This Thing Called Courage

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Love is the Answer, Said the Broccoli

OKAY SO ABOUT A MONTH AGO, actually longer than a month ago, I was transplanting itty-bitty broccoli seedlings from very small peat pots into bigger ones. All was going well-- and then it happened! Snap! One of the broccoli snapped as I was carefully lifting it from its pot. Not so good! Instant death sentence, as a plant cannot live once it's been seperated from its root system.
Or can it?
Alas, this has occasionally happened in the past, and ordinarily I'd just toss the plant away with a sigh. But taking a cue from my friend Dan Shea, who chants to injured plants, I transplanted the wee thing anyway, even though it had no root system, and then began bathing the plant in love. I sang to it, sent it loving energy (not hard to do-- I love plants anyway, and consider them fellow beings) and then to top it all off, I colored a big red heart on its peat pot.
The plant has not only survived in the weeks since then, it has thrived. 'There is no problem to which love is not the answer...' Happy Earth Day everyone, and if you live in the Boston area, please join us next Saturday as a contingent from the Malden Drum Circle helps clean up the Malden River (and eneterains fellow cleaners with drumming!) from 11 am to 3 pm. Meeting at 195 Canal Street, Malden, MA.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Right Whales off Provincetown

PROVINCETOWN (CBS) – Dozens of endangered whales are taking up residence in Cape Cod Bay.

On Thursday, environmental officials spotted close to 30 right whales, just 500 yards off the coast of Provincetown.

Officials are planning an aerial survey in the next few days to get a more accurate number.

Right whales typically show up every spring in the waters off of Cape Cod to feed.

The state has issued a warning for boaters in the area to use extreme caution.

It’s against the law for boaters to approach within 500 yards of a right whale.

The Right Whale is the most endangered in the North Atlantic.

Only about 450 remain in the entire ocean.

Right Whales

Right Whales

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cleaning Up Lawrence

LAWRENCE — Anthony Nuñez was tired of the words he kept seeing in headlines about his hometown: drugs, arson, insurance fraud; ailing, underfunded, understaffed, unemployed.

The 24-year-old mechanical engineer knew there was little he could do on his own to fix all that. But he figured he might be able to do something else to clean up the city’s image: Get its residents to clean up its streets.

On Saturday, Nuñez expects hundreds of volunteers to help him attack the layers of rubbish that line city parks; the empty bottles that clutter playgrounds; the rusted mufflers, leaking oil cans, and jagged scrap metal that clog empty lots. He is calling on residents to step outside and clean their sidewalks and blocks.

Spiffing up an entire city would be a challenging enough task, but this Don Quixote of detritus has set an even more daunting agenda. He hopes that the sight of people tidying up their neighborhoods will inspire others to join in. He wants the idea to go viral, interrupt the drumbeat of bad news, and improve the mood of a city.

“Maybe we can change Lawrence’s negative image,’’ Nuñez said. “Maybe we can change the mind-set of the people. I hope we can boost morale, maybe change the outlook people have.’’

Nuñez is the first to acknowledge that he may be jousting at wastebins, that his idea could fail to catch on. He has no experience organizing mass cleanups — he is just a citizen who was angry when he saw a reader’s comment on a local paper’s website that suggested “they should build a wall around Lawrence and let them all kill each other off.’’

Rather than respond to the post, he said, “I figured actions speak louder than words,’’ and Clean the Trash Out of Lawrence Day was born. A Facebook site Nuñez has dedicated to the event has attracted more than 400 people, many of whom have said they will heed his call to grab some work gloves and pitch in. Nuñez said public-works officials have promised to help by providing a garbage bin in a central park for the bags of trash collected by the volunteers.

Gilda Duran, the city’s neighborhood planner, said she welcomed Nuñez’s initiative.

“Though it is a small city, there’s a lot of ground to cover,’’ she said. “Sometimes it takes someone to take the lead.’’

The city does try to maintain its streets, but its workers do not get to all of the trash. On a recent Thursday, Nuñez pointed out garbage trucks rumbling through Lawrence neighborhoods. Workers tossed bags from barrels lining residential streets, but they did not pick up litter. “Not our job,’’ said a man in a neon-yellow vest as he worked on Poplar Street. A few other workers, who said they had been hired by the city, were plucking pieces of litter from a small city park. Sweeper trucks worked the larger roads, but missed objects like crushed bottles wedged against curbs.

Lawrence is not the only dirty city, but the pervasiveness of waste is striking. Nuñez stood on a particularly blighted section of Erving Avenue along the Spicket River, amid discarded rags, vodka nips, hand purifier bottles, Planters Peanuts wrappers, Tropicana orange juice jugs, and a plastic container oozing a mysterious, milky liquid. More distressing than this riot of flotsam and jetsam was the empty trash container in the middle of the block: In tossing their refuse, no one bothered to walk the few feet to the receptacle.

“It doesn’t mean there is no point in trying,’’ Nuñez said. “But it is definitely possible that this might not work and people are going to stay the same.’’

Some posters on the Facebook site expressed their doubts more colorfully.


“You pick it up, it’s clean for five minutes, and then they trash it so why bother??????’’

The last poster has a point. City cleanups tend to be negated pretty quickly by litterbugs. And Lawrence is dirty despite the efforts of other volunteer groups. One of them, Groundwork Lawrence, is holding a spring cleaning in collaboration with Comcast on April 30.

“The more the merrier,’’ Nuñez said when he was informed of this event. “Usually when these things happen it’s like 50 or 60 people in one place. What I hope is that if people go out in their neighborhoods, other people will say ‘Oh, my neighbor is cleaning, I will, too.’ ’’

Other Lawrence residents think the idea might catch on. Ana Avellan, 36, an administrative assistant who has lived in Lawrence since 1989, said she has taught her teenage sons and baseball teams she coaches to clean up after themselves. But she has watched with dismay the accumulation of “all the trash that’s in each crevice and corner.’’

When she received an invitation on Facebook to the cleanup, she said, “I thought, ‘this is a really good idea.’ ’’

“It’s been like that so long you feel that nothing is going to change,’’ she said. “But if we all pitch in, little by little it is going to change.’’

First Homosexual Stone Age Man Found?

The male body – said to date back to between 2900-2500BC – was discovered buried in a way normally reserved only for women of the Corded Ware culture in the Copper Age.

The skeleton was found in a Prague suburb in the Czech Republic with its head pointing eastwards and surrounded by domestic jugs, rituals only previously seen in female graves.

"From history and ethnology, we know that people from this period took funeral rites very seriously so it is highly unlikely that this positioning was a mistake," said lead archaeologist Kamila Remisova Vesinova.

"Far more likely is that he was a man with a different sexual orientation, homosexual or transsexual," she added.

According to Corded Ware culture which began in the late Stone Age and culminated in the Bronze Age, men were traditionally buried lying on their right side with their heads pointing towards the west, and women on their left sides with their heads pointing towards the east. Both sexes would be put into a crouching position.

The men would be buried alongside weapons, hammers and flint knives as well as several portions of food and drink to accompany them to the other side.

Women would be buried with necklaces made from teeth, pets, and copper earrings, as well as jugs and an egg-shaped pot placed near the feet.

"What we see here doesn't add up to traditional Corded Ware cultural norms. The grave in Terronska Street in Prague 6 is interred on its left side with the head facing the West. An oval, egg-shaped container usually associated with female burials was also found at the feet of the skeleton. None of the objects that usually accompany male burials  such as weapons, stone battle axes and flint knives  were found in the grave.

"We believe this is one of the earliest cases of what could be described as a 'transsexual' or 'third gender grave' in the Czech Republic," archaeologist Katerina Semradova told a press conference on Tuesday.

She said that archeologists had uncovered an earlier case dating from the Mesolithic period where a female warrior was buried as a man.

She added that Siberian shamans, or latter-day witch doctors, were also buried in this way but with richer funeral accessories to appropriate to their elevated position in society.

"But this later discovery was neither of those, leading us to believe the man was probably homosexual or transsexual," Semeradova said.

The Corded Ware culture takes its name from the frequent use of decorative cord impressions found its pots and covered much of North, Central and Eastern Europe.

It is also known as a single-grave and battleaxe culture due to separate burials and the Mena s habit of being buried with stone axes.

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Live from New York!

April 6, 2011, 2:06 pm

Hawk Cam | Watching Bobby and Violet

Christopher James/N.Y.U. Bobby, left, and Violet at home at N.Y.U.’s Bobst Library. Go to Live Video Stream »
Hawk Cam

Live coverage from a nest on a ledge at N.Y.U.’s Bobst Library.

Who knew the spectacle of a bird sitting on a nest could be so gripping?

Outside John Sexton’s 12th-floor president’s office at New York University, Violet the red-tailed hawk sits. She sits some more. She turns her head to the right, cleans a feather. She pecks at a twig. The breeze ruffles her head.

Violet gets up. She rolls a speckled egg ever so gently with her curved, pointed black beak. She settles back down slowly with a satisfied shimmy.

Once in a while, she tilts her head toward the camera.

Halfway across the country at a fish hatchery in Decorah, Iowa, a bald eagle has been tending her fuzzy chicks before a camera. Here in the middle of Manhattan, home to Pale Male and many fellow members of his species, there is now a hawk cam.

Its stars are Violet (named for one of the university’s colors) and her mate, Bobby (named for Bobst Library, atop which Dr. Sexton’s office sits). And in a few weeks, if all goes well, their hatchlings.

Dr. Sexton said that about nine months ago, before he caught sight of the birds, he started noticing twigs accumulating on the sandstone ledge outside his picture window. Soon they formed a nest — “A little bigger than a good-size Christmas wreath.”

Then he saw the hawks. They startled his guests. “One of them would come in to land, and it gave the effect of flying right at you at the window. I learned to warn people.”

For a while, the nest was home to only the two adults. “The question on my mind was, was this a pied-à-terre or their main house, so to speak,” Dr. Sexton said.

Emily S. Rueb/The New York Times Violet at work.

Colin Jerolmack, an assistant professor of environmental studies and sociology at N.Y.U., had noticed the hawks too. First he saw one, on the roof of another university building. Then the other flew up.

“We thought they were going to fight,” said Dr. Jerolmack, who gave the hawks their names. “Instead, they started mating.”

The hawks’ behavior has changed in recent days. They stopped leaving the nest unattended, Dr. Jerolmack said. On Saturday, shrieking, they chased off another hawk over Washington Square Park.

The reason, of course, was in the nest: three dull-white eggs, two flecked with dark patches. Dr. Sexton and others in his office say the eggs appeared around March 23 or 24.

Red-tailed hawk eggs incubate for about 30 days, yielding an expected hatch date of April 22, give or take.

On Tuesday, Dr. Sexton allowed City Room to mount a camera inside the curtains lining his window. It went live Wednesday; viewing is limited to daylight hours only, at least for now. (The hawk cam joins another city raptor feed, a peregrine falcon camera mounted outside 55 Water Street downtown.)

Life on the nest proceeds slowly. Female hawks do most of the egg-sitting; once or twice a day, Bobby, who is about a third smaller than Violet but otherwise hard to distinguish, will take over for a bit so she can stretch her legs and wings and grab herself a rat or a pigeon. For one agonizingly long moment around 6:15 p.m., the nest was left unguarded, the eggs naked to the world.

Other than that, said Bobby Horvath, a wildlife rehabilitator and hawk specialist, “you’ll see that this mother does not a heck of a lot of anything.”

This, though, is part of the charm: the chance to bear witness, in real time, to the ritual of patience that constitutes expectant motherhood on a window ledge high above Manhattan, through rain, cold and feather-disheveling winds.

“Until,” he continued, “that imminent moment when something starts happening underneath her.”

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Support Humane and Environmental Groups? The Government Thinks Your a Terrorist Groups


How I Almost Got Put on the Domestic Terrorist List for Handing Out Leaflets

By Will Potter, Conari Press
Posted on March 28, 2011, Printed on April 5, 2011

The following is an excerpt from The Next Eco Warriors: 22 Young Women and Men Who Are Saving The Planet, edited by Emily Hunter (Conari Press, 2011).

Eco-Terrorism 101

If you’ve got a blacklist, I want to be on it. —Billy Bragg

It started with a knock on the door. Someone had pounded three times. I turned the knob without looking through the peephole. It must be the landlord, I thought. He had gotten into the habit of arriving unannounced with prospective tenants to show our apartment, one of the freshly renovated studios in a 70-something-year-old building in Chicago. Before I had opened the door, though, I knew it was not Steve the Landlord. Our dogs were barking. Wildly. The dogs, Mindy and Peter, were snarling, and they never snarled, they never growled. I opened the door anyway.

The guys behind it—gruff-looking early-30s guys with manicured goatees, navy suits, ties with outdated geometric patterns, scuffed black shoes, broad shoulders, hardjaw lines, wholesome haircuts, and eyes looking for fights—were just naturally FBI agents. I didn’t even need to see the badges.

I just said I was in a hurry, that I had to get ready for work, and then I started to close the door. The good cop—well, I will call him the good cop, only because he looked less eager to kick my ass—put his left palm on the gray steel door, firmly enough to put pressure but not firmly enough to make any noise. I could either come downstairs, he said, or they could make a visit to my place of work, the Chicago Tribune.

Dogs barked. Panic. I was not afraid of them, but I was afraid of a spectacle in the newsroom. I relented and then closed the door to get ready.

“What’s going on?” my girlfriend, Kamber, asked from the futon, half asleep.

“It’s the FBI,” I said matter-of-factly, as if it had been Steve the Landlord.

A few minutes later, we crammed into the freight elevator, good cop, bad cop, and me. The elevator ground to a halt, the latticework steel door creaked open, and we walked through the dark hallway to the alley. It was a gloriously sunny Chicago summer day, but the sunlight could not overcome the condominium towers of steel and glass, could not swim through the cracks in the walls, and so I stepped into an alley shrouded in gray.

In college, I had learned about government operations like the counter intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), and the FBI’s history of harassing and intimidating political activists. False names, phone taps, bugs, and infiltration were used in attempts to disrupt groups like the Black Panthers, American Indian movement, and Students for a Democratic Society. I had learned from books, professors, and Law & Order episodes that if approached by the FBI, for any reason, you should never talk. Nothing good can come of it.

Both good cop and bad cop had heard that line before. The shorter, “nicer” cop started talking anyway.

“Look, we just want to talk to you,” he said. “We want you to help us out. We can make all this go away.”


Working long hours on the metro desk at the Chicago Tribune, covering shooting after shooting, murder after murder, had turned me into the type of reporter I never wanted to become. I felt detached, apathetic, and cynical. Just before the visit from the FBI, I wrote in my journal, “I’m tired of writing meaningless stories, I’m tired of going to sleep at night feeling like I left the world the same way I saw it in the morning.”

After only a few months at the Tribune, I had already built a spectacular wall of emotional detachment. It felt as if it were made of broken bottles and concrete chunks, sharp and gray. I thought I would never survive this beat, unless i found some way to keep a toehold on my humanity. So I decided to go leafleting.

When I worked at the Texas Observer, I wrote a story about an animal rights activist who was prohibited from protesting fur stores as a condition of her sentence for nonviolent civil disobedience. In my research of other draconian legal attacks on activists, I also learned about Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, an international campaign that had formed for the sole purpose of closing the notorious animal-testing lab Huntingdon Life Sciences.

Five undercover investigations had exposed animal welfare violations in the lab. I remember sitting in the Texas observer office, downloading a clip of undercover video filmed inside of Huntingdon. It showed animal experimenters with beagle puppies. The puppies’ veins were too small, and one of the experimenters could not insert a needle. He grew frustrated. He shook the dog and then suddenly punched the puppy in the face, hard enough to knock a grown man down. I will never forget that dog’s punctuating wails.

When if decided I wanted to do something positive to balance out the futility I felt at the Tribune, I decided to leaflet about Huntingdon. one month prior to FBI agents knocking on my door, Kamber and I met six local activists at the a-zone (or autonomous zone) in Chicago, which was part independent bookstore and part rabblerouser gathering place. it offered titles on topics including the Zapatistas, herbal medicine, and bicycle repair, and it smelled like punk rock.

From there, we caravaned to a suburb north of Chicago and the home of a corporate executive with Marsh, Inc., an insurance company for Huntingdon. Once out of the van, I hung leaflets on front doors, urging their Marsh neighbor to cease doing business with Huntingdon Life Sciences. The fliers made no suggestions of violence or property destruction, they made no threats. Instead, they spelled out what went on in the lab, how Marsh is connected, and why readers should ask their neighbor to use his power wisely.

After about twenty minutes of leafleting, police arrived. They radioed back and forth with their headquarters, trying to decide what to do. Then they handcuffed us.


After the FBI agents followed me out of the apartment building and into the alley, bad cop started needling. He asked if I knew the type of people involved in the campaign to close Huntingdon. He said they were “extremists.”

“I can tell you’re a good guy,” he said. “You have a lot going for you.” he said he could tell by the way I dressed, where I lived. “You don’t want this to mess up your life, kid. We need your help.”

He told me I could help them by providing more information about the other defendants and other animal rights groups. I had two days to decide. He gave me a scrap of paper with his phone number, written on it underneath his name, Chris.

“If we don’t hear from you by the first trial date,” he said, “I’ll put you on the domestic terrorist list.”

Wait, what? I felt as if I was staring blankly ahead, but my eyes must have shown fear.

“Now I have your attention, huh?” he said.

Put me on a terrorist list for leafleting?

“Look,” Chris said, “after 9/11, we have a lot more authority now to get things done and get down to business. We can make your life very difficult for you. You work at a newspaper? I can make it so you never work at a newspaper again.”

I replied that people who write letters, who leaflet, are not the same people who break the law. As I walked away, I crumpled his phone number and tossed it in a nearby dumpster, and just before I left the shadows and could reach the sunlight, Chris said, “have a good day at work at the metro desk.

Say hello to your editor, Susan Keaton. And tell Kamber we’ll come see her later.”

I wish I could say the visit did not affect me. But the history nerd in me could not help but think about all the times when the government had targeted political activists. I could not help but think about the deportation of Emma Goldman and the relentless spying and harassment of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I thought of the White Rose, a group of students my age who covertly printed and distributed anti-Nazi leaflets and, when caught, when interrogated and tortured, refused to show fear. They were beheaded. I had always hoped, as we all do after reading stories like this, that if I were ever put in a similar position, I would not flinch.

But I was afraid. Even though I never considered, even for a moment, becoming an informant, I could not stop thinking about how I was on a domestic terrorist list. I was convinced my journalism career was over. Even worse, I was convinced these FBI agents would somehow pass the word to my parents, who would be so disappointed in me, and to my little sister, who would stop looking up to me. These thoughts burrowed somewhere deep behind my eyes and, no matter how irrational they sound, I began to see them as truth.

I did not know it then, but this experience would mark the beginning of both a personal and political journey. After the initial fear subsided, I became obsessed with finding out why I would be targeted as a terrorist for nothing more than leafleting. The focus of my life would shift to investigating how animal rights and environmental activists had become, according to the FBI, the “number one domestic terrorism threat.”


In hindsight the path from that FBI visit to my current life seems completely straight and natural. In reality, I spent years straddling fences, cautiously poised between “unbiased” reporting and advocacy journalism, between my career and the passions I have labeled side projects.

I made some small efforts to climb down. I left an “unbiased” newspaper job covering politics in Washington, DC, to use my writing for very biased purposes at the American Civil Liberties union, ghostwriting op-eds and speeches on the Patriot Act and government surveillance. At night, I continued researching and writing about activists being labeled terrorists. Through my work at the ACLU, and my freelance reporting, the true scope of the attacks on political activists came into focus.

The environmental movement, like all social movements, has a wide range of elements. There are people who leaflet and write letters. And there are underground groups like the Earth Liberation Front, which have vandalized SUVs, burned ski resorts, and destroyed genetically engineered crops. Even at their most extreme, none of these tactics have injured a single human being. Not one.

Meanwhile, the department of homeland Security does not list right wing terrorists on a list of national security threats, and the FBI omits right wing attacks in its annual terrorism reports. Those groups have been responsible for the Oklahoma city bombing, the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta, violence against doctors, and admittedly creating weapons of mass destruction.

Through my reporting, I learned that environmental and animal rights activists are being labeled terrorists not because of violence, but because of their beliefs. Corporations and the politicians who represent them have waged a coordinated campaign to push their political agenda.

They have sent out press releases accusing mainstream organizations like the Sierra club, PETA, and Greenpeace of supporting “eco-terrorism.” the children’s movie Hoot has been dubbed “soft-core eco-terrorism for kids.” American Idol star Carrie Underwood was smeared as supporting terrorists when she encouraged her fans to support the Humane Society.

Examples like this would be funny if they had not worked their way into the top levels of government. In 2006, politicians proposed “eco-terrorism” legislation similar to bills that had been introduced at the state level for years. Because of my reporting, colleagues at the ACLU recommended that I testify at a hearing by the house Judiciary committee. Leading democrats on that committee agreed. Suddenly, the fears that I thought I had overcome began to crawl back into my head.

If I challenged this legislation, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, would I be smeared as an “animal rights terrorist”? Would FBI agents fulfill their promises from years ago and tell members of congress that I am on a domestic terrorist list? Would the representative from Wisconsin turn to me and ask, “Mr. Potter, are you now, or have you ever been, a vegetarian?”

The historian Howard Zinn always advised his students, “you can’t be neutral on a moving train.” the committee staff explicitly told me that democratic leadership supported this bill; I was to speak about my reporting but not challenge the legislation. Meanwhile, corporations and industry groups wanted nothing more than for their bill to proceed unchallenged. The train was moving, I thought, whether anyone liked it or not.

I decided I would not be a token gesture of dissent in their spectacle of democracy. Rather than propose modest tweaks to the bill, I testified that lawmakers must reject it in its entirety. I said that scarce terrorism resources should not be exploited to protect corporate interests. In my testimony, I compared the “eco-terrorist” legislation and scare mongering to one of the darkest periods of U.S. history, the communist witch hunts of the Red Scare.

As I awaited questions from members of congress and braced myself for the reaction from the democrats who invited me, I looked down at my notes and at my hands. It struck me that they were perfectly still. It was an empowering feeling, to have my words and my actions completely in line with my beliefs. Never in my life had I felt so calm.

Immediately after the hearing, I began calling activist groups and urged them to notify their members about the legislation. I began to write regularly for a Web site I created, And I began speaking at law schools, conferences, churches, potlucks, punk rock shows—anywhere I could to raise awareness about the law and help stop it.

Months later, the law was rushed through the House of Representatives with only six members of congress in the room. Most lawmakers were breaking ground for a new memorial honoring Martin Luther King Jr. when legislation was being passed that labeled King’s tactics—including nonviolent civil disobedience—as terrorism.

It was a major defeat, and for the corporations who supported the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, it was only the beginning. Since then, similar legislation has been introduced in many other states.

In Utah, a lawmaker said legislation is needed to target people like Tim Dechristopher, the University of Utah student who disrupted an oil and gas auction by bidding on parcels of land. In Tennessee, Rep. Frank Niceley argued before the general assembly for eco-terrorism legislation, saying, “Eco-terrorists are left-wing eco-greenies. It’s a different type of terrorism. They don’t have Osama Bin Laden leadin’ them.”

So how have these “eco-terrorism” laws been used? In California, four activists were arrested under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act for protesting animal experimentation outside of the experimenter’s home. Their indictment lists that they chanted, protested, made fliers, and wrote slogans on the ground in children’s sidewalk chalk. As I write this, they are awaiting trial.

For those who have been convicted as “terrorists,” the label follows them from the courtroom into prison. for example, Daniel McGowan was arrested in 2005 for his role in two arsons by the Earth Liberation Front. He targeted genetic engineering and a timber company that logged old-growth forests. In a court hearing, the lead prosecutor called the Earth Liberation Front a terrorist organization and compared the property destruction of McGowan and his codefendants to the violence of the Ku Klux Klan.

McGowan pleaded guilty to his charges and was sentenced to prison as a terrorist. He is now incarcerated in a secretive prison facility on U.S. soil, called a communications management unit (CMU). He was transferred there without notice and without opportunity for appeal.

The CMUs radically restrict prisoner communications with the outside world to levels that rival, or exceed, the most restrictive facilities in the country, including the Supermax ADX-Florence. Inmates and guards at the CMUs call them “Little Guantanamo.” they have also been described as prisons for “second-tier” terrorists.

According to the Bureau of Prisons, these inmates “do not rise to the same degree of potential risk to national security” as other terrorism inmates. Most prisoners are Muslim, and the secretive prisons have also housed Andrew Stepanian, an animal rights activist convicted of “animal enterprise terrorism” charges.

Through interviews with attorneys, family members, and a current prisoner, it is clear that these units have been created not for violent and dangerous “terrorists,” but for political cases the government would like to keep secret.


My experiences with the FBI pales in comparison to what many activists have endured, both during this “Green Scare” and in other eras of government repression. I have not been threatened with prison time, terrorism enhancement penalties, or anything like that. However, my experience has prompted the stark realization that the overly broad use of the word terrorism affects many more people than those who set foot in a courtroom.

Few activists will be visited by the FBI, even fewer will be arrested. The real purpose of all this—the FBI visits, the public relations campaigns, the legislation—is to instill fear and make everyday people afraid of speaking up for their beliefs. The scare-mongering has had what attorneys call a chilling effect: it has made everyday people feel as if they must choose between their activism and being labeled a terrorist, and that is not a choice anyone should have to make.

It can be unsettling and frightening to learn how far the government has gone to attack political activists, and sometimes I wonder if spreading this information simply makes more people afraid. But time and again, in dozens of venues, from the New York City Bar Association to anarchist bookstores, I have seen an incredible thing happen when people learn about these issues and then turn to their neighbors. Their conversations are never about how they are afraid; they are about how they are angry and want to take action.

The best way to handle the fear these scare tactics create, I learned, is to confront it head on. “Never turn your back on fear,” Hunter S. Thompson wrote. “It should always be in front of you, like a thing that might have to be killed.”


The leafleting case in Chicago was eventually dismissed, and we decided to move back to Texas. Kamber and I packed our few belongings and prepared for the journey home. I dreaded moving day. Not because of any attachment to the city, but because I did not want to walk downstairs, through the marble lobby with its Corinthian columns and Victorian couches, and enter Steve the Landlord’s office to turn in our keys. He knew, I thought. He must.

The building was old, but secure. The FBI agents did not kick down any doors when they visited our apartment. They flashed badges and were escorted inside. They probably told Steve that Kamber and I were suspected terrorists, and that this was a national security matter that needed urgent attention. Perhaps they showed him my photo, film noir style. Would he even buzz me into his office? I wondered. Would he ask me to slide the keys under the door, to keep me at a safe distance? Would he refuse to return my security deposit, because there was a “no terrorist” clause in the fine print of the lease?

I opened his door and walked up to his desk as he spoke with a couple of prospective tenants. I tried to silently slip the keys across the desk, but they jangled like jailer’s keys, and the sound of metal on wood echoed up into the vaulted ceiling. I turned, exhaled, and walked away. He called after me when I was almost to the doorway. Here it comes, I thought. Steve the Landlord is going to say how disappointed he is in both of us. How he is going to take custody of the dogs because they should not live with such terrorist scum.

“Hey, will,” he said. I turned to face him. “Give ’em hell.”

Support AlterNet by purchasing your copy of The Next Eco Warriors: 22 Young Women and Men Who Are Saving The Planet through our partner, Powell's, an independent bookstore.

Will Potter is an award-winning independent journalist based in Washington, DC. He has just released his first book, Green Is The New Red, from City Lights Books.

© 2011 Conari Press All rights reserved.
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Monday, April 04, 2011

Finding Indian Rock

"The address," my dear friend Vonn said, "is 33 Indian Rock Road." He was speaking of a Pilates and Yoga studio in the town where he lives (with his partner Barry), in the hopes that when the current yoga class Vonn and I are taking (in Medford, close to where I live) runs its course, we could take yoga closer to where he lives. But the name of that street abducted the topic of conversation at hand.
"Indian Rock Road?" I asked. "Why do they call Route 111, home of the strip mall, Indian Rock Road? In tribute? In mockery? Is it an ironic gesture, which is what most architecture and literature has been reduced to nowadays?"
"No," said Vonn in his matter of fact way. "That's the original name of the street. Before it was designated New Hampshire Route 111." Vonn comes from western Maryland in Appalachia. He ran away from home to join, not the circus, but the Navy, which he left 16 years ago. I met him shortly after he came to Boston. He's a very unusual, and a very wonderful, person.
"Oh. So, why Indian Rock Road?" There is Native American blood in the family way back, and I've always been fascinated by things Native American, especially now when I've been exposed to different elements of it with the drumming I do throughout New England.
"I guess somewhere back there in the hills there's a rock with Indian hieroglyphics painted on it," he answered.
"There is?"
"Yes." Now, who could ever resist something like this? Sounding for all the world like like the opening of a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys mystery. Further inquiries revealed that Vonn, who is pretty much a homebody when he isn't visiting Clothing Optional Resorts half a world away, had never sought said Indian Rock and couldn't say exactly where it was, except for a rather broad sweep of his hand as we rode by the hills sloping up precipitously across from Cobetts Pond.

Vonn and I occasionally work out together, and also I go to see him most every Saturday, for a long hike on the wonderfully bucolic Windham Bike Trail, which runs through unspoiled conservation area; I also do my laundry up there while I'm at it. This was a recent Saturday, when this conversation took place, apres hike, and me still itchy and restless (I quit smoking two months ago and must keep busy constantly, to the annoyance of my intimates).
"While I'm out," I said, heading out the door in search of dog food for Fionn (Woof It Down dog food store, voted the Best in New Hampshire, is right down the street from Vonn) "see if you can find out where Indian Rock is from the web," I asked. "And then call me." Thirty minutes later Vonn reported that there was a reference to a map, and the legend for the map said that Indian Rock was located in 'Grid 17' on the map-- but the map itself was located at the Windham Public Library. So after a brief but unfruitful reconnaissance of the lower end of Route 111 (aka Indian Rock Road) to the library we did go. Despite it being a modern, newly constructed building, we found the Nesmith Library (as its called) nevertheless replete with that wonderful library smell of, 'Books, books, books!' as Scarlett O'Hara said, when she was complaining about the well-read Wilkes family. There was that sibilant hush too, and a cadre of smiling women of a certain age fussing and clucking behind the front desk, or floating solo like bespectacled owls through the stacks and along the thickly-carpeted floors-- because, after all, this was suburbia-- no old creaky wooden floors here, thank you.