i realize that central to my evaluation of someone is what it is that i think motivates them. Sadly, the affluent parts of the world seems crowded with people who have fallen into some type of personal profit maximization motivation. A “S/he who dies with the most toys wins” kind of mindset.
Another way of looking at things
Trying to avoid this kind of motivation has landed me in hippie communes and scruffy activist circles. A choice and trajectory i am quite pleased with.
For about 20 years i have a running joke with activists, organizers and communards who have gone out of their way to make the right things happen, often at some personal expense or hassle. What i tell them is that they will receive one of the highly coveted cardboard “Hero of the Revolution” buttons. Today i finally made the first one.
Made of 100% durable cardboard
i made it for Michael Mariotte who is having a lifetime achievement award ceremony on Monday in Death City (DC). MM (as everyone in the movement abbreviates his name) and i met in Kiev in 1996. I was running the Chernobyl tenth anniversary campaign, which included a huge anti-nuclear conference in the Ukrainian capital. Having spent the preceding 7 years mostly in eastern Europe i was unaware of the US anti-nuclear movement, where MM was a bit of a superstar.
MM was the executive director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service (he is now president). He asked me to be on the NIRS board and when i asked him to tell me what the organization had done, he rattled off a number of successful achievements in slowing the spread of nuclear reactors in the US and blocking numerous dangerous waste dump proposals and reprocessing facilities. I was impressed, i joined the NIRS board, a position i held for a dozen years.
The ED has rhythm – MM on drums with Tru Fax and the Insaniacs
I thought i was getting into a David and Goliath situation, it was more like David and Godzilla. In eastern Europe we fought corrupt utilities and deluded development banks, this i was used to. In the US, where more money was on the line, there are all manner of professional liars and propagandists who were actively attacking us as well as a captured regulator which did an outstanding job of appearing to be fair and caring about civilian safety and concerns, when what they really did was protect nuclear industry profits.
MM at recent NYC Climate March
Nobody fights nukes for the money. The executive direct salary for NIRS is in the bottom 20% for full time non-profit EDs, paid to someone who is living in one of the countries most expensive cities. And because of the fickle nature of philanthropic foundations (driven both by their dynamic priorities and swings in the market influencing their endowment) there was often not enough money to pay the staff, and MM was proud that the staff always got paid, often times electing not to pay himself on time.
Intelligent people can disagree about the best way to fight nuclear power. There are two classical splits: Reactors versus Weapons and Nuclear versus Renewables. The nuclear weapons complex is directly tied to the nuclear power complex. They need each other to survive. And they have repeatedly served each other as a crutch. MM looked around at the many groups in the US fighting against nuclear weapons and believed reactors deserved focused attention. Similarly with renewables, NIRS avoid putting campaign energy into clean energy, because many groups were doing it well. NIRS is the only internationally operating pure play anti-nuclear power organization in the world.
But don’t confuse MM’s sharp focus on reactors as less than a full understanding of the clean energy and military issues at play. Currently, reliably the best information about renewable energies disruptive effects comes from the SafeEnergy.org blog, which MM continues to write for prolifically. Including recently:
- Deutsche Banks says rooftop solar will be cheaper than the grid across the US inside 2 years.
- Nuclear industries Earth Week assault on Renewbles.
- CitiCorp says renewables to displace coal and nuclear.
MM demonstrates a kind of scrappy intelligence critical to low budget non-profits. I was arrested at the new Exelon Headquarters in something like 2004. MM called me after the trial to find out how it went. “I got 80 hours of community service.” i told him. “You should do them at NIRS.” he replied without a pause. Not stumbling over the idea that i should do community service at the organization which created the event i got arrested for in the first place.
MM was also a visionary with respect to Eastern Europe, which is how we met. He was one of the few people in the US who saw what was completely apparent in Czechoslovakia, that without orders for new reactors in the 1990s in the west, the newly liberated former communist countries were the place nuclear engineering infrastructure could be maintained. And just as Westinghouse and GE’s focus moved to eastern Europe. MM designed (with me) and implemented the east European small grant program, he got money from Ted Turner and others, recognizing that relatively small contributions from the west could have tremendous impact in the east. We gave out 40 grants in perhaps 1998 of $2000 or less funding everything from bike tours, to direct action camps, micro anti-nuclear university and east/west internships.
mm, Tanya and kid 3 and kid 4
Some of the most important reactors in the world in this fight were the pair of units affectionately called K2R4, which were in Khmelnitsky and Rivne in the Ukraine. One of the most important interns to come to the micro anti-nuclear university was Tanya Murza also from Rivne. We stopped the western funding for the reactors at K2R4 and basically knocked the east European development bank (the EBRD) out of the business of paying western companies to complete 25 unfinished Russian reactors. And Tanya stayed and she an MM had two charming kids.
MM has been a hero and inspiration to a whole bunch of people including me. He deserves his cardboard hero button.
It is one of my oft told life stories.
In the late fall of 1989, i was in Hawaii and i got a call from Rabbit, who said
They have just had revolutions throughout Eastern Europe. We need to go, as soon as possible, we need to talk with the revolutionaries and find out what really happened. Because soon they will write the history books, and once they are written, the truth will be lost forever.
So, in the summer of 1990, Rabbit and i went to Eastern Europe and talked to revolutionaries and discovered some precious pieces which would never make it to the history books.
I tell this story often when introducing myself. It is one of my life stories which helps move the characters along. Gets me from being an affluent ocean engineer living in a condo on Oahu to an oft homeless anti-nuclear activist in then Czechoslovakia. Just one problem, the story’s not true.
Oh, parts of it are true; Rabbit and i did go to Europe. We talked a bunch about the political changes in the world and the fall of communism, especially. But we went to Southern Europe, Italy, Greece, and Turkey, which we had planned for months before the revolutions of 1989. We had a wonderful thought-provoking adventure, it just was not to the east. The urgent invitation conversation never happened, but it should have. And thus the story.
Rabbit would spin off and head home to San Francisco, and i would do Eastern Europe by myself, because i was just figuring out what to do with my life. And i would soon fall in love with Czechoslovakia.
I arrived in Prague on a hot August night. I slept in Hlavni Nadrazi (the main railroad station) which is normally not possible, but because it was the day before the big Rolling Stones concert, the station was packed all night and the police had bigger fish to fry.
The next day i walked around the city where i knew no one. Had you told me at the time i would spend most of the next eight years in orbit of this place i would have been curiously surprised and delighted. When i walked through the central city, i found a curious thing. It was a pink tank.
It was on its side, having been flipped by the locals when the Russians had tried to maintain control eight months earlier. Once the protesters had uprighted the tank, the artists came in and had at it.
I timed my visit to see the inexpensive Rolling Stones concert. It was being held in Strahov Stadium, which was (and technically still is) the highest capacity stadium in the world, seating between 220K and 250K people. When it was an active sports arena it could house seven simultaneous soccer games. Trouble is there are not many times you want the capacity to hold seven parallel soccer games or 220K people.
The first Rolling Stones concert in a recently liberated country, however, is exactly one of the times you need a stadium that size.
The posters for the concert read “The Tanks are Rolling Out, the Stones are Rolling In.”
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]