Category Archives: technology

March for Science ~ Washington D.C. Earth Day, 2017

Here’s a nice song to listen to if you don’t mind having a second window open while looking at the slides.

I am an American Citizen. A Patriot. My family has lived, worked (mostly as coal miners, farmers, and teachers), loved and died on American soil for over 400 years. I love my country. I’m also a well-educated researcher, trained in scientific method, the daughter of an electo-chemical engineer and wedded to a physicist. I rely on Truth, not “alt-facts” to navigate reality. Therefore .   .   .

In April 2017, I  felt compelled to travel from California to Washington D.C. to take part in the March for Science and, a week later, the Peoples Climate March.

Early in the morning on Earth Day, we gathered at the downtown offices of the Union of Concerned Scientists, where we had coffee and donuts, got our tee shirts, talked, and made signs. Then we marched. In spite of bitter driving rain on Earth Day, at least 300,000 people marched in the nation’s capitol (and many more participated in cities around the country) to support scientists, scientific rigor, funding for scientific research, science-based governmental and non-governmental institutions, and respect for the  scientific process as a means of understanding reality and verifying facts.

The following weekend, more than 100,000 people turned out despite ironic record-breaking heat. We marched all the way from the Capitol Building to the White House to demand that our governmental representatives honor commitments we made, with the signing of the Paris Climate Accord, to reduce carbon emissions.

Lately I often feel like I’m standing on the sidewalk watching my house burn down. Paralyzed. Hypnotized. Slack jawed. In shock.

Since the November inauguration, we’ve witnessed a violent assault against all the institutions that Make America Great: our national Environmental Protection Agency, our Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Protection Acts, our National Parks and National Monuments, our National Security System, our Courts, our Health Care, Social Security, and Medicare, old age pensions, labor unions, Food Safety, Women’s Rights, Civil Rights, our Middle Class, our Public Educational System, freedom from the threat of nuclear holocaust, national infrastructure providing good roads, hospitals, sustainable energy and healthy water systems and our respect for honesty, civility and truth. In fact every aspect of government that makes Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness possible for We the People is now under threat of being dismantled.

Every day on the news I hear new revelations about high Treason, Lies, Theft and Corruption. I, like you, try to stay balanced and positive, try to juggle day-to-day survival in an economy where it seems increasingly difficult to make ends meet. I try to eat healthy, exercise, maintain my home and garden, do creative work, read and write, meaningfully connect with family and friends, sustain a spiritual practice. I try to devote time to uniting with others in our life-or-death struggle to resuscitate the greatest democracy human civilization has yet known, to unite with others to keep those things we’ve worked so hard to protect from unraveling, to unite with the people of the world to peacefully usher in the Great Turning .   .   .

But often, the best I can do is lay on the couch twittering and facebooking the latest shockwave on my smart phone while the timber that scaffolds my earth household collapses and falls around me in flames.

In case you too have been feeling that we’ve lost our collective soul, I offer you these photos, which I took at the Climate and Science Marches. Look in the faces of these people, our fellow Americans. And know that at the marches I found that which Makes America Great: The best of America. Our Character and Values are alive and well in our People: Hope. Perseverance. Creativity. Intelligence. Humor. Ethics. Compassion. Strength. Care. Craftsmanship. Rigor. Fortitude. Innovation. Scholarship. Genius. Diversity. Union. Justice. Honesty. Respect. Faith. Courage. Love.

(climate march photos coming soon)

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Rough Cut: The Shipper/Packer/Cooler Industry and the Brown Berets

Rough Cuts: {Watsonville Brown Berets, a snippet from back in the day. This is a true story.}

Sunday morning, August 28, 1998.
Prudenciana Elementary School. Watsonville.

Aurora opened the door to the computer lab. Jose Santos, the new technology assistant, was down on his hands and knees under a shelf of colorful new iMacs, working with a tangle of cables. Aurora smiled at the slender young man with a black moustache. They made a good choice in hiring him. He’d been doing very well as a computer technician, even though he was inexperienced.

“Hey, Jose. Thanks for being willing to meet me here on a Sunday morning. How’s it going?”

“Good. We should have all the software installed, and the computers networked to the new printer by the time we go home today, but we’ll still need an adapter for the overhead projector, and we should have some of those rubber floor covers to put all these wires under, so they aren’t a tripping hazard.”

“Give me a list. I can pick that stuff up. Can I give you a hand with networking the printers?”

Aurora dove under the bank of computers, and Jose oriented her as to what he was doing. “You’ve really learned all this technology stuff fast,” she said.

“Yeah. I’m taking a full load of tech classes at the community college, going for the Cisco networking certification.”

“Brilliant move. I’ll bet networking will be huge in the future.”

Jose sat back on his heels. “That does it. Now, we should test them all.”

Jose and Aurora each took a chair in front of an iMac and turned on a computer.

Aurora navigated to Preferences, selected the new printer, restarted the computer, then opened the word processing app to test the printer connection.

“Where are you from originally, Jose?” Aurora asked while she waited for the app to open. “Did you grow up here in Watsonville?”

“I’m from Mexico. A small village outside of Guadalajara.”

“Your English is excellent. You must have been in the States for a long time.”

“No. I came to California about five years ago.”

“Have you been going to school since you got here?

“No. Working. When I first arrived, I got a job in a packinghouse, here in Watsonville. With Strawberry Bay Berry.”

“What was that like?”

“A nightmare, to tell you the truth.”

The printer came to life, rattling out the test page Jose had just sent. He turned off the computer and moved to the next one on the row against the wall.

“Nightmare? Why?” Aurora moved to the next computer in her row and pushed the on button, enjoying the ta-da sound the new iMac made when it powered up.

“I worked at a conveyor belt that moved fruit to the coolers. We were supposed to inspect for rotten and damaged fruits and pull them off, but the belt moved too fast. We also had to quickly slide a new box under the end of the belt where the fruit fell off, whenever a box was full, without letting any fruit fall on the cement floor. The shifts were ungodly long. No bathroom breaks. By the end of the day, my feet, hands, back, and head hurt, and I could hardly see straight. It was always way too hot or freezing cold. Standing all day on the cement floor just sucked the energy out of your body. You really had to pay attention, to do everything right. Somebody watched us all the time. The foreman came from my home village in Mexico. He knew my parents, and grandparents. My family had obligations to him, and I owed him for helping me get into the States and getting me my job. The man was merciless, kind of a Godfather type.”

“That does sound like a nightmare. But you got out. And now you’re at Cabrillo College and you have this job. Those are huge accomplishments.”

“Yeah. It’s because I started going to meetings of this group, the Brown Berets.” Jose said “Brown Berets” in a whisper, looking over his shoulder.

“Who are they?” asked Aurora.

“A Chicano activist group founded by a radical Episcopal priest in East LA in the late sixties, during the Black and Brown liberation movements, to help young Chicanos develop their political skills. The group decided to wear brown berets as a symbol of unity and resistance against oppression.”

Aurora moved to another computer. Ta-dah. “I’ve been teaching in Watsonville for years, and I’ve never heard of the Brown Berets.”

“The organization kind of died out after the sixties. But in ninety-four, a group of students from Watsonville decided to resurrect it. The gang-related murders of two young people had a lot to do with it. We were just a group of young Chicanos and Chicanas, tired of injustices in the community and the lack of political representation. So we decided to educate ourselves, and take the power of self-determination in our own hands.”

Jose hit the print button and the next test page spun out.

“We couldn’t have done it without our mentors, a high school counselor named Alba and this Ohlone Catholic priest we call El Gecko. It’s a real spiritual group. El Gecko helps us get in touch with our indigenous power, and teaches us the Old Ways.”

Aurora’s heart skipped at the mention of the priest. She started the next computer. Ta dah. She was not surprised to learn that Father Francis was involved in such work.

“So the Brown Berets is a peace keeping group?” Aurora asked as the printer rattled out the next test page.

“A peace building and educational organization. We recognize that Mother Earth has no borders and belongs to all of earth’s creatures. With all our diversity, we’re still all family. We should respect, not exploit and oppress one another. At our meetings, Norteños and Sureños actually meet together, cross the line, and find their brotherhood. There’s no hating. We figure out how to work together for the betterment of our community. To address gang violence, we organized an annual march that passes through all the different barrios in Watsonville, to bring the message of Peace and Unity. We’re even working with the police, to build a positive relationship between police and minority youth.”

“So, what happened to you? How did the Brown Berets help you with your job at the packing plant?”

“Well, like I said, the Brown Berets educate. Through our Education Popular, I learned about the history of the farmworkers struggle in Watsonville. I learned that those packer-shipper-cooler corporations are at the top of the ladder. Strawberry Bay Berry is actually owned, through a venture capital front corporation, by BioGenesis Agrochemical Corporation. Heard of them?”

“Oh, my God, yes,” said Aurora. “I’ve heard that their people go into the rainforest, get indigenous people to show them their traditional medicinal plants, take the plants back to the US and patent them, then tell the native people they can’t use their own plants anymore unless they pay BioGen. And the U.S. government is backing up the corporate theft. And I’ve heard they’re developing genetically modified seeds that have pesticides in their DNA, and they’re suing small family farmers all over the world who save their organic seeds in the traditional way, bankrupting them with legal fees and then seizing their farms.”

“It’s all true.” Jose started up the next computer. “And here, in the Pajaro Valley, the big shipper-cooler companies, with BioGen pulling their strings, tell the growers what to grow, when and how much. They have a huge amount of power. But guess what? I found out I have power, too. I learned that in the USA, workers have rights.”

“Yes, we do. So what happened?”

“One day, a friend of mine was operating a fork lift in a cold storage warehouse. I was there in the warehouse when he was fork lifting some heavy crates onto a high shelf. One of the crates got stuck on the lift. The foreman ordered my friend to climb up and move the crate by hand, so my friend climbed up there and pushed the crate. But when it came unstuck, it released the forklift, which bounced up and knocked him off the shelf. He fell more than fifteen feet down to the cement floor. Landed on his back. Blood pouring out of his nose, and ears. I thought he might be dead. But he opened his eyes, and ­– you know what? – the foreman told him to go home. Told him, if he went to a doctor or told anyone what happened, he might as well not come back to work.”

“That’s horrible. Inhumane. And it’s against the law.”

“Right. But keep in mind that most of these workers have no clue about American labor law. After seeing that, something just snapped inside me. The foreman sent me back to my conveyor belt. When the box filled up, I just watched the fruit fall on the floor. My foreman started yelling at me, but I didn’t care. I just stood there, watching the fruit pile up and roll all over the place. Finally, someone shut off the conveyor belt. I walked away, and never looked back. I went to the Brown Berets. Señor Alba and El Gecko helped me get into Cabrillo Community College and helped me get this job. To me, both those men are like saints. I know a lot of people they’ve helped, besides me.”

“Were there repercussions, when you walked off the job?”

“Oh, yeah. I never got my last paycheck. Some of my family in Mexico is still ticked off at me. And I definitely burned my bridges with that foreman. I’ll never work in the packing industry again. Not that I ever want to go back there anyway. I’m just lucky no one came after me. You know – to beat me up, or kill me.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah. As a matter of fact, I – ah, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about this. I’ve heard that you teachers are asking questions about the pesticides. Be careful, okay? I mean it. The people behind the strawberry industry in this town don’t like to be messed with. There’s history here, going back to before Cesar Chavez. They’re dangerous. Seriously, Aurora. Watch your back.”

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