_It’s now obvious that the Occupy Wall Street movement has captured the public eye. According to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, the nationwide movement filled 10 percent of the overall big media newshole Oct. 10-16, up from 7 percent the previous week and from just 2 percent the week before that. With coverage during that time in outlets from the Santa Cruz Sentinel to the Huffington Post, Occupy Santa Cruz proves no exception to the national trend. But is the media getting it right?
“In general, the mainstream media has had a very difficult time framing Occupy for the same reason that detractors have found it easy to criticize us: the movement is novel and very unlike any previous protest movement,” says Andy Moskowitz, a member of Occupy Santa Cruz’s media working group. “It’s hard, for this reason, to write a traditional hook, a traditional 600–word newspaper story or 120–second television brief. And it’s hard to see what we’re about until you approach us at street level.” Thya Shea, another member of the media working group, adds, “There’s been a lot of generalizations because people aren’t able to peg it down. People don’t know how to report on it. I don’t think [these generalizations] accurately depict what we’re doing.”
Like the protests that took place in Egypt and Israel earlier this year, and on which some say Occupy Wall Street was originally based, Occupy Santa Cruz has heavily relied upon alternative forms of media to get the word out in the way the members of movement themselves see fit—an approach that has proven quite successful. “Within the first four days that the Facebook page was up, there were like 750 likes,” Shea says. “Ten days later was [our first] General Assembly and 300 people showed up, advertised purely through Facebook. I remember saying [before the General Assembly], ‘We’ll see what a like on Facebook means in person . . . whether people actually get off of their couches for it,’ and in this community, they did.” The page now has over 5,000 likes. “I visit the Facebook page like 900 times a day,” laughs David Schlesinger, another member of the media working group.
The media working group is still brainstorming ways to broadcast their message. They’re hoping to create “a more democratic newsmedia” on their website, occupysantacruz.org. “We’re trying to allow people to directly voice their opinion . . . we’d like our publication to not just represent the General Assemblies, but also the diversity of the people [that attend them],” Moscowitz says. He explains that it’s a difficult task because “a lot of people have a lot of things they’d like to say about Occupy Santa Cruz, but we can’t publish everything having it look like it represents the group [as a whole].” They thus plan to accept “community reporting” through a contact form on the site, letting individuals send in essays, photos or videos. “Our occupation is far less about the Federal Reserve than it is about us,” says Moscowitz. “It’s our connections, it’s our process, it’s our working groups, it’s our shared meals and campouts that make this movement newsworthy and revolutionary.”
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Weekly:
_Jim Holm and Nick Drobac, co-founders of The Clean Oceans Project (TCOP), are thinking big. They’re working toward a multi-step plan to locate, harvest and dispose of plastics that have accumulated in the “great Pacific garbage patch,” or the North Pacific Gyre, the convergence zone where research suggests millions of tons of plastics have collected. But just getting out to the North Pacific Gyre will be a time- and cost- intensive process.
Holm explains that it will take two months to get out to the gyre in order to spend three or four months harvesting plastics there. They also hope to stop and spend time at remote islands along the way to organize beach cleanups, because “those islands will never get cleaned up otherwise,” says Holm. “There’s nobody out there.” In order to reduce the time and cost it will take to accomplish all of this, TCOP plans to employ new technology that can convert the plastics they harvest into the fuel that will keep them going. The technology will vaporize the plastic they collect by heating it up in a pressure vessel. When those vapors cool back down, they turn into a liquid that is essentially crude oil. After a second refining process, the Drobac and Holm will end up with about equal parts diesel, gasoline and kerosene, plus a small amount of leftover gunk (not the technical term).
“Eight pounds of plastic will yield about a gallon of fuel,” Drobac says. “We can put the diesel straight into the tanks for the mothership, as it were,” Holm explains. “We can use the gasoline in the outboard motors of the small boats [that will be part of the harvesting process]. We have no specific purpose for the kerosene while we’re at sea, but we’ll save it for when we get back.”
Holm and Drobac, who thus far have almost entirely self-funded TCOP, will demonstrate this “modern alchemy” of turning plastics into fuel on Wednesday, Oct. 26. Cleaning up our oceans is a colossal undertaking, but the pair is undaunted. “We don’t believe anything’s impossible. Difficult, maybe,” Holm says. “All of the components of our process have been tested individually. They’ve never been put together as a system, but there’s no real reason of why they shouldn’t work together.”
In addition to showing off this remarkable process, Drobac and Holm hope to get those who come to the event to think about the role plastics play in their lives. “We’re trying to communicate as much as possible that it’s not the answer to keep consuming the way we consume just because we’ve found better ways to dispose of the waste material,” Drobac says. “First and foremost, we want people to look at their habits and try to change them where they can. Refusing [plastics] first, reusing them next, and recycling them as sort of a last resort.”
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Weekly:
_Luis Benitez paused when he saw me coming down and leaned into the axe planted in the snow above him.
“Hey Sam, how’re you feeling?”
“Good . . . tired,” I replied, my voice weak.
“I’ll bet you are,” he said, and laughed. “Why don’t you go back to base camp, get yourself a coke, go to college, find a hot boyfriend—how ‘bout a junior—and forget this scene for a while,” he said.
That was one of the first conversations I had coming down from the top of Everest in 2007. Benitez, an experienced guide, was headed up for his group’s own summit bid, what would be his sixth summit of the peak. After our meeting he continued on to the top of the world, but once he got there, instead of the usual euphoria he felt something less pleasant.
“I felt pretty disillusioned,” he told me over the phone a few days ago as he walked his dogs around his Colorado neighborhood.
Benitez’s discomfiture stemmed from an event that had occurred about seven months before, while we were both on Cho Oyu, the 26,906-foot Himalayan giant 19 miles west of Everest. While I was high up on the mountain making my summit bid, Benitez was back at base camp, where he witnessed a tragic event unfold, an event recounted in the film Tibet: Murder in the Snow, which will screen Saturday, Oct. 15 at the Del Mar and feature a post-film discussion with Benitez. The film features first-hand footage taken by Romanian mountaineer Sergiu Matei.
On Sept. 30, 2006, Benitez and about 100 other mountaineers heard gunshots coming from the Nangpa La, a 19,050-foot-high mountain pass between Tibet and Nepal visible from camp. Still used for commercial trade, it and other passes like it historically provided the gateway for Tibetans into Nepal, allowing for the settlement of the well-known Sherpa communities in Nepal’s high Himalaya. It has now become known as the “poor person’s refugee gate.”
“Many wealthy Tibetans can buy their way out of the country,” Benitez says. “But [poorer] Tibetans can’t do that . . . their only choice is something like this pass—they can’t afford bribes, they can’t afford permissions.”
The Chinese border patrol had opened fire on about 70 Tibetans who were making an attempt to flee by way of the pass. Even with crude weaponry and aim, they managed to lodge a fatal bullet into the back of Kelsang Namtso, a 17-year-old nun hoping to escape into India in order to freely practice her religion and realize her dream of meeting the Dalai Lama.
I didn’t hear about the incident until I returned to base camp, and even then I only heard a few scattered details. “There was a body on the pass, but don’t worry, it’s been cleaned up now,” I was told. It was only after I returned to the states that I realized the irony that while I, a 17-year-old Westerner, stood on the top of a mountain under which, by some Buddhist legends, the instructions on how to save the world from chaos are buried, Chinese officials prodded the lifeless body of a 17-year-old nun who had made a desperate attempt for a better life, taking photos with her body and the summit in the background.
The event created a rift in the mountaineering community. Some of the guides, people from the Western world running a business for Western clients, didn’t want the information to get out for fear they wouldn’t be able to get permits to return the next year. The Chinese government, they reasoned, would have no reason to let climbers into the country in the future if it meant having witnesses who would report on incidents such as this one.
Benitez says he was appalled when he learned that no one else planned to report the shooting. After he wrote an anonymous article for the website http://www.explorersweb.com, a couple of other guides found out and, Benitez says, “came down on my head for speaking out. It was a cussing and screaming match.” Then they told him that the Chinese government had his name, that he’d better get out of there.
After Benitez was safely home, British journalist Jonathan Green picked up his story. “He told me that if we did the story, you’d have to name names [of who tried to cover it up], you’d have to call the whole thing out. I knew if I did it was going to change my career. I felt that something was broken [in the mountaineering community], so I chose to collaborate on the article.”
According to Benitez, the release of the event had the feared effect: it caused permitting and logistics to become much more difficult on Cho Oyu. He says the release of Green’s article in Men’s Journal, which denounced the climbers who chose to remain silent about the event, also fractured the mountaineering community—not just about whether to continue to fuel “summit fever,” the term invoked when mountaineers seemingly put their own glory ahead of helping their fellow man—but also over what would be the best course of action for the greatest number of people in Tibet.
“I get it,” Benitez says, “we provide work and revenue to Sherpas and the Tibetans. It’s a loss of income to them. It affects their livelihood. But to me, the bottom line for it all was a question of human rights.”
The net effect of publicizing the event is unclear. Benitez says the Chinese government “still calls it normal border management to this day.” What’s more, China built a new garrison port to catch refugees going over the pass. Attempts to get the incident recognized as a crime against humanity were stalled because it “was not a genocide,” says Benitez.
But Benitez says filling in the knowledge void about China’s relationship with Tibet is still important. He equates the average Chinese person’s level of knowledge about the treatment of Tibetans to what residents of the 13 colonies were told about the Native Americans. “They’re told [by the government] that they’re bringing infrastructure, health care, religion—isn’t it great?” Benitez says. “They don’t hear about border shootings or mass killings due to religion. It’s all perspective.
“This is the first time in 50 years that Westerners have seen and spoken out about it. It’s a sticky subject for climbing and human rights because we don’t know what to do with it.”
Originally Published in the Santa Cruz Weekly:
‘THERE’S a bunch of butterflies down there!” a girl of about 9 excitedly whispers to me as I start down the bridge toward the eucalyptus grove of Natural Bridges State Beach, the winter home to thousands of monarch butterflies recently arrived from the north. Surveying the underbrush, I glimpse one resting on a leafy stalk and hold my breath as I lean in with my camera in an attempt to capture its delicate stance. A step too far and the creature is up in the air, swirling as if in a dance with two newfound friends. I crane my neck to watch their ascent into the trees, their path bringing my attention to a eucalyptus branch that looks slightly off. And then it becomes clear: hundreds of reddish, drooping leaves are actually all monarchs.
Natural Bridges celebrates the return of the monarchs this Sunday, Oct. 9 at the 31st annual Welcome Back Monarchs Day. It’s also a celebration of the re-opening of the boardwalk trail that leads down to the eucalyptus grove—repaired with the help of the Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks after it was damaged last winter. This Sunday will be the scene of true monarch mania. Park ranger Martha Nitzberg reels off the attractions: “There will be monarch music, monarch dancing, the return of monarch man and monarch woman, the rising of the monarch flag. There will even be hand-made pumpkin—I mean butterfly—ice cream.” As with all festivals, arts and crafts, face painting and a raffle round out the bill, and this case there are also monarch-friendly gardening tips and, of course, trips down the boardwalk trail to see the butterflies. It’s the perfect family destination and, as Nitzberg puts it, “an opportunity to have different generations connect to the natural world.
“The festival is about protecting an insect, which is unusual,” she says. “I hope it will create awe and inspiration to protect the little things.” But while the return of the monarchs provides a great excuse to celebrate, Nitzberg notes that Natural Bridges isn’t just about the butterflies, and the event will provide a time for people to explore any of its many different habitats, from intertidal zone to wetlands. “I hope the day will make people want to come back here,” she says. “After all, the parks are for everyone.”
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Weekly: