Monday, December 3, 2012

Inspiration: Obtanium Eletrical Generators



2012-11-28 "Self-Taught African Teen Turns Trash into Electricity" by Kristina Chew from "Care2"
[http://www.care2.com/causes/teenage-inventor-from-sierra-leone-wows-m-i-t-video.html]:
Necessity can be the mother of invention as the case of 16-year-old Kelvin Doe amply illustrates [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/19/kelvin-doe-self-taught-en_n_2159735.html].
Using things he’d found in trash bins or around his house in Sierra Leone in western Africa, Doe started making batteries and generators when he was 13 years old [http://whatsnext.blogs.cnn.com/2012/11/14/diy-africa-empowering-a-new-sierra-leone/].
The generator not only provides electricity for his house — which otherwise would get power about once a week — and for his neighbors to charge their mobile phones, it also powers Doe’s own FM radio station, outfitted with a recycled CD player and antenna and a music mixer.
For his innovation and invention, Doe was invited to be part of a “Meet the Young Makers” panel at the 2012 World Maker Faire this past September [http://makerfaire.com/pub/e/9552].
He has also become the youngest person ever to be part of the “Visiting Practioner’s Program” at M.I.T.; students at M.I.T. and Harvard, and the President of Harvard, have heard Doe talk about his inventions.
Doe’s ingenuity was discovered thanks to a program called Innovate Salone [http://www.gmin.org/innovate-salone], a national “innovation challenge” for high school students in Sierra Leone sponsored by an international nonprofit, Global Minimum [http://www.gmin.org/].
Students were asked to devise solutions to problems in their everyday lives. 300 submitted applications; ideas included new agricultural programs and ways to provide quality education through the radio.
David Sengah, a Sierra Leonean who studied biomedical engineering at Harvard and is now pursuing a Ph.D. at M.I.T., helped put together Innovate Salone. At the M.I.T. Media Lab, he is developing the “next generation of prosthetic sockets and wearable mechanical interfaces.” His own experience of Sierra Leone’s needs has fueled his work. But it has also made him aware that, when he brings his prostheses to his country, it is crucial that people there be able to use and maintain them, without the technologies available at M.I.T.
In other words, technology is great and wondrous but its recipients need to be able to use it on their own, with the materials they have readily at hand.
Doe’s batteries — made by combining acid, soda and metal in a tin cup, letting the mixture dry and wrapping tape around the cup — exemplify this goal. He made a generator from a rusty voltage stabilizer found in the trash. These creations would be the stuff of science fair projects here in the U.S.; in Doe’s case, they have play a vital role in his community and not only by providing electricity. For his homemade FM station, Doe has friends (average age 12) serve as reporters and station managers, to interview soccer game spectators and keep a calendar of requests for his DJ services.
If you’re not impressed yet (not to mention inspired to see what you can make yourself!), you can listen to Doe in a video produced by @radical.media’s THINKR YouTube channel.
[http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=XOLOLrUBRBY]

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Products made in the Bay Area


Sonoma Valley

Landmade Bath Salts and Soaps
sold at [softshellpetaluma.com/products.html], which also sells a variety of locally made products.

School Garden Company
[schoolgardenco.com/products.html]
263 Cleveland Ave Petaluma CA 94952
707.762.5772
[info@schoolgardenco.com]

Pure Touch Theraputics
[puretouch.net]
3715 Santa Rosa Ave Ste A10, Santa Rosa, CA 95407
800-442-PURE (7873)
[info@puretouch.net]



San Francisco

SF Made
[sfmade.org]
Katie Sofis [Kate@sfmade.org] [415-987-7004]

SFMade is a California 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, established in 2010 and headquartered in San Francisco. It is the only organization of its kind focused on building San Francisco’s economic base by developing the local manufacturing sector.
SFMade’s mission is to build and support a vibrant manufacturing sector in San Francisco,  that sustains companies producing locally-made products, encourages entrepreneurship and innovation, and creates employment opportunities for a diverse local workforce.


Other sovereign economics projects

Stardust Localizing
[www.stardustlocalizing.com]


Transition USA
[www.transitionus.org]


Equal Distribution
[www.equal-distribution.com/]
[equal@ohmgrownrecords.com]
Equal-Distribution is dedicated to bringing hand-crafted products to the global market that are conscious, understanding that we are the creators of our realities with our thoughts, our words and our deeds.
 All items are shipped by the individual artisans, so please allow 28 days for delivery. If you are not 100% satisfied please return our products unused and we will refund your payments promptly.
 More clothing, music, instruments, art, foods and general healing products are going be added to our catalog.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sonoma Valley

2006-11-07 Election - Sonoma County, CA  
[http://www.smartvoter.org/2006/11/07/ca/sn/meas/F/]        
Measure F
Tax
County of Sonoma
Open Space, Clean Water and Farmland Protection Measure - 2/3 Approval Required
Pass: 126,570 / 75.7% Yes votes ...... 40,528 / 24.3% No votes
To preserve natural lands from development; protect working farms and ranches; protect drinking water sources; improve water quality in lakes, rivers and streams; create and improve parks and trails; and preserve the coastline and beaches, shall the current quarter-cent sales tax, funding the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation & Open Space District, be continued for twenty years, and bonds authorized to finance projects, with required independent audits and citizen oversight without increasing taxes?


Sonoma County Electric Vehicle Charging Stations [link], revised 2014-06


Community Currencies

California changes law to allow for expansion of alternative monetary systems [link]
** Davis Dollars [link]

Davis Dollars

[http://davisdollars.org/]
Accepted at [http://davisdollars.org/businesses/]


2010-10-20 "Buy-local currency minted" by Cheyenne Cary from "The Davis Enterprise"
[http://www.davisenterprise.com/Archived-Stories-0/Buy-local_currency_minted/]:
In a push to make Davis a more self-supporting community, Nicholas Barry and his teammates at Davis Dollars have started minting a cash alternative.
As of April, Davis Dollars had printed 10,000 of the colorful buy-local bills, and now the group aims to bring its community currency project into the next phase of circulation.
“One of the central ideas of Davis Dollars is to get local people to interact and exchange more,” said Barry, a 2007 UC Davis graduate and Davis Dollars founder.
“The big benefit of community currency is that it encourages spending locally, so that money can move around many more times before leaving.”
Barry’s brainchild has been on the scene for a while — outreach efforts for Davis Dollars have been in motion since last year.
Now, the Davis Dollars project features a new Craiglist-like website (http://davisdollars.org) where users can find all the goods and services that Davisites have listed as “provided” or “wanted” for Davis Dollars. Items up for trade include composting lessons, craft supplies and, of course, bike repair.
Website visitors also can search for local businesses that accept the new legal tender. Davis Dollars users can buy a new amplifier at Watermelon Music or get a plant at Redwood Barn Nursery. With DDs in hand, they can pick up some chain lube at Apex Cycles or have a pro help fix a jumpy gear at the Bike Forth Collective.
Theoretically, anyway. As of now, only about 100 Davis Dollars have been sold into circulation and scarcely a handful of transactions have taken place. There are options, though; as of press time, 31 services are listed for sale and five businesses are confirmed supporters.
“Not many people have Davis Dollars yet, but this is something that will take time,” Barry said. “To make a community currency self-sustaining, we have to reach a critical mass.”
One of Davis Dollars’ first supporters was Watermelon Music, and store owner Jeff Simons endorses the DD mission as a buy-local kind of guy.
“When we met with Davis Dollars, they said they needed to reach a critical mass of retailers, and we signed on as a supporter,” Simons said. “It’s not that we think that we’re going to make any more money, but we benefit in the grand scheme. If the Davis downtown succeeds as a whole, then it’s better for everyone in town.”
One of the more appealing aspects of community currency, said Simons, is that it’s proved to be recession-proof. However, some issues remain for retailers. Taxes are problematic, as the IRS still would require reported income, regardless of what currency it’s in. Additionally, for stores like Watermelon Music, national vendors wouldn’t accept local bills.
Simons said he looks forward to “getting the full scoop” as the Davis Dollars movement evolves past its fact-finding phase.
Barry and his cohorts hope to have more Davis businesses sign on to give the paper bills more legitimacy. At a recent meeting in Shields Library, Davis Dollars interns brainstormed ideas for the currency’s expansion. Several interns enthusiastically described how Davis Dollars is modeled after Berkshares, a successful community currency in Berkshire, Mass.
When asked about his feelings regarding a barter economy, Barry said that DD’s overall mission is facilitating intra-community trade. Whether such trade is in DDs, barter or even U.S. dollars, Barry said, is secondary. DDs (or any currency) would work to fill in the gaps in a barter system and resolve imperfect matches; for example, if a carpenter wants payment in fresh chicken eggs, but no one selling eggs needs carpentry work. In the far-off future, Barry said he could even see Davis Dollars evolving into an online time bank, with no paper component at all.
DD advocates have approached the Davis Downtown Business Association and their idea got a warm reception, but the DDBA chose not to officially endorse Davis Dollars. DDBA Director Joy Cohan said this is because the association endorses only proposals that will benefit all, and not just some, of its members.
“We’re not yet ready to embrace Davis Dollars, although we support any organization committed to furthering the concept of spending locally,” Cohan said. “While it might make a lot of sense for some businesses in our membership, it wouldn’t make sense for some others.”
Smaller, simpler businesses could really benefit from Davis Dollars, Cohan said, but chain stores are unlikely to ever use them. Cohan said the DDBA board of directors also had some concerns about administrative details, such as whether Davis Dollars are counterfeit-proof.
Already in place is the downtown Davis gift card, which, like Davis Dollars, exchanges U.S. dollars for local currency and, unlike Davis Dollars, is accepted at more than 200 downtown businesses. According to Barry, the card isn’t competition.
“The gift cards are more of what I like to see,” he said. “There’s plenty of room in Davis for people to encourage spending locally.”
As of yet, Davis Dollars is a microscopic organization. All Davis Dollars come from Barry and crew, and DDs are sold online at a rate of $9.50 U.S. for 10 DDs. Each DD is worth exactly $1 U.S. at participating businesses. Individual consumers cannot exchange DDs for U.S. currency, but businesses can redeem DDs for old-fashioned U.S. dollars at a rate of 10 DDs for $9 U.S. Businesses seeking to trade in DDs therefore would be taking a 10 percent cut off the top. The discounted rates are designed to encourage the use of local currency, but may end up discouraging low-margin businesses from using DDs at all.
But they’re not giving up hope. The people behind Davis Dollars believe Davis is an ideal town for a community currency, not only for its closely-knit and economically strong populace, but also because of the social consciousness that has townies supporting community currency on principle.
“People who live long-term in college towns do so because they value relationships,” said Kristin Stoneking, one of the Davis Empowerment and Community Organization’s four board members. “And that’s one more example of our base values: to create community and help people connect.”
Three weeks ago, Davis Dollars activists incorporated as the Davis Empowerment and Community Organization. DECO is a public benefit nonprofit and members are applying for federal tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(4).
Barry hopes that DECO will become the home base of other community commerce projects. If programs like Davis Dollars can get off the ground, DECO may well help incubate new community groups in the years to come.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Urine-powered generator unveiled at international exhibition



Four African girls have created a generator that produces electricity for six hours using a single liter of urine as fuel.
 The generator was unveiled at last week's Maker Faire in Lagos, Nigeria, by the four teens Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, and Faleke Oluwatoyin, all age 14, and Bello Eniola, 15.
 So how exactly does the urine-powered generator work?
 Urine is put into an electrolytic cell, which separates out the hydrogen. The hydrogen goes into a water filter for purification, which then gets pushed into the gas cylinder. The gas cylinder pushes hydrogen into a cylinder of liquid borax, which is used to remove the moisture from the hydrogen gas. This purified hydrogen gas is pushed into the generator.
 And as for delivering the fuel itself? Well, we'll leave that up to the consumer.
 The Maker Faire is a popular event across the African continent, drawing thousands of participants who travel to Lagos to show their inventions and other practical creations.
 As the Next Web describes it, the Maker Faire is intended to highlight creations "that solve immediate challenges and problems, and then works to support and propagate them. Put another way, this isn't just a bunch of rich people talking about how their apps are going to change the world."

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Benicia CleanTEch EXPO

[www.beniciacleantech.com]

Benicia CleanTEch EXPO 
It's FREE!
2060 Camel Road - Benicia Historical Museum
22 CleanNov 2nd, 1-5 PM
Nov 3rd, 10AM-4PM

Benicia CleanTech Expo is a collaboration with the City of Benicia's Office of Economic Development and Community Sustainability Commission in a partnership with the Solano Center for Business Innovation and
Benicia Historical Museum, and the Benicia CleanTech Steering Committee
Benicia's commercial-industrial sector has a lot to gain by sustainable business practices and in considering the value creation of Clean Technologies and Services.  The win-win for Benicia is a low carbon, thriving economic sector.

Tech Exhibitors including
* CODA Automotive (2 cars, one will offer a ride along)
* 3D rapid prototyping demonstrations from F3
* California eBikes
* Wireless Broadband...in the Industrial Park
* Solar providers
* KIVA luggage (they will be selling great product)
and others...
AND
Workshops on the half hour:
* Dominican University of California - CleanTech trends, marketing, etc
* Wattzon:  Home energy audits
* Carbon Lighthouse: Commercial/Industrial energy audits
* Rae Lynn Fiscalini and David Subocz:  Design opportunities for efficiency
* Doug Snyder:  How to convert your bicycle to electric

Did I mention the Amazing prizes?
Nov 2 - iPad
Nov 3 - Electric Bicycle valued at $2000!


2012-10-26 "Benicia, California, Spaceship Earth: Road to the future" by Constance Beutel from "Benicia Herald"
[beniciaherald.me/2012/10/26/crewmember-report-benicia-california-spaceship-earth-road-to-the-future/]:
Constance Beutel is chair of Benicia’s Community Sustainability Commission. She is a university professor and videographer and holds a doctorate from the University of San Francisco.

---
IN GETTING READY FOR THE FIRST-EVER Benicia CleanTech Expo next week, I put together a short video to help spread the word and to showcase the solid commercial and industrial heritage of our city.
One of the many proud sponsors of the CleanTech Expo is the Benicia Historical Museum. Elizabeth d’Huart, museum executive director, immediately saw the connection from Benicia’s past to the emerging future and has been an energetic and supportive partner in making the Expo possible.
Of course, the museum’s immediate proximity and connection to the Industrial Park make it a perfect venue. It is located at 2060 Camel Road and its neighbors are AMPORTS and CODA — if fact the two are literally across the street. From where the museum sits on the hill, you can overlook the tremendous economic engine of Benicia below.
The museum contains a first-class permanent exhibit, “Benicia’s Industrial Legacy,” that occupies the entire first floor. This exhibit will be open to the public attending the CleanTech Expo in the museum hall. Physically seeing the progression in the use of tools and materials from our past to the revolution in clean technology, products and services drives home just how important that industrial legacy is to an emerging and sustainable future.
Here’s the lineup of Expo exhibitors, in their own words:
• Allied Waste Services provides high-quality, comprehensive solid waste and recycling collection services for residential and commercial customers. We conduct our operations in a safe, ethical and environmentally conscious manner and dedicate our resources to improving the quality of life within the communities we serve.
• Ally Electric and Solar has been delivering comprehensive electrical and solar services in a timely manner, with genuine commitment to quality on every project, since our inception. From design to finish, our experienced electricians provide the expertise to ensure your electrical project in the Bay Area is completed on time, on budget and up to code.
• Benicia Magazine is a unique and sophisticated publication that showcases the many delightful things about this waterfront community and surrounding areas.
• Bio Clean LLC, in concert with the developer Vorsana Inc., represents a new generation of agricultural waste and manure treatment technology and devices for agricultural producers.
• California eBike is able to provide you with the best quality electric bike conversion kit in North America using the most advanced lithium ion batteries, motors and controllers. We can provide them in a variety of powers, in a variety of sizes to suit nearly all adult bikes, and in a variety of styles.
• Carbon Lighthouse makes it profitable for commercial and industrial properties to become carbon neutral through a blend of energy efficiency, renewable energy and carbon permit retirement. We focus our efforts on low capital improvements that result in high carbon savings and reduced energy costs.
• City of Benicia Office of Economic Development is responsible for implementing the adopted Economic Development Strategy (2007), facilitating businesses relocating to or expanding within Benicia, monitoring the status of the city’s economy, recommending strategies, initiatives, and projects to improve economic vitality citywide, and representing the city’s developable real estate interests.
• Community Sustainability Commission was inaugurated in 2010. Its purpose is to educate, advocate and provide oversight for integrated solutions that seek a sustainable equilibrium for economic, ecological and social health and well-being, both now and in the future. The commission has oversight for the city of Benicia’s Climate Action Plan and makes grant recommendations to City Council for energy and water efficiencies made possible by the Valero-Good Neighbor Steering Committee Settlement.
• CODA Automotive designs, manufactures and sells electric vehicles and lithium-ion battery systems purpose-built for transportation and utility applications. Our vision is to be the key technology provider to reduce global dependence on oil and the harmful social, economic and environmental consequences that follow. Our focus is green technology.
• Diablo Solar Services has been a San Francisco Bay Area leader in solar energy systems for 27 years. We offer industry-leading Fafco solar pool heating systems to heat even the largest pools. We also provide solar PV electric panels for electricity production.
• Dominican University of California Green MBA approaches sustainability as a complex issue — not only studying and using existing tools, frameworks and practices, but also creating new ways of thinking about how to resolve and mitigate complex issues such as climate change.
• Energy Upgrade California/Solano County helps you make home improvements that can save energy and make your home more comfortable.
• Rae Lynn Fiscalini, Architect, AIA, LEED AP, is an architecture, landscape and sustainability design studio in the San Francisco Bay Area, since 1990. David Subocz, principal of William de Ess Studios of Santa Cruz, since 1991, is a Certified Green Building Professional with expertise in energy efficiency, structural design and fabrication, and historic preservation.
• Fortune Marketing Company will help your business grow by installing a marketing system that works!
• F3-Inc. combines 3-D laser scanning, high-precision digital levels along with GPS surveying to place your project correctly on the appropriate datum or boundary survey accompanied with aerial imagery for visual presentation.
• Industrial Asset Recycling specialize in targeted commercial and industrial asset liquidation solutions for companies who want to maximize their use of cash from non-performing capital investments.
• iSystems Technology Inc. offers a wide range of personalized services to accommodate your businesses technology needs. We can custom tailor any of our services into a single package that is easy to maintain.
• Jefferson Street Mansion is a Civil War-era mansion that has been fully restored. Located in the Historic Benicia Arsenal where Generals Sherman and Grant once resided, it is available for overnight accommodations, a fine dining experience or to host a special event or wedding reception.
• KIVA products give you the freedom to embark on new adventures with durable, fun, and functional bags that look great and roll with any style. Our eco friendly gear is designed and manufactured to hold up to even the most demanding explorer; so we can protect your belongings, and protect the earth.
• Pacific Crown Builders applies the modern principles of building science to analyze and upgrade the energy performance, health and safety with the comfort of your house.
• Sustainable Energy Associates is a mechanical engineering and business development firm providing services to the energy efficiency, renewable energy, and sustainability industries. SEA does program design, business development, LEED application review and consulting, and project implementation for schools and colleges, public agencies and municipalities, utilities, and resource management companies.
• WattzOn makes it simple and easy for consumers to understand how they use energy and their opportunities to save.
It’s free, there are big prizes and the Expo is important
The Benicia CleanTech Expo is free and there will be drawings for prizes: an iPad (Nov. 2) and an electric bicycle valued at $2,000 (Nov. 3). There will be workshops on the half hour that address clean tech opportunities, greening the business and home, solar photovoltaics, converting your bicycle to electric and more.
Clean technologies offer a transitional path to a profitable and low-carbon future. The Expo is an important recognition of the road Benicia is on.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Anti-Sovereignty: monopolized "Big-Box" Stores


Wal-Marts is the reason that Maine passed a law that if a company employed over 20,000 employee's they had to offer healthcare. They were costing the state millions in food stamps and Medicaid for Wal-Mart employees. Wal-Mart alone cost California almost 100 million dollars in state aid for Wal-Mart employees. Those low prices come at a very high price for tax payers.
And Walmart stock is up 37% from this time last year: https://www.google.com/finance?client=ob&q=NYSE:WMT Owners profit while taxpayers buy food for their employees. Brilliant business model!
Don't forget SAMs Club is a Walmart store.
While traveling the United States, I found that in every city where there was a super-Walmart the original 'main streets' were either gone or barely hanging on. The little shops cannot compete. In one struggling city I learned they fought off supper-Walmart but Walmart simply went to the next city over. Now the small shops are still gone and no taxes from Walmart. Their city was filing bankruptcy. So so sad. i know 2 ladies who work there and both are on welfare also...SAD
The Walton family is a disgrace.....they are all multi billionaires running their plantation......never giving their workers a livable wage......it really is modern day slavery...

Monday, October 1, 2012

"Vallejo Gardens Project Hopes to Revitalize Downtown"

[http://www.baycrossings.com/dispnews.php?id=2820]:
Vallejo Gardens, located at 620 Marin Street, is part of Matt Shotwell’s mission to revitalize downtown Vallejo.

---
Matthew Shotwell is on a mission to rebuild and rejuvenate his beloved city of Vallejo. The latest iteration of his vision is Vallejo Gardens, a common creative space at 620 Marin Street that will bring new products, fresh foods, arts and crafts to downtown Vallejo.
Shotwell’s mission to revitalize downtown Vallejo began when he established the most successful medical cannabis compassionate care facility in Solano County—bringing increased foot traffic to the ghost town of downtown Vallejo. Shotwell was then instrumental in the passage—by an overwhelming margin of 76 percent—of city legislation to tax medical cannabis distribution, the revenue of which was to be devoted to maintaining vital city services including the fire and police departments, schools, recreational centers and libraries. The same day the tax was to be implemented by the city manager, however, the city police department launched massive city-wide raids resulting in the closure of many dispensaries.
This left Shotwell in search of a new project. Recognizing a need to reduce community blight such as the vacant lots often used as illegal dump sites, Shotwell first began by starting a community garden in a long vacant lot next to his residence on Napa Street. He then reached out to his friend and business partner Kip Baldwin—with whom he had co-created a television show—to develop a new venture.
Vallejo Gardens will be a common creative space that will serve as an incubator for the citizens of Vallejo and the surrounding areas to introduce their visionary products, whether food, arts or crafts to the marketplace and test the viability of those products. Similar to the current pop-up trends in restaurants and retail, Vallejo Gardens will provide a unique forum for community members to develop, experiment with, and test market viability including profitability of new products.
Vallejo Gardens’ immensely successful Labor Day grand opening saw approximately 400 of Vallejo’s residents—including local luminaries such as councilwoman Marti Brown and Vallejo Times columnist Rich Freedman—pass through its doors eager to find quality local and organic foods. Shotwell and Baldwin have decided to double down on this worthwhile and needed gamble by working with the Vallejo’s Co-op’s group steering committee to turn Vallejo Gardens from a once-a-week grocery treat to an everyday downtown quality food shopping destination.
Baldwin and Shotwell’s immediate plans are to continue with the local and sustainable food offerings every Monday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and add a Thursday market from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., which they hope to have up and running by October 4. The Thursday market will help fill the food void that will follow the October finish of Benicia’s seasonal farmers market. Featured vendors at the Monday market are CobbleStone Bakery, Feather River Organic Fruits, Yogi Vegan Indian Cuisine, Hummus Heaven, Popcorn Karma, and FeNella’s Berries, among others.
Additional plans include a Saturday crafts market that will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., coinciding with the Saturday farmers market on Georgia Street. The crafts market will launch on October 6 to help celebrate the art walk taking place downtown from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Featured vendors for the crafts market include Pearls by Roxanna.
Shotwell and Baldwin are also working closely with Vallejo Co-op to open a Whole Foods-inspired convenience store in the front of their building on Marin Street, which they hope to have open before Thanksgiving.
Baldwin and Shotwell also want the community to know their commitment to this being a common place for all citizens of Vallejo to come and develop their ideas and dreams. So whether you are a budding farmer, chef or artist, Vallejo Gardens is here not just to provide the community fish, but to give them a hole where they can catch their own fish.
Vallejo Gardens is calling out to all farmers, food purveyors, temp food facility operators, crafts and art persons of all types, volunteers and investors, who want to be part of this amazing opportunity. For further information, contact either Matt Shotwell or Kip Baldwin at: vallejogardens@gmail.com. Be sure to join their Facebook Like and Group pages and follow them on Twitter: https://www.facebook.com/VallejoGardens?ref=ts and https://www.facebook.com/groups/vallejogardens/?ref=ts and https://twitter.com/VallejoGardens.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

2008-07-31 "'Major discovery' from MIT primed to unleash solar revolution; Scientists mimic essence of plants' energy storage system"

by Anne Trafton from "Massachusetts Institute of Technology"
[http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2008/oxygen-0731.html]:
In a revolutionary leap that could transform solar power from a marginal, boutique alternative into a mainstream energy source, MIT researchers have overcome a major barrier to large-scale solar power: storing energy for use when the sun doesn't shine.
Until now, solar power has been a daytime-only energy source, because storing extra solar energy for later use is prohibitively expensive and grossly inefficient. With today's announcement, MIT researchers have hit upon a simple, inexpensive, highly efficient process for storing solar energy.
Requiring nothing but abundant, non-toxic natural materials, this discovery could unlock the most potent, carbon-free energy source of all: the sun. "This is the nirvana of what we've been talking about for years," said MIT's Daniel Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at MIT and senior author of a paper describing the work in the July 31 issue of Science. "Solar power has always been a limited, far-off solution. Now we can seriously think about solar power as unlimited and soon."
Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera's lab, have developed an unprecedented process that will allow the sun's energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Later, the oxygen and hydrogen may be recombined inside a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity to power your house or your electric car, day or night.
The key component in Nocera and Kanan's new process is a new catalyst that produces oxygen gas from water; another catalyst produces valuable hydrogen gas. The new catalyst consists of cobalt metal, phosphate and an electrode, placed in water. When electricity — whether from a photovoltaic cell, a wind turbine or any other source — runs through the electrode, the cobalt and phosphate form a thin film on the electrode, and oxygen gas is produced.
Combined with another catalyst, such as platinum, that can produce hydrogen gas from water, the system can duplicate the water splitting reaction that occurs during photosynthesis.
The new catalyst works at room temperature, in neutral pH water, and it's easy to set up, Nocera said. "That's why I know this is going to work. It's so easy to implement," he said.

'Giant leap' for clean energy -
Sunlight has the greatest potential of any power source to solve the world's energy problems, said Nocera. In one hour, enough sunlight strikes the Earth to provide the entire planet's energy needs for one year.
James Barber, a leader in the study of photosynthesis who was not involved in this research, called the discovery by Nocera and Kanan a "giant leap" toward generating clean, carbon-free energy on a massive scale.
"This is a major discovery with enormous implications for the future prosperity of humankind," said Barber, the Ernst Chain Professor of Biochemistry at Imperial College London. "The importance of their discovery cannot be overstated since it opens up the door for developing new technologies for energy production thus reducing our dependence for fossil fuels and addressing the global climate change problem."

'Just the beginning' -
Currently available electrolyzers, which split water with electricity and are often used industrially, are not suited for artificial photosynthesis because they are very expensive and require a highly basic (non-benign) environment that has little to do with the conditions under which photosynthesis operates.
More engineering work needs to be done to integrate the new scientific discovery into existing photovoltaic systems, but Nocera said he is confident that such systems will become a reality.
"This is just the beginning," said Nocera, principal investigator for the Solar Revolution Project funded by the Chesonis Family Foundation and co-Director of the Eni-MIT Solar Frontiers Center. "The scientific community is really going to run with this."
Nocera hopes that within 10 years, homeowners will be able to power their homes in daylight through photovoltaic cells, while using excess solar energy to produce hydrogen and oxygen to power their own household fuel cell. Electricity-by-wire from a central source could be a thing of the past.
The project is part of the MIT Energy Initiative, a program designed to help transform the global energy system to meet the needs of the future and to help build a bridge to that future by improving today's energy systems. MITEI Director Ernest Moniz, Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems, noted that "this discovery in the Nocera lab demonstrates that moving up the transformation of our energy supply system to one based on renewables will depend heavily on frontier basic science."
The success of the Nocera lab shows the impact of a mixture of funding sources — governments, philanthropy, and industry. This project was funded by the National Science Foundation and by the Chesonis Family Foundation, which gave MIT $10 million this spring to launch the Solar Revolution Project, with a goal to make the large scale deployment of solar energy within 10 years.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Local Clean Energy Alliance (Oakland)

Join the Clean Energy & Jobs Oakland Campaign -

The Clean Energy & Jobs Oakland campaign is working to bring Community Choice energy to Oakland by asking organizations and individuals to call on City Council to support this program.
 For more information on the Clean Energy & Jobs Oakland campaign, check our campaign web site [http://www.localcleanenergy.org/policy-platform/campaign2012].
We will need lots of help on the campaign and urge you to get involved. If you have questions or are interested in joining the effort, please let us know: lcea-info@baylocalize.org
LIKE CLEAN POWER JOBS OAKLAND ON FACEBOOK! [http://www.facebook.com/cleanpowerjobs]

Plug into LCEA
That’s right, the Local Clean Energy Alliance is looking for an infusion of new energy—people energy—to help meet aggressive goals. We welcome your involvement in any number of ways. All it takes is a commitment to equitable, local clean energy solutions that contribute to the health of our community.

Check out some of the opportunities available especially the volunteer openings.

2012-09-19 "It's a Victory! CleanPowerSF Passes 8-3"

Bay Localize is a project of Earth Island Institute, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization [info@baylocalize.org]
[436 14th Street, Suite 1216, Oakland, CA 94612] [510-834-0420]
---
On September 18th San Francisco took a huge step in meeting its climate action goals! The Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 to approve Clean Power SF, San Francisco's version of Community Choice Energy. The Local Clean Energy Alliance and allies have spent years shaping the program and organizing the support to move it forward.
"This vote is a big victory in the 10-year effort to bring Community Choice Energy to San Francisco," stated Al Weinrub, Coordinator of the Local Clean Energy Alliance. "It's a crucial step in transitioning off fossil fuels in a way that provides economic opportunity and clean energy jobs." 
 Clean Power SF will offer residents the option of purchasing 100% renewable energy starting in the Spring of 2013. Tuesday's vote approved a five-year contract for San Francisco to purchase 30 MW of renewable energy for participating customers. The program's long term vision is to install 31 MW of solar right in San Francisco and reduce energy use by a whopping 107 MW through energy efficiency measures. Meeting these goals could create more than 4,000 local jobs per year.
 San Francisco set climate action goals of reducing emissions by 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2017 and 80 percent below those levels by 2050. According to Ed Harrington, General Manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Clean Power SF offers "the only chance of reaching those goals." 
 Harrington also noted that Clean Power SF is "an incredibly efficient way to spend money...the City has spent $90 million on solar and other renewable energy projects that power fewer than 7,000 homes, whereas this $19.5 million will power 90,000 households." The program will initially include about 90,000 customers, or roughly a quarter of the city's residential ratepayers.
Special thanks to all of our allies who achieved this victory together, notably Michelle Meyers, John Rizzo, and Jeremiah Dean of the Sierra Club Bay Chapter; Eric Brooks of the San Francisco Green Party; Josh Arce and Eddie Ahn of Brightline Defense Project; and June Brashares of Global Exchange. Al Weinrub of the Local Clean Energy Alliance played a major role coalescing this group over the years. Twenty other community organizations as well as Senator Mark Leno, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, and Senator Leland Yee also supported the program.
 The Local Clean Energy Alliance, hosted by Bay Localize, is the Bay Area's largest clean energy advocacy alliance with more than 90 organizational members. Click here to join the Alliance.

Photo: Al Weinrub Local Clean Energy Alliance Coordinator speaks out on CleanPowerSF

2012-09-19 "CleanPowerSF" by Corrine Van Hook

Friday, August 24, 2012

Cool Season Crops


"Planting the right cool-season crops"2012-08-24 by Pam Peirce [goldengategarden.typepad.com] for "San Francisco Chronicle" [http://www.sfgate.com/homeandgarden/goldengategardener/article/Planting-the-right-cool-season-crops-3813871.php]:

As summer speeds along, and squash or beans start to get that beat-up, late-season look, Bay Area gardeners begin to wonder what can replace them. In many of our nation's gardens, this late-summer planting would be called "putting in a second crop." Here, the last half of the year offers chances to put in two or even three plantings of one thing or another (and then to start the spring garden as early as February). Happily, much of the prep and planting can occur before winter cold and rain set in, then we can let rainfall take care of all or most of our watering for a while.

Vegetables that will grow well into fall and winter are those known as cool-season crops. These include all of the cole crops (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, etc.), root crops (such as carrot, beet, parsnip, turnip, radish), leafy crops (mustard, bok choy, chard, arugula, lettuce, spinach) and cool-season legumes (pea and fava bean).

Some of these crops will grow until December or January, and then will flower in about March. In most cases, this flowering marks the end of the crop's usefulness in the kitchen, so we want to eat it up before then. What's important in planting these crops, which are biennials, is to be sure they have time to get big enough to harvest before their flowering periods. If planted too late in the year, kale or carrots will bloom in spring while we are still waiting for them to produce enough leaves, or big enough roots, to be worth picking or pulling. (See "About biennials")

Annual crops complete a life cycle in under a year, though we generally eat them long before that. Some annual crops reach harvest size so fast that you might get in more than one late-summer or fall planting in succession. Examples are mustard, bok choy, lettuce, radish, spinach, cilantro and arugula. Replant every few weeks. After about September, set out seedlings of lettuce; otherwise all of these can be grown into fall by direct-sowing the seeds.

Inland vs. coast
In the Bay Area, late-summer and fall planting times for most of the cool-season crops are not "one size fits all." They depend on the microclimate of your garden. Microclimate maps and planting calendars, such as maps and four calendars in my book "Golden Gate Gardening" (Sasquatch Books; 2010) offer very helpful guidance. Then you can use experience with your particular garden to fine-tune planting times for the best results.

Near the coast, where late summer into fall is cool and often foggy, you need to get cole and root crops in sooner because the cool days and nights will slow their growth. In microclimates with warmer late-summer and fall days and nights, you should plant these crops later. This is for two reasons. First, these crops won't perform well while summer is still hot. Second, after the worst of the heat has passed, the still-warm inland fall weather will let these crops catch up to the more coastal plantings.

For example, in chilly, foggy locations, a second-half-of-the-year kale crop is best planted in July or August to bear plenty of leaves all fall and winter. In the San Jose region, gardeners plant a late kale crop in August and September, while in the Walnut Creek region, with its very hot summers, this kale planting is more likely to take place in September or October. For broccoli (annual or biennial types), the times are: near the coast, July and August, or possibly early September; in or near San Jose, August through October; and in or near Walnut Creek, October or November.

Planting time differences for peas and fava beans (overwintering annuals) can reverse this pattern. In near-coastal microclimates, peas and fava beans for winter growth are best planted in November, while inland gardeners may plant them as early as September. This is because they will grow slowly through winter months, but the winter months are colder inland, so they need a bit more time for a jump-start.

Garlic, which would be perennial if we didn't harvest it, is planted in October or November across the region, to produce mature heads in late June. Be sure to plant it where you can most easily withhold irrigation once its lower leaves begin to yellow in about May.

Ideally, before the crop comes out, you'll be thinking about what to plant next in the space it occupies. This will give you time to order seed of a special variety or grow some seedlings yourself. With a little practice you can be planting and replanting in a seamless succession and eating from your garden every month of the year.

Growing tips
How to make the most of the year's second half:

Add fresh organic soil amendment and fertilizer to sections of your garden you are about to replant. If your vegetable plants have been small, be bolder in your amendment and fertilizing efforts.

Grow fall and winter crops in the sunniest locations possible, though some, including lettuce, arugula and spinach, will continue to produce in bright or open shade.

Grow most cole crops from seedlings, which you can buy or grow five to seven weeks before planting out. In cool summer areas, you can start these seedlings outdoors.

Generally speaking, loose-leaf and romaine lettuce varieties handle cold better than crisphead or butterhead types. Some varieties are listed as "cold resistant."

Use large spinach varieties such as 'Oriental Giant' or 'Viroflay Giant.' For spinach, use plenty of nitrogen fertilizer, such as aged chicken manure or worm compost.

Have a sturdy trellis in place before you sow peas: 4 to 5 feet tall for bush peas, 6 feet or taller for pole peas. Use row cover to protect the seed rows from birds, snails and slugs until the plants are well up.

For a longer-lasting harvest, start early and late varieties of cole crops such as broccoli or cauliflower at the same time.

To avoid leaf blotches from leaf miner insect damage, set out Swiss chard seedlings in early September, and cover with row-cover fabric until the leaf miner enters winter dormancy (in around mid-October near the coast, maybe a bit later inland).

What about frost?
Most cool-season vegetable gardens survive mild and/or brief frosts, and some live through an occasional hard freeze even without special protection. Kale, collards, parsnip, turnip, Swiss chard, spinach and long-season broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage can survive short periods as low as 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Early broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage, carrots, beets, lettuce and radish tolerate as low as 10 degrees. Peas are moderately cold hardy, but are damaged by heavy frosts. On nights when frost is predicted, you can use cardboard boxes, sheets (propped away from plants on buckets or stakes) or row cover to protect plants.

Seed sources
* Bountiful Gardens (bountifulgardens.org, (707) 459-6410)
* Johnny's Selected Seeds (johnnyseeds.com, (877) 564-6697)
* Kitazawa Seed Co. (kitazawaseed.com, (510) 595-1188)
* Nichols Garden Nursery (nicolsgardennursery.com, (800) 422-3985)
* Territorial Seed Co. (territorialseed.com, (800) 626-0866)

About biennials
A biennial plant typically lives longer than one but less than two years. These crops do not flower until after they're exposed to a certain amount of winter cold. After flowering, they ripen seed, a process that requires several months, and then the biennial plant dies. Biennial vegetable crops include kale, collards, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, some kinds of broccoli and cauliflower, carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips and Swiss chard.

Note: Early broccoli and cauliflower varieties have been bred to be annuals, so they will produce edible flower buds before winter's cold. Late types (over 120 days to maturity) produce their edible flower buds in spring.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Growing Power! Urban Farming

Will Allen, Milwaukee, Wisconsin - Founder of Growing Power, a national nonprofit organization and land trust supporting people from diverse backgrounds, and the environments in which they live, by helping to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food for people in all communities. Growing Power implements this mission by providing hands-on training, on-the-ground demonstration, outreach and technical assistance through the development of Community Food Systems that help people grow, process, market and distribute food in a sustainable manner.
http://growingpower.org/


Friday, August 10, 2012

2012-08-10 "Financial questions land solar company in spotlight; NationWize healthy despite accusations, president says"

by Donna Beth Weilenman from "Benicia Herald" [http://beniciaherald.me/2012/08/10/financial-questions-land-solar-company-in-spotlight/]:

MARVIN WILCHER, President of NationWize. Courtesy photo to the "Benicia Herald":


The financial stability of a local business in line to help Benicia launch its solar rebate program for residents in single-family homes has been questioned by a former employee who said she is owed back pay. A customer with similar concerns said she is seeking her deposit back.
But Marvin Wilcher, president of NationWize Solar, 242 First St., said his company was caught by surprise when a Louisiana investor changed its funding arrangements. Wilcher said it will take about three and a half more weeks for a new funding cycle to begin.
At that time, he said, he expects to rehire his sales staff and proceed with helping residents get solar panels on their homes. And he said he hopes to obtain a memorandum of understanding with the city of Benicia to participate in the rebate program.
The former employee, Tina Thorn, who said she began working for the company in 2011, said NationWize wasn’t paying its employees, and that their checks were arriving late. “We left the company because of it,” she said.
One employee, she said, committed suicide because he couldn’t afford to live.
She said she was an office manager and project manager who was being paid $20 an hour, but when she left July 24, she was owed $1,440 for three weeks of work.
She said she has contacted the Department of Industrial Relations in hopes of getting paid.
The customer, Alicia Gallagher, said she had heard from Thorn and worried about her $4,037 down payment. She said she was expected to pay another $10,000 for materials due this week, but they haven’t arrived.
Two more installments also would be due, Gallagher said.
“We have nothing to show for it,” she said.
When she asked for a return of her deposit, she said Wilcher told her he would ask his installation contractor to deal directly with her, if she didn’t want to deal with NationWize.
“I’ll wait and see,” she said. “I plan to pursue this if I don’t get anything back.”
But another Benicia resident said she has dealt with Wilcher and NationWize, and is a satisfied customer.
“I’m ecstatic,” Susan Campbell said. “I can’t say enough about solar, or the job they did. Every month I get a bill, I give him (Wilcher) a copy.”
Her photovoltaic array was installed on her home in a job completed in February. Instead of paying PG&E for electricity, the utility gives her a credit.
In about a year, she said, the power company will determine whether she owes it any money, or if it owes her.
So far, Campbell continues to accumulate energy credit, something that started shortly after work on her project was done.
“It’s funny. PG&E does not put in the reverse meter until (the solar array) is in (for) a month. So the first month, you don’t get a credit,” she said. Neither did she owe money for power.
As for Nationwize and Wilcher, she said, “I have heard nothing negative.”
“It was a good procedure from start to finish. It was a good thing to work with them. I can’t say enough good.”
Wilcher said most of his employees are gone, but that the situation will change in the next business cycle.
“We’re not like a regular company,” he said. “We finance. We acquire customers. We have a pool of money from investors. We draw down funds and put in more from our own money.”
After pooling the investment money and getting customers, the company contracts with installers. It is an authorized dealer of SunPower Corp. high-efficiency solar cells, panels and systems.
Once a project is completed, Wilcher said, paperwork is sent to government agencies and the company gets new financing. “We have to wait for the state to replenish our funds,” he said.
He said the company did system installations last month, about a dozen projects worth $400,000. Those were for single-family homes, some of which had photovoltaic arrays, some of which had solar water heaters installed, and some of which had both.
Most of NationWize’s business — 95 percent — is in Louisiana, not California, Wilcher said. In Benicia, he said, the company has had about five sales employees, most of which are laid off until its new funding cycle starts in less than a month.
“We’re trying to expand our operation in California,” he said, but it’s challenging when this state doesn’t have rebates that are as generous as those elsewhere.
“In California, the incentives are almost none,” he said. By comparison, Louisiana offers a 50-percent rebate, and the federal government, through tax credits, offers an additional 30 percent. In California, he said, “we get almost nothing back.
In Louisiana, utility customers pay a flat rate of 10 cents per kilowatt hour, and the average bill is $150 to $175 per month for 1,500 kilowatt hours.
In California, utility customers don’t pay a flat rate. The lower users are on a first tier, at 12 cents per kilowatt hour. But those consuming more energy may pay 35 cents per kilowatt hour. Prices also change during peak hours, he said. Californians may pay up to $550 for the same amount of energy that costs just $150 in Louisiana.
That’s why Wilcher, a Vallejo resident, said he doesn’t move to Louisiana. If PG&E rates continue to rise at the current rate each year, he said, in 20 years California residents will be paying thousands of dollars for the same power they pay hundreds of dollars for now.
In addition, he said, Solano County is anticipating $180 million from a new PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) program that will let property owners pay for renewable energy projects through tax assessments. Those loans stay with the property if it’s sold.
“Ygrene is the company sponsoring the new program,” he said, referring to a Santa Rosa company that manages PACE programs throughout the country. Renewable Funding, of Oakland, also provides financing tools for renewable energy projects.
Both Ygrene and Renewable Funding were recommended by Benicia’s Climate Action Plan coordinator Alex Porteshawver in a July 5 report to the Community Sustainability Commission.
Wilcher said he hoped his company, working with that program, would assist in getting out-of-work construction and electrical workers trained at SunPower’s Richmond plant to install solar systems. Those jobs would pay from $25 to $100 an hour, he said.
As for those who have criticized his company, Wilcher called Thorn a “disgruntled employee.”
He said Gallagher went to his office without notice and asked for a refund, and said most companies don’t return refunds once design and other work has started and a contract has been signed. He suggested her request was approaching a breach of contract.
As for the suicide, Wilcher said the man, Jeffrey Ames, did not hang himself because he had not been paid.
Ames had been working for the company for several months as a commission-only salesperson when Wilcher learned that his wife was planning to leave him and take his daughter and stepdaughter, and that he needed money because sales had declined.
He told Wilcher he was being evicted from his apartment, because the place was in his wife’s name. Wilcher said he wrote several checks to Ames and counseled him on how to approach his upcoming court appearances. He said Ames did not file all the paperwork he needed for the appearance, and that a judge would not allow him to submit the documents he needed.
When the wife sent her daughters to another state, Ames despaired of seeing them again. “He was devastated,” Wilcher said.
When Ames did not show up for work for several days, Wilcher said he and his girlfriend eventually went to check up on the man, and were the first to see his body.
“That’s the real story,” he said.
Wilcher said his company has always completed its installations. In fact, his company has a waiting list of customers that he said will produce $1.5 million in projects in NationWize’s future.
Representatives of the Oakland office of the Better Business Bureau, which covers Solano County, said NationWize has no record of complaints. SunPower confirmed NationWize is among its authorized dealers.
As for NationWize’s dealings with Benicia, Anne Cardwell, director of Administrative Services, said the rebates for the program under consideration by Benicia “come from the manufacturer, Sun Power, and are not dependent on who does the installation.”
However, she said, “We would like to work with an installer with an office as local as possible.”
Cardwell said, “As with anytime the City does business with an outside entity, we have a process for thoroughly checking bids and references before we move forward.”
She said the Community Sustainability Commission is prepared to recommend that the City Council allocate $100,000 in Valero-Good Neighbor Steering Committee settlement funds to match SunPower’s $3,000 rebate for each single-family residential home that decides to install solar panels.
“This is planned to be on the agenda for the September CSC meeting,” Cardwell said.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

San Francisco: "SFMade"

2012-05-10 "SFMade touts local products" by Andrew S. Ross
[http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/SFMade-touts-local-products-3549719.php]
If you're in the mood to go shopping in San Francisco this weekend, look for the SFMade sticker in store windows.
You'll find a range of items manufactured by San Francisco companies, from apparel and fashion accessories to house and garden wares, food and mattresses. And 10 percent of your money will go to an organization that has put the "made in San Francisco" label on the national map.
Two years ago, when SFMade started out as a manufacturers' organization, it had just 12 member companies. Now, it has 325 members, with a combined workforce of 3,500, a pop-up shop inside the Banana Republic store in Union Square, another outlet scheduled to open at SFO next year and a bulging file of press clips, courtesy of write-ups in the New York Times, Fast Company magazine and British newspaper the Guardian, among others.
"We can now leverage SFMade as a collective brand," said Executive Director Kate Sofis, who got a shout-out last year from Bill Clinton at a Clinton Global Initiative event honoring local economic development and job creation initiatives.
As the organization has grown, so have its services. It helps manufacturers find commercially zoned space and guides them through the city's tortuous permit process. "We spend a lot of time at the Planning Commission," said Sofis. It also provides educational workshops and other advisory services, including access to capital and to retailers who favor locally made products.
SFMade's budget also has grown, to $500,000 a year, with funding from city agencies, banks and other companies, including Google and Levi Strauss.
Sofis said her organization's main goal remains job creation. Going forward, "We want to focus on growing the footprint of the companies we have and nudge up their employment base."
-- Check out SFMade's website for a guide to Saturday's shopping opportunities. As part of SFMade Week, there's also a factory tour Sunday of Rickshaw Bagworks, whose CEO, Mark Dwight, founded the organization (sfmadeweek.org).
Shoppers from abroad: China has had its eyes on American banks for some time, and now it's got one.
The Bank of East Asia (U.S.A.), with five Bay Area branches, in San Francisco, South San Francisco and Oakland, is being bought by the state-owned Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. It's the first time the Federal Reserve has allowed a Chinese bank to acquire a U.S. property, and follows agreements reached by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Fed Board Chairman Ben Bernanke with Chinese leaders at the U.S.-China Economic and Strategic Dialogue in Beijing last week.
The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, ranked by Forbes magazine as the world's biggest bank, and the fifth-biggest company in the world, sits on $2.5 trillion in assets, and earned $33 billion in 2011. As Forbes noted last month, "The Chinese banking system is now the third largest in the world behind the U.S. and Japan, and yet it has largely been confined to doing business at home." Until now.
The Bank of East Asia (U.S.A.), with approximately $750 million in assets, is a subsidiary of Hong Kong's Bank of East Asia. While it is headquartered in New York, where it has three branches, much of the bank's business is conducted in California. In addition to the Bay Area branches - the San Francisco offices are in Chinatown and the Inner and Outer Sunset - it has five others in Southern California, mostly in and around Los Angeles.
San Francisco is no stranger to China's state-owned banks. Shanghai's Bank of Communications, the country's fifth-largest with $700 billion in assets, has had a branch in the Financial District for six months.
The public-private group ChinaSF helped the bank set up here in November. "At first, it will be mainly focused on bringing Chinese companies into the U.S. and serving their needs here," Ginny Fang, former executive director of ChinaSF, said at the time.
Perhaps its horizons have broadened.
More treats: If you miss SFMade Week, there's always San Francisco Small Business Week, which kicks off Monday with a gala "Flavors of San Francisco" event at the Metreon. That means there will be some good eats in addition to networking opportunities.
During the week, there will be conferences, award ceremonies and workshops on a range of topics, from local manufacturing and the advent of B corporations to government contracts and doing business in China (sfsmallbusinessweek.com).
Cleaning up: We already have one small-business winner to announce. Fleenor Paper Co. of Stockton has been named Northern California Small Business of the Year by the federal Small Business Administration.
CEO Rebecca Fleenor and VP John Rochex will be receiving the award at an event next week.
The 50-year-old family business manufactures environmentally friendly packaging and paper products for a variety of industries, including construction, automotive, moving and storage, and food service.
And it's not all that small. With 300 employees in its five manufacturing plants, plus offices and distribution centers in the United States, Canada and Mexico, its sales are projected to reach $60 million this year.
No "showrooming": One of the bugbears of brick-and-mortar businesses, big and small, is the unfair playing field on which Amazon.com continues to play.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, will be hearing from some of those businesses on Friday, including Safeway, Gap and Target, plus local enterprises such as Chain Reaction Bicycles of Redwood City and Woodcrafters of San Carlos.
Speier has sponsored bipartisan legislation that would allow states to mandate the collection of sales tax that out-of-state online retailers, like Amazon and Overstock.com, are still able to evade. This being election season, her bill probably isn't going anywhere for a while, although a California law is due to take effect in September.
It might be interesting to hear from Target, which last week announced it was pulling Amazon's Kindle e-reader from its 1,700 stores to combat the plague of "showrooming," encouraged by Amazon, whereby shoppers check out the goods in brick-and-mortar stores, then go online and buy them cheaper, and without paying sales tax.
The public hearing takes place from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at City Hall in Redwood City, 1017 Middlefield Road.

SFMADE labels placed on Rickshaw Bagworks products in San Franicsco, Calif. on Wednesday February 17, 2010. Photo: Jessica Pons, The Chronicle / SF


Monday, June 25, 2012

2012-06-25 "Yes, There Is an Alternative to Capitalism: Mondragon Shows the Way; Why are we told a broken system that creates vast inequality is the only choice? Spain's amazing co-op is living proof otherwise" by Richard Wolff from "[London] Guardian" newspaper
[http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jun/24/alternative-capitalism-mondragon]
Richard D Wolff is professor of economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he taught economics from 1973 to 2008. He is currently a visiting professor in the graduate program in international affairs of the New School University, New York City. Richard also teaches classes regularly at the Brecht Forum in Manhattan. His most recent book is Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown and What to Do About It (2009). A full archive of Richard's work, including videos and podcasts, can be found on his site [http://www.rdwolff.com/]
---
There is no alternative ("Tina") to capitalism?
Really? We are to believe, with Margaret Thatcher, that an economic system with endlessly repeated cycles, costly bailouts for financiers and now austerity for most people is the best human beings can do? Capitalism's recurring tendencies toward extreme and deepening inequalities of income, wealth, and political and cultural power require resignation and acceptance – because there is no alternative?
I understand why such a system's leaders would like us to believe in Tina. But why would others?
Of course, alternatives exist; they always do. Every society chooses – consciously or not, democratically or not – among alternative ways to organize the production and distribution of the goods and services that make individual and social life possible.
Modern societies have mostly chosen a capitalist organization of production. In capitalism, private owners establish enterprises and select their directors who decide what, how and where to produce and what to do with the net revenues from selling the output. This small handful of people makes all those economic decisions for the majority of people – who do most of the actual productive work. The majority must accept and live with the results of all the directorial decisions made by the major shareholders and the boards of directors they select. This latter also select their own replacements.
Capitalism thus entails and reproduces a highly undemocratic organization of production inside enterprises. Tina believers insist that no alternatives to such capitalist organizations of production exist or could work nearly so well, in terms of outputs, efficiency, and labor processes. The falsity of that claim is easily shown. Indeed, I was shown it a few weeks ago and would like to sketch it for you here.
In May 2012, I had occasion to visit the city of Arrasate-Mondragon, in the Basque region of Spain. It is the headquarters of the Mondragon Corporation (MC), a stunningly successful alternative to the capitalist organization of production.
MC is composed of many co-operative enterprises grouped into four areas: industry, finance, retail and knowledge. In each enterprise, the co-op members (averaging 80-85% of all workers per enterprise) collectively own and direct the enterprise. Through an annual general assembly the workers choose and employ a managing director and retain the power to make all the basic decisions of the enterprise (what, how and where to produce and what to do with the profits).
As each enterprise is a constituent of the MC as a whole, its members must confer and decide with all other enterprise members what general rules will govern MC and all its constituent enterprises. In short, MC worker-members collectively choose, hire and fire the directors, whereas in capitalist enterprises the reverse occurs. One of the co-operatively and democratically adopted rules governing the MC limits top-paid worker/members to earning 6.5 times the lowest-paid workers. Nothing more dramatically demonstrates the differences distinguishing this from the capitalist alternative organization of enterprises. (In US corporations, CEOs can expect to be paid 400 times an average worker's salary – a rate that has increased 20-fold since 1965.)
Given that MC has 85,000 members (from its 2010 annual report), its pay equity rules can and do contribute to a larger society with far greater income and wealth equality than is typical in societies that have chosen capitalist organizations of enterprises. Over 43% of MC members are women, whose equal powers with male members likewise influence gender relations in society different from capitalist enterprises.
MC displays a commitment to job security I have rarely encountered in capitalist enterprises: it operates across, as well as within, particular cooperative enterprises. MC members created a system to move workers from enterprises needing fewer to those needing more workers – in a remarkably open, transparent, rule-governed way and with associated travel and other subsidies to minimize hardship. This security-focused system has transformed the lives of workers, their families, and communities, also in unique ways.
The MC rule that all enterprises are to source their inputs from the best and least-costly producers – whether or not those are also MC enterprises – has kept MC at the cutting edge of new technologies. Likewise, the decision to use of a portion of each member enterprise's net revenue as a fund for research and development has funded impressive new product development. R&D within MC now employs 800 people with a budget over $75m. In 2010, 21.4% of sales of MC industries were new products and services that did not exist five years earlier. In addition, MC established and has expanded Mondragon University; it enrolled over 3,400 students in its 2009-2010 academic year, and its degree programs conform to the requirements of the European framework of higher education. Total student enrollment in all its educational centers in 2010 was 9,282.
The largest corporation in the Basque region, MC is also one of Spain's top ten biggest corporations (in terms of sales or employment). Far better than merely surviving since its founding in 1956, MC has grown dramatically. Along the way, it added a co-operative bank, Caja Laboral (holding almost $25bn in deposits in 2010). And MC has expanded internationally, now operating over 77 businesses outside Spain. MC has proven itself able to grow and prosper as an alternative to – and competitor of – capitalist organizations of enterprise.
During my visit, in random encounters with workers who answered my questions about their jobs, powers, and benefits as cooperative members, I found a familiarity with and sense of responsibility for the enterprise as a whole that I associate only with top managers and directors in capitalist enterprises. The easy conversation (including disagreement), for instance, between assembly-line workers and top managers inside the Fagor washing-machine factory we inspected was similarly remarkable.
Our MC host on the visit reminded us twice that theirs is a co-operative business with all sorts of problems:
"We are not some paradise, but rather a family of co-operative enterprises struggling to build a different kind of life around a different way of working."
Nonetheless, given the performance of Spanish capitalism these days – 25% unemployment, a broken banking system, and government-imposed austerity (as if there were no alternative to that either) – MC seems a welcome oasis in a capitalist desert.
We can learn from our neighbors in Santa Cruz

"Made in Santa Cruz"

[www.madeinsantacruz.com]
[57 Santa Cruz, CA 95060]
Store tel. [831-426-2257]
Catalog tel. [800-982-2367] [831-423-5665] 

"Santa Cruz Organic"
[www.scojuice.com/]

Monday, June 18, 2012

2009-06-11 "Buying Local: How It Boosts the Economy" by Judith D. Schwartz from "Time" weekly newsmagazine
[http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1903632,00.html]
"Buy Local"—you see the decal in the store window, the sign at the farmer's market, the bright, cheerful logos for Local First Arizona, Think Boise First, Our Milwaukee, and homegrown versions across the states. The apparent message is "let's-support-local-business", a kind of community boosterism. But buying close to home may be more than a feel-good, it's-worth-paying-more-for-local matter. A number of researchers and organizations are taking a closer look at how money flows, and what they're finding shows the profound economic impact of keeping money in town—and how the fate of many communities around the nation and the world increasingly depend on it.
 At the most basic level, when you buy local more money stays in the community. The New Economics Foundation, an independent economic think tank based in London, compared what happens when people buy produce at a supermarket vs. a local farmer's market or community supported agriculture (CSA) program and found that twice the money stayed in the community when folks bought locally. "That means those purchases are twice as efficient in terms of keeping the local economy alive," says author and NEF researcher David Boyle.
 Indeed, says Boyle, many local economies are languishing not because too little cash comes in, but as a result of what happens to that money. "Money is like blood. It needs to keep moving around to keep the economy going," he says, noting that when money is spent elsewhere—at big supermarkets, non-locally owned utilities and other services such as on-line retailers—"it flows out, like a wound." By shopping at the corner store instead of the big box, consumers keep their communities from becoming what the NEF calls "ghost towns" (areas devoid of neighborhood shops and services) or "clone towns", where Main Street now looks like every other Main Street with the same fast-food and retail chains.
 According to Susan Witt, Executive Director of the E.F. Schumacher Society, "buy local" campaigns serve another function: alerting a community about gaps in the local market. For instance, if consumers keep turning to on-line or big-box stores for a particular product—say, socks—this signals an opportunity for someone local to make and sell socks. This is the way product innovations get made, says Witt. "The local producer adds creative elements that make either the product or materials used more appropriate to the place." For example, an area where sheep are raised might make lambs wool socks and other goods.
 The point is not that communities should suddenly seek to be self-sufficient in all ways, but rather, says Boyle, "to shift the balance. Can you produce more locally? Of course you can if the raw materials are there, and the raw materials are often human beings."
 And what about that higher cost of local goods? After all, big-box stores got to be big because their prices are low. Susan Witt says that the difference falls away once you consider the increase in local employment as well as the relationships that grow when people buy from people they know. (Plus, one could argue, lower transportation, and therefore environmental, costs, and you know what you're getting—which as we've recently seen with suspected contamination in toys and other products from China, can be a concern.)
 There's also the matter of local/regional resilience. Says Witt: "While now we're largely a service-providing nation, we're still just a generation away from being a nation of producers. The question is: what economic framework will help us reclaim those skills and that potential." Say, for example, the exchange rates change or the price of oil rises (and it has started to creep up, if not at last summer's pace) so that foreign-made goods are no longer cheap to import. We could find ourselves doubly stuck because domestic manufacturing is no longer set up to make all these products. While no community functions in isolation, supporting local trade helps "recreate the diversity of small businesses that are flexible and can adjust" to changing needs and market conditions, says Witt.
 Another argument for buying local is that it enhances the "velocity" of money, or circulation speed, in the area. The idea is that if currency circulates more quickly, the money passes through more hands—and more people have had the benefit of the money and what it has purchased for them. "If you're buying local and not at a chain or branch store, chances are that store is not making a huge profit," says David Morris, Vice President of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit economic research and development organization based in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. "That means more goes into input costs—supplies and upkeep, printing, advertising, paying employees—which puts that money right back in the community."
 One way to really make sure money stays in the community is through creating a local currency. Christian Gelleri, a former Waldorf high school teacher in the Lake Chiem area in Germany, has launched a regional currency, the Chiemgauer, equivalent in value to the Euro. According to Gelleri, the Chiemgauer, accepted at more than 600 businesses in the region and with about $3,000,000 Euros worth in circulation, has three times the velocity of the Euro, circling through the economy an average of 18 times a year as opposed to 6. One reason for the fast turnaround is that the Chiemgauer is designed to encourage spending: there is a 2% demurrage fee for holding onto the bills beyond three months.
 As an economic principle, velocity has been considered a constant. According to Gelleri, it was stable in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s but starting in the '80s velocity has decreased as more money has been diverted to the financial sector. This scenario may benefit financial centers, but money tends to drain away from other places. Gelleri says that both the Euro and the U.S. dollar have slowed way down. "In the last several months velocity has declined sharply because there's less GDP and more money," he says. "The money doesn't flow. More money is being printed, but it's not going into circulation."
 As the nation limps through the recession, many towns and cities are hurting. "Buy-local" campaigns can help local economies withstand the downturn. Says Boyle: "For communities, this is a hopeful message in a recession because it's not about how much money you've got, but how much you can keep circulating without letting it leak out."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

2012-04-18 "Oakbio aims to make plastic from plant's pollution" by David R. Baker from "San Francisco Chronicle"
[http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/04/17/BUFM1O4PF5.DTL]
At a sprawling cement plant near Cupertino, researchers are trying a kind of eco-friendly alchemy, turning carbon dioxide into biodegradable plastic.
The researchers, from startup company Oakbio Inc., take carbon dioxide from the plant's exhaust and feed it to specially selected microbes, along with some hydrogen.
The microbes create a kind of plastic from the gas. They also make compounds that can be used in cosmetics, food, perfume and industrial lubricants.
Oakbio has already tested the process in its own Sunnyvale lab. At the Lehigh Southwest Cement Company plant, the 3-year-old startup will try it in the field.
"We're going to make products that are going to be functionally equivalent to products made from oil," said Russell Howard, Oakbio's chief executive officer, who announced the project at a news conference Tuesday. "We know the process works. Now we want to measure it and make it better."
Oakbio represents the latest attempt to capture the carbon dioxide spewed by power plants and other industrial facilities, emissions that heat the Earth as they build up in the atmosphere.
Although efforts to limit carbon dioxide emissions have stalled at the national level, they are pressing ahead in California. The state is creating a "cap and trade" system that will eventually force large industrial facilities to buy permits to emit greenhouse gases. Hence the cement plant's interest in Oakbio.
"Businesses have been searching for a viable solution to reducing these emissions, and so I am particularly excited to stand here with Oakbio today and announce this partnership," said Lehigh plant manager Henrik Wesseling.
Technology exists to capture carbon dioxide from smokestacks and store the gas underground, but no one has built a convincing business model around it. Some companies, meanwhile, want to use algae to consume the carbon dioxide from power plants and produce a type of oil that can be turned into fuel. Howard, however, argues that the ponds needed to grow algae at power plants would occupy too much space to make the idea practical.
Oakbio's lab at the Lehigh plant is decidedly small, packed into a metal shipping container painted blue. The researchers use microbes found in nature - they won't reveal which ones - and feed them the plant's flue gas, along with hydrogen. Not all the microbes survive on this diet, but some do. The researchers keep breeding the microbes that survive, making them more efficient at processing carbon dioxide.
With just five employees, Oakbio remains in its very early stages. Howard, former CEO of the Maxygen Inc. biopharmaceutical company, says Oakbio's funding to date comes from "friends and family," in addition to his own bank account. He declined to disclose the total raised so far.
He sees great potential in the technology, even if commercial deployment remains several years away.
"We're on the cusp of taking off," he said.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

2012-04 "Black Flags and Windmills on STIR Magazine" by Jonny Gordon-Farleigh from "STIR Magazine"
[http://www.pmpress.org/content/article.php/bfwstir]
 I interviewed scott crow about his book Black Flags and Windmills: Hope, Anarchy and the Common Ground Collective, how the Occupy movement has been both inspiring and challenging, and how today’s protestors are no longer looking to politicians for social change because of the self-realisation that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

STIR: At the beginning of your new book, Black Flags and Windmills, you quote June Jordan’s famous saying: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”  Do you think that more people are now beginning to look to themselves for social change rather than expecting it to be delivered by political elites, and thus avoiding the classic disappointments that come, as Cornel West recently put it, with the “appointments” of experts and political saviours?
scott crow: Well, I don’t think it is the first time ever but I think it is the first time in a long while. I hate to say this because I don’t like to go back to it, but it is probably the first time since the ‘60s and ‘70s where people feel that the policies have failed for long enough and that it affects them. There were huge movements for self determination/community control in the national liberation struggles of the ‘60s and even the anti-nuke movements of the ‘70s.
Since the turn of the millennium, there was a major uprising in the alternative globalisation movement of the late ‘90s and early-2000s that achieved the first international networked solidarity, but it subsided so quickly because of the events of September 11, 2001—it didn’t have time to fully develop. However, I think what is happening today across the globe  are natural outgrowths of those movements. I think with the failure of the war on terror, the wars on the poor, the wars around the world, what happened in New Orleans, and the global financial collapse, it all represents failure after failure on behalf of governments, which has eroded the last vestiges of credibility that the state or corporations were going to help the common person. I think we have historically had resistance currents that have risen to the surface in crisis—also, there has been twenty years of anarchist organising and growth in the United States, and globally, there is lots of horizontal organising going on everywhere.
The thing is, I think people actually believe it again—that we are the ones we’ve been waiting for, and I would add that our history is now. The best things didn’t happen in the past. They are happening now as we make them. I think that’s a crucial change in people’s attitudes. Because I think people still, in the United States, had finite hope in Obama, because [his election] was a historically important thing on one level. I was moved by it also, and I don’t care about electoral politics at all—but I was moved by the idea of what was happening, even though I have analysis about it. But I think the failures of business as usual just continued under his watch, and some things have increased like the invasion of privacy and the war on terror, and that’s why the ‘movement of movements’ has risen up in the Occupy Movements in the United States and worldwide.
It’s also cyclical where things come and go. Having been in political movements for over twenty years, I have seen things rise and fall. But I’ve just never seen anything on the scale that we’re seeing it now—and that’s inspiring.

S: One of the most overused images from the recent splurge of post-apocalyptic films —where the state and other large agencies are either incapable or unwilling to help— is the presentation of a helpless community that is unable to provide itself with essential services.  Can you tell me in what ways the communities The Common Ground Collective worked with in post-Katrina New Orleans provided an inspiring counterpoint to this vision?
sc: By asking the question first: “What do you need for support? And how can we help you build your own power within a community? Block by block. Neighbourhood by neighbourhood. Community after community.” To say that people were helpless is not true. To say that people didn’t have resources would be true, but they had the skills, they had the knowledge, they had analysis about it, they just needed support to make that happen. And so Common Ground in New Orleans, in all its ways, was able to come in very under the radar to provide the support —but support with analysis in it. We were trying to provide support to build political power and self determination for these communities, not for our own political power.
The government couldn’t see it coming because they were so large and bureaucratic. We had horizontal organising but we also had networks we could rely on. We could be really efficient and flexible anywhere we went because we didn’t have huge hierarchies and overhead of administration. If somebody saw a need in a community, and asked the community if they wanted it, we started the project. Or if we saw a need like health care, we started it. We didn’t have to wait for a chain of command.
We just saw an opening where we could move in to these spaces. The original dream was to create these autonomous zones like the Zapatistas did, but we weren’t able to do that. But we were able to de-legitimize the state at every turn. It wasn’t just governments, though. We’re also talking about the Red Cross who had fundamental failings themselves, and needed to be held accountable, especially in those first few weeks afterwards. The fact that we wanted to treat people with dignity and respect, and to find them where they were at, is really important. Instead of seeing them as victims, we saw them as people who had gotten knocked off balance and we just picked them up and said, “Hey, let’s move on forward together.”

S: The guiding principle of your efforts was “solidarity not charity.” How does a group from the outside make sure it does not become a principled vanguard—however well-intentioned—by thinking it knows what is best for the community it is coming to support?
sc: I’d be lying if I said that we didn’t. I think that it’s a mixed bag—some things we did in deep solidarity; and some things we did were just charity band-aids. When people were starving, we didn’t just say, “Hey, we’ll feed you”. We also asked, “Why are you hungry? Is it because there is no quality education nearby? Are there no decent jobs nearby?” That’s solidarity: To say there is no food in your area, and not only because of the storm, but also because of the long, slow history of disasters that came decades before—of the neglect and abandonment of these communities. And so we said we’ll help you to provide your own local food security; we’ll provide close access to basic health care; and we’ll provide job training. These things are all steps towards alleviating poverty. But does that mean that we did that with every program we did? No. Some were absolute band-aids because the state failed to do what they were “supposed to do.”  So, there were times when we just provided aid because it was necessary—you have to remember that there were life and death situations in the first few weeks and months and we simply had to do as much as we could do, because if we didn’t do it no one else would have.
All of this work met with different challenges, successes and even failures. You have to understand that at everything we undertook, even with the best intentions, we were often our own worst enemies. This, in addition to all of the surrounding crisis, combined with the bullying and overt threats from the state.
We started an organisation based on horizontal principles that I would argue is the largest anarchist-inspired organisation in modern U.S. history. We started with a few people who knew each other but grew so rapidly that we had to learn along the way. The politics that I want to talk about for one second are super important. Even though we inspired to be anarchist and horizontal in many ways, there was also much traditional organising that featured hierarchical structures. It was a mash-up of the two because of the tendencies that people came out of, the thoughts people had, and the skill levels we all possessed.
In the United States we have a very reactionary political nature and with very little practice in terms of anarchist practice. Anarchist ideas have only really risen to the surface again in the last ten to twleve years here—in the late ‘90s and at the turn of the millennium. Thus, there has not been a lot of experience at practice in long-term organisations and these things were working against us. Sure, we had a lot of failures along the way but we recognised that if we could consciously learn from them we could hopefully prevent other movements from repeating the same failures. There were some challenges that we could not get over because they were so large and because we grew so fast. However, there were many things where we could say, “We’re never going to do that again.” The point is, I don’t want to look through rose-coloured lenses, which suggests everything was perfect, but it wasn’t awful either.  Movements always start to look better in hindsight through the rear-view mirror as you are leaving them.

S: The practice of horizontal decision-making has been given a much higher profile because of the Occupy movement, but as Marianne Maeckelbergh argues in the case of Occupy Wall Street, because of the “far greater disparity in terms of backgrounds, starting assumptions, aims and discursive styles” of those taking part in the general assemblies, it quickly became very complicated. This description seems to reverberate with your experience of the volunteers that arrived in New Orleans.  How did you make sure the organisation maintained these values while also encouraging those who may be unaccustomed to the horizontal decision-making model to continue their involvement?
sc: We did it with mixed success. I think the Occupy Movement is a great comparative example because so many of the people involved are coming from different ideas. One difference to us, though, is that we had a large organisation and also a closed collective, whereas Occupy camps have large general assemblies. It also depended from week-to-week, or month-to-month, and even meeting-to-meeting, how well they were facilitated and how well the principles of unity were used within it, and how much experience the participants had before they arrived.
We could have two solid weeks of really good meetings and then have two weeks of really terrible meetings that were atrocious. It was always various tendencies of how to organize and always a tension that went back and forth in the organisation, but I would say ultimately, if you asked the 20,000 volunteers that were part of the Common Ground Collective in the first three and half years how horizontal it was or how well it functioned, their response depended on when that person came in and when they exited.
Now, as far as your question about allowing voices that don’t normally practice horizontal decision-making to take part, we didn’t. We had to marginalize them because of the crisis generally and then later because of the size of the organisation. You have to understand that when it was full-blown, we would have 5,000 people in any given week within the organisation. There could be 200 to 300 people at a meeting, 100 coordinators in the core collective, and 150 projects going on. Some of those acted like affinity groups and some of them functioned very well because there was a lot of practice and trust amongst the participants. Other groups were completely dysfunctional.
One thing we tried to do was create a vessel of common values and common culture. It didn’t always work well and the vessel blew apart continually, so we had to put the vessel back together. We also had to reinvent these core values and principles as the volunteers changed and as time moved on. One thing I have taken from that, and it is something that concerns Occupy, is that we have to change the way general assemblies operate. While general assemblies are good to share experiences they are not good as a meeting of common values.  We need to break this up into smaller groups and find out what affinities people have with each other. One example, here at Occupy in Austin, Texas, is that some participants still want to vote for Ron Paul, some participants only care about student debt, and some participants only care about ending the Fed. While, they may have common values like everyone should have clean air and water, this is not enough to gather around. So, what if these people broke-off into their affinity groups where they really had a voice, and then we could start to work together with spoke-council models to find out how we want to resist the current systems and how we want to create new systems.
It is a continual problem in open groups where we have to reinvent the wheel about doing these things.

S: One idea this provokes is the difference between formal democracy and substantive democracy. Marianne Maeckelbergh speaks critically in her most recent piece about Occupy Wall Street, of the starting assumptions that many of the participants held (such as scarcity). So, we are starting from a huge legacy of capitalist logic and bringing it to a formally democratic organisation (general assembly). While, the alterglobalization movement has quite rightly focused on the ‘how’ of decision-making, it has also in some ways deemphasized the "what" of those decisions—what we are actually deciding about.
sc: I totally agree. What happens is that people mistake the process for “democracy” and they think that if they execute excellent process and everybody’s voice has been heard then it’s necessarily democratic. Well, this is just not true. On the other hand, all of this takes practice— in our daily lives we all have bosses, landlords, elected officials and corporations trying to sell us shit or tell us what to do.  So, the point is democratic decision-making and participatory democracy takes practice.
I have been to more than 22 Occupy camps and it is a common theme that depends on the respective community and the level of involvement, interest and time working together they have all had. We ran into that in New Orleans but we also had the crisis, so really we had multiple crises. We sometimes had to force decisions through to make things happen and that was the most horrible experience because it would be undemocratic. Sometimes, though, we were talking about real life and death situations which matter more than everyone’s voices.  But again it was difficult in general assemblies to make decisions with people who just walked off the streets having the same value as those who were there day after day for months. Giving weight to all of those voices didn’t necessarily make it more horizontal, more functional or democratic.

S: Did you find long-term activists accepted these pressures on the decision-making process?
sc: No. By some ideologues we were called the most unanarchist organisation there ever was! (laughs) If you look at my writings at the time, I issued several communiqu├ęs to address people’s questions and concerns. You talked about assumptions and many anarchists and anti-authoritarians brought huge amounts of assumptions about anarchism to Common Ground, and I found that to be as problematic, if not more so, than those who had no experience whatsoever. This was a problem because they would say, “You are not doing this right”; to which I would respond, “How many organisations have you been in and how many situations like this have you experienced?” The answer would be, “Never,” and I would say, “Well, how do you know if it’s right or not?” And we ended up cutting people off when things like this happened. An example of this is when a group of kids wanted to serve only vegan food. This was a noble and beautiful thing but the people who lived in Algiers weren’t vegan and it was their community we were in. So, these kids decided to go on strike against us because they considered us to be authoritarian. I should say, we didn’t stop them from serving vegan food but stopped them from serving only vegan food. And they didn’t have to be in the kitchen, there were plenty of other projects that needed attention!

S: Throughout Black Flags and Windmills you refer to the Zapatistas’ “living revolution” as a source of inspiration and experience. Your own approach reflects this prefigurative "everyday" politics. Do you think this “new impatience” for a better today is starting to replace the abstract promises of a better tomorrow?
sc: Absolutely. A couple examples of this are the fact that there are more worker-cooperatives in the world today than ever before; there are more indigenous groups taking back their lands since the creation of the modern nation-state. There are local food and local currency movements. That the banks, corporations, unilateral world governments such as the WTO are all too big to fail but yet fail governments constantly, are all indications of the fact that something is beginning to happen.
The fact that anarchism as a tendency, as an idea, as a philosophy, has gained so much ground in The United States, and I would also argue in Europe, more than it has for a long time, shows that people are hungry and waiting for openings like this happen.
I’m not sure how you’ve been politically organising in Europe, but here even when I first started to identify myself as an anarchist in the late ‘90s, and especially in Texas where I’m from, it was not cool. It was very outsider and very difficult to explain to people—and I am talking about people on the Left. Communism and Socialism was very easy to explain but to explain anarchism was really difficult, and to be an anarchist was almost a dirty word.  If you look now, it is not like that anymore—there are mainstream articles about it. There are discussions about it and it has even been turned into a commodity at stores. These things show that people want to rely on themselves in cooperation without being consumers or voters. I think is really important and indicates that we are moving towards prefigurative projects.
Does it make all perfect today or tomorrow? No, because we still have reactionary culture and politics (as I mentioned earlier). Until we start to dream bigger futures and start to make strategies to move towards those futures, we will be stuck in a reactionary trap or only building in very small places.
I think one of the things that has happened in our movements is the extension of anarchist ideas, and this is small ‘a’ anarchism—I am not talking of every tendency of anarchism, where we are not building mass movements but rather movements of movements. This is very much like what we did in the alterglobalisation movement but much more clearly now. The Occupy groups around the United States (and possibly worldwide) reflect this: they are unified on some aspects but are really a movement of movements. This is a development that we’ve never had in this country before and now the next step is for us to ask, “What do we want a just and sustainable world to look like?” The point I always make is that while we can always resist capitalism until we really focus on building better worlds for all of us, we will always be fighting against the things that are chipping away at our lives.  If we want people to leave capitalism then we have to create something better and show them. I don’t think that worker-cooperatives are the answer but they are step in that direction. I don’t have the answers but we have to start asking these questions. Then we can all think about our futures and begin to make them a reality.

S: This reminds me of the saying, “You make the path by walking it.”     
sc: Definitely. I cannot say that enough. The beauty of a movement like the Zapatistas for me is the fact that you don’t have to have the answer. You just have to know that there is something better and strive for it—even if it is different than you originally imagined.

S: Lastly, during So We Stand’s recent Aviation Justice Tour, they said, “A healthy community is a radical thing.”  As a long time activist, how would you describe a healthy community?
sc: On an individual level it is the ability to take care of yourself and to recognise that revolutionary paths take a long time. It is the maintenance of good relationships with others, access to health care, and healthy food. It is also the recognition that we don’t always have to resist.  On a community level it would look like small, autonomous communities that are networked together for common good. These communities who have their own food security, their own energy sources, access to fresh water, and the ability for people to organise in ways that they want to because there is not one model that fits all. In other ways it could be the re-wilding of a place and the space for those who want to hunt and gather and live ferally, to do so without conflict over the natural world.
Basically, it would be communities built in cooperation—not perfect harmony but cooperation.  The idea that we are raising children on the merit of cooperation not their own merits, that we take care of our elderly people, that we take care of the dirty work, of the trash that we generate, the things we create, and maintain the planet with truly sustainable practices beyond cheap oil. All of these things are small scale and it is really about scaling down everything we think we know about civilization. It also means the hard work of “policing” ourselves, where we know our neighbours and we follow guidelines instead of laws because we want to and it is mutually beneficial, and not because something or someone is going to force them upon us.
These are some of my ideas of a just future. It takes all of us to do this. No one is going to lead us out of this. We are going to have to do it ourselves.
---
scott crow is a community organizer, writer, strategist and speaker who advocates the philosophy and practices of anarchism for social, environmental, and economic aims.
He is the only son of a working class mother who started his political journey in the anti-apartheid, political prisoner and animals rights movements during the Reagan years. In the late ’80s he fronted two political electronic industrial bands and through the ’90s ran a successful antique/art cooperative business.
For over almost two decades he has continued to use his experience and ideas in co-founding and co-organizing numerous radical grassroots projects in Texas, including Treasure City Thrift, Radical Encuentro Camp, UPROAR (United People Resisting Oppression and Racism), Dirty South Earth First! and the Common Ground Collective, the largest anarchist influenced organization in modern U.S. history to date.
He is also author of Blag Flags and Windmills: Hope, Anarchy, and the Common Ground Collective

"Common Ground" collective founders