Saturday, December 24, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Giving: Days 11 and 12: CivLAvia and Partners in Sex Education

A 2-in-1 recommendation special today!

Belated Day 11: CicLAvia
Remember when everyone in LA gave up their cars for bikes, and the LA freeways became the largest bike path system in the world?


Well, ok, maybe we're not there quite yet (although Carmageddon was a good start), but the good folks at CicLAvia are doing their best to get us there. Three times already they've shut down 10 miles of streets in downtown LA to cars, and opened them to bikes and other human powered modes of transportation. There's nothing quite like it - Angelenos from all over the city, out of their cars, enjoying the beautiful weather and our interesting city together!

Mark your calendars now for the next two CicLAvias: Sunday April 15th 2012 and Sunday October 14th 2012. And be sure and donate before January 1 - they've got some cool swag (it's LA, after all) if you give at least $25.

Day 12: Partners in Sex Education

Remember when you/your kids/your partner(s)/your parents got comprehensive sex education in school that provided age-appropriate, non-judgemental information?


Well Partners in Sex Education is working to change that, at least in Boston.

Led by the indomitable Megara Bell, Partners in Sex Education offers classes for middle school, high school, and at-risk populations in Greater Boston.

Donate to help raise the next generation of young people making healthy decisions for themselves and their partners!

*If you answered yes to this question, you are so lucky! Take a minute to write a thank you letter to your school, your principal, your sex ed teacher. This is a rare and wonderful thing!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Giving: Day 10 Aliza's Brain Trust

Back in July I blogged about my friend Aliza's stroke and need for funds to support her recovery. The good news is that she's on a slow and steady mend, though challenges remain like, oh, missing a third of her skull and needing to wear a helmet to protect her head.

It was really inspiring to see her extended community and beyond rally to raise funds for an artist/activist - almost $43,000 raised so far! Even more is needed for rehab and day-to-day expenses, so donate today. It's a no brainer!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Giving: Day 9 Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship

I love to watch movie credits. I guess it's the same instinct that drives me to read acknowledgements in books - wanting to know all the people it takes to make one book or one movie. I don't usually watch credits on TV, however - the text is too small or moves by too fast to be legible.

For some unknown reason, I was actually watching the credits to the HBO documentary Bobby Fisher Against the World when I spotted the name of my old classmate, Karen Schmeer. We were both anthropology majors at Boston University and had a number of classes together. I always appreciated her intelligence, humor, and ready smile. After graduation, we would often see each other when I worked at a copy center and she worked for Errol Morris, whose production company had offices upstairs. She'd bring pictures of enormous chickens and electric chairs down for me to copy. Later, I'd see her name in the credits to Morris's movies, noting as she moved from Production Assistant to Editor, editing films such as Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control; Mr. Death; and Fog of War. 

I was excited to catch Karen's name, and to know that she was continuing her work as a film editor. As the credits continued to roll by, I reminisced about our classes together, and tried to remember the last time we'd met. Minutes later, my memories were coldly interrupted by the last words on the screen: a dedication of the film to Karen's memory. I was horrified to learn that she was killed in January 2010 by a driver fleeing the scene of a robbery in New York City.

Her friends and family founded the Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship in her memory. The Fellowship provides "a year-long, in-depth experience designed to foster the development of an emerging, talented film editor." You can support the fellowship, currently in the process of selecting their second fellow, with a donationIt's a pretty cool program that's a wonderful tribute to Karen's generous spirit. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Giving: Day 8 PARTICIPANT INC

If I know anything at all about contemporary visual and time-based art, I have Lia Gangitano, founder of PARTICIPANT INC to thank. She's the type of curator who can make the most abstract or obscure work accessible and exciting, and she never makes me feel dumb or not cool or not in-the-scene enough. And that's a pretty tall order on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

What makes PARTICIPANT INC truly unique is the collaborative relationships it nurtures between artists, curators, and writers. This collaborative approach enables artists to take on projects that they might not be able to in other contexts. As their mission states:
PARTICIPANT INC seeks to provide a venue in which artists, curators, and writers can develop, realize, and present ambitious projects within a context that recognizes the social and cultural value of artistic experimentation. 
Donate to support this risk-taking artist-centered non-profit art space. And stop in the next time you're in the neighborhood. I guarantee you'll be surprised, challenged, and maybe even delighted by whatever they've got going on.

Monday, December 19, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Giving: Day 7 In Memory of Troy Davis

If you were like me, you were glued to Democracy Now's live reporting leading up to the shameful execution of Troy Davis on September 21.

That night I wrote on Facebook: 
Going to bed sickened and angry and ashamed of the US tonight. Trying to remember the incredible strength and determination showed by Troy's sister Martina Correia and her son, De'Jaun.

Early the very same day, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were freed from prison in Iran. Shane's first words to the press were: 
Two years in prison is too long, and we sincerely hope for the freedom of other political prisoners and other unjustly imprisoned people in American and Iran.

Though Shane can't have known about the status of Troy Davis' case, his words on that day were an incredible call for strength and solidarity in the face of personal injustice and suffering, a trait exhibited by Troy Davis himself only days before his murder by the state of Georgia:
‎The struggle for justice doesn't end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones who will come after me. I'm in good spirits and I'm prayerful and at peace. But I will not stop fighting until I've taken my last breath. (via Amnesty International)

How could I wallow in my own sadness and frustration when people like Troy and Shane refused to? So I got up the next morning and gave a donation to The Innocence Project, an organization that works to exonerate those wrongly convicted, like Troy Davis. You can donate to them here

Obviously it's urgent to free innocent people, but it's also urgent to abolish the death penalty in the US, which is why I also gave to the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. This grassroots organization takes leadership directly from death row prisoners and their families. Donate to CEDP here.   

While you're at it, why not donate to Democracy Now, too?

In a sad postscript, Martina Correia, who had been battling breast cancer for more than ten years, passed away on December 1. The Nation published a moving tribute to her and her steadfast work to save her brother's life.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Giving: Day 6: Outernational

Simply put, Outernational are the Pied Pipers of the Revolution.

I mean that in a good way. Like: they're not going to lead us to our deaths, but rather to a whole new world.

And you're gonna shake your booty a whole lot on the way there.

The first time I saw Outernational play (which I think was their second show ever) was as a kickoff to the march protesting the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. A few nights later they played an Axis of Justice show at the Knitting Factory, sharing the stage with revolution rock luminaries such as Tom Morello, Steve Earle, Serj Tankian, and Michael Franti. These influences are evident in their music, but above all else the band embodies the spirit of The Clash. It's in Miles Solay's swagger and the way he growls and spits lyrics with such fervor and love. It's in Jesse Williams' Paul Simonon-like wide-legged stance; this man is making a fierce and funky stand! Leo Mintek is coming into his own as a lead guitarist, alternately bringing dance grooves worthy of a BAD-era Mick Jones and wailing classic rock solos, all the while keeping time on stage with a deconstructed John Lennon knee bounce. The sharply dressed Dr. Blum is the band's secret weapon. Tucked between Mintek and a rotating cast of drummers who have included Chad Smith of RHCP, Dr. Blum adds shimmering keyboards, rousing accordion, and the clarion call of the trumpet to the mix, bringing to mind early tour mates Gogol Bordello.

I've known Jesse and Miles since well before there was an Outernational - we'd been in the streets together as activists for years. It made total sense to me when they went from organizing Philly Freedom Summer for Mumia to starting a band. They understood that music has the potential to reach far more people than their organizing efforts did, and that music can be a galvanizing force for a movement.

Political movements need songs that crystallize their hopes and propel their bodies forward. At the end of this, the American Fall (in perhaps more ways than one), Outernational has the chance to be the soundtrack of a renewed grassroots movement in this country. Their vision is unapologetically and uncompromisingly grand, their groove infectious, their lyrics aspirational.

This is Future Rock.

My friend, mentor, and hero Peter Sellars says that the role of the artist is to imagine the world you want to live in, create that world, and then live in it.

Outernational are the artists that we desperately need right now, showing us that there is a "whole other way." Best way to support the band and the world they are creating? Buy their music and merch (new album dropping SOON!) for yourself, your friends, your family.

To the future!!!

12 Days of Christmas Giving: Belated Day 5: Show Box LA

If you have seen, participated in, or produced local dance in Los Angeles then you know Show Box LA.

Maybe you've been to the recently deceased Anatomy Riot ("don't be sad it's over, be glad it happened"), taken or taught a class through DANCEbank, submitted to and/or read itch Dance Journal, or attended Show Box's presenting debut of Miguel Gutierrez (pictured here), which by the way made the LA Times Best of 2011 list!

The fact is, if you care about dance in LA, successful local dance scenes in general, or just think that a supportive, generous approach to building artistic communities should itself be supported generously, then you need to donate to Show Box LA today.

Friday, December 16, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Giving: Day 4 Kristin Hersh/Strange Angels

You know the saying "tis better to give than to receive"? Well with today's recommendation, you receive even as you give!

Kristin Hersh has been a mainstay of the alternative music scene since the late 1980s with her band Throwing Muses, and later as a solo artist and with 50FootWave. Living in Boston, I got to see Kristin perform all the time. In fact, I've probably seen her live more than any other performer. My favorite memory is when she was hugely pregnant playing a show at the Middle East downstairs, and they'd put up little signs all over asking people not to smoke for Kristin's sake (remember when you could smoke in bars?!).

In case you're not familiar, here's an early live performance (good audio, bad video)

and a solo video

She also published a musical memoir of sorts last year, Rat Girl, where she intertwines stories from her early days as a teen musician in Providence, RI with lyrics from songs. She did a number of live performances from the book, reading and singing. She's a compelling storyteller, in song, spoken word, and print. There's quite simply no one like her.

Kristin has set up an innovative system to sustain herself as an independent, working musician called Strange Angels. Think of it like an ongoing Kickstarter campaign. In her words:

You and Kristin are stake holders in common. You both want the art to continue. Kristin wants to continue working. Your support keeps this flow moving, and that flow creates a read-write experience where all parties in the artistic ecosystem enrich the experience as a whole. It’s about supporting the artist and listeners alike.

You pay $30 a quarter to support Kristin as an artist, and in return you get free media downloads (rare early TM concerts, works in progress, previews), free concert tickets, free CDs, etc. For me, having a personal connection with one of my favorite musicians is the best benefit possible.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Giving: Day 3 Political Research Associates

I first got to know the work of Political Research Associates when I worked in the copy center downstairs from their office in the early 1990s. Their staff would bring in the most interesting documents to copy - including fascinating primary and secondary materials on right-wing movements, neo-conservatives, and Christian extremists. I started asking if I could make copies for myself, and struck up friendships with some of their staff. I learned first-hand from their amazing team of researchers that no matter how much we may want to dismiss certain right-wing leaders as "nuts," we only do our own progressive organizing efforts a disservice by not taking our opponents seriously.

In PRA's view, in-depth research and analysis on the right is essential for progressive movements to succeed. They succinctly explain their focus on the right on their website:
While attacks on civil liberties can come from any direction, the political and Christian Right use skillful marketing that exploits the public’s desire for quick solutions and capitalizes on today’s hectic information flow. With clever slogans that oversimplify complex public policy issues, the Right routinely scapegoats others in pursuit of their agenda.
PRA responds with fair and accurate analysis, looking beneath the sound-bites and slogans of the Right, exposing the true goals and agendas of specific leaders, organizations and movements. We then present our analysis in ways that can help the media, advocates and educators understand and challenge the Right.
When the mainstream media catches on to issues such as US ministers contributing to homophobic laws in African countries such as the recent case in Uganda, or the links between violent anti-abortion extremists and militia movements such as we saw with Eric Rudolph, they turn to to PRA for explanations and analysis.

Donation to PRA supports their Activist Resource Kits, Special Reports and other publications, and their ongoing research on a wide variety of issues with both domestic and international implications. They also maintain a vast library of primary and secondary materials at their Somerville, Massachusetts office.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Giving: Day 2 The World Can't Wait

For many people, the Occupy Movement was exactly what they've been waiting for: an activist mobilization not focused on lobbying elected officials, that takes a stand against - and for - myriad issues that impact our daily lives.

I like to think that The World Can't Wait has been part of laying the groundwork for something like Occupy to happen. They've been relentlessly standing up and speaking out on Guantanamo, war crimes, the multiple US wars, attacks on reproductive rights, and more since 2005. 

In her end of the year fundraising letter, my good friend WCW director Debra Sweet writes, "We go after the cutting edge issues, dig through the lies and cover-ups to speak the truth. We find substantive and visible ways to encourage people to act on what their consciences tell them is true, opening up space for people to take principled stands of resistance. And we support them when they do."

World Can't Wait supports us...and we need to support them. Their all-volunteer national office puts every  donation straight to work on campaigns like the We are Not Your Soldiers speaking tour, defending abortion providers, War Criminals Watch, and more. 

Donate today!

12 Days of Christmas Giving: Day 1 The National Network of Abortion Funds

OK, I'm not much into Christmas, but I am into supporting organizations and artists I believe in. But being newly unemployed, I don't have a lot of money. So my holiday giving this year will come in the form of promoting causes I wish I could be funding with generous contributions. By featuring a different group or individual each day, I'm spreading the word about their fabulous work, and am hoping that YOU, dear reader, will feel compelled to send a check or two of your own.

All of the organizations and artists I'll detail here function on relatively low budgets, which means your small (medium, large...) donation actually makes a big difference.


Regular readers of my blog know that I have a long history as a reproductive rights organizer and activist, and that the abortion issue is close to my heart. In 1999 I co-founded the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund to help make the right to abortion accessible to all women. The EMA Fund is one of 100 funds across the US that are part of the National Network of Abortion Funds. NNAF and its member funds fill the gaps left by the lack of Medicaid funding, dwindling insurance coverage, and the economic recession in general.

NNAF places the women traditionally ignored by the mainstream choice movement - low-income women, women of color, young women, rural women - front and center in a movement that unapologetically advances a reproductive justice agenda. At a time when a record number of abortion restrictions are being proposed, NNAF's work is not only urgent but essential.

Donate to NNAF and know that you are not only making a concrete difference in one woman's life, but you are also taking a stand with those on the leading edge of this ongoing battle.

So Beautiful or So What? My Favorite Music of 2011

Layered harmonies, rich yet experimental orchestration, and sounds that range from sparkling and jangly to deep gothy vibrations are the qualities that characterize my favorite music this year. Bonus: over half of my selections feature female vocalists.

If I could only pick one album from the whole year, no question it would be Wilco's brilliant The Whole Love. OK, I may be biased because I'm a big Wilco fan.

As I said in a post early this year, I adored The Decemberists The King is Dead. It's a return to everything I love about the band, and the album makes me happy every time I put it on.

The Fleet Foxes' second album Helplessness Blues is full of exquisitely layered harmonies that call to mind Graham Nash's first album, and that's not a bad thing.

Speaking of layers, Paul Simon at his best makes music that manages to be cheesy and deeply profound at the same time. I remember the first time I heard "Call Me Al" - I thought it was the stupidest song I'd ever heard. But of course repeated listenings revealed a master songwriter at work. So Beautiful or So What is Simon's best album in two decades, full of irreverence, beauty, and moments that seem to both crystalize and challenge one's whole life in a simple refrain.

For some bands, the transition from bedroom recordings to a budget and studio time can be a disaster. For tUnE-yArDs, it was a revelation. Whokill, Merrill Garbus's second album, takes everything that was interesting and new and exciting about her first endeavor and turns it up to 11, with fantastic results.

My enthusiasm for Whokill is certainly an influence on my attraction to Thao & Mirah's eponymous album, produced by Garbus. I like Thao Nguyen ok on her own, and wasn't familiar with Mirah, but the two of them together with Garbus's sonic experimentation make for a compelling listen.

I was late to the New Pornographers' party, but now I've got my hat on, noisemakers in hand, and I couldn't be happier. I love Together, plain and simple. Is it their best album? I honestly don't know. But I went back to it over and over during 2011 (and even featured it here earlier this year), and that's enough for now.

I get a number of "song of the day" podcasts and downloads. Many are fine. Some I dislike, mostly because of genre. Only a few make me stop what I'm doing and pay attention. Laura Marling's single "Sophia" was one of the latter, and it made me immediately buy her previous album and, in an unprecedented move, pre-order her 2011 offering, A Creature I Don't Know. There's something about her that calls to mind Joni Mitchell. Not in her sound or lyrics or songwriting style exactly. It's more in the quality of her voice, and her approach to singing.

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins' Diamond Mine sounds like it's come into this moment through a time portal from long ago and far away, and yet somehow the album's production couldn't be more fresh. Lush and a bit haunting, it's the perfect listen for a misty, cool day.

EMA's Past Life Martyred Saints and Zola Jesus's Conatus both feature young women with big, powerful voices. Whereas the latter sets a gothy mood and sticks with it, the former careens from a 7+ minute dark and fantastic epic to a shorter, sunnier, brattier, but no less industrial ode to the Golden State.

These two acts were joined by other booming women's voices this year. Anna Calvi (Anna Calvi), Austra (Feel it Break), and Alison Mosshart (The KillsBlood Pressures) all wowed me with their power, while My Brightest Diamond (All Things Will Unwind) and St. Vincent (Strange Mercy) brought their swirling and swooping oddities to the mix. Supergroup Wild Flag (Wild Flag) rose from the ashes of some of my most beloved bands and succeeded in exceeding nostalgia, while Cults (Cults) provided some continuity to last year's neo-60s sound with a dark center at the heart of their fluffy confection.

My last two favorites of the year both include interesting collaborations. The Tuareg trance-rock band Tinariwen collaborates with some of my favorite challenging rock musicians, including Nels Cline, Kyp Malone, and Tunde Adebimpe on their latest, Tassili. 

Son Lux made We Are Rising as part of the RPM Challenge to make an album, start to finish, in the month of February. NPR Music covered the Son Lux project, and you can read more about it here. Listen to a song from the album here; scroll down to find the Son Lux song.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Occupy Los Angeles, Occupy Everything

They think they've locked the people out, but instead they've locked themselves in. In doing so they've declared their position; government sides with the 1%.


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