One of the local characters in the small city where I grew up was Judge Green. A giant man, probably 6 feet 7, he was widely admired around town, in part because he had been star of the only Urbana High School team ever to make it to the championship game of the Illinois state basketball tournament. I remember him as a cheerful man who greeted everyone with a smile. But he had one trait that made him seem a bit peculiar: He walked to work every day. If you drove down Broadway Avenue at certain hours, you couldn't miss his towering figure striding along the sidewalk.
One day, home from college and already an ardent environmentalist, I was walking uptown myself when it dawned on me that Judge Green's home was only a few blocks from the courthouse -- hardly more than half a mile. I was shocked. The man many folks thought eccentric (and I thought heroic) for not driving to work each day was covering a distance that would be nothing to pedestrians in Europe, or most other places outside the United States. How sad, I sighed. There really is no hope that Americans will ever get out of their cars if a half-mile walk looks to them like an Olympic endurance event.
Walking, in many ways, is still viewed as an exotic and slightly odd habit. Try this experiment some time at a party or other gathering: Announce that you are walking home. I'll bet you, two-to-one odds, that someone will offer a ride, even if you live just three blocks away and it's a sunny 80 degrees outside. This is a generous gesture, of course, seen by most folks as similar to giving a glass of water to someone who says they're thirsty. Why walk if you could go in a car?
But the answer to that question is becoming more complicated than it used to be. The net effect of two hundred and fifty million Americans always taking the car results in polluted skies, congested roads, global warming, burgeoning obesity and a growing sense of isolation in most American communities.
Our decision to drive made over and over again, has eliminated the option to walk in many places. Many kids, old people, poor people, and disabled people are living under a form of house arrest, unable to go anywhere without finding someone to chauffeur them. Sidewalks are seen as an unnecessary luxury in most suburbs, and 60 years of traffic "improvements" on America's streets have rendered many other communities unfit for pedestrians. The simplest human acts -- buying groceries, going to school, visiting friends -- now depend upon climbing into a car. People today even drive somewhere to take a walk because the streets around their homes feel inhospitable.
Yet one thing has changed for the better since I was a kid in the days of cheap gas, open roads, and plentiful parking. Increasing numbers of Americans -- seeing a future of traffic jams, soulless sprawl, and never-ending wars for oil -- are looking for ways to get out of the driver's seat. Even at a time when politicians in Washington are allocating billions for another round of mega-highway construction and pop culture celebrates the sexy supremacy of Hummer drivers, there is an emerging movement to reclaim our right to take a walk.
All across the land, people are speaking up, organizing meetings, fighting city hall and, in some cases, working with city hall to make streets safer and more pleasant for pedestrians. They've gotten crosswalks painted in some places, streets narrowed in others, stop signs and speed bumps installed, zoning ordinances changed to promote pedestrian-friendly development, and plans created to help kids walk or bike to school.
These issues reach deep into the heart of people's lives. Two neighbors bump into one another on the sidewalk and start talking about planting more flowers along the street, turning an empty storefront into a coffee shop or lobbying the city council to add bike lanes to that busy road. In small but important ways, these people are changing the face of America block by block.
This is a classic grassroots movement, with no clearly identifiable leaders. But a number of the people most active in the cause have been inspired by a former seminary student, magazine editor and window washer from Brisbane, Australia named David Engwicht. Marked-up copies of Engwicht's books, Reclaiming Our Cities and Towns and Street Reclaiming (both New Society Publishers), are passed from hand to hand at community meetings and potlucks across North America.
Engwicht's message is as simple as it radical. For nearly all of human history, he declares, streets belonged to everybody. Kids played there, dogs slept there, people stopped there to flirt or gossip. But over recent decades, beginning in Detroit and spreading over much of the world, streets have been seized for the exclusive use of cars and trucks. Most communities have never recovered from this theft. Deprived of our neighborhood gathering spots, we've retreated to the backyard or indoors to avoid the noise, smell and danger of speeding traffic. In the process, we've withdrawn from one another.
Engwicht admits he didn't realize all this until one day when he attended a public meeting about the widening of a road near his home in a Brisbane suburb. At first, he was persuaded by city officials' arguments in favor of a wider road, but he changed his mind after listening to neighbors talk about how it would affect their lives.
Although he was up to his neck in starting a window-washing business, Engwicht decided to write a rebuttal to all the assertions thrown out by the "experts" who wanted to widen the road. "Because I didn't have any background in traffic engineering or urban planning, or even environmental activism, I had a fresh view," he explained to me in an expansive interview at a St. Paul brewpub during a break from the last ProBike/ProWalk conference, an bi-annual gathering of activists sponsored by the National Center for Bicycling and Walking.
In his research, he discovered how neighbors in the Dutch city of Delft outwitted speeding motorists by strategically placing old couches, tables and planters in the street. Cars could still pass, but only by slowing down. When police arrived, they immediately realized the value of these illegal actions to make the streets safer. Soon city officials were devising their own ways to slow cars and "calm" traffic.
"Traffic Calming," the booklet Engwicht wrote to make the case against road widening, not only turned the tide in his hometown; it took on a life of its own. He expanded it into the book Reclaiming Our Cities and Towns, which inspired a group of neighbors and me to organize resistance to the proposed widening of an already unsafe street near our homes in Minneapolis. At a public meeting, we outlined Engwicht's ideas about traffic calming, quoting from the book and noting that streets could be redesigned so people and cars could share the space. Road-widening projects had been opposed around town many times before, but rarely stopped because city officials succeeded in branding opponents as "anti-progress." We, however, were able to win over the crowd by articulating a vision of what we were for, rather than just what we were against. The city dropped its plans to widen the avenue that very night.
Soon Engwicht's window-washing business was forgotten as he got offers from around the world to help people think differently about pedestrians, streets and communities. He delivers many talks and has been called in to help design people-friendly road projects in places from Honolulu's Waikiki Beach to Edinburgh, Scotland.
Engwicht suggests we treat the street as our "outdoor living room" and find ways it can be used for more than just transportation of people and goods. He now believes that traffic-calming efforts must encourage vital public life just as much as discourage speeding traffic. "Kids playing on the sidewalk or beautiful canopies of trees over the streets slow traffic more than speed bumps," he told me. "There are all kinds of fun things a neighborhood can do to accomplish this. When I get back home, I am going to put a bench in my front yard to get people to stop awhile, and maybe help kids on the block create scarecrows to put up along our street. Drivers will definitely slow down to look at that."
Anyone joining the burgeoning movement to make America more walkable soon discovers the key issue is not urban planning or transportation priorities but love. Places we love become places that we hang out, and those are always the best places for walking. Fred Kent, president of the Project for Public Spaces (PPS), means that almost literally. "If I had to summarize our work in one image," he says, leading me through a maze of Asian shops along Canal Street in New York, "it would be a couple smooching on a park bench."
Kent actually has thousands of pictures of people hugging and kissing on city streets on file among the hundreds of thousands of photos he has shot in 30 years as a tireless advocate for public places. His deep love for street life became apparent when I visited the PPS office last year. Every time we sat down to talk, Kent suggested we take a walk, so for several days I trailed him through the streets of New York as he snapped photos, pointed out favorite spots, and shouted answers to my questions above the hubbub of the city.
"Isn't it fun when you don't know where you're going to wind up?" Kent asked with a grin as we wandered past an Italian bakery, antique toy store and guitar shop near the PPS office, stopping to talk with two well-dressed and slightly tipsy couples from Auburn, Alabama, who were enjoying their walk through Greenwich Village as much as we were.
Inspired by William H. Whyte, a noted journalist and author who invented a "smile index" to measure the quality of urban spaces, Kent founded PPS in 1975 with environmental designer Kathleen Madden and architect Steve Davies to draw attention to the importance of creating and preserving congenial public settings where people can walk, talk, and just enjoy themselves. The group gained international acclaim for its part in the revival of Bryant Park, the backyard of the New York Public Library, once overrun with drug dealers and now one of New Yorkers most beloved places to pass time.
With a staff of 24, PPS worked in 31 states and 11 countries last year, joining with local citizen groups, public officials, foundations and businesses to engage in what they call "placemaking." This means taking every opportunity to promote public life and pedestrian activity by careful attention to how streets, parks, buildings, transportation options and public markets work. Through workshops, seminars, a participatory "Place Game" they've created, and a book, How to Turn a Place Around, PPS offers a grassroots approach to help people make their communities more livable and lovable.
"Those who live in a place are the experts on that place," Kent told me. "They know more than architects, urban planners, traffic engineers, landscape architects, and real estate agents about what will make that place thrive. But often they are not even asked about their ideas."
The central point of PPS's work, everyone involved with the organization will tell you, is that projects need to be "place-driven." By that, they mean that any effort to improve a place should not be viewed strictly as a question of transportation access, or crime control, or economic development, or affordable housing, or architectural excellence. These are worthy goals, but they cannot be achieved if too little attention is devoted to creating a vital place where people will want to live, work, visit, or walk -- a place they will care about, that they will love.
"The single thing that makes a place a good place is that it is interesting," Kent explained as we strolled down Fifth Avenue toward Central Park. "And that's the same with a good place to walk. I love to walk down this street not because of the fancy shops. I love it because there's always a surprise, a sense of serendipity, great people-watching, and moments of just pleasure."
"Of course," he added as we step into the Plaza Hotel to look over the elegant lobby and use the bathroom, "I like Chinatown more. It has all the life of Fifth Avenue but with different accents and price tags. And Mulberry Street in Little Italy -- it's so nice and alive and messy. There is nothing you could do to make that place any more interesting."
A few minutes later, as we headed up Madison Avenue to explore the Upper East Side, I looked over at Kent, his face shining with the energy and excitement of a kid on the first day of summer vacation, and thought, for the first time in years, of Judge Green back in my hometown. A reserved Midwesterner rather than an ebullient Easterner, Judge Green nonetheless had the same wide, sincere smile on his face as he strolled through the streets of Urbana. Then it dawned on me: The way to get people out of their cars, something I had been wondering about since college, is not to chide them about ruining the environment or shame them about being fat but to show them how much fun, and how much of life itself, they are missing by not walking. And how much more fun we'd all have if we created better places for everyone across America to take a walk.
Jay Walljasper is editor of Utne magazine.
If Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway arrived on the literary scene today, she would probably own a cute bag from Prada, a totally to-die-for SoHo loft, and a string-bean cell phone on which she negotiated her topsy-turvy love life.
Well, maybe not. But many people are still worried about the influence of the popular genre of fiction known as "chick lit." You know, those ubiquitous novels with pastel-colored dust jackets bearing whimsically retro images of cocktail glasses, trendy purses, and spiky heels. With titles like Running in Heels: A Novel, Shopaholic Ties the Knot, and Thirty Nothing, chick lit relays breezy tales of spunky professional urban women worrying about their bosses, their weight, their boyfriends, and their Jimmy Choo shoes. The genre is wildly successful -- and that, oddly enough, is the problem.
Originating in the mid-1990s with the publication of well-received books like Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary and Melissa Bank's The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, chick lit was dismissed by many critics as a flash in the pan. But today the genre stands as a lucrative niche in an otherwise struggling fiction industry. "The mega authors -- John Grisham, Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy -- all have had a fall-off in sales," Sessalee Hensley, fiction buyer for Barnes & Noble, told ABCNEWS.com's Heather Cabot. "But the chick lit is growing, and growing exponentially."
Several publishing houses like Pocket Books, Kensington and Harlequin have jumped onto the gravy train, launching imprints that churn out only chick lit.
Score one for the ladies, right? Not exactly. It seems that many observers are up in arms about what they perceive to be antifeminist pabulum. "Many of these titles really are trash: trash that imitates other, better books that could have ushered in a new wave of smart, postfeminist writing, and trash that threatens to flood the market in women's reading," writes Anna Weinberg in recently defunct Book magazine. Weinberg, who contends that early chick lit, like Bridget Jones's Diary, "navigated the perilous terrain of the modern woman's psyche with sassy aplomb," is not fond of the lesser books that chick lit's popularity has bred. More significantly, she worries that anything "written by, read by, and marketed to young women" will be dismissed as mere chick lit.
"So what would happen if a young woman did write a sharp, brilliant new novel -- a portrait of the artist as a young woman in the city?" Weinberg asks. "Its publishers would wrap it in pink, slap a martini glass on the cover, and get Anna Maxted to blurb it." Jenny Colgan, author of Amanda's Wedding, agrees. "Everyone, no matter what they're writing about -- be it dysfunctional families, anorexia, death, or other serious issues -- is being thrown into one big hole marked 'chick lit' and written off," she told The Guardian. "Chick lit is a deliberately condescending term they use to rubbish us all. If they called it slut lit it couldn't be more insulting."
But, as author Hanne Blank pointed out in the Baltimore-based weekly City Paper, we're not talking about the Great American Novel here. "Our entertainment reading choices, by and large, are not precisely gems of deathless prose, world-changing philosophical tours de force, or breathtakingly unpredictable in their characterizations or narratives," Blank writes. "The chick lit juggernaut of consumerist husband-hunting femme stereotypes is no less a pastiche (and in many ways no less a parody) of culture's directives to women than, say, Tom Clancy or Dean Koontz novels are . . . of the cultural directives aimed at men."
So, is the critical uproar over chick lit over the top? Could be. After all, who says that trashy beach reads can't coexist with smart postfeminist books? (One of the points of third-wave, "lipstick" feminism, is exactly that -- that women don't have to be one kind of human being, with one kind of pleasure, all the time.) Even within so-called chick lit, there is variety in quality and subject matter (witness new branches like "mommy lit" and "Latina lit"), and it is hard to make generalizations -- another lesson of modern feminism.
Most chick lit isn't out to change the world anyway, only to reflect a part of it. And, as Helen Fielding, the grande dame of chick lit, pointed out in 1998: "If we can't laugh at ourselves without having a panic attack over what it says about women, we haven't got very far with our equality."
So until the novels of Jhumpa Lahiri or Margaret Atwood or Annie Proulx start being marketed with pumps, purses and martinis on their Easter-egg-colored dust jackets, why worry about it? There's no rule that says we can't have our Woolf and our Fielding too. (Mrs. Dalloway and Bridget Jones would have got along swimmingly.)
And maybe we can do even better than that. Hanne Blank thinks that chick lit can and should be improved. "The solution to bad chick lit isn't to get rid of chick lit, it's making the effort to produce a chick lit that's more nutritious, more interesting." After all, there's more than a little of the chick lit spirit in the novel-of-manners tradition that produced Jane Austen -- and who's to say that this thriving genre won't produce a modern-day Austen who can turn Prada, martinis, and the quest for Mr. Right into literary gold?
Reprinted with permission from Utne magazine (March/April 2004). To subscribe, visit www.utne.com.
Anjula Razdan is a senior editor at Utne.
Let me start with a confession: Without Kraft Macaroni Dinner, Velveeta, and Miracle Whip I couldn't have made it through college. I don't mean just that I ate the stuff-I manufactured it. My tuition, rent, and living expenses were paid with money saved from a summer job at the Kraft Foods factory in Champaign, Illinois. In one sense, I owe my career and current middle-class comfort to highly processed, preservative-filled, mass-produced, heavily advertised industrial food.
So how did it happen that I now find myself snapping up organic radicchio, heirloom tomatoes, and artisan cheese that costs more per pound than I used to spend for a night on the town? Is it simply that my culinary appreciation and ecological consciousness (not to mention wages) have risen since college, or is something else going on? Have I joined ranks with yuppies who think nothing of spending on a single meal of exquisitely prepared food and fine wine what an inner-city family needs for a month of groceries?
Well, not exactly. I still can't tell a Merlot from a Medoc, and the stove in our kitchen is so old that repairmen refuse to work on it. (Luckily, three burners still light, although when we bake we have to prop a chair against the oven door to keep it closed.) So, no wave of guilt overtakes me in the checkout line when I pay a little more for milk without pesticides or a loaf of delicious red-onion-and-rosemary sourdough bread.
I did pay attention, however, when a headline in my food co-op's newsletter recently asked, "Why did you buy the fancy red leaf lettuce when you can buy chopped bagged iceberg for half the cost?"
Mark Muller, the article's author, recounts how relatives question his purchases of natural and organic food. "Have I lost touch with mainstream America?" he asks. "Have I become an elitist -- a food snob?"
FOOD REMAINS ONE of the most significant badges of class in American life. Wealthy, educated urbanites who would never permit themselves to poke fun at welfare mothers or immigrants freely make cracks about spongy white bread and Miracle Whip, which were staples in the cupboard when I was growing up. While I am eternally grateful to have discovered baguettes and aioli (both of which originated as peasant fare in France), I'm not surprised at the trepidation (and occasional hostility) many working-class and rural Americans feel toward new and unusual foods.
Muller explains that his own path to alleged food snobbery began with microbrew beers, which taste so much better than big corporate brands they're worth the extra cost. "I later made the jump into high-quality food," he says. "I find the increased cost small compared to the health benefits, the better taste, and the pleasure of shopping in small co-ops rather than crowded grocery stores."
Still, he adds, family back in Iowa "worry that we are wasting our money. . .There are also larger, unspoken concerns-that eating these expensive organic foods is wasteful and counters our moral obligation to 'feed the world.'"
Muller, a trained environmental engineer who works at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, decided to investigate whether his taste for natural foods in any way worsens hunger in developing nations or harms poor families and hard-hit farmers here at home.
He notes that in North America food has been transformed into a commodity, just like standard half-inch nails or AAA batteries. A pound of lean hamburger in one place is supposed be like a pound of lean hamburger in another, the only difference being perhaps price. But this fails to take into account a whole host of environmental, health, and taste factors.
"Aficionados of cars, stereos, and televisions would not stand for someone claiming that they are all the same," Muller notes. So why would we expect that to be the case with hamburger or eggs or tomatoes?
"Yes, we are blessed with some of the least expensive food in the world, but that comes with a cost," he adds. The cost includes pesticide poisoning, destruction of topsoil, desecration of the countryside, and greenhouse gas emissions from long-distance transportation.
Current agricultural policies, which deliver cheap food via staggering taxpayer-funded subsidies to large industrial-scaled farm operations, are driving family farmers and the stable rural cultures they once supported to extinction. The public's growing interest in organic and locally grown foods is actually one of the few bright spots on the horizon for small farmers and small towns.
Little of this cheap food produced on megafarms finds its way to starving people in the Southern Hemisphere. Muller discovered that the top three recipients of U.S. agricultural exports are Japan, the European Union, and Canada, and that none of the top 10 are nations considered undernourished. "We produce food for people who are able to pay for it, and sometimes use food as a strategic political tool, but do not produce food out of moral obligation."
Since most of what winds up on U.S. supermarket shelves is heavily processed and packaged, poor families see little savings on their food bill. Low prices paid to Iowa farmers make very little dent in the cost of corn flakes on the South Side of Chicago. "Processed foods are a lot more expensive than organic whole foods," notes Jim Slama, president of the Chicago-based environmental advocacy organization Sustain, noting that farmers' markets, buying clubs, and community gardens can provide low-income people healthier food at lower prices.
Eager to settle once and for all the matter of whether he was a food snob, Mark Muller turned to the dictionary, which defines snob as "one who tends to patronize, rebuff, or ignore people." Industrial agriculture seems to fit that definition far more than organic growers and natural foods shoppers. Industrial agriculture rebuffs family farmers and ignores obvious health and environmental concerns. And it's nothing short of patronizing to try to pass off tomatoes you can bounce off the floor and strawberries that taste like globs of dried toothpaste as nutritious and tasty.
Jay Walljasper is editor-at-large of the Utne Reader.
Richard Williams always knew that his work was important, but a recent conversation drove the point home.
Williams, executive director of the American Indian College Fund in Denver, and his son, a student at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, were talking about biology class. "He said, 'Dad, I learned about endoplasmic reticulum today,'" Williams recalls, referring to a key part of cell anatomy. "Then he came back to me and said, 'I bet you don't know all the different ways people use ceya'ka [a wild mint plant favored by the Lakota people].' He went on to tell me the scientific name for it, the English name for it, and the different ways tribes use it."
Adapting mainstream curricula to incorporate Native wisdom is business as usual at the nation's 32 tribal colleges, postsecondary educational institutions established and operated by members of America's 560 Indian tribes.
Instructors at tribal colleges intentionally look at the world from a Native viewpoint, explains Michael Wassegijig Price in Tribal College Journal (Winter 2000). Price, chair of the department of science and mathematics at Leech Lake Tribal College in Cass Lake, Minnesota, explains that adding Indian perspectives to higher education helps Native students make connections between their classes and the world they experience every day. Understanding that Native wisdom can hold its own next to the Western canon also fosters a sense of pride among students, Price says, and helps ensure that Native American wisdom will be passed down to future generations.
"Indigenous knowledge, unlike Western science and technology, has tenets of sacredness and spirituality," Price writes. "These ideas directly affect our relationship to and interaction with nature and one another. Thus we are not just invisible, objective observers but actual and accountable participants in the complex web of life. Learning that plants have spirits...may not mean much to a research scientist or technophile. It will, however, have an effect on the way we, as Anishinaabe, interact with plants."
Located mostly on Native-owned land in 12 states, all in the West and Midwest, America's tribal colleges receive only limited funding from the federal government, and few receive any state tax support at all. The first tribal college, Navajo Community College (now known as Diné College) in Tsaile, Arizona, was established by the Navajo nation in 1968, a direct result of the Indian rights movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, according to College Fund spokesperson Suzette Brewer.
"Indian education in American had failed miserably, and the people who started the first tribal colleges knew that," Brewer says. "There had been a constant whitewashing of students, a philosophy of 'Kill the Indian to save the man,' and it was clear something had to be done. People were looking for a way to control their own higher education at that time, and this is what they came up with."
Indeed, the earliest institutions for "educating" American Indians, founded in the late 19th century, were openly dedicated to breaking down their tribal identities and assimilating them into white culture. Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, which opened in 1879, became the model for dozens of government-supported boarding schools across the United States--including what was first known as Haskell Institute in Lawrence in 1884.
The schools were known for their harsh discipline and for treating students like virtual prisoners. Trips home were rarely allowed. Many students endured poor living conditions and chronic ill health, thanks to the prevalence of tuberculosis and other diseases. Still, as noted by University of Minnesota historian Brenda J. Child and others, the boarding schools had some positive (and unintended) consequences before they were shut down or modified in the decades before World War II. They played a role in the rise of "Pan-Indianism" and gave graduates the skills to protect tribal interests via careers in politics and law.
Today's tribal college system is one result. Most tribal colleges offer accredited two-year associate of arts degrees, though as many as six now offer four-year degrees. Students can study everything from biology and the natural sciences to studio art, nursing, and early-childhood education. If success can be measured by retention rates and employment figures, tribal colleges have done an outstanding job: According to the College Fund, dropout rates for Indian students at mainstream schools hover between 85 and 90 percent; retention rates at tribal colleges are between 85 and 90 percent. A 1999 survey of tribal college graduates reported that 75 percent of respondents were employed. "This is a big deal when many of our grads live in areas where unemployment is as high as 85 percent," Brewer says.
The tribal college system is nothing less than a revolution against the established Western idea of learning, says Richard Williams. "What we're talking about is a systemic change in higher education," he explains. "When you rebuild a system and start over from scratch you look at ways you can change the system and make it work for people. We're doing that in many ways, including focusing on collaboration in the classroom rather than competition, fostering experiential learning at a pace directed to the learning style of individual students, and encouraging professors to feel personally responsible for keeping students in school."
But it's not easy to fund a revolution. Tribal colleges, like many native-run institutions, are often understaffed and scrambling for money. At Diné College, for instance, tiles fall from ceilings, elevators fail, and the library stands half empty. The American Indian College Fund was established in 1986 by administrators at the nation's tribal colleges with a goal of raising funds for scholarships and building improvements. The current capital campaign is called Campaign Sii Ha Sin, the Navajo expression for hope. The goal is to raise $120 million by 2005, and then divide the money equally among tribal colleges. It's a lot of money, Williams acknowledges, but it's only a modest attempt to reinvigorate an educational system that has helped countless numbers of American Indians.
"That amount of money is just enough to meet the bare minimum needs of these schools," he says. "We're not talking about building stadiums or high-tech science centers. We just want to make sure that they each have one good, solid building for education. Then we can get back to the business of changing people's lives."
For more information write 8333 Greenwood Blvd., Denver, CO 80221 or visit http://www.collegefund.org/
"So what youre saying is, you want to legalize drugs, right?"
Thats the first question Im typically asked when I start talking about drug policy reform. My short answer is, "No, thats not what Im saying. Legalize marijuana? Yes, I think we need to head in that direction. But no, Im not suggesting we make heroin and cocaine available the way we do alcohol and cigarettes."
"So what are you recommending?" is the second question. "And what do you mean by drug policy reform?"
Heres the longer answer.
There is no drug legalization movement in America. What there is, is a nascent political and social movement for drug policy reform. It consists of the growing number of citizens who have been victimized, in one way or another, by the drug war, and who now believe that our current drug policies, like alcohol prohibition in the 1920s, do more harm than good. Most members of this "movement" barely perceive themselves as part of any broader cause.
The movement might include the judge required by inflexible, mandatory minimum sentencing laws to send a drug addict, or petty dealer, or dealers girlfriend, or Third World drug courier to prison for a longer time than many rapists and murderers serve.
Or the corrections officer who recalls the days when prisons housed "real" criminals, not the petty, nonviolent offenders who fill the cells these days.
Or the addict in recoveryemployed, law abiding, a worthy citizen in every respectwho must travel a hundred miles each day to pick up her methadone, because current laws do not allow methadone prescriptions to be filled at a local pharmacy.
Or the nurse in the oncology or AIDS unit obliged to look the other way while a patient wracked with pain smokes her forbidden medicine, which works better than anything else.
Or the teacher or counselor warned by school authorities not to speak so frankly about drug use with his students lest he violate federal regulations prohibiting anything other than "just say no" bromides.
Or the doctor whos afraid to prescribe medically appropriate doses of opioid analgesics to a patient in pain because any variations from the norm bring unfriendly scrutiny from government agents and state medical boards.
Or the employee with an outstanding record who fails a drug test on Monday morning because she shared a joint with her husband over the weekend and is fired.
Or the struggling North Dakota farmer who wonders why farmers in Canada and dozens of other countries can plant hemp, but he cannot.
Or the conservative Republican who abhors the extraordinary powers of police and prosecutors to seize private property from citizens who have not been convicted of violating any laws, and who worries about the corruption inherent in sending forfeited proceeds directly to law enforcement agencies.
Or the upstanding African American citizen repeatedly stopped by police for "driving while black" or even "walking while black."
The people who embrace the idea of drug policy reform are the ones who have connected the dotsthe ones who understand how our prohibitionist drug policies are fueling serious social problems. We may not agree on what aspect of prohibition is most perniciousthe spread of violence, the corruption, the black market, the spread of disease, the loss of freedom, or simply the lies and hypocrisiesand we certainly dont agree on the optimal solutions, but we all regard the current drug policies as a fundamental mistake in American society.
Any effort to reform drug policies confront powerful obstacles. A punitive approach to drug use and a temperance ideology almost as old as the nation itself are deeply embedded in American laws, institutions, and culture. It amounts to a national hysteria, rejuvenated each time a new drug emerges, ripe for political posturing and media mania. But Americas war on drugs is neither monolithic nor irreversible. Dissent is popping out all over. Most Americans have strong doubts about the drug war, according to opinion polls and recent referendum votes. They support treatment instead of incarceration for drug addicts. They think marijuana should be legally available for medical purposes. They dont want the government seizing money and property from people who have never been convicted of a crime. Theyre beginning to have doubts about the cost and meaning of incarcerating almost half a million of their fellow citizens for drug law violations.
So why does the drug war keep growing?
Part of the answer lies in what might best be described as a "drug prohibition complex" (taking off on President Eisenhowers warning about the military-industrial complex) composed of the hundreds of thousands of law enforcement officials, private prison corporations, anti-drug organizations, drug testing companies, and many others who benefit economically, politically, emotionally, and otherwise from continued crackdowns on use of marijuana and other drugs. Drug prohibition is now big business in the United States.
Nonetheless, signs of reform abound. Hardcore drug opponents may still be powerful, but theyre gradually losing credibility. They look on marijuana with the same horror that anti-liquor crusaders like Carrie Nation viewed a mug of beer. And just as the temperance advocates became ever more shrill and silly as Prohibition stumbled along, so todays anti-drug extremists sound increasingly foolish to the average American parent of today, who probably knows a thing or two about marijuana.
The most powerful evidence of shifting views on drug reform occurred on Election Day last year, when voters in five statesCalifornia, Nevada, Colorado, Oregon, and Utahapproved drug policy reform ballot initiatives. In California, voters overwhelmingly endorsed Proposition 36, the "treatment instead of incarceration" ballot initiative that should result in tens of thousands of nonviolent drug possession offenders being diverted from jail and prison into programs that may help them get their lives together. Voters in Nevada and Colorado approved medical marijuana ballot initiatives. In Oregon and Utah, voters overwhelmingly approved (by margins of two to one) ballot initiatives requiring police and prosecutors to meet a reasonable burden of proof before seizing money and other property from people they suspect of criminal activity. The measure also mandates that the proceeds from legal forfeitures be handed over not to the police and prosecuting agencies that had seized the property but rather to funds for public education or drug treatment. (The only setbacks were in Massachusetts, where voters narrowly defeated a combined forfeiture reform/diversion into treatment initiative, and in Alaska, where voters rejected a far-reaching marijuana legalization initiative.)
This followed up on other political victories. Californias Proposition 36 was modeled on one Arizona passed four years earlier. Oregon voters, meanwhile, affirmed the states marijuana decriminalization policies by a two-to-one margin in 1998. And voters in Mendocino, California, approved a ballot initiative last year to decriminalize cultivation of small amounts of cannabis. Clearly, more and more citizens realize that the drug war has failed and are looking for new approaches. The votes also suggest that there are limits to what people will accept in the name of fighting drugs. Parents dont want their teenagers to smoke marijuana, but they also dont want sick people who could benefit from the plants pain relief properties to suffer because of the war on drugs. Americans dont approve of people using heroin or cocaine, but neither do they think it makes either economic or human sense to lock up drug addicts without first offering them a few opportunities to get their lives together outside prison walls.
The initiative victories demonstrated once again that the public is ahead of the politicians when it comes to embracing pragmatic drug policy reforms. But there is growing evidence that even some politicians are beginning to get it. Hawaii passed a medical marijuana law last year with the support of Governor Benjamin Cayetano. Three statesNorth Dakota, Minnesota, and Hawaiienacted laws legalizing the cultivation of hemp (to the extent permitted by federal law), and hemp legalization bills are beginning to advance through other state legislatures as well. Vermont, one of eight states that prohibited methadone maintenance treatment, last year enacted a law that may ultimately lead to this treatment being made available not just in specialized clinics but also through public health clinics and private physicians. And, most significantly in terms of potential lives saved, three statesNew York, New Hampshire, and Rhode Islandeach enacted laws making it easier to purchase sterile syringes in pharmacies.
The governor of New Mexico, Republican Gary Johnson, is committed to far-reaching drug policy reform. And Salt Lake Citys new mayor, Rocky Anderson, has abandoned the popular but demonstrably ineffective DARE program.
Perhaps its too early to claim that all this adds up to a national vote of no confidence in the war on drugs. After all, drug war rhetoric still goes down easy in many parts of the country, and Congress has yet to demonstrate any reluctance to enact ever harsher and more far-reaching drug war legislation. But the pendulum does seem to be reversing direction. The initiatives and recent state legislative victories, the reform bills making their way through legislative committees, the governors and mayors beginning to speak out, the rapidly rising anti-war sentiment among African American leadersall these are beginning to add up to something new in American politics. Call it a new anti-war movement. Call it a nascent movement for common sense justice. Or simply call it a rising chorus of dissent from the war on drugs.
Ethan A. Nadelmann directs the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation , a drug policy reform organization. This essay is adapted from a talk given at the New York Open Center and appeared originally in Lapis Magazine, published by the New York Open Center. Reprinted with permission from Utne Reader. To subscribe, call 800/736-UTNE or visit www.utne.com.
I have no clear idea what shape the world will be in by the time you read this. The cold-blooded terrorist attacks left all of us staring into the future with a numbing mixture of grief and anger and fear.
As a nation we have faced many steep challenges, but we've been mercifully free of worry about the world's woes crossing our borders to claim innocent lives. The horror of war, for Americans not in uniform, has always been an abstract concept. I think this safe distance from the front lines has shaped our sometimes oversimplified view of international events and the aggressive course of U.S. foreign policy. But now, even as the American public backs extensive military action, we are no longer shielded from the full realization of what war means for men, women, and children.
Among the many immigrants who arrived in New York City in the summer of 1999, none made a name for itself more quickly than West Nile fever. Traced to a virus spread by mosquitoes, the disease had never been seen in this country, or even in the Western Hemisphere. It first struck birds, then people, killing seven and sickening dozens more.
The city hoped to control it by killing the mosquitoes with malathion, a pesticide chemically related to nerve gas. Though many protested, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani insisted the spraying was perfectly safe.
Within months, scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were debating just how wrong the mayor had been. The EPA was on the verge of declaring malathion a "likely" human carcinogen when its manufacturer protested. The EPA backed off, saying malathion posed no documented threat, though some in the agency continued to insist the dangers were being downplayed. More suspicion was raised upon news of a massive die-off among lobsters in Long Island Sound near New York. Malathion is known to kill lobsters and other marine life, but officials denied the connection.
Though no direct causal link can yet be drawn, some infectious-disease experts say anomalous outbreaks such as West Nile may be tied to human impacts on the environment, including climate change and the destruction of natural habitats. As noted by Dr. Paul R. Epstein, associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, "West Nile is getting veterinarians and doctors and biologists to sit down at the same table." What they are unraveling is a complex knot linking human health and the state of the natural world.
Welcome to a preview of the health issues awaiting us in the 21st century. Indeed, we're already living at a time when vast social and biological forces are interacting in complex ways -- and with unpredictable impacts. War, famine, and ecological damage have caused great human disruptions, which in turn have transformed tuberculosis, AIDS, and other modern plagues into global pandemics.
Even more disturbing, many of our efforts to fight disease today are themselves symptoms of a deeper illness. Spraying an urban area with a substance whose health effects remain unknown is one glaring example, but there are many others. Think of certain compounds used in chemotherapy that more often kill than cure. Or the 100,000 people who die in hospitals every year from drugs that are properly prescribed. Or the many IV bags and other plastic medical products that release dioxin into the air when they are burned.
That last example contributes to perhaps the most heartbreaking metaphor of our environmental abuse and its unforeseen consequences -- the discovery that human mother's milk is among the most toxic human foods, laced with dioxin, a confirmed carcinogen, and other chemical contaminants. All these cases suggest our culture's deep dependence on synthetic chemicals, and our long refusal to acknowledge how profoundly they've disrupted our ecological systems.
There's a widespread sense that mainstream medicine is blind to this reality, and is even part of the problem. This growing disillusion, coupled with the fact that high-tech medicine costs too much and often doesn't work, has led to a widespread public search for alternatives. One result is the rise of complementary medicine, which combines the best of modern health care with other approaches. Add the immense new interest in traditional healing methods, herbs, and other natural remedies and you get a sense of how much the health-care paradigm has changed over the past 30 years.
What I see happening is a deeper shift that all these approaches are edging us toward, even if we don't fully realize it yet. It's a new understanding of health and illness that has begun to move away from treating only the individual. Instead, good health lies in recognizing that each of us is part of a wider web of life. When the web is healthy, we are more likely to be healthy. But the environmental illnesses we see more and more of these days -- rising cancer rates spring to mind -- are constant reminders that the web is not healthy. How did we reach this tragic place? And more to the point, where do we go from here?
The first step toward a healthier future, I believe, lies in ecological medicine. Pioneered by a global movement of concerned scientists, doctors, and many others, ecological medicine is a loosely shared philosophy based on advancing public health by improving the environment. Its central idea is that industrial civilization has made a basic error in acting as if humans are apart from rather than a part of nature. Just as the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone, human and environmental health are inseparable.
And in a biosphere that is rampantly toxic and woefully depleted, a mounting number of our health problems can only be understood as part of a larger pattern. Ecological medicine could well emerge as a force for dramatic cultural change. It proposes to reshape how industrial civilization operates, in part by redefining the role that the public plays in making the decisions that affect all life on earth.
Simply stated, improving human health is inextricably linked to ecological well-being. The interconnectedness of all life is a fundamental biological truth. What's more, all life is under threat. There simply is no "elsewhere" to dump the hazardous by-products of industrial society. Eliminating them from our production systems is the only solution, and a well-informed public is crucial to realizing it.
In the words of Carolyn Raffensperger, executive director of the Science and Environmental Health Network (SEHN), a "truly holistic medicine extends beyond the mind-body connection to the human-planet whole."
Here are some basic tenets of ecological medicine:
- The first goal of medicine is to establish the conditions for health and wholeness, thus preventing disease and illness. The second goal is to cure.
- The earth is also the physician's client. The patient under the physician's care is one part of the earth.
- Humans are part of a local eco-system. Following the ecopsychological insight that a disturbed ecosystem can make people mentally ill, a disturbed ecosystem can surely make people physically ill.
- Medicine should not add to the illnesses of humans or the planet. Medical practices themselves should not damage other species or the ecosystem.
The main tool for putting these ideals into practice, ecological healers say, is what they call the precautionary principle. As articulated by Raffensperger and many others, the precautionary principle basically argues that science and industry must fully assess the impact of their activities before they impose them upon the public and the environment. Societies around the world have begun to incorporate some version of the principle into law, hoping to rein in bioengineering and other new technologies. That science should objectively prove the safety of its own inventions might seem like common sense, but that's not how most science operates today.
For decades, the scientific and medical community has accepted that a certain amount of pollution and disease is just the price we have to pay for modern life. This is called the "risk paradigm," and it essentially means that it is society's burden to prove that new technologies and industrial processes are harmful, usually one chemical or technology at a time. The risk paradigm assumes that there are "acceptable" levels of contamination the earth and our bodies can supposedly assimilate. It also allows a small, self-interested elite to set these levels, undistracted by the "irrational" fears and demands of the public. The "science" behind it is driven by large commercial interests and can hardly be considered either impartial or in the public interest. Viewed with any distance at all, the risk paradigm is at best a high-stakes game of biological roulette with all the chambers loaded.
There is a global effort afoot today to replace the risk paradigm with the precautionary principle, which is based on a recognition of science's limits in fully predicting consequences and possible harm. The precautionary principle acknowledges that all life is interconnected. It shifts the burden of proof (and liability) to the parties promoting potentially harmful technologies, and limits their use to experiments until they are proven truly safe.
The idea is not new -- a version of it first appeared in U.S. law back in 1958 in the Delaney Amendment, which governed pesticide residues in food and set standards for environmental impact statements. Nor is it radical. At its essence, the principle harks back to grandma's admonitions that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," that we're "better safe than sorry."
The model is already used, in theory, for the drug industry, which is legally bound to prove drugs safe and effective prior to their use. Critics call it anti-scientific; they say it limits trade and stifles innovation.
Ecological medicine advocates disagree.
"The precautionary principle actually sheds a bright light on science," says Dr. Ted Schettler, science director of SEHN. "It doesn't tell us what to do, but it does tell you what to look at." Germany and Sweden have incorporated the principle into certain environmental policies. The United Nations Biosafety Protocol includes it as part of new guidelines for regulating trade in genetically modified products, its first appearance in an international treaty.
As people and their governments face ever more complex scientific decisions, the precautionary principle can serve as what some have called an "insurance policy against our own ignorance." After all, we can't even predict next week's weather or the economy a year out, much less the unfathomable complexity of living systems.
The Hippocratic oath tells doctors to "First, do no harm," yet our medical practices often pose serious environmental threats. In 1994, for instance, the EPA reported that medical waste incinerators were the biggest source of dioxin air pollution in the United States. Dioxin finds its way into our food and accumulates in our fat; it's been linked to neurological damage in fetuses. Even a simple thermometer contains mercury, another potentially deadly neurotoxin.
The medical-waste problem does not stop there. Along with generating radioactive waste from various treatments, the medical industry is now the source of a new peril: pharmaceutical pollution. Creatures living in lakes and rivers appear to be at special risk as antibiotics, estrogen, birth-control pills, painkillers, and other drugs find their way into the waste stream. Fish are already affected; intersex mutations (showing both male and female characteristics) have been reported in various species around the world. But humans are not immune. The war on drugs may soon take on a new meaning as entire populations are subjected to constant low doses of pharmaceuticals in the water supply.
Groups like Health Care Without Harm (www.noharm.org) have made it their mission to halt or curb such damaging medical practices, especially the use of mercury thermometers and the industry's reliance on burning its waste.
With 300 member organizations in 27 countries, the coalition has had a major impact, in part by directly confronting the companies that make such products. Another group, the Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, has published a report with the Clean Water Fund called In Harm's Way that documents the many toxic threats to child development (www.igc.org/psr/).
Ecological medicine suggests first doing no harm to the environment, then going further, creating a medical practice that itself minimizes harm. Like virtually all earlier healing traditions, it emphasizes prevention, strengthening the organism and the environment to avoid illness in the first place. Ancient Chinese healers, for instance, expected compensation only if their clients remained well, not when they got sick.
But an ecological approach to healing also looks to deeper tenets embedded in nature and how it operates. Again, the new vision reveals itself to be in many ways an old one. It borrows from the insights of indigenous healing traditions, many of which are now being confirmed by modern science -- including the fact that nature has an extraordinary and mysterious capacity for self-repair.
However resilient the biosphere may be, it's crucial to understand that the planet's basic life support systems are in serious decline. From climate change to plummeting biodiversity to gargantuan quantities of toxic wastes, the ecological stresses are reaching dangerous thresholds. Much of the damage can be traced to the 20th century's three most destructive technologies: petrochemicals, nu-clear energy, and genetic engineering.
- Apart from helping to induce potentially cataclysmic climate change, the petrochemical industry has un-leashed 80,000 or so synthetic compounds that now permeate our land, water, and air as well as our bodies. While some may be benign, the truth is that most have never been adequately tested -- and even fewer have been measured for their cumulative effects or how they interact with other chemicals.
- Nuclear energy has concentrated and spread radioactivity and virtually indestructible toxic waste products into living systems worldwide. While public dread may focus on cataclysmic accidents like the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986, other ill effects may come from steady exposure to low levels of radiation.
- Genetic engineering is introducing yet another threat: biological pollution that literally has a life of its own, a gene genie that cannot be put back in the bottle.
In addition to instructing healers first to do no harm, Hippocrates also instructed them in a lesser-known passage to "revere the healing force of nature." For years, that's been my quest: working with nature to heal nature. I founded the Bioneers Conference in 1990 to bring together people exploring ways of doing this -- biological pioneers from many cultures and disciplines, and from all walks of life. All had peered deep into the heart of the earth's own living systems to understand what we can learn from 3.8 billion years of evolution. Their common purpose was to heal the earth.
Their basic question: How would nature do it? They were all using their knowledge of living systems to devise solutions to our most pressing environmental and societal problems. I now realize these people are modern healers, too.
As their work repeatedly illustrates, we already have many of the technologies we need to retool our industrial system. Many of the bioneers show how we can replace existing industrial practices with sustainable alternatives that run on clean, renewable energy sources. Government has a role to play in this process too. Several years ago Sweden imposed a steep tax on pesticides, a measure that greatly reduced their use. Europe recently banned four antibiotics from animal feed. On the other side of the equation, governments are using tax subsidies to promote sustainable technologies such as chlorine-free paper production and organic farming. The city of Munich pays German farmers to grow organically in the watershed that supplies drinking water.
The ecological medicine movement, one focus of the Bioneers conference to be held this fall, aims to do something similar for the health care industry. Medical errors, for instance, now constitute a leading cause of death in the United States. Influenced by the success of safe, effective, popular alternatives, mainstream medicine could become safer itself.
The ethic of preventing harm as seen in both environmental protection and ecological medicine will continue to spread, but what about existing messes? Many treatment methods modeled on living systems have shown dramatic capacities for bioremediation -- that is, for detoxifying land, air, and water.
Visionary biologist John Todd's "living machines" mimic natural ecologies by utilizing bacteria, fungi, plants, fish, and mammals to purify water and industrial "wastes." The work of mycologist Paul Stamets has shown that fungi can help digest diesel spills and even chemical and biological weapons components.
Similar success stories are found across many fields. By looking to the principles of ecological healing to restore the earth and ourselves, we create not only the conditions for individual health, but also the basis for healthy societies and robust economies.
Biology is not rocket science. Rather, it is the superb art of relationships in the fantastically complex web of life. By mimicking nature, these approaches foster the healing that is the essence of living systems.
Consider again the relationship between a nursing mother and her child. Despite the toxins that are now found in mother's milk, it is still the best food for babies. Children fed breast milk are healthier because the mother also confers immunity and unmatched nutrition. Which brings us back to the essence of ecological healing: In the wisdom of nature also lies the solution.
Alternative medicine is arguably the single largest progressive social movement of our era. As it goes ever more mainstream, those working to advance public health are increasingly linking with those working to restore the earth's ecological health. Growing public awareness of the direct links between our personal health and environmental health is stirring as a potent force in global politics. As suggested by Michael Lerner, founder of the Commonweal Institute, environmental health could well emerge as the central human rights issue of our age. We all have the right to be born free -- from poisons.
As human beings, we have a remarkable ability to reinvent our societies very rapidly. The task now is to create an earth-honoring culture founded in the sanctity of life and the sacred human-nature relationship. Along with many others, I herald for this new century a Declaration of Interdependence, flowing from the simple recognition that all life is connected. At its heart is ecological medicine, teaching us that we are the land and water and air.
By restoring the earth, we restore ourselves.
Kenny Ausubel is the founder of the Bioneers Conference, which this year will focus on ecological medicine.
Secretary of State: Noam Chomsky
As the best-informed and most insistent critic of U.S. foreign policy over four decades, this MIT professor is the clear choice to foster a new relationship with the rest of the world.
Secretary of Defense: Ron Dellums
A 17-year veteran of the House Armed Services Committee, this former Bay Area congressman knows what's wrong -- and what's right -- with America's military.
United Nations Ambassador: Jesse Jackson Sr.
Our most consistent voice for justice and human dignity, he's proven his diplomatic skills everywhere from Chicago ghettos to Balkan battle zones.
National Security Advisor: Hazel Henderson
A longtime advocate of sustainable development in Southern nations, she knows that true security comes from environmental protection, global understanding, and a more equitable distribution of the world's wealth.
Attorney General:Ralph Nader
Thanks to his legal expertise, America is a safer, greener, fairer place. Imagine what he might do for us with the resources of the Justice Department behind him. (In the happy event Nader is elected president, the post should go to Joel Rogers of the University of Wisconsin Law School or to Andrew Kimbrell of the International Center for Technology Assessment.)
Secretary of the Treasury: Amy Domini
Founder of one of the first and best-performing socially responsible investment funds, she knows that a truly "good" economy depends on more than the Dow Jones average.
White House Council of Economic Advisors Chair: Herman Daly
Research scholar at the University of Maryland and former economist at the World Bank, he argues that economic growth along current lines is not in the best interest of either the environment or the average person.
Federal Reserve Board Chair: Robert Reich
No one is better prepared to steer our dynamic, changing economy in a direction that benefits all Americans than this Brandeis economics professor and former Secretary of Labor.
Secretary of the Interior: Winona LaDuke
A veteran environmental and Native American activist, she sees protecting our land as a sacred duty. (If LaDuke becomes vice president on the Green Party ticket, activist Julia Butterfly Hill or architect and industrial designer William McDonough should get the job.)
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator: Lois Gibbs
A Love Canal homeowner turned environmental expert, she brings a keen understanding of the human costs of pollution and toxic contamination.
Secretary of Agriculture: Jim Hightower
As Agriculture Commissioner in Texas for eight years, he proved himself an effective champion of family farmers, sustainable agriculture, and innovative government initiatives.
Secretary of Commerce: David Morris
Co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Morris has 25 years of experience in showing how healthy communities promote a vital economy -- and vice versa.
Secretary of Labor: Juliet Schor
Harvard professor, economist, and author of the best-selling The Overworked American, she knows that less is more when it comes to working hours.
Secretary of Health and Human Services: Maxine Waters
No one in Washington will be able to ignore the needs of everyday Americans with this feisty L.A. congresswoman heading the department.
Secretary of Transportation: Earl Blumenauer
As founder of the Congressional Livable Communities Taskforce, this Portland congressman understands that cars, trucks, and planes are not the only way to go.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Myron Orfield
This Minnesota state legislator has devised an ambitious agenda to revitalize inner cities and blue-collar suburbs that's stirring excitement across the country.
Secretaries of Energy: Hunter and Amory Lovins
Veteran environmental activists, the founders of the Rocky Mountain Institute are ready to launch an energy-efficiency revolution.
Secretary of Education: Deborah L. Meier
Founder of New York's acclaimed Central Park East Secondary School in East Harlem, Meier is now working to improve Boston's public schools. She tirelessly promotes the idea that good teachers, adequate funding, and small schools are the key to successful students.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs: Ron Kovic
A decorated and disabled Vietnam vet born on the fourth of July, Kovic knows how to reward America's veterans without glorifying war.
Postmaster General: Ann Landers
Neither rain, nor snow, nor gloom of night stops her from answering our letters with insight and kindness.
Surgeon General: Andrew Weil
A doctor who can spread the message that preventive measures and natural healing are as important to our health as high-tech medical wonders.
FBI Director: Bobby Rush
A former Black Panther and community activist, this Chicago congressman knows the perils of police oppression as well as the steady toll in human life and dignity that crime imposes on poor neighborhoods.
Drug Czar: Ernesto Cortes Jr.
As the founder of community organizations across the Southwest, he knows firsthand the damage that both drugs and the drug war can do -- as well as how vital neighborhoods offer people a way to just say yes to something bigger than themselves.
White House Press Secretary: Ray Suarez
The popular radio host and television commentator will make sure that communication between the White House and the American public is a two-way street.
National Endowment for the Arts Chair: Robert Redford
His Sundance Institute boosted independent film to new heights. Let's put him to work on American theater, art, music, and literature.
National Endowment for the Humanities Chair: Henry Louis Gates Jr.
The Harvard Afro-American studies department head brings both a scholarly and a populist enthusiasm to the idea that American culture is a rich stew cooked with ingredients from all over the world.
Poets Laureate (a two-year post): Gwendolyn Brooks and Gary Snyder
These writers have evoked the essence of America out of very different experiences -- the tough city streets of Chicago and the wild mountains of the American West.
Presidential Prayer Circle
Just as Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter relied on Billy Graham for religious counsel, the first president elected in the 21st century needs an interreligious council of spiritual advisors: Milwaukee Catholic Archbishop Rembert Weakland, the Dalai Lama, American Muslim leader W. Deen Mohammed, Rabbi Michael Lerner, minister Marianne Williamson, pagan priestess Starhawk, Native American spiritual leader Oren Lyons, and African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Vashti McKenzie.