activism in action

Save the life of Mary Jane Velasco! Please take 5 min to

CALL-IN: Indonesian Consulate General (Los Angeles)
Umar Hadi, Consul General (213) 383-5126

“Hi, my name is _______ and I am calling today in order to voice my concern about the case of Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipina migrant worker and a victim of human trafficking. Since 2010, she has been unjustly detained and set for execution in Indonesia. We strongly urge that Indonesian President Joko Widodo grant Mary Jane clemency on grounds of mistrial and for humanitarian reasons. She is a mother of two and her family needs her at home. We urge President Widodo to review her case and grant her immediate release. (…include your own reasons to support Mary Jane)” #activism #anakbayan #ab #abla #savemaryjaneveloso #ofw #humanrights #justice #mercy #action #awareness #philippines #filipino #filipina

Individual vs Collective Action

comics-and-love​ submitted:

Put aside, for a moment, that US Presidential candidates are horrible and our electoral system is screwed up. X and Y are running for US President. If elected, X will fix everything; Y will fix nothing. Both candidates are popular.
I’m a utilitarian. Should I vote for X? I don’t see why: My vote has no impact. If the impact of my vote is not literally zero, it is so close to zero that arguing otherwise is like arguing that there’s a nonzero chance the moon is made of green cheese. Technically true, but only mathematicians and philosophers care.

My position makes sense on an individual scale, but not a collective one. If a significant portion of people approached this like I do – recognize X as the better choice, but also recognize the insignificance of voting for X – X could reasonably lose.

Reconciling this has been an ongoing challenge for me. Some solutions (and why I don’t like them):

  • Voting is low-cost. Shut up and vote. Okay – but this doesn’t help with high-cost stuff (veganism, boycotting certain products), and the individual cost of voting is still out of sync with its benefit. There is some non-zero chance that praying for a better world will make the world better, but I don’t bother: The possibility that it will help is much closer to zero than the (admittedly very low) cost.
  • If others discover my position, my position might spread, causing harm. Okay – but that just means I shouldn’t tell people my position. It’s less costly for me to not vote – and not TELL anyone I didn’t vote – than it is for me to vote. (Also, yes – I realize that merely by MAKING this post, I’ve already screwed this one up)
  • I could convince others to vote, but this is way more costly than just voting. Also, that means I’ve got to CONVINCE OTHERS TO VOTE – and seeing how I don’t see the point of voting on an individual scale, that might require lying about the importance of voting on an individual scale. I don’t like lying.
  • Voting can carry an emotional benefit; even when a positive action has no significant impact, some of us still feel good about it. Which is fine (more than fine, actually!), but I don’t feel that way. If I know a moral action carries no significant or measurable impact, it brings me little to no moral pleasure to engage in that action.
My question, then: As a utilitarian, why should I vote for candidate X?
This problem bothers the crap out of me. Replace ‘voting’ for any action that only has a significant effect when lots of people are doing it – and you have a justification to not bother. I feel like I’m being lazy, finding reasons to avoid extra work. But if I force myself to commit, then I feel like I’m not being true to myself; I genuinely don’t see the point, and I don’t like doing things I perceive as pointless.

Explaining this to other people is an ordeal – probably because people attach a lot of moral significance to these collective actions. So I just quietly don’t bother – but then I feel bad, because the ends these movements are trying to achieve (de-commercialization of animals, picking candidates who aren’t terrible, etc) are ends I’d like to see – and I’m not contributing to bringing them about. But I can’t see a way to contribute significantly; my resources are limited, and all the ‘low-cost’ contributions don’t contribute in a way I perceive as being significant (or even measurable).

Is this a problem you, as a utilitarian, have encountered? Is it a problem other utilitarians you know have encountered? Are there any effective solutions to this problem you can see? The only one I can come up with is ‘lateral support’; help support people who are contributing a lot (such as running campaigns or refraining from eating meat), thereby netting both the positive of helping someone (a measurable impact) and  contributing to a large-scale goal (albeit in a way that’s probably not measurable). So I can feel good about something I can measure, and incidentally contribute (in a very tiny way) to a macro-level goal. This is usually the tact I take – but it still feels wishy-washy.

This is a really really interesting question. A few thoughts, in no particular order: 

Often the expected value of doing things comes out higher than you’d think. Take veganism. If you stop buying meat, the odds are that the supermarket won’t change how much meat it orders from the farm, and so the number of animals raised in factory farms doesn’t change. 

But there is some threshold where the supermarket manager looks at the number of remaining cuts of meat and it does alter his order to the factory farm. Let’s say he orders meat by the crate, and a crate contains thirty orders of meat. Then there’s only a 1/30 chance your order will be the tipping point, but if it is the tipping point, you’ve affected how much meat is demanded (and thus how much meat is produced) by a factor of 30! That means the expected value of not ordering a pound of meat is 1/30*30 = …1 pound of meat. (Because of elasticity considerations it’s more like .8 -.9 pounds of meat). But still. As best as we can estimate, going vegetarian decreases the number of animals factory farmed this year by approximately 33 animals (the amount of meat you’ve stopped eating).

Individual action does matter.

Likewise, the U.S. President has an obscene amount of power over the lives of people in the world. It is totally plausible to me that the difference between a good President and a bad President is more than .1 QALYs for each of his citizens and .05 QALYs for everyone else in the world. That’s ~360 million QALYs. Now let’s say that the odds you influence the outcome of the election are ~1/100million. That means voting nets you an expected value of three or four QALYs, which is the same as donating $300 to the Against Malaria Foundation. If you really think there’s a big difference between the capabilities of the candidates, you should totally vote just as an individual. (Unless you earn tons of money and donate nearly all your marginal money to effective charities, I guess.)

But there still exist lots of things of which your question is a good example: should I reduce water use to help with California’s drought? Should I vote when I’m less certain that one candidate is much better? Should I be involved in politics or activism? Should I recycle or watch my C02 emissions?

Here I’m going to sound like a broken record and say that I think effective altruism is giving us the tools to fix this problem.

Because, for example, right now to convince me to do something, you have to say ‘the effort of one person is sufficient to make a difference on this!’ There are lots of really important issues on which you can’t do that. 

But what if, hypothetically, I’m in a student club with fifteen other people who reason about doing good in the same ways that I do? And you come to me and say “hey, go lobby your senator to expand visas!” And I say “is the effort of one person sufficient to make a difference on this?” And you say “…probably not.” And I say “is the effort of fifteen people sufficient to make a difference on this?” And you say, “yeah, probably - politicians don’t usually get visits from fifteen of their constituents in short order, all impassioned about visas.” And because everyone in my club is concerned with the same sort of questions as I am, if you have an argument that fifteen people can change something, we’ll all go do it. 

And if you have an argument that there’s something out there it’s high-value to change, but that it would take 1000 people to change it - well, there are 1000 people signed up through the pledge at Giving What We Can, and if you have a convincing case that there’s something they can do that’s only valuable if at least a thousand people do it, well goshdarnit we can get you your thousand people.

And we’re just getting started. Effective altruism has been around for, like, six years. The amount of money moved through GiveWell is growing pretty fast:

(from here)

One day, maybe not too far from now, the solution to ‘this is worth doing only if I can get ten thousand people who are altruistic enough to do it to all go ahead and do it, ignoring collective action problems’ might be ‘write up a convincing enough case to persaude all the effective altruists and effective-altruism-intrigued people’.

One person can vote. Ten people can conduct an undercover investigation to reveal illegal activities on factory farms. A hundred people flooding a community meeting to end anti-homeless policies will scare the daylights out of the council people proposing them. Ten thousand phone calls can swing a Senator’s vote. 

I’ve had the ‘this is only worth doing if I can get more people on board - oh, wait, I can get more people on board’ experience several times at this point. 

A lot of people who share each others’ values, doing careful analysis that convinces them a action is worth taking given the predicted actions of other people and the value of serving as a cohesive voting bloc, can in fact glare really hard at certain collective action problems until they melt away in terror. Not all of them, probably. But quite a few. 


Record Store Day selfie. Picked up Will Potter’s split 7" with Rise Against (so good!) and some zines for the Hard Fifty Farm Zine Mobile library. Congrats to Will Potter and Rise Against for making the top 100 best sellers list on Record Store Day!


Kathleen Hanna’s first post about Occupy Wall Street dated 9-23-2011

People are fed up with the rich 1% controlling everything and not having to pay their fare share while everyone else is forced to walk around begging for jobs that don’t exist. Last night this group, along with many others marched through NYC in response to the wrongful execution of Troy Davis.  It’s raining now and they are all camped out on WallStreet getting wet! Seriously these people are LIVING on Wallstreet. I hope Michael Moore shows up, I hear Roseanne did.

Escalating conflict in Yemen is making a dire humanitarian situation worse.

We must do all we can to push for a permanent and immediate ceasefire.

Before the current conflict, Yemen was already the poorest country in the Middle East. Over 10 million people were going hungry, including 1 million acutely malnourished children. This number has increased by nearly 2 million since the conflict began.

There was a moment of hope when an announcement came that airstrikes would stop but they have since resumed.

Violence has damaged homes, schools and even hospitals. So far, over 400 civilians have lost their lives and over 150,000 people have been displaced.

The conflict must stop. We must act now.

It is critical that the government pushes for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, so that vital humanitarian assistance can be delivered to people in Yemen.

Jesse never once used the fact he defended Rachel to Carmen to persuade her to do what he wants or impress her during season 6. He never once attempted to manipulate or guilt Rachel into choosing the musical nor sought any sort of gratitude from her, so people who claim Jesse is bad for Rachel or never gained redemption for the egging incident are just, to be frank, wrong. He had perhaps one of the best arcs over the entire show; from returning in season two to explicitly apologise (a rare trait for any Glee character), try to give her a wonderful prom and support her at Nationals; to his aforementioned actions in season three; to his return and absolute acceptance of and respect for her decision to return to her education, even if it did delay the production of his show; to finally his continued belief in her from season one all the way to the very announcement of her Tony win. There is obviously no excusing the egging but he is one of the very few characters on that show who actually earned forgiveness over years of his life. You can argue that post-season one, Jesse didn’t deserve Rachel but by the time he arrived by way of Listen To Your Heart, he had redeemed himself, both to Rachel and in ways she had no comprehension of, and Rachel had also clearly forgiven him.

People are obviously entitled to their own opinions and thoughts regarding every ship but I have always viewed using the egging against Jesse as immensely unfair in hindsight of the entire show. A show that presented Jesse as seeking actively forgiveness and subjected to intense peer pressure. A show that also mentioned Rachel’s ‘endgame’ as having egged her in the past and showed him feeding her meat and then hiding it. Ultimately, in the grand scheme of the numerous horrific displays of love that is Glee, I fail to see why Jesse is the one labelled villain above the many people who never apologised to Rachel for their actions or the many other relationships that ended in cheating, cruelty and lies. 

Follow @bliss-in-the-midst
Because working to address social issues this big can be overwhelming.
Because the phrase “ignorance is bliss” perpetuates the problem; all problems.
Because there is bliss in the midst of the struggle.


#ActOnClimate: Vancouver - #climateaction

New sticker at Pioneers Press! 

One of the most prevalent — and effective — tactics against social justice movements is to divide them, and let the factions turn on each other.

Animal advocates are challenging the most powerful and wealthy industries on the planet. This sticker (with the acronyms for a wide range of animal protection groups) is a reminder to focus on positive activism, rather than differences and disagreements with other activists.

$2. Available here!


Finally! NY Governor Cuomo Releases Blueprint to End AIDS by 2020

According to the state’s press release, in the 2015–16 budget, $10 million will go to support the End of the Epidemic in New York State.

The budget removes the requirement for individuals in correctional facilities to give written consent for HIV testing, prohibits prosecutors from using condoms as evidence in prostitution cases, and makes it legal to possess syringes obtained through a syringe access program.

To read and download the full blueprint, click here

As environmental activism becomes increasingly criminalized in the U.S. and Canada, where federal police agencies raise steady warnings about “eco-terrorism,“ elsewhere in the Americas the situation is even more dire.

According to the Global Witness report, Latin America is now the most dangerous place in the world for environmental activists, whose struggles often lie at the intersection of human rights, environmental preservation and indigenous control of land. Of the 116 activists killed in 2014 worldwide, 40% were indigenous land defenders.

Although most of this isn’t news in Latin America – where the interests of sugar, coffee and fruit companies have more often than not trumped the concerns of peasant farmers struggling in the fields – there are contemporary twists. Large scale agriculture and logging, both legal and illegal, are still powerful forces. But it’s the extractive industries and hydropower which are now playing an increasing role in removing people from their land and polluting the water sources that remote communities depend on.

Brazil and Colombia lead in the total numbers of land defender killings, suffering 29 and 25, respectively. Meanwhile, tiny Honduras saw 12 killings in a population of just over 8 million (and 111 environmentalists killed overall since 2002), making it the most dangerous place per capita. In the years since the 2009 coup that deposed President Manuel Zelaya, who had undertaken some modest land reforms, the country has become a playground for corporations and criminal gangs who have made it one of the murder capitals of the world.

Read more

Relay For Life: Saturday April 25th, 2015

Today was a fun day spent with my students. We volunteered and participated in the Relay For Life, and had some good laughs along the way. I also came prepared with some comics to pass the time!!

After the relay, I went to Hastings and found a Flash action figure which was quite the find!! The texture and color of the costume look legit and very similar to the one Grant wears in the show.

I also purchased a Zero Year Batman; those purple gloves are dope! Two new figures for the collection!