Activism, Movement Building and Transformation

I was browsing through facebook today, something I do less and less of. (Sorry, Mark, I’m slowing weaning myself of an addition and can’t effectively contribute to your ever-growing empire). So I saw this post somebody lamenting the fact that he and millions of students have been going on strike with Fridays for Future for the past six months and nothing has changed. The demonstrations are designed to bring attention to the seriousness of climate change.

This post encouraged me to record my thoughts on this form of activism.

Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion and other such forms of public protest need to engage in concrete political dialogue and action. They must formulate concrete demands and make clear to whom their demands are directed. The demands must be realistic and doable. I am not saying they should limit themselves and their proposals to the confines of Realpolitik, rather the people or institutions have to be able in some reasonable way to realize their demands.

Demands have to make sense, their effects have to be clear and understandable. This is also necessary to build public support.

You need public support. If you can’t build a political majority you will have trouble turning your demands into public policy.

Address decision-makers eye to eye. Realize that we the people are the foundation of the state, we are the sovereign, we are the creators and the makers of our democracy. Politicians and other leaders are simply our representatives. We are free to define new representatives. If Greta Thunberg or the hundreds of active students in your city are able and willing, then you, the people, can decide right now that they are your representatives. They may not be elected officials but that doesn’t matter. Elected officials are only one of many ways that the people’s will is being translated into public policy.

Go with your new representatives to the city hall, to the mayor’s office, to the police chief, to your boss, to the CEO of your company, to the principal of your school. Demand a conversation, demand that they listen. If they refuse, make it public. If the mayor won’t sit down with you, then let your local newspaper know about it. Get it out there on social media. Tell your friends and families and colleagues and fellow students at your schools.

Prepare these meetings well. Clarify your demands, as mentioned above. Put it on paper, find articulate people among you who can clearly and passionately state your demands. You don’t have to be confrontative, but you must be clear and passionate and articulate.

Make the consequences of your demands crystal clear. Tell them what you expect them to do. Make deadlines, name milestones.

Make it easier for your elected officials or whomever you are addressing. They are just people too and they don’t have all the answers. They don’t always know what the people want. They need your help, even if they won’t admit it.

We have to tell them what we want.

Be present, get in their face, be persistent, be patient.

Don’t just go to your city council and say “We demand you meet the declared reductions in CO2.” You might hear back from them “Thanks, kids, come back when you’re grown up.”

It’s more powerful if you say, “We want the city to meet its CO2 goals by increasing the number of electric and hybrid busses and by building more bike lanes and we want a report on your progress.” They might still react in a paternalistic fashion. But when you step back in front of the council in two months and you ask them exactly what steps have been taken and the media is present and they know exactly what you are demanding, they might still react in their arrogant fashion, but it will be much harder for them to blow off your demands. You will also make it much easier for the city council members who are on your side, to help you realize these demands.

Public strikes and demonstrations are important and can be very powerful. They do, however, take a ton of energy and time. If they are not successful, they have the potential of draining energy and undermining the movement.

Recent demonstrations in Taiwan were an exception. Not only were they gigantic but they also had a very clear and simple demand: no extraditions.


Back on the German Plane

I’ve been back in Germany for a bit over three weeks (when I started writing this). I had to check my calendar because I truly have no sense of how long it’s been. It sure as heck doesn’t feel like three weeks. It feels more like three months. The odd thing about it is that California seems like a million miles away and a couple of light years. There seem to be two dimensions or planes of existence currently. Not the plane like that awesome Boeing Dreamliner I flew on. No, it’s the mathematical plane that extends in two dimensions infinitely. Up until a year ago I was on the German plane, then last summer I switched to the Californian plane, and now I’ve landed again on the German one.

These planes may be close to each other but they run parallel. They don’t touch. It’s like on that TV show “Stranger Things” about those weird creatures living in the “upside down”? It was about a group of kids in the 80’s who discover these stranger things. My own parallel realities are not so scary and there are no monsters, but there is something similar.

It’s a bit cruel but perhaps a useful brain function that I’m experiencing. Living back in my home in Tübingen things are back to normal. All my friends and family here noticed that I was gone, and I admittedly noticed that they were not on my Californian plane, and it has been wonderful to see them and to reunite. I have been welcomed with open arms and smiling faces. My brain is placing me solidly back on the German plane and blocking me off from my Californian plane. The time there, although it is so close, has taken on a kind of dream-like feeling. I can hardly believe that four weeks ago I was sitting on my sister’s lawn watching the sun set over the dark blue ocean.

It seems utterly impossible that just a few weeks ago I woke up in the small trailer set up behind my her home. I slept so peacefully with the sound of the distant waves. The wooden walls and ceiling gave the tiny place a homey, warm feeling. Stepping out into the driveway I was able to jump on my bright orange Cannondale road bike and ride five minutes to the Morro Strand Campground at the beach and take a short walk on the sand.

Today I woke up and sat on my balcony in the sun and gazed out at the deep greens of the Schindhau Forest. We live at the edge of town and just a few meters away there’s a steep hillside with a dense forest. The lush greens of my other hometown here in Germany have been a warm welcome. Walking up the narrow valley along the Blaulach Creek with my faithful dog Momo is like entering a soothing, warm pool.

The dual plane reality I am living in is strengthened by this stark contrast. On a walk along the beach in Morro Bay I have to protect my eyes from the blinding light, my head and chest from the often forceful and cold wind. The deep blues or sometimes ominous greys of the endless ocean and the dark blue sky are set against the light hues of sand and the golden browns of the hillsides. Back here, the gentle greens dominate my field of view. The summer heat is soothing and comforting. I was surprised upon my return how much I have missed the green here. I guess it won’t take too long before I again miss the browns and blues of California.


Gaia enjoying the riverside rest

The other thing that has made my return easy is the reception of family and friends. First I got to join Joshua and Gaia for a 5-day bike along the Danube River through Bavaria and Austria. I followed their youthful spirit and wild nature. We had our tents and sleeping bags on our bikes and avoiding the “Bougie” campgrounds, simply set up our own camps in meadows or forests along the way. (*I picked up “bougie”, that awesome short for bourgeois from my awesome friends Lisa and Tim in San Luis). We had great talks, went swimming in the giant river and ate super healthy raw vegan.

Arriving back I realized again how many great friends we have here in Tübingen. Right off the bat, we met friends and family for coffee, dinner, beer, pizza and, of course, for a rugged match of German-style football. Everyone is curious about our year abroad and I’m eager to catch up on people’s lives here. Sometimes the questions about my year abroad are funny. Often they revolve around this awful human occupying the White House. To those inquires I can’t do much more than a faint shrug (I would prefer here to use the German “Schulter zucken” which translates literally to twitching your shoulders). Some of the questions are rather off the wall like how we survived the fires because the whole state is burning.

I just realized that the problem is is that my friends here are, of course, on the German plane. Living in California I did not fear falling in a chasm during the coming earthquake, or having to run for my life because the fires are approaching. In fact I did not even fear being eaten up or dragged into the dungeon by the lunatic on Pennsylvania Avenue.


Slowly my two worlds will merge back into one, I am certain. For now life goes on. Today we said goodbye to our Joshua, who is heading back to Israel where he will spend one year volunteering at a Camphill Community in Ber Sheva. It is a community of about 25 special needs people, a big team of volunteers and staff. Joshua is exciting about the challenge. He is motivated to learn Hebrew and, of course, he is happy to be close to his sweetheart Gaia, who is continuing her university program in dance at Hebrew University. Susa, Theresa and I are already planning to visit them this winter. I am so excited to be able to walk down the mysterious lanes of the Arab Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem and to swim with the octopus in the Red Sea near Eilat and to float in the dense salt water of the Dead Sea.

Love to everyone. I miss California and all my new and old friends there and my wonderful family.

Yosemite National Park, June 2018


Even though I grew up in California, this was only my second or third trip to Yosemite. My Dad did take me and my sister to the mountains numerous times, but we usually went to the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California. I can only remember one trip to the Sierra Nevadas with my Dad. We had an overnight hike up to a lake somewhere and even did some fishing. We went with a friend of his and his kids. The friend knew about fishing, which we did not. I can still taste that wonderfulness of fresh cooked rainbow trout. I also remember my Dad’s friend apologizing to my Dad for scolding me. Perhaps I was complaining about the long hike or my heavy backpack and the guy said something like “man up, kid”. I don’t remember being offended, just remember the guy apologizing and my Dad kind of brushing it off. I find it interesting why I remember that moment. I hypothesize that it’s because I was the center of attention and my Dad was conversing with this adult about something so personal as whether my feelings were hurt. We didn’t talk much about feelings in my family and I was seldom the center of attention.


On our recent trip to Yosemite up in the Sierra Neveda Mountains there was no fish and no scolding and no Dad, but the smells were there. Already on the long, curvy Highway 41 leading down into Yosemite Valley, the fragrance of pine and fresh, cool mountain air hit me. The mountains here smell different than the European Alps. There is no way I can explain it but it brought me right back to one of those childhood camping trips.

On Saturday morning Susa, Theresa and my sister and brother in law drove from our hostel in North Fork towards Yosemite Valley. I didn’t know what to expect because it’s been so long. The mountain road wound endlessly until unexpectedly the valley opened up in front of us. A chorus of voices cried, “Wow, look, pull over, now, quick.” I swerved across the double yellow line into a viewpoint area with a very low, stone wall. The sight was truly overwhelming. El Capitan, Half Dome and the long and wide valley floor were presented to us.

The previous couple days we studied maps, websites and apps to figure out where to hike and agreed upon Vernal and Nevada Falls. It is one of the more popular hikes and oldest trails with a distance of about 6 mi. (9km) and took us from the valley floor at 4000 ft (1220 m) to the top of Nevada Falls at 6000 ft (1830m).

The trail started steep, including stone steps, and it was overcrowded. The crowds didn’t bother me too much and they got thinner and thinner the higher we got. By the time we reached our goal at the top of Nevada Falls we noticed that we seemed to be about the oldest people up there. Most of the hikers were under 30. It’s encouraging to see so many youngsters out in the wilderness.

On the way up we walked on the appropriately-named Mist Trail which took us right up the wall leading to the top of the first water fall, the massive Vernal Falls. Its truly magnificent. The crashing noise and incredible volume of water was overwhelming. Thinking that for thousands of years so much water fell from those heights, relentlessly cutting into the hard granite rock gave me a sense of timelessness. The trail leads so close to the falls that at one point we got soaked by the heavy mist. At the base of both Vernal and Nevada Falls rainbows add their colors to the saturated scene.

One of the most impressive moments for me was reaching the top of Vernal Falls. You have to climb a series of steep stairs to ascend up the wall leading to the top. The noise is almost deafening and the white flow of power creates an palpable energy in the air. Once I reached the top of the Falls, that all changed. The noise disappears, and a rushing river and flat valley floor opens up. The charged energy is gone and leaves a gentle, peaceful atmosphere. Hikers are resting on rocks, dipping their feet into cold pools and gazing back down towards the open Yosemite Valley, proud that they made it all the way up.

Nevada Falls, 1000 feet higher, was equally impressive. We took a longer break at the top where a sandy river bank invites hikers to rest. Theresa and I collapsed and took a nap while Susa ventured over to the edge of the granite cliff. She said the view was amazing so I headed over there too. The edge was not clearly defined and it took me a bit to find the platform with a fence to look over. My acrophobia took over as I saw the edge and could only imagine how far the drop off was. I overcame my fear and was, at least, able to put my hand on the railing and glance down. Quickly I had to retreat to safer ground. I couldn’t see the waterfall below underneath me and I was too nervous to try. A girl and two boys were actually sitting on the edge with their feet dangling over, with 1000 feet of air between their shoes and the next rock below. One of the boys moved quickly back from the edge to safer ground. The girl called “hey, you scared?” The boy didn’t respond but I said aloud, “sure as hell is scary for me”. “Ah, come on, it’s not scary,” she yelled. The innocence of youth, I thought.

Hot days and landscaping in SLO

It’s crazy hot here in SLO today. 99° Fahrenheit (37 Celsius) today and the air is bad. I felt ozone in my lungs walking over to the cafe this morning. Just 20 miles from here up in Paso Robles they are having record temperatures upwards of 112 F (44 C). That hurts.  I would prefer heading over to Morro Bay where its “only” 80° (27°). People say that it never gets this hot here in SLO. Welcome climate change. At the same time, there’s this disastrous Hurricane Harvey in Texas. They say it’s the worst rainstorm in US history.

A few days earlier

Actually, I wanted to make more progress on my story (next book?) but writing in this journal is easier and I am so full of impressions these days. This morning I walked out my front door and looked down the street and saw a huge fog bank taking over a group of homes down the street. I’ve never seen a thick bank of fog rolling up a city street before. The area is hilly and leads right up to the base of Bishop Peak where I have often seen huge fog-cloud-formations encroaching on the rocky summit.

I grabbed my camera, put my sandals on and headed up towards the trail, hoping to get some photos of the fog covering the valley below. By the time I was up a bit higher, the fog had burned off but I was not disappointed and continued up the trail into the oak tree groves and brown hills at the base of Bishop Peak. There were maybe a dozen other early morning hikers, joggers and dog walkers on the trail. I enjoy the fact that so many people in the area get out and take walks in this beautiful area.

Pretty yards

What most caught my attention this morning were the landscaped yards and houses on my way back through the quiet, wide streets towards my house. There is such a colorful mixture of homes and yards around here. Homeowners have gotten very creative over the years with their landscaped yards, steps and paths. When I was growing up, people just had lawns and fences. Now many or most of the lawns are gone and gravel, rocks, succulents and trees have taken over. Drip irrigation is the mainstay.

ameican home.jpg

Not the greatest yard but very American

The water prices are probably the main motivation for people moving towards drought-resistant landscapes. I spoke with a neighbor who was caring for his plants out near the sidewalk. It’s the same guy who offered me a pump as he saw me pushing my bike down the street. He was saying that his water bill is very high. He has converted away from lawn but the patches of grass still cause the high bills.  Just checking wikipedia I discovered the term xeriscaping to describe this type of planting.

home los osos.jpg

Later I fixed the flat on my bike, threw it in my Toyota Sienna and drove 10 miles (16km) over to the beach city of Los Osos. I parked on the edge of town and rode up and down the charming residential streets. The town is older and, in some places, run down. Riding down 6th Street I see tiny houses on lots void of any landscaping or care. Some to the houses are dilapidated and seemingly empty of inhabitants. Just down the block, though, I find another small house, but this one has fresh, red paint with white trim and an elderly woman caring for her flowers. She has small signs of “welcome” “peace” and “enjoy life”.

woodhouse 2 slo

tree in Baywood

barber in MB.jpgAnother favorite building of mine is the barbershop in Morro Bay. As I walked by this place, I was rather shocked to see the two barbers occupying the two chairs. They were under 30, had tattooed arms and were staring straight into their cell phones. I almost wanted to tell them that nobody is going to go in their if they don’t clean up their image a bit.