why do street protests?

As government officials grow depressingly less accountable to the public they’re supposed to represent, we have to resort to  other means to get them to pay attention and set them straight. Going out on the street en masse to air grievances is obviously one of the oldest tactics in the book. Sometimes, it works. It works when it grabs press attention, when it catalyzes others to take action, or when it’s really big and it causes officials to shake in their boots and actually change their course.

But most of the time, it doesn’t do any of those things…and if so, is it just a waste of time?

I thought about this a lot when I was in Washington D.C. for protest actions against the TPP this week and as I went to my third march yesterday in Oakland to perform with my protest dance flashmob group. I spent a pretty significant amount of time and energy preparing for the D.C. actions in the weeks leading to it, getting other organizations to endorse them and invite their members to come out and join us. My goal was to have as many people on the streets at the main action on Monday afternoon as possible.

And we did get a good number people out there (I first said on Twitter that I thought it was at least 1,000 people but given my knack for being horrible at guesstimating large numbers or sizes of things it was probably pretty off). I think it’s safe to say that we had 300~400 people when it was at its largest when we marched through downtown D.C.—apparently, that’s not too shabby for a protest action on the Hill. We had Flush the TPP lanterns shaped like rolls of toilet paper, some big light projections on nearby buildings, and actual rolls of toilet paper with facts about the TPP printed on them that we used to TP trees and statues along the route.



On the following morning, we had another action to march to each of the 12 embassies of the countries involved in the agreement. It was way smaller (about 60 people) but we definitely made up for it in theatrics and props. We had a big Mr. Monopoly puppeteering the flags of the TPP countries and a massive blow-up globe that four people had to carry on their shoulders.


Popular Resistance did an incredible job at organizing everything that happened last week. Not only did they plan out a dozen or so separate activities, they coordinated with people who came from all over the country, figured out how to house and feed 30+ people in a church which was our planning HQ, and most impressively of all, kept up their energy and had a positive attitude the entire time. The folks at Popular Resistance were the most impressive organizers I’d ever worked with.

Really though, I think it came down to that: the people you meet at these events. Obviously the goal of doing this kind of thing is to enact some real change but it’s really hard to quantify and measure that kind of impact. But if during the process, you meet and connect with people who share a common goal of resisting oppressive, backward government policies, I’d still say that’s a success.

It’s empowering to get together with a group of total strangers who come from entirely different backgrounds from you and recognize that you’ve got each other on your team. Protests and rallies are just as much about taking up space and creating a spectacle to call attention to an important issue as it is about celebrating your community.

I can say that I definitely needed the inspiration and hope that we still have a chance (see previous bleak blog post for reference). It was an intense few days with the several dozen people who stayed at the church HQ and were involved in all the action.

There was the kindergarten teacher-turned-activist in her 60’s who got teary-eyed with me as we both ranted about how hard it was to make more people care about the TPP. She said she starting doing activism when she realized she couldn’t bear the thought of her kids’ futures in the world the way it was.

There were the 20-something-year old brothers from Michigan who run an organic farming business on their property. They were there because they’re against GMO’s (which we disagreed about) and think Monsanto is an evil company that should not be empowered any more than they are already are (which we agreed about).

Then there was the guy who flew all the way from Washington, from the northern most county in the state. He’s an organizer who managed to turn his entire district Democrat with his grassroots work to rally thousands of people to turn out for local elections.

These and the other people I met this week are, in their various communities, doing whatever they can to be an active participant in re-shaping the future for the better. I hope they went back feeling as pumped and re-energized as I did. We got a pretty good team going, but to win in the long term, we’re going to have to keep building this community bigger, stronger, and with more love and common respect.

Having said that, I think I’m good on going to any more street actions in the near future… 😛


the shadowy incessant dread

i’ve been staring the TPP in the face for so long, the details of its horrifying features fade away sometimes. numbed to the shock and anger, the thought of it morphs into a shadowy incessant dread. it’s hard to make it go away, even when i’m supposed to be relaxing.

the negotiations ended two weeks ago, then the Intellectual Property chapter leaked a few days after that. that bit is pretty much as bad as we’ve always thought it’d be. we haven’t even seen the other 29 chapters.

but the specifics don’t matter if the whole thing’s rotten.

At the National Lawyers’ Guild Convention where i spoke this morning, someone from the audience got up to say that with social and economic justice work, we’ve all been painting and fixing the roofing on the house when its entire foundation is caving in beneath our feet—that, the entire edifice of democracy based on common public interest (at least the hope of a universal, inclusive kind that many are trying to build) is crashing right before our eyes.

the TPP, and other trade deals TTIP and TISA, is representative of a longer trend of policymaking that’s based on myopic priorities of “economic growth” at the expense of ALL other considerations—be it human rights, economic/gender/racial equality, etc. it seems like we’re nailing ourselves into the coffin of neo-liberal, corporate-sovereignty-enhancing international regulations.

on the whole i’m optimistic that we’ve got a chance to kill this thing, and make room for a larger dialogue about how we ought to be making good, solid policymaking that’s not driven by an elite of private wealthy interests.

but sometimes, here and there, i let the immensity of it get to me and i just want to roll up in a ball and cry at the indifference, the greed, and the powerful toxic insecurity that drives it all. the insecurity of corporate execs who fear the diminishing growth of their companies and will do anything to curb it. the insecurity of U.S. officials about whatever threat BRICS countries poses to its current hegemony (and similarly for countries that take advantage of the United States’ current geopolitical standing ::cough:: japan ::cough:: australia ::cough::).

years of sending trade delegates back and forth across the world meeting at expensive luxury hotels to make a giant deal based on a screwed up agenda, with the guaranteed sugarcoating by officials who’ll do anything to make it all seem palatable to the common person…it’s so goddamn frustrating that we’re wasting so many resources doing this when we actually have real problems to solve.

i just want to take Obama by the shoulders and shake him and yell “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS.” he, more than anyone else in this world, is in a position to pop this bubble of madness. he used to be critical of all this… at least he claimed to….

anyway. i’m exhausted. i feel somewhat better having dragged this rant out of me. tomorrow i have to wake up and think optimistically about all this or else i’ll never want to get out of bed.



centering & creating opportunity out of crisis

First, it was at an event put on by the Asia Foundation where I was speaking. I met a leading feminist and human rights organizer from Mongolia who put on the first production of the Vagina Monologues there (and to much controversy).

Later that week, I spent three days with two fellow digital rights nerds in the Sierras. We cooked, explored, chatted, and made sense of our community with each other. Both of them incredibly hard-working, passionate, hilarious, and thoughtful people.

With them, I visited and slept in an old schoolhouse of a ghost town recently purchased by a woman my age, who was one of the most gorgeous, elegant people I’ve met. She’s re-building this long deserted town into a sustainable community centered on organic farming. So far it’s inhabited by a dozen or so happy humans, dogs, goats, pigs, and chickens.

I had lunch with one of my colleagues who I consider an influential mentor. She almost single-handedly built an international project to create legal principles that would guide surveillance policies so that they could fall in line with international human rights. It has been too long since we hung out and talked about life.

All of this came after spending the last few weeks reading the entirety of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. The book blew my mind in its comprehensive explanation of why climate change is an urgent crisis that must be addressed immediately, but in the same vein, an opportunity to re-think many aspects of governance, the economy, and the ideologies that underpin both social structures. She manages to make someone, like me, who has peripherally cared about this issue into an evangelist for direct action against carbon-based fuels and demand subsidies for renewable energy programs.

These past few weeks, I’ve encountered these and other inspiring women who are putting their all into fixing this broken mess of a world in varied but individually stunning ways. Despite how fucked things seem lately, thinking about them and their work help me shake off the despair and get to work. Just as Naomi would say, we can take a crisis and turn it into an opportunity. Whether or not they’d admit themselves, these individuals are doing this through their day-to-day work and are committed to making things more just and sustainable.

I’m preparing myself for a busy few months as TPP negotiators may announce tomorrow morning that they’ve concluded this sprawling trade deal once and for all. If they do, I’ll be laser-focused on killing this agreement dead because it goes against everything I believe in. I hope to soon do more work that involves building towards positive, equitable institutions, rather than having to fight this bullshit neo-liberal/private-interest-captured policies. But in this crisis, I’ll be looking for new opportunities. In this work, I’ll try and emphasize ways of organizing that will make people feel more connected and responsible to their society and global community. Who knows what the hell that looks like but I’m gonna do my darnedest and I’ll take a cue or two from these bad ass women who’ve come into my orbit.


three new things

a few discoveries from my recent explorations…

long stemmed buckwheat, in Big Sur


I went backpacking last weekend and fell in love with these flowers, which covered the sunny, drier mountainsides of Big Sur. They’re what sakura would look like as a California plant—with similarly small, pink, delicate bursts of fluffy petals.


Gary Kremen, who founded Match [dot] com and was the plaintiff in a lawsuit over a fraudulent transfer of his domain Sex [dot] com (and subsequently won $65 million in the case and later legitimately sold it for $15 million), now sits on the water board for Santa Clara county and his passion now is water purification and recycling.

I found this out during a tour of a new water purification center yesterday. He seemed so passionate and excited about his new venture and his enthusiasm for the topic was weirdly contagious.

I’d like to think if I miraculously became a millionaire somehow I’d also try and do something impactful and super pragmatic like improving public infrastructure…among some other things.


I’m reading This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein, and it’s amazing, but also amazingly dense with facts and anecdotes.

Anyway, one thing I didn’t expect her to say was how massive, new infrastructure for renewable energy systems can’t happen without it being a people-driven, cooperative exercise. Of course that wouldn’t be possible without some drastic regulatory changes and new economic incentive programs, but the systems themselves, according to her, can’t be top-down or centralized.

It’s also making me re-think many aspects of trade agreements that until recently I had taken as granted. In sum, I’m not so sure that the so-called traditional trade issues ought not to be questioned or probed in regards to their impact on climate change or what they mean for “jobs”. I’m not taking her critiques and policy proposals without skepticism, though I’m pretty sympathetic to many of her arguments.

We’ll see, I’m still workin on the book.


stream of consciousness: aug 9 ’15

Another stream of consciousness—wherein I write whatever comes to my head and I only go back to correct for grammar and formatting.

I just finished Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s a story about a Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who comes to the U.S. as a student and becomes a blogger who comments on her racial experience as someone who “became” black only once she came to the States. There are about 20 of the character’s blog posts in the book, and it contains some of the best writing on the experience of intersectional racism/sexism of black women. The story that encases this commentary is a love story which isn’t bad as far as those go. Adichie’s writing is beautiful too, with just enough descriptive flare to suck you into certain moments in the story but not too much to be tiresome.

Anyway I definitely recommend it.


Very much into ibeyi right now. They’re twin sisters, 19 or 20, of French-Cuban descent and are the daughters of the percussionist from Buena Vista Social Club. Their music is just gorgeous and soulful and…Mmm!

>> Youtube video of their show at KEXP Seattle <<


Random thoughts about trade policy/innovation still swimming around in my head that I can’t nail down.

I’ve started three different long pieces trying to make sense of them and I keep scrapping them. Can’t tell if it’s just a bunch of obviousness, that I’m just saying something someone else has already said but then I know that if they had, I probably would have read it or known about it.


That’s it for now. bleh.

mood: intellectually, creatively constipated





It’s all about REGs.

I *love* a good immersive puzzle. It began with the annual Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt, which I’ve done for the last three years with my colleagues. For that you run around a square half-mile area in the FiDi/China Town/Russian Hill/Embarcadero area while the Chinese New Year parade happens in the middle of your 4~5 hour quest.

Then I heard about the “Escape from the Mysterious Room.” It’s called a Real Escape Game (REG), a genre of puzzle-hunting where they trap you in a room filled with clues, and you only have a limited time, usually an hour, to escape. They hold it at the New People center in J-town, tucked between the floors of anime stationary stores and Lolita boutiques. That one was the first series to hit the Bay Area. It was definitely fun but way too hard (apparently only 1~2% of people got out in time and beat it).

Now there’s a new one—Escape from the Puzzle Room—which is the one I did today. It was GREAT. The crew that I came with, I gotta say, did a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of puzzling. They make you work with everyone who shows up (11 ppl in all), and the strangers we got really had no idea what they were doing. oh wells.

Escape from the Puzzle Room

But we won!! (Well, we didn’t actually escape the room, one of our teammates figured out where the key was just as the buzzer was going off. It was close enough and we solved every puzzle soooo…..)

Puzzle hunts are awesome because they make you process information on so many different levels. You have to be a sleuth, and look for clues and find patterns at every moment. You have to remember factoids. You have to be willing to take risks and think creatively. You have to be good at working with others, know how to communicate well, and recognize when and how to delegate tasks or when you step up and support someone else as they lead. And you have to do all that under a ticking timer.

It feels so good to have all of these different parts of your brain stimulated at once in a pleasant frenzy. It’s also a kind of entertainment that’s not based on consumption (of a good nor mass culture), and you come out feeling so accomplished. Win win and win.

Anyway, you should check it out if you’re in the Bay Area, but see if they might also have it at a Japan town near youuuu~



rise of the third place

The late architect Victor Gruen is called the grandfather of the American mall.

It was distressing for him to see people increasingly consumed by the automobile in the 1950’s and 60’s. He said: “their threat to human life and health is just as great as that of the exposed sewer.” Yup, he *hated* cars. So he wanted to bring cohesion to the suburbanite lifestyle by giving rise to a “third place,” outside the home and workplace. He wanted to build mixed-use spaces that could serve as a place for leisure and community.

He eventually became disgusted by the very thing he helped create—these climate-controlled private spaces, national monuments to American consumerism.


We celebrated him, and the rise and fall of the modern mall, on Gruen Day yesterday at the Bayfair Center in San Leandro. It was the fifth mall he had designed.

It seems to be an empty shell of what it once was. The woman who leads the management for the space repeatedly decried the use of the term “mall,” calling it a four-letter word in the industry. Everything the management does now is geared towards de-malling. They want to gut it and completely re-design the interior so it can house offices, maybe even residences.

Gruen, who gave rise to the mall and became one of its fiercest critics, would probably be thrilled to see this happen to his own creation.

p.s. ICYMI: 99% Invisible did a great episode about him.



the drought is no joke.

 Bass Lake, June 21 2015my friends and I came here four years ago and kayaked around this meadow when it was still underneath a lake. we were shocked to see Bass Lake more than 3/4’s empty…this was the first time the drought felt so visceral and real to me. 

 floating docks sitting un-used.   
a small stream feeds into the lake. houses that once sat on the waterfront are now hundreds of feet from the water. 


a peek at monsanto’s evils.

I don’t have a problem with GMOs, but I do have a problem with Monsanto.

First I heard about the multinational agricultural biotech firm was in high school, when my dad told me about how they’d sue farmers for having crops that contain traces of their patented plant genes—including threatening their neighbors, for simply having their farm nearby a farmer who used Monsanto seeds, the genetic traits of which could get transmitted through pollen that floated or carried over to them by bees. I just did a quick search to find out about their other evil doings, and found these:

  • They’ve continued to sue farmers for having “improperly reused their patented seeds.” Yes, they have invested millions into their R&D for their products, but it’s perverse for them to go after farmers for reusing seeds when that’s what farmers have done for literally thousands of years. Farmers are under ever-increasing pressure to yield more and more crops (esp. corn and soy beans), and making these farmers dependent on Monsanto’s products to remain competitive seems dangerous and unsustainable..

Sooo on Saturday, I ended up going to the March Against Monsanto in San Francisco. Food safety and anti-pesticide activism isn’t one of my fights, but I deeply respect those who’ve taken up the cause. It also happened that one of the dances that my political-dance-flash-mob does, Toxic, fit perfectly with the demo’s message. On some level, I felt bad that I suddenly showed up to perform (which as I said in an earlier post, feels more like activism-cheerleading than anything else) and join their protest. But I think it’s actually okay to be peripherally involved in a cause like this, especially if you’re already focused on a different one.


There’s only so much anger one can muster in a week. My day job is to wrangle with a massive trade agreement that could obligate its signatory countries to various bad awful digital regulations, and really threatens to upend public interest policies from across the board. It’s already been a struggle for me to try and stay positive and focused on the things that we can do to stop the TPP, so I have to be okay with letting others lead and fight in those trenches to do what they can on issues I also care about.

Anyways, I’ll just end this post with this awesome video on Youtube, “Lobbyist Claims Monsanto’s Roundup Is Safe To Drink, Freaks Out When Offered A Glass.

And a photo of me in a gas mask, which was really fun dancing to Britney Spears with. :)



film: encounters at the end of the world


I watched Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World this week, a documentary that beautifully captures the indifferent expanse of Antarctica as it peers into the lives of those who’ve somehow ended up there. At times the film was breathtaking, suspenseful, absurd, and meditative. Through intimate human moments that take place in this gorgeous icy frontier, Herzog shows you some of the consequential/inconsequential collisions between humans and “nature”. He guides you through this in his signature narration, delivered with his melodic German accent.

For real though, it’s one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in a while that *doesn’t* make me want to punch a wall. And it’s on Netflix.