Jeff Biggers on “EPA’s Great Victory for Clean Water Act and Justice”

Jeff Biggers, who will be speaking at the Summit, writes on Huffington Post about a major surprise decision from the EPA, which was issued today:

Earlier this morning, I wrote a piece for April Fool’s Day, Obama Ends 150-Year War of Strip-Mining in 24 States: Mountaintop Removal Loses Its Groove.

Well, turns out the second part wasn’t an April Fool’s joke after all. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson invoked the rule of science and law today–and for the first time raised the concern of the health care crisis in the coalfields from mountaintop removal.

The EPA administrator announced a major decision today to clamp down on Clean Water Act violations from mountaintop removal mining–yes, the EPA administrator actually used the words “mountaintop removal” and not “mountaintop mining” in the press conference today–and effectively bring an end to the process of valley fills (and the dumping of toxic coal mining waste into the valleys and waterways).

Citing new EPA studies that conclusively demonstrate that “burial of headwater streams by valley fills causes permanent loss of ecosystems,” the EPA issued new conductivity levels “to protect 95% of aquatic life and fresh water streams in central Appalachia.”

Read more here.


Haymarket Books Profiled for “Small Press Month”


Haymarket Books, an organization that will be tabling at the Summit, was profiled in the Chicago Tribune as part of “Small Press Month.”

This is an excerpt from the profile on Haymarket Books, which was founded in 2001:

How many people are on your staff? As a press within a non-profit, we have a unique staff model. A few of us work on our publishing projects full time, but by and large we collectively work on all of the projects that flow out of our non-profit, the Center for Economic Research and Social Change (CERSC), which has hosted a number of speaking tours and also publishes a magazine. We work freelance designers and copy editors to pull it all off; and most importantly, our focus on social justice has brought us a truly amazing array of savvy, passionate volunteers that frequently help us promote our books and staff events across the country…

What do you wish more people knew about your press? We’d like people to know that we truly believe in activism and the power of ordinary people coming together for change. For us, our work does not begin and end with books. We believe, as the great historian Howard Zinn said, that “reading and resistance go hand in hand.” You can find us in the bookstores, and you can also meet us in the streets at local demonstrations. We’re here in Chicago and we love to collaborate with others who do good work. We recently co-hosted leading equal marriage activist Cleve Jones, founder of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, with two dynamic local organizations, Join the Impact and Young Chicago Authors. We also set up shop at WBEZ’s Hip-Hop Winter Block Party. We aim to be where there are people who want to change the world and we love to collaborate.

Where can people find you on the Web?

Want to learn more about Haymarket and perhaps even purchase a book or two from them? Come to the “Art, Access & Action” Summit on Friday, April 9th. Haymarket Books will have a table throughout the day.

Paul Street on Race, Racism, and the “Red-Baiting of Obama”

Back in August 2009, Paul Street, frequent contributor to ZMag, wrote an article titled, “The Racist Red-Baiting of Obama is About More than Race Alone,” which provides a powerful context for what Americans witnessed and experienced last week after health reform was passed.

Paul Street, who will be speaking during the Thursday night event, “The Age of Obama: Fear and Anxiety Toward Race in a Post-Racial Society,” explains:

…it doesn’t take a lot of work to discover a deep undercurrent of toxic racial animosity behind the intense white “conservative” hostility to “socialist Obama” that is expressed on talk radio, on FOX News, at Republican “tea-bag parties,” and during some of the recent “health care town-halls.” As Wise correctly observes, the white right “now too often views Obama’s moves to more comprehensive health care as simply another way to take from those whites who have ‘played by the rules’ and give to those folks of color who haven’t. Even as millions of whites would stand to benefit from health care reform-and all whites,” Wise adds, “would enjoy greater choices with the very public option that has drawn the most fire- the imagery of the recipients has remained black and brown, as with all social programs; and the imagery of the persons who would be taxed for the effort has remained hard-working white folks.” The popular noxious Amerikanner television personality Glenn Beck, a leading voice in the right crusade against Obama’s mythical “socialism,” has “sought,” Wise notes, “to link health care reform, and virtually every single piece of Obama’s political agenda to some kind of backdoor reparations scheme.” Beck has even “claim[ed] to have discovered a communist/black nationalist conspiracy in the administration’s Green Jobs Initiative.”

Does Obama’s racial identity give a special edge and hook to the right’s predictable red-baiting of the nation’s first president? Do some, perhaps many, maybe most, right-wing whites connect the dots between (a) their reactionary fear/hatred of “socialism” and “redistribution” and (b) their related fear/hatred of black civil rights, affirmative action, and reparations for blacks (we might add their fear/hatred of predominantly Latina/o immigration and citizenship)? Do a considerable number of “conservative”/ Republican Caucasians accept and advance (what we on the actual left know to be the) bizarre claim that Obama is a “socialist” in order to stealthily attack a president they really fear and/or hate because he’s black (and intelligent and charismatic and widely supported by highly educated people) – this in a time when open racial prejudice is no longer considered publicly acceptable?

I’m quite certain that the answer to each of these questions is a resounding YES. As I have occasionally gone blue in the face trying to argue with race-/racism-denying denying white Americans, race and racism are ubiquitous in American society, culture, and politics. Racial oppression is ever-present in American life, shaping and lurking behind numerous interrelated inequality structures of wealth, class, geography, and gender. The red-baiting of Obama could not lack a sharp racial edge any more than could the refusal of employers to hire people with felony records or the skewed spatial distribution of full-service grocery-stores and livable wage jobs and campaign contributions and disease rates across segregated zip codes and city ward boundaries. Moreover, the red-baiting of Democrats and Democratic social programs by the American Right has long contained a significant racial/racist content even when the politicians targeted are and were white, from Franklin Roosevelt through John F. Kerry and Nancy Pelosi…

Street goes a step further and gives the racism greater context, an explanation that goes straight to the root of the racism/red-baiting being witnessed:

…there are other explanations than only racial backlash. An obvious part of the reason for the current intensification of preposterous red-baiting from the right is the simple fact that the Democrats now control the executive and legislative branches, the latter by a significant and nearly filibuster-proof margin. The abject failures of the Bush-Cheney administration and the related, ongoing crisis and remarkable unpopularity of the Republican Party are bound to send the right into new levels of paranoid hysteria, rife with fear and loathing about the perils to “freedom” and the “American way of life” – understood by them to revolve fundamentally around (a mythical notion of) “democratic” and “free-market” capitalism – posed by the “Democratic socialists.”

This is different from the mid-1990s, when Republicans still held two of the federal government’s three branches. The pathetic G.O.P. of the post-Bush II era has been reduced to pushing one of its timeworn, wolf-crying panic buttons (“socialism!”) with special new force and frequency.  The external threat button isn’t working too well in the wake of the Cold War’s end and the fiasco in Iraq and in light of the fact that Obama is actually escalating the U.S. war “on Al Qaeda” in South Asia. This would be the case if Hillary or (miraculously) Edwards (or for that matter Biden or Dodd or Richardson or Kucinich or Nader) had attained the presidency…

Street points out that Obama “rode into office on a real wave of popular progressive sentiment and massive voter rejection of the nakedly corporate and messianic-militarist Republican.”

Read more of Street’s work and come ready for a great discussion with Street, Salim Muwakkil, and Stan West on Thursday, April 9th. See here for more details.

We will spend much of the time introducing and exploring Paul Street’s opinions on race & Obama, which he spent an entire chapter on in his book Barack Obama & the Future of American Politics.

What Will Sectors of Journalism Look Like in 2015?

Tracy Van Slyke, director of the Media Consortium, will be speaking during the Summit panel “Navigating the Media Landscape” in the morning on Friday, April 9th.

Slyke recently gave a presentation on what she thinks sectors of journalism will look like in 2015 at the Media Consortium’s annual meeting in NYC.

For many of those who were been present at the first meeting of the consortium in March 2005, and watched/helped the consortium evolve to where it is now, this meeting marked a significant change. A few years ago, the idea of editorial collaboration among members was a big no-no. Imagine exposing sunlight to vampires. That’s how quick some ran away from that conversation. A few years ago, the understanding around community building/engagement was frowned upon (not just by media consortium members, but by the journalism sector at large). But my, how perceptions have changed.

Now the ideas of collaboration and engagement are not just viewed as important, but are seen as essential to the future success, impact and sustainability of the progressive media sector. These topics were a major focus for the meeting agenda and in small-group and one-on-one conversations among meeting attendees. This drastic change has come about for two reasons.

1) Technology has broken down the barriers of collaboration, fostered more relationships among media producers, and encouraged their actual engagement and communication with their users.

2) The economic situation facing many organizations has given them no choice but to find new creative, collaborative ways to work together and with their users. This may be the only good thing that has come out of the economic troubles that journalism organizations are facing.

For the rest of her presentation, see her recent posting on, a site launched in conjunction with her new book Beyond the Echo Chamber, which was co-written by Jessica Clark.

And, plan on seeing Tracy Van Slyke speak during the Summit on Friday morning (April 9th).

Jeff Biggers in the Chicago Sun-Times

Jeff Biggers, who will be talking about his new book Reckoning at Eagle Creek, “clean” coal, and environmental news & media at 1:30 pm on Friday during the Summit, was featured in the Chicago Sun-Times. Here is an excerpt:

It had been years since Biggers had returned to his roots in southern Illinois. Decades and ambitions had taken him elsewhere: Europe, Asia, Latin America. Everywhere but home.

Working in Mexico in 1999, Biggers received a note from his uncle about the strip-mining of Eagle Creek, his boyhood stamping grounds near the Shawnee National Forest. The family homestead, one held by eight generations of Biggers since 1849, trembled in the shadow of bulldozers and coal mining’s surge, both approaching with equal velocity and vigor.

While researching and writing about other cultures, Biggers, an accomplished historian and investigative journalist, discovered that his own culture was vanishing. Two choices emerged: ignore his uncle’s plea and disregard Eagle Creek’s fate or attempt to reclaim its history as both a writer and as one of the area’s own.

“I knew I had to return,” Biggers said. “It wasn’t just our cabin and farm that was being erased, but our history, as well.”

Thus began a 10-year odyssey for Biggers, a journey culminating in Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland (Nation, $26.95), an insightful project blending Biggers’ personal connections to his southern Illinois roots with a cutting analysis of the staggering human and environmental cost of coal mining.

“It’s a decision that’s been made time after time — commerce and profit trump the human, the history and the land,” Biggers said.

The boom-and-bust cycles of the coal market, which presently furnishes more than 40 percent of the nation’s electrical needs, have stalled economic growth in the coalfield communities, made land and homes disposable, and pushed marketing slogans over human conditions, Biggers argues.

“This is not something to be glib about. We need to overcome the anatomy of denial and understand the real legacy of coal,” said Biggers, who now resides Downstate.

In today’s increasingly eco-conscious world, the coalfields inhabit a secondary role to reusable tote bags and hybrid cars despite the rampant pollution and health concerns of coal-fired plant pollution. Reckoning presents a sturdy challenge to today’s leaders, urging them to recognize coal mining’s real victims and reassess the nation’s misguided dependence and support of “clean coal,” which Biggers suggests is nothing more than a century-old marketing slogan akin to the tobacco industry pawning “safe” cigarettes.

“Coal is not our alternative energy answer but rather the prime contributor to our nation’s emissions crisis and the chief hurdle to a sustainable energy policy,” he said. “The coalfields are the real ground zero for climate change. Coal is deadly and costly and the most destructive, dirtiest way of making energy.”

Yet, Reckoning at Eagle Creek balances the darkness with light. Utilizing his journalistic skills and a historian’s eye, Biggers attempts to debunk the rising myth that coal is cheap and clean while simultaneously sharing the spirited and resilient legacy of southern Illinois’ coalfield inhabitants.

“Southern Illinois has been the crossroads of so much of our nation’s history — from Native Americans and slavery to Union wars — and here it is today fighting the environmental battle,” Biggers said.

While the book’s environmental message and Illinois setting connect it to modern-day Chicago, Biggers says the relationship runs deeper.

“We forget that Chicago was the first great coal market, that Samuel Insull lit up the world at the Columbian Exposition [in 1893],” Biggers said. “We all live in the coalfields. It might be dug down south, but Chicago burns it.”

Continue reading here.

Control of Public Media as a Social Justice Issue

Two major media activists from Chicago, James Owens and Scott Sanders, recently published a piece on how public control of media should be regarded as a social justice issue. Here is an excerpt from that article, which was published by Editor & Publisher:

There are excellent reasons to conceive of Network Neutrality as
a social justice issue. The Center for Media Justice made particularly
important contributions to this understanding with their document
“Network Neutrality, Universal Broadband, and Racial Justice,” as did
CMJ’s Malkia Cyril and co-authors Joseph Torres and Chris Rabb with
their statement “The Internet Must Not Become a Segregated Community”.
Both works powerfully clarify that the Internet system envisioned by
corporate and state officials would create first and second-class
Netizens. As the Net Neutrality struggle continues to demonstrate,
diverse publics must communicate and act on their own behalf to
establish and preserve a policy for digital technology based on equal

However, marginalized communities must not hope that a neutral
Internet will build a media system to meet their needs. It is time to
give up any remaining illusions of technological determinism. There is
no political orientation inherent in technology – not even a neutral
digital network. Only the creative labor of our communities and our
movements can produce the spaces we need to collaboratively create new
understandings of ourselves and our purposes; to communicate,
coordinate and act. Lacking creative action by our communities and
movements, universal broadband would only enable widespread access to a
system dominated by the same corporate and racist forces that dominate
the current system. After all, war and injustice continue irrespective
of Facebook, Twitter, and Digg. Though perhaps it seems obvious, it is
crucial to remember that it was primarily the culture of the producers
– not the users – that shaped the Internet medium (Castells, The
Internet Galaxy, 2003).

Historically marginalized communities now, at this crucial
juncture, could wield power as producers to shape the Internet into a
new media network to increase equity in media access and political
participation. Movements for media justice could struggle to develop
the Internet as a platform where marginalized communities can speak to
themselves and to wider audiences.

Owens and Sanders will be doing a workshop as part of the “Art, Access & Action” Summit on Friday. Also, Malkia Cyril will be present for the morning panel on Friday and she will definitely discuss how broadband is a social justice issue.

For the rest of the article, click here.

A Media Revolution That Will Begin the World Again

Robert W. McChesney, a communications professor from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and John Nichols, The Nation’s Washington correspondent, stopped in Chicago at DePaul University and 57th Street Books in Hyde Park to talk about their new book The Death and Life of American Journalism on the collapse of traditional newspapers, the decline of journalism in this country, and the solutions Americans might employ to save journalism and, in fact, save America’s democratic society from complete ruin…

…One of the ideas that most intrigued me was the idea put forth by Nichols that many, many young journalists are losing interest in journalism because there are no jobs. He proposed that America set up a News Americorps so young people could work at community radio stations, develop news sites in communities, and help start up media organizations. This would directly benefit citizens and give young people truly remarkable experiences in the field of journalism.

I feel this is one measure that could really lead young people to consider what it means to be a journalist. An Americorps program for news would not only help youth realize journalism is a public good but it would also, hopefully, lead them to be less complacent in a news media climate that desperately needs many of its conventions to be upended.

Young journalists are rightfully terrified of life without a job doing a craft they went to school to learn, school they will be paying massive student loans on for years. They play it safe and are all too willing to serve local news entities that inundate communities regularly with weather, crime, self-help, and sports segments irrelevant to whether we survive as an American society or not.

Far too many youth lack the will or fire to go out and do good muckraking journalism or just plain classic investigative reporting.

Youth come to colleges to do celebrity, fashion, and sports reporting. They want to do 600-word blog gossip and make money off what they think there is a market for. Their perceptions are usually affirmed as they are taught that political or social journalism has no advertising dollars to support it and so they must find another way to succeed…

Click here for more on McChesney’s and Nichols’ stop in Chicago