FOIAs and the rest of life, now with executive function

Note: In 2021, I’m blogging once a week, typically on Saturdays. This is entry 23 of 52. I’m a day late, so we’ll pretend this entry came out on the 12th and is thus part of Week 23 (which by my count technically ended Saturday).

Note: I edited a bit of last week’s post, correcting something in the news blast about twitter censorship in Nigeria. Readers of last week’s post might consider looking at that fix.

The image shows an excerpt of the FBI's reply to my Freedom of Information Act request seeking anything they have about Philip K. Dick. To summarize, the excerpt looks a little like a typewritten document, and says Dear Mr. Lucas, we were unable to identify main file records ... pertaining to your request, yadda yadda.
In an interview, the late science fiction author Philip K. Dick says he obtained his FBI file via a Freedom of Information Act request. But I’ve never been able to get anything about PKD by sending FOIA requests to the FBI. I did ask the bureau to search far more than just their main files. To no avail.

This past week I’ve been catching up on my open records requests. At MuckRock, a service for filing such inquiries online, I have 169 requests in various phases: some completed, others ongoing, and still more with different statuses. Adding the requests I’ve lodged over the years without using MuckRock, for instance by emailing agencies directly, I estimate I’ve filed something like 200 open records requests in my life. That’s a lot to keep track of!

Open records requests encompass many moving parts and nitpicky details. For instance, on the federal level in the United States, there’s the Freedom Of Information Act legislation (initially enacted into law in 1966), which has resulted in any and all open records requests being called “FOIAs” as shorthand, even though if you’re lodging such an inquiry with, say, the Fort Worth Police Department, on the local level within the state of Texas, it’s not a FOIA but rather, in the lingo of those particular local cops, a public records request, or a public information request, or an open records request. But what to call these formal inquiries the public can make is just the first confusion individuals typically run into. Other complexities involve how to actually word the requests, which specific documents to seek, the multiple ways agencies will deny fulfillment of requests or outright lie and hide things, how to go to court over denials, and so on. Some people turn assisting others with open records requests into entire professional careers, which I suppose makes sense, since sorting through the deets involves deciphering time-consuming prolix tangles, not to mention authoritarian deceptions.

From the dark comedy movie Brazil, a 1.5-minute scene where bureaucrats physically battle paperwork

A specific trouble I’ve run into with my requests is undertaking the appeals process. If an agency denies a request, or claims they don’t have any responsive records for it (i.e., you requested x, but the agency says they don’t have any documents regarding x, and you don’t believe them), then if you want to pursue the matter, your next step, especially on the federal level in the United States, is to file a appeal — not a lawsuit, yet. Not all laws, not all jurisdictions allow for an appeals process. But if they do, it’s recommended you appeal the request for which the agency’s response has left you dissatisfied. An agency’s response you don’t like is called an “adverse determination.” For instance, if the Bureau of Prisons’ replies to your request constitute an adverse determination (and delaying fulfillment of a request for years, a frequent tactic of federal agencies, can constitute an adverse determination), then you’re supposed to appeal first to the Office of Information Policy, prior to suing anybody. Both the Office of Information Policy and the Bureau of Prisons are components of the federal Department of Justice, so your appeal to other foxes guarding the same general henhouse may be unlikely to succeed, but appealing makes your later lawsuit look better. It shows you “went up the chain of command,” to make an analogy to what the system usually asks whistleblowers to do. Once the appeals process fails, you then file a lawsuit, asking the judicial branch (basic separation-of-powers theory) to step in and overrule the executive branch or legislative branch agency you’re contending with. Because this process can take years and be expensive if lawyers are required, it prevents a lot of important information from being released and entering the news cycle. Plus, from the perspective of an individual member of the public (journalist or not) pursuing this process, it’s akin to fighting a battle. Even if it’s conducted on paper, it can be emotionally trying.

Executive function to the rescue

In the first half of the last decade, when I was more known for third parties publishing my journalism (as opposed to my self-publishing it), especially my writing for WhoWhatWhy, I filed most of the open records inquiries that exist on my 169-Muckrock-requests spreadsheet — but in my whole life, I’ve yet to appeal a single one. That was the obvious next step I should have taken with filings that resulted in adverse determinations (most of them). Now I’m confronting the confusing question of whether I can appeal them at all, since some laws/policies require appeals to be filed within, say, 90 days of the adverse determination. I’ve missed many of those deadlines, and I’m currently trying to figure out if I have to start completely over with brand new filings on the same subject matters. But then, can’t the agency just say the new filing is denied because it’s identical to the past filing that was denied? Yet would that still open up a new 90-day window for an appeal? In any case, I don’t want to end up waiting years and years again between my new request and the new adverse determination. I’ll ask the MuckRock experts for help on appealing.

Music video for the awesome 1988 song “Trip at the Brain” by crossover metal band Suicidal Tendencies shows the musicians playing atop a stage that’s a huge brain

I didn’t file a single appeal back then because I was going through mental health struggles that undercut my moxie to pursue such stressful battles and to organize my work as needed. I didn’t see the connections sufficiently in those days, because the grandiosity of mania made it difficult for me to perceive that I lacked skills and that I needed to formulate humble, mundane step-by-step plans to reach goals. “Executive function” is a concept in psychology and the mental health industry that refers to a suite of abilities such as managing time, formulating step-by-step plans, multitasking, streamlining procedures, and so on. If you’re cooking, and you realize that while one hand holds the saucepan under the flowing filtered water faucet, you can use the other hand to sprinkle herbs as the water slowly fills the saucepan, thus saving time by performing two tasks at once, you’re using executive function to optimize a routine task in your life (cooking). If you just unthinkingly follow a list of instructions someone else gives you, acting mechanically, without inventing little ways to improve the procedure, or questioning if it’s worth doing in the first place, you’re using little to no executive function. When people’s mental health deteriorates, they get stuck, the thought of venturing out beyond their comfort zones provokes overwhelming anxiety (sometimes they can’t even identify that they’re anxious), and they just doomscroll twitter all day (or engage in similar addictive behavior), losing the executive function to formulate battle plans to improve their situation. One of the nice things about my recent schoolteaching experiences has been that in teaching there’s such an onslaught of workload — lesson planning, grading papers, assessing where students are and adapting lesson plans accordingly, taking attendance, sitting through largely useless staff meetings, etc. — that if teachers don’t learn how to streamline things, they’re quickly in deep shit, so the schoolteaching experiences forced me to get more comfortable with applying executive function to, like, everything. I imagine new parents must have similar experiences, when the arrival of an infant decreases their sleep and free time, yet they still must get many things done (chores, employment tasks if no parental leave, etc.) just as they did before the child showed up. It can be tough when an adult is unemployed/underemployed, or trying to create structure for themselves in self-employment, to self-impose the same sort of ruthlessly efficient executive function that an outside job like schoolteaching can impose. It’s the difference between externally imposed instructions/structures, and internally imposing them, which requires a strong and healthy mind.

In my years in Seattle so far, with some exceptions, I’ve detoured from journalism to focus primarily on mental health (including by volunteering), a topic too broad to cover in this post (but see here, here, here, here, and here for starters); what’s relevant to open records requests is the idea of creating efficient processes for staying up to date with them. If you have 200 requests, then every single day, you, or MuckRock on your behalf, and/or the agencies are sending detail-crammed messages back and forth with status updates or notifications of adverse determinations or whatever. These notifications pile up in the requester’s email inbox (and the agencies’ inboxes, sometimes resulting in grumpy public information officers sending back sternly worded replies). The requester has to keep track of all this bureaucratic, checkbox-y data, or opportunities will be missed, deadlines will pass, and so on. It can feel overwhelming.

1.5-minute scene from Brazil shows the character Tuttle, a bureaucrat turned suspected terrorist, being physically killed by so much paperwork sticking to him that he’s completely enveloped by the papers to the point they disappear him

Now my mental health is much stronger, so it’s been time to return to the nagging stacks of open records requests, and this past week I spent a lot of time figuring out how to streamline my process with spreadsheets such that each weekend, or every other weekend, I can spend just 30 to 90 minutes updating my spreadsheets tracking how my requests are going and making/executing decisions about particular requests. For instance, this week I learned how to create logical styles in Libre Calc (a free software equivalent to Microsoft’s Excel) and how to use other non-beginner features. Also, MuckRock has a helpful option, I think one they introduced pretty recently, that allows users to export all their requests in .csv format to create a spreadsheet automagically. In sum, the efficiency prevents me from falling behind, prevents unattended requests from piling up to the point it takes a whole week to catch up. If someone is going in and out of psychiatric hospitals every few months, they don’t really have the time or energy to optimize procedures in their lives and then maintain those optimized procedures regularly. Or to change the example, imagine a person with low to zero income, who’s bouncing from one problematic partner’s apartment to another problematic partner’s apartment every few months, arguments and break-ups right and left, no stability they can rely on to support them while they organize/optimize/streamline their lives. And yet, having the opportunity to use executive function well is just damn required to advance toward huge goals successfully.

Executive function, meet Alan Turing and computer programming

The image shows the yellowed first page of Turing's Computable Numbers paper, with a handwritten addition mentioning that some corrections have been made
Title page of an early copy of Turing’s “Computable Numbers” paper, the sale of which is discussed here where I found the image

This idea of executive function is not just, “Oh, somebody has a project, and they simply sketched out some ideas on a piece of paper to make their project more efficient, what’s the big deal?” — it’s actually a very powerful concept that’s core to many things, including computer science. For instance, the idea of leaving notes for yourself about where to start next time you resume a project is an important component of late mathematician Alan Turing’s 1936 paper On Computable Numbers, With An Application To The Entscheidungsproblem, in which Turing invents the very concept of computer software, and what’s now the job of programming (such as coding HTML), before computers even existed. Leaving notes for myself was something I was doing with the FOIA spreadsheets: when I was calling it quits for a day, I’d leave myself a note, such that the next morning, I could read the note saying something like “Start on row 121 of the main spreadsheet next time I work on this.” How leaving notes applies to Turing’s invention of computer software is too complicated to go into here in depth, but I can present a quotation from his paper for flavor and say that in short, Turing uses a note left as an analogy for a software code instruction, and iterations of such notes left as an analogy for a series of software code instructions linked together. Recall when reading the excerpt that in 1936, the word “computer” meant a human being who performed mathematical calculations at a desk with paper and pencil as their job, for example for the accounting department of a large business. Turing:

It is always possible for the computer to break off from his work, to go away and forget all about it, and later to come back and go on with it. If he does this he must leave a note of instructions (written in some standard form) explaining how the work is to be continued. […] We will suppose that the computer works in such a desultory manner that he never does more than one step at a sitting. The note of instructions must enable him to carry out one step and write the next note. Thus the state of progress of the computation at any stage is completely determined by the note of instructions […] the state of the system may be described […] we can construct a machine to write down the successive state formulae, and hence to compute

The black-and-white image shows Alan Turing sitting in a chair, a frontal photo
Alan Turing, circa late 1930s

The software program is the set of instructions, what Turing called an “instruction table,” and he’d even argue that to some extent, you are the sets of instructions you generate for yourself. Or rather your mind is, not so much your social selves and physical body. Well, if you have good executive function, anyway, if you’re actually generating and streamlining procedures. If you have poor executive function, you’re reduced to obeying the instructions of others, mindlessly. Look at it this way. Another example of a helpful executive function action is, if you’re about to read a book, flip ahead to see where the next section break or chapter break is, and determine if you have enough time to read to that point, before plunging in. Sounds blindingly obvious, but might not be if you’ve grown up in a narcissistic country where to admit not having a skill, to admit not knowing something, to admit weakness, is too often putting your survival (employability, relationships, etc) in jeopardy. Further, psychiatry and identitarianism incorrectly teach people that inability is usually innate, part of some invisible, unprovable identity that must never be questioned, only honored, and that such gaps of knowledge usually aren’t fixable through learning. Then people get diagnosed as being intrinsically unable to perform executive function skills, and celebrate their diagnosis anniversaries and so on, explaining to each other without providing solid evidence — the symptom of distress, even strange distress as in psychosis, isn’t proof the problem’s cause is genetic — why they’re supposedly banned from improving their executive function. Like maybe because some mental health provider said so. When instead, individuals can support one another in improving their executive function abilities and ideas.

Executive function/programming versus the spies

A world sans executive function leaves individuals adrift, easy targets for what’s called soft power/active measures/seductive coercion/etc: TLAs (Three Letter Agencies) flooding our lives with sockpuppet propaganda to such a degree that the spy agencies are writing the highest level instruction tables influencing what humanity does. See for instance the testimony of defectors from spy agencies, like KGB defector Yuri Bezmenov in the early eighties saying 85% of that agency’s emphasis was on the “slow process” of “psychological warfare”; or, see the obsession with which the US State Department surveils literary figures, revealed in the 2010-2011 massive leak of diplomatic cables; or, read about the CIA funding creative writing programs. A person shopping for a bookcase might evaluate their options at a store with a fair amount of impartiality, perhaps using a tape measure to ascertain the geometric facts. But people do not typically evaluate their options regarding systems of governance similarly, because beyond the bare minimum, the various choices aren’t much discussed in formal education or popular culture. That’s a result of the spy agencies programming what individuals are interested in, for instance, by ensuring celebrities dominate the front pages of newspapers, tabloids, televisions, social media apps, and so on. The executive function ability to change and refine how you spend your time can protect you from getting swept up in default assumptions (e.g., such as the default assumption that focusing on what entertainers have to say on podcasts is the method to be selected for evaluating current events and ideas).

But improving executive function skills enables people to steer their lives better even in a propagandized environment. It’s so helpful to create and optimize little software-like programs to direct yourself, or recipes for your own life (to put a folksy domestic spin on it), about how to manage whatever tasks, such as requesting FOIAs, so that staying on top of everything becomes realistic, practical. Time and chance happenth to us all, regardless of how good our to-do lists are, but impressive executive function betters our odds of achieving at least some of our aims, even across generations. This is attested in many quotations; I’ll present three below, the last bringing this post back to Philip K. Dick.

Your mind is programmable — if you’re not programming your mind, someone else will program it for you.

Hacktivist Jeremy Hammond

Humans are the most programmable systems on earth. We were all programmed and we can all be reprogrammed. Our programming is our governance.

Philosopher Heather Marsh

 today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups — and the electronic hardware exists by which to deliver these pseudo-worlds right into the heads of the reader, the viewer, the listener […] The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words. George Orwell made this clear in his novel 1984. But another way to control the minds of people is to control their perceptions. If you can get them to see the world as you do, they will think as you do. […] The power of spurious realities battering at us today — these deliberately manufactured fakes never penetrate to the heart of true human beings. 

Science fiction writer Philip K. Dick

I’ll say more about FOIAs in future posts. But it’s worth quickly noting a limitation to them: unlike government agencies, private firms and corporations can simply ignore records requests, though documents from within them sometimes come out thanks to hacktivists, or whistleblowers, or other leaks, or lawsuits. Open records legislation does not apply to the “private property” of files within business firms. Since corporations are typically more fundamentally responsible for the state of the world than governments (to put it in a bit of an oversimplified manner), the media’s focus on FOIAs can simply distract us from corporate crimes. The astute reader might notice an apparent contradiction: above, I say spy TLAs write the highest level instruction tables manipulating humanity, but in this paragraph I say corporations are more responsible for what humanity does and doesn’t do. The resolution to the seeming contradiction is that most of the spy TLAs’ budget nowadays goes to private contractors, i.e., private spies. So to whatever extent the CIA is currently funding creative writing programs, the picture is more accurately painted like this: private spies contracting with the CIA put together everything required for the funding/creation of creative writing programs. The spies shifted from working directly as government agency staff (which they still do to a degree) to working in private businesses contracting with the TLAs, to escape accountability (including open records requests). Still, many times, government documents obtained through open records requests can be important puzzle pieces for understanding the world around us.

The colorful image is a fantasy/surreal computer-generated drawing of a beautiful landscape. Part of the grass and hillside is a book, open to the middle. Upon the watery pages grow bushes.
Artist unknown to me. A book of the world…

News blasts

I wanted to include Belarus and Ethiopia, but ran out of time. I’ll include them in my next post.

Nigeria. In October 2020, mass protests occurred throughout Nigeria’s major cities following revelations of abuses by the Nigerian police’s notorious SARS unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. These decentralized protests, which spread across Nigerian communities worldwide, were called the #EndSARS movement, at first opposing the brutality of the SARS police, and then expanding to include demands for good, accountable governance in general. It’s important to note that authorities worldwide, including special police units, cooperate across borders, so to match that strength, it’s necessary for activists to cooperate across borders as well, which activists increasingly do, not staying mentally siloed within the invisible borders of the country they were born in. See this interesting Al Jazeera article from June 2020 on that topic. Back to Nigeria. The energy and organizations spawned by the #EndSARS movement did not appreciate when, earlier this month — as discussed in my previous post’s news blasts — the Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari (a general who ruled the country in the ’80s via a military coup) started trying to shut down Twitter in Nigeria once the social media company deleted one of his tweets for terms of service violation, since his tweet threatened violence against pro-Biafra separatists. Sparked by Buhari’s twitter censorship, Nigerians planned a massive protest for June 12. In Nigeria, June 12 is Democracy Day, a public holiday marking the event in 1999 when Nigeria transitioned from military rule to an elected civilian government. The protesters’ fire has been heated by many injustices, not just the twitter censorship. Among the injustices are extreme poverty and lack of public education, and horrifyingly widespread femicide and rape of women, all hardships worsened by COVID-19. Also, the Nigerian government has failed thousands of institutionalized individuals diagnosed with mental illness and confined in the country’s state hospitals, rehabilitation centers, traditional healing centers, and both Christian and Islamic faith-based facilities. These individuals can find themselves locked up in chains or otherwise abused. There’s a nonprofit called MANI (Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative) that is led by Nigerian users of mental health services (as opposed to led by mental health providers like therapists and psychiatrists); MANI has an interesting website, and they seem at my cursory glance mostly focused on the various support services they offer, but they did tweet a few times regarding the protests (some of their tweets about Buhari’s twitter ban embedded below). I’d like to learn more about the mental health situation in Nigeria, if there’s a psychiatric survivor movement there, and so on. Back to the June 12 protests. Activists in Nigeria criticized the large numbers of kidnappings in the country by terrorists seeking ransom, the many deaths in cult clashes and communal crises, the civil rights violations, the displacement of more than 10 million Nigerians, the high unemployment rate and the rising prices of essentials, the Internet shutdowns, and more. The Nigerian protestors have been issuing three demands to the Nigerian government: 1. End the killings and insecurity; 2. End the social media shutdown immediately; 3. Convene an emergency inter-regional dialogue committee for all regions in Nigeria within a month. During the June 12 protests, cops in the Nigerian cities of Lagos and Abuja fired teargas, detained protestors, and smashed cellphones, which of course activists use to spread information online. On short notice, I was unable to find much of anything about any Nigeria-related protests in Seattle or Texas. The situation in Nigeria will likely continue to develop. For more, read this YAC.news article, the source for much of this news blast item, or watch the YAC.news 7.5-minute video on the subject embedded below (the article is the script for the video’s voice-over), and/or watch the 3-minute Al Jazeera video about the protests embedded below.

The colorful image shows protestors marching during the day in Nigeria, including one woman with a bullhorn, and many holding their hands in the air
Source: 12 Jun ’21 tweet by Emeka Akpa, a Ph.D. economics student in Nigeria who says in his tweet: “Let me tell you what the government of Nigeria is afraid of: An educated, restless, enlightened and upwardly mobile southern young person.” (My understanding is that much of the instability and secessionism in Nigeria is in the southern states.)

Uplifting items in Dallas and Bangladesh/Australia. First, the Dallas chapter of Food Not Bombs has been sharing food in the southern part of that city at #CampRhonda, a community of individuals denied housing by their wider (un)society. Camp Rhonda is named in memory of Rhonda Fenwick, who lived there for a month before dying of organ failure, according to an interesting February 2021 article by The Dallas Morning News. In mutual aid, Food Not Bombs Dallas shared meals at Camp Rhonda today despite the 100° Fahrenheit temperature, and the activists have been working on a community garden at the camp, too. The garden and today’s sharing are pictured below. For my readers in North Texas (where I’m originally from), contact information to volunteer with or donate to the chapter might be: 972-955-0849 or dallasfnb@riseup.net or frankenstein@riseup.net. That’s according to the Google Map linked by the foodnotbombs.net website. I can’t link to that portion of the Google Map directly, so I typed the contact information directly into this paragraph. I don’t know if the contact info is up to date; if it isn’t, try contacting the chapter via Twitter: @FNBDallas. And c’mon Fort Worth, get your own chapter going! Now for Bangladesh/Australia. In the past month, there have been a handful of articles about 25-year-old Rohingya Noor Kabir, who was born inside a refugee camp due to the genocide against the Rohingya. Noor Kabir grew up on strict food rations, but migrated to Australia alone at age 16, where he recently won a Brisbane bodybuilding competition called the ICN Classic. He’s currently studying to be a nutritionist, and he aims to inspire refugees, even those in bad situations as he was, to exercise and eat as healthy as possible. This article about him is really good, this one too, and he’s pictured below. Upon arrival in Australia, he spent two years in community detention (I think something Australia has been imposing on immigrants/refugees generally, not just Noor Kabir), but then was given a bridging visa and worked as a forklift driver prior to meeting a mentor who encouraged him to become a personal trainer. The bodybuilding developed from there. In the article, Noor Kabir says, “When I lived in the camps, I struggled with food — not enough food, not enough carbs, not enough drink” and continues “We lived […] seven people in a room that’d be […] 5 square metres [roughly 53 square feet]” and concludes “I lived like this for 15 years – it wasn’t a good life, so I wanted a new beginning.” Noor Kabir is believed to be the first Rohingya man to win a bodybuilding competition.

The image shows a folding table set up at a park. On the folding table is a blue water cooler with Food Not Bombs painted on it. Next to the cooler are various food items such as pickles and watermelon. In the background stand what I believe are four Food Not Bombs participants, one with camo pants, another with a Nirvana T-shirt.
Source: @FNBDallas tweet from 13 June 2021. Sharing food at #CampRhonda
The image shows folding tables in a park with food items set atop. In the background stand what I believe are two members of Food Not Bombs Dallas.
Source: @FNBDallas, same tweet and sharing as the above pic.
The colorful picture shows a community garden built on the grass of Camp Rhonda. There are food plants growing within the garden.
Source: @FNBDallas tweet from 12 May 2021. Community garden at #CampRhonda
The high contrast picture shows the upper body a man standing with his hands on his hips. A dark red curtain is in the background. The high contrast style of the picture, as well as the stark expression of the very muscular, very symmetrical man, looks almost computer-generated, but it is real.
Source: 6 June 2021 article in the Rohingya Post. Noor Kabir, first Rohingya man to win a bodybuilding competition

Creative Commons License

This blog post, FOIAs and the rest of life, now with executive function, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/06/13/foias-executive-function/ You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

A USian escapes the bubble: Summer 2019 adventure to British Columbia, Part 3

Note: In 2020, I’m writing 52 blog posts, one per week, released on Mondays or so. Here’s this week’s post, the one for Week 7…a few days late—try asking for a refund?

Note: This post obviously belongs, as Part 3, to a series of posts about my trip from Seattle, where I reside, to British Columbia in Summer 2019. Here’s the completed series, a USian escapes the bubble: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and (forthcoming) Part 4.

Uh, USians…are missing almost all the world

When I was preparing for my adventure, my acquaintances, much like the border g̶o̶d̶ guard, asked me what I was planning to do. Would I visit the Butchart Gardens? “It is so lovely, and it looks much better during the day than at night, and [on and on].” Years ago, planning for a different adventure, a road trip across half the United States, I was asked my take on whether the route should have us see Nature or cities. “Neither,” I said. “We should see people.”

To learn what likely simpatico people in Victoria were thinking and feeling and doing, and to bring that psychic samizdat back to Seattle, I primarily had in mind, even from the early planning phases, three missions: 1) check out the anarchist bookstore Camas Books & Infoshop; 2) check out and participate with Food Not Bombs Victoria; and 3) check out and participate with whatever alternative mental health stuff might be springing up in the city. Much of my offline activism my first few years in Seattle involved Seattle Food Not Bombs (especially as a driver!) and working with folks in or around, uh, the Seattle chapter of the, uh, Hearing Voices Network, which as you know is the oldest academic honor society in the United States complete with secret handshake, engraved golden key, and notable members including US presidents and Supreme Court justices, Ursula K. Le Guin, Henry Kissinger, and me. Aiming to improve my irl understanding of subject matters like (radical) education, food security, and replacing dumbass psychiatry, I hoped to gain a bit bigger view of the world, to escape the typically reactionary USian default me me me dolla dolla bill lol unrealistic fake news lol me me me dolla dolla bill — and also, to just interact with everyday Victoria people hanging out, the ordinary Victoria public transit system, and so on. That seemed far more valuable to me than tourist traps. In Seattle my hands have been nicely dirty with real life, so why would I not want that elsewhere?

So, this post covers those three — successful! — missions, each of which took place on a different day of my adventure. I didn’t take any photos of the missions, however, so throughout this Part 3, I’ll rely on others’ photos or funny images.

OMG no :\ (Source)

Find the real people? I’m not afraid to die! (Source)

Mission one: Camas, anarchist bookstore in Victoria (Wikipedia). They recently sent out this communiqué regarding supporting Unist’ot’en and Gidimt’en camps’ resistance against proposed pipelines in the area, (Amnesty; blockades shut railways across Canada), which I unfortunately know little about. I walked to Camas from my hostel, something of a 1̶.̶2̶5̶-̶m̶i̶l̶e̶ 2̶.̶1̶-̶k̶i̶l̶o̶m̶e̶t̶e̶r̶ 2.1-kilometre hike one way. I arrived, looked around inside at several of the same books that already existed on my bookshelves back home, and got into a great conversation with a staffperson there. I told him about the drop in ambient anxiety in Victoria relative to the United States, and how I assumed that was due in part to the universal health insurance and the lack of mass shootings. He said he understood how I would perceive Victoria that way, but from his vantage point, everything seemed too calm. “Unrest,” he said, “is best.”

From the Camas Books & Infoshop website
Also from the Camas Books & Infoshop website

Camas is really cool. Relative to other anarchist bookstores I’ve been to in the United States, Camas much more strongly emphasized First Nations or indigenous related material. Were I living in Victoria, or staying for a longer duration, I’d go back to get some different books, meet people, find out about projects, etc. Camas is open daily. Fantastic. Just typing this, I miss it, and wish I were there chilling out in those chairs, reading a book, waiting for an intriguing passerby to inevitably come in and strike up conversation far more interesting than what I usually hear offline.

(In middle school, I drew anarchy signs into my handwritten name and drew them into the steam on the shower door at home. Maybe I saw them first on nineties electric guitars, or maybe on the ANSI art of bulletin board systems. That kid and this adult would get along well.)

Mission two: Food Not Bombs Victoria. Part of the global conspiracy to feed people. Gathering surplus food leftover from restaurants, distributors, and other sources, then cooking it and bringing it to a downtown park, on a shoestring budget, and sharing it with everyone, particularly people who might really need it. All the world has chapters, so if you’re looking to help someone yourself, instead of voting for someone to instruct someone to instruct someone to consider another vote or two or thousand about paying someone to instruct someone to pay someone to instruct someone to pay someone to pay someone to pay someone to maybe help someone someday — or not — and plus you can make friends and participate in your community…why then, go find a Food Not Bombs in your area or start one.

ALERT THE SEATTLE POPULATION IS SHARING FOOD ALERT
Food Not Bombs Victoria, from their facebook page

Having FNB-ed quite a while in Seattle, I got in touch with the amazingly welcoming Food Not Bombs Victoria folks, because I was curious how FNB would compare/contrast up there. And I was hungry!

At an apartment, I joined a handful of cooks. Really cool, right, here I am in another country a few days, and already I’m in an apartment with a bunch of friendly local strangers, working on a common cause. And yes, as you might remember from Part 2, everything in this apartment was likewise smaller than the objects would be in the counterpart US apartment. As I recall, even the sink water handles were smaller! The donated food was gathered, I think, primarily from a co-op grocery. With what was then my usual klutzy difficulty, I helped make a salad with sliced cucumber, carrots, a little kale, some sprouts, etc., and another person made a dressing for it with vinegar and various oils. The rest of the food made was similarly standard FNB-style cuisine. We then transported the food from the apartment to the downtown square/park, Centennial Square on the Douglas(!) street side, where the sharing is held every Sunday ⁠— also where, years ago, Occupy Victoria encamped.

At the park, the meal was held under a large tree, upon whose branches an FNBer hung an impressively large Food Not Bombs Victoria sign. The black sign had a lot of colorful graphics and words on it (sorry, no photo!). If I recall correctly, Food Not Bombs Victoria also supplied some local literature, zines, etc. About 20 individuals dined on this most scrumptious meal. That included random businesspeople passing by, various park denizens (such as skateboarders), multiple homeless or traveler or otherwise off the radar humans, plus some FNBers who hadn’t cooked with us but wanted to hang out.

FNB Victoria implemented two good ideas others might want to pick up. First, not only did FNB Victoria bring to the park a box of clean, re-usable mugs, cups, bowls, and cutlery, but also, many, perhaps most, of those sharing generally already knew to use those implements and then place them back in the box after eating. These bowls, pieces of cutlery, etc. would later be washed by FNB Victoria and used the next week. Second, the sharers mostly arranged themselves in a lazy circle around the tree. As opposed to FNBers on one side of a table and non-FNBers on the table’s opposing side, FNB Victoria’s organically emerged quasi-circle seating/standing arrangement felt very not us vs. them to me.

Movie Monday in Victoria BC, 25+ years running. Website.

Mission three: Alternative mental health. Before ferrying to Victoria, I pinged my contacts involved in that movement, seeking suggestions for my trip. To my knowledge, Victoria has no Hearing Voices Network chapter, then or now, but someone did point me to Movie Monday. It’s a weekly series of eclectic and thoughtful films, often with presentations and discussions. Free admission, donations encouraged. The 100-seat theater is in the same building as a (now closed down, I believe) psychiatric ward. In 1993, Movie Monday coordinator Bruce Saunders was held at that ward, diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Stuck there, he got the idea to show movies at the unused theater, because quality education and entertainment and conversation are as needed as food in life. He continues to coordinate Movie Monday, and it has been going for more than 25 years (listen to this seven-minute MP3 interview with him). The movies aren’t always about mental health topics and aren’t just for audiences interested in that subject. Movie Monday started that way, but has since expanded to other subject matters. When I went, we watched Six Primrose, about a food security project in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

After the movie, a short discussion took place among the audience. I learned about some resources, people, etc. for alternative mental health interests in Vancouver BC. Those I can pursue on my next adventure to British Columbia!

Waiting at the bus stop to return from Movie Monday to the hostel, I got into a conversation with a random Canadian woman also waiting for the transit ride. I tried to ask her questions about Canada, but she easily and repeatedly diverted the conversation back to the United States.

“Why,” she wanted to know, “won’t they fix their country? Or, why don’t they just leave?” (Apparently I myself had temporarily become a nomad, resident of nowhere.)

Although I don’t know all the answers to her questions, perhaps you reading know some of them for yourself. The best I can do for motivation at the moment is to compare my whole adventure to the excitement expressed in the amazing 2015 song “Go!” by the band Public Service Broadcasting, about the spaceflight that put the first humans on the Moon. Listen, and I’ll keep trying to talk USians into traveling with Part 4 of this series next week!

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This blog post, A USian escapes the bubble: Summer 2019 adventure to British Columbia, Part 3, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2020/02/20/summer-2019-adventure-british-columbia-part-3. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

Seattle Food Not Bombs sharing report: 25 March 2018: Happy Defectors

This evening at Occidental Park in Pioneer Square, the Seattle chapter of the worldwide Food Not Bombs movement once more shared, with homeless individuals and others and ourselves, donated food.

Free soup

40-plus aid recipients enjoyed hot soup for no cost. The vegan, glutenfree meal contained cauliflower, carrots, beans, and more — perfectly good food that otherwise would have been thrown out by the donor restaurant. Guiding this action was the principle that quality food is a human right.

Four volunteers had lots of fun implementing a better world. Two guys, two gals. We played guitar, sang, danced. Some discussed the possibility of going train hopping in the near future. Others petted the leashed cat a passerby randomly brought. Each week, creating a Food Not Bombs reality is probably my happiest time.

Various aid recipients seemed really happy as well, especially when talking a bit. One guy said he might go to New Mexico soon, or Louisiana (he wasn’t sure), by bus I guess. Another told us the warmer weather was cheering them up. It seems when people have little, the food tastes better, ordinary things matter more.

The sign

Lots of people are still lodged in the bombs life, wherein they’d much rather gaze upward at the death-dealing leaders to pick one of them to promote in their rivalrous battles with each other, but to those people I’d like to say, there’s still time for you to do something different. Find a Food Not Bombs chapter in your area or start one. Defect from bombs and make good food a human right!

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Seattle Food Not Bombs sharing report: 25 March 2018: Happy Defectors by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. It does not affect your fair use rights or my moral rights. You can view the full license (the legalese) here; you can view a human-readable summary of it here. To learn more about Creative Commons, read this article. License based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Seattle Food Not Bombs sharing report: 4 March 2018: Fortune Cookie

A common Food Not Bombs image

Today the Seattle chapter of the global Food Not Bombs movement shared donated food with homeless folks and other individuals, primarily at Occidental Park in Pioneer Square. It’s a direct action we take just about every Sunday, with the meal starting around 5:15 p.m. This evening, on a shoestring budget, three FNB participants made a tangible difference in many people’s lives, enjoyed great, bonding conversations, and propagated the straightforward message that food is good and bombs are not.

Around 40 aid beneficiaries came to our setup, where we offered great grub. The hot soup, two large bucketfuls gifted by a local restaurant, was vegan and glutenfree. It included lentils, carrots, and corn. Also on offer: bread, fruit (mostly apples), and a sole fortune cookie someone donated on the spot. Food Not Bombs makes a point of offering food that’s generally high quality and healthy, and conveying allergen and other important information about the meals accurately. That’s crucial for our reputation as aid providers — so that recipients trust our food (word gets around) — and it’s significant because everyone, regardless of housing status, deserves to have their dietary requirements respected.

It was heartwarming how just about every person who partook in the meal maintained an optimistic attitude, positive energy — despite poverty, lack of housing, or other troubles. I believe big goals are important in life, but the Zen people have something when they talk about the importance of enjoying the present moment. Sharing that meal, conversing with everyone, was a complete experience in itself. Insofar as metrics matter, well, without the officialdom, bureaucracy, fear, and hierarchy of the nonprofit industrial complex, we were able to feed some 50 people this evening for nearly no monetary cost, while many others are waiting for permission to act. Personally, I’ve been much happier providing direct aid as part of a community than I have been doing ‘serious’ journalism paid-work for hierarchical nonprofits.

The three FNB volunteers, when no one else was at our tables, informed each other about diverse topics, such as antipsychiatry and Dostoevsky, because we’re actually a quite knowledgeable crew. Even as I understand genuine knowledge comes from participation in the user group of whatever system in question, from real life engagement with the subject matter at hand, I still feel surprised at just how much non-credentialed individuals may know about complex topics. We remembered characters in The Brothers Karamazov and how they relate to the author’s other fiction, we talked about different people’s encounters with psychiatric drugs and forced lockups. It was really nice to share our experiences and readings without some inexperienced academic or powertripping clinician insisting that the Truth was their unique sales point, their competitive advantage, their private property. The gamesters of Triskelion are wrong: brains in a vat aren’t brilliant, and engaging with the practical, sensory world around you matters! Else, how will you improvise usefully when you forget the ladle for the soup? (Our answer: use one of the giveaway cups you’ve been pouring soup into as a ladle.)

Food Not Bombs has been a great learning experience for me; I bet it would be for many of you as well. We bring to the park a big sign that says FOOD NOT BOMBS, to open the door for our message without hitting hungry people over the head by proselytizing. It’s a really simple idea, that instead of spending trillions of dollars bombing people, we could cook for each other. It looks like creepy predator Joe Biden may run for president in 2020. Don’t beg him or destructive Trump to make food a human right, they don’t care, and you know better than to trust corporate television such as MSNBC or Fox — do it yourself. Find a Food Not Bombs chapter in your area or follow these steps to start one.

Quick note: you don’t necessarily have to do this at a park. Once people finished coming to our tables, we drove the remaining soup and other items around to some tent encampments with hungry individuals and gave out food that way. Corporations teach you to fear people without houses, but these individuals are just people without houses, you can still interact with them, they’re human as you are and you may be homeless next, assuming you’re not already!

Next time I do a sharing report I’ll try to provide more details and some photos. And no, I didn’t forget the Chekov’s gun above. One of the homeless folks opened up the fortune cookie, and his message was: Good luck will soon come your way.

Since I can’t share food with you online, here’s some great music by the French artist Uppermost:

Creative Commons License

Seattle Food Not Bombs sharing report: 4 March 2018: Fortune Cookie by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. It does not affect your fair use rights or my moral rights. You can view the full license (the legalese) here; you can view a human-readable summary of it here. To learn more about Creative Commons, read this article. License based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.