how dinner and bikes saved my idealism

I first met Joe my senior year of high school, when Joe was making road trips down to Columbus from Cleveland for a summer of amazing punk rock like I never experienced before.  The scene in Columbus was great then, and I am not sure I went a week without going to at least 3-4 shows and at least one music festival a month.  During this time Joe had started his small publishing company which has now grown into Microcosm Publishing.  He was political aware, sweet, calm and hilarious and still is and yet sadly we hadn’t seen each other in more than a decade. I was so happy that I could host Joe and his friends as they made their Great Midwest & Northeast tour.

Their tour, Dinner and Bikes, came through Columbus, Ohio and I got to spend two days being a terrible host to four amazing people who had more influence on me than they probably realized.  The four activists were on tour and crashed at my place, they were author and documentarian Joe Biel. Elly Blue author, and research activists on cycling.  Joshua Ploeg author and vegan chef .  Chicagoan Aaron Cynic  a journalist with chicagoist and Diatribe Media .

The gang arrived at my home after I’d finished an unexpected 12 hour work shift, and had another the following day.  I was burnt out, not just from those two days but with the punk scene and the world as a whole.  I’d thought grown-ups had their shit together, that rational intelligent people were in charge of making decisions deciding everything from war to public transportation to urban planning.  I was frustrated with the idea that maybe it wasn’t possible for punks to have an influence they way I’d imagined when I was younger. Where were the people who understood the realities of the political system and could still be idealists? With this mentality and after the second long day of work, I headed to Dinner and Bikes.

Per my usual, I arrived late and loudly, I made my way past Aaron at the door to the first open seat which happened to be next to my buddy Bob.  Elly was coming to a close on her presentation regarding the Economics of Bikes or as she calls it Bikenomics.  I am embarrassed to say I’d had low expectations for Elly’s presentation expecting that it would be mostly “cars are bad, and use oil, and oil is bad, so bikes are economically better”.  Not that it means a lot but have a degree in economics and have some knowledge of economics–this is to say I wanted substance.  But it wasn’t a dumbing-down or lacking substance, here was Elly using economic terminology and speaking to her audience the same way one of my professors would have in an economics 200 level course—that is to say giving a quick reminder of what a term meant, and then presenting a wide range and source of studies on each point she brought up.   For example to quote from her book (which is written very much like she speaks) Bikenomics: How Bicycling Will Save The Economy (if we let it):

The greatest part of the disparity in cost between bicycling and driving is in the externalities.  An externality is, in economics-speak, a cost or benefit that isn’t reflected in something’s price…Why are these external costs worth so much scrutiny? Because the result of them being externalized is that the price of roads, gas, and parking become artificially cheap when we pay for them directly–so cheap that we have become reliant on them.  If all these costs were internalized, driving would suddenly become something only the wealthy could afford.  In truth, we already pay quite a bit more for these things than we realize, but indirectly through taxes, retail prices, health care costs, lost wages and more.

I looked around the room, the audience seemed engaged and understanding, and I also realized I knew a lot of these faces.  I was still one of the younger people in the room, and yet still very much a grown-up, but those around me had even more years/experience as a grown-up then I had,  and here they were listening to some punx teach them about the economic cost benefits of bikes versus cars on an intellectual level. I sat up straight and thought about how I couldn’t wait to purchase Elly’s book.

Then Joe started his documentary film on Critical Mass and at the same time I got up and served myself to an awesome vegan buffet made by Joshua (who by the way has the best cookbook title ever So Raw It’s Downright Filthy).  The documentary was really well made.  Joe had interviewed police officers, detectives, police chief, mayors, city council members, congressional representatives not just the punx, he let all sides be represented so that the truth could come out that many individuals in an organic grassroots culture shift had helped bring together a community and that even if the “grown-ups” in charge didn’t like it, change was is possible.

I felt re-inspired but I didn’t know that this feeling was only going to increase.  I made my way to their merchandise stand to hopefully purchase the documentary I had just seen. I ended up not buying it—by completely getting side tracked when I picked up If It Ain’t Cheap, It Ain’t Punk: D. un I. t Y. and reading the backside.  The bands listed were This Bike is a Pipe Bomb, Defiance Ohio, Ghost Mice, One Reason, Operation Chief Clavin,  and Sophie Nun Squad.  I’d seen all of these bands and most of them with Joe! I remembered how alive I felt at those shows, how much I love dancing and moshing to punk music and the fact that it has probably been at least three years since I got down at a show.

Enjoyng the band Defiance, Ohio

Enjoying the band Defiance, Ohio picture by Jimmy Buttons

I ended up purchasing the documentaries Cycling Shorts: Short Documentaries About Bicycles, If It Ain’t Cheap, It Ain’t Punk: D. un I. t Y., and Elly’s book Bikenomics.   I left exhausted from work but re-energized that change was possible.  That night back at home I tried to explain how I was feeling to Aaron but not sure I did a good job.  I also didn’t know that I was about to be even more impressed by Joshua.
The next morning at breakfast, I think I made some comment to Elly about a dish not being vegan or something like that, so that I didn’t think Joshua would be able to eat it. I had made an assumption and you know what happens when I do that.  I made an assumption that because Joshua was a vegan chef he was vegan.  Elly calmly explained “Joshua isn’t a vegan but he does believe vegan cuisine should be available for all people”.  I’m not sure how to articulate how great that statement was. It was non-judgmental and not just accepting but an embracing of others.  I now tried to explain to Joe as they piled into their car how I was feeling about their visit, and again I thought I’d failed at sufficiently expressing myself.   I gave them hugs, wished them luck on the rest of their tour and they were off and I was alone.

I cleaned up the dining room and then headed to my bedroom and next to my bike (Yes, I keep Keni Styles in my bedroom) I found the following book BEYOND the MUSIC: How Punks are Saving the World with DIY Ethics, Skills, & Values by Joe Biel.  I can’t explain to you how big a grinned and the absurdity of my high pitched squeal.  I immediately texted Joe and asked him if he had put that book in my room? Had he meant to do it? To which he responded “Haha! Sounded like you needed it.”  He was right I did.   To you my non-touring friends, I ask you to go see their show which ends June 4th in Chicago at Heritage Bikes.

blurry picture of punk media thanks to Dinner and Bikes

blurry picture of punk media thanks to Dinner and Bikes


Tsarnaev brothers

I’ve thought a lot about the Tsarnaev brothers and  about how America has reacted to the fact that these were two young Muslim men of Chechen ethnicity. (The Wrong Kind of Caucasian: Despite the Boston bombers having little to do with Chechnya, the media were quick to demonise an entire ethnicity.)

A very close friend of mine who grew up Muslim in Central-Asia in an area
neighboring the Chechnya region, emailed me from abroad and said:

“Yesterday I watched tv, russian news show about this.  So they saying americans wouldn’t believe this is  America’s own blame. I mean they are use to be terrorist is only foreigners but not USA peoples, but this time is terrorists is USA peoples, this guys grown up in USA and graduated [in USA]…”

He is right, Americans don’t see ourselves as having any fault in this. I remember watching a program about Anders Behring Breivik bomber and mass shooter in Norway, and how Norwegians questioned how it was they as a country had nurtured this person into being—of course noting his mental illness.

We need to ask ourselves as Obama put it:  “Why did young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country, resort to such violence?”

We, as Americans, have not asked ourselves that.  Last week while at work I was waiting to round and a nurse asked me if she could help me and I explained that was alright, that I was waiting for the already paged physicians.  The other nurse referring to me said “Oh she is she just standing there to stop any mad bombers that might come in.  I’ve always said that the hospital is not a safe place, we have so many foreigners coming here”. I wanted to scream about xenophobia or that perhaps we should have more fear of educated white men who felt jilted by the system—but I said nothing.

How do we want people to feel accepted in our country when ideologies like that
are acceptable enough to say out loud? Do we really think that any person of color
or any Muslim person is fully accepted as American?  What, for example, do we think is going to happen when our country has a whole class of Mexican-Americans who are young adults who have only lived in the USA, don’t speak Spanish, know little of Mexico and yet are considered an “illegal class” here? I feel a sad affection for the Tsarnaev brothers, they too are ni de aquí ni de allá, and I must ask myself did we as a society fail in that someone would want to resort to such an atrocious act?  Had we treated them with more love and acceptance, treated them so that they too not only belonged but were wanted, would they have resorted to this heinous barbarity?

Oh and how the authorities handled it afterwards only goes to show how much we fail with our own xenophobia and racism. Falsely Accused in Boston: 3 Examples and What They Should Teach Us (Hat Tip to Chirs Nelson)

Knowledge through Music

Going through old emails and found this exchange with a friend.  I asked him first if I could post it here and he agreed.  For a bit of background, my friend is a pretty well known underground (isn’t that an oxymoron?) hip hop artist and dedicated father.  He helped me put together a nice compilation of music for Olga after her accident, and via that still claims Nina Simone as one of her favorite artists.  Also, as an aside,  to the exchange below I let the students in the after school program curse.    I explained to them that my goal was to help them be as eloquent as possible and that sometimes curse words are necessary and powerful but we have to know why we use them.  I showed them the following Saul Williams clip where he explains what he means by “mother fuckers” and I told them, that if they were to curse, I wanted them to defend their word choice as eloquently as Saul Williams, if not, there was no point in using that word (skip to 1:14).

im running an after school program.  all the kids live in the same apartment complex (subsidized housing)  all are on food stamps and only two families have dads.   some of my kids also, don’t go to school because they have been suspended (yes i know it is called an afterschool program).  Not one of my students is white.

anyway been trying to get them to learn about the history of hip hop.  tired to watch “Fresh” with them, tried to assign each of them a hip hop artist like KRS-One and K’Naan.  Aksed them to research how spoken word is related to hip hop, same with graffiti and break dancing.  Tried to get them to listen to some Saul Williams.  Today I am going to do MURS with them and his song “The Science”.

I just don’t know how to get them interested. I am really struggeling.  They’ve talked through the documentaries.  Called Saul Williams a fag and blew him off.  Don’t understand why we can’t do mainstream “artists”.

any suggestions?
elena mary


and his response:

if the names you picked where what I was exposed to I wouldn’t have fallen in love with hip hop the way I did. Now I’m from a different time and its hard to get a young kid today to get into some shit that came out before they were born because they are programmed to like what they hear all day.

Judging by there responses here are some concious but not soft suggestions.

Eric b and rakim – start with juice (know the ledge) and then give them the paid in full album.
Public enemy – it takes a nation of millions
Kool g rap – the streets of new york
What krs did you give em? Try by all means necessary. My philosophy specifically.
Dead prez – its bigger than hiphop and I’m an african
Nas is a good bridge. Genius. Conscious. Positive but street level at the same time.

Its tough because I listened to a lot of ignorant shit but I was balanced by positive and educating parents so I knew the ignorant shit was just entertainment. These kids don’t.

Without any interest fresh would bore them. Have them watch “the show” but screen it first alone since I haven’t seen it in a while and might not be appropriate.

Start there and let me know how it goes


I’ve been thinking a lot about this email exchange and that program.  I didn’t realize how fulfilling it was, and how good I was at it.  It has taken years.  You know, my attendance quadrupled (yeah quadrupled) compared to all previous teachers and I took back students that had been suspended (the administrators made it my call).  I had a soft spot in my heart for those kids that had been suspended, although I am not sure they ever fully trusted me.  All of my students increased their grades and attendance not just for my program but for their schools too.  It was awesome.  I wonder if this is what people like Gustavo, and Cesar EMC, and Cindylu feel all the time.


Mama and Dolores Huerta

Cristina Tzintzún, Dolores Huerta, Ana Tzintzún

My mother called me early (and by early I mean I was still sleeping) Friday morning.  She was giddy like a teenage girl who had just met a famous heartthrob. The night before she had attended my sister Cristina Tzintzun‘s 10th anniversary of her foundation.  One of the guests of honor was Dolores Huerta, whom was seated to next to my mother at the event.  My mom began to explain to me how nervous she gets.  How she hates having to mingle with new people, to be introduced to “important people”.  It is surprising how introverted my mother can be, considering, I am the least introverted of her three children and I can’t recall the last time I left my house without meeting someone new.   My mother was overwhelmed and anxious about the whole event and furthermore was awestruck to be next to Dolores Huerta.  She couldn’t control her giggles as she told me how wonderful Huerta was that night.  “She is such a sweet simple woman” my mother told me.  Mama Tzintzún told me how she confided to Huerta her nervousness about public speaking, and my mother stated that Huerta grabbed her hand and told her not to worry, that she loved to talk and she would do all the talking for the two of them.  She never left my mother’s side and made my mother feel comfortable.  The best part my mom said was when Dolores Huerta asked her to dance. “Can you imagine, she is 82 years old, and so alive and still a strong feminista!  We danced together, it was wonderful.”
I can’t tell you how much I wish I could have seen my mother dancing that night.  Oh and as an aside my mother, even when speaking in English, always refers to feminists as feministas which never fails in making me smile.

maybe still a little naive

I have worked on many campaigns and for almost as many elections and I think this is the one that has left me the most heart broken.

Two years ago my friends in Mexico contacted me regarding a group they were putting together, Moviendonos Mas Por Ti. My friends and I had all gone to school together, a close knit class of 45 students most of them together from kindergarten until 12th grade, I had only studied ninth grade with them but was always included as part of the group. They were mostly the children of the well-to-do and/or parents who valued a solid education. The group they had put together was to be a non-profit that would provide medical, and educational resources and encourage young people to participate in the political process. I was excited, and game down to help with one of the first “Feria’s de Salud” Health Fairs. We were going to provide free primary care medical services, dental care, hair cuts, attorney consults, and child care while the parents took advantage of the services. We went door knocking in parts of the town I’d never been to, and invited them to come out that weekend.

Moviendonos Mas Por Ti

Moviendonos Mas Por Ti

I was really proud of my friends they had all gone off to college but here they were returning to our home town, wanting to make life better for our community, wanting to give to our community the gifts they had been given.  Those that had studied pharmacology helped run the free mini-pharmacy, those with medical degrees provided their services at no-charge, and Mario who had studied politics became our leader, and our organizer.   The communities seemed grateful and provided suggestions on improving our “ferias de salud”.  I was excited. We became advocates for education and guides to resources.  I returned to the US but my friends continued with the foundation and with its growth encouraged Mario to run for Diputado Local, think of it as a state congressional seat.  I came back to work for the last few days of the election.  All my friends were still supporting Mario and working hard on the elections.  They were high on the adrenaline that builds in the last week of a race.  They were also exhausted. The last two years they’d worked hard and believed that with an honest campaign and directly working with the community that change could happen. I started to believe it too.

I was there at the party headquarters as the numbers came in.  I was surprised at how blatantly fraudulent things had become.  Votes by one of the other parties publicly bought, numbers from the polls that were being brought in, had obviously been altered to reflect wins for the cheating party in districts where it was well known they weren’t strong…and yet here the were winning polling places by extreme margins.  So extreme that number of people voting were coming back higher for the opposing candidate then all  of the votes submitted for the presidential race, which is highly abnormal.  During presidential races you get a higher turnout than you do in off year elections, and you also get more people only casting votes for the presidential race and leaving their ballot blank for the local elections.  But here were people voting only for a local race and much larger numbers than the presidency—it didn’t sit right.

I supported a candidate not a party.  The candidate I had supported hadn’t cheated, I would not at all be surprised to learn if other candidates within is party had played dirty tricks but my friend Mario, had not, which is why it was so heartbreaking.  I felt like an idiot.  To top it off he lost against the only person running who is a genuine scumbag—I personally know the scumbag—trust me.

Had we all been too idealistic?  Had we been stupid to think that it could be done without a little under-handedness?   Mario gathered his closest supporters last night, all of us heartbroken, and told us we had run a clean fight, and should be proud of it.  Logically I know he is right, but the emotions don’t follow logic.  I can only imagine how much the rest of my friends are hurting, those that have fought so hard to do the right thing  for the last two years, those that missed events in their personal lives, all to support the movement.

Not sure how to feel about another friend of mine who ran for city Mayor.  That friend Monsi won.  Monsi may have been honest but his team was not.  For my friend  Monsi that did win, I am not sure how to feel.  Am I glad he won?  Kind-of.  I wanted him to win but fairly.  He was and is the best candidate for mayor but he shouldn’t have to tarnish his election in order to ensure a win…or should he?

I will try and write soon about the actual process of voting and my day at campaign headquarters.  But for now I’m going to wallow for a little bit and go to breakfast with my friends and console each other over hot coffee and good food.

Cinco de Mayo in the Gateway

I live in a neighborhood commercially known as “The Gateway” (read government supported gentrification) although I prefer calling it by the more historical name Weinland Park.

While walking home from the gym last night I saw this advertisement:

Cinco de Mayo at Gateway

I did check out the website and the “events and specials” seem to be discounts on alcohol at two bars, the “Irish” one and the “Mexican” one (Kildare’s and Made Mex).  Which to me is personally interesting because an Irish friend visiting the US called me a couple days ago and asked what this Cinco de Mayo thing was all about.  I told her it was an annoying holiday only celebrated in the US.  I compared it to St. Paddy’s but the difference being in Ireland people have actually heard of St Patrick’s day.

My Mexican aunt who first witnessed cinco de mayo a few years ago, asked me why all the college students were sitting in their yards drinking beers while wearing sombreros.  How would you answer that one?   Anyway, back to the advertisement,  I am offended by it but am having difficulty articulating why, and was hoping my readers could help me out.  On a positive note, it is less offensive than the “spicy” one the North Market had a few years ago:
Cinco D' Ohio