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Category: SXSW

How To Protect Communities From Climate Change

Posted in Journalism, MintPress News, Occupy Wall Street, and SXSW

The science of global warming tells us that we can expect more severe weather and more severe weather events, like floods, heat waves, droughts and hurricanes. Though no specific weather event can be definitively blamed on climate change, responses to recent natural disasters provide valuable insights into how urban populations can recover their infrastructure quickly, identify the most vulnerable areas, and increase their chances of survival.

As this article went to press, Japan was being battered by Super Typhoon Vongfong, and meteorologists were warning that 40 million Americans could face especially severe storms including tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. Earlier this year, severe floods threatened several communities in London.

After disasters like Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Sandy, groups like Common Ground and the Red Hook Initiative received national media attention for offering more effective support to victims than large groups like the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Red Cross. This was possible because grassroots groups relied on pre-existing community ties while also embracing new technologies like social media, as in the case of groups like Occupy Sandy, a community that was built and organized to help the victims of this storm to recover.

And while Wall Street reopened two days after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, millions of residents spent much longer in the dark. Even climate change researchers were victims of the power outage.

Born To Fly: Extreme Action Heroes

Posted in Journalism, and SXSW

What comes to mind when you think of dancers? Elegant, graceful ballet? An experimental, intellectual modern dance routine? Swing and other forms of big band dance?

Then there’s the Streb Extreme Action Company, led by Elizabeth Streb, a uniquely talented and passionate choreographer. Using Streb’s “Pop Action Technique,” her “action heroes” defy death by climbing, spinning, dancing with swinging steel I-beams and hurling themselves through the air. Born To Fly, the new documentary from director/producer Catherine Gund, follows Streb and Company as they work toward their most audacious performance: a full day of events to celebrate the London Olympics that culminated with her dancers dangling hundreds of feet in the air from The London Eye.

The Streb heroes are passionate and, if not fearless, unafraid to look the potential consequences of their work in the face. All forms of professional-level dance are hard on the human body (dancers are famous for their feet, often damaged and ugly from repeated injury), yet we think of this art differently from other forms of human achievement. Elizabeth Streb repeatedly compares her work to boxing — when a boxer steps into the ring, it’s not about whether they’ll get hurt but how much. So it is with the Pop Action Technique, designed to prevent serious injuries and minimize others.

Vessel: Former Greenpeace Doctor Offers Worldwide Abortion Access (#SXSW)

Posted in Journalism, and SXSW

Every 10 minutes, a woman dies from a botched abortion. That’s 47,000 women every year. But what if there were an extremely safe way women could self-administer abortion, without needing the permission of the medical establishment or the state?

Vessel — the first documentary from filmmaker Diana Whitten — studies one woman’s efforts to get the abortion pill and the information needed to use it to women worldwide.

Dr. Rebecca Gomperts worked as a ships doctor aboard Greenpeace vessels but realized she could target a more personal issue — abortion. Because she’s from the Netherlands, where abortion is legal, she realized that if she took a ship into international waters she could help women get abortions even if they were illegal in their home country.

Edward Snowden Speaks To #SXSW (#SXSNOWDEN)

Posted in Journalism, and SXSW

Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower in exile, spoke to the SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas today. He appeared via a choppy videostream which was said to be routed through seven proxy servers. Joining the conversation in person were the ACLU’s Ben Wizner and Christopher Soghoian.

As the talk began, the atmosphere in the room itself was enlightening. I overheard many people joking, with a touch of discomfort, about whether they were now on an NSA list for attending, about how many Feds might be in the audience. “Can they arrest a few thousand of us on the way out?” quipped a woman seated next to me. In a sense, most of the tech geeks around me seemed to consider themselves dissidents.

The event was not without controversy. As the ACLU panelists reminded us, in the days leading up to the panel Kansas Representative Mike Pompeo made vague threats against SXSW and told them to cancel the Snowden speech.

The Internet’s Own Boy: Remembering Aaron Swartz (#SXSW)

Posted in Journalism, and SXSW

At the beginning of 2013, the Internet lost one of its most radical, most pioneering minds when Aaron Swartz took his own life. In just 26 years, Swartz pioneered technologies like RSS syndication and the Creative Commons (both of which are in daily use here at Firedoglake), was a founder at Reddit, and led a successful fight against the destructive proposed Internet legislation SOPA. The Internet’s Own Boy, the new documentary from Brian Knappenberger (We Are Legion), is the story of his life and death.

Though dying by his own hand, in the incredible outpouring of grief that followed online and off, almost all blamed the government. They had good reason to do so. Swartz faced decades in prison under the controversial Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Government prosecutors had literally told Swartz that they intended to “make an example of him” by forcing him to face maximum penalties if he fought in court. Believing himself innocent, he repeatedly refused deals that would have seen him pleading guilty to a felony and spending months in jail and longer without a computer.

Swartz’s “crime?” Downloading too many documents from JSTOR, a database of scientific and academic papers. Though most are paid for by tax dollars, JSTOR and other similar companies charge outlandish fees for access. Using a computer script and a laptop plugged directly into MIT’s network, Swartz had downloaded thousands of these documents. The Internet’s Own Boy sheds important new light on Swartz’s controversial activities and on the outlandish lengths the government went to prosecute him for them. No one knows what Swartz intended to do with the files, but the film reveals that he’d previously accessed other databases in order to do large scale statistical analysis. One likely theory is that Swartz planned to analyze the data to find links between polluters and the favorable academic research they sponsor.

Above All Else: The Beauty & Tragedy of Tar Sands Blockade (#SXSW)

Posted in Journalism, and SXSW

The most emotionally devastating and artistically gifted scene in Above All Else, John Fiege’s new climate change documentary, comes late in the film. Deep in the night, East Texas landowner David Daniel hikes through the darkness to an environmental activist encampment where he has to deliver bad news. The scene is lit only by the head lamps that Daniel and the others wear, highlighting or obscuring their grief-stricken faces. Around them is the hush and murmur of the forest. It’s a scene that may have occurred millions of times through history — a half dozen humans, alone among untouched wildness, sharing their pain.

By the early months of 2012, after every Occupy camp in Texas had been evicted, the state became the sight of a dramatic new, ongoing protest: the Tar Sands Blockade. Though largely ignored by the national environmental advocacy groups that had fought to delay the Keystone XL Pipeline, construction of the southern leg of the pipeline continued, cutting across beautiful, untouched Texas wild lands and waterways.

Until police violence and a legal settlement forced a halt to action, the Blockade operated almost continuously from the famous tree village through dozens of smaller direct actions, working from landowners’ property and a secluded tent village. Though the movement attracted many Occupiers and long time activists, it also drew many who’d never taken a stand before — Texas landowners, parents and grandparents who wanted East Texas (and Planet Earth) to be beautiful and life sustaining for their children. The Blockade was truly a citizen’s movement.