Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Riverwest Co-op

There are some things that one should not miss if they visit Milwaukee or live here. The Riverwest Co-Op is one of these things. The Co-op is located at the corner of Fratey and Clarke Street and provides a heart to an eclectic neighborhood. The Co-op is run almost completely by volunteers, to which I am a part. Every Saturday morning, I head down to the Co-op and begin a good morning by volunteering in the kitchen. Most of the time I spend my time washing dishes and taking orders, but I have deep aspirations of learning to be the ultimate vegan cook that my co-workers have achieved.

There are a couple of people who I volunteer with that provide a front to serve tons of famished community members good and tasty vegetarian treats. The Co-op serves as not only a restaurant, but a community grocery store that only stocks the finest fruits, vegetables, juices and grains.

The people that I work with are a group of dreamers. Guys that live their lives trying to find something that allows them to break away from the profit driven society to find something authentic. All of us share this vision to a certain extent and we live, serving as the backpedaling force that tries to stop the alienation that we feel within ourselves and the people that we surround ourselves with.

First there is Zack. Zack is a quirky little guy who's smile never leaves his face. Zack a genuinely kind guy with a good heart works on creating the condiments for all the dishes that we serve at the co-op. Residing from up state rural Wisconsin, his family has some land in the middle of the national forests up around the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The small town good bigheartedness is certainly evident in Zack's personality and reflects to some extent the hospitality of small town America.

Then there is Greg, Greg is the only full time kitchen guy that actually gets paid to work there. Greg is a native of Boston and avid collector of zines, artwork and music. A couple of times a month he opens up his house to a gallery display in the living room of his small house. People from throughout the community come and jam pack themselves into this small room to see the spectacle of artwork shining from the creativity of a social group that has created its own society amongst the toils and tears of this seemingly degraded and used up world. An immortal class as Culley would describe it. Greg has been a resident of the Riverwest Community for about four years.

Finally there is Rawles. I don't know Rawles's first name but he really adds to the environment of the kitchen as well. Rawles is Greg's right hand man, who takes over the stove when he shows up, allowing Greg to catch up on the paperwork that needs to be done. Rawles is quiet and seems to live his life in a mediative state. There is something in Buddhism that involves being very aware of exactly what you are doing whether that is washing dishes or making food. The trick is to do this in a meditative state where the one and only thing on your mind is doing exactly what is in front of you. Rawles exemplifies this very well, when the kitchen gets busy and the rest of are running like chickens with their heads cut off trying to figure out what is going on. Rawles is concentrated, relaxed and intentional about the job in front of him. He remains in this ascetic state no matter how crazy things get.

That is the crew that I work with. Each and every one of them offers a new degree of fun to the job. All are genuinely good individuals which make volunteering a joy.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Internet Radio

Its Friday, and been a long week. Yea! Much of the time in the world of activism you get really zoned in on what you are working on to the point that you forget about everything else that is going on in the world of activism. Focus on the task in front of you is certainly important, but you can't forget to take a step out of that world and see the bigger picture.

I want to talk here about the need to Support the Internet Radio Equality Act. What is going on right now is that Congress just passed legislation that makes internet broadcasters have to pay for every person that tunes into their radio station. What is so neat about the internet is that it allows for the free flow of information across seemingly equitable streams. Internet Radio, especially the little radio stations that survive on shoe string budgets don't have the ability to pay these royalty rates. If we don't speak up now internet radio, at least for the small guys will effectively disappear leaving big corporate music radio intrests to have a monopoly on what we listen to. I say screw that! I don't wish to listen to a bunch of top 40 Billboard crap for the rest of my life and I am sure that you feel the same way. There are so many neat ecletic genres of music that would never get heard if it wasn't for these small independent radio webstreamers.

The Internet Radio Equality Act reverses this process and allows for small independent webstreamers to continue to play creative, fun and innovative music that dosen't make you puke. Please support this legislation by contacting your Congressman immediately.

Please visit:

Thursday, June 28, 2007

An arguement for Unions

You can never make everybody happy, no matter what you do. In the world of activism that is certainly the case. The world revolves around, or at least for me around a careful set of compromises that attempt to negociate the precariousness of everyday life. In activism, is always a group that you are "fighting" against. Generally these sorts of people aren't exactly your best bud drinking buddy kind of types. When unions start challenging your 'bottom line' your bound to not be on the same page with them. Money is not only money, but power and much of the time it is power or lack of it that can oftentimes be more threating than the loss of monetary wealth.

The purpose of the union is to take power/money (however you see it) from the rich and give it to the poor. The union is the Robin Hood of the modern capitalist society, an insitution that ensures that democracy continue to be upheld. In the way that our governmental structure is set up, we have a system of checks and balances that seeks to limit the amounts of power that each governmental balance has. It was Milton Friedman, author of Captialism and Freedom, was one of the largest proponents of free market economics said that "The great threat to freedom is the concentration of power." Yet laizee-faire capitalism without unions creates just that; unions provide the democracy and checks and balances system in the structure of the free market that check the concentration of power.

Unions provide democracy for the free market. They diffuse the power that is so willingly taken up by the what C Wright Mills calls "the power elite." So there you go, unions are not only inherantly a democratic method of checking power, but they respect the dignity of the people that are powerless.

In my last post, I talked about the workers who were trying to organize here in Milwaukee. Without monetary sway and power to speak up about the conditions of their workplace, within the microcosm of the workplace, they had no voice. The union gives collective bargining power and allows all the workers at the plant to combine their power/monetary resources and take a stand for themselves.

Sure there are corrupt unions out there who aren't really out there in the best intrest of every man woman and child, I will not argue that unions are the perfect solution for bringing about a idealistic/utopian world, but given the pragmatic nature of the economic structure that we have in place, its the best solution that we have at our disposal.

Peace Always,


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Liberated Office Monkey

(That's me over to the side)

Well, this job is going okay, most of the time I just feel like an office monkey developing materials behind a screen of a computer. If this is what organizing is all about, maybe I won't be one for as long as I thought. However, I don't think that this is the case when I get off the ground with this project.

Yesterday, I had my first opportunity to attend a union organizing meeting. This is where the joys of activism that I have been looking for happen. Don, a middle aged white hard nosed tough guy union organizer stood in the basement of a congregation here in Milwaukee. His face showed the signs of wear that fighting for justice may cause, but still remained full of energy and resilient in front of a crowd of black listeners. The people who had came were tired of being treated like animals with no sense of dignity at the workplace. There job consists of handling old drugs, logging them and disposing of them properly. Many of these drugs were not safe to be handling and workers at the plant are being sucepted to needless degrees of dangers at the workplace. They were angry about the positions that they were being put in and for justifiable reasons.

The passion of these workers was unlike anything I had seen. These people, who were beat up and kicked around like trash by their employers knew and collectively realized that they had a voice and if used correctly, they could really bring about change in their lives! People have the power if united together to bring about real social change in their lives! Although much of the time it won't be easy, the fruits of their exploited labor will at some point be realized if they keep their voice up.

As I rode home through the degraded neighborhoods that surrounded the church, I passed over and through the crippling poverty that many of these workers lived in. Something that people in more privileged positions like to call "the ghetto" which are actually neighborhoods where people live. For many of us, it is easy to pass over this "ghetto" on the modern highways and interstates that individuals who have more important things to do use so consistently. But underneath those massive concrete bridges that serve as the veins of our "efficient" capitalist state, there is another reality that exists for a population that is invisible to those of us with Internet connections, a population segregated physically from where we live and segregated from our sights and minds.

This is the reality of the working poor, witnessing empowerment that is already organic to these lively church halls against all the forces of oppression exists something special.

General Introduction

So I must admit, that I am new to blogging. But I find the concept of it pretty cool. My name is Jon and I just graduated from Marian College with a degree in Sociology and Political Science with a concentration in Peace and Justice Studies.

I guess its neat to be a college graduate. I am currently working in Milwaukee, WI in an internship with an organization called Interfaith Worker Justice. Interfaith works with the religious community to support issues of economic justice for low-wage workers. In school at Marian, I was particularly interested in the convergence of how religion and the labor movement work together to bring about positive social change for the exploited and marginalized workers.

Now working for Interfaith is allowing me to put that ideal of being in solidarity with the poor and oppressed has allowed me to action. Where it will lead me following the end of this internship is uncertain, but the desire to help people who have not had the opportunities that I have had is particularly exciting the internship began a few weeks ago with an orientation to Interfaith Worker Justice in Chicago where 41 interns from across the United States converged to learn to 101's about Community Organizing. We all left Chicago empower to go about in making social change with a sense of possible idealism that could not be matched! So now I spend my time here in Milwaukee, trying to understand what Community Organizing is all about. There are many people that will be with me along this path.

Rev. Daniel Heckenlively, one of the most friendly and charismatic leaders in the Faith Community for Worker Justice is working with me to see that the program that I am working on goes through. Rev. Heckenlively is a retired pastor in I believe the Presbyterian Church. He was the representative that came from Milwaukee to Chicago for the National Conference that I got the chance to meet with. He's a real firecracker if I must say so myself and willing to speak up and talk about justice whenever he has the chance.

Then the is Sheila Cochran, the Chief Operating Officer of the Milwaukee County Labor Council. Shelia is one of the most focused people that I have had the opportunity of meeting. She is a no crap kinda lady. Empowered by the cogs of justice, her office is covered with prophetic posters of our heroes that have gone before us. Martin Luther King along with many lesser know activists who have paved the path for us all to achieve a sense of justice.

The there is Robin, the Administrative Assistant. She is the one that really helps me out, calming me down when I get in a bumbling state of nervousness upon the arrival of important tasks. She is the glue that holds the Milwaukee County Labor Council together. Strong willed and willing to take the good natured heat from the other union organizers. She does her work diligently and with compassion.

This is the environment of work that the Milwaukee County Labor Council provides. I look forward to writing here about my experiences here.