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Culture Change e-Letter #90       

From the northern redwoods to Berkeley Babylon

by Jan Lundberg 

You have to make yourself happy first.  Then you can more easily go on to making others happy.  This sounds like The Me Generation, but "selfless activists" also need to be happy and make others happy if the activism is to be infectious.

What made me happy was another "life move" after being virtually trapped in a typical U.S. residential house year after year: I began to live outside.  I did this, loving nature by sleeping with her, during late 2003 and early 2004.  The redwood forest was my crash pad, and I commuted by bicycle to Arcata where I worked at a peace center.  I had the minimum of possessions, but was not without my exquisite guitar.

My time in the woods featured important activities such as watching the rain against the backdrop of tall trees -- as I kept perfectly dry.  It was so nice just being there that I almost always found it hard to break away from my camp and shelter.  I reluctantly would tear myself away and put my peaceful morning behind me.  I would come back in the dark after laboring away in a tiny office where office machines and dollars dominated the environment.  The spirit of peace and justice tried to always fill the store and mini-suites, where activists kept up their spirits with protest music on the stereo and many a program to bring in the public.  This was my base where I kept food and laundry and met friends and colleagues.

Out into "normal American"

To keep a promise to go east, I caught the Greyhound Bus from northern California to Tennessee and Virginia.  Met with someone you've heard of, Teresa Heinz Kerry, who should have become First Lady.  (She embarrassed me by speaking Swedish to me because of my name, so I figured I would have reason to see her again on Pennsylvania Avenue to show off some newfound proficiency in Swedish.)  Virginia offered me friends and family, but for creative excitement it was fun to jam with the DC Guerilla Poetry Insurgency and march in demonstrations against globalization and for women's rights.

But onward we must go.  This I did, to southern California where the movement against the plastic plague has taken root, and I became a consultant -- applying my petroleum background -- for that most worthy cause.

I was in Babylon when in DC, L.A. and anywhere the dominant culture of the dollar and the police state run the show.  Babylon is a racist place too, although I hardly suffer as a white man.  Why would I call Berkeley a Babylon?  It is because the culture is the same:  Let the car dominate and pollute.  Let the poor sleep in the park or preferably anywhere out of sight, as long as the wealthy in their oversized homes are comfortable and can spend money to their hearts' content.  It does not matter who one votes for, or even if one is a part of progressive movements and does the community a frequent good turn -- it is still Babylon around us and in us, and the culture is everywhere.  I think Bob Marley, who sang about it so soulfully, would agree.

Berkeley, the famous bastion of radicalness, has lost its spirit as exemplified by its student population mostly interested in just making money and trashing the streets with their plastic crap.  This column has spoken of the town's symbol of greatness and selflessness, David Brower, who may get a parking garage/eco-complex named after him -- something he would not countenance, considering the car's role in destroying the Earth, according to some of us who knew him.


I've gotten ahead of myself; here's the sequence of events:  I joined the fledgling anti-plastic movement which needed help in the northern half of the state.  So my present Babylon is the Bay Area.  I started staying with supportive activist friends in Oakland and Berkeley.  San Francisco visits from the East Bay all went well, even when I went with David Room of Post Carbon Institute all the way to the Presidio and found that his speaking engagement had been canceled without anyone telling him.  He was one, as an anti-petroleum activist, who wished me well in my ambition to fight plastics in the Bay area.

One's daily life can be predictable and seem normal, but we must develop and maintain awareness:  Out of the forest, I find myself living the full fossil jacket.  Almost every moment and space is permeated by electronic, mechanical and paved things and areas.  During my time living in Humboldt County, even stuck in the progressive town of Arcata, I would have said "No way, eww, gross!" if someone were to have said I would be living in Berkeley.  I had found on my visits to Berkeley from Humboldt that it was too large and polluted, with a good many disturbed intellectual activists and just as many factions.  

Yet, here I am, alternating between Oakland and Berkeley, and I find that the intense energy and some special people of the quasi-community make it worth it.  And I don't have a car, making the getting-around an event involving exercise that does me good.  It is relaxing to do so while I note many a yard's interesting plants and trees.  I have mastered the streets by bicycle, so Berkeley doesn't seem as spread out as it used to.  The human population is not teeming on the streets (except for an occasional downtown intersection), although low density is unhealthy for efficiency and causes the surrounding ecosystem to endure major suburban sprawl.  There are few open spaces in Berkeley where people can gather freely, but People's Park remains a model for future action.

America is a privatized fortress, in large part: it's all been fenced or paved.  Even government-run forests require permits and don't allow unlimited stays.  Resigning ourselves to the urban experience and all it has to offer, Berkeley (especially Berkeley) still is able to provide an alluring buzz for a diverse population -- albeit heavily liberal and radical.  Not for long perhaps, as homes average in price over half a million dollars -- with yards small enough that they are nothing to crow about.  As with most everywhere, population growth drives up prices for such a basic need as housing.

Housing, like eating, should and must be free!  We are a nation of schmucks to live under a yoke of private-property domination, whereby policies assure continuity of the status quo of greed.  It would only make common sense if urban foliage would feature much more edibles, and that asphalt and concrete give way to gardens.  Perhaps The Depavers band will be reformed, with Richard Register as guru, as John Sinclair was for the MC5 -- the only rock band to play for the Yippies Chicago blow-out during the 1968 Democratic Party Convention.  (The Yippie Party's candidate for president was a pig named Pigasus.)

If I were to complain, it is that the Bay Area Rapid Transit trains are so loud it's painful.  And in a big earthquake you don't want to be in the tunnel under the Bay, or in many a building which will pancake especially if there are parking garages beneath.  The many quake-related fires will not be able to be put out due to the anticipated sudden lack of water pressure due to pipe breaks.  The inevitable large quake is anticipated by the experts to occur in the next several years.  And when the delta's levees break, there goes the water supply for 22 million Californians and 5 million acres of prime farmland will be flooded by salt water.  Like the peak oil "surprise" also in store, the water crisis ahead is treated as ho-hum, what's on TV?

Nevertheless, it is better to be around so many aware citizens (a small minority, but still present) than be surrounded by the 100% motorized-lemming populations of almost all other parts of the U.S.  I have run into disturbed people in Berkeley, but after they have done their bit in your face, one can console oneself that the experience is water under the bridge.  I am in one piece, and have met a lot of fine folks.  The latter are convivial and involved in "civic society."  Talented citizenry?  You bet.  I am able to do more of what I prefer to do nowadays, such as kinds of work that were more difficult in my struggling-nonprofit life in Arcata.  I do some radio shows and put on movies about plastics pollution, and have some work to protect rainforests.

My added or restored freedom is due to my losing the court of appeal decision regarding challenging my mother's captivity in a nursing home.  She has lost almost all  the money I had generated for her from the "family" business, Lundberg Survey Incorporated.

Was Arcata Babylonian too?

I figured, "I might as well be in a big urban area in America if my experience in little Arcata is inescapably in a non-community community" -- despite "cArcata" being a nice university town with green fields, community redwood forest and marsh wildlife sanctuary where the sewage is treated biologically.  

In 1999 I had given up on cArcata as a community that sufficiently cared about itself to assure survival in a crisis that most people there expect in one way or another.  I sold my house and went to Seattle to do my tiny part to shut down the World Trade Organization meeting, on my way to buying a floating home in the Puget Sound.

But soon I was to start neglecting my sailboat and our fledgling Sail Transport Network, as I got sucked back into Arcata.  I had to kick an opportunist out of my mother's house after she had been removed and hidden in Santa Barbara.  Soon her oil-industry daughter regained control of her and made sure our mother would not return to her Arcata home, as our mother clearly desired.  For this home was none other than where the anti-oil Jan now had his office.  And with Jan, the octogenarian Mesa was still a productive editorial asset for the Auto-Free Times and Culture Change.  

Failing to liberate her to live in her own home again, where I pledged to resume my care-giving that I had done for her over a year and a half, I am on my own -- in Babylon and still writing songs.  They are more the love song variety nowadays than protest songs, but with an edge.  Perhaps the oil interests would have been smarter to leave me in Arcata.  We shall see.


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