Sut Jhally Questions Assumptions
When teaching at the University of Massachusetts, Sut Jhally, founder and executive director of the Media Education Foundation (MEF), says that he works inside and outside academia to help people think critically. "The most important lectures I give are about debt," Jhally explains. "My students don't know how credit cards work. They don't know that companies can change interest rates at their will. People are concerned about their situations: so many students are leaving university with enormous debt, which affects their choices."
"Most news outlets are owned by an ever smaller number of corporations," he says. "Information is a public resource that's been bottled up by corporate control, keeping sources narrow. Even with the Internet, most people still use the old system. We have to increase the range of voices easily available and up the political value of this more democratic chorus." He reasons, "Unless you realize there's more to see, it's hard to look. &The Valley Advocate is an important voice here. Each year, it has run a big story about Project Censored, looking at the 100 most important stories the mainstream press censored. If the Advocate hasn't done that this year, they should do it."
"We're not sure who discovered water," says Jhally, "but we're pretty sure it wasn't the fish." MEF's films encourage that looking-at-water phenomenon. "We've made many films about gender," Jhally points out. "Some important ones explore what masculinity is and what femininity is." About four years ago, the organization began to tackle politics. Two films—Hijacking Catastrophe and Blood and Oil—examine the interplay between issues like oil, the global economy and terror. Jhally says, "Both the work about gender and about war carry similar intent: they are meant to open people's eyes in order to see these issues anew. &This country has engaged in cold war and active war for so long that war can almost become invisible."
—Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser
Dean Cycon Brews Beans of Change
Recalling an old Valley Advocate feature, Dean Cycon says, "Remember 'Where in the World is the Advocate?' I could really help them out. In the next two weeks, I'm going to Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Kenya."
For this New Englander, the world essentially functions as the neighborhood. Cycon's company, Dean's Beans, sells Fair Trade coffee. When he began the company 15 years ago, he explains, "My hope was that everyone holding a cup of coffee would see farmers as real people, global neighbors who seem worth our care and concern."
Cycon has made incredible inroads toward this goal. "The fair trade movement in the United States really kicked off in about 2000," he says. "The easiest metric—in the Valley, for example—is that now almost every company that sells coffee sells Fair Trade beans." Dean's Beans are available for retail sale nationally. And with programs in schools and churches and for nonprofit organizations, he explains, "Our beans are for sale as fundraisers in schools and churches across the country."
But simply selling Fair Trade beans across our land isn't the whole story for Cycon. Not only is he involved in the movement—as a founding member of Cooperative Coffees, Inc. and an active member of the Fair Trade Association—he continually strives to meet the challenges he encounters in the effort to serve the farmers he's committed to helping. "You have to work to ensure benefits get to farmers, to make yours a just system. Justice is a process, not an end point, " Cycon says. He's a strong advocate for "transparency and accountability" from those coffee sellers he says attempt to ride the Fair Trade wave without making any substantive change in their business behavior.
Back to those global neighbors: Cycon wrote a book about his adventures called Javatrekker: Dispatches from the World of Fair Trade Coffee, which won the 2008 Independent Publisher Award in the best travel essay category. "Inside a coffee cup, there are worlds within worlds," Cycon says. "This book's success has allowed me to keep reminding people of the farmers' stories."
—Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser
Deb Katz Makes the NRC Hear Local Concerns
On Fathers' Day, 1991, lightning struck both the Valley's nuclear power plants at once. The power surge didn't damage the Vermont Yankee plant in Vernon, near Brattleboro, but it knocked out the internal communication system at the Yankee Rowe reactor in Rowe, Mass.
"People got terrified," recalls Deb Katz, executive director of the Citizens' Awareness Network, a nuclear watchdog group that grew out of the Fathers' Day lightning hit. A number of Franklin County residents—including Katz and her husband Fred, who lived in Rowe, just four and a half miles from one of the plants—met the very next night to discuss the possibility, and the possible results, of a radiation disaster. For a while they called themselves the Monday Night Group, and got together weekly at the Charlemont Inn to talk about developments at the plant.
Both Katzes were social workers who had built a home in Rowe while working in New York City. (Fred Katz died in 2005, but Deb still works in New York). Together with friends and neighbors in upper Franklin County, they formed a coalition that the next year (1992) helped bring about the closure of the Rowe plant. Katz credits the Advocate with aiding their efforts at a crucial moment:
"When CAN began, we asked the Advocate to run an ad about how important it was for citizens to participate in the democratic process by expressing their concerns to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at an upcoming hearing. They did it, and published it as a public service announcement. This was really important to us as a struggling new group trying to make a difference."
That hearing drew 1,000 people and left the NRC in no doubt that there was overwhelming opposition in these parts to Yankee Rowe's continued operations. Soon afterward the plant was shut down for good. CAN's founding members considered disbanding, but were spurred to continue when they learned that Rowe had left a legacy: three decades' worth of radioactive waste dumped in the Deerfield River. Says Katz, "Suddenly the context for what we were doing changed because there was a whole nuclear fuel chain that we had never thought about. We had to make a commitment to larger issues."
Today CAN, a volunteer organization to which Katz as director devotes 20 or 25 hours a week, has 2,000 core members and chapters in five states: Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and Connecticut. "The Advocate is a great paper and a real supporter of the community and community activities," Katz says. "Their exposure of Yankee Rowe's failures helped make the closing of Rowe a reality. Their excellent coverage of Vermont Yankee's failures can do the same—informing people about the problem so that they can take meaningful action to change the future."