At a small airport in the northern Alberta town of Fort McMurray, a rickety, single-engine Cessna hurtles off the ground with a roar. Dr. John O'Connor ignores the shuddering fuselage, the tail wiggle, the steep climb above the spruce trees at the end of the runway. For O'Connor, a bush doctor who has tended to some of Canada's most remote Native American communities for more than a decade, this October morning is the start of a routine commute. In his fleece vest and green fedora, the small, middle-aged Irishman looks simultaneously rugged and elfin. A plastic tray of fruit salad vibrates beneath his seat, a gift for locals who are used to subsisting on moose, pickerel, and muskrat.
Early this month Vice President Al Gore and a nonprofit climate group launched what they say will be a three-year, $300 million advertising campaign to convince the American public of the need for legislation to address climate change. The campaign, a project of the Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection, uses slick national TV ads to encourage people to sign up as online activists. So far, three ads have aired and more than one million people have joined. Mother Jones recently spoke with Alliance spokesman Brian Hardwick.
Mother Jones: How do you think the campaign can make a difference? Brian Hardwick: This campaign is unprecedented in scale among issue advocacy efforts. In the past, this issue hasn't had the benefit of a commercial-scale campaign. The second thing is, we have available to us all the tools of mobilization that the online space also provides. So we can inspire people and connect with them emotionally though television advertisements but we also have a way to engage people in the movement that we previously didn't have. When we get people to sign up [online], then we turn them into climate activists.
MJ: Who do you hope to reach? BH: It's really targeted at Americans from all walks of life. That's why we're doing the advertising in a mass way like this. We want to reach people who have been active already on the climate issue, and then those who maybe have changed a light bulb and are driving a hybrid car but don't know what the next step is, and then people who are just becoming aware of the issue. It really is saying to all Americans that doing those things in your personal life are important, but frankly to really solve this it is going to take enough of us coming together and demanding from leaders and business and government that they put the laws in place to ignite a new economy. We need a real shift in public opinion and activism so that we can say to our leaders: we're ready to solve it.
UPDATE: Hear the subject of this photo, and others in the photo essay, speakhere. Read more coverage of the torch relay events by Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson here and here.
In a day of raucous protests and angry confrontations, human rights activists stalked the Olympic torch through the hilly streets of San Francisco in an elaborate game of cat and mouse. As planned, the torch was lit shortly after 1:00 p.m., but a phalanx of bodies clogging the streets prevented it from proceeding down the anticipated route along the downtown shoreline. Instead, a different torch was driven across town to Van Ness Avenue, a rolling artery that divides the city, where it proceeded towards the ritzy Marina District under the heavy cover of SUVs and motorcycles.
The outcome of today's Olympic torch relay in San Francisco could determine whether the torch will continue along its planned route—the longest in Olympic history—or be cut short due to the boisterous, disruptive protests that have accompanied it in Athens, London, and Paris. International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said the Committee's executive board will discuss on Friday whether to end the relay after this afternoon's event, which is shaping up to be a tense stand-off between police and protesters.
The City of San Francisco has called in extra law enforcement officers from the California Highway patrol and nearby suburbs, banned flights above the city and boats near the waterfront where the torch will pass, and sequestered the the flame in an undisclosed location. During the relay the city plans to encase the torch in a three-layer babooshka doll of police officers: cops on foot, cops on bikes, and cops on motorcycles. If protesters still manage to block the relay, the city will load the torch onto a boat and sail around them.
Only once crowds begin to line the route this afternoon will anyone be able to tell whether San Francisco is in for the same experience as Paris. An activist with Save Darfur in Paris told me roughly 15,000 protesters showed up for the torch relay there. Organizers in San Francisco predict half as many. Some American activists, particularly on the left, are reluctant to protest China's human rights record while the U.S. government continues to occupy Iraq and operate Gitmo. Moreover, many leaders of San Francisco's Chinese-American community (Asians comprise 30 percent of the city), see the protests as a pall on what they'd hoped would be Chinese-American community's moment in the sun. Near the start of the route this morning, protesters exchanged shouts with supporters of the Chinese government as police stood between the two groups. San Francisco was chosen as the torch's only stop in North America because of its sizable Chinese-American community, but the strength of feeling on both sides could prove to be a powder keg of a kind not seen across the Atlantic.
On the surface, San Franciscans seem poised to approach Wednesday's Olympics torch relay much as thousands of progressive activists did on Monday in France: Paris City Hall unfurled its banner supporting human rights "everywhere in the world;" San Francisco Democrat Chris Daly passed his resolution in the city's Board of Supervisors to accept China's torch "with alarm and protest." Nous sommes toutes gauchistes. Or maybe not. Unfortunately, the similarity between Paris and the "Paris of the West" might have less do with politics right now than the prevalence of decent croissants.
Last week, Daly told me he'd begun to detect intimations of a leftist backlash against the Olympics protests. San Francisco activists wondered if challenging China's human rights record made sense when America was occupying Iraq and stuffing bean holes in Gitmo. As mainstream politicians (and some pundits on the Right) have embraced the the idea of protest, the backlash has grown even louder in the comments sections of progressive blogs, on liberal sites such as OpEdNews, and in the conspicuous silence of typical agitators. While the leftist Paris daily Liberation proclaims, "Liberate the Olympic Games," the homepage of the leftist weekly Bay Guardian currently offers no mention of the protests at all (a top headline: "Metal Mania!").
Tomorrow night in San Francisco, the ANSWER Coalition, a national anti-war group, will hold a meeting aimed at convincing activists to stay home during the torch relay. Organizer Nathalie Hrizi sees in the global outrage over China's human rights record the shadowy hand of Bush, Pelosi, and the CIA. In her view, the Dalai Lama is a "member of a feudal aristocracy that had slaves until 1959" and not worth defending. "There is sort of a hysteria being generated about the torch and China," she said. "And it's similar--very similar--to demonization campaigns that the U.S. government has used as a preface to war--for instance, Iraq."