditioning off when possible. And most importantly, we have a special kind of motivation that’s missing in Al’s life – a tight budget. (I just heard that the reduction of my hours to 75% full-time that I requested will happen. That’s great news for our overall well-being, I think, but our budget’s about to get even tighter.) We can’t rest on our laurels, we need to reduce our electricity usage and our bill. Our total electricity cost for the past year was $1,500. It would be great if we could cut that by 20%.

I logged into the Green Mountain website, guessing that they might provide some statistics. The website not only gives basic statistics, it automatically generates nifty charts showing our usage by month. Below is a graph for 2006:

I learned a lot from that graph. Clearly air-conditioning is the number one source of our electricity consumption. Our August usage, when the air-conditioner runs at full blast, is almost quadruple our usage in January when our gas heater runs.

The sad thing about this piece of knowledge is that I don’t know what to do about it. We live in Houston. It’s very difficult to live without air-conditioning here. Maybe getting insulating curtains would help cut our energy consumption, but those curtains can be expensive. I’m not sure that we would recuperate the cost of buying and installing them. And from what I’ve read, they keep the heat in during the winter. They don’t keep the heat out in the summer. I also read about these electricity meters in England that help people monitor their usage. Even if I could find one for our home in the US, I don’t think micromanaging our appliances will help that much.

I’m hoping that by paying more attention to the monthly bills, keeping our ceiling fans running more often, and being more mindful of when we turn the airconditioning on, we can cut our usage without suffering in the coming heat.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Must Green Parents Be Rich Parents?

Before BabyG was born, MaGreen and I saved a little each month like a good bourgeois couple. Even though we didn’t make huge incomes from our teaching and editing jobs, we were paid decently. We lived in moderation but did not have to count every penny. Right after BabyG was born, the balance of our income and expenses did not change much. I took all of my vacation days and my supervisor allowed me some flexibility. Though it was stressful, MaGreen and I managed to care for BabyG without any substantial extra expense or loss of income. After two months, I had to return to the regular schedule for my full-time, five days per week desk job. And MaGreen had to kick her own studies into highgear. So we started to pay for childcare and we went from saving money to barely breaking even.

According to the 2005 US Census statistics, our income is thoroughly average. We make about 125% of the median family income for a 3-person family in the state of Texas. (In the US, the disparity of wealth is huge. A relatively small number of people make way more money than we do. For this reason, the average income is a lot higher than the median income.) In terms of income, our family is the representative American family. We’re the 21st century Cleavers. So if we are barely breaking even that means families below the median income – half of the families in the US – are probably not barely breaking even. They’re just breaking. Despite the high GDP per capita here, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) ranked the US second to last for child well-being among economically developed nations. The US was at the bottom or near it for nearly every category including income poverty, reading levels, aspirations, and child mortality. Check out the full Unicef report (1.5MB pdf).

Unlike a very large percentage of our fellow Americans, I think we have the minimum “capabilities and functionings” to call our lives dignified. Our incomes, education levels, assets, and status allow us to raise BabyG with enough attention that she won’t have a childhood of deprivation. We don’t deprive ourselves either. But I want more than the minimum. I don’t just want to attain the lowest threshold of dignity. I want to spend less time at my desk and more time with BabyG. I want to have an exercise routine. I’d like to write my novel. I’d like to do more community organizing. So I asked my supervisor to get my workload reduced to 75%. Instead of working 40 hours per week on average, I would work 30. And it looks like my request might go through by August. I am very excited. Even though I haven’t even started the new schedule yet, I feel a tremendous sense of relief. The problem is that if I work a 75% schedule, I will make 75% of my previous salary. We will go from slightly above median family income to below the median and from barely breaking even to going into debt.

So I decided its time to count the pennies. We need to cut our monthly expenses by several hundred dollars! I logged into all of our accounts and compiled all the expenses from checks, cash cards, and credit cards. Then I assigned the individual expenses to one of the following categories: childcare, education (tuition and books for MaGreen and me), professional development, rent, miscellaneous (gifts, clothes, toys, etc.), groceries, eating out, telecommunications, transportation, energy, health, cash, bank fees, and entertainment. Finally, I made a table showing monthly totals under each category so I could get a sense of what stays the same and what varies.

Out of our expenses, childcare, education, and rent account for 65% of the total. Those are fixed costs. We can’t change those arrangements without hurting our quality of life and our future. Groceries are a whopping 8% of our expenses. Buying organic vegetables adds up. We thought eating out would be the obvious “culprit,” but even though we go to restaurants two to three times a week that’s only 4% of our expenses. We spend more on our telecommunications (phone line, cell phones, internet connection, and webhosting) than we do on eating out. Since I bicycle to work and MaGreen drives our old Mazda about ten miles per week, our transportation costs are low. And even though we buy our electricity through a windmill company, our utility bills aren’t that high. So it’s not clear to me what we can cut without sacrificing our emerging green lifestyle.

MaGreen went over the numbers and we talked about them over dinner. We decided to eat out less and cook more with cheaper ingredients without giving up on organics. We’re going to look for cheaper telecommunications deals. And we’re hoping that by tracking our expenses more carefully, we can generally rein them in. I’ll post how we’re doing the next time we do the calculations. Wish us well!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Incompetent Gardener, Part III

Supermarket grocers would have thrown it out. If the grocers missed the gaping wound on its flesh, supermarket shoppers would surely pass it up. They would sneer and shop somewhere else next time, at the supermarket on the next corner. Even if light streaming through windows played across the tomato’s skin and made the blemish look more like a beauty mark, the tomato would not be bought. What if worms had crawled into the tomato, the shoppers would think, rare worms from Asia that crossed over in the hulls of cargo ships, worms that cause all the wrong parts of the body to grow to absurd sizes. Also, it would probably taste bad, right? Given that shoppers pay for tomatoes by their weight, not by their appearance, why would someone deliberately choose an ugly tomato when some other tomato in the stack of available tomatoes looks perfect? Only a shopper with an ugly soul would buy an ugly tomato.

But this tomato was never in a supermarket. I grew it. I planted six tomato plants late in the season in 2006. They did not produce. I never saw a blossom. Out of frustration, well after the season for tomatoes ended, I tore up four of the plants. I left two of them in the ground. I left the scraggliest ones as a reminder of my incompetence. As winter arrived, the two tomato plants hung limply. It got cold and their leaves shriveled. Then, in late December, one of the tomato plants started to bloom yellow flowers the size of BabyG’s fingertips. I still didn’t water or care for the plants. Then the flowers turned into tiny green fruit. When the temperatures dipped below freezing, this survivor finally passed and I plucked the fruit from the brittle vines. They were miraculous tomatoes. The ripest one was the wounded one.

I ate the tomato after slicing off the imperfection. Maybe I should have swallowed it whole without chewing, as if it were a big red pill that cures alienation. I sliced the fruit up and put it on a sandwich with cheese and mayonnaise. Before eating it, I smelled the tomato and it smelled intensely of tomato. When I ate the sandwich, I realized I should have plucked the tomato from the vine earlier, because it was mushy. The other ones, which were not so red, tasted better. I’m not interested in memorializing those succulent tomatoes. It’s that first homegrown tomato with its repulsive mark that I sing of here in cyberspace. I will always remember that blackspotted tomato bathed in light.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

I Had a Dream about Barack Obama

I missed Barack Obama during his recent visit to Houston, so I listened to a recording of the speech he made in Austin the next day. Obama has made some fantastic speeches, but I was not moved by the recording. Seemed like a you-had-to-be-there kind of event. About twenty thousand people showed up in the rain and Obama spent several minutes saying thank you as young people in the crowd shouted "we love you." At one point he responded by saying, "I love you too."

I didn't bother listening to the whole recording, but that night I had a dream about attending one of Obama's rallies. The rally was in a giant arena, the kind of venue where a professional basketball team plays. I somehow ended up in a seat right next to where Obama stood at a podium. I think I ended up there because the regular seats got filled. Obama was standing before the cameras and gesturing with his arms. I could not concentrate on what he was saying because I was awed by being in his presence. During a break, he suddenly came up to me as if I worked for him.

"I need you to draft a letter for me," he said.

"Sure," I said. "Anything I can do..."

"It's to the board of a local nonprofit," he continued. I was glad. That's the kind of thing I do normally at my real job. Obama gave me a brief description of what it should say and then went back to the podium like a true multi-tasking, genius politician.

I got to work right away. I had a pen, but I didn't have a piece of paper. All that I could find around me was a hamburger bun. Maybe there was a concession stand nearby? So I started to write out a letter onto the hamburger bun while Obama gave his speech, but every few strokes the pen would break through the outer surface of the bread into the soft middle. I was getting nowhere and didn't know what to do. And that's when the dream ended. BabyG was crying and I woke up.

I'm not sure what my dream means. Here are some possibilities:

* The dream is a message from the Green Goddess and I should devote myself to Barack Obama's campaign. The bread is like the Eucharist. Obama's speeches and his mission are not texts to be reproduced, but are a sacred body that I should consume so that I am transformed.

* I really want to help change the world but deep inside I feel that I am ineffectual. The attempt to write on the hamburger bun represents feeling like a failed change-agent.

* Barack Obama is like a hamburger bun. He may be brownish, but he's made of processed wheat flower not whole grains. He is an unfinished script as many have said, but like a hamburger bun he can't ever become a substantial, finished text. At best, he'll be the packaging for a hormone-fed piece of cow flesh like Bill Clinton was.

Monday, March 05, 2007

A Call to Parents Round the World

Take a look at this new video from My friend jip wrote, "So important to reject this concept of a constant, ahistorical culture clash. The video lays out the lie of inescapable difference between 'East' and 'West' very well."

Sunday, March 04, 2007

We Don’t Want BabyG to Throw Herself into a Fire, But...

About a month ago, MaGreen and I took BabyG to a Hindu temple for the first time. Our friend Melissa was selling us a used bike and she lives to the southeast of Houston. We decided to meet her halfway at the Sri Meenakshi temple in Pearland.

Completed in 1982, the Meenakshi temple is one of the oldest Hindu temples in the United States. Loosely modeled on the original Meenakshi temple in Madurai, the temple is made up of a walled compound with five buildings inside. The walls are covered with icons and symbols. Over the years, the temple society has added ancillary buildings behind and to the side of the temple. They have housing for priests and guests, a fenced yard for peacocks, a cafeteria, classrooms, a library and bookstore, and a community hall. When the temple was built, Pearland was a little town past Houston’s outer suburbs. The land around the temple was just open fields. Now Pearland has become a true ex-urb of Houston and a trailer park sits across from the temple. It’s odd to come upon the temple out there, to see all the software engineers in their Camry’s sharing the two-lane country roads with pick-up trucks. Something about that temple makes it dear to my heart. The odd setting suits me. I love the peacocks, the temple food, and the books. The temple itself is clean and efficient. The priests are skilled at performing sacraments. And I have memories of past visits with aunts, uncles, my brother and sister-in-law, and my parents.

So after we met up with Melissa, all four of us went into the temple. I asked the priest in the main building to do a blessing. He gave us some fruit to eat as prasad. I donated money and asked the volunteer cashier if they had any special ceremonies going. She pointed us to one of the corner temples, which we walked to. Priests were chanting and making offerings to a goddess. They bathed her in milk and honey. They rang bells. About twenty people were gathered sitting in two rows. I could not recognize the deity, so I asked a man sitting next to me who this goddess was.

He said her name. It was a long, multi-syllabic South Indian name. I believe it was Kannika Parameshwari, but I’m not sure.

“Is she an incarnation of Kali or Durga or another goddess?” I asked. “What is the story?”

“Are you Hindu?” he asked glancing at the two white people with me. I said yes.

“Actually, you see, there was a young woman. When the Muslims invaded, the Muslim king saw her. He looked at her and desired her. The young woman knew this. And according to the old Hindu laws, even for man to look at a woman in this way is the equivalent of marrying. But she would not consent to such a thing and she threw herself into a fire. Today is the anniversary of the day when she sacrificed herself,” he said.

We remained for a few more minutes and listened to the chants. We had never planned to sit for an entire puja, so we left. I was embarrassed that the ceremony commemorated such a troubling story. It starts with war, occupation, and religious oppression. Then it moves on to the possibility of rape or forced marriage. There’s a reductive, patriarchal notion of the male gaze. That a man’s gaze defines all social relations. And it ends with an act that has a terrible history in India and an even worse present – bride burning. Why would I want to expose BabyG to this religion?

Many liberal people in the United States look at Hinduism as this open, accepting religion with non-violence at its core. Many Hindus have portrayed Hinduism in just that way. Hindus believe in many incarnations of a single, unknowable divine energy, including women and trees and animals and half-animal-half-humans. Buddha came out of Hinduism. So did Gandhi. So on and so forth. But Hinduism, like every single other religion, has a sordid history of racisms, sexisms, caste-isms, and classisms. You could argue that oppression is a constituitive element of Hinduism, that you cannot divide the bad parts out or sheild your kids from them. Our little trip to the Meenakshi temple is a case in point for that view.

On the other hand, as Amartya Sen documented in The Argumentative Indian and explained in my interview with him, the South Asian tradition from antiquity to present has a remarkable diversity of thought and belief. Within Hinduism, there have been debates about agnosticism and atheism since Vedic times. Radical efforts to end caste injustice date back to the birth of Buddhism and Jainism. There’s the Bhakti movement with figures like Mirabhai and Narsinh Mehta who created a discourse of gender and caste egalitarianism in their lyrical poetry. There’s Gandhi and Ambedekar. Why not count Kancha Ilaiah, Gayatri Spivak and Amartya Sen as part of the tradition?

I don’t think abandoning history and tradition is the way. I don't want to hide my baby's background from her and tell myself that's progress. I want her to feel that she can enter into the deep Indian traditions without regarding them as other. We can teach her to "read against the grain" or to understand the tradition as a spirited exchange of ideas. By ideas I don't mean dry logic or abstruse philosophy only, but all ideas, including those informed by nonrational experience. May the debates encompassed within our stories, songs, poetry, slokas, mantras, and iconography help her negotiate life.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Ten Reasons Why Our Protests Against the Iraq War Were Not Inconsequential

Back when we were dating, MaGreen and I led local protests against the Iraq war. We were the megaphone carrying, permit securing, speech writing, meeting attending activists. The marches and rallies we helped organize were the largest Houston had ever seen. We spent between twenty and forty hours per week, between the two of us, on anti-war organizing from 2003 to 2005.

We never got paid and nobody gave us a plaque. Our activism was at a tremendous personal cost. Yesterday, a student I work with told me, not knowing my history of activism, that the anti-war protests were “inconsequential.” My chin started to quiver as I tried to calmly explain why the protests did have tremendous consequences. Below is the list I wish I had given him:

10) The invasion and subsequent occupation has devastated Iraq, killed thousands upon thousands of soldiers and civilians, drained funding for pressing problems, and undermined diplomacy. At one level, I’m simply glad to have voiced our opposition, and helped others’ voice theirs, to this catastrophe.

9) We helped develop a critical public discourse before the invasion, which will contribute to ending the war more quickly now. Widespread, public opposition to the Vietnam War did not develop for many years in the US and the catastrophe of that war lasted a very long time.

8) By questioning the motives behind the invasion, our dissent helped prevent UN backing of the invasion and helped to keep most nations from joining the so-called coalition of the willing.

7) Our protests helped embolden corporate media to cover dissent and the catastrophic effects of the war. We helped shape a media landscape dominated by coverage of celebrity wardrobes and football games.

6) We helped build a national and international infrastructure for coordinating dissent. We planned our actions on dates set by United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ). I attended the UFPJ’s first major conference and voted on its governance and agenda.

5) The anti-war protests helped generate interest in the development of alternative, local media in Houston, such as and KPFT local news.

4) We learned how to plan actions without much help. We made mistakes. Once we had figured out how to secure permits, hold meetings, form functional coalitions, disseminate our announcements, and stage a good event, we trained other people who wanted to do something but did not know how. We especially tried to collaborate with young people, women, and people of color. I think we contributed to the development of a more empowered and diverse group of activists in Houston.

3) We were transformed. We passed through fire. We saw the charred innards of activism in the US. Yet, I believe we emerged less cynical. We may be weary, but I feel strong inside.

2) We became friends with extraordinary people who worked with us organizing actions. Our lives have been filled with their love and support.

1) MaGreen and I learned that beautiful, unimaginable things can come of our relationship. I grew confident that we could be good parents.